Jersey Beat Music Fanzine
 


ROUND EYE – Culture Shock Treatment
(www.paperandplastick.com)

When last I saw our intrepid rag-tag band of misfit ex-pats, they had just arrived in Los Angeles to embark on their summer tour of these United States. But before that tour could begin, they had a serious task to complete: the recording of their new album, the follow-up to the excellent 2017 release, “Monster Vision.” I met with them on the eve of entering the studio of the legendary Mike Watt, he of The Minutemen fIREHOSE, and The Missingmen, unofficial mayor of San Pedro punk. We met as they feasted on burritos and other Mexican cuisine at a local taco shop, and then talked over some beers at a nearby dive bar, an R&B cover band playing old favorites to a small handful of dancing patrons. Little did I know what they had cooked up for the next few days with Watt. But now it’s here, and the international group (members hail from all over the US and Europe, but all live in Shanghai) have certainly outdone themselves with this album. Where “Monster Vision” was a commentary on American junk culture, “Culture Shock Treatment” speaks to the culture of oppression and subjugation in today’s China.

The title track opens the LP with some pounding noise, like that of a rocket ship blasting off, Mac’s sax wailing maniacally, Jimmy Jack’s kick drum and Livio’s bass frantically pounding out the beat, and a sonic Wall that the Orange One would covet, constructed out of Chachy’s and James’ guitars. This mayhem eventually resolves into a crazed song that riffs off of 1920s pop music, but twisted by modern rock and roll. As the song progresses, the pop base dissolves and the drugs begin to kick in, everything getting more and more twisted and off kilter. The band, though, is super tight. Whew! Now we know what sort of ride we’re in for over the next 40 minutes, as the music slows and the rocket ship crash lands. And the sonic assault doesn’t let up for a single second; the band are all in, so you better be fucking ready.

One of the key things I notice on this LP is Livio’s bass sound and how prominent it is, driving these songs with a great tone. This makes eminent sense, since the album’s producer is a well-known bass player. In a way, the use of the bass on this album reminds me of the great NOMEANSNO. Especially on “Smokestack: and “5000 Years,” the latter of which blends the sounds of that band and ALL’s style to create something funky and jazzy, but with all the power and frenzy of rock and roll, as only Round Eye can provide. Besides the talent of the musicians and the production provided by Watt, another aspect of this album that makes it sound so good is the mixing. It’s got a better balance than past efforts, and this is thanks to the ears and hands of none other than Bill Stevenson, he of Descendents and ALL.

One of my favorite tracks is also the shortest. “Magaman,” who must be a giant orange kaiju, features furious and convulsive music, with harmonized gliding vocals moving at one quarter the speed of the instruments, just like the real Orange one and his followers have about one quarter the understanding of the rest of the population. It also has some great start-stop sections that, like a couple other tracks, remind me of ALL and NOMEANSNO. Another favorite is “Armadillo Man,” probably the poppiest and most melodic song of the LP. The bass and guitar play some unison lines, and the whole song sort of hops and bops along. “Circumstances” has an intense blues-rock feel to it, but it’s accelerated and heightened, as if strung out on amphetamines. “Catatonic (I’m Not A Communist)” is the closest thing this band does to Ramones-core and is a ton of fun. Another one that’s a lot of fun is the Italian language surf track “Uomo Moderno” (Modern Man). Like all the other tracks on the LP, it takes a style of music and twists it. Here, one of those twists is the vocals on the chorus sounding like they’re under water. The waves have defeated the surfer. And “You’re So Fucking Cool” has the surprise of including a bit of “Three Cool Cats,” a song originated by The Coasters and also recorded by The Beatles. And the closer, “Endless Sleep,” is another surprise. It’s a slow retro 50s burner, like an Elvis song that’s heard on an acid trip. It has a deep guttural bass growling through heavy reverb as Chachy’s vocals wail and plead. There’s a dark nightmarish dreaminess to this track, and there’s a synth that shrieks in the background on occasion. So cool.

Round Eye was supposed to be on a European tour to promote this album right now. Sadly, that’s cancelled, like so much else in the pandemic. But you absolutely need to hear this, because it’s likely to end up on some year-end “Best of 2020” lists. It certainly is Round Eye’s best album to date, by far.

THE REAL MCKENZIES – Beer and Loathing (Fat Wreck Chords, www.fatwreck.com)

I love punk music. I love Celtic music. How can I not love The Real McKenzies? The Canadian band formed in 1992, long after The Pogues began, yet they’re still considered to be one of the progenitors of the Celtic punk sub-genre, melding traditional Scottish melodies with a rocking punk edge. And not only that, there’s a piper in the band, giving it an authentic sound. And that’s how the album opens, with the Highland pipes. What may or may not be a tenor drum joins in with a steady beat, and then the guitars and bass provide a martial rhythm to guide the keening of the pipes. The short album intro is called “A Widow’s Watch.” What follows is eleven more tracks, some with a strong Celtic influence, some with a stronger pull to the punk side of the equation, but the band puts their hearts into every song, and you can feel it. My favorites, of course, are the ones with a stronger Celtic influence. “Overtoun Bridge” is a lovely mournful tune about a real place The Overtoun Bridge is a structure over the Overtoun Burn on the approach to Overtoun House, near Dumbarton in Scotland. It’s the site of reputed paranormal activity, and many dogs have been reported to have leapt to their deaths from the bridge. More sinister, in October 1994, a man threw his two-week-old son to his death from the bridge because he believed that his son was an incarnation of the Devil. He then tried to commit suicide by jumping off the bridge. In this song we hear of a “best friend who was at his wits end / His outlook was rather grey / So I took him for a walk and a little pep talk / Down over Dumbarton way.” As the song goes, he “went over the Overtoun Bridge.” Whether that means he went over the side of the bridge or not is unclear. The acoustic guitars jangle darkly against the soaring electric guitars, the melody something you might hear at a pub session. Though “Cock Up Your Beaver” might sound like a crude song title, it’s a song and a poem written by the great Scottish poet Robert Burns in 1792. Here the beaver refers to a fancy hat made of felted beaver fur. The traditional melody is played lightly and delicately on acoustic guitars and what I think is a recorder. Paul McKenzie’s gently gruff vocals give just the right touch to this song, especially as the full band comes in and the music swells with glory. I also like “Whose Child Is This,” a song that’s evenly split between the band’s two sides. It has a Celtic melody, but it rocks pretty hard. “The Battle of Col. Hornburg” sounds like Bad Religion playing Celtic punk. And the Hornburg may or may not refer to the Battle of Helms Deep, from the Lord of the Rings books.

Other songs are pretty much straightforward poppy pub rock. Songs like “Big Foot Steps,” though it has hints of pipes in the mix, will be more familiar sounding to fans of pop punk. “Nary Do Gooder” mixes in elements of skate punk for something that’s faster and more raucous. “Death of the Winnipeg Scene” has no Celtic influence but lots of classic metal and classic rock in it. And the title track is an interesting song, reminding me of a punk rock take on Pachelbel’s “Canon in D.” If you like pub rock, punk, and Celtic music and you can’t make up your mind which you want to hear, throw on some of The Real McKenzies, because your itch will get scratched either way. It’s music for a good time.

LUCY AND THE RATS – Got Lucky (Stardumb Records, www.stardumbrecords.com / Dirty Water Records, www.dirtywaterrecords.co.uk)

After releasing a few singles, Lucy and the Rats are back with their sophomore LP of garage-like power pop sweetness. I’ve made the comparison before, but it’s still apt. If you’re familiar with The Sugar Stems, a power pop band from Wisconsin, you’ll have an idea of what Lucy and the Rats sound like. Jangly guitars blend easily with Lucy’s tuneful vocals, the luscious melodies bouncing around. When the guitars aren’t quite so jangly, they have a bit of a garage edge, too. Some of the songs have a retro feel, too, like “Real Thing,” which has a 50s rock and roll bent to it. “Time to Time” is a favorite, with a real driving beat to it, a nice bounce, and a pretty pop melody. The great single, “Dark Clouds,” that came out earlier this year is on this LP, too, and still holds up well. The song from which the album takes its title, “Lucky,” is very different rom the rest, and it’s just lovely. It features a stripped down arrangement of acoustic guitar, tambourine, and Lucy’s harmonized multi-tracked vocals. And I really like “Sorry,” a track that uses organ-tuned keyboards to provide a bit of warmth, contrasting with the sassy guitars. Lucy and the Rats is fresh air in these dark times.

ILS – Curse (Pogo Records, pogorecords.bandcamp.com)

Pronounced like “ills,” Ils are the embodiment of the 1990s, taking pounding industrial sounds of Ministry and melding it with the post hardcore of Quicksand and Refused. The music is best listened to loud. It’s powerful and loaded with tension. Ils are unrelenting, in your face, no fucks given, no shit taken. The repetition of melodic lines provides an unexpected sense of minimalism amidst the multi-faceted cacophony. “Bad Parts” opens things with a 3/4 time meter, with a hard down beat at the start of each measure, hammering, with the other two beats reeling back in for another blow. “Curse” is a favorite for its odd juxtaposition of dark country blues themes with hard and heavy industrial hardcore rock and roll. The whirling buzz in triplets of the guitars against the 4/4 beat in “Northstar” is mesmerizing, as we hear “It just doesn’t matter / The girl’s got a mohawk” shouted at us. And the sludgy distorted bass grinding underneath the shrieking guitars on “It’s Not Lard But It’s A Cyst” creates a song that’s so taut, so pulled tight, you can feel it straining and about to snap. The one song that’s somewhat different from the others is the closer, “For The Shame I Bring.” It’s got less of the industrial influence, and it brings in flowing post-emo influence into the post hardcore mix. The kind of music Ils make is something I can enjoy, usually in smaller doses. A full album might be pushing it for me, but for fans of this sort of stuff, Ils do a fantastic job.

 

NOi!SE – “Lost” (Pirates Press Records, www.piratespressrecords.com)

Tacoma street punk/American Oi band Noi!se are back with a brand new single. “Lost” is dark song about how much we, as a people, have changed, getting greedy, celebrating ignorance, acting out of anger and hatred, and how we’re self-destructing to the point where we can’t even recognize who we are anymore. The bitterness and resentment of the lyrics are echoed in the powerfully foreboding and sinister sound of the music. This is the good kind of noise.

 


CORIKY (Dischord Records, www.dischord.com)

When Ian MacKaye, Amy Farina, and Joe Lally decided to start playing together in 2015, they kept it quiet. They didn’t play their first show until late 2018, a benefit show at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. They still had no name; they were simply billed as a “new band.” The announcement of this show was the first inkling the public had that this band existed. It wasn’t until more than a year later that the band name was revealed – Coriky – and a debut LP announced. Complaining that “every band name has been taken, and they all have lawyers,” at that first show, the band came up with a cryptic name that no one can decipher. So, Coriky it is. And as much as the trio will hate comparisons to MacKaye and Lally’s earlier band, it’s impossible not to mention them. Musically, you can hear the lineage of the members of this troika. The songs have the rhythms and melodic lines similar to Fugazi, but there’s more restraint, less hard-edged aggression, more like The Evens. It’s the difference between, say, a powerful raw whiskey and one that’s been mellowed and tamed through aging in wood. There are a few surprises, though.

The lead single, “Clean Kill,” opens the LP, and it at once sounds both fresh and familiar. Simple, beautiful guitar plucking opens the track, and when the bass and drums come in it’s quiet and delicate. MacKaye’s lead vocals have done nothing but improve over the years, and the rough brusque ire has yielded to something smoother and more tuneful, but no less robust. There’s a bridge close to the end of the song that briefly gets bigger, then very quiet again, before exploding into the big gang vocals and start-stop bass and guitar we know and love. The lyrics seem to refer to drone strikes, cold, distant, impersonal, and computer controlled. “It’s a clean kill, but it’s not clean,” the chorus says. “Soap and water will never get rid of that spot that she’s got,” the song says, as if to say that the blood can never been washed from the hands of those who participate in this icy and brutal practice. “Too Many Husbands,” too, has a very familiar Dischord/DC sound, yet the song strikes a surprising balance between a relaxed feel and a wonderful tension. It’s the sparseness of the instrumentation, the smooth power of Farina’s vocals, and the cool ease of Lally’s bass that give the song its relaxed feel, and the manic energy and brightness of MacKaye’s guitar work that gives it its edginess.

One of those surprises I mentioned comes in the song, “Say Yes.” It’s got a funky rhythm and bass line, and Farina’s lead vocals are both direct and enticing. MacKaye’s manic guitar solo contrasts wonderfully with the simple rhythm section, and the backing vocals are nice and subtle. I love the eeriness of “Have a Cup of Tea.” Using the bass to primarily drive the song harkens back to Fugazi’s “Waiting Room,” but the song here is much darker sounding, calmer, and the drumming is much more intricate. The lyrics seem to reference the inaction of society in the face of much injustice and damage being done to the country and planet. “What to do? What to do? What to do? Have a cup of tea,” as if ignoring the problems will make them go away. “Last Thing” has an interesting feel that teeters between Americana and a reggae-like folk-rock feel. And “Inauguration Day” has a latter day Sonic Youth angularity to it, as the song contrasts the “pageantry” of Inauguration Day 2017 against the throngs of people protesting that fateful day.

Though mellowed and ripened with aging, a fine whiskey can still have powerful flavors. Coriky, through their debut LP, show that though they, too, have mellowed and ripened, they can still pack a punch.

CHAIN WHIP – 14 Lashes (Drunken Sailor Records, www.drunkensailorrecords.co.uk)

While this LP originally came out nearly a year ago, it’s just now getting a vinyl treatment from the kind folks at Drunken Sailor Records. And if you’re a fan of hardcore punk of the sort that was made back in the early to mid 1980s, this is a must-have record. The number of lashes in the title refers to the fourteen songs that will smack you hard across the back and make you bleed, over a period of a mere twenty minutes. These are furious blasts of ire spewing from your speakers, fast and loud, super tight and powerful. Vocals are shouted with such reckless abandon, you practically see the veins in vocalist Josh Nickels neck and the sweat dripping off him. The strength and power don’t let up for a single second, leaving you a heaving mess by the end of the closing track, “Code White.” Stand-outs include the anti-nuclear “HawaiiCBM,” “Concrete,” which starts out slow and deliberate, then finishes with intense, manic speed, “Smug,” which has an amazingly brilliant guitar break and powerful finish, and that closing track, which has an incredible urgency to it. I won’t even be going out on a limb here to say that Chain Whip ranks right up there with some of the best hardcore punk bands from back in the day, and this LP will show you why.

TRANSISTOR 21 – Start Thinking!
(transistor21nj.bandcamp.com)

Transistor 21 is a self-described “alternative rock band” from Chatham, NJ. These four youngsters began their band just over a year ago, sharing an affinity for 90s alternative rock and grunge, and inspired by bands like Weezer, Brand New, Nirvana, Senses Fail and MCR. They released a four song EP early this year, followed by a split and a few singles, but “Start Thinking!” is their debut full-length, recorded in their bedrooms and basements. Over the ensuing nine songs and thirty-two minutes (really eight songs and thirty-one minutes, since the opening track contains only joking “announcements” about how to enjoy the “show”), Transistor 21 stay true to their hearts and offer up music that might as well have been made in the Pacific Northwest in the early 1990s. This is particularly true on the super-heavy opener, “Absolved.” “The Bombastic Song That Nobody Heard Anyway” has its bombastic moments, particularly in the opening and chorus. The verses are somewhat quieter, in a similar structure to that of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” On most of the tracks, Transistor 21 has the grunge guitar tone down pretty accurately. It gives the songs that super heavy, fuzzed out sound of grunge, which in turn, they took from early metal bands like Black Sabbath. As one might expect from such a young band (I believe the members are all still in high school), the song lyrics are fairly simplistic, but that will change with life experience. Musically, it’s great to see kids who still love guitar-fueled rock music rather than computer-generated beep-boop dance jams, pop, or what gets called “rap” music today. “Summertime” is probably the best song of the album, with more of a bouncy feel than the other tracks. I can tell, though, that this was not professionally recorded. Though it sounds clean enough, the mix is way off, with vocals way too high, and drums and bass sounding like they were recorded in a bathroom very far away. I have a feeling I would like this record better if it was properly recorded and mixed. But I would encourage Transistor 21 to keep at it. They’re on the right track.


BAD COP / BAD COP – The Ride (Fat Wreck Chords, www.fatwreck.com)

I’ve made no secret of the fact that Bad Cop/Bad Cop is one of my favorite bands. The blend of snot and sweetness, the amazing multi-part harmonies, and the strong social and political statements of the songs all contribute to music that’s uplifting, educational, and important. The production is strong, making the songs sound fantastic, but without losing a bit of raw power. Topics covered include the power within each of us to create the change we want to see (“Originators”), how America has turned its back on refugees trying to find some freedom and safety (“Certain Kind of Monster,” “Pursuit of Liberty”), self-identity (“Simple Girl,” “Breastless”), changing your life through discovering self-love (“Perpetual Motion Machine”) and more. The loping melody and complex harmonies on “Perpetual Motion Machine” are astoundingly good. The song is slower than the others, and the rhythm section hammers more heavily, but the melody is lighter, and Jennie Cotterill’s vocals absolutely soar. “Community” is a glorious sounding tribute to those we have as our “chosen family.” You can hear the joyfulness in this one. Bassist Linh Le’s “Pursuit of Liberty” is a heartbreaker, speaking of how our country has turned its back on refugees, sending them back into the dangers they fled. It references her own family’s flight from Viet Nam to this country, and how in today’s climate, they are still treated as outsiders. And it references our long history of ill treatment of non-white immigrants with a mention of Manzanar, the infamous “internment camp” into which Japanese Americans were forced during World War II. The song has an aggressive skate punk sort of feel, and a fittingly dark melody. Another heartbreaking song is “Mirage,” which contains a lyric from which the album gets its title. I interpret the lyrics to refer to the striving for a goal, living your life toward an aim, only to be disappointed when it’s achieved. “Well imagine my surprise / When I finally arrived to find / Much worse than a mirage / Just a cheap slapdash façade / Painted up like the city of my dreams.” We need to not worry about disappointments, though, as the song says, and just live our lives as best we can. “There is no destination, there is only the ride.” Life is what we make of it, so just live and enjoy the ride. Musically, it’s less punk and more rock and roll with a beautiful haunting melody. I am in love with the song that’s clearly Stacey Dee’s autobiographical “Simple Girl.” It speaks to living through ups and downs, some serious scrapes with death, and hitting rock bottom, but coming back stronger than ever. It’s defiant, too, declaring this is who I am! The music is bright and upbeat, loaded with energy and fun, representing a renewed love of life. I especially love the music video that was made for the song, in which the band features numerous strong women who are living life on their own terms (check it out here: Simple Girl video). The album closes with the anthem, “Sing With Me.” It’s not punk at all, and it harkens back to the tradition of the love and peace songs of the late 60s and early 70s. Focusing on acoustic guitar and piano, the band’s beautiful harmonies are laid bare on full display. The song is an admonition, a plea to all of us to find our own voices and give of ourselves to help make the world better. Just as Bad Cop/Bad Cop does. Did I mention they’re one of my favorite bands? I’m not sure how they do it, but each record keeps getting better than the one before.

COBRA SKULLS – Eat Your Babies (Red Scare Industries, www.redscare.net)

Originally self-released in 2005, “Eat Your Babies” was a seven song EP, hastily recorded in a few hours, with only 500 copies made and sold. Over the years the band has had repeated requests to re-release it, so Red Scare has surprised the world with this new edition, now with three extra songs that were not on the original. You can hear the rawness in these songs, recorded when the band was still freshly formed. And while the Reno band went on to polish their sound and became pretty popular in punk circles, you can hear the band that was to be in these remarkable recordings. There’s a country twang, too, in these mid-tempo punk songs, giving the songs hints of rockabilly that the band became known for (though, as Brendan Kelly reminds us in some “liner notes,” they were emphatically not a rockabilly band). And though these recordings are somewhat green, they’re still loaded with humor and leftist politics. The album opens with the dark “Cobra Skulls Broadcasting Co.,” which itself starts with the most famous clip from the 1976 Sidney Lumet film, “Network,” in which TV personality Howard Beale declares, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” It’s a sad statement of our society that it’s still too relevant. I love “Cobra Cougar” (yes, almost every song has “Cobra” in the title), with its stop-start rhythms and tempo changes. “That There’s Cobra Country!” is some great country punk. “Cobra Skulls Lockdown” ha an awesome rockabilly vibe, but it’s punk-tough with just the right amount of greasiness. Of the three new bonus tracks, “The Beginning of the Cobra” is a street punk/Oi style anthem, and “The Decider” (the only song without “Cobra” in the title), and “Cobra Christmas” have a Motorhead rock and roll edge to them. If you’re a Cobra Skulls fan, this is essential, and it’s a great gift that Red Scare has made it available once again.

COMMONWEALTH CHOIR – No End (Know Hope Records, www.knowhoperecords.com)

Take the emotional content of Spanish Love Songs and the expansiveness of Western Settings, then brighten it up with a dose of pop and sunshine, and you get the sound of Philadelphia’s Commonwealth Choir. The five song EP “No End” is the band’s first proper release since 2013’s “Shirtless” EP. “Light” and “Palm Reader” have a nice bounciness to them, too, an interesting contrast to the big open sound. “Treehouse” adds the warmth of an organ, and the song’s quiet parts remind me a bit of J Robbins. “Down” opens with a 1980s beat and buzzy synth, giving it a very retro sound. The song gets bigger, though, and the guitars take over soon enough, the vocal harmonies giving it an interesting pop flavor. The closing track, “2010,” has a very lonely sound to it. I love the quiet verses and the melody. I was not familiar with this band before receiving this, but I like it.

FIELD DAY – 2.0 (Unity Worldwide Records, www.unityworldwiderecords.com)

In these days of some of our favorite bands staging reunions, occasionally bands that had gone through different lineups go back to an early roster for the reunions. Such was the case with Dag Nasty, with original vocalist Sean Brown touring with the reformed band. When Doug Carrion and Peter Cortner who were part of the classic Dag Nasty lineup for most of their recorded output, wanted to reunite and play the old songs again, they couldn’t use the name because it was already in use. With agreement from the other Dag Nasty, they took the moniker “Field Day,” named for their 1988 LP on Giant Records. The pair recruited Shay Merhdad (guitar) and Kevin Avery (drums) to fill out the band and they hit the road in a series of tours all over the country. But rather than resting on their laurels and being satisfied with merely playing the old “hits,” they’re writing new material, too, and this new two song 7-inch is the first new recorded output. All Dag Nasty fans will rejoice, because these songs harken back to the glory days of the band. No soft indie rock here. This is punk rock! And it’s so posi! “Searching For The Answers” starts out with some rapid-fire hardcore before settling into a more mid-tempo lope, focusing on the search for truth. “We Are The Change” is a hopeful sounding song with great gang vocals on the chorus. I also got to see them live before the lockdown started, and they’re on it live, too. The best part – as this single was digitally released (the vinyl has been delayed a few weeks,) the band revealed that they’re back in the studio recording new material for release this fall!

THE KILLER SMILES – Raising The Stakes (Die Laughing Records, eastbayray.bandcamp.com)

The Killer Smiles, from San Francisco, were founded by East Bay Ray – yes, the guy from The Dead Kennedys. This is their sophomore full-length LP, and it’s been a really long time since the first – nine years! Ray, of course, kills it on guitar, and the vocal duties in this band are handled by Skip McSkipster (of Wynona Riders). Rounding out the band is the rhythm section of Steve Wilson (drums) and Greg Reeves (bass). The music is a blend of garage, surf, punk, and power pop. It’s got a great balance of melody and edgy aggressiveness. McSkipster’s voice, too, is proportioned evenly between smooth gliding and powerful assault. It’s got the greasiness of a rockabilly vocalist, and the tension of punk. “You’re Such a Fake” is a favorite; the surf guitar is strong but the overall vibe is much more punch-in-the-face. “Area 51” has some excellent guitar licks, and a cool mix of surf and power pop. “Safe and Sound” is an outlier, with a reggae/dub sound; it’s probably my least favorite of the album. Ray uses the track to jam a guitar solo most of the song, and it just doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the record. “I’m A User” has a working class rock and roll sound to it, blended with a bit of Americana and a bit of street punk. The edgiest track of the LP, and probably my number one favorite, is “The Last Time You Failed.” Though it’s a mid-tempo track, it’s the most “punk” of the bunch, and I love the angular guitar lines. The closer is a cool rockabilly cover of The Merle Travis pro-labor song, “16 Tons,” made famous by Tennessee Ernie Ford. Let’s hope it’s not another nine years until the next LP.

RADNOR & LEE – Golden State (Flower Moon Records, flowermoonrecords.com)

Well, this is an interesting and unexpected combination. Radnor & Lee is Josh Radnor, best known for his role on the TV show “How I Met Your Mother,” and Ben Lee, best known as an indie musician from Australia who, as a teenager, fronted the excellent indie rock band Noise Addict, and has also done some acting himself. After meeting on the set of “How I Met Your Mother,” the two began writing songs together, and they released their debut in 2017. They sound nothing like Noise Addict or Ben Lee’s solo material. This is easy, relaxed folk/singer-songwriter fare, and it sounds like the sort of stuff that would be featured on the NPR radio show “Live From Here.” It’s very acoustic, with guitars, banjo, and piano as the primary instruments. Occasionally there are other instruments such as steel guitar and electric guitar. And is that a sitar I hear on “Simple Harmony?” Some of the lyrics are pretty dark, even as the music is light. For example, “Outside In” is an easy song, but lyrically it’s tough. It speaks about being ridiculed and longing for the days of being ignored, “building a house from the bricks people throw at me,” and losing friends to death.

For the most part, these are innocuous, folksy, twangy songs. There are a few that stand out from the others, though. “Gimme Your Mess” is a delicate gospel-sounding sort of love song about the messy things in a relationship that we push through. “Down In The Dirt” starts quietly and simply, with a single note in repeated in one of the guitars. The song builds slowly, that single note playing through the entire song, adding a touch of tension. The song is pretty and sad. The short song “The Thing About Grief” is a lilting piano waltz about a dark emotion. “The thing about grief / Is you hope that it’s brief / There’s no telling when it will release you / It’s a curious gift / That refuses to lift / ‘Til it’s taught you what it has to teach you.” And I really love “Resignation Song,” which declares, “You can’t fire me, I quit.” It’s not about employment; it’s about the breakup of a relationship. It’s very quiet, very tender, with just acoustic guitar and vocals. The lyrics are both humorous and dark. For example, “We raised no child but we sure raised hell / The best revenge is a life lived well.” For the most part, this is not the sort of album I would seek out and get excited about. It’s pleasant enough, though.

LESSER CREATURES / GRIM DEEDS – Split (outloudrecords.bandcamp.com)

Recorded in Arizona and California, each of these pop punk bands get eight songs and one full side of this split LP. And while neither band is innovating here, if you’re a fan of simple straightforward pop punk in the Insub Fest tradition, you’ll enjoy this LP. Lesser Creatures is firmly in the Ramones-core camp, and have typical pop punk topics in the lyrics, with titles like “Losers Everywhere,” “I Make Mistakes,” and “Fake.” My favorite song of the A-side is “Creature Hop,” for its fun bounce and for being the most direct in its Ramones worship. And the use of a line from the film “Dumb and Dumber” is a fun touch at the start of “Losers Everywhere.” As for Grim Deeds, these are definitely songs wrought from the pandemic, with titles like “Social Media Distancing” and “Behind the Mask.” While also a Ramones-core adherent, Grim Deeds uses a buzzier fuzzier guitar tone and revels in the sort of sassy attitude and snotty sloppy vocals of many contemporaries like Teenage Bottlrocket and even Ben Weasel. “April Fool’s” may be my favorite of the B-side; it rages harder and faster than the rest of the Grim Deeds songs, and there is a darkness to the melody that I like. The rest of the tracks are mid-tempo, loping along at a more relaxed pace. Least pleasant topic for a song: “When You’re Dead.” But it also has the most jangle. Most fun: “My Friends Are Getting Famous,” a Screeching Weasel cover filled with jealous feelings, and it includes our fearless editor Jim Testa whining, “My friends are getting famous / They’re on MTV / Interviews in Rolling Stone / And I’m in Jersey Beat!” Like I said – nothing here is new or groundbreaking, but it’s great fun.



PAINTED ZEROS – When You Found Forever (Don Giovanni Records, www.dongiovannirecords.com)

“When You Found Forever” is the first new album from Painted Zeros since 2017’s debut, “Floriography.” Brooklyn-based Katie Lau is the driving force behind Painted Zeros, doing all the writing, performing, and mixing of the recordings. She says this is her first album, too, since becoming sober, and says this process is reflected in the two sides of the LP, the first representing the difficulty and darkness of that time, the second the ebullience and gratitude of having come through it. The music is a mélange of indie and shoegaze with occasional bursts of punk and grunge energy, Lau’s gorgeous, clear vocals ringing out. The album opens with the declaration, “I have made so many mistakes / In what I do and what I say / What occurs to think only the worst of what I’ve done forever.” It’s an admission and quiet reflection – the first step in recovery. The somber feel to the song sets the perfect mood, piano prominently accompanying the vocals, acoustic guitar and keyboards adding atmosphere. “Fuck My Life” has a great fuzzed wall of sound guitar tone, shimmery keyboards, a melody that’s alternately dark and bright, and more than hint of distortion in the vocals. The lyrics speak to the doubt and anger of going through recovery, but more of allowing one’s self to get to that point. In many ways, this is the strongest song of the album, and certainly one of my favorites. I really like the aura of confusion induced by “Missing Trains,” which uses choppy recorded voice and lines improvised freely on acoustic and electric guitar and keyboards, played with a vague undercurrent of order. Lau’s vocals are quite tentative here, adding to the mood of uncertainty. I like, too, the dark jangle of “How Much Do I Hate,” with a guitar tone reminiscent of that used by Screaming Females’ Marissa Paternoster. The mood does shift quite a bit, with “Glass Threads,” a less chaotic song, with a quiet feeling of hope, synths shimmering to light the way, guitars with a cleaner sound and brightly plucked. “I Will Try” has a definite feel of determination, as Lau declares, “It was a long time coming / I’ve never felt so high and crazy.” “November Snow” is another pretty, quiet song with acoustic guitar and glimmery synths that ebb and flow. It’s a song of thanks and gratitude to those who have helped her get to this point in life. The short sound collage “In My End” closes the album, and I love the mix of sounds. Most interestingly is the English gentleman reading fragments of lines from T. S. Eliot’s “East Coker.” “In my beginning is my end. You say I am repeating something I have said before. I shall say it again.” And “What you do not know is the only thing you know / And where you are is where you are not.” The poem discusses time and disorder within nature, and how the only way for mankind to find salvation is by looking inwards and realizing that humanity is interconnected. After the final fragment, “In my end is my beginning” we hear the keyboards playing a steady note after note, that fades away. It’s the same exact sound we heard at the start of “How Can We Be.” In my end is my beginning. Like the ouroboros, it’s an eternal cycle of renewal, of life, death, and rebirth.

PAISLEY FIELDS – Electric Park Ballroom (Don Giovanni Records, www.dongiovannirecords.com)

Don Giovanni Records wants to wish everyone a Happy Pride month with this new record from queer country artist Paisley Fields. Fields’ eclectic background is on full display here, and you can tell he’s spent time not only with queer country band Lavender Country, but he’s also put in his time in the Manhattan piano bar circuit. Songs here range from full-on country to vaguely Americana to disco and lounge. The songs seem to be semi-autobiographical and tongue in cheek, too, with fun stuff like the dusty tune, “Ride Me Cowboy,” “Other Boys,” about growing up “different,” played with a honkytonk piano and bluegrass banjo, and the dark “Time’s Up Brad,” about a Maggie’s hard-drinking and abusing boyfriend, and how she and longtime “friend with a secret,” Josh, hatched a plan to get rid of him. There’s even a song about a road accident involving a truck (“Thunder Road”), and another one involving jealousy (“Stay Away From My Man”)! But not everything is done for humor. “You & The Country” is a pretty love song in the long tradition of country love songs. And I adore the lovely closer, “Marigold,” a piano-based folk tune. I normally don’t go in for country music, but this is light-hearted and lovely.

THE STILL, SMALL VOICE – Roller Rink (Know Hope Records, www.knowhoperecords.com)

The Still, Small Voice is the singer-songwriter project of Christina Benton, currently hailing from Philadelphia, but you can hear her Nashville roots quite deeply in this new single. Acoustic guitar, steel pedal guitar, and bass provide the backdrop for Benton’s striking vocals. Like all good Americana, you can hear a story being woven. The Still, Small Voice reminds me in some ways of a Divided Heaven, the sometimes solo acoustic, sometimes full band project of Jeff Berman. There are some similarities in melodies, and definitely in the deeply heart-felt vocals. Apparently a full album is coming later in the year, so be on the lookout for it. If it’s anything like this single, it’ll be good.

TERRITORIES – When The Day Is Done (Pirates Press Records, www.piratespressrecords.com)

Almost a year ago, Calgary’s Territories released a single that I enjoyed a lot. They’re back now with an EP featuring the two songs from that single, “Quit This City” and “Defender,” plus four more rocking tracks. They play some pretty strong working class punk rock, and the four new tracks are hard-hitting. “Second Son” and “SOS” are shorter blasts, under two minutes each. I really like the dark urgency of “SOS.” Even with a moderate tempo, it feels like it’s crying out about something of paramount importance. All of the songs, by the way, are at a moderate tempo, but that’s OK. These songs don’t need to feel rushed. “The Lockdown” and “Welcome Home” are longer-form, at between three and three and a half minutes each. They’ve got great gang vocals and leave me feeling warm. Of the four new ones, I think I like “Second Son” best.


THE CORNER LAUGHERS – Temescal Telegraph (Big Stir Records, www.bigstirrecords.com)

Remember the film, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being?” Call this record “The Wonderful Lightness of Being The Corner Laughers.” The Corner Laughers give us light, bubbly music rooted in folk, psych, and country traditions. And though the band hail from Redwood City, in the San Francisco Bay Area, they sound more like they come from the UK or Ireland, particularly on the lovely “Skylarks of Britain,” a track that brings to mind Ireland’s The Bothy Band. It features pretty acoustic guitars and a keyboard tuned to sound somewhat like a harpsichord, instrumentation used by The Bothys on some of their best tracks. Not satisfied with leaving the song as a mere Celtic folk tune, The Corner Laughers inject 70s folk-psych into the mix, and they make this my favorite track of the album. Other sprightly sounds explored on this LP include some country gospel sounds on “Changeling,” bright, easy pop on “The Lilac Line” and “The Calculating Boy,” and the Americana of ”Loma Alta” and “The Accepted Time.” All of the songs have the veil of psych-folk laying over it, and the whole album feels very cozy.

DEATHLIST – You Won’t Be Here for Long (deathlist.bandcamp.com)

The name of the band is gloomy. The name of the album is dour. And the music, at first casual listen is somber and funereal, as well. “Deathlist doesn’t do happy,” the press release begins. Jenny Logan is the power behind Deathlist, based out of Portland, Oregon. Deep rumbling bass, pounding drums, and dark synths provide the canvas for Logan’s vocals, partly sung, partly spoken in almost a deapan. The opening track is the title track, and it features a synth drone that repeats over mysterious ambient synth tones. Logan’s singing is subtle, morose and dreamy. But as dreary as it may feel, the major chords and slow but insistent beat provide a feeling of hopefulness. “Night Face Regretter” continues the same feel, but the ambient background synths get brighter, as does the melody. I love the contrast between the dissonant grinding in some of the synths and the almost sparkly synths providing most of the melody. The reverb deepens on “Sad High,” and the tension between happiness and sadness is palpable. This one is the closest Deathlist gets to “pop” music, with a definite dreaminess to the track. The vocals, especially, strike a great balance between doleful and ethereal. One of my favorites is “Young Snakes,” one of the most emphatic tracks of the LP. The deep bass buzzes loudly and angrily. The synth line is tentative and a bit wobbly. And vocals are breathy, and remind me of a cross between Lydia Lunch and Laurie Anderson. The bridge in the middle of the track gets nicely angry and weird, and there’s an aggressiveness to the song that’s really pleasing. With just vocals, bass synth, and drums the arrangements are pretty spartan, but the songs are quite effective at setting an unexpected mood.

THE GAY AGENDA – Penetrating (La Escalera Records, laescaleradistro.com)

Queercore has a storied history as a subgenre in the larger punk scene, but it’s never been more in your face than with San Diego’s The Gay Agenda. This is fast, loud, grinding metallic hardcore made by a quartet of fine young gentlemen who happen to identify as homosexual – AND FUCK YOU IF THAT BOTHERS YOU! Front-man David Hurtt’s vocals range from a deep, guttural growl to shouting and screeching, and the guitars, bass, and drums (played respectively by Matt Penning, Garrett Fiacci, and Luis Soraire) rage with savagery. The album opens with an understated bass line, on “Idolatry.” The guitars then drums and vocals join in with a fury unmatched in the San Diego hardcore scene. “Homo Riot” is certainly a metallic hardcore track, but it’s got more melodic content than the other tracks and reminds me somewhat of early hardcore of the 80s. The vocals are higher pitched and less guttural, too. Other songs have names like “Power Bottom,” “Dick Print,” and “Masculinity Is a Prison.” There’s no mistaking the message this band is offering. And they do it with power, precision, and a flair for the dramatic. “Army of Me” is one of the more metallic songs, and the bridge is quite fascinating. After the first part of the song, with some of the most monstrous playing and singing of the LP, things quiet down, and we hear the bass throbbing quietly and just a tapped cymbal, with multi-tracked vocals, one sung melodically and the other sounding like an ogre’s whisper. “No One for No One” is one of my favorites, leaning more to the hardcore side of things, thrashing rapidly. When this pandemic abates and bands start touring again, be sure not to miss them, because The Gay Agenda put on an amazing live show, too.

GHOST WORK – You’ll Be Buried With... (IDEAS, realghostwork.bandcamp.com)

I’m not really crazy about the term “super-group.” Call it a new band with seasoned professionals from other well-known bands. In this case Ghost Work is made up of former Seaweed front man Aaron Stauffer (vocals, guitar), Snapcase bassist Dustin Perry (bass), Milemarker’s Sean Husick (guitars), and Minus The Bear drummer Erin Tate (drums). This debut LP comes a month later than the original plan, a victim of the global pandemic. But it’s worth the wait. The songs are polished without sounding slick. They feel urgent without being rushed. There’s a tension in the music, too, in the guitar tone, even as some of the songs have a smooth gliding feel. The opener and lead single, “Fake Blood” is a good example. You can hear the dissonance in the guitars, but as the melody plays and Stauffer sings, there’s kind of a wafting and rolling feel, too. It’s a nice contrast. “Go Stat” is my favorite, though; it’s got an insistence to the track, a serious determination. The album title comes from a line in the chorus of the song, “Bricks of Sun.” “Golden bricks of sun / you’ll be buried with golden bricks of sun.” The song is another with the tension/smoothness contrast, and the melodic line has a bit of angularity to it. I’m less enthused with the track, “Favored Routes,” which to me sounds like what U2 might have sounded like if they remained an indie band. It’s got a slower tempo and an expansive feel, with a melodic line that’s short and repeating. On many of the songs there’s an over-reliance on – I don’t know the correct musical term for it – playing the same note or chord over and over, rhythmically. The same device is used in just about every track of the LP. And “Salt from Tears” has the U2 feel, too, and the vocals seem to be a bit over-wrought, a bit strained, to the point where they occasionally go slightly out of tune. But for the most part, I do enjoy most of the songs here.

JOYCE MANOR – Songs From Northern Torrance (Epitaph Records, www.epitaph.com)

I first saw Joyce Manor at Awesome Fest 4, in 2010. They were another of the many local bands that played around southern California, and I recall being taken by the band’s energy and enthusiasm, as well as the quality of the songwriting. They were more than just another pop punk band. The last time I saw them was a few years later, right around the time they started to blow up and got signed to Epitaph. It was at VLHS, the late lamented warehouse venue that was the heart of the Southern California DIY punk scene, one that Joyce Manor was very much a part of. The venue was packed beyond capacity, a portent of things to come for the band. I haven’t seen them live in years now, not because I think they’ve sold out or because I don’t like their new music; it’s just because the opportunity hasn’t presented itself in awhile. VLHS is gone (and they couldn’t fit their crowd in there anymore, even if it was still active). They stopped playing Awesome Fest years ago, and even that’s gone now. But this surprise new LP that was released days after it was announced is a glimpse into those earliest years of the band, before the spotlight and before the bigger venues. These are the band’s earliest recorded tracks, half of them from when they were an acoustic duo of guitar and drums, from even before that first Awesome Fest appearance that introduced me to them.

The first five tracks are ebullient gems of bare-bones pop punk, played on acoustic guitar and drums. Of these tracks, my favorite is “Fuck Koalacaust,” a song that rages quietly, and the acoustic guitar jangle is gorgeous. “Who Gave You a Baby” is an early look at the great songwriting the band would exhibit, with a more complex melodic line than your typical pop punk song. Played just as an acoustic song here, you can imagine it going a few different ways, as a powerful grunge track if it’s slowed a bit, or kept fast and light as a great pop punk tune.

The back half of the collection sees the full band emerge, after founders Barry Johnson and Chase Knobbe asked a couple of friends to join them. On these five tracks, we hear the band come into their own. “Constant Nothing” is a beautiful track packed with youthful energy. The hilariously named “Done Right Discount Flooring” is an edgy track with a dark message. “You’ve been promised something that you won’t ever get / It’s done right discount flooring,” Johnson belts out, likening the unfulfilled promises of life to cheap crap flooring that you buy that doesn’t live up to expectations. The desperation, too, in “5 Beer Plan” is unmistakable, another early example of songwriting skills.

The closing track of the collection, “Leather Jacket,” is one that could be called their biggest “hit” from their early years. It was always amazing to be present when this was performed live; the entire crowd would be singing along, and it was glorious. The song is about how people change, putting on a new “skin” and change their attitude toward others (“In your new leather jacket you’re somebody else”), and how when people change, they drift apart (“Thanks to your new leather jacket, we’re nobodies now”). It’s kind of a sad thought, and hits a bit too close to home, seeing the band drift away from the DIY scene that nurtured them. But they’re still a great band, and these early tracks bring back some great memories.

PEZZATI – "The First EP"
(pezzati.bandcamp.com)

After decades as the front man for the legendary Chicago band Naked Raygun, Jeff Pezzati has finally recorded and released some of his solo songs. These are songs that he’s written over the years and played for friends. It took some convincing, but those friends finally cajoled him into releasing these songs. And if you’re expecting Naked Raygun style aggression, you won’t get it. What you get, instead, are some diversely quiet pop songs. My favorite track, by far, is the opener, “Make Me Whole (Chinese Wall Song).” It’s a John Lennon-esque, song if you will, featuring piano, guitar, synth, and drums. It starts out delicately, then explodes, Pezzati’s instantly recognizable voice soaring. It’s an intense love song, about going to the ends of the earth for your loved one, because, as he sings toward the end, “The world made me cruel, made me mean, made me old / But you, you, make me whole.” Despite how big the song gets, it feels quite intimate, and the vocals lend a feeling of desperation to the song, as if the narrator would be lost if not for the subject of his affections. “It’s Late” is a cool power pop song, featuring just Pezzati’s vocals and guitar. It feels more like a demo, a bedroom recording, with its purposefully low fidelity, also making it seem like we’re listening to something private. “Chromatic Song” is a string-tuned synth and guitar-driven instrumental that Pezzati says “is the song that runs through my head all day…every day.” It feels almost like easy listening music, except for the grind of the guitar underneath. “Ipcress File” is Pezzati’s homage to the film of the same name, and he calls this his “1965 Spy Music.” Drums, bass, synth, and guitar play the dark, mysterious, and spare music, as befits something as secret as espionage. “Retro Girl” closes this first EP, and it’s a song adapted from the graphic novel of a hero active in Chicago. It uses guitar, drums, and vocals to return to the feel of the opening part of the first song; it’s a bit John Lennon-ish. I like when the organ comes in, giving it a warmth. This EP isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Especially those expecting Naked Raygun. But I quite like seeing this different side of Pezzati.

PSYCHIC LINES – Late Nite Psychic (www.hellopsychiclines.com)

Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Phillip Jacob is back with his latest Psychic Lines release, this time a five-song mini-LP. Jacob proves that you can do more with less, as the instrumentation is spare, featuring pretty minimalist guitars, bass, drums, and keyboards. The songs have a slightly jazzy, slightly Americana feel to them, which I like a lot. The bass lines contribute significantly to the feel of these tracks. “Buzz” has a cool jazz edge to it, and I love the bright keyboards that provide a sparkle to the otherwise dark jangle of the guitar. The percussion is very scaled back, providing just a quiet beat on 2 and 4, leaving the rest of the music and Jacob’s smooth, understated vocals to carry the song. “Late Night Cyborg” has a retro pop beat and bass line, with the same sort of lean instrumentation, the same dark guitar sound. It’s elegant and pretty. I like the mix of jazz and Americana in “Laotian Getaway,” with its twangy guitars and cool, easy beat. And even with the quiet openness of the sparse instrumentation of “Cable Car to the Mountaintop,” there’s an intensity to the guitar, especially in the solo. Keyboards add warmth, the drum provides a tribal feel, and the sax adds a jazz-like sensibility. Quite nice.

VIRGINITY – Death To The Party (Wiretap Records,
www.wiretaprecords.com)

You’ve heard of Florida Man? Here’s Florida Band, Virginity, the latest signing to LA’s Wiretap Records. Virginity will fit right in with Wiretap’s other bands, their sound being pop punk with a huge emotional chip on its shoulder. This is especially true on the last of the four tracks on this new EP, “Can I Borrow Your Mistakes.” The song starts out quietly, with just a lone guitar and vocals, then explodes when the full band comes in. The song gets huge, with soaring guitars and rapid strumming. I really like “Bad Call,” which has a cool start-stop feel and some chords that use notes an octave apart giving it a unique sound. This song is poppier than the others, but despite the brightness of the music, the vocals and lyrics are self-deprecating. “Fall of Try” has a great garage pop punk sound, reminding me a bit of Ohio’s Vacation, mainly for the guitar tone. And no Florida band would be complete without a reference to that state’s biggest contribution to the punk scene, The Fest. The EP opens with a song called “Fest 17,” and it’s the same sort of emotional pop as the closing track, so the EP has solid bookends. Now looking forward to a full-length.


ANTIBODIES – 2019 + 2018 (Drunken Sailor Records, www.drunkensailorrecords.co.uk)

Collecting together two LPs, helpfully named for the years in which they were released, “2019 + 2018” is chockfull of raging hardcore. Twenty tracks of manic guitar, bass, drums, and shouted vocals fill a mere twenty-three minutes. And that’s perfect – even back in the early 80s when I was at hardcore shows as often as I could be, hardcore overload was a real thing. But here, though the songs are strong and powerful, the energy level is at peak, and the ire is palpable – all excellent traits in a hardcore band. But the recording quality is so poor, it makes even the scuzziest garage band recording sound pristine. The super lo-fi muddies up what could be an excellent opportunity to form your own home mosh pit during the quarantine, because these songs are very mosh-worthy. “Generic Ruin” is the only track that’s completely different from the rest – it’s beep-boop synth music! I kinda like it, but it’s the hardcore we came for, right?

BAD MOVES – Untenable (Don Giovanni Records, www.dongiovannirecords.com)

Washington, D.C. has long had multiple excellent music scenes; there’s the Dischord/punk/emo scene, the satellite punk scene just outside the Dischord orbit, and there’s the indie-pop scene that was captured so brilliantly back in the day by Mike Schulman’s Slumberland Records. That indie-pop scene is alive and well all these years later. Exhibit A: Bad Moves, a band formed in 2016 by David Combs (The Max Levine Ensemble, Spoonboy, Somnia), Katie Park (Hemlines), Daoud Tyler-Ameen (Art Sorority for Girls) and Emma Cleveland. They’ve toured with The UK’s Martha and with Jeff Rosenstock, perfect matches for the sunny punk-edged pop music Bad Moves makes. Almost every track is upbeat, bouncy, and beautiful. Head bobbing leads to foot tapping leads to dancing. Songs like “Local Radio,” which opens the LP, are great fun. “Night Terrors” is a party song, too – the vocals are a blast and the whole song reminds me of a cross between the new wave of the B-52s crossed with sparkly indie-pop. I adore the gorgeous “Fog is a Funny Thing,” a track that starts out with a delicate melody with strings and harmonized vocals, reminiscent of the sort of Celtic New Age music of Enya from years ago, then the same melody explodes in a pop fury, darkly jangling. “Toward Crescent Park,” and “Same Bad Friends,” with their unison singing and sunny melodies remind me of Martha. And “Working For Free” has a cool modal feel. Bad Moves are our breath of fresh pop air, making all the right moves (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

CEMENT SHOES - A Love Story Of Drugs & Rock & Roll & Drugs (Drunken Sailor Records, www.drunkensailorrecords.co.uk)

After a cheeky synthesized rendition of the Universal Pictures theme, played on top of a recording of the real thing, Richmond, Virginia’s Cement Shoes launch into “Smashed On Glass,” the first of three tracks on this new 7” EP. The song is powerful rock and roll, with guttural hardcore vocals. “Knocked Into The Reptile Enclosure” continues the theme, with wall of noise guitars with a bluesy feel, and those gravelly vocals grinding away – it’s clear the band are having a blast playing the song, too, and that can be infectious. “Going Off The Grid” slows things down with more of a garage feel and a jam-band attitude. Good stuff.


A CULTURE OF KILLING (Drunken Sailor Records, www.drunkensailorrecords.co.uk)

Italy’s A Culture of Killing are, at their heart, anarcho-punks, though you couldn’t tell it from their music. They sound more like 80s “new wave” pop music, than anything punk related. The guitar tones and melodic lines are very retro. The emphatic and angry vocals are the only part that sounds “anarcho-punk,” but they don’t blend well with the music. Honestly, only “Walls,” the opening track even feels at all aggressive, with a brisker tempo and energetic guitars. “Mirror Breaks” sounds remarkably like the 80s band Modern English from their hit singe, “I Melt With You.” But, for the most part, the songs are very even keeled, sound very much alike, and the muddled vocals are off-putting. It’s not often I don’t care for a release Drunken Sailor puts out, but this is one.

GOLDIE DAWN (Drunken Sailor Records, www.drunkensailorrecords.co.uk)

This new self-titled EP from Scotland’s Goldie Dawn starts out quite promising, with some raucous garage punk, full of spit and snot, with “Gone With The Wild.” “Crime” is a little slower and a little darker, maybe more powerful, too. Then things start to fall apart a little bit. “What’s Inside (Never Dies)” has a fun, b ouncy melody and could be a pretty good garage pop tune, but the vocals are wobbly and a bit off key, so they’re kind of off-putting. And the closer, “It’s Nothing To Me,” is a country rock loper, and the vocals completely go off the rails. A wailing saxophone doesn’t help, because it’s out of tune, too. This last track is just a mess. If Goldie Dawn had stuck with the first two tracks as a single, they would have had a winner.

NOUS – Nous III (Our Silent Canvas, www.oursilentcanvas.org)

This is the third installment of the opening trilogy from experimental ensemble, Nous. Nous is experimental both in its music and its approach. Led by Christopher Bono, the incarnation for the first Nous trilogy features Greg Fox (Guardian Alien, Zs, Ben Frost, ex-Liturgy), Shahzad Ismaily (Yoko Ono, Laurie Anderson, Bonnie Prince Billy), Thor Harris (Swans, Angels of Light, Amanda Palmer, Shearwater), and Grey McMurray (itsnotyouitsme, So Percussion, Tyondai Braxton), along with various other guests. Each member was given a 47-page handbook that included a series of 60 musical "seed" ideas along with a list of conceptual cues. These ideas acted as a starting place for each improvisation. Bono then designed a daily schedule that began with a morning warm-up routine of yoga followed by silent meditation, vocal toning, body percussion, and then a mixed percussion and toning session before moving to their respective instruments. While this process might sound a bit “new age,” the resulting music is pretty astonishing. It’s improvised, yet there’s a strong structure, with everyone seemingly on the same page. The music flows seamlessly from track to track, and over the course of 53 minutes, we’re treated to some beautiful music. The tracks do have differing distinct musical ideas and themes. Some are longer explorations, and some are brief ideas. “We Hope The Weather Will Continue” features a strong rhythm and prominent marimba and flute, with somewhat of a Caribbean jazz flair. I really like the bold, glorious sound of “Never Can It Be,” even as it slows and becomes more tentative toward the end, becoming nothing more than a reverb-laden piano playing a doleful melody. “Dust Suspended” is short, but very eerie, like walking through the misty wood in the deep of night. “Blush” is a nice blend of drone and jazz, the vibraphone representing the latter, the bass and vocals the former. The drums rat-a-tat-tat out a martial beat while the jazz and drone swirl around. The closing track, “Kindness,” is the longest and most minimalist. Just over fourteen minutes long, the track features a series of chords played on the piano, with ambience filling the background. For most of the track, everything sounds hopeful, but in the last three minutes of the track, as the piano stops, the ambience turns dark and eerie. It gets louder, more insistent. The pitch rises along with the volume, and it gets a bit chaotic, before calming and returning to an optimistic attitude. But as it fades, it becomes more neutral sounding, without hope, without despair. These aren’t “songs,” in the traditional sense, and they aren’t your average Jersey Beat fare, but I really like this.

THE YEARNERS – 2020 (Dirt Cult Records, www.dirtcultrecords.com)

Chicago band Hot Breath was active from 2014 to 2015, and then disbanded as one member relocated to Oregon. But they never lost the desire to make music together, and after a reunion in 2019, decided to record together, this time under a new name, The Yearners. This EP is the result, and though Hot Breath played a distinctly Midwest brand of indie/pop punk, inspired by the likes of Hüsker Dü and The Replacements, this new EP features three songs of wonderful melodic power pop. The songs are bright and hooky, sounding like they could have been written in the late 70s or early 80s. I think the closing track, “Left Unsaid,” is my favorite of the trio. I like the jangly guitars, though they’re hard to discern. The recording quality is pretty lo-fi, and these brilliant songs would shine better with a cleaner recording. Thankfully, though members of The Yearners are now scattered across three different cities, they do plan to continue to record and play shows. I look forward to more from them, and particularly a possible west coast tour, once that becomes a possibility again.


AN UNEASY PEACE (Dirt Cult Records, www.dirtcultrecords.com)

Even in death, the prolific Lance Hahn (Cringer and J Church, among others) is still releasing records. An Uneasy Peace was formed when Hahn approached Stan Wright about doing a hardcore band. His name suggestion was “Unfuckable Chainsaw.” Wright’s counterproposal of “An Uneasy Peace” stuck. Joining Hahn and Wright (guitars) were Dave Wuttke (bass) and Mike Warm (drums). Hahn wrote all the songs, played them for the others, they practiced a few times, with the others writing their own parts, and then each song would be recorded, with Wright handling engineering. The result, this four-song EP, is just now seeing release some thirteen years after Hahn’s untimely passing. And just like everything Hahn did, this record is gold. These tracks are fast and loud, yet they’re also reasonably melodic, as melodic as hardcore can get. This is not what we thought of in the 90s or 2000s as “hardcore,” with its metallic edge and roared vocals. This is classic early 80s style hardcore. “Speaking In Tongues” has a great bounce to it, with a moderate tempo. “Huey P Newton Was a Poet” has a slower, sludgy feel, “Fighting Sleep” is a hard rager, and the closer, “A Thousand Pretty Mannequins,” is the fastest, hardest of the four tracks. This is great stuff, but we would expect nothing less from Lance Hahn. We miss you, Lance.

BEST EX – Good At Feeling Bad (No Sleep Records, www.nosleeprecords.com)

Not quite indie pop, not quite dream pop, Best Ex falls somewhere in between, with plenty of big synths, but too much brightness to be dreamy, and a little too “slick” to be indie. The opening track on Best Ex’s sophomore release, “Gap Tooth (On My Mind)” is a great example – the verses are gorgeous, with atmospheric synths and crystal clear, shiny vocals, and the chorus is big dance-pop. The song is about losing yourself in a relationship with someone else someone who is unable to maintain the relationship, and what happens when it all ends and you find yourself “robbed of your entire life,” as Best Ex’s Mariel Loveland puts it. I really love “Lemons,” the most indie-pop of the six songs. It’s upbeat, bouncy, and breezy. It’s a song that relates the importance of self-love (the chorus declares “I can be my own best friend”), even in the face of the bitterness of loss of relationships with others. “Bad Love” is a dark song, with gorgeous “torch song” style vocals. “Feed the Sharks” has a sparkly and poppy chorus that contrasts with the quieter, more contemplative verses. “Two of Us” is a pretty outlier, different from any of the other songs. It uses piano instead of synths, and the whole song is hushed and reflective, just the piano and brooding vocals. The closer is the title track, and it’s big and brash, and another of the dancier songs. Best Ex, overall, is a little more on the pop-music side of things than what I normally listen to, but this is good stuff as pop music goes.

INJECT THE LIGHT – The Apocalypse Is Boring (Dirt Cult Records, www.dirtcultrecords.com)

After an evening of masking up and walking around the neighborhood while listening to “Killed By Death” compilations, Dirt Cult boss man Chris Mason (also of Low Culture and Macho Boys) retreated to his basement to write and record five snarky and snotty punk songs reflecting on the current state of the world. As you would expect from a one-man show, the arrangements are pretty thin, with a clean, prominent guitar strumming out some minor and modal chords, drums buried further down in the mix, and Mason’s voice not quite yelling out the lyrics. Topics will be very familiar to everyone living through the current pandemic: the boredom of living under stay-at-home orders (the title track), the idiocy of the presidential response (“Inject the Light” referencing Trump’s claims that our scientists are researching how to inject bright light into the body to kill the virus), companies using the pandemic as an ad pitch (“We Deliver”), and the survivalist stockpiling that has gone on (“Got a Years Worth of Food and a Thousand Guns (I'm Lonely)”). I think the jangle and melodic line, plus the droll spoken delivery of the vocals make “We Deliver” my favorite. But all of these songs are timely and a welcome shot of energy into the ennui of the apocalypse.

BRAD MARINO – False Alarm (Rum Bar Records, www.rumbarrecords.com)

After releasing his solo debut last year, Brad Marino of The Connections is back with a follow-up, the eight-track “False Alarm.” As before, the album is chock full of power pop and rock and roll goodness. The guitars are the perfect mix of toughness and jangle, and the melodies bounce. The title track makes use of multi-tracked vocals to yield Beach Boys style harmonies, and has an easy lope. I really like “At Night,” because it sounds so much like a song Vista Blue would play, but with somewhat less buzziness in the guitars. It’s a great mix of surf pop and Ramones-core. I like “What’s My Scene,” too. It’s one of the janglier songs, one of the most straightforward power pop tracks of this LP. And while I’m not a fan of guitar solos, this song has a good one that fits in really well with the rest of the song. I also like the retro rock’n’roll of “Special Friend,” feeling like a throwback to the early or mid-60s guitar-pop, and the Chuck Berry style guitar is loaded with energy. The closer is a cover of the Buddy Holly classic, “Peggy Sue Got Married,” true to the original, but updated with a power pop flair that works really well. I’m going to be honest with you now, dear readers. Our Fearless Editor sent this record to me with a note that I didn’t have to review it, but that he knew I liked Brad Marino from my previous rave reviews. But, you know what? I wanted to review this – because I wanted another chance to tell you, dear readers, that if you like power pop and rock and roll, that you need to check out Brad Marino.

PRIMITIVE TEETH (Dirt Cult Records, www.dirtcultrecords.com)

Who puts out records during a pandemic? I guess Dirt Cult Records does, because they’ve dropped a few recently, including this new four-song EP from Chicago punk trio Primitive Teeth. The songs here are dark, the vocals urgent. I love the ominous sound of the drums on “Bubble of Me,” as well as the wail and the wall of noise of the guitars. The vocals are belted out with power, and there’s a gloom and doom feel throughout the record. I think my favorite track of the four is the last one, “Out of Sync.” It has a really familiar sound that I can’t pin down, but it reminds me of a cross between psychedelic music of the 60s crossed with goth and punk of the 80s, and I really like it. Thankfully, yes, Dirt Cult is putting out records, and good ones like this, to keep us from going mad without new music we might normally get from going to shows.

SUBURBAN LIVING – How To Be Human (Egghunt Records, www.egghunt-records.com)

Originally envisioned as a solo project for Wesley Bunch, Suburban Living has evolved to be a full band, and How To Be Human is the Philadelphia band’s third full-length release under this moniker. Playing dream-pop with a distinct 80s synth pop flair, Suburban Living give us nine tracks that will feel somewhat familiar and comforting to fans of outfits such as Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark and The Psychedelic Furs. “16 Hours,” with its deep bass line, epic synths, and floating vocals in a higher register, is a perfect example of the sound of 80s synth pop. The rhythmic line of the bass, drums, and synths is pretty minimalist, repeating over and over. It’s one of my favorites of the record, with a feel that’s both powerful and ethereal. And minimalism is a recurring theme, with other songs utilizing it, like “Video Love” and “Glow.” “Indigo Kids” has it too, also sounding very retro, and the hazy synths are effective. I’m less enthused with “No Roses,” which spends half the track as an instrumental, and uses heavy reverb on the guitars and saxophone to create its dreamy effect, but to me it sounds a little too much like some of the 80’s MTV pop music of the day. I don’t know, though. Nostalgia can be nice in small doses, but nostalgia overload isn’t as enticing.


BLOODS – Seattle (Share It Music, bloodsbandcamp.com)

I’m not quite sure why this Australian band named their six-song mini LP “Seattle.” Seattle is the birthplace of grunge, but Bloods’ sound is not at all grunge-like. These songs, rather, are bouncy and poppy, crossing pop punk and power pop. The harmonized vocals are perfect, the melodies are infectious and hook-filled, and the overall package is bright and sunny. “Girls Are Just Fucking Cool Like That” reminds me a lot of US pop punk band Jabber, with its bubblegum garage sound. And “Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others” is an anthem of celebration, worthy of fist pumping in the air. It’s the closest this record gets to the Seattle sound, but it’s more melodic garage pop, and I love it. “The New Guy” is unabashed pop punk of the best kind. “U & M E” is dark and soulful, and the closer, “Waste of Time,” has an expansive feel, mixing pop and soul. I always like finding new bands I didn’t know about before. Bloods has been around for the last seven or so years and have several other records. Listening to this one makes me want to go check out their earlier releases.

CALL ME MALCOLM – Me, Myself, and Something Else (Wiretap Records, callmemalcolm.bandcamp.com)

Most ska-punk bands are blends of, well ska, of course, and pop punk. Call Me Malcolm, who hail from Kent, in the Southeast of the UK, are different. They use harder edged melodic punk and skate punk as the basis of most of their music, blending in sax, trombone, and ska rhythms. Ska-punk isn’t my favorite go-to genre, but Call Me Malcolm do a pretty solid job here, playing some tight songs. They have a great dynamic range, going from quiet, delicate passages to huge epic anthems, and they do it seamlessly. The transitions between ska and punk are, likewise, executed flawlessly and don’t sound disjointed or abrupt at all. And, even as most ska-punk is bright and sunny, Call Me Malcolm aren’t afraid to play darker melodies throughout the LP. I really like “What You Burn,” a track with a melody that takes some cool twists and turns. Some of the lyrics seem to reference the loss of civility in society, fueled by the loss of critical thinking and dependence on the inanity of TV “news.” That last point seems to be a recurring theme on this record, too, as the songs are bookended by short bits with “news anchors.” The intro has headlines that are incredibly stupid and obvious, like much “news” today, sensationalized to draw in viewers. The end provides a “sneak peak” at more sensational stories to come. And there’s “breaking news” in the middle sure to sow suspicion amongst loved ones. In “I Bet They’re Asleep In New York,” at the halfway mark, there’s a cool transition from dark raging skate-ska-punk to slower reggae beats, even including some dub effects, before jumping back to the harder, seething melody. And “Last One Standing Loses” shows that the band can play more traditionally pop punk-based ska-punk. This one has a bright sound and hook filled melody. I also like the palindromically named “NosirawarisoN,” a song about trying to control the raging monster inside us all. “So hit that trigger like a nuclear button / My brain shuts down and the rage comes sudden / Take cover ‘til the beast is gone” the song advises. The music is hopping, jumping between ska-beats and big, strong punk, just as we can go from being calm and peaceful to enraged in a flash. “Please Still Try” is an outlier, being entirely a ska song with pop sensibilities. I love the dichotomy of the lyrics and the music, “Goodbye Sunshine” being sung to some of the sunniest ska-pop. This is pretty damn good stuff, and if you’re a ska-punk fan, you need to get on this quick.

WESTERN ADDICTION – Frail Bray (Fat Wreck Chords, www.fatwreck.com)

Though they’ve been a band for the better part of two decades, Western Addiction are releasing only their third full-length LP. With the dark rock and roll/hardcore hybrid music and song titles like “They Burned Our Paintings,” “Utter Despair,” and “Deranged by Grief,” you would think this is a depressing record. But that’s not the case. Take “They Burned Our Paintings,” for example. It’s a song of defiance, with lyrics that describe oppression throughout history, and has a chorus that declares, “You can burn our paintings / We’ll dream a thousand more / Each one more subversive than before.” “We start civilizations,” roars vocalist Jason Hall, in “Rose’s Hammer I. “You lust dehumanization.” This is hope, not despair! And speaking of despair, what about that song, “Utter Despair?” Surely that one is full of endless grief right? Nope, it’s a song of perseverance. “Don’t they know I’m cold, ugly and poor / They caught me right on the cusp / Guess they just needed it more than us,” sounds like resignation, but then “Looks like we’ll have to adjust / There’s them and then there’s us.” This tells us that, no, we will move forward in the face of adversity – they can’t stop us. And there’s wonderful hopefulness in “Wildflowers of Italy, “ as the song exhorts us toward “Most good for the most people / Be decent, less evil.” And this verse, “Being vile is easy / We lived terribly / Hope springs eternal / As I live and breathe.” Musically, this record blends full-on rock and roll with West Coast hardcore, both old school and more modern metallic styles. Hall’s vocals are gritty and powerful, and guitarists Ken Yamazaki and Tony Teixeira rage with a mighty sonic wall. The rhythm section of bassist Mitch Paglia and drummer Chad Williams pound away, creating a strong foundation that doesn’t falter. The result is an album that’s as aggressive as it is optimistic; as bad as things look, we can get past that and we can carry on, better than before. And, though I’m sure this album was written and recorded well before the current pandemic hit us, the timing for the message of “Frail Bray” couldn’t have been better timed.

TERRITORIES / THE VICIOUS CYCLES – Split 7-inch (Pirates Press Records, www.piratespressrecords.com)

Pirates Press Records has teamed up two Canuck bands, Calgary rockers Territories and Vancouver’s The Vicious Cycles. Each band contributes a single track, with Territories’ “Prairie Twister” filling the A-side. The roar of a motorcycle opens the track, with a rockin’ guitar joining in by itself for a few bars before the whole band jumps in, including bass, drums, and the warmth of an organ tempering the hard driving rock and roll. The B-side is “Problem Officer,” and it starts out with the sound of a police siren, and then explosive garage rock’n’roll blasts out with a melody that’s almost poppy and is certainly bright. Solid single.


APATHY CYCLE
(apathycycle.bandcamp.com)

Orange County, California has long been a hotbed of punk rock music, with many early hardcore bands originating from the otherwise conservative suburban community. These days, many of the OC bands focus more on the popular skate punk style of music, melodic, metallic, and fast. Apathy Cycle fits this category, but they’re more than that. In addition to modern skate punk, Apathy Cycle blends in old school and modern day metallic hardcore. The lyrics cover socio-political topics such as healthcare, inequality, the wealth divide, the repeating cycle of history’s evils, and more. The resulting album is thirteen songs of great, refreshing music – and I’m not a big fan of skate punk, so if you are, you’re going to love this record. The opening song is reflective of our times, the first line being “Woke up this morning with a burning cough now.” That song, “Premium Healthscare,” is about the greed innate in our current healthcare system, and it’s even more relevant today than when it was written. Musically this is the most traditional skate punk track of the LP, but it’s played with such passion and expertise that it rises above most bands of the genre. “Forgotten Genocide” is a hybrid of ska-punk and skate punk, moving easily and naturally between the two styles. I really like the hard-edged surf punk of “Feeling Snowed In.” “Wanderlust” is an amazing melodic punk tune about the adventure that awaits us all through travel, undoubtedly inspired by the joys of touring. The melodies and harmonies are not traditional punk material, and the backing vocals are surprising in the best way. The whole track just sounds so bright and hopeful. “Trigger Warning,” a song about unequal justice meted out by the police, is a favorite, not only because of the lyrics, but also because of the dark hard-hitting melodic hardcore and the guitar harmonics punctuating the track. “Antonia’s Against the Wall” is about the heinous policy of arresting people who help undocumented immigrants traveling through hostile climates by providing food or water. It ranges from ska-punk to melodic skate punk, with a cool surf-style bridge thrown in. The guitar playing throughout this LP is truly amazing, with fascinating use of harmonics to create melodic and percussive effects. The songwriting is strong here, as is the playing. Recommended.

SAME – Plastic Western (Lauren Records, samepgh.bandcamp.com)

Same is a four-piece indie outfit out of Pittsburgh, PA. Formed in the summer of 2015, Plastic Western represents the band’s full-length debut. The dozen tracks are not quite dream pop, but too relaxed and quiet to be full-on indie-rock. The songs are mostly understated and quiet, some with an easy laidback jangle. The production is rife with reverb, yielding a hazy feel. The shimmery keyboards and the easy bounce to the melody in “Bluish” make this one a favorite of the album. “Shoot It” uses the same shimmery sound, but the guitars are more aggressive, and that’s a relative term. The music is still smooth and sedate compared to a lot of other bands. The title track is aptly named. It’s an instrumental that utilizes a bass line and keyboards tuned to sound sort of like a harmonica to produce a lonely, dusty melody. Overall, the tone of this LP is fairly even keeled, with not a lot of dynamic range. The tempos and tonal qualities are fairly moderate, and it leads to a feeling of, well, sameness, from song to song. Which is unfortunate, because taken individually, there are some good songs here.

VIRGINIA TRANCE – Vincent’s Playlist (BYM Records, www.bymrecords.com)

Scott Ryan Davis, aka Virginia Trance, has teamed up with BYM Records once again for this, his third full-length LP (his debut LP was also from BYM. The music is folk-rock inspired, with bits of indie-pop jangle and southern rock mixed in. But these songs are merely song fragments, repeated over and over. The vocals are buried deeply in the mix, and sound inspired by the vocal stylings of Lou Reed, which makes sense given that there’s a song called, “Hello Lou Reed” on the LP. It’s the same chord played over and over for five and a third minutes, with off-key vocals buried under the guitars and saxophone interjecting some notes here and there. I fell asleep. That’s a pattern here. These songs are incomplete or very minimalist. The vocals are off-putting. Pass.





ABORTED TORTOISE – Scale Model Subsistence Vendor
(goodbyeboozydigital.bandcamp.com)

Australians Aborted Tortoise, self-described as “stupid music for stupid people,” give us a blend of old school 70's punk rock and garage punk on this new four-song EP. The songs are raw and snotty, like all the best punk. What’s strange, though, is that with five members I would have expected a bigger, thicker sound, but the sound here is thin and sparse, more like I would expect from a three piece. My favorite song of the record is “Factory.” It’s got a darker edge to it, with minimalist repeating guitar lines punctuating the song, and a vocal delivery that’s shouted yet controlled. “Violent Consumers,” has more complex guitars, but the overall song structure is pretty simple and effective. These songs definitely have a very retro sound, but the energy is infectious.

DAYS N DAZE – Show Me The Blueprints (Fat Wreck Chords, www.fatwreck.com)

They call it “thrashgrass.” I call it great music. Days N Daze are a folk-pop-punk outfit out of Houston, Texas. They’ve been around for more than a decade, mainly self-releasing their own records. But for this latest LP they made what they call the “terrifying” and “massively intimidating” decision to sign with Fat Wreck Chords, a label more known for powerful melodic and skate punk bands. But, they say, “They've really pushed us to go that extra mile,” and it shows. Banjo, acoustic guitar, mandolin, washboard, trumpet and gut bucket are utilized, along with some clear powerful vocals with loads of snot to produce some of the best acoustic pop punk you’ll hear anywhere. Sometimes the songs and vocals remind me a lot of another Fat Wreck band, Bad Cop/Bad Cop. For instance, on “Ditches,” the vocals remind me of BC/BC’s Stacey Dee and the songwriting sounds like something that could have come from the new record they’re releasing soon. Having heard Dee and BC/BC’s Jennie Cotterill perform acoustic versions of their songs together many times, I’d say that’s a pretty spot on description. The songs are catchy and bouncy, too. I love the sound of “LibriYUM,” a rapid-fire song with dueling vocals that get very thrashy and evil sounding at one point. The trumpet gives the chorus a pretty sailing sort of sound. I really like “My Darling Dopamine,” too, for it’s lyrics dealing with mental health as well as its great folk punk melody and delivery. It reminds me of one of my favorite folk punk bands of all time, Sledding With Tigers, “Addvice” sounds like an acoustic They Might Be Giants, in a way, and the waltz time “None Exempt” is played with flair, with lyrics about the huge economic divide that plagues our nation and world. The title track takes its name from a line actor Leonardo DiCaprio repeats over and over in his role as Howard Hughes, “show me all blueprints.” The clip is played at the start of the track, and then the acoustic guitar plays a quietly dark melodic line – and then the song explodes as the vocals, mandolin and banjo come in. The vocals are throaty and demonic, the music fast and furious. The closer, “Goodbye Lulu Pt. 2,” is another that reminds me of acoustic Bad Cop/Bad Cop, if they played Irish influenced music. The song is a blend of BC/BC and Flogging Molly in a way, and is a hell of a lot of fun. As is the whole record! Well, it’s not quite the closer; there’s a “hidden” track that they could have left off, where they sing “Go fuck yourself” over and over, accompanied by a cheesy synth. Huh?

DEVON WILLIAMS – A Tear in the Fabric (Slumberland Records, www.slumberlandrecords.com)

I used to buy up just about everything Slumberland Records put out. Back in the 90s Slumberland was synonymous with indie-pop and noisy shoegaze. Over time I lost track of the label, but they’ve been at it fairly steadily for the past 30 years. This latest release, from LA-based Devon Williams, eschews the noise and the indie-pop aesthetic for a dreamier feel, blended with 80s synth pop. Tons of reverb layer over jangly guitars and atmospheric synths producing a rich, lush sound. “For My Memory to Collect” makes use of cello as percussion, with a single note playing over and over to keep the beat. It’s an interesting effect. There seems to be more focus on guitar jangle on this track, a stronger melody, and less emphasis on the strings and on dreaminess. I think it makes this track stand out. It also has less 80s pop sound and maybe has a hint of power pop to it. But other than that track, most of the songs seem to blend into one another, with little variation in tone, tempo, or dynamics. Each song, taken on its own, is listenable, though not groundbreaking. But taken as a whole, the album has a hard time retaining my attention for long periods. At 45 minutes in length, that’s a problem.

HEY, CHELS – Everything Goes (www.heychels.bandcamp.com)

After releasing an EP in late 2018, San Diego’s Hey, Chels is back with their debut full-length LP. Named for a bartender at local dive bar Lancer’s, Hey, Chels play bright pop music featuring keyboards, guitar, bass, and drum. The sound on this debut LP is less dreamy than the EP, and thus somewhat harder and edgier, but the songs are definitely in the pop camp. I love the opener, “Clear.” The keyboards are glittery, while the guitar is densely packed. The drums provide a strong backbeat, driving the song’s bounce while Jacque Mendez belts out some powerful vocals. “Crumbling” has an awesome pop punk feel to it, with the keyboards adding a shimmer to it. “Pulse Check” uses a repeating pattern in the keyboards to give this song a springiness; it makes you want to hop around. “You’ve Got You Now” amps up the dreaminess, and I think I hear bassist Ricky Schmidt’s strong hand in the songwriting here, as it’s got a bigger, sadder sound than most of the other tracks. And I love the end, as the song fades away leaving an unplugged electric guitar continuing the melody. Speaking of sadder, “Everything Goes” has a very dark aura, almost goth-like, eerie guitars wailing through the minor keyed song. “Tough” is probably aptly named, being the toughest sounding song of the LP – the keyboards are very prominent and up front, but this song belongs to the guitar, drum, and bass, and Mendes’ tough, soaring vocals. The closer is all Mendes, too, a dreamy ballad on a lo-fi piano, heavily processed through delay and reverb and she softly sings, and everything fades away… Recommended.

LASER BACKGROUND – Evergreen Legend (www.laserbackground.bandcamp.com)

Laser Background is the Philadelphia-based psyche/pop project of songwriter & multi-ti-instrumentalist Andy Molholt (Speedy Ortiz, Coughy). And usually, in my experience, single person projects that are primarily synth-driven are either self-indulgent over-the-top messes, or they’re cheesy, thin crap. But on “Evergreen Legend,” Molholt’s fourth album under the Laser Background banner, this is most assuredly not the case. Many of these tracks are excellent pop music that just happens to be played primarily with synths. I’m not sure if the guitars and bass are samples or actual instruments, but they’re there, too. And some of these songs are loaded with great hooks. I’m in love with the opener, “Debunked at Home,” which reminds me of Bill Nelson’s (Be Bop Deluxe, Red Noise) best 80s pop from the height of his musical productivity. The bass is nice and funky, and there’s a strong backbeat in the drums and guitar. The upward runs on guitar with bits of dissonance and the keyboard tones are what remind me of Nelson’s output. “Getting Warmer” is heavier on the synth sounds, but I love the angular melodic lines, and the contrast between the bright synths and the deeper darker vocals. I really like “Raw Animal,” too. You forget you’re listening to synth pop, because it’s just a plain good pop song, and it’s got a much more prominent guitar, bass, and drums than most of the songs. The melodic lines are really nice, and the understated synths are there more to provide support than control the narrative. “Accidental Holiday” has a breezy feel to it, with balance between synths and guitars, both jangling. I did say “many” of the songs are good. A couple fell flat for me. “Beta Magic,” for example, falls into the synth pop trap, and it tries to be too atmospheric for its own good. It’s a ballad, so it feels like it drags too much to me. “Flame of Truth” falls into this trap, too. It’s slower and tries to sound epic. But lest you think it’s just slower songs I dislike, the title track is another ballad, but this one works quite well. The synths are dialed back a bit more, and the interestingly angular runs are back, with changing keys. I love the bridge in the middle that sounds sort of like a medieval folk tune, and how the whole feel of the song changes at this point, the tempo picking up and the feel brightening up. Laser Background does it right. This is what all synth-pop should strive to be like.

MEAN MOTOR SCOOTER – Mr. Sophistication (Dreamy Life Records, www.dreamyliferecords.com)

I previously reviewed Mean Motor Scooter’s debut LP, “Hindu Flying Machine.” And it was OK garage-psych, but nothing earth shattering. Now, two and a half years later, the Texas garage monsters are back with a new EP. And this time they’re here to slay. And slay they do. The five songs are killer garage rock. And the production is crystal clear, making the record sound super present. “Ariastobrat” and “The Void” are the first two tracks, and they’re hoppin’ ones for sure. Sunny sounding, sparking guitars are accompanied by backing vocals that are cheesy in the best way, and lead vocals that just make you smile. “Portals” is a slower track, with more of a psychedelic edge to its garage pop. There’s an eeriness to it, too, especially when the guitars start to wail and screech. “Zombie Cop” brings a manic lo-fi sound that brings the B-52s as a garage rock band to mind. And the closer, “Put Me Down Like A Dog,” is harder-edged lo-fi garage, the keyboards very prominent in the mix, and a cool rockabilly guitar thing going on. Mean Motor Scooter have made a great record here.

TY SEGALL & MIKAL CRONIN – "Pop Song" EP
(goodbyeboozydigital.bandcamp.com/

The new EP from Ty Segall and Mike Cronin can be summed up by mixing some steroids and LSD, then playing garage rock 'n' roll. The title track opens things with a lo-fi garage rocker that has a great bouncy melody, loaded with pop goodness on top of the garage scuzz. The middle track, “So, I Went To Beach, Melody,” sees the drugs begin to kick in. The playing gets stronger and more manic. And halfway through it shifts to a twisted pop song dripping with psychedelic angst and the twisted metal of a serious car accident. The growling bass and the hand clapping rhythms try to put a happy face on it, but the guitars have another idea. Finally, as “Kit Carson” closes the EP, all hell breaks loose, and we find out it was the brown acid we took. Everyone and everything freaks out, and pandemonium ensues. Holy shit! What a ride!

WHEN THERE IS NONE – Fuck Death! (Rockstar Records, www.rockstarrecords.de)

On this, their third full-length LP, German punkers When There Is None remind me of a cross between emotionally charged pop punk and 1990s post-emo that was coming out of the Washington, DC area. The guitars have an angry jangle to them, the melodies big and striding, strident yet melodic. Like those DC Dischord bands, there’s a strong forward motion to these songs, and the vocals are half shouted, half sung. And though the album title is defiant, screaming “Fuck Death!” not all the lyrics are so resistant. “Don’t Pray for Mojo or the Ability to Feel” is a song of resignation. “Please just leave me alone,” pleads the chorus. “Please just leave me bleeding out / Please don’t give me shit, just want to feel like it / Fuck everyone and everything.” The music on this song, too, is slower and less aggressive, as if to give up on all. But the title track is certainly bold and insistent, as it declares “We’re all getting burned / But not alone / We’re all going to die / But not this time / This time there’ll be light.” The music is powerful in places, delicate in others, bright and upbeat throughout. Most of the time the lyrics on this LP are much more cryptic, but I think what I like most about this record is how the songs are melodic without being poppy, edgy and powerful without being a noisy mess. It’s a great balancing act that not many bands do. This is a breath of fresh air.

STOP MAKING CENTS: A Corporat Records Compilation (Corporat Records, www.corporat.net)

This compilation features some tracks that have been previously released and some that have not. Three tracks are provided each by Indian Goat, Itchy Kitty, Bad Motivator, thrpii, and Kung Fu Vinyl, plus two from Vanna Oh! The bands are all different, as Corporat Records’ roster is pretty diverse, ranging from bluesy classic rock to raging punk, from garage pop to hip hop. I think Spokane’s Itchy Kitty is my favorite. They call themselves a "bubblegum piss" band, which is pretty accurate. “Year of the Slut” is melodic, yet raging garage punk. “Meet My Master” is great bouncy garage pop. And “Stray” just spits acid, in the best possible way. The spite and anger are palpable. My favorite single track may be Kung Fu Vinyl’s “Tell Me,” which closes the comp and features Kaylee Goins. The backing music is a jazz ensemble piano, bass, and sax playing what sounds like something you would have heard in a smoky little club 50 years ago. Goins’ torch song vocals are dripping with desire, and the drum track has the right hip-hop funk feel. Winding around Goins’ singing are raps about love and sex. Indian Goat’s offerings include the early Black Sabbath inspired “Be Your Seer,” and the southern rock/rockabilly hybrid tracks “Black Pearl” and “Knockin.” Meh. Equally uninspiring are Bad Motivator’s “Lake Trash,” “Bad Taste,” and “Kill Me.” The first two are generic alt-rock while the latter is a blues-grunge-metal mixture. thrpii is an interesting band. “Death In a Godhand” is noisy sludgy stuff that nevertheless gets off its ass and moves at speed for various sections of the track, as the vocals growl. “Moloch” is just a noisy instrumental, though, and “Behemoth” is more typical thrashy noise. Vanna Oh!’s “Chaperone” and “Bear Named Sue” are pretty soulful songs, the former a high energy blues-rock’n’roll number with powerful vocals. The latter is a slower down home track, with a slide on the guitar, and contrastingly sweet innocent vocals. I could have used more of Vanna Oh! too. As with many comps, it’s a mixed bag, with some diamonds mixed in with the lumps of coal.


999 – Bish! Bash! Bosh! (Cleopatra Records)

One of the longest running of all early punk bands, English rockers 999 are still at it, 44 years after their founding. After releasing live recordings for the last decade, 999 have their first new studio album in more than ten years. Original members include vocalist Nick Cash and guitarist Guy Days. Longtime bassist Arturo Bassick is still with the band, and joining on drums is new member Stoo Meadows. And though these guys may be getting into their golden years, don’t think that has slowed them down a bit. If you’re familiar with the band (though they’ve long been overlooked as one of the progenitors of the music we love), you’ll recognize the mid-tempo punk rock snarl in both the instrumentals and the vocals. But many of these tracks are downright catchy, too! The band don’t do themselves any favors, though, by opening the record with “Don’t Want to Know,” one of the slower tracks, and one that feels more like old school rock and roll than anything punk. It just drags, and Cash’s vocals feel more than a little strained. I was ready for a big disappointment as the record continued, but thankfully I ended up being pleasantly surprised. “Shoot” is a simple but effective anti-gun song that feels quite familiar to fans of the early days of punk and proto-punk. I like the darkness of “Crazy Tuesday World,” with instrumentals as grim as the mental illness described in the lyrics. Similarly, “I Hate It All” has a pall over it, gloomy and brooding. “Addicted” is a perfect old school early punk track all about the different dependencies people have. “My Dad Trashed My Submarine” is a really fun, bouncy track, perhaps the poppiest of the LP. “Dr. Nick” is a song which is quite simple, but rapidly becomes the best kind of earworm, with a martial beat and melodic line. And the closer, “The Pit and the Pentagon” is an autobiographical song about pre-999 days in a band called The Pentagon that played in a venue called The Pit. It’s a blues-rock track with a raucous feel. Tracks we could have done without, though (besides the opener), include “Psycho Man,” another one that focuses more on classic rock stylings than punk, and “Monkey,” the band’s attempt at a blues-rock sound that may or may not be about opioid addiction. My favorite track: “The Midnight Express,” which alternates between delicately jangling and a fuller pop rock feel. This one is probably the catchiest of the tracks. The bottom line? 999 are back, and hopefully will be rediscovered by a new generation of music fans.

THE BARSTOOL PREACHERS – Soundtrack to Your Apocalypse
(thebarstoolpreachers.com/)

As the world began to fall apart, The Barstool Preachers didn’t feel sorry for themselves or panic; they tried to figure out what they could do to help. They took two of the songs they had written for their upcoming LP, frantically rewrote the lyrics to fit the feelings we’re all having over the situation we find ourselves in, and called in some emergency favors to get studio time just before the UK’s lockdown went into effect. The songs are being offered as a free download for those who need it, or for a donation, with proceeds helping the UK’s frontline healthcare workers and their families. It may not be a lot, but providing uplifting songs for fans (and these are uplifting songs), and donations to those who are helping the rest of us are solid contributions. “When This World Ends” has some great lyrics, including this gem: “If we do things right just this time, we don’t have to go back to “normal.” A lot of people are recognizing the failings of our current systems, with polls showing 60% of Americans are now in favor of “Medicare for all.” Musically, the track ranges from street-style pop punk to reggae and back again. “State of Emergency” has a darker sound, as befits the subject of the song, about taking to the streets to fight back. The song has sort of the feel of rock steady blended with Oi, which is kind of cool. It’s amazing how quickly these songs came together given the short amount of time the band had to do them – and you can’t tell they were rushed; they sound perfect.

BLONDER – Crystal Ball (Cool World Records, www.facebook.com/blonderworld)

New York’s Blonder uses their third LP to blend dream pop with more traditional pop sounds, reminding me of 70s pop music that’s been modernized with synths and reverb. Think Burt Bacharach songs, with slightly funky bass lines and falsetto and harmonized vocals. Reportedly inspired by a first-time LSD trip that made Beach Boys and Beatles songs make sense, this is most notably confirmed by the song “Brand New Car.” It’s opening has the distinct surf-like rhythms of the Beach Boys, but then transforms into a 70s soul-pop number blended with Sargent Pepper’s era Beatles sounds, modulating back to the surf style, back and forth. The songs where the band focuses more on the dreaminess, like the opener, “Island,” are more successful. The sound is expansive and evocative. When the songs get to be too inspired by top 40 pop radio, like “Glue,” the results are less entertaining. That particular song makes me think of some of the electro-pop music of the 80s, but slowed down or as heard through the time distorting effects of that acid trip. “Bees in the Sun” strikes a reasonable compromise between the two extremes – dreamy enough to feel fresh and modern, poppy enough to feel retro bubblegum. The closer, “Baby You’re a Good One,” has an interesting blend of dream pop and 80s post-disco soul pop. All of the songs, though, have that gauzy feel, like they’re not quite real, and in a different timeline that you’re observing from outside.

LIAR, FLOWER – Geiger Counter (One Little Indian Records, www.indian.co.uk)

What a study in contrasts! Liar, Flower is KatieJane Garside, former member of UK bands such as Daisy Chainsaw, Test Department, and Ruby Throat. “Geiger Counter” is her debut as Liar, Flower, and it contains quite a variety of different styles of music, ranging from quiet, twisted folk-inspired tunes to rancorous venom-spitting rock music, and different styles in between. It can be dizzying, in the best possible way. The opener, “I Am Sundress,” is performed on zither, and Garside’s unique voice comes in with what sounds like a magical incantation. The melody eventually comes in gorgeously and delicately sung in hushed tones. Keyboards come in to punctuate the melody, strengthening the enchantment of the track. And then, as if a different record started playing, the brusque, cacophonous “My Brain Is Lit Like an Airport” blares loudly, turbulent guitars vying with fiery vocals. This is followed by the enigmatically titled “9N-AFE,” a song with a melody that’s equally dark and mysterious, meandering far and wide. The magical zither returns on “Broken Light, with a vaguely central European flavor, until the end when madness overtakes the zither in an explosion of sound. And the title track also features the zither, and what seems to be a Theremin, yielding a song that’s beautiful and haunting all at once, a compelling dichotomy. The latter half of the song features a repeating refrain that’s heartbreaking – you can feel the intense angst. The wildest track is “Even Through the Darkest Clouds.” It’s chaotic and manic, noisy and dissonant. “Little Brown Shoe” is a cool, odd juxtaposition of funkiness and experimentalism, with guitars and vocals wailing and screaming while the bass thumpa-thumps. Ending this labyrinthine musical adventure is the instrumental “Doors Locked, Oven Off.” Acoustic guitars dance around each other, flittering and darting about. I adore this record.

SUNTITLE – Pure Forever (Know Hope Records, www.knowhoperecords.com)

“Pure Forever” is the sophomore EP release from South Jersey’s Suntitle. The four songs here are big wall of hazy guitar sounds, and I guess could loosely be called “emo.” But there’s more melody and integrity here in these four songs than in most of what’s called “emo” by the mainstream music press. “Big Jawn” is the opener, and I love the slight darkness of the dissonance in the guitars before things smooth out and the vocals come in. “Squirrel Hill” has a lovely lazy sound to it, with a ton of dreaminess, all courtesy of the guitars and the production – there’s no synths here that I can discern! The title track reminds me a bit of Spanish Love Songs, with a more intimate sound. The ambience, heavy reverb, and deep acoustic guitar are gorgeous. “Milligram” closes the record with a bigger and more raucous sound. Suntitle are new to me, but I’ll be looking for their first full-length LP, whenever that comes out.

VAR – The Never Ending Year (Spartan Records, www.spartanrecords.com)

VAR are an Icelandic pop outfit playing some big, epic, dreamy music. From the very start, the music flows and ebbs, delicate falsetto vocals and huge synths filling all the spaces, and gossamer guitars weaving a translucent fibrousness over everything. The opening track, “Moments,” is a strong introduction to the band for those who haven’t kept up on Iceland’s music scene. “Drowning” is a quiet moody instrumental piece that creates a gorgeous atmosphere. It’s interestingly sandwiched between the dance number “Fearless” (which has an 80s retro feel) and “Run,” which starts out with a raucous indie rock guitar sound before settling into a more relaxed feel, blending strong guitars and bright synths. I love the delicacy of the guitars in “By The Ocean,” and how it’s contrasted with the harsh synthesized drum beats. The closing track (“Still I Miss You”), too, has a delicate touch and a lovely haziness to it, even as the music builds. The understated vocals are so smooth, almost feeling like a stringed instrument like a viola. This is really nice stuff.


ANSWERING MACHINE – Bad Luck (Wiretap Records, www.wiretaprecords.com)

Remember the days when you could buy any new record a particular label put out and you just knew you would love it? Labels like Lookout, Dischord, Nemesis and others? Wiretap Records is rapidly proving to be one of those labels, a real rarity these days. Answering Machine is one of their latest bands, and they play a mean combination of power pop, pop punk, and indie rock. Formed in 2016 by a pair of New York City schoolteachers (vocalist Samantha and guitarist/vocalist JD), the duo filled out the band with some of their friends (guitarist Jackson, bassist Craig, and drummer Louis). After playing The Fest and Pouzza, plus releasing a few singles and EPs, “Bad Luck” is their full-length debut. Most of these songs are just so damn catchy it’s, to use an ironic phrase for these days of pandemic, infectious! I love the sweet harmonies and brilliant hooks. “Riverdale” opens the LP with tons of power pop jangle, and it’s clear we’re in for a great ride. Samantha takes the lead on the title track, injecting some soul to the indie rock sounds. I hear tons of different influences in the music: psych, indie, power pop, pop punk, and soulful sounds. Just like mutts usually make the best pets, this sort of mix makes for the best listening. “Bubblegum” adds in a dose of retro bubblegum pop, making it a really fun one. But don’t let that deceive you: it’s not just simplistic air-filled music. This is one of the best tracks of the LP, loaded with some amazing arrangements and righteous riffs. “Hollywood Smog” features Samantha’s sweet indie-pop vocals juxtaposed against harder edged rock and roll instrumentals, worthy of a grunge band, though the melody is just too bouncy for grunge. “This Year” is a classic pop punk track, and “Marie” has a distinct Americana flair to it, and its hooks are amazing. “Wet Blanket” is a fantastic power pop song, with JD taking vocal leads and Samantha harmonizing on backups. It’s got an early Beatles-esque vibe going on. Every one of the ten songs is a gem. And one of the best things is that, though Answering Machine stays true to themselves as a band throughout the album, there’s enough variety from song to song to keep things interesting. This is a real winner here, folks.

CONWAY – Something Wicked (Pavement Entertainment, www.pavementmusic.com)

Conway only formed three short years ago, with lead singer Aidan Hargis and guitarist Riley Allen recording their first EP in Allen’s bedroom. The EP was released early on 2018, and a split single followed later that year. The band was filled out with Mitch De Biase on bass, Austin van Johnson on drums, and Jake Dillon splitting his time between guitar and keyboard. Yet the band sounds like it’s been around since the 90s, or at least since the 2000s. They’re firmly in the “alternative rock” camp, with occasional forays into “pop punk” and “emo” as defined by the music press of those eras – that is, not really pop punk or emo. And it’s a mixed bag for me, because much of the “alternative” rock of that era wasn’t really all that alternative. It was just a genre co-opted by the major record labels to try to push their music on the growing fan base for underground music. Much of this album does seem to fall into this category, fairly standard guitar-based rock music that doesn’t add much to the conversation. But, dammit, some of these songs are catchy! The guitar line in “Missed Me” is pretty nice, and overall the song should please fans of 90s big time pop punk. Likewise, “Suicide Party” has a fun bounce to it, despite the dark lyrics. “Juliana, Take Me Home” has such a cool jazz-rock vibe to the rhythm, and I love the big sound of the chorus. “Varsity Ruse” is another one the 90s pop punk crowd will enjoy, and I especially love the bridge toward the end that uses recordings of as drum corps, cheerleaders, and brass marching band – not a new idea, but it’s very effective. And the closer, “Surprise Me,” is a surprise; it starts out with a light touch, with delicate guitars and floating synths – and then explodes with the most intensity of the LP. The vocals are strained and emphatic, and the melodic line is forceful and deliberate. As for the rest of the tracks, and there are ten in all, they’re inoffensive, nothing to write home about.

DRAKULAS – Terminal Amusements (Dine Alone Records, www.dinealonerecords.com)

Well, goddamn, is this a ray of sunshine in the gloom of the global pandemic or what? The sophomore LP from super group Drakulas, featuring members of Riverboat Gamblers and Rise Against, is brilliant, their best yet. The whole album is an homage to the music of the 80s, but not to hardcore punk. Think garage and power pop mixed with new wave, like Devo and the Dickies. “Level Up” reminds me of the classic Jim Carroll Band song, “People Who Died,” with its spoken parts, but mixed with some awesome garage power pop. “Dark Black” strongly reminds me of Devo from the New Traditionalists era. And just listen to that guitar jangle on “More of the Same,” and you’ll swear you fell through a time warp into the 1980s. I really like “Fashion Forward” because it reminds me of an obscure mid-eighties band from Washington, D.C., called 9353. “Pretty Tommy” is an awesome cross of garage and punk, with rapid-fire guitars, cool gang vocals, and a super bouncy melody. “Pissing Off the Edge of the World” has an amazingly urgent feel, dark and thick, hurried, with a sensational surf guitar pushing things forward. It’s manic overload! It’s interesting, too, how the track opens with the sounds of a PA announcement in a subway station, and ends with the sounds of the train clackity clacking on the tracks, as if the song is the train speeding away. This is an album of the year contender, and highly recommended.

KINGHORN – Short Stories EP (kinghorn.bandcamp.com)

Kinghorn is a new band out of Portland, and they’ve self-released their debut LP to help us all get through these days of self-isolation. There’s enough power in these five tunes to keep you fueled for the next couple of months at least! These songs remind me somewhat of the band Muhammadali, whose songs had a similarly intense wall of sound. But there’s a bit of mid to late 80s early emo in here, like D.C. bands were playing. Mix those two styles together and you get Kinghorn, and man is it a blast of fresh air strong enough to knock you over. The vocal style in these songs, where the vocals are half sung, half shouted is what reminds me a lot of that early emo style. The EP (really it’s more of a mini LP; the five songs run 21 minutes) opens with the title track, and immediately you get punched in the gut with a hardcore onslaught. Then things smooth a bit as the vocals and melody come in, but the power doesn’t let up a bit. I like the angular guitar lines in “Skins,” and the powerful chiming effect they’re played with. As the track evolves, it impossibly gets more powerful, more intense, and you’re left waiting for the whole thing to explode. My favorite of the tracks has to be “More Than Not.” I love the melodic line, the vocals are just right for this, the way the bridge builds and builds, and the strong guitar lines, and the high pitched chords at the end are soul piercing. The closer, “Five Years Went By?,” is an outlier. It’s still huge and powerful, but this one is slower and sludgier than the others, sounding more like something in the Pacific Northwest lineage. It’s the one track I couldn’t really get into that much. But this is definitely a band to watch for (once the pandemic subsides, of course). This is a very strong debut.

LE STRING NOISE – L.E.S. Douze Volume 2 (Nouveau Electric Records, www.nouveauelectricrecords.com)

Now listen up. You need to expand your horizons, friend. I love punk and indie music as much as you do, but there’s more music out there that’s deserving of your attention. Some of it has a “punk” attitude, and it’s definitely DIY in nature. Such is the case with some of the exciting music coming from Nouveau Electric Records, a label dedicated to experimental and traditional music inspired by the language and people of south Louisiana. In this instance, it’s a live session performed by Louis Michot, front man for the Lost Bayou Ramblers, during his residency at The Stone, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. These sessions were dubbed “L.E.S. Douze,” and this was recording was the second set, thus volume 2. Michot was joined by Pauline Kim and Conrad Harris (of the duo String Noise) on violins and Leyla McCalla on cello. Michot dubbed the group “Le String Noise” for the night, and they performed a set of music inspired by the Cajun and Haitian traditions and some avante garde music, too. This is amazing stuff. “Marée Noire” (Black Tide) is the opener, beginning with some creepy experimental scratchings on the stringed instruments, until the rhythm begins, and suddenly we’re transported to the bayous of Louisiana, the music sung in a regional dialect of French, but all performed on strings with a classical feel. “Latibonit” has the feel of a Romani folk song mixed with that of a pre-war European lounge. I like “Cajun Noise Construction,” an experimental piece that still has a distinct song structure and some beautiful melodic lines in the violins. “La Lune Est Croche” (The Moon Is Crooked) is practically a rock and roll number with a strong bluesy edge but played on strings. It may be the most punk thing you ever hear from violins. My favorites, though, are the foot stompers, like “Bluerunner.” It’s an instrumental, but it’s so down home, even played on strings. Really, what are you afraid of? Go listen!

THE LIPPIES – Pop ‘n’ Lockdown (Red Scare Industries, www.redscare.net)

The Lippies surprised Red Scare boss Toby Jeg with this three-song EP recently, so this digital-only release was rushed out to keep us all entertained in our isolation. And entertaining it certainly is! Two of the songs, “On Your Mind” and “I’m a Reactor,” were probably recorded pre-lockdown, because they’re full band songs. Or they could have each recorded their parts at home, passing the recordings to each other and mixing the result. The Michigan quartet, whose Facebook page calls their genre “not punk enough,” play some incredibly bouncy and melodic pop punk music. Tonia Broucek’s vocals truly sparkle. “On Your Mind” is the most fun, bouncy, carefree of the tracks, while “I’m a Reactor” is darker and reminds me somewhat of Screaming Females, Broucek seeming to channel that band’s Marissa Paternoster, who can really belt out her vocals. The middle track, “Get Out of Bed,” is just Broucek and her ukulele, and is a short one about the life we’re all leading now – staying inside all day and not wanting to do much of anything. But, as she admonishes us, “get your punk ass out of bed / do something new and learn to seize the day.” It’s good advice for us all. This EP is a really nice surprise.

MASERATI – Enter The Mirror (Temporary Residence Ltd., www.temporaryresidence.com)

The opening track, “2020,” sounds like something straight out of a dystopian science fiction film made in the 1980s, big buzzy synths playing gloriously huge tones, but there’s that darkness to it, like you know there’s something insidiously wrong with the picture. As the track comes to an end, a beat commences, which leads directly into the next track, “A Warning In The Dark.” There’s a mechanical synthesized beat, synthesized vocals (via use of a vocoder or something similar), soaring synths, and striding rock and roll guitars. It comes across as a mixture of Kraftwerk and classic rock jams. And classic rock jams is an apt description, because that’s what much of this album sound like to me – just a big ol’ jam. Like “Killing Time,” which is an apt title, as the track never goes anywhere – it’s just a jam, just killing time. “Der Honig,” too, is nothing more than an instrumental jam session, harkening back to the sort of 70s progressive psych jams of bands like Can. And that’s the album in a nutshell – 70s and 80s jams, mixing guitars and synths, sometimes with vocals, sometimes feeling a bit mechanical, always feeling like something more suited to the stoners among us, and often repetitive.

SIN CITY – Welcome To Sin City (Sin City Records)

What do you do when you’re on coronavirus lockdown in a sleazy apartment in Alicante, Spain? If you’re Jack and Nick of New Zealand’s The Cavemen, you make a record. They recorded with a single microphone, an acoustic guitar, electric piano, tambourine, and anything else they found around the place that could be pressed into musical service. Rather than try to make garage rock and roll, their usual genre, they decided to celebrate their love of the music of Mink Deville, Gram Parsons, Glen Campbell, Phil Spector, Van Morison, and other country, soul, and rock and roll luminaries. They call the resulting recordings “Dad rock,” but they’ve succeeded in their goals quite admirably. The music is a tour through the classics of yesteryear, and the sparseness of the arrangements makes it feel warm and intimate. The thirteen songs are so spot on that they sound like they came through a time machine, right out of the past. “Turn Out The Light” is a great R&B track, something that would have been sung by one of the girl groups of the 60s, piano banging away on the chord progressions, the guitar soulfully twanging out a solo. I like “Big City Streets,” sounding like a cross between a country revival song and a Brue Springsteen anthem. But the sparseness, with just piano, guitar, tambourine, and vocals makes it feel like you’re getting a special private concert from the Boss. “Oh Maria” has a pretty Latin flair, with strummed acoustic guitar and harmonized vocals. “Barbara” is another soulful tune, sounding like it came right out of the Motown catalog. I adore “Sally Ain’t Alone;” it sounds like one of those 60s pop songs that were recorded with strings. I can even see this sung by a woman on black and white TV, with orchestra behind her. If you miss the late Glen Campbell, you’ll love “Love Comes In Waves,” which sounds like it could have come from one of his albums. Think of Campbell’s hit, “Gentle On My Mind,” and you have an idea of what this sounds like. “Hooked On You” reminds me of some of the great R&B put out by Okeh Records in the 40s and 50s mixed with down home folk blues and 60s folk music. And the closer, “By The River,” sounds more modern than everything else; it feels like an epic 70s folk rock track with a strong injection of soul. It’s amazing what you can accomplish with a few instruments, a couple of creative guys, and too much booze. The soundtrack to our shared isolation.

SUNSHINE STATE – The Mess (www.sunshinestate666.bandcamp.com)

When the promo material that accompanies a new release touts its band members’ pedigrees (including former members of Against Me!, Whiskey & Co., J. Page, and The Scaries) and the fact that they come from a pop punk haven (home of The Fest, Gainesville, Florida – Sunshine State, get it?), there are high expectations. And while this is a perfectly fine record with pleasant enough songs, those expectations aren’t really met. The ten songs on offer are decent enough indie rock, mostly with jangly guitars. But for the most part the songs are just sort of there. I expected something bigger with more oomph. And that’s there only in a couple of songs. Take the opening track, for example, which should, without fail, be one of the best songs of the album, to reel in listeners. “Hard Life, though, is a moderate tempo song with moderate levels of energy, and moderately nice melody, though excellently played. “Shake It Off,” too, is pretty similar, though I do like the guitar line on the bridge a lot. I will say that “Tequila Mockingbird,” besides having a bad pun for a name, is a punchy, spirited track, more so than the others. The guitars are thick and angry, full of power in parts of the song, jangling in others. The melody feels somewhat darker. This is definitely the best track of the LP. And once “Passenger gets past its smooth easy rock opening, I like its jumpy rhythms. But other than those two cuts, the rest of the record is…fine.

UNCONDITIONAL ARMS – Formation (Sell The Heart Records, www.selltheheartrecords.com)

Unconditional Arms are an instrumental outfit from Oakland, California. It was started to make a recording as a gift for the newborn son of one of the band’s members, Jeffrey Wright. Since then, the band has released multiple singles and now three full-length LPs. And it’s a good thing they continued beyond the initial thought because this is lush gorgeous stuff. The album begins with “Just Ask Somebody,” and we hear some eerie ambient sounds. Then we hear a recording of a man asking a boy, “So what do you think? What’s it like to have friends?” The boy tries to explain his feelings about friendship, and an acoustic guitar plucks a delicate melody as the boy explains. Some of the songs have the feel of post-emo, but played more delicately, with a fuller richer sound. “Bad Day No Reason” is one of these, with a huge, gliding feel courtesy of the reverb, the rolling drums, and the pretty repeating guitar lines spinning around. And some of these tracks are just beautiful ambience, like “Stifle,” which just sort of floats, heavily processed guitars and electronics hanging in the air, ebbing and flowing. “Multihost” is halfway between these two extremes, with ambient sounds but with a distinct rhythm and melody. I like ambient music, but usually when people try to make ambient music with guitars, I find it to be dull and uninspiring. Not so with Unconditional Arms. I really like this.

VISTA BLUE – These Songs (wearevistablue.bandcamp.com)

Vista Blue is back again with a new EP. With everyone self-isolating, there’s more time to write and record than ever, and Vista Blue aren’t letting a good opportunity for a new themed EP go to waste. There are three songs here, loosely themed with self-isolation and the things that come with it, and all with the instantly recognizable Vista Blue buzzy guitar sound. “Emmaline Is Quarantined” is an up-tempo number about missing your girlfriend, but you can’t see her because she’s in quarantine. Best lines: “If things were different I would be there / I’d let her know how much I care / There must be someone looking out from above / ‘Cause I’m infected by her love love love.” “Come On, Come On” is a slower one about something that most songwriters can relate to. It’s about trying to get people to sit and listen to the latest song you’ve written, something I hope all you songwriters are doing while sheltering in place (I can’t wait for the explosion of new releases coming out after this quarantine is over). The closer is “These Songs,” another up-tempo song, this one full of bounce. It starts out reminiscing about sitting in a coffee shop, watching all the people going by, something we all miss these days. It goes on to say that some people win, some lose, some are wealthy, but “All I got are just these songs.” And, at least in my book, these songs make Vista Blue winners.


BIG LOSER – Love You, Barely Living (Black Numbers, www.theblacknumbers.com)

You may know Big Loser better by their old name, Free Kittens and Bread. I don’t know why they changed their name, especially after putting out one of the best albums of the last decade (their debut LP, American Miserablist). But we’re where we’re at, and they’re now Big Loser, and now releasing their sophomore full-length LP. And this is hard for me, because I loved American Miserablist so much, but this new album doesn’t live up to the debut. I still like it. Frontman Chase Spruiell is still a great songwriter, and these songs are still quite good. Spruiell still has a great ear for arrangements, too. But this record doesn’t have the standout tracks, the variation, and the huge dynamics that made “Miserablist” sparkle for me. I do like “Reveille!” (French for “wake up!”) which opens the LP, with the lonesome sound of the trumpet in a song that, tempo wise, is upbeat. “Helpless” has a nice jaunt to its melody that sort of makes it stand out from the others tracks. I like the interplay of acoustic guitar and piano on “Post-Almost-Overdose.” The spare instrumentation and dark sadness of the track are evidence of Spruiell’s genius. The foreboding is echoed in both the music and the lyrics. “Well, the sunset’s overwhelming / Lighting up the leaky faucet / The paint is coming off the walls again / There’s something coming, I can’t stop it.” “Persistent Heart” starts out quietly, and gets big, with an almost emotional pop punk sound, for some of the biggest dynamics of the album. “Pessimist For Real” opens with just a quiet, deep electric guitar, followed by Spruiell’s quiet, low vocals. The song suddenly opens up with full band, turning into a nice jangly indie rocker. That seems to be a pattern with many of the songs on this LP – quiet start, suddenly getting big, abrupt ending. I think this may be what’s bothering me, and makes this album fall short of “Miserablist;” the predictability of the song structures. “Denouement” breaks the pattern at the end of the LP (“denouement” refers to the part of a story after the climax, where all loose threads are tied up and the characters’ problems are resolved). It’s a little more even than the others. As I said, I still like the record, and I still love the band, no matter what name they go by. It’s just that the debut LP set such a high bar.

ANNA BURCH – If You’re Dreaming (Polyvinyl Records, www.polyvinylrecords.com)

For her follow-up to her 2018 debut, “Quit the Curse,” Anna Burch eschews the energetic pop, jangly guitars, and grungy fuzz, focusing instead on relaxed misty melodies, peaceful pop, and lovely lazy songs. This is a perfect record for calming nerves during the isolation of lockdown. All of the songs are quite pretty, but I’ll make special mention of a few favorites. The opener, “Can’t Sleep,” has a nice easy bounce to it, sort of like you have on those walks around the neighborhood to get your exercise, big puffy clouds floating overhead. “Jacket” has the feel of a hazy jazz standard. You can almost smell the smoke in the little dimly lit nightclub. I love the shimmering ambience of this song. The gorgeous and delicate instrumental, “Keep It Warm,” feels like something out of a dream, with acoustic guitar sounding almost harp-like, clarinet and keyboards fluttering in the background. And the closer, “Here With You,” sounds like an old French folk song; the higher register of the acoustic guitar and Burch’s clear pure vocals are just perfect. Oh, the other tracks are really nice, too. So pretty.

LE SABOTEUR – Ditch (Paper Street Cuts, www.paperstreetcuts.com)

Le Saboteur is a trio from San Diego that just made the move to Seattle. The trio of Michelle Pannell (guitar, lead vocals), Kyle Bob (bass), and Uriel Montes (drums) play some pounding grunge-filled alternative rock music. This six-song mini LP debut release was supposed to kick off a tour, too, but now they’re stuck in place like the rest of us (Montes still trapped in San Diego for the duration). And that’s a shame, because people need to hear this band. These are exciting songs, pretty different from what most bands are doing these days. The music is dark and powerful, Pannell’s vocals impassioned. “Tightrope” is so intense, guitars used as percussion more than to carry a melody (Pannell’s clear vocals take on that duty). And the closing track, “Safety Net,” is similarly forceful, yet with a gloomy pall. I love “Distant Hum,” too, a song with more of a pop bounce to it. The quiet opening, with just guitar and vocals, is a real showcase for Pannell’s voice. They just moved away and I already miss them. Recommended.

BRETT NEWSKI – Don’t Let The Bastards Get You Down (www.brettnewski.com)

Imagine combining Bob Dylan songs, power pop, and pop rock. Wait, you don’t have to imagine it, Brett Newski’s already done it for you, so you can hear what that sounds like. Newski’s vocals are very Dylanesque, with same sort of vocal quality, the same laidback delivery. The songs are definitely pop rock oriented, with the edgiest being “Grow Your Garden,” which opens Newski’s fifth full-lengther. It’s got a tougher, grittier guitar sound and a somewhat harder attack, with the organ being the only thing trying to temper it. “Do It Again” sounds like a rock song right out of the 80s, with restless guitars, buzzy high-pitched synths, and a power pop chorus, especially when the multi-tracked vocals come in. “Last Dance” sounds like it could have been released by Dylan if he had gone through a pop punk phase. “Lousy T-shirt” is a nice quiet acoustic song with a pretty melody. “Buy Me a Soul” tries to be a garage pop song, and “Fight Song” is a nice Americana song, the twang in Newski’s voice matching the twang in the melody. So does the blending of these disparate styles work? Yes, it works well enough.


EMPTY COUNTRY (Get better Records, www.getbetterrecords.com)

After teasing us last fall with a single, former Cymbals Eat Guitars front man Joe D’Agostino’s new band, Empty Country, is out with their debut LP. And while the songs are recognizably D’Agostino’s, there’s a distinct difference from those CEG songs of the past. And there’s a bigger variety in sounds on this LP than in anything CEG ever put out. The opener, “Marian,” is one of the more CEG-like songs, but with huge harmonies and janglier guitars. I previously reviewed the lead single, “Ultrasound,” which also has a somewhat CEG vibe. But what I really love is all of the songs that sound nothing like CEG. “Diamond” has a dark Americana twang to it, with acoustic and steel guitars. Acoustic guitar is used more frequently on this record than anything D’Agostino’s done in the past. “Untitled” starts out quietly, with lyrics about lovely acid trips, and even when the full band comes in, it’s still an easier, softer song, hazily drifting along. After the halfway mark, though, the song builds, the guitars begin to clang and grind noisily, the vocals get angrier, the whole mood of the song shifting from serene to chaotic, before everything comes crashing down to a quiet ending, same as the way the song began. I adore the gorgeous “Chance,” with electric keyboards tuned to sound bell-like, sounding like the keyboards from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. The quiet harmonized vocals are just beautiful, and the song becomes lush and lovely, with violins and ambient sounds. I really like the waltz-time “Emerald City,” with it’s shimmery feel, especially the sparkling keyboards and arpeggiated vocals about two-thirds of the way in. “Becca” has a cool jaunty feel to it. And “Southern Cloud” has a downright bright pop feel. It’s really good to have D’Agostino back.

CHIEF STATE – Tough Love (Mutant League Records, www.mutantleaguerecords.com)

Chief State, hailing from Vancouver, BC in Canada, play slick melodic punk. It’s the sort of music that everyone was calling “pop punk” in the 2000s (and some still do), but which really doesn’t sound anything like what most of us think of as pop punk. On some of the songs, when they pick up the tempo, like on “Deciduous,” they border on a modern skate punk sound (which, again, is nothing like what we thought of as “skate punk” back in the 80s or 90s.) It’s big, lush, with intense, emotional vocals, as are all of the tracks on the seven-song mini-LP. They sound earnest and heartfelt, but at the end of the day the songs all tend to blend into each other.

GOLD CAGE – Social Crutch (Felte, www.felte.net)

LA trio Gold Cage call themselves “post-punk tinged slow-core.” I guess I get the slow-core part. The songs are played at a lazy, relaxed tempo, guitars dreamily playing through heavy reverb. The bass thumps simply, while the percussion quietly taps out the rhythms. Dueling vocals weave quietly in the spaces between the instruments. I think I wish the instrumentation was thicker, though. Some synths to fill the empty spaces in the arrangements would go a long way to creating the sort of dream-like atmosphere these songs need. As it is, the sparseness, with just single guitar, bass, drums, and vocals, leaves the songs feeling mostly empty. I do like the opener, “Repeater Kember.” It makes good use of guitar effects to thicken the sound, the dueling vocals winding around each other. And when the guitar opens up past the halfway mark it’s glorious. “Introduce My Friend” has a cool 80s Joy Division vibe going on, with deadpan vocals and retro bass and guitar sounds. But other than that, the rest leaves me cold and bored. “What Is Left,” for instance, is slow and the arrangement is so thin that it sounds like a sketch of an idea rather than a fully realized song. And though “Creepfest,” which closes the album,” has a nice lonely sound, it, too, is just too thin and sparse sounding. For the sophomore release, I suggest adding a member and filling out the sound.

THE GUNGANS – Meesameesameesa! (thegungans.bandcamp.com)

Dustin Umberger (of Grim Deeds) has a new project named for the most annoying of alien species from the Star Wars films, The Gungans. In homage to Screeching Weasel’s classic second LP, “Boogadaboogadaboogada,” the cover has a drawing of what could be Jar Jar Binks himself, wearing a leather jacket and with a cigarette hanging from his mouth. “Meesameesameesa!” it says beneath, echoing the SW cover. OK, I’ve been hooked, but can the music reel me in? Well, if you’re into cheesy pop punk about inane 90s toys and the like, you’ll like this. The songs are pretty simplistic pop punk, and with titles like “I Love Jar Jar Binks,” “Action Figure Collection,” and “He’s a Brony,” you can tell there’s nothing serious here. The music is very basic Ramones-core, every song sounding pretty much like the others. And with songs about playing a video game (“I Can’t Beat Ninja Galden”), what sort of music one likes (“Heavy Metal Is Best” – then why are you playing pop punk?), and being a punk while working a “real day job” (“Laptop Punk”), there’s nothing earthshaking here. Meh.

INNERLOVE – Fine By Me (Know Hope Records, www.knowhoperecords.com)

Long Island’s Innerlove call themselves “self-love rock.” I have no idea what that means, but the five songs on this mini-LP are pretty nice indie-pop. The opening track, “Enough,” is bouncy as hell, with awesome power pop hooks and awesome harmonized vocals. The guitars have a surf quality to them, too, giving the song a bright beachy feel. “Hell” follows with an interesting blend of Americana, emo, and pop. “Relax” has nice jangly guitars and what sounds like a trumpet, with more of an emo sound in the melody and vocals. I’m less enthused about “All the Weight” and the title track, which takes things further down the emo path, with less of the pop that makes the other song work well. Overall, this is a decent debut, but I’d like to hear more songs like that opener.

MFC CHICKEN – Fast Food and Broken Hearts (Dirty Water Records, www.dirtywaterrecords.co.uk)

Well, goddamn! Dirty Water has always put out great garage rock and roll, but damn! MFC Chicken is the creation of Canadian Spencer Evoy, who plays tenor sax and sings, and I mean sings, soul dripping from every syllable coming out of his mouth. This is R&B music straight outta the garage. “Fast Food and Broken Hearts” is the band’s fifth LP in ten years, and fried food despair has never sounded so fun! This is a record that will get you dancing with wild abandon. This is especially true of the amazing opening track, “Always, Always, Always,” a super fun track with lyrics about “going to the funhouse party tonight,” but You know I don’t know if I had some fun / ‘Cause I can’t remember anything I done!” The aftermath the next morning is described, too, the hangover, the blackout… Many of the songs are tongue-in-cheek, too, like the next track, “KFC Called the Cops on Me,” about going to the famous fast food place to get some chicken, but they didn’t have any. The customer may or may not have gotten enraged, and they ended up calling the cops. Hey, fried chicken is important when you’re hungry! “Who Gave What to Who?” is about sexually transmitted diseases, with a great funky beat. And “Fresh Chicken, Straight From The Trash,” about the best free food you can get. “It’s still good if it’s got some taste,” the song declares, then asks, “Who through you out, now? What a waste!” And “Fuck You, Me” is the ultimate in self-deprecation, with a chorus of “Fuck you, me / why don’t you leave me alone / if you weren’t me I’d kick your ass / Throw you out of my home.” “Spy Wail” is a great instrumental that, true to its name, sounds like it could have been the theme song from some 1960s spy thriller flick, with hints of surf rock mixed in with the great R&B. Damn, I can listen to this record over and over and never get tired of it! Bad feelings have never sounded so good!

SAM RUSSO – Back to the Party (Red Scare Industries, www.redscare.net)

Britain’s Sam Russo has been with Red Scare for some time. It’s been five years since LP #2, and though he’s had offers to record for bigger labels, he’s stuck with his Red Scare family. In these times of COVID-19 induced self-isolation, it’s become common to see many of our favorite band members livecasting solo acoustic from their living rooms to keep us entertained in the wake of cancelled tours and closed venues. But Russo has been doing the solo acoustic thing his entire career. The songs are heartfelt, and there are lots of nice touches in the arrangements that give these songs a fuller, richer sound than just simple acoustic. Like the cellos at the opening of “Purple Snow,” and the backing electric guitar quietly meandering underneath the leads. Use of reverb and multi-tracked vocals on “Always Lost” with a drier guitar sound is an interesting contrast, too. Cello provides a deep sound to the song “Darkness,” as does piano and a mixture of dry and reverbed guitars. “Young Heroes” uses glockenspiel and, I think, mandolin, plus keyboards to sweeten the sound and make it lusher. “Tears” utilizes steel guitar, too, but with the acoustic guitar always in the fore. Some songs are even raucous pop punk, like “Corporeal Gloom,” even though it’s primarily acoustic. I like the closer, “Basement,” which is a raucous pop punk song, too, but the arrangement is silky and beautiful. And “The Window,” which previously appeared on Red Scare’s anniversary compilation last year, has a great soaring quality to the chorus. Even if you think you’re getting bored with all of the acoustic guitar live streams happening these days, give Russo’s latest LP a try. I think you’ll find there’s much more to it than you expect.

SHASTA – Roaming Hearts (Dowd Records, www.dowdrecords.com)

Blending together buzzy synths with an 80s vibe, dance-like rhythms, a dream-pop aesthetic, and indie intensity, the west coast quartet Shasta gives us three tracks that will challenge your conceptions of these disparate genres that are brought together. The title track encapsulates this pretty well, with a hazy, lazy feel hanging over the steady drum beat ready made for dancing. The vocals are gorgeous and dreamy, but periodically getting raucous. The B-side of the vinyl single, “Ciao Fun,” is a darker song, without the dreaminess. The single note synth feels hollow, and the band try to inject a bit of funk into the track. This one just feels too thin to me. The digital only and appropriately named “Closer” starts out calm and relaxed, with laid-back vocals and a smooth melodic line in the synth. As the song progresses, it thickens, adding a jangly guitar and more buzzy synths, but still with the laid back feel. While this is not the sort of music I normally seek out, the first track is reasonably good. I’m not as thrilled with the other two songs.

THE SUICIDE MACHINES – Revolution Spring (Fat Wreck Chords, www.fatwreck.com)

If I’m being honest, I’ll have to tell you that I’ve not listened to The Suicide Machines before getting this record sent to me to review. Though I like plenty of bands on the Fat Wreck Chords label, some of them (the ones that seem to attract more than their share of “bros”) just don’t do it for me. I assumed The Suicide Machines fell into that category. Well, don’t I feel dumb and awkward now. The Suicide Machines play an incredible blend of rapid-fire street punk and ska. Lots of bands call themselves ska-punk, but really are either just punk or just ska. The Suicide Machines are a genuine ska-punk band, mixing in equal amounts of both genres to create something fun, bouncy, danceable, and even political. “Bully In Blue” is an amazing melodic street punk track played at blazing speed, with lyrics regarding the unequal treatment of people based on race at the hands of the police. I also like “Awkward Always,” a track that alternates between ska and hard rock, with a cool dub-like bridge. The street punk chorus is great, especially right after the bridge when it’s done a cappella with gang vocals. The song is about always feeling like an outsider, even as you get older into adulthood. Also equal parts ska and punk is “Flint Hostage Crisis,” about how the Republican government in Michigan turned Flint into a “Third World city,” letting people get sick and die in order to preserve profits and power. “Detroit Is the New Miami” is a powerful hardcore onslaught about climate change. Another good one (notice a pattern here? They’re all good.) is the dark punk of “Well Whiskey Wishes,” about the dangers of the drink. I love the verse that plays off a well-know Disney song, “When you wish upon a bar / Makes no difference who you are / You will always wind up on the floor / Next to all your wishes from the night before.” The closer is “Cheers To Ya,” and it’s the only track, as far as I can tell, to actually use horns (normally a ska staple). It’s an epic sounding song and a great way to end a great LP. And here I am, egg on my face for making assumptions.

THE PARASITES / LONE WOLF – Passport Vol. 4 (Mom’s Basement Records, momsbasementrecords.bigcartel.com)

Mom’s Basement continues its international split release series, this time featuring the legendary Parasites and, hailing from Rotterdam in the Netherlands, Lone Wolf. I shouldn’t have to even comment about The Parasites. If you don’t know this band, what are you doing reading Jersey Beat? Two songs from Dave and his current crop of bandmates adorn side A, “No Sleep Tonight” and “Nowhere Near Me.” They’re great, bouncy pop punk, with the former played at a lope and the latter at more rapid pace. Both feature some great backing vocal harmonies and loads of energy. Flipping to the B side, Lone Wolf’s “Meet Me in the Middle” is an awesome track straddling pop punk and indie pop, the sort of thing you would have heard on those 90's Shreds compilations. Their other contribution, “After Dark,” is a darker sounding indie rock track, with guitars providing a staccato attack instead of the jangle of “Meet Me in the Middle.” If this was just the two Parasites tracks, this would get a recommendation. But those Lone Wolf tracks make this an even better EP. Get on it.


DITCHES (Drunken Sailor Records, www.drunkensailorrecords.co.uk)

Jeff Burke’s influence is felt globally, as evidenced by this debut LP from Ditches, a band out of Stockholm, Sweden. The eleven tracks on this record are moderately fast, gritty garage punk and power pop, similar to Burke’s bands Marked Men and Radioactivity. There’s the rapid guitar strumming, the reverb-laden vocals and instruments, and the great melodies. Everything is played with a casual intensity. Some of the tracks are a little more impassioned than others. “Out Of This,” the opening track, is a manic one with more garage rock content than power pop, while “Get Away” is a bit more relaxed in tempo, but with a dark intensity. It’s hard to pick out any standout tracks, because these are all equally good. If you’re a fan of this sub-genre and the Denton, Texas sound, you’re going to love this record. I know I do.

IGNORADOS COMEDIANTES – Roy (Head2Wall Records, head2wallrecords.bigcartel.com)

Puerto Rican punk trio Ignorados Comediantes (Ignored Comedians) are described by their label as “skate punk,” but nope! It’s not. Instead, this is some blazing, amazing East Bay style punk. Like the music that emerged from that scene in the late 80s, it’s fast and loud, like hardcore, but infused with melodies and hooks, making for a great listen. Raspy vocals belt out lyrics in Spanish as the guitar, bass, and drums rage. With ten songs in nineteen minutes, they’re primarily short blasts that’ll knock you over. Opening the album is “Ignorando La Realidad” (Ignoring Reality), a perfect way to start. The music flies by swiftly, the vocals gruff and a bit sloppy in the best sense – it’s perfect for this style of music. As fast and loose as the song is, it’s bouncy as hell and it’s hard not to get up and jump around when this track is playing. “Llenandote De Estupor” (Filling You With Stupor) is a fun one, starting out as a real powerhouse hardcore track, but it evolves into more of a fast loping melodic sing-along. “12:30” is dark hardcore punk, and right after it is “Huracan TV,” which is a slower longer song that could have appeared on Lookout Records in its heyday. You don’t hear about many bands coming out of Puerto Rico, but Ignorados Comediantes needs to be heard a lot more widely. This is a great LP.

THE MARK VODKA GROUP (Drunken Sailor Records, www.drunkensailorrecords.co.uk)

Canadian rockers Mark Vodka and his self-named group blast out a smorgasbord of garage and punk influenced tracks on their self-titled debut LP. You get everything from the intense garage metal onslaught of the opening track, “I Wanna Piss in the Face of the World” to the rapid fire old school hardcore punk of “Goon,” from the amazing power pop of “Boy (I’m Allergic to You)” to the dark jangly “Everybody’s Punk Now.” “You’ve Got to Split” is an interesting one, with deadpan spoken lyrics over some pretty intense garage punk guitar licks. And the bouncy fuzzed garage punk of “All That You’ve Done for Me” reminds me of Ohio’s great Vacation. I’m in awe of the wonderful “Touch of Grey,” a fantastic power pop song that reminds me of crossing The Buzzcocks with Elvis Costello. It sounds familiar yet unique at the same time. I’m less enamored with the closer, “Mark’s Blues,” a standard blues number with acoustic guitar, which is completely out of place on this LP. But the other baker’s dozen tracks are varied and excellent.

MATT WILSON AND HIS ORCHESTRA – When I Was a Writer (Pravda Records, www.pravdamusic.com)

Matt Wilson, formerly of alternative rock band Trip Shakespeare, has returned to songwriting after a few years away. There was so much pent up inside his head that he wrote non-stop for the next three years, and this LP, his latest project, is the end result. But if you’re looking for catchy alternative rock similar to his former band, you won’t find it here. In its place is, yes, alternative pop music, but with more of a 70s bent, yet very different due to the unique arrangements chosen for these recordings. There are a lot of acoustic instruments in the mix, with the banjo and acoustic guitar giving some of the songs a twangy Americana feel. But it’s the sparklingly gorgeous harp provided by Phala Tracey that really makes some of these songs special. For instance, “Petty Thief” is just magical, particularly on the choruses. The blending of the delicately plucked harp, acoustic guitar, and even banjo gives the song an ethereal feel. “Real Life,” is a dark pretty one, especially when the harp comes to the forefront. At the end of this track, things get more intense, with the backing vocal choir, lead vocals, and instruments getting louder and more emphatic – it becomes aggressively pretty, in a way. And the closer, “Mental Patients,” having the harp and banjo play the same line together at times, is pretty unique and works really well. The opening track (which is the title track) is a reflection of Wilson’s experiences writing songs and his time when the words wouldn’t come. This has both a distinct 70s pop feel, almost Bacharachian, but blended with both a countryish feel from the banjo and a light touch from the harp. “Decent Guy” is a self-deprecating song about how someone who thinks he’s a decent guy and who tries to be good eventually goes bad. It starts out simply enough, with a tough jaunt, but as the song evolves it gets more complex, instruments weaving complicated patterns, just as the people referenced in the lyrics start out seeming straight-forward, but the more you get to know them, the more tangled they seem. The more I listen to these songs, the more they grow on me. Welcome back, Matt.

VISTA BLUE – Rock Acrostics (wearevistablue.bandcamp.com)

Vista Blue, likely the most prolific band in the world of pop punk, are back with a new EP. The dictionary defines an acrostic as “a poem, word puzzle, or other composition in which certain letters in each line form a word or words.” None of the trio of tracks contains an acrostic, but the opener, “This One’s Not About You,” mentions how “I’ve written you rock operas and rock acrostics too / But this one, this one’s not about you.” It’s got the trademarked Vista Blue buzzy fuzzy guitar as well as the Beach Boys multi-part harmonies. “I Think Cathy Is Crazy (About You)” is likely the most laid back song I’ve ever heard from the Vistas, and the guitar is almost clean sounding! It’s a great nerdy pop punk song. “I Wanna Be a Huntington” closes the EP with more of a Ramones-core sound, the buzzy muscly guitar making its reappearance. As always, Vista Blue gives us fun, bouncy songs, though this EP is a rarity in that it doesn’t seem to have a cohesive seasonal or holiday theme.


THE BOMBPOPS – Death In Venice Beach (Fat Wreck Chords, www.fatwreck.com)

The Bombpops are back with their sophomore full-length LP on Fat Wreck Chords, and it’s arguably their best release yet. Their brand of powerful pop punk is a perfect match for Fat, with big thick instrumentals and tuneful harmonized vocals. The opening track “Dearly Departed,” is one of my favorites of the LP. It’s an ode to toxic relationships, and a warning of what can happen when things go bad. Musically, the song is dark, as befits the topic, but it’s super melodic and bouncy, too. I also really like “Zero Remorse,” another dark one, this time about trying to get away with…well, whatever. It’s not clear, but it’s about not giving a fuck. The music is intense, and I love the gorgeous cello at the end. “Sad To Me” is pretty different from most of the other tracks, and is another good one. It’s a little slower, loping along with more of an easy pop bent than a lot of the tracks. The song is about remembering someone who’s turned into a dick and turning your back on them. “Can’t Come Clean,” by contrast, is not that much faster, but has a strong Ramones-core feel and is brighter than a lot of the other tracks, musically if not lyrically. And that’s a theme through a lot of Bombpops songs – lots of darkness, lots of bad experiences. And songs of breakups, like “Radio Silence,” which has an absolutely gorgeous bridge. The track has power pop leanings, with some great hooks, even if the dark pall still surrounds nearly everything the band plays. The closer, “Southbound Stranger,” is also pretty different for the Bombpops. It’s jangly and even has hints of Americana influence. OK, I’m going to take back my first statement about this being arguably the band’s best release yet. It’s definitely their best yet, no argument about it.

BRIAN MIETZ – Panzarotti (Sludge People, sludgepeople.merchtable.com)

The guy who makes all sorts of poster art for various bands, Brian Mietz, also writes and performs his own music. And that’s led to this debut LP, named for a South New Jersey food consisting of a pocket of fried dough filled with cheese and pizza sauce. The ten songs on offer are pretty laid back and pop oriented, with varying levels of success. I really like “Aijun,” the track appearing third in the lineup. The guitars have an open sound and a loping jangle. The melody is pretty minimalist, but the ambient guitar jangle and the use of reverb give the track a rich, full sound. “Kallie” has a high-pitched buzzy synth that normally would annoy me, but here it’s a perfect complement to the breezy acoustic guitar. I also really like “Pennies From Heaven,” which also uses acoustic guitars, and has an easy bounce to it, Mietz’s relaxed vocals gliding along. And “Speck In My Eye” has to be my favorite of the LP, a track that’s the most raucous of the album, though, still with a carefree feel, with a peppiness to it. It alternates between thick full instrument and sparser feel with just quiet electric guitar and understates percussion. A few of the songs don’t do it for me, though. The very first track, “Hollyweed,” is a buzzy psych-pop song that I just couldn’t get into. And right after that, “Interactivity” has a retro doo-wop feel updated with a modern pop aesthetic, but it just didn’t work for me. But overall, I really like the casual nonchalance of most of the tracks on this record.

THE FLATMATES (Happy Happy Birthday To Me, www.hhbtm.com)

Once upon a time there was an indie pop band from Bristol, in the UK, called The Flatmates. They formed in 1986, burned brightly, and broke up three years later, leaving only a few singles and no LPs behind as evidence they were ever there. Their influence was larger than one would expect from their short life, though, as many people credit them with being one of the early bands to create the fuzzed guitar indie pop sound. Twenty-seven years later, the band reformed with new vocalist Lisa Bouvier, and seven years after that have finally released their debut LP. Talk about taking your time! The baker’s dozen songs on this LP are definitely a throwback to the 90s indie sound. The songs are bouncy as hell, with guitars hazily buzzing away. They are incredibly sweet sounding, yet tough at the same time, and Bouvier’s vocals are just spot on for the style. Electric organ rounds out the sound with a nice warmth, and the lyrics mostly are about love and relationships, good and bad. My favorite song has to be “This Is Reality,” a song that bounces off the bounciness. It’s just so much fun, with some of the best hooks of the record. “Something In My Eye” is another favorite for the huge sound in the chorus that comes from the trumpet that makes an appearance on a few tracks. “Punk Moth” is an interesting song, as it’s a Ramones-core track, but lighter than what you would expect. “Why Can’t It Be Love” closes the album, and has an even bigger sound than “Something In My Eye.” It has a retro R&B influence to it, too, blending some awfully fun styles together to craft something pretty original. Fitting for one of the original indie-pop bands.

THE FUR COATS – Dystopia Sherbit (Johann’s Face Records, johannsfacerecords.bandcamp.com)

One of the things I love the most about The Fur Coats is that every record they put out has a little bit of a different sound. Sometimes it’s pure pop punk, other times it’s the gritty, tough Chicago punk sound that front man Marc Ruvolo perfected with his old band, No Empathy. This latest LP from The Fur Coats, though, their third full-length LP, varies even from song to song, making for a surprising and fun listen. Songs range from the metallic tinged punk of “I Tumbled Down a Deep Ravine,” to the bouncy pop of “Hey God Bone,” to the classic punk of “Anthem of the Anthropocene (Part 1)” and much in between, all with a distinct nod to 80s music. I really like the 80s post-punk quality of “Epilogue,” a sparingly instrumented track that’s ready made for pogoing. Lyrically, it’s a dark look at life wasted. “Bang! There’s the starting gun / Did you run, run, run run, run? / See! The world has passed you by / Did you even try, try, try?” “Crown Shyness” is so different from anything the band have ever done before, a dark gloomy ballad with fuzzed out guitar and electronics grinding away, setting a dismal mood. It’s got a very 80s feel to it too, and I love the atmosphere it generates, though Ruvolo’s bright vocals aren’t quite depressing enough to match the emotional essence of the instrumentals. “Dewclaws to the Dawn” is another favorite. It’s got a cool and weird early Devo meets Kraftwerk quality to it. “Ex Libris” reminds me of the great Washington DC band 9353, which had so many odd songs with very distinct vocals that this song manages to do a pretty good job approximating. The closing track is “Anthem of the Anthropocene (Part 2),” which has the same general melody of Part 1 and the same chorus, but is a lot more relaxed, with a twangy indie sound. Though this album may be a little more jarringly disjointed than past efforts, the variety is something close to my heart, so I really love this one.

LUCY AND THE RATS – Dark Clouds / Get Down (Dirty Water Records, www.dirtwaterrecords.co.uk / Stardumb Records, www.stardumbrecords.com)

Stardumb, known for power pop and pop punk has teamed up with Dirty Water Records, a label known for gritty garage rock and roll. They’ve come together to put out this latest single from London’s Lucy and the Rats, a band that blends garage, power pop, and pop punk – a perfect collaboration for these labels. The tracks on this single are a little more on the power pop side of things, but the guitars, particularly on the A side, have that garage sound, and especially in the bridge. The B-side is much more laid back, a bit slower, and a touch grittier. But it’s still deeply rooted in power pop. I like this band a lot.

MIDDLE-AGED QUEERS – Too Fag For Love (Outpunx Records, middleagedqueers.bandcamp.com)

Funny-punk has a long and storied history as a subgenre in the larger punk scene. So, too, has queer-core, a genre pioneered by the likes of Pansy Division and Limp Wrist. But what happens when you put the two genres together, and create a queer-core band that’s tongue in cheek and doesn’t take itself seriously? You get Middle-Aged Queers, a band made up of aging punks formerly in well-known punk bands such as Flipper, Fang, and others. The opening track, “Gary’s Making Biscuits,” has no queer content, being a simple ditty about a cat named Gary. But “Bike Cock” certainly has both an old school punk sound and homosexuality in its lyrics. “Fuck that cock, get it out of my face!” the song demands. Musically, the band seems to blend elements of old school punk bands like The Dead Kennedys with goth punk like you might hear from Bauhaus. Lyrically, not every song is queer-oriented. Like “Frankenstein’s Alive,” but “I Got the Gay Edge” is sort of like the queer version of straight-edge, I guess. It’s the most “hardcore” of the songs, for sure. And “Red Herring” is almost pop punk in comparison to the rest of the songs. But, overall, this record feels more like what it is – a bunch of older punks playing some funny, sloppy punk music, much of which sounds a little too alike. Nothing says this more than the closer, “Theme Song,” which has a chorus that repeats, “We are the queers, the Middle-Aged Queers, we’re the fucking queers, go fuck yourself!” I suppose whether you will enjoy this record depends on how you feel about the simplistic funny-punk genre.

THE MR. T EXPERIENCE – MTX Forever (Sounds Rad, www.soundsradical.com)

Decades in the making, this new two disc retrospective collects together twenty-four of the very best Mr. T Experience tracks from throughout the band’s storied career. Complete disclosure: I’ve long been a big MTX fan, so this will be less of a review and more of a love letter to Dr. Frank and company. The band formed back in the mid 1980s, when hardcore was turning into metallic crossover. The state of punk was not good. But in the East Bay, the pop punk movement was stirring to life, with bands like MTX leading the way. MTX, in particular, was even poppier and more, well, fun than a lot of the other bands, with many of the songs sung with tongue firmly in cheek. Loads of bounce, tons of hooks, and a humorous outlook have been mainstays of MTX songs throughout. The collection opens with a bang, the classic single “Love American Style,” from the 1991 single. This one’s always been a favorite, with a great garage-like feel, while still managing to be brightly poppy. And the musical and lyrical references to the TV theme song are fun and nostalgic. “More Than Toast,” off “Our Bodies, Our Selves,” is also a classic hit, instantly recognizable as MTX. And the lyrics are a perfect representation of what MTX is all about, with comical lines like “I love you more than toast” and “I knead you more than dough.” Another great one is “She’s Coming (Over Tonight)” (from the LP, “Revenge Is Sweet, and So Are You”), with its retro garage sound and double-entendre lyrics. “The End of the Ramones,” from the 10” EP “Big Black Bugs Bleed Blue Blood,” is Dr. Frank’s homage to the progenitors of pop punk, with more of a raw East Bay punk sound blended with Ramones-core. Another one from “Our Bodies…” is the hilariously self-deprecating “Even Hitler Had a Girlfriend,” played as a lonely acoustic solo song. “Nixon had his puppy / Charles Manson had his clan,” the song declares, “But God forbid that I get a girlfriend.” I adore the twee rock and roll chamber music of “Book of Revelation,” off of the LP “Milk Milk Lemonade,” complete with harpsichord accompaniment. My absolute favorite MTX song of all time, though, is “Swallow Everything,” which I think originally appeared on a 7” comp, and later on Big Black Bugs Bleed Blue Blood.” It’s a song about the culture of drug abuse, but it makes no judgments, positive or negative. The song is impossibly upbeat and bouncy, and great fun. The final two songs of the collection are the ones most different from the others. “Leave the Thinking to the Smart People” from 2000’s “The Miracle of Shame” is gentle psych-folk-rock ballad, with electronic keyboards and a bit of a dreamy feel. And “London,” from “Yesterday Rules,” is a soft rock number that would feel at home on adult contemporary radio. These last two are not my favorites, but hey, Dr. Frank can pretty much do no wrong with his music. If you’re just getting started learning about MTX, this is a great place. It’ll entice you to try to find all the back catalog records.

PEARS (Fat Wreck Chords, www.fatwreck.com)

FINALLY! It’s been too long a wait since “Green Star” came out, Pears’ previous LP, which found its way onto my Best of the Decade list (which you can read here: http://www.jerseybeat.com/2019-paulsilver.html). But fuck that album; this one is self-titled, so the band’s whole reputation is on the line now. The quartet is mainly known for incredibly fast hardcore, intense grindcore, and the poppiest melodies – all in the same song. And they don’t disappoint on that front at all. For example, “Zero Wheels” is played at a breakneck pace, but is loaded with melodic hooks and harmonized vocals. “Comfortably Dumb” is a manic track that reminds me a bit of old Suicidal Tendencies, until they hit the chorus and those beautiful harmonies and pop sensibilities come back. But what’s more surprising and interesting on this LP are the unexpected tracks. One of my absolute favorites is “Naptime,” which guitarist Brian Pretus says he wrong in about ten minutes and is one of his favorites, too. Initially it’s classic Pears, intense, fast and loud, this time with a bit of an Oi feel, except when the melodic punk seeps in. But what makes this track amazing is that on the last pounding chorus, as the track starts to fade away, guitars and bass getting quieter and quieter, we hear an acoustic guitar madly playing the same line. It’s an incredible effect, real genius. “Worm” is an amazing mash up of grinding punk and light pop music, at least near the beginning of the track. The falsetto harmonized backing vocals over Zach Quinn’s enraged lead vocals, along with the blistering attack of the instrumentals is something to behold. And “Traveling Time,” the penultimate track on the album, is a complete departure for the band, featuring more of a classic rock sound blended with grunge. It almost sounds like something that Quinn might have written for his other band, Bandaid Brigade, but didn’t use there. The closer, “Cynical Serene,” starts out as something more expected, with massive intensity and melody, but there’s a bridge at the halfway mark that’s actually ethereal, almost dreamy, before the hardness comes back. I really love when the track nears its end, and everything drops away except for the bass, playing the final notes. It’s a beautiful moment, spoiled as only Pears can do it at the very end. This New Orleans quartet have made some bold choices for this LP, but I think it’s paid off very nicely. They’ve expanded who they are as a band while remaining true to themselves.

GODDAMNIT / TRAVERSE – Split mini LP (Creep Records, www.creeprecords.com/record-label)

Philadelphia’s Goddamnit call themselves a “post-punkmocore” band. It’s a pretty apt description. They tend to play early to mid 90s post-punk blended with emo, and a heavy dose of melodic punk thrown in. It’s the sort of music that was pioneered in the Midwest by bands like Gauge, Braid, and Cap’n Jazz, but then thrown in a blender with post-hardcore. On some of the tracks the Midwest melodic emo is more prominent, on others the post-hardcore emo is. Since there are only four tracks from this band, it’s hard to tell which is more their sound. But “Little Mile” is my favorite of the bunch by a long mile. It’s a little more up-tempo than the other tracks, and has some big, epic guitar lines. “Gemini Season” is the other track that has bits of the old Midwest sound, while “Pieces Left” and “Wishful Thinking” have a more modern 2000s sound.

Traverse is from the other side of the Atlantic, specifically Paris, France. And while they definitely have some emotional content to their punk rock, Traverse have way more pop in their arsenal. The three songs they contribute are mostly big sing-alongs, worthy of the West Coast style. In some ways, too, the first track, “Deserted World,” reminds me of PUP. I think it’s the vocals, raw emotion yet very melodic. “We Like To Discuss The Black But Not The Fade” has an awesome math-rock bridge toward the end that glistens. And the final track is called “Coeurs Fauves,” and is sung in French. It has a breezy but tough sound that I really like. Both of these bands are good, but if I had to pick one, I think Traverse would take it. This is seriously good.


EAMON RA – Meat Bones Chemicals Electricity (eamonra.bandcamp.com)

Seattle’s singer/songwriter Eamon Ra has released his debut solo LP after many years of working with other musicians of that fine city. The record focuses on psychedelic pop sounds, sort of like blending Syd Barrett and The Beatles. There’s a clear nod to the oddball psychedelic genre, but within a more pop structure. The track the album title comes from, “Pitchforks and Torches,” is a perfect example of this. It’s a lightly bouncy waltz that one could imagine coming from either Pink Floyd’s first LP or a mid period Beatles record. The song is about how the townsfolk gathered in the square with their pitchforks and torches to chase after a creature made of, yes, meat, bones, chemicals, and electricity. But the song says, we’re all made of the same elements – the song seeming to be a reference to the stupidity of bigotry. We’re all the same, and the differences we hate each other over are merely superficial. “Nightingale” is an amazing bluesy folk lament, with acoustic guitar, flute, and heartfelt vocals. “Simple But So Complicated” is a favorite, too, with the feel of a modern madrigal, guitars sounding sort of like harpsichords. The song also brings back the title refrain, this time in a reference to how people are simple, yet so complicated. “Kiss Somebody Special” and “Fun to be Had” are a little more like 70s pop music ballads and work less well. But the closer, “Such Good Friends,” is a beautiful celebration of the value of friendship. It’s in waltz time, blending 60s pop and funk sounds in a pretty unique way. If you love psychedelic pop music, this is a must.

ERIK NERVOUS AND THE BETA BLOCKERS (Drunken Sailor Records, www.drunkensailorrecords.co.uk)

Erik Nervous, joined by The Beta Blockers, play some pretty great angular post-punk rock music that harkens back to the glory days of the wondrous musical experimentation and exploration of the late 70s and early 80s. Minimalism is on full display in tracks like “Gravure,” with the melodic line repeated over and over in the guitars. The track “Richard” is a perfect example of the heights the post-punk style achieved, with some awesome jazzy guitar riffs, but always within a punk aesthetic. “Blasted Heath,” too, is a throwback to the days of synth-based post-punk, bridging the worlds of punk rock and new wave. I really love the minimalism of “Want To Not Wanna,” with buzzy guitars dueling in the foreground and deadpan vocals speaking the lyrics in a monotone in the background. Sometimes the minimalism gets to be a little too much (or too little, as the case may be). “”I’ve Got A) Desk Lamp For A Hand” is just an extended guitar solo, bass line, and a bit of drums to keep the beat, and it does get to be grating. Thankfully, it’s followed by the richer “No Chorus,” with synths giving the song a sparkle and shouted vocals giving it urgency. And right after that is “Make Up To Break Up,” which blends the best of power pop and new wave, adding saxophones in the chorus to great effect. “State Line” has a darker garage-like feel, but with a great driving beat that keeps the song moving ever forward. Synths seem to lurk in the background to add to the darkness. I think this is probably my favorite of the LP. Good stuff.

MELODY ENGLISH – Melody (House of Feelings, www.hausofeels.com)

This nine-track album represents the debut LP from Brooklyn's Melody English. Though the songs span a wide variety of feels, all of the songs have a quiet, intimate feel to them. The opening track, “Huma,” uses electric keyboards, acoustic guitar, and multi-tracked vocals to create what can only be described as a very delicate grunge tune. “Affect Me” is a folk pop tune with hints of 70s influence. I love the gloom of “Monotony,” a song that feels achingly sad, lonely, and beautifully languorous. “What If I don’t want to say anything? / What if I don’t to go? / What if I’m enough for me right now?” the song asks, unconvincingly. But my favorite, by far, is “Nolite,” a track that sounds ancient and mysterious. I hear medieval liturgical music here, but I also hear classical opera, and I hear deep sadness and loss. Three quarters of the way through the track, it ends, but then buzzy synths play rising patterns, and there are low throbs interjected, like something from science fiction. After this abruptly cuts off, the final track, “Never Meet,” plays. It’s a sweet folk tune with acoustic guitar and multi-tracked vocals. “I think that we should never meet,” the song opens. As with other songs on the album, there is a desire for deliberate isolation, and the music’s lonesome sound matches the sentiment. Less successful is “Badlands,” a song that shifts between piano and electric keyboards in a song that sounds like the soft rock of the 80s, but the vocals are sung unevenly. Acoustic guitar comes in and out in odd places, too, and the melody sounds like something from a stage show. And “Argue” seems to bow to new wave songs of the early 80s, with sparkly synths, though the feel is toned down from the mania of new wave. But there’s much more to fall in love with in this debut than there are reasons to ignore it.

MUCK AND THE MIRES – Cupid’s Not a Friend of Mine (Rum Bar Records, rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com / Dirty Water Records, www.dirtywaterrecords.co.uk)

Known for putting out some great power pop and rock and roll records, Rum Bar Records has teamed up with the UK’s premier purveyors of garage rock to give us a bouncy rock and roll Valentine’s Day treat. Boston’s Muck and the Mires have a history with both labels, and are a perfect fit to bring them together. This anti-love song is the first single off the forthcoming LP, “Greetings from Muckingham Palace,” due out this spring. The track is classic power pop, with loads of bounce, great jangly hooks, harmonized lead and backing vocals, plus a great gritty guitar solo at the bridge. I can’t wait for the full album!


SPANISH LOVE SONGS – Brave Faces, Everyone (Pure Noise Records, www.purenoise.net)

God, I love this band. They move me, musically and lyrically, like few bands do. Ever since I saw them for the first time at San Diego’s Soda Bar and felt compelled to pick up their first album at the merch table, I’ve been avidly following them. The LA band play huge, expansive, and emotionally charged music. These are rousing anthems of the trials and tribulations we all face to make it in life. The music is huge and full of emotion, with just the right balance of pop melody to it. Every song sounds epic, even in the quiet parts, echoing the quiet desperation in the daily lives of most everyone on the planet.

On the opening track, “Routine Pain,” vocalist Dylan Slocum sings about the daily grind we all face, not just the workaday rut of going from “bed to desk to bar,” as the lyrics say, but all of the feelings of self-doubt and guilt we all carry with us. As if searching for a way out, Slocum asks, “Am I gonna be this down forever? / Am I gonna be this dumb forever? / Am I gonna be this gone forever? / Am I gonna be this numb forever?” The hopefulness continues on “Self-Destruction (as a Sensible Career Choice).” Reflecting on the choice to make music a career (or any passion, really), something that really doesn’t pay the bills (or, as Slocum sings, “All I have are missed bank payments” and “I know I can’t eat off this paycheck”), the song confirms the commitment to this path, declaring “It won’t be this bleak forever.”

From there, the songs begin to look outward, unlike on the first two albums, where they were more introspective and self-referential. They’re vignettes about life in the United States as things stand today, that the band saw and experienced touring for their sophomore LP, “Schmaltz.” These are stories of how people struggle to live, and how, as Slocum says, “…life never goes off the rails all at once. Rather it’s a years-long series of seemingly imperceptible events that snowball into life-altering issues like heroin addiction, mental illness, or suicide. But just as things didn’t break overnight, happiness and redemption aren’t as simple as a flip of the switch. It’s a day-by-day, step-by-step climb we have to work to attain.”

Songs include a tale of how people lose hope and abuse substances to deal with (or avoid dealing with) life in “Generation Loss.” The cycle of opioid addiction is explored in “Generation Kick,” with a young man who, as a child, witnessed his father shooting up, then went on the sell and use himself, ending up in prison after becoming a father himself. One of my favorites (in an album full of excellent songs) is “Losers.” It’s about the experience of so many young people these days, unable to afford rising rents in gentrifying neighborhoods, unable to afford the escalating costs of health care and not bothering to see as doctor “until I’m down on my knees,” and living “life off points from credit card financing.” “Losers 2” continues the theme, talking about working three jobs to afford the cost of living, which “means the cost to stay alive.” In this song, as in many cases in life, people tragically see suicide as the only out from a miserable existence.

But not all is grim. “Optimism (as a Radical Career Choice)” discusses the disaster the world has become, as our every daily choice ends up exploiting some and making others richer, as more and more we live in a police state in the name of safety as meaningless violence rises. But, we can survive! Slocum declares, “I’ll wear you out waiting for me to implode,” and “I’m done dying on the inside / Now that everything is dying on the outside.” Life goes on, and so must we. And, as the closing moments of the title track that closes out the album declares, “We don’t have to fix everything at once / We were never broken / Life’s just very long / Brave faces everyone.” We need to stay strong for ourselves and for each other, and we can all survive together. And, while maintaining may not seem like a reason for optimism, it’s way better than the alternative.

THE FRIGHTS – Everything Seems Like Yesterday (Epitaph Records, www.epitaph.com)

San Diego’s The Frights continue to reinvent themselves on this, their fourth studio LP (and their second since singing to Epitaph). The band that started as a garage-surf-punk trio many years ago and evolved into awesome nerdy indie pop rock for their Epitaph debut has released an album of incredibly awesome acoustic-based pop songs. For this latest effort, the songs are written and performed solely by front man Mikey Carnevale. The songs, written by Carnevale on acoustic guitar beginning back in 2018, were originally intended for release as a solo acoustic album, top be put up digitally for free. But the reaction to the songs, when performed at various shows, was so strong, it was decided they needed to be on a new Frights album. Carnevale brought bassist Richard Dotson up to his grandmother’s cabin in the mountain village of Idyllwild, California, and they proceeded to record, laying down all of the tracks in sequence with a field recorder, leaving in all of the ambient sounds it picked up. They used pinecones and pots and pans to add percussion, as well as the crunching of fallen leaves and the thump of tennis ball thrown against the cabin wall. At the end of the recording of “Simple and Strange,” the cabin’s phone began to ring…and they decided to leave it in. And likewise, the haunting hoots of an owl fill the empty space at the close of the equally haunting “Faceless Moon.”

The album opens with “24,” referring to Carnevale’s age when their Epitaph debut LP, “Hypochondriac,” was released. It’s a song that I can personally relate to, about how people drift out of our lives if we don’t make the effort to remain connected (and how we often don’t). Though the song is stripped down, it feels thick and bouncy, with layers of acoustic and electric guitar, multi-tracked vocals, and various ambient sounds. I love the poignant “Echo in the Corner of the Room,” another song with a playful melody, including both acoustic guitar and mandolin. The song is truly beautiful, and the lyrics are a remembrance of a dead friend, something that echoes in my own life lately.

Some of the songs add harmonica, giving a more Americana feel, like “Kicking Cans,” the lovely waltz, “All I Ask,” and “Love Grows Cold,” a song of recognizing one’s own failures in a relationship. And the closer, “25,” uses it in more of a Dylanesque vein, for a folk song that seems to be Carnevale’s way of saying thanks, but that he’s not so special, he’s just going through the same feelings we all do. “I could thank you all for trusting that I had something to say / But if you’re looking for an answer I would turn the other way / There’s a heart attack in everyone somewhere down the line / So forget my silly problems turn away I’ll be fine.”

One thing is clear on the album: though the songs are recorded with a carefree and whimsical feeling, there’s a depth to them, an air of uncertainty about one’s place in the world. It echoes how many of us project an outward appearance of confidence, but inside we’re still vulnerable, frightened children. It makes this my favorite Frights album to date. Carnevale reports that the band have been working on new arrangements of these songs for live shows, and I can’t wait to hear what they do with them.


CLIFFFS – Panic Attack (We Know Better Records, www.statefairrecords.com/we-know-better-records)

How can songs sound intense and laid back at the same time? It’s something Clifffs do so effortlessly on their sophomore LP, “Panic Attack.” The trio of front man John Dufilho, bassist Andy Lester, and drummer Bill Spellman play music that blends garage, psych, punk, and indie styles into one. The resulting arrangements are sparse, but feel complete. The fuzzed keyboards add a cool dimension to many of these tracks, too. From the get go, you can hear this is different. “Undone” opens with a “1 2 3!” shout, prominent buzzy bass, and spacey electronics. The vocals on the verses are accompanied only by the bass, with the rest of the instruments coming in for the chorus and bridge. “Manatee” is super stripped down, feeling like indie nerd punk of the 80s, but then the synth joins in giving it a fuller sound. The guitar solo takes things up a notch, transforming the track into some intense garage rock. It’s a favorite that suddenly ends, unresolved. I also like the power pop of “Into The Salt,” the hookiest track of the album. The band make good use of dissonance, too, like on the opposing guitar lines of “You Are Freaking Out” and “I Might Try Psychics,” the latter sounding like some of the incredibly inventive music that was happening in the early 1980s. Dissonance is especially notable on “Dark Clouds,” with a call and response thing going on between guitars, before the carnival-like melody jumps in. “It’s All Gone Wrong” is both breezy indie and angry punk at the same time, which is miraculous. The understated buzzy guitars and relaxed lead vocals are countered by the angry backing vocals and simple melody. The song is about how saying the wrong thing can really wreck things. The title track echoes the feeling of having a panic attack, with manic feel, warbled sounding vocals and instruments, and a pace that sounds rapid, but isn’t quite. And “Tilt” is another favorite, having a pretty upbeat fun sound, even though the lyrics are dark. The thirteen songs on this LP clock in at a mere 24 minutes, a wise investment of your time.

MAURICE AND THE STIFF SISTERS – Welcome to Love
(mauriceandthestiffsisters. bandcamp.com)

Utilizing horns (Aaron Mattison’s tenor sax and Bryant Byers’ trombone) along with the more traditional guitar, bass, and drums of a pop band (front man Maurice spencer, Michael Doherty, and Dave Shur, respectively), Portland’s Maurice and the Stiff Sisters are anything but stiff. They play fun, bouncy pop music reminiscent of the days of Graham Parker & The Rumor or Elvis Costello & The Attractions. There’s a distinct jangle in the guitars, and the horns provide a nice soulful feel to the songs. “Our Old Haunts” even has the jumping feel of an early Motown R&B song. Most of the songs, though, are grounded in the power pop tradition, with solid guitar fueled melodies. This isn’t breaking any new ground, but it’s a worthy listen.

THE MEN – Mercy (Sacred Bones Records, www.sacredbonesrecords.com)

Easy listening jams? That’s what comes to mind listening to the eighth LP from Brooklyn’s The Men. The band was formed in 2008, and their early releases were experiments in noise, creative and sometimes groundbreaking stuff. Somewhere over the years, they lost their way, and this record could have been made by any number of aging stoner musicians. “Cool Water” is a lazy country song, with acoustic guitar organ, slide guitar, and vocals that sound cracked and broken. “Wading in Dirty Water” is an exercise in self-indulgence, being nothing more than ten and a half minutes of instrumental wanking. “Fallin’ Through” is a tentative sounding piece, with just piano and those creaky vocals. It sounds like it was recorded in one take, mistakes and all. “Children All Over the World” sounds like a band from the 80s that couldn’t decide if it wanted to be new wave or arena rock. “Call the Doctor” is another country tune – but this one has a singular melodic line and lyric repeated over and over ad nauseum – for almost four minutes. “Breeze” is a generic rock song. And the closer is the title track, sounding like a Neil Young wannabe, the achy vocals on full display. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

PERSONALITY CULT – New Arrows (Dirtnap Records, www.dirtnaprecs.com)

North Carolina’s Ben Carr is back with the sophomore LP from his latest project, Personality Cult. When I reviewed the debut LP, this was just a side project. I commented that this needed to be a full-time gig – and now it is, with a full band lineup and a signing to Dirtnap Records. Produced by none other than garage punk master Jeff Burke (Marked Men, Radioactivity, Lost Balloons), Personality Cult has, at its core, the sort of edgy garage punk sound you might expect. But there’s more to Personality Cult than simple garage punk. These songs generally have a darkness to them, unlike the debut that had a sparkle in its sound. The sound is richer, too, and the melodies stronger. There are layers here, like the harmonized backing vocals, lead vocals, and guitars playing differing lines. Those lines, too…they turn on a dime and are loaded with hooks. I love the glorious dark sound of “Weigh Down,” particularly in the instrumental bridges. “Pressure Point” is another favorite for its amazing start-stop sounds and creative angularity in meter, as well as melody. The songs are bouncy and catchy, and there’s that dark sadness, too, that’s a wonderful contrast. The intensity never lets up over the nine songs – this is a real winner, no sophomore slump here.

RED LIGHT REBELS – Rewind Erase (www.facebook.com/Redlightrebelspunx)

The UK’s Red Light Rebels have followed up 2018’s “Joyride” LP with a new EP. If you’re a fan of the sort of huge pop tinged melodic hardcore of bands like Millencolin, you’ve got much to be thankful for. Red Light Rebels are more than competent musicians, and attack the five songs here with glee. The music is epic, tuneful and metal-edged. This sort of stuff never really has done much for me, though. It all sounds a little too generic, from the harmonized “whoa-ohs” to the angrily sung vocals, to the metallic jangle, it just sounds too much like too many other bands. I’m sure they mean well, and there are plenty of people who love this sort of music. I’m just not one of them. But if you are, you’ll likely enjoy this EP.

THE SAXOPHONES – Eternity Bay (Full Time Hobby, www.fulltimehobby.co.uk)

The Saxophones are a duo from Oakland, CA consisting of husband and wife Alexi Erenkov & Alison Alderdice. Their sophomore full-length LP is beautiful, dreamy jazz pop. Lovely guitar, bass, saxophone (of course), and vocals blend together in understate ease. And even though their name is The Saxophones, not every track has sax in it. Some have gorgeous flute, piano, electric keyboards, and other instrumentation. “Lamplighter” has a doo-wop 50s rock and roll feel, except it’s slow and relaxed, feeling like something from a dream. I love “Forgot My Mantra,” a magical folksy song. The ambient electronics give the music an otherworldly feel, while the quiet guitar and vocals make the song sound like something from ancient pagan history. “Take My Fantasy” reminds me of a Bossa Nova in a dreamy haze, and “You Fool” has a pretty island atmosphere. The fluttering flute in “Flower Spirit” is gorgeous, and goes well with the vaguely Asian inspired melody. The title track closes the album with a solemn number that feels like a gauzy gospel song. The whole album feels like something that occupies the space between waking and sleeping. Gorgeous.


DEMITASSE – Perfect Life (www.wearedemitasse.com)

Demitasse is the acoustic side project for guitarist Joe Reyes and singer Erik Sanden of the rock band Buttercup. In the aftermath of the death of both of their fathers, they wrote some songs that were quieter and more contemplative than their usual output, so they created Demitasse as an outlet for their grief. Now, some four years later, this is their third full-length LP. Acoustic guitar provides the backdrop for quietly desperate vocals singing songs of pain and sadness. Sometimes there’s piano, sometimes synths, sometimes electric guitar, but always just to provide atmosphere. The acoustic guitar and vocals are always front and center. Even when the melody sounds uplifting, the lyrics are dark. Such is the case with the breezy “Little Blonde Boy,” subtitled “for Kurt Cobain.” “Blue blue the color of a lonely heart / Do you feel blue?...I’m sorry your family / was so cruel.” The music sounds like it comes from south of the border, with gorgeous Latin flourishes in the guitar. The juxtaposition of the joyous music and the downbeat lyrics makes this a standout. “Coming Out Wrong Again” is another lovely one, this time about how sometimes we just can’t seem to get anything right. Acoustic guitar and piano accompany downcast vocals, and provide the example, “Five AM it’s getting light / even the sun can’t get it right,” and “I scream inside but make no sound / it’s coming out wrong” leading into the chorus. All of the songs have such depressing lyrics, with themes of loneliness, breakups, and pain. This record is so beautifully understated.

ENVY – The Fallen Crimson (Temporary Residence Ltd, www.temporaryresidence.com)

I’ve said it many times before and I’ll say it again, there’s no such thing as a bad Japanese band. This time I’ll say it with a caveat: This genre isn’t my thing, but Envy are still excellent at what they do, and I can appreciate the things they’ve got going on here and the creativity they’ve put into it. Envy are a post-hardcore band formed in Tokyo in 1992 that went on to become influential in the “screamo” genre of music. As time passed, they evolved, moving into the realms of post-hardcore and post-rock. After some lineup tumult, they’re back with their first LP in five years. The music is expansive, blending elements of post-hardcore, dream pop, progressive rock, post-rock, screamo, and even hints of Japanese melodies. “Statement of Freedom” is the opening track, and it starts off with a hard-edge, turbulent guitars sharply screaming along with the angry vocals. Part of the way into the track, we hear bigger, dreamier sounds in the guitars, with spoken vocals. Then the instrumentals get quieter and anguished screamo vocals take the stage before the huge dreaminess and then the hardcore come back to finish the song. What a ride! Likewise, “A Faint New World” moves between huge dreamy sounds and intense hardcore, with a progressive rock backdrop. “Rhythm” is a gorgeous track that’s almost indie-pop, but blended with an adult contemporary sensibility and beautiful female vocals. “Marginalized Thread” is a fascinating track, melding the feel of a Japanese melody, enormous dream pop, the angry guitars of post-hardcore, and screamed vocals – all at the same time! It’s a totally unique sound, not heard from any other band. So, too, is “Hikari” unlike anything I’ve heard before. It’s quiet and understated, with the sound of falling rain in the background, as guitars quietly strum and synths tuned to sound like French horns play a simple melody that sounds like something from the classical era of music. Heavily processed vocals that sound synthesized come in, indistinctly singing the melody, sounding like something out of place in time – an old melody in a new unnatural voice. Midway through the song, the guitars explode, performing the same melody. The end result sounds like an anthem from some dystopian future. “Dawn and Gaze” also has that unearthly electronic voice, then transforms into a huge anthemic sound that reminds me of the grandiose themes in some Japanese anime films, and the vocals are growled and screamed in incongruity. Envy are truly original, a rare thing these days. As I said, this is not the sort of genre I normally listen to, but Envy have gotten my attention.

THE GHOST WOLVES – Let’s Go To Mars (Dirty Water Records, www.dirtywaterrecords.co.uk)

Austin, Texas duo The Ghost Wolves, embarking on a European tour, are releasing a new 7” single featuring two spaced out songs that combine the energy of garage rock, the attitude of punk, and a heavy dose of new wave. On the title track, pounding drums, driving bass, sparkling synths and emphatic vocals provide a treat, music that’s gritty and danceable at the same time! The B-side, “Last Man,” provides a darker sound, fitting for the apocalyptic topic. Drums and synths provide a thin backdrop for the bleak vocals. Fascinating stuff.

GUERILLA POUBELLE – L’Ennui (Red Scare Industries, www.redscare.net)

The red menace continues to reach across the globe! Well, Red Scare Industries does, at least. Guerilla Poubelle is a French band, for those of you who have been living under a rock. Red Scare picked up these guys a few years ago, and it’s the perfect match, because (unlike many of the Red Scare bands) Guerilla Poubelle is quite the political band. Musically, they range from skate punk to street punk to melodic hardcore. Lyrically, GP sing about the fear and isolation of borders imposed on us by a capitalist society, the boredom (ennui) of daily life, the futility of trying to succeed in a rigged society, the coming ecological apocalypse, police repression, the growing economic divide between rich and everyone else, and more. All songs are sung in French, so thanks to the band for summarizing the lyrics in English on their bandcamp site! Almost every track is a huge rager, fast and loud, with tons of great melodic content. “Les Frontieres du Present” is the opener, and it’s a powerful pop-filled hardcore treat. I also really like the equally pop-core “L’aigle et la Foudre,” a track that hits hard and even has some melodic hooks. The hardcore tracks include the short powerful blast that is “Qui Perd Perd,” and “L’arme a Droite,” a track that begs to be used in an old school skate video. Similarly, “La Guerre des Pauvres” kicks you in the ass, even if it’s not as fast as some of the other harder tracks. “La Chute” is a great loping street punk track with obvious sing-along potential, and “La Bataille de Paris” moves between street and skate punk styles, with a heavy anthemic feel. Apocalypse is an outlier, being a more laid-back pop punk song thinner in the arrangement, slower, and poppier. So, too, is “L’argile,” though this one is slower and grungier than any of the others. I strongly recommend this record, especially if you’re headed to the skatepark and need a soundtrack, but also if you want to support those who speak out about injustice in the world and do it with some great music.

HUNTINGTONS – ¡Muerto, Carcel, O Rocanrol! (Burnt Toast Vinyl, www.burnttoastvinyl.com)

Huntingtons, hailing from Baltimore, were active back in the 90s and all the way into the 2000s, but their last LP before this one was in 2009. The music they play is definitely in the Ramones-core category, but they’re more than just a Ramones clone. Solidly pop punk, they offer more complex melodic lines than the New York protopunks. The music seems to blend the melodic sensibilities of power pop in with the snotty punk, and in that sense they share a bit of lineage with the Buzzcocks. In more modern terms, think of Teenage Bottlerocket and The Lillingtons. One thing I find interesting is that Huntingtons identified in the past as a Christian punk band, like label mates MxPx, though their lyrics were never explicitly Jesus-oriented. The whole Christian punk thing always confused me to no end, the contradictions in basic philosophy seeming to preclude such a genre. Yet here we are. “Be With You” is a song that will sound so familiar that you’re sure it has to be s cover – but it isn’t. It sounds so much like every pop punk and power pop song ever, the chorus reminding me of something Paul Collins might have written for The Beat back in the day. Also heavy on the power pop is the opening track, “Too Old to Care.” The strength of melodic lines in these songs make them definite favorites. “The Slammer” and “Say Hi to Your Mom” remind me a lot of old school Southern California punk rock from the 80s, with fast temp, simple arrangements, and limited melodic content. “Not Penny’s Boat” (a great reference to the TV show “Lost”) has hints of glam pop in its chorus, but for the most part is classic 2000s pop punk. One thing that strikes me about these songs – though taken individually, they’re pretty good listens, but though there are distinct differences from song to song, taken as a whole there’s too much sameness. And at fifteen songs and 45 minutes, there’s just a bit too much. In smaller doses this is good stuff. And if they shaved this down by a third, I think the album would hold my attention better.

PIRAMID SCHEME – Seen This Before (www.piramidscheme.com)

This sophomore release from Washington, D.C.’s Piramid Scheme is an uneven affair. Some of the six tracks on this EP are pretty great and others fall flat. For example, the opener, “Beg Or Borrow,” is easily my favorite, and one I can see myself listening to again and again. It’s big and dreamy, but with undercurrents of folk-rock and psych. On the other hand, “Funtime Friend” is a mess, especially the weak guitar solo with wah wah pedal. I’m not a fan of “Modern World,” but the title track has a great mysterious feel to it, sort of like something that could be from a spy thriller soundtrack. “Darklights” is a pretty folk pop ballad, and the closer, “Mean Streak,” is a bouncy indie-pop track with a grungy edge, but the guitar solo here is again weak. Call it 3½ out of 6.


AERONAUTICAL PIONEER – Hop High (Nouveau Electric Records, www.nouveauelectricrecords.com)

Whoa! This is one of the more original concepts I’ve heard lately. Nouveau Electric Records specializes in experimental and traditional music inspired by the language and people of South Louisiana. What that means here, is that Aeronautical Pioneer is a blending of twangy banjo, down home bayou melody, synths, and a dance beat courtesy of some cool drum loops. It sounds very old and very new at the same time. This is the band’s debut single. I’m sitting here listening to it on repeat with my foot stomping and the biggest grin on my face. I don’t want it to end, and I want more! When’s the full album, guys??

AMERICAN TELEVISION – Watch It Burn (Wiretap Records, www.wiretaprecords.com)

Hailing from the Washington, D.C. area, American Television are a new band releasing their debut LP, but you would swear they’ve been around forever, because this sounds so familiar. And I would swear that they were from the West Coast, not the East. The songs are hard-edged pop punk, reminding me of a blend of the power of Orange County bands and the melodic sensibility of Teenage Bottlerocket. There’s an aggressive undercurrent in these songs that doesn’t let up – every song has that powerful sound. Yet there’s tons of melody, bunches of bounce. You can sense the crowd at a live show all singing along loudly. That’s because, as I said, this all sounds so familiar. That may be the album’s strongest point, and the band’s weakest. People love the familiar; it’s comforting. We gravitate to what we already know. People will buy this record and go to their shows, singing their hearts out. But, at the same time, a band needs to stake out its own territory and stamp their personality into the history of music. While this debut LP is a really good listen, it’s hardly going to make waves.

DEAD FRIENDS – High Wasted Genes (Standby Records, www.standbyrecords.com)

This new five-song EP from Virginia Beach’s Dead Friends is heavy. But it features a split personality, too. While much of the record is hard-hitting, pounding and pummeling, in fact, there are parts that are smoother, melodic, and with harmonized vocals. The weirdest thing is that I like the heavier parts a lot more than the melodic parts, and I’m generally not a big fan of heavy metallic music. But in this case, I really like the rapidly changing meters and tempos, the odd intervals, and even the sheer power and the anger of the vocals. The smooth melodic parts, though, are like the bland alternative rock of 15 or so years ago and turn me off. Favorite track – “Uncertain God,” because the smoother melodic parts are edgier than on the other tracks, and there’s even more meter changes on this one than others, keeping the listener off-kilter. The closer, “Branding Iron,” is my least favorite track because it leans heavily on the smooth melodic alternative stuff and is almost a ballad. Meh. If Dead Friends stuck to the harder edgier stuff, I would be more interested.

MRS. HENRY – Mrs. Henry Live at the Casbah (Blind Owl, www.blindowlsd.com)

Mrs. Henry is one of San Diego’s finest rock and roll bands. No, they aren’t punk. They don’t play indie pop or indie rock. This is good old classic soulful rock and roll. Not a lot of bands are playing this sort of music anymore. You can enjoy five extended jams on this live LP, recorded at the world famous Casbah, one of San Diego’s premiere venues for the indie scene. Besides the standard guitar/bass/drums/vocals of most classic rock outfits, Mrs. Henry includes keyboards to warm the sound, sometimes tuned to emulate piano, sometimes organ, sometimes both within the same song. Such is the case with the opener, “All I Can Do.” It begins as a bluesy track, with big organ sounds and wah-wah effects in the guitars, soulful vocals vying with the instruments’ funky sounds. As the song evolves, the keyboards swap between organ and piano, and at the halfway mark turns to full-on classic rock, complete with emotive guitar solo. “Lovin’ You, Baby” is a moving ballad, complete with deeply passionate vocals. At the opposite end of the spectrum, “Where Are We Going” is a manic jam that feels somewhat unhinged and untethered, ranging all over the place. If you’re a fan of classic rock, blues-rock, and good ol’ jams, you can’t find finer than Mrs. Henry.

TELEVISION SUPERVISION – Waldo (Standby Records, www.standbyrecords.com)

This debut LP from Florida’s self-styled “alternative/punk/postpunk” trio, Television Supervision,” is wide-ranging and inconsistent, as if the band is still searching for their voice. It’s also really long, at nearly an hour in duration. Some of the songs are hard-edged post hardcore, some are 2000s emo pop punk, some are indie rock, and others have a dreaminess (though aren’t poppy enough to be called “dream pop”). “Right In The Manhood” is a hard-driving track with edgy guitars, yet with some melodic bounce. It’s a great way to open any LP, let alone one’s debut. “Bombshell,” too, has a high-strung power to it, while managing to convey melodic content at the same time. I also like “Back In The Day” for it’s punchy post-hardcore feel blended with poppy melody. I like “Veterans (The Dad Song),” which is a relaxed, jangly indie song. It starts more slowly, with just guitar and vocals, but about a minute and a half in, the bass and drums join in, the tempo picks up, and the vocals get more impassioned. But the easy jangle just gets bigger. After another minute and a bit, things pick up even more, synths join in, and it sounds pretty joyous. “Volcano” reminds me of so much of the bland “alternative” so-called emo and pop punk of the 2000s, and is one of the weaker tracks of the album. Likewise, “Daydreams” has the same sound, but oddly includes synths that give the track a pop-goth sound in the mix, a really odd and unsettling juxtaposition of sounds. “’Til We Dream” is an outlier. It’s a ballad that tries to be dreamy and pop punk at the same time. I think this one should have stuck to the dreamier ballad feel and left the pop punk out of it. Likewise, “One More Sunset” is a synth-driven track that tries to be dreamy and edgy at the same time, but just ends up sounding like retro 80s music. I can see potential here. My best advice to Television Supervision would be to self-edit. Figure out who you want to be, focus on it, and put only your best songs on the albums; you don’t have to include everything you record. You don’t have to be a single genre band, but a little more focus would be a good thing.


THE WORLD/INFERNO FRIENDSHIP SOCIETY – All Borders Are Porous to Cats (Alternative Tentacles, www.alternativetentacles.com)

Over twenty years ago, I was introduced to The World/Inferno Friendship Society when I reviewed their debut LP, “The True Story of the Bridgewater Astral League.” I don’t remember how I described the record all those years ago, but it made a strong impression. They’re a band that’s a hell of a lot of fun. And on their latest LP, “All Borders Are Porous to Cats,” they remain true to themselves. They’re still fun, they’re still unique. And the years have seen them grow and polish their sound. This is a band that manages to blend indie rock, a punk attitude, ska energy, and ethnic folk sounds from Klezmer and Romani traditions to craft some darn good songs. Some of the songs sound more “serious” than others, and some are quite a “hoot,” likely because of the unexpected combinations of sounds. Right from the start of the album, “Bad Penny Blue” brings together ska (horns are plentiful and there’s a strong backbeat), a martial feel, and a wondrous rock guitar solo just after the halfway mark. I love the name and the feel of “Having A Double Life Is So Hard (But Obviously Something You Enjoy).” It starts out with vocals and piano, sounding like something from a musical, but then quickly we get classical guitar, violin, electric guitar, and organ in succession, providing a Romani-rock feel. This song has so many gorgeous complexities. “The Cat In The Hat Has The Right To Sing The Blues” reaches back to early rap music a la the Sugar Hill Gang, with its disco beat, but it alternates this with something straight out of a dark circus. “I’ll Be Your Alibi” has an awesome retro R&B sound, with baritone sax providing a great foundation and a complement of lush strings to accompany the electric guitar, organ, and deep, soulful vocals. “In The Briar Patch Born And Raised” is probably the wackiest, coolest song of the album. It’s under a minute, but it’s a veritable roller coaster, with melodic lines climbing and falling on the piano, controlled chaos running throughout the track. The album closes with “Freedom Is a Wilderness Made For You And Me,” and it’s got a deep, rumbling bass, and the bari sax is back. The track pulls all of the threads together, ska, ethnic folk, soul, and indie rock, into one glorious epic. The year is off to a fun start!

BANDAID BRIGADE – I’m Separate (www.bandaid-brigade.com)

I don’t think any of the people in Bandaid Brigade were alive when this sort of music was all over the radio. Back in the 80s, this was the sort of music you might have found on the so-called “adult contemporary” radio stations. Though the members of Bandaid Brigade come from well-known punk bands (Zach Quinn – Pears, Brian Wahlstrom – Scorpios and Gods of Mount Olympus, Paul Rucker – Drag the River, Armchair Martian, and Street Dogs, Chris Fogal – The Gamits), there’s really nothing punk about this record – except maybe the irreverent attitude. The songs range from the disco-ish feel of the lead single, “Travel Light” to the Journey-inspired “Losing Light,” to the Neil Young style harmonies of the ballad “Stay Busy.” A real standout to me is the moody “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today,” with just vocals, Fender Rhodes style keyboards, and processed guitar noises to give the feeling of the coming storm. The understatedness of this track is beautiful.

About that comment regarding an irreverent attitude: The band members do take their music seriously, and it comes through in the performances. But there are touches of levity here and there. Like after the fade-out of “Travel Light,” when we hear “I feel like there should be a clip at the end of that fade.” “Maybe,” comes the reply. “Eh, we’ll figure it out.” Or the emphatic “cool!” left in at the end of “Stay Busy.” Or at the end of the “closing” track, “Nothing” (bookending “opening track “Everything”), when we hear steps away from the piano and a sarcastic “That one will do!” The biggest surprise of the album comes in that last track. After “Nothing” and another 40 seconds of silence is a song that Zach Quinn has been performing in his solo act for some time, the hilarious bayou blues song, “Butt Train.” It’s entirely unlike any of the other songs on the record; it’s rockin’ blues without a serious bone in its body. “What’s that smell? Do you smell it?” I do, Zach! This record smells like lovely nostalgia for an era not experienced in real time by many who will listen to this record. If you’re expecting punk rock, you’ll be disappointed, but if you’re just expecting a good time, well, get ready for it.

DARK THOUGHTS – Must Be Nice (Drunken Sailor Records. www.drunkensailorrecords.co.uk)

Featuring garage punk intensity and pop punk melodies, Dark Thoughts’ latest release is an awesome blast of energy. Generally put into the “Ramones-core” category, Dark Thoughts are actually more than that. The instrumentals are more garage, the vocals are snottier, and the melodies are more evolved. Sure, the resulting music is pretty simple, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun. The guttural vocals remind me a lot of Texas garage pop punks Kira Jari, and the instrumentals are bouncy as hell. None of the tracks are particular standouts, because they’re all good. Fast and loud bouncy and melodic, they’re all going to get your whole body moving and jumping. Special mention must be made of the closing track though. “Must Be Nice” has a slightly different sound, more wistful, with parts with thicker guitars. “It’s so easy to be lonely / It’s so hard to be loved,” cries out the chorus, as keyboards that sound like chimes ring out mournfully. Recommended.

THE DROWNS – Under Tension (Pirate’s Press Records, www.piratespressrecords.com)

Part working class rock and roll, part street punk, The Drowns hit hard from the start and don’t let up for a single second of the 37 minutes over eleven songs. There’s plenty of melodic hooks (yes, hooks!), tons of gang vocals, loads of rock and roll attitude and energy, and Rev’s perfectly gruff vocals. One song that stands out as a bit different from the others is “Them Rats,” which, while it’s not a ska punk song, by a long shot, has a hint of ska guitar jangle and a strong back beat. “Wolves on the Throne” has a strong anthemic feel, like a rousing protest song. The previously released “Demons” is one of my favorites of the album, as it also has an uplifting sound. And a completely different sounding song, “Wastin’ Time,” is another favorite. I love the desperate sound in Rev’s voice as he sings, and the retro power pop feel to the song. “Cue The Violins” is an incredibly melodic bouncy song, and each song keeps getting better than the one before it. As good as their debut LP, “View From The Bottom,” was, “Under Tension” is even better. Strongly recommended!

FLOAT HERE FOREVER – Stacking Tombstones (www.floathereforever.com)

Detroit’s Float Here Forever have followed up last year’s debut full-length LP with their third EP, released on New Year’s Day 2020, one year after the LP. The three songs here are a blend of alternative rock and classic 90s emo (not the crappy pop punk that got called “emo” in the 2000s). “Back to Hell” has a raucous, driving feel in the guitars, even as the harmonized vocals smoothly glide through the music. “Planning to Matter” is more placid and serene, dreamier and janglier. The smooth vocals are still there though, softly soaring. And the title track that closes the EP is very reminiscent of the music of Bob Mould, sounding like something he might have written for a latter day Hüsker Dü LP. This is a band I was not previously familiar with, but listening to this EP makes me want to go back and listen to previous releases.

INNOCENCE MISSION – See You Tomorrow (Thérèse Records, www.theinnocencemission.com)

The Innocence Mission, who have been performing together since 1986, have now reached a milestone, a baker’s dozen LPs, with “See You Tomorrow.” The LP continues their brand of delicate, fragile easy listening music. This is the sort of thing aging hipsters might listen to in the background on a lazy Sunday morning as they sip their fair trade coffee and page through the newspaper. Quiet piano or guitar accompanies singer Karen Peris’ vocals, often with strings and light percussion in the background. The vocals sound vaguely like the casual little girl vocals so popular with many vocalists today. While many of the tracks are just inoffensive, kind of there, not all is lost. Some of the tracks are actually memorable. “We Don’t Know How to Say Why” blends acoustic and electric guitars, bass, drums, and vocals to create a breezy indie pop tune. “St. Francis and the Future” is a pretty song with the feel of a blend of ancient folk melody and liturgical music, particularly toward the end. I do really like the melodic line of “John As Well,” which sounds like a cross between a Beatles song and a French folk pop song. And “Stars that Fall Away from Us” feels like medieval minstrel music combined with the music of the band Beirut. But most of this record is just nice quiet background music.

KT (AKA KIDS TECHNO) – The Harmony of Spheres (Cherub Records, www.cherub.rocks)

Who is KT? It’s a mystery, but what’s not mysterious is how engrossing the thirty-minute “tone poem” is that is this album. Eighteen tracks make up this tone poem, including the introductory “Dear Listener” and closing “Yours Respectfully,” both of which feature a synthesized voice. The former welcomes listeners and exhorts them to discard distracting devices and immerse themselves in the music to come. The latter bids farewell and requests listeners to share the experience with others. In between are various short tracks of ambient instrumental music, with all of the tracks in the one to two minute range. Some of the synths are buzzy, growling, and bitter sounding. Some are clearer and smoother, but still have a dark tinge. These songs all feel dark and dystopian, particularly the tracks that include synthesized or sampled voices, often muffled. What are these people or machines telling us? Their cryptic comments lend an air of hopelessness and loss to these tracks. Even the pieces that have a dance-like beat and brighter synths still sound like to the soundtrack to a post-apocalyptic world. This is not something typical Jersey Beat readers would gravitate to, but I suggest giving it a listen.

STRING MACHINE – Death of the Neon (Know Hope Records, www.knowhoperecords.com)

“Engine/It’s Time” opens the sophomore LP from this Pittsburgh septet. Overtones of Neil Young greet the listener, sounding like classic country tinged soft rock. One might be excused if one decided in the first minute that this wasn’t one’s cup of tea, but one would be missing out. As the track evolves, it becomes dreamy and ethereal, thickly instrumented, and much more interesting. “Eight Legged Dog,” too, starts out very mellow, retro soft rock, but also evolves. As it builds toward the end of the track, it takes on a bit of pop punk feel, even with big gang vocals. “Old Mack” has sections of shouted gang vocals, too, getting a bit punk-like, but the song is, of course, more sedate overall. I love “Rattle on the Spoke,” which reminds me of a more acoustic, more delicate Cymbals Eat Guitars. The acoustic guitar line is quite pretty. “Mara In The Breeze,” too has a Cymbals Eat Guitars lite sort of sound in the back half of the song. In the back half of “No Holiday/Excite Again,” I hear hints of old school emo, the kind that was made in the 90s, after the hardcore era, after the screamo period, but before pop punk faux emo. There was that short period of time when a number of bands were making quietly beautiful emo music, and that’s what I hear a bit of here. It’s interesting to me how these songs evolve. They start plain, sort of Americana tinged soft rock, and then by the second part of the song they’ve changed tone considerably, morphing into something much more interesting. It’s nice, but I wish there was a little more oomph.

SUN KIN – Private Time (sunraykin.bandcamp.com)

Sun Kin is the “stage name” of Oakland-based artist Kabir Kumar. Born in India, Kumar’s family moved between countries often before ending up in the Bay Area. Pulling together a rotating cast of indie musicians from Oakland’s scene, Sun Kin plays a brand of pop music he called “alt-pop.” It’s not mainstream pop, but it’s not what we normally consider indie pop. It’s more synthesized and has more of a dance beat. In fact, it’s clear this music is made for dancing. Keyboards are prominent, and the guitar and drums provide more of a disco dance accent. Some of the songs are quite cheesy, like “Boyfriend’s Car,” complete with female backing vocal chorus and lyrics about being in the back of her boyfriend’s car, steaming up the windows. Some songs are like minimalist stripped down new wave songs from the 80s. Honestly, I can’t imagine the average Jersey Beat reader having any interest in this. I know I don’t.

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TOM BAKER – Dirty Snakes (Rum Bar Records, rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com)

No, this isn’t the British actor famous for his time as the fourth Doctor. Tom Baker is the front man for both The Dirty Truckers and The Snakes. On this, his first solo record, he’s joined by members of both bands, yielding the album’s title. The music on this six-song mini LP is pure rock and roll. It ranges from early R&B rock sounds to power pop to early new wave sounds. From the very first track, “Cancel It,” you know exactly what you’re in for. It’s got an early rock and roll R&B sort of feel and Chuck Barry style guitar sound. “Out of Focus” is a more laid back tune, with a mid-tempo lope. This is more like a hybrid of Americana and power pop, making use of harmonica to accentuate the hooks. I really like the Elvis Costello-like “Pushin’ You Away.” It’s got the sound that Costello did so well on his early albums. “Turn Your Head Around” is another Americana-tinged track, mixing acoustic and electric guitars. Though Baker isn’t blazing new trails, he’s hoisting the rock and roll banner high and doing a solid job of it.

RAMOMS – Teachers Pet (Pirate’s Press Records, www.piratespressrecords.com)

The Ramoms are back with three new tracks on this EP. The first cut, “Going Into 3rd,” is the best, by far. It’s a pretty great garage rocker, snotty and greasy, like great garage rock is supposed to be. The next track is the Ramones parody, this time taking “The KKK Took My Baby Away” and turning it into” “The PTA Took My Mommy Away.” The lyrics are inane, and the tempo drags. The final track is the cover, this time “Beat on the Brat.” I’m not a fan of these parodies, and the covers don’t need to be done, really. If Ramoms would stick to doing originals like “”Going Into 3rd,” they’d have something I would be more willing to spend time and money listening to.

THE REAGANOMICS – The Aging Punk (Red Scare Industries, www.redscare.net)

When the very first song, titled “The Four Clichés,” opens with the lyrics, “I wanna write a good punk song this year / I need to find out what is here / If I wanna write a punk song this year / I better start with the generic shit,” you know not to take anything seriously. The Reaganomics hail from Joliet, Illinois, the suburb to the southwest of Chicago best known for its state penitentiary, former home of Joliet Jake of the Blues Brothers. They describe themselves as “4 sweaty dads playing punk rock,” but they’re much more than that. They’re extremely proficient musicians and singers. These songs are fast and loud and tight. They’re pop punk songs, but played with a Chicago punk toughness, with expertly harmonized vocals. And the lyrics are all….not about serious subjects. A sampling of song titles includes “Meth Gator,” “Grown Ass Man,” “Don’t Be An Asshole,” and “Confessions of a Snowflake Lib-tard.” As I mentioned, the Chicago punk influence is very apparent, but so is the lightness and melodic pop punk styling of The Mr. T Experience. “Dear Jaymez” has a metallic intro that leads into a crazy fast poppy yet crunchy punk song about listening to 90s punk rock. “Dunzo” could almost have been a MTX track. “STFU” crosses Green Day pop punk and heavy metallic punk. And even more so, “Don’t Be An Asshole” has a lot of Green Day qualities in it. A lot of times you come across a “joke” punk band, the biggest joke is how bad they are. This is certainly not the case with The Reaganomics. They’re a funny-punk good time.

THE ROUTES – Tune Out, Switch Off, Drop In (Groovie Records, www.groovierecords.com)

The Routes have taken a circuitous route to get where they are today. After multiple lineup changes over several years, The Routes are back with their seventh album. I reviewed their previous LP, “Dirty Needles and Pins,” a couple years ago, and noted it’s heavy influence from garage and psych. That album, though great, sounded a little too on the nose, as if they were playing covers (though they were all original). This time out, though, the band are definitely using their influences but creating something new, exciting, and all their own. Garage and psych are just starting points. The opening track, “Ricochet,” features a hypnotic drone that feels both psychedelic and dreamy. The song’s lyrics are a warning of how the consequences of your actions tend to ricochet back at you. “The King of Loose Ends” has a strong garage flavor, yet it’s loaded with power pop hooks and a bouncy melody, which make it a fun track. I really like the slower “Up and Down,” with its simple melody and buzzy guitars. Imagine blending garage with shoegaze and you get an idea of the sound of this one. The lyrics refer to the cyclical nature of life; sometimes things are good, sometimes life sucks, and you have to push through to get back to the good. “Just How It Feels” crosses psych and grunge effectively, and “I Think I’d Wanna Die” is a gorgeous love song that blends folk-rock and psych, using a cleaner sound, acoustic and electric guitars, and plenty of jangle. And the closer, “Thinner Everyday,” has some awesome guitar playing in the “tremolo pick” style invented by Larry Collins and popularized by surf guitarist Dick Dale. The song has a really dark feel to it, too, making it another favorite. The great thing about this record is how the different styles are mixed to create original sounds. Recommended.

STAY OUT – Always Late (officialstayout.bandcamp.com)

This LP rips! And, musically, it’s all over the place! It’s got fast, loud, hard-pounding melodic pop punk, it’s got aggressive ska punk, it’s got gut wrenching hardcore, and more. “High and Dry” kicks things off with punishing metallic hardcore, relentless in its power and attack. The music evolves through “Existentialist,” a 90s style melodic hardcore track, to “Carnegie,” a pop punk track with harmonized backing vocals, but still with hard-as-fuck guitars, pummeling drums, and throbbing bass. “Distraught” is one of my favorites, with a great pop punk melody that reminds me of something Green Day might have done back in the early 90s, but with strong and powerful guitars, heavy and bruising. And “Howling at the Moon” sounds like something out of late 80s Chicago, from Pegboy or Naked Raygun, with plenty of whoa-ohs, and with more power and vigor. I think the production, making the guitars really loud and somewhat distorted in the mix has a lot to do with Stay Out’s sound, and it’s really effective. “Banshee” is another great one with the East Bay sound on steroids, a nice jangly melody and laid-back street punk feel, but that power is ever-present. There’s also some 90s Orange County style punk here, in the track “Mad at the World.” It’s not OC skate punk, but listen to it and you’ll see what I mean. “E.T.” is great melodic hardcore, old school but with hooks! And then there’s the two ska punk tracks. “Berkley Nights” is a jumping song, with strong skankin’ backbeat, harmonized backing vocals, and still loud and powerful. And the other ska punk track is the closer, “Sleepy Floyd,” a track with a dark sound. Yeah, this album rips!



A CAST OF THOUSANDS – Sleeping World (www.acastofthousands.bandcamp. com)

Auburn, New York’s A Cast of Thousands is back with their sixth album, and once again they serve up a tasty diversity of indie rock sounds. Some of the songs are tinged with bits of psych, some have a retro feel, blending 50s doo-wop and 70s Bert Bacharach sounds. Some have a fun 60s beach pop sound. The band offers up some power pop. And there’s even some country pop! I love a band and an album that’s not afraid to change things up, yet it holds together really well. A Cast of Thousands is that band and Sleeping World is that album. The album opens with “A Big White Lie,” a track with a garage-grunge feel, something a little different for ACOT. But it works well. My favorite tracks, though, are probably the ones sung by Beth Beer. There’s a quality to her voice that is very reminiscent of pop bands of yore, a casually elegant voice, an ease with which she sings. From the dreaminess of “Collective Dementia” to the wonderful 50s/70s pop hybrid “Numb The Fall,” these are the songs that make this record for me. I am not generally a fan of country music, but “To Be a Woman,” a twangy tongue-in-cheek number that lists out all the awful things women have to deal with on a daily basis, is great. While the album as a whole has the nice relaxed feel that ACOT has become known for, this album also has a stronger, more confident feel than past efforts. Some of the songs could even be said to have an aggressive edge to them, like “Xmas in June.” The folk-psych vibe is still there, but the band just feels more solid here than on past albums, as good as those were. This may make this my favorite record of theirs yet.

GINO AND THE GOONS – Off The Rails (Big Neck Records,
bigneckrecords1.bandcamp.com)

Seems like just weeks ago Gino and the Goons released “Do the Get Around,” the bands fourth LP. That was then, this is now. Back to back, Gino and the Goons have a new LP loaded with gritty greasy rock and roll. As with the last LP, the music is loud and loose, raucous and fun. There’s not a whole lot more that I can say than I did before, so you can go read that review, then come back here. I’ll wait. The recording on this LP is even lower-fi than the previous one – and I think too much distortion can hurt even this sort of garage sound. This time out we get songs like “Got No Friends,” which has a distinct R&B rock and roll sound mixed with pop, sort of like the Beatles playing some rockabilly. It’s got a killer guitar solo filled with noise and feedback, too. “You Ain’t Shit” is clearly a protopunk track, by far the most aggressive and noisiest of the ten tracks. I’m not sure why they released two records so close together, but either way, you can’t go wrong.

GOODMAN – The Era of Buckets
(goodmanmusic.bandcamp.com)

The latest full-length LP from Michael Goodman, an alum of Mama Coco’s Funky Kitchen collective, has its high points and low points. The highs are quite good, with a unique twist on indie rock, blending it with power pop and retro pop sounds. Goodman’s vocals, in particular, are a wonderful throwback to the 60s pop sound. The lows, though, are pretty low, too, with cheesy commercial pop sounds and overdone synths. “Don’t” opens the LP, and is one of my favorites, with a sparkly sound courtesy of the glockenspiel and shimmery organ. Acoustic and electric guitars blend together to create the perfect backdrop, as the bass and drums keep a steady, martial beat. And I adore “Watch Your Mouth,” a bit of pop advice with a cool 60s pop sound. “Shallow (Completely Shallow)” is another great one, with a retro rhythm and guitars that alternate between clean and quiet and dirty and loud and buzzy as hell. And “Life Begins” is an epic way to close the album. The song talks about the beginning of life at birth, and how odd it all is, and how strange life is in general. I especially love the verse that may be about Goodman’s own birth, in which he sings, “When I was born I came out crying, came out crying of the womb / And then I pissed all over the doctor’s face, that’s true / The doc, she looked aghast, what became of her? / My mom, she just laughed, said that’s my boy, and that’s the way things were.” I don’t know if it’s a true story, but, like life, it’s funny. The lows include “Wasting Away,” which has a strong dance beat and commercial pop sound, even to the vocals that are changed for this song to match the radio-friendly feel. It makes it my least favorite song of the record. “Something Happening,” too, feels like it would be more at home in a compilation of commercially minded pop ballads than an indie release. Especially with the falsetto vocals. And there’s “Wildcat,” which has some synths I’m not crazy about, and the song feels like it drags a little bit. The lows aren’t enough to turn me off the record, though, which overall is still enjoyable.

MICAH SCHNABEL – The Teenage Years of the 21st Century
(micahschnabel.bandcamp.com)

As good as Two Cow Garage is – that’s the band Micah Schnabel fronts – it’s his solo stuff that I really love. Schnabel is the consummate storyteller, our modern day beat poet. The key difference between this album, though, and his previous masterpiece, “Your New Normal Rockwell,” is that this new LP is more melodic, poppier, and has more singing than the previous LP, which featured lots of spoken lyrics that felt like streams of consciousness. The stories Schnabel tells, though, aren’t pleasant ones with happy endings. They paint a picture of chaos and confusion, of debilitating consequences to our lives from decisions often out of our own hands. Stories about how, as the refrain of “How to Ride a Bike” reminds us, “being alive is so expensive, but being dead is such a lousy alternative.” I love the jangle of the song, especially on the chorus. It’s something new for Schnabel’s solo work, and I like it. “A Celebration” is an edgy sounding track, also very different for Schnabel, though it has the spoken lyrics, this time about feeling the pressure to succeed in the scam that is capitalism – but then ending in the realization that life isn’t about getting rich or dying trying. “Death Defying Feats” is a pretty country tune about how unprepared we all are to live this thing called life, trying to make ends meet on minimum wage and growing up too fast. “Remain Silent” is a very political song that references the rising racism in America, even among our own family members, egged on by the “little boy king” who “sits alone on his throne.” “When did being a decent human being become political?” the song asks, as if to say the song shouldn’t have to be considered political. The song rails against those who want to “privatize reading” by being anti-library, and bemoans how “being murdered at school is just part of the game.” “So, Micah, what’s your point?” asks a voice. The point, he says, is to say something about hope, about banishing hate from our hearts, and about how we’re all the same when you get to the core of it. Where the previous LP seemed more self-consciously poetic, this album feels easier and more confident, and definitely more musical. Both, though, clearly express the feelings of frustration, fear, and uncertainty we feel as we try to make it in the world. It’s eminently relatable, and I think this is why Schnabel’s solo work connects so well.

SLOW RIVALS (Poptek Records, www.poptek.com)

Slow Rivals was born out of a similar Seattle band, Graham Travis. This four song EP is the new band’s debut. Sounding unlike anything you might associate with Seattle, musically, the EP features gentle soft rock. Guitar, bass, drums, and warm sounding keyboards blend together inoffensively, while the heartfelt vocals sing out with emotion, reminding me of Nick Drake, but a bit fuller. Some of the music has hints of Americana, with some bits of twang in the guitars, particularly on “Less or More,” the third track. The opener, “The Channel” has a retro 80s easy new wave pop sound, and “Picking Up Branches” has a big dream pop sound on the chorus, probably making it my favorite of the quartet. “Burning Out” closes the EP, and is the edgiest song of the bunch, though it’s still pretty smooth. And I think that’s my issue with the record, overall: it’s too smooth, too safe. It’s easy listening music for the rock and roll generation.

SWEET PILL – "Miss This" b/w "Tell Me" (Know Hope Records,
www.knowhoperecords.com)

Two brand new songs from this Philadelphia five-piece. The A-side is a strong indie-pop song, with powerful vocals from Zayna Moussef. The melody is exuberant, with guitars jangling noisily, mostly due to the lo-fi recording, something that does a bit of a disservice to the pretty songs. The B-side is a bit calmer than the relatively raucous “Miss Me,” and the guitars swirl around behind the simple melody. The instrumentation gets thicker after the first verse, but it still has more of a serpentine quality that works nicely. This is my first exposure to this band, and I like what I hear.

THE WHIFFS – Another Whiff (Dig! Records, digrecords.bigcartel.com)

Kansas City’s The Whiffs, who stormed the power pop scene last year with their debut self-titled LP, are back again with “Another Whiff.” It’s a worthy follow-up, full of fourteen power pop gems. There’s no sophomore slump here; if anything, these songs are even better than those from the debut. These are bouncy and jangly with loads of melody. The style on offer blends the best of 60s and 70s pop rock. “What Do You Want Me to Do” is a favorite track, reminding me of the bands that first introduced me to the garage power pop genre so many years ago. “Dream About Judy,” too, harkens back to days past, when guitar-fueled pop ruled the airwaves. The harmonizing on the chorus gets me every time. The lyrics are pretty simple, speaking to fantasies of love. “How Could You” is one of the few tracks that isn’t up-tempo, as this one lopes along at a moderate pace, but it’s loaded with hooks, and those great harmonized vocals are there, too. These songs are all new, but they feel so familiar, so comfortable. 2019 has seen some really good power pop records released, and this one is right up there with the best of them. If you love power pop (and who doesn’t?) get this!


THE SUBJUNCTIVES – Sunshine and Rainbows (Top Drawer Records, www.tdrecs.com)

What would happen if you took members of Sicko and Four Lights, two of the best pop punk bands to ever come out of Seattle, and put them together in a new band? Certainly there would be a lot of pressure to deliver, but that hasn’t fazed Ean Hernandez (of Sicko) and Tahoe Jeff (of Four Lights), who joined forces with Matt Coleman a couple years ago to form The Subjunctives. Instead, they’ve built on the past, taking some of the best parts of their respective other projects, and built something even bigger and better. Many of the songs do sound like they could have come right out of the 90s catalogs of Sicko and The Mr. T Experience, with their high energy and bounciness. The songs are bubbly, even effervescent. Like the opener, “Guinivere in Raybans and Chucks.” It’s a bouncy song with lyrics about a suburban dad’s wandering eyes. “At the Kraken” is an ode to one of Seattle’s premiere dive bar punk rock venues and the people that populate it. It’s loaded with hooks and fun, which is something that comes through in all the songs here – the fun the band members are having playing these songs. They take turns on vocal leads, and sometimes team up a la Four Lights to provide some glorious harmonies, too. None of the songs have deep lyrics – these are simple pop punk songs, after all. But sometimes simple can have some depth, like “Pass It On,” about keeping the scene alive by letting the next generation take their turn to shine. Aging is addressed in “Friday,” a song about staying home cuddling with your significant other, enjoying a bottle of wine and a nature documentary instead of going to a crowded bar for a show. And “My Girl” is a simple sappy love song for the aging punk set that tries to stay relevant in the scene. Sometimes the songs evoke feelings of nostalgia. “Introverted Girl” reminds me of listening to all those Shredder Records comps back in the 90s, with its amazing infections melody, simple lyrics, and pretty harmonies. Favorite songs: “Rotate,” a song that sounds what Hüsker Dü might have sounded like if they were less dark and poppier. And “Waste My Time,” one of the faster ones on the LP, sounding the world like an East Bay throwback to the days of Jawbreaker. And probably “My E String,” a hilarious song about playing a show in front of a bunch of strangers when your E string goes out of tune in the middle of a song and you don’t have time to tune it. The closer (sort of, we’ll get to that in a sec), “Dumbass,” reminds me of an edgier, faster R.E.M. from the “End of the World (As We Know It)” era) and is another favorite, and it ends just like a Four Lights song, with a cappella harmonies. But that’s not the end! After over a minute and a half of silence there’s a short acoustic demo of another song, begging someone to please not leave now that she knows what a mess the guy is. A perfect pop punk sentiment. And a perfect pop punk record.

NATO COLES AND THE BLUE DIAMOND BAND – Flyover (Rum Bar Records, rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com / Don Giovanni Records, www.dongiovannirecords.com)

Who is the champion of working class rock and roll? No, despite the name of this publication, it’s not New Jersey’s Bruce Springsteen. It’s Minneapolis’ Nato Coles. I first came upon Nato at Awesome Fest 5 in 2011, and I was immediately taken by the passion and energy from the consummate showman. On this latest full-lengther we get ten prime pieces of evidence that rock and roll isn’t dead. There’s a warmth to the Blue Diamond Band. You instantly feel like they’re family, and they know exactly what you’re going through; they feel what you feel. That connection is one of the things that makes Nato Coles and the Blue Diamond Band special. Other things are their professionalism, their joy, and their talent. Guitars, bass, drums, and keyboards (sometimes organ, sometimes piano) blend together to make us all feel at home. It’s odd that this is only the band’s second studio LP, because they’ve been around for so long. But that makes it all the sweeter than the record is finally here. Favorite songs include “L.P.’s Yard.” I just love the jangle in Sam Beer’s guitars, the great melody, and the warmth infused by the keyboards. “Milo and the Bars” is a gorgeous slower number, which makes use of acoustic guitar and piano to set a delicate mood. “Disposable Camera” similarly makes use of plucked acoustic guitar to great effect. “Demolition Man” is one of the most raucous tracks on the LP, some real hard-driving rock. And “Standing on the Corner Alone” and “The Roadrunner” have a great power pop feel, and the mandolin break on the former is so cool. The album closes with “The Avenue of the Saints,” and you can feel the epic story unfold. This sort of everyman rock music is not the sort of stuff I normally go for, but Nato and the BDB are just that good. I just wish they would tour beyond the Midwest once in awhile.

DIEALPS! – More Important Things (New Granada Records, www.newgranadarecords.com)

DieAlps! are an indie-pop band from Tampa, Florida, but they seem to have a bit of a split personality. This likely comes from the fact that the two lead vocalists, Cornelia and Frank Calcaterra, have very different approaches to their craft. And as a result, the songs sound very different depending on who’s singing the leads. Frank’s songs tend to be edgier, more indie-rock, and injected with a level of dreaminess, while Cornelia’s songs are more straightforward pop songs, more stripped down. Case in point, the opening track, “It’s the End,” has a slight Americana feel, but there’s also a hazy feel to the guitars. And right after that, “Common Denominator,” there’s a definite lightening to the feel; it’s bouncier and more melodic, with Cornelia’s pretty yet unadorned vocals a perfect companion. I think my own tastes lie more with these songs. Even when she does a song that’s a bit thicker and richer, like “In Color,” I just feel her vocal qualities make the song better. “In Color” does have a full, thick, dreamy sound, courtesy of the keyboard. But her voice is so direct that it makes a connection that’s clear. “Stride” is another of her tracks and it’s got a great indie-pop bounce to it that makes it one of my favorites of the LP. Frank’s songs just sound…busier. More forced?

THE FULL COUNTS – Next Up (Phratry Records, www.phratryrecords.com)

Hailing from Pittsburgh, The Full Counts play music that’s primarily power pop, though the quartet also venture into more garage-like and blues rock styles, too. What strikes me is how smooth all the songs are. These songs should be a little more raucous, a little more aggressive. But they come across as too safe, without the exciting highs and lows these styles deserve. Power pop songs like “She Said,” “Hold Your Hand,” and “Another Way (EGAGDA)” are fine, with jangle aplenty. There are the bluesy rockers like “Not Tonight” and “I’m On the Outside” that fail to spark, though. “I Know” has the feel of a 90s alternative rock track, and then there are the garage rockers like “Let’s Go” and “Don’t Waste My Time.” Probably the best track is “Don’t Waste My Time.” It’s got the most energy of any of the songs on the LP, with a strong garage feel. The closer, “Oh Whoa Oh,” has more of a psych folk rock feel, with acoustic guitars jangling away. But the whole level of the record needs to be amped up, in general. This is just too gentle.

MONOTROPE – Immutable Future (New Atlantis Records, newatlantisrecords.bandcamp.com / Ambition Sound, www.facebook.com/ambitionsound)

Back in the 90s there was an indie subgenre of math inspired post rock instrumentals. Monotrope attempts to recreate that sound, and on their sophomore LP, offer seven mostly long-form tracks filled with angular rhythms amid smooth yet dissonant guitars. But while earlier bands were creating something new and unique, Monotrope comes across as a rehash of twenty-year old music. Guitars, bass, and drums play complex melodic lines that seem chaotic yet controlled. The music swirls and darts, yet it all ends up sounding pretty much the same, despite its attempts to be “experimental” or avant-garde. I found my attention drifting during listens to this record. Maybe that’s just my tastes. Twenty years ago I did listen to and enjoy this genre, but maybe those earlier bands were creating something daring. Maybe because their songs had variety. Mono means single or one. A trope is a figurative or metaphorical use of a word or expression. So maybe Monotrope is aptly named: a single musical expression, repeated. I couldn’t get into this.

MORE KICKS (Dirt Cult Records, www.dirtcultrecords.com)

More Kicks are a trio from London that play a distinctly retro brand of mod-tinged power pop. On this, their debut full-length LP, More Kicks give us eleven bouncy songs (plus one short instrumental “intro” track) featuring guitar, bass, and drums (plus keyboards on select tracks). They pull from a variety of influences from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. I really like “She’s a Reaction,” which has the feel of a more garage-like Beatles. “I’m on the Brink” blends the sounds of the Paul Collins Beat with Elvis Costello. “Rock and Roll Again” seems to be about having dropped out of the scene and getting bitten by the bug to start playing again. And “Your Vibration” closes the LP, starting out with tons of jangle right out of the garage, but getting more and more hardcore garage as the song evolves. This isn’t the normal sort of record Dirt Cult puts out, but they’ve been experimenting with expanding their horizons recently, and that can only be a good thing – just like this record.

PARKER LONGBOUGH – Green and Gold/Drink the Hemlock (Wilderhood Music, www.parkerlongbough.com)

Parker Longbough is the name under which Matthew Witthoeft performs. The Anchorage, Alaska resident made a name for himself in the local scene performing with the band Uncle Jesse, but after that band broke up he began this new project with a rotating cast of supporting musicians. This LP features dream pop with a dark edge and deadpan, ennui-filled vocals. On some of the songs the dreaminess comes from big shoegazey guitars, on others from synths (though the synths have a distinct 80s new wave retro sound). On the opener, “Statement is the Answer,” we get a thick shoegaze guitar pulled back in the mix, a single note guitar whine prominently in the mix, and languid vocals right up front. It creates a jarring feel of things not being quite in tune. “Avalane Beacon” goes the synth route, with some buzzy sounds, some smooth. Witthoeft’s vocals, once again, sound unenthused. “Governor’ (Butter) Cup” has a strong guitar tone throughout, which starts out with a shoegaze feel. But during the chorus a higher pitched guitar whines loudly; it feels very out of place and it’s grating. “We Go Golfing” tries to sound like Sonic Youth of the 1990s, with a modal key and minimalist repeating lines. But with the guitars pulled so far back in the mix and the heavy reverb, it just sounds like a mess. “Two Months Out” has a poppier feel with cleaner guitars during the verses, but in the chorus it gets chaotic and dissonant, and not in a good way. There’s some variety in how these songs are constructed, which is a good start. But the constants are a feeling that things are a bit out of tune and the blasé vocals that sound like Witthoeft wants to be anywhere else but in the studio. I could not get into this record.

SLEEPCRAWLER – "HTN" b/w "Albatross" 7-inch (Phratry Records, www.phratryrecords.com)

Sleepcrawler is a new trio from Cincinnati, Ohio, made up of two former members of State Song and one founding member of The Dopamines. Don’t be fooled into thinking that there’s any element of pop punk here because of that Dopamines connection. The two songs on this single are gorgeous, emotive songs with huge dynamic range, reminiscent of bands of the 90s like other Midwestern bands Slint and Rodan (Kentucky is close enough to Ohio to be called Midwest for these musical purposes). The A side, “HTN,” opens with quiet jangle of arpeggiated guitar, but soon the huge, dreamy shoegaze guitars join in with a thundering bass to produce a gloriously colossal melody. Scot Torres’ pleading vocals come in as the guitars quiet again. This is amazingly beautiful stuff, and this style still holds up well to the test of time. The flipside, “Albatross,” is a calmer track that builds slowly and has a pretty melodic approach. The clean guitar tone is a stark contrast to the noisy buzz of the bass. And the dynamic mastery is also on display in this track. Of the two, I think I like “HTN” more, but both are amazing. This single is just the band’s debut, and it makes me anxious to hear more.


GINO AND THE GOONS – Do The Get Around (Drunken Sailor Records, www.drunkensailorrecords.co.uk)

Drunken Sailor Records is moving in on the territory long held in the UK by Dirty Water Records. Known mostly for classic punk sounds, Drunken Sailor’s latest release is solidly greasy garage rock deeply rooted in R&B. The music is loose and lo-fi, a raucous party where the idea is to have more fun and less serious art. This is music that’s loud and in your face just because. Take the song “Pills in my Pocket.” There’s no pretense here, it’s just party music, with a hint of surf rock feel that makes it the poppiest song of the album – but it’s not pop by any stretch of the imagination. The title track is an anti-love song, with its opening lines declaring, “I don’t like you anymore / So don’t come knocking on my door / Don’t call me on the telephone / ‘cause I won’t answer, I’m not home.” There’s feedback a plenty from the guitars, underscoring the feeling of derision, with a grating guitar solo too. “Prissy Missy” sounds like The Beatles crossed over to the wrong side of the railroad tracks in 1965 and became grease monkeys instead of world famous pop stars. “Break Your Hearts” has the sound of The Rolling Stones, if they had…well, been The Rolling Stones; they were already bad boys of rock and roll. “I’m Your Man” has the sound and some of the melody of The Beach Boys, but definitely not the squeaky clean attitude; this is rough and reckless music here. And that’s the appeal of the genre and this record. It’s a reckless good time.

INGS – Lullaby Rock (ings.bandcamp.com)

Oh my god, this is beautiful! Ings is the Seattle-based project of Inge Chiles, a purveyor of self-styled “lullaby rock,” which I guess is a genre of rock suitable for lulling one to sleep. But I sure don’t want to sleep through any of these songs. They’re so delicate and pretty. Acoustic bass, electric guitar, brushed snare drum, strings, and multi-tracked harmonized vocals blend to create jazzy indie-pop of the first order. The songs are dreamy without having to resort to banks of synthesizers. It’s hypnotic and mesmerizing. Chiles’ voice is lovely and the songwriting is emotive. Sometimes the singing is barely whispered and you feel like you’re being let in on a profound secret. The fun starts from the first track, “If Not You,” which has a graceful bounce to it. The use of harmonics on acoustic guitar is quiet effective, and every part fits together like a finely made machine. The lyrics seem to be about living life in the moment, not worrying about things that don’t work out and loving yourself. Included is a track called “Best Friend Meditation,” a spoken word piece about the warmth and joy of being present and in the moment with a person you truly love. The record does have a couple of almost raucous moments, too. The fragile and ethereal “Amelia” weaves its magic spell, then its chorus amps up ever so slightly. At the end of the track, though, on the final instance of the chorus things build to a crescendo and then explode with a rocking electric guitar and soulful wails. “Pick Yourself Up” is a cool song with undercurrents of a spiritual that’s much edgier than most of the tracks. “Maker” reminds me of a song that would have been included in the soundtrack of a 1930s Hollywood film; it’s so, so beautiful. The arrangement is amazing, too, starting out with just acoustic bass and vocals before more strings join in along with multi-tracked harmonies. The sound of the strings with Chiles voice when she croons is something to behold. The song feels so hopeful, too. It’s a song that uses Noah’s ark as a reference in declaring that it’s perfectly okay to toss out something that isn’t working and start over. “It’s alright to listen to the rain / throw it all out and start again / Creature and creator, pleasure and pain / It’s alright to listen to the rain.” I am in awe of this record. It’s a late entrant but a definite contender for my list of best records of the year.

LION’S LAW – Cut the Rope (Pirate’s Press Records, www.piratespressrecords.com)

The kind folks at Pirate’s Press records are bringing Lion’s Law to American listeners. This Parisian band has been around since 2012, purveying their unique blend of Oi and hardcore music across Europe. Perhaps this single means they’re working on an LP with Pirate’s Press and a big American tour? The first song on the record, “Cut the Rope,” leans more toward the Oi side of things, but with hard, crunchy powerful guitars. As befits an Oi band, the vocals are gruffly shouted rather than sung. “Get It All” on the B-side is more hardcore and metallic than Oi, The vocals are even more guttural, and include gang shouts on the chorus. The music is darker, and the bridge has an amazing guitar sound that leads into a short solo before the band launches back into the chorus for one last time. If you like hardcore with an Oi edge, check this band out.

PARDON US – Wait (Johann’s Face Records, johannsfacerecords.bandcamp.com)

What happens when you mix street punk, power pop, and pop punk? Well, if you have it played by Liverpudlians from the bands Down and Outs, Flamingo 50, and Town Bike you get the music of Pardon Us. These three non-mop-tops reportedly intended to create a band in the vein of Off With Their Heads, and they failed at that task, but succeeded beyond their wildest dreams in crafting a sound more consistent with British greats like Stiff Little Fingers and The Buzzcocks. The music is poppy but aggressive, and the gritty vocals sing lyrics about social and political upheaval. For example, the opening track, “Beyond the Valley of the Wolves,” speaks to how stagnating wages for the masses in the face of the rising cost of living is wreaking havoc on us all, but particular smaller working class towns. “Half Empty” is a song of resignation, it seems. The world is what it is, and big dreams won’t change it, and as the chorus sings, “You’ll soon understand that the half empty glass in your hand is better than no glass at all.” This seems at odds with “It’s a Phil Ochs Kind of Day,” a reference to the late, great protest singer-songwriter. It’s a song of hope and optimism in the face of seeming hopelessness. “Try not to lose heart when all the world’s so heartless,” begs the chorus. “In the end it comes down to a simple choice,” the song declares. “Do we struggle to get smarter or sit back content and dumb?” “If the Black Shirt Fits” is a song that decries the growing casual fascism afflicting so many people in recent years, people who would deny having fascist ideology, but, as the song says, “if the black shirt fits…” And I think my favorite song, both musically and lyrically, is the excellent loping tune, “Inconvenient Reminder.” The song references how we tend to forget and repeat the horrifying mistakes of the past, in this case, turning away those seeking refuge from violence and threats of death. Through a great bouncing melody the song offers hope to those suffering the pain of discrimination and hatred in their new homes: “And now they wanna send you back from whence you came. But you’re already home, so don’t you believe them. If you need a helping hand we’re here with open arms, and we’ll stand together against those who’d do you harm. If you need sanctuary, sanctuary you’ve found, cos we know you’ve crawled through hell and fire to reach this solid ground.” These are lyrics that apply equally here in the United States under Donald Trump as they do across the growing fascist tendencies in Europe. Not every song is political, though. “Thankful” has a great indie rock melody and lyrics that speak to both regret at what one has missed in life by pursuing other goals, being thankful at where one is in life, and looking forward to whatever lies ahead. And the album closer, “We Aren’t The Champions,” is self-deprecating fun. And fun is a key word. Even though some of the topics are serious, the band is obviously having a great time singing and playing these songs. And that’s infectious.

SLUMB PARTY – Spending Money (Drunken Sailor Records, www.drunkensailorrecords.co.uk)

Following hot on the heels of last year’s debut LP, “Happy Now,” Slumb Party’s sophomore full-length features similarly manic music that’s a throwback to the hyper creative past punk era of the late 70s and early 80s. This outing, though, finds them sporting a cleaner sound, adding some R&B funkiness, and blending keyboards into the mix. Some of the songs even have a bit of 80s new wave sounds. The opener, “Go To Work,” has a nice funky bass and prominent keyboards, giving the song a great bouncy sound reminiscent of bands like The B52s. Vocals on this LP are delivered with intense urgency; guitars are used as much as percussion instruments as to drive a melody, and that wailing saxophone screams for attention. Clarinet is used in the mix at times, too, an unusual but effective move, as in the song “All These Boxes.” The songs are just as off-kilter as before, as on the song “Shingles Bell,” just as frantic and frenzied, but there’s just more. The addition of keyboards using an 8-bit video game sort of sound brings a lot to these songs and the cleaner sound makes it easier for extended and repeat listening. It all makes a good band even better. “Back Stabber” is a favorite for its funky minimalism, the thin arrangement highlighting the sax and especially the deep R&B bass. “Sound” off has vocals that remind me of Duran Duran on speed, all the paranoia setting in, the harried vocals and hectic sax vying for dominance. Slumb Party have another winner on their hands.

TIM HOLEHOUSE – Come (AAAHH!!! Real Records, www.real-records.co.uk)

Tim Holehouse is a UK based singer-songwriter who has roots in the hardcore and indie music scene. The songs here are played on acoustic guitar, with assistance from violins, cello, acoustic bass, and occasional piano and steel pedal guitar. Holehouse’s credo is making music for music’s sake, and it shows. These songs are heartfelt and personal. Like on the opening track, “Numbers Game,” a song that speaks to how our outlook on life evolves as we age, but certain things hold true all along the way. The line that gets me the most from this song is, “There’s no chance in looking back, there’s no rear view mirror in this life.” The strings really make this song; it’s quite beautiful, though the drums are a little heavier than I’d like. “Aveiro” is another personal one, a joyous song about touring in Portugal and enjoying time with friends. Again, it’s the strings that really convey the emotions of this song so well, especially when they’re played pizzicato. “One Day at a Time” is a wistful tune that has as its basic message the old saying, be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home. “I’m Not Icarus” is a song that seems to be about lack of confidence in one’s self. “They say the sky is the limit / But I can’t get off the ground / They say you got to have the head for height / But I don’t have the head for that right now.” Vocals are partly sung, partly spoken, as if telling a story. And that’s what these songs do, is tell stories, reveal private feelings and emotions. There’s only one song of the nine on this album that I couldn’t get into, and that’s “Placid Lake,” a song that felt too dissonant and out of place. But that’s OK, the other songs are really gorgeous. They effectively set a mood and put you into the picture, letting you see the places and feel the feelings of the songs. Nicely done.


BLUES LAWYER – Something Different (Revolver USA, www.midheaven.com)

Urban Dictionary defines “blues lawyer” as “the target market for very expensive guitars, the implication being that the only people who actually buy them are rich hobbyists and not actual gigging musicians.” This Blues Lawyer, though, is a quartet from Oakland and are definitely legit musicians who play minimalist, quirky, hooky indie-pop music. The band started as a side project, but has morphed into a Bay Area staple. This record is their sophomore full-length. The lo-fi recording makes the record sound relaxed and casual, as if you’re listening to a recording the band made in their living room. The title track starts things out with a driving song. “I don’t know what I want / But I know that I need / I need something different” the song cries out. It could be an anthem for today’s young generation. There’s a dryness to the sound that gives it a solid presence, despite the lo-fi quality. “It’s Not Up To You” is a real standout. I love the slightly wobbly feel in the guitars in the chorus, mirroring the wobbly feel we have when we fall in love, which is the topic of the lyrics. “It’s All A Chore” could almost be a punk song, if it weren’t for how light and jangly the guitars are. That dichotomy is pretty nice. The minimalist melody and lyrics of “Nothing Complex” makes it a fun one. The melody and lyrics are simple and repetitive, just like the love felt toward another. Blues Lawyer may not be breaking any new ground, like the proverbial blues lawyers, but they sure make fun music.

CLASS PHOTO – Light Years Later (Jansen Records, Jansen Records, www.jansenrecords.com)

Here’s the key question: Are Class Photo a synth-pop band, an indie-pop band, or a disco-pop band? The answer is “Yes. “ They’re a comedy group, too, based on the bookending opening and closing tracks, which simulate those infuriating automated telephone answering systems most companies have these days. In between, the band offer up eleven eclectic tracks that range from the light electro-disco dance beats of “Yeah You Break (My Heart),” “Metallic Shades,” “Does the Cap Fit,” “Foreign Pictures,” and “Narrow Escape,” to the twee-pop songs “I’ve Been Cleaning Your Room,” “Keyboards on Her Fingers,” and “Magic Energy,” the latter of which is probably my favorite of the LP. A couple of the songs are both, like “Hard Conversation” and “Driving in a Storm.” All of the songs are done with tongue firmly in cheek and performed with an easy feel that belies how technically proficient the band is. The songs feel so relaxed and casual, but everything turns on a dime. When I first started listening, I was sure I was not going to like this, because I’m not a fan of disco. But this is so well done that it’s won me over.

HUSTLE AND DRONE – What an Uproar (hustleanddrone.bandcamp.com)

This record is dark. Synths swirl, tremble, and vibrate as Ryan Neighbors (ex- Portugal The Man) provides plaintive vocals and the steady beat from a drum machine keeping everything moving forward. This is not fun, joyous music; this is serious cathartic stuff. Buzzy electronics and beats, nasally ambient swirls, and minimalist guitar are all you get here, no big rock music. Most of the songs have spare instrumentation, with a very thin sound. A few of the songs are a bit thicker sounding. “Stranger” is a dancey number that layers the electronics to build a full sound, but it still has a pall cast over it, like a dark cloudy day, the only brightness coming from the splash of the raindrops in the puddles. An outlier is the pair of piano-based tracks, the short introductory “God Daughter” and “Stuck Inside of the Rain,” which follows without pause. The piano tracking has a meandering sound, recorded to feel old and ghostly. Neighbors’ vocals sound tentative. There’s a lot of open room in this gorgeously melancholy pair of tracks, and this is my highlight of the record. Also in the same vein is “Borrowed Time.” The electronic beats are much more subtle, and the mournful feel is prominent. These are songs of quiet desperation, and the mood is amazing. The album closer, “Never Sleep Alone,” is achingly good; the painful tension in the dissonant high-pitched synths is so unsettling. The lyrics reflect the pain of being apart from someone that you love so much that they’re part of your own soul. It’s these quieter numbers that make the record for me. You can keep the electro-beats.

MARK LIND AND THE UNLOVED – The Last Bastion (State Line Records, www.statelinerecords.com)

Former Ducky Boys front-man hasn’t been in the studio to record since 2013. And to break that streak, he rejoins with The Unloved for their first record in a decade. This is Boston-style punk’n’roll, or working class street punk, if you will, heavier on the rock than on the punk. And that’s about all I can really say about it. Honestly, there’s nothing that grabs me about this record. It’s not bad, it’s just nothing that moves me. Well, that’s not a hundred percent true. “Who’s To Say” is pretty good. It’s an acoustic track with angst in the vocals, accordion deep in the mists, and lyrics about the inevitability of everything. The lyrics are a bit repetitive, but the song’s feel is great. But the rest of the record just doesn’t move me.

RATIONAL ANTHEM – It’s Only Permanent (A-F Records, www.a-frecords.com)

Man, I love Rational Anthem! And it’s been way too long since their last LP, “Emotionally Unavailable,” came out – five years, to be precise. In the past they had been putting out an LP each year and touring incessantly, but the past half decade has seen then almost hibernating. It’s definitely been worth the wait, though, as this LP represents some of their best output ever. I didn’t think they could top the excellent “Emotionally Unavailable,” but they have. There’s a change in Rational Anthem’s approach here, but unchanged is Noelle Stolp’s enormous voice and big guitar, Chris Hembrough’s pounding bass, and Pete Stolp’s driving drums. The tightness is still there, too. While the opener, “Welcome to Paradise City” (a takeoff on Green Day’s “Welcome to Paradise” and Guns’N’Roses’ “Paradise City?”) is more akin to earlier efforts, other songs expand on the Rash’s pop punk sound. “Photographic Memory” has a speedy skate punk sound, and lyrics that reference Hüsker Dü, photos, fast driving, and aging – it’s almost as if it was written for me. As the album evolves, the songs get bigger, more expansive, and more adventurous. It’s clear this isn’t just the simple (yet excellent) pop punk of the past. Like “Stay Together for the Chicks.” It’s a little slower than other songs, and it really gets different on the bridge, in which it becomes more of an indie rock song with a wistful, lonely sound. “Alright Already” starts out more quietly, and even when it starts to get more raucous, it’s at a loping pace, with a strong bass line that drives the song. Again, when we get the bridge, right after the guitar solo (!) things get really different, with a cool throbbing guitar line pulled back in the mix. It’s this back half of the album where things really come alive, too. I love “Godspeed You Black Empanada,” not just for the hilarious title, but for it’s more moderately pace and its powerful rock. “Dragger” brings back the speed, but it’s a song that goes through changes in tempo and feel, sometimes sounding like skate punk, sometimes like more indie-rock. And The Rash save the best for last. “Through Being Punk” sings a song decrying the punk rock band lifestyle, calling for something more, something better. It’s got a huge, hopeful sound, rather than a resigned whine. The chorus’ melodic line is pretty great and the breakdown of the bridge is something I’ve not heard from the trio before. I like that, though the band is moving into a new direction, there’s still familiarity here. It’s an evolution, not a revolution. And it’s a recommended LP.


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

This rips! It’s like taking fast garage punk in the vein of Radioactivity, then blending in hard-driving rock and roll, like Motorhead. The guitars are used almost as percussion instruments, with a strong, steady, rapid beat of power chords. Vocals are sometimes shouted, sometimes roared, and sometimes sung with harmonies. The distorted guitars and lo-fi quality of the recording belie the tightness and creativity of this band. The power is almost non-stop, with minimal breathers. “No Trust” is one of those breathers sort of, as it slows things a bit and adds a ton of melody to the power chords. There’s a cool jangly bridge, too! But it’s still hard as hell, controlled chaos, and when the jangle yields back to power, it’s with an awesome deep rumble of bass. “Shut In” begins with a steady drum beat that sounds like it’s a the far end of a room, and then a huge, deep chord rings out, gets quieter, then louder – and then that bass sounds like it’s a plane about to land on you. That’s when the song begins in earnest. It’s one of the most intense song openings I can recall this year. The vocals are both growled and harmonized, which is an amazing feat. “Claw to Bone” is another favorite for it’s effortless gliding surf guitars, contrasted with the noisy chaos of everything else, all played at a breakneck pace. This is an exciting debut from this band from Portland. Their PR says “Bothers brings you napalm daydreams for the dystopian present.” Sounds about right. Highly recommended!

CINEMA CINEMA – CCXMD (Nefarious Industries, www.nefariousindustries.com)

OK, listen up, Jersey Beat readers. I’m going to tell you this as a friend. You need to expand your horizons. I can tell you’re stuck in that pop punk and indie rock rut, listening to the same bands play the same songs over and over again. I know it’s comforting, and it’s even fun. But there’s more out there! Some of it’s weird and exciting! Like Cinema Cinema, the art-punk outfit from New York. Guitar, saxophone, flute, drums, and bass are used to cross free jazz with a punk aesthetic, yielding outré improvisations over a steady beat and sometimes funky riffs. This is primarily instrumental, with only a couple occurrences of vocals, used as a musical instrument, with melodic lines from the vocals somewhat echoed in the instruments. The long-form jam, “Ode to a Gowanus Flower,” blends ancient tribal and Celtic sounds, with drums and flute, then funks things up with a grooving bass line, and the synths and guitar provide an angular alien texture. As the track evolves, the beat steadies and the funk becomes more dominant for awhile, before becoming more tribal again. The tracks are generally only three to five minutes long, with one exception, so is a good starting point for people who want to experiment with adventurous listening.

NIGHT SURF – The End of the World With… (Wiretap Records, www.wiretaprecords.com)

Back in the day, it used to be that certain record labels had a reputation for putting out quality music. If an album was released by a certain label, you knew you would like it. Lookout! Records and Dischord Records are two such labels that spring to mind. Labels like these have been hard to come by for a long time, but Wiretap Records is proving to be one. Head honcho Rob Castellon has a great ear, and I’ve liked pretty much everything he’s been putting out over the five or so years or the up and coming label’s existence. Brooklyn’s Night Surf, born out of the remnants of Habits a couple years ago, announced they had signed with Wiretap just this past summer, and this LP, their debut full-length, is the fruit of that partnership. The music drives hard and dark, but is ever melodic punk. Harmonized vocals are present, but used sparingly. Instead we get loud tuneful Orange County style punk rock, pounding bass and angry guitars joining the fury of the lead vocals. Some of the songs are just great hard pop punk, like “Not Today, Satan!” a fun bouncy song. The band is really tight, sounding like a group you would find at a larger venue, but the attitude and feel of the music is more intimate than that, like what you would hear at a dive bar. The songs are almost universally like this, more than mid-tempo but not quite loping, poppy and fun. Some of the songs do tend to blend one into another, but these are good songs. The standout is “With The Damned,” which ends the album. This one has a loping pace, slower than the other songs, bigger and more epic sounding than poppy. Night Surf is a worthy addition to Wiretap’s stable of artists, one you should be getting into.

NO VACATION – Phasing (Top Shelf Records, www.topshelfrecords.com)

Light, breezy indie pop from a cross-continental band with members based in both Brooklyn and San Francisco. Lead vocals from Sabrina Mai are dreamy, the drums are crisp, and the guitars are clean and jangly. “Estrangers” is an interesting song, with bubbly instrumentals, but lyrics that are more about a breakup. I like the contrast between the bright jangle and the hazy vocals. Sometimes it gets a bit over the top, with the overuse of mood-setting synths in a few of the tracks on instrumental breaks. Speaking of instrumental, the closing track of this five-song EP, “Last Dance,” is an instrumental. It’s a waltz, dominated by piano, that’s won my heart. It’s light and delicate, and feels like the soundtrack to an old 8mm family movie from ages ago, watching an ancestor playing as a child on a crisp autumn day. At least that’s the image that fills my head as I listen to it. I see the colorful leaves falling off the trees, the wind swirling around. It’s a wonderful soundscape. And the EP is quite wonderful, too.

PEANUT BUTTER – Don’t Stop (pbddc.bandcamp.com)

Peanut Butter is another one of these cross-country bands with members in multiple locations. In this case, members are on opposite sides of the continent, in Seattle and Washington, D.C. At least they’re both “Washington.” Don’t Stop” is the band’s third full-length LP, and they’re joined by Renata and Devin Ocampo this time out. The band is donating the first year of all online sales of the album to EG Justice, and organization dedicates to protecting the human rights of the people of Equatorial Guinea. Musically, Peanut Butter offer up a mix of psych and folk-pop music. It’s light and airy, and occasionally twangy, like “Berkeley Pit,” which has a swirly sound in the guitars, but also hints of an Americana sound. “Asteroid Negotiations” has an underlying feel of light jazz, with the rolling and swirling moving to the bass. I like the use of acoustic guitar in “Slow Retreat Too,” which opens the LP. The song has a nice jangly pop feel, but the acoustic gives it that retro folk-pop feel, a throwback to the late 60s Woodstock era. The surf guitar sound of “Secret Policeman’s Ball” is pretty effective, too. Peanut Butter isn’t necessarily breaking new ground here, but this is a solid LP.

PROTECTED LEFT – Fossil (protectedleft.bandcamp.com)

Oakland and the East Bay are not normally what springs to mind when you mention skate punk. The East Bay is more associated with pop punk, and skate punk is most frequently found in Orange County. But Protected Left turn convention on its head on this five song EP. Streaks of metal run through the music. It’s fast and loud, but also more melodic and less crunchy than other bands of the genre. Even the super fast and loud opener, “Never Know,” even has melodic hooks and harmonized vocals. The songs are played at a frenetic pace with loads of energy. And if you like guitar flourishes, well, Protected Left do too! “Old Life” starts out with gorgeous acoustic guitars before launching into some fairly brutal metallic punk. “Reboot,” the closer, is probably my favorite, having an epic feel and heavy dose of glam pop mixed into the powerful punk. I think the proximity of all that pop punk has had an effect on Protected Left, and mixing genres can be fun!

SCHIZOPHONICS – People in the Sky (Pig Baby Records, www.pigbabyrecords.com)

Damn, I love this band! San Diego’s Schizophonics are a high-energy hard rockin’ band playing the best retro crossover music this side of the pond. Imagine the early Beatles as a super-charged garage band instead of a smoothed out commercial pop band. Now triple the amount of soul by adding in James Brown at his peak. That description barely does justice to what this band sounds like, and their live shows are something to behold. This album contains twelve unrelenting tracks that, if they don’t get you off your ass and jumping around the room like a crazy person, it’s because you’re dead. And, while most of the tracks are typically short pop-song length of two and a half to three and a half minutes long, the opening track, “Something’s Got To Give” is an epic five and a half minutes of pure ecstatic release that’s the sort of thing that’s perfect as a closer for a live set. “Steely Eyed Lady” is one of the hardest driving tracks you’re likely to come across from an active band today, with the drums, bass, and guitar propelling the song forward like a locomotive. The title track takes the same formula but includes a heavy dose of psychedelic 60s tones to get you tripping while you’re speeding, as does “Battle Line.” It’s crazy how these genres are so seamlessly blended together, but it works so well. I love the simple “Like a Mummy,” a track that uses the most basic rock and roll blues line, then includes a guitar solo with an Egyptian flair. The closer on this album, “She’s Coming Back,” is a gloriously hopeful sounding song, and is the sort of thing that’s perfect for opening a live set, to get everyone jumping. There isn’t a single lull on this album; Schizophonics don’t let up for one second. Highly recommended! The only thing I would change would be to exchange the first and last songs in the running order.

WACO – Human Magic (Standby Records, www.standbyrecords.com)

Originally planned for release in early 2019, the first singles were dropped a year ago. This debut LP from the UK group, however, was delayed and is just now seeing its US release. It’s a good thing the record made it out, because it’s a good one, with variety in the sound and feel of the songs. “The Jersey Devil” is the leadoff, and was one of those early singles. It reminds me a bit of a slightly more relaxed Rocket From The Crypt. I like “Levenshulme Lover,” a song that alternately sounds of ancient folk tune and modern sing-along pop punk. There’s the vaguely Latin rock of “N15,” and “My Brother, We’ll Rise Again” is a dark dusty spiritual. “The Valleys” is a strong indie rock song, with big guitars, and “Smalltown Goths” opens with the same melodic line, but played slowly and quietly on keyboards. It’s a great transition, and then the track starts in earnest with a great garage rock sound. “Six Feet Under” is folk-punk played on acoustic guitar and with the warmth of organ, then transforms to bluesy country as the electric guitar, bass, and drums come in. “By My Side” reminds me a bit of Elvis Costello. It’s the same brand of pop music he made, and the vocals have a similar sound. Another early single, “Catbrain,” is a powerful one, musically and lyrically. There are some great angular guitars, tribal rhythms, and wailing saxophones, and the lyrics reference the growing divide between the rich and everyone else, all around the world. The album closes with a poem, “Tomorrow’s Gorgeous Globe.” It’s a hopeful ode to what could be, if only….if only. The album is diverse, yet cohesive. That’s the perfect sort of album, in my mind.

WARP LINES – Human Fresh (Dirt Cult Records, www.dirtcultrecords.com)

Mix lo-fi garage punk with melodic power pop, a la Steve Adamyk Band. Now add some powerful repetitive off-kilter lines, like Hot Snakes or (dare I say it?) Swans. You end up with some great music, dark and brooding kind of like The Creeps, but also with tons of poppy melody. Scratchy dark power pop dominates the dozen songs on offer. Of course the band is from Canada, home to many great bands in this vein, including a couple I mentioned. Every song on this debut LP is a banger, unyielding in their power. But a few special mentions must be made. “Measured” opens with an intense angular guitar attack before resolving to some gorgeous power pop with guitars that jangle. The contrast of the hook-filled lines with the zigzagging guitars is unsettling and amazing. I like the driving force that is “Easter Island,” a track that feels like it’s moving forward in an unstoppable way, even has the pop nature of the song breaks through. And “Stay” is a killer, with a three-four meter and dissonance in abundance. And the album closes with “No Device,” a pummeling track that’ll leave you sprawled out on the floor, gasping for air. I love when there are exciting new records from exciting new bands. “Human Fresh” is one such record from one such band.

WET SPECIMENS – Haunted Flesh (Brain Slash Records, brainslash.storenvy.com)

Dark, distorted hardcore punk, with eerie guitars and anguished distant vocals. Imagine melding goth and hardcore and Wet Specimens is what you might get. You can feel the despair, the evil, but also the power and the speed. Four of the five tracks on this EP move at breakneck speed, with only “The Scaphoid” moving at a much slower pace, sludge oozing from your speakers. The band is tight and on point for the genre. If you’re a fan of this sort of sound, jump on this. Though I like good lo-fi garage punk, this one is too distorted for my ears, and comes across as muddy. If the sound could be cleaned up just a bit I think I would be more into it.

GORDON WITHERS – Jawbreaker on Cello (New Granada Records, www.newgranada.com)

Jawbreaker never sounded like this! Gordon Withers has arranged and recorded songs from throughout Jawbreaker’s catalog, multi-tracking the different parts and making these raspy pop punk and indie rock songs sound downright orchestral. Absent, of course, are vocals, and melodic leads are replaced by one of the cello tracks. On the tough grunge-like “Fireman,” off of 1995’s LP “Dear You,” the cello manages to make the song sound both tough and delicate at the same time. I like the rendition of “Ashtray Monument,” one of my lesser favorites from “24 Hour Revenge Therapy.” Withers manages to make this otherwise lackluster song sound downright mysterious. And the version of “Ache” offered up will bring you to tears. The melancholy is so much more palpable on cello, and the arrangement is just beautiful. The classic “Chesterfield King” off the “Bivouac” LP loses something in translation to cello. It’s pretty, like all the tracks, but this is a song that’s supposed to sound rough, full of hope and despair, uncertainty and confused emotions. I guess the cello version is just too even-keeled to get that all across. The title track from “Bivouac,” on the other hand, is one of the most beautiful things you’ll listen to all year, and this one is dripping with feeling. The perennial favorite, “Boxcar,” closes the album, and it’s got the same fun bounce and irreverent attitude of the original. You might say cello isn’t punk, but save your breath. Instead, just listen to this, because at its heart, it shows the wondrous songwriting of Jawbreaker and lets us appreciate the depth and complexity their songs have.

KOBANES / THE SHECKIES – Hangar Time Split EP (Rat Girl Records, www.ratgirlrecords.storenvy.com)

Two pop punk bands from your past are teaming up to haunt you. Kobanes and The Sheckies are firmly in the Ramones-core camp, with simple, poppy, punky songs that bounce. Each band contributes three tracks. First, Kobanes give us a weird intro track that’s not really a song, but then “Nostalgia Is Dead” comes on, sounding just like Teenage Bottlerocket had recorded it, but with the addition of a keyboard. “Monkey Man” is even a little slower, with lyrics that describe a caricature of the life of an ape in the wild.

The Sheckies provide their funny-punk as always (they claim their name comes from a character from the film, “It Came From Hollywood,” but I believe that character must have been named for comedian Sheckie Green). This is obvious as soon as their first contribution starts: “Too Fat for My Leather Jacket.” How many of us has that happened to? Raises hand. The pace is quicker and the melody sparklier. “Me and You, Miyo” slows things down some, and “That’s Not Her” is downright ballad-like, but all the songs are definitely Ramones-core. If you’re a fan of these bands from back in the day, this record wont disappoint.


SWANS – Leaving Meaning (Young God Records, www.younggodrecords.com)

When Swans came out of hibernation a decade ago I was floored by their LP, “My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky.” I was most familiar with the earliest, noisiest Swans releases, and while they were good, they’re also best in smaller doses. I know the band tamed down their sound over the late 80s and into the 90s, but “My Father…” was a revelation, though. They could introduce tension and noise, but do it in a much more accessible way, even using melodic lines. It is still one of my favorite albums of the past decade. Subsequent releases showed an evolution in the newfound style of the new incarnation of Swans, always with the genius behind it all, Michael Gira. The music lost some of its dissonance and added ambience, a little more with each release. Sometime after the release of 2016’s “Glowing Man” Gira announced the end of the reconstituted Swans, which had enjoyed a reasonably stable line-up since the 2010 reformation. Thankfully it did not mean another decade of silence, and Gira continues to record under the Swans moniker, now with a rotating cast of musicians. That brings us to their latest studio LP and the first since “Glowing Man.”

This album runs a full 94 minutes, more than double “My Father…” but not quite as long as “The Glowing Man,” which clocked in at a whopping two hours. In true Swans form, most of the songs are double or triple the length of a typical pop song, but we don’t get any 20-minute epics this time around. The album begins with the shortest track, “Hum.” At two minutes in length, it’s a mysterious introduction, with more of the ambience and less of the dissonance. “Annaline,” too, focuses on ambience, with glimmering synths, strings, and flutes, and a gorgeous simple melodic line, sung in Gira’s deep baritone.

“Amnesia” is a quiet acoustic waltz, with the feeling of a folk tune…except after the initial pair of verses, there’s a pause, and a loud thrum, then we return to the folk tune, but other instruments begin to interject, with moans and wails, and a ghostly backing choir emerges at points. This pattern repeats over and over, adding to the mesmerizing effect, Likewise, the title track is a waltz that throbs with ambient haze, piano being the most prominent instrument.

Things really get going, though, with “The Hanging Man.” It introduces the primary sound for this record: hypnotic. This extended track has a short repeating line that throbs, quietly dissonant guitars strumming away, and a vaguely tribal drum. Gira’s vocals sing the lyrics in primarily a single note line, occasionally raising his voice to a shout. Muted trombone bleats rise and fall, and you fall into a trance. The melodic line slowly evolves, getting louder, a little more dissonant, the key rising. “Sunfucker” melds the hypnotic with the dissonant, the result sounding like evil crawling out of the depths of Hell. Halfway through, the vibe changes, adding a beat, with Gira’s multi-tracked vocals providing the hypnotic effect while the vaguely hip-hop instrumentals loop beneath. This track, too, builds in intensity to the end.

“The Nub” is one that sounds dark and mysterious, with piano tinkling over eerie instrumental ambience. Unison female choir slowly intone the lyrics, as if reciting an incantation. And “It’s Coming It’s Real” has a bluesy melodic line, with Gira’s deadpan vocals, mostly spoken, the female vocal choir sounding more angelic, and a clanging alarm of a guitar lurking in the background. As the track progresses, it builds, and evolves from blues to gospel. “Some New Things” continues the theme of inducing a trancelike state, as the short melodic line repeats over and over, including Gira’s vocals.

But it’s the penultimate track that’s the most astounding. “What Is This” starts out simply enough, with strings, piano, and vocals. But about two and a half minutes into the track, sleigh bells come in, and a backing vocal choir joins the steady drumbeat. Two more minutes in and chimes start ringing and the vocal choir adds its own line. This is a Christmas carol, as only Swans could do it!

While I may have been disappointed with the progression from 2010 to 2016 toward more ambience and less tension, I think “Leaving Meaning” is my favorite Swans album since “My Father…” It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, especially Jersey Beat readers who solely focus on rock genres of punk and indie. But it gets a very high recommendation from me.

THE DROWNS – "Hold Fast" b/w "Demons" (Pirates Press Records, www.piratespress records.com)

The Drowns are one of the hardest working bands in punk right now. They’re constantly touring and putting out records at a frantic pace. Following hot on the heels of their debut LP, “View from the Bottom,” which came out late last year, and the single “The Sound” that came out a few months back, here’s a new single from a new LP that’s in the works already. What this new single delivers is just what you’d expect: two strong working class American punk rock songs. “Hold Fast” is a great, tough song with amazingly tight gang vocals on the chorus. And I love the tension that builds in the instrumental bridge. “Demons” is a great melodic pop punk sing-along, more reminiscent of other such bands from the Pacific Northwest. I love the dry sound in the lead vocals contrasted against the big chorus, and the simple melodic line played in the lead guitar is effective. This is quite a good teaser for the sophomore LP.

EXTRA ARMS – Up From Here (Dadstache Records, www.ddstacherecords.com/ Get Party! Records, getparty.bandcamp.com)

Following up last year’s great debut LP, “Headacher,” Michigan’s Extra Arms is back with eight new songs of power-pop-punk goodness. Filling out the band founded by Ryan Allen are guitarist Michael Gallacher, bassist Ryan Marshall, and drummer Daniel Stover. And the album is certainly a worthy successor, with no signs of a sophomore slump! As with the debut, the songs teeter on the edge between pop punk and power pop, with hints of glam pop-rock tossed in, a la Cheap Trick. “F.L.Y.” opens the party with a track that’s equal parts of each genre and loaded with hooks. I like how the pop punk melody blends with the glam-pop big guitar sound. I love “Disruptor,” a track whose guitars manage to sound tough and jangly at the same time. “No Enemies” is a gorgeous, sprawling pop song, and the quietly buzzing synth doesn’t distract too much from the powerful guitars and gliding vocals. “Hold Me All The Time” is perhaps my favorite of the bunch. It’s a power pop song with tough guitars, harmonized vocals, and a shining melodic line. The transformation of “Space Jam” toward the end of the song, from huge fuzzed out ballad to quiet acoustic is nicely done. And the title track is the perfect album closer, pulling all the band’s threads together to form an epic tapestry. The tambourine drop at the end is a fun touch, too. You like power pop and pop punk? Get on this now!

THE RESTARTS – Uprising (Pirates Press Records, www.piratespressrecords.com)

This is hardcore punk fucking rock! Lots of bands are nostalgic for the sound and try to play it, but it rarely comes out right. The Restarts, though, are the real deal. An English band, based in London, the Restarts have been around for the better part of 25 years, though they sound like they’ve been around a decade longer than that. This is authentic early 80s hardcore punk, powerful and angry. A few of the tracks diverge somewhat. “Shut Doors” is ska-punk, but there are parts of it played with a surf guitar sound, others with a big punk sound. The vocals, though, are still Oi influenced, gritty and gravelly, like all the tracks. And “20 Years” is the other ska-punk track on the album. It, too, has plenty of Oi mixed in. “First World Problems” is awesome, starting out with a more modern melodic punk sound, and then launching into speedy hardcore, NY style. The track takes a brief metallic detour before closing faster than you can say, “see you in the pit.” “A Dark Day In September” has a less speedy sound, reminding me of some of the great Chicago bands like Pegboy, Naked Raygun, or The Effigies, but crossed with an Oi attitude. It’s favorite of this LP. “The Fork” reminds me of a harder, angrier Crass, but working class Oi instead of crust punk. And “New World Order” has a great eerie feel to it, with a loping pace. The balance of the tracks are some of the best rapid-fire hardcore I’ve heard in years. Angular chord changes abound, and you can feel the heat from the vocals. This band is on fire! Tracks like “Panic,” “The One Percent,” and “Uprising” remind of why I got into this music in the first place: the energy, the anger, and the political statements. This record is excellent.

SLEAVE – Don’t Expect Anything (Engineer Records, www.engineerrecords.com)

Richmond, Virginia has been the birthplace of great bands in the past. Avail, Ann Beretta, Municipal Waste, and more. Now add to that Sleave. Formed in 2016, Sleave has finally gotten around to releasing their debut LP, teaming up with the UK’s Engineer Records. They play a brand of indie/alternative rock that has elements of post hardcore and emo sounds. There’s a huge, sweeping, epic sound to the dozen songs on this record. The guitars sound crunchy and jangly at the same time. “Cataracts,” the second track, is a great example. It’s super melodic, has the big wall of guitar sound alternating with a calmer jangle, and vocals that go from quietly pleading to shouted anger. “Swept” is one that uses gang vocals that are part shouted, part sung on the chorus. It’s a slower track that, nevertheless, is played at full boil. “Check Myself” has more of a standard 2000s sound in the verses, with melodic post-hardcore music, angst-filled spoken vocals, single note riffs, and periods of shouting. There isn’t a standard verse chorus verse chorus structure, but the sections between the “verses” are immense and have the most beautiful guitars and chord progressions. “Better Abettor” is another favorite – like many of the tracks, it’s filled with contrasting textures, which makes for a great listen. Quiet and jangly, loud and angry, dissonant vs. melodic, singing vs. shouting – it’s all here in one track in under four minutes. “Drinkin’” leans toward more of a modern west coast emotional pop punk sound, a genre near and dear to my heart. It’s the sort of thing you’d hear in a dive bar with lots of beer drinking and lots of people pushing to the front to sing along with the band. This is an exciting debut from an exciting “new” band on the scene.

TERRITORIES – "Quit This City" b/w "Defender" (Pirates Press Records, www.piratespressrecords.com)

Calgary band Territories have been busy, supporting nearly every big punk show that comes through their hometown, and now venturing forth on their first tour south of their border. This single celebrates this, with two tracks of very working class rock music, sort of halfway between the working class pop punk of The Drowns and the blue collar music of the E-Street Band. The title track has a warm sound, thanks to the electric organ, and the B-side reminds me of the great UK band Blitz. I hadn’t heard of Territories before this record, but it seems like we’ll be hearing more from them – and that’s a good thing.


AUDIO KARATE – Malo (Wiretap Records, www.wiretaperecords.com)

Audio Karate, a SoCal band that was active in the 90s to the mid 2000s, went on a long hiatus in 2006, came back to life last year with a new single and a signing to Wiretap Records. It was a teaser for a brand new LP, which is what we’re here to talk about. These songs were all written and recorded in 2006, but never mixed and released -- until now. And it’s a good thing it finally saw the light of day. The previously released two songs from the single act as bookends for this LP, with “Bounce” opening and “Landing” closing the album. As I mentioned in my review of the single, “Bounce” is prototypical 2000s emo-tinged pop punk, with angst-filled vocals and intertwining guitar lines. “Sin Chuchillo” also has a smoothed out post-hardcore feel. And “Get…Mendoza” also sounds like it’s from that era and genre, though the departure from the expected norm somewhat starts here. The song has a more cinematic feel, and more tension than the first two. The surf guitar lines are cool, providing a dark mysterious quality. And then, from there, things get really weird, in a very cool way. “Pardon Me” is a gorgeous romantic pop track that sounds like it spans the 60s to the present. The bells and strings are pretty, and the simple backing guitar is just right. “Good Loving Man” is an expansive track that sounds sort of what the Beatles might have done had they continued on into the 2000s. It has definite power pop influence, but the guitar solo toward the end doesn’t seem to fit. “Room Down The Hallway” is a jangly power pop tune, completely out of character for the band and its era, bit it’s beautiful. The penultimate track, “Saturday Night (You Ain’t Down Foo),” feels more in line with the band’s most well known sound. I still love “Landing,” the quiet ballad, with its clean guitar sound and falsetto vocals. This album is not at all what I expected; it was an amazingly nice surprise!

SUICIDE GENERATION – Prisoner of Love (Dirty Water Records, www.dirtywaterrecords.co.uk)

Suicide Generation are back with a three-song EP of sleazy greasy garage punk. Raucous and rompin’ stompin’, the three songs on this record are sure to get you into a frenzy. My favorite of the three is the third track, “Rotten Mind.” It’s old school early punk rock, with all that implies. The title track is more reminiscent of 50s greaser rock, the sort of stuff you would listen to while working on your hot rod. And “Shitty In The City” has more of a classic garage rock sound, a slower tempo, and an even looser feel than the other songs. Garage punk’n’roll has been seeing a resurgence lately, and Dirty Water Records is leading the way.

SCREAMING FEMALES – Singles Too (Don Giovanni Records, www.dongiovanirecords.com)

Covering the fifteen years or so of the Screaming Females’ career as a band, Singles Too collects together nearly every non-LP cut, from all the early 7” records and digital B-sides, plus a remixed track, too. And the download and CD have six bonus cover songs. It’s a great way to hear the progress of the band through the years, condensed down into a convenient listening format. The album begins with the very first 7” single the band released, with the songs “Arm Over Arm” and “Zoo of Death.” “Arm In Arm” is poppier than what would become the band’s signature sound, and Marissa Paternoster’s guitar is downright jangly on the song. Apparently she isn’t happy with the track, claiming she made mistakes and wasn’t aware she could ask for a retake. But it sounds really nice to me. With the B-side of that single, we start to get a sense of what would be the Screaming Females’ bread and butter: grungy rock and roll, dripping with melody and singed around the edges by acid rock. The guitar tone is still somewhat jangly, though the attitude is much deeper, and Paternoster’s powerful vocals punch you in the gut. I really love the dark, jumpy “No Being Disgusting,” from a split EP released with Full of Fancy. It’s the release that showed the world that Paternoster is one of indie-rock’s best guitarists, and her manic vocals are unbelievably intense. “Pretty OK” from that same split gives us the big sound and songwriting that has become the band’s primary sound. It’s a great melodic rock and roll number with pop sensibility, melding sounds of bands like Led Zeppelin and Nirvana to create something new and dynamic. “Ancient Civilization,” from a split with Tenement, has a great hypnotic psych feel to it. The throbbing bass, strong backbeat, and single-note guitar line induce a trance-like feeling, though Paternoster’s monstrous vocals keep one connected to reality. “Skeleton” is another favorite, with its super-buzzy guitar tone and explosive chorus. Paternoster’s guitar mastery is on full display, and it’s enough to make a lesser guitarist quit. That remix I mentioned is of “End of My Bloodline,” from the album “All At Once.” It’s more than a remix – it’s a whole different song! The lyrics are different, and are rapped instead of sung! It’s an impressive track, tough and dark. Those bonus tracks include covers of Neil Young (an edgier, faster version of the lazy “Cortez the Killer”), Sheryl Crow (a more soulful version of “If It Makes You Happy”), Patti Smith Group (an excellent, faithful rendition of “Because the Night”), Guided By Voices (a thicker, richer take on “A Good Flying Bird”), Taylor Swift (“Shake It Off” as only the Screamales can do it), and Annie Lennox (“No More “’ Love You’s’” done more as a 70s rock ballad than the 80s theatrical number of the original). So many of the tracks on this collection are hard to come by these days, so it’s so very nice to have them all together. It’s a must have.

VINNIE CARUANA – Aging Frontman (Know Hope Records, www.knowhoperecords.com)

The six songs on this new mini-LP from the former frontman for the pop punk and post-hardcore band Movielife are vastly different from the music he performed back in the day. Gone is the punk, gone is the hardcore, and gone is the edginess. In their place is dreamy indie-rock, much more introspective sounding than his earlier output. It’s sort of like taking post-hardcore music, but telling it to relax, it lies down for a nap and dozes off to sweet dreams. The music is dreamy, but it has an edge to it, still. This is especially noticeable on “Dying in the Living Room,” a song that has a hazy feel in the instrumentals, but the vocals and rhythm section have more aggressive ideas. My favorite song is probably “Alone,” a track that starts quietly with a dark mysterious sound and builds from there. It gets bigger and bigger, and as the climax of the song is reached it suddenly cuts off, unresolved. “Providence” is another song that builds. It starts quietly with just acoustic guitar and vocals. Over time, as the electric guitars, bass, and drums come in, and it becomes a huge epic tune, less dreamy, more soulful, with multi-tracked harmonized vocals. The closer, “Tex The Rock Johnson” uses ukulele to create a very different feel from the rest of the songs, lighter and bouncier. As the track goes on, the reverb increases, giving the song a more distant feel, an interesting way to close the record. While this record isn’t going to make any waves, it’s a solid effort and a good listen.


FINE DINING – Grass Fed Tunes (Emmer Effer Records, wmmerefferrecords. bandcamp.com)

Hailing from LA’s South Bay area, Fine Dining are a quartet that specialize in speedy skate punk. True to the genre, the music is melodic and metallic, crunchy, and did I say speedy? The pace of the music blazes. The vocals are powerful and well controlled, but manic when the song calls for it. The guitars and bass are crunchy. This band is super tight. And this is just their debut EP! But these guys are veterans of the scene, all having played in various bands before. Some of the songs also feature gang vocals reminiscent of youth crew hardcore of days gone by. Of the first three tracks, I think “Elephant in the Van” may be my favorite, staying focused on the speed and punk qualities. “A Drink For You” is the most formulaic skate punk of the songs, including (well) harmonized vocals on the chorus. The closing track is a cover – of a cover. The Animals made “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” a rock and roll hit in 1965 and part of rock history, but the song was written for singer Nina Simone, who recorded it a year earlier. This original is delicate and delicious. The Animals’ cover is moody and mysterious. Fine Dining’s take pounds relentlessly, alternately loping at a moderate tempo or zooming along at an incredible pace. It’s metallic hardcore, and the vocals are definitely solidly gruff and metallic. While the band do a fine job playing the song, I’m not sure the style matches the melody. Overall, while Fine Dining aren’t pushing genre boundaries here, if you’re a fan of skate punk, this band acquit themselves more than competently, and you’re going to enjoy this record.

HEAZZA (Audible Paint, www.audiblepaint.com)

Sweet vocals, piano, percussion, and synths blend to create some pretty ambient pop. I really like “The Dark,” the track that opens the six-song EP. It sounds both mysterious and familiar at the same time, and the strings) add a gorgeous touch. Heazza’s vocals are reminiscent of the classic chanteuses of yore, giving the song the feel of a jazz ballad. “Occupied” features powerful vocals, a nice melodic line, and some cool buzzy synths, along with synthesized steel drums, providing a breezy island feel. The use of strings, particularly cello, on “Hazy Blue” gives it a wonderfully introspective sound, but the synth tone selections are a bit annoying, reminding me of the cheap synth soundtracks from the latter Tom Baker seasons of the Doctor Who TV show. More strings would have been better than the synths on this track. And I do like the closer, “Crimson Eyes.” The melody is beautiful, and I like how the song ebbs and flows, and the orchestral arrangement is on the mark, though the vocal phrasings feel a little forced. I’m not crazy about “Stuck,” though, which has the feel of a commercialized, whitewashed, and homogenized “soul” song. I think that, though taken in isolation, some of these songs are quite nice, what bothers me is the sameness of everything: slow ballads with the same piano, synths, and strings. Ballads are great sometimes, but not as every song on a record.

JUMPSTARTED PLOWHARDS – Round One (Recess Records, www.recessrecords.com)

Hailing from San Pedro, California, Jumpstarted Plowhards is a new band featuring the legendary Mike Watt (Minutemen, fIREHOSE, Mike Watt and the Missingmen) and Todd Congelliere (F.Y.P., Toys That Kill, Underground Railroad to Candyland, Clown Sounds). Each track features a different guest drummer, including George Hurley (Minutemen, fIREHOSE), Patty Schemel (Hole), and more. The result is some spare, menacing punk rock. The music sounds dusty, right out of the California desert. The vocals are urgent, and the guitars wail inconsolably. In an unusual move, “The Punk Setup,” the second track of the LP, uses a melodica, one of those mouth operated keyboard things. It adds to a mysterious feel. “The Garter Snakes” is a favorite, alternating the dark sound with the brighter relaxed pop punk often employed by Congelliere’s bands. Another thing borrowed from Congelliere’s aesthetic is the lo-fi recording of vocals. It’s a technique used throughout the whole album whenever he’s singing, but when Watt’s voice is heard, like on “Makin’ It All Settle Down,” it’s a much cleaner sound. That track, by the way, is a simple one, but another favorite. The lyrics are simple and repeated, as is the music, but it’s got the feel of a powerful jam. This is just round one – the band plan to record five LPs before they start to play live. If this is just round one, I can’t wait for the next four to come out, so I can see these guys live, because this is great stuff.

LAGWAGON – Railer (Fat Wreck Chords, www.fatwreck.com)

Another one of Fat Wreck’s longstanding bands is back with another new LP, following in the footsteps of Strung Out, Bracket, and Good Riddance. After three decades of honing their skills and sound, they’ve reached peak skate punk and have the “Fat” sound down pat. Fast, loud, crunchy and melodic, with metallic flourishes here and there, Lagwagon deliver the goods. One favorite song is “Jini,” which starts out with the feel of a rock and roll folk tune before launching into a full-tilt fast’n’loud track. The guitars pound out a single note drone, acting as a percussion instrument, while the folk tune melody continues. I also like “Dark Matter,” a track that in places has a metallic Bad Religion sort of vibe, but gets really melodic in the chorus, expansive sounding, and even a bit jangly. Many of the tracks are focused on the poppiness and the speed of the music, but there are some songs that are edgier, harder, and more metallic than others. “Dangerous Animal” is one such track. Super crunchy, this song races by, guttural growls emanating from the guitars as the bass and drums pound mercilessly. The vocals, by contrast, are smooth as silk on the harmonized chorus. And, after a beautifully subtle and retro opening with piano and guitar, “The Suffering” explodes with a metallic onslaught. If you’re a fan of skate punk and the classic Fat Wreck sound, you can’t go wrong here; it’s a solid release.

LIGHTNING DUST – Spectre (Western Vinyl, www.westernvinyl.com)

The unifying factors in the ten songs on this album are synths, quietness, and subtlety. Beyond that, there are many differences from track to track, with some songs reminding me of Julee Cruise singing the songs of Andre Badalamenti, others feeling like folk tunes, and more like easy indie pop. The opening track is a bit of an outlier, more different from the other tracks by far. It’s heavier on the ambience and synths, and when the percussion joins in it’s with a tribal beat. As the song evolves, the electronics get a little crazy with the strings, in a chaotic jam, while the drums keep pounding away. “Led Astray” reminds me of a 1960s flower power folk rock anthem, and “Joanna” is a gorgeous waltz that feels like an updated version of an ancient folk tune. “More” is another waltz featuring piano, strings, and synths, reminding me of something sort of post-classical. “Inglorious Flu” is a contemplative track, with piano holding more sway than the synths, which are used to create atmosphere more than anything. The tone used is very Badalamenti, and the ethereal vocals remind me of Cruise. The haziness of it all, too, is familiar to all Twin Peaks fans. “Competitive Depression” sounds like a light, synth-based grunge song. And the closer, “3am/100 Degrees,” is an understated indie-rock track. I think my favorites are the songs that sound older than they are, but the diversity of songs amidst cohesion of tone makes this a compelling record.

MINI MELTDOWNS – Destined for Disaster (Good Land Records, www.goodlandrecords.com)

This four-song EP from the two-state band (drummer and vocalist Jon Phillip lives in Tennessee while bassist Scott Schoenbeck hails from Wisconsin) is a blast of power-pop-punk – power pop mixed with pop punk. Four guitar-fueled songs that will remind you of bands like The Marked Men and Radioactivity, but maybe slowed down a touch and with a bit of classic rock and roll mixed in. The sound is thick and powerful, but the harmonized vocals lighten things up with a beachy feel on “Gonna Miss You.” “I Wanna Miss You” is grittier, darker, with hints of mod influence. “Afraid of Everything” has a very classic rock and roll sound, with a chord progression that will sound, at first, familiar, but then the Mini Meltdowns have fun turning convention on its head. And “You Bring Me Down” is raucous fun. It’s great seeing the power pop renaissance going on lately with so many new bands with fantastic songs. Mini Meltdowns is one of those you should check out.

ODD ROBOT / TINY STILLS – Split (Wiretap Records, www.wiretaprecords.com)

Wiretap Records is one of those labels. You know, the ones where you’re pretty sure you’re going to like everything the label puts out. Lookout! Records was like that. Dischord Records, too. This latest Wiretap release is a split EP, with two songs from each band, one original and one cover of the other band. Tiny Stills starts the fun and games with “Everything Is Going Great,” their original contribution. It’s a darkly powerful and melodic song about putting up a front to fool yourself and others. It teeters on the border of pop punk and indie rock, and it makes me want to hear more from this band that I was unfamiliar with before today. Tiny Stills’ cover is of “Schadenfreude,” from Odd Robot’s sophomore LP, “Amnesiatic.” They acquit themselves quite well, giving the already bouncy song even more of a poppy edge, thinning the sound a bit, making the bass more prominent and giving the drums more of a hopping sound in places. Odd Robot’s original is “I Am A Cortisol Factory,” and it’s classic Odd Robot, poppy and bouncy, with Andy Burris’ crooning vocals. The new touch is having two guitars an octave apart on some parts, giving the song a nice depth. I think this is the first recording the band have released since Mike Doherty switched from bass to guitar and Logan Barton joined the band on bass. It provides for a nice, full sound. Their cover of Tiny Stills’ “15-17 Months” does a good job, putting their own spin on it. They go for a bigger, crunchier sound than the original, and one the chorus they go for a quicker pace for a bit, eschewing the nice lilt that the original maintains. Once again, Wiretap hits it out of the park!

SICKO – In The Alternate Timeline (Red Scare Industries, www.redscare.net)

When pop punk was exploding in the East Bay in the 1990s, a small band from Seattle was producing music that was the equal of, if not better than, many of those bands that went on to bigger careers with major labels. Formed in 1991 and releasing four full-length LPs, four singles or EPs, and appearing on some compilations over the course of seven years, Sicko never achieved the sort of recognition of their contemporaries to the south that were part of the Gilman Street and Lookout Records! scene. Now, working closely with the band members to select nineteen of their favorite tracks, Red Scare hopes to correct this by presenting a compendium that shows the world what we’ve forgotten: the greatness of Sicko. Spanning their entire career, these tracks bring back songs that have been long out of print to a new generation of punk fans. It’s so damn hard picking out favorite tracks, because every single one is so damn good. Some of the tracks lean more toward the punk side of things, fast and raucous, like the opening track “Where I Live,” originally from the band’s first LP, “You Can Feel The Love In This Room.” These songs stick closely to the archetype that came out of the late 80s East Bay. “80 Dollars,” from a split single” released with The Mr. T Experience, is a song that I hear echoed in dozens of pop punk bands that followed. And I really love “Farm Song,” which feels so much like a MTX song, but appeared on the album “Laugh While You Can Monkey Boy.”

Others songs are more focused on the pop side of creating songs with great hooks and melodies. “FB Song,” which was released on the 7” EP “Count Me Out,” alternates between raw garage pop and great jangly power pop. “A Song About A Rabbit” is a light bouncy indie-pop song from the LP “You Are Not The Boss Of Me” that’s a lot of fun. I also really love “Little,” a mid-tempo track that has a gorgeous guitar tone and pretty melodic line that, is the sort of thing we heard from may pop punk bands playing slower, more meaningful songs in the decade that followed.

Then there are the tracks that fire with both barrels, fast and punked up, but jangly and poppy, with melodic lines that have way more going for them than any punk song has any business having. “The Sprinkler” is one such track, off the first LP. The song is played briskly, with distorted guitars alternating with a clean tone, but the bass is playing something more complex than a typical punk song, and the melody is quite nice. “High Hopes” is another urgent heart-felt song, played like there’s no tomorrow, yet with undeniable sincerity.

It certainly is a shame that Sicko was stuck in Seattle at a time when all anyone wanted from that town was grunge. They deserved so much more notoriety than they got. But thanks to Red Scare, you can hear that for yourself. Who’s Green Day again? Recommended.

VARIOUS – Red Scare Industries: 15 Years of Tears and Beers (Red Scare Industries, www.redscare.net)

Wow, Red Scare Industries is fifteen years old? That’s like 100 in mainstream label years! To celebrate, boss Toby Jeg has collected together songs from bands new and old that have released music with the label and put out a compilation that illustrates the quality of punk music they’ve been releasing since 2004. And none of these are stale old re-releases of songs from old records; every song is new and previously unreleased! And, yes, every song is a good one. With the self-imposed limitations imposed this particular celebratory releases (there are a mere fifteen tracks here, one for each year of operation), there’s a good cross-section of the label represented here. Long-time acts like The Copyrights, Elway, Brendan Kelly and the Wandering Birds, and Garrett Dale (Red City Radio) are here, as are newer bands like Sincere Engineer, Billy Liar, and Ramona. Sundowner and The Lippies provide their first new music in a long time, and past band The Bombpops make an appearance, too. Missing are such luminaries from the label’s catalog as Teenage Bottlerocket, The Lillingtons, and Masked Intruder, but some appear in cover form. Broadway Calls covers The Menzingers’ “Sunday Morning,” while Brendan Kelly provides his unique spin on The Lillingtons’ “All I Hear Is Static.”

Some of my favorite tracks on this comp are actually the least “punk” of the bunch. Sam Russo’s “The Window” takes his solo acoustic act and makes it bigger, using reverb and electric guitar to fill things out. Elway’s track, “High Drama, Low Comedy,” has an expansive feel and Tim Browne’s vocals have just the right amount of grit for the epic sound. Yes, at the end of the track the tempo picks up for a more pop punk pace, too. Sundowner (Chris McCaughan of The Lawrence Arms) gives us “Bleed Together,” a pretty, pensive track that’s primarily acoustic, but with bass, percussion, and electric guitar included. And Billy Liar, who’s Red Scare LP is likely to end up on my best of 2019 list, contributes the comp’s closer, “The Escapist,” which stays completely acoustic, yet manages to have a raucousness to it.

The punkier tracks are great, too. In particular, southern Illinois’ The Copyrights give us “Maine or Oregon,” a fast paced pop punk song that clocks in at under a minute. LA’s The Bombpops, a band that more recently went on to release music with Fat Wreck Chords, provide a great mid-tempo pop punk cover of Enemy You’s “East and West.” Tightwire’s “AYL” (Are You Listening) is a pounding track with an old school feel that melds pop punk and power pop. And the always amazing The Brokedowns give us “Thinking With The Lights On,” a track perfect for singing along to in a small dive bar.

Then there are the tracks that are harder to classify, which makes them all the better. Chicago’s Sincere Engineer play something between pop punk and indie, and “Dragged Across The Finish Line” is a great example of their fantastic sound and Deanna Belos’ great songwriting. And Ramona is one of my favorite newer bands, too, and their song “Yeah Again” has both crunchiness and bounce, with great melodic hooks and jangle. “TJ” is a song from MakeWar, with a mix an emotionally charged pop punk sound.

So, congratulations to Toby, and here’s a big thank-you for the fifteen years of hard work bringing us some great music. And here’s to many more!


DANA – Glowing Auras and Black Money (Heel Turn Records, www.heelturnrecords.com)

The album title plucked from a New York Times headline about a secret Pentagon UFO program, “Glowing Auras and Black Money” is the third full-length release from Columbus, Ohio’s DANA. And, as a former DJ at one of the nation’s few free-form non-mainstream radio stations (WZRD Chicago), I can safely say this is exactly the kind of record that would have gotten heavy airplay there. This is music as art. The band makes creative use of noise, electronics, guitars, dissonance, and angularity to create some amazing, energetic soundscapes and songs. Some of the tracks are cool throwbacks to the massively creative post-punk era of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The opening track, “Cream Corn,” is one of these, with its off-kilter and angular rhythms and electronics and partially spoken vocals. The track closes with a free-jazz jam of guitar and saxophone, with one of the guitar licks sounding like a ringing telephone. “Pork Pie” is another, with a Jim Carroll undercurrent, with more off-kilter intervals in the chorus. The tension throughout this track is palpable. Some of the tracks are slower and sludgy, like “Chaos,” a nine and a half minute track that starts out very punk-like, and evolves into a thicker stew of guitar harmonics and fuzz. At the midpoint, it shifts radically, the tempo slowing, and the sludge oozing into every pore of your being. “Cupid” is another slower one with plenty of heavy guitar noise and wild electronics. “El Sicko” is a favorite track, and has sections that seem to channel or parody Pink Floyd, with a slow, drug induced ambient feel, alternating with fast manic punk sections reminiscent of a quicker paced Flipper. If you’re into the more adventurous side of music, this is recommended.

DAS CLAMPS – Sh*t Music for Sh*t People (Trash Wax Records, www.trashwax.com / Dirty Water Records, www.dirtywaterrecords.co.uk)

When it comes to garage rock and punk, Dirty Water Records has no equal. Whenever I’ve gotten a record from them, I generally know I’m in for a treat: raw, energetic roots music dripping with attitude. That’s what makes this debut LP from the UK’s Das Clamps a bit disappointing. Even more disappointing in that one of the members is Tina Swasey, of the outstanding Oh! Gunquit, another band in the Dirty Water Records stable. The two-piece comes across to my ears as a little too affected, like they’re trying too hard for a “sound,” and yet they also come across as very thin and unpolished. The former is unsurprising for a two-piece, but the latter is very much. If this was just done for a lark, to have a bit of fun with friends, I could understand. This is something that would be fine as a live act, especially since the band play Cramps covers as well as their own originals. The covers are quite different from the originals, though, and I’m not sure this is a band that needs immortalizing in recording.

FRAMES – Cursed (Know Hope Records, www.knowhopercords.com)

This debut EP comes from a Richmond, Virginia based band that play quiet, lazy indie pop. The understated instrumentals are melded with ethereal vocals, and the tempos are uniformly relaxed. The guitar tone is quite clean, the bass is used sparingly to provide a simple foundation, and the vocals are sometimes multi-tracked to provide pretty harmonies. The keyboards used on the third track, “House Show,” provide a warmth to the song and a slightly richer sound than other tracks. I like “Vase,” a stripped down acoustic track with lyrics about the difficulties of being in a co-dependent relationship in which both people are broken. Also acoustic-based are “Hell” and the closer, “Last Year,” this last having a particularly interesting tone on the guitar, extra reverb in the vocals, and a nice ambient haze in the background. These six songs are quite pretty. The one constructive criticism I might provide, though, would be to include more variety in tempo and tone, as the songs sometimes blend into one another.

FREEZING COLD – Glimmer (Salinas Records, www.salinasrecords.com)

Lush indie rock melded with touches of emotional pop are the key genre touch points for Freezing Cold on their debut full-length LP. The New York based members grew up together in the DIY music scene, and came together merely two years ago to form Freezing Cold. The melodies and vocal delivery remind me a lot of a small defunct pop punk band from San Diego, Caskitt, but more relaxed and laid back. The phrasing in the vocals in particular is almost as if Matt Caskitt himself had recorded them – and this is a high compliment. I really like “Parentheses,” a song about how our society is living in its own waste, quite literally. The instrumentals jangle hard, while the vocals have a pleading quality. The much more sedate “Here Now” is another favorite. It’s a gorgeous track, with piano and strings joining acoustic and electric guitars to create a luxuriant texture. “Teenage Insights” has an expansive, introspective feel to it, with epic guitars and emotionally charged vocals. The organ underneath adds depth, too. “Pill Box” is a power ballad, packed with feeling and big instrumentals. The only track I can’t get into is the penultimate “Squint To See,” which sounds too “alternative radio” to me, and tries to go too slick with loads of reverb, dark guitar locks, and tribal drum beats. But everything else is pretty ace.

HANGMAN – One By One (Flatspot Records, www.flatspotrecords.com)

I think it’s pretty well known that I’m not a big fan of heavy metallic hardcore. But once in awhile, a metallic hardcore band puts out a record or plays a set at a show that’s a step above the ordinary, with unique and interesting qualities. This isn’t one of those bands or records. Hangman is a Long Island Hardcore band that checks all the usual boxes. Crunchy guitars using only one or two chords, growled vocals, breakdowns, and sudden shifts in meter. This is really pretty generic, at least to my ears. Even song to song, it’s the same tempo, the same guitar licks, the same chord(s), the same growl. The one exception to this rule may be the title track, which throws in some white metal rap. I’m not sure which bothers me more, that or the rest of the record.

THE HUSSY – Looming (Dirtnap Records, www.dirtnaprecs.com)

The Hussy, the Madison, Wisconsin band, have been described as “scuzzy rock and roll,” but I prefer to think of them as massively creative garage new wave power pop and punk. Ain’t that a mouthful? But it encapsulates the diversity of their songs and sounds. From the very first track, you can tell that this record is going to be something different, something interesting and challenging. “Coast” opens with quiet plinking on a piano, a repeating phrase that slowly grows louder, until the full band explodes, playing the same phrase, and launches into a fantastic, lo-fi, buzzy garage punk song. Backing guitars play big fuzzed out chords, while the lead guitar plays an angular arpeggio-laden line. “Have To Hide” is great power pop melodic track with warbling interjections that sound like something from a Devo song. “No Credit” has the powerful pop punk sound of a grittier Descendents. “Sorry” has a 60s psychedelic pop and soul sound melded with fluttery flute that yields something pretty unique. I love the jangle of “Cornflakes,” a simple song with a big bounciness. Likewise, “That’s The Way It Is (It Is)” has a great exuberant sound, but this time the prominent piano adds a nice touch. A couple of the tracks are short, odd, and fascinating interludes. “Down In The Dirt” uses backtracking and filtering on the vocals to make them sound like they were recorded underwater. The 37-second track has the quality of an otherworldly folk-punk track. “Tyler’s Jazz Odyssey” is 28 seconds of country swing guitar that abruptly blends into the following track. And “History Lesson Part III” is an almost experimental track, with acoustic guitar playing a nice melody, but with distorted guitar harmonics and found sound tapes of conversations playing in the background. It’s just under a minute of heaven. The album, as a whole, is just under 30 minutes of heaven. Recommended.

KNOCKED DOWN – Anything But Luck (knockeddownband.bandcamp.com)

Skate punk bands are a dime a dozen. The popular style of 90s fast and loud pop punk still has its fans, and there’s no shortage of bands trying to play it. The key word there is “trying.” Too many of the bands are just aping the popular bands of two decades past and yet not approaching their level of quality. Not so with Knocked Down, though; they’re the real deal. And, while they’re definitely in the skate punk camp, they’re poppier and more melodic than is typical of the genre. The vocals are strong and solid, and the band sounds huge – epic even. And there’s an emotional edge to the dozen songs on offer. I don’t think there’s a single song I don’t like on here, but there are a few I’ll give special mention. “Shattered” is an up-tempo song that has guitars that demonstrate both crunchiness and virtuosity. The melodic hooks are attractive, and the feel goes through a couple of shifts through the course of its three and a half minutes. I’m not a huge fan of most ballads, but “Left & Empty” is the closest thing to a ballad on this record, being a slower tempo song, but it’s epic and another favorite. I love the big sound in the chorus, with an almost drone-like guitar counterpointed against another with more flourishes, and the vocals are gigantic. The verses are simpler and quieter, in contrast. The percussion is a tribal drumbeat at the start of the song, and at the end has a martial feel. And I really like the way the vocals are recorded in “Mixed Emotions,” where they’re used sometimes as a musical instrument, provided a ringing quality at the close of a verse, a reverberation of the melodic line. Honestly, you can’t go wrong with any of the songs here.


SNUFF – There’s A Lot Of It About (Fat Wreck Chords, www.fatwreck.com)

My first exposure to UK band Snuff was in 1989, when their debut LP was released. I recall falling hard for the band’s brand of melodic hardcore punk. It was as if they had taken Chicago’s tough punk sound and blended in a bit of west coast pop. Sadly, I didn’t keep up with the band much after that, but they remained active throughout the 1990's and early 2000's, slowing down in the middle of the last decade. They’ve only released one LP and a small number of EP's since, with their last LP being 2012’s “5-4-3-2-1 Perhaps?” Now, seven years on, they’re back with another album, packed with a dozen gems. They’re not quite as hard, fast, and crunchy as they were on that debut album all those years ago, but they’ve still got it, and they’ve added a heavier dose of the pop, too. They’re fairly new to the Fat Wreck family, with only their most recent releases on the storied Bay Area label, but they’re fitting in well, with a great pop punk sound, and they even add bits of ska on some songs. The band has obviously grown and matured, in both their playing and their songwriting. I mean, it’s been 30 years, they had to have, or else what’s the point? The songs and arrangements are richer than that first LP.

Right from the start, the band kick things into high gear with “Kings of Spanish Oi Scene,” a raucous loping song with great call and response and harmonized vocals. “Summer’s Over” is a fantastic pop punk tune, fast and loud, with more harmonies and layered vocals than a punk band should be allowed to have. I love the straightforward simplicity of “Love Hearts,” a song that hits hard with staccato rhythms and a one-note melody. And the trombone is perfect here! Speaking of horns, “A Smile a Smile” is a slower mid-tempo track, with prominent horns and organ. It’s got a really nice, warm sound and a great melody. And I love the mid-tempo loper, “Hey Boff!” It’s got a retro garage power pop feel to it, more than a punk feel. And the penultimate track, “Gyoza,” has a huge epic sound, even as the melody is simple. It’s a mark of good songwriting and arranging when you can accomplish this big a sound with something so simple. The only weak song on this album, in my opinion, is “Patient Zero.” It’s a good song and all, and for many bands it would be their best. But it does sound like it could have been written and recorded by any of half a dozen or so Fat Wreck bands back in the 1990s. I much prefer the other tracks, the ones that have a more unique Snuff sound.

And while it may sometimes be cliché to end an album with a quieter acoustic track, I absolutely love the pretty “Job and Knock,” which closes the LP. Plucked guitars blend with mandolin and harmonized vocals, the only percussion being tambourine and kick drum. The song is a calming influence after the mania of the rest of the record. It may have taken me thirty years to get back to Snuff, but now I’m kicking myself for everything I must have missed.

THE BERRIES – Berryland (Run For Cover Records, www.runforcoverrecords.com)

The sophomore LP from The Berries is a throwback to simpler times. Times when southern and progressive guitar-based rock and roll filled the airwaves and the record store bins. Times when all of the excesses of big time rock were making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Some songs have a heavy twang and even slide guitar. Others have heavy reverb and an ambient feel. All represent the things that punk and indie music in the 70s, 80s, and 90s strove to not be. Hard pass.


GIANT SAND – Recounting The Ballads Of Thin Line Men (Fire Records, www.firerecords.com)

Thirty-three and a third years after releasing their second LP, Ballad of a Thin Line, Man, Giant Sand revisits the themes and sounds of that record for their latest LP. Giant Sand are masters of understated indie. True to their past, touches of psychedelic rock and alt-country are prominent in these songs, but they’re all pretty relaxed and stripped down. Some of these songs remind me of the great Lou Reed. They have the same easy feel, focused more on casually relaxed vocals and guitar than anything else, with a retro psych-folk feel. “Reptilian” is a good example of this, as it opens the LP. “Hard Man To Get To Know,” on the other hand, has a harder blues-rock sound, but still feels like it’s just you and the band and an informal session. I enjoy “Desperate Man,” a track that’s a little more updated and a little more intricate in arrangement, while still sounding stripped back and relaxed. “Tantamount” is a cool mix of the Lou Reed retro sound and alt-country, way stripped down, with minimalist surf guitar sound drums using just brushes on the snare. It’s an arrangement that puts the melody and lyrics front and center, and it has to stand or fall on its own – and it stands. “Who Am I” goes even further, with vocals taking center stage, and almost no instrumentation, just little bits of guitar and a steady tribal drum beat in the background. I adore the very folksy “Graveyard,” with its intro played in waltz time before the song shifts to standard meter and adds harmonized backing vocals. But it’s still primarily guitar and vocals. The song shifts back to waltz time for its conclusion. “Thin Line Man” makes a reappearance, having first been on that sophomore LP. This time around the song sounds even more urgent than before, with a rougher performance, dark jangly guitar, and vocals that are alternately intense and relaxed. The album closes with a bonus track, “Tantamount Blast,” a full-band version of the song that’s more raucous and fun. Yes, Giant Sand are the masters of understated indie.

HEXADIODE – Metaxy (EK Product, www.ekproduct.com)

Remember the heavy dance-industrial music of the 1980s and 1990s? The stuff labels like Wax Trax! Records were putting out. Bands like Skinny Puppy, Ministry, Front 242, and more. Hexadiode are a band in that mold. Pounding dance beats, gritty growling vocals, tons of synths and drum machines, distortion aplenty, and an unyielding power are all elements of the music on this album. The result is very mechanical, very…industrial. It’s apt that the band hails from Dayton, Ohio, part of the rust belt, and home to abandoned factories and disappearing industry. These are the anthems of the authoritarian robot overlords who accept no rebellion. Notable tracks include “Markov Chain,” with its synth-heavy beep-boop intro, pounding metallic percussion, buzzy bass, and angular guitar interjections. “6ht Dialect” is an intense instrumental track that focuses on the pounding beat and a buzzy drone that distorts and grows. “Parasitic Static” has an ominous buzzy bass, a dark pall of synth, mechanical rhythms, and sinister distorted vocals. And “13 of 12,” with its whispered vocals and “sideband” sounding synths feels like something from the world of cold war espionage. This is well-executed menacing music.

ONE ELEVEN HEAVY – Desire Path (www.onelevenheavy.com)

Country rock and jam band tunes dominate this sophomore LP from One Eleven Heavy, a band named for a short story about a plane crash. The band owe an obvious debt of gratitude to The Grateful Dead, and are firmly in that camp of laid-back stoner rock. Some of these tracks are extended jams, too, just like you would get in a Grateful Dead arena show. They all seem to start as somewhat bouncy country-rock tunes, but then over time become jams with lengthy guitar solos. “Mardi Gras” sounds like something that might have been on the Rolling Stones’ playlist a couple of decades ago. And “Three Poisons,” the most interesting track of the LP, has a bit of progressive rock sound to it, with some different rhythms. If you’re into this sort of stuff you might want to check it out, but I can’t imagine myself wanting to listen to this again.

THE PARANOYDS – Carnage Bargain (Suicide Squeeze Records, www.suicidesqueeze.net)

This sophomore LP from Los Angeles’ The Paranoyds has the LA sound down pretty well: part punk, part surf, part glam. The songs ooze an “I’m from LA, who the fuck are you?” blasé attitude of superiority. But the delivery is uneven. Some songs veer too heavily into hard rock, like “Bear,” halfway through the record. The guitars and bass throb together like something out of the arena rock era. The tracks I favor are those that are more on the punk and surf side of things. “Face First” has a nice horror-surf sound to it, but also moments of awesome angularity and others of gorgeous harmonies. The title track is part B52s part movie soundtrack, all gloriousness. “Egg Salad” is another cool one, with a shimmering organ prominent in the mix, shifting tempos, and a feel that moves from up-tempo bounce to sludgy grunge. “Laundry” is musically urgent sounding, but the vocals, even when shouted, say otherwise. It’s an odd but effective juxtaposition. I mean, how urgent can laundry be? The closer, “Ratboy,” is an odd combination of surf and grunge. Like I said, the delivery is uneven. These songs are all over the place. I like diversity in my music, and I like a number of these songs, but The Paranoyds need to figure out what kind of band they want to be.

 


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.


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