Archive for March, 2017

There must be something special about the north of England, because some great bands come from that region. Taco Hell, hailing from Nottingham, play gorgeous indie pop with a punk edge and dark lyrics full of self-deprecation and depressing sentiments. This is especially true on the tracks sung by co-front Joe Booker. On the short blast of an opener, he screams, “I don’t really like people, but I have to speak to them.” And on “Hold the Door,” he shouts out “I know that I’m selfish / And I hate it. / I know that I’m worthless / There’s no need to say it.” The other co-lead’s vocals are a nice counterpoint, Eleanor Parkinson’s smooth and dreamy vocals balancing out Booker’s angst.

The songs also balance varying elements. Jangle and dreaminess intertwine on these six songs, immersing the listener in the ethereal while at the same time jostling with danceable sounds. “Hold The Door” and “Wait For Me” are a good pair of track that exemplify this. The former leans more heavily to the poppy jangle, but has its moments of grand beauty, with what sounds like trumpets upping the epicness of the sound. The latter leans more toward the dream pop, flowing with an undercurrent of guitar jangle.

The closer, “Cheesy Chips,” seals the deal, starting out as a frenetic pop punk inspired number, but about a minute into the track, it suddenly changes, the tempo slowing, the mood becoming more somber, reflecting on the impermanence of, well, everything. “In the street, we lay together / We’re mad now, we hate each other / Chips and cheese, we eat together / And I realize now, it’s not forever.” Nothing lasts forever, but this EP is sure to remain for a long time in the minds of those who listen to it.

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Do you remember when thrashy hair metal was a thing? In the nineties it was pretty big, and even back in the mid eighties, many hardcore punk bands tried to cash in on metal’s popularity by “crossing over.” And most of it wasn’t very successful. That’s what this album reminds me of – a thrash punk band turned into a crossover metal band. From the very start, “Sink to the Top” makes it very clear that this album is not for punkers; it’s for metal heads. The album’s pair of openers are clearly metal enough, but “Garbage Lungs” takes the cake for trying to be a very commercial pop-tinged metal track. The exception seems to be “Comfortable Cages,” which sounds like a Romani melodic hardcore band, and is actually a pretty decent song. And “Please Sir, I Want Some More” is very metallic, but the melodic lines are pleasing. The rest of the album, though, is unabashed commercial-sounding metal. Which is why I am confused as to why this band tries to market itself to the punk community. If they focused on metal-heads they might find more traction.

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Made up of members of PUP, The Roman Line, and Plan 37, Deforesters describe themselves as “honest to goodness no bullshit punk rock.” They may have a point, there. This is the sort of feel-good sing-along punk perfected by Seattle’s Success, though Deforesters are from further north and east – Toronto to be exact. The songs are incredibly infectious. Upon the second play-through, the songs already sound so familiar, so ingrained in my mind. Listening to these songs is like putting on your favorite worn flannel shirt. Closing your eyes you can imagine you’re at your favorite dive bar, up front, one arm around the person next to you, the other hoisting a tall can of PBR high in the air, as you both sing along at the top of your lungs.

The album opens with the appropriately titled, “Obligatory Cutesy Intro,” a forty-four second track featuring ukulele and gang vocals. It’s, well, cutesy. But then the album launches into twelve songs in thirty-six minutes – a true full-length album in an age of maxi-EPs being passed off as LPs. The song titles are humorous and nonsensical. “I’ll Take The Crab Juice,” “The Topiary Animals Are Telling Me To Do Terrible Things,” and “Air Out Your Stinkables” are some notable examples.

Favorite tracks include “Is This A God Damn?” and the aforementioned “Topiary Animals…” The former has a strong beat, some great hooks, and a beautiful melody. The latter has a very big, open, airy sound. They both are prime candidates for pressing forward toward the stage in the crowd and singing so loudly you go home with no voice. “Clever Song Title” is not only clever, but it’s got some awesome guitar work on it. This is a great, feel-good album, recommended.

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After several years of kicking around, Darko has finally released a full-length LP. They get called skate-punk a lot, but too many bands share that label, to the extent that it’s become meaningless. Suffice it to say, they blend speedy hardcore, crunchy melodic hardcore, a pop sensibility, and technical virtuosity into one neat package. It’s like taking Propagandhi and Caskitt, mixing in a dose of Pears and even a pinch of Success. There’s the hard edge and rapid fire pace, but with tons of melody and emotion.

After a slow start, with mellow tones in the opening bit of the first track, “Life Forms,” things explode with fury. But it’s really with the second track that Bonsai Mammoth hits its stride. “Just A Short Line” is a tour de force, with strong emotive vocals, mind-boggling guitar work, a breakneck pace, and melody dripping from every second of the track. I think it’s the guitar work is one of the things that makes me think of Caskitt – that band’s Steffen Long is a technical wizard, and we get similar magic on this LP. Plus the opening of “I Knew I Should Have Taken That Left Turn at Albuquerque” sounds just like something Caskitt would do. The powerful gritty vocals remind me of Success’ Rev Peters, communicating fluently through the gravel, the melody clear and shining, as is the case in ”Set In Our Ways.”

“Dead Hordes,” the penultimate track, is so Pears-like I had to check to make sure I was still listening to Darko. Super fast, super melodic and super poppy, yet still crunchy, this track may have been my favorite of the album – an album that start’s strong and doesn’t let up through its entire twenty-seven minutes.

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IAR 51: The Steinways- Promise It’ll Never Happen Again LP (February 2011)

Despite releasing a ton of other Grath Madden related stuff (incl. Barrakuda McMurder) and Steinways 7”s, this is the only Steinways LP that came out on It’s Alive. This was the Steinways’ post-break-up collection record of 7”s, EPs comp. tracks and unreleased stuff (basically everything that was not on Missed the Boat or Gorilla Marketing). Due to the very nature of such a beast, it’s a mixed, incoherent bag, but that can’t deter you from the feeling that The Steinways were one of the stand-out pop-punk outfits of the noughties. They had a certain charm that never forced or fake, with a habit of writing a number of sub 1 minute tracks (my favourite of which is on here: “My Girlfriend is a (Crazy Fucking Cat Lady)). The Steinways were usually more self-aware (and by association, self-deprecating) than their peers, adding further layers to their charm, evidenced by the title of this collection. And of course, they were ridiculously under-rated and short-lived. Highlights of this thing include: the best ‘proper’ love song that they wrote (“Always? Never!”); a 45 second zombie romance song (“Dead Boyfriend”); a fantastic, re-titled Queers cover (“Debra McPrommyProm”) and a rare instance of a band singing in another language, in this case Portuguese (“Voce Tem Labios De Uma Galinha”).

Grade: B

IAR 52: Gateway District- Perfect’s Gonna Fail You LP (April, 2011)

I am of the opinion that Gateway District have not yet made a truly great album. Their first record (Some Days You Get The Thunder) is probably the closest to it, but even that has a few clunky numbers. With Perfect’s Gonna Fail You, Gateway District attempted to move away from the country-ish influence of their debut and focus on making a more straight-forward melodic punk record. Just listen to “Macy”, “Sirens” or “Cairo” for evidence. On this record, I think Gateway District are at their best when they scale things back a little and allow the vulnerable, emotive vocals to reveal themselves. Personally, I think this is best seen on the album closer “Queen Avenue”, an ode to a former home and close friend/lover (“We’ve been each other’s North and South throughout this game”). There are some definite throwaway songs on this thing, but when Gateway District are on fire, there is little competition in punk bands communicating a sense of tragedy and regret (alongside fellow Minneapolis punks Banner Pilot).

Grade: B+

IAR 53: Dan Padilla- As the Ox Plows LP (April, 2011)

Dan Padilla are part of that contingent of bands that developed in the late-00s punk underground which were scrappy and lo-fi, while retaining a sense of melody. They are clearly influenced by Leatherface. I can be on board with this style for the right band, but too often the songwriting and tunes get lost in the distortion here. As the Ox Plows is unfortunately in this camp. I don’t dislike this album really, but it is messy and all over the place (in a bad way). Maybe there is a better band hiding in the distortion and poor production, but it’s hard to tell and nothing particularly suggests that there is. The vocals are gravelly (in a Jawbreaker-esque way) but are also largely shouted out. The gang vocals of say Dear Landlord are fine because they have the hooks and production to back them up, but Dan Padilla are kind of struggling on all three elements. Even when they try to change it up on the unplugged closer “Something After”, I find myself disengaged. I’ll stop babbling and just sum it up: ‘meh’.

Grade: D+

IAR 54: The Credentials- Goocher LP (May, 2011)

In many ways, this is your run-of-the-mill, straightforward ‘gruff-punk’ LP. Scrappy production, gravelly vocals, sing-a-long chorus and depressing lyrics like “nothing good will ever last, until it is buried in the past”: the basic elements are all there. The ‘but’ here is not to deny that it is a gruff punk album, rather to propose that there is a ton of heart here that distinguishes The Credentials from its peers. At times, the hooks are catchy-as-fuck and suggest that The Credentials have their roots in pop-punk. The snottiness and vocal melodies of “Barren” calls to mind early Screeching Weasel, while “What are little boys made of?” recalls the rough ‘n’ ready hooks of the Chinese Telephones. There are elements of the Minneapolis punk sound here, but Goocher is really more East-Bay (think Pinhead Gunpowder or Crimpshine). Not everything the Credentials throw sticks, but this LP has certainly got its moments.

Grade: C+

IAR 55: The Creeps- Lakeside Cabin LP (July 2011)

If you know The Creeps at all, you will know that Lakeside Cabin is the record where they started being properly good. They play horror-inspired pop-punk that fits somewhere in between The Lillingtons and Masked Intruder, while plunging much darker depths than either. Everything is sung from the perspective of a stalker/psycho killer hybrid who is either looking for his next victim (“Baby, Hold on Tight” will send shivers down your spine) or preparing to go out in a blaze of glory (as heard on closer “Lakeside Cabin”: “We all said we’d be together ‘til the end but the end’s right here, right now”). Much more interesting to me is the songwriting which gets to grips with the inner, emotional turmoil of a psychopath, rather than those which detail the collective tales of a comic-book-y killer gang called, “The Creeps”. The former is best heard on the straightforward punk jam “These Walls Have Eyes” or the acoustic-led “Voices (Again and Again)”. There is, of course, a knowing wink to some of these stalker tropes, which helps to elevate The Creeps above the rest: “I made it all the way home/past broken dreams and tv screens and all the rest”.

Grade: A-

IAR 56: Crusades- The Sun is Down and the Night is Riding in LP (September 2011)

Hey, it’s your local, neighbourhood-friendly, anti-Christian band! Hailing from Ottawa (and indeed featuring band members from The Creeps), Crusades play a kind of crossover between ‘80s, goth-rock, heavy metal and melodic hardcore punk, with hooks-a-plenty. They are a bit of an odd one to categorise. I mean, “Dreamers” and “Driven” are basically punk jams with huge, harmonious choruses, but on other occasions, they drift more towards metal and prog-rock song structures, which kind of turns me off (such as “Rapture” or “Remedy”). Lyrically, they are dense and reference religious texts and medieval philosophers. I appreciate the sentiments of what they are going for, but most of the time, it all gets a bit too much. Decent album overall, but not what I would label ‘an easy listen’.

Grade: C+

IAR 57: Mall’d to Death- “The Process of Reaching Out” 7” (July 2011)

Yeah, so this is what I would like to call ‘D4-core’. Mall’d to Death play that kind of fast, choppy-change-y, smart-punk with gruff vocals and amusing song titles. Pleasingly, it’s not all straightforward and predictable, though, and on this varied 7”, the band go from fast-paced punk hit “Migraine Belt” to the gruff mid-tempo, video games nostalgia of “Hardcore ‘64” to the chilled-out, kind-of-ska “Guilty of Being Black” (that couldn’t sound more ‘90s if it tried). There is enough fun and deviation from the atypical depressing lyrical themes of this sub-genre to suggest a band worth your attention.

Grade: C+

IAR 58: The Maxies- “Going Clubbin’” 7” (July 2011)

You’re going to say ‘I hate fun’, but I really, really don’t get The Maxies. I find them super annoying. The Maxies play a kind of power-pop, pop-punk and ska mash-up which is reminiscent of Reel Big Fish’s sillier material (with whom they have toured a number of times). They are from Greenland and dress up in costumes, which kind of look like clown outfits (I’m not too sure what they are supposed to be, and never bothered enough to check). They play the ‘bad guys’ and sing about clubbin’ seals (without revealing their real identities). Yeah, so Masked Intruder comes to mind. Aquabats, too. The thing is that, unlike those two, The Maxies don’t have nearly good enough songs or hooks to justify such a ridiculous shtick. This is theatrical punk rock but without any of the necessary humour: they have got a song about giving the clap to somebody, for crying out loud. Perhaps the only IAR band that I actively dislike.

Grade: E

IAR 59: The Copyrights- “Crutches” 7” (July 2011)

Somewhat strange to review the 7” single before the full-length (see below), but “Crutches” is one of the highlights of said full-length and it is no burden to have to hear it a second time. It’s a pretty straightforward, catchy, mid-tempo pop-punk tune about one’s various dependencies in life. The verses are given room to breathe, before the mother of all choruses is unleashed. The two tracks that didn’t make it onto the album are serviceable but certainly nothing that stands out. “Sober Shell South” continues more or less the same style of “Crutches”, while upping the pop-factor, and “Current Event” is a straight-up, fast-paced punk song that could have been straight from Learn the Hard Way.

Grade: B+

IAR 60: The Copyrights- North Sentinel Island (October 2011)

It may be clichéd and worn-out in the pop-punk underground scene, but nevertheless a true sentiment: that The Copyrights do improve with each album released (although, for me, this did end with their latest LP Report, which was just, you know, alright). North Sentinel Island is The Copyrights album I always come back to. It’s damn near perfect. It is said, not without basis, that The Copyrights have something of a formula: crunchy guitars, Lookout! melodies and big gang vocals chorus. I like to think of this record as the one where they changed things up a little and, if they didn’t reinvent the wheel exactly, they at least added new layers to their musical depths: “Hard-wired” avoids many of the tropes of pop-punk’s songwriting structures, while “Restless Head” and “Sleep Better” fit beautifully together. Lyrically, The Copyrights are on the top of their game here and what I love about this record is the thematic glue sticking everything together, where each song works as part of a larger structure (even interspersed with voiceover commentary). My favourite on here is probably the opener “Trustees of Modern Chemistry”, pummelling the listener immediately with crunchy, almost hard-rock guitars, followed by ear-worm-y hooks and lyrics that other lesser bands have been searching for, for years: “Our brains say stop/but our hearts can’t get enough”.

Grade: A

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Minneapolis is pretty well renowned for its punk scene, spawning a number of wonderful bands over the last couple of decades, including Banner Pilot, Dillinger Four, Off With Their Heads and Soviettes. The Chinchees are one of the more recent to pop up from the Minneapolis punk scene; however they sound little like what you might associate with the more typical Minneapolis sound. While the bands mentioned are very much in the ‘melodic punk’ camp, The Chinchees play pretty much straightforward lo-fi, poppy garage punk. Think Marked Men, Radioactivity or Sonic Avenues.

The self-titled debut album from The Chinchees does not let up for the entire playing time, infecting the listener’s ears, with its hyper-energetic, melodic and spiky dose of punk. Their determination to stay at high tempo (and avoid the slower garage-pop numbers, as their peers are partial to) reminds me a little of early Mean Jeans, in this way. The Chinchees generally get the balance right between the snottiness of their Exploding Hearts-style ‘70s punk homage and the catchiness of their “ooh-ahh” melodies. Their vocal harmonies are reminiscent of those which Sonic Avenues have honed in recent years. “Melting Foam” and “GORP” (the video of which highlights a recurring theme of the band: a giant grape chasing them) stand out in terms of getting this balance right. One of the better bands trying to re-create the Marked Men sound that I’ve heard in recent years; however, it can’t help be thought that with all their songs played at such a high-tempo, at time, they become indistinguishable from one another. If The Chinchees had more variety sonically, I think they could really take things to another level. Having said that, I bet these guys are a bunch of fun live!

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I’m delighted to review this great punk treasure from Salt Lake City. I’m familiar with most of their work and have always found them to be a band that could make a good tune. Singer, Josh, also had a side project called Budnick that I thought had some really good songs back in the day, and was not that far from the Hung Ups musically. The Hung Ups play simple and catchy pop punk. They are melodic but gritty continuing the Crimpshrine/Fifteen legacy. Musically, it sounds somewhat Screeching Weasel inspired. Lyrically, the themes consist of the usual pop punk tropes. We get songs about UFO’s and heartbreak. There is a lot of anger and animosity in the songs and we can hear a frustrated protagonist fail at love and yell “I’d rather just make you angry”. We also get to hear guest vocals from Ashlie Longo; she sings on the track “UFOs”, and “Joe and Suzy” is a duet between Josh and Ashlie. “Joe and Suzy” is definitely a highlight on the EP. The cover art is great as well and is done by Steven Franks, who I’m pretty sure has made most of the Hung Ups cover art.

Many of the lyrics are mental health related and we experience adjectives like “worried” and “insane”, not to mention that the EP is called “Panic Attack”. I’ve heard many Hung Ups releases and they always end up being better than I expected. I would say there is something amateurish and sophomore about the band and they remind me why I got into punk rock in the first place. To me they sound like the core of pop punk, but they also have something incredibly unique about them. So many bands try the whole catchy and gritty thing, but I think the Hung Ups succeed where other bands fail. Fun record!

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