The Returnables
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The Returnables


Band Rock Punk


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The best kept secret in music


"Trouser Press Record Guide"

Power pop and what used to be called garage rock bleed together to wonderful effect in Unrequited Hits, the debut album by the Returnables, a Chicago-based quartet which formed in Madison, Wisconsin, on former Naked Raygun leader Jeff Pezzati's label. (He executive produced and played piano on one track.) Stirring melodies, breathless rhythms and evident knowledge of a wide variety of forbears set up songs that don't stint on raucous power or silly high school lyrics ("She Throws Punches," "Your Teenage Friends," "Bubblegum" - it makes perfect sense that girls' names figure in the titles of four songs here) but also sparkle with tuneful wit, sharp hooks and fine club-honed playing. (And kudos for including "Monica," a previously unrecorded song written by former Green/Lilacs bassist Ken Kurson.) The spectrum on Unrequited Hits runs from The Buzzcocks to The Elvis Brothers to The Smugglers, all more in terms of feel and attitude than derivation. Basically, bassist Reggie Lee Ray (Bran Harvey), drummer Arturo Lee Ray (Art Kubin) and guitarists Bobby James Lee Ray (John Glick) and Frankie Lee Ray (Jonathan Ben-Isvy) - all sing and write - understand that memorable pop requires discipline and attention to detail, but exciting rock demands headlong carelessness. And they uphold both ends. A zillion bands have donned this coat, but few have worn it so smartly. - Ira Robbins

"Sacramento News & Review"

The Returnables live in a world where the psychedelic '60s and hip-hop never happened. In fact, many of the songs on their second release, Unrequited Hits, would have been hits in 1965 and 1979. Their snappy, sloppy sing-along rock songs about girls were meant to be released as 45 singles with color sleeves scattered on the bedroom floors of teenage girls. This four-piece is every inch an American band; everyone in the group writes songs and sings lead. Songs like "Monica," "Girl From Eau Claire," "Tomoko" and "Julie, Did I?" make you want play them over and over again while you harmonize along with the choruses. The Returnables bridge the gap between The Hollies (before they moved to the U.S.) and The Buzzcocks and pick up where the Undertones left off. That's a pretty good place to start when it comes to rock 'n' roll. A landmark disc in any era. - David Kulczyk

"The Big Takeover"

The lyrics are funny-goofy like The Ramones: "She threw a punch/And stole my lunch/And that's how/I knew she was the one for me." But the twin guitar wall of rock 'n' roll is more Radio Birdman, with a little Saints and Jeff Pezzati's old band Naked Raygun - he's the label head, executive producer and pianist on one track - if they all liked AM pop in the '60s more. Because the songs themselves are power-pop, closer to early Hoodoo Gurus, Let's Active, Monkees, Flamin' Groovies and Chi-town forerunners Green, than the battalions of sound-alike punk acts out there desperately trying to rip off the Descendents without any of their winsome charm. The Returnables make no pretense of the fact they like stuff that rocks without losing any innocence, and so their not-too-serious lyrics try to capture the humor of first crush/blush of discovering the opposite sex as teenagers, and fumbling around on how to deal with/relate to/get them without a map of experience. "I'm on the CTA/And it smells like love/There's my girlfriend on the platform/What's she thinking of?/I don't know, I don't care/I've got bubblegum in my hair" is rarely set to music that has such a thick but clean guitar sound. But like the girlfriend in question, who probably just laughed at the dork and invited him out for ice cream, it's hard not to fall for these guys. If they don't want to take off their letter-sweater for now, don't make them. Not while they're rockin'. - Jack Rabid

"Not Lame"

Good 'ole fashion rock' n roll fun!! Think The Real Kids, The Only Ones and The Buzzcocks -- so talk about classic!! I have tuned to this one five times now and its charms keep having me reach for it. No BS, pretention or arty ambitions -- just kicked out, amped
up music for people with good taste in, ahem, older music! The Returnables are a big wafting breath of fresh air and beg your attention. - Not Lame

"Ear Candy"

Chicago really has some great active bands right now-if it wasn't so damn cold I'd consider moving there. But this record brings all the fun and enjoyment you need-right into your living room. All the band members write and sing and the results are mind blowing from song to song. Think The Ramones crossed with The Plimsouls with a little New York Dolls tossed on top. You get the idea-but The Returnables throw it all into the ice chest and make it their own. This disc is their follow-up to the also sweet Unrequited Hits. The first 4 songs are remastered from their 1999 Rocketship Records EP and the last four songs are new songs. It's a testament to their consistent songwriting that if I hadn't read that in the liner notes (I have a lot of free time) I would have thought this record was done in one midnight, Old Style fueled session. But that is not the case.
The disc blasts off with Bobby James (they all have the last name Lee Ray-ala The Ramones)' great "Road Trip." "Totally Pops" is a killer song about lost love that started in-where else-a record shop. The guitar riff alone will stay with you like a bad PBR hangover. "Finding Rewind" laments the loss of most of your bodily functions after way too many cold ones-good stuff. The Returnables wrap this hot piece of plastic up with "Probably" where Arturo (who has left the band-I guess he's now the Ritchie Ramone of the band) tries in vain to hold on to a girl he knows is out of his league. Will she leave him? Well, probably. “So When Can I See You Again?”...Plus sports infectious hooks, spot-on harmony vocals and guitar riffs that will turn your insides into quivering mounds of Jell-O. So get this and feel the twisted love that is The Returnables. (4 stars) - Ear Candy


You’ve really got to hand it to Jeff Pezzati; the ex-Naked Raygun frontman has, in a relatively short time, stocked his Jettison Music imprint with an impressive roster. While he’s done quite a good job stacking the shelves, his signing of rising Chicago quartet The Returnables just might be his most impressive A&R outing yet. Unrequited Hits, the group’s second release is a stirring sonic stew that’s heavy on ‘50s doo-wop harmnies, ‘80s power pop riffs and ‘70s punk attitude. There’s no denying that their delivery is a bit sloppy, but with tunes as utterly infectious as the sugar-pop bomb “Bubblegum” and the charming/chiming “Your Teenage Friends,” who really cares? Like so many bands of their ilk, The Returnables always seem to sound like they’re paying homage to their heroes; “Run, Run, Run, Run”could very well be a Shoes outtake, the snotty “Gentlemen Prefer Them Gone” is positively Buzzcocks-y, and “Hey, Alice!” is the band’s tribute to their forefathers, the aforementioned Naked Raygun. No, The Returnables aren’t exactly setting the world ablaze, but if they’re able to keep writing songs this good, it won’t be too much longer that their hits go unrequited. - Splendid

"Go Metric"

Unrequited Hits reminds me a lot of The Feelies and Hypnolovewheel, lots of jangle in the guitars and lots of nerdy heartache in the lyrics to go along with the peppy energy and cool backing vocals. And like those other bands, The Returnables know enough about pop craft so as to leap past “couple good songs and the rest is crap” syndrome, stringing together a slew of great singles that makes this album a head-to-toe pleasure for discerning pop fans. - Sean Koepenik



"So When Can I See You Again?" EP, Rocketship Records 1999
Unrequited Hits LP, Jettison Music 2002
"So When Can I See You Again?"...PLUS EP, Jettison Music 2003


"You Make Me Nervous" on Beluga on the Rocks, Beluga Records 1999
"Don't Think Joey" on Pistil Magazine comp, 2005


"Road Trip"
"Don't Think Joey"
"She Throws Punches"
"Julie, Did I?"


Feeling a bit camera shy


Mixing the power pop thrust of the Real Kids and the Undertones with the buzzsaw aggression of the Saints and Teengenerate, Chicago's Returnables conjure a world where "Rock and Roll High School" and "Valley Girl" are in heavy rotation on cable, where the drinks are cheap and where the songs are loud, fast, and nearly all about girls. In the flavor-of-the-month muddle of popular music, The Returnables are a much-needed oxygen fix.

The band dates back to 1998, when Reggie and Bobby James Lee Ray got bored with their bands and got together with the intention of drinking a few beers and bashing through some Undertones covers (although by the second show a bunch of Vapors and Bowie songs had already made it into the Underclones’ setlist).

It was instantly apparent that this fortunate accident demanded immediate attention. Christening themselves The Returnables, the boys fueled their songcraft from that initial spark and immediately started lighting up halls, holes and hovels throughout the States.

Constant roadwork sharpened the band’s ragged but right tunes, and in the fall of 1999 they released “So When Can I See You Again?”, a 4-song EP on their own Rocketship Records imprint. Then when drummer Richie Stuverud (The Fastbacks) split, he kicked off a short succession of drummers and guitarists that would result in the classic Returnable lineup of BJ, Reggie, Frankie and Arturo.

In the meantime, “So When” caught the ear of Naked Raygun frontman Jeff Pezzati, who was so taken by the band’s garage-pop sound that he immediately signed them to his Jettison Music label.

The full-length Unrequited Hits was released in May 2002. Once again working with producer Mike Hagler (Wilco, Mekons, Neko Case) at Kingsize Sound Labs, Unrequited Hits was exploding-white-mice loud – but the volume never overwhelmed the melodies, which lingered long after the final cut had played. A baker’s dozen of manic pop thrills, Unrequited Hits was a blast of pop mayhem that brought the band international attention.

The Returnables followed up that triumph with “So When Can I See You Again?”...Plus! in May 2003, with 4 brand-new nuggets added for good measure. This release, bolstered by further touring and a featured performance in the still-airing Independent Film Channel (IFC)production “Running With the Bulls,” further cemented the band’s reputation as one of Chicago’s finest musical exports.

In 2005, The Returnables are stronger than ever. New drummer Tommy Lee Ray brings a new level of supercharged intensity along with a freewheeling technical prowess that perfectly complements the Returnables’ stripped-down sound, and bassist Blaze St. John (The Heatseekers, Cavity, Gasoline Fight, ZZZZ) is a veritable encyclopedia of power-pop hooks. With an abundance of new material, adrenaline and Plimsouls records, The Returnables continue to redefine rock and roll as something that should stop trying so hard to redefine itself already.