Friday, October 21, 2016

Introducing Private Interests!

I've been quiet for a while, but I've got something really great for you today! Private Interests certainly qualify as a Twin Cities power pop super group. You may know Johnny Eggerman as the lead singer of the fantastic Mystery Date - a band I've reviewed three times for F & L. He's one of the finest and most overlooked songwriting talents of today's power pop scene, and now he has joined forces with Cam Soojian from Thee Rugs. The idea was to start a band influenced by '70s powerpop/punk/mod (Jam, Buzzcocks, etc.) with Thin Lizzy-esque harmonized guitars. Sounds like something I'd be totally into, right? Heck, yeah! Also featuring the talents of Damien Tank and Trevor Engelbrektson (lifelong pals who comprise the rhythm section of Minneapolis soul standouts Southside Desire), Private Interests formed last year and are releasing a terrific debut cassette today called Only for a Moment. With so many of these individuals having contributed to an original and exciting new wave/mod revival scene in Minneapolis/St. Paul in recent years (Tank is the co-founder of Piñata Records), it's hardly a surprise that Private Interests are in a similar vein. Eggerman's contributions to this EP do bring to mind his work with Mystery Date, but there's something really cool about having two creative forces driving this particular band. The band bio nicely sums up this effect by citing the balance between Eggerman's "Cold-War narratives and anxiously romantic lyrics" and Soojian's "pure loud-fast pop contributions". Add in Tank and Engelbrektson's well-honed R & B chops, and you've got a band that no mod-punk fan should dare miss!

The songs contained on Only for a Moment are the first six tunes that Private Interests worked on together after forming last year, and they were recorded live with Eliot Gordon at his all-analog studio in Minneapolis. Thus the excitement and energy of a new band coming together totally shines through, while at the same time the songwriting comes across as nuanced and fully realized. If you're already familiar with Mystery Date and Thee Rugs, you'll find that Private Interests retain the best elements of both bands while further establishing an identity of their own. That kick-n-the-tail rhythm section doesn't hurt either! I'm struck by how perfectly Soojian's melodic lead guitar style suits Eggerman's songs - as if these two were destined to work together. And their harmonized guitar work totally hits that late '70s/early '80s new wave sweet spot.

Private Interests have a way of reminding me of some of my favorite bands from my favorite era of music without falling into the category of copyists. They take the sounds of my youth and genuinely make them new. Seriously: when was the last time you heard of a power pop band citing mid-20th Century Russian literature as an influence? With the Cold War itself seemingly primed for a comeback, this just might be the perfect band for the moment! Only for a Moment is looking like a strong contender for best EP of the year. Cassette is out now on Forged Artifacts, and you can get a digital copy via Bandcamp for just four bucks!


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Meet Murph and the Gazorpos!

Hey, let's talk pop! I vowed to keep a close eye on Murph and the Gazorpos after hearing the Falmouth, UK band for the first time on that fantastic new Girlsville comp. When it comes to me and Murph and the Gazorpos, it was love at first listen! It's not every day that I come across power pop with enormous hooks, caffeinated punk energy, and a real rock n' roll edge. This band is on to something special! Singer/guitarist Murph is Charlie Murphy - who also plays in The Red Cords and runs Nerve Centre Records. Unbeknownst to me, the band's first EP came out in April. Arriving hot on its heels is a brand new EP called A Little Reaction - which you can currently stream over at!

With Murph's Red Cords band mate Matt Cleave along for the ride on drums, it's no surprise that Murph and the Gazorpos pack a little more oomph than is usual for a power pop band. Essentially A Little Reaction is catchy-as-hell pop bashed out with the fury and raw energy of garage punk. I can hear the influence of everyone from King Louie to Nick Lowe to Gentlemen Jesse to those numerous Good Vibrations Records greats. Leadoff track "What Do I Do" has got everything you could want in a power pop song: a melody you can whistle all day, lyrics that cut to the core of heartbreak, a beat you can't resist dancing to, and lead guitar work that would make Dave Edmunds holler in delight. And "You Did It", which I just raved about last week, gets my vote for power pop song of the year!

A Little Reaction is available from Super Fan 99 in a super-limited (only 30 copies worldwide!) 5" square vinyl and cassette bundle. Download should be available soon from the Nerve Centre Bandcamp. I think I might have a new favorite band!


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

New Low Culture album!

I would definitely consider Low Culture's 2013 debut album Screens to be the most underrated of all the great LPs issued by Dirtnap Records in recent years. Truthfully, I can't think of many better examples of the "Dirtnap sound". Listening to it over three years later, I am taken by how well it holds up and perplexed as to how it didn't make my top ten for 2013. I guess it was underrated even by me!

After a long wait, we finally get a second LP from Low Culture. It's called Places To Hide, and it's a dandy! The band, now based in Portland, Oregon, has totally knocked it out of the park with this album. Fans seeking more of the band's poppy, fuzzy, garagey punk goodness will not be disappointed by any means. But rather than rehashing its signature sound, Low Culture has chosen to build off of it. Without getting too far away from what this band does best, Places To Hide combines a tougher sound with more sophisticated songwriting and greater stylistic variety. This still sounds like a Low Culture record, but there are a few tracks that might totally surprise you as well. A lot of the lyrics are inspired by singer Chris Mason's move from New Mexico to Portland and the alienation/dissatisfaction that compelled this life change. Perhaps that sounds like heavy stuff, but I've always admired Mason's ability to pair "bummer" lyrics with music that's upbeat and hard-driving. He reminds me of Bob Mould in that respect. The feel of this album is ultimately triumphant - as Mason works through his issues and finds his way toward the light.

Places To Hide starts out in familiar territory with crowd-pleasing numbers like "Head In a Blender" and "Slave To You" rivaling the best of recent output from label mates such as Radioactivity and The Steve Adamyk Band. And "I Don't Buy It" is a shining example of pop-punk done right. But the breaks from Low Culture's signature form are no less satisfying. "Hate Me When I Go" eases off the tempo and is pretty close to a pure pop song, while the melancholic jangle of "Lonely Summer" really tugs at the heartstrings. Album closer "Shake It Off" - with its post-modern/new wave vibe - is almost completely unrecognizable as a Low Culture song. Yet it's not just there for the sake of something different. It's genuinely one of the highlights of the album - suggesting what Weezer might have sounded like if they'd come out in 1980.

With Places To Hide, we get an album from Low Culture that's somehow both poppier and harder-hitting than its predecessor. It's got enough in common with Screens to keep the fan base happy, but it's definitely a step forward for the band. Even more straight-forward tracks like "Evil" and "Take and Take" have surprising depth due to their emotional intensity and thoughtful lyrics. In every respect, this album is a classic Dirtnap release. Something tells me I won't be overlooking it come year end!


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

New from Girlsville: The Wild Angels comp!

This coming Saturday is International Cassette Store Day. As was the case last year, Girlsville is releasing an absolutely killer compilation tape to commemorate the occasion! It's called The Wild Angels - which has to be one of the coolest comp titles of all-time! At just ten songs, it's a much leaner affair than last year's 24-track blockbuster Stupid Punk Boy. But for sure, it's equally great! Being that this is Girlsville, you know you're getting a really awesome mix of garage trash, girl bands, '60s/Brit Invasion worship, and straight-up rippin' punk. And there's no filler to be found!

The Wild Angels features a number of returning favorites from Stupid Punk Boy. "I'm A Mess" is yet another unreleased scorcher from the late, great Prissteens, and I'm totally loving Purple Wizard's rendition of the Shirelles/Yardbirds standard "Putty (In Your Hands)". The Teamsters return with the spot-on '64 Kinks stylings of "Sharp Suited S.O.A.G.", while The Red Cords' "Box" is great raw punky garage with a distinctly Brit feel. The comp could have ended right there, and I would have been a happy camper. But, wait! There's more! How about the legendary Primitives (!) covering The Aislers Set's "Been Hiding"? As you'd expect, it's sheer indie pop bliss! City Slang, one of my favorite new bands of the moment, contributes the Detroit/Aussie punk face-melter "Aint the Way". And Cheap Tissue's "Up My Sleeve" is the kind of gloriously trashed-out punk rock n' roll that I just don't hear enough of these days. I was not previously familiar with Murph and the Gazorpos, but I will be following the band closely after getting totally knocked out by the infectious rockin' power pop of "You Did It". Seriously: this song makes me want to jump around like a maniac and dance until I drop! Exploding Hearts fans, lend me your ears!

If you didn't know it already, Girlsville is a label worth checking out! That Prissteens rarities comp is a must-have, and next year the label will be issuing a Purple Wizard singles collection (oh my god I can't wait!). Also be on the lookout for new stuff on Girslville from Mr. Airplane Man - who make an appearance on The Wild Angels unveiling a new tune they recorded with Greg Cartwright. If you're not a cassette person, please note that The Wild Angels is also available digitally for just seven bucks. Look for the cassette starting Saturday at fine retailers like Fond Object (Nashville), Bric A Brac Records (Chicago), Jigsaw Records (Seattle), Wax Trax Records (Denver), and Nerve Centre Records (Falmouth, UK)!


Thursday, September 29, 2016

The return of Ryan Allen And His Extra Arms!

It has been a year and a half since Ryan Allen released Heart String Soul - which has quickly become one of my two or three favorite albums of the present decade. Heart String Soul is that rare power pop record that I would recommend even to non-fans of the genre, and Allen is as fine of a singer and songwriter as I've heard in recent years. When I found out that Allen (Destroy This Place, Thunderbirds Are Now!) was coming out with a new solo album on Save Your Generation Records, of course I was delighted. And even with my expectations set sky-high, the new album Basement Punk is everything I was hoping for and more. It had to be a great challenge to top a nearly flawless album, but Ryan Allen has done exactly that!

While still very much a pop record, Basement Punk has a little bit of a different feel than its predecessor. It celebrates a wonderful and specific time in music - when the sudden mass exposure of Nirvana, etc. caused so many of us to start digging deeper into the "secret" world of college radio, independent record labels, and DIY shows in tiny venues. So enamored is Allen with the indie/alternative/college rock sound of the early '90s that he intended for Basement Punk to sound like something that would have come out of Boston's Fort Apache Studios in its heyday. That Buffalo Tom/Dinosaur Jr./Lemonheads vibe is right up my alley, and it brings back fond memories of all the great music I discovered left of the dial in my young adulthood. Opening track "Watch Me Explode" would have fit perfectly in between Husker Du and Sloan on one of the homemade comp tapes of my youth, and it's a fantastic tone-setter for an album that consistently delights. And while tracks like "Gimmie Sum More" (a throwback to classic era Soul Asylum/Goo Goo Dolls) and "Without A Doubt" (think early, punky Lemonheads) carry on in a similar vein, there's so much more going on with this album. In keeping with the '90s inspirations, Allen successfully tackles shoegaze ("Alex Whiz") and emo/post-hardcore ("Basement Punks"). The latter, a loving tribute to the late Sarah Zeidan, just might be my favorite Ryan Allen song to date. It's a perfect example of what Allen does so well as an artist: sing about his own personal experiences in such a way that the listener feels a genuine connection. "Basement Punks" is as stirring and life-affirming as music ever gets, and it sounds like it ought to be playing over the closing credits of a movie you loved so much that you didn't want to leave the theater. If being part of a local music community has ever brought joy and meaning to your life, this song will give you tingles.

Even with its wider array of musical influences, Basement Punk is ultimately the work of an exceptionally gifted craftsman of guitar pop. Allen's melodies are just so pretty, and he has this seemingly innate sense of how to make a song catchy. In "Chasing a Song", "Mal n' Ange", and the fittingly titled "Gorgeous With Guitars", Basement Punk possesses a core trio of pure pop songs that surely have Alex Chilton and Chris Bell smiling from the great beyond. And if album closer "Everything (In Moderation)" sounds like it could have been on the new Nick Piunti album, it's hardly a surprise that these two great friends are rubbing off on each other (Piunti, in fact, is very quick to credit Allen for helping make Trust Your Instincts the album that it is).

I think I became a Ryan Allen fan the very first time I heard him open his mouth. He's got a voice that makes you immediately want to root for him, and he has the courage to share deeply personal parts of himself with anyone who might be listening. Any record of his is like a novel with a likable narrator. It goes without saying that power pop fans ought to be lining up to buy Basement Punk. But again Allen has made an album that's truly for everyone, and his stories and reflections really get to the essence of what it means to be human. What Ryan Allen is above all else is a classic American singer/songwriter, and I promise not to denounce my fandom if he makes the pages of Rolling Stone and sings "Alex Whiz" on Jimmy Fallon. Order Basement Punk today from Allen's Bandcamp, and Detroit peeps can check out the album's release show tomorrow night in Ferndale!


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Back to the '90s!

I'm into a new semester at school, which means I've had to slow things down with the blog. It will probably be the end of the week before I get my next review posted. In the meantime, I wanted to share some YouTube playlists I've created that celebrate the punk rock of the '90s. It was in the '90s that I came to discover punk rock, and it was exciting to "come up" in the punk world when there were so amazing bands and labels out there. These playlists reflect what I was listening to and writing about in the mid-to-late '90s: mainly the '77 punk revival, garage-punk, street punk, and pop-punk. Through the magic of YouTube, I can again hear songs from two decades ago that I otherwise would have never heard again! It's fun to write about music, but it's even more fun to share that music with others directly. If you fondly remember the punk music of the '90s, these playlists will be an enjoyable trip back in time. And if '90s punk rock was a little before your time, you just might discover some great bands you were not aware of. There were a few bands that I wanted to include that I could not find on YouTube, but all in all I was able to dig up a whole lot of great stuff! Each playlist is devoted to a different year. There's one for 1996, one for 1997, and one for 1998. Enjoy, and let me know if there's anything I forgot!



Friday, September 23, 2016

Duck & Cover: new EP!

The last time I reviewed Boston's Duck & Cover, I stated that I was looking forward to future releases based on what were clearly some formidable songwriting chops. 20 months later, I'm happy to report that my expectations have totally been justified!

Typical of a Boston based band, Duck & Cover (ex/current The Coffin Lids, The Acro-brats, Bang Camaro, Black Cheers, Vampire Lezbos, The Throwaways, The Drags, Wild Zero) is all about THE ROCK. This is the type of band that you can count upon to plug in, play loud, and kick you in the ass with some high quality rock n' roll. What is noticeable about new EP Stuck In Decline is that everything sounds bigger. I'm talking the hooks, the production, and even the band's thunderous dual guitar attack. If the last EP was a well-executed fusion of hard rock and punk/garage, the vibe here is more along the lines of the great hooky arena rock of the '70s and '80s. "Yeah, Don't You" is an absolute blast - a big, catchy tune that just explodes with attitude and energy. As it comes on with guitars blazing and drums thumping, I envision Duck & Cover playing live and delighting crowds. "Wasted" is in a similar vein - a punchy melodic rocker that puts the power in power pop. "Touch & Go", with its epic guitar shredding and urgent vocal from Chris Brat, sounds like the ballsiest '80s hair metal song you ever heard. When the band wants to go into full-throttle, set-your-hair-on-fire rock mode ("Sheriff of Broken Jaw"), it still can. But what I'm generally hearing here is the kind of band that could make rock radio listenable again. A cover of Cheap Trick's "Way of the World" tips the cap to an obvious influence, and closing track "Out Alive" shows off the band's tender side without needing to go the cliche ballad route. Duck & Cover has everything a great rock n' roll band needs: a powerhouse lead singer, two kick-ass guitarists, a top-notch rhythm section, and killer tunes to spare!  

It's an irrefutable law of nature that there will be a ton of great rock n' roll bands in Boston at any given time.  That continues to be the case today, and Duck & Cover is one of the bands leading the way. If you like hard-rocking tunes with big hooks, Stuck In Decline is not to be missed. Get the digital album from Bandcamp, or contact the band to order a CD!