Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Vinyl Vednesday 6/30/2010

[Vinyl Vednesday is a weekly feature about favorite vinyl finds. It’s not meant to be a dick-measuring contest, but it usually turns out that way. This marks the final installment in Against Me! Month, and we’re going out with a bang: Seven records instead of the usual three. Then I promise I won’t write about AM! for a while. Like at least a month… maybe. E-mail with your own big finds!]

Records: Against Me!’s “White People For Peace” single (2007) on clear red, New Wave (2007) on clear yellow, “Thrash Unreal” single (2007) on clear red, “Stop!” single (2008) on black, and “New Wave” single (2008) on black; Tom Gabel’s Heart Burns (2008) on black and “Anna is a Stool Pigeon” single (2008) on clear.

Place of Purchase: Hoo boy. I got “White People For Peace” when the band played with Mastodon and Cursive at the Electric Factory. New Wave and the “Thrash Unreal” seven-inch came from their set with World/Inferno Friendship Society and Sage Francis. “Stop!” and “New Wave” are (I think) from their set with Ted Leo/The Pharmacists and Future of the Left. Heart Burns was pre-ordered through No Idea Records but got massively delayed. “Anna” was purchased from Heather Gabel herself at Tom Gabel’s solo acoustic show at the Barbary with Emilyn Brodsky.

Thoughts: I own an Against Me! hoodie with “White People For Peace” on the back. It is unquestionably the most misinterpreted article of clothing I own. I picked up the single of the same name before New Wave dropped. I was interning at Wonka Vision Magazine and hadn’t heard the album yet. “White People” was my first taste, and I was obsessed with the song from the beginning. It’s a little overproduced, but my word is it a furiously catchy number. I would replace the needle 20 times in a night, trying to memorize the words and busting out the corniest/best rock poses. “Full Sesh” intrigued me on a different level. It’s so much slower and more deliberate than most of the songs in the band’s cannon (Besides “Animal,” oddly enough).

Once New Wave came out, I absorbed it quickly into my bloodstream and snatched it up on vinyl, along with “Thrash Unreal” backed with “You Must Be Willing,” the next chance I saw the band live. I guarded the records like they were golden idols at the Factory bar. The show that night was amazing, besides Sage Francis. Dude can’t rap for shit. Then I took the records home and fell deeper in love with AM!.

“Stop!” and “New Wave” eventually followed, and while I loved New Wave, I found myself enjoying the B-sides even more. “Gypsy Panther,” which I actually quoted in my senior sendoff from La Salle University’s student-run newspaper, Collegian, is a song I still come back to with instant wistfulness. It felt like the band was at a creative high, dropping great songs left and right.

Heart Burns changed my mind about that, though. A bootleg of Gabel performing his solo material at Emo’s in Austin, Texas was promising, and indeed these new songs sounded amazing live. The officially recorded versions, however, were unfocused. “Random Hearts” and “Conceptual Paths” are weirdly overproduced radio rock (a precursor to White Crosses, I suppose). Then things get better as Gabel switches over folky protest music. That part’s actually pretty good. So’s the “Anna is a Stool Pigeon” single, which features the only other track from the Emo’s bootleg: “I Can’t See You But I Know You’re There.” I saw Gabel perform these solo recordings, and a shit ton of AM! tunes, at a solo show at the Barbary in Philadelphia, and it remains one of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen. Man have things changed.

This concludes Against Me! Month. In retrospect, it was a mistake. White Crosses was disappointing, as was the band’s set with Silversun Pickups and Metric June 28. My review of the album ended up on, where it caused a stir. The lead singer of my favorite band knows who I am, and he thinks I’m a dick. That he would resort to mocking me with half-baked retorts on Twitter hammers home that not all idols should be met. I’m not going to say I’ve given up on Against Me!. But I can’t listen to the songs the same way anymore, and I hate that.

Next week Vinyl Vednesday is going to talk about something fun, OK?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Silversun Pickups, Against Me! and Metric at the Great Plaza

Oh radio events, will you ever get better? Philly alternative rock station Radio 104.5 – this decade’s Y100 – recently hosted the Silversun Pickups/Against Me!/Henry Clay People tour at the Grand Plaza in Penn’s Landing, with dance fiends Metric as an extra act. It started out shaky, the tiered steps facing the stage didn’t really make for a good set-up and the crowd was lame ‘n’ tame. But Silversun Pickups – or Silver Spun Pick-Ups as the Plaza listed them – rocked it hard, so the night was worth it.

It sure took a while to get that way, though. The Henry Clay People opened the set with about 30 minutes of competent radio rock, reminiscent of Radish, early Nada Surf and, gulp, maybe a dash of Jet. The crowd politely clapped after every song. Things got mildly more enthusiastic during Metric’s brief set. They pulled heavily from last year’s Fantasies, but given that they only got six songs, it’s not like they would have had much time to explore their catalog anyway. While pockets of girls were down with the Canadian dance sound, crowd movement was still minimal, prompting one fan to scream “Fuck this show” while pantomiming masturbating her invisible dick. Classy. Still, the band seemed to be having fun, and frontwoman Emily Haines is one of the most energetic lead singers I’ve seen in a while. She danced up a storm on stage, rambled an awful lot in between songs and even picked up a guitar for “Gold Guns Girls.”

Set list

  1. Help I’m Alive
  2. Gold Guns Girls
  3. Gimme Sympathy
  4. Sick Muse
  5. Dead Disco
  6. Stadium Love

Metric couldn’t get the audience to dance, and Against Me! couldn’t get it to mosh. I blame the seating arrangement – the Great Plaza is basically a giant staircase next to a stage. Throw some overpriced Miller Light into the mix, and folks were having trouble standing up straight, let alone moving their limbs about in some sort of rhythmic fashion. Still, AM! got a strong reaction in terms of applauding and singing along. They deserve it too; White Crosses sounds better live. I could actually hear guitarist/vocalist James Bowman. Touring member Franz Nicolay looked so cool on the accordion, and his piano gave the band a sort of Blasters-style rock sound. And in a live setting, I can’t quite make out frontman Tom Gabel’s shitty lyrics like “Street kids collect spare change in a conch shell on the sidewalk / Their teeth are yellow / Their hair is tangled / Their minds are vapid and they laugh wild in their depravity.” So that’s a plus.

Still, though, watching the band felt like the end of an era for me and, seemingly, me alone. I’m not going to deny that the crowd had fun. “Thrash Unreal” got a bigger response than “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong,” which I think says it all: This show was not meant for old fans. Against Me! has moved on and I am part of their detritus, which sucks. The set drew heavily from White Crosses yet avoided that album’s best song (“Because of the Shame”) and its worst (“Ache With Me”… “chickuh-ah motherfucker” indeed). But while older fans may have been disappointed by the lack of old material (Anybody else feel like interrupting the new songs to play “Sink Florida Sink” only to end the set was a cruel tease?), the kids in attendance loved it. Good for them. I’m done, though, if at least for a little while.

Set list

  1. High Pressure Low
  2. Thrash Unreal
  3. Pints of Guinness Make You Strong
  4. White Crosses
  5. Don’t Lose Touch
  6. New Wave
  7. I Was a Teenage Anarchist
  8. Bamboo Bones
  9. Suffocation
  10. Spanish Moss
  11. Rapid Decompression
  12. Sink Florida Sink

While I don’t begrudge Against Me! for writing a mainstream record, I do blame them for breaking the sound system. Tech issues delayed Silversun Pickups’ set by about an hour, but once they hit the stage, the night went from adequate to awesome. Based on Brian’s review of the Brooklyn show, it looks like Philadelphia didn’t lose too many songs.

Every so often, I come across an essay that talks about how there are no rock stars left, how only a few so-called legends like Motley Crue and Marilyn Manson are keeping r ‘n’ r alive by being “dangerous,” by doing insane amounts of drugs and wrecking hotel rooms and participating in other extravagant, indulgent activities. Fuck that. Silversun Pickups are my idea of rock stars: Good stage presence, good light show, great tunes and the sense that they really were excited to be here. As tight and professional as the band got, there were moments that revealed a group still blown away by its success. It was in the way bassist Nikki Monninger projected child-like glee every time she approached the fans. Or that time keyboardist Joe Lester kept an eye on crowd safety, prompting frontman/guitarist Brian Aubert to say, “I love dancing at shows but no douchebaggery is allowed.” Oddly enough, Against Me! couldn’t get a pit for “Rapid Decompression,” but the Pickups scored one for the quietest part of “Lazy Eye.” Apparently drunk idiots can’t handle any sort of ambiance; it has to be all chest-beating all the time.

It was still a good set, though. Aubert was constantly showing off guitar tricks and building up shoegaze-y textures while revealing a voice that can ratchet from a whisper to a scream and back on a whim. The band drew from Carnavas and Swoon almost evenly, and “Kissing Families” from the Pikul EP even showed up. Silversun Pickups were gracious throughout, and even humorous, like when Aubert supplemented a lengthy passage of feedback – always a perilous step away from self-indulgence – by wearing a big ol’ flower in his hair that a fan had tossed on stage. Moments such as these made songs like “There’s No Secrets This Year,” “Future Foe Scenarios” or the epically jammed out “Lazy Eye” even better. That’s what I want from rock stars: a little bit of joy.

Set list

  1. Growing Old is Getting Old
  2. Well Thought Out Twinkles
  3. There’s No Secrets This Year
  4. The Royal We
  5. Little Lover’s So Polite
  6. Future Foe Scenarios
  7. Kissing Families
  8. Substitution
  9. Panic Switch
  10. Lazy Eye
  11. Catch and Release
  12. Common Reactor

NOTE: I got all these photos from Radio 104.5's Web Site.

Keith Rosson - 'The Best of Intentions: The AVOW Anthology"

It’s weird reviewing a print zine for an online one, but here goes. Microcosm’s re-release for Keith Rosson’s The Best of Intentions: The AVOW Anthology covers the zine’s finest essays. It collects issues #11-16, as well as highlights from the first ten issues. It is 288 pages and it is a lengthy beast, detailing bar brawls, politics and, occasionally, punk rock ideals versus punk rock actualities. It’s not something that can be digested all at once (Those stories about drankin’ get repetitive real quick), but it details the thoughts of a thoughtful punk better than most.

There are certain concessions that need to be made upfront, though. In true zine fashion, the book is riddled with typos. Rosson often uses words incorrectly (“then” when he really means “than,” or “insure” when he should have used “ensure”). And some of his essays seem antiquated – I found myself agreeing with his essay “Punk Consumerism or John Mellencamp rocks harder than some of you apathetic fuckwits out there…” until I remembered the issue it originally ran in probably came out in the late ’90s, when albums like The Shape of Punk to Come, Hello Rockview and Half Fiction were dropping. It’s a matter of perspective, and the essay, for me at least, no longer serves as a criticism of “the scene” so much as a reminder that finding good music takes work. Even in the Internet age, it still doesn’t just come to you. And the criticisms about emo kids being crybabies seem a little played out.

Despite these problems, the collection is still an invigorating read overall. Rosson isn’t afraid to make himself look less than heroic, like when an attempt to hang out with his crush results in her grandfather scaring him so much that he runs away. There’s also a quick story about a stranger who asked him to help her move a couch that ends him accidentally dragging dog poop all over her carpet. Sometimes our failures make the best stories.

The book also offers insight into the punk ideology, like in the essay “Westport Rats vs. the Portland Cultural Elite.” Rosson caught the tail-end of punk’s creative low during the ’80s, but he juxtaposes the senseless violence from that period with the aimless kids he sees today. He questions what it means to be an anarchist. And takes time to observe that going to basement shows is a little ridiculous, with these lines: “…Our scene is so funny sometimes…how [can there] be any room for hipsterism, for elitism in a scene where just about all of us were the kids that got picked last for kickball, we were all the kids who, you know, read books for fun, who were picked on and pushed down and snubbed. How can there be any room for any of that shit when the one unifying theme, the lowest common denominator amongst about all of us at shows is that we’re all social retards?”

Intentions also includes samples of Rosson’s artwork – line-heavy and sarcastic – but the essays are the focus. The layout gets awfully text heavy at times, but taken as a whole, the collection shows where punk has been and where it can go pretty well. It calls America out on its bullshit (Man, remember freedom fries?). Even when the stories don’t necessarily have an ending or a point, Rosson tells them with such a self-deprecating yet poetic language that they become worth reading anyway.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Kongh - 'Shadows of the Shapeless'

Swedish sludge metal trio Kongh finally saw their sophomore album, Shadows of the Shapeless, get an American release date via Seventh Rule Recordings. Finally, us Yanks can hear what those infernal Europeans have been bumping for about a year now. Looks like we’ve been missing out.

Distinguishing between tracks is kind of pointless with an album like Shadows. The band has three modes: ambient texture, slow ‘n’ sludgy and metal as heck. They segue from one to the next effortlessly or jarringly, whichever feels better in the moment. Sometimes they get bluesy just because they can, like around the one minute mark of “Essence Asunder.” While the band never gets so flashy as to sound pretentious, listeners can tell these guys know what they’re doing.

As far as 11-minute openers go, “Unholy Water” is as good a track as any to introduce the album. The band slowly wills the song along, first with some haunting licks. Then the distortion kicks in, menacing in its brevity. The drums start to build up about a minute in. Vocalist David Johansson starts throwing in some of those guitar squealies that metalheads love so much. Two minutes in, the band starts rocking, but they’re still not even into the heart of the song yet. It’s somewhat laborious to describe, “Unholy Water” gradually morphs from one phase to the next, such that it doesn’t feel nearly as long as one’s stereo might indicate.

These strengths double as the band’s biggest weaknesses. Shadows certainly shreds in places, but the wait for those passages might be too much for some. This is not the sort of album that pummels relentlessly. There are breaks between beatings. Pastries are served. Others might be turned off by Johansson’s vocals. He’s a pitch or two higher than your average Cookie Monster, but he’s still got that incomprehensible demonic shouting thing going on. That’s part of the record’s charm, though. It doesn’t adhere too strongly to any given sound and proves that the distance between the three styles exhibited here isn’t as great as some may think.

Friday, June 25, 2010

regarding Peter Quaife.

Former Kinks bassist Peter Quaife passed away this week. A founding member of the legendary rock group, Quaife started on guitar before switching over to bass. While arguably less known than the Davies brothers Ray and Dave, Quaife fleshed out some of The Kinks’ propulsive early work like “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night.” He stayed with the group up through 1969 before settling for a calmer life as a graphic designer and political cartoonist in Ontario and, near the end of his life, Denmark. Considering his last Kinks album was The Village Green Preservation Society, he picked as good a time as any to bow out.

While the cause of his death is still unconfirmed, Quaife had been on dialysis for years, so make your own assumptions. Me, I’m gonna spin Something Else. Based on the video below (and the bio from Well Respected Kinks), Quaife seemed like a nice, affable guy. Got out of the rock ‘n’ roll game when he got sick of it, but never lost his enthusiasm for the music.

I think my favorite part about this video is that they make Quaife play “Lola,” even though he’d left the band before that song was written.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Playlist: Against Me!

[Against Me! month rolls ons with a new Playlist, an attempt to distill my favorite artists to 80-minute compilations and, hopefully, provide a gateway into their music.]

I did it. I finally did it. I took one of my favorite bands of all time and semi-successfully crafted a mix that showcases their entire discography. There are glaring omissions – no “Sink Florida Sink” or “Thrash Unreal” – but ultimately this mix contains songs from AM!’s entire run. Their folk-punk and alr-rock periods are both represented generously. And I included The Disco Before the Breakdown in its entirety.

The major label material is mostly grouped together. Those songs don’t really segue well with the older catalog, both in terms of song writing and audio quality, but I did what I could. “Thrash Unreal” got cut because I’m pretty sick of that song, but otherwise I think I picked the best from that period. Even White Crosses gets some love, and I don’t even like that album much.

One final note: I knew going into this that I was going to end the mix with either “8 Full Hours of Sleep” or “Searching For a Former Clarity.” Then at the last second I thought, “Wouldn’t it be funny if I closed it with ‘Impact?’”

So I did.

Behind the Wheel of Armageddon

  1. “We Did It All For Don,” “Acoustic EP”
  2. “T.S.R.” – As the Eternal Cowboy
  3. “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong,” Reinventing Axl Rose
  4. “Cliché Guevara,” As the Eternal Cowboy
  5. “Gypsy Panther,” “Stop!” single
  6. “Cavalier Eternal,” As the Eternal Cowboy
  7. “The Disco Before the Breakdown,” The Disco Before the Breakdown
  8. “New Wave,” New Wave
  9. “White People For Peace,” New Wave
  10. “So Much More,” “New Wave” single
  11. “You Must Be Willing,” “Thrash Unreal” single
  12. “Beginning in an Ending,” The Disco Before the Breakdown
  13. “Joy,” Searching For a Former Clarity
  14. “Baby, I’m an Anarchist!”, Reinventing Axl Rose
  15. “Even at Our Worst We’re Still Better Than Most (The Roller),” Searching For a Former Clarity
  16. “Because of the Shame,” White Crosses
  17. “Bamboo Bones,” White Crosses
  18. “Tonight We’re Gonna Give It 35%,” The Disco Before the Breakdown
  19. “Walking is Still Honest,” Reinventing Axl Rose
  20. “Problems,” Searching For a Former Clarity
  21. “The Ocean,” New Wave
  22. “We Laugh at Danger (And Break All the Rules),” Reinventing Axl Rose
  23. “8 Full Hours of Sleep,” Reinventing Axl Rose
  24. “Searching For a Former Clarity,” Searching For a Former Clarity
  25. “Impact,” Crime, as Forgiven By

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Vinyl Vednesday 6/23/2010

[Vinyl Vednesday is a weekly feature about three favorite vinyl finds. It’s not meant to be a dick-measuring contest, but it usually turns out that way. With Against Me!’s White Crosses due June 8 and their Philadelphia show with Silversun Pickups and Metric June 28, Vinyl Vednesday will be doing a month of AM! records… plus some extras in July. Yeah, I’m a super fan, even though Tom Gabel made fun of me on Twitter. E-mail with your own big finds!

Also, I would like everyone to note my mother's new carpeting.]

Records: Against Me!’s Searching For a Former Clarity (2005) on black and white vinyl, “Don’t Lose Touch” 12-inch single (2005) on black, and “From Her Lips to God’s Ears (The Energizer)” 12-inch single (2006) on black.

Place of Purchase: All three came from Repo Records in Philadelphia.

Thoughts: While I was already a fan thanks to Reinventing Axl Rose, it was Searching For a Former Clarity that made me truly believe in the band. 2005 was an amazing year for music, and this album caught me when I was in the middle of hearing some of my favorite albums of all time. The music got a little more intricate. At 14 tracks, it’s the most sprawling AM! record to date. Clarity is such a beautiful, convoluted record, obsessed with detailing all the crap Gabel has to put up with, yet so amazing and catchy rocking that it becomes universal. Some folks called the record uneven, which I suppose is true to the extent that first half is good and the second half (Well, from “Joy” to the closing title track) is so insanely good that it hurts. Sometimes I just leave “Problems” on repeat when I’m driving. That song always picks me up out of a funk.

Clarity’s singles took a little longer to appreciate, though. Not so much the singles themselves, but the accompanying remixes. The Mouse on Mars remix of “Don’t Lose Touch” took a long time to grow on me, but now I actually prefer it to the real song. Beastie Boy Ad-Rock’s take on “From Her Lips” grabbed me sooner. Less successful was Butch Vig’s remix of “White People For Peace,” which was so disappointing that I’ve never bothered to track down the “White People” 12-inch single. I still throw these records on and have a personal mini-dance party from time to time, though.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Divide the Sea - 'Man'

“Here in the darkness I feel I’m not alone / A glance behind me / There she is / I wish she’d go away / She shouldn’t be here / Jesus Christ I lay down my life / Give me strength to fight / The adulteress preys upon the weak / I will be delivered / I realized I was wrong / I can’t fight her on my own / I give her over to you / My hands and heart are removed / Destroy her.” – Divide the Sea – “The Adulterous Hunt”

Every time I listen to a Christian metal/hardcore band, I can’t tell if they’re serious. That goes double for Divide the Sea. The group’s latest, Man, feels tailor-made to bother me. Setting aside that the badly Photoshopped images of the band as deer hunters offends the animal activist in me, I honestly can’t tell at times if their terrible, terrible songs are some sort of joke.

The press release for the album is actually kind of funny, as the band muses about what it means to be a man. Ideas include “eat beef jerky” and “wrestle bears.” Hell yes. Ultimately, they conclude in the bio and in their song lyrics that to be a man means to be one with Christ and have sweet adventures. That’s cool. Where the whole shtick falls apart is in the execution.

At this point, I want to establish that I come from a Catholic family. I’ve written on this site about my dealings with the faith previously. I’m down (sort of). So when I dump on this record, don’t think it’s me being close-minded. Johnny Cash sang religious songs, and that dude rules. Sunny Day Real Estate too. Cool?

Cool. This shit sucks. Divide the Sea’s lyrics are awkwardly, hilariously bad. They lack eloquence (“Please don’t take back what you said / That you’d destroy this Earth with a flood from the sky”). They even come off as militaristic at times too (Check out “In Knowing, Triumph” which uses imagery of faith being like a sword a bit too literally), which is something the world doesn’t really need more of.

As for the music, it’s Southern rock-tinged technical hardcore. It’s been done. Every so often the band slips in some intentionally funny bits, like high pitched screaming and super Southern yokel accents, but it just highlights how ridiculous the music is overall. I respect Divide the Sea’s faith. If it gives them comfort and helps them contribute positively to society, that’s fine, but it sure isn’t making them any better at songwriting.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Devo - 'Something For Everybody'

Twenty years after the release of Smooth Noodle Maps, Devo has finally returned with a new studio album (Devo 2.0 notwithstanding) called Something For Everybody. Give them credit for this: The new focus-grouped album (88 percent approved!) sounds like classic Devo, just with an updated contemporary dance sound. Whether or not the world needed this release is another matter. Much like the B-52s’ own comeback record, Funplex, Something For Everybody boasts enough overly glossy yet catchy numbers to avoid embarrassing the band’s legacy, but it doesn’t exactly build it up either. Still, though, these sarcastic post-punk jams can be awfully funny at times.

Something For Everybody doesn’t sit well as one continuous listen, but there are enough moments spread around the album that should get a laugh, like when the band turns “Don’t taze me bro” into the outro for “Don’t Shoot (I’m a Man).” For all the stuttering rhythms, there are plenty of hooks, reminding the listener that Mark Mothersbaugh is still a top notch songwriter.

What sinks the record is a cavalcade of uninspired lyrics coupled with repetitive music. For a while, Something is funny so long as the tunes are interpreted as jokes. But eventually the rampant use of clichés and faux-sincerity stop being funny – probably around track five, the sort of misogynistic “Mind Games.” The songs blur together after a while too. Cue the drum beat and techno textures, kill time until Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale sing in a weird voice.

There are some nifty numbers here (“Fresh,” “Don’t’ Shoot,” “Human Rocket”), but nothing tops the songs the band turned out in their heyday like “Jocko Homo” or “Gates of Steel.” Something For Everybody isn’t the most embarrassing comeback album, but it doesn’t do much to earn the phrase “comeback album” either.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

regarding Ground Control.

Hey, I'm a columnist or whatever for now. They started running my Vinyl Vednesday column this week. Folks seem nice over there, so let's see where this goes. Maybe I'll review non-punk albums!

Boris Smile - 'Rockets EP'

On their new EP Rockets, indie folk band Boris Smile tackles the stars. While their new science fiction-themed CD doesn’t quite top the bears-obsessed Beartooth EP, it still delivers the same playful lyricism.

Well, it delivers that eventually. Track one, “Satellites,” consists of three minutes of noise and radio signals. It would make for a decent 10 or 20 second intro, but 180 seconds is too much of a commitment. Save the audio loops for “Revolution 9,” thanks. “Adventures With Rockets [Revisited]” makes up for this stumble, though. Frontman A. Wesley Chung whips out lovelorn lyrics about making out in outer space over Evan Trine’s propulsive drumming. Backed by an orchestra, the band rocks the heck out over the most awesome of dates.

The rest of the EP subverts that enthusiasm, to its detriment. Still, there’s something redeeming about quasi-Weakerthans-ish tracks like “Apollo” and “Are We Alone?”. The disc ends with the way-too-long “8.24.06 (The Humbling of a Planet)”, but props to the band for attempting something more epic. Rockets could use some more propulsion, but it’s still a better than average collection of tunes about the final frontier.

Versus: 'Reinventing Axl Rose' v. 'New Wave'

[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 one’s for Against Me! month.]

Against Me! has gone from one of the premier underground punk bands of the new millennium to the forefront of mainstream rock ‘n’ roll, and they’ve done it on their own terms. Their sound has evolved along the way, of course, which has helped create divisions among fans over what constitutes the group’s best works. It’s old school versus new school, indie label versus major. For me, Reinventing Axl Rose is the best example of the band’s independent days, although I’m sure some would argue Eternal Cowboy is a better pick. Then again, the same could be said for New Wave, arguably their best mainstream record, although plenty of people on the Internet are big-upping White Crosses right now.

But what makes Rose and New Wave preferable are the cultural shifts they marked in the punk community. Rose burst out of No Idea Records brimming with excitement. These songs were defiant (“Walking is Still Honest”) and life-affirming (“We Laugh at Danger (And Break All the Rules)”) and occasionally even funny (“Baby, I’m an Anarchist!”). It’s the best folk-punk album that will ever be produced, and arguably one of the great punk albums of all time, right up there with The Ramones, London Calling, Dookie, and …And Out Come the Wolves (And How I Spent My Summer Vacation… and Goddamnit… and The Greatest Story Ever Told...).

New Wave reached a broader audience though. Not everyone is attuned to the underground. And if we’re being honest, it’s the better produced record. Butch Vig made this shit clean. The album does feel tailor-made for success. These are Gabel’s most direct, anthemic songs. “New Wave” is practically a mission statement for AM!’s “up with people” attitude towards music. “White People For Peace” and “Americans Abroad” get political (but not too political). “The Ocean” jams out while thinking of the life that might have been. It’s less musically intricate than its predecessor, Searching For a Former Clarity, but it’s still quite catchy.

I have drunkenly slurred along to every song on both of these albums. What ultimately makes Rose the better pick for me is the memories. Like I said at the beginning of this essay, you could pick any two AM! records and make them duke it out. This is a band that has continually expanded its audience for the last decade, and so plenty of fans have different points of entry, different attachments. I’ve met kids who swear by “Thrash Unreal” but don’t know “Jordan’s First Choice.” But I entered the world of AM! through Rose in high school, at a time when a lot of my friends were not into them. In fact, I think NBT drummer Bob Maiden and A Man of Letters scribe Bryan Lowry might have been the only other AM! fans I knew until I hit college.

The point is, “We Laugh at Danger” makes me feel alive. It makes me scream until I start to blackout. It makes me feel good. You can argue against its fidelity and playing and you will be wrong. Which I guess is how punk is supposed to work. It’s not just about the notes you hit. Just like jazz!

Vinyl Vednesday 6/16/2010

[Vinyl Vednesday is a weekly feature about three favorite vinyl finds. It’s not meant to be a dick-measuring contest, but it usually turns out that way. With Against Me!’s White Crosses due June 8 and their Philadelphia show with Silversun Pickups and Metric June 28, Vinyl Vednesday will be doing a month of AM! records… plus some extras in July. Yeah, I’m a super fan, even though Tom Gabel made fun of me on Twitter. E-mail with your own big finds!]

Records: Against Me!’s As the Eternal Cowboy (2003) on black, “Cavalier Eternal” b/w “You Look Like I Need a Drink” seven-inch (2004) on pink marble, and “Sink, Florida, Sink” b/w “Unsubstantiated Rumors” (2005) on blue marble.

Place of Purchase: Hoo boy lemme think. Eternal Cowboy came from Repo Records. I scored “Cavalier Eternal” when I saw the band play with Blood Brothers at the Starlight Ballroom. I think I got “Sink, Florida, Sink” from the bargain bin at Hot Topic, but it might have been Repo again.

Thoughts: I was among the Against Me! fans who felt a little let down by Eternal Cowboy when it came out, so much so that it felt weird hearing people swear it was their highlight in the years to come. In the last year or two I’ve come around, but for a while it was the one AM! album I rarely played. I only kept about half of it uploaded on my computer/iPod. A lot of the songs are so short and rapid fire that they’re easy to miss, so in that sense Eternal Cowboy is their punkest album. Yet it’s also their most acoustic – “Sink, Florida, Sink,” “Unsubstantiated Rumors,” and “Cavalier Eternal” all function as folk numbers. That they would translate so easily to an electric format o the following singles is a testament to frontman Tom Gabel’s knack for anthems. Plus, this record has got “Cliché Guevara.” That song rules.

The singles for Eternal Cowboy put out alternate takes. “Cavalier Eternal” remains acoustic, but this version is a little less freewheeling, so I can see why the band chose the Original Cowboy take instead. “You Look Like I Need a Drink” is a different story, though. It’s one of the most furiously played songs on the album, but here it sounds so fucking ominous. Pulsing cello opens the track before the band settles into a midtempo strum reminiscent of the “Acoustic EP” era. Note to the kids: If you wanna enjoy the show you’re at, buy the vinyl at the end of the show. Yeah, the line will be longer, but you won’t have to worry about every person you bump into in the pit breaking your lovely multicolored wax.

Ah, who am I kidding? The merch table is always the first thing I check out.

The “Sink, Florida, Sink” single goes electric, thrillingly. “Sink” can also be heard on the Rock Against Bush compilation, but I heard it here first (well, minus every time I’ve heard them play it this way live). The artwork for this seven-inch is nuts – a gingerbread guy stabs another one, and when you pull his arm out to open the vinyl, candy guts shoot everywhere. WHY?! WHY GOD?! Steak Mtn handled the art. “Unsubstantiated Rumors” turns into a crazed rocker, crammed with gnarled guitar lines and handclaps and Warren Oakes trying to hold everything down on drums.