May 2014 Album Reviews

Lake Street Dive “Bad Self Portraits”
“Bad Self Portraits” is the latest album by Lake Street Dive, a band who have actually been together for nearly a decade after meeting as students in Boston. The band have managed to gain a lot of attention recently, including a cover of the Jackson 5 “I want you back” going viral on You tube. They’re a band with a huge variety of influences and styles ranging from sixties girl groups, British Invasion Rock and even gospel blues.
The album opens up with the title track and the first thing that hits you is the sense of just laid back cool, a feeling which is maintained throughout the album. The next thing you realise is just how amazing vocalist Rachel Price’s voice is. “Stop Your Crying” opens up like some big soul number but also adds a more rocking feel as well. This along with “Bobby Tanqueray” are soul songs but with rocking guitar lines and are like a more restrained and poppy Sallie Ford And The Sound Outside.
There is a more down beat sound on “Better Than”, and it has a real feeling of heartbreak. “Just Ask” also has a slower tempo but this time it has a blusier feel to it. The uncluttered style and poignant vocals give it a sense of tugging on the heart strings.

“Rabid Animal” is like a wonderful old school soul song given a modern pop feel. It would surely appeal to fans of one of the bands of the moment, Haim, as it uses the same somewhat sparse vocal effect. That modern pop soul sound continues on “You Go Down Smooth”, although underneath there’s a beat which keeps bringing to mind ‘Lust For Life” for some reason.
An almost country guitar twang is used on “Seventeen” before it again moves in to an effortlessly cool song. It has a feel like a sixties soul number built into a huge seventies AOR/Arena rock song. “What About Me” sees them deliver a more throw away track, but again it is mainly because they make it all sound so god damn effortless. The whole album then ends with the epic sounding bluesy/soul number “Rental Love”.
This really is quite a delightful album. It dips its toes in to so many great classic styles including soul, blues, R’n’B, jazz and rock. Very importantly, they manage to blend all their styles and sounds in a cohesive fashion, which means the album just carries the listener along in a smooth, intoxicating manner. Bands like Alabama Shakes and the Black Keys have managed to reintroduce this idea of bringing back a feel of authenticity and blues to a modern sound. Lake Street Dive’s sound is different to those bands as it is more soul based but it has that same feeling of being both very classic but with a modern twist. They’re getting a fair bit of press attention and coverage now, which is fully deserved, so make sure you don’t miss out on them.

Smash Fashion “Big Cat Love”
For those in the know, Smash Fashion are actually something of a rock n roll super group. Hailing out of LA they feature Johnny Depp’s old band Rock City Angel’s Lloyd Stuart Carson on guitar along with Nigel Mogg of the legendary Quireboys on bass. When you hear that lead vocals are handled by Roger Deering who is a Cheap Trick and Mott The Hoople fanatic then you get the feeling you might be on to something special with “Big Cat Love”.
That feeling is confirmed immediately with opener, “Wicked Ways” which is a great big, brash rock number. It’s been a while since I’ve heard a band so proud to deliver a rock song which has been built for an arena. They keep this up with “Marionette” which has a melodic rock sound with some great Ooh La Las in the background vocals. It also includes a huge guitar solo, the likes of which we haven’t really seen since the great sleaze rock scene of the eighties/early nineties.

That Quireboys background comes in to play on “Strike My Fancy (Knickers Down)” as it sees them add a bit more of a boogie woogie sound to give it that Stonesy feel. “Live To Tell” is similar with its slower tone but without ever moving in to an over sincere ballad.
“You Love To Suffer” has a ‘retro’ feel by being the mid album ballad. This is not the slow soppy one though, but instead is a damn fine, mid paced, power pop song like later period Cheap Trick. “Just A Kiss At The Starting Line” is similar in that it has a brilliant mix of both pop and rock. It’s the song that, back in the day, would have been huge on MTV (when they used to play music on it!). There would appear to be a huge Kiss influence on title track “Big Cat Love”. In fact, it would be hugely disappointing if they didn’t wear Peter Criss esque make up when playing this one! There is a brilliant bridge at the end which surely leads to a big audience participation section at a live show.
Ironically, “Super Glam” actually sees them adding a more ‘alternative’ sound which fights against the underlying T Rex feel. The album is, however, full of super glam songs and this is perfectly demonstrated by “Blame It On The Brandy”. This song has a huge sound and great sing a long chorus which is delivered with a great enthusiasm.
It has been a long time since an album has been released with such a real sense of fun. It’s all big rock choruses which will have you pulling your own rock poses as you sing along. It does provide a nostalgic reminder of days of big rock and even hair metal. Let’s face it though, no one else these days is really doing it as well as Smash Fashion. Also if we’re talking great songs which can be compared favourably to the classics of Kiss and Cheap Trick then what the hell is wrong with that!?!!?

The Menzingers – “Rented World”
The Menzingers really stepped up to the plate with their last release, “The Impossible Past” which was a quite stunning release. It really launched them in to a wider audience base and was one of the best punk rock releases of the last couple of years. They successfully managed to deliver an expansive album with a concept without losing any of their punk credentials. For the first time in their career there is probably quite a lot of pressure to keep that quality up with this latest release.
Opening track “I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore” certainly picks up where that last album left off. It’s a great punk rock song with a huge melody underneath it and a sense of humour in the lyrics. “Bad Things” shows a similar ‘trademark’ sound with its slow and clear opening which soon moves in to a more hardcore sound before hitting a melodic chorus. “My Friend Kyle (PDC)” is similar as it is a great balance of punk angst but carried along by a tuneful song. Songs like these and “In Remission” show how successful the band have been in creating their own identifiable and recognisable sound. It’s not to the extent of being ‘samey’ but is just a sound that you now just associate with the band.
“Where Your Heartache Exists” is a good example of where The Menzingers really excel. They have an ability to deliver a more emotive song which doesn’t fall in to the clichéd ‘emo’ sound. There aren’t many real punk bands who can pull this off. “Transient Love” opens with a more unusual funky intro. This song is a sign of the band’s willingness to expand their sound into a wider landscape, the trick which makes them so much better than many of their contemporaries. In contrast though “The Talk” is quite a straightforward modern punk sound which even has a hint of Green Day about it.
They enter a more punk Americana sound with “Nothing Feels Good Anymore” and it suggests the band could ‘mature’ into a more Gaslight Anthem esque sound. It is followed by “Hearts Unknown” which is probably the band at their most restrained and melodic. It works really well and is one of the best songs on the album.
As is quite common these days, the album ends with an acoustic, reflective song in the shape of “When You Died”. It is a relief from the intensity of the rest of the album and is certainly a fine song. It would still be nice, however, to hear an album go out with a bang.
Having produced such a landmark album with their last release, it is bound to see this album subjected to some difficult comparisons. On first listen, it’s easy to regard this as ‘just another Menzingers album’. However, this ignores the fact that even an average song by them is far better than most punk songs released today. It’s only when you go back and listen to it a couple more times, that you really appreciate the quality of these songs. The Menzingers have succeeded with making another excellent album which their fans will love.

Matty James – “Last One To Die”
Matty James is what you might call a proper rock n roll troubadour or alternatively a guitar slinger. He has already released a couple of EPs but “Last One To Die” is his debut full length album. Whilst he has released a live album, it is always a big test to step up and deliver that first album release.
The first song, “Leaving”, surprisingly opens with an almost country sound but we’re not talking Jim Reeves, instead this has a darker feel like a modern Johnny Cash type song. This is followed by the first single from the album which is called “Up In Smoke”. It is a great choice of single, as it picks up the pace to deliver a brilliant rock n roll song. Matty keeps it simple with a song that is full of swagger and is a really great song. Another contender for a future single must surely be “Same Old Me (Brand New You)”. It’s another great rocking number which will bring to mind some brilliant British bands from the past like The Dogs D’ Amour, Quireboys and Cry Babies.
In contrast, “Don’t Turn Your Light Out On Me” is a slower song, delivering a feel of heartache and pain. The comparisons to the solo work of Tyla from The Dogs D’Amour are certainly valid on this and the following track, “Never Lean”. That one has a slower, storytelling feel to the lyrics. It therefore comes as no surprise to see the great man himself appear as a guest vocalist on “Last One To Die”. Given the similarity in styles this is quite a compliment and rubber stamps the quality of the music on this album.
“Better Days” is another song that takes the singer/songwriter style but adds a bit more melody and passion to give it an extra kick. It has the feel of a real crowd pleaser. “Another Night” has a slower, more country waltz feel to it. This is the song to accompany that late night, lonesome bottle of wine or whisky. You will also need to keep that warm red or whisky shot to hand for the final track on the album, “This one’s for …”.
Anyone who has checked out Matty’s recent live release will be waiting with major anticipation for this full album. Thankfully, they will not be disappointed. It’s a fantastic album which in the current music scene is actually very unique. We could certainly do with some more British artists who have the sense of being a genuine rock n roller like Matty clearly has in spades. The album will be released on the 2nd June and pre orders are available at:
Pre order CD from Amazon:
Pre-order Digital Download from iTunes:
So make sure you get yours on order now!

Johnny Monaco – “LA Vacation”
Sometimes Rock N Roll can be a tough business which doesn’t always give people the success they truly deserve. If it was due to talent and ability, then surely Johnny Monaco would be known and respected around the whole world. It is therefore a shame that he is most well known as being the singer for Enuff Z’nuff (a great band in its own right) but only when Donnie Vie decides he can’t be bothered any more. Let’s hope with this release, Johnny will get both the plaudits and sales he deserves.
The EP opens up with the title track “LA Vacation” which does indeed have a sound actually very similar to Enuff Z’nuff. It has the same element of being just an awesome pop/rock song. It’s just a great tune with a sound like a younger, American Elvis Costello. “Head In The Clouds” keeps things going along, but this time there is an almost futuristic/electronic feel to the underlying pop rock sound. It actually has a hint of Weezer about it in the chorus. The pop factor is turned up even higher with “Still Looking Forward To A Broken Heart”. Despite the somewhat downbeat title it still has a sunny and breezy feel to it.
In contrast, “Kings & Queens” turns the pop shine down again with a song which has a more complex feel to it. Importantly, it’s not at the expense of the tune and melody. Then “Talk 2 U Whenever” sees Johnny Monaco getting some of his frustrations out in the lyrics. Indeed it may well be a pop at some of the ‘characters’ he has had to deal with (and in particular in LA one would expect!). It’s still not an angst driven, down beat song though as the message is still wrapped up in a great melodic, power pop tune. The EP comes to a premature end with “On Our Own” which is more of a snippet of a full song. It’s perhaps just a taste that along with the upbeat pop, there could be some more acoustic based songs in his armour in the future.
In fact, the whole EP just leaves you wanting more. Anyone who is already a fan of Mr Monaco’s solo material or who has seen him performing live with Enuff Z’nuff will definitely want to buy this immediately. We can only hope that this will get him the exposure he deserves. Anyone who is a fan of pop/rock music through the ages from The Beatles, Elvis Costello, Cheap Trick through to Enuff should also definitely check it. Hopefully then Johnny Monaco will be recognised as the star he is!!

Mean Creek – “Local Losers”
“Local Losers” is the latest release from Boston based quartet Mean Creek. This is an exciting young band who share some key influences such as Pixies, Dinosaur Jr., The Lemonheads and it’s clear all of these bands’ left a lasting impact on the members of Mean Creek. They certainly share those bands passionate sound but also, importantly, their ear for a good melody as well.
“Cool Town” is certainly a cool opening number, it’s brilliant and sounds like The Ramones covering a Beach Boys tune…what could be better!? “My Madeline” is all feedback drenched guitars which recalls early garage bands like Sonic Youth but also adds a sweeter sense of melodies. The use of male and female co-vocals is particularly effective in giving the song a unique sound.
“Anxiety Girl” and “Night Running” both have a similar approach in terms of having what seem like essentially feel good songs but hidden behind the more ferocious guitar sound. They have the feel of an indie disco hit.

“Johnny Allen” is a more straightforward, rocking number. It has more of a simplistic approach but that’s not to say it isn’t still a quality song. “Mass Border” is another song where its strength lies in the confidence of the band to just deliver a catchy and melodic, rocking number. It just sounds like an instantly recognisable, fun packed song which will have you bouncing along to it. There are also some great, almost Spector ‘esque’, drums in it. The band embrace their pop influence on “Hangover Mind” in a sound which is more laid back and cool.
The album ends with “Teenage Feeling” which sees them expanding their sound to give a more expansive feel. Like all the songs on the album they keep it brief so it still has that snappy feel that leaves you wanting more.
After hearing Local Losers you will see Mean Creek as being one of those bands that you hope are going to be huge. It’s hard to believe that they would ever be considered local losers! The NME and their ilk are always so quick to pick up on certain bands and hype them beyond the merits of their actual album (hello Howler or Palma Violets!). It would therefore be great if Mean Creek get lots of critical acclaim and indeed mass sales, for what is an excellent modern indie/alternative rock album.

Nick Piunti – “13 In My Head”
It’s probably fair to say that Nick Piunti is a bit of a veteran in the power pop world given he goes way back to 1975. That’s not to say his music is any less relevant today, thankfully the need for hummable melodies and classic pop songs remains. In this great new release he has created an album which has a power pop feel with a modern rock sound. In many ways it follows other great acts from The Replacements through Redd Kross and The Fountains of Wayne, which have created a magic line of modern pop rock.
The album actually opens with the title track and it’s a brilliant opening number which is a great power pop song. It has that feeling of youth and just carefree fun that we all had at the age of 13. “On The Way Out” keeps it going with another really smooth and catchy song with some great Na Na Nas in it! If hearing this song doesn’t make you at least nod your head then you’d better check your pulse.
The sound slows down a bit on “Good Things Going” which is a bit more of a sixties power pop type song. “She’s A Good Time” has a similar feel and with the slightly slower beat giving it a more psychedelic edge like the band Jellyfish. “Farewell, Goodbye” takes this sound even further and could easily have been a track of that band’s classic ‘Bellybutton” album.

We are back to the pop rocking sound with “It All Comes Down” which brings to mind the impression of a later day Cheap Trick song. It has a great pop beat which if it was released by a boy band would be a huge number one hit. Again, “Sleeping On The Pavement” has Cheap Trick written all over it but this time has a more rocking sound and even an off kilter U.S. alternative rock feel. Any great pop rocking album should always have a hint of Elvis Costello about it and that’s certainly true of “Every Light On”. It has a great mix of different paces within the song with some great bridges before the choruses.
The pace slows down again with “Reasons” but Nick still can’t resist building up to a crunchy chorus. “Quicksand” is similar but with a more acoustic feel. It still has a warmth about it rather than just being stripped down. The album ends as it began with “Believe It” which is yet another rocking song with a great melody.
This is just one of those albums you just hear and go wow. There are just so many great pop songs on it which all deserve to be huge. In this world of instant music and shuffle play, you will hear one of the songs come on at random and immediately check your player to see who the hell it is. Anyone who likes great pop rock or power pop tunes should check this album out. It has that great songs in the sunshine feel to it and will definitely leave you in a great mood.

The Bermondsey Joyriders “Flamboyant Thugs”
It is fairly rare to find a band that wants to incorporate both a traditional punk sound with a sense of ambition, but that’s certainly what The Bermondsey Joyriders seek to achieve. The fact that the album title itself comes from the controversial film “Performance” that included Mick Jagger probably says a lot in itself. This is actually the band’s third album and clearly shows that they have lost none of their sense of purpose.
It kicks off with “Sonic Underground” which is a strong, punk rock song with just a hint of sleaze rock under it. It’s a harder rock sound than you might have originally expected, complete with a real ‘metal’ solo. “Black God Daddy” keeps up the sleaze rock feel with a song which has a great dirty feel to it. It also adds some organ which gives some lightness to the almost ‘Cooper’ esque darkness.
We get to see a nice touch of humour on “Here Come The People”, but it also has a political side. It’s a great anthem for the common man and a reminder how original punk united so many people. The title track, “Flamboyant Thugs” is very much an old school punk song, recalling the likes of The Pistols and The Damned. “Just Like Me” is a similar punk song with its lyrics again being about the plight of the underclasses.
The Joyriders move to a more classic rock sound on “It’s Nice To Be Important”, especially in the intro which has an almost AC/DC feel. The lyrics still have a very British punk feel to it, although with as much humour as spite. “Just A Kid” is again more of a rock n roll number. It brings to mind a band like Hanoi Rocks or even the New York Dolls. “Roll The Dice” is about as commercially sounding as The Bermondsey Joyriders get. It’s still punk but adds a more bluesy/Stonesy influence to it.
Final track, “The Message” opens with a very restrained acoustic guitar feel and then a great rumbling bass. It builds in to a surprisingly mature and big rock song. This includes some brilliant slide guitar and a great solo. It has a sound like a rocking, sleazy band and is also similar to another great current band, The Peckham Cowboys. It’s actually the best song on the album and shows the band really expanding their sound.
This is an album which delivers some straight up punk rock but they bring some fresh air to the scene rather than just rehashing what has gone before. It has a real traditional punk attitude and also a feeling of a real understanding of their musical heritage. It’s probably fair to say that we are unlikely to see The Bermondsey Joyriders in soulless huge arenas any time soon. However, you can guarantee that in a dirty pub or club they will put on a rip roaring and probably shambolic show.

One response to “May 2014 Album Reviews

  1. Pingback: Bank holiday album review catch up | The Soul Of A Clown·

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