Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

I have been aware of Midwestern pop-punkers The Raging Nathans for a while, but never properly checked them out. Sounds like I’ve been missing out! Their debut LP Cheap Fame is absolute gold. It combines Lookout! style blink-and-you’ll-miss-‘em melodies with a punchier and meatier melodic punk sound. Raging Nathans meet the sweet point between say The Queers and Dillinger Four. There is a snarl and bitterness here that has become prevalent in modern melodic punk. Indeed, the speed, intensity and relentless bitternes on Cheap Fame recalls lead singer Josh Goldman’s other band The Dopamines. The gang vocal choruses, everyman songwriting and crunchy melodies also bring to mind The Copyrights or Rational Anthem, especially on tracks such as “B1505” or “Circling the Drain”.

At the same time, fans of ‘90s-era and The Queers or early Green Day lovers are going to be more than satisfied with the huge hooks and ear-worm-y choruses on offer on Cheap Fame (the album artwork is indeed drawn by Insomniac artist Winston Smith). The more traditional pop-punk fans can pogo along to tracks like the early ‘Weasel-esque “Teenage Amnesia” or The Murderburgers-y (How to Ruin Your Life-era, obvs) “Brain is Floating”. “CTRL+ALTRIGHT+DEL” recalls the hooks and pace of early Down by Law. My favourite track is probably “Sucker Punch” though, which is a heart-of-sleeve, chug-a-thon that declares, “life is one long panic attack and series of sucker punches”. It would fit right into place on Dream Homes. As the lyrics on “Sucker Punch” would suggest, the mood on Cheap Fame is somewhat downcast, to contrast with the breezy melodies (as most of the best pop-punk does, amirght?), getting to grips with anxiety, questioning if you are a ‘good man’, feeling like ‘circling the drain’ and ‘lonesome in the ocean’. One of the obvious highlight lyrics is on closer “Holding it in” which kind of brings the whole thing together: “the light at the end of the tunnel is just an oncoming train”. I doubt I’ll find a better line in 2018.

Fans of sadsack pop-punk, come here and get your fix.

Check it out here: https://theragingnathans.bandcamp.com/album/cheap-fame

DB

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Harker are an indie-punk band from Brighton that clearly love The ’59 Sound. Probably a bit too much. No Discordance, the band’s first LP, is very much indebted to The Gaslight Anthem, The Menzingers, The Loved Ones and other fans of plaid shirts and big hearty choruses. Every track on this thing can be pictured as the soundtrack for a group sing-a-long in a basement showered by beers and lit up by “300 cigarettes”. No Discordance is oh-so very poignant and bittersweet. All of this is no bad thing in itself, but soon enough, the heart-on-sleeve charm becomes schtick and far too by-the-book. A little like Beach Slang, Harker are trying way too hard to fit into a particular profile. Even the artwork looks like a rip-off of On the Impossible Past. The songwriting is not actually too bad, especially on “Plague Your Heart”, but too often, the age-old tropes of ‘wanting to get out of town’, of ‘sticking with your friends’ and of ‘driving at night’ (oh wait, there is actually a song called “Drive at Night”) rear their ugly head.

I’m not against this sub-genre of punk rock by any means (contrary to what I may have suggested earlier, I enjoy The 59 Sound quite a bit) but it is one of the most difficult to pull off well. There are also difficulties in keeping the listener’s attention. Too often, the songs on No Discordance meld into one another and can be barely distinguished, amidst the guitar solos, gang vocals and lyrics like “we’re going to wreck this car until the wheels fall off with ‘Heartbreaker’ on side two while I fall in and out of love with you”. As I said, there are moments that suggest that Harker have something more original and substantial going on, but for the most part, they fall back on cliched, Fallon-inspired ‘poetry’ and melodies.

Check it out here: https://harker.bandcamp.com/album/no-discordance

DB

Capturing the zeitgeist, or the current concerns and contemplations of the day in a punk album in a way that feels organic and not corny or fudged is not an easy task. So, I’m pleased to say, after getting around to finally properly listening to it, POST- is definitely successful in this regard. In many ways, it is a record that builds on WORRY and Jeff’s previous songwriting nous, culminating to generate a more expansive and more ‘now’ record. POST- is an album that concerns itself with the state of the US in 2018 and the socio-political milieu that could allow Trump to be elected. As with his other work, Jeff contemplates these concerns through his own anxious and insecure perspective. I mean, his whole career (from the Bomb the Music Industry! through to his solo stuff) seems to have been building towards the dreamy chant on “USA”: “We’re tired and bored/we’re tired, we’re bored!”

Sonically, POST- largely picks up where WORRY left off, with Jeff pulling out his career-best scrappy, rough-around-the-edges and sing-a-long pop-punk. If anything, this record is even scrappier and more rough-around-the-edges. Nevertheless, it is more expansive, too, with Jeff writing two super-long efforts that book-end the record, with one working a lot better than the other, for me. Opener “USA” is 7 minutes-plus and is all-over-the-place, but in a good way; it aptly sets the tone for what is to come and acts as his address to the nation: “Dumbfounded, downtrodden and dejected/ Crestfallen, grief-stricken and exhausted/ Trapped in my room while the house was burin’ to the motherfuckin’ ground”. With the first lyrics of the record, the central themes of the album are already on display: the ennui, anxiety and exhaustion felt following last year’s elections. POST- is as much about ‘worrying’ (about the US, about your community, about your mental state) as the previous record.

“Let Them Win”, on the other hand, doesn’t really work half as well as the opener. I mean, doing longer, more expansive tracks like “USA” is cool, but I feel the 11-minute plus “Let Them Win” is overkill, especially when it’s primary lyrical take-away is simply “lets gather as a community and be stronger than ‘them’ (i.e. those that voted for Trump)”. It all builds up to a similar choral chant as found on “USA” (“we’re not gonna let them win!”) and then goes all synth-y and weird. The sentiment is fine, I guess, but you don’t get the sense that it deserves 11 minutes of your time; what’s more, it ensures that the album ends a little too cleanly and on an uncharacteristically and uncritically positive note: like, yeah, you know all that whining I just did about how fucked up the country is and how anxious I am about the whole thing, forgot about that, because we’re gonna win in the end anyway!!

Elsewhere though, I basically enjoy everything. “TV Stars” is a masterclass in how to sneak an ‘80s piano ballad into a punk album: it’s like a frayed-edged Billy Joel with visceral social community. Jeff has not been unknown to do somewhat theatrical, super poppy stuff like this before, but this definitely stands out on the album. Its chorus is at once simple and gripping: “TV stars don’t care about who you are”. Meanwhile, “Yr. Throat” is an intense, fast-paced and exuberant melodic punk banger, with a chorus that sticks in the head like nothing else on the album (“what’s the point of having a voice? When it gets stuck inside your throat”). This one is about Jeff’s simple desire to escape all the bullshit he is surrounded with and the difficulties that come with that. “Powerlessness” is also the kind of tune that Jeff excels at, a pop-punk earworm with anxiety-riddled lyrics: “Meet me at the Polish bar/ I’ll be the one staring at my phone,
/shaking like a nervous kid/ absolutely terrified of being alone”.

POST- sounds like the record that Jeff has been trying to make for a while. I don’t know if I prefer it to WORRY but it certainly feels like a culmination of his previous two records that has emerged at a time of ‘peak-anxiety’ for Americans. He offers something quite unique in the current punk scene: a voice. Even if it does get stuck inside his throat.

DB

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

I become aware of Yr Poetry last year with the release of the ‘One Night Alive’ EP and pretty instantly dug it. I mean, that is not surprising considering that I am fairly big fan of Alexei (guitar) and Junior’s (drums) ‘other’ band, Johnny Foreigner. The ‘Lost Boys’ EP is part 2 of a 3-part EP collection, a “are-we-good-enough-to-get-paid-for-this?” experiment, according to their bandcamp. Instantly, you get those JoFo feels, when the fuzzy, math-y and crunchy guitars kick in on opener “Sons”, probably the highlight of the EP. You’ve got wooh-oohs, driving melodies and a fist-raised-in-the-air chorus; this is pop-punk magic. The lyrics are among the most memorable I’ve heard in recent times, with Alexei reflexively getting to grips with the gender make-up of the band’s audience and then relating that to music politics more broadly:

“And I know what yr thinking: Hark the hypocrites are singing
Saying “there’s too many boys in our bands” whilst adding two
If I can’t be the change then I’ll be the klaxon”

It’s a biting, critical and much needed take-down of the male dominated indie scene. “Sons” is probably enough to already make me name this my favourite EP of the year but the other songs are also not half bad. “I Swear I Swear I Swear (It’s All Bullshit)” is an exhilarating, fast-paced tune with an addictive chorus of sheer simplicity: It’s all bullshit, bullshit, bullshit…” (repeat ad infinitum). There is a sense of frustration and itchiness to change things, of the need for that “klaxon”. On “The Whole Tooth”, the cynicism and ennui in Brexit Britain is brought to the forefront, calling for people to rise above that, to “Be a gap in the crowds/Be a plot in the ground/Be a break in the clouds/Be lost and get found”.

The vibe changes quite considerably on the space-y, slowed-down indie on closer “Dads” though, a song about Dads dying and looking back at your youth, thinking how you were with your Dad then, revolving around an ‘electricity-based’ narrative. It’s an emotional, raw and super interesting track that makes you feel simultaneously sad, uncomfortable and also want to laugh. The lyrics hit quite hard, but have sharp wit to them, as JoFo always have. It’s the classic tragedy/comedy thing. Seriously, one of the most fascinating and exciting new-ish indie bands out there today. I’m waiting for the “mums” follow-up on the next EP.

DB

Check it out here: https://ibelieveinyrpoetry.bandcamp.com/album/lost-boys

I’ve heard the Shell Corporation and seen them live before. Hell, they played my birthday show a few years back. And I’ve always thought they were good, but goddamn! This is one hell of a record! It is unrelenting in its power and energy, expanding beyond the band’s well-known and well-tread territory of melodic punk. The opening track, “Kumbaya,” is harder, darker, and edgier than anything I’ve ever heard from The Shell Corporation before, and is a scathing commentary on the current state of American society and politics, the massive divide tearing the country apart, and those who are calling for those on the left to just be quiet and accept the “new normal.” This indeed is not the time for Kumbaya, as the song’s last line cries out. This whole album is an angry clarion call to us all. Songs reference climate change, the economic divide between those who own everything and the rest of us, the seeming hopelessness of the situation, and the way we purposely blind ourselves to the evils in the world that we’re contributing to. While a good portion of the album does reflect the style of music-making The Shell Corporation has perfected, with multi-part harmonies over tough melodic punk, they go outside these boundaries on some tracks. I love “Fighting For,” a song with a thinner arrangement, just vocalist Jan Drees’ vocals without the harmonies, and more of a hard indie rock feel than punk. The song is about how people go about their lives without ever questioning what they’re doing or why, or who really reaps the benefits of their work. “Poor Devils” follows right after, and owes its debt to 70s hard rock. It’s got that angry yet psychedelic feel to it, like some of the great protest songs from that era.

Of the more traditional Shell Corporation tracks, “Not Funny” stands out for its lyrical content, warning people to wake the fuck up and stop “taking selfies” and “posting memes as we drown and our lips turn blue.” People are likened to Charlie Brown, forever trying to kick the football and ending up flat on our backs, and eating the same old shit every day and coming back for me. “Waters” stands out for its amazing melodic lines, sounding bright and angry at the same time. “They Live” speaks to the revival of open hatred and bigotry in the country in the era of Trump, and how the traditional liberal sentiment of “when they go low we go high” doesn’t cut it, because “a razor wit doesn’t win knife fights.”

The closing track, “One Last Thing,” is amazing, but feels out of place here. It shares more in common with the grunge greats than anything from the punk scene, and it’s an angry anti-love song to an ex who fucked things up, rather than a political commentary. Yet it’s still a great track.

Four years after their last release, The Shell Corporation is back, stronger than ever, and pissed off as hell. This album will surely find a place on many year-end “best of” lists.

PS

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

Now this is what I’m talking about! Dressed Like Wolves play some great indie pop with arrangements that range from smooth and easy to buzzy and edgy. Rick Dobbing’s unique and passionate vocals sound sort of like a cross between the blasé of David Sedaris and the cloyingness of Carol Channing. “Outerlimits” is a bouncy number that sounds like a cross between the best of 90s indie pop and a song from an off-Broadway musical. It’s short, and a perfect intro to the album. “Country Walking” has influence from early rock and roll, but the super-distorted, buzzy bass adds a modern texture to it. “Likewise, ”Dying in Space” has that 50s rock and roll doo-wop sound, but this time in a quiet, pensive, and heart-wrenching song, up to the midpoint when all hell breaks loose, and the buzzy bass plays beneath a soaring guitar solo, if but for mere moments. When Dobbing’s vocals return, there’s a fuzzy edge to them, as if we’re hearing him on a poor connection from far away. “Ship song” is so lovely with acoustic guitars playing a minimalist line, and Dobbing’s vocals practically whispered with tentativeness. The song flows directly into “Tendons,” a polar opposite with its pounding, tribal sounding drums and insistent feel. But it’s “Death of Girls” and “Slate” that win me over the most. I love the glorious sound of the guitar lines harmonizing and playing off each other, and the arrhythmic beat in the former, and the quiet intensity of the latter. The north of England seems to be a great breeding ground for great indie music.

PS

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

Bogans are the first punk band I’ve heard from North Wales. And I have mixed feelings about this six-song EP. First, it’s hard to listen to because it’s very poorly recorded, sounding like it was recorded in a public loo at a train station. It’s lo-fi and it has an ambience that makes it seem like the sound was bouncing around on ceramic tile walls. Second, the lead vocals are more than gruff – they sound like the vocalist is being strangled while he tries to sing. On the other hand, though, the song writing is pretty good and the musicianship is top notch. The music ranges from melodic metal-tinged punk rock to melodic high-speed skate punk, with gang vocals that are sung rather than shouted. The entire record is an instant mosh-pit – just add punks! I really like the feel on the chorus of “U.S. of Murdoch,” because it’s a real song, not just a fast punk tune. It has a dark feel to it, too. And “[redacted]” has some effective backing vocals with harmonization and great guitar hooks. “To What End” may be my favorite, though, as it races through its two minutes and eight seconds, with great harmonized backing vocals and a definite melodic skate punk sound. It’s hard to get past the mess of a mix and the lead vocals though.

PS

Check it out here: https://bogans.bandcamp.com/releases

Yeah, if you weren’t aware, this is Fraser Murderburger’s side project band, recently resurrected, following a 5 year hiatus. From what I’ve seen, The Murderburgers do a ridiculous amount of touring, so the dormancy of the side project is understandable. I hate to be the reviewer that complains about a ‘band name’. I mean, most band names are terrible, but this one is memorably awful: FUCK! (It’s Pronounced SHIT!). Like, it sounds like it was created by a petulant teenager in a ‘90s sitcom. To be fair, I missed out on The Murderburgers for years because of the band name. What an idiot. I pretend like I’m above all that, but I’m not. The Murderburgers are now probably my favourite current pop-punk band, so of course I was pretty excited to check out Fraser’s ‘bit on the side’.

So, what does it sound like? Is it just another outlet for The Murderburgers material? Well, no, not really. I mean, it’s still fuelled by pop-punk and self-loathing, but FIPS material is more intense, faster-paced and much shorter. I mean, much shorter. There is barely anything over a minute. I know it’s been called skate-punk, but I dunno about that. The fast drums, maybe, but it kind of sounds like shortened, aggressive and super-fast versions of Murderburgers’ stuff, as if Fraser needed an outlet for the proper angry material.

Having said that, there is a definite shift in tone from The Murderburgers’ stuff. The tracks on these three Eps are sillier, more ‘free-form’ and playful. Conceptually, it is not unlike what a bunch of underground pop-punk band members did with Short Attention a few years back. I mean, there is one song that is literally 9 seconds. The song titles are more Dillinger Four than Dear Landlord, too: “A Complete Re-write of ‘All Star’ by Smashmouth” or “Deliberately Stepping in Dog Shit is My New Favourite Hobby”. Then there are the re-writes of the Against Me! song titles in the theme of masturbation: “Wank, Florida Wank” or “You Look Like I Need a Wank”.

So, yeah, there is a tonal shift of sorts, but Fraser’s top-notch songwriting remains. Beneath the humour, there is self-deprecation and tales of mental breakdowns. “Avoiding Mirrors Used to be My Favourite Hobby” recalls feelings of body dysmorphia, while on “It’s Not the Size of Your Penis That Matters, It’s How Big it is” Fraser claims tongue-in-cheek “my body is a temple”. On the most recent EP, “Oh hi, it’s me- The Bleeding, Flatlining Human Blob” is a melodic punk tale of despair (“just need the sharpest tool to smash my skull”), but on the closer “Wank Florida Wank”, things end on a more optimistic note: “I’m through with feeling hopeless, lost and lonely and I’m done with looking for another way out” (a link back to the Murderburgers “Another Way Out”.

So, FIPS offer enough different from the Murderburgers to keep interest while maintain their high-quality songwriting. While you are waiting for that new Murderburgers 7”, here is something to keep you going…

Listen here: https://brassneckrecords.bandcamp.com/album/its-pronounced-the-first-three-eps

DB

London’s Happy Accidents play a kind of fuzzed-out, self-reflective DIY indie-punk that forms part of an increasing burgeoning scene, alongside fellow UK bands, such as Martha, Great Cynics or Muncie Girls. Following 2016’s You Might Be Right, Happy Accidents’ sophomore effort Everything But the Here and Now feels more confident and sure of itself as well as a somewhat more experimental. Compared to the debut, this one feels fuller and more expansive (having been produced by MJ of Hookworms). This time around, two notable things have emerged: some synth action to go alongside the jangly guitars and sweet vocals, and boy-girl vocal harmonies, with drummer Phoebe Cross sharing greater vocal duties with guitarist Rich Mandell.

Nevertheless, while Happy Accidents’ sound does feel fuller, crunchier and ‘bigger’, they have retained their intimate, DIY aesthetics and lyrics that reflect everyday anxieties and concerns. “Wait It Out” stands out for me on the record, a wonderfully catchy slice of soft-loud indie punk that sounds like a cross between Slotface and Idlewild. It has a hell of chorus: “All I seem to think about is everything but the here and now/ Losing sight of the sights and sounds of everything that I care about”. These kinds of lyrics sum up the band well: introspective musings on the everyday and relatable.

Some of the tracks on Everything But the Here and Now feel somewhat melancholic and ethereal in a similar way to Colour Me Wednesday; the fantastic “A Better Plan” could well be a CMW song if I didn’t know otherwise! But Happy Accidents go beyond that to contemplate the complexities of ‘getting better’ and reducing the detailed anxieties, notably on “Act Naturally” and the Delay-esque “Free Time”. I particularly like these lyrics from the latter:

“I need more free time/ Someone stop me thinking like a protagonist/This is not my story /I need cause to see/ It’s about more than me”.

I don’t want to further compare Happy Accidents to other bands too much because they clearly have their own thing going on, but I do get a similar feeling as to when I first listened to Slotface: exciting, smart and eloquent indie-punk with memorable vocals. I’m on board!

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

DB

Opening with the 2 minute-long, dreamy, somewhat ethereal “Untitled”, with the only lyrics being “I know it’s wrong, but I’ve thought about it”, Taco Hell suggest a more laid-back and experimental emo album. However, over the rest of the album, things are more akin to what was found on their ‘Retainer’ EP: anthemic, gritty, yet earworm-y ‘sad’ punk. That’s not to say that Bad at Being Average is not experimental or dynamic though; far from it. Building on their early releases, Taco Hell really pushed the boundaries on this, their first and final LP. Yep, that’s right, if you didn’t know, Taco Hell have called it a day after three years as a band, with a couple of members leaving the country, but they bow out with a hell of an album.

So, back to the sound: ‘sad-punk’ does pretty accurately describe Taco Hell’s sound, on the boundary between modern ‘revival’ emo and Fest-esque ‘gruff’ punk, recalling the likes of Jeff Rosenstock, Joyce Manor and Tiger’s Jaw. I mean, the latter comparison is perhaps the most apt, with harmonious male-female dual vocals present throughout Bad at Being Average. But their songwriting also fairly neatly fits into the UK’s indie-punk scene, alongside bands such as Caves, Doe and (the dearly departed) Bangers. Basically, Taco Hell combine a lot of shit I like and craft something that is totally their own sound. I was pretty into the ‘Retainer’ EP, particularly the catchy-as-fuck “Baby Teeth”, but for me, Bad at Being Average is where they really found their own sound.

So, what do I like the most from the album? Well, “Same City” has to be up there as one of the album highlights, with its spaced-out verses, building up to a wonderfully catchy chorus. It is about considering re-connecting with someone you haven’t seen in ages: “do you still live in the same city that I do?”. I love its restraint and melodic poise, as well as its directness. For me, Taco Hell highlight that it’s 90% about good songwriting; sonically, these are generally fairly simple and direct tunes, but they work and, what’s more, they intrigue and invite further listens. For instance, the chorus in “Gang 2: Electric Boogaloo” is just great, with lead singer Joe’s cries of “We are the…same”, backed up by bassist/vocalist Eleanor’s back-up vocals of “you know, we are the same”. It is simple, but it really works. The other album standout is “Twin Peaks References & Depression”. It has a soft/loud dynamic thing going on, culminating in a chorus that manages to make “David Lynch!” stick in your head. It reminds me a fair bit of early Bangers and Apologies, I Have None: it’s gruff, deeply personal and from the heart. As are all the lyrics on Bad at Being Average, to be fair.

The lyrics on the record tend to be self-analytical and somewhat self-deprecating, but not in an overbearing way. I like to think that a lot of the album fairly accurately touches up on growing as a 20-something in the North of England, without a penny to rub together, but having a great time nonetheless: “This is arguably poverty, but I don’t hate it; No, I don’t hate it”. That line reminds me of a Copyrights lyric from their split with the Methadones (“Flooded Basements, Abandoned Beaches”) that I have always loved: “Were parents right when they said, with money comes freedom?/ As the bills pile up, I’m inclined to believe them/ But the beaches and basements are flooded in my mind/ Never been more care free than when I didn’t have a dime”. Being broke obviously fucking sucks, and let’s not romanticise it, but there is a level of freedom that comes with that way of living.

So, yeah, Taco Hell’s last ever released song is called “Goodbye” and they have just completed their last-ever tour as a band. It is a huge shame considering the potential they demonstrated during their time as a band, but let’s not focus on that and instead value what we’ve got: an inventive, catchy and dynamic album from one of the best bands I’ve heard from the UK punk scene in the last few years. If somebody from outside the UK is reading this and wants a good example of what is going on here, Bad at Being Average is not a bad place to start at all.

DB

Check the album out here: https://tacohellband.bandcamp.com/