Pegboy/Kepone split 7" (review) (1/4 Stick): Pegboy is back(!) with Dangermare, a return to near-greatness after the disappointingly average Earwig. An offshoot of the late great Naked Raygun, Pegboy combines power chords, sing-along vowels and aggressive drumming most bands only dream about. They’re America's indigenous answer to British oi music (not a copy of it, dummy). You call yourself punk but don't own Three Chord Monte? Well, I'm sure at least you dress punky. The band Kepone is on the B-side. I don't like overtly jazzy, psychedelic punk and therefore recuse myself from passing judgment.
Peter & The Test Tube Babies
- Loud Blaring Punk Rock (CD review):
Test Tube Babies walked (and may still walk) the line
between oi and second wave British street punk in the early ‘80s. Their niche
was twisted humor, "Transvestite" their most popular laff & cringe-along.
"Maniac" was the hit on their other side, the one like the Anti-Nowhere League,
who could be funny too but in a mock-nihilist vein. Peter& don't fit the common
conception of oi, but then again so doesn’t Cock Sparrer in a world that sees oi
as a National Front stereotype. New oi obliterated old oi, revealing it for what
it really is - pub punk for yobs. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…
Loud Blaring Punk Rock came out in 1994, a no-man's land of a year in the career in any old punk band. I was going to be more harsh in my review until I came across this, where the circumstances of the recordings are explained. "So, we hit upon the idea of recording an album using their songs and some of our really old songs that were so bad we'd never had the front to record them before, stuff like 'I Lust For The Disgusting Things In Life' which lets face it, is awful."
Loud Blaring Punk Rock isn't bad - it's just doesn't stand out. It does everything right by genre standards but every song begins, middles and ends with no reason to give it much thought or a second listen. You only need to hear fifteen seconds of anything to get it. There's a bit of The Exploited added and the tasteless level is high without the redeeming value of cleverness. "Pick Yer Nose (and eat it)" is about picking your nose and eating it, and the cavalier tastelessness of "Breast Cancer" might even offend Tesco Vee, who himself took it too far with "Crippled Children Suck". If anyone disagrees with me, come back if your own child becomes crippled and we'll share some yucks.
The only hits package with "Transvestite", "Maniac" and the live "Elvis Is Dead" is this one, the only one you should own, and one you should own anyway because it's a freakin' treasure trove.
The Phenomenauts - For All Man Kind (cd review): If you're looking for a more roots-punk take on The Epoxies, The Go-Nuts and Servotron, look not one quadrant beyond Oakland, California, where The Phenomenauts spin a tale about defending Earth's right to "Rocket Roll". Their first records were from 2003 and 2004, and the one I heard a while ago struck me as too light on humor and too heavy on pompous rock tropes. 2008's For All Man Kind has them settling into a lighter shtick and the results are funtastic!
The opening track, "All Go For Launch", is as simple and powerful as Gary Glitter's "Rock And Roll", and also morally superior if you're against child-diddling. The semi-professional foosball team I sponsor (The 'Effin F-Bombers") enter the septagon as this song plays over my boom box. Even in a rec room setting it's daunting. The other tracks are equally engaging and can be summed up nicely by visualizing what it'd be like it a surf-rockabilly band decided to do their best tribute to The Epoxies. I posted "Cyborg" because it segues perfectly with The Hanson Brothers' "My Girlfriend's A Robot", which I guess I have to post now too. Fine. I thought I'd read that the guy who was in The Epoxies and also The Automatics was now in The Phenomenauts, which knowing both of these other bands would perfectly explain For All Man Kind, a great record for you and yours this holiday season.
Pinhead Circus - Detailed Instructions For The Self Involved (CD review) (BYO): Fans of Face To Face and Fat Wreck Chords bands take note! Fast drumrolls, fast chugga-chugga guitars, sing-alongs you can scream into the mike the next time the band plays your town, lyrics that will speak to your life if you can understand them, and some mosh parts -- yeah, a few mosh parts to break up the slam dance marathon. I can tell this is decent for the genre but if I'm going to slam its going to be to Fear, not generic emo-thrash so firmly entrenched in the middle class you can't see the trees for the shopping malls.
The Pist - Ideas Are Bulletproof (CD review) (Elevator Music): Teen political hardcore like it was 1982 all over again. Screamed slogans of scene unity, anti-racism, anti-sexism, and taking the fight directly to the A-Holes. It’s dogma without wit or style, but most kids need simple messages constantly beaten into their heads. I've had my fill of harder-than-thou personal politics, but fans of the genre should love this. (Note: The singing is a cross between The Meatmen's Tesco Vee and how Crucial Youth used to mock straight edge in the ‘80s.)
Pivot- Oscillator (EP review) (Eating Blur): Purple vinyl for 49 cents, and if you lick it it tastes like grapes. On the lyrics sheet they quote from the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) Article 1"-- "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights". I guess this is the Miranda Rights read to racists and bullies. As they knock out your teeth you quote from Article 1, and they'll stop, I guess. You can tell I'm stalling while I listen to this for the first time. (Please go to the bathroom while I wait for side 2 to finish....). Kind of punky, kind or rockin', and kind or poppy. The guitarist is pretty good at creating sonic landscapes. Not bad. It also says on this "Printed on recycled paper". Pivot's going straight to heaven.
Plow United - Narcolepsy (CD review) (Creep): It took me a few listens to sort out what this now defunct three-piece was doing well. It's the intensity of silence -- the space that separates and defines the line between soft and hard, slow and fast, good and evil, and ying and yang. The quick take on Plow United would be a lot of Jawbreaker, some Fugazi, and faster Rancid (the singing also reminds me of Rancid), and a helping of thrash to bring it up to date. There's also something deeper and more impressive they might have picked up from Big Black, and that's terror underneath a layer of tranquility, like the quiet man down the street you'd never suspect of torturing strangers in his basement. The lyrics are emo but there's something in the music, in the fractions of deadness that riddle the mayhem like bullets from a machine gun, that evokes the nihilism of Big Black's "Kerosene" and "Bad Penny". Narcolepsy is a great record. All you skinny Jade Tree kids should toughen up and add this to your collection. While your at it, throw out any Joan of Arc CDs you own. It's embarrassing for both of us.
Plow United existed from ‘92 to ‘97, and from the liner notes I think they knew this would be their last. The progression from track one to seventeen is a movement from darkness to light. Maybe it’s their answer to Husker Du's Zen Arcade. "West Chester Nuclear Winter" starts the record with "Entropy. Things aren't what they used to be. When the room fills with hate, you must choose your own fate. Will you move or be stepped upon? There was a time that was long before now when I wouldn't believe those words came from my mouth. But that was before private property rules. Before smiling faces turned caustic and cool. So f--k all these ideals of sharing and trust. F--k all these hopes. Let them wither and rust." The close is "The Narrow Sparrow": "We know that when it all comes down that we'll keep our feet on the ground. It's better to try than to give up. And when the s--t hits the fan and we're crawling back to the van, it's nice to have a little piece of home. We're still young, we don't know s--t about love. We've got our whole lives, and we get crazy over nothing. I know you think that I don't care. I tore my skin, my heart is bare. Can't you see I'm ready to put an end to the fight?"
Narcolepsy is consistently complex and powerful. Jawbreaker brought a welcome set of energy shifts that invigorated a punk scene becoming listless. Plow United’s Brian McGee, Sean Rule and Joel Tannenbaum are equally creative, and I give them credit for going out with a bang instead of a whimper (cruel cut on Jawbreaker!) While I would say this CD is closer to emo than anything on Epitaph, Rancid fans (especially on "Freedom Or Security?") will probably enjoy this as much as bulemics love to yawn in technicolor. My favorite track is "Attn: Asshole Re: Records", a pop song as good as Jawbreaker's "Tour Song".
Here's the liner notes from the back of the booklet. It's worth reading, and talk about concise: "During the thanksgiving weekend of 1992, four boys who knew each other from a private high school in wilmington, delaware gathered in a basement with a four track cassette recorder. they recorded six songs. at the time the songs seemed very fast. nearly five years later, august 2nd, 1997 to be exact, three of those boys emerged together at the end of the time/space vortex of early adulthood. they looked around and realized that they were in a church basement in philadelphia pennsylvania, where they were to play together for the final time. a long journey was ending, their vehicle for the journey had been a for econoline 150 with a faulty electrical system. the distance had been almost a hundred thousand miles, much of which was spent traversing every inch of pennsylvania, new york, new jersey and delaware over and over and over, although they did manage to make it as far as the pacific ocean a few times. all three boys reflected on the years that had passed. each of them had encountered ideas and people that had challenged their lives for ever and ever. none of them knew that to say to the hundreds of people who had helped them in every possible way that human beings can help each other. it was all happening so fast. they barely knew what to say to each other, let alone anyone else. so they said "thank you". in retrospect, the six songs seemed very slow."
Pony Up! - EP (cd review), Make Love To The Judges With Your Eyes (cd review), Stay Gold (cd review): You know me, I'm a 200 pound teeth gnashing two-fisted double-flushing volcano of intransigent cultural belligerence, but I can fall hard for the right femme-fronted indie pop or lo-fi band. It has to have the right "Huh!" instead of a "Eh..." or a confused "Baroo?" Monty Hall, Canada's Pony Up! fits that bill as a great post-punk indie pop band in the best tradition of Rough Trade Shops Indiepop and bands I'm addicted to like Cub, Suddenly Tammy!, Tetes Noires, and The Organ. They dole out portions of each, so it pays to be eclectic as you wade through their catalog. While they never knock on the door of melodic hardcore like Pretty Girls Make Graves they also never curdle precious and pretentious.
The four-piece Pony Up! formed on New Year's Eve 2002 and released their self-titled debut EP in 2005, followed by their best work, 2006's Make Love To The Judges With Your Eyes, then the more challenging yet still rewarding Stay Gold in 2009. Reading this interview it seems they're stuck in the trenches of the undiscovered, a shame because they're capable of a big, compelling sound that can open for bands like The Arcade Fire and Bloc Party. Here's a 2006 in-studio performance of their best work, "The Truth About Cats And Dogs (Is That They Die)" . It's more subdued than the studio version but also more appropriate for the setting:
It's professional enough to be a studio recording. I hope they catch their break while they're still on top creatively. Here's the video for the same song - faster and louder. The animation is stunning even if it seems a little disconnected from the song in its timing, like a separate film adapted for this purpose.
The seven-track EP came out after three years of writing and touring in clubs, galleries and retail stores. The guitar work is sometimes biting and jagged, and "Toy Piano" is sweet as a minimal piece of music, but on the whole it serves more as a sampler of what they were cranking out in their formative years. It's the foundation from which they built their enduring follow-up, Make Love To The Judges With Your Eyes, opening with "Dance For Me", a piano-bass-drums piece just as good as the criminally undervalued We Get There When We Do by Suddenly Tammy! "Possible Harm" has similar appeal. "The Truth About Cats And Dogs (Is That They Die)" is a classic, with "What's Free Is Yours" "Pastime Endeavour" and "Make, Model, #" generating similar steam heat. "Only Feelgood" is my favorite slower track, but they all have their charms. By all accounts a great record.
Stay Gold is by their own admission a darker and more personal work, so it's less happily enthusiastic and exuberant. It's not bogged down by bitter dirges or stretches of cryptic true-confession monologues, but it does make you wonder who stole their innocence and drop-kicked their hearts into the Hudson River. "A Crutch Or A Cradle" is the best and busiest song, followed by "Making More Beneath", while "2 Sq. Ft." is the best slow track. Each song is filled-out well but most are mid-paced and reliant on the strength of the lyrics, which are clever and keep your attention as long as you're into someone's else's bad day/month/year/life.
I'm hoping they cheer up soon and record a BIG sounding record of indie pop brilliance, one that will get them where they need to be, if not for my sake, at least for theirs.
Iggy Pop and the Stooges - Head On (CD review) (Snapper): So there's like this guy, right, called Iggy Pop, which is like such a cool name to be born with, and he's like dead or something because he's really old, older than old skool, and he played with the Stooges, and I don't know if he was in the 3 Stooges, because like I think that was even older than that, and the guy from MTV was talking about him but then Metallica came on and I kinda' was booing them and cheering them at the same time because I love those guys, but they don't want me to download all their music for free on Napster. What was I talking about again? Oh yeah, can I copy off you on that hygiene test tomorrow?
I guess this is a bootleg. The quality is great, or at least not any worse than the material they're booting. Two CDs, twenty tracks, from '72 studio outtakes and rehearsals to live '73 tracks. There's radio broadcasts from Detroit and a live show from Baltimore. I won't try to explain the Stooges as it’s like a college philosophy final where the only thing you have to do is define "Reality" - within your lifetime. Suffice it to say they were the first crash and burn American punk band. Comparable to the MC5 only via date and proximity, The Stooges were what The Doors could have been if Jim Morrison wasn't an art-fart hippie weirdo. A more bluesy band than The Doors, The Stooges nonetheless played enough hard-edged psychedelic rock to warrant a direct comparison.
The many live tracks are raw and powerful, but what stands out are the studio outtakes from 1972. "Head On" and "Cock In My Pocket" feature a roadhouse blues-rock piano that never quits. I recently found early NY Dolls demos that are much duller than the greatly derided studio versions. Live and demo Stooges really tear it loose. They're one band whose bootlegs I can see collecting. A really good mix of material that only advances the legendary status of Iggy Pop and Company.
Iggy Pop - Beat 'Em Up (CD review) (Virgin): "Hey guys, go down to the warehouse and get Iggy Pop out of cold storage. Dust him off good because it's time to record his annual studio album!" Iggy is a commodity of cool whose stock moves up and down like the stock market. He's the real thing when it comes to rock and roll danger, but it seems like an eternity since he was first thrown out there to sink or swim on the strength of his backup band and collaborator (read partner, in this case guitarist Whitey Kirst). Iggy's up for anything as usual and Kirst loves Deep Purple, ZZ Top and BTO.
"Mask" opens the show and it's a nice throwback to the old Stooges. Ig does a good Allen Ginsberg riff in the middle, going off on frat boys and entertainment big shots. Then "L.O.S.T." goes chugga chugga heavy and Iggy sings "In the garden of evil" like it's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida". "Howl" has him howling like in "Dog Food", but then you feel like you're in a biker bar with fellers named "Gutter" and "Fang". "Football" is a nice slow version of "The Passenger". "Beat 'Em Up" is lite rap metal. Yuck. "The Jerk" huffs, puffs and goes nowhere with its limp lyrics. "Go For The Throat" is more (c)rap-rock lite that commits to nothing (which might be a good thing, but still, it's weak), making me wonder if Iggy doesn't see the difference between the wheat and the chaff.
The rest is ok, but there's no reason to own this except to validate, via capitalism, Iggy's continued existence. He’s a legend who doesn't need to record new material, and maybe he shouldn't. He should just tour with an oldies show, with commemorative jars of people butter for sale in the lobby and a "laugh at the helpless junkie" Iggy booth in the gutter in front of the venue.
Pretty Girls Make Graves
- Good Health & The New Romance (CD reviews):
I can't say enough good things about Seattle, WA's
Pretty Girls Make Graves.
Few can place their sound and influences with any certainty (Sleater-Kinney fits
best) because what they do is original enough to be, well, original. They're a
band for headphones and a riveted attention. The best compliment I can give to
their music is that they're abso-fugg-lutely fascinating.
Tempos change while instruments interplay and go off on their own at will, yet there's never a false step or confusing turn. The only other band I know of that operates at this level is Leatherface, who only dream of having the same flawless production values. Good Health and The New Romance are beautifully recorded with no one element given priority. The test on this is to focus on one instrument and see if it comes across clearly and in proportion.
The songs are driven by Nick DeWitt's drumming, which doesn't overwhelm or take the easy way out. The two lead guitars play cat and mouse and fly out in minimalist tangents. The bass pounds like mad and the electric keyboard adds both a wall of sound and eccentric flourishes. Andrea Zollo's voice has great personality and range, delivering melodic screams easier on the ear than The Distillers.
Maybe this is progressive hardcore. The second album is more reserved but both are winners with no weak track in the bunch. Like my "pal" Joe Bob Briggs says, "Check it out".
The Promise Ring - 30 Degrees Everywhere (CD review) (Jade Tree): Since Nothing Feels Good is a constant guest on my CD player I dropped the bucks to pick up the one before it. Emo is a hit or miss thing - the faster songs packs full punk power while also providing intricate instrumentation and creative flourishes. When a good emo band attacks their instruments the results are usually fantastic. When it's slow.... and whiny.... and wimpy, that's when it's embarrassing for all parties involved. Emo concerts must be weird like that - one minute you're slamming and the next you're sitting on the floor bobbing your head a little bit, holding back tears -- from boredom! Women want men who are sensitive - but not sensitive men. The hurt little boy aspect of slow emo is mainly what gives the genre its wimpy reputation, deserved yet a shame because fast, loud emo is easily among the best stuff being recorded.
30 Degrees Everywhere isn't as strong as Nothing Feels Good, but I still recommend it. An additional fast song and less lite-grunge meets lite-jazz would have helped, but it's getting better every time I listen so I'm learning to deal with it. The CD starts off fast with "Everywhere In Denver", which takes its guitar signature from Iggy Pop's "Lust For Life", and one can't ever go wrong going down that road. The Promise Ring's lyrics sheets drive me crazy. What's printed only marginally resembles what’s sung. And talk about cryptic -- "Summer sets on summertime, I'm getting wetter to wed you, forever/ Falsetto keeps time, belated/ I won't die so I don't forget. Until the porch light goes down, and the porch swing slows down." Most of the songs are as short and impressionistic. Better to leave the lyrics alone and concentrate to the songs. The singer has a scratchy and off-key voice. He's right up there with Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Calvin from Beat Happening, and Alfalfa, who gave up on hundreds and thousands of dollars at Club Spanky to sing his beloved opera out on the snow-covered streets.
The Promise Ring - The Horse Latitude (CD review) (Jade Tree): I was so impressed with Nothing Feels Good I bought their other CDs. The Horse Latitude isn’t as good but it is better than most of the turd piles that come out under the emo banner. This is (I think) some singles collected on a CD. Think of it as lite grunge with obtuse and sensitive lyrics. I imagine in concert the audience sits on the floor and stares like they're watching a movie with subtitles. Only two or three of these eight songs are of any interest. Maybe I'm not sensitive enough. Maybe by lifting weights all these years I've lost touch with my inner nerd. Gosh --- I hope not.
The Promise Ring - Nothing Feels Good (CD review) (Jade Tree): Emo = Emotional. Expressing feeling. Sincerity. Rites of Spring get credit for starting this sub-genre of hardcore, but Kevin Seconds of Reno's straight-edge pioneers 7 Seconds deserves some credit (and blame) too. Minor Threat, 7 Seconds’ WDC cousins, defined SXE but they weren’t emo. Rites of Spring combined jazz, punk, and confessional cleansing to forge first wave emo, which has only a passing association with second and third wave emo.
Today's emo bands are good kids from good homes who pull from many influences to create a diverse set of emo styles. I've only heard a few second wave emo bands, Sense Field my favorite, but they seem to pull from similar influences. I hear a lot of Jawbreaker, early U2 and lite grunge going on. Ben Deily, of the Pods and former creative half of the early Lemonheads, credits the following influences on his CD: the Buzzcocks/Raymond Carver/Cheap Trick/Dan Fogelberg/Husker Du/Rush/Simon and Garfunkel/Bruce Springsteen/Vangelis/ William Butler Yeats/The Blue Nile/John Ashbury/Raymond Carver. My earliest punk influence is listening to Harry Chapin. Now that guy was Hard... to the Core!
The Promise Ring give a bit away when they open the CD by name-dropping two ‘70s bands, Air Supply and Television. Air Supply manufactured catchy soft-rock pap for the radio. Television was the Tom Verlaine/Richard Hell band that talked CBGBs into allowing punk on the premises, and as a band they worked on creating melodic, creative tension between two guitars. I think The Feelies ran with it to better effect years later. Today Television sounds fairly dull, but in the ‘70s they were rough and tumble in comparison to Air Supply. Emo is introspective and sweet, but it can also be loud and abrasive, fast and slow. Husker Du's wall of guitar is now just a given, so it doesn't mean what it once did re: aggression and rebellion. Jawbreaker slowed down the Husker sound and made it fit with the emerging grunge phenomenon, which owed its lunch to both Husker Du and Neil Young. Emo bands take from early U2 their boyish introspection ("Make Me A Chevy" copies The Edge's guitar to the note), and from grunge they borrow the periodic, slow, whirling, hypnotic qualities grunge shares with the Grateful Dead and Phish.
I like this record very much. There's a high percentage of louder, faster songs that are all catchy, with hooks and fine musicianship. I would love them live. I'll bet the audience isn't in a big race to see who can be the dumbest, most self-destructive asshole in the room. That would be a nice change!
The Promise Ring - Very Emergency (CD review) (Jade Tree): I'm laughing because I know when I write that I like this CD some will accuse me of being a laundry list of all horrible emo things. Emo is punk's little brother who gets picked on for being sensitive and sincere, but I've heard too much good emo and bad punk to care. To correct myself, I don't care to begin with, but your slights are the sprinkles on my don't care ice cream cone.
A more direct and maybe slightly less interesting record than 1997's Nothing Feels Good, Very Emergency is an indie-pop record that immediately feels comfortable and accomplished. I knew on first listen this would get a good review. I can't tell if there's a woman singing back-up on "A Picture Postcard" or just one of the boys holding on to “the kids” for dear life. There's a lot of single potential on this, especially "Happiness Is All The Rage" and "Emergency! Emergency!" I don't listen to the radio so I have no way of knowing.
I assume The Promise Ring were expecting a backlash from the emo community of hanky blowers because the Jade Tree web site goes out of its way to explain their new direction, "Indeed, Very Emergency delivers on what previous recordings have only hinted at-namely, a deepening respect for songcraft and the premise that a good record can be both simple and smart. "Maybe I'm not in college anymore and the artsy part of me isn't working right, but I don't want to write poems right now," vonBohlen muses. " I want this album to say, 'Hey, those other songs were not about girls. This is what it sounds like when they are... With this album The Promise Ring display some of the most definitive moments in their musical career. The obtuse tales of young adulthood have been replaced by a mature, emotionally resonant glow - adding new depth and revelation to the band's already distinguished character." I didn't realize lyrics that make sense were a capital crime amongst the emo elite, who wear black rimmed glasses even if their vision is 20/20.
What a nice record.
- Potemkin City Limits (CD review): I have
no idea why
put “Potemkin” in the title of their latest CD since it references deceptions of
prosperity and happiness put on by communist regimes. In this context it's like
a German calling Bush a nazi. Maybe it's one of those lies that reveals a
greater truth. ok.
A staple of the Fat Wreck Chords lineup, Propaghandhi until recently were a snotty and goofy slappy-drum, reverse circle rodeo pit pop-hardcore band typical of the label. This new record is, as a fan points out on Amazon, "Progressive Trash". To me it's more like "Hey, you got speed-metal in my pop-punk", "And you got hardcore in my emo." I can't stand metal in any form but it's not the featured sound of the disc, and I actually like half of this. There's a good amount of emo in tone and pacing, and the added hardcore elements only make it that much louder. Here's where I plug Seven Storey Mountain, who also did this very well but without the metal.
On humanistic principles I'm automatically against political pedophilia, but the lyrics aren't as in your face stupid as Anti-Flag, and they're dumped towards the back. In a recent interview one of them laments past shows where dogma was endlessly preached between songs. Perusing their site I can accept they're sincere in their intentions, and even though they reference Marxist scumbags Noam "Gnome" Chomsky "Crapsky" and Howie Zinn, they at least have the good taste to not link to the usual Stalinist front groups.
Original Propaghandhi singer John K. Samson left the band in 1997 to form The Weakerthans, one of the most boring bands in alt.rock history. Their debut CD flew out of my collection faster than a vegetable out of Al Bundy's mouth.
Psychotic Reaction - self-titled CD (review) (PsychoBubblegum): Formed in 1997 in Connecticut, a beautiful state and home to many who work in NYC but want to live in an environment the complete opposite of that stinking hellhole, Psychotic Reaction are a smaller town version of Rancid. They run their own record label, nurture the scene around them, and mine a retro UK sound. While Rancid follows the arc of The Clash, Psychotic Reaction (at least on this 1999 CD) is torn between The Sex Pistols and second wave street punk groups like The Exploited. The results are mixed but they’re at least on the right track.
Start with the cover. You have to be in the 11-14 year old bracket to find it like totally awesome. Dude, this is a punk record, not a junior high notebook. I thought only bad heavy metal bands used this kind of artwork.
The two best songs, "Johnny Domino" and "I Hate You", are given an extra push by following the Dead Boys model as driven by The Crumbs. The structures and four chord guitar leads are for the most part very good. What sometimes detracts is poor backup singing, which makes the singing-along-with-the-lads pose of many street punk recordings that much more annoying. It’s as annoying as the kids singing on Pink Floyd’s The Wall. An even worse crime is an American band screaming oi! oi! oi! like Psychotic Reaction does on "I Shot Bambi's Mom". The analogy that always comes to mind is a Japanese Elvis impersonator singing karaoke to "Hawn Dag".
What I find immature might just be a result of my advanced age and the band's actual ages. On this CD I found enough evidence of a band destined for bigger things if it follows the example of Rancid, who found a mature, fully developed sound and proved themselves within that framework. "No Cable" is a nod to Black Flag's "TV Party", a novelty song, which is funny but it’s not the basis for a career. I suggest Psychotic Reaction listen to The Crumbs, who couldn't create more than one riff and were therefore unable to capitalize on their assimilation of The Dead Boys.
Public Image Limited
- Metal Box (CD review): For one brief
shining moment last Thursday I thought I finally "got" PIL's Metal Box ,
available again in a metal box. I listened to it twice, and the second time the
dub-reggae/death-disco mix found that tiny part of my brain where the medicated
serial killer with the long attention span resides. I fantasized the slow
torture of my enemies and danced a bit in a noncommittal fashion whilst checking
myself out in the mirror. There was blood. Oh Yeah.
This morning, back to nuthin'. "Memories", "Socialist" and "Chant" kept my ADD at bay but the rest dragged on with little direction or reason. I once worked stage security for PIL when they had Minor Threat and Wall Of Voodoo open for them at the University of Maryland around 1982. I thought their set would never end. Maybe it never did.
Jah Wobble's template for the dub bass line is fairly genius, but once figured out it's repeating itself into infinity. Keith Levene's guitar is neither new nor especially creative, but he seems to find ways to keep his hand in. Lydon doesn't sing like Rotten, which wouldn't work anyway.
I've always thought the long, slow tracks in this style appealed mostly to people prone to psychosis. Some of my friends lean this way so it's not a true putdown. I lightly assert it takes a "defective or lost contact with reality" to get into all 7:46 of "Poptones". Stay on your meds, kids, and think happy thoughts.
Pulley - Esteem Driven Engine (CD review) (Epitaph): Another free CD, this one from a grab-bag box if you bought anything in the store. I'd seen the cover advertised in many zines. On the same label as Bad Relgion, Pulley has that band's sense of melody down pat. The lyrics are vague and geared toward the introspective: "A row of mirrors before me and I can't see my reflection/My life is far from my expectations/It's getting lonesome in this parking lot of life". Not a bad release if you're into Epitaph (the smart kid's label) or Fat Wreck Chords (the fun kid's label). I will say there's an annoying off-rhythm pedal drum that permeates the CD. Also, points off to Epitaph for stealing Ralph Record's marketing slogan, "Buy Or Die".
Putters - "Muscle Car","Mistakes"/"Drink" (7" review) (Empty): Here's a chance to use my favorite golf joke. It's a line from The History Of White People In America: "If you keep on hitting holes-in-one we'll never see your putz". The a-side sounds a lot like the Big Boys "Frat Cars". The singing style is kind-o the same, but the Putters are a more conventional rocking punk band. The Putters are not in the Big Boys league but it's nice to make the comparison since it fits. The b-side is pretty decent retro drunk-punk worthy of repeat listens. From 1992 recorded in Seattle. I got my 49 cents worth out of this one.
The Queers - Don't Back Down (CD review) (Lookout): With each Queers release you never know if you'll get snotty thrashers, Screeching Weasel influenced Ramones mania, or ‘60s Beach Boys tributes. This is the Queers' latest and best Ramones/Weasel-influenced release. For variety Pick up A Day Late And A Dollar Short for 34 blasts of early Queers greatness. Don't Back Down picks up from where the great "Surf Goddess" 7" left off - a more surf influenced sound with tributes to love, non-love, yummy-yummy punk rock girls and assorted juvenilia. If we lived in a punk world, "I Can't Get Over You" (with Lisa from Cub) would be #1 on the charts. The Queers are now the undisputed kings of hardcore pop. They started with a Angry Samoans "Back From Samoa" snot punk sound, fell under the production influence of Ben Weasel, and are now one of the best touring bands going. They've been recording since 1982, piss off people by being themselves, pay homage to The Ramones, and are now exploring the roots of the Ramones - garage surf bands, Phil Spector girl groups, The Beach Boys, etc. Don’t Back Down is worth buying just for ”I Only Drink Bud”.
The Queers - Bubblegum Dreams (7" review) (Lookout): This is the single in support of Don't Back Down. There’s two Queers tunes and two covers, the Beach Boys "Little Honda" and "End It All" from The Muffs. Compared to their great "Surf Goddess" 7" this exceedingly average. "Punk Rock Girls" is a good song but they would have done better by issuing "I Can't Get Over You". I'm convinced that one could be a college cross-over hit for The Queers. It doesn't help that the Dead Milkmen put out a single called "Punk Rock Girl" years back. The non-CD track, "Never Ever Ever", is nothing special. The two covers don't add anything to the originals, especially The Muffs tune. I love The Queers and get excited when I buy anything from these them, but this one let me down.
The Queers - Punk Rock Confidential (CD review) (Hopeless): Joe King shoots, he scores!!!! Another keeper from the man who worships the Beach Boys and Ramones in equal measure. This one steals from prior releases more than I expected, but if you want originality this isn't the place to look in the first place. What you want from the Queers is great power pop punk, and that's what you get. "Like A Parasite" first appeared on the Screeching Weasels Wiggle CD and it's credited to Weasel/King. Here it's listed as King/Weasel. Huh. ‘Twood appear Joe is The Queers and he's hired hands to back him up. Chris from John Cougar Concentration Camp is on bass. Lisa Marr of Cub (and now Buck) helps out on vocals, arranging and production. Anything she touches turns to gold. Here’s fifteen songs of non-stop cretin hop. Buy it. The last time I saw them the sound mix was horrible. I don't exactly know why I think this, but the Queers should do an un-plugged acoustic tour. Only the Queers can sing "Motherf--ker" like it’s the happiest word in town.
- Summer Hits Vol. I (CD review): I'm
having a hard time thinking of this as a review since
Summer Hits Vol. I is product, no matter how swell it might be. It's either an excuse to
tour or something to sell on tour. I've loved these guys through all their
phases (Angry Samoans/Screeching Weasel/Beach Boys) and while it's nice to hear
songs old, new, borrowed and blue, I have to ask why. There's something missing
here, like waiting for the latest episode of your favorite show and discovering
the next few weeks are reruns.
Singer/guitarist Joe King's guitar is nicely tuned to where the chords chime like tones. The Who's "The Kids Are Alright" make a nice transition to fast and fuzzy while their take on The Angry Samoans' "My Old Man's A Fatso" is an acknowledgment of a debt. The Samoans get the short shrift in punk history with Green Day getting credit for what the Samoans did much earlier. An Effin A on that.
This can't be a hits collection because "I Only Drink Bud" isn't on it. Feh.
The Queers - Beyond The Valley... (CD review) (Hopeless): You have to open the CD booklet to read the rest of the title. Is it a game or a puzzle? Another year, another Queers CD to sell on tour. At this point Joe King must be putting these things together in his sleep, if not coma. Let's see, a snotty song about how bad I small/look/act goes there, an anti-hippie pop-punk song here, a Beach Boys ode next,then fill 'er up and ship 'er out. I don't mind slavish adherence to formula, but this time The Queers have gone out of their way to exhibit little inspiration. If you don't own any other Queers CDs you'll love this one. Otherwise it's so much more of the same thing you'll doubt they'll ever be relevant again.
The last two times I saw them live it seemed like a simple sound check was too much of a hassle. Too bad.
The Queers - Back To The Basement (cd review): A new Queers cd elicits the usual responses, mostly "Has a whole year gone by already?", "Isn't this the last record but only different?" and "Look at that, there's another new Queers release. Huh." I like The Queers but they long ago settled into a filibuster of material as predictable as May following April. I like Back To The Basement but I'll listen to it a few times for this review and probably never put it on again. The pile of similar material is too high, which is odd coming from me, who champions a band continuing a good thing and not changing for the sake of change. Maybe fifteen years is my max for more of the same.
This is in the same ballpark but not as good as 1995's Move Back Home or 1996's Don't Back Down, so in that regard they might have tweaked the formula better this time 'round. The title misled me since I was thinking the basement in question was the one they escaped from, available on a disc called A Day Late And A Dollar Short. Back To The Basement opens with a surf-punk instrumental, which is unusual and makes a statement of some kind (I guess). The singing on the disc is generally layered to sound like there's more than one singer. The effect is harmony instead of intensity. Two songs have an obvious Beach Boys vibe ("Outta My Skull" and "Everyday Girl"), there's the usual misogyny we're supposed to either take seriously or not on track three, GG Allin's name is dropped in a song title and the cd closes with "Keep It Punk", which panders to children with the lyrics "Keep it up, keep it real, keep it punk". The best tracks are "Back To The Basement", "Pull Me Out Of It", "White Minority" (a Black Flag cover), and "F--ked In The Head".
Back To The Basement is enjoyable but it is more of the same in a long line of more of the same. There's nothing wrong with that but The Queers might be punk's version of a vaudeville act, for better or worse.
- Live In West Hollywood (CD review):
Live In West Hollywood
is more of an accomplishment than it is a letdown, but you can argue either side
fairly well. On the plus side the playing is tight and the sound quality
excellent. On the down side it lacks a human quality, and after any ten minutes
of the 31 track cd you get the point and want to move on.
The Queers are a great band and everyone should see them live at least once. They're America's #1 choice for when you want to turn off your brain and act like a pinhead. For better or worse Joe King writes songs on demand like someone at a party who can take five pieces of information from the crowd and instantly writer a song about all five things. If not that, then Queers songs never get deeper than their titles.
Queers - Today (CD EP review) (Lookout): At this point I find it impossible to review anything by The Queers or Screeching Weasel without mocking it as product. I also can't mention one without the other. Both bands regurgitate past recordings to the point of irrelevance. Sometimes Ben concentrates long enough to create something important (Emo), but then he worries about his bank account and cranks out rote kiddie-punk (Teen Punks In Love). Joe Kingof The Queers waits until the last minute to have something to tour on. Usually it's an album, but this time it's a five song EP, which scores an eight on the laze-e-meter. The Queers live on the road every summer.
The EP opens with "Yeah, Well, Whatever", a collage of an endless combination of Queers and Screeching Weasel songs. I did like "I Don't Want To Live On The Moon", a slower number with a Beach Boys feel. "Salt Lake City" is homage to The Beach Boys and the best track here. The piano track helped. "I've Had It With You" and "I'm The Boy For You" are new lyrics added to old songs. I imagine Joe in the studio telling his band "Just play anything. I'll sing over it."
More work probably went into t-shirt design and van repair than in making this CD. It's not the end of the world, but it would be nice if they at least pretended to make an effort.
The Ramones - The roots of punk are divided into two main camps of pop and rock, both with roots in R&B but for all intents and purposes as different as night and day. Pop is fun dance music. Rock is macho, and efforts to dance to it usually fail. Pop is an opiate for happily oblivious top-40 morons who care little about music and only want to party and look good doing it. Rock, on the other hand, is either slow and plodding to reflect the primitive mentality of its listeners, or fast with flashy guitar hysterics to mirror its fan's mindless aggression and love of glam-trash showmanship. The Ramones have always been a pop band. In the ‘70s they believed their competition for top-40, AM radio dominance was the Bay City Rollers. Either The Ramones were fools or way, way ahead of their time. The answer is probably a little of both.
If punk was a return to the three minute song the Ramones were the founders of the two minute thrasher. Hardcore comes from The Ramones. Power pop punk alsocomes from The Ramones. The UK punk scene came from a few sources, including The New York Dolls and The Stooges, but The Ramones broke open the doors with their UK shows in 1977. Joey Ramone liked to take full credit for the UK punk explosion, but the evidence isn’t complete.
The Ramones are to punk history what Ford is to the automobile - they didn’t single-handedly invent punk but their influence and legacy far exceed that of any other band. The Ramones were the first punk band you could really dance to, as opposed to Rock Out! to. At CBGBs they were frequently billed with the Talking Heads, which made sense because both bands played minimalist dance music. The Ramones played bubblegum not unlike The Bay City Rollers, except they played as fast as they could, created an unprecedented wall of blazing guitar fuzz, and wrote lyrics mirroring the daily concerns of Forest Hills, Queens numbnuts raised on too much TV, booze, drugs, comic books and bad horror movies. While not technically talented as musicians, The Ramones were surprisingly tight in the studio. This does bring up the question of how much of their studio work involved studio musicians. No matter how much The Ramones’ sound was augmented in the studio, though, played live each song was given the same raw, stripped down intensity. Ramones albums changed over the years, yet their live shows were stuck in 1976.
Where the stereotypical punk band only knows four chords The Ramones mostly played three. Once described as “Three chords, four leather jackets”, the Ramones looked and acted like The Three Stooges with Beatles mop-tops (Even the name Ramones is a piece of Beatles trivia). The ripped jeans, t-shirts, sneakers, and haircuts were uniforms each Ramone was required to wear. Joey and Johnny say these clothes were how they always dressed, but Dee Dee hated the look. Prior to The Ramones, Joey played in a glam band and dressed to a lesser extent like one of the New York Dolls. It's also said he wrote songs on a two-string guitar.
The Ramones were the exact opposite of the top-40 crap on the radio in the '70s. They were a twisted throwback to what was once great about radio in the ‘60s - short, simple songs that were fun to dance to. Their direct influences include The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Elvis, Iggy Pop, The NY Dolls, and garage bands found on the Nuggets albums. That they couldn’t play other people’s songs wasn’t 100% true, but in their own way the Ramones were perfectionists who concentrated on creating and perfecting their sound. Johnny ran The Ramones like a military boot-camp and never gave an inch when it came to the sound and image of The Ramones. He made life hell to anyone who didn't pull their weight.
The band's core members were Johnny Cummings, Joey (Jeff) Hyman and Dee Dee (Douglas Colvin). Dee Dee left around 1989 to be replaced by C.J., and the drummers’ seat changed hands often, like in Spinal Tap. They formed in 1974, inspired by the New York Doll's gospel that you didn't need to know how to play well to perform. The Ramones were a major part of the CBGBs scene in the Bowery. CBGBs is 25 feet wide and 167 feet deep. It's like playing a cattle car but the sound system is great.. Other CB's bands were folk, rock, girl group, and Stones inspired. The Ramones sound was the true revolution of that scene. It had origins in earlier pop but the delivery and look were from another universe. Johnny, Joey and Dee Dee all had drug and mental health problems, but in Forest Hills that just made them average. Dee Dee - hairdresser, junkie, male prostitute and writer of the band's most sensitive and violent material, was the nuttiest of the bunch, even though Johnny's habit of throwing TVs off rooftops is pathological. Joey was an early recognized case of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
The first three albums (Ramones, Ramones Leave Home, Rocket To Russia) are their best, most of the songs written by the time the first appeared in ‘76. Subsequent albums grew away from the minimalist thrash that made them famous, and while they never lost their status they never sold as many albums as they wanted, and they never won the airwaves. The Ramones wanted to be rich and famous. They made their decisions based on what they thought fans wanted. The Ramones was a business, and even though they fought each other for years, when it came to their business the Ramones were all business.
Why did the Ramones never break big? The answers are simple: 1) The music was as fast and loud as a speeding train, 2) Lyrics like “Beat On The Brat” and “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue” aren’t positive, 3) They looked scary, and 4) The self-destructive Sex Pistols soured the music industry on promoting any punk band. They gave The Ramones a disreputable reputation they neither wanted nor deserved.
The ‘80s and ‘90s saw The Ramones touring and releasing material, but they lost some punk appeal when hardcore broke with Fear, the Dead Kennedys and the Bad Brains (who took their name from a Ramones song). Hardcore was faster, harder, and louder, and the Ramones were no longer undisputed leaders. I also think fans didn’t take well to songs not sung by Joey, the “voice” of The Ramones, and Dee Dee’s occasional stab at hardcore put the band in the unseemly and ironic position of bandwagon jumpers. Joey’s involvement in politics also distracted from the original message of “Hey, Ho, Let’s Go!” Finally, in general “old” punk bands have less appeal to kids who like their stage heroes the same age they are. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. That’s the story of The Ramones.
Selfless Records and Clearview Records have been releasing complete cover albums of the Ramones catalog. Screeching Weasel did Ramones, The Vindictives recorded Leave Home, The Queers covered Rocket to Russia, The Parasites did It's Alive, and Boris The Sprinkler recorded a half-hearted version of End Of The Century. More are on the way.
The Ramones had “a simplicity that took sophistication to appreciate”. Ramones associate Arturo Vega said the band “reflected the American character in general - an almost childish, innocent aggression”. To the casual or disinterested listener, a lot of Ramones songs sound alike and the lyrics are dumb, but any Ramones fan will tell you there’s more going on than just “1,2,3,4” and “Hey Ho Let’s Go!”. The Ramones worked within narrow parameters but created an impressive body of work. If you’re not into any given style of music, songs are all going to sound the same. The Ramones are really their own genre. Describing The Ramones’ sound is difficult because you can’t accurately define the essence of an aesthetic.
The typical story of a Ramones fan is: 1) Heard an album for the first time and thought it was a joke, 2) Listened to it again because it was there, 3) Slowly got the joke and realized something clever and vital was going on, 4) Hooked for life. This happened to me. In 1976 I thought “Beat On The Brat” was as stupid as it got. Now I think the first three Ramones albums are perfect. Many don’t get it, while others like the songs on a simply, fun level, but within these simple songs are the answers to all your punk questions about the past, present, and future.
A film about The Ramones would make a great dramedy.
Albums of Note: (Ramones and Leave Home are combined on the CD All The Stuff (And More) Volume One, while Rocket To Russia and Road To Ruin were repackaged as All The Hits (And More) Volume Two.
Ramones (1976): What can I say. The greatest punk record of all time. Spin magazine called this the top alternative album of all time. Damn straight! There were sloppy garage bands before The Ramones but they were the first to create an entire new genre that will live forever. At the time their sound was described as a train or buzzsaw. Today it almost sounds quaint, but many critics thought this was a joke - noise trying to be pop. The Ramones thought this was commercial stuff. It took about twenty years to sell a million copies. While famous for their lack of technical talent, this first album is tight and benefits greatly from its minimalism - especially the three chord guitar progressions. Do you know this record by heart? If not, don't go calling yourself punk in public until you do. If you don't consider this the greatest punk album of all time you should also just give up and admit you're a metal head.
Leave Home (1977): More of the same. The "Gabba Gabba Hey" chant is introduced on "Pinhead", a variation on "Gooble Gobble" as sung in 1932's classic horror film Freaks. "Carbona Not Glue", referencing a British cleaning fluid that can be sniffed like glue for a cheap high, was replaced by "Babysitter" after Carbona's manufacturer threatened a lawsuit. No great loss because the song is good but not great. Not that "Babysitter" is a classic either. An all-around great record.
Rocket To Russia (1977): Two albums in the same year? Like that'll ever happen in today's market. A strong core of Ramones fans consider this their best work. This is a great album but it's really just continuation of the first two albums. Ramones was so unexpected at the time of its release I think it wins best album hands down. Still you can't go wrong with "Rockaway Beach", "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker" and "We're A Happy Family" (covered by The Residents even).
Road To Ruin (1978): When people refer to The Ramone's early records they usually refer to the first three. Road To Ruin can be thrown in just on the strength of "I Wanna Be Sedated" and "I'm Against It". The album is slightly heavier with Marky on drums, songs lasting longer than two minutes, acoustic guitar and attempts at short solos, but the original cretin mentality is still there. Any update in sound came from an effort to deal with the success of the Sex Pistols.
It's Alive (1979): Named after a horror movie, this live two LP set was recorded on 12-31-77 at the Rainbow Theater in London. During the show ten rows of seats were torn out and thrown on stage. It was released in England in 1979 but not in the US until 1995. Warner Bros. rejected it at the time because they wanted a studio album. Warners may have only heard 28 songs that sounded very much alike, but it’s a great set. It's Alive has all the hits from the first three albums.
Why was this recorded in England? Back in '77, US punk bands were more popular in England than they were in the States. I mean, how many people could fit into CBGBs anyway? Inside it's the width of a cattle car, and twice as putrid smelling.
End Of The Century (1980): An album that catches poop from Ramones purists, probably because it was the first major break from the purity of the first three albums. My theory is that they 1) shot their load, 2) let their hero Phil Spector dictate their sound, and 3) had to change if they wanted to win the fame and fortune they craved. At the time they were catching up with the post-punk landscape that belonged to new wave and the power chords of the Sex Pistols and the Clash. I think it’s a great record. Phil Spector, while a lunatic, was a genius in the studio, and he introduced studio tricks the boys never knew existed.
Listen to the slower songs at high volume and you'll catch the effect of sound layering that's Spector's signature. "Rock and Roll High School" is re-used from the movie and "Chinese Rock" is taken back from the Heartbreakers for the album. It was written by Dee Dee but declared thematically unsuited for Ramones use. What might the album down is a horrible cover of "Baby, I Love You", co-written by Phil Spector. I think it was a hit in Britain. Yeesh. The whimsical string section is enough to make anyone ill. Otherwise, there's a diaper full of hits here, especially "Do You Remember Rock N Roll Radio" and "The Return Of Jackie And Judy".
It’s probably true that every instrument was played by studio musicians.
Pleasant Dreams (1981): Produced by 10cc's Graham Gouldman, this seems like another move toward Phil Spector pop. It retains enough early elements and modern innovation to make it a good release. "We Want The Airwaves", "The KKK Took My Baby Away" and "She's A Sensation" aren't among their very best but they do anchor a consistently interesting record.
Subterranean Jungle (1983): "Psycho Therapy" is a classic but the rest doesn't do much for me.
Too Tough To Die (1984): An effort to take some attention away from the hordes of punk and hardcore bands that formed in their wake, The Ramones seem out of place, especially when Dee Dee tries to out-hardcore hardcore on "Endless Vacation". There's some interesting retro-pop numbers, the best being "Howling At The Moon (Sha-La-La)" a return to End Of The Century production values.
Animal Boy (1986): The songs are generally fast but the old, winning qualities aren’t there. "Apeman Hop" would be a great Ramones song if Dee Dee didn’t sing it. He sings like he has no teeth. His voice grates like the wail of the demented homeless. Two great songs came from the album, the powerful and sentimental "Something To Believe In" and "My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes To Bitburg)", both using Christmas-inspired percussion.
Halfway To Sanity (1987): What's the deal with the Lords Of The New Church guitar licks? "Go Lil' Camaro Go" with Debbie Harry on backup vocals is a nice piece of retro girl-group fluff, but there's not much else to cheer about. What the hell is Dee Dee doing singing like a crazed football hooligan on "I Lost My Mind"? "I Wanna Live" is a keeper but how "Bop 'Til You Drop" made it to a greatest hits collection is a real crotch - I mean, head-scratcher.
Ramones Mania (1988): A very sweet greatest hits and rarities collection that comes with a neat booklet and everything! There's lots of good band history in the smallest print possible. Thirty songs, and they’re all good selection. The perfect gift for a friend on the fence about the band. All hits all the time. Top of the pops. You get the point...
Brain Drain (1989): Dee Dee's last album with the band. He'll continue to contribute but he left to record a rap album as "Dee Dee King", up there with the best of William Shatner. Another average record with some good songs, like "I Believe In Miracles", "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want To Fight Tonight)" and "Pet Sematary", the theme song to a Stephen King film.
Mondo Bizarro(1992): Appearing three years after Brain Drain, they try turning back the clock but the themes are still more politically correct than cretin hop. "Cabbies On Crack","Anxiety" and "The Job That Ate My Brain" are uninspired stabs at current events when they should have recorded more odes to bad horror and war movies. Dee Dee, Daniel Rey and The Dictator's Andy Shernoff contribute songs, and The Door's "Take It As It Comes" is covered by Joey, who adds a bit of Jim Morrison to his singing. The best songs are the ballads, "Poison Heart", "Strength To Endure" and "I Won't Let It Happen". On the early records the ballads were musical speed bumps but here they're good in themselves and a nice change from faster songs that often fail to deliver. "Touring" closes the CD and blows everything else away. A Beach Boys flavored cover of their own "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker", "Rock N Roll High School", "Rockaway Beach" and who knows what else, this is what the rest of Mondo Bizarro should have been- fast, simple, funny, and great to dance to. Not slam, not pogo, but dance to like they did in the '50s and '60s.
Acid Eaters (1994): May I say this is crap? Maybe at 100 mph these covers of ‘60s radio and garage hits would have been cool, but as it is the Ramones are an oldies band doing Who, Dylan, and Beach Boys covers for a crowd of drunken frat boys on Spring Break. Remember Bowie's Pinups? This isn't any better.
Adios Amigos (1995): The twelfth and last studio full-length. The cd has grown on me over the years. I love every song sung by Joey Ramone, and I've warmed up to C.J. as lead singer, even though I don't picture him as a Ramone. He looks like a heavy metal dude, and his singing is more in line with the Angry Samoans, especially on "Cretin Family". The Ramones will always be Joey singing. That's it. Johnny, Joey, and Marky look like brothers. C.J. looks like a roadie. A fine send-off.
Greatest Hits Live (1996): A live sixteen song set from a 1986 NYC show with two bonus tracks. Only the best from the then new album Adios Amigos is included and the rest is what you want and expect from the Brudders Ramone - all boiling down to dancing like Dick Clark is in the room kicking ass and taking names. Joey alters his delivery on a number of the songs, and he croons effectively. I saw the Las Vegas stop of this tour and thought it stunk. The sound mix was terriblee and the songs blended into each other more than usual. This hometown show rules, kicks ass, rocks - whatever obnoxious cliché you want to use. Cool bass line on "Spiderman" too. I'm not even mad CJ's singing a few numbers. Grandpa Joey needs his rest and god bless his little pin-head. The two studio stacks are decent.
Dee Dee Ramone - Greatest And Latest (CD review) (Conspiracy): That Dee Dee released this album of mostly covers of his own material recorded with another band is either ironic or lazy, but it's no great mystery. Dee Dee feels the songs he wrote by his lonesome were unfairly credited to the entire band, so this might be his way of reclaiming his ownership of the material. In addition, how many people go to a Dee Dee Ramone gig to hear songs off of Zonked, or even know it exists? You see a Dee Dee Ramone show to hear Ramones songs. Dee Dee has two sides to his personality: knife wielding, cornered rat and dumb kid desperate to be liked. He needs the money so why the hell not release an album of old-is-new-again material. He's no great genius but he somehow wrote some of the greatest songs in punk history, a feat no less than an ape typing out some Shakespeare.
Dee Dee's present wife and former piece of jailbait, Barbara, plays bass and is featured on four tracks. I'm pretty sure she's contributing harmonies. If she's singing lead she's close to sprouting an Adam's Apple. Legendary music guy Chris Spedding produced the album and lends guitar to a cover of his own claim to music fame, "Motorbiking". Dee Dee plays guitar and someone by the swifty name of Chase Manhattan is on drums. Chase Manhattan is or was a large bank in New York. It sounds like one of the Kinman brothers (Rank & File) is doing an effective job singing on the Everly Brothers' "Cathy's Clown".
All that said and done, Greatest And Latest is a lot of fun and well worth a visit. The bass lines pulse with gritty electricity and there's a lot of great scruffy garage energy fighting clean production values. Dee Dee's not reinventing the wheel with these new versions, and he doesn't need to. "Blitzkrieg Bop", "Rockaway Beach", "Cretin Hop" and the rest exist to be played as gawd intended them, at least by anyone with the last name Ramone. Let Black Velvet Flag do the lounge versions. Dee Dee changed very few notes, and that was a very good thing.
Joey Ramone - Don't Worry About Me (CD review) (Sanctuary): I still find it odd how people treated the death of Joey Ramone last year as a great personal and societal tragedy. If you were related to him or you knew each other on a first name basis I can see where the sense of real loss comes in, but otherwise flesh-tearing grief seems to be a bit dramatic and self-centered. Joey was many good things to many good people but his fame came from being a musician, and no matter how soothing, gratifying and life affirming, music is pretty much a leisure time activity. Save any arguments you may have to the contrary for that guy who cares over there behind the dumpster. I think he's also giving away gum.
The first few times I listened to Don’t Worry About Me I felt confident I could conceptually compare it to the post-Velvet Underground albums of Lou Reed, in that the target audience pretty much accepts as valid anything they put out, or at least extends good will considering the greatness of their prior work. I think a lot of Lou's mundane catalog of solo work is given a pass because he wrote "Sweet Jane" and sat at the right hand of Andy Warhol. Joey was the "normal" Ramone (a very relative term in his case), the nice guy. He’s so revered people would pay to hear him sing the phone book. Nobody worked vowels like Joey Ramone.
As with Lou Reed, you also don't expect brilliant rhyming or lyrical content. From Joey you demand that "punk" rhymes with "runt" rhymes with "drunk". Joey's the only human being who gets away with singing a love song about business newscaster Maria Bartiromo. Why, because he's Joey Ramone! If I have to explain it to you it's not worth explaining. When he's belting out "What's happening with Yahoo, what's happening with AOL, I want to know", instead of retching I'm in heaven because he sang AOL as "aaee-oh-a-ell" and once again all is right in the Ramones World I've dug for myself.
With this, my fifth listen, I've come to love this record. It's everything it had to be. It's not too loud, not too soft, and it doesn't pretend to be anything more than it is. Joey's written some decent songs, and the people who helped him record what he feared would be his last made sure Joey went out with style and technical brilliance. If I wore a hat I would take it off to real life brother Mickey Leigh and long time Ramones associate Daniel Rey for producing the disc. Markey Ramone, Captain Sensible and Dictator guitarist Andy Shernoff also contributed beautifully to the cause.
"What A Wonderful World" opens the disc and Joey does something wonderful with Louis Armstrong's signature song. The opening guitar riff is a Sex Pistols version of the opening of The Clash's "I'm So Bored With The USA", which is great because Joey was probably the only Ramone who didn't blame UK bands for making it big on the foundation The Ramones built in NYC. There's a bit more Pistols guitar throughout and a whiff of The Dickies backup vocals. You'd think this cover would be strange but it's really great. "Stop Thinking About It" was co-written with Shernoff and it's intense once it settles into its groove. The one note piano lines are sweet. "Mr. Punchy" is a silly number but Markey gets to cut loose on the drums in a way he never could with The Ramones. It has the great line "Everybody's screwed up in his own special way", as autobiographical and truthfully empirical as you can get.
"Spirit In My House" is 68% similar to the Split Enz song "Dirty Creature". Compare if you dare. "Venting (It's A Different World Today)" is Joey's statement on our screwed up world. "Searching For Something" sounds like something Iggy Pop would have sung around 1980. "I Got Knocked Down (But I'll Get Up)" is Joey writing about being deathly ill ("Sitting in a hospital bed / I want my life / It really sucks") and he's full of hope when he sings the chorus of "I got knocked Down, But I'll Get Up". Maybe he got up and thought he won, but not for long. There's a strong glam rock tone to this one.
The cover of "1969" is a Memorex cover of the Stooges original. The wigged out, industrial strength psychedelic guitar is replicated exactly. Joey loved the songs that inspired him and there was also probably no bigger fan of music than he. "Don't Worry About Me" ends the disc physically and thematically. "What A Wonderful World" is his grand declaration that no matter what, it's best to be an optimist. "I Got Knocked Down (But I'll Get Up)" says he's on the ropes but still fighting, and "Don't Worry About Me" is what it sounds like. Don't cry for Joey Ramone because there's nothing to cry for. He had the best life a deranged character from Forest Hills, Queens could ever imagine, and April of 2001 was his turn to go.
Rancid - self-titled 7" (review) (Lookout): After the sadly short career of Operation Ivy, band members went on to other things while Tim "Lint" Armstrong became an alcoholic. Pulled back into the world by Matt Freeman, they formed Rancid as a three-piece with Gilman Street regular Brett Reed. They released this five song EP in 1992, plus a full-length in both ‘93 and ‘94. At that time former UK Sub Lance Frederiksen came on board and they recorded the landmark Clash-clone album ... And Out Come The Wolves. I think they're now working on their own version of Sandinista!
There’s an old and new Rancid, and I’m not overly impressed with the old. No matter how much energy went into it, or how much I like Freeman's bass lines, it mostly blends into each other in ye olde Old School style, a term I can’t stand because it means nothing, and the people who use it have no idea what it means. "I'm Not The Only One" is a good song off the 7", and it sounds a lot like the best bands who played Gilman Street. "Battering Ram" is a good example of their normal style and energy at the time. The three tracks on the B-side just exist. Maybe it's better than the most generic punk, but that's about it.
Rats Of Unusual Size - "Flipper Is Dead"/"Can't Call You" (7" review) (Vital Music): This NY band played mostly rock, but it's also punk, like Clawhammer. The brainchild of Jim Fourniadis, musician and studio engineer, Rats Of Unusual Size recorded insightful, funny tunes about junk culture that managed to both mock and work within the limits of the format. They put out a few singles and records, the last in 1996. If you put their best tunes on one record you'd have a classic. Not everything they did was worth a second listen, but the good songs are great.
"Can't Call You" is about a real trade school commercial that ran in the middle of the day in NY: "Dirty dishes? Don't think I'll wash 'em. Disgusting roaches? I think I'll squash 'em. I just get high and watch the tube, and a man comes and tells me that 'I can't call you' // You don't have to be a disgusting slob. You could have training and a paying job. Finish the course and keep the tools. But like I said, 'I can't call you'." My other favorite Rats tune is "Macho S--thead": "Macho s--thead likes to watch / make rude comments grab his crotch / He gives us guys a bad name / cause he wasn't graced with a brain // Macho s--thead likes to sweat / jerks off next to the TV set / he drives both men and women nuts / I really hate his f--king guts..."
Rats Of Unusual Size were also known for a their share of cover tunes, including "Twitch", from the Flintstones: "There's a town I know, where the hipsters go, called Bedrock - twitch twitch", and both the Sesame Street and Fat Albert themes. Jim sings about flan, coffee, Razzles, Sigmund Freud, and about his girlfriend being on the rag, sung to the Beatles' "She loves you yeah" chorus.
RC5 - "Comin' My Way" (EP review) (Junk): Featuring members of The Derelicts and Zipgun, "RC" stands for band leader Robb Clarke and the "5" can only be an MC5 reference since there's only four band members. The obvious influences are the MC5 and the Stooges. Many bands say they're influenced by these Midwestern bands but what you really get is Johnny Thunders/NY Dolls glam filtered through Chuck Berry riffs. The RC5 offers heavy rocking punk like Zeke and gutsy R&B thrash like The Devil Dogs and the New Bomb Turks. In time the RC5 will be bigger than Marlon Brando. I hear their live shows are great. Extra points for their logo, which should win an award or something. On blue vinyl 'cause you're Pavlov's dogs. Great music for when there's a beer in your hand and punk in your heart.
Reagan Youth (12" LP review) (New Red Archives): This monumental 1984 release is easily one of the top five hardcore releases of all time. Perfect, flawless, uncompromising, perfect. A pure anarchy peace punk band from NYC, Reagan Youth sounded like they played broken instruments and recorded on cheap microphones. The results are unique and fascinating. Songs degrading Reagan, racism, and capitalism are delivered with literary style and impressive urgency by singer and uber-loser Dave Insurgent.
Here's some lyrics from "Happy?": "Nervous twitching, anxious bitching / Is something disturbing You? / Nervous Laughter - What'Ya After? / Ha Ha The Joke's On You! // Are you really happy? / Are you happy? // Pompous bragging, neurotic nagging / Expose your insecurities / Aggravated, irritated / You're the perfect picture of misery".
Reagan Youth's "Degenerated" was the feature song in the Brendan Fraser movie Airheads. Along with the great music on this album comes a poster/lyrics sheet done in the cut-and-paste style of the period (It's Dada, ya know). Images of Hitler, the Klan, Ronnie Raygun, corporate America, religion and consumer culture are combined to create whatever propaganda effects you can derive from bad arts & crafts skills. All in all a great, great record. New Red Archives sells a few Reagan Youth things. Be sure to get their earlier material, since they got a lot worse..
The life and death of Dave Insurgent is typical and ultimately either funny or stupid. The New Red website provides a complete picture: http://www.newredarchives.com/bands/reaganyouth/bio.htm
- A Collection Of Pop Classics (CD review):
New Red Archives packaged both
studio albums into
It's hardcore's finest example of a band that went from hero to zero in the
space of two records. The first album from 1984 is the fastest and most melodic
disc to come out of a ‘80s NYHC scene mired in speed metal, hip hop stage antics
and multi-racial white-power thuggery. The recording sounded like enhanced mono,
the drums hollow and the guitars cheap. It's a very, very good record.
After they broke up a second record was compiled in 1990, and it's hippiecore for Deadheads who also love Hendrix. The notes I took on these later tracks read along the lines of "hard rock hippie", "hippie metal" and "psychedelic hippie". I imagine Dave Insurgent had dreads by this time. Some people like it but some people also enjoy cutting themselves.
You must read this page to follow the wacky hijinx of Dave Rubenstein, who founded Reagan Youth with his pal Paul Bakija, who called himself Paul Cripple. Punk names are even dumber than mafia ones. As far as Dave goes, what a complete loser. I'm sorry, but anyone who sticks a needle into their arm is a f--king loser. Read between the lines of this, "By now, between the violent assault and his continued drug use, he was no longer an energetic anarchist. He had become a bit disheveled, and many of his friends from the punk scene no longer associated with him." Imagine what it takes to be "a bit disheveled" in the NYC crusty scene. That couldn't have been pretty on any level.
Look, here comes rock bottom: "David began dating Tiffany B., a prostitute who worked on Houston Street. David had told his parents that she was a dancer. Tiffany supported the couple and their drug habit by turning tricks. David would often hang out on the street with Tiffany, waiting while she serviced a customer, and then going with her to score drugs."
I'm sorry, but I find this all funny. Punks love their heroes to be losers, the stupider the better. Dave killed himself. What a tragic loss... excuse me a moment while I don't give a s--t. Today’s news brought this report of a zero who hated life so much he kidnapped, raped and then murdered an eleven year old girl. He has a sad tale to tell too. We're all beams of light, perfect in our own way, no matter our faults. (Sigh).
2/21/06 update: it just hit me that the New Red Archives history of Dave's life and death spiral shows no pity for him. He must have really been a prick to everyone. The word "disheveled" probably also referred to his personality since hygiene is a non-factor.
2/22/06 update: It's funny that on the New Red Archives' Reagan Youth page they use substitute the lyrics "Ha Ha Ha” for "Heil Heil Heil”.
The Real McKenzies - The Real McKenzies (CD review) (IFA Records): In your mind combine Big Country with The Sex Pistols and you'll have The Real McKenzies. If they were Irish I’d say, "If they were any more Irish they'd be a six pack and a potato", but I can't think of anything as funny to say about the Scots. Since they’re from Canada I guess they did this partly out of pride and otherwise as a cool gimmick. It works well. On stage they wear kilts, sing about all things Scottish, and in addition to the drums and guitars they also play a mean bagpipes and fiddle. There's nothing better than being in a bar with three generations of drunks listening to a hard working Irish/Polish/Scottish/ English band play songs from the last century. The opening track, "Scots Wha' ha'e" would have been the first single from the Sex Pistols if they came from Scotland. They even do "My Bonnie" (you know, lies over the ocean). Now that's as Scottish as a...oh, never mind.
Red Letter Day - Chance Meetings: The Best Of Red Letter Day 1985-1999 (CD review) (Zip): Not to be confused with the wimpier band of the same name, this Red Letter Day formed in Portsmouth, UK in the mid ‘80s, a few years too late to have benefited from comparisons you can make all day to the UK Subs and The Undertones. Red Letter Day managed to combine the street smarts of the former and the aggressive pop innocence of the latter with style and no small amount of skill. Zip Records is promoting the band to an unknowing American audience, and based on these nineteen tracks I suggest you find out more about this band ASAP (yes, I'm calling you a sap).
The bigger influence on Red Letter Day would be the UK Subs, circa ‘79-‘80. I gather from the promo literature the two bands played on the same bill. "More Songs About Love And War" is a nod to The Undertone's "More Songs About Chocolate And Girls". "Killing Ground" doesn't know if wants to be an Undertones or Subs tune, making it that much better. Every track is a winner, taken from the endless parade of singles and compilation appearances the band’s produced over fifteen years. Something tells me they have always had decent day jobs, and I don't say that negatively.
There's a bit for everyone here, but none of it is exactly oi, street punk or power pop, at least in an easily marketable sense. The results are excellent but it skews to an older and more informed demographic - the tiniest group of all. It's all good and it's there if you want it. Creating need, that's why Zip mailed this to me. Thankfully I liked it a lot. My job as pawn for the Capitalist Whore is done for now. For now…
Replacements - Don't Tell A Soul (cassette review) (Sire): This is the band critics proclaimed the best of the ‘80s? It's one of their worst (their last, All Shook Down, being even sadder), but I never was a Replacements to begin with. Paul Westerberg was famous for his confessional lyrics and drunken self-destruction, two traits that don't impress me. Their earlier, more popular albums sounded like sloppy R&B roots punk, and I'm happy for their success even if it passed me by with barely a notice. Replacements fans love to tell tales of how drunk the band was live, which I assume has the same masochistic and voyeuristic values as watching GG Allin poop on stage.
Don't Tell A Soul has one good song on it that may remind you of the old days ("I Won't"), but the rest sounds like Westerberg hired studio musicians and stayed dull & sober throughout. There's a country-lite feel to much of the album, and while Paul's lyrics may impress members of his cult of personality, there's not much insight or cleverness. I'm thinking Paul's the 80's answer to Richard Hell, a poet whose contribution to punk history had less to do with lyrics than his look, attitude and band resume.
REO Speedealer - self-titled (CD review) (Spanish Fly): Lawyers representing REO Speedwagon finally got around to suing REO Speedealer over their name. I think now they're called just Speedealer. They’re "heavy" like Zeke, and sometimes get so heavy I'm reminded of sludgecore, too close to heavy metal for my tastes. Then again I'm not a real man. Killdozer fans will like this, and Cramps fans will know where Speedealer are coming from. If you're a punk with a big KISS collection you might get into this too. Listening to these fifteen songs all I can conclude is that this isn't my brand of sameness. I can get into a song or two at a time but that's about it. Sorry. Why the cover is a picture of two little boys kissing is beyond me since this seems like a dirt-bally macho collection of tunes.
The Riptides- California Reamin', Appetite For Rejection, Drop Out, Hang Out, Tales From Planet Earth (CD reviews):
Ottawa's The Riptides formed in 1998 and haven't released a full-length since 2010's Tales From Planet Earth. They've progressed from a stupid small "h" hardcore band into a decent punk-pop band of the Queers-Lilliningtons-Screeching Weasel variety, thanks in no small part by the production of Mass Giorgini and engineering of Phillip Hill of The Teen Idols. This article you won't read with lead singer Andy Vandal will explain everything you don't care to know about them. Their first two recordings were titled "I'm In Love With A Harelip Retard" and "Going Downsyndrome". You cannot imagine how much I wish only pain and suffering for the asshole came up with these titles. May their children have these conditions so they can laugh and laugh all day at the cruel irony of their f--kery.
California Reamin' (2000): Sixteen tracks of punk rock in the raw with hard Queers, soft Lillingtons, and medium surf garage influences. Can't say the influences all work together but at least they're not stuck in one groove, which would have only accentuated the punk-by-the-numbers, professionalism is for suckers approach of the cd. I give it 3 thumbs up (my ass) out of 5.
Appetite for Rejection (2001): Named after the first Guns N' Roses with a parody cover of same. Strike One. The insides are harder and faster with a deliberate growling singing style that worked as parody for Tesco Vee but is either not the intention or misplaced here on a punk-pop record with small "h" hardcore underpinnings that might be yearning for streetpunking oi ferocity. Wimmenz sing on two tracks and rough harmonies are also attempted. A heavy Queers influence is noted. There's a song titled "Mall Punks F--k Off", about as dated a punk concept as The Committee Of Outdated Punk Ideas has ever conceived. 3 and a half thumbs (up my nose).
Drop Out (2002): New versions of several tracks from the last cd are included on this 23 track marathon. The production values are improved but the influences are all over the map and lyrical stupidity is front and center. "Keep It All In The Family" has a sing-along chorus of "Oi! Oi! Oi!" - the kind of rookie mistake you'd never expect from a band together for more than four months. 3 reluctant thumbs up a stranger's wazoo on the train.
Hang Out (2006): A few years off produced a lesser album of average hardcore, Queers and surfy tunes with growly vocals. Maybe I'm just worn out from considering the last few records so I'll leave this one without much to say as the album doesn't have much to comment on.
Tales From Planet Earth (2010): Their best album in every imaginable way. Andy Vandal et al. must have woken up and realized they're not kidz anymore playing for even younger kidz even stupider than they were when they were kidz. The transition from childish snot-punk to masterful punk-pop rivals but does not equal the step made by The Lillingtons with their game-changing Death By Television only by how closely they deliberately followed the trajectory of The Lillingtons. For the genre, Tales From Planet Earth is pretty damn perfect. Phillip Hill provides some backup singing and the harmonics are off the chart. Not a weak track to be found and no growling either.
I hope their next record doesn't step back into the half-decent yet also half-not-decent excursions of their earlier recordings. The Riptides proved they have the stuff with Tales From Planet Earth and I hope they don't misplace it somewhere or trade it away for some magic pinto beans.
Rites Of Spring
- End On End (CD review):
good as any if you want a band history on DC's Rites Of Spring, the wellspring
of emo in the emotional sense. Sonically they were a bit jazzy and trippy, where
modern emo is more a post-grunge phenomena.
In 1985 they released their album Rites Of Spring, which at the time I barely got into as I still wanted Dischord bands to sound like Minor Threat's EP's. I'm not good at growing along with bands and scenes. I came across End On End and figured, since it was released in 1991, it was later material. I listened and it paled in comparison to my memories of the original album I haven't put on in ages.
Well, the joke's on me because End On End is the first album, plus an EP and bonus song. I'm surprised how timid (a relative statement) these songs sound now, especially compared to Beefeater, who ripped into their album with a lot more fury. I also heard what Dag Nasty stole from them and made their own, but I also think the latter wrote tighter and more melodic songs. I guess it's about the lyrics, which I understood only a little without a handy lyrics sheet.
This memory from a reviewer on Amazon cuts the core of the matter with Rites Of Spring and emo in general: "20 years later, I can listen to the songs on this album and remember vividly the deep impact that some of them had on my life between 1985-86. "Drink Deep" was a song that had particular meaning to me because I listened to it a lot during a brief, but intense romance while on a European trip in June 1986. The girl broke it off near the end of the trip for fear of becoming too involved with me, and I can remember making her listen to "Drink Deep" in an desperate attempt to get her to apply the message of the song to our relationship. The message to me was live in the moment and don't let chances pass you by. Alas, she dumped me, and for the rest of the summer, I would tearfully listen to "Drink Deep" and the rest of the album when I pined for my lost love."
The EP tracks, which came out some time after the LP, sound like tentative demos. I like the EP better than the LP. I suspect Rites Of Spring is a band you need to know something about before you listen to them for the first time. They were important and influential, but I doubt this has aged as well as people's memories of them and The Day.
River City Rapists - Love Hurts (CD EP review) (Junk): Let's see if we can figure out why this has been banned from Tower Records. Hmmmm...the legs on the cover form a swastika.... and the band is called the something something RAPISTS... the back cover is a shot of an uber-pregnant piece of white trash smoking and drinking, and, I'm not sure if this was a factor, but the gatefold inner sleeve is a fully nude porno shot of a woman getting her fudge stirred by a man who may not be her husband.
Consisting of former members of The Didjits and The Motards, Love Hurts is a kick-tush set of eight tunes destined to turn sober men into alcoholics and sweet virgins into Bukakke sluts. Another winner from Junk, whose bands seem to exist solely to prove through music that they can drink you under the table and bang your bimbo girlfriend while you’re out. Drunken R&B thrash for the ages. In a genre that's getting a bit crowded and generic, this stands out.
Riverdales - Storm The Streets (CD review) (Honest Don's): Ben Weasel's nod to the Ramones is out but hard to find. Screeching Weasel released a rare album covering the first Ramones album, but that one, while technically correct, had no personality and isn't worth more than a listen. Maybe Honest Don's, a cousin label to Fat Mike's Fat Wreck Chords, doesn't have it all together yet. Or maybe Washington, DC is dead as far as punk retailing goes (I lean towards the latter). Storm The Streets is great because it captures the essence of the first three Ramones albums without pandering to the cartoonish expectations of your average punk idiot (while I'm in a bad mood, I'll say this - on a purely statistical basis, more than 50% of the punks I've met since the ‘70s have been idiots, assholes, losers, and creeps I wouldn't trust alone with anything that might break or be stolen. You don't agree? Take a shower). Case in point: Nine out of ten times you hear a band chant "oi oi oi!", they’re posers who wouldn't know a skinhead from a foreskin. Yeah, "oi oi oi!" - it sounds tough and it's easy to remember and sing along with. Kids love candy. Give 'em lots of candy. oi oi oi!
All power pop punk comes from The Ramones, who took bubblegum pop and sped it up to locomotive speed while replacing the clean-cut image with the daily concerns of your average big city numbnut hooked on drugs, sexual misadventure and junk culture. Reviewers equate most everything to the Ramones (they get it right only 70% of the time), but what's the essence of the Ramones' sound? The drums first and foremost keeps the dance beat moving, the bass builds on the drums to keep the beat and acts as the house support for Johnny’s guitar, which plays only three or four chords but constant wrist action builds chords within chords to create a buzzing wall of sound, and the singing is simple and direct. The subject matter? Anything that begins with "I Don't Wanna...", silly violence, mental illness, weird people on the street and in your house, bad horror and war movies and love songs to that special girl.
After the success of the Sex Pistols, The Ramones expanded their sound and Joey became political - factors that lead many Ramones fans to look at the first three albums (Ramones, Leave Home, Rocket To Russia) as their best and the true definition of the band. I’m a big fan of this pure aesthetic, and of all the so-called Ramones sound-alike bands The Riverdales are probably the best. The first release, Riverdales, is a great album that pissed some Screeching Weasel fans because it didn't sound like Screeching Weasel, who were more of a snotty hardcore band. For every "Blitzkrieg Bop" and "Judy Is A Punk" The Ramones recorded a slower "53rd & Third". Riverdales, while an attempt to follow the Ramones, sounds more like Screeching Weasel than anything else. The Beach Boys backup singing and Weaselesquee guitar are the screamingly obvious clues to this conclusion. Storm The Streets gets it right 100% without simply cranking out xerox copies of the originals. Sure, on these fourteen songs you'll hear most every riff off the first three Ramones albums, but they're not played as monster riffs from Spinal Tap. Johnny Ramones' love of baseball is replaced with hockey, but besides that it's all great. If you listen to Storm The Streets and conclude it's boring and simple, that's your problem.
In typical fashion, Ben Weasel didn’t provide a lyrics sheet. Did the Riverdales break up? I Hope not. I like this stuff.
Riverdales - Blood On The Ice/No Sense (7" review) (Honest Don's): Ask yourself, is it worth $3.99 for just one song that's not on the CD? I mean, nobody's going to buy the 7" and not the CD. Only collector nerds and Kool-Aid drinkers would buy the single if there's only one non-CD song on it. Collector value is a farce. Unless Ben Weasel kills a celebrity nobody's going to remember the Riverdales ten years from now. And let's say there's fifty people in the country that do and would pay anything for a "Blood On The Ice" 7". How will you find them? Will they trust you enough to send you money? Will you trust them enough to send money? A dealer in used singles will give you squat for the single even if it's worth something. The flip side, "No Sense", is decent enough, but is it worth $3.99? A punk single should have at least two new songs on it and have more aesthetic value than the crappy cover this one has. An insert would have been nice too. A sleeve for the record would be just dandy. The Queers - now that's a band who puts out worthwhile singles.
The Riverdales - Invasion USA (cd review): Ben Foster is a talented fellow with a gift for singing endearing, nearly off-key melodies, and dispensing three or four chords of power-pop punk He's also a producer, author and miscellaneous other thing guy. I've never found him to break new ground, but he goes down roads I like and winds up on top by putting out consistently good product. It's been six years since the last Riverdales cd, and I'll wager six internet monies it's here because Ben's collected enough "Riverdales" tunes for a CD and it seems about time to revive the band name since the demand exists. Invasion USA is better than Phase Three, almost as good as Storm The Streets and not as good as The Riverdales. Pretty much by the default of the skill level of those involved it's going to be one of the best discs of it's kind in any given year, but some thematic/lyrical bits of laziness stand out like midgets in the NBA.
The Riverdales began as a Screeching Weasel side-project influenced as much by The Hanson Brothers as The Ramones. As with The Hanson's, hockey is the sport of choice. The new one's directly influenced by The Lillingtons' sperminal 1999 release Death By Television. Most song titles are from Mystery Science Theatre 3000, but the lyrics are mostly surface and disinterested, as if Ben figures lyrics are besides the point by design. I was hoping for a little more cleverness, or maybe lyrics that tell me he's at least watched the movies in the titles.
The best tracks are "Gemini Man" (half the lyrics sound like real words but I can't figure them out), "Time Of the Apes" (sounds like "Pet Cemetery" with Joey-inflected singing), "Atomic Brain", Crawling Eye" (Queers-like guitar riff sounds like "Borstal Breakout") and "Teenage Strangler". The songs with insta-lyrics are "Agent For H.A.R.M.", "Squirm", "Prince Of Space", "King Dinosaur" and "Werewolf One".
For either good or bad. Invasion USA sounds like it was recorded at the same time as every other Riverdales release. It's more than good enough but not great. It's great compared to most power pop punk, but you know what I mean (wink wink, say no more, say no more).
The Riverdales - Tarantula (cd review): Quoting yourself is how one intellectually demands a beating, but I do so here. Of their last cd, 2009's Invasion USA, I wrote, and I quote (myself), "Most song titles are from Mystery Science Theatre 3000, but the lyrics are mostly surface and disinterested, as if Ben figures lyrics are besides the point by design. I was hoping for a little more cleverness, or maybe lyrics that tell me he's at least watched the movies in the titles." Assuming Ben Weasel and Danny Vapid read my review and decided to shove it back in my face by making my point irrelevant is megalomaniacal, but that's the only possible explanation for Tarantula, their best cd yet. The Amazon blurb reads "Initially meant to be part of Invasion USA, these tunes stood out on their own enough to be their own beast". I might believe these tracks were written at the same time but the execution is different and I'm sure the lyrics improved even if only by being de-emphasized. The addition of a second guitarist and an embrace of the full potential of the recording process makes this one of the best punk-pop records of all time.
For a punk record Tarantula is effing quadraphonic in sound quality, and you should listen to it with studio-grade headphones in your den, sitting in your best high back chair wearing an ascot and smoking jacket. That goes without saying. Two of the fourteen tracks are not of a kind, and with them removed what you have is a unified product of what is basically a nearly flawless effort. "Volcano" is decent enough but more of an album track from the first few albums. "Time Chaser" falls into the trap of the last record where the lyrics draw attention to themselves by not adding up to anything past a bet fulfillment that a song can be written about the movie "Time Chasers". Put these aside and move on.
Listening to Tarantula I'm caught between wanting to dance and playing every air-instrument I've studied to date. The extra guitar and layers of back-up singing multiply the effect of what is a restrictive formula - the simple three and four chord Ramones tribute. There's no way they'll be able to replicate this live but I'm glad they put the extra effort in the studio. There's a noticeable influence of Doo-Wop singing and The Queers love of the Beach Boys, making it that much better. "Bad Seed Baby" and "12 To The Moon" have nice layered vocals while "The Beginning Of The End" offers up sweet harmonized vocals. "I Don't Wanna Live Forever" adds some backup singing in an unusual tone I got hooked on while "Master Ninja" has Ben providing the engagingly discordant vocals that populate his solo recordings. It's like he's throat singing. The riff of the song is provided by The Dictator's "Two Tub Man" and you can hear a bit of "I Wanna Be Sedated" in "Stranded In Space". They use church bells (for Christ's sake!) to accompany the guitar solo on "Stranded In Space". Great stuff. There's a lot going on in each song and it's worth repeat listens and your full attention.
Lyrically two songs stand out. "Girls Down" gets a lot of use from the words "pretty" and "bad". "Crash Of The Moons" is kinda heartbreaking, helped greatly by sentimental music that gets more intense the louder its played. Tarantula isn't lyrics-driven but this time I think they don't want them to be, making them little more than vocalized musical accompaniment to what is a master class in writing and playing guitar-driven punk-pop. The best punk-pop band of the last few years has been the Kody Templeman-enhanced Teenage Bottlerocket. With Tarantula, The Riverdales are their equal and complete a ying and yang of the hard and soft styles of the Kung Fu of bands influenced by the original Forest Hills pinheads.
Robweoza - Get Confident Stupid! (CD review) (Mung): I'll say this, Robweoza are honest and organized. Not only do they post rejection letters they've received from record labels, you can purchase any or all their band patches using PayPal. Check it out at www.robweoza.com. They broke band name law in choosing one that refuses to be remembered correctly, if at all, but what do you expect from four jerky boys who admit they're from Staten Island, where mob guys live in two-family homes and bowl next to what has to be the world's largest landfill, which spews methane and a sour-minty odor I think the city adds to trash just to be cute.
The recording quality of this fifteen track CD is metallic and muted, like recording a cassette with the stupid Dolby button on. According to the promo sheet, "Robweoza's music incorporates the aggression of early bands such as Bad Religion and Minor Threat and the melody of the Ramones and later punk bands like Screeching Weasel. The Lyrics address real-life issues: relationships, politics, religion, and the pressures of growing up." To be honest I can't make out the lyrics, and the only info I care to glean from music these days are magic lotto numbers and the bass guitar's demands for me to kill and kill again.
Robweoza is a young band, and some of their songs are more rehearsed than others, but they produce a nice mix of sounds only slightly beholden to the bands they claim as influences. While not classics, the tracks aren't derivative and are worthy of another spin. As they play more and mature as both people and songwriters, Robweoza will develop into a really good band as opposed to a band with really good potential. As I often do, I direct them to look mid-west, young men, to the collective bands of Chicago. Chi-Town bands record only top quality audio and present their music with confidence, stupid! I see the talent Robweoza’s music, now they need to figure out how to get to the next level. Hint #1: work on the music first before worrying about lyrics. Pop punk bands live and die on their sound, not the force of their convictions. Fun first, think later, ok?
Roxy Epoxy And The Rebounders - Bandaids On Bullet Holes (cd review): Portland' s charismatic Roxy Epoxy led The Epoxies from 2000 to 2007, it ending on undefined bad terms. She came back with a showcase for her talents and released 2009's Bandaids On Bullet Holes, co-written by her boyfriend Drat. It's less retro-80's synth punk and more rock based and personal. The Epoxies' greatest influence as far as final product goes is Kim Wilde's self-titled first album, which is better than most people remember it. Each song on Bandaids is expertly layered and performed, powerful and driving. It's only fault is that all twelve tracks hit the same high points and attack from the same angles, which may work well on a Teenage Bottlerocket cd but not when dealing with singer-songwriter showcases, which this is. It's very good but a lack of variety does make it a bit much to handle in one sitting. All that's lacking is a display of range to prove that talent's there too.
This Amazon reviewer took the words out of my keyboard when he wrote: "Many may feel an entire album would be too much Roxy, so maybe you should indulge in a few downloads before taking the full plunge. Roxy really doesn't experiment with too many other vocal styles and ranges, so it's almost like you have be infatuated with the personality and married to the voice to be among those who could listen to this album fully and on a regular basis." Each song is great but they'll all great at the same level and for the same reasons. A few slower tracks would have proven her range and give needed breaks from the relentless highs she hits and maintains for entire tracks.
Each song would make a great single or compilation track, and no track is better than any other, which is both a good and bad thing for unfair reasons I'm sure. When all the songs on a record are of equal value and tone the effect is of running together. You need a change of pace to know what pace you're really in the mood for. It's not a matter of there needs to be ugliness in order for there to be beauty. It's amazing how good Bandaids on Bullet Holes sounds, but also how the effect can be muted by repetition even when the songs don't rip each other off.
Rudimentary Peni (mixed CD review): "Daddy, why is that man screaming?". "I don't know Timmy, I just... don't... know." Someone made me a disc of random songs by this band most associate with the Crass movement. It’s 43 songs in 74 minutes. Yikes. I'll say this much, what they lack in talent they sure make up for in brevity. That's not entirely true, in that they have some talent and some of their songs are not that short. They formed in 1980 and their last release came out in 2000, so they may still be around. Their 1988 disc Cacophony contains 54 songs within 45 minutes, so a comparison to The Minutemen is in order. Instead of funk though, the Developing Penises (my translation of their name) explore the primitive post punk of what developed into death rock. By co-inky-dink I found this entry on the band at deathrock.com, a huge resource for the genre run by a fine fellow who lives around here somewhere (2007 update: Mark Splatter moved to Germany or some such place).
We at Deathrock are here to set the record straight on this band. True, they were involved in the Anarchopunk movement (i.e. Crass Records), but only in a transient manner.
They are first and foremost a band dedicated to conjuring images of doom and gloom. Nick Blinko has described himself as "dressed entirely in black...on the darker, Gothic side of Romantic", and the band as "gothic". A quick perusal of their lyrics demonstrates this, with such topics as coffins, corpses, suicidal depression, hearses, and death in its various forms. While they did have some song lyrics of a more political nature (yet still juxtaposed with the macabre in most cases), this was largely due to bassist Grant's teenage delvings into the scene, and were not written by Nick, nor endorsed by drummer Jon, who was "not even a vegetarian". So all those thoughts about Peni being a major Anarchist group should be firmly put to rest and buried.
I see Rudy PeePee as more of a goth band who used the cut & paste and multi-media approach practiced by the more dogmatic Crass bands. I can imagine some of these tracks being on Hell Comes To Your House or something from Alternative Tentacles. It's way out there - in a good way. It grows on you like a cold sore from the lip. The death rock leanings redeem this for me. I run from that anarchy hippie crap like a crusty punk from a cleansing rainstorm.
Runaway Sins - "Sick And Tired Of Being Sick"/"Busted Man" (7" review) (National Dust/Junk): From Portland, Oregon, a city I forgot existed, comes this six-piece band of degenerates of the 'ol Iggy/Dolls/Heartbreakers school of drinkin', punkin' and pukin' till dawn. The packaging says there's two songs, but there's also part of a third that fades in and out for twenty seconds. Is this a tease or something left over from a master tape dropped into a puddle of dumpster juice? All three songs are on Side A. Side B has a few minutes worth of grooves but nothing to hear. Maybe it's high pitched instructions to your dog to drink your beer, bang your ol' lady and pee in your shoe.
This is hard, fast, kick arse rocking punk that never lets up. That's the formula and the Runaway Sins do a great job of it. I call the genre drunk punk but some will tell you this is real Rock and Roll. "Busted Man" has this great Jerry Lee Lewis piano working up a sweat. If The Runaway Sins can record an album as good as this, you'll be wearing their patch on your stupid leather jacket soon enough.
The Saints - (I'm Stranded) (CD review) (Amsterdamned): Hailing from Brisbane, Australia, the down under and ultimate boonies of punk rock, The Saints recorded one of the first and best punk albums of all time. If you own more than one UK punk compilaation from the "77" era, chances are you'll find their first single "(I'm) Stranded", sounding as vital today as it did when your parents were still young enough to care.
The Saints might still be knocking around but remaining original member Chris Bailey gave up on punk for a mature pop thing. Punks go for the early recordings with Ed Kuepper on guitar. Their style was driving R&B fuzz punk, and not only were they great at it, they helped create the style. Most of the tracks are straight ahead punk, with the exception of "Messin' With The Kid", a nice blending of Dylan backed by The Band on a version of The Kink's "Celluloid Heroes". Every time I listen to it I hear something different.
If you buy something old because you've read it's seminal, most of the time you'll be sadly disappointed. Many records are documents of a long-gone era and are stuck there forever. (I'm) Stranded still has the stuff. It’s a solid cornerstone of the early modern punk movement.
Samiam - You Are Freaking Me Out (sample cassette review) (Ignition): Two songs for free - "She Found You" and "Factory". I have no idea if the CD is out (it probably is) but these two songs are great in a commercial yet still impressive way. Remember when Samiam was a neat power-pop punk band, then they signed to a major and headed south big time? This is professional product but with enough edge to appeal to the few punks out there who don't yell "sell-out" whenever one of their friends takes a shower and puts on clean underwear. If the rest of the CD is as good as this I'll buy. It’s nice to see an old favorite figure out how they can earn a little cash and still be cool too. Fans of The Promise Ring's faster, harder songs should go for this like Mykel Board to twelve year boys. ‘Tis highly recommended by ye olde punk..
Samiam - You Are Freaking Me Out (CD review) (Ignition): This is a very good collection of marginally commercial power pop punk from one of the modern founders of the genre. They seemingly disappeared for a while under a barrage of unimpressive releases, but this one is strong. Their old fans are probably way over their punk days and the kids might not find this cool enough, but this is great stuff. Emo fans looking for something harder and faster should pick this up immediately. If Jade Tree put this out I'd wager Samiam would be kings of the genre. I'm sure this is filed under College Rock, which is a shame. It's better than that. Another strong band like this is Crumbox. The punk world would be a better place if more bands like Samiam were allowed to prosper instead of the zillion Bad NOFX Religion bands that litter the all-ages landscape. Have I told you lately you look like a idiot with that stupid haircut and freshly ripped t-shirt?
The Sanity Assassins - The Massacre (cassette review): Remember back when, former kids? Back to the 1980s? Buying cassettes for a buck or two from ads in the classified sections of MRR and Flipside? Sometimes even sending a blank cassette and a few stamps to have it copied and mailed back? Well, those days are back! The Sanity Assassins is an ongoing eleven year project of someone named Keith, who has his fingers in a million goth, metal and punk pies in Connecticut. Keith's discography has 51 listings! Two full-length Sanity Assassins albums were issued on a Mexican record label, and half of this cassette's label is written in Spanish. I didn't know they were into Discharge, GBH and The Exploited down Meheeco-way.
This cassette is so retro it sounds like it was recorded seventeen years ago. This is neither good nor bad, but it's a piece of nostalgia with a target audience so tiny I can't imagine two fans of the genre living in the same zip code. Keith must really love the vibe. Spike from Blitzkrieg sings on this cassette. I'm not myself a fan of four chord metal-tinged punk, but a few of the songs are lingering in my mind and I can compare it favorably to any three-initial band from the ‘80s. Thankfully none of this is speed-core.
I don't know how much this costs, but contact The Sanity Assasins at PO Box 380152, East Hartford, CT 06138, or visit them on the interweb at http://members.aol.com/sanityassassins/
Sanity Assassins - Resistance Is Useless? (cassette review) (Grabacionescongaleras): 80's speed punk lives in East Hartford, CT in the curdled soul of one Keith Donaldson, who also goes by either Keith Graves or "Cuddles". I made up that last one. In the 1980s I used to send away for $1 and $2 cassettes from the back of MRR, and 90% of bands who advertised sounded like Sanity Assassins, so this will always remind me of running to the mailbox every day like Calvin waiting for his propeller beenie-cap.
The obvious inspirations for Sanity Assassins are GBH, Discharge, The Exploited and every hardcore band to come out of Italy. Each song blends into the next but the fuzz is infectious and the chord progressions fun to follow if you pay attention to them.
The cassette was issued by a Mexican label, for whatever reason. When I lived in San Diego I was warned not to dress punk down in Mexico because Mexican punks love to beat American punks to a pulp. It's also common knowledge that you keep all of your cash in your sock except for twenty dollars in your wallet, so when the cops pull you over you can help them keep their daily bribe quota.
Here's a link to Keith's web site. Tell Cuddles I said howdy! http://members.aol.com/sanityassassins/
Saves The Day
- Stay What You Are (CD review) : Time
again to review a cd by a popular band that's loved&hated by the young and
Stay What You Are from Saves The Day is listed as their best, so I placed it on my personal victrola and turned the crank a few times. The word I want to use for it is serviceable, which I don't mean as an insult. It's good actually, and if I was of a certain young demographic I'd go for this in a big way.
By my account, Saves The Day is a third wave emo band, correlating nicely with third wave ska. There's some third wave ska I like but for me it's a pale comparison to The Specials or Toots and the Maytals. Saves The Day are poppier than what came before it, evoking Weezer, a band that fits yet doesn't in the emo category. The melodies are tuneful and the sing-alongs fun, but my gawd, if Radio Disney played emo this might be it. That's my way of saying it's music for kids who could easily be MY kids.
I think emo is a decent enough genre, at least musically. It's creative, sonically sweeping and usually peppy. The "emotional" aspects fly over my head as I’m dead inside. Lyrics are mostly sounds to me, and I can't make out half of them anyway.
Schleprock - america's dirty little secret (CD review) (Warner Brothers) 1996: I was more than a little afraid to put this on because of the sticker on the CD, "If you're a bigot or a punk phony, you will hate this album". I mean, what if I didn't like Schleprock? I don't want to be a bigot or punk phony. Do you? You'd have to be thirteen to read this and be impressed. Anyhoo, three of the five band members look a little oi, one has a sideburns-mustache-goatee combo and the other fellow looks a little out of place in his highwater pants. Not exactly The Business, but hey, this is on Warner Brothers. The lead singer is pictured twice in the same position trying to look tough and muscular (He weighs 140 lbs, tops). Musically this is standard major label alternative punk - part Clash, part ska and part oi (for attitude). The singing reminds me of Rancid. Ten years ago this CD would have been a smash. It's well produced and the songs are catchy. In 1997 there's too many bands doing the same thing and doing it well. Again, I like this but you need to be fifteen to find this new and exciting.
Fred Schneider - just...Fred (CD review) (Reprise) 1996: I can't help it, I listen to this monstrosity every day. Fred from the B-52s singing punk? With B-52s lyrics too! Plus a cover of the old and too-corny "Coconut" ("You put the lime in the coconut, you drank 'em both up"). Punk finally has a camp classic to call its own. What possessed Fred to make this record? What possessed Reprise to release it?
Produced by Steve Albini, Fred is backed on eleven tracks by Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet and Deadly Cupcake. It might be a first using entire punk bands as studio musicians. "Whip" has a great Iggy Pop sound, "Helicopter" is grunge 101, "Sugar In My Hog" is trying to be The Cramps, etc. etc. "Bulldozer" is just a great punk song. I'd give anything to see Fred play this live. It would be worth it just to see him do all sixteen dances, especially The Pony. Yeah, good times, good times.
Scratch Bongowax - Dogpile on Liz (7" review) (Mutant Pop) The A-side is 45 rpm. The B-side is 33.3 rpm. The B-side should have been played and recorded at the higher speed. At 33.3 the two Bs are a waste of wax. At 45, Alvin and The Chipmunks take over singing, but, hey, you do what you have to do. The A, "Dog Pile On Liz", is a strong punk song driven by the bass guitar. Scratch Bongowax are a goofy band, and it says so on the back of the single. Goofy doesn't come across on this 7", but I'll take their word for it. Why? I don't know, I just would.
Scream - Live At The Black Cat WDC 12.28.96 (CD review) (Torque): Back in the old days (no, back a little more... oops, too far back... forward, forward... stop!) the cream of the DC hardcore scene earned their pocket money at Rockville, Maryland's famous Yesterday & Today Records, whose owner bankrolled the first releases on Dischord. Y&T’s owner is the "Skip" that Minor Threat loves at the end of "Stepping Stone". Ian MacKaye was friendly and helpful to me the one time I caught him working there, but most of the rest were little punk gods with the customer service skills of a French waiter. Nowadays Y&T is a glorified oldies store (2007 update: they closed long ago for on-line sales only) with enough collector's 7" vinyl to fill a cargo jet. Today's real DC punk rock sweatshop is Arlington, VA's Dulles Office Furniture, discount sellers of new and used office furniture. Modern street punkers The Suspects work there, and both Kent Stax and Harley Lee Davidson from the original Scream have to put up with my crap because as buyer for my company I’m a big customer. I wield the coercive powers of unbridled capitalism!!!! Moo-hahahaha!!!!!
If The Damned can rise from the dead for a quick buck, so can Scream, whose 1982 Still Screaming (Dischord #9) was the most rocking and professional sounding early DC release. The contest then was to see who could play the fastest, sloppiest, and yell the most didactic lines into the microphone with the most contorted face. The album cover defined straight-edge like no other before or after. On the right is a simple profile pencil sketch of a baldy with his mouth wide open while the words to "Screaming" appear on the left, "i can't stop from Screaming can't stop from Feeling/ i can't stop from Screaming can't stop from Feeling like that..." Look at Kent, with the lapels of his leather jacket crammed with cute little punk pins. He's wearing a beret too! Oh, he looks so cute I'm gonna give him a big hug next time I see him. Scream's big claim to fame is that David Grohl of Nirvana and the Foo Fighters spent time playing drums for them.
This is a live show with all original Scream members, recorded in ‘96 at DC's Black Cat club. The liner notes say the lack of crowd noise is due to a mic being ruined by beer, for the best because all you need to ruin a live taping is one asshole screaming "Wooo Hooo!!" every 23 seconds. You'd think age, weight and mortgage payments would have slowed them down, but Scream have retained their speed and remember how to play the ancient songs well. Listening to both this and the original releases, I'm struck by how many styles and paces the band packs in their music. Generally it’s too hard rocking to be hardcore, too fast to be hard rock, and has too many jazzy/reggae shift changes to be predictable. Second wave Dischord bands like Beefeater and Rites of Spring owe some thanks to Scream.
If you like old DCXHC this cd is a must. David Grohl sits in on "No More Censorship" and plays the drums like he's in Seattle playing a stadium show. Oh, well, time does take its toll after all.
Screeching Weasel – Thank You Very Little (2 CD set review) (Panic Button): Mmmmooooooooo…….clunk! That’s the sound of Ben Foster milking the Screeching Weasel cash cow until it keels over dead at five pounds body weight. I’d do it too since nothing lasts forever, but it’s bare-assing to watch sometimes. Ben defended Holocaust Revisionism a few years back. I shouldn’t need to remind everyone that the only thing stopping The Ku Klux Klan from denying slavery ever happened is that their collective I.Q. is in the range of Stevie Wonder’s bowling average.
1995’s Kill The Musicians is a decent collection of odds and ends. Thank You Very Little is a two CD set that should have been one. Disc 2 is a live set that boasts cassette quality sound. Having Ben acknowledge this in his exhaustive liner notes doesn’t make it sound any less crappy, and his “beat the bootleggers at their own game” line is weak. The liner notes are generally entertaining and informative. Ben details how his long-term relationship with, marriage to, and breakup with a woman he didn’t like all that much (she felt the same way) warped his mind and shaped his lyrics. Marriage doesn’t resolve a troubled relationship, so for a smart person Ben was pretty dumb.
Disc 1 could have done without five songs. “I Need Therapy” and “Slogans” are demos with none of that cool stripped-down demo quality. The studio takes of “Every Night” and “Totally” weren’t as good as the demos, so they were switched. Any version of Stiff Little Finger’s “Suspect Device” is worth owning, but I don’t see the need for three DOA covers. “You Are My Sunshine” is filler. They changed the lyrics of “Cindy’s On Methadone” for Shirley Pimple, a movie that never saw the light of day. The biggest waste of an opportunity is “I Wanna Be A Homosexual”. Originally on the Pervo-Devo EP, it had a fantastic spoken intro by the editor of a gay punk zine. The song was recorded in answer to Sloppy Second’s “I Don’t Wanna Be A Homosexual”. Kill The Musicians has the Pervo-Devo track without the intro, and this CD has an early version with bad lyrics that sound improvised. I guess the next time Ben needs money he’ll put out another CD with the song the way it should be.
The live show is a disappointment because of the sound quality, so they should have taken a few interesting tracks to fill up the first CD and also removed the five useless songs. There’s some interesting stuff but not enough. Mmmmooooooooo...SPLAT!!
Screeching Weasel - Television City Dream (CD review) (Fat Wreck Chords): I expect more from Ben Weasel than this. He can write a catchy riff in his sleep, and the musicianship is usually a cut above the competition, but I still expect more. The music on Television City Dream is as inspired as the cover art, a computer graphic from the ‘70s (or something). It's a reproduction of a piece of art hanging in the living room pictured in the liner notes. The piece is by Alda Giorgini, related I assume to revered punk record producer Mass Giorgini.
The last song, "Burn It Down", is one of Weasel’s best, with its innovative metered drumming. "Dummy Up" begins with the same riff found on The Lillington's "Hooked On You", a tune and band you should search for like your skinny life depended on it. "Plastic Bag" is a homage to old Angry Samoans. Ben's even got the old "Wha...!" vocal thing down to a science.
Sure I still recommend this. Screeching Weasel is legendary not only in their own minds. Still, Ben should get off his ass and turn off the cruise-control in his songwriting mind.
Screeching Weasel - Major Label Debut (CD review) (Panic Button/Lookout!): I'm at a bit of a loss to explain the name of the latest Weasel EP (six songs clocking in at 10:27). Most everything they've put out has been on Lookout Records, so is Lookout now a major label and worthy of insult from Ben, the King of Complaining? Talk about biting the hand that feeds you. In the world of music they're still a small operation. They lucked out with Green Day and the Operation Ivy, but unless you're an anarchist numbnut who thinks brushing your teeth is "selling out", I can't see how Lookout is a major. It’s more proof that punk destroys itself with petty bulls--t.
That being said, this is the best Screeching Weasel since 1991's My Brain Hurts. Ben's best writing reads like a letter instead of song lyrics, and here he's in great form. From "The Last Janelle" - "You dopes are all the same/And that's why I'm so ashamed/To be a part of what might be/Called the punk rock community/You take things way to seriously/Or else you take them too lightly..." The music is tighter and angrier too, walking a fine line between Anthem For A New Tomorrow and BoogadaBoogada! "Hey Asshole" is an intentional reworking of the Angry Samoan's classic "You Stupid Jerk". "Hey Asshole" is about a particular person in the punk world, and while I'm not spilling any beans but I will say this is one piece of nasty irony.
"Compact Disc" is a mockery of CD technology, and though it's well written and the points all true enough, Ben's being a hypocrite. He said he'd never reform Screeching Weasel when they broke up a few years ago, but when The Riverdales failed in the sales department Ben went back to the cash cow. Not that I blame him. If you can make a decent living playing punk rock, then good for you. It's just that Ben's always been so monumentally judgmental, so when he retracts his own statements for money you can't but lose respect for his moral superiority. Also, Screeching Weasel is a popular band. They could have stipulated that this be released only on vinyl, thereby making the song less ironic in its hypocrisy.
But like I said, this is the best Screeching Weasel in a while and I hope they continue recording more of the same. Everything else about Major Label Debut is an odd duck.
Screeching Weasel - Bark Like A Dog (CD review) (Fat Wreck Chords): Why did Ben reform the Weasel after swearing off the band in that 500 words or more style of his? Money? A backlog of songs unsuited for The Riverdales? Is this on Fat Wreck Chords instead of Lookout because the kids will buy anything on Fat? Watch Ben be aggressively apathetic about what anybody thinks. On their 7th CD release, S.W. doesn't hit many out of the park, but their consistency makes this a better buy than the gazillion bands trying to be the next Screeching Weasel. Only Bad Religion has launched more punk rock ships. Opening with a song sounding exactly like The Mr. T. Experience ("Get Off My Back"), S.W. seamlessly mix together The Ramones, 7 Seconds sing-alongs, surf pop and snotty/smart lyrics. There’s no mosh parts, no cock-rock guitar solos - nothing gets in the way of the energy level each song sets up. It’s better than How To Make Friends... but if you don't own any Screeching Weasel I'd start with Anthem For A New Tomorrow or My Brain Hurts.
Screeching Weasel - Formula 27 (7" review) (Vermiform): The latest Screeching Weasel 7" is from a small label out of Richmond, VA. The Riverdales' logo was a circle around the number 27 (sometimes with the words "Punk Rock Local" around said circle). Maybe the formula is to combine the best elements of The Ramones-tribute Riverdales with the more popular Screeching Weasel. There’s four nice tunes here, reminding me of the "Suzanne Is Getting Married" period. I believe Screeching Weasel and The Queers take turns keeping the other in line. After Bark Like A Dog, which was OK, it's nice to hear Screeching Weasel get back to the fun Ramones-Beach Boys sound they once bestowed upon The Queers. With so many Screeching Weasel imitators available, from great to stinky, the originals need to hit more out of the park to make a real impression. These are four great album tracks, but I'm still waiting for the next "A New Tomorrow".
- Weasel Mania (CD review):
has a teeny tiny subtitle that reads "Mortgage
Payment". If you press your nose against the CD and move back slowly as you
listen you can just make it out. There's also a new
and Ben Weasel writes a
Ben's settled into a respectable adulthood of novel writing, band starting but never finishing, and milking the Screeching Weasel cash cow. The compilation Thank You Very Little came out in 2000 and Kill The Musicians in 1995, but there's still no place to find the Pervo Devo version of "I Wanna Be A Homosexual" with the spoken intro by Bruce LaBruce. Their compilations seem random.
The Screeching Weasel discography is mixed, some albums with little replay value while others are genre classics. I like My Brain Hurts, half of Wiggle, Anthem For A New Tomorrow and Emo. Ben's solo album Fidatevi (ask for it by name) was very good even though it kept hitting the same harmonic high points. The Vindictives were the more consistent snot punks, The Queers more well rounded and The Lillingtons the better conjurers of the Johnny Ramone guitar wall, but Screeching Weasel was there early and made an impact in their scene greater than the others. They probably also invented the modern guitar solo based on the great one-note solo in the Ramone's "I Wanna Be Sedated".
Screeching Weasel record amazing tunes when the chords ring true and the lyrics don't pander to kid’s idiocies. That's about a solid third of Weasel Mania. Another solid third panders to teen stupidity, as in pushing units by pushing the lowest common denominator of crowds for which Ben can only have contempt. The weak third of this disc is simply middling.
Screeching Weasel - self-titled first album (CD review) (VML): Originally recorded in 1987, the vinyl edition is a collector's item. Ben Weasel authorized this release to cash in on old product that was only benefiting bootleggers. In his (as usual) extensive and dismissive liner notes, Ben sees this as little more than archival material from when he hadn't developed his own voice as a songwriter. To quote, "The album is amateurish, but not in a charming way. It's just annoying. The bands we were listening to at the time - Circle Jerks, Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, Angry Samoans, AOD, MDC, Minor Threat, and DOA for instance - were not so much influences as they were blueprints from which we learned how to be a punk band.... we did what bands were supposed to do - we wrote f--k you songs, sorta-political songs, and filled in the blanks with a bunch of know-it-all social commentary... it doesn't stand the test of time for s--t."
I have to agree 100%. All these bands are influences, and if he didn't mention AOD I'd have to throw in DRI too (+ The Ugly Americans). Mid ‘80s hardcore was pretty dull in my reckoning, so whatever interest this album generated had to have been due to its forceful nod to earlier, better bands. Maybe the HC chestnut "F--king sucks, Man!" was a cliché back in '81, but to use it in '87 really does show a lack of confidence, along with the random "oi oi" tossed in for street cred. Ben's didactic straight-edge and vegetarian lyrics also seem out of place, considering Ben shares with Mykel Board a "I loath myself as much as I hate you" honesty that passes as an excuse for being an asshole. Here's some trivia: both Ben and Mykel defended Holocaust Revisionism in MRR. Yes, Ben wrote that the Nazi denial of documented history is a legitimate perspective that should be given equal time in academia.
In addition to the 27 original tracks are twelve demos and bonus cuts that show how they progressed to the more power-chord driven BoogadaBoogadaBoogada, which led to the full blown Ramones/Beach Boys sounding Screeching Weasel of today. Screeching Weasel evolves with each release, and this reissue is the first, missing piece of the puzzle. It’s not for casual fans. As Ben admits, this is derivative and not too original.
Screeching Weasel - Emo (CD review) (Panic Button/Lookout): Something compels me to buy Screeching Weasel albums even though I gave up on the band as a creative and meaningful entity in 1996. That's when Bark Like A Dog came out, a record that skewed to kids too young and obnoxious to know they should expect more from themselves and their bands. The cartoon cover and cartoon immaturity of that one was aimed directly at the buying demographic of Fat Wreck Chords, a thinly-veiled strategy that lost the band points with older fans like me. Still, I continue to buy Screeching Weasel product hoping they’ll replicate the brilliance of records recorded 3+ years earlier.
I picked up a used copy of Emo last week. The scraping of the bottom of the archive tape barrel known as the Thank You Very Little double CD made me vow not to buy Emo new. Now there's a new CD called Teen Punks In Heat with a cartoon cover that makes Bark’s seem like a Norman Rockwell painting. There's good news in all this crapola. Emo is a great record.
Recorded with limited preparation and only a few added vocal tracks, Emo is right up there with Wiggle and My Brain Hurts, when Screeching Weasel matured out of their initial snot phase to produce the best power pop punk of the era. Much is made on the wordplay of "Emo" in the title, especially in the context of Ben's uber-sarcastic nature. The lyrics on the CD are no different than what you'll find on any decent SW album. I think the raw production and return to some kind of intelligence after a number of sell-out records tossed everyone for a loop, making this in people's mind a personal record, maybe even worthy of emo categorization, no matter how far off that track this CD really is.
Ben from the liner notes: "This is for the people who get it. And who always have. It's real & they'll know it & all the poor sales charts & pitifully small royalty checks & fan bitching & moaning in the world can't change that." If I didn't know as surely as the sun rises and falls that Ben Weasel's word is worthless, I'd have more faith that the "old" Screeching Weasel is back. Yet, the cover of that new CD is so damn childish. I think Ben likes big fat royalty checks. He may be a hypocrite but he's not dumb.
Emo is a great CD, and I’m glad Ben found it in himself to do it right this time.
Screeching Weasel - Teen Punks In Heat (CD review) (Lookout): I was and still am turned off by this cover art, about as much as I was by the art for Bark Like A Dog. It's a pandering, deliberate sales pitch to the middle-aged teens who make Ben Foster one of the few punk rockers who make a living off music alone. It's a nearly middle-aged man prying allowance money out of the hands of a generation who make meals out of sugar and caffeine. Is it smart marketing or selling out? Intelligence or intentional dumbness? Actually, maybe all four at once, and while I laugh at anyone who thinks "keeping it real" is more important than making a living and being happy, the final product is diminished when it's not the best effort and designed as commerce first and art second.
Over half the songs on Teen Punks In Heat are very good and call back to what I consider the high point of Screeching Weasel's career, 1993's Anthem For A New Tomorrow. Boogadaboogada is a fine document of the tail end of Ben's unfiltered snot stage. 1991's My Brain Hurts is a phenomenal transitional album to a sort of maturity and intelligence, best reflected in The Science Of Myth, a non-rhyming dissertation on agnosticism put to music. Half of Wiggle is even better, the rest filler for what should have been an EP. In 1993 it all came together and power pop punk found an archetype steeped in soaring fuzz chords and atonal guitar solos. A love of the Beach Boys (soon taken up even more fervently by The Queers) inspired Foster to strive for melody and production value, and even if Anthem is not their best seller (I don't know), it’s the high point of Screeching Weasel's creative career.
After that Ben put his brain on auto-pilot and the results have been mixed. It's as if he calculated how much effort was necessary to make a living off music and vowed never to cross that line. Maybe it’s just a bad case of ADD. If he wrote an inspired piece of music, fine, if not, recycle a fast riff and scream some snotty lyrics about not liking something or somebody. It's the same routine with The Queers. You can't pick up a new release by either band right now without wondering if effort was put into making it more than product to tour on.
Another factor with Ben Weasel is his mental state. He's smart but conflicted, agitated and dysfunctional. I read about his recent divorce from a strained marriage to a woman he's known since high school. If you're familiar with songs Ben’s written about women you'll understand how co-dependent he is in his own misery. 1999's Emo was a surprisingly candid and thoughtful record. Maybe Ben's embarrassed by his confessions of weakness so he overcompensates with reversions to childishness. The Queers do the same thing but Joe King never comes across as a child.
Like Emo, Teen Punks In Heat opens with an affirmative statement of "You gotta live your life", so I’m thinking the twelve steps to recovery. The music is ok. Then it settles into a series of great songs inspired by Anthem, ending with five uninspired tunes strung together like the filler they are. The best tracks are "I'll Stop The Rain", "Molecule" and "I Will Always Do".
Then there's "You're The Enemy", which opens with Ben saying "This one's for the kids". Ben! You created the enemy! You help turn kids into rats and then intentionally write cheese to make them buy your CDs, t-shirts and keychains. You have no right to piss your own pants and then complain about the wetness.
Ben should start taking himself and his fans more seriously. Create art and let the commerce take care of itself. And please, none of this all the way to the bank garbage.
Screeching Weasel - First World Manifesto (cd review): It's fair to say Ben "Weasel" Foster's March 2011 hasn't been the weaselfest he'd hoped it would be. It's more a crapfest of his own making. His band left him, the tour's over and his three-day Chicago concert event is in serious doubt. All because he punched some ladies:
Ben's mental state is complicated, vacillating between anger, introspection, regret, bitterness, hope and whatever else bubbles up in the fever swamp of his mind. I don't doubt he wishes people were nicer and better than they are. The problem might be that the existence of assholes and their asshole behaviors pisses him off on all levels and he can't find his separate peace. Not that he's not an asshole himself. Go ask Jughead. Ben's panic attacks might be an outward manifestation of whatever demons pitchfork his brain, and maybe performing isn't a good idea, especially with the band that most sets him off. It's fascinating and trivial at the same time, ain't it folks?
Watching the video I noticed he gave the first woman whatever power he had. I have no idea if he connected, but his “fight” with the club manager was like watching someone battle demonic possession. He doesn’t punch her as much as push with his fist-ended arm, and his second strike to her side was started but never delivered. A bouncer grabs him as Foster freezes his arm with a pained look as he realizes the horror of the situation. As far as the women can’t be hit meme goes, I generally agree but don’t throw pointy objects at ranting, angry guy's faces while they're blinded by spotlights. The "Grrrls in the pit" thing often doesn't end well either. I have no problem with bad things happening to bad people, regardless of age, sex, color, height, weight, or eye color. I wasn’t there so I’m not passing final judgment, but I'd love to know how both parties contributed to this idiotfest.
Now for my highly speculative review of First World Manifesto: I know others have written for and contributed greatly to Ben's bands (here's to you, Mr. Vapid), but for practical purposes I’ll write as if all three of his projects were of his design. Screeching Weasel is the most well known and the source of most of his income and fame. It’s a band that by design and necessity (read: financially) panders to an audience he has only contempt for because of their demand to be pandered to as snottily and stupidly as possible. I imagine it kills him inside to write and perform snotty Screeching Weasel songs and this helped set up his meltdown. The Riverdales is his Ramones- archetype band, producing lyrics that don’t say all that much but sound fun as Dee Dee/Joey tributes. He’s also released two cds under the name “Ben Weasel”, and these are where he’s most comfortable and confident. Here is where he writes his most honest, heartfelt and optimistic songs, geared towards the peer group to which he most aspires. Possessing a conflicted personality that can’t help but act out might keep that dream out of reach, only agitating him further.
Any poll of fans would rate Screeching Weasel first, The Riverdales second and the solo albums third. I’d wager Ben reverses that order and I tend to agree. SW produced great songs but their career is peppered with filler, good songs that didn’t age well, and outright stupidity. For accounting purposes my favorites are “The Science Of Myth”, “A New Tomorrow”, and “Burn It Down”. The first solo release, 2002’s Fidatevi, had an electrified acoustic feel and focused on the slightly discordant resonance of Foster’s voice. 2009’s These Ones Are Bitter is close to being a SW album but it lacks the requisite childish considerations. The last two Riverdales cds have also branched out sonically, indicating Ben’s mastered his general songwriting skills and knows how to create full and interesting walls of sound in the studio. He’s doing his general best work at this moment.
Dollars to donuts Ben writes a song and then figures out which band it would best fit. First World Manifesto drifts into Riverdales territory but it's recognizable as SW product. "Follow Your Leaders" opens the disc and Ben hits the ground running with the SW flag of stunted adulthood seen threw the prism of The Punk Rock. He gets meta on the stereotypical procedurals of a punk rock show and reminds everyone to "Fall into line like you do all the time, and whatever you do don't grow up." He may be wrong when he sings "We're not your father's rock and roll band" as punks who like SW have kids old enough to also like them. The biggest pander on the record is the line "We're reliving High School as winners." There's a heavy influence of The Teen Idols on this tune, especially in the backup singing. The joke of "Frankengirl" begins ands with the title. Dr. Frank sings on this one.
"Beginningless Vacation" might have begun as a Riverdales song but it ends up here also dead-ending with the stupid/clever title. So, after three songs giving The Kidz what they expect Ben ages up and writes a solo album tune highlighting an electric piano and his resonating voice. "Totem Pole" has more Teen Idols backup singing and a Queers feel. "Creepy Crawl" and "Three Lonley Days" move along nicely. "Friday Night Nation" has Ben being the Ray Davies of the punk pop scene, getting into the mind of his characters. It's not as biting as his other critiques so you have to pay it more attention. "All Over Town" has a nice melody and the vocal harmonics are sweet. "Fortune Cookie" is decent filler. "Baby Talk" perks up with a Riverdales guitar wall of sound and is one of the better tracks, followed by Ben's big scene critique, "Come And See The Violence Inherent In The System", a rousing laundry list of the suburban kiddie-punk political posturing that's made American post-hardcore the cute little rebellion phase it is. The guitar solos are most likely cannibalized but still phenomenal, making this the best sounding song of the set. "Bite Marks" opens with some psychedelic noise and then charges into a decent 3-chord attack. "Little Big Man" closes the disc and steals the riff from P.I.L.'s "Rise". If you know who this song is about, please let me know:
I’m not just some dilettante
If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got names to drop
You think my lyrics don’t make sense?
Well, maybe you’re a little dense
Pretentious? Moi? Don’t be absurd
Sure, I use some twenty dollar words
But brother, I’m the salt of the Earth
And while my band might be subpar
And I’m stuck here tending bar
I hold my own with all the punk rock stars
My politics are so correct
I march along in perfect step
And all my pals think like I do
That’s how I know I’ve got a clue
Now let me make this crystal clear
You point and laugh at all that I hold dear
But I’ve got the respect of all my peers
And they’re allowed to take the piss
But if you cross me then I’ll shake my fist
And tell the internet about it
I’m a big man
It’s time for me to show my ass
And pass some rumors on as fact
Now don’t you dare call me a clown
I’ll have my lawyer shut your website down
I went on tour with NOFX
I didn’t really have a job with them
But I’ll have you know they’re personal friends
I got to ride Fat Mike’s giraffe
And we all sat around and laughed
At everyone who’s sick of my act
Little big man
I’m a big man
Little big man
The best songs are last and the songs that sound the most like "Screeching Weasel" are first. Wut canya do? Even the lesser tracks sound great and are filled up nicely with music, noise and singing. For a SW I'd say the mission was accomplished.
Screeching Weasel - Carnival Of Schadenfreude (CD review): So, like anyway, Ben Weasel mime-punched a gurl and then his band walked out and the rest of the tour was cancelled and Ben was never heard from again. Tur-dur! Until he came back with a revenge Ep titled Carnival Of Schadenfreude. "Schadenfreude" is my favorite German word that means "to delight in the misfortune of others". The Germans have many words for the suffering of others.
Read Ben's site for full details on why he doesn't care what you think and he was right all along. Read his friend's take on Ben and the events in question for some perspective. Me, I think most punk rockers are kinda losers and do kinda loser things, so welcome to another Thursday night at Club Stink in Podunk, CT.
Carnival offers seven tracks and the bookends deal with The Incident. The others are most likely from Ben's file cabinet of future recordings. "Fox News" may be an intentional incitement of said enemies. The tracks grew on me but I did miss what Dan Vapid brought to the band - better-developed sing-alongs and the welcome addition of surf and other genre influences. Ben's come a long way though and can write decent Screeching Weasel songs in his sleep, so the loss isn't all that great. He can always get assistance in the future. These days musicians with oodles of talent are available for beer money and a reason to leave home.
Sea Monkeys - Pizzaface (10" LP review) (Dionysus): I call this an LP instead of an EP because it contains sixteen songs. 10" records are a pain in the ass for anal retentive fellows like me because they don't look right mixed in with the LPs, and they sure as heck don't fit on the 7" shelf. I also worry they'll somehow destroy the record sleeves of LPs if stacked next to them too tight. Worries, that's what I’ze gots!
Here's a record that's pressed with a built-in skip before the first track on each side. You have to be sure to place the needle down just right if you want to hear the music. Since the Sea Monkeys are three-chord garage cousins of The Vindictives, I'll point out that the Vindictives' Party Time For Assholes CD plays as one continuous track, so this vinyl gimmick is comparatively cute. The Sea Monkeys were a fun bar band that covered The Brady Bunch's "Time To Change", "Little Willy" and even a song sung by Tony Randall in the forgotten 1969 film Hello Down There.
You'll be into this if you like The Automatics and certain Gilman Street bands that had a sense of humor. Pizzaface was partly produced by Jim Fourniadis of Rats Of Unusual Size, and it shares his nutty sense of absurdity. For what it is, this oil frisbee is a classic, so keep an eye open for it. Rub the other eye until it pops.
Sense Field - Tonight And Forever (CD review) (Nettwerk): As even the most casual follower of all thing emo knows, Sense Field spent the last five years in an uncomfortable limbo both of, and not of, their own making. They left Revelation Records after Building came out in 1996, and new label Warner Bros. either didn't know what to do with them or lost interest as the post-grunge trend lost its phenomenal earnings potential (as projected out six quarters). Boy bands and Britneyzilla immediately took over the world. Sense Field didn't seem to have all their ducks in a row either. Two band members, eight release dates and three album version later, Tonight And Forever is here, and it's a very good record. It took a few listens to accept it for what it is, because to me Building was a perfect record. It has a sense of urgency and tight eclectic writing and performance style rarely equaled. The new record lacks the former's urgency but has all the other traits that make Sense Field one of those bands that should always be bigger than they are, whatever level that is.
The songs revolve around the singing and style of Jonathan Bunch, who looks so happy you don't know if he’s on drugs or a cult member. He sways as he sings and his delivery might be sing-songy if the music backing him up wasn't so anthemic in the endlessly endearing manner of congenial drinking songs. The music soars with passion and power. It ebbs and flows, stops and starts without anger, and then veers off on genius tangents that make you feel bad for other bands who couldn't write a Sense Field album track given a million dollars, a million years and a million monkeys on typewriters.
The tracks vary in style and speed but share an emphasis on the ethereal. There’s acoustic guitar here, an orchestra there, some hip-white-folk club groove here and there, and the sweetest pounding drums of the year on "Love Song". "No Longer Now" and "Beatles Song" are my other favorite tracks. "Emergency Exit" makes me sing The Psychedelic Fur's "The Ghost In You", as it should you.
Building was the first emo album I ever heard. It's also still the best. Tonight And Forever is a good album in its own way and better than bands that get more buzz. As an example, Sunny Day Real Estate is as overrated a band as you'll ever see. If I want to listen to something precious I'll listen to third graders sing "We Are The World”.
Sense Field- Building (CD review) (Revelation): A true anomaly in the punk arena, Sense Field combines a number of influences to create music reviewers and fans have a hard time defining. Thrown too quickly into the emo-core camp, Sense Field write lyrics that are impressions of emotions, and then lay them on top of evolving soundscapes of effusive free-form post-punk. What the hell did I mean by that? Even I’m not sure, but they’ve written the most challenging collection of songs I've heard in ten years, combining poetic images with music that is emotive yet undeniably powerful. Building maintains a beauty that has to be played LOUD to be fully appreciated. There's a nod towards grunge, but this isn't headbanging music. The two bands Sense Field remind me of most are early U2 and The Hated, a mid-‘80s Husker-Du-tinged band from Annapolis, MD. Listen to U2's Boy all the way through and you'll see what I mean. If you can find anything by The Hated, I recommend you buy it.
I can see why punks may not go for this. It's emotion not propped up in the usual macho-aggressive posturing of Revelation bands. Look, I sing Fear songs to myself while I walk to work, but I'm not afraid to give credit where it's due. Sense Field are great and make music as complex as it is powerful. I can see why Warner Brothers picked up their contract from Revelation. Let's hope they don't water them down and then leave them to rot on the vine. xxx
Sense Field - Killed For Less (CD review) (Revelation): I’ve had a thing for Sense Field ever since I picked up their Building CD. My gosh, the power, the emotion, the brilliant instrumentation. After years of crappy generic hardcore it was nice to find something beautiful yet forceful. Yeah, they're emo, and a lot of emo is flat-out wimpy and pathetic, but Sense Field back their sincerity with layers of texture best played loud. I found 1994's Sense Field CD to be underdeveloped and leaning too close to the dreaded grunge. Killed For Less, which came out earlier that year, is 75% grunge and 25% U2. It’s not something I'd listen to again, but if you're into it jump right in. I hope that with the demise of grunge Sense Field continues toward faster tempos.
Sense Field - (self-titled) (CD review) (Revelation): This is their first CD and not anything to cheer about. Sense Field eventually learned to focus on one style and make it consistently powerful and melodic. Here, they're all over the map, at times evoking Eddie Vedder singing George Michael covers. "Dreams" is Wham! to the 11th power. Throughout these fourteen songs I detected U2, later XTC, Pearl Jam, Loggins & Messina, and George Michael. It’s not that bad, especially for fans of these groups, but I'm happy I bought Building first. If I had bought this one first I wouldn't have bought another Sense Field CD (like) ever. The artwork on this is interesting. It's pictures and drawings of what has to be Krishna images (Revelation, duh?), but on the lyric sheet it says "For those who seem to care: Sense Field's only religion is music". So, music is a religion now?. By the by, I'm a member of Mojo Nixon's Screaming Church Of The Epileptic Jesus.
Sense Field - Part Of The Deal (5 song EP CD review) (Grape Os): Everything being equal, Sense Field should have never made the move from Revelation to Warner. It might have made sense at the initial rush of post-Nirvana mayhem, but that ship had long sailed by the time Sense Field jumped into the ocean. Warner re-released Building, one of the best emo albums ever, and then… then... nothing. This EP came out in 1999 in anticipation of a full-length CD that basically sat there for so long the band decided to re-record it with additional songs. The promos for that have been circulating for too long.
The tracks on Part Of The Deal are typical Sense Field - more complicated, emotional and instrumented than the competition. My advice for the new CD sessions are more shifts of musical tone and less reliance on Jonathan Bunch's long-form vocal excursions.
The band still doesn't have a label? Dudes, what are you waiting for, the golden limo of major label distribution to come knocking on your door again? If the 90% of all music that's total crap can find labels, so can Sense Field. Poop or get off the pot already.
Servotron - No Room For Humans (CD review) (Amrep): This is the first full-length CD, after a series of EPs, from this band of Devo-cultists with members of Man Or Astroman and Supernova. Released in 1996, it recalls the prime of old new wave, before it was co-opted by the larger disco culture and watered down to the joke it's remembered as now. Putting aside the monotony of the robotic vocals, this is a classic.
Servotron takes Devo's de-evolution shtick and turns it around the other way to a future where robots, by necessity, replace man - and not a minute too soon. Issac Asimov is the big thematic inspiration. Some band interviews play along with the gag and are therefore useless. Band members are listed as Z4-OBX, Proto Unit V-3, 00zX1 and Andros600. V-3 is a woman and when she lets loose on the vocals you'd think it was the B-52’s. The CD sounds bit like the B-52’s (especially its "surf" sound), The Buzzcocks, Joe Jackson (some guitar work), and Devo from their "Are We Not Men?" period. You can hear bits of "Rock Lobster", "Song For A New Generation", "It's Different For Girls", "One More Time", "Fiction Romance" and every third Devo song.
No Room For Humans is very solid, danceable new wave that skirts the lines of punk with its power and serious approach to delivering the goods. The monotone vocals sometimes gets on my nerves but the music is solid. I work out to this all the time so that's how I know it's great. It’s a nice throwback to better days and it’s highly recommended, Spud Boy... I mean, Robot... I mean, Human.
Servotron - Entertainment Program For Humans (Second Variety) (CD review) (Lookout): More electro-madness from our pals Z4-OBX, Proto Unit V-3, 00zX1, and Andro 600 Series, whose function is in the "Direction of vibrating large gauged wire, amplifying the source, storing it digitally and presenting the results through a pure binary format". Servotron are humanoid robots with one eye to our inevitable future and the other looking back to when Devo smugly claimed we'll all evolve back into apes. The fools. A worthy but not spectacular follow-up to the retro- new wave No More Humans, Servotron sounds here more like The Normal after too many hours of listening to the B-52's Wild Planet. There's more electronic noodling on this than on the last. Maybe Servotron is evolving into a new age band for digital beings. Who knows, but one thing’s for sure, it’s more fun to compute.
7 Seconds - Skins, Brains & Guts (7" review) (Alternative Tentacles): The story of 7 Seconds is a tad strange. If you were around in the early ‘80s you knew them as the equal in every way of Minor Threat, suffering only in location, location, location. Kevin Seconds was Ian Mackaye on amphetamines. He built up the Reno, Nevada scene, which still has a good reputation and attracts great touring bands. Then, in the mid-‘80s Kevin switched from aggro to emo and albums of positive alternative drivel. The album New Wind was schizophrenic - half was recorded with Ian and sounded like great old 7 Seconds while the rest is from another, lackluster session. He retained the percentage of his fan base who admired his integrity, but the music became so irrelevant to the hardcore scene that 7 Seconds faded a bit while shrines went up each week in memory of Minor Threat. That was a shame because in their prime they were as forceful, political and melodic as any D.C. band. Skins, Brains & Guts was their first release, Virus #15, from 1982.
Kevin was obsessed with unity and fighting the good fight -- TOGETHER! He wore the same black crap under his eyes that ballplayers use even though he hated sports. He saw hardcore as a game you fight to win. The "Skins" in the title has nothing to do with racism but relates to American hardcore kids who shaved their heads. Kevin was big into joining together in a "Crew". 7 Seconds releases have titles like Committed For Life, The Crew, and Walk Together, Rock Together, featuring their novelty version of "99 Red Balloons". I think Kevin joined his own cult and traded the power of hardcore for the power of sincerity. The kids didn't follow.
Skins, Brains & Guts is seven songs of classic low-fi hardcore energy. The titles sum up the era: "Skins, Brains & Guts", "No Authority", "Redneck Society", "Baby Games", "Racism Sucks", "This Is My Life", "Anti-Klan", "I Hate Sports" and "We're Gonna Fight". "Racism Sucks" covers the same ground of reverse discrimination as Minor Threat's "Guilty Of Being White" and is also more to the point: "Do you think that all blacks are niggers/Ignorance is your attitude/You wallow in your racist stupor/Have you really stopped to think?/Do you believe in the KKK, do you think White Power rules today?/Would you like to shoot a white man dead, would you like to bust a black man's head - no way!/In England there's the National Front, headstrong bunch, these fugging c--ts/With Webster as their figurehead, they liberate Hitler as he lies dead/They think they're so bloody tough, Paki-bashing ain't enough/Martin Webster like the KKK, map out all the plans his own way/Racism sucks, Racism fugging Sucks!/Some black folks call the white race scum, 'cos they think we are the only ones/Who only live in prejudice, while a lot of those blacks live just the same/Do you really judge a man, by the color of his skin/You got the color, you got no right, to fugg up everybody else's life/Racism Sucks-Racism fugging Sucks!/Kill kill the KKK, destroy Martin Webster/Kill kill The KKK, destroy Ronald Reagan".
This is a great 7" and one of the cornerstones of the early straight-edge movement. It’s been re-issued a few times so you should be able to find it easily. Like Kevin wrote on the back cover of The Crew, "Dedicated to the thousands of kids who, have believed, still believe, and will always believe in being positive, aware, free thinking individuals -- Together". If I had human emotions I would cry.
- Good To Go (CD review): Sing along with
Kevin Seconds and his crew: "Whoa-o-whoa-o-o!"
There's three 7 Seconds but not seven 3 Seconds - old skool, new skool and new old skool. Old skool 7 Seconds is always great. The half of New Wind (1987) not produced by Ian MacKaye found Kevin and his crew slowing and U2-ing their way out of their fans' hardcore hearts. They released a few college rock records, and I don't know exactly when they came back into the fold, but they did name a record "Out The Shizzy", which can't be a good thing. The CD alt.music.hardcore (1995) compiles three early 7"s, and if you don't know Jack S--t about the Reno, NV scene, Jack S--t was another band from Reno.
My point is that 7 Seconds were a cousin band to DC's Minor Threat, Ian coming up with straight edge while Kevin yelled about positive thinking with utopian zeal. Ian had opinions while Kevin had beliefs oozing out of his pores. He's a fanatic I'm sure but he means well. Ian and Kevin also both wrote songs noting racism also works the other way against white people ("Guilty Of Being White" and "Racism Sucks"), oddities in bands you expect to be PC up the shizzy.
Anyhoo, Kevin has a new record for sale. On my shelf at home I have 1999's Good To Go, which might as well be called The Crew Part (something), which is a good thing, a very good thing indeed.
Good 7 Seconds means one sound, and they can repeat it all day for all I care. The drumming is fast and never changes except for some intermittent transitions, while the lead and bass guitars go to town in new and exciting ways. Good to Go is interchangeable with their release back fifteen years, and I couldn't be happier. For variety they throw in a little ska- horn on "True Roots Show". That's all they need as far as growth is concerned.
Kevin has a blog. Did I mention he has a blog? And that he coined the punk term "crew"?
Seven Storey Mountain - self-titled E.P. & Based On A True Story (CDs review) (Art Monk & Symbiotic): This being their debut EP from 1996 and their last full length from 2000 (Leper Ethics came out in 1997), you can see a trajectory that might make their upcoming release on Deep Elm nothing less than a monumental achievement. At their best, Seven Storey (shortened recently for some reason) are one of the best emo bands around, at least in the sub-genre that combines silence, loudness, melody and obtuse song structures. To me that's the most impressive style within the genre, and so far I've only found one other band, Sense Field, that works just as well within these confines.
Seven Storey explore the interplay of the really noisy and the really quiet, but the quiet is usually filled with the dramatic tension of foreshadowing notes. Weezer does this too but more obviously. Their timing is perfect, the drones abrasive yet sweet, and the noisy parts are melodic without a reliance on cheap head-banging hysterics. Throw this into the post-alt.Nirvana category if you must, but Seven Storey does not write simple songs for simple people. It's not Zappa or anything, but the more you listen and the more you pay attention, the more you’ll get out of it.
The EP works a consistent middle ground of tension and introspection. Leper Ethics had a few good fast tracks but more pieces of filler than needed. Based On A True Story saw them go from four to three members, and it opens with "So Soon", thrash that's acted like a electrified cattle prod up my butt since the first time I heard it on a Deep Elm sampler. This is a perfect song. "Politician" is the next best track, a clear political statement in a genre that usually spurns tangible lyrics. I'm blown away by the jarring guitar line that comes after the words "Got some loose-lipped partners, that I finally had to kill". It comes around a second time behind the words "I believe... in Democracy, like I believe, in the f--king tooth fairy". It’s almost impossible to express how much I love this, and I'm gesturing at my monitor while miming nonsense sounds.
"Reality Time" is favorite track #3. I can't find a weak song on a CD that's too short at seven tracks. The quality of the recordings are excellent, and you can hear each string of the electric guitars as you would on an acoustic. Yep, according to this chart, their next CD should make me crap my pants (in a good way…I think).
Seven Storey Mountain - Leper Ethics (CD review) (Art Monk Construction): Here's my disclaimer: I buy records at Lumberjack, the VA-based distributor that opens its doors to the public each Saturday when someone remembers to bring the key. I told them how much I liked Sense Field, and the owner was swell enough to give me a copy of this, on Lumberjack's own record label, Art Monk Construction. Disclaimer over.
Seven Story Mountain shares Sense Field’s range of power and emotion. Leper Ethics starts strong with "Last Time", which opens mid-note and doesn't stop pounding. "Tarnish" and "If I" keep it moving nicely, but with the exception of "Self-Pity", from then on in Leper Ethics is filled with half-baked tracks too lite for head-banging and not fuzzy enough for grunge. Minimalism doesn't work well in this genre - there has to be some kind of underlying power or tension to keep it interesting. It’s a nice effort though, and the potential is there to get most if not all of it right the next time.
Seven Storey - Dividing By Zero (CD review) (Deep Elm): I find Seven Storey (formerly Seven Storey Mountain) to be an amazing band stuck in and limited by their home base of Tempe, AZ. It’s a lovely city but it might as well be Shangri La for all anyone notices. This, their third full-length (along with two EPs and a number of compilation contributions) is on Deep Elm, so hopefully more people will give them a shot and the recognition they deserve. Dividing By Zero is a good record that suffers only from an error in track order and one slow song too many.
Two older Seven Storey tracks are so great I bring them up every time I review this band: "Politician" and "So Soon". Lie, cheat and steal to get these and you'll know why they apply shoe to ass. The general strengths of Seven Storey are a strong sense of melody, excellent fast songs and impressive interplays between quiet and loud on most other tracks. It’s not screamo headbanging music but an understanding of tone and volume. Lance Lammers has a distinctive and powerful voice, and he either records additional tracks of harmonic accompaniment or his voice is treated. Either way it works well, unlike Bob Mould (don't get me started). Seven Storey songs should be played at high volume to both intensify of the loud tracks and bring out the restrained power of the others.
"Instru 1" opens the CD and it's a variation on the "Burundi Black" tribal drumming adopted by Bow Wow Wow and Adam Ant. Here it's mixed with a guitar riff balanced between western and spy surf music. Sometimes you can sense an affection for Ry Cooder soundtracks on Dividing By Zero. "Unknown Satellite" is a heavy, driving track with a bass line evoking the danger of Big Black, so you know it has to be sweet. "Flavor War" is a bit psychedelic and slow with a strong melody and the usual intense payoff at the end.
"Enough Already" starts off too much like the track before it. It's a nice track but it follows the same pattern of development as "Flavor War". "Second Rome" is as good as the two prior tracks but again it is too similar and therefore tedious, mostly due to its placement. "Halfway" is a great fast song, followed by another great fast track with the western/&spy motif. "Paper and Quill" ends the CD with a nice melody but I kept waiting for an explosion at the end that never came. A Seven Story record should end with a bang, not a whimper.
In my perfect world I’d have separated tracks 3 & 4 with a faster song, dropped completely one of the three similar tracks and punched up the ending of the closer. But no, the world's not perfect. Damn you world!
Sham 69 - The Punk Singles Collection 1977-1980 (CD review) (Cleopatra): I can't say if Sham 69 was the first oi band, but they were the most popular with five top-20 singles. Forming in the wake of the UK's first punk wave (Sex Pistols, The Clash), Sham 69 and others played a hybrid of pub rock & '77 punk that appealed to kids on the streets, in the bleachers, and especially in the pubs. Where these earlier bands were in a way art school students striking poses of rebellion and glory, the street punk bands that followed really were of and for the people. Sham 69 were the first band to directly address the plight of working class youth, but siding with hooligans and gangs associated the band with National Front Nazi Skins who embraced Sham 69 as their spokesmen. They say lead Sham Jimmy Pursey was not a sympathizer but his rejection of his more crazed followers was too late too little. By 1980 the Skins literally took over the stage at Sham 69 concerts while Jimmy looked dejected. Jimmy, what did you expect with songs like ""The Cockney kids Are Innocent", "Hersham Boys" and "Borstal Breakout". When you play with fire don't act surprised when things burn.
That being said, Sham 69 were great, truly oi's best singles band. This CD collects four years worth of great 7"s. I still consider The Business the best oi band of all time because they took on the Skins issue without ever giving up on the bleacher boys and pub crawlers who literally yell "oi" across the bar to get someone's attention. "Oi" is to Britain what "Hey" is to America. Owing a lot to the Sex Pistols for their sound, Sham 69 recorded great sing-along anthems that define oi as a style. "Ulster" steals it's riff from "Stepping Stone" and Pursey even covers The Beatle's "With A Little Help From My Friends". While most of the songs are political, "Hurry Up Harry" is the best drinking song to come out of punk. Other favorites include "Angels With Dirty Faces", "If The Kids Are United", "Questions and Answers", "Red London", and "Borstal Breakout".
Sham 69 was not a Nazi Skin band but they surely played too closely to their issues and egos. Once the National Front started taking over Sham concerts the band should have just walked away from the scum they attracted, even if only by accident.
Knife - Happy Hour (CD review):
As I begin to write about Shonen knife, Dr. John of Swamp Fever, FL starts to
feel a bit woody.
is his favorite substance in the known universe,
besides his wife and child (the last part's a beautiful lie). Five days ago
their drummer died in an accident in Delaware where the band van rolled over
several times and landed in oncoming traffic. Yikes. Best wishes and deepest
Here's a concise band history. I only own two of their thirteen+ releases, Let's Knife (1993) and Happy Hour (1998). They're fun, campy and delightful as can be, but for some reason I can't imagine paying for their records like I would with Cub or even Ex-Girl, who owe an obvious debt to Shonen Knife. Maybe my tolerance for songs about food and animals only takes me so far. Maybe the cute meets Ramones meets kooky Japan thing confuses me. I like Shonen Knife, probably a lot, but the Shonen Knife THING might be a bit too much for me.
That said, Happy Hour is a fun and diverse record with all kinds of neat guitar tunings and added touches. It opens strangely with some mono-casio disco beats and electro-sampling, but eventually "Shonen Knife Planet" levels off and it's as weird as Ex-Girl. "Konnichiwa" is a nice, fast tune, and then "Cookie Day" rips out a killer ska guitar riff and a chorus so catchy it'll hook an eye. "Hot Chocolate" is club groovy and weird while "Sushi Bar Song" is like Josie and the Pussycats with "R"s pronounced as "L"s. "Fish Eyes" reminds me of Cub and the chorus is great too. "Banana Chips" is mid-paced Ramones while "Dolly" slows down the riff from Iggy's "The Passenger."Jackalope" is shagadelic. "Gyoza" opens with a stereotypical Chinese string instrument sound like the one Bowie used on "China Girl". "Gyoza" is Ramonesy with a chorus swiped directly from The Undertones' "More Songs About Chocolate and Girls". "People Traps" is simply excellent. "His Pet" is ok and their cover of The Monkee's "Daydream Believer" more than ok.
To be honest, "Happy Hour" is very good. Still, there's something very novelty about it......
Short Attention - Clever Maddening Annoying & 2 & Polished Turds: 25 Decent Songs And One By Chris Grivet (cd reviews): A few months ago I fell into the ravine known as Ramone To The Bone (R.I.P.), run by a German guy and a fellow from South America. Some days they'd post ten things and I kept up as long as I could before the onslaught of eight out of ten bands totally sucking finally wore me down. I'll be reviewing the best of what I rummaged through in the near future - starting....... NOW!
Re: Short Attention: from their MySpace page: "Short Attention, the world's least recognizable supergroup, features current and former members of The Ergs, The Unlovables, Dirt Bike Annie, The Steinways and The Slaughterhouse Four. Formed in the '00's by The Tattle Tales' frontman Christian Stefos (who left the band to become an astronaut), the band sings 15 second songs about life, love, Aaron Cometbus novels and the menstrual cycle." There's five sticks and one chick in the group, and what begins as a neat gimmick devolves quickly into a string of clever, maddening and annoying idea samples, as advertised. The Fat Wreck Chords Comp Short Music For Short People was almost equally annoying but it was an interesting compilation to have just because it existed.
The band Short Attention gives only whiffs of songs, starting from the beginning of a "real" song and cutting it off after maybe 25 seconds. Clever opens with a cover of Chixdiggit's "Quit Your Job", also found on Short Music. As a shortie from Chixdiggit it's a break from the expected. With each song being so abbreviated there's no time to develop anything besides one idea, and it ends before you can even get into that. The songs are based on decent riffs so the cut-offs are that much more annoying. What would have been impressive is if each song was about a minute but contained both a verse and chorus with the occasional bridge thrown in to show off.
I offer "Pointless Breakup Song" as an example of a song that annoys and "Jim's In Love With Rachel Ray" as one that seems to be self-contained and not annoying.
I imagine only a psychopath could listen to either of these all the way through and not develop a twitchy eye. It's not bad per say. It's even pretty damn good up to the point where it's unforgivably annoying.
The Shut Ups - ..haul off and smack your ass (7" review) (Junk): I loathe 7" records. Loathe is a great word because if you say it with the right tone of insincerity it sounds like "love". I loathe 7"ers because they're a lot of work to listen to. Compared to albums they're like driving across town for a gallon of milk. It's like the phone ringing every time you settle into your comfy chair and turn off your brain. They're the premature ejaculation of recorded music. It's a format I'm not nostalgic for in the least.
That said, I'm glad there's four songs on this one. Two song 7"s can only annoy me. One song on each side is playing a solo match of Musical Chairs. The four tracks on this are great. In the liner notes they thank Sal from Electric Frankenstein, and that's who they remind me of. There's a thousand Iggy/Dolls/Heartbreakers/Chuck Berry/Stones bands going, but only a few give their songs enough punch to rise above. There's a world of difference between loose and sloppy. Loose is good, sloppy stinks. Loose is what skilled musicians do when they let loose. Sloppy is how Sid Vicious played bass.
Bands like The Shut Ups rise and fall on the strength of their guitar riffs and the talent of their members, and they’re strong in both areas. There's a lot of power and originality in the chord structures of all four songs. There’s not much else to say except this 7" is worth the jog back and forth to your record player. It’s on cherry flavored vinyl, so, uh, yummy?
Sick Boys - 2-Man Conga Line (LP review) (VML): The literature claims these Cannucks are the "Teenage Head of the ‘90s", which sounds like grand hyperbole. It also says right here they sound like Clash & oi-inspired punk'n'roll. Now THAT I can tell you is a wet load. Nothing really stands out in these eight songs. The style is generic punk with Johnny B. Good guitar licks and sincere singing. What can I say about the oft repeated lyric "We Drank All Night"? Does that speak to your life and sum it up poetically? If so you must be fourteen and think Beavis & Butthead worked on many levels. The last song has a slight rap feel in the chorus, as annoying as being repeatedly tapped on the forehead. Maybe this is punk party music and live they make their friends laugh like mad. To me it's a "you hadda be there," and I wasn't. Thankfully. It's not that this sucks. It just that it barely exists.
Skimmer - Bored Again (7" review) (Junk): I review a lot of Junk product because they give me stuff (hint, hint). Skimmer, man! Powerful power-pop from the UK. Just like the other 7" I have this has the sound quality of mud, like a third generation tape transfer. Skimmer are great but after a while it hits you that each song blends into the next. You can say that about a lot of bands but Skimmer might be a little more guilty than most. I guess this makes them a singles band. They're power pop but not wimpy by any means. They thrash it out. They're the UK pop brothers of Leatherface, another great band you don't equate so much with the UK, for some odd reason that may just be in my pea-sized brain only.
Skinny Puppy - Rabies (1989) & Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse (1986) (cassettes review) (Capital): A friend was going to throw these out, so I borrowed them for review. In the ‘80s I remember Skinny Puppy had a strong reputation as a dark, gloomy, evil goth synth band. Compared to Nine Inch Nails these tapes sound quaint, funky, and definitely from the ‘80s. The songs are mid-tempo goth funk, and while much effort went into giving each song layers of sound, the tempo changes so rarely that no song stands out. Mid-tempo songs too easily blend into each other. Ministry's Al Jourgenson adds some punch to Rabies, but modern bands play at 78 rpm while Skinny Puppy preferred 33 1/3. I guess they're considered goth, a genre that's never made much sense to me. It’s sex, death, costumes, desperate ego, makeup, gloom, evil, self-pity, drama and misery ten times over again. It’s Suffering as Art, Death as Poetry, and Hopelessness as Purpose. Someone please explain this to me. Techno is disco, by the way. You want pure evil? Listen to Big Black. Most goths are just looking for a hug and a good cry.
- The Woods (CD review):
is an amazing band. Corin Tucker is the most interesting female singer in punk
right now, and for a three piece they create intense walls of complex and
emotional music larger bands usually only hope to replicate. There's nothing bad
I can say about Sleater-Kinney. Now, why is it I can only listen to a few songs
at a time before changing any of their discs?
2005's The Woods is their seventh studio release in ten years, and when critics lauded their new maturity I knew something was wrong. The gist was that Sleater-Kinney learned to "rock", which means they slowed down, wigged out and, excuse the irony, cock-rocked. The Woods starts fast and ends slow, which means I can finally listen to every song I want to on a Sleater-Kinney CD in a row before turning it off.
There's a psychedelic feel to some of this, and more complexity to the song structures, which is easier at a slower pace. In the middle of "What's Mine Is Yours" there's a psychedelic metal guitar wig-out so out of character I wondered if this was a bow to No Wave. My favorite tracks are "Jumpers" and "Entertain".
Before writing this I went back and listened to both CDs of the Liliput compilation. There's a line here, Sleater-Kinney progressing beyond what Liliput was capable of, but a line still the same.
Sleater-Kinney - Dig Me Out (CD review) (Kill Rock Stars): Here's my secret to staying on top of the culture game without wasting time and money on bands, fashions and interests that don't contribute to my being King Of The Scene. I wait for universal approval from the many punk and general interest magazines I read, then, and only then, do I jump on the bandwagon of a band, brand of cigar, hip street lingo, or brand of cheese spread.
Sleater Kinney's latest CD made many year-end "Best Of" lists, so I picked it up. The first song hit me as hard as PJ Harvey's demo version of "Rid Of Me", which is to say it beat me up pretty good. I was worried - if the rest of the CD was just as powerful I'd have to kill someone famous and say I did it to impress Sleater-Kinney. Things calmed down fairly quickly, but for an alternative punk release this is very good. Carrie Brownstein's vocals remind me of Siouxsie Sioux singing with the urgency of Poly Styrene, while the drums and rhythm/lead guitars are powerful enough to be called punk, pop enough to dance to like it was the ‘60s all over again, and intricate enough to say that within its genre this has to be the most interesting album of the year. The guitar and bass progressions are brilliant, the drumming simple and direct. There's a slight dirge influence on these tracks, but it adds fuzz intensity instead of weighing down the tunes with hard rock pomposity. (1-11-98 update: I've been listening to this some more and it hit me this is a new wave album, split evenly between The Go Gos and Siouxsie And The Banshees.)
This is a great CD. Buy this today and tell everyone that even after a year it still sounds relevant. Hell, it works for me.
Slick Shoes – Burn Out (CD review) (Tooth & Nail): When I first heard this I was annoyed because it seemed to pander to the tastes of fourteen year olds into Fat Wreck Chords bands. I liked it well enough except for the occasional chugga-chugga guitar and slappity-tappity drumming which brings to mind the idiot rodeo slam pits that pass for fun at all-ages shows. When I read the band formed in 1994 with members in their mid-teens, I realized what they played were probably all they knew, so there was nothing to pander. Kids making music for other kids. Huh.
That said, the playing is tight and the riffs engaging. Sans the chug and slap-tap this is something I can even recommend to punks of drinking age. As it is, I call it a better example of modern SoCal all-ages poppy-punk. They cover 7 Seconds “Clenched Fist, Black Eyes”. The lyrics of their own songs read like accusatory speeches regarding life’s lessons. They only make one direct reference to God, so if you see every Tooth & Nail band as dangerous religious messengers, you’ll have to dig deeper for the godly messages. Me, I’m not that paranoid.
The Slits - Cut (LP review) (Island): UK punk's first D.I.Y. all-female band, The Slits toured with The Clash in 1977 on their "White Riot" tour and released one of the first post-punk albums, Cut. You can see The Slits in The Punk Rock Movie, and although they didn't know how to play their instruments well they're easily one of the film's highlights. They formed in 1976, played shows, but didn't record until 1979. By then their sound had evolved into a reggae/dub/punk mix that surprised everyone with its precision and inventiveness. It’s a great album.
The four original members went by the names of Ari Up (fourteen years old at the time), Palmolive, Kate Korus, and Suzi Gutsy. Palmolive left in ‘78 to be replaced by Budgie on drums. Budgie is mostly associated with Siouxsie Sioux. The lineup for this album was Vivien Albertine, Tessa Pollit, Ari Up, and a mostly uncredited Budgie. Vivien and Tessa were former members of Flowers of Romance, whose lead singer was Sid (Squid) Vicious.
The Slits led a mini-genre of great post-punk female-fronted bands that included Liliput, the Raincoats and the Au Pairs. The Dub work on Cut (especially "So Tough") reminds me of what XTC's Andy Partridge was recording under the name "Mr. Partridge". I thought one of The Slits was the daughter of Vivienne Westwood, but I may be wrong. Malcolm McLaren was a part of their management, which would explain his later pre-fabrication of Bow Wow Wow. By the way, the name "The Slits" is naughty.
The Slobs - Another Piece Of Junk (7" review) (Junk): It's not everyday a record is named after the label that released it. This four-songer was a side project involving three of the four Dips--ts. It’s a strong EP that leaves me wanting more. It’s the soundtrack for a beer commercial if we lived on a cool planet instead of what it is now. There’s a cover of Wire's "Feeling Called Love", so bonus points are awarded. Men drink beer for the taste just like they have sex only to show affection. In other words, they don't!
Sloppy Seconds - The First Seven Inches (7" review) (Alternative Testicles): This four-song masterpiece came out on 1987 and immediately made year-end "Best Of" lists. As far as I know they created the Junk Rock sound now common - snotty singing, melodic as hell punk with equal bows to the Ramones and Chuck Berry, and healthy American obsessions with horror movies, bad 70's TV, porno queens, loneliness, drunken idiocy and general spitefulness that does little more than make you feel better about being a loser. Sloppy Seconds were the guys who didn't get invited to parties but went anyway, drank too much, made assholes of themselves, got kicked out, puked their guts out, but laughed anyway because they stole something useless before they left.
What I like most about Sloppy Seconds is how you sometimes have to pay close attention to the lyrics to catch the self-mockery that underlies their usually bitter lyrics. "If I Had A Woman" is on one level a hateful song: "If I had a woman that I could annoy/if I had a woman to take all the lashes/I wish I had a woman that I could destroy/'cause then I guess that I'd be satisfied". But B.A. also sings, "I better get her now, before I have to beg/The way I did before/while I'll still take any port in a storm; and I've still got my pride". They caught grief later on for "I Don't Wanna Be A Homosexual", but there again B.A. doubts his own sexuality and sees his own life as nothing to brag about either.
Their original guitarist, Danny "Roadkill" Thompson, was so big the band couldn't play a club if he had to walk up too many stairs. On that note, I take my leave.
V.M.Live presents Sloppy Seconds (7" review) (VML): There's a rack of live singles in this series from Joey Vindictive's record label. The covers look the same, with generic lettering and no pictures or graphics of any kind. It took me forever to find this one, and the next one I'm coveting is from a 1995 Meatmen show. This isn't a bootleg but it sure sounds like it. If this is "Off The Board", the board must have been from the Great Depression. A live feel doesn't have to sound like enhanced mono, but I'm a fan of Sloppy Seconds and it's an honor to support them. The songs are "The Queen Of Outer Space", "Conned Again", "Steal Your Beer", "Your Sister" and "Come Back, Traci". It's junk rock. You don't have to love it, but if you don't you're a big poopie-head.
Sloppy Seconds- Live: No Time For Tuning (CD review) (Triple XXX): Junk Rock from the original slobs from Indianapolis who grew up with comic books, porno and bad horror movies as their best friends. They play sloppy fast Ramones/Chuck Berry fun punk. The Vindictives at times did it better, but you have to love them for their pure vision. Drinking till you puke, gobbling junk food, game for anything fun and dangerous – they’re the guys who show up at parties they weren't invited to and get thrown out after they drink all the beer. It's been four years since their last CD, and their next was delayed, so I'm happy this came out when it did. The gap is probably due to the loss of Roadkill on lead guitar, only recently replaced full-time by Ace Hardware. Ace is great here, alternating between leads and walls of noise. There’s 22 live tunes from a show in their hometown, each a punk frat-party classic. Fun, sloppy, snotty, cool, creepy, drunk - that's Sloppy Seconds. Love ‘em of leave ‘em, they’re the kings of something or other.
loppy Seconds - More Trouble Than They're Worth (CD review) (Nitro): Finally, the third Sloppy Seconds studio album since 1989, the last being 1993's Knock Yer Block Off. Part of it was the loss of original guitarist Danny Roadkill, the other a lack of a record label. The title may have been the band's perception of their place in the music industry. They wound up on Nitro, known as "That guy in The Offspring's record label" - quite a switch considering their entire roster of bands would give up punk in a heartbeat if offered a slot as one of the Backstreet Boys.
In the gap Sloppy Seconds picked up pencil-thin Ace Hardware on guitar. B.A. and Bo'Ba look like they've been gorging on beer and mint flavored lard while Steve morphed into Christopher Guest. The Vindictives, the midwest's other junk rock vendors, seemingly came and went.
More Trouble Than They're Worth is a return to the themes of 1989's Destroyed - odes to porn, campy horror & science fiction, and goofy obnoxiousness ("drunk, fat and stupid is no way to go through life, son"). The style is Ramones meets Chuck Berry, and Ace is 95% as expert as Roadkill was when it comes to switching from power chord to lead. Sloppy Seconds know their fans respond best to high-concept party anthems, and they don't fail to deliver with songs like "You Got A Great Body, But Your Record Selection Sucks", "Smashed Again" and "The Last Drive-In In Town". "The Queen Of Outer Space" finally makes an appearance and it's one of their best. The flying saucer sound effect that resonates throughout the song is perfect. Must...pogo... As is their signature, snippets from TV shows, movies and records pepper the album between and during songs. They even have the real Mr. T. saying "I have a prescription for anyone who doesn't like Sloppy Seconds...PAIN!" They met him at a convention or something and recorded it on the spot.
The songs are universally decent. It’s powerful power pop punk for drunk, adult children. What's missing is the intelligence and slight melancholy that tempered the misunderstood classics "I Don't Wanna Be A Homosexual" and "If I Had A Woman". Gone is the introspection and honest commentary of "Underground" and "Radio On". "Why Don't Lesbians Love Me" could have been another in a line of great bittersweet rants, but the lyrics fail to say anything more than B.A. likes lesbians who wear sexy lingerie and string bikinis. "Just Because You're A Girl" could have been a two-edged sword but instead it's a laundry list of what you can get away with just because you're a girl. "Fifteen Minutes...Or It's Free" is the only song here with the old magic both lyrically and musically. Otherwise, the intelligence of old has been replaced with Beavis and Butthead childishness. "The Thing From Uranus" is about smelly poops, which is as clever as a punch in the groinal area. The last hidden track is a musical spoken word poem re: taking a big dump. Potty humor makes idiots laff.
I've been a huge Sloppy Seconds fan since their 1987 debut EP The First Five Inches. I've met them. They wanted to sleep on my floor. They put on a show in Baltimore I'll never forget. I'm a little disappointed they haven't built on what I thought were their strengths - intelligence and wit buried within the great punk party music. Anyhoo, Sloppy Seconds - god bless their fat, pointed little heads.
Sloppy Seconds - Garbage Days Regurgitated (CD EP review) (Nitro): Junk rock's original house party band is back with a collection of seven covers tunes. A novelty item for fans of one of my favorite bands, it's a statement on their origin story of drunk novices at a house party who by chance found some instruments piled in a corner. They may remind you of The Vindictives (Sloppy Seconds are the older band), but they’re the undisputed kings of so-bad-it's-good movies, TV and useless cultural trivia. When they sing about Russ Meyer, drinking your beer, or Zero Bars, it comes from the heart (and the belly).
This CD and their last one, More Trouble Than They're Worth, are on Nitro Records, a weird fit to be sure, but even stranger is how their 1989 debut LP Destroyed was reissued by Metal Blade. Some sources list Sloppy Seconds as both a punk and heavy metal band. I can't think of anything they’re recorded that comes close to being metal. Is this all because the cover of Destroyed is a parody of a KISS album cover? Are people's attention spans so tiny that they'd make an association between music and cover art? Did I just answer my own question? The cover art for Garbage Days Regurgitated is a take on a Metallica record, so the confusion continues.
They cover "I Won't Grow Up" from Peter Pan , "I Wanna Go Home" by Holly and the Italians, "(I'm Gonna) Runaway" by Joan Jett (Cub also does a great version of this), "Poor Little Rich Girl" by Dee Dee Ramone, "Damn Dog" from the Times Square soundtrack, "Kill" by Stiff Records' Alberto y Los Trios Paranoias, and Black Flag's "TV Party". The last track is an obvious attention grabber but it gives them a chance to list their favorite TV shows.
The tracks were recorded in a whirlwind two days of beer and White Castle consumption, probably no different than any other day of the year. Like I said, a gift to the fans.
Sloppy Seconds - Endless Bummer (CD Review): Holy Carpoli! It's been ten years since the last Sloppy Seconds CD, More Trouble Than They're Worth. Indianapolis' kings of Junk Rock pick up where they left off, the years not changing their music but giving B.A. the opportunity to write some of his best lyrics. They always been clever with verbiage, starting with 1987's 7" of the year The First Seven Inches, on Alternative Testicles. They're released their share of dumb songs ("Pop Your Dick"), but amongst all the drunken numbnuttery is a well of insight that makes itself known when nobody's looking. The original lineup featured the masterful Danny "Roadkill" Thompson on guitar, a morbidly obese fellow who couldn't handle stairs well. He was replaced by the morbidly thin Ace "Spice" Hardware, who required some time to fill the big man's shoes but has proven himself to be just as good even if he's still less than half the man Danny was.
I've been thinking about punk bands I'm still interested in enough to buy their new album, and the list comes down to Leatherface and Sloppy Seconds. I'd buy a new Meatmen CD only if I knew it wasn't cock-rock grandstanding. The Sloppy sound is a combination of The Ramones, Chuck Berry, The Professionals and Cock Sparrer, with whom they share a drunk's sentimentality of what once was yet may never have been in the first place. You listen to Sloppy Seconds for both the music and the standard themes, in this case, song by song: We Are Who We Are / Kids Like Beer / Another Crazy Punk Rock Chick Gets Dumped / Joey Ramone R.I.P. / Crazy Punk Rock Chicks Should Expose Themselves / The USA Is AOK / The Band's PO Box Usually Disappoints / Life Sucks Right Now / I'm A Drunk, So What / High School Girls Fulfilled No Fantasies / Underage Girls Need Not Apply / Lois Lane Hits Bottom / She's In A Coma But Still Sexy / Ray Has Neither Hygiene Nor Social Skills / Drugs Are Bad (Said The Alcoholic) / Alone Again With Bad Horror Movies / You've Changed For The Worse / A Vague F.U. To Somebody.
They toss in the usual assortment of audio clips from bad movies, my ears dancing a happy jig upon hearing one from Street Trash. I mentioned lyrics, so here's a sample from "You Can't kill Joey Ramone" - "Well now somewhere on the Bowery / There's a gathering of drunks / With a bottle in a brown bag / But not for all the punks / 'Cause down at CBGBs / Everybody drinks alone / But save your prayers for Dee Dee / 'Cause you can't kill Joey Ramone". Damn that's good! The best songs on the CD are loaded up front, with the end stocked with songs inspired by UK punk rock. The song that might make you go "huh?" is "This Is Your Brain On Drugs", a straightforward anti-drug message delivered by someone who might be a chronic binge drinker, or he might be a full-blown alcoholic.
Endless Bummer is all-in-all a great record, once you get over that most Sloppy Seconds songs are stitched together from other Sloppy Seconds songs. It's the lyrics that stand out, backed by an incredibly tight band. They've had ten freaking years to write good material, and I hope they do just as well sooner rather than later. Ten years from now I'll be 57, and waaaaay too old for this punk rock s--t!
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