Swim Team, The Max Levine Ensemble
1811 14th St. NW
Washington, DC, 20009
Growing up is weird. As it turns out, growing older can be even weirder. For musicians birthed in the
fervently youth-centric world of punk rock, growing old gracefully is a largely foreign concept. Eventually
most pop-punkers age out of their angry disaffection or creatively flame out whenever screamy break-
up anthems start to seem tired, whenever you start to too closely resemble the very same people your
younger, angrier self was rebelling against in the first place. In the case of The Sidekicks, the transition
from high school hellions to erudite pop band has been a journey some twelve years and five full-lengths
in the making. When considering the band’s continuing evolution, as evidenced by their new album,
Happiness Hours, frontman Steve Ciolek is both happy and a little perplexed. “Every time we make a
record I think about how strange and amazing it is that we’re still making records,” he laughs, “But at
some point you have to stop worrying about what kind of record you’re supposed to be making and just
make the kind of music that you yourself want to hear. I think it’s healthy to ask yourself, ‘What if this
was the last thing we ever did? Would I be happy? If the band was forced to end tomorrow, is this the
note we’d want to go out on?’ In the case of Happiness Hours, I think we all definitely would be.”
Not that the band shows any signs of stopping anytime soon. Formed in Cleveland, Ohio in 2006, The
Sidekicks learned their chops via the old punk rock finishing school—by playing lots and lots of shows,
sleeping on floors, and generally devoting themselves to recording and touring at the expense of any
other kind of life. The bands earliest recorded efforts—2007’s So Long, Soggy Dog and 2009’s Weight of
Air—reflected this. By the time they released 2012’s Awkward Breeds, the romance of punk rock was
beginning to wane and the influence of pop music began to creep in. This transition was fully realized on
2015’s Runners in the Nerved World, a Phil Ek-produced stunner that not only would showcase the
band’s tightly honed pop sensibilities, but would keep them on the road for the better part of the next
In order to help realize their vision, the band—Steve Ciolek (Vocals & Guitar), Matt Climer (Drums),
Toby Reif (Guitar & Vocals), and Ryan Starinsky (Bass & Vocals)—enlisted veteran producer John Agnello
(Sonic Youth, Dinosaur, Jr, Kurt Vile) to produce, engineer, and mix the record. Agnello’s more hands-on
approach, which involved prodding the band to constantly consider and question their choices, proved
instrumental in helping the band push themselves in ways they might not have otherwise. “It was really
about putting aside our emotions and looking towards a common goal,” says Ciolek. “It’s what I really
like about being in a band, and what I always wanted when I was younger. You have these four people
who are all really invested in the same thing and it wouldn’t be what it is were it not for all of our
personalities being wrapped up in it. That’s what makes it so cool.”
The twelve tracks that eventually found a home on Happiness Hours show a band in full control of their
powers. Each song presents its own little narrative microcosm and contained universe, all contributing
to a record that, as Ciolek describes it, “feels like a potential collection of singles, every one of them a
pop song, every one of them meant to make you feel good.” To that end, songs like “Other People’s
Pets” “Medium in the Middle” and “Weed Tent” rank among some of the sunniest, most ebullient songs
the band has ever recorded—all ringing guitars, charging drums, and soaring vocals meant for private
bedroom dance parties and long, meandering drives. Still, the record’s beating heart is undoubtedly the
title track, which Ciolek also cites as an emotional touchtone. “If someone was like, ‘What's the album
about?’ I'd tell them to just listen to that song. Equal parts childhood nostalgia and critical self-
examination, “Happiness Hours” explodes the notion of how we look at ourselves and compartmentalize
memories: "If I rearrange the story/ Or magnify what I see/ Or execute a freeze phrame/ Moments can
just be/ So if happiness comes in hours/ Well it looks like its that time again for me/ Gravestones
deserve flowers/ Lovers deserve poetry". For Ciolek, the strength of the band’s new songs spring from
the idea that these narratives—about lost loves and new loves and childhood friends—reach squarely
towards a kind of universal experience. “They are relative to my life, but they aren’t just about me,” he
says, “And that’s another thing about getting older. Unlike when you’re a kid, when every song has to be
about falling in love or breaking up—about me, me, me—you get to a point when you really want your
art to be inclusive. You want everyone to be able to locate themselves somehow in your songs.”
Just as your goals change as you get older, so does one’s expectations. For The Sidekicks, despite their
storied pop-punk past, the band’s main hope is that people can always expect something new, songs
filled not just with loud guitars, but also things like trumpets, pianos, flugelhorns, and the occasional
tambourine. “I think the expectation with our records is that it's going to be something that you're
going to have to sit with and it's going to be different than the last one and there's going to be new
things there, “ says Ciolek. “The only real rule we had for ourselves, the most important question, was
‘Does this sound good?’ Cool. Let’s put it on the album then.”
Having spent the past three years not only writing songs, but also playing the occasional friend’s
wedding, Ciolek and the band have adopted a kind of joyful looseness they hope will carry over into
their forthcoming live shows as well. “We ended up learning 40 or so covers while we were trying to
make this record,” he says, “It's like, at any point, like at the very end of our show, we could easily go
into a whole medley of wedding songs, to play like Earth, Wind and Fire's ‘September’ and we've done
that a few times. I hope people are ready.”
Cincinnati thrash-pop band Swim Team's debut tape contains your 12 new favorite songs. It starts with "Dirty Work," a grunge firecraker with unstoppable vocals, unapologetic lyrics, fuzzed-out guitar riffs, and a mid-song monologue that grows from a borderline deranged mumble to a ferocious catharsis. From then on, the album never stops. Feedback gives way to crunchy, headbang-inducing guitar and the drums and bass turn already-catchy tunes into straight up earworms with their relentless grooves. Singer Lillian Currens' vocals jump from a caustic monotone to effortlessly cool croons to raw no-bullshit yelps, often seemlessly in the same track. Swim Team sounds like they could break free from your speakers at any moment, knocking you off your feet and leaving you scrambling for more.
In less than 30 minutes, the album blasts through every emotion you've ever buried deep inside yourself. (Hell, "Chlorine Dream"'s warped promises of love only take 23 seconds to hook you in.) "I'm Fine" and "TV" perfectly capture the growing itch of little frustrations and people you can't stand anymore, while "Reanimator" comes to terms with falling for someone who can't seem to muster any normal human emotion. ("I'm in love with the living dead," yells Currens in the chorus.) Swim Team's quieter moments, like acoustic "Everything Went Wrong" and organ-filled "Closest Thing," lament a love that could have been. By the time you get to "Teenage Mind" — an intimate reflection on the pains of growing up, with lines like "And I'm sorry that we grew up, I'm old enough now, I've seen enough world to know" floating over soft guitar — all you'll want to do is hit repeat.
The Max Levine Ensemble
The Max Levine Ensemble is a DIY punk band from the Washington, DC metropolitan area. They play punk rock with various pop influences, and often have politically conscious lyrics. They used to have a rotating band roster that changed from tour to tour depending upon who could go. Though at one point they played regularly with 5-7 members, they generally play now as a three piece power trio consisting of David Combs, Ben Epstein, and Nick Popovici.
The band was formed in 2000 when David Combs met Max Levine while attending highschool at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School. Max introduced David to various punk rock bands such as Propagandhi, Fugazi, and the Clash, as well as turning him on to radical politics. Combs had been playing in a ska band, and when Max asked him to cover punk rock songs in his ska band he thought it was inappropriate for the genre. Instead he invited several of his friends to start a new band that would play full sets of cover songs to be requested by Max Levine.  They played their first show at a high school band show case in December 2000.  The set consisted of 5 cover songs and 2 originals. From then on the band focused on original material, but kept the name The Max Levine Ensemble in homage to their friend.
Since then the band grew and developed, incorporating various influences into their pop punk sound. They self released two full length CDrs in 2001 and 2002 that were later released together on Fight The Octopus records as "Chach, Cops, and Donuts." In 2003 they released their third full length, "How to Build an Intergalactic Time Machine" recorded with Hugh McElroy of the Black Eyes.  The band tours the United States. Notably they joined up with Operation: Cliff Clavin for their reunion tour and a split 7" in 2004, and toured as part of the Plan-It-X Records bus tour in 2005.  The split 7" with Operation: Cliff Clavin was co-released by 60 different labels as a benefit for the Bloomington Bicycle Project.  In 2005 a split 7" with the Spirit Animals was released.
The band their fourth full length album "OK Smartypants" on CD available from Plan-It-X Records, audio cassette available from $Big Record Label, and on LP from No Breaks records.
In July 2008, the band was maligned by Ben Weasel the former Screeching Weasel frontman on his radio show, "Weasel Radio." In 2009 the band took their revenge by released a "split" 7" that appeared falsely to be a collaboration with Ben Weasel, featuring clips from the radio show on the B side and songs like "Ben Weasel Thinks We Suck" on the A side.
In December 2009, synchronous to a five week US-tour, the band self-released a cassette tape EP entitled "Them Steadily Depressing, Low Down Mind Messing, Post Modern Recession Blues." Later in 2010 the EP was re-released on 7" on Asian Man Records.
In December 2011 the band embarked on a seven week US-tour in support of their EP, "The Elephant in the Room," released on 7" and cassette by Fuck You is a Seven Letter Word Records.