Forget cactus and Super Fries from Nico’s: Arizona is home to truly great pop-punk. The likes of The Maine, Jimmy Eat World (seriously), Anarbor, The Summer Set, and more have sung about girls and heartache from garages all across the Valley. Today, that grand tradition continues with No Refills. The band’s been performing and recording since 2015, and count among their influences such pop-punk veterans as Blink-182 and New Found Glory. While those threads are ever present, No Refills add something new to the heartfelt declarations and frenetic hooks. They purvey pop-punk with more crunch, wrapping those same earnest emotions in driving rhythms and arena rock swagger. It’s music wildly familiar, especially to residents of this pop-punk bastion, but also with a weight and surging purpose. No Refills will spend its 2019 releasing an untitled EP and undergoing a Pacific Northwest tour in March, plus loads more secret announcements, according to bassist-vocalist Matthew Bacsalmasi. With No Refills, an essential local tradition feels alive and brimming with vigor. Beat that, cactus wren.
Bitter Nasty proves that sometimes the best local bands don’t always start that way. Singer/guitarist Samantha Bellach hails from Southern Florida (and counts herself an alum of Girls Rock!), while drummer Nathaniel J. Burns is an actor and filmmaker originally from SoCal. Whatever brought them to AZ respectively, the pair have been chugging steadily along since late 2016. Upon first viewing, the duo appear to be a gender-swapped White Stripes. But unlike their blues-soaked counterparts, Bitter Nasty is a band more interested in lo-fi garage rock tinged with hues of psychedelia and ’90s power-pop. The end results are songs both grungy and anthemic, sensitive and snarling, shimmery and utterly jaded. For the near future, the pair will celebrate the two-year anniversary of their first show with the release of Janusian on New Year’s Day. The full-length LP should certainly expand upon the snarling surf-grunge of 2018’s self-titled EP. Bitter Nasty could have pursued rock ’n’ roll badassery elsewhere, but the scene’s all the more robust for their residency in the 602.
Weslynn is undoubtedly the most accessible group on this list. However, large cultural appeal doesn’t mean this trio isn’t worth the time of even the grandest music snob. Weslynn has been a part of the Valley scene since 2015, with a slew of shows and releases under their belt (including 2016’s Black & Champagne EP and 2017’s “Here To Stay” single). This is pop rock that shines the brightest spotlight on the aching heart stitched on its immaculate leather jacket sleeve. While that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, Weslynn is sincere in their approach: They’re troubadours who want to make you shimmy even if they appear slightly silly trying to woo the whole world. The band recently told Phoenix New Times via email that they’re “ready to start a new chapter with a new sound,” which means working on a new single for release by mid-year. Wherever Weslynn land on the emotive pop-rock spectrum, it’s worth the effort to tag along.
There’s something utterly familiar, almost comforting, and yet distinctly uneasy about Twin Ponies. The band’s self-titled 2017 debut is steeped in rich ’90s nostalgia, a raucous, ear-smashing blend of grunge and alternative that’s played with a sense of daring and thoughtfulness uncommon among retro-leaning rock acts. At the same time, they’re very clearly a math rock band, and all those twisting meters and sudden key changes prove physically jarring. Twin Ponies the album never backs down during its 40-ish-minute runtime, doling out the warm reminiscences and angular noises to assault the senses in the best possible way. The reward is worth it, though, as you see TP slash and refurbish the alt-rock canon in real time. Twin Ponies will continue driving toward the future with a new eight-track LP due in spring/early summer 2019, followed by East and West Coast touring and a monthlong, TBD local residency. They’ll also smash your modern rock sensibilities, render you spellbound with their rhythms, and dropkick your eardrums into next week. Just thank them afterward.
In 2017, when surf rock crashed back against the indie music shores thanks to the likes of The Frights and Tijuana Panthers, The Apaches had been riding those sonic waves for two-plus years. Following the success of the Musica Surfica records, the band’s undergone a lineup change, with The Apaches 2018 featuring Eric Hirsch (lead guitar and organ), Adam Gold (drums), Andrew Jemsek (bass guitar), and Jacob Strong (rhythm guitar). Speaking recently with Hirsch, the addition of Jemsek has focused the band, now drawing upon “spaghetti westerns and spy films, as well as jazz and ballads.” That transformation was on display with May’s Take Off!, with bits of funk and folklorico pushing the sonics upward and outward while maintaining that nougat core of surfy grooviness. A new album slated for May 2019 will see The Apaches further expand, shifting away from a live-centric approach to a textured, deeply orchestral sound. In support, the band are launching a tour of coastal cities, including dates in California and Washington. Wherever the surf rock tides travel, The Apaches stay movin’.