Archive for April, 2015

Don Blake "Pocket Universe" cover art

After having released a couple of EPs and a 7” split (with the awesome Andrew Cream), this is the first full-length from relatively new, Manchester-based pop-punk outfit Don Blake. They play pop-punk in a more-or-less straight-forward way, which is refreshing to hear in 2015 when ‘the scene’ is largely dominated by gruff vocals and self-deprecating lyrics. I mean, I enjoy a ton of bands that would fit into that neat stereotype, but there are only so many Dear Landlord wanna-bes you can hear. I also like that while Don Blake’s style is straightforward, it manages to avoid the trappings or monotony of Ramones-y pop-punk. Pocket Universe is varied and certainly never boring, mixing up catchy, sugar-y fast-paced Lookout-style pop-punk, with a more subtle, mid-tempo brand of ‘noise-pop’ (their term, not mine).

I would not say that anything that Don Blake do is particularly unique or ‘wow’, but they do avoid most of the obvious labelling of the genre, testament to their songwriting talent. I guess they are influenced by the ‘90s pop-punk scene, but no-one in particular really: a little bit of early Green Day, a little bit of MTX perhaps (I certainly notice a lyrical influence from Dr. Frank and that can only be a good thing). What makes Don Blake stand out, apart from their ability to write a variety of songs, is their wonderful melodies and vocal harmonies, which they match really well with the high-tempo nature of the music, best heard in “Existential Horror” (my personal highlight of the album) or the blink-and-you’ll-miss it “Where Else Would I Wanna Be?” To me, this style recalls early Team Stray or perhaps under-appreciated fellow UK pop-punkers Mike TV. It is kind of rare in the genre for the vocal harmonies to come through so well. I like that the vocals are kind of gloomy and deep too (without being overly so); think Dan Vapid with a Mancunian accent.

I must say that what I had heard from Don Blake before on their EP collection, I thought was just ok, but Pocket Universe has certainly made me sit up and listen. It may be that I appreciate their older stuff better now, but I do feel that they have matured somewhat on the new album and gone up a fellow levels song-writing-wise. The pensive lyrics on this thing are just fantastic, especially the way that the album culminates with 4-minute (!!) epic “We Can try”: “Make our own pocket universe, oh we can try”. It has some beautiful, slowed-down melodies and a catchy lead guitar. The length of “We Can Try” compared to the rest of the album (most songs hover around the 1:30 mark) reminds me of the way The Kimberley Steaks ended their first album, and like their fellow label mates, Don Blake are producing healthy, fresh, melodically-driven pop-punk that may not be ‘cool’, but is certainly exciting.

Listen here: http://rounddogrecords.bandcamp.com/album/don-blake-pocket-universe

DB

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Imaginary People cover art

Imaginary People, the second full length from Transcontinental band Pale Angels, is decent, but hit-and-miss overall. It leans more towards hit, but there is enough ‘miss’ to frustrate. If you may recall, I reviewed their most recent 7” Strange Powers last year and mostly loved its scuzzy, live-recorded garage-punk fuzz-out. Now, while that clearly had an alt-‘90s influence, Imaginary People turns that into a full-on homage. The record may as well be wearing baggy jeans and a Butthead and Beavis t-shirt! I’m mostly saying this tongue-in-cheek, as I love plenty from that area which is evident in this album: particularly Dinosaur Jr, Pixies, Mudhoney.

Having said all that, lets talk about the good things! The intense, faster-paced tracks are the best ones, where the fuzzy, swirling, distorted guitars and J Mascis-like vocals really shine. The double-hit of “Wild Vile Flesh”, probably the hookiest and most melodically driven track on Imaginary People, and the shout-y, intense distorted party that is “Ditch Digger”, is my personal highlight of the record. Pale Angels are at their best when they delicately mix gritty punk and fuzzy, underground garage punk with ‘90s alt; to be fair, this mostly works, but sometimes they step a little too far into ‘90s Seattle. The two closing tracks, “Dreamer” and “All Her Clothes” are both over six minutes long and do little in their droney-ness and fuzz to justify that time-length. Meanwhile, acoustic, indie jangler “Schizophrenic” recalls the tedium of Britpop, evidencing that the lead vocals of Mike Santostefano (formerly of Crimes and Static Radio NJ) work best with intensity and high-tempo. I imagine this would be a hell of a live band to see.

Check it out here: http://specialistsubject.bandcamp.com/album/imaginary-people

DB

https://i2.wp.com/s0.limitedrun.com/images/1123908/v600_warn_art.png

With all the swindlers and bad working conditions in Punk rock, it’s nice to see a band that’s unionised. We Are The Union is from Detroit, Michigan, like Eminem. They took a break in 2013 after putting out three albums. They are now back from their hiatus with the EP “Keep It Down”. The first song “Calling in Dead” sounds like Ska, but sort of isn’t Ska; the verses sound more like an indie rock band trying to play Ska. To me it actually sounds a lot like the Lagwagon song “Today”. The chorus is more Pop punk and kind of sounds like a less polished Sugarcult. We Are The Union is a bit shouty, but not as gruff as Copyrights or Off with their heads. The band is neither Emo nor Gainesville-core, but they are just as bummed out. “My Whole Life Is a Dark Room” has a clearly Bad Religion influenced intro and the verses have those Fat Wreck Chords drums that Smelly from NOFX perfected. The back-up vocals remind me of the back-up vocals in Blink-182’s “Disaster” or Alkaline trio’s “I Want to Be a Warhol”, which are maybe the best thing in both those songs. The chorus reminds me of the Copyrights or Lawrence arms.

The fourth track is a Green Day cover, of “Burnout”, the opening track of Dookie. It’s a fine cover, they’ve covered it note for note, but they’ve made it fit in with their own style. And the Green Day worship doesn’t stop on the next song: “Kings of Chords”, the intro sounds like newer Green Day, but quickly turns into more of Ska Punk song. Melodically, it sounds more like Less Than Jake, especially their infamous In with The Out Crowd album. The second track “The Dreams That You Forgot” reminds me of that album as well. The last song “Bury Me” is more riff-y, and kind of sounds like Zebrahead without the rapping, and even earlier Yellowcard at times. The lyrics are maybe the band at their most depressing, and I feel like the chorus could’ve come right out of the Off With Their Heads catalogue, with lyrics like “Bury me or set me free” and “Breaks the bottles inside me”. At times I also hear they have taken some inspiration from the atrocities of modern Pop Punk, but it’s not dominating in any way. So, if you are into Ska and Fat Wreck Chords bands and you need someone to cheer you up this summer, this is your summer EP right here! Just remember to consider your neighbours’ feelings and Keep it down!

Check out Call In Dead here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ipafT1Rcsf0

RH

no more than three chords

Latte+ are from Tuscany, Italy, and seem to be a quite big in their home country: they even have a Wikipedia page, and I hardly understand a word of it! They started in 1997 and play catchy Pop punk highly influenced by the Ramones. No More Than Three Chords is their seventh studio album. The music on the album is well performed and the production is wonderful. The tambourines and vocal harmonies are pretty much perfectly mixed in. At first listen, the album sounded like generic, well-produced Pop punk, but on further listening, it gets better and better! “Something About You” is a feel-good summer hit and “Anyway, I Wanna Be With You” is a sugar sweet sensation! Musically, the latter, sounds like The Queers’ “I Wanna Be Happy” with the glockenspiel and diabetes-inducing singing. The melody in the chorus reminds me of Weston, which is never a bad thing. The melody in the verses sounds like something I can’t put my finger on; I’m thinking “Hybrid moments” or “Astro zombies” by the Misfits.

One of the greatest tracks on the album is “We Are the Disturbed”, the pronunciation of “disturbed” is unusual, but awesome! Chicco (the vocalist and bassist) sings “We don’t even know how to play” and I can tell you that is a lie. “Teenage Schizoid” has a classical music sample intro, and the song itself reminds me of the Groovie ghoulies. Outside of the obvious Ramones influence, I also hear they have listened to the Undertones and their compatriates The Manges, as well as The Queers’ album Punk Rock Confidential. It also functions well when they experiment and break free from the “Ramonescore” sound. I feel that like the Lemonaids, Latte+ is a band that seems to take style and musicality over songwriting, but I definitely think that some of these songs are really great and will grow on you. The album isn’t gonna re-write music history, but if it grows this much each listen, that can be interesting. I even think this is better than most of the Manges’ recent efforts. So overall, it’s a good album! I’m sure they’ve used more than three chords though.

Buy it here: http://www.rocketmanrecords.com/ultime-uscite/latte-no-more-than-three-chords/

RH

I wrote a hell of a lot about my love for the Descendents in one of my long articles about my experiences at the Groezrock festival in Belgium. I was 14 when I first heard their “Nothing With You” and it changed my life and when I saw their new album Cool To Be You in a record store, I had to buy it! It became my favorite album that summer along with Milencollin’s Pennybridge Pioneers. I checked out some of their other songs, but they took years to get me as excited as CTBY. Around my 15th birthday I got Everything Suck; I didn’t like it as much as its follower, but I thought it was pretty cool too. In retrospect, I still don’t get the appeal that album has. Their most famous album is, however, Milo Goes to College, which you are probably aware of it you’re a Keep Track of the Time reader! It’s also their first album. The album was a classic hardcore album, with surf guitars and lyrics about coffee and girls and parents and not being a loser, or a punk. It had classics like “Hope” (covered by Blink-182) and “Suburban Home” (covered by Taking Back Sunday) and of course “Jean is Dead”. The album featured Milo Aukerman on vocals, Bill Stevenson on drums (and they are both still in the band), Frank Navetta on guitar and Tony Lombardo on Bass. Now, Stephen Egerton plays guitar and Karl Alvarez on Bass. They have had many others on those duties in between. Their other two albums are to me the sole definition of hit or miss. Enjoy and All both have some of the finest pop punk songs ever written like “Get the Time”, “Cheer” and “Clean Sheets”, but also have some unnecessary and even annoying songs. I have chosen the one I consider the best and most consistent one: I Don’t Wanna Grow Up, that to me has all the ingredients that make the Descendents in one album.

So, the most common themes of the band, like mentioned, are females, parents, nerdiness and coffee. On Cool To Be You, parenthood is seen from both angles, becoming a parent yourself (“Anchor Grill”) and the loss of a parent (“One More Day”). Coffee is still a big part of the band’s lyrical expression, even in 2004. The Descendents ethos is manifested in their song from All called the “All-o-gistics”, which is a parody of the ten commandments of the old testament. Sexuality is also a common theme in the Descendents discography. On I Don’t Wanna Grow Up, sexuality is mostly described as something either extremely perverted or something extremely terrifying. The lyrics are written separately by all the members, but altogether, there are tendencies of showing two extremes of not taking sexuality seriously or being afraid of it or averting it. These lyrics all coming from a male-centric point of view, easily turns into extreme girlphobia or misogyny. We see these kinds of lyrics in newer pop punk, that’s inspired by the Descendents like Blink and the Connie Dungs. This way of thinking could come from how sexuality is displayed in popular cultures, whether in jokes or in pornography, that makes individuals scared to look at it in a serious manner. Maybe this refusing to grow up is connected with the aversion to sexuality. We have to go back to our friend Holden Caulfield here, so referenced and inspirational in the pop-punk genre, and so important to modern young adult fiction. Holden, the main character of The Catcher in the Rye, had similar tendencies, which was also the view that one from a psychoanalytical point of view could see as the cause of his neurotic symptoms and anti-social behavior. Holden wanted to be the catcher in the rye that saved children from falling off the cliff, one could interpret falling off the cliff as adulthood (I don’t wanna grow up/”Thou shall not commit adulthood”) or sexuality (“It’s a filthy world and I can’t go back”). Maybe the Descendents wrote Holden Caulfield after all.

I Don’t Wanna Grow Up was released on SST records in 1985 and re-released on New Alliance in 1987. The album cover is yellow with the iconic Milo drawing from Milo Goes to College as a baby, symbolizing not wanting to grow up, obviously. I, like Fat Mike from NOFX, have a t-shirt with this cover on it! Sometimes when I eat chocolate, gravy, or anything brown and spill it on the baby’s diaper, I giggle a little to myself, it’s one of my dumb pleasures! The album line up is almost the same as Milo goes to college, except Ray Cooper plays guitar instead of Navetta.
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1. “Descendents”: The album came out about three years after Milo Goes to College and this eponymous track marks their comeback. It’s hard and fast! The song seems to be about wanting new members, because someone has quit, I’m guessing Navetta. And sounds like an ad in a weekly classified. Saying things like “degenerates need not apply” and “attitude is a must”. This does kind of seem anti-punk. They up the punx again by saying they never did a popular thing and don’t know how to sing and how they’d never sell out even a phone booth.

2. “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up”: The title track is taking us back to the sound they had on Milo Goes to College. The song has a very childish cling to it: this is really emphasized with the “nanananana”s that makes it sound like a nursery rhyme. That is, of course, appropriate to the title and subject matter. The song attacks the people in suits who follow life’s path and become successful. These people are called “recycled trash” and it’s “déjà vu”. What I maybe like the most about the song is the bass line.

3. “Pervert”: The third track “Pervert” has one of their catchiest choruses to date. The song comes from a narrator whose only desire for women is to sleep with them and sounds like he’s read one of those douche-y Roosh V. books. He claims to not want to take advantage of the girl in question, but when he touches her he can’t help himself and “then there’s only word on my mind and that’s “fuck”. The most disturbing and creepy line of the song is “I’m not gonna let you get away”. Like in Sloppy seconds’ “If I Had a Woman” (and basically all their other songs) we have to consider that the lyrics aren’t necessarily written about themselves, but could actually criticize the attitudes displayed in the song.

4. “Rockstar”: A short little track! The intro sounds like it’s straight out of Hüsker dü’s New Day Rising album, and then turns into a fast hardcore song yelling “Rockstar”, “Poser” and “Loser”. The song ends with “Let’s see if we can exploit rock n’ roll to its fullest potential”. Short song, short description.

5. “No FB”: Well, isn’t this song cute? “FB” stands for “Fat Beaver” This angry little ditty contains lines like “You mean nothing, can’t you see?” and “Swear I’m gonna leave her, I can’t stand her fat beaver” and of course “You may be the only chance I’ve got, but I think I’d rather be shot”. This sounds straight out of Catcher! (with more swearing and grosser). I hate to be all politically correct about songs, and I hate when people are, but even I can’t help but feeling this song is repulsive. I think I can recall reading a later interview where Milo addresses the song, but I can’t find it, instead I found an interview from 1986 where he said:

“In Lincoln Nebraska a girl came up to me and she said she was real happy to meet me and everything but she said she almost had to cry when she listened to our album because of those two songs: “No Fat Beaver” and “Pervert”. And I spent a half an hour explaining to her that when you write a song it’s like a flash of something. I wrote “No Fat Beaver”, it was like “stay away from me”, which is what I felt about this one girl. I may have only felt that way for two minutes then two minutes later I might have felt “well she’s not too bad looking” or whatever. In those two minutes I wrote that song. She was bummed because I was making this big sexist statement and that I was influencing the way women would think for eternity. Which is ludicrous. Like I was putting the whole feminist movement back 100 years or something”.

Instead of being a jerk and avoid listening to this great band because of that, I feel like songs like this one, really make the more vulnerable and sweet songs even better and creates a great contrast. Like the next one for instance.

6. “Can’t Go Back”: Lyrically, “Can’t Go Back”, is a big leap from the earlier songs on the album. It has the voice of the frightened, childlike protagonist. Musically, it is also different from anything the band had ever put out, going in a more pop direction, accompanying the fragile lyrics. This is basically “Pervert”’ and “No FB”’s exact opposite. The protagonist feels exploited (“I’ve been misused and I can’t go back”) and the world is not the innocent place it once was (“It’s a filthy world”). I don’t know if it’s meant to be, but I interpret the lyrics very sexually and the protagonist is feeling exploited sexually. And I feel like this is where the Holden Caulfield part of the Descendents reaches its climax, so to speak. The song takes the band from being primal and even obnoxious into showing their vulnerability. And Milo sings “Now I know my weakness is my strength”.

7. “GCF”: The title stands for “Good Clean Fun” and is the band’s anti-drug song. Milo thinks it’s time to “take the drugs out of “sex and drugs and rock n’ roll”’. The song isn’t preachy and says that people can’t do whatever fuck they want as long as they let others out of it; “Don’t corrupt my life”. I don’t think the Descendents are ‘Straight edge’, but the song definitely associated with the straight edge ideal. Straight edge, hardcore band Good Clean Fun from Washington D.C. took their name from the song. Work hard, play hard! Work hard, Read hard!

8. “My World”: I think “My World” is one of the most underrated Descendents songs! It’s about isolation and not fitting in. It’s an angry and catchy punk rock song! And Milo yells “Stop knocking on my world” to a raging guitar and fast drums. The song describes several scenarios a protagonist goes through. He’s not interested in sharing his world with the rest of the world, because his world is his mind. First he goes to a “No nuke” rally and the “Don Quixotes” made him feel silly. Next, he goes to the punk rock show, but he doesn’t know anyone there. Then he goes to his university, where everyone is dressed up pretty, and he also goes to a party, but he won’t let anyone into his world and his mind. In the next world he’s in bed with his girlfriend and tries to show her a song, but she laughs at it and says the chords are all wrong; then they go to look at the moon and he freaks out and runs away, she won’t be let into his world either. In the third verse he is at home, first he’s on the toilet and plays his guitar and no one else is around to hear him. Then he goes out to run and get back to look at his personal files and goes to his desk to study. When he studies it’s only him and no love and he claims “that’s the way it’s gonna to be!” And studying is something Milo seemed to be into, he went to college for fuck’s sake! He holds a doctorate in biology from UC, San Diego.
9. “Theme”: The end of side A is an instrumental and is called “Theme”. It’s a cool little thing and on the CD version it seems like a turning point on the album, indicating that there’s something different ahead, or maybe it just feels that way because that’s what actually will happen. The hidden track on Everything sucks is “Theme” part two and it’s called “Grand Theme”.

10. “Silly Girl”: If “Theme” wasn’t, “Silly girl” is definitely the turning point of the album, and the first song of side B on the vinyl. It’s another tune in the “definite pop punk tune” category. It sounds like such a poppy and positive tune, but there’s something sad lurking in it! The song creates an image of a happy summer Sunday and the silly girl is dressed up in a pink dress, she’s going to grandma’s house (not sure if it’s his or hers), but the protagonist is too scared to come. This fear in him is making his life miserable and he has to go away because they made him. I’m guessing “they” are the silly girl’s family, but I guess it could refer to someone else, maybe the fears themselves. Milo sings, “When you’re just a silly boy like me, you’re always so scared”. “Silly boy” is used as the silly girl’s semantic companion, but also gives the protagonist a childlike feature. Here we again see the vulnerable side of the Descendents that is afraid and anxious, who appeared in “Can’t Go Back”. He still hopes to be back some day and that she’ll still be there when he does.

11. “In Love This Way”: Along with “My World”, “In Love This Way” is also one of the most underrated Descendents songs and one of my favorites. The song is about being in love with a friend, and deals with it in a lot better way than some of their other songs on the subject like “Myage”, “Hope” and “I’m the One”. Again, the protagonist is hindered by fear; “I’ve got to get to know you, but I’m so afraid”, still he sings “I’ve known you so long/I’ve known you all along”. He wonders if he’s more than just a friend, if what he sees is just in his head or if she feels the same. Musically, the song goes even further to the pop side than “Silly Girl” did, and the punk rock heard in the title track and “No FB” is far-gone. It has a Beatle-esque sound to it and it has a pretty awesome bass line.

12. “Christmas Vacation”: This sure doesn’t sound like the cheeriest of holidays! The song is about a girl who is depressed and messed up and it’s seen from a protagonist’s point of view, most likely her boyfriend, and he claims she took a vacation from him during Christmas vacation and that she travelled into oblivion. In the end, he realizes “She needs beer, she doesn’t need me”. This is also the point where he becomes cynical and claims he stopped caring long before she started to cry. The song has a more new-wave vibe to it than the earlier songs on the album, and also has more vocal harmonies in the choruses. +44 did a cover of it in 2006.

13. “Good Good Things”: Continues the 80’s new wave sound of “Christmas Vacation” and sounds even more sensitive than and emotional than “In Love This Way”. The song is by far the most romantic on the album. This is the more romantic side they would later show on songs like “Get the Time” and “We”, as well as ALL, a side project members of the Descendents started, songs like “Million Bucks”, “Think the World” and “Until I Say So”, maybe even more emotional, singing comparisons like “Cooling my mind and warming my heart”. This is also a point where the protagonist, assuming the album is all the same protagonist, is no longer afraid.

14. “Ace”:
While the album has slowly progressed from hardcore-ish punk to pop-punk to new wave, “Ace” has transformed it into something else, even if I think it’s a really early Descendents song, they have re-worked it on the album. Lyrically, it continues in the more emotional vein, but also goes somewhat deeper, there’s even an allusion to Jesus and his crucifixion. The song is trying to encourage people to do something with their lives and has the message that you can’t succeed unless you really try, “Stop crying and start trying”. The song could either be seen as condescending or really inspirational, it almost has a religious dogma: “It’s not gonna matter when you’re dead and gone, you’ll be rewarded for the good that you’ve done”. It ends with “there’s no time for standing still, there’s another void that you can fulfill”. If you go back and listen to the album twice, it’s a hell of a mindfuck to know that this is the same band that plays “Descendents” and “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up”, but it is, and that’s why I love this album.

I guess, that’s ALL…..No ALL! The next pick will be After School Special’s self-titled album.

Folk gigs can often be a tad overlong and wearisome, but this one was compact, varied and involved three great acts in Chuck Ragan, Skinny Lister and Tim Vantol. Dutch folk singer Tim Vantol was up first, playing to a fairly sizable crowd at the Institute, despite it being only 7.30pm. Vantol made the most of it, initiating sing-a-longs and encouraging the crowd to get involved. I have only relatively recently begun listening to him and while I’ve enjoyed him fine on record, he kind of blew me away live. Tim plays sometimes with a full band (and he said that he will be coming back to the UK with full-band shows, indeed), but here he played solo, yet that did not lessen the power of his show. He plays with an earnestness and heart-on-sleeve attitude not dissimilar to Chuck Ragan himself or Frank Turner in his earlier days. His voice is arguably as strong as Chuck’s, too, though nowhere near as gravelly or gruff. Tim largely focused on playing songs from his new record “If We Go Down, We’ll Go Together” (which will be reviewed on this site in the coming weeks), and the personal highlights of that included the title track and “Apologies, I Have Some”. Certainly an artist worth seeing live!

And then the party started! I had never previously heard of Skinny Lister before, but safe to say I was impressed with their party folk-punk shanty sing-alongs. Skinny Lister are a six piece, London-based traditional folk band, including an accordion player and a female lead singer, who has a perfect voice for this kind of music. This is campfire punk rock done well, with a tune and a party atmosphere; as Skinny Lister pass around their flagon of rum, you may not be able to resist jigging along to their little folk ditties. I like that they have diversity in their songs so it doesn’t get boring. There are slow-paced, vocal-centric, almost showtunes, as well as the fast-paced traditional folk sing-alongs. Highly enjoyable!

And then came on who most had been waiting for: the one and only Chuck Ragan, in support of his latest album “Till Midnight”. The last time I saw him live (supporting Frank Turner), he was great, but didn’t have too long to play for, so it was satisfying to see him (along with the Camaraderie) as the main act and play a proper set. Chuck played plenty of songs from his new album, but there was time for 2 or 3 songs from the classic Feast or Famine album back from 2007, which are a bit grittier in comparison to the newer material. I was pretty happy when he played “The Boat” from that album as the penultimate song, as I regard that as probably his best tune. Chuck’s voice is as strong as ever; I don’t know how he can carry that intensity and power throughout an hour long gig. All in all, this was a hell of an evening, managing to see Chuck for the first time in years, and discovering two relatively new folk artists.

DB