Archive for September, 2017

Rene’s Picks

In Norway, 1990 wasn’t the most eventful year, but it was the year of a terrible tragedy. An arsonist set fire to the ship Scandinavian Star on April 7th and killed 159 people. In the UK, it was also the year of the Lichfield shooting where the Provisional IRA shot three British soldiers and one died. It also was the year that Margaret Thatcher resigned as prime minister, but it would be a stretch to call that a tragedy. I, of course, can’t remember any of these things, nor can I remember any of the albums I’m writing about, as I was like one year old. The albums I have picked are Green Day’s 39 Smooth, Bad Religion’s Against the Grain and Jokke & Valentinerne’s III.

Green Day-39/ Smooth

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The debut album that basically started it all. An album released April 13th on Lookout Records and is now in the hands of Ol’ Blue Eyes’ Reprise just like the rest of the Green Day catalog. As a debut album, it really showed the start of the sound that the band would perfect the forthcoming years. Many of their biggest classics like “At the Library”, “Disappearing Boy” and “Going to Pasalacqua” are on the album. The song “Green Day” is also on there. The album was re-released a year later in 1991 with the two EP’s “1000 Hours” and “Slappy” and the song “I Want to Be Alone” as on 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours. I think the best songs are from the two EP’s are “Paper Lanterns” and “Only of You”. They are among the band’s best work and they were extremely young when they wrote them, which might be what makes the juvenile lyrics so effective. “Slappy” is also where we find the Operation Ivy (see last year!) cover “Knowledge” and “1000 Hours” was the band’s first ever release when they changed their name from Sweet Children to Green Day last minute. Drumming on the album, was John Kiffmeyer AKA Al Sobrante and not Tre Cool, who joined the band later this year! (1990 that is)

Bad Religion- Against the Grain

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There have been some comments about the 1989 picks, that they lacked No Control by Bad Religion, so at least here is Against the Grain. I think it’s the superior album of the two, a way more substantial album. That being said, I think both albums (No Control and Against the Grain) suffer from the fact that the songs are too indistinguishable, same goes for Suffer really, but I think the All Ages collection really shows all the gems that are on all these albums, but I consider Against the Grain to be the best one of them with songs like the opener “Modern Man”, the Simon & Garfunkel inspired and strangely enough still relevant “Flat Earth Society” and fantastic slower songs like “Anasthesia” and “Faith Alone” that showed their abilities to create beautiful and thoughtful melodies along with their punk anthems. The original version of their, maybe, biggest hit “21st Century Digital Boy” also appeared on this album and I think it’s better and the re-recording that ended up on Stranger Than Fiction. The title track “Against the Grain” and closing song “Walk Away” should also not be forgotten. It was their first album that sold over 100.000 copies. The album was released November 23rd on Epitaph.

Jokke & Valentinerne-III

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I, of course, had to include a Norwegian album in this thing too. III is the third (what a surprise) album by Jokke & Valentinerne.  They had during the 80s gotten an underground reputation in Oslo and their sophomore album Et hundeliv scored some hit and brought the band to the mainstream. Their previous albums were punk-inspired rock albums that mixed up genres and showed Oslo from its darkest, but with their comic book album covers also added humor to the tristesse. III took the genre-blend even further and the album at pop, folk, rock, punk, pop punk, new wave and ska. The three last songs stand out, the album closes with “Koteletter”, a new wave song with a beatbox about pork chops, the second to last song, “Telefonen ringer” is a song about the annoyance of telephone calls and the paranoia that might occur when it the phone rings sung to a ska composition and an intro similar to The Clash’s “All the Young Punks” and before that the beautiful “En dag”, a straight up pop song with an keyboard lead that probably is among the most wonderful pieces of music ever recorded. It’s a wonderful song about love and friendship and thinking about the times you’ve spend with someone and things you’ve done together and things you wish you could’ve done and that one day you’ll do those things.

The most classic songs on the album are probably “Paranoid” a song about being scared of being followed on the street and about being stared at by women in bars, even if these are just cases of the protagonist being paranoid, and “Gutta”, a song about a group off fellas that have done everything together and just wait for someone to go buy more beer and they’re starting to get bored with their existence. At the time, the band consisted of drummer May Irene Aasen, bassist Håkon Torgersen (His last album before Petter Pogo joined on bass) and main songwriter Joachim “Jokke” Nielsen. Probably one of Norway’s greatest songwriters of all time who tragically overdosed in 2000. His lyrics offered a peak into the minds of the characters of the dark sides of Oslo and with self-deprecating humor and honesty made it relatable to a mainstream audience. His brother, Christopher, is a comic artist and drew the band’s album covers as well as the comic strips in the booklets. I remember always liking this band when there was a song on the radio in my early teens, but I didn’t decide to check out the band until the summer of 2005 when there was a tribute show on the radio with Norway’s biggest bands doing covers of these classic. This was the same day as I had gotten one of 1991’s picks in the mail, so that was a great day. Just a few days after I bought the compilation Prisen for popen and I would later in 2005 start to buy all the albums by the band. III was their major label debut and was released on Sonet, a label owned by Universal. Their first two were released on their own label(s) JEPS and VEPS, meaning Jokke’s own record label or Our own record label. According to iTunes it was released on January 1st, but I’m not sure if that’s the correct release date.

Dave’s Picks

Green Day- 39/Smooth

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Yep, the first Green Day album. I go back and forth on what is my favourite Green Day release (it’s probably Kerplunk), but it’s no doubt that this was their most fruitful period. The kind of pop-punk that Green Day made at this point was wistful, earnest and had melodies that their 2000s selves could only dream about. The pop-punk was largely mid-tempo, but never dull or plodding. On the contrary, it was full of youthful vigour and optimism. This is a collection of ‘tales about girls’, a pop-punk tale as old as time; the songwriting is somewhat naïve and open-eyed, but instantly relatable as a teen. My favourites? Probably “Going to Pasalacqua”, “Disappearing Boy” or “At the Library”, but there is no stinker on 39/Smooth. It’s just fun, and, furthermore, it hasn’t dated whatsoever, despite it being an album full of high-school lusts over girls who are out of reach. The songwriting was always there, right from the beginning; Green Day’s production simply got better later. So, yes, 39/Smooth is raw and garage-band sounding, but for me they have never sounded as good as they did during this period. I sometimes think they have never topped “At the Library”.

Jawbreaker-Unfun

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You have chosen Unfun, I hear you cry! But what about the stone-cold classic that is 24 Hour Revenge Therapy? That is surely the one you should be discussing! Or if not, the controversy of the major-label debut Dear You? Yes, yes, I will get to these, but first, it is worth outlining what made Jawbreaker’s first record Unfun so good. I am not really going to engage with the debate of ‘what is the best Jawbreaker album?’ here, but for what it’s worth, and sorry to the purists, but Dear You is by far my favourite of the band’s releases and I will be certainly be coming on to this when we get to 1995.

But nevertheless, I say that Unfun was one of the three best records released in 1990. It is intense, gritty and raw, but also unrelentlessly catchy. It has many of the hallmarks of classic, underground pop-punk, really, but filtered through a distortion machine. The production is rough and the melodies unrefined, but the latter is arguably as strong as what is found a couple of years later on 24 Hour Revenge Therapy. Just listen to “Busy” and “Imaginary War” if you don’t believe me: pained and visceral, but intensely hook-filled; these two are probably my favourites from the record, that is, minus the absolute classic that is the opener, “Want”. For years, I was too obsessed with Dear You, and never really got into Jawbreaker’s earlier stuff, but always, always adored “Want”. Blake Schwarzenbach’s grizzly yelps probably hit as hard as they did in 1990.

Indeed, it’s partly Blake’s unique and literate songwriting that helps Unfun to stand out from the crowd. Hailing from New York, they have nevertheless been an intense source of inspiration for those mid-Western ‘gruff’ punk bands who find a mid-ground between distorted punk and melodic pop. Jawbreaker’s sullen tales and Bukowski-esque drunken musings have all been more-or-less replicated and romaticised in the years that followed, but they must have been pretty revelatory at the time. Jawbreaker also heavily influenced the emo scene, with their at-times melancholic songwriting style, as well as Blake’s continuous emotional outpourings that never becomes overbearing. “Fine Day” is a great example of this, very much recalling that early-mid ‘90s emo sound that Blake would move closer and closer to with Jawbreaker and later with Jets to Brazil, culminating in Orange Rhyming Dictionary. The band was very young at the time Dear You was released, and hadn’t ‘peaked’ yet, but for a debut album, this is up there with the best. A pop-punk classic of the era.

Fugazi- Repeater

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Yeah, so following the discussion of 13 Songs in the 1989 section, I have decided to harp on about Fugazi a bit more with Repeater. This is definitely Fugazi’s best proper full-length. While they went kind of weird and overly-experimental in their later work, Repeater found Fugazi at a happy medium, between pure, shout-y punk rock and the intricacy of post-hardcore and emo. While they had dynamic and experimental song structures (more so than what was found on 13 Songs), there were also singalong, catchy choruses, too. The title track “Repeater” and “Merchandise” particularly come to mind for their memorable choruses and punchy guitar riffs. There is also a groove to Fugazi’s sound more than ever on Repeater (which is a little bit reggae influenced, as I said last time), from Joe Lalley’s bass, which gets those toes tapping. So, yeah, the spacey-ness of the sound on the record rendered it to be kind of post-hardcore in some aspects, but Repeater also bleeds punk, not least in the lyrics. At times, the lyrics are a bit obtuse and not particularly easy to follow, but in others Mackaye couldn’t have been more straightforward: for instance, on “Merchandise”- “what could a business man every want more than a business man sucking at his store?”. Fugazi were vehemently anti-consumerist (notably refusing to ever sell any band merch) and “Greed” and “Merchandise” couldn’t be clearer in this regard.  I don’t think any band since has really hit the nail on the head in terms of ‘not being what you own’ as Fugazi did on this record. Aggressive and ferocious in terms of the band’s ‘anti-system’ and ‘anti-corporate’ agendas, but intricate and experimental in song structures, Fugazi remain one of the most interesting outliers in the evolution of punk in the last 30 years.

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