Rarely have I ever heard a debut LP as strong and unrelenting as the self-titled LP from Austin, Texas’ exhalants. The band is a throwback to the post-hardcore nineties, with aggressive angular riffs and powerful hard-hitting songs. They’re in the vein of greats like Unsane, The Jesus Lizard, Quicksand, Refused, Hot Snakes, and Circus Lupus. Add in some extreme heaviness like The Melvins. Then include some quieter reflective parts, like Slint or Rodan.

It’s so difficult with this band to boil things down to just one song, so I’m calling attention to the first four tracks, some of the most amazing music I’ve listened to in a while. Right from the start, exhalants hit hard and don’t let up and ‘Latex,’ ‘Cauterized,’ and ‘Ego Death’, pound you into submission! ‘Public Display of Failure’ quiets things down with some gorgeous guitar harmonics, yet the intensity still doesn’t let up. Then let the rest of the album play out, as the exhalants melt your brain.

Photo by Gerard Cosloy

After a three year wait, Toronto’s The Penske File are back with a new LP, ‘Salvation.’ Right from the start the album hits hard with the jangly anthem to living in the moment, ‘Kamikaze Kids.’ “So let’s live while we can / And we’ll die when we do,” declares the chorus. The track is a departure from The Penske File’s usual style and is probably the poppiest song they’ve ever written. It’s loaded with great hooks and tons of positive energy.  ‘Kamikaze Kids’ also reminds us that happiness doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. “So let me dance like the fly, around the porch light / The 40-watt thrill, it is ours tonight.” Happiness is something that we create from within. This track is the perfect way to open this killer album, and is sure to end up as one of my favourite songs of the year.

Los Angeles’ Spanish Love Songs have just released their sophomore full-length LP, ‘Schmaltz.’ They’ve retooled a bit since their first LP, adding a keyboard player, maturing their sound, and growing as musicians and songwriters. From pop punk, they’ve changed to more of an indie sound, yet the music is still rousing, with a deeply emotional feel. Nowhere is this clearer than in the song “Joana, In Five Acts.” The keys are more prominent than in most songs, the guitar lines in the opening bars reminding me of The New Pornographers, of all bands, and the bridge is gorgeous. That leads into the close of the song, which explodes into a massive dream pop feel, guitars soaring like mad.

The lyrics speak to a deep crippling sense of loss. Profound depression turns into paralysis, and the aching cry of “why’d you leave without me” over and over. The feeling that one would sacrifice themselves to “be with” this other person is devastating. The music moves between happy and bouncy and profound sadness, mimicking a person who tries to put up a brave front, but inside is gutted. The album, as a whole, is a massive step up for Spanish Love Songs, though it was hard to top their debut. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

It can be painful, looking back at one’s youth and seeing one’s ideals lost in the struggle with reality. But it can also be fodder for excellent music, and Boston’s Choke Up have succeeded in dramatic fashion. Their latest full-length release, ‘Stormy Blue,’ is a concept album, retrospectively telling the tale of a young couple who steal a car and run away to build a better life together. The story takes some rough turns, as you might expect.

‘Borderland’ appears early in the saga, as our pair make their escape from all they hate. They imagine the life they plan to have, but they seem to know things won’t be as wonderful as they hope. The music is appropriately upbeat with gorgeous melodic lines and glorious sing-along parts, as the song lays out all the hopes and dreams of the kids at the outset of their journey. The brightness of the music matches the brightness the future seems to hold, before reality sets in.

The album shows a remarkable growth in Choke Up’s maturity, moving away from their previous focus on melodic post-hardcore and toward a subtler indie sound. ‘Borderland’ is a strong example of that maturity.

One of the greatest things about the Internet is how it’s turned the collection of local music scenes into a great big global scene. Sitting here in San Diego I’m now able to hear bands from all across the world and without that it’s likely that I would’ve never heard Grand-Pop’s debut LP, ‘Eight Nights.’ The Bristol band, for me, hits all the right notes, blending together various touches from other favourite bands to create something epic.

The songs are melodic, powerful, and uplifting in a way that reminds me of Olympia, Washington’s RVIVR. Warren Mallia’s vocals dive and soar, bending notes in a way reminiscent of The Dirty Nil’s Luke Bentham, and there’s the feel of a strong work ethic and positivity in the face of adversity, similar to that of Seattle’s Success. The mixing of these qualities has created an album that’s sure to make my Best of 2017 list. Probably my favourite track amongst an album full of great songs is ‘Nova Scotia.’ The vocal gymnastics are incredible, as is the melody of the song.

I hope to have the opportunity someday to see this band live, but until that day, thanks be to the Internet!

Deforesters describe themselves as “honest to goodness no bullshit punk rock,” and they have a point. They remind me very strongly of Seattle’s Success, in that regard. This is feel-good sing-along punk rock of the sort that compels one to put your arm around the person next to you, hold your beer high in the air, and sing at the top of your lungs. The songs immediately bored their way into my brain, so that upon the second listen-through they were already like old friends, so familiar and comfortable. And, in a time when many bands put out twenty minutes worth of music and call it a full-length LP, it makes me very happy that there are fully twelve songs (thirteen if you count the ‘Obligatory Cutesy Intro” – it’s really called that!) in thirty-six minutes.

I’ll bet that after you listen to this, you’re going to sing along until you lose your voice.

In 1991 at an all-ages punk show in suburban Chicago, the opening band blew everyone away with their great blend of pop punk and power pop. They were The Smoking Popes, and I was moved to put out their first record, the ‘Inoculator’ EP. They became one of the more influential bands of the genre, and noted in particular for the crooning vocals of front man Josh Caterer. It was a sound that I didn’t think anyone would ever come close to replicating.

So when I received Odd Robot’s debut LP, ‘A Late Night Panic,’ with a note that said they sounded similar to The Smoking Popes, my first thought was, “Yeah, right.” Skeptically, I played the tracks and was amazed by one of the strongest and most exciting debuts I’ve ever heard. Indeed, they have a sound similar to the Popes and to The Alkaline Trio, particularly akin to their earlier records.

After listening to the album a few dozen times and seeing the band perform live I asked Burris what his plans for the band are. “We’ll have to see,” was the only reply, as I implored him to do something with it. This is band that has to be heard far and wide. Take a listen and see if you don’t agree with me.

Best known from his work with The Scandals, Jared Hart continues that band’s penchant for the heartfelt side of “punk” music on his solo debut LP, ‘Past Lives & Pass Lines’, though in a more intimate way. Raw and unassuming, these songs pull you in. Acoustic and electric guitars blend together with Hart’s gravelly world-worn vocals and harmonized backing voices, and the resulting sound envelopes you with its lushness. The simplicity of these songs is proof that you can do so much with so little.

The Lamplighters prove that there’s more to German music than oompah bands. They’ve grown and evolved quite a lot in their relatively short existence, moving from somewhat sloppy pop-punk on the Ramones side of the spectrum, to something more in the vein of Hot Water Music or Against Me. They’ve switched from singing in German to singing in English, and the vocals are now gruff and powerful. The Lamplighters today can hold their own with any band out there, from America or Europe. So get ready to push forward toward the stage and pump your fists!