Monday, November 10, 2008

2001 - a punk odyssey

For those of us didn’t pirate all music ever made from, with, and through the Internets, compilations (“comps” to you, bub) were a great way to find fresh, exciting bands. Comps were what weened me off of the radio and taught me about this hip thing called “underground music.” It sounds kind of rudimentary now, but when you’re 14, 15 years old, being able to find 10 or more new bands to love at the same time is a big deal. Almost half of the albums on this list were purchased because I liked what I heard on a comp. A good comp, like a playlist, should have a couple bands you know – I bought You’ll Never Eat Fast Food Again because I loved New Found Glory, and ended up hearing Rx Bandits, Allister, Midtown, and The Wrens. If it offers rarities from your favorite bands, even better. I bought Give ‘Em the Boot III for the Rancid bonus tracks, and fell in love with the Joe Strummer and Leftover Crack cuts as well. I think the single most important comp I ever bought, though, was Punk-o-Rama 6. Here’s the track listing:

· "Can I Borrow Some Ambition?" – Guttermouth – 2:20

· "Come With Me" – Deviates – 2:57

· "Bath of Least Resistance" – NOFX – 1:48

· "Blackeye" – Millencolin – 2:16

· "Jack of All Trades" – Hot Water Music – 2:42

· "True Believers" – The Bouncing Souls – 2:30

· "We're Desperate" – Pennywise with Exene Cervenka – 1:47

· "Strangled" – Osker – 2:58

· "It's Quite Alright" – Rancid – 1:29

· "Holding 60 Dollars on a Burning Bridge" – Death by Stereo – 2:11

· "The Gauntlet" – Dropkick Murphys – 2:47

· "Original Me" – Descendents – 2:50

· "Runaway" – Pulley – 2:51

· "She Broke My Dick" – ALL – 0:43

· "Different But the Same" – Raised Fist – 2:35

· "Pure Trauma" – downset. – 2:33

· "Let Me In" – Beatsteaks – 3:28

· "Innocence" – Union 13 – 2:25

· "I Want to Conquer the World" – Bad Religion – 2:17

· "Only Lovers Left Alive" – The (International) Noise Conspiracy – 2:41

· "Say Goodnight" – Voodoo Glow Skulls – 3:02

· "Tonight I'm Burning" – Bombshell Rocks – 2:54

· "Takers & Users" – The Business – 2:21

For the record, I didn’t know any of these bands prior to buying Punk-o-Rama 6. I was vaguely familiar with Bad Religion (I knew “American Jesus,” basically) and Rancid, but I didn’t know anything substantial about them. I bought this album at a now defunct record store on the boardwalk in Ocean City, New Jersey entirely because my friend Andrew Chiarello, whom I still consider the king of cool, got it. I think the store was called like Palm Tree Records or something.

So, this album was akin to traveling to the moon and meeting Moon People™. It just completely rocked my brain, radically shifting it slightly back and to the left. I hate to use another drug comparison, but this shit permanently changed me, like LSD. Which means 20 years from now I’m going to crack my back and release some more Punk-o-rama stored in my fat tissue, which will undoubtedly make me insane and thus cause me to take a hatchet to my wife, children, family dog, neighbors, and unrelated passersby. And it’s all thanks to Epitaph Records!

In all seriousness, though, anything that introduces you to The Bouncing Fucking Souls is worthwhile, even if it’s The Greenball Crew EP.

10. Ben Folds – Rockin’ the Suburbs

God damn Ben Folds was so good for so long. His first solo album, Rockin’ the Suburbs, is almost something of a lost classic. Almost. I say that because it honestly never dawned on me that some people didn’t like it until I got to college. My high school chums and I were all about “Zak and Sara” and “Still Fightin’ It” and “Not the Same,” which is still one of Folds’ best live songs. But once I got to "the city," I found a multitude of people who only knew Rockin’ the Suburbs for its title track, and consequently decided that it must be the worst album ever.

Now, I actually do like that single. It’s cute and funny and ranty from a time when Folds could bitch without sounding like an old codger (Way to Normal sucks! Forever!). But I get why people don’t like it. It’s a little more produced than the Ben Folds Five material, sounding a bit ProToolsy. It doesn’t sound live at all, but that’s because it isn’t – Folds played almost all of the instruments himself, save for some guitar and programming bits. And let’s be honest, it’s not as catchy as anything on Whatever and Ever Amen.

But, being the little puissant missionary that I am, I insisted naysayers checked it out anyhoozle. I taped a Y100 Sonic Session Folds did around the time – I need to find my tape BTW – and I would often play it for those with doubts. Stripped of their studio sheen, songs like “Still Fightin’ It” and “Zak and Sara” are still catchy character studies. There’s really not a whole lot to keep a BF5 fan from loving Rockin’ the Suburbs. It’s jazzy in spots (“Fired”), sentimental and somber in others (“The Luckiest”), and it’s damn fine all over.

9. Brand New – Your Favorite Weapon

Man, remember when Brand New was a pop punk band that only talked about Morrissey? Those were good days. Frontman Jesse Lacey is one of the best lyricists in the emo game, if not one of the most frustrating (have you ever really listened to the words to Deja Entendu?). He brought his A game to Brand New’s debut, though, serving up several songs that still rank as the group’s best, based on everyone I’ve ever spoken with on the topic (it’s very scientific and involves science, simultaneously). Obviously, there’s single “Jude Law and a Semester Abroad,” a bitter beauty about a couple breaking up long distance, or, every couple I knew freshman year of college circa October. The song reveals the depths Lacey’s scorn can plumb (please turn to the part about being disappointed at his ex-girlfriend for surviving a plane crash instead of drowning in the ocean). Then there’s “Mix Tape,” another kiss-off that I put on at least two mix tapes. I could totally get behind the bit about shitty friends who hate The Smiths. And of course “Soco Amaretto Lime,” the closing song about growing up but feeling young and in love. And hey, remember that weird Brand New/Taking Back Sunday feud? That was something, eh? “Seventy Times 7” started that whole dang argument. It’s funny, Lacey can be pretty spiteful as a lyricist, but his truly condemning moment was when he made “Seventy Times 7” one of the catchiest songs of 2001. “Is this what you call tact / you’re as subtle as a brick in the small of my back.”

8. Rx Bandits – Progress

You’ll Never Eat Fast Food Again turned me on the Bandits’ second album, 1999’s Halfway Between Here and There. While that record was a catchy ska-punk batch in the vein of what Drive Thru Records was doing at the time (bands good enough to open for Less Than Jake?), Progress was miles ahead in every way. Better production, better style, and just plain better songwriting. The Bandits used to be a fairly un-serious bunch; early songs included such titles as “High Skool” and “I Don’t Care,” an ode to soccer girls. Magically, frontman Matt Embree metamorphosed into a bold, socio-political figure that also happened to write kind of complicated songs. Thus was Progress born.

Now, Progress is still a ska-punk album, but it outclasses just about every non-Less Than Jake ska-punk album out there. You’d think Embree was Sting the way he decries corporatization, oppression, and the mass imbalance of wealth in the world on opening track “VCG3” (or, you know, throughout the album…). Even the old relationship songs have a newfound seriousness to them – “Anyone But You” is one of the most mature break-up songs I’ve ever heard. Sadly, the band got even more technical after this album, disappearing in a cloud of pot smoke to create prog-ska. But I’ll always have Progress, a stunning ska/punk/rock/reggae record that blends elements of Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, The Specials, Megadeth, and Minor Threat into a palatable blend.

7. Incubus – Morning View

I once called Incubus my generation’s lowest common denominator and I stand by that statement. I feel that, for those of us of a certain age, Incubus was just kind of "there" in middle school and high school (and for some, even college). A lot of people were split on Limp Bizkit and Red Hot Chili Peppers in the ’90s, but just about all of my friends were OK with Incubus’ albums S.C.I.E.N.C.E. and Make Yourself. The more marijuana-lovin’ of the bunch swore by Fungus Among Us. I tend to gravitate towards Morning View, a record that seems to have a little bit of everything Incubus ever did before or after 2001. That’s right, when the band comes off of hiatus and makes a comeback album, it will sound slightly like Morning View.

Morning View bears the slightest whisper of Fungus Among Us’ funk metal, which is for the best. It’s got some meaty riffs a la S.C.I.E.N.C.E. without sounding like a blatant nü-metal cash grab a la Make Yourself. The record has a softer edge to it – it’s a great beach record, per the album cover’s suggestion. It rocks, but it carries a hint of ambience. Like Rx Bandits above, though, Incubus stopped bathing or writing catchy songs after 2001. Morning View is a chill album, but still much more invigorating than follow-up A Crow Left of the Murder. It’s a good overall rock record.

6. lostprophets – The Fake Sound of Progress

I try not to put down any specific genre too much; sooner or later I’ll hear a band that fits the style’s description that doesn’t suck. So while there were plenty of shitty rap-rock bands in the ’90s, at least one good album came out of the mix: lostprophets’ The Fake Sound of Progress. These Welsh lads had been tooling around with rap and metal hybrids for a few years before they dropped this, their first full-length, which is prolly for the best. Circa ’97, lostprophets sounded like another gang of Caucasian mooks trying to rip off black culture. Circa ’01, dudes stopped trying to rap and focused more on the metal half of their sound, retaining hip-hop’s use of sampling and scratching. Granted, these nü-metal trimmings date the album a bit, but The Fake Sound of Progress still shines as a solid pop metal album with a slight screamo bent. It’s melodic yet crunchy yet groovin’. And “A Thousand Apologies” is still a great hard rocker.

5. Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros – Global A Go-Go

Sooner or later, every artist spends some time “in the wilderness.” He and/or she loses his and/or her artistic perspective and struggles to create more, ya know… art. Depending on who you ask, Joe Strummer either spent one year in the wilderness – the time it took to make the shitty final Clash album Cut the Crap and the actually pretty good Sid and Nancy soundtrack, say I – or 16 – from the time Joe kicked Mick Jones out of The Clash until the release of Rock Art and the X-Ray Style, his first album with The Mescaleros. Either way, we are contractually obligated by good taste to agree that Joe’s late period work was ridiculously awesome.

After he lost Jones as a songwriting partner, Strummer struggled to find a musical balance. He was arguably one of the best lyricists of all time, but Strummer’s greatest strength – his rambling, playful, internal rhymes – became he biggest flaw when he lost Mick’s pop sensibility. The Mescaleros, however, brought a jam band vibe that matched Joe’s style perfectly. The Clash explored punk, rockabilly, reggae, and ska pretty well, but Joe really started to show how deep and convergent his world music roots went with Global A Go-Go.

The first Mescaleros track I ever heard was “Global A Go-Go,” and it blew me away. I knew The Clash for their didactic early work – “Tommy Gun,” “London Calling,” “White Riot.” I hadn’t heard Sandinista!, or even London Calling at that point, so to skip that far ahead was a truly expansive experience for me. The record is flush with lush arrangements, with chants and guitars and chimes and keyboards and flutes and the rawest-sounding violin I have ever heard. More than anyone else, Strummer spoke about the unitive power of music, of its ability to draw everyone in. That’s why he celebrated the raver movement in the ’90s; it was about fun. Too many bands and scenes get caught up in their own insularity. Strummer wrote music to celebrate all the people of the world.

“So anyway, I told him I was in this band, he said oh yeah! / Oh yeah? What's your music like? I said, it's errm... / Errm, well, it's kinda know… / It's got a bit of y'know... / Ragga, Bhangra, two-step Tanga, / Mini-cab radio, music on the go! / Urrm, surfbeat, backbeat, frontbeat, backseat, / There's a bunch of players and they're really letting go! / We got Brit Pop, Hip-Hop, Rockabilly, Lindy Hop, / Gaelic Heavy Metal fans, fighting in the road... / Aww sunday boozers for chewing gum users, / They got a crazy D.J. and she's really letting go! / Oh welcome the humble...neighborhoods.” - "Bhindi Bhagee."

4. Jimmy Eat World – Bleed American

After creating the most atmospheric indie pop album of their career with Clarity, Jimmy Eat World ended up getting dropped from Capital Records. It was a great last stand, but career-wise, the band needed to prove they could write catchy radio-ready rockers. And they did just that, on their own dime, with Bleed American. The title got dropped for a while post-9/11, but the change didn’t kill the band’s momentum. The group earned some radio airplay from “Bleed American,” a surprisingly crazed stomper from the guys who wrote songs like “12.23.95” and “Goodbye Sky Harbor.” It was the release of follow-up single “The Middle,” though, that catapulted the band into superstardom. I’m not statistician, but I’m going to say every person on this planet has heard “The Middle” a minimum of 100,000 times. The song is easily one of the most overplayed rock songs of the new millennium. But when I listened to Bleed American for the first time in years last month, I was struck by the song’s genuine, gentle assurance and good will towards all for the first time in, again, years. All it took was a little break to remind me why I love Jim Adkins’ songs. Dude crafts this sweet little confections about feeling awkward and finding your place.

Oh, and the other singles for Bleed American? Freaking “Sweetness” and “A Praise Chorus.” These babies rip the handle off of my adrenalin pump. When Adkins asks that, in the event I am listening, I consider pursuing the proper course of action that would allow me to “sing it back,” he gives me chills. “Stumble ‘til you crawl.” Give it your all, go at full force on the first effort, feel it.

3. Strike Anywhere – Change is a Sound

As I stumbled around the Tweeter Center parking lot after the 2002 Warped Tour, delirious from sunburn and kicks to the face, I ran into a fellow selling four comps for $10, which is exactly how much money I had left in my wallet. Anyone who’s been to Warped knows it isn’t just a concert; it’s a got-damn flea market. My cargo shorts were already stuffed with shirts and CDs, but seeing that this stranger was selling Stop Racism discs took from me what Drive-Thru pop-punk act Homegrown could not: My last 10 bucks.

This was a good life decision, a great one. For hidden on one of those Stop Racism comps was “Sunset on 32nd Street,” by the Virginian hardcore/punk act Strike Anywhere. Clocking in at 4:19, the song provides a surprisingly balanced discussion about police brutality. Frontman Thomas Barnett beautifully describes the ugliness of a forced entry, summing up all the unresolved hatred I’ve held towards police officers (though my anger has always been more of a result of discrimination than abuse). And while hating the police isn’t new, Barnett takes the time to remind listeners that not all cops are bad (“I wish the good cops if they exist / the very best!”).

When I obtained Change is a Sound, I was thrilled to learn the album was filled with passionate debates like “Sunset.” Melodic and charged and pounding and alive, Change is a Sound taught me the importance of seeing both sides of an issue, of avoiding stereotyping, and remembering that in order to make a democracy thrive, we all have to find a compromise. “Stand up! Speak out!”

2. Tool – Lateralus

Reminder of how young I once was: When Lateralus came out, I was excited because it was an angry, yet profanity free, record, thereby allowing me to listen to it loud without fear of parental retaliation. Now I wear shirts with couples puking on each other and words like “motherfucking” on them. I truly am a grown-up!

Lateralus had a ridiculously long gestation period due to a legal battle with Tool’s old label, Volcano Records, which was further lengthened by frontman Maynard James Keenan’s time with a new band, A Perfect Circle. The wait was worth it, though, since it gave the band the time to develop their best album. Lateralus is a prog-metal masterpiece, brimming with emotion, technical virtuosity, literary references (The Scarlet Letter), and odes to the Fibonacci Sequence. While I ultimately skewed towards more of a punk spectrum, Tool offered me a more intricate emotional outlet. Combined with Rage Against the Machine and Deftones, Tool formed a holy trinity of modern metal for me.

1. The Bouncing Souls – How I Spent My Summer Vacation

I watched the Bouncing Souls documentary Do You Remember? for the umpteenth time last night, and my only complaint is that the thing just isn’t long enough. Like good ol’ St. Joe Strummer above, the Souls have always made me feel like I was part of something bigger than a subculture. They make me feel human. And How I Spent My Summer Vacation was my first step towards feeling that.

I bought the album not long after hearing “True Believers” on Punk-o-Rama 6, and I was hooked. I made it a mission to get every Souls album. Each one is truly a treasure, but there’s something about Summer Vacation that always stays with me. Part of it is because, well, you always remember your first. That adrenalin rush I get from “those New Jersey mooks” started here.

But I’m not the only one went through some self-discovery circa Summer Vacation. The band members themselves went through a long journey to make the record after the departure of original drummer Shal Khichi. New guy Michael McDermott brought the group a newfound professionalism, emphasizing tighter playing and steadier practice schedules. The result: A finely honed pop-punk record with a dash of oi-style stompin’ and ’77 pogo-rompin’. How I Spent My Summer Vacation converts alienation and depression into a fuel source for determination. The album’s closing track, “Gone,” explains it all: “It was a darkness all my own / a song played on the radio / but it went straight to my heart / I carried it with me / until the darkness was gone... / I built this cloud I can break it / The world can’t change how I feel / Because I know it’s a lie / My heart is real.” This song actually got played when I went on a religious retreat called Kairos senior year of high school. I’m not supposed to discuss the specifics of Kairos, but I will say that the kid who played it used the song to explain his deep Catholic guilt and suicidal delusions, and the conversation really helped shake me out of my own malaise. We’re all a little fucked up, but we can help fill in each others gaps.

NEXT WEEK: I’ll work mornings and you can work through the night, I drop the needle and pray, I am wasted but I’m ready, 2002.

1 comment:

Paul Tsikitas said...

Global A Go Go is truly a fantastic record.