Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Introducing Hiccup!

So a decade ago, The Unlovables released Crush Boyfriend Heartbreak - a pop-punk classic and one of my 25 favorite albums ever. The equally good Heartsickle was issued in 2007 - cementing The Unlovables as A1 all-time greats of the pop-punk world. Having been wishing for an Unlovables comeback for many years, I was over the moon to discover that singer/bassist Hallie has a new band going! Based in Brooklyn, Hiccup is Hallie on bass, Alex on guitar, and Piyal on drums. The trio recently unveiled its first two official demos, and I must say that I was not disappointed! "Whatev, It's Cool" is my fave song of the 2015 so far - a perfect example of how Hallie can start with themes of heartache & betrayal and somehow end up with a tune that makes you happy to be alive. It's a minute and a half of head-bobbing bliss, and Unlovables fans will absolutely adore it! "Dad Jokes", featuring Alex and Hallie on co-lead vocals, is more in an indie pop vein but also super awesome. I know this is just a little taste of Hiccup, but I'm thinking this band is going to be something really special. Demos are a free download over at Bandcamp!


Monday, February 23, 2015

Meet Sonic Screemers!

With a lineup featuring Peter Santa Maria (Jukebox Zeros, The Thirteen) along with Jack and Bryan from The Flyswatters, Philadelphia's Sonic Screemers are a band I was sold on before I had even heard a single note of their music. And now that I have heard their music, all of my suspicions have been confirmed. Sonic Screemers are the real deal! A description like "West Coast-influenced rockin' punk and surfin' riffs with an East Coast attitude" might bring to mind a certain band that's ruling the terrain 90 miles up the turnpike. But while I could totally envision these guys going over well with Night Birds fans, Sonic Screemers have got their own sound for sure. In the way they play blistering rock n' roll at hardcore speeds, I'm reminded quite a bit of the Zero Boys. And perhaps it's just the two-track recording, but to my ears it sounds like these fellas are also huge fans of trashy garage punk. Titled simply Live Demo, the band's debut release captures the foursome in its earliest stages of existence. Essentially these are rough demos - committed to tape before Sonic Screemers had even played their first show. There's something so primitive and exciting about these tracks. It's like these guys got together and immediately knew they had something. I just love the raw energy and sheer force of these songs. "More Money, More Beer" and "No Shit!" could easily pass for tracks from a long lost Rip Off Records single. And you have to love that they open with "Theme From Repo Man"! Surely this band will completely blow my mind once they write a few more songs and get into a proper studio. But I get the feeling that people will always look back at this demo and say, "That thing was freaking awesome!"


Thursday, February 19, 2015

ZipGun Bomber!

So, I know I'm way late on this one. But occasionally I'll hear something that I missed when it first came out and realize it's too good not to share! While ZipGun Bomber's debut EP Paper Airplanes goes back a few years, it was recently issued on CD by one of my favorite labels - Rum Bar Records. So with the blessing of Rum Bar head honcho Malibu Lou, I'm still going to classify Paper Airplanes as a "new release".

Based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, ZipGun Bomber features Nate Doyle on guitar and lead vocals. A veteran of one of the more beloved pop-punk bands of recent memory (The Guts), Doyle is well established as a songwriter of considerable talent. Back in 2011, he got together with Jake Gardner and Steve Benson and formed ZipGun Bomber. I'm somewhat ashamed that Paper Airplanes has been out there for three years and I'm just now discovering it! As soon as the opening notes kicked in, I was taken right back to the sounds that first got me into punk rock twentysome years ago. Jumping off with the heartfelt & energetic "Chase That Feeling", this EP manages to recall Lookout! era Green Day in all the best ways. This band definitely belongs to that "heart-on-sleeve" category of pop-punk that was so prevalent in the early-to-mid '90s. And for sure, it's nice to hear that sort of thing still being done well today. Like all the best pop-punk singers, Doyle comes off naturally endearing. You just can't help rooting for him, and he sure knows how to pen a catchy tune! This release pretty much encapsulates what quality pop-punk is all about: good songs, tight execution, and lyrics people can relate to. And with top guys like Dean Baltulonis (recording) and Justin Perkins (mastering) involved in the production, it's not a surprise that that this EP sounds so amazing!

If my dream tour back in 1995 would have been something along the lines of Parasites/MTX/Green Day, ZipGun Bomber sounds like the up-and-coming band that might have snagged the opening slot. But what I really like about ZGB is that this is a band that proves what an enduring musical form pop-punk truly is. I'm reminded of so many great bands I adored in my 20s, but in no way does Paper Airplanes sound dated. The Guts were one of a handful of bands that kept the pop-punk scene awesome throughout the 2000s. So it makes complete sense that ZipGun Bomber is doing the same for this decade. I'd put Paper Airplanes up there with the best four or five pop-punk releases I've heard in recent years. Pop-punk fans, this is not one to miss. I should know!


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

365 days of Frankie Delmane!

Something truly extraordinary is happening over on Frankie Delmane's YouTube feed. This extremely talented songwriter - whom you may know from The Teenage Frames, the mighty Crazy Squeeze, or the Trash TV & Beyond blog - has endeavored to release a new demo for every day of this year. That's right: 365 demos in 365 days! What human being is prolific and dedicated enough to pull off such a feat?! You'd expect the average person to embark on this sort of quest, give it a go for a couple weeks, and ultimately throw in the towel when it gets "too hard". But Frankie Delmane is not the average person, and after nearly two months he looks to be in it for the long haul. While he may have entered the year with some backlog of material, completing this odyssey will require him to constantly write new songs and continually explore new styles of music. I'm blown away by his commitment to making this happen - and delighted that one of my favorite songwriters is sharing so many new creations with the world. Think about it: even if Frankie ultimately decides to scrap two-thirds of these songs, he'll still end the year with enough good material to fill TEN ALBUMS! And it's neat that he's using old TV and film footage to make actual videos for every one of these songs. This, to me, is the ideal way for an artist to use technology in today's world. You make music, put it out there for your fans to enjoy, and perhaps even educate a few people about some obscure/lesser known movies they ought to check out. If the powers that be ultimately see to it that some of these clips are taken down due to copyright/ownership issues, at least they're available now for your listening and viewing pleasure. Subscribe today and become part of something very cool!


Monday, February 16, 2015

New Miscalculations album!

So I really love '77 U.K. punk rock. I also enjoy dark post-punk and synth pop - but only when I'm in the frame of mind for that sort of thing. And that's usually like every other Tuesday between 1:00 and 3:00 PM. What I like about London's Miscalculations is that they find a way to mix all of the above into one cohesive sound that I'm always in the mood for! Miscalculations recently released their second album, A View For Glass Eyes. And just as I was anticipating, it's brilliant! Marco and Shaun continue to amaze me with their ability to craft songs reminiscent of both classic (Wire, Screamers) and contemporary (Masshysteri, Invasionen) punk greats. It's impossible not to be reminded of a certain time when this style of music thrived - say 1977-80. A View For Glass Eyes strikes me as an album that the Buzzcocks might have made under the influence of a Joy Division bender. But don't call it "retro". Miscalculations have brought the new wave fully into the 21st Century - fashioning fresh, vital music inspired by modern urban landscapes and the coldness of current times.

A View For Glass Eyes is the perfect follow-up to Miscalculations' excellent 2013 debut. It generally sticks with what worked so well last time- angular guitars, ominous and fiercely intelligent lyrics, and just enough synthesizer to create a tone. Most of the tracks are somewhere in the neighborhood of two minutes long, and the album advances the band's musical vision while still retaining the jagged punk minimalism of the last record. Essentially this is the album I wish Wire had made in 1979. Rather than abandoning punk's primal punch in favor of post-punk experimentation, it fuses the two together and adds elements of more recent Swedish hardcore. And while this album is probably even darker than its predecessor, it's also more developed in terms of hooks and pop melody. If the most sinister thing you can do in music is craft a chorus that compels you to gleefully sing along to highly unpleasant thoughts, then "Cutting Room Floor" and "Recreational Anasthesia" have to be considered master works of evil genius.

Something I really like about A View For Glass Eyes is its inclusion of two of Miscalculations' most extraordinary 7" tracks - the electro version of "Factory Life" and the absolutely chilling "Clairvoyant Stare". Given how quickly 7" vinyl sells out, there have to be quite a few fans who don't yet own these songs. More importantly, both tracks fit perfectly on this album - expertly sandwiched between the spasmodic "Alsatian" and the haunting "Pain As A Language". Clearly this is a band hitting the proverbial next level in full stride. Unnerving and beautiful at the same time, the guitar work on this album is truly stunning. And fantastic songs like "Severing The Spine Of Confidence" find Miscalculations less interested in changing their formula than they are in completely perfecting it. Still, there are clear signs of an evolving artistry. Like a nagging itch that drives you near mad, epic closer "Science In Reverse" sticks with you long after the music stops.

Due to my late discovery of Miscalculations' first LP, the band was robbed of a spot in my 2013 top ten. That will not be the case this year. Six weeks into 2015, I've got A View For Glass Eyes atop my album of the year big board. Even with formidable competition on the way, this one's going to be hard to supplant. 


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Meet 16 Ton Rockers!

When a band named after a Clash tour releases a brand-new collection of demos and calls it The Vintage Retro Tapes 1977, there's about a zero percent chance of me not being a fan! And so now we meet 16 Ton Rockers - featuring the vocal talents of one Spinx B'stard (Swindle-A-Go-Go, Salvation Star Brigade, Suicide Pact). What started as a two-man project became a full-fledged band back in November, and within a month these Swedes were ready to share some killer tunes with the world at large. Needless to say, there's more than a little Clash/Sex Pistols worship going on here. But while the sources of inspiration are pretty obvious, 16 Ton Rockers bring their own hard-rocking style to the table. For a very new band, these guys sound highly accomplished in the songwriting department. "All The Fucks" combines a nasty-edged verse with an anthemic chorus in a Professionals vein, while "Somebody Save Me" is a great mid-tempo melodic rocker a la Hanoi Rocks or early Manic Street Preachers. "Pistol A Go Go" is a salute to the Pistols and Hanoi Rocks that sounds more like vintage Clash. No complaints there. All in all, great stuff! You can stream the whole EP over at the band's Soundcloud, and let's hope there is much more to come! 


Monday, February 9, 2015

Top Ten albums of 1987

I usually do these "retro lists" to coincide with significant anniversaries: the music of 10, 20, and 30 years ago. So why am I going back 28 years to 1987? Because Travis Ramin challenged me to do so, and there's nothing I love more than a challenge! The most difficult part of this endeavor was to find enough music from 1987 that actually fits in with the musical scope of F & L. By this particular point in the '80s, most of the good hardcore bands had gone metal. Straight-up '77 punk was close to extinct. Power pop was far from thriving, and garage punk as we know it was a few years away from taking off. I knew it would be reaching to bring up, say, Guns N' Roses or Flesh For Lulu. But after significant inspection, I was able to come up with a list that affirms that '87 was a fine year for punk rock and non-mainstream music. All of these groups at least started out as punk bands. And if a few of them had evolved or widely expanded their horizons by '87, that's not necessarily a bad thing. So here we go!

10. Ramones - Halfway To Sanity
It's not without reason that the Ramones' late '80s output is much maligned. Starting with Animal Boy's ill-fated attempts at sounding current and culminating with the seemingly phoned-in Brain Drain, '86'-'89 clearly marked the irreversible decline of the greatest band that has ever existed. But to me, Halfway To Sanity was a final gasp of inspiration - and the last Ramones album truly worth buying. If not fully successful, it was at least an attempt to get back to that classic Ramones sound of yore. Sonically, the band hadn't sounded this aggressive in years. And while the album has its share of clunkers, it has its ace tracks as well. If I'm making an ultimate Ramones best-of mix, "I Wanna Live", "Weasel Face", and "Go Lil' Camaro Go" are making the cut. While not a great Ramones album, Halfway To Sanity is at least a good one.

9. Moral Crux - self titled
Moral Crux was one of those rare bands carrying the torch for '77 style punk in the mid-to-late '80s - combining the pop stylings of the Ramones and Generation X with intelligent lyrics about politics and social issues. The band would become a celebrated part of the '90s pop-punk scene, eventually signing to Ben Weasel's Panic Button Records. And while I love all of this band's albums, the self-titled debut remains one of my personal favorites. I love the way it marries catchy pop melodies to early '80s hardcore punk influences. "Kick It Over", "Strange World", "Voices Of Reaction", and "Law + Order" are classic tracks from one of the best and most criminally overlooked punk bands of the last 30 years. New 7" coming out this year on Mooster Records!

8. Fastbacks - ... And His Orchestra
While a little rougher around the edges than later Fastbacks albums, this long-awaited debut (the band had been going since 1979) is pretty close to a classic in its own right. Great poppy punk from Seattle's original alt rock sensations. Who doesn't love "Seven Days" and "K Street"?

7. Thee Mighty Caesars - Wiseblood
This was trashy garage punk before they actually had a label for such a thing. 

6. Descendents- All
This is supposedly a "lesser" Descendents album, yet it's got "Pep Talk", "Clean Sheets", and "Coolidge". That tells you a lot about the greatness of The Descendents. 

5. Husker Du - Warehouse: Songs And Stories
About the only thing I don't like about this album is that dreaded "late '80s production". I swear there was a conspiracy among recording engineers back then to make all drummers sound terrible! Otherwise, it's amazing how consistent this double LP was. Here was Husker Du coming out with their fourth album in three years, and they were not lacking for quality material. For a lot of bands these days, four albums is a career. If it's apparent that Mould and Hart were going in way different directions at this point, you can't accuse either of coming up short. Warehouse melds the adult pop leanings of the previous year's Candle Apple Grey to the buzzing melodic punk of the band's classic mid-'80s albums. All in all, not a bad way to bow out!

4. Celibate Rifles - Roman Beach Party
In the mid to late '80s, it seemed that most bands had either forgotten the roots of punk or were running away from them at full speed. But that was not the case in Australia - where Birdman and The Saints were still worshiped and Detroit rock loomed large. Celibate Rifles were equal parts Ramones and Stooges, and the hard-hitting Roman Beach Party is probably their best album. Kicking off with the scorching "Jesus On T.V.", this should have been the album that made them huge. But alas, who had any use for ferocious, intelligent rock n' roll in 1987?

3. Red Kross - Neurotica
Neurotica is one of those albums that made a modest impact in sales but an immeasurable one in influence. Here you had these legends of early '80s LA punk who had not fully outgrown their loud/fast hardcore roots. Yet into the mix, they had thrown The Beatles, KISS, and a whole array of '70s pop culture references. If you heard this album, you couldn't quite define what it was. Punk? Bubblegum? Metal? Power pop? It was a little bit of all of that, and uniquely Red Kross. Numerous alt rock and "grunge" bands in the early '90s would capitalize on the idea of mashing up punk, metal, and pop. But I'll take Neurotica over any of those bands' albums - Nevermind included!

2. Pink Lincolns - Back From The Pink Room
The classic debut album from one of the most underrated punk rock bands of all-time. These Floridians were doing snotty-as-hell three-chord punk rock when almost no one else cared to. These guys caught on in the '90s due to a close association with The Queers and Screeching Weasel. But Back From The Pink Room has just in much in common with, say, Black Flag or the Angry Samoans. "I've Got My Tie On" is pretty much the best song ever.

1. Replacements - Pleased To Meet Me
Having recently proclaimed that Tim is the best Replacements album, I'll add that Pleased To Meet Me comes a very close second. Perhaps The Replacements were never quite the same without Bob Stinson. But Paul Westerberg's incredible run of songwriting circa the mid-'80s peaks on Pleased To Meet Me. And while Jim Dickinson's production scrubs clean any last remnants of The Replacements' rough edges, the big, soaring sound is a perfect fit for these tunes. "Alex Chilton", "Can't Hardly Wait", "The  Ledge", and "Skyway" are up there with the best of the best Replacements songs. "Valentine" is one of Westerberg's most overlooked gems. And even seeming throwaways like "Shooting Dirty Pool" remind us that The Replacements were still at heart a rock n' roll band. That, sadly, would not be the case on subsequent releases. But Pleased To Meet Me, like Tim before it, is an album that justifies The Replacements' standing as the great American band of their time.

So I suppose I should start working on my 1985 list next...unless I get sidetracked by another "challenge"!