Punks On Mars – Bad Expectations

Rating: ★★★★☆

Ryan Howe’s not new to the music world, but his newest endeavor as Punks On Mars is sort of a new creation.  Listening to the entirety of Bad Expectations, you’re rushed through a compilation of Howe’s influences, re-imagined and perfected by his gift for pop sensibility.  Sure, you can say it’s all over the place, musically, but that makes it one hell of a good listen.

After moving beyond “Overture,” the interlude opener of Bad Expectations you get tossed right into “Chandelier,” which opens with a Ramones-tinted guitar chord.  But, Howe comes in with his semi-erratic vocal delivery, and carries on in his own fashion during the chorus, making the song his own, despite obvious nods.  The punk theme is definitely present on this record, though it’s not stamped onto every song.  It appears on tracks like “Hey! Tiffany” and “Poltergeist,” but you get the feeling that these are just a nice allusion to the heritage in Ryan’s record collection.  He even adds his own vision, draping oddball electronic touches in oddball places, leaving a fresh impression on the listener.

For me, the adoration for Punks On Mars comes from the group’s ability to meet in the space left voided by punk rock and glam.  My mind recalls the progressive tunes that Television banged out, or maybe even Generation X (Kiss Me Deadly), where guitar playing was heralded and song structure was tightened.  If you’re looking for a song that meets my references then just take a listen to the short “Victoria’s World,” using a gleaming guitar and pounding rhythm to clear out the punk rock and replace it with generous elements of pop.  However, there’s also lurking places where the early mod stylings of The Jam are apparent.  Well, at least that’s what I thought when I first gave a listen to “Showers of Pain;” it’s music sounds propulsive, almost carrying a military sensation within it, but there’s more anthemic moments that seem to push it beyond the boundaries of limitations.

In the end, Bad Expectations succeeds because it’s got doses of everyone’s favorite bands, but these aren’t stale renditions, rather an artist putting his own stamp on the music he enjoys.  Many of the songs have electronic elements or keys added in to give a new coat to a sound that seems so familiar.  But that’s why I love Punks On Mars.  Like Ryan Howe, I’ve got tons of punk rock and glam rock in my collection, but in between there’s other bits of clever pop and more orchestral genres.  It seems like this entire effort is a blend of all that, with Howe taking the helm, aiming to freshen up the music of your youth that just might have grown a bit tired.   It’s nice to see someone going outside the normal re-hash and creating something I’ll adore for its obviousness, yet still find myself, and my ears, challenged.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Punks_on_Mars_-_Showers_of_Pain.mp3]

Download:Punks On Mars – Showers of Pain [MP3]

Bad Expectations is available now from Zoo Music.

New Discovery: Dot Dash

It’s hot outside, finally. I’m hanging inside getting my Olympics on and trying to discover new tunes. My favorite hit today comes from DC’s band Dot Dash, a band who win in their Wire reference alone, but they’ve also got the hits to back it all up. Honestly, I think this tune from their most recent record, Spark>Flame>Ember>Ash, has a bit more of a Jam/Futureheads feel to it, but they’ve got some other tracks on their Soundcloud that give way to the reference point. It’s all like a mod/punk blend of goodness that really deserves a lot of respect (and love); I miss people making music like this.  Check em out.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/01-The-Color-and-the-Sound.mp3]

Download:Dot Dash – The Color and the Sound [MP3]

Title Tracks – It Was Easy

titletracksRating: ★★★½☆

If you’ve been following the life of John Davis, then chances are you’ve enjoyed a great deal of music.  He made waves with his role as the drummer in Q and Not U, then jumped into the pop world with Georgie James.  Now, he’s playing under the name Title Tracks, which brings in some new sensibilities on It Was Easy.  You’ll find traces of his work in both previous bands on the album, but you’ll also see a new direction coming through.

As it all begins, you get “Every Little Bit Hurts,” which definitely has one foot in Georgie James, yet you can feel the ghost of Ted Leo (or his spirit, since he’s not dead, thank God) making his presence known.  The guitar sounds are similar, and the drumming is spectacular (done by John himself).  Why we know that Ted uses The Jam and Nick Lowe as reference points, you can see John go straight to Ted; just look at the way he tries to hit that falsetto note near the end of the track.

And so he slows it down to a little dub-step number with “No, Girl.”  Here yo see the pop sensibility of Georgie James coming through.  If it weren’t for the reggae-ish guitar, then it might very well be one of the leftover demos from his old group.  This isn’t a knock on the man, as GJ surely had some great elements across Cake Parade.

This is one of the most important notes from It Was Easy.  A lot of these songs wear the mark of Georgie James, and to be honest, a lot of the sonic exploration Q and Not U did with their last album Power.  John clearly isn’t staying in once place, which might be one of the reasons that this album just doesn’t blow you out of the water; you can see his next release being something ridiculously good.

One of the treats for me was listening to “Tougher Than the Rest,” a number which features my favorite Tracyanne Campbell.  Her voice is simply to wonderful to be ignored completely, yet it once again brings about the idea that John hasn’t fully left the ideas behind from the whole Georgie James affair. Still, they lyrics are really heartfelt, and it’s precisely the thing you expect Tracyanne to be singing.

You’ll want to listen to “It Was Easy” and “At Fifteen” as these are two of the songs which really show you that John is trying to step out of the shadow of his past.  “At Fifteen” is one of those sleeper tracks that I can see being one of my favorites.  It’s nothing more than guitar and whispering vocals; it’s just the sort of think I adore.

Closing out It Was Easy is a cover of The Byrds “She Don’t Care About Time,” just one more signal to the abundance of influences for John Davis.  Title Tracks have made a good start, but the one thing lacking is just a bit more cohesiveness all over.  Sure, the record is full of great songs and great influences (I’m looking at you Ted), but you can see a bright future in store for John Davis once he tightens the reins and kicks into gear.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/04-Piles-Of-Paper.mp3]

Download: Title Tracks – Piles Of Paper [MP3]