The self-titled debut from familiar Ventura locals Seth Pettersen (bass) and Mike Gleeson (drums), along with the effervescent Sasha Green on vocals and Bryan Russell (Franklin for Short, the Spires) on guitar, has spent more time in my car’s CD player than anything this year. Garage, neo-psych and surf melt together for a delicious sound that is entirely pleasing and never tiresome, sort of like music for the munchies. Beginning with “Power to the PPL,” a cheerful, invigorating anthem for the 99 percent and the meek of the earth, themes of class division and oppression are repeated elsewhere on the record along with equally salient subjects like betrayal, greed, loneliness and hipsterism. A native of Panama, Green sings a handful of the songs in Spanish, giving them a mysterious quality (and making gringos singing along at high volume whilst behind the wheel look stupid). With hints of mid-’80s-era X (especially some of Russel’s rootsy licks) and just the slightest hue of traditional country in Green’s otherwise pop-punky vocals, the record conveys an American music sensibility (albeit West Coast) with an odd touch of British humor. One imagines the band at the beach, faking their instruments and striking silly poses à la early Beatles movies. Massenger is all about fun and not taking things too seriously — even the serious stuff. (Oh, and playing their instruments really well.)
— Michel Miller
Avalilable at massenger.bandcamp.com.
Songs from the Gut
Gentlemen is the creation of Max McDonald, who is best known for being a member of No Motiv, one of the area’s most successful bands ever. Though No Motiv occasionally reunites for one-off shows, McDonald has been primarily performing solo or with a small backup band as Gentlemen. It’s been a long time in the making, but Songs from the Gut, his appropriately titled, rip-roaring debut, is one of the best local releases of the year. With passionate lyrics that manage to be personal and universal at the same time, and a musical style that is a marriage between the better parts of punk and country, songs like “Dig Deep” and “Twilight Days” are stunning. Imagine if Billy Bragg wrote lyrics for a Nick Cave-fronted acoustic version of Alkaline Trio and you’ll start to get the idea. This is a record that deserves to, and we hope will, be heard far beyond the local scene.
— Chris Jay
Available at gentlemenmusic.net. Gentlemen will be opening for Jeff Hershey and the Heartbeats at the Bombay Bar and Grill on Saturday, Sept. 15.
Jason Cruz and Howl
With strokes of Americana surrealism, Jason Cruz and Howl has created a suspenseful and haunting frontier on the debut EP LoungeCore. For Cruz, the release is a departure from the punk rock world he’s been consumed with for the past two decades as the frontman for Strung Out; and an entry into the roots-rock genre that has been tugging at his heart to explore. LoungeCore, in turn, is an exit off the neon-lit highway, steering “beneath the stars to the sound of barking dogs, broken dreams and the smell of expensive decay,” as Cruz sings in “Blue Jesus.” The four songs have the mood and texture of what would result if Cruz and his band met Hieronymus Bosch, David Lynch and Chris Isaac in the desert to contemplate life and the netherworld.
— Shane Cohn
Available on vinyl at www.kingsroadmerch.com/jason-cruz-and-howl. Jason Cruz and Howl will perform at the Tavern on Sept. 29.