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

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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

Nottingham-based Molars return after the release of their debut EP ‘Tight, but not Groundbreaking’ last year. The band continue to hit a sweet-spot between early ‘00s pop-punk and contemporary mid-western emo, but Molars now sound more focused, sharper and less-indebted to their heroes. In short, they are starting to develop their own sound and “Ducking Punches” is easily the best thing they have written so far. It is a hard-hitting, fast-paced and tightly written (yes, they remain tight!) piece of melodic emo, recalling early Taking Back Sunday, Saves the Day and Tiny Moving Parts. Meanwhile, b-side “Negative Thinking” is a stop-start, Jimmy Eat World-esque self-analytic track about breaking your negative thought cycles. I really like the slowed-down part towards the end of track (“My train of thought seems to derail frequently”) when the back-up vocals intersect well with the main vocals. Good stuff!

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

DB

With the horns and upbeatness of this band, I’d expect more upstrokes. Though there are a few ska-influences her, I feel like We Know John’s own description ‘Pop punk with horns’ is more appropriate than ska punk, which is what I expected. The vibe that I get from this album is that it sounds a lot like Less Than Jake after the In with the Out Crowd album. A sound I have never been fond of, there is just something generic about it that rubs me the wrong way. On the other hand, We Know John does it very well. The tunes are quite catchy and they could all go on to be huge growers after listening to it many times. The production is great and the band sounds very professional. There’s a 2003 attitude about this album and the melodies reminds me a bit of Alkaline trio. Lyrically, the songs sound like they belong in the Fest in Gainsville, FL, with songs about the holy trinity of fucking up, getting up and singalongs. So with the mix of Less than Jake and Fest, this band captures the spirit of Gainesville, but they’re from Southhampton. What is quite cool about this band is that the singer Sam W also plays the trombone. John is the drummer apparently, which makes me perplexed about the band name. Is the name based on a reaction from the rest of the band after John, the drummer, made a comment; “we know John!” or is it the rest of the band bragging that they know John, the drummer, or maybe it’s another John. Some songs that stick out on the album are the ballad “Not Okay” and the album’s closer “The Sun Goes Down” which overdoses in whoah-ohs and has that Frank Turner-esque shouting. I also appreciate that there is a Green Day reference in “Too Far from the Shore”. There’s not anything particularaly original about this band, but what is nowadays? If you like pop punk with a cool horn section and goofy names, you should check it out. 

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

RH

Formed by Off With Their Heads’ bassist Robbie Swartwood, one might be forgiven for thinking that Nadir is another Chicago (or at least Midwestern) punk band. But one would be incorrect. Calling the New York City borough of Queens their home, Nadir play a vaguely “Fest” style of pop punk, mixed with more rock and roll influence. Some of the songs certainly have a Chicago toughness about them, which I think mainly comes from the strong bass lines. Listen to “Paper Trails” for what I’m talking about. The bass smacks you in the face in the way Big Black, Pegboy or Naked Raygun songs do. The guitars, on the other hand, are trying to be a little more melodic than wall of sound. My main problem with this mini-LP, though, has to be with the vocals. There’s just something a bit off with them; they’re never quite on key. Those vocals tend also tend to make otherwise tight instrumentals feel a little too loose. The other thing that bothers me a little bit, but not as much, is that there’s nothing unique here, nothing to make these eight songs stand out from the myriad other bands vying for our listening attention. It sounds pretty much like a thousand other bands you’re not aware of because you don’t go to your local dive bars that provide a venue for local bands to play. There are a couple of songs that don’t sound like everything else, though. “Buried Above Ground” owes more to grunge and 90s post hardcore than pop punk, while the title track and the closer, “Born To Die Alone,” are mostly acoustic, but even these last two sound pretty much like every pop punk band that does an acoustic song while the drummer relaxes. I know there are people who are going to automatically like this because of the connection to Off With Their Heads, but I just can’t do it.

Check it out here: https://nadir666.bandcamp.com/releases

PS

I can tell from the first note that Toronto’s Pkew Pkew Pkew is having a hell of a fun time. The music is bright and engaging, and drinking plays a prominent role in the lyrics of many of the songs. For example, the opening track, “Hangin’ Out After All These Years,” is an enthusiastic song, sounding like it’s full of joy. You have to feel like jumping around like an ass to this song about meeting up with old friends and falling back into the same old nihilistic patterns of getting drunk, passing out on the couch, not worrying about it, and getting breakfast in the morning. “That’s the only plan I’m ever going to have for tomorrow,” the song defiantly declares to anyone who would demand more of us. And “Mt. Alb” is an ode to getting people to buy you booze when you’re too young and getting underage wasted in somebody’s basement. That’s all there is to the song! Many songs center around just existing – not about anything more profound than being with friends, having fun, trying to get by, and looking back at younger days and seeing that not a lot has changed. “Everything’s The Same” is probably the most introspective sounding song, and directly touches on this theme of comparing the present to the past.

I love “65 Nickels,” a song with a spectacular arrangement, going from loud and raucous to quiet – yet still raucous. The interjections of the guitars are perfect in these quiet parts. The lyrics seem to refer to a relationship gone bad (“Sixty-five nickels in my pocket / It’s better than walking with you / ‘Cause I got sixty-five nickels in my pocket / For every shitty thing you put me through”), but things will be okay. Many of the songs seem to be about either resignation or celebration of our lot in life. “Passed Out” makes reference to joking about “living the dream,” but “I don’t dream when I’m passed out, and I never really dream much at all” we’re reminded. The song talks about moving from meaningless job to meaningless job, aimless. “I won’t blame anyone else,” the song says about the situation, “‘Cause the only one torturing me is myself.” And the closing track, “Thirsty and Humble,” hammers the aimlessness home with an anthem to doing pretty much nothing. “The plans we make never turn out right,” the song avers. “The afternoon turned into the night / And it bummed a smoke and it asked for a light / I’m on the wrong side of town / Too wasted to drive / Yeah, the afternoon turned into the night.”

My favorite track of the album is the second one, “I Don’t Matter At All.” The song simply sparkles, with guitars up an octave. The melody glides, with alternating ascending and descending scales, and the bubbly instrumentals are contrasted with desperate vocals, promising to change and do better, but also dejectedly declaring that “every now and then I get reminded that I don’t really matter at all.” It’s an interesting dichotomy, feeling worthless, yet insisting that you’ll make a difference.

Yeah, Pkew Pkew Pkew seem to be having a blast. But look a little deeper. Are they? Listen to these songs and see if you can figure it out. It’s debatable if those lyrics are all happy live-in-the-moment or if they’re more I’m-wasting-my-life. At the very least, you’ll have listened to some pretty great songs.

Check it out here: https://pkewx3.bandcamp.com/album/optimal-lifestyles

PS

It’s not often that I use the word “lush” in reference to a pop punk band, but this new EP from Montpellier, France’s Quitters is just that. The music is thick, with interesting complexities in the arrangement that might be more often found in an indie band than a punk band. The five-song EP opens with the title track, and it’s one that jangles like mad. The melody is simple enough, but the thoughtful guitar interplay and hooky lines really make the track. And, like I said, it just feels very rich and full. “Better Off Dead” makes the unusual move of putting the song in 3/4, or waltz time. Despite this, the song has all of the hallmarks of a great sing-along, and the use of distorted guitar harmonics is pretty cool. “Letter to Forgotten Friends” may be my favorite track of the EP, with its sense of urgency, awesome hooks, and wistful feel. “Burn Your House Down” is a fairly standard emotional pop punk track, one that would be a standout for many bands but here is the plainest of the bunch. And the closer, “Biting the Dust,” has gorgeous meandering guitar lines and uses dissonant harmonics to punctuate melodic lines that sound familiar yet fresh. I hope Quitters never quit making great music like this.

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

PS

Formed late in 2013, Witching Waves quickly released two LPs and three EPs in 2014 and 2015. Then they fell silent, at least in terms of recorded output, though they continued to play out and tour. Not too long ago, bassist Estella Adeyeri joined founding members Emma Wigham and Mark Jasper, and now, nearly four years on from their last LP, Witching Waves have given us a new full-length record. The ten songs are raw and urgent, with a stripped down post-punk sound. From the very start, the power taps are turned on full blast, with “Disintegration.” There’s nothing polished about this, with unnervingly raw vocals, noisy guitar and bass, and an elemental melodic line. But, at the same time, the end result sounds tight and driving. There is almost a mania, like the band believes their lives depend on getting this song out. Wigham’s vocals, particularly on “Best of Me” are intense, and that track blends tribal rhythms and dark dreaminess to great effect. “Shipping Container” starts off as a minimalist song, with a simple, repetitive line and robotic vocals, then halfway through the track, there’s a pause, and then the track starts to jam hard, in its own evil-sounding way. “Money” starts out with an angular jangle, but once it reaches the three quarter mark, it, too, transforms, and begins to rumble menacingly. “Underachiever” and “Inside Outside” are non-pop pop songs, with distinct melodic lines and distorted jangle, but both have an undercurrent of jeopardy. “Waiting for the Sun” closes the LP with a great pounding track, an almost mechanical rhythm accentuated by a higher register guitar. Witching Waves is named for an amusement park ride, but this record isn’t just amusing; it’s a thrill ride, for sure.

Check it out here: https://witchingwaves.bandcamp.com/album/persistence

PS

teenage-bottlerocket-2017-th813

To celebrate the release of Teenage Bottlerocket’s new album Stay Rad!, I decided to write up a top-ten list of the band’s songs that includes zero material from that record. Heh. It’s actually a decent record, but doesn’t contain anything top-ten worthy. You can see where my preference lies, with the vast majority of the songs on this list coming from the band’s first three releases. The positioning of these can be probably re-ordered, but I’m pretty sure these are my top ten…

  1. “TV Set” (Tales from Wyoming)

I think this song is the most recently released of the ten picks, which shows how highly I rate the last three TBR records. The new one is probably the higher quality and more consistent of the three, but none can come close to breaking the top ten. “TV Set” is on Tales from Wyoming, but it was released first on the Red Scare 10 year anniversary compilation. It stands out on TFW as a short, sweet and straightforward, harmony-driven pop-punk hit that is a throwback to the band’s earlier material. The underlying anti-technology suspicion on the track is very Lillingtons-esque, too.

  1. “Warning Device” (Warning Device)

Warning Device is for sure TBR’s most coherent and thematically-driven record and that is exemplified by the title track which serves as a one-two punch alongside the number one on this list. The album is essentially about coming through a break-up and regretting that you ever got together with the person, wishing that a ‘warning device’ of some kind could have warned you away all those years ago. Not a ‘new’ pop-punk theme in any way, but delivered in a refreshing and coherent way. The track has a fast-paced urgency and for one of the first times, TBR shift away from a standard Ramones-y verse-chorus-verse set-up. The pop-punk guitar solo is super fucking cool, too.

  1. “So Far Away” (Total)

The love-sick closer on Total. Making this list, I realise that TBR really knew how to close a record on the first three albums. “So Far Away” serves as a great epilogue on Total, releasing the pop-punk love-sickness that has been building on the rest of the record. It works well as this semi-melodramatic, (relatively) slowed-down mid-tempo tune, following on from faster-paced tracks like “Repeat Offender” and “Bloodbath at Burger King”. It is a super simple love song about dealing with long-distance, but I love the line, “how can I tell my heart that we’re a million miles apart?”. The repeated ‘so far away’ line at the crescendo of the song is so good.

  1. “Without You” (They Came From the Shadows)

There is an abundance of melody on “Without You”, one of my favourites from They Came From the Shadows. It has a wonderful sense of urgency and a heart-on-sleeve, melodramatic chorus; in many ways, I consider this to be a perfectly crafted pop song. “Without You” is a love sick pop-punker, but from a somewhat different perspective to that on “So Far Away”. On this one, the protagonist is longing for a significant other that has departed and is struggling to cope without them. Everything around them reminds them of the person. While Warning Device represented an anger at having fallen for that person, this track represents a simple sadness at the separation. The alternative version of “Without You” by Ray Rocket is also worth a listen!

  1. “Done With Love” (Freak Out)

By far, the standout on Freak Out. A Kody-penned tune, “Done With Love” is mid-tempo and super anthemic, with a hell of a chorus. The slower tempo really allows the vocals and lyrics the room to breathe. It’s great how much the ‘love’ in the chorus is elongated. For me, this track demonstrates TBR at the top of their songwriting game, in terms of melodies, song construction and lyrics. It sounds like it would fit in well on Warning Device, though the lyrical sentiments on “Done With Love” are in a slightly different place as that record. This is a very bitter song, with the protagonist having had enough of the game of love. They have ‘got shit to do’ and ‘no time to waste’ on any of that ‘bullshit’. As an ‘I’m out’, it’s very well delivered. Interestingly, I’m not sure if it was intentional, but the ‘no time to waste’ line makes me think of “Wasting Time” (read below); whereas previously, the protagonist couldn’t do anything but waste time on thinking about their significant other, now they have grown hardened and don’t waste time on it.

  1. “Social Life” (Warning Device)

A straight-up, fast-paced pop-punk ripper, clocking in at under 2 minutes. This was one of those on Warning Device that I loved straight away, whereas a bunch of the other tracks took a while to grow on me. As all the best pop-punk songs are, it’s simple (in hooks and lyrics), but really fucking effective. It’s about a guy not wanting to go out and see people and instead staying at home and listening to music. It’s really as simple as that! I love the last section of the song, when the chorus is repeated and the background ‘woah-ohs’ come in. It makes you want to pogo all around your living room, this one (on your own, of course). “Social Life” could have been as easily on Total, but I like how it fits in with the broader theme of ‘wasting time’ on Warning Device.

  1. “So Cool” (Total)

Another Kody song. I am super nostalgic about this track. I mean, all of Total, really, but particularly this one. It reminds me of doing stupid shit during the summer as a teenager and hanging out with a friend. It was also one of the first songs I got into from the mid-‘00s underground pop-punk scene and so kind of opened a floodgate for me. A fast-paced, intense and hook-filled punk track dedicated to the sheer joy of hanging out with a cool person. You get the sense that this is about the start of a relationship and everything blossoming, with the protagonist worried that the other person may leave eventually and pleading with not to (“cause if you do, I’m coming after you”). If you don’t like the back-up vocals towards the end of the song (“baby, baby, you’re so cool”), I dunno what to say.

  1. “Todayo” (They Came From the Shadows)

Like a classic Descendents or MTX track, this is an ode to everything going just right for once and pinching yourself: “Waking up next to me/ I hope you’ll always be”. There is an unbridled optimism and joy on “Todayo” that feels fragile and precarious. The themes of this track are not dissimilar to “So Cool”, I guess, although they are delivered in a somewhat different way. More than anything else TBR have done, it reminds me of mainstream pop-punk of the late ‘90s/early ‘00s, at least in parts. It’s a really energetic, urgent and anthemic punk track that tops anything else on They Came From the Shadows. I wish TBR had evolved more in the direction of “Todayo” or “Done With Love”, which stuck to the band’s roots but evidence a shift away from a simple pop-punk formula, instead of going down the ‘rawk’ route.

  1. “Bloodbath at Burger King” (Total)

Oh my, those opening guitar leads still get me every time. It’s essentially a straightforward pop-punk track about hating your job, but that guitar lead elevates it to a few notches above. I love the outro “blood on the register, the grill, and on the floor”, with the back-up vocals “bloodbath at burger king” coming in. I know there have been a ton of pop-punk songs written about hating one’s job, but this one is so visceral and really captures the intense feelings about working in the service industry and the blood that it makes you want to shed. At the time when I first heard this track, I was working in a fast-food joint (in a bowling alley) and I don’t think I have ever related to a song so much in my life! I remember walking around doing tasks at work, singing under my breath, “…blood on the fryer and the walk-in cooler door…”. Good times!

  1. “Wasting Time” (Warning Device)

It is often hard to say what is your favourite song from a band, but this is as close as I will get to a favourite TBR song, I think. “Wasting Time” is a mid-tempo, emotive and hook-filled pop-punk banger that forms part of an effective one-two combo with “Warning Device”. It makes for a great ending to the record. I can think of few pop-punk records that end on such a high note. I love the way the melody subtly shifts for the chorus: “And now the murdering of minutes is my only crime”. It’s a song that fits in neatly with “Warning Device” and the rest of the record: about fixating on a significant other that has left and not being to think of anything else. I think these are among TBR’s best lyrics!

Check out the latest record here: https://teenagebottlerocket.bandcamp.com/

DB