Archive for punk

The Distillers – Sing Sing Death House (2002)

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The Distillers were described to me as a band that plays like Rancid with a girl that sings like Courtney Love. So obviously I was intrigued. And the description was delightfully accurate. The likeness to Rancid probably has something to do with the fact that at the time this album was released, the singer, Brody, was married to Tim Armstrong. And this does not sound incredibly feminist of me, but I have my suspicions that although she is credited with all of the songwriting, he probably had a hand in it. Either way, it’s for the best. Sing Sing Death House is a great album.

The album is punk at its simplest. Fast, loud, crashing cymbals, intricate bass lines (actually, the bass on this album really stands out, ringing clear and driving the songs), and of course, angry lyrics peppered with loads of swear words. I totally love when chicks swear in music.

Sick of it All kicks off strong and includes the A+ lyric, “I’m anorex cuz I won’t fucking eat.” I Am Revenant starts slow, but gets singalong-able towards the middle with cheer-esque chorus. The Young Crazed Peeling has fun lyrics, but is not the most interesting song musically. Bullet and the Bullseye has great shouting backup vocals. But City of Angels is the album’s single, and in this case I agree that it is clearly the best, most representative song. There is a completely appropriate use of cowbell (more cowbell!) and kind of an underlying flute behind the chorus. Very good for shouting along with the top down. And I love the way Brody’s voice cracks during it. The rest of the album kinda plugs along after that – not bad, but not remarkable – until Lordy Lordy. I think this song is super fun, and feels very punk in its sincerity. A great way to close the album.

Sing Sing Death House is a great summer album. Not a big think type album, but not candy coated boringness, either. I particularly enjoy listening on my ipod by the pool while reading trashy magazines. I recommend it.

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Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown (2009)

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At the age of 15, I was pretty sure I was the biggest fan Green Day would ever have. Listened to them non-stop, wore out the vhs of the recorded woodstock mudfight, wrote out the lyrics on my school notebooks’ tabbed folders, and even made my own punk flower kerplunk! shirt. It was the hysteria that blessedly passed me by when all my friends went NKOTB-crazy, and it was my gateway into punk rock and a lifestyle I’ll always be grateful for.

So, it’s pretty awesome that nearly 15 years later I can say I made a solid emotional investment in these boys. 21st Century Breakdown is an ambitious album. Not only another concept album, but another rock opera. Arguably a more authentic rock opera than American Idiot, with three distinct acts and songs that tell the story better than most broadway musicals. But in spite of the high-concept, it’s still a Green Day album through and through, with irony, high-jinx, and true blue punk.

The title track opens well and I envision it as probably the third single (sidenote, my one complaint about Green Day is the number of singles that get squeaked out of every album, resulting in overexposure, but I guess it’s a byproduct of their popularity). Know Your Enemy is probably the right opening single. But Viva La Gloria sold me on the album. Beautiful and wistful, but rock-y not sappy. The kind of song that just brings me joy. Last Night on Earth brings to mind Good Riddance but is a little less user-friendly, which I prefer. Peacemaker is the best song on the album, witty and super-fun to listen to, mixing different styles with their signature sound. 21 Guns is also a ballad-type song, but it’s respectful and mature and reminds me a lot of Psychotica’s Soldier of War (which makes me smile since I know Billy Joe and Pat are friends, I feel like I’m in on a secret).

The whole album is fantastic, obviously intended to be listened to from start to finish, but that doesn’t mean that it needs to be. The songs stand well on their own and can probably be inserted into playlists easily. But it is very nice to sit and listen to the whole thing. I imagine someday it could even be staged, as is. Are you listening Off Broadway?

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The Butchies – 3 (2001)

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I had heard about the Butchies long before I actually heard them and didn’t really get around to buying an album because I was in college and not spending a whole bunch of money on albums at the time. Anyway, this worked out in my favor because a friend invited me to go to their show at the Ottobar and I got a totally amazing live performance as my first exposure to The Butchies and I’ve been totally enamored of them since.

So let’s get this out of the way – yes, they are a band of butch lesbians. And that’s not schtick or something they can rest on in lieu of musical talent. Because these are about the most talented musicians I’ve seen. And their sound is in no way genre-cast of other gay chicks. Compare them to Indigo Girls and KD Lang at your own risk. I call them punk, but others have disagreed with me. Maybe mellow punk?

As I said, my first exposure was live, and to this day it was the most crowded I have ever seen Ottobar, and the best part was almost the entire place was bad-ass women being cool to each other the whole time. The band had an incredible energy and interacted with the crowd the whole time. And while all members totally rocked out, the drummer, Melissa York was freaking phenomenal. I sort of fell in love with her when she jumped on top of her stool, did some cool drum stick trick and then jumped back down and kicked right into a song. I later found out that she was the drummer behind the album version of Le Tigre’s Keep On Living and the drums made that song the best on the album.

As for the album I’m reviewing – 3 – I think it’s my favorite Butchies. It’s a little bit more mature than Are We Not Femme, but it’s still punky and fun. Anything Anthology is a great intro, but is nothing compared to Forget Your Calculus which comes next. Forget Your Calculus starts pretty and sweet and then rocks harder. And I think it has the best rendition of a “yeah yeah yeah” type moment. Huh Huh Hear is almost a couple songs in one with a lot of interesting style changes. Not Like Mine is more ballad-y with crazy lyrics like “her jawline is not like mine” and really beautiful harmonies. The Wedding Disaster is sad, but lovely – cathartic if you’re in the mood to cry. As is Junior High Lament, which has a really cool baseline and throaty lyrics.

In spite of its controversial gay association that bugs so many intolerant assholes, the music itself is generally so pretty and non-threatening that everyone who has heard it in my car has mentioned that they like it and asked about it. I could imagine it being a good album for when a party is winding-down. But I of course love it most alone in my car – especially late at night driving home from b-more.

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Deftones – White Pony (2000)

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We join the ‘tones in medias res for this album, having already built a style and fan-base with Adrenaline and Around the Fur but before exploring a new(ish) sound with their self-titled and Saturday Night Wrist. And again, I’m sure many die-hard fans would slam me for raving about an album that is not widely considered “the best” but this cd is amazing. It’s mature, layered, and extremely emotional while still being hard, crunchy, and metal enough to count.

It opens with Feiticeira, two distinct guitars playing similar riffs, crisp steady drums, and then Chino comes in with an almost crooning voice – occasionally reaching to a shout (not scream). A truly strong opening. Digital Bath slows it down a little bit with a haunting background melody, I would call it a kind-of ballad but I love it for the screechy feedback-y guitars about 3/4 of the way through. It’s short moments like that that will actually make me fall in love with a song. Elite is probably the most truly metal song on the album and is much faster than the rest – a good rage-out song. Rx Queen is fine; Street Carp, too – if only a little annoying with the “here’s my new address” lyrics, and Teenager is pretty. But the most incredible song on the album is Knife Party. It’s got a rhythm that’s almost anticipatory – the whole time it feels like it’s building to something. And the vocals are almost imperceptibly a quarter beat off but it has a really powerful effect. About mid-way through a female voice comes in with screaming/chanting/moaning and it is unbelievably cathartic to sing along – even if I can’t hit those really high notes. And it’s romantic as hell. Korea is a good song to catch your breath before the next truly great tune, Passenger, hits in. Now Passenger features Maynard James Keenan as a guest vocalist and he and Chino were meant for this duet. The lyrics are really detailed and poetic and the music is gorgeous. In fact, my first copy of this album scratched at right about this song and I had to immediately go out and buy a new copy because I couldn’t bear to have a blemish on such a beautiful song. Change (in the House of Flies) is the single and probably to this date the most popular song of theirs, but I really can’t stand it (at least the version on this album – an acoustic version on a different album is really much better). And Pink Maggit closes (most versions of) the album. It too is breathtaking – with a steady heartbeat throughout the entire slow, quiet, thoughtful tune. It can sometimes make me cry.

The thing that really bothers me about this album is that there are about a dozen (ok, four) official versions that Maverick released – all pretty much at the same time and all with different bonus songs or lack-thereof. Kinda makes it hard for obsessive fans to collect all their music – or at least expensive. For that reason, I choose not to comment on the bonus songs.

This is one of very few items that I have taken (or will take) the time to review literally on a song-by-song basis and part of that is probably because I pretty much fell in love to it and it all means a lot to me, but love or no love, it would still be a favorite album. I find myself constantly impressed with Deftones’ ability to sound special and unique among a genre that has a lot of soundalikes, and I credit that they refuse to really apply a genre to themselves. For example, when Chino refers to the band as punk, the rest of the guys ask him what the hell he’s talking about. And their entire catalog is fantastic, but White Pony is a standout achievement that is still a major player in my regular rotation. Good for all activities from car to work to gym to party. Crank that business.

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Fugazi – 13 Songs (1990)

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My relationship with Fugazi has had its up and downs. I originally liked the idea of them – local guys with an activist edge and the coolest (unendorsed) t-shirt of all times (This is Not a Fugazi T-shirt {incidentally, this is a t-shirt I have to have at some point, even if it needs to be made DIY}). So, anyway, in theory, big fan of Fugazi, but in actuality…. The real problem was over-saturation. One summer my primary mode of transportation had a constant running soundtrack of Fugazi Repeater and Sublime 40 Ounces to Freedom and it sort of ruined them both for me forever. And an unfortunate side effect of that experience was that I thought it meant I disliked all Fugazi.

Fast forward a few years to me having an iPod and my boyfriend’s (now husband’s) entire MP3 collection at my disposal. So, a quick song shuffle brought up Waiting Room, which I sort of remembered hearing on the radio once or twice and enjoyed. And I listened to the whole track and thought, “hmm, Fugazi may not be all that bad after all, this song is awesome.” It was catchy with a great bass line. So I listened to it again, and decided, what the heck, let’s give the whole album a try. And I did. And it was fine, even though nothing quite compared to Waiting Room, except maybe for Suggestion, which I love if only for the lyric, “Blame her for being there.”

I can’t say any of the other songs really stand out. None are bad and the entire album is worth a listen, but even with a track listing in front of me, I couldn’t identify any of the other songs.

I’d say the album is absolutely ideal for at-work listening or anything where an inoffensive background sound is appreciated. It makes for a great soundtrack when you’re doing mundane busy work like filling in spreadsheets, assembling folders, or labeling envelopes (all things I used to do to the tune of 13 Songs regularly).

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Raooul – Jail-bait Core (1990-something)

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First of all, how upset am I that I can’t find the original release year of this album. I looked all over the cd and cd-cover but it wasn’t there and the information on the web is totally wrong (I’m pretty sure I didn’t time-travel in 1995 to acquire a cd that was released in 2001). But oh well, suffice it to say, it came out sometime before December 1995 cuz that’s when I got it for christmas.

Second of all, this is actually a split cd with a British band called Skinned Teen. I had a bit of a dilemma trying to decide how to review a split and decided I really just want to talk about Raooul, so that’s what’s going to happen. Perhaps Skinned Teen will find themselves on here later.

Enough pre(r)amble. I read about this band before I heard them and ordered the cd by mail from Lookout Records mostly just because this was a group of high school girls – girls my own age (at the time) – playing punk rock and actually signed to a label and I thought that was pretty cool. I wouldn’t say that I had low expectations, but I thought of them more as a curiosity than anything else.

So, quality-wise this is not what you’d call an extraordinary album. It was pretty poorly recorded – probably on a non-existent budget – so the sound is not great. And as musicians, the ladies aren’t exactly skilled. But what they lack in that sort-of lightning in a bottle talent, they more than make up for in the sense of creativity and fun they convey.

The best part of the album is that you can hear them laughing in almost every song. They don’t take themselves too seriously and instead of trivializing the music, it actually strengthens it. They possess a confidence to take risks and draw the listener in on the joke. In Miguel they make merciless fun of their friend the way most dudes do of each other. Rotten Dead Monkey is a shrieky good time. And Masturbatory Song reminds me of every dumb kid trying to look cool in high school: “I drink beer, smoke pot, drop acid, do lines, I shoot up, take speed…I’m not lying.” And as a closing tune, “I had Jesse Blatz,” is a standout. There’s something delightfully indulgent about the idea that any of these girls could take a punk icon and make him her bitch. So fun.

I don’t love Dark Coffee House or Spirit of ’78, but that’s mostly cuz they’re less funny. I don’t want to give the impression that this is a comedy album, either. They’re not out to be Weird Al, in fact, I’d compare them more to what The Offspring do silliness in their music. But I appreciate Raooul most for their sense of humor.

All in all, a fun listen, but not a regular rotation kind of album. It’s nice for road trips, particularly on the way to see a punk show, like a good warm-up act in case the actual warm-up act sucks.

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Bikini Kill – The CD Version of the First Two Records (1994)

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I felt compelled to try to redeem myself following the previous entry, so today I will be reviewing one of the greatest albums ever recorded. I say this with no measure of exaggeration, The CD Version of the First Two Records was a life-changing album for me. Now don’t get me wrong, I had heard female rock bands before, even ones where there were more girls than just the singer or the token guitar player/bassist/keyboardist/whatever, even ones that were a little bit angry (gee Alanis, you’ve got so much rage!). But from the opening declaration, “We’re Bikini Kill and we want revolution, girl-style, now!” through to “I remember the back of your head, leaving.” I knew I was dealing with a force of young, passionate, feminist brilliance I had never before encountered.

Although Bikini Kill had a hand in spawning a musical (really cultural) movement called Riot Grrrl, the sound is punk rock through and through. The basic voice/guitar/bass/drums combo powered by little technical skill but a ton of creativity generate fast loud songs that any of your friends’ high school bands could learn by ear in under half an hour, making for great covers at coffee houses and vfw shows. And the lyrics are smart and raw – angry, thought-provoking, and surprisingly hopeful, belted out by a force of nature. It’s no wonder I still count Kathleen Hanna among my great heroes.

So, to the life changing. I was a wee 15-year-old who liked punk rock and wore chucks and wanted cool friends. I knew about feminism and social justice and such but never felt any sort of applicability to my young mind. And I made a friend who was also into punk rock and pretty cool and she put this cd in my hand and I’ve never been the same. For the first time I finally got punk – that it was an expression, an outlet, a community. That there were things going on in the world that deserved my attention and efforts that were not a part of my daily schooling or news consumption. And feminist I became.

Now, who’s to say that this would not have occurred anyway, prompted by some other event or realization. But how lucky am I that it happened and coincided with the discovery of some incredible, powerful, and surprisingly uplifting music? Totally lucky.

Standout songs include the opening track, Double Dare Ya – a singalong kind of anthem with the twin message that things are effed up, but that we can take action to fix it; crank that business! The follow up, Liar, samples the old hippy lyrics “all we are saying is give peace a chance” against a background of blood-curdling girl screams, it makes a lot of folks feel uncomfortable, but it’s sheer genius. Suck My Left One appropriates a delightfully chauvinistic catchphrase and turns it against child sex abuse, awesome! People who complain that the whole album is just an angry bitch screaming, can consider themselves served with the two quiet tunes, Feels Blind (“I eat your hate like love”) and Outta Me. Honestly, the entire album is a gem and no song should be considered skippable, although, Rebel Girl is kind of bore in comparison to rest of the cd, in spite of its “single” status. Might just be me.

I think the thing about this cd is that for the first time music was truly 100% relatable and actually targetted at me. Not the me who was a generic teenager, or a generic girl consumed only with thoughts of boys, or a generic alternative that was just out to be different. This cd was targeted at ME, smart, female, angry, confused, ambitious me. And nearly 15 years later it is still as relatable and powerful as ever.

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Bad Religion – Recipe for Hate (1993)

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I don’t remember when I actually got this album, but I started listening to it pretty heavily when I was 18 or 19. I recorded it from cd to tape – cuz I had a walkman – and would listen to it on the bus ride (yes, bus – awesome) from college to work.

I originally liked it because it was just a damn fine punk album that could drown out the creepertons on the bus. It was fast and loud, but the lyrics weren’t indistinguishable.

I started to love it because the lyrics weren’t indistinguishable. In fact, they were quite clear and amazingly intelligent. For example, the title track alone bursts with $5 words like “ubiquitous,” “suffrage,” “pomp,” and “vocation,” all in the appropirate context and all specatularly singable. And singing on the bus is another terrific tool to keep the creepertons at bay.

Beyond they lyrics, the music is everything punk should be. Not-too-distorted guitars, steady drumming, verse-chorus-verse type greatness. But buried in that formulaic is some really fun stuff, too. Like a way cool time change* in “All Good Soldiers” that actually makes you want to twist in your seat in between riffs. I can’t listen to this song without imagining myself with a guitar and clutching it up to my chest at those extended silences before slamming it down at the next set of notes. But I don’t play guitar. So what I actually do is squeeze my eyes tight headbang a bit.

Other highlights include “Struck a Nerve” in which there is a mysteriously woman sounding voice singing along with Greg Graffin with no discernable credit given in the liner notes, but a great layered vocal sound. Also, “Don’t Pray on Me” is just kinda funny with cultural references. And “Skyscraper” is the rightful closing track, even if there is one that follows it.

Songs I generally skip include “Man With a Mission” because it’s really just a bit too bluegrassy for my tastes (pretty sure there’s a slide guitar, but really it’s the whining that does it) and “Stealth,” the aforementioned closing track – nothing overtly offensive about it, but “Skyscraper” is really just a tough act to follow.

*time change may be the wrong terminology here, if anyone knows what I really mean, please feel free to correct

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