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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Album Reviews, Music

Review: Face to Face – Three Chords And a Half Truth

It’s been a pretty fascinating ride for Victorville punk rockers Face to Face. The band’s trademark melodic punk rock took them from the small California town to the then heights of endless KROQ rotation and MTV’s Jon Stewart Show. They rode their ability to turn melodic punk into a near art form, and unlike their predecessors Bad Religion and their kind, Trever Keith’s song writing leaned more on his emotive lyricism than say political anarchy. His heart was firmly on his sleeve and through songs like “I Want”, “Don’t Turn Away” and “Disconnected”, Face to Face became the preeminent force behind emotionally charged melodic punk that managed to sway clear of the trappings of what eventuated into “emo”. Yet, while they remained on the forefront of this genre, they’ve never really had the stability that comes with finding a long term recording home. Face to Face has been through more record labels than the number of albums they’ve released. They’ve had the goods to break into the mainstream (1996’s Face to Face was as big of a rock album as you were ever going to get without them sounding like Green Day) but have never really quite reached the levels they seemingly wanted to achieve. But through it all, the one thing that has remained consistent is the band’s ability to write great songs in whatever variation of punk/rock they’ve conceived.

Their latest, Three Chords and a Half Truth, finds the band on Rise Records (their 9th), deviating away from the breakneck melodic punk rock their pedigree was built on for a more rockabilly, rock n’ roll twist. And while their post-hiatus album (2011’s Laugh Now, Laugh Later) was a more by-the-numbers affair, Three Chords… breaks away from them into Social Distortion territory with touches of The Clash. It’s clear then, that Keith and company aren’t interested in writing another Don’t Turn Away and instead, ease into an album that could have easily been the follow up to How To Ruin Everything. There are more mid tempo pieces, more blues influences, and more foot-tapping melodies than anything they’ve written before. From the stomping opening of “123 Drop” to the horn-section (yes) infused “Welcome Back to Nothing”, Three Chords… will surely polarize fans expecting something familiar.

They have of course, done something like this before. After releasing their A&M Records debut in 1996, they went and released Ignorance is Bliss, a polarizing record if there were ever one. Three Chords probably isn’t as divisive as Ignorance, but songs like the 50’s swing influenced “Marked Man” and the rockabilly tinged “First Step, Misstep” are actually more contrasting (musically) to “Disconnected” than, say, “Burden” or “Everyone Hates a Know-it-all”. They do delve back into the old playbook once or twice, “Smokestacks and Skyscrapers  is a fantastic melody-driven song that could easily fit next to anything on Big Choice. While singles “Right As Rain” and “Bright Lights Go Down” owe more to their earlier material or at the very least, music from their Vagrant-era.

The most telling aspect of Three Chords is how comfortable they sound with their new material. There was a certain awkwardness to Ignorance Is Bliss (for the record, I do really like that album), and their please-the-fans follow-up Reactionary was even worse. But here, they sound complete; like natural progression. So perhaps the band, having long mastered the style in which they became synonymous for, have found the next logical evolution of their craft. It isn’t as raw as a Social Distortion record, not so whiskey-soaked and down trodden, but there is a real belief here. And while older fans will probably be a little disappointed by its lack of pace, the album is a definite step forward. (Rise Records)

 

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Music

Another new old Green Day Song

Following on from yesterday’s post about Green Day playing a new old song, punknews.org is reporting that another new old song has surfaced. This time, the song “Olivia,” performed by Billie Joe acoustic at the same Denver show. You can see this video below. The song isn’t very good.

It would appear that the Green Day news machine is in full cycle with all this talk about the upcoming live album- and prospects of that “long lost” post-Warning album surfacing in some form or another. In a perfect world, this live album would never see the light of day and instead, we’d all get the album they originally wrote after Warning.

It is almost as if the decision to have this album “stolen” changed the career path of the band- propelling them once again to stratospheric heights of global fame and recognition. It’s like in Back to the Future II where Marty comes back to a parallel 1985 and everything is as close to a living hell as possible. Someone gave Green Day a future almanac and they wrote a smash record. And now everyone who really, really, really liked Smoothed Out Slappy Hours is living in that hell.

“Olivia”

Here is Green Day performing “Going to Pasalacqua” back in 1990 at some high school. Another clip from “the good old days”

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Music

New old Green Day song

At a recent Denver stop on their current World Tour, Green Day frontman Billie Joe revealed that the band were recording the set for a possible live release. Among the thirty-five (35!!) tracks on show that evening, a “new” Green Day song surfaced. Titled “Cigarettes & Valentines”, the song is actually a long lost track originally part of the scrapped post-Warning album of the same name. Story goes is that Green Day had an album ready to go as a follow-up to Warning, but the tapes were reportedly stolen and the whole session scrapped. Sounds fishy indeed. The band would later record a new album that would become the multi-platinum selling American Idiot.

Video of “Cigarettes & Valentines” can be seen below. Like something from Nimrod, it’s a handy reminder of Green Day’s once glorious repertoire. And since we’re here, below are two older videos of Green Day live- from 1991 and 1994 respectively. Since 2005, this period in the Green Day history books have come to be known as “the good old days.”

“Cigarettes & Valentines”

“Paper Lanterns”

“Christie Road”

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Podcast

Punk Rock Academy Fight Songs

Where do you start when it comes to the music and bands that would ultimately define you? How do you compress a lifetime’s worth into an hour? You can’t, but we tried. The punk explosion of the mid-90’s played in important part in many a suburban teenager’s life- and its long serving effects are still being felt today. While some will discredit the movement for homogenizing a previously (and notoriously) underground element, one can also see its positive influence on the world.

Speaking personally, without it, I would have never found the vast and incredibly life-altering artistic appeal of a scene buried deep beneath the surface. Whether it was hardcore, post-hardcore, indie, or punk in its earlier forms, bands like Green Day and Offspring were the gateways to enlightenment, activism, and self-reliance. For an hour, we tried to reminisce and share some of the bands that made it big during this time period, bands that went on to influence millions of listeners around the world. We also made time to remember some of those who were fueled by the mega label’s who sought to cash in on this trend, and ultimately sank some promising bands. We spun tracks by the previously mentioned, Rancid, No Use For a Name, Klover, Jawbreaker, Millencolin, and MxPx to name some.

To this day, these songs still resonate.

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Pinhead Gunpowder reunite for shows

Pinhead GunpowderLong serving, but occasionally active, punk rockers Pinhead Gunpowder have announced two reunion shows for this coming February. Formed in the early 90’s but zine guru Aaron Cometbus, the band features Cometbus on skins, Jason White, Bill Schneider, and Billie Joe Armstrong.

The band’s discography is peppered with a host of small releases- 7″s, EPs- but only one full length album; 1997’s terrific Goodbye Ellston Avenue.

The two reunion shows announced are Continue reading

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Album Reviews

Review: Green Day – American Idiot

It’s been a good ten or so years for Green Day. Their career path since the release of the multi-platinum selling Dookie boasts the type of longevity comparable to some of music’s most able of servants. And the reason why perhaps Green Day have gone with the ups and downs relatively unscathed is their seeming reluctance to find a formula to their success. Unlike their counterparts of the 1994 explosion, they have never once written a song reliant on a pathetic suburban cliché stretched thin over the course of several albums. And while the Offspring seems to have fallen by the wayside, this Berkeley-bred trio continues to challenge not only their own limits, but test those of their listeners (some of who have been on the journey since the early days when Billie Joe and company were still named Sweet Children).

There have of course, been a few bumps and bruises along the way. The difficulties of writing a successful follow-up to a massive album is one well documented, and some may be quick to point to 1995’s Insomniac as rushed work; heavy on the noise, a few choice melodies, and little discernible ingenuity of any kind. But no matter how comparatively “unsuccessful” that album was standing next to its predecessor, there is no doubt that Green Day never wanted to write a “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy).” Thank God. And instead of looking to recapture previous album sales, they went away after an exhaustive schedule in 1996 to recoup and inevitably, write a bunch of songs that would begin their solidification as premiere artists rather than one-trick ponies and/or gimmick hounds. What subsequently followed were albums that made clear their intentions of musical growth; experimenting with styles (from “Hitchin’ a Ride,” to “Time Of Your Life” to what would make up the majority of their well conceived Warning album) while never once forgetting their principal means to success.

And so four years on from Warning comes American Idiot, their “punk rock opera;” and as the description suggests, their most elaborate, ambitious, and concentrated effort to date. Easily surpassing Warning on almost all accounts, this lavish production is one of introspection, critical deconstruction, and a dose of life’s weary tales that come across as urgent as it does potent. From the brash commentary of “American Idiot” and the breakneck speeds of “St. Jimmy” (packed to the brim with Billie Joe’s trademark vocal sneer), to the marathon medley of “Jesus of Suburbia” (or as listed early on, read: “Jesus Of Suburbia: City Of The Damned / I Don’t Care / Dearly Beloved / Tales Of Another Broken Home / Jesus Of Suburbia” and clocking in at nearly ten minutes), its clear that Green Day show no reluctance in stepping forward to previously uncharted territory. Even though the medleys (yes, there’s two, both topping nine minutes) are the very antithesis of the punk rock norm (tested several years ago by NOFX’s The Decline); they are both grandly visualized (only at times can they both feel rather overdrawn- due prominently to the stretched nature of their disposition), and provide the album with its most challenging efforts.

Nevertheless, the eleven other numbers on here are simply put; bloody brilliant. A selection of crème de la crèmes boasting the kind of wisdom that reminds listeners of mainstream punk’s less maligned qualities- that punk on the radio can be without the shrill bellyaching of emo diarists (the reserved reflective nature of “Wake Me Up When September Ends” and the mournful lament of “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”), without the alienating mutinies of judgmental overthrow (the very Clash sounding “Holiday”), and without the glossy sheen of rockstar wannabes. It’s rewarding to note that the album possesses plenty of concurrent themes and characters that weave in and out of the songs. And like any great production, it transpires with the sort of fluidity and grace associated with the very operatic theme suggested by American Idiot’s description.

To pluck an apex point of the album, one need not venture any further than “Give Me Novacaine.” An authoritative track that comes off as a cross between “Macy’s Day Parade” and “Brain Stew” with brief moments that can perhaps be best depicted as a “punk rock luau.” It’s just another in the many choice moments reflective of Green Day’s perceptive understanding of their career; that growth and strong roots go hand in hand. And unlike the Good Charlottes of the world and/or the recent misguided breaking-out-of-cocoons of the Blink-182s, Green Day have never once forgotten about either of them. It feels like forever, but mainstream punk music can finally fly their flag with a little dignity again. (Reprise)

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