Astpai, hailing from Wiener Neustadt, Austria, has been a band for over a decade. But this, their sixth full-length LP, is their first album since 2014’s “Burden Calls.” It’s also their first release of any kind in two years, since the “Run From Home” 7” EP. The band blends a variety of sounds together, including melodic punk, pop punk, and hardcore. And, though they’re from Austria, lyrics are sung in English. The album opens with “Rotten Bait,” which has an intro that sounds sort of like prog rock, and builds in intensity. When the song really gets going, though, it becomes a melodic hardcore song, reminding me of what Pears sound like, except slowed down just a bit. It rocks with a more moderate tempo, but has hard-edged instrumentals and loud raspy vocals. “Lottery” follows, with a more loping pop punk feel, with a sound from the last decade. Harmonized vocals, a strong drumbeat, and guitars that keep time just as much as the drums and bass are keys here. I like “No Hero,” which has a very modern, emotional pop punk sound, with a strong backbeat. Vocals are mostly solo, with a great gruff feel. The band doesn’t use gang vocals, but this is the kind of song where the crowd will be singing along quite loudly. The track that’s the most different from all the rest, and may be my favorite, is the title track. “True Capacity” is a hard, pounding post-hardcore track with rumbling bass and roaring vocals. The anger is palpable, the melodic line repetitive and unyielding. I wish there were a couple more tracks like this, but that’s really not who Astpai are – the melodic pop punk sound is strong with them.

Check it out here: https://shieldrecordings.bandcamp.com/album/astpai-true-capacity

PS

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Holy shit! Powerful, dynamic pop punk’n’roll from where? Denmark? Yes! Five songs worth of goodness! The songs are pretty intense, including the vocals – nothing is held back. “Sleep” opens the EP with plenty of “whoa-ohs,” a raucous melody, and strong vocals. I hear a lot of RVIVR in “Words,” which was the band’s lead single. It’s got that striding open sound and passionate vocals. “Weird” shifts between a cool angular line and a melodic punk feel that reminds me of San Diego local favorites Squarecrow. The title track is probably the weakest of the bunch – not that it’s weak or bad – it’s just less unique than the rest, with a pretty standard polished pop punk sound. My favorite track is the closer, “Road.” It’s got a great underground rock’n’roll sound, in the vein of Canada’s The Dirty Nil, including that band’s intense, higher register vocals and grungy punk sound. Really great stuff!

Check it out here: https://foreverunclean.bandcamp.com/

PS

Illuminati Hotties is LA musician Sarah Tudzin. I like how she describes herself on her Facebook page: “Pioneering tenderpunk in the sprawl of LA and trying not to break too many hearts along the way.” She certainly is breaking my heart. The songs are creative and expressive. The songs range from soft and delicate to loud and raucous, but always energetic, bouncy and poppy, save for the ballad, “Cuff.” I love the ambient opening of this song, a perfect mood setter, as the vocals come in, quiet and morose. The song goes up and down, crescendoing a couple of times in a huge, grunge-filled chorus. I also love “For Cheez (My Friend, Not The Food),” a gorgeous, delicate song with plucked acoustic guitar and keyboards that also explodes with loud grungy goodness toward the end. “(You’re Better) Than Ever” is a highlight of the album, coming immediately after the short title-track intro. It embodies everything that is perfect about this record: great song writing, interesting arrangements, fun hooks and melodies, and an enthusiastic vocal performance. “Paying Off The Happiness” is a little jangly number about living in debt, not just financially – emotional debt, as well. The song has one of the best lines of the album, too: “At 24 I’m somehow making rookie mistakes.” As if the youth of today think everything is supposed to always be perfect? The juxtaposition of upbeat jangly pop song with lyrics about coming up short in life makes it a winner. “Pressed 2 Death” sees Tudzin singing about not so friendly competition, because “You only like me when I’m sad / You only want me when I’m feeling bad.” And the closer (save for a bonus single edit of “Cuff”), “Declutter,” goes right to the heart of the soul. Quiet plunking on a piano is accompanied by a heart-breaking vocal, barely above a whisper, singing about a breakup. At the midpoint, we hear background noise, of meal preparation in kitchen, as Tudzin sings, “Mark the hours by my meals / Each decision has me dragging my heals.” It’s an intensely depressing feeling. As the song ends, we hear a voicemail message, a man’s voice apologizing if she’s sleeping, but he has some good news for her and he’s going to go to sleep now and wants to hear her voice.” Devastating. Tudzin normally spends her time behind the recording board, making other bands sound good. It’s amazing to hear her come to the fore and show her immense talents as a performer.

Check it out here: https://illuminatihotties.bandcamp.com/album/kiss-yr-frenemies

PS

Not Scientists are an indie-punk band from Lyon, France that have been going since 2014. Golden Staples is the band’s second full-length. I will admit I’m not particularly aware of their earlier stuff, but I understand that it was more straightforward melodic punk or pop-punk, whereas Golden Staples takes a turn towards indie-punk or post-punk. Although there is an indie or post-punk feeling throughout, it does still retain a pop-punk sense of melodies and the hooks, particularly in the choruses, are pretty big and have sing-a-long qualities. Broadly, Golden Staples is ‘fun’, catchy and clean-sounding, in a mid-late ‘00s radio indie-rock way.

For me, Not Scientists immediately bring to mind late-era Green Day or the newer Blink 182 stuff. Tracks like “Perfect World” or “Sky on Fire” would have fit in well on Dos, for instance, or maybe California. Are these lame reference points? Perhaps, but the songwriting, vocal stylings and production that Not Scientists have gone for really do feel like a ‘00s mainstream pop-punk band in a transition period and that is attempting to expand on their sound, or perhaps even one of those bands’ side projects. Golden Staples has the garage-y, echo-y and playful elements of The Network, as well as the punchiness, clean production and ‘big’ choruses of +44.

“Paper Crown” recalls Underclass Hero– era Sum 41 (!), thinking about both the melodies and the songwriting stylings: “And now they call me king of nothing/I think I knew it all along”. The whole of ‘king of nothing’ trope also is reminiscent of Wavves “King of the Beach”. Indeed, the title track also feels like a Wavves off-cut and the whole record has a somewhat ‘cool’, late ‘00s indie rock vibe going on. Although I’ve bombarded you with mainstream pop-punk references, I get the impression that Not Scientists are going for more of a Cloud Nothings/Wavves sound. I love Cloud Nothings, but Golden Staples lacks the depth and nuances of what Cloud Nothings can produce. The songwriting is generally fine on this record, I guess, but in a similar way to latter-day Green Day or Wavves, the lyrics can feel vacuous and contrived, as if picked from a text book on ‘pop-punk anthems for a disenfranchised youth”. Shrug.

Check it out here: https://notscientists.bandcamp.com/

DB

Hey, it’s Manchester/Bolton pop-punkers Don Blake’s eventual follow-up to 2015’s Pocket Universe, a record that I liked in large parts, but also felt included a fair bit of filler. I feel that Don Blake have developed quite significantly since that record and their 2nd LP Tough like Diamonds more or less picks up where last year’s ‘Blake District’ EP left off, although there is nothing quite as distinct or memorable as “A Broken Baritone”. With 12 songs in 25 minutes, you are in classic fast-paced Ramones-y pop-punk territory here, with hooks not short in supply

Lead singer Joe’s super-harmonic and ‘soft’ vocals (for a punk band) are pretty distinct and help Don Blake stand out from the Ramones clones. As such, they recall the melodies of Cincinatti’s Team Stray at times (at least their first album), or Masked Intruder, without the schtick, but with the speed of Teenage Bottlerocket or The Copyrights. I have always found the vocals on Don Blake intriguingly melancholic, too. When Joe sings about something super relatable (and that’s most of the time) or taps into broader anxieties, it doesn’t half send a shiver down your spine and I think it’s the vocals that do it. Take a stand-out line from “The Rational Nihilist” for instance: “The fundamental goodness of humanity is hanging by a splintering thread”.

Don Blake sing passionately about mental health and anxiety issues and, in that sense, they do remind me somewhat of The Murderburgers: fast-paced, catchy pop-punk that gets to grips with everyday mental anguish. “Chemicals” stands out as an up-tempo ear worm that contemplates medical solutions to mental health issues. More broadly though, Don Blake tend to sing about everyday worries and anxieties and the time wasted investing in these. This is most evident on “Wasting Away” that is surely the highlight of Tough Like Diamonds: a track that has the lyrical self-deprecation and gang vocal harmonies that suggest The Copyrights or Houseboat and a simple but devastating chorus: “So I wait and I worry/I’m wasting away”. “One Trick Pony” later continues this theme: “Spent 10,000 hours worrying/One day now, I will solve everything”.

Broadly speaking, songwriting-wise, Don Blake have improved immeasurably since their early stuff. They always had the melodies, but they are now writing the tunes to go with them. Near enough every song on Tough Like Diamonds is hook-filled, anthemic and resides in your ear for a good while after. A ‘proper’, timeless pop-punk band that would fit in as well in the ‘90s Lookout! scene as today’s. One of the top 5 pop-punk bands going in the UK right now, I’d say (PM me for the other 4).

Check it out here: https://donblake.bandcamp.com/

DB

This punk band from Edmonton, Alberta released their newest album Blurry Photos on Vancouver based label Rain City. Inspired by the Lillingtons, Descendents , downstroking Lookout Records and Sci-fi movies they have made quite a catchy record. This album is pretty much punk to the bone and I can hear a lot of interesting sounds from the past in the skeleton of their work. For some reason, Ryley Conroy’s vocals remind me of Teenage Bottlerocket’s Ray Carlisle and therefore I can’t help but thinking of TBR each time I hear this album. However, I find The Nielsens a lot more interesting than TBR. Sometimes I get the feeling that the band tries to either be straight up pop punk (in songs like “Waiting” and “Casserole”), making them sound a lot more like TBR, but other times the Ray Carlisle-esque vocals mix with 80s hardcore, which to me seems to also be a huge inspiration for this band. “Challenger” is to me the lovechild between Teenahe Bottlerocket and early Replacements, with Agent Orange or Adolescents backup vocals. “Elm St.” has a riff that reminds me of the Offspring or the Didjits and, at the same time, I feel like I’m being transported to the early 80s in LA or that I’m on the set of Repo Man. The opening track sets the time machine to ten years later. It feels like the mainstream era of punk rock in 1994 and it also reminds me a bit of the Offspring (but not in a bad way, if there’s a positive way to be compared to the Offspring, this is it!) and Green Day. I also hear some Turbonegro influences in there. “Hot Snakes” sounds like the odd mixture of pre-Mommy’s Little Monster Social D and Anti Flag. I don’t know if that actually sounds like a good thing when I describe it either, but it’s a great song and it makes me jump around like a raving madman. I hope the Nielsens will excuse my terrible reference points, but the music on “Crystal Lake” sounds like it could be on one of the Uno, Dos or Tre Green Day albums, and be the best song, but the melody has the singalong quality of the Copyrights or Dear Landlord.

Most of the time, the Nielsens play fast paced punk rock with hardhitting drums, bass and distorted guitars, but on “A.A.S” there’s something that sounds like a keyboard that sounds rad! I also like the tambourine attack on the more downbeat “51”. The lyrics are often related to space and horror movies, but “She’s Not Coming Back” echoes the pessimism of the Riverdale’s “She’s Gonna Break Your Heart”. It’s also the most generic song on the album, but its catchy chorus caught me off guard and it’s a great track, albeit a little long. “Guantanamo” takes up an important issue about torture and treatment of detainees. The song itself reminds me of early Parasites. I feel like this album is a breath of fresh air in punk rock. It has a tendency to sound very old, but also quite modern at the same time and the listeners will be brought on a history lesson in punk rock as well getting sounds that are fresh! I would even say that the sound of the album borders on timeless and I have a feeling it will age very well. The pop punk sounds and the 80s hardcore sounds are contrasts that tries to tear the songs to each side and this tension makes the album really energetic and interesting.

Check it out here: https://thenielsens.bandcamp.com/

RH

Rene’s Picks

I don’t have much memory of 1993. I remember going abroad for the first time. I went to Mallorca on charter holiday with my parents. I remember it being super-hot and I drank lots of Fanta. Both the soda and the fruit juices. Holy shit do I miss the Fanta fruit juices. In the world, this was the year when Bill Clinton became the 42nd president of the United States and Nelson Mandela and F.W de Klerk were given the Nobel Peace Prize. I think this is definitely an overrated year in punk rock and I struggled to find the picks for this year. But I went with Cub’s Betti-Cola, The Muff’s Self-titled and Screeching Weasel’s Anthem for a New Tomorrow.

Cub- Betti-Cola

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Betti-Cola was released on October 1, 1993 on Mint Records. I think this is one of my favorite albums ever. Canadian twee pop mixed with pop punk and indie rock. Lisa Marr, known from various Queers songs (“I Can’t Get Over You”/ “Brian Wilson”/ “The Sun Always Shines Around You”/ “Overdue” and many more) plays bass and sings on the album. There are plenty of great covers on the album where I prefer the Cub version. As much as I like Beat Happening’s “Cast a Shadow”, nothing beats Cub’s version on this album. Their cover of Daniel Johnston’s “Tell Me Now” is also fantastic, but the best songs are Marr’s own compositions. “My Assassin” is a song about how death’s always there after us reminding us to live our lives before it’s too late, “They Don’t” is a song about how we want things to last, but they usually don’t, and “Motel 6” is a song about a young couple escaping to a Motel 6 and lying to their parents about it. Neko Case, famous from her solo career and the New Pornographers. I think Neko Case also covered a Cub song early in her career. According to the credible source Wikipedia: “Cub recorded Betti-Cola primarily with microphones and a Digital Audio Tape machine. The album was recorded in various locations including Olympia, Washington and CBC Television.”. The album cover was made by Archie cartoonist Dan DeCarlo. On the re-release there are also some bonus gems, like “Chico” and the cover of Tommy Roe’s sorta creepy song “Sweet Pea”. And a really short cover of “Wipeout”. Definitely an album every music fan should listen to and appreciate.

The Muffs-The Muffs

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The Muff’s self-titled album was released May 11, 1993 on Reprise Records. It was produced by Rob Cavallo, David Katznelson and the band themselves. It includes one of my all-time favorite songs, “Baby Go ‘Round”. There’s just something about that song that gets to me. I’m not even sure what it’s about. I don’t know if it’s about someone being cheated on, jealousy or pregnancy. It could be all of them for all I know. “Every Single Thing” reminds me of an exam I had, when I felt like every single thing was wrong, ironically it was the only exam I passed that semester. The last song on the album “All for Nothing” is a beautiful ballad and a perfect closer to the album, but there’s a bonus track that’s just lots of yelling. There’s also a Angry Samoans cover on there, “Stupid Jerk”. The only song I don’t like is “I Need You”. “From Your Girl” was the song that inspired The Queers’ “From Your Boy” and it starts with a somewhat middle east inspired intro and turns into a 60s-esque pop song telling the listener to not walk away from their girl.

Screeching Weasel-Anthem for a New Tomorrow

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Released two days before my fourth birthday. On October 8, 1993 Anthem for a New Tomorrow is Screeching Weasel’s fifth studio album and third on Lookout. Something of a Wire-inspired concept album. I learned from John Jughead’s video blog that Ben Weasel did a lot of the writing of the album on piano. This might explain all the keyboard on the album. I also think this is the first album where we don’t only hear a bratty and snotty Ben Weasel, but he also tries out new singing styles and it’s where he perfects his almost cartoonish signature voice that he basically never left after this album (with a few exceptions like the Riverdales). But he also tries to sing more robotic in the creepily science fiction anthem “I, Robot” and in somewhat theatrical in “I Don’t Wanna Be Friends” and “Trance” (the only song co-written with Vapid). The paranoid liner notes of the album are entertaining to read. There’s a lot of worry and anxiety for the future in that text when it comes to cellphones, TV and the loss of personal identity and religion. But there is also a lot of hope. As the last song on the album suggests, we can create a new tomorrow without Jesus and drugs and the government or television controlling our lives and live fulfilling lives outside of those and find something real and honest.

Outside of that there are a lot of songs about heartbreak and guilt in relationships: “Leather Jacket”, “Every Night”, “I’m Gonna Strangle You” (supposedly written from a female point of view) and “Inside Out”. There are also songs about alienation like “Falling Apart” and “Panic”, but there are also wistful love songs like “Totally” and “Thrift Store Girl”. Something that holds the album together, at least early on are recurring words. In the self-accepting Brady Bunch tribute “Peter Brady”, Weasel claims “there’s a robot inside of you”. “I, Robot” follows the robot theme and Mr. Weasel or the character of the song is now a robot. Consumerism and television have dehumanized our hero and he sings “I’m not human”. On the following track “Every Night” we get the opening “I’m not feeling human anymore” where the dehumanization appears in another context. The character feels guilty and heartbroken and is not feeling human anymore because of a break up and obsessions are driving them insane. The intro sample “Sometimes people make use of false guilts and so they find an excuse for closing their eyes to their very real guilts” is perfect. An interesting theme of the album is what is real and what we just perceive as real. Like other people, sometimes we think we know someone, but we don’t. In the penultimate song “Claire Monet” the ‘I person’ realises that he didn’t know “Claire Monet” at all. The way I see the song, Claire has given up her name and taken her husband’s. The “I” person of the song laments the tragic loss, not only of a “lovely name”, but also of his perception of another person that “didn’t need a man” or that wouldn’t get kids and get married. The conclusion is somewhat chilling “She couldn’t go on being Claire Monet, who can?”, because no one can live up to someone else’s perception of them.

Dave’s Picks

Screeching Weasel- Anthem for a new Tomorrow

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I can still recall the excitement of hearing Anthem for a New Tomorrow for the first time when I was 16. It felt like such an adrenaline rush, a step into the pop-punk unknown, even more exciting than when I had first heard My Brain Hurts. I can’t imagine what it must have been like hearing Anthem in 1993. Incredible record. As I already stated in the 1991 reflections, I think My Brain Hurts is just about their best record, but Anthem is not far behind at all and I can totally see this being someone’s favourite Weasel album. For the first time, Screeching Weasel developed a conceptual record that was greater than the sum of its parts. I don’t want to say that this is a ‘proper’ album, as if to de-value anything that isn’t a concept album, because that’s just bullshit, but, on the other hand, the idea of Anthem is pulled off super, super well.

Anthem is a great ensemble recording of Weasel, Vapid, Jughead and Panic at their best. It sounds quite far removed from any of their previous records in many ways: in terms of the much cleaner recording, the more expansive musical set-ups and the high-level lyrics. Anthem clearly marked the start of a new Weasel era and that is largely evident in the records that follow. While it is a ‘bigger’ record, Anthem nevertheless retains Weasel’s core energy, spirit and penchant for hooks. On the album, Screeching Weasel produced some of the outstanding works of their career: “Claire Monet”, “Every Night”, “Totally”, to name but a few. More classic sounding ‘90s pop-punk stuff (“Leather Jacket”, “Totally”) sits alongside more experimental and ambitious tracks: the memorable pop-punk instrumental “Talk to me Summer” (maybe my favourite ever instrumental; I at least can’t think of a better one off the top of my head), sub-30 second angry, blink-and-you’ll-miss-‘em punk rock blitzes such as “Rubber Room” and “Panic”, the use of a vocoder on “I, Robot” and, of course, the closing title track.

So, returning to the whole ‘concept album’ part of this: it’s not really a concept album in fairness, more a collection of songs that are thematically glued together. There is all sorts going on on Anthem, but what sticks out to me the most is a consistent questioning of what is real and challenging fakeness: from the viewpoint of questionable mental state and paranoia, as well as peeling back to layers of fake and calculated ‘niceness’ on the surface of the American dream. There are feelings of alienation and loneliness evoked from Ben on this record, amidst technological change, religious fervour and suburban glean. I guess this is best demonstrated on the triple hit of “Peter Brady”, “I, Robot” and “Every Night”.

I know it’s somewhat controversial but I genuinely think that “I, Robot” is one of Weasel’s best songs: it’s innovative, impassioned and sticks the knife in where it hurts, suggesting that we, in the modern tv age, are nothing more than robots ‘stuck inside a circle’. This was 25 years ago, but I feel like this song is probably more relevant than ever in light of the proliferation of social media and echo chambers and the like.

I love the chorus on “Peter Brady”: “There’s something ugly inside of you/ There’s a big empty hole inside of you/ There’s something creepy crawling on your brain/ There’s something in you/ It’s red white and blue inside of you”. It really gets to the heart of the album, suggesting that we all have a Peter Brady inside of us; that we are ultimately doomed to live within this fake, suburban bubble, within the cogs of the machine as it were. Even Claire Monet who appeared different was ultimately sucked in and ended up “playing house and raising kids”.

While much of the lyrics do appear downbeat and rather negative, there is hope on Anthem for a new Tomorrow. How could there not be with that album title? It is there in patches, but the hope only really emerges as an actual entity on the title track and album closer which acts as a manifesto of sorts for an alienated and directionless youth. It has a clear and purposeful rallying call that challenges everything that has been laid out on the rest of the record: “We don’t believe in God or Jesus Ghrist anymore/ We don’t need college just to validate our lives anymore/ We don’t need 12 steps to show us how weak we’ve become anymore/ We don’t need to buy into a system that offers empty promises anymore”. It is probably my favourite album closer of all time, in the sense that it so beautifully and satisfyingly emerges from what precedes it. I hesitate to use this word, but what a Goddamn masterpiece.

Propagandhi- How to Clean Everything

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One of the very first releases on Fat Wreck Chords in 1993, How to Clean Everything, Propagandhi’s first full-length came out at a time when Lagwagon, No Use for a Name and Strung Out were also emerging. In some ways, Propagandhi fit broadly into the melodic, fast-paced ‘skate-punk’ that typified Fat Wreck but, in other ways, they were quite distinct in that cohort of bands and offered something superior. On How to Clean Everything, Propagandhi showcased an in-your-face, uncompromised and snotty punk rock sound underpinned by anarchist politics. It is a fast-paced and unrelenting record that has some typical targets in its sights (nationalism, the effects of capitalism) as well as some less typical targets (third-wave ska).

Before they adopted a more technical, metal-tinged sound, Propagandhi simply revelled in playing solid, melodic punk rock with Chris Hannah’s impassioned vocals, highlights of which are “Stick the Fucking Flag Up Your Ass, You Goddamn Sonofabitch”, “Head? Chest? Or Foot?” and “Fuck Machine”. Outside of these, exceptions to the intense punk sound also help to provide breathing room on the record, notably their cover of Cheap Trick’s “I Want U 2 Want Me”, the ska-based “Ska Sucks”, the reggae-influenced Zionist critique “Haillie Sellasse, Up Your Ass” and “Showdown GE/P”, an interesting tune that is part sung by Chris and part by John K. Samson. The latter makes me wish that they had written more stuff which incorporated vocals from both Chris and John.

As I’ve pointed out in previous articles, Propagandhi are in that rare set of bands that can actually write good political punk songs. It must be so difficult, not just for punk bands but for musicians more broadly, to write political songs that aren’t clunky, corny or overly-preachy. Propagandhi avoid all of this and succeed in combining polemical political discourse with solid songwriting. Their political sentiments are antagonistic and provocative, but are not simply hot air: in similar ways to Bad Religion, their outcries are supported by in-depth historical and socio-political analyses.

What allows Propagandhi to really rise above the typical political punk downfalls though is their wit and sarcastic tendencies. In their call to arms, Propagandhi lay out their (anti-) manifesto with guts and a cheeky smile: “Because this census indicates and this atlas has related 3 billion humynz I haven’t irritated. I’ve got a lot of work to do. 3 billion people. That’s 3 billion snotty fuck you’s.” (“Middle Finger Response”) or “Because if this country is so goddamned free, then I can burn your fucking flag wherever I damn well please” (“Stick the Fucking Flag Up Your Goddamn Ass…”). Then there’s the strong critique of the ‘scene’ that is woven throughout the record, most obviously in “Ska Sucks” (“A message to you, Rudy: fuck you, Rudy”), but on other occasions, too, notably wanting to be “something more than a faded sticker on a skateboard”. It all adds up to form part of an ‘anti-sheep’, free-thinking call-to-arms that is biting, uncompromising and focused.

The Queers- Love Songs for the Retarded

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The Queers’ second full-length Love Songs for the Retarded is a Goddamn ‘90s pop-punk classic. Along with My Brain Hurts and Revenge is Sweet, I would put this up there as a quintessential ‘90s pop-punk record. I love Grow Up but this is the Queers’ definitive album, with their most ‘classic’ hits, incorporating that typical, infectious pop-punk sound. Love Songs is almost relentless in its barrage of snotty, three-chord, Ramones-y and fast-paced pop-punk jams. “Fuck the World” (written by a certain Ben Weasel, of course), “Debra Jean”, “Daydreaming” and “Teenage Bonehead” are among the best songs ever written, never mind in the ‘90s pop-punk scene. “Debra Jean” is one of the rare moments that the album slows down somewhat, crossing Lookout! pop-punk with ‘60s radio pop, something that the band has shown a propensity for throughout their career. The harmonies and the ba-ba-bas in the chorus highlight an essentially straight-up pop song.

The Queers perfectly complemented ‘Weasel in the ‘90s, with each serving their own distinct version of Lookout! pop punk. The divergences in songwriting styles are encapsulated by the differences between the thematic coherence and insights into mental health and alienation offered on Anthem and songs like “Ursuala Finally has Tits” and “I Can’t Stop Farting” on Love Songs, which are really nothing more than pure silliness. That is part of their charm though, right? I mean, not everybody can be Propagandhi. The Queers highlight the importance of playfulness and not taking oneself too seriously, I guess. Love Songs is such a teenage album. I mean, singing about the prom, infatuation with girls (including those that have only recently developed breasts), self-deprecation and finding your place in this fucked-up world couldn’t be more teenage, really. I didn’t actually get into this album when I was a teenager, but years later. So, it feels a bit of a shame; it would have been a heap of fun to listen to at 15 years old. And yet, I still love the record, despite having somewhat missed the boat with it; it makes me feel nostalgic for something that never happened!

 

On Beneath the Pines, The Creeps complete the transition from early ‘00s, Lillingtons-esque, horror pop-punk band to self-reflective, mid-tempo pop-punk band having an existential crisis. On 2008’s Lakeside Cabin, The Creeps had a kind-of schtick about a stalker/serial killer dude roaming his way around the city. I don’t mean that in a derogatory way; Lakeside Cabin is a fucking cool and memorable pop-punk record, but it is escapist in a way that Beneath the Pines is not. To be fair, the personal anxieties and crises present on the newer Creeps stuff was always there: these just tended to be more hidden behind layers of horror-based narratives. The Creeps were never a silly or one-note pop-punk and I think it is that has allowed them to naturally grow and move beyond a horror schtick.

I read an interview with singer and songwriter Skottie Lobotomy recently in which he downplayed the value of melodies outside of vocal melodies. The Creeps have always evidenced strong vocal melodies, but, more than ever, that can be heard on Beneath the Pines. Some of the choruses on the record stick in your head for days and just beg to be sung along: “Staring Me Down”, “Bottom of Things” and “Scared” serve up some fine, hook-filled treats, just for starters. The earworm-y melodies form part of a gloomy and almost gothic feel, in kind of a similar way to the new Lillingtons LP does. It is pop-punk, but not as we know it, son: it suggests a songwriter who has been brought upon The Cure and downcast ‘90s indie as much as The Ramones. Compared to previous efforts, The Creeps’ musical returns are more spacious, reverb-y and slowed-down, allowing the space necessary for Skottie’s memorable vocals to breathe and come to the fore. “Scared” is a great example of that twisted, gloomy version of pop-punk, nipping along at a breezy, mid-tempo pace and placing emphasis on Skottie’s vocals (“Just lately, I’ve been thinking about death”) that requires full sing-a-long. Some of the tracks pick up the pace somewhat, but this is no Ramonescore.

Beyond the Pines builds upon 2014’s Eulogies and, in some ways, picks up where it left off, with its recollections of mental torturing and anxieties, but while Eulogies retained a ‘psychological horror’ element to it, acting as an alternative, pop-punk soundtrack to The Shining or something, Beneath the Pines is as honest and ‘real’ as The Creeps have been. They have peeled back the layers, with Skottie suffering from a full-on existential crisis. He is getting busy at the ‘bottom of things’. Though never explicitly saying so, the lyrics suggest anxiety, depression, addiction and a general downtrodden mental state. Exhibit A is this gem from “Bottom of Things”: “Eye contact- I practice everything/Except sleeping and I don’t do that much these days” or Exhibit B on “Low”: “Quiet, lonely, yeah/I wouldn’t have it any other way”. While the old stuff was great, the lyrics on Beneath the Pines are a million times more relatable, as Skottie’s ‘voice’ comes to the surface.

More than a tale of mental anguish and distress though, Skottie questions everything about himself, why he thinks the way he does and more broadly the human condition. This is a somewhat high-concept album that gets to grips with the ‘point of it all’ and what will become of us all. The existential stuff comes to the fore towards the end of the album, I guess. On “Bodies”, Skottie sings about humans being “such beautiful acts of betrayal”. In this song, while the other person is checking their phone and ‘worried about girls’, Skottie is fixated upon the bigger questions, like the fragility of everything. It’s a fascinating song that produces these memorable lines:

“It’s not the tightest ship/In fact there are soles/ You said “you’re bleeding from the lip”/ I thought, “it’s spilling from my soul”.

If there is a line of thinking that seems frequently present on Beneath the Pines, it’s a fear, not of death, but the degradation of the human mind and soul: “if there is something to fear, it’s that I’ll silently fade away”. It’s a somewhat different angle, but as on Eulogies, the fear of losing one’s mind, spirit and thoughts is prominent on the record. Literally and thematically, the album culminates with the fantastic “Fall”. Here, Skottie brings it together to suggest that we are all on a continual decline and are left with only our memories in the end. This is where the ‘pines’ come in, representing Skottie’s childhood memories:

“I fear we’re all just fated to these capsules of time/Like memories of pure bliss beneath these sky tall pines/And either that’s all that’s left or even those leave our minds/And then we all fall down/And then we all fall”.

The ’pines’ represent Skottie’s childhood, but these anchor the bigger conceptual ideas to something grounded to which we can all relate. What are your pines? I hate to describe a record as ‘introspective’ because it makes me think of some shitty singer-songwriter or something, but Beneath the Pines really does represent some fascinating navel-gazing and self-reflection on life, death and everything in between, backed by some of the highest-quality melodic punk I have heard in a while.

Check it out here: https://thecreeps.bandcamp.com/album/beneath-the-pines

DB

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I was unsure which Lagwagon album I should go with. I knew that it would either be Double Plaidinum or Let’s Talk about Feelings. I decided to go with the latter, as I think it’s a stronger album, even if they’re both good albums. In fact, I prefer the acoustic versions of the DP songs. Hoss is also of course a pretty good album. And there are a couple songs on Trashed that I love a lot too. I saw them in the 02 in Islington, London in 2012 and I realized I didn’t know many of their songs. I also realized that the songs I knew the best were those from LTaF, so I guess that’s another reason for writing about that particular album. I also realize that writing about this album also might be a challenge as I’m not even that familiar with this one, and that I’m starting to run out of albums to write about. Another good reason is that it’s twenty years since the release.

Lagwagon started in 1988, so a year before I was born. This means another anniversary. Happy 30th, dudes! The name stems from the car that Joey Cape (singer and songwriter) and his brother’s mother picked them up with in school. She was apparently always late, so they named the car “the Lagwagon” and that’s how Joey got his band name. The Big Bitch, Chris Flippin, was another founding member of the band. Lagwagon, along with No Use For a Name, Propagandhi and obviously NOFX have helped to develop the infamous “Fat Wreck sound”. They, however, started as a more of a thrash metal inspired band. They got signed to Fat and released their debut album Duh in 1992, it was produced by Fat Mike himself. The thrash influence is heavy here, but also the melodies that they would later get known for. In 1994, they went from thrash to trash. Trashed continued some of the heavier stuff as on Duh, as well as a reference to their last album in the song “Lazy” (does the word “duh mean anything to you?”, which I think is also a Buffy reference). Trashed is a step up and has many great songs, like “Know It All”, “Whipping Boy”, “Going South” and the Dischord tribute “Dis’ Chords”, and let’s not forget the Van Morrison cover “Brown Eyed Girl”. A year later, they would release Hoss, which gave us an album cover with Hoss from Bonanza and the Lagwagon staple “Violins”. With Double Plaidinum in 1997, they took a more pop punk turn and with songs like “Alien 8” and “Confession”, I think Joey Cape developed as a songwriter. I also really love the album cover. DP was also the first album without founding drummer Derrick Plourde after he left the band. I believe he wrote the song “Coffee and Cigarettes” (and the music to many of the songs on Trashed). In 2003, he and Joey Cape would start a side-project called Bad Astronaut, but in 2005, Plourde committed suicide. Fat Mike wrote the opening verse of “Doornails” about Plourde (“These two shots are for Derrick/ For rifle not the handgun”, “Rifle” is another song Derrick wrote, and he shot himself with a handgun) and Lagwagon made the music video “Heartbreaking Music” as a tribute to him. Gimme Gimmes drummer Dave Raun has been playing drums in Lagwagon since Derrick left. After Blaze in 2003, they went in an even poppier direction, but sometimes we hear that same thrash influence there. They continue to make albums, Hang being the latest one. They also released a box set called Putting Music in Its Place.

Let’s Talk about Feelings was released on Fat Wreck Chords November 24 1998. The album cover is a girl with glasses smiling awkwardly with braces and saying “Let’s talk about feelings”. The artwork was made by Mark DeSalvo. The album was produced by Joey Cape and Ryan Greene and recorded in Motor Studios. It was mastered by Ramón Betón and mixed by Bill Stevenson and Stephen Egerton of the Blasting Room. One thing I’ve learned to appreciate is Joey Cape’s lyrics, so I think those will be a focus when I look into these tracks more closely. It also seems that his lyrics are sometimes a bit hard to understand, so I hope I don’t totally misinterpret them.

1. “After You My Friend”: From my readings of this song, it seems to be a combination of “Alien 8” and “Whipping Boy”. A story of a break-up and a man, or a pitiful pin-up boy, that’s left pretending that he doesn’t care about his own feelings and tries to alienate himself from his friends and his feeling. He’s trying to embrace being lonely instead of embracing his relationship. His friends pity him for his loneliness, but he doesn’t care. He tries to escape from his emotions, but deep inside he knows he can’t. It would hurt his pride to show emotion. When in doubt about lyrical meanings, I head to the intellectual punk rock breeding ground of songmeanings.com. Some users seemed to share my point of view about loneliness and trying to hide it and your friends offering their pity. Some also thought of the female in the song as someone who has died. The most common theory is that he has killed her and is now on death row. One user even claimed Mr. Cape had said it was about a murderer on death row himself. I think the most interesting theory was a combination. That the murderer on death row is an analogy for the guy who has been dumped and is trying to find his place in loneliness even if no one understands him. Let’s not forget the bossa nova thing in the bridge!

2. “Gun in Your Hand”: It seems to me that these lyrics are about mental illness. And it gets hard not to think about what I’ve written about earlier in the article. I don’t, however, think this song is about suicide. I think the gun in the song is more about something that ruins your life, it could be depression or drug abuse. This isn’t a gun that will kill you right away, but you’ll survive the first thousand shots, meaning it’s something that will gradually kill you. I think the lines “It only breaks you until you get off/ I’m not gonna watch you kill yourself to live” also somehow indicate these sentiments. Again, it seems that this analysis also is very present on Songmeanings.com. Though one user claimed that the gun was something positive, a power to control your life and drives you to do the things you want to do, by pulling the trigger. Another user claimed the gun was the search for success, but by trying to be successful you kill your mental health and yourself in the process, it could be compared to NOFX’s “The Death of John Smith” or “All His Suits Are Torn”, which again are reminiscent of Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman. I’m guessing it could also be based on the movie Swimming with Sharks, which it has a sample from.

3. “Leave the Light on”: At first glance, this seemed like another break-up number. The protagonist wants to see the person that broke up with them again, if not to rebuild their relationship, but to get closure. “I’d do anything to bring you back to say goodbye”. Re-reading it, I think it’s obvious that it’s about someone close who has died and I still think my interpretation is right when it comes to closure. Everyone wants to bring the person back to life, but the protagonist wants a chance to say goodbye. Songmeanings.com agreed with both these interpretation. The song is dedicated to someone called Sasha and Dennis in the booklet. The song has two samples, one from the movie Jacob’s Ladder and the other from Welcome to the Dollhouse.

4. “Change Despair”: Reading these lyrics, I can’t really understand what they are about at all. My guess is that they are about going to prison or rehab or a mental institution to reinvent yourself. “A costume you can’t take off” could be a prison uniform or a straightjacket. There’s some kind of consensus on Songmeanings.com that the song is about reinventing yourself somehow and hoping your peers will accept the new you. There’s something really bleak about the lyrics. Like the person is fading into a place of indifference and apathy. About getting into routines and leaving the life that used to be fun behind. After reading both mine and the punk rock meaning panel’s interpretation, I think it’s about depression.

5. “Train”: This is clearly a song about a relationship gone wrong. We get to hear the side of the story of someone running away. Realizing that they have been fucking their significant other’s life up and brought them down. I think the train that the person jumped and sits on could be meant literally, as in the train they are on to leave or be a symbol of the distance between the two. The other person has apparently missed this metaphorical train, but our protagonist is on it, far away from the person they left behind. Songmeanings.com is again helpful with making my interpretation feel dumb as hell. One user claims it’s about using another person, and that the train is a metaphor for the person that is being used. Others think it’s about creativity and selling out or turning back on former band members. The train is a metaphor for a journey, possibly the band’s journey, maybe also a journey between two lovers, where one of them misses the train.

6. “Hurry up and Wait”: Short lyrics, for once. This song is definitely about being a band on tour and not getting to do your daily routines, because you have to play a show, and then you have to wait again. Being in a band sounds rough! Songmeanings.com agrees! It’s also a lot faster and more fun than the rest of the album. It’s like the little glimpse of positivity on an otherwise downer record, even if the lyrics aren’t all sunshine and rainbows either.

7. “Everything Turns Grey”: This song is written by Mike Palm and originally by the classic surf-punk band Agent Orange. Definitely one of their greatest songs. Lagwagon is pretty true to the original, but maybe with less surf elements. I think the lyrics fit the album very good thematically. It’s another song about depression. No matter what happens, everything turns grey. I guess the choice of color here is interesting. If they went with “dark” or “black”, it would meaning that everything bad and sad, but grey is almost worse as it means that everything turns dull. Grey is a symbolized as dull or uninteresting or conservative in color psychology, black is depressing, illegal or powerful. Orange is cheerful and enthusiastic though, so Agent Orange playing this song is interesting, thinking of colors.

8. “Love Story”: This song is nothing like the NOFX song of the same name. Except that it’s sort of depressing, I guess, but I’ve learned to expect that from Lagwagon now, even with a title like “Love Story”. Definitely one of my favorite Lagwagon songs. At first, it felt like it was sort of the opposite of “Train”, sung by the person in the relationship that feels like the other person brought them down, but I feel like this is a person singing to themselves, so they are both the “you” person and the “I” person. Using “You” could make the listener relate, whereas in the later verses when “I” is used, we get to hear the protagonist’s point of view. This person hates their friends and wants to be alone and escape from a broken relationship. I feel like the ending is clearly about two people “I’ll just swallow all my thoughts/Maybe someday you’ll stop”. I think it could also be about having someone who cares about you, but also hoping that they stop, so you can be miserable alone. This is probably the song where our friends at Songmeanings.com are most divided and uncertain about the meaning. Some say it’s about popularity and high school. Some say it’s about being the person go to for answers, even if you don’t even know what to do with your own life or relationship. Some say it’s about cheating and not really feeling bad about it, since the feelings are gone and the cheater loves the person they are having an affair with (in that case, it’s maybe more similar to the NOFX song than I thought, it’d be cool if it was the same story, but seen from the woman’s point of view). I think there’s a heavy use of acoustic guitars in this song.

9. “Messengers”: Another of my favorite Lagwagon songs. When they played this song when I saw them I, and pretty much everyone there, went nuts and sang along. It was a great moment. Lyrically, I think it’s about telling friends your troubles and trying to weed the garden in your head, or clean up the mess like Joey says. Maybe when you tell your friends these problems, you feel like you’re burdening them or using them. “When we confide in those friends they’re just messengers” could mean exactly that or it could mean you’re afraid that your secrets now will be spread around. I guess there’s an allusion to “Everything Turns Grey”, as in the blue skies turning grey, but this could also be too much of a cliché to have anything to do with the cover at all. Songmeanings.com seems to think it’s about drugs though, more specifically meth! Crystal meth! An interesting theory is that this song and “Love Story” are supposed to be connected. “Love Song” is about cheating on someone and “Messengers” is about telling your friends about it, but the rumor is being spread and the person you’re cheating on finds out. The melody is great, so great that they basically recycled it for “E Dagger” on Blaze.

10. “The Kids Are All Wrong”: It seems like Joey Cape got the idea to bastardize the title of the famous Who song “The Kids Are Alright” and make it about the kids not being all right. Too bad the Offspring did the same thing, the same year, and it became a huge hit. Oh well. Americana was released a week before too. The song is rather short and slow. Todd Capps plays piano it, he also plays on “After You My Friend”.

11. “May 16”: So, we’ve come to the most famous Lagwagon song and the song this article is basically written in the occasion of. I remember it from Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2. I didn’t even know the song was by Lagwagon, but I loved it. That’s probably where most people found this song and why it has 7 million plays on Spotify. I also think this song has a special meaning to me. May 17th is Independence Day in Norway and what I think of when I hear the song is that it’s the day before that. And thinking of whether that day actually means something, so the lines “take a step to freedom” and singing about liberating yourself reminds me of Norway, while “It’s just another Saturday” reminds me that it’s just a normal day. May 16th is also the day that most teenagers in Norway get drunk, possibly for the first time. Now, as adults, we get drunk on May 17th instead.

To be honest, I read about the actual meaning of the song on Songmeanings.com a very long time ago. And from my memories, it’s about someone you are in love with getting married to a friend of yours and attending their wedding even if it hurts. Just reading the lyrics now, I feel like they are also about liberating yourself. If we take this into the context of the album, it fits the theme of depressed, drug addicted people who try to liberate themselves from hell, or their current situation. Now reading on songmeanings.com, many interpret it as a song about graduation or death. May 16th has now been named by many punks as Lagwagon day (sort of like August 8th is NOFX day). In an article about the song Dyingscene wrote that it turned out that May 16th marked the wedding date of a friend of Lagwagon front man Joey Cape. His friend did not (contrary to my earlier interpretation) because he had fallen out with his friend’s fiancé, “but he was at a different friend’s house on that day and overheard the wedding celebration. May 16th should have been a special day, but turned in to “just another Saturday.”’. Some spell the song “May 16th”, but the official title is “May 16”. It’s also on the Fat comp Life in the Fat Lane.

12. “Owen Meaney”: The title of this song is a reference to John Irving’s classic novel A Prayer for Owen Meany, one of Irving’s great “coming of age and living life” novels. The book rides the line between superstition and reality. The narrator does not draw these lines either, we are not sure if he really believe everything that happens in the book, but he has learned to accept it. The book is about Owen, who from an early age get visions from God about his own death. The book, unlike many of Irving’s works that take place in the course of the narrator’s life, mostly takes place in the sixties, and we get to see how the spirit of the times (Vietnam, student rebellion and so on) correspond with the characters’ lives. I’m not sure if the title of the song is supposed to be a pun or if it’s written differently than the book on purpose. I don’t know if there’s supposed to be a connection between the book and the song either, but it seems to be written from the narrator of the book’s point of view or sharing his atheist leanings and trying to understand what can’t really be understood out of supernatural thinking. It doesn’t have to be related directly to the book, but I think it’s about trying to understand other people’s faith and the unknown. At first, the song actually seems like an instrumental because Joey doesn’t start singing until right before the two minute mark.

Bonus track: “A Feedbag of Truck Stop Poetry”: Except for “May 16”, the first song by Lagwagon I voluntarily heard was this one. I found it on the Fat website back in 2004. It was the title track of that EP, but it also appeared as a bonus track on the newer Let’s Talk about Feelings issues. A feedbag seems to be bag for food for animals. The song seems pretty straightforward compared to the other songs. Someone longs for another person, someone they used to love, but they know that their wishes will never come true. But there are also still some parts that don’t add up to that interpretation, like the suicide mentioned in the song. I think, like so many of the other songs, the suicide here is symbolical. But with like most of these lyrics, I could be wrong.

So enjoy this May 16th, and enjoy the next one. Think of Lagwagon, think of Norway, think of your friends! And think about your feelings, talk about your feelings! The next album will be New Day Rising by Hüsker Dü.

 

This gang is from Leeds, UK and as far as I know has no relation to the 90s power pop band Jellyfish. Their Facebook page describe them as punk and folk, while their Bandcamp page adds reggae to the mix. I can’t hear any reggae on this album! The album consists of 9 tracks, opening with “Spokesdog”, a folk punk song with an angry punk voice and somewhat similar to early Against Me!, and the lyrics are hard to make out. The album ends with the title track “Long in Winters” and it’s slower and I would almost say it sounds a bit like Bright Eyes and it ends the album on a very good note. “Long in winters, short in years” is a pretty good line.

In between we find plenty of more Against Me! sounding songs like “Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peas” (amusing title by the way) and “Reading List”, which has a nice melodic guitar in the background that adds an extra touch and the production is particularly great in that song, as well as the vocal harmonies. There’s also a fiddle, I think! “Graveyard” has a more Celtic sound and lots of whoahs “The Shakes” has an interesting bassline that sounds very steady, for a lack of a better word. My favorite song is probably “Social Smoker”. It’s a good song, and it’s self-deprecating. With lines like “you’re a social smoker, I’m a social waste of space”. It kind of sounds like a Brian Fallon song, but the melody sort of reminds me a bit of Bob Dylan’s “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts”. “Comics” sounds like the usual angry punk with an acoustic guitar and then the bass and kind of cool drums come in. Usually these angry punk folks with acoustic guitars sing about changing the world or getting drunk, but this guy sings about comic books!

It’s pretty clear to me that these people know how to play their instruments. The Against Me! influence is quite obvious to me, so if you like early Against Me! there’s a chance you’ll love this. Sometimes there are elements that remind me of Frank Turner. There are some strong tunes on this album and some really great song titles, too bad no one remembers song titles anyway.

RH

Check it out here: https://jakeandthejellyfish.bandcamp.com/