Results tagged “pop-punk”

The Frantics: Downtown Delirium

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

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+).

Marked Men: Ghosts

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.

Various Artists: Short Music For Short People

Various Artists

Short Music for Short People
Fat Wreck Chords, 1999

Compilations are rarely easy to review. More often than not, some bands or songs are markedly better than others, so there's almost always a sense of inconsistency or disjuncture and the more bands, the more pronounced the discrepancies in style and quality. Bearing this in mind, it is fairly remarkable that Fat Wreck Chords managed to cobble together a collection of 101 songs by 101 different artists that rarely misses a step, yet this is precisely the case with Short Music For Short People. Given Fat Wreck Chords' reputation for promoting poppier punk and hardcore bands, it is perhaps no surprise that this compilation, released at the dusk of the 1990s pop-punk boom, has a decidedly pop-punk flavor. Sure, there's a smattering of straight-up hardcore, horn-heavy ska, and other punkish sounds, but there's an astonishingly cohesive sound on this disk. The only instances where this consistency breaks down can be found in the handful of old songs resurrected seemingly for the sole purpose of meeting Fat Mike's quota of 101 different bands. Where the vast majority of bands recorded songs specifically for the compilation, a few anachronistic (though frequently stellar) luminaries do appear a decade or more after breaking up. Of course, this is also a gimmick record, and, accordingly, there's a fair amount of self-effacing, self-reflexive humor (directed at the restrictive brevity of the songs) in the lyrics as well as a few gags in the track listing (songs by Black Flag, White Flag, and Anti-Flag appear sequentially, for instance). The short song gimmick does wear a bit thin, however, and, regardless of how solid the songs often are, the disk lacks the replayability of less crowded record. One really pleasant aspect of the disk, though, is its ability to showcase a huge array of bands, most of which successfully convey their signature sound in the allotted time. You know, just what a good comp is supposed to do.

Track Listing:
(Given the unique nature of this record, I'll list the track lengths, too, for fun).

Track 1. "Short Attention Span" (Fizzy Bangers) - 0:08. The perfect introduction to a compilation of super-short songs, "Short Attention Span" is so short, it'll be over before you realize how catchy it is.

Track 2. "Anchor" (Less Than Jake) - 0:30. A toast to the punk scene the band loves delivered over chunky guitars and skankable horns.

Track 3. "Ketchup Soup" (Teen Idols) - 0:30. A Ramonesy love song about living in poverty featuring the band's trademark male-female harmonization.

Track 4. "All Comic Heroes Are Fascist Pigs" (Terrorgruppe) - 0:24. After presenting a catalog of classic comic heroes ranging from Mickey Mouse to Dick Tracy, the song descends into a chorus of what sounds suspiciously like "all cops are bastards!"

Track 5. "Overcoming Learned Behavior" (Good Riddance) - 0:27. A brief blast of Good Riddance's standard headbang-worthy melodic hardcore.

Track 6. "Quit Your Job" (Chixdiggit) - 0:24. For a song pleading with the audience to avoid starting a band, "Quit Your Job" is just catchy enough to make you go out, quite your job and start a band. Oh, the irony!

Track 7. "Ready" (The Living End) - 0:34. Distorted vocals and sped-up hillbilly strings make "Ready" worth a play or two.

Track 8. "Out of Hand" (Bad Religion) - 0:40. From the very first second of this track, the moment you hear the angry three-part harmonization, there's no mistaking that you're listening to Bad Religion. In other words, this rules.

Track 9. "Asian Pride" (Hi-Standard) - 0:30. If I didn't know Akihio Nanba, Ken Yokohama, and Akira Tsuneoka were from Japan, I'd've assumed they were a bunch of SoCal skaters attempting to fashion a pop-punk hoedown based on this song. You'll be dancing and looking for a partner to swing around, trust me.

Track 10. "Steamroller Blues" (Aerobitch) - 0:26. From Spain with vitriol, Laura Bitch makes Brody Dalle sound like a Spice Girl.

Track 11. "Doin' Laundry" (Nerf Herder) - 0:30. If you didn't speak English, you'd think this was a sweet song, but it's really a boy's confession of thinking about the object of his affection while masturbating.

Track 12. "Freegan" (Big Wig) - 0:32. A slightly heavier-than-average bit of activist-baiting, presumably directed at the more sanctimonious anarcho-punks.

Track 13. "Not Again" (Undeclinable Ambuscade) - 0:31. Mellow Dutch punk bordering on alt-rock.

Track 14. "Waste Away" (Fury 66) - 0:29. Furious, slightly metallic punk with sandpapered vocals.

Track 15. "The Radio Still Sucks" (The Ataris) - 0:28. Two decades after the Ramones lamented the death of sixties' pop radio, the Ataris remind us that things haven't changed.

Track 16. "Armageddon Singalong" (Unwritten Law) - 0:36. Bass-driven and bouncy, "Armageddon Singalong" is more singalong than eschatological, which is good, really.

Track 17. "Hearts Frozen Soil Sod Once More By The Spring of Rage, Despair, and Hopelessness" (A.F.I.) - 0:32. Remember when A.F.I. wasn't a trendy emo band? If not, play this. Sad, eh?

Track 18. "Farts are Jazz to Assholes" (Dillinger 4) - 0:32. This puerile, hand-clappingly, foot-stompingly catchy Minnesota punk track makes me miss my former home. It's D4 to a T.

Track 19. "Surf City" (Spread) - 0:28. Hard, fast, and loud with plenty of of chant-worthy bursts of "Go for it," "Surf City" would do well on a long distance runner's soundtrack.

Track 20. "Back To You" (Swingin' Utters) - 0:33. Solid cowpunk with just enough twang.

Track 21. "Outhouse of Doom" (Bar Feeders) - 0:34. Silly drunk punks, there's no such thing as an "outhouse of doom." At least that's what it sounds like you're saying through Scared of Chaka's distortion box.

Track 22. "Alienation" (Citizen Fish) - 0:33. Hook-heavy Brit punk gloriously devoid of the band's ska element.

Track 23. "Family Reunion (Blink-182) - 0:36. While not as painfully polished as some of the band's recordings, "Family Reunion" is fairly consistent with Blink-182's commercialized punk sound. Recipe for a Blink-182 song: sing "Shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, tits, fart, turd, and twat" four times, followed by "I fucked your mom" and a faux-outtake in which one sings "And I want to suck my dad, and my mom, too! Oh, is thing this on?" And make it catchy. Really catchy. This is the perfect song to play for someone who thinks all punk rock is, is a bunch of swearing for the sake of swearing.

Track 24. "Mirror, Signal, Wheelspin" (Goober Patrol) - 0:28. Somehow, this song sounds both desperate and totally danceable.

Track 25. "Saturday Night" (Kill Switch) - 0:32. Much more urgent a "Saturday Night" than that of the Bay City Rollers.

Track 26. "Bedroom Windows" (Enemy You) - 0:24. Snotty skatepunk with some sweet ahhs in the background.

Track 27. "Sara Fisher" (No Use For A Name) - 0:30. "Sara Fisher" is one of the better bits of melodic hardcore on the disk.

Track 28. "The Ballad of Wilhelm Fink" (Green Day) - 0:32. Probably the least punk song on Short Music, "The Ballad of Wilhelm Fink" is basically a folk-drenched Billie Joe Armstrong playing solo. Not bad.

Track 29. "Delraiser Part III, Del on Earth" (Consumed) - 0:27. Thoroughly satisfying Britpunk about slackerdom.

Track 30. "Told You Once" (Mr. T Experience) - 0:11. MTX might fit more bubblegum and "fucks" in these eleven seconds than Blink-182 does in their 36.

Track 31. "Randal Gets Drunk" (Lagwagon) - 0:28. Some solid ska-tinged punk courtesy of one of my favorite bands.

Track 32. "Fishfuck" (Gwar) - 0:32. For some reason I'm surprised by Gwar's musical competence here. I'm not surprised by the ichthyologically-oriented paraphilia they sing about.

Track 33. "Howdy Doody in the Woodshed" (The Dickies) - 0:33. Only the Dickies could take a cherished, if occasionally creepy, childhood icon, place him in perverse circumstances, warble about it, and make you want to sing along. Fucking brilliant.

Track 34. "Long Enough to Forget You" (Samiam) - 0:30. A metafictional bit of melodic hardcore.

Track 35. "Erik Sandin's Stand-In" (Dogpiss) - 0:33. Not only is this one of the more eminently singalongable songs on the Short Music comp, it has a bluegrass banjo that somehow makes the song even punker.

Track 36. "We Want The Kids" (59 Times the Pain) - 0:21. I love Swedish punk, always have.

Track 37. "Warren's Song Part 8" (Bracket) - 0:31. Not quite emo, but getting there.

Track 38. "No Fgcnuik" (Nomeansno) - 0:31. A finger-snapping lounge lizard opening erupts into a furious explosion of snotty, lightspeed punk.

Track 39. "I Like Food" (Descendents) - 0:17. Milo's impassioned celebration of alimentary joy never gets old.

Track 40. "Triple" (Dance Hall Crashers) - 0:33. A thirty second ska punk song about writing a thirty second song for Fat Mike.

Track 41. "Don Camero Lost His Mind" (Guttermouth) - 0:29. This is what would happen if punk bands wrote radio ads for shitty retail stores.

Track 42. "X-99" (Limp) - 0:38. Uh-oh, nah-nah-nahs, finger snapping, and hey-heys; that's a recipe for getting something stuck in your head. And, boy, this will.

Track 43. "Faust" (Jughead's Revenge) - 0:31. A chant-ridden song about being oneself rather than, say, signing a pact with the Devil ala the tragic figure sharing the track's name.

Track 44. "Deny Everything" (Circle Jerks) - 0:25. Another classic that never grows old.

Track 45. "Hand Grenades" (The Offspring) - 36. This is what might happen if Ted Kaczynski wrote hardcore punk rock.

Track 46. "Mike Booted Our First Song, So We Recorded This One Instead" (Mad Caddies) - 0:28. More metafictional, self-reflexive ska punk.

Track 47. "Union Yes" (The Criminals) - 0:34. Adenoidal doesn't even begin to describe the vocals on "Union Yes."

Track 48. "Dirty Needles" (Screeching Weasel) - 0:28. Well, this is Screeching Weasel for you: references to hard drug abuse, a dig at hippies, and thoroughly catchy poppiness.

Track 49. "300 Miles" (One Man Army) - 0:29. Imagine the Swingin' Utters swallowed Tom Waits.

Track 50. "Klawsterfobia" (Strung Out) - 0:30. Some pretty solid melodic hardcore from a pretty solid melodic hardcore outfit.

Track 51. "You Don't Know Shit" (Youth Brigade) - 0:35. Take Minor Threat's "Straight Edge" and play it backwards.

Track 52. "Doin' Fine" (Groovie Ghoulies) - 0:27. The Groovie Ghoulies are one of those bands that take the Ramones' formula, barely alter it, and totally kick ass. Indeed, "Doin' Fine" will get you off your ass and onto the dancefloor as fast as anything off of Leave Home.

Track 53. "John For The Working Man" (Tilt) - 0:31. Cinder Block has always been one of my favorite vocalists; play this once and you'll see why.

Track 54. "A Prayer For The Complete & Utter Eradication of All" (Spazz) - 0:26. This upliftingly-titled ditty is about as jarring a transition from the Ghoulies and Tilt to the Damned as anything I can imagine. Power violence as a bridge between pop-punk and goth-punk? Weird choice, Fat Mike.

Track 55. "It's A Real Time Thing" (The Damned) - 0:31. I fucking love the Damned, so it's no surprise that Dave Vanian's creepy musings on temporality and the band's eerie gothic ambiance pleases me a good deal.

Track 56. "All My Friends Are In Popular Bands" (88 Fingers Louie) - 0:31. This is pretty much exactly what you'd expect to hear on a late nineties pop-punk compilation. Archetypal stuff, this is.

Track 57. "I Hate Puck Rock" (D.O.A.) - 0:31. Joey Shithead has one of the greatest voices in all punk and this song showcases it perfectly.

Track 58. "Fun" (Pulley) - 0:31. The fact that Scott Radinsky sang lead vocals for a punk band while simultaneously pitching in Major League Baseball will always amuse the living shit out of me. Oh, and "Fun" is a pretty damn good song, by the way.

Track 59. "To All The Kids" (The Vandals) - 0:29. The Vandals channel spirit of sixties pop radio on this doo-wop-tinged ode to outcasts and freaks of all varieties. Delightful.

Track 60. "Thirty Seconds to the End of the World" (Pennywise) - 0:32. One of my favorite tracks on the disk, "Thirty Seconds to the End of the World" is an apocalyptic sing-along for the ages.

Track 61. "Get A Grip" (No Fun At All) - 0:27. Ah, even more melodic hardcore from Sweden! (Jag älskar Sverige).

Track 62. "Blatty (Human Egg) - 0:32. I want to hate this song, but I totally dig it.

Track 63. "I Got None" (All) - 0:29. A bit jazzy, a bit hardcore, a hundred percent All.

Track 64. "See Her Pee" (NOFX) - 0:32. I can't help but find Fat Mike singing about urolagnia over a backbeat that sounds as if it was lifted from Phil Collins's "In The Air Tonight" to be underwhelming.

Track 65. "F.O.F.O.D." (7 Seconds) - 0:31. 7 Seconds' contribution to the whole self-refelxive metafictional thing. You know, writing a song about writing a song for the CD.

Track 66. "Blacklisted" (Rancid) - 0:27. "Blacklisted" is reminiscent of Rancid's Let's Go-era sound. Good stuff.

Track 67. "Chandeliers And Souvenirs" (Dieselboy) - 0:29. Hard-edged punk with quasi-emo lyrics dripping with nostalgia.

Track 68. "Your Kung-Fu is Old . . . And Now You Must Die!!" (Adrenalin O.D.) - 0:31. The track's concluding gong makes what would be a merely good song great.

Track 69. "My Pants Keep Falling Down" (Frenzal Rhomb) - 0:32. Silly Australian punk.

Track 70. "I Hate Your Fucking Guts" (The Queers) - 0:30. Happy-sounding misanthropy from America's happiest misanthropes.

Track 71. "Comin' To Your Town" (D.I.) - 0:26. The opening riff to "Comin' To Your Town" is eerily similar to the Ramones' "Judy is a Punk."

Track 72. "Spray Paint" (Black Flag) - 0:33. Another classic from punk's vaults.

Track 73. "Rage Against the Machine Are Capitalist Phonies" (White Flag) - 0:28. Well, they are. The quivering vocals here are pretty kickass, too.

Track 74. "Bring it to An End" (Anti-Flag) - 0:28. Facile call-and-response sloganeering never sounds bad coming from these Pittsburgh boys.

Track 75. "Not A Happy Man" (Avail) - 0:35. An acoustic guitar and handclaps provide the backdrop for the speaker's tale of sitting in a cherry orchard without having access to the coveted fruit.

Track 76. "Old Mrs. Cuddy" (The Real McKenzies) - 0:31. Bagpipe-driven Celtic punk that would put the Dropkick Murphys to shame.

Track 77. "Traitor" (Agnostic Front) - 0:31. Note to self: do not piss off Agnostic Front.

Track 78. "Life Rules 101" (Down By Law) - 0:31 Dave Smalley sounds rather wimpy here.

Track 79. "Wake Up" (Radio Days) - 0:32. The xylophone on this track reminds me of the sort of music my younger sister used to play during her Little Mermaid Soundtrack-playing days. It's like "Under the Sea" goes punk.

Track 80. "Too Bad You Don't Get It" (Useless I.D.) - 0:34. They had me at the cowbell solo.

Track 81. "Humanity" (Poison Idea) - 0:35. Today's hardcore has nothing on these guys, nothing.

Track 82. "In Your Head" (Men O'Steel) - 0:25. Montreal punk with some really interesting (in a good way) vocals.

Track 83. "Supermarket Forces" (Subhumans - U.K.) - 0:32. An anarcho-punk attack on the local effects of large-scale chain stores.

Track 84. "Tribute to the Mammal" (Buck Wild) - 0:23. Chugging guitars and snotty vocals = punk.

Track 85. "Pretty Houses" (Lunachicks) - 0:28. Theo Cogan's lyrics on "Pretty Houses" may be the best out of all 101 performances on the disk.

Track 86. "The Band That Wouldn't Die" (Dwarves) - 0:38. Self-aggrandizing sleaze punk. What else would you expect?

Track 87. "Like a Fish in Water" (Bouncing Souls) - 0:34. A bizarrely polka-ish song that sounds like a Gogo Bordello outtake.

Track 88. "Turn it Up" (Happy Trigger) - 0:30. A half-minute's worth of metallic hardcore with irritatingly hair metal-ish background vocals.

Track 89. "Madam's Apple" (One Hit Wonder) - 0:32. In case you couldn't make the leap upon reading the song's title, "Madam's Apple" is One Hit Wonder's "Lola" or "Dude, Looks Like A Lady."

Track 90. "Staggering" (Hot Box) - 0:28. How, exactly does one growl mellowly?

Track 91. "DMV" (2.0) - 0:29. More middle-of-the-road melodic hardcore.

Track 92. "Big Fat Skinhead" (Snuff) - 0:34. Solid Britpunk.

Track 93. "Pimmel" (The Muffs) - 0:34. You've always wanted to hear Kim Shadduck sing in German? Now you can!

Track 94. "Mr. Brett, Please Put Down Your Gun" (H2) - 0:30. A silly hardcore tableau in which the Bad Religion/Epitaph founder goes on a shooting spree.

Track 95. "Wake Up" (Bodyjar) - 0:33. About as complete a song as you'll find on the disk.

Track 96. "Eyez" (Nicotine) - 0:26. Ska-punk with some killer vocals I promise you won't soon forget.

Track 97. "Another Stale Cartoon" (Satanic Surfers) - 0:31. Have I mentioned how much I like Swedish punk?

Track 98. "I Don't Mind" (Ten Foot Pole) - 0:32. A poppy celebration of wanderlust and traveling for the sheer joy of being on the road.

Track 99. "Welcome to Dumpsville, Population You" (Caustic Soda) - 0:24. Frantic and fun, Caustic Soda's entry is worth waiting through the first 98 songs on the disk.

Track 100. "NY Ranger" (The Misfits) 0:28. I'm guessing "I Want to Be A New York Islander" had too many syllables? And, by the way, this does not sound like the Misfits at all. Besides, they're from Lodi, NJ. That's Devils territory, man.

Track 101. "The Count" (Wizo) - 0:31. A nerdy song that counts the thirty seconds of recording the band promised to deliver to Fat Mike. Somehow, despite it's stupidity, it's really catchy.

The Queers: Love Songs for the Retarded

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.

Uphill Down: Uphill Down

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.

Batfoot!: Melodic Tardcore

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-).

Various Artists: Definitivt Femtio Spänn 6

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-).

Drunk in Public: Tapped Out

Back in the mid-nineties I hosted a radio show on my college's in-house station and, of all the record labels I contacted, Fearless Records was the most enthusiastic about sending me their releases (I also remember getting some stuff from Fat Wreck Chords and the station manager taking all the NOFX CDs for himself...). While none of the CDs I got from Fearless were mind-blowingly original, I did enjoy adding some Blount, Glue Gun, 30 Foot Fall, Grabbers, and White Caps tunes to the program. At any rate, the one record I recall playing most frequently both on- and off-air was Drunk in Public's Tapped Out! so it is with some pleasure and quite a bit of nostalgia that I return to the disk this early New Year's morning.


One of the legions of similar-sounding pop-punk bands active in the late eighties and early nineties, Drunk in Public contributed some of the catchier tracks to a few of the era's more memorable compilations, toured the States a couple of times, and released Tapped Out! which, it seems, remains the band's most well-known work.

As I've said, though, Tapped Out! does little to distinguish itself from what is, in retrospect, an unbelievably sprawling body of largely-forgotten pre-Green Day boom pop-punk. Still, while the style and sound of the music is essentially interchangeable with those of now-neglected bands, the album's quality production and the band's tight musicianship combine to make one of those disks that I will continue to dig out once in a while to add some variety to my (soon-to-be-resumed) radio show. Furthermore, the bits of funk (especially on the slap-bass happy "Don't Give Up"), hardcore, and pseudo-hair metal (take the Van Halenish opening to "Looking Back," for instance) make the record stand out from the pop-punk pack. But not by much.

Highlights:

Track 1. "The Way He Feels." This was always a popular song when I played it. The first of many songs about relationships on the album.

Track 3. "Enemies." Probably the band's most well-known track, "Enemies" appeared on at least one compilation (one of Fearless's Punk Bites disks) and is yet another breakup song.

Track 4. "Meaningless." A hardcore-tinged song about a dysfunctional relationship. Noticing a pattern yet? The whoah-oh-oooh-oooh-ohs, though, make it a keeper.

Track 5. "Everyday." Take Screeching Weasel and move them to sunny California and you've got another catchy Drunk in Public love song.

Track 14. "Shades of Gray." The best vocal performance on the disk, I reckon, "Shades of Gray" offers a lot for the punker looking for something to sing to while sitting in traffic.

Sobriquet Grade: 81 (B-).

The Abs: Turbosphinct

The Abs, as I have written elsewhere, are easily one of the most entertaining bands I've got in my collection. With lyrics ranging from astoundingly zany to downright facile to strikingly intelligent and undeniably melodic, hook-heavy guitar work, the Abs rarely miss the mark with their brand of quirky pop-punk. On the band's 1988 EP, TurboSphinct, the Abs pretty much follow their formula to a T. Take "Same Mistake Twice," the disk's opening track, for instance: with Fatty Ashtray's bouncing bassline as the song's groundwork, Baz sings of feeling like he's been "sent here on a mission / to eradicate complacency among the young men in this town" (peculiar word selection for a pop song, no?) in such a way as to make the listener feel like he or she is a bad person for not singing along. The second track, the awkwardly-titled "Hand Me Down (My Silver Boulder Knives)," for better or worse, reminds me of William Carlos Williams's "The Dance," a poem whose rhythm mimetically captures the festive (well, drunken, actually) whirling, twirling, rollicking pirouettes of the dancers in Pieter Brueghel, the Elder's painting, "The Kermess":



I mean, I realize this sounds ridiculous but, in all seriousness, that's the image that comes to mind every time I play the song. Opening with playfully militaristic drumroll and a bassline that could have been lifted out of some sort of folk festival dance number, "Hand Me Down (My Silver Boulder Knives)" is one of the most immediately danceable tracks I've heard in a long time. And, I should note, that by "danceable," I mean wild hopping from foot-to-foot with the punch-counterpunch swing of the song's beat.

The EP's B-side is not quite as strong as the romping A-side. While both "Legal Aid" and "Jackhammer" are consistent with the band's poppier sound, both add subtle elements of mid-eighties hard rock and hair metal to the mix. Though barely noticeable, the shift in sound is perceptible and neither song is especially memorable. Fortunately, the Abs did not fall into the trap as did so many of their contemporaries and, with their next album, took a decidedly non-metallic approach to songsmithing. To delightful effect, I might add.

Sobriquet Grade: 85 (B).

The Gaslight Anthem: Sink or Swim

While Sink or Swim, the Gaslight Anthem's 2007 debut, is undeniably, one of the better records to emerge out of the punk scene over the past few years, it may be the band's weakest release. Of course, this is saying a whole lot. After all, both their follow-up EP, Señor and the Queen, and their sophomore album, The '59 Sound, are phenomenal (and, especially in the case of the latter, genre-expanding) releases. So, really, listening to Sink or Swim after having heard the band's most recent output may not be the best approach to reviewing the disk. I mean, you can't help but be a bit biased.


At any rate, Sink or Swim is certainly not your run-of-the-mill debut effort. The Gaslight Anthem are one of the tightest outfits on the circuit today, consistently polished and capable of the sort of unified sound most good bands require several albums to achieve. And you can hear it on this first record. There really isn't a lousy track on the disk.

All the hallmarks of the Gaslight Anthem's sound are present on Sink or Swim, though perhaps not in as breathtakingly mature a manner as on The '59 Sound: Brian Fallon's soulful Bruce Springsteen-meets-Tom Waits rasp, punk-infused roots rock riffs, and immensely catchy sing-along choruses. Unlike The '59 Sound, however, Sink or Swim does not offer quite as many stand-out singles, which makes for a strikingly balanced listening experience. The band's performance, with the significant exception of "I'da Called You Woody, Joe," is consistently very good on the record, but most tracks fall just shy of great. In other words, Sink or Swim is an excellent album that really needs to be played start-to-finish in order to be properly appreciated because there's not as many mix tape-ready tracks to pull from the disk.

Highlights:

Track 1. "Boomboxes and Dictionaries." A driving rhythm serves up one of the album's catchier choruses like a Jersey Shore wave breaking just in time to deliver a surfer to his or her perfect crest.

Track 2. " I Coul'da Been A Contender." Despite the dubious placement of the apostrophe in the song's title, this track is close to flawless.

Track 5. "1930." One of the most representative of the album's tracks, "1930" is the perfect introduction to the Gaslight Anthem's nascent soul punk sound.

Track 8. "I'da Called You Woody, Joe." The band's heartfelt dirge for Joe Strummer captures the shock Fallon felt upon learning of of the Clash frontman's untimely heart attack and transforms it into a sublime punk rock threnody.

Track 9. "Angry Johnny and the Radio." Try not to sing along with this one. Seriously. It's like eating one potato chip. You just can't resist.

Track 12. "Red At Night." A clear nod to Billy Bragg's "Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key," "Red At Night" is a beautiful acoustic performance as electrifying as the most intense of plugged-in sets.

Sobriquet Grade: 86 (B).

Incidentally, I caught the Gaslight Anthem's show in Asbury Park last night. The third of three "At Home for the Holidays" shows put on by the Bouncing Souls, the concert featured the legendary pogo punks as headliners and the Gaslight Anthem as one of three opening bands. The show was originally scheduled for the Stone Pony but a last minute venue change resulted in the rather unfortunate decision to hold the concert in the Grand Arcade, a glass-enclosed section of the Asbury Park boardwalk with less than ideal acoustic properties. In addition to the sound-absorbing Christmas tree to the right of the stage, the high, cathedral-esque ceilings and disproportionately wide proportions of the hall swallowed quite a bit of the music and what managed to escape often got trapped in the odd nooks and crannies of the beachside boutiques lining the concourse. With the exception of one Bad Religion concert in Montreal's Jarry Park, I have never attended a punk show held in such an overlarge space and, to be honest, the music suffered.


In addition to the Bouncing Souls and the Gaslight Anthem, with whose music I am rather well acquainted, the bill included two other Jersey bands, Let Me Run and Gimme Drugs, neither of which really struck me as especially good. Let Me Run has a rather melodic brand of hardcore-leaning punk and gave a pretty solid performance, though the lead singer seemed a bit nervous at times. Gimme Drugs, as their rather lame name suggests, are one of those bands that are not particularly inventive. Armed with lyrics occasionally delivered in an obnoxious spoken word style and jokes ("Hello, we're the Gaslight Anthem. Heh, heh, heh.") that fell flat, Gimme Drugs did not engage the audience much.

The Gaslight Anthem were great, though. You can tell the band is about to get huge. I mean, the crowd was swarming with Brian Fallon lookalikes. The original Fallon, of course, is a natural performer, regularly engaging the audience in banter and sing-alongs. Clearly very comfortable on stage, the Gaslight Anthem displayed remarkable chemistry, exchanging playfully knowing glances and orchestrating deceptively casual musical improvisations that really electrified the audience.

Playing an extremely tight set, the Gaslight Anthem leaned heavily on The '59 Sound, though they played a fair amount of songs from both their previous records. Watching the band, I was pretty certain I was watching The Next Big Thing.

The Bouncing Souls, predictably, performed an energetic set of pogo-punk tracks that drove the circle pit into a frenzy. Initially dressed in matching red holiday jumpers, the band came across as extremely fan friendly, often holding the mike to the throbbing mass of kids dying to sing along with this most sing-alongable of bands. With such novelties as a tongue-in-cheek (though quite good) acoustic cover of the Misfits' "Hybrid Moments" thrown in to pace what would otherwise have been a blistering set of pop-punk tunes, the Souls were perfectly tuned to their audience. Mixing newer tracks (including debuting an unreleased song) with selections from the band's first two decades of recording, the Bouncing Souls gave a pleasantly balanced set, being certain to cater to both newer and older fans.

While I did experience a bit of disappointment with the venue and some chagrin at the programmer's strange tendency to play AC/DC CDs during set changes, the show was one of the better ones I've seen lately and, just maybe, I can say I witnessed the Gaslight Anthem as they were getting ready to rocket to the big time. The next time I see the band, I doubt very much the tickets will be so cheap or the venue so small. They're that good.

Boris the Sprinkler: 8 Testicled Pogo Machine

Boris the Sprinkler were one of the most deliberately zany punk bands of the 1990s and early 2000s. Fronted by the notoriously bizarre Rev. Nørb (who, when I asked him, assured me that his name was pronounced "Norb" but that he had stylized the font, intending the "ø" to be read as as a "null" rather than the Norwegian letter it actually represents), Boris the Sprinkler churned out a series of pop-punk albums that were, by turns, riotously funny, gratingly cacophonous, delightfully melodic, obnoxiously moronic, and thoroughly enjoyable. Hailing from Green Bay, Wisconsin, Boris the Sprinkler proudly flaunted their Cheeseheadedness, often referring to local hangouts in their lyrics and even penning a song about pining for a grilled cheese sandwich on Saucer to Saturn, their 1995 sophomore LP.


Opening with the unmistakeable and inimitable voice of the late Wesley Willis mimicking the famous introductory words to the MC5's Kick Out the Jams, 8 Testicled Pogo Machine immediately aligns itself with the brand of self-consciously absurdist Dickies-style campiness. After introducing each of the band's members in mock-MC fashion, Rev. Nørb, deeming himself "the voice of Geek America" (the man is perhaps best remembered for wearing his antler helmet, a football helmet with the words "PUNK" and "GEEK" plastered to its surface) proceeds to open the album with its geekiest, punkiest track, "Drugs and Masturbation."

Lyrically, "Drugs and Masturbation" sets the tone for much of the disk. Boris the Sprinkler, like many of the pre-emo boom pop punk bands of the nineties, were pretty much obsessed with the sex they could not get, the girls they could not get it from, and the hands they turned to in moments of frustration. The amplified self-depreciation, candid celebration of marginalized status, and the unabashedly onanistic tone of the song informs much of the album's remaining lyrical content. The record's second track, "Get Outta Here" is the tale of a single man living in his mother's house who refuses to succumb to a girl's unwelcome advances because he's "not that desperate yet." Like the Ramones' "I Don't Want To Walk Around With You," "Get Outta Here" is pure punk rock anti-love and a fitting introduction to a theme the band further distills in "(She's So) Disgusting." On "The Way It Is," however, the Reverend croons about a girl he believes is too good for him, wishing that he had actually mailed "a letter [he] never sent" in which he "told her how [he] felt." Furthermore, we eventually learn, the singer has never even spoken to the girl, placing "The Way It Is" alongside such nineties pop-punk versions of this eternal rock 'n' roll theme as Screeching Weasel's "Totally" and "Claire Monet." On the track "1-3," the speaker sings about his unfortunate discovery that a girl for whom he has developed a physical attraction is, in fact, a mere thirteen years old. Though she is half his age, the ephebophilic character struggles with his forbidden attraction to the unwitting Lolita. And, in case you haven't yet realized that a huge chunk of the album deals with the seemingly impossible act of forming a healthy relationship between a male and a female, "Girls Like U" makes the point abundantly clear.

Other than tales of unrequited love, 8 Testicled Pogo Machine makes frequent mention of fast food (Taco Bell, in particular), classic punk bands (the U.K. Subs), and comic book characters (Archie Comics' Professor Flutesnoot and Mr. Weatherbee and the Green Lantern make an appearance).

Musically, the album is quite a bit more diverse than most records classified as pop-punk. While you've got tons of Ramones-y stuff going on, there's a clear roots rock element to the record as well as bits and pieces of what might be considered Doo-Wop, rockabilly, Lemonheads-esque alt-pop, and (deliberately) horrible a cappella. What really unifies the album is the band's aforementioned zaniness. The concentrated weirdness and light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek lyrics about such pedestrian topics as drinking grape juice ties the album together at least as much as the rapidly-played, elementary power chords.

Highlights:

Track 1. "Drugs and Masturbation." Truly the voice of Geek America.

Track 9. "The Way It Is." I remember listening to this song over and over again in my freshman dorm. What I loved then - and what I still love today - is the perfect evocation of a self-critically melancholy mood. It's a frank admission to oneself that "I fucked up," a vain attempt at stoic acceptance of disappointment with some beautiful backing vocals and a guitars that'll hook you instantly.

Track 11. "Gimme Gimme Grape Juice." How punk is this? I mean, you take a Ramones title, replace "Shock Treatment" with a relatively under-appreciated beverage (at least in punk songs, where beer is more often than not the libation of choice), add a jailhouse-issue harmonica performance, and play over standard, chugging pogo punk. Oh, and then add an almost-Elvis "Gimmuh-Gimmuh, uh-huh" for good measure. And then burp to end the song.

Sobriquet Grade: 85 (B).

The Abs: Mental Enema

Something strange happened to me this evening. You see, I was walking through town when I noticed a peculiar, though hardly unpleasant, thing: people kept smiling at me as I walked by. At first, I thought perhaps the holiday season had suddenly transformed everyone I passed into remarkably cheerful bearers of the Christmas spirit. Then I noticed that, actually, I had only passed women and it was the succession of female grins cast in my direction that had surprised me so. Before I chalked my sudden appeal up to a superhuman level of attractiveness, however, I decided to consider, as rationally as I could, what might be the root of this unprecedented development. Either my fly was unzipped, I reasoned, or something in my diet must have caused my body to produce particularly potent pheromones. Just as I was getting ready to strut up the street pounding my chest and pumping my fist with testosterone-fueled bravado, however, I realized the explanation was far more simple: the people I passed smiled at me because, unbeknownst to me, I'd been grinning like a fool for some time.


So, now that I'd figured out what was going on, I set myself to thinking. I mean, I rarely smile, so something extraordinary must have happened, right? Then I figured it out: I'd been listening to the Abs, and I was smirking and chuckling at the tunes my iPod had been whispering in my ear.

Like many people, my first exposure to the Abs was their (in)famous and frequently anthologized "Grease Your Ralph," the band's infectiously poppy paean to the combover Ralph Coates (pictured with hair to the right) sported towards the conclusion of the midfielder's career with Tottenham Hotspur in the seventies. Although Coates hung up his cleats in 1980 after playing a few years for London's Leyton Orient, the Welsh pop-punkers thought it would be a great idea to pen a song about Mr. Coates and his tendency to "drape those greasy strands" across his "shiny" pate nearly a decade after the fact.

And, you know what? It worked. Unlike Coates's "absurd" combover (seen to the left), which, as Nicky Clark explains in The Observer, could never "stick to the scalp" because "[h]owever much grease or lacquer you put on . . . it'll just matt it all together." The end result, of course, was that "[w]hen Coates tore down Burnley's wing, his hair travelled a second or two behind him."

Indeed, it was this weird tendency of Coates's hair to trail his head as he ran downfield that seems to be at the heart of the Abs's song. "Grease Your Ralph," then, is an order of sorts; it is a plea to those men whose attempts to mask their male pattern baldness with combovers (as futile as that endeavor may be) to use the proper amount of grease to keep their plaits from lifting off and streaming in the wind as the bearer moves about. After all, as the Abs point out in their song, a failure to properly grease one's Ralph may very well result in a Mr. Softee-like appearance.

Anyway, it was the quiet contemplation of of Ralph Coates and his ice cream logo doppelganger, among other things, that got me to smiling this evening.

As far as the actual record goes, Mental Enema is pretty damn good. As profoundly sophomoric as the title may be, the Abs are a remarkably intelligent band. True, they sprinkle the album with a bunch of silly bits of immaturity, but they are such talented musicians that what would pass off as buffoonery when handled by less capable hands comes across as delightfully light-hearted and even a bit witty.

What's perhaps most satisfying about this record, though, is the unceasingly fun feeling it produces. Between Baz and Bryn, the Abs gave us some of the most impressively melodic vocals you'll ever hear on a punk disk, by turns soft and impassioned. I mean, you've a pair of guys capable of singing The Proclaimers' "I'm Gonna be (500 Miles)" as well as some of the grittier, bluesy fifties' style rock 'n' roll vocals the group parodies on "Wreckoning Hour" (on which Little Richard's famous opening to "Tuttu Frutti" is transformed into "a wop bop a loo bop a cough wheeze fart"). Buzz's bass-playing recalls the best of the Rezillos (think "Flying Saucer Attack") and, actually, may be the album's strongest suit after the vocals. Great stuff, through and through.

Highlights:

Track 1. "Popular in Bradford." One of Buzz's jauntier performances, but the lyrics are what really stand out on this number. The rocking subject of the song is "being delivered by caesarian birth" and comes coursing "down your tubes" before "ripping out your pubes." Indeed, the band promises to "rock your tits off/ Blow 'em clean from your chest." And they sing it in such an innocuous-sounding way, too.

Track 2. "Grease Your Ralph." The only way this song could be better is if the Abs took a nod from Gang of Four and started singing about poststructuralist theorists. Seriously, imagine "Grease Your Jurgen [Habermas]." On second thought, forget that. This is perfect as is. Pop-punk genius, a jumping bassline, and Mr. Softee. You really can't go wrong. . .

Track 7. "Wreckoning Hour." Oh, if only the Proclaimers were a punk band!

Sobriquet Grade: 87 (B+).

No Empathy: Ben Weasel Don't Like It (EP)

Although Marc Ruvelo and crew abandoned heavy metal by the time they released their second album, Freedom of Flesh, in 1989, No Empathy never really lost the harder edge of their earlier sound. Indeed, while the Ben Weasel Don't Like It EP has all the hallmarks of a good straightforward punk record -- speed, relatively uncomplicated chord progressions, et cetera -- there are more than a handful of metal-tinged moments on the disk. Some of Ruvelo's vocals could easily be transferred to a thrashcore record without much alteration and the guitars on "Another Word for Unhappiness" do occasionally evoke images of feather-haired, spandex-clad cock rockers windmilling their way through some arena ballad, but the metalish aspects of the band are kept in check and never really approach the ostentatious posturing of some (unnamed) bands with similar tendencies.


That said, this is a good punk record. In addition to the title track and the band's cover of Bad Religion's "Chasing the Wild Goose, which appeared, respectively, as the A and B sides of the original 7" release, the Broken Rekids EP adds three solid original songs to the mix.

Track Listing:

Track 1."Ben Weasel Don't Like It." A good-natured poke at Ben Weasel's notoriously opinionated Chicago scene reports and columns for Maximunrocknroll, "Ben Weasel Don't Like It" is framed by a scene in which Marc Ruvelo asks Ben for the punk rock pseudo-curmudgeon's opinion of his band, to which Ben declares "that, uh, pretty much totally sucked." As a gimmick between friends, the voice-over works nicely and ribs both Weasel and his detractors. I mean, in my limited correspondences with Ben, he has struck me as an uncommonly kind and considerate individual, quite unlike the vitriolic nose-wrinkler some people claim his columns present him to be. "Ben Weasel Don't Like It" sets the record straight: Ben is opinionated and he has a sense of humor about it. He's as willing to criticize himself as he is to critique others. Oh, and the song fucking rocks. Easily one of the best No Empathy tracks out there.

Track 2. "Chasing the Wild Goose." The story is fairly well-known in punk circles: After the successes of their self-titled debut EP and first album, How Could Hell Be Any Worse? in 1982, Bad Religion inexplicably began writing keyboard-laden progressive rock when preparing their sophomore effort, Into The Unknown. Although the band has refused to re-release what many consider to be a disastrous punk rock faux pas, the record did make it out of the studio and into the hands of puzzled hardcore fans worldwide. After the head-scratching and eye-blinking subsided, it seems, people noticed that a few of the tracks were, ultimately, not half bad. "Chasing the Wild Goose," a tale of depression and desperation not wholly unlike some of Bad Religion's later work, is one such song and No Empathy's rendition, while slower than the rest of the EP, is a fairly catchy tune, preserving the melancholy of the original while injecting a bit of actual punk energy into the track.

Track 3. "Maps." Straight-forward poppy punk and a suitably mid-tempo bridge between "Wild Goose" and the faster fare comprising the remainder of the EP.

Track 4. "Another Word for Unhappiness." Certainly not a standout track, but replay-worthy nonetheless.

Track 5. "Veteran." Okay, this sounds like the sort of music I remember from the nineties: bouncy bass lines, buzzing guitars, and dueling vocals on the chorus. Perfect for slam dancing.

Sobriquet Grade: 82 (B-).

Walker: If You're Punk Rock, I'm Single

Walker's "If You're Punk Rock, I'm Single" is one of countless decent records buried in the slush pile of relatively unremarkable mid-nineties midwestern pop-punk releases. I tend to describe Walker as a good mix tape band. While they never really distinguished themselves as major players in the vibrant Chicago scene with which they are often associated, Walker produced a number of tunes that, even a decade later, sound as if they belong on a tape somewhere between the Bollweevils and the Smoking Popes.


The three tracks on "If You're Punk Rock, I'm Single" showcase Walker's rather unique emo-tinged, lo-fi sound. With a fuzz pedal that may well have once belonged to Bob Mould, hook-laden melodies, and mellow (if somewhat plaintive) vocals, Walker fashions a decidedly poppy record that is neither Ramonesy nor whiny. Both "Letter" and "Throw" are keepers, the former being perhaps a bit catchier than the latter, but neither are bona-fide standouts. The band's emo influence can be heard in the lyrics ("I wrote you a letter/ But I didn't know where to send it"), but they are mercifully leagues away from being the sort of saccharine drivel passing itself off as emo these days. If anything, Walker maintains a bit of the humor ("I tried to kick the football to Lucy") so sorely absent in the more egregiously self-pitying emo that has superseded the genre's earlier style. The third song, a cover of the Captain and Tenille's "Love Will Keep Us Together," is a solid addition to the body of half-reverent, half-ironic punk covers of 1970s AM radio staples to which it was almost obligatory for any self-respecting pop-punk band of the time to contribute. I wouldn't play it too often, though.

Sobriquet Grade: (79) C+.

Screeching Weasel: Formula 27 (EP)

Formula 27 is easily one of my favorite 7-inch'ers ever. I remember driving to Minneapolis with my roommate, stopping by Extreme Noise, poring over the crates of vinyl, realizing that my finances were rather limited and, ultimately, deciding that if I was going to allow myself to "splurge" on anything, it would be on this four-song EP. I also remember driving my roommate crazy by playing it over and over again on our lone turntable the second we got home.


But that's Screeching Weasel for you. Some people love them, absolutely love every second of the band's music, and other folks . . . well, their taste is impaired.

At any rate, Formula 27 is classic Screeching Weasel. In fact, as a companion to the band's stellar Bark Like a Dog LP, Formula 27 is the last release the band's "classic" Ben Weasel / Danny Vapid / Jughead / Dan Panic lineup would produce. For anyone even cursorily familiar with the midwestern punk scene during the 1990s, this was the lineup that also churned out My Brain Hurts, a cover of the Ramones' first album, Wiggle, and Anthem for a New Tomorrow between 1991 and 1993. And the four tracks on Formula 27 rank right up there with the strongest songs on those seminal albums.

In other words, Formula 27 consists of fast, Ramonsy pop-punk with lyrics about romantic misadventures delivered in Ben Weasel's trademark snotty suburbs-o'-Chicago whine. And it's not that sort of saccharine "If only you knew how great I am, then you'd like me" crap that has brought fame and fortune to certain unnamed guyliner-sporting emo bands. To wit:

Oh yeah I'm getting old and fat and it seems
That everywhere I turn pretty girls just pass me by and stare
right through me

...

Pretty girls oh oh yeah look fresh and bright and pure and so clean
But you know pretty girls oh oh yeah would never associate
with scum like me

Seriously, how great would it be if Jimmy Eat World or the Get-Up Kids sang "I'm getting old and fat"? Brilliant, Ben, brilliant.


Highlights:

Track 1. "(Nothing's Gonna) Turn Me Off (Of You)." Growing up, I never really understood the concept of dancing. I mean, I had a vague idea that it involved moving in response to music, but I'd never felt the urge to move. When I first heard the bouncy rhythm of "(Nothing's Gonna) Turn Me Off (Of You)," however, my body began jerking awkwardly and, suddenly, I got it. Of course, I resembled Seinfeld's Elaine Benes. But you get the point. The song hooks you immediately. Additionally, the song contains another of Weasel's lyrical gems: "I'm not as desperate as I probably seem / you really are the girl of some of my dreams."

Track 2. "Pretty Girls Don't Talk to Me." Now that I'm thirty, I am beginning to understand the whole "I'm getting old and fat" thing. Getting to the song, though, this is one of Ben Weasel's finer moments. You've got a bit of the super-melodic lead guitar sound fans will associate with songs like "Guest List," but it doesn't take over the song. Instead, it's a perfect compliment to Weasel's start-again, stop-again vocals. The really great thing about this track, though, is the twenty-five second bridge linking the relatively restrained first two-thirds of the song with the frenetic crescendo.

Track 3. "I Don't Care Anymore." Okay, take the somber mood of the last song and add hand clapping and ivory-tickling to the mix. These sixties throwback stylings work really well, transforming a solid nineties' pop-punk song into something entirely different. Once the oohs and aahs (well, mostly oohs, actually) kick in with about minute left on the track, you've got the punk equivalent of the sort of song you'd find at the end of a high school movie. You know, the song that plays when the reticent kid gets to dance with the apple of his or her eye. Only this is actually good.

Track 4. "Why'd You Have to Leave?"All right, now take the hand clapping and ooh-aahing from the last song and add the bounce of the first track. Enjoy.

Sobriquet Grade: 90 (A-)

Various Artists: Quality Punk Rock (Bad Taste Records)

Quality Punk Rock is one of the better samplers to emerge out of the mid-nineties pop-punk boom. Released by Sweden's Bad Taste Records (one of the country's best indie labels) in early 1996, the compilation does not rely too heavily on bands signed to the label, choosing to fashion a "quality" pop-punk record out of contributions from some of Sweden's brighter stars as well as from international acts such as Lagwagon and the Bollweevils instead of cobbling together a mediocre showcase of the label's back catalog. And, for whatever reason, I love the mock-seventies cover. The confused, headphone-wearing girl and the horrible font just feels totally right for the album's campy mood.

Track Listing:

Track 1. "Wind in Your Sail" (Lagwagon). I love this song. Seriously: "I live to watch you fail"? The compilation is worth buying for this one lyric alone. Oh, and the song is about as poppy as any Lagwagon track you'll have heard. It's a shame most people had to wait until 2000 when Lagwagon released Let's Talk About Leftovers to get ahold of this song.

Track 2. "Memories of You" (Pridebowl). Snotty-sounding vocals lamenting a poor father-son relationship. Fortunately, it lacks the syrup of emo.

Track 3. "7 Clicks" (Bollweevils). The Bollweevils rule. That's all you need to know.

Track 4. "Labios De Mierda" (Satanic Surfers). The Satanic Surfers never disappoint. Pop-punk about a "guy who's sure got a way with turds." Oh, the potty humor never stops.

Track 5. "Thought" (Turtlehead). Bass-driven Scottish punk. For some reason, this sounds as if it could be on the Mallrats soundtrack. Just don't ask me why.

Track 6. "Cardboard Boxes" (Loosegoats). Clearly recorded before the band became alt-country (thank God), "Cardboard Boxes" features a pretty impressive lead guitar and is an amusingly chaotic-sounding addition to an otherwise polished-sounding compilation.

Track 7. "Bubble Burst" (Adhesive). One of Adhesive's more intense songs, "Bubble Burst" really hits its stride when, towards the end of the track, after a pretty solid bridge, the lyrics collapse into the musings of a wounded, solipsistic loner and waves of frantic guitar riffs wash over the whole mess.

Track 8. "Killer" (Everyday Madness). Ah, crusty Swedish punk girls. Can it get any better?

Track 9. "Alone" (Astream). Pretty standard Astream fare.

Track 10. "Spearmint" (Slobsticks). Pop-punk occasionally interrupted by bursts of ska.

Track 11. "Somehow" (Passage 4). Although "Somehow" conforms to the relatively poppy sound of the compilation, it has a harder edge than most tracks on Quality Punk Rock.

Track 12. "Dare to Speak" (Scarecrow). If it weren't for the lame "be yourself" lyrics, "Dare to Speak" would be a pretty solid track. Unfortunately, the "don't take shit" and "work hard" messages throughout the song remind me a bit too much of the equally lame stuff I expect from, say, MxPx.

Track 13. "Corruption" (Sarcoblaster). Okay, now this is what most people expect to come out of Scandinavia: hard, loud speedcore.

Track 14. "No Way Out" (Home Grown). Another solid track, "No Way Out" is exactly what you'd expect from Home Grown: silly lyrics ("my dog's inbred"), loads of backing vocals, and fairly straight-forward pop-punk.

Track 15. "Days Like This" (Slobax). What starts out as a relatively average-sounding hardcore track soon becomes something quite different when decidedly un-hardcore vocals join what may be one of the catchiest guitar riffs ever to come out of Uppsalla. And the oohs and aahs are, as NOFX would say, "in just the right places."

Track 16. "Yesterday (When I Was Mad)" (Randy). Despite its occasional use of rapcore vocals, "Yesterday (When I Was Mad) is another delightfully poppy track.


Sobriquet Grade: 88 (B+).
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