Featured Releases: March 16, 2023

Whiffs: Scratch ’N’ Sniff 12” (Dig! Records) Scratch ’N’ Sniff is the third album by this Kansas City power-pop band. We’ve loved both of the Whiffs’ previous LPs here at Sorry State, and Scratch ’N’ Sniff keeps the streak alive, giving us more of the same classic-sounding power-pop. That’s not to say Scratch ’N’ Sniff is redundant, any more than it’s redundant to write a pop song in this day and age… it’s an adaptable and extensible framework that any skilled practitioner can make their own, which is what the Whiffs do here. While the songwriting is classic and timeless—full of big guitar hooks, vocal melodies, and lyrics about love and loss—they ground the presentation in 70s classics like the Flamin’ Groovies, Big Star, the dB’s, and the Shoes. The sound is raw and live, like a band playing together in a room (no synthesizers or drum machines here), and the recording has a slight vintage-y haze. It’s a lot like Sorry State’s own the Number Ones, and if you have a place in your heart for this kind of chiming power-pop, you’re going to like it. 

Heaven’s Gate: S/T 12” (Beach Impediment Records) Debut five-song EP from this new hardcore/metal supergroup out of Tampa, Florida. If Beach Impediment’s name wasn’t enough to pique your interest, perhaps the “members of” list will, which includes Warthog, Municipal Waste, Reversal of Man, and Cannibal Corpse. I got wind of Heaven’s Gate’s existence a couple years ago, when I heard these parties had been jamming together. The story I heard at the time was that Infest was the common point of reference that got these folks in a room together, and if you have that influence in mind you can hear it in the drummer’s slightly loose blasting style, the abrupt drops in and out of said blasting, and the sludgy “Into the Sinkhole.” As you might expect from such seasoned musicians, though, it’s not “Infest worship” by any means… there’s a lot more than that happening here. You can hear Mike from Warthog’s heavy and catchy riffing style in the mix, which rules because we are massive Warthog fans here at Sorry State. Hopefully this EP isn’t the last we hear of Heaven’s Gate, because this rips. 

Rough Kids: The Black and White and Gray 12” (Dirt Cult Records) The Black and White and Gray is the third album by Los Angeles’s Rough Kids, whose first two albums we put out on Sorry State. So, you shouldn’t be surprised that I like this. On paper, Rough Kids was an odd fit for Sorry State, a west coast melodic punk band on an east coast label known for putting out hardcore (which is why Dirt Cult is a more appropriate home for them), but I just always thought they were a great fucking band. Their sound is unique, rooted in ’77 UK punk like the Buzzcocks but with a dash of frantic 90s Japanese garage and a knack for writing energetic but sad-sounding songs that might remind you of the Observers. And they can play their asses off, their rhythm section rooted in hardcore and two shredding guitarists who love to trade licks. What’s not to like, right? If you’re already a fan of Rough Kids, my take on The Black and White and Gray is that it reminds me of a lot of UK ’77-era bands’ third albums. I’m thinking of the Buzzcocks’ A Different Kind of Tension, Stiff Little Fingers’ Go For It, and the Boys’ To Hell with the Boys. These are records I love, and while none of them are “departure records” by any means, they have a different sound than the bands’ more famous debuts, replacing the spark that comes from discovering who you are as a band with a veteran’s instincts and an ability to play to the group’s strengths. The Black and White and Gray is more downcast than Rough Kids’ earlier records, with less of that frantic energy and more minor-key melodies and sad lyrics. In other words, the title is spot-on and the color scheme of the beautifully designed cover (another great one from Rough Kids bassist Paul D’Elia) is ironic. So yeah, existing fans, new fans… there’s something for everyone here, so check it out.

Class: But Who’s Reading Me? cassette (Feel It Records) With their third release in barely a year, But Who’s Reading Me? establishes Phoenix’s Class as a prolific band, so it’s a good thing they’ve got a prolific label like Feel It to keep the goods coming. And boy is But Who’s Reading Me? good. It’s so good that it’s a shame it isn’t on vinyl, though I guess its awkward format (a lengthy EP with two re-recorded tracks from the previous record) makes it an odd fit for vinyl. The songs are just fucking great though, still in that zone of punky late ‘70s power-pop (they always make me think of the Flamin’ Groovies, though they’re much punkier), but crackling with an energy I find irresistible. Maybe this is an odd comparison, but this EP reminds me of R.E.M.’s Chronic Town, another record that took a chiming, Byrds-influenced sound, infused it with a punk energy and serious songwriting chops. I know we’re pushing a lot of poppy stuff in this week’s newsletter, but this isn’t one you should skip. 

SoCal’s Parishioners: The Big Blast from SoCal! cassette (No Solution) This is the second tape we’ve carried from Orange County’s Socal’s Parishioners, and it picks up where the last one left off with more classic-sounding OC-style punk tunes. What I like about SoCal’s Parishioners is how they’re able to craft raw and hooky songs without sounding like either a hardcore band or a pop-punk band. Instead, they nail the sound of bands like the Simpletones, early Social Distortion, Agent Orange, China White… bands that were still writing pop songs, but infused with a thuggish swagger that would serve you well hanging out at a locals-only spot in a run-down SoCal beach town (I’m guessing… I grew up on a farm in rural Virginia). They build all the songs around big vocal hooks, but I’m partial to the slower track “Bikini Atoll” that ends the tape. After two tapes, I think SoCal’s Parishioners have proven their mettle, so let’s hope the next thing we hear from this band is on vinyl. 

Split Tongue: Living in Sin City 7” (Hardcore Victim Records) Australia’s Hardcore Victim Records brings us the new EP from this hardcore band from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, or “Sin City,” as they refer to it in the EP’s title. While Living in Sin City is my introduction to Split Tongue, they’ve been around for a few years, releasing a demo and three EPs, of which Living in Sin City is the second to appear on vinyl. After a short instrumental intro that’s has a more traditional oi! sound (it wouldn’t be out of place on a Blitz record), Split Tongue launches into five tracks of what I think of as “skinhead hardcore.” The first band that came to mind for me was 86 Mentality (whom the label also mentions in their description), but (as the label also notes), you could just as easily compare this to Negative Approach or Violent Reaction… it’s a timeless sound. Split Tongue nails it too, with a crisp and powerful recording and a locked-in sound that’s like an army marching toward you in unison. But, like, really fast. Split Tongue doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but they bring some local flavor to the vocals and lyrics, which look at their own culture through a punk lens. Whether Split Tongue draws you in with their musical style or because you’re interested in their unique perspective, Living in Sin City will leave you satisfied.

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