Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Song premiere: The Connection - "Other Guys Girls"!

It is with great pleasure that I now premiere a brand new track from the best rock n' roll band going: the almighty Connection! Next week the band will be releasing an all-covers album titled Just For Fun on its Bandcamp page, with CD (on Rum Bar Records) and LP releases to follow in early 2017. As the title suggests, Brad and Geoff decided it would great fun to go into the studio and record covers of a bunch of songs that they love. The resulting album is an absolute blast! Among the tunes covered are the Bob Seger ripper "Get Out Of Denver", Sylvain Sylvain's "Teenage News", Cheap Trick's "Southern Girls", and the greatest rock n' roll song ever written - The Dictators' "Stay With Me" (which premiered yesterday over at New Noise Magazine). B-Face (The Queers, Groovie Ghoulies) guest stars on bass on several tracks, and legendary pop-punk producer Mass Giorgini mastered the album. Just For Fun was produced by Brad & Geoff and mixed by Mike Kennerty (The All-American Rejects). I'll post a full review after the album releases, but right now you can check out The Connection's smoking hot rendition of the Dave Edmunds favorite "Other Guys Girls". Turn it up and enjoy!


Thursday, December 1, 2016

Drakulas: the debut album!

So the immensely-anticipated debut album from Drakulas has arrived, and it leaves no doubt as to why all of that anticipation was so immense! Drakulas are a garage/punk super group featuring the likes of Mike Wiebe and Rob Marchant from Riverboat Gamblers and Zach Blair from Rise Against. The band's debut album Raw Wave is out on Dirtnap Records, and it's another stellar addition the "Texas branch" of this venerable label.

While there's no doubt that fans of Marked Men, High Tension Wires, etc. will go completely nuts for Raw Wave, this is truly a release unlike anything else Dirtnap has ever issued. The sound is new wave meets garage punk meets power pop meets post-punk, and lyrically the songs come together to create what is essentially a work of high concept fiction. The story is set in an imaginary metropolis of the recent past that brings to mind the seedy 1970s Times Square - a domain of pimps, prostitutes, pornographers, gangs, street preachers, and addicts. Each song advances the narrative from the point of view of a different character. The title of the album refers to a period of time when the arrival of new analog technology loomed large in this world. Yet even with all of this literary ambition, the music never gets bogged down in pretense or grandeur. This is some seriously catchy stuff! Even if you weren't paying attention enough to realize that Raw Wave is a concept album, you could still delight in the record's pulse-raising mix of late '70s punk/new wave and more modern variations of garage and punk. The feel of the songs varies from the punchy, almost Dickies-ish rush of "Getting Out" to the futuristic menace of "BetaMax" to the dizzying frenzy of "Headphones/Slit Throats" to the angular oddness of "VHS" to the pure poppy punk of "Stepping On Glass". Drakulas really succeed at drawing from a number of stylistic influences and putting it all together to create someone that feels genuinely fresh. This is a rare case where a punk band manages to do something "different" without straying from the most satisfying elements of the genre. You can sit down with Raw Wave and absorb yourself in the story, or you could enjoy any of these tracks in complete isolation from the larger work. Either way, this is the best thing that Dirtnap has released in quite a while. One of the year's best!


Monday, November 28, 2016

It's a Vista Blue Christmas!

This has very much been the year of Vista Blue. The band has released an incredible eight digital EPs in 2016 - including special theme releases for Halloween, the Summer Olympics, the fall, and the opening day of baseball season. So it's no surprise that VB's last release of the year is a Christmas EP. And there's a story to go with it. Lead singer Mike teams up with some musician pals every year, and they record a bunch of holiday-themed songs - essentially creating an annual audio Christmas card that can be shared with friends and family. This tradition has been going on for 16 years and counting. Check It Twice, the new Vista Blue EP, consists of updated versions of songs Mike originally wrote for these Christmas comps between 2012 and 2014. How hot off the presses is this thing? So hot that four of the five tracks were just recorded this month!

Check It Twice again retains all of the signatures of a Vista Blue release. The sound is still textbook pop-punk leaning power pop, with lyrics showing great heart and wit. "Dreaming of the Right Christmas" is a Christmas tune in a truly classic mold - suitable even to those with zero attachment to pop-punk music. It's just so warm and tuneful - with a sweetness to it that really gets to the heart of what the holidays are truly about. A joyful Christmas is always more about who you get to spend it with than it is about what you can afford to buy. "Bobby Kringle" is a buzzing number about an ironically-named hater of all things Christmas, while "I Got Nothing For You" confronts the horrifying realization that one has neglected to purchase a present for a certain special someone. Speaking of horror, "My Zombie Christmas Song" is exactly what the title promises. Finally, "A '90s Kind of Christmas" is a Dr. Frank-ish acoustic number chock full of pop cultural references from two decades ago. Mike's talents as a writer have really been shining on recent VB releases, and that continues to be the case here!

To me, it's just awesome that Vista Blue has gone to the trouble and expense of making so much of its music available for free this year. Check It Twice is yet another name-your-price download over at Bandcamp, and there's lots more where that came from if you enjoy these songs. Even if you've had to write off 2016 as a shit year, Vista Blue has ensured that it hasn't been all bad.


Friday, November 25, 2016

The Connection's A Christmas Gift For: out today on vinyl!

It has already been two years since I hailed The Connection's A Christmas Gift For as "literally the best Christmas album in 40 years". I fully stand by that statement, and I am pleased to announce that this instant seasonal classic is now out on vinyl in conjunction with Record Store Day Black Friday. It's available starting today at participating record stores on opaque red & green vinyl - limited to 400 copies worldwide! Check the Rum Bar Facebook page for a partial list of stores that are carrying this release!

If you're not a record collector but still want to own a fantastic rock n' roll Christmas record, A Christmas Gift For is still available from the Rum Bar Records Bandcamp on CD or download for just ten bucks. Rum Bar, in fact, is having a top shelf Black Friday sale on all of its fine releases via Bandcamp. Enter the code #blackfriday at checkout, and you'll get a 20% discount!

Let the holiday season begin! 


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Hunters: the debut album!

I'm always game for a really great pure rock n' roll record, so the debut album from Hunters is totally hitting the spot for me. With Hunters emerging from the streets of Helsinki and wearing the influence of early rock n' roll, '70s punk, and golden era glam rock on their sleeves, most people will be quick to make  a comparison to Hanoi Rocks. And while that's not off the mark at all, I'd say Hunters are more of a straight-ahead rock n' roll band with catchy, fist-pumping choruses. The album is called Dead End, and it was released earlier this year by the Finnish label Stupido Records. Glunk Records has just made it available from its web store, so this is a great opportunity for my friends in the U.K. to score a real belter of an LP!

Kicking off with the punky/glammy rockin' title track, Dead End wastes no time getting down to business. This is a band that's about the rock and the roll - with smokin' guitars and big hooks at every turn. For sure, Hunters have stacked this record with hits! "Radio" delivers a sing-along chorus worth its weight in gold, and "Tribute" is as exuberant and life-affirming as rock n' roll gets. "Before You" is infectious girl group pop sauntering through a New York Dolls back alley, while "Crackdown" has a grimy Dead Boys feel with just the right amount of saxophone. And while "Get Wrecked" will do nothing to discourage the "street rock" label often placed upon this band, the true spirit of Hunters is found in the '50s rock n' roll frenzy of anthemic album closer "We're Alright". Now that is a rousing number!

Every so often, we are treated to one of those records that reminds us that rock n' roll is still king. The debut album from Hunters is one such release. No advancements or innovations in modern music can ever replace the sheer glory of those triumphant, primitive sounds that implore us to dance around wildly, sing along at the tops of our lungs, and just have fun being alive. And while Hunters naturally impress in the attitude and taste departments, their talent for quality songwriting should not be underestimated either. They are major up-and-comers in the world of below-ground rock n' roll. In yet another stellar year for punk/glam/rock n' roll LPs, Dead End is one of the very best.


Monday, November 14, 2016

Holy crap: a new Ergs 7"!!!

Did you witness the wildness and sheer ecstasy of Chicago Cubs fans celebrating their World Series victory? That would give you an idea of how I behaved when a brand-new Ergs record showed up in my mailbox last week. The neighbors are still looking at me funny. 

I must have reviewed The Ergs at least ten times between 2000 and 2007, and I can't think of a band I loved more in that first decade of the millennium. It has now been eight years since the band called it a day, and you could say we have the demise of The Ergs to thank for some of the best music of recent times (Night Birds, Black Wine, solo Mikey Erg). Even so, I'd be lying if I said I haven't missed The Ergs. In conjunction with a reunion show recently performed at The Fest 15, The Ergs got together earlier this year and secretly recorded a new record! It's out on vinyl on Whoa Oh Records – the label that gave us the band's debut 7" and LP way back when. And while I'm happy that Goddamn Death Dedication exists at all, I'm even happier that it's a great Ergs record. You can tell that the guys really took the task of making one last EP seriously (while still refusing to take themselves seriously, which is their ultimate appeal). Each band member brought a top-notch original song to the table, and an avant garde meets noise rock cover of The Knack's "My Sharona" is the sort of rock nerd inside joke that has always endeared this band to me.

Leadoff track "Depot Avenue" is vintage Ergs all the way - amazing pop-punk with a wonderfully wistful/melancholic vocal from Mike and the usual ace guitar work from Jeff. Nobody writes or sings this sort of song better than Mikey Erg - who so convincingly represents every dude who's ever loved and lost. If you wonder how he's found time to amass such extensive relationship experience while also playing in over 400 bands, well that is a mystery that some of our most brilliant physicists have been trying in vain to crack. The Joe-penned "September/October" is hard-driving and catchy as hell- bringing to mind later SST era Husker Du if they'd gone full-on pop-punk. If I were forced to name my favorite track on the record, this would be it. "Everybody loves the new car smell/But I think the lease is up as far as I can tell" is the best lyrical couplet of the year. "Walk Against the Parade" again demonstrates what a fantastic lyricist and hugely underrated songwriter Jeff is. It's such a straight-forward, satisfying punk tune - yet incredibly profound as well. Whether you think of "No Sharona" as a mere exercise in comedy or a true triumph of interpretation, there's no denying that you haven't heard anything like it before. Think turn-of-the-'80s Manhattan no wave meets the screeching rage of Nirvana at its most dissonant - somehow applied to one of the most ubiquitous pop hits that Western civilization has ever known. I consider myself a huge fan "My Sharona" and have even been known to get into fist fights with individuals who think it's amusing to enjoy it "ironically". I can appreciate that The Ergs picked this song for transformation because they realize how awesome it is.

Given how many years it has been since The Ergs disbanded, it's probable that the band would be unknown to at least a small percentage of people who currently follow punk rock. And I really think that if you've never heard The Ergs before, Goddamn Death Dedication is as good of a place as any to start. This is not the work of a once-great band phoning it in just for the sake of delivering product. And although all of these guys have grown immensely as musicians and artists over the years, when they get together they still sound like The Ergs. Hearing the goofy banter at the beginning of "Depot Avenue", I'm taken by how little The Ergs ever changed in spirit from their earliest days. The records got better and crowds got bigger. But to the end, The Ergs were three music geeks playing pop-punk with heart and humor. For all of the fans who've been eagerly awaiting Goddamn Death Dedication for months, I guarantee that you won't be disappointed. It's an A-caliber Ergs release. If this is the last we ever hear from the band, I can't think of a better way to bow out. I can happily tell you that this is not the last Ergs review I'll ever write. More on that in a week or two!

You can order Goddamn Death Dedication via The Ergs' Bandcamp or the Whoa Oh Records web site.  The Whoa Oh web site has the entire label discography available for streaming, so check it out and dig into some of the finest pop-punk records of the last decade and a half!


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Some new old stuff from Night Birds!

I'm a bit embarrassed that I'm a month late getting to this review. Come on, it's the freaking Night Birds! I would not blame the band for declining to make a donation in my name to The Human Fund this Christmas. But late or not, this post is well worth your attention! If you're a huge fan of Night Birds (and who isn't?!), you really need to get your hands on the band's recently released collection of early demos. Titled Who Killed Mike Hunchback?, this is actually the second in a series of original demos released by Fat Wreck Chords. The obvious point of comparison is the Black Flag '82 Demos bootleg - which a lot of fans consider to be superior to the proper releases those songs would later appear on. And while no one's complaining about how these particular Night Birds songs turned out on record (five of them ended up on the first LP, and "Thrilling Murder" appeared on the band's self-titled 7"), these demos rip so hard that it would have been a shame if they'd never been released! The case could be made for A-side cuts "Demon Haunted World", "One Eye", and "Oblivious" being at least as good as the later studio versions. And it's fascinating to hear former guitarist Mike Hunchback serve as a one-man band on rough demo versions of classic NB tracks "Born Of Man and Woman" and "Thrilling Murder". This release is an incredible treat for fans, who should quickly go about securing one of the 1500 limited copies. Yet if this was somehow your first time hearing Night Birds, you'd immediately appreciate what a ferocious and fantastic band this is. Seriously: hearing these demos takes me back to the very first time I heard Night Birds and how instantly blown away I was. Get Who Killed Mike Hunchback via Night Birds' Bandcamp or directly from Fat Wreck!