What’s Up Punks – April 2020

Music is, to me, proof of the existence of God. It is so extraordinarily full of magic, and in tough times of my life I can listen to music and it makes such a difference.” – Kurt Vonnegut

There’s a global pandemic and people are in various stages of social restriction and reflection. Physically separated from loved ones and who knows what other complications? Regardless, I hope this finds all of you out there well, well taken care of, and hey, let’s have some songs to take our minds of things, yeah? That’s been one of the cool things to come of this. There were a lot of tours and shows cancelled because of all of this. But it’s led to a lot of musicians sat in flats trying to figure out ways to get on with their lives while doing something with their art. So we’ve had Instagram and Facebook live shows and Youtube appearances galore. And, in one brazen bolt of hope and bravado, the Fest has announced their first wave of bands who have agreed to appear in Gainesville at the end of October. Here’s hoping.  

“I had a year round Christmas tree with nothing but colored vinyl 45s hanging on it, like, old Elvis records and stuff.” – John Prine

Sam Russo – Back to the Party

Sam Russo deserves to be mentioned alongside Will Varley, Billy Liar, Dave Hause, Brian Fallon, and Frank Turner, among others, in that growing class of punk rock “troubadours”. “Purple Snow” is a perfectly weighted and dramatic entry to Back to the Party and sets the tone for possibly Russo’s most refined effort to date. “Darkness” is a number that feels staged just right to pull pathos out of the source material. That sort of theatrical nature runs throughout this album, particularly on tracks like “Anne” and “Tears”. In other hands, it might reek of melodrama but in Russo’s capable hands it gets transformed. That said, I’m all about album closer, “The Basement”, as my favorite in this particular collection.

The Bombpops – Death In Venice Beach

The Bombpops just feel like a band that’s been around forever cranking out quality upbeat, SoCal pop punk and yet Death in Venice Beach is only their second (impressive) album. But the reality is that this band has already been around in some form for the last 10 years. That said, the band’s stock in trade has long been the work of Jen Razavi and Poli van Dam on guitars and vocals. The guitar riffs on “Zero Remorse” feel lifted directly from prime Alkaline Trio but it works as a nice change of pace from a sound that more typically falls in line with the likes of Teenage Bottle Rocket and Masked Intruder. “Can’t Come Clean” and “13 Stories Down” are great songs that showcase what the band does best and why they (hopefully) will be around for a long while. If anything, the entirety of DIVB give us a glimpse of the much broader spectrum the Bombpops operate on.

Dogleg – Melee

Dogleg live in that space between fellow Michigan acts Small Brown Bike and Bear vs. Shark with a hefty dose of Cap’n Jazz. If anything, they might be the miscreant cousin to Tiny Moving Parts more clean cut, honor roll student. Expect lots of yelps and shouts over top of melodic yet sinewy guitars backed up by a pulverizing yet agile rhythm section. “Kawasaki Backflip” and “Bueno” hurl themselves at you in a way that many (most?) albums just can’t achieve, let alone attempt. Where “Headfirst” devolves into all out chaos, “Hotlines” comes crashing together in almost shocking symmetry. With all of the elements at play on Melee, and finale “Ender” taking us for one last ride in this washing machine masquerading as an album, it’s cemented a spot on my punk AOTY watchlist. 

Fire in the Radio – Monuments

Fire in the Radio don’t immediately strike me as just another (excellent) Philly band. There are enough nuances on Monuments that separate them from that pack. They do still swerve into that lane where Dave Hause and the Menzingers make their living with heartfelt songs that feel best played at dusk as another day comes to a close. “Tulare”, “Rewind”, and “Sing, Sang, Sung”. The last of which reminds me, somewhat, of Dead Bars. There’s also enough big, shimmery energy to lend some credence to the notion of dream pop being a contributor to the band’s sound. If anything, I might call this “dream punk” if that didn’t seem like an entirely absurd notion. Of course, I’d never have thought that if I hadn’t heard “This is My Document” and “Breaking”. Monuments is going to be a solid add to anyone’s punk listening habits, especially in these surreal times. 

Hightime – Thrive

Aussie band alert. You didn’t think we were going to get this far without mentioning some band or other from the country whose scene I’ve become smitten with, did you? Hightime span a lot of genres over the course of this all-too-brief EP but it definitely leaves one wanting more. From the soaring heights of the blistering punk banger “Exist” to the laid back, reggae inflected groove of “Say What You Mean”, this band have put together quite the appetizer on the back of 2015’s Mother Crab.

“You can only follow what’s on your mind. In fact, a song is something you write because you can’t sleep unless you write it.” – Joe Strummer

The Burnt Tapes – “Greek Wood
It feels like I’ve had a rash of British bands at or near the top of my singles run through every month and this one is no different. This band isn’t entirely different from Iron Chic or their offshoots which is more proof that this has become the predominant modality of punk in this era.

Semantics – “SDE
Another month, another Aussie band knocks my socks off. This time it’s with this charming slice of sing-along worthy, fuzzed out, punk flecked alt rock. 

Pity Party – “Masculinity is a Prison
Pre-order the new album, Concrete, due out May 29. No, I am not getting off the hype train for this album and this track does nothing to dissuade me.

Rehasher – “I Don’t Feel Anything
Hey, it’s Roger from Less Than Jake fronting his own band. That should tell you all you need to know about this new single. Just listen to it already.

Alkaline Trio – “Minds Like Minefields
This is the Matt Skiba-fronted track on the new Alkaline EP and it feels like the vintage form of the band. “Radio Violence” and “Smokestack” are Dan Andriano features. You know what this band sounds like. Do the thing. 

Western Addiction – “They Burned Our Paintings
It’s Western Addiction doing their vein of snotty, powerful West Coast punk and this is just a pre-cursor to their new album, Frail Bray, dropping on May 15. 

Wire – “Small Black Reptile (10:20 Version)
This song feels so much like Wire by way of Psychedelic Furs that it’s almost funny but either way, it’s an altogether charming piece of vintage alternative Brit rock.

Tiny Moving Parts – “You Lost Me” / “Guardians
Tiny Moving Parts are back awfully quickly after last year’s brilliant full-length, breathe, with this single that gives us more of that angular, Midwestern emo we’ve come to expect and love from them.  

Dance Gavin Dance – “Strawberry’s Wake
This is new DGD. It’s still DGD and it’s wonderful. It is also likely the last “preview” we’re going to get of Afterburner as it comes our way in two weeks. 

Erabella – “I Wish You Weren’t Welcome
This band thrashes their way through an interesting mix of hardcore breakdowns and screamy vocals combining with tremendously clean, melodic emo. Their 6 song EP comes out May 29, if this proves to be your kind of thing.

Brutus – “Sand
Brutus are back with their potent blend of hardcore punk, blackgaze, and post-rock. You know.

Devon Kay and the Solutions – “Keep Dreamin’
This is one of the bands I fell in deep like with last year and this new single keeps up the like affair. Aside from the whole pandemic thing, this could be a great year for these guys.

As Friends Rust – “Last of the Famous International Scumbags” / “Up from the Muck
This band has long been one of my more “obscure” favorites so it’s nice to have two new songs that are wildly appropriate for the times bring back those distinctive Damien Moyal vocals. 

Fake Names – “Brick
Normally, I’m not one for supergroups but seeing as how I was raised on D.C. punk of the ‘90s, if Brian Baker (Minor Threat, Bad Religion, Dag Nasty, etc.) is going to team with Michael Hampton (SOA, Embrace, One Last Wish) then I’m probably going to listen. You should, too, to hear Refused’s Dennis Lyxzén play it relatively straight here. 

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