April 2009 Archives

Dementia 13: Graveyard Rumble

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Dementia 13

Graveyard Rumble
FNS Records, 2004

Last month, on a trip to Minneapolis, I raided Cheapo's bargain bin, picking up a pile of seven-inchers for a dollar apiece. I've always enjoyed the gamble of diving into a box of discarded records released by bands I've never heard of, knowing full well that I'm much more likely to end up with a load of awful music than with something I'll end up playing over and over again. The reason I enjoy the gamble, of course, is that, every once in a while, I end up with something like Dementia 13's Graveyard Rumble E.P.

As weird as it sounds, Dementia 13 is a psychobilly oi! band hailing from Manchester, New Hampshire -- and a damn good one at that. As one might expect from a band whose name comes from a trashy horror film, Dementia 13 dips into the same pool of campy monster imagery as the Cramps, Groovie Ghoulies, Misfits, and HorrorPops, delivering lyrics about scrapping zombies and rampaging vampires. At the same time, Al's Boston-style street punk rasp recalls the best of the Dropkick Murphys school of New England Celtic punk, making for a delightful aural bouillabaisse unlike pretty much anything else out there.

Track Listing:

Track 1. "The Saw is Family." A frantic rockabilly instrumental named after the chainsaw in the third installment of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Track 2. "Graveyard Rumble." Twangy guitars, washboards, and a healthy dose of of barroom whoh-oh-ohs. Beautiful. You almost forget the song's about a massive zombie brawl.

Track 3. "Fright Night." Take the most melodic whoa-oh-ohs you can imagine, have Bram Stoker write lyrics for Shane MacGowan, and get Patricia Day to play bass for you, and you might, just maybe, come up with something as good as this song.

Track 4. "The Drifter." Take the last song, replace "Bram Stoker" with "Jack London" and add a harmonica...

Sobriquet Grade: 89 (B+).

LAB: Burning Leaf/Chihuahua

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LAB

Burning Leaf/Chihuahua
It's Alive, 1997

LAB only barely fits within the purview of Sobriquet Magazine. Thanks to the "punk-related" clause in our review policies, however, it makes the cut. You see, LAB is basically the final incarnation of the metallic hardcore punkers formerly known as Bl'ast. After Clifford Dinsmore left the band in 1989, guitarist Mike Neider took over the band's vocals and the group morphed into Blackout and, finally, LAB before petering out in the late nineties.

While "Burning Leaf" may be a bit speedier than your typical stoner sludge dirge, this disk is basically the sort stuff fans of Black Sabbath, Kyuss, and Blue Cheer would dig. I mean, the musicianship is tight and the songs are long. You know, competent hard rock. The only problem is there's not a whole lot of oomph to the record.

Sobriquet Grade: 78 (C+).

Blind Society: Blind Society

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Blind Society

Blind Society
Cruisin' For a Bruisin' Records, 1999

Released in 1999, Blind Society's eponymous debut EP is about as original as Methuselah is young. Musically, these kids aren't inept or anything, but their songwriting is painfully derivative. The tracks comprising the EP are your standard eruptions of loud and thrashy adolescent hardcore with virtually no deviation from the formula outlined in the same moth-eaten blueprint countless mediocre American bands have been following for decades.

Track Listing:

Track 1. "Blind Society." Imagine you've got a Matryoshka doll. Imagine you pop open the outermost wooden figurine only to find an exact replica. Now, imagine opening the second doll and uncovering a third figure identical to the first two in every way except size. Now, picture opening the third one and finding . . . hot air. Listening to a song called "Blind Society," on a record called Blind Society, written by a band called Blind Society isn't all that different. "Blind Society," essentially, laments the entropic decline of American society. Or so it seems. In the song, the generically nefarious "They" repeated throughout the track seems to refer to both the apparently war-mongering statist hegemony of Clinton-era America as well as the "blind society" over whose collective eyes it pulls the proverbial wool, so things can get a bit confusing. Fortunately, though, Blind Society is here to show the blind society the truth!

Track 2. "American Justice." Framed with audio clips taken from Falling Down, "American Justice" takes the opposite stance of the previous song. Here, in a troublingly exceptionalist and prejudiced passage, Blind Society joins forces with the blind society it has just criticized in supporting the military-industrial complex as it sets out to destroy Saddam Hussein:
Fuck the middle east thats (sic) what I say
You've killed enough people now you have to pay
Holding the price of oil over our heads
We're (sic) parade your body when you are dead
Needless to say, the bigotry of Blind Society's synecdochical conflation of Saddam Hussein with "the middle east" is the sort of wince-worthy ignorance punks have tried so hard to eradicate from the scene and its presence here is lamentable. At any rate, the band explains such radical about-faces in a helpful photocopied pamphlet stuffed into the record sleeve:
This is for the people who like to prejudge us without hearing us out. Blind Society is a band of five people; five people who have a lot of similarities and at the same time a lot of different opinions . . . With five different people, you can't expect each song to have the same message as the other . . . we all have differnt (sic) beliefs. That is why our lyrics may not always seem to agree with each other.
Track 3. "Untitled." A growling screed about the same vaguely sinister "They" polluting and destroying our world. Grammatical errors abound.

Track 4. "Red Death." Now that Blind Society has unleashed its quasi-racist rage on the Middle East, it seems, they've decided that it's high time to return to Cold War-era political name-calling and "[b]oycott those fucking chinese commies" so that "our system will finally see / That we used to stand for democracy / Not capitalistic hypocrisy." Again, Blind Society conflates a regrettable element of a society with the overwhelmingly innocent whole, rendering the song disturbingly close to outright hate-mongering.

Track 5. "Working Class Enemy." A neo-luddite rant about technology rendering "[t]he workers of this country" obsolete. Oddly, the song's focus shifts from the global implications of technological evolution to:
When I think of my boss
I want to shoot him in the face
Making society realize
This is happening all over the place
Show us statistics
How unemployment is
Want (sic) about the 15%
I guess they have no case
Track 6. "No Escape." An attack on both "the machines" destroying the working man as well as "t6he (sic) catholic church," the EP's closing track is about as bafflingly muddled a shout-fest as you could ever hope to find.

Sobriquet Grade: 61 (D-).

The Queers: Love Songs for the Retarded

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The Queers

Love Songs for the Retarded
Lookout! 1993
Asian Man, 2003

If you asked me about the Queers ten or fifteen years ago, I'd probably say something about how I enjoyed them live but didn't really dig their records. Back then, I thought their recordings were a bit too soft, a bit too derivative of the Ramones and, as a result of this impression, I rarely listened to their records. I suspect I may have been a bit put off by apocryphal accounts of the band's homophobia and similarly off-putting behavior. What always baffled my friends was that it made absolutely no sense for me not to love the Queers. I mean, I was constantly playing Ramones and Screeching Weasel albums, always enthusiastically seeking out the latest pop-punk releases, and routinely featuring bands like the Teen Idols and Groovie Ghoulies on my radio show.

It wasn't until quite a few years after I had left the fertile Twin Cities punk scene that, in a moment of nostalgia for that period of my youth, I picked up Love Songs for the Retarded, pressed play, and initiated a belated love affair with a band I should have fallen for long ago.

Let me put it this way: Love Songs for the Retarded is as close to a perfect pop-punk album as you are ever going to encounter. Seriously, it practically epitomizes the genre. The songs are pure bursts of three-chorded, hook-laden bubblegum pop with immensely catchy, sing-along choruses and silly, playfully childish lyrics about girls, hippies, punks, drinking, and hanging out. While not quite as adenoidal as Ben Weasel, his good friend and frequent collaborator, Joe Queer delivers his vocals with enough nasally swagger to give the songs a modicum of Weasel's gloriously snotty inflection, lending the music a pitch-perfect air of punk rock impertinence.

Lyrically, there are quite a few gems on this disk, too. Among the more amusing:
Last night I had burritos and drank a lot of beer
And now a funny smell is emanating from my rear
My girlfriend tries to hold her nose and falls into a swoon
I got a problem and I don't know what to do...
HELP!
I can't stop farting
and
I know you think I'm just a useless, stupid punk
Because every night I come home drunk
Hi Mom, it's me, the fuckin' little shit
The ugly little monkey who used to suck your tit
Seriously, "my girlfriend tries to hold her nose and falls into a swoon?" Who the hell says swoon? Fucking hilarious. And the crassness of "[t]he ugly little monkey who used to suck your tit?" You can't get much more punk than that.

All-in-all, there isn't a single dud on Love Songs for the Retarded. Most pop-punk bands would call it a successful career if they could release a greatest hits record half as good as this disk.

Highlights:

Track 2. "Ursula Finally Has Tits." There's a certain moment in many a middle school boy's life that often stands out as one of the greatest memories of his young existence: that magical time, usually between fourth and sixth grade, when girls suddenly come to school with breasts that hadn't been there before. "Ursula Finally Has Tits" celebrates one such moment, when a group of punkish kids notice that the cute girl they've had their eyes on has reached that crucial stage in her development transforming her into a crush-worthy object of adolescent desire. Although neither the band's name nor the album title are the most politically correct of statements, "Ursula Finally Has Tits" actually seems to poke fun at some of the more lamentable aspects of gender relations. At one point, when the singer rejoices in Ursula's development, he explains that "now she's cool," sardonically referencing the tendency many males have to ignore women who do not meet their standards for attractiveness. Oh, and the lead guitar riff will be stuck in your head for decades.

Track 4. "Teenage Bonehead." One of the most beautiful vocal performances on the album, "Teenage Bonehead" will give you your fill of whoh-oh-oh-ohs and ooh-ahhs.

Track 5. "Fuck The World." A song I associate as much with Screeching Weasel as with the Queers, "Fuck the World" is as good as it gets. A tale of punk rock love and slackerdom whoa-oh-oh'd over one hell of a sweet guitar riff.

Track 8. "Debra Jean." If there were any justice in this world of ours, "Debra Jean" would play at every high school prom ever. Channeling the bah-bah-bah-bah-bah'ing spirit of sixties' pop radio, this song is basically a sped-up slow dance.

Track 13. "Granola-Head." This is the Queers song most likely to appear on Eric Cartman's iPod. Punk rock's sportively antagonistic hippie-bashing has found its theme song.

Third Leg: I Don't Know What to Call This E.P.

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Third Leg

I Don't Know What to Call This E.P.
Lung Oyster, 1991

Whenever I take a trip out to Minneapolis, I make certain to visit two record stores: Cheapo's in Uptown and Extreme Noise on West Lake Street. The latter, a retail offshoot of the Profane Existence collective, frequently includes little blurbs about the records they carry, helpfully steering crusty punks looking for d-beat disks away from poppy ska or sappy emo. When shopping at the former, though, you've really got to know what you're looking for. If you're not careful, you could end up with a Third Leg EP.

Clearly, I wasn't careful. No, I took one look at the luchador taking a dump on the cover and decided a better value for my dollar could not be found. Unfortunately, though, a lucha libre mask doesn't guarantee quality. Strange, that.

I was all excited, too. I mean, there I was, standing in the same store where Bob Mould had met Grant Hart some thirty years earlier, holding a record produced by Spot, the very man employed by SST to produce Husker Du!

Alas, I Don't Know What to Call This E.P. is an underwhelming mixed bag of uninspired metal-tinged hardcore and sludgy proto-grunge.

Track Listing:

Track 1. "Pride." In this bit of garden-variety hardcore, Andy delivers a facile jeremiad on the "fucking lame" varieties of "white pride, black pride" that prevent us from realizing we're "all the same."

Track 2. "Reality." With vague lyrics that read like the melancholic doggerel scrawled in a less-than-precocious high-schooler's notebook, "Reality" is an unexceptional bit of post-hardcore. It's listenable, but ultimately forgettable.

Track 3. "Believe." Another one-word title, another bit of jejune sloganeering (about the need for some ill-defined variety of "solidarity," this time) and you've got more bland hardcore.

Track 4. "Take on Me." This awful cover of a-ha's 1985 new wave hit is what really damns this record. I should emphasize that it's not that Third Leg takes the piss out of an iconic 80's song that irks me about this track. It's just how truly bad a piss-take this version actually is. I mean, the Meatmen totally took the piss out of the Smiths with their rendition of "How Soon is Now?" and that was an awesome track so, really, taking the piss out of an 80s band can be done well. But Third Leg seems to trip over itself, missing notes, ridiculing Morten Harket's infamous falsetto, and otherwise coming across as drunkenly inept during what sounds like a live performance.

Sobriquet Grade: 71 (C-).

Uphill Down: Uphill Down

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Uphill Down

Uphill Down
Squirrel Cake, 1994

From what little information I have been able to find on the band, Uphill Down existed roughly for the duration of Bill Clinton's first term in office, dropping two or three records during that period, including this self-titled seven-incher. Hailing from Richmond, Virginia, Uphill Down were local openers for such scene luminaries as Hot Water Music, Strung Out, and Diesel Boy. Indeed, Uphill Down has all the hallmarks of the sort of record a perennial opening band would have released in the early nineties. It appears to be one of those DIY efforts an unsigned group would have pressed on the cheap, lug from gig to gig, and hawk from behind a folding card table while the crowd milled about the club between sets. Not surprisingly, the photocopied liner notes and free silk-screened patch and sticker tucked into the sleeve hint at the sort of charmingly enthusiastic self-promotion of which any self-respecting troop of Clinton-era pop-punkers would be proud.

All of this is speculation, of course, and none of it is intended to be disparaging. I mean, if my surmises are correct, the Uphill Down EP is certainly nowhere near the bottom of the stack of similarly-produced early nineties pop-punk releases. The problem is, it's nowhere near the top either.

What we've got here is pretty run-of-mill pop-punk: short, fast, fun, a bit campy, and to the point. There's also a rather gratuitous cover of Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It," absurdly sped up to clock in just under 1:45. With mellow backing vocals, well-placed harmonizing, good-natured lyrics about friends sprinkled with bits of pre-emo introspection, and waves of power chord melody sloshing over a steady backbeat, Uphill Down is about all one could ask for from an opening band. It's also just what you'd expect: a bunch of relatively indistinguishable songs played in roughly the same style as the more accomplished headliner, just competent enough to whet the appetite without stealing the show. Unfortunately, though, such music rarely makes for a memorable disk.

The cover art, though, is great -- one of those little bits of punk art that just makes you smile. Here we've got an impossibly lanky, bespectacled caricature of Jeff Calvert, the band's drummer, wearing a Star Trek t-shirt and a knit ski cap, looking as if he is about to be abducted by two of Roswell, New Mexico's finest Extra Terrestrials. Sweet.

Pitch Black: Half Empty

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Pitch Black

"Half Empty"
Cheetah's Records, 2002

In yesterday's review of the Worhäts / Strohsäcke split 7-incher, I mentioned that I felt the recording blunted the music's edge, taking the bite out of what seemed to be some pretty solid German hardcore. I went on to imply that, more often than not, the harder a band's music, the more difficult it is to capture their energy on vinyl. Pitch Black is a glorious exception to this rule.

Despite the errant notes and screeching amplifiers scattered about the recording, "Half Empty" is a remarkably crisp, hard-nosed horror punk disk. Kevin Cross's serrated vocals, like the best of Frank Carter's performances on Gallows' Orchestra of Wolves, practically slash through the band's impressively tight wall of sound while never quite crossing the threshold into outright screaming. He does, however, spend a good deal of time occupying the liminal space between impassioned singing and piercing cries. And it works.

Not to be outdone, Jamie Morrison (drums) and Martin Munroe (bass) deliver some of the most intense punk 'n' roll performances I've heard in quite some time and the final product is one hell of a record. Punk to a fucking T, even: fast, loud, angry and oh so replayable.

Oh, and lest I forget, the cover art is beautiful. That is, if a trio of terrified-looking mod corpses could be described in such terms.

Sobriquet Grade: 82 (B-).

Various Artists:Worhäts / Strohsäcke Split 7"

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Worhäts / Strohsäcke

Split 7"
Attack Records, 2003
Social Napalm (U.S), 2003

Although I haven't seen either Worhäts or Strohsäcke perform live, I get the distinct impression from listening to this little EP that both bands are so tight and so frenetic that, with only the slightest effort, they could transform a crowd of shuffle-boarding pensioneers into a circle pit. The problem with bands like Worhäts and Strohsäcke, of course, is that, in trading sing-alongs and hooks for energy and ferocity, they rarely release stand-out records. Sure, after a few listens, certain tracks stand out as being better than others but, in the end, this record makes me feel as if I would rather be in the crowd at some smoke-clogged, beer-drenched dive in one of Berlin's rougher neighborhoods than at home spinning the disk on my turntable. Then again, really good hardcore rarely records well. The gloss of even the most rudimentary studio recording can dull a band's edge, and this seems to be the case with the recording in question.

Still, while there mightn't be any stand-out radio-friendly tracks on this disk, both Worhäts and Strohsäcke deliver solid, if unexceptional, performances. Fans of fuzzily distorted guitars and scratchily barked vocals should enjoy this record.

Highlights:

Track 3. "Shuldig" (Worhäts). Opening with an almost meditative guitar riff washing over the sounds of a brutal beating, "Shuldig" captures the sense of immediacy and fury at the heart of Worhäts's sound better than either of the band's remaining two tracks.

Track 5. "Nichtsnutz" (Strohsäcke). If you were to play the first thirty seconds of "Nichtsnutz" and I were to tell you that the name of the band was the Exploited, there's a pretty good chance you'd believe me. I mean, The bass line is certainly reminiscent of the sound Billy Dunn brings to the Edinburgh boys' Let's Start a War (Said Maggie One Day)-era recordings. Of course, there's also Strohsäcke's near sing-alongable chorus to enjoy, too.

Sobriquet Grade: 78 (C+).

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