Jersey Beat Music Fanzine

STEVE ADAMYK BAND – Paradise (Dirtnap Records,

Hell yes! It’s been a long three years since “Graceland,” Steve Adamyk Band’s last album came out. For those tuning in late, Steve Adamyk Band is a band out of Canada, specifically from Ottawa, the nation’s capitol. They’re masters of garage punk and power pop. They’re right on the cusp between these styles, managing to extract all of the best parts of both to create music that’s bouncy, melodic, rockin’ yet has a toughness to it. “The Letter” begins the album, and for an LP named “Paradise,” it’s quite appropriate that there’s a healthy dose of surf sounds, as well. “In Death” is one of the most “punk” tracks of the album, with a simple melody, simple rhythms, and powerful guitars. The title track is a very driven song, moving deliberately ever forward, in the way of a Marked Men track. “Waiting to Die” is a song in two parts. The first is almost ballad-like, but can anything Steve Adamyk does really be a ballad? Part two gets raucous again, with a Ramones-core feel, but with a pall of darkness over the whole song. I love the retro power pop feel of “When I was Gone.” It’s got the feel of one of the edgier radio hits of guitar-fueled pop rock from the late 70s. And so it goes with the rest of the dozen songs – every one is a gem. Recommended.

THE COOL GREENHOUSE – Landlords b/w 4Chan (Drunken Sailor Records,

This new single from the UK band features two super-retro tracks very reminiscent of the massive creativity of bands in the post-punk era of the early 80s. The bands feature synth bleeps and blips and minimalist guitar, along with blasé spoken word vocals telling stories loaded with sardonic wit. The A-side tells the tale of paying too much to live in a crap apartment to fuel the luxuries of the landlord, and trying to complain to the council and having to deal with the sorts of monkeys they hire to help the people, in this case, literal monkeys. The B-side is told from the perspective of the sort of Internet troll you find on the title on-line service. This was my first exposure to this band, and now I plan to hunt down their previous releases – it’s that good. And even better, proceeds from the sales of this single will be donated to the London Renters Union, a grassroots organization that’s focused on changing how housing works in the city.

DRUG APTS – Clean Living Under Difficult Circumstances (Mt.St.Mtn.,

Formerly known as Drug Apartments, this Sacramento band has shortened their name and extended the length of their releases with this, their first full-length LP. Drug Apts offer up a dozen songs of dark arty post punk. Though, taken as a whole, the songs tend to blend into one another a bit, there are some standouts to discuss. The opener, “stereo,” features a throbbing bass and ominous sounding guitar stabs. Whittney K’s vocals are often violent and chaotic throughout the record; her dynamic range is awesome and a highlight of the record. “Straight Shooter” has more of a 90s grunge feel than most of the record, and so stands out from the rest of the tracks. The track has grunge’s hard guitar sound, a classic rock and roll edge, and powerful vocals. I like how “thursday at two” opens with just the distorted, loud bass line and mysterious vocals, and when the guitar comes in with its own winding line. Everything slowly builds, getting louder, pitches rising, until the full band explodes in a cacophonous rage. “saints” is a great track that starts out with a hard edge, and slowly transforms into a bouncy one. And the short instrumental, “sparks break,” is a bright breath of fresh air. This is a record that I’m likely to revisit in the future, but maybe a track or two at a time.

FREAK GENES – III (Drunken Sailor, uk)

Another band has come out with a third LP and titled it “III.” While the album title may not be creative or original, the music on it certainly is. Freak Genes are an English band that blend early punk, new wave, power pop, and psychedelic music into minimalist arrangements that are packed with energy and mania. Many of the tracks feature synthesizer and drum machine. Some of the tracks are angular and abrupt, while others are melodic and easy. The album grabbed me right from the start, with “Waxing Moon,” a track that’s very disjointed, with buzzy sections that jut and other sections that are smooth and relaxed. “Canned Laughter” is a favorite, and is one of the oddest tracks of the album, with dark and twinkly synths dueling with each other, guitar and bass used as percussion instruments, and vocals that are more loudly spoken than sung or shouted. The final quarter of the track changes mood completely, as the synths and guitar play a vaguely medieval melody. “Breach” focuses on the guitar (but keeps the drum machine) and is more of a traditional power pop or early punk sounding track, and is another favorite. I like the bright melodic lines and use of keyboard in “Strange Light.” The bridge and run-out on “Get Ready to Go” are stupendous swirly synth spectacles to behold. I enjoy the bluesy “Stitches,” a track with a retro 50s rock’n’roll feel that’s been heavily altered via synth and droll vocals. “Close Up Fear” closes the LP with a hopping track that reminds me a bit of The Legendary Pink Dots’ “Catch a Match,” for it’s monotone rapid-fire vocals. III may not have as good a name as their previous album, “Qwak Qwak,” but it has even better music.

PROBLEM DAUGHTER – Grow Up Trash (Wiretap Records, wiretaprecords. limitedrun. com)

I don’t predict, I guarantee that this record is going to show up on multiple year-end “best of” lists. The songs are universally great and the songwriting is creative, way above and beyond the typical pop punk band, with unexpected shifts in tempo, in melody, and in feel. “Mercury in Retrograde” is a perfect example of this – this one song goes through so many changes in its short two and a half minutes, yet it’s all a cohesive whole. It starts off with a big, epic sound, then goes through a short period where it’s a little more standard pop punk, the tempo slows, a short hesitation, and the song starts anew with an almost RVIVR-like feel, with madly jangling guitars. The song then has a cool start-stop feel, rapidly shifting tempos and rhythms. It then picks up again as a slower song with bigger emotional content, bringing us to a big close. “Take a Walk on the Mild Side,” a spoof on the title of a famous Lou Reed song, has similar shifts, as if there are three or four songs within one. “Self Amusing Smile” is a favorite, running the gamut from dark, quiet ballad, to a mid-tempo Rocket From The Crypt inspired lope, to Americana-tinged pop punk, time signatures constantly moving. Pretty much the only song that doesn’t shift around like this is the penultimate “Tired About It.” It’s more of a standard emotional pop punk sound familiar to West Coast fans, yet still a powerful track. Front man Regan Ashton’s vocals are among the most unique and recognizable in the punk world, and only add to the excellent qualities of these songs. This record is highly recommended.

SLEEP IN. – The Stars On Your Ceiling (Know Hope Records,

New Jersey’s Sleep In. waited a full five years after their debut LP, “Setting,” to release their sophomore effort. Both LPs are chock full of melodic post emo songs, but where the debut was slightly mathish and busy, the songs on “The Stars On Your Ceiling” are smoother and more relaxed. And that may be the downfall, at least for me. The smooth post emo sound, to my ears at least, just doesn’t pack enough interest or energy. To me it comes across as the adult contemporary version of punk. That said, there are some moments of the album I did enjoy quite a bit. “6th and Catherine,” the second track of the LP, in particular, has a creative arrangement, with rollicking guitar licks and a bouncy melody. The singer-songwriter feel of “A Million Messages” reminds me of LA’s Divided Heaven, and is another favorite. It’s got a slightly Americana feel and a more genuine emotional feel than many of the other tracks. “This Old House” is a pretty waltz-time song, with a tender sound. I would suggest it might sound even better with a cleaner jangly guitar sound. It would add a delicateness to the song that I think would greatly improve it. The shift to straight time on the chorus gives the song a different feel, a change in texture that increases the interest. And the closer, “Let Me Let You Let Me,” is a gorgeous, sad song that opens with just bare vocals and acoustic guitar. Piano and harmonized vocals join in, and we hear where the album title comes from, as the lyrics tell us a tale that seems to be about concern for an ex or an ex-roommate, at least, that swallows their emotions along with booze to keep secrets and feelings hidden. “Said you’re taking a day to sort through your feelings / Now you’re half a bottle down, counting stars on your ceiling / I think you lost it, I think you lost it again.” It’s a beautiful way to end the album, with a very moving song that slowly builds, as do the emotions. Yeah, there are some really nice moments on this album. But I need more than mere moments.

TEENAGE BOTTLEROCKET – Stay Rad! (Fat Wreck Chords,

You know Teenage Bottlerocket, right? So you know what to expect: Ramones-core inspired pop punk, with catchy melodies, harmonized vocals, and tons of bouncy goodness. As is typical with Teenage Bottlerocket records, there’s little in the way of political content here, lyrics sticking to themes of relationships and various juvenile topics. Just the song titles can give you an idea of what I mean, like “Wild Hair (Across My Ass)” or “Night of the Knuckleheads.” That’s not to say all of the songs are inane (though the inanity is part of the fun of TBR). “I Wanna Be a Dog” is more about wanting to live a carefree life than actually wanting to be a dog, despite lyrics such as “You can teach me how to think while I lick my balls and when you get home I can hump your leg.” Yeah, even in the meaningful songs, TBR tries to convince us they’re just a bunch of delinquents. “The First Time That I Did Acid Was The Last Time I Did Acid” may or may not be a song about the dangers of drug abuse, but it’s certainly a hard-hitting track, with more of a hardcore sound than the usual TBR pop punk song. I don’t know who Clint Carlin is, but TBR want to kill him, as told in a song called “I Want to Kill Clint Carlin,” one that sounds in places a lot like a classic Naked Raygun track, making it one of my favorites of the album. “Stupid Song” isn’t stupid at all, about the need for distractions to take our minds off the drudgery and crap in our lives. The bridge is extra poppy sounding, reminding me of Masked Intruder somewhat. “Little Kid” is the most poignant track of the LP, I’m guessing written by Ray Carlisle about missing his brother Brandon, who died just over three years ago (this is the first full album of original TBR songs since Brandon’s death). The song is about having difficulty accepting the passage of time since then, remembering how they were together as kids, and how he’s having trouble living in the moment again, like kids do. I love the use of a single guitar note percussion effect played against the chord changes in the other guitar. Yes, we know what to expect in Teenage Bottlerocket album. Great fun pop punk music.

WEIRD OMEN – Surrealistic Feast (Dirty Water Records, www.dirtywaterrecords.

French garage psych trio Weird Omen have released the LP teased with a new single a few months ago, and it fulfills the promise! Weird Omen are an unorthodox group, featuring a rhythm section of drums and guitar, with the lead instrument being a baritone saxophone. It’s an odd instrumentation to use, but it’s used to great effect to create music that blends garage punk, power pop, and fuzzed out psych. The album opens with a rerecorded version of “A Place I Want to Know” from January’s single. It manages to sound darker and more mysterious on this version. The production of the LP generally is darker and less dry than the single. “Earworm” is the perfect name for the fourth track, because it owes a debt to pop punk; it’s a melodic, bouncy number, even as it has a dark, thundering sound, courtesy of the bari sax and the production. “Surrealistic Feast” is a favorite track. It’s a heavily psychedelic track, with droning guitar and sax plus swirling melodic line in the modal vocal choir. “Collection of Regrets” has a dusty sound to it, like it could be the soundtrack to some movie set in the Old West, but covered by a psych punk band. “Trouble In My Head” alternates between a Sonic Youth feel on the verses and a jangly 60s pop feel on the chorus. The closer is a gorgeous 50s rock and roll ballad, “I Will Write You Poetry.” After a calm, quiet, clear start, though, the song gradually gets noisier and more chaotic, ending in a glorious of ringing vocals, fading into epic guitar feedback. A fitting close to an amazing LP.

BAZOOKA – Zero Hits (Inner Ear Records,

Bazooka hail from Athens. That’s Athens, Greece, not Athens, Georgia. And, as the songs are all sung in Greek, I can’t tell you what they’re about. But the music is a mixture of garage, punk, and funk. Funk? Yes, funk! The first two tracks, “Ela” and “Filaki,” are pretty straightforward mid-tempo garage punk, full of energy and tension. I especially like the jangly guitar sound juxtaposed with the garage feel of “Filaki.” The third track, “Keno,” though, adds a group of trumpets and 70s soul-funk guitar effects to mix in with the garage punk, creating something pretty unique. “Menos” and “Oi Vlakes Kanoune Parelasi” are a pair of cool tracks, with buzzy synth and ominous feel, the latter being a little bouncier than the former. A lot of the tracks have a bit of retro feel to them, harkening back to an era in the 80s when bands weren’t afraid to experiment with new sounds and be different from everyone else. “Mesa Stin Poli” and “Vradini Vardia” are good examples of this, with clean minimalist guitars repeating a couple of melodic lines, while the bass and drums pound out the solid beat incessantly. They’re a couple of my favorites of the album. And “Adiafores Maties” reaches even further back to 60s garage sounds for inspiration, complete with keyboards and just the right guitar tone. “Min Kitas Piso” changes things up a lot with an acoustic folk inspired track, with gang vocals keeping things in a punk-like realm, loads of reverb giving it a slightly other-worldly feel. The closer, “Ta Spao Ola,” is another unique one, blending garage punk with an Afro-Cuban sort of feel. If you’re looking for something different, something original, yet retro, give this a spin.

THE BURNT TAPES – Never Better (Wiretap Records, wiretaprecords.

You don’t normally expect a band from London in the UK to sound like they’re from the West Coast of the United States, but here we are. I guess the Internet really is making the world smaller and smaller. The Burnt Tapes play melodic, emotionally driven pop punk with gruff vocals. It’s a sub-genre that’s been growing quite a lot in recent years, and one that typically packs people into small clubs, everyone pressing toward the stage and singing all of the lyrics at the top of their lungs. It’s the sort of music that usually finds show-goers returning home soaked with spilled beer, their souls filled to the brim. It’s a sound familiar to fans of bands like Western Settings, Hot Water Music, Bastards of Young, Spanish Love Songs, and many others. The title track opens the LP strongly. After some initial moments of ambience, the song explodes with a melodic line that’s crunchy and soars, yet has bounce to it. Gruff gang vocals shout out in conflict, “I want to be alone / But it gets lonely.” The song dissolves back into ambience in its waning moments. There are some other standout tracks, too. “Yuzi” reminds me a lot of Spanish Love Songs, with its great gliding melody, dark feel, and self-deprecating lyrics. “Forty, Forty-Five” is a great ballad with instrumentals that alternate between epic and quiet, huge gruff vocals, and guitars that sometimes jangle like mad. It has a feel that reminds me of The Penske File. I do like all of the tracks on the LP, actually, though I wish there was a little more variety.

THE CHOCOLATE WATCHBAND – This Is My Voice (Dirty Water Records,

The Chocolate Watchband began life some 54 years ago, in California. The psychedelic garage rock band was short-lived in its original incarnation, suffering multiple line-up changes and breaking up in 1970 after just three LPs. In 1999 the band reunited, including a few of the early and original members, and have been performing ever since, even releasing a couple of albums of new songs, including this latest LP, on garage rock specialist label Dirty Water Records. The record finds the band in familiar territory, offering up psychedelic rock songs with politically charged lyrics. For example, the bluesy “Judgment Day,” written at the height of the Great Recession, is about the desperation of those who lost their jobs and everything else during those dark times, and the urge to fight back. The title track, a hypnotic psych track, discusses the lack of fact-based decision making going on in the world, and how it’s been replaced with hatefulness and division. “Trouble Everyday” is a Bob Dylan-esque song with spoken lyrics over a funky jam. And the closer, “Till The Daylight Comes,” opens with a snippet of Donald Trump saying, “Remember, what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.” The song is, ultimately, one of hope. The daylight will come; we will get out of this darkness, somehow. Musically, the song has a distinct feeling of a spiritual, uplifting to the soul. Speaking of the music, it’s quite varied. The opener, “Secret Rendezvous,” is the most raucous, most garage-rock track of the album, the closest to the proto-punk of yore. Other songs are more blues-rock, some are folksy, some are roots rock’n’roll, and some are more garage-like than others. The sitar, a mainstay of psych music back in the day, makes appearances on a couple of the tracks here, too, most prominently in the instrumental, “Bombay Pipeline.” The variety is great. The sentiments are great. But I can’t help but feel that the music is a little too smooth, a little too calm, other than that opening track.

FRANKIE AND THE WITCH FINGERS – ZAM (Greenway Records, www.greenway

LA’s Frankie and the Witch Fingers’ fifth full-length album in six years is a mélange of psych, garage, metal jams, and power pop. Sometimes this works really well, sometimes not. Some tracks rock like mad, others are a little too wanky. Some have a modern melodic component; others are retro rock and roll jam snooze fests. One of the tracks that I like a lot for its tension is the instrumental title track. Yes, it’s an extended jam, not a “song, but the power and energy in it are intoxicating, and the repeating swirling guitar line and dissonant guitar clatter bring my ears to the brink of exploding. I really like “Cobwebs,” a track that’s primarily a slow burner, but has a bridge that dramatically increases the tempo and injects some great power pop melodic content, guitars jangling away. “Purple Velvet” is another one rooted in the power pop tradition, focusing more on the song and the melody than on the jam, with the keyboards injecting some bright flair. “Work” has a strong garage punk streak running through it, and halfway through it turns into a powerful psych-grunge track. On the other hand, tracks like “Pleasure” sort of turn me off. It’s a total throwback to stoner rock from the 70s, full of wah-wah pedal and jammage. “I Am” is another like this, but it’s just a short track that ends very abruptly, leading into “Underneath You,” an excellent oddball track with angular lines and super processed vocals. Yes, it’s also an extended spacey jam, but the eccentricities injected into this make it worthwhile. Toward the end of the track, it begins to smooth out and soften. The opening and closing tracks, “Dracula Drug” and “Head Collector,” are outliers that feel so very different from anything else on the album. The former starts out with ambience and odd sounds underneath a steady beat. Slowly, musical instruments join in and it does become more like the rest of the album, though more subdued. The closer, on the other hand, is entirely calm and sedate, with strings joining in on the trippy psych ballad. While the album is a mixed bag, there’s more goodness here than not.

THE NATIONAL LIGHTS – Whom the Sea Will Keep (Bloodshake Records,

It’s been a long twelve years since The National Lights released their debut LP, “The Dead Will Walk, Dear.” And this new EP, original conceived as a follow-up LP, was written over a decade ago. But as these things go, the band broke up and the members went their separate ways. Until now. Reunited, the upstate New York folk outfit have now released a five song EP inspired by maritime lore. And, while the songs are deeply rooted in traditional folk, the arrangements are rich and lush. The first track, “Swift Ships,” is an ode to regret, telling a tale of a man who left his love to sail the seas. And while he had a full life, shaking “hands with kings and thieves” and lining his shirt with silver, he never saw his love again, and realizes that he had been a fool and didn’t really have a full life after all. I really love the vaguely Irish sound of “A Dead Whale or a Stove Boat,” arranged for piano, acoustic guitar, and concertina. I can imagine a Celtic harp would sound gorgeous in this song, too. Similarly, “Joshua Slocum Sets Sail” has a Celtic feel, and I can imagine the delicate guitar and ambience of the piano being replaced with a Celtic harp, and the bridge being played on a pennywhistle. It’s this sort of thing that gives these original songs the feel of updated, modern arrangements of traditional sea shanties. Quietly gorgeous.

PANDEMIX – In Condemnation (Dirt Cult Records,

This is a difficult album to listen to. Not because it’s bad (it’s not!), but because the anxiety is palpable in the ten tracks, and that anxiety seeps into you. Musically, the songs teeter on the edge of old school punk and early post-punk, with angry guitars, angular melodies, and accusatory vocals. The lyrics of these songs are unsettling, full of animosity and despair. For example, in “A Pox,” Pandemix calls for “a pox on humankind,” decrying the privileges of some, the indifference of others, and the thought too many people hold that the fate of humanity doesn’t depend on us all. The band doesn’t exempt themselves from this damnation, either, as vocalist Shannon Thompson cries out, “I am sickness, my own malignancy / The worst possible version of me.” Nor are those who are traditionally considered part of the “left” spared as targets. In “Can’t Assimilate,” Thompson, who is a trans woman, defiantly states that she won’t assimilate into society’s expectations, and says she will “Wear their hate like a badge.” In the same song she slams the LGBTQ “establishment,” asking, “Pride on whose terms? Pride in what?” I’m more confused and troubled by the opening track, “No Monuments,” though. I’m not sure whether the lyrics are those of resignation or defiance. “No monuments to honor / No history to remember / We are a generation / Without heroes or splendor.” Are Pandemix saying that our generation is one that has become powerless to create change? Or one that willfully denies that past lessons of history? Either way, the songs convey these mixed emotions incredibly well.

EVEN IN BLACKOUTS – Romantico! (Stardumb Records, www.stardumb

Ever since I heard last year’s greatest hits compilation, The Princess Foretold by Her Henchmen, Even, Even In Blackouts have become one of my favorite bands. I had thought I had discovered them too late, though, as they had ceased activity nearly a decade earlier, their last LP having been 2009’s Thresholds From The Basement. But, thankfully, the release of last year’s compilation turned out to be a teaser for the band’s emergence from hibernation. Now comes their first album of new music in ten years, and I couldn’t be happier! Sixteen tracks fill up thirty-two minutes on the album, so most of them are fairly short. A couple of them are “joke” tracks, in which John “Jughead” Pierson and Scott “Gub” Conway use the track titles in silly product pitches. And, though not all of the songs here can be played even in blackouts (many make generous use of electrified instruments), the care and attention to detail that went into each of them is clearly evident. [The name Even In Blackouts referred to the band's original acoustic incarnation, which meant they could play a show even in a blackout. - Editor]

Themes of separation and loss run through the record, reflecting the amount of time the band spent apart, not only due to the hiatus, but also due to Jughead’s move to Japan and other losses. This is clear in the two-part song “Doubt.” Envisioned as a single song, Jughead says he ran out of music halfway through, so he sent the rest of the lyrics to Gub, who turned it into “Doubt Part II.” As you would expect, the theme continues through both songs, but the sound is very different. “I’m lonely when you leave me but alive when you are near,” both songs aver. The song(s) are/were written in the wake of the initial reunion of EIB, Jughead musing on how much he missed not only Gub, but everyone else in the band, and how they complete each other. Part I has a very martial feel, propelling ever forward with a solid steady beat, while Part II has more of a grungy Americana sound. The bouncy mostly acoustic “Blood” belies the aching lyrics about a break-up so bad that it has left the protagonist with a numb heart.

Jughead explains that he rarely writes pop punk songs, because he feels it’s not his talent. But this album has two good ones. “The Denouncement” is a short simple one with a poppy darkness, and “Reason” is a glorious sounding hymn in praise of living life in the moment. “Who needs a reason / To watch it all pass by?” the song asks. I especially love the closing vocal choir, voices raised toward heaven.

“Intergalactic Space Travel” is a favorite track. The music is truly glorious, epic sounding, even, yet bouncy as all hell. The lyrics seem to refer again to the physical separation of the band, with Jughead halfway around the world; it might as well be an intergalactic distance. “It was only movies and words that moved me to our significance,” the song states, as if the band didn’t recognize what they had and meant to each other until they had stopped. But I think my number one favorite has to be “Intention In Tension,” both for the story behind it and for the song itself. Jughead explains that the song “Sunshine,” from Screeching Weasel’s second album, “Boogadaboogadaboogada,” was one of his favorites (mine too!), and that Ben wrote it mostly about a woman they had met on a tour. Jughead had gone to visit her after the tour, and when he told Ben about it, Ben wrote “Sunshine.” This song is Jughead’s response, years later. Where the first song was blunt and accusatory, “Intention In Tension” is delicate and tender, the confusion and mixed feelings of a young immature kid laid bare. The music is light and airy, perfectly matching the feel of the lyrics.

“Killer Bear” is both cute and dark at the same time. Opening with a group of kids singing a simple song, “You’re with me / You’re with me / You’re with me / You’re my killer bear,” the track is no kiddy song, though it has the feel of one. Instead, the lyrics are about the worst, basest aspects of ourselves that we all try to keep caged inside. When they come out, the results are disastrous. The melody is simple, the arrangement raucous, and the old-timey sounding ending is one of those details of production that make this record stand out from the plethora of releases that come out every week.

The closer, “The Kindness,” is the song of ultimate loss: that of a loved one, in this case Jughead’s mother. The track has the sound of a lament. “Oh mother night / With the darkest wit / You will be missed / The memory, the kindness, the sound / And soon all of this will be gone.” But as sad as the lyrics are, the music has a triumphant quality. It reminds me of the Renaissance tradition of the “merry dompe,” a musical elegy to mourn the passing of a great person, but played in a way to lift up the spirit.

Now that EIB is back, I’m fully on board. I hope that, even with Jughead based so far away, some US touring is in the plan. [As this review goes to press, the band is touring Japan.] I’ve found one of my top albums of 2019 already.

FEELS – Post Earth (Wichita Recordings,

Feels, operating out of Los Angeles, is described as an “American psych punk grunge post-rock band.” And that may be accurate for a band that brings enormous diversity of genres to its recordings. Lyrically, the record is a condemnation of the current state of the nation and the planet. “Car,” the grungy opening track references current president DJT and our “one nation under fraud.” “Just trust what I say,” he tells the people. The title track is a blend of grunge and indie pop, slowed down and telling the tale of a future in which billionaires buy themselves tickets on spaceships leaving a dying planet. The fuzzed out bass is prominent, and the vocals slide, oozing the detestation that both sides must feel toward the other. “Awful Need” reminds me so much of Stereolab, with its minimalist repeating lines and steady, smooth vocals. “Deconstructed” has the instrumentals of an old-school punk tune, but the vocals seem a little bit sarcastic. I like the stripped down “Tollbooth;” most of the track full of empty space, with minimal drums, bass, and guitar, plus dry, present vocals very up front. The middle of the track, though, explodes in a ferocious burst of punk energy before settling back down into the slow groove to end the track. “Flowers” closes the record out with a quiet ballad that shifts from indie pop to noisy grunge. Taken individually, many of these songs are timely and enjoyable. Taken as a whole, the shifts in genre are sometimes jarring.

TINY MAGNETIC PETS – The Politburo Disko EP (Vitamin C Records,

This is totally retro synth pop, straight out of the 70s and 80s. Some of it is disco-like, some is more ambient. It’s like mixing Vangelis with a softer, smoother version of, say, Human League, and then adding a pinch of Julee Cruise singing Angelo Badalamenti. There are five tracks on this EP, and the sound alternates somewhat. “Enigma Code Variations I & II” is a buzzy instrumental that hums with a mournful vibrato. “Bitzed” is a chill dance track, with throbbing bass-synth line straight out of the 80s. “Non-Aligned” is darker, more mysterious, and slicker. Synthesized strings ebb and flow, as the buzzy bass synth bleats out a computerized line with perfect synchronicity and drums pound with a tribal ferocity. “A Strange Kind of Loneliness” quiets things down, with the flowing synths reminding me of Vangelis’ epic recordings of the 70s, while the underlying ambience and breathy vocals remind me of the Cruise/Badalamenti team up for the Twin Peaks soundtrack. The title track closes things out with another chill instrumental with a relaxed dance beat. If you miss 80s synth pop, this is for you. For my tastes, it might be s bit too smooth and chill.

THE OLD FIRM CASUALS – Holger Danske (Pirates Press Records,

Anyone familiar with this band from the San Francisco Bay Area? You should be, because it includes none other than Rancid’s Lars Frederiksen. The band has been kicking around for the better part of a decade, releasing a plethora of singles and EPs, yet this is only their second full-length LP. The band is described as being a combination of street punk, Oi, and melodic hardcore. OK, sure, though I always thought of “street punk” being more of the sound of DIY punks than long-standing accomplished punk “stars.” The Old Firm Casuals certainly sounds way slicker and more professional than your average street punk band. But what I like about The Old Firm Casuals is that they aren’t afraid to mix things up. Some of the songs are definite throwbacks to old school hardcore punk, while others are more straight-up rock and roll in the vein of bands like Motorhead. After an ancient sounding blast of a battle horn, “Get Out Of Our Way” blasts out with speed and fury. Shouted vocals and gang backup vocals are key features of this classic hardcore track. After this we get “Motherland” and “Pendulum,” a couple of hard rock and roll tracks, a short metallic instrumental, “De Ensomme Ulve,” and a couple more rockers in the title track and “Casual Rock n Roll.” Then we get to the raging hardcore punk track, “Traitor,” one that’s sure to get the circle pit going on a massive scale. My favorite track, though, I think is “The Golden Fall Pt 1.” It’s another short instrumental track, but it’s the most interesting, most different thing on the record. It’s in waltz time, and I love the epic melodic punk feel it has. I wish they turned this into a full-on song. It might not really be “street punk,” but The Old Firm Casuals fills a niche in the punk scene, and maybe fills a few.

GOLDEN DAZE – Simpatico (Autumn Tone Records,

Golden Daze is the perfect name for this LA outfit. The music is a hazy blend of folk and dream pop, drizzled with psychedelia. Acoustic and electric guitars intertwine with moody synths and otherworldly vocals, while the percussion subtly floats underneath. Playing this record is like walking into a shimmering other reality. It’s the beauty of a rainy day, the sun shining through a break in the clouds, the laziness and haziness. Nowhere is that shimmer more evident than on the opening track, “Blue Bell.” Acoustic guitars twinkle and twirl as the delicate vocals, sung in a half whisper into your ear, turn the grey day into one of enchantment. “Wayward Tide” is another favorite, again making use of glistening acoustic guitars. Many of the songs also utilize synths to create an ambience underneath the melodies, evoking that otherworldly feel. I really like the repeating melodic line of “Drift,” and its unexpected chord change at the end of each iteration. The title track closes the LP, with a simple song, ambient synths underneath simply strummed acoustic guitar, electric slide guitar, and those haunting vocals. This is one of those albums that are perfect to play when you’re housebound, sitting in front of a fireplace reading a book or something like that. Gorgeous.

GOOD SHADE – Way Out (Dirtnap Records,

Garage punk meets power pop meets 70's pop rock? Yes, yes, and yes, on this fourth full-lengther from the Ohio outfit. The diversity and energy make this album a great listen, nearly from beginning to end. “Maybe,” one of the pre-release singles opens the album with an epic sound, rapid tempo, driving beat, and soaring vocals. The other lead single, “Must Have Been,” is already a candidate for favorite song of the year. It’s got that Marked Men rapid pace garage punk sound, but the rapidly changing unorthodox chord changes really make the song a treat. A lot of the tracks are kind of like Marked Men meets the Buzzcocks. “We’re Open” is an interesting one, because it has the garage punk driving guitar sound, but it’s also got the 70's pop rock thing going on in the chorus’s melodic line. “Something’s Wrong” is a nice slower one, with a garage pop feel – but a third of the way in, it gets quiet and indie sounding for a bit, then erupts in a psych explosion. “Just Leave” leaves me a bit cold, though. It’s a tad too heavy on the 70's pop rock feel for my taste. But, yeah, overall this is a great listen.

KOMPLIKATIONS – No Good News (Rockstar Records, www.rockstarrecords. de)

There are no complications here on this, the fifth EP from the Belgian synth punk trio. Keyboards, drums, and vocals are what you get on these five stripped down tracks. It’s all very spare, very simple, very uncomplicated. Angry shouted vocals work closely with the buzzy synths to fill the space that would normally be taken up by guitars and bass. Imagine 70s punk crossed with early new wave, then strip away everything that isn’t absolutely necessary, and you get a sense of the sound you get from Komplikations. And with song titles like “Mouthy Leaders” and “Haters,” you know the songs are politically relevant. The pared back sound can be a bit jarring, but these are good songs.

LENNY LASHLEY’S GANG OF ONE – All Are Welcome (Pirates Press Records,

Lenny Lashley just may be Boston’s Boss. Like Bruce Springsteen, Lashley plays energetic working class rock and roll with elements of folk and punk in the songs. Like Springsteen, Lashley uses organ and sax in his arrangements. Lashley’s songs are maybe a bit more raw and honest sounding. Though Lashley’s been kicking around for the better part of two decades, this is only his second full-length LP as Lenny Lashley’s Gang of One, his debut coming nearly 6 years ago. Lashley also writes songs that champion the underdog and make a statement. Case in point, the title track, which references the poem, “The New Colossus,” part of which is inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. “Give us your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free,” he sings. It’s a song aimed directly at the Trump administration, as Lashley asks, “Have we forgotten what we stand for?” “Where do we go from here, now that hope is lost?” he pleads. The song even includes a clip of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech. “Live Like Lions” has elements of country, thanks to the slide guitar, and vaguely Irish music, courtesy of the accordion or concertina (not sure which it is) and the vocals that sounds a bit like Dave King of Flogging Molly. “Lonesome” has that same dichotomous character. I love the acoustic guitar and concertina, but not being a big fan of country I could do without the slide guitar. But that doesn’t apply to “Double Miner, a tune that sounds like a traditional song out of the old west. “Betty” is the most raucous of the ten tracks, and the first to feature saxophone. It kind of feels like something the SNL house band might play for the live audience to get them warmed up and rowdy. “Revolution” is another one that’s more rock than anything else, and proof that the back half of the album is more rockin’ than the front.

THE LOST TAPES – Inconvenience (Rockstar Records, www.rockstarrecords. de)

Part dark post punk, part goth this reminds me somewhat of what you might get if you crossed early 80's TSOL, late 80's DC band Strange Boutique, and mixed in a healthy dose of Bauhaus. Though that’s the general feel of this album, the first track, “Cyanide,” is completely different and undoubtedly the best of the bunch. It has a much harder, edgier feel, slightly angular melodic lines, and angry shouted vocals. The rest of the album from this German band doesn’t quite measure up to the promise of that first track. Each song, in turn, seems to lose more edge, become less focused, until we reach the halfway mark with the dirge-like “Double Vision.” On this one, the drums slowly and repetitively pound, the bass line is unchanging, and the whole song just seems to drag. The back half of the album picks things up again, but never recaptures the energy of the opening track. These tracks start to blend into each other, with little differentiation. The penultimate track, “Buildings,” tries to replicate the edgier feel, and to a degree succeeds, with a more rocking sound that most of the LP. But it’s only a couple of songs from this album that interest me.

SNAKERATTLERS – All Heads Will Roll (Dirty Water Records, www.dirtywater

Snakerattlers is married duo of Naomi and Dan Oliver Gott. Hailing from the north of England, the guitar and drums pair produce a huge, gritty, greasy sound. They play a cross between garage and rockabilly, in all its raw powerful glory. This, their sophomore full-length LP, features eleven tracks whose big sound belie the diminutive size of the band. Tons of reverb, as befits the genre, vocals that are sung as much as shouted with gusto, and pounding percussion are the main features. After a short instrumental introductory track that sets the mood, we get “All Heads Will Roll,” a dark dirty dirge sure to blacken your soul. Other highlights include “She’s Strange,” which has a Latin influence and “Rattle Rock Stomp,” with its cool noisy intro, retro rock progression and growled and shouted vocals pushing out lyrics that merely consist of the title sung over and over. Another great track, “I’ll Destroy Your Soul,” sounds like they really mean it. The closer, “Wild,” reminds me a bit of power pop garage rockers LA Drugz, which is a high compliment. Dirty Water continues its winning streak.

AM TAXI – Shiver By Me (Mutant League Records,

Music always sounds better when the band playing it is having fun. And that’s one thing that’s immediately striking about Chicago-based AM Taxi: they’re quite obviously enjoying what they’re doing. The music has a bright sound to it, even the emotional “down” songs. Unconventional instruments (for punk-based music) such as piano, organ, and trumpet make their way into some of the songs, adding a great feel to the texture of these tracks. The opener is pretty simple, but a blast of fun. “Saint Jane” is bouncy and melodic garage-punk with some great sing-along parts. It sets a fantastic mood for the record. “Harpoon” is one of my favorites of the album, with a more of a lean toward indie rock. Harmonized vocals, a pounding beat, some great hooks, and sparkling guitars make this a winner. “Fighting In Cars” is similar, but with a bunch of jangle, and is another great one. I like how the band mixes things up on this record, and each song sounds distinct. “Movie About Your Life” is acoustic, with handclaps and keyboard punctuating the song, which sounds like something that might come from Teenage Bottlerocket. “Swim Before You Sink” has a punk rock show tune feel to it, in a way that’s really fun. “L’Patron” is smooth and almost lounge-like with its keyboards, but it occasionally gets big and epic. Given the band’s bio and their flirtation with a major label, I wasn’t expecting to like this record much, but I really do like it!

(Joyful Noise Recordings,
www.joyfulnoiserecordings. com)

Marina Tadic has had an interesting life. Born to Croat parents in the former Yugoslavia, her family was forced to flee and become refugees during the Bosnian war that ripped Yugoslavia apart. Settling in the Netherlands, Tadic became an audio and visual artist, creating musical act Eerie Wanda with band mates Jasper Verhulst and Jeroen de Huevel. Eerie Wanda’s sophomore full-length LP is a study in delicate minimalism. Acoustic guitar or ukulele, bass, and miscellaneous percussion glide under Tadic’s smooth, easy vocals, reminding me at times of Julee Cruise, made famous by David Lynch during the TV run of Twin Peaks. But, while Cruise was singing retro rock song written by Angelo Badalamenti, Tadic’s songs are more island influenced, warm and breezy, such as the title track and “Magnetic Woman,” or influenced by retro pop music, like “Big Blue Bird” and “Moon.” Though they don’t break new ground, the songs are very soothing and relaxing to listen to. I enjoy “Rockabiller,” a “love song” to the title character. It has a minimalist repeating line pulsing under the vocals, with a hint of rockabilly feel, but it’s still so quiet and understated. “Hands of the Devil” has a great flamenco guitar sound, complete with clapping, but the chord progression is more of a bluesy one, making for an interesting listen. Beautiful.

GULAG BEACH – Potato Mash Bash (Rock Star Records,

Hailing from Berlin, Gulag Beach aren’t looking to push the boundaries of punk rock, but they’re very comfortably rocking out with some classic punk sounds on this, their fourth full-length LP. There are eight songs, four to each side – well, really seven songs. The closer of each side is “Death Is Not The End,” with part 1 on side A and part 2 on side B. Topics are classic punk themes, too, with “Ode to Capitalism” including lyrics such as “Work – Eat – Die” repeated multiple times. “The Need to Be High” is a song about the need to use substances or activities – anything that releases dopamine, to relieve the stress of daily life. Like I said, this record isn’t earth shattering, but it’s a fun one. I’ll bet the live shows are pretty raucous.

WEIRD OMEN – Girls Are Dancing On The Highway b/w A Place I Want To Know (Dirty Water Records,

New single from French band Weird Omen, a band that already has four LPs and three other singles floating out there. The band is hard to pin down, genre-wise, but they seem to combine elements of garage punk, power pop, and fuzzed out psych. Plus they’ve got a baritone sax! They’re actually a three-piece, with guitar and drums filling things out! That’s a pretty unique concept, and it serves them well; there’s a lot of cool noodling going on in the bass line, more so than if it had been a traditional electric bass. This adds to the awesome psych feel. The single is a teaser for a forthcoming LP, and it certainly does whet the appetite. The A side is a dark, chaotic track, while the B-side has the stronger power pop sensibility, and is my favorite of the pair. Good stuff!


BAND ARGUMENT – Patchwork (

Band Argument is a new San Diego band that features Jordan Krimston and Sil Damone, formerly of Big Bad Buffalo, along with Jake Kelsoe and Alex Simonian, performing music different than anything that’s come from Krimston and Damone’s previous efforts. First, Krimston steps back from guitar duty and gets back behind the drum kit, actually his primary instrument. Damone sings and plays bass again, and Kelsoe and Simonian play guitar and MIDI. The resulting music is a glorious mash-up of math-pop, dream-pop, new wave, and a sort of neo-futuristic electro-music. The five songs on this debut release are, to my ears, more creative and original than much of the music being released today. The lead single, “Buddy,” opens the EP with angular melodic and rhythmic lines most reminiscent of new wave, then adding in some hip-hop rhythms and rapping. The electronics are front and center, giving us a strong taste of what’s to come. “Standing On Shoulders” sounds a bit like Cymbals Eat Guitars tune, but with a cool underwater sounding warble in the electronics. This one is dreamy but edgy. “Long Jump” has a breezy island feel to it, thanks to steel drum sounds from the synth, and a throbbing rhythm. “Sneaker Keeper” has a cool jazz vibe mixed with startling noises punctuating the track. “Dinner” closes the EP with more angular rhythms and guitar/MIDI lines over smooth, relaxed vocals, the opposition of these elements keeping the track in an off-kilter balance. I really liked Big Bad Buffalo, and I like Krimston’s other current bands (Miss New Buddha, Weatherbox), but Band Argument has the originality to make a real splash, should they make the effort.

CALIFORNIA HEARSE (californiahearse.

Southern California’s Gentlemen Prefer Blood may have called it quits, but their rhythm section, consisting of Dr. J on bass/vocals and Mike Spaid on drums, have decided to press on as California Hearse. If you’re familiar with the sounds produced by Gentlemen Prefer Blood, you’re going to instantly feel at home here; the half dozen tracks have the same general mix of anthemic pop punk and power pop. “Welcome Home” seems to reflect this, welcoming GPB fans home to this new band, the expansive opening guitar licks sounding just like GPB. Other songs add influences from bands as diverse as The Descendents and Social Distortion. Their first show will be at La Escalera Fest 8 in San Diego this April, and I know I’m looking forward to that, based on this EP.

OFFENDED BY EVERYTHING – Evergreen (Standby Records, www.standbyrecords. com)

Texas’ Offended By Everything call themselves pop punk, but this reminds me more of the poppy emo that was so trendy in the 2000s. This new EP from the still pretty new band (they only formed in 2017) contains five tracks that, if you’re a fan of that genre, are performed in workmanlike fashion and should be enjoyable enough. To my ears, though, these songs and so many like them have little variation and are overwrought. The one exception is the title track, which is an acoustic version of this style of song, and I think this works so much better acoustically than as a full electric band.

RADAR STATE – Strays (Wiretap Records,

Wiretap’s latest release comes from a “super group” of sorts, with Radar State consisting of Matt Pryor and Jim Suptic of The Get Up Kids, Josh Berwanger from The Anniversary, and Adam Phillips of The Architects and The Gadjits. As a result, the music on this debut LP is bouncy, melodic pop punk with a clean polished sound. In a way, it almost sounds like it could be a new Get Up Kids release, but this record has more of an edge and less jangle than The Get Up Kids songs. Favorite songs include the anthemic “Anywhere,” which contrasts tough guitars with a poppy melodic line and a fantastic descending line in the chorus. I really like the guitar fiddling and flourishes on “Self Hurt Guru,” which also has a great “Fat Wreck Chords” pop punk sound. “Defender” is probably the most aggressive, punk song of the album. It’s got a power to it, as does “Good Catholic,” with the latter having a lot more bounce. And a third track in a row completes the troika, “Leather Dye.” It’s dark, up-tempo, and gets all misty in the middle. The only song that feels out of place is the closer, “Play For The Game.” It’s acoustic for its first two-thirds before the full band comes in, but even then, the whole song feels so different from the rest of the album, It’s more of a low energy ballad. I see this band is coming through town on tour in a few weeks, though, and I’ve put them on my calendar. Should be a good time.

SLUM SUMMER – Ababo (Jigsaw Records,

Fronted by Englishman Hugh Noble and formed after his move to San Diego, Slum Summer is an indie band that includes another UK ex-pat, Grant Stewart, on bass, as well as Americans DJ Anderson (drums) and Jen Edwards on guitar. The songs are nearly uniformly gentle indie pop, with a slightly folk-psych undercurrent. Guitars jangle clearly, while the bass and drums pump out the beats and Noble’s smooth, even vocals sing out. The problem is that, within those parameters there could be plenty of opportunity for variation, but Slum Summer don’t take it often enough. Well, I guess musically there’s some variation. “Trampoline” has a doo-wop sort of feel, while “Vauxhall” has the feel of a country ballad. “Sing Sing The Rain” has a funky beat to it, and so on. I think it’s really Noble’s vocals that sound identical from song to song. And it’s so dominant in the mix, maybe too much so. Every little flaw is laid bare in those vocals because of that mix. Then there’s how clean the guitar tone is on every song, and the amount of reverb they have – again, too much, I do like some of the songs. “The Rub” is a nice driving indie tune, and the dueling guitars jangle in different ways. And the opener, “Annabel,” is, well, similar. The songwriting has some good potential, I think, but Slum Summer could do with some help producing their records.

TROUBLE CUTS – Parasite b/w Who Is Right? (Lavasocks Records,

My interest in this record from a band out of Portland that rarely plays outside their local area is clear: the bassist is none other than Kyle Henner, formerly of 90s Bay Area band Nuisance, and the drummer is Jonno Peltz, who played in the short-lived hardcore band Breeders in Urbana, Illinois in the early 80s. This 7” EP comes on clear red vinyl and features a pair of tracks. The A-side is a rocker, for sure, with early rock’n’roll guitar flourishes. It’s a mildly up-tempo track packed with a bluesy power. The B-side is a slow-burner with a dusty desert feel. The vocals complement the style really well, with a dry delivery. Not only is it good to see people from bands I enjoyed years ago still making music, it’s great to hear that it’s really good music.

VAN DAMMES – Risky Business (Rock Star Records,

Pop fucking punk rock from Finland! The Van Dammes, from Helsinki, have issued forth a challenge to the world. The six songs on this EP are nothing short of a huge blast of fun energy. Lo-fi in just the right way, this record is a must for all fans of garage-like pop punk. Formed in 2013 in Brussels, the band has relocated further north. This is the fourth EP from the quartet, which features guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards – and the keyboards add a lot to the fun here! Five of the six tracks are under two minutes, with only the mid-tempo closer passing that mark. The title track opens the record in spectacular fashion, raging like mad. Things don’t let up one bit for “I Don’t Like Music Anymore,” with a bit of a Radioactivity vibe, but with more of a melodic bounce. I really like “100m,” and its use of the keys to echo the melodic line of the vocals. That closing track, “Tax Free World,” is a good one, too, but feels a little out of place with its more loping feel and more of a focus on melody than speed and power. This is a highly recommended record!

VINTAGE CROP – Company Man (Drunken Sailor Records,

This four song EP features a classic punk sound out of Australia. The mid-tempo tracks feature angular melodic lines and shouted vocals. The band this most reminds me of is Art Brut, the great UK band, as they have a very similar feel. Song topics primarily seem to revolve around economic exploitation, particularly the title track and “Stock Options,” which closes the EP. Favorite track: the off-kilter “Right to Censor.” Good stuff.


WEAKENED FRIENDS – Common Blah (Don Giovanni Records, www.dongiovanni

OK, yeah, this came out in the last quarter of 2018. Our fearless editor tells me it literally fell through the cracks – he found it had fallen behind his CD cabinet. But never fear – good music stays good, and this is indeed good. The trio hails from New England (Boston and Portland, Maine), and I hear a few different things in here that make me happy; I hear influences from grunge, from indie pop, and from pop punk. “Peel” is a solid grunge track, with a tough feel, solid bass line, and fuzzed out guitars. “Waste” also has a big grunge sound, but with a lot of bounce added in. “Early” reminds me so much of Washington D.C.’s Tsunami, a favorite indie pop band from back in the day. Some of the songs remind a lot of local San Diego band. Squarecrow. Not that they’re an influence – how can they be? Squarecrow is a tiny local band – but the way the vocals have a bit of a tremor, almost like a subtle laugh, reminds me a lot of Squarecrow’s Todd Allen and the way he sings. The title track is a good example of this. And the songs have the same light-hearted feel like Squarecrow, though the lyrics may not be as light-hearted as the music implies. “Not Doing Good” is another example of this. The closing track, “Hate Mail,” features a guest appearance from Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis, and the unmistakable guitar tone adds another layer to the song. I wish I had heard this record earlier. Perhaps it might have displaced something from my 2018 best records list…


This split LP comes from a pair of bands from Long Island, and it features an amazing diversity of sound! Each band contributes five tracks, with Unknown River Driver up first. Just this one band likes to mix things up, with styles ranging from post-punk to pop punk, but all with a strong grounding in 1990s sounds. “Remains” blends heavy early-era emo vocals and a grunge-doom feel with a beautifully clear guitar tone. “Isaiah” is a great, epic sing-along pop punk track with shouted vocals and a simple melodic line. “Pour” is a dark track, mixing second wave emo with an almost metallic edge. “Song of the Cicada” is a pretty, delicate instrumental that doesn’t even sound like it came from the same band. It’s got a Japanese feel to it, both in the melody and arrangement. The band’s final track, “Misery and Liberty,” is a more standard melodic punk rock tune. And then comes Rations Noise’s side! Now, this is definitely not your typical Jersey Beat fare. This is experimental noise and found sound mixed with musical instruments. And I love it! This is sonic art of a sort that was made during a very creative period in the 1980s, but is not often heard anymore. And these five tracks are a good introduction to people unfamiliar with the genre, as the tracks are short and rhythmic, some even with a discernable melodic line in places. “Screams of the Wounded and Dying” opens with some eerie sounds, and then distorted synthesized voices intoning emotionlessly about pain and mourning. The nightmarish sounds continue, as a pulsating melodic line repeats, sounding like a distorted harmonium, and the eerie sounds resolve into a rhythmic beat. “Litany for Hancock Airbase” opens in a similar manner, but this track remains dark and foreboding, until the very end when a beautifully bass line takes over from the buzzing and droning. “Dronestruck” (speaking of drones) consists of dark ambience swelling and ebbing, punctuated by a rhythmic banging pattern that’s repeated, while a guitar plays rising and falling notes. “Consoles” may be my favorite. It’s dark and buzzy, with a strong repeated rhythm, periodically interrupted by some other randomly evil sounds. “Cont’d Litany” closes the side with a harsh noise blended with guitar lines, distorted voices begging forgiveness at the start and end. There is a consistent theme around unjust warfare throughout these tracks, as well. Highly recommended!

back to l back to top is an independently published music fanzine covering punk, alternative, ska, techno and garage music, focusing on New Jersey and the Tri-State area. For the past 25 years, the Jersey Beat music fanzine has been the authority on the latest upcoming bands and a resource for all those interested in rock and roll.

AUTHORITY ZERO – Persona Non Grata (

Authority Zero, hailing from Mesa, Arizona, have been making music for some twenty-four years. This latest LP is pretty representative of their style – strongly rooted in the skate punk tradition, with ska and reggae influences in some of the songs. As such, it’s a mixed bag for me. The skate punk songs come off as too generic for my tastes. There are so many bands playing this style of music, and it all starts to sound the same, non-descript melodic punk with harmonized vocals, like so many other skate punk bands. There are a few tracks that vary from the standard formula. “Atom Bomb” focuses pretty solidly on ska for the verses, and back to skate punk for the chorus. “Ah Hell” eschews the skate punk sound for more of a modern pop punk sing-along, and is easily the best song of the record. “Shake The Ground” slows things down to a reggae lope. “Mush Mouth” is Bad Religion style skate punk, but faster and harder. “Back From The Dead” is more ska. The rest of the dozen tracks are all fairly indistinguishable from one another.

MR. LEWIS AND THE FUNERAL 5 – Before the World Beat You Down (Chicken Ranch Records,

When life hands you lemons, you make some lemonade. Mr. Lewis and the Funeral 5 must be drowning in the stuff. This past year they suffered the deaths of two significant others, the divorce of a third, and the departure of half their lineup. But, conventional wisdom says that hard times are fodder for artistic inspiration, so front man Greg Lewis recruited some new members, regrouped, and responded with this new LP. Musically, the Funeral 5 are sort of like a rock and roll lounge act (and I mean that in the best way). “For Another Day” opens the album with ominous percussion, and then surf-like guitars come in, keyboards trembling in the background. Lewis’ vocals and saxophone duel with each other in a dark dance. It’s a strong start to a strong album. The songs all rock, but with a retro-lounge edge, and more than a hint of garage. Many of the songs have a feeling of gloom. “The Ballad of Bones and Blood” is a dirge-like ballad, with eerie keyboards providing a feeling of dread throughout the song, with lyrics about a dysfunctional relationship. I love the feel of “Bricks,” which makes use of bass clarinet and piano in a waltz time to give the track a great old timey feel. The song is about someone who has thrown bricks off the roof onto the head of another; whether it’s actual or metaphorical is unknown. Sometimes the songs get big, and the vocals are belted out, in a Tom Jones kind of way – and again, I mean this as a positive. “Burn Down The Sails” is a case in point. “No, Sofia” adds backing vocals from a “girl group” to give the song a fun 60s R&B feel. And though “fun” is not a word one would use to describe the darkness of these tracks, they sure are great to listen to.


The best way to describe this six-song mini LP would be ambient post-rock. Dreamy instrumentals ebb and flow, while the sparse vocals drift in and out. These are extended excursions, with the tracks ranging between four and eight minutes each (with one exception, the two and a half minute “Slow Moon”). Lush guitars swirl about, while electronics hum, buzz, and throb. “Slow Moon” may be my favorite track. I love the opening bass line, the wobbling phasing electronics, and the slow, lazy feel of it. Too much of a good thing, though, as they say, can be bad for you. The longer tracks seem a bit too long, and there’s too much sameness. This seems like it would be great background music for reading a book on a rainy day.

aBIRD – Hard Times in Two Dimensions (

aBIRD is Adam Bird, former front man of Those Mockingbirds. There’s a heavy influence from lightly-goth 80's synth-pop in these seven tracks. Think John Hughes soundtracks, Tears For Fears, the Cure, that sort of thing. The bass synths are deep and buzzy; the high tones are sparkling. All of the instrumentation is synthesized, excepting for the occasional guitar. You get a really strong sense of this on “A Cool Island Song,” the second track of the LP. If I close my eyes I’m back in my university apartment with MTV playing on the cable TV. Sometimes Bird takes things too far with this retro feel, crossing the line from homage to kitsch. Descending synthesized tom drums is one cliché; the “chick-ahh” vocal is another. Favorite track: “If I Had a Gun,” because it’s the least retro, least commercial sounding track, and the keyboard tone sounds so much like a Fender Rhodes, something I fondly remember from 70s jazz records. Least like the other tracks: the closer, “Polluto,” an attempt at harder rock sounds while still sticking with synths. Bottom line: I liked aBIRD’s slow burner torch song from the Mint 400 movie soundtrack compilation more than this album. It has its moments, but this is really for big fans of that 80's sound.

BRENDAN KELLY AND THE WANDERING BIRDS – Keep Walkin’ Pal (Red Scare Industries,

Known primarily as the front man of The Lawrence Arms, Brendan Kelly keeps himself busy, musically, between TLA’s infrequent gigs and albums. Besides also performing with other Chicago musical luminaries in The Falcon, Kelly performs solo under the moniker “Brendan Kelly and the Wandering Birds.” Kelly’s deep, gravelly voice will be instantly familiar to fans of his more well known outfits, but that’s where the similarity ends. These songs are all over the place, from country ballads to funky soul. Many of the songs seem to be tongue-in-cheek kitsch, showing Kelly’s sense of humor, like “Shitty Margaritas,” a bouncy track full of breezy synths (which many of the tracks are). It’s a song simultaneously about the joys and dangers of the self-same beverages. “Huggz” is a funky synth track that reminds me of cheesy 80s disco-soul, and I think it’s about addiction. Huggz are what he craves and what gets him through the day. Some of the tracks have more of a solo pop punk feel, like they’re Kelly’s solo songs arranged with synths and percussion, and these are my favorites – like “Black Cat Boy” or the title track. One of the more interesting tracks is Kelly’s twisted homage to the Beach Boys, “Boardin’ USA.” Imagine a song about a particular form of torture made infamous during the Iraq war set to a Beach Boys tune! Really! And “The Ballad of Buffalo Bill” is an ode to the character from the film “Silence of the Lambs,” complete with synthesized poodle barks.” Bottom line on this one is it’s pure BK: sometimes cheesy, sometimes dark, always fun.

A CAST OF THOUSANDS – The Beige (Record Records,

Upstate New York’s indie-psych-folk band A Cast of Thousands returns with a new full-length LP. Like past efforts, “The Beige” contains some gorgeous, laid-back songs that have both a 60s hippy vibe and a modern indie sensibility. I adore Beth Beer’s vocals; they’re just perfect for this style of music. And while there’s still plenty of psych here, there’s more emphasis on the indie this time around. Like on “Gaslight,” which opens the album. It’s a waltz time song that’s more firmly in the modern indie era than anything else A Cast of Thousands has presented before. But just like their entire catalog, the song is delicate and pretty. “Outlier” brings things back to more “traditional” territory for the band, with the psych-folk vibe. It’s another waltz-time track, still delicate, still beautiful. I really like the minimalist guitar line during the verses, just a single plucked string, loaded with vibrato, repeating the same simple line over and over.” Adventurer” is back on the indie-side with a strong power pop influence that I like. Some of the tracks focus on a more acoustic folk sound, like “Magical Thinking” and “Around These Parts.” These just add to the relaxed, laid-back feel of the album. I like how the penultimate song, “Regret,” builds in intensity throughout the track and then ends abruptly, unfinished, like many things in life we all regret. After a short pause, the album closes with “Savior,” the prefect song to sum up A Cast of Thousand’s style – part folk, part psych, and part indie, with Beer’s smooth, even keeled vocals. This is the perfect album for listening indoors on a cold winter weekend day – it provides a nice warmth.

DRUG CHURCH – CHEER (Pure Noise Records,

What happens when you take 90s emo and post-hardcore, and 2000s emo pop punk and mix it all together? While it might sound like you would get a mess, it actually works amazingly well when it’s Drug Church doing it. This album relentlessly pounds out the post-hardcore, but this is way more melodic and poppy than post-hardcore is supposed to be. Drug Church also use a guitar tone that seems to me to be right on the cusp between late 80s rock and 90s emo. It’s a distorted fuzzy jangle with a focus on higher harmonics, and it contrasts really nicely from the crunch of the post-hardcore and gives it a distinct sound unlike anything else out there. The bass lines are strong too, giving these tracks a real groove unknown in most hard-edged music. While there isn’t a track on the whole album I don’t like, special mention has to be made of the troika of tracks in the middle of the LP, “Unlicensed Guidance Counselor,” “Weed Pin,” and “Unlicensed Hall Monitor.” The first of these three alternates between an early emo feel (the sort that I was constantly listening to in the late 80s and early 90s) and a hard rock pop sound. “Weed Pin” brings those amazing guitar tones to the fore in a track that’s both head banging and bouncy at the same time, “Unlicensed Hall Monitor” picks up the tempo, keeps that gorgeous guitar tone, and manages to feel simultaneously breezy and heavy. This album starts strong and gets stronger with each song. The back half is mind-blowingly good. Heartily recommended!

JAGGER HOLLY – Last of the International Playboys (Mom’s Basement Records, momsbasementrecords.bandcamp. com)

Hailing from Ohio and/or somewhere in Europe (it’s not clear from the band’s internet presence), Jagger Holly is a trio playing a cross between Teenage Bottlerocket style Ramones-core pop punk and early power pop. The power pop influence is apparent in the slight mellowing of the pop punk, a feeling that it’s a little more “adult” without losing its youthful energy or attitude. The record opens with a sound clip of a woman saying, “He’s sober. It’s not a good idea to be sober.” We immediately then launch into “Party Tonight,” with lyrics like “BYOBD – that means bring your own beer and drugs.” The track is perfect for pogoing to, with loads of bounce, and the song insists, “Gonna have fun tonight with or without you / You know I’m right, I wouldn’t lie.” The theme continues with “It Ain’t Over.” “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over / Well I’m gonna be hung over tomorrow,” declares the chorus. Maybe I’ll take back that assessment that this is more “adult!” But where I get that from is “I Know I Know,” a track that could have come from a Paul Collins Beat” LP, because it’s such classic power pop, from the melody right down to the lyrics that tell a tale of lost love. “Let’s Hang Out At The Beach” has a pretty good beachy punk feel to it, and I love the laid-back power pop of “Bree Olson.” As a matter of fact, the last third of the album lens more toward power pop than the first two thirds. If you like mature power pop and juvenile lyrics (and who doesn’t), plus a dose of Ramones-core – this is a great record!

JIGSAW YOUTH – Sorry For The Distortion (

Jigsaw Youth, from New York City, prefaced this recording when sending it by calling themselves an “all girl punk/grunge band.” I guess they feel they need to say that, as if it would be a novelty, a selling point to get us to review it and you to buy it. I prefer to just call them a really good punk/grunge band – the gender of the members is irrelevant to me. And, hey, the amount of distortion is just right. The record starts with “Stillborn Black,” a track that channels punk, grunge, and heavy alt-rock, with a dose of funk in the bass, and even in the guitar at the end! The lead vocals are powerful, sometimes sung, sometimes shouted. “Don’t Make Me Freak” slows things down and gets grungier, and the vocals drip with attitude. The bridge is an abrupt change to smooth indie, before things grunge up again for the finish. I really enjoy “Flirts On Fire,” for it’s 90s LA feel of pop punk with a strong edge. “Surf Rock Song” isn’t really a surf track, but it blends grunge and jangle really well. The closer on this seven song mini-LP, “All Around (Fucked Up),” goes back to pure grunge, and here it reminds me a bit of a band from way back, Made Out of Babies, with how the vocals switch so seamlessly between rough and sweet. Good stuff, this is.

JOHNNY MAFIA – Princes De L’Amour (Dirty Water Records,

Not since Vacation’s LP “Non-Person” a couple years ago have I heard an album like this. Blending surf guitar, psychedelic sounds, power pop, and a strong garage punk streak, Johnny Mafia is a revelation. The music is raucous and it’s bright and sunny. You can’t help but get up and jump around when these songs are playing. The instrumentation is somewhat thin – just the guitar, bass, drums, and vocals – but Johnny Mafia fills the empty space with an infectious energy and glow. The lead single, released a couple months back, is also the opening track, and it’s the perfect introduction to this French band and their sophomore LP. My favorites do tend to be the faster song, like this one, “Secret Story,” “On The Edge,” Feel Fine, Feel Time,” and especially “Each Side,” which rocks hard as hell while still sounding bright. Some of those slower songs are worthy of a mention, too. “A.C.O.” has parts that feel very retro beach-pop and parts that are kind of grunge-like. And I love “Sun 41,” (not a typo) a song heavy on the psych with gloriously fuzzed out guitars. That aforementioned Vacation LP found a place on my “Best of” list the year it came out. Johnny Mafia just may follow suit this year.

NEIGHBORHOOD BRATS – Claw Marks (Dirt Cult Records, www.dirtcultrecords. com)

FUCK YEAH! Neighborhood Brats are an on-again off-again band out of LA, originally from the Bay Area. I first saw them at Awesome Fest a few years back, and they blew me away. They play super-fast, super-energetic classic punk but with a strong melodic sensibility. Their live show can’t be beat, and their recorded output is just as good. There’s not a single ballad here, no laid-back tracks – everything is high-energy, powerful, kick-ass punk rock. It’s hard to pick favorite tracks, because they’re all so rad. But I’ll single out a few. “Dark Angelo” is the perfect way to start this record – classic punk, classic chord progressions, with loads of melody and even some harmonized vocals. “Late Stage Capitalism” is almost slowed to a mid-tempo track, and the lyrics are particularly relevant today, talking about how the upper echelons of our society can literally get away with murder. “Misery Parade” has a Bad Religion feel to it, only faster and stronger, and I love the surf guitar tones on this one. “One Way Friends” reminds me of a more polished DFMK (great punk band from Tijuana). And “Down 3rd” is bouncy as hell, while the topic (Southern California tragedies) is anything but, always a great combination. Actually, there’s only one track I could do without – or more accurately, could do with a different arrangement. “Night Shift” uses piano to give the song an old-time rock’n’roll feel, and I don’t think it really needed it. This record is a more than worthy of your turntable.

PORCUPINE – What You’ve Heard Isn’t True (DC-Jam Records, www.dcjamrecords. com, Dead Broke Rekerds, www.dead

Porcupine has been around for over a decade, based for a good part of that time in Wisconsin. After relocating to Minnesota’s Twin Cities and recruiting Hüsker Dü’s Greg Norton back into active duty, the band is getting a lot of buzz, and for very good reason. The six tracks on this mini-LP are some great indie-rock mixed with bits of dreaminess. “Lifetime” opens with a minimalist guitar line and high-pitched harmonics floating above. When the full band comes in, the bass line is hypnotic and the vocals go from band-limited filtering to full-spectrum. The result is a song that rocks with a bit of an ethereal quality. “Distraction” is one of my favorite tracks, the guitar swirling both in the line it plays and the phasing effect. I love how the key moves between a dark modal sound major key optimism. “Pull” has a great power pop base with touches of psych, math, and indie. The trio covers a track from Hüsker Dü’s “Zen Arcade” LP, “Standing By the Sea.” According to Norton, they made the decision to record this song shortly after the death of Grant Hart, who, with Norton, made up two thirds of Hüsker Dü. The cover here has more of a prog rock sound than the original. My favorite of the half-dozen, though, is “Exit 180,” recorded live. It’s super mathy and edgy in the instrumentals, with smooth, jazzy vocals. This is a phenomenal EP.

REVEREND HORTON HEAT – Whole New Life (Victory Records, www.victory

It’s amazing that Reverend Horton Heat is still kicking around more than 30 years after their formation. Even more remarkable is their signing a few years back by Chicago label Victory Records, which started life putting out straightedge hardcore music, then branched out into the burgeoning emo genre of the 2000s. One normally doesn’t associate the retro psychobilly stylings of the good Reverend with such a label, but I’m glad that label founder Tony Brummel decided to branch out all those years ago into new genres. Jim Heath and company are just as strong as ever, and if you’re into the retro 50s sound, jump on this. And if you’re not into that sound, but like good music – well, jump on this too. Because the good Reverend isn’t a one-trick pony. Sure, the majority of the record is rooted firmly in 50s rock’n’roll, but that’s not all that’s here. The title track opens the album with a solid old-time rockabilly track, but “Hog Tyin’ Woman” blends 50s rock with a strong R&B vibe, as does “Tchoupitoulas Street,” named for a street along the Mississippi River in New Orleans. “I’m just walking,” the song says, “Got a smile on my face, music in my feet.” It’s the perfect summation of ambling ‘round the Big Easy. I really like the countrified “Hate to See You Cry,” too. The production is wonderfully dry and present, putting Heath’s smooth vocals right up front, the simple arrangement driving the song ever forward. My favorite track of the album has to be “Got It In My Pocket,” a hard driving jazzy rockabilly burner; the powerful angular guitar line is amazing! And “Don’t Let Go Of Me,” though it has a retro feel, is more 60s movie soundtrack mod rock than 50s greaser rock. “Sunrise Through The Power Lines” is more of a modern indie track than anything else on this record or in Reverend Horton Heat’s catalog. The album closes with great cover of Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas,” with its bossa nova meets rock’n’roll sound. A more diverse than expected Reverend Horton Heat on a more diverse than expected Victory Records is a great combination!

TIGHTWIRE – Six Feet Deep (Red Scare Industries,

Fans of pop punk, rejoice! I mean the real stuff, the hooky melodic stuff that came of age in the 90s and had its peak with Insubordination Fest. Tightwire have this sound nailed. They’re just as melodic and tuneful as Masked Intruder, but with an edgier sound, for more punk goodness. They’ve got a smoother sound than Teenage Bottlerocket – figure somewhere between those two bands and you’re in the right area. Only three of the thirteen songs break the two minute mark, and that baker’s dozen of songs fly by in a mere twenty minutes, so there’s no time to get bored here. The best song comes first on this debut LP. It’s called “Draggin’ Me,” and I love the hard pounding instrumentals that bridge the vocal sections. “Guts” is a good one, too, loaded with melody and even harmonizing on the vocals, without coming off as too sappy (something, sadly, that the title track suffers from, the only track I didn’t care for). I really like “Don’t Like to Lose,” too; it’s got an interesting melodic line in the chorus, and a sort of closed-in sound. Hell, you know what to expect from these songs. They’re bouncy and fun. They’re not going to set the world on fire, but this is great party music.

USELESS ID – 7 Hits From Hell (Fat Wreck Chords,

Useless ID present seven short blasts of mostly classic Fat Wreck sounds – fast’n’loud and super poppy punk. And by short, I mean the songs are all under a minute long – with one exception in which the track lasts six seconds longer than that mark. The tracks are uniformly bouncy and melodic, the typical Fat formula. The one exception to this rule is the closer, “Too Bad You Don’t Get It,” which starts out reggae and finishes with a punk burst. These songs go by so damn fast, it’s hard to review, because just as I’m getting into them they’re over. But there’s enough variety, enough power, enough edge, enough speed, and enough pop to make this a pretty great EP.

WESTERN STAR – Any Way How (Saustex Records,

Baltimore’s Western Star’s sophomore effort is deep into alt-country / Southern rock territory. And for me, it’s a mixed result. Some of the songs remind me too much of the southern rock bands of my youth, a genre I despised. Bands like Thin Lizzy and the Steve Miller Band spring to mind on some of the tracks, though the vocals are more reminiscent of Axl Rose. Some of the tracks feature wanky guitar solos, as well. “Back on Track” and “Lookin’ for Action” are two examples of this. Alt-country tracks like “Driving in the Zone” and “Good Times Man” are pretty decent, focusing more on story telling and a firmer country spirit than on the rock side of things. And then there are tracks like “Coast to Coaster,” that are more twangy indie mixed with power-pop, and it’s a sound that I could listen to more of. There’s more attention paid to the melody than there is in being consciously “down home,” and you know, the start of a good song is always in a good melody. “Since I Learned to Dance” takes this even further, reminding me of stuff Lou Reed might have done. That one’s my favorite of the album. More like these two would have made this album go from mediocre to great.

THE CALLAS WITH LEE RENALDO – Trouble and Desire (Dirty Water Records,

The Callas, from Greece, met and worked with Sonic Youth’s Lee Renaldo a few years back, and collaborated together on this new full-length LP. Seven tracks are each introduced by a short, mysterious intro track, each titled “Octopus” with a corresponding number. The songs vary, some with a dark, tribal feel, some with a vaguely medieval feel, some with a post-punk sound sort of like crossing Sonic Youth and Lydia Lunch. Some are sung in English, some in Greek. I’m a sucker for rock-based vaguely medieval sounding music, so tracks like “?e?a??a´” get me going. It’s a Greek song, so I don’t know what’s being sung about, but it’s got a very mysterious feel to it. The bass and drums throb in a repeated minimalist pattern, as is the chorus, when the electric guitar comes in, providing a droning background. It sounds exotic and ancient, and as the song evolves, a chorus comes in and everything gets louder, sounding like some ritual dance and chant reaching a fever pitch. “?et?´” has a similar feel, but this time sounds like something more martial than ritualistic. And the album closer, “G????a´ ??? ?´µ??f?,” has a dark quality to it, featuring primarily very simple bass, drums, and vocals, with droning guitars coming in for the chorus. It’s slow and arcane.” The tracks that have that post-punk sound are pretty good too, bringing back a sound I haven’t heard much since the 90s. The title track and “Acid Books” are probably the best of the bunch, with the former lightening up the sound with a more modern indie feel and the latter diving straight into modal darkness. And something must be said about those numbered “Octopus” pieces between each track. They’re fantastic. Ambience, mystery, magic. Some sound like they could have come from a Lynchian soundtrack, with evil deep buzzing underneath incomprehensible spoken word. A perfect way to separate out the tracks in this very interesting record.

THE CRACK PIPES – Fake Eyelashes (Super Secret Records, www.supersecret

I’ll be blunt. I don’t like this record. Some of the tracks are supposed to be psychedelic, but the vocals on these slower, calmer tracks are quite off-putting. Most of the tracks have either a pseudo funk feel or a faux doo-wop feel. The title track is one of those slower psych tracks. It lacks any sort of energy or enthusiasm, and the vocals get painfully off key at times. The two tracks that are listenable are a couple of retro garage rockers, “Lil’ Cheetah” and “Bang Bang Bangs.” They’ve got a good garage vibe and feel authentic enough. And some of the songs are just bad rock and roll, like a cheap Rolling Stones, like “(I’m A) Moon Man Baby).” It’s supposed to be a rockin’ and rollin’ track, but it just falls flat, and feels more like a parody. There are a few tracks that are particularly difficult to sit through. “Sea of Beverly,” “Giraffe,” and “You’re The Reflection of the Moon on the Water,” the last trying to use weird effects to make the vocals sound like they’re under water. “Giraffe” has to be one of the worst songs I’ve heard in a while, with inane lyrics and painfully bad vocals. I think I know where the band got their name…


Emma DeCorsey, front-woman of Brooklyn’s indie band, I Am The Polish Army, found she had some time on her hands when band mate (and boyfriend) Turner Stough was away on tour with Shilpa Ray. So she decided to write and record some songs that would be separate from her band, and the result is this four-song EP. But, if she wanted this to sound and feel different from I Am The Polish Army, I’m afraid she didn’t succeed to any great extent. Though I was unfamiliar with that band (living on the other side of the country, as I do), I listened to the band’s album online, and find that the two records have a similar vibe. That vibe, summed up in a word, is ennui. The songs are played well enough, but they drag and they’re listless. In particular, the third track, the overly lengthy “Viber,” meanders aimlessly, a spaced out ballad jam. And the closer, “Just Lick Me,” tries to be a classic rock track and feels very out of place, compared to the rest of the songs – but the feeling of low energy persists.

TONY SAXON – Manic Depressant Idiot Savant (Mint 400 Records,

The common thread that seems to run through the nine songs on this new full-length LP is a brightness. There’s just a certain quality in these songs, likely partly due to the tone of the keyboards and the amount of reverb used in the mix, that just makes these songs sound sunny. The individual songs range from garage to surf to psych to even retro top 40. In this sense, Saxon reminds me of Chicago performer Bobby Conn, though these songs have a different underlying sense of kitsch than Conn’s. Saxon does most of the performing here, handling all of the vocals, guitars, bass, Omnichord, tenor sax, alto sax, Lowrey “micro genie” synth, harmonium, Vox Jaguar, and drum programming. The only parts he didn’t play himself are the drums (played by Matt Olsson) and a few of the tenor sax solos (played by Saxon’s 75-year-old father!). I think one of the things that attracts me to this record is how each of the songs sounds pretty different from the others, yet they all share a common feel, too, so the album is quite cohesive. There are a couple of tracks I don’t care for too much. “Doe Eyes” is too much in the vein of 80s top 40 for my taste, and “The 10 Year Curse of Sidemouth,” which closes the album, is just too long and repetitive, though it’s one of the more soulful tracks. Favorites include the opener, “Retrograde,” for its cool 50s lounge sounding keys blended with a retro rock feel, the lively surf instrumental, “Sarcophagus Juice,” and the raucous rock’n’soul track, “Butt-Dials from Shlomo.” I also like the dream-lounge stylings of “Ghost of Windows95.” This album is pretty different, pretty quirky – and if you like different and quirky, like I do, then you will enjoy this.

THE SELFISH CALES – Haapsalu (Volcano Records,

The Selfish Cales, named for front man Andy Cale, hail from Turin, Italy. Formed in 2010 through, the band focuses on a retro sound that blends late 60s and early 70s flower child rock, psychedelic, and funk. To be quite honest, this sounds like the kind of music some of my high school friends made in their bands back in the 70s. I think the opening track is related to the album title. Haapsalu is apparently a city in Estonia. And the first track is titled “Baltic Memories.” It’s a song in, I believe, 12/8 time for a good part of it, before the heavy funky bass comes in, keyboards getting jazzy, and the whole thing goes from listenable prog-like music to something out of the 70s suburban band scene. The production values add to that sense, in that it sounds like it was recorded inside an empty high school gymnasium. This whole record reminds me somewhat of a lesser quality version of Ambrosia’s classic first album.

SLINKY X (Drug Party Music,

Here’s the debut EP from Buffalo’s Slinky X, made up of members of Radiation Risk, Brown Sugar, Utah Jazz, and Tap Water. The six songs here are a study in contrasts. They have hard, edgy, buzzy guitars and, for the most part, lighter melodies and wonderfully poppy harmonized vocals. It’s like a meeting of grunge and indie pop bands that decide to collaborate, and it works remarkably well. The opening track, “Slinky,” startled me at first. The band begins playing some hard guitar riffs, sounding almost like classic rock. But then those harmonized vocals come in sounding like something out of 60s mod pop. “Motherly Love” softens the instrumentals a bit, and the resulting song has a sort of Neu/Stereolab feel brought into a more modern indie-pop mindset. “Boogie Man” changes things up, with a bit more of a garage flavor, except for the soaring harmonized chorus. Special mention should be made of the indie pop mixed with punk “I Breed Rabbits.” After starting out as an edgy indie rock track, it gets much more raucous, with vocals alternating between sweet and smooth and shouted, angry. I really like the unorthodox mixing of genres and textures on this debut.

UROCHROMES – The Beat Sessions (Drunken Sailor Records, www.drunken

Do you remember the early 80s? Do you remember hardcore punk music of that era? Well, worry not. If you’re too young to remember or your brain got too fried, you can toss this record on and get a feel for it. The music is raucous, angry, and distorted, but tightly performed. Some of the songs have the feel of hardcore crossed with classic rock and roll, with a Motorhead meets punk sort of thing. Vocals are partly shouted, partly sung, just like the old days. Of the five tracks here, the longest is a minute and thirty-six seconds long; the rest are all under a minute and a half. Favorites are the harder and faster ones, “My Dickies” and “I Don’t Wanna Be Like Me.” See you in the pit!

YOUNGER THEN – Bad Life (Standby Records,

Younger Then’s sophomore effort is a mixed bag. The bulk of the eleven tracks have a very “alternative rock” feel to them, and I mean that in the sense that the songs sound like something a major label would put out on it’s “alternative music” sub-label and push heavily through “alternative” commercial radio. The band cites U2, Kings of Leon, Cold War Kids, and others as influences – all major label acts. And I can definitely hear it. The guitar work and song structure on “Sarah Told Them” could have come from a new U2 record. “Sundazed” sounds like what the major labels were putting out in the 90s to cash in on the grunge sound. The lead vocals throughout really come off as very affected, reminding me of the fake angst of Eddie Vedder. It’s like vocalist Zack Dupuis thinks this is what a successful rock singer is supposed to sound like, so let’s do that. That’s not to say there aren’t some bright spots to the record. A few of the songs are pretty catchy. “California King” has some good hooks and a more indie-rock feel. And the title track, “Bad Life,” has plenty of jangle in it. But an 18% success rate isn’t going to get me to buy an album.

SLEEPY LIMBS / CHAMPAGNE COLORED CARS – Split EP (Know Hope Records,, Seafoam City Records,

Two bands, two record labels, one 12” EP. Each band contributes three songs. Both offer up some pretty indie music with math tendencies. Likewise, both bands previously released their own EPs last year. Side A features Lancaster, PA’s Sleepy Limbs, whose three songs (“Ocean Dream,” “Boo,” and “Underwear-Wolf”) are smooth and understated, with guitars lines that swirl around the laid-back vocals. I love how the end of “Ocean Dream” quietly shimmers and flows right into “Boo.” The minimalist melodic lines on “Boo” are pretty great to listen to. Atlanta, Georgia’s Champagne Colored Cars are a little harder-edged than Sleepy Limbs, yet the guitar sound is similar. Rapid-fire patterns are played and repeated, given the mathish feel. Of their three contributions (“A Dastardly Man,” “Curious Rover Birthday Song,” “Post-Modernism”) I think I like the first best. It has a sense of urgency to it, and I like the gravelly vocals and the rough vibrato in them. All three of the Champagne Colored Cars tracks have more forward motion to them, I think. All of the songs are good, but this B side rules.

SUICIDE GENERATION – Last Suicide (Dirty Water Records, www.

Having signed a two record deal with Dirty Water Records, the first was titled “1st Suicide.” So, of course, this second one is “Last Suicide.” When I reviewed the previous record, I commented on how great the music was, but how awful the recording was. They’ve fixed that for this second record. The recording is just the right level of lo-fi, but the music is still just as raw and raucous, the performance just as manic, and the vocals just as wild. There are no clinkers on this eleven-track album that clocks in at a mere 24 minutes. There’s nothing that stands out above the other tracks, either. It’s just a solid kick to the balls while someone is spilling beer all over you. Can’t take it? Well, piss off, ya wanker! This music is as real as it gets. No pretense, just pure energy mixed in with some blood, sweat, and passion.

VISTA BLUE – More Scary Songs to Sing in the Dark (wearevistablue.

The prolific Vista Blue is back with another seasonally appropriate EP. And this time, they mean business! Vista Blue’s driving force, Mike Patton, used to host a podcast and write a zine dedicated to horror films, so you know these songs are near and dear to his cold, bloody heart, wherever it is. Bwahahaha! The sound of these songs is familiar to all Vista Blue fans: buzzy guitars and a beachy pop punk sound. It’s an odd counterpoint to the horror movie and campfire story topics of the songs. A new version of Shel Silverstein’s poem “The Slithery Dee,” originally set to music by The Smothers Brothers, is featured. And one track halfway through has a radio dial being spun to find some music and landing on a news report about…wait for it...wait for it…an escaped killer! It’s the perfect intro to “The Hook.” It’s a familiar tale to everyone who has ever gone to summer camp, and the “campy” story gets the pop punk treatment from Vista Blue. If you want to be scared by happy sounding pop punk, here you go!


ALLVARET – Skam Och Skuld (Dirt Cult Records,

Allvaret hails from Småland, in southern Sweden. The Scandinavians, likely due to the long, dark, cold winters, are known for depressing, dark films and music. This new album from Allvaret has a strong, dark energy running through it. That’s not to say it’s depressing – not at all! There’s an energetic enthusiasm running through the ten songs on this record. It reminds me of what some punk bands were doing in the mid eighties post-hardcore era, darkening things up. The songs seem to have a dusty desert punk feel, like if Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western films had a punk soundtrack. But amidst the darkness, there’s also a sense of hopefulness, in the bright vocals and melodies that try to shine through. “0253” and “Iha°lig” are favorite tracks, the former because it’s the brightest song of the bunch – it features only guitar and vocals for much of the track, and even when the bass and drums come in, they’re very understated. It’s the most different from the rest of the album. The latter brings back the dark, but I love the melodic line and the extra-passionate vocals. I can’t tell you what any of these songs are about because they’re all sung in Swedish – but I’m sure they’re epic lyrics to match the instrumentals. Good stuff.

AUDIO KARATE – Bounce b/w Landing (Wiretap Records,

Southern California’s Audio Karate were active from the mid 90s to the mid 2000s, then fell silent. They recently reformed, and Wiretap Records did a vinyl re-release of their debut LP, “Space Camp,” previously released in 2002 on CD by Kung Fu Records. Additionally, Audio Karate has released two new songs with Wiretap, their first new recordings since 2004, recorded shortly before the band called it quits. These two songs are a preview of their upcoming LP, which has been sitting, unreleased, for all these years. The A-side is prototypical 2000s emo-tinged pop punk, with angst-filled vocals and intertwining guitar lines. The B-side, though, is something very different, and I really like it a lot. More sedate and sparse, the growled vocals are traded for smooth falsetto. The song seems to float and sounds a lot more modern than something that might have been done in the 2000s.

C.H.E.W. – Feeding Frenzy (Drunken Sailor Records,

This record is, in a word, brutal. Sixteen tracks in thirty-one minutes means the average track is less than two minutes. And with the final song, “Belly Up,” clocking in at over six minutes, the actual average of the rest is just over a minute and a half. This is modern hardcore, fast, furious, distorted, with vocals that are incoherently screamed. There’s barely a discernible rhythm to many of the songs, and they have an almost free-form feel. The onslaught lets up at the halfway mark, with “Feeding Frenzy Pt I,” a two and a half minute instrumental that’s just the calm before the storm hits again. “Shame” is the track that comes closest to a more standard song structure, and a more standard hardcore sound. There’s a melody of sorts, and a strong beat. That long closer I mentioned is a slow, grinding dirge, as I expected. I guess if you’re into this sort of hardcore, you’ll like this – the musicianship seems to be pretty tight. I just can’t get into it myself.

THE CAVEMEN – Burn Out For Love b/w Dancing on the Razor’s Edge (Dirty Water Records,

You know you love down and dirty garage rock’n’roll! These Kiwis are back with a new single. If you like this style of music, you’ll naturally love this record. I do know that the distorted lo-fi sound is a thing, especially with raucous garage rock, but this one is maybe a little too distorted for my tastes. But that doesn’t take away from the raw power exuded by The Cavemen on these two songs.


COLUMNA – Las Cosas Que Perdemos (Dirt Cult Records,

Spanish rockers Columna are getting some North American exposure through Dirt Cult Records, with the American release of their seven-song mini LP, which came out earlier this year in Europe. The record features moody post-punk rock songs, all sung in Spanish, of course. What strikes me most is a strong consistency from track to track. The tempo is identical across the board, the guitar tone, the feel, the level of intensity – all the same. And because the tracks all sound the same, it makes it difficult to listen to this straight through.

EXTRA ARMS – Headacher
(Get Party Records, Records)

Berkley, Michigan’s Extra Arms is an evolution of Ryan Allen’s efforts under the name “Ryan Allen and His Extra Arms.” The LP features songs that walk the border between power pop, pop punk, and rock and roll. And these are pretty damn solid songs. Right from the start, the album comes on strong. The title track is the perfect opener, setting expectations for the rest of the LP. It’s a hard rocking track that, nevertheless, has plenty of pop. “Done to Death” is the same, but even more, exceeding those expectations. I like the feel of “Old Heads,” a song about being young, in a band, touring the country. “There’s one thing I know is true / This is what I was born to do.” It seems that half of all indie bands write a song about this, but it never gets old. It’s not even just about touring – it’s about living in the moment. “Hooray hooray summer’s here / We won’t get paid but there’s free beer / Where will we be this time next year? / We’ll evaporate, we’ll disappear.” Life is short and impermanent, so make the most of it, the song seems to say. The song opens with just guitar and vocals, then piano comes in briefly before the “whole band” explodes with power. The album ends with “The Last One,” an intense acoustic track. It’s the kind of track that I can hear in my mind being a “full band” sort of song, too – songs are always great when they work equally well both ways. If you like power pop and pop punk, get on this.

KRISTIN HERSH – Possible Dust Clouds (Fire Records,

Talk about eclectic! Throwing Muses icon Kristin Hersh is back with her tenth solo LP. It contains songs that rock, songs that are psychedelic, folksy songs, and songs with some grit and grunge. The variety makes for a great listen. I love the ease these songs have, like the band is just hanging out playing for themselves. Nothing feels forced. A few of the songs stand out for me. “Half Way Home” starts out as an acoustic folk-influenced song, but adds in some dark psych feels, with menacing guitar noise in the background. The intensity builds as the song unwinds, with thicker layers of sound. “Loudmouth” is a great song in waltz time that has a dark, greasy drone and vaguely medieval harmonizing in the vocals. The sleigh bells are a cool touch, too. And the closer, “Lady Godiva,” is a mainly acoustic track that has both an intimate and epic feel. This is the sort of record I’ll listen to again.


This Southern California super-group features Jacque Mendez (from New Way On), Ricky Schmidt (from Western Settings), Kevin White (from Squarecrow), and Steph Presz (from The Newports). This, their debut EP, sounds nothing like any of their other bands, which tend more toward pop punk. But Hey Chels offer up some pretty awesome indie-dream-pop. Mendez, normally focused on keyboards and backup vocals in New Way On, steps to the fore here with some strong singing, while Schmidt, front man for Western Settings, takes a step back in Hey Chels, contributing only backing vocals. The songs are softer around the edges than we’re uses to hearing from these musicians, yet no less full of emotional content. “Sludge Town, USA” opens the EP, and encapsulates Hey Chels’ sound perfectly. The lonely reverb-laden guitar at the start announces that this is something different, and when the full band comes in, there’s still a sense of dreaminess. The guitar tone is gorgeous, and Mendez’s vocals are solid. The blending of keys and guitar adds to the dreamy feel. “Take Me Anywhere” demonstrates how the band has that fine balance between indie rock and dream pop – the song is edgy enough to not sound too soft, but dreamy enough to not feel too rock. “I Know You Are But What Am I” is a favorite. It’s the most pop punk of the songs, but at the same time tempers that with dreaminess. The contrast of the fuzzed guitar and clear-as-a-bell keyboard is beautiful. And the closer, “Bring Me Back A Souvenir,” moves the needle more toward the dream-pop side of things without losing its edge. It’s so nice to have a new band in the scene that’s not just cookie-cutter pop punk but still has some of the DNA.

KID YOU NOT – Home Again (Bypolar Records,

Hailing from the sunshine state of Florida, Kid You Not don’t have far to travel to get to The Fest, which is where they’re headed this year. And it’s fitting; they have the perfect sound for the annual pop punk mass gathering. All of the dozen songs on the LP are big sing-alongs. Pack yourself and a hundred of your closest friends into a tiny dive bar, grab yourself a PBR tall boy, get to the front, and punch your beer-soaked fists into the air as you shout out the lyrics – you’ll think you already know them, because the songs sound so familiar after just one listen, especially “Just Keep Swimming.” I could swear I’ve heard that song a million times before. Huge guitars with pretty flourishes anchor these songs, with vocals just as big. While not gruff, the lead vocals have just the right amount of gravel just the right amount of angst, and the songs certainly are loaded with sincerity and heart. The song titles are both humorous and dark. “May The Bridges I Burn Light The Way,” “When Life Gives You Lemons, Just Say Fuck The Lemons and Bail,” and “Drink Your School, Stay In Drugs, And Don’t Do Milk” are some good examples. This last has a great reference to Robert Frost and his poem, “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” I love literary references in punk songs. While bands of this genre can fall into the trap of their songs all sounding a little too similar to each other, and Kid You Not does suffer somewhat from this, the songs are expertly executed, energetic, and will have you shouting along in no time.


Larry’s been sipping from that flask for some fifteen years, yet I find myself listening for the first time on this, their first new record in five years. They call themselves the original “post-Americana” band. Imagine taking an old-timey jug band and a pop punk band, putting them into a blender, and pressing the puree button. The result is country music, complete with acoustic guitar, fiddle, banjo, mandolin, and acoustic and electric guitars, plus trombone and trumpet on some songs – but with a strong pop punk vibe and energy. Ian Cook’s lead vocals sometimes border on crooning style, in the way Josh Caterer of the Smoking Popes does it. The album is split between rollicking tracks that might be called country jazz and some slower, slicker tunes that are a little more on the country pop side. I like the raucous, energetic songs best. Like the opener, “Atonement.” It evokes images from a century ago, yet still sounds thoroughly modern, and it rocks out in a way that it shouldn’t be able to with that instrumentation. “Ellipsis” is another barnburner, with slow, smooth vocals contrasting with the speed and intensity of the rest of the band. “Dearly Departed has a strong streak of bluegrass through it, which I love. “Begin Again” and “You Won’t” meld rock’n’roll and old-timey music in a unique and fun way. A couple of the tracks rub me the wrong way, though. “Never All The Times,” “Hoping Again,” and “The Place That It Belongs” are just a little too slick sounding for me, a little too bland, like something you would hear on “Live From Here” on NPR. But for the most part, this is a really fun, different record.

SMOKING POPES – Into The Agony (Asian Man Records,

After making a big splash in the 90s, the Smoking Popes saw some modest success with releases at Capitol Records, but after bring dropped from the label the band broke up. Upon reuniting in 2005, the band resumed occasional touring and recording, but it was without original drummer Mike Felumlee. 2011’s LP, “This Is Only A Test” was fine, but most of the songs just didn’t sound like The Smoking Popes. Flash forward to 2015, and drummer Neil Hennessy announced he was leaving the band. But then came the announcement that Felumlee was rejoining! Now comes the first full-length album of original songs from the original lineup since 1997’s “Destination Failure.” And the magic is back! The album is bookended by a pair of songs released digitally in late 2016. “Simmer Down” is the opener, and is classic Popes material that will sound familiar yet fresh. The song is so darn catchy! “Someday I’ll Smile Again” continues the Popes’ tradition of ending albums with a more reflective song, this one about recovery from the great emotional pain of lost love. In between are more awesome songs than you can shake a stick at (why would anyone shake a stick at songs?). “Amanda My Love” is another one that sounds like the Popes of 20 years ago, but it’s got some cool unexpected chord changes and a pretty different bridge. In an unusual move, the Popes get a bit political on a couple of their tracks. “Little Lump of Coal” is a lament of how we’ve given away our future and that of our children, just for more profit for energy companies. It has the sound of a hymn, even as it damns our generation. “We have stolen the earth from our children / And we burned it all down out of spite / And we sold our soul for a little lump of coal / Just to keep ourselves warm through the night.” “Melting America” is a reference to America as the world’s melting pot, the land of liberty and opportunity for all people, and how those in power have traded America’s open arms for walls and refugee bans. Flatfoot 56’s Tobin Bawinkel provides gruff guest vocals that befit this song. Sure, there’s a cover on the record. They do “Get Happy,” a Christian revivalist sort of song, but done as a Smoking Popes special. But I don’t mind. The other nine songs are a treat for this long-time Smoking Popes fan, and I couldn’t be happier.

MARK SULTAN – Let Me Out (Dirty Water Records,

Canadian garage icon Mark Sultan has a new LP out, and yes, it’s garage rock’n’roll. Thin arrangements of guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards back Sultan’s vocals. Maybe a little too thin. The songs are fine, but I’d like the empty space to get filled up more. Sometimes Sultan’s vocals are a little off, too, such as on “The Other Two.” With the arrangement being so sparse, it sticks out a lot. I’m not sure what happened there, because on most of the tracks the vocals are pretty strong. “Everybody Knows” seems like the vocals are more demanding, and Sultan nails it. I really wish the band was bigger and the arrangements thicker, because these are some pretty good garage tunes. Especially “Black Magic,” an up-tempo track with some great hooks. But the guitar is too far down in the mix and the vocals to up front on all of these tracks, so it’s really not as satisfying a listen as I’d like.

VANILLA POPPERS – I Like Your Band (Drunken Sailor Records,

When Christina Pap moved from her home in Australia to Cleveland, Vanilla Poppers was formed. The band plays a powerful blend of rock’n’roll and punk. The instrumentals are pure hard rock, fast and furious, while the vocals are punk as fuck. The four-song EP is raw and intense, not letting up for even a second. Sadly, visa restrictions forced Pap to move again, first to Toronto, then back to Australia. However, two of the Vanilla Poppers will be following her there, and the band will continue to rock out. Best track: the opener, “Get Away From Me.” It’s a punch to the gut. Best song title: “I’m an Adult Baby.”


PAUL COLLINS – Out of My Head (Alive Naturalsound Records,

Paul Collins is back! It’s his first “full band” album since 2014’s “Feel The Noise,” and it sees him not only playing guitar, but also getting behind the drum kit for the first time in a very long while. Collins is joined by bassist Paul Stingo and Keyboardist/guitarist Jason Perillo for what I think is Collins’ best record yet. He digs through his past for inspiration, pulling in plenty of power pop and rock’n’roll, but also some hints of the alt-country songs he’s done. And he’s brought in something he hasn’t done in a while: collaboration with another songwriter. Stingo brought some new songs to the party, including the opening track, “In and Out of My Head.” The album certainly has some rockin’ tracks (this is Paul Collins, after all!), but the overall feel is quieter, more introspective than past efforts. While some of the tracks are exactly what you expect from the King of Power Pop (“Go,” “You Belong To Me,” “Midnight Special”) others are a brilliant surprise. “Kind of Girl” may be the jangliest song ever released under the Paul Collins moniker, and is the sort of song that will get stuck in your head very easily. “Emily” is a gorgeous ballad about the intensely mixed emotions around a break-up. “Killer Inside” has a cool funky jazz feel to it, and brings us to the softer, quieter last third of the LP. After that is “Lost Again,” a track that blends country ballad sounds with soft rock to provide a pretty song. “Tick Tock,” a song that would feel very at home in a David Lynch soundtrack, seems to be a reflection of the passage of time. The references to the fall and looking at the leaves, and gravity pulling us down are an acknowledgement that we all age. And “Beautiful Eyes” closes the album with another beautiful ballad, the guitars plucked in a folk style. But I want to make special mention of my favorite track of the album, and that would be “You Belong To Me.” This is the sort of song that made me fall in love with Paul Collins’ music all those years ago, and what keeps me coming back for more.

JABBER – Jabber Forever (Asian Man Records,

A couple years into bassist/vocalist Danny Baily’s self-imposed exile in the frozen northeast, Jabber has been criminally derelict in their duties in the pop punk world. So, on a recent visit back to the Bay area, Baily and the rest of Jabber (Kris Moya, Jordan Springman, Kelly Sullivan) spent the time wisely, writing and recording five new songs. And maybe absence does make the heart grow fonder. Because I love these sunny, sparkling songs. The songs seem to be a little more mature than earlier efforts, with stronger melodies. The gorgeous vocal harmonies are still there, too but the songs, while still firmly in the pop punk camp, have leanings toward indie pop. I hear echoes of the great Tsunami. Highlights include “Tempting and Exhausting,” the opening track with a cool start-stop melodic line, and “Melt,” with its ascending and descending melodic line and dueling vocals toward the end. I hope Baily continues to make frequent visits back home and I look forward to, perhaps, a Jabber tour.

NIGHT BIRDS – Roll Credits (Fat Wreck Chords,

Night Birds are, perhaps, one of America’s finest current hardcore bands. And the New Jersey band is back with an eight-song mini-LP of sonic blasts. Also back to help celebrate ten years as a band is former Night Birds guitarist Mike Hunchback, who played with band from 2009 to 2012. He produced this record and plays on it, too, marking the first time Night Birds have been a five-piece. The eight songs have a good amount of diversity changing things up to keep listeners guessing. “Pull the String” is the short opener, and is a rockin’ surf-garage-punk instrumental. “Onward to Obscurity” is my favorite track of the bunch, a throwback to early 80s hardcore punk. Super fast and crunchy, this is the one where the pit will go crazy at the live shows. “My Dad Is the BTK” was the lead single released over the summer, and it’s a bit slower, with a SoCal “funny punk” vibe going on. Other songs range from mid-tempo 90s punk to darker almost goth-punk, and back to raging hardcore. The title track closes the mini-LP with another surf-punk instrumental, this time a somewhat slower than the opener, but no less energetic. Because if there’s one thing Night Birds has aplenty, it’s energy. They never let us down.

RADON – More Of Their Lies (Dirt Cult Records,

One of the bands that put Gainesville, Florida on the pop punk map, Radon kicked around throughout much of the 90s. Reforming in 2005 for a performance at The Fest, Radon have since continued to perform and record. This latest LP first came out earlier this year in Japan on Eager Beaver Records, the label run by the folks from the band Worthwhile Way. Radon championed the style of pop punk that became known as “beardcore,” the style so prominent at many early Fests. Though The Fest has since expanded the range of bands invited to perform each year, beardcore is still a primary driver in that scene, and Radon continue to be strong proponents of the sound. The baker’s dozen tracks on this album are uniformly energetic, melodic, crunchy, and gang-vocal-ready. The tracks certainly aren’t innovative, but they’re sure a lot of fun and really well played. A highlight would be “What Do You Want From Me.” I love the open feel to it, and the use of guitar harmonics. Immediately following is “Wired,” probably the hardest hitting track of the album. “Roller Derby Girls” sparkles, and I just love the feel of “Just Want To Play Guitar,” maybe because it feels a bit like East Bay pop punk crossed with San Diego’s Pitchfork (the predecessor to Drive Like Jehu). “UFdUp” may be my favorite of the album, though. I can’t pin down exactly what it is I love about the song, but it’s got a certain feeling of forward motion that gets to me. You shouldn’t go into this album expecting revelations, but do expect a good time.

ST. LENOX – Ten Fables of Young Ambition and Passionate Love (

I remember exactly where I was and when it was that I first listened to St. Lenox. It was at Christmastime, 2015, and I was visiting my mom, sitting at her dining room table, listening to new music and writing reviews. When St, Lenox’s debut LP, “Ten Songs About Memory and Hope,” began playing I was floored. Then, nearly two years later, “Ten Hymns from My American Gothic” came out. And it became clear these weren’t just songs. These are stories from the life of Andrew Choi, the man behind St. Lenox. What was merely astoundingly good music transformed into a deeply intimate look into the life of another human being. Now, St. Lenox’s third LP focuses on Choi’s love life and his ambitions (his day job is as a New York City attorney, by night an amazing singer-song-writer). Musically, the album is the most diverse yet, with songs featuring acoustic and electric guitars, saxophone, trumpet, and violin, in addition to piano, synth, and drums. This gives the songs a thicker sound.

After a quiet, sad, opener about the loneliness of going to karaoke bars, “First Date” tells the tale of a series of first dates with different people who may be less than honest about themselves. It’s a typical St. Lenox track, soulful Hammond B3-like keyboards mixing with piano and drums, and Choi’s incredible voice. I love “You Have Got To Feel It,” a breezy, jazzy tune that tells us that, for all the learning we might get from experts, we will never be good at whatever it is without passion for it. Another favorite is “Vincent Van Gogh.” Musically, I can feel the song breath and sigh, the open sounding synths giving the song a raspy dark feeling. The song seem to be about how our hopes and dreams are always overwhelmed by our fears, self-doubts, and the doubts we feel from others, and the oppressiveness that brings. “Gold Star” is a song every DIY musician can relate to, as they watch everyone around them seem to “make it,” while they struggle mightily, barely treading water. “Hungry Years” is about scrimping and saving, making do with cheap substitutes, like most of America these days. Piano and synth chase each other as Choi’s passionate vocals cry out. The closer is “Don’t Ever Change Me New York City.” It’s Choi’s plea to himself, for all the ambitions he speaks to in the other songs, to not let the greed and vanity of the city change his Midwestern values. The sparse instrumentation features electric guitar and synth, giving it a bare sound, as if to say, “this is who I am, nothing fancy.” Choi wonders in the songs on this album whether he’s ever going to “make it” as an artist. I supposed that depends on your definition of making it. To my definition, he already has.

SUBWAYS ON THE SUN – Capsize (Spartan Records,

Seattle may be best know for grunge and for beardo-punk, but Subways on the Sun are out to change that perception. Five years after their debut LP, “The Honeymoon Stagecoach,” they’re back with a record that’s bigger and dreamier than before. Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t dream pop, really, but the sound is more expansive than the debut LP, thanks to generous use of reverb and electronics. But there are edgy guitars, as well, to contrast with the smooth vocals and melodies. Some of the tracks have a veritable jangle to them, like the title track. It bounces, even as it glides. I like the tracks that have that big sound. “Just To Be With You” is the album opener, and is a good example of that. The chorus is huge, while the verses are more intimate, a nice contrast. “Works” makes effective use of dissonant electronics to contrast with the almost folk music-like opening. I really love the closing track best, though. “On Repeat” is a quiet, delicate, reflective song that reminds me a bit of early OMD, but with more guitars. Sure, there are a couple tracks that are a little too smooth for my tastes, bordering on “adult contemporary” soft rock, but the good tracks outnumber these by a significant number.

THE DIRTY NIL – Master Volume (Dine Alone Records, www.dinealone records. com)

Canada’s finest rockers are back with their second full-lengther (last year’s “Minimum R&B” doesn’t count, as it collected together a bunch of earlier singles and EPs). 2016’s “Higher Power” was one of my favorite records of that year. So, have the Canucks fallen prey to the sophomore slump? The answer is no. The Dirty Nil give us a powerful, over-the-top LP loaded with punishing rock’n’roll music. And, as much as I love their early singles and EPs, the songs on this record are bigger, stronger, and more powerful. Their earlier efforts might be said to be like an out of control freight train, flying down the track faster and faster, bits flying off. This record, though, is like a massive diesel locomotive, powering down the track and smashing everything in its path. This is unabashed rock’n’roll, the way it used to be, and the way it was meant to be. In an interview I recently did with the band Round Eye, they decried the decline of young people picking up guitars and starting bands, being more interested in learning software and being a DJ. Thanks be to all the powers in the universe that Luke Bentham, Kyle Fisher, and Ross Miller thought differently, for they may be the saviors of rock’n’roll.

The album opens with “That’s What Heaven Feels Like.” The guitar riff that repeats throughout the verses brings to mind the powerful rock bands of the 70s, while the chorus has a more modern indie jangle. “Bathed in Light” and “Pain of Infinity” come next, a pair of tracks that the band released in advance over the summer. I particularly like “Bathed in Light” for the way it mixes classic and modern rock sounds. And then we get the incredible “Please Please Me.” No, it’s not a cover of the Beatles’ classic. It’s a punishing rager, dark, pounding, unforgiving punk rock. For me, it’s one of the highlights of a stellar record.

The band slows things down after this blast of mayhem with “Auf Wiersehen,” “You don’t need me but I don’t need you,” vocalist Luke Bentham declares. “And as long as I’ve got your attention,” he continues, “I mean this in a nice way. Fuck you!” Well, the title does translate to “goodbye.” The song is a power ballad, in a way, swelling and ebbing, like the rocky relationship it describes. “Can’t you see, you’re a fuck-up just like me,” Bentham sings, taking an equal share of the blame. “Always High” crosses the Nil’s rock esthetic with 90s post punk in another great slow burner.

Another highlight has to be the mesmerizing “Smoking is Magic.” Swirly yet angular hard rock guitar is overlaid with an almost pop punk song. “Super 8” has a sort of Hüsker Dü quality to it, and then we get the third track released ahead of the album, “I Don’t Want the Phone Call.” It’s a plea to a friend who’s too deep into drugs and booze. The song that feels most out of place among the others is the closer, “Evil Side.” It’s got a bit of dreaminess in it, a hint of a torch song. It’s incredibly cinematic, and sounds like it should be the closer not to a record album, but to a James Bond film.

It’s an overused thing to say that a band has matured. But that’s just what I’m going to say about The Dirty Nil. This album feels more focused, more solid than their previous efforts. The blending of genres, including grunge, metal, garage, and punk is more controlled, to the point where the band fits into all and none of those genres. And that’s one of the best things about The Dirty Nil.

FASCINATING – Communist Power (Dirty Water Records,

Fascinating are a sludge rock outfit out of Cleveland, Ohio. Fascinating have not been together very long, yet this is already their third full-length LP, and their fourth release in two years. A few of the songs aren’t too bad. “Going Down” has a Ramones meets power pop sort of vibe, “Dark Soul Of The Night” is pretty much a straight-up power pop number, and the title track is a rockin’ garage track. “Continue To A Maze” has a very strong sense of forward motion from its throbbing bass line. And “Don’t Ruin My High” could have been a pretty decent indie track, if it wasn’t so poorly recorded. And that’s one of the complaints I have with this record. I get that lo-fi is a sound some bands are going for, and in some contexts it works really well. In the arena of sludge rock, which much of this album is, the technique works. But for some of these other songs, a cleaner sound would have been better. And about those slow, sludgy songs? I don’t get them. They drag like crazy, and they not only feel like they lack energy, it feels like their sapping the energy out of me. With the majority of the tracks falling into this category, I can’t recommend the record.

THE HECK – For Cryin’ Out Loud b/w Panic Attack (Dirty Water Records,

Heck yes! The Heck, from The Netherlands, have just released a brand new single on Dirty Water Records. Side A is a great 60s style garage rock song, with a very classic sound in the verses, and more of a power pop feel in the chorus. Guitars jangle in a repetitive line while the high-energy vocals scream and plead. Flip it over and “Panic Attack” is a short instrumental, upbeat, in the garage vein. It’s really just a quick jam to put on the flipside, but “For Cryin’ Out Loud” is worth the price of admission.

TRASH DEITY – Cross and Divide (Metropolis Records,

Whoa, it’s the late 80s and early 90s all over again! Growing up and living in Chicago, and especially DJing at free form, non-mainstream radio station WZRD, it was impossible to miss the whole Wax Trax! Records scene, born of the record store of the same name (where I spent a great deal of my hard-earned money). Industrial dance music with a hard-rock edge was de rigueur for the label, with bands such as Ministry, KMFDM, Test Dept., Revolting Cocks, Front 242, and My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult thrilling a generation of club-goers. The record store is gone, and the label was sold off and then shut down, but the music lived on. And now Frank Nardiello (better known as Groovie Mann of Thrill Kill Kult) and John D. Norten (of Blue Eyed Christ) have teamed up to form Trash Deity. Their debut album, “Cross and Divide,” brings the Wax Trax! Sound to a new generation. What you get is exactly what you expect, if you’re familiar with the genre: a pounding dance beat, throbbing electronics, found sound samples, and heavily processed vocals. And while I never went out of my way to see these bands live or buy their records (though I do have a few), the sound is definitely compelling. It’s definitely more interesting music to listen to than your typical dance club DJ mix of current pop tunes. The tracks I like most are definitely the harder, faster ones. The energy level is so much higher. “Frantic Child,” in particular, has an unsettling feeling of extreme urgency. “The problem with people is they don’t want to take responsibility. They’re gonna blame someone else,” says a sampled voice. How true. “If you don’t speak up for you, no one will speak up for you,” the voice declares, as the music gets very dissonant. “A Perfect One” has such an abstract, wonderful intro that it has to be called out here, too. And it’s atonality is like a cross between the Wax Trax sound and 80s post punk. “Emotions Matter” is a departure from most of the record, having a cleaner, more open sound, with robotic-like vocals. It’s like a dreamy version of the rest of the album, the track that would be playing in the chill-out room of the club. One thing this genre usually suffers from is that there’s too little variety from track to track, though Trash Deity fares better than most. When the idea is that these songs are going to be playing in a dance club, it’s hard to vary things too much, but Trash Deity manage to mix things up, with some tracks slower and more pensive than others. Over all, I like this, and if you’re a Wax Trax fan, you will too.

Mint 400 Records Presents: At The Movies (

The folks at Mint 400 Records have put out a compilation of music from the movies! Some are familiar, others are obscure. Most are calm and sedating, a few are boisterous. Here are some of my favorite highlights:

The Clydes have their take on The Beatles’ “Your Mother Should Know,” from the movie Magical Mystery Tour. It’s mostly nice and jangly, reasonably true to the original, though a bit faster and with more jangle. The organ breaks from the original become huge, dark synth parts, giving a nice contrast. Pixl-Visionary give their take on Radiohead’s “Exit Music (for a film),” and it’s probably the most different from the original than anything on this two CD album. Radiohead’s version is a quiet, slow, acoustic number, very somber. The cover is an up-tempo 80s dance-goth sort of thing that’s pretty cool. I like The Duke of Norfolk’s rendition of “The Sound of Silence,” the Simon and Garfunkel track that was used in the film “The Graduate.” It starts out seeming to stick very close to the original, but after the first verse, when the banjo comes in, and then bowed bass, you know this is something special. Of Love does a rendition of “Pure Imagination” (from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) that mixes part jazz ballad and part Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, and it’s touching and beautiful. This song was also famously covered by The Smoking Popes. And The Smoking Popes also had a hit song (it actually did chart at #35) from the movie “Clueless,” and it’s covered here by etti/etta. It’s an interesting version, with a thick distortion in the mix, and heavy reverb in the vocals. The net effect is that it seems much darker than the original. Zach Uncles’ version of the main theme from “Cool Hand Luke,” originally performed by Lalo Schifrin, remains true to the jazz roots, but goes more toward a free jazz sound than the structure original, and it’s creative and delicate. Finally, we can’t leave out Jersey Beat’s own fearless editor, Jim Testa. Yes, folks, Jim appears on this compilation, along with The Hoboken Dusters, performing “The Rainbow Connection” from “The Muppet Movie.” It’s an ideal choice for Jim, because his vocals are a bit reminiscent of Kermit the Frog.

In a double CD with 21 tracks, there’s bound to be a few tracks that don’t wok very well. The Limbos cover Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters,” from the movie of the same name. It’s a bit messy and draggy. The movie “Back to the Future” featured Huey Lewis and the News performing their hit, “The Power of Love.” I wasn’t crazy about the song back in the 80s, and The Bitter Chills’ version doesn’t improve on it, even though they give the song a Latin vibe. CK Vibes takes a stab at the main theme from “Twin Peaks,” technically a TV show, not a movie. And no one can improve on the masterful Angelo Badalamenti. Defend The Rhino gives us a very sappy rendition of the Theme from Jurassic Park, and it has none of the grandiosity of the film score.

There are quite a few other tracks, all quite enjoyable, and not very many clinkers. So I think this one is going to stick around in my iTunes library.

BEACH GOONS – Hoodrat Scumbags (GRNDVW,

Don’t ever complain about your local scene being too small with the same few bands playing over and over. That’s not the scene’s fault; it’s yours. It’s your fault for not exploring outside your little close group of friends, for not venturing into other venues or parts of your town, for not giving bands you’ve never heard of a chance. I’m just as guilty as the next guy. Case in point: Beach Goons, from Encinitas, California. It’s a San Diego suburb, about 10 or 15 minutes north of where I live, and it’s not known as a hotbed of indie music – it’s a fairly conservative beach town. Yet this band that I’ve never heard of before I was sent this record, hails from there. And now I’m going to be checking for their shows, which I hadn’t noticed before either. To be completely honest, the record is hit or miss – but mostly hit. Beach Goons play a brand of grunge-pop – poppy bouncy songs, dare I say “beachy,” but with a distorted grungy edge. The guitars sound strongly of surf-rock, but the super distorted vocals contrast nicely to that. Some lyrics are sung in English, some in Spanish. The opener, “A.M.” is a good example of the sound that the band does well. It encapsulates everything I’ve mentioned in a simple song: jangly surfy guitars, distorted vocals, an edgy dreaminess, and multi-lingual lyrics. When the song goes waltz-time and the organ comes to the fore, there’s even a bit of Mexican flare in the sound. “Vatos Tristes” has a cool 50s retro rock’n’roll vibe going on underneath the grungy surf sound that I like. “HRSB” has a manic feel in the guitars and drums, but the vocals have a more relaxed feel, which provides an awesome contrast. I don’t think “Chunti” works as well as the other tracks. It’s a sparse ballad, with guitar and vocals performing the melody in unison. And “Artificial Flowers” is an odd instrumental track featuring a vaguely East Asian melody with highly processed guitar and bass and super-distorted recordings in the background. It’s interesting, but really doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the album. The same can be said of the instrumental “Chillón,” a bass solo that seems to have been slowed down to sound like it was played under water. The closer, “El Sol,” Is a great track that starts out bouncy and fun, then a minute and a half in, it abruptly stops – then starts again as a dirge-like track to finish things off. But I don’t want things to be finished off – I’ll be looking to see this band live in the near future.

EXHALANTS (Self Sabotage Records, (

To quote Michael Buble from a viral video, “Holy shit balls!” This is unrelenting! It’s a throwback to the nineties in the best possible way. Remember the noise bands from back then? Remember the bands playing angular, powerfully intense music? This debut from Austin, Texas’ exhalants is just that. And it’s not just a poor imitation of the greats of the past – this is fucking great stuff on its own! Right from the start, exhalants hit hard and don’t let up – the first few tracks flow one into another without skipping a beat. Think bands like The Jesus Lizard, Circus Lupus, Unrest. Think about Hot Snakes and Drive Like Jehu, but harder, like Melvins hard and heavy. Think about Quicksand or Refused. Then add in some emotionally melodic and quiet parts here and there – like Rodan or Slint. Fucking great. One of the best parts of this album is that it was recorded in just one day, without endless overdubbing and re-recording. So you know that the energy level on display on this record is what you’ll get in a live show. And dammit, I want to see a live show, so these guys better tour to San Diego or I’m gonna be pissed off! Those first three tracks, “Latex,” “Cauterized,” and “Ego Death,” are as perfect a start to an album as I can remember. In particular, the minimalist swirlyness of the guitars in “Cauterized,” while remaining super hard and heavy, is a thing to behold. After this first trio, “Public Display of Failure” is a slower, quieter respite. I love its Slint-like use of harmonics. “Punishers” is a punishing track, mid-tempo, smashing into your skull and cutting you open with sharp yet jagged guitar harmonics. Exhalants have produced one of the best debuts I’ve heard in a while, and they’re sure to secure a spot in my year-end list of best releases of 2018.

THE FRIGHTS – Hypochondriac (Epitaph Records,

OK, let me get this out right from the start. The Frights are from my adopted hometown of San Diego. When I’ve seen them in the past, they’ve played some really awesome garage-surf rock’n’roll. The several records they’ve released over the years have pretty much been in that genre. So when I heard they had signed to Epitaph and were releasing a new LP, I expected more great garage-surf tracks. But I was wrong. So, gentle readers, let me introduce you to the debut LP of the new Frights. Still from San Diego, they’re playing completely different songs. So I won’t compare to the old songs; I’ll treat this as a brand new band. The Frights are a band I want to see live and hear more from. The new songs are some great nerdy indie pop rock. There are some awesome little touches in the production, like the opening of “Me and We and I,” utilizing some tape effects and harp to introduce the song. And if you listen carefully in the background you can hear some metallic surf-guitar sounds. The track is a cool, light little song about self-sufficiency. Tape effects are used nicely in a few places on the album, most notably on the opener, “Tell Me Why I’m OK.” Producer (and FIDLAR front man) Zac Carper needs to get credit as a band member, I think, because some of these touches really make the album. I love the feel of “Over It,” a song about a break-up in which one party is very much over it and the other isn’t. I get a sense of wheels turning endlessly (it would make a great road trip song!), the song propelling ever forward. And it’s got a cool baroque sounding break in the middle. “Whatever” is nice, and even has a winking reference to FIDLAR. The song is bouncy, but it’s alsop about a relationship gone bad. “I am so fucking sick of you acting like a dick / I’m just trying to pull my life back together / And I’m too fucking tired of you calling me a liar / Just tell me what you want, I’ll say whatever.” The closing track is a wonder. “Alone” is a waltz time song that opens with acoustic guitar, vocals, and accordion, sounding like a sad Continental song of lost love. I can imagine listening to this, strolling along the banks of the Seine. The one track I can’t get into very much is “No Place Like (Not Being) Home.” It’s got a white rock steady sort of feel, slower than ska, not quite reggae. It just feels out of place among the rest of the tracks. Some of the tracks on the LP seem to be about resistance to change, generally in relationships with other people. Accepting change can be hard, and not only in love. It can be hard to accept change in bands you like, too. I was ready to dislike this LP, because – what did they do to my Frights? But we all need learn to embrace change. It’s inevitable. And sometimes, like in the case of The Frights, it’s for the better. Recommended.

GET MARRIED – Songs For The Sleepless (Wiretap Records,

There’s been quite a trend of adding keyboards to pop punk bands over the past few years. Seattle’s Success did it. Get Married’s label-mates Spanish Love Songs did it. Add Get Married to the list, though, I’m not sure Get Married would fall solidly into the pop punk category. Certainly some of their songs, do, but others are more rock than punk. The opener, “Adam West,” certainly would fit right in at a pop punk show, as would “Music Box” and “Sleep Deprived.” “Music Box” is a song that alternates between bouncy and poppy, and a little harder edged. “Sleep Deprived” has a slight doo-wop feel mixed in, as seems to be a trend in the last few years in the pop punk scene, especially when you’ve got multiple singers in the band that can harmonize well. “Cinnamon Sugar” takes that theme even further, and is a modern take on a 50s doo-wop song. After a simple intro, the noisy modern guitars come in for the chorus. And “Coffee 2” is an unabashed doo-wop song, even including backing vocals singing the traditional “ooh wah-wah ooh.” Songs like “Weeknight Love” and “Living Room” are decent rock tunes, but nothing that’s going to set the world on fire. And that’s a good description for the album, overall – it’s decent, but not outstanding.

THE LEGENDARY TIGERMAN – Misfit + Misfit Ballads (Dirty Water Records,

This album includes the four track “Misfit Ballads” EP as bonus tracks. And don’t confuse this with The Misfits – it has no relationship to the famous punk band. The Legendary Tigerman is a one-man show, Paulo Furtado, a Portuguese performer specializing in blues-laden rock’n’roll. But there’s not a lot of consistency in that – some of the tracks are pop songs, some are ambient., some are soulful. I like some of the tracks more than others, especially when he moves away from the more standard rock’n’roll sound. Thankfully, that’s the bulk of the album. I’m not particularly enamored with the opening track, “Motorcycle Boy,” which was the lead single. It’s pretty much standard bar rock. “Fix of Rock N Roll” just feels really sleazy. It’s the kind of track that would be playing in a movie scene with lots of nudity, cocaine, and leather. The lyrics are pretty sleazy, too. Things improve after this. “The Saddest Girl On Earth” has a deep western desert sound, dusty and lonesome. “Sleeping Alone” is a soulful doo-wop track. “Black Hole” has a very cinematic quality to it. I adore “Holy Muse,” which has an eerie feel, thanks to what I think is a dulcimer or harpsichord and plenty of reverb in the guitar. These tracks all make effective use of saxophone, an instrument that used to be prominent in many rock bands but which had fallen out of favor. Saxophone is making a comeback!

The “Misfit Ballads” EP bonus tracks are even better than the album. Softer, quieter, more contemplative, these songs are great for a quiet weekend morning. “A Girl Called Home” is a Western ballad which makes use of slide on the guitar, and the keyboards in the background are very atmospheric. “Lonesome Sweetheart” is aptly named. The reverb gives it that big open, empty feel, and the slightly out of tune piano adds to the sense of abandonment. But it’s “Tango Til They’re Sore,” the final track of the EP, that really does it for me. Slow, and sparsely arranged, with guitar, bass, tenor sax, and vocals, it’s incredibly haunting.

ONLY ON WEEKENDS – Another Wasted Night (

Do you like 90s pop punk? Especially the kind that got sort of slick and over-produced? Well, hey then, here’s a record you may enjoy! The songs are smooth and poppy in that Blink 182 sort of way. There are even a few songs that border on 2000s “pop punk” emo! The dozen songs last a mere 33 minutes, but it seems longer. Now, don’t get me wrong. The record isn’t horrible. As a matter of fact, the music is pretty tight, and the vocals are in tune and on key, including the backing vocals. It’s just that there’s nothing original or special at all about these songs. It comes across like too much pop punk of the 90s and 2000s did – as an attempt to cash in. It’s all too inoffensive.

VISTA BLUE – The Kids Still Don’t Like It (

Vista Blue’s Mike Patton comments that when his kids were growing up he “was thankful for bands like They Might Be Giants, Ralph’s World, and Justin Roberts (among others) who made music that was fun for both kids and adults.” Thus, Vista Blue has wanted to do such a record for some time, and now they have. The band’s unique calling card of super buzzy guitars in the ultimate poppy songs is still there, and the songs are just as bouncy as ever. What’s different? Well, the lyrics are somewhat simplistic, as befitting songs for kids. Topics include the four seasons of the year, going on vacation to the planet Neptune, dad listening to the Ramones, a tough as nails teacher, and needing to work hard. If you’re familiar with Vista Blue, you know what to expect. I love the band, and the new EP doesn’t change my mind. But, really guys, most of your songs are ones that could be enjoyed by both kids and adults already!

THE 1984 DRAFT – Makes Good Choices (Poptek Records,

The first track slays me! On a field recording we hear a little kid singing a made up song whose lyrics are basically the name “Jan Kawolski” repeated over and over. Then the band comes in with a fantastic indie rock song about the joyful imagination of little kids, and how that fades over time. The ten songs on this debut LP from the Dayton, Ohio band pretty much fall into that “indie rock” category; they’re not too punk, not too commercial. Most of the songs have that indie feel, but a couple venture outside those boundaries, and they’re worth separate mentions. “Miss Ohio” is a mix of country and gospel, full of soulfulness. And “Honest” has a soaring, dreamy quality to it. I also love the last two tracks, “Megaphone” and “Lisbon Falls.” The closer is a beautifully dark ballad, and “Megaphone starts simply, with a lovely bass line an kick drum. The song isn’t overly complicated; the melody is simply, and the lyrics are too. But the song just feels so seamless, and it’s got a sad, lonely feel to it, even when the full band comes in and gets a bit raucous. I think this is one of the key secrets to The 1984 Draft: their songs aren’t over the top; they’re simple and straightforward. Aren’t all good songs that way, really?

EVEN IN BLACKOUTS – The Princess Foretold By Her Henchmen, Even (Stardumb Records, www.stardumb

Remember the heyday of Screeching Weasel, back when John “Jughead” Pierson was in the band? He was one of the key members that made the band so great back then. In 2002 he started Even In Blackouts, a punk band that focused on acoustic guitars instead of electric (get it? Without depending on electricity they can play sets even in a blackout!). After releasing a few albums, the band ended in 2009. Stardumb Records is now releasing a sort of greatest hits compilation of the band’s favorite tracks from their recorded output.

A lot of acoustic efforts fall flat, but this one is fantastic. Liz Eldridge’s vocals are sparkling and electrifying, the musicianship is amazing, and the song writing is engaging. Eldridge’s vocals, in particular, blend East Bay pop punk with the power of a Broadway star, creating a wholly unique feel. I had already moved away from Chicago when this band was hitting its stride, but now I’m kicking myself for not being in the loop on this back in the day. It’s that good.

Some of the songs are pretty straightforward pop punk, but played with acoustic guitars. Other tracks are so much more than mere pop punk. “If Leaving Were To Be So Easy” is a standout track. The song is about a relationship hitting a rough spot, the protagonist asking to be left alone, at least for a little while. Even though she doesn’t want to be alone, she needs to be. She doesn’t want to have to cry herself to sleep every night. The song starts out with just acoustic guitar and Eldridge’s impassioned vocals. When the dueling vocals sing both “Don’t want to see you” and “Don’t want to see you go” at the same time, it shows the conflicting emotions that occur in relationships. The same theme occurs in “Romantically Inclined,” where Pierson takes over the vocal duties, singing, “I can come up with two, maybe 50,000 reasons you should s-s-stay / I can come up with two, maybe 50,000 reasons why we should go our separate ways.” The stuttering and tentative sound of his voice reflect the insecurities and uncertainty. Some of the best tracks are the ones that are less pop punk, like “We’re So Tough,” with it’s odd meter and pounding percussion. Or “The Writer,” with its folksier feel (even with the intensity of the percussion that joins part-way through the song). I love the delicate “Heaven.” “I change and I can’t tell the difference / I can’t feel the difference / God, I can’t feel anything,” the song declares. “Let’s say there’s this thing called Heaven,” the song continues. “You’re there waiting for your memories to return / Watching who’s stepping through the gate / Well, that’s all fine, that’s gotta be / But when I die don’t look for me.” The music builds and explodes, that last line repeating over and over. Feedback fills the speakers, as the song slows down, then suddenly we hear a click, and silence save for the sound of rain falling, the same as when the song opened. Another click, and the acoustic guitar from the opening is heard in lo-fi. But this time, when the vocals come in, we hear, “I’ll just kill you, you’ll be dead again, you bastard / I’ll hug you, I’ll cry in your arms / I’ll slap you and kill you again, you bastard.” Whoa! Talk about conflicting emotions in relationships! We hear an “el” train rumbling outside, then another click and the track is over. “Gone” uses banjo as the main instrument in place of guitar, for a more country-folk feel, and has some amazing key changes that make this is a special song to listen to. The most amazing track might be “Skeleton Dance,” a song that uses electric guitar, off kilter rhythms, and eerie vocals that are sung and whispered to create something that’s really fun. And “How Do You Kill A Ghost” is so cool! Really, every song on this record is, and it makes me want to go back and listen to all of the records these songs came from. Highly recommended!

THE BAR STOOL PREACHERS – Grazie Governo (Pirate Press Records,

The Bar Stool Preachers are a punk/ska/reggae outfit from the unlikely location of Brighton, in the UK. Their sound is deeply rooted in a tradition that originated thousands of miles away from their home base, in Orange County, California. And in that same tradition, the music is less raw and more polished than typical punk rock. Some of the songs lean more heavily in one direction or another, and some mix genres fairly thoroughly within a single track. For example, the title track, which opens this sophomore LP, is pretty straight-ahead mid-tempo ska. Immediately following, “8.6 Days (All The Broken Hearts)” is a mid-tempo punk track with a strong, heartfelt sound. “War Chief” is a pretty cool pub-rock sort of track. “Choose My Friends” mixes pop punk and ska sounds and includes guest vocals from the fantastic Aimiee Interrupter. “DLTDHYOTWO” is a mid-tempo ska track with an angry edge to match the politically oriented lyrics, and is one of the better tracks on the album, because its passion is most palpable. “2_22” has a Fat Wreck Chords sound, skate punk blended with a more open heart-felt punk. Other tracks have more of a jammin’ reggae sound mixed with straight-on rock music, like “Drive.” The bottom line – I like some tracks a bit more than others – the ones that have a bit more passion in the sound. Much of this album comes across as too formulaic for my tastes. And, while I love a good mix of raw punk and ska, as a good friend of mine once said, they need to pick a sound. This is a little too all over the place for me, too unfocused. And, finally, the mid-tempo on every track needs to get varied a lot more. Give me some faster tracks, some slower tracks.

CORNER BOYS – Love Tourist (Dirt Cult Records,

It feels like I just reviewed a record from this Vancouver band. And so I did, last fall. They’re back with another 7” EP, this time on Dirt Cult Records. Last time we got three catchy loose punk songs, and this time we get four. The songs are upbeat, punchy, just poppy and fun enough, and the vocals are even improved from the previous record, at least a bit. But the vocals, again more spoken than sung, aren’t the point of this record. It’s the fun. Case in point: “TV Love,” the closing song. It’s about someone whose girlfriend has a crush on someone on TV. The lyrics are hilarious, and the music is bouncy – but sounds like a lightened version of an 80s hardcore tune. Corner Boys are a band I’d want at my party.

FRYD CHIKIN – Fryd Chikin Stinks! (Dirty Water Records,

Electric guitar and drum machine make up the only instrumentation on these stripped down rock’n’roll tracks. Mystery Mongoloid spits out the vocals on this lo-fi recording, with rawness equal to that of the instrumentals. Who is Mystery Mongoloid? No one knows for sure, but rumor has it that guitarist Jack from New Zealand’s The Cavemen holds the key to the secret. There’s certainly plenty of energy permeating the eight songs on this record. But I think the tracks are a bit too stripped down for my liking. The lyrics are a bit inane, too, with songs about food (Fryd Chikin, Pizza/Beer), obsession with the morbid ((I Want Your) Head), sex (Do You Think I’m Ugly), both (Every Day Is Like Halloween), and failed relationships (You’re the Reason, Not Your Kind of Man). It seems obvious that this was just a lark, “Hey, I’ve got these funny songs that don’t really fit with the main band, so I’ll just record them and release them under a different name.” I guess they can be sort of fun popping up in shuffle mode, but I can’t see wanting to listen to this album straight through.

PERSONALITY CULT (Drunken Sailor Records,

Imagine combining first wave UK punk rock and early power pop, like The Buzzcocks, with modern high-energy garage punk like that made by Radioactivity, The Marked Men, and similar bands. North Carolina’s Personality Cult do just that. Front man Ben Carr of Natural Causes put the band together as a side project, but this needs to be a full-time gig. The songs are catchy as hell, bouncy and fun. And with ten tracks at a mere 22 minutes, the goodness flies by, letting you listen several times in a row in a short time, which is just what I did! The record has some great moments where the sound changes a bit, too, like “Functioning Fine” and “Fashionably Late,” tracks that channels some of the more off-the-wall art-music that was coming out in the late 70s and early 80s, a period of intense musical creativity. And “Motivation,” the track that closes the album out, has an awesome sparkly retro 60s British invasion feel mixed in with the punky power pop. Recommended!

CAMPDOGZZ – In Rounds (15 Passenger Records,

Jess Price, Campdogzz’s vocalist, moved to Chicago from Oklahoma to be a filmmaker, but the music bug never left her. She continued to write songs, and Campdogzz was born. There are a few tracks that are interesting weird instrumentals, featuring spooky organ sounds, interspersed throughout the album, each entitled “Bobbing on the Plains,” with a part number, 1, 2 and 3. These may be the most interesting tracks of the album. They’re haunting, especially with the rough barking noises interjected. The other ten tracks are a blend of indie pop, rock, and Americana, with Price’s Oklahoma roots clearly showing. “Souvenir” is one of the least countrified of the tracks, though the twang in the vocals is still there. I do love “Batshit,” a track that features some pretty strings providing the instrumental backing (violins, cello), along with piano, bass, and drums. “On My Own” is another good one. It starts out quietly, with vocals and acoustic guitar, not quite country, but with the twangy vocals. Then the whole band comes in – and I really love the melody, the drums beating out the lyrics’ syllables, rather than simply keeping time. And “Royal Rye,” with its breathy vocals and minimalist instrumentation, reminds me a lot of EMA’s incredible debut LP. Some of the songs are a little too Americana for my tastes, though, too much lonely road sounds. “Sorceress” is one of those. Overall, it’s definitely a listenable record. It’s not getting deleted off my computer, so its songs may turn up on shuffle once in awhile, but I’m not sure I’d seek this out on its own on purpose.


Couch Jackets are from Arkansas, and put out a pretty unique record. They’ve got elements of dream pop, math rock, psych, and avant-garde. There’s a huge diversity in the sounds, which makes it a treat and a surprise to listen to every time. The album opens with some lovely acoustic guitar and relaxed jazzy vocals on the song, “Sideways Chicken.” It eventually takes on a slightly country feel, like a couple of people sitting on their front porch, just singing. Then the last part of the song becomes an odd but beautiful instrumental that flows into “Pillos N Rillos,” a dreamy track, but it’s not your typical dream pop. Though there’s reverb-laden keyboards, there’s a harder edge and plenty of mathish off-kilter changes to mess with you. After “Vicious Children” starts out as a gorgeous ambient number, it gets harder and edgier, yet breezy. Then just after the halfway point, it takes on an island feel. “Don’t Think Just Breathe” blends funky psych pop and modern indie, in a way similar to what Cymbals Eat Guitars has done on recent LPs. The incredible variety continues throughout the record, which is a pretty amazing thing these days, when so many bands don’t know how to write songs that sound any different than the last song they wrote. The most astounding track on the record, though, may be “Kathy Was All Woman.” It begins as an 80s disco-laced, sparkly, dreamy number. Two minutes in it changes to a math-rock pop instrumental, gets dreamier again, and at the 3:23 mark changes completely into a gorgeous orchestral classical piece, complete with strings, harp, piano, and chimes. Simply mind-blowingly beautiful. At 4:32 it changes again to a more avant-garde classical sound, picks up steam, and at 5:13 explodes back into a hard-edged dream-pop song. This record makes me want to dive into their back catalog.

ODD ROBOT – Amnesiatic (Wiretap Records,

In early 2017 a new band arose, seemingly out of nowhere, and dropped one of the best records of the year. Odd Robot’s “A Late Night Panic” blended together the 90s Midwest pop punk sounds of The Smoking Popes and Alkaline Trio, yet they made it modern and made it their own. After a year and a half of steadily playing local shows and writing new songs, they’re back with their sophomore LP, “Amnesiatic.” And they’re better than ever! I may have said this in my review of their first record, but if these guys had been around 30 years ago it would have been them blowing up like crazy, not Green Day. They’re that good. The songs are all hook-laden, bouncy yet edgy, and they’ll instantly make you want to get up and dance. “Sell Your Soul” is a song they’ve been playing a lot at their live shows, so it was very familiar, but the rest of these songs were new to me, and I am in total awe at how they could get even better than before. The title track is one of my favorites of the album, probably for the surprise key changes throughout the song. The other favorite is “Green and Yellow Wires.” I just love the super jangly intro and how it makes its presence felt throughout the song. Even though the song is a ballad, it jangles beautifully. But every single song is a great one. I like the hints of doo-wop mixed in. like in “Take Me Away” (which also includes glockenspiel in the instrumentation!) and the aforementioned “Green and Yellow Wires.” “Boil Through,” “Nothing to Do with Anything, but,” and “West Coast Girls” are all solid stand-outs, too, while “Hole Inside” proves that even ballads can be great songs. But that closer. “Screech the Turns.” Oh my! You know how Josh Caterer of the Smoking Popes sometimes does these quiet songs with just him and a guitar, his crooning vocals melting your heart? Andy Burris takes his turn, proving his writing and singing chops. The song is such a delicate thing, and it’s the perfect way to end the perfect album.


CALLAS WITH LEE RANALDO – Acid Books (Dirty Water Records, www.dirtywater

Greek band Callas, featuring brothers Lakis and Aris Ionas, have dropped a killer single, featuring Lee Ranaldo, of Sonic Youth fame. After an eerie sounding intro, the band launches into a track that would have seemed at home on a mid-period Sonic Youth album. Angry guitars shout, while the dirty bass throbs. The song is very modal, giving it a feel of neither lightness nor darkness. The strong beat gives it a bit of an industrial feel, too. I guess the song that comes to mind most is the single Sonic Youth did with Lydia Lunch a few decades ago, “Death Valley 69.” It’s got the same driving feel.

CHAIN WHIP (Dirt Cult Records,

If I didn’t know that this was a brand new release from a pretty new band from Canada, I would have been confident in estimating this release as having come out in 1982 or 1983. Five tracks of great hardcore punk music, in the vein of all the greats from those early years. A few chords, speedy riffs, and snarling vocals that are half sung and half shouted are all you needed back then for a successful hardcore punk record, and this follows that formula perfectly. The best tracks are the opener, “Self-Destruct,” and “Let’s Bomb East Van.” This is powerful stuff. I thought I was over this kind of punk, actually, because a lot of bands that try to play this older style just can’t do it. It comes off sounding sloppy and juvenile. But Chain Whip prove that this style of music can be just as vital and energetic today as it was 35 years ago.

THE CHEAP CASSETTES – Kiss The Ass of My Heart (Rum Bar Records,

This four-song EP is the follow-up to The Cheap Cassettes debut LP, “All Anxious, All the Time,” and like that record, this one features some good old power pop mixed with rock’n’roll. You can tell these songs come from the heart; they’re well written and played with passion. This isn’t going to set the world on fire, but if you like power pop you’ll probably like this record. Like on the LP, though, I do suggest the band work on their vocals a bit, so when they get multiple voices going they’re a bit better in tune.

GOODBYE BLUE MONDAY – Misery Punk Ruined My Life (Make-That-A-Take Records, www.makwethatatakerecords. com)

Imagine taking a great gruff-punk sound like Iron Chic and blending it with the positive vibe and open sound of RVIVR. Not so hard to imagine at all, right? Given the connections those bands have, of course. But now add a huge dose of Scottish sensibilities, and you get Goodbye Blue Monday. Upbeat, happy sounding music blends with depressing, miserable lyrics. There’s a sense of Celtic chaos, as well – and it sounds like there’s an accordion or concertina in the mix, sort of like The Pogues. If you saw the band set up for a live show with that, you’d think “what the hell?” But damn, it works really well. If I’m wrong and it’s just guitar pedal trickery, so be it – but it’s awesome in the mix. Punk accordion! Huge gang vocals abound on the three songs, and I can imagine a live show is going to be an intense affair – don’t expect to escape without bruises and getting soaked with beer! The opening of “Love Is a Noose for Two” (what a great title) even has a Highland reel sound. I love this!

THE GUESTS – Popular Music (Sabotage Records,

Philadelphia’s The Guests pair 80s synth-pop with political lyrics, creating a compelling combination. The music has a strong beat, but this isn’t sparkly new wave dance music – this is dark stuff, more like the sound of New Order and bands of that ilk than it is like the B-52s. Songs with titles like “Watching the War,” “Killing Spree,” and “Like a Cold War” indicate this isn’t just party music, unlike so much new wave synth pop of the era. That the band shares some membership with hard edged rock outfit Sheer Mag makes it all the more amazing. The track that sticks in my mind the most is “Kicked and Punched, Rounded Up, and Stunned.” It’s got a funky disco beat, and sounds a lot like the musical tracks used in early hip-hop. Other particularly memorable tracks include “Serpentine,” a track that sounds a bit like western cowboy music crossed with Sonic Youth crossed with new wave, and “Beast of Bolsaver,” which has a cool, eerie keyboard on the chorus. I like these songs, but, just as with even the best music of this genre from the 80s, too much in one sitting is a little more than I can take. This is best in smaller doses.

JUG & THE BUGS / LEP – Lep/Jug Split (Keeper Records, https://keeperrecords.

An enigma of a release! Jersey Beat received this cassette release from a new label with its website still “Coming soon” and no press release info. I can’t find band pages online, either. But this is pretty unique stuff. Six songs from Jug & The Bugs, plus five from Lep make up this split LP. Jug & The Bugs offer up a hybrid of psychedelic garage music and hippy folk rock. Lep are a little more minimalist and quirkier. Both represent something that’s been sorely missing in independent music for the past 20+ years: creativity. While there’s good music being made, too much music these days is very derivative. It’s rare to come across true originals, but here we are. From Jug & the Bugs, I really love “Calendar,” a song that feels like it glides. The bass throbs on a single note, and the chorus is simply one word, “calendar.” But the minimalist melody is really pretty. “Dog Sleep” has a great funky hippy vibe, with a bit of a lazy feel, weirdly inappropriate for a song about a nasty dog that doesn’t sleep at night. The first of Lep’s tracks is the appropriately titled, “Challenge the Listener.” A melodic line plays out on some unknown weird instrument, sounding like a recording of a recorder that’s been manipulated. Then a gritty bass picks up the line and some intense vocals come in, with various noises interjecting. It’s funky and fresh, and weird and crazy and amazing! “Gerbil Boogie” is a favorite, with its super-fast execution, including lyrics that are quietly understated, yet flying by in a blaze. “Nothin’ On” is an homage to the vast wasteland of TV,” And “Don’t Bug” is a bouncy track to close things out – but it has be done Lep’s way, with weird oddities thrown into the arrangement. Like I said, this split LP is probably one of the most musically creative releases in a long time. I adore it.

THE OPHELIAS – Almost (Joyful Noise Recordings,

Indie pop without guitars? Well, except for a couple of the tracks, which have acoustic guitar, yes! It’s like indie pop chamber music, with violin, bass, drums, and vocals. Vocalist and songwriter Spencer Peppet sings without excess emotion, in a matter of fact, almost world-weary way. All of the emotion is saved for the gorgeous instrumentals. This yields a more delicate texture than a typical indie-pop record. About those vocals. On “General Electric,” they’re almost robotic, in a satirical look at relationships in which Peppet sings about having no control, and wanting to “be just like the girls you like, I want to be what you fantasize.” She sings about controlling nothing. “Control me like a puppet / Call me on my cellphone / I’m General Electric / You’re a Casanova.” It’s a dark commentary on society’s expectations of “proper” or “traditional” roles in relationships. On “Lovers Creep” acoustic guitar is used as a percussion instrument and repetitive violin lines give the song a minimalist sort of feel, even as these repeating melodic lines intertwine with complexity. “O Command” is one of the edgier tracks, alternating between free-form and rigid beat, with the strings adding tons of tension. The “chorus” varies in it’s middle two lines each time, but the first and fourth are consistent: “You do what you don’t want” and “You say what you don’t mean.” Confusion and contradiction abound. How are we supposed to understand each other when no one is ever real? The studio trickery on “Bird” is gorgeous, turning the violin plucks into percussion, and making the whole song sound like it’s being performed under water during the chorus. The penultimate track, “Zero,” may be my favorite. It starts in a very unsettling way, with the melodic line full of dissonance and rolling up and down. If you have motion sickness, take some Dramamine before listening. But after a bit of this, the song changes to an absolutely beautiful, delicate thing, with lyrics that are just the opposite: “Focus on the things you want, Focus on the things you want, I know what you really want, I know what you really want.” The song alternates between these two polar opposites, with the singer either claiming to know better than the subject what they want or need or actually being more perceptive. You choose which is right. But as far as whether to get this record, you have no choice. You simply must do it.

POST SEASON (Know Hope Records,

Formed some six years ago in Altoona, Pennsylvania, Post Season have put out more than a handful of singles and EPs, but this is just the pop-punk band’s second full-length LP, their debut album coming five years ago. Post Season specializes in 90s style mid-tempo pop punk with emotional content. The songs are melodic, poppy, and have that epic sound so common back in the day. A lot of the vocals are harmonized, also a hallmark of the 90s sound. The band are certainly talented, with tight musicianship. If you’re a fan of this sound, you’re sure to enjoy this record a lot. To me, though, the songs end up sounding too much alike, too derivative, too much like so much music from 20+ years ago. They even sing about “watching 90s reruns til 4 o’clock in the morning,” on “Picture Frame Eyes.” Definitely for 90s fans.

WATASHI WA DANCE PARTY – Skate Pop Suicide (Hidden Home Records, www.

San Diego’s Watashi Wa Dance Party are an extremely talented band. They’re tight, and their songs are well-written, poppy, have decent variety, and they’re exciting to listen to. So why haven’t you heard of them before? Either they’re not playing out a whole lot or they’re having a hard time getting shows, at least in their hometown. I think part of that has to do with them disrespecting the rest of the scene. I’ve been to a couple of shows they’ve been booked on, and their MO is to get to the venue in time to play their set, play, and leave. They don’t stick around to support the other bands or even hang out with the audience and make new friends and fans. I think if they warmed up to the rest of the scene they would have a lot more success, because these are some damn fine songs. The opener is called “Daylight,” and it’s got a sort of retro emo sound, over the top epic, but with buzzy synths on top of the guitars. Then the vocals come in, upper register and harmonized, sounding kind of like Japanese pop punk a bit. The song is pretty glorious, but way too short at under a minute and a half. “Mio” is a great mathy pop punk track, with stop-start guitar lines bouncing all over the place. “Really Over” mixes harder pop punk with a grungier edge in the first part of the song, then it goes into a rapid-fire skate punk sound. “Halle” is a poppy punky track that has some ska undertones in places, with some great hooks. “Ruminating” takes things much further into the ska punk realm, while “My Lava Lamp” closes the EP out with a schizoid track that’s part heavy post-hardcore and part light pop. It’s an odd combination that works really well. This band makes life difficult, because their music and their scene ethics are out of alignment.


Named after a New York turn-of-the-last-century street gang, The Hudson Dusters are Jon B Woodin and Foggy Otis, writing and playing some gorgeous folk music, and this album is an acoustic treat. Pretty guitars intertwine with gruff lead vocals, smooth backing vocals, and gorgeous flute on the opening track, “River Suite (Parts 1 and 2),” while “Straight Away” is a little more countrified, with more twang, courtesy of banjo, harmonica, and mouth harp. “Don’t Be Blue Too Long” is a sweet song of inspiration, with those lovely guitars and vocals, along with piano and fiddle. The musical saw used on the delicate “Carry Us Home” provides an otherworldly feel, and when it duels with flute, there’s nothing more beautiful. “I Don’t Mind” is a light number with a down-home feel that would be right at home on the radio program, “Live From Here” (formerly “A Prairie Home Companion”). The moment on the album that really hits me, though, is the penny whistle solo on the final track, “Love.” It’s a little known secret that I’m a sucker for Irish folk music, and that sent a chill through me. This record is not your usual Jersey Beat fare, but if you like folksy Americana on the lighter, prettier side, you’re going to really enjoy this.

CHARACTER ACTOR (Dirt Cult Records,

This is the debut EP from a pop punk trio made up of Jeff Schroeck (The Ergs!, Black Wine) on guitar and vocals, Brian Gorsegner (Night Birds) on drums, and Evan Kiel on bass. Whoa! The songs are sort of what you might expect from this line-up: poppy and melodic, yet hard and aggressive, with powerfully tight musicianship. “Out of Hands,” and “On Rubicon Beach” are both about two minutes long, with a slightly better than mid-tempo pace and catchy melodic lines. “What I Learned from Righteous Cowboys” is a little more aggressive sounding, and feels faster, but it’s really pretty much the same pace, and it’s over in under a minute. The closer is “72 Paperbacks,” and this one calms things down a notch or two. The pace is a bit slower, the aggressiveness is dialed back a bit, and the vocals and melody are smoother. There’s nothing you haven’t heard before on this EP, but the songs are catchy and played very well.

REGAN ASHTON – And the People You Always Have With You (La Escalera Records,

What do you get when you mix countrified folk songs with a heavy dose of punk attitude, adding in one of the most unique voices in punk music today? You get Regan Ashton’s solo EP! Banjo and harmonica blend easily with electric guitars, bass, drums, and some dark lyrics to create something unique. “Nobody likes me / Everybody hates me” repeats over and over at the start of the EP, on “Scumbag,” the first of six songs. As that fades, we hear electric guitar and Ashton begins singing that he should have been a scumbag and burned out ten years ago. Those vocals are unmistakable, especially as the country rhythm joins in with plucked banjo, and the lyrics are sung loudly in that raspy, throaty voice so well known from Problem Daughter. The feel is light, bouncy, and twangy, the opposite of what’s being sung about. This pattern repeats with variations, including keyboard on some tracks and some big-sounding backing vocals. There are some lighter moments, too, such as studio banter at the start and end of “Junkyard Parakeet,” and just the idea of a junkyard parakeet, a creature that will say things it probably shouldn’t, because it’s too small to back them up. And just beyond the halfway mark of the super country, super punk “Anywhere But Here,” we hear an apparent mistake and “goddamit” shouted out before the music resumes. Ashton’s passion and pain are clearly apparent in these songs, too, and perhaps that’s the most important thing to note of all. Because that always makes for a record that you want to listen to over and over again.

BEACH SKULLS – Las Dunas (Punk Slime Recordings,

Upon seeing the name of this band, I immediately developed a set of expectations. Beach Skulls equals surf inspired punk, probably pretty gritty, right? Well, mostly, Beach Skulls shatter those expectations. The vocals are dreamy indie pop style vocals, though the guitars bear a bit of resemblance to a garage-surf sound. But this is nowhere near as punk as you would expect from that “Skulls” in the band name. “Sun” opens the record with delicately plucked guitar and bass for a few bars, then the surfiness begins, the song coasting along at an easy pace. Then Ry Vieira’s vocals come in, floating lazily over the music. There’s a very psychedelic quality at play. “Come Undone” is next, and starts out as a polar opposite, with frantic wall of guitar sound – but just for a moment. Then everything calms, and once again we have Vieira’s dreamy voice and surf guitar, bass, and drums, with the same hazy lazy feel. Some of the songs, such as “Sacred Citrus,” feature edgier male vocals and lose the dreamy feel. I think these don’t work as well as the dreamier ones. “That’s Not Me” is a bit in-between, though, with Vieira back on lead vocals, but with a bit edgier of a feel, and I think this work well. The melody is somewhat retro, reminding me of the way power pop and post punk were blending together in some scenes in the early 80s. “Soma Holiday” and “Interlude” are instrumentals that don’t quite do it for me, though the dissonance in the guitars in the latter adds some interest. No, I think those dreamy vocals are what really make the record work best. The track that works the least is “Walk Into The Temple,” on which Vieira tries to do soulful vocals. Favorite track: that opener, “Sun.”

BILLY & DOLLY – Five Suns (Shit Krystal Records,

Interesting synth driven pop music coming out of the San Francisco area. Billy and Dolly are Bill Rousseau and Dahlia Gallin Ramirez, formed in the early part of the last decade. Some of the songs are pretty unique, utilizing dark harmonies and mysterious melodic lines on the synth. The throbbing drums, bass, and guitar of “Sunlight From Another Life” is a great way to open the album, pulling me in and making me want to hear more. “Bobby” continues the feel, but when the vocals come in there’s more of a stately sound, the buzzy synths providing the throbbing this time. “Setting Sun” and “Please” take a different direction, showing more of SF’s old hippie vibe. The former is a light, bluesy track, heavy on guitars, while the latter has that hazy, lazy psychedelic sound made famous in the flower power days. The next pair of tracks provide two takes on power pop, with “Everything Is Off” being the softer track, with guitars and keyboards mixing it up, and “Want It” being the louder, buzzier, slightly funkier track. The tracks on this album seem to move from style to style, some having a harder rock sound (“Marooned”) others being gentle and smooth and bordering on a country feel (“Lost Your Aim”). Most of the songs are pretty listenable – there’s nothing offensive here. But also none of the songs seem to take any chances; it’s all so…safe sounding.

THE COATHANGERS – Live (Suicide Squeeze Records, www.suicide squeeze. net)

Live albums can either go really right or really wrong. Seeing a band live, when they’re good, is an amazing experience, but many times, attempts to capture the energy in a recording fall short. In the case of Atlanta, Georgia’s The Coathangers, the energy is palpable on many of the tracks. The angularity of the music and, especially, the vocals, plus the combination of female and male vocals, reminds me of a more punk B-52s. It’s a great raw combination of new wave mentality and punk aesthetics. Once in awhile things change up and sound a lot like a more polished Cibo Matto, like on “Arthritis Sux,” which uses repetitive melodic lines and sudden vocal outbursts, and the closer, “Squeeki Tiki,” a novelty track with the same feel. “Gettin’ Mad and Pumpin’ Iron” is insane! The vocals are off the wall, with the guitars following suit. Loud and furious, the anger jumps out of the speakers and throttles you, hands grasping at your throat! Occasionally, things don’t work quite as well – like “Captain’s Dead,” which tries to be a more melodic tune, but it’s too even keeled and smooth for The Coathangers. And “Burn Me” seems to drag a little too much, and the vocals seem a little bored. Bottom line, though, as a document of the band’s live shows, it’s a winner.

DARK/LIGHT (Dirt Cult Records,

Following up last year’s LP, Portland’s Dark/Light are back with a new EP. The sound is darker and more chaotic than before on these four songs. Lo-fi garage punk, with dueling male and female vocals remain, but this is even edgier and more frantic than the LP. Especially on the second track, “We Conjure Ghosts.” This one sounds kinda like horror-surf-garage. It’s cool how the end of this track, too, fades away, and then “Night Driving” starts with the same line that “We Conjure Ghosts” ended on, a slow throbbing drum and lonely guitar line. But it quickly mutates into something harder. This record makes me want to see Dark/Light live!

DARK THOUGHTS – At Work (Drunken Sailor Records,

Philadelphia’s Dark Thoughts doesn’t believe in being too long-winded. Of the twelve tracks on this new LP, only two significantly exceed two minutes in length, one barely cracks two minutes, and the remainder range from under a minute to about a minute and a half. They also don’t believe in the use of too many chords, limiting the selection on offer in any of these songs. In these senses, they show their debt to The Ramones. In some ways, too, the band reminds me of early Low Culture. This is the classic pop punk sound of around eight to ten years ago, too. If you’re a fan of bands like Dear Landlord, Turkish Techno, Chinese Telephones, jump on this one. It’s a banger!

THE DARTS – Subsonic Dream b/w Bullet (Dirty Water Records USA,

The queens of garage-psych rock’n’roll are back with a new single! “Subsonic Dream” is a full-on horror-psych freak-out garage track, heavy on the backbeat, heavy on the reverb, and loaded with eerie keyboard sounds. “Bullet” is a powerful paych’n’roll jam with a huge sound that doesn’t stop. Since forming a mere two years ago, this band that calls both LA and Phoenix home has shown that they’re a force to be reckoned with, and this new single reinforces that.

THE ESTRANGED – Frozen Fingers b/w World of Birds (Sabotage Records,

Portland’s The Estranged put out a new single recently with Sabotage Records, and it’s unlike that label’s usual hardcore punk sound. Of the two tracks, I think I like the B-side’s “World of Birds” better. It has an almost Renaissance ballad feel to it – well, except for the fact that it’s performed in a garage rock’n’roll style. The track starts with acoustic guitar and some bells, and then the reverb-laden vocals come in and it sounds very folk-like. The track is played at a slow tempo, with loads of reverb, and has a morose sound. Especially at the end, when all the instruments save the electric guitar drop out, and the melody plays, sounding desperately sad. The A-side is a more rockin’ garage track with a power pop edge. It’s a good one, but I love that B-side.

FUTURE GIRLS – Motivation Problems (Dirt Cult Records,

Future Girls is a bit of a throwback to a sound that every pop punk band seemed to try to imitate a decade or so ago. Loose, noisy, and melodic, this is what everyone should think of when they think of pop punk – not that super slick stuff that gained major label popularity in the 1990s and 2000s. Lyrics touch on teenage angst, feelings of hopelessness (and the ways we try to fool ourselves into hoping), severe depression, and similar typical pop punk themes. The tracks have such a strong sense of sincerity to them – you know these are real people experiencing the same real problems in life we all encounter. I love the contrast between the intense buzziness of the guitars and bass and the darkness of the lyrics versus the bouncy feel and the bright melodies and harmonies. Favorite tracks include “Words I Find,” which has tons of jangle underneath the layer of distortion and “Cause for Alarm,” for its harder and edgier punk feel.

HARD FEELINGS – Sideways (Dirt Cult Records,

Hailing from Duluth, Minnesota, Hard Feelings is a trio with a much bigger sound than you would expect from a three-piece. The songs are crunchy and melodic, bright and powerful. The more I listen to it, the more I’m falling in love with this record. I think my favorite track is “Morality,” the second song of the album. The off-kilter time signature and melodic line have drilled into my brain and made a home there. Immediately after is “Vision,” which reminds me a little bit of Toys That Kill, I think mainly in the vocals. There’s enough variety in the tracks to hold my interest, too. “Black Skies has a modern indie rock sound, but the chord progressions and vocals remind me of something the Sex Pistols might have done, yet “Don’t Need You” has the angularity and anger of a hardcore song – though it’s a little more melodic and somewhat smoother than hardcore. I love “Silly Game,” a track that goes through multiple transformations during the course of its four and a half minutes, from fast-paced hardcore rager to quiet ballad. The epic penultimate track, “Cycles,” is very different from everything else on the album, an Americana tinged ballad with a raucous, yet very sad feel and sad lyrics. Recommended!

MANIAC – Dead Dance Club (Dirt Cult Records,

Justin Maurer and James Carman are two fixtures of the LA music scene, known from the great power pop band, LA Drugz, and Justin also played in the legendary Clorox Girls. The two team up once again, this time with Andrew Zappin and Zache Davis for twelve cuts of power-garage-punk. From the first track, I hear influences from The Marked Men, with dark mid-tempo garage punk being the prominent element in the verses, though the chorus is brighter, and the back half of the song retains that more optimistic feel. The songs on this LP show a good sense of variety, moving back and forth along the punk and power pop spectrum, and the really amazing feat here is sounding both raw and polished at the same time. Favorite song: “Officer Jimmy.” It’s very Beach Boys meets Ramones-core, but it twists the form with loads of odd key changes, keeping you off-balance for the entirety of the song. I also love “Midnight Kino,” its chorus reminding me of the glory of LA Drugz, but with a bit more edge to it. This is a great LP that makes me want to go back and check out their debut LP from a few years ago.

PITY PARTY – Are You Happy Yet (La Escalera Records, www.laescalerarecords. com)

I just recently saw the Bay Area’s Pity Party for the first time, at La Escalera Fest 7, and instantly fell in love. They play sweet melodic music with super loud and buzzy guitars. The songs are high energy and loaded with fun. Including the song titles: “Dank Sinatra” and “Grindmother” are two of the four tracks! The opener, “Trap House Xmas,” is completely infectious and bouncy, transforming itself a few times in the short span of under two minutes. “Dank Sinatra” slows things down, grunging it up. “Grindmother” gets more manic again and has some great sing-along parts. The last song is “Pop Song 4 Evr.” It has some intense vocals, eschewing sweetness for grit on the mid-tempo track that, sadly, doesn’t last forever. Damn, I’ve been sleeping on this band for too long!

THE PRETTY FLOWERS – Why Trains Crash (Dirt Cult Records, www.dirtcultrecords. com)

In a significant departure from the norm, Dirt Cult is releasing a record that isn’t pop-punk or garage punk. The Pretty Flowers are a full-on alt-rock band, and this record is right on the edge for me. Sometimes I hear hooks that sound a little too much like the stuff on commercial radio (back in the late 90s), but other times they get something going that sounds pretty cool. I think some of it might be some of the over-production I’m noting, like the overdubs on “My Alchemist,” with lyrics sung, then repeated with a bit of distortion and pulled back in the mix. Sometimes the guitar tone and vocal harmonies sound too radio friendly. “Temple of Gunpowder” has parts with nice jangly guitars and vocals sounding like a cool power pop tune, but then comes a guitar solo sounding very “alternative,” with fake emo vocals coming in after, then those too-slick harmonies. When the synth and guitars play together it reminds me of some of the most awful MTV videos of the late 80s. “Filter the Grit” exemplifies this musical error in judgment. But then we’ll get something like “Corner of the Stars,” a pretty, jangly track. And I really like “New Century,” a loping song with noisy guitar interjections and crooning vocals. It’s hard to make a call when the band is right on that edge between tight indie band and a too commercial sound. The Pretty Flowers need to make up their mind about what kind of band they want to be.

PROUD PARENTS (Dirtnap Records,

It’s official. The Midwest is the home of much of the best power pop music being played these days. There is a plethora of bands playing in this genre, mainly coming out of Wisconsin. Proud Parents, from Madison, are one of these. On this, their debut LP, they present thirteen tracks of jangly, bouncy, power pop in at the garage-band end of the spectrum. There are dueling male and female vocals, including gang vocals, backing vocals, and harmonies, sparkling guitars, and tambourine – all adding up to give these songs a bright, sunny feel. On occasion, though, things get a little uneven. The guitars on “2 Fast 2 Serious” are fantastic, swirling around like crazy, but the vocals don’t live up to the instrumentals, or even most of the rest of the record. Off-pitch double tracking doesn’t work. But, for the most part, this is an enjoyable record. Proud Parents aren’t about to break and become the next big thing, nor are they pushing the boundaries of music, but they make good, solid music that’s entertaining.

SLUMB PARTY – Happy Now (Drunken Sailor Records, www.drunkensailorrecords.

Slumb Party list their influences as including Minutemen, Roxy Music, Contortions, Big Boys, and Kleenex. Yep, I can see that. This UK band from Robin Hood’s legendary home, Nottingham, play an oddball brand of post-punk that includes saxophone punctuating the angular melodies, adding to the general feeling of mayhem careening out of control. The wailing of the sax is a perfect complement to the angry and pleading sound of the vocals. The songs have a strongly manic feel, high in energy and full of intent. “Good Time” is a perfect example, with the bass and one sax pounding out a repeating foundational line, two other saxophones swirling around with a frenzy, while unhinged vocals sing and shout. I am in particular love with “We Used To Fight, especially the intense ending, in which the guitar riffs on a single note while the bass and saxes repeat an angular line over and over. I wish the song had more of that. “Everybody” is like a twisted new wave song, more insane than the 80s ever got, with synth providing an eerie feel to accompany the funky pop-wave. And the closing track, the title track, sounds like a twisted new wave cover song, but it’s not – it’s an original! And this band is an original – one of the most unique, creative bands I’ve heard in awhile!

SVART KATT – Når Allt Är Över (Sabotage Records,

Take Denton, Texas power-punk heroes Radioactivity, slow them down a bit, darken the melodies, and have them sing in Swedish. Add keyboards and reverb, plus some dark post punk guitars. Then you’ll get an idea of what Svart Katt sounds like on some of their songs. These Swedes have apparently been touring parts of Europe quite a lot, recently, and this debut LP showcases a tight, melodic Ramones-core sound that has more than a tinge of a lonely feel to it. This is a dramatic change to what I’m used to hearing from Sabotage. The German label tends to focus more on hardcore music and harder classic punk sounds. And I usually associate Scandinavian bands with thrashy metal. But this is downright melodic, almost pop punk. I have no idea what the songs are about, since I don’t speak Swedish. But I like this. “Borde Jag Gjort Nät” has a great fuzzy strummed guitar, and the vocals are prominent and heartfelt. Some of the songs, like “Samma Misstag,” mix in heavy reverb in the guitar and a prominent bass line, reminding me of early 80s post punk. A worthy expansion of Sabotage’s catalog.


DENIM AND LEATHER – Sacred Autism (Drunken Sailor Records,

This band is not a Saxon cover band, thanks be. No, they’re a hardcore punk band from Manchester, UK, and “Sacred Autism” is their debut full-length LP. It features ten tracks of noisy, sometimes sludgy, sometimes thrashy hardcore punk rock. The slower, sludgier tracks are less palatable to my ears. The faster, punker tracks are better, though the can be pretty same-same tedious after a while. Atonal “melodic” lines and monotone shouted vocals are the norm. When there’s something different, it stands out, though. Like on “Cathedral Gardens,” which has a few excellent moments. One, when the thrash stops and all is silent save for some clear as a bell guitar strums. Another is when things slow a bit and the vocals are actually sung a bit, with a pleading voice. But the track suffers from being too long; over four minutes is way too long for this kind of song. “Ginnel” is a cool track with an angular melodic line. The shining moment of the album, in my opinion, is “Ancient Cowboy Burial Ground,” a track that’s completely different from anything else on the album. It’s a quiet song that has a sound just like you might think, as suggested by the title. It’s lonely and dusty sounding, with lyrics quietly spoken. “Hatchlings” is a low point, on the other hand, sounding more like a 70s metal band than a hardcore punk band. The bright spots in this record are just too few and far between for my tastes. And even if you like hardcore, this is just a bit too atonal to recommend.

ERA BLEAK – Demo (Dirt Cult Records,

Dirt Cult has gone through phases, in terms of the type of music it puts out. First it was heavily focused on pop punk. Then it moved toward more of a garage punk phase. Then it started putting out neo-hardcore music from bands in its adopted hometown of Portland, Oregon. Portland’s Era Bleak’s debut blends garage and hardcore together, creating the perfect storm for Dirt Cult. Portland seems to have a great neo-hardcore scene, and Era Bleak is another example of this. Garage-punk music that sounds like it could have come right out of the early 80s, blended with vocals that are shouted with plenty of attitude and inflections. The result sounds both raw and polished at the same time, a commendable feat. There’s also a darkness to the sound that adds a lot to the feel. For instance, in the opener, “Option Overload,” the lyrics express the panic that comes with having to make choices from too many options, while the music lends a claustrophobic sense of paranoia; you feel the neurosis growing. “Tinderbox” is a fast song with an appropriately explosive feel. Other tracks similarly match the sound to the intent. Another strong release from Dirt Cult.

GLOOM SLEEPER – Luminous Galaxies (Dirt Cult Records, www.dirtcultrecords. com)

It’s rare that I don’t rave about a Dirt Cult release, and even rarer when I can’t even get into one at all, but here we are. Gloom Sleeper play a brand of new wave mixed with post-punk, a hint of a goth edge, and loads of grade B dark sci-fi film feel. A lot of that comes from the keyboards and dark feel to the music. Which, normally, would be an intriguing mix to my ears. I think, ultimately, the key things that bother me about this record are the lack of dynamic variation and the lack of a feel of energy. The tempo of the songs never varies by much, nor does the loudness. Everything is kept on an even keel throughout the ten songs. That probably accounts for the feeling of ennui; no variation means no excitement. It’s just there.

ISS (Drunken Sailor Records,

This is one of the most original records to come out in a long time. ISS, hailing from North Carolina, use samples and synths to create music that’s more punk than you can ever hope to be. After a brief sampled intro that I think comes from The Beastie Boys, we hear rapid fire drum machine and buzzy bassy synths, on “Back Taxes and Anaphylaxis.” “(Dis)charge It to the Game” has a dark feel, filled with deep buzz, shouted vocals, and ambient tones. It sounds sort of like it might have come from the soundtrack of a low budget post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie – and I mean that in a good way. In “Freemasons Run the Country,” a simple rhythm underlies lyrics that speak to the title conspiracy theory, exhorting listeners to “smash the fucking state, smash the fucking country, smash the fucking continent, smash the fucking world.” “In the Mist” is another of those sci-fi sounding tracks, and “What Should’ve Been” is a track full of evil lyrics in which the singer wishes all the ills of the world on others.” My favorite track, I think, is “52 Holes,” featuring a bleak landscape of percussion, bass, and deadpan vocals. The music isn’t really punk in the traditional sense, but the attitude and DIY spirit of this release are strongly punk. If you like the oddball and the unique, too, this record is a must listen.

THE JACK CADES – Music For Children (Dirty Water Records,

Dirty Waters Records continues to solidify their position as the world’s preeminent record label for retro garage music. Their latest effort, the debut from UK band The Jack Cades, has a classic 60s garage pop sound. Perhaps the most authentic sound of any of their bands yet. The arrangements are fairly sparse, the songs heavily R&B and folk inspired, the guitars jangly, and the vocals are more than a bit snotty. “Big Fish” opens the album with a classic garage track with a blues progression, heavy on the backbeat. But it’s the next track “Identity Crisis,” which is my favorite of the album. It’s an original song, but the melody and tone will sound instantly familiar to all fans of garage rock’n’roll. The jangle of the guitar, the harmonized backing vocals, it’s got it all. “Get A Life” is a great up-tempo track that uses a blues progression but feels bright at the same time. And I love “You’ve Seen It All,” a track that feels too short but clocks in at 2:21. It’s got a wild go-go sound, with a bit of psychedelic influence. I like the rapid-fire spoken lyrics, something that’s been done to death on a lot of records yet sounds fresh and original here. If you’re a fan of garage, this album is a must!

LUCY AND THE RATS (Dirty Water Records,

When I start playing a release from Dirty Water, I usually know exactly what I’m in for – the label is the home of some of the best garage rock’n’roll being put out these days. Looking at photos of the band, that’s exactly the sort of sound I expected – gritty and raw. Imagine my surprise when this latest release of theirs wasn’t what I expected at all. And it was a pleasant surprise! Lucy Spazzy, famed punk rocker from Australia, has started a new band based in London, and they play some pretty great indie pop music. They remind me a lot of Sugar Stems, a fantastic pop band from Wisconsin. The guitars are light and jangly, and the vocals sweet and overdubbed so as to be harmonized. This is the perfect summer record, a little bit garage-like with a heavy dose of bubblegum pop. The Rats put their best track right up front, to grab your attention. “Pills” embodies everything that makes this band so good. The lyrics seem to be about facing your fears and going for it. “Can you smell that in the air? / Oh no, baby, don’t be scared / Keep swimming forward like a shark / That’s headed for the deep blue dark.” I really enjoy “Lose My Mind,” too. It’s got a retro pop rhythm, a modern indie pop melodic line, and the sweet harmonies are reserved for the chorus. “Melody” is about hope – when the days are grey and you just don’t want to get out of bed, but you know that some day the sun will come out and everything’s going to be OK. “One sunny day I’m gonna open up my eyes / And I’ll hear something beautiful / I’ll hear a melody then sing the harmony / And I’ll feel something beautiful.” You’ll feel something beautiful, too, when you listen to this sweet, sweet record.

SEX TOURISTS (Drunken Sailor Records,

Originally released in late 2017 in their native Australia, Sex Tourists are seeing a limited vinyl release in Europe from Drunken Sailor Records. Sex Tourists have a definite 80s UK synth-wave post-punk sound, reminiscent of New Order and the like. Drum machine, multiple keyboards, and guitar provide a dark backdrop to equally gloomy vocals. Even on the brighter sounding tracks there’s always a sense of foreboding. And even though the base sound and feel is distinctly 80s retro, there are bits of modern touches, too. On many of the tracks there’s a dichotomy between the rapid-fire beats of the drum machines and the slower, dreamier feel of the vocals. My favorite track is the very martial-like “Carnival And Sports.” It’s got a very rigid march time beat and instrumentals that hint of glory. Sometimes the vocals come off a little harsh sounding, not as smooth as the musical style would suggest they should be. But if you miss this kind of 80s music, this is something you’ll like.

TEACH ME EQUALS – Fix History (Wild Klamath Records,

Teach Me Equals is the duo of Erin Murphy (guitar, violin, vocals) and Greg Bortnichak (cello, sequencer, guitar, vocals). This is their sophomore full-length LP, a follow-up to the split EP they released with Red Rumsey, the creation of former Unwound bass player Vern Rumsey. Fix History features eight tracks of gloriously experimental pop music, alternately epic and understated, alluring and demanding of attention. The songs take the basic pop song construct and turn it on its head. The sounds that can be achieved with a duo making use of a sequencer and other instruments is astounding, and the rich layering is not just a mere studio trick. Seeing this band live will make you a believer. The album opens with “Cleo,” which served as the lead single. Murphy’s hypnotic vocals cast a spell, while the steamy and mysterious jazz instrumentals simmer underneath. “PCV” has a gorgeous mix of classical and calypso feel, thanks to the synthesized percussion and Bortichak’s plucked cello. Bortnichak takes the lead on vocals on a few tracks, the first being “So Much for Subtlety,” a dark buzzy sounding track. “Velvet keeps things very dark, Murphy’s sensual vocals bringing back the mysteriousness, while the instrumentation contrasts with a harsh, angular feel. On “Bobbing for Apples,” Murphy and Bortnichak take turns on the vocals, and the track progresses at a dark simmer for a while, then toward the end quickly builds, with Bortnichak’s cello furiously taking the lead. Teach Me Equals reworked a track from their split EP for the next track, “Judas Goat.” This track slays me, and in this new recording even more. It’s god a very lonely sound, and when the cello takes the forefront with its minimalist line it sends a chill down my spine. “Smooth Sailing” is a slow, quiet, understated track, once again featuring Bortnichak on the lead vocals. The album closes with the title track, and it starts thinly, with minimalist instrumentation and Murphy’s vocals. Toward the end it explodes into a thickly layered dreamy song, but when you take a closer listen to that dreaminess you sense the noisiness beneath. As in life, all is not as it seems.

WAX IDOLS – Happy Ending (

Catchy, poppy, swirly music comes out of Oakland on Wax Idols’ fourth LP. Guitars, bass, drums, keyboard, and vocals blend to create something that’s part indie-pop and part dream-pop, but with more energy and power than your usual dreamy pop music. The instrumentation is thick and lush, the vocals strong and confident, while the lyrics reveal the sarcasm of the album’s title. “Too Late,” the second track on the album, showcases the band’s sound well, with a solid beat from the drum and bass, a dreamy yet edgy sound from the guitars, and powerful vocals belting out the dark lyrics that contrast starkly with the music. “No words can save your hollow soul,” the chorus cries out. “No emotions left to borrow / No one can fill that gaping hole / No sun will come tomorrow.” “Belong” follows, and is one of my favorites of the album. It’s got the most indie-pop feel of all the songs, after a gorgeous dreamy intro. “Crashing” is the polar opposite of a happy ending – it seems to speak of suicide as it tells us that “Rain fell down through the ceiling / On the day I wished the world away / Everything, disappearing / And a smile growing on my face / Cuz it feels so food to leave this place.” The instrumental “123” is simply breathtaking in its heartbreaking beauty. It’s sound as art, painting a gorgeous, sad landscape with music. The only thing that would change about this album would be to shorten it just a bit. At eleven songs and 45 minutes, it’s a little too much in these modern days of shorter albums and shorter songs.

THE WHIFFS (Drunken Sailor Records,

Released last year as a cassette only album, The Whiffs’ self-titled LP now sees the vinyl treatment courtesy of Drunken Sailor Records in the UK. I debate calling it an LP; it’s got eight songs, but it clocks in at a mere eighteen minutes. Power pop music is clearly most alive in the heartland of the USA. One well-known hotbed is Wisconsin, with several bands operating in the Green Bay, Milwaukee, and nearby areas. Add Kansas City, Missouri to the list, as this is where The Whiffs call home. There’s something about the middle of America that seems to breed great basic guitar-bass-drums bands and guitar-based pop songs. Even within this genre, there can be some variety, as is evidenced on this record. The opener, “Baby Tonight,” has a retro 50s doo-wop feel, though at a more rapid tempo and edgier feel. The mid-tempo “Never Be Free,” also has a hint of retro feel, with lots of 60s jangle blending with a 90s indie-pop flavor. I adore “She Lies,” which takes part pop punk and part garage pop to create a really fun track. And “I Need You Here” uses the classic formula of jangly guitars and lovesick lyrics. I’m glad there are still bands out there playing this sort of music.

THE BROKEDOWNS – Sick of Space (Red Scare Industries,

The Chicago area’s Brokedowns are kind of a throwback. They’ve got a solid Midwestern punk sound, very workman-like without being too light or poppy, yet not too hardcore and stern. The tracks are edgy and angular while still maintaining a strong sense of fun. Vocals are pounding and powerful. Every track is a satisfying listen. Right from the start, “The One True Freak,” you know you’re in for something special, as powerful guitars, bass, drums, and vocals pummel your ears. It’s a short yet perfect introduction to the album. “Trauma Czars” alternates between retro post punk and modern pop punk sounds, with an angular loping sound. The title track is a favorite, with rumbling bass a la Big Black, strong a Chicago guitar sound, and lyrics decrying urban sprawl and the ever-present shopping centers and malls. The close of the track features vintage Chicago TV ads, including Celozzi-Ettleson Chevrolet and Empire Carpeting, staples of Chicago local TV in the 70s and 80s. And when you think things can’t get more intense than that, “Shitty Little League” smacks you down to prove you wrong. “Cave Trash Dumpster Embassy” is a short bluesy punk track that’ll stab you through your heart; that’s how sharp it is. “Kings of the Dust” is probably one of the poppiest tracks of the album, but it’s still hard-edged, even with the definite sing-along vibe and ever so slightly jangly guitars. This record is very different from Red Scare’s usual pop punk fare, but it’s a strong, compelling release that’s recommended.

CALEMBOUR – Let The Wind Lead Us Home (StandBy Records, www.standby

This four-song debut EP comes from an indie-folk outfit out of Turin, Italy. And it’s gorgeous. Acoustic guitars, keyboards, banjo, upright bass, and harmonized vocals blend together to create a glorious sound. The title track starts quietly and solemnly, but slowly builds into a real stomper. “I Call Your Name” is a pretty twangy ballad that uses the banjo differently than you usually hear (I’m used to the rapid bluegrass style of banjo, but here it provides quiet, lazy twang). “Away From You” is another pretty track, in 12/8 time. It’s another one that starts quietly and builds, but this time into a big ballad sound, the banjo plucking away at triple the rate of the vocals. “Yours & Mine” closes the EP, this time featuring organ rather than piano. Again, the song starts quietly and solemnly, and builds, sounding almost like a gospel song. Two thirds through, it changes into a loping feel, with huge organ in the background and the banjo up front, with a feel of meandering down the road. Beautiful stuff.

ELWAY – For The Sake Of The Bit (Red Scare Industries,

Elway is one of Red Scare’s bands that’s a little different than their normal pop punk fare. Elway tends more toward the indie rock side of things, and I like that just fine. The songs are a little more mature, with a stronger melodic content than a lot of pop punk. Some of the songs have lush guitars that fill out the sound really nicely, almost bordering on dream pop at times. But have no fear, pop punk fans. There are still fun sing-alongs, too, like “Hold On.” The chorus is tailor made for big beer soaked sing-alongs in dive bars, yet the arrangement, especially the beautiful open chords in the guitars, is more reminiscent of indie pop. “Hold On” moves back and forth between hard-edged and softer indie sounds, with pretty climbing guitar lines. “Paper Guitars” is another one that teeters on that edge between pop punk and indie, with huge whoa-oh backing vocals, but also with huge dreamy guitars. I love this song, especially toward the end, a recording of a woman’s voice in the background and the guitars seeming to move to another plane of existence. Overall, this record does a great job of staying punk enough to please old fans and being indie enough to gain new ones.

FOUR LIGHTS – Kobayashi Maru – (Bomb Pop Records,

Double pun time! The band’s name refers to the episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in which Jean-Luc Picard is tortured by the Cardassians, while the title of this sophomore LP references the Star Fleet Academy test that Captain Kirk cheats on in order to graduate. In Star Trek lore, the Kobayashi Maru is the no-win scenario, something we can all relate to. The album, building on the success of the band’s debut LP Death to False Posi, starts strongly with “Bent Outta Shape” and “ComRAD” pounding your ears with a wall of guitar sound, but caressing them with super poppy melody and mutli-part harmonies in the vocals. After that, things slow down a bit. “Again and Again” slows and quiets things down, with echoes of 60s pop blended with Teenage Bottlerocket ballads. “Jimmy’s Song Part 2” is very different from anything I’ve heard from Four Lights before. It’s an outright epic ballad, more of an indie rock song than pop punk. And “Let’s Burn Burn Burn” is a loping mid-tempo track that simmers more than burns. “We Got Em” cranks up the tempo again, and has a spectacularly powerful chorus. “Characters” starts out with a vintage recording of ambient music and a vintage rock and roll drum beat. The doo-wop-like song slowly morphs into a more modern pop punk sound. The song’s tempo picks up the arrangement gets thicker, and the chorus’ whoa-whoa backing vocals make this a classic. As the track abruptly closes, we hear that ambient music from the start slowly fade away. “Scene of the Crime” also has a retro vibe to it, like what pop punk would sound like in the early 60s. And that short guitar solo! Such a huge surf sound! The Kobayashi Maru may be a no-win situation, but this album is a winner.

THE COMMON COLD – Shut Up! Yo Liberals! (Action Records, www.

The Common Cold reminds me of the highly creative post-punk movement of the late 1970s and into the 1980s. It was a period of intense experimentation with how to make music, and explored outside cultural norms. The Common Cold have that same spirit, making music that no one else is making today. There’s a strong sense of rhythm in many of these tracks, and they’re also minimalist, in the sense that there are repeating lines and rhythms. The songs seem to be part dance pop, part punk, part dream pop, and part R&B. Vocals are super lo-fi and mostly spoken rather than sung. For example, the opening track, “Stop The Traffic,” is primarily a single rhythmic line repeating over and over, lyrics mostly consisting of shouts of “Stop the traffic!” and meandering synths whirling around above this. “Napoleon’s Index Finger” is a pretty cool track; at the halfway point, the droning rhythms and vocals pause momentarily, and like the sun shining through an opening in a dark cloud cover, brilliantly sparkling electronics shimmer clearly and starkly. But the moment passes, the clouds close back, and the dark rhythms return. But I think my favorite track is “Low Winter Sun.” I love the melodic hooks – yes, hooks – and the light glittery feel to the song. It’s so very different from the others (which I like too, but in a different way). Just listening to this record makes me feel like I’m back in a dark, smoky club in the early 80s, the room throbbing to the beat, the mass of arty punks in the room bobbing around.

THE CREEPS – Beneath The Pines (It’s Alive Records,

Four long years. It’s been an agonizing wait since “Eulogies” came out, The Creeps previous LP. Their style has evolved somewhat over the years. The tempo here is a bit more laidback, the arrangements are less in your face, the sound is cleaner, and the overall feel is dreamier. But this is not dream pop, not by a long shot. These songs are more driven by melody than anything The Creeps have done before, and that gives the vocals a chance to shine in the spotlight. The feel remains dark and sad, maybe even more so than in the past. From the very start of the album, you can tell this is a different sort of Creeps record. “Shimmer” is a favorite track for its strong vocals and distinctly bright vocal sound over a morose melody, the harmonized backing vocals and heavy reverb add to the glum feel. Another favorite is the downright indie-pop track, “Even.” It’s got jangle unlike any you’ve heard before – because the jangle is in the vocals more than the guitar. I like “Superstitions,” too, perhaps the bounciest track of the album. If I have one thing I would change on this record it would be to introduce a little more variety from track to track. The tempo and feel of the songs is pretty consistent, more than in the past. But that’s just a minor quibble. These tracks successfully blend pop punk and indie pop to produce what is probably my favorite Creeps LP to date.

MOJAVE NOMADS – Phases (Standby Records,

Blending danceable synth-pop and an indie pop sound, Utah’s Mojave Nomads create a fairly unique sound. While most indie rock outfits using synth today are creating a dream-pop sound, Mojave Nomads use it like synths were uses back in the 80s new wave days. Equally unique is the vocal style of singer Tyler Harris, a throaty sound that is slightly reminiscent of the late Amy Winehouse. There’s a strong soulfulness to these six tracks, and Harris’ vocals have a lot to do with that, and his range is quite wide, sometimes going up to falsetto. My favorite track is probably the opener, “G I R L.” It’s am up-tempo number that blends in a power pop feel with the synths. The other tracks slow things down and crank up the soul. As the record continues, the reverb comes on, giving things a dreamier sound – but this is never dream pop. If you’re a fan of some of the better 80s synth pop, check this out.

PINNED IN PLACE – Rubbernecking at the Gates of Hell (pinnedinplace.

Two years on from Pinned In Place’s wondrous debut, “Ghostwritten By,” the LA band is back with their sophomore effort. There is no slump here. Indeed, if anything this release is stronger than the previous LP, showing us a band that has grown stronger and more confident. The math rock influence is even stronger here than on the debut, yet it doesn’t overwhelm the songs. They still have the same easy, breezy quality as before. And there’s still the underlying intensity, despite the easy feel. The album’s overarching theme is dysfunction. The songs cover self-doubt and attempts at recovery, and especially familial dysfunction.

The album opens with “Codependence Day,” an ode to the disarray of pretty much every family. It’s the perfect intro to the album, a short minute and a half blast that includes many of the elements that make Pinned In Place such a great band. Gorgeous melody, swirling guitars beneath an intense wall of sound, shifting time signatures, and beautiful backing vocals. “Won’t someone clean up the mess that I am,” begs the opening line of “Citizen Kane in the Basement,” one of the mathier and janglier tracks of the album. The wall of guitar is traded for a somewhat sparser sound, as the lyrics speak to well-meaning friends who try to offer advice that doesn’t really help. I adore “Linking with a Vampire,” a song more at the indie end of the spectrum. The fuzzy guitars and intense vocals contrast with the pretty melody and keyboards, while the bridge gets much softer in feel, while calming backing vocals glide underneath the guitar lines that meander and wind. But “Vanilla” may be my favorite track of the LP. The song has an epic feel in parts, contrasting with the quieter parts that feature dueling guitar and keyboards, chasing each other around in circles. The closing title track seems to be a song about how lost faith brings freedom. It’s beautiful, both musically and lyrically, distorted guitars blending with smooth vocals, guitars and keyboards dancing together in waltz time – ironic because all ecclesiastical music in the Middle Ages was in ¾ time to praise the holy trinity. And at nearly three and a quarter minutes, it’s the longest song on the record. Which brings me to my only beef with the record – many of the songs are just too short! Ramones songs are perfect for two minutes, but these melodies are just too nice to be over that quickly!

ARCHIE AND THE BUNKERS – Songs From The Lodge (Dirty Water Records,

Dirty Water Records just keeps finding cool bands and churning out great garage rock records. Archie and the Bunkers hail from Cleveland, Ohio, and consist of brothers Emmett and Cullen O’Connor. Yep, it’s a duo. Emmett is the drummer and Cullen plays organ, and they both provide vocals. This has a classic garage rock sound…sort of. There are no guitars and no bass – the organ and drums are the only instruments. So the overall sound is a bit thin in comparison to most garage bands. It doesn’t have the rawness you find in most garage bands, but the pair make up for that in sheer intensity, particularly in the vocals. Favorite track: “Riot City.” It’s probably the most raucous of the bunch. And “Lost In Today” has a great angular feel. I can’t help but feel, though, that something is missing. A guitar and bass would really fill out the sound. With just the organ and drums, the sound just isn’t gritty enough, though the vocals are.

BUCKLEY – Las Cruces (Rum Bar Records,

This new release from the nice folks at Rum Bar Records is quite a bit different from their usual fare. Thy generally put out some of the best power pop records, but this isn’t power pop. The word “Americana” usually conjures images of a blending of the Nashville sound and indie rock, yielding twangy edges to alternative sounds. But Nashville is only one corner of the United States. The vast deserts of the West might not be conducive to growing crops, but it can provide fertile ground for musical inspiration. Buckley’s new LP focuses on the Americana of the desert: lonely sounds, deep guitar tones, and plenty of reverb. The somewhat higher register of the vocals, and the quality of the singing, plus that lonely west Americana sound show the influence of artists like Neil Young have had on Buckley. The opening track, “Bakersfield,” encapsulates the album in that single song. All of the loneliness of being on the road out west can be heard in this microcosm of the album. “Old Glory” is a straightforward rock tune right out of the 70s that could have come right off a CSNY LP. I love “Devil Slide,” a quieter, more solemn sounding track. It opens with acoustic guitar, and then electric guitar, slide guitar, bass and drums come in, but delicately. “Three Chiefs” has a strong ZZ Top sound, especially in the guitars. “Downtown” has a rock’n’roll era Bob Dylan feel to it. This is not the kind of music I go out of my way to listen to. And it’s not the kind of music that I’ll personally keep coming back to. But if these descriptions sound like the kind of music you would like, check this out, because it’s pretty well done.

DUSK – The Loneliness of Pain (Goes On And On) b/w Go Easy (Dirtnap Records,

Dusk was formed in 2014, and readers of Jersey Beat may be most interested that this band features Amos Pitsch of Tenement. This sounds nothing like Tenement. Begun as an informal project, the band serves to satisfy the country rock cravings of Pitsch and Colin Wilde (drums). This single serves as sort of a teaser for an upcoming album, though these songs are newer than those on the LP. “The Loneliness of Pain” has a rockin’ bluesy feel, most of the “country” sound coming from the steel guitar. This ain’t your granddaddy’s Nashville country sound; this is rock’n’roll with a twangy accent. The B-side slows things down somewhat, and has more of an easy rock sound that was popularized in the 70s, albeit with a twang. I’ll be honest, I don’t care for “Go Easy;” it sounds too on-the-nose commercial rock from the era of bell-bottoms, long hair, love beads, and bushy moustaches. But that A-side rocks.

FASHIONISM – Smash Singles LP (Drunken Sailor Records,

FASHIONISM – Come On Baby 7” (Drunken Sailor Records,
I dare you to listen to these records and not get up and dance. Go on, just try it. You can’t do it, can you? Fashionism describe themselves as “the bubblegum glam of the early ’70s played by people who like late ’70s U.K. punk so much that it has poisoned everything we do in the best possible way.” It’s an apt description. They play some great, punky power pop. Their four previously released 7” singles and EPs have been out of print for some time, so Drunken Sailor Records has corrected this injustice by rereleasing all of these songs, along with a brand new single. Of the songs on Smash Singles, two of my favorites come from the Subculture Suicide 7” released by Dirt Cult Records back in 2016. That record’s title track has the hugest hooks and hints of retro 60s rock’n’roll. “Nun Of That” from the same record is just a blast, with rapid-fire lyrics and an Art Brut feel. “We Got It Wrong” comes from 2015’s “Quit Looking At The Time” and the chorus alone, with a three-way vocal duel is worth the price of the album. That brings us to the new single. “Come On My Baby” is a briskly paced, bouncy power pop track that stacks up well against the best of the previous releases. The B-side brings a “That Thing You Do” sort of surprise. It’s “Baby She’s Gone,” performed at a loping place. It’s a pleasant enough track. But on the Smash Singles LP there’s another recording of the same song at a brisker pace. And, like in the classic Tom Hanks film about the music biz, that makes all the difference. In that form it becomes another favorite cut. If you’re a power pop fan, and especially if you missed out on those limited pressings of earlier vinyl, this is a must.

FREAK GENES – Quak Quak (Drunken Sailor Records, www.drunkensailorrecords.

Freak Genes take disparate influences and blend them together into something quite unique. The overall feel is 80s guitar and synth-based post-punk. The music isn’t loud or full – the arrangements are quite spare. But there is a bit of a manic feeling in a lot of these tracks, a sense of urgency. There’s also a hint of 70s psychedelia and weirdness, as if Syd Barrett had a hand in writing some of these songs. I also hear the influence of Art Brut here, who play a similar style, sans electronics. Some of the songs, like “On The TV,” have more of a punk or power-pop sound, eschewing the keyboards and following the lead of pioneers like The Buzzcocks. “Give Way” uses synths and drum machine as the primary instruments under the vocals, and has a gloriously dark late 70s post-punk sound. I like the mechanical, repetitive sound of “Romford,” with its shouted vocals and dissonant keyboards. “Layers” could have come right off a Syd Barrett LP. “7 or 9” is a fantastic old school British power pop track, with jangly guitars and rockin’ hooks. “Vermillion” has a cool shifting time signature that leaves you feeling off balance. And “It’s Not There” uses dissonance and very bare instrumentation to create the feeling of anxiety. The LP closes with “Drainage,” another early punk and power pop influenced track. While there’s a bit of a split personality shown by Freak Genes on this record, every track is worth listening to.

THE FUR COATS – Milkdromeda (

Hell yes! The Fur Coats are back with another EP. But where recent releases from this band have explored a poppier punk sound, Milkdromeda is a return to the harder-edged angrier sound that front man Marc Ruvolo was known for back in the day in Chicago. The lyrics, too, are less straightforward than recent releases; either that or I’m just oblivious. “Edging” is easily my favorite of the five tracks presented. The guitars pound just as much as the bass and drums, providing a dark drone. The song is pretty simple, musically, but its effect is powerful. “Palomino” is a quicker tempo, but just as hard-edged, as guitars are used as percussion here too. The title track appears right in the middle, and is about twice as long as the rest of the tracks. It’s an outlier, for sure, having more of an 80s post-punk sound. “Manta Rays” has a cool B-52s new wave sound, thanks to judicious use of keyboards and a minor key. And “The Charioteers” is the track that shares the most in common with previous releases. It’s got a strong melodic pop streak through the tough guitars, moving back and forth between darker and lighter sounds. As much as I’ve enjoyed previous releases from The Fur Coats, I think this one is my new favorite.

GOD’S CHILDREN – Music Is The Answer: The Complete Collection (Minky Records)

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, people were looking for answers in a tumultuous political and social climate. “Music is the answer,” sang Little Willie G, on the title track of this new retrospective collection of unreleased and long out-of-print music from God’s Children. God’s Children came out of East LA in an era when bands were storming the music industry with their soulful music and a message of peaceful revolution, love, unity, and brotherhood. They really believed that music was the answer, that it could change the world. Enter Willie Garcia, Ray Jimenez, and Lydia Amescua, the guiding voices of God’s Children. The melting pot of Los Angeles was prime territory for a cultural crossover group preaching this message, and East LA was the perfect place to birth the vision. The music on this album is soulful, and it’s psychedelic; it’s a cultural mélange that represents Los Angeles and the hope for America as a true melting pot. “I Just Wish” is a gorgeous track focusing on piano and vocals that blends psych-folk sounds with soul. “Dream” is an interesting track, feeling like a gospel tune with country roots. “Brown Baby” shows its jazz and blues influence pretty strongly. There are influences as diverse as Sly and the Family Stone, The Fifth Dimension, Bob Dylan, War, and many others. There’s even a great cover of “Put Your Head On My Shoulder,” putting their own soulful spin on the white bread early rock’n’roll classic. With so much soul and love and diversity on display, and the palpable hope in the songs, you’ll believe that, in these days of political strife and division that music really is the answer.

GIUDA – Rock’n’roll Music b/w Born Under A Bad Sign (Rise Above Records,

This five-piece from Rome, Italy sound like they came right out of 1970s Detroit Rock City on the A-side, but on the B-side they’ve got a cross between that, glam, and early English proto-punk going on. The A-side doesn’t do it for me, because I was never into bands like Kiss. “Born Under A Bad Sign,” on the other hand, ain’t half-bad, though the lyrics are pretty basic, limited to a chorus singing the track’s title over and over.

LA ARMADA – Anti-Colonial Vol. 1 (Creep Records,

Originally formed in the Dominican Republic, La Armada made Chicago their new home several years ago. They blast out an onslaught of speedy metallic hardcore loaded with cries against political and civil injustice. An instrumental, “Planned Obsolescence,” introduces the album with menacing guitars, a tribal drumbeat, and what sounds like a Central American folk chant. The metal power then flips on, so you know what you have in store for you. Lyrics alternate between English and Spanish. Possibly my favorite track of the album comes early on with “Unquenchable.” Easily the least standard sounding hardcore track, this one might be called mathcore for its constantly shifting rhythms atop the metallic hardcore. The lyrics reference the profit-driven prison industry, especially with the Trump administration’s reversal of an Obama era directive ending the federal government’s use of private corporate prisons. This now extends to the profit motive of detaining as many undocumented immigrants as possible, and of building Trump’s folly of a wall on the southern border. Other tracks, though a little more standard in presentation, are no less brutal. Topics include political and corporate corruption and greed, police brutality, and the Latin American practice of “disappearing” people coming to the Chicago police department in its off-the-books “interrogation” facility, “Homan Square.” “Fire” is a savage hardcore denouncement of the rising fascism in the US, in the form of the alt-right, racists, and religious extremists crawling out of the woodwork under the current political climate in Washington, DC. I adore “A Vision Of Opportunity,” which comes at the album’s midpoint. The ambient post-rock instrumentals serve as a backdrop to competing visions of America. Found sound recordings that sound like they’re from the 1940s or 1950s, describing the United States as a land of opportunity for immigrants looking to escape oppression and slavery are juxtaposed with campaign speech sound bites from Donald Trump calling immigrants criminals, rapists and drug dealers and talking about closing America’s borders to immigrants. This album is another example of the kind of music that I don’t normally go out of my way to acquire and listen to – but La Armada does a great job here, musically and lyrically. This is something I’ll listen to again.

PANDEMIX – Rank & File b/w Second Opinion (Dirt Cult Records,

This reminds me of late period hardcore punk of the early 80s when bands were starting to experiment outside the fast’n’loud box. Where some bands went the metal crossover route, others got a little more creative, slowing things down a bit, adding more melody, maybe getting a touch of goth influence in there. Bands like T.S.O.L. for instance (before they went the full metal route). Pandemix has this sound, especially on “Rank & File.” The music is dark and heavy, with the basic structure of a punk song, but there’s a strong melodic sense to the music, even as the vocals are more shouted than sung. “Second Opinion” has a more “traditional” hardcore punk sound of the early 80s. It’s fast and loud, though even here there’s more melody than usual hardcore. Good stuff.

THE FRITZ (Drunken Sailor Records,

Who says punk rock is dead? Not The Fritz. The Fritz play music that has one foot in the ‘70s punk sound, one foot in the early ‘80s hardcore punk sound, and another in the classic garage rock sound. Yeah, that’s three feet, but who’s counting? The recording is super lo-fi, and the performances are raw and passionate. Only two of these short blasts exceed the two-minute mark, with most clocking in at around a minute and a half. Favorite tracks include “Stray,” one of the more classic garage tracks, and “No, I’m Not Alright,” for its melodic chorus. “Dramatic Love” has an effective dramatic opening, with the bass pounding away, then being joined by angrily jangling guitar. But all the tracks are sure to get you off your ass and jumping around.

IMPOTENTIE – Demonstrative Opnamens (Drunken Sailor Records,

Hailing from Montreal, Impotentie play spare, noisy, dirty rock music. The vocals are shouted and the bass and guitar are so distorted and buzzy as to become nearly unlistenable. On top of that, the band isn’t as tight as they could be. The result reminds me more of that new punk band that finally got the opening spot on a show, at which everyone is outside smoking after the first song.


MAN MOUNTAIN – Infinity Mirror (Spartan Records,

Six tracks normally does not an LP make – maybe a mini LP. But in the case of this debut full-length release from Man Mountain, it adds up to nearly forty minutes, so an LP it is. With nary a single track less than five minutes, and some stretching beyond seven or eight minutes, these aren’t your typical pop songs. In fact, I don’t think they would be considered “songs” at all, since they’re all instrumental tracks. Now, I like I wide variety of music, including instrumental music. Hell, jazz and classical are two forms of music that are predominantly instrumental-only, and I enjoy both. But when it comes to rock music, or post-rock as Man Mountain seems to be classified, the music needs to be really special to capture my attention. Few instrumental rock acts have done that for me. Tortoise is one of the few bands that have really gotten into my psyche, and as one of the pioneers of “post-rock,” bands that follow would need to, in my view, continue to raise the bar. Sadly, Man Mountain doesn’t really contribute anything new to the genre. The music is nice enough. It’s atmospheric, and all. But it just seems to be guitar-bass-drums-keyboards music to me, and it just doesn’t go anywhere. Some of the guitar lines, extracted out and used in songs, could be very effective. But here they get repeated over and over, in a trance-inducing near-ambient exercise in self-indulgence. And even though these are instrumental tracks, there still are what would be considered “guitar solos” in that the guitar goes “off-script” and does some improvisational soloing. Or so it seems. And when that happens, it shares more in common with arena rock than anything indie. I love ambient music, and I wanted to like Man Mountain, but I just don’t.

SPANISH LOVE SONGS – Schmaltz (A-F Records,

I first saw Spanish Love Songs when they opened for The Flatliners at Soda Bar, in San Diego. That was nearly three years ago. They impressed me so much that I walked over to the merch table and bought their LP, “Giant Sings The Blues,” which had been recently released. I’ve taken every opportunity to see them live since then. The LA band recently retooled a bit, adding a fifth member, on keyboards, and they announced that they had signed with A-F Records for this, their second full-length LP. Where the first LP was loud, gritty, and intense, the new one is calmer, more polished, and more nuanced. But it’s no less emotionally driven. Lead vocalist Dylan Slocum has gained more dynamic range in his singing, and this amps up the passion in his voice. The keyboards add warmth to the songs. And as strong as the previous album was, the songwriting on this one is up at a whole different level. There’s a maturity to the sound – it’s not just the rousing pop punk the band played before; there’s now more of an indie sound, yet the songs are still rousing. Nowhere is this clearer than in the song “Joana, In Five Acts.” They keys are more prominent here than in most songs, the guitar lines in the opening bars reminding me of The New Pornographers, of all bands, and the bridge is just gorgeous. That leads into the close of the song, which explodes into a massive dream pop feel, guitars soaring like mad. Listen to the guitar lines on “Buffalo Buffalo.” There’s more beauty and complexity than in past SLS efforts, but it’s subtle enough so as to not overwhelm the song – the balance is just right.

Lyrically, the album is an examination of life as one ages. The album opener, “Nuevo,” begins quietly, with damning self-reflection. “Is there any way to give a shit / Wake up in the morning without taking a hit?” the song asks. It reflects on the “wasted time” of youth, moshing with “edge kids” who are now scorned, and the hypocrisy of those days. The song goes on to describe current days, “Now we don’t dance, we sit on our hands” … “and peck at our phones, holding on to what it means to be alone.” In “The Boy Considers His Haircut,” Slocum looks at his life through the criticism of his parents and sings, “My dad says I’d probably have more fans if I could learn to sing about some happier shit instead of wallowing in my shortcomings, my gross insecurities, be less narcissistic, show some humility.” He continues with commentary from his mother, as well. “My mom sighs well from under her breath; she wonders how the hell I can live like this.” “I’m walking backwards” is the refrain in the chorus. Not moving on in life, not progressing as a person, is a fear many have. The song closes with a modest dream for the future. “I wanna wake up and maybe be better, I wanna come through and not be second guessed. I wanna find the money to fix my nose…I don’t wanna be depressed.” That’s not too much to ask, is it?

The song that sounds like it would be the closer is “It’s Not Interesting.” This penultimate track has a huge epic feel, with semi-hopeful lyrics. After singing about how his life isn’t interesting, Slocum declares, “Maybe I should learn to love myself. Maybe I’ll be happy in the end. Should I hold my breath and wait for it?” The song is the hugest sounding of the album and the lyrics seem to sum up everything on the record, with a hint that, perhaps things might get better. But this isn’t the final track. That’s “Aloha to No One.” We hear a crowded room, with many people having various conversations in the background. An acoustic guitar comes in. Slocum sings a depressing song of being stuck in a rut, having done “nothing the past ten years.” In a reference back to the bit of hopefulness in “The Boy Considers His Haircut, Slocum sings in the chorus, “You might wake up but you’ll never be better. You might come through, you’ll always second-guess. You might breathe free but you’ll never stop pacing. You might find love but you’ll always be depressed. You might change your hair but you’ll always look awkward. Your back might heal but you’ll never get your rest. And you might move on but you’ll never feel important. You might be fine but you’ll never be your best.” This song, like the whole album, kills me. I’ll be over in the corner quietly sobbing and rocking myself back and forth. Goddamn if this isn’t a contender for album of the year.

WILL TO LIVE (Amor Fati,

Originally recorded in 1985 and released on vinyl in 1986, this six-song EP has now been reissued in the oddest format imaginable – on a Blu-Ray disc. The thought is that the sound quality on a Blu-Ray, with its 5.1 capabilities, is superior to a CD or mp3 – and so it is. Amor Fati plans to re-release their entire back catalog on Blu-Ray. Will To Live was a post-punk band in 1980s New Jersey, opening for international acts such as The Fall, The Gun Club, Butthole Surfers, and Throbbing Gristle’s Genesis P. Orridge. This is not the post-punk that morphed into “alternative” rock – this is the post-punk that was also referred to as “no wave.” Slower than punk, rejecting many of the tock clichés, no wave made use of atonality, dissonance, and noise. Will To Live may not have been one the better-known proponents of the genre, but as this EP shows, they were pretty decent practitioners. The songs throb and pound, and the vocals cry out. In addition to standard drum kit, the percussion includes something metallic that punctuates the musical phrases. Amor Fati has done a nice job with the release, too, including photographs of the band from a live show they did at City Gardens in Trenton, NJ in 1984. Additionally, there’s about twenty minutes of video from that live performance, and though the video quality is poor, it provides a glimpse into the excitement and awe of a Will To Live show. Hopefully this release will mean Will To Live is forgotten no more.

ANN BERETTA – Old Scars, New Blood (Say-10 Records & Skateboards,

After releasing a teaser single late last year, the reformed Ann Beretta has rerecorded a batch of older songs. The band that was born in 1996 and broke up in the 2000s promised a new LP, and I guess this is it. This could go one of two ways: either it could fall really flat and show that these aging punks can’t keep up with their younger selves, or it could highlight how energized they still are. And you know what? This is great! Need I say more? OK, I will. Best way I can describe this is tough pop punk. It’s super poppy, but not saccharine, not light. The music is hard and edgy, yet smooth and slick, but not in an alternative radio commercial way. The music is energetic and vital. These re-recordings also don’t just sound like rehashed nineties punk, these songs sound perfectly modern, reminding me somewhat of the style perfected by Seattle’s Success. I could do without the song “Vengeance,” which is a country rock song, complete with slide guitar. But the other tracks are fun to listen to. But this isn’t the new LP I was expecting. When they released the teaser single, one of the songs was all new. Do that, guys! Write some new songs and release that album.

BIKINI COPS – Three (Drunken Sailor Records,

Perth, Australia’s Bikini Cops need to get more creative with their records’ names. “Three,” Bikini Cops third record, is the follow-up to 2016’s “Two.” Regardless of the title, the six songs on this 7” EP are pretty rockin’. The overall feel is pretty retro old school punk crossed with good old garage rock’n’roll. “Stupid System” is the closest to classic 80s hardcore punk you’ll find from any band playing today, fast and loud and furious, while “(Not) My World,” “Total Control,” and “Violence” are sort of a hybrid of hard rock and hardcore punk, in the vein of Tijuana’s great DFMK. The closer, “Lost In A Dimension,” is the outlier, slower than the other tracks, and longer. All the songs are pretty short, ranging from about a minute and a quarter to a minute and a half or so, but “Lost In A Dimension” seems to go on too long in comparison, yet it’s only two and a quarter minutes. But yeah, Bikini Cops are rockin’.

BREAKLIGHTS – Don’t Try So Hard (Wiretap Records, wiretaprecords.

Wiretap Records continues its winning streak with Austin, Texas pop punks Breaklights. The 12” EP and digital release features six songs of music that’s smooth, poppy, dark, and edgy all at the same time. There’s a strong 90s feel to the songs, as well. The songs are eminently danceable, with bounce aplenty, and the guitar sound has a grittiness to it that contradicts the strong melodies. My favorites of the EP have to be “Waterloo” and “Don’t Try So Hard.” Both are a little more out of the ordinary than the others. The former has some really beautiful harmonization, while the latter has a bit of an angular sound and the chorus has a bit of a Smoking Popes sound. This one is very enjoyable.

CANADIAN RIFLE – Peaceful Death (Dead Broke Rekerds,

Chicago’s Canadian Rifle hasn’t put out a record since 2015’s “Sexually Fucked” 7” single, and hasn’t put out a full-length LP since 2013’s “Deep Ends.” Talk about keeping us waiting! As a result of these long gaps, the (r)evolution that is Canadian Rifle is made clearly evident. They’ve gradually moved toward a more melodic pop punk sound, though never losing their tough Chicago energy. I think Peaceful Death is their strongest, most coherent effort to date. Fast, loud, powerful songs cajole you with playful melodies, then punch you in the gut at the same time. That energy, that power – it’s non-stop. Every time you think the band has reached its peak, you get belted again. There’s no breathers, no respite from the onslaught, and I love it! The vocals match the instrumentals with their gruffness, and those poor drums suffer massive pounding on every track. The opener, “When in Doubt,” is a perfect intro to the record. I love the calm start and the guitar harmonics. Then everything explodes and the band is racing ever forward. The guitar solo on “Investments” is quite simple, yet very effective. The title track manages to be smooth and melodic while remaining true to Canadian Rifle’s toughness, no mean feat. “Shining Light” slows things down to mid-tempo, and I can see this as CR’s big sing-along number. “Graceface II” is a short instrumental loaded with tension that pushes right into “Less and Less Is Relevant,” a track that oozes grunge from its punk. I guess the thing that really strikes me about this record is that it may be the most “Chicago” record to come out in a long time. It makes me kind of homesick.

CHILLER (Dirt Cult Records,

Imagine taking one of Jeff Burke’s projects, like Radioactivity or The Marked Men, and slowing it down. There’s a dark garage feel to a lot of these tracks, with plenty of guitar jangle, loads of reverb, and some great melodies. “Monophonic” in particular has a strong retro feel, as if the Mamas & Papas had become a garage band – it has the same sort of feel as “California Dreamin’,” only edgier. I really like the soaring energy of “Strangers,” too. And “The Void” is a pounding manic number with a very dark psych streak, as if Radioactivity and Vacation had done a side project together. At only eight tracks and twenty-four minutes, though, it leaves me wanting more. And I suppose that’s a good thing.

COLD LEATHER – Past Remedy EP (Sabotage Records,

This Berlin-based punk band sounds like it came right out of the late 70s California punk scene. Moderate to up-tempo songs, full of piss and vinegar, but ultimately very melodic. The three tracks growl and sing in the best way, mixing in a generous dose of garage rock. Best track of the three is the closer, “Hyperactive,” which has a fantastic melody that jangles a little bit when they let it, and about halfway in it gets dark, with modal guitar sounds that remind me tons of some of my favorite early to mid 80s punk sounds. This is the debut release from Cold Leather, not counting the demo they previously did, and it certainly makes me want to hear more.

CVLTVRE – All Life Is // Act 1: An Act of Letting Go (Standby Records,

Hailing from California’s Inland Empire, CVTVRE describes themselves as a “music project that is driven by post-hardcore ambient writing with testimony based lyrics.” What?? I think that means that they are post-hardcore influenced, but smoother and less metallic than a lot of post-hardcore bands. And their lyrics are confessional. And this is an apt description, I would say. I normally don’t go for the modern post-hardcore sound, and, indeed, the opener of this five-song EP was not my thing. I was ready to give this a negative review as just another mainstream wannabe post-hardcore band. “Blame” is just so much bland. But then we get “Birthday Song,” a quiet, pretty waltz-time tune (with an intense moment near the end). “Progression” is another slower track with a nice yet simple melody and a power that heats up to a boil. And “Drown” is a gorgeous ballad that alternates between calm and storm effectively. The closer, “Pour These Words,” goes back to more standard fare, but doesn’t descend quite as low as “Blame” in terms of commercial sound. But we get three nice tracks sandwiched between two mediocre ones. If CVLTVRE focused on that successful sound in the middle, I predict some good things for them to come.

DIRGE – Alma | Baltica (Division Records,

I’ve seen this band described as doom and post-metal, but hell, anyone who has been listening to a wide variety of music for a long time will recognize this for what it is – ambient music. Long-form tracks range from four and a half to nine and a half minutes. The tracks are sonic soundscapes, sometimes trance inducing, sometimes melancholic, sometimes menacing. “Alma” is the nearly ten minute opener, and it sets the tone for what’s to come. Close your eyes, lie back, and let it wash over you. You’re transported to somewhere else. Electronics, guitars, percussion, and other sounds ebb and flow. “Red Dawn Tibesti” is dark, with a martial feel. There’s a background of droning, and the percussion and bass at the forefront are angry and hostile. “Black Shore” is very mysterious and alien, while “Baltica (Sine Time Reoscillated)” has a very introspective feel to it. The closer, “Pure,” buzzes and glistens with glorious delight. So put this record on, close your eyes, lie back, and let it all wash over you. Relax, chill, and enjoy.

DRYSPELL – More (Highland Park Records,

Four songs from Austin, Texas based Dryspell. “You Without Me” is a pretty nice indie pop track with slight undercurrents of grunge. Its lo-fi bounciness is infectious. The remaining three tracks, “Can’t Wait,” “Vyvance,” and “Leaving Town Again,” on the other hand, are rather dull retro “soft rock” tunes. Below mid-tempo, swelling organ, delicately smooth melodies and what sounds like a lounge beat on the drums add up to a snooze. Stick with what you did on “You Without Me,” guys.

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