Fresh are a four-piece indie-pop-punk band from London that have been around for a few years now and Withdraw is their second LP, following 2017’s S/T record. Fresh’s form of self-analytical and heart-on-sleeve indie/pop-punk crossover has been thriving in the UK in the last few years; it’s dynamic and evolving, too. Fresh play the kind of relatable melodic sound that bands like Martha, Colour Me Wednesday or Muncie Girls have excelled at recently. It’s honest, sincere and confessional guitar pop, in the best ways.

For me, Withdraw is a significantly improved effort from Fresh, being more consistent, coherent and confident than its predecessor. I enjoyed that first LP but its inconsistency was frustrating at times. There remains a little bit of filler on Withdraw but to be honest, I seem to get more and more into this record every time I hear it, so in 2 months time, I might well think every second of it is gold! What’s more, the parts where I zone out a little bit are massively outweighed by the glorious highs across Withdraw: notably, the toe-tapping lead guitars and hook-filled pop-punk of “Brighton” that is reminiscent of Colour Me Wednesday or Happy Accidents at their best, the impassioned indie rock plea of “Willa”, the bounce-y, keyboard-driven and heart-string-pulling of “New Girl” and, of course, the piece de resistance, the fiery and cathartic anthem “Revenge”, leaving listeners with the message “I am valued/I am loved/I will get revenge on everyone who’s done me wrong”, in what feels like the album closer in many ways.

Lead singer and Fresh lyricist Kathryn Woods has written a dynamic, inventive and engrossing record that is intimate and personal in the same way that Waxahatchee and Lemuria records are (and all the best records, right?). It captures many of the everyday complexities of dealing with both vulnerability and empowerment. The songwriting shifts between these two states of being with ease, allowing us as the listeners to fully appreciate the ways in which feelings around the two are intricately interwoven. “No Thanks” is a great example of this, with Kathryn beginning the track confessing “Woke up last night with tears in my eyes/ because I am fundamentally unlovable”, but later fervently putting forward “Despite what you might think, I’m not a baby bird with a broken wing for you to heal” and “I am fire and light / I am fine on my own / I am everything and nothing all at once”. The songwriting is somewhat emo influenced (the band’s love of emo established on a track from the previous), with the melodramatic lyrical and melodic shifts reminding me a bit of Brand New and the indie-pop-punk-emo combo recalling Muncie Girls.

There are notable moments on the record which are simultaneously forthright and reflective of vulnerability, like “I just want to be acknowledged please” on “Willa” or the aforementioned call for revenge (on, yep, “Revenge”). There is also a great line on “Willa” which offers an alternative interpretation at dealing with the vulnerability of putting your voice/music out there: “when I’m on stage, I feel safe, you can’t hurt me up here”. “Nothing” is definitely the most stripped-back song on Withdraw, where, over an acoustic guitar and xylophone, Kathyrn proclaims that “Every day I tell myself that I am nothing”. The euphoric line that follows in “revenge” about being valued and loved feels like a motto to live by and a way to counter these multifaceted vulnerabilities.

Check it out here: https://freshpunks.bandcamp.com/

DB

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Having never heard of Adult Magic previously, I went into this review blind, which is always exciting. For those unaware, as I was, Adult Magic is one of the most recent bands to form in the well-established DIY punk scene in Long Island, part of the family tree of bands such as Iron Chic, Sister Kisser, Crow Bait and Get Bent (and featuring members of these). Get Bent were great and I know Iron Chic’s stuff pretty well, so the debut album from Adult Magic is not at all what I expected. Their sound is somewhat gritty and lo-fi (although not overly so), but Adult Magic is much closer to mid-90s alt-rock than to mid-00s gruff-punk. Essentially, the band plays mid-tempo, hook-filled and heart-on-sleeve indie-rock, the likes of which you might have heard on alternative radio 20 years ago. And it’s fucking great!

Adult Magic’s songwriting and melodic leanings suggest great indie bands of the ‘90s like Sugar, Superchunk and Pavement. I hear a lot of Weakerthans in the way that the band’s songs have been composed and in some of the lyrics, too. In particular, those verses in “Popcorn” have John K. Samson’s fingers all over it. I love the gang vocal melodies used by Adult Magic; it really makes a good chorus great and is what I used to enjoy a bunch in bands like Cheap Girls or The Ambulars (RIP). Some of the melodies in the choruses remind me a fair bit of The Creeps’ recent stuff, too. There are a bunch of absolutely killer choruses on this record: “Thru it All”, “Achin’” and “Savor” are all hits, hits, hits. The latter “Savor” comes straight from the heart and is a great demonstration of how to write emotive, sincere music, without being corny or whiny: “how will I make it when you’re gone?”. That track has echoes of the grit and angst of the mighty Jets to Brazil. Some of the opening guitars elsewhere (I’m thinking “Always” and “Many Moons Ago”) sound distinctly JTB-esque, but there is a broader JTB vibe across the whole record I guess. Incidentally, it is one of those tracks “Many Moons Ago” which, while starting like it is a missing track from Orange Rhyming Dictionary, ends up sounding like the ‘punkiest’ track and a standout on the record. It’s got these wonderfully gritty vocals and a super-uplifting and fist-pumping chorus that all make me want to dance around like an idiot in a basement somewhere. I say ‘uplifting’, but it’s clearly an angry and heart-broken track; that kind of speaks to the record as a whole though that hides much of its angst behind restraint and hooks to die for.

There aren’t many bands that can do the ‘90s alt-revival thing very well and without making it sound like a pointless exercise in grave-digging, but add Adult Magic to that golden list of exceptions. Go Long Island!

Check it out here: https://adultmagic.bandcamp.com/album/adult-magic-2

DB

‘Okinawan Love Songs’ is the follow-up EP to last year’s debut full-length from Ogikubo Station, the musical project formed between Mike Park (he of Asian Man Records and many other musical escapades) and Maura Weaver (of Mixtapes). Dan Andriano also plays bass on this EP. I’ve got to say, this is the first time I’ve properly sat down and listened to an Ogikubo Station release (I somehow let the previous two releases pass me by), and yep, I’ve slept on something else. The melodies on the Okinawan Love Songs EP are pretty great. I can’t resist some good ol’ boy-girl dual vocals and these two have got it down to a tee.

Ogikubo Station play broadly what can be categorised as indie-pop, I guess, and from what I’ve heard, this largely sounds like a continuation of their last LP. Maura largely leads on vocals on here, with Mike joining for the choruses or as backing vocals here and there. Their vocals work wonderfully together and there is a ton of heart on these well-written tracks. Ogikubo Station have the melodic sensibilities and charm of indie-pop bands like Lemuria, Alvvays and Best Coast. I particularly hear the latter on the opening track “Would I Break My Heart Enough For You” which is very well-constructed, upbeat and summer-y. I say ‘summer-y’ in the same way that Best Coast evoke California in their melodies. The hooks in the chorus have something of a Martha feel to them, which is always a huge compliment. “Spend Some Time With Me” slows things down and is a little less memorable. It is a decent slice of twee and love-struck indie-pop that is reminiscent of She & Him a little. The last ‘bonus’ track is a cover of They Might Be Giants’ “Dr. Worm” and is maybe my favourite from the EP. Ogikubo Station retain the lo-fi charm of the original, having recorded the song as if on an old tinny transistor radio. Come on, try to get this out of your head: “They call me Dr. Worm/ Good morning, how are you? I’m Dr. Worm/ I’m interested in things, I’m not a real doctor/ But I am a real worm, I am an actual worm, I live like a worm”. So good!

Check it out here: https://asianmanrecords.bandcamp.com/album/okinawan-love-songs

DB

Rene’s Picks

1996 was the year I turned seven. I had a birthday party with my new class. A party which ended with me puking all over the table because of all the custard my lactose intolerant body had taken in. I also got an angry note from a girl who wasn’t invited. The note taught me most of the cursewords I know to this day. I wasn’t the coolest kid in class after that party, but I found out about my own lactose intolerance. Earlier this year (1996) I went to the Canary Islands for the first time. I went to Bahia Feliz in Gran Canaria, a little place there was made a Scandinavian comedy movie called Viva Villaveien. A movie that amused me a lot after getting home. I have no idea if I would find it funny today. I also remember going to the bank before the trip and it was before Easter and they gave me a free t-shirt. This was the year the Spice Girls released their debut Spice, even if I didn’t hear them until 1997 when I bought it and the Space Jam soundtrack only to return both a week later because I only liked one song on each of the albums. The albums I have picked for this year were Weezer’s Pinkerton, Less than Jake’s Losing Streak and NOFX’s Heavy Petting Zoo.

Weezer– Pinkerton

I remember getting this CD a few day after Christmas 2006, ten years after it was released, and now it’s like 13 years ago, jeez time flies, and I also got Maladroit the same day, or at least the same week. I think I returned some CDs that I got two of for Christmas and I ended up with two Weezer Cds instead. I remember listening to it in the car from the mall and being disappointed. I didn’t like the two first songs “Tired of Sex” and “Getchoo” at all, and I still don’t like “Getchoo” that much. After that, I went from awe to confusion over the album. “Across the Sea” starts with an awkward verse about a young girl from Japan, and it was beautiful and creepy at the same time. For some reason it’s a song that gets better and better, not only for each time you hear it, but verse by verse. The last verse is such a climatic experience right after Rivers’s weird and beautiful bridge about shaving his head and becoming a monk. Many of the songs on the album are about Japenese women, like “El Sorcho”. This is because it’s heavily inspired by the Puccini opera Madama Butterfly. The opera is about a US naval officer named Pinkerton that goes to Japan to marry his girl with the name Cioci-San (meaning Butterfly in Japanese). The album has grown on me a lot since I first heard it, songs like “Why Bother”, a pop punk classic and “Pink Triangle”, a song about finding out your love interest is a lesbian and “Falling for You” are the three best songs on the album. The latter gets stuck in my head for days after I’ve heard it.“The Good Life” is also quite catchy! The album ends with “Butterfly”, a fragile, extremely creepy and beautiful acoustic ballad about accidently killing a butterfly. In the context of Madama Butterfly, it becomes even stronger and creepier. Pinkerton was released September 24 1996 on DGC. Peaked at #17 on the Billboard top 200.

Less Than Jake- Losing Streak

I also got Less Than Jake’s Losing Streak in 2006. This time in Berlin, it was a double CD with Hello Rockview that was released on Golf records. The original Losing Streak was released on Capitol Records on November 12 1996, and was their major label debut. I also think it’s their best album and possibly the best ska-punk album that exists along with Energy by Operation Ivy. It has a rawness to it that works perfectly, and the songs are incredibly catchy and I think Vinnie Florello wrote his best lyrics for this album and when he fully started writing ambivalent lyrics about his hometown and leaving, something that would be his main topic for years to come. The first LTJ song I ever heard was “Automatic” and it opens the album. I think it’s a very strong opener, and it is introduced by the band’s mascot; The old dude: Howie J. Reynolds. It’s followed by the double trouble of “Happyman” and “9th at Pine”, and what songs those are! They just don’t make them like that anymore. Other great songs are “Never Going Back to New Jersey” and “Just Like Frank”. The former with its intro which samples the New Jersey state song and catchy chorus and the latter which is just catchiness all the way through. There isn’t really a bad song on this album. They also made a music video for the song “Dopeman”, but MTV refused to play it. It reached #18 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart.

NOFX- Heavy Petting Zoo

Heavy Petting Zoo (or Eating Lamb as the vinyl version is called) was released on Fat Mike’s 29th birthday; January 31 1996 on Epitaph Records. It was the first NOFX studio album that reached the Billboard top 200, it peaked at the #63. The live album I Heard They Suck Live was the first NOFX album to enter the chart at #198 the year before. The album is known for its shocking album cover(s) and the rumor has it that a record store in Belgium was closed down because they had posters of the album. The vinyl version was also banned in Germany because of the beastiality on the cover (a man 69ing a lamb). Ironically, the only place I have ever seen Eating Lamb in a store was in Germany. Even at 14, before hearing a song from it, the HPZ cd-cover fascinated me. The album insert is also fantastic. Where you have lots of naked people (one of them NOFX’s Manager Kent) and hippies and homeless people and a cute valentine’s card with the lyrics of “Whatever Didi Wants”; a pop punk number parodying the sterotypical love songs like “500 Miles (I’m Gonna Be) by the Proclaimers, but someone listing all the things they wouldn’t do for their crush Didi. Themes on the album are being homeless (“Hobophbic” and “Freedom Like a Shopping Cart”), capitalism (“Freedom Like a Shopping Cart”, “Philthy Phil Philantropist” and“Bleeding Heart Disease”), sexuality (“Hot Dog in a Hallway”, “Release the Hostages”, “Liza” (part two of the Liza and Loise trilogy), “Love Story” and “Black and White”) and kids today (“What the Matter with the Kids Today?”). Fat Mike’s lyrics are as thought provoking as they are brilliant and disturbing. At 15, these lyrics would touch me like the man on the cover touches the sheep. Damn, nevermind I just wrote that. “Love Story” tells the story of, what to me, seems like a suicide committed by a woman who knows her husband is having an affair. She wants to remain ignorant of her husband cheating on her, but she also wants her husband to pay attention to her, but he doesn’t seem to. I don’t know if the following song “Black and White”’s first and third verse is a continuation of “Love Story”, but it’s about the closet homosexual Mr. McCarthy who doesn’t love his wife, but the black and white smalltown views makes it impossible for him to be himself and she has no consideration for his sexual orientation. If the two songs actually are related, it makes it all even darker, as the woman in the song would rather die than living with marrying a gay man. The second verse of “Black and White” takes up the issue of pornography, but in a harsher way than “Lori Meyers” and “Vanilla Sex”. Fat Mike sings that anti porn feminists like Andrea Dworkin and Catherine McKinnan need “a good hard fuck” and pretty much just reinforces the misogynist attitude that those women tried to fight, agree with them or not. The overall message of the song seems to be that women with their black and white views oppress men’s sexuality. A song that hasn’t really aged well.

The last two songs on the album; “August 8th” and “Drop the World” are possibly the best. “August 8th” is apparently a song about the death of Jerry Garcia. I don’t know why Fat Mike seemed so stoked that Mr Hippie was dead, but the song is one of the cheeriest and most optimistic songs I know, regardless of subject matter. “Drop the World” is about two people that want to excel in sports and academia and use drugs to help them. A song about the ruthlessness of competition and how strieving to be the best takes its toll on human beings. Compared to Punk in Drublic, that came out two years earlier, Heavy Petting Zoo is a much more experimental album and sometimes more alternative rock than punk rock and added to the usual guitar, drums, bass and trumpet, there was a xylophone on “Philthy Phil Pilantropist”. This was also the album where I think the harmonies between El Hefe and Fat Mikes are the best and also the album where I think Smelly’s drumming stands out the most. Melvin is doing a great job too! Everyone in NOFX did a great job here!

Dave’s Picks

Descendents- Everything Sucks

The comeback albums to beat all other comeback albums. Yep, that’s right: Everything Sucks, a ‘90s pop-punk classic if there ever was one. Although I obviously didn’t hear the record when it came out, I still heard it quite a while after listening to the ‘80s material, so I kind of got some of the sense of what it might have been like hearing it as a ‘comeback record’. While Milo was invested in academia, punk rockers were left with All (the band formed by Bill Stevenson, Stephen Egerton and Karl Alvarez), which were fine, I guess, but when Everything Sucks was released, it must have felt like the pop-punk scene had had rocket fuel lit up its behind.

While Everything Sucks largely offered a healthy dose of the Descendents’ best party tricks, it marked a period of the band in which their sound was less gritty, more melodic and had cleaner production values. The band was as angsty as ever, continuing to sing about alienation, not getting the girl and everyday blues, but now it was more focused and tightly written. The silliness was retained (see: “Eunuch Boy”), but here Milo was singing about the multifaceted trappings and annoyances of a 30-something and coming face to face with ‘growing up’.

I guess what I like most about Everything Sucks are the changes in tempo, shifting from those hook-filled, mid-tempo ‘ballads’ to the faster, angrier material. My favourites are among those like “We”, “Thank You” or “I Won’t Let Me”, where Descendents found a new depth of both melodic licks and sincerity. For all the angst, Milo was hopeful, with a straight face. These work great alongside the pissed-off and gritty tracks like “Doghouse” or “This Place”. An album full of either styles may be overbearing, but a mix of the two feels just right. There are missteps on the record, of course: “Caught” is immediately gratifying as a teenager, but doesn’t hold up over time, while “I’m the One” was the first track I heard off the record, but is largely just a boring rehash of feelings that Milo had already expressed in 1982.

It is hard for me to say what my favourite Descendents record is. I Don’t Want to Grow Up has to be up there and while Milo Goes to College is less and less appealling over the years, it still has some of their best songs. But if I was pressed on the matter, I would have to say Everything Sucks, as it feels like their most complete and coherent record.

Screeching Weasel- Bark Like a Dog

I have always had a soft spot for Bark Like a Dog (aka, ‘and out come the chihuahuas’), even though I can understand why fans of classic, Lookout!-era ‘Weasel may be put off. It was one of the first ‘Weasel records I heard, after My Brain Hurts, Wiggle and Anthem’. I was instantly hooked in, digging the bratty vocals, woah-ohs and the use of keyboards (particularly on Cool Kids and First Day of Summer). Weasel’s first on Fat Wreck, it definitely felt like a notable shift in sound from 1994’s How to Make Enemies and Irritate People. It was certainly their most polished and slickest at this point, with the recording style of this record distinct from anything else Weasel have released really.

In terms of both production values and songwriting, Bark Like a Dog is more Ramones-y and closer in style to the Riverdales, unsurpising given that the Riverdales had released their debut record only the previous year. Bark Like a Dog came out after Weasel’s second break-up and revived their classic line-up of Ben, Dan Vapid and Panic and Jughead (and it was to be the last time that this line-up would record together), and this shows in the quality of the songwriting. I’m usually more interested in Ben’s less overtly Ramones-y material, but they largely put together a great collection of songs here, a bunch of well-written and memorable pop songs.

Highlights? Definitely “First Day of Summer”. “You Blister My Paint” and “You’ll Be in My Dreams” are genre classics, with the latter having back-up vocals to die for. Indeed, the back-up vocals are a joy throughout. Weasel sped things up on tracks like “ (She Got) Electroshocked) ”, but noticeably slowed things down on ‘ballads’ “It’s Not Enough” and “Your Name is Tattooed on My Heart”. All of the tracks are generally super melodic and earworm-y, but if there is a criticism, it is that, tonally, the record feels a little ‘one-note’ or same-y compared to Weasel’s previous material, in terms of recording style, songwriting and downstrokes. I mean, when the ‘note’ is this good, who cares, right? But it does mean that the band doesn’t reach the heights of their earlier output. Having said that, Bark Like a Dog is arguably the band’s last great record.

The Mr. T. Experience- Love is Dead

For the third spot, I could have chosen one of many records (basically any of the ‘also’ list below). 1996 was probably the toughest year so far in picking out three of the best. In terms of meaningfulness and nostalgia (which this column is indebted to), it should really be Losing Streak, but I will be talking at length about Less Than Jake in 1998’s column, so the next in line really was The Mr. T Experience’s sixth album Love is Dead.

As you can tell from this list, this was pop-punk’s golden age and one of its central components was Dr. Frank’s unique songwriting ability and way with words. Love is Dead is not my favourite of MTX, not even top 3, but due to its immediacy and hooks, it was one of the band’s first that I really, really enjoyed (a natural next step after Revenge is Sweet). The record feels spunkier, more in your face and more vibrant than MTX previously had; Love is Dead is an unrelenting hit-fest, a barrage of ear-worm melodies and quotable lyrics. It contains some of their best songs, such as “Semi-Ok”, “Sackcloth and Ashes”, “The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be” and “I Just Wanna Do It With You” (which would feature on the soundtrack to the movie Glory Daze that year). Dr. Frank’s lyric writing abilities were basically legendary by this point and on Love is Dead, he wrote incisively and relatably about relationship breakdown, self-doubt and existing on the outskirts of the pop-punk mainstream explosion in his ‘dumb little band’. One of my favourite lyrics on this record is one which perfectly exhibits Dr. Frank’s part-charming and part-self-deprecating approach to songwriting: “I’m just a simple man who you could do much better than/ Still I ask respectfully, will you waste your life with me?”

Albums I also enjoyed in 1996:

Weston- Got Beat Up

Propagandhi- Less Talk, More Rock

Less Than Jake- Losing Streak

NOFX- Heavy Petting Zoo

I’ve wondered when the day would come when this column goes too far. And this one is about a record, that isn’t pop punk, that isn’t even an album. I’m talking about Boys Don’t Cry, the American edition of The Cure’s debut album Three Imaginary Boys, but somehow it fits into the column. This is the year when The Cure was accepted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in Ohio along with the likes of the Zombies, Stevie Nicks and Radiohead. Robert Smith and the gang seemed humble and surprised to be there, even if it doesn’t really come as a surprise to most music fans. The band formed in 1976 as Malice, but had performed together as a school band at Notre Dame Middle school in Crawley, West Sussex since 1973. Malice played covers of David Bowie, Alex Harvey and Jimi Hendrix. In 1977, when punk rock finally made it into the mainstream, Malice changed their name to Easy Cure. The band recorded their first demo in 1978 and removed the “easy” from their name, as they were now a trio. On May 8 1979 they released their debut album Three Imaginary Boys on Fiction Records. After the release, the Cure went on tour with Siouxsie and the Banshees. In the middle of the tour, SATB’s guitarist John McKay quit and Robert Allen Smith Jr., the Cure’s singer and guitarist would step in and play for both bands. The experience of playing with the Banshees inspired Smith a lot. He wanted the Cure to be the punk rock Beatles, what the Buzzcocks and Elvis Costello were trying to do at the time, but playing with Siouxsie Sioux and her band made him want to get to into a more gothic sound, which the band would later be famous for. The line-up on Three Imaginary Boys was Robert Smith on vocals and guitar, Michael Dempsey on bass and vocals and Lol Tolhurst on drums. With the band’s new direction Simon Gallup replaced Dempsey on bass. The following records Seventeen Seconds, Faith and Pornography went in a darker and less accessible direction, while The Top would be a lot more diverse and engage with the new pop of the new romantics, jazz, psychedelia and electronic music, like New Order were doing at the time. In 1985, they would release what I would consider their best album and the first album with what I’d call the traditional Cure sound called The Head on the Door, with great pop songs like “In between Days”, “Close to Me” and “A Night like This”. Later they would consistently and constantly top themselves with Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Disintegration and Wish. And the rest is history.

The album Boys Don’t Cry was released February 5 1980 on Fiction Records as the American and Australian version of Three Imiginary Boys. The track list is slightly different and ironically, it would be more popular in the UK and France than in Australia and the U.S. Where Three Imaginary Boys is a picture of household items such as a refrigerator, a lampshade and a vacuum cleaner, the Boys Don’t Cry cover looks like it’s in Egypt with palm trees, sand and a pyramid. Both covers were designed by Bill Smith. Both albums were produced by Chris Parry. On Three Imaginary Boys, the label and Parry had creative control over the album. I’m not sure if the same goes for Boys Don’t Cry, but on future albums Robert Smith would be sure to have all the creative control. Musically, I think both albums are very much like the Buzzcocks and that’s one of the reasons I feel like it fits in this column. I’ve always preferred Boys Don’t Cry to Three Imaginary Boys and where the latter is quite is to find, the former is not, so I was quite pleased when I found it in a record shop in Barcelona in 2015.

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1. “Boys Don’t Cry”: The album starts up with what Spin Magazine called a ‘jangle pop’ song, even if it doesn’t necessarily have anything in common with the Byrds, except Smith’s ambition to write 60s-inspired punk. I would say that this is really one of the first real pop punk songs along with “What Do I Get?” (the Buzzcocks), “Teenage Kicks” (the Undertones) and “Another Girl, Another Planet” (the Only Ones). The reverb guitar sound gives us a prediction of what the 80s would sound like. The guitar lead is incredibly cheery and the lyrics are rather sad. The song tells the tale of a boy who is apologetic about his behavior in the aftermath of a breakup, but would only apologize if she would come back to him. Instead he decided to hide in his feelings, knowing he an apology wouldn’t mean anything if he couldn’t have her back. It’s rather unclear what has happened between the two of them, but in the bridge he says he misjudged her limits, pushed her too far and took her for granted and thought that she wanted more (he rhymes “far” with “more”, which I love!). He understands that he has done wrong, but he laughs about it and keeps his feelings inside, driven by a social expectations that boys and men shouldn’t cry. In the end, he declares that he would do almost anything to get her back, but he laughs instead and hides the tears he is crying. In many ways, I could compare it to the Four Seasons classic “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, where the irony in both song is that big girls/boys actually do cry. Debra Rae Cohen wrote for Rolling Stone Magazine that “Amid the Cure’s nerve-edge numbers — hushed and haunting or insistent enough to make you dance to your own jitters — the title track is the odd tune out. “Boys Don’t Cry” is a sweetly anguished pure-pop single, carried by an aching, infectious guitar hook and the singer’s taffypull croon. Though it doesn’t have the film-clip explicitness of Smith’s other songs, the words offer a nice twist on the standard lovelorn script: boy meets girl, mistreats girl, loses girl, yearns for girl but won’t appear vulnerable — even to get her back. Hell, if Robert Smith ever decides to quit rock & roll, he’s got a great career ahead of him writing for the movies.”

A big factor in the song is how gender roles and expectations makes people act a certain way. The guy is hesitant to apologize or show his feelings because of a gender expectation, where men are supposed to not show feelings. The gender-aspect of the song gets another layer when it’s used in the movie of the same name from 1999, directed by Kimberly Peirce, about a man named Brandon who is transgender and is outed and has to move to another town and he later gets sexually assaulted and eventually murdered. The film highlights the awful problem of violence against LGBT people. A cover of the song by Nathan Larson is used in the movie. The song is also used in less serious movies such as The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates. The Cure used re-recorded vocals on the version on the Standing on a Beach singles collection and re-released it as a single and a music video. I prefer the original version by a longshot. The original single was never a huge hit, but the re-issue ended up on #22 on the UK singles chart and #19 in Germany.

2. “Plastic Passion”: The B-side to the original “Boys Don’t Cry” single. The lyrics are a bit more minimalist and the music is more modernist than “Boys Don’t Cry”. With cool palm-muted clean guitars, it could fit in on the first Buzzcocks album Another Music from a Different Kitchen. The guitar solo also sounds like a surf song or a Shadows song. Maybe an unknown tune, but a pretty good one!

3. “10:15 Saturday Night”: The first song on the Three Imaginary Boys album, is the third song on Boys Don’t Cry. It was also the B-side of “Killing an Arab”. The song is about loneliness, a theme that would continue on the album. It was the song that gave the band their record deal with Fiction. I think there’s something jazzy about the music and the drum fills are fantastic .The guitar solo sounds like late-sixties Rolling Stones. The tune was sampled on Massive Attack’s “Man Next Door” and covered by the Living End.

4. “Accuracy”: Lyrically, it is a song of few words. It’s just about five lines long. In spite of that, it’s a very dark song. Genius.com states (about the song): “The title and refrain of this song, the word ¨accuracy¨ refers to the secret pleasure derived from fantasizing about attacking someone. If taken from a metaphorical perspective, Accuracy can pertain to the pinpointing of another person’s fears and demons. This roots from a generous amount of time spent with them – such as what happens within an intimate relationship.” Yep, dark shit right there! Where “10:15 Saturday Night” was a bit jazzy, I think “Accuracy” is more blues-y, but there’s a jazz-vibe here as well.

5. “Object”: A pretty cool classic rock-meets-post punk number about lust and objectification where Smith gets a very weird space-y voice. Very few words in this one as well. The song could be seen as having quite misogynist attitudes; the beholder here has at least not hold the beheld in very high esteem, except for their appearance. It’s also possible that the song is supposed to be a criticism of objectification and sexism. Robert Smith said in 1988 that it was his least favorite Cure song. The guitars are more distorted in this song than the previous songs and there’s a strange echo in Smith’s space-y voice.

6. “Jumping Someone Else’s Train”: As naïve as I am, I always imagined this song to literally be about freighthopping, but it’s meant to be metaphorical of course, even if the music video is just a train ride from London to Brighton. Reading the lyrics, however, it’s obvious that the song is about trendy bands jumping on bandwagons. And the particular trend that the song attacks is the mod-revival wave. In a Belgian magazine in 1989, Smith said “I loath (sic) the snobbism and elitism of it all: ‘I was already acid[-house music] when you were still new wave’ – that stuff. In fact it’s all as small as the ska revival where I wrote an angry song about: Jumping Someone Else’s Train. Now I read articles everywhere about the new ska revival. Despicable. At this rate, we’re having 5 revivals every year. I’m probably old fashioned, but I like music that’s not limited to a certain time.” And in the Cure News fanzine in October 1991, he said the song was about fashion, about the mod revival in 78/79. The single was released on November 2 1979 with the B-side “I’m Gold “ featuring vocals by Siouxsie Sioux. A new wave song, with a pop punk melody and another song that reminds me a lot of the Buzzcocks. The riff also forecasts the kind of lead we’d hear on later Cure songs such as “Just Like Heaven”.

7. “Subway Song”: Side-A ends with a mysterious song. A somewhat gloomy look into the London underground. The song tells the story of a girl walking in the subway station, she’s on her way home and she feels like she’s being followed. A dark and creepy aesthetic. There’s something about 70s/80s subway stations that give me an uncanny feeling and this song captures that. The music fits the lyrics quite well, with a blues-y bass line and a harmonica that sounds like railroad screeching.

8. “Killing an Arab”: The band’s first single released in September 20 1978. The lyrics are based on Albert Camus’s existentialist masterpiece L’Étranger (translated to The Outsider in the UK and the Stranger in the Us); a philosophical novel about the French Algerian Meursault who kills an Arab and later gets the death penalty, a great use of the unreliable narrator and a must-read for every literature enthusiast. The lyrics of the song are seen from the point of view of Meursault. While the chorus and the second verse are quite existentialist, the first verse deals with the actual killing of the Arab and where the Cure compilation Standing on a Beach got its name from. The song been controversial for years because it could be seen as justifying racism and violence against Arabs. The aforementioned compilation had a warning sticker on it, and Smith has many times had to defend the lyrics against racists. Playing the song live he has often changed the lyrics into i.e “Kissing an Arab” and “Killing an Ahab”(making it about another book). The fact that the one being killed is an Arab isn’t really as important in the book. What Meursault gets the death penalty for is not following the moral code of the prosecutors and jury. He went out to enjoy himself and had sex with a woman right after his mother died, also shows very little empathy, but most importantly he doesn’t believe in God. His moral fabric seems to be what puts him to death and not his crime itself. Appropriately the music is inspired by Arabian music.

8. “Fire in Cairo”: The Arabian theme continues on the next song “Fire in Cairo”, a quite erotic song where the fire and warmth are used as sexual symbolism. It’s my favorite song on the album, and my favorite Cure song in general. I think it’s a perfect recording, the bass lines and the guitars and the spelling out of “F-I-R-E-I-N-C-A-I-R-O”. It’s a song where spelling out a word really works, when doing that is usually quite embarrassing. I also love the way he sings “Silence and black mirror pool mirrors a lonely place where I meet you” When I first heard the song in 2013, I was completely blown away and loved it immediately. What Robert Smith says about the song, however, is that ‘“Fire in Cairo” is about pop shamelessness and what’s behind it.” I’m pretty sure the Barracudas’s “The KGB Made a Man out of Me” must’ve been inspired by this song.

9. “Another Day”: Another day, another minimalist set of lyrics. This time the repetitive nature of life is being described through looking out the window as if one sees a painting, while waiting for time to pass. There’s something bleak about most of these lyrics, but beautiful at the same time. “Another Day” appears very early on Three Imaginary Boys and very late on Boys Don’t Cry. The intro and outro here sound more like the mix of raga music and psychedelia that George Harrison made famous, while the rest of the song is normal mid-tempo ballad.

10. “Grinding Halt”: The darkness continues with “Grinding Halt”, where we are left with nothingness; “No sound, no people” and “no light, no people”. Interrupting and apathy; the perfect combo. One of the catchiest bass lines on the album and one of the songs I think that fits the pop punk term the most, but also has the cymbals that I like to think of as the post-punk or dance-punk cymbals that you can hear when Blink or the Wombats tries to do that thing. Also one of my favorites on this album.

11. “World War”: Along with “Object”, “World War” is another contender for Robert Smith least favorite Cure song, as he told Big Takeover it was their worst song back in 1996. And in 1991 he called the song “nonsense”. The lyrics start with “Dressed in Berlin Black” and the chorus states that no one loses and no one wins in war, you only end up with dead friends. It’s also one of the earliest Cure songs. It was removed from many cd-versions of the album. Another song that sounds more like a classic rock song: not the best song ever, but certainly not the worst.

12. “Three Imaginary Boys”: The title track of the Three Imaginary Boys album and the last song on both albums. The lyrics were based on a dream Smith had had. The lyrics are quite poetic and somewhat nonsensical (far more than “World War” I’d say, which seems pretty straight forward): “No one’s home/In amongst the statues/ Stare at nothing in/ The garden moves/Can you help me?” and “Close my eyes/ And hold so tightly/ Scared of what the morning brings/ Waiting for tomorrow Never comes/ Deep inside The empty feeling/ All the night time leaves me/ Three imaginary boys”. I’ve always imagined that the title refers to the band being a trio at the time, but I’m not sure if that’s the truth; it makes sense in the album title though. Another song where the mirror plays a role. I don’t know what’s up with Robert Smith and mirrors, but it’s got to be something. It starts with a slow clean guitar until the bass comes in with the drums and monotonous vocals until the song climaxes with distorted guitars crash in.

Bonus track: “It’s Not You”: Where there are many songs on Boys Don’t Cry that aren’t on Three Imaginary Boys, the same is also through vice versa. “It’s Not You” is one of the more punk Cure songs and it’s an angry one. It starts with “You wear your smile like it was going out of fashion/ Dress to inflame but douse any ideas of passion” and has the same bitterness that fellow post-punkers Wire have in the song “Mannequin” from their album Pink Flag, two years before. The second verse is even angrier with the line “I would murder you if I had the alibi” and it corresponds with the lyrics to “Accuracy”. There’s also a lot of spite in the chorus “Well, I’m tired of hanging around/ I want somebody new/I’m not sure who I’ve got in mind But I know that it’s not you!”

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I don’t know if I’ve taken this column too far now, but we’ll go back to the classic 90s pop punk next time with Wish I’d Taken Pictures by Pansy Division.

Pop punk from where? Zagreb, Croatia? Yes. Five songs of some pretty great pop punk, too. “Not That Kind of Guy” is a song about moderation, about how it’s OK to get high once in awhile, but not to excess. The music has a hesitating start-stop quality, and some nice harmonies in the vocals. “Bicycle” is my favorite of the EP, sounding like something that could come from Masked Intruder. It’s super sweet melodies and gorgeous harmonies, and it’s even a sort of love song – to a bicycle, lamenting the loss of said bike to an awful thief. “Chicago Kid” is another bouncy track that insults all Midwesterners, insinuating that people from Chicago will smoke all your weed and drink all your beer, never contributing anything and always just taking. “He’ll roll a dozen joints / And you know he’ll never pay / He’s the biggest asshole / In the Midwest USA.” No, people from the Midwest are actually very generous. In their melodies and harmonies and in their ability as musicians, Trophy Jump are as good as any first class pop punk band. In their lyrics, they’re kind of like The Queers, mostly focusing on juvenile topics. Except, perhaps, for the opening track, “Comfort Zone.” It’s the least pop punk, most rock, and the most serious, with lyrics that plead with a friend to stop isolating their self, get out, and enjoy life. “How do you plan to keep yourself sane / If you spend your days locked inside your home?” But hey, bouncy, sappy songs with silly lyrics has been a staple of pop punk since the genre was invented, and Trophy Jump do it extremely well.

Check it out here: https://trophyjump.bandcamp.com/album/haphazard

PS

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When I first began reading an online bio of Wet Dreams, I misread it as that they formed in an Ohio basement. But then I re-read it, and they’re from Oslo, as in Norway, not Ohio in the USA. Given their sound, Ohio would have made more sense, because this is some great garage punk, not typical Scandinavian black metal. It consists of simple guitar, bass, drums, and vocals a la Ramones-core, but harder and edgier, more rock and less pop. Especially on the opener, “Band Aid.” This track rocks hard in its scant two minutes, the distortion in the production acting as an extra band member. “Her” comes next, and has a sludgy grungy quality to it, as if it was recorded in 1990s Seattle.  But when the third track hits, things really take off! “Radioactivity” reminds me of a cross between the great The Marked Men and Ohio’s Vacation. It’s why I mistakenly thought “Ohio” when reading the bio. The track even injects some great power pop hooks in the chorus, including giving the bass some time at the fore. I think this is my favorite track on the album. “Depression” picks up the tempo and amps up the punk aspect. “Roliglata” is a classic 60s garage pop love song that I really like. “Bad Boy” is another great grungy garage track, and “Boogie” takes things up several notches, blending roots rock sounds with the heaviest fuzzed out rock you’ve ever heard, in sort of a Motorhead vein. That overdriven bass will blow out your eardrums, even as you keep jumping around because you just can’t stop. “Beautiful” is a fantastic bouncy pop tune, with all the great fuzz and distortion, and it’s another favorite. Anytime someone can make a pop tune sound this gritty, yet still poppy, it’s a great day.  I think that’s the magic of Wet Dreams: they’re able to blend gritty garage punk, heavy classic rock, retro pop, and modern pop and make it all work so well.

Check it out here: https://wetdreams.bandcamp.com/

PS

Screaming at Traffic are a recently formed punk band from Winnipeg, Manitoba. Winnipeg makes me think of one thing and one thing only: Propagandhi. Sonically, Screaming at Traffic don’t really sound much like Propagandhi- instead offering up a serving of Fest-bound gruff punk rock- but they do retain the political punks’ commanding vocals and muscular guitars. “Y.B.F.” is the band’s first single from their forthcoming debut full-length, following an EP last year. It’s mid-tempo, aggressive and raw punk miserabilia about seasonal depression and not wanting to leave your room. It’s noisy and angst-y but you can tap your toes to it. Off With Their Heads would be the obvious, lazy reference, but I don’t think Screaming at Traffic actually much like them. Instead, think recent releases by Red City Radio or Goodbye Blue Monday, a great Scottish band I discovered last year. I also get the raw and anthemic hooks of fellow Canadians Pkew Pkew Pkew. The chunkiness of the guitars and the booming vocals elevates this single about the gruff punk masses. The starkness and frankness of the lyrics are welcome, too: “I’d rather drink myself to death with cheap red wine and cigarettes than admit I’m over my head/I think I’ll spend next winter in my bed”. I’m unsure at how the intensity of the angst and confessionalism on “Y.B.F.” holds up over an entire album, but I’m excited to find out. A very cool song, indeed.

Check out the band here: https://screamingattrafficmusic.bandcamp.com/

DB

As with their first EP ‘About Last Night’, Delinquents’ ‘Sober on Sunday’ EP combines varied styles and influences to produce a coherent and forthright punk release. The EP is underpinned by a clear appreciation of all things ’77 punk, from The Clash to Generation X to Stiff Little Fingers; however, the sound never descends into pure aping, as is often the case. Delinquents are a band with ideas and that’s the most refreshing thing about ‘Sober on Sunday’. The opening title track is a hardcore-tinged and aggressive 2-minute punk blitz about anarchic recklessness and subsequent regret that recalls bands like 999 or The Exploited, as well as early Rancid. Themes of drinking and nihilism continue on from the ‘About Last Night’ EP.

Following the title track, the rest of the EP is a more sedate and melodically pleasing affair, packed with lead singer David’s snarly and snotty vocals, not unlike those of Jake Burns or Fat Mike. “Three Sheets to the Wind” occupies a middle ground between mid-tempo indie rock and melodic punk and reminds me of Warning-era Green Day in some ways. “No Disguise” is easily the best song on the EP for me though, as a straight-up driving and hook-filled pop-punk banger. It’s a confessional and self-analytical track about dealing with mental health challenges, with lines such as and “My emotions get the best of me/I take everything personally” and “I’m sick of the feeling that I’m sinking”. Despite the seriousness of the lyrics, the whole song feels upbeat and bouncy, sounding at least partly influenced by ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll. The song suggests authentic, impassioned and heart-on-sleeve punk, as does the acoustic closer to the EP “Sinner” which recalls something like Joe McMahon, but left me feeling like it didn’t quite reach its potential. Overall, a decent follow-up effort from the Dundee punks, showcasing an ability to grow and find their own voice!

Check out the EP here: https://delinquentsdundee.bandcamp.com/album/sober-on-sunday

DB

A wonderfully melodic, smart and energetic gruff punk release from recently formed Leicester band Our Souls. Apparently, Our Souls features members of bands ‘you’ve never heard of or less cared about’. It’s that kind of attitude that underpins a self-deprecating and downbeat punk EP! Our Souls have got the jagged guitars, raspy vocals and poetic sense of hope that Mid-west punks like The Manix or Banner Pilot excel at. The opening song “45” is definitely my favourite, as a rough-around-the-edges, mid-tempo and hook-filled punk track that echoes Banner Pilot’s earlier material. Those opening super-melodic duelling guitars are to die for, immediately making me sit up on first listen of the EP. The song has a great sense of purpose, moving along at just the right tempo, with the gang vocals coming in at just the right moments. It is a very smartly-written track, with a bunch of note-worthy lyrics: “A rare ray of light/Renewed hope? Oh I don’t think so no/It’s time for fight or flight/ Are you a limp wrist or a clenched fist?”

I’m not sure what the ’45’ in the song refers to, but when I’m tapping my toes so much, I don’t really care. Not all tracks on the EP are in the vein of Mid-west; others are more akin to aggressive hardcore punk. Notably, “Another Five Days” is an unrelenting, intense and fast-paced anti-work song. The EP flits between the two styles and while I prefer the poppier, melodically-pleasing stuff, the faster, more aggressive material works well too and complements the former well. The final track “Post-Funny” slows things down, highlighting a sound closer to Dear You-era Jawbreaker. The lyrics are again intelligent; the track is about making plans and sticking to them and not procrastinating over them or allowing the plans to collect dust: “Any sick day will be guilt free/And every ‘I quit’ fantasy will be seen”. In both lyrical content and melodic style, this track reminds me a bunch of French punks Heavy Heart’s recent release (which is another ripper FYI). As far as debut EPs go, Our Souls’ ‘I Might Drink Myself to Death’ is up there with the very best. Promising would be an understatement!

Check it out here: https://weareoursouls.bandcamp.com/releases

DB