January 2009 Archives

Shock Nagasaki: Year of the Spy

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Shock Nagasaki

Year of the Spy
Rebellion Records, 2006
TKO Records, 2006

Originally from the, uh, "legendary" punk rock incubator of Syracuse, NY, Shock Nagasaki wisely relocated to the friendlier (musically- speaking, at least) confines of Brooklyn and promptly made a name for themselves as one of the more overtly British street punk-inspired American bands. Indeed, Shock Nagasaki sound perfectly at home on the TKO Records roster, resembling as they do such labelmates as Slaughter and the Dogs and the Angelic Upstarts. Likewise, you hear echoes of Chelsea, the Business, and several dozen other second-wave British legends on this disk. The Clash? The Buzzcocks? You name 'em; someone will probably say that Shock Nagasaki sounds similar.

And they'll probably be right. Shock Nagasaki is an exceptionally polished outfit, capable of appropriating the anthemic singalongs of your favorite oi! band and the punkified glam-rock guitar riffs of the '77 sound to compose what amounts to a record that feels like it was released a solid quarter-century ago. In England.

Ultimately, if one is to find fault with the band, it can only be in the form of accusations of derivativeness. Still, even if Year of the Spy does sound like a collaboration between the Business and 999, it's still a damn good record.

Highlights:

Track 3. "Palisades and Renegades." Easily one of the album's most sing-alongable tracks, "Palisades and Renegades" ends with what may be one of the best bits of anthemic rock 'n' roll I've heard in years.

Track 5. "Classified Information." Another song, another immediately catchy chorus with just about as many hooks as a guitar lover could ever want.

Track 10. "Hit the Beach." This was my introduction to the band. Possibly the record's most radio-friendly track, "Hit the Beach" is a searingly sarcastic take on military recruitment. It's one hell of a rocker, too, complete with a killer lead guitar and seriously catchy choruses.

Egg Hunt: Egg Hunt

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Egg Hunt

Egg Hunt
Dischord Records, 1986

Egg Hunt was a one-off side project put together by Ian MacKaye and Jeff Nelson three years after the pair had last played together in Minor Threat. Dubbing themselves and the lone seven-incher resulting from the collaboration "Egg Hunt" because the whole thing went down over Easter weekend (while the duo was in England meeting with Southern Studios owner John Loder to discuss the distribution of the still-young Dischord's releases in Europe), the disk contains two songs:

Track 1. "Me and You." A song MacKaye and Nelson had been jamming on for several years prior to the Egg Hunt project, "Me and You" is a slower, droning track dominated by mesmeric, loop-like guitar riffs. Although there are bits of spoken word sprinkled throughout the recording, MacKaye and Nelson's mantra-like delivery of "me and you" for the duration of the song combines with the gradually increasing intensity of the guitars and drums to create a trance-like effect that eventually culminates in a speedy crescendo of pure headbanging bliss.

Track 2. "We All Fall Down." MacKaye actually wrote the B-side for his first post-Minor Threat band, Embrace, who decided against recording the track. Significantly, "We All Fall Down" marks a transitional period in MacKaye's development as a vocalist. Although there are traces of the vitriolic bark one associates with his earlier bands, the perceptive listener will stop for a second, perhaps blink a moment, and recognize that MacKaye is actually singing. Most impressive, however, is the complexity of MacKaye and Nelson's instrumentation, which anticipates the stunning trajectory of the former's songwriting in Fugazi. If the restrictive walls of mid-eighties hardcore were still standing when Egg Hunt went into the studio, they were rubble by the time the stylus lifted after "We All Fall Down" finished, heralding the arrival of Fugazi's revitalization of the DC scene.

Sobriquet Grade: 89 (B+).

Captain Not Responsible: Self-Titled EP

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I'm pretty certain I picked up Captain Not Responsible's self-titled EP in one of the two CD stores I used to frequent when I attended high school in Sogndal, but I'm not sure which one. What I do remember, though, was immediately liking what I heard when I "test-listened" to the CD up at the counter.

Despite the band's rather irritating choice of cover art, Captain Not Responsible is not the sort of unintelligent hard rock record you might expect from a band choosing to place an image of disgraced Pennsylvania State Treasurer R. Budd Dwyer committing suicide on a record sleeve. (For those people unfamiliar with R. Budd Dwyer, the 47-year-old politician killed himself during a televised press conference in 1987 after being accused of having accepted a three hundred thousand dollar kickback and facing more than a half-century in prison. Images of the man placing a revolver in his mouth and subsequent footage of his brains splattering on the wall behind him have long been staples of shock rock bands attempting to find outrageous material to screen during performances). Rather than the garden-variety lyrics about violence and assorted bits of tough-guy posturing, the boys in Captain Not Responsible sing about the idiocy of fascism (I know, not the freshest of thematic ground, but give them credit for trying), the pathetic tendency of some people to wallow in self-pity and for others to use alcohol abuse as an excuse for inaction. Truthfully, the lyrical content really makes the record stand out from the pack of decent-to-good hardcore bands playing in the mid-nineties. Still, it's all backed up by all the chugging guitars and gruff vocals could ever ask for. Crank the volume up on this one.

Track Listing:

Track 1. "Self Pity." A staple on my radio program in the nineties, this song is so anti-emo that you just have to love it. A tale of a guy who is "so in love with his misery," "so in love with his tragedy," "so in love with the tears in his eyes" that he's too blinded to appreciate what good life has to offer. Of course, "nothing really matters to an asshole, anyway," so he just wallows and wallows. Seriously, isn't there someone we'd just love to shout this to? And aren't they exactly the person who, although he or she "could be someone," won't ever do a thing about it because they're "just in love with [their] selfish fucking self"? The singer, who has presumably suffered from an equally solipsistic bout of depression, tries to shake some sense into the auditor, though we sense the effort is futile. Fortunately, "Self Pity" is a skull-thumping slab of punk fury, so some good has come of it all. Catharsis rarely sounds this exhilarating.

Track 2. "The Latest New Order." Though I suspect some cynical listeners will roll their eyes when "The Latest New Order" comes on the stereo, claiming that the track is simply the obligatory bit of anti-Nazi sentiment many hardcore bands (in a scene polarized by political tensions between a minority fascist element and a larger anti-fascist demographic) penned to clarify their positions on certain sociopolitical issues, Captain Not Responsible does attempt to take a slightly more unique angle to this well-trod thematic territory. Sung in the first-person, "The Latest New Order" recounts the story of a "warrior" of the "master race" as he initially welcomes the Nazi doctrine before ultimately discovering, at the hands of a brutalizing element of self-purging "purifiers" among his former peers, that anyone can be dehumanized by inhuman doctrine. While images of alcohol-fueled brutality and violence-inspired priapism are certainly unoriginal, the band's attempt to depict how "rules changed overnight" and the political climate one embraces can suddenly turn on the formerly enthusiastic acolyte is less tired an approach to the topic. In the end, "The Latest New Order" is an admirably impassioned screed attacking fundamentalism in such a way as to be both specific in focus and applicable to a much broader range of modes of thought. The chugging hard rock beat and gruff vocals, of course, make for a good song, too.

Track 3. "Amnesia." The EP's third number is an anti-nihilist rant, cynically accusing humanity of complacently refusing to learn from its past mistakes and, thus, doomed to the tragic repetition of foibles great and small.

Track 4. "No Colombo Tonight." Another accusatory tune, "No Colombo Tonight" attacks the well-documented tendency for mass media to transform horrific news into infotainment that will keep viewers enjoying what, for others, is a life-shattering ordeal. Furthermore, it laments the ways in which "a cheering crowd" can allow someone to make "himself a name / with bigger gun than brain."

Track 5. "This Might Be My Second to Last Beer." Another first-person account, "This Might Be My Second Last Beer" expresses the speaker's sense of existential futility and attempts to justify his or her alcoholic surfeit as a legitimate response to his inability to overcome life's insurmountable challenges or to effect any perceptible change in the world. Sensing that he can never really get what he wants, the singer reveals that, like many a stereotypical activist, he is more prone to talking about the changes he'd like to make than he is to actually take action. Thus, s/he takes a "second last beer," thereby prolonging the period of bitching and moaning while delaying the moment he or she must walk the walk.

Track 6. "Another Day." In many ways the bleakest song on the record, "Another Day" picks up where "This Might Be My Second to Last Beer" leaves off. The musings of someone who keeps waiting for some vague future time during which action will be possible only to realize that every day that passes is, in effect, the "trad[ing of] a handful of something / For a whole lot of nothing at all," "Another Day" is yet another critique of the band's favorite target: the apathetic, self-pitying individual who, despite the potential for real action, squanders his or her life waiting.

Batfoot!: Melodic Tardcore

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Batfoot!

Melodic Tardcore
It's Alive Records, 2008*

I'm always a tiny bit wary of records sent for review, largely because there's always a part of me that feels bad if I don't like the stuff sent my way, as was recently the case with the History of Guns's Acedia. You see, as someone who works in a creative field, I know how much work and emotion goes into something you bring into being out of the nothing of non-being. And that, in itself is beautiful. I also know how it feels when something you've made doesn't meet with a positive reception and, while all artists understand that his or her work will never be universally loved, it can still hurt when that reality is hammered home. So, again, I always cringe just a little when I hit "play."

Fortunately, I like Batfoot! so I don't have to feel bad about anything. In fact, I like everything about this little EP. From the second I saw the crudely-drawn cartoon cover (it kinda looks like it was made with Microsoft's Paint program) of smiling, biker jacket-clad kids intently playing music (without cords or amps!) to the second "Get Outta My Face" faded to silence some fifteen minutes later, I was smiling.

Batfoot! is a band that really gets the pop-punk formula and plays the music the right way. As someone who has fond memories of the mid-nineties pop-punk scene, I love when bands remind me of Screeching Weasel, the Queers, the Riverdales, the Teen Idols, and other Ramonesy groups from that era. And Batfoot! does so instantly.

So, I am going to list the things I love about this record:

1. The grammar. The exclamation point following the band's simultaneously nonsensical and endearing name is not pretentious like the one following Against Me! or, God-forbid, punctuating Panic! at the Disco. If anything, it makes you realize how seriously some bands take themselves when, really, they shouldn't.

2. The cover art. It's so amaturish but, at the same time, it makes you want to love the music. The guys look like they're having the time of their lives and, indeed, when you hear "Batfoot!'s having fun" on the opening track, you'll be inclined to believe them. I think they really are having the time of the lives.

3. The lyrics. On "Judy's Got a Girlfriend," Batfoot! takes the Ramones' Judy and Sheena and makes them a couple. And the frustrated vocalist wants to date Judy. This is the same sort of silliness you'd expect of the Queers or Screeching Weasel. And, as an added bonus, the song's reference to "bubblegum" hearkens back to the Ramones' "Rockaway Beach." Elsewhere, the band devotes an entire song to the bassist's "piece of shit" car. A third lyrical gem I'd like to highlight comes on "Shane Has an Odour Problem," when, after hearing the vocalist's assertion that the aforementioned Shane does indeed have the problem in question, the backing vocalist succinctly explains "he smells like shit!" It's so good-naturedly inane that you can't help but grin.

4. The music. This is pop-punk played the way pop-punk should be played. The decision I usually make when giving a record a B-range grade as opposed to a C-range grade is whether or not I would play it on my radio show. This is a definite yes. As a debut effort, Melodic Tardcore is exactly what you'd want from a self-described pop-punk band: self-effacing humor, catchy songs, and concentrated fun, not to mention intimations of the potential to put out some seriously rocking records in the future.

*It's Alive Records are the U. S. distributor of Melodic Tardcore.

Sobriquet Grade: 81 (B-).

Bad Religion: Bad Religion (EP)

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Bad Religion

Bad Religion
Epitaph Records, 1981

Bad Religion's self-titled debut EP is pretty much exactly what a fan of the band would expect (unlike, say, 1983's Into the Unknown): tightly-played melodic punk rock, intelligent (if, occasionally gratuitously abstruse) lyrics, and multi-vocal harmonies delivering sociopolitical critiques. Bad Religion is also exactly what you'd expect from a group of precocious fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds playing in a hardcore band in the early 1980s: a bunch of barely distinguishable tracks played at blazing speed and a lot of anger that seems just a little bit forced, as if they're trying to compete with older, cooler kids.

While certainly not as good as their later, more mature recordings, Bad Religion is considerably better than most of the hardcore records coming out of Southern California at the time. You can definitely hear intimations of the deep melodies and astoundingly thoughtful lyrical content of albums like Suffer and The Process of Belief on Bad Religion. It just sounds like we're listening outside the band's practice space as they're attempting to find their sound. Give 'em a few years and they'll be legendary...

Hüsker Dü: Eight Miles High

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Hüsker Dü

"Eight Miles High"
SST Records, 1984

I was in a record shop not too long ago and, as I was chatting with the store's owner, the conversation turned to Hüsker Dü. At this point, the cashier joined in the chewing of the musical fat and, in one particularly memorable moment, turned to his boss and began raving about the band's version of "Eight Miles High." Grinning appreciatively, he confirmed the owner's query about whether or not we were talking about the Byrds' song: "Yeah, but with these guys," he said in his thick Irish brogue and emphasizing his point with an abrupt gesticulation indicating sudden flight, "it was, like, eight thousand miles high." So very true.

In what is probably one of the two or three greatest vocal performances in punk history, if not all rock 'n' roll, Bob Mould transforms the trippy, mellow psychedelic classic into four minutes of gut-wrenching screams, howls, and plaintive moans that sound as if the maimed, shell-shocked, terrified lone survivor of a cataclysmic event is clawing his way out of the rubble of what had been civilization. And that might actually be an understatement. This is the music I imagine the narrator of Beckett's How It Is would howl if given half the chance. Really, all I can think of when listening to "Eight Miles High" are images of trapped, brutalized husks of beings clawing their way through unbearably thick, impenetrable barriers, trying desperately to preserve life at all costs and knowing full well it isn't likely they'll make it. Indeed, in Mould's mouth, the English language dissolves as the molten fury of pure emotion bubbles forth and the result is as close to pre-linguistic Adamic expression as you will ever hear on record. This is the rage against the dying of the light, my friends.

The B-side, a live version of "Masochism World" is much grittier than the version appearing on Zen Arcade. Though the sound quality leaves something to be desired, presenting the band's relentless energy and Mould's guttural vocals on stage is pretty much the only thing that could possibly do the A-side justice. Imagine capturing lightening in a jar, burning the palms of your hands in the process, and screaming in mingled pain, awe, and joy. Then triple the sensation.

Sobriquet Grade: 97 (A+).

Various Artists: Definitivt Femtio Spänn 6

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Various Artists

Definitivt Femtio Spänn 6
RABB, 1997

I picked this sampler up in Oslo when it came out in '97, wholly unaware of the fact that EVA Records (the company behind the remarkably lucrative "Absolute" series of forgettable - and, let us be candid here, downright banal - pop collections) had tried to get the CD taken off of Norwegian shelves because, evidentially, they had trademarked the brand "Definitivt" in that country. Fortunately that didn't happen and the good folks at RABB were able to keep what is a pretty solid disk on the shelves of their neighboring nation's record stores.

At any rate, Definitivt Femtio Spänn 6 admirably collects twenty representative tracks from some of mid-nineties Sweden's better punk and hardcore acts as well as a few quirkier, less readily-categorizable outfits. The first half is, in my opinion, much stronger, foregrounding as it does pop-punk and melodic hardcore. The second half, with a few exceptions, descends into metal and generic grungy stuff. A bit more balance, perhaps, and this disk would be fantastic but, ultimately, it feels too lopsided to listen all the way through in one sitting.

Track Listing:

Track 1. "Theme from Persuaders" (Robert Johnson & the Punchdrunks). Although you'd think opening a punk/hardcore compilation disk with a melancholy bit of keyboard-laced surf rock mightn't be the best idea, you'd be wrong. Robert Johnson and his assembled Punchdrunks are fantastic.

Track 2. "Little Miss Green Eyes" (Stukas). "Little Miss Green Eyes" is one of the disk's better pop-punk tracks. Definitely worth checking out.

Track 3. "Dinner at Ed's" (Stoned). Like many of Sweden's better melodic hardcore bands active in the nineties, Stoned sound as if they're from California. Not that that's bad. I'm just sayin' is all... With super-poppy backing vocals, you'll be singing along to this track in no time.

Track 4. "Let's March" (Abhinanda). The comp's first straight-up hardcore track is typical Abhinanda fare, though I'd venture to say a bit catchier than their average song.

Track 5. "Mitt Cors" (Charta 77). Finally, a Swedish-language song. I've always been partial to Swedish punk and I think the language is actually very well suited to genre. Not nearly as harsh as other Germanic languages, it's relatively high register and palatally-dense phonetic structure almost always lends a softer, more melodic side to what is frequently a heavier brand of punk. Charta 77 uses this juxtaposition perfectly, fashioning a song that is both intense and immediately catchy.

Track 6. "Scottie" (Adhesive). As I have said elsewhere, "despite the song's overt reference to Trekkie culture, 'Scottie' has nothing to do with kitschy American sci-fi. Rather, the song waxes metaphysical, expressing the pain of the speaker's solipsistic existence and questioning whether or not the palpable loneliness he (or she) experiences in "a domestic jail" is, in fact, a ubiquitous emotion spanning all humanity."Despite the song's overt reference to Trekkie culture, "Scottie" has nothing to do with kitschy American sci-fi. Rather, the song waxes metaphysical, expressing the pain of the speaker's solipsistic existence and questioning whether or not the palpable loneliness he (or she) experiences in "a domestic jail" is, in fact, a ubiquitous emotion spanning all humanity."

Track 7. "Pigs" (Saidiwas). Don't let the bits of electronica or the mellow stretches of melodic guitar rock fool you. This is about as anarchistic a punk song as you'll hear nowadays. I'll let you put two and two together and figure out what sort of beings the track title references.

Track 8. "Cold War" (Purusam). The is about as close to metal as hardcore can get and still be called hardcore. What makes the track so cool, though, is the peculiar pairing of pretty standard heavy metal male vocals with those of a poppy-sounding female vocalist. It makes for a really interesting listening experience.

Track 9. "Vem Vegar Tro" (Skumdrum). In a nice little pairing of tracks, Skumdrum's "Vem Vegar Tro" features vocals by one Anna-Lena, the woman whose vocals made "Cold War" such a keeper. Although it is definitely a poppier song, "Vem Vegar Tro" is lyrically as dark as its predecessor, scrutinizing the apathetic and dangerous brand of "no future" nihilism plaguing many of Sweden's younger generation.

Track 10. "Dansa Med Mig" (Coca Carola). Some good call-and-answer melodic hardcore, "Dansa Med Mig" translates literally to "Dance With Me." You just might, though it be closer to headbanging than, say, a tango. . .

Track 11. "The World is Ours" (Separation). Hardcore punk with a bit of grind added to the mix, "The World is Ours" is pretty much exactly what you'd expect from Separation. This is a good thing, by the way.

Track 12. "Symbols and Signs" (Cobolt). A metallic grunge track, "Symbols and Signs" sounds like it would have been quite popular stateside had it been released three years earlier. This is not a good thing, by the way.

Track 13. "Soulscarred" (Burst). Hardcore-tinged progressive metal.

Track 14. "Fren Hofors Intet Nytt" (Radioaktiva Räker). Here's another instance of the Swedish language being perfect for hardcore. The rolling 'r' is pressed into service here to brilliant effect, adding what approaches a percussive element to the vocals.

Track 15. "Laughing Boy" (Rösvett). Fans of Poison Idea will probably dig this band.

Track 16. "Living Machine" (Plastic Pride). Modeling themselves on bands like Refused and Helmet, Plastic Pride sound quite a bit like, well, Refused and Helmet. I guess some people like that sort of thing.

Track 17. "Their Integrity Was All Over" (The Scarred). This is emo, but not the crappy stuff that passes for emo today. It's closer to the D.C. hardcore stuff that got all weepy in the late eighties than to the whiny garbage that Hot Topic makes a fortune marketing these days. Still, I'm not terribly impressed. Then again, it doesn't sound like Helmet or Refused, so that's a plus.

Track 18. "Radioshit" (Mögel). Playful punk with a jumpy guitar riff and lyrics in the spirit o the Ramones' "We Want the Airwaves." Not too shabby.

Track 19. "Proficiency" (Final Exit). Another heavy bit of hardcore, "Proficiency" fits in well with the tone of the disk's second half.

Track 20. "Allmosor" (Live) (DLK). A strange way to end the disk, the closing track is basically a cross between a barroom sing-along and a sixties protest song. Not bad, just peculiar.


Sobriquet Grade: 80 (B-).

Visionstain: Fouronseven

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Visionstain

Fouronseven
Silverdish Records, 1995

If the pictures grazing the lunch box emblazoned on the sleeve of this 7" are any indication, Visionstain are probably pretty nice people. I mean, they're smiling and hamming it up for the photographer, looking like they're having fun and not taking themselves too, too seriously. And, really, I tend to pull for groups of people for whom making music seems to be more about enjoying oneself than taking a businesslike or pretentious approach to artistic creation. That said, Visionstain are an unremarkable three-piece outfit hailing from the unremarkable de-industrialized city of Rochester, New York and Fouronseven is an unremarkable EP showcasing this unremarkable band's unremarkable sound.

Basically, Fouronseven sounds like the sort of thing a for-fun band would put together on a cassette for some of their friends. I mean, Visionstain isn't awful, but I'm puzzled that someone at a record label thought highly enough of these four songs to say, "Hey, let's do a rekkid, kids!"

Piling alternatingly soft, melodic female vocals and gruffer male vocals onto a bed of distortion-heavy, punkish alt-rock, Visionstain is certainly listenable, but their sound on Fouronseven is quite dated. The early-to-mid nineties were rife with bands that played faster (think Dirty-era Sonic Youth), feedback-heavy alt-rock. Adding a slightly "punker" edge to that generic sound on this disk, though, does very little to make Visionstain stand out from the pack.

Sobriquet Grade: 68 (D+).

The Asteroids: Life on a Asteroid / Instant Knowledge

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The Asteroids

"Life on a Asteroid" / "Instant Knowledge"
Snail Records, 1978

There's a lively bit of discussion over at Killed By Death Records (which is where I downloaded the 7") about whether or not The Asteroids were some session musicians putting together a quirky faux punk side project or a real band. Regardless, the A-side, even if it is ersatz punk, is absolutely one of the best songs I have heard in a long, long while. I mean, if it really is a parody of new-wavy punk, its so spot-on a spoof that you can't really be sure it is a joke. Seriously, I love so much about this song that I'm going to have to give you a list:

1. The band's blatant disregard for the rules of English grammar on the A-side makes their indulgence in the time-honored (and thoroughly pretentious) tradition of naming songs after one's band that much funnier.

2. The completely un-punk use of hippie-speak like "I don't dig the human race" and "I don't want this useless jive / that Earthman needs to stay alive." Evidentially the Asteroids didn't get the memo about how much punks hate hippies.

3. The music is, in all seriousness, perfect. From the opening ten seconds of radio-signals-in-space guitar twang and the insanely polished drums backing it up to the rockabilly-ish riff that blasts the song open, "Life on a Asteroid" is pure aural bliss.

4. The vocals are awesome. It's like Richard Hell visited Motown or something. Then there's the whispered "life on a asteroid" backing vocals setting up this call-and-response thing with the lead singer.

5. The lyrics are hilarious. In addition to the aforementioned hippie language, you've got what sounds like an attempt to sound "punk," but by whose standards I don't know. Opening with "[b]aby, I wanna live on a asteroid," the singer initially seems to express some fondness for the auditor. But then, the singer informs us, "life on a asteroid is gonna be good, it's gonna be great" because we, the listeners, "won't be there." In fact, he "can't wait" so he plans to "steal a rocketship" to take "a one-way trip" away from squares like us. As he leaves, though, he gets one final barb in at people who, unlike him, are not from outer space, telling us he doesn't need the "useless jive" we require to live. Then, in response to what can only be the auditor's expression of joining the alien in space, the singer shouts "Hey, punk! Get your own asteroid!" leaving us bereft. Seriously, the silly pseudo-misanthropy is awesome.

The B-side, "Instant Knowledge," is a snide bit of straight-up new wave with digitized vocals that sound as futuristic as the tin-foil suits in a lousy sci-fi B-movie look. Again, it almost sounds like an older group of people making fun of the simplistic conventions of a younger generation's musical fad... It's not bad, though. The Asteroids could certainly play, joke or not.

Sobriquet Grade: 85 (B). This is an average. The A-side deserves to be legendary.

Kosher: The CD

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Kosher
The CD
Kosher Records, 1997
Kosher, from what I can glean from the meager liner notes accompanying the CD they sent me a dozen or so years ago, were a group of kids from Missouri playing some below-average melodic hardcore. The thing about Kosher, The CD is that you get the feeling that the band would be a really fun live act while also sensing that they may have recorded an album just a bit prematurely. There really aren't any standout tracks on the disk and, while the musicianship is competent enough, the songs often sound as if the group is struggling to stick together. And that's unfortunate, really, because they seemed like a good bunch of guys when we corresponded way back when. You kind of pull for people, you know? But, ultimately, Kosher's debut (and, as far as I can tell, only full-length release) sounds like the sort of CDs countless opening bands tried to sell while the more interesting headliners drew all the attention. Which is, in this case, most likely what happened.
At any rate, Kosher blends trite lyrics about the punk scene and girls (occasionally bordering on the unintentionally misogynistic) with sloppy melodic hardcore occasionally punctuated by seemingly random bits of uninspired ska to create what is, ultimately, a thoroughly forgettable effort.
Sobriquet Grade: 68 (D+).

Queen Meanie Puss: The Darkling (EP)

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Queen Meanie Puss

The Darkling
Siltbreeze Records, 1993

I picked up The Darkling a few weeks ago at a nearby record store that was holding a half-off all vinyl sale for Black Friday, but I hadn't really listened to it much until very recently. While doing a little background research on the band for this write-up, I was simultaneously amused by and chagrined at the discovery that a significant amount of the attention given to the band comes in the form of academic footnotes mentioning their name as part of a trend among female punk and alternative groups to "name themselves in response to a ubiquitous and negative vocabulary for the female body" (Gottleib and Wald) by using "language traditionally forbidden to girls"(see Julia German's entry on "Punk Culture" in Girl Culture). What chagrins me, of course, is not the fact that, for a band with only a handful of out-of-print releases to their name, Queen Meanie Puss appears (quite understandably) in academic discussions of cultural and gender studies, but rather the fact that not enough music people mention what is, ultimately, a really cool band.

The Darkling is one of those records that, had it been released a decade or so earlier, it would have been regarded as groundbreaking. As it stands, I suspect most listeners will hear something that reminds them of Sonic Youth. And, truthfully, The Darkling does sound a bit like what I would imagine would happen if, in a cartoony bit of slapstick, a riot grrl chased down someone making a futile attempt to sing like Nico and tried to shut her up by clapping her between giant copies of Confusion is Sex and EVOL.

That said, The Darkling, for all the accusations of derivativeness I imagine could be aimed at it, is a really good bit of moody post-punk noise. Shifting from atonal dissonance to surprisingly beautiful melody, the guitar work buttresses an equally wide-ranging vocal performance. From the plaintive moaning on the opening "Here & Gone Again" to the roiling, boiling fury on the seething titular track (seriously, they'd frighten the hell out of most death metal bands), Queen Meanie Puss scores a solid punch to the gut with this one. And you thought New Zealand had no music scene...

Sobriquet Grade: 82 (B-).

The Low Budgets: Go Bargain Hunting With the Low Budgets

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Now, this is a fun record. Led by Joe Genaro (perhaps better known as the Dead Milkmen's Joe Jack Talcum), the Low Budgets are an aptly named (seriously, the sleeve for this 7" looks like it was made on a computer from 1984, complete with pathetic clip art) group of garage-tinged pop-punkers. If you were not aware of Genaro's presence in the band, you'd probably assume, as I initially did, that the Low Budgets were a bunch of high school or college kids who scraped just enough cash together to put out a bit of vinyl. Then again, you really can't judge a record by its cover...


Although the record is largely a hard-driving punk disk, the Low Budgets add a vintage organ to the mix, giving "Bargain Hunting" just enough late sixties flavor to what would otherwise be a fairly pedestrian (albeit, very tightly performed) bit of straightforward punk. The little dashes of ska, surf, garage, and psychedelia, though, make "Go Bargain Hunting" well worth a listen.

Track Listing:

Track 1. "SNAFU." A bit on the generic side, "SNAFU" is the least memorable song on the record. Not that it's bad . . . it just sounds like a lot of other stuff out there.

Track 2. "Hey Creator." Opening with a riff reminiscent of the one upon which the Animals' "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" is built, "Hey Creater" quickly shifts gear into a totally skankable bit of pseudo ska just in time for Joe's repeated cry of "you're a skank!" Then it becomes another pop-punk tune. In other words, "Hey Creator" is a pretty solid introduction to the sort of pastiche-ridden music for which the Low Budgets should be praised.

Track 3. "Settle Down." This sounds like someone fed Iron Butterfly's opening band to Walk Together, Rock Together-era 7 Seconds.

Track 4. "Born Before the Internet." Saving the best for last, the Low Budgets deliver a delightful mix of punk, reggae, garage, and hardcore to close out the disk.

Sobriquet Grade: 82 (B-)

Anorexia: Rapist in the Park

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I don't think its a stretch to suggest some people might be bothered by Anorexia's name as well as the title of their lone (and, admittedly, minor) hit. Thanks largely to some early exposure of John Peel's Radio 1 program, "Rapist in the Park" (released on the band's own Slim -- get it? -- Records) earned the band some fans and made it possible for Anorexia to draw crowds around the South of England for a short while. Bizarrely, an early incarnation of George Michael's Wham! opened for the band on several occasions before evolving into that aural fiasco . . .


What makes Anorexia particularly interesting to me is the fact that they were a six-piece (two guitars, bass, two vocalists, drums, and saxophone) punk band. Unfortunately, despite hinting at genuine originality, Anorexia's debut does not hold up especially well over time. With jangly guitars, riské lyrics that sound a bit too premeditatedly provocative, occasionally atonal vocals, and a sloppy-sounding arrangement, Anorexia sinks right to the mushy center of the early eighties punk rock slush pile. The saxophone-accented title track sounds more than a little bit like the sound X-Ray Spex pioneered on "Oh Bondage Up Yours!" while the dueling male-female vocals on "I'm a Square" don't quite match the sound John Doe and Exene Cervenka introduced on X's seminal Los Angeles (think of a garage band giving up on covering "Johnny Hit and Run Pauline" because it was too difficult). There are a few lyrical gems, though, that make the disk worth a spin or two:

From "Rapist in the Park":
There's a rapist in the park (oooooh-oooh-whoa-oh-oh-oh)
[. . .]
Rapists lurk in the dark (whoa-oh, oh, oh, oh oh)

From "I'm a Square":
I don't like hippies / I'm against the pill

From "Pets":
I want a cat with purple hair / Then it will be very rare!
Sobriquet Grade: 73 (C).

Bad Brains: Pay to Cum!

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I've been on a bit of a Bad Brains kick lately, so I figured I'd post about their absolutely crucial first single, the dirty-sounding but completely non-sexual rallying cry that essentially kickstarted the entire hardcore scene. Quite a bit louder than the version appearing on the band's self-titled debut cassette on ROIR, the disk's eponymous A-side is a furious ninety-three second "piece of wisdom" from the band's collective "hearts," an apocalyptic call-to-arms for a generation to awaken from their collective acquiescence and apathy and "choose to fight / To stick up for [their] bloody right . . . to sing . . . to dance" in a world where one must pay for everything. Musically, "Pay to Cum!" is one of the most influential singles ever released, quite literally providing the blueprint for everything hardcore punk could be: supersonic guitars, lyrics spit out so fast that they practically overlap with one another, and genuine vitriol.

"Stay Close to Me," a non-album reggae track whose mellow melody is occasionally punctured by slashing guitars, presents a young man's impassioned plea to a woman to stay with him rather than return to a man the former believes is inferior to himself.

This single is truly one of the undisputed classic punk releases and is undeniably a fantastic introduction to the Janus-faced nature of Bad Brains. One the one hand, you've got one of the most technically adept punk bands (despite the lo-fi qualities of the disk, little can disguise the sheer talent carried over from the group's origins as the jazz-fusion outfit Mind Power) playing one of the most blisteringly supersonic tracks ever recorded and, on the other, you've got the same group of guys playing some great reggae.

Of course, this makes sense. H. R., the band's frontman, was just as likely to be arrested for busting a fan's head as he was for selling pot to an undercover cop.

While the entire group is tight on the recording, the Hudson brothers (singer H. R. and drummer Earl) give especially stellar virtuoso performances. With H. R.'s unusually wide (and delightfully nasal) vocal range and Earl's jazz-on-amphetamines drumming, "Pay to Cum!" was light years ahead of its time: hardcore played at the concentrated speed most subsequent bands failed to equal with the musical complexity associated with post-hardcore acts before hardcore was even a bona-fide genre.

Sobriquet Grade: 95 (A).

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