Thursday, December 18, 2014

Jenny Dee is back!

You may recall my review of Jenny Dee & The Deelinquents' most recent single, "Don't Tell Me". In what has been a truly phenomenal year for music, "Don't Tell Me" is one of the best singles I've heard all year. So it's hardly surprising that Jenny, Ed, and the gang have now delivered a full-length album that's also one of the year's finest. What I enjoy about this album is that it seamlessly combines every phase of Jenny Dee's musical progression into one delightful and unified package. Given that this encompasses everything from Motown & girl group inspired R & B to rootsy rock n' roll to turn of the '80s new wave pop, Electric Candyland can be counted on to offer plenty of variety. Yet it all flows together beautifully - a testament to Jenny's compelling vocal presence and formidable songwriting chops.

About half of Electric Candyland carries on in the direction of recent singles - suggesting what Blondie might have sounded like if they'd recorded with Jeff Lynne for the Xanadu soundtrack. Ed Valauskas is a truly amazing producer, and his skillful integration of strings, synthesizers, and lush background vocals is nothing short of majestic. If you liked the "Getaway" and "Don't Tell Me" singles, you'll be happy to know that both songs reappear here along with like-minded tracks such as "Bite Your Tongue" and "Livin' Alone". Yet by no means does it seem like you're listening to a different band when the action shifts to upbeat rockers like "Lookin' For Clues" or show-stopping soul numbers such as "Wake It Up". If there's one thing that unifies the different musical eras and styles that inspire Jenny Dee, it's the importance of great singing - both lead and backup. And this album is loaded with great singing. There aren't a whole lot of lead vocalists today who can hold a candle to the likes of Gladys Horton or Debbie Harry. But Jen D'Angora is definitely one of them. Listening to the stunning doo-wop ballad "That Moon Was Low", it's easy to understand why Graham Parker gave her that song to record.

How many times have you heard a band roll off a hot streak of singles, only to disappoint when it was time to make an album? Jenny Dee & The Deelinquents have avoided that fate, and it's no accident. Electric Candyland supplements a wealth of existing material (five of the six single sides are on the album) with some fantastic new songs. And it doesn't hurt that The Deelinquents are a red-hot band! This is not really a "garage" album or a "soul" album or a "new wave" album. It's a Jenny Dee album - and a worthy purchase for anyone who appreciates great music of all kinds.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

New album from Legendary Wings!

It's been two years since Kalamazoo, Michigan's Legendary Wings released their debut album, Making Paper Roses. Without question, I'd say that Making Paper Roses is one of the most underrated titles to come out on Dirtnap Records in recent years. And Legendary Wings, in my opinion, are one of the six or seven best bands on Dirtnap. Now they're back with a new album called Do You See - which I hope will be less underrated and more...uh....widely acclaimed! 

One of the things I liked best about Making Paper Roses was its raw, lo-fi charm. I wondered if Legendary Wings would be as appealing if they made a more "professional" recording. Luckily, that question seems moot in the wake of the release of Do You See. Essentially, Legendary Wings' second album is just a leaner, stronger version of their first. They haven't lost any of that rawness, and they have largely returned to the formula that worked so well last time: a back-and-forth between fast, catchy garage-punk and jangly fuzzy pop. Again this band finds a way to combine "classic" Dirtnap influences (think Marked Men, High Tension Wires) with a post Husker Du, early '90s college radio type sound ("Missed Connections" could almost pass for a Buffalo Tom demo!). These guys seem way more interested in tightening their chops and perfecting their songwriting craft than they are in polishing their sound in the studio. So even with the messy, rough-edged fidelity still very much in tact, you can totally hear a progression from the last album.

In the grand Midwestern punk tradition, Legendary Wings still exhibit an unassuming, "Let's plug in and let it rip!" approach to their music. This comes through gloriously on hard-chugging numbers like "Fatuous" and the crackling album closer "Use". But while Do You See is a total blast in every sense, it has way more going on than you might sense at the surface. "Weather Advisory", with its haunting chord progression and cleverly ominous lyrics, forecasts rough sailing on the relationship front. And the wistful jangler "Separate Rooms" will just about tear your heart out. These more melancholic pop songs are quickly becoming a signature for Legendary Wings. And when they're thrown into the mix with the more upbeat tracks and a few funny soundbites, it really makes for a well-rounded album.

In terms of both total running time and number of tracks, Do You See does not approach the sheer quantity of its 16-song predecessor. But perhaps this is what an album should be: just ten songs and nearly all of them fantastic. Legendary Wings have left me wanting more, and I keep hitting that repeat button once the music stops. Combining the best aspects of garage, pop, and punk, Legendary Wings have emerged as a genuinely original force in today's scene. And Do You See is a record that ought to make people notice.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Solicitors on 45!

In recent years, I have fully embraced digital music as a format. I possess a rather extensive iTunes library, and I stream new music on a daily basis. I don't hold on to any snobbish notions about the "inferiority" of the format. That said, I do have a strong personal attachment to vinyl. Maybe it's just my generation (growing up in the '70s and '80s), but I just like records! I like having a tangible product that I can hold in my hands. I love the packaging and artwork of vinyl records. And of course I get a rush from dropping the needle onto a record that I'm playing for the very first time. It seems that there are a lot of people who feel the same way, and that explains why vinyl is still going strong in our little corner of the musical universe. For example, I think it's incredibly cool that Germany's All Star Manufacturing Records came back from the dead after an 11-year hiatus for the sole purpose of giving The Solicitors' "If You Let Me Hold You" single a vinyl release. Tomo from All Star Manufacturing, like me, is a big fan of this Melbourne-based power pop band. And so this release is a true labor of love.

In what has been a great year for power pop, "If You Let Me Hold You" has stood out as one of the year's best songs. And now you can hear it on vinyl, backed by another previous digital single, "Quicksand". I have such a soft spot for The Solicitors because they remind me so much of all those new wave pop bands I grew up with (The Knack, Squeeze, Vapors). But more importantly, I think Lee Jones is one of the most talented songwriters to come on the scene in recent memory. He has this way of articulating things that almost all of us have felt but perhaps never found the words to fully express. "If You Let Me Hold You" really nails what it's like when you know you're in a relationship that's over - yet you still desperately cling to anything that that special someone is still willing to give you. And if you've ever had a give-and-take friendship with someone who did all the taking, "Quicksand" will definitely hit home. Both tracks are in The Solicitors' signature style of high energy power pop with sweet melodies chasing bitter lyrics. If you're still unfamiliar with this band, this single is the perfect gateway to the melodious wonders of The Solicitors. And if you're already a fan, here's your chance to experience two of the band's finest songs on your turntable! Pressing is limited to 300 copies (100 on white, 200 on black), so move fast if you want in on the action!


Monday, December 15, 2014

New album from Spastic Hearts!

Sometimes everything you need to know about an album is revealed in its title. No Girls No Fun is the second album from Youngstown, Ohio's Spastic Hearts (ex Johnie 3, The Hi-Life). And of course it's full of songs about girls and fun! Out now on Jolly Ronnie and Swamp Cabbage Records, No Girls No Fun is relentlessly upbeat and loaded to the brim with highly infectious melodies. The sound is textbook pop-punk informed by late '50s/early '60s rock n' roll - with slick production that plays up all those stacked harmonies and melodic guitar leads. I get that some people just aren't pop-punk fans. But listening to Spastic Hearts, it's hard for me to fathom anyone not loving this band! They're just fun! These folks tear into these songs with boundless energy and unbridled enthusiasm. And with major nods to The Ramones and more recent greats like Teen Idols, they remind us that pop-punk done well is one of the purest forms of rock n' roll. No Girls No Fun is your soundtrack to joyous nights of dancing and romancing. And much like that Bat Bites album I reviewed a few weeks back, it speaks to the soul of the true pop-punk fan - that individual who still believes in love even in these most cynical times. Surely Spastic Hearts are the kind of band that can put a huge smile on the face of even the grumpiest live show attendee. They have a way of winning you over. And without a doubt, that same energy comes across on record. These 12 catchy tracks will get your toes tapping, your head bobbing, and your heart racing. Whether you're en route to a rendezvous with your sweetheart or heading out in hopes of meeting that special someone, blast this album loud and seize the moment!


Friday, December 12, 2014

Meet Bullet Proof Lovers!

It seems like Kurt Baker is everywhere these days: cranking out Coolest Songs In The World, playing bass for Kris Rodgers & The Dirty Gems, co-fronting The New Trocaderos, singing duets with The Bat Bites...I'm pretty sure I just saw him scoring a touchdown for the Patriots and announcing a run for president. Now he's fronting Bullet Proof Lovers - a great new rock n' roll band out of San Sebastián, Spain. The band was formed earlier this year when Baker and some of his pals were bonding over a shared love for great rock n' roll. His friends happened to mention that they were starting a band but didn't have a singer. The rest, as they say, is history. Joining Baker in the group is a stacked lineup of experienced musicians. Guitarist Luiyi Costa (Txorlitöhead, Lolas Club), guitarist Juan Irazu (Discípulos de Dionisos, Gran Yate Especial), drummer Joseba Arza (Brigada Criminal, Señor No, Ladislao), and bassist Gonzalo Ibáñez (Nuevo Catecismo Católico, La Perrera) are all fixtures in the Spanish music scene. And if you know anything about the Spanish, you know they're crazy about rock n' roll. So it's no surprise that Bullet Proof Lovers sound like they could rock the roof off of every club or bar in the free world. And when you add in Baker's power pop sensibilities, it makes for a really cool blend of influences. Essentially Bullet Proof Lovers play a melodic brand of hard rock with a huge sound and huge choruses. What's not to love about that?!

Out now on Ghost Highway Recordings, the debut EP from Bullet Proof Lovers is a throwback to a time when it wasn't a sin to make fun music for people to play loud. This is the kind of record that you crank up while you're out with your friends on a Friday night in search of good times and pretty girls. And whether it's Cheap Trick influenced rock n' roll ("It'll Be Alright"), thundering arena pop ("She's Gonna Leave"), or a vintage Kurt Baker power ballad ("Breaking Down"), the hooks are god-like. And so are the guitar solos! Surely I'm not the only person who's listened to Kurt Baker in the past and wondered when he was going to inject his power pop skills into a full-on crusher of a rock record. Well he's done just that with Bullet Proof Lovers - and we are quite fortunate that fate brought this singer together with this band. And credit producer Wyatt Funderburk for capturing that big, clean, and punchy sound that this record totally deserved.

Whether you're a Kurt Baker fan or just someone who enjoys hard rocking music with melody, this debut EP from Bullet Proof Lovers should put a huge smile on your face. The song title "Never Too Loud" pretty much says it all. And that closing cover of Shrapnel's "Master Of My Destiny" is so joyfully anthemic that it will surely cause a lot of people to seek out the long overlooked music of Shrapnel. No doubt, these guys in Bullet Proof Lovers are tremendously talented. But just as importantly, they're fans of rock n' roll. And that comes through fully in their music. Turn it up and rock out!


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Gino And The Goons shake it!

I can't let 2014 come to an end without spotlighting one of the best rock n' roll records you could ever hope to hear. Gino And The Goons hail from St. Petersburg, Florida but sound more like New York City circa 1977. And I don't mean Blondie or Talking Heads. I'm talking Ramones, Heartbreakers, Testors - but with a lo-fi/budget rock recording aesthetic that I freaking love! Forget garage rock - these guys record in the living room! Really! Shake It! is a 12" record out on Slovenly Recordings. And it just plain rips! At eight tracks, it could be considered either a long EP or a short album. But ultimately, it doesn't matter what you call it as long as you drop that needle and crank this bad boy loud! This trio blasts out three-chord rock n' roll that's trashy, fun, and catchy as hell. And this record will quickly have you up & dancing and looking for a lady to romance. If you miss bands like the Devil Dogs and Spaceshits or wish that more punk groups worshiped at the altar of Chuck Berry, this is a band for you. Shake It!, along with that new Lovesores 10", proves that real rock n' roll is alive and thriving! 


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Maniac makes an album!

It was a year ago when I first identified Maniac as a possible contender for 2014 album of the year. I was blown away by the L.A. band's debut single and sensed that its then-forthcoming LP could be something really special. Well, after a full year's worth of high anticipation, we finally do have that debut album from Maniac. And all I have to say is WOW! Maniac completely lives up to its name on the sensational Demimonde - which crackles with frantic energy and an unrelenting sense of urgency. And as much as I enjoyed the more straight-forward '77 pop/punk stylings of that last single, I was genuinely thrilled to hear Maniac break that mold and realize such a unique and exciting sound. While by no means lacking in tuneful melodies or punchy classic punk riffs, Demimonde has an angular, hyperactive feel to it that really sets it apart from your more typical genre exercises. It makes just about everything else in my record collection sound painfully average! It's as if these guys heard that the planet was coming to an imminent end, imbibed dangerously large quantities of Red Bull, and endeavored to power out a punk record that the world just had to hear.

What I really like about Demimonde is that it brings together the myriad of musical influences existing within Maniac's stellar lineup. Lead singer/bassist Zache Davis is well-known for his work with The Girls and Cute Lepers. Rhythm guitarist Justin Maurer (ex Clorox Girls, Red Dons) and drummer James Carman (Images) are currently band mates in the supergroup L.A. Drugz. Along with amazing lead guitarist Andrew Zappin, these guys represent the perfect combination of everything that's cool about melodic punk and power pop. Davis has written some truly outstanding songs, and he sings them with conviction and desperation. Maurer and Zappin play off of each other in creative, compelling ways. And with a dynamo like Carman ably pushing the pace, this is an album bound to leave you short of breath. I feel like I need to run around the house in a full sprint and start jumping on furniture - just to keep up. My cats would be traumatized.

By the time I first absorbed the chorus to "Live Like Bats", I knew that Demimonde was going to be everything I was expecting and then some. Lately I've found myself repeating that chorus just about everywhere I go. It's just so catchy! Fast, fist-pumping tracks like "Wendy, Same Thing" and "Party City" proceed to ratchet up the energy in a major way. And once the band hits full stride on the frenetic "Dans Le Sang", it's obvious that this thrill ride isn't going to stop until it ends with a magnificent crash (the manic racer "Alright, Okay"). With echoes of everything from The Ramones to early Wire to modern-day greats like The Briefs, Demimonde hits that perfect blend of catchy '77 punk and jittery new wave. And with all due credit to Mark Rains (engineering) and Hadji Husayn (mastering), this album just sounds phenomenal. Davis, long an underrated figure in punk music, is more than ready for his close-up. And the exceptionally talented Zappin is quickly becoming one of my favorite lead guitarists. In one of the best years for music that I can ever remember, Maniac has delivered a surefire top ten album. Downloads available now, and the vinyl ships next month!