Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Ills Kill!

Iowa City, Iowa may be best known as the scene of disastrous tornadoes and floods. It is fitting, then, that the city's greatest band exerts a destructive force of an alarming magnitude. Perhaps, you might say, The Ills got swallowed up by a tornado and were carried away to an alternate universe where the mid-'90s never ended and punk music was at the height of its second golden age. Recalling the glory days of Rip Off Records and the like-minded snotty female-fronted punk antics of say, The Loudmouths and No-Talents, The Ills just might be, literally, the greatest thing since sliced bread. If you treasured your Spastics and Loli and the Chones 45s back in the day, you need to get yourself over to No Front Teeth Records immediately and score yourself a copy of The Ills' debut single! Do not delay! Don't even read the rest of this post! Get this record before it's too late! It's not just in the style of the aforementioned bands- it's of the same quality too! If you're ultra-modern and digital, then check out the tunes The Ills have posted on-line. You will be impressed! Rockin', catchy, and snotty as hell, songs like "I Kill Me" and "1-2-3 Hate You" hit you like a pleasurable punch to the face. And then they're done. In less than 90 seconds, the song is over and it's time to move on to the next one. You're left wanting more, which is the way it's supposed to be with punk rock. When's the last time you bought a single where you kept playing it over and over and over because it really was that awesome?! You'll do that with The Ills, and then you'll go to their Facebook page and beg them to make an LP! If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: DO NOT MESS WITH THE MID-WEST!


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Forever Won't Wait

For the second time in the year 2012, I'm posting about an album that should have made my top ten for 2011. Forever Won't Wait, the second album from Ottawa's Steve Adamyk Band, is easily one of the best things Dirtnap Records has ever put out! And I know what formidable company that puts it in, because I'm working on that very list right now!

When it comes to poppy '77 punk rock, there's no doubt I'm cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. And within that Dickies/Buzzcocks/Pointed Sticks niche of punk music, The Steve Adamyk Band is in the A+ top tier! Forever Won't Wait comes on like it was launched out of a rocket, and it never lets up the rest of the way. Just when you think you've heard "the hit", along comes another song that's just as good or even better! Everything about this album is top-notch, from the songwriting to the production to the vocals to the musicianship. I've heard of bands with stacked debut LPs due to large stockpiles of songs, but S.A.B. are on album #2 and still bringing all-killer, no-filler! That's talent. If you like super-peppy poppy punk with cool guitar leads and more hooks than a pirate fleet, you're gonna flip for the likes of "Take It Back", "I Run Wild", "Forever Won't Wait", and "Only Wanted You To Know"! The whole album is energizing and infectious, and the key is that this is a band that's fully embracing the pop side of the pop/punk equation. I'm still waiting for the announcement that these guys will be performing at the NHL All-Star Game next weekend, but it seems they'll be unfathomably snubbed just like my boy Scott Hartnell. I may have to send a strongly worded letter to league offices voicing my double displeasure. In the meantime, to regain my good spirits, I'll listen to Forever Won't Wait a few times. You should as well. Fans of Marked Men, High Tension Wires, and Stiletto Boys: this album is calling your name!


Friday, January 20, 2012

The Ten Greatest Punk Albums of 1992

If you bought any of these albums when they were new, you’re about to feel really old. Can you believe that the music of 1992 is now twenty years old? Damn! I bet you still have a few of these on cassette tape! When we think of the ‘90s “punk revival”, the mid-to-late ‘90s probably come to mind. But even before that, punk music was beginning to bounce back from the dark ages of Reagan-era thrash. 1992, as this list suggests, was quite a good year for punk rock. Times were changing. One year prior, Supercharger and the Devil Dogs had kickstarted the ‘90s garage/punk thing. And one year later, the New Bomb Turks and Guitar Wolf would follow suit. Pop-punk was in its hour of glory. Veteran bands were showing they still had the stuff. I was still a few years away from getting into the zine biz, but the seeds of my intrigue had very much been planted. Let us reminisce...

10. Mr. T. Experience- Milk Milk Lemonade
Lookout! Records circa the early ‘90s was the shit, and it was precisely because of records like this one. MTX didn’t really gets its breakthrough in popularity until much later in the ‘90s, but by then the band had been making incredible records for years. MML, like anything this band did in the early part of the ‘90s, rates in the highest echelon of pop-punk all-time.

9. Ramones- Mondo Bizarro
Of all the later Ramones albums, this one was probably the very best. An inspired return to form.  

8. ALL- Percolater
Like Bad Religion, ALL made such consistently good records that they sometimes got taken for granted. But God bless ‘em, these guys were one of the few decent punk bands going in the latter part of the ‘80s. And they kept on rolling throughout the ‘90s with a revolving cast of lead singers. Personally, I am partial to Scott Reynolds.

7. Supersuckers- The Smoke of Hell
While the Supersuckers would later become more “rock” and eventually devolve into a parody of themselves, in their early days they were a blistering punk rock n’ roll band who ripped it up proper. Did they ever play gigs with the New Bomb Turks circa ’92-’93? That would have been a riot.

6. Social Distortion- Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell
As a much younger man, I kind of dismissed this album because it wasn’t “punk” enough. What a stupid fucking idiot I was.

5. Green Day - Kerplunk!
This would be Green Day’s last record before “selling out” and changing the face of the punk scene forever. Nothing against what this band has become, but I still love their early records the best. This one might be my favorite.

4. The Gits- Frenching the Bully
Tragically, this was the last album The Gits would ever complete before singer Mia Zapata was murdered in 1993. Without a doubt, the vocals on this album are some of the greatest I’ve ever heard in punk music. The Gits could have been huge. The Gits would have been huge. If “Second Skin” doesn’t give you chills, you’re probably not human.

3. Bad Religion - Generator
While the rest of the punk world in the late ‘80s was evolving more harshly and tunelessly by the year, Bad Religion went against the grain (no pun intended), imbuing warp-speed hardcore with the catchiness and melody of early punk. Seriously: harmonies in punk music in 1988?! I’m surprised they weren’t laughed off the stage every night! Late ‘80s and early ‘90s was Bad Religion’s prime. Literally, they put out a great album every year. Generator was one of their best.

2. The Mummies- Never Been Caught
Legendary lo-fi trash. Limited talent, god-awful production, absolutely incredible music. This album inspired a ton of great bands.

1. Screeching Weasel- Wiggle
Say what you want about Ben Weasel, but circa the early ‘90s he had it going on. Screeching Weasel brilliantly re-fashioned the sounds of the Ramones, Dickies, and Buzzcocks for a new generation. Wiggle and the album that preceded it, My Brain Hurts, spawned numerous imitators and launched an entire sub-genre of music. And while 99 percent of the bands who wanted to be Screeching Weasel proved to be awful, that should hardly be held against Ben and co. Wiggle is truly a classic punk rock album.

Not a bad list, eh? I will be excited to do this again next year!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Fun House or Raw Power?

One of them is quite possibly the greatest rock n' roll album ever made. The other is quite possibly the second greatest rock n' roll album ever made. But which is which? If you're going to listen to The Stooges, do you usually reach for Raw Power? Or do you prefer Fun House? Do you get your kicks off of "Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell", or does "1970" fire up your soul? Are you a James Williamson mind-blowing metallic noise guy, or do you go in for the minimalist proto-punk guitar pounding of Ron Asheton? Lord knows that the Raw Power Stooges were a destruction machine on a wholly unprecedented level. Yet there's something about The Stooges in their infancy that's almost more dangerous. They could barely play, they could barely hold it together. But man oh man, they set the world on fire. If "Search and Destroy" was a neutron bomb launched by a diabolical super villain, "Loose" was a scud missile assembled from junk parts by a rag tag bunch of degenerates. Raw Power made punk rock possible. But didn't Fun House make Raw Power possible? Perhaps Raw Power would be the slam dunk winner if it hadn't been so woefully misproduced. And surely there are some of you who'd tell me that The Stooges' first album ought to be under consideration as well. I wouldn't debate the point. But for the purposes of today's exercise, the question remains: Fun House or Raw Power? Pick your poison!


Monday, January 16, 2012

Year of the Prostitutes

I reviewed a Prostitutes record for the first time in 1996. If you had told me then that I’d still be writing about The Prostitutes 16 years later, I would have sworn you were bat-shit crazy! Partially that was because I figured The Prostitutes would, like so many classic punk bands, make a couple of great records and then disappear forever. More likely it was because I had a hard time envisioning myself still being a “punk rock” guy at age 40. But 40 has arrived, and my musical tastes haven’t changed a lick. It’s been a lot of years. In the time since The Prostitutes first arrived on the scene, we’ve lived through three presidents, ten postal rate increases, 22 more seasons of The Real World, 80 international wars, and 199 Playboy Playmates. I’ve had four significant others and gained 70 pounds. If you conceived a child while listening to the then brand-new “Get Me Sick” 7-inch, that baby is now a high school student. We’ve gone from dubbing vinyl records onto cassette tapes to downloading MP3s off of social networking web sites. We have electric cars and talking maps. This is it. This is the future. Punk rock is not a “phase”. And The Prostitutes, in the year 2012, are going stronger than ever!

You may recall Kevin McGovern recently won the Lord Rutledge Man of the Year award for 2011. But truthfully, it’s 2012 that’s going to be the real Year of the Prostitutes! A brand-new LP is in the works, but first up is a worldwide reissue of the band’s brilliant sophomore LP. In the 12 years in between the band’s first and second albums, McGovern re-booted The Prostitutes numerous times in numerous locations with numerous band-mates. You might have expected a very, very different Prostitutes in 2009 from the one you knew and loved in 1997. And for sure there was growth in McGovern’s vision and artistry over all those years. But the instant that Kill Them Before They Eat kicks in, you know you’re listening to The Prostitutes. If you thought it was impossible for the second Prostitutes album to top the first, you seriously underestimated Kevin McGovern!

Granted: Kill Them Before They Eat is by no means Can’t Teach Kids Responsibility part 2. It sports a modern, ultra-crunchy production, and there’s a lot more sophistication in the structure of the songs. The vibe is darker. Yet it’s still classic Prostitutes to the core. McGovern’s voice - in my opinion the greatest punk voice of his time - is not even slightly mellowed by full-fledged adulthood. The man sounds more and enraged and deranged than ever, and his poison pen is in prime form. Themes of social alienation, chemical abuse, general depravity, and good old-fashioned people-hating prevail as always, with lyrics full of unhinged vitriol and twisted humor (“I Wanna Go to Hell” and “Living Is Boring”, as you may have guessed, are not songs about milkshakes and hand-holding). This is not a kinder, gentler Prostitutes - and thank God for that! If anything, the deadly virus known as The Prostitutes has grown stronger over time. And perhaps because KTBTE collects material from a decade’s worth of writing, it’s got even more classic songs than Can’t Teach Kids Responsibility! Some of them you might already know (“Hung by the Phone”, “They’re All Dead”), and some you might not (“Hit Me”, “The New Cure”). Either way, this is either the catchiest snotty punk or the snottiest catchy punk you’ll hear all year. And songs like “Night Time Parasite” and “Electrocution” , with their dense guitars and moody tempo shifts, really herald The Prostitutes’ evolution from East Coast miscreants to Southern Californian sleaze-mongers. Listen to the way “Whatever” comes out blasting with those thunderous Steve Jones style guitars, reels you in slow, and then socks you in the mouth with that anthemic chorus. Now that is the way a punk band is supposed to “evolve”!

I have long maintained that of all the bands I raved about in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, The Prostitutes have held up the best over time. At 40, I may be a little less prone to hyperbole than I used to be. So it’s probably premature to proclaim Kill Them Before They Eat one of the greatest punk LPs of the 2000s. But it’s every bit as good as Can’t Teach Kids Responsibility, which was one of the five best punk albums of the ‘90s. You do the math. 


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The F & L Hall of Fame: Dead End Cruisers

I started doing zines in 1995, and looking back I was really lucky to have arrived on the scene at just the right time. I got to see, hear, and cover a lot of truly great bands. In a lot of ways, the mid-to-late '90s was a second golden age of punk rock. Sadly, few if any of my writings from those years remain. Sometimes I'll Google bands I dug back then, and there's hardly any evidence of their existence to be found on the Web. The purpose of this F & L Hall of Fame series, then, is to pay tribute to the groups I made my name championing. Lord knows I had my favorites. I've already posted pieces on the Dimestore Haloes and Prostitutes over at Dirty Sheets, so I've decided I should begin with Austin's Dead End Cruisers. 

If there was a "holy trinity" of bands in my early days doing Now Wave Magazine, the Cruisers would have been part of it for sure. Unlike some bands that I had sniffed out from their inception, the Cruisers had been around for quite a while before I really took notice (their first 7" was released in 1995). It was their 1998 debut album Deep Six Holiday (TKO Records) that turned me, instantly, into a diehard fan. It quickly became a classic of its time. To this day I rate it as one of the four or five greatest punk albums released in the '90s. I still listen to it today.

While a lot of people categorized the Cruisers as "street punk", to my mind that was pretty far off the mark. Blending a palpable Clash influence with o.g. mod stylings a la The Who/Small Faces and good old greasy Texan punk rock n' roll, the Cruisers were an "old school" punk group minus the copycat inclinations of many of their contemporaries. What I noticed right off was how good the lyrics were. English born-and-raised frontman Neil Curran may have sounded a little like Mick Jones, but as a writer he had more in common with the acerbic wit and poetic voice of Ian Hunter, Ray Davies, or Paul Weller. Every song was like a short story, and I had darn near as much fun reading the lyrics sheet as I did listening to the record. Deep Six Holiday, almost cinematic in scope, is full of songs about the bitter realities of responsible adulthood and the inglorious struggles of a working musician. Straight up, the record has soul. I could listen to "Shakespeare Couldn't Help" or "Say Goodnight" a thousand times. Hell, I probably have! And what a band! Graham Mills was an absolute star on lead guitar, while Dave VonHoodlum and Brent Schumacher comprised a propulsive & highly underrated rhythm section. If you go to iTunes and look up Deep Six Holiday, you'll find a single review stating, "I've been into punk music all my life, and this is the best band I've heard since The Undertones". Now there is a guy who knows his stuff!

I was fortunate enough to see the Dead End Cruisers a couple times on tour, and their live show absolutely blew away their records. And what a great bunch of dudes! I've said this about a lot of bands, but in the case of the Cruisers it was especially true: they should have been huge! Another fine LP, The Patron Saints of Wheless Lane, was released on Unity Squad Records in 2000 to little fanfare. If you see it around, it's totally worth getting ("NyQuil Sweats" and "First Kisses" are two of the band's best songs, in my opinion). It was, sadly, the last recording the Cruisers did before splitting. Curran, Mills, and Schumacher briefly re-grouped as The Score in the mid-to-late 2000s. You probably never heard them, so check them out here! They, too, should have been huge.


Saturday, January 07, 2012

Paper Bags!

When a band terms itself "old school street punk garage slop", you know you're in for a royal treat! While the Paper Bags may hide behind their top-secret identities, this San Fran supergroup is believed to include members of the Trust Fund Babies, Sewer Trout, Complaints*, Double D's, Radio Reelers, Bad Tickers, Corrupters, and Oil! The group's self-released EP, limited to 300 copies in a spray paint paper bag sleeve, is a raging slab of hate-fueled sing-along punk in the grand tradition of the Angry Samoans and numerous first-tier Killed By Death favorites. This is Class A snot-punk, my friends. It's mean and nasty and hilarious and catchy as fuck! The production is perfect for a punk record, and all four songs are aces. With lyrics like, "I'll stop being a prick/When you stop being a bitch", lead track "Prick" is the feel-good hit of 2011-12. I also love "Go Die", which seems to be about some d-bag hipster who surely deserves every bit of it. Additional song titles "Medicate Tonight" and "Normal Shit" suggest that the Paper Bags are not exactly singing about sunshine and flowers. I give this my highest recommendation. Please let there be a full-length in the works!

- L.R.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

The Cry! make an album!

It's happened again. Having finalized my year-end top ten list in late December after months of thorough soul-searching and agonizing internal debate, I find myself wishing I'd waited just a few more days. The self-titled album from The Cry!, which I didn't hear until after I published my official top ten, would have surely made my top three! I've been championing The Cry! since I first heard them in October. They're one of my four or five favorite bands of the moment. And even with sky-high expectations, the Portland quartet's debut long player did not disappoint!

What I love about The Cry! is that they're pop and proud of it! They take their inspiration from the source: British Invasion, Beach Boys, doo-wop. They understand the history and the craft of pop music. Ask them if "pop" is a dirty word, and they'll just laugh and go listen to Buddy Holly. They write perfect melodies in their sleep. They sound like they've been practicing their harmonies for 25 years - even though none of these lads are over 21! But don't go thinking The Cry! are straight-up revivalists. Maybe it's just their youthfulness, but they come off quite "current" to my ears. Their angle is that they've "reinvented the two minute pop song for the next generation". Combining doo-wop harmonies with '60s pop jangle and a touch of '77 punk, their "new-old school" sound falls somewhere between The Connection and The Biters. And that's a fine place to fall! The full-length, as expected, is stacked with hits. In that mythical perfect world I so often conjure in my reviews, "Modern Cinderella" would top the pop charts for weeks! Everyone from your kid brother to your gym teacher to your local congressman to your favorite porn starlet would be singing it while standing in line at Starbucks. If the chorus were any catchier, it would be illegal in at least 17 states. And once that lead guitar hook gets stuck in your head, you're doomed!

Perhaps what impresses me the most about The Cry! is that even if you took away "Modern Cinderella", it would still be a great album. 12 tracks strong without a clunker in the bunch, this long player could pass for a greatest hits collection! Indeed, a lot of bands would kill to have just one song as good as "Sleeping Alone" or "Wouldn't Last". I've been digging on these tunes for months. And the tracks I hadn't heard before are of the same caliber. "Forget It" is a flawless distillation of Merseybeat and Nick Lowe propelled by a ringing melody that warms the soul like a summer breeze. "Think I'm In Love" is peppy, infectious, and fun. "Be True" sounds like a long-lost '60s garage pop classic. "Girl (I Wanna Know Your Name)" suggests the Beach Boys on a boatload of amphetamines. And to think: this is just their first album! It's hardly beginners' luck. Ray Nelsen is one of the most gifted young songwriters to appear on the powerpop scene in a long, long time. And the way brilliant lead guitarist Brian Crace interprets his melodies, the ear candy buzz is never-ending!  

All told, The Cry! is a remarkably upbeat record considering how many of its songs are about heartbreak and unrequited love. Love may suck, but The Cry! most certainly do not. Where do you turn when a broken heart has got you down? To pop music! If this album doesn't put an immense and permanent smile on your face, there is literally no hope for you. Its energy is invigorating. Its melodies are contagious. It will make your bad days bearable and your good days even better. It's way too premature to use a term like "classic", but from a pure pop perspective it doesn't get much more perfect than this. If you're a powerpop fan and you're not hip to The Cry!, get with it!


Sunday, January 01, 2012

The Year of Ketchup

2012 is officially the year of ketchup. Without reason, I abandoned ketchup as a small child in the early ‘70s and never looked back. It did not help that I was forced to eat it as a “vegetable” in elementary school. But much time has passed. This year, I’m opening my mind. I’m giving ketchup another chance.

It’s also the year of Mexico. My wife and I will be vacationing in Riviera Maya in March. In preparation, I’ll be dropping 15 pounds and listening to many different versions of “La Bamba”. Which reminds me…

It’s also the year of the ‘50s. For my entire adult life, I’ve been obsessed with the popular culture of the ‘70s. Seven of my ten favorite bands of all-time were from the ‘70s. Seven of my ten favorite movies of all-time were from the ‘70s. It’s time to take it a little further back. I’m going to watch On The Waterfront twice. I might even get an Esquerita tattoo.

It’s also the year of the novel. I did not read a single novel in 2011. In 2012, I plan to read at least three. Hell, I might even write one, too.

It’s also the year of the English pale ale. Boddingtons, Fuller’s London Pride, Old Speckled Hen, Tetley’s…You name it, I’ll drink it.

It’s also the year of the guns. No more prioritizing shoulders and back in the gym. In 2012, it’s biceps and triceps out the wazoo.

It’s also the year of chicken wings. Last year was the year of burgers, and that went swimmingly.

It’s also the year of shaving. Last year I shaved only once or twice a week. I pretended this was because I was “rationing” razor blades, but really it was because I was lazy. This year I’m going to shave daily. I enjoy lathering up, listening to Little Steven’s Underground Garage channel on SiriusXM, and getting a good, clean shave. Life is about simple pleasures. 

And of course every year is the year of lists. This year’s lists will include the top ten albums of 1982, the top ten albums of 2002, the top ten bands of the 1990s, the ten greatest songs of all-time, and the 12 most underrated punk bands of all-time. Stay tuned!

- L.R.