It’s not easy to make pop punk music. Like, ok, that’s not true. It’s mechanically easy to make pop punk music. It’s not easy to make pop punk music that can live and breath as it’s own thing. The genre purists are going to piss and complain no matter what. You’re derivative if you stick too close to the formula, you’re a trend jumping phony if you deviate. It’s fucking ridiculous. But let’s get down to brass tacks. Diet Cig is fucking good.
Swear I’m Good At This is exactly what any band would want their debut full length to be. Diet Cig has honed their indie pop influenced punk rock down to a science over the course of one EP and two singles. They are a two piece that sounds huge. Everything is firing, and everything works.
Swear I’m Good At This is in the fine tradition of records that sound happy but are lyrically kind of a bummer. There are songs about failed relationships. Songs about feeling lonely and hopeless. There’s some 20-something ennui. There are a couple fuck you songs directed to a society that really doesn’t seem to get what the fuck is going on. It’s musical sugar to cover up real life bitterness and I love it.
This a record full of singles and mixtape fodder. “Link In Bio” and “Tummy Ache” were absolute no-brainers to be lead of singles. “Barf Day” and “Bite Back” would fit perfectly on a bummer mix. It’s a record that is definitely going to appeal to an entire demographic of disillusioned kids just trying to find their voice.
This is the kind of music that exists to let you know you’re not the only one going through some shit. It’s 100% the kind of thing I loved when I was in my 20s, and I know some kid is going to be stoked on it. Diet Cig have all the potential to be huge, and I hope they everyone sees it.
Bandcamp / Buy It
It’s been about four months since I wrote about any record. I’m coming back with an easy one. Less Than Jake is one of my favorite bands. They have been since I was a teenager. It was Less Than Jake and the Bouncing Souls forever. Like, I’ve forgotten a lot of things over the years. The lyrics to every Less Than Jake record up to and including GNV FLA are still burned in my brain though. I definitely got away from this band after that. I never really listened to either of the Greetings EPs or See The Light very much. They were great records. I was busy reviewing every fucking emo revival record, or whatever.
There is nothing new under the sun when it comes to Less Than Jake. They are a band of veterans who know exactly where their proverbial bread is buttered. It’s why, in 2017, I can still put on any of their records and know I’m going to enjoy it. Is it predictability? Definitely. Could that be viewed as a negative thing? Absolutely. Not by me though, because I still love this goddamn band.
Sound The Alarm is exactly what you expect it to be. It’s an EP full of poppy songs with oddly bummer lyrics. Sound The Alarm would him every point if there was a template for a Less Than Jake record. “Call To Arms” is the classic punk with horns opener. Compared to their discography, it is probably the most Anthem-y. “Welcome To My Life” and “Years Of Living Dangerously” hit the laid back ska vibe. Both songs deal with friendships and relationships in different ways. The former being apologetic, the latter hits on the classic, reminiscent theme the band often uses. “Thing Change” is the strongest song on the record. It closes the record with the most Less Than Jake song they’ve recorded in years. Fast verses, great horn line, and a huge chorus.
It’s not really easy to write about Less Than Jake objectively. This band is wildly important to me, and I’m definitely willing to overlook things other people maybe won’t. Nostalgia is a hell of thing. Anything this band does is going to remind me of something I’ve done while listening to them. “Bomb Drop” makes reminds me of driving in a blizzard while listening to Borders And Boundaries. “Years Of Living Dangerously” reminds me of being sad and drunk while listening to B Is For B-Sides.
It’s a fucking Less Than Jake record. You know what it is. Don’t overthink it. It’s good, and it is another strong release in this band’s discography. I know everyone is going to try and compare it Hello Rockview or Losing Streak. Don’t do that. Just let it play. You’ll like it.
Less Than Jake
Pure Noise Records
The Lower Echelon play a kind of punk rock that doesn’t get much play these days. It is something in the middle of traditional, 70s style punk rock and the sardonic, sarcastic 80s stuff that permeated out from the West Coast.
Come To The Loud is a record that has more going on than an initial listen would cover. On the face of it, a song like “Dirty Princess” can come across as a little questionable. With proper analysis the lyrics actually get the point about bro culture and the weird fixation is has on damsel in distress tropes. This political tone is recurring. “All Against All” is more of a dirgey type song that touches how consumer culture and and financial system is rigged against normal people. “Flops To Lofts” has a similar tone.
As far as being a genre record, this record hits a lot of the touchstones. The songs are rough around the edges, the vocals even more so. It has the energy and heart that punk rock should have. If I had an issue with the EP it would be that the topics don’t necessarily get dealt with the weight they could be. There is a lot of bullshit happening in the supposed “progressive” world of punk rock, and masking the message in too much sarcasm tends to muddy the water.
But, look, let’s get down to brass tacks. The Lower Echelon are definitely on some punk rock shit, and this EP is definitely worth a listen.
The Lower Echelon
Earth Girls feels like a genre departure for Liz Panella. In fact, this can really be said for all the current members of Earth Girls. Much of the band’s collective discography outside of Earth Girls tends to fall more on the hardcore side of things. Panella has a varied discography, including a lot of one off hardcore bands, Libyans being the most consistent. Joey Kappel and Antonio Holguin III have both been active in the Chicago punk and hardcore scene. The former with Boilerman and Poison Planet, the latter with Raw Nerve and Big Zit. It seems strange that they would come together to make a bubblegum pop punk record, but here we are.
Wanderlust is the perfect distillation of bubblegum and pop punk. Earth Girls have a sound that makes me think of what Helen Love would sound like if she edged more towards garage and punk rock than pop. Kind of like a Helen Love / Marked Men combination. The band has a very distinct sound, and it’s probably due to the pedigree the band has. They aren’t afraid to leave some rough edges on things. Those rough edges add a lot of heart to a record that could have gone glossy and shiny. This record could have gone full power pop by overselling the hooks. Instead they chose to combine the hooks with a driving grit. This is the kind of record that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Lookout Records circa the late 90s, early 00s.
The long and short of it is that this record rules. It’s catchy, it fast, and it’s a perfect summer record. My only beef is that it’s only about 21 minutes and it came out so late in the season. Otherwise, I really can’t complain.
Grave Mistake Records
My favorite punk rock records are the ones that sound like everyone in the band just said “fuck it” and just went as hard as they could regardless of the consequences. Punk rock is built on that energy. A lot of bands who try that end up playing fast, sloppy, amateur hour type shit. They mistake energy for speed. Good punk rock isn’t just stuff that is loud and fast. Good punk rock is something you can feel.
Slow Bloom is a band full of energy and heart. They play post-hardcore, but are still very aware of their punk rock roots. The songs sound gritty and dirty. It’s super welcome in a world where most punk rock bands have rounded of the jagged edges. They are also deceptively melodic and catchy. Underneath the screaming and distortion on “Phantom Tantrum” is a really great early 90s alternative rock song. “Veriforms” and “Deep Space” are what I think At The Drive-In would sound like if they weren’t too pompous and cool to be punk.
I don’t want to wax philosophically about a punk rock record. It’s on Bandcamp, it’s on Spotify. You can find it. My notes when I listened to this EP started with the phrase “dope as fuck.” Let’s just leave it there.
Punk rock is a shifting genre. Styles come and go. Geometers play a style that I really don’t hear much of anymore. They are bringing a fresh take on the gritty, post-hardcore influenced punk rock of bands like Small Brown Bike and Engine Down. Geometers have a definite late-90s / early-00s No Idea Records vibe to them. It’s pretty refreshing to hear bands still playing this type of music in 2016.
This does mean Geometers are walking down a pretty well worn road though. This EP lives or dies based on what they do with the sound. They do well to keep the energy up, they hit the perfect mixture between melodic and heavy, and they work in some great hooks. The vocals are great, and the production work of J. Robbins in a total plus. If anyone can produce this, it’s him. Really, almost everything about the EP just works.
“Sidearm” is probably the strongest song on the whole record. It’s also the loudest and most aggressive thing the band offers up. It fucking rules. This isn’t to take anything away from “On My Own” or “Title Fight.” Both songs are also really great, and the tonal difference between them and “Sidearm” really show a solid amount of range. Like, I’m honestly super into most of the songs. The only one I’m one I’m not feeling is “Arp.” It’s only a short, instrumental interlude. Nothing huge. It just kind of kills the momentum of the record. I would have probably 86’d it if I had my druthers. It’s not a bad song, but it doesn’t make sense to be placed where it is. It would have been perfect as an intro track though.
Minor gripe aside, Geometers have definitely added some new life to one of my favorite kinds of music, and goddamn am I happy to see it.
I love hearing modern bands play classic genre music. Orations are a prime example of how good it can sound. What they’ve done on Incantation is an interesting bit of songwriting, and certainly not easy. They live in a middle ground of goth inspired post-punk/new wave and driving, mid-tempo punk rock. They never sound like just a punk rock band trying to fuck with post-punk and new wave, and that is what makes this whole thing work so well.
The four songs on Incantation seem to be split into two styles. “Curses” and “Strangely Safe” bookend the EP with a style that calls to mind the poppier side of Siouxsie And The Banshees or The Cure. Mostly thanks to that classic post-punk/new wave guitar tone. Great use of reverb and great melodics. Those songs have a gothy kind of sound, but never fall into the droney and brooding genre traps. The middle two songs, “Circus of Currents” and “Nosedive,” have a much more straight forward punk rock sound. They definitely match the tone of the other songs, but maybe don’t rely so much on the overall atmospherics as much.
The band is great at tying everything together. Jason Draper (bass) and Paul Morin (guitar) absolutely nail the kind of interplay needed to make this sound work. Steve Sojka (drums) is very versatile in his own right, switching styles depending on what the songs call for. A lot of band would sort of fuck up the post-punk to punk rock shift, but Orations have it covered. But, in my mind, the strongest selling point of the record has to be Jess Collins’ vocals. She has a very commanding voice. It’s strong enough to stand out on the more driving songs, but versatile enough to weave in and out of the more atmospheric one.
This is skilled band walking a very tight rope. They’re making music that borrows from a classic sound, but they’re adding enough life and energy to keep it from being mindless throwback bullshit. A lesser band might not be able to do it, and that alone makes this one worth a listen.
Sheets Of Tens Records / Buy It
Bandcamp / Buy It