Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Vinyl Vednesday 6/29/2011

[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. Anyway, as always, e-mail with your own big finds!]

The Flatliners’ Cynics seven-inch (2009) on black, Missing Persons’ “Words” single (1982) on black, and Restorations’ Restorations seven-inch (2010) on black.

Place of Purchase: for the punk stuff. Impact! Thrift Store for the new wave stuff.

Thoughts: For those of you just tuning in, I’ve recently begun an open relationship with The Flatliners. It started off simply with last year’s Cavalcade, but it’s grown considerably since then. After picking up The Great Awake, I opted to go all in and snatch up the band’s seven-inches. Turns out those deliver toe-tapping, throat-shredding punk rock too. My only complaint with them is their brevity, but whatevers. Cynics is a solid stopgap EP between Awake and Cavalcade, and while none of the three tunes surpasses material from those full-lengths, it’s still Flatliners clam flammit. Get into it.

Outside of the themed installments, I grab my three records for Vinyl Vednesday at random. So, it’s funny to me that I’ve begun this sudden trend of “punk rock + ’80s hits.” Oh well. While they weren’t around for very long, Missing Persons got in a catchy hit in the ’80s with the chirpy, synth-driven “Words.” What are they for, when no one listens anymore? ANSWER ME. The B-side is a new wavey take on “Hello, I Love You” by The Doors that isn’t nearly as different as it initially seems.

You guys know Restorations put out a full-length this year, right? Because that shit is super limited yet still readily available. When I heard the band’s Strange Behavior EP earlier this year, I didn’t realize just how much they had in common with bands like the singing, biking, fucking Latterman. That EP had a spacey CSTVT quality to it. The new album, and this self-titled seven-inch, are clearly punk rockin’. So stoked.

Here’s some trivia for you: This is the shortest Vinyl Vednesday I have ever posted. I’m going to bed.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Teenage Bottlerocket - 'Mutilate Me'

While I should be grateful for another round of Ramones-indebted pop-punk from Teenage Bottlerocket via new seven-inch Mutilate Me, there’s a part of me that wishes the band had held out for another full-length. Instead, fans get one amazing song (the title track), one OK song (“Punk House of Horror”), and a pretty forgettable cover (Bad Religion’s “Henchman”).

But hey, “Mutilate Me” is really, really catchy. TBR’s talent lies in taking simple song structures and wringing massive melodies out of them. “Mutilate Me” is yet another infectious number from a group that’s been cranking them out nonstop since 2001. It’s kitschy like a Go-Go’s tune too.

“Punk House of Horror” is a solid if unremarkable tune. Compared to previous stabs at spooky songwriting like “They Came From the Shadows” and “In the Basement,” it seems like a lesser effort. Same goes for the Bad Religion cover; it’s over before you can react.

Still, Mutilate Me’s title track is strong enough to justify the seven-inch’s existence. If it ever shows up on a future LP, though, I might need to sell this vinyl off.

The Old Firm Casuals - 'The Old Firm Casuals'

With another year comes another Rancid side project. This time out, Rancid guitarist/vocalist Lars Frederiksen has an Oi-punk outfit, the somewhat humorously dubbed Old Firm Casuals, and their new self-titled seven-inch is a rocker. Boasting four songs, Old Firm Casuals is frills-free punk rock from a modern legend.

I think that in order to be a diehard Rancid fan, you need at least a little sense of humor, which is why I’m all about the lo-fi, grainy trappings of opener “Old Firm (D.M.S.),” even though the chorus goes “We are the Old Firms!” My degree is in English; I can find the sexual in anything. It’s still a catchy number, though. “Lone Wolf,” meanwhile, goes by in a punk rock flash.

The flipside (dubbed “Boat Side”), owes a debt to early Clash, especially “London’s Burning” and “Clash City Rockers.” But hey, that riff is undeniable, the bassline is buoyant, and the gang vox are solid. “Casual” closes out the seven-inch with another round of sloganeering dedicated to the band itself. In that sense, Frederiksen has swapped out Rancid’s constant references to East Bay for simply mentioning his band’s name.

So on a certain level, The Old Firm Casuals are a little silly. But they also play old school punk rock, and they do it well too. I’m a Rancid fanboy, so this certainly gets a passing grade from me, but the songs’ primal energy should hopefully appeal to new listeners as well. The group plays punk in its most basic form; if you don’t like this, you’re not a fan.

Altar of Plagues - 'Mammal'

Let’s start with the point of consensus: Altar of Plagues is a metal band from Ireland. The group is probably a black metal band, except they incorporate elements of sludge metal, drone, atmospheric metal a la Jesu, grindcore and even traditional Irish music. And I don’t mean traditional like the Pogues; track three of their stellar new record Mammal, “When the Sun Drowns in the Ocean,” features keening, an ancient vocal lament performed by one or several woman as part of a funeral service. It was abolished by the Roman Catholic Church, so including it here is secretly metal.

Also it sounds creepy/cool.

At just over eight minutes in length, “Sun” also manages to be perhaps Mammal’s most accessible track, by which I mean it’s the shortest. Bookended by the keening, the tune is nothing if not haunting. At the four-minute mark, it morphs into a heavy metal thumper. The guitars are certainly dissonant, but there’s still an underlying ambience to the whole thing that complements the keening’s surreal qualities.

The song that really defines Mammal, however, is “Neptune is Dead.” It’s the opener, and it’s nearly 19 minutes long. Skip that track, and you lose almost half of the album right there. Mammal’s songs take a while to get going, and “Neptune” is no exception. A mechanical hum gently fades into guitar squalls over the course of a minute. Drummer Johnny King starts to poke through with some flourishes, and by the two-minute mark, “Neptune” launches into a thrashing noise that rivals anything Napalm Death ever accomplished. It’s loud.

Nineteen minutes is a long time to devote to just one song, but Altar of Plagues isn’t a stoner rock band; the tune packs enough movements to keep things interesting. Besides, the track listing is almost superfluous. Outside of “Sun,” differentiating between tracks is pointless when there’s shredding to be had. This need to constantly move, to jump from one subgenre to the next, keeps Mammal alive. It’s a record that encompasses elements from several styles and creates something new. One general criticism against metal is that it gets homogenous somewhere between the solos, screaming and chugging. That could never be said of Mammal. Whether they’re rocking a blast beat or showcasing ancient Irish musical styles from a thousand years ago, Altar of Plagues has crafted one of 2011’s most unique metal albums.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Vinyl Vednesday 6/22/2011

[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. Anyway, as always, e-mail with your own big finds!]

The Beatles’ Rubber Soul (1965) on black, RVIVR’s RVIVR LP (2010) on black with an inside-out Modest Mouse jacket, and Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America” single (1981) on black.

Place of Purchase:
Beatles ‘n’ Kim Wilde came from Siren Records in Doylestown. RVIVR was ordered via

Thoughts: I almost feel bad for the folks at Siren Records when I walk in, because thanks to the massive music shedding I’m doing for myPod, I almost always purchase stuff via trading instead of using actual, legal tender. On my most recent trip, I scored $130 in store credit. I put part of it towards The Beatles’ Rubber Soul, because why not? It’s one of my favorite Beatles albums. The melodies are huge, the band started reacting to Bob Dylan by going acoustic, and its got some of my favorite tunes, like “Girl,” “Michelle,” and “Norwegian Wood.” I made a slight tactical error in buying a U.S. printing, though. The Beatles’ records got chopped and screwed for a long time, and this version of Rubber Soul shuffles the track listing and cuts “Drive My Car!” Blasphemy! It’s still a great record, though, and this version was much cheaper than the sealed mono British pressing Siren had listed for $300. I’m not ready for that sort of commitment.

After Shorebirds imploded, I was a little slow getting into the next round of post-Latterman bands like Iron Chic and RVIVR. I just... didn't want to get hurt again. Also, I was lazy and there was a lot of good music coming out in the heady days of the year 2010. After it showed up on a bevy of year-end lists, though, I decided to dive back into the punk rock band dating pool. RVIVR is noticeably slower compared to Shorebirds or Latterman, but the band basically traded speed for melody, and I can live with that. I dig the male/female vocal interplay, especially on “Real Mean.” That tune’s also got a mean guitar lead. I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's OK to love again. I never got to see Latterman or Shorebirds live; I need to turn that around with RVIVR (or Iron Chic).

Two-thirds of the pop singles released in the ’80s were absolute shit. The other one-third was amazing. My fiancée mocks me on occasion for picking up ’80s singles, but I really, really like Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America.” It’s a catchy new wave ditty beloved by everyone who ever existed in this universe. The Bouncing Souls covered it!

As for the B-side, “You’ll Never Be So Wrong,” it’s OK I guess. I don’t remember how it goes.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

myPod: De-Do

[myPod is an attempt to edit down my CD collection as I import my music on to my brand new 160 GB iPod.]


Conor Oberst put out two albums in 2002: Lifted, or the Story is in the Soil, Listen to the Ground under the moniker Bright Eyes, and Read Music/Speak Spanish by Desaparecidos. The ’cidos were a punk band who hated the shit out of America, gloriously so. Read Music remains their only release, but it’s a good one: Ten tracks of bile and white guilt. Along with Digital Ash in a Digital Urn and The People’s Key, Read Music creates a sort of unofficial electronic trilogy for Oberst.

Verdict: Keep.


Surf-punk hardcore that’s profoundly important to pop-punk, along with The Ramones, Green Day, and maybe Screeching Weasel. I’m not that hugest Descendents fan – their ’80s “classic period” is homophobic – but I do enjoy Milo Goes to College and Everything Sucks. It’s danceable and angry, so you know I’m down.

Verdict: Keep.

Devils Brigade

Oh man. Devils Brigade began as a psychobilly side project for Rancid’s Matt Freeman. They released a couple of seven-inches in the early aughts and then sort of faded away. Then in 2010, for whatever reason, Freeman and fellow Rancid/Operation Ivy member Tim Armstrong decided to bring DB back, with X drummer DJ Bonebrake on the kit [Side note: Bonebrake and Freeman also played together in Auntie Christ]. The self-titled debut was more of a rockabilly record, partially because it collected songs from a failed musical about prospectors or some shit. Devils Brigade is cheesy as heck in spots, but it’s Freeman. I love that dude even if he does sing like Cookie Monster.

Verdict: Keep.


A little bit of Devo goes a long way for me. I’ve got Q: Are We Not Men and Freedom of Choice, the band’s first and third albums, and I honestly think that’s enough for me. I’ve got all of my favorite spastic, sarcastic post-punk tunes (“Girl U Want,” “Gates of Steel,” “Jocko Homo,” and that space funk take on The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction”).

Verdict: Keep.

Neil Diamond


I have a greatest hits package from Neil Diamond, and it’s unabashedly schmaltzy pop music of the catchiest caliber. Like Devo, a little bit of Diamond goes a long way, but c’mon. This guy writes big fat show tunes. RESPEK.

Verdict: Keep.

Los Difuntos

I’m such a sucker for anything tangentially related to Rancid that I even got behind Los Difuntos simply because Matt Freeman sang a duet with them on their best song, “Lucy.” That’s not entirely true – the group plays quality psychobilly – but I realized I haven’t really listened to their music much since I reviewed them back in 2009. Sorry dudes.

Verdict: Sell.

The Dillinger Escape Plan

People who prefer Weezer post-Matt Sharp are not true Weezer fans. But I prefer what Dillinger Escape Plan has done post-Calculating Infinity over Infinity. Does that mean I’m not a true DEP fan? In truth, I’ve never heard the record all the way through, even though it’s what established DEP as a premier technical hardcore act – and set them up for fan backlash with each new release. But I have enjoyed the group’s run with newer singer Greg Puciato. Miss Machine and Option Paralysis blend hardcore, metal, alt-rock, and even techno into a fine stew. My favorite record remains my entryway into the band’s discography, 2007’s Ire Works. It’s all over the place stylistically, which is exactly why I gravitate towards it. It’s just a really weird album.

Verdict: Keep.

Dillinger Four

D4 is a cornerstone of what people on the Internets call orgcore, along with Hot Water Music and The Lawrence Arms. I’m not as obsessed with them as other people seem to be, but each of their records is agreeably catchy and moving. Having grown up after D4’s heyday, maybe I’ve been spoiled by their influence – everybody writes gravelly drinking songs these days. Still, I’m all about albums like Versus God and Situatinist Comedy, and the older I get, the better the records sound. This is my kind of punk.

Verdict: Keep.


When it comes to metal, I prefer raw and sludgy. But when I get the hankering for fantasy power metal, I look no further than Ronnie James Dio. I’ve already written about his greatness with Black Sabbath at length, but Dio’s greatness doesn’t end there. After he parted ways with Sabbath, Dio went on to form… Dio. The group essentially picks up where Mob Rules left off (and even takes on Mob drummer Vinny Appice). The lyrics are pure fantasy cheese, but the hooks and instrumentation are huge. Dio continuously, unapologetically went huge, as songs like “Rainbow in the Dark” and “Holy Diver” prove. Don’t even act like you don’t love the shit out of those songs.

Verdict: Keep.

20 Years of Dischord

For a while in college, I got extreme glee from exploring the wide array of albums released by Dischord, the de facto chronicler of D.C. punk from the ’80s and ’90s. While the label’s output has slowed down in the last decade, I tore through records by Fugazi, Jawbox, and Nation of Ulysses with pleasure. Dischord bands had a few things in common, like grit, dissonance, and mood (Well, aside from Government Issue anyway). 20 Years of Dischord features three discs of music plus a book. The discs are each themed (’80s hardcore, ’90s post-hardcore, and rarities). The ’80s material blurs together after a while, although I do enjoy Teen Idles, Ian MacKaye’s band before Minor Threat. The second disc kills, though. Listening to it reminded me how many more bands I need to check out, like Dag Nasty, Slant 6, and The Make-Up. The rarities disc is a nice addition, and the book is essential listening for punk fans. Dischord has a certain purity to it, as the label has made few artistic concessions, if any. It’s essentially a punk rock Calvin & Hobbes.

Verdict: Keep.


Unlike peers like Jawbreaker, Sunny Day Real Estate, and The Promise Ring (among others), Discount gets lost in the discussion about ’90s emo. The group’s influence has never been as pronounced by critics, and most of their discography is out of print, aside from Love, Billy, an EP of Billy Bragg covers on Fueled by Ramen. Now, they’re a footnote in the history of Allison Mosshart pre-Kills/Dead Weather. Which is a shame, since Discount was a really, really good pop-punk band with a knack for capturing the beauty and terror behind relationships.

If I had to be overly critical, I would say the band has two essential releases: Ataxia’s Alright Tonight and Half Fiction. Both are thrilling thirty-minute stabs of Florida punk. Swansong Crash Diagnostic is pretty good too, but it sounds like a different band, one shifting towards a Fugazi/Sleater-Kinney/early Pretty Girls Make Graves vibe. The choruses are a little less poppy, although tunes like “Hit” and “Broken to Blue” still showcase the old sound. Love, Billy is good but short. The group signed off with a duo of singles collections that are pretty solid. Ultimately, Discount reminds me that I’ll always be pop-punk at heart.

Verdict: Keep.

The Dismemberment Plan

Generally speaking, I like The Dismemberment Plan. They wrote four records of catchy, spazzy post-punk. They make me want to dance awkwardly. But my enthusiasm took a weird hit when I heard “OK, Jokes Over” on !. It’s a pretty angry song about infidelity that gives me the heebie jeebies. Other than that, yeah, fun times a-hoy.

Verdict: Keep.

Does It Offend You, Yeah?

There are essentially two kinds of reviews I write: One set is about albums I actually care about. The other is about albums that I don’t care about but have to form an opinion on regardless. Does It Offend You, Yeah? falls into the latter category. I reviewed the band’s debut for Define the Meaning, gave it a begrudging endorsement since it accomplished its goal for being frustratingly repetitive, bombastic dance music that ran the gamut of Bloc Party to Mindless Self Indulgence, and then forgot I even owned the record. Years later, this one can go.

Verdict: Sell.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Holy Mess - 'The Holy Mess'

Let’s get the complaining out of the way: The sole problem with the new Holy Mess release is that it’s primarily old material, thereby eliminating it from consideration for best album of 2011. Otherwise, The Holy Mess is a solid collection of 11 super catchy punk tunes in the vein of Lifetime, Rehasher and Latterman. Combining the group’s Benefit Sesh and Dismount EPs with a couple of new tunes, the record delivers fun times straight to your ear holes.

“I Think Corduroy is Making a Comeback,” originally relegated to digital bonus track status on Benefit Sesh, opens the compilation with a burst of jubilant guitar ‘n’ vox. It’s throaty and catchy and thoroughly rocking, and it sets the record up for a string of fast-paced fist-pumpers. Holy Mess tunes tend to be about some mixture of drinking and failing, with the music drawing inspiration from sources ranging from Strung Out to Billy Joel. The Benefit Sesh material (“Corduroy,” “Goodbye 3713 (Must’ve Been a Good One),” “A Soulful Punk Tune About a Working Class Punk”) outshines Dismount with bigger hooks, but the compilation overall flows nicely.

Without any context, the album sounds like it was written and recorded all at once. There’s an emphasis on tunes that are either ridiculously catchy (Benefit Sesh) or ludicrously fast (Dismount). New songs “World Renowned Bonafide Shit Show!” and “Cigarette Reflections” are a little lighter in aggression compared to the older material, but still sound mighty passionate.

The liner notes add a nice touch, as members Rob Malloy and Steveo Niemoczynski break down the history of each song. The stories are actually interesting and go beyond the “I was drinking and then I wrote this” kind of background info. Whether it involves honoring a beloved dog or making semi-obscure digs at other bands, Mally and Niemoczynski provide some good tales. Now they just need to write that full-length.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

regarding Clarence Clemons.

E Street Band founder/saxophonist/percussionist/singer Clarence “Big Man” Clemons passed died Sat. June 18 at the age of 69. For fans of Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, the loss is incredible. While the group’s sound has noticeably changed since organist/accordionist Danny Federici died in 2008 from melanoma, Clemons’ death marks a significant change in the line-up. The E Street Band has soldiered on since Federici. But to replace Clemons or drop his most iconic songs from the band’s live show would both be disastrous; something significant has been lost.

Born in Virginia in 1942, Clemons took up saxophone at the age of 9. While he came from a religious/soul musical background, Clemons gravitated towards rock ‘n’ roll. After jamming with Clemons and his band Joyful Noyze a few times, Springsteen asked the future “Big Man” to play on studio debut, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.. The partnership would prove fruitful for both, as Clemons helped provide the musical grandiosity needed to supplement Springsteen’s increasingly grand lyrical visions. The duo’s most perfect compromise is arguably the third E Street record, Born to Run.

Born to Run
, above all other E Street albums, is defined by Clemons’ sax. It pushes the orchestral moves of “Thunder Road” to a higher degree. It makes “Born to Run” rock harder. And it certainly lends “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” some soul. But by far the biggest contribution was album closer “Jungleland.” Clemons propels the song before ripping off a massive, emotional solo that shifts the song’s jubilant opening to its sad, sad ending. From start to finish, Clemons shaped Born to Run.

Clemons arguably shaped Run’s follow-up, Darkness on the Edge of Town, just as much, even though his sax presence is scant. It was decided that in order to progress from Run, and to lend it a darker atmosphere, Clemons needed to play sparingly. Simply put, when his few appearances are reassuring, a reminder that life just might be alright.

Clemons remained with the E Street Band through the ’80s and returned for their triumphant ’00s reunion, although he also found success outside of the band. He scored a hilariously ’80s pop hit, “You’re a Friend of Mine,” with Jackson Browne. He also appeared on the critically acclaimed drama The Wire. His most recent studio performance was on Lady Gaga’s Born This Way. That Born This Way would become his last artistic statement released in Clemons’ lifetime is weird but fitting. The guy liked to go big, something Gaga certainly craves herself.

Still, Clemons’ legacy is unquestionably tied to Springsteen. The two wrote a lot of really good songs together. Here are a few of them:

regarding Höllenlärm.

My friend Evan is pretty thoroughly metal. He has the most majestic headbang. It's so beautiful you'll cry blood. Anyhoozle, Evan's metal band Höllenlärm just dropped a metal EP entitled Hellish Noise. Go check it out if you enjoy things including, but not limited to:

1. Metal

2. Fun

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Vinyl Vednesday 6/15/2011

[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 installment is dedicated to E Street Band saxophonist/percussionist/vocalist/cornerstone Clarence “Big Man” Clemons, who suffered a stroke this week. The E Street Band already took a hit when organist Danny Federici passed away in 2008, so I wonder what happens next. Love, respect, and prayers go out to the group. Anyway, as always, e-mail with your own big finds!]

Records: Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band’s The River (1980), Live/1975-85 (1986), and Tunnel of Love (1987) on black. They’re not Clemons’ best moments, but Vinyl Vednesday has already covered them.

Place of Purchase: I inherited The River from my Uncle Mike and Live from my parents. Tunnel of Love was purchased for $2, maybe $3 from Disc World in Conshohocken.

Thoughts: It’s hard to perfectly sum up the impact Clarence Clemons had on The E Street Band throughout their run. Each of their ’70s records is defined by his sax playing: Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. and The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle are party records, while Born to Run takes on some of its cinematic quality from his alternately mournful (“Jungleland,” “Meeting Across the River”) and celebratory playing (“Thunder Road,” “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out”). Clemons barely shows up on Darkness on the Edge of Town, but that’s part of the point – He provided so much comfort on Run that his absence makes Darkness that much darker. Still, that solo on “Badland” rips. That album’s follow-up, The River, is more balanced emotionally, and while Clemons isn’t the instrumental focus like he was on previous albums, he still lends a fun, pop atmosphere to tracks like “Hungry Heart” and “Sherry Darling.” The River is a little schizophrenic, containing some of Bruce’s biggest party anthems since his early days while still dropping loathsome, longing, sad tunes like “The River,” but Clemons helps meld them into a cohesive whole.

Live/1975-85 is, in some ways, the penultimate E Street release. Their records have always been great, but they remain better as a live unit, and anyone who’s seen them live will tell you as such. Yeah, Born to Run is as perfect as a record can get, but it’s still better when you’ve got thousands of voices singing along. Or, in the case of Live’s lead off track, when it’s completely stripped down: “Thunder Road” gets reimagined as a solo piano track with a flourish of harmonica and xylophone. Then the track segues into a raw ’78 performance of “Adam Raised a Cain.” Dig Clemons on the tambourine (He also holds down the low end on the vox). He gets more to do on other tracks, though, like “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight),” “Hungry Heart,” and a cover of War’s “War.” At five LPs, Live is a lengthy but rewarding listen.

Clemons was a big part of The E Street Band dating all the way back to Greetings, but not even he could keep the group together forever. By 1987, Springsteen’s life was breaking apart. His 1985 marriage to actress Julianne Phillips was already splintering and after the massive success of Born in the U.S.A., he was getting drained creatively. On its follow-up, Tunnel of Love, he went insular. The record is pretty downright depressing – every tune is about trying to stay faithful in a marriage that’s clearly headed for divorce. Musically, there’s not much going on, as Bruce recorded most of it himself with a drum machine and synthesizers. While The E Street Band is given credits for the record, they barely appear. In Clemons’ case, he lends vocals to “When You’re Alone,” and that’s it. The E Street Band’s real finale was Live, at least until 2002’s triumphant The Rising. It’s a compelling listen, but compared to Springsteen’s other ’80s releases (The River, Nebraska, Born in the U.S.A., Live), it’s not something I can listen to often.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Flatliners and The Holy Mess at The Fire

Not to get all “when the punx are united” or anything, but the crowd assembled for the Flatliners/Holy Mess show at Philadelphia’s The Fire Tues., June 14 was a great one in spite of technical issues throughout the night. Kids got rowdy without getting masochistic. There was much singing and back-patting. Also drinking. We did a lot of drinking.

Even without the social lubrication of Yards ‘n’ Schmidt’s, this was a good show. Local act Ah, Horse Hockey kicked off the night with a rousing round of Latterman-esque punk. It was fun posi stuff; I just wish the band had gotten a tighter lock on its tuning. It felt like every song would end to big applause, only to have any audience momentum lost by the guitarists retuning. Emo act Daytrader (very Saves the Day-ish) had problems of a different sort: They were missing half a band. The group soldiered on acoustically, and even delivered a solid cover of Alkaline Trio’s “Cooking Wine,” but overall the group’s earnest emo/pop-punk came off a little much on the wrong side of Dashboard Confessional for my taste – pained howls and acoustic guitars just don’t get me amped anymore.

Local up-and-comers the Holy Mess broke a guitar cable one song in. Luckily, the members of the Holy Mess are trained professionals, and they stalled for time with expert comic timing. Or, at least they tried. Just when the band seemed like they’d run out of stories (Sample quote: “Fuck man, I love to fuck”), the group finally got their instruments up and running and they plowed through a set of new old tunes recently collected on a compilation for Red Scare. Highlights included all three tunes from last year’s Benefit Sesh seven-inch. For a band that fucks around a lot, the Holy Mess sure is awfully tight live, ripping through brief bursts of gruff, RVIVR-esque punk before heading back to the bar.

By this point the Fire had filled up considerably to welcome Canada’s beloved ska-lovin’, punk-playin’ boys the Flatliners. The audience had been enthusiastic but physically reserved before the Flatliners came on. But once the group launched into opener “Here Comes Treble,” from last year’s stellar Cavalcade, people went off, and the pit alternated between moshing and skanking on a whim. Crowd surfing was constant, but outside of the occasional belly flop, the kids took care of each other.

While the Flatliners generally focused on Cavalcade (“Carry the Banner,” “Monumental”), they made their set up on the fly, soliciting fan suggestions throughout the night. Frontman Chris Cresswell wasn’t feeling too well (“I feel like Satan took a shit in my throat”), but he kept up the pace all the same. The songs kind of blurred together after a while, but the band still hit the highlights from Cavalcade and The Great Awake. The act wisely bowed out with “Eulogy,” arguably their catchiest tune, and the crowd certainly helped out with vocal duties. It was a fun show, although I encountered a technical difficulty of my own: Maoz on South Street closes early on weeknights now.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

regarding The Spice Girls

At 25, I’m at a crossroads, as are most of my friends. We’re pursuing careers and grad school and marriage. And I’m OK with that. I’m actually very much looking forward to the next stage in my life, the one where my fiancée and I settle down and start forming our own little paradise before our hypothetical three daughters screw it all up. But what puts me at a crossroads is this strain of nostalgia that forces me to compulsively reevaluate the pop cultural ephemera of my youth.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I bought a Spice Girls CD in the year 2011 for reasons that seemed legitimate at the time.

Let me get this out of the way right now: I do not subscribe to the notion that music was better “back in the day.” In fact, I think 2011 has been an amazing year for music. Rather, I’ve been processing a lot of signifiers from my youth, and a surprising number hold up (Star Trek, Mystery Science Theater 3000, Sonic the Hedgehog circa the Genesis years). This does not seem to carry over to music, or at least youth culture-centric music. In the mid-’90s, I was keen on The Beatles and Tom Petty. Those kinds of acts are always going to be relevant to somebody. But my appreciation of pop acts like TLC and Boyz II Men has not stayed with me post-1996.

I bought Spice Girls’ Greatest Hits for one specific reason: I had a lot of fun spinning Spiceworld while playing Jet Moto for Playstation. “Spice Up Your Life” was my jam. While I do not usually dabble in guilty pleasures (aside from maybe Whitesnake. Different story), I thought on and off for the last few months that maybe revisiting the band would be worthwhile. I’m sure underground comics legend Peter Bagge helped; I’ve been reading his Yeah! collection lately, and it’s a satire/homage to the teen pop star-making machine.

I’ll say this for the Spice Girls. A couple of their songs are legitimately catchy and fun (“Wannabe,” “Spice Up Your Life”). But the bulk of the collection is given over to indistinct pop songs that feel like they’re from another era, which they are. Compared to current mainstream pop, these tunes are too slow and empty. What I learned is that some things need to stay in the past. In short, this might have been a bad purchase.

Also there’s a lot of shame involved. Never forget the shame.

Still, I was surprised by the diversity of styles the Girls remolded, from disco to Motown soul to Latin to rave. I don’t mean to overintellectualize the whole thing (eh, too late), but these songs aren’t completely without merit. That said, I think I need to stop going down these stupid avenues where I obsess over something I don’t even actually enjoy. But if you wanna know the components of a good Spice Girls song, here you go: Scary raps the verses. Sporty gets a solo on the last chorus. Baby and Sexy sound a little flat but get to look hot in the video. I never know when Posh is singing. Now go read my Tombs review so I can feel some semblance of credibility.

Tombs - 'Path of Totality'

Brooklyn sludge/post-metal act Tombs has emerged as a band that consistently betters itself, and thankfully so. While I was intrigued by the group’s seminal effort Winterhours, I found myself still slightly underwhelmed by the effort. What I realize now is that Tombs are essentially a meeting point of metal subgenres, but at the time I could only compare them to other bands. Baroness was harder. Jesu was more droning. My Bloody Valentine was louder.

But what they set out to do on Winterhours, and more successfully accomplish on their new album Path of Totality, was combine these elements. The result is a record that combines thrash, death, and sludge metal with a dash of shoegaze into something that’ll probably warrant a name of its own one day. Path is heavy as fuck for sure, but certain sections

In his book This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, Daniel J. Levitin argued, among other things, that genres have way more in common that fans are willing to admit, provided you actually look for the connections. In Tombs case, while they showcase enough elements of hipster metal, they should certainly still appeal to the hardened metalhead.

The record opens with a whole lot of dissonance on “Black Hole of Summer;” the song proper doesn’t begin until a minute in. Up until that point, it’s all cymbals and guitar noise. Then the Cookie Monster vocals kick in. Indeed, Tombs nearly approach metal’s easiest points to satire, from the gruff vox to the absurd, nightmarish lyrics. But they add so much texture that these things become strengths. This would be a different band altogether if it had cleaner singing, and honestly, the lyrics aren’t too important in this kind of music.

From the opener on, Path never lets up, but it does shift genres. Sometimes it gets thrasier (“To Cross the Land”), sometimes it gets sludgier (“Cold Dark Eyes”), and sometimes it even echos Bauhaus (“Passageways”) for shits and/or giggles. But the record still forms a cohesive whole. Tombs has finally reached what it set out to do; hopefully even better things are waiting in the not too distant future.

Vinyl Vednesday 6/8/2011

[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 installment comes from the illustrious Nate Adams, editor for and lead singer of Science Club. E-mail with your own big finds!]

Mexicans With Guns’s Highway to Hell (Stones Throw, 2011) on red, Bon Iver’s Blood Bank (Jagjaguwar, 2009) on Black and Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Roc-a-Fella, 2010) on black.

Places of Purchase:
Both Kanye West and Mexicans With Guns were purchased through the Internet (from and the Stones Throw store, respectively), while Bon Iver was purchased in person at Main Street Music in Manayunk. True story: the clerk I bought the record from had accused me a few weeks prior of making a list of records to go home and download when I was just making a list so I would know what I wanted to come back for when I had the money. The record was somewhat of a revenge purchase, my way of saying to the clerk “I am of your cloth, but I am not like you, for I expect the best from my fellow man while you only anticipate the worst. Shame on you and the life of darkness you’ve created for yourself.”

Thoughts: Mexicans with Guns is an emerging dub-step / techno dude who I do not know that much about. While the record’s b-side, “La Guitarra,” is a pleasant-enough song that suggests that the group has the potential to be a more accessible Matmos or Secret Mommy, I bought the record for “Highway to Hell,” which is my favorite rap song of the year. Bun B and Freddy Gibbs trade verses on this thugged-out funeral durge and the world-weary gangster delivery the rapper use rival their best work. Goddamn, I love “Highway to Hell.”

I heard “Blood Bank” on the internet joke program Breakfast at Sulimay’s and loved it immediately. I don’t think much of “For Emma, Forever Ago” and “Blood Bank” is still my favorite song the dude has done, but Blood Bank suggests there might be more to Bon Iver than I originally estimated. The best example of this is “Woods,” which sounds kind of like that gal from Imogen Heap, but way, WAY better. So good, in fact that Kanye West used it as a sample for the last proper track on his instant classic…

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Hearing “Woods” in its original setting gives me a newfound respect for Bon Iver, but it also cements my love of West, who has time and again proven himself to have an impeccable ear for samples and beats. Fantasy is both not nearly as crazy and exactly as crazy as people say: it finds West exploring the idea of celebrity and how it impacts relationships, the concept of what being a “rapper” really means and seems to expel the demons he began addressing with the death of his mother and the release of 808s and Heartbreaks. More than that, however, it finds West getting the most from his collaborators, be they Bon Iver or Rick Ross, who almost redeemed an entire career of mediocrity with his verse on “Devil in a Red Dress.”

[Ed: Nate also included this video for your viewing pleasure.]

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

myPod: De

[myPod is an attempt to edit down my CD collection as I import my music on to my brand new 160 GB iPod.]

Death Cab for Cutie

I always forget how much I love Death Cab for Cutie on account of A) the members always come off like jackasses in interviews and B) their fans are wieners. But man can they write catchy indie rock tunes. It’s weird thinking that We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes came out 11 years ago. It’s even weirder realizing that Death Cab has become my generation’s R.E.M.; a reliable indie rock band that broke through the major label barrier without compromising its integrity.

While I’m sure others would disagree, I think DCFC got better with each record, from the propulsive, almost dance-oriented drone of The Photo Album to the more expansive rock of Transatlanticism to the overripe melodies of Plans. Narrow Stairs dipped slightly in its attempt to show off some muscle, but only slightly. Frontman Ben Gibbard preserves a knack for rich songwriting – emotionally, pictorially – throughout. The EPs are strong too, but the full-lengths are where it’s at.

Verdict: Keep.


Christian hardcore featuring Alan Popoli (ex-Prevail) on vox. So blistering, yet so respectful. The Deliverance EP gets a little scary-hobo-ranty on “Salvaged (Ezekiel 36),” but otherwise it’s all good.

Verdict: Keep.

The Decemberists

Oh man. I never listen to The Decemberists. I mean, I respect their literate prog-folk-rock style. I like them enough when they’re on, and my band, Science Club, is probably going to cover “The Rake’s Song” in the future, but I never seem to put them on. I do the same thing to Death Cab for Cutie, but I can only keep so many albums I rarely play. Sorry guys.

Verdict: Sell.


For a while, Deftones were a band out of time. Equally inspired by metal/post-hardcore and ’80s new wave/goth, the band’s debut, Adrenaline, came out in 1995, during the beginning of grunge’s long, sad decline. Then they got lumped in with the nu-metal likes of Korn and Limp Bizkit, even though all they wanted to do was play with Far and Quicksand. In a sense, Deftones are to nu-metal what Thursday became for screamo – they didn’t deserve the derided genre tag, but they’re the exception that proves the rule. Around the Fur and White Pony were brilliant bursts of ethereal metal – like Jesu with balls. White Pony was always my favorite Deftones record; I love the drums on “Digital Bath” and “Change (In the House of Flies.” Both tunes find a great middle line between the aggressive and the ambient. Deftones is a close second for me, though. “Minerva” packs a huge chorus and a massive booming bass line. Again, anytime Deftones play in cut-time, I listen. The grooves are too good to ignore. While Deftones feels at times like a reaction to scream, it also delivers some of the band’s quietest moments as well.

From there the group slowed down a little. A nifty B-sides collection of covers appeared in 2005. I didn’t bother with Saturday Night Wrist; I wasn’t keen on the sterile production. Diamond Eyes won me back over, though. Recorded after bassist Chi Cheng was left in a coma from a car accident, the group plays with renewed figure in tribute, with assistance from ex-Quicksand bassist Sergio Vega. Like I said, all the guys wanted to do was play with their friends.

Deftones fill a nice niche for me. In the last couple years, I’ve really grown to love sludge metal, especially anything coming out of Savannah. At the same time, I love the swirling soundscapes of My Bloody Valentine and The Cure. Deftones embody both sides.

Verdict: Keep, although I’m going to sell off my “Back to School (Mini-Maggot)” Japanese EPK. “Back to School” is the closest Deftones came to actually playing nu-metal, and it’s kind of an embarrassing song to listen to now that I’m 25. The live tracks that accompany it are merely OK.

Depeche Mode

Ah, Depeche Mode. They form the goth triumvirate, along with The Cure and The Smiths (with The Jesus & Mary Chain on the sidelines. Actually wait, no, I left out Siouxsie & The Banshees. This metaphor is going terribly…). ANYWAY, Depeche Mode wrote some stellar synth-pop in the ’80s. Then they just kept making records.

But for a while, DM was nifty keen. It took them a while to achieve artistic success, though, which is why I prefer to summarize their early years with Catching Up With Depeche Mode, a singles collection. Some of the material is embarrassing (“The Meaning of Love,” “Love in Itself”), but there are also some neat early synthesizer numbers (“Dreaming of Me”). The band didn’t hit its stride until Some Great Reward though. That’s when Depeche Mode struck upon a songwriting formula that could alternate from the sexual (“Master and Servant”) to the socio-political (“People are People,” “Blasphemy”) to the romantic (“Somebody”) without sacrificing melody. At this point, the group became the synth-pop version of U2. The lyrics could get cheesy at times – “People are People” is so stupid, but Martin Gore’s hook is so huge – but occasionally the group came up with a cool idea. “Blasphemous Rumors” is a massively nihilistic number with a hooky chorus, for example. Black Celebration upped the ante on both the gothic melodrama and the political screeds: “New Dress” juxtaposes real world problems with the Western world’s obsession with celebrity. As celebrities become less and less known for actually doing things, “New Dress” becomes more and more prescient. Oh yeah, and Black Celebration has “A Question of Time.” That song rules.

Part of me is sad that Depeche Mode dropped the political stances near the end of the ’80s, but then again, their two best albums, Music For the Masses and Violator, were their least political. Just a bunch of sexy, dirty songs like “Never Let Me Down Again,” “Strangelove,” and “Enjoy the Silence.”

After 1990’s Violator, Depeche Mode probably should have broken up. Songs of Faith and Devotion attempted to move towards live rock instrumentation as a means of dealing with grunge, but it was just embarrassing, and things went poorly from then on until 2009’s Sounds of the Universe. That record is a late period comeback that happens to sound exactly like Depeche Mode’s ’80s heyday. While it’s a little too long (I’d cut Martin Gore’s “Jezebel” for one; Gore wrote some great songs about sex, but this one just drags)s, it’s still great to hear David Gahan’s deep voice bellow over electronic beats again.

Verdict: Keep.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Tigermilks - 'We Don't Stand a Chance'

Twee may not be tru punx, but don’t tell that to the Tigermilks. The duo of Mitch Clem (bass/vox) and Jeoaf Johnson (guitar/drums) recorded a session of Belle & Sebastian covers in the great pop-punk tradition back in 2007. Four years later, the seven-inch, dubbed We Don’t Stand a Chance, is finally seeing release, thankfully, on Facepalm Records.

The blue ‘n’ white A side opens with a Fat Wreck-style take on “Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying,” from If You’re Feeling Sinister, that manages to improve on the original. Clem nails the chorus hard and nearly sells the idea of toughening up Belle & Sebastian’s sound with this take alone. “She’s Losin’ It,” from Tigermilk, is a little looser and more straightforward. The background “bop” vocals are a little sloppy but they complement the arrangement.

Side B pulls another round of tracks from Sinister and Tigermilk. “My Wandering Days are Over” and “Judy and the Dream of Horses” are both a little more refined compared to “She’s Losin’ It” while still maintaining some No Idea-esque grit. Basically, these tunes recall just about any band that’s ever played The Fest, only with Stuart Murdoch’s lyrics. Weirdly, these tunes translate awfully well to pop-punk, and not even in an ironic Punk Goes Rap or Indie or Whatever the Kids Like way. It’s legitimately good and not a novelty (Well, not completely anyway). Pop-punk consists of nasal vocals, distorted guitars and songs about failure. The Tigermilks have that down and draw inspiration from an unlikely source, proving that the distance between twee and pop-punk isn’t as great as some may pretend (Looking at you, Pains of Being Pure at Heart).

Vinyl Vednesday 6/1/2011

[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. In celebration of punk rock cartoonist Mitch Clem’s new comic Turnstile Comix AND his new seven-inch with his band The Tigermilks, this week’s installment discusses three bands he introduced to me. E-mail with your own big finds!]

Records: Discount’s Crash Diagnostic (2000) on clear, Jawbreaker’s Bivouac (1992) on black, and The Mountain Goats’ The Coroner’s Gambit (2000) on white.

Place of Purchase: eBay. Here’s the funny thing about bidding: You never know how it’s going to work out. I’ve overpaid for records, the most expensive being a Joe Strummer bootleg that went into triple digits, but I feel like I underpaid for all three of these. I guess the economy doesn’t lend itself to record shopping these days, especially when all three albums are available on compact disc. PISHAW.

Thoughts: Discount was already caput when Nothing Nice to Say started talking about them, and by “them,” I mean Allison Mosshart. Before The Kills blew up, Mosshart was known for Discount’s introspective pop-punk tunes bordering on emo. Crash Diagnostic marked a slight shift away from pop-punk towards something a little more instrospective. At the time it was “more emo;” today it would probably be called more indie rock, as the band started to take on some of Sleater-Kinney’s characteristics by this juncture. It’s still mighty fine though; “Broken to Blue” is my jam.

While I’m sure it would have happened at some point in high school, Clem’s comic about Jawbreaker introduced me to one of my favorite bands (and songwriters) of all time. As I get older, I keep revisiting Blake Schwarzenbach’s discography and finding new things to love. Jets to Brazil definitely sounds better in my twenties. Jawbreaker hasn’t aged much at all, although I’ve started gravitating towards the songs for different reasons. In high school, I was about the lyrics. Now I’m more obsessed with the moods and band dynamics. Jawbreaker was such a great power trio, and I love hearing what each player brings. Bivouac is probably Jawbreaker’s loudest album. Unfun and 24 Hour Revenge Therapy are more grounded in pop-punk, and Dear You has this almost shoegaze-like quality to the guitars. But Bivouac has the throatiest yells, the most thunderous low end, and the rawest guitar tone. That it could still pack in a love song as great as “Chesterfield King” is a bonus. The bassline on “Big” has always been a highlight for me. Lately, though, I’ve taken to yelling “Bivouac!” to myself when I’m bored/tired at work.

I don’t think Clem has done a Mountain Goats strip to date (not tru punx, although TMG is gonna cover Jawbreaker’s “Boxcar” soon for A.V. Undercover), but he used to post these compilations called “Liquid Paper” on his site. One of them featured “Baboon,” from TMG’s seminal lo-fi masterpiece The Coroner’s Gambit. That record kicked off a string of artistic and commercial successes for TMG, as each album found a larger and larger audience in the new millennium. I was subsisting on a diet of pop-punk and Tool at the time, so “Baboon,” which is just such a bitter divorce song [Sample lyric: “I’d be grateful my children aren’t here to see this / If you’d ever seen fit to give me children.”], came on like a shock. But I was intrigued and, after writing an e-mail to Clem, followed his suggestion to pick up All Hail West Texas. Coroner’s Gambit followed soon after.