Archive for June, 2019

I consider Latte+ to be a relatively new Italian Ramonescore band, but they’re really not. Having been around since 1997 and with Next to Ruin being their 8th full-length, these are old hands in the European pop-punk scene. If you were into their previous two LPs No More than Three Chords and Stitches, it is most likely that you will enjoy the new one Next to Ruin. It is very much a continuation of these, as Latte+ offer a remarkable beacon of consistency in our fluctuating and tumultuous existences. Yeah, consistency could be perceived of as a negative, but I can let it go if the output is of a high quality (just like if TBR had continued to release stuff like Total)- and Latte+ definitely ticks that box.

Latte+ make upbeat and catchy pop-punk in the vein of The Riverdales, Screeching Weasel or The Manges. There is enough speed, intelligence and interesting melodies to distinguish them from mere Ramones-clones. Plus, what I really like about most of Next to Ruin is Latte+’s lovely vocal harmonies, notably recalling bands like The Riverdales or Teen Idols, but also more recent material from bands such as Young Rochelles or (a sped up) Don Blake. This nicely compliments the playfulness, energy and bratty charm on the record, clearly influenced by The Queers or perhaps Teenage Bottlerocket. The production and mixing is generally high-quality too and above-par for the sub-genre.

My favourites definitely come on the first half of the record. “Cookie” is wonderful, full of ear-worm hooks and memorable lyrics (which I believe are a dedication to a cat) and coming off like a long lost Riverdales b-side from the ‘90s. “Waiting for you” is similarly fantastic, while “She’s the Evil” opens with very Weasel-esque lead guitars that immediately grabbed my attention. Of the later tracks on Next to Ruin, I really appreciate the vocal melodies and nostalgic feel of “Sleepyhead”, sounding like a track from the Methadones power-pop collection and “Abnormal People” is a great closer, recalling more than a little of the Teen Idols’ songwriting prowess. Overall, though, I feel like the record peters off after the mid-way point and nothing comes close to matching that early one-two of “Cookie” and “Waiting for you”. There are a couple of tracks that reference the Ramones, “Lost in Berlin” and “Hey Hey It’s Dee Dee’s Birthday Today”, but these are basically fillers. Meanwhile, the anti-trump song (“Everybody Likes Your Wife”) is a weird one about everybody liking Melania Trump and gets the tone somewhat wrong; it is funny on first listen but doesn’t really fit right on a largely charming and well-written record.

Overall, Latte+ keep doing what they are doing and producing some solid-as-fuck Ramones-inspired but distinctive Euro-pop-punk.

Check it out here: https://lattepiu.bandcamp.com/album/next-to-ruin

DB

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Based out of Northern California, Asian Man Records has been running since 1996 (with Mike putting out records as early as 1991) and has been one of the shining lights of DIY punk ever since, releasing records from diverse artists such as Alkaline Trio, Andrew Jackson Jihad, Lemuria, Joyce Manor and Laura Stevenson (I’ll stop or I could go on a while). Head of the label Mike Park continues to run Asian Man out of his parent’s garage and at the same time has been engaging in a multitude of music projects, these days including The Bruce Lee Band, The Kitty Kat Fan Club and Ogibuko Station. The latter, a musical collaboration between Mike and Maura Weaver (previously of Mixtapes), recently released a new 7” ‘Okinawan Love Songs’ (reviewed here: https://keeptrackofthetime.wordpress.com/2019/06/12/review-ogibuko-station-okinawan-love-songs-ep-asian-man/). I chatted with Mike about this, forming Ogibuko Station and running Asian Man records.

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Dave Brown: Firstly, how do you feel about the release of ‘Okinawan Love Songs’ and how do you feel it built on the previous LP ‘We Pretend Like’?

Mike Park: I love it.  I’ve always loved 7 inches growing up.  It’s a quick listen—you flip side A to side B, nobody gets hurt; it’s a win win.  But honestly, I love the 2 original songs.  I like the way the band kept building from the “We Can Pretend Like” LP.  I think the progression is nice and I’m looking forward to what we do next. 

DB: What was the writing and recording process like for this EP? How does the collaborative process work and how do you manage living in a different state to Maura?

MP: We had started playing the “Would I Break My Heart Enough For You ” song live on the Alkaline Trio tour we did in August of last year, and then I started showing Maura the other new song on that tour, so we had the general chords and melodies down.  Maura added a lot of depth with harmonies and counter melodies in the studio, and while it was definitely a collaborative process it’s hard to compare a 7inch with a full length record.  With only 3 songs (2 originals and a cover song), it didn’t take much time, so Maura came to California and we were able to do this face to face vs Skyping in ideas. 

DB: How did the band form?

MP: I had wanted to put out Maura’s solo album, but after 2 years of pestering her to finish, I finally said “We’re gonna start a band” and she came to California and we got to work.  It was initially just going to be an acoustic project, but we’ve ended up using a full band the last 2 releases.  We will probably do more acoustic stuff in the future. 

DB: I understand you sometimes tour with a full band and sometimes as a duo. What do you prefer and how do you see things panning out in the future?

MP: I really like the full band dynamic. It’s also a lot less stressful.  Playing acoustic always gives me nightmares in terms of stage fright, but I’d like to combat that lifelong fear more in the future.  Mostly to make myself crazy haha.

DB: Dan Andriano plays bass on this EP and Jeff Rosenstock played synthesiser on the previous record. Do you have plans for further collaborations on Ogibuko Station records? And more broadly, to what extent do you seek and encourage collaboration among Asian Man records?

MP: Heck yes! I want to always include my friends on various projects that I’m involved with.  I’d love for all the AM bands to do this too, but it’s nothing forced.

DB: You seem a busy guy what with running a record label and being involved in a number of active musical projects. How do you manage your time and prioritise with so much going on?

MP: Oh my.  This has been a problem lately.  I’m actually going to start slowing down, cause I can’t keep up any longer.  My mind has turned to mush as I try to juggle everything.  Music is always a priority, but I need to keep family at the top of the list.

DB: Honing in on Asian Man records specifically, what was your inspiration for starting the record label? Were there any other particular record labels that inspired you?

MP: I wanted to be able to dictate my own path and not rely on anybody else for my own success or failure.  If I failed, at least I knew I tried.  But in particular I’ve always been a fan of Ian Mackaye and his DIY ethics and outlook on life.  I’ve often tried to emulate those ethics in my day to day. 

DB: What’s the main difference between the label now and when you first started it? And more broadly, the DIY punk scene. 

MP: I’ll go back even further.  Before Asian Man, the band I was in (Skankin’ Pickle) released our first demo tape in 1989.  We used the name DILL RECORDS.  We printed up 100 tapes and sold them almost immediately.  In that first year, we sold nearly 2,000 cassette tapes.  I’ll stop there.  Cause that’s the big difference.  Physical sales were the only way to hear music in the early days.  So obviously that’s the reason for the drop in music sales the past 20 years, but I’m not one to say “it was better back in my day”.  I think that’s bullshit.  I’m a fan of streaming.  It’s good for the environment, it’s good for indie artists to do it themselves, and it’s progress.  That’s life.  Things change.  As for DIY/PUNK, I’m trying to think of the big difference and I’d have to say the safety aspect of punk in the early days was not so safe.  Lots of violence at shows in the 80’s.  Skinheads vs punks vs mods vs anyone who had long hair.  And while it was part of the excitement not knowing what the fuck was gonna happen at the shows, I’ll take the friendliness of today’s culture over the past anytime. 

DB: You continue to run the label out of your parent’s garage and only have one employee; what have been the challenges in remaining truly DIY over the years? In particular, how have things changed in regards to record distribution and sales?

MP: I covered a bit of the physical sales aspect earlier, but everything depends on what you want out of your company.  I want to stay small. I like doing things myself and seeing what I can accomplish without joining the elites.  My biggest challenge or guilt rather is not being able to do more for my bands, but I am very open about the limits of Asian Man.  Open dialogue and honesty is something I do have, so it’s never a matter of me breaking promises. 

DB: Have you had any moral or ethical conflicts in running Asian Man records?

MP: Nothing that would put me in a position that I felt compromised.  At the end of the day, I’m really proud of what I’ve done and continue to do. 

DB: Are there are any bands that you wished you had signed?

MP: Of course, but that’s life.  There are bands I wish I hadn’t signed, but I’m gonna keep names out and say again: you live with your decisions or you die bitter and old. 

DB: Finally, what is your personal favorite record you have put out? Or favorites if it is hard to narrow it down to one!

MP: That is actually an easy one.  Alkaline Trio “GODDMANIT” – by far my fav release of all time. 

Check out Asian Man records here: http://asianmanrecords.com/

And check out the latest Ogibuko Station release here: https://asianmanrecords.bandcamp.com/album/okinawan-love-songs

I Don’t Like Sports is the debut full-length from Winnipeg punks Screaming at Traffic, following last year’s ‘S.A.T.’ EP. I first became aware of Screaming at Traffic with the single “Y.B.F.” that they released earlier this year, a slice of gruff, raw and noisy punk that I was pretty into. The single is somewhat representative of I Don’t Like Sports as a whole: this is angst-ridden, aggressive and raw punk miserabilia destined for basements and punk DIY shows. The record is gruff, heart-on-sleeve, hook-filled and anthemic in similar ways to bands like Red City Radio, Elway and fellow Canadians Pkew Pkew Pkew. As with Pkewx3, Screaming at Traffic sing about wasted youth and the struggles related to ‘adulting’. There are also echoes of fellow Winnipegians (definitely not a term, right?) Propagandhi in Screaming at Traffic’s chunky guitars and the booming vocals of lead singer Jacques Richer.

And that’s cool! However, there is also something else going on that helps to distinguish Screaming at Traffic from the gruff-punk masses. I definitely get an alternative rock or emo feeling on listening to the record, overlaying and complementing the gritty and melodic punk sound. Notably, “Pantomime” and “Hey Koyuki” are great examples of tracks that are equally influenced by punk and alternative rock; I hear Jawbreaker and Samiam in these at the same time as Sunny Day Real Estate and Far. At times, I hear strands of a less scream-y version of a band like Touche Amore, with an emotive and semi-noodle-y alt-rock sound coming to the fore. “I Don’t Like Sports” has to be up there for ‘hit’ of the record though: a heart-filled, mid-tempo anthem about, yep, not liking sports (“Never seemed to keep up with the other kids”). Its tone is semi-tragic and semi-triumphant and I love the breakdown towards the end, “I don’t like spooooooorts”. “Broken Teeth”, meanwhile, is an interesting one: a slowed-down track that has echoes of post-hardcore and Fugazi-esque verses before the emergence of a mid-tempo, sing-a-long chorus.

The record is not without its faults and some of the tracks towards the end of the album appear to lack in the direction, hooks and commitment that the earlier songs do (particularly “Naproxen”). I find myself losing interest after a certain point on the record. Nevertheless, I Don’t Like Sports is a very solid record that manages to effectively and delicately find a balance between contemporary gruff-punk and the alt-rock of yesteryear; in doing so, they make a nice distinctive contribution to today’s punk scene.

Check it out here: https://screamingattrafficmusic.bandcamp.com/album/i-dont-like-sports

Epic west coast emotionally charged pop punk – from London. Guitars swirl and jangle, while intense vocals practically cry out on this latest EP from the quartet. Vocals include plenty of sing-along opportunities fully realized. This reminds me so much of earlier material from Western Settings. Lyrics are personal and cryptic. Songs deal with depression, self-doubt, and all sorts of neuroses. Halfway through the EP, “Dazed” is a favorite track, with less epic feel and more melodic pop bounce. But the song is not as happy as the music would lead you to believe. The song begins, “You can always tell when I’m stressed / By how much skin is left on the flesh around my fingernails / My cuticles are non-existent / My lack of thought is consistent.” The nervousness and uncertainty are palpable. “Everything’s Cool” is an outlier, having more pop punk than expansive emo, sometimes edging a bit toward skate punkish. The song is self-deprecating, discussing the internal conversations we have with ourselves when we don’t live up to expectations. The title track goes back toward the bigger sound, and lyrics about wanting to be better, the struggle to be open and vulnerable and authentic. “Safe” closes the EP, and it’s a slow burner. It begins with “found sound” of a person saying, “The worst thing to call somebody is crazy; it’s dismissive. I don’t understand this person, so they’re crazy.” The chorus sums up the EP: “How do I focus on my breathing / When I’m running out of breath? / How do I fixate on the good things / When I can’t even give myself a rest?” It brings home the difficulties we face in living up to the expectations of others and ourselves, and how we beat ourselves up over it. Triple Sundae give us a solid effort here.

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

PS

Weatherstate seems to be two bands. Or at least there seem to be two people doing the writing, Though this is one band, hailing from Bristol, there are two distinct paths taken on the songs. One is more traditional pop punk, fast and bouncy, full of harmonies. The other is harder-edged, grungier, and sounding something like Rocket From The Crypt. Even on the poppier songs, though, there’s a grittiness that makes Weatherstate stand out a bit more than the typical formulaic pop punkers. Even with the coarseness, the music is still catchy. “Ghost” opens the LP with one of these poppier tracks with harmonized vocals, but it’s so fast and hard, guitars buzzing angrily, that it doesn’t come across as boring old pop punk. Things really get cooking on “Brain Dead,” a track that uses elements of the grunge sound and the buzzy guitars, but adds in harmonized poppy vocals as a contrast. I like the tense, high-strung feel. “Barely Human” separates the grindy and the poppy into distinct sections; to me, the angrier sounding sections are more successful, especially the slow breakdown at the end of the song. “Arteries” is another slower grunge track that has so much attitude – I love it. The melodic line in the chorus contains the refrain every child knows and uses to taunt others. The snottiness reminds me a lot of RFTC mixed with Nirvana. Other tracks lean more toward typical pop punk, but as I mentioned, there’s still an edge to them. Recommended.

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

PS

The Parish Church Fire, after fits and starts, are finally ready for the world, and this two-song single is their proper debut (though they released a demo five years ago). The A-side is dark and mysterious, with a strong beat, straight out of the deepest, darkest corner of the world. While there are robust, loud guitars and no synths, the overall feel has more in common with trance than with rock and roll – and I like it. It’s got a truly original feel. The B-side is a Bruce Springsteen cover, “Adam Raised A Cain,” that stays true to the blues-rock original, but with more intense guitars and with vocals that are a bit gruffer and more ardent. The two tracks are so different that it’s hard to peg The Parish Church Fire. They don’t seem to fit neatly into a given category. That’s probably a good thing. Which is their “real” sound? Time will tell, when they release more material.

Check it out here: https://germanshepherdrecords.bandcamp.com/album/hunger

PS

London’s Eat Dirt are purveyors of hardcore and melodic punk, and their love of 90s punk styles is plainly evident on this, their debut full-length LP. The songs vary in style to a point, too, with some tracks leaning more toward a metallic sound, others more straight up hardcore, and others having a melodic skate punk vibe. Lyrically, a lot of the songs are pretty true to 90s hardcore, as well, with songs mainly focusing on improving one’s self and being true to yourself and others, rather than on politics. The LP starts out with a traditional hardcore track, “Make Peace,” complete with a slower breakdown section in the back half of the track. The song is a call to action, admonishing the listener to make a change and be all they can be. Lyrically it’s very much like a lot of straightedge hardcore of the 90s. The next track, “Worms of the Earth,” brings all the styles together. The whole thing is fast and loud, crunchy metallic hardcore, but there are moments of melodic skate-punk style, with harmonized vocals and all. It’s a bit like Pears, but where Pears blend pop punk into their hardcore, Eat Dirt use melodic skate punk in that mix. “Moribund” is an interesting track that has sections of classic hard rock and sections of what could only be described as “arena indie rock.” It’s got the big overblown feel of arena rock, but without the cock-rock egomania and high-pitched warbling vocals. The title track is pure metal, with growled vocals. And “Punk Rock Con” is about as political as things get from Eat Dirt. It mixes hard rock and punk styles into a song that decries the world of “fake news,” where we can’t trust anything we hear anymore. “Dog” is a metallic hardcore track that decries the loss of personal connections in the world, replaced by electronic ones, everyone glued to the glowing screens of their smart phones. The other sort of political song on the LP is “Out of the Fire.” It’s another metallic hardcore one, focusing on the growing divisions in our nations and in the world, bemoaning the loss of a more united people that worked together to solve problems. Included in the album are two songs off the band’s first EP, “Ballad” and “Put Out.” If you’re a fan of the 90s style, check this out, as the band are tight and powerful. Me? My 90s listening tended more toward East Bay pop punk and Washington, DC post hardcore. The whole metallic and melodic hardcore and skate punk thing never really did much for me.

Check it out here: https://eatdirtuk.bandcamp.com/album/death-is-death

PS

Fresh are a four-piece indie-pop-punk band from London that have been around for a few years now and Withdraw is their second LP, following 2017’s S/T record. Fresh’s form of self-analytical and heart-on-sleeve indie/pop-punk crossover has been thriving in the UK in the last few years; it’s dynamic and evolving, too. Fresh play the kind of relatable melodic sound that bands like Martha, Colour Me Wednesday or Muncie Girls have excelled at recently. It’s honest, sincere and confessional guitar pop, in the best ways.

For me, Withdraw is a significantly improved effort from Fresh, being more consistent, coherent and confident than its predecessor. I enjoyed that first LP but its inconsistency was frustrating at times. There remains a little bit of filler on Withdraw but to be honest, I seem to get more and more into this record every time I hear it, so in 2 months time, I might well think every second of it is gold! What’s more, the parts where I zone out a little bit are massively outweighed by the glorious highs across Withdraw: notably, the toe-tapping lead guitars and hook-filled pop-punk of “Brighton” that is reminiscent of Colour Me Wednesday or Happy Accidents at their best, the impassioned indie rock plea of “Willa”, the bounce-y, keyboard-driven and heart-string-pulling of “New Girl” and, of course, the piece de resistance, the fiery and cathartic anthem “Revenge”, leaving listeners with the message “I am valued/I am loved/I will get revenge on everyone who’s done me wrong”, in what feels like the album closer in many ways.

Lead singer and Fresh lyricist Kathryn Woods has written a dynamic, inventive and engrossing record that is intimate and personal in the same way that Waxahatchee and Lemuria records are (and all the best records, right?). It captures many of the everyday complexities of dealing with both vulnerability and empowerment. The songwriting shifts between these two states of being with ease, allowing us as the listeners to fully appreciate the ways in which feelings around the two are intricately interwoven. “No Thanks” is a great example of this, with Kathryn beginning the track confessing “Woke up last night with tears in my eyes/ because I am fundamentally unlovable”, but later fervently putting forward “Despite what you might think, I’m not a baby bird with a broken wing for you to heal” and “I am fire and light / I am fine on my own / I am everything and nothing all at once”. The songwriting is somewhat emo influenced (the band’s love of emo established on a track from the previous), with the melodramatic lyrical and melodic shifts reminding me a bit of Brand New and the indie-pop-punk-emo combo recalling Muncie Girls.

There are notable moments on the record which are simultaneously forthright and reflective of vulnerability, like “I just want to be acknowledged please” on “Willa” or the aforementioned call for revenge (on, yep, “Revenge”). There is also a great line on “Willa” which offers an alternative interpretation at dealing with the vulnerability of putting your voice/music out there: “when I’m on stage, I feel safe, you can’t hurt me up here”. “Nothing” is definitely the most stripped-back song on Withdraw, where, over an acoustic guitar and xylophone, Kathyrn proclaims that “Every day I tell myself that I am nothing”. The euphoric line that follows in “revenge” about being valued and loved feels like a motto to live by and a way to counter these multifaceted vulnerabilities.

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

DB

Having never heard of Adult Magic previously, I went into this review blind, which is always exciting. For those unaware, as I was, Adult Magic is one of the most recent bands to form in the well-established DIY punk scene in Long Island, part of the family tree of bands such as Iron Chic, Sister Kisser, Crow Bait and Get Bent (and featuring members of these). Get Bent were great and I know Iron Chic’s stuff pretty well, so the debut album from Adult Magic is not at all what I expected. Their sound is somewhat gritty and lo-fi (although not overly so), but Adult Magic is much closer to mid-90s alt-rock than to mid-00s gruff-punk. Essentially, the band plays mid-tempo, hook-filled and heart-on-sleeve indie-rock, the likes of which you might have heard on alternative radio 20 years ago. And it’s fucking great!

Adult Magic’s songwriting and melodic leanings suggest great indie bands of the ‘90s like Sugar, Superchunk and Pavement. I hear a lot of Weakerthans in the way that the band’s songs have been composed and in some of the lyrics, too. In particular, those verses in “Popcorn” have John K. Samson’s fingers all over it. I love the gang vocal melodies used by Adult Magic; it really makes a good chorus great and is what I used to enjoy a bunch in bands like Cheap Girls or The Ambulars (RIP). Some of the melodies in the choruses remind me a fair bit of The Creeps’ recent stuff, too. There are a bunch of absolutely killer choruses on this record: “Thru it All”, “Achin’” and “Savor” are all hits, hits, hits. The latter “Savor” comes straight from the heart and is a great demonstration of how to write emotive, sincere music, without being corny or whiny: “how will I make it when you’re gone?”. That track has echoes of the grit and angst of the mighty Jets to Brazil. Some of the opening guitars elsewhere (I’m thinking “Always” and “Many Moons Ago”) sound distinctly JTB-esque, but there is a broader JTB vibe across the whole record I guess. Incidentally, it is one of those tracks “Many Moons Ago” which, while starting like it is a missing track from Orange Rhyming Dictionary, ends up sounding like the ‘punkiest’ track and a standout on the record. It’s got these wonderfully gritty vocals and a super-uplifting and fist-pumping chorus that all make me want to dance around like an idiot in a basement somewhere. I say ‘uplifting’, but it’s clearly an angry and heart-broken track; that kind of speaks to the record as a whole though that hides much of its angst behind restraint and hooks to die for.

There aren’t many bands that can do the ‘90s alt-revival thing very well and without making it sound like a pointless exercise in grave-digging, but add Adult Magic to that golden list of exceptions. Go Long Island!

Check it out here: https://adultmagic.bandcamp.com/album/adult-magic-2

DB

‘Okinawan Love Songs’ is the follow-up EP to last year’s debut full-length from Ogikubo Station, the musical project formed between Mike Park (he of Asian Man Records and many other musical escapades) and Maura Weaver (of Mixtapes). Dan Andriano also plays bass on this EP. I’ve got to say, this is the first time I’ve properly sat down and listened to an Ogikubo Station release (I somehow let the previous two releases pass me by), and yep, I’ve slept on something else. The melodies on the Okinawan Love Songs EP are pretty great. I can’t resist some good ol’ boy-girl dual vocals and these two have got it down to a tee.

Ogikubo Station play broadly what can be categorised as indie-pop, I guess, and from what I’ve heard, this largely sounds like a continuation of their last LP. Maura largely leads on vocals on here, with Mike joining for the choruses or as backing vocals here and there. Their vocals work wonderfully together and there is a ton of heart on these well-written tracks. Ogikubo Station have the melodic sensibilities and charm of indie-pop bands like Lemuria, Alvvays and Best Coast. I particularly hear the latter on the opening track “Would I Break My Heart Enough For You” which is very well-constructed, upbeat and summer-y. I say ‘summer-y’ in the same way that Best Coast evoke California in their melodies. The hooks in the chorus have something of a Martha feel to them, which is always a huge compliment. “Spend Some Time With Me” slows things down and is a little less memorable. It is a decent slice of twee and love-struck indie-pop that is reminiscent of She & Him a little. The last ‘bonus’ track is a cover of They Might Be Giants’ “Dr. Worm” and is maybe my favourite from the EP. Ogikubo Station retain the lo-fi charm of the original, having recorded the song as if on an old tinny transistor radio. Come on, try to get this out of your head: “They call me Dr. Worm/ Good morning, how are you? I’m Dr. Worm/ I’m interested in things, I’m not a real doctor/ But I am a real worm, I am an actual worm, I live like a worm”. So good!

Check it out here: https://asianmanrecords.bandcamp.com/album/okinawan-love-songs

DB