Archive for June, 2014

Courting Strong cover art

Hailing from Pity Me (one of the finest place names ever), in Durham, Martha play the sort of infectious, hook-laden pop-punk that is exactly what the scene is missing. Courting Strong, their first full length, lives up to all the expectations that the first couple of eps set. What was not so evident on those early releases was the ‘70s power-pop/ pop-punk influences running through Martha’s sound. But this is not simply hero worship. Courting Strong buzzes along to the same youthful, exuberant buzz-pop that The Buzzcocks and The Undertones perfected. However, do not expect a by-the-numbers pop-punk band here; there is a variety of song styles attempted here, highlighting Martha’s natural talent and vision. Indeed, from listening to Courting Strong, you kind of realise how difficult Martha are to pin down. Pop-punk-power-pop-indie-pop-buzz-pop with boy-girl vocal interchange, and probably more pop added for good measure. Compare the energetic, hook-filled brilliance of “1967, I Miss You, I’m Lonely” (probably the song of the year so far), with the Rush-borrowing, proper rock song “Move to Durham and Never Leave”, to the brilliantly-paced indie pop of “Dust, Juice, Bones and Hair”. Courting Strong is rarely dull, but also manages to be a coherent whole at the same time: a rare achievement in pop.

If nostalgia for generations past is perhaps evident in the music, it is definitely a key theme when delving through Martha’s lyrics for Courting Strong. But, this is not an exercise in wearing rose-tinted glasses; being Gaslight Anthem, or Summer of ’69. This is the interesting stuff: a real examination of oneself through the past. The quote by Carl Sagan comes to mind: “You have to know the past to understand the present”. The protagonist deals throughout with a sense of never quite belonging, most obviously summed up in the opener “Cosmic Misery”:

“They asked me how I came to be like this/So lonesome and so strange/I scoffed and pulled my cloak around my fragile, teenage frame/I never had a chance, this world was never meant for me/I put my faith in outer space/Cosmic Misery”

So yes, a lot of the content is emo in the most interesting sense of the term, but like the music, the lyrical content darts here and there, with the protagonist feeling romantic, sad and hopeful in equal measure. But more than all of that, Courting Strong has that old-fashioned charm and sense of humour (mixing Mange Tout up with Ménage-a-trois) of yesteryear that is missing in much of today’s sad bastard pop-punk. Granted, I enjoy a fair bit of said pop-punk, but this is refreshing: like a cheap can of fizzy pop, rather than a dirty pint of beer.

DB

Check it out: http://marthadiy.bandcamp.com/album/courting-strong

I’d feel like a poser saying I heard of the Dickies because NOFX did two covers of them in their 7 inch of the month club, so I won’t say that as it isn’t actually true. I did however in 2004 check the Fat wreck chords website for bands to listen to and I think it was in October after having just turned 15 I would watch the commercials on the site, and saw the one for All This and Puppet Stew which I thought was a hilarious title. I also got the Fat comp “Physical Fatness” in 2005, which I think was the first LP I ever bought and their song “My pop the cop” was on it. And realizing NOFX (whose album Punk in Drublic will be up in a few weeks) covered “Fan Mail” made me check out the original and I thought it was great. I went to an awesome record shop in Edinburgh in 2008 and saw bunch of Dickies LP’s and picked one, after a while I realized I had actually bought a record by a band called The Dickless ( what a name), so I had to go and swap it and got Dawn of the Dickies instead.

Dawn of the Dickies was released in October 1979 and the band is dressed up as zombies as the title is a parody of Dawn of the Dead. Though an American band, they had two small hits in the UK; “Fan Mail” and the Moody blues cover “Nights in White Satin”. The Dickies are often mentioned as one of the few pop punk bands from the early days of punk. Every band was basically pop punk back then, and people say there wasn’t much talk of “Pop punk” and “Punk rock” or “hardcore punk” back then, but the Dickies has so much more pop sensibilities than the other bands at the time along with the Undertones and Buzzcocks. A lot of their songs are just straight up pop songs.

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1. “Where Did His Eye Go?”: With its saxophone intro “Where Did His Eye Go?” is a silly song that starts up this album. The saxophone is extremely catchy and so is the melody; for a listener not familiar with the band I’m sure some would even find it a bit annoying. Great opener!

2. “Fan Mail”: When I first heard this song it felt like it was a sixties pop song and I guess that’s how I still feel about it. The song satirizes the way a lot of fans view their favorite bands and have to know everything about them to a point where it becomes creepy and stalkery. And set to a really catchy melody, it makes a sweet pop song.

3. “Manny, Moe, Jack”: The most “punk” song on the album and the melody is wonderful. The song is about an automobile repair shop. It starts up with an iconic car ignition and ends with a car-crash. This is similar to what the likes of the Toy Dolls would do later and I think the bizarre and silly humor that is expressed in the song has also inspired later pop punk and punk bands.

4. “Infidel Zombie”: This is my favorite song on the album and my favorite Dickies song all over. With its spy-movie intro and an even more catchy sixties pop chorus than “Fan Mail”. It’s really hard to tell what they are singing at times. Reading the lyrics, I realize that they are great. The lyrics to “Infidel zombie” are as clever as they are confusing. It’s like you are in the middle of a Spy vs zombie movie and the protagonist is going to get killed and that it’s all a metaphor for a relationship. The song really fits the zombie theme of the album.

5. “I’m a Chollo”: The lyrics to this song however, are extremely silly and both the music and the words seems inspired by the Ramones and like “Suzie is a head banger” there comes a part that seems really inspired by the Rolling stones. This song with the exception of The Killer klowns from outter space album/EP one of their longest songs. Even if most people associate Dickies with shorts.

6. “Nights in White Satin”: A cover of the Moody blues and the only cover on the album. The first album had a lot more covers on it like “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath and “She” by the Monkees and “Eve of Destruction” by Barry Mcguire. The band did indeed start releasing mostly covers and their biggest hit was their cover of “the tra la la song”(charted nr.7 in the UK) from the Banana Splits. “Nights in White Satin” was their second biggest hit and charted nr. 39.

7. “(I’m Stuck in a Pagoda with) Tricia Toyota”: The song is a very Japanese sounding song, using a Japanese instrument. The song is about being in love with Japanese-American news anchor Tritia Toyota. A Pagoda is a tower that is often associated with Asian countries. I saw a copy of a Pagoda in the English garden in Munich recently, and they are interesting buildings. The song also describes how people have narcissistic obsessions about people they see on TV which is a link to “Fan Mail”. The band also later made a song called “(I’m stuck in a condo with) Marlon Brando”.

8. “I’ve Got a Splitting Hedachi”: Another straight up pop punk song. I have no idea what hedachi means, but it also seems to be something Japanese and it might be just another way of writing “headache”. It might be the most underrated song on the album. Maybe the most sexual lyrics on the album, with lyrics like “you said that you would give me head
but I’d rather watch Johnny instead”

9. “Attack of the Molemen”: The song starts up very psychedelic and continues in the 60’s pop genre. The song is about Atlantis and the creatures living on this mythical sunken island called the molemen, and this one also has a catchy chorus. The song has a really nice organ that makes the garage pop sound complete and psychedelic and also quite creepy build up before the light hearted and nice organ comes in. It fits into the horror theme of the song. It also makes you feel like you are in some kind of nightmare.

10. “She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not”: Another more Ramones-esque song. It also feels like they are going into their cover of “Silent Night”. It is the shortest song on the album. The song only has three lines and two of them are in the title. In the end it feels like the record is skipping, because it’s being repeated for so long. Not their most genius song, but it’s a great fade out.

Even if the Dickies is a band that gets mentioned a lot in the punk world, this is definitely an underrated album and I think it’s an album every punk or pop punk fan should check out. I do, however, wonder if that Dickless record is any good. The next album is Green day’s classic “Kerplunk”.

Well since this is called “Classic Pop Punk Picks”, I figured we’d need more albums from the classic Lookout! period. And a band that often gets unfairly overlooked is the Mr. T Experience (MTX in short), with singer Dr. Frank writing lyrics and wordplay that would make any poet feel incredibly jealous. Like the other bands, there were so many albums I could’ve chosen, and for this band it was even harder (Actually, I couldn’t even decide what album to do myself). The first album I heard by MTX was Love is Dead from 1996 and by many this is seen as their classic album, but it’s one of their albums I like the least (even if it has “bababababa” on it). The second, which is probably my favorite, was Our Bodies, Our Selves from 1993. I bought it in Sweden right before I turned 18 years old and was so stoked with my finding. I’ve later found out that all their albums are great; it’s one of those bands that never really failed. Dr. Frank even made an awesome solo album (Show Business is My Life that will have its own article later), but still I go with Revenge is Sweet, and So Are You which was released after the classic Lookout! period in 1997. I got the album in the record shop Tiger in Oslo in November 2007, about a month after I got Our Bodies. I laughed for hours at the album cover; there was just something hilarious about it. At first I didn’t like it as much as the two other albums I had heard, but by the summer of 2008 it was on my turntable quite often. I remember the final of the UEFA world cup in 2008, I got bored with the whole sports thing so during halftime I went down and listened to this LP and this was also the time I had a summer job and I would have the songs stuck in my head during my workdays.

Revenge is Sweet was released in 1997. Some of the lyrics could by the seen as politically incorrect, even if there is no use of swear words or other obscenities on the album. The album isn’t really what I’d call a concept album. It does have some kind of chronology though. There are about four different parts that go in a similar order: happy love (well not always that “happy”)-break up- post-break up sadness. This is also the MTX album with most country influences on it.

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1. “Here She Comes”: The album starts up quickly. A sweet ode to a female that’s better than the protagonist in every way, at least in his eyes. And includes some great lines like “she’s twice as high as I can climb, that’s why I only get to see her half the time” and “her eyes are saying yes, but her ‘nos’ are saying no”. This is the first song in what I call the first part, which starts up as a, like Freud would say, narcissistic love songs, or what a normal person would say a till then unrequited love song. The protagonist is in love with the image he has created of this girl and he doesn’t get her, until the next song.

2. “She’s Coming Over Tonight”: The song continues from the last time and both have the word “come” as the verb; this time it also functions as an innuendo. This time the girl that was too good for him is coming over and the protagonist thinks it’s awesome that he is finally getting her. The song has a garage rock feel to it and could almost be a 60’s Kinks song.

3. “Love is Dead”: A song that has the same title as their last album, it has backup vocals from Kim Shattuck from the Muffs. This time there has been the break up which has led us into the “break up phase” of the first part. The song has an incredibly catchy chorus that even borders on annoying, which seems like an antithesis to such a sad subject matter. This is poetry: “Emotional vertigo was never supposed to happen this time/, but if she ever were to go back to me there’s nowhere I wouldn’t climb./ Still out on this limb there’s only me, a damaged dim and lonely me/ stepping on my own toes while I rattle my chain of woes.”

4. “Hell of Dumb”: The end to part one and basically a straight up country song, with a great twanging guitar solo that accompanies that style. And the song is the protagonist feeling stupid and crying over spilt milk. He thinks they were both hella dumb and now he can’t get over the fact that he still loves her even when she doesn’t love him back. This was the first song I really loved on the album

5. “The Lawnmower of Love”: The title is a great metaphor for a relationship where the people in it dive into even if they know that they are only gonna get hurt. This song holds together part 1 and part 2, and I could almost say that they function as one part. In this song two people get back together, even if their relationship is bound to fail over and over again (which serves as a theme for the entire album) and the entire relationship seems to be based on questionnaires from Cosmopolitan, boredom and stupidity.

6. “With My Brain and Your Looks”: One of the funniest songs on the album, with more of the country influence from “Hell of Dumb”. The melody is a bit similar to Dolly Parton’s “I will always love you”. The lyrics to this song would probably make the angriest feminist’s skin crawl. The song is about an ugly, brainy dude being in a relationship with a girl who is pretty and stupid and that together they can create children that are both smart and good looking, but it’d be a tragedy if they’d end up with his looks and her brains. My favorite line from the song is “I’ll stick with you and you’ll let yourself be stuck too”. The song could also be seen as satire, a comment on the way the genders are seen in society where some people think women should be pretty and men are supposed to be smart. Women make the splash and the men will supply the cash and though lots in society has changed, a lot of people still feel that way.

7. “The Weather is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful”: The “Break up” phase of part 2. The song describes the decay or decline of a relationship. “Every time you miss the boat you try to kiss the boat one more time”. Unlike “Love is Dead”, this seems more like a mutual thing, the protagonist might even be the one who broke it up. Even if the song is done in a humoristic way, it’s quite dark and I’d say it’s even darker than “Love is Dead”. The chorus is incredibly catchy and the solo is fantastic.

8. “Another Yesterday”: The end of part 2. The protagonist is back to the phase of “Love is Dead” and “Hell of Dumb”, he is stuck in regret and keeps thinking of the mistakes he’s made in the relationship, but it’s hopeless. I actually like the demo of this song (from …and the women who loves them special edition) more.

9. “Swiss Army Girlfriend”: Start of part 3 and the first song on side B. The song is about a Swiss army knife that is the protagonist’s girlfriend. Whether the song is about a knife that he sees as his girlfriend or his girlfriend that he sees as a knife is uncertain. The song has a buzzcocks swing to it. The bridge in the song is kind of grotesque: “I’ll keep her by my side, and open wide until our worlds collide”.

10. “….And I Will Be With You”: Another garagy song that was the single from the album. I also think this song could’ve been a Kinks song from the 60’s. The song describes a relationship where the protagonist and his significant other sit around and only have each other and as time goes on they get fat and they’ll still be with each other, how cute!

11. “Who Needs Happiness? (I’d Rather Have You)”: The title is a parody of Amen corner’s “If Paradise Was Half as Nice” and continues where the last song left off, but this time it’s not as romantic as “…and I Will Be With You”. He states that he loves the girl even if the relationship makes both of them miserable, which is also a continuation of “Lawnmower of Love”. This is probably my favorite song on the album with the line, “If falling short on happiness is the best that we can do, who needs happiness? I’d rather have you”. The song described a dysfunctional relationship in its best way.

12. “When I Lost You”: Once again we’re at a break up phase, and this is probably the most depressing of them all. Even though the song is sad, it has some witty lines like “Every word of wisdom, is dumb/Freedom, freedom, you’re just gonna be dumb” and “I’m calling to a heart that there’s no room in and now I’m feeling barely human”. And of course the offensive bit: “I’ve been trying for so long to make it through this fog that I’ve been lost in/Where we had our love holocaust in”

13. “I Don’t Need You Now”: The end of part 3 and the song with the rad flute solo. This is the song where the protagonist is over the girl who left him and he, even though this might be denial or suppression, doesn’t care what she does now even though he has apparently spent days and nights ruminating and drinking himself to sleep over this relationship; he even tried to hate her, but now even that’s gone.

14. “Our Love Will Last Forever”: Part 4 starts with a love song so positive that it could almost be seen as sarcastic. This couple make it through anything as long as they don’t get drive by shot or the world ending or if nothing happens at the mall or she don’t find someone with more money than him. In the end it says “If we have any luck at all, our love will last forever”.

15. “Some Foggy Mountain Top”: The break up phase in part 4 is represented by a cover of the traditional folk song “Some Foggy Mountain Top” that has been sung by the likes of June Carter and the Carter family and the New Lost City Ramblers, Woody Guthrie and Bill Monroe, I think Johnny Cash sang it too. I think the song also shares a verse with other famous traditional “House of the Rising Sun” (not the Animals version, I think) to define this break up: “If I would’ve listen to what my mama said, I wouldn’t be here today” This is also one of the few punk songs that has yodeling.

16. “You You You”: The last song on the album and one of the greatest endings to an album ever. There’s just something sad and bitter about this song that ends the whole album and part 4 in the post break up sadness phase, but the melody is very cheery and nice. This song laments the end of a relationship while wanting more; “How I’d like to hold your hand one more time”. And also has the wonderful line: “I had a speech/written for this day/you were within reach/but I couldn’t think of anything to say”. This is and the rest of this album makes me realize that there are few other wordsmith like Dr. Frank. The man’s a genius.

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I don’t know if this four part chronology was intentional, but to me it works in that order and it makes an already great album even more interesting. The band could always make amazing punk songs like “More Than Toast” and acoustic numbers as “Even Hitler Had a Girlfriend”, but this album does that better than any of their other output. The next will be “The Dawn of the Dickies” by the Dickies.