Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

It has taken me an age, but after being impressed by a few songs here and there, I have finally properly checked out a full Capitalist Kids LP. I don’t know if it is the youthful aspect of the band name, or the fact that I didn’t ever get around to really listening to them, but I still consider Capitalist Kids a relatively new band; however this is actually their fifth (!) album. In an era dominated by gruff-and-rough pop-punk, it is refreshing to hear a band which clearly has an affinity for that classic ‘90s pop-punk sound. Brand Damage screams Green Day, MTX and Down by Law. It is hard to escape the Green Day or Pinhead Gunpowder comparisons, in light of the similarities in vocals between lead singer Jeff Gammill and Billie Joe. At times, the heartfelt love songs on Brand Damage also recall the idealistic pining on Green Day’s first two records.

Indeed, it is those soppy love songs that Capitalist Kids do the best, highlights of which are the infectious “(I’ve got) Nobody 2 luv”, the fast-paced, synth-y “Decent Proposal” and the mid-tempo “Beyond My Comprehension”, which recalls The Methadones at their melodic best. These are all very much straight-up pop-punk hits, whizzing by in two minutes or less.  The other side of Capitalist Kids on Brand Damage is the topical, political content, some of which sticks better than others. I appreciate the sentiment for sure, attacking the hard-right and the Trump administration in the US. I enjoy “Brute Farce” the most, I guess, as it’s a more-or-less straight-forward critique of the current political climate in the states, talking about “gun-toting Trump supporters want militarised borders” and “funding slashed for social welfare”. There is a great little segment here which highlights the contradictions in the idea of Christians being opposed to social welfare and helping the needy.

However, in the ‘Kids political material, Jeff tends to go for a more sardonic, cynical style in general, in which he spews out the rhetoric of the right in all its ridiculous-ness. “Anti-immigrant song” is the key example of this: “manifest destiny; this country’s the best in the world, but it’s not for you”. Jeff cynically picks apart the anti-immigrant sentiments of the far-right, in a bitter, sardonic manner. I like the idea of this in theory, and in the odd song, such as “Anti-immigrant song”, it does work well, but I feel, the ‘trick’ is over-used somewhat and loses its power after a number of uses. “Socialist Nightmare”, in particular, I feel is kind of a miss-hit.

Overall, though, it must be said that Brand Damage is a confident and lean effort, which packs a bunch of ideas and hooks into its short playing time, while recalling elements of the classic ‘90s Lookout! sound, without rehashing over old ground. If you miss the days of MTX, The Methadones and Pinhead Gunpowder, this is worth checking out!

Check it out here: https://brassneckrecords.bandcamp.com/album/capitalist-kids-brand-damage

DB

Five labels conspired to bring this pop punk LP from the UK band Holiday. The music on this debut full-length LP is universally bouncy and poppy. The tempos of the songs are mid-tempo to brisk, the fuzzed out guitars jangle like mad, and the melodies are laden with hooks. Lyrics focus on social commentary. The album starts out with a bang on “Let’s Go Outside,” a real barn-burner that sets the tone for the whole album. I enjoy “Lunch Break,” a breezy track about the drudgery we all go through to try and make some money just to survive. The melodic line is lighter than the fuzzy guitars or the subject matter would suggest. “Dark Matters” is a favorite track, reminding me of one of the great bands of the late ‘80s and into the ‘90s from central Illinois in the US, The Poster Children. The big guitars and melodic progression used is great. “Desperation Town” is another great one, with a rapid-fire beat and some great guitar lines. One thing that did annoy me a bit in this recording is that there’s too much reverb in everything. It sounds like it was recorded in a giant empty hall, and it was just a bit distracting. A drier sound would have been appreciated. But this is a very promising debut.

Check it out here: https://brassneckrecords.bandcamp.com/album/holiday-california-steamin

PS

This four song EP is the New Jersey band’s debut (not counting the demo they released last year). “The Drool” is apparently a dance that you do under fascist rule, mouth agape and eyes glazed over, and Nervous Triggers advise us to learn how to do it pretty fast. It’s punk crossed with eerie garage rock, with full on organ. “Final War,” the third track, also has the keyboards, giving the track a retro 60s sound mixed in with the punk rock. This one is a mid-tempo track, with an easy loping sound, yet it pounds hard. The second track, “Zero State Solution,” is full on old school punk, fast’n’loud, while “Bricks & Mortars” has the sound of a western movie soundtrack mixed in with the punk rock. All of the songs are highly political, a throwback to the old days of punk rock, and the musicianship is pretty tight. Those who like their old school political punk will enjoy this strong debut a lot.

Check it out here: https://nervoustriggers.bandcamp.com/album/do-the-drool

PS

The first track from the UK indie-pop band focuses on the sexism inherent in the stripping of Zara Holland’s title of “Miss Great Britain” after a “scandal” in which she was filmed having sex during the course of reality TV show “Love Island.” There’s inherent sexism in the whole idea of a beauty pageant, too, but the double standard of destroying a woman’s life for having sex while saying nothing about the man involved is anger inducing. The music is gorgeous waltz time indie pop, with fluttering guitars and spare drum beats. The flip side, “No Chill,” is a blend of indie-pop with a slightly dreamy feel, and is about the unlikelihood and impermanence of romantic relationships. The two songs are quite nice, and leave me wanting more.

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

PS

After reviewing the “Lot to Learn” and “Nothing at All” EPs, I’m always excited to hear what the Radiohearts can bring to the table and I was very excited to hear “Daytime Man”. “Daytime Man” is another EP, this time with five tracks, in under nine minutes. It starts out with the ’77 style title track, “Daytime Man”, that starts up with guitar soloing and has handclaps. After the soloing, there is also a pretty cool new wave part making the song even catchier. I really love those handclaps. The second song, “Alright”, also has the same ol’ punk solo-ing, but this song is quite different from “Daytime Man” and at times sounds like the Strokes or something. The song is about giving up, but you’re still going to be alright. Great tune! “Know That Song” is a classic power pop song. It’s extremely catchy and the harmonies add to the catchiness. There’s a meta aspect to it, as it’s a song about a song; in many ways it makes me think of “Please Play This Song on the Radio” by NOFX, only this one is better. It’s easily a chorus that could grow and get stuck in your head. My favorite song on the EP.

“No More” is the shortest song on the EP. A cool little tambourine in this song and a bass line that stands out. “Wasting Time” is probably the most Radiohearts-sounding song and could fit into “Lot to Learn”, and it could also fit into the late ‘70s. So, the Radiohearts still deliver. It doesn’t seem like we’ll be getting an album, but they’ve perfected the EP format. One of the bands from now that I found most interesting, probably because they sound like they’re not from now.

Check it out here: https://radiohearts.bandcamp.com/album/daytime-man

RH

I must admit that I have slept on this Leeds-based alt-punk duo (vocalist/guitarist Lucinda Livingstone and drummer Conor Dawson) for way too long. I heard their debut EP ‘Sad’ a couple of times, but couldn’t really get into it. None of the songs on it were more than say a 6/10, but I need to revisit, as every song on their first full-length Seafoam is absolutely knocked out of the park. Kamikaze Girls play heart-on-sleeve, fuzzy-but-poppy, grunge-y, brooding, punk rock.

Their dreamy atmospherics at times remind me of a punk-y Depeche Mode. There is a definite ‘80s synth-y influence on Seafoam, with reverb in tow and a space-y feeling throughout. “Teenage Feelings”, meanwhile, has a hell of a catchy, twee indie-pop chorus. At the same time, however, Kamikaze Girls also bleed Bikini Kill. Reflective and shoe-gaze-y in parts (“Good for Nothing”); pissed off with crunchy guitars and scream-y vocals in others (“KG Goes to the Pub”). It is this dichotomy that makes Seafoam work so well, where the straight-up, in-your-face punk-y ‘fuck-yous’ hit so much harder when it’s surrounded by dreamy contemplation. That is not to say there is anything ‘dreamy’ about the songwriting on Seafoam. Kamikaze Girls have produced a lean, mean feminist machine with something meaningful to say throughout; every word seems to count. Indeed, the aforementioned “KG Goes to the Pub” is the best example of this, with its pounding, raging noise coming off like early Nirvana material, injected with Riot grrrl politics, in which Lucinda tells a “fuck boy, sleaze bag” who keeps putting his hands on her waist that she is going to knock his “fucking lights out”.

The record is very much introspective, but that doesn’t stop Kamikaze Girls having their say on issues on social justice and cohesion, which couldn’t be more pertinent in this day and age (as they do fantastically on “I Don’t Want to be Sad Forever”). Nevertheless, the lyrics are very much heart-on-sleeve, self-deprecating and earnest, with Lucinda gives intimate insights into her everyday anxieties as “one of those nervous millenials” (“Deathcap”). The album is very visceral, dealing with Lucinda’s raw emotions, straight from the off- whether it’s “I think I’m having a heart attack” on “Berlin” or “This morning, I felt sick/ I threw up in the sink” on “Deathcap”. Meanwhile, the two songs which bookend the record (ok, well one of them is technically a bonus track, but whatever) are tied by the depiction of a real-life robbery at gun-point which deeply affected Lucinda’s mental state. Seafoam opens with these gut-punching lyrics:

“One young man put a gun to my head, held me down and took my possessions/ and ever since, what a state I’ve been/ Spent a year of my life doing nothing” (“One Young Man”)

The anxieties afflicting Lucinda are nakedly depicted throughout the album, allowing the listener to get a real sense of her emotional state. There is a particularly vulnerable moment at the end of “Anxiety” (that aforementioned bonus track), where Lucinda’s vocals cry out in pain: “Can’t deal with a man with a gun/ No, I cannot go back there”. This ties everything together thematically and highlights the continuing effects that this incident is having on Lucinda’s ability to function. A raw, deeply emotive album that everyone can resonate with; it also sounds fucking amazing. Very much recommended.

https://kamikazegirls.bandcamp.com/

DB

So, on their third full-length Always Why, is this more of the same from Caves? Well, yes, and no. On the one hand, the sound on the record is still by and large in the band’s classic fuzzy, catchy, poppy punk style. Vocalist/guitarist (also drummer on this one) Lou and Bassist Jonathan are still doing their thing. The vocals remain passionate and heart-on-sleeve, with lyrics as intimate as ever. On the other hand, Caves have given the songs more room to breathe on Always Why. There is still a frantic nature to Caves’ sound at times, but they now seem to be in less of a rush to blitz their way through the album as they were on 2013’s Betterment. The more spacious style lends itself more to indie-punk than straight-up pop-punk, and allows Caves’ melodies to emerge to a greater extent. I mean, they have always been catchy, but on Always Why, the hooks are more reminiscent of Weezer or Superchunk than pop-punk per se (there is a noticeable reduction in ‘woah-ohs’ on this one!).

I mean, the band that Caves still remind me the most of is RVIVR, I guess. The at-times swirling lead guitars (check out, “Wild Dad” or “America”), the ‘boy-girl’ dual/alternating vocals, the bombastic choruses and the gritty production all call to mind the DIY Long-Island-ers. Caves totally have their own thing going on though and the hooks on Always Why can match anyone in the current punk scene. I really think they have gone beyond on this one with the quality of the choruses. Stand-outs for me are the stop-start, slow-loud “Wait”, reminiscent of Weezer or mid-era Green Day; the intensely personal tale of queer love “16” or the classic Caves sound of “America”. There is a sense that Caves are the ‘reliable one’ in the UK’s punk scene (no bad thing in itself), but actually, delve back into their back catalogue and you realise their gradual evolution; on Always Why, a sense of change shouldn’t be a huge shock considering that the two band members now live an ocean apart (one in the UK, one in the US) and this record was written remotely via GarageBand. Despite all that, Caves remain one of the most impressive and consistent punk/pop-punk bands in the UK, with Always Why probably their best full-length thus far.

Check it out: https://specialistsubject.bandcamp.com/album/always-why

DB

A new-ish melodic-punk band straight out of Nantes, France (some town in Northern France!). Following 2015’s ‘New Discoveries’ 12”, Distance is their debut full-length. Heavy Heart play a straight-up gritty brand of pop-punk that would fit in well at Fest. If we are record-labelling, their sound is a cross between late-era Fat Wreck and that classic No Idea sound. Banner Pilot, The Sainte Catherines and Iron Chic all spring to mind, with Heavy Heart’s crunchy guitars, complemented by gang vocals and hook-laden choruses.

More than any of these, though, the gritty, driving melodies on Distance remind me the most of under-appreciated Minneapolis punks The Manix. It’s smart, thoughtful and intense, in the same way. Lyrically, Heavy Heart engage in some good ol’ existential crises! The idea of ‘distance’ looms over the whole record, highlighting one’s perceived disconnection from the outside world. The stand-out track on the album “Worrier” says this best for me: “This life is scaring the shit out of me”. The group vocal chorus of “Take me, take me home” on this one reminds me of the best of Iron Chic. Other highlights? “Caged” and “Poison” are just pure, undiluted melodic punk goodness, but it is “Faces”, when Heavy Heart slow things down a little, that things get most interesting. It’s the album’s ‘ballad’, recalling perhaps early Jimmy Eat World at points or The Promise Ring. I love the lyrics on this one:

“Have we become so different? Or have we always been? I find it hard to say, because thinks they’ve stayed the same”

So, yeah, Distance is a pretty great debut punk rock album. As soon as the ear-worm-y lead guitars come in on opener “Unravel”, I was pretty much hooked. I mean, Heavy Heart are not re-writing the book, but when the songwriting is this good and the hooks are this big, who gives a shit?

Check it out here: https://heavyheartnantes.bandcamp.com/album/distance

DB

After a hiatus of sorts, The Dopamines are back with their fourth full-length Tales of Interest (the title is Futurama-inspired for the uninitiated). Following 2012’s Vices, this is a similarly gritty, heart-on-sleeve and Goddamn dirty take on pop-punk. If you have already heard “Business Papers” off the Larry Livermore compilation, you’ll have a decent idea of what the band are going for here. Nevertheless, The Dopamines have got noticeably heavier on the new record. There are actual hardcore breakdowns on display here. The guitars are crunchier and the recording is rawer than ever. The Dopamines have never really had a ‘clean’ sound (although the closest would be Expect the Worst), but Tales of Interest was recorded in just four (beer-soaked) days and it feels like it. They have totally perfected that tight, live-in-a-punk-basement sound, like some of the classic Lookout! pop-punk albums from the early-mid ‘90s did.

To say the vocals are aggressive on Tales of Interest is a massive understatement. Lead singer Jon growls and barks his way through the album, spitting out the home truths in disgust. At the same time, The Dopamines’ melodies are stronger and tighter than ever. It’s like everything (catchiness, tempo, aggressiveness, heaviness) has just gone up several notches. The pop-punk on Tales of Interest is not really ‘gruff’ but rather, in-your-face, raw, aggressive, yet hook-laden pop-punk. There are certainly hints of Dillinger Four in there, but Dear Landlord come to mind, too. I don’t think the modern Dopamines sound anything like The Copyrights who they are often compared to (and never really did to be honest). I guess this is the furthest the bands have strayed from the ‘pop’ in ‘pop-punk’.

To me, The Dopas are totally doing their own thing on Tales of Interest, and it’s certainly difficult to think of other modern pop-punk bands which have such dynamism and variety over the length of a record, while simultaneously tying everything together. You have got the raw, gritty, more straight-forward pop-punk of “Ire” and “Common Rue”;  the super-fast melodic hardcore of “Kaltes Ende” (linking to the instrumental opener, “Kalte Ende” which is apparently the name for a sparkling wine in the States); the intense, yet catchy-as-fuck “Heartbeaten by the police” (a cover of the High Hats); or the faster, grittier re-recording of “Douglas Bubbletrousers” (off their split with Dear Landlord), re-titled here “Expect the Worst”. I guess “Business Papers (Reprise)” is the most interesting, starting with far-off, quiet and distorted vocals over a slow-strumming guitar, before suddenly and dramatically bursting into life with hardcore-punk urgency.

I’ve been a big fan of The Dopamines since the beginning, basically and they released their self-titled debut LP on It’s Alive Records back in 2008, and it’s been great to hear the band’s songwriting develop on each subsequent release. They have always been a bitter, self-deprecating and cynical band and that is maxed out on Tales of Interest, notably with their frequent thirst for revenge, as on the chorus of “Ire”: “I can’t think of a better way to spit it right back in your lying face”. There is a sense of desperation on the record, often linked with addiction of some kind, as there was on Vices. I know it’s a cover, but “Heartbeaten by the police” has a great couple of lines which captures this feeling: “I need my Hazel every night/ I need my haze to feel alright”. The lyrics are generally mature and somewhat deeper than on previous releases. There is also a personal, somewhat confessional tone to many of the lyrics on Tales of Interest: “And I assure you that I’m still the same/ I just got sucked into a world that took a hold of me”.

Jon Lewis said on the Anxious and Angry podcast (which is fantastic, by the way) that “Tales of Interest” was the album he had always wanted to make with The Dopamines, and you can totally see why: it’s a complete, cohesive yet varied, one body of work that takes the best elements of their previous records and enhances them to full effect.

Listen to “Ire” and “Common Rue” here: https://radgirlfriendrecords.bandcamp.com/album/tales-of-interest

DB

Pop enough for the indie-pop fans and edgy enough for the pop punk fans, this five song EP from UK outfit Austeros is just right for those of us who have one foot in each camp. Singer/guitarist Jeremy Pitcher has obviously been listening to plenty of power pop, because the song writing is hook laden, bouncy, and jangly. It’s kind of obvious that Green Day is a pretty strong influence, as well. What makes this EP so great to listen to is not only the great song writing or the catchy melodies, but it’s also the passion that comes through in Pitcher’s vocals.

The album begins with  “To Be You,” a mid-tempo cut that’s a real cut down – “Sucks to be you” goes the refrain, as the lyrics detail all of the flaws of the person being addressed. The guitars are nice and fuzzy, yet jangly, while the vocals have a hint of sadness to them. “Dead Cells” has an outstanding power-pop sound, and lyrics about killing ones own senses via killing brain cells. “Cherished” is the quietest and shortest track, featuring acoustic guitar and what sounds like a keyboard, but the vocals are pretty strong. But it’s really “Figure of Speech” where Pitcher comes into his own. Besides a great melody, with diverse sounds from raucous and fuzzy to quiet and calm, the vocals are particularly passionate on this one. “You trip when you run your mouth off like that,” the chorus declares, another put down, indicating the songs on this EP represent a lot of cathartic release. I think this one is my favorite track of the EP. “Island” closes things out similarly to the way it opens, with a mid-tempo, a great jangly feel, and lyrics about never really feeling like an island, that is a loner, but the tide is rising – distance is developing in a relationship, it seems.

This EP was my first exposure to Austeros, but it certainly makes me want to go back to their previous LP and two previous EPs to hear more.

Listen here: https://specialistsubject.bandcamp.com/album/ive-got-this

PS