Archive for December, 2017

KTOTT: Best of 2017

Posted: December 30, 2017 in Uncategorized

So, it’s the end of another year, and you know what that means, MORE LISTS! Here’s what myself and Rene enjoyed in 2017….

Oh, and the 20 best songs of the year, as chosen by myself and Rene, here:

Peace, and love x

Dave’s List

  1. Katie Ellen- Cowgirl Blues (Lauren)

It’s been a strong year and I had a little trouble deciding how to order the rest of the top ten, but Cowgirl Blues was always going to be my number one. It’s just incredible, really. Raw, introspective and frank, Katie Ellen’s first post-Chumped full-length is a gut-punch.  Cowgirl Blues is stripped back pop-punk; it’s crunchy indie rock; it’s confessional folk. It’s all of these things. Every word, every note on this thing is meaningful and necessary; there would be no fat I could possibly cut off from Cowgirl Blues. I was a big fan of Chumped, too, but it appears that that only hinted as to singer Anika Pyle’s potential. Her songwriting prowess went up a few thousand notches on this one. Cowgirl Blues is poetic, confessional and, most of all, true, perfectly melding the ‘social’ and the ‘personal’. If you enjoyed Waxahatchee’s first couple of records, it is likely you’ll be into this.

Listen here: https://katiebandellen.bandcamp.com/

  1. The Dopamines- Tales of Interest (Rad Girlfriend/ Plasterer)

A great comeback record from probably my favourite modern punk band. Tales of Interest highlighted the Dopamines propensity to change things up on each subsequent LP; the evolution in their sound since their debut record ten years ago is quite something. They still play ‘pop-punk’ more broadly speaking, I guess, but it’s now a form of pop-punk that is closer to Dillinger Four than the Ramones. The Dopas are on fire here, blitzing their way through 14 fast-paced, intense-as-fuck melodic punk jams. They have upped the intensity and grittiness of their punk sound, for sure, but that it matched by an up-turn in melody and hooks, too, with a cover of the High Hats “Heartbroken by the Police” the pick of the bunch. Lead vocalist Jon Lewis recently said that “Tales of Interest” was the album he had always wanted to make with The Dopamines, and you can totally see why: it’s a complete, cohesive yet varied, one body of work that takes the best elements of their previous records and enhances them to full effect. The Dopamines have always been somewhat nihilistic, but Tales of Interest feels like a pop-punk soundtrack to the apocalypse.

Listen here: https://radgirlfriendrecords.bandcamp.com/album/tales-of-interest

  1. ONSIND- We Wilt, We Bloom (Specialist Subject)

ONSIND, Durham’s folk-punk sons, returned with a new full-length, following 2013’s Anaesthesiology, and somehow managed to top it. The headline here is that the duo has gone ‘full-band’ and ‘plugged-in’ on the majority of tracks on We Wilt, We Bloom. I was unsure how I felt about that initially, but it really, really works. ONSIND have manged to create a record that is dynamic and sonically expansive, yet while also retaining the core values and ideals that made them so compelling in the first place. Veering between raw folk-punk, melodic (Martha-esque) indie-rock and even hard rock, We Wilt, We Bloom is grounded by ONSIND’s bread-and-butter: their astute political and social commentary that I don’t think has even more on-point. There’s no wilting here, only blooming.

Listen here: https://specialistsubject.bandcamp.com/album/we-wilt-we-bloom

  1. Waxahatchee- Out in the Storm (Merge)

This is probably my least favourite Waxahatchee LP, but, even at her worst, Waxahatchee is better than most. Out in the Storm picked up where Ivy Tripp left off, cementing Waxahatchee further in the indie-rock camp, away from her folk-y roots. It’s a dynamic, melodic and varied record that again captures Waxahatchee’s songwriting prowess. As ever, the lyrics are confessional, soul-bearing and enlightening. The one-two of “Recite Remorse” and “Sparks Fly” is incredible, with the latter letting off some melodic steam after Katie held back on the introspective former. This is a record about going “out in the storm”; about meeting head-on your worst fears.

Listen here: https://waxahatchee.bandcamp.com/album/out-in-the-storm

  1. Worriers- Survival Pop (Side One Dummy)

Dunno why, but I never properly got into Worriers until this LP. I mean, having listened a lot more recently, Imaginary Life is clearly a fantastic album. I do think though that, both musically and lyrically, Survival Pop has taken the band to a new level. The band hit that sweet spot between indie rock and pop-punk, with the melodies absolutely soaring on this LP, particularly on album highlights “Future Me” and “What We’re Up Against”. Singer Lauren Denitzio’s lyrics feel poetic, yet grounded and urgent, getting to grips with the shitstorm that was 2017. In the same way as ONSIND, Worriers effectively make the social and political feel personal. Lauren’s clearly one of the best songwriters around today and it is that which elevates Worriers above their peers.

Listen here: https://worriers.bandcamp.com/album/survival-pop

  1. Great Cynics- POSI (Specialist Subject)

On POSI, Great Cynics cemented their status as one of the shining lights in the UK’s indie/pop-punk scene, demonstrating an inventiveness in songwriting and a superior sense of melody. While previous LP I Feel Weird was great and possibly includes some better individual songs, POSI acts as a better body of work, with musical and thematic glue linking each song together. It’s a record about trying to stay optimistic and hopeful while living in London and dealing with all the shit that that entails; what makes Great Cynics stand out is their grounded accounts of the everyday, probably done best on “Summer at Home” or “Butterfly Net”. Perhaps the highlight of the record, though, is the overtly political punk on “Don’t Buy the Sun”, to be listened to as part of a ‘one-two’ with Zatopeks “Daily Mail”.

Listen here: https://specialistsubject.bandcamp.com/album/posi

  1. Kamikaze Girls- Seafoam (Big Scary Monsters/Wiretap)

One of my favourite new bands/discoveries of 2017. Kamikaze Girls are a little difficult to categorise, but they broadly play a kind-of heart-on-sleeve, fuzzy-but-poppy, grunge-y, brooding, punk rock. There is a space-y dreaminess to much of Kamikaze Girls’ stuff that would make me describe them as a ‘Depeche Mode meets riot grrrl’. Seafoam is a dynamic, substantive debut LP that is intensely personal and empathetic, pertinent in a world that increasingly feels without a pulse. It is simultaneously melodic and crunchy; simultaneously intimate, but also broad in focus. One of my favourite songs of the year “I Don’t Want to be Sad Forever” probably best hits all these spots, as good of a call-to-arms that I’ve heard in ages. Ace stuff.

Listen here: https://kamikazegirls.bandcamp.com/

  1. Sløtface Try Not to Freak Out (Propeller)

Norway’s Sløtface are another one of those great discoveries of the year. Energetic, yet poppy; hook-filled tunes, but with something to say, Sløtface put out a properly great debut record. It’s broadly indie-rock, I guess, but with definite pop-punk elements on there. I love the dynamism and sheer variety on Try Not to Freak Out, ranging from the dreamy pop of “Galaxies” to the ‘90s-esque alt. rock of “Nancy Drew” to the feminist pop-punk of “Magazine”. More than this, however, there is a heart-and-soul on the record that feels organic and suggests even better things to come: listen to album highlight “Slumber” and you’ll know what I mean.

Listen here: https://slotface.bandcamp.com/album/try-not-to-freak-out

  1. Aerial Salad- Roach (Plasterer)

Manchester’s Aerial Salad follow the path set by Dead Boys, in making punk that is ‘young’, ‘loud’ and ‘snotty’. On their first full-length, the band combine the aggressiveness and nihilism of ’77 punk with the hooks and everyday anxieties of Lookout! era pop-punk. There is an energy on Roach that is insatiable and difficult not to get on board with. The intensity, fast-pace and dark lyrics on the album call to mind The Murderburgers. There is a level of despair on Roach, backed up by growly, urgent and desperate vocals, notably on “Alone Forever”. While evidently not re-inventing the three-chord punk wheel, Aerial Salad do give it a good ol’ shake up and down; Roach has a youthful vigour and determination that reminds me why I fell in love with punk in the first place.

Listen here: https://aerialsalad.bandcamp.com/album/roach

  1. Heavy Heart- Distance (Brassneck)

Heavy Heart are a new-ish punk band from Nantes, France; they play a kind of gritty, yet melodic punk that calls to mind Iron Chic or The Manix. Their debut album Distance would fit right in at Fest, with its fist-pumping big choruses, self-deprecating lyrics and crunchy guitars. It’s got a heart-and-soul, as well as smart, inventive lyrics that I feel many bands playing this kind of melodic punk often lack in. As soon as the ear-worm-y lead guitars come in on opener “Unravel”, I was pretty much hooked. I mean, Heavy Heart are not re-writing the book, but when the songwriting is this good and the hooks are this big, who gives a shit?

Almost, but not quite:

Robot Bachelor- The Third House Boat Album (Don Giovanni)

The Lillingtons- Stella Sapiente (Fat Wreck)

The Menzingers- After the Party (Epitaph)

Caves- Always Why (Specialist Subject)

Diet Cig- Swear I’m Good at This (Frenchkiss)

Non-album stuff I liked:

Yr Poetry- One Night Alive EP (Self-released)

AJJ- Back in the Jazz Coffin EP (Self-released)

Austeros- I’ve Got This EP (Specialist Subject)

Taco Hell- Retainer EP (Circle House)

FUCK! (It’s Pronounced Shit!)- It’s Still Pronounced SHIT! EP (Self-released)

 

Rene’s List

  1. The Lillingtons- Stella Sepiente (Fat Wreck)

After years of not releasing music, the Lillingtons put out two releases this year. When all these years Kody had put out somewhat boring Teenage Bottlerocket albums and the last Lillingtons album The Too Late Show also sounded like a boring Teenage Bottlerocket album, it was interesting to see what direction the Lillingtons would go in. The two releases were quite different, one EP that sounded just like the Lillingtons are expected to, and one LP that was pretty unexpected. Stella Sepiente sounds like an 80s record, but it still manages to sound like the Lillingtons. I think it has really divided the fans. I think the album is strong overall and probably their best album after Death by Television.

Listen here: https://thelillingtons.bandcamp.com/

2. Hjerteslag- Vannman 86 (Eget Selskapp)

Image result for Hjerteslag- Vannmann86 (Eget Selskap)

I always put lots of Norwegian records on my lists, maybe it’s a ridiculous semi-patriotic thing or maybe there is a lot of good stuff coming out of Norway these days. Vannmann86 (aquarius86) is a really good record! And I think it’s very close to Stella Sepiente, maybe it’s my fear of being too patriotic that put it second.  Hjerteslag was one of the first bands I saw in Bergen in 2013 and I remember having a bad day, but the band was great. Their last album Møhlenpris Motell disappointed me a bit, but they really redeemed themselves on this one! The album’s tagline could be translated to “too pretty for punk, too ugly for pop” and it makes sense. The overall sound of the album is light synth-pop with dark undertones and honesty. My favorite song on the album is “Kong Oscars Gate”, maybe because it’s the street down from  where I live and I can relate to the song,  “En fiende krysser mine spor” (an enemy crosses my tracks)  is up there too. There are only 8 tracks on the album, but they are unusually long for this type of record, but it doesn’t feel like it’s dragging to me and you sort of get lost in the music somehow. “Hellig krig” (Holy War) is a somewhat controversial song about the lesser Jihad and waging a war for God.

3. Katie Ellen- Cowgirl Blues (Lauren)

A discovery I made from the great KTOTT conversations this fall was Katie Ellen’s album Cowgirl Blues. It’s an extremely sad and honest album and the song “Sad Girls Club” is quite a bummer and kind of a “fuck off” track at the same time (“sad girls don’t make good wives” is probably lyric of the year). “Proposal” is equally sad and bitter. The album is in a quite popular genre nowadays, but to me the album sounds very unique. I haven’t gotten to listen to it too much, but I still put it at nr. 3 and I hope I will get to listen to it more in the New Year. I actually haven’t listened to much new music at all this year, so making this list was tough.

Listen here: https://katiebandellen.bandcamp.com/

4. Bad Cop/Bad Cop- Warriors (Fat Wreck)

I think Warriors is a stronger album overall than Not Sorry, even if it had more stand-alone hits. I feel like Bad Cop Bad Cop is one of the bands that are around nowadays that keep up the good ol’ punk spirit, but don’t sound too dated or boring. Best song on the album is “Broken”!

Listen here: https://badcopbadcop.bandcamp.com/

5. Sløtface- Try Not to Freak out (Propeller)

I think I have had a Sløtface release, either a  single or an EP, on my list the last few years; now that they’ve released a full-length this year is no exception. In many ways, I still prefer “Empire Records”, but that doesn’t make Try Not to Freak Out a bad album.  It shows Sløtface from many sides and “Slumber” sounds very different from “Pitted” or “Magazine”. The album, like their earlier releases, does a great job at combining popular culture with feminist issues (see “Magazine”). I think “Pitted” is the best song on the album though.

Listen here: https://slotface.bandcamp.com/album/try-not-to-freak-out

6. Beachheads- S/T (Fysisk Format)

I usually have problems finding the 10th spot on my list and when I finally find it I always think “shit! That record should be far higher on the list” and this year this happened when I came to think of the self-titled album from the Beachheads. They were formed by two members of Kvelertak, but they sound nothing like Kvelertak. Where Kvelertak’s music fills your ears with anger and aggression, Beachheads play power pop that fills your heart with joy, and we need to let out both these emotions every once in a while. I ended up buying the CD after I finished making the list.

Listen here: https://beachheads.bandcamp.com/

7. Hvitmalt Gjerde- Våken (TIK)

The third Norwegian release in a row, from Hvitmalt Gjerde. I put their last album Ville Venner on my list in 2014. I think this is a step down from Ville Venner. I don’t think Våken (awake) has the same pop sensibilities. I still think it’s better than their self-titled debut album from 2013 and I like that album a lot. I think there’s a lot more of their original garage-y surf rock on Våken, even if I think they are at their best on the poppier “Lys” (light).

8. Worriers- Survival Pop (Side One Dummy)

For me, Survival Pop wins the prize for title of the year. The album is really good too. “Future Me” was also discussed in the KTOTT discussion and it’s a great track. I don’t think the album is as good as Imaginary Life, but still great!

Listen here: https://worriers.bandcamp.com/album/survival-pop

9. The Lillingtons- Project 313 EP (Red Scare)

Seems like both Lillingtons releases this year made it to my list. “Project 313” is not as interesting or good as Stella Sepiente, but after a few listens I think it’s a pretty good EP and I like that both releases highlight a duality of the band and their very different sounds, but the creepy conspiracy songs that holds the band together and shows “we are the Lilllingtons”. I think “Until the Sun Shines” is better than most TBR songs in recent years.

Listen here: https://thelillingtons.bandcamp.com/album/project-313

10. Screeching Weasel- “Christmas Eve”/ “New Year’s Eve” (Single)

Image result for screeching weasel christmas eve

Like I said, finding the 10th is always hard. There have been some more releases from interesting artists this year. Billy Bragg put out a pretty good EP and Less Than Jake released new music as well. I think Susanne Sundfør’s Music for People in Trouble is pretty good and so is Blood Command’s Cult Drugs. The Dopamines released a good album, too. So it might come as an insult to all these bands what I decided to put on nr. 10. Screeching Weasel put out a holiday single out of nowhere. It’s cheesy and a bit tacky too. Still I enjoy it more than a lot of shit that’s come out this year, so I said, fuck it, it will be on my fucking list this year. Weasel fanboy right there. PS “New Year’s Eve” is a better song than “Christmas Eve”.

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These Wicked Bears are from Salt Lake City and they play fast and catchy pop punk. I would file them under “shouty pop punk”. The album cover brings a smile to my face, like they are trying to sell me popsicles or soda.  Musically the album pretty much stays on track with the “shouty pop punk” sound. The songwriting reminds me of  Less Than Jake without the ska and a bit like Dan’s songs in Alkaline Trio and put through a “Make this an Against Me! Song” machine. They do sometimes stray from the formula and add some interesting stuff like the keyboards and synths in “No Vacancy”, the piano in “Cameron” and the organ in the acoustic track “Chattering Teeth”. Tuning Out is not the greatest album ever, but it works. My favorite song on the album is probably the last song “More Power”. It has a cool little solo and a good melody.  The band’s lyrics don’t seem to stick with me very easy except “we got robbed” from “We Got Robbed”. Tuning Out shows Wicked Bears as another band who seem like extremely competent performers, but they don’t necessarily stand out in the vast forest of pop punk bands that have grown over the years. However, if you enjoy a decent pop punk album, it’s worth checking out!

Check it out here: https://wickedbears.bandcamp.com/

RH

So today, I’m reviewing a band from the East Bay. Hey…Wait? They’re actually from France! South Berkeley is just their name! “Tiny Rascals” is a single with one track called “Tiny Rascals”. The band writes in their description: “Strongly influenced by bands from late 90’s, we’d love to collide old school vibes with more modern and actual influences.” I definitely see what they’re going with here. The song starts up rather slow and it sounds like a mellower Alkaline Trio song or an early Blink-182 song. I really like the feeling in the song and to me the best sounding element is the bass guitar, it sounds great! There seems to be a Blink inspiration here. The drums are a bit too much for me, just like Travis Barker’s. I think production wise, there must’ve been some inspiration from John Feldmann and California-era Blink, but not as awful, I might add. I also think the vocals sound a bit contrived. Other bands that come to mind are MxPx and the Starting Line and I get an early 2000s vibe when I listen to this song, but it doesn’t sound as mainstream and polished as those bands. I think the song itself is pretty good and there’s something very dynamic about and it doesn’t just feel like it stands still like many pop punk songs, but I can’t really imagine how all the other South Berkeley songs sound like, or if “Tiny Rascals” is representative for what’s to come.

Listen here: https://krodrecords.bandcamp.com/track/tiny-rascals

RH

Rene’s Picks

1991 was around the time I (Read Hard) had my first memory. Me and my dad were going to an electronics store and then to a bakery and we heard about this new waterpark that just opened. It was also the year Olav the fifth, king of Norway died and his son Harald the fifth took over as the monarch of Norway. A maybe more important event internationally was the fall of the Soviet Union that happened in December. It was also the year the Grunge wave really spread from Seattle, Washington to the rest of the world with the success of Nirvana’s huge multi-platinum selling album Nevermind. 

NOFX-Ribbed

nofx ribbed

Released March 26 1991 Ribbed on Epitaph was a turning point for NOFX’s career. 28 minutes of snotty punk rock there. This was also the first time we got to see Fat Mike’s influence from Broadway and the musical theater. To me songs like “Shower days” and “The Moron Brothers” are songs that to me could fit in a musical. So could the doo-wop part of “New Boobs”.  I’ve written several times about the time I got this album in the mail. I had heard songs from it before, but as a whole I remember it as a great and almost unexpected experience. I’ve always split Fat Mike as a singer up in three periods. The early years (up until 1990), the middle period (1990-1993) and the more professional period (from 1993 and beyond). I remember thinking that Fat Mike’s singing on White Trash, Two Heebs and a Bean brought the album down a lot, even if the production was pretty great. From Punk in Drublic on his voice became more listenable to the public and it also showed in the band’s fame. There’s something very charming about the earlier NOFX records and I think NOFX fans are very divided on them, albums like Liberal Animation and the early Mystic stuff is unlistenable to many, but some punk fans find them to be their only good stuff. While S/M Airlines showed a huge step forward in songwriting, Ribbed showed a step forward in vocal performance.

I remember being shocked that I enjoyed it so much when I first heard it. I still think it sounds better than White Trash, because the sort of bad vocals go well together with the somewhat lo-fi production, where White Trash has a really great production that Mike’s vocals can’t live up to. I think Ribbed is very special in that regard. It’s not for everyone, but as a punk album it’s phenomenal. All the songs are great and they touch on important social issues. “New Boobs” explores body image and objectification of women, “Where’s My Slice?” takes a somewhat unexpected jab at the left and “Nowhere” didn’t stay relevant for long as the Soviet Union, as mentioned earlier, broke down later in the year. The song argues that the openness and reform that was proposed in the USSR was also needed in the US and that fear between the two powers only made the cold war worse and concluded that it was time to make the cold war history. Ribbed, like S/M Airlines had Steve Kidwiller on lead guitar and was replaced by El Hefe later in the year, and had more metal elements than the other albums. There are also elements from classical music and ska and Steve’s own “Together on the Sand” was the band’s first experiment with jazz and it was still being played by Hefe after Steve’s departure. It’s also obvious that the band, probably especially Fat Mike incredibly inspired by Bad Religion at the time and it shows in the songwriting and in the vocal harmonies. The album was also produced by Brett Gurewitz.

Screeching Weasel-My Brain Hurts screeching-weasel-my-brain-hurts-e1461794535329

I remember abstaining from writing about this classic album in the first article of my column “Read Hard’s Classic Pop Punk Picks” in 2014 and chose the Weasel album Wiggle instead. One of the main reasons for doing was that everyone seem to mention MBH at Wiggle’s expense. I don’t regret this choice, but as a fan of both albums I’m glad I get to write some about MBH now. It was released in September. Like Wiggle, I think it starts out with its worst songs and just get better and better. “Making You Cry” is to me one of the weakest songs they ever recorded (including their first demo) and how it ended up being the first song on their probably most important album is beyond me. As the album progresses we get to hear all the timeless hits. “Guest List” is the third song on the album and though the lyrics are quite silly it always gets me in a good mood and it’s a song that fits my jumping rhythm perfectly while jumping around to it. However, I think the reason the albums starts with “Making You Cry” is that it’s the closest they would get to their older records, except “Fat head” that originally appeared on “Punkhouse”, my pick from 1989. The album saw more use of “pop” melodies than they had ever done before and many see it as the start of modern pop punk. There are times when the band go back to their more “hardcore” sound, in one of my favorites “I Wanna Be with You Tonight” they start up with an aggressive punk song with sophomore lyrics about being secretly infatuated with a girl in what appears to be a classroom or a school setting that he doesn’t even know the name of, inspired by Green Day’s “A the Library”. The chorus includes 60s “nananas” that make the song more suitable to its quite juvenile and cute theme. The conclusion is that the protagonist thinks she had a boyfriend who is “probably a lawyer or something”. It has the classic lyrics “if you kissed me I would blow up, if I kissed you would you throw up?”. The song is followed by the album’s title track. “My Brain Hurts” is a reference to the Monty Python sketch “Gympy Brain Specialist”. The song reflects on alienation and belief and in this track, a nameless girl is more seen as a queen straight out of a magazine that breathes different air than him. There’s a paradox that the protagonist self-loathingly wonders, “what the hell is wrong with me?” and sings “If I wanna do something right I gotta do it myself or someone else will fuck it up” so arrogantly.

When it comes to doubt and belief, we find the best songs in the middle of the album. “Teenage Freakshow” seems to be like a 20s-something rejection of the teenage fantasy of punk rock and apathetic and even condemning views of the scene, something we even saw in Ben’s lyrics as a teenager. “What We Hate” is probably my favorite track on the album. It doesn’t really take a stand on belief or religion, but in its nihilistic ways show how change is inevitable and even good and that we will at some point have to challenge our views or have them challenged. The faithful will lose their faith and the faithless will become desperate and search for something to believe in and the bottom-line is that we become what we hate. Our lives are pretty much meaningless, as the world will still go on without us. We can make a mark, but it won’t matter to us, we’re dead. Clinging on to religion won’t matter, clinging on to atheism won’t either. “Science of Myth” proposes another view of religion. Inspired by the series “The Power of Myth” and an old newspaper article about rape and the power of believing in God, the song defends belief rather than attacking it. Rather than viewing religion from a religious or theist point of view, it views it from an agnostic point of view. It proposes that we can only get the bigger pictures by letting science and religion evolve instead of choosing between two extremes. The second verse is a story from the newspapers about a woman who was raped and cut up and left for dead in a trunk, but her faith in God helped her make it through. The agnostic conclusion in the song is that it doesn’t matter if what she believed was the actual truth as long as it fulfilled its purpose, to help her stay alive and find salvation in such a terrible predicament. It also shows that what is seemed as untrue to one person could be true “without a doubt” to someone else. The song was also inspired by Dr. Frank of the Mr. T Experience song/thesis “The Complicated History of the Concept of the Soul” from their A Night at the Thrill Factory album. Their Milk Milk Lemonade is a contender for one of the 1992 picks.

Billy Bragg-Don’t Try This at Home

billy bragg

I actually thought the MTX album Milk Milk Lemonade was released in 1991, so I had trouble finding a third one. I could’ve gone with the Nirvana album, but then I realized Billy Bragg released an album this year, so I was like nevermind.  I consider Don’t Try This at Home to be the last of the classic Bragg albums. It continues in the same style as 1988’s Worker’s Playtime, with some slow ballads and other more upbeat tunes. It was released 17 September on Elektra. It starts up with the pretty much classic Bragg-style song “Accident Waiting to Happen”. A great recording, even though I prefer the Red Star recording just because of the lyrics “My sins are so unoriginal” instead of “dreams”. I think my favorite line in the song is “I have all the self-loathing and all the sheep’s clothing in this carnival of carnivores”. There’s also a reference to the Kinks’ classic “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” (“A dedicated swallower of fascism”) in the chorus of the song. I often think the ballads on the album get a bit boring after a while, but “Tank Park Salute”, a tribute to his deceased father always makes me incredibly sad. A beautiful melody with lyrics about a father and son relationship that death tore apart. The best songs on the album are more upbeat tracks like the country jam co-written with REM’s Peter Buck: “You Woke Up My Neighborhood” and the closing song where the album got its title from “Body of Water”. “The Few”, an attack on modern neo-nazis and wannabe patriots is as relevant as ever.  “North Sea Bubble” is a look at revolutions and getting stuck in political ideology as well as thoughts about the Soviet Union during Gorbachev. Some wonderful lyrics here: “In Leningrad the people say/ Perestroika can be explained this way/ The people who told us/ That two and two is ten/ Are now trying to tell us that two and two is five”. And I will not forget to mention Billy’s biggest hit in America, “Sexuality”, a song with at times entirely cringe worthy lyrics, but that at the same time are meaningful and has a generally body positive and sexuality positive message and lots of puns on the word “body”, that puts Elvis Costello to shame. “Sexuality”, like many of Billy’s other hits have back-up vocals from the great late Kirsty McColl. It’s such a catchy and positive song and the music video is one of my favorite videos of all time. The song charted at #2 in the Billboard modern rock charts and #27 in the UK pop charts.

Dave’s Picks

Screeching Weasel- My Brain Hurts

screeching-weasel-my-brain-hurts-e1461794535329

My Brain Hurts means so much to me. It’s nostalgic for me, reminding me of my teenage years, not in the early ‘90s when this was released, but years later. This album blew my mind, introducing me to a brand new world of underground pop-punk. As soon as the guitars kick in on “Making me Cry”, I get tingles on my skin. It brings me back to being 16 and not giving two fucks. I was already fairly into punk at this point, but I felt that My Brain Hurts was finally an album I could relate to. It was truly an outsider album, lighting up the margins and giving the finger to the outside world. This was the moment Weasel morphed into a proper pop-punk band, so much so that Ben apparently wanted to change the band name. And yes, I also think that it’s Screeching Weasel’s best album. Anthem for a New Tomorrow isn’t too far behind and had an interesting concept and Wiggle is great, but My Brain Hurts was the moment when everything just clicked for Screeching Weasel (which I think Ben said himself at some point). It’s pop-punk hit after pop-punk hit.

There’s great variety on this thing, too, with silly love songs (“Guest List”), crossing paths with theological musings (“The Science of Myth”) with sad tales of drug abuse (“Cindy’s on Methadone”). For me, the opener “Making You Cry” is the weakest song on the record: it’s quite bratty and melodically is not very memorable. I would still regard it as decent though; John Jughead said on his Youtube show that this was chosen as the first song because of how hard-hitting it was, rather than it being the best one. It’s true that it puts you straight into the Weasel den, and, to be honest, from then on in, it’s pure gold. Every time I time I hear those opening guitar leads on “Guest List”, I get a little smile; “Teenage Freakshow” makes me want to do a silly little jig; the lyrics on “What We Hate” and “Science of Myth” are up with the best; “I Can See Clearly” is one of the best punk covers of all time; and then there’s the closer “My Brain Hurts”, surely one of the best album closers of all time. I’ve tried to keep this as tight as possible, as I could ramble on for hours, but essentially: the cornerstone of modern pop-punk and Weasel’s best work.

Green Day- Kerplunk

kerplunk

Hey, one year later, and it’s another classic Green Day release. This really was golden era Green Day. I used to always think Dookie was their best, but, over time, I’ve come to realise that it’s probably Kerplunk. Before they got mangled in the major label machine, this was the sound of pure, undiluted Green Day. Don’t get me wrong, Dookie is great and everything, and it wasn’t until much later, that things really turned, but nevertheless, I think it’s Kerplunk that I think of when I call to mind Green Day as a pop-punk band. Fuck all these articles which suggest that Kerplunk was merely a ‘dry run’ for Dookie; no, I’m not having that! I mean, the real hits are here: “2000 Light Years Away”; “One of My Lies”; “One for the Razorbacks”; “Christie Road”.

At this time, Green Day were just so fucking melodic and poppy, it was great; as a bunch of music sites have already discussed, it was only later when Green Day went over to Reprise that their image and sound became ‘punked up’ somewhat. I ultimately prefer the sound they have here on Kerplunk: the Beatles and Kinks-influenced hooks and the tales of adolescent failings, when things felt a little less forced. Just listen to “Christie Road”: it’s the kind of melodramatic, mid-tempo number that Green Day could only pull off so well in this era; the balance is just right and the tune could soundtrack a thousand teenage dramas. “No One Knows” and “Who Wrote Holden Cauldfield?” are perhaps the highlights of the record, but, really, everything on Kerplunk just flows so well, despite the presence of the super-silly “Dominated Love Slave”. Billie-Joe’s songwriting was arguably at its peak here, laying out his teenage diary for all to see: “Why should my fun have to end/for me, it’s only the beginning”. The first Eps were great (as previously discussed), but Kerplunk built upon these and tidied up their messiness, while retaining their top-class melodies and naïve songwriting; it’s taken me a long time to realise, but, with Kerplunk, Green Day produced their career-high, that was pure, uncontaminated, bullshit-free pop-punk and that has survived the ages.

Bikini Kill- Revolution Girl Style Now!

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As Rene did, I also considered having Milk Milk Lemonade as my third pick for 1991, until I was made aware that it was actually a 1992 release. So, I’ve gone for something altogether different instead: Bikini Kill’s first release: Revolution Girl Style Now! It’s referred to as an ‘album demo’, but that’s still an album in my book! It’s the band’s grittiest and most caustic output; you can really feel the resentment and vitriol spitting out of lead singer Kathleen Hanna on this album. The band was credited with co-founding the Riot Grrrl movement and it all started here with these early songs. Pussy Whipped (their first album proper that came out in 1993) is great, but I think many of their most hard-hitting and memorable tracks are on Revolution Girl Style Now! It’s a manifesto for equality, essentially.  They explicitly open “Double Dare Ya” with “We’re Bikini Kill and we want revolution now”. I love that the band was borne out of a radical feminist zine (of the same name) that Kathleen wrote in college, along with drummer Toby Vail.

So how does this thing sound? It’s essentially punk, I guess: forthright, urgent and politically-motivated punk. Clearly, the band were influenced by X-ray Spex and then turned the notch up to ten on ’77 punk; the demo is vitriolic in its messages of equality. On “Suck My Left One”, there is clearly anger, but it’s very well channeled and directed towards its targets: primarily the patriarchy and male oppression. The dirty, lo-fi sound gives the song a grunge-y feel, too, with the band coming as they did, out of Washington. A link to the 1990 list is that Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto mixed this thing! “Liar” is a fast-paced, passionate call-to-arms against domestic abuse, with the end of the song including a clip of a women screaming in pain. One of the most fascinating songs is “Carnival”, a one-and-half minute, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, melodic punk blitz that describes girls giving head “for free hits and rides” that is both shocking and compelling. Bikini Kill do slow it down a touch for “Feels Blind”, essentially the ‘ballad’ of the demo, but, largely, the album is intense, visceral and scuzzy. And the political message is, unfortunately, as relevant today as it was then. We want revolution now!

 

It is worth beginning this review with the admission that I am not a big fan of skate punk, or at least most of it! Being a pop-punk goof, I can get into the skate punk stuff that is more melodic and hook-filled, but don’t typically ‘get on’ with the more abrasive, metal-tinged skate punk. Paper Champ evidence both kinds of skate punk on this EP and so it is a bit of a mixed bag for me.

Paper Champ are a relatively new-ish melodic/skate punk band from Ipswich that are reminiscent of Pulley, Face to Face and No Use for a Name. This EP is very ‘90s skate-punk, most of which could have come out on a Fat comp. or something back in the day. UK skate punk bands from that era, such as Goober Patrol, can also be identified here: indeed, Goober Patrol’s Simon Sandall actually provides additional vocals on the record, as does Spoiler’s Dan Goatham. Generally, there is good energy on the EP, to ensure that Paper Champ’s rough-around-the-edges skate-punk doesn’t go stale. “Faith Costs” is a hard-hitting opener that grabs you from the get-go, reminding me of No Use For a Name, “Building Bridges” is more mid-tempo, gritty and Iron Chic-esque, while “Way Over the Line” is by far my favourite song on here: its melodies are superior to anything else on offer, with some super catchy lead guitars and an ear-worm-y, Lagwagon esque chorus that has the ‘pop-punk-iest’ subject matter: “What is the saying and how does it go?/Something about ‘Nice guys finish last’ or so I’m told”.

After “Way Over the Line”, things take a turn in a different direction, with “Stories From Around Campfires” indicating a harder, gritter sound, more akin to melodic hardcore than skate punk. I lose the interest towards the end of the EP somewhat; hence the ‘mixed bag’, but I enjoyed the EP overall and would definitely be intrigued to hear motre tracks from Paper Champ like “Way Over the Line”.

DB

Listen here: https://paperchampippo.bandcamp.com/releases

I recently reviewed the Teenage Gluesniffers split with fellow Italian band Cocks and enjoyed it a bunch; while this split with Chromosomes doesn’t reach quite the same heights, Teenage Gluesniffers nevertheless remain on form. These Milano punks take the better aspects of that Lookout! style pop-punk I obsess over: combining high-tempo punk rock urgency with Weasel-like hooks to draw you in. The two songs on offer here recall the melodies and song structures of The Murderburgers, with “The Mosh Pit and the Pendulum” sounding like it would have fit right in on How to Ruin Your Life. “No Decline, No Story!” is probably my favourite of the two: I love the way it combines intensity and grit with big hooks. The lyrics on this split leave a little to be desired, at least compared to the ‘Gluesniffers previous work (particularly the stuff about his colour being black felt a bit uninspired), but still, I enjoyed the two songs a bunch!

The flip slide of the split is from another Italian punk rock band, The Chromosomes, who, despite apparently having formed in 1993, I wasn’t previously aware of. In terms of the vocal melodies and the structure of the choruses, it’s very Manges-esque. This is no bad thing in itself. “Teach Me to Hold On” has some catchy, bouncy opening guitar leads that sound straight from a ‘90s pop-punk comp, while “I Was, She Was” is enjoyable enough, mid-tempo Ramonescore, with a memorable chorus. However, there is a sense that The Chromosomes don’t cover new ground here and there is the danger for these kinds of songs to be lost in the ether. Overall, though, an enjoyable comp, that highlights once again that Italy continues to be the leading light for ‘traditional’, straight-up pop-punk.

DB

Listen here: https://teenagegluesniffers.bandcamp.com/

It’s great to have ONSIND back. Following 2013’s Anaesthesiology, Martha (Nathan Stephens Griffin and Daniel Ellis’s other band) have released two stunning records. The pair have evidently been concentrating their efforts (both touring and recording wise) on Martha, but on We Wilt, We Bloom, ONSIND have never sounded so assured or focused. No longer do the duo solely write fiery and raw acoustic sing-a-longs (although that is there, too, worry not); there is all sorts of variety on show here, driven by the band’s decision to go ‘full-band and plugged-in on some songs. This means that the distinction that could be previously made between ONSIND and Martha is somewhat blurrier. A couple of tracks here could have basically been Martha tracks, showcasing those memorable hooks and melodies that are normally the indie-pop band’s forté. Notably, opener “Magnolia” recalls the romanticism and bittersweetness that tends to be reserved for Martha. A recent interview with the duo revealed that they often write the “sad political songs” for ONSIND and the “hopeful, happy love songs” for Martha. I mean, it’s interesting to think about the evolution of ONSIND and how decisions might be made over what is a Martha song and what is an ONSIND song (“Sectioned” was indeed previously a Martha song, but deemed ‘too heavy’), but ultimately, I think both of these bands are great and in their own right, too.

Nevertheless, the new ground that ONSIND cover on We Wilt, We Bloom is stark and fascinating: the garage rock, fast-paced ditty of “Huey Alabaster”, the scratchy indie rock of “Immature and the (totally unexpected) almost hardcore-ish punk of “Claimant”. The heavier, full-band songs bookend the album (opening and closing with the hook-filled indie-pop of “Magnolia” and “Sectioned” is genius and brings things full circle to an extent), but, in the centre of We Wilt is the more familiar, gutsy acoustic outpourings that ONSIND have always excelled at. As always, the pair are ready to critically engage with the current social and political state in the UK (and more broadly, too), and, of course, there’s plenty of recent activity to get to grips with.

Writing political songs is a delicate matter, but Onsind always seem to find the balance right and I think it’s partly through their strategy of ‘telling stories’. It brings a personal element into the political sphere that move songs beyond simply ‘angry protest songs’, something that Propagandhi have often excelled at. And I don’t think ONSIND’s songwriting and arguments has ever been as nuanced or resonant as it is on this record. Exhibit A for this on We Wilt, We Bloom is the sprawling, hard-hitting “Loyalty Festers” which unpacks nationalism and nationalist tropes (with Brexit obviously looming in the background), told through the sad tale of a young man becoming swept up by fascism (specifically the English Defence League):

“Widow’s Peak, Neck Tattoo/England belongs to you/ And all who show their pride in seven shades oh yeah/Empty words and empty gestures/That loyalty, it festers, it festers, it festers/ This is not what you were promised, Jerusalem.”

Reminiscent of a certain Mr. Bragg, this is a really affecting story about fascism (and relatedly racism) and about where it is coming from: it’s top-down, not bottom-up, and ONSIND here speak up for the communities in the UK who have been basically shat upon by successive Conservative governments and are now searching for somewhere to vent their rage and some direction. “Loyalty Festers” signals the cynical intent of fascist leaders to often exploit the alienation and lack of direction often felt by ‘left-behind’ communities. While, unlike on Anaesthesiology,  ONSIND do not explicitly critique the conservative government, its presence is nevertheless felt throughout We Wilt, We Bloom, whether it’s their blunt and compassionless policy on “Claimant” or role some of them played in spreading and perpetuating lies about migrants in the ‘leave’ campaign.

To sum up, then: ONSIND still write great social and political commentary and it’s probably better than it’s ever been on We Wilt, We Bloom, effectively and empathetically meshing the personal with the political, in a way that countless other bands struggle with. ONSIND have managed to expand the band’s sound, without compromising the core of their original appeal and values. There’s no wilting here, only blooming.

DB

Listen here: https://onsind.bandcamp.com/album/we-wilt-we-bloom

Roach, the first full-length from Manchester’s Aerial Salad, doesn’t re-invent the three-chord punk wheel by any means, but it does give it a good ol’ shake up and down. It’s got a youthful vigour and determination that reminds me why I fell in love with punk in the first place. This album just drips with energy; it’s insatiable, the kind that makes you think that anything is possible while this song is playing. Roach has the snarl, grit and sheer bloody-mindedness to appeal to fans of ’77 punk, as well as the melodies and charm to get those in on board who grew up with Lookout!-era pop-punk. It is largely a pop-punk record, I would say- although there are moments when it veers off course- and the comparisons to Green Day that have been banded about are kind of accurate. Aerial Salad are clearly Kerplunk-influenced, but unlike say Kimberly Steaks, who largely stuck to Green Day’s mid-tempo song structures, there is a lot more aggression and speed on Roach than Green Day ever really had. What is for sure is that Green Day’s youthful spirit, energy and enthusiasm from the early ‘90s is present on this record.

Lyrically, Aerial Salad deal mainly with depression and mental health issues, over high-octane, snotty pop-punk tunes- and in that way, are a little reminiscent of The Murderburgers. I mean, just listen to the lyrics on “97”, they really are quite shocking: “I just told my best friend I’m gonna kill myself/ It’s so easy now”. There is a significant level of despair on these songs, which is represented by the growly, desperate vocals. Most notably, this comes to the fore on “Alone Forever”, which yes, gets to grips with not wanting to be ‘alone forever’: the vocals really sound pained and desperate on this one. “Worst Case Ontario” is maybe my favourite track on this thing, in that it best marries the band’s energy/intensity with its hooks, but I do also appreciate the slower, ska-influenced tracks, too. On other records, these may be a distraction, but Aerial Salad make it work, particularly on “Check My Mind”, in which space is given for the lyrics to be really appreciated: “…no ambitions and no future plans/I stay the same, it’s fallen way out of my hands/ I stay the same, I cannot change, I cannot change”. Others have said these lines more eloquently, for sure, but if punk has taught us anything, it’s that things are best said when they are stripped bare. Roach is the answer to that ageing punk down the pub who refuses to believe that any decent punk records have come out since 1984.

DB

Check it out here: https://aerialsalad.bandcamp.com/album/roach

A really, really interesting record. I’m not totally sold 100% of the time, but I am always intrigued, and that’s a good start! I had only listened to bits and pieces of Hard Girls prior to Floating Now, their third full-length, but I’m not fully ready to delve into their back catalogue. Hard Girls capture that collision between pop-punk and post-punk, I guess, with reverb and intricate, quirky guitar lines working themselves alongside driving pop melodies. Floating Now has a very ‘90s feel to it, too, recalling the laid-back melodic sensibilities of indie pop of that era, such as Guided by Voices and Superchunk. The album would likely appeal to fans of Lemuria and Joyce Manor, too.

The laid-back, dulcet tones (!) of vocalist Mike Huguenor perfectly complement the mellow, thoughtful and introspective feel to Floating Now, not unlike Wire. In that way, it can be a little melancholic and call to mind The National (particular opener “Field 99”) or even more recent emo-revival bands, like Into It, Over It (see: “Echolocation”). However, Hard Girls are not afraid to blend in some punchier, straight-up ‘hits’, which have an almost power-pop feel to them, in a Superchunk-y way. Take the space-y, Pixies-esque “Puddle of Blood”, for example, which could have come straight from a ‘90s alt-rock radio station, or the distorted, melodic beauty of “Dulcet Tones”.  However, it must be said that the record does fade away in the latter half somewhat, with “Dulcet Tones” coming in at a much-needed time. Overall, though, a fascinating melding of a number of different genre and sub-genre influences, from a band which largely proves itself adept at doing the whole “introspective” things.

DB

Check it out here: https://specialistsubject.bandcamp.com/album/floating-now