Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Return of The New Trocaderos!

It has been a year-and-a-half since The New Trocaderos released Thrills & Chills - my runaway choice for 2015 Album of the Year and legitimate nominee for album of the decade. So it goes without saying that I'm delighted to announce the arrival of the first new music from this super group in 18 months. New Trox consists of three songs from the Thrills & Chills sessions that the band had saved for the purposes of releasing as an EP. It came out yesterday as a digital-only release available from The New Trocs' Bandcamp.

I always admire bands that are willing to hold out some of their "A" material for singles and EPs, and clearly that's the case here. These aren't outtakes or odds & ends - they're top quality tracks! Kurt Baker handles lead vocals on "You Broke My Heart" - which is the the most straight-up power pop song The New Trocs have ever done. It could almost pass for a Kurt Baker solo track, but with those old school rock n' roll harmonies that this band is so known for. "Come On Girl" features Geoff Palmer on lead vocals. When he takes the mic, you know you're getting pure pop in the '60s style (I still think "Dream Girl" is the band's greatest song to date). Here he and the boys conjure the magic of the '63-'65 era Beach Boys so convincingly that it's clear he ought to be in the Beach Boys! Steve Philp (guesting on lead guitar) and Kris Rodgers (killing it always on piano) take this tune over the top with an amazing pair of solos. Finally, "The Air" is a quintessential rhythm & blues number with Baker back on vocals. This song is a fine example of why I'm such a huge fan of Chaney as a lyricist. He's so good at writing timeless love songs, but then he can turn around and write a song like this with a strong social/ecological conscience. The lyrics are clever and quite funny, but the message is dead serious. Baker - so acclaimed as a songwriter and performer but perhaps a little underrated as a pure vocalist - does an amazing job selling Chaney's call to action.

The New Trocaderos continue to be the best of pop and garage and rock n' roll all in one band. New Trox just might be the finest of their three singles so far. It's available now from Bandcamp and CD Baby for just $3. A vinyl release in the future is not out of the question, so stay tuned!


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

New music (and new tour) from Dany Laj and the Looks!

We never go very long without a great new release coming out of Montreal, and the latest is the new album from Dany Laj and The Looks. Alive & Kicking is the band's fourth release overall and second LP following 2015's Word On the Street. It arrives on the eve of a huge North American tour that should be of great interest to power pop fans in Canada and the States. I dug Laj's voice from the first time I heard it. He's the kind of singer that you just can't help rooting for, and I appreciate how he combines power pop hooks with the lyrical depth of a singer/songwriter. He's backed by a top-notch rhythm section in Jeanette Dowling and Colin Burnett. Alive & Kicking tells the story of a small town kid from Kirkland Lake, Ontario making his way to the big city and forging a life of touring and creating music. The band bio refers to his lyrics as "powerful yet unpretentious", and I must say I totally agree!

While certainly based in the hooks and the sensibilities of power pop, Alive & Kicking is an album representing many different moods and musical styles. The 1-2 punch opening this record is as impressive as any I've heard in a while. "Mister Screaming Attitude" is a driving, earnest number that brings to mind Tim/Pleased To Meet Me era Replacements. It's just so easy for me to close my eyes and feel the cold wind of a winter's day in Montreal. "Sweet Pretender" is a bigger hit than even Alexei Emelin could deliver - a radio-worthy pop/rock number that really benefits from Patrick Bennett's excellent keyboard work. It was a logical choice for a single. But don't sleep on the deeper cuts - which serve to bring variety to the album. The rocker "Planet Fun" works the groovy side of Big Star, while "Mixing A Drink" conjures the breezy pop feel of sunny California in the '70s. In a good way, "Diamond In The Rough" sounds like something I would have heard on an "alternative" radio station 20 years ago. And the band really gets to show off its chops on "Defending Champion" - a somewhat dramatic rock epic that genuinely succeeds. It sounds like it should be playing in a critical scene in a triumphant sports movie.

Alive & Kicking is a fine example of quality pop that doesn't limit itself to conventions of genre. Laj is a talented gentleman, and he has a gift for crafting songs that are relatable to almost anyone. In support of the album and the "Sweet Pretender" single, Laj and his band will embark on a long tour next week that is slated to last at least into April. Full tour dates can be found on the band's web siteAlive & Kicking releases this Friday on CD and digital download on Some Call It Pop Records. Record Centre Records will release the album on LP in the spring!


Friday, February 10, 2017

New Midnite Snaxxx album!

Surely it would be slightly premature to declare that Midnite Snaxxx has already locked up 2017 album of the year at the beginning of February. But I will say that the Oakland foursome has set the bar very high!

I've been highly touting Midnite Snaxxx since the early days of this blog. I've loved every release from this band, so it's saying something that new album Chew On This is my favorite by far. This is the first Snaxxx release to feature its current lineup (Dulcinea on guitar and vocals, Camylle on bass, Chris on guitar, and Sammy on drums), and the band has never sounded better! Camylle, playing bass in a band for the first time, sounds like she's been doing it all her life. And adding Chris (ex Loli and the Chones) on guitar has really filled out the group's sound.

Compared to the self-titled album from 2012, Chew On This sounds tighter and punchier while still retaining that same garage-punk spirit. And much to my delight, there is little if any stylistic variation between the albums. This is still the Snaxxx doing what they do best: leather-tough old style punk that worships at the altar of the Ramones and '70s power pop. That is 100% my musical sweet spot, and I can't think of a band that hits it more bang-on. With this album, you get a great mix of more ferocious tracks like "Space Invaders"/"Hey, I'm A Human" and "Quit Being A Dick" and poppier tunes such as "Found A Way To Your Heart" and "Sad To See You Go". And then there are songs like "Attitude" that are a little bit of both! The band successfully goes full-on power pop on "Why Do I?", while "Just What I Need" is the most satisfying Buzzcocks homage I've heard in years.

It's not always easy in the punk world for a band to follow a great debut LP with an even better second album. But that's exactly what Midnite Snaxxx have done. They've managed to toughen up their sound while still remembering that what matters most is delivering great songs. You can order Chew On This on vinyl straight from Pelican Pow Wow Records or buy the digital album from the Midnite Snaxxx Bandcamp page. Crank it loud, and don't be surprised when it leaves you begging for more!


Thursday, February 9, 2017

Meet The Cheap Cassettes (again)!

Many of us remain in a state of disbelief following the unforeseen event that dominated our conversations in the closing months of 2016. Can this really be happening? How did one of my favorite bands, The Cheap Cassettes, end up on Rum Bar Records, my favorite record label? Were aliens or Russians involved? I'd like to think I may have had a tiny hand in this development. But let us speak no more about the size of my hands.

Out now on Rum Bar Records is a shiny CD reissue of All Anxious, All The Time - the brilliant debut album from The Cheap Cassettes. It is a rare occurrence for me to review the same album twice. When it has happened in the past, it has usually involved me either retracting bad reviews (first High Tension Wires album) or editing down 3,000-word diatribes that no one actually read the whole way through (Exploding Hearts' Guitar Romantic). Yet here I am, for the second time, reviewing a Rum Bar Records reissue that I extensively touted upon its original release. I can neither confirm nor deny that Malibu Lou has bought this coverage by promising me first dibs on the beer cooler at Rum Bar Pancake Social 2018. But in all seriousness, All Anxious... has become one of the three or four albums of this decade that I've listened to the most. In my top ten albums of 2014 list, it inexplicably only came in at #7. Needless to say, it would probably rise to #1 if I re-wrote the list today. It holds up so well as an example of great pop married to gutsy rock n' roll. Drawing not just from the obvious genre standard-bearers but also from first wave punks (Jam, Buzzcocks) and unsung titans of the underground (Replacements, Material Issue), The Cheap Cassettes set forth a broad vision for what powerful pop ought to be. And while the quick sales pitch is that this is former Dimestore Haloes doing power pop, let us remember that the Haloes were already headed in this direction when they called it a day.

From the opening notes of the Motown-flavored shaker of a title track, All Anxious... reaffirms my longtime fondness for the formidable talents of Chaz Matthews and Kevin Parkhurst. The album was recorded over a number of years with the two bandmates collaborating long-distance. While that explains some of the unevenness in fidelity (I'm pretty sure the vocals for "My Little Twin" were recorded on the toilet with a hair brush for a microphone), it's also what gives the record much of its charm. There's a rawness here that is too often missing in today's power pop, and at the same time the songwriting is the best I've ever heard from these two. "Wreckless", which could be considered the band's own "Bastards of Young", would not have sounded out of place on the Haloes' swan song Ghosts of Saturday Night. The same thing could be said of "Good and Shitty"- a glorious shot of pop trash recalling Johnny Thunders or early 'Mats. It's really hard to pick a "hit" here since the songs are pretty much choice cuts all the way through. But there are a few I keep going back to. The aforementioned "My Little Twin" is easily one of the best songs Chaz has ever put his name on, and "Big Dumb Town" is absolutely the epitome of awesomely loud pop (good lord, that guitar solo!!!). I rarely dare to make a comparison like this, but I could totally imagine the late Jim Ellison singing "Girlfriend". And how fun is "Black Vinyl!"?!

The most surprising thing about The Cheap Cassettes' move to Rum Bar is that I don't think Chaz has ever been on a label where he didn't have the coolest hair on the roster (the whole earth bows to Kurt Baker's wavy locks). But truly I cannot imagine a more ideal fit - given the band's Boston roots and a musical style that slots perfectly between The Connection's hook-laden garage/rock n' roll and the earnest blue collar punk of Nato Coles. With the original issue of All Anxious... falling a little under the radar, now is the time for the world at large to fall in love with The Cheap Cassettes. Malibu Lou (probably wearing sunglasses and holding a stiff drink in his hand at the time) even worked his music mogul magic and persuaded the band to fortify this reissue with a previously unreleased track - a magnificent rootsy jangler called "Disappear With You". You can also look forward to a secret bonus track. Is it a Krokus cover? An instrumental played entirely on kazoo? Perhaps a musical ode to Glenn Danzig demanding French onion soup on a concert rider? You will have to find out for yourself!


Friday, February 3, 2017

New Fashionism single!

It's always a great day in my life when we get a new release from Fashionism. So that makes today a great day! "Back In The Day" is the Vancouver outfit's 4th single already - and the debut release from Neon Taste Records. I would probably describe Fashionism as the best current band to have not yet released an LP. But seriously: as long as the band keeps turning out singles this good, I will have no complaints about the absence of an album! "Back In The Day" does not disappoint in the least. It's precisely what we've come to expect from Fashionism: top-tier powerpop/punk with a palpable glam influence. And as always, the band proves to have something serious to say without taking itself too seriously. The title track opines on the sham nostalgia that plagues punk culture, while "One Shot" salutes the glories of almighty caffeine. The latter just might be my favorite of the two. It's as pop as a punk song can be, but it isn't pop-punk. Think Boys, Generation X, etc.

With four terrific singles to its credit, Fashionism is a group that everyone ought to know and love. Jeff is an ace front man and brilliant lyricist, and the band continues to be a breath of fresh air in a punk/powerpop scene that can sometimes get a little "samey". I was not even aware that a new single was forthcoming until very recently. So thank you, Fashionism, for the pleasant surprise that has made my year to this point!


Thursday, February 2, 2017

The return of Psychotic Youth!!!

So I've been buried in school work the last few weeks and just haven't had time to keep the reviews flowing. But I've got to take a moment to mention the arrival of a new album from Sweden's legendary Psychotic Youth. The Voice of Summer is the band's first new album since Stereoids was released on Bomp! Records over 18 years ago. That's right: a child born on the release date of Stereoids would now be a legal adult! I consider Stereoids to be an all-time top ten power pop LP, and The Voice of Summer is a more than worthy follow-up. Let me tell you: there's nothing more welcome in the dead of winter than an album celebrating summertime fun! This is vintage Psychotic Youth: high-energy power pop with one foot in punk and the other in garage rock. What's not to love?! The Voice of Summer is available now in Japan on Waterslide Records, with a vinyl release due soon on the venerable Screaming Apple Records. Check it out!


Monday, January 16, 2017

One Way Ticket: the debut album!

And now here's something swell from France! One Way Ticket is a Besançon-based trio that works a classic power pop style while also tipping its cap to mod and Brit-pop influences. Out on the French label Production Impossible Records, And Life Just Simply Moves Along is the band's debut album following an EP released back in 2015. The snap and jangle of "In The Upper World" and the first class Jam worship of "All Change" start off the record auspiciously, but what impresses me as the album progresses is the band's ability to slow the tempo and really let those melodies shine. "Magical Springs", "Miss Grievous", and "Finger Snap" are fine examples of power pop with an undercurrent of melancholy. And "Beside You" fully embraces the dramatic possibilities of a good ballad. This may be a funny observation, but I like hearing this style of music sung in a French accent. All in all, the band does a great job of taking tried-and-true influences and creating something that feels fresh and current and genuinely original. If you like mod/powerpop, this ought to be right up your alley. Vinyl LP releases this coming Friday!