In Rotation: Criminal Kids - Outcast/Night

Phil Collins - December 4, 2017

Outcast/Night cover

Criminal Kids' first single, Outcast/Night, puts them firmly in the camp of Chicago punk bands more interested in an older style of rock and roll. Fans of Poison Boys and Black Bear Rodeo should keep their ears to the ground for more from Criminal Kids. Ripping guitar solos and vocals delivered with a deliberate swagger abound. Even the album cover (in a similar manner to Poison Boys' Headed for Disaster EP cover) calls to another era, with a photo of the band members that looks like it could have been taken decades ago.

The lyrics from "Outcast" call out the material things that separate people in society. Money, of course, is one of those things. In the parlance of this classic era of rock and roll, a switchblade is the great equalizer. The pinnacle of the song comes with the shout "I guess that makes me an outcast baby/I guess that makes me an outcast." It's a fun rumble of a jam and I'm looking forward to hearing more from this band. Check out the video for "Outcast" after the jump and stream the two-song single at their bandcamp page.

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In Rotation: Sincere Engineer - Rhombithian

Phil Collins - November 7, 2017

Rhombithian album cover

The debut album from Chicago punks Sincere Engineer hit with a bang, coming out on the local punk mainstay Red Scare Industries, home of bands from the Falcon to the Brokedowns to Direct Hit! to Masked Intruder to Teenage Bottlerocket to the Menzingers and more. These are household names in punk and if Rhombithian is any indication, Sincere Engineer is going to be right there too. The catchy songs, gruff vocals and wry sense of humor are a good match for the pop punk label. The line early in the album about jumping into Lake Michigan and swimming in it certainly doesn't hurt on the Chicago connection front. What really makes this record exceptional, and fast, is adept lyricism.

Exhibit A: "Overbite," the third track on the album, deftly trades two lines that balance the album's main themes - anxiety on the one hand and a self-deprecating sense of humor invoking the minutiae of everyday life on the other. "I don't care about anything as much as I used to" is repeated a few times within the first minute of the song. Then, after another round in the second chorus, the line changes to "I still feel just about as dumb as I used to." The music speeds up in the last 30 seconds and the two lines trade off at the end of the track.

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In Rotation: Won't Stay Dead - The Devil Was With Us

Phil Collins - October 27, 2017

The Devil Was With Us

If you are looking for some new spooky tunes this Halloween, check out the new 7 song horror punk EP from Chicago's Won't Stay Dead. The songs on The Devil Was With Us combine a love of horror movies (take another look at that Night of the Living Dead poster) and conventions of the horror punk and rockabilly genres. "Withered, Tempting" is my favorite track here - it starts with a meandering bassline before jumping up to the punchy verse. The song goes through another round of this and ends ahead of the two minute mark, leaving on a high note. "Withered, Tempting" has all the elements that make this EP so fun, from the rockabilly influence to the lyrics that sound like they're describing the plot of a horror movie. Still, if this release has a theme song, it has to be "The Devil of Bedford Street." The lyrics and song title sound like they come from a horror movie, the title of the EP is in the lyrics, and the first line of the chorus "Somebody put a cross on my head and it burned" lands right on point.

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In Rotation: The Decayed - The Decayed EP

Phil Collins - August 7, 2017

The Decayed

The eponymous debut EP from Chicago hardcore band The Decayed is a fiery introduction. Everyone involved here is or has been in other punk/hardcore bands (Last False Hope, Failed Resistance, Break the Silence, Vile Display of Humanity) and it shows. This is a tight six song set that manages to cover more ground than its running time might suggest. We start off with the most straightforward, shortest song. People will quickly learn to sing back the title "Beaten and Battered". Lead vocalist Jahshie P, also of Last False Hope and Failed Resistance, delivers on point shouts throughout. The guitar riffage and shout along portions make this a good opener. "The Dream is Dead" plays out similarly until a little less than halfway through when we get a bass-driven interlude, hinting at some of the variety to come.

"Not This Time" really breaks the mold with a full out excursion into thrash metal crossover territory. Things continue to change up with crusty vocals from guitarist Jake Younberg on the EP's final two tracks. The Decayed EP does as well in its slower sections as in the more prevalent punched up parts. Overall this is a solid debut and I'm looking forward to hearing what's next for the band. Get out there and see them play live because they put on a fun show. Stream The Decayed EP after the jump.

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In Rotation: Blystex - Nasty Licks

Phil Collins - July 25, 2017

Nasty Licks

Blystex offer shouty vocals with Spanish lyrics over fuzzy guitar riffs on their new EP Nasty Licks. The Chicago band run through six songs in concise fashion. This release is to the point in length and from what I can tell as someone who doesn't speak much Spanish, it seems to be to the point lyrically as well. "Peligroso" opens up the EP with the refrain "No me toques," or "Don't touch me." I like hearing lyrics in other languages because it does put forward a different sound than what we are used to hearing with so many bands singing in English. Other languages have different sentence structures and different ways of pronouncing letters, so there is an inherently distinct sound versus what you would get with English lyrics. It is also important to have bands singing in Spanish right now given the political rhetoric being thrown around on a constant basis these days.

I recently talked about this EP, along with many other recent local punk releases, on an Album Review Roundtable episode of the Friskie Morris Sessions podcast. Adam Kreutzer of The Kreutzer Sonata and Nic Campa of Oscar Bait and Otto Mann were also guests on the episode. Listen to that here. I mentioned during the Blystex segment that this band would be perfect to see in a basement doing a 20 minute set, to which Adam reminded me that we had seen them do just that earlier in the summer. The old memory just isn't what it used to be. In any case, check out this EP. Foreign Legion Records did a limited cassette run for Nasty Licks, which is already sold out.

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In Rotation: Voice Of Addiction - The Lost Art of Empathy

Phil Collins - July 12, 2017

The Lost Art of Empathy

Chicago punk rockers Voice Of Addiction will release their second full-length album this Sunday. This band's name is always out there on show bills, local and on tour. According to their Soundcloud page, the band has done 1,200 shows in the U.S. and Canada during the last decade plus. So their first full-length record release since 2011 is an occassion to be marked (they have put out an EP and two live releases in the intervening years).

The Lost Art of Empathy is a solid set of 12 new songs. The band's sound bears some resemblance to Propagandhi, in terms of the gruff vocals, political lyrics, and quick guitar work. "Rustbelt" kicks the album off with a good idea of what the listener will get from the album - gripping punk jams with plenty of changes in them. "Unity" opens with the cathartic scream "I'm not your fucking pawn." "Corporate Pariah" features a surprise ska beat in the verses. "Eviction Notice" offers gruff vocal delivery and pointed lyrics laced with effective guitar. "Are We Even Human Anymore?" closes the album with acoustic storytelling.

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In Rotation: SHOTS FIRED SHOTS FIRED - Calles Sangriento

Phil Collins - June 22, 2017

Calles Sangriento

The debut EP from Chicago hardcore band SHOTS FIRED SHOTS FIRED grapples with the tensions of the reality that we live in today in 2017. They start right off on Trump with the opening track "El Emparador Es Naranja," deriding his lack of respect for women and his constant self-aggrandizement. Lyrics switch between Spanish and English often on this release, in this case translating the song's title: "El emparador es naranja/The emperor is orange." Title track "Calles Sangriento" discusses the everyday violence that continues to grip Chicago. On "Be More Like Sean (RIP Sean McKeough,)" vocalist Paulie Think tells the story of the Riot Fest co-founder helping him get off heroin.

These seven songs gallop along, only pausing for sound clips from the orange one and the news. SHOTS FIRED SHOTS FIRED should not be missed live. I caught their first show at Quenchers earlier this year and they tore it up. You wouldn't guess it from the music, but vocalist Paulie Think just put out a hip-hop album called Dunny's Tamales. Check that out at the No Trend Records bandcamp page. Stream Calles Sangriento after the jump.

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In Rotation: Fitness - Puppet Show

Phil Collins - June 8, 2017

Puppet Show

Chicago punks Fitness use dual lead guitars and crusty vocal hooks effectively on their new 7-inch, Puppet Show. They can channel the amped up party sound of FIDLAR, the soaring guitar leads of a bygone era and a crusty vocal delivery all in the same song. Basically, most of Puppet Show sounds like it would be well-accompanied by Old Style cans spraying all over the place. You will probably get some of the guitar hooks stuck in your head before you learn the words, most likely the guitar lead at the beginning of "Sin Bad." Whatever else stands out about this release, it fittingly begins and ends with those blasting guitar licks.

This is the second release from Fitness, following 2015's self-titled cassette. Puppet Show is out on vinyl via our brother organization, Don't Panic Records & Distro. It's out on a run of 300 copies with 100 on violet vinyl and 200 on black. Pick it up at the Don't Panic bandcamp page.

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In Rotation: Headspins - Burn That Bridge

Phil Collins - May 31, 2017

Burn That Bridge

Headspins' second full-length album is full of punchy vocals, hooks and harmonies. Highlights "KGB" and "What Is Wrong With You" capitalize on Ramones-influenced staccato shouts. They embrace a 80s punk sound, which goes well with a song like opener "KGB," which calls back to cold war times. Headspins get a lot of mileage out of traded male/female vocals and alternating quick and slow deliveries. They also have a palpable sense of humor. When "What Is Wrong With You" sounds like it has wound to a close, the band continues with a slow jam of the chorus followed by a last full-speed run-through. "Love Yourself," maybe the catchiest song on the album, has that 80s X-influenced sound. "I Told You So" is a fast punk banger that would surely be great live.

Burn That Bridge is the first release from Chicago's Headspins since 2013's Spinster. Catch Headspins at the Mutiny this Saturday with The Stay Alives, Deal Breakers and Evil Engine. More information on that show here. Stream Burn That Bridge after the jump.

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In Rotation: Death of Self/Bad Timing - Bomb the Burbs

Phil Collins - April 4, 2017

Bad Timing Death of Self split

Two Chicago area punk bands match up on the Bomb the Burbs split. The release features two new songs from Death of Self and Bad Timing, along with each band covering one of the other band's songs. Death of Self kicks it off with fast hardcore tracks laced with furious guitar solos. The vocals on Death of Self's songs here remind me of the singer from the Worcester, Massachusetts folk punk collective Speaker for the Dead. Their voices have something in common, but here that sound runs over guitar driven hardcore instead of brassy folk punk.

Bad Timing's opening track, "Rant," is exactly what it sounds like. The song is a tirade against the system, starting over deliberate, funky bass and careening off into hardcore punches before swinging back to the slower pace. "Kill Your TV" occupies the ska punk territory that is more typical of Bad Timing songs. These songs fit well together with Death of Self's half of the split to make this well worth listening to for fans of ska, punk and hardcore.

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In Rotation: So Pretty - Suck it Up

Phil Collins - March 24, 2017

Suck it Up

The first track off So Pretty's new album features many of the characteristics that make Suck it Up such a fun, surprising release. Dual vocals that lie in stark contrast to each other from Rachel Manter and Ashley Holman, a straight-faced commitment to every joke and a grunge punk backing that will reverberate in your mind for a while after listening. An ostensibly rich person callously orders around staff on "Comfort Service" in a mocking way that could only be pulled off with that firm commitment and timing. The slow, melodic vocals and ukulele that immediately follow this on the opening of "Think Again" then sound just as surprising when listened to in sequence. It doesn't take long for a scream and distorted guitar to cut in. These playful changes in tone and texture make the album vibrant throughout.

"Blueberry Blues" and "Manhandler" offer more straightforward shouted punk blasts, the latter landing on a telling off of a lame dude who won't shut up. Everyone in the band adds vocals somewhere on the album, building on the variety already present with two lead vocalists.

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In Rotation: Dead Split Egos - Ecdysis

Phil Collins - March 3, 2017

Ecdysis

The new EP from Chicago's Dead Split Egos is comprised of eight songs of heavy, dark punk. They take advantage of mid-song tempo changes, more often going from faster to slower and only getting heavier as the pace decreases. Throw in an effective use of multiple vocalists and the band has something that really stands out. "Guilt" has quickly become one of my top songs of the new year so far, due to its tag team vocals on the repeated last lines of the song as the tempo slows down. A different vocalist tackles these lines one after the other as the song spirals to a finish: "Hungry for publicity, reputation, and fraud/Bolstering corruption dodging exposure for who you are/I don't subscribe to your bullshit/So please stop acting like you're not a fucking hypocrite." It's a moment that grabs attention on the first listen and only gets better when you get to know it.

Opening track "Dead Skin" kicks off on a deliberate pace, then slows things down further a couple minutes in, while simultaneously getting crunchier and heavier. A minute later a second vocalist comes in to sing along with the screamed lyrics. This kind of variety paired with strong lyrics decrying the patriarchy and the status quo make Ecdysis a must listen.

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In Rotation: Black Bear Rodeo - Bunk

Phil Collins - February 20, 2017

Bunk

The three songs on local garage/grunge band Black Bear Rodeo's new EP have enough hooks to latch onto memory after one listen. Of course you're not going to remember all the words after a single stream, but you might be able to recall the shouted "Hey, you better get away" on "Girl X" or the taunting "Here piggy piggy piggy piggy piggy" on "Piggy Piggy." That shouted line on opener "Girl X," undercut by some woos, has the ring of a big summer jam. A searing guitar solo seems like it will ride the song out until it drops for one more chorus. "California" and "Piggy Piggy" bring keys into the equation for some more breadth.

Bunk was recorded by Steve Albini at Electrical Audio and Barrett Guzaldo at Treehouse Records. It is Black Bear Rodeo's second release, following their debut album Garble. Fans of Archie Powell & The Exports or even the Black Keys should find plenty to enjoy here.

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In Rotation: Assassination Squad - Busted

Phil Collins - January 29, 2017

Busted

Assassination Squad packs an impressive amount of variety onto a six song EP - rockabilly on "Evil Eye," surf on "Busted" and gruff orgcore on "Welcome To Atlanta." The strong vocal melody over rollicking lead guitar on "Ass Cherry" reminds me of something I can't quite put my finger on. While Assasination Squad tackles various styles of punk on this EP, they have their own distinct approach. This band started in Seoul, South Korea but has been local to Chicago since 2015. This is the last set of songs from the band's Seoul lineup, according to the release's bandcamp description.

The title track closes this EP out with a surfy guitar led instrumental. This is a surprising, fun end to the EP, especially the (SPOILER ALERT) saxophone solo in the second half of the song. It's the kind of thing that smacks you on the side of the head if you haven't been paying attention.

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In Rotation: Strawberry Jacuzzi - Watch the Clock

Phil Collins - December 5, 2016

Watch the Clock

Chicago garage pop quartet Strawberry Jacuzzi return with their second full-length album, Watch the Clock. Shouty vocals over rumbling drums and bass, laced with sugary guitar licks make for fun, dancey Strawberry Jacuzzi songs. The band does slow down occasionally, but never stays quiet for long on songs like "Broken Tape Song." More often they are bouncing into space on songs like "Astronaut Girl" and "Pity Party."

The album's bookends - "Bitch Jam" and the title track "Watch the Clock" - are the top highlights here. "Bitch Jam" opens the proceedings with a catchy, fast-paced track marked by a deliberate count-in to the song's manic fits. "Watch the Clock" starts as a chill song and spins off into a fun instrumental a couple minutes in. The shouted bridge must be a great moment live.

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In Rotation: The Audio Dead - From the Beginning

Phil Collins - November 21, 2016

From the Beginning

Chicago horror punks the Audio Dead released their debut album, From the Beginning, on Halloween. Of course, horror punk is best suited for those who celebrate Halloween all year long. The lyrics are full of curses, body horror and vaguely menacing proclamations like "your time will come." The themes and characters in these songs are the product of midnight movie watchers - definitely the 70s/80s slasher and creature feature branches of the genre.

The short songs "Deadlines" and "Counterfeit" are the more straight ahead hardcore entries on the album. "Re-ignited" and "Your Time Will Come" are the catchiest tracks. There are a couple local guest vocal spots on From the Beginning - Daryl Wilson of the Bollweevils on "The Last Laugh" and Dan Alfonsi of Still Alive on "I Cannot Let Go." This is a solid set of songs and an exciting first release from the Audio Dead. Stream it here or head to their bandcamp page for a download.

In Rotation: Davey Dynamite and Friends - Holy Shit

Phil Collins - November 10, 2016

Holy Shit

The songs on Davey Dynamite's new album are filled with a message we all need to remember right now. We are all human. We all share this space. We should treat each other with respect and dignity. This is not a political message. This is a statement about the human condition in a social world. It is not always easy to remember that the fuckheads referenced on "Man Enough" - the hateful brainless people - are the same fuckheads we need to work with and work for to make our society a place worth fighting for, as discussed on the song "Fuckheads." We have to value each other and that includes paying workers a decent wage, not 380 times less than the bigwigs. "Gods," the album's final song, reminds us that we are the ones who can make changes and mold society.

Holy Shit is the fourth full-length album from Chicago area folk punker Davey Dynamite. It is his second album to feature electric full-band songs. He is joined on this recording by Matt Wolek (Praise the Sinners) on bass and Jake Joyce (Seasonal Men's Wear, Brown Bear Records) on drums. Rigby Nix delivers powerful vocals on "Fuckheads." A few of these songs have already made their way into the live set, like "4th of July" and "Transitions." Acoustic versions of "4th of July" and "Fuckheads" appeared on the five band Friday the 13th Hysteria compilation, released earlier this year.

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In Rotation: Bombflower - Sweeteater

Phil Collins - October 20, 2016

Sweeteater

Bombflower returns with their second full-length album of ska punk jams with a social conscience. Liza features more prominently on vocals here than she did on the Waukegan band's first album. She did lead vocals on "Your Death" and "Die in Your Sleep" on Organic Mood Elevators. Since then, she has split vocal duties with guitarist Tic James at shows. On Sweeteater, her vocals lead most of the songs. "Justice For Some" and "Silent While They Profit" deride inequities in society. The two vocalists trade lines on both songs, creating an effective sense of urgency.

Acoustic guitar pops up on "Song Burst Through The Sky" and "Coozehound," giving the upstringing a warmer vibe. "Song Burst Through The Sky" might be the strongest song in this set. It starts off very laid back before jumping into a quick catchy chorus backed by the acoustic guitar upstringing. The fast/slow back-and-forth, paired with layered dual vocals and the change in texture brought on by the acoustic guitar make this a robust, dynamic song. Acoustic guitar also appears on the chill instrumental "Bitch N' Dub," featuring the Las Vegas band Bitch N' Dudes.

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In Rotation: The Kreutzer Sonata/The Union Boys split

Phil Collins - October 6, 2016

The Kreutzer Sonata The Union Boys split

Chicago hardcore band The Kreutzer Sonata tag team with Boston's The Union Boys on this split 7-inch released a couple weeks ago. The Kreutzer Sonata's three songs here exemplify their ability to switch between punishing hardcore and catchy hooks. "White Knuckles" opens the record with a slicing guitar riff and quick screamed vocals, balanced with a melodic chorus that kicks in about halfway through the song. The Kreutzer Sonata is back to playing shows after getting a new bassist. Their next gig is at Brauer House in Lombard on October 28 with One Way System, Total Chaos and The Horrids. They also have a show coming up at the Drunken Donut in Joliet on November 11 with Shitizen, Crazies and Texas Chainstore Manager.

The Union Boys call to mind the Dropkick Murphys of many years ago, when the band was more hardcore. "This Time" particularly captures that working class vibe. "Gone" makes for a laid back, catchy closer with some Bouncing Souls influence. The Union Boys come through Chicago from time to time - I saw them a summer ago at Archer Asylum with The Kreutzer Sonata and a ton of other bands. It's nice to see two great live bands on a release together.

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In Rotation: "Richardson" Richardson - White Lighters

Phil Collins - September 15, 2016

White Lighters

DeKalb two-piece "Richardson" Richardson returns with nine quick hits of bass-heavy punk. The band resumes its traditional stance - two bassists and programmed drums - after recording with a live drummer on their last release, 2014's Shit Lord EP. Snarled vocals favor getting high and chilling out on "Crucial Hangs". "Year of the Rat" and "Tour Jokes" offer a taste of life on the road, a taste that falls somewhere between thickburgers, old cheese nugs and coke. Former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka takes a few shots on "F.M.D."

White Lighters is out on a run of 100 cassettes, which also allegedly include a cover of a certain retired Seasonal Men's Wear song. The album was recorded at DeKalb's DIY spot, the 7th Street space. Stream White Lighters here, or head to "Richardson" Richardson's bandcamp page for the cassette.

In Rotation: Lester and The Finks - So Fucking Bored

Phil Collins - September 9, 2016

So Fucking Bored

Fans of quick and dirty guitar riffs and snotty vocals will wear out So Fucking Bored, the debut 7-inch from DeKalb's Lester and The Finks. You can almost feel the freshly emptied can of Hamms while listening to the title track. The first two songs are garage rock rumblers. So Fucking Bored's B side features two hardcore tracks, split by "I'd Really Like to See Ya" - a standout track from the band's original demo, released a couple years ago. You'll have to pick up the record to hear the B side. It's not a bad way to spend five bucks. Manglor Records still has some copies of the limited edition version with screen printed covers, so jump on that.

Those familiar with the DeKalb music scene will recognize the man in the mask as Lester from the Phantom Scars. The band also has members who have played in Charles Bronson, Riverbilly Cousin Touchers, Pillage and the Gunshy. They know how to write some punk tunes. Stream the A side of So Fucking Bored here. Head to Manglor Records to pick up the 7-inch.

In Rotation: Beat the Smart Kids - Broke Again

Phil Collins - August 8, 2016

Broke Again

The first full-length album from Chicago's Beat the Smart Kids continues to deliver on the fun, bouncy ska premise set up on their first EP. "Chemical Reaction" is one of the band's catchier songs. It is also one of their weightier songs lyrically, tackling gentrification. "Emoticons" flips into a horn-led, skank-inducing fervor in its second half, as the lyrics lament the technological fixations of modern society - a favorite theme of the band's. Beat the Smart Kids seem to prefer the animated future of 1980s Transformers cartoons on "Ruby Crystals." See also, the video for "Ruby Crystals."

"Go to Bread" offers the jokey qualities of ska bands like Reel Big Fish on a mostly instrumental song that spares words to name off types of bread. If you are looking for fun, two-tone style ska, Beat the Smart Kids have it down. With members from Still Alive, Waste Basket, The Damn Tracks and Indecisives, these guys have been around the block a few times. Their sound gets more fully explored through the 12 tracks on Broke Again. Keyboards show up more prominently than they did on Call in Sick, a welcome addition to the recordings.

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In Rotation: The Taxpayers - Big Delusion Factory

Phil Collins - July 24, 2016

Big Delusion Factory

The Taxpayers' latest album centers on piano-led excursions with on-point lyrics. This album continues to challenge what folk punk is supposed to sound like. Listening to the Portland band's last couple albums, we get another interpretation of The Taxpayers' niche. They embrace a jazzy noir feel on "Little Black Box." Jangly horn and piano lines flow through unexpected turns. "Brain Drain (Tunnel of Love)" instantly ranks among the band's most explosive tracks. "Roll Call" juxtaposes strings and distorted guitar hits. The lyrics on "Easy Money" are urgent and vital.

It was surprising when The Taxpayers suddenly released Big Delusion Factory last month. Their last album, Cold Hearted Town, came out in 2013. That does not sound like a terribly long gap between full-lengths, but consider that the group released something every year between 2009 and 2013. So three years without much activity from the band felt like a lenghty stretch. It is important then, that this album delivers the quality material it does. "Goodbye Balance" is exactly the kind of song I think of when The Taxpayers come to mind. They always sound sure-footed on uneven ground.

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In Rotation: Direct Hit! - Wasted Mind

Phil Collins - June 23, 2016

Wasted Mind

Direct Hit! returns this week with their third full-length album, Wasted Mind. Fans of the Milwaukee pop punk band should be into this album from the start. The combination of catchy hooks, storytelling and a sense of humor that has propelled Direct Hit! for years remains the backbone of the band's sound. Horns are a welcome addition on "Paid in Brains" and "Promised Land." Keyboards show up on this release from time to time as well.

The band's previous album, Brainless God, got them a lot of attention in the punk world and rightfully so. Like that record, Wasted Mind is a concept album. This time it's about drugs and this time it's out on Fat Wreck Chords. The videos for "Paid in Brains" and "Was it the Acid?" show that the band is still having a good time out there. "Paid in Brains" is the most immediately catchy song on the album and is likely to become a live favorite.

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In Rotation: We The Heathens - The Blood Behind The Dam

Phil Collins - May 30, 2016

The Blood Behind The Dam

We The Heathens bring a crusty folk punk sound to songs that could serve as a backdrop to an epic fantasy series. Violin, cello, mandolin, guitar and bass accompany throaty shouted vocals. All those strings often bring to mind a winding mountain road and an unescapable quest. Before their set at the Slaughterhouse started on Sunday night, We The Heathens warmed up with a little bit of the Game of Thrones theme song. The songs on The Blood Behind The Dam, We The Heathens' third full-length album, are no less epic or evocative. The opening violin riff on "Neurotic Decay" is the folk equivalent of a circle pit starter.

The songs have the most muscle when they build up slowly but steadily into a heated alchemy of strumming fervor and traded screams. Take a crust punk band and stir in a propensity for medieval style fables and you have an idea of what to expect from this release. We The Heathens, from Wasau, Wisconsin, share members with the ska/crack rock steady group Atrocity Solution. The Blood Behind The Dam features guest vocals from Jesse and Veronica of Escape From The Zoo on the song "Crooked Kings."

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In Rotation: White Mystery - Outta Control

Phil Collins - May 19, 2016

Outta Control

White Mystery goes for it on their seventh full-length album, Outta Control. The Chicago garage punk band is made up of frizzy red-headed siblings Miss Alex White on guitar and Francis Scott Key White on drums. The two go off the rails on the aptly named album closer "Thrash Time," as well as on "Finger," which features Francis spitting out some quick vocals. The album's sound more often favors a smooth poppy stroll with bright vocals from Miss Alex White, which is the case on "Cerebellum" and "Best Friend." This is the kind of music you want to listen to on a sunny day while walking down the Chicago streets, wearing big over-the-ear headphones and a denim jacket.

Things take a turn toward the unexpected on "Pacci," a mid-album epic featuring effected vocals from both parties. The guitar and vocals combine for a Middle Eastern kind of sound. The lyrics draw from a more dramatic romantic place than is typical for the band. "Sweet Relief" follows this with Francis delivering spoken word verses over a tight beat. Along with keeping up with a busy touring schedle, White Mystery has been releasing new music at an impressively steady clip. The band has put out a new album every year since 2010.

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In Rotation: Pessimist Prime - Grow Up!

Phil Collins - May 3, 2016

Grow Up!

The first demo from the Joliet group Pessimist Prime mixes nineties Smoking Popes-esque vocal delivery with intermittent ska riffs. I would not call this a straight up ska release, despite the song title "Skanye West," but there are ska sections. They tend to ride in under the framework of a darker, more pessimistic, if you will, base of fuzz and lyrics. "Delta" is defined by such a change. Midway through, it morphs into a ska song (this exact point is cheekily pointed out in the lyrics on bandcamp). "Delta" is the longest and most interesting song on Grow Up!, simply because of all the changes that happen through the song's 3 minutes and 45 seconds. If you are not paying close attention, you could easily mistake this for two separate songs on the first listen. "Skanye West" is a quick, catchy, upbeat tune. There are plenty of woah oh oh's here.

The opening lines to the closing track "Social Ardvark" really feel like a callback to nineties pop punk: "Do you wanna see something that we were never supposed to see?/All the terrible things that we do to our own bodies/Just to get by." The lines get partially repeated at the end of the song, over more lush instrumentation.

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In Rotation: PEARS - Green Star

Phil Collins - April 21, 2016

Green Star

Second albums are notoriously tricky affairs. When a band's first album hits it big, expectations are set unrealistically high for the follow up. You have your whole life to write your first album. The fans, the label and the people walking down the street want the second album right away. PEARS' first album, Go To Prison, finished second on this blog's best of the year bracket in 2014 (Against Me!'s Transgender Dysphoria Blues ran the table that year) and garnered plenty of attention in the punk world. That album was re-released on Fat Wreck Chords, which also released a 7-inch from the band last Fall and Green Star earlier this month.

I like this album more each time I listen to it. I know Go To Prison backwards and forwards, so it was hard to even compare these two records until I got to know the songs on Green Star a little bit. The first time I heard the poppy, tambourine-shaking opening of "Cloverleaf," I was looking around wondering what was going on. By the third listen, I was jamming that intro like it was 1999. It's the back and forth between this excessively poppy section and the screamed lyrics that follow that make it so enticing. The New Orleans hardcore band have always had a penchant for messing with the listener. This is perhaps best exemplified by the quick "Partridge Family" guitar lick followed by a screaming tirade that rivals any hardcore section on the album. PEARS can execute this type of gag with the precision, timing and tone it takes to pull it off.

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In Rotation: Crystal Gravy - Helicopter to Bang Mansion

Phil Collins - April 12, 2016

Helicopter to Bang Mansion

Crystal Gravy, the acoustic/keytar duo of Dave Green and Nikki Rice, hit a tone on this record that cannot be easy to get right. It approximates that kind of joking, right, but not joking, tongue in cheek, but completely straight-faced delivery found on songs like "Afternoon Delight." Helicopter to Bang Mansion's title track flows like a song from a medieval minstrel, regaling listeners with the tale of "a place where my baby's always got wood." The penultimate track, "Five Regrets of the Dying," also takes a storytelling approach, although it is a more serious song. This runs directly into the closing reprise of "Helicopter to Bang Mansion."

This is the DeKalb band's first full-length album, following up last year's Night Dinner EP. For fans of that release, this album builds on the harmonies, evocative lyrics and humor throughout the longer format. Centaur Nikki and Merman Dave on Helicopter to Bang Mansion's cover art give you a pretty good idea of what you are getting into here. We, the listeners, are like the cat looking on from the sun.

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In Rotation: The Kreutzer Sonata - Fight Songs

Phil Collins - April 5, 2016

Fight Songs

The Kreutzer Sonata's new 7-inch, Fight Songs, lives up to its name. Four hardcore haymakers swing through in about five minutes. If you did not already feel like punching something when you drop the needle on this one, your knuckles will surely be unrecognizable by the end of it. The Chicago band's trademark combination of ferocious hardcore vocals and interspersed melodic lines, which was on prominent display on last year's excellent album Austere, continues to prosper here.

"Excessive Pride" closes out the 7-inch with strong lyrics. Adam screams "People hate without knowing who you are; look down on you for where you're from/But if you're as weak as them to believe their lies, the bastards have already won." This is followed by two lines sneered out by Kat: "No better way to sound less significant, no better way to sound more irrelevant." Those lines are repeated at the end of the song, separated by terse ticking percussion. It is my favorite moment on Fight Songs and the fact that it comes right at the end of the B side underscores the idea that I cannot get enough of this band. "It's Getting Worse" opens the EP with a kick to the teeth. "No Empathy" features some charged up vocals and a cool bass breakout midway through.

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In Rotation: The Cheap Dates - A Thousand Year Flood

Phil Collins - March 30, 2016

A Thousand Year Flood

If you listened to The Cheap Dates' debut cassette, Piss Away Another God Damn Year, the follow-up represents the other side of the coin. Released less than a year apart, the uninitiated would be hard pressed to guess that these EPs came from the same band. A Thousand Year Flood is comprised of seven tracks of the Chicago band in their surfy, heavier incarnation. If you have seen The Cheap Dates live, you are already familiar with this dichotomy. Their first EP featured songs with Danny on vocals and Sean on guitar, while A Thousand Year Flood has Sean on vocals and Danny on guitar. For the sake of full disclosure, Danny is my brother.

The title track and "Crash & Burn" have been staples of the band's live show since the beginning. "Crash & Burn" closes the EP here - it has switched between opening and closing duties at a lot of their shows. It is one of their most invigorating songs, from the surfy instrumental opening to the chaotic ending. The bass lines on this track could start a fire on their own. "1000 Year Flood" showcases a straight up surf guitar riff and has some of the EP's best lyrics. Sean growls out "Surfing through this downward spiral/Counting the track marks on my soul/Life is getting cheap/And I really need some sleep/These hungry years they take their toll." A few songs that have not shown up in the live set appear here - "End Over End," "Coldbringer" and "Underground."

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In Rotation: Warrior Tribes - Warrior Tribes

Phil Collins - March 21, 2016

Warrior Tribes

For anyone who went to see Mischief Brew at Fizz Bar last summer, something has been in the air for the last five weeks or so. During that time, all three openers from the show - Warrior Tribes, Poison Boys and The Cheap Dates - released a new EP. I reviewed Poison Boys' Headed For Disaster EP last week. Stay tuned to this frequency for a review of the new EP from The Cheap Dates soon. As if these three EPs dropping in such close proximity wasn't serendipitous enough, Mischief Brew just today released the reissue of their album Smash The Windows. That show at Fizz Bar featured a Smash The Windows era reunion. The moral of the story is twofold: Fizz Bar needs to start having shows again and all these bands should play a show together again.

Warrior Tribes' entry in this quartet of releases is a quick burst of hardcore. Pointed, growled out vocals ride over raucous riffs and fast beats. Two members of this local trio split vocal duties on this EP, both offering "super masculine" shouts, according to their bandcamp page. Four of the songs here are minute/minute-and-a-half long bangers. Only the closer clocks in at longer than two minutes. "No Face" has to be my favorite track of the EP. It starts with a snappy riff and has a catchy shouted chorus.

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In Rotation: Poison Boys - Headed for Disaster

Phil Collins - March 14, 2016

Headed for Disaster

Remember sitting on the yards-long hood of your car in a gravel parking lot late in the evening? One denim leg strung over the side of the beast, leather jacket and sunglasses doing most of the talking. Glass bottles and cigarrette butts pollinating the terrain. Chicago locals Poison Boys' debut EP, Headed for Disaster, channels this generations-old drag of memory.

Hair metal riffs give way to short, hopping guitar solos. The vocalist draws out the vowels at the end of lines with old school rock and roll bravado. This is a record that sounds like it should be listened to outside, in or around a car. A car that has a name. Roll the windows down and cruise around, or park and sit on the hood. Either way, crank it up. The cover art of Headed for Disaster speaks to the era conjured by the music. The ropy, pink font and leopard print background give off that glam rock hair metal vibe. The black and white band photo shows little trace of the modern era. The Motörhead shirt, the leather jacket and the sunglasses hanging from a white shirt are all on point.

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In Rotation: UGLYBoNES - Growing Concerns

Phil Collins - February 8, 2016

Growing Concerns

Chicago hardcore punks UGLYBoNES put out their second album, Growing Concerns, in January. It is 10 songs of ripping, writhing, true to the template hardcore. Fans of their first full-length, Leave Me Alone and their short-form releases will find much to thrash to here. As is often the case with hardcore, UGLYBoNES' LPs are not exactly long. Growing Concerns sticks to the quick jabs and stiff riffs that have been the grain of the band's sound. The back-to-back hits of "Grown Up" and "Office Destroyer" account for less than 90 seconds between them but represent the most brutal section of the album.

UGLYBoNES are at their best when the vocals spin off into an old West coast hardcore style sneer. The best example of this comes in the album's final track, "Lazy". The lines "Thought I cared a lot/I thought I cared a lot/As it turns out" spin off into the sneered "Don't care about anyone". Oftentimes when lyrics are repeated on this album, they get a more jagged delivery the second time around. On "SUX", the second go-around of "Can't believe I see this every day/People walk around with clouds of shame/And for what? Because of them?/Because they don't try themselves?/To be better" is one of the highlights of the album.

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In Rotation: Night Gaunts - Conversations With Creation

Phil Collins - January 28, 2016

Conversations With Creation

Night Gaunts deliver a solid set of spaced out ska stompers on their second full-length album. The New Zealand based band's bombastic combination of ska, hip hop and punk is perfect for fans of The Mad Conductor and The Stupid Stupid Henchmen. Night Gaunts bring together the skate/ska vibe and full band hip hop. Live beats make a big difference. In addition to the five people in Night Gaunts, a handful of other musicians stepped in on Conversations With Creation to play synths, melodica, trumpet and more. The band includes keyboards and horns as it is, so the instrumentation on this album has a rich sound.

"8 Dollars" and "Nights & Daze" carry over from the excellent split Night Gaunts put out with Days N' Daze last year. They might be from the other side of the world, but Night Gaunts toured stateside with Days N' Daze last year. Hopefully they will be back again soon to tour on this album. My first exposure to this band was at a show they played with Mustard Plug at Cobra Lounge several years ago, so they do get out here every now and again.

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In Rotation: Leftöver Crack - Constructs of the State

Phil Collins - November 22, 2015

Constructs of the State

Leftöver Crack releases their third full-length album this week. It is worth the wait. The band's last album came out 11 years ago. That was the anarcho crust punk classic Fuck World Trade. Since then, the band has toured sporadically and released the mostly meh Deadline split with Citizen Fish in 2007. News has been scarce for Leftöver Crack fans for years. The band, after all, was formed as a way for frontman Scott "Stza" Sturgeon to get songs out there that were never recorded by his other bands. In 2015 it is again time to Beware The Wrath Of The Victim.

There is a lot to like here for fans of the crack rock steady sound. "¡Poliamor Fiesta Crack!" embraces this style with upstringing, gang vocals and sections that are airy and upbeat mixed with sections that are rough and rigid. "Corrupt Vision" and "System Fucked" are potent ska-core romps, the latter featuring Jesse Michaels of Operation Ivy and Classics of Love. "Slave to the Throne" is a metal-based thrasher. "Archaic Subjugation" takes on the task of replacing the Leftöver Crack theme song at the top of the album. Both of Leftöver Crack's first two full-lengths opened with a song built around the same guitar riff. "Archaic Subjugation" hits the mark with a short, fierce blast to kick things off. "Bedbugs & Beyond" is my favorite song on the album after a few listens. It features Houston folk punkers Days N' Daze. It gets an all out folk punk intro at the end of the previous track and carries on in an electric crusty folk fervor.

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In Rotation: Texas Toast Chainsaw Massacre - 'Til Death Do Us Party

Phil Collins - November 17, 2015

'Til Death Do Us Party

Texas Toast Chainsaw Massacre plays metal that crosses over into the punk world, territory well-trodden by the likes of Municipal Waste and Iron Reagan. Texas Toast throws as many 90s kid pop culture references into the mix as one can wash down with a can of Surge. The final track on 'Til Death Do Us Party, "Secrets of the Booze" could have wound up as the album's title track. It is a thrasher alluding to better days for Ninja Turtles fans.

"Michael Bay Ruined My Childhood" blasts the producer of the computer animated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot, who also brought us the metal in a garbarge disposal "Transformers" franchise. X-Men, Alien, Predator and KISS all show up on the album. "Pizza Monsters From the Planet Marz" is a standalone creature feature in itself.

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In Rotation: Meat Wave - Delusion Moon

Phil Collins - October 19, 2015

Delusion Moon

On Delusion Moon, Meat Wave's second full-length album and first for SideOneDummy Records, the Chicago band has added depth to their hard party sound. The band glammed it up from the start in years past on songs like "I've Got Ants," "Panopticon" and "Brother." On Delusion Moon they haven't lost the glam, they are just coming in for a different approach. Songs start with a faraway gaze before spinning off into a riptide.

"Witchcraft" is one of the strongest songs in the set. It starts off with drifting guitar licks and a rolling bass line bordering on post-punk. It hinges on the line "I never meant to throw your computer out the window," which first appears about a minute in. Given the tone of the album and the imagery, the words feel more surrealist than literal. When the line is repeated around the 2:30 mark, the subsequent lines lead into a big guitar riff that takes over the remainder of the song. It is a surprising, satisfying turn in the song's arc. This would be a real fun jam to see live.

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In Rotation: Night Birds - Mutiny at Muscle Beach

Phil Collins - September 30, 2015

Mutiny at Muscle Beach

A lot of the song titles on Mutiny at Muscle Beach sound like they could be episodes of a cartoon show. "Son of Dad," "Left in the Middle" and the title track could engender outsized characters getting themselves into some wacky situations. Which makes Night Birds the out-of-frame but in-universe band ripping a diegetic soundtrack to our heroes' antics. Not to mention "King Kong" and "Golden Age of TV," which directly reference the screen.

Mutiny at Muscle Beach is a fast, fun ride through the waves. The band keeps the tone tongue-in-cheek throughout the album. "In the Red / In the Black," the title track and "Miskatonic Stomp" are heaviest on the surf front. The latter is an instrumental surf track, which is good news for fans of their all surf instrumental EP Monster Surf. This is the fourth full-length record from New Jersey's Night Birds and first full album on Fat Wreck Chords.

If you are into high enery music that does not take itself too seriously, this album is for you. Mutiny at Muscle Beach comes out on Friday. Stream the full album over at Impose. Catch Night Birds at Double Door this Friday with Dillinger Four and The Brokedowns. Watch the video for "Mutiny at Muscle Beach" after the jump.

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In Rotation: Still Alive - Choices

Phil Collins - September 25, 2015

Choices

Still Alive seamlessly blend ska and hardcore at a breakneck pace. Fans of The Suicide Machines should be all over this. Choices, released last month, leans more heavily toward the hardcore side although there is still time for skanking. This is the Chicago four-piece's second full-length album and first release on Jump Start Records. Still Alive includes members from Waste Basket, Young Til We Die and Trike, so their output has been solid from day one.

Metal guitar licks come through on "The Televangelist," an early ripper on the album. "The Park" also opens with some circular guitar work that calls metal to mind before giving way to a ska section and one of the catchiest choruses on this record. "Along the Way" offers melodic verses over punishing rhythms. "Actors & Puppets" is the most ska'd up song on the album and serves as one of the best examples of the band flipping the switch back and forth between ska and hardcore.

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In Rotation: Butchered - Butchered

Phil Collins - September 9, 2015

Butchered

The four songs that comprise Butchered's new self-titled EP won't take much of your time to listen to and if you are into punk and ska, this is how you should spend your time. Opening track "Doesn't Matter Anymore" has summer firestarter written all over it. "Cut Me Off" might be the strongest song here. It will get you skanking and it has the pop punk vocal hooks to plant the tune in your head.

These are songs to crank up and enjoy, but perhaps more than that these are songs to catch live. Butchered, from Chicago, puts on the energetic performance that ska/pop punk songs like this need. If you have not seen them yet, you can get a taste of it by listening to the set of live songs they released a few months ago on their bandcamp page. Those recordings come from their session on the Friskie Morris & Friends podcast.

By the time Butchered wraps up, I'm left wanting more, which has led me to several repeat listens. Vocalist Nick Cvijovic says "I'm the Chicago Cubs of doing well" on "Cut Me Off," but hey, those Cubs just might make the playoffs this year. Stream Butchered here or head to their bandcamp page for a pay-what-you-want download.

In Rotation: The Grow Ops - The Grow Ops

Phil Collins - August 31, 2015

The Grow Ops

Imagine turning a corner onto a block party where the 90's never died. The Grow Ops' eponymous album, released at the beginning of August, sounds like it was recently discovered in a time capsule. Buried for 20 years and unearthed and guess what? Nineties pop punk can still be the life of the party. Crank this up and let the nostalgia flow as you listen to new music that sounds very familiar.

When a band induces a strong wave of recognition like this, they clearly know what they are going for and they are hitting that note with precision. The 12 songs that comprise The Grow Ops were recorded over the last five years. The band had help on the technical end from people who have been around the block before. Mass Giorgini, who worked with Screeching Weasel, The Queers, Smoking Popes, Groovie Ghoulies, The Lillingtons and many more during the 90s, mastered The Grow Ops. The Screeching Weasel comparisons abound here (even the logo on The Grow Ops' bandcamp page resembles the Screeching Weasel logo).

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In Rotation: Bombflower - Organic Mood Elevators

Phil Collins - June 17, 2015

Organic Mood Elevators

Oftentimes after listening to Organic Mood Elevators, the debut full-length from Waukegan's Bombflower, I get Sublime's guitar riffs woven into the Bombflower shrapnel popping into my head. They both inhabit a hazy stoner ska range. Although only one of Organic Mood Elevators' songs is lyrically about smoking, the sentiment pervades the album. Bombflower is at their strongest in the deliberate mid-tempo jams like "Your Death." The song leans heavily on melody and the intertwining vocals of Tic James and Liza Lionheart. "Die In Your Sleep" is another melodic, mid-tempo highlight.

The band does kick it into a quicker gear on album opener "Bloodsuck" and "Structure On Fire." Those songs explore the punk end of the spectrum with driving guitar and shouted vocals. All in all, album closer "Jihad Broadcast" might be the first song to really get stuck in your head. Bombflower released this first album and started playing their first shows in June, but you may recognize guitarist and vocalist Tic James from The Atrocities, who have been on the scene since 2005.

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In Rotation: Bottle Kids - Be Cool

Phil Collins - May 18, 2015

Bottle Kids

The last song on the new Bottle Kids EP, "Worst Case Ontario," seems destined to be one of my songs of the summer. That catchy pop punk bass riff is sticking in my head after just a couple listens. As the cover of Be Cool implies, this is not epic music. This is chill-in-your-backyard-drinking-beers-with-your-friends music. That is a universal summertime sentiment. There must in turn be something universal about the name Bottle Kids. There are at least five bands sharing that name. One from Montreal, one from Cleveland, one from upstate New York, one from Atlanta and our good ol boys from Chicago.

Be Cool squeezes a few pop culture references into its four songs. "Worst Case Ontario" is a reference to Trailer Park Boys. The opening track, "Serenity Now," is a reference to the great Seinfeld. Most fun of all is a lengthy, instantly recognizable soundclip from Billy Madison.

Bottle Kids play at Liar's Club on Tuesday night with Butchered, Crab Legs and Welfare Beer League. Stream Be Cool after the jump or head to their bandcamp page for more.

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In Rotation: Seasonal Men's Wear - 9xTOx5xCORE

Phil Collins - April 12, 2015

9 to 5 Core

Sometimes, more and more often in fact as the years go on, I'm heading out to shows directly from work. I'll send e-mails, search records, download documents, answer the phone, update web pages, eat a sandwich, print out forms, smile politely, set up displays, evangelize the F5 key, send more e-mails and get in the car. I then shoot down the road to a bar, a basement, a garage or a park to hear the band of the moment. It gives me some satisfaction to sweat through the same clothes I just did research in mere hours beforehand.

I think this qualifies as 9xTOx5xCORE.

Seasonal Men's Wear had a self-titled EP out last year, but 9xTOx5xCORE is like a self-titled release in spirit. If you can imagine, the band's spirit animal would surely be Sasquatch wearing a striped tie and glasses. That makes 9xTOx5xCORE a spirit-titled EP. "Higher Learning, Stomach Churning" chronicles the innate fear of hard work being rendered pointless. "Conversations in The Kitchen" opens the EP with a quintessential Seasonal Men's Wear guitar lead. The EP closes with a re-recording of the long-running SMW theme song, "Theme Song For a Quarter-Life Crisis." The song, lyrically, is a natural fit for this release. It also benefits from the re-recording as the sound quality on this EP is the sharpest in the band's catalog to date.

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In Rotation: Crystal Gravy - Night Dinner E.P.

Phil Collins - April 6, 2015

Night Dinner

The four songs on Crystal Gravy's debut EP, Night Dinner, above anything else display the band's ability to conjure a moment. The lyrics and vocal harmonies between Dave Green and Nikki Rice are often visually evocative of a particular scene. When they belt out the line "Barrelin' down the highway" on "License to Drive Me Crazy," I can feel the wind blowing through the open windows and I can see the sun setting ahead on a desert road. That is "anthemic duetism" at its finest (the band's facebook page lists anthemic duetism as its genre.)

Opener "One Round" slides down like a whiskey on the rocks after a long day. If you didn't catch this from the name, Crystal Gravy has a sense of humor, too. This is most evident on "Bang It Out," which is literally about banging out the details of a relationship.

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In Rotation: On Your Marx - Shock Up the System

Phil Collins - March 16, 2015

Shock Up the System

Chicago's On Your Marx release their second full-length album of ska/reggae jams this week. Shock Up the System embraces the reggae side of the genre, veering closer to first wave ska than third. The band's lineup features a full horn section (two saxophones, trombone and trumpet) and keyboard - a setup poised for the old school sunny island vibe.

Opening track "Snapshot," "Bus Stop Bandits" and "Know Better" stand out as prime examples of the band's tight grasp on smooth reggae. There are plenty of chances for upbeat skanking as well, especially on "Lightning" and the mostly instrumental "Stop That Wookie." Vocals from lead singer Lailah Reich and Kathleen Irion shine through on "Voila" and the aforementioned "Bus Stop Bandits," which may be my favorite track on the album.

This is the first release from On Your Marx in nearly five years - their debut album Resound came out in late 2010. My first exposure to this band came when someone gave me a hand-spraypainted demo after a show, which must have been longer than five years ago now. I still think they have one of the best band names out there. Stream Shock Up the System after the jump, or pick up a copy at their record release show with The Slackers and LVDP Soundsytem at Reggies Rock Club this Saturday.

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In Rotation: Beat The Smart Kids - Call In Sick

Phil Collins - March 11, 2015

Call In Sick

The debut EP from locals Beat The Smart Kids nicely soundtracks the warmer weather finally rolling into the area. Call in Sick was released right at the end of February, just as Chicago began kicking winter's ass out the door. Ska is happy, summer music and this is straight-ahead bouncy sunny day ska. The band is made up of members of Waste Basket, Still Alive, The Damn Tracks and Indecisives, so they know the genre.

The songs on Call In Sick share a lyrical thematic thread: not knowing something. The first person narrator in the first and third songs lacks certainty. In "Off The Grid," he does not understand why people stay constantly connected to their devices, writing status updates and sending friend requests to strangers. In "Me Vs. Uncertainty," the narrator repeatedly declares "I Don't Know!" For the second song, "Rudie," the lyrics flip to second person and the narrator is very sure that not everyone dressing up as rude boys are actually rude boys and thus they do not know themselves.

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In Rotation: The Kreutzer Sonata - Austere

Phil Collins - February 24, 2015

Austere

I consider myself a proponent of the album. The album both as a tangible, physical package and as a cohesive piece of music. The larger cultural shift toward buying songs individually makes me uncomfortable. The listener is missing something if he is only ingesting one or two songs that are part of a whole. They don't say it explicitly but I think there is enough in The Kreutzer Sonata's new album, Austere, to suggest that the band feels the same way.

The album, the first full-length from the Chicago hardcore trio The Kreutzer Sonata, demands to be listened to from front to back. Songs roll right into each other at a breakneck pace. The tracks on Austere flow like movements of one work. On the album's penultimate song, "Cringeworthy," the line "I hate my fucking generation" comes up again and again, repeated with force. I think this discussion of the proper way to listen to music falls into the realm of what the band is getting at with the line "So take your fist off your phone and raise it for a fight on society."

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In Rotation: 30 Second Theater - Horrible Things

Phil Collins - January 26, 2015

Horrible Things

Suburban Chicago family band 30 Second Theater releases their debut full-length album, Horrible Things, on January 28. The pop-punk four-piece most frequently calls to mind bands like The Offspring, with driving guitar riffs and melodic choruses. After a handfull of listens, I am having the most fun imagining Glenn Danzig singing "Graveyards." That's not to say that vocalist and guitarist Robert Rzepka is affecting a Danzig-ian timbre on the track. It is simply a horror punk song that is closer to The Misfits than anything else on this album and I can easily imagine the lyrics rolling out of the throat of the dark one himself.

Robert Rzepka is joined in the band by his brothers Peter and Mark Rzepka and their cousin Daniel Budzioch. Together, they have released two demo EPs and a single. Now they have a full album on the board. Highlights include "Distiller," which is strongest in its full-throttle final 90 seconds or so; "Angels," which joins "Graveyards" as a thematic and sonic departure from the rest of the album; and "What You Do," which you can listen to after the jump.

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In Rotation: Meat Wave - Brother

Phil Collins - January 25, 2015

Brother

Chicago's resident arbiters of gleeful power-punk slid us another slab of the good stuff with last week's release of Brother. Meat Wave are at their best when fully slathered in glam. "Sham King" and EP closer "I've Got Ants" sparkle prominently on the seven song release. The band has been around for a few years. They are continuing to pick up steam as they play a lot of shows around town. Meat Wave is now on a string of not-so-local shows across the pond in the United Kingdom.

Brother is getting a limited physical release on red 12-inch vinyl. Meat Wave has the digital release up for purchase on their bandcamp. Stream the full EP after the jump. Meat Wave is part of a couple stacked local lineups coming up soon. They play the Empty Bottle on February 18 with Mr. Ma'am and Nervous Passenger. They open for The Brokedowns, who also put out new music recently, on March 1 at Beat Kitchen. Canadian Rifle and Foul Tip also play that show.

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In Rotation: Haki's Big New EP

Phil Collins - January 20, 2015

Haki's Big New EP

Listening to Haki's music, all released during the last couple years, feels like a trip down the rabbit hole. Experimental musings pervade the terrain. I'm not always sure where Haki is headed next, but I'm strapped in for the ride. On Haki's Big New EP, released earlier this month, the ride detours through a few punk subgenres. "Shoot," the EP's first song following the intro, starts things off firmly in post-punk territory. By the time the raucous closer "Fishtank" rolls around, we are in no-frills hardcore land. In the interim falls the goofball jam "Spliff." No two songs sound the same. Haki's Big New EP reads more as a short story anthology than a traditional tome.

Haki, a Chicago four-piece, released their first full-length album last April. They had two EPs out in 2013. For the (big) new EP, the band recorded with Nate Amos of the local DIY venue Grandpa Bay. This band is coming up in the local scene and is likely to continue to attract a growing following. Their next show is January 31 at the Fulton Street Collective. In addition to music, there will be an interactive multimedia showcase. OBY, The Malskys, Crude Humor and Zoe Wilkerson also perform. Stream Haki's Big New EP after the jump or visit them on bandcamp for a pay-what-you-want download.

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In Rotation: This Obsession - Cheers To Regret

Phil Collins - November 25, 2014

Cheers To Regret

This Obsession's first full-length album, Cheers To Regret will sound like familiar territory for fans of Alkaline Trio and The Lawrence Arms. The Chicago three-piece embraces the sound of the pop punk Godfathers of their hometown scene. Perhaps there is no doubt that this is the niche of the punk sphere the band is aiming for because This Obsession is hitting that chord so well.

Their most recent EP, Songs To Sing To While Driving Drunk, made it clear they have the bite to kick through pithy pop punk jams. Cheers To Regret treads similar ground and keeps the quality level high through the longer format. There are some surprising moments in the album, for instance, the ska section that closes "These Vultures." The chorus of "Help! I Need Alcohol" was the first thing to get stuck in my head off this album, which was surprising to me because the song starts off like a joke live song about a singer more interested in someone buying him a beer than in playing the rest of the song. The catchy chorus is indicative of what grabs me about this band - it's fun, it's not too serious yet it's well put together. Chad I Ginsburg of CKY mastered the album.

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In Rotation: Speaker For The Dead - The Ballad of the Undercrust

Phil Collins - November 11, 2014

The Ballad of the Undercrust

Speaker For The Dead's debut full-length, The Ballad of the Undercrust, is a testament to the power of DIY recording and distribution. According to the band's bandcamp and tumblr pages, Speaker For The Dead is an "almost collective." What does that mean? It means their lineup is as fluid as a river and their default location of Worcester, Massachusetts acts as more of a base of operations than a hometown. The group has members all across the country, so their lineup constantly grows and shrinks as they tour.

This loose, amorphous arrangment suits their style of music well. Speaker For The Dead play a brass-based large-scale folk-punk that at times resembles Neutral Milk Hotel. The big band instrumentation on the recordings makes it easy to see how the band could expand outward exponentially on a tour, adding percussion here and horns there. It is no small wonder that a band of this gelatinous demeanor got into the studio to record a full album.

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In Rotation: UGLYBoNES/Step Right Up split

Phil Collins - September 9, 2014

UGLYBoNES/Step Right Up split

Chicago hardcore bands UGLYBoNES and Step Right Up released their split yesterday on bandcamp. This is uninterrupted, uninhibited hardcore. Three songs each. Less than 10 minutes total running time. Several stabs in the face and get outs. An unexpected rager of a guitar solo on "No One Talks" wraps up the UGLYBoNES half of the split. That is followed quickly by Step Right Up's circle pit ready "Nine To Five." Those two songs back to back are the breadwinners.

UGLYBoNES and Step Right Up play a split release show on September 27 at Fallout in Chicago. Flagass, Dead Split Egos, The Pervert Preachers, Alley Slob and Davey Dynamite round out the bill. The new songs will make energetic additions to both bands' sets. This is the second release of the year for both bands. UGLYBoNES put out "Wrong Goods" in January, while Step Right Up released "Brass Knuckle Lullabies" in April. Stream the full split below:

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In Rotation: Ritual Control: No Affinity 7-inch

Phil Collins - August 19, 2014

No Affinity

This is a promising early release from the Bay Area hardcore group Ritual Control. Four quick, engaging tunes comprise "No Affinity," the first vinyl release from the band. Ritual Control is female fronted hardcore at its best: these are unrelenting, memorable songs that you can't help but envision being screeched out in a basement somewhere.

Chicago based Residue Records put this 7-inch out in January. They pressed 100 copies on dark yellow vinyl, 100 copies on lime green vinyl and 400 on standard black vinyl. I stumbled upon this recently at Reckless Records and picked it up on a whim. It was described as female-fronted hardcore, which immediately sounded appealing to me. I had heard about the label's two night showcase at Township that weekend, so I was ready to hear more of the Residue's music.

Ritual Control did not play that showcase and it does not appear that they play many shows. They are a fairly new band and while I can find their bandcamp page, I cannot find many other official traces of them online. They put out their first demo in 2013, followed by "No Affinity" in January. "Inoculation," their upcoming EP, comes out in November. Hopefully a tour follows, because I want to see this band thrash through a 20-30 minute set in a basement somewhere. Or a bar. A bar would be fine. Download "No Affinity" at Ritual Control's bandcamp page, or stream it in full below.

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In Rotation: "Richardson" Richardson: Shit Lord

Phil Collins - August 9, 2014

Shit Lord

The new "Richardson" Richardson EP is hardly more than five minutes in length, but that is all the time it needs to leave an impression. Fans of the band will immediately notice something different about this set of songs. The band recorded these three tracks with a live drummer. This is a big deal for a band known for having three bassists and no drummers. So, what do DeKalb's denizens of doom sound like with live, rather than programmed, percussion?

They sound like they are at the top of their game. "Shit Lord" is comprised of three quick hardcore songs that must barely outlast the snapchat used as the album cover. Its brevity ultimately leaves me wanting more, which is exactly what hardcore should do and is exactly what the EP format should do. The title track is the strongest of the three, judging from early exposure. The concluding chant "I'm the shit lord, I'm the shit lord, I'm the shit lord" is likely to become a live favorite. The EP is available on "Richardson" Richardson's bandcamp page (pay what you want for the download.) Stream the full EP below.

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In Rotation: Last False Hope: "Dig Nails Deep"

Phil Collins - November 7, 2013

Dig Nails Deep

Last False Hope's debut full-length album has to be one of the most hotly anticipated releases in Chicago punk this year. The crusty folk punks have been on the scene since 2010 but the band's members have been in the music world for much longer. Together as Last False Hope, they have blazed a quick path to high profile shows and collaborations with esteemed colleagues in the punk world. Scott "Stza" Sturgeon (Choking Victim/Leftover Crack/Star Fucking Hipsters) performed on "Drag Me to Hell," a standout track on Last False Hope's first EP, "The Shape of Bluegrass to Come." Now, on their debut full-length, "Dig Nails Deep," Jorge Herrera (The Casualties) performs on "Tear It Out" and Shooter Jennings performs on "My Marybeth" and "Methlehem" (in addition to producing the album). I saw Last False Hope in their early days opening for Star Fucking Hipsters at Reggies. In September, they played a set at Riot Fest in Humboldt Park.

Their sound has been immediate and energizing since their formation. The 10 songs on "Dig Nails Deep" build on that sense of urgency. The band continues to explore the deep possibilities afforded to them by a lineup of talented musicians handling an arsenal of instruments that gets them tossed into several genres. The group consists of Jahshie P on vocals and mandolin, Shawn Connors on guitar and vocals, Dave Wiegers on guitar and vocals, Colleen Mary on violin, Ian Watson on stand up bass, Stevie Lee on drums and Brendan Franklin on the lap steel guitar. This set of songs exhibits an expanding texture of the auditory fabric. "Goddamn You," "Methlehem" and "Guilty, Until Proven Innocent" all progress into fierce breakdowns. This is an album full of tunes that will get the kids in the crowd slamming in the pit. It is a thrill to hear Jorge Herrera of The Casualties trade vocals with Jahshie P on "Tear It Out." It would be great to see an on stage collaboration when these bands play a show together later this month at Reggies.

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