Friday, February 26, 2010

PLAYLIST: Joe Strummer pts. 1 and 2

[Playlist is an attempt to distill my favorite artists to 80-minute compilations and, hopefully, provide a gateway into their music.]

Earlier this month, I wrote a review for Joe Strummer's Walker soundtrack for As much as I enjoy focusing on new music, I get more satisfaction out of documenting lesser known gems from my favorite artists for the site's archives, in the somewhat vain hope that some young punks out there can learn more about Strummer (among others). I'M DOING IT FOR THE KIDS. The article promoted a discussion of Strummer's solo material during those post-Clash, pre-Mescaleros years. Fellow staff writer GlassPipeMurder posted this clip from the film I Hired a Contract Killer, an English/Finnish film about a man who hires an assassin to kill him and his attempts to escape the hitman after he chooses life. Check out Strummer's cameo, in which he performs "Burning Lights":

Man that song is good. I had never heard of this tune and needed to find a copy quick. But since it came out during the peak of Strummer's artistic depression, he only had a few hundred copies pressed. I doubt I'll ever be able to find the original seven-inch it came out on, although I did locate a bootleg from the U.K. I also obtained a digital version, which I've been playing quite frequently as of late. I quickly made a playlist on my iPod. Given the breadth of Strummer's discography, I opted to keep the energy level mellow, if only to focus it slightly. Even then, though, it doesn't fully represent Strummer's catalog - since I own Walker on vinyl, it couldn't make the cut.

Cool 'n' Out
1. Joe Strummer - "Island Hopping," Earthquake Weather
2. The Clash - "Bankrobber," The Singles
3. Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - "Mondo Bongo," Global A Go-Go
4. Joe Strummer - "Sleepwalk," Earthquake Weather
5. The Clash - "Hitsville UK," Sandinista! [I just realized that Mick Jones actually sings lead here. Whatever, dude.]
6. The Clash - "Stop the World," Super Black Market Clash
7. Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - "Willesden to Cricklewood," Rock Art & The X-Ray Style
8. Joe Strummer - "Burning Lights," I Hired a Contract Killer
9. Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - "Long Shadow," Streetcore
10. Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - "Redemption Song," Streetcore
11. Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - "Ramshackle Day Parade," Streetcore
12. The Clash - "Straight to Hell," Combat Rock
13. Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - "Yalla, Yalla," Rock Art & The X-Ray Style
14. Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - "Silver and Gold," Streetcore
15. Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - "Minstrel Boy," Global A Go-Go

I listened to this playlist off and on for about two weeks, mostly at night. While I enjoyed it in a more leisurely setting, I wanted something with more pep for driving. Basically, I wanted a playlist that segued from "Burning Lights" to "Coma Girl," because those songs are so ridiculously good. So I girded my loins and attempted to make an 80-minute mix of Strummer songs ranging from The Clash's debut to the Mescalero's swansong. I had to make some tough choices - Earthquake Weather and Rock Art & The X-Ray Style are both left out while I overindulge in tracks from London Calling and Streetcore. In fact, I took the songs from record one, side one of London Calling and rearranged them. Yeah, even "Rudy Can't Fail," which Mick sings lead on. I justify that decision by reminding myself that the best part is when Joe goes "Sing Michael sing!" I still have some regrets - I really wanted to fit "1977" on here - but overall, I am so stoked on this mix, especially now that I'm bumming around my house waiting for yet another snow storm to end.

1. Joe Strummer - "Burning Lights," I Hired a Contract Killer
2. Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - "Coma Girl," Streetcore
3. The Clash - "Hateful," London Calling
4. The Clash - "Rudie Can't Fail," London Calling
5. The Clash - "Rock the Casbah," Combat Rock
6. Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - "Arms Aloft," Streetcore
7. The Clash - "I Fought the Law," The Clash [U.S. version]
8. The Clash - "Tommy Gun," Give 'Em Enough Rope
9. The Clash - "White Riot," The Clash
10. The Clash - "Brand New Cadillac," London Calling
11. The Clash - "London Calling," London Calling
12. The Clash - "Straight to Hell," Combat Rock
13. Joe Strummer & The Long Beach Dub All Stars - "The Harder They Come," Free the Memphis 3
14. The Clash - "Jimmy Jazz," London Calling
15. Jimmy Cliff featuring Joe Strummer - "Over the Border," Black Magic [This one's a little polished for my taste, but damn is it catchy.]
16. Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - "Global A Go-Go," Global A Go-Go [First Mescaleros tune I ever heard, on the Give Em the Boot Volume 3 compilation.]
17. Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - "Bhindi Bhagee," Global A Go-Go
18. Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - "Get Down Moses," Streetcore
19. Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - "Ramshackle Day Parade," Streetcore
20. The Clash - "(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais," The Clash [U.S. version]
21. Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - "Silver and Gold," Streetcore

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Vinyl Vednesday 2/24/10

[Vinyl Vednesday is a weekly feature about three favorite vinyl finds. It’s not meant to be a dick-measuring contest, but it kinda is. This week’s installment is Crime in Stereo-themed, in celebration of their new album I Was Trying to Describe You to Someone. As of this writing, I haven’t heard it yet, so it could suck for all I know, but at this moment, it’s my most anticipated album of 2010, along with Against Me!’s White Crosses. As always, e-mail with your own big finds!]

Records: Crime in Stereo’s The Trouble Stateside (2006, although the album wasn’t released on vinyl until 2008) on white, Love (2007, although it’s actually the vinyl version of the 2005 EP The Contract) test pressing on black, and Crime in Stereo is Dead (2007… no really) on black with white bursts that look like stars (!!!).

Place of Purchase: Stateside was purchased at the band’s show with Fake Problems at the Moose Lodge in Doylestown (R.I.P.), although I can’t recall the date. It was before FP dropped It’s Great to Be Alive. I got Love when the band played a hardcore show at Villanova University – yeah, I don’t know how that happened either. Is Dead was obtained from an actual store – my beloved Repo Records.

Thoughts: I love Crime in Stereo. I’ve seen them a bunch of times in church basements and VFW halls… and one time at the Trocadero when they opened for H2O. My infatuation with them began when they played the Lansdale VFW back in 2006. Just to show how great the scene was “back in the day,” I pretty much only went to the show because I had nothing else to do that night, and the cover was like $6 or something. CiS’ live set was solid, so I picked up Stateside and, over time, grew to love its every line and lick. The band later jumped from Nitro Records to Bridge Nine, who gave Stateside the vinyl treatment. I just realized at the show I bought this at was the last time I saw the band live. They’re playing The Note in West Chester, Pa. this Thursday with The Menzingers.

Speaking of CiS shows, the Villanova show managed to be both super-crappy and super-awesome. My roommate Eric and I drove out to ’Nova to catch CiS and came away with two new terms/phrases: “Mook-core,” which we used to describe all of the chest-beating, machismo-leaden opening bands, and “Deal in Stereo,” because CiS had some great merch offers. Shirts were like $10. And they were selling test pressings of their new/old EP Love since the finished version hadn’t shipped yet. One of the band members was actually embarrassed about this, which I never understood. I scored an extremely limited pressing of a great EP, featuring the always welcome/hilarious “Long Song Titles Aren’t Cool Anymore Because the Rest of You Fuckers Are No Good at It.”

Is Dead was such a game-changing album in my eyes. When B9 sent me a promo CD of it, it rotated from my computer to my car stereo for like a week. As is my way, though, I wanted to get it on vinyl too, because clearly I have no plans for the future. Besides, I like B9’s vinyl. Dead looks and sounds beautiful, and the label didn’t go overboard with color variants. I hate when companies put out like 20 versions of the same album and makes 19 of them rare. It turns collecting into a chore. Anyway, Dead is the band’s finest moment (so far), combining hardcore with all types of melodic and ambient guitar textures, resulting in something moodier but still rocking. Just as the title hints, this is the sound of a whole new band.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Versus: 'Paranoid' v. 'Mob Rules'

[Versus pits two of an artist’s classic albums against each other even if they’re stylistically different, because that “you can’t compare apples and oranges” bullshit is for people without balls, spines, or all those other things that separate us from the villainous jellyfish. This week's installment on Black Sabbath is dedicated to two Nicks - Elmer, because I remember him telling me sophomore year of college to explore Black Sabbath’s discography beyond Paranoid and I didn’t heed his advice for another two years or so, and Gregorio, because he’s the only guy I know who prefers Dio-era Sabbath to the Ozzy incarnation.]

A long, long time ago, I thought I was a metalhead. By this, I mean I listened to Kiss and Metallica with some of my friends back in middle school. By freshman year of high school, I was on to Tool and Our Lady Peace. By the following summer, I was a pop-punker for life, and New Found Glory, the Ramones, and the Bouncing Souls dominated my listening habits. But I never entirely forgot my ever-so-brief flirtation with metal. I enjoyed the technicality, but I couldn’t stand a lot of the pretensions – hence my interest in Tool, who always seemed more “serious,” and thus more “real” (although the band has quite a few joke tracks scattered on their albums as well). Fantasy metal of the Rhapsody variety always seemed too goofy to me; anything indebted to Led Zeppelin straight up sucked (especially the dragon pants). But I liked anything sludgy. Maybe it was my childhood roots in grunge/alternative – I am the first generation to grow up in a post-Nirvana age – but the dissonance got to me.

Enter Black Sabbath. The Sabbath I knew wrote songs about Armageddon and sin and plagues. I don’t consider myself Catholic anymore, but those images still get an emotional reaction out of me. Also, guitarist Tony Iommi wrote some sweet-ass riffs. Their most well-known songs include “Paranoid,” “Iron Man,” and “War Pigs,” all of which can be found on Paranoid. It’s not the best Sabbath album with frontman Ozzy Osbourne – I prefer Master of Reality, although I’m sure other folks would go with Sabbath Bloody Sabbath – but it remains the best entry way to the Sabbath canon, if only because most people should already know about half of the album’s 42-minute running time.

Compared to the band’s discography overall, Paranoid is the moment the band’s signature sound began to cohere. Black Sabbath is a downright bluesy affair compared to what came later, and by the time of Reality, the group was into its own sludge-metal world, but Paranoid is the crossroads. It’s funny how much of the band’s sound was defined by accident – Iommi tuned in D because it was easier on his fingers, the supremely awesome “Paranoid” is as fast/brief as it is because the band needed to know out another track for the album as quickly as possible – but these decisions mark the beginning of the Sabbath sound even as the group continues to embrace blues riffs on songs like “Jack the Stripper.”

Paranoid is a good album, but it has its weaknesses. The second half is notably weaker than the first. “Electric Funeral” is a little silly, even by metal standards. “Rat Salad” is all filler, hence the extended drum solo. “Jack the Stripper” is a decent jammed-out closer, but compared to opener “War Pigs/Luke’s Wall,” it will always be second best.

Remember all that stuff I said about hating power metal? Well, I make an exception for Ronnie James Dio. He sings about faeries and dragons and whatever-the-fuck in an operatic singing style, but it’s so got-damned fun and infectious that I can’t deny his ability. Dude wrote “Rainbow in the Dark” and somehow made the title the most awesomest thing ever.

I picked up Mob Rules after I obtained the essential Ozzy-era Sabbath albums (the first six), and it took a while for the songs to sink in. Here’s where I really test the limits of my “fuck apples ‘n’ oranges” approach for this column, because Dio-Sabbath is a very different band from Ozzy-Sabbath. The songs are tighter, the hooks are more obvious, even Iommi’s playing is different. This shift was further aided by new drummer Vinny Appice, who tapped into Dio’s version of metal more by playing on the beat pretty much all of the time, whereas original drummer Bill Ward had a looser style. I should hate this album for erasing everything that Sabbath did during the ’70s. But got-damn is it one fun record.

“Turn Up the Night” is a quick number with squealing guitars and propulsive drumming. “Voodoo” is where Dio’s penchant for shitty lyrics gets the better of him but, again, it’s too hook-laden to ignore. “Sign of the Southern Cross” gets a bit maudlin for my taste, but the band gets things back on track soon after, first with the experimental electronic track “E5150” and then the ridiculously kick-ass fist-pumper “The Mob Rules.” Lyrically, it’s an argument for researching opinions before going along with popular sentiments, hence the lines “If you listen to fools / the mob rules.” The track sums up Dio’s brief original run with Black Sabbath (two studio albums and a live record, although Dio returned for 1992’s Dehumanizer) with its insistent instrumentals and bravado.

Here’s where I soften my conclusion a little bit. The best tracks of these two albums are on Paranoid. There’s a reason why “War Pigs” is so well known. But taken as a whole, I maintain that Mob Rules is the better album. It’s more consistent, makes for better driving music, and, really, that title track is one badass tune. It’s not my favorite Sabbath album – Master of Reality, remember – but when comparing the best of the Dio catalogue with the most classically known Ozzy album, Ronnie proves he deserved his time with one of England’s finest metal bands.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Shellshag - 'Rumors in Disguise'

Sludgy, lo-fi, two-piece punk. Must be from Brooklyn. The duo of Shell and Shag, known to the world as Shellshag, recently made its Don Giovanni debut with Rumors in Disguise. As minimalist, plodding and ramshackle as the band gets at times, the record showcases a gift for hooks, even if they’re as tossed off as the “blah blah blah”s of “Get Right.” If you’re looking for Ramones-indebted dirges of the haziest degree, Rumors is the place to be.

The duo splits vocal duties throughout the album, with guy guitarist Shell recalling Jeffry Hyman more than lady drummer Shag does. Shellshag writes two kinds of songs – slow, psychedelic ones and faster garage rock fare that almost recalls Mean Jeans or No Age. Either way, there’s a lot of murky production. The group is said to have a dynamite live show, and these songs, while not exactly exploding one after another, hint at that possibility.

“1984” kicks the record off well. It’s a hair too fast to be called midtempo, Shell’s guitar squalls alternate between shoegaze haze and psych backwards solos while Shag lists things that don’t work for her (drugs) and things she’d like to know (other stuff?). It’s an excellent lil number, and it’s not even the lead single. That would arguably be track two, “Resilient Bastard,” which The Village Voice has been hyping for a month. Shell takes over the mic, hypnotically referring to himself by the song’s title. From there, the album continues down its little punky path. Sometimes the songs get harder (“He Said She Said”), sometimes the group whips out a cool instrumental (the last 40 seconds of “Wake Up” are killer) and sometimes Shellshag just kinda putters around for like three minutes (“Get Right” succeeds in being neither terrible nor terrific for three minutes).

Given the somewhat repetitive nature of the music, Rumors’ 14 tracks could have been whittled down to 12, maybe ten, songs. Still, at a 32-minute running time, the album is cohesive and entertaining enough. Again, the songs suggest that Shellshag might be better live. I could see them jamming out “Wake Up” to great success, and rockers like “He Said She Said” and “Dirty Looks” should go over well. For now, though, Rumors is a solid glimpse at Shellshag’s sound.

Castevet - 'The Echo and The Light'

[EDIT: I just found out from the band's publicist that this album is on hold for a minute. Expect bonus tracks and a new label soon!]

Geez, Castevet, why you gotta be so awesome all the time? It feels like you just dropped Summer Fences and now you’re already back with another kick-ass collection of post-hardcore charmers. Sure it’s just an EP, but dang it, four guys that make up Castevet, The Echo & The Light is some fine stuff.

Oh sure, in a lot of ways, the EP feels like just a continuation of Summer Fences. The band still sounds like a mix of Braid, Appleseed Cast, Envy, Latterman and Mogwai, which doesn’t seem like conflicting comparisons when Castevet is actually playing. The guitars are still noodly and unafraid to explore atmospheric areas not usually associated with Hot Water Music-esque bands, as seen on “Midwest Values” and “Cities & Memories”

At the same time, though, the EP definitely feels more aggressive than Summer Fences in places, again in reference to closing track “Cities & Memories,” but especially so on “Lautrec.” It’s an aggressive punk stomper the whole time, shredding faces like they’re delicious parmesan cheese [Note to self: Do not write while hungry]. It’s also only 2:50, which is short for a Castevet song.

So I suppose The Echo & The Light is somewhat of a placeholder in the best way possible. It’s anthemic, it’s airy, it’s awesome. It makes me want to go steady with Castevet. I don’t care who knows it and I don’t care how many more releases they churn out rapidfire, dammit, I’m in love.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lighten Up - 'Absolutely Not'

On their full-length debut Absolutely Not, Philadelphia locals Lighten Up turn out the kind of fast-paced, 120-seconds-or-less hardcore of Paint It Black, Kid Dynamite and Static Radio NJ. Sure, vocalist Perry Shall recalls Aaron Bedard of Bane more than he does, say, KD’s Jason Shevchuk, but anyone who knows the many joys of CVA and Shorter, Faster, Louder should be down with the Lighten Up sound.

Absolutely Not’s 12 songs clock in at 17 minutes. Final track “Personality Implants” is kind of a waste, though. A five-and-a-half-minute tune featuring the same repetitive, chugging guitar riff, it recalls later period Black Flag, ya know, when they wrote one-minute punk songs that somehow stretched on for five or six minutes. But let’s give the album a mulligan. “Personality Implants” is at the end, so it doesn’t matter if folks are playing the album on CD or vinyl; they can still get out before things go wrong.

“Personality Implants” aside, though, the remaining 11-and-a-half minutes are pretty tight. The songs are all under two minutes – the humorous, hometown-referencing “Boyz II Wolves” is only 15 seconds – and they all pound out some fine hardcore fun. Sure, the tunes blur together a bit, but the album is so short that listeners should be able pick up the distinctions within an hour. Kid Dynamite might have done this style first, but Lighten Up does it justice.


Against Me! (My generation's Clash/Replacements/[other important punk band]) has been playing new material live. I've been trying to find some bootlegs. These songs will probably end up on new album White Crosses, which doesn't have a set release date yet. Here's what I've found so far:

"Because of the Shame"

"White Crosses"

"High Pressure Low"


That's all I've got so far. Anybody got more?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Vinyl Vednesday 2/17

[Vinyl Vednesday is a weekly feature about three favorite vinyl finds. It’s not meant to be a dick-measuring contest, but it kinda is. E-mail with your own big finds!]

Records: Nico’s The Marble Index (1969) on black, Prince’s Dirty Mind (1980) on black, and Radish’s “Little Pink Stars” (1997) single on clear with pink glitter.

Place of Purchase: Um… all three came from eBay.

Thoughts: I’d like to discuss Nico’s The Marble Index by telling a story that has nothing to do with that album, at least on the surface. Freshman year of college, my good buddy Eric Crack, of the rockin’ punk band The Next Big Thing, were visiting record shops in Philadelphia when we stepped into the now-departed Spaceboy Music. As much I dug their selection, the dudes there were kinda pretentious, and the music usually followed suit. The highlight on this particular occasion was a song that played the entire time we were there (20 minutes or so). A man rambled about holding his father’s skull while a harmonium or maybe a Moog (I don’t remember; this was like five years ago) screeched along. So it was 20 minutes of “And I beheld a skull” *DEE DEE DEEEEE* “It was my father’s skull” *DEEEEEEEE DOOOOO DOOO DOO DEEEEE*.

That’s kind of what I think about Nico’s The Marble Index, except with female vocals. But I’m still giving it an honest effort. I kind of dug her Velvet Underground and David Bowie covers on Drama of Exhile, but right now I feel like I’ve become everything I swore to destroy.

But while avant-garde electronic music is my guilty pleasure, I feel no guilt whatsoever for my love of Prince. Dude wrote a ton of awesome songs about sex, politics, and sexual politics. Dirty Mind is as far back as I’ve gone in his discography, and I think this is probably a good stopping point. The title track announces the album as a hot and heavy, somewhat minimalist record. It’s primarily driven by drums and synth – both played by Prince, with some help from Dr. Fink – and it deals with sexy sex. “When You Were Mine,” which Cyndi Lauper did a solid job with a couple of years later with She’s So Unusual, is about gettin’ cheated on, but Prince, as always, turns the pain of not getting effed into an infectious pop ditty (Have you heard “If I Was Your Girlfriend?”). The flipside is what got Prince into trouble. “Head” is an insanely frenetic ode to blowjobs – the music makes you realize how much the dude likes ’em. “Sister” was also controversial due to its depiction of, um, uh, errrr… incest. Yeah, I don’t know what it’s here either. For an album that celebrates like, 23 positions in a one night stand, “Sister” is the one that makes me blush. But then “Partyup,” an anti-war tune, kicks in and, in complete defiance of the album’s theme, gets all types of political.

In some ways, I think I love Ben Kweller more than the bands he’s been inspired by (my beloved Nirvana and Weezer). At this point, he’s released more solid albums than the Weez, and for a while there, I was obsessed with collecting all of his older, out-of-print stuff. Sometimes it paid off (Freak Out… It’s Ben Kweller); sometimes it didn’t (Radish’s Restraining Bolt has like three good songs). It’s been interesting for me to go through his discography and realize how many of his songs emerged during his teen years. As awful as some of the Radish material is, there are some fantastic nuggets scattered around. Case in point: the “Little Pink Stars” single. “Stars” is one of the good ’dish ditties, very much in the Nirvana vein. The flipside is a demo of “Make It Up,” which later showed up on BK’s 2002 solo full-length Sha Sha. The lyrics are a little goofier, with references to Star Wars, but the structure is there. Basically, regardless of how Radish did, BK was always on track to write my most beloved pop songs.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Post Harbor - 'They can't hurt you if you don't believe in them.'

Ignore the dubious title, and Post Harbor’s They can’t hurt you if you don’t believe in them. reveals itself as a monolithic, spacey pleasure in the vein of Mogwai’s post-rock mixed with Silversun Pickups’ brand of shoegaze. Reportedly, the band set aside over a year to craft this, the follow-up to their 2007 debut, Praenumbra, which probably helped the members take a notably formless sound and hone it down to a relatively tight 50 minutes. The result is something that should appeal to fans of anything explosive, keyboard-laden and droning. Also, vocalist Colin Isler has this alien quality to his voice that recalls Sunny Day Real Estate circa The Rising Tide. So, there’s that too.

The album opens and closes with fanfare (making the last track “Intro” was kind of funny). “Ponaturi” is a two-minute mini-suite that hits all of the band’s favorite modes – grinding noise, ambient interludes – before segueing into “Cities of the Interior.” The transition is so seamless that I suspect the band broke the tracks up just to avoid having any one song exceed 10 minutes. “Interior” is almost a test for listeners. Yeah, it’s eight-and-a-half minutes long. But given the ebb, flow and interplay of the album, identifying the songs’ beginnings and endings seems irrelevant. Just accept that the nerdcore-ish keyboards bring in a video game-like quality before strings completely wash that sound out, followed by a plaintive, simple piano part. It’s all up and down dynamics, a collection of sounds that work well with the volume knob set to one or 10.

Any major complaints against Post Harbor are going to be atypical of their ilk as well. This isn’t three-chord punk or Beatlemania; it might not be the best driving music. Sticking to bands within their hemisphere, Post Harbor could probably benefit more from the iconoclasm of, say, Envy, who use hardcore to give their more ethereal sections clearer contrast and vice versa. But that’s something the group can take into account on LP #3. For now, They can’t hurt you stands as a solid collection of otherworldly space rock.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Versus: 'Four Minute Mile' v. 'Something to Write Home About'

[Versus pits two of an artist’s classic albums against each other even if they’re stylistically different, because that “you can’t compare apples and oranges” bullshit is for people without balls, spines, or all those other things that separate us from the villainous jellyfish. This week's installment comes from guest contributor and Get Up Kids superfan Mike Pelone. We once covered "Better Half," from Four Minute Mile, together.]

Music is my life. It’s what gets me up in the morning, keeps me going throughout the day, and puts me to sleep at night. I can pinpoint certain times in my life and remember what albums I was listening to during that period. When I listen to them now, it brings me back to that place and reminds me of who I am and where I’ve been. When my cousin Joe asked me to write a guest piece for Picasso Blue I knew instantly what I wanted to write about- my favorite band, The Get Up Kids. Their first two albums, Something To Write Home About and Four Minute Mile, are widely acknowledged as two of the last great “emo” records and have spawned hundreds of bands that try to capture that sound. In this piece I will compare and contrast the two records and explain why this band means so much to me.

When I was 13 years old, I was first introduced to The Get Up Kids. A neighborhood friend of mine had just seen them open for Green Day on the “Warning Tour” and came home with a copy of Something To Write Home About. He burned me a copy and said, “Dude you’ve got to hear this band.” I can recall walking back to my parents house in the snow listening to it on a Walkman and from that first pick-slide in “Holiday” to that last bass drum hit in “I’ll Catch You,” I was mesmerized. I listened to that burnt copy so many times in that first two weeks that it started skipping, so I went out and bought a physical copy. That’s when I truly fell in love with the album.

I remember staring at the robots on the cover listening to records on their candle-lit turntable and thinking that it was the most amazing artwork I’d ever seen. The album covers every aspect of the teenage emotional experience pain, heartache, angst, anger, regret… They’re all represented on Something To Write Home About. The band jumps from gut-wrenching love songs like “Valentine” to triumphant anthems like “Ten Minutes” and “I’m a Loner Dottie, A Rebel...”. Matt Pryor’s vocals brought out feelings in me that I’d never felt. This was also the band’s first proper full-length with James Dewees, who is one of those great keyboardists who doesn’t fill the need to take over songs with his Moog, he just finds the spaces between where he can really bring the song to life. This album is their masterpiece and embodies everything I love about music.

After about a year of listening to Something To Write Home About every day, I decided to check out their first record, Four Minute Mile. I picked up a copy from Joe’s former place of employment the late, great Sam Goody in the Plymouth Meeting Mall. When I got home I popped it into my boombox and was completely taken aback from what I heard. It sounded like a completely different band had recorded this album. There were no keyboards, no huge production, no three-way vocal harmonies. In fact, I thought the record sounded like complete shit. Pryor can’t hold a note to save his life and his voice cracks about five times in the first three songs. The guitars and drums are sloppy and the overall quality of the record is so far from what I had spent the last year obsessing over with Something. After that first listen I put the CD away and it took me a long time to revisit it.

Eventually I came around and gave it another try and realized that this is their “punk rock” record. I read somewhere that they recorded it in Chicago on a weekend when drummer Ryan Pope had off from high school. Almost the entire album is recorded live and every little mistake can be heard. As I got older and went through a couple relationships, I grew to really relate to Four Minute Mile. Some of the lyrics on this record are something almost every teenager can relate to “Tonight / as much as I would like to / I can’t put my hands all over you” or “Am I asking too much to keep you at arms length” are classic examples. STWHA taught me about life but FMM taught me about love.

There are not a lot of things I can still relate to today from when I was 13 bad acne, N64, Blink-182... Those things don’t matter much to me now but The Get Up Kids still do. In 2005, The Get Up Kids announced after 10 years of writing music and touring that they would be breaking up. I was crushed. I was 18 at the time and had spent the past five years of my life obsessing over their music. I made plans with my friends to catch their last shows in Philly and Jersey and we had a blast watching our favorite band one last time.

When I was 19, I had two STWHA robots tattooed on both of my legs. I had just dropped out of college, been kicked out of my parents house and was working at a Wawa making sandwiches. I had developed a pretty nasty drug habit and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. The Get Up Kids were all I had. For the past five four years I’ve been struggling with an addiction to oxycontin and heroin. I’ve done things I never thought I’d do to get one more high steal, cheat, lie… you name it and I’ve done it. Throughout this whole battle, The Get Up Kids have been there for me. I just got out of treatment last month and have really been trying to stay clean this time. It is a constant, every day struggle but these two albums help me more than I can explain. Last month when I was released from rehab, I got in my car and drove around my neighborhood listening to Something To Write Home About on full blast. It was a better feeling than any bag of dope or pill had ever given me. It was the feeling of being alive.

regarding evidence that Vampire Weekend sucks shit.

Hey, here's a quick one for ya: The uber-preppy dickless wonders in Vampire Weekend stopped pissing me off with their lukewarm Paul Simon rip-offs long enough to branch out musically. They achieved this by covering Rancid's "Ruby Soho." Well, "covering" isn't the right word. OK, lemme rephrase that: They achieved this by ripping the balls off of Rancid's "Ruby Soho," leaving it a neutered, disgusting mess. All of the dynamic highs and lows are gone, replaced with some reggae-lite reverb and what I can only assume is VW's idea of rocking (inoffensively). I know their music is too middle-of-the-road to ever truly be awful, and that my knee-jerk reactions are partially (OK, mostly) based off of the hype surrounding it, but fuck this band. Fuck this band into outer space forever.

Click here to hear the song. Or just watch the original below.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Versus: 'Right Now' v. 'Terrorhawk'

[Versus is a new feature that pits two of an artist’s classic albums against each other even if they’re stylistically different, because that “you can’t compare apples and oranges” bullshit is for people without balls, spines, or all those other things that separate us from the villainous jellyfish.]

Hey, look at that, I made up another column so I can rant about my record collection. Sweet deal. Versus is an offshoot of sorts from Playlist. Not all of my favorite artists can properly fill an 80-minute mix, though. Sometimes they have too many songs for me to draft something representative enough (Bruce Springsteen, The Mountain Goats). Of course, sometimes they also don’t have enough songs/releases for me to actually do any mixing.

My buddy and bandmate Nate Adams, who writes mighty fine reviews of his own over at Left of the Dial, has been gunning for a Bear vs. Shark playlist pretty much since I launched the feature in Oct. 2008 with Ted Leo/The Pharmacists. But here’s the problem: BvS only released two full-lengths, plus a self-released EP called 1653 and a few rarities. Factoring out the songs they re-recorded from the demo for their full-length debut, Right now, you’re in the best of hands. And if something is quite right, your doctor will know in a hurry., that’s about 100 minutes of music. I already know what I’d cut from the mix to make it CD-R ready, but what’s the point? Just go out and buy Right Now and Terrorhawk. You don’t need help to figure out Bear vs. Shark’s musical roadmap.

But then I realized I could just write about how I love both albums, because, whatever, it’s my blog. But I needed a way to piss Nate off. What to do, what to do… Then it dawned on me – go against BvS fans’ conventional wisdom and say that Right Now is better than Terrorhawk! Brilliant! Suck it, Nate, my post-hardcore-loving Canadian muse!

Listening to the albums back-to-back, I understand why a lot of people prefer Terrorhawk. The recording quality is better. The songs rock harder. The title is easier to remember. Those are all valid thoughts. And hey, let me preface any criticisms of the album by saying that I love Terrorhawk, hence this post. As soon as the high-strung energy of opener “Catamaran” kicks in, I am so effing down. It’s the sort of album I both love and hate placing in my car stereo. I love it for being so gosh dang awesome; I hate it for making me drive like 30 mph over the speed limit. Even the super-short tune “Six Bar Phrase Hey Hey” is awesome. This is a solid sophomore album that takes the promise of Right Now and repeats its successes.

But here’s why I prefer Right Now. BvS was a post-hardcore band that took groovy, catchy songs and gave them more muscle. While I wouldn’t say they sound alike, the group is aesthetically in league with bands like Fugazi, Nation of Ulysses, At the Drive-In at the end of their career, and Wire circa Chairs Missing. You could fight or dance to these songs regardless of the volume setting. Terrorhawk rocks well enough, but the hooks on Right Now are more enticing.

The album opens with the “Ma Jolie,” a song that practically dares you to not to clap along. “Campfire” ups the funk, blending it seamlessly with punk fervor to create the most frenetic dance pop anthem ever. The album balances these outbursts with quieter fare, though. “Kylie” is a schizophrenic quite/loud number that starts out a whisper and builds to a scream. Terrorhawk’s “Baraga Embankment” repeats that trick, just with more piano. I’ve always loved “Second” more than any other BvS song. The guitar part makes the song sound so triumphant, even though the scant lyrics are actually pretty depressing (“And I’ll take what is given to me and I’ll realize I’m not going home and after a while when all of your currencies gone and after awhile when all your mistakes have been made and you’ve tasted the carbon dioxide”).

The guitars might have a little less edge to them than on Terrorhawk, but Right Now has always been my go-to selection for Bear vs Shark. What’s yours?