Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Cheap Trick review series: All Shook Up (1980)

Review by Mike Kimmel

The '80s were arguably the heyday for that l'il ol' band from Rockford; Cheap Trick. During that decade, the band released six LPs: All Shook Up, One on One, Next Position Please, Standing on the Edge, The Doctor, and Lap of Luxury.

We could try to sneak Dream Police in with them, as it was released on September 21, 1979; just a little bit before the decade we shall refer to as "the '80s", mainly because that's what they were.

Since the Cheap Trick review series here at Faster and Louder has already discussed Next Position Please and One on One, pick number three is in the batter's box and the #4 selection is in the on deck circle.

The album cover was simply, psychotically cool. I can't think of another way to put it. An airborne train some feet above an airborne train track are the initial eye-catchers, but closer inspection reveals a few additional facts.

Rick Nielsen is opening the door that allows the train to enter. The gap implies that the train is emanating from the nose on the face of a woman whose head appears to be about half as tall as our heroes. Robin Zander is straddling the tracks and appears concerned.

Tom Petersson is dressed in a white suit, and Bun E. Carlos is in a hat and hapless detective trenchcoat-type attire. What does this have to do with the content of the album? I'm, ahhh, not sure.

For openers we have "Stop This Game". Again with the relationship stories, eh? ("Eh." That's a hockey term.) His relationship with her was like music. "I changed. You didn't. And I can't stop the music. I could stop it before. Now I don't want to hear it. Don't want to hear it no more."

Track two – wherever he was, he was apparently there for far too long, but now he "Just Got Back". Through the tune “It wasn’t my idea…”
A. Didn't pull the trigger.
B. Didn't point the finger.
C. What the doctor figured.
D. All of the above.

The correct answer is D. It's a really good song. And like many of the Cheap Trick quick-hit rockers, it's short.

Actually, on the original release of All Shook Up, there were 10 tunes and combined they accounted for 33 minutes and 53 seconds of your life. Not near long enough for the quality of the songs you were likely to encounter. Details of the reissue to follow the description of track 10 here!

Robin Zander handles the vocals again, and again he's all over the place. With a range like that, why in the world would he NOT be? Just trying to warn anyone who might object to an occasional screamed lyric (SPOILER ALERT! I'll be talking about that again this time around, too!).

Having just gotten back seems an appropriate time to rediscover the fact that "Baby Loves to Rock". More and more he's thinkin' 'bout love, but love ain't all he's thinkin' of.

"More and more I'm thinkin' bout s-s-s-sex. The more I get, the worse it gets." But then Zander assures us that his baby loves to rock and describes where – and where NOT.

"In the morning, in the evening. In the summer, in the winter. In my car, in the night, in an airplane. Not in Russia!" You might recognize the sound and mention of "airplane" while listening to your balalaikas ringing out and keeping your comrade warm.

"Can't Stop it But I'm Gonna Try" is about him leaving her or her leaving him…or him finding out about her and her new boyfriend; maybe all of them. This tune – from 1980 – uses the phrase "long time comin'". Their 2017 CD We're All Alright not only borrows the title phrase from the ending of "Surrender", it also recycles the "long time comin'" phrase from a mere chorus inclusion to a full-fledged song title on the 2017 release.

Yes, a lot of people think I'm weird for picking out things like that, so go ahead and pile on if you'd like.

"World's Greatest Lover"? Yes, same thing here. Think back to one of the first songs for which Tom Petersson did the vocals – "I Know What I Want" (from the immediately previous album Dream Police). "You're the world's greatest lover…" That just struck me as odd as All Shook Up was the last album on which Petersson appeared before he left the band for his solo effort.

It's the same theme here but different verbiage. He's been on the road, and now he's coming home to the world's greatest lover in his word.

"High Priest of Rhythmic Noise" is really odd. It has the really processed robot voice for most of the vocals, a psychotic keyboard running loose in the background, and some extremely cool lyrics.

"If the song don't change the choir won't sing. Won't sing the same song forever." I think here he's talking about the fact that he's just a singer in a mind choir (I hope Nielsen's mind choir has a psychiatrist traveling with them).

"Don't stand up, shut up, sit down. You're strange – that's what I like."

"Love Comes A-Tumblin' Down" is supposed to be a tribute of sorts to Bon Scott – the frontman of AC/DC up to the Back In Black album, who had recently died. Cause of death is debated, but the lyrics here claim "Not a pretty picture when the body was found".

"I Love You Honey But I Hate Your Friends" has more of that damned Zander screaming stuff in it. Y'know, I find it terribly odd that some complain about that with Zander, but in some of the Cheap Trick tunes (like this one BIG time!), he'll do a screaming sort of vocal and he sounds like some singers who actually built very successful careers on just that type of vocal. Singers like, oh, say… ROD STEWART!

In fact, "I Love You Honey" is really reminiscent of the Stewart tune "Hot Legs", which came out in 1977 – three years before All Shook Up was released.

"I love you, honey, but I hate your friends. I love you, honey, but they'll be the end of me. Oooo yeah! I love you honey, but I hate those friends!"

"Let's see, there's Miss Tique and Miss Informed. General Disaster, Mister Know-it-all. Missus A Lot and Private Stock. Corporal Punishment 'bout to blow his mind. Mister Mock, Mister Completely, Miss de Plot, Miss Story…"

She's got even more friends with odd names, and he hates 'em all.

"Go For The Throat (Use Your Own Imagination)" is, I suppose, as opposed to using someone else's imagination.

Nielsen uses the title of the Stranglers tune "(Get A) Grip (On Yourself)" partway through, and then "I do it alone (you just give me idle conversation)." You'll have to decide what it's about.

For the original release, the last track is the Bun E. Carlos-penned tune "Who D'King". Marching band drums, excited marching band and crowd noises in the background, and the repeated lyric "Who d'king of de whole wide world?" Description does not do the song justice. It's actually a pretty toe-tapping l'il ditty.

In 2006, All Shook Up was reissued with five new songs in the lineup.

First up is "Everything Works if You Let It" from the Roadie soundtrack. Back in the days when vinyl was king, the only way I knew of to get this was on a 12" EP. Yes, of course I had it! Now, it's nice to have it included on a CD so you don't have to juggle things just to listen to one tune.

Cheap Trick also released an entry into the 10" "Nu-Disk" sweepstakes. The Nu-Disk was supposed to be the next big thing because it gave the fans something more than was available on just a 7" 45RPM single, but didn't cost as much as a full 12" LP. At one point as a rabid vinyl collector, I had about 30 different Nu-Disks. But that's all I could find. They never took off like they were supposed to. Of course the arrival of the CD didn't help the 10" marketing maneuver very much, either.

But Cheap Trick and their 1980 release Found All The Parts was a part of my near-10,000 LP collection at one time. It had only four tracks; two slower tunes, one remake, and one that sounded like it might have been a remake.

The live, shorter version of The Beatles' "Day Tripper" appears on Found All The Parts. It's very good, and it's the live version, but it's only 3:41 long. Some of us Cheap Trick purists like the lengthier take better.

"Can't Hold On" is up next. I'm trapped in a conundrum here. One of my all-time favorite bands is, was, and probably always will be Cheap Trick – and that's stood since 1977. From their Nu-Disk, I like one song, sorta like one, and kinda dislike the remaining two. No idea why, but here's the ranking:

I already mentioned that I enjoy their remake of "Day Tripper", so that surprise was spoiled.

I don't care for "Can't Hold On". It's not really bad. It's kinda of a foray into the blues, it's a live track, and you can tell it's Cheap Trick. It's just not a style for which I particularly care.

The fourth track from the Found All The Parts Nu-Disk, "Take Me I'm Yours", is in similar dire straits. Definitely Cheap Trick and definitely talented, but I don't care for the style.

"Such A Good Girl" rounds out the release (actually as track number three), and it's a good tune and very much a Beatle-esque effort.

No, I'm sorry. I wish I could come up with a shorter and less annoying way to reference a Beatles similarity, but I can't. Trust me. I've tried!

If you're interested in adding All Shook Up to your collection, be sure to look for the reissue. That way, you'll kill three birds with one stone: the album, the EP from the Roadie soundtrack, and the Nu-Disk.

-Mike Kimmel

Monday, December 4, 2017

Justine and The Unclean - Get Unclean

It was still the scorching summer when I first teased the debut album from Justine and the Unclean. Now here we are just three weeks from Christmas, and I am happy to report that the album is out on Rum Bar Records. I must say it's every bit as good as I expected! To review: Justine and the Unclean are comprised of major players in Boston's garage/punk/rock n' roll scene. Justine is Justine Covault (Malachite, Grand Theft Auto, Quest For Tuna) on guitar and lead vocals. The rest of the band is Janet Egan King (Malachite, Heidi, Swank, Tulips) on bass/backing vocals, Charles Hansen (Rock Bottom, Tom Baker & the Snakes, Gymnasium, The Handymen) on lead guitar, and the legendary Jim Janota (Upper Crust, The Bags, Rock Bottom) on drums. The story behind this record is that Covault went on a year-long songwriting binge and entered the studio with over 50 songs - many of them love songs of the particularly painful variety. Just nine of them ended up on the album, which was recorded by Dave Minehan at Woolly Mammoth Sound in Watham, Massachusetts and mastered by the illustrious Danny the K. With all of these principles involved, Get Unclean is a true testament to the immense musical talent that Boston rock currently enjoys.

Get Unclean largely follows the blueprint of the previously-heard tracks "Love Got Me Into This Mess" and "Passive Aggressive Baby" (both included on the album). Imagine your favorite Buzzcocks songs with a harder edge and sassier singer! If you like punky pop songs with big hooks and fantastically bitter lyrics, you should be all over this record. But there are a couple of additional things that this band brings to the table. One is Covault's singing voice, which is really unique and tremendously appealing. On top of that, the band has serious rock chops which Minehan wisely played up in his production. Songs like "Bring Me Fire" and "Worry Stone" kick some serious arena rock ass (Joan Jett fans will dig!). Elsewhere those blazing guitars and thundering drums (I mean, come on, it's Jim freaking Janota!) allow the band to put the power in power pop. "Can't Pretend I Don't Know" is the pop/punk/rock track of your dreams, while "I'm In Love With You, Jackass" incorporates some country twang in a most wonderful way.

All in all, Get Unclean is a terrific debut album from a band I hope we haven't heard the last of. Covault is a fine songwriter with smarts and likability to spare. And boy, does her band ever bring the rock! That Rum Bar winning streak remains very much in tact.


Friday, December 1, 2017

First Base - Not That Bad

With exactly one month to go until the end of 2017, my album of the year picture just got way more complicated. I sure am not complaining! Not That Bad is the second LP from First Base, out now on Drunken Sailor Records. And that title is the understatement of the year! You'd have to look far and wide to find an album that's more up my alley than this one. It's the perfect union of pop and punk, emphasizing the former without skimping on the latter. This album is about as pop as it gets - but in an entirely kick-ass way. It's as if the past 35 years never existed and First Base took its cues directly from the almighty Ramones. If you ever wished that Teenage Fanclub had taken copious amounts of speed and decided to be a punk band, Not That Bad is definitely the album for you. The hooks just keep on coming and coming, with no song surpassing three minutes. Tracks like "Crybaby", "Eastchester Avenue", and "Dumber By the Day" are super-satisfying blasts of buzzsaw punk with bubblegum melodies. If the Undertones were the Irish Ramones, "Judy" has me thinking that First Base might be the Canadian Undertones! And when the band slows it down and goes for more of a straight power pop sound ("Sandra", "Not That Bad"), the results are spectacular.

Whether you call it poppy punk or punky pop, Not That Bad is the best album of its kind I've encountered in a damn long time. I will be giving it heavy consideration for album of the year. And label of the year is looking like a stone cold lock for Drunken Sailor!


Monday, November 27, 2017

Watts - All Done With Rock n Roll

Today we've got a free single from Watts titled "All Done With Rock n Roll". Thankfully, Watts is most definitely not all done with rock n' roll! Here Watts accept that the glory days of rock n' roll bands packing stadiums and selling millions of records have long since passed. Fittingly, the song brings to mind a time when thundering guitars and a big chorus were the perfect recipe for commercial success. This is up there with the catchiest songs Watts has ever written. That hook is so simple, yet impossible to resist. And I love those Queen-like stacked vocals at the end!

If you love classic rock and lament that music like that isn't being made anymore, treat yourself to this free single from Watts and consider checking out the band's full catalog. Rock n' roll didn't die - it just went underground!


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Criminal Kids - "Outcast"

Oh man, do I ever have a smasher for you today! Criminal Kids are a punk rock band out of the south side of Chicago, and they recently put up a free digital single on Bandcamp featuring songs from their upcoming self-titled release. "Outcast" is nothing short of a sonic kick in the teeth - blending tough & aggressive punk rock with a heavy injection of rock n' roll. Whatever volume you usually set for your digital music needs to be adjusted upward, because this track begs to be cranked loud! With its ripping leads, pummeling riffs, and ferocious vocals, "Outcast" is an absolute monster. And it contains really good lyrics about class differences that rear their head even within a scene of seemingly like-minded individuals. If you pass up a free download on this bad boy, you are nuts! "Night" is a cover of a song by The Exit - a great but largely unknown late '70s Chicago punk group. It's a true tip of the cap to one of the bands that paved the way for Chicago punk rock, and of course it's an absolutely blistering rendition!

If you could imagine what a punk band from Chicago's south side ought to sound like, Criminal Kids are it! If you're like me, this free single will have you excited to hear the entire self-titled release!


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Ray Davies - Americana

Review by Mike Kimmel

There's something I find terribly endearing about Ray Davies. I don’t know if it's something in his attitude that comes across, or something in his lyrics. Maybe it's just the turn of a phrase, the addition of an unexpected vocal presence. I really have no idea, but I do like him enough that I've written a song entitled "I Want to Be Like Ray Davies". It'll be on my first album (yeah, whenever that comes out)!

For instance, in the title track he's talking about "…my baby brother and me in the land of the free…" taking some road somewhere. They have no idea where it goes, but "…it's gonna take us somewhere". The title is "Americana", which he refers to at least once as "Amer-i-nirvana" because he wants to make his "…home where the buffalo roam in that great panorama."

He's got a home in New Orleans, and through Americana he mentions a couple of Americanisms such as "Big Sky" (Montana) and "Moon" (Kentucky) several times. I know. Pretty vague, but the context in which the words are used will help explain a bit more clearly.

I was fortunate enough to see the Kinks years ago with Ray and Dave Davies, Mick Avery with his candy cane striped drumsticks. It was a great show. John Mellencamp opened. Of course, that was years before his bass player wound up wanted on child pornography warrants out of Taiwan (that's not made up – how bad do you have to be if Taiwan issues child porn warrants against you?).

At one point, Ray Davies – obviously the focal point of the band – said that he'd been described recently as a homosexual alcoholic. "Well I'd like to make one thing perfectly clear right now. I haven't had a drink in weeks!", and then brother Dave launched into the title track from the Low Budget release.

Regarding the other point… The man was dating Chrissie Hynde, fercryinoutloud!

Another sidebar, which I'm sure someone may have noticed I'm pretty good at. Did you know that while visiting New Orleans, Louisiana in 2004, while Davies and a friend (Suzanne Despies) were walking down a street when a vehicle pulled up beside them, one occupant got out and demanded Despies's purse. She gave him the purse, and the schmuck ran. Davies chased him and got a bullet in the leg for his trouble.

In case you're wondering if justice is alive and well in The Big Easy, it looks a bit dim on that front. Not only was Davies criticized by local gendarmerie, but the aforementioned ‘schmuck’ has admitted his involvement in the crime and the prosecutor’s office has still twice dropped the case. WAY TO KEEP THE BAD GUYS OFF THE STREETS, GENTS! (To be fair, he probably shouldn't have chased the guy.)

OK, back to Americana. It's got an overall cowboy-referenced theme that occasionally pops up, and the songs are generally about what tends to happen as you age. There is inevitably some disillusionment.

That disillusionment can be with regard to personal relationships, your view of other relationships, and your initial beliefs about a person, place, or thing. In the case of Americana, I think Davies addresses all of these things. He begins by chasing The American Dream. And by the time the CD has finished, he realizes that someone somewhere had misunderstood or misrepresented something.

The objective behind the efforts of recording artists is often to "land a deal", and that's what track number two is about. Again, the lyrics show an astute understanding of the situation, which explains the disillusionment there as well.

"Isn't it marvelous, fraudulent, bogus and unreal? Today I'm a bullshit millionaire, feeling really fake. Pretending to be somebody while the credit's good. Go out to LA, strike myself a deal and be part of the American dream."

Vocal ranges approaching tenor have never been Davies's forte, but with his unique interpretations it never really mattered. Higher ranges still seem to be the only area he has any trouble with, and it doesn't seem to have gotten any less apparent with age. Again, it doesn't matter. Any faltering just seems to fit and make the lyrics seem even more like a storyteller as much as a singer. Davies is good at both.

My favorite track – at least for right now – is number three: "Poetry". A relationship just starting out is filled with mystery, excitement, and all kinds of intangibles. Those things are summed up IN "Poetry" AS poetry. He and his significant other spent time reading poetry out loud to each other. Then, she left for a wealthy guy better able to care for her material needs and "…she settled for someone who's not so hard to please; without all the fire and desire and the mystery. But I ask myself ‘Where is the poetry?'"

Keyboardist Karen Grotberg provides backing – and sometimes accompanying – vocals on a few songs. She's got a very good voice, either alone or when played against Davies's voice in their trade-off vocal tunes.

Other tracks and a very brief summary of each (brief, because I don't want to ruin the story, and every track on the CD is incorporated into the story) follows.

In "Message from the Road", the inevitabilities of extended, distant travel and life on the road are discussed, and the message carried in "A Place in Your Heart" is much the same.

"The Mystery Room" is just about life in general: start to (near?) finish. 'Yeah, my heart's still beating. Yeah, there’s no retreating."

A bit of a tip of the hat to an old friend follows in the track "Silent Movie", where the timelessness of music is briefly discussed.

Next up, "Rock 'n' Roll Cowboys on the ol' wagon train. You've had your time but it won't come again." "Your time's passed, now everyone asks for your version of history."

Personally, I think the next tune - "Change for Change" – outlines the progression of do-gooders from the initial phase of honestly wanting to help and trying to help to an eventual phase where they realize the effort is wasted, the point is moot, and now it's about them rather than everyone else.

"The Man Upstairs" is a person who accidentally helped Davies write the song that was rumbling around in his head at 3AM.

Discussed in "I've Heard That Beat Before" is a somewhat soured take on relationships coupled with the fact that no matter where we are or how different we are, we're also all a lot more alike than maybe we want to admit.

"A Long Drive Home to Tarzana" reflects on a drive or a walk or a something we've all participated in that winds up as an uncomfortable companionship – at least for the time being.

Do you have any mistaken ideas about anything? Any dreams you had – impressions of how a thing or a place would be? That's what Davies sorts through in "The Great Highway".

"The Invaders", on the other hand, takes the listener back to what may have been the first great disillusionment of the musician in love with and searching for the great American dream. Give it a listen. You'll see what I mean.

And finally, the 15th track finishes off the latest story in Ray Davies catalog. "Wings of Fantasy" also caps off the story that the whole CD has just told. It's where the end credits would probably run had this been a movie.

I always stick around till the end credits finish. It drives some people crazy, but I always want to see who did what, and I ALWAYS like to see who was involved in creating the soundtrack that set the tone for the movie I just watched.

Davies is able to tell a story and run the end credits without the listener ever having seen a thing. Some people can do that; tell a story with such imagination, feeling, and imagery that you feel like you've seen a movie.

You haven't. You've just been fortunate enough to have heard Ray Davies just doing his thing again.

-Mike Kimmel

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Crazy Squeeze - Savior of the Streets

Damn you, Crazy Squeeze, for making an album so utterly perfect that I lost sleep over the decision of which tracks I should embed in this review! Savior of the Streets, The Crazy Squeeze's long-awaited sophomore LP, is out now as a digital release with vinyl coming next month on Disconnected Records in the U.S.A. and Wanda Records in Europe. With most albums (even really good ones), I can come up with a pretty good idea of which songs are "the hits". But Savior of the Streets is basically nothing but hits. It's all-killer, no-filler from the opening note to the final strains. And while the "every song's a hit" cliche has been a mainstay of my reviews for years, I will gladly fight anyone who doubts its accuracy in the case of this album!

The Crazy Squeeze is that rare case of a supergroup that's been so good for so long that it no longer feels right to call it a supergroup. These days, we talk less about these guys' other bands and more about the amazing records they've been churning out as The Crazy Squeeze. Comparing Savior of the Streets to the group's self-titled debut from 2012, I hear a band that today has a much more fully developed idea of who it is and what kind of music it wants to make. While the term "pub rock" has definite associations with a specific place and time in music history, The Crazy Squeeze has reinvented the term in a broader sense. Its version of pub rock is the perfect mix of glam-influenced '77 punk and pure old style rock n' roll - with hooks that would be the envy of just about any pop band. Somehow the band sounds both tougher and catchier on this release - a bona fide leading contender for my 2017 album of the year.

With the track selection alternating between Johnny's songs and Frankie's songs, Savior of the Streets is an album that really highlights how well their contrasting styles complement each other. They each bring something a little different to the table, but it all ends up sounding like The Crazy Squeeze. And while this is generally a more cohesive album than the last one, that doesn't mean that every song sounds the same. These 12 tracks cover everything from down and dirty glam rock ("Be Your Dryer") to first rate punky power pop ("Let's Go Down") to raucous barroom rock n' roll ("Blind Truth") to '70s-style arena pop ("Ooh Baby I Love You") to Stonesy street rock ("She's A Runner") to some good, old honky tonk stomp (a robust cover of J Gale Kilgore's cult classic, "Suds"). There's never a dull moment. This, to me, is the kind of rock n' roll your parents always warned you about: oozing with swagger and liable to lead a person towards a life of rule-breaking and unrepentant sinning. Doesn't that sound like tremendous fun?!

I would definitely consider The Crazy Squeeze one of my favorite bands, so I was really looking forward to Savior of the Streets. But even with my high hopes, I must say that I was totally blown away. I wondered if this album would yield any more songs on the level of a "Sexual Activity Girls" or a "To the Lonely Ones". What I got was a whole album on that level! Fellas, you crushed it! This is an instantly classic rock n' roll record! So how did I decide which tracks to embed? Well, you know, I can flip a mean coin.


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Sweet Things - "Slather"

It was well over two years ago that I publicly raved about The Sweet Things for the first time. A proper debut vinyl single finally arrived this year, and now we get single #2 from this next great thing in New York City rock n' roll. I'm especially happy about this release because it's the first time I've heard new songs from The Sweet Things in a few years. "Slather" is out on Spaghetty Town Records - an Atlanta label specializing in sleazy rock n' roll. I could not think of a band and a label that are more perfect for each other! The title track is very much in keeping with The Sweet Things' signature sound: dirty, boozy rock n' roll in the vein of '70s Stones, Izzy Stradlin, and early Black Crowes. This is a damn fine song! You get another strong vocal performance from Dave, guitars firing on all cylinders, and terrific work on piano from the great Rob Clores. This track is a fine example of The Sweet Things' ability to draw out a song past four minutes without letting things get dull or indulgent. On the B-side "Dustianne", Dave sings a duet with the outstanding New York soul singer Liza Colby. It's a wonderful pairing, and all in all this is a rocker that you can really feel deep down. You could easily have flipped the order of these tracks, and "Dustianne" would have been a fully worthy A-side. Listen to Lorne wail away on guitar!

Boy, did The Sweet Things ever knock it out of the park with "Slather"! The songs are fantastic, and they sound amazing as well. This is one of the great present-day rock n' roll bands not just in New York, but in the entire world. If you don't already have the "Love To Leave" single on Spaghetty Town, be sure to pick that up as well. Expect to read more about Spaghetty Town Records on this blog in the near future - perhaps as soon as next week!


Friday, November 10, 2017

The Stanleys - self titled

If you're into power pop, you need to own the debut album from The Stanleys. Seriously: quit reading this right now and go buy it! After hearing the Aussie band's track "Amy" on a recent split with The Dahlmanns, I was immediately blown away and delighted to discover that there was a whole album available as well. It didn't take me long to deduce that "Amy" was no fluke. Hands down, this is one of the three or four best power pop albums I've heard since I've been doing this blog.

What I love about The Stanleys is that they are true power pop classicists. They aren't trying to reinvent a genre of music, but they sure can execute it to near perfection. I have not heard many bands more skilled at crafting exquisite pop hooks and harmonies to die for. Influences run the gamut from founding fathers like Cheap Trick and the Raspberries to numerous new wave era greats to modern masters such as Teenage Fanclub and Matthew Sweet. With its sublime marriage of massive guitars and sweet melodies, this is truly an album that represents what all power pop should aspire to be. "Amy" could very well be a #1 single in some alternate universe where they still play great pop songs on the radio. "Kid's Gonna Rock" might be even better - a rare case in this genre where the power and the pop are in perfect balance. Tracks like "Always" and "Hefner" show off the band's knack for big knockout choruses, while "Cigarette Glow" is that type of song that lodges itself into your brain and refuses to leave. "Say You Will" sounds so much like a lost A-side from the heyday of skinny tie power pop that I half expected to hear the crackling of the vinyl! And while this is generally an upbeat, crank-it-up-and-sing-along kind of album, there are a couple of slower, mellower tracks that really hit the spot. The gorgeous "My World" is a stunning example of mature guitar pop, and the ballad "This Time Goodbye" is total AM gold (think less Raspberries, more solo Eric Carmen!).

This debut album by The Stanleys definitely falls into the category of a treat for power pop fans. If you're not wild about power pop, this release won't turn you to the dark side. But if power pop is your thing, you'll be in heaven listening to The Stanleys. I'm not one to give albums "grades". But if I were, this one would be an A+ all the way!


Monday, November 6, 2017

Black Mambas - Moderation

Oh boy! A terrific year for punk albums just got even better with the arrival of Black Mambas' second LP. The L.A. foursome has again worked with producer Johnny Witmer - a man who knows a thing or two about high quality pub punk rock n' roll. At just eight tracks, Moderation is an all-thriller, no-filler affair that marries a classic '77 punk sound to high-energy, Chuck Berry inspired rock n' roll. You might see the "punk rock n' roll" description and expect something straight out of the '90s. So it's a really cool twist that Black Mambas are so indebted to first wave punk. My first impression of this band was that they sounded like a cross between Teenage Head and the Buzzcocks circa Spiral Scratch. Does that sound like something I'd be into? You're goddamn right! The lead guitar work is as ripping and rocking as you would expect it to be, and the energy level comes out at a 10 and never lets up. You can really tell that the band made every effort here to duplicate the feel of their notoriously wild live shows. But the songs themselves stand up too - with quality hooks and sing-along choruses that continually make me wanna get off my ass and thrust my fist in the air. What an incredibly fun record! I always love a band that understands that you don't have to reinvent the wheel. With any pretense of originality thrown out the window, Black Mambas are free to focus on just playing exciting rock n' roll. If you love the first Boys album, pub greats like Eddie and the Hot Rods, and Witmer's mighty Crazy Squeeze, Moderation is well worth picking up from Disconnected Records. It leaves me wanting more, which is exactly the way I like it!


Thursday, November 2, 2017

Sonic Screemers - self titled

It has been well over two years since I went nuts for Sonic Screemers' live demo. I couldn't help envisioning future greatness from this fearsome foursome out of Philly. Yet in the back of my mind, there was always the possibility that a "properly" recorded debut would be disappointing in comparison to the demo. Just shy of three years from the recording of that demo, Sonic Screemers finally released a debut album. Yet even with the move from live two-track demos to a professional studio recording co-produced by Pete Rydberg, none of the energy or power has been lost from the band's music. Far from a disappointment, this is every bit the crackling debut I was hoping for!

Sonic Screemers feature Peter from Jukebox Zeros and Bryan from The Flyswatters on guitar and vocals. As expected, Sonic Screemers combine the best elements of both of the aforementioned bands. You get the blistering punk rock n' roll of Jukebox Zeros and the California influenced punk/surf of The Flyswatters, all smashed together with an East Coast attitude. Five tracks from the original demo have been re-recorded for this release, and they hit just as hard this time through. Sounding like '70s punk played at hardcore speed, opening track "(Don't Wanna Hear) Your Noise" brings to mind the Zero Boys. That's the way to come out swinging! And there's no letup from there. "Jack Lord Almighty" is surf punk with a real bite - probably more akin to Radio Birdman than Agent Orange. Demo favorite "More Money, More Beer" is sing-along old school punk done to minimalist perfection. "Bad Connection" totally hits that classic SoCal punk sweet spot, while "Fishtown Shakedown" takes me back to the '90s heyday of fast and furious punk rock n' roll. And when it comes to pure, in-your-face punk rock, it just doesn't get any better than "No Shit!".

Pure and simple, Sonic Screemers play kick-ass punk rock. On their debut album, they power through nine tracks in less than 19 minutes with absolutely no screwing around. Peter is absolutely one of my favorite vocalists for this style of music - his take-no-shit style perfectly suited to the city he inhabits. And he absolutely kills it on lead guitar! I dig how he and Bryan complement each other in this band. Regardless of who wrote/sang each song, you can expect the same level of quality all the way through. I'd been looking forward to this album for a long time, and I doubt I could be any more pleased with it. The songs, the performances, and the production are all totally on-point. Given the name of this blog, I sometimes worry that I let it lean just a little too much in the pop direction at times. So for those who would (probably rightfully!) accuse me of false advertising, I offer you the mighty Sonic Screemers. Push play and crank it loud!


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Australia Rocks!

By Mike Kimmel

City of Angels or Angel City? Angel City or City of Angels? I'm so confused!

Or not.

Oz? The Land Down Under?

Men At Work?

Diesel Injectors?

What I'm doing here is a quick little ditty about some of my favorite bands from Australia. They come up with some good musicians. In this piece, I'm only talking about the bands I think there's a high likelihood you've never heard of. So I ain't a-gonna talk about Angus Young and AC/DC.

One of the bands I AM going to talk about is Angel City or The Angels. Nope, no AC/DC in this article. Though in Angel City's (arguably) biggest hit, "Marseilles", you might just recognize a refrain or two from an AC/DC tune. That song is the reason I got highly addicted to the band.

Many years ago, I was fortunate enough to see the band at a fairly large nightclub in the Chicago area (I can't recall the name, but I also saw Montrose, Black Cat, Savoy Brown, Steve Marriott, and Humble Pie at the same club).

Brothers Rick and John Brewster on guitars. John stood off on the left side of the stage and didn't move from that spot while handling the lead guitar duties. I found out later that the reason he stayed stationary during shows was because "Beethoven convinced me not to move".

John, on the other hand, was constantly waltzing (Matilda – see what I did there?) across the stage from side to side.

Lead singer Doc Neeson somehow came up with a white sheet that he draped over himself. With the bright light located low near the back of the stage, he really looked kinda eerie. Then, instead of running around the stage, he jumped off of the stage and onto a table near the front of the stage. From there he proceeded to jump from table to table, still singing and still covered with the sheet.

 I remember two thoughts prevalent in my mind:

#1 – I hope he doesn't fall 'cause he'll get killed, and

#2 – I hope WHEN he falls, he doesn't fall at MY table because I'LL get killed!

He never fell, though, occasionally doing an amazing job of maintaining his balance as the tables rocked a bit when he landed on it. Here, he's helping a female fan up onto the stage with the band after his table dancing expedition.

Here's "Take A Long Line" from a 1978 performance – probably my favorite Angel City tune:

Their biggest US hit, "Marseilles":

Angel City's release Face To Face is listed at #64 on The Top 100 Australian Albums – a book by Toby Creswell, John O'Donnell, and Craig Matheison.

I'm not going to talk about Men At Work, even though it points out the occasional poor judgment exhibited by big business as the band's label (Columbia Records) rejected their release Business As Usual twice before finally releasing it. That album was kind of a big deal for the band, going platinum x3 in Australia, platinum x4 in Canada, platinum in the UK, and platinum x6 in the US. Platinum status is given to releases that sell a million copies.

The album also attained #1 status on the Billboard album chart as well as the track "Down Under" from that album reaching number one on the singles chart simultaneously. The album was in the top 100 for 15 weeks in 1983 and won a Grammy that same year.

I'm going to talk about Rose Tattoo. As with The Bus Boys, you may not have heard of Rose Tattoo, but if you saw the Mad Max film with Tina Turner, you've seen the lead singer of Rose Tattoo, Angry Anderson. He was the shorter, bald guy running around Turner in the dome-like cage in the desert.

Here's a clip of Rose Tattoo performing what is still my favorite Tattoo-tune, "Nice Boys (Don't Play Rock & Roll)".

A little AC/DC note here as well as with Angel City: Harry Vanda and George Young produced the first four Rose Tattoo releases. If you're as much of a music geek as I am, you'll recognize that Vanda & Young also produced many of AC/DC's releases.

I got Rose Tattoo's first album when I still bought music based on several factors, one of which was what the cover art looked like. I did that for Uriah Heep – Demons and Wizards and wound up being a Heephead deluxe.

Rose Tattoo's debut album is listed at #92 on The Top 100 Australian Albums. Sony Music released a 5-CD compilation in support of the book.

Tattoo has toured often since its inception in the late '70s. The band has supported such acts as Motorhead and Guns & Roses through its history. The band has worked through the usual share of comings and goings of members throughout the years and had plans for a new album and a new tour in 2006. That was canceled when original guitarist Peter Wells died of prostate cancer.

The original Tattoo bassist – Ian Rilen – died of bladder cancer later in that same year.

Lobby Loyde – bassist who took Rilen's place – died of lung cancer the next year.

Original guitarist Mick Cocks died of liver cancer in 2009.

Including drummer Dallas Royall losing a battle with cancer in 1991, that makes five former Tatts who have died of some form of cancer. Strange that in an interview I saw with Angry Anderson years ago, the interviewer asked him if he was ever nervous before going on stage. Anderson replied "Nervous? I'm scared shitless! You never know how it's gonna go or even if this show is gonna be your last."

The last Aussie band I'd like to mention here is Johnny Diesel and the Injectors. Mark Denis Lizotte – a.k.a. Johnny Diesel – was actually born in Massachusetts, but his family moved to Australia in the early '70s.

Another example of "It's a small world, ain't it?" shows up here as Johnny Diesel & the Injectors were managed early in their career by Angel City's drummer Brent Eccles. Here's a clip of the band doing my pick of one of the three or four favorites they do – "Don't Need Love".

And another of the band doing "Parisienne Hotel". Gotta love a song with lyrics like: "Parisienne Hotel. There's a hole in the wall from a shotgun shell. You're either buying or you sell at the Parisienne Hotel."

Between 1989 and 2011, Diesel has released 15 albums, three DVDs, received the ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Association) Award for Best Male Artist in 1992, 1993, and 1995, and also the ARIA Award for Best Album with his second studio release from 1992 – Hepfidelity. The album hit #1 on the Australian charts.

In fact, of the 15 releases from Diesel, 12 have charted in Australia in the Top 100, and eight of those have been in the Top 20!

Finally, when Dweezil Zappa embarked on his Zappa Plays Zappa tour, guitarist Ray White started with the tour in 2007. He had played with Dweezil's father, the late Frank Zappa. White left the tour in 2009 – reportedly resigning via email – and Johnny Diesel/Mark Lizotte filled in on the Australian leg of the tour on guitar and vocals.

That's it for the tour of some of the best Australian bands you're not listening to. Trust me – you're doing yourself a great disservice if you're not listening!

Interestingly, I've heard of the vast majority of the bands and releases listed in The Top 100 Australian Albums. But even more interestingly – surprisingly, even – I own 20 of those listed. They are:

AC/DC - Back in Black
Easybeats - The Best Of
Skyhooks - Living in the 70's
INXS – Kick
Radio Birdman - Radio Appears
Bee Gees - Best of
The Saints - I'm Stranded
Split Enz – True Colours
Nick Cave Bad Seeds – The Boatman’s Call
Savage Garden – Savage Garden
Mental as Anything – Cats & Dogs
Models – Pleasure of Your Company
AC/DC – Highway to Hell
The Angels – Face to Face
Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs – Live at Sunbury
The Vines – Highly Evolved
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Tender Prey
Jet – Get Born
Rose Tattoo – Rose Tattoo
Men at Work – Business As Usual

-Mike Kimmel

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Control Freaks - "No Action"/"Don't Mess With Jessica"

It pretty much goes without saying that The Control Freaks are the best thing to happen to garage punk music in a long time. The band's debut album on Slovenly was absolutely the instant classic I expected it to be. If you don't have it yet, go get it! If you do have it and crave more, The Control Freaks have followed up with a double shot of new singles on Bachelor Record Company. Of course this shit is hot, and it's all previously unreleased!

I think it has to be intentional that The Control Freaks' initial releases have been with two of the labels most responsible for keeping real garage-punk alive in the 2010s. If you go to order the new singles from the Bachelor store, you'll see a totally spot-on rant about what most people think "garage punk" is in 2017 versus what it meant in the '90s. That line about Ty Segall made me laugh so hard that I almost snorted unsweetened tea through my nose. The Control Freaks are the genuine article, and both of these singles are essential additions to the catalog of Greg Lowery fronted bands. "No Action" throws it all the way back to the budget rock stylings of Supercharger. It's catchy and rockin' without going overboard on the tempo. What a banger! I will not judge you if you decide to call in sick and play the song on repeat all morning. It's definitely the kind of tune that will make you wanna dance around the house in your underwear. Once you're finally ready to flip the record, a robust version of Protex's "I Can Only Dream" awaits on the B-side.

The second of the two singles is called "Don't Mess With Jessica". Again, this is a perfect example of garage punk the way it ought to be. Right down to the primal three-chord thumping and exuberant co-ed vocals, this could legitimately pass for a long-lost Rip Off Records track circa the mid-to-late '90s. Once you make it through this song, you will have abandoned any lingering temptations to mess with Jessica. And how about another cover from the heyday of punk/powerpop? The Control Freaks have at The Rousers' "Rock N Roll or Run", and I have a feeling thay a lot of people will now be heading off in search of the original.

So I guess you could be a cheap skate and buy one of these two singles based on which A-side you like better. But come on. It's The Control Freaks. Buy both and listen often! Make garage punk trashy again!


Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Suspect Parts - Self Titled

After a decade as a band, the international supergroup Suspect Parts finally has a full-length album to its credit.  And it's an absolute must-buy if you're a fan of powerpop/punk! The band is Justin Maurer (Clorox Girls, Maniac) and James Sullivan (Ripchord) on guitar and vocals, Chris Brief on drums, and Andru Bourbon (Radio Dead Ones) on bass. With Maurer's name on this project, you would not be wrong to expect music influenced by the poppier side of first wave punk rock with a particular emphasis on southern California. But this band is a true collaborative effort that highlights the talents and influences of all of its members. Musically and lyrically, Maurer and Sullivan both bring phenomenal songs to the table. And all in all, Suspect Parts really set themselves apart from most of the bands playing this kind of music today.

Suspect Parts describe their music as "a cotton candy meets razorblade concoction that goes down surprisingly smooth". If you're thinking that sounds like something I'd be totally into, I'd say you're very correct! But while Suspect Parts completely hit the sweet spot for powerpop/punk, they bring something really unique to the style. They're far more '60s-inspired than just about any band you'd think to compare them to, and they manage to take all of their influences and bring them into the now. Out on Taken By Surprise Records in Germany and Oops Baby Records in the U.S., the band's self-titled debut LP is without question one of this year's finest. The album sets a tone with a terrific 1-2-3 punch of textbook powerpop/punk ("Madmen With Guns",  "Electrify Me Honey", "Live Over There"). But just when you think you know exactly what this record is going to be, it starts to take wonderfully surprising turns. "Alright With Me" and "Run For Your Life" dial back the punk influence and prove that Suspect Parts can craft finessed pop songs as well as anyone. The latter just might be the high point of the album - a song that manages to feel epic even with a running time under three minutes. "Change Your Mind" is a perfectly executed stab at a punked-up Beatles, while "Out of Place" delivers the heart-racing jolt you'd hope to get from a band with a Briefs and Clorox Girls pedigree. And "No One From Nowhere" has a neat new wave vibe and features some of the most honest and powerful lyrics I've heard in quite some time.

Two Americans, a Brit, and a German walked into a recording studio on a sub-freezing January day in east Berlin: sounds like the start of a joke, right? But actually it was the start of something special. I would imagine it's difficult for a band to get together when its members are separated by oceans. But I'm glad these gentlemen went to the trouble to get an album made. This release may have been a long time in the making, but it sure delivers the goods! Is this punk rock for people who love pop, or is it pop for people who love punk rock? I'm not quite sure! Those of you in Europe should be sure to catch the band on tour beginning tomorrow!


Friday, October 20, 2017

Corner Boys - "Just Don't Care"

Holy smokes, do I have a banger for you today! Back in March, I identified Corner Boys as a band of considerable promise based on their demo tape. Little did I know that Drunken Sailor Records was already on the case, and today we have an official release from this formidable Vancouver trio. It's a knockout debut and quite possibly the best punk EP I've heard all year.

With me having spent a great deal of my career touting bands that do newer versions of '70s punk, there was just no question that Corner Boys were my kind of group. But honestly, Corner Boys sound less like a 2017 update of Canadian powerpop/punk circa 1979 and more like the genuine article. Listening to this EP, I'm half-convinced that it really was recorded in 1979! There's just something about the production and the tone of the vocals that brings to mind the likes of Pointed Sticks and Young Canadians - or even Irish counterparts like Undertones and Rudi. This is punk rock just the way I like it: charmingly unpolished and brimming with youthful energy, but still chock full of hooks. Each of these three tracks could have been an A-side in its own right. The highest compliment I can pay to "Joke of the Neighborhood" is that I thought it had to be a cover when I heard it on the demo. It sounds that much like a long-lost classic. So if it seems well-positioned as the third track on this EP, that tells you how good the other two songs are! On any given day, I'd say that "Just Don't Care" is the clear "hit". And then on the next day, I'd change my mind and go with "Be Seeing You"!

"Just Don't Care" is a darn near perfect punk record. I love the sound, I love the energy, and I love the songs. Corner Boys are my favorite new band of the year by far!


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Various Artists - Neon Maniacs

I'm usually not nuts about various artist compilations. Too often you wind up with bands' crap songs that they didn't like enough to put on a real record. Or you get a ton of previously released stuff - which seems pointless. That's why the annual Girlsville comps are something I look forward to. They are always filler-free and comprised almost entirely of exclusive tracks. Neon Maniacs, like its predecessors Stupid Punk Boy and The Wild Angels, was released in conjunction with Cassette Day. Neon Maniacs is a co-release with Nerve Centre Records - another one of my favorite labels. Given that these two labels have similar musical visions, fans of the two previous Girlsville comps should not fear any drastic changes. Again you can expect a whole lot of primo garage cuts along with plenty of punk, indie pop, post-punk, and power pop goodness. Girlsville regulars Purple Wizard, The Prissteens, Coachwhips, and Mr. Airplane Man all make appearances along with Nerve Centre's own Red Cords, Murph and the Gazorpos, and The Hipshakes. From outside of these two labels' rosters, you also have the likes of The Darling Buds, honeychain, Germ House, Zig Zags, Virvon Varvon, The BV's, and many more. All in all, you get 18 tracks from 16 different bands.

I've been fired up for Neon Maniacs for months because I knew it was going to include honeychain's cover of Material Issue's "Going Through Your Purse". Considering that the original is my favorite song by one of my favorite bands of all-time, I knew that nothing less than a knockout version would impress me. But I've got to say: honeychain really nailed this song! I was not disappointed. Similarly, the legendary Darling Buds have a go at "Our Lips Are Sealed" and do an amazing job of it. Inspired by Sonic Youth's cover of The Carpenters' "Superstar", this is a creative and fully unique interpretation of the Go-Go's/Fun Boy Three classic (probably more similar to the latter's version). Other highly interesting covers on this comp include Zig Zags tearing into M.O.T.O.'s "Choking On Your Insides" and the mysterious Nuclear Brown tackling Devo's "Mongoloid".

As for the original songs on this release, there are several really good ones. Murph and The Gazorpos again light it up with some red-hot power poppin' rock n' roll. Virvon Varvon's "Trouble" reminds me how much I like post-punk when it's done really well. The BV's hit the shoegaze/dream pop sweet spot with "The Sheep Look Up". Stix Champion & His Trophy Band deliver some budget proto-punk on "Be A Kid When You're a Kid". "Stormy Weather" is a gem of a demo from The Prissteens' later years. And The Red Cords' "Supermarket Horror" is an absolute crackler from one of the U.K.'s best current garage/punk bands.

At just $7 for a download, Neon Maniacs is a great way to discover a lot of cool bands for not a lot of money. If you're into cassettes, Girlsville and Nerve Centre have just 75 copies each for sale in the U.S. and U.K. respectively. I also recommend digging deeper into both of these labels' catalogs. So click the links below and discover some great music!


Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Prissteens - Demos and Rarities Volume 2

I never dreamed there would ever be a sequel to last year's completely essential Prissteens Demos and Rarities collection. Yet here I am at this very moment staring at Volume 2. Christmas came early this year!

I suppose it would be more correct to refer to volume 2 as a prequel. Volume 1 was largely made up of demos for songs that were intended for that second Prissteens album that never came to be. Volume 2, on the other hand, features demos the band recorded in advance of Scandal, Controversy, and Romance- its first (and sadly, only) album. More polished versions of a couple of these tracks wound up on the LP, while a few of these songs are being heard for the very first time after 20 years in the vaults. Girlsville is once again responsible for unearthing these lost treasures, and Courtney did an amazing job of combing through the demos and selecting only the absolute cream of the crop. What results is an all-killer, no-filler affair packaging the best of The Prissteens' pre-album demos with the B-sides from the band's early singles and a Christmas song that was previously available only as a download.

Was the "big" production of Scandal, Controversy, and Romance ill-suited for The Prissteens, or was it exactly what the band needed? While fans seem to be divided on this point, there's not much denying that the difference between indie era and major label era Prissteens is like night and day. This collection bridges those two eras. If you've ever wondered what the songs from the album would have sounded like if they'd been produced like the earlier singles, demo versions of  "Someday" and "I Don't Cry" will provide a definitive and satisfying answer. If you weren't familiar with the Prissteens and just heard "I'm A Mess", you might think you were encountering forgotten garage rock greats from 50 years ago. And after one listen to "You're Gonna Lose", I was immediately baffled as to how this song could have been lost to the world for two decades. It's the absolute perfect mix of punk rock and girl group inspired pop. As I listen, I imagine that the ghost of Joey Ramone is smiling beside me and imploring me to turn it up louder.

The Prissteens were one of New York City's finest punk groups of the '90s - or any decade for that matter! If you're looking for a proper introduction to the band, either volume of Demos and Rarities is a fine place to start. Volume 2 is the leaner and meaner of the two and comes with essential bonuses like the Richard Gottehrer produced "Christmas Is a Time for Giving" and the band's wonderfully NSFW treatment of the Undertones' "Teenage Kicks". If you own volume 1, you're gonna need to have volume 2 as well. Otherwise I'll just tell you to quit screwing around and go buy 'em both!


Friday, October 13, 2017

Indonesian Junk - Stars In the Night

I've mentioned it before that Indonesian Junk's second LP was one of my most highly anticipated albums of 2017. Between the long wait since the first album (released 20 months ago) and Malibu Lou's continued guarantees of face-melting greatness, I had good reason to expect a great deal from Stars In the Night. With the album now officially out, I can tell you that I was not disappointed. In fact, I'd say my expectations were actually exceeded. This is up there with the top three or four albums of a really great year. If you dig the same type of stuff that I dig, I imagine that you will be quite keen on this release as well.

It's not that there's anything radically different about Indonesian Junk this time out. The Milwaukee trio continues to mix glam, power pop, and old New York punk influences in such a way that doesn't sound like any other band out there. But man oh man, Daniel James and company have absolutely knocked this record out of the park! This release was far more "professionally" recorded than the last one. That could have been a good thing or a bad thing, but it definitely turned out to be the former. And in an entirely good way, this album really plays to Daniel's knack for writing terrific pop songs. If anyone is still questioning whether or not it's possible to create poppy punk rock that sounds genuinely tough, Stars In the Night will show you how it's done. Propelled by irresistible guitar hooks and a chorus you just have to sing along with, "I Would Never Treat You Like That" is as catchy as anything you'll hear all year. The same could be said of "I'll Run Away" - a number so energetic and hook-laden that any resultant head-bobbing may lead to severe neck injuries. "Tonight" is the closest Indonesian Junk has ever come to a pure power pop song, and "Turn To Stone" is first class solo Stiv Bators worship. But while the poppier songs on this album are amazing (good luck getting "Why Did I Call You" out of your head anytime soon!), that's only the half of it! "Stars" is a loving tribute to Nikki Sudden and quite possibly the best song Daniel has ever written. "Nosferatu" will have you going from "What the fuck is this?!" to "This is goddamn brilliant!" within one listen. "Slow Down"  is like a sonic teleportation to the hey day of Max's Kansas City. "On The Run" is a wonderful closing ballad that brings to mind '70s Stones and Johnny Thunders.

There's honestly no other band out there quite like Indonesian Junk. In a scene full of way too many sound-alike artists, Daniel James is one of those rare genuine originals. He's good real personality, a flair for quality songwriting, and insane guitar skills. The very first time I heard his self-recorded demos for Indonesian Junk, I knew he was onto something good. And the records have continued to get better and better. With bassist Johnny Cyanide and drummers Mike Mattner and David Barootian, James has found the perfect musical partners in crime. Stars in the Night is everything I love about '70s punk, glam, pop, and good old filthy rock n' roll all rolled together and spat out in a wonderful and totally original way. Lou, you were right as always!


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Dahlmanns/The Stanleys - split 7"

Any time we have the "best band in the world" conversation, The Dahlmanns have got to be in it. I can't name a single release from these Norwegian national treasures that I don't flat-out love. That very much continues with the band's latest release - a split 7" with Aussie power poppers The Stanleys. This is The Dahlmanns' third single on Beluga Records and whopping 11th overall.   

The Dahlmanns' contribution to this split is "Conny Converse" - which is nothing less than the total pop smash you would expect it to be. Line's voice is in lovely form as usual, and those harmonies are just so on-point. Top it all off with an absolute gem of a guitar solo, and you've got yourself a hit! It takes a truly formidable band to be able to hang with The Dahlmanns, and The Stanleys prove to be very much up to the task. They play an ultra-punchy, super high energy brand of power pop that's practically their birthright as Australians. Their contribution to this split, "Amy", sounds like a radio hit from a time when they still played radio hits on the radio. The song is also available on the band's brand-new debut album - which I plan to review in the very near future.

This Dahlmanns/Stanleys split is such a treat because it brings together two of the top bands in all of power pop. They sure make a perfect pair! Order the split directly from Beluga Records. "Conny Converse" is also available in digital form from Apple Music and Spotify! 


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Safes - Tasty Waves

Having been one of America's great rock n' roll treasures since the early 2000s, The Safes are one of those bands you can always count on. There is no such thing as a bad Safes record, and the band's rep as a live powerhouse has been hard-earned and well deserved. This is one of the few bands I can name that has remained in peak form throughout each of the last two decades. And so with the recent release of The Safes' fourth album Tasty Waves on Hidden Volume Records, I braced myself to be wowed. I was not let down.

The Brothers O'Malley - Frankie and Patrick- have been constants in The Safes lineup since day one. The current incarnation of the band is rounded out by Dex Fontaine (drums) and Curt Schmelz (bass). While the band still occupies that general space where garage rock and power pop intersect, Tasty Waves definitely continues the '60s-inspired songwriting direction of 2014's outstanding Record Heat. And here's what I love about this band: while the influence of the Beatles, Beach Boys, Kinks, etc. is all over Tasty Waves, this is not even close to a "revivalist" record. It's modern-day garage pop with classic inspirations. 

While The Safes are particularly known for their high energy live shows and guitar-heavy recordings, it's really the songwriting that steals the show on Tasty Waves. Frankie O'Malley wrote nine of the ten tracks and co-wrote the other with his brother Patrick. With this album, I've really taken notice of his skill as a lyricist. His wordplay is clever and often highly acidic/satirical. In other spots ("Crystal Ball", "Mind Of Its Own"), he comes off genuinely reflective. And "Streets and Sanitation" is some of the most compelling lyrical poetry I've come across in a while. While the melodies are strong enough to make even casual listening enjoyable, there's a lot to be gained from sitting down with the lyrics and digging deep into these songs. I don't think there could be a more spot-on lyrical couplet for 2017 than "I'm the guy whose eyes are not glued to his phone/And I'm so glad to know that I'm not alone".

With this particular set of songs, we get a Safes album that feels quite different from its predecessors. I'm not sure I want to use the dreaded "mature" description, but the absence of any obvious full-throttle rockers really emphasizes craft over crackle. Of course there's more than enough punch in the band's attack, and the songs remain lean at a total running time of 22 minutes. But standout tracks like "Hometown", "Crystal Ball", and "Nobody Cares Anymore" are true triumphs of skillfully woven melodies and highly creative songwriting. I'm especially impressed with the subtle touches that bring timeless '60s pop into the modern age. Front to back, The Safes have never delivered a better collection of songs. And the album just sounds amazing - the band working with producer Brian Deck to achieve a warm and wonderfully rich fidelity. Tasty Waves, like everything else The Safes have done, is an essential purchase.