Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Stops make an album!

Self-described as "5 girls playing punk", The Stops are quickly becoming one of my favorite new bands. Set for release on Dirt Cult Records (USA) and Sabotage Records (Germany) is the debut LP from this fab Portland outfit. Nameless Faces is the name of the album, and it definitely adds to Portland's reputation as an epicenter for dark melodic punk (see also: Observers, Red Dons). The Stops are talented individuals who've cultivated a unique sound - combining the seemingly disparate influences of The Wipers, Adolescents, and early Go-Go's. They kinda come off like an American counterpart to Terrible Feelings - except they're more straight-forward punk rock and not quite as bleak. Still, if you enjoy that blend of melodic hooks and darker lyrics, The Stops are a band you won't want to miss. Lead guitarist Ruby is an absolute force. Out of the many guitarists of the moment playing in that classic Rikk Agnew style, she's one of the best I've heard. This record is loaded with top-notch guitar hooks, and they fit in perfectly with the band's songwriting style.

Sometimes bands with "darker" musical visions come off a little cold, but The Stops are not that kind of band. They're at their best on emotionally charged tracks like "Strangers" and "Wasted Excuses". These gals really nail that hard-to-attain combination of all-out urgency and more subtle ominous touches. And with its mix of fiery, lashing punk ("Repulsive") and more refined dark pop ("Another Day"), this is not an album that's going to succumb to "every song sounds the same" syndrome.

Recorded with Adam Becker at Red Lantern Studios and mastered by Daniel Husayn at North London Bomb Factory, Nameless Faces is a huge leap forward for The Stops in terms of production. But even if you dug the home-recorded sensibility of the band's demo from last year, I think you'd have to admit that the cleaner, crisper fidelity only enhances the power of this band's music. Nameless Faces is an excellent first effort from a very promising up-and-coming band. It's available for download now, and vinyl is coming soon!



Monday, July 27, 2015


I talked last month about major changes in my life leading to major changes to this blog. In exactly four weeks, I will become a college student for the second time in my life. I will be losing approximately 14 hours per week of free time. Clearly, I will not have the time to keep F & L going the way it's been going (I spend at least 3 hours per week maintaining the blog now). After pondering multiple courses of action, I have come to the conclusion that completely ending this blog would be taking it way too far. When it comes to budgeting free time, I'd much rather sacrifice a few hours of perusing Facebook or watching junk television than give up a blog that's this fun to do. And truthfully, the type of music I feature is going so strong right now that I simply can't not write about it! I mean, come on. Did I ever really believe I wasn't going to review the new albums from Night Birds and Kurt Baker?! I'm just not ready to put F & L to bed. In a worst-case scenario, I might take a brief hiatus in September to give myself a chance to acclimate to the life of a full-time employee and half-time student. 

What I've decided to do instead of killing the blog is to cut back on both the length and frequency of my posts. My attempts to start transitioning to shorter reviews this month have not been overly successful. But, you know, I'm trying. And just for the sake of my personal sanity, I will need to limit myself to only 3 or 4 reviews per month. In a way, that will be the best thing for F & L. I don't perceive of myself as an authority on music or as an exceptional writer. What I think I have going for me is a sheer love for music and a knack for expressing enthusiasm. I like the idea of getting back to my original vision of only writing about the releases that I'm most excited about. Of course, this means that I won't be able to review even half of the music that bands and labels submit to me. I apologize in advance. Please keep in mind that I'm just one guy blogging in his spare time.

So this is important: please do not send me records! I don't want anyone going to the trouble and expense of sending me physical review material when there's no way I can guarantee it will be reviewed. I do love hearing from bands and labels, but I must insist that all submissions be digital.

I thank all of you who have followed this blog over the last four years. I appreciate all the recent feedback on how I should proceed, and I am eager to continue spreading the gospel. F & L, I believe, will actually benefit from a streamlined format!


Friday, July 24, 2015

Say hello to The Furies!

Have you ever found yourself cleaning your house, and then suddenly you unearth a $20 bill that you never even knew you had? There's nothing sweeter than spending that money. It's like a gift from the gods. That's kind of how I felt recently when I was going through my old drafts. I came upon some notes I'd taken on The Furies out of Portland. I had started this review back in March. And for whatever reason, I got sidetracked. The draft literally got pushed out of sight. When I rediscovered it, I played the EP and had my mind blown. Right off, I knew this had to be my next F & L post. So here you go, world: the review that took four months to complete!

I suppose you could describe The Furies as a garage/rock n' roll/power pop super group. This band is Matt from The No Tomorrow Boys along with members of The Cry! and Youthbitch. Yeah, I know: that sounds like a band I should have written about months ago! Sometimes you put a lot of cool people into the same band, and the results end up disappointing. Well, that is definitely not the case here! The Furies' debut EP is a $4 download from Bandcamp and worth every penny. What I love about these guys is that they take inspiration from classic '60s rock n' roll yet don't sound like the typical revivalist band you've heard so many times. They have a unique sound with a lot of different dimensions to it. "Hey Little Girl" is jangly and surfy and positively mesmerizing. "Hey Mister DJ" would fit perfectly on a compilation of late '50s/early '60s heartbreak ballads. "My Rifle, My Pony, and Me" is a cover of an old western standard - performed like you've never heard it before. "Kim", which just might be my favorite song of the year, carries the torch for Buddy Holly and Bobby Fuller. That melody has been stuck in my head all week, and I couldn't be happier!

The Furies are a band that should appeal equally to oldies rock n' roll nostalgists and avid followers of today's garage/punk/powerpop scene. While they're clearly inspired by the golden age of rock n' roll, they're far from stuck in it. And they definitely hit the darker edge of garage power pop (think Stiv Bators or The Barracudas). As far as I know, The Furies don't yet have any kind of social media presence. So much about this band remains shrouded in mystery. Luckily, the music speaks for itself. Push play and discover one of the best new bands out there!



Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Meet Genuine Parts!

With so many bands today vying for the role of the modern-day Nikki and the Corvettes, I've found myself wondering who might step up to fill the shoes of The Runaways. I believe I may have found that band in Genuine Parts - a foursome out of Oakland's thriving denim and leather rock n' roll scene. The lineup is Danielle Agnew (guitar and vocals), Layla Cooper (drums and vocals), Rachel Chavez (guitar and vocals), and Analisa Six (bass and vocals). The band just played its first show in May, and a recording session with Terry Six at Tuff Break followed in June. I like to imagine these gals all rode motorcycles to the studio. Up now on Bandcamp are two official demos - and they're killer! "Never Slow Down" is great straight-forward rock n' roll with cool lyrics about a totally bad-ass chick ("Watch out boy, she'll steal your heart/Watch out boy, she'll tear you apart"). I dig the Joan Jett via Chuck Berry feel of this number, and the chorus offers words to live by. This is sounding like the next great rock n' roll anthem. That guitar solo is hot! "Wild Tonight" slows the pace and flirts with power pop tendencies. It's got a solid hook, and again the solo is gold. The theme of this song is living free and refusing to be tamed. It's a message that resonates more than ever in today's world. Why is nobody writing these kinds of songs anymore?!

While it's only two songs, this demo has me very excited about Genuine Parts. If you're a big fan of The Runaways, Girlschool, Bobbyteens, etc. or just find yourself craving some real rock n' roll, you ought to be excited too!



Monday, July 20, 2015

Here's Car Crash!

While the Japanese garage/punk scene is running hotter than ever, it has been trending more in the power pop direction in recent years. But there are exceptions. One is Car Crash - a new trio with a debut 7" out on Mangrove and Secret Mission Records. Car Crash plays pure punk rock with not even a trace of power pop. This band really takes it back to the glory days of Teengenerate and the Registrators: blown-out fidelity, a deranged singer shouting unintelligible lyrics, lead guitars sharp enough to draw blood, ultra-exuberant backing vocals, and songs played so crazy fast that you'd swear the entire band has been gobbling amphetamines like they're M&M'S. The band name says it all. This is a motor vehicle careening out of control at a highly dangerous speed - with complete destruction the inevitable outcome. And while it's impressive enough that these three can play so fast and recklessly without songs falling apart within 30 seconds, the more important point is that they're so freaking good!

If you're one of those individuals who's dismayed by how polished and proficient most punk bands are these days, Car Crash ought to be much more to your liking. This is a band that embraces one of punk rock's fundamental truths: that enthusiasm and sheer fury matter way more than technical skill. Limited to 200 copies, the "Bright Future?" 7" is blistering, chaotic fun. "Execution" and "I Don't Care" will set your hair on fire before you even know what hit you. The title track is more of a straight-up '70s style punk smasher - but with elements of weirdness & noise damage that make it uniquely Japanese. Simply put, this is exciting music. "Bright Future?" is the kind of record you just have to play with the volume cranked to neighbor-annoying levels. If you worship at the altar of Killed By Death or yearn for the heyday of Japanese lo-fi trash, this is a 100 percent mandatory purchase. Grab a copy before they're all gone!



Thursday, July 16, 2015

Radioactivity: the second album!

I've been eagerly awaiting Radioactivity's second album ever since the first one was released. Let's review: Radioactivity is Jeff Burke and Mark Ryan from The Marked Men along with Daniel Fried and Gregory Rutherford from Bad Sports. It's tempting to think of this band as a continuation of The Marked Men. But that's not quite accurate. Whereas The Marked Men is an equal creative partnership, Radioactivity is Burke's vehicle. Still, there's no denying that good things happen when he and Ryan get together to make music.

After all these years, Burke has developed a signature style as a vocalist and songwriter. What he's been doing with Radioactivity is taking that style and evolving it a little. Silent Kill, the new album, manages an ideal combination of familiarity and pleasant surprises. If you're looking for differences in this album, they're very subtle. Burke isn't trying to re-invent his approach to songwriting. Silent Kill's marriage of electrifying garage punk and tuneful power pop is straight out of the Jeff Burke/Marked Men playbook. With so many devotees and imitators out there these days, it's a pleasure to hear the master showing everyone how it's done. Scorching tracks like "Battered" and "No Alarm" provide instant gratification for anyone craving the "classic" Jeff Burke sound. The guy still knows how to sneak stellar hooks into a fast and aggressive shot of punk rock adrenaline. But it's the slower-paced songs that ultimately make the greater impression. The songwriting sensibility is melodic but not over the top "poppy". I love how Burke and co-producer Ryan were able to use the smallest touches (a haunting backing vocal here, an inventive guitar lead there) to bring a unique tone to mid-tempo pop songs like "Stripped Away" and "Where I Come From". The feel is darker and more contemplative, and it's carried off well. "Way Out" almost out-Buzzcocks the Buzzcocks!

Silent Kill is a logical successor to the first Radioactivity album. It gives you a little bit of the old and a little bit of the new. One minute it's leaning power pop, the next it's kicking up enough punk vigor to power a major city. This album throws a few bones to longtime fans, but by no means can it been written off as just another installment in the Marked Men franchise. Very often, we expect our favorite musicians to stick with what they do best yet not repeat themselves. Seems like an impossible task, eh? But that's essentially what Burke and the gang have been doing with Radioactivity. And as long as Burke continues to write songs as good as "Pretty Girl", I will eagerly await each new record. Silent Kill is a first-rate work of garage/punk/powerpop - brought to you by some guys who helped invent the genre. Get it from Dirtnap Records!



Tuesday, July 14, 2015

New Sweatshop Boys 7"!

After 20 years of doing what I do, I should have reviewed a band from Israel before today. But for whatever reason, Sweatshop Boys are the first Israeli band I've ever written about. I'm pretty sure they won't be the last! I've been hearing very good things about the state of the Israeli garage/punk scene. And if Sweatshop Boys are any indication, it seems all that talk is right on the money! Always Polite, Never Happy is the band's latest 7". And if you're a fan of the bands I typically tout on this blog, Sweatshop Boys will be right up your alley. This is a straight-up killer band - whipping out the kind of punchy, melodic sound I always go for. "No Pity In The City" brings to mind numerous Dirtnap Records standouts of recent years - splitting the difference between tuneful powerpop/punk and racing garage punk. I love the passion and feeling in the vocals. And all in all, this track is a total ripper. Hearing this song, I have to surmise that Sweatshop Boys are an absolute blast when they play live. That drummer is a beast! "Special Mood" and "Try Hard" are two more top quality shots of aggressive melodic punk, and then "Slow Dive" saves the best for last. It's a classic sounding punk rock anthem that will have you on your feet and pumping your fist like a maniac. Good luck getting that chorus out of your head! I dig the poppier '77 punk style sound, and the lyrics remind us of the futility of trying to control every aspect of our lives.

Sweatshop Boys play catchy punk rock that's fun to listen to and also lyrically profound. This is a band that has a lot to say about life and the human experience. But at the same time, its music will make you want to jump around and enjoy yourself. I'm somewhat ashamed that the band's excellent LP The Great Depression escaped my detection back in 2013. I highly recommend picking it up if you like what you hear from Always Polite, Never Happy. This is definitely one of the better up-and-coming bands in the world of garage/punk/powerpop. Sorry I'm late to the party on these guys!