Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

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

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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

The problem I have with a lot of ‘euro pop-punk’ (and specifically those of the Ramonescore variety) is not necessarily the song-writing, but the plodding, mid-tempo pace. However, this split between two Italian pop-punk bands, Teenage Gluesniffers and Cocks, has high intensity, speed and aggression throughout. The hooks are pretty fantastic, too.  This split is the sound of two pop-punk bands really on form. I was pretty familiar with Teenage Gluesniffers, but I think these are the best batch of tracks I’ve heard by them. Sorry to bring out a lazy Italian pop-punk comparison, but the three tracks by the ‘Gluesniffers’ remind me of a more aggressive Manges. Opening track “Mahatma Gandhi will get angry for this one” (love the title) is crunchy, full of vigour and angst, recalling The Apers somewhat. “The Velvet Voice Ventriloquist” is The Murderburgers channelled through Latte+. It’s self-deprecating and relatable, probably my favourite song on the Teenage Gluesniffers’ side of the split.

Matching the Gluesniffers in intensity and catchiness, Cocks actually play a pretty different kind of pop-punk. Their influences appear to come less from ‘euro pop-punk’, but more from the other side of the pond. Chinese Telephones, The Copyrights and Pinhead Gunpowder initially come to mind. “22” is a fantastic, driving pop-punk sing-a-long that should please fans of Dear Landlord. Meanwhile, the intensity of “Regard me this night” is infectious, recalling Chinese Telephones at their fidget-y best. The two bands covered each other for the third song on the split and Cocks’ cover of TGS “Peabody Award Shithead Trophy” is probably my favourite song on this thing. It’s hook-laden, crunchy and has a memorable pop-punk chorus, complete with sing-along breakdown at the end. Good stuff, Italy!

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

DB

One thing I love about reviewing records is that I get exposed to so many great bands that I otherwise wouldn’t have heard of. I’ve never heard of Talk Show Host before, but you can be assured that I’ll be following them now. This new five-song EP features harmonized vocals, strong melodies and powerful indie rock crossed with pop punk. “Dead Meat” combines a wall of guitar with a wall of vocals – yes, the vocals are that powerful – to create a song that’s strong enough to pull the listener in and want more. “We’re Not Here to Make Friends” is next, with a sort of Bad Religion-like feel, but with a brighter, major key sound and fewer syllables in the words. “I Hate Men (I Hate All Men)” is a fun track, with the feel of a punk rock Broadway show. It starts out with male vocals singing all about male privilege. Part way through the track, the male vocals give way to female vocals and a soulful sound, and that’s when the lyrics get really nasty! “Men are stains of insignificant pus!” Well, on the whole we are, you know? “Watch Him Fall” is an OK track, but not my favorite. It’s slower, but doesn’t seem to go anywhere in my opinion. But “Nervous Wreck” returns to form with another up-tempo, melodic punk track. It’s got a great big sound, and may be my favorite of the EP. But then, most of them are my favorite.

Listen here: https://welovetalkshowhost.bandcamp.com/album/not-here-to-make-friends

PS

Always lead with your best track. I learned this lesson while attending an “Indie Music Conference” in Chicago many years ago. Conscientious reviewers will listen to a whole album or EP multiple times before committing opinion to page, but many reviewers are busy, working against deadlines, and have only time to listen to the first bits of the first track to decide if the record gets a good review, let alone whether if it gets a review at all. And this isn’t to say the opening track on Sketchy’s new full-length LP is bad. On the contrary, it’s a decent track but it’s far from the best of the album. So the album starts out OK and just gets better from there. “Tight Six” is that opener, and it’s a hard and fast hardcore track with plenty of power and gang vocal opportunities. But it’s not particularly special; it sounds like a lot of other bands out there. But then, after this short minute and a quarter blast we get “Normal,” and what an amazing track that is! Also fast and loud, the melodies and intricate guitar jangle are just gorgeous. That it’s on top of an otherwise fast and crunchy punk tune is genius. There truly isn’t a bad track on this album. Some of the tracks are just ordinary good punk music, but several of them stand out as truly great, fun, amazing tracks, besides the aforementioned “Normal.” “Every Man (Thinks They’re Holden Caulfield)” is another favorite. It’s not as fast or powerful as many of the other tracks, but it’s got a great melody and some beautiful yet simple guitar work on the bridge. “On the Run” is also not quite so fast as other tracks, but it reminds me of East Bay punk of the heydays in the late 80s and early 90s. The unison vocals, strong melody and simple execution remind me a lot of the sound made famous by Lookout! Records, 924 Gilman St and that crowd. “Rorschach” is only forty seconds long, but it packs more power into that time than most bands do in a four-minute track. It’s very different from most of the other tracks, harder, faster and louder. And the closer, “All the Wrong Strings” has a loud, crunchy wall of guitar with a softer indie rock melody on top of it. The vocals become more melodic and even include harmonies on this track, which has an epic sound to close things out. This is a strong record.

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

PS

I’ll say it right at the start – I like I Like Allie. This five-song EP contains four great indie pop tracks that border on pop punk, plus one that’s a little less poppy and a little grungier.  The songs jangle, but with a welcome rough edge. The music never gets too poppy or sappy, but it has hooks all over the place, and even a bit of emotional angst in the music (but this is definitely not emo). “Guerrero” opens things with a jangle then a brash clash of guitars, setting a strong tone for the EP. There are some nice counterpoints in the guitar lines that add a really great texture to what would otherwise be a non-descript sing-along pop punk song. At the bridge, things get a bit quieter and there’s a spot where the bass gets to shine, too. “Forever Gone” continues the record, with more of the thoughtful writing and arranging that gives these tracks such life. The contrasting sections maintain interest while the hooks reel you in. I like “Personal Politics” a lot. It’s got a great energy to it and I love the melodic line. “They Didn’t Charge Us For The Wine” starts out similarly to the other tracks, with loud edgy, yet jangly guitars. But after the bridge it becomes a borderline grunge track. The jangle gives way to power, as the key changes. Feedback and bent notes fill out the sound, and the power chords swell and the vocals become more insistent. It’s really effective. “Nemesi (Dean and Cindy Take a Break)” closes things out in an epic manner, as everything sounds bigger here. If you like big powerful pop punk with an edge (and who doesn’t really?), you’re going to love this. This also seems like a band that would be tremendous to see live in a packed, sweaty club, everyone raising their pints of beer, arms around each other’s shoulders, singing along and pressing ever forward toward the band. Recommended.

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

PS

There’s quite a wide variety of sounds on this six-song EP from Boston’s Energy. There’s some dark metallic music, some 90s skate punk, and even poppy pop punk. The EP starts with “The Witching Hour,” which begins very theatrically, with chimes, strings, and choir. It’s very atmospheric. But then we jump right into 90s style mid-tempo pop punk blended with post-hardcore, but with a dark feel to it. The title track is next, and it also has a dark feel, slower tempo, and more of a pop metal sound, dropping all pretenses of punk. The guitars chug along in minor chords, and during the verses there are guitar wails heard in the background, laden with reverb. It’s creepy sort of sound, but eerie in an effective way. “The Shape Retreats” is a short transition track that ends “Under The Mask,” and after the music stops we hear rain, distant thunder, and then a giant thunderclap. It’s oh so atmospheric. “A Prayer For Rain” is appropriately next, and it’s a return to the 90s pop punk sound, with less metal than before. The fifth song is the poppy one, and it’s also the weirdest and creepiest. It’s called “I Killed Your Boyfriend.” The lyrics detail how the protagonist of the song did the deed, and why. The killing was done very slowly and painfully because the girlfriend left for this other guy. It’s very misogynistic, treating women like property to be reclaimed from someone who “steals” it. I think they were trying for a Masked Intruder style song here, with a take of committing crimes for love, but why MI can come off as charming and quirky, Energy comes off as sick and twisted. The closer is “Leave Me Alone.” It starts out with a pretty acoustic guitar introducing the song before the full band comes in with a mid-tempo track that’s almost, but not quite, a ballad. Overall the band has the 90s sounds down pretty well, and the execution is professionally done. Even though the record isn’t my “thing,” I can appreciate the quality of the musicianship, and if you’re a fan of these sounds you may enjoy this EP. But I have a hard time recommending this because of “I Killed Your Boyfriend.” It really bothers me.

Listen here: https://energy.bandcamp.com/album/under-the-mask

PS