Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Connection - Wish You Success

For those of us who've long been awaiting new material from The Connection, payday has arrived! I've not been fully committal on identifying a favorite band in recent years. But if you bought me a beer and really pressed me on the issue, I'd admit that The Connection are it. They are the perfect mix of everything I love in music: a little bit of power pop, a pinch of American '70s punk, and a whole lot of rock n' roll! They are a true example of rock n' roll being fully alive and as thriving as ever in 2018. Honestly, I didn't really mind the three-year wait for a new record. The thing that makes The Connection (arguably) the best band going these days is the way they combine pure rock n' roll energy with absolutely top-of-the-line songwriting. I really appreciate that the band took the time to work up a fantastic collection of songs. Wish You Success, out on the New Jersey label 2WIN DISC Records, is a stacked set of Marino/Palmer originals that more than holds it own against its formidable predecessor Labor Of Love. At one point in the past, I may have said that Labor Of Love could never be topped. I was wrong!

So after three years between albums, you had to wonder where The Connection would go next. Thankfully, the band has chosen not to mess with a good thing. Wish You Success is simply a great rock n' roll record. It pulls off the tricky task of honoring influences from 50-60 years ago while still belonging to a new generation. "You Know" is the sort of crowd-pleasing number you'd expect to kick off the record - a straight-up rocker that punches up the guitars and gets the blood pumping. The Geoff Palmer penned "Checking" quickly steers things into mid-tempo power pop rock n' roll territory, and I might be inclined to call it my favorite Connection song ever! One thing I quickly noticed with this album was how good the lyrics are. That is especially true on this song. "Checking" is the ultimate statement on the stresses of life in the modern age, and I can't imagine there's anyone who wouldn't be able to relate. This track also demonstrates how you can take a great song and make it even better if you know how to make your guitar sing. Are you convinced that within The Connection, Brad is the "rock" guy and Geoff is the "pop" guy? Marino's "Color Me Unimpressed" kind of shoots that theory to shit. It's such a perfect '60s-inspired pop number that I can't help imagining The Muffs covering it. And those wonderfully bitter lyrics will surely have Elvis Costello smiling in approval.

So I only mentioned the first three tracks, but I hope most of you have stopped reading and just gone and bought Wish You Success! Just in case you were wondering: that strong start is no tease. The band just keeps on bringing it. The title track is an upbeat rootsy rocker that lays out some serious hard truths in the lyrics. "The Girl Is Trouble" is a winning nod to the Buddy Holly/Bobby Fuller school of rock n' roll. "Heaven Or Hell" finds the band back in that familiar '70s Stones groove, while "In The End" hits that sweet spot where Dave Edmunds intersects with The Ramones. "What A Shame" is vintage Geoff Palmer '60s pop majesty. If much of today's "alt-country" has largely dampened your enthusiasm for country rock, "Thinking Out Loud" should fully restore it.

I suppose I'm out on the limb now. I told you that The Connection have outdone themselves, and surely I will be inundated with angry correspondence if y'all buy this record and are let down. Let's just say that any claims above were issued with the highest level of confidence. Whether you're a garage geek, a '60s rock n' roll fanatic, or a power pop enthusiast, you gotta love The Connection! Both musically and lyrically, this is the band's strongest set of songs to date. Brad and Geoff have never sounded better on their guitars, and this latest rhythm section (Bobby Davis on bass and Zack Sprauge on drums) matches their energy at every step. Wish You Success is out today. Hit up the 2WIN DISC Bandcamp to order on vinyl or CD. Digital album is available from The Connection's Bandcamp. Marino and Palmer fans stay tuned. I'll have much to say about some solo releases of theirs in the coming weeks!


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Lucy and the Rats - self titled

When three labels the caliber of Monster Zero, Stardumb, and Surfin' Ki Records collaborate on the release of a vinyl record, you know it's gonna be something pretty great! Lucy and the Rats are a power pop band Lucy from The Spazzys formed with members of the English punk group Michael Jackson after she relocated to London a few years back. In 2016/2017, the band released a pair of singles on Surfin' Ki and Monster Zero. Now a proper album has arrived, and it's one of my favorite releases of the year so far!

If you enjoy The Spazzys but aren't yet familiar with Lucy and the Rats, you might be a little surprised by what you hear. While there's no questioning this foursome's punk pedigree, with this band the focus is on pure power pop. Melody and harmonies are in the forefront as the band draws from the classic sounds of the '60s. There's still plenty of punch in the guitars and drums, but the less-rushed tempos really allow these songs to take their time unfolding. Lucy's singing voice is warm and easy on the ears, which works so well with the pretty melodies the band favors. Lucy's willingness to show her softer side is really what gives these songs their charm. Some people are just naturally good at singing love songs, and I would definitely put her in that category. Of the ten tracks here, three are songs fans will recognize from the singles. But there's no drop-off with the new material, and it's not hard to imagine a song like "Make You Mine" or "Hold On Me" being an A-side in its own right.

This full-length debut from Lucy and the Rats is pretty much the ultimate power pop record. It's got that hard crunch on the outside with a soft, sweet center. You can land on any track of your choosing and encounter a melody you'll be whistling for days. This is just a top-class effort all the way! The songs are exquisitely crafted, the band rocks, and Lucy is as likable of a vocalist as you could ever hope to hear. This album is pop as fuck, and I love it! Follow the links below to peruse your many options for colored vinyl! Digital release coming next month on Dirty Water Records.


Friday, April 20, 2018

Fashionism - Come On My Baby/Smash Singles

Fashionism, being one of my favorite bands, needs no introduction to any regular viewer of this blog. Of course I was stoked to discover that the band had hooked up with Drunken Sailor Records - probably the best record label going right now! To make it all even better, Fashionism's first single on Drunken Sailor is by far it's most "pop" to date. You had to know I'd have no complaints about that! "Come On My Baby" is already the band's fifth single. If you have greatly disappointed me and failed to purchase the previous four, you can now get caught up in a hurry. Drunken Sailor has compiled all of them onto one handy dandy collection called Smash Singles. The album releases today along side "Come On My Baby".

"Come On My Baby" is one of Fashionism's strongest A-sides to date. It has a bouncy new wave vibe to it that really hits the spot. This is the closest Fashionism has come to sounding like the Tranzmitors - and that's not a bad thing at all. The song is great upbeat punky pop that will have you tapping your toes and singing along in very short order. Play loud and enjoy being alive! The single takes a decidedly melancholy turn with the B-side "Baby She's Gone". Here Jeffery and company show that they can do soul-inspired pop with the best of 'em. I dig the piano and tender vocals, and all in all this one really tugs at the heartstrings. Even with this being such a bummer love song, I often find myself whistling that melody for hours on end. It's just a damn fine pop song. This is what The Style Council should have sounded like!

Smash Singles is exactly what it appears to be. It compiles all of the tracks from 2015's Smash The State (With Your Face) and Quit Looking At The Time, 2016's Subculture Suicide, and last year's Back In the Day. As a "bonus", you get the aforementioned "Baby She's Gone" and a (to my knowledge) previously unreleased number called "Weekend". The latter is not a cover of The Boys' power pop/punk classic, but it's very much in the same ballpark. Will Fashionism ever put out a "proper" album? As long as they keep producing such tremendous singles, I'd say a true LP is not even necessary. Smash Singles essentially plays like an all-killer, no-filler full-length. If you enjoy 1977-80 U.K. punk and power pop and are not yet familiar with Fashionism, this purchase is a no-brainer. As for the band's existing fans: you'll wanna get your mitts on "Come On My Baby" as soon as possible. And Smash Singles on dark green vinyl would sure be a neat thing to own! Fashionism record release day ought to be an international holiday. Let's all get dressed up in sharp outfits and go dancing in the town square!


Thursday, April 19, 2018

Freak Genes - Qwak Qwak

Well that didn't take very long! Less than 10 months after the release of their brilliant debut album Playtime, Freak Genes are back with another long player that will disappoint absolutely no one! Out on Drunken Sailor Records, Qwak Qwak picks up where Playtime left off and quickly surpasses it. The men behind the masks, of course, are Andrew Anderson (The Hipshakes, Proto Idiot) and Charlie Murphy (Red Cords). Freak Genes began with a fun premise: what would happen if these two guys took some of the crazy, rejected ideas from their other groups and made a whole new band out of it? What happened was one of the best punk albums of 2017 or any recent year for that matter. Qwak Qwak still finds Freak Genes straddling the quirky/experimental and poppy sides of early U.K. punk. But the real advancement here is the introduction of synthesizers and drum machines to the duo's arsenal. Limited only by their own imaginations, Andrew and Charlie flutter between punk, new wave, synth-pop, garage rock, and post-punk over the course of 17 filler-free tracks.

If you enjoyed the Wire meets early Buzzcocks vibe that was so prevalent on Playtime, the first two songs "At Odds With You" and "On The TV" will quickly have you on board with Qwak Qwak. The latter is surely one of the most essential punk tracks of the year. But there was no way a band with Freak Genes' origins was ever going to allow itself to become predictable. With this record, you never quite know what's coming. These guys prove so adept at synth-pop that I would absolutely have believed that "Give Way" and "Read The Papers" were original recordings from 1980. "Destroy" sets aside the band's usual playful disposition and goes full-on scary future post-punk. "Layers", on the other hand, is delightful Kinks/Who derived pop that will have you whistling on your way to work. And then there's the wonderful "Talk 2" - which sounds like a song Robyn Hitchcock would write to play at a bar in the Florida Keys.

One spin through Qwak Qwak will suggest influences as disparate as Syd Barrett ("Anonymous"), Gary Numan ("We Want Trouble"), and Devo ("It's Not There"). And there are certainly tracks ("Not Quite Enough", "Drainage") that bring to mind Andrew and Charlie's other bands. What's remarkable is how well the whole thing flows. It's weird to say this about a band that is only on its second record, but the one thing that's consistent throughout 17 tracks is that it all sounds like Freak Genes! These are two extremely talented individuals, and their chemistry is undeniable. Their willingness to entertain almost any musical idea is what makes them unique. Their ability to do so while still aspiring to write great pop songs is what makes them exceptional. I look forward to their next 20 albums!


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

ANMLS - self titled LP

Man, there's nothing that gets the blood flowing quite like a great hardcore punk long player! It has been a good while since I've heard a hardcore record as thrillingly ripping as the 10-song debut from Santiago, Chile's ANMLS. Straight-up, this album hits you in the mouth. And I LOVE it! These guys are clearly huge fans of Black Flag - both the early ("No Quiero Estar Contigo", "Vamonos de la Ciudad") and later ("Instrumental", "Mierda") eras. But there's a lot more to ANMLS than that. "Canto en el Infierno" and "Pacos" integrate surfy SoCal punk influences, while "Odio" brings to mind the darker melodic strains of modern-day Scandinavian hardcore. Any way you shake it, this an absolute monster of a record. The tunes are killer, and the band powers through each one with a ferocity that's off the charts. And with mastering by the almighty Tim Warren, you know this thing is primed to test the capacities of your volume knob! All of the lyrics are in Spanish - largely delivered in the gang vocal style. Does having no idea what they're saying lessen my enjoyment? Not in the slightest! A co-release between Slovenly Recordings and Algo Records, this debut from ANMLS is an essential purchase for fans of old school hardcore, fast n' tough garage-punk, political dissent, and all of the above. A+!


Monday, April 16, 2018

Melted - Thin Skin

Hailing from Long Beach, Melted takes me back to the 1990s heyday of Southern Californian melodic punk. That sub-genre has always been hit or miss for me, but in the case of Melted it definitely hits! The trio's new album Thin Skin is a co-release between the legendary Stardumb Records and four other labels (Programme Sounds, Open Door Records, Celebrity Punkhouse, and Astro Lizard Records). This is a different kind of release for Stardumb. It reminds me of something I would have mail-ordered from Dr. Strange Records in 1994! The band's sound is catchy and energetic in that familiar SoCal way, but it also packs one hell of a punch. Jonny Bell's stellar production cranks the guitars way up and achieves an ideal mix of aggression and melody. I like that the band's stated influences (e.g. Jawbreaker, Descendents) make sense but aren't entirely obvious from listening to the record. Melted is known for the frenzied energy of its live shows, and that genuinely comes through on the album. I'm envisioning a room full of kids going nuts while the band members frantically jump around and drive themselves to exhaustion. Singer/guitarist Justin Eckley has a somewhat familiar vocal style for this type of band, but it's the conviction of his delivery that really stands out. He absolutely pours his heart into every song - always saving a little extra for that climactic sing-along moment. 

One thing that works so well for Thin Skin is that Melted is really adept at switching things up. Songs like "Most Days" and "Alright" are textbook SoCal pop-core, but then these guys can turn around and absolutely rock your face off ("Stay Away", "Thin Skin"). And then on a slower song like "Low", the band even shows some Weezer-ish qualities. I would cite "Low" as one of the standout tracks on the record.

Thin Skin was an album several years in the making, and it successfully highlights Melted's songwriting maturation while still kicking a whole lot of ass. Stardumb will be sending the band to Europe for a tour later this year. Given the well-documented enthusiasm of European crowds, I'd say those shows are gonna be a blast!


Thursday, April 12, 2018

Civic - New Vietnam

How about another killer band from Australia! And when I say killer, I mean KILLER! Hailing from Melbourne, Civic picks up the Dead Boys/Saints torch and burns down everything in its path. You may know some of these individuals from their turns in groups such as Leather Lickers, A.D. Skinner, Drug Sweat, Pregnancy Scares, Whipper, and Cuntz. On its debut 12" New Vietnam, Civic comes hard with seven blistering cuts mixing the timeless style of '70s punk with the wildfire aggression of Detroit rock. The influences are obvious, but who cares?! This is old school punk rock n' roll done right! If you appreciate ripping leads, pummeling riffs, hard-hitting drums, and a singer who can really holler, this is definitely the band for you. I love how everything sounds so raw and loud! They really managed to get that "live" energy captured on tape. The opening 1-2 punch of "Nuclear Son" and the title track will rock you into next week, and the band's attack doesn't really slow from there (except on the Lou Reed inspired "Street Machine Dream", which I totally dig). I'm left wanting more, which is exactly the way it should be on a punk band's debut release. Truly hot stuff! New Vietnam is available on vinyl and CD from the Aussie label Anti Fade. Get the 12" while you can!