Reviews

Matt McCracken

Cromo En Otro Lugar EP

This Spanish three-piece puts out a strong effort here. Kinda poppy, kinda dark, hella catchy. Musically this has elements that bring to mind the MARKED MEN, the LILLINGTONS, and SCREECHING WEASEL while remaining original enough to keep the listener interested. Six songs in total, one of which sounds like SCREECHING WEASEL’s “Hey Suburbia” with the chords slightly switched and in a different key, and one entitled “P.I.D. (Paul is Dead)” which has the vocal pattern of the BEATLES’ “Help” during the verses, which now makes me wonder if that was intentional?

The Jacklights Drift CD

Female-fronted melodic punk that just slightly misses the mark for me. I can’t quite put my finger on what cylinder this isn’t firing. I enjoy the vocals, and while technically there’s nothing bad here musically, it just isn’t clicking for me. Together it just comes off as generic and kinda boring at certain points. There’s just that little something extra missing here.

The Animal Steel A Surefire Way to Get Sober LP

The first thing that struck me about this record was its cover art, a drawing of a deconstructed George “The Animal” Steele, pro wrestling legend and apparent namesake of this Denver-based quartet. The cover art is stylistically very reminiscent of that used by IRON CHIC, but that’s where any similarities stop. Well that, and the fact that both bands are named after 1980s WWF wrestlers. When I put the record on I was pleasantly surprised by the sounds that began to pump out of the speakers. Songs and melodies that are structured somewhere in between a less abrasive version of early SMALL BROWN BIKE and a punker, grittier BRAID or HEY MERCEDES. With each listen I find something else I enjoy about this record and a hankering to hear more. Good stuff, I can see exciting things on the horizon for this band.

Mixed Signals So Far Gone cassette

MIXED SIGNALS have made an album that somehow bridges the gaps between gruff-voiced punk, dreamy pop, and THIS BIKE IS A PIPE BOMB. On the surface this shouldn’t work, but somehow it does and it is fucking rad! This cassette is limited to 100, so if this sounds appealing to you I’d try and grab a copy with haste before they’re on the internet for an outrageous price. It’s that awesome.

Loose Behaviour 4 Songs in North Carolina EP

This band is made up of members of the ERGS!, the SLOW DEATH, the RAGING NATHANS, and the ARTERIES. Each of the four members contributes lead vocals to their individual track. These four songs, despite the vocal differences, flow together well. The biggest thing that calls out to me while listening to this is that even though the pedigree of this is decidedly anchored in the punk scene, this is more of an alt-rock vibe, dare I even say a “mature pop punk” record. I can’t stop listening to this. It’s that fucking good.

Quaker Wedding Russian Hill / Running List 7″

Okay. Here’s the thing, and I believe I made this point in another review. This is a lathe-cut 7”. Limited to 25 copies. Why? Why is this a trend? Why exude the energy of writing and recording these songs and then spend the money on pressing 25 records??? OK, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way…on to the review. Two songs here that are heavy on the JAWBREAKER influence. If I were to treat this single as a one-on-one battle to the death, I’d put my money on the title track to come out the winner. Apparently the B-side is taken from an upcoming LP. I’ll reserve my full endorsement upon hearing said LP. I do, however, believe that given what I’ve heard here, QUAKER WEDDING has a promising future ahead of them.

Better Off Dead / Nueva Generación split EP

NUEVA GENERACIÓN kicks off this split with two mid-tempo songs that walk the line between almost sliding into pop punk territory, but are just a bit too dark and slow to fully cross that line, “whoa-oh”s aside. BETTER OFF DEAD also contributes two songs which are faster and more upbeat than the songs on the NUEVA GENERACIÓN side, with a dueling female/male vocal combo that works together well. While both bands don’t take a similar approach to styles, the contrast works well.

Outpatient Unreality cassette

There seems to be a crop of bands that are reinventing the early ’90s sound of “underground rock.” While a lot of these bands, to me at least, kind of miss the mark and end up sounding uninspired, OUTPATIENT isn’t one of those. Hooks, fuzz, “whoa-oh”s, a perfect marriage of early NIRVANA and the MUFFS. If I had one complaint it’s that four songs aren’t enough!!!

Needles//Pins Needles//Pins LP

There is a lot going on here. To say this is just a punk record is doing a disservice to all those involved here, but to say this is a rock record isn’t a fair assessment either. Melodic and catchy are words that I’d freely use to describe this, and while there are hooks abound here, it’s got just enough grit to keep it honest. If this record isn’t in heavy rotation on rock stations across their native Canada, that’s a crime. Truly.

Scene Killers Rev It Up 12″

The debut EP from Nottingham, England’s SCENE KILLERS is a total ripper. Members of the CRIMINALS, the HIP PRIESTS, and TV CRIME come together here like a punk rock Voltron to bring us six songs of total punk rock’n’roll badassery. The kind of record that makes you wanna brown-bag a 40 and cruise around town at night smashing shit. There’s even a cover of the REPLACEMENTS’ “Color Me Impressed,” which is especially fun to listen to with singer Jesse Luscious’ trademark vocal stylings that give the song a nice little kick in the ass. I’ll be counting the minutes until these fellas are able to come stateside for what will undoubtedly be a hell of a live show! An extra tidbit for all you nerds out there: the record comes in a bunch of cool colors.

El Sancho How to Kill a Zombie EP

Three songs of mid-tempo melodic punk. I believe that everyone contributes vocals here as there is an obvious distinction between the vocalist on the first two songs, the vocalist on the third song, and the backing vocals. All in all, this is catchy enough; the main issue I have with this release is that it is a lathe-cut 7”. While I appreciate the fact that you’re going ahead with committing to put these songs to a physical format, I’ll never understand the lathe-cut gimmick. For the most part they’re expensive to produce, most times they are limited to only a handful of copies, and they don’t sound that great. I’m just nitpicking here at this point. Anyhow, this is limited to 25 copies, so I’d suggest trying to get one quickly if that interests you.

Hung Ups Panic Attack EP

This is what I think of when I hear the term “pop punk.” Melodic, snotty, simple. A lot of bands that do this style miss the mark for me a lot of the time; fortunately, this is not one of those times. Think SCREECHING WEASEL, the NOBODYS, etc. and you’re on the right track. Five songs on a 7”? Cool. Blag Dahlia once said “I’m not going to Salt Lake City;” well, I found something worth going for.

Half Built Homes Southward CD

This is slick-sounding melodic punk that is probably heavily influenced by bands who have done stints on Warped Tour, probably have records on labels like Hopeless, Drive-Thru, and the like, and use the word “emo” to describe their sound. If things like Myspace and Warped Tour still existed, this band would probably be relatively “big,” I imagine.

Lone Wolf Together Alone LP

I was expecting something completely different when I first put this on and I gotta say, I’m really glad it’s not at all what I expected. What I expected was some run-of-the-mill pop punk bordering on “RAMONES-core.” What I got instead was a record that while still catchy, stays as far away from the aforementioned genre as possible. This record reminds me of a more subdued DEAD TO ME. I could easily find this in somewhat regular rotation on my stereo and possibly a contender for one of my favorite albums of the year.

Last Point A Beaten Path CD

Hailing from the central coast of California, LAST POINT plays the kind of melodic skate punk that wouldn’t be out of place amongst some of genre’s heaviest hitters. In fact, this album sounds like it was meant to be at the very least considered for a 7” or a track on a Fat Music comp, but was just unearthed from some secret vault deep beneath the Fat Wreck office.

Aküestix Parody of a Tragedy, Pt. 1 CD

Musically, this reminds me of something that would have been on Fearless or Hopeless in the ’90s. Lyrically, there’s a song about aliens. That was almost enough for me to write this off but…then I heard the song “Appear” and that kept my attention, as it was the standout track in my opinion. If you long for the days of Black Flys, bleached hair, two-row studded belts holding up Dickies shorts that always seemed two sizes too big, and perfectly-timed jumps in unison, then my friend, you will most likely enjoy this CD.

Dabblin’ I Was Almost an Astronaut Once cassette

At first listen, my very first thought was that this reminds me of Plan-It-X stuff, but if those bands paid their electricity bills and decided to trade in their acoustic guitars and washboards for amps and loud guitars. This thought remained with me while listening due to the vocals and the delivery of said vocals. My second thought was how fun seeing this band live must be. Eight songs total, with the last one being an acoustic song. All in all a fun release, and one I’ll surely be revisiting. If I had one complaint, it would be that I wish there were just a couple more songs here.

The Slow Death Born Ugly Got Worse LP reissue

The tenth-anniversary reissue of this gem of an album has been remixed and remastered, so it sounds even better than it did a decade ago. This is still one of my favorite records by Mr. Thorson and company. The opening track “Ticks of the Clock” is and has been one of my favorite songs for the last ten years. That said, just about every song on this record is a hit in my opinion, and I’m thrilled that Rad Girlfriend has reissued it so that hopefully a new crop of folks can give it a spin and possibly find their new favorite band!

Worst Self Everyone is Replaceable LP

Modern hardcore that fluctuates from fast thrashy parts to metallic breakdown parts to softer quieter parts to almost jammy parts. Fans of bands like TOUCHE AMORE and MODERN LIFE IS WAR would probably dig this. The album artwork and the actual LP is what really caught my eye, though. The screenprinting on the LP is pretty cool. The OASIS “homage” of the band logo on the jacket and labels is cute. I assume that was intentional, but these days who knows. Limited to 100 copies, so if you wanna grab one, I’d suggest you do so pretty quick.

Jodie Faster Blame Yourself LP

Seventeen songs here, with the longest clocking in at 1:29. Short, fast, hardcore songs that strangely don’t use distortion on the guitars. I don’t particularly know how I feel about this. The songs are good, but the lack of distortion is off-putting to say the least. I wanna like this, and I think I do, but the sound of the guitar is fucking with my brain. Like it’s seriously giving me a borderline panic attack. Hahaha.

Seized Up Brace Yourself LP

SEIZED UP is a “supergroup” featuring members of BL’AST!, GOOD RIDDANCE, the NERVE AGENTS, and ALL YOU CAN EAT, and goddamn if they haven’t made a hell of a record. Pissed-off, at times very bass-driven, at other times just fast hardcore blasts, and while at times it’d be easy to compare this to BL’AST! especially due to vocalist Clifford Dinsmore, this is a much more straightforward hardcore record than most of the previously mentioned band’s body of work. I highly recommend hunting down a copy of this album and playing it as loud as possible, preferably while skating and/or driving.

Custody II LP

This sounds like a SAMIAM record. Like almost to a T. The only difference is this band is from Finland. So I suppose take that however you’d like. In fact….this is their bio on the internet: “We are a band. We make melodic music that makes us happy. We sound like Sergie Loobkoff having a knife fight with Matt Pryor and Mike Carter in the ’90s!” So it’s totally intentional, I guess. Fortunately I happen to thoroughly enjoy SAMIAM, so that helps.

Away 4 Song Demo cassette

This is, judging by the liner notes, a project recorded by two friends. Very heavily influenced by the Revolution Summer era of D.C. hardcore, with the lyrics all sung in Spanish. I really enjoyed this and was more than a bit disappointed when the four songs came to an end, as I wish there was a bit more. Perhaps there is more forthcoming but, if this is all that AWAY has to offer, it is a hell of an offering.

Young Harts Truth Fades LP

This sounds like something that No Idea would have put out when they were still a label, but not in the “bearded, gruff, drunken, Florida” way. In more of the “kinda street punk, kinda emo, hard to pin down” way. Kinda TED LEO with a sore throat singing for DEAD TO ME with slower breakdowns. I know that sounds like a confusing mess, but it works and I’m for it!

Bitpart Eat Your Mess LP

Emo-ish pop punk from France. The whole time listening to this album something was bugging me. I couldn’t figure it out. The feeling got worse as the two singers harmonized. Then I realized what it was. They reminded me of a certain band, but for the life of me I couldn’t place it. Finally it came to me. This band sounds like the ANNIVERSARY minus the keyboards. I dunno, maybe it’s just me, but this just sounds dated. That’s not meant as a slight, it’s good, it just sounds like a certain time and place, that’s all.

Somerset Thrower Paint My Memory LP

This is one of those bands that has been on my radar for a while now, but for whatever reason I’ve neglected to actually check out until now. Well, after listening to this record a few times now, I feel like an idiot. This is definitely something I should have been getting down with since day one. Heavy ’90s emo/indie rock vibes. Imagine a gruffer, beefier KNAPSACK. This just gets better each time I hear it. I’d put this up against any classic emo record any day. Mark my words, this album is going to be on “Top Albums of All Time” lists for years to come.

Attic Salt Get Wise LP

Sugary pop punk. Male and female vocalists who A) both sound pretty similar to one another, and B) both kinda sound a little bit like the singer of SMOKING POPES. Hella catchy. I could see this fitting nicely on a mixtape with the aforementioned POPES, VELOCITY GIRL, and From Here to Infirmary-era ALKALINE TRIO.

Daiei Spray Behind the Wall LP

Melodic hardcore from Japan that’s, at least in part, been heavily influenced by bands like DAG NASTY. The songs are all sung in Japanese, which to me is a plus. I think it sets bands apart when they sing in their native tongue, because while I may not know what they’re saying, it’s authentic and not just another (insert band here) clone. One last thing, I definitely hear the THUMBS in here a bit in some of the delivery and guitars and I’m super into it.

Alien Boys Night Dangers LP

Imagine, if you will, a world where the BOMBPOPS listened to too much later-era DISCHARGE and hair metal instead of listening to too much BLINK or whatever. Now imagine that they still had Fat Wreck production values. Imagine no more my friends, because ALIEN BOYS have made that fantasy world come to life! Not my particular cup of tea, but after a few listens I don’t wanna throw it like a Frisbee, so that’s something I suppose.

No Right Senescence CD

Metallic hardcore that uses a lot of technical guitar work, for lack of a better term. The first song starts out with some kind of guitar thing that sounds a lot like a drill. That shit is annoying and almost kinda ruins this from the jump. Luckily it’s not super prevalent in the rest of the songs. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, just your standard fare for this type of band. The bad? Aside from the weird guitar thing on the first song, the last song has one of those parts where there’s a sing-song-y dude that was all the rage like fifteen or so years ago. To me, that ruins a perfectly good hardcore band more often than not. The good? The vocals. While they may be pissed-sounding, the singer isn’t trying to sound to cookie-cutter metal/hardcore tough. Solid outing here, enough to have me interested in hearing more.

Truth Cult Off Fire LP

First thing that springs to mind here is SWIZ without, ya know, actually sounding like SWIZ. This is very heavily D.C.-influenced, which makes a lot of sense as the band hails from Baltimore, MD. They also recorded this with J. Robbins, adding to the Dischord-ian aesthetic. Vocally, I’m catching FUEL vibes, too. Everything about this record is striking all the right chords with me.

Meltcitizen Dullard cassette

Surfy, poppy, lots of reverb. Lots. Better than most bands of this persuasion, but for some reason, listening to this feels like listening to demos for the next GREEN DAY record or something Billie Joe-related. Did I mention the reverb?

Teenage Halloween Teenage Halloween LP

This record is hard for me to write about. On the surface it sounds like a bunch of “folk punks” traded in train-hopping and alcoholism for the ability to write hella catchy “pop” songs, although I understand that’s a pretty shitty analogy and I feel it’s a disservice to a band that has written a great fucking record. I will say this…in a perfect world, where the radio actually played real music still, TEENAGE HALLOWEEN would be fucking huge! I could listen to this record everyday and find something new I like about it every time.

Big Rig Expansive Heart EP reissue

1-2-3-4 Go! has reissued this overlooked gem. BIG RIG was a short-lived project whose members went on to play in SCREW 32, the NERVE AGENTS, and DANCE HALL CRASHERS, and featured Jesse Michaels of OPERATION IVY on vocals. This four-song offering is decidedly more punk (whatever that means) than Michaels’ previous band; in fact, there’s nary an inkling of ska heard here. My only complaint about this record is that I wish there were more songs! This is a perfect document of a moment in time, and I’m glad it’s been reissued so that more people have a chance to hear a perfect record.

Total Wolf Total Wolf LP

Do you enjoy fun? How about thrash? Yeah? Then chances are you would totally dig TOTAL WOLF. Listening to this, the one thing that keeps popping in and out of my brain is “What if MUNICIPAL WASTE wrote Apocalypse Dudes or GUTTERMOUTH played thrash?” Total fucking party record. It makes me wanna slam some shitty beers and circle pit around a bonfire and I don’t even drink anymore.

Lucy and the Rats Got Lucky LP

So you know that old saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover”? Well, I’m guilty. Looking at this record I automatically assumed some garage-y, RAMONES-y stuff. I am happy to say that I was not entirely wrong and at the same time not entirely right. Sure, there are definite garage-y elements at work here, but also this has a heavy ’60s girl group vibe going, too. Think THEE HEADCOATEES thrown in a blender with GO SAILOR and you’re headed in the right direction. Serious contender for best thing I’ve heard this year.

Indentured Resistance Etiquette CD

The one thing that sticks out about this EP is the production value. It sounds like they spent a lot of time and possibly money on this recording. That isn’t a slight, either. From a production standpoint, this is very pleasing to the ears. As for the songs themselves, it’s kind of hard to pin down an accurate description because calling this “standard punk” would be a disservice to the work put in here. Lyrically, though…that’s when they lost me. There’s a song about “the quarantine cruise line” and a song called “Karen” about…yup, you guessed it…a “Karen.” I mean, who am I to judge one’s lyrical content, I just don’t know if songs like these will age well is all.

Martha Love Keeps Kicking LP

Pop-punk with twangy guitar parts that was all the rage with the Fest crowd some years back. From what I gather, everybody contributes vocals individually, but the magic happens when they harmonize. Good stuff. Bonus points for having a song called “Wrestlemania VIII”!

Circle Jerks Group Sex LP reissue

The classic first album by this legendary Southern California band gets a fancy reissue on new label Trust Records. It’s been remastered and includes a 12”x12” booklet full of photos, flyers, and anecdotes by a plethora of well-known fans and contemporaries. In addition to the original tracks, this new version also includes five bonus rehearsal demos taken from a boombox recording. In all honesty, these tracks, while cool, are not necessary and probably should have been left off this LP and instead been released on a bonus 7”, as they kinda throw off the listening experience of this record. All in all, if you’ve got the loot to spend and don’t already own a copy of Group Sex or if your copy is need of an upgrade, if I were you I’d spring for this version. (I believe that Frontier still keeps this album in print.)

Tough Age Which Way Am I? LP

Although I have been aware of TOUGH AGE for quite some time, for some reason this is the first I’ve actually heard them. At first listen, I was quick to write this off, but upon further investigation this record started to grow on me, and now it seems as though I have been missing out all this time. There’s a big time post-punk influence here underneath definite power pop vibes. Now if that sounds like a strange combination of sounds, it might be, but it works. I especially enjoy the contrast of the two vocalists. This is definitely gonna be in heavy rotation on my stereo for a while.

Big Bite Trinity LP

BIG BITE hails from Seattle, Washington and that fact is abundantly clear on their latest release Trinity. Eight tracks of fuzzed-out rock ’n’ roll that wouldn’t be out of place mixed in with your DINOSAUR JR. and SUPERDRAG records.

Vapaa Maa Vesi Nousee LP

Politically-charged Finnish hardcore in the vein of the HOLY MOUNTAIN and the like. The vocals are all in Finnish, but there are English translations. Standard lyrical content for the genre here (economics, politics, anti-homophobia, environmental, etc.). The production aspect is pretty slick compared with other bands of this ilk, which in my opinion hurts this album a bit. I prefer these bands to have a bit more of a dirtier sound, but again that is my personal opinion. If this sounds like your cup of tea I’d recommend giving this a listen.