Razorcake Podcast #142: With Todd Taylor

Jan 14, 2011

Razorcake Podcast #142: With Todd Taylor

I’m not too sure why so many things are either/or. Digital or analog. Paper or pixels. Single speeds and fixies or geared bikes. Punk or garage rock or hardcore. Iced tea or whiskey.

Oh, I understand preferences. Given to my own devices, I go for analog, paper, and gears every time. Vinyl still makes me smile. Warms up the room when it’s spinning. It makes sense to me. I like holding books and zines. They have text in them that won’t crash, doesn’t need any other device or electricity to make them, work, and far fewer people will get mugged for their soft cover copy of Kafka on the Shore than a hand-held computer that’s glowing at them in a dark parking lot like a beacon for petty crime. As for bikes, I live in a hilly place, and I’m not training for the fuckin’ Olympics over here. I just want to go from burrito-less point A to burrito-in-my-stomach point B without getting a heart palpitation or giving Sarah Palin any more reasons to turn Alaska into a tundra-encrusted oil field.

On the other side of the equation, I’m not pulling the militant straight-edge tactic of slapping an iced tea out of Ian MacKaye’s hand because “caffeine’s a drug.” I understand that the world’s a complex place. I live in a cultural soup of a neighborhood. If someone’s jammin’ an MP3 player in tight pants while barely not getting run over by a bus because their bike has no brakes, I’ve just got my fingers crossed that they’re listening to some good music. No need to be a dick about it. Well, unless they’re a dick first.

Preferences, not laws. No badges. Being the culture police sounds like an awful job.

Coming back to music, this is an exciting time in DIY punk. Am I the only one who sees a direct correlation between the death of the music industry and the re-birth of fantastic music that’s remaining largely unmolested?

Hope not. Here are seventeen songs for your consideration…


Red Dons, “Land of Reason” (Deranged)
Tiltwheel, “Do They Make Tin Foil Beer Helmets? Cuz I Want One!” (ADD)
Tranzmitors, “Sunday Morning” (Meaty Beaty / No Front Teeth)
Summer Vacation, “Don’t Panic” (Muy Autentico)
Stoned At Heart, “I’m Not Using My Brain—Desperate” (Recess)
The Intelligence, “White Corvette” (In The Red)
Mean Jeans, “RU Mental?” (Dirtnap)
Defect Defect, “Fuck God Let’s Punk” (Snuffy Smiles)
Madison Bloodbath, “Beercan Chicken (Electric Version)” (All In Vinyl)
Whiskey & Co., “Catch My Fall” (No Idea)
Young Governor, “Call Me When the Cat Dies” (Criminal IQ)
Earthmen And Strangers, “Slave” (Dirt Cult / Geykido Comet)
Eddie Current Suppression Ring, “Precious Rose” (Goner)
Too Many Daves, “Dudes Room” (ADD)
Crusades, “Beacons” (Scared To Death)
The Parting Gifts, “Keep Walkin’” (In The Red)
The Arrivals, “Frontline” (Recess)

RED DONS: Fake Meets Failure: LP
Lightning. Pure, white-hot, hot-streaking, sizzling, punk lightning. It’s punk that people who’ve “given up,” “don’t get,” or “moved on” from punk have the highest percentage of liking. It’s just so obviously scorching, beautiful, and crackling music, regardless of genre. And I was reluctant to admit that lightning could strike twice. One of the driving forces behind Red Dons is Doug Burns, the lead singer and guitarist of the untouchable every-member-made-it-greater band, The Observers. The Red Dons first LP, Death to Idealism, while it had its bright spots, sounded covered in blankets, a little restricted and restrained, a little awkward, a little tentative. Getting used to new skin. Not so with Fake Meets Failure. The burka’s ripped off, faces are revealed, and those faces are screaming. Analogous to the transformation of the Vicious to Masshysteri or Sexy to Future Virgins, it took a little time from the dusk of one band to the dawn of another, but the newer band, exhibiting similar genetic code to its predecessor, has developed its own personality, its own habits, and has accomplished what many, including myself, didn’t think was possible: release more music that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with some of their own legacy’s finest work. One of the best punk records of 2010, hands down. –Todd (Deranged)

TILTWHEEL: The High Hate Us: LP
I’m a man of glacial movement. I’m a marathon runner of creativity and productivity. My love of Tiltwheel is well documented because I self-publish. I re-tell Davey’s clown stories in front of kids when I talk at the library. I once made a decision to stop dating a lady because she didn’t appreciate that “back stage” for Tiltwheel means “van.” The mini-novel-length, three-part interview of Tiltwheel that was printed in Razorcake a good year before this record was released is the longest piece of “music journalism” (such a twatty term) I’ve ever done. It was worth every word and I really still don’t care if more than a hundred people read it in its entirety. I did it because I could and I wanted to and I didn’t have a boss yanking my chain. If you’re reading this and vehemently disagree with how high a regard I’ve kept and still keep for Tiltwheel, do us both a favor and put all that energy in making something of your own. Do it for fifteen years—through snapped bones, shanghaied hearts, rejected paperwork, douche bosses, termite swarms—then get back to me if you’re not selling insurance or haven’t completely disappeared into “real life.” I’m glad to say that The High Hate Us didn’t jump the shark—that it’s on par with the best of Tiltwheel—because I can’t afford to get these tattoos lasered off and I don’t know how one goes about recalling patron saints. Beautiful packaging, to boot. –Todd (ADD)

TRANZMITORS: “Sunday Morning” b/w “Jimmy’s at the Mod Shop”: 7”
If Elvis Costello was dead, his boner’d go through the coffin at the deliciousness of how the Tranzmitors improved on some of his tastiest musical ideas; distilling and reducing the recipes to pure, powerful sugar-coated punches. Paul Weller’s not dead, but he’s got a massive boner for the Tranzmitors, too. Scale up that small monkey bar of boners and you too can climb up to get an unfettered gaze upon a small constellation of power pop perfection. I’m no lawyer, but I advise you to get any and all Tranzmitors. They’re the reason the northern lights are so bright. –Todd (Meaty Beaty / No Front Teeth)

Joyce Manor: I’ve been told they’re a grower of a band. First listen: oi-folk with a Happy Days vibe and a lot of “I really mean it” sing-a-long parts. But not half as bad as that may sound. They still haven’t completely clicked with me, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they do in the future. There’s something very cool and just odd that some members of Summer Vacation were eight or nine years old when Razorcake started ten years ago. It’s cool because one of my main theories is being proven true: DIY punk is a force unto itself. It doesn’t need outside forces to drive it (like emo, ska punk, screamo) to keep it viable. It’s somewhat odd because I’m double these dudes’ age, they have to hide out if they stay at a bar show after they play, and yet they’re picking up on musical cues that’ve been relevant to me over time: J.Church, a little bit of Pretty Boy Thorson, Minor Threat sheep tattoos, some Defiance, Ohio and Billy Bragg, the straight-edge lifestyle, and an understated layering of instruments. They’re an excellent, local band and I’m looking forward to hearing more of them. –Todd (Muy Autentico)

STONED AT HEART: Party Tracks Vol. I: LP
One of the curious wrinkles of surrounding yourself with fellow music lovers—roommates, good buddies, significant others—is that when someone moves out or moves away, you come to realize that you don’t own some of your favorite music. And it happens with bands that you’re most familiar with, collectively. I was astonished at how few Big Boys, Bad Brains, and Bananas records I actually owned when I ended up living by myself. The bands seem so close. I listened to them so much. And there were gaping holes in my music library. And so it can go with local, great bands. “Oh, man, I’ll pick that up next time. I see you all the time.” It’s especially the case when so many of the members were and are in other bands like Toys That Kill, Can Of Beans, and Underground Railroad To Candyland. I’m totally guilty of this behavior. I don’t want to say that I take Stoned At Heart for granted, I don’t. But I really thought I’d actually reviewed this record and hadn’t. I first met Baby J., the lady voice in Stoned At Heart, as a sixteen-year-old-kid who was living in a shed behind a house in San Pedro. She’s been playing in bands ever since. Couple her voice to the sunny-on-top, questioning-in-the-middle, it goes-down-easy playing and singing of Todd Congelliere, Chachi, and Jimmy Trash, and you’ve got a record that’s super-duper familiar and comfortable, but traveling down another alley, off on a different errand. To those who don’t recognize a single person’s name in this review, think of indie rock made by punk rockers, so all the douchey, bourgeoisie preciousness is kicked to the curb, yet it’s pretty and mostly mellow, precisely played, emotionally convincing, and always moving forward. –Todd (Recess, recessrecords.com)

There are times where I enjoy listening to music that I don’t have a firm grasp on… as long as it doesn’t feel like it’s making fun or talking down to me. There’s an easy bubbling-along-to feel of The Intelligence, but it’s a weird bubbling, like bongs filled with cooking oil or vitamin powder fizzing in beer. You can see through it, but it’s still a little bit strange. It’s garage rock with some tasteful interior decorating, but nothing too precious. And that makes sense when the skirt’s lifted on Males. Take the public-access charm of Steaming Wolf Penis, the balance-and-compound-fracture crash into disintegrating triangles of musical notes of The A-Frames, and the Buzzcocks-references-worn-as-warm-sweaters of the FM Knives (no arbitrary references. The Intelligence were in all of those bands previously), and you get Males. The only asterisk, literally, is that the bleep out the word fuck in “White Corvette” and it’s spelled f*ck in the lyric sheet. No value assessment. Just thought it was strange and it brought attention to itself. Very fuckin’ likable. –Todd (In The Red)

Mean Jeans: Could probably handcuff me to a gorilla and shit on my chest (Mean Jeans and/or the gorilla) and I’d still forgive ‘em because their music’s so fun, so the right type of stupid, so bouncy, so punch-a-disco-ball and find out that thing’s really cut glass and you’re bleeding great, that although they’re the obvious descendants of the Ramones, it just means they know how to party. Mean Jeans are awesome. White Wires: If anyone hasn’t said it already, I’d like to stake the claim that the White Wires are Canada’s new millennium punk answer to The Carpenters. And those who know their music history, know how glossy-PG-13-on-the-surface, totally-fucked-gorilla-shit-at-the-core The Carpenters were. (Said as a compliment.) I’m no sociologist, but if White Wires become more popular, their tunes will probably be whistled by serial killers and soccer moms with equal relish, and I can’t deny this song is catchy as all hell. –Todd (Dirtnap)

Three bands—two Japanese, one American—each with two songs apiece. Your Pest Band: Landing somewhere between The Urchin and the Raydios; a proficient Japanese punk band. Thankfully, they’re not sterile, but they’re also not as memorable as the two signposts I just mentioned.  By far, my favorite tracks are by Defect Defect, and although the delivery’s convincing and I like the song, the phrase “Fuck God Lets Punk” is pretty cheesy. Groaning Groove sounds like a grunge band attempting metal, featuring the voice of an angry, lesser-known Muppet. Not my bag. I have total respect for Snuffy Smiles, but this 7” delivered mixed results. –Todd (Snuffy Smiles)

Still life with half-filled Jameson bottle.This 7” came with a secret Madison Bloodbath decoder ring. It just says, “Everything negative is really positive.” It’s like an inverse of early Against Me!, where instead of swelling belief in positive change, there’s this sweltering dwelling in dark places and existential anguish. (And if that sounds too square hat to you: it’s the time you realize you’ve been fooling yourself, life don’t mean anything, and you’re in a dark, cold place like inside the “refrigerator of the soul” when the door’s closed.) The Bloodbath paradox is that they sing and play so convincingly and with so much verve, while simultaneously proclaiming defeat, self-dishonesty, and decay. Anchor Arms: More saxophone! I have more tolerance than the average listener for “Fest music”—gruff vocals, anthemic, guitar-driven melodic punk rock, but, being so, I’ve listened to so much of it by now, that it takes something else—like ragged saxophone integrated into the middle, not just the beginning and end—to really draw me in. Not offensive, but not clearly separated from the densely populated pack. –Todd (Kiss Of Death)

Still life with a three-quarters empty Jameson bottle. The yin-yang of Madison Bloodbath is the mess of Matt, the main singer, and the not-as-obvious proficiency of the rest of the band. Because if Matt wasn’t a mess, it’d be too slick. If the band wasn’t composed of skilled musicianship, it’d be a hot mess. The country flavoring is more like fingerprints or the taste from an oak barrel than a hayseed, getting kicked by a mule in a bandana Hee Haw parody. That works, also. Plug that into the Lookout Records amp sitting in the corner and play. Calvinball: This English band’s first song sounds like the vocalist is mostly reading the lyrics over the music. Sometimes, the entire band joins in, and that’s the most like singing. He sounds pretty grumpy, disaffected, and defeated. The second song is more singy. Reminds me of a straight-ahead, more workman version of No Choice: poppy English punk with melodies, a gruff voice, and up-high guitar parts. Improves with repeat visits. This is the fifth installment of pairings of English and American punk bands. A great idea. –Todd (All In Vinyl)

Madison Bloodbath: Still life with an empty Jameson bottle. Lyrically, Madison Bloodbath has some self-esteem issues and they’re drowning in alcohol. And not “Yay! Partying! alcoholism,” but scars-across-the-liver alcoholism. And the music’s both celebratory and brooding. Shades of country music inserted firmly into the form of punk rock Hot Water Music explored, but it’s neither curdling like milk in whiskey nor hard to choke down. For reasons that aren’t so clear, even to myself, it’s been a slow, cautious grow with Madison Bloodbath, and I now consider myself a fan. Sunnyside: Jason, one of the vocalists could do stunt double work as a blown-out speaker, if that speaker sung about prescription drug abuse and shattered-glass nostalgia that can never be put back together right. The bands follows suit. It sounds like they’re battling psychosis on daily basis… all to a beat you can tap along to in a Fifteen-esque way. As an aside, the cover art’s the best Roadhouse-inspired illustrations, ever. Craig Horky’s a master. –Todd (ADD, addrecs.com)

WHISKEY & CO.: Rust Colors: LP
If one doesn’t know Whiskey & Co.’s heritage, doesn’t read any of the lyrics, doesn’t pick up on a single clue, that dummy could say, “Man, I hate country. Why’re you wasting time on this? My mohawk’s droopin’ over here.” Let me lay down a basic fact. DIY punk in the 2010’s is what punk’s been promising for decades: a lifelong lifestyle. (Not a clothes-style or hairstyle or a simply purchasable-as-a-jumpsuit commodity.) And I relish the fact that dyed-in-the-wool, not-getting-younger punks are fully embracing other traditional musical forms without discarding their ideals or the essence of rebellion, fun, broken hearts, and questioning. And Whiskey & Co.’s no awkward or embarrassing hybrid country-punk (or cowpunk), stapling loud guitar sounds onto everything. If Waffle House America wasn’t Wal-Mart glassy-eyed for ball-draggin’ obesity-inducing pop country, Kim Helm and the boys’d be on jukeboxes next to Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, and the Pine Hill Haints from shore to shining shore. They ain’t, and that’s partially why I’m continuing to celebrate them on this end. –Todd (No Idea)

YOUNG GOVERNOR: “Call Me When the Cat Dies” b/w “Fade Away”: 7”
Hey man, someone slipped the Guv the Ryan Rousseau broken digital, sand-scratched, blood-trickling-down-forehead melodies handbook, and I’m not complaining. I loves me some Tokyo Electron, Digital Leather, Destruction Unit, and the Reatards. And this follows suit. It’s like seeing a transparency on the overhead over the Guv’s formidable power pop diagram. This release is skuzzier, more fractured, somehow Teutonic, and just as excellent. I liked the trick that that Guv’s pony was pulling before. I like him more now that I hear his pony’s got more than just one trick. If you have to decide between paying off a medical bill or buying this 7”, I’d go with the 7” because it’ll definitely make you feel better… but that’s just me. I’m no health care professional. –Todd (Criminal IQ)

Earthmen And Strangers: It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about the Talking Heads as, well, as a punk-punk band. Oh, I understand their history. I get that, but I haven’t seen any of their direct influence on punk bands recently. I can’t remember the last time I dropped by a friend’s house and they plopped on the Talking Heads. But it’s in Ryan Rousseau’s capable hands that I have to do some double-thinking. The first half of “Slaves” has that tense, slightly off-kilter, atmospheric-as-an-empty-highways, almost bordering on a warble feel of early Talking Heads. Then the song hits the high gears and blows the doors off so hard, you’re digging gravel out of your ears at the end. This song could’ve easily been on the Repo Man soundtrack. Far Corners: Bordering on no-fi, this could be totally shitty, but if you’ve ever had a soft spot for Supercharger or the Oblivians and you can spot the hidden melodies in a recording that sounds like it was done in someone’s kitchen when their mom is making grilled cheese sandwiches, I know you’ll find their charms-in-the-rough as appealing as I did. –Todd (Dirt Cult, dirtcultrecords.com / GC, gcrecords.com)

CRUSADES, THE: Self-titled: 7”EP
What the Statues are to Canadian office work, the Crusades are to satan. To the five people that that makes sense to, you’re welcome. Perhaps it’s the Canadian tendency not to boast, but it took several listens for their dark arts to sink in. On the black, glossy cockroachy surface, they may initially sound like a second-run, too-proficient Swedish late ‘90s skaterock band, but you’d be mistaken. At an undisclosed point in time, the thousand hooks fall from the ceiling in some sort of hellishly devised scenario and their trap’s been sprung. You’ve just been ripped apart, but in a melodic punk rock way that uses that CockSparrer “Runnin’ Riot” siren sound effect in one track that dissolves into the sound of crackling embers of a slow-burning fire. Hail the Crusades. –Todd (Scared To Death, myspace.com/scareddeath)

PARTING GIFTS, THE: Strychnine Dandelion: CD
I count my lucky stars that I got to catch The Reigning Sound the last time they came through L.A. They were amazing. Nothing flashy, just no-motion-wasted, age-appropriate, kids-don’t-know-shit punk rock. The drummer’s torso barely moved: all limbs. There wasn’t any flailing, but it was powerful, energizing, no-nonsense, and great. After their set, Greg Cartwright got back on stage and did a mini, four-song set with The Parting Gifts, where he duets with a woman who was in the opening band, The Ettes. Strychnine Dandelion is like tuning into and lingering on a perfectly DJ’d radio show. Soul, R&B, and ‘60s rock are all played, without the allergizing dust, the smell of yellowed record jackets, or the embarrassing retro-Fonzie-as-lifestyle genre locking other bands happily handcuff themselves to. It’s this type of time-traveling wizardry—it’s contemporary music, my friends, without discarding that initial fire of entire genres of music that many “industries” have declared not economically viable in this new world—that keeps me in healthy awe of and appreciation for all of the bands Greg Cartwright’s involved with. This is some fantastic hard-to-make, easy-to-listen-to music. –Todd (In The Red)

ARRIVALS, THE: Volatile Molotov: LP
One of the Grand Punk Paradoxes for me is this: I have loved punk rock for the past twenty-five years on a continual basis. I continue to love punk rock. Yet the music, the form, the approach, the culture, the intent, the delivery—practically everything about it—has fundamentally morphed away from its origins somewhere in the late ‘70s. So, if the Ramones, The Bags, The Weirdos, and the Clash are punk, and punk died, what’s left?  (Punk’s death is something I don’t believe. I do believe that punk dies in people and that if you repeat something enough times, regardless of truth, people start believing it.) Are punks in their late thirties—too young to surf the first wave, but old enough to put a lifetime in—delusional? Merely hangers-on? Leeches attached to ghosts of nostalgia? No one seriously talks about a wide-scale punk music revolution anymore. Almost every lifer punk I know doesn’t even look like what when someone from the outside shuts their eyes and imagines a punk rocker. But no other term has come along, no other label’s ever stuck. Saying that it’s “music” is too broad; like the term “world music” is just fuckin’ stupid and racist (because I don’t know any bands that have recorded in outer space yet, all music is world music). Digging into smaller and smaller subgenres doesn’t do anyone any good. Parts further isolated will eventually be mocked, suffocated, and destroyed. The Arrivals bring all of this thinking to the forefront. Bar none, they are one of my favorite bands, and have been since their debut Goodbye New World, in 2000. So, I could say, “They’re so much more than punk,” but why divorce them from my favorite form of music so some squares will have fewer wrong preconceived notions and may actually give a wonderful band a chance? I want to celebrate it, bar none, not serve it on a clean plate to fancy, fickle people who mostly suck anyhow. So I came up with a quick, personally helpful device. If someone calls any band that I like “punk,” and they mean it as a compliment, I’ll take it. If someone dismisses music as “just punk,” and they mean it as a slag, that they’ve got the entire enterprise figured out and it’s now a waste of anyone’s time, they can go fuck themselves. With all that mind, The Arrivals have just made one of the best records—and have one of the strongest catalogs—of any band in the past ten years. Punk or not. It’s a big, fat fuckin’ paradox. –Todd (Recess)