You would have been 24 Sunday. In one of those weird cosmic twists that I can’t easily dismiss, your favorite band The Get Up Kids released their first full-length in seven years, There Are Rules, just two days later. I’m not sure where you would have stood on it, but I would have loved arguing the details with you. Deep down, I think you would have dumped on the album because it doesn’t sound like TGUK’s first two records. It’s less emo. But it’s still within your stylistic palette. You would have claimed it was disappointing, but you would know all the words anyway.
Personally, I like it. There Are Rules picks up where TGUK should have gone after On a Wire broke ties with emo for something more expansive and mature. Guilt Show, from 2004, was a creative misstep, opting to appease fans wishing for more of the sugary pop-punk of Something to Write Home About, but even that hinted at Rules with songs like “Is There a Way Out?”. “Lion and The Lamb,” from Rock Against Bush Volume 1, is also in line with these songs.
Rules marks the Kids’ transition into indie-dom. Four Minute Mile was steeped in Superchunk, making the band’s emo reign something of a detour. Here, the band turns up the bass and keys with help from Ed Rose and Bob Weston, resulting in something more dissonant and heavy. Certain hallmarks remain – Matt Pryor’s voice is always going to be at least a little nasal – but overall this record marks a new phase in the group’s career.
You would point out the lack of singles, though. It’s true, Rules is better as an album than as individual songs. Compared to their first three records, then, I suppose that’s underwhelming. But the album creates a mood and sustains it. Sure, I wish there were more sing-alongs, and I’m not sure how these new tunes will mix with the band’s catalogue live. But the record has menace and grit, two things not normally associated with the Kids.
Rules expands on the promise of Simple Science wonderfully. Let’s be honest: We both would have been glad to see The Get Up Kids return. And this is the first time in a while that I can listen to them without feeling guilty or angry. Mostly, though, I just wish you could give it a listen.
Friday, January 28, 2011
You would have been 24 Sunday. In one of those weird cosmic twists that I can’t easily dismiss, your favorite band The Get Up Kids released their first full-length in seven years, There Are Rules, just two days later. I’m not sure where you would have stood on it, but I would have loved arguing the details with you. Deep down, I think you would have dumped on the album because it doesn’t sound like TGUK’s first two records. It’s less emo. But it’s still within your stylistic palette. You would have claimed it was disappointing, but you would know all the words anyway.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
[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 seminal ’90s emo act Braid reuniting, I figured I’d mention one more time which bands I want to see get back together. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with your own big finds!]
Records: Discount’s Half Fiction (1997) on black, Jawbox’s For Your Own Special Sweetheart (1994) on black, and Jawbreaker’s 24 Hour Revenge Therapy (1994) on black.
Place of Purchase: Discount and Jawbreaker were spoils from hard-fought eBay battles. I picked up Jawbox’s Sweetheart re-release from Repo Records in Philadelphia.
Thoughts: Each of these reunions would be tricky for various reasons, but if Braid, Dismemberment Plan, Sunny Day Real Estate, and a slew of other bands can pull it off, so can the three bands I picked here. Discount’s big hurtle tour-wise would be frontwoman Allison Mosshart’s schedule – she’s already working full-time with The Dead Weather and The Kills. Artistically, she doesn’t really write in the emo vein anymore. Heck, if Discount’s final album, Crash Diagnostic, marked a move away from interpersonal relationships towards rock ‘n’ roll and surreal imagery. Still, Half Fiction is one of the best pop punk albums of all time. The title track is a perfect 106 seconds of longing and hope. Plenty of more rocking, catchy numbers follow. Yeah, it’s the kind of work that can only come from the young, but it’s still better than most.
Sure, Jawbox did technically get back together for that one-off, but I’d like to see something more. Frontman J. Robbins is a full-time dad now on account of his son Callum’s genetic motor neuron disease, so it would have to either be A) a brief East coast tour (It’s not that far from Maryland to Pennsylvania) or B) a new album. I think an album might be more realistic – Robbins could just do it from his own studio – and honestly, the guy never made a bad record, from Government Issue straight through to Channels. For evidence, check out Jawbox’s third album, For Your Own Special Sweetheart. I’m usually not that into remasters, but I wanted to get it on vinyl and the reissue was cheaper. Lo and behold, it really does sound better (Much like the Unfun remaster from around the same time). Go listen to “Savory.” It’s so droning and powerful and dissonant that it makes other bands’ entire careers irrelevant.
I… really, really like Jawbreaker. Got into them in high school because the lyrics appealed to my awkward, fragile ego. Stayed with them in college because the guitar/bass/drum interplay rules. I can’t single out a single person from Jawbreaker because they were one of the best power trios, along with Face to Face and The Police (Fuck Cream). 24 Hour Revenge Therapy is generally regarded as the band’s best album; it’s their catchiest at least. I’ve got a three-way tie for favorite song off the album: “Boxcar,” the top anti-punk punk song; “Ache,” which is super sad; and “Do You Still Hate Me,” which is super sad but also super rocking. At this point, I don’t know what’s keeping Jawbreaker from reuniting. Get it together, please.
Monday, January 24, 2011
Taking a few cues from ’90s indie and alt-country, Only Thieves’ new album Heartless Romantics takes the Springsteen sound that’s been popular with punk bands lately and tweaks it. Sure, they sound a bit like the Gaslight Anthem, but there’s Replacements, Slobberbone, Harvey Danger and Uncle Tupelo in there too. The result is a midrange rocker that can punk out when it wants (“All the Sad Young Men”) while still slipping in a piano ballad (“Heartless Romantic”).
Heartless Romantics, then, is essentially a tour through Only Thieves’ record collection. Turns out they’ve got good taste. The first few tracks should appeal to many a Lucero fan, what with all the rockin’ and/or rollin’ goin’ on. Only Thieves show pop leanings on songs like “Register,” though. Let’s put it this way: Many a spit-shined pop-punk band could have written this song, but it would have been overproduced and nasally and complete shit. OT actually give the song the grit it deserves, losing none of their rawness despite throwing in a boner-fried single.
“Pioneer Repair” predicts the record’s slower second half, culminating in the piano-laden bummer ballad “Heartless Romantic.” “Unsatisfied” picks up the pace in dance-punk fashion because, dang it, sometimes a dude just has to dance. It’s a random but welcome addition to the record. The closing tracks, “Bricks” and “What’s Wrong” are a little bit longer and spacier. They kind of kill off the energy “Bricks” builds up, but they’re definitely “album ender” material.
For all its ’90s intonations, Heartless Romantics has certain timeless qualities. The songs are catchy numbers about ladies (more or less). The guitars are loud. The drums are huge. The vocals sound lived in, but that doesn’t stop the band from jamming in plenty of whoas, ohs and ba-ba-bas. It is, in summation, a kick ass rock ‘n’ roll record.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
[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. This week’s edition is dedicated to The Measure [SA], a pretty nifty punk band in the process of breaking up. E-mail email@example.com with your own big finds!]
Records: The Measure [SA]’s seven-inch split with The Modern Machines (2007) on black, Songs About People… and Fruit N’ Shit (2008) on clear orange, and seven-inch split with The Ergs! (2009) on purple marble.
Place of Purchase: THE INTERNETS. I’m pretty sure all three came from No Idea Records.
Thoughts: While they only have two full-lengths to their credit, The Measure [SA] was constantly putting out material via seven-inches. This split with The Modern Machines is a good example of their style – “Portland” kicks off the release with pep and insight. The Measure was really good at covers too (They once joked that people always liked them more anyway). Here, they take on Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe.” It’s sloppy, silly, and totally rocking. I love when they switch to cut time near the end of the last chorus. So good. While they’ve since released a seven-inch collection (with a second volume promised for this year), “It Ain’t Me Babe” has never been re-released, so this baby is a treasured find.
My favorite Measure release, though, is Songs About People. It’s perfect at eight songs, and while the band was shitting gold at this point, I love that they chose not to mess with such a solid tracklisting. Side One is pretty catchy, with rockers like “Drunk By Noon” and “Drama-Free Youth,” but I prefer the flipside. “singleseriesnumberzero” is the rare political tune from the band (It’s anti-Bush, natch). I feel bad for “Roof Beers” because it’s nice, but it gets in the way of “Hello Bastards,” probably one of my favorite songs of all time. It’s about growing up and trying to find a place in the punk community that raised you, and it’s catchy as all heck. “practice jam” is half the speed and just as emotionally resonant.
The Ergs! broke up in 2008, but much like Notorious B.I.G., they keep putting out releases. While That’s It… Bye contains their final recordings, they recorded four songs for a two-part split with The Measure prior to that. They cover each other’s songs, with the highlight being “Workage,” a Measure tune. The original appears on the second seventh-inch. While The Ergs! turn it into a big rock production, thereby juxtaposing the sad lyrics, Lauren Measure just lets the words hit full force. The chorus is “It’s the winter streets that kill me / And all the bars we hide in / ’Cause I know you won’t be there / And I get so much more done now.” This song reminds me of a lot of people.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
[myPod is an attempt to edit down my CD collection as I import my music on to my brand new 160 GB iPod.]
Lo-fi twee/goth band that did Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s sound like 20 years before they formed. The songs are on the shoegazey end, but without My Bloody Valentine’s textures. Black Tambourine ends up as background music for me. I can’t drive to their complete discography, but it sounds positively amazing at 3:30 a.m.
Another Savannah, Ga. sludge metal band. Black Tusk isn’t as good as Baroness, but man can they still kick ass. The group recently came into its own as a band. Taste the Sin, released last year, is my favorite metal record of 2010. Black Tusk is a fine, scrappy trio, and their songs are just so much more dedicated to kicking ass all the time. They don’t do ambience, which I love and respect. Here’s hoping they continue to grow and find a fanbase. It’s almost criminal how few people listen to them.
Blank & Jones featuring Robert Smith
Blank & Jones are a European techno duo… I think they’re German or some shit. Anyway, they remixed The Cure’s “A Forest” for the fuck of it, and Robert Smith decided to re-record his vocals and appear in a video for them. On the one hand, B&J do a good job with the song. On the other hand, it’s fucking “Forest.” That bassline is got-damn undeniable. Which might be why Smith so clearly doesn’t give a shit about the DJs on the bonus DVD. They try interviewing him and it’s… well, it’s awkwardly, deliciously goth. I bought this EP because I love The Cure, not because I love techno. The only reason I didn’t file it under “C” is because of the bonus tracks. And because then I’d have to listen to this after spinning Bloodflowers, and there is no way I am putting up with that.
Verdict: Keep… it’s an incredibad curio.
Electronic side project from AFI’s Davey Havok and Jade Pudget. Fantastically over the top and sexual as only Davey can be. Some of the slower tracks lack punch, but overall Cex Cells is an awesome dance floor raver. I can’t listen to this album too many times in a row, but it’s a great occasional erotic listen. And I mean, c’mon… who doesn’t love a good song about butt-fucking (“Between Breaths (an XX perspective)?”
All-female hardcore/punk band from Japan. I picked up a promo of their thrashy Detonator record from my college radio station. It was so much more aggressive and brutal than anything else I was listening to at the time. I’ve kept up with Bleach since then, and while subsequent records have skewed more towards punk, and even dance-punk, they’re still a really fun band. Too bad they keep having to change their name outside of Japan due to copyright issues.
Did you know Blind Melon had other songs besides “No Rain?” Yeah, that song is the bee’s knees, but their greatest hits package Tones of Home delivers plenty more jams. It’s very white guy faux-fun in places, but it’s interesting listening to the band’s evolution, as they started crafting Led Zeppelin-style stompers and sensitive Juliana Hatfield-ish singer/songwriter songs. AND they covered “Three is a Magic Number” for a Schoolhouse Rocks compilation that went on to serve as the theme song to Tunez on GTW Channel-48, serving the Burlington and Delaware areas. Man, I miss having a dependable UHF station…
In high school, your opinion on Blink-182 said a lot about what kind of punk you were. You couldn’t just be indifferent about them; you had to love or hate them. Either way, you had to know all of their lyrics, which wasn’t hard considering my teens synched up with the band’s heyday. Looking back, it seems silly of me to have ever hated them, although the music they were putting out at the time really was kind of terrible. Take Off Your Pants and Jacket used to strike me as a sellout album for tweens. Now it just sounds boring. But Dude Ranch holds up as a solid pop-punk record, and ones Mark Hoppus sings lead on rule – the triple hit combo of “Apple Shampoo,” “Emo,” and “Josie” is killer. Eventually the band started listening to the Cure a lot, so much so that they included Robert Smith on their self-titled (sorry… “untitled”) final record, and it’s all the better for it. The songs are a little bit moodier, a lot less dependent on dick ‘n’ fart jokes. Hoppus explored that sound further with the underrated +44.
Two final notes: Tom DeLonge is a wiener, and it’s stupid that his songs always ended up being the bigger singles (“What’s My Age Again?,” “First Date”). Second, I own a bluegrass tribute to Blink from a band called Honey Wagon, and it is hysterical. I will never sell that shit.
Verdict: Keep… with some editing. Don’t tell 16-year-old me.
Bloc Party fired strong out of the gate, but quickly ran out of ideas. Which is a shame; Silent Alarm is one of the best albums of the previous decade. It’s a catchy post-punk rocker crammed with hooks, romance, and nervous energy. Then the members got it into their heads that they needed to change everything about the band. Follow-up A Weekend in the City is cynical, and ham-fistedly so. The lyrics clumsily take aim at youth culture while the music minimizes the influence of drummer Matt Tong, who’s actually the best performer in the group. Intimacy is the big, dumb, loud finale – the songs don’t hit me on an emotional level like “This Modern Love” or “Banquets,” but they’re catchy and rocking. The album even has a few cute/quiet numbers, like “Biko” and “Signs.” It’s not great, but it’s a decent swan song (I refuse to acknowledge final single “One More Chance,” a piano-laden throwback club song that’s just embarrassing). Frontman Kele Okereke recently dropped a solo album, but I’m not buying. Bloc Party was great for a while and I have some fond memories, but the dream is over.
Verdict: Keep most of it. Weekend in the City is too douchebaggy to hold on to, and I’ve opted to sell off some of my singles. I cherish B-sides like “Always New Depths,” but those remix singles can go.
Blondie was a little bit more palatable than the other original ’70s punk bands, perhaps because they transitioned into a broader sound the quickest. Sure, Talking Heads incorporated funk and world music, but Blondie could play punk (“One Way or Another”), disco (“Heart of Glass”), new wave (“Dreaming”), reggae (“Tide is High”), and even rap (“Rapture”). Yet their singles are remarkably cohesive. For all her sex symbol status, frontwoman Debbie Harry had the pipes to back up her appeal.
The Blood Brothers
Improbably, The Blood Brothers spent a few years as a choice group for pretentious hipsters. They dabbled in electronic and surreal lyrics, so I can see why the indie set dug them. Me, I thought they were a good hardcore band with crappy words. But that’s part of the fun. On earlier efforts like This Adultery is Ripe and Burn, Piano Island, Burn, they combined blistering discordance with nonsense lines like “What scarecrows think / will turn your eyeballs pink” and “Like a chorus of boiling lobsters / Ya gotta rescue me!” In a way, they were kind of like a midpoint between At the Drive-In and Mars Volta. I like Piano Island’s aggression quite a bit, but Crimes, my introduction to the band, remains my favorite. The record filters in some interesting funk touches, to great success on “Love Rhymes With Hideous Car Wreck.” The group petered out by their last album, Young Machetes, but there’s no shame in that.
Blur is the definitive Britpop band for me. It’s partially because they had the best run of albums. It’s also because, like most Britpop bands, they were obvious about honoring/ripping off their heroes, and Blur had a lot of heroes. They loved The Kinks (“Park Life”), Ride (“She’s So High,” “This is a Low”), The Beatles (“Tender”), and the United States of America (“Song 2”). Granted, I still prefer the first two Oasis albums, but Blur wrote some damn fine songs.
Bonde Do Rolê
Insane metal/funk/baile/rap hybrid band from Brazil. I can only handle small doses of this strange party music. It’s kind of grating, but also weird and fun and goofy. Their closest contemporary would be M.I.A. circa Arular, when she worked with trashy, low tech beats.
NEXT TIME: B is for... New Jersey bands, bands named after other bands, and Bouncing fucking Souls.
Monday, January 17, 2011
Outside of open hostilities, there’s something to be said for taking a hiatus instead of outright breaking up forever. Post-punk founders Wire have come in and out of existence over the course of 30 years, dropping a few classics and then taking breaks when needed. Their latest, Red Barked Tree, mixes shades of shoegaze, post-punk and industrial, and it’s surprisingly good coming from a band that’s been around so long. The sounds Wire is playing with now are contemporary – swirling, murky, fuzzy – but the band outpaces most of the upstarts out there.
Red Barked Tree is a lot of things. Sure, it sounds like Wire. “Please Take” nods to the mellower Object 47, while the beats that propel “Now Was” and “Two Minutes” should be familiar to fans of the band’s classic trilogy of ’70s albums. But it manages to be both one of the group’s quietest and loudest works in equal measures. Opener “Please Take” and “Clay” certainly have an ambient charm, but just a few tracks away is “Two Minutes,” a punishing 120 seconds of dissonance and bile.
And then there’s “Bad Worn Thing,” an infectious dance floor filler that builds and builds. It’s one of the best Wire songs of the last decade, if not the group’s entire run, and proves that for every experimental avenue Wire goes down, they still have a firm grasp of pop dynamics.
That said, there’s a caveat one needs to make. Wire is good at mood and noise. But their lyrics have always been surreal, which can at times also mean that their lyrics are terrible. “Bad Worn Thing” really is a great song, but it also opens with the line “Jam sandwich filled with Uzied peelers.” That’s just awkward.
But when Red Barked Tree is on, with guitars blaring, drums pounding and mood in full effect, Wire is revealed as a vital force. Punk isn’t minimalism. It’s catharsis and fire. Wire displayed those qualities in great amounts on Pink Flag, and Red Barked Tree proves that the band still has those qualities, albeit in a new form. Yeah, they still bash and crash, but they can bend the noise to something greater, something that comes with experience.
The fates conspired to keep me from arriving at the Barbary Sun., Jan. 16. But since Lemuria and Mikey Erg! (of Ergs! fame) were playing, my girlfriend and I braved the freezing temperatures and used some creative driving to get around the fact that the block of Frankford Ave. the venue sits in was closed. See, indie act Lemuria just dropped a mighty fine record by the name of Pebble. It makes me feel warm inside even though a lot of the songs are bitter. And Mikey Erg is on track to be revered as one of the greatest songwriters of all time ever and forever, like the Burt Bacharach of punk.
Ah, but the fates, they are cruel. They tried to demoralize me with the opening act, Byrds of Paradise. These Byrds dealt in lo-fi punk as only a Brooklyn band can. Their sound is fuzzy, murky and occasionally cool. But their lyrics about breaking up were boring and too on-the-nose. Frontman Jared Jones kept asking the sound guy to adjust the vox. Given that Byrds’ style depends on sounding like ass on purpose, that seemed silly. Also silly: When bassist Brenden Britz’s instrument stopped working, so he settled for stumbling around the stage with a dazed look. Byrds of Paradise had an off-night, but the kids seemed content with their sloppy brand o’ punk.
After an interminable wait, Mikey Erg took to the stage with a guitar and treated the crowd to solo renditions of Ergs! tunes. He ranted about Queen for a little bit before launching into “Introducing Morrissey,” one of the group’s best tracks. While some of the songs suffered from a lack of band dynamics, like “Books About Miles Davis” and “Anthem For a New Amanda,” it was still neat hearing Ergs! tunes one more time. Considering some of the songs were release posthumously, like “Amanda” and “Encyclopedia Self-Destructica,” it was a real treat.
I noticed something about the Ergs!, though. All those super fast, catchy songs about heartbreak are straight up depressing when slowed down with the lyrics forced to the front. Still, I got to hear “Running, Jumping, Standing Still” one more time. Erg also threw in a couple of new tunes, one from a split with Lemuria’s vocalist/drummer Alex Kerns on Asian Man Records and one from an upcoming Paper + Plastick release. Both were in the traditional pop-punk vein and should rock balls upon release.
The few new tunes Mikey Erg introduced fit in with his general sound. The same can not be said for Lemuria. The group made their name with catchy, cute songs about making out. Pebble is not any of those things – it’s slower and sadder. Wisely, the band chose not to play too many new songs, and the few tracks they busted out clashed greatly with the old material. “Hours,” from their split with Kind of Like Spitting, got the biggest reaction of the night, but then new tune “Gravity” sucked the energy right out of the room, for example.
Still, the new songs sounded great live, even if they do seem to come from a different band. The tracks off of Get Better sure succeeded, with opener “Pants” going over hugely. Lemuria is in a transitional period, but there’s no denying the energy between vocalist/guitarist Sheena Ozzella and Kerns. The duo, aided by a touring bassist, drew from the crowd and dished out amped up, poppy indie rock over and over for about a half-hour, with Ozzella headbanging quite aggressively. The audience in turn thanked them by dancing and, on one occasion, diving off of the Barbary’s tiny stage. Ozzella and Kerns were humble and funny the whole time; ask them about their “comfy punx” group sometime.
After a solid set, Lemuria bowed out to applause. I visited the merch table and then hit the cold head on.
Thursday, January 13, 2011
Lemuria’s new album Pebble is strangely compelling. I can’t get comfortable with it, but as soon as I turn it off, half the album gets stuck in my head. The Buffalo indie rock group masquerading as a punk band certainly circumvented expectations on Get Better, but here they truly emerge as an altogether new band.
It shouldn’t be so surprising though. Lemuria stopped writing in the Superchunk-meets-Discount vein a couple of years ago, as Get Better marked their transition into softer indie fare. But Pebble straight up rewrites their sound. I like it a lot, but just about everything that drew me to Lemuria – Sheena Ozzella’s vocals and raw guitar, the overtly sexual lyrics that bordered on Prince levels, the pop-punk fringes – is gone. Well sort of.
Here’s what the band does differently this time out: Ozzella and drummer Alex Kerns share the mic more, so much so that Kerns takes over the album during the second half. The lyrics are less sexy and more bitter, although maybe it’s best that Lemuria avoids topping songs like “The Origamists” (Sample lyric: “Today we never put on our clothes / We tried to set a record / We came close”). Oddly enough, the instrument that stands out most is the bass, which is the one thing played by a session guy, Kyle Paton. Still, J. Robbins’ production provides a healthy, hearty heaping of low end.
The music oscillates between indie and slight post-punk. I’ve always enjoyed Lemuria’s lyrics because of the angles they take. New tune “Different Girls” is about staying faithful on the road, which is an old rock ‘n’ roll trope. But Kerns turns out a sarcastic series of lines that should confirm all of his lover’s fears before Ozzella reminds “It’s in your imagination of course.” It’s kind of douchey, kind of catchy. Other tunes switch up gender roles, like “Bloomer,” while others offer up great lines, like the put down “Gravity will destroy,” directed at a homewrecker, from “Gravity.”
Even without prior awareness of Lemuria’s songs, it takes a while to adapt to Pebble. It’s really catchy, but it makes you dig to find the hooks. A lot of people in the punk community have already written it off as boring, but these songs shine. Yeah, Lemuria is a different band, but they’re still a good one.
We're only two weeks into 2011 and I already have my first rock 'n' roll casualty: New Jersey's seven-inch enthusiasts The Measure [SA] are breaking up. They promise a few farewell shows sporadically throughout the year, including The Fest X in October, as well as a final seven-inch anthology, but other than that, the band is done.
Songs About People... and Fruit 'N Shit was the EP that really made me fall in love with the band. It was just a perfect collection of songs that seemed to improbably get better with each track. After that, though, The Measure took a creative slide. They released a few more seven-inches, but their next full-length, Notes, just seemed really monotonous and dull. Less than a year later, the band called it quits.
A whole batch of New Jersey punk bands have come and gone. The Ergs! broke up. Static Radio NJ faded away. The Gaslight Anthem turned into a classic rock tribute band. Now The Measure joins them. Well, at least The Bouncing Souls are still together.
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
[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. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with your own big finds!]
Records: The Byrds’ Greatest Hits (1967) on black, The Doobie Brothers’ Toulouse Street (1972) on black, and The Nation of Ulysses’ Plays Pretty For Baby (1992) on black.
Place of Purchase: Byrds twas inherited from my Uncle Mike. Doobies from my Aunt Jenny. Nation de Ulysses came from Hideaway Music in Chestnut Hill, which is weird if you’ve ever been there. They don’t really seem to care about records released after like 1980.
Thoughts: I got into vinyl because it was cheaper than CDs. These days, I spend way too much on the format via Jawbreaker singles and such, but for a time it was a nice money saver. Another penny pinching method: Scoring my elders’ record collections. My Uncle Mike gave me some top picks when I got my first record player. Most of it was power-pop a la Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe, but he also threw in this curious collection from The Byrds. They straddled the lines between folk, country, and psychedelia. Also, I find it funny that four of the tracks on this best of were written by Bob Dylan. With some hindsight, I can see this gift as a precursor to my interest in alt-country acts like Wilco and Venice is Sinking, or, if you prefer, the beginning of my downfall into dad rock.
Here’s a tangential story for you: I heard “Jesus is Just Alright” for the first time on Freaks and Geeks, during the episode where Lindsay (Linda Cardellini) throws a kegger to impress the titular Freaks. Her old Christian friend Millie (Sarah Hagan) tries to set the drunks straight by playing “Jesus is Just Alright,” to no avail. It’s a funny/dorky moment in a show rife with them. Millie at least gets friendly stoner Nick (Jason Segel) to sing along, presumably because he knows the Doobie Brothers version of the song (Byrds? Maybe. The Art Reynolds Singers? Probably not. And the CD Talk version was still like a decade away). So when my aunt gave some of her vinyls prior to moving, I got a good chuckle out of this particular record. And “Listen to the Music” is totally uplifting.
Oh shit, better up the punx. The Nation of Ulysses are essentially the midpoint between Minor Threat and Refused. They played hardcore but they also read reactionary political literature. They wore suits and stole ideas from jazz (which Refused in turn stole from them). I bought Plays Pretty For Baby pretty much on a whim – there was a period during my college years where I bought anything with the Dischord logo attached – and it’s paid off handsomely. Opener “N-Sub Ulysses” has always been a favorite for me, although “A Comment on Ritual” and “Mockingbird, Yeah!” are pretty great too. Dig that line “My t-shirt shows everything.”
“N-Sub” is my mantra, though. I get so annoyed when people talk about music A) being better “back in the day” and B) being soulless, terrible tripe now. There will always be complainers – check out the average Lester Bangs article from the ’70s for proof that there was always bullshit being cut in studios. It’s up to us to sort through the crap to find the good stuff. Art is not a passive medium. It does not come to you. “N-Sub” taps into that philosophy, negating baby boomer nostalgia to live in the now. Sure, that song is now nearly 20 years old, but the point remains: There will always be a new “anti-parent culture sound.”
Monday, January 10, 2011
I’m calling it now: Philadelphia is the place to be for punk rockin’. Sure, we’ve had many a band from Dr. Dan Yemin, but with acts like the Menzingers, Stay Sharp and the Holy Mess delivering a golden shower of sexy hits, it’s clear that things are going well in the city of brotherly shove. Add to that list Restorations, an indie-tinged punk act that is either a spacier Lucero/Gaslight Anthem-type act or a punker Broken Social Scene. Either way, their new-ish 12-inch EP Strange Behavior is tops.
The first side of the EP is all business. “Title Track” and “Linear Notes” are throaty rockers. The flipside is where the band starts tweaking their formula. “The Reappearing American Hobo” is a little sadder, slower, and atmospheric, but it doesn’t kill the energy as the song recounts what sounds like a pretty awkward conversation between a guy and a gal about the merits of Jack Kerouac (Side note: Anyone else think On the Road reads like an anti-drug PSA?).
“Documents” closes out the vinyl in epic fashion. Oh sure, it’s still gritty in the vox department, but there’s an insistently spacey guitar line that works its way through the song as the band builds the song up. It’s pretty cool in a Castevet, er, CSTVT sort of way. I could see this being really awesome at the end of a live set. Strange Behavior is a tad slower than the punk mindset might be able to handle, but it hits that sweet spot of post-hardcore and post-rock. Restorations are the Snickers of music (Jokerz if you’re vegan).
Friday, January 7, 2011
Comprised of a bunch of punk lifers, Bitter Pills pick the best elements of underground music from the last 30 years and play only what they like. It pays off; their self-titled debut EP is a lo-fi fuzz monster with nods to ’70s NYC punk, ’80s Midwestern hardcore and ’90s indie rock. The result splits the difference between late period Hüsker Dü and the Pains of Being Pure at Heart.
Instrumental opener “Let Go to Me” lurches forward with menace and mood before going big with the catchy “Take Control.” That one’s the single - the verses are pretty catchy, and then the chorus just up and explodes. And they’ve got tambourine to let you know that things are about get fun up in here. “No Surprise” is a little slower, but it’s a nice comedown in between “Take Control” and “Null Pointer.” “Done Deal” and “Partisan” repeat the same tricks, but this point the formula is set. No need to mess with a good thing. The spoken word track “Kiro” curiously closes out the EP in Japanese. It’s like the band turned into the Pillows all of a sudden. It’s still a cool moment though.
Bitter Pills is hopefully a signifier of better things to come, but on its own it’s still a nifty document and a tour through the members’ favorite records. Has Slumberland heard this yet? They might want to look into it.
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Ska with DJ scratching. Are you still interested? France’s Union Jack recreates the Crack Rock Steady sound with a regrettable hip-hop influence on Tales of Urban Freedom. This extra touch shifts the album out of cliché territory and into the “I’m sorry, what?” area. While the playing is certainly passionate and the lyrics heartfelt, at 13 songs and 47 minutes in length, Urban Freedom comes off a little too much like Transplants – jack of all trades, master of suck.
Yet there are glimmers of hope. Introductory track “We’ve Done It From Scratch” almost justifies Union Jack’s style, which it has dubbed “bad ska.” I’m not even going to touch that name. “The 13 Ways” comes stuffed with oi chants and enthusiasm. But taken as a whole, the repetitive upstrokes and paranoid lyrics get frustrating fast. Songs deal with capitalism and politics, but still often come off as sloganeering.
Still, Urban Freedom is enthusiastically played. It seems at times to be just a second or two away from greatness. But it’s still typical ska with typical street punk leanings. The scratching is novel at best. If this were a nu-metal band, I would write if off as conformity and question why a DJ was present. Here I have the opposite problem but the same conclusion: It’s unexpected by still just as useless. Union Jack means well, but that doesn’t necessarily make them good.
[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. This week’s installment celebrates the best of 2010. E-mail email@example.com with your own big finds!]
Records: Bars of Gold’s Of Gold (2010) on clear orange, Crime in Stereo’s I Was Trying to Describe You to Someone (2010) on clear, and Smoke or Fire’s Prehistoric Knife Fight seven-inch (2010) on black.
Place of Purchase: Actually, only two of these were purchased – CiS and SoF came from Interpunk.com. Bars of Gold came from the band’s publicist.
Thoughts: Bear Trap PR has always been good to me. Case in point: I got a limited pressing of Bars of Gold’s semi-self-titled debut. Made up of former members of Bear vs. Shark, the group essentially updates that beloved group’s sound and adds plenty of Modest Mouse-y twists. This record was a joy to review, and a real scoop too. I get high off of breaking great new bands, and debuting Bars of Gold to the Org crowd was awesome.
I’m still a little shocked by the break-up of Crime in Stereo. They wrote some of the best post-hardcore tunes. While their shows got a little hit or miss near the end, they were a band I felt compelled to watch as often as possible, thanks to a passionate songwriting that walked between melody and dissonance. They get compared to Brand New a lot, but honest, CiS had the better discography. I’m still holding out hope – the guys did break up almost as many times as, say, Sunny Day Real Estate. But for now, I have to settle for spinning I Was Trying to Describe You to Someone and screaming along to “Type One” and “I Am Everything I Am Not.” Oh, and, uh, Drugwolf forever.
Smoke or Fire sort of, kind of, maybe broke up somewhere between 2007 and 2010. But they announced their return with an onslaught of new material. Joe McMahon dropped two releases March 16, 2010 – an acoustic split with The Lawrence Arms’ Brendan Kelly and this fine seven-inch. It’s a lot rawer than what eventual full-length The Speakeasy turned out to be, which I respect and enjoy. Mostly I’m just glad to have the boys back.
Monday, January 3, 2011
[myPod is an attempt to edit down my CD collection as I import my music on to my brand new 160 GB iPod.]
Big D and The Kids Table
Depending on what I’m listening to, my favorite ska band is either Less Than Jake or Big D and The Kids Table (No offense to The Specials or The English Beat. I loves you too). But D has shown the most variety in their work. Their early material up through How It Goes is stuffed with stellar ska/punk. Strictly Rude was more two-tone, while Fluent in Stroll was a new genre altogether, a blend of two-tone and swing. Their non-full-length material could be even more experimental, ranging from techno to international to spooky Halloween music. Sometimes it works (I listen to Salem Girls so much every fall). Sometimes it fails (Porch Life). My fandom took a severe hit when the band chewed me out over a negative review for their remix album, Strictly Mixed and Mashed, but I still love the music. Besides, it’s not like that time Tom Gabel freaked out on me via Twitter…
Verdict: Keep most of it. I’m not that keen on their split with Drexel from back in the day. It’s too indistinct for me. The band didn’t start coming into their own until Good Luck, an album that I love more and more with each passing year. And I like Fluent in Stroll just as much, so eat it, bitter Big D fans.
I didn’t even plan this, but today I drove around Norristown listening to Bikini Kill whilst wearing my “Fight For Women’s Rights!” baseball tee from a women’s rights benefit show at my college. HA HA HA. Anyhoozle, I got into Bikini Kill near the end of high school, and was blown away by how angry they sounded. Minor Threat taught me about straight edge, Bikini Kill taught me about equal rights betwixt genders, and between the two I formed some sense of morality. I get way more excited than anyone else when “Rebel Girl” comes up on Rock Band 2.
Mike Birbiglia and Patton Oswalt are locked in a deadly battle for my heart. I love Oswalt’s nerd rage, but Birbiglia takes about failure, something I’m quite familiar with, so well. The basic tenant of his comedy comes back to this quote: “I have a tendency to make awkward situations more awkward.” That’s my life, and my girlfriend and I get tons of laughs out of his bits. Here’s a clip:
The Bird and The Bee
I have a lot of memories attached to the first Bird and The Bee album. It came out around the time my girlfriend and I first started dating, and its electro-twee tunes soundtracked our budding romance. Of course, that album contains “Fucking Boyfriend,” one of those coyly crass tunes in the tradition of The Vaselines, so it’s fitting. Less awesome is follow-up Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future. At 14 tracks, it feels a little bloated, and none of the hooks are as big as “Again and Again” or “I’m a Broken Heart.” Inara George’s vocals are still quite pretty though.
Verdict: Keep the self-titled, sell Ray Guns.
I forget how much I like Bjork. She’s rarely my first choice for music, but I’m so happy every time I put on one of her first four albums (or her remix disc Telegram). As weird as she gets, Bjork always challenges herself on each album and tries to come up with a new direction for her sound. Certain hallmarks remain – electronic atmosphere, that huge voice, lyrics crammed with emotion and fantasy – but overall, each disc is its own universe. Debut is her most traditional; it’s basically a dance record with heart. Post is where she starts experimenting, going from big band jazz to industrial. Its companion, Telegram, reevaluates the songs. It doesn’t so much remix the songs as offer new perspectives, and I view the two as one piece of work. Sometimes I prefer Post, sometimes I prefer Telegram. The orchestral version of “Hyperballad” kills me. It’s quiet during all the scene description of Bjork destroying beautiful things while her lover’s sleeping, for the sake of getting that nature out of her system so she can go back to being normal, and then explodes during the choruses. It’s perfect. Homogenic and Vespertine are less eclectic and more moody. One’s trip-hop and the other’s just straight up mellow, but for a while I listened to these records every night as I slept. In between the two, Bjork dropped Selmasongs, a mini-album soundtrack for her film Dancer in the Dark. It’s not as good as her proper studio records, but its got some cool tricks and continues some of the ideas she presented on Post.
Medula is when things started to slip. Largely a cappella, the record oscillates between full arrangements and vocal exercises, and it doesn’t quite flow that well as a result. At its best, it’s like an a cappella version of Debut (“Triumph of a Heart,” “Who Is It”). At its worst, well, it’s boring. Volta felt like an overview of her other sounds, and just doesn’t add up for me. It’s pretty repetitive. Ballad “The Dull Flame of Desire” sucks so, so much, while singles “Earth Intruders” and “Declare Independence” take great hooks and run them into the ground. Still, I’d consider myself a Bjork Dork all the same.
Verdict: Keep, although I’m going to edit Medulla a bit. And never speak of Volta again.
What a weird shift after all that Bjork! I got into Black Flag pretty late, sophomore year of college. By that point, my interest in primal punk had surpassed, or so I thought. A friend recommended Black Flag’s My War to me during a rough patch, and I connected with its aggression and honesty. At times, it’s an embarrassingly raw record, something my girlfriend reminds me of every time I put it on in the car. But that’s part of its charm. It’s an emotionally stunted, sometimes immature record, but that makes it all the more cathartic sometimes. Damaged is even better, knocking out a series of rapid fire, occasionally humorous hardcore anthems. My favorite, though, is The First Four Years, a seven-inch compilation. Black Flag went through a ton of lead singers before Henry Rollins, and Years makes a compelling case for Keith Morris, who went on to found Circle Jerks, as the best Flag frontman. Excursions into the band’s later albums proved unfruitful, but these three albums kick my ass all the time.
Verdict: Keep the first three, even if songs like “Damaged I” and “Machine” are a little ridiculous.
In Tom Shales and James A. Miller’s book Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, as Told By Its Stars, Writers and Guests, the authors write about how comedians love laughter and hate applause. Laughter means they think you’re funny, but while applause signifies agreement or respect, it also indicates that they don’t think you’re funny. For the last five years or so, Lewis Black has been stuck in the applause zone. He plays to massive sold out crowds, but his material has increasingly become watered down liberalism. The audiences aren’t hard to impress, and thus Black gives them sub par material. I used to love Black’s vitriol, but his stand-up has become increasingly marred by weak observations. It also hurts that his humor usually comes from commenting on current events. Hence, his Grammy-winning 2006 album The Carnegie Hall Performance hasn’t held up well. The crowd claps with little provocation, and plenty of jokes don’t even have punchlines. I’m more forgiving of the Luther Burbank Perfoming Arts Center Blues, an album that recycles older material but has A) good points and B) good jokes. It’s primarily an analysis of the Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake incident from the Superbowl (You know the one), which would come off as dated if the humor didn’t so often overlap with the stupid shit we put up with from contemporary hot topics like Lady Gaga and gay rights. I used to love Black, but quite frankly these jokes aren’t funny anymore.
Verdict: Keep Blues for now, but Carnegie can go.
The Blackout Pact
Underrated post-hardcore band from Colorado. Hello Sailor was one of my favorite albums of 2005, and it still gets me super stoked for bearded, gruffly sung jams about zombies and drankin’. TBP only came through Philly once, to my knowledge, and that was as an opening act for Yellowcard. I passed, thinking they’d be back soon. Then they broke up. Fuck.
It took me a while to get into Black Sabbath. In fact it wasn’t until the end of college, which is weird considering they were one of the most important metal bands of all time. I probably should have been 12, not 22. My love slowly blossomed, starting with the group’s infamous second album Paranoid. I eventually started picking up more records – Master of Reality remains my favorite, partially for it being the best stoner metal record ever and partially because John Darnielle wrote a book about it. Volume 4 and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath both expand on the group’s sound to grander, greater effect. Sabotage skewed too much towards pop, so that’s where I cut myself off as far as the Ozzy years go.
Ronnie James Dio’s run with the group sounds like a totally different band, but he briefly turned Sabbath into a good fantasy power metal band for Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules. This is one of those bands I love just as much for their shortcomings as for their successes. Every time Ozzy shouts “Ya gotta believe me!” for no particular reason or Dio makes another groan-inducing rhyme ( My favorite is “You were a fool / But that’s cool” from “Voodoo”), I get kind of stoked. Yeah, I’d rather just listen to Tony Iommi drop another sludgy riff, but the hoaky parts are just as endearing.
It should have been a comedic goldmine. Henry & Glenn Forever, by the artistic collective Igloo Tornado, takes two of hardcore’s most famous icons and pitches them as “special friends” living in an Odd Couple-style arrangement. Their neighbors are Hall and Oates, who for whatever reason are cast as Satanists. This book should satirize all of the homoeroticism/homophobia inherent in hardcore, not to mention the alpha male images of Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig, while occasionally sprinkling in the occasional Hall and Oates joke about “Private Eyes” or something.
Instead, Henry & Glenn plays out like a punk rock Will and Grace, with surface level gay jokes. This book is skimpy to begin with, but the writers still saw fit to use the same bit where Danzig asks Rollins if his butt looks big in his black pants like three times. Rather than tell a cohesive story, the book settles for single page gags – hell, mostly single panel – about two queer guys. The art fluctuates wildly, which would be fitting for a collection if some of it didn’t look like ass.
Henry & Glenn had such huge potential, and perhaps a sequel could tackle the idea more thoroughly. But as is, the book doesn’t hit hard enough. The gay jokes get old fast. I’m a big Black Flag fan and I love his spoken word, but even I can admit Rollins is ripe for mockery. Have you seen his movies? Yet the material rarely taps into his bravado or affinity for violently over-the-top imagery. Danzig proves easier for Igloo Tornado to handle, although the humor blurs into typical goth stuff. The quips about Danzig’s book collection are still solid though.
What the book amounts to is a cash-in on other people’s celebrity. The humor derives entirely from the reader first being aware of Black Flag, the Misfits, etc., and then laughing at the idea of two dudes making out. It’s a fleeting, juvenile joy. Yeah, that cover, featuring Rollins giving a tearful Danzig a massage, is funny. But inside the book lies little else.
Saturday, January 1, 2011
This year meant growing up. I’ve been gainfully employed all of 2010, living on my own health insurance and saving up to move in with my girlfriend of four-and-a-half years. We traveled through Europe together. Her love keeps me going, I think she’s the best person in the world, ew gross, and so on. I finally got another band together, called Science Club. Our influences include ice cream, Star Trek and anything Ted Leo likes. The band exists for fun. We legitimately like our songs, but we have no claims to or expectations for success. We have real lives to worry about.
That’s why I don’t care when I get hate mail for my writing or my music (even if it’s from Tom Gabel himself). Those problems are inconsequential; I care more about death and taxes.
This year I had to say goodbye to my cousin Michael. “Cousin” doesn’t sound right. It’s technically right; he’s the firstborn son of my father’s brother. But really he was my brother. He was only a year younger than me, but he somehow ended up being my big brother, or at least the most important tastemaker in my youth. Over the years, Mike turned me on to plenty of bands. He was always ahead of me when it came to music, from punk to emo to indie and back. We were both in love with music, which means we also argued about music a lot.
But Mike also harbored a drug addiction. He went in and out of rehab and halfway houses over the years. He got kicked out of home plenty of times. But he was still family, which is why it hurt to talk to him.
I reconnected with Mike a week before he died, however fleetingly. We talked about music, about the Gaslight Anthem show he had just attended, about how good the new Arcade Fire record allegedly sounded. He got titles wrong. He forgot what school I attended and how long I had been dating my girlfriend. Little details showed his brain had maybe faded. But his eyes burned.
A week later he overdosed.
The night before he died we talked online about the Mountain Goats and Arcade Fire. The next day he was gone. His last status update on Facebook was “Hey Ray, I never went down. You never got me down, Ray.” It’s a quote from Raging Bull. I’m going to analyze those lines for the rest of my life and try to find a hidden meaning, like he knew he was going out on his own, like the day of his death was significant. Or maybe he put it up there because Mike was a big Scorsese fan. I’m never going to know. All I have left behind are fragments, like this essay he wrote for my blog. It’s about the Get Up Kids, but also his desire to stay clean.
There are a handful of records that will always remind me of Mike. Bear vs. Shark’s Right Now You’re in the Best of Hands… was the last record Mike and I listened to together. TGUK’s discography will always bring back his ghost, especially the first two albums. Green Day. Springsteen. The Promise Ring. I listened to The Cure’s Pornography, a record about drug addiction and despair, for the first time when Mike got out of his first stint in rehab. I listened to it on my roof as the sun came up, delirious and despondent from lack of sleep because I didn’t know what to say to him anymore. It’s always reminded me of his demons, and now it’ll always be that way.
I want to hope that Michael achieved some sort of peace. But he was never particularly religious and neither am I. All I know is he’s gone and nothing I say or do will make that fact easier or better or refutable. Sometimes I think the grieving process is profoundly fucked up, as the goal is to one day be comfortable with the concept of someone I love no longer existing, and that the world will go on, not because it has an opinion on my family’s pain, but rather because it simply does not care. I am the tiniest of cogs. I am replaceable. Is that nihilistic?
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 currency’s gone
And after a while, when all your mistakes have been made
You’ve tasted the carbon dioxide.
I think about Mike every day. He probably would’ve hated most of my favorite records from 2010. And I definitely know he disagreed with my...
Most Disappointing Records of 2010
10. Hans Zimmer - Inception soundtrack
I honestly thought the entire score would consist of that part from the trailer where the music goes “BAAAHHHHHMMMM, BAAAAAHHHHMMMM.” Instead I got a lot of formless orchestral atmosphere. While I think Zimmer’s score is incredibly effective within the context of the film, the music does not hold up on its own, whereas his work for The Dark Knight sends shivers through me every time I listen to it.
9. High Places - Vs. Mankind
The first High Places full-length was this strange Caribbean shoegaze mix. The follow-up, however, aimed for a more traditional electronic style, and it was just plain boring. I’ll give HP a mulligan, but I just don’t see them recapturing their glory days or concocting something new that’s worthwhile.
8. Devo - Something For Everyone
Part of the joke with Devo is that their music is supposed to represent the worst of humanity - the de-devolution. That’s why their songs sounded like jingles for the apocalypse. But Something For Everyone is so slick that it just sounds like all the other radio filler getting pumped out these days. Without the humor or ferocity of classic Devo, the record fails in its attempts at irony.
7. Brian Posehn - Fart and Weiner Jokes
The title was a little too accurate. C’mon man, try harder!
6. Fake Problems - Real Ghosts Caught on Tape
It’s Great to Be Alive’s songs were punky but vapid, and too many of the tracks tried to get by on kitsch. In a sense, it was a dishonest record. Real Ghosts has the opposite problem. The lyrics are too earnest. Frontman Chris Farren means everything so dang much this time. But the music is limp. The band just can’t seem to nail the sweet spot of honest, witty, fun folk-punk exhibited on the amazing How Far Our Bodies Go.
5. Kaki King - Junior
This one was a huge disappointment considering Kaki King’s last record, Dreaming of Revenge, was her best album. Junior attempts to continue that record’s pop successes, but King is running out of ideas lyrically and is still developing vocally. The result is a record filled with middling mid-tempo numbers. King is still one of the best guitarists in indie rock today, but she dumbed down her strengths too much here.
4. Minus the Bear - Omni
Minus the Bear made a fucking yacht rock record.
3. The Hold Steady - Heaven is Whenever
Chalk this one up to getting older, but I can’t get behind the Hold Steady’s latest release. The songs are too slow. I miss Franz Nicolay’s piano and back-up vox. And frontman Craig Finn is running out of ways to sing about drunks and junkies. Mike loved this album. Some of the songs, like “Hurricane J” and “Rock Problems,” show the old THS brilliance, but overall this record is stuck in a boring holding pattern.
2. The Extra Lens - Undercard
John Darnielle put out a record and it didn’t blow my mind. What the fuck?
1. Against Me! - White Crosses
Sooner or later, our favorite bands let us down. But White Crosses failed me on just about every level. It has enough good songs to warrant keeping for now, but the lyrics are embarrassing and graceless compared to what Tom Gabel used to write. Butch Vig did a solid job with New Wave, but I wish he had the sense to steer the band clear of all the little flourishes they added here. Every auxiliary instrument and supporting vocal cheapens the song, with the now infamous “chick-uh ah” from “Ache With Me” being the standout. I say “infamous” because when Gabel read my review for punknews.org, he threw a hissy fit on Twitter, which in turn caused his followers to throw their own fits. For an hour or two, I was greeted with a sea of “chick-uh ah.” This band belongs to people much younger than me, and I don’t begrudge them that, but I was disappointed by these songs, and hurt by Gabel’s behavior. Grow up.
Man, talk about Bummer City, U.S.A. Let’s forget the bad and talk about the good, the great, the...
Very Honorable Mentions of 2010
Banner Pilot - Resignation Day re-release
Banner Pilot is one of the best up-and-coming punk acts today, blending Dillinger Four’s hooks with Jawbreaker’s lyrics. The Resignation Day re-release realizes the great album it was always meant to be.
Black Tambourine - Black Tambourine
Fuzzy, moody tunes that are too twee to really be goth - that could be any of hundreds of indie bands today, but Black Tambourine did it first. This complete-ish discography argues why they did it better too.
David Bowie - Station to Station deluxe edition re-release
While he began moving away from hard rock on Young Americans, Bowie emerged with a completely new sound on Station to Station. He hadn’t quite invented post-punk yet, but he was getting there. This deluxe edition comes with a remastered classic and a solid two-disc concert bootleg.
The Mountain Goats - The Life of the World to Come DVD
It’s a live/acoustic performance of my favorite album of 2009. Hell yeah it’s getting mentioned here.
Various Artists - Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Stellar indie rock tracklisting for a stellar movie about fightin’ and kissin’. Nearly half of the album consists of new tunes written by Beck, Broken Social Scene and Metric for characters in the movie, and they capture each fictional band perfectly. They also blend in well with older cuts from Frank Black, T. Rex and, again, Broken Social Scene. Go read the comics.
Top 25 Bestest Records of 2010 According to Joseph. T Pelone
25. High on Fire - Snakes For the Divine
2010 is the year I got back into metal for the first time since high school, and High on Fire is my Motorhead. I know exactly what I’m getting when I put them on, which is fast, punk-tinged metal with lyrics about whatever. Sometimes they get slow ‘n’ sludgy, but generally speaking, Snakes For the Divine is a record that pummels me as quickly as it can. I’m so bummed I missed out on HoF’s tour with Kylesa and Torche. As you’ll see from this list, I’m a big fan of all those bands. More bands need to write kickass songs about blood, fire and “Frost Hammer.”
24. Dillinger Escape Plan - Option Paralysis
Speaking of ass-kickers, howsabout that new Dillinger Escape Plan record? In metal terms, these guys are like Prince in his prime - they can do whatever they want, weave whatever ideas and styles they like into their songs, and it comes out to great success. Opening track “Farewell, Mona Lisa” packs an album’s worth of dynamics into five-and-a-half minutes. The first two minutes prove that the band still has the technical hardcore game mastered before segueing into alternative rock for a bit. Then back to the ass-kickery.
23. Devils Brigade - Devils Brigade
Devils Brigade is a Rancid/X supergroup. Fuck yes. Sure, I wish the band wrote more psychobilly songs like “Vampire Girl,” but instead the album provides tunes about motorcycles and cowboys, as sung by Matt Freeman and his deliciously gravelly throat. Last decade, when Freeman battled throat cancer, it seemed unlikely that he would ever sing again, so I treasure every song he fronts. Besides, I will listen to any and all detours Rancid takes. Well, besides Transplants anyway.
22. School of Seven Bells - Disconnect From Desire
Disconnect From Desire found School of Seven Bells streamlining their sound a bit, at times recalling the quasi-goth dance floor qualities of Ladytron. Twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza coo enchanting, haunting melodies while Benjamin Curtis doodles in the margins. This second go-round is definitely more dance-oriented, but there’s plenty of appeal for those looking for something more ambient. Overall, Desire was a huge improvement over the group’s debut, and I’m hoping for even better things on LP #3.
21. Smoke or Fire - The Speakeasy
At this point, Smoke or Fire has developed a style that needs little deviation. Rapid-fire drum beats feed angry vocals and socially conscious lyrics. Joe McMahon’s songs are fast and straightforward. Speakeasy, in that sense, feels very much like a continuation of This Sinking Ship. The production hits a sweet spot, though. I love the band’s full-length debut, Above the City, but it sounds like ass. Ship went too far in the other direction; it’s an overproduced record that still wins based on its musical content. Speakeasy eases up on the gloss without sacrificing clarity. It’s the record that most accurately depicts Smoke or Fire’s live show. And have you heard freaking “Sleepwalking?” That song is catchier than any pop hit of 2010.
20. Gatorface - Wasted Monuments
Gatorface is definitely a throwback to ‘90s era Fat bands, but their full-length debut, Wasted Monuments, still goes beyond mere idol worship. Tunes like “Not Scientists” and “Kids Stealing Kids” burn with hooks and political barbs, and that’s always been my favorite kind of punk. Gatorface was started for fun by Alex Goldfarb and Richard Minino from New Mexican Disaster Squad, and by the sounds of it, they’re having a great time.
19. Screaming Females - Castle Talk
A lot of the records on this list look backward as much as forward, which certainly describes Screaming Females’ Castle Talk. The album has an appreciation for ‘80s new wave/punk crossover and ‘00 back-to-basics rock, but Screaming Females do it better. Frontwoman/guitarist Marissa Paternoster drops playful lyrics and loud guitar histrionics as she pleases, and she does it better than most bands from yesteryear. This is how I wish Yeah Yeah Yeahs had turned out.
18. Bars of Gold - Of Gold
The short answer for Bars of Gold’s placement on this list is: “It’s Bear vs. Shark with more keyboards.” The long answer: Marc Paffi is very good at the following things: Yelling and making his instruments rock the heck out. He put those talents to very good use for BvS, and he’s doing it again with Bars of Gold. While I hate comparing him too much to his old band, Paffi sounds like he’s picking up where BvS might have gone had they stayed together after Terrorhawk.
17. Kylesa - Spiral Shadow
Spiral Shadow found Kylesa expanding beyond metal into a more alt-rock direction, by which I mean Kylesa just made their most accessible record. That means a bigger melodic, radio-friendly presentation, but somehow Shadow manages to still be Kylesa’s most experimental record too. This is their most psychedelic release so far, with tons of interludes and atmospheric bits floating around. Either way, the metal faithful have deemed this record underwhelming, but it’s their loss. Spiral Shadow rocks.
16. The Extra Lens - Undercard
The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle took a break from writing serious songs about the deaths of loved ones to hang out with his buddy Franklin Bruno. Being the best of friends, they decided to write some songs. These songs were about adultery, doom and Elder Gods. See, Darnielle has this knack for matching big hooks with depressing lyrics. While it’s a little disappointing coming off of a string of emotionally intense, personal works, Undercard is still stuffed with some of the best short stories of 2010.
15. Daft Punk - TRON: Legacy soundtrack
This is not an album for Daft Punk fans per say, unless those fans also love science fiction and especially love TRON. Because these French robots totally get TRON. TRON: Legacy was never meant to be a sequel to Human After All, so it shouldn’t be regarded as such. But as a sequel to the original TRON soundtrack by Wendy Carlos (with some help from Journey!), it’s stunning. Carlos blended orchestral and electronic music to great effect for the original 1982 soundtrack, marking a milestone just as important as the early works of Kraftwork or the birth of post-punk. Daft Punk develops those ideas further, wedding their danceable electronic vision to more traditional orchestral movements, resulting in a flowing, emotionally stirring work.
14. Envy - Recitation
I love Envy because they remind me of so many bands I love - Deftones, Jesu, M83, Mogwai, Thursday - yet satisfy a very specific need that no one else can handle. Of all the records on this list, Recitation probably took me the longest to appreciate, simply because the songs are so epic. The material slowly builds in intensity as it grows from spoken word to post-hardcore fury over the course of 20 minutes, then destroys and rebuilds itself over the course of an hour that is alternately haunting and powerful. Recitation is not an immediate album for parties or driving. But it’s so satisfying once you crack it.
13. Deftones - Diamond Eyes
If it weren’t for the fact that their albums still tear up the Billboard charts, I’d call Deftones underrated. Ten years ago, the group was unfortunately lumped in with nu-metal mooks, even though they had more in common with My Bloody Valentine, Quicksand and The Cure than they ever did with Limp Bizkit. So to that extent, the band has never gotten the full appreciation they deserve, even though, a decade later, music has finally gotten hip to the ’tones’ sound. Deftones have always been a band of meeting points – metal, goth, shoegaze, and post-hardcore are in the mix – and Diamond Eyes may very well be the best distillation of this sound. Maybe it’s because they’ve been away for a while, but Deftones sound awfully vital in 2010.
12. Ted Leo and The Pharmacists - The Brutalist Bricks
Some days, it’s just good to know that Ted Leo is out there, ever vigilant, and Brutalist Bricks reminds me that we need him, like a punk rock Batman. The record is more concise than the double album-length Living With the Living and less indebted to Thin Lizzy’s guitars than The Tyranny of Distance… which I guess puts it in league with the similarly stripped down punk fervor of Shake the Sheets. Rank it however you want; it still has “Bottled Up in Cork.” That song opens with a furious intro, gets softer/poppier, drops a few verses about traveling through Europe and meeting family, and then drops an insanely catchy guitar solo before closing out with a long, infectious intro. Leo could have broken the ideas in that song up into an album. Instead he combined them all to make one ridiculously great song.
11. The Roots - How I Got Over
I hate when music writers show their lack of credentials before engaging in a review. It’s tantamount to saying, “Here’s why you shouldn’t care about my opinion.” That said, um, I don’t know much about hip-hop. But I do love soul music, and the Roots’ How I Got Over has plenty of it. The record starts off quite cool and smooth with songs like “A Peace of Light” and “Dear God 2.0,” but it’s James Brown throwbacks like the title track that keep me around. I’m not an expert on rap, but I recognize a good groove when I hear it.
10. Kyle Kinane - Death of the Party
Every year, the fates deliver on to me a comedy record stuffed with one-liners and personal stories about failure that really hit home. This year, that record was Death of the Party by Kyle Kinane. His humor can get crass at times (like when he talks about the first time he pooped in a bar bathroom), but also tells tales about the triumph of the human spirit (like when he talks about the first time he pooped in a bar bathroom). He also gave me my favorite cop put-down: “How did you get your job? Did you win a raffle?”
9. Museum Mouth - Tears in My Beer
Some of the best music these days is coming from the American South. Witness Museum Mouth, an unsigned lo-fi punk band from North Carolina that pretty much wrote and self-released a better record than any critical darling without much support. I get why people like No Age and Dum Dum Girls - hell I like some of their songs - but Museum Mouth does it better, without any pretentious imagery. I can’t pick a lone standout track from this record, so what’s say you just download it now?
8. The Flatliners - Cavalcade
Banner Pilot and Loved Ones didn’t drop anything new this year, so Flatliners flew in to fill my need for huge choruses, gruff vocals and lyrics about drankin’ and stankin’. Cavalcade feels like it was calculated to satisfy my every punk desire. This record knocked me out the first time I played it. Judging by the reviews it’s gotten, everybody else had the same experience.
7. The Corin Tucker Band - 1,000 Years
Sleater-Kinney is still on hiatus, but with Wild Flag and the Corin Tucker Band, that’s not such a bad thing. CTB’s 1,000 Years should satisfy many a Sleater-Kinney fan. While it gets a little mom rock in places, songs like “Half a World Away” and “Doubt” still revel in buzzsaw guitars and rock ‘n’ roll histrionics. Tucker still knows how to belt ‘em out, and I’m still listening.
6. Fang Island - Fang Island
I was skeptical of Fang Island at first, but it turns out I was just being a dick. Someone put on Fang Island’s self-titled full-length debut during the triumphant drive home from the first Science Club show when a lightning storm tore through the Philadelphia air. The record slowly revved into attacked position, setting itself up with “Dreams of Dreams” and “Careful Crosses” before exploding with the triumphant “Daisy.” And then insanely fun arena guitar rock synced up with fucking lightning. In a perfect world, Andrew W.K., Torche and Fang Island would tour together. And they’d play my backyard. And we would be friends forever.
5. Torche - Songs For Singles
In an alternate universe, Torche is the biggest radio rock band in America. No one has heard of Nickelback, but they sure as hell know all the words to Songs For Singles. While it’s certainly a bummer that this is not the case here on Earth Prime, hopefully this Floridian metal act will garner a few new fans with their latest effort. The songs roll off of each other so well that one could easily get in three or four listens in a row without stopping. Torche doesn’t sound like any one band, but they sure vaguely recall ’90s alternative rock as a whole, to great success.
4. Black Tusk - Taste the Sin
In my original review for Taste the Sin, I was slightly dismissive of Black Tusk. They’re a great metal band, sure, but they didn’t push boundaries like Kylesa or Baroness. But that same dedication to simply writing ass-kicking metal tunes is what brought me back to Sin over and over again. The band is almost punk in their assault, keeping their songs tight and focused while delivering massive riffs and throaty growls, and they really grew into their sound on this album. Sure, the lyrics are a little silly (“Rip your face off / Thrash around” is both really dumb and really metal), but the songs kept me going. When I needed something aggressive, Sin was my go-to record for 2010.
3. Crime in Stereo - I Was Trying to Describe You to Someone
Ignore the dubious title and got-damn horrendous artwork, and you’ll find a slinking, atmospheric juggernaut awaiting. In some ways, Crime in Stereo’s I Was Trying to Describe You to Someone outdoes Is Dead’s ideas, becoming more atmospheric, more dissonant, more willingly un-hardcore. I remember a lot of people calling CiS too experimental circa 2007. Three years later, the band makes seemingly “experimental” numbers like “Choker” and “Third Atlantic” sound like outright pop songs. I’m still bummed about CiS breaking up, but like my friend Nate and I always say, “Drugwolf forever!”
2. The Menzingers - Chamberlain Waits
I saw the Menzingers open once for Smoke or Fire on a Valentine’s Day show at Siren Records in Doylestown. I was hooked. They had the anthems and passion of early Clash, which is fitting since they did a riveting cover of “Straight to Hell.” I bought their record, A Lesson in the Abuse of Information Technology and became obsessed. I tried to make it out whenever they played nearby, as their shows were always revelatory, jubilant and just generally sweet. It didn’t even matter if they messed up; one time, co-lead singer/guitarist launched into a perfect rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” to kill time while they dealt with technical issues. Lesson is a record I hold in high esteem; it meant so much to me for three years.
Then the Menzingers dropped Chamberlain Waits, and I pretty much left Lessons behind. Outside of when I listened to it for review purposes, I have not gone back to it this year. Instead, I’ve poured all of my energy into Chamberlain Waits, a record about growing up, feeling kind of lost and trying to find a way in the world. It’s about being stuck in Pennsylvania. It’s about late nights with old friends and the importance of music. It became my “Shit Sucks But This Song Rules” record. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become less and less excited by punk music, as I suppose this list indicates. But then when bands like the Menzingers come around, I become a believer all over again. This genre thrives on insularity, but honestly, I want everyone to listen to this record. Disaffected teens, old school punks and rock enthusiasts in general all need to live inside these songs.
1. Venice is Sinking - Sand & Lines: The Georgia Theatre Sessions
Chamberlain Waits and Venice is Sinking’s Sand & Lines have battled it out over the course of the year for my affections. They don’t sound anything alike - one is punk with a folk tinge and the other is an alt-country record - but they both satisfy very basic needs for me. I listen to music, partially, for catharsis. Chamberlain makes me think about the things that went wrong for me this year - settling for a less-than-ideal job, accepting that I’ll probably never live in Philadelphia again, my cousin’s death - and turned those things into energy I could use. Sands & Lines makes me think about everything that went right.
It shouldn’t, though, given that the album’s best moments are about failure and break-ups. Somehow, though, my girlfriend and I really latched on to this record, and it scored our most intimate moments. The quiet resignation of “Sidelights” and “Tugboat,” the panic of “Jolene,” the cool beat of “Falls City,” these parts wrapped around me like a blanket, and I took the record with me as I traveled around the East coast, and then over to Europe. When I listen to this record, I think about watching the love of my life undress in Paris. I think about love itself. The Georgia Theatre offered such a warm and lived-in sound quality; it’s the exact opposite of AZAR. It’s fitting that the band is donating money from the record sales towards rebuilding the theatre; it’s like an unofficial band member in terms of shaping the album’s style. I’m still down with the punks - I was spinning Government Issue something fierce earlier today - but Venice is Sinking makes me feel comfortable, safe, alive. It’s perfect for the cold and the close contact of winter, but it’s cool and breezy enough to bring out during the summer. It’s my album of the year because it sums up my year.
Ah, but this year isn’t just defined by full-lengths. Lest we forget, the year also saw some great short form releases. So pour yourself a delicious, refreshing glass of soy milk and strap the fuck in for the...
Top 10 Extended Players of 2010
10. The Get Up Kids - Simple Science
Just gonna throw this out there: Simple Science is where the Get Up Kids should have gone after On a Wire. It’s still moody, a little more indie rock and not nearly as pandering as Guilt Show. Although it’s belated, Simple Science was a return to form for TGUK, and I look forward to their eventual full-length.
9. The Holy Mess - Benefit Sesh
Philadelphia drunk punk with some soul. That’s what you get with the Holy Mess, and gosh dang did they deliver on the Benefit Sesh seven-inch. Keep ‘em coming.
8. The Flatliners - Monumental
Yes it’s a single. Fuck you, I’m counting it. This seven-inch opens with “Monumental,” from the Flatliners pretty thoroughly awesome Cavalcade, and the B-side offers up two new tunes, “Christ Punchers” and “Cut Your Teeth,” that deliver just as much crunch and punch as their punk rockin’ full-length. 2010 was a great year for the Flatliners creatively, and based on the hype they’re getting, I assume commercially as well.
7. Mean Jeans - Tears in My Beers
Mean Jeans followed up their super catchy Ramones tribute Are You Serious? with a mini-concept album about drankin’. “Tears in My Beers” sounds like exactly like its title suggests, but B-side “Cool 2 Drive” is the winner, with an infectious chorus about the aforementioned drankin’.
6. How to Destroy Angels - How to Destroy Angels
Nine Inch Nails + Lady vox = How to Destroy Angels. I worship at Trent Reznor’s altar, so I’m stoked to have some new tunes. As much as I miss his bark, Mariqueen Reznor’s cleaner vocals fit the music nicely and give it a different spin.
5. Smoke or Fire - Prehistoric Knife Fight
Joe McMahon was all up in punk’s business in 2010. He dropped an acoustic split with Brendan McMahon and a solid new Smoke or Fire full-length in The Speakeasy. In between the two, SoF dropped a nice teaser seven-inch, featuring a stripped down version of “Speak Easy” and a catchy supporting track called “Modesty.” Say it with me now: This is the new Avail.
4. Castevet - The Echo & The Light
Castevet writes shimmering post-hardcore/post-rock mash-ups that find the midpoint between Hot Water Music and Mogwai, successfully. I have both versions of The Echo & The Light, the original version completed last year and the re-recorded final, and they’re both great. Maybe it’s just the high from their ’90s emo/post-rock revivalism talking, but Castevet could easily be huge with their cross-genre style.
3. The Next Big Thing - Tough as Nails, Sweet as Pie
The world needs a Kid Dynamite. My pals in the Next Big Thing opted to keep the KD sound alive, complete with bass solos and throaty, catchy choruses. In the interest of complete disclosure and journalistic integrity or whatever, I should mention that I bring the gang vox something fierce on this disc, but I’m awesome, so check this out. “Girls Don’t Listen to Lifetime” is my jam - and ladies, if you do listen to Lifetime, holla at frontman Nick Gregorio at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band - Wrecking Ball
Record Store Day came twice this year, and Bruce Springsteen delivered great finds on both days. Black Friday brought a “Save My Love” single backed with “Because the Night,” but the bigger, better release was “Wrecking Ball.” Debuted during his 2009 tour, “Wrecking Ball” was Springsteen’s ode to Giants Stadium, the song helped clear out the bad taste left by Working on a Dream. It’s full of classic E Street intensity and showmanship, and it’s so catchy that I don’t even care that Springsteen rhymes “balls” with “ball.” The B-side, a live version of “The Ghost of Thom Joad” featuring Tom Morello, is nifty too.
1. forgetters - forgetters
Like many an emotionally sensitive punk, I grew up on Jawbreaker. I committed frontman/guitarist Blake Schwarzenbach’s words to memory, using songs like “Accident Prone” and “Chesterfield King” for armor. When ‘bach’s band forgetters came together, featuring Kevin Mahon (Against Me!) and Caroline Paquita (Bitchin’), I was ecstatic to hear his return to punk (Although I loved the indie-leaning Jets to Brazil. Can we finally acknowledge as a society that they were just as good as Jawbreaker?). Their four-song debut does not disappoint, issuing grainy, throaty, passionate punk rock with Schwarzenbach’s trademark hyper-literate lyrics and perhaps his best vocal takes yet. Sometimes it’s political (“Not Funny”), sometimes it’s personal (“Too Small To Fail”), sometimes it’s about vampires (“Vampire Lessons”), but it’s always great.
I say this every year, but 2010 was a great year for music. It took some digging, but art should never be too easy. 2009 was pretty great too, so much so that I didn’t fully appreciate all of the album’s released then until now. Here are...
Ten Albums from 2009 That I Didn’t Appreciate Until 2010 For Whatever Fucking Reason
-Baroness - Blue Record
-Cloack/Dagger - Lost Art
-Coalesce - Ox
-The Hadituptoheres - Wild City Honest Dancing
-Kylesa - Static Tensions
-The Menzingers - Hold On Dodge
-Paul F. Thompkins - Freak Wharf
-Tombs - Winter Hours
-YACHT - See Mystery Lights
-”Weird” Al Yankovic - The Essential “Weird” Al Yancovik
This is the year I got back into metal, as Baroness, Kylesa and Tombs reveal. I’m still a novice when it comes to this novice, but I love anything sludgy and powerful like these bands. My friend Nate thinks my new found love of dissonance is cute. I meant to hop on Coalesce’s latest album - my friend Scott and I listened to it a ton of times in 2009 - but I didn’t get around to it until it was too late. Ox is a great technical hardcore record that blends in a bunch of blues references of all things. Consider it the Option Paralysis of 2009. I remembered my punk roots, though, with Cloak/Dagger and Menzingers, while still checking out indie dance music with YACHT. The Hadituptoheres are a great garage band that I had to review - most of the promos I get sent are shit, so I appreciate the good ones quite a bit. Finally, I bought some comedy records from Paul F. Thompkins and “Weird” Al Yankovic. They were funny.
2011 is looking pretty good too, from where I’m at. Here are my top picks to watch out for:
Potential Reasons to Choose Life in 2011
-Face to Face - Laugh Now, Laugh Later
-The Get Up Kids - There Are Rules
-Green Day - TBA
-PJ Harvey - Let England Shake
-Lemuria - Pebble
-Mogwai - Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
-The Mountain Goats - All Eternals Deck
-The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Belong
-Taking Back Sunday with classic line-up - TBA
-Thursday - TBA