Watts – Flash Of White Light (2014)

watts - flash of white light
Flash Of White Light

Opening with the one-two punch of their recent 7″ and never looking back, Watts are keeping the flame of song-driven classic rock alive on Flash Of White Light. Right from the get-go it’s clear that Watts have logged more hours listening to Cheap Trick, The Raspberries, Kiss and AC/DC than I’ve spent doing just about anything. It’s in their DNA. When they toss out rippers like “Rocks”* or “Wasted Angels,” it’s clear where they’re coming from. They channel The Cars on “Better (For A Girl Like You).” They evoke memories of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” on “Flying Over With Bombs.” It’s everything I’ve come to expect from these guys. Thankfully. And then, with a sense of wonder and ringing in my ears, Watts reveal the man behind the curtain on “Trick.” Nice move, gentlemen.

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* Dig the left speaker guitar at the 1:10 mark. Awesome.

Sidewalk Driver – My Face (2015)

sidewalk driver - my face
Sidewalk Driver
My Face

Oh, boy. I hate this. Wait, that came out wrong. I love My Face. That didn’t come out right, either. This isn’t going well. What I meant to say is that I love the new Sidewalk Driver record, but I hate that I can’t think of any good way to tell you that. And I need to tell you that. Ugh. Let’s get this over with.

So, how shall we proceed? Let’s start at the top. Sidewalk Driver’s magnum opus begins with the bang-bang combo of “Kidnapped” and “My Face.” These are two of my favorite songs, sans qualifiers, and no finer album opening salvo shall you find. “Call My Name” never fails to put a smile on my face.* “Five Steps” is a mind-blowingly awesome, dirty birdie rocker with a hair metal heart.** If a band like Tora Tora or Baton Rouge had had a song like this back in the day, they’d have been household names. Sidewalk Driver works some Fat Albert funk into “Because I Want You.” “So Close” is expertly crafted pop. The live favorite “Karaoke Guy (Monday Night)” always brings the house down; the recorded version does the same. “We’re Going Down” and “Rock Star” tack on a couple more big rock tunes before “Ya Know” gently brings things to a perfect end. Are you convinced of My Face’s brilliance yet? I hope so.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go back to listening to music instead of butchering the English language in an attempt to write about it. Write about the music that is, not the English language. Please make this end.

Where to get it:

Full Disclosure: Nicole Anguish of Daykamp Creative did the artwork for this here record. You may have already guessed that since it’s awesome. The artwork and the record.

* That “my face” reference was unintentional and I hate myself for it.

** Anyone who knows me would recognize this as a compliment. It should not be taken otherwise.

Jenny Dee & The Deelinquents – Electric Candyland (2014)

Jenny Dee Electric Candyland
Jenny Dee & The Deelinquents
Electric Candyland

What happens when you take the handful of incredible singles you’ve released over the past couple of years and you put them all on the same record with a bunch of other great songs? If you’re Jenny Dee & The Deelinquents, Electric Candyland happens. I’ve sung the praises of “Get Away,” “Don’t Tell Me” and “Bandit Of Love” in the past, but the release of a proper full-length album is as good a time as any to remind everyone how great these songs are.* The Deelinquents manage to blend ELO, Olivia Newton-John, Sweet, Darlene Love and Blondie into something new and different. It sounds wonderful. They snarl on “Bite Your Tongue.” They’re playful on “Wake It Up.” They rock on “Lookin’ For Clues.” They cover “Fox On The Run” and I’m happy. I think I’ll go listen again.

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* They’re really, really great.

Junior Communist Club – Freedom Of Speed (1999)

Junior Communist Club - Freedom of Speed
Junior Communist Club
Freedom Of Speed

Junior Communist Club was a one-off collaboration between Jack Drag’s John Dragonetti and producer Master Cylinder (Pete Ducharme). It was full of lo-fi-meets-hi-fi mid-tempo grooves and minimalist vocals.

Freedom Of Speed opens with the seven minute instrumental “Ultrabollywood.” The song is built around a Jack Drag-esque bass line and sounds like it could have been an outtake from the band’s Unisex Headwave album. “Tidal Wave” is up next, with its cool, effected drum loops and catchy yeah yeah yeah backing vocals. “Ultrasound” brings back that Jack Drag bass sound, this time with Master Cylinder’s remixing playing a more prominent role. This one also has a great hook in the chorus and more nonsense word backing vocals (this time with a bop bop). Mellow keyboard permeates “76 Place.” “I’ve Been Shot” has distorted guitars and is full of rhythm shifts. The title track wraps things up with another great chorus hook and Beach Boys-like backing vocals.

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Honeyglazed – The Trouble With Girls (1999)

Honeyglazed trouble with girls
The Trouble With Girls

Honeyglazed were three guys and two girls. More significantly, Honeyglazed were vocals, keys and two bass guitars. They used both configurations to their advantage on The Trouble With Girls. Honeyglazed were peddlers of fuzzed-out bliss.

There are ultra-chic back and forth, harmony, and unison boy-girl vocals all over this record. “Under The Boot” and the horn-augmented “Milk And Morality” are prime examples. With Tim Catz going all out on his heavily distorted lead bass, the absence of guitars becomes a non-issue. The dual bass setup never feels like a gimmick. The unique instrumentation also leaves plenty of room for the keyboards to add to the sonic landscape.

Stand outs? “True In Tokyo” puts forth a vibe that is indescribably cool. Yes, they misspell Tokyo as T-O-Y-K-O. Yes, it’s awesome. The more atmospheric “747’s” is beautifully crafted and executed. It’s the type of song that transcends its genre and stands alone as a classic.

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Reverse – The Jersey Switch (2002)

The Jersey Switch

Reverse are a force of nature that appreciates both the calm and the storm on The Jersey Switch. While other bands may let their fury go unchecked, Reverse unleash a controlled maelstrom that draws the listener in. Just check out “Permission”; plodding verses lead to a chorus of guitars that explode and drums that pound you into submission. Or witness the loud/quiet/loud of “Ugliest”. Or “Bright” and “Ridiculous,” with guitars that buzz and sing in supersaturated glory. Feedback and noise abound but never threaten to take over the songs. Ian Kennedy’s vocals are often soaring and distorted. Mike Piehl relentlessly smashes away behind the drum kit. The man has power and groove. There is no escape. Reverse owns you now.

Reverse proved they are one of the best bands around with The Jersey Switch. They proved it again (and topped themselves) on 2009’s Monkey Mind. And we haven’t even talked about what a monster live band they are…

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The High Ceilings – The Edge Is As Safe As The Ground (2003)

The High Ceilings
The Edge Is As Safe As The Ground

The High Ceilings are a tight unit able to balance introspection and bombast. They’re also a smart unit that plays to their strengths. Much of The Edge Is As Safe As The Ground is built around Max Heinegg’s powerhouse vocals; they mate well with Chris Blackburn’s layered guitars to produce compelling, not-quite-up-tempo songs with ever shifting dynamics.

The High Ceiling shake things up often enough to keep the record interesting. “Mayfly” rocks hard. “Follow To Ruin” rides along on acoustic guitars and piano. “Calcutta” brings to the forefront many of the exotic phrasings that are hinted at in other songs. The six-eight time of “Let It Be Now” is particularly effective. The lead guitar line in this number is probably my favorite part of the whole record. John Woods has some fancy kick drum patters going, too.

The Edge Is As Safe As The Ground would be The High Ceilings’ only full length release. It serves as fine representation of the band.

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Helicopter Helicopter – Wild Dogs With X-Ray Eyes (2003)

Helicopter Helicopter - Wide Dogs with X-Ray Eyes
Helicopter Helicopter
Wild Dogs With X-Ray Eyes

Helicopter Helicopter starts off Wild Dogs With X-Ray Eyes with “Helicopter Fight Song.” Doing so makes it clear that aren’t venturing far from the slickly produced power pop style they refined on their previous effort, By Starlight. What may shock some listeners familiar with the band’s first few records is the apparent positivity of the track. It’s hard to imagine that the band who penned the lines “I can’t stand to see blue babies/Gangrene crawling up their sides” could turn around and write “How can you say that none of this is really worth it?/When we’ve already won.” They did. Don’t panic. There is still plenty of talk of ghosts, lasers, hatchets, devils and stoning your friends on the rest of the album.

Helicopter Helicopter bring back a bit of grit to the proceedings this time around. Where the songs By Starlight had been polished to gem-like perfection, Wild Dogs With X-Ray Eyes incorporates a touch more of the rawness found in their early work. No one is going to confuse any songs on this record with “Gay Porno” or “Please Please Tito.” That’s not what this record is about. It’s about achieving balance. Dark and memorable. Hooks with teeth. “Harsh Light” and “The Devil” are among the group’s best work. The acoustic “Pine Trees On Fire” draws in the listener with its starkness. “Talk The Flyer Down” and “1234” are power pop gold.

Wild Dogs With X-Ray Eyes would be Helicopter Helicopter’s last album. The band left behind an impressive body of work.

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Cheerleadr – Rock Album (1999)

cheerleadr - rock album
Rock Album

Cheerleadr sounds a lot like early Foo Fighters on Rock Album, which is exactly what the Foo Fighters sounded like back in 1999 when this album was released. The two bands share a love of aggressive guitars, driving rhythm sections and the big chorus hook. Vocally, both acts are able to deliver the whisper to a scream dynamic. Singer Will Claflin doesn’t have the near croon that Dave Grohl has in his lower register. This serves Cheerleadr well. It adds a bit of bite during the lulls of the loud-quiet-loud routine. There are some pretty solid songs here. “Telescope” has a great dynamic between the verse and chorus. “Get Faith” is a top-notch rocker. “Death Of Me” features a fantastically vulnerable vocal. “Engage” is a speaker-melter.

On Rock Album, the guys in Cheerleadr managed to put together an album that perfectly captures the sound of alternative hard rock in 1999.

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Schooltree – Rise (2013)


Schooltree have released an elaborately arranged album layered in majesty and elegance. Rise is impeccably crafted and impossibly lush. The grandiose production serves the band’s updated take on progressive rock well. Every note-perfect performance finds a home in the refined mix. Above it all, Lainey Schooltree’s striking vocals command attention. Rise is an almost unfathomable amalgam of ambition and attention to detail.

Full Disclosure: The album artwork for Rise was done by the lovely and talented Nicole Anguish of Daykamp Creative. Now you know. This album sounds and looks amazing.

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