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Pale Lips and The Sorels – Do The Rumbar Rumble

The latest chapter in the momentous alliance between Pale Lips and Rum Bar Records is a very special split CD release. Do The Rumbar Rumble pairs of two of Canada’s biggest rock and roll sensations in Montreal’s Pale Lips and Winnipeg’s The Sorels. Now sadly this is not new material from either band, but it does compile the tracks from each band’s long out of print first two seven-inches. The first three Pale Lips tracks date all the way back to 2015’s debut single Got A Sweet Tooth. I had not listened to these songs in a long time. Upon revisiting them, I’ve found that I still really like them! These were the songs that made me a Pale Lips fan. They’re definitely a little rawer compared to later recordings, but I kind of like that. From the start, the band’s smarts, sense of humor, charm, and flair for fun catchy tunes were simply undeniable. If you’re out and about and see some crazy person in headphones joyfully singing the lyrics, “I’m dreaming of killing you”, it’s probably just me. The progression between that first single and 2017’s Should’ve Known Better! is quite striking. “Don’t Take Your Switchblade to New York” remains an essential Pale Lips track (and essential life advice!).  

The four Sorels tracks on Do The Rumbar Rumble are the only four songs that this band has officially released. These songs originally came out on two singles co-released by Reta Records and Surfin’ Ki: 2019’s “She’s In The Gang” and this year’s “Spring Break”. And since those two records sold out before you even had time to blink, this CD is your best hope of procuring these tunes in a tangible format. Both of the A-sides mix pop hooks with punky rock and roll energy and classic girl group influences. The B-sides, “School Girl Blues” and “Palo Santo”, find the band embracing its tougher-edged glam and rock side. Just you wait until The Sorels release an album…you’re all gonna go nuts! Join the fan club now before the lines get too long! 

So who wins this rumble between two of Canada’s finest? That’s easy: we all do! It just makes sense for all of these songs to be on the same album. Pop this disc into your CD player, and you’ve got yourself a party for the next 23 minutes. And that artwork? Oh my god!

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The Adam Brown – What We’ll Never Know (Deluxe Edition)

Out on Rum Bar Records is the deluxe CD reissue of What We’ll Never Know — the most recent album by Montreal-based indie rock band The Adam Brown. Originally self-released by the band last October, What We’ll Never Know manages to be a different kind of release for Rum Bar while still fitting in perfectly on the label roster. Formed in 2004, The Adam Brown presents a very cool mix of musical styles — think old school indie rock meets Brit-pop with touches of new wave, glam rock, garage pop, and contemporary modern rock. In recent years, I’ve developed quite a fondness for indie rock with hooks. With that in mind, What We’ll Never Know is right in my wheelhouse. The sound is cool but in no way pretentious. The Adam Brown knows how to craft catchy tunes with big hooks, and the band’s lyrics are an ideal combination of humorous, quirky, and thoughtful. Infectious pop tunes like “Indie Rock Has-Beens”, “Hummin’ Around”, and “The Post” quickly had me designating this album as essential summertime listening. But much to my surprise, I’ve found myself digging some of the more “indie rock” sounding tracks just as much. With each subsequent listen, “I Will Let You Run” and “Spirit Tacos” lodge themselves deeper into my head. 
There’s a lot going on on What We’ll Never Know. The album crosses a wide variety of musical and vocal styles and features the contributions of three drummers and a couple of co-vocalists. Yet the album is tied together by consistently strong melodies and an undeniable charm. Based on this album, I would absolutely want to see The Adam Brown live! At the end of the day, you just can’t beat good songs. This is a record that’s full of them — with the new reissue tacking on two bonus tunes for a total of 12 tracks. I love how “Indie Rock Has-Beens” is hilariously self-deprecating even as it challenges stereotypes about hipsters. “The Post” employs a sports metaphor that just about everyone in my reading audience will get. You have to appreciate a band that can write a song about encountering tiny levitating disco fans in the jungle and actually have it sound like…disco! And surely The Adam Brown is the first band in the history of recorded music to pose the question of whether or not taco trucks exist in the afterlife. One of my favorite things about Rum Bar Records is how Lou is always finding records that deserve to be heard and introducing them to a new and wider audience. What We’ll Never Know most definitely deserves to be heard, and I expect it will be a big hit with the Rum Bar fan base. Vinyl is still available directly from the band!

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Real Sickies – Love is for Lovers

Love is for Lovers is the fourth album from Edmonton’s Real Sickies — assuming you count last year’s amazing, digital-only release Quarantined (as I do). But since Quarantined was literally created in one week, I have no objection to anyone who considers Love is for Lovers to be the “proper” follow-up to 2019’s Out of Space. Real Sickies had been working on some of the songs on Love is for Lovers since even before Out of Space was released. So it’s no surprise that there’s a noticeable progression between the two albums. The press releases I’ve read in advance of Love is for Lovers indicated that the new album would lean more “pop” than previous releases. And clearly I had no objection to that! 

Out now on Montreal’s Stomp Records, Love is for Lovers is by no means a radical shift from Real Sickies’ well-established punk/power pop style. But it definitely shows a big advancement from the band’s previous releases in terms of songwriting, production, and stylistic variety. Basically, this is the album where Real Sickies take it to the next level. Fear not: there are definitely some “classic” sounding Real Sickies numbers on this record. Songs like “Communication Breakdown”, “Least Favorite of Mine”, and the super-catchy title track are quintessential poppy punk tunes that hit that sweet spot between the Ramones and Teenage Head. But on this record, Real Sickies demonstrate that they can do way more than that. The songs on Love is for Lovers range from ripping punkers (“Sickies Don’t Talk”, “Tear It All Down”) to absolutely marvelous pure pop tunes (“Destructive Nights”, “Hold On Baby”). And then there are some songs that really surprised me. I’m catching Barracudas vibes from “I Think of Sunshine”. “Give And Take”, a duet featuring country singer Lucette, sounds unlike anything this band has done before. And while this is by far the most “pop” Real Sickies album yet, that doesn’t mean it’s lightweight. Songs touch on subjects such as the ups and downs of friendships, personal growth and regression, addiction, and the very nature of love itself. 

If Real Sickies were content to repeat themselves, they probably could have stopped after Get Well Soon. But they’ve managed to do interesting things with each successive record. Out of Space was their “pop-punk” record, and Quarantined was one of the finest “pandemic albums” released in any genre of music last year. With Love is for Lovers, the band has embraced its pop side like never before without losing the fundamental appeal of a Real Sickies album. Hit up the group’s Bandcamp to snag the pink vinyl with white splatter or white vinyl with red splatter!

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Bambies – “Dirty Taint”

I first wrote about Bambies back in 2019 when the Montreal trio released “Red Guitar” — the second-ever release on Reta Records! From the start, I was absolutely floored by this band’s super fun mix of punk, pop, and high energy rock and roll. Now Sami, Franki, and Feli are back with “Dirty Taint”, a new single that teases their forthcoming album Summer Soon. According to the band, the song is about “answering the call of invisible forces, internal chemistry or whatever it is that brings you to the right place, at the right time to have a perfect night”. That’s a vibe I can totally dig! “Dirty Taint” is the kind of song you crank up loud when you want to feel really great about being alive. It’s rare to hear a band sound this poppy while still maintaining an aggressive punk rock and roll edge. But that’s exactly what Bambies have pulled off here! Summer Soon is due out in August on Spaghetty Town and Wanda Records — and somehow Bambies manage to be a perfect fit for both labels! I am so pumped for this album!

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Dany Laj and The Looks – Ten Easy Pieces

 

Ten Easy Pieces, the fourth album by Sudbury, Ontario’s Dany Laj and The Looks, has been a fixture in my car CD player for a couple of weeks now. While it’s most definitely an album for all seasons, Ten Easy Pieces is the perfect summertime rock and roll record. It’s well documented that I was a big fan of the band’s previous two albums Everything New Is New Again and Alive & Kicking. But with zero hesitation, I’ll say that Ten Easy Pieces is the best album yet from Dany Laj and The Looks. With the previous albums, there were obvious “hits” that stood out. This time through, it’s hard to pick a standout track since they’re all so good. And the feel of this album is a little different as well. While it certainly has its serious, more melancholic moments, the overall vibe is joyful, energetic, and just plain fun. This is music that puts a smile on my face!

It’s hardly surprising that Ten Easy Pieces is such a strong collection of songs. In advance of this album, Laj spent two years writing new songs and rearranging old ones. Some of these songs date all the way back to the early 2000s. 38 songs were eventually paired down to 12, and there’s not a single sub-par track in the bunch. On this release, the band functions as a trio with drummer Dusty Campbell joining Laj and his musical and life partner Jeanette Dowling. The album also features appearances by Laj’s pals Paul Loewenberg (keyboards), Greg Mihajic (harmonica and keyboards), Dunstan Topp (drums), and Zack Tymchuck (percussion). Ten Easy Pieces is a fine example of the musical appeal of Dany Laj and The Looks. The punk and power pop elements remain, mixed seamlessly with influences ranging from ’60s pop to garage rock to indie rock to straight-forward rock and roll. “Smile”, which channels the Beatles via early Elvis Costello, is an infectious opener that sets the tone for the entire album. “You & Me”, the album’s most recent single, is so catchy that it ought to come with a government warning. If “Don’t Keep Me Guessin'” doesn’t have you up and dancing within 30 seconds, there may be no hope for you. “Pick It Up” and “I Play Guitar” are every bit as rockin’ and hook-laden. While the second half of the record is not without its up-tempo tracks (“Till Jockey’s Lament” and “Wanted To Be Loved” are both top-notch rockers), it also sneaks in some quality deep cuts. “One More Hole” is “mellow rock” done right, while “Smoke In the Sun” is a wild foray into psychedelic garage territory. “In Other Words” brings John Lennon to mind. “Who’s Pickin’ On You” is a terrific cover of a little-known gem by the John Borra Band. 
With Ten Easy Pieces, Dany Laj and The Looks have delivered a set of pop/rock and roll songs that absolutely delights from start to finish. Laj as a songwriter is as rock-solid and dependable as Carey Price between the pipes. He and Dowling have infused their music with their special chemistry, and that especially comes through on this release. I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing this band live, but the vibe of this record is how I imagine the vibe of the group’s on-stage performances. If you haven’t yet seen the music video for “You & Me” directed by Ryan Thompson, check it out below. It’s absolutely insane! Ten Easy Pieces releases on LP today on the Toronto-based label We Are Busy Bodies. CD release (with five digital bonus tracks) has been licensed to Rum Bar Records!

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MONONEGATIVES – Apparatus Division

Call it synth-punk, electro-punk, post-punk, punk/new wave, or whatever you like. Just know that MONONEGATIVES do it better than almost any band out there. On its debut album Apparatus Division, the London, Ontario trio has condensed all the anxieties and terrors of present times into a 12-track synth-punk masterpiece. Out on the legendary labels No Front Teeth and Big Neck Records, Apparatus Division expands and refines the musical vision of last year’s extraordinary EP Sure Shock. A laboratory analysis of MONONEGATIVES’ musical DNA would confirm the group’s ancestral relations to Devo, Wire, The Screamers, Joy Division, and Tubeway Army. But this band manages to take those influences (and others) and craft a sound that comes off as original and contemporary in the modern-day dystopian nightmare of 2021. 

I would still describe MONONEGATIVES as a band that puts the “punk” in synth-punk. 10 of these dozen tracks clock in at under three minutes, and four come in under two. These guys still can rip into a song with speed and fury. But even with the relatively short running times, a lot of these tracks find the band slowing tempos and using synthesizers to create tone and atmosphere. The approach to songwriting is so creative that some tracks are like two songs in one — transforming from moody post-punk to a raging ball of fire without warning. I like how this band takes full advantage of synthesizers in punk rock. The synths are not just there as background — they are central to the songs and developed with a composer’s mentality. Impressively, the band pulls off a sound like this that successfully mixes the primal guts of garage/punk with the synthetic sensibilities of electronic new wave. It’s all part of a larger artistic vision that also encompasses the band name, song titles, and art work. Apparatus Division is the sort of album that ought to be absorbed with headphones. Just press play and let MONONEGATIVES pull you into their wild, strange world. Are you entering a surrealist future or just the frightening present that your conscious mind won’t allow you to acknowledge? The answer is open to interpretation. 

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Poison Suckers – self titled 7″

 

With me notoriously being a geek for Canadian punk rock, it always bothered me that I never really had a favorite punk band from Winnipeg. Then I got turned on to The Sorels, and it was all settled. Now with the arrival of Poison Suckers, I can say I have two favorite bands from Winnipeg! And there’s a connection: Poison Suckers are Joanne from The Sorels and her husband Joe from Fashion Bathers, Shitbots, etc. With this band, you get cool elements from both of these formidable talents. Poison Suckers don’t really sound like any of the aforementioned bands, but in listening to the duo’s debut EP you can totally sense Joanne’s love for girl groups and dirty glam rock and Joe’s fondness for blown-out lo-fi garage punk. Put it all together, and you’ve got a marriage made in heaven! Out now on Transistor 66 (on slime green vinyl, no less!), the four-song debut from Poison Suckers is an absolute treat for lovers of budget rock. It’s super lo-fi, but not in a shitty way. You could probably pass these songs off as the work of some forgotten garage band from 55 years ago! “Grain Alcohol” and “You Like Me” conjure some old school girl group magic with a rawness and budget fidelity that serve the songs completely. On “Take My Time”, the band tears into some down and dirty, riff-driven rock and roll featuring a powerhouse vocal from Joanne. And speaking of powerhouse vocals, Joanne brings it full force on the MC5-inspired scorcher “Stick Up”! If you like trashy rock and roll with soul, guts, and brilliant songwriting, you’ve got yourself a brand-new must-have record to chase down!

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Pale Lips – After Dark (Rum Bar CD reissue)

I was recently contemplating how Rum Bar Records has worked with almost all of my favorite bands of the moment. With Hayley and the Crushers, The Speedways, The Cheap Cassettes, and Brad Marino already on the roster, I joked to myself that the only band missing was Pale Lips. And then, boom, out of the blue Lou announced he was reissuing Pale Lips’ second album After Dark on CD! So yeah: my entire top five list of favorite current bands/artists is now in the Rum Bar family! It’s no secret that Pale Lips are my favorite band and that After Dark was my favorite album of 2019. I probably don’t need to write a whole new review of an album that I’ve previously praised at length. But here are my bullet points on this newest release of After Dark:

  • To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time After Dark has been released on compact disc outside of Japan. And that means that I’m enjoying it on CD for the first time ever. With warm weather in the air, these 12 tracks make for some Grade A car jams! 
  • I’ve discovered that I like this album just as much now as I did two years ago — perhaps even more! I’ve had it on repeat as I drive around town. The first Pale Lips album Wanna Be Bad is very good. After Dark is great
  • Cooler people than I are huge fans. Rum Bar label mate Brad Marino calls After Dark one his favorite records of the last 10 years and cites it as an influence on his new album (which comes out on CD today, by the way!). 
  • Ilona Szabo is a rock god. Seriously: if you wanna hear how rock and roll guitar ought to be played, give this album a listen. 
  • The lyrics on this record are smart, funny, and very worthy of closer inspection. 
  • My list of favorite tracks has changed (a little). I still consider “I’m A Witch” and “That Old Ghost Don’t Lie” to be my top two songs from After Dark, followed by “Cosmic Love”. But “All My Baby Brought Back Was The Blues” is gaining on the pack fast. What a delightful and clever song! I’m also way more into “Hanky Panky Franky” than I used to be. And I have to say that “Hiding From the Moon” is one of the true underrated gems from the Pale Lips catalog. Now I better stop before I mention every song on the album! 

After Dark is out today on Rum Bar Records. All CD orders come with a fold-out mini-poster while supplies last. You know what to do!

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Priors – My Punishment on Earth

It has been a couple of years since I last checked in on Montreal’s Priors. My Punishment on Earth, the band’s third LP, was due out last year but had its release delayed due to the pandemic. It was written and recorded prior to the events of 2020, yet it could not be a more fitting release for this particular moment in time. It’s full of darkness, dread, and anguish — as if Chance Hutchison and his bandmates are letting loose a year’s worth of internalized tortures. If the band’s last album New Pleasure was a startlingly progressive take on garage-punk, My Punishment on Earth is the logical next step. It moves the band deeper into synth-punk and post-punk territory without losing the “punk” part of the equation. Whereas New Pleasure was like a wild, bumpy ride, My Punishment on Earth is more like a dark descent into one man’s living hell. Given the album title, you probably wouldn’t have expected songs about milkshakes and kittens. But this is by no means the bummer of a record that you might assume it to be. While the songs still rage (only two tracks exceed three minutes), the hooks on this particular album are stronger and left with much more room to breathe. These songs really stick with me, and I’m always left wanting more when I reach the end of the album. I’m reminded of everyone from Jay Reatard to modern-day bands like Miscalculations, but I can only describe Priors as true originals. They are writing the manual on how to move punk music into the 21st Century without sacrificing any of the genre’s fundamental energy and excitement. If we’re talking about great albums of 2021 so far, My Punishment on Earth has got to be in the conversation.

-L.R.

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Dany Laj and The Looks – “Don’t Keep Me Guessin'”

Near the top of my list of 2021 album releases I’m most excited for is Ten Easy Pieces, the third LP from Dany Laj and The Looks. The album will be out in June, and its first single “Don’t Keep Me Guessin'” was recently released digitally. Clearly 2020 was a tough year for all bands and musicians. But for Dany Laj and The Looks, who absolutely live to tour, it must have been excruciating. Laj spent much of 2020 writing new songs and reworking old ones — continuing a process that dated back to the previous year. Eventually he had enough material for three albums. But, no, it’s not time for the triple LP just yet. Ten Easy Pieces will feature 12 of the best songs Laj and his bandmates have worked on over the past two years. I can tell that “Don’t Keep Me Guessin'” was a fine choice for lead single because every time I play it, I end up listening to it four or five times. One play always leaves me wanting more! This is a very significant song for Laj personally. He wrote it ten years ago after he first met his life partner and bass player Jeanette Dowling. Musically, it’s classic Dany Laj and the Looks. While broadly classified as power pop, this is a band that never limits itself in terms of musical style. You can’t really put this song into a genre. It sounds a little like Irish folk, a little like bluegrass, and a little like pop. I like that there was a real-life happy ending to “Don’t Keep Me Guessin'”, but there is a cool contrast here between the uncertainties expressed in the lyrics and the lively, happy feel of the music. This is a song you can’t help singing along with, and for sure it will make you wanna dance. You know it will be a crowd favorite once it’s safe enough for Dany Laj and The Looks to get back out on the road! For now, you can download “Don’t Keep Me Guessin'” from a variety of digital platforms. And watch out for Ten Easy Pieces, which releases June 11 on Toronto-based label We Are Busy Bodies!

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