Portland's Dirtnap Records is one of the world's most reliable curators of the kind of punk that makes me want to go back in time and give my teenage self a hug and tell him everything's gonna be okay because life's gonna keep being difficult but the pop-punk in the future will be even better than the stuff that's helping you cope now, so don't be afraid little guy, because the bittersweet solace ain't gonna end with the Queers, okay? And girls might even like you for a brief spell in the early aughts! For real!
Loyal readers of this column (hi mom) already know about my massive crush on Dirtnap, as every other stream of punk love I pissed into the wind in 2011 contained at least a little praise for Something Fierce or the Steve Adamyk Band or Mind Spiders or High Tension Wires, all of whom put out excellent full-lengths on Portland's best label last year.
I'm going to try to be better about letting Dirtnap do its thing minus my meddlesome mash notes in 2012. However, I must first bring you up to speed on everything happening in the Dirtnap universe, for there are records both recently released and soon-to-be-unleashed that are bringing me a great deal of joy at the moment. Let them into your sad little lives.
Sonic Avenues, Television Youth
Sonic Avenues delivers on the promise of its self-titled 2010 debut with Television Youth, which finds the Montreal pop-punk quartet digging itself out of a sizable debt to Jay Reatard and striking gold on the way up. Reatard's lo-fi density still informs the production on Television Youth, but the vandalized wall of sound harbors truly great tunes this time around. Sonic Avenues have a sick way with choruses that are simultaneously rousing and heartbreaking, and it's goosebump city all the way. Do you need an album to soundtrack your smittenness with someone special this winter? Here it is. Listen to the title track here.
Mind Spiders, Meltdown
I really liked the first album by Denton, Texas' Mind Spiders, even though it didn't quite scratch every spot in my brain itching for more material by Marked Men, the perfect pop-punk outfit out of which Mind Spiders fairly recently crawled. It's looking like Marked Men will not be blessing us with new tunes anytime soon, but that fact hurts a lot less now that Mind Spiders has evolved into a monster large enough to stretch past the shadow of its own history. The addition of a second drummer is the most noticeable evolutionary leap on Meltdown (out on February 21), and the extra heft lends head Spider Mark Ryan's Bolan-esque take on the rollicking "Denton sound" an intensity that the first album lacked. Check out "Wait For Us" and hear for yourself.
Little Cuts, Plastic Disaster
Little Cuts' debut 7-inch has been out for a couple months now. I was going to write something about it when it was released, but I think Dirtnap was a little bit burned out on the feeling of my tongue in its mouth at the time. Anyway, what we have here is the new project from Dave Hernandez, who was in one of the best pop-punk bands of nineties (Scared of Chaka) and is currently in some huge band called the Shins. I don't think Hernandez will ever top the brilliance of Scared of Chaka's Masonic Youth, but Plastic Disaster showcases a songwriting talent too vital to play sidekick to James Mercer. The title track is a sweet sock hop-friendly number that puts me in mind of Hunx and his sly come ons as well as Scared of Chaka's most tender moments. More please, Mr. Hernandez.
Mean Jeans, Mean Jeans on Mars
Guantanamo Baywatch, Chest Crawl
These two much-anticipated (in my world, at least) albums won't be out for another few months, but I'd like to stoke the fire of hype a little bit here. I was able to sneak a listen to both, and I'm betting summer in Portland this year is going to be owned by Mean Jeans and Guantanamo Baywatch. I will doubtless kill many words praising both albums as their release dates draw near, but I just want to say: Trust that the wait will be worth it. The wait for the albums, not my words. Screw words, man. Let's party.