Friday, December 21, 2012

Music Reviews: The Best Of 2012

With 2012 winding down, it's time to look back on our year in music. We've had a pretty great year as far as legends putting out solid releases as well as underground faves and some great new up and comers!

That's right folks.
It's time for the 2nd annual Critical Mass Best Of series.
 We're gonna break things down into different categories again this year. We'll have Splits, 7" singles, EP's, debuts, full length records and of course, the Album of the year! So, let's get right to it!
 Top 3 Splits of 2012

1 - The Homewreckers/City Mouse

Hands down, the BEST split from 2012 goes to these 2 amazing bands! The Homewreckers from NYC
play DIY inspired punk rock. Dirty and rough around the edges, but also high octane and rowdy, this self described "Queer-Core" band give it to you straight (no pun), hard, fast and to the point on their 2 songs, "Nervous Wrecks" and "Uncontrolable Decay".

City Mouse who hail from Riverside, CA. are the perfect combination of sweet and salty on their tracks "Gemini" and "Jughead Jones". This is a band who pop out at you, grab you by the shoulders and shake you to the core with it's awesomeness!

2 - Dan Vapid & The Cheats/The Jetty Boys

Everything we loved about pop punk and power pop is all wrapped up in this neat little package.
What sets Dan Vapid & The Cheats apart from other bands is in this band Dan is bringing different styles of singing and playing to the table on the songs "One More Chance" and the Pointed Sticks cover "Part Of The Noise".

Then we have
the Jetty Boys and their brand of Wisconsin punk rock. The first track "Not Even Close" kicks off with a truly infectious guitar riff that would make even the most seasoned punk rock vet wish they would have come up with this line. I am very much impressed.

3 - The Jetty Boys/Boys Club

Back for seconds is The Jetty Boys who's
latest split with Boys Club has the Jetty's doing 2 tracks of super catchy pop punk. Mad riffs abound and sing along lyrics all over this release. It's straight up Ramones style punk rock. With a short blast of fun they really makes me wanna hear more and more from this Sheyboygan, WI trio.

The Boys Club offer up a cover of the Warren Zevon classic "Excitable Boy". It's not a bad cover. It has the deadpan vocal approach that made Zevon's tune about rape and mayhem such a gem back in the 70's.A great split here folks!

Now onto the Top 3 Singles of 2012

1 - Sonny Vincent & The Bad Reactions - S/T

This record
sounds like a freight train headed straight for a brick wall on tunes like "Replica" and "Jokers & Clowns". It's a played with such intensity that you feel like the bands gonna implode at any given second. Sonny still sounds vibrant vocally, and his guitar playing is still flawless. The man never seems to age. He's playing at his best here, soloing like his life depends on it. And who knows...maybe it does! Maybe THAT'S why after close to 40 years the man has never stopped recording music and touring the world. It's in his DNA, this thing called punk rock. And he's not afraid to let loose on that old Gibson Les Paul and melt faces along the way.

2 - Val Ventura - "Sun Down California"

Val is a rare breed in this day and age of punk rock. Not only does she write and sing all the music on this record, but she also plays drums and guitar. Oh yeah, she also produced it and released it on her own label, Astro Girl Records. The record was recorded back in 2007 at Sonic Iguana Studios with a little help from Mass Giorgini (who plays bass on this release) mixing and Luke McNeill (Copyrights fame) engineering. Other than that, it's all about Val's sunny pop punk tunes. And what gems they are.
The title track alone is worth the price of admission. I don't know why it took 5 years for this amazing piece of wax to finally hit the streets...but it was well worth the wait.

3 - Kurt Baker - "Want You Around"

What can be said about Kurt Baker that hasn't already been said? This guy is a modern day version of what was so great about late 70's early 80's post punk and new wave mixed in with major amounts of power pop for added effect. And you can hear this all over "Want You Around".
The title track is another great example of Kurt having fun and sharing it, via song, with all his fans. Rounding out the record are 3 covers from The Vapors, Billy Joel and Thin Lizzy. All great tunes by bands who have influenced Kurt's style of writing and playing. I've said it before, I'll say it again...Kurt Baker has a a lot to bring to the music world. And I feel this guy's gonna be BIG at some point.

The Top 3 E.P.'s of 2012

1 - The Jetbirds - "The Jetbirds"

The Jetbirds play straight ahead rock n roll with a dash of punk rock thrown into the mix. Big on riffs and harmonious sing along choruses, "Suicide Love Songs" is a stellar release from this Chicago quartet in the vein of The Dictators or even early Hanoi Rocks.
Each song, from "New Set Of Wheels" to "Suicide Love" has a way of getting you more and more excited as the seconds tick on. It's such a powerful debut, one of the best I've heard in recent history. No word of a lie. "Without You" keeps the excitement going with great harmonies and more stacked riffs. This band is definitely a powerhouse riff machine. They just keep pulling em out of their hat like there's no tomorrow.

2 - P.T.'s Revenge - "Never Let Her Go"

After a decade of being off the scene and doing other projects Detroit's P.T.'s Revenge are back with "Never Let Her Go" (Whoa! Records). Even though last year saw the release of "Save The Drama" this is actually the first release of ALL NEW material by this amazing band. This 4 song EP is a sure fire sign of things to come.

Singer Kevin Sierzega is hitting each note perfectly and is truly a force to be reckoned with. He's a great singer with a passion for his craft.
"Coo Later Bye" is definitely the "heart on sleeve" track of the year. It's a tribute to the common bond these guys have and they're mutual love of the music they play and the fans they play for. I'm sure I speak for all the fans when I say "welcome back gentlemen!"

3 - The Zits - "Breakout"

The 4 tracks on "Breakout" are meat and potatoes punk rock. Strong on harmony vocals with thick riffs and a dirty back beat. The production is a little less than desirable. But it's punk rock, so who cares. Kicking things off is "Bloody Knuckles In Loserville". It's got the major opening riff in place as well as the 4 chord structure you'd expect from students of the Joe King school of punk rock.

The Zits if the creation of Heath Benson. One man waging war on all things pop and pretty. He's single-handedly bringing back the ugliness of DIY punk music. And it's working out well for him.
I like this EP. It reminds me of how great things were back in the day when I was younger. And it also shows me how things can be again if handled the right way. Let's put the music back in the hands of the young who are willing to do it themselves and release it independently.

Top 3 Debut Albums on 2012

1 - The Hairlips - "The Hairlips"

When it comes to music, I'm pretty open minded. If it can grab me on the first listen and not let go, it's good!
And upon hearing the Hairlips self titled album, my soul lit up like Christmas! This is definitely a band who've cut their teeth on generous amounts of Screeching Weasel, Queers, Ramones, 50's doo wop groups and maybe even a few 60's girl groups!

"Fuck You Darlin' " Is such a great track that reminds me of Grease on acid! It's got the great harmonies and sing along chorus. But it's also twisted with singer/bassist Johnny Wabich repeating the line "I'm gonna fuck all of your friends". If you can't find the humor in that, than you're way too uptight. This is just fun music played by 4 really talented guys. And if "Denise" isn't a hit, I don't know what is! With the Beach Boy style high harmonies and the whole "shooby doo" sing along, you can't help but wanna dance and twist the night away. I LOVE this song!

All in all Hairlips have a sound and style all too familiar, but very much their own as well. Pure listening satisfaction is on the docket for today! Grab a copy of this album now! Your ears will thank you later!

2 - The Enders - "The Ruins Of Ambition"

Hardcore music is either a hit or a miss. It could be limitless in it's approach with a real message about society and trying times. Or it could be some mumbo jumbo made up to SOUND like there's a message there, when in actuality it's just some words that sound alike put to music that should have not been recorded in the first place. So, it's great to hear a band with a true talent for writing songs they feel strongly about and who can create timeless albums that will be just as hard and inspirational 30 years from now as it is in today's society. The Enders are that band and "The Ruins Of Ambition" is that album!

The time frame per song is around the 2 minute mark. But they pack quite a punch in that time. "My Television", "Resist Resist" and "Take Control" are stand out tracks that feature intense, yet precise, playing meshed with smart, honest lyrics about staying true to what you believe in and not being part of the human machine that society wants you to be. Individuality is the heart and soul of The Enders songs and that's something I can stand behind 100 percent.

3 - Casablanca - "Apocalyptic Youth"

What happened to all those kick ass, straight on rock n roll bands that I loved so much back in the 80's? Bands like Hanoi Rocks, Kix and Rose Tattoo? Well, outside of Kix, they all seemed to only exist in Europe. Well, thanks to the internet I've found a new band that brings back all that excitement and stellar music that made me feel like I could take on the world as a young man. The band is called Casablanca and their new album "Apocalyptic Youth" is so full of power and passion, it brings me back to 1985 again.

"Secret Agents Of Lust" is a rocking tune that's got the killer back up vocals and big power chord riffs that make this style of music so enjoyable. I can't say enough good about this tune. It's retro, but at the same time very much a modern day rocker. Not many bands can pull that off, but Casablanca can! And they do it well.
"Downtown" is a modern day anthem about lighting up the night, hitting up a rock show and maybe finding love along the way. Big on harmonies and super catchy in it approach, it just grabs you right from the start and never lets you go until the final guitar strings are hit.

"Apocalyptic Youth" may not be groundbreaking like "Nevermind" or Sabbath's first album. But it's still a solid album by a great up and coming band. I truly enjoy what Casablanca are doing to save this dying breed of REAL rockers.

Top 5 Full Length Albums of 2012...because there was just too much good stuff this year.

1 - Kurt Baker - "Brand New Beat"

Kurt Baker pumps out records like old people pump coins into the slot machines at the casino. The only difference is that, unlike the slots, you can almost bet your last nickel that Kurt's record is gonna be a winner! And he's made the record of his career with his full length, "Brand New Beat".

"Hit The Ground" kicks things off in high gear. Catchy guitar riffs aplenty, lots of background harmonies and another amazing sing along chorus shows that this guy KNOWS how to write hit after hit.
There are your typical power pop gems that Kurt's known for, like "Everybody Knows", "Weekend Girls" and "Qualified". But there is also "She's Not Sorry", which is one of the best ballads I've heard in quite some time. It's a Dear John letter style song that shows off Kurt's ability to slow things down and get serious for a little while. Hey, even the biggest party animals have a soft spot. And Kurt's no different. The way the acoustic guitars and organ play off each other, it's pure heaven.

This is the album Kurt Baker was born to make. It's nothing you were expecting and everything you've wanted all wrapped up in a tight little package. With his masterpiece upon us, I have to ask...where will Kurt Baker go from here? If the world is listening and there's room for one more rock star out there, then superstardom isn't far from reach for this young man.

2 - Rush - "Clockwork Angles"

Canadian power trio Rush have been on the music scene for close to 40 years. But now the band is back with their first ever full length concept album. Not only is it a return to form, but it very well may be the bands best album in years. Maybe even their best EVER!

The album is 12 songs telling the story of a young man's journey through his life and the people, places and things he encounters along the way. From the "Caravan" that takes him from his home to start his journey to working with the "Carnies" until his final days in "The Garden", this is the Rush album die hard fans have been waiting for all these years. When the band released the Caravan/BU2B single back in 2010 as a teaser to coincide with a world tour, it was easy for fans of all generations to get excited about the possibility of a full conceptual piece. We wondered if the band could pull it off after many years of steering away from long intricate pieces of music in favor of shorter more concise songs. But after listening to CA it's easy to see the band hasn't lost it's touch as far as story telling. And the playing is top notch as well. This is Rush playing at their all time best.

The albums brightest rocking moments are in the tunes "Headlong Flight". With it's musical ode to "Bastille Day", to it's lyrics about looking back on the past with no regrets. It's a real barn burner. "Wish Them Well" is the other straight up rocker. Simple it it's approach but still powerful and imaginative at the same time. You can tell the band is having fun here. And when I hear them having this much fun, it brings a smile to my face. This is a band nearly 40 years in, and they can still enjoy what they do. And it really comes through in the music.

3 - Teenage Bottlerocket - "Freak Out!"

Teenage Bottlerocket have a system for making great albums. They never take themselves too seriously and make fun albums full of fist in the air sing-a-longs. So it's no surprise the bands latest album "Freak Out" is jam packed with some of the best punk rock songs to come out this year.

While the album doesn't steer away from the sound and lyrical content we're used to getting from Laramie, Wyoming's finest, there is one track that's, shall we say, a little bit more mature as far as lyrics and subject matter go. "Done With Love" was written by Kody Templeman after he and his wife divorced. It's one of the best tracks on the album and very well could be Kody's finest moment as a lyricist. He may have a "heart of stone", but he's still got a knack for writing great songs. Just an awesome track!

Kody's not the only one at the top of his game. Ray Carlisle also has a couple monsters on the album in the forms of "Cruising For Chicks", with it's simple lyrical approach and a heavy palm muted chugging guitar riff, it really sets the mood for a Friday night out looking for that special someone to spend a few short hours with. And "Go With The Flow" is a great way to end an album full of high notes ON a high note. Ray's vocals are so great when paired with Kody's backing vocals, and this track really brings the most out of these two singers. This song is such a gem that I can see it as a possible single.

Teenage Bottlerocket are at the top of their game on "Freak Out". And the sky's the limit for this band who continue to put out quality punk rock, album after album.
And for Pete's sake, get the bands back catalog if you don't already have it. You won't regret it.

4 - Dan Vapid & The Cheats - "Dan Vapid & The Cheats"

The debut from Dan Vapid & The Cheats
is jam packed with some of the best material Mr. Vapid has ever recorded. And with his track list of legendary material, that's saying something. The album features 15 tracks that range in style from Ramones style pop punk ("What Do You Wanna Do Tonight") to doo wop ("Girl Group") and even some new wave ("Devo On Speed"). This records is an all around party! Vapid has a band that brings out not only the best in his playing, but also his songwriting as well. Dan sounds more comfortable on this record than on anything else he's done up to this point. And by comfortable I mean he's not afraid to mix styles of songwriting and playing.

The album is book ended with what very well could be 2 of the best songs Dan has ever written in the forms of "Torture Chamber" and "It Lives By Night". But to be honest, any of the other 13 tracks could be put up with the best of em. This is the feel GREAT record of 2012. Bravo to Mr. Vapid and his band of Cheats on making not only a great album, but a record that will stand the test of time as one of Vapid's greatest musical accomplishments.

5 - Kevin Seconds - "Don't Let Me Lose Ya"

I've been a fan of Reno Nevada's 7 Seconds for more years than I can remember. I always loved the bands sense on unity and staying true to what they believe in. So going into Kevin Seconds new solo album, having not heard any of his past solo material, I wasn't sure what to expect. But I gotta tell ya, in all honesty, the new disc is one hell of a ride. It's NOT a hardcore punk album at all. It's an acoustic style singer/songwriter offering showcasing Kev's guitar playing, smart lyrics and wonderful vocal approach. But just so we're clear, this ISN'T your daddy's folk record, I'll tell ya that much.

"Forever Try" is a song about youth and innocence. Remembering our childhood where we used to "go out and get our hands dirty" while finding a little bit of trouble...but on a much smaller scale than by today's standards. "Only Drug" is a nice little tune. It seems that Kev is confessing that even when times were tough he still found hope. But what did he find hope in? His wife? His music? The music scene that he's so much a part of? All the above? It doesn't matter! It can be about anything and everything all at once. It's a song about all the good and bad in our life. Sometimes the good outweighs the bad. Sometimes it's the other way around. But to stay focused and true to yourself are what will get you through til tomorrow.

"Don't Let Me Lose Ya" is
a comforting album by a truly gifted singer, songwriter and musician. It just goes to show even the hardest of punks can show us another side of them. A side more sensitive and mellow, but equally as powerful as anything on "The Crew" or "Walk Together Rock Together". This is one of the best records to come out this year, in my opinion.

Album Of The Year

Masked Intruder - "Masked Intruder"

Masked Intruder is a band that consists of 4 guys in colored ski masks who sing about break ins, knife wielding robbery and having your heart broken. Not a bad combination for song ideas.

"25 To Life"
sets the pace for the record. This is one of those tunes that upon first listen you just simply fall in love with the song. It's catchy sing along chorus and lyrics like "in a world of nightmares you're a sweet sweet dream. Just about the prettiest thing that I've ever seen.", it's just pure pop genius in the form of a punk rock tune! I love it!

"How Do I Get To You" keeps it going with slashing riffs and another big sing along chorus. Harmonies galore, this is a damn fine song. The band, Intruder Blue (vocals/guitar), Intruder Green (guitar), Intruder Orange (bass) and Intruder Red (drums), are rooted in pop punk with a splash of 50's doo wop in certain areas. Everything they touch turns to gold on this album. There's not a bad, or even sub par, track on this release. It's just a great record front to back.

Closing out this album are 2 of my favorites. "Wish You Were Mine", with it's 50's doo wop sing along I mentioned earlier, is just a fun track with lyrics like "I want ya to show me romance. Won't you give a lonely masked man a chance". How can you go wrong? It shows the full potential this band has going for them. And "Crazy"is equally as good. Riffs galore and a great beat make it hard to not like this song. Go ahead, just TRY not singing along with the chorus...if you can honestly do it, I'll pay you $50! But I'll keep that fifty snug in my wallet because you won't be able to NOT sing along.

Masked Intruder are a band that will achieve greatness in the years to come. It's not just schtick with the masks...this is a band with talent, drive and a commitment to it's craft. Show some love for these knife carrying, B&E loving goofballs and pick this album up. It's a must have for all you pop punk fanatics.


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