Archive for May, 2016

From Caplan to Belsize cover art

After a string of 7” and EPs and the like (including the awesome split 12” with the Great Cynics), Muncie Girls finally release their debut full-length. It is long-awaited and while I found their previously released stuff spotty (although with huge highs like “The Real You”), From Caplan to Belsize is consistently very, very good. Combining wonderfully uplifting melodies with punk-influenced grit and social awareness. There is a certain influence from indie rock here (I hear some Joy Division on “Social Side”), but this is also definitely a pop-punk album. It is high on the surface, but pretty low when you dig deeper.

There is a personal, almost conversational tone to the lyrics, which is refreshing, but they also touch on socio-political issues important to them: from political engagement (“Learn in School”), and misogyny (“Respect”) to feminism (“Committee”). I think, however, they are at the best, socio-political wise, with the closing track “No Recording”, where they manage to expose something of themselves personally, while simultaneously being politically engaged: “Is it normal to feel this tired at work? Or wake up crying about the state of the world?/ On a good day I’ll learn something new, but mostly I just crave the truth.”

With the intelligence and sincerity of the lyrics, alongside the soaring melodies and catchy, female-led vocals, The Muncie Girls kind of remind me of New Jersey’s The Measure (SA), a band whom I have always felt were dearly underrated. Perhaps, on the side of the pond, you could put The Muncie Girls in the same bracket as, say, Doe or Shit Present. You may the album a little overly-sincere at first and hard to digest, but give it time, and you will ‘get it’. If you are on the fence about this band, I would recommend listening to “Social Side”, and that should set you straight. There are enough woah-ohs and hooks here to please fans across the pop-punk spectrum.

Check it out here: http://specialistsubject.bandcamp.com/album/from-caplan-to-belsize

DB

 

From last pick (Shelley’s Children), we are moving from Britain to Canada, from the early 90’s to the early 2000’s. We’re of course talking about Calgary’s heroes Chixdiggit. Chixdiggit started in 1991 by KJ Jansen, Mark O’Flaherty and Mike Eggermont. KJ (The Canadian Joey Ramone) was supposed to be the drummer, but became the singer and guitarist instead since he couldn’t sit still enough to play the drums, Mark played guitar as well and Mike slapped the bass (and I’m guessing KJ stretched his face). After trying out different drummers, their first permanent drummer became Jason Hirsch. Their first known demo is called “Humped” and was recorded in 1993, and includes some of their most famous songs like “I Should have Played Football in High School” and “I Wanna Hump You”, the latter went on to be on their debut self-titled full length.

The songs were basically in the same style they are known for now; pretty straight forward, upbeat, somewhat Ramones inspired Pop Punk with guitar solos and KJ’s s snotty, yet charming voice. Chixdiggit was released in 1996 on the legendary Sub Pop label. The band was turned down by Lookout Records, apparently Lookout would’ve signed them if it weren’t for the band name. After the release of their eponymous debut album, the band wasn’t happy with what Sub Pop were doing and felt it was mutual from the label, so they got out of their contract and signed to Honest Don, an offshoot’s of Fat Wreck Chords, also owned by Fat Mike. On their 1997 sophomore album, Born on the First of July (a Canadian equivalent of “Born on the Fourth of July”), they showed were they came from and quickly became the Stompin’ Tom Connors of Pop Punk. The songs were a lot longer than on the debut, but still with the same catchiness and wit. Three year later they released From Scene to Shining Scene, and five years after that they released Pink Razors, this time on Fat Wreck Chords. They also re-recorded the debut with bonus tracks and called it Chixdiggit 2. Their latest release was the EP “Safeways, Here We Come”, a play on the Smith’s Strangedays, Here We Come. “Safeways” and was released in 2011 and it actually has some of the band’s strongest material. Mark and KJ have always been in the band, but they’ve had some line-up changes when it comes to drummers and bassists.

I think the first time I heard them was when I got the Fat sampler “Rock Against Floyd” when I ordered NOFX’s “Never Trust a Hippy” in 2006. Among many of the other big Fat bands at the time, it included the Chixdiggit song “I Remember You” from Pink Razors. I liked the song a lot, even if I didn’t really check out the full album until about a year later. At the time I used to listen to a Norwegian radio called Pyro, that mostly played metal, but played some Punk/Pop Punk once in a while, and they played Chixdiggit frequently and in 2007 I started liking the band a lot. When I was in Oslo in December that year I also got Chixdiggit 2. I got From Scene to Shining Scene in 2010 and I discovered it was their best and by far most underrated album and that’s why I’m gonna write about this as the 28th Pop Punk Pick!

From Scene to Shining Scene was released on August 22, 2000 and produced by the band themselves. The album cover has the same recognizable Chixdiggit logo and a guy playing guitar, I’m guessing that’s KJ, not sure what that says about the band politics at the time, the picture was taken by Mark Gallup, but the artwork was done by Mike Eggermont. The lineup was the three original members and Dave Alcock played drums, he also played drums on Born on the First of July. The cover also says it’s produced by “Dave Alcock and Chixdiggit”. The title is a play on an expression from the patriotic song “America the Beautiful”; From sea to shining sea, meaning from coast to coast.

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  1. “My Dad vs. P.M”: The album starts off with a Pop Punk bomb exploding in your face. “My Dad vs. P.M (Paul McCartney)” is continuing the recurring Chixdiggit theme of parents and relations between them. The first two albums were highly concentrated with KJ’s lyrics about his mom and dad or someone else’s moms and dads; “Great Legs”, “Henry Rollins Is No Fun”, “Where’s Your Mom?”, “Song for “R’””, “Shadowy Bangers from a Shadowy Duplex”, “Silkome Beach, and “20 Times” all dealt with or mentioned parents in some way. “My Dad vs. P.M” can be compared to “Song for “R’” as it deals with parents’ different opinions about a person (“My dad said that every guy should get to meet a girl like you”/ “My mom said she wanted you out of the house”, but also to “Henry Rollins Is No Fun” as it is about parents’ opinion about a member of a band (“My mom says he’s no fun! Henry Rollins is no fun!”) I think the song is a nod to one of the “My dad vs your dad” scenarios, only this time with Paul McCartney. The song starts off with the narrator telling us that his mother always liked Paul the best (assumingly in the Beatles) because of the way he looked, dressed and sang “whoah ah”’s, while the his father liked the girl who sang “Delta Dawn” (Tanya Tucker). The story seems to be that Paul McCartney and animal activists mistake the father for being a scientist that makes shampoo and tests it on animals and the dad receives death threats (“We started getting death threats in the mailbox/ Milk sucks, let the animals go”), but they soon find out that they are mistaken, and the threats stop. The melody has always reminded me a bit of Teenage Bottlerocket’s “Rebound”. The Hextalls (also from Canada) wrote a song called “My Dad vs. Shania Twain” that I’m guessing is a reference to this song.
  2. “Spanish Fever”: The second track “Spanish Fever” tells the story of someone going to Spain (“Did I mention that we went to Spain?” AKA “A country that was warmer than the one I came from”). Where he meets a girl who spoke English “like a trucker” and is more interested in athletes (“She turned away and watched some Soccer man”), which of course only makes him like her more. My favorite line of the song is “I’m falling in a little deeper/ She’s been calling me a creeper”. The chorus of the song is a bit ambiguous and I’m not sure who actually got Spanish fever, but I found out what Spanish fever actually is, and contrary to the idea that it’s the same as Spanish Flu, it’s actually a cow-disease, also known as “Texas Fever” spread by the Babesia parasite. I’m guessing the song is meant figuratively. Chixdiggit made a music video for the song, and it’s one of their few videos. The song stands out due to its Spanish guitar solo.
  3. “Thursday Night”: Is as you can probably imagine from the title, a tribute to the day we know as Thursday! Just like the NOFX classic “Thank God It’s Monday” is to Monday. KJ sings enthusiastically that he lives for Thursday. The song is incredibly catchy, even if it doesn’t stand out in the masses of catchy tracks on the album. For some reason it has always reminded me of the Eurodance Pop hit “Saturday Night” by the Underdog Project because it regurgitates all the days of the week (so does the NOFX song, I guess) only to conclude with what day they like the most. I always thought it was a parody of the Underdog Project song, but it turns out the Chixdiggit song came first.
  4. “Melissa Louise”: The first song I heard on the album was “Melissa Louise” and it’s still one of my favorites, and another contender in the imaginary “classic pop punk song” competition. The song is pretty much a standard love song, but it explores a theme common in Chixdiggit’s discography: people who are different from each other that date. Pink Razor’s “Paints Her Toenails” and as we shall see later, “Sweaty and Hairless” is also about this. In “Melissa Louise” KJ sings: “girl, I’m glad you’re not exactly like me you’re as whatever as I wish I could be”, and there’s something silly about the song, but also something sweet and genuine. He compares him and Melissa to a hoof and shoe, claiming he’s not good with his analogies. The song also has a pretty cool guitar solos and the melody and the vocals make it Pop Punk at its finest.
  5. “Aromatherapy”: Is a song about, whatayaknow, aromatherapy! Thematically, I could compare it to the Mopes or Screeching Weasel’s “Squeaky Clean”. The melody has always reminded me of the other Canadian, Shania Twain’s “You’re Still the One”, which is a song I’ve always wanted to hear a Pop Punk version of. Maybe Chixdiggit should cover it, they could make a cover album of Canadian songs. I’d love them to try out “Sk8er Boi”, “Sisters of Mercy” and “Ironic”!
  6. “Folks Are Gone”: The mom and dad theme is back in “Folks Are Gone”. The way it seems to me is that it’s about a son coming home to his parents, even if he’s moved away somewhere else, and he wants to contact the one that got away (His mom thinks they should’ve gotten married). They both seem to have moved on with their lives, but he wants to see her for old time’s sake and listen to records, like The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band and the Groovie Ghoulies and some Billy Bragg and her copy of Slippery When Wet by Bon Jovi. It’s actually one of my favorite songs on the album!
  7. “Moto Foxe”: Is a little rocker about a motorcycle, I believe. The song sounds like Thin Lizzy or Kiss or something, but it’s got its charm. I remember having this song stuck in my head one day a few years ago and when I couldn’t figure out what band it was, Chixdiggit were probably the last band I thought of. It has the great line “You got me feeling like every year’s a leap year”.
  8. “Sweaty and Hairless”: Like I mentioned, “Sweaty and Hairless” is a song that deals with going out with someone different than oneself. The protagonist, a punker, I assume, seems to go out with a rave girl, like in “Rave Queen”(a gem found on Chixdiggit 2). In the end, he decides that he wants to stop raving and get into Indie Rock and wonders if Third Eye Blind is looking for a bassist. This is also the song where the title of the album comes from. Musically, I’ve always liked the harmonies in the chorus.
  9. “Going to the Peelers?”: So here’s another Pop Punk song about getting dumped, and a great one at that! The protagonist hears “their song” on the jukebox and replaces it with a song that is “a combination of Glen Campbell and Queen”. I had to look through the filthy, shameful edges of the Urban dictionary to find out what “peelers” means, and it turns out it’s a strip club. It’s the one place he knew she wouldn’t be. A really catchy song that I tend to forget in a bundle of catchy tunes.
  10. “Summer Please”: Every Pop Punk album needs a summer anthem, well, every Canadian Pop Punk album, at least! This type of song might be one of my favorite type of songs, when a year (1998 for this song) is mentioned, I’m already sold on the song. There is a chilling nostalgia in this cheery, warm summer song as the narrator looks back on hanging out with Miss Earth day and wanting to revisit that moment in time. A time when everything seemed perfect and even shitty things felt cool (“I hate parades, but I didn’t that day”). The melody is also, probably, the strongest on the album, I absolutely love this track, and it makes me feel like I’m KJ, or whoever the song is about.
  11. “Born in Toulouse”: Before I bought the album, I also thought the name of this song was “Born Toulouse” ( a pun on “Born to Lose”), but as soon as I bought the album, I figured out I was wrong. I always wondered who this song was written about, I figured now was a time to do some research. I’ve come to the conclusion that it must be about Nathalie Perrin from the 90’s, French, Punk band Greedy Guts. The song is KJ showing his admiration for Perrin and perhaps also subtly criticizing the sexism of music journalism (“All the press had to say was that French girls couldn’t rock, but I knew they were wrong about you”). When I think about it, this is a quite geographical album. In “Spanish Fever”, they go to Spain, in “Sweaty and Hairless”, they walk through the English country and in this one KJ travels to the South of France, not bad for a Pop Punk album! Going even further than from sea to shining sea and from scene to shining scene!

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I’m not sure if anyone in Chixdiggit is going to read this shit, but if you do; Please make that Canadian cover album, I would love to hear you cover that Shania Twain song! Or maybe “Bud the Spud”. I remember in 2014, I made some anniversary articles like the 20th for Punk in Drublic, I was too late for the next pick that is …And out Come the Wolves, oh well.

 

Review: Unwritten Law- Acoustic

Posted: May 20, 2016 in Reviews

It’s strange to review such an established and famous band. Unwritten Law formed in Poway, California, just like blink-182. We can imagine from the title that this is an acoustic album. The album consists mostly of re-recorded acoustic version of old songs, but there’s also a cover and a brand new song. In many ways, it’s the same concept as Alkaline Trio’s 2011 album Damnesia. Unwritten Law started up like a typical California Skate Punk band, but later went on to transcend into the Alternative Rock and even the Post-Grunge genre. The first three records are pretty great Punk albums, but it’s the later records that have brought them most Modern Rock chart hits. Acoustic, however, is not really what I expected. It sounds like something out of the top 40 charts and it’s not my cup of tea at all. Often making acoustic versions of songs can show how good the songs actually are, but I feel like for many of these songs, the opposite happens, in an acoustic packaging, some of the songs show their shortcomings and I find it difficult to tell “Oblivion” and “Save Me” apart.

On quite a few tracks they try the whole “Acoustic-pop-reggae thing”, and sound like a mix between newer Simple Plan and Jason Mraz, this is prominent in “Save Me”, “Nevermind” and the brand new song “Belongs to You”. “Starships” also sounds a bit like Sublime. They also do a cover of the John Legend and MSTRKRFT song “Huartbreaker”, what’s up with the turntable scratching?

The original “Up All Night” sounds like the bastard child of Good Charlotte and Sum 41, and still does on the acoustic version. “Celebration” sounds less like POD and more like something generic on the radio, but the chorus is still quite catchy and it reminds me of “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” by The Four Lads. For what it’s worth, I would have to add that the instrumentation and musicianship on the album are great. And for me the highlights on the album are “Teenage Suicide” (that was originally on their eponymous album), that they turned into a Folk Punk song and sounded more like what I expected from the album. The piano on “Seeing Red” is a nice touch and the Jazz Organ on “I Like That Way” might be my favorite thing on the entire record. “Cailin”, the song about singer Scott Russo’s daughter might be better than the album version (also on Unwritten Law) and I think it’s simply beautiful. Like I’ve already said, this is not my cup of tea and I wouldn’t fully openly recommend it, unless you’re a huge fan of the band.

RH

Impossible Colours cover art

One of the great things about being asked to contribute to Keep Track of the Time is that I’m getting exposure to some great European bands that I would normally not know about, here in the far southwest corner of the USA. Daria is one such band, coming out of France. Starting with a solid post-punk base and adding in emo energy and some awesome mature melodic lines, Daria presents a dozen strong songs on this latest LP. Now, so-called emo-punk or post-punk bands are a dime a dozen, you know? But what sets Daria apart from the pack are those really strong melodies. Too often, bands of this genre can fall into a trap of just playing lots of loud guitars and screaming their vocals to show their angst. But Daria actually provides real songs. Not only are the melodies good, the arrangements are thoughtful. And the vocals remind me somewhat of new local SoCal favorites Spanish Love Songs, with a deep quality, perfect for the emotional content of the songs.

While it’s difficult to pick out a few favorites, since all the songs are quite good, I will mention some particular highlights that caught my attention.  “Margins” has some great dynamics, going from loud to soft and back, and some great, unexpected guitar lines. “A Tired Hand” is a longer track, at a slower tempo. It starts out with some cool tension from the guitar, then the bass joins in, and then the vocals, with the wailing of the guitar moving to the back. The complex interplay of the bass and guitar lines is really nice to listen to as the song progresses. The last three or so minutes of the seven minutes plus song are instrumental, and the interplay between the guitars is nice, but the last minute or so gets epic, with a huge, soaring, buzzy guitar full of reverb that sends shivers down my spine. And I love how “I Live in a Scottish Castle” rocks so hard while being so goddamn melodic.

Then there’s the title track, “Impossible Colours.” It starts out quietly, with a pretty guitar melody, all by itself, and then is joined by the vocals, also quiet and understated. The song slowly builds, as more instruments join in. Yes, there’s keyboard that joins in as the drums also join and the guitars get buzzier, but it works very well underneath everything else. As the volume builds, the vocals get more intense and emotional, and everything builds during the last third of the track. About 40 seconds before the end, everything builds to a crescendo, with trumpets joining in – trumpets?? Yes! And it sounds so glorious, that I wish that 40 seconds could last forever!

PS

Check it out here: https://dariarock.bandcamp.com/album/impossible-colours

Hours Pass cover art

Elk Gang hail from Edinburgh, Scotland and play what they call “melodic hardcore.” But sometimes that label is a cop-out for bands that just play loud and shout. In the case of Elk Gang, the music is reasonably melodic, but the vocals aren’t. Not even close. They try to be, but I can’t get past the fact that they’re mostly out of tune. Trying to shout and sing at the same time is quite a skill that not everyone can do. Here, it just doesn’t work for me. It’s really a shame, because there is some good music in some of the songs (though, not in others). “Let’s Have The Greatest New Year Ever” has really nice indie/post-punk instrumentals in ¾ time, with the guitar playing an arpeggiated line and the bass and drums clicking off the time like clockwork. But the vocals that are part shouted, part sung out of key, kind of spoils it.

Most of the album, as I said, is somewhat melodic, in the sense that there are recognizable chord progressions, and all. I wouldn’t really classify it as hardcore, though. It’s more along the lines of post-punk alternative music, save for “Join A Local Sports Team,” which has some pretty crunchy parts to it and a pretty quick tempo. “Forgive & Forget,” the album’s opener, has some pretty cool stop-start stuff going on in parts, and “Are You The Keymaster” is something that will satisfy skate-punk fans. But the bulk of the album is basically forgettable, and the vocals unforgivable.

PS

Check it out here: https://elkgang.bandcamp.com/releases

Increasing The Minimum Rage cover art

I know ska, I know punk, and I know ska punk. I know Oi. But never before have I heard ska oi until today. Faintest Idea, hailing from the port town of Kings Lynn in Norfolk, are a pretty fucking unique band in this world, and that should be treasured. Too many bands set out to sound like other bands that they think are popular, and we end up with a boring sea of sameness. Faintest Idea turn this trend on its head with tight, energetic ska music blended with tough working class oi, and the result is nothing short of astounding. And, while most ska bands, and even ska punk bands, are generally about fun times, Faintest Idea inject a heavy dose of economic, social, and political justice into their lyrics and in the “found-sound” recordings between some of the songs.

The album begins with ominous music from trombone and saxophone and a sound clip from the film, “A King in New York,” in which Charlie Chaplin has a dialog with a boy about the book he’s reading, something by Karl Marx. “Surely you’re not a communist,” chuckles Chaplin. “Do I have to be a communist to read Karl Marx?” comes the reply. “That’s a valid answer. Well, if you’re not a communist, what are you?” retorts Chaplin. “Nothing,” replies the boy. “I dislike all forms of government.” Thus the stage is set, and a dark ska number, “Circling the Drain,” begins, with heavy dose of Oi coming from the tough, gruff vocals and hard edged feel. The lyrics speak to the endless cycle of those in power dismantling programs that benefit the masses (the creeping privitisation of the NHS in Britain was the inspiration), discontent brewing, and a “straw man” being set up to shoulder the blame of the ills of society, usually immigrants or minorities.

“Down Pressure starts out with a clip from Felonious Monk’s rage about the debt ceiling in the US. “How the fuck do you owe China, B? How can I tell my daughter, with a straight face, that Capitalism is a better system than Communism when we’re borrowing all our fucking money from the biggest communist country on the fucking planet?” A funky bass line segues into perfect ska, with lyrics about the seeming hopelessness of, well, everything going on in the world.

“Stick ‘Em Up (Lords of War)” is a commentary on gun control and gun violence, taking clips from the film “Lord of War.” “There are over 550 million firearms in worldwide circulation. That’s one firearm for every twelve people on the planet. The only question is: how do we arm the other eleven?” The song is about, not only the pointlessness of war, but of the disgusting fact that much war is driven by the desire for war profits from arms manufacturers. Musically, this is one of the hardest tracks on the album, with explosive guitars and vocals matching the explosiveness of the topic.

Other songs deal with the destruction of the environment, homelessness and drug abuse, the insanity of corporate personhood and greed, and other similar topics. It’s fucking refreshing to hear something this political again. And, while, ultimately, protest songs never convert anyone, they do raise awareness and can fuel movements that can create change. So more power to Faintest Idea! This is a brilliant album, lyrically and musically.

PS

Check it out here: https://faintestidea.bandcamp.com/album/increasing-the-minimum-rage

 

Battle Lines From Better Times cover art

This Glasgow-based band was formed from the ashes of two other bands, The Day I Snapped and Beauty School Dropout. They’ve been around a couple years now, and this four-song EP is their second release, after 2014’s “The Path of Least Resistance” 7”. The quarter of tracks here are melodic punk, strongly rooted in the 1990s American style. It’s the sort of music you might have heard from labels like Fat Wreck Chords back in the day. The music is catchy, sometimes almost poppy, but always crunchy. Harmonized vocals add to the poppy feel, while the thick guitar/bass/drums arrangements give it the big crunch. The second track, “All That Got Hurt Was Feelings,” is probably the hardest edged track, while “Overkill Is Underrated” is the rager of the EP. With a quick tempo, a super catchy melody, and a bouncy beat, this one is tailor made for fist pumping, getting sweaty, and singing along.  I’ll bet these guys are a lot of fun live.

PS

Check it out here: https://sinkalaska.bandcamp.com/album/battle-lines-from-better-times