From their GIGANTOSAUR Lp, Tiny Bit of Giant’s Blood, with Girl Over Here.
Nick Piunti & The Complicated Men
From Downtime’s promo material; “Sometimes you hear new songs that sound like old songs. Somehow, you’ve heard these songs before – in a good way. They’ve been part of your rock lexicon for eons and you just don’t know how they got there, which radio station you first heard them on, or what year they first emitted from.”
I couldn’t agree more. From the opening chords of “Upper Hand,” I was immediately transported back to my high school years, when I was hearing and discovering hits by Bryan Adams, like “This Time” and “Cuts Like A Knife.” I was bombarded by images of strolling through Lakehurst Mall with my pals, hearing those tunes, and making my way to the music store to find out more about Adams. Picking up his Lp, way back when, I saw that he played a Rickenbacker, like my heroes, The Beatles, did. That Lp went home with me and made me a B.A. fan for life.
I hope I’m not offending Piunti and his mates with the comparison, because in my humble opinion, Adams has always been one of rock’s best songwriters, in fact, for decades now.
Downtime’s overall sound is one of warmth and simplicity of production, which serves the songs well. In a perfect world, “Every High”, “All Over Again,” hell, pretty much every song on this disc, would be riding the Billboard Charts. My fave of the set, however, is the quirky “Never Belonged To Me,” which has played repeatedly in my head since first listen.
The Complicated Men; Jeff Hupp (bass), Ron Vensko (drums), and Kevin Darnall (keys), aren’t in actuality, very complicated at all. They play exactly what each song needs, without getting in the way of Piunti’s gravelly lead vocals. Power pop fans and rock fans alike, are going to devour this like an aged, medium-rare porterhouse. I expect it will be on many year-end best lists, as it will be on mine.
The First Rule
Welcome To Sucksville
The First Rule’s “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?” Was definitely one of the highlights of 2017 for me. Wound tighter than a Swiss watch, this punk outfit crammed nineteen tunes onto that disc, impressing me with punk songs that stuck in my cranium like pop songs. Adding to their first-rate writing skills is the fact that they’re a local band, which really put me in their corner.
The band has upped their game since then, as the production, playing and songwriting are notably tighter and more distilled here. Guitarist Chelsey Corrin left the band last year, but still contributed to a lot of these tracks. Singer Nicholas O’Malley is present and in fine voice, though, sneering his way through the opening one-two punch of “War Machine” and “Little Miss Narcissist.”
“Better Things” starts out as an acoustic declaration before vaulting into a grinder for the fed-up among us. This one really gets to the point in a hurry, which is what these guys (and girl) are good at. My fave of the set, however, is the hyper-yet-sentimental “I Knew You When,” an ode to the old friends who we looked out for in the old days, who have finally seen fit to get themselves together. A top-shelf effort.
Katie Says b/w Go For A Ride
Big Stir Records continues their digital singles series, with Trip Wire’s “Katie Says” b/w “Go For A Ride.” The San Francisco quartet blasts out two punchy 90’s-styled alternative rock tracks, which sound better with each subsequent listen.
Channeling Bob Mould with the sublimely-bleak “Katie Says,” Trip Wire sounds as if it might’ve been hiding in your college roommate’s record collection all along. Likewise, “Go For A Ride” is built with a wall of guitars gritty enough to make Matthew Sweet tear up. Two ace tunes for a buck? Killer deal.
This week, I’m taking another look at reviews I wrote of various Adam Schlesinger projects, when my Quick Spins column ran in The Kenosha News. Adam’s recent passing due to the pandemic has really impacted me, so I’d really like to be a part of people discovering what made him such a special guy.
Tinted Windows (S-curve)
Wow, did this album take me back. Tinted Windows‘ debut is a power pop feast that harkens back to the late seventies and early eighties. It’s no surprise then, to learn just who makes up this stellar group.
Tinted Windows are; Bun E. Carlos of Cheap Trick (drums), Adam Schlesinger of Fountains Of Wayne (bass), James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins (guitar)and Taylor Hanson of Hanson (lead vocals). Quite a line-up, to be sure.
“Kind Of A Girl” starts things off as one of the greatest singles I’ve heard in several years. With muscular guitars and drums propelling the ageless vocals of Taylor Hanson, it’s hard not to be suckered in.
You’ll find that most of these eleven tracks will blow by in what seems like seconds. They are catchy as all get out, especially the Latin-flavored “Cha Cha.” This is gonna sound great in the car this summer. Buy this. Now.
Tiny Bit Of Giant’s Blood
Boy, was I excited to finally get my mitts on Gigantosaur. The band Tiny Bit Of Giant’s Blood is made up of musicians that I already admire, so loving this was almost a forgone conclusion.
Lead vocalist Tony Rogers fronted Chicago band The Good for years, a group that produced one of my all-time favorite records of the 90’s, Milky White. Also hailing from The Good, guitarist John Scholvin, whose savvy playing so impressed me that I nicked him for my own band, The Bradburys. On bass is Jackie Schimmel, a rock-steady musician who was also in my favorite lineup of Brad Elvis’s Big Hello. Drummer Larry Beers is new to me, but you don’t get into an outfit like this by being a slacker. ‘Nuff said.
Gigantosaur is an apt description of this assembly, as meaty, muscular guitar is the order of the day. This is impossibly-catchy rock that weighs in far too heavy to ever be described as pop. Girl Over Here features a riff that’s pure Jimmy Page, with a middle section that fiercely gallops like a team of black Nazgûl stallions.
Other standouts include the pithy All Hail The Opening Band, an ode to a status that is both coveted and reviled, and a bravado-inspired cover of AC/DC’s If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It). While I mention these few particular favorites, the entire disc brings the rock in a way that is equal parts bombast, joy and purpose. I humbly throw Tiny Bit Of Giant’s Blood the horns.
Bulletproof (Kool Kat)
The Lolas have existed in one form or another, since 1998. Head Lola, Tim Boykin, has been the one constant since then, providing lead vocals and guitar. Lolas’ records have always been tight, no-nonsense affairs, and Bulletproof is no exception. Most of these tracks clock in at around the three-minute mark.
Boykin’s voice cuts through the mix like a young John Lennon, although the songs have many influences. Destroy comes on like Ray Davies at his roughest and Oceans Of The Moon combines a Motown beat with a 90’s alt-rock attitude. It’s refrain of “Would you believe, there’s an ocean on the moon?” is catchy as can be.
My fave of the set is the driving She Will Shake The World. With a relentless drum beat and Ramones-inspired guitar work, it’s a head-bobber of the highest order. Bulletproof is probably the best full-on rock album I’ve heard yet this year, and will no-doubt end up on many year-end-best lists.
The Well Wishers
The Lost Soundtrack (That Was My Skull)
In 2014, Jeff Shelton and his Well Wishers were commissioned to create a musical bed for an independent film. As these things often play out, the film’s soundtrack was created, yet the film itself remains unmade. Leaving these eleven tracks “in the can” would’ve been a travesty. That fate is rectified by this release.
Shelton is one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s premier songwriters, and it’s easy see why an indie film company would tap him to join their team. “Back Door”,”Build A Life” and “Great Day Out” recall the best work of alt-pop singer-songwriters like Matthew Sweet, Evan Dando and Bob Mould. Melancholy melodies and jangly guitars permeate with comforting results, and the visual nature of Shelton’s writing is superb.