There’s a bar near my house that I’ve never been to. They have a punk rock night. Sounds like something that’d be up my alley, just to check out. But friends of mine have gone and say it’s more like “Social Distortion, Bad Religion, Dead Kennedys Night.”
I was actually more than all right with all three bands growing up. I won’t overwrite my musical heritage in an attempt to be cool. There was a time and place that all three bands meant quite a bit to me. I still like them in small doses and respect all three bands’ contributions to punk. But I won’t allow that respect to overshadow what I see as huge strides in punk after they started making music.
To me, all three bands are emblematic. They have more in common with Lynyrd Skynyrd in 2010 than, say, The Evens. Let me explain. Key or original members of those three “old punk” bands are dead or not in the band. They play mostly festival circuits. They play their “hits.” With the exception of Bad Religion, new material is scarce. Basement show? Forget it. Playing without a guarantee? Hell no. Guitar techs? Hell yes. To me, they’re big, bloated “corporate rock of the mind.” They’ve become what they claimed to want to overthrow. And I was close by when they made those declarations. It meant something.
Their music is now a safe place, full of nostalgia, devoid of surprise.
I’m not hating on those bands. It’s not their fault. They found out how to pay their bills playing music. Good for them. But I’ve just kept chuggin’ along musically the last couple of decades and have a little bit more belief in punk than the average bear. I also don’t like going to stadiums to see music or paying for parking. It may just be me.
Something tremendously sad and weird has happened in the past ten, fifteen years. This gulf has appeared. On one side is a vibrant, ever-changing, expansive, world-wide DIY underground with fertile punk being released in 2010. It’s not overpopulated. It’s continually hanging on for dear life and that struggle makes it unpredictable and exciting.
On the other side of the gulf are those who have effectively stopped the clock in the early ‘80s (or late ‘70s, or any date) and have been complaining that no good music ever happens anymore, regardless of any evidence to the contrary. That side of the gulf is way more populated, not only by people from that era, but new generations of kids lamenting they weren’t a part of it—while effectively ignoring that there’s stuff happening today that they could get into that’s just as good, if not better. Cynicism, being jaded, and irony are their modes of offense and defense.
The shit end of the stick is that this overloading of punk nostalgia is at the expense of new, fantastic music.
So, instead of being predictably bummed out at an “old punk” set by a genre-and-time-locked DJ playing to the bar’s regulars, I hang out and play records at my house. A lot of ‘em. Mixing old right in with the new. Mixing the obscure with the well known. Making those musical heritages really mean something. Because if they don’t mean anything today, when a new day’s always rising, what’s the point? They’ve got museums for that stuff.
Here are some of my favorite songs from the past couple of months.
Dead Mechanical, “Baltimore Calling” (Toxic Pop / Traffic Street)
Toys That Kill, “Pliers” (No Idea)
Libyans, “Life Line” (Sorry State)
Measure [SA], “Fear of Commitment” (No Idea)
Be My Doppleganger, “Backpack Beers” (It’s Alive)
Tulsa, “Haggard Times” (Dead Broke)
Roofie and the Nightstalkers, “Total Dementia” (Rich Bitch)
Total Control, “Paranoid Video” (SmartGuy)
Brokedowns, “Apocalypse Seaside Heights” (Red Scare)
Turkish Techno, “Little Lies” (Wolf Dog / Muy Autentico)
Zero Heroes, “Zero Hero” (Arkam)
Underground Railroad To Candyland, “I Hate the Fucking Phone” (Dead Broke)
Homeowners, “New Low,” (Margin Mouth)
Rumspringer, “Parastolic Reaction” (Traffic Street)
Teenage Cool Kids, “Animal Sounds” (1919 Hemphill)
Shang-a-Lang, “Wishing Wells” (Facepalm / Silversprocket)
Grabass Charlestons, “Sad and Beautiful World” (No Idea)
Todd Conge, “I Know What You’ll Say” (Burger / Small Pool)
DEAD MECHANICAL: Addict Rhythms: LP
One major problem with digital is that it’s either there or it isn’t. Pure black or pure white. No storming sunsets with impossible oranges. No ice scraping at dawn through holes in gloves. And when there’s meaning to find behind the bash and crash and basement screams, it’s much more than just a shame that most people will never read the lyrics to this record, even if they hear it. Just bleeps and bloops yanked from one isolated place to another. And maybe that’s part of why people feel more and more lost; disconnected in the same room, staring at glowing screens, screaming on message boards, widening the distance between flesh and blood people sitting next to one another. And I may just be old fashioned and foolish that if I think a piece of paper with words that accompany noises twining off spinning pieces of vinyl is different—that it’s naïve or purist to say that I care about the contents of a band’s soul, no matter how good the band sounds. We all die. I want to die with some good ideas, awesome songs ringing in my ears, good friends, and tight family. Dead Mechanical play and sing day-to-day vignettes that give into politics reigning down on your shoulders like bombs, and soak into your shirt like tears and the sweat of a hard day. They aren’t crutching on platitudes or slogans. They’re heartbreaking and defiant and poetic and funny. They also just happen to be amazingly tight and fluid. I think they’re one of the best bands playing DIY punk in America today. This band means more to me at thirty-eight than Jawbreaker did to me at twenty-one. Pack up your nostalgia, quit huddling under a shelter of past memories lived or pined for, and join a roaring band in the ascent… or continue bleep blooping to the newest whatever, biding time before everything goes black again. –Todd (LP on Toxic Pop, toxicpoprecords.com, CD on Traffic Street)
GRABASS CHARLESTONS / TOYS THAT KILL: Split: LP
“Hey Will, how’s it going?” “Not good, Todd. Not having a good time.” That’s pretty much summed up my conversations with Will, the drummer and singer of Grabass, the past several years. It may be that he’s on tour and grumpy. Or that he’s at Fest in his hometown, and that just means more jackasses, long days of work, then dealing with ultra-drunk jackasses who don’t want to talk to him about R. Kelly’s magnum opus. But I really like and admire Will. He has the ability to write poetic songs about a discarded, pink-tired kid’s bike and it’s sad, beautiful, and meaningful. Ah, fuck it. I like not being lied to, either personally or musically, and Grabass have always delivered honest news in their own humble way. Peej still has secret hands playing notes simultaneously on two guitars that glimmer, sparkle, crackle, and fade like fireworks. Replay keeps the bottom end flexible, bubbling, and locked in place. He’s like a less menacing, more cut-off shorts, sleeveless-shirt, postal code-savvy Lemmy. Grabass are my Betsy Ross. I wanna wrap myself up in the flag they’ve been stitching together for years and years, then fly that flag like freedom itself. Toys That Kill: I say this without equivocation. Toys That Kill are my Black Flag, except they haven’t put out a bad record yet, their love of cats isn’t completely batshit crazy, and their fans don’t pine for the days when punching strangers in the face was “punk.” Rise above, my ‘80s-locked friends, and come into the current decade of DIY. –Todd (No Idea)
LIBYANS: A Common Place: LP
There’s a theory that time travel is largely a matter of perception. It’s simple, really. Activities that aren’t stimulating appear to take longer. Fun things go by in a zip. Time travel also has to do with tolerances and resistance: what you’re willing to put up with. That’s why, to me, if Led Zeppelin is playing it seems like all their songs are five times longer than the actual fifteen minute solos before the little girl starts singing again. Tick tock. Tick tock. The other side to time travel is hitting the high spots in wavelengths, like slicing through the tips of waves. Decades can come and go in blinks and cinched up tight. Signposts that, although they may be thirty years in the rearview, can become meaningful and fruitful to the course of a current band. So, when I say that the Libyans stitch together tight the now-reasonably-known angsty shot-from-the-dark energy of The Avengers to the modern drive of The Assassinators, it’s a straight shot that covers a tremendous amount of time, but the perception is bam, bam, bam. The Libyans have harnessed the ability to collect up three decades of straight-forward, tuneful, forceful punk rock and cinch them up tight around the listener’s ears. Man, this is some great stuff. –Todd (Sorry State)
MEASURE [SA], THE: Notes: CD
Riding with The Measure [SA] now is like visiting someone who knows their town inside out. Not just the punk houses. All the shortcuts, the back allies, the pot holes, the places that smell good outside. The best donuts. The community centers. The places that can’t be found anywhere else in the world, from parks, historical markers, to where to watch the sunrise. Wanna go on a bike ride? They know tons of routes and will wait for you if you get winded. The elements that first made me blush how much I liked The Measure [SA] are still all there: the sincerity, the sweetness, the songs bursting with tenderness and fury. Artful but approachable. Awkward but endearing. Shy but open. Talented but not boastful. But with Notes, there’s a fantastic sense of confidence. Of a wide-stanced resilience. They sound right at home in hardcore blasts, heart-core explorations, and stripped-down, elegant elegies. The range is all within their means, and it’s a wonderful ride that I’m enjoying with every spin. –Todd (No Idea)
BE MY DOPPLEGANGER: No Composure: CD
Chuck Berry riffs. Dillinger Four respect. Alkaline Trio echoes. Copyrights hopscotch fun. Basement cocooning with records. Beer celebration. Beer dominance. Beer in backpacks. Beer pizza. Beer Dear Landlord. I have to admit that this was a bit of a grower. I tried to chug the record at first and it reflexed on me. And nothing’s worse than trying to hold back a puke than getting it in your nose and the back of your throat instead of letting the chunks flow. I slowly warmed up to it over several spins, first in the background, then hanging out in the kitchen, and finally going down in the sweaty basement. Then the irrepressible urge of a band on the constant verge of jumping into a Replacements cover hit me. I think what got me going weird was that the first song’s a curveball and comes across a lot like the Bodies, which I wasn’t expecting. But expectations are like puking. Get it over with, soak in it, then get back to partying. –Todd (It’s Alive, itsaliverecords.com)
VARIOUS ARTISTS: Dead Broke Rekerds: Four-WaySplit #2: 7”
Underground Railroad To Candyland: I wouldn’t say URTC is the Fugazi to Toys That Kill’s Minor Threat. (And that’d make FYP the Teen Idles. My analogy goes all to shit there.) But I will say that I like both TTK and URTC equally for essentially different reasons. (Perhaps it’s fist pumping vs. hip shaking.) And that’s a fuckin’ puzzle because with only one member difference at the time of this writing (lord knows when this was recorded), URTC sound like a band that could sell a lot of records if records were selling (like in that scene in High Fidelity when they put on a record and everyone in the store asks who it is… I mute the movie there and play URTC). Killer Dreamer: Zombie stoners. Brains. Buds. Bowls. Scorching riffs laid at the altars of Nick Blinko, Roky Erikson, and Dario Argento. Smelly bandage San Pedro punkrock that will silk-screen anything if it stays still long enough. Tulsa: It’s sometimes amazing how long songs can be on 7” records. Tulsa’s song’s (from 2004? Am I reading that right? It sure looks like a four) has got a lot of parts duct taped together like a massive quilt made out of dirty blankets. Tent city punk rock. The Reaction: Lean back really far and laid back, like the Hot New Mexicans do, and it’s easy to go along for the ride. Four-way split 7”s don’t get more solid. –Todd (Dead Broke, deadbrokerecords.com)
ROOFIE AND THE NIGHTSTALKER: “G.H.B” b/w “Total Dementia”: 7”
I miss the Orphans. I have an almost romantic empty spot in my heart of seeing Jenny Angelillo rolling around on the ground of dirty bar floors on a regular basis for a couple of years. When she wasn’t doing the grimy squirm, she was just the nicest lady. Lady. This is the first I’ve heard, musically, of Jenny in a bit. RATN’s music that sounds like high heels made out of switchblades and lipstick laced with very pleasing, melty drugs. Think Top Ten and Tina And The Total Babes but with a couple of dudes with beards (a fine indicator that this isn’t a Rip Off release). The B-side squalls and damages pitch perfect, like “You puke in my purse, you’ll wake up with broken fingernails in your cheek” perfect. I wonder if the bassist’s cabinet is covered with old women porn… –Todd (Rich Bitch)
TOTAL CONTROL: “Paranoid Video” b/w “Real Estate”: 7”
This is some top notch fascist new wave. Not Benito, “let’s bomb Crete and kill all the communists” fascist. Mind-controlling Devo fascist. Joy Division’s bleak wasteland, gripping a rusty wire tethered to a black dawn fascist. The band could easily be named after any number of concentration camp or SS death head brigade and be right in perfectly-ordered line. Nervous Gender-type “is this even music?” fascist. George Orwell predicted this shit down to the roboto-voice, you-will-obey fascist (with a bit of Tuxedomoon). It sounds bloodless, scary, and forceful in all the right ways. If more music was like this, I’d be more inclined to learn how to take over a country by coercion and force. –Todd (SmartGuy, smartguyrecords.com)
BROKEDOWNS, THE: Species Bender: CD
I’m a firm believer that physical and emotional pain are two of the most effective teachers. I tend to believe people who’ve had their teeth knocked out, who’ve had life kick them repeatedly in their ribs, so it hurts to laugh, cough, or cry. I’m more apt to trust people with dirty hands. You may say “workman.” I say “Pegboy.” I say, that’s who I want to hang out with, who I want to listen to. I’ve only met one member of the Brokedowns. Outside a bar. I had a concussion and my friend who was dressed as Spongebob had just been punched in the face, glasses shattered. The Brokedowns’ Species Bender feels like a beating on the chest when you’ve forgotten to breath and are flat on your back. The rough barking comes through first, but then there are the sure, studied movements, the right amount of practiced pressure. And then comes the delicate parts. Take away the boom of the drums and the earth slicing of the guitars, and there’s this real beauty surrounding their heavy-moving quarry of sound. Precious folks may mistake The Brokedowns for knuckle draggers, but precious folks can go fuck themselves. (As an aside, I’m betting a quarter that there’s at least one huge Rocket From The Crypt fan in the band. There’s way too much Scream, Dracula Scream and Circa Now! to be a mere coincidence.) One of the best records of the year, and my favorite full length of theirs. –Todd (Red Scare, redscare.net)
TURKISH TECHNO: “Someone Send Me a Life Boat” b/w “Where Have You Been?”7”, “Peanuts” b/w “Little Lies” 7”
Turkish Techno aren’t solved easily. They’re neither Turkish, nor are they techno. Why is this two 45 RPM 7”s instead of a one-sided, four-song 12” with an etching on the B-side? Is that really Indian elephant god, Ganesha, in a Shriner’s cap, eating a burrito, swilling a Pabst, sporting a necklace of beheaded band members on the covers? I believe so. Andy, one of the songwriters, disclosed to me that he often writes songs when pooping. And I’m sure I couldn’t write a review without one member getting bent out of shape about something. Anything, actually. I think they sound like the Jack Palance Band or the Horrible Odds mixed with folks who listened to a lot of ‘90s Epitaph punk growing up: blistering and breathless-throaty vocals over a full-force, polished drive. They’ve got the anxiety of a band at odds with itself—on the verge of a breakdown—really going for them. My two cents is they should go on tour with Off With Their Heads and in between sets, they could dim the lights and have a nightly “complain-off.” Top drawer stuff from a Riverside band that’s perpetually threatening to break up. May they never be satisfied. –Todd (Wolf Dog / Muy Autentico)
ZERO HEROES: Self-titled: 7” EP
There are just some things that can never been disproved. Among them is that any band that picks up, plugs in, and funs-out on pieces of Teengenerate, The Ramones, and female-fronted Motown groups can never be bad, especially in 2010. Zero Heroes sound like a car without chrome, without anything fancy, that’s kinda tore up and needs just-right kicks to get things to start, but it’s lovingly kept together by some magical force, careful layers of dirt, semi-regular maintenance, and the car itself somehow knowing that you need it to keep on working or else you’re fucked. Super solid and well worth a listen. –Todd (Arkam)
HOMEOWNERS: Light and Vision: 7”EP
I blame Superchunk’s “Slack Motherfucker.” Was it punk? Was it college rock (which became indie)? It was rockin’ and angsty and I loved it. Girls who liked REM liked them because of the pretty parts and it didn’t look like the guys in the bands were the stabbing kind of hobos who wanted to hurt you. Dudes who had Crass patches liked the “motherfucker” and “I’m not working for you” side of things. And since this was at a really important developmental stage in my music brain, I have the largest soft spot for bands that hit that energy/catchiness, where it can be fists in the air, uncontrolled bouncing, and smart/angry all at the same time. Not to be a dick, but this is what I thought Beat Happening would sound like before I heard them. Don’t let genres lock you into solitary confinement. This shit’s downright enjoyable and fresh. Supposedly, it was also recorded in Neil Young’s model train studio. –Todd (Margin Mouth)
RUMSPRINGER: Empty Towers: CD
I’m a fan of dualities. On the surface, Rumspringer sounds bright and positive, like a Youth Of Today Tiltwheel. It’s happy-sounding, assertive music, almost blinding like sunlight reflecting off a water-soaked porch. But the lyrics deal primarily with a “What now?”, a hardening of crusted-over and almost-abandoned idealism, a crushing feeling of that something went terribly wrong in the developmental stages between the utopia in one’s brain and the suburbs at one’s feet. When lines like “backed it with unanswered questions and sealed it with a blind repression that spirals toward a deep depression” come out, it mysteriously doesn’t sound like the white flag of defeat, but a sharp stake into the side of a steep mountain to hang onto. The music itself—the guitar, bass, and drum—continue to be uplifting through the entire record. Oddly, this record reminds me of friends in the service industry. In your twenties, at least the cash can be decent and a lot of it’s under the table. Often, your friends come to you. You can give and receive small kindnesses. In your late thirties, the ideas of long-term security, the ability of your body to hold out, and rubbing your fingers on along the ridge of gigantic teeth that want to chomp you into little, little pieces and spit you back out comes fully into play. High marks. –Todd (Traffic Street)
VARIOUS ARTISTS: 1919 Hemphill: How Y’All Doin’ Tonight?: CD
A comp that’s a celebration of seven years of existence, making Fort Worth’s 1919 Hemphill the longest-running DIY venue in all of Texas. It’s also an eight dollar benefit CD. Anyone who’s tried to get a volunteer-run community punk space off the ground has to admit that that’s downright amazing (almost unheard of) and it’s a testament that you don’t have to be in a “punk mecca” or even a “punk-friendly” city or town to build a magnet that’ll not only showcase local talents, but draw in bands that are vanning across the country. This comp is a diverse and honest collection of bands (more-well knowns like Onion Flavored Rings, Lemuria, and Japanther) to local-ish asskickers (Teenage Cool Kids, Brickfight). If you’re genre-locked, its breadth may be a bit much for you—folk punk to metal sludge to pop punk to dancey stuff is all here—but I think it’s a great, Polaroid-style snapshot of a national scene in motion; a scene and locale that I hope will get the props they deserve retroactively. –Todd (1919 Hemphill)
SHANG-A-LANG: Collection: CD
Bruce Lee weighed 125 pounds. Shang-A-Lang use a four track recorder with one channel busted. Both kick way more ass than some steroid-confused, alpha-male Cobra Kai cheat-to-win bullshit motherfucker. Metallica has all the money in the world and has nothing to say. Shang-a-Lang farms the dirt of New Mexico where the most resilient flowers and the most delicious Hatch chilies grow. They’re hot and spicy with an underlying taste of years of growth in harsh environments. Chris Mason was preached to as a kid about this lady who got fucked by a ghost and everyone in attendance got a halo. Chris now proselytizes that it’s not what you’ve got—money, “fame,” unlimited cheeseburgers— it’s what you bring. Like DIY; like some of the most honest, fun-to-sing-along-to punk. Ever. It falls apart and reassembles right in front of you like in-reverse magic. Part of me wanted to copy and paste all of my previous reviews of the records that were compiled to make this Collection, but that would have taken an entire page and would have been sort of like cheating. And Shang-A-Lang makes me want to be honest. I’ve already started heckling them to play “Summertime” next time I see them live. Please do the same because that song rules, in every season. –Todd (Facepalm / Silversprocket)
TODD CONGE: Clown Sounds: LP
Call me funny, but I have little desire to see most of humanity naked. I also have no desire to hear most bands stripped down to one band member. Because when there’s no loud volume to be camouflaged by, no other band members to hide in plain sight with, no pushing electricity to crackle and deafen, most punk songwriters aren’t that good by themselves. Just sayin’. It’s like putting a spotlight to a zit and the record’s a half hour of squeezing that zit. But in that kitty cat farm that is Todd Congelliere’s creative brain, those furry motherfuckers are playful, busy, complicated, adventurous, fearless, and will always let you know when they’re hungry. So, I’m not going to say genius—because what’s a genius but someone to crucify, vilify, or ignore in the future—but one of the main creative forces in FYP, Toys That Kill, Underground Railroad To Candyland, and Stoned At Heart has a unique musical vision, one that I abide by. When it’s mostly him, a guitar, and a cast of rotating friends, the result is yearning and often sad, but always worth listening to. And it sounds fully clothed, so it doesn’t feel like you’re staring at his wiggling wang the whole length of the whole record. Because that’d make most of us uncomfortable. –Todd (Burger / Small Pool)