Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

This year is the first Halloween I'll actually spend with the lady, so it feels special. It's also the first Halloween I'll spend drunk at James Heimer's house. Here are some other decent-y things I hope to accomplish today:

-Dress like a got-damned ghostbuster.
Please refer to the above. It makes me feel good.

-Bring back Misfits spoken word poetry jams.
The Misfits suck ass. They advocate rapin' women and bein' a d-bag to er'rybody. And they don't even rock that hard, man! But their lyrics do sound grrrrrrreat in a spoken word setting, as I learned back in my expressionistic post-modern surreal college days, daddy-o. Personal faves included "Bullet" and "Skulls." It's important to read the whoas as flatly as possible.

-Score candy.
No shit, Sherlock.

-Werewolf Bar Mitzvah.

-Watch and appreciate at least one '80s horror film.
The Thing, An American Werewolf in London, The Howling, Maniac, Monster Squad, and Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors are delicious.

-Watch horror clips on YouTube.
Shark Attack 3: Megalodon!
Shark Attack 3: Megalodon!
Shark Attack 3: Megalodon!
Shark Attack 3: Megalodon!

See ya, fuckers!

Monday, October 27, 2008

regarding Julia Nunes

So, I tried finding a relevant Counting Crows music video on YouTube for the post below, and I failed hard (curse you disabled embedding!). But whilst searching in vain, I came across this lil lady named Julia Nunes:

Ms. Nunes keeps a vlog on YouTube, where she posts videos of ukulele covers like the ones above, plus originals. She's gots some CDs too. Check out her Web site if yer down with the sound.

1999 - origin story

This week’s list is united in that all 10 of the albums are sexxxcellent driving records. I’ve probably spent more time listening to music in a car than anywhere. As much as I love laying on my bed and spinning a record, the open road is my more prominent venue. In rush hour, driving from my home in Blue Bell to Philadelphia (and vice-versa) can take an hour or longer, making concerts a bitch to see sometimes. All those three-hour drives to Maryland and D.C. add up as well. New Jersey shore trips. Work. Picking up siblings. And copious South Street shopping sprees. Yeah, I drive a lot. After a while, driving can wear on me too. I have to sit in the same position – 8-10 hours when driving to Canada to see Michelle’s brother – and that’s just no good for a spastic dork like me.

Luckily, music eases my pain. One of the reasons why I stayed straight edge for so long is that I really don’t need drugs to have a good time so long as I’ve got a song to sing. A joint is a one-off affair; a Bouncing Souls record is a renewable resource of awesomeness. This brings me to my next point:

I can do almost any shitty job so long as I can listen to good music.

Now, obviously, this theory hasn’t been completely tested. Excluding pet upkeep, I’ve cleaned up feces less than 20, maybe 10 times in my life. I have never had to clean up other peoples’ blood for a living. And I don’t think Jawbreaker will make giving a back alley blowjob any easier (no pun intended!). But thus far, music has gotten me through deaths, suicide attempts, lame retail jobs, bad nights, fights, endless school work, stress, and, above all else, sheer, unquenchable boredom.

I’ve been trying to quit drinking, although I've been regressing a lot lately. I usually only have a beer or two now when I’m waiting for something. I shared a couple of drinks with Ryan P. Carey D.D.S and Steve Lipenta whilst waiting for The Secret Machines to play at The Trocadero. I had a Hoptimus Prime (love the name, hate the aftertaste!) at Ben Kweller. But when I’m actually engaged, when I am confronted with art in all its beauty, I am good and sober.

What was I talking about? Oh right. Huzzah! – driving = music > boredom.

10. AFI – Black Sails in the Sunset

My favorite AFI album makes me raise my fist and make angry faces a lot. I was so ridiculously nervous when I interviewed for my Wonka Vision internship back in summer 2007. It sounds silly now, but I was freaked out to meet with the editor-in-chief of a somewhat-popular music magazine. I put on Black Sails in the Sunset in my car, and I channeled all of that angst and fear into the music. Lots of steering wheel poundage occurred, I assure you. From “Strength Through Wounding” to “God Called in Sick Today,” the album’s sole flaw is the huge silent gap you have to cross to get the hidden bonus track. But man is still a great album. Black Sails is where the band’s songwriting caught up with its more serious approach to lyrics, resulting in an album more pounding and hardcore than anything they’ve done before or after. I know a lot of people love The Misfits, and accuse AFI of stealing their shtick, but AFI made them irrellevent to me because they rock harder and don't buy into the whole "let's use violence against women" angle. While I love what AFI has done since 1999 too, I know Black Sails in the Sunset will always be there for me, ready to make me pump some fists and kick some imaginary ghosts right in the nards.

9. The Get Up Kids – Something to Write Home About

I got into The Get Up Kids as they were breaking up – literally. I got Four Minute Mile and then saw their Philadelphia farewell show like a week later. I picked up Something to Write Home About afterwards, and was blown away by what I heard. Sometimes I still wonder if I’d have enjoyed their show more if I’d known more songs, but it was still a great set. Speaking of great song lists, how about the track listing for Something to Write Home About? Eh? Eh? I don’ toss around the phrase “perfect album” often, but Something goes from “Holiday” to “Action and Action” to “Valentine” to “Red Letter Day” to… OK, you get my point. Not just an emo masterpiece, Something to Write Home About is one of the greatest pop rock albums since the genre’s inception, boasting strong melodies, heartfelt lyrics, and a succulent balance between searing and atmospheric chord progressions.

8. Rage Against the Machine – The Battle of Los Angeles

The Battle of Los Angeles is the first Rage Against the Machine album I heard all the way through, and it’s remained my favorite Rage disc for almost 10 years now. I prefer to think of this as their swan song instead of Renegades, an uneven covers album that verged on self-parody. I can remember some kids in high school calling Rage hypocrites for decrying corporations from Sony’s pulpit, but when I hear Zack de la Rocha on the mic, those accusations seem besides the point. Dude spits white hot hate better than most on tracks like “Sleep Now in the Fire” and “War Within a Breath,” and his political calls-to-arms are made dangerous not because of their profanity, but because of their catchiness. Ultimately, Rage spun the catchiest propaganda, and I’d like to think they’ve influenced my left leanings ever so slightly. Side note: the spoken word part after the guitar solo in “Guerilla Radio” still gives me chills.

7. Face to Face – Ignorance is Bliss

It’s funny how the album that got me into Face to Face is their most underrated and/or loathed. I picked this record up after hearing the song “The Devil You Know (God is a Man)” on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and spent many a bus ride to and from pep band practice and football games spinning this disc (along with Good Charlotte’s first album… I was young!). Ignorance is Bliss was a good autumn spin for me then, and it still is now, with its more moody approach to songwriting. Oddly enough, right now I hear more connections to My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus and Mary Chain than I ever would’ve guessed, which just goes to show how far Face to Face was willing to go. It’s a shame Trevor Keith and Scott Shiflett had to break up the band in order to pursue this style further, but man what a great run they had. The guys claim to not know how to play these songs anymore since people hated ‘em so dang much, but Keith totally busted out “Nearly Impossible” for the encore at Face to Face’s farewell show at The Trocadero.

6. Counting Crows – This Desert Life

This Desert Life is actually the first Counting Crows album I owned. Sure, my pops had August and Everything After, but Desert Life is the first CC record that was all mine. I think that’s why I tend to overrate the disc to some people. But I can’t help it; these are the great American rock and/or roll tunes I grew up with. “Hangin’ Around,” “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby,” “St. Robinson in His Cadillac Dreams,” and “Kid Things” put a spring in my step and a song in my heart. I can remember singing these songs to myself softly when I’d get bored with the DJ’s top 40 picks at school dances. And the emotional catharsis from songs like “Colorblind” and “I Wish I was a Girl” is staggering. While not as balls-out rocking as Recovering the Satellites, This Desert Life does expand the Crows’ palette a little further in the opposite direction, achieving an eerier calm to accompany Adam Duritz’s dispatches from his own private hell in the public eye.

5. Guster – Lost and Gone Forever

More of the same from Guster, albeit with even better hooks. Lost and Gone Forever marks the beginning of the band’s shift away from jam band territory into more of an indie rock sound. They didn’t really get there until 2006’s Ganging Up on the Sun, but still… I still get chills from “Two Points for Honesty.” Everything leading up that one is pretty good too. Oh to be in prep school again…

4. The Bouncing Souls – Hopeless Romantic

I feel as if this series hasn’t properly portrayed my allegiance to The Bouncing Souls, because they were such an integral part of my high school experience. Hopeless Romantic was the second Souls album I got, and man did it rock my socks. And while it’s probably the one that’s aged the worst for me (some bad lyrical choices, the drums keep clipping), I still can’t get over how damn catchy and fun the record sounds. What’s even more mind-blowing to me is that most bands crap out by their forth album, and The Bouncing Souls actually got even better after this one.

Hopeless Romantic found the band getting back into full-on songwriting after the rapid-fire in-n-out style of The Bouncing Souls. Sure, there are still some quick punk ditties like the title track and “You’re So Rad,” but overall the songs are comparatively longer and more developed. “Kid” exists almost like a mission statement: “Get up, now’s your chance / We are here and we make you dance / You are not alone / This is our home.” Punk feeds on alienation, on “us vs. them,” with “them” keeping “us” down. But the Souls are a band that doesn’t just make me feel included in something important, they write as if we are all part of that something. And while that occasionally makes the band come off as hippie-esque, it’s nice to know that not everyone is trying to get the other guy. Even when the Souls rag on other people, like on “Bullying the Jukebox” or “Monday Morning Ant Brigade,” there’s a humor to their approach. Few groups make me feel as warm as the Souls do when they play “Night on Earth.”

And have you heard the boner-fried soccer anthem that is “¡OlĂ©!”?

3. Jimmy Eat World – Clarity

This album was like my official vacation record in high school, along with Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros’ Streetcore. It reminds me of half-sleeping in the backseat of my parents’ car during the three-hour drive from Blue Bell, Pennsylvania to Ocean City, Maryland, and from Ocean City to Blue Bell. I can remember vast Delaware farmland, green and leafy, with metallic sprinkler systems hanging overheard. I can remember watching as our plane broke through the clouds on flights to Orlando, Florida. Standing alone in a Georgia airport with only my headphones to shut out all of the “Welcome home”s and frantic searches and emotional chaos.

Pretty much everything Jimmy Eat World has done and will ever do is going to be viewed in comparison to Clarity. Bleed American and Chase This Light are the more direct, pop rock-oriented pendulum-swung-in-the-opposite-direction albums. Futures is the attempt to bridge the two sensibilities. Static Prevails is the punk precursor, the sound of a band learning its instruments by comparison. And Clarity, well, it’s what happens when a great band thinks it’ll never make another album again. Clarity and Bleed American are JEW’s two best albums, and I think a big part of that is because the band was driven to prove something. In the latter’s case, that they could write a catchy, successful album. In the former’s, that they could write the album they wanted. Clarity is a last stand, an expansive emo/pop/indie effort that attempts to sum up everything the band wanted to do before it lost its recording contract with Capital. That’s why it opens with the slow build of “Table for Glasses” before finally breaking out with “Lucky Denver Mint.” That’s why it closes with the staggering rock/techno hybrid of “Goodbye Sky Harbor,” a song that more or less makes The Postal Service redundant. It’s hard to believe such a gorgeous album came from such a desperate place. So it goes.

2. The Rentals – Seven More Minutes

The first time Eric played Seven More Minutes for me, I was actually kind of underwhelmed. Being my first Rentals experience, I was surprised that the record didn’t live up to the “Weezer + Moog” tag. I’d later realize that really only applies to the band’s first album, Return of the Rentals. After hearing some of the Minutes material live, I came to appreciate it much more. Having gone out of print years ago, the hunt was on for a physical copy. I eventually tracked it down after hitting up a few record stores in Montgomeryville, Conshohocken, Philadelphia, and, finally, Plymouth Meeting. And while I was initially unimpressed by the album, I now love it more and more with each listen (hence this blog being named after it).

Here is where The Rentals come into their own, crafting a record that merges dreamy pop with garage rock. Frontman Matt Sharp’s songwriting is still Weezer-esque in that his songs, at their core, are simple, open to interpretation and building. But with all the strings, horns, and keys, it’s like a like a modern day orchestral effort. The record ebbs and flows, from the high spirits of “Getting By” and “Barcelona” to the mellower valleys of “Overlee” and the very sexy “The Man With Two Brains.” While Sharp is the mastermind, the group’s always been better for its wide cache of voices – Blur’s Damon Albarn, Saturday Night Live alum Maya Rudolph, that dog’s Petra Haden, Lush’s Miki Berenyi, and Elastica’s Donna Matthews all show up. The best vocal take, though, has to be Aussie Sharon McConochie on “The Man With Two Brains.” She purrs and slurs through the song, which is about sex to begin with, lending this slow jam a little more kinky energy. Rivers Cuomo even pops up, as a songwriter, on “My Head is in the Sun.” Dripping with synth, Seven More Minutes is like a lost ’79 classic, brimming with punk energy (“Barcelona,” “Big Daddy C.”). Few nighttime drives are as fulfilling as the ones with this album in the stereo…

1. New Found Glory – Nothing Gold Can Stay

…unless, of course, I’ve got New Found Glory’s Nothing Gold Can Stay with me. Freshman year of high school, this was the first punk album to ever feel like it was “mine.” Opening track “Hit or Miss” insured I’d spend the next eight years (and counting) loving this band. I was hooked right away by the song’s nostalgia for shopping malls, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and music on vinyl, however not-so-cool that sounds today. This record distilled my newfound angst into power chords, nasally vocals, punk beats, and breakdowns. Nothing Gold Can Stay, The Smiths’ The Queen is Dead, and Jawbreaker’s Dear You were my holy trinity of emotional catharsis, with a little bit of Bright Eyes’ Fevers & Mirrors on the side.

Everything about this record made me want to be friends with NFG: The songs were kickass, the hidden track was a giddy vocal diarrhea that wasn’t that funny but must have been fun to record, and the band even had a song called “You’ve Got a Friend in Pennsylvania.” C’mon! This record walked a fine line for me; boasting pop punk energy and catchiness, hardcore structures, and emo anguish.

Time has been weird to NFG; they’ve gone from underground sensations to mainstream sell-outs to old guard craftsmen to has-beens to … well, I hope the promise shown on this year’s The Tip of the Iceberg EP is an indication of a new upswing in songwriting. Until then, I’ll just have to shout along to “2’s & 3’s,” “Passing Time,” and “Goodbye Song” at the top of my lungs with the windows down, consequences be darned.

NEXT WEEK: memory will rust and erode into lists, if you’re going straight along enough you’ll end up where you were, motherflipping Bloodflowers, 2000.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Botch - '061502'

A crucial band for any metal or hardcore lover, either as a musician or as a fan, Tacoma, Washington’s Botch was only able to release two full-lengths (plus a gajillion or so seven inches) in their near-decade run. Mathcore at its weirdly finest, Botch’s style, both intricate and powerful in equal measures, has proven hugely influential on modern hardcore since the band’s demise in 2002. But as good as Botch-inspired acts may be (then again, maybe not), nothing beats the original. Hydra Head Records is well aware of this, and has begun releasing a series of Botch delicacies. First came the rarities compilation, Unifying Themes Redux. Now, four-and-a-half years after its original recording comes 061502, a DVD/CD combo of the band’s final show at the Showbox in Seattle, Washington.

Opening the set is an audience member crying, “I’m a freak!,” followed by Botch rocking the hell out of “Saint Matthew Returns to the Womb,” from We Are the Romans. Although live recordings often offer a degraded version of a performance, the sound on 061502 holds up pretty well. Dave Knudson’s guitar shrilly slices through the mix while drummer Tim Latona pounds mercilessly. Though his voice is occasionally lost in the recording, vocalist Dave Verellen still dominates the audience, both those in attendance and watching at home. “C. Thomas Howell as the “Soul Man”” and “John Woo” are just as face meltingly brilliant in those regards. Later in the set comes the best version of B-52’s “Rock Lobster” ever.

While songs like “Japam” and “Thank God for the Worker Bees” clearly delight the crowd, the best part of the show is the sense of humor and camaraderie displayed by the four band mates with the crowd. Though small in the overall sense, it’s great to see how human these musical pioneers were/are. Verellen openly asks for hecklers while observing his own fatness. Bassist Brian Cook encourages a mix of solidarity and chaos from the crowd, saying, “Respect everyone around you… but just go ape shit.” All in attendance respectfully do so.

Some of the spontaneity of the live show is lost when playing back the recording of it. The thrill of surprise is gone when the set list is neatly printed on 061502’s packaging, along with the encore of “Man the Ramparts.” It’s kind of like watching Citizen Kane after hearing about “Rosebud,” Star Wars after Vader revealed he’s Luke’s father or The Matrix even though the sequels ruin the story. But just as fans of those films still watch anyway, the same holds true for this Botch live set. The extra features, though minimal, still lend the DVD a great deal of value.

Botch fans will love the commentary for the show. Self-deprecation rules the band’s analysis of their own finale, ripping into their abuse of strobe lights and drum fills. They even start a drinking game for each time someone in the band messes up. Everyone in the group is pretty freaking drunk by the end, by the way. The sarcasm also gets turned on just about every other band ever, from the gross imitators (“Hey, I really like this Norma Jean song”) to the fairly unrelated (“…and here come the claps… We started it, Green Day. Fuck you. We invented clapping.”).

Also included is the music video for “Saint Matthews Returns to the Womb.” The video’s oddly chromatic tinting of live footage is a nice enough addition. Finishing off the DVD is a bonus live show of five songs, recorded in Bellingham, Washington. The quality for these songs isn’t nearly as good, as it’s pretty hard to make out anything other than drums most of the time. But it’s still a cool lil add-on, allowing Botch fans to basically see a home video of their favorite band in action.

Overall, 061502 is a solid Botch release, honoring the band’s legacy while adding a little bit more on. Buy it for the video, keep it for the commentary.

Ill Ease - 'All Systems A-Go-Go!'

Screw bein’ serious; I and possibly, maybe, hopefully you, just wanna dance. I’m talking a silly little jig, preferably with some spinning thrown in. Said jig will last no more than five minutes because, honestly, I’m a bit out of shape. But for those gloriously stupid five minutes, I fully intend to pop in Ill Ease’s new album, All Systems A-Go-Go!. Then I will throw the cursed thing into the deepest, darkest nether regions of my closet.

Hailing from Brooklyn, New York and consisting of only one member, Elizabeth Sharp, Ill Ease is anything but what its name stands for. Rather, it/she is pretty easygoing, so much so that I’m not even sure how to write the band’s name. The front cover bills ‘em as “Ill Ease!”, the CD, “Ill Ease!!”, and iTunes and the spine of the CD case settle for just “Ill Ease.” Whatever. That’s just how she rolls, man.

The disc starts off with “Too Much Sucky (I Hate Drum Machines).” Sharp’s Brooklyn roots show right away. The fuzzy guitars, lo-fi recording, and ridiculously stupid lyrics all smack of “New York, 2001.” Coupling that with Sharp’s off-key, Kimya Dawson Lite voice makes for two strikes against the album within the first few seconds. But while “Too Much Sucky” lacks originality, it’s still a fun, rollicking number, albeit a tone deaf one. For the sake of preserving its silliness as much as possible, here’s a phonetic spelling of the song’s opening lines: “I hate drum machines. I hate drum mah-SHEEEEEENS!” Make sure you say that last part in a really high voice, now. Sharp’s criticisms of the pseudo-instrument start off practical, “They always keep the beat. They always stay on time.” Right on; it’s too perfect. I like my Ringo Starr off-kilter, clam-flammit. But after accusing drum machines of having “too much sucky and not enough fucky,” Sharp starts to get lazy, also claiming that drum machines are “always rhyming.” Then she cops the chorus from Devo’s “Whip It” for a whole verse. Righteous. Regardless, the loose playing and dance-tastic guitar work make the song an overall solid opener. It’s not brilliant, but at least it’s fun.

But after the absurd giddiness of “Too Much Sucky (I Hate Drum Machines),” the record settles for mimicking latter-day Sonic Youth. “New York No Wave” and “New York, London, Paris, Tokyo, Milan (It’s Worldwide! It’s Fashion Suicide!)" both breeze by with a Thurston Moore coolness, but unremarkably so.“Walking Pneumonia” tries to liven things up by using the word “fuck” a lot. It boasts a fairly basic guitar pattern and an insistence on telling most of the United States (plus D.C.) to fuck off. Florida gets fucked twice. It’s like listening to a 12-year-old boy write his first song in between practicing “Hot Cross Buns” and “Blitzkrieg Bop.”

After the lengthy “Power Turns Me On!”, which is half-song and half-a-shit-load-of-noise, and two remixes (“I Love Drum Machines (Napoleon III Remix)?!” Finally, a chance to experience the nostalgia of… like a half-hour ago…), All Systems A-Go-Go! mercifully ends. It apes Sonic Nurse well enough in parts, which is cool, but I already have that album. I don’t need another one. At least we can agree on drum machines sucking, though.

Palehorse - 'Amongst the Flock'

[Behold! This review almost got me blacklisted from Bridge Nine Records, whom called me a "brokeback mountaineer" at the time.]

Despite the huge differences between modern hardcore and, say, nu-metal, there’s still a fine line to be walked. Though the ‘core-attuned may claim otherwise, it’s just as easy to sound like Drowning Pool as it is Bane. Unfortunately, the Connecticut-based hardcore band Palehorse, though they aim for the latter, tends to come off with all of the grace and depth of the former. I’m not even talking good Drowning Pool, either (a la “Bodies.” Don’t act like you don’t know the words). I’m leaning more towards shitty Drowning Pool (Remember “Stand Up?” The one that went, “If you wanna stand up (stand up!)?”).

Palehorse’s latest album is called Amongst the Flock, and the title couldn’t be more accurate. It’s just more of the same XtoughXguyX posturing. Though the power of the opening instrumental track, “St. Louis,” is undeniable and chock full o’ muscular thrash goodness, the album quickly devolves into crap. “Announcing the birth of a new order UHHHHH!” goes the title track (that last part was a growl… or maybe a bowel movement. I’m not sure). Frontman Vinny Calandra reveals his Metallica roots with lines like “New world order/They plan to kill you” and “Corporate police state/Will be our life sentence.” While this ditty could prove to be like catnip to nihilistic, mall-punk types, it will be sure to grate on the nerves of others, as the song wears out its shtick halfway through its slightly-over-three-minute mark.

“Amongst the Flock” is just the first in a volley of paranoid ramblings about the fall of American ideals (or something like that). “The 33rd Degree” speaks of the “corrupt bullshit government/The course now set/Armageddon is here/Greed, lust – nothing left.” If only, man. If only. “1948” takes the scare tactics even further, singing about politicians and their lust for war, and the media’s obsessions with “West Nile or AIDS.”

There’s a popular sticker/shirt/postcard sold at Hot Topic that bears the phrase, “You laugh at me because I’m different. I laugh because you’re all the same.” That pretty much sums up another theme of Amongst the Flock. “They exist to please the crowd/I will never be one of them,” goes “Bleed the Sheep.” The third theme, self-loathing and just generally being pissed off (how very Limp Bizkit), flows throughout tracks like “Consuming Me” and “Last Place.”

There is one good thing about Palehorse, though. The band can serve as a litmus test of sorts at local shows. Anyone moshing, thrashing, or, uh… “no bones-ing” to the songs off of Amongst the Flock can pretty much be labeled as “the asshole who’ll mosh to anything.” Have fun donkey kicking chicks in the face, guys. I hope you don’t beat your wives like that 10 years from now.

Fake Problems - 'How Far Our Bodies Go'

[I just realized I never finished putting up my old reviews for Wonka Vision, City Paper, and such. So uh... here's some more oldies.]

If nothing else, Florida folk-punk band Fake Problems deserves credit for the quickest turnaround (in possibly) ever. You see, the first 23 seconds or so of the group’s full-length debut, How Far Our Bodies Go, suck. Hard. Frontman Chris Farren is not the strongest vocalist out there and, as he sings a call and response with a chorus over some strummed guitar on the album’s eponymous opener, he sounds like he’s trying to break free from the strangulated shackles of pre-pubescence (which is a dickhead way of saying he’s sort of out of his range). But after this false start, rest assured, How Far Our Bodies Go shifts up from “suck” to “dangerously awesome” for the remainder of its 36-minute running time.

From the second track (”Born & Raised”) to the closing thirteenth one (”Para Tur”), How Far Our Bodies Go serves up the best punk rock hoedown of 2007. Existing somewhere between Against Me! and Social Distortion, Fake Problems pick up and drop instruments like organ, fiddle, glockenspiel and horns on a whim, allowing the band to experiment with its songs without being restricted to any given instrumental style.

“Born & Raised,” in which main problem child Farren weighs joining the army versus going back to college, is furious and quick, but it still finds time to slip in some organ and background “boo-booo”s to sweeten the song. “Maestro of This Rebellious Symphony” switches out the organ for some fiddle and horn mix, and it’s just as delicious.

One of the beautiful things about what punk is (supposed to be), is that it is a genre open to experimentation and free association. Fake Problems do just that. You wanna hear a 30-second song about astronauts written for a strumstick? Check out “Astronaut.” You wanna hear a lovelorn, frenetic folk-punk tune segue into a “preprise” of another song that’s two tracks away for no reason? Put on the romper-stomper “Crest on the Chest.” In the mood for an epic album centerpiece? The triumphant tones of the five-minute “To Repel Ghosts” should more than suffice.

Basically, Fake Problems need to be popular; stat. How Far Our Bodies Go is one of the strongest releases, punk or otherwise, of 2007. It’s the kind of album that draws the listener in and demands he and/or she scream out every got-damned line. Be sure to come out for the band’s gig at Siren Records in Doylestown, PA on June 13th. Extra points if ya sing along.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

regarding student films

My buddy Matt Brasch has some short films in the can that he's going to start debuting online next week. Here's a taste, along with some words from the man himself:

Next week (Oct 27 - Nov 1) I will be posting a new video each day that I have been working on at school. Each video is different in style, format, and content. Please check some of the stuff out. If you do not like one of the films one day, do not be discouraged to come back and check out others because, like I said, they are all completely different. If you like what you see please subscribe to my youtube account. The main reason that I am uploading all of these videos in a row is to hopefully gain some viewers. I have a project that is due on Monday, November 2nd and my grade is based upon how many views I get online.

To start you off, I just uploaded an experimental documentary that I made about being broke as fuck on the road. I used footage from the past summer tour as well as some other footage from previous tours. Enjoy and give me some feedback.

You can check out more stuff from Matt on his YouTube page, and be sure to check out his band, The Wonder Years.

Jawbreaker news?!

Get ready to fill the cups dudes and/or dudettes, courtesy of former Jawbreaker members Adam Pfahler and Black Schwarzenbach:

Hey, just a quick update on what's going on in the Jawbreaker world...

The last bulletin I posted mentioned the Unfun remaster. I am going back down to LA this weekend to do it again. There were "flutters" in that first pass, which is a techie way of saying that gummy leader tape splices between the songs made the beginnings and endings sound like they had been drinking, which is a longwinded way of saying that it was fucked up, though no fault of the Man Himself John Golden. Unfun will be available online through the usual providers and in stores in early 2009 on Blackball Records. Extras will include the 7" mix of Busy and alternate mixes of Want and Fine Day. The CD and LP will be available exclusively at Hot Topic for the first few months of release, and then will go out to the mom and pops. Hot Topic, you ask? I said it. They have been incredibly supportive these past few years, stocking our records and shirts in all of their stores. Jawbreaker swag doesn't make it into a lot of national chains, so I'm happy that it's out there where kids can get to it. They recently added Etc. (the b-sides, singles and out-takes compilation with Kiss the Bottle). So if you happen to live out in the boonies, or your indie store just bit the dust of the download revolution, and you still like having something in your hands to peruse-- they carry our stuff. And while you're at the mall, why not visit Starbucks for a refreshing caffeinated beverage, and perhaps pick up a pair of pleated khaki slacks at the Gap? Ah, that's better...

A lot of the myspace people are asking me about the status of the documentary that Tim Irwin and Keith Schieron (We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen) are making. I'd say they are halfway there. Like I said before, these guys have real jobs (and a new kid-- congrats, Keith!) and are making this movie catch-as-catch-can on their own dime, to mix idioms. We just got copies of the Dear You masters and they are going to interview Rob Cavallo next and have him go through a couple of songs.

Which brings me to sad news. Jerry Finn, our friend who mixed Dear You, passed away last month. I do not feel qualified to eulogize Jerry-- we worked with him all too briefly back in 1995. But our time was intimate, and we kept in touch via email over the years. I considered him a friend and ally. The last time we were in contact I begged him to be in our movie. But Jerry wasn't comfortable patting himself on the back in an on camera interview. I think he was content to let the music do the talking, as it were. That's a smooth character right there. Or maybe he just didn't want to give up any of his studio secrets (I'll divulge one here: to keep morale up, when greeting the still reeling from signing to a major label band, say, "Hey, Little Fighters!" That'll do the trick.) So the next time you hear a song made in the last fifteen years that punches you in the stomach while kissing you on the lips, you have Jerry Finn to thank.

I don't like to speak for my fellow Jbs. I'll hand it over to Blake and send a Chris update when I hear from him…

A Note/Update from Blake Schwarzenbach:

Because I am bad at speaking about myself but excel at projecting my identity onto others and then destroying them I will be brief. I am currently defending my master's thesis at Hunter College in Manhattan, making music in an as yet unnamed group, and fighting with words on Facebook (it's an all ages page, meaning you don't have to be a 'friend' to read it; although I think you do need an account, which is free and relatively non-invasive. Come on by!) My thesis is on Percy Bysshe Shelley, who appears to have gotten almost everything right and paid dearly for it. The paper focuses on Shelley's technique of pushing metaphor until all connection between sign and signified is shattered and either some new truth declares itself or a sublime vacuum opens up and we are confronted with the void. Exciting stuff, I assure you, especially when one considers that he was a fiercely principled Republican (in the 18th century meaning of the term: friend of suffrage and the French Revolution, foe of monarchy and moneyed interests), an atheist, a vegetarian, and a wild-eyed beauty in verse. What's not to celebrate? Well, as it happens, he was universally ignored, reviled, humiliated or suppressed and died in exile. So, this is what I devote my academic energies to, which brings into even starker relief the historically blind trammeling and dismemberment of the U.S. constitution that has gone on these past eight years.

Musically, and I think maybe I can speak more clearly about this, I feel as though I am emerging from a kind of muted, reflective nuclear winter. It's awkward to talk about one's own music since that is what we ask the music to do; so I'll say only that it meets my own inner-standard of truth. I believe in it enough to overcome my own fear of making it. Hopefully we'll find a bassist (a woman, over 30, who rides a bike and can resolve any dictionary disputes that might arise between the drummer and myself) and come to a town near you.

Finally, thank you friends and enthusiasts of Jawbreaker. We did this thing for a long time in the dark - as all bands must - and it is gratifying to hear of younger people finding the band and getting it. The goal was always to connect with others and that seems to have happened so I think we can all claim success in that project.

Kind regards,


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Mitch Clem - 'Nothing Nice to Say Volume 2'

My dearest Mitch Clem,

I suppose I should start this ego stroke of a letter by mentioning that the only other cartoonist I’ve ever written was Bill Watterson, when I was around nine years old. I asked him if he ever thought about launching a Calvin and Hobbes animated cartoon, because I totally thought there was a market for that sort of thing. Then I read The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book and learned that not only had Watterson heard about this idea nigh constantly for a decade, but that he was firmly opposed on account of the whole “integrity of his art” thing. I think this might actually be the first time I ever experienced DIY guilt.

So, uh, ever thought about doing a Nothing Nice to Say animated Saturday morning program? No? Just me?

In all seriousness, I was writing to congratulate you on the publication of your new book, Nothing Nice to Say Volume 2 through Dark Horse Comics. I’ve been a big fan since I was introduced to your strip back in high school, and your Web comic introduced me to some fairly awesome bands, such as The Mountain Goats, Jawbreaker, and Discount, for which I am agro-terra-ultra grateful. It’s cool to see you “making it” as an artist, Watterson-style, and putting the book out on your own terms, Watterson-style 2x.

At 125 pages, the book offers a good amount of punk rock strips for readers old and new. The introduction to the characters in the beginning felt a little rushed, though, so I can see some folks getting confused if they aren’t familiar with your site. The jokes about selling out by relaunching the strip will also go completely over the heads of those who are just now learning about Nothing Nice. That being said, it’s not like readers need too much origin info going in anyway; the strips are easy to follow, and funny to boot.

Older fans can benefit from this book too. Besides the obvious fact that they get to support art (do it fuckers!), peeps get commentary on some of the work, as well as guest strips for other titles. It’s also interesting to go back and reread your previous work – your evolution as an artist doesn’t seem too apparent from strip to strip, but when I step back and look at Nothing Nice year by year, there’s a clear upwards arc. Having put on a few more years since I read these strips online in 2005-06, I find I appreciate the depth of your humor more. Sure, everyone should get your witty takes on Bad Religion, NOFX, and Raffi (“Ring! Ring! Ring! Bananarchy!”), but I didn’t truly get the They Live joke on p. 47 until like this year, when I, ya know… saw They Live. God bless “Rowdy” Roddy Piper.

I also love the pro-women strips in the book. Not to get all white knight-y, but I find myself astounded by the rampant sexism in punk, emo, metal, and hardcore (Have you seen the comments for the Heather Gabel interview on Gross!). So, it means a lot to hear you talk about the issue in a humorous story arc on p. 72-73, covering the objectification of women in modern emo, the cruel stereotypes about feminists, and the hilarity of punching d-bags in the face. Of course, you also keep it balanced by taking a crack at overly serious feminists on p. 54 by having Fletcher replace “Don’t assume I can cook” on a Womyn’s Council Meeting flyer with “Don’t assume I can spell.” It’s a welcome balance.

Overall, I gotta say, I’m pretty stoked on the black-and-white glory that is volume two of Nothing Nice to Say, not to mention the sweet button four-pack that came with my pre-order. My only real complaint is that it’s not long enough. If you could make your next publication a 1,000 page hardcover, that would be neat-o.


Joe Pelone

P.S. – Way to sell out to the patriarchal bullshit system. Or, congrats on your engagement.

P.P.S. – I sent this letter to as a review. Glee!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Ben Kweller live 10/20/08

Ben Kweller has always worn his influences on his sleeve. Not that that’s a bad thing; he did a good job with the Nirvana formula in his days with Radish. His debut solo album, Sha Sha, was the best Weezer album of the new millennium. I’m no mathematician bio-physicist super computer-maker, but I’d say Sha Sha is at least one million times better than Make Believe. After a stint with ’60s styles of garage rock (On My Way) and bubblegum pop (Ben Kweller), BK has jumped into the bluegrass/country game. Many an indie rocker has succumbed to this hidden passion, most notably Jenny Lewis and BK buddy Conor Oberst.

But while some may groan over this shift for BK’s upcoming 2009 album, Changing Horses, the change actually suits Kweller’s live show better than one would expect. Kweller came through Philadelphia’s Johnny Brenda’s Monday, Oct. 20 with Australian folkster Whitley, who entertained the crowd with his husky David Gray-like voice and reverb-laden, Band of Horses/Elliot Smith melancholy. Whitley even pulled out an excellent cover of Bjork’s “Hyper-Ballad” before finally losing his shit over the loud people at the bar. But up ‘til that point, he was funny and evocative; definitely an artist to watch.

Getting back to Kweller, he never touched an electric guitar during his hour-long set. Sticking to piano and a slightly worn acoustic, Ben was excellently backed by “Noodle” Stepro on drums, Chris Morrissey on bass, and Kitt Kitterman on steel guitar. It was Kitt’s slide stylings that really helped make the set stand out. Morrissey and Kweller played fine, mind you, and Stepro’s gleeful drumming infused everything with energy, but Kitterman’s soloing is what added color to the arrangements.

The set began with “Wantin’ Her Again,” an old tune from Kweller’s anti-folk, pre-Sha Sha days. Touched up with Carter family harmonies and bluegrass trimmings, the song sounds significantly different from its solo/acoustic origins, but it’s still a winning number. I wonder if it’ll finally get an album release on Changing Horses? “Wantin’” certainly fit in with that album’s material, which dominated the set list. “Fight,” “Things I Like to Do,” and “Sawdust Man,” which are available now on BK’s How Ya Lookin’ Southbound? Come In… tour EP, got the audience pumped. If nothing else, country music seems really good for a beer-swilling crowd. “Sawdust Man,” with its raucous jam session mid-song, went over particularly well.

The songs that got the biggest reaction, though, were the ones fans actually knew the words to. An early double shot of “Family Tree” and “Walk on Me” got people dancing, as did “Falling” and “In Other Words” later in the night. This is perhaps where Kitterman sounded the best; his steel-playing mimicked the violins from the recorded version of “Falling,” creating perhaps the most accurate performance of the original song I’ve heard to date. He did the same thing for “In Other Words,” which actually has a steel part. While I still miss the searing guitar solos of “Commerce, TX” and “Harriet’s Got a Song,” I find myself loving Kitterman’s lap steel just as much.

While Kitterman brought a new perspective to the Sha Sha material, the whole band toyed with performances of songs from On My Way and Ben Kweller. While “The Rules,” “Sundress,” and “Thirteen” sounded roughly the same as their recorded versions, “On My Way,” This is War,” and “Penny on a Train Track” were re-imagined with all sorts of new flourishes, ranging from dramatic stop-starts to full-on jamming. “Penny on a Train Track” was already a pretty catchy number, but the new live version has a passion and purity that’s far more transcendent. By the time Kweller hit the line “Pick up that guitar / and play, just play / play that rock and roll for me” near the end, I’d experienced satori about 10 times.

For better and worse, Ben Kweller has always been “my guy,” an artist with whom I have always felt linked. From Sha Sha my sophomore year of high school to How Ya Lookin’ Southbound my first autumn out of college, I’ve had exhilarating highs (that summer spent with On My Way) and crushing lows (the year or so it took me to finally appreciate Ben Kweller) with his music. And while I guarantee Changing Horses is going to alienate more people from his fan base, I also guarantee the album, and the live shows, will have some astonishing, catchy moments waiting to be found by true believers. As I walked out of Johnny Brenda’s upstairs showroom, I knew I had just stood shoulder to shoulder with a bunch of ‘em.

Click here for some duder's photos from the show, as well as a live video of "Fight."

Monday, October 20, 2008

1998 - now all these tastes improve / through the view that comes with you.

…aaaaaaaaaaand I listened to none of these albums in 1998 save for Hello Rockview. Not that it matters much. What is worth noting, though, is that this is the first list to consist entirely of albums which I did not hear through radio or television (Granted, I did eventually see Less Than Jake’s “All My Best Friends are Metalheads” music video, but it was I was already a fan. Yes, these things are important). All of these bands/albums came across my lap via hanging out with friends or reading good ol’ music journalism. Props to Alternative Press for introducing me to Braid and Sunny Day Real Estate’s How It Feels to Be Something On. Extra props to the friends who got me into the remaining eight albums on this list.

I think friends are the best way to find new music. Radio and TV are too narrow, too dedicated to the lowest common denominator. And the Internet is vast and bountiful, but without any sort of focus. And sometimes bloggers are just plain wrong (Black Kids, Vampire Weekend, everything Rilo Kiley’s members have done after 2005). But with your buddies, you can maintain an open dialog. You can listen to an entire album in a room or on a road trip and discuss it track by track, forging an intimate connection. While not all of the albums on this list were specifically played for me by friends, the artists were, and for that I’m grateful to know such people. This is why it’s important to have friends with different tastes from you; while you might not always agree, you may learn something yet.

10. Sunny Day Real Estate – How It Feels to Be Something On

FACT: SDRE pretty much broke up in between all four of their albums. These dudes just could not get along, which bums me out since I consider their three proper LPs (the leftovers that constitute “The Pink Album” don’t quite count) to be some of the best songwriting this side of the universe. Diary will always be my first love, but the ambience, spirituality, and groove of How It Feels to Be Something On sit mighty well with me too. The aggression is used sparingly here, so you really feel it more when it does come about. Generally, though, this one is probably the closest in spirit to the orchestral indie gospel folk hodge-podge of frontman Jeremy Enigk’s solo work. Earnest, strident, U2-like bands were plentiful in the ’90s (wassup Live?), but few could add/match the slinking atmosphere of How It Feels to Be Something On, not even U2 themselves. Personal favorites include “Two Promises,” “The Shark’s Own Private Fuck,” and “Pillars,” ‘cause they’re cool like a snowman with a leather jacket and nothing to prove.

9. Cat Power – Moon Pix

ANECDOTE: While Spin aped her a lot, I never really got into Cat Power until college. My business partner and munitions expert, TR, posted the video for “Cross Bones Style” on his blog, and that’s all it took to hook me. The video is cool yet goofy; a bunch of black clad ladies dance while Cat Power (a.k.a. Chan Marshall) and a drummer play. But it has such an incredible aura – the dancing is ironic yet kind of appropriate for the song. The song itself is soulful and quiet, but with a quick beat to propel it, making this subtle piece suddenly bouncy. It’s arguably still my favorite Cat Power song, so much so that I was originally disappointed by Moon Pix. The opening track, “American Flag,” is pretty much the opposite of “Cross Bones Style” – it’s sloppy and dissonant, albeit within Cat Power’s folky realm. Over time, though, I’ve come to appreciate this album for its many peaks and valleys.

8. Guster – Goldfly

As much as I loved punk rock in my teens, a decent chunk of my high school years were spent listening to jammier stuff, like Guster’s Goldfly. There were plenty of acoustic college troubadours getting play at La Salle College High School, including Dispatch, Howie Day, and John Mayer. Guster always seemed smarter than them, though. Goldfly has an energy and desperation more in tune with Violent Femmes (whom Guster once covered for an MTV2 special) on tracks like “Airport Song” and “Great Escape.” That’s not to say the band didn’t have some bongo bro-ha moments – check out “Medicine” and/or “Demon.” But while my “Me Gusto Guster” days aren’t as fervent as they used to be, I still spin Goldfly on occasion and smile; and I definitely still make an effort to check out the band whenever they come through Philadelphia.

7. Cursive – The Storms of Early Summer: Semantics of Song

Pretentious album title aside, Cursive’s second full-length is a blistering emo stomper from a time before the band started experimenting with strings and horns. As is, it’s a furious guitar-oriented record – check out those squeals on “The Rhyme Scheme” – made all the stronger by frontman Tim Kasher’s lyrical focus. Has Kasher ever recorded a non-concept album? This one’s story is right in the title; it’s about the semantics of song. Kasher explores the boundaries of the emo genre with a slight indie tinge and a voice that can go from bellowing to whining whenever it pleases. Also worth mentioning are the drum breakdowns on “Tempest.” Cursive has pretty much always rocked, but they were at their most straightforward on Storms. After this they started fucking with their formula, to great success.

6. Braid – Frame & Canvas

I was late to the Braid party, circa 2008. But when I fell, I fell hard, buying Frame & Canvas, The Age of Octeen, and both Movie Music rarities collections within a two month span. There’s something about frontman Bob Nanna’s voice; it’s so distinctive. Nanna isn’t traditionally tuneful, but he’s not overwhelmingly screechy or whiney either. He shows a good amount of grit on tracks like “The New Nathan Detroits” and “First Day Back,” but he’s still intelligible, and he clearly never crosses over from singing to screaming. It’s a sort of melodic shout, something that seems increasingly rare in emo music these days. Bands like A Day To Remember tend to split up shouting and singing into separate movements, going for polarization over cohesion, resulting in a sound that satisfies neither my need to be rock nor feel. Nanna, meanwhile, does it all on Frame & Canvas, complemented by pounding drums and chugging guitars. That the band effortlessly sums up my college experiences so perfectly is a nice bonus.

5. Rancid – Life Won’t Wait

Despite being arguably Rancid’s most difficult record due to length and sheer vastness of experimentation, Life Won’t Wait seems to be the group’s album which I listen to the most. Jumping effortlessly from oi punk (the first four tracks) to 2-tone ska (“Life Won’t Wait,” “Hooligans”) to rockabilly (“New Dress”) before mixing it all together (album-ender “Coppers”), Life Won’t Wait is a staggering love letter to world music and the friends who love it (Literally… check out “Who Would’ve Thought”). This is the album where Tim Amstrong came the closest to realizing his love of Joe Strummer, crafting Rancid’s answer to The Clash’s Sandinista!. It’s hard for me to pinpoint which Rancid album is my favorite because it’s constantly in flux, but I have no trouble calling Let’s Go, …And Out Come the Wolves, and Life Won’t Wait a holy trinity of ’90s punk rock.

4. Jets to BrazilOrange Rhyming Dictionary

My cousin Mike once said Orange Rhyming Dictionary was the definitive Jets to Brazil album because it sounded like a Jawbreaker record. While I disagree with that sentiment (Perfecting Loneliness 4-evaz!), I get what he meant. To those who knew them, Jawbreaker was a mighty source of life, offering energy and empathy with every song. For some reason, fans didn’t crossover as much for JtB, something that bothers me still.

Of course, it’s hard for me to comment, because I heard Jawbreaker and Jets to Brazil simultaneously. I’ve written before about how finding underground music was hard in the ’burbs, thanks to a lack of good record stores and my parents’ fear of online shopping. My family got Internet access sometime in 1999/2000, but it wasn’t until we jumped to a new computer in 2001 that I really got to take advantage of the world wide web.

That is to say, I downloaded a shit ton of stuff that I couldn’t find in stores.

Mp3s weren’t that well-tagged on the ‘Net, so while I heard Jawbreaker’s Dear You and Jet’s to Brazil’s Orange Rhyming Dictionary at the same time (per recommendation from Mitch Clem’s very excellent comic Nothing Nice to Say), everything was labeled as Jawbreaker. So it wasn’t that hard for me to deal with JtB’s more indie rock, non-punk leanings; I thought that’s exactly how the band was supposed to sound. It made sense to me that “Crown of the Valley” and “Sweet Avenue” would play alongside “Fireman” and “Save Your Generation.” And it still makes sense to me in 2008. Musically, Orange Rhyming Dictionary continues the sonic shift Blake Schwarzenbach had already begun on Dear You; the album is mostly loose and expansive, albeit less dark. Lyrically, the record expands on the hyperspecific personal anecdotes from Dear You while becoming more metaphorical so as to protect Schwarzenbach from being hurt by criticism. It’s weird, Orange Rhyming Dictionary puts Blake out in front less by avoiding detailed stories like “Bad Scene, Everyone’s Fault,” but there’s no mistaking who Blake is talking about on “I Typed For Miles.” “No one cares / your voice is average,” he intones, just one track away from the romanticism of “Sweet Avenue.” In many ways, Orange Rhyming Dictionary is Schwarzenbach’s struggle to move on after Jawbreaker’s collapse. I’d like to think he succeeded.

Not to take away from the top three on this list, but Orange Rhyming Dictionary also has a lot of personal meaning for me, not just because of the solace it gave me during my teenage years, but because of how much it reminds me of Michelle now. Whenever I develop a crush on a girl, I tend to associate certain songs with her. Usually, the songs tend to be about failed/doomed romances (The Smiths’ “I Know It’s Over,” The Cure’s “Love Song,” Jets to Brazil’s “You’re the One I Want,” and everything on Weezer’s Pinkerton have gone to one unlucky lady after another). But with Michelle, I found myself more and more identifying her with the lyrics to “Sweet Avenue.” The song is a hopeful one; it’s about the way a good love makes you not just happier, but healthier. It’s like meeting another soul saves you, from yourself and from the outside world’s troubles. I really do believe Michelle saved my life.

tasting you and rain I
walk down to the train
try not to look down
this day could someday be
an anniversary
everything is light and sound

facing forwards going slowly
wait for you to show me
where this train wants to go
living by the hour I
stop for every flower
everything is soft and slow

now all these tastes improve
through the view that comes with you
like they handed me my life
for the first time it felt right

thank you for making me
see there's a life in me
it was dying to get out
holding you we make two spoons
beneath an April moon
everything is soft and sweet

this cigarette it could seduce
a nation with its smoke
crawling down my tired throat
scratches part of me that's purring
softly stirring

I'm a captain of industry
smoking famously
feet up on the windowsill
looking at all these trees I
feel affinity with
everything so soft and still

budding at my fingertips
touching you I start to bloom
alive with trains and passing ships
soft and sweet along your lips now
I go "oh wow"

thank you for taking me
from my monastery
I was dying to get out
with tears of gratitude
I like my latitude
cross town train to you

now all these tastes improve
through the view that comes with you
like they handed me my life
for the first time it felt worth it

like I deserved it

3. Alkaline Trio – Goddamnit!

In punk rock, fans sometimes get too caught up in a band’s early work to ever really love what comes next. It happened to Jets to Brazil, Rancid, and Sunny Day Real Estate, and that’s just what’s on this list. People get so caught up in a 24 Hour Revenge Therapy or a Diary that it defines their every experience, leaving no room for another album to enter their lives. At the same time, though, sometimes a band really does get it right the first time or so. Such is the case with Alkaline Trio’s Goddamnit!.

Like a good chunk of this list, I was late to the Alk3 party. I was familiar with the band’s Vagrant work in high school, but nothing really grabbed me like Jawbreaker or The Bouncing Souls did. That changed in high school, when my roommate Eric, in a surprising, sexy, and succinct display of authority, put a copy of Alkaline Trio’s Maybe I’ll Catch Fire in my hands and said, “Buy this.” I’m glad I listened; Maybe I’ll Catch Fire is awesome. I moved on to From Here to Infirmary, which was OK but also confirmed my earlier indifference to the group’s Vagrant years. It was the band’s two rarities compilations that sucked me back in, though, and made decide to round out my collection of the band’s Asian Man years.

What I’m getting at here is that the band’s first album, Goddamnit!, is the last Alkaline Trio album I heard in its entirety, barring this year’s Agony & Irony. In spite of hearing the band’s evolution in reverse, Goddamnit! is still my favorite Alkaline Trio album. The band is usually sloppy drunk live, but here they’re just sloppy enough to sound awesome and alive. Matt Skiba rattles of on a number of topics over succulent Chicago punk rock tunes, like how much cops suck on “Cops” or how cool his crush is on “Clavicle,” and they’re all catchy and moving. Because, you know, I do kind of hate cops and do kind of like waking “up naked next to you / kissing the curve of your clavicle."

I find it interesting that Alkaline Trio’s Goddamnit! and Jets to Brazil’s Orange Rhyming Dictionary were ranked side by side, because A) the bands played the same record release show and B) Alk3 drummer Glenn Porter once shat in a box and mailed it to Jets to Brazil.

2. Refused – The Shape of Punk to Come: A Chimerical Bombation in 12 Bursts

The venerable Drew Stephan played Refused at a party once, and it completely changed my life. While I’ll always sort of dislike how the band completely ripped off The Nation of Ulysses’ aesthetic, I have to celebrate what the band did with it for their breakthrough third album, The Shape of Punk to Come. I tend to get bored by a lot of metal and hardcore for being too stiff rhythmically, but Refused infused a great deal of soul into Shape by incorporating electronic and funk elements. Songs like “Worms Of The Senses / Faculties Of The Skull” and “New Noise” make me want to drive as fast I can while making love to a 10-foot concrete wall while punching through the concept of poverty, that’s how juiced I get on it.

Eric and I used to dance to this album in our dorm room, a ritual that eventually spilled over into our work at the Collegian office. Simply put, you don’t know someone until you see him and/or her perform an interpretive dance to “New Noise.” There’s so much to work with, from the compelling opening guitar chords to the spacey techno holding pattern to the “Can I scream? YEAH!” to the explosive finale. It’s your entire life in miniature, provided you’ve had a good run.

Side note: I had to turn off The Shape of Punk to Come when I was listening to it at work, because it made me so angry that I wanted to flip my desk.

1. Less Than Jake – Hello Rockview

Hello Rockview, and Less Than Jake in general, is one of those items that constantly finds new relevance in my life. Whereas an album like Orange Rhyming Dictionary had to wait several years to really define my life, Rockview has always defined me in some way. This is the first album I ever felt “cool” for knowing about, courtesy of the use of its song “All My Best Friends are Metalheads” in the Digimon film (where my otaku at?!). In middle school, I was stoked on how catchy and peppy the record sounded. In high school, I came to appreciate how well the band utilized their metal background to add a punk energy to a ska songwriting style. In college, I was excited to try playing these songs with friends; I tried so dang hard to play “Al’s War” with Stephan in his basement. Post-college, well, let’s just say I get the whole “I gotta get out this town” vibe a lot more.

Point is, 10 years on, Hello Rockview is still a got-damn great record.

NEXT WEEK: God is a man, my head is in the sun, I’m a hopeless romantic, and kid things, 1999.