Razorcake Podcast #125: With Todd Taylor

Sep 17, 2010

Razorcake Podcast #125: With Todd Taylor

I have to say that in 1992 I was fuckin’ freaked out. Black was white. Cats loved dogs. Christians and Muslims took steam baths together and hugged the Mormons. Punk rock was being played on commercial radio, right between car insurance ads. A style of music that I’d cherished since I was thirteen, music that I listened to with very few friends, music that got me hit more than several times, was becoming the soundtrack to frat boys getting laid. Weird times.

I couldn’t get adjusted to this new world that Nirvana had ushered in, that the Offspring, Green Day, and Rancid held ground on.

In 1997, this phenomenon still hadn’t gone away.

Over the years, I saw my first bro-hawk. I saw an anarchy sign with a copyright symbol. I saw entire bands with the exact same haircut and synchronized “punk dance” moves. I saw the siren songs of roving corporate punk rock tours smash very good bands upon their rocks, leaving fast food-like litter in their wake.

I thought, perhaps, punk rock was becoming the new classic rock (in all the bad ways (Foreigner, not AC/DC), that punk rock’s popularity wouldn’t wane past a certain inevitable erosion. This made me tremendously uncomfortable. Big stage punk had staying power. Who knew?

But by 2007, MP3s had completely fucked over CDs and dickheads who’d declared vinyl dead were the dickheads declaring that it had come back from the grave.

In 2008, as a nation, we saw large banks and fancy finances putting America, if not in its grave, at least on its knees. Disposal income came disposed of on stupid stuff like food and shelter, not silly stuff like dumb music.

But the cool thing that happened was punk rock—as an institution—was no longer fashionable or profitable. Sure, you’ve got your exceptions to the rule—punk rock operas and a handful of punk rock millionaires—but that’s so far afield of what’s happening in the day-to-day of the DIY underground.

So in 2010, far fewer people are paying attention. It’s like a coal mine again, instead of panning for gold.

A great reckoning has taken place.

It was about time.

Adieu, assholes.

Let’s get down to the business of listening to some great music without all the other distractions.

All of these songs are newly released within the past six months, from all over the United States and three other countries. All independent and in small press runs.

-Todd Taylor

El Banda, “Annul” (Pasazer)
Year Zero, “Haunted” (Young Modern)
Cat Party, “The Digital Age” (Flat Black)
Bombon, “Pastel” (45 RPM)
Masshysteri, “Masshysteri Del Två” (Feral Ward)
Egghead, “Stuck Inside a Stuckey’s (with Leonard from the Dickies)” (Knock Knock)
Hairdos On Fire, “Vindictive Pussy” (Dirt Cult/Margin Mouth)
Stymie, “Coffee Grief” (Cowabunga)
The Junk, “I Ain’t Sharing” (Bad Idea)
Our Band Sucks, “Bacon and Eggs” (self-released)
Marvelous Darlings, “I’ll Stand by Her” (Plastic Idol)
Hotdog, “Reign of Death and Raining Blood and Death and Stuff” (Dirt Cult/Margin Mouth)
Pretty Boy Thorson, “The Way It’s Gotta Be” (Muy Autentico)
Hot New Mexicans, “Dumpy Day” (Recess/Houseplant)
Pine Hill Haints, “Wild Bill Jones” (Let’s Pretend)
Lenguas Largas, “Are You Scared” (Dirt Cult)

EL BANDA: Skutki Ubonczne: 2 x LP
One impulse in DIY punk rock circles is to go for the obscure because there is safety there. It’s safe because the odds are heavily against a larger audience, and with that, the lessened possibility of widespread exploitation. The obscure can be a highly regarded secret. You know the story. Thousand-dollar 7”s. Publications that laude intimate knowledge of those obscure bands, their knowledge measured by the cache of exclusion. (i.e. “I have this. You don’t. I’m better.”) And don’t get me wrong, I love a lot of stuff that happens to be obscure, not because it’s obscure, but because I think it’s freakin’ great and underappreciated. El Banda is a current Polish punk band. They’re melodic. They’re hardcore. They’re much more than that; adventurous as shit. They have been one of my favorite bands during the last couple of years. Since they sing in Polish, the chances of them becoming popular in America is minimal (which is a shame). With Side Effects (all the lyrics are translated in a gorgeous gatefold with full-sized inserts in both Polish and English), El Banda have put out a dark, epic, “you’re in their world now” concept album. The four album sides are broken into suites. Its pace is more varied than their previous LP, Przejdzie Ci el Banda. It’s more like a hand-held drill that slowly twists into the cranium, splitting skin, cracking skull, worm-driving deeper and deeper. Bleak. Weathered. Wintry. Murderous. It’s like you, as the listener, are slowly dissolving into the acid of the record. I’m going to enjoy soaking in its notes for years to come. (Fucked Up’s Hidden World comes to mind when I listen to this.) So, I’m willing to stake a lot on this record and this band because they reaffirm that punk’s as strong, as adventurous, as crucial, as meaningful as ever. And I’d bet you a dozen donuts that their own locals don’t know how good this band is. Yet. I rarely give advice, but don’t sleep on El Banda. It’ll get expensive if you do, and I’m not talking about the money. –Todd (Pasazer)

Clean yet dirty. Completely put together, but scuffed. Shiny but “imperfect.” Melodic, but not future-insulin-injections sweet. Tough, but not street fight tough. Twisted cords in a thick rope tough that can hold a lot of weight tough. Year Zero’s from Ottawa. They’ve somehow fused stuff that usually doesn’t go well together, that actually sounds a little shitty when I’m writing it out: The Carbonas with Pennywise. Marked Men with early Good Riddance. It’s a strange alchemy of high-end-sounding production with fangs, anthemy parts, and spikes rolling along on the chassis of prime, searing garage rock hookery. If I wasn’t listening to it right now, I wouldn’t believe it myself. But isn’t that the point of great new music? To be a little confounded, yet excited? To set new expectations? To let the magic just come even if it doesn’t make a lick of “music logic” sense? I have no idea how they pull this off without it being absolute poo. It’s gold, though. Surprise of the issue for me. Highly recommended. –Todd (Young Modern)

CAT PARTY: Heartache over Headache: 7”EP
I understand there’s little justice in this world when it comes to music, but if one out of every ten people who own a Joy Division or Bauhaus T-shirt gave Cat Party one listen, I’m absolutely certain the pressing of this record would sell out in a week. Cat Party play icy, bleak, exposed wire post punk on par with the best of prime Factory records… and playing in an almost absolute void. –Todd (myspace.com/birdsofpreymusic)

BOMBON: Las ChicasDel…: LP
It’s a bit of a shortcut to say “Surf rock done by three ladies,” but it gets us to our destination quicker. It’s a shortcut to say “surf” because there’s some really nice horn work that lends to a fantastic spaghetti western vibe on a track. It seems like there’s something pretty major going right beneath the waves besides tons of reverb, an organ, and an affection for The Ventures and the 5,6,7,8’s. Since it’s been over a decade since we were last awash in any sort of surf revival tidal wave, I’d throw mid-period Man… Or Astroman? into the mix of comparisons. Bonbon aren’t afraid to add space, landscape, soundscape, and breadth to their songs. Las Chicas… is pleasant as all hell and a good record to put on when you still want to talk and not yell, but still have a great time, set a mood, and hang out with a bunch of folks. Movie soundtracks of the future, watch out. –Todd (45 RPM)

MASSHYSTERI: Self-titled: LP
I’ll admit that I was shy on embracing Masshysteri after The Vicious broke up. It’s like a relationship that ended too suddenly. I didn’t want to go huggin’ someone new else right after the split. The Swedes up in Umea and the Danes in Copenhagen have a knack of forming great bands that have a tendency to break up right as their records make it to America. What’s undeniable is that Masshysteri have a lot to offer. For ’77 punks, there’s a swift, blunt kick backed with melody reminiscent of the Adverts and X-Ray Spex. For those in the early-Blondie and Nerves camps, there are subtle, tasteful musical additions—produced, but not excessive—of saxophone and keyboards. For us DIY punks who’ve never accepted that punk’s a dead-end lifestyle over thirty years into the game and aren’t into dressing up like Confederate dead or the Raider Nation of punk rock, who also miss both DS 13 and Gorilla Angreb, Masshysteri are probably the best of all worlds. They’re a present-day band that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with any punk band from the past you can throw at them. They’re easy to listen to, haunted, fangy, infection-laden, electrifying, and instantly recognizable as punk by their sheer energy. Highest recommendation. –Todd (Feral Ward)

EGGHEAD: Would Like a Few Words with You: CD
Formerly named Fuck It, We’ll Make Our Own Helicopter (the one from Saskatoon, not Philly. The Philly one won the lawsuit, then became I Can Make A Whole Row Of Thirteen Year Old Girls Cry Until Their Shirts Are See-Through), Egghead is three loveable dopes. Okay, not dopes. That’s not fair. Dorks. Geeks. Nerds. The ones that get shit done. The ones that are now being productive members of society after college, just like Revenge of the Nerds promised. And although I’m going to say pop punk™, then take it back, and put it back in like the hokey pokey, it’s all true. 1.) Egghead are pop punk in the fact that they play punk rock that’s poppy. (Like catchy Flag Of Democracy.) The two main vocalists, John and Johnny, have prototypical pop punk voices. Sorta whiney. Sorta snotty. Sorta strained. “Good/not-really-good” voices, like Ramones not-really-good, not Genesis/Styx/Tarkus “good.” Their voices, up in the mix, may be a hurdle for some. 2.) Egghead aren’t pop punk™, in the sense of the diminishing returns pop punk™’s been seeing the last ten years, where instead of bands only capable of replicating a single Ramones song for their entire catalog, far too many pop punk™ bands are now doing that to either Screeching Weasel or the Queers. Egghead’s focus is too far broad for such tracing paper chicanery. I scoured this thing. No bubblegum references. Sure, there are songs about girls, but the predominant one has the refrain “My daughter can fuck up your daughter.” 3.) Egghead, really, are pop punk in the rich history of Stiff Little Fingers, The Dickies, and a suburban-parenting version of Sloppy Seconds. They mix in speed and style shifts of a band that couldn’t care less about the fragile, ephemeral, ever-smaller boxes pop punk™ seems more than happy to squeeze into these-a-days. It’d also be safe to say that fans of The Dead Milkmen and the bright spots in Camper Van Beethoven’s catalog will find a lot to like in Egghead. I’m definitely a fan. –Todd (Knock Knock)

I can’t shake that I’m listening to the equivalent of Lomax field recordings, yet instead of recordings of musicians directly on the Mississippi delta in the early ‘30s, the tape recorders were set up in living rooms in Tempe and Las Cruces, 2010. To me, the effects are the same: sound technology capturing folks playing; celebration and preservation of local color; struggle against the homogenization of a dominant media culture through creative activity. This split is lo-fi, melodic DIY punk made by circumstance, not predominant aesthetics (and more Bananas than Leadbelly). Both sides are fun, honest, and memorable. Let’s hear it for fuck-ups, the fucked-over, and democracy. –Todd (Dirt Cult / Margin Mouth)

Let’s begin with saying that melodic Midwest punk with heart and punch is becoming a sound that’s far larger than its original geography. It’s also a destination with a legacy that includes the Replacements, Hüsker Dü, Mary Tyler Fuckin’ Moore, Dillinger Four, and Selby Tigers. Put that in a blender and down with a raw egg. Kicking Spit: From “St. Paul” New Jersey. In that microsecond prior to “grunge” getting a name, like the first Mudhoney single, shit was super tight and Kicking Spit expand it like taffy with a Dinosaur Jr. finger. Stymie: From “Minneapolis,” New Jersey. Who’ll give Dear Landlord a run for the money by out-“Dear Landlording” them. It’s music about honesty, rust, “trailer parks of the mind,” and weathering storms. Both sides build on one another. Progress through fucking up on a daily basis. –Todd (Cowabunga)

JUNK, THE: Glad to See You’re Back: 7” EP
Blunt, catchy, snotty, itchy OrangeCounty punk rock. The legacy’s all there from The Crowd to Shattered Faith to The Stitches and this 7” would have fit right in on Hostage Records and in the New Beach Alliance without a blink five, ten years ago. These three songs are also an understandable continuation of The Smut Peddlers—Gish and Julia are the bulletproof rhythm section. With another vocalist, the lyrics remain dark, but, this time out, are looking for redemption instead of reveling in being king of the fuck-ups. Solid stuff. It’s like a motorcycle with all the attention paid to the motor, not the paint. I’m looking forward to them opening up the throttle on the open road of a full length. Limited to 150. –Todd (Bad Idea Music, badideamusic.com)

OBS was an East L.A. punk band formed in the late ‘80s. Funny, caustic, flamboyant, they would go on to release a record on Nemesis and get banned from a long list of clubs in the Southland. Their music was a mix of first wave English punk—aware of it or not, they channeled a ton of Cock Sparrer—and “pushing buttons” punk like Fear, the Angry Samoans, and the Meatmen. As seems to be an unfortunate pattern in East L.A. punk, someone in the band got mad, someone quit, someone’s feelings got hurt, drinking and drugs caught up, someone felt ripped off, and OBS came to a screeching halt in the late ‘90s. They were selling these CDEPs at their twenty-year anniversary show a couple months ago. The show was wonderfully dysfunctional and theatrical. Fat. Old. Sweaty. Out of breath. Perfect. These four songs fit right into their nineteen-song set without a hiccup. Glad to see ‘em back and here’s to hoping that it’s not just a time capsule, but the start of another run for these guys. –Todd (Self-released)

MARVELOUS DARLINGS: “I’ll Stand by Her” b/w “Friend of a Friend”: 7”
You’ve got me. I have no idea what’s distracting people on a large scale from great music because, by all accounts, Marvelous Darlings would fill stadiums in previous decades. In an underground lousy with garage bands deconstructing a perfectly good genre with “art concepts,” Marvelous Darlings are the glitter platform boots with live gold fishes in ‘em. They’re the strutting aliens of power pop, with the angels and devils of Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Eddie Cochran tattooed on ‘em as guides. Marvelous Darlings are fun, tight, delightful, catchy… you know, powerful rock’n’roll with pursed lips and style. –Todd (Plastic Idol)

Jesse Thorson has a beautiful singing voice. There. I said it. If John Cougar let a mean streak out in his music, was a DIY punk, and had a Civil War monkey farting as his insert’s illustration, he’d sound like Jesse. One original, one Cock Sparrer cover. I like the original better. The Anchor: Make me think of dueling throat polyps and barnacles. They didn’t make the boat they’re sailing on, but it sounds like they’ve been hanging on for a long time, underwater, and aren’t letting go any time soon. Kyle, you’re right. The blue/grey vinyl with the silver label looks snazzy. –Todd (Muy Autentico)

I’ll fully admit that I live in a music bunker. I’m not being a dick when I say I have no opinion about, say, today, Lady Gaga. It’s just that I don’t care, like I don’t care about fast food chains or I don’t care about Fox News. That shit’s ninety-nine percent designed to accelerate your death through constant radiation. Paradoxically, by being everywhere, these systems are designed to keep everyone isolated and alone. I hate the systems of control so much that I don’t even know the current players. So, pardon me if I’m all pissy about the music company that’s attached to a multinational that’s currently trying to privatize the rain that’s falling down on Bolivia and don’t know a current hit or artist. But by not being “plugged in” to a 24/7 influx of distractions, I can sit in my room—most often by myself—and listen to records and read books. If I like the records—this one’s fuckin’ great—chances are I’ll go see them if they come through town. Chances are I’ll be, “Oh, fuck, I know that dude. He was the bassist in the Carrie Nations.” Chances are, if we talk, I’ll learn a bit about Cleveland, Mississippi, write down where the best BBQ is in the area. The Hot New Mexicans play ragged, melodic, approachable DIY punk that reminds me of scuffed floors, long drives, cracked-open beers, proportionately incorrect tattoos of bands from the ‘90s, cracking-open-the-sky sunsets, secrets and stains rolled up in frayed carpets, hairy dogpiles, body odor, and the really beautiful parts to Tortilla Flats. Like when the house burns down and no one gets too mad because it’s just a house and not the people inside of it. –Todd (Houseplant, houseplantrecords.com / Recess, recessrecords.com)

Pine Hill Haints: Punk can be a weird cat. Give the tattoo-sleeved, spiky-haired, leather-jacketed fellow or maiden a couple of years and chances are about even that they’ll turn into a Republican asshole selling insurance and denouncing their youthful indiscretion. The Pine Hill Haints play traditional music with traditional instruments (bucket bass, banjo, mandolin, accordion, guitar) that’s haunted, honest, and eerie. They also just happen to believe, live, and breathe in DIY and not fucking others over. So, what may not sound “punk” to those on the periphery is ten times more genuine a gesture than a receding hairline mohawk interpretation of music. Trainwreck Riders: fans of Ninja Gun, Two-Cow Garage, and Drive-By Truckers take note. Jumpy, pleasant, faded denim, comfortable shirt traditionals played with songwriting savvy and current-day snap. –Todd (Let’s Pretend, letspretendrecords.com)

LENGUAS LARGAS: “Lonely Summertime” b/w “Are You Scared?”: 7”
It won’t be the first time where I’m belly up to the all-you-can-eat buffet of eating my own words. Lenguas Largas occupy the kinder sonic climes of what’s become “indie rock.” It’s a form of music I’ve come to associate—through more than ample exposure—with designer tags, secret shows, douchebags, future expensive baby strollers, current attempts at irony, and is shooting for the Juno soundtrack (of the mind). Lenguas Largas is a bunch of dirty DIY dudes playing stony, pleasant, intricate music that builds tension then releases. It’s subtle, yet pleasant; thick, swirling, and as fingering as white smoke exhaled deeply from a pipe. The vocals are reminiscent of the Smashing Pumpkins without the ick. Mellower than the first 7”, but I like it. –Todd (Dirt Cult)