Monday, October 20, 2014

Return of The New Trocaderos!

Check it out! It's not even November yet, and I'm already making a final call on EP of the Year. You can start carving the trophy. As far as I'm concerned, The New Trocaderos have got it locked up! I first proclaimed this band's greatness on the second day of this year - and my big hope was that this would be more than just a one-off project. Well, to my utter delight, this super-group is back with a second helping of rock n' roll/pop/garage goodness that ought to have the entire world dancing and singing along! The New Trocaderos are Brad Marino and Geoff Palmer of the almighty Connection along with the king of power pop, Kurt Baker. Once again, these three have collaborated with L.A. songwriter Michael Chaney - and they've somehow managed to top their sensational debut single "Money Talks"/"The Kids" (a fixture this year on Little Steven's Underground Garage).

The new record is called Kick Your Ass, and it builds off the energy of "Money Talks" without coming off like a carbon copy. This time around, all three New Trocaderos take turns singing lead. And each track has its own distinct feel. Kurt's up first with "Real Gone Kitty" - a high energy shaker in the style of late '50s rockabilly and rock n' roll. Like The New Trocaderos have been known to do, here they acknowledge influences (Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis) and lyrical themes from rock n' roll's golden age yet find ways to make them sound fresh for a contemporary audience. The red-hot piano work of Kris "Fingers" Rodgers would probably bring The Killer himself to tears of joy, and all in all this song joyfully celebrates youth, fun, and the endless pursuit of pretty girls. Again and again, I'm implored by this number to stop whatever I'm doing and start dancing around like a maniac. I am now banned from taking headphones into Whole Foods.

Next up, Geoff sings "Dream Girl" - a gorgeous '60s pop jangler a la Beatles/Beach Boys/Byrds. Again, it's a fresh take on a classic style - with melodies to die for and a vocal treatment that brings to mind a young Nick Lowe. I will warn you in advance that getting this song unstuck from your head may require professional help of some sort. Oh my god, that bridge! Those harmonies and handclaps really hit the spot, and let's hear it for the lost art of the fade-out ending! This is just perfect pop - and a major step forward for this band in terms of production and musical sophistication.

To close out the EP, Brad takes the mic on "Brain Gone Dead". This is about as flawless of a Ramones homage as you could ever hope to hear - replete with morbid nursery rhyme lyrics you won't be able to resist repeating. There's a neat little guitar hook in there that adds a lot to the song - the kind of minor detail that can separate a great band from a not-so-great band. With Brad's distinct vocal style, of course you're going to be reminded a little of The Connection. But what I like about The New Trocaderos is that these three guys all show something a little different when they record under this name. It's not like someone just put a solo Kurt Baker song and a couple of Connection tunes onto a record and passed it off as a new group. Chaney, essentially the fourth New Trocadero, has found the perfect musicians to bring his creative vision to life. Here you have three equally good singers - each with a keen ear for pop craftsmanship and timeless rock n' roll melodies. And the addition of "session" players Rodgers and drummer Craig Sala (Kurt Baker Group) has only made the band better!

What I love about this record is that I'm completely unable to pick a favorite track. There's not one hit here but rather three of them - each one taking inspiration from a different period of rock n' roll that I personally hold dear. Of course The New Trocaderos "borrow" from all the right influences. But just as importantly, they do their heroes proud by crafting songs good enough to hold up in any era. And that, more than anything else, is the mark of great rock n' roll.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Neighborhood Brats nail it!

I have reviewed Neighborhood Brats on four occasions previously - and the last time I ended with the hope that 2014 would finally bring us a proper album from this fantastic L.A. band. Well, sometimes wishes come true! Recovery is the long awaited debut long player from an outfit that quite a few people are calling the best punk rock band out there. I would, on the strength of this album, maintain that Neighborhood Brats are indeed in the thick of the "best punk band on the planet" conversation. Recovery, arriving with considerable expectations, does not disappoint!

What I like about Recovery is that it pushes Neighborhood Brats' sound forward without straying from the band's mission to play straight-up, undiluted punk rock in the style of the late '70s and early '80s. Jenny, George, and outstanding new rhythm players Mike Shelbourn (drums) & Dan Graziano (bass) don't mess much with a successful recipe. Seven of 12 tracks clock in at under two minutes, and no song exceeds three minutes. The band for the most part continues to play aggressive and powerful punk rock, and Jenny remains a dynamic force on vocals. But compared to the band I first heard three years ago, this incarnation of Neighborhood Brats sounds far less like a hardcore band - now embracing more of a classic California beach punk sound replete with darker sensibilities and surf-influenced guitar work. Energized by its new-and-improved lineup, the band sounds ferocious and downright inspired on this crackling debut album.

Recovery hits the ground running with "Year Of The Brat" - the kind of mission statement/anthem that most punk bands spend their entire careers trying to write. I've never seen Neighborhood Brats live, but surely this is a song that sends crowds into a frenzy. It's got a chorus you just have to sing along with - and a great message of leaving the past behind, taking control of your life, and just going out and kicking ass. At some level, everyone can relate to that. If you're not turning up the volume and wildly shaking your fist by the end of the song, you may not be human! Seizing the momentum of such a fast start, the band proceeds to rip into high-speed burners like "Boys For 20 Years" and "50 Shades Of Fuck You". Neighborhood Brats have built their brand on fast & furious songs like these - and at this point they've truly perfected the formula. The production really plays up the power of the band's attack - accentuating George's scorching riffs and a veritable neutron bomb of a rhythm section. On vocals, Jenny excels at delivering acidic lyrics with full-on fury. She's especially compelling when the subject matter is intensely personal ("One Wasted Year"). And even at her angriest, she finds clever ways to articulate her rage (the chorus to "50 Shades Of Fuck You" is so priceless that I won't dare spoil it for you).

Recovery, while hardly a complete break from Neighborhood Brats' previous output, does show signs of musical growth. Right around its mid-point, it begins to surprise in entirely pleasant ways. "Suburbia" slows the pace a tad and captures an Adolescents/D.I. style old school punk sound, while "Escape The City" is a surf punk instrumental that would make Night Birds envious. And having loved the band's recent cover of The Go-Go's "Lust To Love", I get a similar vibe from the dark beach-pop of "Painted and Gutted". By the time the band brings it home with a trio of sub two-minute blazers ("The Pharmacy Is Closer Than The Liquor Store" has to be the best song title of the year!), I'm left with the satisfaction of having experienced a truly great punk rock album. It delivers so much of what you were expecting - and does it well. Yet the things about it that were somewhat unexpected do not seem out of place. Recovery captures that signature Neighborhood Brats sound without sounding like a copy of the band's earlier releases. The songwriting and production are the best of the group's career, and all in all this is every bit the amazing record I was hoping for. I'd put it right up there with a lot of the classic albums that surely inspired it. I'm pretty sure, in another 20 years, that more than a few bands will be trying to emulate "that George Rager guitar sound."


Monday, October 13, 2014

The Bat Bites make an album!

Sometimes when I review a pop-punk band, I'll do so with a general audience in mind. I'll do my best to convince people to listen to a certain band even if they don't like pop-punk. I'll contend that even if you hate pop-punk, this particular band isn't anything like all those other bands you so thoroughly despise. But you know what? I'm not going to do that today! If you hate pop-punk, The Bat Bites are not going to turn you to to the dark side. They'll probably annoy the hell out of you. But if you love pop-punk, you're gonna go crazy for this foursome out of Rotterdam!

The Bat Bites first released an EP back in 2009. They've finally come out with a full-length album - a self-titled effort on Monster Zero Records. With two Apers members in their lineup, these guys/gal definitely have roots in that European pop-punk scene that's been going strong since the late '90s (I've always loved the enthusiasm that the Euro crowd seems to have for Ramones-inspired music!). One of the main strengths of The Bat Bites is that the band features male and female lead singers in Merel and Mikey. Sometimes the two sing individually, and sometimes they sing together. The effect is something along the lines of having Screeching Weasel, The Unlovables, and Teen Idols all combined into one band. The moment I heard opening track "Tomorrow", I was immediately taken with Merel's warm, likeable vocals. And Apers guitarist Mikey, stepping into a front role here, is very much the prototypical pop-punk singer. Each vocalist brings something different to the table, and that definitely prevents the album from becoming too "samey" (a common shortcoming of pop-punk records). And given the prominent role of backing vocals and harmonies on this record, the exceptional quality of the production is a huge asset. The album was recorded by Simon Speechless (The Windowsill, Accelerators, The Maydays) and mastered by the always dependable Justin Perkins. In my younger days, I probably would have referred to this record as "overproduced". Clearly I've become smarter in my old age. This thing sounds like a million bucks!

Of course that amazing production would be worthless if the songs weren't great as well. The Bat Bites, with three songwriters contributing material, have delivered as strong of a collection of pop-punk songs as I've heard in the last couple of years. Call them lightweight if you want, but these songs are just so catchy and fun to listen to - with melodies and guitar hooks that I cannot get enough of. I've always believed that great pop-punk should appeal to that part of all of us that's forever 16 and caught in the throes of infatuation. And by that definition, The Bat Bites are great pop-punk! Most of their songs have an upbeat, happy-go-lucky energy to them. And even the ones that don't still manage to convey a hope that tomorrow can be a better day. Listening to a song like "One Day", I can't help imagining it playing over the closing credits of a feelgood teen movie. "I Wanna Be The One With You" is the kind of song that I could listen to on repeat for an hour straight. And for some icing on the cake, the great Kurt Baker makes a guest appearance on the doo wop inspired duet "Heartbreaker"!

What The Bat Bites have done is make a nearly flawless genre record. They're not trying to do anything new or original, but they've executed a tried-and-true formula to perfection. And in embracing both the "old" and "new" schools of pop-punk, they blur a distinction that probably didn't need to exist in the first place. One of the best reasons to listen to any kind of music is because it brings joy to your daily existence. And that's why The Bat Bites will be mainstays on my iPod for a long time to come.


Friday, October 10, 2014

More Miscalculations!

The phenomenal English duo Miscalculations blew my mind with their 2013 debut album - to such a degree that I'm writing about this band for the third time in less than a year! Today, the occasion is the release of a new single on No Front Teeth and the band's own Glass Eye Records - a limited item that's sure to sell out fast! Heck, for all I know it might already be sold out! The A-side, "A Silent Defence", is actually from the band's LP. If you're unfamiliar with Miscalculations or haven't heard the album, think cold, angular post-punk with a sharp '77 U.K. punk edge. If you already own the LP, there are two reasons why you'd desire this single: because you're a super fan and want to own every last item this band releases (understandable!) or because the B-side alone warrants the purchase price.

So for a lot of people, then, the brilliant "Clairvoyant Stare" is the featured attraction of this release. If you don't want to cough up £6 for only one new song, I would at least recommend a digital download of the song you haven't heard. If this track is a sign of what's to come from Marco and Shaun, then Miscalculations ' forthcoming second album is not going to disappoint! "Clairvoyant Stare" has a touch of synth to it, but it's mostly guitar/bass driven and very much on the icy side of late '70s punk/new wave. I don't want to give away the concept/story, but I'll just say that the lyrics are so creepy that they actually bother me. I don't dare listen to this song within four hours of bedtime! Can you imagine the dreams I'd have? Again I hear hints of Wire, Warsaw/Joy Division, and even Gary Numan. If I hear anything that might distinguish this track from the band's previous offerings, it would be that it's a little closer to the new wave side of the punk/new wave continuum. But that's not necessarily a bad thing (yes, I know - a surprising statement given my personal preferences!). The recordings of Miscalculations are the musical equivalent of a bleak, futuristic art film that I cannot stop watching. I sense that the new album (due out early 2015) is going to be a little different. And when you're talking about a band with this kind of talent and vision, different is usually good. I'm guessing that "Clairvoyant Stare" will be on the new album, but why wait until next year to hear it? We could all be dead by then.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Meet Scantron!

Scantron - a truly excellent band from Delaware - should not be confused with Scranton, Pennsylvania - birthplace of Delaware senator turned Vice President Joe Biden. Keep this in mind when conducting Google searches. Sometimes spelling makes all the difference. And while I do, as a lifelong resident of the Keystone State, have a certain fondness for the great city of Scranton, at this point I'm more about Scantron. The Bear, Delaware trio recently issued its second EP Palamino Blackwing - an all-analog mash-up of R & B, soul, and '60s garage rock that's been getting steady airplay in my man cave for over a month. This thing is flat-out hot! And considering that I spend half my time listening to punk and rock n' roll and the other half listening to classic soul, it's pretty awesome to hear a band combine both so successfully.

Scantron is Jimmy Scan, Billy Tron, and George Murphy (from Randy America's Pike Creek Pinups and the almighty Keefs!). The band has gigged extensively throughout the Northeast, and that really shows in its music. You can tell that these three are seasoned veterans of the bar/club scene. Although if I didn't know any better, I would have thought you were talking the bar/club scene circa 1966! "Am I Wrong" is a jangly mid-tempo shaker that will have you tapping your feet and humming along. But it's "Sad Parade" that really shows what Scantron is all about- mixing fuzzy guitars and driving organ with a knockout chorus that brings to mind Motown Records and '60s girl groups. In the way that classic garage and soul influences come together with timeless pop songwriting, I can't help but be reminded of bands like the Reigning Sound. "Sad Parade" is a stone cold hit! And I love that duel organ/guitar solo!

On the heels of "Sad Parade", Scantron proceeds to bring it home in style. "As Long As There's Enough" is throwback Stax soul replete with a full horn section - and hearing the production you'd swear this track was recorded with some big shot producer at a major studio. It just sounds so good - a tribute to the band's excellent self-production and a fine mastering job by Paul Leavitt at Valencia Studios in Baltimore. And then "Shot Down" is a GREAT cover of The Sonics' 1965 B-side! If The Sonics took the inspiration of Little Richard and transformed it into proto punk rock, here Scantron takes a Sonics classic and makes it sound like a vintage Little Richard cut! Certainly back in the golden age of rock n' roll and R & B, cover songs were an important part of just about any band's repertoire. It's great to see Scantron keeping that tradition going!

With a lot of garage/soul bands, there seems to be more emphasis on the former element than there is on the latter. But Scantron has the perfect mix of garage and soul. And while they've got the formidable bar band chops you want from a live rock n' roll unit, they add a songwriting prowess and stylistic authenticity that set them apart on record. Whether you're into today's garage scene or are an old school soul freak like me, this is a band you've got to check out!


Monday, October 6, 2014

It's The Snookys!

I really miss '90s garage-punk. Sure, it seems that the term "garage" is ubiquitous in today's underground punk world. You see it all the time. But for the most part, "garage" seems to have a much wider meaning now than it did back in the '90s when it usually meant low budget recordings, shitty fidelity, and marginal musical proficiency. A lot of what gets labeled "garage" today would have just been called "punk" back in 1996. This is not a criticism - just an observation. I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing for a band to learn more than two chords or aspire to make its records sound good. But I have to admit that I've got a real soft spot for bands that recapture the trashy spirit of '90s garage-punk. The Snookys out of Bergamo, Italy are one such band - and they've got an awesome new album called Junk Food out on the Italian label One Chord Wonder.

I definitely hear a Teengenerate/Rip Off Records type sensibility throughout Junk Food along with the shout-along choruses of classic British punk and a touch of good old '90s punk rock n' roll a la the Devil Dogs, New Bomb Turks, etc. This band has not only a rockin' sound but terrific songs as well - with material ranging from straight-up rippers like "Stab You" and "I Can Only Wear Geox" to slower, more anthemic numbers such as "Fire Alarm". The lyrics are for the most part brilliantly dumb (it's hard not to delight in songs about fat guys stealing your lunch and she-males almost getting you into bed). But sometimes The Snookys will surprise you with pointed social commentary ("Cop Guy") or an insightful portrait of a soul destroyed by responsible adulthood ("Actin' Good"). And "Down In The Basement" is a great reminder of how much commitment and sacrifice is required to make it in the world of do-it-yourself punk rock.

While The Snookys definitely do their part to create their own sound, they are clearly inspired by all those classic garage-punk records of the early-to-mid '90s. That's their reference point, and they gleefully embrace it. It's one thing to be reminded of an era/movement that I hold in such fond remembrance. But to hear this style of music done so well is what really has me pumped! From start to finish, Junk Food delivers catchy three-chord punk tunes that rock like crazy and are fun to sing along with. A few weeks ago, I was thinking to myself, "What happened to all the great garage-punk bands?" Somehow I telepathically conveyed this thought to The Snookys, who then brought themselves to my attention. Well-done, gentlemen. Well-done!


Friday, October 3, 2014

Introducing Terry & Louie!

Wow! A longtime musical daydream of mine has finally become a reality! I had always hoped that someday, Terry Six and King Louie would again work together. These are two of my favorite people in music. They're just incredibly talented dudes, and each has a remarkable ear for perfect pop songs. The former's guitar playing and the latter's songwriting were huge parts of what made the Exploding Hearts' Guitar Romantic the greatest album of the 2000s (and, in my opinion, one of the best punk LPs ever made). Terry, more or less retired from music since the Nice Boys disbanded, has made a magnificent return to recording with the help of his old pal Louie. Out on Terry's own label Tuff Break, the debut single from Terry & Louie is a huge treat for any power pop fan. Joining the duo on drums is Garett Goddard (Cuts, King Tuff, Personal & the Pizzas, Girls), and the great Pat Kearns mastered both tracks. The label's description of these two songs is really dead-on. A-side "(I'm) Lookin' For a Heart" hits that Nick Lowe/Eddie and the Hot Rods pub rock sweet spot with hot guitar licks and some gigantic hooks. On the flip, "She Loves Him" is a power pop ballad with the wistful jangle of Phil Seymour meets Road To Ruin era Ramones. I'm usually a pop guy, but in this case the high-energy rock n' roll of the A-side is what really has me hooked. This project is by no means intended to be the second coming of the Exploding Hearts. But listening to "(I'm) Lookin' For a Heart", it's impossible to not be reminded just a little bit of Guitar Romantic.

While Louie was out in Oakland recording with Terry, the pair actually laid down enough tracks for two singles. So this will not be the last we hear of Terry & Louie. And considering that the vinyl for this release was sold out the day it came out, it seems that a lot of people besides me are very excited about this pairing! As a longtime admirer of Terry Six's talents, I'm beyond thrilled that he's writing songs and releasing music again. I was super stoked to hear that he was teaming up with Louie. And now that the record is out, I am in no way disappointed! If you need the vinyl, I believe Bachelor Records still has some copies!