Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Right from the opening, the debut full-length LP from the UK quartet Don’t Worry let you know this isn’t a happy record. With a “stomach full of old regrets and lager that’s too strong,” front man Ronan Kehoe takes a metaphorical journey home, to “go to bed and work out where it all went wrong.” The short, moody intro track “The Barber’s Got No Answers” sets the scene for the other ten songs on this LP full of lush, gorgeous indie music and lyrics that are less than joyful. The music sometimes jangles and sometimes gets a bit emo, but it’s always fully of pretty hooks and melodies. I love how “Big House” is bouncy and jangly, but at the same time it’s got a thick full sound. “Yeah, Me” opens with a quiet feel, but it builds, and has a bigger, more expansive sound emo sound. I really love “Wknd,” a quieter track featuring acoustic guitar, keyboards, and drum machine. The lyrics are simple, declaring repeatedly “It’s almost the weekend.” But the music paints an image in my mind of floating on a country lake on a warm sunny day. And “Confetti” is a beautiful song in that starts in waltz time, then moves to straight time and back again, It evokes images of early 90s emo blended with melodic indie-pop, with a sound that’s lush and tugs at the heartstrings, with a large striding feel. “Who Cares (Y Care)” is huge and epic, with alternative-meets-grunge sound, and after repeated listens has wormed its way into my heart as a favorite, especially that enormous chorus. The album, as a whole, has done the same, too. To answer the question posed by the album’s title, I care, very much.

Check it out here: https://specialistsubject.bandcamp.com/album/who-cares-anyway

PS

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Ramones-core has been around a long time now. The Ramones started releasing records in 1976, and pretty much finished in 1997 (though there have been many releases of live recordings and the like in the years since). The Ramones inspired untold legions of imitators, including Wyoming’s Teenage Bottlerocket, probably the state of the art in Ramones-core today. The sort of music The Ramones made back then was new and revolutionary. But too much of a good thing and all. Ramones-core can get over-done, repetitive, and boring, especially if not expertly executed. In the case of Volkov, the band from “Russia,” the execution is a bit uneven. They do have some excellent harmonized backing vocals on some of the songs, but some songs have some backing vocals that fall a little flat. The opening track, “Autumn in Bijsk,” starts with a derivative shout of “1 2 3 4!” and is in a minor key, which is the best part of the song. The harmonizing doesn’t quite seem to work here, and the vocals just sound a bit off. Likewise, the backing vocals on “Raining Shit” just don’t sound right, like they’re off key. The lead vocals on the longer sustained notes, too, vary in pitch too much. This isn’t just nitpicking a DIY recording. It’s off-putting trying to listen to it. “Shy Guy,” on the other hand, is one of the better-executed songs on the LP, with a bouncy melody with some originality to it, well-harmonized vocals, and a smooth, pretty outro. But most of this record just is too derivative, too lacking in originality, and just not well enough played and sung to keep my interest. I think in much smaller doses, one song at a time, this might work better, but a full album is too much.

Check it out here: https://momsbasementrecords.bandcamp.com/album/volkov-fat-rich-and-sad

PS

MEGA are an Italian punk rock band formed in Monza in 2011 and, apparently, Narcissistic Punk Rock Disorder is their fourth full-length release! I must admit that I had never heard of MEGA previously; it seems like I come across a new Italian pop-punk band every week. From the Italian punk bands that I’ve heard, MEGA stand out, for sure. There is much less of an overt Ramonescore sound to MEGA; although the Ramones have undoubtedly influenced the band, MEGA’s sound comes from a broader sonic church, taking elements of ‘90s pop-punk, Fat Wreck melodic punk and classic power-pop. The LP whizzes by, with most of the tracks clocking in at 2 minutes or less.  The whole thing has a ‘90s feel- crunchy guitars, earworm hooks- and I’m reminded of bands like The Methadones, Riverdales or Teen Idols a lot. MEGA uses that same kind of echoe-y production values that the Methadones often do. At the same time, the melodic punk sound has the speed and energy of Bracket or Millencolin.

Upon first listen, Narcissistic Punk Rock Disorder seems a little same-y and doesn’t immediately leap out to you, but there is a lot more going on here than is immediately clear. Alongside the speedy guitars, catchy hooks and crunchy guitars, there is a darker undercurrent to the record; a kind of overall ‘spooky’ feeling without ever going into full-on horror-punk. Nevertheless, I am reminded at times of bands like The Creeps or The Lillingtons on the verses of tracks like “Electric Dreams” or “The Cat O’ Nine Tails”. The former particular recalls the last Lillingtons album somewhat. It helps to differentiate the band and fits contrastingly with the bouncy melodies and ultra-poppy choruses. There is not really a bad song on Narcissistic Punk Rock Disorder, but special mentions must go to “Losers Will Never Win”, a long-lost ‘90s pop-punk track, inspired by Teen Idols, and with great back-up harmonies and a cute punk solo, and closer “Lazers and Ventolin”, a track that is more mid-tempo and slightly longer than the others; the melodies are just delightful and the tune is a toe-tapper if I ever heard one. MEGA’s fourth record is not revolutionary, of course- and which record is in 2019?- but does nevertheless feel exciting while it is burrowing its way into your head, taking as it does inspiration from a refreshing variety of sources.

Check it out here: https://momsbasementrecords.bandcamp.com/album/mega-narcissitic-punk-rock-disorder

DB

Oldies and pop punk have always gone hand in hand, at least since the Ramones. With Donatella Guida on vocals and guitar, Francesco Dell’Antico on drums and Leonardo Serrini on bass The Beatersband from Rosignano Solvay, Italy play oldies songs (from the 50s and 60s) pop-punk style, describing themselves as ‘vintage punk rock ‘n’ roll’. The album VOL UNO includes covers of some of what I consider the best pop songs ever written and that’s a huge responsibility to take on, and I think the Beatersband does it well! I think the Ritchie Valens covers are the best ones, the opener “Come on Let’s Go” is quite similar to the original, but still feels new and is just an extremely well-done cover. The Phil Spector songs “Then He Kissed Me” (the Crystals) and “Baby I Love You” (the Ronettes) are both highlights of the album.

I think the overall style reminds me a bit of Beatnik Termites, one of the bands that have combined pop punk with oldies the best. Most of the musical aspects are wonderful and I like what I hear! The faster punk in the bridge of Paul Anka’s “Diana” is really great. Many of these songs have also been done by other bands, about half of them by the Ramones, and almost the entire other half has been bands covering Ramones album (Boris the Sprinkler did “Baby I Love You”, The Queers did “Do You Wanna Dance?” and “Surfin’ Bird”.) MxPx did a pretty good cover of “Donna”, so The Beatersband are filling some big shoes and I think they do it well. I suppose if you want to hear entirely new songs don’t come here, but if you enjoy these old tunes you should check out these covers!

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

RH

Discovering a band that named itself after a Banner Pilot song sure made me feel old. I came across Modern Shakes at the recent Dopamines show at the New Cross Inn in London and was pretty impressed. Modern Shakes are a London-based melodic punk band whose first proper release, the ‘Murmurs’ EP, certainly demonstrates a lot of those typical Banner Pilot traits: mid-tempo melodic punk with bittersweet guitar melodies, those melancholic yet uplifting choruses, aching vocals and romantic lyrics. The song titles even evoke Banner Pilot, “Red Lines”, “Ivana” or “Sundials”. On “Redlines”, I am pretty sure there is an intentional reference to Banner Pilot too, with the line: “we’re miles from where we wanna be” (“Letterbox”, FYI).

Despite the clear influence though, Modern Shakes do plenty with this Midwest-inspired form of pop-punk. There is much to enjoy here amid the earworm hooks and gang vocals. The guitar leads on “Freefall” and “Sundials” are beautiful, evoking that fine line between hope and regret. The mid-tempo melodies, introspective lyrics and the well-produced yet gritty punk feel brings to mind fellow London punks Burnt Tapes and Triple Sundae. If they haven’t played on a bill together yet, you imagine that they will do in the near future. By far my favourite track on the EP is “Ivana”, a bouncy Fest punk sing-a-long if I ever heard one; it recalls the anthemic qualities of bands like Elway or the Lawrence Arms songs written by Chris, with more than a hint of mid-career Alkaline Trio, too. The chorus is pretty memorable: “Don’t you miss the crowded bars and hangovers? Are you tired of basement shows and all-dayers?” and I love that the track ends somewhat suddenly with a pained wail of “I got a lot of things to saaaaay”. Meanwhile, “Redlines” is the most Midwestern-y, with the verses reminding me a touch of The Manix and the singalong part at the end of the song suggesting The Copyrights: “Can we make mistakes along the way?”

On first listen, Modern Shakes sound a little generic and a little too Banner Pilot influenced, but, while uneven, the ‘Murmurs’ EP is promising and has a lot of positive qualities. If nothing else, “Ivana” is going down as one of my favourite punk tracks so far from 2019.

Check the EP out here: https://modernshakesband.bandcamp.com/releases

DB

The Hippaes are a bunch of fun, as the title of their first LP would suggest. I mean that many exclamation marks can only plenty of dancing, surely. But there is substance and solid-as-fuck songwriting to complement the toe-tapping. Hippaes are made up of some DIY punk stalwarts with Roo Pescod from Bangers, Kelly Kemp from Dear Everyone and No Comply and Ben Pescod from Attack Wipers. This feels like a proper band effort, and Roo and Kelly’s trading vocals work together a treat. Roo’s distinctive rasp fits perfectly alongside Kelly’s high-pitched, meandering vocals that are not dissimilar from Lande Hekt’s (aka Muncie Girls lead singer). While pretty into Bangers’ previous stuff, I am glad that this is not just Bangers mk. 2 (despite some of the album apparently being originally purposed for a Bangers EP). Hippaes are more mid-tempo, poppy and less shout-y than Bangers ever were. Following on from 2016’s EP ‘I Just Want to Float in the Void’, Hip! Hip!! Hippaes!!! fits into that whole ‘indie-pop-punk’ sound that bands like Martha, Doe or Muncie Girls have been so prolific with; melodic punk meets indie-rock and power-pop essentially. It’s all distorted guitars and grunginess alongside the catchiness and vocal melodies.

There is a definite ‘90s indie-rock inspiration on some of these tracks but without ever crossing that line into ‘retro’. “You Lay Down” has a Superchunk feel to it, with its wonderful vocal melodies and semi-noodle-y guitar leads, as well as also coming across like a weird cross between Fest-punk and The Eagles. Roo’s vocals, with Kelly’s back-ups, work well here as the song fades out. “Space” recalls the stop-start dynamics and grooves of Sugar or Pavement, albeit a more playful version of these that sings about drinking wine and not being mistaken for a prude. In terms of playfulness, “The Back Seat” comes in first with its super silly bass riff and lyrics about being useless in the backseat of a car (“in the backseat/keep your mouth shut”). I like to think that this is a response to the ultra-seriousness of “The Backseat” by The Gaslight Anthem. Highlights, though: well, in terms of trading vocals, “I Once Felt Alive” feels like the peak and ending the track with an “oh, oh, oh!” is a missed opportunity for an album closer; “The Ghost” gets those bittersweet hooks spot on amid the grunge-y, bass-heavy distortion; “Heartbeats and Sand” sounds like Muncie Girls or Doe at their best, with its power pop melodies and melancholic, reflective lyrics, “you have all the things I’d dreamed I’d have when I was young”; “Set The Agenda” is the most pop-punk track on the LP and I’m sure is one of those that was initially written for the Bangers EP.

The Hippaes is the sound of a band full of ideas, taking influences from the contemporary punk scene and the mid-‘90s indie rock scene but always having something new to add into the equation. This! Is!! Ace!!!

Check it out: https://thehippaes.bandcamp.com/album/hip-hip-hippaes

DB

Lesser Known Character, a four-piece from Bristol, play what can be best described as melodic skate-punk, a well-worn genre that grew up in the 1990s. As a DIY band, though, rather than one with the backing of a big “punk” label with big recording budgets, Lesser Known Character have a sound that’s more raw, and therefore, more honest. There’s no sense that they’re playing this music because they think it will sell; they’re playing it because they love it. There’s harmonized backing vocals, tons of melodic punk hooks, and more whoa-ohs than you can shake a stick at. But lest you think Lesser Known Character is a one-trick band, some of the songs have a metallic edge, particularly “A More Pallid Palate,” the fifth track of the six-song EP. And the closer, “Fake News” has less melody and more metallic thrash. The middle track, “Be A Man,” is a little different from the others, too, sounding to my ears more like the melodic post-pop-punk that bands like The Brigade (formerly Youth Brigade) were doing in the mid-eighties post-hardcore period. Nineties skate-punk isn’t one of my favored genres, but by mixing things up and playing from their hearts, I think Lesser Known Character are on to something here.

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

PS

Review: Nutshell- Demo

Posted: August 11, 2019 in Reviews

Belgian pop punk from suburban Brussels. The two songs on this demo are pretty simple, as modern pop punk goes, sounding fairly repetitive. “Jams” sounds more old school, punkier, and less finished; well, it is a demo after all. It reminds me of 80s punk that had a poppier feel than contemporaries. The chord progression is very simple, and lyrics are mostly shouted, rather than sung. “Other Awareness,” on the other hand, feels more like “Fest” pop punk. I refer here to the sound of bands that regularly play that punk festival that happens every Halloween in Florida. I like this song better than the first, and it feels more finished, with a more mature sound, filled with melancholy and regret. It’s still simple, but more complex than “Jams.” With a little work and experience, Nutshell shows promise.

PS

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

For those eagerly waiting on any new material from former members of the underground NYC pop-punk band The Steinways, you’re in luck: one half of that band, Azeem Sajid and Chris Grivet have come together to form Weird Skin (along with Patrick Mangan of The Safes and recently recruited guitarist Venu Konda), a wonderful mid-point between basement pop-punk and garage-punk. Fresh from his one-man band project with Skinny Genes, Azeem excels here as a lead-singer in a pop-punk band. For those who wanted an album full of Azeem’s songs off the Steinways or Houseboat records, like “My Guts Have Shit For Brains” or “Oh My Fucking Gosh”, you’re in the right place. Well, kinda. I mean, as I said, there is a definite garage-punk vibe on this Weird Skin LP, coming off like a Dirtnap band with a ton more self-deprecation. This is still fundamentally pop-punk, of course, but it’s fuzzier and faster-paced than Houseboat or Steinways tended to be. It’s like if Marked Men had babies with The Mr. T Experience; it’s like if Mean Jeans weren’t so dull. Indeed, Jeff Burke from Marked Men/Radioactivity did some ace back-up vocals on a couple of tracks on this LP, as well as recording and mixing the whole thing.

The LP is full of 2 minutes-ish blink-and-you’ll-miss-‘em pop-punk hits, full of fast-paced riffs and mini-solos. As soon as the opener “Weirder Days” bursts through my eardrums, with its unrelenting hooks, Dirtnap fuzz and self-deprecation, I know this is going to be my bag. There are backing vocals on this album from Kate Eldridge (Big Eyes), which really help to bring out those big-ass melodies. “Lousy Heart” recalls the buzzpop and toe-tapping melodies of Sonic Avenues, while “Extra Noise” comes off like White Wires at their best. Meanwhile, “Out of My Orbit” suggests Lipstick Homicide or The Murderburgers, especially the earworm line and melody of “I wonder if you are ever gonna call”, while “Big Sigh” is all speedy riffs and frustration. There is more going on here than immediately meets the ears. I love the opening ultra-melodic lead guitars on “Not On Your Mind”, the Jeff Burke back-up vocals on “Just Go” and the total bummer ending to the LP (“we were wrong/we’re not getting better”), complete with a sweet, mid-tempo guitar solo that recalls more than a little of “Anthem for a New Tomorrow”. By far my favourite thing on this LP though is “2 Weird 4 Luv” which is a melodic punk sing-a-long and a half. I don’t like I can listen to that song and not tap my toes. Kate Eldridge’s back-up vocals really elevate the song to the next level, too (as well as her wonderful guitar solo). It is so much more than the Mean Jeans song that the title may suggest.

It is sugary. It is lovesick. It is hook-filled. You know you want to.

Check it out here: https://weirdskin.bandcamp.com/album/weird-skin-2

DB

Sports-based punk bands are pretty weird, right? I have never got them personally. It represents this odd mid-point between Ramones-inspired anthems and athletic aesthetics or sometimes sports nerdiness. I guess, the short, simple beats of Ramonescore fit nicely with sports-based chants on a surface level, most obviously with ‘hey ho, lets go!’. I guess this whole thing goes way back to Sham 69 and their football anthem songs. Meanwhile, Germany’s St. Pauli pride themselves on being a ‘punk rock football club’. I can never quite figure out if some of these bands are somewhat sarcastically appreciating the selected sport or if they actually look to use their hobby as a springboard to mull over their dating issues. Obviously, there are a ton of bands that reference sports in their name or in a song or two, but I’m talking about those bands whose whole schtick is a particular sport, whether it be hockey (see Hextalls or Hanson Brothers) or baseball (hello Isotopes).

Urban Outfielders are one of the latter. Apparently, ‘baseball punx’ is a thing (check out the documentary of the same name) and you can see that overlap overtly in the baseball tees that pop-punk bands use, I guess. I generally find this sub-sub-genre tedious and having little of value to say and while the debut Urban Outfielders LP can be pretty much filed away under this heading, the new EP is actually pretty good! I guess, because the baseball links seem tenuous or secondary and also because Urban Outfielders can write a hell of a tune; they don’t stick to the standard Ramones-y angle, but instead recall mid-90s to early ‘00s pop-punk of the likes of Chixdiggit, Teen Idols, Weston, or Green Day. This is three-chord pop-punk, but there is more than enough variety here to keep the listener interested, too. The opener “Big League Chew” (apparently a baseball-affiliated product) is a fairly straightforward-sounding and semi well-produced slab of melodic punk with Green Day verses and a super anthemic Chixdiggit-esque chorus, as well as a tight little guitar solo to boot. My favourite though is “I Wanna Do It With You”, which is pitched (yay, baseball joke!) somewhere between the Hextalls and mid-career Alkaline Trio; its sense of melody is great and its understated verses are appreciated. The vocals do generally recall both Billie Joe Armstrong and Matt Skiba. The theme of the song appears to be teamwork and everyone pulling their weight to achieve a desired outcomes (like winning a game of baseball?), but many of the same themes and ideas could refer to DIY ethics, so it’s nice to think of this being written in an ambiguous and dualistic fashion. While “Where did he go (Tito)” is more of the same, the closer “The Wizard of Japan” goes leftfield, offering a more abrasive and spiky form of melodic punk; it’s more chugging riffs and shoutiness. I tell you what it reminds me of: the latest Lillingtons LP, with those dark and well-constructed melodies.

I mean, there are tons of references to baseball, of course, across this EP, but I think the best compliment that I can pay to it is that I hardly notice them. Decent pitch!

Check it out here: https://hiddenhomerecords.bandcamp.com/album/hhr024-out-of-this-world

DB