Featured, Music

Feeling Unlucky Punk

The following article originally ran on Sound the Sirens Magazine back in July of 2003. We are re-running the piece and have edited it to include what we didn’t have back then; YouTube clips of some of our favourite songs from some of our favourite artists long gone. Comments and additions made in 2013 are italicized and appended with (BH, 2013).

We could sit here all day and discuss the ethos behind the entire ‘punk’ mantra; in the end inspecting the spiralling consequences of the mainstream upsurge that ultimately peaked in 1994. Three years after the breakout year, dubbed by many as “the year punk broke” (1991), the resurgence of the punk subculture back into the mainstream scope was in significant contrast to the 70’s and early 80’s – there was now widespread acceptance. An extension of the earlier indie rock signing spree, 1994 was the pinnacle, underscored by two California bands that saw their popularity rocket into previously unfamiliar extremes. The thoughts behind the entire montage are far too great to tackle in mere paragraphs.

Alas, the ill-effects transform itself from one generation to another, encapsulated in the waves of popularity that crest during those times. We will instead section the years 1994 to 1996 as a small example of these fleeting transitions and circle a mere 6 records that the majors released; all of which were decent in many ways, but undoubtedly lacked the mega-sale attraction their financiers had hoped for.

06. Jawbox – Jawbox
(Atlantic, July 1996)

Possibly the result of the early 90’s indie surge rather than the punk explosion, they outlived many of their counterparts and managed to get through two records for Atlantic. Humble beginnings on Maximum Rock N’ Roll compilations and their distinctly crunchy, yet catchy musical leanings does them plenty to mention their final major label release among these few. The record received little support from their label, and the band was eventually dropped a year later. Jawbox officially wrapped it up in April 1997 after the departure of drummer Zach Barocas. Members of the band are the founders of indie label DeSoto, who went on the release records by Burning Airlines and The Dismemberment Plan.

Perhaps the most “un-90s punk” of the bunch, I picked Jawbox because to me they shared a similar genesis to that of Jawbreaker. Really great indie following, strong ability to make great sounding records that just didn’t translate to the mainstream conscience. (BH, 2013)

 

05. Hog – Nothing Sacred
(Geffen, March 1996)

Fueled by front man Kirk Miller’s monstrous anthemic handiwork and the band’s love for melody, Nothing Sacred was a comparatively fun, if not, overly simplistic record that relied far too heavily on its alternative rock influences. Miller’s raspy voice rang clear in “Shut Down” and “Walls”, providing guidance for the band’s heavily distorted appeal. Perhaps in an attempt to sustain a level of ingenuity, they combined honky-tonk fragments with aggressive punk riffage in “Don’t Know Why”; coming off as far too southern and hackneyed. There was no love from the public either, as stints on the Black Sheep soundtrack and limited air play did little to bolster the band’s success. Nothing Sacred was the band’s only offering.

I wore out my tape copy of Hog’s Nothing Sacred it was so good. The title track is fantastic in particular, but there are so many great songs on this album, like the aforementioned “Walls” and “Not Perfect”. If you ever come across this album somewhere in a record shop and you like loud guitars, melodic punk, and some attitude, don’t hesitate to spend the money for it. (BH, 2013)

 

04. Waterdog – Waterdog
(Atlantic, October 1995)

Atlantic’s pop punk flag carriers depended greatly on Green Day’s popularity to carry over. This self titled disc was surprisingly accessible (bolstered by radio ready tracks “Can’t Let Go” and “Jessica”) but ultimately lacked distinctive thump in their sociable song topics. At times feeling aimless, their awkward ambling into Built to Spill territory proved a little complicated for the recently converted masses. Unlike the Berkeley trio’s unabashed, juvenile visage, Waterdog relied on slightly more cultured lyrics and less simplistic chords. The effect today would be similar to an attempt at getting Andrew W.K fans to read; it’s just not going to happen. Members of the band are still active in the business today, some currently spend time in (ironically enough) Mike Dirnt’s project The Frustrators.

This album was not the best produced, but had some great songs- most notably the closer and the track below “Jessica”. I still like listening to this song today. Looking back, I’d probably take back my opinion about this album being “too complicated” for the recently converted masses. And I don’t think this album lacked thump, just came across on the low end of the production spectrum. But I do think Andrew W.K. fans are still stupid. (BH, 2013)

 

03. Samiam – Clumsy
(Atlantic, August 1994)

Amongst their respective discography, Samiam’s Clumsy can easily go unnoticed. Their foray into the majors did not end here but unlike some of their kind, Samiam lasted through all the troubles and in one form or another, are still around today. Their creative blend of chunky pop punk components with more rock oriented mechanisms resulted in their fiery guitar powered focus. Keen on quality vocal delivery and constantly trying to rework their musical progression, Samiam are front runners of pop punk/rock with definitive style and substance. Sergie Loobkoff of the band has also spent time in Knapsack and is currently making the rounds in Solea.

When I wrote this piece, Samiam had been dormant for a few years and it wasn’t certain they would release anything else. However, they’ve been fairly active since, releasing two albums Whatever’s Got You Down (2006) and Trips (2011). This album was the only one they ever did for Atlantic. I had a chat with Sergie Loobkoff about Solea around this time, may have to dig that article out and republish soon. (BH, 2013)

 

02. Jawbreaker – Dear You
(Geffen, September 1995)

Pulled from shelves just months after its release, Dear You is a painful reminder of the fickleness that saturates the major label landscape. Far more restrained than their previous work, Jawbreaker’s final release is as mysterious as it is admired; a defining example of bad things happening to good bands. Almost completely disappearing from North American retail stores (and most definitely from the Geffen catalogue), it has been the scourge of punk record collectors who have been unsuccessful at securing a copy. Featuring the classic Jawbreaker track “Jet Black”, Dear You is nearing its much anticipated re-release. Blake Schwarzenbach bides his time in Jets to Brazil.

Not such a lost commodity any more since its reissue. However, it’s still a fascinating example of how the majors reached deep into the underground to try and replicate Green Day’s success anyway they could. Dear You was a real step away from previous Jawbreaker material and the commercial results were unfortunate. Blake Schwarzenbach is currently in Forgetters(BH, 2013)

 

01. Klover – Feel Lucky Punk
(Mercury/Polygram, August 1995)

Featuring members of legendary Boston hardcore outfit Gang Green, Klover epitomized all that was the spirit of a misunderstood generation. Leering like the Buzzcocks, influential like the Jam and embodying the youthful enthusiasm of early Social Distortion, Feel Lucky Punk was an immensely competent release. Confidently portraying ideas of rebellion, social rejection and an underlying cause for unity, it was a record that exuded all that was great of the punk movement. Strengthened by the “Basket Case”-like “Our Way”, the choral “Beginning to End” and the truly wonderful cover of the Real Kids’ “All Kindsa Girls”, Feel Lucky Punk is a real gem that deserved far more than it received. Klover disbanded in early 1996.

If there was ever an album so commercially ready to be big, it was this one. Mercury Records didn’t do anything for the band, and the songs here were relegated to used bins in Tower Records all around the world. Too bad because there is so much good material on here. Their cover of “All Kindsa Girls” is still one of the best covers you’ll hear. However, it is the opening track “Our Way” that really sets the tone for the album and remains one of the best things not to have been huge. (BH, 2013)

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