Masked Intruder

© 2012 Red Scare Records
Rating: ★★★★★★★★½☆

I’m big time late to the game. That generally seems to be the case. I’m finally getting around to listening to Masked Intruder. I’m speaking, of course, about the self-title release on Red Scare. I know they have some new stuff coming out in cooperation with Fat, but I’m not talking about that right now ok?

Anywhat, this new release busts 13 tracks of pop punk that is way too Descendents for a band named Masked Intruder, especially a band bedecked in a rainbow of ski masks, with songs of felonious intent. I was seriously expecting to hear some Blood for Blood style hardcore come pummeling out of my speakers. Instead I was gently assaulted by pleasant pop punk sounds that have a feeling of Descendents, Queers, Teenage Bottle Rocket and other bands that in essence sound zero like hardcore.

This is not a bad thing by any means. I’m fully digging on this disc and like the subtle trickery that I really brought on myself by making name based assumptions. I, as usual, like the fact that the songs are geared for short attention spans. Nothing hits the three minute mark, though some do come damn close, but never at or over … that is the key, right?

Ok, so bottom line, pop punk as only pop punk can be. The legacy of Buddy Holly and the Beach Boys lives on in a new form that has more distortion and guitar riffery, yet charmingly still has coordinated outfits, which as we all know, is critical.

–Jerry Actually

NOFX – Self Entitled

© 2012 Fat Wreck Chords
Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

NOFX has a new album out. I’m sure you’ve all heard it by now, or at least heard people talking about it. I know I have. People have said things, and I’m paraphrasing, like “back to their roots” and “sounds like ribbed”. In retrospect, that person could have easily said, “smells like ribs”. I’m not sure. I haven’t been really paying attention lately.

At any rate, NOFX have been at it a while; not quite the elder statesmen of punk rock, but damn if their not a heartbeat or two away from that title. So, grizzled and well into middle age, the gentlemen dusted themselves off and kicked out their 12th studio album.

Self Entitled give you twelve tracks of music that sounds a damn lot like NOFX. It’s snotty punk rock with a mix of social commentary, self-deprecation and politics all entwined. So I suppose you could say, “back to their roots” or “these guys are still around?”, because the new release really kind of works on all those levels.

I guess the sum of it is that if you’re a NOFX fan, you’ll likely enjoy this. If you’re out of loop, you’ll probably stay out of the loop, unless of course you’re in faraway lands where the band seems to like to tour a bunch nowadays.

Seriously though, Self Entitle is a fine record that undoubtedly no one but NOFX could have put out. It’s got their scent all over it.

–Jerry Actually

No Means No – Close Minded (EP)

Rating: ★★★★★★★★★☆

Agro eighties hardcore. Very syncopated. Short and sweet! I guess if you want some pissed off hardcore, this will float your boat. If you aren’t into that, then never mind. You’ve read it all before. You’ve heard it all before. So you’re saying, “what’s there for me?” nothing! You’re a jaded prick that doesn’t’ like anything. So go! Rock it! If you have made it past that section, then maybe, just maybe, this is for you.

It is hardcore punk. It’s rowdy. It’s angry. It’ll shake the floorboards a bit if your stereo plays along.

Enjoy while you can. The Fascist state will take it away soon enough.!

(I would normally take points away for band name reuse, but this time, it is unnecessary.)

Cheers,

Jerry Actually

Jesse Lebourdais-I Go By The Sound

For those of you unfamiliar with Vancouver’s own Jesse Lebourdais, let me give you a brief introduction.  He is the lead singer of a melodic hardcore/punk band named Cambridge.  He is also an accomplished folk punk solo artist with three solo albums to his credit with his latest being I Go By The Sound.

The album was posted on Jesse’s bandcamp page Wednesday night, and I have to admit (and I have to pull this off this cheesy reference and there may be more  on the way) that I have been “following the sound” ever since and listening any chance I have gotten.

I don’t know where to start on the accolades for this album.  The song writing is sublime and in true folk fashion the story telling is rich (I am definitelythinking I must be smitten like a school girl right now because I am using words that are not normal for me).  Combine the storytelling with Lebourdais’ one of a kind vocal stylings and you have characters in the songs that sound, seem, and feel so familiar that it is almost as if they are old friends.  Check out “Union Man” for the best example of this. 

From top to bottom the 13 tracks that comprise I Go By The Sound are stellar but my personal favourite is the title track.  But I do have to say that my one issue with this song is when Lebroudais  belts out a reference to his music as “a testament to a life well wasted.”  I do have to say to Mr. Lebourdais that even if you never write another song, your life is not wasted in the least.

Softie

© 2012 SoftieRockMusic
Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

I’m rocking out to the new release by Wichita’s own Softie. The self-titled release jam packs 15 tracks of guitar/drum duo garage-core onto a single compact disc. The tracks are diverse in their individual manner of rocking, but all are heavy on the rock and roll and to that end, the sum becomes greater than the combined parts. And folks, you just don’t always get that kind of synergy in a duo.

At any rate, Softie has been an on again, off again band in the Wichita scene for around a decade now and while I don’t have a lot of knowledge of their earlier work, I’m digging into what they are dishing up nowadays. I also am fully aware that some of the newly recorded tracks are, in fact, old tracks.

If I had to categorize, which I often do, I’d go ahead and call the band and raw blend of metal rock with a bit of punk edge, some cattle-core and a smattering of comedy. Honestly, I could do without the latter. It feels like the comedy is thrown in as a compensation measure and frankly it is unnecessary. Don’t get me wrong, some of the songs have a comedic base and that is fine, it is the little end thought false settle that seem out of place.

Jaded perspective aside, the songs do still rock. I had the CD in my car for a few trips to work and back and I didn’t opt for another disc, nor did I switch it over to NPR, so that’s a good indicator of my true feeling. Though I may have a slight bias as I know half the band, I’d still listen to this and stop in for a live show or two if I didn’t. My arbitrary points scale may not reflect it though. I’m not a math guy though. You run the numbers.

Bottom line is a fun disc with a rocking core. Go support your local bands and buy a copy, see a show, get some merch. Hell, do it all. http://www.reverbnation.com/softie

–Jerry Actually

Pennywise-All or Nothing

A few weeks ago I was walking home from work and as I walked past the small skate park there were three kids skating.  They had their car pulled up close with the windows down so they could hear the eurotrash that was playing on the car’s stereo.  I asked the question that any self respecting skater from the 90’s would have asked “Do you actually skate to this?”  To my surprise they replied quite proudly, “Yes!”  I couldn’t help but think that if they had been skating with some of the people that I did that they would have had their boards taken forcefully and probably “focused” (which is what we called breaking the board in half).

It has been a few years since I have actually stepped on a skateboard in any meaningful way, but when I was skating in the mid ’90’s we were experiencing punk’s 3rd wave and height of popularity (check out the recent documentary One Nine Nine Four for more on this).  It wasn’t uncommon for someone to be listening to Bad Religion’s Stranger Than FictionThe Offspring’s Smash, or Pennywise’s About Time

It was the latter album that I would end up associating skating during those times with.  A lot has changed since those years though for Pennywise.  One of the biggest changes of course is the replacement of Jim Lindberg with Zoli Teglas on vocals.  Even though Jim has moved on to form another group and it was easy for me to accept them, I was much more skeptical of the new Pennywise.  I think it was because I had always associated Jim’s voice as being Pennywise and I wasn’t sure that they could move on without him.  Even after hearing the first two singles “All or Nothing”, and “Let us Hear Your Voice”, which I ,the uncertainty over their new direction still remained. 

I am now starting to think that it was because an initial synopsis said that it Pennywise’s best since Full Circle, which I definitely contend with, but not because All or Nothing isn’t good like I initially thought, but mostly because I really enjoyed Reason to Believe (Pennywise’s previous effort). 

As I am now listening to All or Nothing for my 5th or 6th time, I am starting to let go of that skepticism, and letting it be what it is, which is a solid punk rock album that can stand head to head with any other Pennywise album.  Zoli Teglas steps in to fill the void Jim has left, and truly makes being the lead vocalist for Pennywise his own, which wouldn’t be an easy task for a lesser band let alone punk rock legends. There are songs on the album that will remind long time fans of past music, and it also has a few songs that will leave fans feel as if they are listening to something fresh and new.  So while I was skeptical of the addition of Teglas originally, it turns out he can not only match the band’s past energy he also brings a fresh sound that helps vary the bands sound in a good way.

  Pennywise has been spreading messages of staying strong through adversity for years, and they have taken their own advice and turned out a very strong showing with their latest album.  I would recommend this album to anyone, and I actually have two copies of the cd, so I have been carrying one in my pocket when I go to work so that if I see those kids skating again I can give it to them so they have something to skate to.

Anti-Flag-The General Strike

On March 20th, Anti-Flag released their 8th studio album, The General Strike, and it seems like they haven’t received a whole lot of press for their efforts.  But that isn’t to say they don’t deserve it.  Much like their last record, The People or the Gun, Anti-Flag has once again scored the soundtrack to an important political issue of the time, the Occupy movement ( while the previous album addressed the Bailout situation).

It seems funny to me that just like both of these events have been largely ignored by the mainstream, Anti-Flag’s last two albums have seemingly flew under the radar of the punk scene.  Now, Anti-Flag is not breaking any new ground with their latest 12 tracks as they carry the same type of sound that they have become known for by mixing melodic moments with more street punk sounds.  What they are doing is putting together politically scathing lyrics and touching upon subject matter that is not common in a lot of music. When they released The Bright Lights of America, I read a review stating that the album really lacked direction.  This is not the case with The General Strike, and the direction becomes quite clear from the first aggressive track. Combine their tried and true sound with their lyric themes and direction and then you get something special.

I just received my copy of the album yesterday and I am still getting a handle on it, but I am completely enjoying it.  One of the coolest surprises though was when I opened up my package and a drop card for the Vans Warped Tour EP came out which includes 3 songs from the album and 2 unreleased tracks (“SKATE” and “Whistleblower”).  I knew that the download would be given out at the cd release shows, but I didn’t know it would be included in my order.  All I can say is this, if you are at all interested in Anti-Flag or political punk rock give the album its due, give it a listen, you won’t be disappointed.

Top 10 of 2011

It’s been a long and productive year here at !upstarter and a lot of good music came across this desk. I regret that I didn’t have the time to review each and every release. I can only hope that in 2012 the music keeps on coming in and that I once again have the privilege of listening to the hopes, dreams, and efforts of musicians and bands from around the world.

People love lists, so once again I’ve compiled a top ten for this year’s reviews. There were so many great releases to choose from, but after some deliberation I’ve narrowed it down to the following:

#1. Dan P. & The Bricks – Watch Where You Walk

#2. 20 Bulls Each – A Glorious and Bloody Revolution

#3. Swingin’ Utters – Here, Under Protest

#4. The Snallygasters – Black Aggie EP

#5. Cubicle – The Severance Package

#6. Shoot the Hostage – So Polite

#7. Überband – Live In Poland

#8. Prize The Doubt – This Will Die Unrecognized

#9. Do It With Malice – The Burned Over District

#10. Flatout Jones – Closed Doors and Weird Situations

There you have it, the top ten reviews for 2011. Let’s have a big round of applause for all the bands that made the cut.

I’d also like to give honorable mention to a few bands that didn’t hit the top ten. Holding Onto Sound for their EP – The Tempest and to Darrow Chemical Company who sent in a kick ass release that I didn’t have time to review.

–Jerry Actually

Shoot the Hostage – So Polite

© 2011 Shoot the Hostage
Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

I’m listening to “So Polite” the debut release by Seattle’s Shoot the Hostage. My initial reaction is that this release sounds much like Helmet, albeit in a less directly aggressive and staccato fashion. There is almost a pre-grunge quality about it. (And that’s nice, because Seattle owes the world a tremendous debt for having effectively killed thrash metal with their fancy grunge bands. … ok ok, they also saved the world from the scourge of hair metal, so maybe we owe them a debt of gratitude too.)

“So Polite” is grounded in rock and roll hooks and musically it is well put together. The tracks are a little on the lengthy side for my preference, but they are dynamic enough that the length doesn’t become a drag. I also appreciate the maturity of the song writing. It can be easy for younger bands to come across as juvenile. Shoot the Hostage is crafting songs that deftly maneuver around age brackets. (not that I really have any clue how old they are. They could all be senior citizens for all I know.)

A few of the stand out tracks at #3 Fire California and #9 Hard to Say. All together a competent and listenable release outta the Pacific Northwest.

–Jerry Actually

MayOrWest – We, Reborn

© 2011
Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

I’ve got a new release here from Hoboken New Jersey’s MayOrWest and well, things are looking up. The last time I reviewed this band, I had a bit of a beef with the lengthy tracks. Much to my preference, “We, Reborn” does, for the most pat, deliver on shorter track length. I also made some assumptions about sound and influence. I’m happy to report that the band is starting to find their ground. Whereas in the last review, I likened them to a mix of AFI and Queensryche, this time around I’m confident that MayOrWest is really paving new ground with their sonic dimensions. So, um, yeah, advice partially taken.

Positive leanings aside, I still find the band a bit operatic. As well There is a busy quality surrounding a lot of the tracks. It really strikes me as an audio version of MTV fast camera. It’s as though everything is a cut scene and because there is so much going on in the background, it makes it really hard to focus.

I won’t belabor my minimalist critique. Either you get it or you don’t, but here’s the take away; MayOrWest: definitely better over time; Still going in a direction that leads them more towards radio than any other direction. If that is what they are aiming for though, then, by all accounts, this is a successful release.

–Jerry Actually