Monday, October 5, 2015

Lovesores v. Born Loose!

Let's keep this simple. Lovesores and Born Loose are the two greatest punk rock n' roll bands on the planet. Just don't ask me to decide who's #1 and who's #2. Pondering such a choice would cause my head to explode. The connection between these two groups dates back to the '90s glory days of booze-soaked punk rock n' roll - when Scott "Deluxe" Drake was fronting the legendary Humpers and Larry May was fronting the legendary Candy Snatchers. Both men are going strong these days with phenomenal new bands, and a Lovesores/Born Loose split is literally one of the greatest ideas in the history of humankind. And now it's a reality - issued on beautiful 7" vinyl by Catastrophe Records. Here's the premise: Lovesores cover the Candy Snatchers, Born Loose covers The Humpers, and each band contributes a ferocious original. On the cover is a picture of a unicorn with an apparent substance abuse problem.What's not to love about this record?!

I'd honestly say that Lovesores' output so far rivals the best of The Humpers, and that continues with the ripping "Crossed-Eyed Cat". This is down and dirty '70s punk n' roll just the way you like it - smeared in Thunders/Dead Boys street grit and featuring a knockout vocal from the ageless SDD. Yeah! Lovesores then put their distinctive twist on the Candy Snatchers' "Nightcrawler" - and of course it's a mind-blowing rendition! Two songs in, the price of the record has already been fully justified. But flip that bad boy over, and you'll get an equally awesome side from Born Loose!

I recently declared Born Loose's "I Loathe You" 7" the best punk rock single of the last couple years. And here on this split, New York City's finest band continues to destroy all comers! "Whiskey Holiday" is pure sonic debauchery featuring Suke's smoking lead guitar and a signature fire-and-fury vocal from Mr. Larry May. Now that is the kind of holiday I can really get behind! Born Loose then boldly tears into The Humpers classic "Fast, Fucked & Furious". It takes some big balls to cover this song, and almost any other band would fail miserably. But Born Loose is not any other band, and Larry & co. absolutely kill it with their version!

Alright! This split is an essential purchase for longtime Humpers/Candy Snatchers fans and anyone else who loves wild and sleazy punk rock n' roll. Both bands came through with top-tier original songs, and the covers are freaking great! Whatever you gotta pay to get your hands on this thing, do it!


Friday, October 2, 2015

New Fashionism 7"!

In less than three months, I will officially announce my favorite new band of 2015. I envision a parade, a formal speech, and perhaps a cash prize. I have not yet identified the winner, but I can say that Fashionism is one of the front-runners. Early this year, I totally freaked for the band's debut 7". Now we have single #2 from Fashionism, and of course it's fantastic! It's called "Quit Looking At The Time", and it's out on the venerable Zaxxon Records.

To summarize: Fashionism is the latest band from Jeff McCloy (The Tranzmitors). He's joined by members of The Jolts and New Town Animals - making Fashionism somewhat of a Vancouver powerpop/punk super-group. Think The Tranzmitors with more of a glam influence. What I like about the new record is that it shows two sides to Fashionism. "Quit Looking At The Time" picks up where the last record left off - coming on with a rush of pure energy and delivering a chorus that you won't be able to stop singing. That hook is unstoppable, and the rockin' guitars are a killer touch. If this song doesn't have you jumping around like a maniac, I may have to demand a doctor's note! On the B-side, "We've Got It Wrong" slows the pace and comes in more on the new wave/power pop side. It still packs a punch, but it manages to capture a sense of despair and longing that really tugs at the heartstrings. It's the perfect pop contrast to the '77 punk jolt of the A-side. You could easily slot it on your next mix in between the Buzzcocks and Exploding Hearts. And how great are those backing vocals?!

Without simply rehashing what worked so well on its debut 7", Fashionism has come through with a crowd-pleasing second single. "Quit Looking At The Time" is the band's catchiest song yet, and "We've Got It Wrong" is beautifully crafted power pop. This band is the real deal. I eagerly await a full album!


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Kurt Baker plays it cool!

Having had three years to ponder the matter, I can say without hesitation that Kurt Baker's Brand New Beat holds a spot in my top ten list of all-time favorite power pop albums. I would definitely call it a contemporary classic, and following it up had to be a tall order for Baker and his songwriting collaborator Wyatt Funderburk. If Baker and Funderburk had simply turned out a new album that was a carbon copy of Brand New Beat, that would have satisfied the fan base just fine. But there was no way that was going to happen. These guys are two of the best songwriters out there, and clearly they were determined to take their time and come up with something truly special. The result is Play It Cool, an album that infuses Baker's signature power pop/pop-rock style with a live rock n' roll energy. As I mentioned in the press release for this album, these songs capture the feel of seeing Kurt Baker in concert. And what that translates to is fun for everyone! Play It Cool revisits all the things you loved about Brand New Beat but adds so much more - rocking harder and drawing from a wider array of influences. I could be wrong, but I predict that most fans will think Play It Cool is even better than its predecessor!

Play It Cool kicks off with "Sends Me To Mars" - a rock n' roll ripper penned by Portland, Maine garage/punk legend Kip Brown. It was originally recorded in 1986 by Brown's band The Wild Hearts. Not only is this song a wonderful tribute to a prolific and under-appreciated artist, but it's also a perfect tone-setter for an album that's an absolute blast all the way through. Baker and friends launch this rocket right out of the gates, and quickly you get the sense that this is going to be a different kind of record. Close your eyes, and you can easily picture bodies flying all over the stage while Kris Rodgers pounds those keys like his hair's on fire. You'll be tapping your toes within 10 seconds and jumping out of your seat within a minute. And from there, the album only gets better! If you're craving some "classic" Kurt Baker, you won't be disappointed. "Enough's Enough" ought to be a massive radio hit. "I Got You" will put a smile on your face no matter how bad your day is going. "Monday Night" reminds us that it's never the wrong day of the week to have a good time. "Just A Little Bit" sounds like Elvis Costello fronting Thin Lizzy. But ultimately it's the variety of the song selection that makes this the most enjoyable of all of Baker's albums. Running the gamut from '80s pop-rock throwbacks ("Play It Cool") to raucous garage rockers ("Doin' It Right") to pretty Beatle-esque janglers ("Talk Is Talk") to Raspberries-inspired sing-alongs ("I Can't Wait") to wonderfully sappy ballads (the magnificent "Back For Good"), these 12 songs demonstrate how crucial melody and quality hooks can be to almost any style of music. And backed by an all-star supporting cast (Rodgers and Geoff Palmer from The Connection, Adam Cargin from Screeching Weasel/Riverdales), Baker fully delivers on the promise of a high energy, fun-to-the-end musical performance. If you've never witnessed The Kurt Baker Band live, Play It Cool will make you wish you had!

Play It Cool is a rock n' roll album first and a power pop album second. And that, I'd say, is the natural order of things. If you've soured on today's power pop because the power part of the equation is so rarely emphasized, this could be the record that turns you to the dark side. And for those of you who are huge Kurt Baker fans and have been looking forward to this album for a long time, you're going to love what you hear! Seriously: Baker and Funderburk have totally knocked it out of the park with these songs! I'm talking an A++ effort! I suppose only time will tell whether or not Play It Cool surpasses Brand New Beat in my heart. But my gut reaction is that this is the best Kurt Baker album yet! Get the download from Baker's Bandcamp and the CD from Rum Bar Records. Vinyl will be out later this fall on Eccentric Pop Records, Ghost Highway Recordings, and Jolly Ronnie Records!


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Taking a break....

Alright, everyone! This will be my last post for a while. I'm going to take a break from the blog during the month of September while I get acclimated to the rigors of taking college courses on top of a full-time job. I'm going to minimize distractions and try to get a feel for just how much free time I can expect to have during any given week. And with football season about to start, a lot of that free time has already been claimed! I want to find a way to keep the blog going - even if that means more of a focus on sharing music and less of a focus on writing about it. If all goes well, F & L will return in October with shorter and more infrequent posts. I intend to return in style with a review of the new Kurt Baker album. Speaking of Mr. Baker, please enjoy this video for his forthcoming single on Hidden Volume Records!


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A full album from Lunch!

Back in the beginning of 2014, I raved about an EP from a post-punk band out of Portland called Lunch. Generally speaking, I don't review a lot of post-punk stuff. But when I hear something truly great, I am more than happy to make exceptions. Lunch is one of those bands that never fails to blow me away. So here we go again!

What's impressed me about Lunch's new album is that it's quite a bit different from the band's previous output. With Let Us Have Madness Openly (great title!), Lunch delivers a full-length debut reminiscent of classic albums from Echo and the Bunnymen, The Cure, and Chameleons. The sound is goth-leaning mid-'80s UK post-punk all the way - right down to the chillingly exquisite guitar work and haunting bass lines. And while Lunch is hardly the only group of the present day to explore this particular set of influences, it's been a long time since I've heard a band do it this well. The songwriting, musicianship, and production are absolutely bang-on. Truly, any of these tracks could be slipped into regular rotation on SiriusXM First Wave without anyone suspecting a thing. "Pouring Light" is the next best thing to discovering a never-before-heard Joy Division song. And you can still hear Lunch's punk roots informing the shorter song lengths and nervous tics of tracks like "Bad Cut". This is that rare post-punk album good enough to make me want to wear black and embrace gloom. It's out now on Mass Media Records and will be available soon in Europe on the always dependable Taken By Surprise label. Check it out!


Monday, August 24, 2015

Role Models: the debut album!

If I had to name my single favorite song of the last couple years, my choice would be "Lost In The City" by Role Models. It's truly one of the best songs I've heard in my entire life. No joke! Needless to say, I was over the moon when Dom from Glunk Records told me he was releasing the long-awaited debut album from Role Models. I was reminded of what it felt like to be a music-obsessed kid and how I'd literally count the days until a band I loved was releasing its next album. There was nothing like finally getting my hands on that record, retreating to my bedroom, and completely immersing myself in great music. That's pretty much how it went a few weeks back when Role Models' The Go-To Guy magically appeared in my inbox. I let out a shriek of sheer delight, canceled all my appointments, locked the doors, put on my headphones, and proceeded to savor every note of the album. Then I listened to it again. And again. The Go-To Guy was everything I hoped it would be. In a year full of fantastic LP releases, it's up there with the best of the best.
Role Models are a London-based band led by singer/songwriter/guitarist Rich Rags (The Loyalties). He's joined by Daniel Husayn (Red Dons) and his Loyalties band mate Simon Maxwell. Another Loyalties member, Rich Jones (Black Halos, Michael Monroe Band), stepped in to play guitar on this release. But don't expect this record to sound like The Loyalties. There are certainly some shared influences (Hanoi Rocks, Johnny Thunders) between both bands. But Role Models are more hook driven - mixing glam-punk with power pop and straight-ahead rock. As a songwriter, Rich Rags is cut from the same cloth as guys like Tom Petty, Paul Westerberg, and a young Peter Case. He's got a keen ear for melody, a natural flair for storytelling, and a real knack for tugging at your heartstrings. And what makes him a personal favorite of mine is his understanding of what a great song can mean in our lives. Don't we all have that memory of a perfect moment from our younger days and the song that was playing at the time? Every time we hear that song, we momentarily become teenagers again. Rich Rags writes songs like that - those transcendent pop anthems that happen to turn up on the radio while you're driving around with your friends on a warm summer night and basking in the unlimited promise of youth. The way he's able to imbue these simple pop songs with just the right mix of melancholy, nostalgia, and wide-eyed optimism is really something special.

Being such a huge fan of "Lost In The City", I did wonder if I was going to judge the songs on The Go-To Guy against it. But once I played the album, I knew that was a non-issue. Now the only question is how Rich Rags is going to top these songs! In a better world, the likes of  "Nowhere" and "The Jerk" would dominate commercial radio and appear on major movie soundtracks. "Cherry Dear" boasts the kind of perfect hook that some songwriters spend their lives trying to write. "Saturday Night Sailor", featuring guest bass work by the legendary Sammi Yaffa, ought to be slotted on a mixed tape between Generation X and Tommy Stinson. And while the prevailing vibe of the album is mid-tempo pop, there are some nice surprises as well. Loyalties fans will go nuts for the Supersuckers meet Dead Boys fury of the title track, while the emotional ballad "Leave Tonight" leaves the kind of lasting impression I always look for in an album closer.

With their earliest recordings dating back to 2011, Role Models were long overdue for a full-length album. But The Go-To Guy was 100 percent worth waiting for. It fully realizes the potential of those previous EPs and firmly establishes Rich Rags as one of the best songwriters on the planet. It's definitely the A+ power pop record I was hoping for, yet it totally rocks as well. The production is plenty ballsy, and you just can't beat the two Riches' dueling guitars. Albums this good are what make me want to write about music. You can order the CD directly from Glunk Records. Visit Role Models' Bandcamp for a preview of The Go-To Guy and a free download of all the band's EPs!


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The New Trocaderos make an album!

Last month I stopped just short of handing album of the year to The Connection. Truthfully, it was hard for me to fathom an album better than the spectacular Labor Of Love. But still I had my suspicions that those Connection guys were going to get edged out - by themselves! And that's exactly what has happened. The New Trocaderos were formed in 2013 by Brad Marino and Geoff Palmer from The Connection along with international heartthrob Kurt Baker. I've been raving about these guys for over a year and a half, and I long envisioned their debut album blowing me away. Now that the album has arrived, I am delighted to report that it's everything I was expecting and then some! Thrills & Chills - featuring a lineup rounded out by The Connection's Rick Orcutt and Kris Rodgers - is a lock for album of the year. Hell, let's just call it album of the decade! Buckle up and enjoy the ride!

Thrills & Chills delivers 12 more outstanding tracks from songwriter Michael Chaney. It's all new material: no covers and no re-recordings of songs from previous EPs. As always, The New Trocaderos put their fresh twist on the timeless rock n' roll of the 1960s. But over the course of a full album, you get a real appreciation for the range of this band's talents and the variety of its repertoire. Certainly it doesn't hurt to have three great lead singers with three distinct styles. And this album adds new dimensions to the band's sound with the inclusion of harmonica, slide guitar, sax, trumpet, and guest backing vocals from the all-star trio of Kim Shattuck, Palmyra Delran, and Line Cecilie Dahlmann. Of course you can expect nods to Dave Edmunds ("What The Hell Did I Do?"), the Rolling Stones ("I'm So Bad"), and Beatles ("Crazy Little Fool") right out of the gate. If you loved "Money Talks" and "Dream Girl" from the earlier singles, you'll go wild for the sing-along raver "By The Balls" and the British Invasion inspired pop gem "She Don't Know". But Thrills & Chills proves that there's more than just two sides to The New Trocaderos. From the Elvis-y doo-wop of "Love Anymore" to the 12-bar blues of "Business To Tend To" to the country-tinged jangle of "Like An Angel", the new ground covered on this album is considerable. And every time this band tries something new, it totally works! "Midnight Creep", featuring a standout vocal from Baker, is moody and mysterious and completely unlike anything the New Trocs have done before. If I were forced at gunpoint to name the best song on the album, "Midnight Creep" would be it.

Thrills & Chills is an album in the truest sense - a diverse collection of songs inspired by the classic LPs of the Beatles, Stones, and Kinks. No doubt, the songs all sound fantastic in isolation. But when they're put together in this specific order, the whole becomes even greater than the sum of its parts. I love how the ass-kicking rockers and the pretty little pop songs complement each other so perfectly. At no point on this album will you feel like you've heard the same song twice. As the title suggests, this is a record made to be enjoyed. It's full of fun and humor and melodies that will be stuck in your head for weeks. Chaney has a real talent for combining a killer hook with clever and instantly memorable lyrics. He mixes storytelling reminiscent of Ray Davies with more traditional odes to teenage romance, heartbreak, and bad boys living for trouble. And for sure, a songwriter could not ask for a better band to bring his visions to life. The boys tear into these tunes with confidence and enthusiasm - Marino, Palmer, and Baker putting on a clinic in rock n' roll guitar while Rodgers channels a young Jerry Lee Lewis on the keys. And with Shattuck, Delran, and Dahlmann knocking those harmonies out of the park, this album definitely brings a little something extra compared to the singles. Straight up, Thrills & Chills is the classic record I knew The New Trocaderos had in 'em. Almost any band would kill to come up with 12 songs this good in a lifetime. Whether you're 8, 80, or any age in between, this album will have you smiling and singing along and reaching for the repeat button again and again. CD and downloads release tomorrow on Uncle Mike's RnR. Vinyl is coming this fall on Ghost Highway Recordings and KOTJ Records out of Spain!