Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Album Review: Against The Gun by Celebration Summer

Celebration Summer are a four piece band from Washington DC brought together by a shared love of late 80s/early 90s melodic punk rock. Channeling bands such as Leatherface, Samiam and Hot Water Music, Celebration Summer released their debut EP (excluding a demo and a cover) Against The Gun on Little Rocket Records in November of 2020. I discovered it by searching out bands for an upcoming CPRW Records compilation and enjoyed them so much I had to review it as well. 

Against The Gun begins with Bitter End. The song opens with each instrument coming in separately. This is a great way to start as it has you listening intently and builds towards the vocals. Having hopefully already read the introduction to this review I’m sure you can guess what the vocals are like from the bands listed but, in case you don’t know those bands, they are really powerful vocals, verging on gruff and really command your attention. The track is an extremely catchy one to start the EP and welcome you into what to expect from Celebration Summer on the rest of the EP. Up next is I Don’t Want To Be A Burden. The track begins with some uptempo guitars before some sharp vocals come in. Something that always catches my attention is when a song starts with a question so my ears well and truly pricked when I heard the opening line of “what did it mean?” This is a song about self improvement and trying to save a relationship, perhaps something most of us have related to at some point in time. This is definitely a song that is listened to best when it’s really, really loud.

The third song on Against The Gun is My Devotion. The vocals on the track, for the most part, felt a lot more restrained than on the previous two songs – really allowing the driving guitars, melodic bass and intricate drums to shine. As the song progresses it feels as if the reins get looser and looser and this really adds a lot more emotion to the track. The track is about trying to navigate your way through life and how it can feel like your wheels are spinning, things move on and you get left behind. Another really relatable subject. The final song is the six minute epic Against The Gun. This is an incredibly powerful song and one of the most poignant of 2020. It’s a song that is about feeling like everyone is against you and knowing they won’t come to your aid even when your life is at risk. The song begins with cries of “I don’t know how much more of this I can take”, this immediately shows the anger and frustration that lead singer Nate has with how they are treated. I don’t know whether or not this song was written before or after the moment when George Floyd was shot by American police officers last year but that moment really opened up a lot of people’s eyes to the horrible racism that happens in the USA and all over the world, making this song and songs like it even more poignant. If you only listen to one song on this EP, I really suggest it be this one.

Celebration Summer are a band I expect to hear a lot more from in future years as they are superb. Hopefully their relationship with Little Rocket Records will allow them to tour the UK sooner rather than later as this is a band that I feel like a lot of people will enjoy and deserve your attention.

Stream and download Against The Gun on Bandcamp here.

Like Celebration Summer on Facebook here.

This review was written by Colin Clark.

Monday, 11 January 2021

Album Review: It's Not Me, It's You by Lettermans

Lettermans are one of the most exciting new Ramonescore bands in the scene at the moment. The Philadelphian four piece were due to have a big 2020 with a performance at The Fest in Gainesville alongside the release of their debut album. Unfortunately The Fest didn’t happen but they did manage to get their album out. Titled It’s Not Me, It’s You, the album promised a lot… but did it deliver?

The eleven track album begins with Lady Of The Night. This is fun introduction of what to expect from Lettermans on this album. Melodic pop punk with Beach Boys-esque harmonies. There’s a no thrills approach to the song which is something I always find endearing about this style of music. It’s an homage but never feels dated. Up next is How Could She. This song is about finding the girl you think is perfect for you but things starting to unravel and then struggling to move on. The band do a fantastic job in telling the story here and the track plays out like a mini-film. I can imagine a film or TV show following this storyline. On the third song, To Be A Gentleman, lead singer Robbie Letterman ups the tempo on his vocals and carries a lot of the melody. I always enjoy when the vocals and music seem to have their own separate melodies, I think it creates such an interesting sound. The track is about doing all you can to behave in an appropriate and respectful manner but being enticed into behaving otherwise. Lyrically the song, again, paints a great picture. Continuing the theme of girls and relationships, Make You Mine is about trying to convince someone to date you. On my first listen of It’s Not Me, It’s You, this was one of the stand out songs. The vocals are delivered in a lovely punchy way and the chorus (as you might expect) is wonderfully catchy. The backing harmonies that are sprinkled throughout the song add a fantastic extra dimension.

The fifth song is titled Thank You Brian. The theme of the song remains about girls but also touches upon mental health. The song explores the doubts that your brain can create when you meet someone you like. Will they like you? Will they understand you? Can you let yourself go again? I’m sure these thoughts fill plenty of people’s minds when they meet someone they like so it’s a very relatable song. The song also touches upon the fact that music can help with your mental health, on this occasion the Lettermans thank Brian Wilson for showing them how to love again. Pretty New Girl ensures that the flow of the album remains consistent. The chorus was the stand out with the back and forth vocal style and the use of gang vocals. The song is about crushing on a new girl and eventually getting your heart broken by them. Wednesday On The Weekend sees the introduction of some keys or synths to Lettermans sound. It was really smart to place this song at this point on the album and it offers something new and prevents the album becoming too samey. There are a lot of great harmonies on the song that really fill it out and it’s definitely a track that will get stuck in your head very quickly, particularly the chorus. Up next is the album’s title track, It’s Not Me, It’s You. I always feel like if a band chooses a track name for the album title it needs to stand out. This is the case here. The song starts slowly with Robbie’s vocals opening the song before the full band come in. This is a track that whilst being very good, I did very much feel like they could have made it bigger in some way or another. Perhaps with the addition of more gang vocals on the chorus? I do love gang vocals.

I Will Never has a nice rock ‘n’ roll feel to it which shows another string to Lettermans bow. I really liked the way the intro builds into the vocals – they hit at the exact right moment. Lyrically the band again do a fantastic job of painting a picture, they really have a knack for this. The use of a higher pitched guitar tone gives the song an interesting and unique feel – I don’t really hear that many bands using that tone. The penultimate song is titled Surf’s Up. I’m reviewing this album on a cold December evening but this track transports me to a lovely summer’s day at the beach. It’s an uptempo and catchy song about the joys of having a party at the beach. It’s one of the happier songs on the album and left me with a great big smile on my face. Hopefully beach trips will be a thing we are able to enjoy in 2021. This song could be the soundtrack for the road trip there. The final track on It’s Not Me, It’s You is One Of A Kind. The song starts in a big way. When the vocals come in, there is an upbeat yet methodical style to the song. The guitars and drums chug along whilst Robbie croons over the top of them. The song is basically a love letter to the latest women he’s fallen for. There is definitely more emotion in this song than in any of the previous ones, perhaps ending the album with a more uplifting moment of finally finding the one that lasts?

It’s Not Me, It’s You is a very strong debut from Lettermans. They are without a doubt a band with a lot of promise and this shows why they got a spot of The Fest line up. I really enjoyed the way the band are able to paint a picture with their lyrics as it really puts you in their shoes as they sing the songs. If you’re into bands such as The Riverdales, Groovie Ghoulies or The Apers then you can do a lot worse than checking out Lettermans.

Stream and download It’s Not Me, It’s You on Bandcamp here.

Like Lettermans on Facebook here.

This review was written by Colin Clark.

Friday, 8 January 2021

Album Review: The Big Fat Fib by Fat Chance

I first discovered Fat Chance on a Bandcamp Discovery session whilst hunting out bands for a new CPRW Records compilation. Whilst not fitting the bill of what I needed for the comp, I did absolutely love the band so added their newest EP The Big Fat Fib to my review list. Fat Chance are a ska punk band from New Jersey consisting of Ferris Denequolo – Guitar/vocals, Weftin Mohr – Bass, Shawn Werman – Drums, Lacey Liptak – Saxophone and Bryan George – Trombone/Trumpet. The Big Fat Fib was recorded live in a studio over a year ago but the band never had a reason to release it until Election Day came around last year. I’m glad they did as I might never have discovered them.

The first of the three songs on the EP is one of my favourites of 2020. Lies is an upbeat and soulful ska number that never fails to get me dancing in some capacity. It’s the sort of song that really gets you moving and never ceases to put a smile on my face. The track is about having lies spread about you and what happens because of that. This is a song I’m really itching to see live at some point, I imagine that it’s a lot of fun! Next is Don’t Rape Yer Comrades. Obviously, from the title, you know that this is a serious and heavy song. The band go towards the skacore sound as Denequolo angrily sings about what absolute scum rapists are. This is perhaps the type of song that should come with a trigger warning but also it’s so important for people to call out this behaviour and make sure that EVERYONE knows that this is not an OK thing to do. It’s mad that people would think otherwise. Finally we have Modern Politics. Modern Politics is song that jumps expertly between styles. It starts out with an extended introduction that is super heavy and features some wailing horns before switching to more of an uptempo ska style before reverting back to the heavier sound. The vocals are most prevalent during the middle section of the song where Denequolo sings very speedily about the state of modern politics and how much politicians lie to people and that sooner or later people will revolt. I can see more and more in US and UK politics (and I suspect in many other countries all over the world) that people are becoming increasingly angry about how politicians act so this is another song that was important to get out into the world.

The Big Fat Fib is a great, if not a little short, EP. It seems that the only ska bands from the USA that a lot of people talk about are those associated with Bad Time Records (people should talk about them as they’re all great) but there are also many others deserving of our attention. Fat Chance are one of them.

Stream and download The Big Fat Fib on Bandcamp here.

Like Fat Chance on Facebook here.

This review was written by Colin Clark.

Thursday, 7 January 2021

Album Review: Battle Of Armadogeon by Baldhead And The Dreads

We’ve covered Baldhead and the Dreads a lot on CPRW. Before the world broke, the four piece were basically the house band at New Cross Inn in South London. Playing their own unique brand of ska punk that they’ve dubbed Paul Smith Core, the band always put on a fun show. With no gigs this year the band decided to use their spare time to make their second EP. Released by INiiT Records in November, the EP is titled Battle Of Armadogeon and was recorded in bedrooms during the first lockdown.

The EP begins with a song that’s become a big favourite at Baldhead gigs, Smoke Weed Pet Dogs. If you are already familiar with the band then you’ll be aware that drugs and dogs made up a big portion of their debut EP, It’ll Be Fiiine…, and it’s nice to see them not stepping away from their roots. Co-vocalist James takes the lead on the song which is extremely catchy. I think a big part of why people have grown to love Baldhead so much is that a lot of songs are quite simple, easily accessible and a lot of fun. Up next is Buckfast And Weed which amazingly is the first song the band has written that is 4:20 in length. Ell takes over lead vocal duties on this track, which shows off a heavier side of the band whilst interjecting brief moments of ska and reggae along with some dub for good measure. The song is largely instrumental, allowing the band to show that they’re good musicians alongside being able to write catchy tunes.

First Class War is a stand out track for me. Returning to their trademark upbeat ska punk sound, James gets political on a song about the frustrations regarding the differences in classes and how the rich people should be made to pay more taxes to help pay for important services. Listening carefully to James’ lyrics I found the song incredibly relatable and I’m sure everyone listening will share the frustrations James sings about during the song. This is perhaps the best song they band have written so far. The penultimate track, Crufts, is another that the band have played live in the past. It’s about how people breed dogs with the intention of them being just for show. It’s a terrible thing to do and I love that Baldhead wrote a song about it. The last two tracks have shown how the band is more than willing to tackle serious topics alongside the more fun and ridiculous. The final song is a bonus track named Lockdown. It’s a slower, reggae song where Ell’s gravelly vocals tell a story of the feelings and frustrations of life in lockdown. Ell sings about how we’ve all been feeling during 2020. When I first heard the song the lyrics hit me hard, as I’m sure they have for a lot of people. Fantastic songwriting.

I think it’s fair to say that this wasn’t how Baldhead And The Dreads wanted to release their second EP into the world. They could’ve easily waited for a time when things had improved (whenever that might be!?) to release Battle Of Armadogeon but I’m glad they didn’t. This EP really shows a band coming on leaps and bounds. The days when Baldhead were thought of as that band that hang around New Cross are long gone, they’re now a proper band – a very good proper band.

Stream and download Battle Of Armadogeon on Bandcamp here.

Like Baldhead And The Dreads on Facebook here.

This review was written by Colin Clark.

Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Album Review: Empty Spaces by Reverse (by Chris Bishton)

Reverse first started in the early 90s. Hailing from Stoke in the UK and once described as a gritty, melodic, hardcore band on the Damaged Goods label, for me they always also had a definite pop-punk bearing.

They often drew comparisons to their very British contemporaries Snuff, Leatherface, China Drum et al, particularly as I think they recorded a few times in Newcastle, which possibly involved Frankie Stubbs's input, and they also played a gig there with China Drum after they'd split.

After going their separate ways in 1997, they briefly reformed putting out an album, Chasing Ghosts, on the Japanese SP Records in 2011, only to split again. Now, it seems, they're still not done and they're back again. They might not be prolific, but my god, they're durable.

As I always do, I have a quick count up of how many songs are on the album and how long the record is. Twelve songs in just over half an hour, rightly or wrongly, ticks the first punk record requirement box for me. It means I'm over the first hurdle of perhaps being a bit reticent to go back to a band I'd loved, but maybe I should leave in the past.

With that thought, I hit play and the opening title track, Empty Spaces, kicks in. It's the first new music I've heard from them in nearly 10 years, but the sound is unmistakably them. I'm so pleased they've stayed close to their roots. Guitar joined by drums, as the two combine to gather speed and really crisp vocals. The chorus "if you're not sure… is this a world worth fighting for" is an instant earworm.

There are so many songs on this album vying to be the catchiest. Undone is just one, with a great mix of soaring guitars and alluring vocals, followed by my favourite track Broken Windows. It builds for the first 20 seconds or so with guitar then drums, before the vocals start and the song really kicks off.

The album's tempo skips along well. For some reason Stay Angry, Fire Flies and the penultimate track Northern Soul, standout for me. I say "standout", but I realise when I listen to this again and again my favourites on the album change, which is unusual for me as I can be a bit of an "I know what I like type".

The album concludes with the song Bloody Mary & Grant Hart, a brilliant song title if ever I've heard one. Like the rest of the album the pace of it is perfect, somehow allowing me to grin and singalong both at the same time.

In a year that's been so bad for so many reasons, we've actually had a tonne of great music released and this album is right up there as one of my favourites. Perhaps a bit surprisingly, but they absolutely deservedly should be welcomed back with open arms with this new record. And whilst gigs may still be hard to come by, once we're out of this mess I really hope these guys do a few shows because, judging by their album, they'd put on a hellava comeback performance.

*Fun Fact: the first time I listened to this was on a CD in the car. I liked it, but wow… the band had gone in a pretty different direction in their time away. It turned out there'd been a mix up at the pressing plant and the new Jaded Eyes album had been pressed on CD and included with the Reverse LP. Boss Tuneage sent out replacements to everyone as soon as they realised… so, as if you need reminding, another reason to support your independent punk label.

Find Empty Spaces on Bandcamp here and streaming on the usual platforms.

Like Reverse on Facebook here.

This review was written by Chris Bishton.