Featured Record Reviews from Razorcake Issue 105

Featured Record Reviews from Razorcake Issue 105: The Pretty Flowers

The Pretty Flowers, The Creeps, Partial Traces, No Problem, Maniac, Hank Wood And The Hammerheads, Firestarter

Illustration by Becky Minjarez (website, twitter)

PRETTY FLOWERS, THE: Why Trains Crash: LP
On the spur of the moment, I decided to catch Pretty Flowers at the Hayworth Theatre in Los Angeles. They were the musical guest for Tomorrow! with Ron Lynch, a long-running variety show that begins at midnight. Something about their performance at the Hayworth, to a crowd of maybe fifteen people, solidified it for me: they’re a well-kept secret—a songwriter’s band. The kind of band that deserves heaps of respect for earnestly putting their hearts and souls into crafting a faultless debut LP. Noah Green (Henry Clay People) sings on “Electrical” with aching sincerity, belting lyrics that would be saccharine if delivered by anyone else: “Sunlight’s got a light that’s better / For spitting out cassette tape dreams / On the kitchen floor.” On “Temple of Gunpowder,” Green bends his voice like Built To Spill’s Doug Martsch, channeling their laidback yet infectious melodies. Closer “Deceptionist” showcases swirling dual guitars, ending the record with a sense of finality. Pretty Flowers craft refreshingly unpretentious indie rock. Think The Replacements without the self-destruction. Why Trains Crash will remain on repeat in my car, at home, and at work for a long while. –Sean Arenas (Dirt Cult, dirtcultrecords.wordpress.com, dirtcultrecords@gmail.com)

ADOLESCENTS: Cropduster: LP
There are “old” bands tapped into the punk nostalgia cottage industry that are content to earn a little Christmas money playing nothing but the oldies at the odd gig now and then, and there are the bands who prefer to still work at being a collective creative endeavor. The Adolescents not only fall into the latter category, they continue to be a vital voice in the underground while maintaining a consistent level of quality output that is a rarity even among newer bands, let alone one that’s been plugging away at it at different intervals for nearly forty years. Much like their last effort, Manifest Density, things largely continue down a trajectory that adds a wee bit of “rock” to a trademark, influential hardcore punk template hardwired with dual-octave leads, devastating riffs, assorted tempos, and crack musicianship. Tony remains in fine form, howling out topical, pointed lyrics that address, and often dress down, the current demagogue-in-chief and the larger social (dis)order while Steve and the boys lay down one ripping musical base after another. The collective results here are a consistently strong, effective album, quite possibly the best they’ve dropped this decade. Nostalgia is fun in small doses, but, given the choice between the safety of a perpetual wallow in a static, unchanging past and supporting crucial work from vets who remain rooted in the reality of right now, I’m gonna go with the latter every single time. –Jimmy Alvarado (Concrete Jungle)

ALICE BAG: Blueprint: CD
Okay, this is pretty great. Blueprint kicks right off into a shout-along anthem of an opener, “Turn It Up.” The poppy keys are the perfect counter to Alice Bag’s snarling vocals. Things take a turn for the soulful and subdued in “Invisible” before raging back into the riot grrrl banger “77” (“I make 77 cents and it’s not right / It’s bad for women and worse if you’re not white”). Continuing along those lines, the rest of the album—Bag’s second solo effort—is a marvel of genre-blending, from ska punk horn leads to funky grooves and jangly guitar hooks. Who else could pull so many sounds together so seamlessly into one album? Blueprint is a more than worthy new chapter in Alice Bag’s ever-growing legacy in art and activism. –Indiana Laub (Don Giovanni, info@dongiovannirecords.com, dongiovannirecords.com)

BACK TO BASICS: Shaded Eyes EP: 7”
Secret Mission continues to bring incredible Japanese bands to turntables worldwide, with Back To Basics delivering two marvelous new tracks on this perfect single that self-describes as an EP. Hailing from Kyoto and featuring members of Louder and First Alert, this is definitive Japanese powerpop that’s irresistible from the first listen. Only two hundred of these are available stateside, so make sure to swoop it up while you can. Secret Mission’s momentum is on fire right now, with them churning out hit after hit. No one’s throwing shade at Shaded Eyes! –Art Ettinger (Secret Mission, secretmissionrecords.com)

CIVIC: New Vietnam: 12” EP
It seems Australia can do no wrong. Just the mention of that country alone when it comes to music will spark conversation, and it doesn’t seem anyone can identify the crux of the quality of art originating there, but it exists nonetheless. Civic is no exception to the rule. Somehow, a band that’s existed for barely six months as this review is being written has unleashed a monster of an EP, turning heads almost instantly. From the opening of “Nuclear Son,” you’ll know precisely what you’re getting into. Names tossed around by most you’ll hear are Dead Boys, Saints (obviously), and while those aren’t inaccurate per se, they don’t properly define their sound at all. Civic have a real underbelly to them, similar to what you’d get out of a Hank Wood And The Hammerheads record. The vocals even remind me of some of the less screamy Impalers songs. Combine those references and add a few well-placed chaotic guitar solos and that will likely describe them best. There’s so much grit to them that referencing any other “rock” band would make them sound corny, which would be the furthest from the truth. A near-perfect record, with “Shackled Man” and “Burning Steel” being tops for me. –Steve Adamyk (Anti Fade, antifaderecords.bandcamp.com)

CREEPS, THE: Beneath the Pines: LP
When I first heard this collection of songs, admittedly I was looking for something a bit darker. Something a bit more Creeps-y? Yeah, I love Eulogies so much that I kind of wanted Pines to be a repeat of that. But after my third or fourth time through the record, once I started to know the words to all the songs and the tone of each track, it really grew on me. Sonically, this record is much brighter and sharper than their last, but the subject matter is just as grim. “Full Shook” is about Skottie’s grandmother suffering a stroke, though even without that context the lyrics: “I just picture a scared old woman trapped behind her eyes / Full shook, tongue tied,” still resonate hard with me. There are ones about long-term relationships in “Even,” depression and sadness in “Low,” and the fear of dying in “Scared.” Where Eulogies was more of a bleakly beautiful record, Pines is the yin to The Creeps’ yang, which is beautifully bleak. The song “Shimmer” is aptly titled, as you can hear the cymbals reverberate and ripple throughout, and it’s a very nice way to set up the record. If you don’t catch all the lyrics as you make your way though this latest effort, it might not hit very hard. But once I spent some more time with Skottie’s incredible voice, the darkness of Beneath the Pines comes through in droves. Each song has just enough despondency, fright, and uncertainty to make me cry. And each one is pretty enough to do so while smiling a bit. Fantastic record. –Kayla Greet (It’s Alive)

CREEPS, THE: Old Crimes: LP
It’s Alive has collected the Creeps’ three EPs, one split, and single (2009-2013) onto one easy to manage long player. Rather difficult for me to review, as words will fall insufficient to my feelings on Skottie’s voice. Since blindly ordering Crusades first LP, his pipes provide a dark melody that really does something for me. I jumped on the Creeps as soon as I realized they were a more Skottie-centric goth pop outlet for his vocal stylings (versus the more serious leanings of Crusades). Every Creeps release makes me feel like the interior sleeve photo of this one: a sea of raised fists and undoubtedly open mouths. Essential. –Matt Seward (It’s Alive, itsaliverecords.com)

CRIMINAL CODE: Twenty-Five, Thirty-Four: LP
Tacoma’s Criminal Code return with their first record in several years, following a steady stream of well received releases. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. And while this is still the Crim Code we all know and love, there is plenty on Twenty-Five, Thirty-Four to reassert why they’re one of the best bands from the Pacific Northwest. The rhythm section is still as tight as ever. The drumming doesn’t miss a beat. The guitar tones still stay with you for days after listening. The vocals flex some talented range previously unheard. I’m detecting an affinity for Wipers Over the Edge but also the Cure’s Disintegration: I ain’t mad at ya, Crim Code. Whatever you do, don’t miss these cats if they’re touring through your town, and pick this record up while you’re at it. You shan’t be disappointed. –Juan Espinosa (Deranged)

DEAD MEADOW: The Nothing They Need: LP
Dead Meadow have traversed the world for twenty years wielding a unique and warbly style of psych/fuzz metal. The music is masterfully layered for a trio: heavy reverb with wavering distortion creates a hot wave allowing you to rock and stare at the sky at the same time. I know everyone has their pet bands, but it truly confounds me that this group doesn’t get talked about even a little more than they do considering how long they’ve been plugging away. If I had to guess, I’d say they might be a little too psych for the metal scene, a little too experimental for the retro scene, and a little too spacey for the rockers. It’s a shame this band falls through the cracks of the styles they celebrate so successfully. “Keep Your Head” starts the album with an ascending guitar and underwater vocals. The song layers into “Here with the Hawk,” a more standard ‘60s rocker that deconstructs into metallic blues picking that becomes “I’m So Glad.” The album continues on this wave of uncontrived ‘60s madness. They’re definitely not a singles band. I get that. It’s for album people. I hate people who preach bands at me as well, but I feel there’s a whole audience missing this. This album is for the firewatchers and people who have long drives to see Sleep. –Billups Allen (Xemu, xemu.com)

ELEPHANT RIFLE: Hunk: LP
Holy fuck! This record grabs you right by the privates from the get-go. The opener, “Hunk’s America,” is like a boxing warm-up for a Tyson fight of a record. It’s no secret that I love this band and this record is my favorite so far. They have tapped into what they do best and carried it throughout the whole record: aggressive and witty vocals backed by moxie, and artistic, ballsy music. Also album cover of the year goes to Hunk. You’ll have to indulge yourself to see what I mean. –Ryan Nichols (Humanterrorist, humanterrorist@gmail.com)

FIRESTARTER: Livin’ on the Heat: LP
After spending a decade telling every friend en route to Japan to pick up a copy of Livin’ on the Heat if they see it, I’m finally holding this record thanks to the good people at Secret Mission. Absolute classic modern power pop. No debate, no discussion, it’s all on the table here. After Teengenerate disbanded in 1996, 3/4ths of the band started Firestarter, transcending from garage trash perfection to power pop precision. In my experience, this is not a record that’s known for its mixed reviews. Pick it up, fall in love, and get the first LP too. –Daryl (Secret Mission, secretmissionrecords.com)

GIANT HAYSTACKS: This Is All There Is: CD
My favorite bands are the kind who progress with every release. It’s the sign of a band that is alive, breathing, and driven by desire. Giant Haystacks began heavy-on-the-Minutemen spice, but soon after started crafting their own recipe. While the San Pedro Three were always at the base, by the end Giant Haystacks sounded more like Giant Haystacks. In the span of nineteen songs (all taken from their singles and EPs), you can hear what I’m getting at. The Minutemen sounded shifted into more of a post-punk sound akin to Gang Of Four and Wire. They hit perfection by the time they released “Young Shaver.” Such a great song! –Matt Average (Mistake)

HANK WOOD AND THE HAMMERHEADS: Self-titled: LP
Hank Wood And The Hammerheads return from a four year sabbatical with an even more vibrant, jubilant take on their already high energy approach to stomping NYC punk despite the underlying tone of heartbreak and loneliness. Lyrics so utterly depressing yet so relatable: “Baby I’m alone even when I’m standing next to you.” The vocals are belted out in soulful aggression, a style that has become all Hank’s own. You know you’ve got a truly magical record in your hands when you can’t flip the record over because you’re spending so much time with the first side. Spoiler alert: the second side is just as amazing. Highest possible recommendation if you’re fucking punk at all. –Juan Espinosa (Toxic State, toxicstaterecords.com)

HERESY: Face Up to It! (Expanded 30th Anniversary Edition): 2 x LP+CD/CD
Back in 1988 Heresy’s Face Up to It! was expected to be a barnstorming USHC-influenced collection of songs from a U.K. outfit which had been increasing the pace of it delivery for a couple of years. However, like many albums of the time, the outcome was disappointing, with a compressed sound that did the band no favors whatsoever. With no money available for a remix, Face Up to It! was released as a significant under-representation of the band’s ability. Fast forward a few decades and Heresy and Boss Tuneage were able to use the original tapes to remix the album and this 30th anniversary edition, featuring an additional eight tracks, is the result. On the first listen, I was stunned at how different it sounded in comparison to the original. The songs raced along with a whole new lease on life, resurrected into a driving force propelled by some magnificent drumming, which kept up a frantic pace at times. Rarely do I focus in on the drums as the most prominent instrument, but here there is not much choice given they form the basis of almost everything that goes on. How the bass manages to work in tandem is beyond me, but that and the guitar do a bang up job of adding to the maelstrom, allowing John March to throw his vocals into the mix. I doff my cap to all involved in the process of putting right this wrong, as this double LP, which also comes with the CD version, is an excellent package. –Rich Cocksedge (Boss Tuneage, bosstuneage@btinternet.com, bosstuneage.com)

MANIAC: Dead Dance Club: LP
I can’t tell you how long I have been itching to hear this. Actually, I can. It was almost immediately after I heard their debut album a few years ago. I was hooked and I needed more. I gushed about it in these very pages where I talked about their distinct “Pacific Northwest filtered through Los Angeles sound.” I stand by that, but with the release of their sophomore album it is clear that this band is so much more. Right from the kick off it is apparent that this record is something special. It’s like an invisible hand reached inside me and started shaking my spine back and forth so my head would start jerking up and down like some kind of possessed bobblehead. The people at the bus stop were concerned. Is there such a thing as serious partying? Maniac is serious partying. I absolutely love The Cars. When I first put this on, the first thing I thought was “It’s like The Cars were tougher, modernized and fifty times better!” I can’t get these songs out of my head and I couldn’t be happier. –Ty Stranglehold (Dirt Cult)

MANIAC: Dead Dance Club: LP
This has been on rotation since I got my greedy little hands on it. Dead Dance Club is Maniac’s second LP and they seem to have hit their stride. “City Lights,” “ Calamine,” “Living in Stereo,” and “Dead Dance Club” are my personal faves and have an earworm effect where I find myself randomly humming melodies, but honestly I think every song on this LP is solid. Zache Davis’s vocals are snotty and distorted, with back-up vox of bassist Justin Maurer (Clorox Girls), that perfectly punctuate the super slick, hook-laden melodies of Andrew Zappin’s guitar. James Carmen keeps everything in step, without one hair out of place, and offers up clean, crisp beats that flourish rather than distract from their overall sound. If I had to compare Maniac’s sound, the best I could do was say they’re a mash-up of power pop Cheap Trick and Teengenerate… but greasier. Straight-up dirty charmers. –Camylle Reynolds (Dirtcult / Hovercraft)

MEKONS, THE: Never Been in a Riot: 7”
MEKONS, THE: Where Were You: 7”
The Mekons are synonymous with the “post-punk” moniker. Alongside bands like Public Image Limited, The Fall, and Gang Of Four, The Mekons forged a new path for noise and avant-garde themes in music in the immediate wake of the punk explosion of the late 1970s. Among the difficult to find and pricey classics are the first two Mekons’ singles. Superior Viaduct has reissued these two singles for your post-punk convenience. “Never Been in a Riot” is a cloppity-clop punk rocker with a mechanical chug that feels as if it’s about to fall apart at any moment. The bass ascends and descends as the guitars and angry vocals blurt out at even intervals. The second single begins with “Where Were You?” The song starts with a mechanical guitar strum and a rising snare roll. The guitars kick in with natural distortion through overdriven clean channels. The flat, matter-of-fact vocal delivery over mechanically angry, factory-sounding music became the standard for bands diverging from the 4/4 rock resurgence punk was utilizing. The Mekons put out several albums, changing their sound from time to time. The first two singles are essential, wrench-turning thought-rock. They’re a must for post-punk and ‘77 fans. –Billups Allen (Superior Viaduct)

MESSTHETICS, THE: Self-titled: LP
I’m from the school of thought that believes there are two kinds of people: those who like Fugazi, and those who are wrong. Call it bias if you will, but from the moment I heard ex-Fugazi members Joe Lally and Brendan Canty were teaming up on a new musical project, I was on board before I’d heard a single note. Their all-instrumental band The Messthetics, with guitarist Anthony Pirog, does not disappoint. It’s impossible to not draw parallels between their current project, and Fugazi, but the Messthetics are more than merely Fugazi Part II. The instrumental nature allows Lally, Canty, and Pirog to focus entirely on musicianship and craft songs that are simultaneously technical, wild, and beautiful. The result is some of the most nuanced, and damn catchy tunes you’re liable to hear this year. –Paul J. Comeau (Dischord)

NO PROBLEM: Let God Sort Em Out: LP
I know that I spend a lot of time pumping up Canadian music. I can’t help it. Not only do I have a natural need to validate our contributions to punk rock, but there is a rich history of bands up here that have the skills to back it up. Edmonton’s No Problem is one of those bands. Time to preach from the mountaintops again! It would be one thing to say that No Problem is one of the best hardcore punk bands to come out of this (sometimes frozen) tundra, but they are so much more. On this third album, the band is raising the bar exponentially. Kicking off with an intro that feels almost like a ‘90s rap album, it builds up to its first hardcore blast. It’s like the slow climb up the biggest hill of a roller coaster. You know what’s coming; the butterflies are rising in your chest and the adrenaline is about to kick in. It would be wholly inaccurate to simply lump No Problem as a generic hardcore band. Much like Night Birds or Fucked Up, there are added elements to the intensity that result in a fuller sound. In this case, an ethereal, almost post-punk guitar sound weaves its way through the entire album, adding a texture that is irresistible. Every song is not a million kilometers a minute. There are slow burners in the mix too. The lyrics are well thought out and executed visions of current issues and apocalyptic futures. I don’t want to be that guy, but I have to say that I think this is a fucking masterpiece. I have only had this album for three days and I have lost count of how many times I’ve listened to it. I can already tell it is going to become a cornerstone in my record collection. In no way is that an exaggeration. Also, they have a simple yet eloquent logo, which is always a plus for a hardcore band. –Ty Stranglehold (Deranged)

PARTIAL TRACES: Glass Beach: LP
A bunch of poppy punk stalwarts (Soviettes, Banner Pilot, Dear Landlord, Gateway District, Rivethead…) got together and made something rad and decidedly different from all those bands. Glass Beach delivers song after song of dark, thoughtful post-punk, more taut and dissonant than gruff and anthemic. That’s not to say these songwriters let their pop sensibilities fall by the wayside—the melodies are on point at every turn, vocals and shimmering guitar lines interweaving and mounting to emotional crescendos. “Dashi Bay” and “Blank State” evoke that haunted heartland feeling I haven’t felt this much since the last Divers album. “Vacancies” is like the amped up New Order song I didn’t know I needed. I’ve been trying not to compare this to Interpol, a band I have been aggressively ignoring for fifteen years, but it’s very possible that Partial Traces sound kind of like a much punker, more interesting version of Interpol that I really like. Super into this. –Indiana Laub (Salinas, salinasrecords@gmail.com, salinasrecords.com)

STRUNG OUT: Black Out the Sky: CDEP
For a second, I could’ve sworn the wrong disc was queued up—one of those “is-this-a-manufacturing-error?” type of moments. After a little sleuthing, it turns out, nope, it’s Strung Out alright. Black Out the Sky begins and carries forward as a full-blown acoustic rock record (emphasis on rock, e.g.: full band and electric instruments included), much to surprise, considering the band’s lengthy track of consistency when it comes to style in their discography (as referenced in my previous review for Transmission.Alpha.Delta back in issue number 87). As one sits back and combs through the first few tracks, you expect the band will break out into their standard form at some point for sure, but it never happens. They really are doing this. But the real miracle here is that when so many bands of their ilk try and fail at this subgenre, Strung Out somehow pulls off this significant break in style. It isn’t difficult to imagine the band pulling off songs like this musically. They’re pros, after all. But to do it without sounding corny? Almost impossible. It would most likely end up sounding like Theory Of A Deadman or some bullshit, which isn’t what we have here at all. Jason’s voice guides the band always, but without his charm, I’m not sure Black Out the Sky would have the same effect. It’s a shockingly enjoyable, well done record. And make no mistake, that’s a huge compliment, since this could have gone horribly wrong if they were a different band. Fifteen years ago, when rock bands were still on the radio, this could have been a serious contender. Side note: eight tracks with three songs over four minutes is considered an EP? Maybe that’s strategic, but if it looks and sounds like a full length, it is what it is. –Steve Adamyk (Fat, fatwreck.com)

WILD ANIMALS: The Hoax: LP/CD
This is the follow up to the excellent Basements: Music to Fight Hypocrisy, an album which flooded my head with melody, a bit of power, and some of the best songs I’d heard in ages. Having been fortunate enough to see Wild Animals live last year, my admiration was firmly cemented as the band tore through songs I loved and gave them even more vitality and impact. The Hoax continues in the same vein as its predecessor and is a collection of songs that have a ‘90s indie rock quality to them. Jamie Ruiz’s guitar bleeds a warm fuzziness which embraces me whole and his voice tells tales that I eagerly lap up. The album kicks off with the hugely infectious “Lost in Translation,” recounting the band’s Japanese tour last year and is one of ten tracks which make for a perfect listening experience. If it were possible to get tattoos on your heart then I’d have Wild Animals done on mine. This is a bloody great record! –Rich Cocksedge (Lauren, aaron@lauren-records.com, lauren-records.com / Bcore, bcore@bcoredisc.com,bcoredisc.com / La Agonia De Vivr, laagoniadevivir.com / Pifia, pifia.records@gmail.com, pifiarecords.bandcamp.com / Inhumano, inhumano.bigcartel.com / Epidemic, epidemicrecords@hotmail.com, epidemicrecords.net / Waterslide, watersliderecords.bandcamp.com)

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