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Jim And The French Vanilla AOTH

Jim And The French Vanilla

Afraid Of The House

Blind Shake Records / Dirtnap Records
By

Rating: 3.5/5

 
 

 

 

Afraid Of The House is an album that is born of the bands that appeared on the legendary Pebbles compilations, the fabled collections of obscure snotty sixties garage bands that were punk long before punk. Jim And The French Vanilla combine the attitude of the sixties garage and psyche bands, along with a dash of prime motown, that’s all topped off with punk energy and attitude, this is a convergence of influences that marks Afraid Of The House out as a unique record to surface in 2017, and I mean that in a good way. Dirtnap Records released Afraid Of The House on the 10th February, it is now available digitally and on limited edition vinyl, on black and vibrant orange variants.

I normally avoid doing track run throughs and try to give a feel of the album, and maybe mention the stand out tracks, but that’s just not possible on a release of this type. Afraid Of The House skips between styles, from the raw r ‘n b influenced garage of the opening track When You’re Down, through the prime treble laced fuzz of I’m Just Sitting Here, Grow Like Rabbits and Take It To The Grave to the primal acid drenched throb of Eye For An Eye and Lonely Man. These frantic elements cohabit happily with the softer psyche influence of tracks like Back Home, Psychic Killer and Not Even War, the frantic tormented vibe of I Have To Slow Down and the raw Link Wray influenced instrumental Green Curtains.

Afraid Of The House is a raw lo-fi recording, there is no way that a record like this should be recorded any other way, this is at it’s heart an album of primal garage and psyche, but it’s one that is refocused and refined with some contemporary influences, and it’s this that stops it from being an album that lurks in the shadows of the past. Jim And The French Vanilla are a band that deserve to be heard, and hopefully the release of Afraid Of The House on Dirtnap Records, the home of the dark underbelly of rock n’ roll, will ensure that happens.

Afraid Of The House can be streamed and purchased, on vinyl and download, via the Dirtnap Records Bandcamp here 

Jim And The French Vanilla‘s Facebook presence can be found here

The Dirtnap Records website can be found here

Jim And The French Vanilla Release ‘Afraid Of The House’

Jim And The French Vanilla AOTHJim And The French Vanilla is the solo project of Jim Blaha from The Blind Shake. This is his third album under the Jim And The French Vanilla moniker, but the first to be made widely available. The first two albums were acoustic solo releases, but on Afraid Of The House, Jim, along with his brother and bandmate from The Blind Shake, Mike Blaha, expands to a full band sound, to astonishing effect.  The songwriting retains the incredibly distinctive mystical, other-worldly atmosphere of The Blind Shake, but the instrumentation and sound are both stripped down to their essence, dialing back to the loud-psych stamp of the Blind Shake at their heaviest.
 
Afraid Of The House is available via Dirtnap Records here and can be streamed here
 

Drakulas – Neon Town

drakulasTexas punk group Drakulas has premiered a new music video.  The video features the song “Neon Town,” from their latest disc, Raw Wave, which serves as the follow-up to 2015’s OWOWOWOWOWOWOW.  The album dropped in November 2016 via Dirtnap Records.  

Watch the video below.

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Drakulas Stream New LP In Full

drakulasTexas punk group Drakulas has premiered a full stream of their new album.  The disc is titled Raw Wave, and serves as the follow-up to 2015’s OWOWOWOWOWOWOW.  The album is due out November 18, 2016 via Dirtnap Records.  

Tour dates are below.

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sonic-avenues

Sonic Avenues

Disconnector

Dirtnap Records / Blow The Fuse Records / Taken By Surprise Records
By

Rating: 3.5/5

 
 

 

 

Quebec’s Sonic Avenues have released their fourth album, Disconnector, via the heralded garage punk imprint, Dirtnap Records, their latest release follows on from the well received 2014 album, Mistakes. The twelve tracks that comprise Disconnector were recorded by Adrian Popovich and Sonic Avenue’s Maxime Desharnais at Mountain City and Sound Salvation Studios, Disconnector‘s release seems to signify that Sonic Avenues determination to keep moving forward, and not settle into a comfortable rut, has not diminished.

Opening track Futures starts the album with a hyperactive blast of new wave inspired power pop and a chorus where everything just kicks in to give it a real impact, Disconnector‘s opening three tracks are all high energy power pop that makes for a impressive opening salvo of songs. After the high energy of the initial trio of tracks Sonic Avenues take their foot off the gas as Dancing In The Sun brings the tempo down slightly, a track that features a haunting and memorable lead guitar riff, and then Illusions brings it down a step further. From this point the album constantly varies the tone and texture of the songs and never settles into a predictable pattern, which is a pitfall that all too many power pop bands fall into. 

Disconnector ebbs and flows it’s tempo, but all the while maintaining it’s commitment to keeping their minimalistic and energetic approach present throughout the album, the album never quite hits the heights of the impressive opening number, but having said that this is a solid half hour of anthemic power pop. Sonic Avenues determination to keep changing the nature of their music and not to recreate the formula’s that informed their previous albums is admirable, whilst Disconnector isn’t quite firing on all cylinders it’s still an impressive album from a band that have maintained a consistent and prolific output since their debut release back in 2009.

Disconnector will be released on 7th October and can be pre-ordered on download, CD and vinyl  here

Sonic Avenues Announce Fourth Album ‘Disconnector’

sonic-avenuesSonic Avenues have announced the release of their fourth album, Disconnector, via the heralded garage punk imprint, Dirtnap Records. They have released two tracks for streaming, Future and Tunnel Vision, and they have also announced an extensive tour in support of their new album. The album will be released on October 7th and a review of Disconnector will appear on The Punk Site in early October.

You can stream Future here and Tunnel Vision here

You can pre-order Disconnector on download, CD and vinyl here

You can view Sonic Avenues tour dates below Read More…

bad sports lws

Bad Sports

Living With Secrets

Dirtnap Records
By

Rating: 3.5/5

 
 

 

 

Bad Sports have been quiet since the release of their 2014 full length, Bras, that’s not to say that the individual members of the band have been sitting on their laurels, they’ve all been active in other bands, including OBN IIIs, Video and Radioactivity, all of which have released albums since Bad Sports were last active. This EP was originally conceived as a trilogy of singles, but it seems that the decision was made that these tracks work better as one collection and Living With Secrets was born.

Opening track Don’t Get Your Hopes Up, a potential winner of the 2016 misleading song title award, kicks things off with a fine energetic riff  that the Buzzcocks would have proud of, the rest of Living With Secrets carries on in the same vein and it sounds like Bad Sports have been rummaging in a box of vintage punk singles, did I say this is a bad thing? because it isn’t. There are strong riffs aplenty, yes they are reminiscent of bands that came before them, this is a release that is wearing it’s influences on it’s sleeve, although given the influences are 70’s punk rock it’s more likely they’re wearing them as pin badges on the lapels of their leather jackets.

If I had to fault this I’d say that the vocals get a bit lost in the mix on this, aside from the vocals the mix captures the old school punk rock vibe of the album nicely, if you’re a fan of bands like The Saints, UK Subs, Buzzcocks, Dead Boys and The Adverts then you really should investigate this release as this is a slice of authentic old school punk rock that get’s better with every play.

Living With Secrets will be released on the 12th August and will be available from that date, as Dirtnap Records don’t do pre-orders, here

 

Steve Adamyk band GL

Steve Adamyk Band

Graceland

Dirtnap Records
By

Rating: 3.5/5

 
 

 

 

This is the fifth album from Canadian power pop quartet, the Steve Adamyk Band, the band backing the prolific Steve Adamyk seems to be in a constant state of flux, on this release his band includes members of Sonic Avenues, it also features guest vocals from Colleen Green and Mike Krol. Graceland follows on from 2014’s Dial Tone and continues single mindedly down the same path as it’s predecessors, this is a fast and furious slab of power pop punk that doesn’t relent for almost it’s entirety.

This bare bones production conveys the bands music well, the guitars are frantically strummed and the whole album has the feeling of a band who are racing against time to get the album finished. The first eleven tracks are all cut from the same cloth, the frenzied power pop songs tend to blur into each other a bit at times but regardless of this, Graceland remains a highly enjoyable stimulant induced soundtrack. The album ends in a more experimental frame of mind, the penultimate track High Mile is a fine piece of fuzzy garage rock, as is the hidden bonus track Heyday.

From a personal viewpoint I’d like to have heard a bit more experimentation to break up the barrage of power pop, as it is the tracks that offer something different are all bunched up at the end of Graceland, but having said that this is fine frenetic album of power pop and garage rock. If you could harness the energy on display on Graceland then I reckon the Steve Adamyk Band could solve the worlds fuel crisis singlehandedly, to underline this point apparently a sixth album is already in the pipeline, I’ll have some of whatever Steve Adamyk is having.

The Steve Adamyk Band bandcamp can be found here

Graceland will be released on July 29th 2016 and can be ordered from that date, as Dirtnap Records don’t do pre-orders, here

Martha BITPOMH

Martha

Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart

Fortuna Pop / Dirtnap Records
By

Rating: 3.5/5

 
 

 

 

Martha is a four piece indie band from the oddly named village of Pity Me in the north east of the UK, Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart is their sophomore album, it follows hard on the heels of their acclaimed 2014 debut, Courting Strong. They have retained MJ, from acclaimed Yorkshire psyche band Hookworms, to produce the album, presumably this is an “if isn’t broken don’t fix it” move as he did such a sterling job on their debut album. All four members of this quartet share the vocal and songwriting duties, this means that no two songs are the same and Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart never once gets repetitive, it constantly keeps you guessing what direction it’ll head off in next. 

Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart opens with the frantic, and all too brief, Christine, the tempo rarely relents from this point, even when it does you know that it’ll only be a brief wait before it picks back up again. Martha make a frenetic noise that comes across as a hybrid of punk attitude and indie style, but all done with a sunny pop sensibility. They certainly know how to put a catchy tune together, their songs feature slightly discordant harmonies that are pleasing to the ear and on some of the vocal duties the north east accent is detectable, which for me only adds to their charm. I think that’s the right description for this release, charming, for all it’s frantic guitar riffs it maintains a summery disposition throughout, you can’t help having a smile on your face when listening to Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart.

They owe a heavy debt to indie bands from the late 80’s and 90’s, you can hear echoes of the likes of Lush and The Arctic Monkeys finest moments on this release, that’s not to say they are recreating the past, Martha are a band that wear their hearts, and their influences, on their collective sleeves. The end result is that his is a triumphant and upbeat album with smart and witty lyrics that deserves to be part of your summer playlist. Weirdly my download of Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart came with a mysterious bonus track by a band called The Marketts, a piece of odd go-go sixties strangeness that is akin to The Mummies on an acid trip, did anyone else get this attached to their copy or am I just lucky?

Blisters In The Pit Of Your Heart is released by Fortuna Pop in the UK and  Dirtnap Records in the USA, it can be ordered on download, or on black, or limited edition splatter vinyl, from the usual outlets

Steve Adamyk Band – Dial Tone

Steve Adamyk Band

Dial Tone

Dirtnap Records
By

Rating: 4/5

 
 

 

 

The Steve Adamyk Band, an Ottawa based punk rock quartet formed back in 2010 from the ashes of from Million Dollar Marxists and Sedatives recently released Dial Tone, their fourth full length via Dirtnap Records and although it doesn’t stray that far from their previous work, it is bloody good fun from start to finish.

From the first notes of Force Fed, the tone (no pun intended) of the record is set – jangly guitars with the odd edgy punch, punctuated by lightly distorted vocals wrapped on layer upon layer of melody. The songs take the listener on a journey through familiar punk rock themes of isolation, frustration and boredom. The overall sound is a mashup of surf, 60’s garage,   new romantics pop and classic 70’s punk, a combination that’s more than the sum of its parts. And a hell of a lot of fun.

The songs are delivered in short sharp bursts, leaving you just in time to make you want to come back in again. The tactic works, as the band hav a real knack for writing catchy as hell melodies that have you foot tapping at first listen. Even tracks that you initially write off will hook you in on the 2nd listen.

Careless is the one song that really stands out from the others, epitomising everything that’s great on the record. Killer riffing and fret runs coupled with an awesome vocal with an edge missing on some earlier songs. Oh and an insane sense of melody and a pounding climax. Never mind just this record, Careless is one of the best songs I’ve heard in a while, period.

Crash Course in Therapy, Suicide and Mirrorball are also highlights, but for once it is actually quite difficult to identify songs that stand out(except the aforementioned Careless), and that’s not because they are bad, it is that the record oozes quality across the board. Dial Tone is one of those records where you don’t need the skip button, and with the general public’s attention span seemingly at an all-time low, that should say all that is necessary about what the Steve Adamyk Band have achieved here;  a really charming record and who could have thought that songs about isolation and despair could be this fucking fun.

Dial Tone by Steve Adamyk Band is out now via Dirtnap Records.

 

Sugar Stems Announce New LP

Sugar StemsPower pop group Sugar Stems have announced their upcoming LP, Only Come Out at Night, which is slated for a July 22nd release. The album will be the second release for the band through Dirtnap Records

You can listen to the title track below.

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Stream: Steve Adamyk Band – ‘Crash Course in Therapy’

steve adamyk bandOttawa punk band Steve Adamyk Band are streaming Crash Course in Therapy, a track taken from their new album Dial Tone. The record, the band’s fourth full length, is due to drop on July 1st via Dirtnap Records. 

The song is a minute and a half blast of melodic pop punk that is indicative of what to expect when the full length drops. Check out the stream of Crash Course in Therapy here.

 

Radioactivity - Dirtnap Records

Radioactivity

Radioactivity

Dirtnap Records
By

Rating: 3.5/5

 
 

 

 

Formed from the ashes of The Marked Men (although the group is apparently still semi active), Radioactivity play music that sounds a whole lot like… The Marked Men. While it seems like a strange decision to form a band that sounds a lot like your previous band, it works here. There is much to love, regardless of the moniker that graces the album cover. This is the first of two upcoming releases from the band, which should leave fans excited. 

The songs are a catchy style of pop inflected garage rock, existing on the outer fringes of the punk scene. For the uninitiated listener, The Ramones may be an apt comparison, although that would be lazy. The vocals are sweeter than Joey’s, less raw and monotonous. The average length of the songs sits just at the two minute mark and there are a number of songs that fall short of that length. The short, fast punk songs like Sickness are balanced with longer tracks like Alone, a pop fuelled track with faint new wave tendencies. There isn’t a wide variety of experimental sounds present here, instead they stick to what they know. This is a good thing because they play their brand of garage punk well, tempering it with pop inflections and bashing through their songs in short order. It is a fun concise listen. 

Radioactivity consists of thirteen exciting tracks, brimming with energy. These are the type of songs that make it difficult to listen while sitting still. Toes will be tapping and heads will be bobbing. Guitar solos are smile inducing and thoughts of denim jackets may begin to invade your mind. For all the hype that The Strokes received when their debut hit the streets, Radioactivity actually play garage punk with substance. This should appeal to hipster punks and aging punks alike. It is an instantly likeable mix of straightforward garage punk and pop sounds. 

Missing Monuments - Self Titled

Missing Monuments

Self Titled

Dirtnap Records
By

Rating: 4/5

 
 

 

 

Missing Monuments, the latest musical vehicle being driven by Louisiana’s country punk son King Louie may not be a household name, but they are recognised as a key influence on several notable current bands like The Black Keys and The Reatards. Having dropped his own name from the current incarnation (they were previously known as King Louie and the Missing Monuments) they are back with their first release for Dirtnap Records, a self titled offering which is due to drop on July 30th.

This 11 track full length takes us back to a time when punk rock was still fresh, and bands weren’t trying too hard to make a statement – they just made music that they wanted to make and that attitude is apparent here. You won’t find machine gun guitars, screaming vocals, lyrics about sticking it to the man, or any number of other punk rock cliches, but you will a clutch of honest pop rock songs, outstanding pop sensibilities and simple melodies tinged with elements blues and country. This sound is showcased beautifully on Steelin Time, Dead to Me and Tru Luv.

Super Hero takes us on a diversion down the pop rock road with a melody and riff that Rick Springfield would be proud of. In fact it sounds suspiciously like Jessie’s Girl, just slowed down a touch (which works incredibly well).

The band also flip seamlessly into a post punk or, dare I say, new wave sound at times; channelling the likes of the Violent Femmes or The Dead Milkmen on Crash and Burn and I Don’t Share.  Easily the best example of this sound (and the best track on the record overall) is Go Away  which ups the pace both musically and in vocal style while delivering a fantastic 3 minutes of melodic pop punk brilliance. It is also the one track where you can really hear the influence they have had on The Black Lips. Take this track and plug it into Good Bad Not Evil and the uneducated listener wouldn’t notice the difference.

Overall a fantastic album which deserves more hype and success than it will probably achieve.

Bad Sports Stream New Track

Bad SportsDenton, TX punk band Bad Sports are streaming Terrible Place, a song from their upcoming album. Bras will be the bands third full length and second to be released through Dirtnap Records. 

Bras is due for release on August 27th, and you can listen to Terrible Place here.

 

 

The Steve Adamyk Band - Forever Won't Wait

Forever Won't Wait

The Steve Adamyk Band

Dirtnap Records
By

Rating: 3/5

 
 

 

 

Honestly, fifteen seconds into Forever Won’t Wait, I was pretty positive that The Steve Adamyk Band was from Canada. It was just a hunch, but a strong one. Specifically, my guess was Ottawa or Toronto. They just had that feel about them – like they’d been dipping their toes in the same collective pool, musically or otherwise, as groups like TranzmitorzWhite Wires or Sonic Avenues. And yeah, Steve Adamyk Band (ex-Sedatives and Million Dollar Marxistsare from Canada. Ottawa, specifically. I guessed it. Forever Won’t Wait just had that feel, I tell you.

There’s something about power-pop and Canada (think back to, say, the Smugglers and Mint Records); the two are just made for each other. Canadians kind of have power pop on lockdown. Couple that with Portland, Oregon’s Dirtnap Records – it’s aesthetic, distribution and knuckle-cracking willingness to work for its bands – and it’s like some kind of holy trinity. The songwriting here is muscular and confident, and Adamyk’s vocals stay in the middle ground between crooning and sneering. Convincing covers of the Dickies and Carbonas, and keyboards make a nice addition on songs like “Never Wake Up.” Taking cues from predecessors like the Vibrators, they’re keeping the melodies buried in the red even as they toy around with tempos and the structures themselves. Melody, more than anything else, seems key in Forever Won’t Wait.

All said, it’s a nice gathering of songs. It’s a solid record. It’s buoyant and energetic and I’d imagine seeing them live would make me a convert. But it’s still no Busy Singles, that phenomenal LP collection ofTranzmitorz 7”s. A release like that only comes along once. It takes a lot for me, personally, to be moved by a band like this (like I said, see Tranzmitorz), but there’s no denying that this band has written a collection of songs that don’t contain a misstep. Everything sounds intentional and precise. Forever Won’t Wait didn’t exactly blow my mind, but I recognize its strengths. And for die-hard fans of the genre, it’s an immovable object. Canada should be proud.

 

Sonic Avenues - Television Youth

Sonic Avenues

Television Youth

Dirtnap Records
By

Rating: 3.5/5

 
 

 

 

What can I say about Sonic Avenues that hasn’t already been said before?  The Montreal quintet’s brand of bare-bones pop-punk really hits the proverbial garage-punk spot when it comes to simplicity and hooks.  After landing with a catchy debut a few years back, the band has honed their likable three-chord power-pop tendencies for their Dirtnap Records debut, Television Youth.  With poise, consistency, and rock-solid grounding, the band creates an accessible and readily enjoyable ten-song playlist sure to catch the ear of fans of The ClashThe Kinks, or The Buzzcocks.

With songs running between the two and three minute mark, and a tempo that never retreats to self-aggrandizing excess, this is pop-punk of an early age.  Vocal static runs light but lands far from clean cut.  While most garage punks on Dirtnap tend to overuse Wavves era noise effects, Television Youth lets the hooks speak for themselves.  Songs like “Throw It Away,” “Waste Away Alone,” and “Static Attraction” match each insistent jangle with timely solos just long enough to keep you swaying without distracting from the hooks at hand.  “OCD Vibes” embodies perhaps the steadiest beat of the bunch, showcasing how to maintain vivacity and extract energy from relative sameness.  It also doesn’t hurt that slick lyrics like “jaded in telepathic hate” permeate the auditory haze, offering engaging anecdotes for expectant minds.

Do the kids still listen to this stuff?  Doubtful – they’re too hung up on Underoath and Rise Records metalcore these days.  But it’s reassuring to know that if the winds ever change, acts like Sonic Avenues will be ready to guide hungry sails.  Don’t expect anything terribly new, but expect to be very much entertained.

Something Fierce - Don't Be So Cruel

Something Fierce

Don't Be So Cruel

Dirtnap Records
By

Rating: 3/5

 
 

 

 

If there’s one thing Dirtnap Records knows, it’s straight up garage punk.  Their back catalogue boasts what must be one of the biggest collections of fuzzed out punk-rock around, and they’re consistently in the business of signing standout talent.  One relative new signing for label has become Huston’s Something Fierce.  While the label reissued their previous double album, only two years later with their third release,Don’t Be So Cruel, does the band make their official Dirtnap debut, and it’s a snug fit.

Making their sound from a rough concoction of upbeat pop-punk circa The Clash meets Dirtnap labelmates The Potential JohnsHigh Tension Wires, and The Marked MenDon’t Be So Cruel packs a playful punch of stringy energy.  This is messy, sloppy garage pop played to the audio equivalent of fluorescent marching dinosaurs sporting wicked hot pants.  From opener “Don’t Be So Cruel,” every chord takes listeners by the hand and thrusts them onto an awkward pop-punk dance floor of wild body spasms and hip shaking sweeps.  Careful not to let their essential garage fuzz drown out their crisp rhythms and swollen bass, the result best manifests in the uber catchy 70’s pop-punk culmination of “Afghani Sands” and take-my-hand-and-lets-go-for-a-stroll championing dose of sugar coated cuteness of “When it Hurts.”  The three piece’s convulsive combination of shared acoustic and electric guitars as per “Ghosts Of Industry” furthers their never-ending party. Speaking of which, the band builds themselves around remarkable clarity for a creature of the garage genre, and they do so without risking any of their stylistic allegiances.

The only downside to Don’t Be So Cruel arises in their moments of intentional repetition.  While not “shallow,” the disc remains a one-sided document, voluntarily focusing on recurring tempos and mimicking past successes.  In most cases these shortcomings can be overlooked because they’re just so damn catchy, but a few cracks surface upon repeating a few less remarkable choruses (“Bad Choice” and “One The Backroads,” I’m looking at you).  While not enough to ruin the disc, the band does stick with what they know – with less pronounced elements taking the dubious role of filler.

Something Fierce delivers exactly what followers of Dirtnap Records have come to expect: body-moving good times served with a side of brain bending energy.  While the album could stand to trim the fat (I don’t think I’ve ever said that about an album totaling less than 30 minutes), in short doses Don’t be So Cruel is a sure fire success.  Fans of garage punk will have no doubt heard much of this before, but will surely latch on to and point out their veteran expertise and tight execution.

Missing Monuments CD Release w/ Bonus Material

for the art of itMissing Monuments, the King Louie fronted Louisana punk band officially released their self titled sophomore full length (check out our review here) on 22nd July, but the CD is now available (via Dirtnap Records) and as a bonus for fans it also includes their debut record Painted White and their Hozac 7″.

 Now there really is no reason to get yourself a copy!

Missing Monuments Announce New Album

missing monumentsLouisiana country punk band Missing Monuments (formerly known as King Louie and the Missing Monuments) have announced that their second full length will be released on July 30th. The self titled offering will be their debut album for Dirtnap Records.

 King Louie has previously played in bands with Jack Oblivion and Jay Reatard (he was the guy who got Jay into Flying V guitars) and also wrote a lot of the Exploding Hearts’ “Guitar Romantic.

The album follows their debut album, Painted White, which was released last year.

 

Dirtnap Records Announce Label Showcases in Portland and Seattle

Dirtnap Records are planning for label showcases in the label’s current hometown of Portland, Ore., and its starting city of Seattle, Wash. The label showcases are to celebrate Dirtnap Records’ fourteenth year as a label.

Both of these shows will feature sets from bands like Marked Men, Bad Sports, Mean Jeans, White Wires, Sonic Avenues, Mind Spiders, Low Culture and Guantanamo Baywatch.

The shows will take place Sept. 20 at Slabtown in Portland and Sept. 21 at The Highline in Seattle.

Mind Spiders - Meltdown

Mind Spiders

Meltdown

DirtNap Records
By

Rating: 3/5

 
 

 

 

There aren’t many surprises when it comes to albums released on Dirtnap Records.  It’s just a given that there will be some degree of fuzz and loads of repetition, the question is simply how much and to what effect.  With Denton, Texas Mind Spiders’ sophomore full length, Meltdown, the answer is a respective a lot and loads.  Falling somewhere between the barebones pop-punk of The Ramones and static flooded landscape of the late Jay Reatard, the album plays out as textbook noise punk ready to be lapped up by the Pitchfork crowd and misunderstood by the masses.

Marked by a classic side A and side B division, Meltdown opens with a dead simple commitment to fuzzed over three-chord pop punk.  “You Are Dead” scratches along with a minimalistic melody and steady rhythm fueled guitar that frames the formula.  Like a less dynamic version of indie favourite Wavves, the band throws in a few scattered guitar spikes in follow-up “Beat.”  Even with most songs blurring together into a hazy mass, the band’s energy remains steady on the side at any given moment, with “Play You Out” marking one of the few distinctly memorable moments.

In an effort to skirt repetition and maintain interest for the full eleven tracks, Side B draws upon a synthy experimental approach.  Front man Mark Ryan integrates reverberating, 50’s inspired sci-fi effects in conjunction with the usual stationary guitar tones, bestowing a dark, almost menacing presence.  Tracks like “Skull Eyed” and “Join Us Now” seemingly come from a different planet than their counterparts.  A pulsing synth glow aligns with hypnotic drums for a trance effect best described as the audio equivalent to the album’s swirling cover art.  The effect works because of the attention to mood, explaining why the sunnier counterparts “Fall In Line” and “Upside Down” end up in the shadow of the more remarkable.

While I started out favouring side A, it has become the latter’s unique take on eerie sci-fi effects that has held my interest when revisiting Meltdown.   As previously mentioned, the target simplicity that Mind Spiders aspire to is familiar ground, and entering this review I wasn’t overly impressed by the disc.  Ironically, after repeat listens I’ve come to appreciate some of the more subtle risks and intricacies informing this repetitive style.  True, not every song succeeds, and there’s evidence of self-indulgence that will turn some away (that final crawling instrumental title track is a bit much), but as a whole Meltdown works.  Fans of garage punk should get a lot of mileage out of this one.

Mean Jeans - On Mars

Mean Jeans

On Mars

Dirtnap Records
By

Rating: 3.5/5

 
 

 

 

Much noise is made in comparing Mean Jeans’ bouncy, party-punk sound to the Ramones, whose musical style shines through on each of this album’s relentlessly silly tracks. But the comparison is wholly unnecessary: the Mean Jeans have their own sound and aesthetic, and the value of the album is missed by trying to contextualizing it to a band whose lyrical depth Mean Jeans isn’t interested in capturing, and comparing it to a sound against which Mean Jeans is decidedly the more upbeat and poppy of the two.

There’s something in Mean Jeans’ joyfulness that bands like the Ramones went to great pains to suppress. Underneath their silliness were feelings of loneliness and paranoia, bounce-happy tunes and imagery from latchkey childhood interwoven with pessimism. The Mean Jeans hit “kinda shitty” at best (and when they do, hairs stand on end amid the almost wholly PG album, minus subject matter). The descriptor “party band” that most critiques of their work eventually get to captures much of this band’s distance from its acoustic forbearers.

It took a few listens to realize this band has as much in common with a young Aquabats or They Might Be Giants as they do with the early New York punk scene. A consequence of the relentless cheerfulness of the album is that at times – like the tragedy mom forgets to make lunch on “Lunch Victim,” the Sisyphean silliness that “Hangin’ Tuff” captures in the struggle against adulthood – it’s hard to avoid feeling at least a little silly when you hear yourself murmuring these catchy tunes later. When you’re feeling like shit The Ramones are right there with you – Mean Jeans wants you to grow a pair and come have some shots.

The contrast is lopsidedly in favor of the kids’ stuff, but the occasional shining through of lines about Jagermeister, blacking out and getting high save the album from lyrical irrelevance and reminds the listener that these guys are grownups who pine for a simpler time, not children struggling to hang on. And their videos are masterpieces: In the video tied to the album’s single and handily best song, “Anybody Out There?”the band-mates take bong rips from spaceship wiring,  breathe through an oversized Jagermeister handle in their spacesuits and disintegrate aliens for daring to not know what the word “party” means.

Mean Jeans stands on its own as an exciting, hard-rocking group (and after a recent Fake Problems kick, I’ve been desperate for a band that actually enjoys getting shitfaced) and much of its substance is missed by getting hung up on its similarities to early New York punk. Given their aesthetic they’ve got something much bigger than that scene’s ideas in mind, and we should all be eager to see where they go next.

Mean Jeans - Are You Serious?

Mean Jeans

Are You Serious?

Dirtnap Records
By

Rating: 3.5/5

 
 

 

 

In a recent interview with Minneapolis’ City Pages about their new signing to Epitaph Records, Ryan Young of Off With Their Heads was asked whether or not he thought the term “pop-punk” meant anything in 2010. After a lengthy response, and somewhat negative critique of the genre, he ended with a simple statement:  Pop punk is imitation.

In a way, he’s right. There’s not a whole lot you can add to the genre, so anybody starting up a new pop-punk band will always some sort imitation in their music. Then again, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery is it not? If so, then who cares if a band imitates another or wears their influences on their sleeves? After all, if they sound anything like The Mean Jeans’ Are You Serious? then we have nothing to worry about.

Are You Serious? is imitation down to its core. In every distorted strum, slightly nasally vocal delivery and count of 1-2-3-4!, The Mean Jeans are recalling the spirit and energy of the legendary Ramones. However, unlike so many of the other acts who are also channelling the New York foursome, The Mean Jeans add a bit of their own personality into the mix which creates a ‘77 punk album that would have fit nicely alongside Rocket to Russia and actually surpasses some of today’s top pop-punk acts. Yes, I’m talking about Teenage Bottlerocket, The Ergs and the like, Are You Serious? is able to stand above them in terms of catchiness, originality and just pure fun.

What makes the album stand above some of its contemporaries is that it actually has a retro feel to it. There is a grungy quality in the recording and just the right amount of distortion that they’re able to take The Ramones sound, copy it, recreate it and regurgitate it without a moment’s hesitation and sounds so damn good doing it.

They come in blasting with Born On A Saturday Night which features easily the best opening lyric in a punk rock song ever: I was born on a Saturday Night / My mama told me it would be alright / she was wrong and then she died. It’s abrupt, shocking, catchy and the rest of the song – which talks about being born in a leather jacket with a beer in hand getting ready for a fight – just keeps the energy flowing. The momentum never breaks with only two songs passing the 2:30 mark with the rest coming to an end before you even realize it. Drugs, drinking, partying and having fun are the main topics of Are You Serious? turning it into a punk’s party album in no time flat.

Think Teenage Bottlerocket. Think The Queers and Screeching Weasel but most importantly think The Ramones and you will hear The Mean Jeans. They’re not re-inventing the wheel. It’s pop-punk and, as Ryan Young says, pop-punk is imitation but I don’t think imitation has ever been this much fun before.

Legendary Wings - Making Paper Roses

Legendary Wings

Making Paper Roses

Dirtnap Records
By

Rating: 2.5/5

 
 

 

 

Kalamazoo native powerpop group Legendary Wings got lucky. In a turn of events almost unheard of, the band sent an unsolicited demo to Dirtnap Records and got signed. Their LP Making Paper Roses is their first full length record, and delivers sixteen tracks of generic but fun pop punk. Fuzzier and grittier than many of their labelmates, Legendary Wings seems to be an appropriate addition to Dirtnap’s lineup.

The album opens up with the track Nachos that begins with a catchy bass line and leads into a fast poppy song, matching the tempo and style of every subsequent song. The production on this album is very low-fi, giving off a very garage-band feeling that is endearing and works for this group. The major detrament of this however, is singer Scott Terrian is almost impossible to hear. Tracks like Time and Seeing Wallsare the best example. For someone who is interested in learning and listening to lyrics, this album requires a lot of work. His voice does seem fitting and very familiar for the genre, like a cross between Kevin Seconds and Goldfinger’s John Feldmann, though it seems like it may need a little work. That is, unless they were looking for an off-key and strained sound during songs like Pure and I Think I’m Dumb.

I wish I had more to say about this album, but damn-near ever track sounds exactly the same. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, and is especially common for this style of pop-punk. Though Legendary Wings deliver a fun album in Making Paper Roses, the band fails to become memorable for me, and the record will likely not make it into my usual rotation. However, if you are a fan of your brother’s friend’s garage band, Making Paper Roses will probably be the perfect addition to your LP collection.

High Tension Wires - Midnight Cashier

High Tension Wires

Midnight Cashiers

Dirtnap Records
By

Rating: 4/5

 
 

 

 

I think we don’t fully appreciate music for what it really is, especially in this day and age. To most it’s a form of entertainment, something to listen to as an attempt to kill time, have fun, dance, etc. Not something that needs to be taken seriously and of course the people who do need to get laid or something, right? To others, music is nothing but collectible items, it doesn’t matter what it is, but holding an obscure record in your hand is like holding a million dollar rookie card you can show off to others, whether you like the band or not has no relevance. What does it mean however, to the rest of us, the musicians and the kids who give a damn? Lyrics aren’t just words written to carry a melody, but lines of poetry, expressing and capturing the very essence of the person, expelling every last breath to have these emotions heard. Chords aren’t just played to keep a beat, but rather are time capsules, and every one struck solidifies a moment. Music is supposed to be as passionate as any other art form, but that theory gets lost in translation. Its bands like High Tension Wires who live by this theory.

I’m a firm believer that Mike Weibe is one of the unsung heroes of punk rock right now. Only recently has his other band Riverboat Gamblers begun to receive any sort of positive mainstream press, but his other band just released their album Midnight Cashier and not only does it overshadow his other act, but completely stands on it’s own as a testament of what music really is supposed to do, evoke emotion.

The songs are simple at best, riding the wave of the insurgence of pop-punk, that has recently been headed to a forefront thanks to Red Scare records, but what really makes this album stand out are the lyrics. Most of the songs are personal and specific, to Mike Weibe himself, such as when he belts out “I’m only just one person / ignore my cursing / my head is fucking fried. / Cancel my seven – thirty, its way too early / and I don’t have the time / to know where I’ve gotta be / I blame the A.D.H.D. / There’s something wrong but if you ask my mom she’ll just say I’m lazy.” on the song Wax Lips and Blood on the Telephone. Even though it’s a specific topic, it’s something I can relate to completely making the song even more special to me.

There’s a lot of rock and roll influence, definitely bleeding over from his other project no doubt. Because of low production a lot of the energy seems toned down, but this is definitely a live band for sure. There are some songs that are just fun to bounce around to like Old Enough to Be Home Alone, Can’t Focus and Not Enough For Me. The album is littered with enough catchy hooks to keep anyone listening singing along to every sarcastic and personal word.

There are albums that people hear that they correlate with a specific period of time in their lives. I already have a number of albums set up in timeline and I can now add this one to my college years. For sure, there are songs that touch aspects of myself and show that Mr. Weibe and I have a lot in common. I was never a huge fan of pop punk but I can listen to this album on repeat for hours.

Do yourself a favour and search this one out.

The Ergs - Upstairs Downstairs

The Ergs!

Upstairs/Downstairs

Dirtnap Records
By

Rating: 3.5/5

 
 

 

 

New Jersey has a phenomenal local scene. While yes, they are to blame for some of the mass output of emo acts that have taken over the airwaves during the course of the past few years, New Jersey is also the birth place of acts like The Misfits, The Gaslight Anthem, Lifetime, BigWig, The Bouncing Souls, and the list goes on and on. Now you can add one more band to the list: The Ergs!; who are one of the better pop-punk acts in the underground today.

On Upstairs/Downstairs, their third release, The Ergs! blast through fourteen minute to two minute long songs proudly portraying snotty vocals and a bouncy three chord beat. It is energetic, fast paced nerd rock with hints of a Weezer vocal styling played to a Ramones/Descendents musical backdrop. The songs are all about love and relationships but sang in a way that isn’t over done or agonizingly boring and it adds up for an album that works from front to back (excluding one major error but that will come up later). Songs like The Clocks, The Clocks, Bike Shopped, Hysterical Fiction and Boston, Massachusetts are bouncy, simple, and very catchy three chord pop-punk that comes and goes way too fast basically forcing you to press the repeat button. But it is in that need for repeat that The Ergs!really shine, because while the songs do tend to meld into one another after a while, you still want to go back and listen to them again.

However, despite that Upstairs/Downstairs is one of the better Ramones-esque pop-punk releases out there at the moment, it does still fall short in some areas where they should have succeeded. The aforementioned problem of blending the songs into one another does become a bit more evident as it passes through the halfway mark as many of the short songs follow the same structure and nasally vocal pattern. Luckily though, they are able to pull the listener back in with songs like Hysterical Fiction or the whiskey soaked country tune Stinking Of Whiskey Blues (Lucero fans will devour this track), the more melodic Trouble In River City and the slowest song on the record, Books About Miles David. Those songs are able to save the second half of the record which could have fallen into a repetitive circle. Another problem is the comparison between Upstairs/Downstairs and their prior EP, Jersey’s Best Prancers which seemed to have a more cohesive feel to it with more energy and stronger vocals than what appears on the full length. While the difference is unnoticeable if you haven’t heard the EP and the album isn’t really hurt by it, if you have heard the EP you just get the feeling that certain songs don’t really live up to the expectations that were laid out for it. This only leaves the one major mistake, and that’s in the final track, and title track, Upstairs/Downstairs which is an eighteen minute track that is mostly instrumental and more of a chore to listen to than entertainment and could have been left out without hurting the CD at all.

Despite those three slight problems, Upstairs/Downstairs is still a entertaining and solid release and is perfect for anyone dying to get away from the emo and hardcore acts that are sweeping the scene; after all, this is a reminder of what pop-punk really should be: fun, fast, and enjoyable.

The Ergs - Hindsight Is 20/20 My Friends

The Ergs

Hindsight Is 20/20 My Friends

Dirtnap Records
By

Rating: 2.5/5

 
 

 

 

I feel as if what I’m about to say is going to make me wildly unpopular. That I will lose friends and give my enemies yet another reason to dislike me. I’m also concerned that thepunksite.com readers will become so enraged that they’ll pull a Frankenstein on me and physically hunt me down with a bunch of torches and pitchforks until I’m cornered in some decrepit castle while they gather outside the walls until I’m really hungry and have to surrender, at which time they’ll, I don’t know, skewer my head on a super-big stick or something. But here goes:

When it comes to The Ergs!, I honestly don’t see what the big deal is.

There, I said it.

Granted, I’m basing most of my opinion of Hindsight… Yes, I’ve seen em live, I’ve peripherally enjoyed Upstairs/Downstairs and Dorkrockcorkrod, and while those albums seem (obviously, as they’re not singles collections) much more linear and rocking, I still don’t understand the foaming-at-the-mouth fervor surrounding this band. They’re catchy, self-effacing pop-punk with witty my-heart-is-totally-smashed lyrics, but I’ve never understood their fans’ die-hard absolutism about em.

Admittedly, they’re insanely talented musicians. They unquestionably know their way around a song – regardless of what genre they’re fucking with – and could most likely play this stuff in their sleep. They make it sound easy and, yes, are undoubtedly a fun band. But there’s just something about the stuff on Hindsight…, even the few straight-forward pop punk songs where they’re not messing around with country music or hardcore or reggae, that fails to sink it’s teeth in. It could be that nearly all of the songs revolve around broken hearts – I mean, shit, even Screeching Weasel strayed off the beaten path now and again – or the fact that Hindsight… is structured in a way that there’s a lot of that genre-hopping (a pop punk song followed by a few country jams followed by another pop punk song followed by a fifteen-second hardcore blast). But mostly, it’s just that there’s this sense of too much that’s pervasive throughout the whole thing. It’s like, the dudes are such good musicians that they almost can’t help but insert little jazzy chord progressions into a song or spoof small sections of doo-wop vocal arrangements in the choruses. And as for me and my Neandrathalic palette, it detracts from the music rather than adding anything – I want this band to just go full-tilt sometimes, and at least on Hindsight they rarely do. Even Books About Miles Davis – which many have argued is the band’s best song – in which it’s simply a guitar and Mikey Erg’s vocals for 2/3s of the way through, is weakened by the almost lounge-like guitar noodling peppered throughout. I just wish they’d go for it, you know?

The best song on the album, It’s OK To Hate Me, is actually an Apers cover, and by the time Nasty Ho and the awful funk of Steering Clear In The New Year makes it way out of the speakers, I’m pretty much over it. After listening to this thing multiple times, scouring the liner notes and song explanations, I still don’t get the appeal. I’ll grudgingly admit that The Ergs! may just be too goddamn smart for me.

Still, Hindsight… probably has hardcore fans of the band shitting themselves. It’s a completist’s dream. Collecting oodles of out-of-print singles, split 7”s, comp songs, covers, alternate versions of songs and all-around general effluvia, it’s a pretty stellar package. Complete with lyrics and short song explanations, it’s one of those collections that, had I been one of those die-hard fans, I’d have been stoked. And while they are a terrific live band, I was looking forward to straight-forward pop punk stuff ala Kind Of Like Smitten or Pray For Rain, and while Hindsight… has a formidable 33 songs, very few of em deliver that. Again, maybe it’s me, but because of their musical proficiency, they unfortunately come across as more of a spoof/joke band here. If you’ve never heard em before, grab one of the full lengths first.

Bad Sports - Kings of the Weekend!

Bad Sports

Kings of the Weekend!

Dirtnap Records
By

Rating: 2.5/5

 
 

 

 

I saw these guys live maybe six months ago – a three-piece that played their guts out, traded vocals occasionally, were solid and confident, and sounded very good. Sure, it was heavily derivative of theRamones, but it’s not like that’s anything new. Besides, Bad Sports were good at it, which is all that’s required, right?

The weird thing is, the Bad Sports I hear on Kings of the Weekend! sound virtually nothing like I remember Bad Sports sounding live. They sound almost like two different bands, and it makes me wonder exactly how much I drank that night, you know?

Recorded by Mark Ryan (the mastermind of a million bands you probably like – or at least have heard of – Marked Men, High Tension Wires and Mind Spiders among them), there’s a surprisingly muddy, distracting quality to the music here that really takes a lot of the band’s energy away. I was expecting bright, slashing guitar lines, but with Ryan behind the controls, everything is a little fuzzed-out and buried, almost giving the songs a swamp-like vibe. Where I remember as a fun, wire-tight three-piece that played excellent Ramones-inspired punk that abounded with energy, this seems pretty different. Songs like “Teenage Girls” has an odd, almost 50s-esque undercurrent to it, reminding me of a less ferocious outing by the Tranzmitors or something. The familiar melodies the Ramones used as a template are most certainly there, but they seem seriously weighted down by the odd production values. Midway through the album Bad Sports step up the tempo a bit – “I’m In Love (With Myself)” is an upbeat, rock-simple clusterbomb of a song that could’ve come out on Stiff thirty-five years ago, and the follow-up “Get Your Head” is no slouch either – but as whole, it’s a somewhat muddied affair.

Kings of the Weekend! isn’t terrible by any stretch, and they close it out with the ringing klaxon call of “Days Of Denton”, but their slower numbers frequently become lost in the murk, and the muddiness of the recording diminishes the potential impact of the faster songs. It’s just a preference, I guess: Mark Ryan clearly knows what he’s doing, and so does the band – I just feel that songs like these should be bright, crystalline bursts of sound. On Kings of The Weekend!, they seem mired and bogged down by their own weight.

Various Artists – Dirtnap Records SXSW Sampler

In anticipation of the SXSW show on March 19th, Dirtnap Records have posted a free sampler compilation featuring a bunch of their artists. On the sampler you’ll get unheard tracks from High Tension Wires (Mind Spiders/Riverboat Gamblers members), Something Fierce, and Bad Sports as well as tracks by Mind Spiders (buzzed-about new band of Mark Ryan from Marked Men), White Wires, Mean Jeans and more.   Check it out.
Various Artists – Dirtnap Records SXSW Sampler
Dirtnap Records SXSW Sampler

High Tension Wires – Backbone

On March 15, Denton, Texas’ High Tension Wires – featuring members of The Marked Men, Mind Spiders, Riverboat Gamblers, Ghost Knife, Chop Sakis (to name a few) – will release their third album, Welcome New Machine on Dirtnap Records. They’re streaming a song from the album, “Backbone”, on their Myspace page now.

The album will be available on 12″vinyl as well as digitally.