GAM Produktion, 1980
With the exception of 1981's Ung & Söt, a 7-song cassette that was limited to two hundred copies and a pair of compilation appearances ("Mode" can be found on Bloodstains Across Sweden #3 and both "Hasse Parasit" and "Mode" appear on Killed By Death Vol. 41), Von Gam's recorded output is limited to this little artifact.
Although Von Gam's lineup for most of the band's 100+ shows consisted of Anders Karlsson on guitar, Bo Lindberg on bass, and Jan Vestergren on drums and vocals, Per Åke "Sticky Bomb" Holmberg (better known in punk circles as the drummer for Kriminella Gitarrer) appears on the recording as a backing vocalist. Holmberg's sonic signature is perhaps most noticeable, however, in the considerable amount of reverb he added to the disk during the mixing process.
The A-side, a two-minute, six-second scorcher, features a recurring bit of jangling lead guitar, a driving, mid-tempo rhythm section, and gritty vocals punctuated by the chant-like refrain of "hasse, hasse parasit." Despite the lo-fi recording, the listener gets the distinct impression that the track would kick ass live. The B-side, while not as memorable as "Hasse Parasit," is a pretty solid bit of straight-forward (and totally danceable) 77-style punk. Well worth a listen.
Sobriquet Grade: 78 (C+).
Skids Records, 1979
Although the Molls are perhaps best known as the band for whom Peter Prescott drummed immediately prior to joining Mission of Burma, the band's sole release, 1979's "White Stains" b/w "Is Chesty Dead?" suggests that, had they stuck it out, they would be much more than a footnote in post-punk history books. Alas, it was not to be. Fortunately, though, we have this relic to savor.
The disk's A-side, "White Stains," is easily the record's stand-out track, though the B-side is anything but a throwaway. Still, I'm a real sucker for a solid deployment of that classic rock 'n' roll formula of staggering the introduction of the rhythm section, a tactic the Molls pull off brilliantly on "White Stains." This strategy often benefits bands hoping to instill an impression of gradually-accumulating energy in the listener, though the Molls don't exactly lack puissance. In fact, by the time the drums kick in around the 0:08 second mark, the opening riff has already created a sense of the barely-constrained frenzy upon which the song derives much of its force. Six seconds later, with the force of a carefully-orchestrated demolition detonation, the bass blows the track open and what sounds like an amphetamine-charged Jerry Lee Lewis rushes in to add a pulsing keyboard riff to the already throbbing mix. The vaguely anxious vocals only amplify the track's increasing sense of agitated desperation, which continues to build for the better part of two minutes before ultimately sinking into a wash of feedback as the song swallows itself whole.
The B-side is a creepy art-punk homage to the still-living Chesty Morgan, an exotic dancer and pornographic actress renown for her exceptionally large breasts. By turns catchy and cacophonous, the jangling, screechy "Is Chesty Dead?" features playfully deranged vocals that will delight as many listeners as it will annoy.
Sobriquet Grade: 86 (B).
Note: Special thanks to the Molls' Tom Doran for contacting us with a correction to the original review!
Square Wave, 2007
Although Sweet Rot may not bowl anyone over with their relatively generic brand of lo-fi garage punk, their Drug Fiend EP is nevertheless worth a few spins on the old turntable. Indeed, while this Orange County outfit's sound is a largely predictable admixture of raw vocals and fuzzy guitars with rockabilly and surf rock accents, the band's brilliant incorporation of well-placed, bizarrely ghoulish backing vocals (a feature especially effective on the EP's closing track) really makes this disk stand out from the rapidly-expanding pile of indistinguishable lo-fi recordings littering your neighborhood record shop.
Track 3. "Wouldn't You Like To Know (What I Did With Your Mom)?" This is what it would sound like if a bunch of punk kids got stoned and decided to hire a two-bit (and perhaps lobotomized) Elvis impersonator to try and imitate Lux Interior and Dave Vanian. Somehow, it works magnificently.
Sobriquet Grade: 79 (C+).
ABCD/Let's Get Rid of
Something of an early L.A. punk supergroup, Randoms consisted of X's John Doe on bass, the Screamers' K.K. Barret on drums, and Pat Garrett (Black Randy & the Metrosquad) on guitar and vocals. And you can tell: despite the relatively lo-fi recording, the band sounds remarkably tight. In fact, the gritty nature of the production probably enhances the disk, adding a layer of sonic filth to the decidedly New York flavor of the A-side and just enough distortion to the buzzing B-side to endow it with the sort of rough-edged sound that I associate with some of the best producers of the 1980s D.I.Y. scene.
Between the song's comparatively spare instrumentation and Garrett's slightly drawled vocals, "ABCD" certainly recalls the decadent spirit of post-New York Dolls Johnny Thunders, but the track is actually much closer to the playfully affected innocence and girl-chasing spirit of pop-punk than to the nihilistic drug-laden gloom of glamish Heartbreakers copycats. The B-side, on the other hand, is straight-up angry punk rock (the contemptuousness with which Garrett enunciates "all the money left on Wall Street" and "the whores left on 42nd Street," for instance, is pure bile) with an intense bassline, buzzsawing guitars, and crashing drums. Indeed, while Randoms do sound like a different band on each side of the disk, they sound like two really good outfits, and the record marks a solid -- if not great -- debut release for the seminal Dangerhouse label.
Sobriquet Grade: 83 (B).
Other People's Music / EMI, 2000
A dozen or so years ago, when the Internet was still a fairly novel concept and relatively few people knew even the most rudimentary bits of web design, I interviewed Vic Gedris, the Canadian web designer who had assembled the first major directory of punk pages online, World Wide Punk. Vic's efforts were important because he was really one of the first people to show punks that, while the Web still had a reputation for being somewhat prohibitive to non-techies, the same DIY ethic that had defined the 1980s indie underground could be applied to this new medium. The result of Vic's hard work was a sleek, easily navigable directory of bands, zines, labels, and other punk stuff that was, while it lasted, the best punk site online. Still, while I did ask Vic about web design and the Web's place in the punk community, the thing I remember most from the interview (if you're interested, it appears in Sobriquet #8 and Maximum Rocknroll #172) had nothing to do with the Internet. What I still recall was Vic's enthusiasm for the Forgotten Rebels, a Hamilton-based band I hadn't heard of previously. His passion for the Rebels made an impression on me and put the band on the list of bands I kept an eye out for when record shopping. Strangely, despite their popularity, it took me more than a decade (two years of which I spent in a Canadian metropolis) for me to find any of their recordings. Nobodys Hero's, the band's 2000 offering was my formal introduction to this playfully trashy, undeniably catchy outfit and, while I like some of their earlier recordings (In Love With the System or This Ain't Hollywood, for instance) better, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for this sleazy slab of glam-punk, even if the grammar on the cover is painfully inept.* In addition to the band's standard fare of sleaze -- songs about pedophilia ("Hockeynite"), teenage prostitution ("Highschool Hookers"), and, well, let's just say other sexual indiscretions ("Dickwart") -- the Rebels deliver solid covers of the Avengers' "The American in Me" and the Vibrators' "Baby, Baby." While only a handful of songs would qualify as stand-out, radio-friendly tracks, the entire album, as a single work, is remarkably consistent and there really isn't a dud on it.
Track 1. "Hockeynite." A double entendre-laden ("he shoots, he scores!" and "he likes high sticking and body checks") song about a pedophile ("Dirty Daddy") preying on a very young boy ("he likes you 'cause you're nine!"), "Hockeynite" is the most immediately catchy song on the album. There's something so decadently punk about a song that makes you want to sing along and take a shower. Then again, the best black humor should make you feel guilty for laughing . . .
Track 3. "No Place to Hide." The sense of nostalgic urgency this song conjures up is fantastic.
Track 11. "Wasted." A paean to drinking oneself into a stupor, "Wasted" is basically a sped-up roots rock song with simple, precise drums, chugging guitars and lyrics charged with notes of regret and pained resignation. Not surprisingly, it has a vaguely Social Distortion-esque quality to it, which is always a good thing.
Track 12. "Baby, Baby." Some songs are just so good that they'd be the highlights of any band's album. "Baby, Baby," like "Teenage Kicks" or "Another Girl, Another Planet," is one of those rare tracks and the Forgotten Rebels do the Vibrators' classic justice, playing it a bit harder than the original, but preserving the sublimity of the tune.
*Note: The grammarian in me cringes at the title; I can't help it. One could almost forgive the omission of the apostrophe in the first word, but the fact that the second presents the singular possessive instead of the simple plural of "hero" is kinda hard to take.
Sobriquet Grade: 85 (B).
Mutant Pop, 1997
I don't know what happened to the Frantics between 1996's Playing Dumb and this EP, but whatever it was, wow. Whether another year together helped the band cohere into a tighter unit or if it's simply a matter of a finding a label stable enough to finance a higher-quality recording, Downtown Delirium marks a significant refinement in the band's sound. Speeding up the tempo, tightening the rhythm section, and adding a modicum of grit to the snot-drenched vocals would have made the decent songs on Playing Dumb sound better, but when these qualities are combined with the vastly improved songwriting on Downtown Delirium, you end up with one hell of a pop-punk disk.
Track 1. "Stuck With Being the One to Hate." Although the twenty-plus seconds of audio clips with which the band introduces the song are on the gratuitous side, "Stuck With Being the One to Hate" is a solid, if unexceptional, opener.
Track 2. "Downtown Delirium." The title track is great. Fast, loud, and snotty enough to make you want to grab a few extra handkerchiefs before heading out the door.
Track 3. "Trina's on a Postcard." Backed by a hard staccato beat and punctuated by precisely-timed eh, eh ehs, Kevin Mac delivers one of the best vocal performances of his career: both gritty and adenoidal, his singing will make you want to belt out the words along with him - and take him to an ear, nose, and throat specialist.
Track 4. "Slightly Modified Stick People." A bit on the heavier side, the disk's closing track is also its punkest. Play this loud.
Sobriquet Grade: 84 (B)
Wedge Records, 1996
The Frantics (not to be confused with the Seattle band of the same name or the Frantix, the Denver-based hardcore outfit) were a fairly successful snotcore band during the latter half of the 1990s. On Playing Dumb, the band's second 7' EP, the Frantics churn out four solid tunes decrying petty high school behavior, celebrating trouble-making grade schoolers, and championing the sort of punk rock born of slackerdom that would make the band one of the subgenre's most consistently fun groups over the next five years. Nevertheless, with the exception of a few moments on "Gimme A Doller Inc." and the title track, there's not a whole lot of pogo-worthy music on this disk. While the band's trademark buzzy guitars and nasally vocals are out in full force, Playing Dumb pales in comparison to the band's subsequent release, 1997's thoroughly rocking Downtown Delirium. Still, for a bunch of kids barely out of high school, Playing Dumb is an admirable achievement that showcases the early development of one of the snottier pop-punk bands of the late nineties.
Although the mixing on Playing Dumb is somewhat uneven (Anthony Rampant's bass is almost lost on "Bad Little Boy," for instance, and Kevin Mac's vocals would benefit from a bit more volume at times), the record is good enough to dust off for a listen every once in a while.
Sobriquet Grade: 78 (C+).
For someone who teaches a college English course centered around literary and cinematic depictions of the apocalypse, there's an inherently pleasing quality to a record as decidedly eschatological as "Winter," Amebix's 1983 sophomore release. The A-side, the brooding, bass-heavy, and anxiety-ridden title track, is an unremittingly bleak portrait of a nuclear winter: pillars of black smoke lead from the grey, lifeless earth to the grey, sunless sky. What human life remains following the unnamed calamity that has decimated the globe struggles to fend off the unabating chill that has descended. And all this is delivered in Aphid's primal growl, which sounds more like the last attempt of a freshly eviscerated man to capture in words the horror he sees as the light of life fades to black than anything approaching singing. A harrowing performance through-and-through.
"Beginning of the End," like the A-side, layers a droning guitar over a more urgent, even agitatedly intense, rhythm section to evoke an acutely unsettling mood. Lyrically, the song envisions a not-so-distant future in which "the machine," an unholy amalgam of corporate and governmental greed, systematically smothers individual freedom, bringing about a desolate wasteland where abject starvation and animal desperation corrode social ties, pitting neighbor against neighbor and parent against child.
Sobriquet Grade: 94 (A).
Out of Gas
Fifteen years after its release, Hudson's "Out of Gas" EP sounds woefully dated. Like quite a few of their contemporaries, Hudson played a rather generic brand of melodic hardcore that, at its best, evoked Wig Out at Denko's-era Dag Nasty. At its worst, it could come across as a sloppy aural vessel for immature sloganeering. At its most mediocre -- and Hudson falls squarely into this category -- it sounded like a talented group of people rushing into the studio a bit prematurely, struggling to play music before having codified their sonic signature. In other words, "Out of Gas" comes apart at the seams. While the band tends to stick to their hardcore template, their excursions into poppier riffs and melodic vocalization do not always work and, as a result of these poorly incorporated elements, the end product sounds less like a hybridized fusion of compatible genres than an unfinished pastiche. This is not to say that there are not some really good moments on the record, but neither are there any standout tracks. The least interesting of the lot, a cover of Generation X's "Dancing With Myself," could have salvaged the record had the band put a bit more effort into transforming the track into a hardcore version of a '77 Britpunk classic. Instead, it sounds stale and almost hesitant, as if the band can't decide whether or not they like the original. Sprinkled with the obligatory audio clips lifted from movies (in this case, Reservoir Dogs, Sixteen Candles, and Strange Brew), "Out of Gas" is about as average a disk as you could ask for. Not bad, certainly. But neither do you have to worry about getting songs stuck in your head.
Sobriquet Grade: 72 (C-).