I have a bias. I want to say it right off the top. I grew up near Chicago, and I’ve been a Cubs fan for a long time. As such, it’s in my nature to talk shit on Milwaukee. It can’t be helped. But, hey, we’re not talking baseball. We’re talking music. To that point, this split record is fucking great. Sin Bad and Bad Wigs are both phenomenal bands who know how to write the hell out of a song. The split is a four and four gimmick, and it’s a great example on how goddamn hooky punk rock can be.
Sin Bad have the first half. Four songs in about 11 minutes. They definitely fall more towards the poppy side of the punk rock genre. Maybe Swearin’ by way of Dirt Bike Annie? I don’t know. Either way, the dual vocals of Audrey Pennings and Ben Woyak don’t mess around. The first inclination would be to call this pop punk, but I don’t think that’s entirely accurate. Is it poppy? Absolutely. Is it punk? Yep. But I don’t think this band is too concerned about playing within that genre’s yard. Power pop, garage, it’s all here.
Bad Wig play have the second half. Their sound is much more rooted in garage rock. While these songs have a bit more grit to them, they sound positively shiny compared to the band’s 2015 EP (contrast this version of “Machinehead” to the one on there). The instrumentation is fantastic. Ryan McCrary’s guitar fucking kills. Their songs have a kind of retro sound. This band kind of made me think of the Gaza Strippers for whatever reason. I mean, I don’t know. There is a good helping of 90s garage punk in these songs is what I’m saying, I guess.
All in all, this is a great record. If one band does’t click with you, the other probably will. Both are great examples of what they do. Also, totally unrelated to sound, but I’ll always fuck with a record that can also be an answer on Jeopardy.
Kitschy Spirit Records
Bandcamp / Buy It
The mid-90s were a turning point in punk rock. The genre, having finally hit the mainstream again, had a couple paths to go down. One path was super slick and radio friendly. Another was to get your hair and jacket spiked up. The last path was to try and get the music back to the garage roots. I think that last path was the most compelling. You can slap as much pop sheen on it as you want, but the most interesting rock ‘n roll is based on deconstruction. It’s heart and soul. Black Adidas plays a bit outside the yard in some places, but still feels like one of those bands.
Black Adidas is the current project of Courtney Ranshaw, formerly of The Lower Echelon. He’s got a specific aesthetic on his full length. He gets to the fucking point without a bunch of needless preening and posing. The record starts with a song called “Free Shit,” and it just fucking goes from there. “Old Fashioned Rock ‘N Roll” is what Chuck Berry’s “Rock And Roll Music” would sound like if it had a healthy layer of garage fuzz laid on top of it. “Cocaine Eyes” has some A+ crooning that feels like a throwback to the Velvet Underground. I think “Play What We Know” is the most interesting song on the record though. Remember how I said Black Adidas plays outside the yard? This is the song I’m talking about. The verses are New Orleans jazz that fucking runs headfirst into a punk rock chorus. It’s a great combination.
End of the day, punk rock has been marketed and codified to death. People think of a specific thing when you say it. I feel like this record plays like a love letter to the genre, but the pre-code version. When the vocals were haphazard, when the distortion was strong, and when lo-fi and garage influence wasn’t just a lazy marketing gimmick to make major label bands seem dangerous. Whatever that means.
Skull Practitioners are a band that really show how pointless the genre splintering of music is. You could call them post-punk, psychedelic, garage rock, or straight up punk rock. Any designation you give them would work, but it wouldn’t be a fair representation of what’s going on. Their self titled cassette is very hard to classify. And, to a point, it feels like the classification would cheapen it.
Musically, this is a band who plays hard. There is a lot of muscle behind the guitar. The drums are fantastic. But, honestly, that might be the most cohesive thing on ST1. With the band having the influences they do, it makes the tape a touch disjointed. It fluctuates from arty noise to more traditional guitar rock. There might even be some New York no wave in there too? There is a lot going on.
The sheer amount of things happening is pretty clearly the point. Skull Practitioners seem to be taking a kitchen sink approach. They are throwing every influence in, and seeing what works. The good thing is that all the songs work. Maybe not as a single piece of music, but definitely as individual songs. But, still, a song like “Nelson D” doesn’t seem to belong on the same thing as “Another Sicko.” It doesn’t matter much though. ST1 is brooding, it’s distorted, and it’s just has a lot of bite to it. It’s definitely worth a listen. Even if it’s only to hear a band jump from a more garage rock sound to an almost James Chance type sound.
Skull Practitioners is a band made up of music veterans. Jason Victor, Alex Baker, and Ken Levine are definitely more than the sum of their parts. Nothing on here was done by accident, and nothing on here isn’t meant to be here. It’s a challenging listen, for sure. But, that said, I Skull Practitioners is a project that continues for more releases. I’d love to see what else they can do.
BandCamp / Buy It
The heart of a pop punk fan lurks deep inside me. I absolutely love anything that makes me think of the old Lookout Records glory days. Even the post-Donnas version of the label. You know, when everything got more garage than pop punk. Electrets absolutely appeal to that version of me. Listening to Misfit is like listening to collection of songs that would have fit well on one of the old Lookout Freakout compilations.
It’s not as simple as saying “oh, look. Another Ramones aping band.” While that type of punk rock is very strongly represented on Misfit, Electrets add some other elements that really make the overall record stand out. It’s the mixture of garage, pop punk, new wave, and indie rock that makes it special to me. It’s like the band is building a Pretenders house on a Ramones foundation, and they brought in some new wave kids to decorate.
The band, as a whole, is on top of their shit. Singer/guitarist Tiff Schirz is perfect for this kind of music. There is a small Chrissie Hynde tone to her voice. Her guitar just buzzes along, and keeps everything moving. In perfect garage/pop punk style, she doesn’t let this get too out there. Everything is precise. Everything is right on the money.
One of the band’s strongest ability if the fantastic utilization of backing vocals. Stephanie Rose (bass) and Mindy Ihrke (keyboards/percussion) do great in the supporting vocal role. Adding great harmonies, and absolutely killing anything they’re on. Check that choruses on “Be Someone” and “I Can Do Better” as an example. Also, have fun having them stuck in your head all day.
Ihrke’s keyboards are one of my favorite parts of the record. They add great texture to the songs. Especially on the song “Misfit.” Without her accents, it would be a very straight forward punk rock song. The rhythm section of Rose and Andrea Cline (drums) is also a great asset to the band. Punk rock needs a strong backbone, and they fucking nail it.
Misfit is a fun record that has a throwback/retro charm to it. No wheels are being reinvented, no epiphanies are being had. But, fuck it, it’s a fun listen. Sometimes that’s all you need.
BandCamp / Buy It
Goddamn. There is not a lot to say about garage punk that hasn’t been said before. It’s a genre that has been pretty well tapped over the years, but who cares? It’s still a whole lot of fun to listen to. Rabbit Holes’ debut 7″ is an absolute treasure.
Rabbit Holes come right out of the gate with some classic punk rock. If you were making a Venn diagram of It’s Not Alright, this record would fall in the intersection of the Buzzcocks, Marked Men, and Ramones/Lookout! Records. The guitars are driving, the production is low-fi, but goddamn is it melodic.
This is the record for you if you like your records loud, your guitars buzzing, and garage rock leads and solos. Don’t be a dummy.
Big Action Records
BandCamp / Buy It
Holy shit, I thought I was going to hate this record. No fucking way. Surprise of the year, you guys. The Eeries have a name, description, RIYL list, and genre tag that screamed “punk band playing garage pop ironically” or something. I guess there is a lesson in knee jerk reactions here.
Home Alone is a hell of a record. It is rooted in old garage pop from the 50s and 60s, but avoids the stumbling that often comes with that genre by expanding their net. There is some serious Beatles shit going on here. Not the experimental stuff, but their old pop stuff. This is especially notable in the vocal harmonies and general song structure. There is some pretty sweet surf parts too. This feels like a love letter to a genre, instead of some revival cash-in thing.
This kind of reminds me of The Hi-Fives (if you removed the Lookout! Records, pop punk affectation). There is some sweet shit happening here. Vocal harmonies that done quit, whoa-ohs all over the place, and an underlying sense of fun. Home Alone is 23 minutes of awesome. Check it out.
Stream It (Bandcamp)
Evil Weevil Records (Buy 7″)
Burger Records (Buy Cassette)