SNAZZY BOYS, THE: Self-titled: LP
This reminds me a lot of old school British punk a la The Damned but I could just be racist over The Snazzy Boys’ accents. One thing’s for sure, their brand of punk has The Briefs written all over it. It’s difficult to pin point what makes some seemingly derivative bands doing basic pop punk sound more genuine than other’s. After all, most the time it’s the same basic four chords and blues based guitar solos/riffs. But I think for The Snazzy Boys it’s their cohesiveness as a band, their precise drumming, quirky back up vocals and upbeat up-tempo approach to all their songs. It’d be truly a waste of time to shout out specific songs on this album because all of them are good. This is one where you can lay the needle on the white vinyl and be ready to party.
–N.L. Dewart (Pure Punk)
SMITH WESTERNS, THE: Self-titled: LP
After years and years of reviewing, my expectations are incredibly low. Then an LP like this one comes along! The Smith Westerns play psychedelic power-pop really well. There’s a lot going on with this record—sure, the music of the Soft Boys and the lyrics of John Felice are obvious influences. But what I’m into is the Smith Western’s guitar playing—amateurish Roger McGuinn-style playing pervades—and the production of this LP, which sounds like dynamite on your speakers. On repeated listens, this album only gets better. It’s like a fucking raucous version of the Rain Parade, then shit starts going T-Rex on your ass. One of the most eclectic albums I’ve heard in a long time, with the variation and prowess of the Deadly Snakes at their best. Unless a musical revolution happens—one that makes the Nerves sound like Captain and Tennille—this album will be one of the ten best of 2009. Good lord!
–ryan (HoZac, hozacrecords.com)
SMALLTOWN: Implosion: CD Razorcake #24’s cover band from Sweden are back with their second full-length. The instantly recognizable departure is the inclusion of more instruments: vibes, handclaps, horns, zigger fish, and accordion. Still in place are Kalle’s melancholic lyrics sung in a smoke-and-exhaustion voice, clean but toothy musicianship, and the overwhelming evidence that these are some down dudes making the music they want to without trapping themselves in previously made boxes. The extra textures aren’t bothering me in the slightest. I celebrate Give ‘Em Enough Rope and London Calling equally. And we’re not talking a huge leap, as, say, from The Jam to the Style Council. Although, technically, I may be wrong since I’m no musician, Implosion is ensnared at mid-pace from the first song to the last. It never explodes—and there a couple of gangbuster opportunities in this album. It never jumps, shouts, skitters and wails, and it never goes completely quiet. So, although I can appreciate the care that went into the songs—like the details on miniature plastic models—I just don’t feel that buzzing impact of The Music or their early 7”s. This record is definitely well made, but as much as it pains me to say, Implosion bores me. I tried. And twenty-five listens in, it’s not taking hold. Man, I feel like a dick.
SKUNKFIX / STICK NO BILL / BRAYOK / THE RAY GRADYS: Punkrock Paradox: CD
This is a four-way split CD with three of the four bands being from Malaysia and one from Philly. One of the Malaysian bands sings in Malay and the other two sing in English. I’m sure that at some point in my life I have listened to a band from Malaysia but I can’t recall it off the top of my head. I guess I assumed that it was too repressive of a country to allow for punk rock, but it appears I stand corrected. The long short of it, however, is that this is a horrible, horrible album. The bands all seem to center their styling on a ska or pop punk sound and the band that sings entirely in Malay does so off-key. The lyrics in English are often incomprehensible at least as far as they are written in the liner notes (my favorite line: “I’m slaving for your asshole”). The content is often tedious, covering really stereotypical matter such as fuck that group, those people are stupid, and these people are dumb. And it’s all done while playing really safe, uninteresting music. The one American band, The Ray Gradys, sound as though their songs were lifted directly from their vinyl and not the masters, as the sound quality makes some of their tracks almost unlistenable. I appreciate the effort of people trying to build their own scene, but I do hope that the bands included on here realize that punk rock is about more than being angry at various shades of “the man” and playing music that is worse than the stuff my friends played in high school a dozen years ago. The only positive thing I got out of this is that they used the glossy paper material for their booklet and that smell reminded me of the higher-end baseball cards I used to collect as a kid. Good times.
–kurt (Nervhous/Greenpeace/Anock Mearan)
SILENT WAY: Self-titled: 7"
Right off the bat, the cover art portrays an object I never knew that I always wanted: a staple gun revolver. They even include a few loose staples, in case you were running low, and wanted to maim some useless celebrities, a running theme on the record. I personally found the dude’s voice to be overly-rough, and swear the vocal duties switch a couple of times (don’t hold me to it though) but it could be the recording quality; the music is basic and driving, with a grimy sound. I can’t say I’d be able to listen to it again, but I did appreciate two things: they included a CD copy of the 7” and the inner art is a delightfully low-budget collage of cookie-cutter Hollywood blondes and language best associated with drugs, violence and annihilation.
–Samantha Beerhouse (HCHC, myspace.com/silentwaynb)
SICK SICK BIRDS: Heavy Manners: LP
I wasn’t in the control room when irony came like a rainbow—but was a dark cloud of cynicism—into independent music. But there was a definite shift in the late ‘90s when the torch was passed from Superchunk to The Promise Ring and then somehow ended in the hands of dudes (of both genders) with pants tight enough to curb sperm production (women don’t produce sperm, dude. If you’re going with the whole “both genders” thing, you might want to rethink that one. I’m guessing women in those pants might increase the production of said sperm in straight men.) and the words “indie music” no longer meant “independent” of anything, while the “music” part was debatable at best. (I guess that’s part of the irony. This time was also known as “The Golden Age of the Publicist.” Draw your own conclusions.) So, if you’re a punk rocker whose knee-jerk response isn’t “Turn that fucker up! Play it faster! More ‘fuck’ in the monitor!” and your scope includes an active liking of Elvis Costello, The Carrie Nations, an appreciation for early Cure and Echo And The Bunnymen, and songs like “Detroit Has a Skyline Too,” without the musty, creaky smell of imperfect nostalgia, I heavily recommend Sick Sick Birds. Early ‘80s indie pop, late ‘90s fireworks, late ‘00s recession-enforced honesty. Blood’s pumping through decades of music effortlessly in each song.
–todd (Toxic Pop)
SHORTCUTS, THE: 30 Pack: CDEP
Pretty straight forward, all lady pop punk from Minneapolis. Does it make me sexist that I want to say they remind me of The Soviettes? I mean, the guitars sound a lot like them (with a little more noodling), the vocals sound a lot like them (if only Susy sang). Fuck it, I’m going to say they sound like a really early Soviettes, and refuse to believe that makes me a jerk.
–joe (Self-released, myspace.com/theshortcutsb)
SHELLSHAG / THIS BIKE IS A PIPE BOMB: Split: 7"
Plan-It-X Records paved the way for a ton of shitty PC folk-punk and pop-punk bands and labels. I’m proud to say that I’ve loved almost all of those shitty bands and labels. This record typifies everything that is oh so right about this minor, laughable, and ultimately irresistible subgenre. Shellshag is an absolute must, a two-piece male/female off-key folk-punk duo that always sounds like they’re performing on a spaceship. First wave Plan-it-xers This Bike is a Pipe Bomb likewise continue to amuse with their stripped-down, folksy, pop-punk purity. Unplug your electric guitar and see if you can come up with something as rocking. It’s doubtful.
–Art Ettinger (Starcleaner/Plan-It-X South)
SHANG-A-LANG / BRICKFIGHT: Split: 7"
Shang-A-Lang: Turn that frown into kickass DIY punk jams. As the dust of time settles on the shoulders of Las Cruces, New Mexico’s musical heritage, I do hope that these four troubadours tricking out every last watt, amp, and atom out of their testy 4-track get remembered as being as a flickering flame of hope. I also hope Chris Mason never starts a cult, because that’s something I might consider joining, and I think cults are stupid. Brick Fight: Since I know nothing about musical equipment, I’ve always wondered if there was an amp or effects pedal that you could switch on that’s labeled “sound British.” Perhaps Rancid’s got that patented. Speaking of, sounds like a lot like early Rancid and late ‘90s not-very-pop pop punk with a lot of snot, say, like the Nobodys, with less porn in the monitors. Hey Mitch, congrats on your first release.
–todd (Facepalm, myspace.com/facepalmrecords)
SHANG-A-LANG / BRICKFIGHT: Split: 7"
Even before listening, this recording has ticked off each box on the checklist of cool in my book: 1. Sweet-ass artwork by Mitch Clem (can he please create a dinosaur coloring book?) and 2. Clear vinyl. Obviously, these could be very, very misleading characteristics, but I am happy to say that the contents more than accurately portray the awesomeness that is this split. This 7” is one you get bummed out when you spend your last three dollars at the bar, before noticing the merch table. Maybe I am a little biased for Brickfight, but they blew me away live, and I’ve been collecting any Shang-A-Lang stuff I can get my grubby hands on since I first hear ‘em. Both bands sound great, this would be an excellent primer/gift for a person unfamiliar with the bands. This split has found a very happy home in my collection, and I will be humming these songs all day long.
–Samantha Beerhouse (Facepalm, silversprocketlabs.com)
SHACKLES, THE: Self-titled: 7"
I like the name of this band (It’s cute! Even though I imagine shackles aren’t really very cute at all!), and I really like the paper the record comes in, thick and textured with a gorgeous pink color. Unfortunately, the singing is a little watery for my tastes. The songs overall didn’t do much for me or stick with me after the first listen, but I did like the sound of the keyboards in the second one. The guitar is kind of garage-y, but for me it just doesn’t rock. I am missing the rock spirit! It’s sweet, it’s nice, but it’s a bit mild, even when the last song picked up at the end.
–Jennifer Federico (Sweet Rot)
SCARRED, THE: At Half Mast: CD
Had to go back into my CD archives and pull out the demo I reviewed some six years ago to make sure I was listening to the same band. It was. It appears over the course of that time they have gone from a sound owing much to the glory days of OC punk rock to a sound owing much to Green Day. Is this a bad thing? My personal preferences lean toward their former sound, but I’ll be the first to admit that tunes like “21st Century Girl” are catchy enough to earn a major label deal and each member beachfront condos in Malibu if given enough airplay. This is probably the last thing I’ll pay attention to by ’em, but I imagine they do just fine without me.
RUMSPRINGER / DUDE JAMS: Split: 7"
Rumspringer play personal California pop punk. Like most punks, they find the world a lonely, tiring place full of unhealthy habits and unwanted interactions. Fuck it, play music, hang out with your friends. Be a good person, that seems to be what they’re up to every time we’ve shared company. The same can be said for Dude Jams, who blast through two grouchy pop punk ditties. Brandon (the guiding force of Dude Jams) is a special kind of guy. I’d share a share beer with him any day.
–Daryl Gussin (Muy Auténtico, myspace.com/totallyofficial)
ROUGH STUFF: Out of Control/Anti Politician: 7"
Average three chord street punk/oi from this Tokyo. The music is just a hair too slow and too remedial for my tastes.
ROGUE NATIONS, THE: Be Your Own Rogue Nation: CD
I really wanna like this, and I guess I do on some level, because I can hear they’re really trying to think outside of the usual punk/hardcore box like Secret Hate, the Minutemen, Angst, Rebel Truth and other such bands that I’ve admired over the years. The songs are delivered with a good amount of tension, the guitarist sounds like this hands are just flying all over the neck, and they seem to be putting much effort into what they were doing. Trouble is, something I can’t quite place seems to be missing from the equation. Maybe the production is a little flat and tempers the proceeding a bit, or the songs are occasionally busier than they should be, or one of the cylinders is sneakily misfiring. Either way, this fell more on the side of raised eyebrows than exclamations of “Great googly-moogly!” That bums me out a bit, but I’m willing to bet they go over much better live.
RIVERBOAT GAMBLERS: Underneath the Owl: CD
I have to admit a shameful thing. The first track on the new Riverboat Gamblers album has guest vocals by Todd Congelliere and I had to look online to see who that was. (He runs Recess Records and sings for Toys That Kill, a favorite band of Razorcake.) So Razorcake, I understand if you want to get rid of me. But first I should probably finish this review. The song that Congelliere sings on “Dissdissdisskisskisskiss” is a quick burst to start the album. There are some good harmonies and it’s over too quick. The next track, “A Choppy Yet Sincere Apology” really impressed me with the lyrics being a straightforward description of what it’s like to have an anxiety disorder and the struggle it entails. As the album goes on through the eleven tracks, the lyrics belie the simplistic music that Riverboat Gamblers play. A number of the songs deal with the lyricist’s battles with anxiety, depression and the like which is really impressive considering that most bands that play this kind of generic poppy punk (heavy emphasis on the pop) typically have shallow lyrics about girls or partying. There’s still a little bit of that on here but generally the lyrics are honest descriptions of deeper mental issues going on in the life and mind of the songwriter. There’s definitely good stuff there, now if only their sound wasn’t so generic and lifeless. I’ve heard this way too much to be interested in it or even feign appreciation for that sound.
RUMSRPINGER / DUDE JAMS: Split: 7"
First, put on your Crimpshrine glasses for the length of this review. Dude Jams: Song 1: Whoah, dude, you’ve got a lot of Todd Congelliere in your monitor. Turn that Toys That Kill knob down a coupla notches (it’s the one between the FYP and URTC knobs). Song 2: Whoah, dude, turn down the FYP one a bit, too. I understand channeling your influences, but these two cuts seem like a direct re-broadcast of an already-heard episode… of another band. Rumspringer: Ten years ago, I asked Davey Tiltwheel what he thought about Discount. He smiled, shook his head, and said, “They don’t breathe.” And although Davey didn’t ruin my admiration of Discount, I couldn’t listen to them the same. Rumspringer’s a band that breathes. The songs have a lot of open flexibility, are musically expansive, and, through stretches of time, you pleasantly realize there aren’t vocals. As an aside, when the vocalist speeds up, he sounds like the Bouncing Souls’ vocalist.
–todd (Muy Auténtico, myspace.com/totallyofficial)
RUMSPRINGER / SLEEP LIKE A LOG: Split: 7"
This four-song split has the influences of that pop punk/emo style music that was popular in the early 2000s. Regardless, I still found myself enjoying this 7”. I’ve seen Rumspringer live, and it’s really difficult for me to reconcile their recorded sound with their performance sound. But this split has me scratching my head even more because the track “Normal Again” sounds most like the raw, rough around the edges, high energy punk they brought to their show yet it’s the one song written by the member who quit the band. Sleep Like A Log brings more technical guitar chops to its emo influenced pop but the Japanese accents make the tear jerking songs bearable because it allowed me to focus on the melody and the music rather than on their lyrics such as, “I don’t believe. In the Sadness, real and fiction are same by my eyes.” Still, all the music-craft here is strong and I’ve already flipped this split over four times.
–N.L. Dewart (Traffic Street)
RIVERBOAT GAMBLERS: Underneath the Owl: CD
Another rock solid record from these Texas playboys. I can’t tell if “Alexandria” is about his favorite city in Virginia or some girl lead singer Mike Wiebe met on tour. But with lines like “like Slim Pickens atop the bomb/you hold on to the bitter end” I guess it doesn’t matter too much. The musicianship here is aces high, the melodies are sweet, and the harmonies blend in like a think chocolate milkshake. Ummm, frothy!
RINGERS, THE: Hurry Up and Wait: 12” EP
At 6:03 PM, averaging sixty miles per hour, the Bent Outta Shape train leaves Brooklyn, heading west. At 9:18 AM, averaging seventy-seven miles per hour, the Swingin’ Utters missed their train going East. Been drinking. Paul Weller is the engineer somewhere in the Midwest. The math’s deceptive, though. When the trains collide somewhere in South Dakota, it’s no accident. Instead of being a mangle of two not-recognized-as-compatible approaches to music, there’s a beautiful and twisted fusion that help make The Ringers unique. Listened to with half an ear, they could be construed as street punk, but that’s a disservice. The songs are more about troubled hearts and misinterpreted good intentions instead of dress codes and skewed views of patriotism that end in someone getting physically hurt. The Bent Outta Shape-isms, in turn, are roughed up, lovingly bruised, and broken-glassed. The Ringers continue getting better with each release, I believe, because they’re sounding more and more like themselves and not a calculated collision in a barren land.
–todd (1234 Go!)
REIGNING SOUND: Love and Curses: CD
Here’s to the rest of world having enough sense to realize that Greg Cartwright is a national musical treasure. Listening to the Reigning Sound (or Compulsive Gamblers or Oblivians, all with Greg), I feel this largeness: of scope, of humanity, of understanding of music being of infinite possibilities, but best when tastefully selected and exposed. It’s best when beaten upon rocks of experience; best when offered with humility and grace. Blood spilled. Wounds healed but not cosmetically hidden nor forgotten. At the core of Love and Curses is the songwriting. Both stripped down to acoustic skin and bones and fully dressed with the band ruffling and weaving expansive musical tapestries, this collection of songs tells an instantly relatable, but told poetically, arc of stories delivered without a Rolodex tongue of clichés. In some way, because it was before my time and adolescent punk rock views prohibited such behavior, for the first time in my life, I can understand how people on a large scale went apeshit for The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. That part of you wants to live inside the songs, to be able to feel that sort of love and loss, that joy and sorrow, that immediacy that’s dripping from every note. In the context of the band’s output, this album is an expansion of both Home for Orphans and Too Much Guitar simultaneously. Don’t expect full-on cigarette-huffing sprints all the way through, or for the band to be sitting down into quiet grooves the entire set. But expect fireworks, both filling the sky and inside your head, from start to finish, and you’ll be humming: “This debris is all that’s left of me,” too. One of the best records of 2009, flat-out.
–todd (In The Red)
REGIME NOIR: Native Stranger: CD
One of the nice things about being an older East L.A. punk kid is coming across a band from a later generation that ain’t afraid to expand on what they learned in the backyards by mixing in a lot of disparate sounds and styles. What Regime Noir has done here is to eschew the hardcore template in all but the verve they put into executing the songs, lean heavily on post punk’s loping, reggae-influenced bass lines and slashing guitars, throw in a nod or two to L.A.’s silly monikered “Chicano Groove” scene of the mid/late-‘90s, and add enough of their own personality so that the resulting tunes don’t sound like they rolled off the assembly line at a cookie factory. While it could be argued that the song structures could be reined in a bit more on occasion to achieve maximum impact, they’ve nonetheless managed to set a pretty solid standard for themselves. A great release here, one that retains its punk roots without pandering to its trappings, and that’s already earning them much respect on both sides of L.A.’s bridges. Me, I can’t wait to hear their next release, which I’m betting is gonna blow this one out of the water.
RED LINE INDEX: Self-titled: CDEP
Here’s a band that likes to bike. There’s a gorgeous photo on the cover of the three band members either cycling over a wooden bridge that crosses a picturesque river, or superimposed cycling over a wooden bridge that crosses a picturesque river (I believe it’s likely the former, it’s just that in the way it’s photographed, as well as on the picture on the inside, the guys themselves are kind of blurry and out of focus, while the scenery is not). Some of the songs themselves—although the lyrics are not written in their entirety and I have not listened to them thoroughly enough to know for sure—also seem to reference biking and/or the pains associated with driving. I quite love to bike myself (cursed San Francisco wind aside), so I can totally dig where it seems like they’re coming from, but to me this CD is kind of like how I view a “no thanks” they include in the insert: “No thanks to anyone who honks or yells at cyclists. May you die with a greasy chain around your neck, choking on your angry screams.” Now obviously my take on that statement is only my own perception of it, but I think it’s the punctuation in it that makes it seem to me lacking in any kind of serious venom. And that’s fine! No problem there. Best to save the venom for the really important occasions, in my opinion. But that’s how I kind of feel about the music as well—it’s nice, the guitar is melodic, clean, the recording is really good, they seem to be good musicians, I can see some people getting into it, but for me, it just doesn’t turn my crank. There’s not a hook that grabs me, a weirdness, a beat, something new (although it was recorded in 2003—maybe I would have been more into it then?). They recorded in Virginia (only a little south of where I grew up—hi, hometown!), and the style does remind me of some of the post-hardcore emo / math-y kind of stuff that comes from that area. I like the third song, “Glove Box” the best- the bass is a little heavier and the vocals are a bit more urgent. A fine effort, and one that is sure to make some listeners very happy, just not my thing.
–Jennifer Federico (Morning Light co-released with Discoparlante, discoparlante.com)
REAL UGLY: Live, Suffer, and Struggle: EP
This band’s name could not be more perfect in describing both their sound and their hideous artwork. Seriously, the strange looking transient on the cover and the cankles on the back make this record difficult to look at. I wish I could say that the music makes it all tolerable. I feel that if you make the conscious decision to be a guitar/drum duo it usually means that a bass guitar’s presence is unnecessary. I doubt including a bass would help these songs sound any better. Think Threatener’s little brothers jamming out after listening to S.O.B. for the first time. Then think of a better way to spend four dollars.
–Juan Espinosa (Agromosh, myspace.com/agromoshrex)
REVENGE OF THE PSYCHOTRONIC MAN: Making Pigs Smoke: CD
This is fucking great. Gravelly sounding British dudes singing fast and slurred over even faster and gravellier sounding music (except for the one instrumental ska interlude with one of the best titles ever, “I Know a Cracking Owl Sanctuary”). Okay, the description sounds like every D-beat band, but this is decidedly heavier on the melody department. Think of this as what would happen if Snuff wrote its own version of the Circle Jerk’s Group Sex album. The mix on this is massive. Drums sound huge, the bass is like a distorted refugee from a psycho-billy band, and the guitar has that controlled static tone that Bob Mould perfected in the early Husker Du days. The vocals are catchy as hell, even though their so fast, accented, and slurry I have no clue what’s being said ninety percent of the time. The fact they do melodic group vocals like this too is quite impressive. While a lyric booklet would help, I fully accept the bands excuse in the liner notes that the space was better used for photos of them “acting like dick heads on tour.” Great stuff and along with the Pillowfights album, this is the best stuff I’ve gotten all year … and I have to say this band takes the prize for the most vaguely disturbing cover art, longest band name and oddest album title I’ve seen in a long while.
–Adrian (TNS, email@example.com)
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