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Beatnik Termites – Sweatin’ To The Termites

I’ve mentioned two or three or 20 times that my favorite pop-punk bands tend to be the ones that fully embrace the pop side of the genre. On that note, you would expect the Beatnik Termites to be way up there on my list of all-time favorite pop-punk groups. Indeed, the Termites would be included in my personal holy trinity of pop-punk (most likely joined by The Queers and Parasites). With a legacy dating back to the dawn of the ’90s, the Termites paved the way for every subsequent pop-punk band that would take its primary musical influence from the worlds of doo-wop, surf, bubblegum, and ’50s rock and roll. If “oldiescore” is a recognized strain of modern-day pop-punk, it’s no stretch to say that Pat Termite pioneered it! 

And so it’s a true joy to hear the old master still at the top of his game in 2021. Out now on Mom’s Basement Records, Sweatin’ To The Termites is the first Beatnik Termites album in 18 years and just the fourth proper album in the band’s history. I was excited by the return of the Termites but wasn’t sure how a new release would stack up to the band’s classic albums. Well let me tell you: it stacks up just fine! This is a vintage Termites release all the way. The Termites were always the band you could play for your parents if you wanted to turn them onto pop-punk. Well now it’s your grandparents that you’re converting, and Sweatin’ To The Termites is fully up to the task! The formula hasn’t changed in over 30 years, any why should it? The band still excels at writing harmony-drenched pop songs about pretty girls and the ups and downs of love. On Sweatin’ To The Termites, the group embraces its love for doo-wop and early rock and roll like never before. Throw in nods to the Beach Boys, bubblegum, and (of course) the almighty Ramones, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for another classic Beatnik Termites album! Songs like “Pet Shop Girl”, “Denise Marie”, “Out of My League”, “Summer Summer”, and “My Darling Maryann” instantly rocket into to the top tier of Termites songs. “Tell Me Why” demonstrates that even bubblegum bands can have a serious side. “Rubber City Roller Girl” brings to mind the Ramones on Sha Na Na. “She’s Gonna Kill Me” finds the Termites at their punkiest. 

It seems fitting that I’m typing a review of a record called Sweatin’ To The Termites on a 90-degree day. This really is the ultimate summertime record from the ultimate summertime band. Thinking back to the days when Taste the Sand was a foundational piece of my initiation into the world of pop-punk, I am pleased as punch to discover that the Beatnik Termites have withstood the test of time without having to fundamentally change their approach to music. If you like pop and punk and rock and roll, it doesn’t get much better than this.

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Geoff Palmer – “Many More Drugs”

Smash hit alert! Geoff Palmer is back with a new solo single, and it’s a total banger! That should hardly be a surprise considering the consistent quality of his solo output in 2018-19. And of course his collaborative EP with Lucy Ellis almost saved 2020. “Many More Drugs”, off of the forthcoming album Charts & Graphs, is a vintage Geoff Palmer number. It’s upbeat pop/punk that’s catchy as hell and above all else FUN! Seriously: if this song doesn’t put a smile on your face, there’s probably no hope for you! “Too Many Drugs” tells the hilarious tale of a young Palmer mishearing the lyrics to the Dickies classic “Manny, Moe And Jack” and his subsequent challenges in finding the song on record. That’s a funny story — and it’s one that almost all of us can relate to. The Dickies were surely a rite of passage for anyone who came to love poppy punk rock over the last 40 years. And as much as I love the way modern technology gives us instant access to a seemingly limitless library of recorded music, I must admit there was something really thrilling about the days when you had to track down a record if there was a particular band or song you wanted to hear. “Many More Drugs”, while definitely an homage to “Manny, Moe And Jack”, is above all else an anthem for music geeks. It’s available now as both a digital single and a 7″ release from the mighty Stardumb Records. The 7″ features two exclusive non-album B-side tracks. They’re so exclusive that if you want to hear them right now, you’ll have to — you guessed it — buy the record! Charts & Graphs will be out July 23rd, 2021 on Stardumb, Rum Bar, Memorable But Not Honorable Records!

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File Under: A Mutant Pop Tribute

Well if I went ahead and reviewed one Mutant Pop Records tribute, I suppose it would have been really bad form to not review the other one too! File Under: A Mutant Pop Tribute was released by Ramonescore Radio Records April 7 — the very same day that 44 Golden Greats came out on Worst Idea Records. Adding the 19 songs on File Under to the 44 golden greats yielded 63 tracks of Mutant Pop celebration in one day. And I’m all for that!

File Under, compared to 44 Golden Greats, is definitely a little bit “pop-punkier”. It also includes a Loblaws cover, which was the only omission from 44 Golden Greats that I considered complaining about. All in all, File Under is a really fantastic tribute to Mutant Pop’s legacy and should not be overshadowed by 44 Golden Greats. The lineup represents some of the very best players from the current generation of pop-punk. Included are heavy hitters like J Prozac, Billy Putz, Grim Deeds, and Black Russians — as well as my favorite present-day pop-punk band Vista Blue. As expected, there’s lots of love here for Dirt Bike Annie, The Proms, and Kung Fu Monkeys — who are each covered twice. But I also appreciate that this collection tackles some of the deep cut gems of the Mutant Pop roster (The Wallys, The Loblaws, The Catalogs, Somethingtons). While I’m ordinarily wary of pop-punk bands doing pop-punk versions of pop-punk songs, several bands pull that very thing off quite successfully here. Classic Pat covering The Loblaws’ “Tossing and Turning” does not disappoint! Vista Blue’s take on The Wannabes’ “Saturday Night” draws a direct line of influence between those two bands. The Pembrokes (covering The Klopecs’ “Alyson Hannigan”), Wild Sandals (The Catalogs’ “Scrunchy”), and Rip Taylors (Spodie’s “Brenda’s Got A Devilock”) all remain faithful to the original versions while adding plenty of their own flair. There are also a few tracks that surprised me a little. I love Atomic Treehouse’s fully punked-up version of the Kung Fu Monkeys’ “Luau All Night”. Lesser Creatures somehow manage to make The Proms’ “Spike A Da Punch” sound like a Sloppy Seconds song. Black Russians rock out Dirt Bike Annie’s “Capable of Anything” with full-scale nuclear power. Parasite Diet’s inspired rendition of After School Special’s “Kitty Corner” makes me feel like I never fully appreciated how good that song was. 

As I look at great labels today like Monster Zero, Mom’s Basement, OUTLOUD, Eccentric Pop, etc., it’s clear that the legacy of Mutant Pop Records is the enduring community of pop-punk. Mutant Pop was (arguably) the first record label devoted entirely to promoting pop-punk as a musical aesthetic. A couple of decades later, there are enough excellent bands floating around to easily justify the existence of several labels specializing in pop-punk. Quite a few of those bands are represented on File Under. I could be a nitpicker and demand a third tribute to ensure that my homeboys Jake and the Stiffs and Explosive Kate are not overlooked. But I think I’ll just leave well enough alone and commend both labels on a job well done. File Under, like 44 Golden Greats, is a swell deal for just a $5 download. You can also grab a CD for 8 bucks. All proceeds go directly to The American Association of Suicidology.

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Various artists – 44 Golden Greats

Had Poppy Robbie not double-dog dared me to tackle the 44-track Mutant Pop Records tribute compiled by Grath Madden and Chadd Derkins, I might not have even bothered. I have presumed that anyone who would be interested in hearing a quadruple album Mutant Pop tribute has already purchased it. That’s how passionate the fan base remains after all of these years. And so here we have 44 Golden Greats — lovingly assembled by two of the most passionate of all of those fans. 

While a 44-track tribute album is a grand and ambitious project, anything less might have seemed unsatisfactory. We’re talking about a label with over 100 releases! Mutant Pop was a label I steadfastly championed throughout my up-and-coming years in the record reviewing racket. 20-25 years later, it’s fun to look back at particular MP releases and examine which ones I still really like and which ones I can’t believe I ever liked in the first place! Today I rank The Kung Fu Monkeys as my #1 favorite Mutant Pop band by far — followed by The Automatics and Ruth’s Hat. I was excited to see all three bands well represented on 44 Golden Greats. But as a true fan of the label, I was also stoked that this tribute doesn’t neglect lesser-known and overlooked players in the Mutant Pop story. This collection would have been far less cool without representation for the likes of Spodie, The Beldons, Dead Like Elvis, and The Hitchcocks. And holy smokes: there are two Buglite covers on this release! 

What I like about 44 Golden Greats is that the majority of the bands/artists went to the trouble to creatively interpret the original songs. Obviously we’re all pop-punk fans here (otherwise you wouldn’t have read this far!). But I doubt any of us wanted to hear 44 cover songs that sounded exactly like the original. Probably the most “faithful” cover that actually works here is Doc Hopper’s ripping rendition of Boris the Sprinkler’s “Drugs and Masturbation”, and that’s largely due to the track opening with Joe Keller’s brilliant and truly hilarious spoof of a Rev. Norb monologue. You’d have to have a heart of stone to not be delighted by The Steinways’ version of Dirt Bike Annie’s “What’s Happening, Hot Stuff?”. But the real highlights for me are the versions that honor the originals by transforming them. It almost goes without saying that the Kung Fu Monkeys’ interpretation of The Hissyfits’ “In My Dreams” is beautiful and perfect and extraordinary in every way. Poppy Robbie gets points for covering one of the best Automatics songs (“No Big Deal”) and making it sound like…a Poppy Robbie song! I was previously unfamiliar with Nicky Reynolds and his Pushers, but I love, love, love, love the band’s take on After School Special’s “Kelly Burkett”! Jeanie Lee’s version of Egghead’s “Donna’s Always Mad At Me” is a royal treat for all of us who can never get enough of Jeanie Lee…or Egghead! Also really excellent are covers by Andrew Furtal (Dirt Bike Annie’s “All Systems Go”), P.J. Sloan of Ruth’s Hat (The Proms’ “May I Cut In”), and Dr. Princess (The Wanna-Bes’ “ATM”). And you’ve gotta love Skinny Genes (which is Azeem from The Steinways) doing a clever mashup of Moral Crux’s “Firing Squad” and the Ramones’ “She’s the One”!  

Chances are that if you’re a Mutant Pop Records fan, you don’t need me to tell you that 44 Golden Greats is worth buying — because you’ve already bought it! But if you haven’t bought it yet, you certainly should. It’s a wonderful reminder that a lot of incredible music was released on the Mutant Pop label. And you can feel the love that went into the creation of this project. Many of the artists appearing on this collection are Mutant Pop alumni paying tribute to other Mutant Pop artists. A few others represent the best of the generation of pop-punk that was directly inspired by Mutant Pop. And seriously: 44 tracks for five bucks is a deal and a steal! All proceeds from this digital release go to the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs.

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Vista Blue – Stealing Signs

You see the cover art and the title. You see the name of the band. I know what you’re thinking: Vista Blue released a baseball song for opening day again? Well guess what — Mike threw that speedball by you! You were expecting something about the Houston Astros maybe, but you got…a love song! Isn’t that what you wanted in the first place? “Stealing Signs” is the title cut from Vista Blue’s new EP — which Mike and Mark recorded in Nashville this past winter. It’s a vintage Vista Blue blast of power pop influenced pop-punk (or maybe vice versa). The melodies are memorable, the harmonies are on-point, and the baseball metaphor is a brilliant touch. And I always love a pop group that appreciates the value of a nicely executed fadeout ending. Vista Blue knocked this one out of the park! The rest of the EP is a nice hodgepodge of new songs, cover tunes, and previously released songs. “She’s Not the One For You”, which first appeared on the Ramonescore Radio Records Rock Against Cancer compilation, is some buzzing pop-punk to get your toes tapping. You could probably make an argument that this song is the “hit” of the EP, although I’m still partial to “Stealing Signs”. I will ask Nick Spoon for a ruling. “Bryan Funck Ripped Us Off” is a new version of an old Robinsons song. “Saturday Night” was recorded for a Mutant Pop Records tribute album coming soon on Ramonescore Radio Records. I love the cover choice, and I love the version (early Wanna-Bes had to have been an influence on Mike’s songwriting). The original number “I Miss You” is 83 seconds of perfect pop-punk. As everyone east or west of the Rockies knows, “Safari” was originally done by Parasite Diet on its 2017 album Coast To Coast

It never really feels like Major League Baseball opening day if it’s not accompanied by a new EP from Vista Blue. And while there are technically no songs about baseball on Stealing Signs, it still feels good to have this EP on repeat today as I enter the realm of despair, disappointment, and dashed hopes that is another Philadelphia Phillies season. I always feel like I’m being unfaithful to pop-punk Vista Blue when I so heavily praise the band’s more power pop leaning releases. Well on this release, the band is definitely flexing its pop-punk chops — and I love it!

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Lesser Creatures – Issue One

The first time I heard Lesser Creatures (on Mike Patton’s radio show The Radiant Radish), my instant reaction was, “Hey, this is the best Screeching Weasel song in years!” I quickly learned that it was actually Lesser Creatures, a duo comprised of Nick Spoon from Ramonescore Radio Records and Zac Buzzkill from The Radio Buzzkills. I swore to god that I was forever burned out on any band that reminded me of Screeching Weasel. But give credit to Lesser Creatures, for they’ve made a liar out of me! I would describe the band’s debut full-length Issue One as exactly the kind of record I would have tried to make 25 years ago if I had had the musical talent to pull it off. It’s pop-punk by the book, carried off with tremendous enthusiasm and energy. It’s odd that nine out of ten albums that sound like this would bore the hell out of me, yet somehow this one hits the sweet spot. The influences are obvious. Clearly these guys have worn out their treasured copies of Boogadaboogadaboogada! and My Brain Hurts. In spots, I’m also reminded of The Vindictives, Sloppy Seconds, and early Connie Dungs. This is what you call a tried-and-true formula, and Lesser Creatures pump it full of life with simple catchy tunes and engaging lyrics that range from goofy to thoughtful. And the execution of the formula is top-notch. As far as Weasel rips go, “Negative Nick” is pretty close to perfect. Elsewhere, songs cover everything from pop culture references (“The Office Drinking Game”, “Jim Lahey”) to love & relationships (“Nowhere With Me”, “Stephanie Jean”) to social commentary (“Reset The World”) to wanting to go to Germany ( “SV Meppen”) to living with depression (“Smartest People”). There are also really cool covers of Tom Petty’s “Don’t Come Around Here No More” and The Proms’ classic “Spike-A-Da-Punch”. 

All in all, Issue One is a really fun record. If you don’t like pop-punk, this is not an album that’s going to cause you to reconsider your position. But if you can never get enough pop-punk, you’re gonna freaking love Issue One! As someone who came to the world of reviewing music way back when due to my excitement over the early ’90s pop-punk scene, I hear this album and am quickly reminded of why I got into all of that stuff in the first place. Get it now from OUTLOUD! Records!

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The SUCK – Boris Sprinkler

Somehow the world made it through all of last year without any new music from the SUCK. Man, that was a rough go. Fans were so distraught that a great many went as far as to proclaim 2020 the worst year ever. Fortunately, the unbearable wait is almost over. Boris Sprinkler, the second album from these Mid-Atlantic street rock champions, will officially be out next weekend on Mom’s Basement Records. 2019’s In​-​Cog​-​Neat​-​O surely set a standard that the SUCK would be hard-pressed to maintain. What would it take for the band to concoct another batch of tunes as massively rocking, supremely amusing, thoroughly unoriginal, and brilliantly stupid as the eight songs that comprised In​-​Cog​-​Neat​-​O? These secrets have never been revealed, but I believe Boris Sprinkler is the fruit of much deep reflection, excessive drinking, and deep reflection under the influence of excessive drinking. 

Having already perfected a formula for what a SUCK album ought to be, the band took great care to not disappoint the fan base. Eight of Boris Sprinkler‘s ten tracks clock in at under two minutes, and the songwriting continues to strictly adhere to the tenet that no band needed to exist after the Ramones, except maybe HEAD. There are certain things we all demand from a SUCK album, so let’s go ahead and run Boris Sprinkler through the checklist. Is there a song about drinking? There are actually multiple songs referencing drinking, but “Fantasy Beer League” is THE song about drinking and an instant classic in the SUCK canon. For a guy who loves sports, I am surprisingly terrible at fantasy leagues. But I feel like I could be a contender in this one! Is there a party song on this record? Why yes: “Who Brought The Tits” chronicles a basement hang so epic that a six-foot sub was fully consumed and The Dunk started throwing chairs. Check! Does the band manage another song as wrong and inappropriate as the last album’s “Vape Store”? Why, yes: “You’re Not Home” is way more wrong and way more inappropriate! Is there a cover of some unheralded pop-punk classic that’s not nearly as good as the original? For sure, and this time it’s The Proteens’ “I Told You So”. Does the album end with a devastating tale of heartbreak and despair exacerbated by modern technology? Why, yes: “J Prozac on a BMX Bike” is even better than its last album counterpart “The Catfish” and a reminder that the SUCK could be a top-rate pop-punk band if they ever lost the physical wherewithal to rock the streets. Elsewhere, there are songs about Dungeons & Dragons, suave secret agents, and, uh, jugs. The SUCK are nothing if not renaissance men. 

My love/hate relationship with the musical genre known as “Ramonescore” tends to mirror my love/hate relationship with IPAs. Overall I find the style to be overdone and largely full of indistinguishable clones. But the handful of exceptions are truly magnificent. I’ll gladly take a Troegs Perpetual any day of the year. And the SUCK is the Troegs Perpetual of its world. It seems fitting that the SUCK is on the same record label that has released music by The Vapids and NECK. If you like those bands, you will also like the SUCK. In fact, you probably already like the SUCK if you like those bands! Boris Sprinkler is a bigger and better follow-up to its formidable predecessor. The Alien and The Dunk have again turned out some of the hottest-sounding guitars in all of the land. The Cola remains a unique and charismatic vocal presence — as convincing boasting about the stun gas in his key chain as he is pining over the girl who broke his heart years ago. And the Problem and the Basement continue to do all of the unappreciated work of keeping everything simple and tight (notice that on the album cover, they appear ready to start playing at a moment’s notice, while The Dunk looks like he may have just murdered a man with his guitar). As a lifetime Pennsylvanian, I am proud that we get to count the SUCK as one of our own. Although I believe that 20% of Delaware may be eligible to claim the SUCK as well. I’ll need to get a ruling on that. Preorder for Boris Sprinkler ends today at noon Eastern Time. Any remaining copies will be available beginning April 2nd! 

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Goin’ Places – Save The World

Continuing its established pattern of releasing an album every decade, beloved Staten Island pop-punk trio Goin’ Places is back with the wonderful Save The World. Out on Mom’s Basement Records, Save The World is the band’s first album in nine years and just its third album overall. It’s hard to believe that Goin’ Places has now been a band for 20 years. But the numbers sure don’t lie! It’s a tricky proposition for a pop-punk band to “grow up”. One hand, you know you can’t go on forever strictly writing songs about the teenage experience. On the other hand, you risk losing the entire appeal of the band if you “mature” too much. Goin’ Places have navigated this transition brilliantly. 

Save The World is an album guaranteed to satisfy longtime fans. As always, Richie, Victor, and Frank stick close to the Green Day/Queers/MTX playbook with deeper roots in the harmony and melody driven rock and roll of the 1960s. They’ve made a pop-punk record for people who love pop-punk — and you would not expect anything different from Goin’ Places. But that doesn’t mean that Save The World is a total copy of its two predecessors. Lyrically, it’s far more serious and thoughtful than previous albums. This is a record full of songs about getting older, confronting disappointment and failure, reflecting on the past, and figuring out what lies ahead. Some of the album’s finest tracks (“4:04”, “Live Those Times”, “Message In A Dream”) reflect that the band members are in a far different place in life than they were when they made Girl Songwriting 101. Yet even with all of that deeper thinking involved, the songs remain steeped in the trio’s old standbys: catchy melodies, tight harmonies, and Richie and Victor’s likable tag team vocals. Fear not, though: Goin’ Places may have gotten more serious, but they still aren’t taking themselves too seriously. On “This Song Is Not About A Girl”, they have a great time poking fun at themselves and almost every other pop-punk band out there. Meanwhile, “Listen To My Love Song” and “Across The Room” actually are about girls and are absolutely great! Elsewhere the band isn’t above throwing in a couple of crowd-pleasing numbers (“I’m Gonna Steal Your Girlfriend”, “Cell Phone Girl”) that embrace nearly every teenage pop-punk cliché in the book, much to our collective delight. 

Save the World begins with the premise that there’s too much hate and divineness in our world, and that maybe some fun pop songs could bring people together. That’s a cause I can fully endorse, and Goin’ Places are more than up to the task. Save The World, although it features an older, wiser Goin’ Places, is still tremendous fun and a reminder that sometimes great pop is exactly what we need. While these guys were already qualified to write a college course on girl songwriting a couple decades back, now they’ve clearly graduated to teaching the masters class.

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The Sino Hearts – Rock ‘N Roll Hurricane

Welcome to America, The Sino Hearts! Having already released two excellent albums in Europe, Beijing’s finest power pop punk rock and rollers now have an album available in the United States! Out on Otitis Media Records, Rock ‘N Roll Hurricane is essentially a collection of the best tracks from the band’s previous long players Leave the World Behind (2018) and Mandarin A Go​-​Go (2020). Featuring the singing, songwriting, and instrumental talents of Zhong (ex DeeCracks), The Sino Hearts form a bridge between modern-day pop-punk and the classic powerpop/punk of the Buzzcocks, Boys, and Ramones. Of course I sense in Zhong a kindred spirit in terms of musical taste. But with The Sino Hearts, it’s not just about the influences. It’s about how Zhong interprets these inspirations and creates a unique sound within the pop/punk world. The music of The Sino Hearts is, above all else, great fun. It’s energetic, catchy, and deeply ingrained with an innocence and romanticism that trace all the way back to early rock and roll. The style is familiar, but Zhong gives it a rhythm and feel that is immediately recognizable as his own. He’s a likeable vocalist and one heck of a guitar player as well. The song selection for Rock ‘N Roll Hurricane was spot-on. If this is your first purchase of a Sino Hearts album, you are getting all of the essential cuts — such as “Teenage Rebel”, “Back to the Sentimental Club”, “Out of Fun”, “Loveless Nights”, and “Mandarin A Go-Go”. And it all flows like one single album. Rock ‘N Roll Hurricane is highly recommended to eternal teenagers, guitar romantics, and anyone who enjoys pop-punk with deep roots.

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canine 10 – “Real Fake Love”

Released just in time for Valentine’s Day, canine 10’s “Real Fake Love” is the ultimate cynical love song. On this wonderfully bitter digital single, the Philadelphia foursome sounds more than ever like a geekier, Americanized Buzzcocks. The title track is classic canine 10 — blending jaded lyrics about the inevitability of romantic dysfunction with hummable melodies, a cool guitar riff, and a chorus that’s bound to be stuck in your head for days. It’s actually the second track on the digital release. But if this were a 45, “Real Fake Love” would almost certainly be the A-side. I’m aware that we are well past Valentine’s Day at this point. But if you’re lonely and miserable, it’s never too late to take comfort in knowing that many coupled individuals are equally miserable. If there was any question about canine 10 being modern masters of the anti love song, this track ought to seal the deal! The peppier, punkier “I Know You Know” is a treat in its own right. I hereby declare canine 10 the most underrated pop group on the scene today — and I myself have been guilty of much of that underrating. My failure to list the band’s album Nonsense! in my top 30 albums of 2020 has kept me awake at night and might even be a criminal offense here in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. “Real Fake Love” is definitely the top single of 2021 so far! 

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