July 2009 Archives

Forgotten Rebels: Nobodys Hero's

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Forgotten Rebels

Nobodys Hero's
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.

Highlights:

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.

The Frantics: Downtown Delirium

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The Frantics

Downtown Delirium
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 Listing:

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.

The Frantics: Playing Dumb

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The Frantics

Playing Dumb
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+).

Amebix: Winter

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Amebix

Winter 7"
Spiderleg, 1983

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.

Hudson: Out of Gas

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Hudson

Out of Gas
Farout, 1994

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-).

Marked Men: Ghosts

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Marked Men

Ghosts
Dirtnap, 2009

Over the past half dozen or so years, the Marked Men have earned themselves a reputation for crafting some of the most strikingly original pop-punk records of the decade. With a heavy dose of lo-fi garage fuzz, enough bubblegum to get Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon up off their beach blankets, and the perfect balance of three-chord simplicity and subtly experimental lead guitar riffs, the Marked Men may very well be the best pop-punk band in the country.

Highlights:

Track 1. "All in Your Head." Deceptively simple, the frantic rhythm of "All in Your Head" cultivates a pervasive sense of jittery excitement, as if you've drunk too much coffee after having spent all night falling in love. And it does not let up for duration of the record.

Track 2. "Ditch." Although listeners will strain to make sense of the muffled lead vocals ("ditch, stuck in a ditch, son of a bitch"), they will try to sing along. I promise. Oh, and keep your ears open for some of the best guitar work on the album.

Track 3. "Fortune." Noticing a pattern yet? Seriously, almost every track on this record would dwarf the best efforts of almost any other band. Although the whole song is pretty damn fine, wait until you hear the break about a minute into the track. Then just ride the waves of ah-ahhs into pop heaven.

Track 8. "Not That Kid." The rapid strumming of the guitars on "Not that Kid" are almost as mesmeric as the vocals are lulling.

Track 10. "Get to You." The notes of plaintive longing on "Get to You" are just sublime.

Track 14. "One More Time." The vocals on "One More Time" are arguably the album's best. And that is saying a lot.

Broken Toys: Prozac Baby/Pocketbook

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Broken Toys

Prozac Baby /
Pocketbook
Pogo Stick, 1994

Methuen, Massachusetts's Broken Toys have been releasing records for twenty years now and still, for no discernible (or, at the very least, justifiable) reason, hardly anyone other than the most voracious of record collectors seem aware of their existence. It's unforgivable, really.

The A-side of this disk sounds like it could have been on the Dead Boys' Young Loud and Snotty. Scratch that. The A-side of this disk sounds like it should have been on the Dead Boys' Young Loud and Snotty. I don't even care if this sounds bombastic or that it's a blatant anachronism (after all, Fluoxetine wasn't approved by the FDA until a decade after the Dead Boys imploded); "Prozac Baby" should be right up there with "Sonic Reducer" and "Ain't it Fun?" on Dead Boys greatest hits compilations. That's all I'm going to say.

The B-side, "Pocketbook" retains a few vestigial traces of the Stiv Bators-Cheetah Chrome desperation, but is much closer in spirit and sound to the playful brand of pop-punk soaking up the American midwest during the mid-nineties (it was, however, recorded in 1992). Whereas "Prozac Baby" is a bit on the slower, brooding side, "Pocketbook" speeds things up, swaps the Richard Hellish vocals for something closer to what one might expect out of, say, Walker, and churn out a bouncy, danceable tune.

Lyrically, the Broken Toys fit squarely in with the irreverently apolitical sort of stuff I associate with other pop-leaning punk bands from the nineties. I mean, "Prozac Baby" is about an emotionally and/or psychologically troubled girl "who ain't crazy" and takes "a little pill" to elevate her mood and the boy who loves her while "Pocketbook" deals with the aftermath of petty theft. You know, nothing too deep or overtly proselytory. Just fun.

Stupido Biondo: Stupido Biondo

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Stupido Biondo

Stupido Biondo
Self-released, 1992

Stupido Biondo's self-titled debut EP, despite the band's Italian monicker (it translates as "Stupid Blonde"), is a quick, predictable burst of Australian drunk punk. You know the formula: a crude recording of music with unabashedly vapid lyrics, drawled vocals, a handful of power chords, and some hardcore-tinged drumming. In other words, Stupido Biondo is a fun record that is indistinguishable from the thousands of equally low budget recordings released during the early 1990s. Still, while "Dopey Fucks" is little more than an excuse to for the band to chant (quite catchily, admittedly) the title ad nauseam and "Tuff" dispenses with coherent speech when the cumbersome English language seems too difficult to slur, the third track makes this disk a worthwhile curio to pull out once in a while. On "Barney's Dead," Stupido Biondo mocks a presumably distraught Fred Flintstone as he mourns the loss of his best friend. It's just silly and irreverent enough to add to a playlist once in a while when you're looking for a cheap chuckle. And, really, isn't that what good drunk punk is all about?

Terrible Twos: A + A

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Terrible Twos

A + A
Big Neck, 2007

Channeling the raw decadence of such heroin-soaked seventies proto-punk heavyweights as the Dead Boys, New York Dolls, and Voidoids, Detroit's Terrible Twos are an above-average lo-fi garage outfit that should get you feeling nostalgic for Dictators-era punk. Of the three tracks on the disk, the lead-off "Alcohol and Adderall" is probably the most radio-friendly, blending melody with speed and adding a dash of late sixties' surf to the mix. The melody, however, begins to give way to a more experimental brand of noise punk on the second track. With a delightfully demented keyboard and vocals hinting at a barely contained madness lurking under the surface, "Surprised" takes a few listens to appreciate but is anything but filler. On the third and final track, "Outdoors," the insanity threatening to take over the previous track emerges in the form of red-throated guttural shouts that slash through the chugging guitars and evaporate into an eerie cloud of sonic distortion.

Sobriquet Grade: 79 (C+).

Flirt: Don't Push Me! / Degenerator

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Flirt

Don't Push Me! /
Degenerator
Real Records, 1978

Forming in 1976, Detroit's Flirt was one of the first punk bands to emerge out of the Motor City and, like the Stooges and MC5 before them, the band developed an intense and often raw garage rock sound. Led by the husband-and-wife duo of Skid and Rockee Marx, Flirt sounds like what would happen if Janis Joplin lived past age 27, grew bored with psychedelia, and joined the Stooges after Iggy Pop went solo. Indeed, Rockee DeMarx's inimitable vocals elevate what would otherwise be a merely good, baldly derivative slab of hard-edged garage punk into a whole different beast.

Track Listing:

Track 1. "Don't Push Me!" With its relentless swirl of proto-metal guitar solos, thoroughly un-saccharine backing vocals, and handclaps divested of any last vestiges of bubblegum, "Don't Push Me!" injects a healthy dose of punk vitriol into music that could appeal equally to acid rockers and hair metal headbangers without an ounce of the self-indulgence or wimpiness one associates with either late sixties hard rock or mid-eighties balladry.

Track 2. "Degenerator." Like the howl of a wolf lost in the streets of the Motor City, DeMarx's prolonged vocals on the B-side cut through the of the wail of guitars with a ferocity as primal as they are furious.

ABKK: Ronny/Mörker

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ABKK

Ronny / Mörker
EMFD, 1981

Although bands like Suicide, Nervous Gender, the Stranglers, and the Screamers, among others, made extensive use of synthesizers during the early days of punk, the instrument was always somewhat suspect among the scene's tasemakers and its appearance on a recording was more often a sign of a group's movement towards new wave than an expansion of the boundaries of punk. Still, the relatively prohibitive attitudes towards atypical instrumentation within the punk world did not prevent some of the scene's more experimental bands from effectively incorporating synthesizers into their music. The downside to the synthesizer, of course, is its tendency to make recordings sound like they were produced by tinfoil-clad B-actors pretending to be living on a forlorn space station in the distant future. Then again, the upside to the use of the synthesizer is that it tends to make recordings sound like they were produced by tinfoil-clad B-actors pretending to be living on a forlorn space station in the distant future. Indeed, ABKK's "Ronny / Mörker" disk sounds like the sort of music Jenny Agutter's Jessica 6 might listen to on her way to Carousel in Logan's Run if she were a punk rocker.

Of the two tracks, "Mörker," despite the good folks over at Killed By Death Records making a compelling case for favoring the A-side, may be the better punk song. This isn't to say that "Ronny" with its positively insane synthesizer and tight, energetic rhythm isn't an awesome recording in its own right, especially with vocals evoking the best of Op-era Kjøtt, but "Mörker" dispenses with the weirdly sci-fi vibe of the title track while maintaining the same darkly techno feel in a more pogo-friendly mode. Regardless, the disk is solid through-and-through and stands out as one of those exceptional records that, had it been released by a British or American band (and, accordingly, to a much larger listening public), could easily have been regarded as a genre-expanding recording.

Sobriquet Grade: 88 (B+).

Chelsea: Evacuate

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Chelsea

Evacuate
Step Forward, 1982
Captain Oi! 2008

Although Chelsea is perhaps better known as the band whose original lineup would become Generation X, the various subsequent incarnations of the group assembled by Gene October produced some really solid music in their own Billy Idol-less right. Last year's Captain Oi! reissue, the band's long out-of-print third album, 1982's Evacuate, is a poignant reminder of that fact. From the apocalyptic title track, through the trance-like "Tribal Song," to the uncharacteristically upbeat "Stand Out" capping off the disk, Evacuate is one of those records that really deserves more attention from punks looking to preserve the gems of genre's first wave. Darkly political in its thematic scope and sonically intense, Evacuate is also one of the more consistently melodic records to emerge out of the Spirit of '77 scene.

Highlights:

Track 1. "Evacuate." While "Right to Work" is undoubtably the band's best-known recording, "Evacuate," in my mind, is a much better song. Backed by deceptively poppy oh-oh-oh-oh-ohs, Gene October depicts a dire scene in which the imminent arrival of some unspecified disaster throws London into chaos. Panicked citizens furiously search for ways to escape the city or, at the very least, find shelter while government officials barricade the entrances to their underground safe zones, using a periscope to watch the pandemonium from "a comfortable settee." The guitar work on the recording is a fantastic aural analogue to the lyrical content, alternating between riffs evoking the wailing of police sirens and moments of conspicuous, almost tense silence and cultivates a sense of frantic expectation. By the song's conclusion, the frenetic riff blends with the backing vocals to evoke a perfect chaos, as if we're overhearing the trampling of bodies from the safety of the aforementioned underground chamber.

Track 3. "Cover Up." The album's best sing-along, it's almost impossible to realize just how vitriolic a diatribe "Cover Up" actually is upon the first listen or two.

Track 4. "Tribal Song." An intense, meditative slab of post-punk gloom creating about as bright a view of the world as anything by Amebix.

Track 6. "Forty People." While not among the album's strongest tracks, "Forty People" stands out as the song most likely to entertain puerile mondegreen fanatics. Seriously, the refrain of "forty people" sounds like anything but "forty people." Farty people, party people, farting people, fried egg people, maybe, but not forty people.

Track 9. "Last Drink" The most melodic guitar riff on the album dominates what is, in the end, a really sweet-sounding song about getting oneself positively shitfaced.

Track 18. "Stand Out." Imagine a beat-up boombox playing from within the rubble of a warehouse blown apart by whatever nuclear or asteroidal menace destroyed London in "Evacuate." "Stand Out" sounds like punk rock's defiant refusal to die in the wake of the new wave explosion.

Sobriquet Grade: 91 (A-).

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