Archive for July, 2014

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do, The Shy Guys

In this column we are gonna approach one of pop punk’s hidden treasures. It’s time for Breaking Up is Hard To Do by The Shy Guys. They could have as easily taken their name from Super Mario as their own timidity. I think the first time I heard of The Shy Guys was because of the cover of Triple Bypass’s “Disney World” that they did on their “Go to Disney World” EP. The band features Chadd Derkins from Short attention, Chris Grivet from The Steinways, Triple Bypass and Panther Moderns. “Go to Disney world” is an outstanding Ep on its own, with songs like “I love You Today” and “Wake up, Break Up, Make Up” , but speaking of breaking up, this album, Breaking Up is Hard To Do, with the same title as the Neil Sedaka classic, is the classic pop punk pick this time!

Breaking Up is Hard to Do was released on Whoa oh records in 2005. The album cover has a Super Mario shy guy and the drawn band standing with their backs against the viewer, marking both sides of the shy guys that the band represents. The Shy Guys’ record covers are usually very comic book inspired, but comic books aren’t the only literature that these bookworms are inspired by. This album has almost as many literary references as the Mr. T Experience’s Our Bodies, Our Selves. The album is really ambitious, and sometimes perhaps a bit too ambitious because of the lengths of some of the tracks.

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1. “Shy Guy Cheer”: The intro the album. A short punk rock number with a kickass bass line. The only words in the song are “Shy guys”. It’s not the most word-filled song, but it gives us a taste of what is yet to come.

2. “Jukebox”: This was the first song I heard on the album on myspace and I can’t really say it’s my favorite, but it does have instances of my new found favorite instrument, the tambourine. “This beer tastes just like water” and “Let’s have some more shots” are some of the lines of this little hit.

3. “J.D Salinger Wrote Holden Caulfield”: In the Kerplunk column I mentioned this song. It’s of course a reference to “Who Wrote Holden Caulfield?” and Screeching weasel’s “I Wrote Holden Caulfield” and Holden Caulfield from The catcher in the rye by J.D Salinger. Contrary to the Green day and Weasel songs, this song really focuses more on the Holden Caulfield character than the others. The Green day song has very little to do with the catcher in the rye at all, while the Weasel song is mostly about identification with literary characters and knowing you’re not alone. The Shy Guys song sort of says that you can’t really identify with literary characters, at least not to the point where you try to be them or feel like they do. Holden Caulfield uses words like “creep” and “phony” to describe the people around him oblivious to the fact that he is kind of creepy and definitely phony himself and that we probably all are. The song says to a person that feels like Holden that “that includes yourself, and me as well”. Later the protagonist in the song tries to be the catcher in the rye, which was what Holden dreamt of and catching kids that might have fallen astray. Ironically, the book itself has probably helped a huge amount of fuck ups find their way in life. The song, however, says that you can’t catch them all (which I always saw as a reference to Pokémon, continuing the Nintendo vs literary themes thing that the band has) and that you sometimes have to let them fall because you can’t really save other people if you’ve fucked it all up yourself. When I wrote my English literature bachelor’s thesis I wanted to write about these three songs and their themes related to The Catcher in the rye, but I didn’t. And no matter how dumb that would’ve been, it still would’ve been a better idea than the crap I ended up writing. Another punk rock reference to Catcher can be found in Dr. Frank Portman (of MTX)’s novel King dork. The song concludes with the sad realization that “no matter how lonely we all feel, Salinger wrote Holden Caulfield”.

4. “Make Sarah Smile”: One of the things that bothers me about punk rock and pop punk nowadays is that bands usually choose that they are gonna be either super poppy or super growly. What I liked about the Shy guys is that Chadd’s vocals have a punk rock edge and his voice is very easily recognizable, but the songs are catchy and poppy as hell, and this is a great pop song. The song is about a girl who wishes she had a friend in the whole world and when she smiles it’s one of the wonders of the world. Sometimes the lyrics can get really grandiose: like “let tears flow like wine”. I guess to see someone who is bummed out but happy is a wonderful feeling.

5. “Cloudy Vertigo”: A quite ambitious song, maybe a bit too ambitious for my taste and over five minutes long. I have no idea what the song is actually about, all that comes to mind is the Hitchcock classic, as well as the Simon & Garfunkel song “Cloudy”. It has a great guitar solo and a pretty good chorus. The song ends with a bass riff.

6. “Sonnet 130: A classic Shakespeare sonnet about a lady with bad breath. Like most sonnets it’s in iambic pentameter, which is a meter with five feet. This is a meter which is extremely hard to sing in a song and it definitely shows, but I definitely think this is the best song on the album. The song is slower than the rest of the album and has a more folky sound. The song has an organ and a mandolin and a tambourine as well. I think this melody really shows the potential of the Shy guys.

7. “Cougar Girl”: Another song that appears to be a bit too long, but this song has a chorus that makes it worth it. It’s also among one of my favorites on the album. I feel like this could’ve been a huge hit it if it was made by one of those MTV pop punk bands. The “Whoah oh oh oh”’s in the verses make the song perfect. The backs up vocals in the chorus are nice as well. The protagonist in the song claims a nuclear reactor is one of the cougar girls’ healing factors. The outro is also very sweet.

8. “Red City”: The album has many different styles of songs, a love song like “Sherlock Holmes” and a reflective song like “J.D Salinger Wrote Holden Caulfield”, “Red city” is kind of the party song on the album with lines like “we’re gonna be ourselves, fuck everyone”. It has a catchy chorus and it gives a feel good vibe, even if seems to be about going on a killing spree. “We’ll take this shitty town and totally paint it red, and we won’t come down till the day that we are dead”

9. “Sherlock Holmes”: Another song based on the great works of literature. The song’s protagonist is in love with a girl and after she kisses him he sees this as mystery he needs to solve like the great detective Sherlock Holmes. There’s even a signature quote from Dr. Watson in there “It’s elementary”. And there are female vocals in this song, which makes it an even better song, followed by a sweet guitar solo. “I’m searching for clues like Sherlock Holmes”

10. “North Dakota”: This is maybe the strangest song on the album, and it is also the shortest. It both starts and ends as a quick punk song, in the same vein as the Descendents and the rest is really slow with the same mandolin sound as “Sonnet 130” and a weird guitar solo.

11. “Times change”: The song is sung from the point of view of someone with a crude sense of humor: a sense of humor he refers to as pretty dry. And the song is him apologizing to someone whom he has hurt and that he doesn’t hate them. The song has a catchy chorus that has the Lillingtons way of just getting better and adding more great backing vocals by the end. It also contains the great lyrics “If you want me to be quiet, you’ll have to slit my throat”. I think it also has a keyboard part.

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This is not an album that is often get classified as a classic pop punk album and is not mentioned with the likes of My brain hurts, Love songs for the retarded or even Death by television. And my crappy article isn’t gonna change that, but I think this is an album that should be recognized outside of the New York Steinways Unlovable short attention scene. Like the next album, that is huge even outside of the PPMB and New Jersey: Dorkrockcorkrod by the Ergs!

Eulogies cover art

I generally don’t think that “themed” bands, or gimmicky bands have much of a lifespan and get annoying after a while. I mean, every band is “themed” to some extent, but I’m talking about when a band has an overt gimmick, like Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, or Masked Intruder. Masked Intruder’s second LP highlights their inherent limitations. But The Creeps have got much, much more in the bag than 99% of pop-punk bands, and, so, the fact that they are loosely horror-themed in nature does little to curtail their consistency. Eulogies is The Creeps’ fifth full-length and they just keep getting better, rather than stagnating; they evolve, rather than re-do. While their first couple of full length were Lillingtons-worship Ramonescore, they have developed over the course of the last few years into one of the shining lights of the underground pop-punk scene.

So, what have The Creeps added since the melodic delights of the “Follow Me Home” EP et al? Well, the catchy-as-shit melodies are still there, but the band has evolved into a tougher, rockier sound. I mean, it’s still clearly pop punk; but Eulogies has a slightly broader appeal. The stylings of one of lead singer Skottie Lobotomy’s other bands Crusades has perhaps seeped over into The Creeps’ songwriting.

And what glorious songwriting it is. Skottie’s writing is still as 100% on it as it has been since Lakeside Cabin came out, with tales of death and gore fitting wonderfully into slowly-chugging, melodic punk rock of the finest quality. Except the songwriting has a slight tweak to it on Eulogies. In the past, The Creeps have been all about stalking and murdering; now the turmoil is inner and there are umpteen references to suicide. If older records were The Hitcher, this is more The Shining, depicting a man going slowly crazy: “All these nights I lay awake/ Thinking thoughts that never change/ Just close your eyes and let go/ Just close your eyes”. The desperation reaches a peak on album highlight “Cancer”: “And if cancer’s going to fill my body then maybe nicotine was always the right answer and I just gave up too easily”. Or, the sad-as-shit moment when your suicide buddy opts out: “If you don’t want to come/ It’s okay, baby”. While The Creeps’ previous songwriting elements were never overly silly and had a level of attachment to them, the new stuff is arguably much more relatable. Such as the simple, crushing lyric: “I haven’t felt like me in so long. So long”. The introspective narrative style is as strong as ever, although the “I said/ she said” trick is definitely over-used.

But what it comes down to is: there is not one band that could do Eulogies other than The Creeps. They have made a niche, rather than a gimmick, within pop-punk their own, in much the same way that The Lillingtons did.

Check it out: http://itsaliverecords.bandcamp.com/album/eulogies

Takeover cover art

I am going to be accused of bias in praising Keep Track of the Time columnist Read Hard’s recently formed band Hostile Cakeover’s first EP, but, screw it: it is actually really good! The band name is brilliant for one thing, and sets the ton for a fun EP that doesn’t take itself too seriously. This is proper ‘90s/Lookout-style pop-punk that avoids being overly-Ramones-y, and this is best heard in the opening track, which I would possibly put in a top ten pop-punk songs of 2014 so far, if I were to do such a thing. “A Creepy Thing Called Love” is the song title Masked Intruder wished they had thought of first. It sounds nothing like MI however, being instead reminiscent of Boogada-era Weasel, with its fast-paced melodic style and snotty vocals. But, in the next track, Hostile Cakeover demonstrate that they can play a variety of pop-punk styles. “High School Pizza Party” is influenced by a poppier Queers style pop-punk and is perhaps a more typical Ramonescore song than the other three. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be a rip-off of Varsity Weirdo’s “High School Teen Party” or not, but it doesn’t really sound much like it. The only track that doesn’t work so well here is the “lets try something different” one, or the “lets give the guitarist the microphone” one. Sonically, “This Song” is more interesting, demonstrating a slower, more distorted sound, but the vocals are growly and virtually unlistenable. But, oh well, 3 out of 4 for your first ep ain’t bad. Yes, “Takeover” is lo-fi (isn’t that hip right now anyway? Shouldn’t Hostile Cakeover get on the phone to Pitchfork?), but the underlying songs here are obviously good. With better recording in the future and more time spent on songwriting, there is no reason why Hostile Cakeover can’t be as good as any of the more recent slew of Ramonescore bands in the pop-punk underground.

Check it out: http://hostilecakeover.bandcamp.com/album/takeover

Review: The Walking Targets-

Posted: July 21, 2014 in Reviews

RDR-001: The Walking Targets "Chasing Days" cover art

The Scottish pop-punk scene is looking pretty healthy to me, right now. I will admit that I had not paid much attention to it until the very recent past, but in the past 6 months, I’ve discovered The Murderburgers, The Kimberley Steaks and now The Walking Targets among others. The Walking Targets’ debut full-length is release 001 on Round Dog Records, recently set up by Fraser Murderburger and Chasing Days is not a bad way at all to kick off your record label.

The Walking Targets describe their music as being “for fans off Dear Landlord, NOFX, Dillinger Four, Hot Water Music and being depressed”. This is a pretty accurate description of the sort of music listener who would be into this record, but Chasing Days does not particularly sound like any of the listed bands. Or perhaps I just listen to too much of this sort of music, and to a more general fan of punk, it would be valid. Nevertheless, for me, The ‘Targets use that fairly-polished, fairly-melodic, mid-tempo sound with gruff, pained vocals that has become popular with the Gainesville Fest crowd in recent years. There are no choruses as such, and the way the melody lingers on songs such as “Perfectionist” (my personal favourite) is a-typical of this scene. The band they most remind me of is underrated Mid-westers The Manix, with its fist-pumping sing-a-longs and heart-wrenching melodies. Essentially, The ‘Targets would sound best in a sweaty basement, with sweaty friends, sweaty beers and even sweatier hearts.

Check it out: http://rounddogrecords.bandcamp.com/album/rdr-001-the-walking-targets-chasing-days

So this pick is from one of the biggest rock bands in the world! I’m talking of course about the band that went from East bay to Broadway (Thanks GrimgrinningChris): Green Day! The band that gave us rock operas like American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown and hits like “Basket Case” and “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” and of course three albums in one year, can be shortened down to one 30 minutes long album! The band that every punk kid from the 90s either had Dookie change their lives or hated because it sold out their precious scene to the evil mainstream culture. I’d like to say that Dookie is the Green day album with the best production and the best stand alone songs (Basket case? Sassafrass roots? Having a blast? Come on!), but it also has lots of filler in my opinion; even Insomniac has less filler and that album has the borefest “Brain Stew” on it. The first Green day album I bought was Nimrod and I pretty much liked it and I really liked the song “Uptight”. This was the time I had started to play guitar so I went to the library to loan their notebooks. Once I saw a notebook of an album I hadn’t even heard of that wasn’t in the stores: Kerplunk it said. It did have “Welcome to paradise” on it, but I had never heard of any of the other songs. When I was 13 I went to Aberdeen and to one of my favorite record stores I’ve ever been to and saw Kerplunk there and asked to listen to it….frankly, I couldn’t choose another Green day album for this column and I can’t think of another album that fits classic pop punk picks better (except Love songs for the retarded, which I’ve already mentioned).

Kerplunk was released on January 17 1992 on Lookout! records and distributed through Epitaph in Europe. Now Warner brothers and Reprise are in charge of this wonderful album and the greedy moneyfolks have a hand on this gold mine too. The album cover is very minimalistic and with very few colors, except for, of course, green. And on it is a girl with a gun wearing a t-shirt with a flower on it. The minimalism and almost childishness of the album cover was something that made me really into it at 13 and I still think it describes the album to some degree, even if the teenagers on this record created some of the finest and even some of the most complex songwriting I can think of.

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1. “2000 light years away”: So back to the record shop in Aberdeen! I was putting on an album by a band I thought I had heard basically anything from! And it was different, the production seemed really low-fi and the guitars and vocals sounded kind of dirty. That intro was one of the greatest things I had ever heard and I stood there in record shop feeling like I had to jump around, this wasn’t the green day that everyone else was listening to, this was MY Green day! To this day this song always brings a special feeling to me. It was co-written with among others Jesse Michaels for a band they were supposed to start together. The song describes that feeling when you are so far away from someone and the more you think about them the further away they seem and the closer they seem at the same time.

2. “One for the Razorbacks”: Back in the day I saw this song as that pretty good song that comes after “2000 light years away”, but lately I’ve started to realize that it’s one of their most underrated tracks. With its slow guitar intro, great melody and Billie Joe’s sweet singing and of course Mike Dirnt’s back up vocals. The song is about a girl named Juliet who is doubtful about her love and has the great line “Look this direction, I know it’s not perfection, it’s just me…I want to bring you up again now”.

3. “Welcome to Paradise”: The song that was re-recorded for Dookie and in my opinion it never was the same as the Kerplunk version. Most of it is identical on Dookie and it has a better production, but there’s way more charm in the original and the most different part is the bridge. This version sounds like a psychedelic 60’s song in the bridge, with a loud tambourine. The Dookie version sounds more like a metal song. I might be very alone with this opinion. The song is about moving into a squatter neighborhood and hearing gunshots and the fear that comes with living on your own. It’s a song everyone can relate to. Obviously not the fear of living in a dangerous neighborhood, but leaving your parents’ house and feeling on your own is something most people go through one time. The song explains that what is a slum to someone is paradise to others; we hear this in in the protagonist changing their whining to laughing.

4. “Christie Road”: This was maybe the song that hit me first as my favorite song on the album. The melody is wonderful and Billie Joe’s voice just sounds so believable. The song reflects on boredom and having a place to go. Christie road was a place that the members of the band would go to smoke pot. The lyrics are strangely poetic. Like I said, the song is about having a place to go. And the protagonist telling their mother to stay away of his way and that he’s found a home in Christie road makes it seem like a continuation of “Welcome to paradise”. Artist Cristy Road, who made the album cover of the My Brain Hurts reissue among others, took her name from this song.

5. “Private Ale”: A great tune and a song that sounds like it could’ve been on their first album 39 Smooth or one of their first 7 inches. The song is about unrequited love and jealousy. The song is about someone walking by their crush‘s house and wondering if they are with their new lover and feeling like your life is going nowhere with no prospects and not caring about it. A classic pop punk song!

6. “Dominated Love Slave”: A lot of people seem to be displeased about this masochistic little love song. I think it’s a fun little country song with a groovy bass line! And it’s funny to hear Tré sing. He also wrote the song! It actually took me years to get that it was not Billie Joe.

7. “One of my Lies”: After “Dominated Love Slave”; “One of my Lies” couldn’t be more different. This is Billie Joe at maybe his most philosophical on this record. It’s a song about questioning your own worldview and questioning others’ worldview, that even a person who has lived long is just as oblivious to death as him. The song discusses immorality, religion and the establishment and states that people get lost in vicious circles of similar thinking and traditions that blinds people from individual thought. I’m pretty sure the Darkness was inspired by this when they wrote “I believe in a thing called love”. The song also established Green day as a Pothead band with the line “all I wanted to was great real high”, something they had been singing about since their eponymous song; “Green day”. The song also continues the child and mother relationship with the mother telling the child to pray and her mother telling her the same.

8. “80”: A great track with nice little intro and great backup vocals from Mike Dirnt in the choruses. The song is about Billie Joe’s now wife Adie because her name is a homonym with the number eighty. What is interesting about the song is that the love he has in the song is only giving him anxiety and distress and he talks to himself and gets drunk and throws up. It’s only the bridge he admits that it actually makes him feel good and that he enjoys himself and wants 80 to take him away.

9. “Android”: A song that strangely is almost as philosophical as “One of my lies”. This song used to make me laugh as a kid; it made me imagine an old man walking around in woman shoes. This is the same thing the character in the song does; he sees an old man in woman shoes and thinks he is crazy. However, the song really makes you think about all those weird people who you only see from the outside and you don’t know what story is being hidden behind their weird facade. The protagonist later starts to identify with the old man and that he might end up just like him in a few years or even worse he might not even get to live that long. It also terrifies him that the old man might have been just like him when he was young. This song also has a bong rip in it. “Android” has one of my favorite lines in a song ever: “It seems so frightening/ Time passes by like lightning/ Before you know it you’re struck down”

10. “No One Knows”: Along with “Basket case” this has probably been my favorite Green day song since I was about 14. To me it’s a perfect song. The song continues the accepting your own ignorance theme of “One of my lies” and Operation ivy’s “Knowledge” (which Green day covered on their “Slappy” 7 inch). The song has a fantastic bass intro and one of the best choruses ever written, in my humble opinion. The song touches on having friends who grow up and get boring and feeling like you still have a few years left of having fun. The last chorus even tops the others with the added vocals with new lyrics about how we soak up knowledge to fill up space, which kind of reminds me of Coleridge’s “The rime of the Ancient mariner”. One of the most depressing things I can think of is how many records Green day have sold, how many people listen to them on a daily basis, and how few of them who has probably heard this song. I don’t think they have ever even played it live.

11. “Who Wrote Holden Caulfield?”: The title is a reference to the main character in J.D’s Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. The song is about laziness and a dude who cannot find motivation to do the things he wants to do in life, something that we later find in songs like “Longview” and “Burnout”. It has the brilliant lyrics: “he makes a plan to take a stand, but always end up sitting”. I think the Catcher reference is more of a way to show the protagonist couldn’t give a shit about literature rather than identification with the character (but I could be wrong). Screeching weasel did a song called “I wrote Holden Caulfield”, on their How to make enemies and irritate people album, that had Mike Dirnt on bass, which is more based on Holden Caulfield as a character and shows how you can identify with literary characters to know you’re not alone in the world and how there’s always someone who feels the same way, while the Shy guys’ “J.D Salinger wrote Holden Caulfield” says the opposite and denies Weasel’s feeling of collective loneliness and that we are all alone no matter if we try to identify with literary characters. Punch Buggy Blue had a song called ” I dont get it, no one wrote Holden caufield…. they wrote The Catcher in the Rye”.

12. “Words I Might Have Ate”: The first line of this song always makes me think of the Go Go’s “Vacation” even if they actually aren’t that similar. Another of my favorite Green day songs, it just has a very light mood to it. The intro sounds a lot like a Who song, and the style of the song seems very inspired by early British invasion stuff like The Kinks, the Rolling stones and of course The Beatles. It just has a very catchy melody with acoustic guitar, even if it’s about heartache and breakups and the protagonist asking “WHY?”. To me this is the song that really makes Kerplunk a way better album than Dookie. This isn’t tough guy music, this is soft pop music, and I like that!

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Sadly, I think this an album that will never get the recognition it deserves and few songs from the album except “Welcome to paradise” will be played live nowadays, and albums like American idiot and Uno! get played in malls across the world. Still, this album is something I can have to prove to myself what great of a band Green day really is. It has genres from British invasion influenced songs to punk rock, to pop punk to country. And lyrics about masochism to pot smoking, to love and there is even some Holden Caulfield! Speaking of Holden Caulfield, the next album up is Breaking Up Is Hard To Do by the Shy Guys.

 

Animal Needs cover art

I expected the new band from former Plow United bassist Joel Tannenbaum to be a lot more obviously punk. But as the opener on Animal Needs “Don’t Do It Like That (Do it Like This)” kicks in with its bouncy harmonies and girl vocals, you hear something that is virtually power-pop. It reminds me quite a bit of a pretty unknown Franco-American band called Teenage Renegade. It has youthful vigour, a catchy, shout-y chorus and awesome lyrics about people imposing their ideas on others. The great thing about this ep is its varied nature. Following the poppy opener, “Real life” introduces a violin and a greater urgency, along with Joel’s pretty original, half-gruff-but-not-quite vocals. “Word Police” is one of the most straight-to-the point, and poppiest, fuck yous you will ever hear (there is virtually no excess in any of these barely half a minute songs). The final song is less overtly poppy and simplistic, and is when Ex-Friends unlock their inner Leatherface (albeit with much less distortion and girl harmony back-up vocals). Indeed, the band remind me a little of RVIVR, with their penchant for girl-boy vocals, catchy, shout-y choruses and that indie/pop-punk crossover sounds, but with much more fun and harmonies added in to boot. Building upon their first album released last year (Rules For Making Up Words), Animal Needs is short, sharp and to the point, mixing in a decent amount of ideas and sounds for a short 4 song EP. One to look out for.

Check it out: http://exfriends.bandcamp.com/album/animal-needs

GRIM DEEDS HAS NEEDS cover art

The first question you ask yourself on Grim Deeds “Has Needs” ep is: “is this really not a Lookout 7” from, like, 1997?”. This is pure, silly Ramonescore, ever so slightly updated for the 2010s. It’s short, spunky and sticks to a basic song structure: it can only belong to one particular sub-sub-sub-genre, really. But then you release that “Has Needs” kind of isn’t that Lookout 7” from 1997. This may be mis-remembering, but the Ramonescore bands of the era, and even more recent ones like The Creeps, had charm and wit. This ep is catchy enough, but Grim Deeds rely on vulgarity, something I never personally associated too much with in regards to pop-punk. Yes, The Queers did it (mostly) well, but they are the exception. The sexual and expletive nature of the “jokes” here remind me of Bowling for Soup or something else early 2000s mainstream, rather than the pop-punk scene proper. There is a song about being addicted to porn, for God’s sake. There is already that terrible “It’s just porn, Mom” song for that. There is another song about your wife not fucking you now that she’s your wife. Deep, this is not. I know, it’s not supposed to be, but it’s not really good enough as that hilarious, edgy pop-punk EP it really wants to be. “Being Fat Mike”, I will give them, though. It’s decent and funny enough. I really hope it was intended as a rip-off of “Scavenger Type”, but that may be me looking into it too much.