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: 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: 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

New album: The Thirties || Spilt Milk

Marquette's indie well is far from running dry

Just when we thought we’d covered all the bases in Marquette’s indie hotbed, along come The Thirties. This three-piece outfit includes Raymond Little, known for his work with Liquid Mike and a highly enjoyable, witty alt-folk solo record from 2022.

Spilt Milk, the band’s third album, showcases a raw, unpolished brand of indie rock featuring gruff vocals. It’s as if classic rock got reimagined by a couple of 21st-century outsiders. The result should appeal to both old-school fans of rough-around-the-edges rock and those who prefer their Americana soaked in rock ‘n’ roll. What sets The Thirties apart is their knack for musical surprises. While their songs may seem straightforward at first, they often include an interesting sidestep – a cool bridge, an unexpected guitar solo, or a well-placed horn part. I recommend listening to the complete songs rather than doing a quick scan of the record. It’s these elements that elevate their music from good to genuinely intriguing.

Spilt Milk shows The Thirties as much more than just another Marquette band. Fans of Country Westerns should take note.

Add to wantlist: Bandcamp

New single: Dave Strong || I Hate Joe King’s Roommate

Dave Strong's reputation is growing quickly

Dave Strong is on fire lately. We recently caught him rocking a blue and white surf attire while jamming with Brad Marino’s hot rod ‘n’ roll revival. And if his Instagram is any indication, Marino’s not the only one tapping Strong’s musical chops for live shows.

But Strong’s been busy cooking up his own tunes too. His self-titled debut offered a fun blend of pop-punk with oldies-but-goodies rock ‘n’ roll. His latest batch of songs, pressed on a wantlist-worthy 7″ single, continues along that trajectory.

The title track I Hate Joe King’s Roommate (video below) is a fast old school pop punk song coming straight out of the songbook of The Queers. We’re dying to know: has the unfortunate roommate heard it yet? And more importantly, is there video evidence of his reaction? The 7″ single has two additional songs, one of which is streaming now. It’s I Wanna Know, and might just be Strong’s catchiest tune to date. It’s a perfect cocktail of classic rock ‘n’ roll and pop-punk, topped off with some pitch-perfect “ooooh-weeeh-ooos”

While we could have waited until all songs were streaming and the record was out, it’s already up for pre-order at Critical Mass. Given Strong’s growing reputation, this one might sell out fast.

Add to wantlist: Critical Mass

New album: Borla || Kordoba Bidea

A fresh voice (w/ members of Tatxers, Blessure, and Comic Sans) emerges from the Spanish indie scene

Emerging from Pamplona, Spain, Borla brings together members of Tatxers, Blessure, and Comic Sans – three bands we’ve previously featured. While Borla doesn’t mirror the sound of its members’ other projects, their debut mini-album is definitely wantlist-worthy.

At the heart of this 7-song, 20-minute offering – mini-album seems an apt description. Borla balances a clean, modern surf pop sound with sharp post-punk aggression, all underpinned by simmering angsty energy. Call it pop punk and you are not wrong, but it defies the typical expectations associated with that label.

With Kordoba Bidea, Borla establish themselves as a fresh voice in the Spanish underground scene, and we’re all ears. LP available now through Flexidiscos.

Add to wantlist: Bandcamp

New single: Real Rejects || Summer Of Spite

R.I.P. Thee Artificial Rejects, long live Real Rejects

This one is not about fake rejects, the kind with overblown self-pity and acted negative attitude. This post is about Real Rejects!

Previously known as Thee Artificial Rejects (secretly a TJ Cabot solo project), Real Rejects has evolved into a full-fledged band. Joining Cabot (of Phone Jerks and Nerve Button fame) are Jesse Leblanc (Feral Trash), Claude Doiron (Nerve Button, Bad Luck #13), Sonic Hz, and Cam Murphy (Thee Requiems, Ghostown Belle).

Their Summer Of Spite debut single delivers two of the best garage punk tracks I’ve heard this year. Real Rejects sound bratty, snotty, and fully aware of the alchemy that occurs when you blend catchy songwriting with amped-up energy, aggression, and attitude. The crunchy sound these two songs coax from my speakers is pure sonic bliss.

Gimme, gimme, gimme, I need some more!*

* full-length album expected July 19th via Alien Snatch!

Add to wantlist: Bandcamp

Scroll to Top