Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Absolute Best Records Of 2015


Many times throughout the year I had commented on how 2015 seemed like a year that had a lot of really good records, but seemed to be lacking in drop dead great ones.  I'll admit that when I sat down to work on this list, I ended up being presented with a lot more records that I loved this year than I was expecting.  The top 20 in particular is damn strong.  Aside from Clearance, I didn't have those records that I just played non stop over and over again this year, but looking back at it, 2015 was nothing to sneeze at.  Some pretty good records came out this year.  I don't have time to discuss them all, but I do have some extra thoughts on a few.

The record that really did it for me this year was Clearance.  I am a sucker for Pavement, so when Clearance decided to pop by and pick up that torch, I was all too pleased to follow along.  It's such a perfect record from top to bottom.  I can't think of a record that I went back to over and over again as much as Clearance.  These guys are on the right track and I really hope they keep pumping out new tunes.

The Mountain Goats and Royal Headache also both received a ton of play out of me this year.  Even though the record was about pro wrestling and I figured that would be fun for a listen or two, I was shocked at how much I genuinely enjoyed the Mountain Goats, especially as I had never been that much of a fan previously.  Royal Headache was top notch, but there were a couple of songs in the middle of the record that slowed things down a bit and may have kept it from the top spot. Third of the year is still pretty great.  Good Shade technically was released digitally in 2014, but the LP came out this year, so it's going on my list.  Wonk Unit may not totally deserve to be on the list on a technicality as it's a compilation of previously released songs, but it was their first time on vinyl, and I hadn't heard them previously, so on it goes.

Lastly at number fourteen is Unlikely Friends.  I didn't review that record this year.  It didn't come out on vinyl, so I kept putting off buying it hoping it would eventually be released.  It didn't happen so I finally ordered the CD but I waited too long.  I'll get a review of that up first thing in the new year, but it's really worth a listen.

01 - Clearance - Rapid Rewards - Tall Pat (Listen)
02 - The Mountain Goats - Beat The Champ - Merge (Listen)
03 - Royal Headache - High - What's Your Rupture (Listen)
04 - Good Shade - Good Shade - Gut Genug (Listen)
05 - Wonk Unit - Feel The Wonkness - Drunken Sailor (Listen)
06 - Swami John Reis & The Blind Shake - Modern Surf Classics - Swami (Listen)
07 - Warm Soda - Symbolic Dream - Castleface (Listen)
08 - Red Dons - The Dead Hand Of Tradition - Taken By Surprise (Listen)
09 - Outtacontroller - Television Zombie LP - Southpaw (Listen)
10 - Lost Balloons - Lost Balloons - Alien Snatch (Listen)

11 - Widows Watch - This Message Repeats - Toxic Pop
12 - Radioactivity - Silent Kill - Dirtnap
13 - Hungry Tiger - Hungry Tiger - Sex Sheet
14 - Unlikely Friends - Solid Gold Cowboys - Jigsaw
15 - Sweet John Bloom - Weird Prayer - Tiny Engines
16 - Ash - Kablammo - E.A.R.
17 - Tenement - Predatory Headlights - Don Giovanni
18 - Beach Slang - The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us - Polyvinyl
19 - The Barreracudas - Can Do Easy - Oops Baby
20 - Beach Party - Broken Machine - Sex Sheet

21 - The Ballantynes - Dark Drives, Life Signs - La-Ti-Da
22 - ИO​​/​​​/​​​/​​sé - Lower Berth - 1859/Man In Decline
23 - The Blind Shake - Fly Right - Slovenly
24 - Nervous Talk - Nervous Talk - Hosehead
25 - King Khan and BBQ Show - Bad News Boys - In The Red
26 - The Sonics - This Is The Sonics - ReVox
27 - Built To Spill - Untethered Moon
28 - Mikal Cronin - MCIII - Merge
29 - Legendary Wings - Do You See? - Dirtnap
30 - Apocalypse Meow - The End Is Nigh - Sex Sheet/Rad Girlfriend

Other Records I Picked Up This Year:
Archers Of Loaf - Curse Of The Loaf - ARRA Music
Baby Shakes - Starry Eyes - Lil Chewy
Built In Sun - Built In Sun - PIAPTK
The Butterscotch Cathedral - The Butterscotch Cathedral - Trouble In Mind
Casual - Casual - Dead Broke / Square of Opposition
Hex Dispensers - III - Alien Snatch
Hysterese - Hysterese - Dirt Cult
Hospital Job - Never Get Cold - Rad Girlfriend / It's Alive
Jaill - Brain Cream - Burger
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - Freedom Tower - Mom + Pop
The Knew - Schmew - Greater Than
Mandates - In The Back Of Your Heart - Hosehead/Taken By Surprise
Maniac - Demimonde - La-Ti-Da
Mac McCaughan - Non Believers - Merge
Nervosas - Nervosas - Dirtnap
Pale Angels - Imaginary People - Recess
Phylums - Phylum Phyloid - Dirtnap
The Rubs - The Rubs Are Trash - Tall Pat
Sanhose - Pi - Snuffy Smiles
Shadow In the Cracks - Shadow In The Cracks - Goner
The Soaks - The Soaks - Riot House
Spraynard - Mable - Jade Tree
Wavves - V - Mom + Pop
World's Fair - Leisurely - Rok Lok


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Hospital Job - Never Get Cold LP - Purple Vinyl (/100)


Rad Girlfriend / It's Alive (2015)

It's very difficult to tell from this picture, but the vinyl color is actually a very dark purple.  You can really only notice when you hold it up to the light, but it's there.  This will be my last normal review for the year.  Tomorrow I'll be posting my end of the year list and then I'll take another little break until Monday of next week.  

Hospital Job comes in right under the wire as the last record I picked up in 2015.  It'll be the last one eligible for my year end list, but it's kind of difficult to rank (and review for that matter) as I've only been able to go through it a couple of times.  I am, however, familiar enough with the band from their past albums to know that if you like the prior Hospital Job records, chances are you'll dig this one as well.

I've always felt that Hospital Job walks a tightrope between the big guitar rock of ill fated major label rock bands of the mid 90's and poppy-punk sounds of the late 90's/early 2000's.  When the band is leaning on the crunchy guitar attack of bands like Treble Charger and The Figgs is when Hospital Job is at their best.  The times where they drift over to the sounds of bands like Blink-182 (which vocally they are always on the cusp of doing) are the times where Never Get Cold doesn't resonate as strongly with me.

The one thing you can count on when you listen to a Hospital Job record is a solid album with a handful of pretty great songs.  They never write any bad songs and there's usually enough monkeying around and weirdness thrown into the mix to keep things interesting.  I'm not sure that I'll ever rank them as one of my favorite bands, but I always end up enjoying their songs and will always buy their new records.

Hospital Job - Never Get Cold:

Monday, December 28, 2015

Apocalypse Meow - The End Is Nigh LP


Sex Sheet / Rad Girlfriend / Bigger Boat / Catnap / Night Animal (2015)

I ended up getting a few albums kind of late in the year and now I'm scrambling to get them reviewed in time for my end of the year list. Last year I posted my list on the 29th of December. This year, it's looking like the 30th will be when I'll be able to get it up.  I have to review today's record and one more LP for tomorrow.  There's a third, final album that I really should get to, but it's not going to be here in time.  I've listened to it enough times to rank it on my list, but it never got the proper review for the year that it should of because I held out hope for too long that it would eventually be pressed on vinyl.  The CD is now finally en route.

That being said, 2015 is ending on a positive note.  For today we have Apocalypse Meow.  They're a band with a silly name, but they are definitely not a jokey band.  The End Is Nigh is seriously good and I'm thrilled that Sex Sheet sent me this to review.  That's three for three from those guys; they are definitely a label to keep an eye out for.

If you have to categorize Apocalypse Meow, they definitely lean towards the pop punk end of the rock and roll spectrum.  They are not, however, one of those goofy pop punk bands singing about high school love problems.  The songs are tight, catchy and lyrically they stand out from the crowd.  One of the things I like the most about the album is the tone the band gets out of their guitar.  They eschew the big loud fuzz that you may expect from a band like this and instead employ a less distorted, but somewhat muddy tone that adds real warmth to their songs.  It sounds a little dirty, but it compliments the mood the band is creating on the album.

I honestly didn't go into this record with super high expectations.  Apocalypse Meow were a band I was aware of, but hadn't taken the time to listen to.  Aside from a goofy rap part in the middle of "Life Is Hard" that sounds like it was taken right out of the song "Tangerine Speedo" by Caviar, this is a great record top to bottom.  I wish I had a bit more time to spend with it before I make up my end of the year list, but rest assured,  The End Is Nigh will make the list.

Apocalypse Meow - The End Is Nigh:

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Knew - Schmew LP


Greater Than Collective (2015)

The fine folks from the band The Knew sent me their LP recently as I had written some nice things about a prior 7" of theirs that had come out on Snappy Little Numbers.  While I'm not sure anything on this album hits me quite as hard as the two songs on that 7", there is no denying that Schmew is a fun album to take for a spin.

What originally drew me to The Knew, and what continues to be what I like most about this band, is their infectious party attitude.  The energy very much reminds me of the band W.H Walker.  The big difference is that where W.H Walker leaned more on older 60's rock references, The Knew take it a decade later and really seem inspired by poppier 70's glam.  Cheap Trick and Thin Lizzy and all that.  For a modern reference, this album reminds me a lot of the band Napalmpom, though I think The Knew pulls off this style of music significantly better.

While I'll admit to being partial to the songs that are heavier on the power pop side of things like "We're Coming Back" and I could probably do with a few less screaming guitar solos, the record as a whole is just an upbeat good time.  While it's probably not the kind of record I can see myself listening non-stop on repeat (I'm just not as big on glam as some), if you are looking for a record to motivate you while you are dusting the living room, give Schmew a try.

The Knew - Schmew:

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Just Jeffrey - Coffee, Tea & Me LP


La-Ti-Da (2015)

The man behind this Just Jeffrey album is Jeffrey McCloy, familiar to me (and maybe to you) from his work in Tranzmitors.  While McCloy recruited some musicians to help flesh out the tracks on this album, this is essentially his solo album and very much plays like one.

It's not unusual for someone who is used to the dynamics of being in a band to let loose a little when they start up a new project.  You can see lots of examples of this going well, but you'll find even more examples of this not working out at all (hi Eric Bachmann!).  Just Jeffrey kind of runs the gamut over the course of this record.  I really enjoy the more upbeat, mod leaning songs on Coffee Tea & Me like "Hello Eleanor" and "Disposable Culture".  He's tapping in to a catchiness that always gets my attention.  

Less successful are the handful of songs that are sparser and more introspective. There are times where I'm very much reminded of bands like So Cow and The 'Tone over the course of Coffee Tea & Me, but there are some times where it just sounds like some dude dicking around by himself.  Those are the songs that I don't get as much mileage out of.  Still, at eighteen songs there is a lot to like on this record.  A little editing probably could have made it tighter, but it's worth checking out regardless.

Just Jeffrey - Coffee Tea & Me:

Monday, December 21, 2015

Outtacontroller - Television Zombie LP


Southpaw (2015)

Sorry for the unannounced break at the end of last week.  Real life occupied my mornings for a bit, but things are getting back on track.  I can't think of a better return than being able to write about this Outtacontroller LP.  I really dug their last album and couldn't wait to get my hands on this new one.  It was definitely worth the wait and is every bit as good as their debut.

For some reason I think Outtacontroller tends to get left out of the conversation when people talk about all of the great Canadian bands that are floating around right now.  They very much fit in with the heavy hitters of that scene like Sonic Avenues and Steve Adamyk Band.  This album, in particular, also reminds me a lot of the second Something Fierce album There Are No Answers (also known as the really, really good Something Fierce album).

Outtacontroller are masters of stitching together downstoke heavy chord progressions, vocal harmonies and ultra catchy choruses.  The hooks on this album are, pardon the really, really bad pun, out of control and I've been playing this album pretty much nonstop since getting it in the mail the other week.

2015 is wrapping up and I'm getting my best of the year list in order.  Television Zombie is so good that it's really shaking up my list.  Don't be surprised to see them quite high on my list when it is eventually posted.  This is a hell of a way to close out the year.

Outtacontroller - Television Zombie:

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Chandeli'ers - S/T 12"


Tender Buttons (2012)

This record is a few years old, but it just ended up on my radar recently courtesy of a tweet from the fabulous Dead Broke Rekerds.  All I needed to listen to was the first 30 seconds or so of the opening track "Sweet Time" and this was an immediate purchase for me.  The lightly distorted guitar with the bouncy riffs and mod-ish tendencies immediately made me think of the band Smalltown and that's all I needed to convince me to buy this 12".

The rest of this EP has some ups and downs, at least as far as song tempo goes.  The other two tracks on side A slow things down a bit but the alternating boy/girl vocals are wonderful and create some killer harmonies.  The B side picks the pace back up and at times reminds me a little bit of the poppier moments of The Ballantynes, especially with the prominent keyboards.

Chandeli'ers is a really easy band to listen.  They simply write good, catchy songs.  The rumor is these guys are working on a full length for next year and this EP has certainly built my anticipation to hear more from these guys.  

Chandeli'ers - S/T 12":

Monday, December 14, 2015

Lawsuit Models - Dudeman 7" - Red Vinyl


Snappy Little Numbers (2015)

Somewhere along the line the word pop-punk turned into a criticism as opposed to a description.  These days, I feel like if you call a band pop punk you're somehow insinuating that you shouldn't be taking their music seriously.  It seems a bit silly to me as I've been know to take pop punk pretty seriously myself.  You should feel totally fine calling Lawsuit Models an awesome pop punk band and know that the band should take that as a compliment.

These guys have put two songs down on this 7" that take me right back to 1995.  You want a catchy hooks?  Both songs have them.  Want some of that palm muted, chugga-chugga, start/stop guitar work?  That's here too.  Octaves and guitar leads? Check and check.  You could just run down the list of everything that makes for a great punked out pop song and Lawsuit Models always seem to fit the bill.  Vocally, they remind me of a slightly smoother Paddy from Dillinger Four, though the songs in general are more upbeat and lean towards that 90's West Coast sound.

Snappy Little Numbers has done it again.  They always send me records by bands I have never heard of and miraculously they're always good.  Very few labels have that kind of track record.  I really dig this 7" and I'm hopeful the band is already hard at work mixing up some more pop punk greatness.

Lawsuit Models - Dudeman 7":

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Conan Neutron And The Secret Friends - The Enemy Of Everyone LP - Blue Vinyl


Seismic Wave (2015)

I virtually always mention when I am about to write about a record that someone sent me to review to help distinguish them from the records I actually buy.  I'm not sure where that need comes from, but it is just one of those things I do.  When I opened up the package containing this record I very much did a book/cover/judgment sort of thing based on the artwork.  It just didn't look like the sort of record that would be up my alley.  That being said, if you send me a full length record to review, damn it, I will review that record.  Luckily The Enemy Of Everyone was much better than I thought it was going to be.

That's not to say that I love this record or that it's the sort of see I can see myself listening to all that often.  It is heavier and more 70's glam rock leaning than I typically like.  But, it is way poppier and catchier than I would have anticipated from the art.  There are a lot of big, crunchy guitar riffs, some strong vocals and the drumming is really tight and locks down this entire record.  That's probably due to Dale Crover of the Melvins on drums.  Not that I'm really much of a Melvins fan either, but that guy sure can hit those drums with those sticks pretty good.

The albums starts out with a bang and "Casuually Intense" is arguably the best song on the album.  It's one of those upbeat and infectious songs that has a way of making you nod along whether you realize you were doing it or not.  The rest of the album is hit or miss for me.  The slower sludgier songs aren't really my bag and some of the faster ones drift a little too far into glam for my tastes as well.  While someone with more of an affinity for heavier bands would probably enjoy this record a lot more than me, Conan Neutron And The Secret Friends doesn't really captivate me in a way that would make me go back and listen again and again.  It's not bad (OK, the song "Fight Math" is kind of bad, but it's really the only one), it's just not really the sort of thing I tend to spend time with.

Conan Neutron And The Secret Friends - The Enemy Of Everyone:

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Shadow In The Cracks - S/T LP


Goner (2015)

Discovering The Blind Shake is one of the smarter things I've done over the past few years (thanks again @swamipat).  Their potent blend of noise, punk and hooks have made quite an impact on me.  Shadow in The Cracks is two thirds of The Blind Shake (Jim & Mike Blaha) and chances are if you dig The Blind Shake, you will dig parts of this record as well.

I won't pretend to like this quite as much as I like The Blind Shake.  One of the things that I think really defines that band is how deceptively catchy they are.  Sure those hooks are buried deep in the grime, but they are there.  Shadow In The Cracks is much more of a dissonant record.  Not to say that there aren't any hooks, but the grime is thicker and there is a more experimental sound.  If anything, you'd have to say these are much more in line with the further out there, weirdo Blind Shake songs.

This Shadow In The Cracks album is an economical nine songs and thirty minutes long.  It's long enough to let the ideas of each song play out, but not so long that they become self indulgent or overbearing.  It's an interesting listen, with lots of unique ideas.  I hate to bring up The Blind Shake in nearly every sentence in this review, but that's going to be your touchstone as what to expect.  If you like one, it's probably likely that you'll like the other as well.

Shadow In The Cracks - "Timeless":

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Lost Balloons - S/T LP - Clear Vinyl


Alien Snatch (2015)

Very few things will get me to buy a record quicker than saying one of the guys from The Marked Men is in the band.  Not only was The Marked Men one of my very favorite bands, but every single other band that has splintered off in their wake tends to be incredible as well.  Just add the fact that the particular Marked Man on this record is Jeff Burke and there is literally no way I am not buying this, import from Germany or not.

The other important factor in Lost Balloons is Yusuke Okada of Suspicious Beasts and formerly of the great, great Japanese band Blotto.  Combine these two songwriting titans and you are essentially guaranteed a great record. Lost Balloons does not let down.  Both Burke and Okada share the singing duties on this record, but I would say that in general the sensibilities of Burke shine through a bit more.  You can certainly hear echoes of his other bands in quite a few of the songs.  Chances are that if you like The Marked Men or Radioactivity, there's a pretty good chunk of this record that will make you just as happy.

The remaining chunk tends to slow things down a bit and play with the texture of the songs.  While most of the songs on this album tend to be a bit poppier than the Suspicious Beasts records, Okada brings an element of experimentation to the party.  But don't assume catchy aspects of the songs are all Burke as when Okada was in Blotto, he knew a thing or two about creating perfect two minute punk rock hits.

Needless to say, I really dig this record.  If forced to choose (and I will be in a couple of weeks while making my best of the year lists), I might even say I like this album even better than the stellar Radioactivity release from earlier this year.  Lost Balloons is a can't miss collaboration of two tremendous songwriters.  Even as a pricey import, it's still very much worth picking up.

Lost Balloons - "Too Many Eyes":

Monday, December 7, 2015

The First Part - S/T EP (CD Single/Cassette)


Self Released (2014)

I stumbled across The First Part through fellow Texas band Gentleman Rogues.  As it turns out, both have members who were previously in a band that was active in the mid 90's called Jill.  I enjoyed those guys immensely and still go back to their their small, but potent discography all these years later.  While The First Part is not as straight up 1990's pop punk as Jill was, they still write supremely catchy songs and I really enjoy this first release of theirs.

This EP is available on two formats, a cassette and a CD single.  No vinyl, which is obviously the format of choice for me, but I'd rather have a CD any day of the week over a cassette only release.  So, kudos to the band for providing some options.  This EP starts out with the songs "Would Be Queen" and "The Catalyst."  Both are hook filled, mid tempo rockers that remind me a bit of Hospital Job if I'm going to make a current reference. Really good stuff.

Just when I thought I had The First Part pegged, the third song comes on, "Perfect Hair."  To me, this is totally different than the prior two songs.  It's heavy on harmonies and has a slight British Invasion feel to it.  It immediately makes me think of the Resonars and that is certainly not a bad thing.  Things wrap up with "Honor Among Thieves."  It's a great closing song with a driving rhythm section, jangling guitar riffs and soaring vocals.  A great capper to a very strong debut EP.  I hope to hear more from these guys soon.

The First Part - The First Part EP:

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Beach Slang - The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us LP - Clear Vinyl (/800)


Polyvinyl (2015)

The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us is the first full length from Beach Slang, following up on two prior 7"s that I've also reviewed on this site.  While they maintain a similar sound, there's something about The Things We Do... that gives it more impact and makes it feel like it's making a real statement.

When I listen to the record, the statement I hear it making is that singer James Snyder is getting older and at times doesn't really know what to do with himself.  He spends a lot of time singing about being young or conversely being older.  I described James Snyder to a friend as a living, breathing Instagram filter.  There are times where things come across a little over dramatic and perhaps borderlining on cheesy, but in general Synder's filter is one that highlights specific details and brings aspects of his stories into sharper focus.

Musically, this is a band that's trying to channel the raw emotion of bands like The Replacements and to a lesser extent Jawbreaker.  Snyder's prior band Weston dealt in the currency of upbeat catchy pop punk tunes.  Beach Slang is much more somber in nature, but still manages to maintain the hooks that you'd come to expect from a guy who served time playing 90's pop punk.  As I'm sure it's obvious to long time readers, I'm a total sucker for 90's pop punk, but Beach Slang blows away anything Weston ever did. 

As someone who is also getting older (today is my 39th birthday, actually) and who also doesn't always know exactly what to do with himself (let's face it, look at all these records I'm still buying), it is interesting to hear a record that seems pointed towards folks in my age group.  While I may not love this record quite as much as a lot of other people seem to judging from the never ending stream of extremely positive reviews I've seen, I do think this is a pretty great record and absolutely one worth checking out.

Beach Slang - The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us:

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Sanhose - π Japanese Cassette


Snuffy Smiles (2015)

I had already discussed the music on π Japanese back when I reviewed the CD version of this album a couple of months ago.  You can read that here, but to briefly recap, this is a sterling example of a Japanese punk rock band putting out a record on Snuffy Smiles.  Fast, catchy and just one of my favorite strains of melodic punk rock music.

Despite my typical aversion to cassettes, the real reason I needed to get this on top of already owning the CD version really just comes down to the matrix number used.  Snuffy Smiles has 2 matrixes that they use: SMILE-xxx for CDs and SNUFF-xxx for 7"s and LPs.  While I do not quite have a complete collection of Snuffy Smiles CDs, I do have all of the 7"s, all one hundred and thirty something so far.  When this cassette was released, Snuffy Smiles used the SNUFF-131 matrix number and that meant there was sort of a hole in my 7" collection.

I realize that probably doesn't make a ton of sense.  Sure, I'm not actually missing a 7" but just having that gap in the numerical order drove me crazy.  Luckily the Dead Broke Rekerds distro restocked this tape, so I picked it up and once again the collection is complete.  At least until the next batch of 7"s.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Wavves - V LP - Purple Vinyl


Mom + Pop (2015)

V is the newest album from Wavves, though it's only the III one of theirs that I've picked up.  I've been paying attention since 2010's King Of The Beach.  Since then, Wavves has been a pretty reliable band for me.  While I don't think they've ever released a slam dunk classic of an album, they have a respectable catalog of songs and it's always a good time when I break out one of their records.

V starts off the way it seems that most Wavves albums start, with the very best song right up front.  "Heavy Metal Detox" is everything you'd look for in a Wavves song.  Upbeat, tight chorus, wacky lead riff could go so far as to say it's quintessential Wavves.  The rest of the album follows suit.  I would rank this ahead of 2013's Afraid Of Heights album, but it doesn't quite reach the level of King Of The Beach.

Chances are that if you are playing catchy, punk pop with big guitars and bigger choruses I'm going to like your record.  Maybe Wavves haven't knocked me on my ass with the perfect song, but there's something to be said for putting out three extremely solid records that are fun to listen to.  That's a formula that will get me to pick up the next record every time.

Wavves - "Heavy Metal Detox":