Monday, November 28, 2011

Sharp Objects can be dangerous!

Hot damn, did I ever pick a good year to get back into music reviewing! Or did the year pick me? My Album of the Year shortlist has become somewhat of a running joke as it becomes increasingly larger seemingly every time I post a new review. It’s been that kind of year. When I started F & L, I knew there would be no shortage of good music to write about. What I didn’t anticipate, though, was getting flat-out blown away. Case in point would be the debut album from Sharp Objects. It’s not just one of the best punk albums of the year. It’s one of the best punk albums of the last several years. When my man Dirk Le Buzz talks about it being potentially classic, I’m right there with him. With all due respect to the Missing Monuments, Barreracudas, and others, the Album of the Year 2011 battle comes down to a steelcage death match between Something Fierce and Sharp Objects. It’s gonna get bloody.

Comprised of “2 guys from The Bodies, 1 guy from The Briefs, and a guy from Puerto Rico”, Sharp Objects could rightfully be called an “all-star” band. These guys’ bodies of work (no pun intended, I swear!) are well-known and beyond reproach. As a band, they could have been forgiven for not quite meeting expectations. But instead, they’ve far exceeded them, coming through with perhaps the best album any of these men have played on to date. I know that’s approaching hyperbole on my part, but with guys like Dirk on my side, I’ll take my chances. Stylistically, Sharp Objects hearken back to early ‘80s So-Cal punk a la TSOL/D.I./Agent Orange. But whereas a lot of bands can fashion a respectably second-rate replication of yesteryear’s Suburbia/Another State of Mind sound, Sharp Objects are legitimately up there with the all-time greats. Like their counterparts a few hundred miles down the coast, Smogtown, these dudes are defining a new era of Cali-punk. It’s obvious which bands they emulate, and they’re not trying to re-invent the wheel. But having found their niche, they fill it with full-on ferocity. This style of music has never been played better, and Sharp Objects s/t has all the makings of a classic debut. From the scintillating opener “Plasticland” to knockout closer “Lost in the City”, this ten-song platter is a filler-free adrenaline rush of racing melodic punk with deliciously dark overtones. One song after another comes at you hard and fast, leaving you breathless with pummeling hooks and whiplash guitar leads. Far from Social D light or Adolescents re-hash, songs like “Suckcess” and “Livin in the Shadows” are punk anthems for our fucked-up times.

Just when you gave up all hope that anything resembling good taste still exists in this world to any degree whatsoever, something amazing happens like this Sharp Objects album selling out in one day. That’s right, folks: this LP, just issued on Halloween, is gone, gone, gone! Never fear, though: downloads don’t ever sell out! Get it on CD or procure a yourself a digital “copy”. Then play it often, at earsplitting volumes, and pray for a re-press! This shit oughta be framed!

- L.R.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Look out for Ruleta Rusa!

With their Spanish lyrics and fast & ferocious attack, San Francisco’s Ruleta Rusa will remind many of legendary hardcore outfits like Los Olvidados and Sick Pleasure. But Ruleta Rusa are no revivalists. They combine that old school skate-punk vibe with a snarling ‘77 punk rock n’ roll style to create a sound that’s all their own. The band’s debut single, “La Ley”, was released on Mexican Independence Day by the always on point Modern Action Records. And for sure, the thing flat-out kills. Pow! I love 7” records like this: two songs that both rock, and if you’re left wanting more you can just play it again! Jose of Peligro Social fame is on lead vocals. And although I have no idea exactly what he’s saying, he’s sure saying it with conviction! Damn! Basically this is just great snotty punk rock. Catchy, snarling, and hard-hitting, both numbers absolutely blast. The production is really outstanding and gives both of these tunes a raging muscularity to go with the attitude-drenched vocals. The rhythm section is on fire, and I love the integration of rocking guitar leads. We in the reviewing biz often get too caught up in classifying sub-genres and whatnot. But when it comes right down to it, there are only two words you need to describe Ruleta Rusa: PUNK ROCK. A formidable debut!

- L.R.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Masters Class: The Greatest Punk Albums Ever Recorded By "Old" Bands

The great myth about punk rock is that it’s a “young people’s” music. Well, maybe in the beginning it was. But if you were 16 in 1977, you’re 50 now. If you grew up on punk, you probably still like it now. Will we all still be listening to punk music when we’re in our 70s? Without a doubt! I’m 40, and I’m guessing that’s pretty close to the median age of the punk rock record-buyer these days. And unlike the world of athletics, where aging diminishes performance, it seems to have the opposite effect in music. Older, more experienced punk bands often put their younger counterparts to shame. And if you think maturity lessens the energy and intensity of a punk group’s performance, clearly you haven’t witnessed an Avengers or Seven Seconds show in recent years. Perhaps the best current punk band going, OFF!, is fronted by a 56-year-old Keith Morris. And on record, some of my favorite albums have been made by what you could call “senior” citizens of the punk world. Here, now, are the ten greatest in my estimation. All of these albums were made by bands at least 20 years into their careers.

10. Chelsea- Faster Cheaper & Better Looking (2005)
Chelsea’s career trajectory resembled that of a lot of punk first-wavers’: early greatness, followed by an unsuccessful adaptation to the changing musical landscape in the early-to-mid ‘80s, followed by a long breakup, and culminating in an eventual return to form in the new millennium. Faster Cheaper & Better Looking reunited Gene October with James Stevenson and Chris Bashford from the “classic” Chelsea lineup (along with Buzzcocks bassist Tony Barber). Just as importantly, it’s a complete return to the textbook ’77 punk style of the band’s heyday. October sounds as pissed-off as ever. And as a collection of songs, FCL is a worthy follow-up to Alternative Hits…a quarter of a century later!

9. Dickies- All This and Puppet Stew (2001)
If not quite as frenetic or brilliantly whacked-out as The Dickies’ classic early albums, Puppet Stew at least redeemed the band after phoned-in efforts like Idjit Savant and Second Coming. With pop-punk all the rage in the mid-to-late ‘90s, it was not surprising that a truly pioneering band of the style would want to come strong and show the young ‘uns how it was supposed to be done. Easily the best Dickies release since Stukas Over Disneyland, Puppet Stew reaffirms Leonard and Stan’s preeminent place in the pantheon of powerpop/punk. 

8. Stiff Little Fingers- Guitar and Drum (2004)
While SLF made some really run-of-the-mill records after reuniting in the early ‘90s, Guitar and Drum found Jake Burns and co. rediscovering the plot in a big way. Returning to the “melodic punk rock with impassioned lyrics and vocals” m.o. of their heyday, the Irish punk greats offered a “mature” take on their classic sound. Anyone who’s ever caught SLF V.2 (with Bruce Foxton on bass) live can attest that this incarnation of the band takes no back seat to the original lineup. Guitar and Drum finally translated that live magic to the studio.

7. T.S.O.L.- Disappear (2001)
Over the years, TSOL went from hardcore to gothic punk to hair metal, and by the early 2000s the band had come full circle back to its punk roots. With Jack Grisham, Ron Emory, and Mike Roche all together again, the new TSOL sounded an awful lot like the old TSOL. Disappear, in all the best ways, is vintage TSOL – imbuing furious old school punk with poppy melodies and creepy overtones that surely suited the tenor of the times. I had a hard picking between this album and 2003’s Divided We Stand- which also rules!

6. Buzzcocks- Flat-Pack Philosophy (2006)
Unlike some of the bands on this list, the Buzzcocks have never made a bad album. So Flat-Pack Philosophy wasn’t so much a “comeback” as it was a slight return to form in the wake of the oddly dark-sounding self-titled album that preceded it. FPP is classic ‘Cocks all the way, and one of their best LPs.

5. Social Distortion- Sex, Love and Rock ‘n’ Roll (2004)
Somewhat famously, Social D’s new album has been harshly received. But its predecessor, the band’s first album without the late Dennis Dannell, is among the finest in the SD catalog. You never really replace Dennis Dannell, but the brilliant lead guitarist Jonny Wickersham was a more than adequate stand-in. And Mike Ness, the band’s only constant, came through with maybe the best lyrics of his career in addition to perhaps his catchiest-ever set of songs.

4. Descendents- Cool To Be You (2004)
Like Bad Religion (see below!), The Descendents have made an art form out of stylistic stagnation. The Descendents will always sound like The Descendents, and on Cool To Be You they came through with their most consistent collection since I Don’t Want To Grow Up.

3. Bad Religion- New Maps of Hell (2007)
You could argue that if you’ve heard one Bad Religion album, you’ve heard them all. But while the formula never changes, sometimes they make good albums and sometimes they make great ones. New Maps is one of the great ones, and it sounds like a band hopped up on rejuvenation pills. Faster, catchier, and more aggressive than they’d sounded in years, the reenergized Bad Religion of New Maps make you wish for 20 more B.R. albums!

2. Cock Sparrer- Here We Stand (2007)
The worst thing you can say about Here We Stand is that it’s no Shock Troops. But Shock Troops is probably one of the ten greatest punk records ever made. You’d be happy with an album even 75 percent as good as Shock Troops. Ok, check. But then you listen a few times and you realize it’s even better than that. Maybe it is as good as Shock Troops! If it’s not, it’s damn close. A classic effort from a classic band, and you know it’s anthems galore!

1. Dictators- D.F.F.D. (2001)
Released 28 years into the Dictators’ career, D.F.F.D. was intended to be the band’s final studio album. And if this indeed is the last we’ll hear of new Dictators material, what an amazing way to go out! Anyone would have been happy with a record that merely compared favorably to the titles from the band’s heyday. But D.F.F.D. surpassed those expectations by a mile. If it’s not THE best ‘Tators LP, it’s at least in the conversation. Just look at the songs: “Who Will Save Rock and Roll?”, “Pussy and Money”, “I Am Right!”, “Avenue A”, “What’s Up With That?”….True classics! Handsome Dick has never sounded better, Andy Shernoff has never written better songs, and guitarists Ross and Top Ten have never been more on fire! Straight-up, one of the best rock n’ roll albums ever made!

So there you have it. I’m sure I forgot or overlooked a few worthy choices. So pipe up and help me expand the list!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Great Band You Forgot: The Johnnies

There have probably been over 700 classic bands out of the Boston punk scene, and most of them we all know well. But some flew under the radar. Without a doubt, I’d list The Johnnies (previously Johnny Bravo) in the top ten of any Boston band EVER. That’s how great they were. In that monumental year 1997 (the greatest year of the punk revival), they put out one of the year's best LPs, 12 Steps to Nowhere. For whatever reason, they never had the acclaim or record sales of a lot of bands of that time who frankly were not nearly as good. But the music endures. Imagine if Cheetah Chrome had joined forces with The Undertones and they listened to a lot of Dogmatics. Listen up and love it:

Check out this one, too:

The entire album is this good. Track it down at any cost!

R.I.P. Mike Scag.

- L.R.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Nato Coles: rock n' roller!

Other kids in the early ‘80s rode bikes or built model cars. Me, I was a peculiar boy. I preferred to play with jukeboxes at pizza joints. There was nothing better than dropping a quarter or two or three into the jukebox and magically hearing the music I loved. I miss those days. Digital jukeboxes are just not the same. And the crap music you tend to find on them is too depressing to ponder at length. I’d like to think that the best jukeboxes still exist in dive bars, where the cheap lager flows abundantly and the Stones, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, and Thin Lizzy still reign supreme. What I love about the new single from Nato Coles and the Blue Diamond Band is that it would fit in perfectly with that type of jukebox. It is, as advertised, high energy rock n’ roll. It’s two songs, both great, that lift the spirits. Call it heartland rock, call it Midwestern punk, call it Americana, call it whatever. What it is is great frakin' music!

Nato Coles was a great friend to Now Wave Magazine. His Modern Machines was one of our favorite bands of the early-to-mid 2000s. He was a regular on our message board. And God bless him, the man has not stopped rocking! Post Modern Machines, he relocated to Brooklyn and was in the Radio Faces and Used Kids. Then he moved to Minneapolis/St. Paul and got together with the Blue Diamond Band. “Play Loud” is the band’s second single, and hands down it’s one of the year’s best. Both cuts rule in sort of a Springsteen meets Replacements way. You know what I’m talking about: real catchy blue collar rock n’ roll with cool guitar leads and sing-along choruses. Aces! And I like that the B-side “Runnin’ From the Law” is as good if not better than the A-side! Hell, let’s just call it a double A-side! A style this simple is sometimes overlooked, but do not sleep on Nato Coles and the Blue Diamond Band! These are incredibly well-written tunes combining radio-ready hooks and killer bar band chops. What could be better?! And I love that there’s a quality to both songs that makes me want to play them over and over. This is feel-good music! Grab a PBR tallboy out of the fridge, go to the Nato Coles Bandcamp page, download this single to your “digital turntable”, and have yourself a time! Nato, I promise we’ll take good care of Jim Thome.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Punk Rock Starter Kit

Imagine you had the opportunity to mentor a young kid on the ways of punk rock. He could be your child, your nephew, your grandchild, a friend’s kid, or just the cashier at Wawa. Let’s say this kid has not had much prior exposure to “underground” music. But he’s heard some crap band on the radio that is “supposed” to be “punk”, and now he’s showing an interest. So, do you tell him he’s a fuckface for liking that homogenized corporate crap? Hardly. You’re not an a-hole. You’re a mentor. It’s time to step in. Let him like what he likes. But tell him, “If you’re into punk rock, you might like The Ramones.” And you play him a Ramones song. Thus begins the Punk Rock Starter Kit. You give the kid a list of classic titles to check out. Or better yet, you buy the stuff for him as a gift. Come on- he’s a kid! You’re the responsible adult! You think he’s gonna drop 100 bucks out of his hardly-earned allowance on a bunch of albums by bands from the Stone Age? Consider this a small financial sacrifice that could have world-altering implications. The future of civilization is at stake!

We all have our own ideas on exactly which recordings would be essential listening for a punk rock newbie. Here are mine:

The $100 Starter Kit:

 The first three Ramones albums
A best-of collection won’t do. One or two of the three won’t do. This is the freaking RAMONES, man! Don’t be chintzy! Any list of the greatest punk rock albums ever made must start with Ramones, Leave Home, and Rocket to Russia. This is your starting point. Do not deviate.

Sex Pistols – Nevermind the Bollocks
There are some who’d lead you to believe that the notoriety, scandal, media hype, and general worldwide infamy surrounding the Sex Pistols somehow diminish the value of their music. Those people would be very wrong. This is the first album to get after you procure the first three Ramones albums. Every punk newbie should have the lyrics to “God Save the Queen” memorized and perhaps even tattooed on some prevalent body part. If the opening chords to “Holiday in the Sun” don’t make your heart race, you probably belong to the Nickelback fan club.

Iggy and the Stooges- Raw Power
You might say The Stooges are more “proto-punk” than punk rock per se. But let’s not split hairs. The Stooges are punk rock! The Stooges INVENTED punk rock!! A punk education without Raw Power is like film class without Citizen Kane. Truth be told, all three Stooges studio albums are must-owns. But Raw Power in particular is the demon seed that spawned everything from the Pistols to the Damned to the Dead Boys to Black Flag.

The Clash – self-titled (UK version)
Granted, the later U.S. issue is probably a superior product. But given that this is a punk rock starter kit, the historical value of the original British pressing is unsurpassed. This record captures The Clash at their rawest and “punkest”. It’s fire and fury and righteous indignation. It’s the only band that matters, when they mattered most. If your protégé isn’t moved by “White Riot”, there may be no hope for him.

Buzzcocks- Singles Going Steady
Granted, the studio albums are essential in their own right. But the Buzzcocks were first and foremost a singles band. This is the best singles collection ever issued…in any genre of music.

The Misfits- Walk Among Us
It shouldn’t be much of a challenge to get a kid to dig The Misfits. What teen doesn’t enjoy blood, gore, horror, and zombies? But besides the shock value and parental annoyance factor, those early Misfits records constitute some of the most enduring and superbly-crafted punk music ever made. The gimmick itself was awesome – but the songs were even better.

The Damned- Damned Damned Damned
I’ve got nothing against later Damned, but for me the first album is where it’s at. Lightning fast punk rock, influenced by the Stooges and MC5, propelled by one of the greatest punk rock drummers ever. Who doesn’t love air-drumming to “Neat Neat Neat” at ungodly volumes?!

The Pagans- Shit Street
Any compilation of classic Pagans material will do, but Shit Street is probably the easiest and cheapest to procure at this point in time. They may not have worn the punk rock uniform or sung about anarchy. But along with The Ramones, The Pagans were THE defining American punk band of the late ‘70s. Younger, louder, and snottier than fellow Clevelanders The Dead Boys, The Pagans deserve nothing less than a 5000-foot gold shrine outside of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I envy the punk newbie’s experience of hearing “What’s This Shit Called Love?” for the very first time - the volume cranked to full blast and all of life’s problems temporarily obliterated by the surge of sonic fury.

The $200 starter kit includes all of the above plus:
The Adolescents- self-titled
The Saints- (I’m) Stranded
Black Flag- Damaged
Stiff Little Fingers- Inflammable Material
Dead Boys- Young, Loud and Snotty
Avengers- self-titled
New York Dolls- self-titled
Stooges- self-titled and Funhouse
MC5- The Big Bang (best of)

So there you have it. This is by no means a complete primer on punk music. It’s lacking in Oi! selections and only scratches the surface of hardcore punk. It includes nothing released within the past 30 years. But it’s a start. Put these 10 or 20 albums in a kid’s hands, and from there it’ll be hard to go wrong!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Barreracudas!

Aw shit, here we go again. I thought album of the year was a mortal lock. I wasn’t losing any more sleep over potentially excruciating decisions. I could concentrate on other things like deciding between Dave’s Hot ‘N Juicy and the BK Chef’s Choice. I was able to work on my tennis serve and catch up on reruns of Storage Wars. Something Fierce had earned the title belt, and it was going to be a slam dunk. Well, I still might end up giving it to Something Fierce, but The Barreracudas are making a late push for the big prize and all its accompanying benefits (free Slurpees on Tuesdays, a pot of gold, tickets to the Faster and Louder pancake social 2012). Among these five fellows from Atlanta, a few played with the very great Gentlemen Jesse and his Men (they were, uh, the men). So of course you should expect power pop, and that’s exactly what The Barreracudas deliver. But this isn’t just power pop. It’s some of the best power pop I’ve heard in a long time, mixed in with elements of glammy rock n’ roll to create a sound that’s flat-out HOT! Think Twilley and Seymour. Think Cheap Trick and The Boys. Think Sweet and the Flamin’ Groovies. Yeah, baby, this is the stuff! From the hip-shaking party-starter “Numbers” to the brilliant album-ending cover of “C’mon, C’mon”, the band’s debut long player Nocturnal Missions keeps the hits coming. Whether you prefer the pure power pop bliss of “Baby Baby Baby” and “Girl”, the raunchy rock n’ roll of “Feet”, or the “I can’t believe that’s not a Boys demo!” awesomeness of “Because” and “I Won’t Wait”, there’s much here to love if you’re a punk/powerpop freak like me. I’ve said this about bands before, and I’ll say it about The Barreracudas now: this is a classic “Lord Rutledge” kind of band. You know the kind of music I like, and these guys are most definitely it. This album is chock full of songs that would be hit singles in a perfect world (or could have been hit singles in 1978). Praise Paul Collins! This is what music should be. It’s fun. It’s catchy. It’s energetic and impossible to resist. Nocturnal Missions is one of those albums that you throw on, and instantly it makes your day better. Hey kids, do you like hooks? Of course you do. Five stars!

- L.R.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The Last American

The Last American, at its most basic plot level, is a story about a guy who pukes at Applebee’s. On premise alone, that makes it a short story everyone should want to read. But there’s so much more to The Last American than just premise. It’s a tour de force of superb storytelling, deliciously descriptive writing, spot-on symbolism, and scathing satire of everything that went terribly wrong with our nation after 9/11. I have spent my entire adult life believing that Good Country People by Flannery O’Connor is the greatest short story ever written. I may now need to reconsider this opinion.

I first came to know Shawn Abnoxious sometime in the mid-to-late ‘90s when he and I were both churning out text-dominant fanzines that dared readers to, uh, read. This was a time when most zines were all about the graphics and layout. I sensed a kindred spirit in this fellow from Cincinnati, and more importantly I noticed that he was simply a damn good writer. Great writers are born, not made. And this guy had it! Over the years, Shawn would go on to fulfill his writing talent by penning dozens if not hundreds of brilliant poems. He published a number of poetry chapbooks that I highly recommend. And now, in the year 2011, he has finally tackled my favorite genre of literature: the fiction short story. As far as I know, this is the first short story he’s ever written. Clearly, he’s a natural.

As a reviewer, it’s tricky to talk about a piece of fiction because you don’t want to give too much away. The Last American is full of so many pleasant surprises, vivid images, memorable characters, and quotable lines that it would be sinful to reveal any of the particulars. But having lived through that very strange freedom fries/shock and awe/Patriot Act period of our nation’s history, I can at least tell you that The Last American hits the nail straight on the head. For a story that’s uproariously funny from the get-go, this is a tale that has a lot of insightful things to say about our nation in general and the military/industrial/entertainment complex in particular. Dwight D. Eisenhower is surely looking down and nodding in firm approval. And in typical Shawn Abnoxious fashion, the structure of this story is quite creative. There are two preludes, an epilogue, and a bonus question that’s worth up to ten points. Should you doubt that a 6,000-word story about a man vomiting is something of high literary merit, let me just say that the descriptive account of the puking act is some of the most extraordinary prose I’ve ever read. And the ending? It’s the stuff of legends.

The Last American is available as a free download e-book. I implore you to read it! Click here for more information! You’ll never think of Applebee’s the same way again.

- L.R.