Archive for March, 2019

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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

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Bad Sleep are a three-piece out of Olympia, Washington who play short, sweet and straightforward garage-y pop-punk. Their debut self-titled full-length, following a couple of EPs, is full of fuzzy powerpop melodies and catchy, understated choruses, akin to what regularly comes out on Dirtnap records. Bad Sleep’s sound is not dissimilar to the likes of Marked Men, Sonic Avenues or Something Fierce, or maybe a sped-up Tacocat. The songs pass by in 2 minute bursts, in staple fashion.

The best thing about Bad Sleep is their keen sense of melodies, and there are hooks-a-plenty on their S/T. The band are not Ramones-y per se, but are clearly influenced by their ear for a good melody. The vocals are pretty infectious; notably, on the album highlight “Don’t Have To”, the lovely ‘ooh-oohs’ from singer Lily combine wonderfully with the spikey riffs. Elsewhere, “Science Fiction” and “Future Trip” stand out on the record for their next-level garage-pop ear-worminess. The band invoke the attitude and spikiness of The Muffs or Big Eyes which helps to differentiate their Dirtnap-esque fuzzy garage punk from the masses. The song “Electric Blues” really stands out on the record as a slower-tempo track that allows the vocals to breathe and suggests a greater range and depth than the others do. The opening of the track reminds me somewhat of mid-west punks The Gateway District. This is a really, really solid LP that, while not particularly dynamic, is one of the better straight-up garage-punk albums I’ve heard in a good while and a hell of a debut!

Check it out here: https://specialistsubject.bandcamp.com/album/bad-sleep

DB

New-ish Oslo-based Spielbergs play a kind of noisy, lo-fi and shout-y indie rock that is full of massive distortion, fuzziness and urgent drum rolls. On their debut LP This is the End, Spielbergs dabble in post-rock, power-pop and garage punk, but they are anchored by an indie rock sound in close proximity to Japandroids, Cloud Nothings and Beach Slang. As with the former, Spielbergs exude joyous, ‘celebration rock’ and an emphatic sound that sounds permanently on the edge of a big sing-a-long.

Spielbergs sound energetic, bold and triumphant, while at the same time on edge and anxious. The band exudes heart-on-sleeve joy and recalls the romanticism of Japandroids and The Replacements.  This joyous spark is best evident on album highlight “Distant Star”, full of urgent hooks and a chorus that lodges itself in your brain: “Now we could be perfect, you could have made me better / And we could be soulmates, if we could find a place to live”. Elsewhere, the raucous and spiky “Bad Friend” sounds like Andrew WK organised a party with Rancid and Jimmy Eat World, the moody and contemplative “Familiar” comes off as a Let It Be b-side, while “You All Look Like Giants” is like early Foo Fighters, with all the confidence and bombast that entails.

This is Not the End veers down many side streets, but has a common road running through it; it’s a coherent body of work, but not same-y. The album is not mind-blowing by any means, but it’s earnest, if not innovative. Spielbergs’ sound is a familiar one, but if I could only hear one kind of indie rock for the rest of my existence, I wouldn’t mind if it was this style. Decent.

Check it out: https://bythetimeitgetsdark.bandcamp.com/album/this-is-not-the-end

DB

The Murderburgers new album is all I could have hoped for, and more. What a Mess is, crazily, the band’s 7th full-length. Since 2012’s How to Ruin Your Life, the Murderburgers have been on fine form indeed, but I really feel with this one that they have reached new peaks. In many ways, this is a continuation of the sound on The 12 Habits of Highly Defective People: bouncy, hook-filled and quote-worthy, Weasel-inspired sad-sack pop-punk. The Murderburgers have developed a sound in recent years that straddles a line between the classic Lookout! ‘90s pop-punk sound and a meatier melodic punk sound, closer to Dear Landlord or The Dopamines. Such straddling allows them to avoid the clichés of both Ramonescore and of the ‘Fest’ sound.

Tracks like “It Better Rain Tomorrow” or “October Lied to Us” are very much classic hard-hitting, super-melodic Murderburgers songs, while “I’m Sorry About Christmas Eve” is this album’s ‘instant hit’ in the same way that “The Waves” was on the previous record. There are new wrinkles to a well-established sound on What a Mess, though. The Murderburgers sound more influenced by a meatier ‘90s Fat Wreck-ish melodic punk than they previously did. There is also just more range and dynamism in general, as The Murderburgers edge a little further away from the rigid structures of archetypal pop-punk. Notably, I’m thinking of the opener “Turning 30 was an Eye-opener”, which opens with an acoustic intro before bursting into an intense and sped-up pop-punk blast, or of “Shots in my Skull”, a mid-tempo melodic track that is spacious and shows more restraint than previously heard, or “Pick a Knife, Any Knife”, that is probably one of the most fascinating tracks that they have ever written, shifting from pop-punk verses to gang vocals to a gut-punch breakdown at the end. Elsewhere, Fraser’s vocals are more dynamic in general, too, with one of the standout tracks on What a Mess, “Dying on an Empty Stomach”, sounding like latter-day Weasel, with greater vocal range.

More than that though, Fraser’s songwriting is just tighter and stronger; the lyrics are more concise, capturing intense feelings in a few short phrases or a couple of lines. I mean, the Murderburgers lyrics have been great for a while, of course. Fraser has been over the years unpacking the chorus “My Head is Fucked Again” from How to Ruin Your Life, and the results have never been as well-crafted as they are on here. Lines like “But I don’t want to stumble through life shitfaced anymore/ The only times I was thankful for double vision/ Was when it meant that I saw more of you” are just absolutely perfect. The equating of wind with bricks and rain with knives on “Shots in my Skull” effectively puts you in a certain frame of mind, while I don’t think sad-sack pop-punk has ever been exemplified by such cutting, visceral lyrics before, as on the final few on “Pick a Knife, Any Knife”:

“If you broke in with a knife tonight/ You know, I really wouldn’t mind/ If you caved in my fucking skull tonight/ You know, I really wouldn’t mind/ Because it would hurt less than the way that you’re killing me right now”

Off With Their Heads would kill for those lines. There a number of lines that are repeated at the end of songs or during certain points in songs that hit hard and are among the best on the record: notably “Maybe we’re just growing up and growing apart” on “Axes to Grind” or “Well, I guess I was far too lost in those eyes” on “October Lied to Us”. There is so much going on here, musically and lyrically, that you can’t help but lose yourself in the songs. As on 12 Habits, this record captures the complexities of mental health challenges and of feeling like shit on a daily basis, with lyrics as violent, intense and visceral as they have ever been. There are dollops of hope though (in a Banner Pilot-esque sense) and an acceptance of sorts to move on: notably at the end of “You Deserve Better, Samantha” (“I’ll try to start again/ I swear I’ll try to start again/ I’ll learn how to live again with you in mind”) and on one of my favourite ever punk album closers “The Thing That Helps Me Survive”, which simply repeats the lines “You need to let some things die/ So that you can stay alive”.

What a Mess is quite simply a stunning pop-punk album and one of the best I have heard in recent memory. The ‘Burgers have reached another new nadir. In the words of Shakin’ Stevens: lovely stuff.

Check it out here: https://themurderburgers.bandcamp.com/album/what-a-mess

DB

Woahnows play a quirky brand of boisy and poppy indie-punk, in the vein of bands like Great Cynics, Martha and Happy Accidents. Angular guitar riffs complement abundant bold hooks and earworm-y choruses. Despite being often mentioned alongside a bunch of bands that I love from the UK punk scene (including the aforementioned trio), I had somehow managed to neglect listening to Woahnows. They are actually right up my street, playing that kind of personable and relatable indie-punk and finding the right balance between earnest and forthright. This is something of a comeback album for the band, with three and half years having passed since their debut LP Understanding and Everything Else.

Here, Young and Cool is full of bright and energetic melodies, notably on tracks like “I Know, I knooow”, “No One Else” and “Dipping Out”. Woahnows remind me of the effortless cool, quirkiness and off-kilter hooks that Weezer excelled so much at in their early days. I also enjoy the focus and directness in the songwriting that feels refreshing and bold. A few of the choruses stick in your mind, in particular: “If you need a reason to leave, that makes two of us” (on “Skin Peels”) or “I want you, I don’t want nothing else” (on “No One Else”), or “I like you, but I’m better on my own/Everything is better when I’m on my own” (“Hippy Shit”). Young and Cool evidences sudden shifts from upbeat and bold to downbeat and vulnerable, in similar ways to Martha or The Spook School, which keeps things interesting throughout. The LP doesn’t quite the same heights as recent efforts from Woahnows peers, however; the songwriting is good, not great and, while the tunes are there, there is a spark missing which stops the album from reaching the upper echelons of indie-punk. I feel harsh pointing that out, as Young and Cool is, on the whole, a pretty great record.

Check it out here: https://woahnows.bandcamp.com/album/young-and-cool

DB

I had kind of missed out on listening to Burnt Tapes’ older material, having only previously listened to the single from their ‘Alterations’ EP “Things Get Weird”. Having grown up together in Athens, before moving to London, Burnt Tapes formed in 2014. I latched on to their debut full-length Never Better after listening to the melodic punk banger “Yuzi” at the end of last year. It really is a special song. Ostensibly a hard-hitting, crunchy and gritty pop-punk track, it slowly reveals unexpected melodic dynamism and shifts in tone that elevate it above the masses. A stark tale of loss and re-finding yourself following a break-up, “Yuzi” lodges itself into your skull and refuses to leave.

So, how’s the rest of Never Better? Well, despite nothing quite matching the intense brilliance of “Yuzi”, it is pretty great, to be fair. Fans of The Lawrence Arms, Iron Chic and Small Brown Bike will feel well at home here. It is semi-slick, addictive and gruff melodic punk ready made for Fest that feels indebted to midwestern emo, too. A punk band that has clearly grown up listening to ‘90s emo, rather than an emo band per se, in the vein of Spraynard and Arms Aloft. Burnt Tapes very much sound like a band from the West Coast of the US, rather than from UK (or Greece, I guess), although the ‘misery punk’ on display certainly recalls Goodbye Blue Monday, while I also get Apologies, I Have None feels on occasions in the band’s intensity.

The emotionally-charged, gruff vocals nicely complement the driving, bittersweet guitar anthems on Never Better. There is a real sense of loss and pained regret on this record that recalls the romantic hope-regret cycle drawn out by Banner Pilot. Themes of loss, loneliness, learning to move on from mistakes and nostalgia dominate the record. Largely, Never Better is engaged with a dewy-eyed reflection on a relationship gone sour, the regret bound up with that, and the crutches (to take The Copyrights term) that you have begun to lean on to deal with everything. Similar sentiments have come from emo bands as much as gruff punkers and, thematically at least, I am reminded of La Dispute’s Rooms of the House a little: a regretful and intense romanticisation of the past, contrasting with the current state that the protagonist is in. I’m not sure what the consistent references to teeth falling out are about, but they work well in the context of the record.

Aside from “Yuzi”, a few tracks stand out for me. Being a pop whore, the high-energy hooks and earworm-y guitar leads on “Don’t Make Me Play Bocelli” and “Birds and Birds, and Animals, and Things” are great. The understated, dark and driving melodies on “Drift Champ ‘16” recall semi-forgotten Californian punks Enemy You or the self-deprecating gruffness of Red City Radio. To complement the sincere gut-punch lyrics, there is a snark on that track that I can’t help but love too (with lyrics like “Hip hip hooray to all our misery”) and that reminds me a little of the recent EP from Goodbye Blue Monday. As well as that, I also enjoy the songs that are mellower, mid-tempo and show more restraint, allowing the vocals and lyrics more room to shine, as on “Dirt Roads” or “Forty, Forty Five”. These remind me of the elongated and quote-worthy whine of Spraynard or more recent Iron Chic. I particularly enjoy the moment on “Forty, Forty Five” when the music slows down and some female vocals join in on a solemnful and stripped back croon, suggesting The Hotelier or Tiger’s Jaw. There is a dynamism and depth on Never Better that I wasn’t expecting. Minus a couple of forgettable tracks, the album is full of high-quality gruff-punk.

Check it out here: https://burnttapes.bandcamp.com/album/never-better

DB

So the Copyrights and Kepi Ghoulie have collaborated on a re-recording of the classic Groovie Ghoulies Re-Amination Festival from 1997. Before listening to it I imagined the original album being played like a Copyrights album, but I don’t think there is much Copyright-influence here at all, but there are some very interesting musical elements that aren’t on the original, like the synths in the opening song “Tunnel of Love” rule so much! There are some minor additions in all the songs to make them even better, “School Is Out” is a really great song and this recording makes the song shine like it should.

Re-Amination Festival wasn’t an album I was familiar with before the re-recording was released, but it has a lot of good songs like the Elvis-tribute “Graceland” and what I believe is a song about aliens; “Evading the Grays” which also has a really cool synth. There’s also “Zombie Crush” that sounds like the Shadows mixed with Lee Hazelwood with an intro that sounds like an old cowboy ballad. Like expected on a Ghoulies album, there some covers on the album and, in fact, the two last songs are covers, but “School Is Out” is not an Alice Cooper cover and “Chupacabra” is not a Chixdiggit song like I thought. The penultimate song “To Go Home” is a Daniel Johnston cover and I feel like punk versions of Daniel Johnston songs work really well and this is no exception. The album ends with a cover of Wilson Pickett’s “If You Need Me”, which is pretty much a perfect closer to the album. I would say that re-recording a classic album is rarely a good idea, it usually sounds forced and never really improves the album, but somehow this one works. I think it’s a lot better than the original recording, but that might be because I didn’t grow up with the old one. Where it falls short, however, is when it comes to the cover art. The original album cover is a lot cooler, but that’s about it. This re-recording really shows how strong of an album it is.

Check it out here: https://thecopyrights.bandcamp.com/album/re-animation-festival

RH