Friday, October 25, 2013

The Ten Greatest Ohio Punk LPs

There is something in the air that makes Ohio a breeding ground for excellent punk music. I have, for a long time, wanted to make this list. But actually doing it was harder than expected. Issue #1 was obeying Shawn Abnoxious (supreme authority on all things Ohio punk) and disqualifying the Dead Boys on the grounds that by the time they put out an album, they had long left (or in Shawn's words, "turned their backs on") the great state of Ohio. Issue #2 is deciding what does and does not count as "punk rock". Ohio has an incredible legacy of world-altering underground music, but a lot of its more storied bands (Devo, Electric Eels, Pere Ubu) were probably more new wave or avant garde than punk rock per se. Issue #3 is that many of the legendary Ohio punk groups either never released a proper LP (e.g. Kneecappers, Customs) or are better known for their singles (e.g. The Pagans). All of that said, I still think this is an impressive list covering a very lengthy period of time. In fact, I can think of very few states that could beat this top ten. As I like to say, Ohio always wins.

Without any further ado....

10. Chemo Kids (Cincinnati)- Radiation Generation (2000)
"Recorded by Andy Slob in his basement on December 7th, 1941 in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii." Ha! A classic "Ohio punk" sound all the way from these Queen City degenerates. The world awaits a free stream of all Chemo Kids recordings.

9. Beatnik Termites (Cleveland) - Taste The Sand (1995)
One of the top five greatest pop-punk albums of the '90s and a huge influence on the "oldiescore" strand of the genre."9:15" is a stone cold classic song.

8. Toxic Reasons (Dayton) - Independence (1982)
Invoking the Shawn Abnoxious rule, this is the only Toxic Reasons album I can count for this list. If not their very best album, it's nonetheless one of the definitive titles of early '80s political hardcore.

7. Prisonshake (Cleveland)- The Roaring Third (1993)
As I stated in a recent post, I probably consider 1993 to be the greatest year for punk music in the last quarter century. This rip-roaring Andy Shernoff produced gem deserves to be part of the conversation. 

6. Rubber City Rebels/The Bizarros (Akron) - From Akron (1977)
Again, this is a case where a band (Rubber City Rebels) probably released its best music after it left Ohio. But there was no way I was going to do this list without including the Rubber City Rebels - the Dictators of the Midwest. "Brain Job" and "Child Eaters" are punk anthems for the ages. 

5. Gaunt (Columbus)- Yeah Me Too (1995)
Criminally underrated, Gaunt was one of the best punk bands going in the middle to late '90s, infusing melody and hooks into the fast and filthy punk sound that defined the Columbus scene. I singled out this title, but any Gaunt album is worth picking up. R.I.P. Jerry Wick.

4. Screaming Urge (Columbus)- self titled (1980)
A.k.a. "the blue album", this was one of the great overlooked American punk albums of the early '80s. Hitler's in Brazil! 

3. Pagans (Cleveland) - self titled (1983)
The Pagans, Ohio's greatest punk band, split in 1979. But Mike Hudson reassembled the band in 1982 with guitarist Mike "Tommy Gunn" Metoff and three all new members. If not quite on par with the band's classic singles, the self-titled "pink album" is still raging and essential. "Nowhere To Run" will blow your face off!

2. The Slobs (Cincinnati)- Down The Tubes (1996)
I remember reviewing this album back in the early days of my "career", and all these years later it holds up even better than anyone would have expected. A true masterpiece of snotty, scummy, in-your-face punk. One of the best and most underrated LPs of that glorious '95-2000 era of punk rock.

1. New Bomb Turks (Columbus) - !!Destroy-Oh-Boy!! (1993)
What I love about the New Bomb Turks is that they were proud of their Ohioan punk legacy and clearly cited the Pagans and Dead Boys as influences. !!Destroy-Oh-Boy!! starts with that little spark and proceeds to start a fire that burns down everything in sight. This is American-style '77 punk played at wreckless warp speed, and its importance in the garage-punk/punk rock n' roll pantheon cannot be overestimated. Even if the Dead Boys had been eligible for this list, I would have kept !!Destroy-Oh-Boy!! at #1.

Honorable Mentions:
Nervosas- Descension
The Marbles- Seduction
The Proms- Helpless Romantic
Sign Offs- self titled  
Kill The Hippies- Spasms In The New Age
The Gits- Private Lubs a.k.a. Kings And Queens
GC5- Kisses From Hanoi 
The Dopamines- Vices
Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments - Bait and Switch

Okay, now it's your turn. Tell me who I forgot!


Wednesday, October 16, 2013


The Thirteen had me at "loud, raucous rock 'n' roll with plenty of melody and hooks". Their music more than lives up to the description, but shows pleasantly surprising diversity. Formed in 2007 as a vehicle for scene veteran Sal Cannestra's songwriting aspirations, the Philadelphia outfit went through a few lineup changes before solidifying into a power trio two years ago when Jack Kontes became permanent drummer. One of my favorite guys in rock n' roll, Peter Santa Maria (Jukebox Zeros), has been a fixture on bass since 2008. New album Lift-Off! is the band's second release, and first with the current lineup. Cannestra (guitar/vocals) is still the primary songwriter, but Santa Maria contributes a couple songs as well and sings lead on those tracks. And while this band does highlight Cannestra's formidable songwriting talents, The Thirteen is a rock n' roll band first and foremost. Lift-Off has the feel of a live band rocking out on stage - with big, crunchy guitars and a tight, hard-hitting rhythm section. The material is a strong mix of high energy powerpop/punk/rock n' roll ("Sweetie Honey", "Outta My Mind"), classic alt rock ("See You Around", "Semantics"), epic song stories ("Bobby and Rose"), and genuinely good power ballads ("Me, You, and Him", "Moped Ride"). The more straight-ahead Stones/Thunders/Replacements inspired tracks were my favorites upon first contact, but over several listens I really became drawn to some of the songs one might refer to as "growers". "Me, You, and Him" is a heartbreaking exploration of the repercussions of marital infidelity, while "Bobby and Rose" skillfully blends Cannestra's post-hardcore roots with the sensibilities of a more traditional singer/songwriter. I can't quite put my finger on who "Steal This Song" is stolen from, but it's great fun! And Santa Maria's "See You Around" could pass for a missing track off of Flip Your Whig. I love that there's real intelligence and substance to this record, yet at no point does the band take itself too seriously or neglect to rock. Self-recorded on an 8-track and then mixed and mastered by Stephen Egerton, Lift-Off! sounds amazing and really ought to be heard on vinyl. I can also vouch for the band's excellent debut album, but I think Lift-Off! really benefits from the musical chemistry these three have cultivated. This is a true band - not just a songwriter and a couple of supporting players. I am notoriously a sucker for hooky rock n' roll, and The Thirteen excels at the style without sounding like any other band out there. Lift-Off! is the kind of album that will make you wish your turntable had a repeat button!


Monday, October 14, 2013

Get Dumb!

For a brief and harrowing period earlier this year, The Mongrolls were no more. How a one-man band can actually break up is a mystery to me (sounds like the plot to a gruesome sci-fi/horror flick). But it really happened. I tried to take responsibility for any role that I may have played in this highly distressing development. I asked myself if I had played my Mongrolls CDs loud enough. I wondered if my Mongrolls reviews had lacked adequate vocabulary or sufficient syntax. I took myself to task for not buying the complete set of Mongrolls action figures. Had I cut too many Boston Bruins from my fantasy hockey team? Consumed by guilt and dashed dreams, I went into a prolonged existential funk that was only relieved by the sudden and unexpected news that The Mongrolls were back from the dead. Hark! There is joy in Rutland! The Mongrolls are back with the long-awaited Get Dumb - their fourth and by far best album!

While I'd recommend all of the Mongrolls' albums, Get Dumb finally nails what Greg's been going for all these years: lo-fi trash meets powerpop/punk with a touch of Killed By Death. I'd say this is the strongest and hookiest collection of songs Greg has written to date. There are no filler tracks. And from a production & fidelity standpoint, Greg could write the manual on how a "garage" punk recording should sound. For sure, it takes real smarts to make music this stupid. I love the blown-out guitar sound, shouted caveman vocals, and crude, borderline incompetent drumming. The title track is up there with all the classic Mongrolls songs, and "Don't Wanna Know" could pass for some long-lost artifact unearthed from the Rip Off Records treasure chest. "Jerkinittou" is not a cover, but it still suggests a top shelf garage rock novelty hit of yore (Jerkin' it to you? Wasn't that a big dance craze back in the '60s?). And the songs that are covers are great fun as always. The Ronettes' 1963 top ten smash "Be My Baby" and the Amatones' new wave pop obscurity "Plastic Surgeon" both get completely Mongroll-fied, while a smashing rendition of the Roky Erickson/Bleib Alien rager "Two Headed Dog" does not disappoint. But while everyone always looks forward to the covers on a Mongrolls record, Get Dumb is equally rich in quality originals like "Retained It" (Iggy and the Stooges meet The Three Stooges?) and the teethkicking closer "All For You".

There's plenty of stuff out there trying to pass itself off as garage-punk that has nothing to do with garage or punk. But Get Dumb is the real deal - and a sweet deal at that for only $5! I'd like to think of "Get Dumb" as not just the title of an album or song, but as the inspiration for a major movement in American culture. Time to get on board!


Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Get Sicker

In my book, The Prostitutes were the greatest punk band of the '90s. At a time when the cool kids were starting to crash the punk rock party, this band represented for the weirdos and outcasts. They were like sons of the Pagans, nephews of the Jabbers, and derelict cousins to The Stitches and Humpers. Hailing from the suburban white trash ruins of central Pennsylvania, these five young miscreants found musical inspiration in boredom, chemical abuse, and a mutual hatred for the phony, social climbing scum that inhabited much of the mid-state. The band's first incarnation crashed and burned in the typical punk rock manner, leaving behind one classic LP and three near-legendary singles - all released between 1996 and '97. Singer Kevin McGovern - the demented mind behind the The Prostitutes' genius black humor - regrouped the band numerous times over the years with a revolving door of supporting players. But that vintage lineup (Kevin, Jeff, Justin, Dave, Brian) will always have a special place in my heart. I saw the band a few times, and those dudes were as unwholesome and effortlessly cool as it got. And 16-17 years later, their recordings sound every bit as electrifying and sublimely obnoxious as they did when I first heard them. During some of the shittiest years of my life, that music was a true salvation. Out of print for over a decade, this early material finally returns in the form of a singles collection that Kevin has compiled and made available for a free download.

Get Sicker collects the Prostitutes' "Get Me Sick" and ''Living Wreck" singles in their entirety along with 3 of the 4 tracks from the "Twenty-Two" EP, two songs from the first Pelado Records compilation, and a few choice cuts from the band's LP. Rather than just throwing everything the band ever did onto the collection, Kevin focused on limiting it to just the "good shit". At a lean and mean 14 tracks, this best-of package efficiently summarizes everything that was great about The Prostitutes. It's got all the aforementioned A-sides, plus all-time favorites like "Suicide Is Fun", "1-2-3 GO", and "Modern White Trash". All these songs were recorded quickly and cheaply over three sessions with Al Cox at Studio 213 in Harrisburg. There was little if any overdubbing involved, and no song crosses the two minute barrier. I'd put these 14 tracks up against the best tunes from any punk band of the Prostitutes' day. Sometimes now I'll hear music I thought was great in the '90s and be like, "What the hell was I thinking?" But this stuff really holds up. "Twenty-Two" still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up, and "Suicide Is Fun" still makes me laugh out loud. Kevin McGovern was absolutely one of the greatest punk rock shouters of his era or any other, adding genuine rage and a touch of crazy to the classic "snotty" singing style. While a lot of the sleazy degenerate punk rock n' roll bands of the time had the "sound" and the attitude, few could write songs as catchy and memorable as The Prostitutes' best tunes. And whether you're talking morbid satire ("And then when she slashed her wrists on Wednesday night/Yeah, that's when I knew that she was out of sight") or brilliant non sequiturs ("I hear that teenage girls/They like to be left alone/I hear Communists/Like to sit by the phone"), the band's lyrical genius has thankfully been preserved for future generations of misfits and malcontents.

What a thrill it is to hear all these songs again - blasting from my computer like they once did from my turntable! And how awesome is it that this album is free?! Kevin, it seems, is finally wrapping up The Prostitutes for good. But the music lives on. Get Sicker makes a perfect companion piece for the more recent album Kill Them Before They Eat - which is also available as a name your price download. Punk rock continues to be relevant because the things that it rails against aren't ever going away. And The Prostitutes railed with the best of 'em. Crank up the volume, give someone the finger, and enjoy this fine compilation!


Tuesday, October 08, 2013

The Junk!

I recently declared the Stitches/Gaggers split the punk rock single of the year. Running a close second place is the third 7" from Costa Mesa, California's The Junk - another co-release between Rapid Pulse and No Front Teeth Records. Let me tell you: this record is a monster! I'm talking about a slab of wax so hot that it sold out in just a few weeks (seems to be a recurring theme with this band!). If you can somehow get your hands on a copy of "Society & The Robot", do not pass on the chance! This is a killer single in the classic Hostage Records style - featuring three former Smut Peddlers and Riky Barnes from The Pushers on lead vocals. This is The Junk's first release since Barnes joined, and no doubt the band is sounding better than ever. The title track is a scathing statement on the role of technology and the government in the dumbing down of society, and it absolutely rips. It's textbook So-Cal punk: ferocious and rockin', yet totally melodic and full of fist-pumping sing-along moments. It'll have you longing for 1995, when The Humpers and U.S. Bombs ruled your turntable. I love the added dimension of Barnes's snotty vocals, and the lead guitar work is on fire! B-side cut "The Patch" is another stick of O.C. dynamite that might be even better than the A-side. I don't know. It's a close call. I might have to flip a coin. Given how quickly this band sells out of product, I'd urge you to "like" The Junk over at Facebook to keep up to date on all their future developments. If you're into the So-Cal sound and The Junk is not on your radar, you are seriously missing out. Let's all close our eyes, cross our fingers, and wish for a full album!

Monday, October 07, 2013

Return of The Itch!

Is it just me, or has this been the best year for underground music in a long, long time? There must be something in the air (chemtrails, maybe?). Every time I turn around, I'm getting wowed by another new album. There will probably be records that won't even make my year-end top ten list that would have been album of the year contenders in almost any other year. Feel free to lament the sorry state of mainstream music. But if you can't find anything you like these days at the independent/DIY level of rock, you're just not trying very hard. One goal I had for this blog versus my previous reviewing endeavors was to only write about music that I love. Well, if I assumed that that meant I'd have very little to write about and could spend all my free time brawling in bars and perusing art museums, I sure thought wrong! This year in particular, I've been one busy blogger! Tales Of Hard Luck And Woe by The Itch puts a cap on a truly blockbuster summer for LPs. This madness has to stop - hockey season is here!

I last wrote about Joplin, Missouri's The Itch in 2006, when their album The Courage To Be Hated ended up as one of my favorite releases of the year. Over seven years later, we finally get a follow-up from The Itch. And, boy, was it ever worth the wait! As always, this is a band that defies categorization. No two songs sound the same, and the band continues to integrate a wide variety of styles and influences into its rugged punk sound. If you liked The Itch before, you will like them just as much now. But Tales Of Hard Luck And Woe is far more cohesive and intense than its formidable predecessor. This album plays up The Itch's fondness for a storytelling approach to lyrics. And as the title suggests, these stories aren't exactly going to end happily. Colored by both personal hardships and the catastrophic tornado that decimated the band's hometown in 2011, this record is undeniably dark. Yet from a musical standpoint, it's ultra energetic and positively raging. The band lays into these tunes with gusto, and the vocals are delivered with a conviction and ferocity that can be truly felt. And lyrically, these songs radiate with humor and humanity.

Positioned at the crossroads of the Midwest and the Bible Belt, The Itch puts a distinctly middle American spin on the punk/hardcore/indie thing. Originally conceived as an EP, Tales Of Hard Luck And Woe grew into a full album when The Itch faced the pleasant problem of not being able to "throw out" any of the songs it had written. And ultimately, that's the difference with this album compared to The Courage To Be Hated. The material is just a little bit better overall. And the addition of hot-shot bass player Dustin (on board now since 2007) will do nothing to discourage further Minutemen comparisons. The record has its share of kick-ass punk rock tunes ("Picher", "Roses"), and along the way you can expect successful forays into instrumental surf ("Compendium of Failed Cult Leaders"), old school noise rock ("A Letter To Trudi"), retro rock n' roll ("Linda's Dance"), jagged post-punk ("Victims Anonymous") and wildly inventive hardcore ("Legacy of Hatred"). And while I love the visceral thrill of hard-charging tracks like the dark, desperate "Pursuit of Power", my favorite songs here abandon the blueprint completely. The cathartic dirge "God Did Me Wrong" comes off like an anti-spiritual, while the eerie "Harold" reinvents oldtime epic storytelling for the post-modern age. I love music like this - where it sounds like the singer is constantly exorcising demons, and the playing matches that intensity at every turn.

One thing people tend to take for granted about independent bands is how hard it can be just to get their music out there. It takes a ton of money to record, press, master, and package a vinyl LP, and very often bands find themselves with plenty of excellent songs and not nearly enough funds. The silver lining is that when you finally do get the chance to release the music after years of stockpiling A-grade material, the quality is going to be very high. And just as importantly, you really relish the opportunity to put out an album. The guys in The Itch were extremely grateful that Tales Of Hard Luck And Woe was able to get made at all. What this album meant to the band really shows in the finished product. They really nailed this thing. Looking over my original notes, I see complimentary remarks on every single track. And from a production/sound standpoint, this record exemplifies what underground rock n' roll should sound like. It's got that raw, home-recorded charm, but it doesn't sound "shitty". I imagine that what you hear on this album is very similar to what you'd hear if you saw The Itch live. Based on the last two albums and an absolutely terrific EP from 2008, I have to rate The Itch as one of the finest bands working in underground music today. It seems almost criminal that they're not better known. My original impression remains the same: they sound like the kind of group that would have flourished in the heyday of American indie rock circa the mid '80s, back before everyone got so concerned with pigeonholing bands. Tales Of Hard Luck And Woe has the feel of something that could have come out on SST or Homestead in 1985, yet it sounds totally current and uniquely like The Itch. This is one of the year's best albums - and that's really saying something! 


Friday, October 04, 2013

Another Solicitors smash!

The Solicitors are at it again! Just a few short months after delivering a remarkable debut EP, the Aussie power pop foursome has topped itself with the impossibly catchy single "Quicksand". Just when you thought there was no way the band could make a better song than "Pretty Penny", "Quicksand" comes along and totally raises the bar! In some alternate universe where perfect pop songs still get played on the radio, this would be a #1 smash hit (man, if only I had my own SiriusXM channel...). This is actually part one of what the band intends to be a "double A-side" digital single. The track will be officially launched tomorrow at The Grace Darling in Collingwood, Melbourne. Part two, "Help Me Forget", will release in December.

To celebrate the release of "Quicksand", the band has made a music video that you can view below. The clip brings to mind the early days of MTV, which may be part of why I get a Squeeze/Split Enz new wave pop feel from it. Brilliant songwriter Lee Jones continues to impress me with his ability to blend sweet melodies and upbeat pop sounds with bitter lyrics that pull no punches. Those cleverly scathing lyrics are a big factor in separating this band from the pack. You might feel a little guilty singing along to that irresistible hook, or maybe you'll fully relate and assume that the tongue lashing was totally warranted! This track probably makes Elvis Costello jealous!

As geeked up as I am about a potential Solicitors album, I really like what they're doing here releasing just one individual song at a time. This sort of music has always been about the magic of the three minute pop song. And "Quicksand" epitomizes that very thing. For a limited time, you can get it as a bonus track when you download the band's stellar EP Made To Measure off of Pop Boomerang's Bandcamp page. With this song arriving at the same time as The #1s' "Sharon Shouldn't", power pop fans have got to be in a state of bliss right now. I'm stuck on "Quicksand", and I love it!


Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Bad Sports are back!

Holy smokes! Bad Sports have delivered a completely unexpected (and totally great!) follow-up to 2011's garagey pop/punk barnburner Kings of the Weekend. For its third album, The Denton/Austin power trio has embraced a more aggressive sound and a wider stylistic palate with firm roots in early New York City punk. No doubt, another album just like Kings of the Weekend would have been welcomed by just about everyone. But give Bad Sports credit - they've managed to do something very different while still retaining the essential qualities that made them such a good band to begin with. And in the process, they've made their best album by a mile.

Bras successfully blends echoes of CBGB's heyday with the grit and sizzle of contemporary Texan garage/punk. Bad Sports continue to focus on catchy, high-energy songs - but this time with a thunderous punch redolent of the Dictators, Dead Boys, and Testors. And impressively, they cover a lot of musical territory without ever sounding like they're reaching. By no means have Bad Sports made the typical retro '77 record. Yet in spirit, this is closer to genuine first wave punk than anything I've heard in a long time, with additional nods to Detroit and Australia. I dig the raw, stripped-down sound, and the variety and quality of the songwriting absolutely blows me away. I've never been that great at math, so naturally this is about the eighth album this year that I swear is a lock for my year-end top five. Don't let the joke title fool you - this record is a monster!

Bras comes out of the gates with the driving melodic punk of "Get You", and immediately you might think you're getting another Kings of the Weekend. But things turn in a hurry with the face-melting blast of "Rockin' The Noose", and by track three it's like you're listening to a completely different band. Style-wise, they run the gamut from the scorching, sneering fury of "Washed Up" to the ballsy power pop of "Nothing In This World" to the Lou Reed meets Television swagger of "Back In Time". The band's songwriting really reaches new heights here. "Let Me In" recalls lesser known NYC punk rock n' roll greats like Tuff Darts and The Demons, while the thumping "Race To The Bottom" walks a fine line between proto-punk and hard rock a la early Dictators. Bad Sports adhere to no specific formula, taking on toe-tapping poppy punk (the smash hit "Terrible Place") and creeping heavy rock (epic closer "Rich Kid City") with equally strong results. And while this album suggests emerging similarities between Bad Sports and Orville's other band OBN III's, they remain two completely distinct acts.

A collaboration between arguably the best two labels of the past decade (Dirtnap and Alien Snatch Records), Bras is mind-numbingly good. And while it was (brilliantly) produced by Mark Ryan and Jeff Burke, it would be a huge mistake to dismiss it as just another Marked Men related project. Sometimes it's a backhanded compliment to call a band "improved". But when a band was fucking killer to begin with and somehow takes it to a whole other level, that's truly a cause for celebration. For a while I've heard talk about how Bad Sports totally tear shit up live. And now they've captured that same energy on record! If you love the '77 and garage-punk sounds but are looking for a band that's anything but another sound-alike, Bras has got to be in your record collection.