muffs

It seems more and more like this column has become annual and even if I promise to write more often it seems like every article is further apart. Now we have come to Blonder and Blonder by the Muffs. I was torn whether to write about this one or self-titled, but I decided to go with B&B because the self-titled will be in the 1993 Years of Our Lives article. The Muffs were formed by singer and guitarist Kim Shattuck and the other guitarist Melanie Vammen. They had both previously played in the Pandoras. Later bassist Ronnie Barnett and drummer Criss Crass joined the band. After releasing singles and EP’s on Subpop and Sympathy for the Record Industry in the early 90s, they signed to Warner Bros and released their eponymous debut in 1993. The Grunge sound of the day was very present on the album. After Crass quit the band and their current drummer Roy McDonald joined and Vammen also quit, they recorded Blonder and Blonder as a three-piece and the grunge influences present on the first album were replaced by a more mainstream pop punk sound, even if Rob Cavallo was co-producer on both albums. In 1997, they released Happy Birthday to Me which gave us “Outer Space” and “I’m a Dick”. On their next album Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow from 1999, they were back on an indie label (Honest Don’s) and Really Really Happy from 2004 they were back on Sympathy for the Record Industry. In 2014, they were prestigious enough to make my top ten of 2014 list with, what I think is an overlooked and underrated album: Whoop Dee Doo on Burger Records. Despite all these great releases, their most famous song is probably their cover of Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America” that appeared on the soundtrack to Clueless.

The first time I heard the Muffs was on Weasel Radio in 07 or 08 and I was blown away. I didn’t know the name of the song and I couldn’t find the episode in the archives when I looked for it. I found it years later and the song was “Baby Go Round” which already was my favorite Muffs song and I think in 2009 I considered it my third favorite song ever written. I still think it is, but I think spot nr.1 and 2 have changed. In 2008, I got a new phone for Christmas which included 200 (or so) free songs that I could download, and I decided to download all of the self-titled album and a few songs from Blonder and Blonder. Except for the track “I Need You” from self-titled I really loved all the songs I downloaded, and I still do, and I still skip “I Need You”. I quickly after that, in the early half of 2009, ordered the Blonder and Blonder CD.

Blonder and Blonder was released on April 11, 1995 on Reprise Records and was produced by Rob Cavallo and the Muffs. The album cover is Kim, Roy and Ronnie and the Muffs logo over them. The album title is most likely a reference to Kim’s blonde hair on the cover. Another interesting thing to notice about the cover is that none of the band members get their entire face on the cover. I don’t know if this is done on purpose, but it’s also interesting that the word ‘face’ is so prominent on the album.
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1. “Agony”: The album starts with a boom. It’s fast and catchy and quite poppy as well. It’s a very ‘Muffs-thing’ to have an extremely poppy song instantly become a much less poppy song with Shattuck’s raspy voice and screaming. I think her voice is very distinctive and essential to the band. The song describes the loneliness and bad feelings that might occur after a breakup. It sort of makes sense that Rob Cavallo who produced Dookie co-produced this album as the sound sounds very Dookie-era Green Day at times, but with more of an edge than Green Day had, both in Shattuck’s singing and in rawer guitar sounds. Speaking of Green Day, the song “State of Shock” is pretty much a rip-off of “Agony.

2. “Oh Nina”: Kim Shattuck said in an interview: “”It’s about a transvestite who pulls straight men into sleeping with him. It’s very watered down, I guess, but to me, that’s what it is.” (http://www.popstops.net/muffs.htm) (all quotes from Shattuck that follow are from this interview). “Nina” rhymes with a lot in this song, like Pasadena and ballerina. They made a live music video for this track with Nina appearing in the beginning. The signature Shattuck scream is even more present in this song!

3. “On and on”: The third track of the album is a lot poppier and more straight-up pop-punk than the two before it, yet the Shattuck signature scream is present here as well. The song seems to be about wishing someone dead, harsh stuff: “Now I’m wishing for your death/ Tell me that I’m wrong/ But I’m just wasting all my breath/ And it goes on and on”.

4. “Sad Tomorrow”: The only single from the album and I don’t understand why it wasn’t a bigger hit. There was made a music video for “Sad Tomorrow” too and it’s pretty funny. The band plays in a pawn shop and we get to see lots of shenanigans. It’s a poppy upbeat song, but the lyrics are pretty damn sad. It seems to me like a song about not being appreciated or not being supported emotionally by your significant other. The most depressing lines of the song “I feel naked and weird/ Do you see what I hear/ Maybe one day I’ll die, who cares”. The chorus also echoes this depressing notion of your significant other, who seems like some sort of bigshot, would be happier if you died. There’s a lot of wishing people dead on this album. Shattuck described it as all her favorite sounds rolled into one. Her favorite band the Kinks, a little bit of the Everly Brothers, some Ramones, some Hollies, some Sex Pistols and Joan Jett.

5. “What You’ve Done”: Another pretty straight up pop punk song. It starts with a romantic gesture “I’d do anything for if I could”; later it’s not as romantic. She claims that even if she could believe all that he says, she still doesn’t want to spend time with him. She’s caught him lying and she knows what he’s done. What he’s done is actually not mentioned, but it seems terrible.

6. “Red Eyed Troll”: The self-titled had “Another Day” and this one has “Red Eyed Troll”; they are both angry, rockabilly-inspired tunes. This is one of my favorite songs on the album because of its anger and aggression. I always thought it was a girl-power-esque song about a terrible man, like many of the other songs on the album, but this one seems to actually be about another woman. The chorus “I don’t need no attitude when you pick on me” is fantastic.

7. “End It All”: I first heard this song when the Queers covered it on their “Bubblegum Dreams” EP. To me the song seems like an anti-suicide song. It informs us that if we kill ourselves we will leave someone behind and we’ll be gone forever. It’s the slowest song on the album until now and it’s a pretty much a pop song in the same vein as “Downtown” by Petulia Clark. The Queers song is a bit longer because it repeats a verse, but the song being as short as it is is part of what makes it great. It says what needs to be said and boom there it’s over and you always wish there was more, but might as well listen another time then. What a song!

8. “Laying on a Bed of Roses”: Isn’t it supposed to be Lying on a bed of roses? Anyways, this is another rocker. This, along with “End It All” were the two B&B songs I downloaded in early 2009 and I thought this song was great. There’s a cool little rock ‘n’roll boogie riff in this one and Shattuck sounds as angry as ever. The song is about a significant other not understanding and taking everything the wrong way. The “I” person finds out that they don’t wanna put up with it anymore and finds out that they’d have more fun laying on a bed of roses than this shit, and there won’t be no next time.
9. “I Need a Face”: This is one of my favorites too. To be fair all the songs on this album are gems. This one is more like a hidden treasure though, hidden in the middle of the album. The chorus is so catchy. I’d say that, thematically, it’s pretty close to its predecessor and to “Saying Goodbye” on the self-titled, telling someone: you’ve had your fun, we’ve had our fun, but it’s not fun anymore, so goodbye.

10. “I Won’t Come Out to Play”: Another hit! This is another fantastic pop song! I think Dr. Frank was very inspired by this when writing the “The Weather Is Here Wish You Were Beautiful” solo. I think it also shows that you don’t need amazingly wordful lyrics to make a great track. So few words in this one!

11. “Funny Face”: Like I said, the word “face” is like some kind of motif of this album. We found it two songs earlier in “I Need a Face” and here’s also “Funny Face”. This is one of the slower songs and the melody sounds like some kind of jolly folk song, maybe from Ireland or something. I feel like it could be inspired by the Gershwin musical Funny Face or the Audrey Hepburn movie that was inspired by it. Along with many other pop punk and alternative songs of the day (like Green Day’s “J.A.R”, Ash’s “Jack Names the Planets”, The Riverdales’ “Back to You” and Pansy Division’s “Deep Water”) it appeared on the Angus soundtrack. Best line of the song: “I like everyone, they all hate me”.

12. “Ethyl My Love”: I feel like this is the “I Need You” of B&B, but not in a bad way. I can’t stand “I Need You”, but “Ethyl My Love” is actually great. I’ve never really understood the lyrics, if there’s supposed to be some kind of ambiguous meaning, if Ethyl can be someone’s name or if it just refers to the verb that means introducing an ethyl group into a compound (this would be Ethylate). Ethyl is alcohol or something. Chemistry is the worst! The song tells the tale of a boy supposedly giving a girl a ring. I’m not sure if I should compare it to “From Your Girl”: the narrator wants the boy to stay with the girl tell her to “ethyl his love” or if the narrator is the girl herself and she’s uncertain if he will be true and wants him to say “ethyl my love”. I still like the idea of the name of the girl being Ethyl. And now that turns out to be true! Shattuck said “’Ethyl My Love’ is about Ethyl Mertz. I don’t know, I was just tripping out, watching ‘I Love Lucy.’ What can I say? it’s a dumb song with dumb lyrics.”. Great tune!

13. “I’m Confused”: Another angry song to a happy soothing melody. I feel like, compared to many of the other songs on the album, the lyrics are quite straightforward and don’t make me confused. The character in the song is confused though! In “Funny Face” Shattuck sings “I love everyone, they all hate me”, while in “I’m Confused” she sings “I hate everyone”. There are some cool lines in the song like “Somebody leave me alone/ no one likes to be a clone”. I like the negativity and “fuck y’all” attitude of the song. In the interview, John Everson (the interviewer) compared the song to Joan Jett, and Shattuck thought it sounded more like Roy Orbison.

14. “Just a Game”: The self-titled album ends on the beautiful acoustic number “All for Nothing” and B&B ends on another acoustic track “Just a Game” and it’s a great one too and in many ways, sums up the album. A lot of the songs (see “Sad Tomorrow” and “Laying on a Bed of Roses) are about someone playing a game with someone else and trying to be the victim (“you’re the victim can’t you see”, but in reality they are the bad guy, alternately it could also be a self-loathing song writing in second person toward oneself). I think it’s also probably the song with the best lyrics on the album. The little guitar thing is great too. This is probably a perfect ending to a terrific album. I saw a video of Kim Shattuck playing it live on a radio show on YouTube and it’s a great performance.

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For more Muffs, I’m positive that the self-titled will make my 1993 list of “Years of Our Lives”, but you’ll have to sit through 1992 first. Next pick is Drop out with the Barracudas by the Barracudas!

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taco hell sfl

A gig review, we haven’t done one of those in a while! This was a bloody good one as well, albeit bittersweet: Taco Hell’s penultimate show as a band. The indie sad-punx were on their final tour after just releasing their debut LP, the brilliant, gritty and earworm-y Bad at Being Average. This gig was taking place at one of my favourite venues in the UK: the Sunflower Lounge in Birmingham, a basement that was made for shows like these. Ok, so let’s rewind to the beginning of the night…

So, first up was Exeter’s Phaedra’s Love, the project of Jordan White, formerly of Splitsville. I believe that Phaedra’s Love only really started last year, with a debut EP (‘Let Me Think This Way’ on Circle House records) released at the tail end of 2017. This was my first time listening to them. Jordan’s recorded stuff is solo, but he played here with a full band and it gave a very different feeling to the much more intimate and raw material on the EP. I wasn’t mind-blown by the set (and admittedly missed half of it), but I was certainly intrigued to go and listen to more after the gig (which I actually did- yay, go me!). Jordan plays heartfelt and raw, indie, emo-tinged punk, I guess; I often ask two things about a band I listen to: (1) does it make me tap my feet? and (2) does it come from the heart? Phaedra’s Love certainly ticks both of these boxes. Worth checking out.

Coffee Breath was up next, a local, Birmingham-based indie-emo band, who, according to their band profile, have “a mutual love of coffee”. Their set was certainly energetic, I’ll give them that. I knew them already from their ‘Lose Interest in This’ EP. While enjoyable, I feel that it’s live where Coffee Breath really shine. They played a kind of twinkly and math-y American Football-esque indie-emo that is at once intense and spacious. They have that quiet-loud thing going on that so many bands did in the late ‘90s/early ‘00s. As well as this, the guitars kind of swirl around, developing a kind of daydream state among the gig-goers. I think you either ‘get’ this sound or you feel it is contrived and silly; I am definitely in the former camp.

Next up on the bill was Leicester’s Kermes. Another band I wasn’t familiar with at all prior to the gig, but they are a great ball of fun. I’m not too sure how to describe them: indie punk, screampop? There is certainly an abundance of melodies going on, as well as an aggressive punk attitude, but it’s not really pop-punk either. They have the bombast, fierce spirit and groove of bands like Pixies, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Julie Ruin. Whatever it is, it’s pretty cool: Kermes are theatrical and wouldn’t look out of place in an arena, but at the same time, are grounded in everyday gender politics.

So, up last, Nottingham’s Taco Hell with their second-to-last ever show. Argh! It’s the first time I had seen them live and, boy, do I regret that now. They were alright. No, wait, they were fucking great! With intensity and a gritty DIY punk feel throughout, but with a ton of melodies and boy-girl dual vocals thrown in, I was pretty captivated. Taco Hell played their latest record Bad at Being Average from front-to-back at break-neck speed, with album highlights “Same City” and “Twin Peaks References & Depression” sing-a-long, crunchy and hook-filled. A few oldies come in at the end, notably ending on the self-deprecating, fan favourite “Hold the Door”. Bittersweet? Ended too soon? Yep and yep, but at least it was sweet and at least it began.

DB

Opening with the 2 minute-long, dreamy, somewhat ethereal “Untitled”, with the only lyrics being “I know it’s wrong, but I’ve thought about it”, Taco Hell suggest a more laid-back and experimental emo album. However, over the rest of the album, things are more akin to what was found on their ‘Retainer’ EP: anthemic, gritty, yet earworm-y ‘sad’ punk. That’s not to say that Bad at Being Average is not experimental or dynamic though; far from it. Building on their early releases, Taco Hell really pushed the boundaries on this, their first and final LP. Yep, that’s right, if you didn’t know, Taco Hell have called it a day after three years as a band, with a couple of members leaving the country, but they bow out with a hell of an album.

So, back to the sound: ‘sad-punk’ does pretty accurately describe Taco Hell’s sound, on the boundary between modern ‘revival’ emo and Fest-esque ‘gruff’ punk, recalling the likes of Jeff Rosenstock, Joyce Manor and Tiger’s Jaw. I mean, the latter comparison is perhaps the most apt, with harmonious male-female dual vocals present throughout Bad at Being Average. But their songwriting also fairly neatly fits into the UK’s indie-punk scene, alongside bands such as Caves, Doe and (the dearly departed) Bangers. Basically, Taco Hell combine a lot of shit I like and craft something that is totally their own sound. I was pretty into the ‘Retainer’ EP, particularly the catchy-as-fuck “Baby Teeth”, but for me, Bad at Being Average is where they really found their own sound.

So, what do I like the most from the album? Well, “Same City” has to be up there as one of the album highlights, with its spaced-out verses, building up to a wonderfully catchy chorus. It is about considering re-connecting with someone you haven’t seen in ages: “do you still live in the same city that I do?”. I love its restraint and melodic poise, as well as its directness. For me, Taco Hell highlight that it’s 90% about good songwriting; sonically, these are generally fairly simple and direct tunes, but they work and, what’s more, they intrigue and invite further listens. For instance, the chorus in “Gang 2: Electric Boogaloo” is just great, with lead singer Joe’s cries of “We are the…same”, backed up by bassist/vocalist Eleanor’s back-up vocals of “you know, we are the same”. It is simple, but it really works. The other album standout is “Twin Peaks References & Depression”. It has a soft/loud dynamic thing going on, culminating in a chorus that manages to make “David Lynch!” stick in your head. It reminds me a fair bit of early Bangers and Apologies, I Have None: it’s gruff, deeply personal and from the heart. As are all the lyrics on Bad at Being Average, to be fair.

The lyrics on the record tend to be self-analytical and somewhat self-deprecating, but not in an overbearing way. I like to think that a lot of the album fairly accurately touches up on growing as a 20-something in the North of England, without a penny to rub together, but having a great time nonetheless: “This is arguably poverty, but I don’t hate it; No, I don’t hate it”. That line reminds me of a Copyrights lyric from their split with the Methadones (“Flooded Basements, Abandoned Beaches”) that I have always loved: “Were parents right when they said, with money comes freedom?/ As the bills pile up, I’m inclined to believe them/ But the beaches and basements are flooded in my mind/ Never been more care free than when I didn’t have a dime”. Being broke obviously fucking sucks, and let’s not romanticise it, but there is a level of freedom that comes with that way of living.

So, yeah, Taco Hell’s last ever released song is called “Goodbye” and they have just completed their last-ever tour as a band. It is a huge shame considering the potential they demonstrated during their time as a band, but let’s not focus on that and instead value what we’ve got: an inventive, catchy and dynamic album from one of the best bands I’ve heard from the UK punk scene in the last few years. If somebody from outside the UK is reading this and wants a good example of what is going on here, Bad at Being Average is not a bad place to start at all.

DB

Check the album out here: https://tacohellband.bandcamp.com/

Slumberland Records was founded in 1989 the Washington, DC area many years ago, and they were one of the top champions of indie pop through the heyday of the nineties, releasing records by bands like Velocity Girl, Whorl, The Ropers, Honeybunch, and more. The label eventually moved across the country to Oakland, California and I lost track of what they were doing, but it’s great to see they’re still active, putting out beautiful, jangly music. Gorgeous vocals duel over sweet melodies performed with just the right mix of noise and jangle in the guitars. Favorite tracks: “Less Than Perfect” is prettiest tracks on the record, with the best chorus, the jingliest guitars, and the most beautiful vocals. “Keep In Touch” is right up there, with dreamy guitars and vocals that wind around each other. I also love “Bad Year,” a sad sounding song with depressing lyrics. “I Only Dance When I Want To” has a pretty Stereolab-like chorus that makes me smile. And I’m listing lots of the songs as my favorites, so suffice it to say that every track is quite enjoyable.

PS

Check it out here: http://ilovealcopop.awesomedistro.com/products/605351-the-spook-school-could-it-be-different-lp-cd-be-different-shirt-preorder

Big sing-along pop punk that will have you punching your first upward while your other arm wraps around your mate’s neck, your hand clutching a pint of beer that’s sloshing all over as you shout out lyrics at the top of your lungs. The tracks are melodic, with the vocal lines gliding slowly over guitars that move at a more rapid pace. On some of the tracks, there’s even hints of jangle in those guitars. The overall sound reminds me of a blend of RVIVR and The Penske File. You get the explosive, emotive qualities of the Canadian band, with melodic lines that soar, ready for gang vocals, like Washington State’s finest. “Line ‘Em Up” is a favorite, for its moves back and forth between straight time and double time and its beautiful guitar embellishments. The gang vocals at the start of “More Colours” remind me a bit of one of the most underrated bands of all time, Gauge (the Chicago area early 90s band). “Hurting So Much It Laughs” is a simple song, but has a beautiful soaring melody, and the guitar embellishments in the bridge are, again, gorgeous. The album closes with “Sociopath’s Salute,” a perfect anthemic number to end on. This Bristol band has only done a short US tour, limited to the Southeastern states, leading up to 2017’s Fest, but I hope they make it to the West Coast of the USA, because this is a band that’s sure to be a lot of fun live.

PS

Check it out here: https://therunupuk.bandcamp.com/album/the-run-up

Review: Hightower- Club Dragon (Krod)

Posted: January 16, 2018 in Reviews

Hailing from Paris, France, Hightower is yet another band keeping the flames of 90’s melodic punk alive. The sound on these twelve tracks is consistently huge, with wide-open vocals and a massive wall of guitar. And that may be my biggest problem with the album. It’s too much, and much of it has the same sound. Those guitars are overwhelming to the extent that they become distracting. I think if the tone was cleaned up a bit or moved a little bit lower in the mix it would go a long way to making this less fatiguing to listen to. That’s not to say that the record is without redeeming value. The opening track, “Numero Uno,” moves effortlessly from a light acoustic intro to double-time skate punk, to slower melodic punk and back again. The loping feel to “The Party” is a nice change of pace from the more intense tracks. And the waltz-time “Hedonic Treadmill” generates its intensity less from speed and volume and more from a slower pace and allowing the vocals to shine through. As for the rest of the tracks, well, I just couldn’t get into them; It’s not that 90s melodic punk isn’t my favorite sound – it’s not, but there are bands that play the style that I really like a lot. The mix was just too noisy, and the band really doesn’t bring anything new to the genre.

PS

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

Interview: Max, Taco Hell

Posted: January 3, 2018 in Small Talk

t. hell

Taco Hell are (about to be ‘were’) an awesome emo/punk band from Nottingham, ffo Tiger’s Jaw and Joyce Manor. I spoke to drummer Max (Qayyum) on the week that the band play their final shows and after just having released their first and only full-length ‘Bad at Being Average’ (check out a review of this in the coming days; spoiler: it’s fucking awesome):

Dave: Hey, Taco Hell! Could you introduce the band to readers?

Max: We’re a sad punk band from Nottingham right about to split up!

D: So, you have just released your first and final full-length? What is behind the decision to call it a day and how do you think the record has turned out?

M: One of our members is moving halfway across the world, so the decision was basically out of our hands because we didn’t want it to be anything other than just the four of us. We’re really proud of how the album turned out, it was kinda weird doing it knowing that we were about to split up but that also took a ton of pressure off!

D: What’s behind the album cover? Where was it taken?

M: Connor took this near his house in Liverpool, it’s a nice shot and we liked how kinda bleak it was.

D: What was the recording process like?

M: It was really, really nice and laid back. I think we thought it would be harder because we had to do it on weekends (due to none of us apart from Joe still living in Nottingham, and jobs, etc). We did it with Joni from Autumn Diet Plans and he was just really easy to work with, never stressed us out about anything. It was really fun and we got to do everything we wanted, and mess around with a bunch of new things.

D: There is a great song on the album called “Twin Peaks References and Depression”. Is the whole band fans of the show?

M: Twin Peaks is one of my favourite shows, spent all year obsessing over the new season. Me and Eleanor are dead into it, I think that Connor has watched a bit. We wanted Joe to write about it but he’d never seen it. The lyrics just make me laugh cos he sounds like he’s a superfan.

D: You began Taco Hell in 2016. How did the band come together? Had you been in bands previously?

M: Me and Joe had been friends about 3 years before, we met Connor at a pub quiz and I met Eleanor at an Anti-Flag show. It all just kinda came together easily. Joe and Connor had been in other bands but it was mine and Eleanor’s first.

D: What were the band’s main influences and how do you think the band’s sound has evolved over the 3 years?

M: When we first started we played I Saw Water by Tigers Jaw and the Obituaries by the Menzingers which kinda set the tone for the band. I think we definitely had a lot of room to develop our sound over the years. Joe started shouting more, and Eleanor started singing a hell of a lot more. I think that we all got better as musicians and writing Bad at Being Average came together really fast. But since we were splitting up there was no real pressure to have it sound any particular way, which I think led us to experiment a bit more.

D: The ‘Tacos, not Tories’ t-shirts are cool! How did that start?

M: I think I just said it once, and then drew up the thing to post as a little joke on Facebook. When the election rolled around they seemed perfect!

D: What’s been the coolest experience of being part of Taco Hell since you formed?

M: Getting to support bands like Dowsing, Ratboys, Pity Sex, and play in cities across the country. Washed Out in Brighton was amazing. I think the coolest though was the Retainer release show at JT Soar. It sold out and everybody was singing along to every word, it was pretty amazing to us.

D: Any special plans for that final gig in Nottingham in January?

M: Play as many songs as we physically can!

D: Finally, what’s next for Taco Hell band members?

M: Joe has been doing some solo stuff as Quesadilla and starting some new bands, we also play in a band together called L’Escargot. Connor is starting up some new projects and works with Hail Hail Records in Liverpool. Eleanor is co-running Circle House Records. I put shows on as Seeing Your Scene and hopefully starting some new bands!

Check out Taco Hell’s new album here: https://tacohellband.bandcamp.com/


 

KTOTT: Best of 2017

Posted: December 30, 2017 in Uncategorized

So, it’s the end of another year, and you know what that means, MORE LISTS! Here’s what myself and Rene enjoyed in 2017….

Oh, and the 20 best songs of the year, as chosen by myself and Rene, here:

Peace, and love x

Dave’s List

  1. Katie Ellen- Cowgirl Blues (Lauren)

It’s been a strong year and I had a little trouble deciding how to order the rest of the top ten, but Cowgirl Blues was always going to be my number one. It’s just incredible, really. Raw, introspective and frank, Katie Ellen’s first post-Chumped full-length is a gut-punch.  Cowgirl Blues is stripped back pop-punk; it’s crunchy indie rock; it’s confessional folk. It’s all of these things. Every word, every note on this thing is meaningful and necessary; there would be no fat I could possibly cut off from Cowgirl Blues. I was a big fan of Chumped, too, but it appears that that only hinted as to singer Anika Pyle’s potential. Her songwriting prowess went up a few thousand notches on this one. Cowgirl Blues is poetic, confessional and, most of all, true, perfectly melding the ‘social’ and the ‘personal’. If you enjoyed Waxahatchee’s first couple of records, it is likely you’ll be into this.

Listen here: https://katiebandellen.bandcamp.com/

  1. The Dopamines- Tales of Interest (Rad Girlfriend/ Plasterer)

A great comeback record from probably my favourite modern punk band. Tales of Interest highlighted the Dopamines propensity to change things up on each subsequent LP; the evolution in their sound since their debut record ten years ago is quite something. They still play ‘pop-punk’ more broadly speaking, I guess, but it’s now a form of pop-punk that is closer to Dillinger Four than the Ramones. The Dopas are on fire here, blitzing their way through 14 fast-paced, intense-as-fuck melodic punk jams. They have upped the intensity and grittiness of their punk sound, for sure, but that it matched by an up-turn in melody and hooks, too, with a cover of the High Hats “Heartbroken by the Police” the pick of the bunch. Lead vocalist Jon Lewis recently said that “Tales of Interest” was the album he had always wanted to make with The Dopamines, and you can totally see why: it’s a complete, cohesive yet varied, one body of work that takes the best elements of their previous records and enhances them to full effect. The Dopamines have always been somewhat nihilistic, but Tales of Interest feels like a pop-punk soundtrack to the apocalypse.

Listen here: https://radgirlfriendrecords.bandcamp.com/album/tales-of-interest

  1. ONSIND- We Wilt, We Bloom (Specialist Subject)

ONSIND, Durham’s folk-punk sons, returned with a new full-length, following 2013’s Anaesthesiology, and somehow managed to top it. The headline here is that the duo has gone ‘full-band’ and ‘plugged-in’ on the majority of tracks on We Wilt, We Bloom. I was unsure how I felt about that initially, but it really, really works. ONSIND have manged to create a record that is dynamic and sonically expansive, yet while also retaining the core values and ideals that made them so compelling in the first place. Veering between raw folk-punk, melodic (Martha-esque) indie-rock and even hard rock, We Wilt, We Bloom is grounded by ONSIND’s bread-and-butter: their astute political and social commentary that I don’t think has even more on-point. There’s no wilting here, only blooming.

Listen here: https://specialistsubject.bandcamp.com/album/we-wilt-we-bloom

  1. Waxahatchee- Out in the Storm (Merge)

This is probably my least favourite Waxahatchee LP, but, even at her worst, Waxahatchee is better than most. Out in the Storm picked up where Ivy Tripp left off, cementing Waxahatchee further in the indie-rock camp, away from her folk-y roots. It’s a dynamic, melodic and varied record that again captures Waxahatchee’s songwriting prowess. As ever, the lyrics are confessional, soul-bearing and enlightening. The one-two of “Recite Remorse” and “Sparks Fly” is incredible, with the latter letting off some melodic steam after Katie held back on the introspective former. This is a record about going “out in the storm”; about meeting head-on your worst fears.

Listen here: https://waxahatchee.bandcamp.com/album/out-in-the-storm

  1. Worriers- Survival Pop (Side One Dummy)

Dunno why, but I never properly got into Worriers until this LP. I mean, having listened a lot more recently, Imaginary Life is clearly a fantastic album. I do think though that, both musically and lyrically, Survival Pop has taken the band to a new level. The band hit that sweet spot between indie rock and pop-punk, with the melodies absolutely soaring on this LP, particularly on album highlights “Future Me” and “What We’re Up Against”. Singer Lauren Denitzio’s lyrics feel poetic, yet grounded and urgent, getting to grips with the shitstorm that was 2017. In the same way as ONSIND, Worriers effectively make the social and political feel personal. Lauren’s clearly one of the best songwriters around today and it is that which elevates Worriers above their peers.

Listen here: https://worriers.bandcamp.com/album/survival-pop

  1. Great Cynics- POSI (Specialist Subject)

On POSI, Great Cynics cemented their status as one of the shining lights in the UK’s indie/pop-punk scene, demonstrating an inventiveness in songwriting and a superior sense of melody. While previous LP I Feel Weird was great and possibly includes some better individual songs, POSI acts as a better body of work, with musical and thematic glue linking each song together. It’s a record about trying to stay optimistic and hopeful while living in London and dealing with all the shit that that entails; what makes Great Cynics stand out is their grounded accounts of the everyday, probably done best on “Summer at Home” or “Butterfly Net”. Perhaps the highlight of the record, though, is the overtly political punk on “Don’t Buy the Sun”, to be listened to as part of a ‘one-two’ with Zatopeks “Daily Mail”.

Listen here: https://specialistsubject.bandcamp.com/album/posi

  1. Kamikaze Girls- Seafoam (Big Scary Monsters/Wiretap)

One of my favourite new bands/discoveries of 2017. Kamikaze Girls are a little difficult to categorise, but they broadly play a kind-of heart-on-sleeve, fuzzy-but-poppy, grunge-y, brooding, punk rock. There is a space-y dreaminess to much of Kamikaze Girls’ stuff that would make me describe them as a ‘Depeche Mode meets riot grrrl’. Seafoam is a dynamic, substantive debut LP that is intensely personal and empathetic, pertinent in a world that increasingly feels without a pulse. It is simultaneously melodic and crunchy; simultaneously intimate, but also broad in focus. One of my favourite songs of the year “I Don’t Want to be Sad Forever” probably best hits all these spots, as good of a call-to-arms that I’ve heard in ages. Ace stuff.

Listen here: https://kamikazegirls.bandcamp.com/

  1. Sløtface Try Not to Freak Out (Propeller)

Norway’s Sløtface are another one of those great discoveries of the year. Energetic, yet poppy; hook-filled tunes, but with something to say, Sløtface put out a properly great debut record. It’s broadly indie-rock, I guess, but with definite pop-punk elements on there. I love the dynamism and sheer variety on Try Not to Freak Out, ranging from the dreamy pop of “Galaxies” to the ‘90s-esque alt. rock of “Nancy Drew” to the feminist pop-punk of “Magazine”. More than this, however, there is a heart-and-soul on the record that feels organic and suggests even better things to come: listen to album highlight “Slumber” and you’ll know what I mean.

Listen here: https://slotface.bandcamp.com/album/try-not-to-freak-out

  1. Aerial Salad- Roach (Plasterer)

Manchester’s Aerial Salad follow the path set by Dead Boys, in making punk that is ‘young’, ‘loud’ and ‘snotty’. On their first full-length, the band combine the aggressiveness and nihilism of ’77 punk with the hooks and everyday anxieties of Lookout! era pop-punk. There is an energy on Roach that is insatiable and difficult not to get on board with. The intensity, fast-pace and dark lyrics on the album call to mind The Murderburgers. There is a level of despair on Roach, backed up by growly, urgent and desperate vocals, notably on “Alone Forever”. While evidently not re-inventing the three-chord punk wheel, Aerial Salad do give it a good ol’ shake up and down; Roach has a youthful vigour and determination that reminds me why I fell in love with punk in the first place.

Listen here: https://aerialsalad.bandcamp.com/album/roach

  1. Heavy Heart- Distance (Brassneck)

Heavy Heart are a new-ish punk band from Nantes, France; they play a kind of gritty, yet melodic punk that calls to mind Iron Chic or The Manix. Their debut album Distance would fit right in at Fest, with its fist-pumping big choruses, self-deprecating lyrics and crunchy guitars. It’s got a heart-and-soul, as well as smart, inventive lyrics that I feel many bands playing this kind of melodic punk often lack in. As soon as the ear-worm-y lead guitars come in on opener “Unravel”, I was pretty much hooked. I mean, Heavy Heart are not re-writing the book, but when the songwriting is this good and the hooks are this big, who gives a shit?

Almost, but not quite:

Robot Bachelor- The Third House Boat Album (Don Giovanni)

The Lillingtons- Stella Sapiente (Fat Wreck)

The Menzingers- After the Party (Epitaph)

Caves- Always Why (Specialist Subject)

Diet Cig- Swear I’m Good at This (Frenchkiss)

Non-album stuff I liked:

Yr Poetry- One Night Alive EP (Self-released)

AJJ- Back in the Jazz Coffin EP (Self-released)

Austeros- I’ve Got This EP (Specialist Subject)

Taco Hell- Retainer EP (Circle House)

FUCK! (It’s Pronounced Shit!)- It’s Still Pronounced SHIT! EP (Self-released)

 

Rene’s List

  1. The Lillingtons- Stella Sepiente (Fat Wreck)

After years of not releasing music, the Lillingtons put out two releases this year. When all these years Kody had put out somewhat boring Teenage Bottlerocket albums and the last Lillingtons album The Too Late Show also sounded like a boring Teenage Bottlerocket album, it was interesting to see what direction the Lillingtons would go in. The two releases were quite different, one EP that sounded just like the Lillingtons are expected to, and one LP that was pretty unexpected. Stella Sepiente sounds like an 80s record, but it still manages to sound like the Lillingtons. I think it has really divided the fans. I think the album is strong overall and probably their best album after Death by Television.

Listen here: https://thelillingtons.bandcamp.com/

2. Hjerteslag- Vannman 86 (Eget Selskapp)

Image result for Hjerteslag- Vannmann86 (Eget Selskap)

I always put lots of Norwegian records on my lists, maybe it’s a ridiculous semi-patriotic thing or maybe there is a lot of good stuff coming out of Norway these days. Vannmann86 (aquarius86) is a really good record! And I think it’s very close to Stella Sepiente, maybe it’s my fear of being too patriotic that put it second.  Hjerteslag was one of the first bands I saw in Bergen in 2013 and I remember having a bad day, but the band was great. Their last album Møhlenpris Motell disappointed me a bit, but they really redeemed themselves on this one! The album’s tagline could be translated to “too pretty for punk, too ugly for pop” and it makes sense. The overall sound of the album is light synth-pop with dark undertones and honesty. My favorite song on the album is “Kong Oscars Gate”, maybe because it’s the street down from  where I live and I can relate to the song,  “En fiende krysser mine spor” (an enemy crosses my tracks)  is up there too. There are only 8 tracks on the album, but they are unusually long for this type of record, but it doesn’t feel like it’s dragging to me and you sort of get lost in the music somehow. “Hellig krig” (Holy War) is a somewhat controversial song about the lesser Jihad and waging a war for God.

3. Katie Ellen- Cowgirl Blues (Lauren)

A discovery I made from the great KTOTT conversations this fall was Katie Ellen’s album Cowgirl Blues. It’s an extremely sad and honest album and the song “Sad Girls Club” is quite a bummer and kind of a “fuck off” track at the same time (“sad girls don’t make good wives” is probably lyric of the year). “Proposal” is equally sad and bitter. The album is in a quite popular genre nowadays, but to me the album sounds very unique. I haven’t gotten to listen to it too much, but I still put it at nr. 3 and I hope I will get to listen to it more in the New Year. I actually haven’t listened to much new music at all this year, so making this list was tough.

Listen here: https://katiebandellen.bandcamp.com/

4. Bad Cop/Bad Cop- Warriors (Fat Wreck)

I think Warriors is a stronger album overall than Not Sorry, even if it had more stand-alone hits. I feel like Bad Cop Bad Cop is one of the bands that are around nowadays that keep up the good ol’ punk spirit, but don’t sound too dated or boring. Best song on the album is “Broken”!

Listen here: https://badcopbadcop.bandcamp.com/

5. Sløtface- Try Not to Freak out (Propeller)

I think I have had a Sløtface release, either a  single or an EP, on my list the last few years; now that they’ve released a full-length this year is no exception. In many ways, I still prefer “Empire Records”, but that doesn’t make Try Not to Freak Out a bad album.  It shows Sløtface from many sides and “Slumber” sounds very different from “Pitted” or “Magazine”. The album, like their earlier releases, does a great job at combining popular culture with feminist issues (see “Magazine”). I think “Pitted” is the best song on the album though.

Listen here: https://slotface.bandcamp.com/album/try-not-to-freak-out

6. Beachheads- S/T (Fysisk Format)

I usually have problems finding the 10th spot on my list and when I finally find it I always think “shit! That record should be far higher on the list” and this year this happened when I came to think of the self-titled album from the Beachheads. They were formed by two members of Kvelertak, but they sound nothing like Kvelertak. Where Kvelertak’s music fills your ears with anger and aggression, Beachheads play power pop that fills your heart with joy, and we need to let out both these emotions every once in a while. I ended up buying the CD after I finished making the list.

Listen here: https://beachheads.bandcamp.com/

7. Hvitmalt Gjerde- Våken (TIK)

The third Norwegian release in a row, from Hvitmalt Gjerde. I put their last album Ville Venner on my list in 2014. I think this is a step down from Ville Venner. I don’t think Våken (awake) has the same pop sensibilities. I still think it’s better than their self-titled debut album from 2013 and I like that album a lot. I think there’s a lot more of their original garage-y surf rock on Våken, even if I think they are at their best on the poppier “Lys” (light).

8. Worriers- Survival Pop (Side One Dummy)

For me, Survival Pop wins the prize for title of the year. The album is really good too. “Future Me” was also discussed in the KTOTT discussion and it’s a great track. I don’t think the album is as good as Imaginary Life, but still great!

Listen here: https://worriers.bandcamp.com/album/survival-pop

9. The Lillingtons- Project 313 EP (Red Scare)

Seems like both Lillingtons releases this year made it to my list. “Project 313” is not as interesting or good as Stella Sepiente, but after a few listens I think it’s a pretty good EP and I like that both releases highlight a duality of the band and their very different sounds, but the creepy conspiracy songs that holds the band together and shows “we are the Lilllingtons”. I think “Until the Sun Shines” is better than most TBR songs in recent years.

Listen here: https://thelillingtons.bandcamp.com/album/project-313

10. Screeching Weasel- “Christmas Eve”/ “New Year’s Eve” (Single)

Image result for screeching weasel christmas eve

Like I said, finding the 10th is always hard. There have been some more releases from interesting artists this year. Billy Bragg put out a pretty good EP and Less Than Jake released new music as well. I think Susanne Sundfør’s Music for People in Trouble is pretty good and so is Blood Command’s Cult Drugs. The Dopamines released a good album, too. So it might come as an insult to all these bands what I decided to put on nr. 10. Screeching Weasel put out a holiday single out of nowhere. It’s cheesy and a bit tacky too. Still I enjoy it more than a lot of shit that’s come out this year, so I said, fuck it, it will be on my fucking list this year. Weasel fanboy right there. PS “New Year’s Eve” is a better song than “Christmas Eve”.

These Wicked Bears are from Salt Lake City and they play fast and catchy pop punk. I would file them under “shouty pop punk”. The album cover brings a smile to my face, like they are trying to sell me popsicles or soda.  Musically the album pretty much stays on track with the “shouty pop punk” sound. The songwriting reminds me of  Less Than Jake without the ska and a bit like Dan’s songs in Alkaline Trio and put through a “Make this an Against Me! Song” machine. They do sometimes stray from the formula and add some interesting stuff like the keyboards and synths in “No Vacancy”, the piano in “Cameron” and the organ in the acoustic track “Chattering Teeth”. Tuning Out is not the greatest album ever, but it works. My favorite song on the album is probably the last song “More Power”. It has a cool little solo and a good melody.  The band’s lyrics don’t seem to stick with me very easy except “we got robbed” from “We Got Robbed”. Tuning Out shows Wicked Bears as another band who seem like extremely competent performers, but they don’t necessarily stand out in the vast forest of pop punk bands that have grown over the years. However, if you enjoy a decent pop punk album, it’s worth checking out!

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

RH

So today, I’m reviewing a band from the East Bay. Hey…Wait? They’re actually from France! South Berkeley is just their name! “Tiny Rascals” is a single with one track called “Tiny Rascals”. The band writes in their description: “Strongly influenced by bands from late 90’s, we’d love to collide old school vibes with more modern and actual influences.” I definitely see what they’re going with here. The song starts up rather slow and it sounds like a mellower Alkaline Trio song or an early Blink-182 song. I really like the feeling in the song and to me the best sounding element is the bass guitar, it sounds great! There seems to be a Blink inspiration here. The drums are a bit too much for me, just like Travis Barker’s. I think production wise, there must’ve been some inspiration from John Feldmann and California-era Blink, but not as awful, I might add. I also think the vocals sound a bit contrived. Other bands that come to mind are MxPx and the Starting Line and I get an early 2000s vibe when I listen to this song, but it doesn’t sound as mainstream and polished as those bands. I think the song itself is pretty good and there’s something very dynamic about and it doesn’t just feel like it stands still like many pop punk songs, but I can’t really imagine how all the other South Berkeley songs sound like, or if “Tiny Rascals” is representative for what’s to come.

Listen here: https://krodrecords.bandcamp.com/track/tiny-rascals

RH