New album: Down By Law || Crazy Days

The synergy between Dave Smalley and Sam Williams is palpable on impressive new album

Down By Law has been around since the early ’90s, a time when they were part of Epitaph Records at its Punk-O-Rama peak. Unlike the typical melodic punk bands of the era, Down By Law’s influences were broader, their sound more diverse. They may not have been the most popular, but they’ve always held a special place in the hearts of passionate fans. Personally, I think the band hit their peak in the ’90s with their trilogy of records (Blue, Punkrockacademyfightsong, and All Scratched Up!), but all of their stuff has made it to my collection. I have been impressed with their recent resurgence with All In (2018) and Lonely Town (2021), and now, they’re back with a new LP, Crazy Days, that I think may please longtime fans even more.

Can you believe it’s been over 30 years of Down By Law? Crazy Days sounds like it was recorded during the band’s prime. The opener Stand Up, Stand Down would fit right in on Blue (1992), and Tradition even closes with the classic riff fromThe Last Brigade as a Sam Williams Easter egg for dedicated fans. There are more hints to the different periods in the band’s career, like on Break Away which has shades of the more rock-oriented and emotional-heavy tracks from Punkrockacademyfightsong (1994) – particularly in the (pre-)chorus. Yet, this isn’t just a throwback record; it’s a culmination of everything that came before.

Crazy Days is a highly melodic and original take on punk rock, showcasing a band playing with the urgency and passion of musicians who understand that their time together is precious. Dave Smalley’s distinct voice, still as heartfelt as ever, adds a moving layer, especially considering his recent health scare (thankfully, Smalley is now cancer-free but still facing recovery challenges*). His lyrics, always deeply personal, now carry an even more profound sense of humanity – sample lyric from Wandering Train: “The destination isn’t clear, but I’m happy just to sit here, and ride the wandering train.” Drink Deep is a beautiful reminder to appreciate life’s blessings.

Throughout it all, Sam Williams’ guitar work remains unique and essential, driving the songs with energy and emotion. By now, I am sure if you’d look up the definition of synergy in your dictionary you’d find the answer to refer to Sam Williams and Dave Smalley making music together. New drummer Matt Morris seamlessly fits in with his dynamic drumming, adding fresh energy to the band.

Crazy Days is a heartfelt, inspired, diverse and energetic album that not only pays homage to Down By Law’s storied past but also confidently strides into the future. It is out now through Cleopatra Records and Kung Fu Records.

*In support of Smalley’s recovery, his children have set up a GoFundMe page to help with mounting medical bills. If you’d like to contribute, you can find it here.

Add to wantlist: Bandcamp || Discogs

New album: Bette Smith || Goodthing

Highly recommended for fans of Tina Turner, Betty Davis, Macy Gray

“Give me all your attention // Gonna make you feel my vibe // With my hips and my lips // And my funk inside” sings Brooklyn born and bred rhythm & blues powerhouse Bette Smith in the title track of her new (third) LP Goodthing. The record contains thirteen original soul and gospel songs with a rock ‘n’ roll feel, varying in tempo but always intense, presenting personal stories of resilience and passion through hardship and neglect. It is the awesome distinctive vocals that naturally take the leading role, but don’t ignore the musicians behind the singer, because their sound is as groovy and empathetic as can be. “Can’t get too much of a good thing” we hear, and that’s exactly how it is.

Goodthing, produced by Jimmy Hogarth, is out now digitally, on CD and vinyl LP, through Kartel Music Group. RIYL Tina Turner, Betty Davis, Macy Gray.

Add to wantlist: Bandcamp || Kartel

New album: Kevin Robertson || The Call of the Sea

A clinic in crafting tasteful and delicate guitar pop

Leave it to Kevin Robertson (of Vapour Trails) to write a pretty great record full of jangly power pop songs that will be overlooked by many, underrated by some, yet deserving of airplay and inclusion in many music collections and playlists.

Robertson recorded his latest album, The Call of the Sea, with Scott Robertson, Nick Bertling, and the occasional special guest (e.g., Nick Frater and Tom Williams on the Americana-tinged Search For Replies). Opening the record with standouts Ghosting and The Guilt Trip is a power move by the trio and a statement of what to expect: ear candy operating on the Big Star-Teenage Fanclub spectrum.

But rather than begging or screaming for attention, the guitar pop on The Call of the Sea feels like a gentle tap on the shoulder, a polite person asking: “Hey, how are you? I’ve got some songs you might like if you’ve got some time to spare, thank you.” And because you’re terrible at saying no to kind people, you give the record a fair chance, only to discover a songwriter at the top of his game, giving a clinic in crafting tasteful and delicate guitar pop as a vessel for his sweet and timeless pop melodies.

CD available now through Futureman Records and Subjangle.

Add to Wantlist: Bandcamp || Futureman

New album: Sad Eyed Beatniks || Ten Brocades

Kevin Linn's sonic universe is one you won't want to leave

Sad Eyed Beatniks, the musical project of Kevin Linn (also behind San Francisco’s Paisley Shirt Records), is back with Ten Brocades. Joined by Mike Ramos (Tony Jay, Flowertown) and Karina Gill (Cindy, Flowertown), Linn has crafted a sonic universe that’s more than just an album.

Listening to this new record feels like déjà vu in the best way possible. I re-read my review of the outfit’s 2022’s Claudia’s Ethereal Weaver LP, and I can apply most of it toTen Brocades. “Understated gems that constantly push and pull at your attention strings?” Check. “A record decidedly out of time and space, very much its own thing, but with enough pop catchiness to become infatuated?” Double check!

Standout tracks on the new LP include You Belong With Us, the designated pop hit and the latest shining example of the vibrant Bay Area scene – watch the video below. It marks one of several tracks that rewards listeners who’ve made it to side B of the LP. Then again, it’s not like I felt the need to skip any of the songs to get there. Like Side B, Side A is a strong one, covering diverse ground, from jangle pop (Barong Mask) and strummy lo-fi pop (Monumental Ensemble) to Velvet Undergroundesque rock (It’s Who Makes The Scene, Harlequin With Guitar). Even the 7-minute title track on the middle of the record captivates throughout.

Ten Brocades is a record that hisses and sighs, teases and pleases, and will reward the time you spent with it. It is my favorite Sad Eyed Beatniks record yet. It paints a warm, melancholy and vibrant universe in sepia tones – one you won’t want to leave. Out now through Meritorio Records.

Add to wantlist: Bandcamp || Meritorio

New album: Pack Rat || Life’s a Trap

Born from pandemic-era creativity, Pack Rat has evolved from Patrick McEachnie’s solo project into a dynamic quartet. Joining McEachnie (Chain Whip, Corner Boys, Hosehead Records) the current line-up includes Bella Bebe (Bratboy), Ripley McEachnie, and Tony Dallas (Isotopes, Bratboy). Their latest album Life’s a Trap  showcases a classic dual-guitar setup complemented by bass and drums. With all four members contributing vocals, the band effortlessly shifts between snotty, bratty, and poppy tones, resulting in a garage pop punk record that offers surprising variety.

Craving synths? Try I Know You Know, Can’t Stop or Rat Trap. Need something sweet and catchy? Press play on Sleepless or Pure Trash. Want to be transported back to the UK ’70s pop punk scene? The one-two punch of Ask a Punk and Two Makes One delivers (or check out the video of Neighbours below). Missing the early days of The Hives? Electrified has you covered.

While the influences are evident in their songwriting (fans of the Dirtnap Records catalog should take note), Pack Rat carves out its own distinct identity. Life’s a Trap marks the band’s most ambitious effort to date, with a noticeable leap from 2021’s Glad to be Forgotten. That goes beyond the production quality, the songwriting has become more deliberate without sacrificing the raw energy that defines their sound.

Simply put, this record shreds. It is out now on Drunken Sailor Records.

Add to wantlist: Bandcamp || Drunken Sailor

New single: Cowabunghouls || The End of the World

Trashy reverb rarely sounded so appealing

It’s only been two months since Cowabunghouls released their album Ghoul Bus, but already the St. Louis, Missouri-based horror surf trio is back with new three-song single The End of the World. You know exactly what to expect from a band with ‘Crank The Reverb’ merch, yet the instrumentals here are quite divers and original. Opening tune Miles County Clown Costume is a catchy floor filler (handclaps!), the guitar melody of the title track makes the theme a lot more bearable (despite the ominous voices in the background), and San Gringo Peligroso has a cinematic and moody spaghetti western sound (a modern classic).

The End of the World, written by Brandon Larson, is out now digitally.

Add to wantlist: Bandcamp

New album: Quinn DeVeaux || Leisure

Recommended as the soundtrack for this summer

California-based singer-songwriter Quinn DeVeaux wanted his new album Leisure to feel like a front porch swinging in a hammock, and he succeeded wonderfully. The LP features ten original soul songs laced with blues, funk and gospel elements, ten well-produced songs with attractive hooks and melodies played by a packed line-up* of star musicians, fertile ground for pleasant vocals that provide earworm choruses. Laid-back, sun-kissed and charming as can be, here’s your soundtrack for this summer.

Leisure, produced by Matt Ross-Spang and Lech Wierzynski, is out now digitally, on CD and vinyl LP, through SofaBurn Records. *Featuring Quinn DeVeaux (vocals, guitars, bass), Jerry Pentecost (drums, percussion), Nick Otis (drums), Dave Guy (bass), Christoffer Andersen (bass), Lorenzo Loera (bass), Robbie Crowell (keys), Jacob Smolowe (keys), Tony Owen (guitar), Lech Wierzynski (guitar), Micah Hulscher (organ, clavinet), Patrick Sweany (guitar), Alexis Saski (backing vocals), Laura Mayo (backing vocals), Talia DeVeaux (backing vocals), Arthur Edmaiston (sax), Kirk Smothers (sax), Marc Franklin (trumpet), Emmanuel Echem (trumpet) and Jake Botts (sax).

Add to wantlist: Bandcamp || SofaBurn

New album: Roots Round Up || Up Rooted

A well-seasoned mix of reggae, ska, funk, roots rock, and punk

If your listening diet allows for a well-seasoned mix of reggae, ska, afro-beat, folk, funk, roots rock and punk, you can safely add Roots Round Up to it. Up Rooted, the sixth full-length album from these Vancouver’s veteran musicians (the band formed in 1985), features twelve songs, including six new original ones – their first in thirty years. In addition, it also has covers of DOA’s War in the East and Sarcastic Mannequins’ Four Arabs In A Red Fury (abbreviated here to Red Fury), plus four live recordings from last year’s performance on Denman Island. Despite the eclectic influences, it is an organic whole around current themes, with shimmering horns and pulsing rhythms – a loose and uplifting sound, surprisingly easy to digest.

Up Rooted, recorded by Stephen Hamm, is out now digitally via Revolver, and on CD and vinyl LP through Sudden Death Records. Featuring Greg Hathaway, David “Dymitri” Hanna, David Hathaway, Keith Rose, Mark Campbell, Eric Napier and Bradford Lambert.

Add to wantlist: Roots Roundup

New single: Zenxith || The Girl Who Waved At Trains

Limited single by prolific underground pop sensation from Newcastle

Admission: we’ve been neglecting the Newcastle (UK) songwriting phenomenon that is Zenxith, a.k.a. Daniel McGee. Over the past two years, McGee, still in his early twenties, has flooding the underground pop scene with gem after gem. Yet we’ve only covered his music indirectly, through compilations and split EPs. Our biggest oversight? Failing to write about his Cooling Tower album.

Now, one of that album’s prize songs is available on a 7″ single, released in a very limited run of 50 copies through McGee’s own Salt Mine Records. The song? It’s the delightfully jangly and delicate ’80s throwback pop hit The Girl Who Waved At Trains. The B-side, I’m So Into You, is a single exclusive – a hushed, swaying track that further proves we shouldn’t underestimate Zenxith’s lo-fi pop prowess.

RIYL: Television Personalities, The Field Mice, Sarah Records.

Add to wantlist: Bandcamp || Discogs

New single: Dumped || Slummer of Love

Short but sweet single from Larry Stackhouse out of Olympia, WA

Right now, Dumped’s debut single has a mere 13 monthly listeners on Spotify. We’re dubbing them the Lucky 13, because once you hear these tracks, you’ll be streaming them non-stop. Slummer of Love is a catchy and frantic 44-second killer punk tune, while the laid-back Francis delivers 100 seconds of lo-fi garage pop bliss. Given how concise these songs are, you might find yourself hitting that repeat button more than a few times.

Info on Dumped is scarce. It apparently is a solo project by Larry Stackhouse from Olympia, Washington, who does everything except the mastering (courtesy of Olympia Pop Rocks). Here’s hoping Larry cranks out more gems like these.

As for those 13 monthly listeners? They’re onto something. Time to join their ranks!

Add to wantlist: Bandcamp

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