Vinny and The Hooligans’ 2016 EP ‘Late Nights’ was a reasonably enjoyable punk release that drew influence from the more accessible end of hardcore, Good Riddance and Screeching Weasel at their most tuneful. The recording was a little rough around the edges and Vinny’s vocal wasn’t necessarily the most perfect, but the charm in the songs often shone through. Two years on and with a bigger budget, ‘Don’t Give Up’ – a pointed message for so many DIY punk bands – is an improvement on almost every level. Stretching Vinny’s talents to a full release and a bigger sound, its ten songs cover a variety of punk styles, but whatever the outcome, it’s a record packed with big hooks and a lot of love for New York.
Kicking off with some classic punk sounds, ‘All We Know’ takes a basic Ramonescore riff and lifts it considerably with some crashy drums courtesy of Vinny Hooliganz who also handles vocals and guitars throughout the record. His voice is melodic, passionate and very approachable – a big improvement upon earlier recordings – and the accompanying music comes peppered with Offspring-esque “whoahs” aplenty, while a fiery rock ‘n’ roll lead guitar break suggests this is a band ready to branch out. For those familiar with the ‘Late Nights’ EP, this will be a welcome surprise; The Hooligans are a much tighter band and every element of this number goes some way to making this a fantastic opening statement. Ushering in more of punk ‘n’ roll element, ‘Thursday Night Serenade’ kicks in with a tough riff that quickly escalates into a number that harks back to the US punk scenes of the late 80s, while Vinny’s vocal occasionally finds a melodic style that shows a Parasites influence. With a tough guitar solo showing off the band’s more rock ‘n’ roll side, these three minutes have a little of everything to make it an underground punk classic. The bass could possibly be a touch louder, but that doesn’t spoil an otherwise fantastic track.
With a hugely punchy drum, ‘Gone Tonight’ ploughs straight into some brilliant pop punk. It doesn’t take long before the bouncy tune becomes quite infectious in a way that recalls old Parasites tunes, while a well crafted backing vocal and grinding guitar battle it out throughout. By the mid-point, a highly spirited lead guitar solo tears through everything with a punk ‘n’ roll bent. While this a number that hints at Vinny’s punk ‘n’ roll credentials, it doesn’t come close to capturing the levels of trashiness throughout ‘My Heart Belongs To Rock ‘n’ Roll’, a track on which the punkier elements are tempered by some great garage rock riffs, resulting in something that sounds like early Gaslight Anthem melded with an old Coyote Shivers workout (albeit actually played in tune). With another world of “whoahs” on the chorus, a full throttle lead break and the kind of riff that really clears the cobwebs, it’s impossible to dislike.
‘Take Me Back’ captures the more melodic end of street punk with occasional lead guitars that hark back to The Heartbreakers and The Dead Boys, while Vinny puts in a particularly heartfelt lead vocal that (again) recalls the best performances by the legendary Dave Parasite in the mid 90s. It doesn’t try and add anything new to the style, but with a strong hook and a fantastic riff full of muted chords there’s so much here that’ll appeal, especially if you loved records from the Lookout and Epitaph labels in the 90s. Stretching to a full five and a half minutes, ‘Winter’ is much moodier than most of the album, with the band applying their punk chops to occasional power pop flourishes and a few huge riffs culled from a classic emo style. The emo slant is perfectly suited to the main hook of “Stand by me, I’ll stand by you” which plays out in grand style while Vinny adds a lead guitar that’s obviously inspired by various alternative influences from the 80s, before gang vocals take the hook and piledrive it into your skull for an extra couple of minutes. It’s just about sharp enough to still be considered punk, but the other alternative elements bring more than enough variety to help it reach out to other audiences, while a guest vocal from Iron Chic’s Jason Lubrano gives everything an extra lift.
The double whammy of ‘Mama’ and ‘You Walked Away’ add more weight to the more melodic charm of The Hooligans, with the former channelling a little blue collar rock into proceedings and the latter trading in a few of the punkier elements for something a touch closer to chunky hard rock at first, topped by a repetitive soaring guitar lead and a very user friendly chorus. As with ‘Gone Tonight’ the drum sound goes a long way to pulling everything back into the punk sphere, but a bridge section towards the track’s end brazenly throws in a couple of old school punk riffs for good measure and a coda featuring gang vocals singing Rodgers & Hammerstein’s ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ in a Terraces fashion is fun. In all, it’s enough please those whom might consider number bit light. The doubters will be the ones who lose out, of course, as between the chorus harmonies, ringing guitars and an ending familiar to almost all listeners, it’s easily an album highlight.
Although ‘All We Know’ runs it pretty close, ‘Live and Die In NY’ is one of the best punk tracks of 2018. It originally appeared on the band’s 2016 EP, but is re-recorded here in a hugely superior version. Opens with a powerhouse rhythm and a huge bass sound that’s instantly familiar, it really catches the ear with a deep rattle lifted straight from the Sick of It All classic ‘Step Down’. Punk has often been about tried and tested sounds and homage, but this sounds absolutely superb in the way it’s been cheekily recycled. Branching out into some punchy melodic hardcore, the track quickly offers some great musical hooks driven by a chugging guitar, but the bass stays firm and continues to be the lynch pin of the track. The second verse really ups the ante when Vinny’s vocal is replaced by the gruffer voice of Sick of It All’s own Lou Koller, stepping in for a fabulous guest spot. This has the knock on effect of making the track sound like one of that band’s more approachable affairs, while a simple hook – clearly designed for a crowd shout-along – holds everything together in very memorable style. Just brilliant.
With absolutely no filler material, a truckload of accessible tunes and at least five massive choruses, ‘Don’t Give Up’ is easily one of the best independent punk releases of 2018. Combining nostalgia with genre traits that never seem to go out of style, Vinny might have even left the world one of the best commercial sounding punk records since Parasites released ‘Solitary’. Absolutely essential.