Indie Rock

New album: Judge Grumble || Overruled!

Judge Grumble are an indierock/indiepunk band from Richmond, Virginia. They recently released their second album, Overruled! It’s the second act in a trilogy of concept albums and it’s quite the trip. Buckle up for an eclectic mix of poppy indiepunk tracks (Shy Guy, Kudos To You), quirky indierock (Literati, Quiltbag), and sketches that are plain weird. I asked the band to explain the origins of their cartoonesque bandname and the spoken word sketches on their record. “Back in high school we had this joke where we would come up with random phrases and call them “indie band names.” I’m not 100% sure but I think Judge Grumble was one of those. Waaaay way back in the first iteration of the band (2012 or so?) the “character” of judge grumble became an inside joke. We’d do the whole voice and improv little skits during practices and stuff. Eventually we decided we wanted to bring some of those skits to life in between the tracks for fun (and also to pad the length).”

Given the variety of songs, and the quirkiness of the sketches and some of the songs, it’s unlikely that you will like every single track on Overruled! But, Judge Grumble have made an album that is definitely worth your time. I particularly like how the band aims to make every song interesting. Listen to the many elements they’ve stuffed in Chewed Out for example. Right before the 5-minute song appears to overstay its welcome, the band introduces a pretty cool group vocal harmony that transitions in a punkrock fade-out. Judge Grumble doesn’t need to be quirky or eclectic to be interesting though. The straightforward indie rock of Braindead is one of my favorite songs on the record. But the song that especially drew me in to Judge Grumble is Weehawken, a throwback to the emo poppunk of the early ’00s with an infectious chorus. The band explains: “On the surface, Weehawken is about a little town on the far north side of new jersey and the ennui of a guy who commutes between there and NYC. But none of us have ever lived in NY or NJ… we just really liked the name—it sounds slangy, like “are you hawkin’? cause we hawkin’.” Somehow Alex turned that wordplay into something more meaningful.” Download Overruled! now on Bandcamp.

Add to wantlist: Bandcamp

New album: Waste Man || One Day It’ll All Be You

I’ve never understood why moody postpunk bands like Protomartyr and Fontaines D.C. are such critics darlings and tend to end up in a lot of AOTY lists. Okay, Fontaines D.C. have some songs I like, but for the most part bands like that are too bleak or too boring for me. Basically, I have trouble connecting with them, which, of course, is a matter of personal taste – or more likely, a lack of complexity in my taste palet. But every now and then, there is a band that manages to pull off moody and complex postpunk in a way that I can fully get behind. Take Waste Man from New Orleans. On their second LP (One Day It’ll All Be You) they take punk and hardcore in new directions without losing any of the thrill of actual punk music.

Waste Man offer tempo variations, edgy bass lines and excellent guitar riffs. They constantly keep you on the tip of your toes with the unpredictability in their songs. It’s a record full of surprises that offers thrills, excitement, and cathartic releases that I often find to be lacking in this kind of music. Album opener The Siren is a good example of the many sides of Waste Man, where danceable postpunk verses and hardcore punk choruses bounce off each other. Run All Night is one of the most catchy songs on the record, which distantly sounds like a mashup between the Stooges and Thin Lizzy. Proofreaders, Singles, And Philosophers is one of the most exciting songs released in 2021, and already is one of my favorites of the year. And then there is album closer Wishful Thinking, in which Waste Man introduce the power rock ballad to the postpunk world. Quite the week for Feel It Records, who simultaneously released that excellent Spread Joy record.

Add to wantlist: Bandcamp || Feel It Records

New EP: Dazy || The Crowded Mind

Early 2020, Dazy released a three song digital single called Revolving Door. It was my first taste of the band, and the 90 second song Weatherman Got It Wrong hinted upon your-new-favorite-band material. Three months later, we are treated to an 8-song EP that shows even more potential: The Crowded Mind. Dazy play noisy and fuzzy altpop that will appeal to fans of Lemonheads and guitar-driven britpop. Underneath Dazy’s distorted sound are excellent pop songs, and tracks like See The Bottom, Right As Rain and Perpetual Motion would have received major air time in the nineties.

The crazy thing is, Dazy is not even a band. It’s a solo project by a music publicist (James Goodson). Goodson is also a member of grungepunk band Teen Death and poppunk band Bashful – make sure to check out their 2020 album Driving. Dazy’s releases are currently digital only. Let’s hope that Goodson ultimately will release his best tunes on a LP.

Add to wantlist: Bandcamp

New album: The Natvral || Tethers

Kip Berman had already made his mark with The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, but with his new solo project The Natvral he continues his career in a way that deserves your attention. The full-length debut album Tethers features nine indie folk rock songs that are more intimate than what we were used from his previous band (that’s what family life also does to artists), sung with his distinctive voice that draws attention to the lyrics. One of my favorite tracks is New Moon. Berman explains to Stereogum that this one is about a struggling musician he knew coming to terms with a love that wants something (or someone) a bit more stable – and knowing, almost before they do, that it’s not him. Listen below. Out now trough Kanine Records / Dirty Bingo Records.

‘Oh it’s time to save what’s left of your life // You’ll survive another night, then another night’

Add to wantlist: Bandcamp || Discogs || The Natvral

New album: Spread Joy || Spread Joy

Efficient and effective. I apologize for the business lingo, but those are the first two words that come to mind after listening to the debut LP of Spread Joy (Chicago). The record is less than 14 minutes long, but it’s enough for Spread Joy to make an impression. Here is a band that understands the power of scarcity, leaving listeners wanting more, like a love interest playing hard to get. This is classic punk/no wave with tight drumming, excellent angular guitar work, a voice that is a perfect fit for this style of music, and a bass player that is absolutely killing it. Let me add a third word to describe this record: Awesome. Just listen to songs like St. Tropez, Unoriginal, Kanst Du and Mystery Curtain, and you’ll see what I mean. Spread Joy is out now on the ever reliable Feel It Records. It is a perfect purchase if you are looking to exercise more, because you will keep returning to your turntable tow switch sides every 7 minutes or so.

Add to wantlist: Bandcamp || Feel It Records

New single: Lilac || Remember, No Regrets

Lilac are Oisín & Cian Walsh, two brothers from Ireland with great hair. Lilac play fuzzy powerpop, with garagerock influences and dashes of britpop. On A-side Remember, No Regrets the band sounds like a mix of Ty Segall, Mikal Cronin, Ash and Weezer. It’s a spong that would have been a major hit twenty years ago. The video to the songs is built from archival sports footage and a joy to watch, aesthetically consistent with the vintage and colorful coverart for the single. Flipside (I’m) Pretending To Be Sad is a tad heavier but has an infectious chorus. Lilacs are fully DIY, homerecording, self-producing and releasing their single on their own label Rufus Records. They are an instant add to my bands-to-watch list.

Add to wantlist: Bandcamp

New album: Frankie And His Fingers || Universal Hurt

I didn’t plan writing about Universal Hurt, the comeback record of Frankie And His Fingers. The band plays a mix of fuzzy powerpop and indie rock with a radio friendly pop sound. Remember The Format’s Dog Problems? Universal Hurt brings back memories to that album. It’s diverse, it’s got well crafted songs, it’s got slowed down parts, it’s got anthemic choruses, and above  all, plenty of melody to draw you in. Given all these qualities, I mistakenly assumed this band to have plenty of monthly listeners on streaming platforms. To compare, The Format have well over 100k and the follow up to that band (Fun.) surpass 7 million (!) monthly listeners on Spotify. Frankie & His Fingers? Not so much. That’s a pity,  because I am sure there is a large audience for this record. Songs like Celebrate!, Gene Kelly & The Truck My Dad Built, and To Die Would Be A Great Adventure showcase the songwriting skills of the band. It’s impressive to see a band that has been on a ten-year hiatus, with members drifting towards college and other bands like Real Estate and Laura Stevenson, return in such good form. Universal Hurt is an inspired record, and arguably the band’s best work yet. Out now on SubFamily Records.

“I pressed pause on my fashion sense when I was 26 || Maybe if I walk around looking like it’s 2012 I can fool the kids || Maybe this is much sadder than accepting I’m fatter and just leaning into quiet nights and buying things.”

Add to wantlist: Bandcamp

New album: Smile || The Name Of This Band Is Smile

There is no shortage of bands called Smile. This one is a four-piece from Turin (Italy), who started playing together in 2019 and just dropped their debut record. Smile play uptempo underground pop with a strong ’90s vibe, not unlike Bob Mould but with a clean jangly guitar as the central driver of the songs. The Name Of This Band Is Smile is by no means a perfect record – some songs lack focus and direction and hooks to keep your attention. But, the record offers plenty of moments where you hear the potential of the band. Listen to How The Race Is Done and From Here On for example. The band gives some additional info about the record on their Facebook page:  “This record is a no-filter picture of our first year as a band. A year made of songs, electricity, gigs, and the final delusion of the pandemic. It’s a record about the alienation of everyday life stuck between bad and underpaid jobs, the uncertainty of feelings, and the depression of the lack of alternatives given by capitalist realism.”

Add to wantlist: Bandcamp

New album: Space Cadet || Lion On A Leash

Space Cadet is quite the departure from the in-you-face punkrock Matt Hock and David Walsh used to play with The Explosion. Their debut album Lion On A Leash features  the kind of guitar driven dreamy postpunk that slowly but surely gets under your skin. Hock explains at Glide Magazine: “The record sounds like two guys who love reverb and chorus pedals, The Stone Roses, Cock Sparrer and The Rolling Stones.” A Spotify  playlist curated by the band also notes The Jam, Wire, Joe Strummer, John Cale, Slowdive, Oasis, and Sugar as influences. It’s hard to really pinpoint any of these bands to the sound of Space Cadet, but there is a sense of familiarity to most of their songs. For example, If Only and Scream For You have a ’80s new wave vibe, and Bad Luck clearly nods to Britpop. My favorite tracks are Forever For A While and Start Running Way.  Those two sound effortless and confident, and are among the punchier songs on the album.  They are the recommended entry point for those sceptical about the new musical direction Hock and Walsh take with Space Cadet. Ultimately, I think Lion On A Leash is quite the leap from The Explosion, but it’s worth the trip.  Out now on Wiretap Records.

Add to wantlist: Bandcamp || Wiretap Records

New EP: Star 99 || My Year In Lists

I am fascinated by band dynamics. The synergy of band members’ creativity, the power struggles, the lack of communication, the passive aggressiveness, they all are elements I can appreciate from an objective perspective. But I have a weak spot for bands that start out of comradery. Take Star 99, a San Jose band comprised of four longtime friends : Saoirse (lead vocals/rhythm guitar & artwork), Cole (lead guitar/backing vocals), Chris (bass), and Jeremy (drums).  Their friendship started in the Bay Area scene where they attended and played shows – their past bands include Great Hart, Matsuri, Bread Club, and Drop In, and Saoirse’s solo project. Currently, they reside in San Jose, where they are all active member of the DIY community. For a time, they even lived under  the same roof in San Jose’s Hot Box house.

I like to think that comradery shines through on Star 99’s debut EP My Year In Lists. The band plays a wholesome form of indiepunk and altpop that feels like a breathe of fresh air. It is a sound that fans of bands like Swearin’, Discount, & Tacocat will fall for.  There is not a weak  song on the six song EP, but the first 4 songs (loose, algae, wyoming and sleep talker) are particularly great. They reflect that bay area attitude where melody and sensitivity are not the antithesis but a  fundamental part of punkrock.

Lead guitarist Cole filled me in with some more details on the band and the EP: “Star 99 is the culmination of years of friendship and our EP is a reflection on love, loss, anxiety, self-healing and personal growth. My Year in Lists’ speaks to each of the band members as a response to uncertainty and neuroticism: As life, whether personal or interpersonal, is subject to ups and downs, ‘My Year in Lists’ represents an attempt to exercise intentionality and self-reflection. Our songs are meditations on dating, on picking up the pieces of broken friendships, and on self-inventory and assessment. ‘My Year in Lists’ is a mantra of introspection and a reminder that while life moves on, that it’s normal for us to occasionally leave a foot locked in the past. Also, ‘My Year in Lists’ is the name of a pretty rad Los Campesinos song.” As for the band name, “Star 99′ is inspired by a local SJ adult film store which closed up recently.” What’s not to like about this band?!

Add to wantlist: Bandcamp

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