Archive for July, 2019

Sports-based punk bands are pretty weird, right? I have never got them personally. It represents this odd mid-point between Ramones-inspired anthems and athletic aesthetics or sometimes sports nerdiness. I guess, the short, simple beats of Ramonescore fit nicely with sports-based chants on a surface level, most obviously with ‘hey ho, lets go!’. I guess this whole thing goes way back to Sham 69 and their football anthem songs. Meanwhile, Germany’s St. Pauli pride themselves on being a ‘punk rock football club’. I can never quite figure out if some of these bands are somewhat sarcastically appreciating the selected sport or if they actually look to use their hobby as a springboard to mull over their dating issues. Obviously, there are a ton of bands that reference sports in their name or in a song or two, but I’m talking about those bands whose whole schtick is a particular sport, whether it be hockey (see Hextalls or Hanson Brothers) or baseball (hello Isotopes).

Urban Outfielders are one of the latter. Apparently, ‘baseball punx’ is a thing (check out the documentary of the same name) and you can see that overlap overtly in the baseball tees that pop-punk bands use, I guess. I generally find this sub-sub-genre tedious and having little of value to say and while the debut Urban Outfielders LP can be pretty much filed away under this heading, the new EP is actually pretty good! I guess, because the baseball links seem tenuous or secondary and also because Urban Outfielders can write a hell of a tune; they don’t stick to the standard Ramones-y angle, but instead recall mid-90s to early ‘00s pop-punk of the likes of Chixdiggit, Teen Idols, Weston, or Green Day. This is three-chord pop-punk, but there is more than enough variety here to keep the listener interested, too. The opener “Big League Chew” (apparently a baseball-affiliated product) is a fairly straightforward-sounding and semi well-produced slab of melodic punk with Green Day verses and a super anthemic Chixdiggit-esque chorus, as well as a tight little guitar solo to boot. My favourite though is “I Wanna Do It With You”, which is pitched (yay, baseball joke!) somewhere between the Hextalls and mid-career Alkaline Trio; its sense of melody is great and its understated verses are appreciated. The vocals do generally recall both Billie Joe Armstrong and Matt Skiba. The theme of the song appears to be teamwork and everyone pulling their weight to achieve a desired outcomes (like winning a game of baseball?), but many of the same themes and ideas could refer to DIY ethics, so it’s nice to think of this being written in an ambiguous and dualistic fashion. While “Where did he go (Tito)” is more of the same, the closer “The Wizard of Japan” goes leftfield, offering a more abrasive and spiky form of melodic punk; it’s more chugging riffs and shoutiness. I tell you what it reminds me of: the latest Lillingtons LP, with those dark and well-constructed melodies.

I mean, there are tons of references to baseball, of course, across this EP, but I think the best compliment that I can pay to it is that I hardly notice them. Decent pitch!

Check it out here: https://hiddenhomerecords.bandcamp.com/album/hhr024-out-of-this-world

DB

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I got the honor of reviewing this album by Kitty Kat Fan Club. From San Jose, CA their Facebook page says they play ‘Funky Metal’ and describe themselves as “a group of friends who love music”. Kitty Kat Fan Club is very far from metal; I would put them in the cuddlecore/twee genre with bands like cub and Dressy Bessy, led by the great voice of Casey Jones. They’ve put out two singles (“Songs about Cats” and “Work Space Grind”) prior to the album on Asian Man Records. Asian Man owner Mike Park plays guitar in the band. Overall, the band really reminds me of Lisa Marr and cub. Songs like the title track brings out that really sugar-sweet sound, with a dose of saxophone and “Every Island” is more like the sadder and slower cub songs. Songs like “Send Me a Message for Your Holidays” and “I Never Trained for a Marathon Before” sound more like newer indie pop acts such as Colour Me Wednesday and Kate Ellen. “There’s Something Better They Keep Telling Me” and “Beth and Me” remind me more of Lost Time-era Tacocat. “I Could Be The One” reminds me more of The Beths. Wonderful Synth-based new wave tune “You Got Me Modernized” is the 80s at its best in 2019.

My two favorite songs on the albums are “I Never Trained for a Marathon Before” and “Beth and Me”. The former is equating missing someone to running a marathon, even if you’ve never trained for a marathon before. It’s kind of sad and quirky and almost nonsensical, but it’s also quite beautiful and relatable. The latter is a song that reminds me of memories of youth and lost love. The line “I couldn’t be the one for you cuz I couldn’t be the one for me” is magnificent. All in all, I think this is a great album and one of the best records so far in 2019. I think the line between very sad and very cheerful is hard to draw on this album, the bird and the cat on the black and white album cover emphasises this and I think it’s albums not towing this line that usually end up being the best ones. I have a feeling I’m gonna listen to a lot to this album this year!

Check it out here: https://asianmanrecords.bandcamp.com/album/dreamy-little-you

RH

My first time at the Redrum in Stafford, and what a wonderful venue it is. The semi-grimy, semi-charming upstairs room of a bar, with walls adorned with posters of upcoming punk gigs and punk stickers; I’ve heard of this place for a while, so it was nice to finally visit. I would love a place like this in Cov. It was very quiet early doors, but as soon as opener Death of Rats started to play, it began to fill out. I hadn’t previously heard of Death of Rats, an acoustic punk project from local guy Alex James. I believe he sometimes plays (and has recorded) full band, but this was a solo set and it was pretty great to be fair. Super heart-on-sleeve, romantic and mid-tempo acoustic pop-punk. On his bandcamp, Alex refers to his sound as ‘if Billy Bragg really liked Alkaline Trio’ and that’s pretty accurate. There is a lot of Billy Bragg’s storytelling and heart in Death of Rats’ sound, but the lyrics are more emo/confessional. I am also reminded of the vocal melodies of Leeds-based Andrew Cream. Would listen again, top stuff, etc, etc.

Next up was Fraser Murderburger doing his solo stuff, which is a mix of new stuff, covers and acoustic versions of ‘Burgers tracks. His first collection Serious Musician was put out earlier this year and it’s pretty great to hear some Murderburgers material stripped back; some of them, such as “Christine, I Forgive You” or “Another Way out of Here” sound more powerful than ever. I have been to a few Murderburgers gigs previously, but this was my first time seeing Fraser doing his one man band thing and I was pretty captivated from beginning to end. Even more than a full-band set, a Fraser solo set feels like a therapy session. Highlights included covers of Freddy Fudd Pucker (“Funeral Food”, which, as Fraser rightly says is one of the best songs ever) and The Putrid Flowers (“Young for the Last Time”), “Bohemian Rhapsody Part 2”, a great unreleased Murderburgers track (although I think it has now come out on the Punk Rock Raduno Compilation) and what I think is the highlight of Serious Musician, an original acoustic track, “The Day Everything Died”. The Murderburgers have since announced an indefinite hiatus, so this was one of the last chances to catch ‘Burger material live.

And onto the headliners, the wonderful Ogikubo Station. Due to tinnitus, they toured without Mike Park. So playing as Ogikubo Station were Maura Weaver (Mixtapes/Boys) and Megan Schroer (Boys) who played a set of pure hits. I’m a little late onto the Ogikubo Station train I guess, with the latest EP (‘Okinawan Love Songs’) drawing me in, but I’m now fully on-board. The vocal melodies from the duo were wonderful, the lyrics touching and the atmosphere perfect for this kind of acoustic gig; it was very cosy indeed and felt like a bunch of like-minded people tapping their toes to some quality indie-folk. I think everything was great but the super-posi “Take a Piece of All That’s Good” and the ear-worm-y and melancholic “Drowning at the Watering Hole” (despite a funny stop-start opening!) particularly stood out. Covers of “Dr. Worm” (Guided by Voices, from their recent 7”), including some kazoo action from Maura, and “If I could Talk, I’d Tell You” (Lemonheads) were great, too. It was a short but sweet set that left you wanting more!

DB

Since last month was pride month, I think it was about time there was an actual queer album in this column, so this month seemed to be the perfect time to write it. During this month, big corporations and businesses use the rainbow flag as a marketing tool to sell products, even if they never seem to care about LGBT issues the rest of the year and I hope this article will not be a part of an exploiting tradition, but a contribution to Pride month. Pansy Division is, of course, an important name in the pop punk genre and their lewd homoerotic lyrics have fascinated and offended quite a few people over the years. Jon Ginoli started the band because there were very few queer rockers. At the time Freddie Mercury and George Michael hadn’t come out. In the beginning, Pansy Division wasn’t a band, but a solo moniker of Ginoli. Later, Chris Freeman joined the band on bass. About the band name, Ginoli wrote on the Pansy Division website that “In January 1991, before the band had formed, I was sitting at my desk in the San Francisco office of Rough Trade Distribution, trying to think of a name for this queer rock thing I was starting. I looked up at the bulletin board next to the desk and misread the name of an upcoming release by some band called Third Panzer Division. I flashed on Pansy Division by mistake and thought it was good, and it stuck.”

The song “I Can’t Sleep” was released on a queercore compilation called Outpunk Dance Party on the label Outpunk in 1992. The same year the band signed to Lookout and released their debut single “Fem in a Black Leather Jacket” there. A single that included the fantastic Christmas tune “Homo Christmas” (one of the gayest yuletide songs in my house, in both senses of the word) and the Nirvana cover “Smells Like Queer Spirit”. ‘Queerifying’ popular rock songs became a thing Pansy Division started doing, like the Ramones cover “Rock ‘n’ Roll Queer Bar”. The first album Undressed was out in 1993, when being out wasn’t as safe as it is today, not that it’s safe today. The album’s lyrics balanced the line between sex positive and risqué and includes some of the band’s finest work. The next album Deflowered was released a year later. It continued the sex positive theme of its predecessor, but also included the sad cautionary tale “Denny”, about the HIV virus and about hard it can be to love oneself. There were also some covers, like Pete Shelley’s queer-anthem “Homo Sapien” and a queerified Jonathan Richman cover. It was also the first album we got to hear a song from Chris Freeman; the wonderful “James Bondage”. In 1994, they went on tour with Green Day when they were promoting Dookie, PD encountered lots of homophobia from the young, macho fan base that Green Day had at the time. Throughout the 90s, there would be many good releases from Pansy Division like the album Absurd Pop Song Romance recorded and mixed by Steve Albini, and the heavy metal inspired single “For Those about to Suck Cock”, that included a cover of the Judas Priest song “Breaking the Law” two years before Rob Halford officially came out. Metallica’s Kirk Hammet also played on the single. Let’s not forget the single with the name “Nine Inch Males” (maybe the best title ever!). After almost ten years on Lookout, they signed to Jello Biafra’s label Alternative Tentacles in 2001, which gave us Total Entertainment (2003), That’s so Gay (2009) and Quite Contrary (2016), and of course the compilation Essential: Pansy Division, which I surprisingly found at a Salvation Army shop, but sadly without the DVD.

Wish I’d Taken Pictures was released February 13 1996 on Lookout and Mint Records. It was produced by Pansy Division themselves and engineered by Timothy Daly. It was recorded in Razor’s Edge studio in San Francisc in November 1995. The two men appearing on the cover; Mark Ewert and Moon Trent, also appeared on the Quite Contrary cover in the same location. The photographer who got to take the picture was Marc Geller. Drummer on the album was Dustin Donaldson. It was their third album. The cassette version comes in a purple shell.

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1. “Horny in the Morning”: The album starts with the perfect song to use for your morning alarm. It’s written by both Ginoli and Freeman. The lyrics are relatable to people of all sexual orientations and genders, at least to those individuals with penises. It’s of course about waking up in the morning with an erection or ‘morning wood’ as they call it, but there is no one there to share it with, so one has to take matter in one’s own hands. It is the song that gave us the great lines “Want a guy on the horizon/ When the sun comes up that’s when I’m risin’”. In the liner notes to the Essential Pansy Division comp Jon Ginoli wrote “I was always wearied by gay bar hours…and thought morning wood was a deserving topic for a song”.

2. “Vanilla”: After two albums that were quite sex positive and raunchy, “Vanilla” is about boundaries and is a bit more, well, vanilla. The song’s character is pursued by a man who is into BDSM, but realizes it isn’t his thing. The song is about respecting other’s boundaries as well as respecting other’s kinks. The “you’re liberal, but fantasize right-wing” is a classic. The song is secluded, but not judge-y or kink shame-y. “Vanilla” was also written by both Ginoli and Freeman. In the liner EPD liner notes Ginoli writes “This was my personal response to “James Bondage” to balance the scales”. The vocal harmonies are wonderful in this one!

3. “I Really Wanted You”: 1996 was the year that Pansy Division ended up on MTV, specifically on the alternative show ‘120 Minutes’. The video was for the outstanding pop tune “I Really Wanted You”, about the universal theme of unrequited love. In the song, the protagonist hears about the man he has a crush on getting married to a woman. I’m not sure if the protagonist tries to stop the wedding or tells him the truth (I really wanted you), to move on, but if a song like this doesn’t work to stop a wedding, nothing will. Ginoli actually wrote the song for his first band the Outnumbered, as early as 1985, but improved by Pansy Division, according to the EPD liner notes. 

4. “Dick of Death”: Probably the most “pop punk” Pansy Division song. The band also describes it as one of their “gayest songs”. In live shows nowadays, it’s the band’s straight alibi Joel Reader who sings it. The song is written by Chris Freeman, and it’s about something that actually happened in Australia on tour. In the EPD liner notes, Ginoli denies that the song has anything to do with AIDS and I think it’s obvious that the song is about a guy with an abnormally large member, rather than about AIDS.

5. “Expiration Date”: One of the band’s weirder songs with its megaphone vocals and experimental bass lines. The song of course is about condoms reaching the expiration date. A song about a failed quest for sex among macho men, catty queens and drug addicts.

6. “The Summer You Let Your Hair Grow Out”: Another collaboration between Chris and Jon. It always sounded like a hippie song to me, not in a bad way, if hippie in a good way exists. It’s actually one of my favorite PD songs. It’s a great summer song, again about unrequited love. It’s about a dude who spends his summer with the guy of his dreams, who apparently let his hair grow out this summer. These two guys spend all their time together, with all this sexual tension, at least it seems that way for the protagonist, but in the end it turns out to be nothing and disappointment ensues. Ginoli wrote the lyrics while listening to Gram Parsons while cooking.

7. “Wish I’d Taken Pictures”: The title track is also one of my favorites on this album and it’s a shame it didn’t make the EPD collection. The song starts off really romantic, about memories of past lovers. The song’s main character describes three of his exs. The first one seemed like a prima donna, but the main character wishes he had taken pictures because he misses his face. The next one is an “alabastard” with alabaster skin and he wished he would have taken pictures of him as well. The third boyfriend he wishes he would have taken pictures of was a goth who took himself too seriously and made his bed an altar and this relationship ends as well. In the end, he fines a new beau and gets a camera. His pessimistic side decided this won’t last either, so he takes pictures of his boyfriend’s ass because that’s what he wants to remember.

8. “Pillow Talk”: The eighth song on the album is a quite catchy one. For some reason all the hits are on side-A, so most of the songs on side-B, even if there are great songs on there, seem less memorable. The song is about two men in an open relationship and one of them wants to know what the other one does with other guys through pillow talk and in the end he also confesses he wants in on the action. It’s an upbeat pop punk song, and my favorite instrument, the tambourine, is here.

9. “This Is Your Life”: Another of my favorites is “This Is Your Life”, it’s definitely the best song on side-B. The song is about realizing that after you entered a relationship you’re not part of your own life anymore, just playing a part in someone else’s life, and that it’s time to get out. I’m pretty sure this one is sung by Chris Freeman. I think it stands out from the other PD songs. There’s something Gin Blossoms/Lemonheads/ about it and there’s something strangely beautiful about the melody.

10. “Don’t Be So Sure”: The first ballad of the album. The lyrics are rather sad and is about being someone’s safe choice when they are tired of sexual adventures and the heartache that comes with that. I feel like Pansy Division got the reputation of being the queer, sex-positive, promiscuous and fun band, but sometimes we get songs that show insecurities and “Don’t Be So Sure” is definitely one of them.

11. “Kevin”: In many ways, it reminds me of “Denny”. Unlike Denny, who struggles with self-love, Kevin struggles with confusion about his sexual identity. Kevin is clearly an attractive man, but he is secretive and frightened by intimacy. He has kissed a woman while drunk, but he won’t talk to his friends about his sexuality. He won’t be pinned down or labelled, he won’t say he is gay or bi or not. It seems as though Kevin could be what is known as “questioning”. “Kevin won’t talk/ But maybe Kevin’s more confused than we are”. Not really one of the strongest deep cuts of the album, but a fine song.

12. “The Ache”: The second ballad of the album. With an acoustic guitar and a tambourine and soft vocals stimulating your emotions, it’s one of the band’s slowest songs. It’s quite beautiful, and very different than the rest of the band’s output. It also has a cello-part played by Kirk Heydt. There’s something almost Replacements-esque about it. Lyrically, the song leans more on the insecure and emotional side that we’d later get to see in songs like “Sweet Insecurity”. The protagonist in the song has entered a relationship and wonders if it’s worth it when all he is left is an empty ache.

13. “Pee Shy”: Probably the most rock ‘n’ roll track, it almost sounds like a Joan Jett tune or an early 70s glam rock song, but the subject matter is very different from either of those. It’s about a man who is confident and fearless, but pissing when someone else is there is his Achilles heel. “If you can’t pee quick enough/They’ll think you’re beating your meat”. If that’s not relatable, I’m not sure what is.

14. “Sidewalk Sale”: A short little album closer and a catchy one too! The song is about when the gay bar closes and the last chance to get laid is the sidewalk sale. I’m not sure if the sidewalk sale is a reference to prostitution, but the protagonist feels like pursuing someone at the sidewalk sale is below his dignity, no matter how desperate he feels. In the end, he ends up passing on the sidewalk sale.

Check out Wish I’d Taken Pictures here: https://pansydivision.bandcamp.com/album/wish-id-taken-pictures

Next time, I will be looking back at No Use for a Name’s 2002 album Hard Rock Bottom.