Archive for December, 2015

Things You Should Like: 2015

Posted: December 31, 2015 in Uncategorized

Hey!! You! Yes, you! Let me tell you some stuff to like!!

Here is some music me and Read Hard liked in 2015. If you want to be as cool as us, you could like it, too.

Here is a link to KTOTT’s spotify playlist of the year:

Next week: fashion tips.

DB’s Albums of the year:

  1. Waxahatchee- Ivy Tripp (Merge)

Waxahatchee is just one of those artists that keeps improving and expanding with each passing album. I thought Cerulean Salt was the bee’s knees, but this, their third LP, is absolutely stunning. There is a clear musical progression from their previous records: as with Cerulean Salt, this is a full-band affair, but they take a more experimental route here. There is a real variety on display here, from the slowed-down ballads (just Katie and a piano) to the dance-y, uplifting synth-y ones. Standout tracks include “La Loose”, simplistic and beautifully light, with its “ooh oohs” and a soaring chorus, and the keyboard-y “Air”, which is just a fantastically written song: “You are patiently giving me everything that I will never need”. The real standout though remains Katie’s voice, of course. The emotion and vulnerability which has been there since the start still runs right through her vocals. Heart-breaking, a real winter record, as “Summer of Love” evidences.

  1. Colleen Green- I Want to Grow Up (Hardly Art)

I’ve gone on about this album enough, I realise, but it is really, really excellent. It could definitely be the album of the year. This is the album where Colleen Green’s level went up several notches. I’ve come to enjoy her older stuff much more now, but I Want to Grow Up is still lightyears ahead: in terms of production, songwriting, everything. It is the perfect example of a ‘themed’ album: no over-arching narrative or concept, but a record centred around one particular theme, an inability to mature. “Whatever I Want” is one of the most-empowering songs you will ever hear, especially where it is placed as the album closer. Backed by sweet vocals and addictive beats, Colleen has made it.

  1. Bangers- Bird (Specialist Subject)

Oh yeah, the UK’s best current punk rock band are back with another great record! This one might be their best yet; it’s certainly the one where they experimented the most musically and took influences from outside of punk rock, as bassist/vocalist Andrew attested to in his recent interview. “I Don’t Feel Like I’ll Ever Be Clean Again” is one the hits of the year and totally steps outside of what Bangers normally do. It sounds more like an alt-rock song from the ‘90s. Although they branched out a little bit, this is still assuredly a Bangers album and that is always a good thing.

  1. Screeching Weasel- Baby Fat (Recess)

Easily the most ambitious punk album released this year. If you have somehow missed it, this is Screeching Weasel’s first act of a rock opera, including Kat Spazzy in a wonderful turn as vocalist, alongside Blag Dhalhia among others. If you want evidence of how far Weasel stepped outside of their comfort zone, listen to “I’m a Lonesome Wolf”. Baby Fat is not a perfect album by any stretch, but it’s lined with some pure gold: “Creeping in Silence”, “Sleeping Beauty” and “In the Pale Light of the Midnight Sun” particularly stand out.

  1. Best Coast- California Nights (Harvest)

“I know it’s love that’s got me feeling ok”. My favourite chorus of the year. “Feeling Ok” is such a hit song: wonderful melodies underpinned by Bethany’s sweet vocals. At one point, I was playing it 3 or 4 times a day. The rest of the album is inconsistent, but the level of the good songs is good enough to put Best Coast in fifth spot: particularly the title track and “Heaven Sent” particularly. This is a big comeback from Best Coast after the largely disappointing The Only Place.

  1. Great Cynics- I Feel Weird (Specialist Subject)

Hey, it’s time to obnoxiously quote myself from my own review of this record:

“Great Cynics walk the tight boundary between ‘90s indie-pop and straight-forward pop-punk in a similar way to label-mates Personal Best. They are equally indebted to Weezer as they are Descendents and that means one thing: hooks-a-plenty! I Feel Weird is seriously one big pop-fest; the melodies on display here will gradually draw you in and not let you leave for days. There is a punk element to this record, but make no mistake, the core here is classic, sugary pop. The uplifting, positive nature of I Feel Weird gives it all a summery feel, recalling youthful, care-free days in the park.”

  1. Frank Turner- Positive Songs for Negative People (Xtra Mile)

It’s probably his weakest album (even considering the inconsistent first record), but it is still Frank Turner. A little bit like Best Coast, Frank’s good songs are really, really good, but it is the fillers on the albums which let it down. “Get Better”, “Mittens” and “Josephine” are un-fuckwithable and evidence songwriting genius: “I once wrote you love songs/ You never fell in love/ We used to fit like mittens, but never like gloves”. It’s no Tape Deck Heart maybe, but it’s still better than 99% of things. I want to hear Frank’s angst unleashed on the next album, to be entitled Negative Songs for Positive People!

  1. The Sidekicks- Runners in the Nerved World (Epitaph)

The Sidekicks improve with each record and kind of sound nothing like they did on their first record. They have gone from being a passionate, Fest-y punk band to being an indie rock band with fantastic songwriting ability. The latter identity suits them so much better. Runners in the Nerved World is their forth record and continues their musical evolution from where Awkward Breeds left off. This is considered, emotional, resonating indie rock, that is devoid of the pretentiousness often associated with the sub-genre. Listen to “Everything in Twos” or “Jesus Christ Supermalls” if you don’t believe me.

  1. Worriers- Imaginary Life (Don Giovanni)

This is the second album from Worriers, comprising of Lauren Denizito (formerly of the Measure (SA)) on vocals and Mikey Erg! on drums. They play indie-pop-punk in an interesting way, with Lauren’s vocals perfectly suiting the subtle melodies on offer. Imaginary Life is a great example of ‘personal is political’, where Lauren tackles wider structural issues (particularly in regards to gender and institutional corruption) from a personal and emotional stance. This involves self-reflection as an older person looking back at their former, younger activist life, kind of like in “I Was a Teenage Anarchist”. The other Against Me! Link is of course that Laura Jane Grace produced this album. A grower of an album, for sure.

  1. Night Birds- Mutiny on Muscle Beach (Fat Wreck Chords)

Night Birds may have toned down the surf elements on their first release for Fat Wreck Chords Mutiny on Muscle Beach, but they have not diluted their intensity or raw edge one bit. If anything, they have gone up a couple of notches. This is a classic punk album through and through that could be from an ‘80s So-cal hardcore band. Mutiny…is burnt through at a relentless pace; there is barely any time for the listener to breathe here. A throwback to how a ‘proper’ punk album should sound, or perhaps a ‘proper’ skate-punk album.

Albums that didn’t quite make the top ten: Personal Best- Arnos Vale; Don Blake- Pocket Universe; Vacation- Non-Person.

Favourite EPs of the year:

Skinny Genes- “Ugh”

Kimberley Steaks- “Chemical Imbalance”

Shit Present- “S/T”

 Read Hard’s Albums of the year

Baby Fat Act 1 cover art

1 Screeching weasel-Baby Fat Act 1 (Recess)

I’ve probably written too much about this record already! And I’m probably what the punx call a “weasel-apologist” or an asshole, but I think it’s a great album and I still think “Thine Eyes of Mercy” and “Creeping in Silence” are the best songs that came out this year. And maybe the most interesting aspect of this story is the relationship between Baby Fat(Blag Dahlia) and Poveretta(Kat Spazzy). No matter what one might think of Ben Weasel’s persona, he did a great job on this rock opera, and I’m excited to see how act 2 turns out.

2 Razika-Ut til de andre (Out to the Others) (K Dahl Eftf)

No Read Hard “Record of the year” list without Norwegian bands. Razika is an all-female band from Bergen. They are known for their poppy mix of Ska and Indie rock, but on “Ut til de andre” they seem to have taken inspiration from 60’s Pop music and there also seems to be a garagy Pop Punk influence as well, and it works great! I think this is their best album till now. And gives us everything from the snarky Pop Punk of “Faen ta deg”(Fuck you), to the slow 60’s-esque ballad of “Gutten i dongerijakke”(The boy in the denim jacket) and to the more Doo-Wop Pop of “Det Embla sa”(What Embla said). The production is smooth and the songs are incredibly catchy and I’m, like I think I mentioned last year, bewildered because of the tremendous production that’s found on Norwegian records nowadays. My favorite song on the album might be “Første gangen om igjen”(“The first time again”), with its wonderful horn section that still hangs around from the Ska days.

3 Worriers-Imaginary Life (Don Giovanni)

Worriers is the name of a music collective from New York City lead by Lauren from the Measure(SA) and with Mikey Erg on drums! And this is a great album through and through and includes wonderful song titles such as “Life during Peacetime” and “Yes All Cops”, and they’re not only good song titles, but they are also great songs! Mikey Erg’s drumming is interesting and innovative without going into Travis Barker overplaying territory.

4 Bad Cop/ Bad Cop-Not Sorry (Fat Wreck Chords)

I first became aware of this Bad Cop/Bad Cop from singer Stacy Dee’s appearances on Ryan Young’s(Off with Their Heads) podcast “Anxious and Angry” and thought they were great right away. I have been anticipating the album for a while, especially with the album’s first single “Nightmare”, which is a doo-woppy Pop Punk song, and the video is hilarious too. Unfortunately, I don’t think most of the album lives up to the great single. There are a couple of songs like “The ‘Wood” that do, and there are definitely some really great tracks spread out over the album, and there’s really not a bad song on the album, most of it is pretty standard Pop Punk, but the album seems really inconsistent. The good songs are really good though, and had they all been that great I’m sure this album would be even higher on the list.

5 Radiohearts-Lot to Learn (FDH)

Radiohearts was the great surprise for me this year, as I had the pleasure of reviewing the EP they released last year “Nothing at All”, and I was happy to find out they also released an EP this year that is almost as great! This is Buzzcocks versus 999 in a modern, American version. “Lot to Learn” is four great tracks and both “Heartbeat” and “Let Them Know” are among the best songs that came out this year!

6 Frank Turner-Positive Songs for Negative People (Xtra Mile)

Frank Turner is back with a new album, and the album title is great. Sadly, I think the title is better than the actual album. The album is the classic Frank Turner sound, maybe a bit more of the punker side than the Folk side. The first song “The Angel Islington” is the first song and a nice little song about the tubestop in the Islington district in London, it’s among the best songs on the album. Other treats are the single “Get Better” and the beautiful ballad “Mittens”, but I think the album at large falls short to the great Tape Deck Heart, and pretty much everything else in his discography.

7 Night Birds-Mutiny at Muscle Beach (Fat Wreck Chords)

Another band that delivers their signature sound is Night Birds, this is exactly what to expect from a Night Birds album, which makes it hard to tell whether it’s great or OK, because Night Birds sound cool with their Surf versus old school hardcore (they’ve always reminded me of the Adolescents) sound. The last song, “Left in the Middle”, though stands out as a really great closer and a great song. I guess this is the album to listen to if you like the Night Birds, like I do! The album title is Mutiny at Muscle Beach is cool too, maybe even cooler than Frank Turner’s title.

8 Slutface-Shave My Head (Propeller)

Slutface is a Norwegian band that is somewhat hard to categorize, but if I were to try I’d place them somewhere between New Wave and Indie rock. “Shave My Head” is a single they released in October. The most interesting quality of the band is that every individual instrument works so great on its own and they all work so well together. There’s always a cool drumbeat, a smooth bass line or an innovative guitar riff or solo to notice. The vocal performances are top notch and the lyrics are witty and can make you think. The lyrical topics usually revolve around feminism and popular culture from the 80’s and 90’s. Both songs on the single are more on the feminist side, seen from a personal point of view. The title track has the great line “I’d rather put together my IKEA chairs with glasses of red wine”. I think the B-side; “Get My Own” is the better of the two songs. There is a link between the two songs. In “Shave My Head” is a woman declaring her independence (“I am fine to walk alone, I don’t need you there to walk me home”) and “On My Own” is a statement against society’s misogyny and the threat of violence against women (“We refuse to be scared to walk all alone”). And both songs makes a really great single.

9 Home Street Home: Songs from the sHit Musical (Fat Wreck Chords)

The hardest part about these lists is choosing the tenth record, this year I had to revisit the soundtrack from Fat Mike’s musical. Is making a musical really a good idea? *looks away* On this soundtrack NOFX plays the music and we get to hear several Punk rock stars playing the roles. Stacy Dee from Bad Cop/Bad Cop is playing one of the lead roles and her vocal performance might be even better on this album than on Not Sorry, but the songs are less memorable. Frank Turner also makes a few appearances in the two really short cuts “Bad Decision” and “Another Bad Decision”, Matt Skiba also plays the creepy molester dad. I guess it’s similar to Baby Fat, in many ways, but the cast is more famous here, but it still falls short when it comes to the songs. Another similarity between the two is the focus on sexual assault. The best song on this record is the NOFX song “The Agony of Victory” and it might be better than the version on Coaster. As I revisited the album, I realized it deserved to be placed a spot higher.

10 Topbunk-Top Bunk (Bloated Kat)

Never a top 10 of the year list without something from Grath Madden! This year it’s his newest band Topbunk together with Ace Hole from Skinny Genes (as well as all the other Grath bands). A pretty good EP and it sounds different than most of Grath’s bands and the song “Run Away” is one of the greatest songs of the year. Records that I also considered were Fidlar’s Too and Latter+’s No More ThanThree Chords since they both had one really great song each, and revisiting them I realized that they were incredibly similar (“West Coast” and “”) as well as some other good tracks. Stiletto Bomb also had one of the greatest songs this year(“Screaming from the Bottom”), but their record didn’t make it either.

Andrew Horne is the head honcho at Specialist Subject Records, based in Exeter, probably the most consistently good UK-based punk rock record label. Particularly over the last 12 months. Awesome releases from Bangers, Shit Present and Great Cynics stand out in 2015, but I’m pretty sure they have all been good. It is one of those labels where I always keep my eyes peeled for the next releases they have planned (FYI, I believe it’s a new album from Muncie Girls coming up next). If you don’t know this label at all, they have put a free downloadable compilation of the 2015 releases online to give you a taster (link at the bottom of the page).

Andrew is also bassist/vocalist in Bangers, that modern punk rock institution who never disappoint. They just released their new album Bird, which definitely demonstrates an experimental progression, but is also still definitely a Bangers album. Probably my favourite current UK-based punk band.

I chatted to Andrew about both of these things. Enjoy.

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Talk us through a brief history of Specialist Subject Records! How did you form?

It properly started around 2009, I’d just finished working at a classical label in Cornwall which taught me a bunch and we needed a platform for self releasing some Bangers records and records by a few friends (like Caves and The Arteries). It’s just slowly progressed from then on.

What made you want to run an independent punk rock record label?

I never really set out to run a real record label, in the early years it was just something I did to help out friends whose music I liked. There weren’t many active labels at the time that would have been interested so I was just trying to do my bit, I didn’t really have a plan. But as things went on the label got busier, I started doing more releases, setting the sights a bit higher each time, it’s just grown in to what it is now, which I think is somewhere near a “real record label”.

How did you find setting up Specialist Subject Records initially? Were there any particular challenges in the early days?

I wouldn’t say there were too many challenges early on, I’d learnt enough from working at a label and doing various self released projects before to know the basics and working with friends expectations were realistic. It was just fun really, I was touring a lot, playing music a lot and it was just an exciting time. Things have got more challenging as time’s gone on I think!

 

Specialist Subject records is based in Exeter. What are the links between the record label and the punk scene in the South-West? How has being based there impacted on SS?

Well I grew up not too far from here in North / East Cornwall, and used to go to gigs and play in bands in Plymouth and Exeter so I’ve known and had some involvement in the music scene round here for a while.  The first release for the label came out when I was living in Leeds, the next few when I was living in Falmouth and then spent a couple of years in Birmingham before moving back to the South West a few years ago. So the label’s never really been defined by its location

Since being in Exeter the past few years we have been releasing more things by bands from round here though and it’s cool. We’ve got an office right in the centre of the city and we get to see people from Muncie Girls, Shit Present, Great Cynics, The Fairweather Band on pretty much a daily basis and it’s a really nice way to work with bands, when it’s not an email based relationship.

What do you make of the punk scene in general in the UK right now?

The punk scene’s as good as ever, I think it’s always been consistent, just depends what you’re into. At certain times trends shift and different sub genres get more attention than others but there are always other bands if you don’t like what’s ‘in’!

I turned 30 this year so 2015’s punk scene probably isn’t going to be a definitive time in music for me personally but I’m still regularly finding new UK bands that really excite me. I guess when I don’t then it’s time to call it a day!

 

As an independent label selling cassettes and vinyl, how do you find the state of the record industry at the moment? How long do you think the vinyl revival will last?

Hard question, the state of the music industry is one of constant flux, the goal posts are constantly moving and no one really knows what the fuck’s going to happen. Really all physical formats are “unnecessary” but that doesn’t mean that people aren’t still buying them. What we’re really talking about is a piece of art so if seeing, touching, reading lyrics and liner notes as well as listening to an album improves the experience for people then people will continue to buy physical products. How long that will last though is anyone’s guess.

To be honest I hope the ‘vinyl revival’ doesn’t last, it’s getting pretty tedious. For punk rock (and dance music / hip hop) vinyl never went anywhere, when the mainstream music industry turned its back on the format small independent punk rock and indie labels never did. So to have a situation now where pressing plants (which may well have shut down in the quieter years if it weren’t for those punk releases?) are backed up with major label represses and needless Record Store Day Releases, with small punk labels getting pushed to the back of the queue, absolutely sucks.

Many bands and labels have already moved to cassettes as a cheap and quick alternative to vinyl as it’s getting more and more difficult to press records. Hopefully when the vinyl bubble does burst it isn’t too late that small labels have all moved on out of necessity.

How has 2015 treated Specialist Subject?

2015 has been nuts, by far the busiest year we’ve ever had and I’m super proud of every release we’ve done (I was going to list some but you could just listen to this sampler we did: https://specialistsubject.bandcamp.com/album/specialist-subject-records-2015). It’s been pretty stressful at times but it’s a constant learning process, as with any growing endeavour we’re constantly trying to do things we’ve never done before, so hopefully this year we’ve learnt some lessons for the future or maybe they won’t even be relevant for next year’s challenges!

How successful has the Subscription Service been?

The subscription service (or Season Ticket as we’re calling it – I thought it sounded more British) has been great, when we decided to try it at the end of last year I had no idea if anyone would sign up for it and we put it together on the basis that if 5 people signed up we could pull it off. In the end we had 30 people sign up, which surpassed all my expectations and financially it’s a huge help for the label. It wasn’t actually that hard to stay on top of either, I think all the releases went out on time (Kay’s very organised, not sure I could pull it off without her!), and it seems like people really enjoyed it.

We’ve already had more people sign up for next year and we haven’t even announced much of what we’re going to be putting out yet, so it’s super humbling for people to have that much faith in us!

What does the future hold for Specialist Subject? What are the plans for next year?

Now that we’ve decided to run the Season Ticket again next year means at least another 10 releases! I was kind of scared about that for a minute but we’ve actually got a really good few releases lined up already. The Muncie Girls album is coming out in March which is super exciting, they’re planning to tour loads next year and getting a bunch of good attention from press so it should be a good year for them hopefully.

Ok, a few questions about Bangers now and the new record. You just released your fourth LP Bird earlier this year. How do you feel the album turned out?

It’s actually our third, or maybe fifth depending on how you define it, sorry we’re annoying! I’m super proud of how Bird turned out, I honestly think it’s our best record yet.

How was the recording process?

I really enjoyed the recording it, we’ve never really been to a real studio before all the other records were done on the cheap in various sketchy situations with the help from talented friends (like Oli Wood from Above Them) to make it sound okay.

But this time round we thought we’d try something new so booked into Greenmount in Leeds for a week and it was great, the guys that work there, Jamie and Lee totally got what we were after from the very start and nailed it! It was great to go in and focus on it completely while we were there and come out with a finished record a week later.

Bird cover art

How do you think Bangers have developed over the last few years? I have developed noticed a musical and lyrical progression in the last album or two, particularly on songs such as “I Don’t Feel Like I’ll Ever be Clean” or “Trousers of Time”.

We’ve definitely developed, I’m not sure exactly how, I think as time goes on we’ve become more aware that we can do different things and because it’s still us, it’s still the same instrumentation, even the ideas we think are a bit too far out there still end up sounding recognisable as Bangers.

And I guess it’s just different influences creeping is as we get older, none of us really listen to the kind of music that we did when we started the band or any gruff / punk rock / org punk bands that we get associated with so I think it’s different influences creeping their way into what we’ve previously defined as our sound.

I also wanted to ask you about the Mysterious Ways 12”, which came out this year. You recorded the whole thing in 48 hours. What is the story behind that? How did the idea come about?

It’s basically a dumb idea we had on a long drive, we have lots of those that never come to fruition but this one did. We were about half way through writing Bird and we were basically discussing getting together for a weekend with some recording gear and trying to write another 8-10 songs as an experiment, see what came out and then salvage what we could to use on the album. Then that somehow turned into actually releasing what we came up with no matter what!

I’m really proud of how it turned out and I really think it helped with writing the rest of Bird, for the previous album Crazy Fucking Dreams I think at times we overthought things and doing Mysterious Ways just kind of reaffirmed that sometimes it is cool to just do the more obvious thing or the first idea that pops into your head.

Ok, final question. I won’t be mean and include things you released yourself, but what is your favourite non-Specialist Subject records release of 2015?

I was thinking about this the other day and I thought it would be hard to pick one record, then I looked at my Spotify your 2015 in music thing and there’s one band that I’ve listened to over 1000 songs by this year so I think that’s does it.

Tenement – Predatory Headlights

It’s so rare to hear a band pull off something original that still sits within the realm of punk music and a 25 song, 80 minute, double album would be a risky move for most bands but I totally love every second of it. Some of the best 3 minute pop songs, with added strings, jazz parts, even a 9 minute percussion interlude. Loved everything that they’ve done before but this record is even better than I’d hoped it’d be.

DB

Check out the new Bangers album here: http://bangersbangers.bandcamp.com/album/bird

Check out the Specialist Subject: https://specialistsubject.bandcamp.com/album/specialist-subject-records-2015

 

Ugh cover art

This is the second 7” from Skinny Genes, aka Ace from Steinways/Houseboat’s pop-punk solo project, where he basically does everything (writes the songs, sings, plays all the instruments). It’s almost every bit as good as his debut 7” “Meh” which came out a couple of years ago and is basically in the same vein: energetic and hook-y-as-fuck pop-punk. If you like any of the songs Ace sang in Steinways/Houseboat, you’re going to love this. “Words With Friends With Benefits” is probably the pick of the bunch, but they’re all great. The song bursts instantly into action, with the fast-paced and frenetic verses perfectly complementing the slowed-down, earworm-y chorus: “I need you, to just listen”.

The upbeat melodies and pop-punk-iness is in sharp contrast to Ace’s self-deprecating honesty. He captures well the frustration and difficulties encountered by his generation: those in their late 20s/early 30s, of lacking direction, focus, vision for the future, of not knowing what you want in life. This is summed up pretty well by the opening lines of the first song from the 7” “Self-defeat Champion of the Galaxy”:

“Lost in a trance and my eyeballs are shot/ Staring for hours, I know I should stop/ Searching for something but I don’t know what/ When I think I’ve found it, it’s not what I want”

Ace suggests an inability to grow up here, an inability to mature, of perpetual adolescence. Such complacency and laziness is making him freak out, in a similar way to Colleen Green outlined in her latest (awesome) LP I Want to Grow Up (Yes, I will make two Colleen Green references in two consecutive reviews, fuck you). “Deeper than Love” was about Colleen being scared of intimacy and commitment and Ace’s most interesting song lyrically is the closer “Stallage” when he talks about his tendency to ‘stall’ in relationships: “We can’t stay together, we can’t stay apart/ You want a future and I’m scared to start”. There’s an exhausted acceptance by Ace in these four songs of how he is: “No-one wins or loses, lets give up this fight tonight”.

Every song I’ve heard from Skinny Genes so far is at least an 8/10. The hooks on this 7” aren’t quite as memorable as “I suck at being a grown up” was from “Meh”, but still pretty fucking great nonetheless. I want more, Ace. MORE!

Listen here: http://skinnygenes.bandcamp.com/

DB

Shit Present cover art

Iona, the bassist in Great Cynics, has formed her own band called Shit Present, including members of Gnarwolves, Smith Street Band and Ok Pilot. She sang lead vocals on one of the tracks from Great Cynics recent LP I Feel Weird called “North Street” and it’s probably one of the best pop-punk songs of the year and yet at least two of the songs on this EP even top that for me. “Anxious Type” is a hell of a way to kick off an EP. Musically and lyrically, one of the best written songs to come out of the UK punk scene in the last few years. Catchy lead guitars, awesome melodies and a killer chorus, underpinned by Iona’s passionate yet simultaneously vulnerable vocals. Her vocals suit this kind of music so perfectly. The way the music builds up to a crescendo of a chorus, which is at once cathartic and super-melodic: “Just tell yourself you’re not the anxious type” just begs to be screamed out. Read Hard was recently talking about Tim as an ‘outsider’ record and I kind of think that this EP follows that tradition, “Anxious Type” in particular. The song is powerful and moving and a big fuck you from an outsider perspective: I can do this, I’m not going to listen to what you say. I would link that with Colleen Green’s album-closing realisation from her latest album, that she can do “whatever” she wants. There are other great lyrical insights on the song: “I know I was crying for what seemed like half a year/ but I’m trying, you just only see my fear, cos you hold me dear”.

The EP calls to mind ‘90s poppy indie combined with more recent sonic developments on the UK punk underground. It’s essentially well-written melodic punk that is honest and refreshing. For a debut EP, it’s astonishingly good. Shit Present slow things down on the superbly penned “Melbourne” before the spiky, fast-paced “Evaporate”, with its deep-cutting lyrics: “As soon as you come around, I wish you’d fucking go away”. There’s not a bad song on this things. I’m fully pumped for a full-length now. The band name Shit Present may sound like a terrible DC hardcore band from the late ‘90s but don’t let the name put you off. This is the shit.

Listen here: http://specialistsubject.bandcamp.com/album/shit-present

DB

Greyhound Dreams cover art

At the moment I’m sitting in a hotel room in Barcelona, Spain listening to this album by English Folk Punk singer-songwriter Sam Russo, not to be confused with the dude from Unwritten Law (I think his name is Scott). Although Russo played guitar in Brendan Kelly and Dan Andriano’s side project The Falcon, I believe this is Folk Punk of the more melancholic type and seems to jump on the recent trend of punkers starting to play Folk music. Musically, I don’t hear much ‘punk rock’, it’s really slow ballads most of the time and reminds me a lot of Sun Kil Moon, but with vocals that sound like a more high pitched Frank Turner. There are times when he does get a bit shout-y, and unlike most singers in the genre it’s the parts I enjoy the most. “Eye Candy” sounds like what I’d imagine it’d sound like if Mark Kozelek inhaled helium, had Frank Turner playing guitar and sang an unknown Bob Dylan song from the The Times They are A-Changing era and sang a duet with Emmylou Harris.

“Crayfish Tales” sounds like it’s from Alex Turner’s Submarine soundtrack and is the best song on the record. “Moving North” really has the Sun Kil Moon storytelling vibe. Overall I think the album is a pretty good effort, but in a genre that knows no end and has few standout acts, this does not stand out either and just blends in with the rest of the punk singers growing beards and singing acoustic songs. Does this guy have a beard? I’m not sure, I hate to generalize, but my ears say he does! The album also misses the edge that most Folk Punk dudes have, and like I said earlier he’s one who could really benefit from that edge. Where a lot of these beardos have a tendency to sound a bit out of hand when they shout, Russo actually pulls it off pretty well and I’d like to hear more of that, personally. The female harmonies that appear from time to time really help the sound not be too monotonous. I do really like the line “I ain’t fooling no one, I ain’t fooling you…I’m nobody’s fool” from “Nobody’s Fool”. It’s a nice Folk Punk album appropriate for the time of the year, but I really do miss the Punk, I guess.

Listen here: http://specialistsubject.bandcamp.com/album/greyhound-dreams

RH

Lot To Learn cover art

After having reviewed their last EP “Nothing at All”, I had great expectations for the next one; “Lot to Learn”. One of the oddities with the last EP, that I noted in the review, was that the cover art didn’t fit much to the music, but this time it’s spot on. The cover art looks like something out of Britain in the late 70’s or early 80’s, and despite still being from Long Beach, California, that’s exactly what the band sounds like! Same as “Nothing at All”, the new EP also have four tracks and is over in under ten minutes. The musical references and influences seem to be the same and the title track “Lot to Learn” and “Heartbeat” both sound a lot like the Buzzcocks. The title track, and also the first song on the EP, also seems a bit Ramones inspired, and has anyone ever gone wrong with that?????….Forget I asked, lots of bands have gone wrong with that, but Radiohearts do not!

The second song “Decisions” has a very Pop Punk/Power Pop inspired intro and the verses reminds me of the newer British band Vatican DC, but the chorus takes us back to the Buzzcocks sound! And it’s pretty damn catchy! I often have problems making out the lyrics, but the line “The future’s very bright for a kid that’s too young to be alone”, if that is what is sung, is truly great. Aforementioned “Heartbeat” is definitely one of the best songs released this year! Outside of the Buzzcocks, the song seems really inspired by 60’s Pop music, but with a New Wave beat. The lyrics are simple and minimalist, and as I can tell, only has two or three sentences. The chorus goes “There’s a toll on your soul that is never gonna last”. The last song “Let Them No” continues in the 60’s Pop style in the melody and it reminds me of something I can’t put my finger on. The music sounds a bit like the Clash mixed with 999 and it’s a bit slower than the rest of the tracks. Also, a really great song!

The band hasn’t changed their sound much since the last EP, but the production has become better and the performance also sounds more professional. There are less contagious melodies like “Heart of Mine” on this EP, but it’s more consistently good and the EP as a whole seems more substantial. I’m still excited about this band and I think this is definitely among the best releases of 2015. After three EP’s, I wonder if they will release a full-length or stay in the EP format.

Listen here: http://radiohearts.bandcamp.com/

RH

I think this column has gotten to the point where the genre ‘Pop Punk’ doesn’t really mean anything anymore and I just ramble on about my favorite records, partly anyway. It’s going to be hard to explain why I would classify the Replacements’ classic, Tim, as a Pop Punk album. It does of course take the punk sound from their earlier records, mixing it with classic pop tunes and the sort of College Rock they moved on to on Let It Be. The Mats were formed in Minneapolis in 1979 by the brothers Bob and Tommy Stinson, the band was later joined by drummer Chris Mars and singer Paul Westerberg. Their first album Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash, released in 1981, was a pretty standard Hardcore/Punk album and gave the world a preview of Westerberg’s raspy voice. A voice that has had an obvious direct or indirect influence on bands like Jawbreaker, Latterman and Billy Raygun, so we are getting closer to Pop Punk now at least. The band had always flirted with a Country/Folk sound with songs like “If Only You Were Lonely” and “You’re Getting Married”, but it was on their sophomore record, Hootenanny, they started mixing the Punk roots they never really admitted to having with a more college rock sound, whatever that is, and in spite of the album’s title, which is a reference to a Folk tradition in the neo-Folk scene in the 50’s and 60’s, it might be their album with the least influences from Folk music. As I’ve said Let It Be went full on College Rock and in many ways tried to imitate the classic rock bands such as The Beatles, Rolling Stones and they even did a cover of Kiss’s “Black Diamond”. This influence from classic rock can also be seen in the album title, that is a reference to the Beatles album and song of the same name, this can later be seen on Pleased to Meet Me, that is a reference to the Stones classic “Sympathy for the Devil”. Tim is to me the most interesting and diverse album, but also the album where Westerberg shines the most as a songwriter.

Tim was released in October, 1985 on Sire Records, it was their major label debut. It’s also probably their weirdest album cover. Most of the album cover is black and white and is kind of a creepy hall. The upper part of the cover is pink and viewing it upside down you can see a weird face and viewing it normally you can see someone playing the guitar and someone else holding their hand up. The album was produced by Tommy Ramone and like I said before expanded the College Rock sound from Let It Be and took the Punk sound of the older days and mixed in Classic Rock and Pop music. It peaked at nr. 183 on the Billboard album chart.
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1. “Hold My Life”: The first song on the album has rather strange lyrics, where the verses make very little sense, but are weirdly poetic and beautiful. The lyrics of the song base on clever rhyming and punnery in the way that Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello had done before and that Dr. Frank and Billie Joe Armstrong would do later. The line “Crack up in the sun/ Lose it in the shade” is pretty good, a lot of the song’s lyrics are based on the ambiguity of “losing it”. The metaphor or idiom “losing it” comes from taking the literal act of losing something that you can actually hold and the idiom means that you are losing control, something that is not of substance, but an abstract concept. Ironically, so is life itself, so the title saying “Hold My Life” is not actually possible and actually makes an incredibly beautiful image of needing someone to hold your life, because you might lose it, “lose it” could here both refer to losing your life, or “losing it” in general, meaning; losing control. The “Razzle-dazzle-razzle-droll” part comes from the rhyme “Razzle-dazzle” which means something that shows brilliance. There’s also a chance that the line is also a tribute to the Hanoi Rocks drummer nicknamed Razzle that died the previous year. Musically, the song starts up like a pretty standard Rock song, but the chorus shows brilliant Pop-sensibilities and the little, simple riff when Westerberg sings “Cuz I just might lose it” is the best part of the song!

2. “I’ll Buy”: is an OK that just fills the gap between “Hold My Life” and “Kiss Me on the Bus”. It continues the wordplay of “Hold My Life” and has lots of pop-cultural references. “Give my regards to Broadway” is a reference to a classic show tune of the same name, that also was referenced in Paul McCartney’s “Give My Regards to Broad Street” a few years earlier. The song seems to be about someone driving a car and wanting to get laid. Westerberg also sings “Movies are for retards, like me and Maybelline”, which is a reference to Chuck Berry’s breakthrough hit. Some of the puns in the song: “Don’t wanna get pop, find yourself a rockin’ chair” and “Never get passed the dice dear, goddammit, I’m gonna roll”.

3. “Kiss Me on the Bus”: Many of the songs on Tim have been said to be inspired by other bands, “Kiss Me on the Bus” is said to be influenced by Nick Lowe and it is indeed a super catchy Power Pop track. There is something quite melancholic, but also youthful about the song. The song is about wanting to be kissed on the bus, but the other person seems a bit more shy about this than the narrator. In the chorus Westerberg sings “If you knew how I felt now, you wouldn’t act so adult now” and brings the feeling of youth into the song and you almost get the feeling that the two characters on the bus are teenagers. The guitar solo and handclaps are wonderful and the production is marvelous. As always the tambourine plays an important role and makes the song so much better. A real fucking classic there! Sugar sweet and swinging!

4. “Dose of Thunder”: Like “I’ll Buy”, “Dose of Thunder” is closer to the more Hard Rock-esque songs on Let It Be. The lyrics are really nothing special and neither is the music, this feels like listening to Kiss or some shit. It’s not awul, but compared to the classics on the album it really falls short. It has the weird lyrics “Gimme gimme in a hurry/Texas added to Missouri”

5. “Waitress in the Sky”: Is a standard Rock n’ roll song that is somewhat slow-paced, but catchy. It bears a huge resemblance to Harold Dorman’s 1960 hit “Mountain of Love”. The song is about a protagonist on a plane who is making demeaning comments about a fly attendant, claiming she is just a waitress in the sky and he is tired of me being treated as a bum. The protagonist tries to play the role of the rebel, he sees a sign that says “Thank you very much for not smoking” and has his own sign that says “I’m sorry I’m smoking” in the bridge, this is poking fun at politeness often shown in commands when they really rhetorically express authority. The song is often accused of sexism and misogyny and I think I read once that Westerberg said he liked the song in spite of its misogyny, but he also said in an Uncut interview that the song is from the experience of his sister being a fly attendant and being treated like shit and him playing the role of the asshole. (I think he put it a different way though).

6. “Swingin’ Party”: I think “Swingin’ Party” is the best song on the album and one of the most outstanding musical and lyrical pieces ever made. The music is mellow and slow and gives a feeling of comfort and melancholy. The lyrics gives new meaning to our conception of a party and some shiny little metaphors. My favorite part of the song might be the second verse: “On the prairie pavement Losing proposition/ Quitting school and going to work And never going fishing/ Water all around/ Never learn how to swim now” I feel like this could be a reference to our at least have similarities with Coleridge’s epic poem Rime of the Ancient Mariner (“Water, water everywhere”) where water could be seen as a metaphor for opportunity, but when you see water all around you’ll never learn to swim and you’ll never learn to embrace the opportunities. Westerberg also sings “if being alone is a crime I’m serving forever” and “if being afraid is a crime everyone hangs side by side at the swinging party”, this shows an ambiguity that this party both holds suffering and togetherness and it shows how depression and anxiety can bring people together as much as it can separate them. In the documentary about the Replacements called “Color Me Obsessed”, that of course includes no music by the band, they described the band as where the outcasts could go to fit in because the Mats were the band where those who didn’t fit in anywhere else could be together, and the song could be a proper description of that, but also relates to the human condition in general. The lampshade in the song is a metaphor or a substitute for drugs and alcohol and he sings “Bring your own lampshade” or “Pass around the lampshade”, which are references to the idioms “bring your own beer” and “pass around the weed”.

7. “Bastards of Young”: The next track “Bastards of Young” continues the outsider theme, but in a more upbeat anthemic way. The song is maybe the most famous song from the album and the band’s biggest hit along with “Can’t Hardly Wait”. The song is incredibly catchy and will probably make you sing along to the chorus, even if most people get the lyrics wrong, I’m sure Westerberg sings “Wait on the sons of no one” (whatever the hell that means) and most people think it’s “We are the sons of no one”. The song has a way of gathering the outcasts and I feel like the line “Dreams unfulfilled, graduate unskilled” continues the theme from “Swingin’ Party”: “Quitting school and going to work and never going fishin’”. I always heard that they name of bunch of rock n’ roll legends in the song (Pete Townsend, Waylon Jennings, Willy and Nelson), but reading the lyrics the only one I only see Elvis, who had been in the ground for seven years. The third verse always gives me chills, because it’s so painfully true and it’s just so well written: “The ones who love us best are the ones we’ll lay to rest/ And visit their graves on holidays at best/ The ones who love us least are the ones we’ll die to please/ If it’s any consolation, I don’t begin to understand them”, that’s poetry, maaan. Musically, the song has always reminded me of the Clash and there is definitely something really Clashing about the ending. The band made a music video for the song that is just someone putting on the record and listening to it while smoking in black and white, I think they made similar videos for other songs on the album as well. The video shows how minimalistic a music video can be in a world full of Peter Gabriel and Aha. Even the Severys Snape of Punk Rock Ben Weasel said he liked the video in an Alternative Press interview, in spite of often showing dissatisfaction with the rest of the band’s work.

8. “Lay It Down Clown”: Another, and the last of the more Hard Rock songs on the album and a pretty alright one at that. The opening line: “Got a big switchblade, drop drop bill a tease” sounds like a Masked Intruder line. I don’t know if “I finally found out which way the wind blows” is a Bob Dylan reference, maybe Westerberg just didn’t need a weatherman either, maybe he didn’t even need Dylan.

9. “Left of the Dial”: Another song that has become a classic on the album is “Left of the Dial” an ode to College radio. The song starts up very upbeat, but turns into more of a ballad. The song is about finding an unknown band, it could be a reference to a fan finding out about the Replacements themselves, or the band members finding other bands. The title refers to college stations being on the left side of the radio dial, there’s also a kind a clever reference to the old Union hymn “Which Side Are You On?” when he asks “what side are you on?”, but here he refers to which side of the dial, it seems. Westerberg told Uncut about college radio and said “as that’s where all our airplay came from, and it was colleges where we used to play. The irony that four guys, none of whom had a high school diploma, would play every college in America – ridiculous. It never dawned on us that the kids had to go study for their tests next day. So we ended up going to college in an odd kind of way.” After all the influence and inspiration the band has gotten from others, they also got some respect back. The highly respected rockers Good Charlotte made a little homage to the song in their song “Change” when they go on and on and on.

10 “Little Mascara”: It’s not only Good Charlotte of the modern Pop Punk icons that have been inspired by the Mats, it’s probably Green Day’s biggest reference point. Blink-182 also took a lot of inspiration from them, and I like to think that their broken home hit “Stay Together for the Kids” is a reference to the song “Little Mascara” when Westerberg sings “For the kids you stay together”. It doesn’t have much to do with “Stay Together for the Kids” though and the lyrics seem more like the Blink song “Emo” if anything. The lyrics comes from a first person narrative singing about a “you” who has been left, we can somehow assume that “you” is a woman, but like “Androgynous” from Let It Be shows us, we can’t be sure! Westerberg makes some really great images in the song and some of the words will probably make any lyricist incredibly be jealous wishing they were the ones that wrote it, especially concerning how simple it really is. The chorus goes “All you ever wanted was someone to take care of ya/All you’re ever losing is a little mascara” meaning even if she cries for the man who left her, he wasn’t really a loss and all she loses is the mascara from crying. Musically, this song also sounds a lot like the Clash and it’s all in all a very powerful song!

11. “Here Comes a Regular”: The album ends with another ballad, and another song about outcasts, this time the setting is a bar with drunks. There are some wonderful lines in this song too and the song, like “Swingin’ Party” is both really depressing and somewhat uplifting at the same time. And also so easily relatable, even if you aren’t a drunk. I do wonder if Westerberg had watched a lot of “Cheers” when he wrote this song. The song describes the seasons changing and life changing. The line “I used to live at home, now I stay at the house” has been relatable to me ever since I moved away from my parents’ and I don’t even know if it means what I think it means, but with the fridge line before it, it’s perfect. A lot of images pop up in my mind when I hear the song, I can imagine the regular coming into the bar asking “Am I the only one who feels ashamed?”, I can imagine a drinking buddy in the arms of someone’s baby. The line “The fool who wastes his life, God rest his guts” is a treasure too. Melodically, the song sounds a bit like Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”, but I don’t think they sound similar listening to them next to each other. There’s also a great piano by the end that makes ends this classic album perfectly.
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So is the album Pop Punk? Probably not, is it a classic? Yes! It’s probably one of the albums that relates most to the outsider and the outcast of the world! And it definitely has stood the test of time, and has everything from Folk music, to Hard rock, to Pop Punk to Power Pop, College Rock and Ballads. There’s no album that could replace it! The next article will be about the band Shelley’s Children hidden treasures “Everytown” and “Mask of Anarchy”.