Most ’90s radio rock was just really loud and distorted pop songs. Somebody probably would have noticed eventually that Boston’s “More than a Feeling” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” were pretty similar, but Nirvana self-disclosed this by at least once singing Boston’s words and melody over their song.
And while some a lot of ’90s bands took rock way too seriously, some simply wrote great songs; the ones that figured out rock was pretty much loud pop were among the best at this (Blur, Oasis, Nirvana, sometimes Bush) and the absolute worst (Candlebox, Creed, sometimes Bush). Live, on the other hand, took rock very seriously, and they made awesome music too. This isn’t an exclusivity clause.
Still, really loud pop songs make Junebug Spade‘s Extra Virgin Olive Oil my favorite straight-up rock’n’roll release of the year. It takes a lot to get me psyched about ’90s-inspired rock, but a good starting point is a killer melody, and JS has those in spades. Both the guitars and the vocals layer on the catchy, and the results are dynamite. When both of those elements come together on “Slow Your Roll,” it’s clear that Junebug Spade understands this: guys wanna rock, girls wanna shimmy, and everyone wants to sing along, either at the show or in their car. They provide the goods for all of that. This band makes everyone happy. That, my friends, is admirable.
The basic elements of this band are nothing new: a songwriter/guitarist/vocalist, guitarist, bassist and drummer. Bassist Kyle Mayfield is high in the mix, which is a standard ’90s move that provides a nice counterpoint to the melodies. The drummer wails away. The guitars go after it in the aforementioned awesome way. Vocalist Peter Seay caps off the sound with a slacker-tastic vocal delivery that makes it sound like he’s totally not even working that hard to deliver these songs. It’s not the sterilized/rote vocal performances that sometimes took over radio rock; there’s a non-southern drawl to his vocal, and it fits perfectly over the tunes.
All five tunes are money, but “Public Display of Affection” takes a perky, Strokes-ian riff and totally morphs it with a mega chorus. “Slow Your Roll” employs an awesome tempo change and a wicked slide guitar riff (!) to close out the EP. “Aborigine” has Blur all over the guitar line, and I love it, because Seay’s voice is nothing like Albarn’s, so it sounds like an homage and not a rip-off.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is entertaining all the way through. For a guy who doesn’t cover hardly any straight-up rock anymore, this is a pretty dramatic statement. Fans of rock shouldn’t sleep on Junebug Spade.
If you’re going to rock me these days, you have to have an intriguing guitar tone, an engaging vocalist, hummable melodies and energy to spare. Brits Subset have all of these requirements, and as a result you’re hearing about their Mahogany EP right now. The four-piece sounds like “Song 2”-style Blur as filtered through early ’00s Strokes, which means that they pump out the guitar-heavy pop songs with cool factor intact.
“Desire” is the best example of their mash-up, as the vocals strike the right balance between unhinged and sly, while the gleefully fuzzed-out guitars throw down chord riffs and single-note melodies. Similarly, opener “Lucid Dreamers” has track-meet-tempo verses that recall Jimmy Eat World’s huge guitars vs. low-key vocals tension in the best way possible. The overly dark “We Are Subset” is ironically the least like what Subset sounds like on the EP and “Wyoming” sounds far too much like Blur for comfort, but by the time they wrap it up with the dance beat of “Give or Take,” the four Brits have won my affection. If you’re into Young the Giant or early ’00s rock, you’ll be all over Subset.
Sometimes split releases pair incongruous bands, but Mad Anthony and The Yellow Belts complement each other perfectly. Each band contributes a song to a 7″ of rowdy rock’n’roll. The Yellow Belts’ hard-charging “War on Science” combines the four-on-the-floor urgency of Clutch with elements of the early ’00s rock revival, while Mad Anthony’s “Bear Attack” more directly draws from the Strokes/Hives/Vines rock sounds in songwriting style, guitar sound and overall mood. Both songs are pulled off with ferocity and fervor, making it a completely enjoyable 6:54. If you’re into rock, you’ll be into this.
Pop-rockers The Gromble are releasing a full-length later this year, but their self-titled EP is starting to work its way into my consciousness. If I had to put the The Gromble on a musical map, they’d be somewhere between Jack’s Mannequin on the high side and OK Go on the low side in terms of saccharine pop qualities. (I’m a big fan of both bands, so take that as a compliment.) Guitar-heavy tunes like “Cold Wolves” and “Toto” evoke the treadmill-running merrymakers, while the lazy “NYC Frog” has a melodic core reminiscent of Andrew McMahon’s work. If you’re into pop-rock, The Gromble needs to be on your radar. I’m looking forward to the full-length album immensely.
Books About UFOs’ Bite Your Tongue is a straightforward, four-on-the-floor garage-rock album. Their brand of rock has more in common with the Hives than the Strokes, as they power their songs with an attitude instead of pop-ready hooks. That’s not to say they don’t have melodies, but opening track “Stop, Look & Listen” wishes death to “arrogant hipsters,” whether “together or alone.” They make it pretty clear what you’re about to get.
The band cranks it out with bass, guitar, drums and attitude-filled howl for the entirety of the album. The bass work of “The Sharks Have Entered the Lagoon” makes it stand out, and the guitar line in “When You Whisper” sets it out of the group as well. Garage rock is not my favorite style, but this is a solid effort.
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.