A DIY punk musician from Ontario, Matt Ellis spent half of 2020 in his bathroom. Armed with an electric guitar, a drum machine and his best sneer, he set about recording a bunch of Ramones inspired tunes quickly and cheaply. He obviously figured that with the world having succumbed to a pandemic, and a virus sidelining gigs and other activities, he – much like anyone and everyone – needed to do something to stay sane. The first recordings to emerge (the ‘High Risk Assurance’ EP from April 2020) showcased his love for Ramonescore in a very succinct and aggressive style. Its four songs were far from shy in sharing their love for Joey and Johnny (along with several key bands that came along in their wake) and in terms of home demos, certainly showcased a genuine talent for tapping into the core of what really makes good pop-punk so enduring – no matter how small (or even non-existent) the recording budget.
It took three years for Teenage Halloween to follow up their ‘Eternal Roast’ mini album. Three years seems a long time to wait for just twenty three minutes’ worth of music, but we’re very much talking quality over quantity here. This self-titled disc from the New Jersey punky power poppers brings ten absolute bangers – songs so loaded with hooks and riffs that its power is immediately obvious. Musical originality isn’t high on the agenda, but its mix of 90s influences will positively resonate with any listeners who spent that decade loving Everclear, Lagwagon and SR-71. The music stands up well enough alone, but once you start to absorb the lyrics – largely concerned with mental health struggles, gay unity and standing with others in solidarity – it becomes one of the year’s most important DIY discs.
The idea of a punk band covering an entire album is hardly a new phenomenon. In the 90s, Screeching Weasel, The Queers, The Vindictives and Mr. T Experience recorded their own fairly faithful versions of the first four Ramones albums. Thinking a little more broadly, Me First & The Gimme Gimmes thrilled the masses with their themed albums and pop punk heroes MxPx punked up material as diverse as Bryan Adams, Dave Alvin and The Proclaimers on their ‘Cover To Cover’ releases. Yes, indeed… The “punk cover” has become a staple of the scene.
The ubiquity of the punk cover doesn’t stop this album by Ontario punks The Vapids being hugely entertaining. With half the punk world wanting to pay tribute (either directly or indirectly) to Joey and Johnny’s groundbreaking blueprint, it is somewhat refreshing that these Canadian punks would want to pay homage to their own home grown heroes, and so, ‘Teenage Heads’ – originally released in 2002 – finds the band hammering through the ten numbers from Teenage Head’s self titled debut LP from ’79.
California’s Sunnydales might just represent the ultimate collision of Ramones influenced pop punk and retro pop culture. This three piece band take a well worn musical blueprint and apply their love of Joey and Johnny with a bigger love of 90s television hit Buffy The Vampire Slayer. You might think such a concept might be good for one release, but this second EP (released in May 2019) is every bit as good as their debut from the previous year.
Glenn Robinson is one of the great purveyors of Ramones influenced punk sounds. The Rhode Island musician was previously the drummer with The Prozacs but subsequently used his multi-instrumentalist’s skills to carve out a solo career. Each of his releases offers something to enjoy, but this third album by his “band project” Pavid Vermin (where Robinson plays everything) has the potential to be one of his best. What’s more, ‘Cutting Corners’ isn’t quite everything it appears to be on the surface. A quick look at the track listing suggests a punky romp through the songs from The Beatles’ classic ‘Abbey Road’, but behind the familiar titles lie seventeen of the purest, self-penned pop punk bangers, guaranteed to thrill fans of the style. Titles aside, no further credit goes to Lennon/McCartney.