Reviews

Kayla Greet

The Missed Stiff EP

This is a three-piece featuring Mickey Mocnik from NERVOSAS on guitar and vocals. The song “Stiff” is so strong. It starts out with a basic beat with drums only, but then a heavy and twangy guitar riff cuts through for a measure or two before we hear Mickey’s wail to really kick off the song. “I Wanna Know” is a fucking great song too, but it’s quite frantic and I think it helps build the momentum they showcased in “Stiff.” There’s moments where I hear a lot of SHEER MAG, and by association THIN LIZZY, though I wouldn’t pigeonhole the MISSED as a power pop band. They have an awesome grit, fuzz, and sharpness to them, but also so much sweet, sweet melody. Great band.

Brat Curse Brat Curse LP

Straight out of Columbus, OH, BRAT CURSE leans heavily on a mixture of power pop and grunge. It takes some real vision to take two distinctly different genres and squish them into one band without it being a jarring clash between the two, though they manage to remind me of MARKED MEN, the BREEDERS, and LUSH all at the same time. There’s this beautiful guitar part over the bridge of “Under the Gun” that just screams late-’80s shoegaze. It’s almost like feedback, but instead it builds into this screechy warble that when put into words doesn’t sound appealing, though I promise it is! A layer of dreamy wash of melody undercuts many of their tracks, really making a case for adding shoegaze to their list of styles. They have a soft reverb on the vocals, snappy drums, and guitars that both wail and crunch. It’s mellow, yet upbeat. I’m into it.

Biznaga Gran Pantalla LP

This record starts off with a warm guitar hum that’s almost ethereal. Then the vocals come in softly with some reverb while the drums build quickly in the distance. It feels like I’m being transported to a far-off land of mystery and fantasy, and that’s just the song “Ventanas Emergentes” (“Pop-Up Windows”). The next track comes in hard with their singer’s gruff, powerful shouts that carry a strong melody. I can’t get over how fantastic the guitar layering is, though I think they only have one guitar player. As a whole, their songs are post-punk inspired, fuzzy, angry, and sung completely in Spanish as they are from Madrid. My Spanish isn’t strong enough to translate it all, but from the album title (Big Screen) and song titles like “2K20” and “Error 404,” it’s not hard to sort out that this record is about technology. From the tone of the songs and what I’ve been able to find online in interviews, Gran Pantalla covers the dystopian cyber-hellscape of today with so many people transfixed by their phones/tablets/smart TVs/etc. BIZNAGA’s music is dripping with passion and drive. I love the treatment of cymbals in their recording—just these far off splashes that still pound and shimmer over the guitar and bass. Songs are fast and so fucking energetic. Bands like this reaffirm my love for reviewing records because had MRR not assigned this one to me, I might have never been introduced to their beauty and power.

Sass Chew Toy LP

SASS are a four-piece from Minneapolis that self identify as “Midwest grunge pop.” I’m already sold on that description alone. The lead-off track “Nice Things” has this syncopated vocal melody in the chorus that sounds like a mermaid singing from the sea floor, though in the bridge of this same song, the singer really reminds me of Tonia from the LIPPIES. I think it’s a really nice mix of style and sound. In the song “Role Model,” the singer belts out these lines that really caught my attention: “Filling myself with empty calories / What even is an empty calorie / I can’t be myself / Around anyone else / There’s a list of things I can’t do / ’Cus I’m a shitty role model.” It’s a rad and disaffected song about how society expects a person to operate. Then in “Gut Feeling,” I hear a mix of the GITS and the BREEDERS, especially with that bass heavy intro. I’m fucking loving this.

Dark Thoughts Do You Dream / It’s Too Late 7”

Fuck yeah DARK THOUGHTS. Maybe this isn’t the best thing to admit, but when a band has a fucking stupid name like DIARRHEA PLANET (great band tho), I tend to avoid checking them out. But on the flip side, when they have a really cool name like DARK THOUGHTS, I wanna check them out right away. So these dudes have been making me tap my Converse and wiggle in my tight black jeans since shortly after their first LP. This new single has the best song they’ve possibly ever written as the A-side. “Do You Dream” is a minute and 18 seconds of pop-punk bliss. It’s oh so easy to write off a band when you see the word RAMONES-core associated with them and it totally feels fucking lazy to even put that in a description if I’m honest. Though I’ll be goddamned if these guys didn’t exclusively listen to the Fast Four and MEAN JEANS before writing their own songs. It’s a perfect mix and I recommend buying all their records like yesterday.

Bad Cop/Bad Cop The Ride CD

Besides having the best band name in punk, this LA-based four-piece has some of the top harmonizers in the genre. I don’t know if it’s shitty societal conditioning or what, but I find myself having some resistance to new BC/BC records. Part of it might be that whole bullshit holdover from JAWBREAKER that if a DIY band gets successful, we’re no longer allowed to like them. And yes, I realize I’m addressing this on a platform for which is notoriously anti-major label. BC/BC continue to release on Fat, when I’m sure they could easily garner attention from those “indie” majors. It’s like I’m trepidatiously enjoying their music as if they’re going to pull the wool over my eyes and sign to something with a major parent company because they’re such great songwriters. However, once I get past that stupid fear, I really, really love the music they make. This record is more of what we’ve come to expect from BC/BC: catchy-as-fuck punk with empowering lyrics. Their songs are often calls to action like in “Certain Kind of Monster” wherein they cover immigration and the horrors of ICE keeping people in cages. In that track, they push the fact that no one is illegal, nor should they be pushed out of their homes. So many of the tracks see Stacey Dee taking over lead vocals which I love because her voice walks a razor’s edge between pure guttural grit and saccharine sweet harmony. She’s also often backed up by Jenny Cotterill’s powerhouse pipes. In the song “Pursuit of Liberty,” I’m almost certain that Linh Le is taking the helm on that one (I don’t have liner notes to reference). Every song is an inspirational earworm, convincing me that the world is worth existing in and that each one of us (the royal punk “us”) has the capacity to be anything we want. Through all of these depression-crushing tracks, they spell it all out in “Community,” and fuck do I miss that element of this subculture right now! I love everything about this record. It’s a major contender for album of the year for me.

Hayley and the Crushers Jacaranda / Angelyne 7″

This is sunshine in audio form. There’s only two tracks on this release, but they are destined to cheer up even the shittiest malaise of pandemic life. They describe themselves as “One part punk-pop, one part sunny surf, all poolside glitter trash,” and now having listened to them, this makes total sense. Songs are glitzy, ’80s synth inspired, with lots of bubblegum and a hint of power pop. Hayley has a strong singing voice and it’s like each word that comes out is surrounded by little hearts and beach balls. The only downside to this release is that I wish I could actually be blasting it outside with friends in the sun. Maybe if we all wear masks…

Dinged Up Mucho Dolor LP

This record was released digitally in 2016, but thanks to the swell folks at Snappy Little Numbers in Denver, it’s gotten a proper release on vinyl now. The sound is not exactly homogeneous and that makes it difficult to pin down. But I’ll be goddamned if “Don’t Torture Me” isn’t the power pop banger of the summer. That track is just under four minutes and it’s a dancey romp the whole way through. Something that is worth mentioning is Joe Rankin (the person behind DINGED UP) recorded every single sound on the record themself. I’ll say that the vocals seem a little bit distant in the recording, but I think it works really well. Especially when they’re layered with woo-ooos and background vocals like in the song “Noose.” And Joe Rankin has such an interesting singing voice that helps DINGED UP stand out from the crowd. Many of the tracks are fast-paced, high-energy jams, though “Dial Tone” slows everything way down in the middle of the record and shows off their mellow side. I love all the guitar parts—many of them are sharp and piercing while carrying a nice melody, and the instruments are mixed really well. I’d recommend giving this one a spin if you’re looking for something different but in a very good way.

Partition Prodigal Gun LP

What we’ve got here is a three piece grungey as fuck band from Minneapolis. They pack a punch with their gritty, distorted guitar and screeching vocals. The songs are lo-fi and almost sludgey, but they also wail with some well timed solos. Reminds me a lot of MUDHONEY and bands of that ilk. PARTITION’s stuff sounds dingey, tough, and disinterested. Like something your cooler older sister might be into. They pull it off well.

Murder for Girls Done in the Dark CD

It gives me no pleasure whatsoever to write a bad review, especially when it comes to a band whose members are primarily female. I definitely did not like this and I’m even tempted to say it’s bad. The main vocalist sings off key in almost every song and sounds like a mix of Courtney Love and Corin Tucker. The secondary vocalist is much better, but lacks timing and conviction. The worst part of this band is that they’re boring. Just very bland delivery of the lyrics and the accompanying music is never very exciting. Of the nine tracks on this release, my least favorite is “Goth Girls,” and unfortunately it’s the longest song, clocking in at just over four minutes. What I dislike the most is the lyrics. For most of the verses they’re trying to squeeze too many syllables into each line. The chorus allows for some breathing room, and I even enjoy the backup vocals here, but overall the song sucks and it’s pretty cringeworthy. I was very underwhelmed by the entire release. The most interesting thing about it is that it was recorded, produced, and mixed by Tommy Stinson, but even that couldn’t save it for me.

Totenwald Forward to the Past EP

Holy shit, I just stepped foot into a smoky, European, strobe-light-ridden ’80s new wave club. It’s 2:00 AM and shit is just starting to pop off. This is clearly one of those word-of-mouth, “ask a punk” spots that operates by its own rules and closes whenever people are done dancing and drinking. Maybe I’ve just arrived after reapplying my SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES level amount of eye makeup from sweating it out at another club. Or maybe I don’t start my night until after the witching hour. TOTENWALD (German for “Death Forest”) is the band owning the stage, and they are a time machine. One of their songs is even called “1984,” just a year before I was born but I feel like I’m right there with them 36 years ago banging our heads against the Berlin Wall. I think a lot of people are going to want to compare this band to X-RAY SPEX because of the female vocals and saxophone(!), but I think that’s unfair. They’re dark, gothy, distorted, synthy, angry, dancey, and radical. Also, just go look at pictures of them right now. Every one (including live clips!) genuinely looks like it’s from the ’80s, but this record actually came out in 2020. This four-piece is from Berlin and the past and the current timeline. Even the art packaging on the record is super fucking new wave punk. It rules. I definitely recommend entering this club. Just make sure you brought enough clove cigarettes and eyeliner with you.

Mesa Lanes Red Wine & Yellow Pills LP

This is a Southern California band who was formerly known as DODGE DART that formed in 1995. I don’t know the specifics of how close the current lineup is from the previous band, but there seems to be a lot of crossover, especially as far as songwriters go. Honestly there are many songs on this release that I just don’t understand what their message is. The lyrics are so vague that they don’t quite tell a full story, though there are some simpler ones that poke fun at American bros, the guy who is president, senators, and drug use. There are songs that covertly reference what seems to be heroin withdrawal in “Bobby Pin,” desires for casual hook ups in “Action,” and violence spurred by jealousy in “Gonna Fuck You Up.” While I don’t love all the words in every song, I definitely do love how absolutely catchy each one is. Their drummer is a powerhouse and keeps a tight, snappy beat. They trade off vocal duties between four different members! My favorite singer being the soulful Audrey Sjobeck. This is a record written by folks who have at least 25 years put into making music and it shows.

Pretty Matty / Sad Baxter Why Not Be Something That You Are? / Lately split 7″

This is a two-song split with PRETTY MATTY on first. Their track is gritty and their singer is really going for it. You can hear their voice ready to give out but it never does. It’s not exact, but the opening riff on the PRETTY MATTY track really reminds me of the distorted sounds of JESUS AND MARY CHAIN’s “The Living End.” I love this track. It’s raspy, poppy, and quick. They get straight to the point. And the backup vocals are perfect. Now on to side two! SAD BAXTER is quite different than the first band’s track. It’s slower, and has a brighter melody, plus rich, breathy singing that reminds me of the singer of BULLY but with far less rasp. There’s a set of lyrics towards the end of the song that goes as follows: “I blame myself for thinkin’ and feelin’ / Blame myself for hating you / Blame myself for sleepin’ too much / Blame myself like I’m not enough / Blame myself for thinkin’ crazy / I blame myself for all things lately,” and boy is that awfully close to my quarantine experience. So I’m going to stop blaming myself for not knowing this band and instead go listen to all of their songs now. That goes for you too PRETTY MATTY. Both of y’all are fantastic.

The Globs The Weird and Wonderful World of The Globs LP

Whoa, what a mess of noise! And I mean that in the most positive way. There is a lot going on here, and I’m way into it. Helmed by Mike of the BANANAS, he is joined by two other vocalists, and the male and female vocals mix with each other so well. One is gruff and loud, the others pitchy and shrill, both so warmly melodic. OK, now that we covered that part, let’s get to the music. Uhhhh, this is going to be way more of a challenge. They say they were attempting to make a punk version of the E STREET BAND and By George, I think they’ve done it. We’ve got keys, sax, tambourine(?), fast drums, rad riffs, and thundering bass lines. I mean, where the hell are the maracas and egg shakers? I have to say, I’m disappointed that they didn’t go fully to the nines on this one. Just kidding, this band is bananas! Do you need some cheering up lately? I fucking bet you do. Put on the GLOBS and forget the world for as many times as you loop the record.

UV-TV Happy LP

Fantastic record. Their songs are super high-energy, catchy, and dancey. Like just the right mix of power pop and straight-up rock’n’roll, with a touch of “someone’s older sibling was into goth shit in the ’80s.” That’s a very technical genre that I just made up. The vocals have some reverb or something on them that make them feel distant and echoey. But they lay on top of the sonic melodies really nicely. There’s just something, like…ethereal about the way the singer sounds. I feel like without these powerful and slightly eerie vocals, the music is strong enough to stand on its own, but together they’re a force. They compare themselves to WHITE LUNG, and I think that’s very apt. The songs are artsy and have carried elements of influence through many decades. A little bit of ’80s smokey dance/goth vibes, side helping of unaffected ’90s indie rock attitude, and a topping of pop synth from the aughts. I think they’ve created a really cool soundscape here, and I’m stoked to hear it.

Supercrush Never Let You Drift Away

Oh, what a pretty bunch of songs. This has all the sensibilities of a fuzzed-out dream pop record that I was surprised that the main songwriter comes from a hardcore and metal background. Mark Palm is the guitarist and vocalist here, but he also was in BLACK BREATH (RIP Elijah Nelson, love and miss you) for the last five years, along with a handful of straightedge hardcore groups, including GO IT ALONE. A band that was on Southern Lord and had major clout in the metal scene internationally has produced a musician who can pull a 180 and put out a collection of sleepy pop jams in SUPERCRUSH. Not that the metal band is what allowed him to make such drastically different music, just laying some foundation to why I’m more impressed with this band than others in this style. This record is a collection of their first singles and unreleased songs while they’re hard at work on a proper full-length. Had I not read that on the internet, I would never have known. There’s nothing about these ten tracks that feels disjointed or separate. They sound part of a bigger whole, and bleed into one another seamlessly. On the last song there’s some spoken vocal samples that sound like they were lifted off a landline telephone’s voicemail machine. Little touches like that, as well as the layered distortion and sleepy vocals, thrust their sound back to the late ’90s alternative scene. They’re soft and quiet like as if TEENAGE FANCLUB toned down MY BLOODY VALENTINE, yet still nail that wall of sound. I couldn’t tell you what the songs are about, but mostly because I was lulled into a dreamy sense of calm while listening, and the only shock was when the record ended. Glad to know this band exists in Seattle so maybe I can go see them when this new hell freezes over.

Choked Up Dichoso Corazon CD

Up until now, I’ve only heard CHOKED UP’s previous EP from two years ago and I feel like the subject matter was more cute and light-hearted. This first full-length is considerably more despondent. There’s no songs like “BeBop and Rocksteady Together 4-Ever” which gave off a real “fuck the whole world—all that matters is us” vibe to it. This record is much more centered about broken hearts and empty bottles. Their sound hasn’t changed much, which is great. I really enjoy the guitar riffs, built-in melodies, and mid-tempo yet pounding drums. It’s pop punk that’s a little rougher around the edges. And this time around, those sounds come through so much sharper. The record was recorded at Sonic Iguana by Mass Giorgini and I have yet to hear a bad-sounding song come out of that studio. My only negative is that I just don’t care for the singing style most of the time. I don’t feel good saying it because I truly love everything that Cristy Road does, this band included. Yet a lot of times it feels pretty off-key to my ears. The lyrics are solid, the leads are sharp, all the songs inspire at the very least a head bob and some pogoing. Some of the songs are in Spanish and I’m left wishing I hadn’t taken three languages and instead just gotten decent at one of them. Spanish would be my first choice. My own personal gripe aside, I still enjoy listening to this release.

Sheer Mag A Distant Call LP

I’ve got mixed feelings on this release. I was first put on to SHEER MAG five years ago when I was chatting with some locals and ex-pats on the patio of the Ramones Museum in Berlin. We got to talking about THIN LIZZY and one of them championed SHEER MAG so hard that I sought them out as soon as I had another wi-fi connection. Holy smokes, they’re great at power pop. Christina’s voice is so fucking incredible and like no other. On “Silver Line,” she belts out “I need a siiiiilver line” and it gives me chills to hear those notes stretched out over several beats. I also particularly love the mellow vibes of that song as well as the transition into a anxious melody in “Hardly to Blame.” Plus those THIN LIZZY distorted guitar lines punch through in the verse. “Blood From a Stone” is another that brings more of the well-worn method of songwriting that SHEER MAG has given us over the years. While I don’t like to pigeonhole bands into a sound, I don’t always love when I’m hit with something totally out of left field. So the opener “Steel Sharpens Steel” threw me for a loop with Christina’s power metal wail breaking through and the palm-muted guitar riffs. Songs cover subjects like classism, body positivity, and human rights, among others. Overall I like this record, though personally I could stand for an entire catalog of songs like “Fan the Flames” and “Nobody’s Baby.” Glad that the band is growing, but I’m happy to have them fly close to their roots.

J. Graves Marathon LP

On my first pass through, I didn’t love or hate this. Jessa Graves sings in this style that’s, like, quiet-loud. She sort of whispers into a rise and shout and then lets it trail off at the end of each line. Even in some words her vocal volume wavers between a tipsy friend trying to tell you a secret and a sober one telling you it’s time to fucking go! But also she has this piercing sweetness and clarity to her voice with tons of power behind it. She also plays guitar in this band and I have to say, that opening riff on the B-side (bass as well) is real good. I’m pretty drawn to the song “Leap Year.” It’s more than the lyrics “Did you forget that all along / That I was just your ghost?” that make this song feel super haunted. And Graves is certainly a proficient writer. All these songs are quite wordy, but nothing feels extra or out of place. Engineered and mixed by Stan Wright of ARCTIC FLOWERS, which is pretty rad. To be candid, these songs didn’t grab me at first blush, but two or three spins through they’re starting to get stuck in my head. The cover art for this is an X-ray of her chest cavity and it came with a handwritten note saying she’s just getting started. I love this energy and what I’m hearing from this group.

No Sugar Rock’n’Roll Isn’t Boring, It’s You LP

The first thing I did after putting this record on was to turn it up. The second thing I did was turn it waaay up. This band rips. Reminds me an awful lot of NO WEATHER TALKS. Maybe because both have female singers and are from Germany? Could be that there’s just something about the German accent singing in English, which I am so grateful for because I also love what their songs are about. Right out the gate they’re denouncing sexual harassment in the song “Time’s Up.” There’s a line in that song that goes “A piece of cake? / Well I can’t bake / Give me a new recipe for equality,” and I just fucking love it. All these songs are full of high-energy, wailing vocals and jangly guitar. The lyrics for their song “Pizza Girl” is just as cheesy as you might imagine, but god damn is it catchy and dancey. Even though the track “Friends Like These” starts out with a kinda standard blues riff that tends to bore me, by the first chorus I am all in. This band rules. I’m bummed that this is the first I’ve heard of them, especially since I could have seen them at the past two Fests in Gainesville, but I’m glad I’m on board now! Oh, and it’s mastered by Dave Williams at Eight Floors Above. That guy is a great indicator for whether an album is gonna be good. This whole record rips.

Cheap Perfume Burn It Down LP

I’ve got a coworker who totally wears way too much cheap perfume. She practically showers in it, and I have to give her a wide berth whenever we pass in the hallway so I don’t suffer a headache the rest of the day. This record is the antithesis of that anecdote—it’s something that I would happily douse myself in in any setting and never worry about getting migraines. CHEAP PERFUME are a four-piece feminist as fuck band with fast dancey songs about rape culture, virtue signalers, nazi punching, and a JOAN JETT cover. While I feel so incredibly lazy in making this comparison, some of the songs (“Time’s Up” in particular) sound a hell of a lot like BIKINI KILL or LE TIGRE. Definitely has that kinda blown-out, screechy, female howl to the vocals. And yet the next track, “Fauminism,” is taken down several notches and delivered in this bouncy, pop punk, bubblegum package. I’m really into singing sweet harmonies about shitty false feminism. Great record. I love it.

[di: unru:] Misophonia LP

This is definitely something I’d flip past in a record shop and never consider picking up. I’m not even completely sure how to say the band’s name due to the punctuation surrounding it, as well as my limited knowledge of German and Finnish words. But holy smokes, I’m glad I have it now because this band rules. It’s synthy darkwave with strong and aggressive vocals, fantastic synth lines, and some real ace drumming. I sometimes am really turned off by ’80s-style bands because they overuse synth, and/or make the drums sound electronic. I’m not into EDM no matter what decade, so I definitely don’t want that mixing into punk subgenres. This band from Helsinki bridges the divide between JOY DIVISION and KILLING JOKE to stuff like WHITE LUNG and PLEASURE LEFTISTS. What surprised me as I looked over the lyric sheet was that while I loved the lyrics to “Flaws,” a song about body acceptance, I ended up thinking it was the only clunker on the record. It’s way slower than the rest of the tracks, is missing their awesome driving drums, and I wasn’t into the reverb on the vocals. But the song right after that, “Kick the Habit,” which I thought the lyrics were just all right, ended up being the most catchy on the whole record for me. I’m really into this record and stoked to have it in my collection.

Fire Heads / Sex Scenes split 12″

Whoa. FIRE HEADS are blisteringly fast and aggressive, yet carry an anxious melody throughout. I instantly loved their side of the split. It’s parts sloppy, meandering, and gripping. It’s also all parts a punch to the face. The singer screams along with driving beats, while symbols constantly crash around them, and quick riffs are pummeled through the guitars. At times there’s a fuzzy distortion on the vocals that makes them seem ever more out of control. Though their main appeal is their ability to manage the ever-present chaos, which slows down for brief measures just to allow a tiny bit of breathing room among the wonderful noise they’re making. The SEX SCENES side is some pretty straightforward tough guy hardcore with songs about Elder Gods. I appreciate their horror-inspired lyrics, just don’t care one way or the other for the songs.

More Kicks More Kicks LP

This three-piece from London delivers some solid power pop with a bubblegum sheen. You get a very polished and clean recording all the way through, which can feel a little clinical, but there’s a fair amount of fuzz here, as well as occasional vocal distortion. The bass comes through really strong, almost too heavily in the mix. Overall, I think the tracks are well-balanced and inspire singalongs on the first spin. Guitar is piercingly clear, though not as gritty as I’d like it to be. They sound like mod revival and more on the ’60s garage end of the power pop equation. Typically I’m into stuff with faster riffs when it comes to this genre, but I like it just fine. Though it’s not credited on the the liner notes, it sounds like there are keys on the track “She’s a Reaction,” and it’s a nice melody to fit in. My favorite song is “I’m on the Brink,” though I still do wish it was just a smidge faster. Cool band, good way to start off sunny days.

Snuggle! Holiday Heart LP

If this is your first introduction to SNUGGLE!, you’ve arrived at just the right time. I don’t say that to disparage any of their previous recordings (their full-length on 1-2-3-4 Go! is pretty fantastic, and they have a split with BENT OUTTA SHAPE), but more to heavily prop up this new release. Years ago I was neighbors with Jerome who sings in this band, which we found out by watching an abandoned squat house burn down in our shared alleyway together. I think the correlation here is that this band would watch the destruction of something so anti-capitalist, and still manage to pen an uplifting yet mournful anthem about it. The best I can think to describe SNUGGLE! is crust-informed pop punk. They have the speed that a lot of bubblegum punk lacks, but paired with sincere as fuck emotional lyrics about the human existence. I feel lucky that I’ve been able to see them play several times over the years, and am so happy there’s finally a recording of their song “Twinspeak.” The lyrics to this track are so emblematic to the comparison I made earlier: “Won’t let this be a crash and burn / From lift off, to return / Smoke rings fill the sky / Calligraphy to a night that understands / Understands gibberish.” It’s Aaron Cometbus’ modern day CRIMPSHRINE, but sung by a strong voice that’s raspy, nasal, and guttural. Sometimes Jerome’s voice breaks in a charming way that makes me think of what Bobcat Goldthwait would sound like fronting a punk band. They’re fucking great, and I’m stoked that we’re closing in on 2020 and there’s a new SNUGGLE! record in the world.

Laika’s Orbit Chosen No Ones LP

This band was new to me, but big surprise, they’re on Dead Broke Rekerds and they’re excellent. Somehow, those two qualities tend to walk hand-in-hand. LAIKA’S ORBIT is a four-piece power pop band from Western Mass, whose songs tend to circle around relationships, emotional well-being, and hooks big enough to snare a whale. When I first put this on, I was in a truly shitty mood, but by the end of these twelve tracks, I’d forgotten what was upsetting me in the first place. The singer of this band has such range and soul to his voice. While I don’t think he’s an Aussie, he reminds me quite a bit of the crooner from ROYAL HEADACHE, only without the slight reverb-y vocal effect put on. Towards the end of the record, they slow things way down with an acoustic romp called “Fryolator.” If this record was balanced the opposite way (heavily unplugged and with only one full-band electric song), I don’t think I would care for it much. But this rogue break from standard orbit is a welcome change of pace that I didn’t even know I wanted. “Laundromat” is the surprise standout for me. Not so much for the lyrics, pacing, or tempo—though those are all selling points. It’s the fucking guitar hooks. Something about the palm-muted riffs followed by ascending power chords really wins me over. Great record, definitely worth seeking out and spending some time with.

The Darbs The Darbs LP

Mediocre mid-tempo pop punk that never goes anywhere for me. The vocals sound either blown-out or just incapable of hitting the notes they’re aiming for. I wouldn’t call him a bad singer, but I certainly wouldn’t call him good either. Honestly I’m just really bored by every song on this record. Nothing ever really gets my attention in a positive or negative way; inoffensive is the best way I can think to describe it, which is probably an insult to punk bands everywhere. On “Sitting Around” they straight up lift the opening riff of JAWBREAKER’s “Boxcar,” but it’s not like they, or the reunited East Bay titans, were the first to purpose those notes.

The Dialers The Dialers LP

These guys started out very strong on the first track. I thought I was gonna get an earful of solid power pop with fast beats and sharp leads, and I was excited. Turns out that’s just one version of what I was getting. The rest of this record never quite hits the same tempo as the first song, though it sticks with the power pop feel throughout. There’s plenty of strong material in here, but for a good portion of the record, I feel like it needs to be mined deeper or pushed a little harder. Some of the songs just feel like a watered down version of the TRANZMITORS, or the VIBRATORS. And the singer reminds me of JOEY CAPE at times. There’s nothing wrong with this music, but I wish they had more of a bite to them.

Kira Jari Spooky Freaky EP

Not every great band is from Denton, TX, yet every band from Denton that I’ve heard is great. There must be something in the rock’n’roll water out there. KIRA JARI just popped onto my radar with this collection of four searingly quick punk songs. As a four-piece, they’re able to let some of the guitar melodies breathe while either layering some sweet solos or strong rhythm parts over the top. The song “Seasick” sounds so much like something I’ve heard before but just can’t place, and a lot of that musical amnesia comes from the fact that they switch things up so much in the span of just over two minutes. Like there’s some weirdness of the MINNEAPOLIS URANIUM CLUB, mixed with sharp leads à la MARKED MEN (sorry, couldn’t help but think of the kings of Denton, but also Jeff Burke recorded this), and a lot of the scrappiness you’d find in BENT OUTTA SHAPE. And I’m probably gonna get a few raised eyebrows on this one, but I hear some SHEER MAG, if nothing besides the effects on their vocal harmonies. Just like you can always trust bands from Denton, Dirt Cult delivers another awesome release from a band I might not have otherwise heard about.

Adult Magic Adult Magic LP

With every song, it’s increasingly difficult to believe this is a three-piece. Maybe it’s because all three share vocal duties, but a lot of it has to do with how they fill space with their instruments. The drums are constantly covering open moments with crashing cymbals, though ricocheting in the lo-fi background like a white noise. The guitar is both fuzzed-out and clean, depending on the needs of the song, and oftentimes alternates back and forth within the same track. The bass, for me, is seemingly buried in many songs, but when I start to listen for it, the warm and stark tones were there the whole time. They’re abrasive, yet catchy as hell. Vocals mix from guttural to rough to melodic, and everything in between. In the first track, “Achin’,” there’s these wonderful little “ba-ba-bahs” slightly hidden in the background of the second verse, and I just love them. It’s a record that continues to deliver things you might not have noticed on the first pass through. Also, the opening of that first track reminds me a lot of “Tracks” by Portland’s DIVERS. ADULT MAGIC has a lot of big hooks that carry through, no matter the tempo of the song. Unsurprisingly, and almost unfairly to mention, I hear many moments akin to IRON CHIC songs (both bands share two members), but they’re delivered quite differently. Not even just that there’s different singers, but there’s more texture and grit to the ADULT MAGIC tracks, where IRON CHIC’s strengths are building a homogeneous wall of sound. I also love the guest vocals of Mimi Gallagher, especially on the song “Demotivation,” which took me a few listens to fully appreciate. This release took nearly two years to come to fruition, and the work they put into it is noticeable. Solid release.

Joey Cape Let Me Know When You Give Up CD

You know, I was never a big fan of this guy’s output. Whether it’s the skate punk of LAGWAGON, the grungy BAD ASTRONAUT, or cheesy covers in ME FIRST AND THE GIMME GIMMIES, none of it piqued my interest. This latest effort is his first solo record in four years. A fair portion of it is quiet and intimate in a way that had me a little checked out. The titular track does this really pretty thing when it transitions from this subdued lullaby on an acoustic guitar with a phone ringing in the distance. Right when he starts singing “As we wait wait for sea change / Wait for the next wave” there’s this crescendo that he builds to vocally and it’s really nice. But then the drums, electric guitar, and piano jump in, and it sounds like something I’d hear at youth group. Then the very next track chugs along with this lean towards country that I hear in the play between the drums and a slightly twangy guitar. It’s not like there’s a western lilt to his voice, it’s more just a vibe I get. The very next song, “Daylight,” croons in with this ghostly choir of “oooooh”s, some strings, and soft, sleepy vocals. On this record, there’s some weird synth that sounds almost like a theremin, there’s a lap steel, and there’s a female vocal accompaniment. All over the map. I’ll say this: the guy really knows how to build to a break, make strong song arrangements, pen intentional and thoughtful lyrics, and he has a deft control of his voice paired with strong delivery. Each song sounds different from the other, with the only cohesive element being Joey’s singing. This record is anything but solo and, to me, feels like alternative adult contemporary made by a punk. I don’t quite know where to land on this. He’s mentioned in interviews that this is meant to be a distraction from deluge of politics, and if that’s what it aims to do, then it’s perfectly fine background noise.