Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

There’s something in the water in the north and midlands of the UK. There are some excellent bands that are sort of pop punk and sort of indie pop, but not either. Just sort of in between. Count Yr Poetry amongst that group. Their songs are quite bouncy and edgy like pop punk, but they’re more jangly, complex and melodic, more like some of the best indie pop. The quintet of songs is the first release in a three volume set planned for a twelve month period, according to Yr Poetry. This volume focuses on events that happened an hour apart from each other on a single night out. “These Are Not The Days of Our Lives” is the beginning of the evening, out at a club in a group. The club doesn’t quite live up to expectations, though (“Hey Pauly, you said this place was punk, I’ve seen DJs pulled from decks for lesser crimes.”) As the evening wears on, one of the group, Damian, decides he’s not going home along, thus, “Damian and the Shark Metaphor.” It’s good that they recognize their mate is inhuman as he stalks his “prey.” “Headlights! Headlights!” won’t protect you from the night, just illuminate the signs to our one night alive! This song occurs after the group has started to break up, people leave, and there’s just two people left. “Guess we are a couple now.” The melody is a strong one, as certain and sure-footed and opposite of what the couple must feel as they head out together. “What the World Needs Now Is a New Guitar Hero” is a little bit math-like with complex rhythms as the night gets more complex. The night comes to a close with “It’s All There.” It starts quietly, with piano and vocals. Two thirds of the way into the track the full band comes in and the quiet waltz time track gets more raucous for a bit, with feedback and the slower pace seemingly representing the wind down and exhaustion. My understanding of the events described may be a bit fuzzy, but my love of the music is solid. This is a gorgeous release and I can’t wait to hear the other mini-LPs Yr-Poetry plans.

Check it out here: https://ibelieveinyrpoetry.bandcamp.com/album/one-night-alive

PS

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“Just four dudes playing fast songs.” That’s the lone description this quartet from Lille, France gives for themselves. And it’s at least partially accurate. It’s four dudes, and three of the four songs on this demo are fast. “The Devil Rides Out,” “Embrace my O-gosh,” and “Stand Out of My Sunlight” are classic hardcore tracks, fast, loud, and crunchy. The third track is a cover of the Ramones classic, “Pet Semetary.” It’s something that others have covered. The version here isn’t really anything to write home about, sounding like a mash-up of Bad Religion and a non-descript metal band. “Stand Out of My Sunlight” starts out well enough, with enough speed and power to satisfy any hardcore fanatic. But about halfway through the track it suddenly changes. It slows considerably and turns into a dirge-like metal track. It’s the first two tracks that are the standouts for those who like hardcore. The fun opening sounds like an old Speak and Spell sped up, saying “Welcome to your doom!” These two openers are a relentless onslaught of guitar, bass, and drums at breakneck speed. If you’re more into pop punk or other types of punk, you may not get into this demo, as there’s not much to make it stand out from other hardcore bands, but if you’re into the metallic crunch of hardcore, check this out.

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

PS

T

his debut full-length LP from Montreal’s Mansbridge opens the way every album should – with the best song on the record. “Single Lens Reflex” isn’t flashy, fast, or overly exciting. But what it is is a solid song, mid-tempo, with a great melodic line and bangin’ harmonies. Most of the tracks sound like the band would be very at home in the Fat Wreck Chords family, with their 90s melodic pop punk/skate punk sound.  But Mansbridge raise the bar on this genre with a bit more complexity than in your average punk band. Listen to “From Sean, with Love.” It’s equal parts power, beauty, and speed. You just don’t hear these kinds of melodic lines and chord progressions in your average skate punk, and it’s glorious. “Hotel Canmore,” too, is atypical. On the surface it’s a ‘90s style melodic punk tune, but it’s those chord changes, the arrangement, the harmonies – it all works together to create something unique. “Straight for the Knees” has a soaring quality, and uses two separate melodic lines in counterpoint!  And let’s not forget to mention that bass line on  “185 King St!” Punk music can be pretty stagnant, with bands just aping other bands, staying inside the lines of genres and styles, so it’s really awesome when a band takes an established genre and innovates, marking it with their own stamp. Mansbridge do just that.

Check it out here: https://mansbridge.bandcamp.com/album/juxtapose

PS

Great sing-along melodies, gruff vocals, and a dark sense of loss and self-deprecation are key features in the six songs on this London band’s new EP. It’s a sound that’s prevalent in some of the best bands from the West Coast of the USA, from Bastards of Young to Fools Rush, Western Settings, and others. The songs lend themselves well to big sing-alongs, everyone with one arm around another person and the other lifting up a pint, pressing forward toward the stage and singing along at the top of their lungs. It’s a sound uncommon in the UK, from what I know of UK bands, but The Burnt Tapes would be right at home here in California. My absolute favorite track of the half dozen has to be “Things Get Weird.” The calm opening and clear vocals are so beautifully aching and I really want to hear an all acoustic version of this song. Even as the rest of the band explodes with emotion after the intro, I can’t help but think that the sentiments expressed would be perfect in an acoustic track. The opening (and title) track starts with a bright enough sound that belies the lyrical content of unhappy separation. Looking to the past, loss, change, and regret are common themes running through these songs. The music is universally good. I hope The Burnt Tapes come tour the West Coast of the USA so I can lift a pint with them to toast the wreckage we leave behind us.

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

PS

 

IAR 61: The Maxies- Greenland is Melting LP (May 2013)

Yeah, I really, really don’t get this band at all, as I discussed in the last review block. I don’t mind dumb and silly in principle, but The Maxies take it to ridiculous levels and don’t even have the songs to back it up. A pop-punk/ska mash-up of The Aquabats, Masked Intruder and Reel Big Fish, but without any of the abilities to write tunes of these bands. That’s the thing: they have a schtick and little songwriting ability. A lethal combination, for me. This is a re-release of their first LP, but more-or-less aligns with everything else I’ve heard from them: just plain annoying. Anyhow, enough about this, lets get to the good stuff…

Grade: E-

IAR 62: City Mouse- S/T 7” (August 2011)

Good stuff. I feel like City Mouse are generally a bit of a mixed bag, but this 7” has two of their best songs on it: the powerful, emotive “You” and the super-catchy punk-pop tune “Dumb dumb dumb”. City Mouse play a kind of a gritty, melodic punk rock that has its roots in pure rock ‘n’ roll, but not in a Be My Doppelganger kind of way: this is a much tougher, aggressive form of rock ‘n’ roll. Frontwoman Miski’s vocals are powerful and growly in a kind of Gateway District way, also recalling a touch of ‘90s riot grrl. City Mouse’s hooks are enveloped by gritty production values, very much fitting in with the contemporary underground pop-punk zeitgeist. P. good!

Grade: B+

IAR 63: Weekend Dads- S/T 7” (October 2011)

A band that I too-rarely listen to, but always enjoy when I do, Weekend Dads. The band comprises of Corey from Varsity Weirdos and a couple of members from The Hemingways, who I don’t really know. This was their first release and although you can hear a little bit of Varsity Weirdos in here (obviously in the vocals), Weekend Dads generally veer away from Ramones-y, mid-tempo pop-punk towards fast-paced, edgy ‘fest’ pop-punk (for want of a better term). In a similar vein to say The Copyrights or Dillinger Four, Weekend Dads opt for crunchy guitars and anthemic choruses. It’s pop-punk for sure, but with extra doses of intensity and grit. “Erase My Brain” is like a cross between D4 and early Delay, but “Desperation Mart” is my clear favourite on this thing: the intensity on this EP reaches boiling point here and the sing-a-long melodies are relentless.

Grade: B+

IAR 64: Sass Dragons- New Kids on the Bong LP (October 2012)

This was a re-release of Sass Dragons’ second LP, which originally came out in 2010. Chicago’s Sass Dragons have built up a reputation for themselves as an underground ‘party-punk’ outfit. They are a band I have really neglected to properly check out, despite being one of the more interesting and diverse pop-punk bands to crop up in recent years. That’s certainly evident in the New Kids on the Bong album, which makes use of banjos, saxophones and thrash influences at varying points. For instance, they go from the rather bizarre, thrash-y, 1 minute-long “Dear St. Anne, Please Send Me a Man” to the emotional, sing-a-long Delay-esque punk-ballad of “Give it Back” to the pure pop-punk of “8 or 9 on a Bike”. Despite such variety, the LP flows really well together. Reviewing this is a reminder to me to check out these guys more! Good stuff.

Grade: B

IAR 65: The Manix- Neighbourhood Wildlife LP (December 2011)

I love this record! The Manix offer pretty much everything I want from a Minneapolis, ‘gruff-punk’ band: striking melodies, crunchy guitars and sing-a-long choruses. As to be more or less expected, I guess, Nieghbourhood Wildlife is somewhere between Dillinger Four and Banner Pilot, musically. The Manix are led by Corey Ayd who was formerly guitarist in Banner Pilot, so you know, it is natural that this band would have a superior sense of hooks and lyrical prowess. Clearly, the songs off this thing deserve to be screamed along to in basements: “I’m nothing but a heartsick heathen”; “This business is bullshiiiiiit”. By contrast, there is no bullshit here; The Manix go straight for the jugular and provide straight-up, basement-punk hits. I lose track of the amount of times I have played this record. It’s a shame the Manix are no longer around, but, as a sole LP to leave behind, it’s pretty fucking great!

Grade: A

IAR 66: The Dopamines- Vices LP (June 2012)

Well, I’ve already talked enough about The Dopamines recently (see ), so I’ll try to keep this brief. Suffice to say, this is possibly my favourite Dopamines album. I love all their releases basically, but this is the one that I feel is the most consistent, most enlightening and memorable. The short story: following the beer-chugging and shots downed on Expect the Worst, the band found themselves at the morning after the night before; this is the cold, hard look at yourself in the mirror, questioning what you are doing with your life, wondering if you can now control that beer chugging. It’s an intense self-examination and it gets pretty fucking dark and weird at times. Nevertheless, the melodies on Vices are as strong as ever and anthemic tracks like “Paid in Full” and “Don’t Mosh the Organ” are among their best. My favourite It’s Alive release? That’s a tough one, but it’s up there.

Grade: A+

IAR 67: The Brokedowns/ Vacation Bible School split 7” (May 2013)

This split is fine. I mean, I more or less enjoy the gritty and relentless melodic style presented here, but it’s largely nothing special. Both of these bands are from Illinois. I know The Brokedowns from a couple of other splits (including with The Copyrights on this very label); it’s a bit of a lazy comparison, but screw it, the dirty, feedback-laden, driven anthemic punk of The Brokedowns is somewhat reminiscent of Dillinger Four. They would fit in well on a bill with bands like The Slow Death and Vacation. The three songs on this split are decent, particularly “This Future Sucks”, but don’t expect a re-invention of the wheel. Vacation Bible School, who I know very little about, play a kind-of straightforward, snotty and snarly pop-punk that could have come direct from a basement on the East Bay in 1992. Pinhead Gunpowder come to mind, but they’re a little heavier than that, at times. “Middle Son(g)” is a great little, catchy pop-punk number, sounding somewhat like Sass Dragons, but the other two tracks are rather unmemorable. I am much more on board with the style of Vacation Bible School really, but minus that one song, they don’t really pull me in.

Grade: C+

IAR 68: Lipstick Homicide/ The Turkletons “We’re gonna need a bigger coat” 7” (May 2013)

This split is so much fun, pure poppy punk-y goodness, embracing everything that made you fall in love with pop-punk in the first place: the charm, the melodies, the relatable lyrics. It evokes that classic ‘90s Lookout! Sound. Lipstick Homicide are definitely one of my favourite bands to have recently emerged from the pop-punk underground. Energetic, insatiable melodies and songwriting that belies their young years. I loved seeing them live, one of my favourite ever shows. It’s just a shame that the band haven’t done much recently (basically since Out Utero came out in 2014). What is probably stopping this from being a higher grade is the fact that I think these are two of Lipstick Homicide’s weaker songs, but their consistency means that: they are still pretty fucking good and catchy as shit. I just don’t think of putting these two on when I want to listen to some Lipstick Homicide. The Turkletons’ side is great: putting the pop back into pop-punk, refreshing when reviewing It’s Alive’s back catalogue and listening to The Brokedowns and Mall’d to Death. I like both sub-genres to be fair, but I’ll always side with the melodies and The Turkletons have these in abundance. Super sweet, rough around the edges heartsick hooks with boy-girl vocals; it perhaps calls to mind Teen Idols, The Unlovables or The Riverdales, as in: fun, foot-tapping and a joy to listen to.

Grade: B+

IAR 69: Mean Jeans/ Underground Railroad to Candyland split 7” (May 2013)

Decent split, but you get more or less what you’d expect from these two bands: pogo-tastic, ‘party’ pop-punk from Mean Jeans, with a song declaring that the band are ‘possessed to party’, and poppy, garage-y punk rock from Underground Railroad to Candyland, a band formed by Todd Congelliere, to fit alongside his work in Toys that Kill and Stoned at Heart. Getting what you’d expect is not a bad thing in and of itself, and I’m sure the fans of these bands would be more than happy with these songs, but it certainly doesn’t lure new fans in. The Underground Railroad’ songs are more-or-less straightforward, garage punk (with a hint of surf music), that I would definitely have mistaken for Stoned at Heart had I not known otherwise. I do quite enjoy, “I’m Alright”, with its toe-tapping melodies and increasing urgency as the song progresses. Despite this, the two songs from Underground Railroad’ don’t particularly make me want to delve further into their catalogue. Mean Jeans, on the other hand, I have known for years and have probably heard all their releases. Fun band, but a little like Masked Intruder, their schtick has a got a little old for me: yes, you guys party a lot and, yes, you probably drank a million beers by now. Mean Jeans tick all the boxes you would expect, but don’t go anywhere they haven’t gone before or since.

Grade: B-

IAR 70: City Mouse- “Bad Weather” 5×7 Flexi Postcard (October 2012)

Hey, it’s another City Mouse release, a single put out on a super-interesting format: a 5×7 playable flexible postcard that originally came out with an issue of Jerk Store Fanzine (an Australian punk zine that I remember being pretty cool, but that doesn’t appear to be running anymore). The song offered from City Mouse here is a re-recorded version of “Bad Weather”, which is driving, mid-tempo and melodic, with a memorable chorus: “it’s dark and it’s cold, but it’s nothing compared to my heart”. Its urgency, emotion and strong female vocals definitely call to mind Gateway District. Good stuff. This song also features on the newly-released album from City Mouse (Get Right).

Grade: B

Check all these releases out and more here: https://itsaliverecords.bandcamp.com/

The thing that is immediately striking about the debut full-length (following last year’s “Next Generation” single) from Dundee punks Delinquents is how diverse and all-over-the-place it is. I mean that in a positive sense. Overall, there is a definite ’77 punk feel to About Last Night, which captures elements of 999, Stiff Little Fingers and Generation X. It’s stripped down and raw, without compromising on production. Crucially though, while a lot of recent ’77 punk worship tends to be somewhat monotonous and predictable, Delinquents keep things interesting throughout.

The anthemic ‘70s-style punk is there (most notably with “Next Generation” and “ACNE”), underpinned by the snarl of lead singer David’s vocals (think Jake Burns); there is also a proper pop-punk hit in “Valentine’s Day”, which couldn’t be more pop-punk if it tried: “I hate Valentine’s day, cuz I’ve never got a date/ I hate Valentine’s day, cuz I always end up a state”. I think Delinquents are at their most interesting when they slow things down a touch though. My favourites on About Last Night are “The Fuck You Song”, a self-affirming, combative acoustic tune, which has a touch of early Frank Turner about it (plus points for including the phrase, “supermarket dictatorships”), and “Never Gonna Fit In”, a melancholic, mid-tempo indie-punk tune whose chorus will embed itself in your head.  I’d like to hear more of these kind of tunes from Delinquents! Overall, a very creative and diverse debut punk record, which suggests promise for the future.

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

DB

The Slow Death are a now fairly well-established gruff punk band from gruff-punk central, aka Minneapolis. Punishers is their third LP, following No Heaven and the brilliantly-titled Born Ugly, Got Worse. The band play a mid-tempo, growly and high-intensity brand of punk rock, which puts its feet in the melodic waters of pop-punk on occasions. Punishers recalls grimy and visceral tales of heartbreak and drunkenness. It is basically a Bukowski novel set to record. I like The Slow Death, I do, but there is something missing from their songs to really draw me in. I found this on their debut record and nothing has really changed since. I think it’s partly about the pretty constant tempos and melodies, resulting in the tracks merging into one another. “The Ballad of Amy from Esco” clearly stands out, melodically and structurally, and, for me, is easily the highlight of the record, and the high-energy, high-intensity “Bored to Death” is great, too, but there are just too many middling songs on Punishers which do not distinguish themselves from the rest. On paper, you could probably describe themselves as similar to Banner Pilot or Dillinger Four (‘mid-tempo gruff punk rock from Minneapolis’), but the superior songwriting and sense of melodies distinguishes these two from The Slow Death. Punishers is a decent record, but fails to stand out from the gruff punk crowd, or at least, it hasn’t clicked for me yet.

Check it out here: https://radgirlfriendrecords.bandcamp.com/album/punishers

DB

If you didn’t know, the Yorkshire Rats play ruff Rock ‘n’ roll mixed with punk rock from Northern England. Formed in 2004, they released a seven inch and an EP before their extended hiatus. Now they are back with a new self-titled EP (as well as a brand-new album). This is, however, a review of the EP: The EP starts up with the garage-y “Alone Together”. I must admit, I really liked that title and it also had a pretty cool solo. The musicianship of the band sounds really tight and there are always great elements like the intro of “Where Do I Sign?”, but I don’t feel like this record breaks any new ground or takes a hold on me in any way on the first couple of listens. The vocals sound anonymous a lot of the time and I have troubles getting fully into the songs. I think the highlights of the EP are the two last songs “No Way Out” and “Better Days Will Come”. “No Way Out” is the catchiest song of the four. The chorus reminds me a bit of mid-era Alkaline Trio. The gang vocals work really well in this one. There’s also something about the American-esque vocals of the singer actually gives me a country-vibe. The closing track, “Better Days Will Come” is a slower song and it’s quite long. It’s hopeful when it comes to the future (“You’ll fall in love, you’ll get a job, you’ll have no regrets”), but also includes an awareness that some people are gonna screw shit up for you. Speaking of the future, I think this band could be on to something, even if this EP doesn’t grip me much. I think the album “Sea of Souls” shows even more promise with its acoustic folk influence.

Check it out here: https://yorkshirerats.bandcamp.com/album/yorkshire-rats-ep

RH

In a similar way to The Ergs!, Chumped were an awesome, but way-too-short-lived pop-punk hit-machine. The pained vocals of Anika Pyle made for emotive and passionate pop-punk sing-a-longs that, for me, only get better with time. It was a couple of years after its release that I truly appreciated the magnificence of Teenage Retirement, Chumped’s only full-length. Now along comes Katie Ellen, the pseudonym of Anika (and name of her Grandmother), re-invented and providing a melodramatic, indie-rock work of art. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this is one of the best things I’ve heard in years. Cowgirl Blues is fucking phenomenal.

So, what does this sound like? Cowgirl Blues is stripped back pop-punk, it’s crunchy indie rock, it’s confessional folk. It’s all of these things. It’s somewhat reminiscent of Waxahatchee’s hooks and heart. The record retains the beating heart and catchy hooks of Chumped and transports them to new terrain. Cowgirl Blues is unashamedly raw and heart-on-sleeve; in fact, as the closing track demonstrates, this record is rather more aptly bleeding heart-on-sleeve. Things get pretty Taking Back Sunday on “Bleeding Heart”: “If there’s no other way to show you my love/ Then I’ll slit my throat/ Donate my most precious organ to you, still beating and bleeding”.

Cowgirl Blues sure is a gut-punch of a record: just listen to “TV Dreams”, which opens with the almost whispered confession of “I am miserable with you/I am miserable without you” (calling to mind Lemuria’s lyrics on “Length Away”) and ends with Anika’s pained cries of “I guess I called to say that you can call me”. Opener “Drawing Room is a slow-builder and talks about withdrawing from everything and everyone, except ‘you’. “Proposal”, meanwhile, is the rawest and most stripped back on the record, calling to mind early Waxahatchee’s visceral honesty: “I’m sick of fucking in our bed/ I’m sick of fucking with your head”.

But is this an emo record? To some extent. I mean, it’s melodramatic, inward-looking and self-deprecating at times, ticking a lot of the ‘emo’ boxes. But Cowgirl Blues is so much more than a simplistic ‘emo’ or ‘break-up’ label would suggest. It’s not a maudlin, self-pitying record really; it’s more fiery, passionate and bitter. I also feel the record is about finding power and strength in shitty situations and reaching conclusions that you may not want to reach. It’s also a record embedded in feminist politics and trying to navigate relationships and societal expectations as a young women growing up today. These reflections probably result in some of the best lyrics on the album, as on “Sad Girls Club”: “I hope you find a stable girl/who treats you like you deserve it/take her home at Christmas time, impress your middle class parents”. This song tackles head on the societal expectations of what women should and shouldn’t be like and how mental health is implicated in all this: “Sad girls don’t make good wives”.

In similar ways to other contemporary indie-punk bands like Waxahatchee, Cayetana or Worriers, Katie Ellen expertly weaves the deeply personal with reflections on the social or political. I don’t say this very often, but Cowgirl Blues is a truly great record. It really made go ‘wow’, even though I already had pretty high expectations. There is not one thing I would change about the record; every song feels vital and necessary. If you are going to listen to any record this year, make it this one.

Listen here: https://katiebandellen.bandcamp.com/

DB

Hey, new band…well, kind of. This is technically a re-naming of Candy Hearts, but Best Ex is pretty far removed sonically from its former self. Candy Hearts were a super melodic, pop-punk band from New York that released three records and had some reasonable success with their sound, but founder and lead singer Mariel has completely re-invented the band’s sound for the first Best Ex EP. This is all synth-y, float-y poppy indie, reminiscent of, I don’t know Chvrches or modern Paramore, or something. I mean…it’s alright. I can get into that kind of sound if the mood is right, but the song-writing is just not up to much. That is why I never really could get into Candy Hearts, to be honest. Way too whiny, in an adolescent way. The tone and feel of Mariel’s songwriting often grates with me and ‘Ice Cream Anti-social’ (ugh, that EP title, just…ugh) is no different, really.

The synths have replaced the guitars, but, in many ways, this is a continuation of Candy Hearts in many ways. The feel of the whole EP basically reminds me of Avril Lavigne, which may turn you on or off, most obviously the song “Girlfriend”, which is, yep, essentially a boring version of Avril’s song of the same name. Things work a little better towards the back end of the EP, with the synth-y hooks sticking on “See You Again” and things changing up on the cutes-y, acoustic ditty, “Jellyfish” (kind of a rip off of Laura Stevenson, but ok!). This EP is not terrible by any means and hooks will implant themselves in your head in parts, but I just find this kind of songwriting somewhat affectated and whiny. Sorry!

Listen here: https://bestexnj.bandcamp.com/album/ice-cream-anti-social

DB