Reviews

Ryan Hertel

The Bragging Lads Half Empty LP

This band is unabashedly ’90s-style pop-punk in the vein of the BOUNCING SOULS. There is a small venue jump and shout and drink whatever comes in a tall can for cheap vibe here. The lyrical content focuses heavily on being in bands, touring the country, friends dying, and just hanging out. There’s a fun times atmosphere throughout, but it’s often hard to tell how hard they’re taking anything seriously. Case in point is “Bravo,” a corny 30-secondish love song that may either be a joke or may be completely, awkwardly serious. The BRAGGING LADS are certainly not a joke band, so it’s unclear. The repeating backup vocals on “Anyhow” are classic and work perfectly. Overall, the winning crowd pleaser of the album is “Castaway,” continuing the tradition of the second song on an album always rocking. This band and this album will fit nicely into your rotation of LIFETIME, PULLEY, and the like.

Quaker Wedding In Transit LP

The Jilted Lover 7” was the perfect teaser to this full-length presentation of mature angst. The assumption of JAWBREAKER love and comparison to the GASLIGHT ANTHEM are still deserved throughout this expansion to ten songs. The working class, music veteran vibe with members from all over who have lived all over is on full display here. The intro to the album on “Sinking Ship” is strong, loud, and desperate. It’s the aura of cheap beer soaked into rotting floorboards at the local dive that then continues throughout the whole album. The line, “I’ve become a Midwest lyric / Even though six months I moved away,” from “Aching” is a particularly throat straining and somber scream. While the vocalist has guts that he is ready to show you by throwing them up right onto the floor, the drums and guitars are very proud to stand right beside him, soaked in Scotch and equally in need of a good time after considering the weight of the world outside of the venue. This trio is a force to be reckoned with and is sure to someday make its way across the country and rattle the foundations of every saloon, local, and pub they come across.

Mikey Erg Bon Voyage EP

MIKEY ERG, formerly of the ERGS, has written a love letter to the 7” format with Bon Voyage. With three new songs acting as a sampler of his capabilities and a cover of the BEATLES’ “Mother Nature’s Son” to fill out the B-side, Mr. Erg will garner clapping and wooting from the rabid fanbase of his past band, and may even pull in some newbies through his infectious enthusiasm. The A-side is pop-punk designed for a festival setting, meant to lure in beer-holding, newly balding 30-something dudes who don’t fit their T-shirt the way they used to. The B-side then sonically explodes with speed and excitement with “Colleen” before moving into the sneering-while-smiling tune of the previously mentioned cover. This 7” is a fantastic proof of concept document for those that somehow missed the last nearly two decades of Mikey’s career, and it will be a quick and healthy dose for those that have been craving more.

Born Shit Stirrers Lester LP

I wanted to hate this at first. “This is just another ‘we can just do offensive grindcore and no one can tell we have no passion’ record,” I said to myself. I was wrong about the passion and the genre. This collection of UK expats in Japan make some super fun, super concise punk jams. They’re the kind of immature and snotty that can only come with many years of experience perfecting immaturity and snottiness. Offensive for offensiveness’s sake is typically a pretty boring choice, and heavily featuring samples from American Beauty and featuring Kevin Spacey as Lester Burnham on the cover seems to be just negatively provocative more than entertaining. However, there is enough going on here to shine through the less desirable choices made by the band. There is some legitimate instrumental and lyrical talent on display here, so taking a couple minutes to sample a few of their songs would not be wasted time. The first five tracks will barely cost you three minutes. “Smash Your Smartphone” rings like a classic X song, “The Worm” is a punk rock joy, and “Kurosaki” is a ska-tinged 90 seconds of movie dialogue before going straight into anarcho-punk aggression for another 30.

Miscalculations The Perfect Candidate LP

This London group is sometimes art-gothy, sometimes pop-punky, but always energetic. It often has a similar energy as the A.K.A.S (ARE EVERYWHERE!), especially in the electro/keyboard-like noises focus, or the less ska-ey end of the SUICIDE MACHINES. “The Blurred Line Between Art and Crime” is a great track to dip your toe into. It’s a danceable good time that feels unstoppable as it plugs along with juggernaut strength. “Brutalist Parade” almost feels like it’s about to bring you to an industrial show in a secret warehouse somewhere right before ending the album on one final and abrupt shout. This is a hip wigglin’ electro punk album for those that can’t help but dance when given even the slightest inspiration to do so.

Quaker Wedding Jilted Lover / Where You Used To Live 7”

This is working person’s music. These are the kind of songs that say “we’ve been in plenty of other bands and learned a lot of things. This is the culmination of that learning. Now we’ll just keep getting better.” In the descriptions, they are proud to explain the geographic origins of these two tracks, as there are many miles on these three NYC musicians with references to Portland and Corvallis, OR and a history with Detroit. “Where You Used To Live” is a road song in that you feel like you’re following along with the singer as he walks past every landmark he names. It’s very easy to hear JAWBREAKER love in both the writing and delivery of the vocals, especially in the vocal cord strain on display in “Jilted Lover.” The drums and guitars display a dedicated, drunken confidence of musicians who are doing this because they compulsively need to. These are two angry, poetic love songs that deserve your time and aren’t afraid to demand it. Hop on the train with these guys now so you won’t regret missing it like you did with the GASLIGHT ANTHEM so many years ago.

Dangereens Tough Luck LP

Jingly jangly piano! Jingly jangly guitar! Jingly jangly trumpet and sax! This is some sharp and full-bodied rock and/or roll from Montreal, which seems to have a never-ending supply of great art seeping out from it. This is the kind of rock that you may initially be struck with the inclination to say “Hey! They’re ripping off…” and then realize you can’t actually pick the band. It sounds familiar, but that’s because this collection of musicians is just that good. There’s some glam, some garage, some power pop, and a whole lot of frantic energy. The first line of the album is “Here I am,” and from that point on, you’ll feel like you’re on a musical journey with a very showy guide. Check out “Streets of Doom,” for a foot-tappin’, booty shakin’ sampler of the glory.

Broadway Calls Meet Me On The Moon / Call It Off (Acoustic) 7″

This 7″ is one of those releases that exists just to signal to fans that the band is still doing that thing they liked back when. It might pull in a few new people here and there, but it’s mostly a nostalgia call for older fans. There’s no experimentation or anything really new here in this love song single. That said, it is very well done and shows they’ve put in their hours doing their thing. “Meet Me On The Moon” is the pop-punk, BOUNCING SOULS sound that BROADWAY CALLS has always had, just slightly fresher. The B-side is an acoustic version of “Call It Off,” the first song off the band’s first album. The vocalist seemed unsure how to make the whoa-oh-ohs of the original work all slowed down and acoustic, but he tries…

Gino and the Goons Do the Get Around LP

This is that RAMONES-based drunk punk “bad boy” thing that feels dated and unnecessary except when the SPITS do it. I’ll even give a pass to PERSONAL AND THE PIZZAS, because at least their gimmick includes pizza. It’s the musical equivalent to a comedian still trying to do Andrew Dice Clay bits in the year 2020. It’s like meeting that guy at a party that says “women are things!” and when called on it tries to explain, “I’m just being offensive, cuz that’s punk!” This Florida trio seems to think they’re doing a STOOGES impersonation, but it somehow comes off simultaneously as try-hard and lazy. “Prissy Missy” especially misses the mark, just kind of feeling like a sweaty old man hitting on every girl he sees with heavy panting and “come on baby, let’s step out and talk” creepiness. I wouldn’t want to be alone with this band, because I cannot stand for another lecture on how “PC” everyone’s gotten and how music’s “supposed to be fun!”

The Bombpops Death in Venice Beach LP

Since their Fat Wreck Chords debut in 2017, the BOMBPOPS have been popping up on everyone’s radar, and this is the album that should keep them there. They’d previously developed a mastery of the SoCal skate punk sound mixed with killer vocal harmonies that got them on Fat, so now they were able to use that and focus on their lyrics and storytelling. This album finds them in a scary place. Addiction, suicidal ideations, and interpersonal violence all pepper Death in Venice Beach like a fine spice. In the end, there’s a reluctant optimism to the overall feel of the album, but you might have a harder time finding it than you’d expect. There is a complexity here that demands your time. “13 Stories Down” is the perfected version of the sad song every punk kid wrote in high school when they thought they weren’t going to make it. “Notre Dame” and “Double Arrows Down” are some standout tracks that really complete this all-around superb release.

Less Miserable Insufficient Funds LP

These four Canadians like playing with their genre and their tempo to keep from being easily described. This is like a new, long-awaited HAGFISH album in that way. With the upbeat, fast “let’s go, let’s go” opening, you’d be forgiven for assuming you’ve stepped into a pretty straightforward pop punk album, but as it proceeds, you really get to see how dexterous this band can be. The vocalist can expertly dive from monotone talk-singing (“Functional Embarrassment”) to country-style crooning (“Sleepwalker”) to that strained shout where you have to lean back two feet from the mic to not peak all the levels, seemingly without slowing down. The elevator music bridge on “The Last Lonely Boy” is unexpected but wonderfully refreshing. The triple vocals on “Soul In Progress,” especially the back-and-forth male/female interplay, are excellently balanced and gratifying. This band excels in the dark, sad lyrics set to super fun and happy sounding music realm. This is particularly apparent in the ska-laced “Almost Fun.” There is a lot of goodness going on here, and it seems like they’re just getting started. Also, they’re pretty funny.

Dead Bars Regulars LP

DEAD BARS make pub punk with nostalgia for a time when you could still smoke inside and get a PBR for $1.25. Every song is handcrafted to be sung with a choir of people you only know from inside that bar. “Rain” opens with an exhilarating guitar shriek and provides some of the most enjoyably ugly string work on the record. “I’m a Regular” is probably the best example of the lyrical and vocal strengths available on the album. Finally, “You Never Left” closes the album and hangs around for a long time to once again illustrate just how solid the musicianship, both instrumentally and vocally, was on the ten preceding tracks. This is punk rock and roll that allows itself to be as fun as it is sincere. It’s probably safe to expect this crew to become road dogs and play near you soon and then again four months later.

Fatamorgana Terra Alta LP

This upbeat synthesizer dance party from Barcelona features so many artificial handclaps that, at a certain point, I began to find it hard to differentiate between the claps and the snare. It began to drive me mad right before I blacked out from the electronically induced confusion. Upon waking, the echoing, haunted vocals then gave me hallucinations like I was seeing a new planet for the first time. Luckily, the beeps and boops from the keys provided the perfect new planet, sci-fi soundtrack. This is atmospheric and gothy background music. It’s got moments of punk inspiration, but it’s never particularly intrusive. “Until” is particularly pulsing and spooky. “Espacio Profundo” has a fill-the-room, heavier sound.

Set-Top Box TV Guide Test LP

This compilation of this Aussie band’s earlier cassette releases is DEVO-worship with more of a rusted-out electronics flair. While it sometimes comes off like a cuddly version of MINISTRY, it just as often feels like the POLYSICS got into PCP.  The first half of this release will take the listener to a weirdo punk show in a basement space, and the second half leans heavy into a gothy dance party on a sunny day under a dingy overpass. “Terrorvision” is a solid punk jam, despite being long for this album at just over 2 minutes and 30 seconds. “Data Lost…” is the soundtrack to depressed robots taking over your planet and way of life. Wrap your favorite body parts in tin foil, dye your eyebrows blue, and get ready to sweat out chemicals when you listen to this one.

Control Top Covert Contracts LP

What we have here is dance punk rock’n’roll for indie punk spaces jammed into crumbling strip malls. It’s dancy, loud, abrasive, and grooving. The vocalist, Ali Carter, is channeling Kathleen Hanna at her angriest, and there are more than a few times that you’ll pick up some LE TIGRE vibes in the lighter moments. In the louder moments, you’ll just enjoy the rage, like a KITTEN FOREVER with cleaner vocals. Throughout, the guitars are sharp, knifelike, and ready to sonically stab stab stab your ear holes. “Ego Death” is the perfect combination of all of CONTROL TOP’s best traits and should bring you into the fold. “Type A” should make you wiggle dance, even if you don’t want to.

Makewar Get It Together LP

There is no weak link in this tight three-piece punk ensemble. It’s been a cliché since the mid-’90s that all of the bands on Fat have “that Fat sound” and sound alike. It’s not really ever been that true that many or even most of the bands sound that similar, but people like to talk shit. That said, MAKEWAR might be an example of what you’d call “that classic Fat sound,” and people would fully understand what you were saying. This band is a new and improved take on GOOD RIDDANCE or STRUNG OUT, with an additional bilingual flare from Venezuela and Colombia. “Oh Brother” is their sound presented pure and simple on a platter for you. “No Más” is some good clean hardcore. In a rare occurrence, the album finishes stronger than it began with two of the best tracks, “Hands on the Tyrant” and “Get It Together,” closing it out. If the massive leap in quality from their previous (and still awesome) releases is to be believed, this is a band that is going to command everyone’s attention soon.

Hagar the Womb Hagitate 10″

The women-led duel and gang vocals on every track of this reunion project are the reason to check this out. After breaking up in the late ’80s and reuniting in 2012, this is the most complete and realized new release from HAGAR THE WOMB. Of course there are a lot of similarities here to POISON GIRLS, early CHUMBAWAMBA, and Penis Envy CRASS, but, at the end of the day, Hagitate just feels like a vanity project not unlike the STEVE IGNORANT WITH PARANOID VISIONS albums that have come out over the last few years. The songs are still good and the band is enjoyable, but they will have a hard time living up to the original period of UK anarcho punk they were a part of. The song “Show Off” pretty much explains that they just wanted to get on stage again and have fun, and while there is nothing wrong with that, it does feel like it can water down a legacy. Sometimes it’s nice to see people form new bands and projects instead of going back to the well. This is a very enjoyable release if you love 30- or 40-year-old anarcho punk, but there is certainly nothing mandatory about it.

Screaming Females Singles Too LP

B-sides and rarities compilations are always a mixed bag, and this collection is no different. Some of the early 7″ tracks suffer more than benefit from their lack of recording quality. “Arm Over Arm” and “Zoo of Death” from 2006 certainly hint at what SCREAMING FEMALES would become, but they’re better off as a curiosity than an example. However, “Pretty Okay” from their 2008 split with FULL OF FANCY might be the standout track on the comp and still makes it into their live set not infrequently. The most unique inclusion is a remix of the droney “End of My Bloodline,” with new rapped verses by SAMMUS and MOOR MOTHER. It’s a killer track, despite sticking out like a sore thumb from all of the other lo-fi garage punk tracks. This would likely not be a great introduction to the band for a newcomer, but there is more than enough quality music here to make this a necessity for veteran fans of the band.

Möwer Möwer LP

MÖWER are loud, dirty MOTÖRHEAD worship from Pittsburgh. You can practically smell the live show through this record, and it reeks of cheap beer and day-old cigarette smoke. The grinding guitars and vocalist’s horrifying cackle on “Outlaw Heathens” let you know the kind of thrashy horror show you’re in for just after it’s too late to save yourself. This Japanese version of the band’s debut on Splattered Records is the definitive, must-have edition. For one, they up the artwork 1000% by adding Death riding a motorcycle and proudly declaring themselves “Motor Speed Punks from Hell,” in both Japanese and English. The two added live tracks are also the perfect enticement to grab this as soon as you find it. This is the kind of album you learn to sing along to if you want to develop that perfect “I live above a bar” snarl.

Potty Mouth SNAFU LP

POTTYMOUTH already had a very strong debut in 2013 with Hell Bent, but this album is such a massive improvement that the wait was fully worth it. The magic and chemistry they display here after taking their time to tour and yell at record labels has paid off in this cohesive magic disc released on bassist Ally Einbinder’s Get Better Records. Each menacing track clings to the next like a piece in a jigsaw puzzle. The transition between “Starry Eyes” and “Liar” sees vocalist Abby Weems dive into the deep end from a soothing, gentle crooner to a fully aggressive presence in a matter of seconds. The deliberate care taken into placing each track on this album has created a solid Jenga tower of tough ass punk that will stand tall for a long time.

Slow Crush Ease (Deluxe Edition) LP

This Belgian (but really from all over) quartet has taken shoegaze and somehow stripped the bullshit out of it. The thick, smothering blanket of guitars and drums stands no chance against the vocalist’s deep, penetrating bellows. She pulls herself out of the quicksand just to show you the glory in the danger. The A-side tracks are killer but were already released a few years ago on the previous edition of this release. The four newly added live tracks are the real reason to pick this up, and they demonstrate the massive growth the band has experienced in just a couple years. It’s like they found SUNNY DAY REAL ESTATE and MINERAL and said, “nah, we can do it better.” SLOW CRUSH seems to always be touring the US and Europe, so you should hit them up and grab this.

Talk Wrong Feral Bearings EP

The blank side of this EP holds beautifully silkscreened plants and leaves, and though they’re simple, I love them. They are pretty and delicate, which did not set me up for the music. This is sad dude music in the same vein as the LAWRENCE ARMS or the METHADONES. It’s modern punk rock for sad kids that can still drink a few beers and make it home to sleep in their own filth somewhat responsibly, but just dangerously enough to concern their parents and close friends who have watched them slowly deteriorate. This is lose your voice and forget half the night material. “Pill to Swallow” starts out with the singer shouting “Cigarettes bring out the worst in you,” and it felt like it was directed at me. Stop judging me, sir.

Catch As Catch Can Regular Vanilla LP

As soon as this started, Burger Records odors took over all of my senses. I was shocked that this wasn’t a new release from that label just due to the poppy, bubblegum garage vibrations being excreted by my speaker. Then I read that the cassette release will be coming out there, and all made sense in the world. This is four dudes from Germany who love them some garage pop saturated with oooooohs, ahhhhhhs, and jingly-jangly guitars. “Age of Coming” is a good pick if you want to anticipate a live sing-along, and “Pickle-Brine Chicken” is a real danceable jam about the culinary arts. These dudes have not reinvented any wheels, but this record is seeping with love of the genre.

The Carvels NYC Life Is Not a Waiting Room EP

This is some saxophone-heavy power pop, with forceful vocals projected by rhythm guitarist Lynne Von Pang. “Life is Not a Waiting Room” and “I Fell in Love with a Dead Boy” both offer some party- pop moments that would feel right at home in a live set opening for the RUBINOOS or SOUTHERN CULTURE ON THE SKIDS. As a counterpoint, “Scarcity” felt a little like listening to this band at a prom try to force a slow dance on kids who just want to dance like dum- dums. I would expect they have a fully entertaining stage presence, and know how to show the audience the good times. Based on this three- song sample though, I would expect to skip a few slower tracks on a longer release.