Written by 4:48 am Audiophile Music

Punk Pop-A-Roll : Rockin’ With the Boys ‘n Toys

Mark Smotroff turns up his amp to 11 for some R&R therapy…

I grappled with this review for a while because I had to consider the audience here at Audiophilereview.com.  I mean… most of the records being reviewed in today’s article probably were recorded digitally or were quasi-lo-fi analog affairs in the first place featuring snarling shredding electric guitars, raw vocals and pounding drums.  

That doesn’t necessarily make them unworthy of your consideration…

AR-Thedeadboys225.jpgThere is some fine fine hard rockin’ music here and I have to think that there are more than a few audiophiles out there who still like to crank up their $100K sound systems with something other than Jazz at the Pawn Shop (or choose your favorite made-for-audiophiles type release).

So, here we have new and recent releases from a few different bands you may or may not know about. Either way, they are making some fun music and may be just the jolt of caffeine you need to kickstart your day.

And away we go!


The notion of putting one of the earliest punk records on audiophile vinyl is the stuff that makes more than a few audiophiles snicker…  Rhino doesn’t bother with that detail on this — and doesn’t disappoint either with their — fairly recent reissue of The Dead Boys’ legendary first album Young Loud and Snotty. Issued on standard weight translucent green vinyl, it still sounds just great. I mean…. really… does an album like this really need to be on 180-gram vinyl?? I think not. Most of the mix is thrashy and technically mushy but that is half of the fun here!  The opening track — the now-classic “Sonic Reducer” — sounds bigger and punchier than most of the album. Proof that the producers could get some lively big sounds out of some of these not so Dead Boys!

AR-DeadBoysGreen225.jpgOne of those albums I missed out on picking up back in the day, I’ve been surprised at how elusive it has been to find an original pressing of Young Loud and Snotty. You don’t see it very often out in the used / collector shops and if you do it is either trashed or costs some hefty coin to purchase as a collectors item (punk memorabilia is highly collectible these days, in case you didn’t know).  So a shiny new reissue from Rhino Records is seriously welcome. These guys could really play and it was produced by Genya Ravan, so it has some production aesthetic without losing the essence of what the band was about.  

Really, they were pop-punkers.  And that is the thing I like about The Dead Boys.  Like singer Stiv Bator’s later first solo album, there is a strong sense of hooks and melodies amidst the guitar roar.  

Fun Stuff!


I’ve known some of the guys in Pansy Division for many years and have even played shows in my old band opening for them. Fun and fine songwriters with an important voice for everyone who may feel a bit on the outside of mainstream society,they are an openly out and proud Gay rock band, in case you didn’t know.

AR-PansyDivision225.jpgListening to their new album Quite Contrary out now on Jello Biafra’s legendary Alternative Tentacles Records label (Dead Kennedys, The Dicks, Black Kali Ma, etc.), I am hearing songs with strong universal messages. From the desire to not be oppressed by one faith over another with an alternate agenda (“Blame The Bible”) to songs about broken relationships (the heart wrenching “Something Beautiful”) and love (the fine power pop gem “Love Came Along”). “You’re On The Phone” could have easily fit on the last album by The dBs.

They even strip down The Pet Shop Boys’ dance floor hit “It’s A Sin,” rocking it out with a truer angst and energy the song demands.

One of the stand out tracks that resonated most for me comes near the end of the album, a powerful opus of outrage over the commonplace lack of courtesy circulating today called “Too Much To Ask.” 

“Are we a bunch of babies

Are we a bunch of flakes

Been blown off so many times

How much more can I take?  

To merely keep your word, is that too hard a task?

Are all these simple things too much to ask?”

Great stuff, kids.  Pansy Division’s Quite Contrary comes on thick, dark, well centered black vinyl that sounds real fine, complete a free MP3 download. You can get Pansy Division’s new album at your favorite brick and mortar retail music store, online at Amazon or from the band’s website or even direct from Alternative Tentacles.  


Ok, so my connection with this next band came about in the most random of ways: you, see… about a year or two ago I happened upon a street corner sale here in San Francisco run by a young hipster couple who were bailing on our fair town for Portland (there is a bit of an exodus going on from my beloved Bay Area, one of the priciest places on the planet a present, unfortunately). So I ended up buying about 20 records (for $2 each) which I’d mostly never heard of… many of which were on indie labels…. some were obvious private pressings and such on nifty colored vinyl. Of the stack, I only have kept two or three including an album by The Shins (on white vinyl!).  But the one that stood out was this sort of not-quite hardcore, not quite punk rock band called Toys That Kill.  Amidst the snarl and overall “sturm und drang” (if you will) was a talented group of musicians with some solid songs that had some catchy hooks. Slow some of these tunes down a bit and add some beefier production and they might even get a song on mainstream radio.

AR-ToysThatKillControlTheSun225.jpgBut that is not what Toys That Kill are about, as I learned when I had the good fortune recently to see them opening for Mike Watt (of The Minutemen, firehose and Iggy Pop’s 21st century incarnation of The Stooges).  This band was snarling and on fire, but there was nothing sloppy or raw about this band. Their technical prowess was very much in evidence when they joined Mike Watt’s band (The Missing Men!) on the tiny stage at Bottom of the Hill (a legendary club here in San Francisco) for an incredible finale that was like an indie rock version of King Crimson.  Seriously, these guys were doing stuff that I might have expected Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band to pull off. 

After their set, I went back to score some merch from the band and had a fun conversation with guitarist and main songwriter Todd Conglierre (who also runs the record label they are on). After complementing him on their set, I told him above story about how I first found their album at a garage sale. Smiling widely, he immediately grabbed one of their latest albums –2016’s Sentimental Ward — which I was considering buying and said (paraphrased) ‘Here, for that story I have to give you this album!’  We laughed and I insisted on buying some stuff from them so instead he gave me a deal on two of their albums (I also bought 2003’s Control The Sun)   

And now… here I am reviewing them.  Tahh dahh! 

So, the good news is that music on these albums is really good and in keeping with what I remembered from my earlier Toys That Kill album: thrashy snarling guitars, yelping vocals, riffs and hooks.  And its the latter point that makes these guys stand out: some catchy things going on here, much in the way that Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters blend pop hooks into their churn. “Runnin’ the Front” and “The White Lies” are a great one-two punch for their Control the Sun album.  “Blanket” sort of nicks its hard rock riff hook from The Ronnette’s “Be My Baby” and Billy Joel’s “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” by way of The Sex Pistols.  “We Control The Sun” sounds like a cross between Iggy’s Stooges and Queens of the Stone Age.  

To borrow a phrase from Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.:  “and so it goes…” 

My only slight disappointment is that one of the albums came pretty warped and the other one is a bit noisy pressings-wise, but in the grand scheme of things, y’know, I am ok with it. The album plays fine and you only hear a little noise between track because, lets face it, with the barrage of drums ‘n guitars blaring in those grooves you wouldn’t hear a deep scratch if hit you across the forehead.  

Did I just hear a few of you out there in the back row of audiophile-land passing out from my writing that?  

I hope not. 

AR-PansyDivisionQuiteContrary225.jpgThe point here is to support independent music and most indie bands don’t have the big budget resources to get their albums pressed at Pallas in Germany.  So if you support them when they are small and struggling, maybe someday when they are famous you’ll be rewarded with a higher quality reissue.  Something to consider, kids.  It takes a lot of money to put out a record on vinyl so these guys are to be commended for putting out several!

If you like your power pop on the edgier side of metal and thrash, you might like Toys That Kill. Both albums come with a free download  of the album (in MP3 or FLAC formats) so if a slight warp bugs you, then just play it on your iPhone or in the car. 

What was that song by that earlier band of once-punky rockers?   “It’s only rock ‘n roll, but I like it…”

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