SKIES ARE TURNING BLUE - The Apers (Stardumb)
AIN'T NOBODY LEFT BUT US - Zatopeks (Stardumb)

An open letter to Stardumb:

I'm an idiot, which may not be a revelation to those who know me. As you may or may not recall, not long ago in this very forum I doubted the very fiber of your existence by dismissing The Stilettos' "Making History By Repeating It" as a well-intentioned, but ultimately unimaginative and rote exercise in tired punk posturing. Although they’ve captured part of what it means to be punk, The Stilettos are missing the magnetic attitude: to be offensive yet inspiring; obnoxious yet charming. What I’m really trying to do here, of course, is convince you that my youth was better than yours.

A few months later, the album still smells like a floater that popped up in the Detroit River in mid August, just downstream of Zug Island, but with the arrival of the latest by The Apers and Zatopeks, it’s safe to say that rumors of your demise have been greatly exaggerated.

You see, the whole pop-punk thing is what you guys were put on this earth to do, as evidenced not only by a roster including the likes of the Groovie Ghoulies and Backwood Creatures (please phone home!), but the vision and temerity to release those amazing "European Poppunk Virus" compilations; treasure troves of timeless, charming, and lovingly constructed pop songs that transcend any sort of trendiness.

The Apers’ "The Buzz Electric" was a revelation back in 2003; the album that, in this writer’s opinion, put your label on the map with a big red thumbtack staked through the center of Rotterdam. Besides featuring a front wrapper that still results in shutting out the rest of the world whenever I think of it, its seams are splitting with jarring melodies and hooks that are tougher to shake than a tick. The passing of time has changed nothing.

As fan-friggin-tastic as "The Buzz Electric" is, The Apers have apparently been taking their vitamins and saying their prayers (securing an endorsement deal with Converse, manufacturer of nothing less than the greatest tennis shoe in recorded history - the Chuck Taylor All-Star - along the way) because "Skies Are Turning Blue" makes it look positively anemic. Twenty-five spins after popping the seal I’m still reeling, my head in the clouds and my ankle and knee joints deteriorating from excessive up-and-down motion.

For all I know, the sheen may disappear from "Skies Are Turning Blue" quicker than the supply of Jesus Juice at Neverland Ranch, but right now it’s the center of my sonic universe, insistent and damn near distracting, like the warmth of a heroin nod I keep coming back to. It’s coated with thick layers of energy, passion, ingenuity, and a big production by Theo de Jong which celebrates the band’s uplifting and downright magical pop tunes whose hooks cascade forth in never-ending waves (more like tsunamis, actually).

I know, I know - I’m the same guy who practically tripped over himself recently trumpeting Freddy Lynxx’s "Larger Than Life Dusted" as the greatest thing since peanut butter Captain Crunch, but what started off as a slow year is now suddenly sitting up and rubbing the sleep from its eyes. When it rains, it pours...

From opening track "She Wants Everybody To Dance" onward, the supercharged guitars of Marien Nicotine and Jerry Hormone (he of the square jaw, chiseled features, and perfectly uncombed hair) lead singer/bassist Kevin Aper, drummer Ivo Backbreaker, and anyone else within ear distance on a total thrill ride through a landscape of rollicking, accomplished, delightful, and potent cuts which ought to make the heart of any fan of chugging power pop swell with joy. How the hell did they do it?

Every track’s a winner, from the manic "Enjoy Your Life A Little" (great advice) to the hard-hitting, brisk power chords of "Hey Girl" to the start-and-stop dynamics of "There She Goes Again" to the "hoo hoo" call-and-response backing vocals in "Annabelle" to the intoxicating splendor of "Wine & Dine" and "Baby Call Back." Whew! I’m out of adjectives. Somebody get me an oxygen tent.

Despite looking like the nightmare spawn of a tragic one-night stand between the Ramones and some of Saruman's minions in the "Lord Of The Rings" trilogy, The Apers have delivered another knock-out, as inspiring a collection of high-energy thrills as you’re likely to find this or any other year. If this thing doesn’t sell by the truckloads, then it’s official: there is no God. Nothing less than a smash...

Zatopeks? Never heard of ‘em, but they mine the same turf as The Apers, and inevitably, due to Will DeNiro’s pipes, The Undertones, which automatically qualifies them for priority seating at Chez Paull, no reservation needed. Somewhere John Peel is smiling. The scamps. Birthed in Birmingham, England, the band gulp a lot of supercaps, an herbal supplement/stimulant which apparently puts a spring in their step and lead in their pencil and while "Ain’t Nobody Left But Us" isn’t as hackle raising as what The Apers have unleashed, they do manage their fair share of spunky pop thrills which explode in the face like a barrage of flashbulbs or a handful of fireworks.

Taking the piss out of Derry’s finest with album opener "The Summer I Fell In Love With Jimmy’s Girl," the Zatopeks manage to cram everything that makes for great turbo-charged pop music into a few minutes of scraping, chiming rhythm guitar and "oh-oh-oh" backing vocals, with a quick stop at the crossroads of Melody and Hook to make sure they haven’t lost the plot. Ditto "City Lights." Oi, oi, oi!

It’s obvious these lads are smitten by the fairer sex (who isn’t?), with paeans to Mary Lou, Jenny, and Sophie, vacillating between melancholy (yet raucous), celebratory, and outright cheeky, with lyrical nods to Feargal Sharkey and Shane MacGowan.

Although considerably more innocent looking that The Apers, these Brits can nonetheless kick up quite the righteous cloud of dust, mixing speedy, loud Ramones-inspired walls of guitar racket with just a touch of 70’s glam rock and touching on themes like doubt, deceit, yearning, and infatuation. In other words, nothing new here but enthusiasm carries this one straight through to the run-out groove and masks a multitude of sins.

So, Stardumb, consider all of this an apology for past transgressions. No hard feelings, eh? - Clark Paull

The Apers


THE BUZZ ELECTRIC - The Apers (Stardumb)
Might as well get this out of the way right up front, even at the risk of appearing a lecher. I couldn't shake the cover image of this album from my mind for days and may have even drooled a little. Don't tell me to get a life - I already tried that.

While self-important doofuses like Eddie Vedder, Michael Stipe, and Thom Yorke (so self-absorbed he added an "h" to his first name) worry about the global implications of singing rock songs, Rotterdam's Apers prefer to simply plug in, turn up, and bash out tightly-coiled, hook-laden shards of pop punk (punk pop?) genius - politics, petroleum wars, and the plight of the poor be damned.

Granted, I'm a sucker for this stuff, but The Apers are dazzlingly accomplished at what they do, raising the bar set earlier this year by labelmates Backwoods Creatures, whose percolating, candy-coated gem "Living Legends" seemingly came out of nowhere (no offense to The Netherlands). The Apers three-chord crusade on "The Buzz Electric" is relentless from start to finish and while most pop albums have peaks and valleys, this one's all red meat, Kevin Aper spitting out a series of pithy, brilliant truths about poseurs ("Here To Stay"), keeping your head up and believing in yourself ("Almost Summer" and "Play The Leading Part," respectively), emo ("Too Many Backpacks At The Show"), and girls (everything else).

Instrumentally, The Apers are a rhythmic machine, their sound harkening back to an era of pre-marketing age innocence, the chugging, shit-hot twin guitars of Marien Nicotine and teen-dream-in-the-making Jerry Hormone blending perfectly with the musclebound wallop of Ivo Backbreaker's (luv them names...) drumming. Production-wise, the band, in cahoots with Hans Pieters, manage to mix in thick wads of goo (including "whoa-oh's," the hallmark of any great pop punk song) without sanding down too much of the album's coat of gritty grime and at the end of the day, what more can you ask for?

Apparently, pop punk like The Apers and the the rest of the bands in Stardumb's stable sells like gangbusters across Europe, but conventional wisdom probably dictates that The Apers' perky campfire songs will fall on deaf, dimwit ears over here in the land of milk and honey. It may be a stretch to use the word "masterpiece" to describe a bunch of what are, in the grand scheme of things, ultimately inconsequential pop songs, but it's entirely appropriate when they're delivered with the gusto and endearment of The Apers. Live with it... - Clark Paull



THE APERS - The Apers (Stardumb)
Rotterdam punk rockers The Apers churn out upbeat, tuneful punk rock with just enough edge to stand out from the pack. It's full of energy and slick, but not over-polished to a dull Green Day shine.

That said, The Apers are punk rock for the Green Day generation. That's not an insult - more a reflection that this is well-packaged, Converse-sponsored, poppy punk rock that could make easily the transition from indie level to mainstream commercial success. Of course, there's a long queue of similar punks with stars in their eyes and half the trick will be attracting sufficient attention when they're based in Europe. Shit, these guys probably don't even want to make the jump, but they have the goods. Me, I'll take the rough edges any day over some of the crap that passes for punk in Mainstream Amerika...

Some context: The Apers have been around since 1996 and put out a mighty split single with labelmates the Travoltas in 2001. This is their first full album after supports to all sorts of bands (The Queers, Huntingtons, Groovie Ghoulies and Chixdiggit among them, and Fu Manchiu and the Flaming Sideburbns by the time you read this. ) Trivia note: They share a guitarist (Jerry Hormone) with the Ragin' Hormones.

The Apers are all archetypal snotty vocals, seamless choruses, well-played buzzsaw riffs and songs about kids, teen angst get the drift. Just two tunes top the 4min mark, so there's very little time to get bored.

Pick of the crop? Probably the opening "It's OK to Hate Me" and the urgent riffing of the single, "Eyes Open Wide". "Only the Grim Reaper" parallels the Bruddas' own narrative of love at the 7-11 (only the Apers are sipping Heinken at a cafe when they fall.) "Evi" has some nice melody vocals and the pace doesn't let up until the second-last song ("Don't You Cry Over It".)

There is, admittedly, a sense of "sameness" in some of the material that makes me think that the next album will be make-or-break. But if what you've read here sounds like this is your bag, go ahead and grab a copy. You can do a lot worse. - The Barman