Quick Reviews, March 2024: New Releases

The Incurables – Inside Out & Backwards
To the extent that one can make generalizations, it’s safe to say that most of the artists on Big Stir Records fall into the power pop category. But there are exceptions: Graham Parker is one for sure. And as the tastemaking label expands its reach in a curating fashion, there are others whose work doesn’t fit neatly into the power pop bag. Detroit-based The Incurables are such an outfit. The hard-charging buzz saw guitar blast of tunes like “When I Grow Up” is firmly planted in a hard rock tradition. But there’s a strong melodic sensibility that connects them to bands like The Romantics. The songs are all propulsive, and the shouted harmony backing vocals that characterize their tunes might even remind some of Hüsker Dü. Amusingly, though, The Incurables self-identify as power pop (also noting garage rock as part of their mix), so what do I know? Labels notwithstanding, this is indeed high-energy, melodic stuff.

Make Believe Friends – s/t
It’s a fairly unusual approach for a band to hold down two very different identities, but it’s not without precedent. Most of the members of heavy metal band Savatage are also members of Trans Siberian Orchestra. So the existence of Make Believe Friends isn’t in and of itself that unusual. The group has existed for some time as Lunden Reign; with that name, the Los Angeles-based group released albums in 2015 and 2018. They also exist as not one but two tribute acts: Heart of Blonde and Like a Material Girl (give yourself zero points if you figured out whose music those bands play). In any event, now they’re also called Make Believe Friends, and their sound displays more originality than any of their other aforementioned musical guises. Make Believe Friends lean more toward melodic and less in the direction of rock swagger. Either way, the songs on their (so to speak) self-titled debut display strong pop values, sharp hooks and tight playing. Lead singer Mindy Milburn has plenty of vocal character on her own. Mainstream melodic music with a strong rock foundation characterizes the songs on the band’s new eight-song EP. The fact that Dale Bozzio guests on lead vocal on “Somewhere There Forever” provides clues to where this iteration of the band is coming from.

Super Cassette – Continue?
With a sound that occasionally recalled Max Eider and/or the Jazz Butcher, Super Cassette crafted one of the most appealing (and hilarious) tunes of 2020, “Be Gay, Do Drugs, Hail Satan.” Passed over for use as the GOP’s theme song, it remains an absolute hoot of the most melodic sort. Super Cassette is the one-person band Max Gerlock and Continue? is the latest from that band. Following on the heels of such a great single is a tough feat, and to their credit, Super Cassette doesn’t try to rewrite “Be Gay” for 2024. Instead, Gerlock’s pop sensibilities are applied to songs that dial down the jokey content but maintain the strong singalong appeal that characterized past releases. There’s a DIY character to tunes like “Path Through the Past,” combining dance electronica, shoegaze and pure pop in a heady mix. The sleek “Island” suggests a 21st century take on erudite late-period Roxy Music; Gerlock’s multitracked vocals are a thing of beauty, and the skittering beat is irresistible. Stick around for the last track, “Continent.” It’s a winner.