My first time at the Redrum in Stafford, and what a wonderful venue it is. The semi-grimy, semi-charming upstairs room of a bar, with walls adorned with posters of upcoming punk gigs and punk stickers; I’ve heard of this place for a while, so it was nice to finally visit. I would love a place like this in Cov. It was very quiet early doors, but as soon as opener Death of Rats started to play, it began to fill out. I hadn’t previously heard of Death of Rats, an acoustic punk project from local guy Alex James. I believe he sometimes plays (and has recorded) full band, but this was a solo set and it was pretty great to be fair. Super heart-on-sleeve, romantic and mid-tempo acoustic pop-punk. On his bandcamp, Alex refers to his sound as ‘if Billy Bragg really liked Alkaline Trio’ and that’s pretty accurate. There is a lot of Billy Bragg’s storytelling and heart in Death of Rats’ sound, but the lyrics are more emo/confessional. I am also reminded of the vocal melodies of Leeds-based Andrew Cream. Would listen again, top stuff, etc, etc.

Next up was Fraser Murderburger doing his solo stuff, which is a mix of new stuff, covers and acoustic versions of ‘Burgers tracks. His first collection Serious Musician was put out earlier this year and it’s pretty great to hear some Murderburgers material stripped back; some of them, such as “Christine, I Forgive You” or “Another Way out of Here” sound more powerful than ever. I have been to a few Murderburgers gigs previously, but this was my first time seeing Fraser doing his one man band thing and I was pretty captivated from beginning to end. Even more than a full-band set, a Fraser solo set feels like a therapy session. Highlights included covers of Freddy Fudd Pucker (“Funeral Food”, which, as Fraser rightly says is one of the best songs ever) and The Putrid Flowers (“Young for the Last Time”), “Bohemian Rhapsody Part 2”, a great unreleased Murderburgers track (although I think it has now come out on the Punk Rock Raduno Compilation) and what I think is the highlight of Serious Musician, an original acoustic track, “The Day Everything Died”. The Murderburgers have since announced an indefinite hiatus, so this was one of the last chances to catch ‘Burger material live.

And onto the headliners, the wonderful Ogikubo Station. Due to tinnitus, they toured without Mike Park. So playing as Ogikubo Station were Maura Weaver (Mixtapes/Boys) and Megan Schroer (Boys) who played a set of pure hits. I’m a little late onto the Ogikubo Station train I guess, with the latest EP (‘Okinawan Love Songs’) drawing me in, but I’m now fully on-board. The vocal melodies from the duo were wonderful, the lyrics touching and the atmosphere perfect for this kind of acoustic gig; it was very cosy indeed and felt like a bunch of like-minded people tapping their toes to some quality indie-folk. I think everything was great but the super-posi “Take a Piece of All That’s Good” and the ear-worm-y and melancholic “Drowning at the Watering Hole” (despite a funny stop-start opening!) particularly stood out. Covers of “Dr. Worm” (Guided by Voices, from their recent 7”), including some kazoo action from Maura, and “If I could Talk, I’d Tell You” (Lemonheads) were great, too. It was a short but sweet set that left you wanting more!

DB

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Since last month was pride month, I think it was about time there was an actual queer album in this column, so this month seemed to be the perfect time to write it. During this month, big corporations and businesses use the rainbow flag as a marketing tool to sell products, even if they never seem to care about LGBT issues the rest of the year and I hope this article will not be a part of an exploiting tradition, but a contribution to Pride month. Pansy Division is, of course, an important name in the pop punk genre and their lewd homoerotic lyrics have fascinated and offended quite a few people over the years. Jon Ginoli started the band because there were very few queer rockers. At the time Freddie Mercury and George Michael hadn’t come out. In the beginning, Pansy Division wasn’t a band, but a solo moniker of Ginoli. Later, Chris Freeman joined the band on bass. About the band name, Ginoli wrote on the Pansy Division website that “In January 1991, before the band had formed, I was sitting at my desk in the San Francisco office of Rough Trade Distribution, trying to think of a name for this queer rock thing I was starting. I looked up at the bulletin board next to the desk and misread the name of an upcoming release by some band called Third Panzer Division. I flashed on Pansy Division by mistake and thought it was good, and it stuck.”

The song “I Can’t Sleep” was released on a queercore compilation called Outpunk Dance Party on the label Outpunk in 1992. The same year the band signed to Lookout and released their debut single “Fem in a Black Leather Jacket” there. A single that included the fantastic Christmas tune “Homo Christmas” (one of the gayest yuletide songs in my house, in both senses of the word) and the Nirvana cover “Smells Like Queer Spirit”. ‘Queerifying’ popular rock songs became a thing Pansy Division started doing, like the Ramones cover “Rock ‘n’ Roll Queer Bar”. The first album Undressed was out in 1993, when being out wasn’t as safe as it is today, not that it’s safe today. The album’s lyrics balanced the line between sex positive and risqué and includes some of the band’s finest work. The next album Deflowered was released a year later. It continued the sex positive theme of its predecessor, but also included the sad cautionary tale “Denny”, about the HIV virus and about hard it can be to love oneself. There were also some covers, like Pete Shelley’s queer-anthem “Homo Sapien” and a queerified Jonathan Richman cover. It was also the first album we got to hear a song from Chris Freeman; the wonderful “James Bondage”. In 1994, they went on tour with Green Day when they were promoting Dookie, PD encountered lots of homophobia from the young, macho fan base that Green Day had at the time. Throughout the 90s, there would be many good releases from Pansy Division like the album Absurd Pop Song Romance recorded and mixed by Steve Albini, and the heavy metal inspired single “For Those about to Suck Cock”, that included a cover of the Judas Priest song “Breaking the Law” two years before Rob Halford officially came out. Metallica’s Kirk Hammet also played on the single. Let’s not forget the single with the name “Nine Inch Males” (maybe the best title ever!). After almost ten years on Lookout, they signed to Jello Biafra’s label Alternative Tentacles in 2001, which gave us Total Entertainment (2003), That’s so Gay (2009) and Quite Contrary (2016), and of course the compilation Essential: Pansy Division, which I surprisingly found at a Salvation Army shop, but sadly without the DVD.

Wish I’d Taken Pictures was released February 13 1996 on Lookout and Mint Records. It was produced by Pansy Division themselves and engineered by Timothy Daly. It was recorded in Razor’s Edge studio in San Francisc in November 1995. The two men appearing on the cover; Mark Ewert and Moon Trent, also appeared on the Quite Contrary cover in the same location. The photographer who got to take the picture was Marc Geller. Drummer on the album was Dustin Donaldson. It was their third album. The cassette version comes in a purple shell.

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1. “Horny in the Morning”: The album starts with the perfect song to use for your morning alarm. It’s written by both Ginoli and Freeman. The lyrics are relatable to people of all sexual orientations and genders, at least to those individuals with penises. It’s of course about waking up in the morning with an erection or ‘morning wood’ as they call it, but there is no one there to share it with, so one has to take matter in one’s own hands. It is the song that gave us the great lines “Want a guy on the horizon/ When the sun comes up that’s when I’m risin’”. In the liner notes to the Essential Pansy Division comp Jon Ginoli wrote “I was always wearied by gay bar hours…and thought morning wood was a deserving topic for a song”.

2. “Vanilla”: After two albums that were quite sex positive and raunchy, “Vanilla” is about boundaries and is a bit more, well, vanilla. The song’s character is pursued by a man who is into BDSM, but realizes it isn’t his thing. The song is about respecting other’s boundaries as well as respecting other’s kinks. The “you’re liberal, but fantasize right-wing” is a classic. The song is secluded, but not judge-y or kink shame-y. “Vanilla” was also written by both Ginoli and Freeman. In the liner EPD liner notes Ginoli writes “This was my personal response to “James Bondage” to balance the scales”. The vocal harmonies are wonderful in this one!

3. “I Really Wanted You”: 1996 was the year that Pansy Division ended up on MTV, specifically on the alternative show ‘120 Minutes’. The video was for the outstanding pop tune “I Really Wanted You”, about the universal theme of unrequited love. In the song, the protagonist hears about the man he has a crush on getting married to a woman. I’m not sure if the protagonist tries to stop the wedding or tells him the truth (I really wanted you), to move on, but if a song like this doesn’t work to stop a wedding, nothing will. Ginoli actually wrote the song for his first band the Outnumbered, as early as 1985, but improved by Pansy Division, according to the EPD liner notes. 

4. “Dick of Death”: Probably the most “pop punk” Pansy Division song. The band also describes it as one of their “gayest songs”. In live shows nowadays, it’s the band’s straight alibi Joel Reader who sings it. The song is written by Chris Freeman, and it’s about something that actually happened in Australia on tour. In the EPD liner notes, Ginoli denies that the song has anything to do with AIDS and I think it’s obvious that the song is about a guy with an abnormally large member, rather than about AIDS.

5. “Expiration Date”: One of the band’s weirder songs with its megaphone vocals and experimental bass lines. The song of course is about condoms reaching the expiration date. A song about a failed quest for sex among macho men, catty queens and drug addicts.

6. “The Summer You Let Your Hair Grow Out”: Another collaboration between Chris and Jon. It always sounded like a hippie song to me, not in a bad way, if hippie in a good way exists. It’s actually one of my favorite PD songs. It’s a great summer song, again about unrequited love. It’s about a dude who spends his summer with the guy of his dreams, who apparently let his hair grow out this summer. These two guys spend all their time together, with all this sexual tension, at least it seems that way for the protagonist, but in the end it turns out to be nothing and disappointment ensues. Ginoli wrote the lyrics while listening to Gram Parsons while cooking.

7. “Wish I’d Taken Pictures”: The title track is also one of my favorites on this album and it’s a shame it didn’t make the EPD collection. The song starts off really romantic, about memories of past lovers. The song’s main character describes three of his exs. The first one seemed like a prima donna, but the main character wishes he had taken pictures because he misses his face. The next one is an “alabastard” with alabaster skin and he wished he would have taken pictures of him as well. The third boyfriend he wishes he would have taken pictures of was a goth who took himself too seriously and made his bed an altar and this relationship ends as well. In the end, he fines a new beau and gets a camera. His pessimistic side decided this won’t last either, so he takes pictures of his boyfriend’s ass because that’s what he wants to remember.

8. “Pillow Talk”: The eighth song on the album is a quite catchy one. For some reason all the hits are on side-A, so most of the songs on side-B, even if there are great songs on there, seem less memorable. The song is about two men in an open relationship and one of them wants to know what the other one does with other guys through pillow talk and in the end he also confesses he wants in on the action. It’s an upbeat pop punk song, and my favorite instrument, the tambourine, is here.

9. “This Is Your Life”: Another of my favorites is “This Is Your Life”, it’s definitely the best song on side-B. The song is about realizing that after you entered a relationship you’re not part of your own life anymore, just playing a part in someone else’s life, and that it’s time to get out. I’m pretty sure this one is sung by Chris Freeman. I think it stands out from the other PD songs. There’s something Gin Blossoms/Lemonheads/ about it and there’s something strangely beautiful about the melody.

10. “Don’t Be So Sure”: The first ballad of the album. The lyrics are rather sad and is about being someone’s safe choice when they are tired of sexual adventures and the heartache that comes with that. I feel like Pansy Division got the reputation of being the queer, sex-positive, promiscuous and fun band, but sometimes we get songs that show insecurities and “Don’t Be So Sure” is definitely one of them.

11. “Kevin”: In many ways, it reminds me of “Denny”. Unlike Denny, who struggles with self-love, Kevin struggles with confusion about his sexual identity. Kevin is clearly an attractive man, but he is secretive and frightened by intimacy. He has kissed a woman while drunk, but he won’t talk to his friends about his sexuality. He won’t be pinned down or labelled, he won’t say he is gay or bi or not. It seems as though Kevin could be what is known as “questioning”. “Kevin won’t talk/ But maybe Kevin’s more confused than we are”. Not really one of the strongest deep cuts of the album, but a fine song.

12. “The Ache”: The second ballad of the album. With an acoustic guitar and a tambourine and soft vocals stimulating your emotions, it’s one of the band’s slowest songs. It’s quite beautiful, and very different than the rest of the band’s output. It also has a cello-part played by Kirk Heydt. There’s something almost Replacements-esque about it. Lyrically, the song leans more on the insecure and emotional side that we’d later get to see in songs like “Sweet Insecurity”. The protagonist in the song has entered a relationship and wonders if it’s worth it when all he is left is an empty ache.

13. “Pee Shy”: Probably the most rock ‘n’ roll track, it almost sounds like a Joan Jett tune or an early 70s glam rock song, but the subject matter is very different from either of those. It’s about a man who is confident and fearless, but pissing when someone else is there is his Achilles heel. “If you can’t pee quick enough/They’ll think you’re beating your meat”. If that’s not relatable, I’m not sure what is.

14. “Sidewalk Sale”: A short little album closer and a catchy one too! The song is about when the gay bar closes and the last chance to get laid is the sidewalk sale. I’m not sure if the sidewalk sale is a reference to prostitution, but the protagonist feels like pursuing someone at the sidewalk sale is below his dignity, no matter how desperate he feels. In the end, he ends up passing on the sidewalk sale.

Check out Wish I’d Taken Pictures here: https://pansydivision.bandcamp.com/album/wish-id-taken-pictures

Next time, I will be looking back at No Use for a Name’s 2002 album Hard Rock Bottom.

I consider Latte+ to be a relatively new Italian Ramonescore band, but they’re really not. Having been around since 1997 and with Next to Ruin being their 8th full-length, these are old hands in the European pop-punk scene. If you were into their previous two LPs No More than Three Chords and Stitches, it is most likely that you will enjoy the new one Next to Ruin. It is very much a continuation of these, as Latte+ offer a remarkable beacon of consistency in our fluctuating and tumultuous existences. Yeah, consistency could be perceived of as a negative, but I can let it go if the output is of a high quality (just like if TBR had continued to release stuff like Total)- and Latte+ definitely ticks that box.

Latte+ make upbeat and catchy pop-punk in the vein of The Riverdales, Screeching Weasel or The Manges. There is enough speed, intelligence and interesting melodies to distinguish them from mere Ramones-clones. Plus, what I really like about most of Next to Ruin is Latte+’s lovely vocal harmonies, notably recalling bands like The Riverdales or Teen Idols, but also more recent material from bands such as Young Rochelles or (a sped up) Don Blake. This nicely compliments the playfulness, energy and bratty charm on the record, clearly influenced by The Queers or perhaps Teenage Bottlerocket. The production and mixing is generally high-quality too and above-par for the sub-genre.

My favourites definitely come on the first half of the record. “Cookie” is wonderful, full of ear-worm hooks and memorable lyrics (which I believe are a dedication to a cat) and coming off like a long lost Riverdales b-side from the ‘90s. “Waiting for you” is similarly fantastic, while “She’s the Evil” opens with very Weasel-esque lead guitars that immediately grabbed my attention. Of the later tracks on Next to Ruin, I really appreciate the vocal melodies and nostalgic feel of “Sleepyhead”, sounding like a track from the Methadones power-pop collection and “Abnormal People” is a great closer, recalling more than a little of the Teen Idols’ songwriting prowess. Overall, though, I feel like the record peters off after the mid-way point and nothing comes close to matching that early one-two of “Cookie” and “Waiting for you”. There are a couple of tracks that reference the Ramones, “Lost in Berlin” and “Hey Hey It’s Dee Dee’s Birthday Today”, but these are basically fillers. Meanwhile, the anti-trump song (“Everybody Likes Your Wife”) is a weird one about everybody liking Melania Trump and gets the tone somewhat wrong; it is funny on first listen but doesn’t really fit right on a largely charming and well-written record.

Overall, Latte+ keep doing what they are doing and producing some solid-as-fuck Ramones-inspired but distinctive Euro-pop-punk.

Check it out here: https://lattepiu.bandcamp.com/album/next-to-ruin

DB

Based out of Northern California, Asian Man Records has been running since 1996 (with Mike putting out records as early as 1991) and has been one of the shining lights of DIY punk ever since, releasing records from diverse artists such as Alkaline Trio, Andrew Jackson Jihad, Lemuria, Joyce Manor and Laura Stevenson (I’ll stop or I could go on a while). Head of the label Mike Park continues to run Asian Man out of his parent’s garage and at the same time has been engaging in a multitude of music projects, these days including The Bruce Lee Band, The Kitty Kat Fan Club and Ogibuko Station. The latter, a musical collaboration between Mike and Maura Weaver (previously of Mixtapes), recently released a new 7” ‘Okinawan Love Songs’ (reviewed here: https://keeptrackofthetime.wordpress.com/2019/06/12/review-ogibuko-station-okinawan-love-songs-ep-asian-man/). I chatted with Mike about this, forming Ogibuko Station and running Asian Man records.

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Dave Brown: Firstly, how do you feel about the release of ‘Okinawan Love Songs’ and how do you feel it built on the previous LP ‘We Pretend Like’?

Mike Park: I love it.  I’ve always loved 7 inches growing up.  It’s a quick listen—you flip side A to side B, nobody gets hurt; it’s a win win.  But honestly, I love the 2 original songs.  I like the way the band kept building from the “We Can Pretend Like” LP.  I think the progression is nice and I’m looking forward to what we do next. 

DB: What was the writing and recording process like for this EP? How does the collaborative process work and how do you manage living in a different state to Maura?

MP: We had started playing the “Would I Break My Heart Enough For You ” song live on the Alkaline Trio tour we did in August of last year, and then I started showing Maura the other new song on that tour, so we had the general chords and melodies down.  Maura added a lot of depth with harmonies and counter melodies in the studio, and while it was definitely a collaborative process it’s hard to compare a 7inch with a full length record.  With only 3 songs (2 originals and a cover song), it didn’t take much time, so Maura came to California and we were able to do this face to face vs Skyping in ideas. 

DB: How did the band form?

MP: I had wanted to put out Maura’s solo album, but after 2 years of pestering her to finish, I finally said “We’re gonna start a band” and she came to California and we got to work.  It was initially just going to be an acoustic project, but we’ve ended up using a full band the last 2 releases.  We will probably do more acoustic stuff in the future. 

DB: I understand you sometimes tour with a full band and sometimes as a duo. What do you prefer and how do you see things panning out in the future?

MP: I really like the full band dynamic. It’s also a lot less stressful.  Playing acoustic always gives me nightmares in terms of stage fright, but I’d like to combat that lifelong fear more in the future.  Mostly to make myself crazy haha.

DB: Dan Andriano plays bass on this EP and Jeff Rosenstock played synthesiser on the previous record. Do you have plans for further collaborations on Ogibuko Station records? And more broadly, to what extent do you seek and encourage collaboration among Asian Man records?

MP: Heck yes! I want to always include my friends on various projects that I’m involved with.  I’d love for all the AM bands to do this too, but it’s nothing forced.

DB: You seem a busy guy what with running a record label and being involved in a number of active musical projects. How do you manage your time and prioritise with so much going on?

MP: Oh my.  This has been a problem lately.  I’m actually going to start slowing down, cause I can’t keep up any longer.  My mind has turned to mush as I try to juggle everything.  Music is always a priority, but I need to keep family at the top of the list.

DB: Honing in on Asian Man records specifically, what was your inspiration for starting the record label? Were there any other particular record labels that inspired you?

MP: I wanted to be able to dictate my own path and not rely on anybody else for my own success or failure.  If I failed, at least I knew I tried.  But in particular I’ve always been a fan of Ian Mackaye and his DIY ethics and outlook on life.  I’ve often tried to emulate those ethics in my day to day. 

DB: What’s the main difference between the label now and when you first started it? And more broadly, the DIY punk scene. 

MP: I’ll go back even further.  Before Asian Man, the band I was in (Skankin’ Pickle) released our first demo tape in 1989.  We used the name DILL RECORDS.  We printed up 100 tapes and sold them almost immediately.  In that first year, we sold nearly 2,000 cassette tapes.  I’ll stop there.  Cause that’s the big difference.  Physical sales were the only way to hear music in the early days.  So obviously that’s the reason for the drop in music sales the past 20 years, but I’m not one to say “it was better back in my day”.  I think that’s bullshit.  I’m a fan of streaming.  It’s good for the environment, it’s good for indie artists to do it themselves, and it’s progress.  That’s life.  Things change.  As for DIY/PUNK, I’m trying to think of the big difference and I’d have to say the safety aspect of punk in the early days was not so safe.  Lots of violence at shows in the 80’s.  Skinheads vs punks vs mods vs anyone who had long hair.  And while it was part of the excitement not knowing what the fuck was gonna happen at the shows, I’ll take the friendliness of today’s culture over the past anytime. 

DB: You continue to run the label out of your parent’s garage and only have one employee; what have been the challenges in remaining truly DIY over the years? In particular, how have things changed in regards to record distribution and sales?

MP: I covered a bit of the physical sales aspect earlier, but everything depends on what you want out of your company.  I want to stay small. I like doing things myself and seeing what I can accomplish without joining the elites.  My biggest challenge or guilt rather is not being able to do more for my bands, but I am very open about the limits of Asian Man.  Open dialogue and honesty is something I do have, so it’s never a matter of me breaking promises. 

DB: Have you had any moral or ethical conflicts in running Asian Man records?

MP: Nothing that would put me in a position that I felt compromised.  At the end of the day, I’m really proud of what I’ve done and continue to do. 

DB: Are there are any bands that you wished you had signed?

MP: Of course, but that’s life.  There are bands I wish I hadn’t signed, but I’m gonna keep names out and say again: you live with your decisions or you die bitter and old. 

DB: Finally, what is your personal favorite record you have put out? Or favorites if it is hard to narrow it down to one!

MP: That is actually an easy one.  Alkaline Trio “GODDMANIT” – by far my fav release of all time. 

Check out Asian Man records here: http://asianmanrecords.com/

And check out the latest Ogibuko Station release here: https://asianmanrecords.bandcamp.com/album/okinawan-love-songs

I Don’t Like Sports is the debut full-length from Winnipeg punks Screaming at Traffic, following last year’s ‘S.A.T.’ EP. I first became aware of Screaming at Traffic with the single “Y.B.F.” that they released earlier this year, a slice of gruff, raw and noisy punk that I was pretty into. The single is somewhat representative of I Don’t Like Sports as a whole: this is angst-ridden, aggressive and raw punk miserabilia destined for basements and punk DIY shows. The record is gruff, heart-on-sleeve, hook-filled and anthemic in similar ways to bands like Red City Radio, Elway and fellow Canadians Pkew Pkew Pkew. As with Pkewx3, Screaming at Traffic sing about wasted youth and the struggles related to ‘adulting’. There are also echoes of fellow Winnipegians (definitely not a term, right?) Propagandhi in Screaming at Traffic’s chunky guitars and the booming vocals of lead singer Jacques Richer.

And that’s cool! However, there is also something else going on that helps to distinguish Screaming at Traffic from the gruff-punk masses. I definitely get an alternative rock or emo feeling on listening to the record, overlaying and complementing the gritty and melodic punk sound. Notably, “Pantomime” and “Hey Koyuki” are great examples of tracks that are equally influenced by punk and alternative rock; I hear Jawbreaker and Samiam in these at the same time as Sunny Day Real Estate and Far. At times, I hear strands of a less scream-y version of a band like Touche Amore, with an emotive and semi-noodle-y alt-rock sound coming to the fore. “I Don’t Like Sports” has to be up there for ‘hit’ of the record though: a heart-filled, mid-tempo anthem about, yep, not liking sports (“Never seemed to keep up with the other kids”). Its tone is semi-tragic and semi-triumphant and I love the breakdown towards the end, “I don’t like spooooooorts”. “Broken Teeth”, meanwhile, is an interesting one: a slowed-down track that has echoes of post-hardcore and Fugazi-esque verses before the emergence of a mid-tempo, sing-a-long chorus.

The record is not without its faults and some of the tracks towards the end of the album appear to lack in the direction, hooks and commitment that the earlier songs do (particularly “Naproxen”). I find myself losing interest after a certain point on the record. Nevertheless, I Don’t Like Sports is a very solid record that manages to effectively and delicately find a balance between contemporary gruff-punk and the alt-rock of yesteryear; in doing so, they make a nice distinctive contribution to today’s punk scene.

Check it out here: https://screamingattrafficmusic.bandcamp.com/album/i-dont-like-sports

Epic west coast emotionally charged pop punk – from London. Guitars swirl and jangle, while intense vocals practically cry out on this latest EP from the quartet. Vocals include plenty of sing-along opportunities fully realized. This reminds me so much of earlier material from Western Settings. Lyrics are personal and cryptic. Songs deal with depression, self-doubt, and all sorts of neuroses. Halfway through the EP, “Dazed” is a favorite track, with less epic feel and more melodic pop bounce. But the song is not as happy as the music would lead you to believe. The song begins, “You can always tell when I’m stressed / By how much skin is left on the flesh around my fingernails / My cuticles are non-existent / My lack of thought is consistent.” The nervousness and uncertainty are palpable. “Everything’s Cool” is an outlier, having more pop punk than expansive emo, sometimes edging a bit toward skate punkish. The song is self-deprecating, discussing the internal conversations we have with ourselves when we don’t live up to expectations. The title track goes back toward the bigger sound, and lyrics about wanting to be better, the struggle to be open and vulnerable and authentic. “Safe” closes the EP, and it’s a slow burner. It begins with “found sound” of a person saying, “The worst thing to call somebody is crazy; it’s dismissive. I don’t understand this person, so they’re crazy.” The chorus sums up the EP: “How do I focus on my breathing / When I’m running out of breath? / How do I fixate on the good things / When I can’t even give myself a rest?” It brings home the difficulties we face in living up to the expectations of others and ourselves, and how we beat ourselves up over it. Triple Sundae give us a solid effort here.

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

PS

Weatherstate seems to be two bands. Or at least there seem to be two people doing the writing, Though this is one band, hailing from Bristol, there are two distinct paths taken on the songs. One is more traditional pop punk, fast and bouncy, full of harmonies. The other is harder-edged, grungier, and sounding something like Rocket From The Crypt. Even on the poppier songs, though, there’s a grittiness that makes Weatherstate stand out a bit more than the typical formulaic pop punkers. Even with the coarseness, the music is still catchy. “Ghost” opens the LP with one of these poppier tracks with harmonized vocals, but it’s so fast and hard, guitars buzzing angrily, that it doesn’t come across as boring old pop punk. Things really get cooking on “Brain Dead,” a track that uses elements of the grunge sound and the buzzy guitars, but adds in harmonized poppy vocals as a contrast. I like the tense, high-strung feel. “Barely Human” separates the grindy and the poppy into distinct sections; to me, the angrier sounding sections are more successful, especially the slow breakdown at the end of the song. “Arteries” is another slower grunge track that has so much attitude – I love it. The melodic line in the chorus contains the refrain every child knows and uses to taunt others. The snottiness reminds me a lot of RFTC mixed with Nirvana. Other tracks lean more toward typical pop punk, but as I mentioned, there’s still an edge to them. Recommended.

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

PS

The Parish Church Fire, after fits and starts, are finally ready for the world, and this two-song single is their proper debut (though they released a demo five years ago). The A-side is dark and mysterious, with a strong beat, straight out of the deepest, darkest corner of the world. While there are robust, loud guitars and no synths, the overall feel has more in common with trance than with rock and roll – and I like it. It’s got a truly original feel. The B-side is a Bruce Springsteen cover, “Adam Raised A Cain,” that stays true to the blues-rock original, but with more intense guitars and with vocals that are a bit gruffer and more ardent. The two tracks are so different that it’s hard to peg The Parish Church Fire. They don’t seem to fit neatly into a given category. That’s probably a good thing. Which is their “real” sound? Time will tell, when they release more material.

Check it out here: https://germanshepherdrecords.bandcamp.com/album/hunger

PS

London’s Eat Dirt are purveyors of hardcore and melodic punk, and their love of 90s punk styles is plainly evident on this, their debut full-length LP. The songs vary in style to a point, too, with some tracks leaning more toward a metallic sound, others more straight up hardcore, and others having a melodic skate punk vibe. Lyrically, a lot of the songs are pretty true to 90s hardcore, as well, with songs mainly focusing on improving one’s self and being true to yourself and others, rather than on politics. The LP starts out with a traditional hardcore track, “Make Peace,” complete with a slower breakdown section in the back half of the track. The song is a call to action, admonishing the listener to make a change and be all they can be. Lyrically it’s very much like a lot of straightedge hardcore of the 90s. The next track, “Worms of the Earth,” brings all the styles together. The whole thing is fast and loud, crunchy metallic hardcore, but there are moments of melodic skate-punk style, with harmonized vocals and all. It’s a bit like Pears, but where Pears blend pop punk into their hardcore, Eat Dirt use melodic skate punk in that mix. “Moribund” is an interesting track that has sections of classic hard rock and sections of what could only be described as “arena indie rock.” It’s got the big overblown feel of arena rock, but without the cock-rock egomania and high-pitched warbling vocals. The title track is pure metal, with growled vocals. And “Punk Rock Con” is about as political as things get from Eat Dirt. It mixes hard rock and punk styles into a song that decries the world of “fake news,” where we can’t trust anything we hear anymore. “Dog” is a metallic hardcore track that decries the loss of personal connections in the world, replaced by electronic ones, everyone glued to the glowing screens of their smart phones. The other sort of political song on the LP is “Out of the Fire.” It’s another metallic hardcore one, focusing on the growing divisions in our nations and in the world, bemoaning the loss of a more united people that worked together to solve problems. Included in the album are two songs off the band’s first EP, “Ballad” and “Put Out.” If you’re a fan of the 90s style, check this out, as the band are tight and powerful. Me? My 90s listening tended more toward East Bay pop punk and Washington, DC post hardcore. The whole metallic and melodic hardcore and skate punk thing never really did much for me.

Check it out here: https://eatdirtuk.bandcamp.com/album/death-is-death

PS

Fresh are a four-piece indie-pop-punk band from London that have been around for a few years now and Withdraw is their second LP, following 2017’s S/T record. Fresh’s form of self-analytical and heart-on-sleeve indie/pop-punk crossover has been thriving in the UK in the last few years; it’s dynamic and evolving, too. Fresh play the kind of relatable melodic sound that bands like Martha, Colour Me Wednesday or Muncie Girls have excelled at recently. It’s honest, sincere and confessional guitar pop, in the best ways.

For me, Withdraw is a significantly improved effort from Fresh, being more consistent, coherent and confident than its predecessor. I enjoyed that first LP but its inconsistency was frustrating at times. There remains a little bit of filler on Withdraw but to be honest, I seem to get more and more into this record every time I hear it, so in 2 months time, I might well think every second of it is gold! What’s more, the parts where I zone out a little bit are massively outweighed by the glorious highs across Withdraw: notably, the toe-tapping lead guitars and hook-filled pop-punk of “Brighton” that is reminiscent of Colour Me Wednesday or Happy Accidents at their best, the impassioned indie rock plea of “Willa”, the bounce-y, keyboard-driven and heart-string-pulling of “New Girl” and, of course, the piece de resistance, the fiery and cathartic anthem “Revenge”, leaving listeners with the message “I am valued/I am loved/I will get revenge on everyone who’s done me wrong”, in what feels like the album closer in many ways.

Lead singer and Fresh lyricist Kathryn Woods has written a dynamic, inventive and engrossing record that is intimate and personal in the same way that Waxahatchee and Lemuria records are (and all the best records, right?). It captures many of the everyday complexities of dealing with both vulnerability and empowerment. The songwriting shifts between these two states of being with ease, allowing us as the listeners to fully appreciate the ways in which feelings around the two are intricately interwoven. “No Thanks” is a great example of this, with Kathryn beginning the track confessing “Woke up last night with tears in my eyes/ because I am fundamentally unlovable”, but later fervently putting forward “Despite what you might think, I’m not a baby bird with a broken wing for you to heal” and “I am fire and light / I am fine on my own / I am everything and nothing all at once”. The songwriting is somewhat emo influenced (the band’s love of emo established on a track from the previous), with the melodramatic lyrical and melodic shifts reminding me a bit of Brand New and the indie-pop-punk-emo combo recalling Muncie Girls.

There are notable moments on the record which are simultaneously forthright and reflective of vulnerability, like “I just want to be acknowledged please” on “Willa” or the aforementioned call for revenge (on, yep, “Revenge”). There is also a great line on “Willa” which offers an alternative interpretation at dealing with the vulnerability of putting your voice/music out there: “when I’m on stage, I feel safe, you can’t hurt me up here”. “Nothing” is definitely the most stripped-back song on Withdraw, where, over an acoustic guitar and xylophone, Kathyrn proclaims that “Every day I tell myself that I am nothing”. The euphoric line that follows in “revenge” about being valued and loved feels like a motto to live by and a way to counter these multifaceted vulnerabilities.

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

DB