March 2008 Archives

HorrorPops: Kiss Kiss Kill Kill

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I've always been a sucker for Scandinavian punk. I mean, Ebba Gron's 1978-1982 anthology was probably the first real punk rock record I ever owned, so I hold a certain reverence for bands hailing from the Nordic lands. Years after I first got a hold of that cassette, towards the end of my high school career when I lived in Norway, I started seriously exploring the Scandinavian indie scene, discovering Turbonegro, Flying Crap, Kjott, Captain Not Responsible, Slobax, Satanic Surfers, Adhesive, and a slew of other awesome groups. Strangely, though, Denmark's HorrorPops didn't pop up on my radar until "Going to the Disco?" went into heavy rotation on the Sirius Punk channel a few months ago. And, boy, what a band to miss.

Equal parts pop punk, new wave, rockabilly, and surf punk, HorrorPops evoke images of the Cramps, Groovie Ghoulies, and Misfits while somehow managing not to sound even remotely derivative. With Patricia Day plucking away at her custom upright bass and playing the part of the tattooed femme fatale to a T, HorrorPops look about as cool as they sound. For lovers of bass-driven rock, especially, Kiss Kiss Kill Kill is a fantastically eerie, delightfully moody album foregrounding one of the more neglected instruments in punk.

Highlights:

Track 1. "Thelma & Louise." If that dreadful Crossroads movie found inspiration in this song, there's a good chance it would have been cool.

Track 4. "Heading for the Disco?" Hilariously snarky lyrics about a Bret Michaels-obsessed club goer sung snottily over a a great psychobilly bassline.

Track 5. "Kiss Kiss Kill Kill." The ghost of Pat Benatar (though, Benatar's status as a living person suggests "ghost" mightn't be the the best word) seems to haunt this strangely eighties-sounding song.

Track 7. "Hitchcock Starlet." A beautiful ballad showcasing the more melodic range of Day's seductive voice. In fact, I can't help but think Nick Cave would have wanted to do a duet with Day on Murder Ballads had he heard this song before heading to the studio.

Track 9. "HorrorBeach Pt. II." A masterfully creepy surfpunk song.

Track 11. "Keep My Picture!" Another of Day's sultrier vocal performances.

Sobriquet Grade: 89 (B+).

The Distillers: Coral Fang

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Despite Gil Norton's slick production, the Distillers' third and final album, 2003's Coral Fang, retains much of the saw-toothed fury for which the band is famous. Of course, even the strongest belt sander in the shop couldn't smooth out Brody Dalle's vocals -- indeed, the former Mrs. Armstrong's voice tears a jagged hole through the album's aural fabric with a gravelly ferocity beyond anything her ex-husband could muster, even if he'd smoked his way through a crate of Pall Malls.

That said, while Dalle continues to spit her trademark venom throughout the album, Coral Fang does lack some of the bite for which The Distillers (2000) and Sing Sing Death House (2002) earned praise. This tamer, poppier sound is particularly evident in the record's latter half, when acoustic guitars and melodic backing vocals soften the sonic blow showcased on tracks like "Drain the Blood" and "Dismantle Me."

Highlights:

Track 1. "Drain the Blood." A bilious screed penned by a woman "living on shattered faith" among murderers and predators. Nice.

Track 2. "Dismantle Me." A hook-laden, hard-driving raw nerve of a tune, reminiscent of the the band's earlier sound.

Track 5. "Coral Fang." The album's title track is pure punk: fast, loud, and damn pissed. With a near-perfect balance of melodic ohhs-wah-oohs and blood-curdling screeching sung over solid 77-style riffs, "Coral Fang" captures the energy of the eponymous album better than any other song on the record.

Track 6. "The Hunger." Leave it to Dalle to transform what initially sounds like Tom Petty playing "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" into the pounding catharsis of a scorned lover slashing at the stifling loneliness closing in on her. It's also a perfect lead-in to "Hall of Mirrors," the album's beautifully vitriolic break-up song.

Track 8. "Beat Your Heart Out." An incredibly catchy single, "Beat Your Heart Out" continues to enjoy a good deal of airtime on Sirius's Punk channel, as well it should.

Sobriquet Grade: 92 (A-). This is about as close to an A as an A-minus record can get. It's not quite groundbreaking, but it's great nonetheless. I have to admit, I love the fact that when some people started throwing fits about the album's original cover art (a crucified woman, nude save for a pair of stiletto heels, wounded in Christ-like fashion), the Distillers replaced the offending image with a crowd of cute, furry animals. One of the best albums of the decade.

Hüsker Dü: New Day Rising

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If the release of Zen Arcade in 1984 established Husker Du as America's most ambitious indie rock outfit, New Day Rising (1985) ensured that the Minneapolis trio would be remembered as one of the most influential as well.

Falling more or less smack-dab in the middle of Husker Du's progression from hardcore punkers to melodic college alt-rockers, New Day Rising preserves the speed and energy prevalent on albums like Land Speed Record and Metal Circus while showcasing the band's increasingly keen pop sensibility.

Although the songwriting rivalry that had formed between Bob Mould and Grant Hart was beginning to take an emotional toll on the band, the pair managed to harness their aggressions and channel it into a concentrated effort to out-write each other. The result, fortunately, was a slew of genre-defining tracks.

Highlights:

Track 1. "New Day Rising." With Hart's steady pounding of the drums as its backbone, the album's title track features Mould's trademark fuzz pedal guitar work and the band's uncanny ability to transform seemingly mundane language (in this case, the song's three-word title) into a gut-wrenching expression of anguish and desperation. Initially reminiscent of a religious mantra, Mould's repetition of "new day rising" accumulates a frantic immediacy as the song progresses. As Hart and Greg Norton add their own oohs, aahs, and new day risings to the mix, Mould seemingly looses what little sense of composure he had at the song's opening and his vocals degenerate into primal shouts as powerful as any Kurt Cobain would muster a decade later. As crescendo piles upon crescendo, "New Day Rising" introduces listeners to the sort of raw-nerve emotion Husker Du alternately contains and unleashes over the course of the album.

Track 2. "The Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill." The perfect bridge between the intensity of "New Day Rising" and the decidedly poppy "I Apologize."

Track 4. "Folk Lore." Treading the fine line between restraint and catharsis, "Folk Lore" could very well be a microcosm of the entire album.

Track 6. "Celebrated Summer." Frantic and mournful, "Celebrated Summer" remains one of the band's most popular songs.

Track 11. "Books About UFOs." A beautiful example of Grant Hart's songwriting, this track foregrounds melody and showcases the sort of upbeat, quirky lyrics that define his style and provide the optimistic yin to Mould's acerbic yang.

Sobriquet Grade: 95 (A).

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