Sunday, January 27, 2013
Where do I send records/CDs for review?
As a policy, I do not ask for unsolicited review material. I prefer to write about music I've bought or streamed on-line and genuinely enjoy. When I first started doing zines, I only reviewed music that I liked. It was a labor of love. In my old age, I've returned to that philosophy. I am a fan, not a "critic". I will never again write a negative word about a piece of music that people have invested time, effort, and money into putting into the world.
Today's punk music is full of diversity and creativity. Why do you limit your coverage to only a few sub-genres?
Because I'm not really smart enough to write about anything beyond three chords. The '77 punk/power pop thing has been my niche since the mid-'90s. It's what I'm known for. This is the music I write about, but it's not the only thing I listen to.
What do you listen to when you're not listening to punk?
I'm a huge fan of early '70s soul music. I'm into new wave and post-punk. I love early AC/DC and Springsteen. I dig oldies and classic rock. I enjoy traditional country. I have a soft spot for '70s AM gold. I think "Bad Romance" by Lady Gaga is pure genius.
Why don't the kids "get it"?
I no longer wish to make my name bashing the younger generations' musical tastes. Ageism is stupid. I think people should be able to listen to the music that makes them happy without catching grief for it. It used to bother me that my generation was the last to embrace rock n' roll on a mass level. But times change, and music changes. Hell, punk rock would not even exist if a new generation hadn't taken a buzzsaw to "traditional" rock n' roll.
Wit or Witout?
Wit. My cheesesteak order always includes onions and Whiz. If I'm feeling frisky, I'll get hot peppers too.
Who's your favorite band of all-time?
Who's your favorite band now?
Who's your favorite band to see live?
I don't see any bands live. I spend my evenings lifting weights and watching hockey.
Did you name your blog after the Dictators song?
Why don't you like Talking Heads?
The answer is a mystery even to me.
What bad review do you most regret writing?
Daggers- Lock Up Your Daughters
Why don't you do band interviews?
Because they're too much work. Blogging should be fun.
Are you really writing a novel?
Yes. It's called The Reduction. It was originally conceived as a dystopian novel. But at the rate I'm going, when it finally comes out I'll have to classify it as historical fiction.
What happened to all your old Now Wave writings?
They have been lost to history. That's probably a good thing.
Have you ever been in bands?
Yes, and I was terrible at it. I'll leave the music to the people with the talent for it.
Are you really afraid of clowns?
Not really. Mimes, on the other hand, terrify me.
What's the best Ramones album?
Self-titled. It's not just the best Ramones album but also the best album ever made by any band.
How big is your record collection?
I own The Dimestore Haloes' Thrill City Crime Control on pink vinyl and the "Spike" 7" by Jake and the Stiffs. That's pretty much it besides a few items I reviewed last year. The rest of my collection was either taken without my permission or sold off when I bought my house. These days I mostly download.
Friday, January 25, 2013
Cincinnati's Tweens have become one of my top bands to watch in 2013, and they've done so on the strength of just one song! Last year the trio digitially released a recording of their debut live performance, and now they're back with a studio track that has knocked my socks off! For reals! I am literally barefoot as I type this!
The name of the song is "Be Mean", and really it's everything I like in music. It's garagey. It's poppy. It's catchy and exuberant. If the live recording merely suggested the considerable potential of the band's punkified doo-wop and girl group angle, "Be Mean" signals Tweens' ascent into the realm of pure awesomeness. This tune is a little more straight-ahead punk rock than the live stuff was. The keen-eared Greg Mongroll is reminded of M.O.T.O. meets Young People With Faces. High praise! I'm inclined to agree if you throw in a little Bobbyteens and early Muffs as well! If these three can continue to write songs at this level, they've got quite a bright future in front of them. They've already got the attitude and enthusiasm to go far, and their catchy lo-fi style is my cup of tea for sure. I look forward to hearing more, and in the meantime you all should be putting "Be Mean" on your next mix! Great tune!
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Another new year, and another great release from Dirtnap Records! It's the only thing as certain as death and taxes! Las Cruces, New Mexico's Low Culture is Chris from Shang-A-Lang along with Joe from Shang-A-Lang/Marked Men and Sam and Cade from Total Jock. With Mark Ryan in the producer's chair, it's no big surprise that the band's debut album is quite typical of Dirtnap's recent output. And by "typical", I mean it rules!
Low Culture isn't exactly reinventing the wheel - which is precisely what I like about this band. Their focus is more on writing catchy songs and playing them with gusto than it is on breaking new ground. They've got the "classic" Dirtnap sound all the way: fast, poppy punk with just the right amount of garage grit to it. I also hear a touch of old school Minneapolis punk a la labelmates Legendary Wings and the (late, great) Ergs. Consciously moving away from the "blown out" production of their previous bands, these guys endeavored to make a record with "more emphasis on melody and crisp (while not necessarily 'over-produced') recordings". Screens, while certain to appeal to fans of Shang-A-Lang and Marked Men, does take things to a poppier level. Needless to say, I've got no objections to that!
Screens wastes little time setting a tone. The title track kicks things off with a thrilling jolt of speed and melody, and it's over way before you want it to be. When "I Feel Your Ghost" fires in a similar vein, you might conclude that this is going to be one of those records where every song sounds the same. And even then, that would not necessarily be a bad thing! But truthfully, Low Culture are far from one dimensional. And while the energy and catchiness never let up, these fellas do switch things up in nice, subtle ways. "Trying To Quit" eases the pace a tad and explodes with hooks. "Nightmare" bounces back and forth between a super-fast, almost hardcore attack and a slower, moody feel. The slightly noisy "Touchy Feely" has me recalling the days when college radio didn't suck. And "Magical Thinking", while not drastically altering the formula, proves that Low Culture's approach to music doesn't necessarily run out of steam when you double the length of the songs.
Given the consistent excellence of Dirtnap's full-length issues, some may find themselves taking a release like Screens for granted. But I'm not about to sleep on this gem from the great Southwest. I'd rate this somewhere in the top 80 percent of all Dirtnap LPs, and with great pleasure I declare it an early contender for Album of the Year. Whether you're talking the perfect pop of "California" or the whiplash rush of "Modern World", Low Culture's songcraft is remarkably evolved for a band barely a year into its existence. And Ryan's production indeed finds that happy medium between scuzzy and overpolished. With its boundless pep and abundant infectious melodies, this is one of those albums that will make you grateful for the "repeat" button.
Thursday, January 17, 2013
Having previously posted on the greatest punk LPs of 1981 and 1982, I now turn my attention to the year 1983. This was thirty years ago - vintage Reagan era. American hardcore had become the dominant force in punk music. It was a great time to be young, pissed-off, and highly discontent with the status quo. And while "respectable" types may have questioned the staying power of punk music at the time, a glance at the list below will remind you just how enduring these bands ultimately were. If you bought any of these records when they came out, you're now in your forties or fifties and probably still loving them. Meanwhile, several generations of newcomers to punk have discovered these records for themselves and found them every bit as inspiring. A year ago, I remarked that my 1983 list would be harder to compile than my 1982 list. I was right - but in a different way than I had expected. My challenge wasn't finding too few titles to list, but rather finding too many. I just couldn't limit it to a top ten. So here, then, are my top twelve punk albums of '83!
12. Toy Dolls - Dig That Groove Baby
The arrival of "'82 punk" didn't leave a lot of room for humor or melody in British punk music. Thankfully these guys didn't get the memo.
11. Circle Jerks - Golden Shower of Hits
In my opinion, their second greatest LP.
10. Dicks - Kill From The Heart
The final album released by the original Texas-based lineup before the Dicks relocated to San Francisco, this is a masterpiece of angry political hardcore! As relevant today as ever.
9. Suicidal Tendencies - self titled
I can't say I'm a big fan of what this band eventually turned into, but ST ruled when they were still a punk band. All I wanted was a Pepsi!
8. Jerry's Kids - Is This My World?
A stone cold classic of hardcore punk. That seems to be a recurring theme of this list.
7. Husker Du- Everything Falls Apart
Was this an LP or an EP? Was it released in late '82 or early '83? Who cares?! On the heels of the lackluster thrash-fest Land Speed Record, this album got Husker Du onto the path to greatness. And while it's predominantly a straight-up hardcore record, songs like "Gravity" and the title track hint at what the band would soon become. "Target" has always been one of my favorite HD songs.
6. Bad Brains - Rock for Light
This, to me, is the definitive Bad Brains album - with none other than Ric Ocasek stepping in to correct the production deficiencies of the band's 1982 debut. I Against I may have been the band's magnum opus, but I prefer the visceral rush of Rock for Light.
5. Dickies - Stukas Over Disneyland
"Rosemary" is my #1 favorite Dickies song.
4. Newtown Neurotics - Beggars Can Be Choosers
Mixing Clash and Ramones worship with a social conscience and a touch of mod/soul, The Newtown Neurotics were one of the all-time underrated English punk bands. In contrast to the pure rage of many hardcore bands of the day, these guys tackled political subject matter with heart and intelligence. Their singles collection is no doubt a must-have, and this full-length debut is essential as well.
3. Social Distortion - Mommy's Little Monster
I'm not saying it's their best album. But if I'm in the mood for some Social D., this is the title I reach for. Classic So-Cal punk rock!
2. Minor Threat - Out of Step
Arguably the greatest hardcore album ever made. Thirty years later, it's still being copied by numerous bands.
1. Cock Sparrer - Shock Troops
Any time I discuss the topic of the greatest punk album of all-time, this one is always in the conversation. While almost every other English punk band from back in the day had either broken up or moved on to "musical experimentation", Cock Sparrer was just happy for the chance to finally release an LP. The result: a classic Brit-punk album in the '77 style. Nearly every track is an anthem. If you don't love Shock Troops, surely you hate music.
Pagans' pink album, UK Subs- Flood of Lies, Peter and the Test Tube Babies - Mating Sounds of South American Frogs, JFA - Valley of the Yakes, Agression - Don't Be Mistaken
So there you have it. Talk about a stellar lineup! 1983: it was the worst of times, it was the best of times. As I always like to do when it comes to projects like this, I now count on you to fill in the gaps. What albums did I forget or overlook? I had intended to include Beneath the Shadows by TSOL, but it seems it was actually released in '82. What else is missing? Let me know!
Friday, January 11, 2013
Holy shit! How is this the first time I've ever reviewed TV Eye?! If these Swedes were any more up my alley, they'd be on my bowling team! All four members have been playing in bands since the late '70s and early '80s, and in 1998 they joined forces to become TV Eye. They put out a couple CDs in recent years that I somehow managed to miss, but I'm all over their new EP! Working Bee turns out 10 poppy rippers in less than nine minutes, and it's a freaking blast! Imagine The Dickies if they'd been on Killed By Death comps or the Buzzcocks on an amphetamine bender. These guys promise short, fast songs in a '77 punk style, and that's exactly what they deliver. Sometimes when bands play this fast, the melodies get obscured a little. But somehow, TV Eye run right through that problem. For sure, they keep it quick and catchy. But even amidst all that frenzy, the hooks are easy to find and sure to delight. Pogo party tonight, and everyone's invited! Who's bringing the Jolt cola?!
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
I love it when a band proves me right. When I last spoke of The Dead Tricks, I touted them as the best new punk band of 2011 and the next big thing to come out of New York City. Perhaps that was an awful lot to live up to. But 14 months later, I wouldn't take back a single word. And having heard the band's brand new single, I worry that perhaps I understated how good The Dead Tricks are!
Classic punk rock inspires The Dead Tricks, but it doesn't limit them. And that's exactly the kind of band we need right now. They take the energy and power of "old" punk music and transform it into something fresh, current, and highly unique. And in "The Despicable Summer", they have what should be their breakthrough smash hit. In an interview with the blog Critical Mass, guitarist Lorne Behrman (ex Dimestore Haloes) describes the challenge of trying to top the band's last EP: "After recording that EP I remember walking around at dawn in a daze, sort of distraught, thinking I could never do anything better than that EP. But you can't judge creativity that way. You just dig deep and move forward." Not content to just repeat themselves, The Dead Tricks have taken things to the proverbial next level. And in all honesty, I'm blown away!
Plain and simple, "The Despicable Summer" freakin' rocks. It comes on with massive, high-powered guitars, and the drums hit so hard you'll swear the band's right there in the room with you. But it's the incredible lead vocal from James Donovan that is the real driving force here. In entirely the best way, he sounds absolutely mad. He sings the hell out of this song! In a contemporary punk scene too often devoid of passion and personality, this guy brings both in abundance. And to go with all that fire and fury, he's got the melodic chops to make that catchy chorus really sizzle. This is one of those songs that floors you from the beginning and then stays in your head all day. Behrman and Donovan really upped their game in the songwriting department, and it totally shows. If you like rockin' punk that's heavy on the hooks, "The Despicable Summer" is for you! Plus I love the title. Sounds very literary!
While perhaps less immediately gratifying, B-side "Serf" may be even more impressive in displaying The Dead Tricks' considerable artistry. It combines the band's blistering melodic punk sound with the more desirable elements of "modern" rock, employing moody dynamics and a building intensity that rises to a fever pitch. I love that there's no obvious comparison to make here (although I'm reminded a little of that great new wave of new wave band Compulsion). This is a band defined by its own talents and vision, not by some preconceived notion of what "punk" music should sound like. Again, Donovan sings like he's exorcising demons. And behind him is a band with hot chops and undeniable chemistry. It's tempting to consider what kind of full-length album this crew might soon deliver, but there's something to be said for the art of the perfect single. You have to admire a band that takes its time and delivers quality. I know it's only January, but "The Despicable Summer" will be hard to beat this year!
Wednesday, January 2, 2013
Got some good stuff for you, friends! Hailing from the Twin Cities, The Pinsch might my #1 new band to watch this year. I have long been a fan of the supremely talented Miss Georgia Peach (Speedway, The Short Fuses, Bluebird). She's on guitar and vocals, while Sheela from Divebomb Honey is on keyboards and vocals. Rounding out this poptastic foursome are Francis from Strange Names and Matt from Condominium. Once you hear "Wanna Gotta Gonna", you're gonna be like, "Yeah, of course Rutledge is into this band!" But what I might like best about the group's debut EP Inside Jokes for Outside People is its stylistic variety. Lord knows I've got a weakness for female-fronted poppy punk. And this EP, bookended by "Comin' For My Love" and the aforementioned gem "Wanna Gotta Gonna", had me jumping for joy upon immediate contact. However, there's more happening here than just straight ahead power pop type stuff. And some of the "different" sounding songs are among the strongest on the record. "Midnight Lies" is garagey paisley pop a la early Bangles, while the vaguely chilling new wave/synth pop sounds of "String Along Girl" take me back to the early '80s in an entirely good way. What a fun EP! And M.G.P., for my money, is one of the best singers out there. The worst thing you can say about this disc is that it's too short. Then again, that might be the best thing you can say about it as well. When a band leaves you wanting more, you know they're doing something right! If you fondly recall The Short Fuses or are currently into bands like Midnite Snaxxx, you've GOT to check out The Pinsch!
Tuesday, January 1, 2013
Happy New Year! One of my goals for 2013 is for Faster and Louder to get, uh, faster and louder. I'd like to cover hardcore punk on a more frequent basis. There's just something about hardcore punk that no other style of music can touch. Cranked extra loud, it's like rocket fuel for the soul. It makes a man feel unstoppable. And so we start with Altered Boys out of New Jersey, who tear it up old school on their killer debut 7". Although largely inspired by the Jersey hardcore scene of the early 2000s, these guys play with a power and intensity that will quickly win over oldsters like me who are usually suspect of any "hardcore" record made after 1983. Basically, this record is hardcore at its purest and best. It's fast, furious punk music played with conviction by a tight, red-hot band. All the familiar elements are there. You've got your screaming angry vocals, heavy guitars, racing drums, and thick-ass bass. There are even some cool guitar leads. But Altered Boys are far more than the mere sum of their parts. Their brand of hardcore is downright inspired. Songs like "Reality Check" and "Who Are You?" are perfect to crank at full-blast when you're in a super pissed-off mood or just feel like moshing it up in your bedroom. Powering through seven tracks in less than five minutes, Altered Boys will thrill fans of old Boston hardcore. Get pissed and turn it up!