U.S.S. Horsewhip
U.S.S. Horsewhip…Wants You Dead
New Regard

Browsing through song titles like “Three Dog Nightmare,” “1-800 Puppies” and “Bright Lights, Big Shitty,” it’s easy to glean that this Bellingham, Wash., band has a keen and twisted sense of humor. But only when you pop in their new album, U.S.S. Horsewhip…Wants You Dead, does the full picture come into focus: these are serious ass-kickin’ rock ’n’ rollers.

With the exception of a couple of delectably slithering tracks, the album is a whirlwind of revved-up guitar and infectious gang vocals. “Amish Rake Fight” feels like The Knack’s “My Sharona” just chugged a bottle of whiskey and peeled out on a motorbike; the rally cry of “Can I get a show of hands? Can I get a witness?” is soulfully screamed over a wave of adrenaline-injected chords. Equally tantalizing is “Variations on a Broken Nose,” the album’s fiery finale, which showcases James Burns’ perfectly snotty punk vocals inflected with a come-hither vibe that mimics the sexy whine of the guitar riffs.

Though the slower, more emotive tracks like “Break Out the Make Out” (drenched in pretty piano chords) aren’t quite as gripping, they maintain a stern ass-kickery liable to sweep you out of your boots. (Erika Fredrickson)

U.S.S. Horsewhip is one of over 40 bands participating in Total Fest, which runs June 24 and 25. Tickets available at Ear Candy and

Grabass Charlestons
The Greatest Story Ever Hula’d
No Idea Records

Gruff, hoarse and relentless, it makes sense that Grabass Charlestons lead singer Will Thomas would lend his pipes to a remake of Tom Waits’ “Cold Cold Ground” on their debut album. Skuzzy, thumping and tight (with, dare I say, a hint of pop-punk melody), the band’s double-time version of the brooding ballad makes it all their own. It’s one of the cleaner cuts on an otherwise blue-collar, southern-punk whirlwind that’s sloppy enough to seem sincere, rambunctious enough to be contagious and catchy enough to growl along with.

The Gainesville, Fla., trio is similar to Leatherface in its melodies and Crimpshine for the guitar work, but whatever. This initial effort is too much fun and too promising to drown in almost-like comparisons. In addition to “Cold, Cold Ground” (highlighted by horns from Less Than Jake trombonist Buddy Schaub), “Beer Exile” is lovably obstinate, “Suicide at 8 Bucks an Hour” churns through thoughtful lyrics and “Squidilly Diddily” is a platform for P.J. Fancher’s guitar to simultaneously complement and hoist the band above the roar of roadkill punk. (Skylar Browning)

Grabass Charlestons is one of over 40 bands participating in Total Fest, which runs June 24 and 25.

Toys That Kill
Recess Records

Toys That Kill’s new EP isn’t anything complicated—it’s simple and undeniable three-chord punk with streaks of indie pop. Nothing wrong with simplicity, since too much spice spoils the soup—or something like that.

“Brave Kids Jump” is gritty bubblegum punk with familiar but satisfying chord changes. The real gem is “I am the Fly,” which is seared with the steady marching of bass and bass drum and sealed with the repetition of “I am the fly in the ointment” that escalates into an invasive frenzy. “Blake St. Valentine” is manic storytelling at its punk-pop best with an anthemic resonance that wraps the album in a suitably fist-pumping conclusion.

The stripped-down sounds of punk sometimes beg for comparisons. For Toys, you could say that this 4-track package is Jawbreaker on happy pills, or the ecstatic offspring of Dillinger Four. But who cares? The point is that although this EP isn’t a plunge into the mystical unknown, it also isn’t insipidly derivative. And in the case of Flys, simplicity is the best vehicle for quality. After all, gourmet meals can be exciting, but why bother when it’s a juicy burger you crave? (Erika Fredrickson)

Toys That Kill is one of over 40 bands participating in Total Fest, which runs June 24 and 25. Tickets available at Ear Candy and


Philadelphia’s Coyote, a collaboration among some of the City of Brotherly Love’s best underground musicians, is part of the currently popular “strip-down” movement, but they approach the trend with a slight twist. Whereas bands like the White Stripes and the Black Keys earn their bread by going “way-back,” digging-up rootsy blues and R&B stylings, Coyote’s debut EP embraces vintage piano and organ for a vibe as gut-punching as that of their contemporaries, but with an edgier feel.

As a package, the prominence of “pianorgan” and haunting vocals—at times howling or wailing—peg Coyote as something like a union between the darkest moments of Jim Morrison’s Doors and Pavement. It’s an act that easily fits in with some of today’s better-known rootsy-underground best, yet blows the lid off what could easily become a predictable genre. Unique tracks like “Sharing Your Soul with the Group” and “Moon City” are great examples. It’s hard to be fresh these days, but Coyote’s look back makes only passing reference to an essential sound—and the somber nature of that sound. They twist the strip-down genre into the innards-gnawing grind that is raw rock: basic but always vital. (Haines Eason)

Coyote is one of over 40 bands participating in Total Fest, which runs June 24 and 25. Tickets available at Ear Candy and

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