Sludgeworth - Losers Of The Year (CD review) (Lookout!): If you're into power pop punk you should be thanking the punk gods for Lookout Records. Not only are they the most consistent label going, they've re-released blasts from the past from my faves, Sweet Baby, and Sludgeworth, whose "Brightside" EP blew me away. There's so many great bands out there you'll never hear. Some are long out of print, and who has the time and money to buy and listen to everything out there anyway? Every good release lies on top of a mountain of crap (there’s a 90/10 ration of crap to good). Sludgeworth were local heroes in Chicago circa ‘89-‘92, consisting of Dan Schafer (Screeching Weasel & Riverdales), Brian Vermin (Weasel) and three others. They released a few EPs and one long player, all in short supply and hard to find outside of Chicago. They broke up over creative differences (part of the band wanted to turn funky), and that was that until Ben Weasel brought the idea for this CD to Lookout Ben wrote the collection's liner notes, and like he says, "Me, I don't have any use for nostalgia. Memories lie, and they lie GOOD."
I'd call this power pop emo, as much indebted to 7 Seconds as to The Ramones. The guitars don't just fuzz, they soar. Only The Dragons get as much emotion out of their guitars. The lyrics are heartfelt and the sing-alongs ("woah-o-o....") are beautiful in their simplicity. "Someday" and "Anytime" are my favorites, and over the length of the CD there’s a distracting sense of deja-vu, but as a "singles" band (think The Buzzcocks) Sludgeworth are a treasure. A token funky song ("Angry Man") is thrown in, hopefully to show the band’s power pop contingent they got it right whilst the funksters were out of step. White guys shouldn't do funky. They don't have the hips for it, or something.
- Horses (CD review): It took the distance
of many years and a love of other bands that followed in their wake to fully
appreciate the importance and greatness of Patti Smith and
give Kaye equal credit as guide, songwriter and musician. He put together the
and for that alone he deserves his own monument on Punker Hill.
provides a great overview on Patti's career so I won't rehash it.
Gilda Radner on SNL did a take on Smith as Candy Slice. In this transcript of her most famous bit she sings "I'm sexless - I sing loud/ Know that always gets a crowd/ I talk dirty - and I'm proud/ No dry cleanin' is allowed/ I am funky - I don't bathe/ I am rock and roll's new slave/ I am punky - to the graveI can't sing but I can raaaaaaaaave". That summed it up for me for a long time. She was a self-involved lower Manhattan beatnik hippie poet. She opened Horses with "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine". What else did I need to know?
Until I put this on again I didn't realize how much Patti Smith influenced The Styrenes, Life Without Buildings, Sleater-Kinney, PJ Harvey and even maybe NoMeansNo. Patti's voice is masterful, moving from street babble to torch song to holding notes the way Debbie Harry does. I see some Janis Joplin in her delivery, and her band is influenced by The Doors, The Rolling Stones and the Velvet Underground. Kaye and the band work especially well providing intricate backdrops to Patti's singing.
Every track's a winner. Two run close to ten minutes each and are only for when you have the time and attention span. "Gloria" and "Redondo Beach" stand out, the latter set to a reggae beat.
If you have time to burn here's an article on the making of the album's cover, shot by Robert Mapplethorpe.
The Smugglers - Selling The Sizzle (LP review) (Lookout): This is a classic. If the world made any sense The Smugglers would be huge. Instead, you have Blink-182 selling millions of records that get no deeper than the title Enema Of The State.
These Vancouver garage poppers have been around since 1990. They run Canada's Mint Records, basically the Frozen North's answer to Lookout. More than your average pop-punk band, they channel both Buddy Holly and The Banana Splits in songs with more hooks and personality than most other bands around. Selling The Sizzle sounds like a great band's greatest hits album. Many of these tracks appeared on comps, which doesn't bother me in the least because it's great hearing them in a row. My favorite track is "She Ain't No Egyptian".
If you like power pop and garage rock that doesn't take itself seriously, you must own this record. It's as simple as that. It doesn't get any better than this. And if it does, that’s a pretty damn good record.
The Smugglers - Growing Up Smuggler: A Ten Year Anniversary Live Album (LP review) (Mint): Formed in 1988, this 1998 LP marked The Smuggler’s tenth year as Canada's hardest working band. The Smugglers also run Mint, the Lookout of the frozen white north. They're a power pop band of immense talent who emulate mop-top British Invasion bands and American teen group heartthrobs of both the ‘50s and ‘60s. Buddy Holly, Herman's Hermits and The Dave Clark Five all come to mind when I think of The Smugglers. This record is tight and professional, maybe even too much so.
I don't know a lot about this band, having only heard some compilation things and Selling The Sizzle, a top ten from 1996. I know they're comical, but are they laughing at me or with me? Are they being insincere? Being from Canada, where politeness runs rampant, I'm sure it's all good clean fun, but there's a certain false sincerity to this recording that turned me off on the first listen. It's fading with time but that first taste stayed with me. I like the songs and the recording quality is excellent. Most live albums are a waste of time. Maybe I'm just not used to a live record with studio quality sound.
The band history in the liner notes is encyclopedic. Only two days out of ten years seem to be unaccounted for. I know I'd like to see The Smugglers live. Most concerts sound like crap and the bands really can't play well. Not in this case.
Social Distortion - self-titled (CD review) (Epic): I'm surprised I liked this as much as I do. I'm predisposed to not like Mike Ness, maybe because of his major label and MTV affiliations, or maybe just because people refer to the band as "Social D." Anyways, while not too furious or inventive, these songs are a good combination of clean sounding Southern California roots rock punk and the roots rock country influence of Johnny Cash. They even do a decent cover of "Ring of Fire". The excellent "Ball and Chain" sounds like another hit from the Cash catalog, but it’s a Ness original. Some songs feature harmonica and hillbilly background singing reminiscent of Rank and File. Not something I'd buy, but good still the same.
Son Of Sam - Songs From The Earth (CD review) (Nitro): Hey kids, it's a super-group tribute to The Misfits' mid-to-late career, when they rocked! Rocked like the dead - not the hippie dead but the unliving dead undead evil dead who want to eat your guts and rock out on guitar! Dude! Dude? Duuuuuude.....
Nitro Records knows what the kids like - slappy-drum-counter-clockwise-rodeo-pit-cock- rock juvenility, but they've made investments in late-career deathy bands TSOL and The Damned. This has to be a personal fetish of someone high up at Nitro. How Sloppy Seconds wound up on that label I'll never know (that's just an expression since I do know). Son Of Sam has AFI's Davey Havok on vocals, Danzig's Todd Youth on guitar, Samhain's London May on drums and Samhain's Steve Zing on bass. The Nitro webby says "The project began almost accidentally with May, Youth, and Zing penning four tracks one night out of simple boredom. The tunes, summoning elements of Samhain, The Exploited and 7 Seconds, with the hard-core drive of Black Flag and the Circle Jerks, were anything but drab. ‘I think it's a mix of goth, punk, hardcore and metal. The music is dark, aggressive, melodic, and unpredictable.’ said May of the band's distinct sound."
I know most everything's derivative of something else, but it's sad when PR materials avoid the obvious. This is a Misfits tribute. Samhain and Danzig are continuations of the heavy metal death rock phase of The Misfits. I liked The Misfits when they sounded like the Ramones. Maybe, maybe, lines can be drawn somehow from The Exploited, 7 Seconds, Black Flag, and The Circle Jerks to what appears on Songs From The Earth, but that chart would be too big and jagged to be relevant.
Long Beach, CA is death rock central and I'm friendly with the people who run the scene. I love them like relatives who don't owe me money, but I'll never get their romance with death. Part nihilism, part sexual fetish and part pity-party, I'm glad they have a purpose, each other, and a lot of fun, but besides possibly being a form of therapy relating to a bad childhood or something, I don't see what's positive about centering your life around suffering and death. I also don't see the need to wear a rubber body suit and be tied up for hours, but my Twix Bar fetish isn't something I'm too proud of either.
I like some of the songs on Songs From The Earth. The faster ones specifically, and when the guitar's not rockin' out too much. There's some poppy-punk for AFI fans and some mid-to-late period Misfits for the Misfits fans. The death rockers I know wouldn't go for this, especially "Invocation", with its bad poetry ("You will find me, and you will find yourself") and Phantom Of The Opera scary organ. It's as intense as the Hallmark store on Halloween. Considering the people involved, it sounds too much like every cliché was touched on as if from a checklist. The backup singing borders on parody. What’s the deal with the pictures of each band member with his eyes closed and arms crossed? I can’t believe it’s not a joke on the people who might buy this and take it seriously.
Soul Asylum - Say What You Will... (LP review) (Twin Tone): I figure Soul Asylum have been has-beens long enough for me to review their first album without losing street cred with the kidz. Without ‘em I'm nuthin'. At one time they were a punk band called Loud Fast Rules, but in 1984, with producer Bob Mould, Soul Asylum recorded Say What You Will..., one of the best country punk albums of all time. Their song structures were probably more interesting than Minneapolis legends Husker Du and The Replacements, but Soul Asylum was stuck in these other band's shadows until they found success and riches catering to the MTV generation.
Say What You Will... is one sweet disc. The bass guitar work is beautiful. Not many albums are bass-driven, but the ones that are usually kick major tush. On "Stranger" they replicate Lou Reed's intonation and use of saxophone on "Coney Island Baby". Side 1 ends with a 49 second blast of pure punk energy called "Sick Of That Song" that would make the Angry Samoans proud. Side 2 ends with "Religiavision", 5:04 of pure "GO!" that will forever wind up on my "Punk's Greatest Hits" tapes.
The best thing about this record is how many MTV kids bought it thinking it had to be as good as Grave Diggers Union. As Generation Something Or Other used to say ironically, "Reality Bites!"
Space Cookie - Your CD Collection Still Sucks (out of print singles and other stuff) (CD review) (Reservation): A disclaimer: this came free in the mail. To sum up my ethical dilemma: I love free stuff but what if it’s really bad? Do I kiss ass or trash it and get crossed off the freebie list? Knowing me I'll probably send it back and write an apology letter saying it's not really my style of music but please keep me in mind in the future.
That being said, this is great. After the first killer track I'm waiting for them to sell out to rock star bulls--t or pander to The Kids who like their mosh bits and sing alongs strategically placed in each song for maximum punk rock participation. Thankfully none of this nonsense happens. All fifteen tracks fly by. Score!!!!!!!
Here's a used CD buyer's tip. For bands you've never heard before, read the inserts and see if they thank other bands. 90% of the time you can figure out what a band sounds like this way. Here it's Man or Astroman? and the New Bomb Turks. There’s also a few rockin' surf instrumentals, but Space Cookie run with the Turks and all other great hard rocking bar punk bands. Not ego-infested cock rock, I'm talking full force punk rock with hooks, wit, and style that never once gets in the way of bludgeoning your ears. There's no reason why kids into Fat Wreck Chords and Epitaph shouldn't get into this either. Space Cookie isn't reinventing the wheel, they're just doing everything right without programming their sound to fit a formula. Fans of The Automatics will love this. The last album to make me feel this way was an old copy of Leatherface's Mush. Usually I just recommend things. This you must own.
Space Cookie - Come On Down (4 song EP review) (Reservation): I lent my beloved Space Cookie CD to a "friend", and by default I know it's been sold for either pot or a Happy Meal. It’s just another day in Long Beach, CA. I found this 7" in the discount bin and saw that three of their best songs are on this EP. This Athens, GA band would have been huge if they were from Chicago. It's great, with slightly distorted vocals and an energy that keeps revving up on itself. Heart Attack's "Toxic Lullaby" is an old song that had the same energy curve. Space Cookie sure knew how to write a catchy riff too. They put out a few singles and a best-of and rarities compilation called Your CD Collection Still Sucks. Look for anything by this band. Buried treasure in the discount bin, that's what this is. Argh.
The Spectremen - Man Made Monster (CD review): What you have here is a combination of interesting influences that sometimes adds up to something interesting. At nineteen songs it seems like overkill, since what they're doing is an obvious rip-off of early Misfits. They add a bit of shockabilly/Elvis worship, a nice variation on a theme, but still a chore to get through. A 10" record would have sufficed.
The band members are named Stench Spectre, Dave Spectre, Danny Spectre and Dr. Syn. Song titles stray no farther than "Elvistein", "Zombie Beach Party", "Dead Alive" and "Fiends Without A Face". Danny has a powerful crooner's voice, at times reminding me of Jeff Pezzati of Naked Raygun. Other times he mimics Elvis. It must be either a fetish or an inside joke. Points both taken and given for the cover that evokes the terrifying horror cartoon mags of the ‘70s that kept alive the EC comics tradition.
Spiffy - Didn't Know (7" review) (Junk): So, I'm listening to the A-side and thinking these guys sound like All. Not like I know much about All, but I have everything the Descendents ever did, and bought most of it as they came out. Then, on the flip side, BAM! a rip-off of "Wendy". Like when the Romantics inverted "What I Like About You" and recorded "When I Look In Your Eyes". I may have been born yesterday, but it was early in the day. I have to go now, I must alert the Plagiarism Police. Next!
The Spitfires – In Too Deep Again (CD review) (Junk): I give these Canadians credit for acknowledging their influences, in this case The Devil Dogs, The Dead Boys, The Pagans, and The Humpers. I can understand not wanting to be pigeonholed as an imitation of something else, but many bands think they can get away with claiming they descended from the planet of punk rock gods to teach us new ways of listening and thinking. My second least favorite thing are punk bands who don’t acknowledge they’re punk bands, preferring the generic “rock n roll” as if what they perform has any appeal outside of Flipside and MRR readers.
The Spitfires hail from a small Hesher farming community outside of Vancouver, and being from Canada they seem to be polite and well adjusted, for a Junk Records band anyways. If they destroy themselves through misadventure I’m sure their last words would be “We apologize for any inconvenience”. On their web site they announce “…the band has added a second guitarist; the lovely and talented Dave Paterson! He will be signing autographs and selling kisses to girls for the low, low price of $5 (US funds only, please) at this Saturday's show!” I never thought I’d live to see the day I could describe a Junk Records band as a big bunch of sweeties.
So what do we have here... Rolling Stones boogie, Zeke heaviness, some Alice Cooper sentiment in "High School Really Sucks", and in "Downtown Tonight" a combination of BTO's "Taking Care Of Business" and Elton John's "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting." The implications of such a bonding are still being studied by the CDC. Git yer ya-yas out wit The Spitfires and always be apologetic when vomiting on your best friends new shoes at the bar.
Squirrel Bait - Squirrel Bait & Skag Heaven (LPs review) (Homestead): Endless rivers of blood, I mean hype, were spilled a few years back when a label called Dexter's Car re-issued both records from Louisville, Kentucky's Squirrel Bait. Nobody seemed phased that Dex re-issued on two records what was available from Homestead as one CD. Vinyl cult fetishists are easily lead around by their nose rings.
If you're an indie freak you may have heard of these bands that consist(ed) of former Squirrel Bait members: Bastro, Slint, Gastr Del Sol, Yoma Kit, Tortoise, Evergreen, King Kong, Big Wheel, and The For Carnation. I’ve never heard of any of them, yet I somehow continue to live and pee standing up. I bought the two SB records when they came out in ‘85 and ‘86. Squirrel Bait is an excellent record. It fits in well with The Replacements, Volcano Suns, Soul Asylum, to an extent Husker Du, and especially MD's superior The Hated. Skag Heaven is a shapeless set of tunes in search of a killer hook to hang its hat on. Maybe it succeeds in evoking an emo level of other-consciousness, but compared to the first record it lacks distinction. In other words, it's dull.
The band bio is interesting. Squirrel Bait opens with singer Peter Searcy threatening "I'm going to beat you up at the end of this", directed at one of his more geekish bandmates. The tension was real. These 15-16 year olds may have loved the same music, but they were split into mutually loathed jock-nerd camps. Within these groups came dissension. It's fun to look at the back cover and guess who hated who and why. The geek on the right making with the kung-fu stance looks like he deserves a few good slaps on the back of the head. It's said they broke up on stage after a fistfight.
Greatness can come from chaos, and whatever childish spites and competitiveness drove them led to a great debut. There's a lot of heated passion and recklessness in songs like "Sun God" and "When I Fall". Husker Du gets mentioned as a big influence on Squirrel Bait, but you'd have to go back to Metal Circus to see the connection. Some of the bands Bob Mould produced in the studio would be more like it.
Buy the first record and leave the second behind. Points off to Dexter's Car for not labeling the A & B sides on the records. Screw aesthetics, I'm old and lazy.
SS Decontrol - The Kids Will Have Their Say (LP review) (XClaim/Dischord): I'm trying to think of the first punk band to give themselves a name with initials. SOA and TSOL released their first albums in 1981. SSD, SOA, DYS, AOD and COC were later but not by much. SS Decontrol was long for "Society System Decontrol", but everyone in the punk rock know just said SSD, which is what the band became officially with their third release in 1984. The "SS" also served to be shocking since the letters and album back cover font (thunderbolt) comes from the Nazi SS. I know SSD never intended to come across as nazis, but in typical punk fashion they took what was shocking and tried to have it both ways. Since hardcore is a little, tiny niche it didn’t matter that they did.
The Kids Will Have Their Say (1982) was Dischord #7 1/2 and XClaim's #1. This first SSD record was a joint release to take advantage of Dischords' experience, connections and established brand name. Dischord's policy is to only release DC-based bands, but they were helping develop the Boston SXE scene and SSD sounded more like a DC band than did most DC bands. XClaim was SSD's own label and it’s still around today, its roster of one being original SSD guitarist Al Barile's new band, Gage. The reviews say Gage sounds like Nirvana, and they may be somehow spiritual because the new album is called He Will Come and is described by XClaim to be "a twelve song epiphany that transcends a mere physical realm."
The Kids Will Have Their Say is an eighteen song, 12" 45 rpm record. It fits in somewhere between the harder DC bands of the time and Corrosion of Conformity's first EP, which I remember contained 475 songs. SSD was Boston's most influential hardcore band, setting the trend for the harder and more violent strains of SXE to come out of that city, swinging hockey sticks and bats. SXE's rep for cartoonish bellowing can probably be traced to SSD. Springa, SSD's lead singer, who would have fit right in with Italy's Raw Power. 1983's Get It Away was a SXE record and is considered their best. In 1994 they followed the arc of The Kidz and became a punky thrash-metal band. Their last, 1985's Break It Up, was slagged as metal but one recent source claims it's more of a precursor to grunge than hard rock. Either way I lose!
My favorite thing about this record is a line that appears at the bottom of the lyrics page. And I quote, "SSD would like to play your city or town (July 16-Aug.1, 1982. Call (617) 599-4796". Is that DIY or what?
The Stallions- Hey Baby It's.. (LP review) (Junk): From the liner notes: "'We got two guitars and it's pretty loud!’” That's the brilliant musical master plan behind the sensational punk rock'n'roll combo The Stallions. These simple f--kers prove it doesn't take talent to make a record - just high blood sugar and a sense of self-importance. This compilation contains some of their exciting numbers. "F--k Yeah" is guaranteed to set all but a few toes a-tappin'. "Play Nice" will turn any frown upside down. On a more solemn note, "Foam Rubber" has a social message that everyone can relate to. And "Go Away" goes by pretty fast. You don't have to like it."
The Stallions are three white guys and two Japanese gals playing NYC garage punk as loud and as fast as they can. Fans of The Dead Boys and Electric Frankenstein will want this. I like garage punk but can only handle it in small doses. If you're not a devoted fan of any genre you look for songs that are really distinctive, the ones that make great singles. These Stallions tunes from 1995 (the LP came out late last year) suffer from a slight case of the generics. Still recommended, though, if you're into it.
Stiffs, inc. - Nix Nought Nothing (CD review) (American Recordings): What a goddamn pleasant surprise this is. I found it in the 92 cent bin and only checked it out because my eye caught "Stiffs", which triggers my happy Stiff Records leg spasm, which was embarrassing because I was sitting on the floor at the time. The band pictures on the back have them looking like Johnny Depp from Benny & Joon, and their graphic, conceptual and lyrical fascination with the Victorian Era could have meant anything. If you like The Buzzcocks then Nix Nought Nothing will be the greatest thing you've heard in years. Each of these ongs is a winner in the same way The Buzzcocks were able to crank out hit singles material. Not a clone in any way, Stiffs, Inc. remind me of The Buzzcocks. Lead singer Whitey Sterling sings like Pete Shelley but with a firmer wrist. A non-snotty Johnny Rotten inflection also comes through.
This 1995 disc was followed up a few years later and I'll keep my good eye open for it. They have a punk sensibility but Stiffs, Inc. chose not to pursue the D.I.Y. punk track to limited success and then oblivion. They chose instead the Sony Records subsidiary route and wound up in oblivion with what might be a huge debt to the label. The brass ring is shiny so I can't be too harsh on anyone with benign ambition. This one I'll be listening to for a long time and recommending to friends. Very highly recommended.
Stiletto Boys - Attitude Adjuster EP (7" review) (Zodiac): From all indications this seemed like bad retro-drunk CBGBs sloppy rock punk. The badly drawn cartoon babe on the cover is even wearing a Dead Boys shirt, but cut off my legs and call me shorty - it's not like that at all. This is rgood late-‘70s type snotty pop, the kind only found on singles printed in tiny quantities. Four songs with bad production values, but that's OK. Excellent in every way. Gimme more of the same. Mine is #63 of 549. Don't hate me cause I'm beautiful. There are plenty other reasons to hate me, I assure you.
Stiletto Boys (7" review) (Zodiac): Faster and sassier than "Attitude Adjuster", it’s still excellent ‘70s-era pop punk, not to be confused with today's brand of the same. The liner notes say they formed in ‘94 and are influenced by the Dead Boys, The Dickies, Radio Birdman, Stiff Little Fingers, and The Barracudas. What that configuration might sound like I don't know, but this is the real deal. It's rare that I like anything the first time. This is great. The liner notes also say, "Recorded in a basement for cigarettes and alcohol". Hey, that's not straight edge!!
Stiletto Boys - "All Alone"/"You Said" (7" review) (Screaming Apple): This record is getting a big review, two thumbs way up and a picture scanned in because they mailed me a free single. It's about the graft, the payola, take the cash and let's see the color of their money, baby! Money makes the world go 'round and anyone who sends me free records rents my ass till the job is done. Without even hearing this I can tell you this is the best American release of the year, and it's only March so the rest of the year can take a frikkin' holiday 'cause the Stiletto Boys rule the wasteland. Yeah, baby, yeah!!!!!!!
The band sent me a bio, a copy of an interview from a few weeks ago, and three photographs, one being of the singer's leather covered crotch while he's writhing on stage. Please, I plan on eating some time this week. The bio lists ten bands these guys played in before they came together in 1994 and details their recordings and live shows as if the Stiletto Boys are a living, vital part of rock history. I know promos are written at a fever pitch of promotional hysteria. It still just kills me when the tone of these things try to grab you by the throat like you're some hick off the farm. I love the Stiletto Boys but they ain't the Rolling Stones!
The Stiletto Boys are based out of Huntsville, AL and Lancaster, PA, two cities high on most people's "where the hell am I " list. They list their influences as including Radio Birdman, The Dead Boys, 999, The Saints, The Boys, early Chelsea, The Barracudas, Abrasive Wheels, and The Dickies. What this tells me is that they own large record collections. When all is said and done, their sound is 70's snot pop - garage versions of what was coming from The Shoes and The Nerves, to name a few from an underrated genre. There's not much danger on a Stiletto Boys record - but what you'll get is hooks and melody to spare without a trace of cowardice.
The new single has two songs, "All Alone", which the Stilettos claim has a Stiv Bators solo sound. I've heard Stiv's solo work was kind of emo, and if this is what Stiv did on his own time the guy wasn't so tough after all. The b-side, "You Said", rocks harder but still relies on a strong melodic hook. I've played this a few times and what comes out of the speakers sounds like my needle is dusty. This was either poorly recorded or pressed onto plastic using a close-n-play. The songs are good, not as good as their earlier singles, but BOY does the sound quality detract. They have a CD coming out soon. My job is done and my ass is once again mine.
Stiletto Boys - Rockets and Bombs (CD review) (Twenty Stone Blatt): My favorite retards from PA have compiled some singles onto a CD, and if you're a fan of The Undertones, The Dickies, The Connie Dungs, The Boys or The Parasites, you should go for this like a fly to corn on the poop. It’s great stuff for every numbnut with a sense of humor and a love for corrupted ‘70s power pop.
The subject matter of most Stiletto Boys songs is ol' fashioned teenage girl/boy love, but they veer off the Fiendz/Parasites path by jumping head first into cursing and perversion - still without sounding too crass, no matter how graphic they get. You'd think "Five Finger Fury" would be a song about masturbation, but it's not. "Suicide" is and you can't beat lyrics like "And I'll be alright, holding myself tight, I'll be alright I guess, just making a mess...." The music is an 80% ripoff of The Jam's "In The City", which may be intentional for some strange reason.
The only miss on the CD is a cover of The Dickies' version of the theme from "Gigantor". Why cover a cover? Hey, if you can't be original, try harder not to be so much the same. All in all, a great CD from a great group.
Stranglehold - Crash & Burn (CD review) (Taang!): This is great. It does for Stiff Little Fingers and Chelsea what Rancid did for The Clash. Crash & Burn is new, old, and street enough for the unwashed punk masses. Taang is now primarily a street punk and oi label with ties to earlier Boston-day bands. They occupy a shed on the beach in San Diego. I think I remember Stranglehold from back in the day, when Taang released both the best of Boston's Husker Du-inspired power pop and the lowest depths of that city's violent numbnut scene as embodied by Slapshot.
Neither oi nor crust, the Stiff Little Finger's sound that Stranglehold emulates was part of British punk's second wave that flourished in the diminishing shadows of The Sex Pistols and The Clash. Less flamboyant and more relevant to the lives of its less fashion-conscious fans, this oi-related genre was more interested in dealing with issues than posing for the press. While "She's Not Leaving" is the only relative hit song, the other fifteen songs are consistently interesting and get better with repeat listens. They also thrash the hell out of The Who's "Substitute", thankfully not resorting to mod mimicry. This CD won't blow you away on every track but the total package is well worth the time and cash. Not for trendies. At the Taang website, when you click on the Stranglehold link it takes you to the Stiff Little Fingers listing. Accident or fate?
The Stranglers Greatest Hits 1977-1990 (CD review) (Sony) This fifteen song collection came out in 1991, and it shows that, looking back over their career, The Stranglers had more in common with Roxy Music than to the ‘77 punk movement. Why "(Get A) Grip (On Yourself)" is omitted is a mystery. Why that title is laid out like this is another mystery. 1977's "Peaches" is a cool song in the same vein as Elvis Costello's "Watching The Detectives". "No more Heroes" is a punk classic that earned The Stranglers the punk reputation they probably never asked for. "Duchess" is a happy song and a triumph for Dave Greenfield on keyboards. The cover of Burt Bacharach's "Walk On By" was a hit?! Even with its endless Rick Wakeman keyboard solos, lounge-band guitar & background singing? The remaining songs stay firmly in the Roxy Music romantic crooning camp. It’s passable enough material, if you're into it, I guess. Their version of "96 Tears" and "All Day And All Of The Night" add nothing to the originals, and shows the Stranglers were desperate for hits and lacked the confidence (and ability) to do so with their own material. What the world needs is a cheap collection of ‘70s Stranglers punk era songs. This one I could have done without.
Stranglers - Live-(X-Cert) (LP review) (United Artists): The Stranglers started as pub rockers in 1975 and quickly switched to punk and then new wave when the opportunities arose. For the sin of non-original creation some old punks don't consider The Stranglers a real punk band. Prior to ‘79 they evenly walked the line between punk's political aggression and new wave's dance sense of fun. Hell, the electric organ was their lead instrument. This live album was recorded at a number of UK shows from June 1977 to September 1978. "(Get A) Grip (On Yourself)" opens the album and for the most part the rest is engaging. I wish "No More Heroes" was included, and "Duchess" wasn't recorded yet, but since you don't have to hear the horrid airport lounge standard "Walk On By" it probably works out even. If you want to learn more about The Stranglers, this album or No More Heroes would be a great place to start. The greatest hits collection on Epic has too much crap on it, but there's a collection called Singles (The UA Years) you should pick up if you can find it on vinyl.
Strife - Truth Through Defiance (CD review) (Victory): Ian MacKaye must be spinning in his grave. Oh, he's still alive? Then what's that smell? Oh yeah, he's a vegetarian... Look what's become of the genre Ian created as a bunch of songs and a philosophy to back them up. Straight Edge, SXE, Hard Stance, a-yellin' and a-screamin' - whatever you want to call it, it doesn't make sense to me anymore.
Back in the day, I was living in DC at the time, SXE was didactic but fairly harmless. I later learned MacKaye, Rollins and their crew were violent cretins, but being older I wasn’t part of their scene. Skinny baldies attended "flyer" shows in a church basement or the 9:30 Club to slam and stage dive to bands that compensated for a lack of technical skill by playing as fast as they could. The no drugs, no booze, no bimbo sex message was a nice change of pace in a punk world whose history was one of heroin overdose and alcohol poisoning. SXE bands had to rightfully answer to charges of being preachy, but the only stupidity I saw in that scene was how they thought slamming served a positive purpose beyond giving bullies opportunities to inflict damage.
The violence of slamming and the self-righteousness of the lyrics lead to second generation SXE bands that threatened non-SXE behavior with acts of violence. The space in front of the stage became "Bully Pulpits" where jock thuggery easily matched the violence of skinhead shows. I lost interest in that nonsense very quickly.
What's the deal with SXE's obsession with opening up your yap as wide as possible and yelling as loud as you can? It started with Scream's first album cover. Since then every SXE band feels required to prove they're "still screaming". I'm looking at the cover of Strife's Truth Through Defiance CD and two guys are screaming so hard I can see past their teeth to their asses, which if their sphincters were open I'd catch some daylight. My screaming days are long past. I like to be left alone.
I'm too old to be told what to do by a band. I came to most of my own conclusions before members of many current SXE bands were even born. SXE serves a function when you're in grade school or high school, and some of the lessons can be applied throughout life, but SXE, especially the newer product of the last 10-15 years, becomes instantly obsolete once you make up your own mind about who you are and what you expect from the world. In your mid-20s there's no need for SXE - either you drink, don't drink, or don't drink because you're in AA. At that point it's "why are you yelling at me?"
Strife's lyrics are fairly emo (emo came at least partly from SXE) but whatever beauty you can derive from lyrics like "It's been said follow your heart/I never have and it's time to start/Avoiding the issue never got it solved/Avoiding my struggle is how it evolved" is more than compensated for on the macho-meter by grinding speed metal guitar and acres of yelling. New SXE bears little semblance to early Dischord and BYO. The newer stuff is more heavy metal than punk, and while Strife tosses in post-punk aggro walls of distortion it really is head-banging music first and foremost. They could have just as easily rapped to this. It must be unsatisfying to bang your head when you have no hair. When "Through and Through" opens with the pronouncement "There is only one truth", I wonder how they can get away with the line "Stand for what you believe in, think for yourself" intro three songs later. Well, what is it? Expect me to accept your one truth or think for myself?
Another change in SXE over the years, and not for the better, is how the scene seems to be overrun by the very same jocks 7 Seconds mocked a looooooong time ago. I don't know the exact name of the font Strife uses for the band name, but it's that blocky athletic jacket look.
I can't really judge this objectively. Strife has a full sound and for what they do I imagine they must be great. I don't like metal, I don't like quasi-rap, and I don't like to be yelled at or preached to. If you do, I imagine this will float your boat all the way to Tuna Town. My problem is that I don't know how to rock. Strife does. Do I wish I did know how to rock? That depends on if I have to open my yap super wide when I scream. I don't want anybody to see how many of my teeth have silver fillings.
The Strokes: Is This It (review) and
Hot Hot Heat: Make Up The Breakdown (2002)
Two Albums By Retro-Neo-Groups That Were/Are(?) Hip: Now that I’m in the
reviewing biz again I figured I should get groovy with what’s down with The
Kids. This way I’d know what to avoid like a toothless crack whore. Then I’d
look for bands that sound like bands I like. The Strokes and Hot Hot Heat came
with an implied pedigree I could live with, so here we are.
The Strokes (homepage) were touted as the 70’s NYC scene revisited, and against my snooty will I found I liked Is This It a whole lot. The drumming blends together more than it should but you can pogo ‘til you plotz, and the rhythms are so peppy they induce Happy Happy Joy Joy. The bass lines are stupendous. If Television gets tossed around as an influence it’s not to say Television was that good. They were important though, and isn’t that important? What The Strokes do is apply the lesson of The Ramones to Television. Keep a steady beat and have the whole song be a catchy chorus if possible. Googling influences of The Strokes I find The Velvet Underground pops up, but there’s zero VU to be found. “Someday” and “Last Night” are based on Bowie/Pop’s “Lust For Life”, a perfect song with as many uses as my drug of choice, A1.
Hot Hot Heat (homepage) was compared to early XTC, which appealed to me since Andy Partridge’s guitar and singing from ‘78-‘82 are only appreciated at 18% of their actual worth. The opening track on Make Up The Breakdown, “Naked In The City Again”, mixes a few great XTC elements to produce a nice tribute. They’re not ripping off “Down In The Cockpit” as much as b-track that sounds like it. I’m humming it but I can’t place it yet. Other tracks use XTC bass lines and Barry Andrew’s piano, but there’s also influences from Big Country and Dexy’s Midnight Runners.
Some yutz at Amazon wrote this: “Imagine that it's 1980 and Joe Jackson, fresh from a voice lesson by Robert Smith, got together with members of the Police and the Clash to record some songs that Elvis Costello had written.” Oh, this is so wrong. I lived it, man! In the ‘Nam of clubs and record stores!
The first four songs are keepers. Hot Hot Heat throws everything against the wall, and sometimes only bits and pieces stick. “Bandages” is an average song with a great chorus. “Talk To Me, Dance With Me” is a cowbell-rocker with a built-in ‘everybody clap your hands’ part. That’s not good. It makes me think of Lou Costello in Mexican Hayride where he dances the Mambo against his will whenever the music plays. Taking the album as a whole I’d say the biggest influences on Hot Hot Heat are Weezer and its off-shoot The Rentals.
Strung Out - Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues (CD review) (Fat): Power pop punk played really fast. The drummer works those skins, often devolving into what I call the punk drumroll - a superfast, sloppy, slightly off-beat drumming style you hear in a bunch of Fat Wreck-Chords bands. The lyrics are personal angst anthems well suited for sixteen year olds, the average punk fan age. Like in "Radio Suicide"; "Two silhouettes stand tall against a gray November sky/Utopian suburban teenage wasteland blues/You turn to me and sigh, the boredom Growin' in your eyes..." Oh Suffering - glorious, poetic, self-pitying suffering. You hopefully grow out of that mode eventually. Unless you're goth. I've seen the album cover advertised in every punk zine I've picked up for a long, long time. Well, if not over-produced, like all Fat product, this has fewer mosh parts than most bands in the genre, but I hate all mosh parts - they're there to either appeal to metalheads or to give the kids a pre-programmed opportunity to "mosh", which comes off like change of pace but it’s as spontaneous as a David Copperfield magic act. For what it is I can tell Strung Out areofessional, but Fat bands are one level below corporate label punk bands. When majors look to steal bands for the big leagues, they look first to Fat bands because they’re mostly there to begin with. (see (or don’t!) my review of Goldfinger for a related rant against corporate punk).
The Stuntmen - "Unpaid Vacation"+ three (7" review) (Junk): Long Beach's Junk Records is still in its infancy but it’s showing signs of being a major player in the near future. They've built an impressive roster including well known acts Boris The Sprinkler, Electric Frankenstein, and The Humpers, along with a treasure trove of bands that should be huge, like Manic Hispanic, Skimmer, The Teenage Frames, and The Stuntmen. The Stuntmen are Philly's best hard pop punk band. In line with the Junk philosophy, the Stuntmen inject enough hard-drinking bar punk, "this ain't your little brothers' all ages show" intensity to make their brand of pop punk tougher than most anything out today. Ben, the lead guitarist and vocalist, turned down an offer to join Pegboy - one of the highest honors there is. Earlier Stuntmen recordings reminded me a bit of a more garage-sounding Parasites and Vacant Lot. This 7" brings to mind a more garage-sounding Bad Religion. A lot like Bad Religion but better than the other bands out there with a similar sound. Four great tracks, and like, dude, they rock!
The Styrenes - All The Wrong People Are Dying (CD review) (Overground): It's not very often I come across a work this beautifully conceived. As I listen I'm awe-struck by the instinctive genius of the music. It's avant-garde and complex, but also structured and immediately understood. This is by far the best street-poetry set to music I've ever heard. The driving force behind it is Paul Marotta's progressive pub and blues piano, backed by a band supplemented as needed by cello, alto sax, clarinet, violin, and various percussion and taped effects. It's easy to do this as free-form jazz art noise damage. It's another to write actual songs that defy standard song structures. The NY scene is and has always been dominated by enhanced improvisation. The Styrenes are, in my book, an advanced and accomplished endeavor.
The Styrenes date back to Cleveland, circa 1971. Originally named The Mirrors, they were part of a great local scene that in the ‘70s included The Electric Eels, Pere Ubu and The Dead Boys. Victims of bad location, location, location, Ohio bands never received the recognition their mostly inferior (or at least less interesting) New York cousins received from a music press that rarely left Manhattan. In 1980 The Styrenes relocated to the Big Crapple. Former Pagan vocalist Mike Hudson joined in 1989 for the album A Monster And The Devil. Those tracks and four others from ‘82-make up All The Wrong People Are Dying.
Hudson is a street poet - no, more like a street reporter, who serves up white, inner-city slices of life from the same menu as Patti Smith, Jim Carroll and Lou Reed. NY breeds these types like rats. Patti Smith deals in religious symbolism, Lou offers stunted visions of what he finds clever and insightful, and Carroll will always be a junkie name dropper. Mike Hudson doesn't rhyme and he doesn't create fancy word pictures. His approach is an insightful journalism of opinion and experience. Take these lines from "Last Hot Day", "It's always too hot or too cold and the food's never really what you'd call good and the chicks are always ugly and stupid as are the situations you find yourselves in with them. The place is called Collinwood and it's a neighborhood of row houses on the east side... The people who live here stare at you and hate you from their front porches as you walk by because you're walking and they're just sitting there."
This is perfect. I hate pretentiousness, and poetry is conducive to self-congratulatory word gymnastics and mirror staring, not for self-realization but naked ego. Hudson's tales aren’t earth-shattering, and he's not tearing open his soul for us to share his pain and declare him a martyr. What I find are simple, well told episodes of personal experience. From "All The Wrong People Are Dying": "Suki called right before Christmas. She was going nuts. A couple of years earlier she had bought Joey a copy of It's A Wonderful Life. It was his favorite movie. She said he cried every time he watched it... Now it was on TV three times a day in L.A. and she couldn't get away from it. George and Harry Bailey, Mary, Bert and Ernie, Clarence and the affirmation that life is good and worth living... The time will come in this generation when everybody knows someone dead whose favorite movie was It's A Wonderful Life. Then nobody'll be able to watch the f--king thing anymore."
Lou Reed in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s wished he could have written music as adept as this. "Memory Of You" reminds me of The Modern Lovers' "I'm Straight". "True Confessions" features journalist/poet/singer Charlotte Presser on vocals, and she's doing a Alice In Wonderland thing in a voice that recalls The Flying Lizards. The slight but distinct sound of a dentist drill can be heard behind "Back In Hell". Absolutely genius.
"Jetsam" is 19 minutes and 24 seconds long. That's the only excess I found on All The Wrong People Are Dying. All in all an amazing release probably best appreciated alone, in the dark, and with a clear mind. Either that or very drunk.
The Styrenes - We Care, So You Don't Have To (CD review) (Scat): The second Styrenes CD I've come across, and once again the best thing to come out of New York in ages. If you're even remotely a fan of Lou Reed, Patti Smith, John Cale's vision of The Velvet Underground, and Jim Carroll, you must pick this up. Why The Styrenes aren’t better known is both a mystery and anembarrassing statement on the current state of music affairs.
I wrote of their long and storied history in my review of All The Wrong People Are Dying, also from 1998. I think Lou Reed is over-rated as a songwriter, Patti Smith too into herself as religious icon, and Jim Carroll too frail to capture the toughness of NYC. The Styrenes touch on all of these other artists' strengths and produce music that should be all things to all people - tough, beautiful, complex, sad, real and honest. Was 1998 too late in the game for a band like The Styrenes, who evoke a past only alive in the memories of a few remaining diehards? Maybe so, maybe so.
You don't just listen to this CD, you experience it. Paul Marotta's piano has a mind of its own, setting moods, mimicking vocals and crashing down like fists. Vocalist Mike Hudson sings and speaks from a journalist's perspective, chronicling street life as it is lived, as opposed to how artists choose to perceive it in a fog of ego and substance abuse.
The CD opens with "Green Lamp", which captures the spirit and power of the best of Graham Parker and The Rumour. Slowly but surely, John Cale's contribution of atonality to The Velvet Underground takes over and walls of trance-inducing distortion wash over you as Marotta's piano and Hudson's vocals battle for dominance. At certain times the material takes on soothing elements of new age or the grandiosity of rock opera.
It's full of me to say this, but Styrenes songs might be "bigger" than most people's ability to understand them all at once. I say this having wide exposure to just about every progressive band of the ‘70s. The Styrenes frequently overwhelm me. Three minutes into "Westies" and the same thought arises, as it does while listening to many Styrenes tracks - could I handle seeing them perform this live? Somehow it seems too intense. Silly me. It's only music, but these musicians know too much about their craft for my own good. My punk's consolation of thinking "I could do that if I wasn't so lazy" is blown to s--t. Experiencing Marotta's mastery of the piano makes me hate myself for not sticking with my music lessons as a child. Hearing Mike Hudson report on his life and his friends reminds me that I'm just a spoiled child with the street smarts of a spoiled child.
Music makes you feel better or worse, it motivates you or provides background noise to whatever it is you're doing, be it sex, drugs or making dinner. The Styrenes do none of that for me - their music just consistently beats me over the head with how great it is, and it mocks any presumptions I might hold that I can review it correctly. I've liked other records more, and I won't put this on all the time, but no record I own is better than this one.
The Styrenes - And Every Year, Christmas (CD EP review) (Rattay Music): As far as I know you can only get this in Germany. UK Rattay plays guitar for the band so maybe "Rattay Music" isn't a real label but just acknowledgment of his cash paying for this pressing. e-mail email@example.com for more info.
If you collect punk Christmas records you should seek out this three-song disc from NY's best ancient yet unknown band. Mike Hudson isn't on this release. Is he still in the band? He's great. "Good King Wenceslas" and "Hark The Herald Angels Sing" are staples of the season, along with a Paul Marotta original, "Cold Christmas Eve", a nice piano and French horn driven ditty of a bar tune. "Good King Wenceslas" is rendered as a fast wailing noise of guitar drone with sharp lead guitar notes. "Hark The Herald Angels Sing" is of the same gist, only in real time with a chorus of band buddies to give it a friendly, comfortable feel.
Mostly I find cover tunes to be gimmicks, but The Styrenes are too talented to let that happen. I'm giving this to a friend who claims to own every punk Christmas song ever recorded. The audacity, Lou! Ha!
The Subhumans - The Day The Country Died, From The Cradle To The Grave, World's Apart, Live From A Dive (CD reviews): In a valium effort to fill my archives with more important old punk bands I offer you, my (one) dear reader(s), a quick overview of the first three releases and a live cd from the UK's Subhumans (official site here), not to be confused with the Canadian band of the same name or the American subset C.H.U.D.
The Subhumans formed in 1980 and their first album saw daylight in 1982, followed by an album in 1983, one in 1985, and a long march in the hinterlands with pit stops as ska-punk provocateurs Citizen Fish beginning in 1990. Definitely one of the more listenable anarcho-punk outfits of the UK second wave (street punk division), their output was eclectic and for the most part tuneful. It helped that their contemporaries were, by many accounts, unlistenable. Flux Of Pink Indians are my pick for best of genre as they were less wanky and slow on a lingering basis.
I won't get into my long opinion again on anarchy and other brands of over-intellectualized laziness and hatred. Imagine angry circus music as you read about "Refusal Of Work". I will say I blame Walt Whitman for all this hippie bulls--t, be it of the Peace And Love And Genocide variety or the post-apocalyptic, Road Warrior, hygiene-deficient, aggressive-yet-impotent social service parasite kind.
The Day The Country Died is fairly eclectic within its limited talent range, mixing in with the standard aggro of 2nd UK wave bands like Conflict and The Exploited some wanky guitars and the occasional funky post-punk you have to focus on to know it's there. "Mickey Mouse Is Dead" stands out for it's specificity and cheap grab for attention title and content gimmickry. The lyrics on the album are stand issue anti-government, ant-business, and anti-conformity. It's music that tells you what and how to think so you can go out and tell other people what and how to think (with authority). For either a better or dead future. Either way it's a great day when people you hate because they're happier, richer, and more socially normative than you taste the iron glove of your vengeance. Stand out tracks are "Zyklon-B-Movie", "All Gone Dead" and "I Don't Wanna Die".
From The Cradle To The Grave is tighter and better recorded but also weighed down by the almost seventeen minute B-side, an anarcho space rock opera? It wanks, it grooves, it hard-cores - man, what doesn't it do? "Wake Up Screaming" is straight up goth (or death rock if you wish). "Waste Of Breath" features - - - cowbell! Besides that The Subhumans mix it up if not overload the album with different tempos.
Worlds Apart suffers from a bit of mid-80s hardcore's hard rock disease. "Fade Away" and "Powergames" add reggae, and a wanky Hollywood "Hot Rockin' Tonight!" infiltrates some other tracks. Despite high production values this might be the least of the initial albums.
Live In A Dive, from a 2004-ish tour of reformation, is worth mentioning because the sound quality is excellent and the musicianship masterful. None of the songs are sped up into oblivion and various shortcomings of the original arrangements and playing are cleaned up and pounded out. Who knew that a band for whom bathing is not an option would make concert sound quality Job #1?
I keep eleven Subhumans tracks on my hard drive but they're there pretty much as examples of a genre as opposed to something I'd listen to on purpose. "Mickey Mouse Is Dead" is what I'd call their hit single but it's no "Dead Cities". I wouldn't call them a great band but they did stand out (in a good way) in a genre overflowing with musical excrement, and Citizen Fish took them a step or two up and forward.
Sublime - self-titled (CD review) (MCA): Remember Homer Simpson's line about booze? "Alcohol, the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems". That's how I feel about the state I live in. "California, the cause of, and solution to, all of punk's problems." Many of punk's best trends came from here, but so have some of the worst. The term ska-core is applied to No Doubt , Sublime and who knows what else, and I have no idea why. They toss in reggae, ska, and NOFX drumming, but they're rap groups and top-40 wannabees. I couldn’t care less about what The Kids listen to, but please don't call this punk. Please? It takes more than At-E-Tude to be punk. It takes more that a random thrash mosh part. If everything is punk then nothing is punk. I wish Sublime great success, as long as nobody tells me I should like them because they're punk. I bet half the kids who bought this CD don't think there's much difference between punk, metal and rap. If you like songs about smoking pot and drinking 40s, this CD is for you. Run out and buy the baseball cap, but don't put it on until you've read the instructions on head placement. The angle of the bill is paramount. Here's the songs I liked: "Same In The End", "Paddle Out" and "Burritos". I like reggae but I don't like it when it's only a soundtrack for pot smoking. Oh, yeah, and this whole "legalize hemp" movement is a joke backdoor play to legalize pot. As if stoners give a fugg about hemp paper and clothing if they didn't believe it's the first step toward legal pot smoking. Nice try, dude!
Suburban Propain - (2x7" review) (Assorted Porkchops): This is an intriguing two 7" package from this now defunct NC band. Recorded in 1992, it manages to combine the slappy drum style of newer California kid-punk with the post-Husker Du greatness of Maryland's legendary, and I do mean legendary, The Hated. Some songs are a little too rocking for me, and the variation on Loverboy's "Everybody's Working For The Weekend" made me stare off into the outer space of my ceiling, but for a three-piece they sure know how to make a lot of noise. They sound young but talented. A picked this up for a buck and it's two singles, adding needed bulk to my 7" shelf. Look at me, mom. I’m punk!
Sugar - File Under Easy Listening (CD review) (Ryko): Did you get the ironic joke of the title? File Under Easy Listening? Tee-hee!! They rock like a bat out-o-hell, right? Right!? Beaster supposedly set up Bob Mould's post- Husker Du trio as the most eee-vil alt.band around, but the sacrilegious serial killer artwork couldn't cover up Mould's harmless, lonely, hurt little boy motif. File Under Easy Listening is the best Sugar release, but I still think it's just older, better Husker Du played at 1/2 speed. Here Bob's voice is treated and layered many times over, which reminds me of the Brady Bunch episode where Greg gets the gig as Johnny Bravo because he fit the costume. His singing was treated up the wazoo in the studio, and it didn't sound like Greg at all.
Sugar's sound is later period Husker Du without input from Grant Hart. [2007 update: I’ve changed my tune on this, but at the time Sugar was a slower Husker Du]. The production is cleaner and less psychedelic, but it's still Bob's old band. Mould's guitar no longer makes a soaring wall of aggressive noise, opting instead for intricate power chords and guitar picking. "Gee Angel" is a great song but you still want to check your player to see if the sucker's not working at full speed. While "Chartered Trips" is an assault, "Gee Angel" is a tight, aggressive alt.emo tune. Bob? You're the sweetest, most earnest little boy in the playground, OK? Now get out there and kick some ass again! Scream along with me..."New Day Rising, New Day Rising, New Day Rising..."
Sugar - Beaster (CD review) (Rykodisc) 1993: When this came out it was promoted as the darkest, fastest and hardest Sugar ever, which maybe it is, but any Husker Du fan will tell you it’s still too slow. Grunge, when it's not heavy metal, is old Husker Du played at half speed. Thankfully this CD is closer to Flip Your Wig than Pearl Jam. The music isn’t as evil as the cover art, just the usual Bob Is Moody lyrics. Sugar reminds me of the slow tracks on old Husker Du albums that served as breathers between breakneck thrashers. I listen to each track on a Sugar release thinking, "OK, the next one will kick my ass", which of course it rarely does. These six songs do get better with each listen. "Walking Away" sounds like an TXC track. "Tilted" is a great Husker Du memory. The drumming is tight and strong while Bob's guitar is still a marvel. “JC Auto” is the keeper, one of the best tracks Bob Mould ever wrote. It’s eee-vil, but in a good way!
Sugar - "Gee Angel" & "Believe What You're Saying" (CD EPs review) (Rykodisc) 1994: Two CD singles released to promote File Under Easy Listening. Sugar is a less thrashy version of Bob Mould's Husker Du, with Bob's voice heavily processed in the studio to give it a multi-layered feel. "Gee Angel" is a strong track. Three live tracks follow, thankfully lacking the studio effects. Two are so slow I imagine the crowd turned away from the stage and started conversations with their friends. "Believe What You Say" is folkie/alternative but not bad. Tracks 2 & 3 were written by the bass player and have the speed and intensity Bob seemingly gave up for Lent. I wish Bob would drop the lost little inner child-boy-man shtick and get back to the basics. Did you know Bob has the thinnest calves I've ever seen on a "husky" person? Betcha' didn't!
Sugar - Copper Blue (CD review) (Rykodisc): It took me a while to get used to Bob Mould's first post-Husker Du project. To me it was a slightly louder extension of the last few Husker Du records, which were diminished returns. Either I've gotten older and mellowed, or I've forgotten my grudge, because I love Sugar, and Copper Blue sounds great now. I remember being disappointed when it first came out. I might also have been turned off by how Sugar was adopted by hordes of college alterna-trendies.
"Helpless" and "If I Can't Change Your Mind" were commercial hits, but they’re average album tracks. The tempos are generally slow, but Bob's wall of fuzz is solid and the riffs are engaging. It helps to play it loud because it becomes hypnotic and intense. I'm sorry I wasn't into this sooner because I missed a chance or two to see Sugar live. I did catch Husker Du on the New Day Rising tour and stood three feet from Bob's Flying V. That was one of the greatest 60 minutes or so of my life.
Sugar - Besides (cassette review) (Ryko): I'm beside myself thinking of who would buy this besides hardcore Sugar fans who already own all the singles. The first 25,000 CDs came with a free CD of a concert from 1994. All I got for $1.50 was this cheap cassette. Sugar put out about eleven EPs and singles, so there's lots of live and studio work to pull from. I'll take the first few Husker Du albums over Sugar any day, but over time I grew to like a lot of what Bob Mould did with two other guys on bass and drums. Malcolm Travis is a stronger, less slappy drummer than Grant Hart, making Bob's slower guitar chords that much more powerful. David Barbe's bass is more audible than Greg Norton's, who always seemed content to be along for the ride.
The studio tracks are decent and the live tracks show a band worthy of a live album. "Try Again" is a song off the Who's Tommy that escapes me right now, retooled for release on Quadrophenia. If you're going to steal, steal big. Hearing “JC Auto” live made me run to my stereo with glee to put on the studio version off Beaster, which now seems too slow. What I love about that song is how the guitar intro, hell, the first few minutes, is a teasing premonition of what will come. The song builds and repeats through phases, like sonic chapters of a book, and pays off like a million dollars near the end when Bob starts screaming "Look like Jesus Christ/Act like Jesus Christ/Here's Your Jesus Christ/I'm your Jesus Christ I know". I declare the live version the winner because it better fulfills the records' promise of E-vil. “JC Auto” is Sugar's answer to Big Black's “Kerosene”, a high compliment.
I'd buy the studio records first if I were you, but Besides is a good deal for what you get. Don't pay retail. With Ryko that's a game only fools play.
Suicidal Tendencies - self-titled (LP review) (Frontier): When this came out in 1983 it was amongst the most powerful punk ever etched onto vinyl, along with the first C.O.C. EP. Both bands went on to speed-metal, but when they kept the head-banging to a minimum the punk power they produced went off the charts. All things considered, this debut album wasn't that far removed from other SoCal bands like D.I. and The Adolescents. Singer/songwriter Mike Muir grabbed a lot of press because of his forceful and insightful lyrics, and of course for the band’s Chicano gang look and roughneck fans. To say that "Institutionalized" was an anthem adopted by an entire generation is an understatement. "What are you trying to say? I'm crazy? I went to your schools, I went to your churches, I went to your institutional learning facilities? So how can you say I'm crazy?"
Dressed in full cholo regalia, Venice, California's Suicidal Tendencies had a rabid following who drew skeleton designs on white work shirts and wore gang bandanas. The follow-up record, Join The Army, was as speed metal as the title is juvenile. The KISS army was bad enough. They put out more records and sales faded accordingly along with all hard rock in general. Muir was an intelligent and insightful songwriter. Why he wasted it on metal, the soundtrack of teenage idiocy, is a Nancy Drew mystery. The fans, The Suicidals, were violent thugs, who more recently might have migrated to Manic Hispanic.
Suicide Machines - Destruction By Definition (CD review) (Hollywood Records) 1996: What hath Operation Ivy wrought? Formerly Jack Kervorkian and the Suicide Machines, this is decent ska/punk and a lot of fun. Sometimes they plod along like The Mighty Might Bosstones, but mostly they keep to the ‘90s ska/punk sound that’s kept punk in the black. Their slam pits must be a mile wide and deep. It's been done before a dozen times, but hey, if it works, why not? Next!
Sunny Day Real Estate - Diary (CD review) (Sub Pop): I've been on a mini emo kick lately, listening to the Monsters of the Emo Midway. I hear early U2, Jawbreaker, and lite grunge in this style. At its best the genre is an intriguing combo of power, melody and emotion. Emo is best when it’s fast and furious. Slow, it’s grunge for wimps who don't bang their heads because it makes their noses bleed. Sunny Day Real Estate likes their grunge slow, dreamy, slightly psychedelic and sung with the sincerity of a martyr. Sunny Day Real Estate is new age music for twenty-something punky (not punk) kids from good homes. How’s this for lyrics: "Meet me there/in the blue/where the words are not and feeling remains/sincerity/trust me to throw myself into your door/i go in circles running down/i dream to heal your wounds/but i bleed myself" ("In Circles") Emo lyrics battle to out-precious each other like this, which makes you wonder about the band. You’d think crippling melancholy, maniacal sincerity and forced poetic obtuseness would combine to create sad, scared, neutered, self-obsessed and ineffectual adults whose daily life is an ennui-filled cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy. Or maybe it’s just a pretentious money grab for rich kid’s wallets. Sunny Day Real Estate broke up by the time this CD came out, but they’re now back together. One member became born-again on the road, and in a crowded, smelly van the last thing you need is your mother, God's psychiatrist and a rambling street person sitting next to you.[2007 update: I forget why I wrote this last line but it makes me laugh.]
Sunny Day Real Estate - The Rising Tide (CD review) (Time Bomb): I can't think of a more over-rated band than Sunny Day Real Estate. The band history posted at allmusic.com is gobs more intriguing than their music. The Rising Tide was supposed to be their masterpiece. It's a piece of something all right. Most of the songs never leave the same slow paced, trippy head banging groove. Very little goes on except for Jeremy Enigk's singing, which is high pitched and oddly treated, reminding me at various times of either Peter Gabriel or whichever Finn brother sung with a high pitched voice in Split Enz. And what's with the prog rock leanings I haven't heard since Peter Gabriel fronted Genesis? Is that back now? Unfreeze my head when it's over.
The CD doesn't start off bad, and you get the impression that after a few listens it'll grow on you. Up to song #5 the disc appears to moves along, but from there it never changes. The drumming is nicely recorded but he never breaks a sweat. The guitars do some of this and that, but honestly, there's a LOT better emo out there than this. The fascination must be Enigk and his back story. His following might be a cult of personality thing.
Sunny Day Real Estate broke up again. Just in case you're keeping score. Score one for humanity.
Supernova - Ages Three and Up (CD review) (Amrep): Let's see. What these guys need is a gimmick! How about... spaceman helmets and some Lost In Space shtick. Man...Or Astroman does it ten times better, but they’ll never sue. And how about some tunes that sound like The Dickies? There’s no hits on Ages Three And Up but enough fun to want to see them play live. It’s not a keeper but it does add width to my CD shelf. There's a sticker on the CD that reads "Dave from SUPERNOVA would like to apologize for the offensive language used by Art and Jody on the song 'Hippy'". Bad Dave, no dinner for you, young man!
The Suspects - New Dawn In The 21st Century (CD review) (Torque Records, PO Box 229, Arlington, VA 22210): Disclaimer: I [used to] buy used office furniture from the place where seemingly half The Suspects work. Local working class heroes, The Suspects were tossed into the "Spirit of '76" category, but they pay homage not to cartoon punk stereotypes but to the real-deal street punk bands that emerged in the wake of the much hyped and commercialized first wave (Sex Pistols, Clash, Damned, Stranglers, etc.) With The Suspects we're talking about D.O.A., the UK Subs and The Business. You'll find fewer all-out thrashers here than what you get from other bands, but most of the great old stuff was mid-tempo, especially oi. There’s sing-alongs for the lads, local pride (in that non-racist manner that's hard to explain correctly), and odes to working class problems. The lyrics are cryptic and deal with the usual "street" subjects of hate, fear, pride, love, friendship, oppression, hopelessness and optimism - sometimes all in the same song.
I still find it strange when American bands play in the style of old UK bands, but The Suspects do it better than most. They truly love and live that style, and what you get is great music without the bulls--t. Highly recommended, and hey, Bryan, how 'bout a discount on a used filing cabinet?
Sweet Baby - It's A Girl (CD review) (Lookout): Every review I've read about this one misses the point. Sweet Baby (formerly Sweet Baby Jesus) is NOT just another ultra-peppy power pop band - they were one of the very first Over a decade ago Sweet Children changed their name to Green Day because people kept calling them "Sweet Baby Children" (and hey, once upon a time the Red Hot Chili Peppers were considered half-assed Big Boys rip-offs). These recordings are over eight years old and have been re-issued as a public service by Lookout (same story with Sludgeworth). Only about 1,000 copies of the original Slash/Ruby Records release were distributed in 1989. The Sweet Baby sound is the 1964 Beatles trying to be the Ramones of 1976. Lyrics fall into three categories: girls, girls, and, uh, girls. Ah, Sweet Baby - love 'em, hate 'em, or just get out of the way - for what they did Sweet Baby was the best. Band members went on to join Samiam, the Wynona Riders, and the Bomb Bassets. Lookout dropped the ball by first releasing demos and lost tracks on the Sweet Baby/Brent's T.V. CD. It's A Girl is only 25 minutes long. Everything they ever did should have been all on one CD. Also, the cover art is cute but meaningless. Highly recommended if you like fast, catchy pop that's corny as all get-out! I call this one a classic for the ages.
Swingin' Utters - Five Lessons Learned (CD review) (Fat): I didn't know the Utters were actually Bad Religion. Well, it's just the first song, and I guess they're making a point to the Fat Wreck Chords kidz that the Utters are on their side. I've read the Swinging Utters are a street punk band or a retro-‘77 UK punk outfit. Based on this my only response is "Wha?" What street do you live on in the suburbs? ‘77? What the hell do you know about a time long before you were born? I hear a little Clash, a little Pogues and a lot of melodic punk as dangerous as a kick in the head from the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.
The songs are catchy but I prefer my street punk harder and my power-pop more melodic. I can recommend this to Fat Wreck Chords fans because at least the Utters avoid the blatant childishness and simplistic slappy pop-punk of their peers on the all-ages circuit. For a Fat release this is pretty darn lush.
Teen Idols - Pucker Up! (CD review) (Honest Don's): Not to be confused with the pre- Minor Threat band the Teen Idles, this may be the first punk record whose liner notes thank two lawyers for their help in a lawsuit ("yay for us!"). While The Kidz might group this with the likes of Screeching Weasel, the Teen Idols are continuing the rarely-pursued track of fast and poppy Ramones power chords sung in sweet harmonies and dealing mostly with love and relationships.
Your average punky numbnut prefers songs about stupidity and aggressive dysfunction, but like a few others (The Parasites, The Fiendz and the legendary Vacant Lot) the Idols have the guts and confidence to wear their hearts on their sleeves as they pound out some of the fastest and most tuneful punk product on the shelf. Some might call Pucker Up! wimpy, and that's fine with me - there's plenty of stinky bands out there waiting to sell you soundtracks to your lives of teenage numbnuttery.
As with a number of power pop punk bands, it takes a few listens for the songs to establish their own personalities. These fourteen tunes are of the same basic speed and style, so at first they tend to run into each other. I think an occasional slower tune would have given the CD more variety, and that never hurts. It takes more skill to write a great slow power pop song and I'd like to see if the Idols can do it. So far I've liked everything they've don,e so this is more a curiosity than an actual complaint.
Pucker Up! Is another great one from a band whose gimmick is tuneful sincerity. There's bonus hidden tracks worth checking out. The first is a fast thrasher and the second some samples of vocal track recordings that prove beyond a doubt the Teen Idols can sing in harmony.
Teen Idols - Full Leather Jacket (CD review) (Honest Don's): I apologize for having to apologize up front like this, but Full Leather Jacket is gah-damn amazing! It's the best thing they've put out and the best power pop record of the year. I knew that from the first listen, and I usually don't even notice a record until the third twirl. Every song is a winner, in the way various songs will vie for being my favorite in the coming weeks and months. The last two CDs that did that for me were Leatherface's Horsebox and The Lillington's Death By Television.
Touring with The Lillingtons, maybe just by co-inky-dink, may explain why Full Leather Jacket is the best Teen Idols of the three they've released. On this one the guitar works the Johnny Ramone fuzz chords in the same way Cory done do it for the Lillingtons, a style shift for that band too on their last CD. Maybe it's the influence of Mass Giorgini, the hardest working man in record engineering. The chords of the wall of noise don't change as frequently, but the continual strumming and tweaking of these monotone chords creates a locomotive power that effects my brain the same way a strobe light sets off an epileptic. Johnny played only three chords but he never stopped strumming. Bands with more technically proficient guitarists expanded on that cornerstone by manipulating the chords as far as they can go without changing the chords. Listen closely and you'll hear how the Teen Idol’s guitarist never gives a chord any hang time. He beats the hell out of each one at great personal risk of carpel tunnel.
The second major strength of Full Leather Jacket is the sweet harmonizing between Keith and Heather. A perfect pitch is created whenever they sing together, and the words lose all meaning in the nirvana-inducing state of that perfect pitch. The lyrics are great to: "Every day is Saturday when you're doing time / I don't have to leave this room / Every day... / Have a smoke and watch cartoons / Every day... / I've got no place to be / Every day... / Except the penitentiary / I'm stuck behind these bars 25 to life / For robbing a liquor store and bumpin' off my wife / You don't have to feel sorry for me / That would never do / Sittin' around here is never lonely / 'Cause all my friends are in here too / And we're saving a spot for you". They’re the most fun sing-along lyrics I've come across in a while. Heather gets to sing solo on half of "The Team", provides harmonies, throws in a lot of Woe-o-o backups and even the occasional Sha-la-la. Her voice is a instrument, and as all you 7 Seconds and Naked Raygun fans know, "Woe" is regulation punk backup singing.
Another note on Heather: Photos I've seen of her made me think she might be not very nice, but last year I spent hours around her when the Teen Idols played some god-forsaken community center in L.A.. Heather is one of the nicest, most attentive and most pleasant individuals I've ever met. I'd take a bullet for her, and I'm not just saying that because getting shot is a fetish of mine. Oh yeah, sweet, sweet gunshot wounds.....
Strength three: Every song is great. The 1950s meets 1970s aesthetic of Full Leather Jacket is unique and fully realized. Nothing needs to be added or taken away. Buy this now please. Thank you, come again.
- Total (CD review) : The major selling
is the once part and now full-time addition of Kody, who fronted The
Lillingtons, my favorite pop-punk band. Teenage Bottlerocket have only a bit in
common with The Lillingtons in sound, being harder and driven by the sweet
one-note-at-a-time guitar leads made famous by Screeching Weasel and The Queers.
The appeal of The Lillingtons, one of them at least, was how Kody strummed
hypnotic four-chord riffs.
Teenage Bottlerocket ranks up there in the upper middle of the best of Screeching Weasel, The Queers, The Methadones and The Riverdales. They're not a revelation but they are carrying on a fine tradition that as far as I know mostly lies dormant.
Teenage Bottlerocket – They Came From The Shadows (CD review): If there’s anything the internet knows for sure it’s that I loves me my Lillingtons. Something magical happened when Kody Templeman met producer Mass Giorgini, and since then Kody owns the four-chord power pop punk wasteland. Nobody comes close to his one man walls of sound. The Lillingtons were from Newcastle, Wyoming, 250 miles from Teenage Bottlerockets’s hometown of Laramie, separated by what they call God’s Country because nobody else would want to claim it. Teenage Bottlerocket were doing ok on their own but became the #1 power pop punk band in this dimension once Kody came to stay. I just watched the new video for “Skate Or Die” and was so happy I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry, so I laughed and tried not to cry. My favorite track is "Bigger Than Kiss", and I always scream along when Kody orders me to "Rock!"
They Came From The Shadows is their third full-length and alternates between Kody’s Lillingtons-type songs and ones sang by original TBR singer Ray Carlisle, usually harder and more serious. There’s an even split on the fourteen tracks. There’s no louder or harder power-pop-punk band than Teenage Bottlerocket. Beyond that and it’s into a whole other genre. I’m not going to dissect the tracks except to say I’m going to know every fricking word of it when they play here in November. I’ll try not to be a dick and scream out Lillingtons song titles, but, uh, who am I kidding...
Teenage Bottlerocket - Freak Out (CD review): Teenage Bottlerocket releases are consistently great and the only thing I look for is which one or two songs are my favorite. I'd buy a cd of guitarist Kody Templeman plugging in his amp so I'm Kool-aided up beforehand. In Punk Pop guitar heroics it goes Johnny Ramone, Kody Templeman, then whoever else you want I really don't care it doesn't matter so shut up already. The band chose "Headbanger" for their first video and it works better that way because, for a backyard DIY production, it's pretty entertaining. Check out Kody's frozen look of awe:
My pick is "Necrocomicon", combing the Necronomicon and Comic-Con with the kind of obvious genius that makes me hate myself for not thinking of it first. Me, the first human to blame his constipation on "Ass Beavers". I'm assuming Kody writes the songs he sings on and Ray does the same, so there's two distinct Teenage Bottlerocket sounds. I'm trying to find another of the fourteen tracks that stands out a lot more than the others but they're all very good. Here's a worrying trend that hasn't affected their sound yet. The hit from their last cd was "Bigger Than Kiss". This one has "Headbanger" and a track titled "Cruising For Chicks". Are Wyoming's local heroes going to record a hair metal disc in 2013? (visible shudders slowly subside... and then start up again)
Teenage Frames - More Songs, Less Music (CD review) (Junk): I mostly agree with the argument that all new music is derivative of older styles, and originality means little more than well done imitations. Our appreciation of new bands and styles depends solely on our opinions of old bands and styles. I'm a sucker for anything Ramones so I give otherwise unoriginal bands a bit of leeway. Rancid did an amazing job synthesizing the best of The Clash when they released ...And Out Come The Wolves. No matter how much I like ska I can't help but feel most new ska bands are silly kids having a great time.
So, in an era when corporate punk brazenly steals from earlier, semi-corporate punk, originality comes from taking from more obscure sources and doing it well. The Teenage Frames are masters at this. Their debut CD, More Songs Less Music, is a treasure trove of the underground garage pop that has defined cool since the ‘50s. Bands I hear on this fourteen song release include The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, The Clash, The Sex Pistols, Eddie Cochran and a lot of great garage power pop bands from the ‘70s like The Nerves and Cheap Trick. Heck, even fans of The Vindictives and The New Bomb Turks might like this. "We Hate It When We're Well Respected" is a direct steal of The Allman Brother's "Ramblin' Man" played at twice the speed. "Plastic Living" steals the riff from Cochran's "I Fought The Law". "Losing It" swipes its vocal harmony from Squeeze. I point these out only as a compliment to the Teenage Frames. The Teenage Frames might be the most informed band in punk today. This band is punk, pop, new wave and garage all at once. Let me put it this way - if you can either dance The Pony or slam to the same song that's a great punk band if there ever was one.
The Teenage Frames are from Arlington Heights, Illinois. They're great, but I don't like the shticky image they promote on their web site and liner notes. The liner notes are by "Sally Friedman - Rock Journalist" and run in the vein of "Tawdry. Bitchy. Raunchy. The whole world has gone Frankie. And so have I." Their web site is full of quasi- Ernest Hemingway mumblings that may make the band laugh but does nothing to promote the group.
I've been listening to "Bullet, Kill, Kill, Kill" now on repeat for the last twenty minutes. If you're of my generation you probably have an old single or two from the late ‘70s that nobody else has ever heard of by a group that straddled the line between pop, punk, and new wave. For me it's The Jetsons. For Lou Carus of Junk Records it's The Speedies. What's yours? These kinds of singles and groups are the true rewards of record collecting.
The Teenage Frames - 1% Faster (CD review) (Jump Up!): Q: Why is this bastardly huge file of a promo pic pasted above? A: Because they mailed me a free CD!! [2007 update: old reference]. I first sold out at the age of three when I took an ice cream cone in exchange for "keeping the hell quiet for a few damn minutes". It's all been downhill ever since.
If Chicago's Teenage Frames don't make it big it won't be for lack of trying. They've hired expensive NYC management and publicity agents, and are mailing out enough promo discs to rival AOL. They're also the only band I know of who update their website on a weekly basis. Their bio lists the band's influences as the Ramones, the New York Dolls, Cheap Trick and The Clash. This applies more to their 1996 debut, the excellent More Songs, Less Music CD. 1% Faster stays fairly close to the New York Dolls' brand of Rolling Stones' R&B glam. Scoot Magazine describes the band as a "unique blend of seventies rock, punk attitude and punk accessibility". That sums it up nicely. While not as good as their debut, the new disc does have a lot going for it.
Half of the CD was produced by Steve Albini, who either does a good job or just a fair job behind the dials. I think Albini worked on the first half, and as a producer I can only give him a C+. The opening tracks lack the live energy the band is famous for. I'm grateful the Teenage Frames didn't decide to outrock Johnny Thunders to the point of physical and mental breakdown, but you'd think they were doing a sound check instead of tearing up the studio. The Frames write well-crafted pop tunes and maybe Albini was trying to capture each band member's contribution with little clutter and distraction. A well recorded live-in-the-studio approach would have better suited the material.
"Metropolitan World" is the best track on the CD and captures the band running on all cylinders. When lead singer Frankie Delmane doesn't sound like Mick Jagger he's Rod Stewart. Whatever my criticisms of 1% Faster, it's still better and more original than most recently. See them live for the full effect.
Television (review): I Listened To Television So You Don’t Have To.
I take nothing away from
talked Hilly Kristal into letting punk bands play the hillbilly hellhole CBGBs,
and their intertwined guitar approach inspired many great bands that followed.
Still, on record they don’t come across as a great band. Listening to
and the single “Little Johnny Jewel” I agree with fans they’re special, but it’s
not there on vinyl to the extent of what’s remembered of their live shows and
legendary status. A few songs are worth a repeat listen, but that’s about it.
I’ll stick with my Feelies records.
The 1975 single “Little Johnny Jewel” is their best song and it sounds great with its hints of funky explosive energy. On Marquee Moon, “See No Evil” is a good showcase of their guitar sound, and the rest of the album should have been as strong. “Venus” is good and “Friction” could be faster and louder. At 10:40 long, “Marquee Moon” has its moments but doesn’t know if it’s a song or a filibuster. On Adventure, there’s an effort to make it peppier but it’s like Marquee Moon in that after a few songs the point is made and there’s no reason to continue. Verlaine’s voice also reminds me of Tiny Tim. Don’t get me wrong – Tiny Tim rocks! Hey, if I played these records at 78rpm like they should be heard maybe Tom would sound exactly like Tiny.
In a number of books I've read, Television's lack of success as a recording band is widely lamented. I can see why, but can also understand why they didn't push a lot of units.
Tenterhooks - Daredevil (7" review) (Overdose): Rocking lo-fi from Switzerland that's really good. I'm reminded of bands like Echo and The Bunnymen and Sisters of Mercy before goth became a serious enterprise. It’s three songs on milk-white vinyl. The third track, "Thirst For New Horizons", sounds like the stuff that K Records is made of. Very creative and highly recommended if you can find it. Those Swiss rock, dude!
Tesco Vee's Hate Police - Gonzo Hate Vibe (CD review) (Staple Gun): Everything Tesco Vee does is for laughs, and even if you do get it you'll never be able to convince the rest of the world Tesco's nothing more than a devil's advocate. The former school teacher who wrote "Crippled Children Suck" is actually a devoted family man with kids and a toy collection that takes up his entire basement. When I lived in DC I wrote to Tesco a few times and he eventually invited me to one of his famous Halloween parties. One of the Mentors was there looking very unassuming. It was a nice, sedate affair that sent Tesco into nostalgic tales of crazier times. Tesco's "problem" is that he consistently crosses the line and doesn't see how people can get so offended. It's not like he cares too much about what you think but I got the impression he misses the earliest years of hardcore when The Meatmen were a big deal and (even the) DC straight-edge community was hip to and participated in the Meatmen experience.
Throughout his career Tesco's played sloppy punk thrash, speed metal punk, cock rock punk and the great variety of styles found on Gonzo-Hate Vibe. He evens tackles I’ndustrial on "Nothing At All" - "I ain't singin' bout nothing at all/But I sound really choice/With effects on my voice...A tortured art student/With a penchant for noise/But stripped of all damage/I'm just one of the boys..." His ode to Jeffrey Dahmer, "Jeff Boy R Dee" (Tesco sold commemorative cook's aprons at shows) is sung to "Yummy Yummy Yummy" - "Jiffy Jeffy Dahmer's an apartment embalmer/If he feels like offing you/Slips you Mickey Finn/And then he's slippin' it in/With his fridge and belly full of fools." Other songs are self-explanatory- "Die Foreign Scum", "I Club Baby Seals", "Vegetarian On A Stick" and "Gang Rape Lullaby". Obvious jabs at the PC mentality, Tesco writes funny songs that offend a lot of people. I don't think Tesco is an evil guy or even an amoral character like Steve Albini - he just doesn't know when to stop. I get offended sometimes myself and I'm not defending every song.
Tesco toured for this release and was disappointed with the crowd response. Punk spits out whole new generations of fans every three or four years, and The Kids didn't know who the old guy is singing "Tooling For Anus". Tesco wants to make a living off his music and it stinks when the audience changes often and there's little sense of punk history. After this release The Hate Police went back to hard rock punk to attract the widest possible audience - to me the lowest common denominator approach, but in the long run I want Tesco's kids to go to a good college. Gonzo-Hate-Vibe is great, and if more people bought it what followed might have been more of the same. Sigh.
Texas Is The Reason - Do You Know Who You Are? (CD review) (Revelation): This band recently broke up. Texas Is The Reason was a side project for a man from Shelter and other uber-serious Revelation-type bands I know nothing about. I read this described as emo-hardcore. Emo it is, but hardcore it ain't. I mind it less when people throw everything under the sun into the punk category, because that's always been a wide-ranging and vague category to begin with, but hardcore? Hardcore punk is, to excuse the old expression and band name, Loud Fast Rules. Hardcore is aggression, volume and speed mixed in with the message. Minor Threat is hardcore. Fugazi is post-punk. Texas Is The Reason were a post-punk emo band who layed obtuse poetry on top of lilting melodies, delivering grunge-lite power. At first I hated this CD because I loved the Sense Field CD, Building, and I was expecting this to be just as good based on the hype and "Back And To The Left" off a recent Revelation compilation. This isn't bad, but I'll go with Sense Field any day of the week. Texas Is The Reason is a line from The Misfits' classic about the Kennedy assassination, "Bullet", and the song titles "The Magic Bullet Theory" and "Back And To The Left" are both Nov. 22, 1963 references. Class dismissed.
Texis Terri And The Stiff Ones - Eat S--t +1 (CD review) (Junk): I'm surprised I like this CD as much as I do, having been bored to death by Texis Terri's backup band when I saw them live in what I now realize was a long time ago. Some songs are too slow and swaggering in the hard rock style of swaying your hips to the left and right in an exaggerated manner while pumping your rocking fist in the air and making Mick Jagger rooster faces. It’s what I liked least about the ‘70s NY scene that comprises half of Texis Terri's influences. That sound is also mostly what you think of when you talk about a "Hollywood" punk band.
Thankfully, Terri's other main influence and personal role model is Iggy Pop. While I didn't care for her band live, Texis Terri herself is a force of nature who moves like Iggy and has that same look of danger in her eyes. Her toughness and propensity for going topless with electrical tape for pasties makes most think of Wendy O. Williams, but Wendy was a body builder and moved like one. Terri has the stringy musculature and energy of Iggy,sub and the junky-chic look of the old CBGBs scene.
When Terri sings "Women Should Be Wilder", it's not a slogan or teen anthem. She’s wild. She's Iggy, and worth seeing live just to see her work the crowd. She's the real deal, and properly promoted she could become a media star and talk-show staple, even if for all the wrong reasons. In that respect she would be the next Wendy O.
I like the fast songs best, especially "Situation". "Lifetime Problems" is a nice encapsulation of their influences, opening with a slow, swaggering horror show intro a la Wayne County & The NY Dolls, then crashing into a Dead Boys/Iggy spazzfest. Throughout the CD nice touches are added in the studio, be it an anvil sound or odd blurts of squeaks. The CD was put together very well and a lot of work and thought went into it.
The Thermals - More Parts Per Million / F--kin A / The Body, The Blood, The Machine / Now We Can See / Personal Life (cd reviews): Recently I was exercising regularly to Portland lo-fi indie punks The Thermals and all was well until I switched from random play to sequential. That's when the preachy anti-religion rants of Hutch Harris played in bunches on one cd especially and I thought, great, another fanatic who doesn't realize he's as annoying as the people he hates the most. Look at the cover of The Body, The Blood, The Machine. It's a collage of non-clever images. Collage is to art what the Easy Bake Oven is to cooking. I get it - religion bad. Do I really need to hear an album that might as well have been titled To Serve God - It's A Cookbook? Damn I'm clever (I wuvs me). The answer is no. Atheism is a religion as much as religion is a religion. It's a faith based on science as opposed to a science based on faith. I want to hear it from a shampoo-averse know-it-all as much as I do from the Westboro Baptist Church. Thank you Hutch for knowing the answer to the great existential question, and thank you again for spelling it out for me in all negative terms. Hutch's other favorite lyrical obsession is romantic disappointment. What I do know is that women who date men who don't bathe have low self-esteem and don't make for good relationships.
Hutch had this to say to American Progress:
"I grew up Christian, I went to church every Sunday and attended Catholic and Jesuit schools growing up. I actually played an active role in my Christian youth group in high school, I went to a church camp and went to Tijuana to build houses for homeless families living in tents. I found so many positive things in Christianity, but eventually the hypocrisy of organized religion and my own lack of faith led me to abandon the church. I do not believe in God, but honestly, I wish I did."
He might as well have said "I grew up thinking Superman was real. But he isn't. I wish he was though, 'cause the world needs him now more than ever."
Hutch also broke the Oldpunks First Commandment ("Thou shalt not define The Punk Rock or claim a definition exists") when he said "Punk rock is about processing the evils of the world with intelligence, not how drunk you can get or how many tattoos you have." Does Hutch also know the secret punk rock handshake?
As far as their music goes, Thermals tunes are
consistently creative and powerful. Musically they're golden. It's all a matter
of if you want to be talked down to at all for your own
good. After The Feederz
everything else is impotence. 2003's More Parts Per Million was recorded on a
4-track cassette machine with Hutch playing every instrument. Cue
Masters Of The
Obvious and Paul Caporino, who in the 80s cranked out tape after tape
recorded in his bathroom while taking dumps for all I know. "An Endless Supply"
sounds like a MOTO tune but generally it owns a debt to The Strokes. There's not
a clunker in the bunch and it's overflowing with manic energy and original
songwriting. 2004's Effing A (I don't spell out curses. Sorry those who keep it
real) has Hutch backed by other musicians and the sound is fuller but no less
urgent. Some of the pacing is slower but these tracks are blessed
gifted with strong hooks. They've inched a bit towards The Killers (and I mean
that in a good way).
2006's anti-Christ cd saw person X leave to be
replaced by Kathy Foster, formerly of the loovly group
All Girl Summer
Fun Band. This album has more electric piano, a nice upgrade, and the
melodies and power are still there - I just don't like being
condescended to like this, even if it's more my own good. 2009 saw Now We Can
See and except for an exception or two it lacks the fuzzy wall of noise quality
of their past work. The Weezer influence is striking and I laughed the chortle
of knowing the universe has my back when I read they recently opened for Weezer
in Seattle. 2010's Personal Life continues from the last but adds a little more
abrasiveness. Again the thing's filled with positives.
If I delete the songs that annoy me lyrically I'm
left with an impressive catalog of music I can only
good things about in a secular fashion. If you like lo-fi indie punk The
Thermals will be your favorite new band. God bless The Thermals!
Tilt - 'Til It Kills (CD review) (Fat Wreck Chords): I'm convinced a strong female singer is ten times better than any male vocalist. Tilt's Cinder Block (what a goofy fake name) is a force of frigging nature. The band exists solely to support her singing - they can't compete. Nothing could. Only Fear's Lee Ving matches the control and intensity of Block's singing. A major label would kill to turn her into the next Pat Benatar. She sings each song with the same pace, which gets monotonous after a while, but her delivery is impressive. The best track is "Libel". Who could have imagined - a young Fat Wreck Chords band that strives to be more than young & dumb. Huh.
Times Square - Learn It (CD review) (Underworld): This 1996 one-off release is pretty decent on its own, but what makes it interesting is who's in the band. Bobby Steele, in The Misfits when they had a Ramones guitar-buzz sound, plays bass. Dave Turetsky of Devil Dogs fame sits in on the drums while his wife Jill Matthews sings and plays guitar. Times Square is a local NYC band that's a side project for Jill, the toughest woman in punk history. In her bio she lists her occupations as "Boxer, Hairdresser, Musician and Nutritionist". Boxer as in NY Golden Gloves Champion and IWBF & IFBA Jr. Flyweight title holder. She has the world by the nuts and a great sense of humor too, reveling in her reputation as female boxing's resident eccentric. She ends her bio with "my father in-law is a rabbi and quite frankly, I'm totally nuts!" If everyone had her confidence, energy, accomplishment and sense of humor the world would be worth living in again.
The eight songs on Learn It are fun but Times Square isn't a threat to anyone else's career in music. Jill's lyrics are consistently in the vein of, "You asked me why I cheated/ You asked me why I lied/ You asked me if I had a heart/ and why I never cried/ I don't really have an answer/ I can give back to you/ Just that you know... / You know I learned it from you." The music is melodic NYC bar punk that harkens back to the fun qualities of the pre-disco Blondie records (especially "...What A Guy"). Jill sometimes even sings like Debbie Harry. You can also hear in her voice bits of Lisa Marr (Buck, Cub), Dinah Cancer (45 Grave), Cinder Block (Tilt), The Wives, and Tetes Noires. While not as distinctive as any of these other singers, Jill's singing is on par with her lyrics. She's also talented on guitar.
The story and personnel behind this release are more interesting than the songs themselves, but Learn It is a fine addition to the legacy of NYC female fronted bands. The band doesn't take itself any more seriously than it has to, and that's a big plus. Then again, they don't have to. Bobby Steele is a legend and Dave was with the Devil Dogs. Jill can kick your ass, which I'm sure is the last thing on her mind because she’s seemingly happy and well-adjusted.
Traitors- "No Friends" (7" review) (Johanns Face): This is a lot different than the last 7" I picked up ("I'm So Happy When I'm Hating"). This one has a different singer and sounds like a whole other band. I'm just guessing "No Friends" is the more current release. Where the first sounded much like The Vindictives, this Steve Albini-produced slab borrows heavily from Chicago legends Naked Raygun and Pegboy - so what you get is power, speed, hooks, plus excellent musicianship and production. "Pathetic Sympathetic" samples dialogue from the cult classic film Harold and Maude, which is enough for me to recommend this. But honestly, this is another great release from the Traitors. The label says the band features members of No Empathy, Alkaline Trio, Hubcap, and The Mashers. This, of course, means nothing to me. I will say that the Traitors are one of my my favorite bands right now.
I bought this on a recent one-day trip to Chicago. Now that's a punk rock city! Belmont Avenue is packed with cool stores and the streets were filled with punks who didn't look like stereotypes. The record stores were filled with older punks and a small tear of joy rolled down my frozen cheek. I haven't been everywhere in the US, but I must say Chicago seems like the best place I've seen for punks into it for life, not just as a trend. If it didn't get so friggin' cold there I'd move in a second.
Traitors - self-titled (CD review) (Johann's Face): The full-length from Chicago's Traitors combine elements of Pegboy, the Bollweevils and other bands that combine to form the great Chicago hardcore sound that ranks as the nation's best. Powerful, tight, fast, hook-filled, and always the strongest drumming. This is what all hardcore should be - screw the kiddie mentality and snotty cuteness. If you're going to thrash you better make it melodic and substantial. Anything else gets burned on the generic pile. Billy sings through a cheap microphone which is an effect I've loved ever since Reagan Youth. The original singer sounded like a cross between Joey Vindictive and Jello Biafra, and the old 7" reflected those bands. The cartoon insert is cryptically ironic and mocks, through straight-faced presentation, Cold War propaganda. The effect is underwhelming and has been beaten to death and then dragged through the streets just to be spiteful. Produced by Steve Albini, who has produced more records than McDonald's has cases of food poisoning. This earns 9 chef hats out of a possible 10. One point off for the possibility they might take themselves a bit too seriously.
Trenchmouth - Inside The Future (CD review) (Skene): From 1993, Trenchmouth is one of the better post-Beefeater free-form jazz/funk/punk bands. Thankfully they never resorted to rap. Relying mostly on powerful and original percussion structures, Trenchmouth sings lyrics typical of post-punk emo --obtuse impressionistic musings on the human condition that make no sense to the casual listenable: "Dropped from the sky and I can't ask way Fifty feet and falling we have arrived Puched a hole through the side found a place to hide..." The cd’s worth it just for "Hit Men Will Suffocate The City". Their follow-up, Trenchmouth Vs. The Light Of The Sun, was fairly dull in comparison. I read they recently signed to a major.
T.S.O.L. - reissue of first EP & Weathered Statues 7" (CD review) (Nitro): I've always had a problem with T.S.O.L. (True Sounds Of Liberty). They started as a decent hardcore band mixing the best elements of early ‘80s Dischord with standard SoCal agit-prop. Then they devolved into psychedelic, gloom rock, glam metal, and who knows how many other affectations. Like on "Weathered Statues", Jack Greggors, who changes names as often as I change the oil in my car, affects a bizarre gay-ghoul lisp. I can actually see the puffy white pirate shirt he must have been wearing at the time.
Once you know the evolution of T.S.O.L. it's hard to take their first EP seriously. I mean, when they sing "Property Is Theft" it's hard to imagine their politics went anything beyond becoming rock stars. "Abolish Government/Silent Majority" is another blast of decent punk sung by posers. Tesco Vee was right on when he sang "T.S.O.L. Are Sissies". Not a bad release but I just can't take anything they do seriously. The same with Joykiller.
Turbo A.C.'s - Fuel For Life (CD review) (Nitro): This is the best thing in a long time to come out of kiddie punk label Nitro Records. It has some of that Nitro, what do the French call it, Jenny Sayquah, but Fuel For Life is respectful of its roots, diverse in its influences, flawless in its execution, and pretty damn catchy.
The cover art and all-around aesthetic of the band is typical of what I call Gearhead, after the fanzine of the same name. It seems to affect guys from California suburbs and the Northeast USA who watch too many old teen exploitation films and imagine "The West" is hot, dusty and lawless. They see Grease Monkeys as retro-modern day cowboys and fantasize life as a long-distance trucker from the comfortable confines of their city lives. I blame it all on Steve McQueen, that lovable bastard.
Various influences/comparisons I hear on this CD are Dick Dale (solo guitar work), East Bay Ray (imitating Dick Dale), The Supersuckers (godfathers of the genre), Zeke (slightly heavy at times), The Lazy Cowgirls (flow of energy), Nine Pound Hammer (but not as tough) and The Misfits (mostly in the singing and track six, "Enter The Dragon"). Their direct peers would be The GoToHells, another favorite of mine.
Most of the tracks are excellent, and filled with so many ideas you come away with something different with each listen. Being from New York City (!!) they will never be as real a deal as Nine Pound Hammer, but they're way good enough for all you Hot Wheels collectors.
UK Subs - Left For Dead (CD review) (ROIR): ROIR first released this on cassette in 1986 as Left For Dead: Alive In Holland '86. The Subs were a band I wrote off when they detoured into the hard rock punk malaise of the mid ‘80s. I own one UK Subs album, 1979's Another Kind Of Blue (on blue vinyl!), which is so damn good it can easily pass as a greatest hits collection. Left For Dead is filled with classics from the debut and its 1980 follow-up, Brand New Age. They even play the songs in the spirit in which they were first recorded, so this is something I can easily recommend to old fans and the newly curious alike.
The Subs formed in London in 1976 but their first appearance on vinyl wasn't until the 1978 compilation Farewell To The Roxy. In 1979 their single "Stranglehold" hit the UK top thirty, followed by "Tomorrow's Girl". The original band members were Charlie Harper, Nick Garrett, Paul Slack and Pete Davies. After their initial burst of fame the band blew apart and Harper has been the core of whatever group of musicians he puts together. The UK Subs never ceased touring.
Charlie Harper has always been the oldest man in the room. Rumour has it nobody knows Charlie's real age, even Charlie, but one source claims his birth year as 1944. Before the punk explosion he was a hairdresser and R&B singer. The UK Subs were part of UK punk’s second wave, the first being a small group led by The Clash, The Sex Pistols, The Buzzcocks, The Stranglers (fellow geezers) and The Jam. You'll hear the Subs referred to as a "77" band, which always annoys the hell out of me because the dates are wrong. I couldn’t care less when they formed, the UK Subs made their mark in 1979.
The Subs have a rep as a great live band, and this 1986 show might as well have taken place seven years earlier. 23 songs in 60 minutes. I notice that "All I Wanna Know" is listed as "Does She Suck". Do I get a cookie? "Rockers" and "C.I.D." stand out, and if you pay attention you'll notice how easy it is to dance to the UK Subs. Charlie put a load of riffs and personality into his songs. And no, that song you're listening to isn't "Emotional Black Male", it's "Emotional Blackmail".
Is there a market for this re-issue right now, or is ROIR throwing everything they have against the cd wall to see what sticks? Either way it's an impressive live set. Jack Rabid's original liner notes are great. He observes "It's hard to believe he's older than some of our Dads, and could easily be turning up for Rotary Club on Mondays instead of playing the Marquee or Rock Motel." That was three years ago. Charlie hasn't slowed down a bit. I do know he hasn't gotten any better looking! I've been to their official web site a number of times (http://www.btinternet.com/~uksubs/index.htm) and Charlie's always itching for gigs like a junkie on day three of rehab.
- Teenage Kicks, The Best Of (CD review):
are still around but you'll have to excuse me if I
refer to them in the past tense. Their two great albums fronted by Feargal
Sharkey (real name not Dirk Gently) came out in 1979 and 1980, and that's where
and when I think of them on the great timeline of alt.music. Nothing against the
band now by any means.
This quote from Wikipedia is perfect: "Scarcely a harsh word was ever written about the Undertones. Their genuine inability to pose or pontificate disarmed the most hardened critics. No-one could ever quite come to grips with their apparent innocence and naivity. They weren't at all naÃ¯ve, of course, they just came across that way, and, to some extent, it prevented their later work from being taken as seriously as it deserved. Regarded as perpetual teenagers. No-one, it seemed, wanted them to grow up." - Mick Houghton
The Undertones were a pop-punk band before the term was coined. They lacked the bite of The Buzzcocks but were tougher than Split Enz, their closest rivals around 1980. Or, maybe that would be The Rezillos. I think of them as a singles band, sounding even better in small doses. It's not about repeating themselves as much as their music is so peppy and fun I can't imagine it being maintained, or appreciated, in large doses.
Teenage Kicks: The Best Of The Undertones is an excuse to write about a great band that gets lost in the shuffle. What they took from the Ramones was the aesthetic of writing the chorus to great pop songs and rarely leaving that high point. From The Sex Pistols they took DIY inspiration and stepped in the door as it opened. They may have shared some of the Jam's mod energy but lyrically they tapped the same source of Ray Davies and The Kinks.
The only track on I like from 1981's Positive Touch is "When Saturday Comes". At this point they branched out to a more relaxed sound with keyboard and horns. The early tracks are gems. I can't imagine hating The Undertones. 97% of the hardest scumfuggs out there still appreciate a good melody, and The Undertones knew how to write them.
All I'm saying is that if "Get Over You" doesn't make you smile you're dead inside. Dead.
Underhand - Under A Glass (7" review) (Mutant Pop): Under A Glass is a great EP until you realize all four songs sound the same. This may not be bad for a Ramones or Dead Boys act, but Underhand are following in the footsteps of Moving Targets, Husker Du and Sludgeworth - bands with a little more variety in their songlists. The promo says "Sorta like Green Day mixed with Husker Du, but with more intelligent lyrics. Fabuloso!" I don't hear any Green Day, but I imagine mentioning a popular band would be good for sales. Either way this is good power pop, and they make a lot of music for a three-piece. Learn to mix it up a little more and I'll be back.. As if that's a goal to shoot for ...oy.
U.S. Bombs - Garibaldi Guard! (LP review) (Alive): Touring 374 days of the year, California's U.S. Bombs make the streets safe for vocalists who sound like Johnny Rotten. The music on this 1996 LP is decent 1981-era sing-along UK street punk, and a heartfelt tribute to the time after the fall of punk's first wave when the media stopped caring about spiked hair and bad teeth. The U.S. Bombs combined the DNA of the Sex Pistols and The Clash in their prime, and while nothing here stands out as a single, each of the twelve songs manages to impress. On the back cover Chuck Briggs looks and dresses disturbingly like the living ghost of Mick Jones. "Not Alright" recycles the riff from the Psychedelic Fur's "Pretty In Pink" into a pogo pit standard. Cool. Much better than I expected from an American scene now littered with bands like this that pretend it's twenty years ago and many thousands of miles away. Extra points awarded for not chanting "oi oi oi!". A small victory for modern music....
Valentine Killers - self-titled (CD review) (Yeah It's Rock): The Seattle label this is on is called Yeah It's Rock, but all over the internet this CD is also given that name, probably because it's the same font and size on the side of the jewel case. That out of the way, yeah-yuh! yeah-yuh!! yeah-yuh!! This is the best Johnny Thunders balls-to-the-wall drunk punk I've heard lately. The genre's filled with generics that live fast and die young, or at least desperately try to. Seattle's Valentine Killers remind me of some other bands in a combination I'm really into -- they have the hook intensity of Electric Frankenstein, the energy flow of the Lazy Cowgirls and the occasional vocal, thematic and melody inclinations of the early Misfits. On "The Way We Die" and "Devil's Night", Brian Lamanna's surely having a ghoul's night out. Check out "Motor City Shutdown" and "End Of The Night" for the Lazy Cowgirls thingy.
This thing's way too short at ten songs. Expect a split with the Candy Snatchers and touring that supposedly never ends. Yeah-yuh!!!
Vandals - Live Fast Diarrhea (CD review) (Nitro): I knew this kid who wore a Vandals baseball hat. He said he never heard of the band - he just thought the name was cool. I guess that's why these guys are called The Vandals even though Joe Escalante is the only member from the original lineup. Back then he played drums, now he's on bass guitar. The new Vandals don't sound anything like the old Vandals either. This is fashionable SoCal slappy punk with snotty teenage lyrics and a sound conducive to slamming rodeo-style. Even though I didn't buy this I feel owed money for the time it took to listen to this and write the review. Is it any good? Who the hell knows, I'm not thirteen years old. For all I know it's a classic. They shouldn't be allowed to use the name though. That's false advertising. The title Live Fast Diarrhea is as juvenile as humanly possible. If you think that's clever you're probably in summer school at this moment.
Varsity Drag - Night Owls (cd review): I'm a junior member of the cult of Ben Deily, he of the Lemonheads, The Pods and now Varsity Drag. He's forgiven Evan Dando, but not I! Revenge is a dish best served with a side salad. If he ever gets a sex change back to male I'll pursue this further, but until then ma'am, you did Ben wrong and tarnished the good Lemonheads name by recording fa-la-la crap for too long. Ben's had an award winning career in advertising and lives in Boston with his wife Lisa, who now plays bass and sings backup. Varsity Drag is how Ben keeps his foot in the door of music, and while his best writing days are past I still enjoy hearing his distinctive voice and heartfelt lyrics.
2009's Night Owl's is an improvement over 2006's For Crying Out Loud, which didn't distinguish itself in any memorable way and was recorded at the Close-N-Play Studios by recording engineer Tin Ear McGinty. Night Owl is crystal clear and every string pick sparkles. "Richard's Gone" is nice and the grunge of "Hammer" a nice change of style, but sadly for me I still find Varsity Drag lacking power and enthusiasm. It's like the songs were written on acoustic guitar and sang as ballads, which were then fleshed out by casual band mates. There's an incomplete element to the tracks, which are better than For Crying Out Loud, which sounded like the songs were written and sketched out that morning.
If he's not doing so now Ben needs to write with a band in mind and build each person's role into something more than accompaniment. I'm made a zip of Ben's best work with The Lemonheads and The Pods. The superlative tracks are "Blackout" and "Bleeding", theatrical and orchestral masterpieces Ben should look back into if he has the time. The talent's there and lord knows the world needs more songs like those.
The Verdicts - Rock N' Roll Noise Makers (CD review) (Middle Class Pig): An excellent release from a band that's shown great improvement over the years. Not that I've heard them before, but the CD contains songs from various ’96-’98 sessions, and following the timeline I hear a band moving away from rote (but still decent) exercises in the R&B punk/ psychobilly/ rawhide genres to a powerful, fully-integrated sound whose intensity and originality washes over you in waves instead of beating you over the head.
It's easy to play fast and loud, and too many hide their lack of talent by playing as loud and fast as possible. Every once in a while I hear a band that stands out because they never let the energy flag during transitions, their use of silence actually adds intensity, each instrument stands out while blending together perfectly, and the power of the songs comes out organically instead of simply cranking the amp to 11. The Lazy Cowgirls are the masters of this. Space Cookie can also reach that peak. The latest Verdicts tracks achieve this state of higher punk rock being, especially on "Christine" and "Pretty Lady".
The Verdicts either by choice or convenience are grouped under psychobilly, which I can see, but there's also a vein of pop sensibility that makes their music more accessible and less cartoonish. "Highschool" is a pop-rockabilly mix of MTX's "She's No Rocket Scientist" and Broadway's "Greased Lightning". Maybe that's not a good thing in a sub-genre that expects a high level of conformity (don't they all though?). The upside is a potentially wider audience, and I can recommend this to just about anyone. In this regard they're peers with the GoToHells. My only advice to the band is to drop "Bust Your Jaw", whose lyrics are juvenile. Besides that, all I see is great things for these guys from Bellflower, CA, a town that wishes it could be as cool as Long Beach. They have a website at www.theverdicts.com
- Pure Mania (CD review): Listening to this for the first time I just assumed
greatest hits collection, but it's their debut from
1977. I'm sorry I didn't discover this sooner since it's super- -pooper-scooper-dooper,
a true classic pop record from the '77 UK punk era. I read comparisons to The
Stranglers, but it's not in sound. They were another existing band who adapted
when punk hit. Posers like to say punk is a monolithic institution, but it never
was. Maybe only at the sub-genre level. Those who think a formerly non-punk band
has no right to play punk music when the time is right are the same ones who
insist a band isn't punk unless they're poor and angry. To these people, I say,
eat my poop with a whizz chaser.
The Undertones might be viable peers of The Vibrators, but I hear other bands not mentioned in any review. Jonathan Richman's iconic "Roadrunner" is an influence along with "Stepping Stone", recorded first by Minor Threat and then The Monkees. The Stones via The NY Dolls also provide an influence. Back to Jonathan, The Vibrators' "Keep It Clean" is a nod of the SXE shaved noggin to "I'm Straight" (“I'm certainly not stoned, like hippie Johnny”). No matter who seminaled who, The Vibrators wrote fifteen great original tunes and released it as Pure Mania.
I'm laughing me ass off at some of the Amazon.com comments: "I was somewhat unimpressed on first listen and the anti-drug sentiment and lack of rebelliosness", and my favorite: "i found this to be a highly overrated album. it was unexciting and unoriginal, and there was nothing at all edgy about it. in fact, there was an anti-drug song on it! now, i dont like drugs at all myself, but there is no place for an anti-drug song on what is supposed to be a good, threatening punk rock record. do yourself a favor and but something by the stiff little fingers, the stooges, the damned, crass, or something like that."
How ironic. Stiff Little Fingers named themselves after a Vibrators song. This same person also reviewed a book called, wait for it.......... Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed The World. Oh, snap!
The Vibrators - Pure Punk (cd review): Long-running (since 1976) UK poppy punk band The Vibrators (check out the honest FAQ section) don't add much to the conversation with Pure Punk, covering songs previously beat to death on the endless so-called "77" punk comps that litter the retail wasteland. You can rightfully feel they're pandering away a fraction of their street cred. It's also a reminder the Vibrators were a punky pop-punk band in their day and still sing like a pop band. Pure Punk is better than bad, it's good actually, but one normally doesn't listen to a record constantly asking "why?" They redo five of their own songs ("Troops Of Tomorrow", Automatic Lover", "Baby Baby", "Rip Up The City" and "Whips And Furs"), giving them a fuller sound but also bringing up the why. Pure Punk is a 2009 updated reissue of a 2006 release under a different name, both put out by Cleopatra. One last time - why?
On the new release they cover a teen pop song called "I Kissed A Girl" by Katy Perry. OK... They wrangle Wayne Kramer to cover the Dead Boys' "Sonic Reducer" and the great Leonard Graves Phillips of The Dickies sings lead on "Vibrator". The songs are fairly straightforward and don't explore new horizons in the original material, not always a bad thing if you're not into dada deconstruction meat-beatery. The highlights of Pure Punk are the updates on their own songs. Maybe the Vibrators use this as a promo to get gigs at punk high school proms or something. You know, a little bit edgy but not dangerous, the singing is poppy and you can dance to it. Pure Punk is listenable but also disposable.
The Vice Principals - Wolfman Amadeus Jackboot (7" review) (Junk): The idea of a punk super-group should be an oxymoron, but it's not in a world of scale and relativity. Scott Drake and Billy Burks were in the Humpers, who are playing again for nostalgia and cash. Scott's brother Jake was in the Joneses. There's not a lot of mileage or meaning in the name "Vice Principles", but the coin toss is law, damn it, and who am I to argue with science.
The a-side, "Wolfman Amadeus Jackboot", is very much in the Humpers camp, and it's worthy of single status. The guitar chords are clear and forceful. "Showdown" is a slow, bluesy, NY Dolls number that seems a bit restrained on vinyl. It's probably more effective when everyone, especially the band, is drunk.
One of the better new releases from Junk, and for fans of that label and The Humpers, you can't go wrong. Well, your tongue-stud was a mistake, and piss yellow isn't a hair color I'd choose for myself. xxx
- Hypno-Punko (CD review): I guess
are still around since they recently started a website that promises a whole lot
of something to come. Their first single came out in 1991, a few years after
Sloppy Seconds so you could say they were another junk rock band. The Automatics
came years later and as I saw it they had their own genre. The lyrics were
snotty, the sound hyperactive pop-punk and the vocals bratty and obnoxious like
Jello Biafra without the post-nasal drip.
1995's compilation The Many Moods Of The Vindictives is a definite classic, filled with funny lyrics and hooks aplenty. Party Time For Assholes, an album of covers, came out the next year, and it pissed me off to no end that all the songs were on one track. I don't like practical jokes and like even less paying for the privilege. When Hypno-Punko came out in 1999 I passed because I felt the odd track list was another setup for disappointment. This morning was the first time I put on Hypno-Punko. I listened to the whole thing four times in a row and can state, with no equivocation: Hypno-Punko is one of the greatest punk records of all time.
Hypno-Punko is a rock opera
dealing with Joey Vindictive's victorious fight against illnesses that almost
killed him. It's a bit like Joey Ramone's
Don't Worry About Me
(released a year later) except it was written after the fact and Vindictive is
still alive. I forget the exact details but a few years back Vindictive wrote a
long explanation in a punk zine as to why he had to quit music for a while.
Whatever disease he had was turning his insides to jelly, and he passed out
while driving and suffered a horrible crash. I'm really glad he survived because
the man's a freaking genius.
I think some of the "eh" reviews for Hypno-Punko would change if they knew the story is real. I won't analyze each song because I could for a long time, but there's so much greatness of so many types here you won't believe it's all in one package. The vibrating vocal harmonies on "I Will Not, Pt. 3" are pure freaking genius. The last track is 44:39 long and is a loop of the fadeout chorus from the track before it. It's hypnotic, punko and as catchy as "Row Row Row Your Boat". I made it 7:45 before turning it off.
I give very few records a score of 100. Leatherface's MUSH is one. The DK's Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables is another. I'm putting Hypno-Punko on that list. It's perfect.
The Vindictives - Party Time For Assholes (CD review) (???): That's funny, not "ha ha" funny buy "huh?" funny. I've never seen a CD where the name of the record company wasn't listed somewhere. The same CD with a different cover is being advertised all over by Liberation Records as if this one never came out. It’s a reissue of The Vindictives' double 10" collection of 25 cover tunes of everything from The Brains' "Money Changes Everything" to Billy Joel's "You May Be Right", all done in the inimitable power pop punk style of Joey and his band. Maybe not that inimitable since The Vindictives have to me have always tried to out-slop Sloppy Seconds. I love all my children equally though and I'm not choosing sides.
Maybe Liberation re-issued this recent re-issue because the one I bought consists of only one fuggin' track, which means if I want to hear song twelve I have to hold the forward button down for who knows how the hell long until I might accidentally find it. The only song list is on the CD itself and there's no time listings to help me out. In other words, the one I bought is a joke someone played on the unsuspecting buying public. I rarely put this on because I feel like somebody's giving me a wedgie every time I futz around with it. They’rereat songs for sure but I'm still pissed. It’s not as good as their hits collection The Many Moods Of The Vindictives, but the one you should buy after that one [2007 update: Now it’s Hypno-Punko you must own].
The Vindictives- The Many Moods of... (CD review) (Lookout) The Vindictives are sadly no more [2007 update: They did regroup but are now on hiatus since a few original band members died.] As detailed in Issue 16 of Punk Planet, singer and songwriter Joey Vindictive survived over 2 1/2 years of a medical illness smorgasbord you wouldn't wish upon almost anyone. The list ranges from panic disorder, agoraphobia, XANAX addiction, Prozac, bi-lateral gynecomastia, narcoleptic seizures, esophogitis (stomach acid eating away the vocal chords), obesity, severe insomnia, multiple bouts of pneumonia, bronchitis, bacterial blood infection, and who knows what else. Be honest, at what point of this list would you yourself have opened wide and pulled the trigger? The Vindictives played great Chuck Berry meets Ramones power chord punk with snotty singing. This CD compiles 28 songs from all six self-released 7"s along with four compilation tunes. These early songs from ‘91-‘93 were their best work. Each song is filled with hooks, great bass lines, creative fast drumming, sing-along backup singing, and the great vocal stylings of Joey Vindictive. The lyrics are often personal (and hilarious) without being preachy. My favorite track is "Control Me", its lyrics evoking an aggressivly positive self-image usually beaten to death in straight-edge: "Everyone tries to pull you their way/then somebody tries to pull you back/they wanna fill your head with bulls--t/they wanna make you see the facts/making rules for you to follow/telling lies to keep you stuck/how much more are you gonna swallow/aren't you gonna tell 'em to get fugged..." I highly recommend this to fans of Sloppy Seconds, The Ramones, The Queers, The Automatics and Screeching Weasel. I listen to this on my heavy powerlifting days and I swear it gives me 15% extra oomph, if not 9% more Eeeeeeeee.
Violators - The No Future Years (CD
gawd's gift to second wave UK punk, has released
(finally) the sum total of the 1981+ era career of The Violators, who released a
handful of singles and a 12" on
No Future Records
before changing their name to Taboo and recording post-post-punk songs,
some included here. They were a decent band who recorded one of the best Killing
Joke songs that band never wrote or recorded. More on that later.
I'm having a hard time finding out who their band members were and what they had for lunch today. One dressed like a droog, as did The Adicts. When the songs are sang by the female singer(s?) the tunes lean heavily towards Siouxsie and Vice Squad backed by Killing Joke. The male singer fronts heavy Killing Joke pound-fests. "Summer Of 81" is credited with reflecting the political mood of the time, but then again what song didn't. The reason to buy this CD is to own "Gangland", like I said the best Killing Joke song not by Killing Joke. No matter how many times I hear it my eyeballs still roll into my head and like in Scanners somebody's head explodes.
With this CD I now own the best quality recording of "Gangland" I can find. Me happy.
Violent Society - Not Enjoyin' It (CD review) (Motherbox/C.I.): Music for punks and skins, the ABC-No-Rio gutter-crust crowd, and folks everywhere who live to scream into the mike along with their favorite singers. Heavily influenced by MDC, oi, '77 (actually '79) revival, Agnostic Front, The UK Subs, DOA, Reagan Youth, and large chunks of the kitchen sink, the Northeast breeds these bands like rabbits. Violent Society are among the best of the genre. They’re from Philly but I'm sure they've earned enough frequent driver miles to NYC to fly to the moon. Twenty songs for $6 post-paid from Motherbox, 60 Denton Ave, East Rockaway, NY 11518. No lyrics sheet (a surprise) but a "Thanks" list the size of your head, with everyone from The Business to Sloppy Seconds. Oi Oi wha'?
Wax - 13 Unlucky Numbers (CD review) (Interscope): Clocking in at a whopping 23 minutes and 47 seconds, this 1995 was released on a major label (Time-Warner), and while it's fairlyy commercial by most standards, Wax does a fine job of keeping it interesting with creativity, quality musicanship, and just enough irony to keep this from bogging down with self-importance and false urgency. It’s alternative without being boring. The sing-along choruses are cool, and thankfully there's no mosh parts or white-boy funk bits thrown in because the Time-Warner Research Dept. faxed them a request to throw in either 4.7 mosh parts or a few minutes of rock rap to boost the demographics. Whilst trolling the net I found two reviews of this CD - one comparing them to the Ramones and the other to Bad Religion. I'll be just as stupid and compare them to Elton John. No, wait, Captain Beefheart! No, seriously, this is somewhere between Translator and The Nils.
Weakerthans - Fallow (CD review) (Sub City): The Weakerthans are weaker than any band I've ever heard. These are the jokes, folks, they don't get any better so you'd better start laughing now. Emo gets written off as precious a little too quickly, but when it does apply the results can be embarrassing. Half of Fallow is excellent a la Jawbreaker or The Promise Ring, while the rest is yawn-folk inspired by Al Stewart and Leo Sayer. The singer is actually John K. Samson, five years with Propaghandi, but he sounds so much like Al Stewart I think every next song will be "Time Passages".
The opening track of any album is a statement of what the band (or label) wants to project to their audience. You don't get a second chance to make a good first impression, so choosing the right lead track can be vital to the success or failure of a record, both as a work of art and a commercial piece of property. "Illustrated Bible Stories For Children" not only has a title so cute it makes you want to punch somebody, anybody, it's a slow dirge of a single acoustic guitar with coy singing. "Diagnosis" follows and it's everything you'd expect from the best emo, but song placement has made this CD a wimpy endeavor first and foremost. Six of the twelve tracks are good and remind me of The Promise Ring. If this was an LP I'd have advised separating the fast from the slow, labeling one side "Awake" and the other "Insomnia Cure". I envision Weakerthan shows where half the time the audience is sitting on the floor, slightly swaying left and right as the band looks sleepy playing as quietly as rabid sincerity dictates.
My favorite track is "Letter Of Resignation", which is fine in itself but I'm a sucker for the kind of backup singing Roberta Dempster provides. It's my music fetish I guess. Lisa Marr of Buck is the best at it. Oops, that was another shameless mention of my favorite vocalist.
The Weaklings - Learn How To Dance (7" review) (Junk): Etched into this 45 are the words "The Hardest Working Band In Punk Rock". I salute any band with a solid work ethic. Fans of The Humpers and The New Bomb Turks will like The Weaklings' brand of hard hitting, hard drinking rocking punk. This is bar band music for adults. No heartfelt messages, no token mosh parts - just "1,2 F—k You" punk that stirs you from your drunken stupor at the bar and bobs your head to the rhythm. Not the best of the genre, but better than most of the crap that passes for music these days. The cover photo is from an old Life magazine.
The Weaklings - "Motorvatin"/"Janie Jones"&"Clampdown" (7" review) (Junk): One Hanoi Rocks and two Clash covers from this Portland band that has a rep for kicking live booty. The A-side is decent rocking bar punk but the Clash covers don't add anything to the originals and therefore just fill up space on the single. Great bass progressions are the hidden secret of The Clash's sound, and if The Weaklings built on the bass lines these covers would have been worthwhile. You can barely hear the bass at all, and nothing about the songs stand out. I mean, I like The Clash but if I'm spending money for a 7" I expect more than simply going through the paces. Not that I'd ever want to hear it, but "Clampdown" would make a great funk tune.
The Weaklings - Four More Reasons To Love.. (7" review) (Junk): Now this I like. The full-length was a little too much trash & vaudeville and not enough straight ahead R&B thrash punk. The four cuts on this 7", like their last, have drive and power, like a rocking Lazy Cowgirls. To me, "Rocking" is when two guitarists stand next to each other and swing their long girly hair in unison. Only one guitarist here but you get the idea. This must be great live. They sound like a band that likes to get sweaty and end the evening two drinks short of alcohol poisoning. It’s on pink vinyl for you collector geeks, and the chickie on the cover is wearing a naughty bra. Tee hee.
The Weaklings - self-titled (LP review) (Junk): There's a slew of drunken bar punk bands that gravitate toward Long Beach's Junk Records. Cousin bands to the more popular New Bomb Turks and other R&B punks, these bands are reliving the 1970s CBGBs scene twelve beers at a time. Live fast, die young, and live the lifestyles of the New York Dolls, The Heartbreakers, and the Dead Boys, which means expect Trash & Vaudeville Rolling Stones by the bucket. On this release, Portland's Weaklings offer twelve songs that sound live without any studio enhancement, which to me says they're trying to replicate an explosive live sound.
Although the songs are decent the album fails to promote the band correctly. Some bands are meant to be heard live while others work better in the studio. The Weaklings probably put on the best drunken debacle of a show you've ever seen, but it's hard to get this across on vinyl. I disagree with the commonly held idea that studio recordings should try to capture the live feel of a band. The studio is where you should create the most professional product you can. If I want a live album I'll buy a live album, and when I see a show the last thing I expect is for the band to perform the songs exactly as they did in the studio. If the Ramones released a live album instead of their first studio one I guarantee their career would have ended right there. The problem with the Weaklings LP is that the songs blend into each other. If they gave it time in the studio I know each song would have been more distinctive.
Ben Weasel - The Brain That Wouldn't Die (cd review): Try to remember this isn't a Screeching Weasel cd even though they're all Screeching Weasel songs performed as Screeching Weasel played them. And oh yeah, Danny Vapid plays guitar on this too.
Recorded in August 2008 at Reggie's Rock club in Chicago, The Brain That Wouldn't Die is a competent and straightforward rendering of most of 1991's My Brain Hurts, Weasel's tentative first steps into adult punk rock. I lean more towards half of Wiggle and most of "Anthem For A New Tomorrow", but Brain is more than decent and it has my favorite SW tune, "Science Of Myth", a treatise on agnosticism almost executed in absentia by the existence of this record (it sucks). The sound's not super great but the guitar separation is nice and the thing to focus on while listening to this live show.
Funnily or unfunnily enough two songs were dropped from the original, replaced by "Cool Kids" from Bark Like A Dog and "This Ain't Hawaii" from Boogadaboogadaboogada! "I Can See Clearly" might have been dropped because it's a 1972 Johnny Nash cover, also performed by Jimmy Cliff and knocked out of the park by Ray Charles. Or maybe Ben felt it was a little too cheerful for the brain trusts who come out for live shows. "Fathead" is also replaced but it's a great song, so who knows. Maybe nobody could do the fast guitar note progressions correctly in 2008.
Weezer - self-titled (CD review) (DGC): Being a fan of emo that's hard, fast and melodic all at the same gosh darn time, I noticed Weezer gets grouped and disassociated with the genre with equal stridency. Being out of the MTV loop, I only knew in passing Weezer made a video using footage from Happy Days. Someone at work had this CD, I yoinked it away, listened to it ten times, and did some homework. Ideas like "street cred" and "selling out" are still major youth obsessions. The bottom line is that this 1994 release is one of the first and most important emo records.
The three commercial hits are "Buddy Holly", "Undone - The Sweater Song" and "Say It Ain't So". "Buddy Holly" is a decent enough album track that suffers from sixteen seconds of white-guy-faux-rap-pep-rally nonsense with a reference to one of the most spine-curling ethnic novelty songs of all time, "Wassamattayou". The video made the band famous, the superficiality of it all driving lead Weez Rivers Cuomo into fits of disgust that kept him pretty much out of music for a while. I respect that, seeing how you've become part of the bulls--t cycle of media-directed supply and demand, and saying that's commerce, not art. "Undone-The Sweater Song" is a novelty stoner anthem with dialogue that could have been recorded in any suburban 7-11 parking lot. Sadly it’s humor and insight at the level of Beavis and Butthead. If Cuomo felt embarrassed, it should have been for catering to the low end of his hard rock upbringing. "Say It Ain't So" owes a sonic debt to Nirvana and is a favorite of those fans who came to emo through bullet boy's band. It's too simple and slow, and I don't rock.
That being said, the rest of the CD is excellent, and a direct inspiration to the best emo of today, from The Promise Ring to Sense Field. Everyone mentions Rites Of Spring as the first emo band but I doubt most people who say that have even heard their recordings. Emo as it is known today, let’s call it second wave, comes from a number of antecedents that coalesced in Jawbreaker's 1990 LP Unfun. With a nod to Husker Du, Jawbreaker added layers of melody, intelligence and emotion that blew away and confounded reviewers. It came out of left field and made many top-10 lists. Nirvana came along at the same time but only winked at Husker Du as they rocked to the gods of heavy metal. Weezer came out in 1994. Do the math for your favorite emo bands. Weezer came before them. I guess die-hard emo kids hate Weezer because they were popular and made a famous MTV video. Can you keep it real if you live at home and receive an allowance?
The best emo is about intelligence, wanting life to be better yet sensing a futility that expresses itself in the passive aggressive relationship between noise and melody, darkness and light, anger and love, purpose and nihilism, beauty and ugliness, and life and death. Weezer is far removed from emo deathcore, but the opening track, "My Name Is Jonas", is a great early example of how the theory can work well. It also makes a nice drinking song. Weezer always transitions between the quiet beauty of their melodies and the harsh attack of the fuzzy riffs with warning shots of a slight guitar feedback. It's a cue that triggers anticipation, and Weezer comes up with ingenious proofs of Pavlov's theory.
"No One Else" is written in the classic pop vein and I can't stop singing the damn thing. "The World Has Turned And Left Me Here" is Beatle-esque and nicely expressive. "Surf Wax America" is my heavy bag training tool of the moment. The timing for me is perfect. I even get to rest a bit at the acappella, row row row your boat part before pounding myself into exhaustion at the end. The guitar line sounds very XTC. "In My Garage" has nicely crafted instrumentation best heard with headphones for the separation. It compensates for slowness with inventiveness, not heaviness. "Holiday" is ok.
"Only In Dreams" is an opus, an epic, a monstrosity of planning and execution. You have to hear it a few times to realize how much went into this song. The opening nonchalantly foreshadows what comes at the end, which is simply the best fadeout, buildup and release I've ever heard. It makes me think of Sugar's "JC Auto". There's a benign deceptiveness to the mellowness of the main body of the piece and the slow-fade ending that never quite comes. The buildup is paced out at double the normal expectation for such things. None of this would work if not for the strength of the melody, the delicateness of the instrumentatio, and the unforced power and authority of the release, at which point I imagine in concert the emo kids are crying so much they have to use both hands to keep their black-rimmed glasses from sliding off.
I could do without the more popular tunes, but most of Weezer is excellent.
Weezer - Green Album (CD review) (Geffen): The new one is titled Weezer, just like the first, but to differentiate between the two it's referred to as the "Green Album". The first is also called the "Blue Album". Thankfully I’ve already dealt with this brand of lunacy with Peter Gabriel albums. The big deal in the media surrounding Weezer has almost nothing to do with the music. There’s two stories: 1) Band makes it huge overnight, band dies and disappears, band reborn on unexpected waves of fan adoration, and 2) Rivers Cuomo is nuts.
What makes the first story relevant is that it's happening today and in recent memory. The first album came out in 1994. Folks my age see bands like The Vibrators, The Furs, The Go-Go's, The Sex Pistols, etc. get back together, and we wrestle with issues of legitimacy. Folks even older than me think nothing, literally, while watching BTO play a hick State Fair. For the first time, Gen X gets to see the cycle of musical life, death and rebirth firsthand.
Rivers Cuomo gets interviewed a lot because he looks like a computer geek and lives on the edge of creative genius and debilitating insanity. Every story I've seen dwells on that he dropped out of Harvard short of graduating and holed up for two years in a room painted black with the windows sealed shut. Images of Bill Gates as Howard Hughes made editors' heads explode with excitement. I suspect Cuomo is bipolar and will only get worse.
The new album is neither the salvation of alt.rock nor the end of alt.emo as we know it. It's a collection of songs of a kind, some good and some ok. Chosen from what is said to be a backlog of 100 tunes, it is essentially a post-grunge new wave record with heavy debts owed to The Beatles and Beach Boys. Internet geeks’ expectations were unrealistic. To recreate the first album would have been a creative disaster. After the self-indulgent failure of Pinkerton, Rivers may be saying to the world that Weezer is no more or less a band that plays catchy music. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that message, and it’s a viable long-term strategy.
"Don't Let Go" opens the album, and the sing-along reminds me of Billy Idol's "Dancing With Myself". "Hash Pipe" is the single, and while I like it more than "Undone (The Sweater Song)", I'm still cynical as to why it was chosen as the most marketable song on the album. The guitar riff is a gimmick, a Secret Agent Man take on the Walk Like An Egyptian riffs The Offspring cashed in on. The line "I've got my Hash Pipe" is what the stoners are supposed to latch on to, in the same way kids used to scream "Hot tramp, I love you so" every time "Rebel Rebel" played. It's another example of lowest common denominator marketing. The other songs are serviceable, my favorite being "Simple Pages" and "Glorious Day".
The Green Album is pretty good when judged on its own merits. Strident Weezer fans seemingly want something else. The griping on message boards is something fierce. I think it's funny when nerds get riled up. Tee hee (snort, chortle).
Weezer - 1-6-02 new album demos (review) - At weezer.com you can download videos, demos and fan-submitted bootlegs until your black-rimmed coke-bottle glasses explode. Last week I pulled off these thirteen tracks, and now there's thirty. Why did Weezer do this? My first guess is that head Weez Rivers Cuomo wants feedback for the next album. He's an introspective person (there's a euphemism in there kids!), and maybe he realized that left to his solitude of blackened windows he wasn't creating the finished product he was hoping for. The big question is how to filter through the mountain of crazy and worthless responses. Maybe there's a core group of people he trusts and their responses are the only ones he reads.
The other possible reason would be brilliant if true. Since Weezer's fan base are computer geeks who know how to download music, why not flood the electronic world with endless versions of "unfinished" product? Why not make it more of a pain in the ass than it's worth find every finished track over the internet once the official CD comes out?
In these demos I hear a new wave power pop band with some lite cock rock leanings and a weird fascination with ‘50s doo wop. The emo interjections are here and there but may become more pronounced in the studio with louder guitar recordings. While some tracks are catchy, I don't see any reason to think the record will be anything spectacular, maybe at best as good as their last one. My advice would be to get either John or John (or maybe both John and John) from They Might Be Giants to produce the new album. Not to turn Weezer songs into TMBG tunes, but to tweak some needed clever eccentricity into it. I don't think it's in Weezer's best interest to put out another album of standard yet hummable retro-music with some crunchy guitar riffs.
Of the thirteen tracks I heard,
the faster power pop tracks were really good, the cock rock stuff will be
popular with people who like that stuff, and the ‘50s throwback stuff,
especially the ballad "December", is just weird.
Welt - "Broken" & "Lazy" (promo cassette review) (Dr. Dream): Two strong numbers from their new CD Broke Down. Produced by Bill Stevenson of Descendents fame), the singing is powerful and the music keeps up the pace. It’s commercial product to be sure but better than what comes from most California labels. It rocks without a whiff of metal or hard rock grandstanding. If the CD is as good as this they’ll have a winner. The cover art looks like a rip-off of what Joykiller's been using as their excuse for noir cool.
Welt - Broke Down & Better Days (CDs Review) (Doctor Dream): Broke Down is Welt's latest release. Better Days was their debut from 1995. Between then and now Welt replaced two members and upgraded their sound from the juvenilia of Lag Wagon & Face To Face to a richer Social Distortion feel that better suits the vocals. There's a distinct difference between all-ages bands and 21+ bar punk. Fat Wreck Chords owns the kiddie market, Epitaph likes to pretend they reach both constituencies, and many small labels vie for the drunks who would never attend a show that didn't serve booze. Welt's demographics are now in the Epitaph range, along with the cover art of their last CD.
The first Welt CD features chugga-chugga power chord pop and slappy drumming while Broke Down highlights tight Chicago-style drumming and a more concise lead guitar that's powerful yet capable of accentuating the melancholy of some of the lyrics. Welt is in the same company as Samiam and Crumbox - bands too mature for the all-ages crowd but also lacking the nihilistic vibe demanded from boozers who like a lot of rock'n'roll attitude in their punk. Bands like Welt also consistently rock too hard for the emo crowd who generally find loud music gets in the way of hearing themselves sigh.
Broke Down is a very good record with a lot of style, energy and sincerity. They've elected to mature their sound, and even though this makes them less marketable in today's punk marketplace I tip my hat to them for going for it and doing it well.
West Section Line - World Cities (7" review) (Sub Pop):49 cents and it comes in a thick cardboard fold-over sleeve with a hole in the middle like a TV screen, and there’s four inserts of various odd scenes to be seen in said screen. I haven't seen anything like this since early XTC's singles. The singer sounds like Bryan Ferry and the music ranges from Ry Cooder-style slide guitar instrumentals to Talking Heads-inspired alterna-folk rock with a whiff of grunge theatrics. It’s not bad though. I'll put this on a tape and never play the single again. I'll bet they do really long and dull jams in concert. You better believe it, buddy.
Wham-O - Coits (7" review) (Giardia): It was only 49 cents, but what the hell is this? There's no printing on the single and after a minute I'm still not sure what speed to play this. Some "person" is plunking strings on a cheap guitar and randomly hitting things with sticks - I think. Is this performance art? Side A is called "My Standard Inhibition Is Duck And F--k (edit)" and the B is "People Who Call Socks Stockings, They Deserve A Thoroughly Good Thrashing". That diddy is slightly different random string noodling I'm confident will have no end, just like it has no beginning or middle. Actually, there's a minute or so of dead air in the middle and then some slightly more coherent strumming. Call this expressionism or performance art or whatever, but it really stinks. This guy's dad wasted a lot of money having this pressed onto vinyl. I'm sure he's played coffee houses where the audience can't yell out "You Suck!" because they themselves are talentless poets and artists. Once again, I'm sickened that a dinosaur had to give her life just to make this platter of poop possible. Oh, I don't "get" it? Shut up, you hippie beatnik hipster. Take a bath, stop living off your parents, imported cigarettes don't make you cool, get a tan, wear pastels and take off those stupid fugging sunglasses. It's nighttime already.
The Wipers - Is This Real? (CD review) (Sub Pop): The Wipers are one of those legendary bands only a few people know about. Greg Sage is a legendary musician nobody's really heard of either. Most if not all of his solo work has been crap. They were one of Portland's first punk bands and received a respectful nod in the film Hype! Ladies and Gents, The Wipers!
Most of the Wipers catalog is garbage too, but this first album from 1979 is great. It perfectly blends new wave with hardcore. There's power, fury, and melody too! Who'da thunk it? And what cool lyrics - "I can't believe my eyes / Can't see so clearly / A thick dark cloud is hanging all about me / Suffocating me Suffocating me / Invasion from the outside / Works it's way inward / Feeling like a bead / Of cold ice forming into a chamber / Of lost illusion". Eloquent expressions of alienation were still rare in ‘79 and The Wipers wrapped them in well-crafted songs you could dance to. One of the coolest records to come out of the ‘70s and still a hidden gem. It mostly beats the crap out of the garbage coming out of Los Angeles and San Francisco at that time.
The Alien Boy EP from that same period is included in this CD reissue. These three songs are just as good as the album. Yep, definitely a classic. Don't buy this and then something else by these guys. Start and stop here.
Here's an e-mail rebuttal from Chris Bassett
I have to take exception to your "most of the Wipers catalog is garbage too." You see, most of their catalog is out of print -- so all you see is the later stuff --- which I would agree is way to mellow. You obviously haven't heard "Over the Edge", "Youth of America", or "Land of the Lost". "Over the Edge" is even better than "Is This Real", with guitar licks that put Sage on Guitar Magazine's greatest guitarists list. The title track from "Youth of America" is where punk meets Hendrix, and everybody wins. I dare anyone to not be jumping off the walls when hearing this track.
Also, the single "Better Off
Dead" is one the most explosive tracks that the
Wipers ever did. I crank this up in the car
when I want to drive 100 miles
an hour. You can still get this on the "Best of the
Wipers and Greg Sage"
- Send (CD review):
Wire has a
website. Excuse me while I look at it........and... done. 2003's
contains seven tracks from the two Burn and Read EP's (2002) plus four new ones,
appearing after twelve years of side projects, DJ work and fizz-diddling. It's a
great record and about fricking time.
In the last few years a few great bands decided to put their self-indulgence on the back-burner and release albums with relevance beyond the usual suspects of record store clerks and kool-aid drinkers. I thank The Rentals, The Strokes and every other band who enhanced nostalgia for a time when punk and new wave were variations on the same theme, and it wasn't a crime to dance and enjoy yourself. Wire were followers of the anti-art creed that dictated a band should never cater to the desires of their fans, and better yet to avoid all eye contact while you give 'em what they least want. Send is exactly what the people want, and Wire had to be aware that if their first album after twelve years was another The First Letter they might as well pack it in for good.
Grounded in walls of noise and straight ahead song structures, Send recalls the trifecta of their first three albums and adds the pounding intensity of Killing Joke. Drummer Robert Gotobed (no relation to Holly Golightly) is really a drummer here, as opposed to the percussionist of the early albums. "Comet" and "Read And Burn" are my favorite tracks. "Being Watched" has a funky Peter Gabriel feel but the lyrics are lame ("You like to be watched and be the watcher too"). "Nice Streets Above" and "Spent" have that Killing Joke zeitgeist while "You Can't Leave Now" is slow and gothy. "Half Eaten" sounds like the "The Name Song" ("Banana-fana-fo-fada"), which is great if you can do it with your friend's names. Be the hit of any post-punk progressive pop party.
Send is great. It's everything it should and needed to be. It's today, 1977 and next Tuesday. Buy it, copy it, and cut off people's heads with it like the alien bad guy in the Dolf Lundgren film I Come In Peace. Dolf has a master's degree in chemical engineering. So there.
Wire - Red Barked Tree (cd review): Wire has a new cd, and it has a name. That name is, Red Barked Tree. Wire is between a rock and a hard place like other bands of their age and reputation, torn between commercial considerations and the deliberate shunning of the same, walking the tightrope of giving people what they want (and expect) and what they need to see you're not just repeating yourself out of laziness and impotence.
Here in 2011 you have to cater to the far corners of your fan base if you want to sell enough to break even and entice them to see you on tour if you decide to make a living selling t-shirts. Wire's situation is precarious in that they've defined themselves based on a deconstructionist aesthetic of destroying rock and roll by tearing it apart, or something similarly meaningless. Wire didn't destroy anything and their deconstruction was minimal. Pink Flag, Chairs Missing and 154, their defining albums from 77 through 79, are based solidly on punk chords and post-punk. I bet there's even a direct line to Wire from Jonathan Richman. If you want to hear real destroyed rock music, start with this blog. The most insane Wire tune is "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" in comparison.
Red Barked Tree may not strike old Wire fans as revolutionary but it is very good in that it showcases the band's masterful commercial songwriting skills. Not commercial as in selling out to The Next Big Thing or The Big Thing Now, but delivering a 2011 Wire record that's on its own terms is as good as the first three Wire albums. After 20+ plus years wandering the desert of income-free self-discovery the band made a play for their old turf on 2003's Send, whose only fault might have been that Wire forgot they weren't Killing Joke. 2008's Object 47 was Wire's true comeback album, and if it came out a few years after 1979's 154 nobody would have blinked and everyone would talk about the first four Wire albums instead of the first three. Red Barked Tree is the next logical album after Object 47. Wire is smartly progressing by going back in time and continuing where they left off.
Song analysis isn't needed. Think of the first three Wire albums and Red Barked Tree will happily remind you of what was great about them. They're recreating what made them great. If that's not original enough for you, good luck on your endless hipster quest for the next best thing you can use to look down your nose at others (because you're a dick).
Wire - On Returning, 1977-1979 (CD review) (Restless): The British band Wire may be the most under-valued band in modern music history. To me right up there with Austin, TX's Big Boys. Part of the problem may be that nothing succeeds like endless repetition, and Wire were too pissy at heart for that. They began as a minimalist, DIY art-school punk band and progressed into a neo-goth, dance and spooky ambient outfit. I’m not a fan of most of their output, and to appreciate the spectrum of their work it helps to have eclectic tastes. Like the Ramones, their first three albums are masters of the punk genre. On Returning is a very good retrospective of their early work.
If you own a compilation of "77" UK punk, most any one will do, you'll find Wire's "I Am The Fly". Minor Threat fans know Wire through their cover of "12XU", and according to one source, there's at least twelve recorded versiosn of the melodic "Outdoor Miner". Always dismissive of their own fans, a Wire cover band called Ex Lion Tamer opened for them on their 1987 US tour. Other bands who’ve covered Wire include Big Black, Dag Nasty, fIREHOSE, The Insect Surfers, Die Kreuzen, Manic Hispanic, The Meat Puppets, New Bomb Turks, The Pink Lincolns, R.E.M., Rollins, Soulside, U2, and Yo La Tengo. The diversity of this list is a statement on Wire's diverse influence.
Wire didn't cover up their art school roots as did The Clash and others. They formed in the wake of a Sex Pistols performance, so they didn't have to defend themselves as bandwagon-hoppers like The Stranglers. They were against normal song structures and explained the abbreviated feel of some of their songs by saying "When the text ran out, it stopped". 1977's Pink Flag is a cornerstone of punk history - jagged, intense and intelligent. It was 21 songs in 40 minutes, which brought comparisons to The Ramones in theory if not practice. 78's Chairs Missing is slower, reflective, and more electronic. 79's 154, whose title was the number of live gigs the band had done up till that time, is a post-punk record with little of the energy of two years prior, but it’s still Wire at their best.
Wire broke up in 1979 in favor of solo projects, reframing periodically. They recently toured the US, even playing some of the moldies. On Returning contains 31 songs and is well worth your Nintendo money. I'd list favorite tracks but there's way too many. Sadly, today, Colin Newman runs a techno label, Bruce Gilbert goes by the moniker "DJ Beekeeper", and Robert Gotobed is an organic farmer.
Wives - Ask Me How (CD review) (Go Kart): The Wives were the best thing in the documentary Anything Boys Can Do..., which focused on female fronted bands in New York City. In that review I wrote that the Wives sounded like a hardcore take on the band X. This full-length is more diverse, at times throwing in Reagan Youth drumming (w/o the fuzz), Dead Kennedys guitar work that mimics the sung riff, jazz tempo shifts played as hard rock, and singing that never resorts to screams, no matter what thrash may be backing it. As no fan of constantly shifting punk I must say there were parts of most songs I either loved or wanted to forward through. If you're a fan of what I admit has to be a more interesting mix of tempos, this is one great CD. I think the Wives broke up, and based on these band pictures I swear the drummer is now playing with L.A.'s Snap-Her, a band with a similar approach.
X - Beyond & Back: The X Anthology (2 CDs review) (Elektra): X is a band we can discuss for ages, but I ain't getting any younger, so here's the deal. One day, like it or not, X will be remembered as America's best punk band, at least by the intelligentsia. Their importance and influence may not match The Ramones, The Velvet Underground, or The Stooges, but X's art, pedigree, and output will earn them the title in the year 3000. They broke up in the ‘80s but have reformed at various times to pay the rent. As I type this they seem to play every other weekend in LA.
Having made that grand statement, here's why, in no particular order: If you follow punk for (too) long, and I've met a busload of people who've made the trip, you inevitably trace the music back to its rebel roots in rockabilly. There is not a better rockabilly guitarist than X's Billy Zoom - he of the spread legs and frozen smile. Another plus for X in their future hall of fame bid is that critics like a clear line from rock's earliest days as threat to civil society to its most extreme expression of the die young and leave a self-mutilated corpse ethic - the American hardcore scene of the late ‘70s-early ‘80s. But, though X were the best and possibly most popular band from that era, they hated the violence, spitting and cretinism that smothered the art and culture out of the L.A. scene. X were poets, not hepatitis fetishists.
Another service rendered by X was how they put into sorry perspective the entire existence of the Stray Cats.
The Door's Ray Manzarek championed the band and produced their first four albums. He saw in X the next evolutionary step from what he saw as the poetic soul of Jim Morrison and the ‘60s. John Doe and Exene Cervenka met at a poetry reading, and they wrote songs that transcended their Beatnik-White Trash-Punk roots to become post-glamour L.A.'s answer to Woody Guthrie and Patsy Cline.
X appeared in two movies that painted them in totally different lights - Penelope Spheeris' Decline Of Western Civilization and the excellent documentary X: The Unheard Music. In Decline, the band is seen as degenerate losers. Exene comes across as a revolting artist/junkie with obsessive disorders. X:The Unheard Music presents the band as urban geniuses. The truth may be somewhere in the middle. The music they produced was, no matter what, pure genius.
Beyond and Back is a 46 track, two CD set that's 1/2 greatest hits, 1/2 oddities and collectibles. There’s nothing else to say except it's really good and there's no way you can't at least respect the heart, sweat and drunken tears that went into most of the songs. The liner notes are mostly thrown together testimonials, not worthy of such a thick booklet. If you prefer full-length records as to not lose precious context, Los Angeles and Wild Gift are available on one CD. Beyond and Back is a collector's dream and Exhibit A in my case that X will one day be seen as America's best punk band.
X-Ray Spex - Germfree Adolescents (CD review) (Virgin/Caroline): Spin magazine ranks this as the 19th most important alternative album of all time, which sounds about right if you just include the UK’s first wave. I haven't heard this in a long time, and I'm blown away by how great it is. This CD reissue contains their classic 1977 first single, "Oh Bondage Up Yours/I Am A Cliche"). "Oh Bondage", available on every old punk compilation ever minted, ranks just below the Damned's "New Rose" as the greatest UK Punk single. Poly Styrene screams, the band plays harder and faster pogo tunes than the Pistols ever could, and that saxophone, don't even get me started. There's no cooler instrument than the sax. Roxy Music made it swing. Bowie made it aggressive. X-Ray Spex made it punk as hell. The Psychedlic Furs owe their sax sound to the Spex. Siouxsie was still just a scenester when Poly was yelling through her massive braces. Hazel O'Connor is a watered-down version of Poly. The quality of the recording is top-notch. The inventiveness of the band is only bettered by Elvis Costello's Attractions. The lyrics are now considered standard angst, but twenty years ago the following from "Identity" was pretty strong stuff, "When you look in the mirror/Do you smash it quick/Do you take the glass/And slash your wrists/Did you do it for fame/Did you do it in a fit/Did you do it before/You read about it".
Poly Styrene left music to join the Hare Krishnas, and she recorded solo albums in ‘86 and ‘90. Two other members went on to form Classix Nouveau, and another started Loverboy. That last one just made me burp up some bile.
Zeke - 4-song 2-7"s (review) (Junk): This sounds like a two-band split EP instead of just tunes from Zeke. There’s one song on each of the sides. All four songs could have easily fit onto one disc, but hey, what's done is done. It’s one white vinyl too. Oooooo. "Slut" and "Overkill" cover the same territory as the Dwarves. Loud, fast, and 1-2- fugg you. "Mystery Train" and "Mainline" are cock-rock, what I imagine came from Sammy Hagar and Twisted Sister. I don't listen to that crap myself, so I'm just guessing. There’s no guitar solos and castrated singing, but everything else sounds like spandex and long hair. I like the Dwarves-esquee rippers well enough. I'm sorry they're not on the same 7". I could have sacrificed the other one to my ongoing experiments with the microwave oven.
Zeke - Flat Tracker (CD review) (Scooch Pooch): I bought this as a promo in a cardboard sleeve. If this is the artwork that comes with it, uh, then here's the artwork that came with it [editor’s note: I scanned in the sleeve when I wrote the review]. Zeke hail from Seattle and have a thing for car racing, which may explain their logo of two checkered flags (no, they're not a ska band) and song titles like "Flat Track", "Super Six" and "Daytona". They sound for the most part like a poor man's The Devil Dogs, The New Bomb Turks, and all other bands that appeal to punks who drink cheap American beer at the bowling alley bar and dream about Las Vegas, evil women, and muscle cars. Wearing Ed Norton hats and smoking stinky cigars are big too. This is 21 & over bar punk with no appeal to The Kids. While most of the songs are fast & furious, Zeke also like to do slow, cock-rock numbers that remind me of The Mentors without the depravity and sense of humor. Any song that forces you to make the Trident sign with your hands and pump them in the air is a cock-rock anthem. If that's Punk to you, then Rock On.... Dudes!?
Zero Boys - Vicious Circle (LP review) (Toxic Shock): One of the true hidden treasures of early ‘80s hardcore, Indianapolis' Zero Boys combined elements of X, D.I., The Angry Samoans, 7 Seconds and others to create this 1982 collection of winners, better than what came before and after it. "Civilizations Dying", "Livin' In the 80's", "Mom's Wallet" - all classics. I put the Zero Boys up there with the Big Boys as a band more people should know. The Zero Boys fell in and out of existence, and years later put out another record with a yellow cover. It sucks a lot. It has nothing in common with this earlier work. Two members joined Toxic Reasons and singer Paul Mahern went to the Datura Seeds. Whoever they are. Find Vicious Circle and you'll be one punky camper.
Zipgun – 8 Track Player (CD review) (Empty): I assume this band is long gone because every internet link to their name is long dead. I also suspect they were from Germany. Either that or a small German label co-released this for whatever reason. Zipgun reminds me of what used to come out of Minneapolis/St. Paul’s Twin Tone label in the ‘80s – bands like Soul Asylum and The Replacements. Earlier bands with this same rocking sound include the Volcano Suns, the Nils, Wire Train, Red Rockers and a thousand other garage bands with Johnny Cash fixations. Zipgun add some oi-ish vocal phrasings which makes this more interesting than other bands of their ilk. I don’t hear a lot of variety in the songs but that just means this isn’t what I live and breath for. Everyone has their own opinion on this, but true originality hopped a steamer out of town a long time ago. Not bad for the 99 cents I tossed on the counter at the used store.
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