Welcome back, everyone, for this month’s edition of What’s Up Punks. We’ve decided to slim down the lists to 5 albums and 10 tracks, with a rare exception here or there (there is one this month), and have expanded our “range” a bit to include some post-punk this time around. As we’re rounding the corner on festival season it means we’re rapidly approaching the unofficial cap on it all: Gainesville’s The Fest (more on that in the tour section). We’re amped about this month’s releases and stoked for what’s to come in October but for now, check out what we were listening to this month. And, as always, if something caught your ear and we need to check it out – tell us!
Algiers – The Underside of Power
This is as heavy as anything else out there right now. The flexing of serious chops and post-punk/soul/funk muscles going on here are challenging and accessible at the same time. This band, and this new album, push and pull listeners in different, irresistible directions simultaneously. It elicits a feeling of what it must have been like to hear, say, TV on the Radio for the first time – a kind of aural assault that is both dizzying and completely euphoria inducing. The title track on this album is worth the price of admission alone and you may not hear a better vocalist right now involved in our post-post-everything world than Franklin James Fisher. The album proves to be so completely immersive, though, that – in this brief a space – it would be difficult to do it justice. Just go get it if you like experimental rock that pushes limits aka what punk used to be all about.
Hot Knife – My Fangs
This is an exquisite 6-song EP from Brooklyn’s Hot Knife that takes vocals that sometimes bear a resemblance to a younger Greg Graffin crossed with the phrasing of Milo Auckerman and music that calls back to mid-tempo ‘90s punk a la most of the product on Lookout! Records (which gave us Green Day and the Mr. T Experience among many others). An interesting side-note here: Some might recognize bassist Vic Castello from Static Radio. This does not necessarily invoke that band but it does represent some really solid new punk to put in your earholes.
Hot Water Music – Light It Up
Light It Up might be the first album from the longtime and seriously influential Gainesville, FL natives but they manage to pick back up right where they left off five years ago on previous album, Exister. Their most challenging material may be far behind them in the catalog but there are still few bands who do the yelling-yet-melodic beardo punk rock that these guys helped promulgate. The title track and “Vultures” serve as a bit of a departure from their norm, though, with fairly straight ahead punk more familiar from other bands. Some of the ticks and mannerisms that have become staples in Chuck Ragan’s solo work show up here, as well, on tracks like “Never Going Back” (destined to be the crowd singalong from this record) and “Bury Your Idols”. Chris Wollard does likewise on “Rabbit Key”. The band increasingly embrace some of the tropes of classic hard rock-gone-punk as evidenced by “High Class Catastrophe” and, arguably the best track on the new album, “Take You Away”. Overall, the latest from HWM is just another step in their continued evolution that shows that after 20 odd years in the game, their machine still has a strongly beating heart keeping it running.
Deer Tick – Deer Tick Vol. 2
Vol. 2 is the more rocking of the two-album set just released by these longtime indie-rock darlings. One of the reasons we’re featuring it here, though, is that in places it gets into some of the punkier roots of this band including many winks and nods at the nascent forms of the genre which Deer Tick meld with the power pop of bands like Cheap Trick. What it conjures is a sort of Midwestern stomper of a record that throws Wire and Richard Hell in a blender with the Replacements and Husker Du. Some of the standout tracks include “Jumpstarting”, “It’s a Whale”, and “Mr. Nothing Gets Worse”.
Prawn – Run
With this release, Prawn proves that dissonant yet tuneful emo-punk isn’t quite dead yet. “North Lynx” has the kind of moves that would make Cap’n Jazz, Small Brown Bike, and Christie Front Drive blush. There’s a ton more here where that came from. “Hawk in My Head” sets a blistering pace with guitar lines unraveling and tangling all while the plaintive vocals of Tony Clark call for your attention. “Rooftops” pulses with life driven ever forward by a compact rhythm section and the dervish-like drumming of Jamie Houghton that recalls some of the finer moments of Sunny Day Real Estate and some late guitar phrasing that might invoke vintage Death Cab for Cutie. For a band that have been doing their thing for about 10 years now, to not have achieved more success is somewhat shocking. That said, Run, if there’s any justice in the world, will change that in quick time. Get this and add it to your autumnal rotation immediately.
Bonus Album for this month: Four Year Strong – Some of You Will Like This, Some of You Won’t is an apt descriptor for pretty much anything this band has ever done and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I’ve been a late adopter of this band after, in their initial popularity, admittedly not “getting it”. The thing about FYS is that through their self-deprecation there’s a certain honesty to their style of punk-leaning pop. That and a healthy weakness for b-side and rarity records proved a perfect recipe for us to mention this as a “bonus” album in our round-of-five on the turntable this month.
Life Lessons – “Attention to Detail”
This track, from their recently released EP, Best When In Motion, is another nice punk-pop serving of notice out of Oklahoma, not typically regarded as a hotbed for this style. However, on the coattails of Red City Radio, we’re seeing more bands twisting the Midwestern style to meet their own needs, something Life Lessons do really well on this track (and EP). And yes, we’ll forgive you for hearing the ghost of At the Drive-In in the initial salvo of notes on this particular track.
Harbour – “Seven Days”
This is an Ataris-esque, sugarcoated piece of magic from this Canadian band. This tasty morsel certainly will leave pop-punk fans wishing for more. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be a full-length on the way anytime soon so you’ll just need to do what we did and hit repeat about half a dozen or so times.
We Too, Will Fade – “In The End We All Wish We Were Back Home”
A glistening bit of post-hardcore out of Munich, Germany. Tortured vocals strain over clean, taut guitars and sparse percussion before erupting into the kind of material fans of Quicksand would appreciate. That the band even drops into a pretty typical, if somewhat tacked on, metalcore style breakdown is pretty cool for a three-and-a-half minute song. If you haven’t yet decided to keep tabs on this band, now’s a good time to do so.
The Story So Far – “Out of It”
“Out of It” is….. Well, it’s the Story So Far. Is it anything new, stylistically, from this band? No. Is it highly proficient emo-pop-punk? Yes. Is it catchy as fuck? Well, duh. This track isn’t breaking any trade secrets from this band and we’re not discovering bold territory but there’s more than enough music to challenge us. Sometimes we just need those crunchy guitars, singalong choruses, punchy production that brings up the low end in the drums, and just sounds like teen angst in summer. If you don’t like this band, this probably won’t convert you, but you probably have trouble letting yourself enjoy simple, fun things, too.
Direct Hit! – “Blood on Your Tongue”
PEARS – “Arduous Angel”
We need to talk about this split EP from PEARS and Direct Hit! together rather than apart for obvious reasons but the two tracks we’re spinning this month are, to be brief, exactly what you (should) have come to expect, know, and love about both bands. The simple truth is that these bands sound just different enough but explode with that certain…. “Je ne sais quoi” of most modern Midwestern punk as perfected by Dillinger Four about a decade ago and now continued by these two (as well as Banner Pilot and Off With Their Heads) along with a host of other bands. Direct Hit! Are, as usual, a little on the nerdier side of pop-punk here while their counterparts in PEARS do their usual abrasive-yet-tuneful punk. Both bands hold well deserved spots high on the mid-card of active punk acts and this split is a chance to check them out in their prime. So, in short, if you dig that shit go over and get your hands on this split.
Worriers – “Gaslighter”
This is the latest single from the new Worriers album, Survival Pop, dropping from SideOneDummy next Friday. I’ve been lowkey hype for this from the first notes of “Future Me”. They specialize in that sort of off-key sung “indie pop” that in the late 80s and 90s had bands straddling the alt and college rock lines that sprung directly from the earliest punk. Part of it is the defiant and strident notes this act has always struck, and as we all know, punk is nothing without attitude.
Iron Chic – “My Best Friend (is a Nihilist)”
This is the first single from a FUCKING NEW IRON CHIC ALBUM. There are few bands that I get as excited about new material from in punk these days but the lovely, if somewhat predictable, comfy armchair dad-punk of this band will always have the softest of spots in my curmudgeonly heart and “Nihilist” does not disappoint. So grow your beard without abandon, drink your PBR, and give precisely zero fucks about getting older. Iron Chic are back. October 13th you get to act like you still know how to rock.
A Day to Remember – “We Got This”
“We Got This” is the latest single off of ADTR’s latest album, Bad Vibrations, and delivers the typical feel-better-about-your-life kind of stuff the band have made the foundation of their sound over the last decade. Listen to this track more than a couple of times and you may just notice that, on top of their usual formula, the band might actually be executing T-Swift’s “teenage uplift” vibe better than the pop queen herself. Overall, the usual crunch isn’t quite there and the production feels just a smidge less dense which gives the song a more “pop single” take but at the end of the day it’s something new(ish) from ADTR and that’s a-ok.
Sleep On It – “Distant”
This track makes sense as a follow-on from the new ADTR single as Sleep On It have never shied away from their status as following in the Ocala, FL band’s footsteps and gang chorus ways. The vocals hint at Mark Hoppus or Patrick Stump while the song structure in and of itself is basically an out-take from Homesick. But! It’s done exceptionally well. Plus, hey, watch the video. There are some great faces made over the course of those three minutes.
Hitching a Ride
As we mentioned at the top of the column, this month in punk tours sees the festival circuit, largely, coming to a close with most punk bands striking out on separate tours that will all converge (no pun intended) in Gainesville, FL at the end of October for the 16th edition of “the Fest”. The best of the pre-“Fest” tours is probably the affair arranged by Propagandhi since they managed to sucker… I mean, convince Iron Chic, Heartsounds, and G.A.S. Drummers to hit the road with them for a couple of weeks in October. Unfortunately, unless you’re in the Northeastern part of North America you’re gonna miss this one. For shame.
Some competition for the Propagandhi jaunt comes in the form of Against Me! alongside the Dirty Nil and Bleached pretty much Everywhere, USA from now until Gainesville. Rainer Maria are also out now with Olivia Neutron-John playing all over these United States. Red City Radio, meanwhile, have themselves a few early October warm-up dates taking them through the Midwest, further west, and Texas (among others) before they get to Florida.
On the other side of the pond, The Bombpops will be touring all over Europe before they kick-off a tour of the US at the Fest. Looking further south, Face to Face (more on them below) are headlining a South American jaunt in October before hitting up the Warped Rewind in New Orleans at the end of the month. And last, but certainly not least, the guys in PEARS continue to be on tour forever. Catch them in the U.S. with Big Ups and Russian Girlfriends throughout October and in Europe opening for Rise Against at the end of the month through November.
The Dustbin of History
Face to Face – Don’t Turn Away
Face to Face can and have been a very polarizing band in punk circles for a long time. The frenetic, personal, inward-focused melodic punk that the band out of Victorville, CA laid out on their Dr. Strange debut full-length, Don’t Turn Away, spoke to a lot of teenagers who ostensibly felt just like a young Trever Keith. The energetic riffs manage to cut through a thoroughly muddy and muted production that makes the album sound a little dated but somewhat charmingly lo-fi now. The lyrics throughout the record, when looked back upon after 25 years have passed, bear all the hallmarks of the best vague-booking that speak in enough general-specifics that it hit home with many a struggling teenager when it was a littler harder to feel connected in the world with like-minded souls. In fact, the big “hit” off the album, “Disconnected”, became so memorable (and has been revived a few times through commercial use down the years) precisely because it spoke to a broad audience across a range of emotions surrounding being rejected in whatever way. All the while, the song is wrapped around an unbelievably simple, yet infectious, descending scale riff that is instantly recognizable to punk fans of a certain era. Ironically, the band were told at one point (during follow-up Big Choice) that there wasn’t a hit in their arsenal. Radio begged to differ when the track was plucked from relative obscurity, transforming the band’s trajectory, and, ultimately (if not somewhat misguided and disparagingly) creating “mall punk”. 25 years later, Don’t Turn Away, stands out for being a formative album for fans and bands alike and is a classic that stands on its own merits.