Jersey Beat Music Fanzine
 


THE ANTI-QUEENS (Stomp Records, www.stomprecords.com)

For the most part this LP, the debut full-length LP for Toronto’s The Anti-Queens, focuses on raw, powerful rock and roll music. A few of the songs stand out a lot for me. “Worse Than Death” is a power pop song, but played with garage punk ferocity. It’s super melodic, yet raw and high-octane at the same time, which is a great combination. “Run” reminds me of a song Bad Cop/Bad Cop would do, and the lead vocals have a similar snotty quality to those of that band’s Stacey Dee. The song is both poppy and edgy at the same time. “Not What It’s Worth” has a melodic line and arrangement reminiscent of a Fugazi song, which I like. And “I’m Sorry Babe” is a great grunge throwback to the 90s. It’s got a nice crunchy guitar sound and rocks hard. Other than these tracks, though, the other seven tracks on this LP don’t do all that much for me. They’re standard hard rock, in the veins of bands like The Blackhearts and The Runaways. They’re well executed, sure, but there’s nothing special or out of the ordinary for them.

DIESEL PARK WEST – Let It Melt (Palo Santo Records, www.palosantotx.com)

Diesel Park West has been around for nearly 40 years, yet this is the first I’ve heard of them. This is the ninth studio album for the Leicester, UK band, and the songs range from the most amazing power pop to Rolling Stones influenced rock and roll. Blues-rock is a heavy influencer in many of these songs, too. The title track opens the album, and it’s a dark classic rock barnburner of a song, with a strong blues influence. Vocalist Jon C. Butler sounds like he’s channeling Mick Jagger (wait, he’s still alive!), with all of the swagger that implies. I like “The Golden Mile,” a track that walks on the thin line between classic rock and power pop, with a bunch of honkytonk blues-rock tossed into the mix. “Scared of Time” is another good one, a little quieter and more relaxed, with a nice warm organ in the mix. It’s heavier on the classic rock side, and not the sort of music I would seek out on my own, but the songwriting and arranging are really well done, a description that’s apt for many of the songs here. Like “Bombs Away,” a song that reminds me of Bob Dylan’s rock and roll era, as does the following track, “You Got The Whole Thing Wrong.” I also enjoy the soul pop sounds of the closing track, “Incredible Things,” a song that feels like it could have been recorded in the late 60s or early 70s by The Fifth Dimension or similar act. But the best song by far is “Pictures in the Hall,” a magnificent power pop track with shades of the Beatles. The track sparkles and shines, loaded with the best hooks and jangle. It may be one of my favorite songs of the year so far. The lyrics, by contrast, are pretty dark, with the refrain stating “There’s nothing different / It’s all been done before / No, nothing different / Except the pictures in the hall.” We’re all stuck, repeating history, repeating mistakes, no control. I wish I could articulate how good this song is, so I entreat you, please go listen to this song. Listen to the whole album, for that matter.

FILTHY HEARTS – Beyond Repair (Hidden Home Records, www.hiddenhomerecords.com)

High energy, powerful melodic punk from Denver, Filthy Hearts keep things amped up from start to finish. There’s a mere one single slow quiet song out of the fourteen on this album, the emotionally charged “Voted Best City To Be Lonely.” This is the sort of punk you’re most likely to hear in a small dive bar, packed with 50 to 100 of your closest drunk friends, everyone jockeying to get up front, PBR tall boys clutched in one hand, the other arm around whoever is next to you, as you press forward toward the nearest mic to sing along. Because of course you know all the lyrics. But unlike a lot of bands that play in those sorts of venues, Filthy Hearts are tight as hell, playing on a level that deserves a bigger exposure. The opening track, “Ambulatory,” has a recurring guitar line in the verses that reminds me of the great UK band, Blitz, specifically the song “New Age.” I like a lot of the song titles, too, as they’re pretty hilarious. “Friends? Strangers? The Mystery of the Bar Tab” and “I’ve Never Skanked A Day In My Whole Life” are two examples. The former is a pretty great rager, and the latter is a jaunty one. “Desire (To Leave Here Forever)” is another stomper, a fast and loud melodic punk track. All the songs are pretty great ragers, for that matter (save for the one that’s the slower one). Taken individually, each song is pretty great, and this seems like a band I would love to see live. Taken as an album, though, the songs are mostly all the same tempo and same feel, with too little variation, and my attention begins to wander sometimes when listening.

THE GOTHAM ROCKETS – Blast Off (Rum Bar Records, rumbarrecords.bandcamp. com)

This is the debut EP for The Gotham Rockets, a quartet from Gotham itself, New York City. They play music that ranges from working class rock and roll, a la The E Street Band, to more of a rock and soul review sound. The middle two tracks of this 4-song EP, “What Done Is Done” and “Rip This Night” are more on the rock side of things, while the bookends, “Bad With Girls” and “Nothing But A Man,” are much more soulful. Those are my favorites of the group, especially the closer. “Bad With Girls” rocks hard, and the title and lyrics are a play on words: I’m bad with girls, don’t you want to be bad with me? “Nothing But A Man” is easily the best of the four songs, and while it’s mostly great soul, it rocks hard, with fantastic horn and sax parts and complete with backing vocal chorus. Partway through the track there’s a short burst of Devo-like new wave/punk rock followed by some jam-band guitar soloing. Killer stuff. I wish the middle tracks measured up.

THE MIND – Edge of the Planet (Drunken Sailor Records, www.drunkensailorrecords.co.uk)

The future of indie music as seen through a 1980s post-punk lens? This is music that reminds me of that intensely creative period of music, when all sorts of musical experimentation was going on, in the vein of stuff Recommended Records was putting out. Buzzy lo-fi synths, robotic rhythms, and angular melodies combine with ethereal vocals to create something truly unique. “The Mind,” the eponymous song, has machine gun rhythms, radio side-band synths, and vocals that sound like they come from another galaxy. It’s something out of an art house science fiction movie, filmed in black and white. “Running On My Head” sounds like a radio tuned from one distant station to another, one filled with noise and static, another with a strange melodic song, the signal phasing in and out, mixing with that more powerful noisy station. “Technical Intuition” uses telephone touch-tones as a musical instrument just past the halfway mark; it’s unexpected and unbalancing (in a good way). The closer, “Baby Rats,” has a lounge-like jazz feel to it, but you know, it’s off-kilter, with warbly and buzzy guitars. It lulls you into a sense of uneasy relaxation, only to end very abruptly. Leaving you wanting more.

SUBHUMANS – Crisis Point (Pirates Press Records, www.piratespressrecords.com)

Subhumans is a band that needs no introduction, unless you’ve been living as a hermit for the past 40 years. They’ve been around nearly since the beginning of punk rock. Formed in the UK in 1980, they were very active and very political during the Thatcher years, along with bands such as Crass and Conflict. They broke up in 1986, with members moving on to projects such as Citizen Fish and Culture Shock. But they reformed to tour in 1999 and have been at it ever since. Never ones to rest on their laurels, Subhumans (not to be confused with the Canadian band The Subhumans) have continued to write, record, and perform new songs, putting out three new studio LPs and a handful of live recordings. This latest LP proves that they’re still on top of their game, with eleven songs of urgent punk rock, filled with politically charged anger. “Terrorist In Waiting” opens the album with a blistering song. “Everyone’s a terrorist in waiting” the chorus decries, referring to increasingly oppressive behavior from our governments, suspecting and surveilling us all. I like the feel of “Information Gap,” with a sort of bounce to the rhythm, and a dark bass line, and lyrics about the difference between facts and what “they” want us to know. I also like the waltz-time song, “Follow The Leader,” because how cool is a punk song in three-four time? It’s a pounding track about mindlessly following rules and laws and losing control of your own life. The album closes the way it opens, with another sizzling, blazing track. Subhumans still have it, after all these years.

TEENAGE BOTTLEROCKET – Teenage Bottlerocket vs Human Robots (Fat Wreck Chords, www.fatwreck.com)

During a TBR recording session at The Blasting Room, Ray Carlisle’s son Milo wandered in, so they decided to record a couple of songs of his band, Human Robots, and convinced Fat Wreck to release this split seven inch record, two songs for each band. It’s a bit of a stretch to call Human Robots a “band,” though, because it’s just Milo playing all the instruments and singing songs he wrote. TBR gets the first two songs on the split single. “Olivia Goes to Bolivia” is exactly what you expect from TBR, raucous fun Ramones-core, expertly executed. The music is melodic and powerful, the arrangement almost slick, a real throwback to the 90s punk sound. “Everything to Me” is a more relaxed loping number, but it’s got a place in my heart just for mentioning Evanston, a town on Lake Michigan just north of Chicago, and right next door to where I grew up. It’s a love song as only TBR can do it, almost pretty in its own way. Human Robots’ two tracks include “Step On ‘Em All” and “I Want To Hang Out With You.” These tracks show that even at his young age, Milo’s been learning a lot hanging out with his dad’s band. The lyrics are what you might expect from a young kid, with “Step On ‘Em All” referring to the old rhyme, “step on a crack, break your mama’s back.” It’s an old school punk song decrying motherly discipline, and dreams of fighting back. “I Want To Hang Out With You” is a more melodic pop punk song, with lyrics about having too much homework, wanting to skip school and hang out with someone, skipping class and making out. Typical teenage lyrics, right? While the musicianship isn’t on a level with dad’s band, it’s pretty good for a young kid.

VISTA BLUE – Tricks and Treats (Rat Girl Records, ratgirlrecords.storenvy.com)

One of the most prolific pop punk bands of all time is back with a full-length album! Known primarily for seasonally appropriate EPs, with songs on specific topics, such as baseball, summertime, Christmas carols, and more, this time around they give us eleven spooky songs just in time for everyone’s favorite holiday, Halloween. The songs are exactly what we’ve come to expect from Vista Blue: buzzy, poppy, beachy Ramones-core pop punk. The songs are hilariously tongue in cheek, as is typical for the Vistas. “I’m gonna be ugly / I’m gonna scare everyone” and “I’m gonna be selfish / I’m gonna be mean” are lines in the song “I’m Gonna Be You for Halloween.” Wow, talk about mean! “Angela Loves Me” is the best love song for the season, about being loved by a serial killer named Angela, It’s a fast, bouncy number, and the punch line is that because she loves me, “I think I’ll be OK.” Vista Blue also recognize the symptoms and signs and warn someone “I Think Your Boyfriend is a Zombie.” Less spooky but more relatable is “This Street Sucks,” a song about a street that’s a real bummer during trick or treating, with lots of lights turned off, and lousy candy at the remaining ones. Songs are short and to the point, loaded with bounce, buzz, and fun. Favorites include the aforementioned “Angela Loves Me,” the dark “Doll Boy’s Coming,” and “19 Miles to Hemingford,” a song about that scene from every teen slasher film, where they try to escape the carnage in their car and hope they make it to the next town. But they’re all tons of scary fun!


KNOCKED LOOSE – A Different Shade of Blue (Pure Noise Records, www.purenoise.net)

I need to let you know from the start, I am not a fan of modern metallic hardcore. Most of it is muddy stuff that is meaningless noise to me. I guess I’m getting old. That said, Knocked Loose are not your average hardcore band. Yes, the arrangements are vicious onslaughts. Yes, the vocals are intense and evil. But there are differences, too, from generic modern hardcore. For one, there are two lead vocals, one higher pitched and piercing, the other a deep guttural growl. They duel and vie for dominance and they work together in non-harmonious collusion, seething anger dripping from every syllable. And, while the instrumentals, for the most part, are standard for the genre, there are some great angular melodies and lines used in some of the songs. I really like the angularity of “In The Walls.” At about the halfway mark of this track, the dissonance in the guitars and the back and forth rhythms between the bass and drums and the guitars emits a palpable sense of distress. “Mistakes Like Fractures” is cool, too. The tempo shifts a lot, and the guitar line with interjected high-pitched dissonance is awesome. The bass line is reminiscent of classic metal, too, and toward the end of the track, when things get slow and deliberate, shifting to a three-four meter, those off-kilter guitars are just killer. Another favorite is “Road 23,” which also makes judicious use of angular guitars, and the argumentative opening is one of the best things I’ve ever heard from a modern hardcore record. I could listen to that first 35 seconds over and over. Beyond the amazing intro, “Road 23” is speedier than most of the tracks, with more shifting rhythms. The break toward the end of the track, too, where we get just a rumbling bass, guitar harmonics, and vocals of anger and despair, is incredible. The closer, “Misguided Son,” has spots with a science fiction feel, where the deep guttural vocals are sung over otherworldly instrumentals. I’m still not a fan of modern hardcore, but Knocked Loose has won me over.

JORDAN KRIMSTON – Turn The Page (jordankrimston.bandcamp.com)

Multi-instrumentalist Jordan Krimston is a San Diegan that has made a very large mark at a very young age. After releasing his first records as a high school student with his band Big Bad Buffalo, Krimston graduated from the local branch of the School of Rock. In addition to the math-heavy Big Bad Buffalo, Krimston plays with the post-punk Miss New Buddha, indie band Weatherbox, and the MIDI-based Band Argument. This EP marks Krimston’s first solo effort, and it’s a significant departure from the music he’s previously written and performed. These five songs are unabashedly poppy. The tracks are a testament to Krimston’s versatility as a songwriter. The too short “Need You When You’re Gone” is a bubbly number, filled with sparkling synths, with the guitar, bass, and drums used more as window dressing. “Pry Out The Prose” starts out with a Beatles-esque feel to it, but then it evolves into a folk-rock-pop number, multi-tracked vocals harmonizing on the chorus. “Blitz & Jr.” is a math-pop song that makes heavy use of vocal processing (my only issue with the EP – I’m not a big fan of heavily processed vocals, auto-tune and that sort of thing). The song is otherwise another bouncy poppy one, switching meters every couple of bars, and with multi-tracked harmonies in abundance. “WIP” teeters between radio-friendly and edgy. And finally, “Typecast” is a delicate ballad, focusing on acoustic guitar and vocals, with electronics and digital effects merely adding embellishment. The record is being released digitally, and will be available as a download code included with a zine filled with artwork and writing. Snap it up. I predict big things to come from this talented young man.

PARSNIP – When The Tree Bears Fruit (Anti Fade Records, www.antifaderecords.bigcartel.com)

Parsnip is a four-piece band from Melbourne, Australia. The four women that make up this band apparently love children’s music, because that’s what this album sounds like. Cheesy synthesized keyboards, bass, drums, and vocals make up the bulk of songs here, with an even cheesier vibrato to the keys. The vocals primarily feature off-key unison singing, with very little harmonizing done. I dislike auto-tune, but Parsnip could benefit from it. Every one of the eleven tracks is played at the same tempo, has the same sparse instrumentation, and provides the same juvenile sound. The vocals even sound like it’s children singing much of the time. I know it’s supposed to sound “precious,” but to me it just sounds amateurish.

REDD KROSS – Beyond The Door (Merge Records, www.mergerecords.com)

Redd Kross has gone through many changes over the more than four decades of their existence. Originally an LA punk band called The Tourists, the band changed their name to Red Cross for their first releases, then to Redd Kross after a lawsuit threat from the American Red Cross. It’s not just the spelling of their name that’s changed. They’ve had a rotating cast of members, too, but more importantly, their sound has changed a few times, too. Originally an LA surf-punk sound, they’ve morphed into a rock and roll jam band, toyed with psychedelic sounds, grunge, synth pop rock, garage power pop, and alternative rock. So which Redd Kross make an appearance on this, their latest LP? Rock, psych, garage, alternative, or power pop? Yes. They’re all here. But at the bottom of it all, as always, are great rock and pop songs, however they’re dressed up. The songs all sound somewhat different from each other, yet you know they’re all from the same band. The title track has a retro rock’n’roll feel, like it’s an updated song from the early 60s. “There’s No One Like You” is an early favorite, with a great power pop and rock sound. The song is very understated, with a great melody. It proves you don’t have to go over the top to make great pop songs. Right after that is a beautiful folk-psych track, “Ice Cream Strange and Pleasing.” It reminds me in a way of some of the great music The New Pornographers made on their album, “Twin Cinema.” The verses are relaxed and folksy, while the chorus gets a more raucous. Underlying it all is a great pop melody, like all of the songs on this album. “Jone Hoople” is a perfect example of the band’s unabashed Beatles worship, with a song that sounds like something right out of the Fab Four’s songbook, but maybe crossed with the power pop genius of Paul Collins. This is the first Redd Kross I’ve listened to since I heard their jam band era music in the mid to late 80s, and I didn’t know what to expect. I’m very pleasantly surprised. This is a banger of a record.

THE SAFES – Winning Combination (Action Weekend/Bickerton Records,
www.bickertonrecords.com)

The Safes (brothers Frankie, Michael, Patrick, and Sean O’Malley) recruited a slew of friends and family members to round out this gorgeous and unique album of songs that range from gypsy folk to Burt Bacharach-esque pop music. Guitars, bass, and drums are joined by piano, Wurlitzer organ, accordion, violin, cello, clarinet, and a host of other instruments on many of these songs. The arrangements give each a chance to shine, and providing an off-kilter feeling. Having some of the instruments deliberately out of tune (acoustic guitar and piano, for sure) make them sound a little like toy instruments, making something unique even that much better. I’m in love with “It’s True,” the song that opens the album. The lyrics, when examined, reveal themselves to be about finding love – or at least someone that gives you a reason to feel joy and keep living. “Baggage Claim” has a retro pop feel with hints of pysch influence that I like. There’s a stringed instrument that’s tuned to sound almost like a sitar, and it sounds pretty damn cool, but I don’t see a sitar listed in the credits. Kudos to the O’Malleys for creative instrument engineering. “The Rest of My Life” is absolutely charming, with piano arpeggios running up and down, and bowed and plucked strings, and “Dreams That Ignite” continues the delicate instrumentation, but this time with harmonized vocal choir and vibraphone. It’s exquisite. “Make or Break” reminds me of classic early 70s AM radio pop music. “The Shell Spell” is a jaunty country-ish tune. The Safes live in Chicago, but musically they’re all over the map, and it makes for a fun engaging listen.

SOMOS – Prison On A Hill (Tiny Engines, www.tinyengines.net)

Boston’s Somos returns to Tiny Engines for their third full-length LP. They incorporate tons of 80s new wave synth pop influence in their guitar-based pop music. Underneath, there are hints of pop punk, with the emphasis on the pop. The synths, though, and the incessant dance beat, harken back to big hair days and MTV music videos (when MTV actually meant “Music Television”). The end result is slightly dreamy, but with hard edges and more energy. It’s a sound that’s a little unbalancing, like being thrown into an alternate timeline where everything is familiar, yet different. The production is very smooth and even-keeled, with none of the songs getting too out of control, and none coming off as too dull. “Farewell to Exile” is a great example of a song that feels retro and new, edgy and dreamy, all at the same time. The lyrics refer to the horror of being sent off to war, being forced to kill someone who’s not so different from yourself, and then having to live with that the rest of your life. “Absent and Lost” is heavy on the retro 80s sound, with loads of buzzy synth and a strong danceable backbeat in the rhythm section. On the other hand, “Ammunition” focuses more on a rumbling bass and strong guitar sound, yet that dance beat is still there, and the smoothed out vocals keep a lid on things, lest they get too raucous. And ultimately, I think that’s what prevents me from enjoying this record as much as I otherwise might; it’s too smooth, too even-keeled. It never gets out of control.

WESTERN SETTINGS – Another Year (A-F Records, www.a-frecords.com)

They’ve kept us hanging for way too long, those Western Settings boys. Their lone full-length LP, “Yes It Is,” came out four years ago, and the “Old Pain” EP has been out for three years already. So, this sophomore LP from this San Diego outfit is way overdue. The wait, though, has been very worth it, as Western Settings have given us their best effort yet. These songs are brighter and more melodic than anything from their previous releases, and bassist/lead vocalist Ricky Schmidt’s vocals are stronger and more confident. The arrangements are more intricate, there’s more pop, and, dammit, they sound like they’re having fun playing these songs! As much as I’ve loved Western Settings since the beginning, some of their past output has sometimes seemed a bit overwrought, too emotionally heavy. With “Another Year,” there’s a spring in their step, like a weight has been lifted from their collective shoulders. You can hear the difference right from the very start, with the title track. Schmidt’s vocals border on crooning, and there’s a definite pop quality to the melody, much more so than on past songs. There’s more of a powerful attack to the music, too. “Big” is an energetic track, more than most, and “Break” has a jangle to it. “Back to 52” sounds downright exuberant, and “Spinning World” has a triumphant feel. These are things you couldn’t say about Western Settings before this record. “Charmian” has a gorgeous melody that bounces and lopes. It bounces and lopes! Three of the songs here, “That’s Pretty,” “Duckets Is Tight,” and “Agnus,” appeared on the limited lathe cut eight-inch EP the band released a few months ago. “Agnus” closes the LP, as it did the EP, and it’s still a moving piece of work. The whole record is, for that matter. I said it before, and I’ll say it again: this is Western Settings best effort yet.


THE ATOM AGE – Cry ‘Til You Die (Tiger Dream Records, theatomage.bandcamp. com)

The Atom Age is a garage band. No, wait. They’re a rockabilly band. No, wait. They’re a surf band. No, wait. Yes. They’re all the above and more! Oakland’s The Atom Age are an unrelenting, high-energy rock’n’roll band. They take all sorts of retro 50s and 60s rock sounds, blend them together, and add a modern flair to create something intensely fun. Guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, and saxophone work together unyieldingly, hitting often and hard. My favorite track of the ten songs comes early. “We Disappear in the Night” has a cool jazzy feel, in the rhythm and the guitar lines (which remind me a little bit of Thomas Dolby’s “The Keys to Her Ferrari”). “Walk Through Walls” has the sound of rockabilly crossed with “horror-garage”, the keyboards and sax being very prominent here, and the anguished lead vocals are particularly strong on this track. “Lost on Me” has a nice easy lope to it, contrasting with an evil thrashy distortion going on. I love “Bad Seeds,” one of the most retro sounding tracks of the LP. The call and response in the chorus is a lot of fun, as are the growling bass breaks and the intense surf guitar sounds. The sax gets a chance to shine with an extended solo, and the woo-hoo backing vocals are spot on. The whole album is played and sung with a sense of urgency, like they have to get these songs out NOW or there will be consequences. They do it in twenty-six minutes, and what a fun, exciting twenty-sex minutes those are!

EMPTY COUNTRY – Ultrasound (emptycountry.bandcamp.com)

If you were wondering whatever happened to Cymbals Eat Guitars in the three years since they released “Pretty Years,” well, I have too. They’ve not toured much. But front man Joe D’Agostino has been busy with a new project, Empty Country, releasing two new songs ahead of a full-length LP due out early in 2020, and it sounds somewhat like earlier CEG, a treat to my ears. It’s no secret that “Pretty Years” was not my favorite CEG album, but I was a huge fan of their first three LPs. But this is not CEG, this is Empty Country, so how are the two songs on this single? The title track is maybe a bit heavier and more raucous than a lot of the stuff D’Agostino has done before, and it eschews the dreamy keyboards for a straightforward guitar/bass/drums sound. The chorus has some great harmonized vocals, featuring D’Agostino’s wife Rachel and his guitar teacher, Charles Bissell of The Wrens, and I love the jangly guitars behind the vocals. As raucous as the track is, the production has a nice hazy feel to it, a hallmark of D’Agostino’s sound. The other track, “Jets,” is a quiet, delicate thing, with piano and acoustic guitar. High register vocals give the track an ethereal feel, and the instrumentation builds somewhat toward the end. It’s a pretty song unlike much of what D’Agostino’s done before. Empty County is starting to play some shows now, and I look forward to the LP and for the tour to make it to the west coast.

OH, ROSE – While My Father Sleeps (Park The Van, www.parkthevan.com)

Olivia Rose is Oh, Rose, get it? She, along with Olympia, Washington pals Liam Hindahl (drums), Kevin Christopher (bass), and Sarah Redden (synth) play a sort of mildly grungy dream pop, with Rose singing and playing guitar. Rose’s lead vocals sound like she’s trying very hard to sound like the popular “alternative” female vocalists, with a high pitched breathiness and halting quality. The arrangements feel somewhat thin, and the whole thing comes across as fairly generic indie/alternative. Some of the songs are downright annoying, like “Baby.” “I’ve been a baby / I’ve been a baby / waah waah waah / waah waah waah waah waah waah waah / waah waah waah waah waah…” you get the idea. There’s also a song called “Harrypotterjuana,” which jarringly changes tempos and overall feel a few times. I just couldn’t get into this record.

OFF WITH THEIR HEADS – Be Good (Epitaph Records, www.epitaph.com)

Ryan Young needs a hug. He wears his emotions on his sleeve whenever he picks up a guitar. Though their musical style is quite different from what’s typical of the genre, Off With Their Heads may be the most emo band in the history of punk. Every song is huge, epic. The album opens with the lead single, “Disappear,” a song about breaking up and learning who you really are, and being incredibly disappointed with that. “I should have seen this from the start / I should have always been on my own / Now it’s perfectly clear / I never should have stayed here / I should have just disappeared.” The song continues to discuss separation and self-reflection, of feeling lost and of self- indictment. After a quiet opening, the song explodes with OWTH’s unique style of huge punk. This is what OWTH do, and do so well: epic songs that tear themselves down. “I just wanted to feel love / To be loved, to be loved,” Young screams near the end of the song. But he feels that he blew it and deserves to just disappear. Suicidal thoughts are not good ones, but songs of self-destruction and self-deprecation are de rigueur for OWTH.

The other lead single, the title track, comes next. It’s the closest thing OWTH has ever come to a song of triumph. “It’s true / It’s loud / It’s hard / And it’s all I know / I can’t take anymore / I just want out right now.” After recounting again how much he wants to just disappear, Young goes on to tell us “I had assumed I would have been gone by now.” But he’s still here. The same feelings are still there, but, as he declares, “I have nothing to lose, I have nothing to gain,” and he exhorts us all to “Be good / Be loud / Hands up / To the sky and shout / At the top of your lungs / ‘Til the floor falls out.” We’re all still here.

I love the waltz time of “You Will Die.” I mean, it has the same basic formula of all OWTH songs, but you know, three-four time. Change things up, you know? The different structure gives it sort of a martial feel, with lyrics of the inevitable death and decay that awaits us all. Other songs continue these themes, such as “No Love,” “Tear Me Apart,” and more. “No Love,” in particular, finds Young raging more than ever. Think back to the lyrics at the end of “Disappear.” “I just wanted to feel love / To be loved, to be loved,” but that’s gone. How would that make you feel? The song is harder and more intense than most of the others with reason.

Self-deprecation, self-accusation, feelings of despair and suicidal thoughts, all shouted with abandon to epic sing-along punk are why OWTH shows and records are so cathartic. We can all shout out all the things we feel about ourselves, get drunk and sweaty, and release all the pent-up frustration. This new record finds OWTH in top form.

BOOJI BOYS – Tube Reducer (Drunken Sailor Records, www.drunkensailor records.co.uk)

Booji Boys, named for the famous Devo character, masquerade as a raw punk rock band. Through all the lo-fi fuzz, though, through all the distortion, through all the manic playing, there’s a super-melodic, hook-filled pop punk band lurking. The band sound brash and confident, a not unfounded attitude. The playing is fast and furious. Vocals are solid, and assured. The band reminds me of a cross between, say, The Marked Men and Vacation. There’s the simple garage punk mixed with hints of psych. I love “Lucky Citizen,” the third track of the album. It’s loaded with melody and is tight as hell while sounding both angry and easy. “Nothing Good” is another favorite. The melody is pretty simple, and it’s a pure pop punk song, but set on fire and played like there’s no tomorrow. “Cody Oi,” similarly, has a fun melodic bounce hiding in all that distortion. The guitar jangle is discernable beneath all the fuzz and the banging and clanging. The high pithed guitar harmonics on “Stevie Cool” contrast brilliantly with the easy bouncy melodic line. “Moto-Hard” is the outlier of the album; this closer really is as manic, sloppy, and out of control as you might think! For their third LP in as many years, with a slew of singles, EPs, and comp appearances, Booji Boys are prolific, productive, and a hell of a good listen.

JOY AGAIN – Piano
(joyagain.bandcamp.com)

Quirky, fun, synth and MIDI-driven indie-pop. Joy Again, from Philadelphia, have been around for about five years, turning conventions on their head. Their songs are generally short, offbeat, and sparkly. There are lots of odd digital effects, stuck sounds, and discontinuities throughout the mini-LP. The record starts with “Abaigh’s Song,” a track whose instrumentals sound vaguely like they were recorded underwater. The vocals have a relaxed ease to them, contrasting with the off-kilter instrumentals. “Special Secret Medicine” is more relaxed, but still quirky, inserting what sounds like synthesized dog barks throughout the song. I love how “I’m Your Dog” opens, with super chill fuzzy guitar. I would love to hear a whole song with the vibe of that intro! When the vocals come in, the whole vibe shifts back to kitch. The song actually shifts feel multiple times through its three-minute length – the longest song of the record! Sometimes it’s chill, sometimes it’s big and bold, and sometimes it’s in between. “Couldn’t” is the most standard sounding indie track of the record, and “Country Song” has a really cool effect where the frequency response narrows down a lot in places to give an old-time lo-fi sound. Strings and slide guitar blend with the more oddball synth beeps and boops to create something vaguely country, vaguely indie, completely great. “Disorder,” has a tentative feel through much of the song, as it morphs, starts, stops, restarts anew with a different sound. The title really matches the sound! “Rats” closes things with a feel most like the opener, more oddball quirky indie-pop with synths and weird digital effects. The vocals swap between male and female lead on these songs, and the record, as a whole, can best be described as “adorably cute.”

THE LILACS – Endure (Pravda Records, www.pravdamusic.com)

Talk about a blast from the past! This is the first new record from Chicago’s The Lilacs in twenty-five years, and it’s coming out on a record label that’s been documenting the Chicago pop and rock music scene for the last thirty-five or so years. The Lilacs were co-founded by Ken Kurson, who was in the legendary band Green, and by David Levinsky. Both played guitar and sang lead vocals, both also contributing songs for the band. Here, we get two songs from each. “Monica” and “I Saw Her First” are Kurson’s, and “Shadow of a Doubt” and “Blue Spark” are Levinsky’s. Kurson’s songs tend to be poppier, while Levinsky’s rock a little more. Even the ballad, “Blue Spark,” which sounds a little like a lounge-like Elvis Costello mixed with R&B. I don’t know if these songs are newly recorded by a reformed band, or if these were pulled out of the vaults, but I hope it’s a harbinger of more to come.

SUSPECT PARTS – You Know I Can’t Say No (Dirt Cult Records, www.dirtcultrecords.com)

Suspect Parts play what they call “Apocalypse Pop.” I call it garage power pop, as it blends the garage sound with power pop, and adds in a dose of Southern California beach pop. This kind of makes sense, because Justin Maurer, of Maniac, LA Drugz, and Clorox Girls is involved. I have never heard a band he’s in that I haven’t liked and Suspect Parts is no different. The title track is a mid-tempo instant classic, heavier on the garage side of the house. “Song for Sadie” has more of a rock’n’roll feel to it, but with a heavy dose of jangle. It’s a great song of sympathy for someone who’s lost her dad. “Hundsgemein (Ideal)” closes the 3-song EP. It’s got a spare, gritty, loping feel, and the song is sung in German. The vocals are shouted with a choking spit and vinegar sound, and the backing vocals are way back in the mix. It’s an odd sound that doesn’t seem to blend as well with the other two tracks, and is my least favorite of the three. But it’s not bad. Nothing Maurer is involved in is bad.

VERSUS – Ex Voto (Ernest Jenning Record Company, www.ernestjenning.com)

Wait, what? Yes, it’s that Versus! The band that formed in 1990, was active through 2000 or so, came out of hibernation in 2010 to give us a record, only to disappear again are back with a new full-length LP! Versus were one of the bands that defined the indie-pop sound in the 90s, releasing records with a host of labels that formed the backbone of an entire genre, like Teenbeat, Merge, K, Simple Machines, Pop Narcotic, and more. And, though they’ve had a couple of long periods of inactivity, they haven’t lost a beat and are as vital as ever. The album contains eight examples of pure indie pop, without the need to embellish it with heavy synths or effects. It’s a demonstration that solid song writing beats any amount of “clever” instrumentation, and that you can make great music with just the basics. Favorite tracks include the bouncy bright “Moon Palace,” with its gorgeous melody and beautiful interplay between the instruments and backing vocals. “Mummified” caught my attention instantly, and is a track I keep coming back to over and over. I love the striding, wobbly guitars, and the jangle under the lead vocals. The counterpoint in the male and female vocals toward the end of the track is perfect. “Baby Green” starts out quietly and simply, and builds and builds throughout the song. The use of bass for the main melody at the start of the song, with the guitar embellishing is clever and effective. The end of “Atmosphere” gives us the sound of the ocean waves, and it blends into the start of “Nothing But U,” which opens with gorgeous classical strings and oboe. The song has the feel of a chamber orchestra melded with a folksy singer-songwriter, and is incredibly pretty. The album closes with “Re-Animator,” a song that, like the album as a whole, starts simply and builds and builds to an epic conclusion. Just as each song does, the album grows on me more and more upon each repeated listen. Versus are back again. Let’s hope it’s more than a flash in the pan and they stick around for a while.


AWEFUL – Me Me Me (Beer Can Records, www.facebook.com/beercanrecords)

Aweful are Chicago’s post-garage-punk-grunge trio. Featuring Traci Trouble, Lucy Dekay, and Izzy Price, Aweful have a sound that’s rooted deeply in 80s post-punk, yet has modern garage flair and intense neo-goth vocals, with notes bending and dripping in the vocals. The music is thick and lush, with a hard, sharp edge that’ll cut you if you’re not careful. The lyrics are dark and gloomy, too. Like on “Why,” the opening track. “Hey! What were you thinking? What’d you bring me into / You just want to take my heart and tear it out for you.” Or on the title track, “Ask me why some should care / When the end is near / Do you want a better life / Or a face full of tears.” The music sounds hard, but with a soft fuzz around the edges. The vocals have an anger to them, with a touch of sadness. Dark punk goodness.

BAND ARGUMENT – Slides (bandargument.bandcamp.com)

Band Argument are a newish, young band from San Diego. They’ve previously self-released a single (“Buddy”) and a five-song EP (“Patchwork”). “Slides” is their latest and they’re calling it a “double-single,” but it’s the digital equivalent of a 7” with “Dang Horse” as the A-side and “Hopscotch” as the B-side. Band Argument are a traditional guitar/bass/drums band – but they very untraditionally run everything through MIDI – instruments and vocals. The band has a math-ish quality to it, with sounds bouncing all over the place. “Dang Horse” is an off-kilter calypso sort of track with a breezy island feel. Bassist/vocalist Sil Damone’s singing is easy and smooth, to fit the relaxed feel of the music. “Hopscotch” has more of a striding feel to the music, and the math-ish feel is even stronger. I think MIDI use has been growing a lot lately in the pop underground, and Band Argument seem to be quite adept at it. It helps, too, that they write truly engaging songs. When’s the debut full-length album, guys?

BRAT CURSE – Brat Curse
(Just Because Records,
justbecauserecords. bandcamp.com/
Anyway Records,
www.anywayrecords.com)

Brat Curse, hailing from Dayton, Ohio, was founded by none other than Brian Baker. Brian Baker? NOT THAT ONE! But the Ohio Baker is no less musically proficient than the more famous one. This latest LP is a kick in the pants, blending rapid paced garage punk and beautifully melodic indie-pop. They call themselves pop punk, but it’s not like any band that gets categorized that way, not at all. Yes, they’ve got elements of both pop and punk, but Brat Curse are so much more creative and complex than pop punk. There are some tracks that are straightforward garage punk (“Sweat Pants Lawyer,” “Spring Break Reagan”) and some that are straightforward indie (Psycho In The Furnace, “Modern Snakes”). But my favorites are the ones that get unconventional. “Who Do You Call” is a great manic track, full of intensity, but there’s no way this could be called garage punk; there’s too much melody. There’s no way it could be called indie pop, it’s too edgy. It’s my favorite of the LP. Likewise, “Freak Net,” though calmer than “Who Do You Call,” still has a hardness to it, and the melody has more bounce to its step. It’s another favorite. And “Blink And It’s Gone” alternates between edgy and smooth, keeping the listener off-balance and guessing. An outlier is “It’s On,” a track that owes more to Seattle grunge than anything pop or punk. The bottom line, here, is that Brat Curse are an unconventional band that refuse to be boxed into your narrow interpretation of genres, and are worthy of your time and money.

GLOM – Bond (La Reserve Records, www.lareserverecords.com)

Dreamy pop, but not dream pop, Glom play upbeat indie pop, adding synths and reverb to move the music into the ethereal. The use of both acoustic and electric guitars, both in lead and rhythm capacities, adds a nice texture, as well. The opening track, “Tell Me Who To Be,” is probably the weakest, to be honest. It feels the most commercial, and the synth feels a little wobbly. It’s another case, though, that listening all the way through rewards one with improving songs. The record really gets going when it reaches the third track, “My Red Spine.” It’s less dreamy than many of the tracks, with less reverb, a nice bouncy melody, a catchy guitar hook, and harmonies on the chorus. “Stuck” brings back some dreaminess in a gorgeous upbeat ballad that reminds me of a lusher Nick Drake, high praise indeed. The interplay between the acoustic and electric guitars is quite pretty. “Walking” has big buzzy synths that remind me of 80s new wave ballads, but the rest of the execution of this song is more 90s alternative. “Afraid of the Rain” turns up the dreaminess, with more big synths and reverb, and “Forlorn” is a great pop punk track disguised as dreamy indie, acoustic and electric guitars competing underneath breezy vocals. Glom have created something new and interesting with their debut LP.

GRLWOOD – I Sold My Soul To The Devil When I Was 12 (Sona Blast! Records, www.sonablast.com)

Born two years ago in Louisville, Kentucky, Grlwood is a self-described “two-piece band of Kentucky fried queerdos, wailing at max capacity,” and “angry queerdo genderfuck feminists screaming at you.” That’s fair enough. Guitar and drums pound out the sounds while the aggressive vocals shout and scream angrily and accusingly, or croon out sweetly or sadly. The songs generally cover topics of sexuality and gender identity. Stereotypes are exposed for the absurdity they are, such as on “Get Shot,” the opening track, which tells young girls that they need to be nice to the boys or they might get angry at them, leading them to get shot. Rejection for being one’s true self is explored in “I Hate My Mom.” Sexual violence is covered in “Take Off Your Clothes.” “No Tongue” is about life in the closet, with vocals that range from sweet, innocent, and confused to raging and monstrous. Musically, Grlwood is vaguely indie rock with hints of punk and pop (but not pop punk). For being just a two-piece the music doesn’t sound thin. In some respects they remind me of early hardcore punk and its stripped-down aesthetic. Grlwood has the rawness of early hardcore, too, and the honesty. But Grlwood is more evolved. Grlwood has been getting a lot of buzz, including coverage from none other than NPR. It’s all well deserved.

OUTSIDER – When Love Dies (Flatspot Records, www.flatspotrecords.com)

Do you like metallic hardcore that’ll rip your face off? Richmond, Virginia’s Outsider hope you do, because their new five-song EP is designed to do just that. The music will pummel you, thrash you around, and crush you into submission. The onslaught begins with the lead single, “Life Runs Out.” The song is about seizing the moment and going for whatever it is you have a passion for, rather than waiting or yielding to the easy path. The onslaught continues through four more intense offerings, with the title track closing the EP. We get a brief respite, in that song, with a quiet reflective ambience, guitars playing a simple melody with a ton of reverb. But then the song gets started, with a relaxed rock feel at first, and then the hardcore takes off like a rocket. Do you like metallic hardcore that’ll rip your face off? If so, enjoy getting your face ripped off by Outsider.

THE RITUALISTS – Painted People (Out of Line Music, www.outofline.de)

This New York City outfit is a real blast from the past. No, they aren’t a reunited group from the 80s, but they could be. They have the sound of 80s post-new-wave pop (is that really a genre?) like Echo and the Bunnymen or Lords of the New Church, maybe blended with the over-the-top theatrics of U2. The difference that the Ritualists bring, though, is a cleaner, more modern synth sound. Technology has advanced a lot in the last thirty years, after all. But I was never into Echo and the Bunnymen, nor U2, and the combination of the two isn’t any more clever or pleasing to my ears.

STRANGE RANGER – Remembering The Rockets (Tiny Engines,
www.tinyengines.net)

Strange Ranger hails from Philadelphia, and they play solid indie rock and pop. “Remembering The Rockets” is the latest in a long string of releases dating back just three years. The music is quiet, reflective stuff, smooth and calming. The album opens strongly with “Leona,” a song that’s easy and bouncy, with lyrics telling of awkward love. “Sunday” cranks things up, adding dreamy synths that ring out loudly, though the melodic line still has a nice bounciness. Acoustic guitars are used to smooth the atmosphere in this song of losing love but keeping friendship. I love the short instrumental interlude, “Athens, GA.” It’s a slow dirge on pipe organ, with ambient recordings of people talking in the background. It’s very moody, and it leads into the equally moody “Message to You,” a track that uses synthesized pipe organ and a quiet dance beat. The vocals are so delicate and brooding. “Pete’s Hill” is quiet with beautifully meandering guitars, keyboard, and synth. Right after is the noisy, buzzy “Beneath the Lights.” The smooth vocals are in sharp contrast, and it makes for an interesting listen. I love the instrumental break toward the end with a Celtic sounding synth solo. The weakest track of the album is “Ranch Style Home;” the vocals are sloppy and off-key, probably on purpose, but this country-ish song is just a mess. However, I won’t let it ruin my enjoyment of an otherwise solid release.

TONY APPLESEED – Entropy (tonyappleseed.bandcamp.com)

New Jersey’s Tony Appleseed may not be roaming around planting apple trees all over the place, but he’s sure planting diverse musical ideas. On this latest LP, his third, Appleseed brings together his largest ensemble of musicians to date, and provides us with a lucky thirteen tracks of alternative, psychedelic, progressive synth-folk-rock. At nearly an hour, that’s a lot of music for one album. But it never gets boring or repetitive. The album opens with a short introductory track, “Twenty-four Weeks.” It feels like something out of a science-fiction film, with the sounds of a pulse and ominous synth droning in the background, getting louder and louder. We hear a periodic ping, like something from a NASA spaceflight from the 70s, and then it all fades. Synths, piano, vibraphone, bass, and drums are key instrumentation on many of the tracks. Other tracks use instruments like banjo and flute to great effect. I love the title track, which uses banjo for a folk feel, flute for a jazz feel, and guitar, synths, bass, and drums for a harder rock quality. The resulting musical soup is unique, exploratory, relaxed and edgy at the same time. “Reincarnation” is a cool indie-folk-rock number, again using the banjo, but with psychedelic guitar and a melody that’s much more pop than folk. “Free Bird” includes trombone, piano, and an old-timey jazz sound. “Ballad of Braque” reminds me of the late, great Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, with its odd and changing meters and progressive jazz sound. The piano’s arpeggios glide, and the single note guitar lines are angular. While there is great diversity in the songs and styles on this album, it also feels cohesive. All of the tracks have a relaxed feel with an underlying anxiety. The simultaneous differences and connectedness of the tracks make for a fascinating, enjoyable listen

TOWNER (Crush Grove,
www.crushgrove.com)

Many moons ago, there was an amazing band from Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, called The Vertebrats. They changed my life. In early 1980s rural Illinois, this band was playing amazing garage and power pop. They were the first band I regularly went to see perform live, as they usually played once a month at Mabel’s a campus town bar near the University of Illinois. And, while Towner can’t really be called garage or power pop, there’s a quality to their sound that reminds me of that band that was so important to my life. Towner’s music is more indie-pop and pop punk oriented, but there’s some power mixed into their pop. Their choice in harmonizing vocals also reminds me of The Vertebrats. Towner are also very much a DIY effort, unpolished in their presentation, raw and honest musicians, much like The Vertebrats. And a couple of the songs almost could have been recorded by the Vertebrats. “These Worlds Are Yours” and “Calm Down” sound like an update of their sound. Towner’s lead vocals also have similar qualities to Kenny Draznik, The Vertebrats’ singer. Towner are still green though, and this is their debut EP. They’ve got some room to grow, some rough edges to polish. I look forward to their next release.



THE BLACK TONES – Cobain and Cornbread (Reptar Records, www.theblacktones.com)

Cobain and Cornbread. Seattle and the South. What a perfect name for the debut LP from The Black Tones, a band that plays bluesy, grungy rock music. Featuring brother and sister Eva (vocals/guitar) and Cedric (drums) Walker, the music is rocking and soulful at the same time, though the arrangements are a bit thin as might be expected. Eva’s vocals are gorgeous, as she belts out songs like “Mama! There’s A Spider In My Room,” bending notes and adding tons of vibrato in just the right spots. I adore “Rivers of Jordan,” a song with the feel of a spiritual. It’s very spare, with harmonica, vocals, and percussion, and it feels very down home. “Plaid Pants” is a great balance of grunge and blues, showcasing Eva’s vocals again, though it runs a little longer than it should. “Striped Walls” is my favorite track of the album – even though it’s the most different from the rest. Banjo and vocals with percussion after the intro, the song is a beautiful ballad. And lest you think that The Black Tones are just a sound, they get political, too. The second track is “The Key of Black (They Want Us Dead).” It’s got a deep bass intro and grungy-funk feel. “We want love, they want us dead / We want peace, they want us dead / We want to go to school, they want us dead / Pay our taxes, they want us dead…” Yes, The Black Tones are black, and yes, too many people in this country have the attitude expressed in these lyrics. Musically, the song is a blues-jam and maybe one of the weaker ones, but the lyrics more than make up for that. “Welcome Mr. Pink” closes the album strongly with a waltz-time song that’s best when the guitars are thick. By mixing downhome blues and northwest grunge, The Black Tones give us something new, always a great thing in my book.

THE DARLING FIRE – Dark Celebration (Spartan Records, www.spartanrecords.com)

The Darling Fire, from South Florida, blend heavy indie rock with dreaminess. The guitars, bass, and drums have a hard post-hardcore crunch to them, while the vocals are haunting and dreamlike. And though The Darling Fire is a fairly new band, with Dark Celebration being their debut LP, these are not green musicians. The band features members of bands such as Dashboard Confessional, The Rocking Horse Winners, Shai Hulud, and other familiar groups. The influence of these previous experiences is pretty clear, but what’s new and unique is the mixing of hard and soft. The songs are all somewhat long form, too, with all of them clocking in at more than four minutes – most are nearly five minutes or more. This gives The Darling Fire time to stretch out and explore the melodic themes they present. This works to their advantage on songs like “Nevertwin,” the second track on the LP. It’s got an expansive, rolling sound, and even though the pace is leisurely, the feeling is one of ever moving forward. “Omaha” is another slower one, but it’s got an intensity to it, with emotionally charged wall of guitar instrumentals and light airy vocals. The components of this record will seem familiar, but the combination of them is what’s novel here, and what works well.

FALLOW LAND – Slow Down, Rockstar (Spartan Records, www.spartanrecords.com)

Midwesterners Fallow Land are pretty mellow. Or at least their music is. And one of the best things about them is the diversity in that music; songs don’t all sound the same! Some songs are fairly straightforward indie, others blend together dreamy indie and light jazz, while others are get edgier and noisier. On many of the tracks, there’s interplay among the layers of the instrumentation, with guitars, bass, drums, and synths elegantly dancing around each other. In that way the band reminds me a little bit of a lighter, less lush Cymbals Eat Guitars. Oddly enough, the album opener, “The Things You Say,” is probably the weakest, sounding like generic alternative emo-pop. I thought I was in for a snooze-fest until the next track, “The Self,” which has a nice, easy, math-jazz-pop feel. I really love the duel going on between the guitar and synth on “The Body.” The track has an off-kilter rhythm that goes well with the instrumentation. The album keeps getting better from there. “The Dog Song” is an exercise in beautiful minimalism battling hard-edged excess. And the guitars in “The Boredom” swirl around, making me feel like I’m in the middle of the band, rotating around and around. I’m glad I continued listening beyond the first track, but too many reviewers don’t – an important reason to always put your best song first, bands!

GOOD RIDDANCE – Thoughts and Prayers (Fat Wreck Chords, www.fatwreck.com)

Long standing pop punks Good Riddance just released their latest LP, their first since 2014’s “Peace In Our Time.” GR has always been one of my favorite Fat Wreck bands, because they’re masters of the sound that defined the label. They play unabashed pop punk, fast’n’loud, tight and poppy. And, true to their punk roots (they formed back in the 80s, after all), GR aren’t afraid to get political. The opening track, “Edmund Pettus Bridge,” is a reference to the bridge in Alabama where an infamous clash took place between African Americans marching for voting rights and state troopers who were enforcing the racist order in the South. The bridge itself is named for a Confederate general and grand wizard of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan. The track opens with dialogue from the film, “Wall Street,” in which Michael Douglas’ character, Gordon Gecko, explains that the richest one percent own half the country’s wealth, and the vast majority of the country has nothing, and how the wealthy make all the rules, asking, “You’re not naïve enough to think we’re living in a democracy, are you, buddy?” As if voting rights and voting would make any difference. Some of the tracks are more hardcore than others, like “Our Great Divide,” a speedy, crunchy song, or “No King But Caesar,” one that’s even harder, with angular and dissonant guitars. Others are heavier on the pop side, like “Don’t Have Time,” a slightly more than mid-tempo cut loaded with melodic hooks. But, honestly, if you know Good Riddance, you know exactly what to expect – maybe with the exception of “No Safe Place,” a slower more alternative rock track that sounds like something from the 2000s emo-ish pop punk era. The closer, “Requisite Catastrophes,” is a mid-temp poppy one, but it’s loaded with hooks and bounce. Yep, Good Riddance gives us exactly what we expect – and I couldn’t be happier to hear it.

THE LUCKY EEJITS – Out of Time (Bypolar Records, www.bypolarrecords.com / Wiretap Records, www.wiretaprecords.com)

Well, damn! The Lucky Eejits are back with a new full-length LP, their third since forming a handful of years ago. These Bay Area Eejits play some pretty great pop punk with a Fat Wreck Chords skate punk vibe. The tracks are pretty rapid paced with tons of poppy goodness. The Eejits are super tight without sounding slick – perfect for this style of music. The whoa-ohs are plentiful, as are the sing-along opportunities. Some of the songs are pretty damn anthemic, too, like “Happy Accidents.” The song has double-time going on in the rhythm section, while the vocals seem to float over the instrumentals at a regular tempo. I can imagine a raging pit during this song, with another group of punks shoving their fists in the air, singing along. Though the album as a whole has an urgency to its sound, as if the band really are out of time, the title track ironically has a more leisurely pace. “Cold Stare” is a mid-tempo track that has a vaguely ska-punk feel in parts with a strong backbeat. It’s a fun, bouncy song, and the rolling bass line adds to the effect. If you’re a fan of the Fat Wreck sound, check this out – you won’t regret it.

ROLEY YUMA (https://open.spotify.com/artist/5qERofNeKP1sTC2PbuRawh)

Dayton, Ohio may be a forgotten city in the rustbelt, a place American corporations abandoned. But it also has been a hotbed of musical creativity. Guided By Voices, The Breeders, Brainiac, Toxic Reasons and more have called the city home. Roley Yuma is another Dayton band creating unique music unlike the masses of sound-alike bands out there. Roley Yuma has been around for some time, but it’s been a while between their last release and this LP, some six years. Their music is explosive, angular stuff, and it harkens back to the 90s post-punk era that saw a huge burst of new ideas in music. Things start out quite manically with “Clifton,” angry, noisy guitars fighting each other to bring the melody through, vocals piercing through the din. The song doesn’t end so much as flow into “Bricklayer,” which continues the off-kilter pummeling. Right about the middle of the track, things smooth out some, and the bass line sounds like something from Joy Division. The music, while not poppy, has a definite bounce to its step. As the album progresses, things get a little less chaotic, a little smoother, a little jazzier, and, as a result, less engaging. One place it goes wrong is during “Why Are You So Dark?” The track starts out lightly with a whimsical feel, and then gets hard and raucous. At first I thought it could be a favorite track, but as the song progressed, it began to evolve into a hard rock jam. At the halfway mark it just gets to be too much. “Tarrere” has cool guitar harmonics on a repetitive line that starts around the middle of the track, even as the front half is just a smooth indie rock track. The back part of the track gets noisier and more chaotic, and therefore more successful, in my opinion. When Roley Yuma gets things right, they’re very right.

SUNGAZE – Light In All of It (sungaze.bandcamp.com)

Sungaze come to us from Cincinnati, Ohio, and this is their debut LP. It’s an album full of very chill, dreamy pop music, with lush synths and heavy reverb. The music at times has an ethereal quality, especially on the intro instrumental track, “Wind.” It’s hard to call this album dream pop or shoegaze, because it’s not quite either, yet it’s got qualities of both. There’s less fuzziness to the music, more clarity. The music relies more on atmospherics than hooks. Some tracks almost feel like “easy listening” versions of grunge tunes, because they have a grittier attitude, even as the sound is still chill and dreamy. One such track is “This River,” sounding like it came from Seattle on Xanax. These are really nice, relaxing songs. Curl up on the sofa with a good book and this record playing in the background, and all your tension is sure to disappear.


THE WHIPS DC – What We Talk About When We Talk About Rock (Settle For It Records, www.settleforitrecords.com)

This is the long-lost album from the short-lived “super group” from Washington, DC. Formed in 2001 out of the ashes of the DC post-hardcore scene of the 1990s, The Whips are made up of drummer Arika Casebolt (of Circus Lupus), bassist James Brady (of Trusty), guitarist Trip Costner (Squatweiler), and vocalist Matt Burger (Worlds Collide). The band never really broke up, but around 2007, after a scant six years, they stopped playing. They recently made the decision to become active again, adding the “DC” to their name to avoid confusion with another The Whips that had since formed. During the short time they were in the scene, they went into the studio twice. In 2003 they recorded three songs at Inner Ear Studios, ground zero for many of DC’s best punk and hardcore records. The master himself, Don Zientara, did the engineering, with Brian Baker and Steve Hansgen producing. In 2006 they recorded the rest of the songs with Bruce Falkinberg. The recordings lay dormant ever since. Until now.

The Whips distilled all of the best aspects of the DC sound of the time, mixed it with pure rock and roll, and lit it on fire. The result was explosive, and they called it “hot rock.” It’s an apt name. They say this album is their love song to DC, and it sounds it. The eleven tracks that make up this album are a testament to the timelessness of the DC sound, because these tracks sound as vital and fresh today as they did when they were written. The album opens with “California (Take a Chance),” the track with the heaviest dose of rock and roll. The band oozes attitude and confidence, especially in Burger’s vocals. You can hear how much fun they’re having just playing the music; it sounds incredibly joyful. That’s one aspect of the DC sound The Whips incorporated into their music – the joyfulness. Another is the vocal style of not quite singing, more speaking the lyrics, with heavy inflections. In the incendiary “Danger Danger” I hear a lot more direct DC influence, with bits of Gray Matter, 3, Circus Lupus, and others. It’s hard to pinpoint, but just the way the melody progresses, the tone of the guitars, it’s all there. Burger’s vocals have a pleading quality, and there are tons of backing vocals interjecting all over the place. The unison lines in the guitar and bass are another thing I recognize as a DC trademark that have been absorbed into The Whips’ repertoire. The piercing high-pitched backing vocals are a key element of “Better Than Good” and “Dave Mustaine Sally,” the latter being one of the more clever song titles I’ve seen lately. The blistering rock and roll music and the ferocity of the vocals are unrelenting. “Kayti’s Song” leans more heavily on the DC legacy, and is the sole track that had been released back in the day, via a music video the band made. The jangly guitars on the bridge that turn into a striding repeat of the same melodic line are right out of Revolution Summer, and it warms my heart. I think this one is one of my favorite tracks of the album. “Bellboys” is the most different track of the album, with more traditional melody and vocals, but you can hear a deep rumble of blues-rock underneath, alternating with a lighter touch. On “Room Service” I hear classic DC in some of the guitar licks. The album closes with “Gratuity Incl,” a track that seems out of place. It’s a southern rock instrumental, heavy on the bluesy sound. It’s a short outro, notable for Brian Baker’s lead guitar.

Now that this album is finally seeing the light of day, and the band is playing a reunion show this summer to celebrate its release, will we see them do some touring? One can only hope they at least play some select dates in various cities around the country, like other reunited bands have been doing lately. The Whips are one of DC’s lost treasures, and now they’re found.

JOEY CAPE – Let Me Know When You Give Up (Fat Wreck Chords, www.fatwreck.com)

Best known as the front man of Fat Wreck Chords’ longtime band, Lagwagon, Joey Cape has also had a solo career for several years, starting with his debut LP, “Bridge,” back in 2008. He’s released material under his own name with established record labels, with no label, and sometimes with his One Week Records imprint. This latest effort sees him once again releasing solo material with Fat. Joey’s solo records are his opportunity to explore his softer side; where Lagwagon is an outlet for punk rock, his solo material is decidedly not punk. Much of the music is singer-songwriter fare and features acoustic guitar and Joey’s quiet vocals, though several songs include full band. Right from the start, the title track feels, for the first half, like listening to Joey play in his living room. We hear just Joey and his guitar, with ambient noises in the background. His vocals are tentative, full of breathiness. When the full band comes in, the song changes; the vocals get bolder and the guitars are strong. “Let me know when you’re stranded / I’ll rescue you,” one of the verses goes. It’s a song about supporting those we care for, being there for them no matter what, in their toughest times. “Daylight” has an awesome retro pop feel, in a post-Beatles sort of way that makes it stand out as a favorite. I also like “Before My Heart Attack.” It’s got an interesting start-stop-start melodic line and changing time signatures. “Possession” is another track with an acoustic opening – except this one stays mostly quiet, but it simmers with a Latin quality. And the closer, “The Last Word,” is a purely acoustic track, short and sweet. You’re back in Joey’s living room, and he sings, “Wrapping up, say goodnight, trying not to start a fight / It’s the last word tonight, it’s the last word / Solitude, my dear friend, all good things come to an end / It’s the last word tonight, it’s the last word tonight.” It’s the perfect ender. There were only a couple of songs that bothered me a little bit. “Fighting Atrophy” had a synth sound and harmonized guitar solo that reminded me of arena rock too much. And “The Love of My Life” uses a steel guitar to create a country tune. I really dislike country tunes. But other than these, this is a pretty solid, enjoyable album.

THE DOLLYROTS – Daydream Explosion (Wicked Cool Records, www.wickedcoolrecords.com)

If you’ve never heard of the Dollyrots, you must have been living under a rock. The LA band have been around for the better part of two decades and have put out several LPs and numerous EPs and singles, working with Joan Jett’s Blackheart Records, with Arrested Youth Records, and most recently with Wicked Cool Records. The Dollyrots play Ramones-inspired pop punk, but way slicker than The Ramones ever thought punk rock should be. The most comparable band these days might be Teenage Bottlerocket, but again, The Dollyrots are smoother, tighter, and more polished than even TBR. Most of the songs are raucous and bouncy, and sound like they could have been written and recorded at the height of the pop punk explosion of the 1990s. That’s both good and bad. Good, because The Dollyrots represent the heights that pop punk reached back in the day. The production quality is top notch, the band is incredibly tight and on point, and the music is bouncy to the extreme. Bad, though, because pop punk in the latter part of the 90s became a commodity to be bought and sold by music industry moguls. And much of this record sounds like a pop punk commodity to me.

FRIEDA’S ROSES – Jessica Triangle (friedasroses.bandcamp.com)

Bands made up of kids have a spotty history. Old Skull had dubious talents, while Noise Addict were indie gold. Metal crossover band Red Kross started life as punk band Red Cross, and before that were The Tourists, while still in middle school. I’ll let you decide that one for yourself. Frieda’s Roses is a trio from Los Angeles, made up of 13 to 15 year-old girls. So it could go either way, right? I’m happy to tell you that Frieda’s Roses is made up of some very talented people. Much of the music has a dark jangle to it, poppy, yet not. I really love “Equal Pace,” a track with psychedelic undertones and backing vocals on the chorus that are dark and mysterious. “Capable” has a cool garage and post-punk goth vibe mixed with folk-punk. “Need To Be Free” is a love song only teenagers could sing, played with acoustic guitar and ukulele. The bouncy melody is fun, and the lyrics about being free by being yourself are pretty great. “Chasing The Light” reminds me of a 60s pop hit, the kind where the woman sings about how miserable her life is. The lyrics are about the many pitfalls in interpersonal relationships. The acoustic guitar, piano, and strings are a gorgeous touch. “Look Into The Light” has this sort of feel, too. They’re like songs that David Lynch could have used in an alternate version of Twin Peaks. The only thing that bothers me (but just a little bit) about this record is that the lead vocals are a little too deadpan, though very capable. Bottom line – this would be an excellent debut for any band, let alone one made up of young teens.

MUTAGÉNICOS – 3 (Dirty Water Records, www.dirtywaterrecords.co.uk)

Mutagénicos are a band from Spain that play a variety of styles of music, all loosely with a garage vibe. “Lo Que Digan De Mi” (What They Say About Me) has a power pop mixed with R&B sound. A synth on the tail end of the track changes the tune into a prog rock one.”Actualice Su Fe” (Update Your Faith) is the most punk of the tracks, with a fast pace, though it also has a fairly jangly guitar sound. As a good punk song should be, it’s also the shortest of the album, at just under a minute and a half. There are songs that are theatrical (“La Cumbria De La Muerte”), rockabilly songs (“Autocontrol”, “Menos Mal”), and some classic garage (“Resetear”). “He Venido A Buscarte” is a great jazzy number with a rock & roll jump thing going on. The closer, “Muerte Marte” (Death Mars), has an appropriately eerie, sci-fi horror feel, in the best tradition of that subgenre of garage rock. It’s an instrumental, but parts of the track have a very serious sounding man saying something that feels very important. I don’t speak fluent Spanish, so I’m not sure what he’s saying, but it sounds urgent. Their music may not cause a genetic mutation (mutagenics are agents such as radiation or chemicals that cause genetic mutation), but it will cause a good time.

OCEANS OF THE MOON (Castle Face Records, www.castlefacerecords.com)

Noisy. Unconventional. Synthesized chaos. Gritty. Rhythmic and arrhythmic. Angular. Repetitive. Cheesy funk. All of these descriptors apply to the debut LP from Oceans of the Moon. At times interesting, at times annoying, Oceans of the Moon are certainly making a bold statement. But it’s mostly annoying. I do love experiments in sound, avant-garde music and all. But this really bores me rather than challenges me. There’s way too much repetition, and the lyrics tend to be the song title stated over and over, as well. “Baby Chiffon” is pseudo funk, complete with staccato wah pedal guitar and grating high-pitched vocals, the lyrics primarily being the title of the song repeated over and over. “I’m On A Roll” plods along at too relaxed a pace, also repeating the title over and over in place of meaningful lyrics. “Borderline” has a short melodic line that repeats over and over on the synth while the thin guitar plinks the strings hesitatingly. The same is true with pretty much every track on the album. The only track that is somewhat interesting is “Sully.” It has a droning synth bass line juxtaposed with reverb-laden garage guitar strums, cowbell providing the primary percussion. It’s not nearly enough to justify sitting through the other seven tracks, though.

THE RE-VOLTS – Leeches (Pirates Press Records, www.piratespressrecords.com)

Coming out of the Bay Area, The Re-Volts play power pop mixed with garage pop, in the vein of the great toyGuitar. The songs are bouncy, poppy, and sunny. Three songs are belted out in a joyful manner. The title track comes first, and is my favorite of the three. Imaging mixing early Rolling Stones with power pop and modern garage. It’s the kind of song you can’t help but move to. “Metropolis Or Bust” is a little bit smoother, and “Love Letters” has full-on crooning lead vocals and haunting backing vocals for a true retro edge. The only bad thing about this EP is that it’s only three songs. I want to hear a full album!

THE COPYRIGHTS / KEPI GHOULIE – Observation Wagon (Stardumb Records, www.stardumbrecords.com / Red Scare Industries, www.redscare.net)

Two songs each from these two legends! In preparation of their European tour together this summer, the two bands recorded two songs each, one original and one cover of the other band. The Copyrights’ new song is their first new music since 2014, and it’s a track called “Welcome Wagon.” It’s got a big Midwest pop punk sound, full of bouncy goodness and a little bit of darkness. The Kepi cover is “Are You Passionate?” off of his album, “Kepi Goes Country.” But The Copyrights’ version sure isn’t country folk like the original – it’s pure pop punk goodness. It’s faster, louder, thicker, and more raucous. Kepi’s original contribution is the acoustic-electric alterna-pop sci-fi thriller, “Observation Day.” It has Kepi’s warmth flowing through it, though the synths the harmonized vocals, the acoustic guitar, and the tambourine. Then Kepi covers “Four Eyes,” from the Copyrights’ debut LP. The original is a slower, loping pop punk song, and Kepi’s cover keeps the tempo, but changes it up to a folksy singer-songwriter vibe. It still has a bounce in its step, maybe even more so. This record may have been made specifically for the summer tour, but this sure isn’t a throwaway; this is some good music.


 

CEREAL KILLER – The Beginning and the End of Cereal Killer (Drunken Sailor Records, www.drunkensailorrecords.co.uk)

What happens when you mix hardcore, garage punk, and pure evil? This is dark, angry stuff, fast and furious. And who ever heard of saxophone in a thrashy hardcore band? It’s here, and it works. The songs are short, lo-fi, buzzing and hissing at a blistering pace. Vocals are pained and shrieking, and the frenetic guitars create both a wall of sound and incredible garage flourishes. “Your Punk Scene Can…It” is an awesome blast. In under two minutes this track will devastate you, especially when it gets to the minute and a quarter mark and the guitars drone on a riff that gets more and more intense as the end of the song approaches. “Electric Sheep” is pretty cool, with a melodic line that’s mostly partial scales, with a stop-start rhythm. It’s pretty experimental, and reminds me of a more hardcore version of Round Eye, China’s experimental punk band of Western ex-pats. “Should Punks Be Allies” sounds like it could have been a Dead Kennedys demo; even the vocals sound Jello-like, in a way. The titles of some of these songs, as you can tell, are pretty good, too. It took me several listens to get into this record. When it’s just playing in the background, it seems to get tiresome. But attentive listening is quite rewarding with Cereal Killer.

DOTS (Dirt Cult Records, www.dirtcultrecords.com)

Dots, hailing from Oakland, are made up of members of Midnite Snaxxx, Bad Daddies, and FM Knives. This is their debut LP, and it’s a hectic affair. Imagine crossing psychedelic jams with art punk, and you might have an idea of what Dots sound like. Shouted vocals are sent through heavy reverb and multiple delays, giving them a freaky eerie sound. Instrumentals are manic yet simple, riffage on basic chord progressions. There’s feedback aplenty, too, adding to the immense tension. “Throwing Pennies” is the opening track, and it’s a slight outlier, with guitars that jangle, adding a brightness to the otherwise dark mix. I love the start-stop nature of the gruff guitars on “Blackness,” repeating a 4-chord riff over and over, even as the vocals repeat patterns, too. The delays in the vocals thicken the arrangement, yet add to the effect of confusion that the band do so well. The synths at the start of “Alpha Rat” sound like something out of a 1950s sci-fi flick, and the bass line on this one is pretty cool. The track has the feel of garage punk, but the hazy cloud of fuzz hangs over everything. The feedback used as another instrument is an interesting effect, too, adding to the alien quality. “Surf’s Up” is the closest thing Dots have to a song with a real melodic line, and could be my favorite of the album. Even through the hopped up instrumentals and vocals, there’s a brilliant glisten to the music. I like the sound Dots have created here; it’s fairly unique. But if I have one suggestion it’s that some of the songs end up sounding too much alike, due to the production quality. I’m sure it was recorded the way it was for effect, but it gets to be a little too much about halfway through the eight songs.

DROIDS BLOOD – Be Free (Drunken Sailor Records, www.drunkensailorrecords.co.uk)

I’d never heard of Chicago’s Droids Blood before, nor its progenitor, Broken Prayer. And I’m from Chicago, originally. Droids Blood can best be described as an artcore band. They’re mostly hardcore, but with heavy art intentions. Guitar-driven art punk is melded with dark synth pop and off-kilter shouted vocals to create a sonic landscape. The mix is thick with noise, so the art is mostly abstract, hard to discern what’s going on or what the intent is. Some of these songs are pretty creative. “Rotary Phone” stands out to me. It begins with an ominous low droning against a high-pitched buzz, and there’s what sounds like a synthesized foghorn of some kind, and the sound of a helicopter flying overhead. It certainly creates an atmospheric feel. Soon the drums begin a beat, and some spoken lyrics begin. Morse code-like synths join, and then the guitars fill in the sound. The overall sound is less chaotic, more coherent than a lot of the tracks. I wish more of the tracks were like this. I would have enjoyed this album a lot more. In too many of the tracks, though, any sense of song is swallowed by noise and distortion, and it just tired me.

JOYER – Peeled (Baklava, www.facebook.com/soundslikebaklava)

Joyer is a duo consisting of brothers Nick and Shane Sullivan. Nick is also one of the principles of DIY tape label Baklava. Based in northern New Jersey, the brothers play what they call “slowcore.” It’s an apt description. The music is unhurried, quiet, and relaxed. Just guitar, drums, and vocals are here. The songs are along the lines of indie pop, but with less sparkle than most of that genre. The result feels like you’re sitting in a friend’s (large) bedroom, and he’s playing songs just for you, along with his buddy playing drums, a very casual and laid back feel. The guitars are delicate and understated and the vocals nearly deadpan. It just feels…real. Tracks worth special note include “Don’t Argue,” which gets a bit experimental and a bit psychedelic; imagine your friend gave you a tab of acid while you’re listening to them play in that bedroom. Likewise, “Spunspunspun” is an experimental instrumental track, featuring piano, drums, and electronics, very odd and disorienting, but very cool. “Stem” is a very simple song (most of them are), but it feels more calming than even the other tracks. Simple guitar strumming, simple chord progression, simple vocals (which have a little more verve than the average track on the LP), and these add up to a track that feels like floating down the river. And the closing track, “Moths,” is maybe the brightest of the bunch, though the vocals do tend to meander a bit. This is the kind of record that’s nice to listen to on a rainy day, curled up on the sofa and reading a good book.

KIRA JARI – Spooky Freaky (Dirt Cult Records, www.dirtcultrecords.com)

Denton, Texas, north of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, has been home to some of the great bands in modern punk history. One of the latest is Kira Jari, a band that blends pop punk and garage. This is the band’s second release, a four-song EP, coming two years on since their debut LP. Though guitarist and lead vocalist Matt Jones has moved nearly 1000 miles away to Minneapolis to attend grad school, the band takes every opportunity to get together as a reason to celebrate the short life we have on earth. And it’s evident in the music. Though some of the songs on this EP are somewhat slower than the manic pace of the LP, the energy and intensity are undiminished; this is lo-fi garage punk with a pop punch. The one track that still races at a ridiculous pace is “Is It Noticeable?” and it recalls the mania of other Denton bands, but adds an incongruent pop sensibility, making it a stand-out track. I really like “Sea Sick,” one of the tracks that are more moderately paced. It’s slower, but the intensity makes it seem faster than it is. That power! This is a garage punk instant classic. The bookend tracks, “Another Episode” and “Silver Heart,” are both heavier on the pop punk than the garage, with a definite “Awesome Fest” sort of sound, and they warm my heart. I know Matt’s working to make the planet a better, cleaner place up there in the frozen north, but I look forward to the time when he can spend a bit of time with the rest of the band and maybe do another tour and full-length.

NEW AGE HEALERS – Debris (newagehealers.bandcamp.com)

Seattle is most associated with grunge music, but there are plenty of other bands playing other genres there. The pop punk scene, for one, is thriving. But so is the shoegaze scene, when you have a band like New Age Healers calling the city home. The tracks are all moderate tempo, with relaxed but bright, breathy vocals. Some of the guitars are fuzzed out, others are clear as a bell. “Satellites” is a favorite, for the rolling feel in the rhythm and the wall of guitar fuzz. “Hang On” has a gorgeous intro, with fuzzy jangly guitars back in the mix, and an acoustic guitar in the front, sharp and clear. When the vocals come in the fuzz drops from the electric guitars for a bit. That electric guitar line from the intro continues playing through the whole song, and the vocals are a harmonized male/female pair. I love the contrasts between the clear and fuzzed parts. Each song on the album is very listenable. Each song is a good example of modern shoegaze. But if I have one criticism, there’s too much similarity from song to song. The tempos are all about the same. The guitar tones are just fuzzed or clear. The vocals all have the same quality. When there’s so much the same, the energy begins to be sapped. Adding in some more variation would, I think, help to hold listeners’ attention longer.

OUTER SPACES – Gazing Globe (Western Vinyl, www.westernvinyl.com)

Outer Spaces is Cara Beth Satalino, a performer hailing from the northeastern United States. Her songs blend folk, indie, and retro pop, and have an introspective sound. That makes sense, because, according to the press materials, these songs were written during a lonely period of her life, spent in solitude. None of the songs are raucous or rowdy – they’re all calm and sedate. The guitar tone and keyboards have a haunting quality to them, while the drums feel a little bit lounge-like. Satalino’s vocals remind me a bit of a popular female pop singer of the 70s, but I can’t recall the name and that’s driving me crazy. “Truck Song” starts as a straight-up country folk song, but played on electric guitar; the opening is on acoustic that’s been amplified, it seems, but then the full band comes in, gradually, and with a light touch. The music gets a little brighter and poppier, with a pretty guitar line closing out the tune. Some of the songs have strings added, which I’m not sure I care for. For example, on the title track, which is otherwise another quiet, introspective indie song, the strings are used as an interjection that sounds like something from as movie soundtrack for a scene that features a seduction scene. The wood block percussion used in the song also sounds a bit too cheesy for my tastes. The pattern repeats in other songs. The songwriting and vocals are solid, but the arrangements remind me too much at times of the sort of music from my youth that turned me away from rock music.

THE PROLETARIAT – Move (Radiobeat Records, www.proletariatband.com)

The Proletariat was active back in the early to mid 1980s, releasing two albums (“Soma Holiday” and “Indifference”) and a single (“Marketplace”). That and a few compilation tracks were all we had to remember the groundbreaking Boston band that went beyond the hardcore and thrash of other local bands of the day, playing intelligent, political music with a post-punk sound more reminiscent of bands like Gang of Four or mid-period Wire. Their blending of melody, a punk aesthetic, politics, and anger was one of the highlights of the early Boston punk scene. Then, in 1985, ahead of the release of “Indifference,” they broke up. It wouldn’t be until thirty years passed that The Proletariat would reappear. In 2016, three of four original members reformed the group for a series of shows, which continued into 2017 with a small tour. And now we have a brand new LP, produced by none other than Lou Giordano, the man that recorded so many Boston bands in the heyday of hardcore and punk. Today, The Proletariat sounds more influenced by Big Black and 90s DC post-emo punk than UK post-punk of the 80s. There are a lot of angular lines, judicious use of dissonance, and some nice empty spaces of bass and drums. And as much as I love those old records from the band’s first go-around, I have to say, “Move” is their best album to date. Time has done nothing to dull the edge; on the contrary, they’re sharper than ever and as relevant as ever. The perfect example is the opening track, “Incarceration Incentive,” a song about imprisoning people for profit. The song has a medium tempo; the guitars are raspy and rough, cutting a jagged line; vocalist Richard Brown’s vocals are spewing as much venom as ever. It’s one of my favorite tracks of this new batch. “Indian Removal Act” decries the injustice our government has visited upon Native Americans, repeatedly signing treaties with them and then breaking them, forcing them off their land whenever something of value was found there. The high-pitched harmonics in the guitars on this and other tracks are what bring Big Black to mind, but where that Chicago band featured the mild-mannered vocals of Steve Albini, Brown roars the lyrics out here. “The Murder of Alton Sterling” is the most hardcore track of the album, fast and loud and furious, as we all should be at the unjustified murder of black men by white police officers in America. The title track is somewhat reminiscent of the band’s sound back in the day, but with a harder edge. The topic is also out of the past, the police bombings and destruction of a neighborhood in Philadelphia in 1985, around the time when the band broke up. The incident is barely remembered these days, but MOVE was a black liberation organization founded in 1972, espousing revolutionary beliefs along the lines of the Black Panthers and living in a communal setting. After multiple confrontations with police, a police helicopter dropped a bomb on the row house in which MOVE lived. The result was the deaths of eleven MOVE members, including five children, and the destruction of sixty-five homes in the neighborhood from the resulting fire. I really like the martial feel of “Trophy Kills,” and the closer, “Consumption,” is the most melodic track of the LP. They’re both pretty great. To be certain, I listened to the whole LP, back to back with the band’s tracks from “This Is Boston, Not L.A.” and “Soma Holiday,” and yeah, this is their best yet. I hope they tour out to the West Coast.


BILY LIAR – Some Legacy (Red Scare Industries, www.redscare.net)

Red Scare has certainly put out some solid records from some pretty good bands over the years, but they’re having a truly bang-up 2019 with a couple of new signings. First was Philadelphia’s Ramona (scroll down to read my review of that debut LP) and now Billy Liar, hailing from Edinburgh, Scotland in the UK. Billy Liar is described as an acoustic/folk punk act in Wikipedia, and that’s true of past releases. But this latest LP has been electrified with a full band, and the music is even more electrifying than past efforts. The folk punk roots are clear though, with songs that wear their emotions on their sleeve. The music is tight and gorgeously constructed, but raw in sheer feeling. Most of the songs are raucous and powerful. Lyrically, this record hits hard. In “The Righteous & the Rats,” Billy Liar sings about the artificial constructs and virtual prisons of society: “When the world began there were no borders / No one chooses where they’re born.” The chorus asks “Do you know any protest songs? The kind that we can sing along?” and decries how “It’s getting harder to tell the righteous from the rats,” as if to tell us that there are too many among us that pay lip service to progressive causes yet do nothing but benefit from the status quo. “Independent People” strips things back to acoustic guitar, more like earlier records, and it’s a tough song about modern economic times, with the growing divide between the super-rich and the rest of us. “My dad says things are gonna get worse a long time before they get better / I hope he’s wrong, but I know he’s right,” Liar opens. “Unemployment’s at an all time high / we’re all depressed so we stay inside / We’ll block out reality with reality television / But bread and circuses won’t pay the rent.” Mass layoffs have become commonplace, and Liar references this with “My boss said he was sorry, son / He had the order and he had to let go of someone / He said I’ll find a new job in no time / But it’s the same everywhere that I look / There’s no one playing by the book / Temporary staff for temporary work / We’re all temporary.” When companies do hire these days, it’s part-time work, so they can avoid paying benefits, another way to extract more wealth from the system for those at the top. Liar sings how this sort of work doesn’t pay the bills, and how we end up getting buried in debt just to survive. “We’re supposed to be satisfied with the thought that we could reach our supervisor’s place,” Liar sings. “I don’t know about you, but I want to feel alive,” he declares. He’s singing about the experience of the UK, but it’s universally true. Powerful and depressing stuff. “Change” is the most “punk” song of the record, fast and loud, yet the power comes more from the vocals than the instrumentals. This record is a revelation. Highly recommended!

CORPORATE CITIZEN – A Brief Moment of Sanity (El Topo Records, www.eltoporecords.com)

Hailing from San Diego, Corporate Citizen specializes in skate punk – and not the mediocre 90s bro-punk variety; they play a blend of 80's hardcore and modern melodic punk. “Batten Down The Hatches” opens the album and sets the tone, with a hard-hitting yet melodic track that reminds me a lot of some of the more melodic bands of 80s punk. Things only go up from there; “95 Sound” is straight-up old school hardcore punk, a la Gorilla Biscuits. After a brief intro, we get a rapid-fire bass line, and then the whole band takes off like a rocket, with the shouted vocals hanging on for dear life. The chorus slows it down and moves back to the melodic, yet retains that great mid to late 80s authentic sound. “Next Big Thing” takes things up a notch, too, if that’s even possible, with more fast’n’loud hardcore alternating with some modern sing-along pop punk that matches any of the best bands playing the style. “Trust Falls” is a favorite for its bright sound, more reminiscent of Bay Area pop punk of the late 80s and early 90s than of hardcore or skate punk sounds. “Got No Time” falls into this bucket, too, mixing the Bay Area pop punk sound with more traditional 80s hardcore punk, for a track that’s just hella fun. Not every track is a gem, though. “Bold-Faced Lies” tries to be more of a 90s hardcore track, but the execution falls short. The arrangement is a bit thin and the execution needs to be tightened up. And “Just Walk Away” is a little too metal crossover for my tastes. But this is a solid debut LP.

DECENT CRIMINAL – Bliss (Wiretap Records, wiretaprecords.limitedrun.com)

The latest LP from the kings of harmonized punk sees the Santa Rosa, California quartet branching out and experimenting with some new styles of songwriting. Their past couple of LPs (2016’s self-titled LP and 2017’s “Bloom”) were studies in how to meld pop punk, 50s rock and roll, and doo wop. But on “Bliss,” we get much more than that. Sure, there are some tracks that are in keeping with what Decent Criminal are most known for. The opening tack, “Nowhere,” is such a song, and has been a staple of their live sets for some time. But things get really interesting pretty quickly with the third song. “Fade” can only be described as an up-tempo dream pop song. It bounces pretty hard, but the guitars are big and shimmering. It’s unexpected, both for a Decent Criminal song, and for the mixing of dreaminess and jangle. The multipart harmonies are still here though, and thicken the track’s sound beautifully. I think it’s the best track of the record. “Bleached” is a more straightforward indie-rock song, very ballad-like, harkening back to 90s alternative. “”Loner” is the most punk the band have ever been; the song is fast and loud, bursting with focused harmonized energy and angular melodic lines. Fittingly, it’s the shortest track of the album, clocking in at under a minute and half. The vocals aren’t smooth and suave, like on other songs; the fury is palpable in both the singing and the playing. “Teeth” is a full-on grunge track, sounding like 1990 Seattle all over again. The song seems to be about escaping a suffocating relationship (“Found my way outside of the grip of you and I”). “Sigh” brings us a bouncy summery beach song, opening with acoustic guitars before the full band comes in. It has an almost Beatles-esque quality in parts, and toward the end, when it starts to slow and quiet, the Beach Boys harmonies are in full-force, and it’s so beautiful. The closer, “Alone,” is the most retro this band has ever gotten. It’s a throwback to 50s romantic pop tunes, and comes complete with strings. But this isn’t a love song; it’s quite the opposite. “And we can tease our hearts all summer / But it won’t change that we’ll be moving on / It’s only naïve to say we’re waiting for a day / We both know may never come.” It’s the heartbreaking idea of rejecting the potential of love for fear that it won’t last. What was it the wise ones said? Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Decent Criminal certainly have been experimenting with their sound. And it’s paid off very well.

JEANINES (Slumberland Records, www.slumberladrecords.com)

I was a huge fan of Slumberland Records, back in the late 80s and early 90s, when the label was still run from its birthplace in Maryland. Slumberland was a champion of the then still new brand of indie pop being made by bands like Velocity Girl, Boyracer, Whorl, The Ropers, and more. It was the kind of label that you trusted to put out music you knew you would like, so it was easy to buy records from bands you had never heard. I lost track of the label some years later, but it’s nice to see that head honcho Michael Schulman is still putting out records, now based in the Northern California Bay Area. This latest release harkens back to the music from those days, simple, pretty indie-pop. Jeanines’ self-titled release is the debut for this Brooklyn duo that play stripped down ultra-jangly music. Jed Smith plays toned-down drums and a gliding bass, while Alicia Hyman plays a twinkly clear guitar and multi-tracks the sparkling vocals. The tracks mostly have a melancholy overcast, but the opener, “Either Way,” has a bouncier major key feel. I love the break toward the end of the track, where the bass and drums drop out, and it’s just Hyman’s crystal clear vocals and quiet guitar strums. Many of the songs have the qualities of a troubadour, feeling vaguely like ancient folks songs telling stories. It’s really gorgeous stuff. The songs are all pretty short, with only three of the fourteen exceeding the two-minute mark. But there’s a lot packed into each track: lots of hooky melodies, lots of harmonized vocals, and loads of jangle. I particularly like the waltz time “In This House,” for the strong wandering minstrel vibe. And “Falling Off My Feet Again” is a pretty one with a ‘60s pop thing going on (something that exists, to one extent or another, in many of the tracks). Slumberland still has the magic touch and a winner with Jeanines.

MONO IN STEREO – Can’t Stop The Bleeding (Rum Bar Records, rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com)

Rum Bar Records, in my mind, is mostly known for putting out excellent power pop records, and those in the space between power pop and pop punk. They’ve put out some pretty awesome records in that space lately. This latest record is a five-song EP from Rockford, Illinois’ Mono In Stereo. Rockford is a small city in north central Illinois, nearly two hours away from the hubbub of Chicago, so it may seem an unlikely place for a rock and roll band. But Rockford was the birthplace of Cheap Trick, and they did a few things, so… Anyway, this EP is Mono In Stereo’s sophomore effort, four years on from their debut LP, Long For Yesterday, also from Rum Bar. And, like Cheap Trick before them, Mono In Stereo focuses not on the underground, but on good old guitar fueled rock and roll. The majority of the five songs on “Can’t Stop The Bleeding” are classic rock. ”Different Kind of Man” reminds me a lot of The Who, complete with keyboards right out of the 70s. “Not Your Fault” is working class rock, in the vein of Springsteen, as is the title track, which closes things out. They’re fine and all, if you go in for the classic rock sound, but it was what turned me off rock and roll as a kid (until I discovered the new music coming out in the late 70s and early 80s that changed everything). The other two tracks here are better. “Fores” is a raucous pop punk track, simple in its melody and chord progressions, but with tough guitars, gang vocals, and plenty of whoa-ohs. And the opener, “The Conversation” is a hybrid of emotionally charged pop punk and working class rock. I like both of these a lot. Unless Mono In Stereo has dreams of making it big playing arenas, I would think focusing their efforts more on the underground sounds would be more rewarding, especially given that guitar fueled rock music hasn’t made anyone famous in decades.

THE PROZACS – Ambivalence (Outloud! Records, www.outloudrecords.bandcamp. com)

The Prozacs have been around for a while, since the early 2000s. This new LP is their fifth full-lengther, not counting split LPs or their live LP, and it may be the best one yet. Modern Ramones-core pop punk aplenty is what you’ll find on this record. There’s certainly a strong 90s pop punk influence in the eleven songs on offer, but I hear more similarity with another current band – The Fur Coats – than any 90s band. And that’s, perhaps, high praise, because The Fur Coats are one of my favorite current pop punk bands. The music here is aggressive without getting too hardcore, poppy and melodic without getting too sappy. It strikes the perfect balance. The record comes out swinging with “Rocking Out,” a powerful speedy track that meets your minimum daily requirement for “whoa-ohs.” “Outta My Face” continues the powerful melodic pop punk, while “Party’s Over” moves more toward the lighter poppy side of things, but with a melodic line and chord progression slightly reminiscent of the classic rock hit, “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” “The Ripper” is an “ode” to the infamous and anonymous Victorian era murderer, calling him out for all the fucked up things he did. This one has even more whoa-ohs than “Rocking Out!” “Wishing and Waiting” is a sweet love song with a sunny feel. “Come Out Swinging” brings back the harder edge and adds a hint of skate punk style. I don’t know who Larry is, but “Listen, Learn & Dance” exhorts the listener to dance, and to do it for Larry. It’s got a dark sound to it, as if the world depends on dancing for Larry. Some of the songs sound so good that they instantly sound familiar after just a single play. Such is the case with “Feeling So,” a track with a moderate tempo and a loping feel, about feeling so alone, and bringing everyone down. The closer, “Lost in the Waves,” is more laid back, with a bit of Beach Boys feel. One of the things I like best on this record is the tough guitar sound blended with melodic punk. Those guitars have the “Chicago” sound, and this is probably why I’m reminded of The Fur Coats. Good stuff.


ALLWEATHER – Through The Floor (Paper Street Cuts, paperstreetcuts.limitedrun.com)

One of the newer bands in San Diego, Allweather has only been around about two years. Featuring members of From Scars and The Blackjackits, among others, Allweather use West Coast emo-infused pop punk only as a starting point. The songs in this, their debut LP, have more complexity to them than those typical to the genre. Some of the songs have a pop jangle to them, even as they retain the epic emotional qualities. This lends a gravitas to the tracks, without them ending up sounding too heavy and onerous. The lead vocals have just the right quality of gruffness, too, to balance out the sparkle of the guitars. “Writer’s Block” is a favorite track. I love the dark mysterious opening, dissonant guitars playing two notes off each other. It then jumps into a moderately up-tempo track with a gorgeous melodic line, the straining vocals lending an honest feeling of pain to the otherwise bright sounding music. I also love the urgency of “Grim Ave,” named for a street that runs through the North Park neighborhood of San Diego. The call and response vocals on “Life Vest,” along with the more moderate tempo, thinner instrumentation, added jangle and easy lope give this song a definite indie rock feel, which I really like. Some of the songs have the feel of DC melodic post-emo, music from the late 80s and early 90s that have influenced so much of what we listen to, often without the bands quite realizing it. I can hear this particularly on “Dogma,” a track that brings to mind bands like Gray Matter or 3. The closer, “Solitaire,” is a wistful acoustic number. It may be a cliché to end a record like this with an acoustic track, but so what. If it works, it works. And it works here. Allweather have done some short tours, but nothing big yet, but I expect that after this LP, they’ll be invited to play some of the East Coast fests in the future.

THE CRETINS – Haven’t Got A Clue (Dirty Water Records, www.dirtywaterrecords.co.uk)

Dirty Water Records continues its winning streak of bringing awesome garage rock and roll from around the world into your ears. Their latest signing is The Cretins, a four-piece from the south of England, in Brighton and South London. “Haven’t Got A Clue” is their debut single, and it’s a promise of great things to come. The style mixes classic 60s British invasion sounds with garage rock, as well as a healthy dose of power pop. It’s a nice, mid-tempo track, with lyrics typical from pop songs from back in the day: boy is attracted to girl; boy doesn’t know what to do about it. I know a lot of garage rock bands are purposefully doing lo-fi recordings, and that often works out, but I think in this case, the more melodic style of The Cretins would benefit from a cleaner sound. But this definitely makes me look forward to more from the band.

THE DROWNS – The Sound (Pirates Press Records, www.piratespressrecords.com)

Following last year’s debut LP, The Drowns, hailing from Seattle in the Pacific Northwest, have signed to Pirates Press Records. This new single is the first fruit of the relationship. The A-side title track has more of a gliding feel to it, while the B-side, “The Bricks of Ol’ Rainier,” has a guitar line with gruff and gang vocals that remind me of latter period Blitz. The closing part of this song has a cool Celtic punk feel, too, which I like a lot and makes this my favorite of the pair. There’s a definite street punk vibe going on here, distinctly different from another Seattle band, Success, which shares two members with The Drowns.

LES BOF! – Voila! (Dirty Water Records, www.dirtywaterrecords.co.uk)

A band from Scotland, playing French 60s Yé-Yé garage pop, singing in French? Well, yes, that sums up Les Bof! If you’re unaware, Yé-Yé (for “yeah yeah) was a style of pop music popularized in Europe, predominantly in France, in the wake of the popularity of the Beatles. Les Bof! play this style, but with a harder garage rock element fused with the pop. Nowhere is their lineage as clear as on the fourth track of the LP, “Ma Claque,” a poppy little number that could easily have been played by the Fab Four. The “yeah yeahs” are present in the backing vocals, but the guitars are just a little rougher, and the lead vocals more emphatic. The R&B influence of the whole genre of 60s pop is also very clear in “Je Suis Le Boss,” a song heavy on the juke joint blues feel, and featuring a jumpy sound and harmonica solo. “Liberes Moi” is on the other end of the spectrum, with less pop and more garage grittiness, especially in the deep fuzz in the bass and guitar, giving it a feel of the music that bridged the gap between 60s garage pop and 70s proto punk. “C’est La Vie” is an awesome track, blending garage pop, R&B, and early metal sounds. The harmonica solos on this sound like something that could have come from Black Sabbath’s first LP. And “Port St. Louis” is a pretty great jazz-rock-blues instrumental. If you’re a fan of garage pop and rock, 60s rock and roll, and the Beatles, give this a spin; I bet you’ll fall in love with it. Yé-Yé!

LUCY AND THE RATS - "Stick To You" b/w "True Romance" (Stardumb Records, www.stardumbrecords.com/Surfin' Ki Records, www.surfinkirecords. bigcartel.com)

Following up last year’s fantastic debut LP, Lucy and the Rats are back with a new 7” single, but this time the music is grittier, heavier on the garage and power than the on the pop. The A-side is the edgier one, more true to the Dirty Water sound, while “True Romance” is more of a power pop track, yet still much harder than anything from the LP. The sweetness is gone, replaced with a snarl. They’re both love songs, but rawer than any love song you’ve ever heard before. I miss the sweet, light power pop of the LP, but this is pretty good, too.

RAMONA – Deals, Deals, Deals! (Red Scare Industries, www.redscare.net)

Ramona is a band that likes cheap booze. I mean, they claim they moved from Seattle to Philadelphia because you can two drinks for $4 at some bars. Ramona is also a band that plays gloriously epic pop punk. They call it “sloppy poppy punky dancy sad times.” There’s nothing sloppy, though. The music is tight, bouncy, melodic stuff, uniformly up-tempo. The instrumentation is thick and rich, with a wall of guitar that’s all fuzz yet still manages to jangle. This album rocks hard from start to finish, and doesn’t let up for a single second. Ten songs in twenty-eight minutes, and I’m exhausted. I can imagine everyone being a sweaty mess after a live show. The band mix things up, too, with dueling female and male lead vocals, but the songs are always sung with a sense of urgency. Right from the start, with “Jet Fuel Can’t Melt Steel Hearts,” about dealing with a relationship with someone who isn’t really invested in the relationship, the songs hit hard, fast, and furious. And furious might be one of the key words here. There’s a palpable anger in many of the songs. Like “Hater’s Ball Parade,” which has a chorus that consists of “I hate you the way I hate myself, too.” It’s about the anger over a break-up, but also the anger at one’s self for the responsibility for it and the lack of courage to move forward in life. “Hard Sulks” talks about avoiding love to avoid the pain of breakup. “I don’t wanna fall in love / I’d be better off alone / Don’t wanna watch it fall apart / Don’t want a chance to disappoint / I don’t wanna fall in love / ‘Cause the more I feel the worse I feel,” cries out the chorus. The huge guitars impart a dissonance in places to underscore the pain that is sure to come. My favorite track though, is saved for last. “Mambo 69” has the coolest angular guitars, and the songs starts out with damning lyrics: “Pardon me, I must have forgotten that everything is fake!” There are lines here about things that are shiny and new, “but when you look underneath, you see it’s rusted through.” Everything sucks, the song seems to say. But hope isn’t all lost. “You can find your own family / be the person that you want to be,” the chorus assures. As fucked up as everything in the world is, as much as our own world crumbles around us, there is still hope. “If I lose sight of what I love, won’t you slap me in my ears / Clear out all the other junk, help me hear.” It’s our friends, our chosen family, that will keep us grounded and help us through the tough times. It’s a great sentiment, and the perfect way to end this amazing record.

THE VICIOUS CYCLES – Motorpsycho (Pirates Press Records, www.piratespressrecords.com)

The tracks on this new LP from Vancouver, British Columbia’s Vicious Cycles range from street punk to classic punk to garage rock to rockabilly. “Hot Dogs In The City” crosses garage, deep rock a la Motorhead, and rockabilly, throwing in a bouncy bridge that feels very out of place. “Life Insurance” is kind of street punk with a two-tone flavor to it. “Truck Stop Nun” has a bit of classic punk feel, including what seem to be misogynistic lyrics. “Time Riders” is a pseudo-surf instrumental that reminds me a bit of the theme from the old PBS show, “Wild Chicago,” which was a modified version of the classic “Apache,” by The Shadows. The title track has that dark horror garage sort of sound to it…sort of. “If It Looks Like A Cop” has a hint of an urgent feel that moves back and forth between garage and street punk sounds. Sort of, kind of, a bit here, a hint there. Overall, the record is pleasant enough, I guess, but I can’t get over how smooth and slick the whole thing feels, like a recreation of something historical for tourists. It’s too neat, too sanitary, and doesn’t feel real enough. It’s just too “sort of.”

VARIOUS – Antagonizers ATL, Crim, Noi!se, Rude Pride 4-Way Split (Pirates Press Records, www.piratespressrecords. com)

How many bands do you need before it crosses from “split” to “compilation? I’ve had arguments with people about this. I contend two bands make a split, and that anything more than two bands is a comp. Pirates Press continues their string of street punk releases, this time with a compilation EP featuring four bands. Antagonizers ATL, from Atlanta, Georgia, of course, serve up some simple sing-along punk with “Marching On,” a song that evokes a martial feel, like much working class street punk and oi. Crim come to Pirates Press all the way from Spain, and their style, while still in a similar vein to the first track, also mixes in West Coast sing-along pop punk and working class rock and roll, as well. Noi!se, besides having an exclamation mark in the middle of their name, have the most interesting track of the quartet on the record. It’s faster, more punk, more angular, and has undertones of skate punk. The acoustic guitar breaks in the middle and end of the song are actually brilliant, too. I would never have guessed them coming from Tacoma, Washington from the sound. Finally, Rude Pride, from Madrid, give us street punk but more melodic and better constructed than what we get from Antagonizers. If you’re into the modern working class oi/street punk sound, these are four bands worth checking out.


THE AGGROLITES – Reggae Now (Pirates Press Records, www.piratespressrecords.com)

The Aggrolites are a reggae band from – where? No, not Jamaica, they’re from Los Angeles! And the band is quite prolific, having put out several LPs and singles since forming in 2002. This LP alone features fourteen songs and clocks in at a massive 49 minutes! I was prepared to not really like this record very much, because, let’s face it, who really listens to reggae these days unless they’re stoners? I think one of the key secrets to the Aggrolites’ sound is that they don’t just play a retread of classic reggae sounds; they blend in some 70s soul sounds, too, in some of the songs. Nowhere is this more evident than “Say Or Do.” The song has the classic reggae rhythm, classic bass line, drums, and rhythm guitar, but the organ has a warm gospel quality instead of the bubbliness of typical reggae, and the vocals are pure soul. It gives the track a cool feel, smooth and solid. “Jack Pot,” too, is not a typical reggae song. It’s got the reggae beat, but the instrumental track shares more in common with jazz and funk than anything that ever came out of the Caribbean. And “Love Me Tonight” has a distinct 50s doo-wop influence lurking in the reggae beats. It’s a pure retro love song, with vocal group harmonies and all. “Western Taipan” and “12 15 or 50” are very cool instrumentals, with 50s lounge played on top of a reggae beat. “Why You Rat” has more of a calypso feel than reggae, sounding like something Harry Belafonte might have done if he tried to do a calypso reggae crossover song. There is some great traditional reggae, too, and not the sort of commercialized reggae that flooded the market a couple decades ago. “Groove Them Move Them,” for example, features a breezy feel and classic call and response song structure. And I think that’s what I like most about Aggrolites: they don’t succumb to the laziness of commercialized stoner reggae. They create something with more diverse influences and, therefore, more engaging. I was prepared to not really like this record, but The Aggrolites proved me wrong.

THE BARREN MARYS – Wired Wrong (Suicide Bong Tapes, suicidebongtapes.bandcamp.com)

The Barren Marys, from Philadelphia, blend old school punk rock with modern pop punk. Some of the songs are poppy, bouncy and joyful, while others sound more serious and harder-edged. Those bouncy joyful songs tend to have sentiments to match. “Good Time,” which is the opening track, has lyrics that simply state that “We’re gonna have a good time.” The music is simple, too, and full of the promise of happiness to come. Also in this category are the fun, silly punk songs, like “Guantanamo Bay Beach Party,” which tells the tale of the time the guards conspired with the detainees at the infamous base to take revenge on all the right-wing Republicans who have demonized Muslims. “ The CIA gave Bush away, they said they’d look the other way. / We dressed him up in lingerie, and made him sing a cabaret.” I mean, how fun does that sound? “On the Couch” is another frivolous, chipper tune, telling the woeful tale of taking in a woman friend who broke up with her boyfriend, only to have her smoke all your weed, drink all your booze and eat all your pizza. “I Wanna Be Unhealthy, Baby” sings to praises of smoking, drinking, and overeating. And “Perri’s Pizza” is an ode to the band’s favorite place to get delicious pies. Edgier punk songs are here, too. “It’s Gonna Suck” is some great old school skate punk that decries the current state of the world, and “Roaches and Fleas” is a dark, metal-tinged song about being taken over by bugs. OK, so that one has kind of inane lyrics. “Hero” is another great skate punk track, about the dumb and inept dreaming of being a so-called hero. And the album closer, “I Come From the Swamp” is another dark metallic one. I think one of my favorites, though, blends the two disparate styles together. “Fascists” is poppy and bouncy, but a bit edgy, and has political lyrics instead of dippy ones. The Barren Marys have produced another worthy LP.

BRACKET – Too Old To Die Young (Fat Wreck Chords, www.fatwreck.com)

Bracket have been around for over two and a half decades, having been born in the pop punk explosion of the early 90s. Like many bands of the era, they burned brightly, getting signed to semi-major label Caroline Records, and then unceremoniously dropped from the label. And even though Bracket have a large gap in their recorded output, they’ve apparently always been a band, unlike some who broke up and reformed when the time seemed right. The great thing about Bracket’s sound is that, while they certainly fit into the broad pop punk category, they’ve got a distinct harder edge to their sound, and the harmonized vocals a la The Beach Boys on top of that edgy music makes the sound pretty unique in the pop punk realm. It’s sort of like taking a frantic band like Hot Snakes, slowing and grunging it a bit, and mixing it with The Mr. T Experience’s sappy pop punk songs. I can see where Decent Criminal gets a lot of their influence now. The opener, “Cloud Ate,” is a great example of the blend of these styles. The guitars open with the promise of a hard-driving track, but that soon yields to something with more of a pop content, though the guitars are still anxious to rock out. When we get to the chorus, the full-on multi-part harmonies join the lead vocals. After a couple of verses, those introductory guitars close things out again. It’s the perfect entrée to the album and to the magic of Bracket. Other tracks that have that similar two-fisted feel mixed with the pop punk include “Canned from the Food Drive,” and especially the roller-coaster of a song, “Warren’s Song Pt. 29,” a favorite from this LP. The intro is uncontrollably raucous, while the main body of the song is actually sort of Beatles-esque. But even the songs that are a little poppier still have a much more powerful sound than typical pop punk. Potentially controversial statement coming: Bracket is one of the best bands on Fat Wreck Chords today.

GEOFF PALMER – Pulling Out All The Stops (Rum Bar Records, rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com)

It was just a month ago that Geoffrey Palmer released a teaser single that I declared as essential listening for all fans of power pop. The Connections member is now releasing a full-length solo LP, and it’s even better than the single! Two of the previously released songs find their way onto this LP, but the other dozen songs are brand new. The music is right on that cusp between power pop and pop punk, with some songs leaning a little more one way or the other, and it finds just the right sweet spot. A favorite track is “I Like Murder Too,” a pretty love song that has a sort of dark jangle to it. “Everything Is Cool” is another great one (well, pretty much all of them are), with great hooks and a beachy feel. I love the way the harmonized vocals glide and slide over the buzzy guitars. “Walk Through” leans more to the pop punk side of things, with a great crunchy rhythm guitar, catchy melody, and harmonized vocals. I guess one way to describe this is that it’s sort of like Ramones-core, but a little slower, a little heavier on the pop than the punk. However you want to describe it, this is possibly one of the best records of the year.

THE HAMMERBOMBS – Goodbye, Dreamboat (thehammerbombs.bandcamp.com)

Hailing from the East Bay in Northern California, The Hammerbombs are the essence of modern pop punk. The band is super tight and the songs are bouncy and fun. Bassist Jen Louie and guitarist Ilya Slabodkin trade off lead vocal duties on the songs, and the lyrics range from inane to sappy, like all good pop punk. Take the example of “Shower Beer,” the album’s opening song. It’s about how to handle when everything seems to be going wrong in your life: “There’s only one thing left to do / When the whole world’s crashing down on you / It’s clear, we’re all here, it’s time for a shower beer / Down a sudsy cold one and hose away your problems.” The verses have a dark sound, commensurate with all the bad things in life, while the chorus is bright and happy – shower beers are the solution to all of life’s problems! The chorus is perfect for drunken sing-alongs. Many of the songs are about relationships, good ones, bad ones, and those already over. “I Hate Cars” has Jen singing about the sadness of separation from a loved one, the hatred for cars being that they carry us away from the ones we love. The pogo-worthy song belies the desperation of the lyrics. I think “Full of Shit” must have been a catharsis, because the song is so full of rage without saying a whole lot other than “You’re full of shit. You’re so full of it / You’re full of shit, you’re a fucking liar.” The song with the most whoa-ohs is “Sick Of Me,” a self-deprecating song that Jen sings, recounting every reason why someone wouldn’t want to be around her. She also is featured on “Tiny,” a poppy yet angry track about double standards. “While I’m Bleeding, you get a pat on the back,” the song decries, and “You get a ride while I have to crawl,” indicating the unfairness in life. Another great song of anger and silliness is “Mother Mother Fucker Fucker.” The fun song is the truth telling about someone whose “shit’s on fire out on the front lawn” while you “crack a beer and watch it burn.” Jen brings us all hope with “Stupid Love Songs,” a sappy one I which she declares that even after being left emotionally damaged and cold from past failed relationships, we can find new love and new hope. Not every song has the classic East Bay pop punk sound. Ilya fronts a tune that blends pop punk and sped up grunge in “Cypress Structure,” a track that’s got a harder rock edge than most of the songs. And “Things Aren’t Going Well” has the feel of an early era Offpsring track, with a dark sing-along fist-pumping feel. It’s hard picking out favorite tracks, because every single track is a gem. Every single one. I know I’ve said this about a bunch of records already this year, but this album is sure to make my list of best releases of 2019. If you are a fan of pop punk, this is must-listen music.

HARVEY PEKAR – Paris Green (Steadfast Records, www.steadfastrecords.net)

For a sub-genre that reached its peak some twenty-five or so years ago, metallic hardcore certainly has staying power, just like the broader punk rock. Cleveland’s Harvey Pekar is doing their part to keep the music alive, following in the footsteps of Cleveland luminaries like Integrity. This seven song mini LP is their fourth release, and while most of this type of hardcore seams stale these days, with plodding melodies and ugly, roared vocals, Harvey Pekar does an admirable job of breathing new life into the style. Their PR calls them “thoughtfully brutal,” and that may be an apt description. The songs feel more well constructed and thought out than typical hardcore. Hell, they’re actually songs, unlike a lot of hardcore from back in the day. There’s melody mixed in with the intensity. Vocals don’t sound like a wounded ogre, so you can hear that, yes, they’re actually singing real words. The highlight of the record, for me, is “Glow Aplomb,” the fifth track in. It calms things down, adds more melody, and there are sections with actual singing instead of shouting, and places without wall of guitar noise, where you can hear a lone guitar playing single-string melodic lines. It’s the least hardcore song on the record, but even in the smoother parts it never loses its intensity. Other tracks, even though they update the traditional hardcore sound, do still maintain some of the standard checklist items of the sub-genre, like slow breakdowns and group shouts. But Harvey Pekar never sounds passé.

HETEROFOBIA – Quereos Ver El Mundo Arder (Drunken Sailor Records, www.drunkensailorrecords.co.uk)

Most of the punk bands I know from Mexico are from Tijuana. Well, that’s natural, since it’s so close to San Diego, and the two scenes are practically one. But Heterofobia is from the state of Nueva León, which runs south of the southern tip of Texas. Musically, this band reminds me of a hyped up Proletariat, a Boston punk band that was primarily active in the early 1980s. The dark, eerie guitars and primal drums have that goth-punk edge, but this stuff is more manic than the typical goth-punk from back in the day. The vocals are screamed, as if in anger, not just to be loud. The disgust and revulsion felt by the band comes through clearly. And just so you know, I wrote that before I started translating song titles from Spanish. Songs include (translations) “Smell of Death,” “You Disgust Me,” “Hell,” “Life of Lies,” and more. I think my favorite track might be the one most different from the rest. The title track, which translates to “We Want to See the World Burn,” is bright and bouncy, though not poppy. The melody is very simple and repeated over and over, but the brightness makes it seem almost optimistic – as if once the world is burned clean, it can start anew, perhaps without the mistakes of humans. Angry and intense, Heterofobia deliver the punk in spades.

KISHI BASHI – Omoiyari (Joyful Noise Recordings, www.joyfulnoiserecordings.com)

Kishi Bashi is the alias for multi-instrumentalist, singer, and songwriter K Ishibashi, and this is his fifth solo LP since his 2012 debut. I was completely unfamiliar with Kishi Bashi before I received this album, but I’m happy I now know. Kishi Bashi plays a glorious mixture of light pop, contemporary folk, and classical music. Guitar, mandolin, banjo, violin, and cello all make appearances on the album, sometimes apart, sometimes together. It makes for an interesting and unique sound. Some of the songs are light and breezy, while some are a bit more intricate. “Penny Rabbit and Summer Bear” is one of the lighter songs, with picked acoustic guitar and pretty harmonized vocals. It has a delicate airy feel, as befits a “summer bear,” mixing folk and pop genres. “Marigolds” is astounding, leaving me agape in amazement. From the plucked violins that introduce the song to the warmth of the organ, and the electric guitar picking up the line, to the perfectly multi-tracked vocals, this mix of classical and pop is just wonderful. “Angeline” is a pretty one, a moderately up-tempo song that’s really a disguised ballad telling a story. It has a country western feel, courtesy of the melodic line, violin, and the acoustic guitars, yet the two keyboards (organ, and a brighter one with a bell-like tone) provide a warmer contemporary pop sound. The close of the song, when the flute comes in, gave me goose bumps. “Summer of 42” opens with an intense string choir, sounding like something right out an orchestral piece, with wind instrument flourishes. But when the acoustic guitar and vocals come in with a folk song feel, the two blend exceedingly well. Eventually the strings fade into the background and the breezy folk takes over. The cello and strings that open “Theme From Jerome (Forgotten Words)” are beautiful, and “Violin Tsunami” is a piece with multi-tracked violin minimalism, a la Phillip Glass, underlying a waltz time song with epic vocals and synths. At the halfway mark, it becomes a dark ambient piece, full of mysteries and glories, and the multi-tracked vocals come back as a heavenly choir. As the track comes to its close, a single violin rises as if in praise. The closer, “Annie, Hearth Thief of the Sea” has both the feel of a traditional American folk song and a Japanese folks song.” It’s one of the most unique songs ever, on a gorgeous unique album.

KITTY KAT FAN CLUB – Dreamy Little You (Asian Man Records, www.asianmanrecords.com)

Do you like pretty indie-pop? Well, this is pretty indie-pop with a difference. The band is bigger, and the arrangements are thicker and lusher than the usual guitar bass drums outfit. There are keyboards, multiple jangly guitars, and lovely harmonized lead vocals. I hear saxophones sometimes, too. The title track opens the album, and is a cute, fluffy love song. I’m not sure that saxophone works here, though the vocals and guitars sure do. The keyboards really make “I’m Loving You More Than I Should.” The layers of the instrumentation give the song a thick feel, like you can get lost in the forest of the music, much as you can get lost in the forest of love when you love someone too much. “Every Island” is a favorite, a song about growing apart. The song has a big open feel, matching the growing distance between people, and despite the famous John Donne quote (“No man is an island), we are indeed all islands, ultimately alone. “You Got Me Modernized” is an outlier, different from all the other songs. It’s less indie-pop and more garage rock, complete with dark sounding keyboards with heavy vibrato and urgent saxophones. While Kitty Kat Fan Club doesn’t break a whole lot of new ground here, they do give us a nice new twist on the indie pop sound.

LOCAL DRAGS – Shit’s Looking Up (It’s Alive Records, www.facebook.com/ itsaliverecords / Starbumb Records, www. stardumbrecords.com)

The Midwest truly is the home of power pop in the USA, not Los Angeles or New York. Many of the best bands keeping this genre alive come out of the heartland, especially from Wisconsin. Local Drags hail from Springfield, Illinois. Their brand of power pop has a more modern indie rock feeling than most, blending pop punk and even some working class rock and roll feel into the ten songs on this debut LP. The music is great, especially if you’re a fan of the guitar-driven pop music that filled the airwaves from the late 70s to the early 80s, before synths and new wave took over. The one thing that leaves me confused, though, are the lyrics. I’m having a hard time understanding the meanings behind many of these songs. The one possible exception is “Hidden Track,” the third song in, which seems to use the metaphor of a hidden track on a CD for someone who feels invisible to others. What I do know is that the music is fine, almost universally jangly and hooky. There are a few outliers, though. “Double Bird” uses acoustic guitar and strings to provide more of a singer-songwriter sound, and this quiet one is the song most out of place amongst the raucous tracks. “Michelob Ultra” is another one that doesn’t quite fit in, less pop and more simmering rock – especially with the guitar solo that almost sounds like a sax solo from the E-Street Band. “Water Wings” is the pop-punkiest of the tracks, and a favorite. It’s faster and louder than most, with harder-driving guitars and pounding drums. And “Metal Gear Winter” is a slower one, sort of like a power pop ballad, I guess. Give this a listen, if you’re a fan of the genre. And let me know if you can figure out what the songs mean.

VERDIGRLS – Small Moves (Substitute Scene Records, www.substitute scene.com)

Verdigrls are sisters Anne and Catherine Wolk, along with guitarist Rachel Rossen. The Wolk sisters have been making music together since grade school, and have blended their classical training and their love of indie music into something quite beautiful. Using synths, drum machine, violin, cello, guitar, and their gorgeous vocals, Verdigrls create soundscapes that are part retro new wave, part dream pop, and part classical opera. “Daylight Savings” opens the EP with a delicately pulsing bass line and synth organ, which are quickly joined by a very 80s sounding synth and elegant strings. Then the otherworldly vocals enter, with one foot in the classical realm and the other firmly in the indie-pop tradition. The harmonized backing vocals are ethereal. Speaking of ethereal, the title track is just that. The synths are tuned to sound like French horns, and the song just sort of hangs there in the air, dreamily floating along, the harmonized vocals wafting through. The synths on “The State,” which closes the five song EP, quietly shimmer, soft around the edges, and the vocals have their most classical sound here. This is pretty, calming music,

VARIOUS – The New Testament – 2019 International Punk Killers (Dirty Water Records, www.dirtywaterrecords.co.uk)

Dirty Water Records is one of the premiere labels of the world championing garage and roots punk rock and roll. They, along with Slovenly Records, are doing more than anyone to promote this high-energy genre. For this sampler LP, Dirty Water have chosen six outstanding bands and given them two tracks each to show their stuff, one being previously released and one brand new. The Black Mambas, from right here in the USA (Los Angeles, to be precise) give us the full-on punk “Up All Night,” which channels UK bands of the late 70s, complete with affected accent. Their second track, “Baby I’ll Give It To You” sounds more like a band out of the 1950's rockabilly scene. Both are packed with power. New Zealand’s The Cavemen offer up “My Baby Knows” and “Too High To Die.” These Kiwis play music that would make the most hardened delinquent seem like an angel. The music drips with greasiness, and you just know these hoods are up to no good – but the music is so good. Everyone’s favorite musical alien watchers and French rockers, The Scaners, provide “No Place In Space” from their debut LP, and “UFO Crash.” The former has an urgency not unlike the Texas band, Radioactivity, while the latter adds synthesizer, sounding like a super-hyped up Devo. The Fadeaways are from Japan. Their songs, “I’m Useless” and “Nowhere to Hide,” echo the greatness of 60s garage rock. Also from France, Les Lullies blend the fast garage punk style with more of a roots feel on “You’re Doing Wrong” and “What You’re Doing,” the latter being heavier on the punk, and one of the more raucous tracks of the comp (if that’s even possible), mixing in early 80s hardcore sounds to the mix. Finally, Spaniards Nave Nodriza slay ‘em all with the most hardcore of all the punks on “Destrúyete” and “Muérete.” They remind me of another killer Spanish language band, Tijuana’s DFMK. Nave Nodriza just kill it! As Dirty Water Records says in their press release, “This sonic pestilence has gone global.” And thanks be to Dirty Water Records for gathering it all together in one place to infect us. If you haven’t been picking up all the ace DWR releases I’ve been praising in past reviews, do yourself a favor and get this one. It’ll leave you wanting more and more.

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CHARGER (Pirates Press Records, www.piratespressrecords.com)

Rancid’s Matt Freeman joins forces with drummer Jason Willer and guitarist Andrew McGee in recently formed Charger, a project created not “as a band so much as a musical challenge between two lifers in the punk scene who wanted to push each other to dig deep into their shared roots, influences and musical passions,” as they put it. And, if you’re expecting punk rock, a la Rancid, change your mindset now. Charger owes more of a debt to Motorhead, AC/DC, and Black Sabbath than any punk band. Yes, this is pure, classic, hard rock. Three of the seven songs on this long-form EP were previously released on a 7” EP last year, but all of them are hard-driving metallic rock music. Not a hint of pop or punk invades these hand bangers. Most of “Damage,” for example, sounds like an homage to Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” but with slightly quicker tempo. “All Kings Must Die” owes a great debt to Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades,” too. It has that same gliding quality, and the vocals throughout this record have a quality similar to that of the late, great Lemmy Kilmister. The musicianship is top notch, as you might expect from such musical lifers. So if you’re into this sort of music, you’re going to love this. To me, though, it seems too derivative.

CREATURE AND THE WOODS – Joshua Tree (Blind Owl Records, www.blindowlsd.com)

San Diego quartet Creature In The Woods blend together classic rock, Americana, and soulful spiritual music on their latest EP. The title comes from the place where the tracks were recorded. The band rented an Air BnB in the area, recording several songs, four of which are included on this EP. The opener, “Widow’s Waltz,” begins and ends with grainy sounding, haunting Native American chants, and in between is a grunged up, bluesy number that channels Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s classic 70s blues rock sound. Multi-part vocal harmonies and a warm organ sound are key highlights, even as a surf guitar tone and a gritty bass keep things dark. “Head Above Water” slows things down, and the Fender Rhodes keyboards give this track a deep soul feel. Vocals provide the primary instrumentation on this one, with the drums simply providing a steady tempo, and the guitar, bass, and Rhodes used for embellishment, to bend those notes, and create the atmosphere. “Oh, Well” is a quiet, sparsely arranged, delicate number, with deeply passionate vocals. The closer, “Two Golden Coins,” is a bouncy one, with full-on multi-part harmonies in the vocals. It’s a love song, in which one thought life was just about over until meeting that special someone. “I was just about to lay down / Just about to lay down and die / And I had two golden coins / Two golden coins over my eyes / You just danced and sang / And I was wild again.” The feeling is one of a spiritual revival, the Holy Ghost coming alive, the joy spreading. Maybe that’s how you’ll feel, too, after listening.

GREY GOES BLACK – Records Over Wire (Shore Dive Records, shorediverecords.bandcamp.com)

Shore Dive is a UK label that specializes in shoegaze, dream pop, and electronica. Central New Jersey band Grey Goes Black, who they recently signed, is a good fit. The dreaminess on this record, though, comes less from electronics or keyboards, and more from the instrumentation, the vocals, and hazy pace of the tracks. The trio (Matt Cosoni – guitar and vocals, James Malizia – bass and keyboards, Steven Moraghan – drums and electronics) show that a band can be dreamy without over-reliance on thick electronics. Cosoni’s vocals alone prove that, with aching emotions coming through clearly. An electronic percussion track plays alongside the drums, prominently featured on the opener, “It’s Not Just Another Night,” and lending a chill-out quality to the track. Maybe too chill, though. Each of the four tracks (and the bonus remix of “Can’t Keep Me Here Tonight”) is slow and lazy, lulling the listener into a trance-like state, Each track on its own is an interesting listen, and the music is fairly unique, different from anything other dream pop bands are doing. Taken together, though, the record shares too much in common with strong opiates, and listeners are likely to become disconnected from reality for a time.

HARRINGTON SAINTS – 1000 Pounds of Oi! (Pirates Press Records, www.piratespressrecords.com)

I guess Bay Area street punks Harrington Saints used to carry more weight than they do now. The album title and title track refer to when they were first playing bigger shows and were likened to Poison Idea, but playing oi music. They’ve slimmed down since then, but they’re still true to their roots, playing punk tock with a metallic edge. After a decade and a half as a band, this is only their third full-length LP, and it contains ten tracks of what they term “American Oi!” It’s American beer guzzling working class punk rock. The band is tight, the melodies are simple, and the vocals are shouted. It’s a recipe for a great live show, with tons of people are shouting in unison, I’m sure. But this sort of thing doesn’t translate that well to record. It comes across to me as too simplistic, and the monotone shouted vocals get, well, monotonous. Song topics range from political, such as “Red State,” which talks about the Republican dominated parts of the country, and “State of Emergency,” about the need for gun control, to societal comments, such as “Pressure” and “Broken Windows.” There’s the inevitable call for revolution in “Rise Up.” Then there’s the title track, which is a song about themselves. A lot of this is a sort of throwback to 80s punk. I know so many bands, even made up of younger people, who seem to be stuck 30+ years ago. And I don’t deny that there’s an audience for this sort of thing today, but it just seems stale to me.

RAMOMS – Problem Child (Pirates Press Records, www.piratespressrecords.com)

The Ramoms, made up of Jodi, Sharon, Molly, and Ginger Ramom, are part Ramones tribute band, part comic novelty act. They take Ramones songs and rework them for a new generation. The first track is a revision of the classic “Judy Is A Punk” that honors the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team’s new mascot, Gritty, called “Gritty Is A Punk.” Next up, “Boogie Not Snot,” takes the melody of “Blitzkrieg Bop” and gives it new lyrics all about the problems that come with nasal congestion. Finally, we get a straight-up cover of the classic “Rockaway Beach.” The Ramoms are talented musicians and singers that do a worthy job performing these songs, but I can’t help but think that their abilities would be better served with some original material. Write some originals, and I’ll buy those records!

ROBOT (RE)PAIR – End Transmissions (Night Animal Records nightanimalrecords.bandcamp.com, Rad Girlfriend Records radgirlfriendrecords.bandcamp.com)

Longtime friends Matt and Yami form the core of Robot (Re)pair, and earlier recordings featured just the two of them. In recent years they’ve added Harry and Brad to fill out the sound. Some of the tracks on this album have become staples of their live set, while some of them are new, written on the spot during recording. The band members declare Hickey, 50 Million, and Bust the Action to be the best punk bands ever and strong influences in their younger lives, though they admit they sound nothing like those bands. Instead, they have a loose, DIY pop punk sound and feel, like old friends just playing music together. Which is exactly what they are. Fuzzed and clean guitars duel for supremacy, while a deep bass thrumps along with pounding drums. The opening track holds two songs, the gorgeous indie-pop instrumental “Entering the Heliosphere” and one of the mainstays, “Serotonin Syndrome.” The former is pretty, gossamer thing that moves along aimlessly, like floating down a river, while the latter picks up the pace and becomes a great sing-along, with soaring vocals start and stop rhythm guitar. Some of the songs on this LP remind me of some of the material from the late, great Rumspringer, which makes sense; Matt played in that storied band. The guitars jangle loudly, as the vocals roughly glide over them. It’s the sonic equivalent of a choppy train ride, everything moving forward at a rapid pace, and you feel every bump in the rails, every uneven section of track, but it feels great. Another standout track is “Poverty Bonds,” particularly for the transition it makes from a rapid fire, jangly pop punk track to a mid-tempo song with the lead guitar creating an intensely dark, morose sound. “Origin Story” is one of the great standouts, a truly soaring song with a bit of country twang. The opening to “Dust It Off” is beautiful acoustic guitar, sounding so relaxed like someone sitting in their bedroom, noodling around just for the sheer joy of it. It then turns into another of the many great pop punk tracks here, with simple, yet intensely jangling guitars and those vocals with lots of sustained notes that give it that gliding feel. Many of the tracks have an introduction that sounds very different from the rest of the track. “Sonoran Death Rattle” takes this to the extreme, with verses that are quiet, but with aching tension of guitar feedback in the background, and the fast, jangly, fuzzy pop punk on the chorus. The whole record is a lot of fun to listen to, but I have one major concern: the title. “End Transmissions” makes it sound like a swan song. I hope that’s not the case, because I want to keep hearing and seeing Robot (Re)Pair play for a long time to come.


CORNER BOYS – Waiting For 2020 (Drunken Sailor Records, www.drunkensailorrecords.co.uk)

After a couple of 7” EPs over the past two years, Vancouver’s Corner Boys have finally given us their debut full-length LP. The music is as fun and bouncy as ever, with garage-like guitars and lots of silly lyrics. The sound this time around, though, is cleaner than the EPs, and though many of the songs are still spoken rather than sung, this time we get some actual singing, as well! I love the jangly garage pop sound and the snotty punk attitude that pervades the whole album. As I’ve commented on previous reviews of this band’s records, you don’t listen to Corner Boys for expert crooning vocals – singing isn’t their strong point. You listen to Corner Boys because they’re so damn much fun to listen to. I love “Joke (Of The Neighborhood),” one of the songs that are partially somewhat sung. It’s got a fantastic power pop chorus, and is highly danceable. The guitar tone is bright throughout the album, but especially on “Lies and Excuses.” It’s another song with actual singing, but just on the chorus. When I first saw the name of the album, I thought it might be a reference to Donald Trump and the upcoming election cycle. But “Waiting For 2020” is more about the impending apocalypse, making it sound like something to look forward to. Mid-way through the song, the air raid sirens begin to sound. It’s the most political these guys get. Another notable song of the album is “Don’t Come Back.” It’s the most retro garage sounding song, with as bunch of 60s lounge influence in the guitar sound, even as the song itself is more manic than lounge. It’s a favorite. But then, all these songs are worthy of being called favorite, they’re that much fun. Even though the Corner Boys still can’t sing.

THE DODGES – This One’s On You EP (thedodgesband.bandcamp.com)

First of all, big ups have to go to Will Castro, head honcho over at La Escalera Records. No, he didn’t put this record out; it’s self-released. La Escalera is not just a record label; it’s a family, a network of bands and people who support each other. And Will has been active in recent years of reaching out to new bands and those in other sub-scenes in San Diego, to bring then into the family, thus providing more exposure to bands that might otherwise have fallen between the cracks. The Dodges is one such band. They started popping up on bills of shows La Escalera was putting on in San Diego, and they instantly became a new favorite. This new EP is a follow-up to last year’s mini-LP debut, “Roll With The Dodges,” and it features four new tracks of music that defies categorization. It’s not punk or pop punk. It’s not quite power pop. But it’s bouncy and melodic, and it rocks hard. The title track comes first, starting with some old-timey piano before the band bursts in with a poppy mid-tempo number with a dark edge, sort of like Green Day mixed with earlier Social Distortion. “Equilibrium” is next, and is the most standard rock and roll track of the quartet, with a dark feel, crunchier, with less pop and more rock. It’s got a nice short acoustic break near the end of the track, too. “Susceptible” is the most power pop like song on the record, with tons of bounce and some great hooks. And “To The Top” is the closest the band ever gets to big sing-along pop punk. This track is faster and even more energetic than the others, with some great fist-pumping moments. The key thing that ties these songs together, and what makes The Dodges instantly recognizable and unique are the chord changes they use. They’re not standard pop punk, and the unexpectedness makes for interesting and engaging songs.

FLESHIES – Introducing The Fleshies (Dirt Cult Records, www.dirtcultrecords.com)

Do not be deceived! This is not a debut album, even though the title makes it seem so! Fleshies were formed two decades ago, and this album is the band’s eighth full-lengther, though it’s their first in ten years! The record is chock-full of fast and loud, dark, angry punk music. The instrumentation is thick, wall of guitar, and the vocals drip with rage. This is classic, in your face hardcore punk, with plenty of metallic edge in places. The dozen songs only take up 23 minutes, so the average blast starts and finishes in under two minutes. “Hold Me Up” is one of the long-form tracks, at just over three minutes, and is different from the rest in another way – it’s mid-tempo and it’s melodic! “Stone Mason” is another out of the ordinary track for the Oakland band, also melodic, but more in a pop punk vein. “Dirtier Harry” is hard rockin’, and the other track that exceeds three minutes, “Bombs,” is another slow one, this time harder rock but with a tuneful feel. The rest of the tracks are the fast and loud hardcore punk Fleshies are most known for, and it’s good to have them back.

MATT SURFIN AND FRIENDS (Community Records, www.communityrecords.org)

Matt Surfin, aka Matt Seferian, is a New Orleans-based musician, producer, and part-time pizza delivery guy. One of his great loves is collaborating with a variety of other musicians in whatever scene he’s in, and that’s the approach he took with his new band, Matt Surfin and Friends. “I started this band because I wanted more of that,” Surfin says. “For me, it was all about celebrating my musical community and connecting with the people I love.” As a result, Matt Surfin and Friends is less of a band and more of a malleable collective that shifts and changes as the need arises. And that means there are subtle variations in the sounds that pop up in the eleven songs on this LP. They range from the straightforward indie-pop of “Loser” (even with its unusual use of synth at the very end of the track) and “Bleep,” to the harder jangle of “Life of Luxury lol,” and to the quiet acoustic “Get Down.” “Truth” has a bigger sound, due to the keyboard tone and funky guitar and bass lines, while “Get Down” has a retro quality, sort of like the transitional era from power pop to new wave in the late 70s and early 80s. “Vibrochamp” is an upbeat indie-pop song that jangles, yet also has a dreaminess to it, particularly toward the end, as the synths come to the fore. The closer, “Summertime,” with its acoustic guitar and multi-tracked vocals is particularly nice, with a lazy, hazy feel. While the LP isn’t breaking any new ground, it’s sure pleasant to listen to.

NEGATIVE SPACE – Cruelty (Drunken Sailor Records, www.drunkensailorrecords.co.uk)

Post-punk out of the UK, with minimalist melodies and shouted and spoken vocals. The drums and bass throb, and the guitars fuzzily drone. Heavy reverb permeates everything. Tracks move along at a moderate pace, vocals are fairly monotone, and there’s a pervasive darkness that infects every track. I think the main issue I have is how plodding the end result is. There’s little variation from track to track, and the minimalist melodies that repeat over and over get tiresome. The reverb makes the vocals feel distant and removed, even though they’re shouted. The lo-fi of the recording creates a muddiness that’s hard to wade through, as well. I just couldn’t get into this one.

NO NEGATIVE – The Last Offices (Drunken Sailor Records, www.drunkensailorrecords.co.uk)

Last Offices refers to the care that is given to a deceased patient and their family. It’s a morbid, depressing thought. I’m not sure what Montreal’s No Negative means by this, but record is manic stuff, loud and relentless. It’s got a progressive rock quality to it, too, somewhat experimental. “Lawfucker,” for instance, has a piercing guitar right up front in the mix, and the vocals are pulled further back and muffled. It’s quite unsettling of a sound, like something from a dystopian future, as seen from a 1980s point of view. The whole album is like this, with a “melody” presented, followed by a lengthy jam, riffing on noise. This is great stuff – in small doses. It’s hard to take all of these songs back to back, though. After five or ten minutes of this, I’m exhausted and want some quiet and some pop aesthetic to calm me down. The track that stands out, though, is “Worm Feed.” It’s the shortest, at only two and a quarter minutes, it’s the fastest, and it’s the most “punk.”

SCRAP BRAIN – A Journey Into Madness (Drunken Sailor Records, www.drunkensailorrecords.co.uk)

The introduction that makes up the first half of the first track of this debut LP from the UK band, Scrap Brain, had me excited. It had fuzzy ambient music, electronics, and found sounds creating a gorgeously eerie atmosphere. Then the intro ended, and the band launched into “Deadweight.” And it’s an album of loud, noisy, chaotic hardcore punk. Vocals are shouted, yet buried deeply in the “mix.” There’s no sense of melody whatsoever, at least not that I could discern. Probably the best track of the album comes right in the middle. “Floundering” is super fast and edgy, with a bridge in the middle that slows things sound – and the whole track does have a melodic line that the vocals and instruments follow together. The other tracks are noisy, feedback laden, and tumultuous. Some people absolutely love this style, and if so, you’re going to enjoy the ten songs on offer. It’s not the sort of thing I go for, though.

TRUTH CLUB – Not An Exit (Tiny Engines, www.tinyengines.net)

Take some clean indie-pop. Add some dreamy synths, but not too much. Gently blend together, and then top with a relaxed casual feeling. Raleigh, North Carolina’s Truth Club makes it seem easy on this debut LP. Travis Harrington’s vocals range from lazy and laid back to tense and emotion-filled, echoing the changes in the backing instrumentals from light and hazy to loud and fuzzed out. When a band’s recording feels like they’re not working too hard to create a sound, that it’s just them playing some songs together, that’s when magic happens. And magic happens on this LP. It’s pretty amazing, too, that you can tell there’s not a lot here in terms of instrumentation, just basic guitar, bass, drums, and synths in the background, yet the songs sound lush and full. “Student Housing” has hints of retro goth feel in the guitar and eerie synth careening in the back, providing a dark mood. That is, until the reverb drops away and the guitars get noisy and punked out in the closing seconds of the track. “Path Render” is a favorite. It’s a slower track, with dreamy, wobbly guitars and Harrington’s easy baritone vocals. Past the halfway mark, things get more intense, with drums and noisy synth coming in. “No Planned Sequel” has such a great, relaxed feel, almost like indie-lounge, The title track is the sparsest of the album, yet is one of the best. This time it’s the guitars that provide the dreaminess, not the synths, which are absent here. The track has a breezy feel, even as it’s driven ever forward by the rhythm section, and parts of it have a math-like feel. The penultimate track, “Tethering,” alternates between quiet, dreamy ballad and noisy indie track, while the closer, “Dry Off,” reminds me in places of Interpol, and is yet another stand-out of the album. This is a very promising debut.

WEIRD NUMBERS – Minotaur Dreams (Dirt Cult Records, www.dirtcultrecords.com)

Weird Numbers is the new Seattle-based project from Zache Davis of Maniac and The Girls, Colin Griffiths of The Girls and Tourist, and Ethan Jacobsen of Tourist and Wasted USA. Talk about an incestuous scene! The four tracks in this debut EP range from the loping garage punk of “Dolphin Encounters” and “Obsolete Man” to the power pop on the title track, to the near glam of “Switching the Code” and the retro 80s post punk goth of “Uzis and Bikinis.” The songs are diverse, the music tight and professional without sounding slick, and provide an excellent debut. I would expect nothing less from a band made up of such luminaries.


BATLORDS – Lords of Shred (Shred The Gnar Records, shredthegnarrecords. bandcamp.com)

So you think San Diego is all sunny and beachy? Think again. There’s a dark, unseemly underbelly to San Diego. Look under enough rocks and you’ll find it. Batlords. As on past records, they’re continuing to terrorize the San Diego punk scene with songs like “Bloodeaters,” “Buried Alive,” “Witching Hour,” “Necropolis,” and more. The style of music is distinctly garage punk, with no pretensions of pop and no lyrics about difficult love lives, though “Buried Alive” has a definite Ramones-core feel, even with harmonized vocals. The sound is bigger than the three-piece they are, with dark, full, guitar fuzz, throbbing bass, and pounding drums. Guitarist Steven Baeza’s lead vocals are emphatic, yet deadpan, like the zombies and other creatures they sing about. “I’m feeling fine most of the time / The doctors say I’ve lost my mind / Rot, ruin, decay” he sings on “Feeling Fine,” as if it was important, yet no big deal, because that’s just life. “Burn The Dead” is a great old-school hardcore track, fast and loud, clocking in at only forty-nine seconds. “Ghoul School” is the longest song on the album, timing out at 2:51. It’s got the same garage-like wall of guitar, but the bass is playing a really great melodic line. It’s one of my favorites of the album just for that great bass line, and the soaring guitar at the end of the track makes this sound almost like an indie rock song. Another solid effort from the prolific Batlords.

BRAD MARINO – Extra Credit (Rum Bar Records, rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com)

Alert readers will recognize that in our last installment, Geoff Palmer of the Connections had just released a digital single and a vinyl 7” chock full of power pop goodness. Well, another Connections member has just dropped a new solo LP, too. Brad Marino’s “Extra Credit” is a trip back to when bouncy, melodic, guitar-fueled music ruled the scene. Images of legends like The Paul Collins Beat, The Plimsouls, and Elvis Costello come floating through my mind. The music blends classic power pop, classic rock and roll, British invasion, and the earliest new wave sounds into a coherent whole. The album opens with “Broken Clocks,” a rock and roll track that could have been written in the 1950s, complete with Chuck Berry style guitar solo, but it’s cleaner sounding, with some more modern flourishes here and there. “No One Else Tried It” channels early Rolling Stones with its blend of Brit rock and R&B influence. And “Wake Up Baby,” apparently co-written with Kurt Baker, is a power pop gem with hints of Elvis Costello’s classic style. I love the guitar jangle during the verses and the big bar chords on the chorus and the simple, brilliant bridge. “Fit To Be Tied” blends many of these characteristics into a single song, making the disparate styles fit together naturally.” I really love the up-tempo “From The Start,” with a simple roots rock chord progression and a Beatles-esque melodic line. “Broken Record Baby” is a hilarious anti-love song about a girlfriend who mistreats precious vinyl records. It’s not the best song of the album, musically, but lyrically I think most of us can relate to it too much. “It’s Not Right” mixes in some acoustic guitar touches on another classic power pop track. And the album closes almost the way it started: “Bye Bye Johnny” covers the Chuck Berry tune, so this time the influence is laid out for all to see. Once again, a member of the Connections has given us a fun, bouncy record that all lovers of power pop will enjoy.

BRADLEY PALERMO – Volume 1 (www.bradleypalermo.com)

Bradley Palermo is a Midwest transplant, having relocated from St. Louis, Missouri to Los Angeles to pursue a solo music career, a topic touched on in his song, “The Long Way.” The song is about how we might think we’ve made wrong choices in life, but how we learn from these mistakes, and they make us stronger. “I should have never moved to Los Angeles / I should have never quit my band / I should have never told them all to fuck off / When I had them / Eating right there from my hand / But I’m glad I did / Cause now I’m stumbling / The only way that I know how.” Acoustic guitar, steel pedal guitar, bass, drums, and harmonica are prominently featured on the ten songs on this collection of remastered songs, which had been previously released as singles over a period of time. The feeling is one of a country troubadour; the acoustic guitar and raspy singing feel deep and honest, but the steel pedal guitar is too Nashville country for my tastes. As a result, my favorite songs are those that eschew the slick trappings of country and focus more on alt-folk and Americana. I really like “Lost In August,” which uses ukulele and accordion in a breezy feeling song. Even the lyrics have an “island” feel: “We were as native / As the palms / No one cared where we came from / We are still here / And it’s now.” Live in the moment, the song seems to tell us. And “Trouble To Find” is just acoustic guitar, bass, tambourine, a bit of harmonica, and Palermo’s gritty voice, effectively telling a tale of paranoia and obsession ruining enjoyment of life. And the closer, “Hollywood, Hollywood,” is a dark track with acoustic guitar, bass, harmonica, and vocals, with hints of organ in the background setting a mood of desperation. As with a few other songs on the LP, this one tells of the darker side of life in Los Angeles, like the “quick-stop corner store, poison every night,” or the loneliness one often finds in a big city: “We ain’t friends or enemies, cause we ain’t got the time.” Some of the songs that use steel pedal aren’t bad at all – I just don’t think that it adds to the songs. It feels too slick and country. Some of the songs use synth, and I think these fare less well than the steel pedal songs. To me, the synth (and steel pedal) really only detract from the truth telling of the stripped down songs. I see a lot of potential here for some great Americana. The songwriting is deeply personal and effective, but I think the arrangements could use some work.

OTOBOKE BEAVER – Itekoma Hits ( Damnably Records, www.damnably.com)

My declaration stands: there is no such thing as a bad Japanese band! Otoboke Beaver, hailing from the temple city of Kyoto, play manic garage punk, with a sweet but nasty attitude. The four women who make up Otoboke Beaver met at the Kyoto University music club, and we’re the better for it. The mood shifts rapidly from short song to short song, and even within a single song. The songs go from simple rhythms to arrhythmic, from violent, anger filled hardcore to rap to grungy melodies and everything in between. This is some of the most creative music I’ve heard in awhile, and I don’t understand a word of the lyrics because they’re all in Japanese! The band name is apparently taken from a local Kyoto “love hotel,” and according to the band’s bio, the song subjects include bad love, devious boyfriends, and general sexism. That explains the anger. Just going by the sounds, a favorite track is “S’il Vous Plait,” a rockin’ garage-like number with tight coordination of vocal gymnastics. “Bakuro Book” has sections that are bouncy and melodic, and sections that just go crazy. “Introduce Me To Your Family” is a funky post-punk rap song, something you have to hear to believe. “Love Is Short” is all over the map, musically, with lyrics shouted with military precision and a section with a ska rhythm at double speed. I don’t understand what they’re singing on “Bad Luck,” but this one is my favorite of the album. I feel the anger and frustration in the rapped lyrics and the hardcore sections, but are those sweet melodic sections sarcastic? This song goes through more changes than any of the others, and I love that. “I’m Tired of Your Repeating Story” is pure punk rock and roll, and reminds me of Tijuana’s DFMK, except with Japanese razor sharp precision. OK, I’m going to stop here, because I’ll list every song, because every song is my favorite! It’s that great of an album, and it’s another in my now crowded list of candidates for best records of 2019, and we’re still in the first half of the year!

WESTERN SETTINGS – Angus EP (A-F Records, www.a-frecords.limitedrun.com)

It’s been three long years since we’ve gotten new music from San Diego’s Western Settings. The “Old Pain” mini LP was their last release, way back in 2016. Now newly signed to A-F Records, Western Settings has released a new EP to tease their new full-length LP, coming out this fall, and the first album since “Yes It Is” came out in early 2015. They’ve sure taken their time. So was it worth it? Hell yes! These new songs demonstrate a new direction for Western Settings. The songs still have an expansive emotional feel, but are brighter sounding than past efforts. “That’s Pretty Good” opens the EP, and where past songs were majestic, this song has bounce to it. Bassist Ricky Schmidt’s vocals have grown and matured, and his dynamic range is bigger and more impressive, transitioning from smooth and easy vibrato to his intense gruff singing that we know from the past. “Duckets Is Tight” comes next, and wow! The tempo picks up a bit, the bounce is bigger, and I hear influence of bands like Dead To Me here, yet as different as this is from other Western Settings songs, it’s still recognizably Western Settings. The title track adds keyboards to the band for the first time, and the song is an acoustic one. Organ drones in the background, and all we have is acoustic guitar and Schmidt’s pleading voice. This is a real showcase for him – there’s no hiding. The guitar tone is gorgeous, sounding more like a classical guitar than anything from punk, and the song is unexpected and beautiful. Yes, it’s been worth the wait, but we have a little more time to wait for the LP, and I, for one, am getting anxious, because if it’s anything like this EP, it’s going to be the best thing they’ve done yet.


PUP – Morbid Stuff (Rise Records,
www.riserecords.com)

PUP is a band that, I’ll admit it, I slept on. All my friends always raved about them, but I had never bothered to listen until fairly recently. And I liked what I heard. So I became excited for the release of the third PUP LP, “Morbid Stuff,” because it would be a great opportunity for me to jump on an excellent bandwagon. PUP songs are huge, loud, brash, exuberant, and angry. Gang vocals are shouted as much as sung. I can imagine a live show being a huge emotional release, and am anxious for their upcoming tour so I can experience that for myself. A lot of PUP songs seem to tell a story, and that’s unchanged here. The title track that opens the album is one such song, about two people who live in different worlds and have grown apart. “I was getting high in the van in St. Catherine’s / While you were rubbing elbows in the art scene.” The raucous number winds down with “I don’t know what you want me to say / ‘Cause back in the city I was on a tear / You had it all, you pissed it away / Back in the city without a care.” It seems like a big “fuck you” to people who think they’re better, but fuck things up and come crawling back. I like the feel of “Kids,” a song about the meaninglessness of life, “I've been navigating my way through the mind-numbing reality of a godless existence / Which, at this point in my hollow and vapid life, has erased what little ambition I've got left,” sings vocalist Stefan Babcock. But “fuck it,” is the sentiment. “And I've embraced the calamity / With an attachment and a passive disinterest.” The lyrics are of despondent resignation, but the music is joyous, as if reveling in the banality of existence. And this is one of the magical aspects of PUP, throughout the album. As angry or dejected or apathetic as the lyrics might be, the music is celebratory. “I’m still here!” the music seems to say defiantly. “I’ll take anything you throw at me and keep going!”

“Free At Last,” one of the lead singles, may be one of the most covered songs of all time – all before it was even released! The band posted the song’s chords and lyrics and invited bands to create their own versions of the song and send them in. Some were terrible and some were awesome. Clips of many of them made it into the music video the band released. The chorus either demands that people get over themselves or is an attempt to comfort them with the thought that they aren’t alone. “Just ‘cause you’re sad again / It doesn’t make you special.” Lots of people deal with problems. Yours are no different from others’.

A favorite track is “Scorpion Hill,” a track that opens and closes with a country folk sound, and in between tells another story, of life stuck in a rut, or worse, spiraling downward amidst layoffs and breakups. And again, the music is rowdy and uplifting, in dramatic contrast to the lyrics. But, as much as I love the sound that PUP has created, the song that is, perhaps, the most honest, the most real, the most full of rage is “Full Blown Meltdown.” With NOMEANSNO style slapping and rumbling bass and 90s post hardcore mayhem, the joy and celebration of the struggle of life is gone, replaced with a frenzy of indignant guitars pounding drums, and bitter lyrics that aren’t even sung. “Fucked up / Oh, who cares anyway? / With one foot in the gutter / And the other in the grave, I was thinking / How long will self destruction be alluring?” Babcock seems to question his entire existence and way of life, with “I’m just surprised the world isn’t sick / of grown men whining like children / You shouldn’t take it so seriously / It’s just music after all / And half the crap I say is just / Things I’ve stolen from the bathroom walls / Of shitty venues across America.” The music matches the mood to a tee.

Yes, I’m playing catch up here with Pup. If you haven’t hopped aboard, I strongly recommend you do, because this record will easily appear on my Best of 2019 lists.

AREE AND THE PURE HEART – Never Gonna Die (Wiretap Records, wiretaprecords.limitedrun.com)

Powerful, emotionally driven Americana is what Aree and the Pure Heart deliver, and they deliver it in spades. The passion is palpable, as are the southern working class roots and punk influence. But don’t be fooled into thinking this is a pop punk release, despite their presence on the Wiretap Records roster; this is pure Americana rock and roll, with a dose of Springsteen style arrangement, courtesy of a prominently featured saxophone on some of the tracks and the presence of keyboards throughout. Much of the sound can be attributed to vocalist Aree Ogir’s singing; the animated, heartfelt feeling comes through clearly. The grittiness of the vocals are complemented by the smoothness in most of the instrumentals; the band make the songs feel effortless, like this is just something they’re doing for the sheer pleasure of it. I think my favorite track of the album has to be the quiet ballad, “The Feeling I Get.” It’s just piano and Aree’s deeply passionate vocals, and you can really feel the deep hurt when he sings, “There’s an aching in my heart / Teardrops on my pillow like raindrops on a windowpane.” This isn’t generally the sort of music I seek out, but if you’re a fan of The Boss, Americana, and working class rock and roll, you’re sure to like this album a lot.

BRAVE THE SEA – The Kraken (www.bravetheseaband.com)

Brave The Sea are Ohio’s answer to bands like Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys. They play nominally Celtic influenced rock music that also has more than a dose of punk rock, too. I know a lot of people aren’t crazy about this kind of music, but I do enjoy it. I like Celtic music, and I like punk rock, and blending the two together can be a lot of fun, especially when done well. And Brave The Sea do it well. They have a gravelly pop punk aesthetic they bring to the genre, sort of like they’re real pirates. Mandolin and banjo join electric guitars, bass, and drums providing the strong folk element to these raucous sea shanties. And perhaps we should fix our nomenclature here, because these songs sound more of the sea than of Ireland or Britain.

A favorite track is “Siren’s Song,” which starts out as a sad ballad, but then turns into a raucous number singing the praises of the title character: “Liar and a thief and a damned old fish / But she’s the only one I want, she’s my only wish.” “Sláinte” is a short a cappella song singing the praises of booze, in all its forms. Right after is “No Whiskey, No Rum,” a huge sing-along, the sort of thing that makes pop punk so much fun, but with melody and instruments that lend a seafaring flare. The Spanish-influenced ditty, “Bella Donna” is another good one. You can feel the Latin fires simmering in this hard rocker. And “Down With Davy Jones” is a fantastic shanty. You feel like you’re on a 19th century sailing ship, pulling on the ropes to raise the sail, as the first mate yells out the song to get the crew all in time together.

“The Devil Brought Tequila” opens with a bunch of horns, and I thought I was in for a ska punk tune. Thankfully not, nevertheless this song is not one of my favorites. Nor is “Bottom of the Sea,” which doesn’t have horns, but is a hard rock track with ska rhythms, an odd combination. But, thankfully the songs I liked vastly outnumbered those I didn’t. If you’re a fan of this kind of music, check out Ohio’s old tars.

BREAKMATT FASTGYVER – The Light Inside Is Broken but I Still Deliver (https://bmfg.bandcamp.com)

I’m listening to this new five song EP on a Saturday morning, after having been at night two of La Escalera Fest 8, an annual music fest in San Diego run by the folks at La Escalera Records. The climax of the evening was a nearly hour long set by Nothington, the Bay Area band that has announced they’re calling it quits after a few final West Coast shows. So this was their final San Diego show, with only two more to go before they are no more. If you know the style of music that Nothington play – huge sing-along pop punk soaked with beer, with punks crowding the stage, arms around each other, shouting the lyrics along with the band – you’ll know exactly the sort of music Breakmatt Fastgyver play. Yet they aren’t from the West Coast of the USA, they’re from Milan, Italy! But they have the style down cold. Gruff vocals are prominent over big edgy pop punk instrumentals, with songs played at moderate to fast tempos. While Breakmatt Fastgyver are on well-trod territory, they do it well on this debut, so they’re off to a good start.

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

What would experimental dream pop sound like if it was made by bubble gum anime characters? Club Night is determined to answer that question on their debut LP, “What Life.” The music always sounds a bit off-kilter, a bit wobbly, and a lot sparkly. Sometimes these tracks sound like they were recorded underwater, and there are lots of little twirly bits of electronics darting about during the songs, like little fish scurrying about in the coral reef. Josh Bertram’s falsetto vocals are a unique aspect of the band, too, giving the songs somewhat of an urgent, otherworldly vibe. The overall effect is of controlled chaos, of trying to bring an order to things in order to cry out an important message. And if the music doesn’t leave you feeling disoriented, with its many rhythmic and time signature changes, the lyrics certainly will; they’re more akin to avant garde poetry than song lyrics. The end result makes for a fascinating listen that keeps me enraptured.

THE HECK – Who? The Heck!!! (Dirty Water Records, www.dirtywaterrecords. co.uk)

Netherlands garage rockers The Heck have finally released their debut LP, after a couple of teaser singles over the past two years. And, while those two singles were pretty solid 60s style garage rock, the LP has more of a hard rock and roll sound. Overall, it’s less 60s, more timeless hard rock, though a few songs have the retro edge. Like “For Cryin’ Out Loud,” which has a distinct power pop sensibility; even through all the rawness, it’s got a bounce. But then we get a track like “I Won’t Change,” in which the most garage part of it is the keyboard, while the rest of the song evolves into a hard rock jam. “Money” has the feel of an early rock and roll tune from the 50s, but fuzzed up a lot more. Then “That Moon” is a 70s jam. I think I like the singles and their more retro garage feel better than this LP.

LAS ROBERTAS – Together Outrageously (Rogue Wave Records, roguewaverecords.bigcartel.com)

Las Robertas, hailing from San Jose, Costa Rica, play a smoothed out dreamy version of psych/garage rock. Two of the songs on this EP are in English, and the third in Spanish. The melodic line of “Thunder Rider” glides hazily over garage power pop guitar, while the title track has more of a 70s Detroit rock and roll feel underneath the smoky vocals. “Pesadilla” closes the EP with more than a hint of Latin rock feel, a la Santana, but while keeping those vocals relaxed. Garage rock is supposed to be dirty and dangerous. Las Robertas are making music that sounds too clean and safe, and that’s my main problem with it.

MARTHA – Love Keeps Kicking (Dirtnap Records, www.dirtnaprecs.com)

It’s been nearly three years since Martha’s magnificent sophomore release, “Blisters in the Pit of My Heart,” was released. Three long years since one of the best records of 2016. Would the band from the little town of Pity Me live up to the high bar they set for themselves? Well, this is quite a different LP in many ways from the last one. The word “mature” is tossed around a lot, but I’m going to have to use it here. Martha’s sound has certainly matured. And it’s diversified. The songs feel a little fuller and lusher than the relatively raw songs of “Blisters.” But the exuberance is still there, the sheer joy of the music. And while the predominant style of music offered could be called pop punk, there is plenty of indie pop and even a bit of country in many of these songs. Right at the opening of the album, “Heart Is Healing,” opens with a distinct twang. The song topic is worthy of a pop punk country song, too, talking about “That familiar feeling when your heart is healing” yet “I just keep running from it all.” After a bad heartache, it’s sometimes hard to let go of the bad feelings, and sometimes when we recognize we’re starting to heal, we don’t want to. As always, Martha’s songs seem to revolve around relationships – all aspects of them, the good and the bad. “Into This” is a wistful yet bouncy tune that questions whether the other person is really “into this,” because “you only want to kiss me when you’ve had had a drink,” and sometimes “you’ll act like you’ve never met me.” Being just a friend is sometimes painful, but often that’s what we’re resigned to. “Wrestlemania VIII” is as bubbly lyrically as it is musically, communicating that giddy feeling when you make a really genuine connection with another person. The title track is a beautiful contradiction. The bouncy poppy music is loaded with hooks, and upon casual listening, hearing the title sung as the chorus, “Love keeps kicking, ooh yeah,” might make you think this is a happy song about the power of love to outlast any problems. Yet when we hear the full sentiment in the final verse, it’s “Love keeps kicking the shit out of me. And there’s no solution I can see.” “Orange Juice” is a song of self-doubt, believing one’s self to be the cause of a failed relationship. The song equates one’s partner as being “orange juice,” while you’re the ice that dilutes the orange juice, the cause for the end of love. This is less cheery than many of the tracks, being one of the few that has a melancholy edge to it, especially as the chorus cries, “I don’t know what to do now.” Yet the darkest song is reserved for the closing track, “The Only Letter That You Kept.” It’s a quiet, wistful track of a shattered love that breaks my heart. The songs are all excellent on this newest album from the north of England, and this record is likely to make my list of best albums of 2019. Yet it doesn’t have any tracks that stand out above the others, like “Blisters” did. Whether that makes the new one the better album or not is an exercise left to the listener.

THE MURDERBURGERS – What a Mess (Asian Man Records,
themurderburgers.bandcamp.com)

The Murderburgers have to be the kings of pop punk in Scotland. How many great Scottish pop punk bands can you name? I rest my case. Besides, the trio have mastered all of the relevant sub-genres of pop punk, and they’re on display on this, their latest LP. Some of the songs are catchy poppy stuff, sort of like the Bay Area version of pop punk. Some is more Southern California skate pop punk. Some are Fest style sing-along pop punk. But they’re all excellent, well-crafted examples. Lyrics cover topics like being ostracized from your family and loved ones, the intense felling of ennui that comes with a meaningless life, obsessing over failed relationships, constant thoughts of suicide, and all the self-loathing and misery that make pop punk songs so relatable. While there’s nothing groundbreaking about “What A Mess,” Fraser and the two Alexes do a solid job here, with harmonized vocals and catchy songs full of hooks. I can’t name a standout track, because they’re all equally top notch. This is a must for anyone who claims to be a pop punk fan.

GEOFF PALMER – “Giving In” digital single, “This One’s Gonna Be Hot” EP (Stardumb Records/ RumBar Records)

The Connection’s Geoff Palmer has a new LP coming out soon under his own name. And ahead of that, Stardumb Records has released a digital-only single and a vinyl 7” EP. And if you’re a fan of power pop (and you damn well should be!) this is going to be essential listening. “Giving In” is the lead single from Palmer’s forthcoming LP, “Pulling Out All The Stops.” It’s a co-release of Stardumb and Rum Bar Records, and the song is classic power pop, catchy and bouncy, with love song lyrics: “There’s nothing left to do / I’m giving up and giving in to you.” “This One’s Gonna Be Hot” is the A-side of the exclusive-to-Stardumb 7” vinyl, and it’s a harder, edgier version of power pop, reminding me of LA’s The Creamers from back in the 90s. It’s Ramones-core at its, well, core, simple melody, power guitars, and melodic bounce. “Punker Than Me” on the B-side picks things up even more with an up-tempo all-out pop punk song. It makes sense that pop punk would be in Palmer’s musical arsenal, as the New Hampshire native has played with New England’s The Queers, under the name Geoff Useless. It’s classic stuff, sure to get you pogoing. “That’s What You Do” is the other B-side track, and it slows and smooths things out quite a lot. This is more archetypal 70s power pop, with jangly guitars and a hint of British invasion influence. These songs certainly whet my appetite for the LP, coming out later this spring.

PETTY LARCENISTS – Stolen Chords and Lifted Riffs (Rad Girlfriend Records, www.radgirlfriendrecords.com)

Jesse Thorson is one of Minneapolis, Minnesota’s busiest musicians. On one end of his musical spectrum is The Slow Death, and on the other is Pretty Boy Thorson. Now he has a new band to bridge the gap between the two, and Petty Larcenists have their debut LP out. To give you a point of reference, they sound more like their Minneapolis brethren in Nato Coles and the Blue Diamond Band than they do either of Thorson’s other outfits. It’s less punk and more working class rock and roll. And man, does it rock! These songs come across as “real,” Thorson’s gravelly passionate voice booming through. “Loud And Ugly” sets the tone for the LP, with a mid-tempo rocker, and things really get going with “What Now,” a track about reaching the end of one’s rope. “It’s about all that I can take,” says the refrain. “You said it would be the last time / Yeah, that’s what you said the last time.” We repeat mistakes over and over in our lives, and at some point things reach a breaking point, and you feel it in this song. “Tiny Plastic Bags” is about the closest thing we get to a “power ballad,” while “The Kids Back Home” picks things up again, with another song about a dysfunctional relationship. That theme seems to run through many of the songs on this LP, but this particular one, with prominent keys and some great hooks, may be my favorite of the album. It has a fantastic power pop feel to it. The closer is another favorite. “I Can’t Get High” has a definite bounce to it, and the chorus comes the closes of any track here to sounding like The Slow Death. Recommended.

ROLLO TOMASI – The Fear Is Unsafe (Shakefork Records, www.shakefork.com)

Rollo Tomasi (not to be confused with UK band Rolo Tomassi) are from Chicago, and play an emotionally charged brand of post-hardcore. Some of the tracks are more metallic than others, and some of the tracks have more of a 90s post-melodic emo sound. The latter are my favorite of the album. And yet others are halfway between these styles. Like “Throw Stones,” the second track. It reminds me a lot of late 80s and early 90s Dischord sounds, in terms of chord progressions and vocal style, yet it’s got a much harder, edgier feel. Some of the tracks have a great math-like complexity, like “Pussy Hands,” a waltz time track with dueling guitars, pounding bass, and sections that glide contrasting with the more punctuated sections. “C-Section” is confusing to me, because it has sections of gorgeous, powerful, and melodic riffs, but sections of hard metallic rage. I’m not a big metal fan, so tracks like this and the opener, “Saltpeter,” don’t grab me. A track that’s just as hard driving but less metallic that does grab me is “Woodshed.” The minimalist repeating guitar lines provide a strong sense of forward motion, and this track is another that brings to mind not only DC bands, but also Chicago’s Gauge – which makes a lot of sense, given that guitarist Neil Sandler played bass in that seminal band melodic emo band. “No Secret” is one of the quietest tracks of the album, and I love how the production has guitars bouncing between channels. The chugga chugga guitar vs. simplistic melodic line is pretty awesome. I’m in love with about three quarters of this album, but the rest I could take or leave.

THE SCANERS – II (Dirty Water Records, www.dirtywaterrecords.co.uk)

These crazy French garage rock new wavers are back from Area 51 with another album chock full of songs of alien abduction, UFOs, attacks from outer space, and more. As with their debut LP, this sophomore effort sounds as if The Spits and The Ramones intermingled with the Dickies and Devo. The songs are pretty simple, but powerful, bouncy, and a lot of fun. This chaotic crazy music is even pretty danceable, and is an excellent follow-up to the self-titled debut. “Please Abduct Me” kicks things off in high gear, with a “1 2 3 4” shout, rapid-fire guitars, and swirling keyboard. I really like “X-Ray Glasses,” a track that’s somewhat slower than the others, but which has interesting rhythms and guitar fills. “Don’t Run, We’re Your Friends,” is a real standout, too. The frantically paced minute and a half will leave you gasping for breath. You can feel the chase, feel them closing in on you, and the guitar’s chord changes are pretty cool. “Pesticide Kids” reminds me of the amazing Radioactivity,” too, with another intense one, simple lines and pummeling guitars. “Run DD Run” closes out the album, the buzzy synth playing a slow dreamy line, until the drums suddenly fire, and the guitars are off at the fastest pace of any of these songs. The song has a dark garage punk feel, but it’s hard to keep up, the song moves so fast. The Scaners have done it again! Recommended!

THE SH-BOOMS – The Blurred Odyssey (Limited Fanfare Records, thesh-booms.bandcamp.com)

The further into this album I go, the more soulful it gets. This is the Orlando outfit’s debut LP, and it’s a killer. It’s got a raw garage feel to it, which makes for an interesting contrast to the ardent vocals. The opener is aptly titled, “Amidst Chaos.” It’s a primal track, mixing garage rock with a punk edge and even a hint of ska feel, courtesy of the horns and keyboards. The heavily processed vocals are a clarion call, with an urgent tone. As this track fades, “Detox to Retox” takes over seamlessly, transforming into the edgy rock & soul that fills the rest of the LP. The guitars sound like they came from a ‘70s fusion of rock and funk, the horns like punks took over a 60s R&B band, the keyboards are straight out of a psychedelic garage band, and the lead vocals are impassioned. And as good as these hard driving tracks are, I am a sucker for old school R&B, so the slower tracks like “Audible” slay me. Do you remember the movie “The Commitments” about a bunch of Irish misfits who try to form an R&B band? The climactic scene in which the perform “Try A Little Tenderness” is one of the best musical scenes in movie history, I think, and the passion in “Audible” approaches that, but with a sound that’s more raw, dirtier. “Dry Eyes” sounds like a punked up version of a 60s girl-group song, while “Walk It Off” will gut-punch you with its hard-edged funk. The album closes with “The Final Sleep,” a dreamy mysterious instrumental, with hints of Afro-Cuban jazz. This is a diverse, enjoyable release.

YES GABRIEL
(www.yesgabriel.bandcamp.com)

Yes Gabriel is the alter ego of film and theater composer Gaby Alter. This EP is his debut outside that realm, crafting songs for songs’ sake. The five songs on offer here are quiet, acoustic tracks, beautiful singer-songwriter fare. It’s not quite folk music, but not quite pop or rock music either; it’s somewhere in between. “Dear To Me” opens with just acoustic guitar and vocals, before brushed snare drum and electric guitar and bass come in. It’s a pretty song about love, loss, and regret. It’s touching, and very different from typical pop punk songs about failed relationships that come across my desk. “Rains of April” uses piano as the main instrument, and when the full band comes in, it’s got a lush, dreamy sound, and is a love letter to New York City. “You Got Through” brings back the acoustic guitar, and adds some pretty strings to tell a delicate tale of someone who had steeled himself against all the hurt the world can bring, but how someone was able to break through that and make him feel again. “Fall Asleep” joins acoustic guitar, piano, and strings for another song of deep love that almost feels bouncy. “Deep In February” closes the EP, and was the lead single. It’s the most theatrical of the songs here, opening quietly with piano and vocals, and slowly growing in richness, telling another tale of lost love. If you’re into singer-songwriter material, this is recommended. It’s very pretty.


STEVE ADAMYK BAND – Paradise (Dirtnap Records, www.dirtnaprecs.com)

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, www.drunkensailorrecords.co.uk)

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., www.mtstmtn.com)

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, www.drunkensailorrecords.co. 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, www.knowhoperecords.com)

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, www.fatwreck.com)

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. co.uk)

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, www.inner-ear.gr)

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. limitedrun.com)

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, www.dirtywaterrecords.co.uk)

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 records.storenvy.com)

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, thenationallights.bandcamp.com)

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, www.dirtcultrecords.com)

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 records.com)

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, www.wichita-recordings.com)

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, tinymagneticpets.bandcamp.com)

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, www.piratespressrecords.com)

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, www.autumntone.com)

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, www.dirtnaprecs.com)

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, www.piratespressrecords.com)

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 records.co.uk)

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, www.mutantleaguerecords.com)

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!

EERIE WANDA – Pet Town
(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, www.rockstarrecords.de)

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, www.dirtywaterrecords.co.uk)

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!

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BAND ARGUMENT – Patchwork (bandargument.bandcamp.com)

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. bandcamp.com)

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, wiretaprecords.limitedrun.com)

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, www.jigsaw-records.com)

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, www.lavasocksrecords.com)

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, www.rockstarrecords.de)

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, www.drunkensailorrecords.co.uk)

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 records.com)

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…

RATIONS NOISE / UNKNOWN RIVER DRIVER – Split 12” LP (86’d Records, www.86drec.com)

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!

For more Paul Silver reviews, click here...


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