Rene’s Picks

I started the new millennium at a party with my parents. Around the world, Robbie Williams and the Backstreet Boys were capitalizing on the fact that the calendar added a new thousand to its numbers. And people were freaking out, thinking this was the end of the world. The world didn’t end though and I could continue my usual shit; football playing and writing songs. My and my friend’s songs had gone past caroling and we were now hoping for stardom. The first song that we finished writing in the new millennium was a song about Winnie the Pooh, I was later told that it was insane that I could write so many mean things and use so many obscenities about Winnie the Pooh, but that’s the kind of kid I was. And it would get worse, this was the year breakdancing hit Norway, with the Finnish hit “Freestyler” by Bomfunk MC’s and, at the same time, my days got ruined by the fact that school decided to make us have 90 minute classes and then have an hour break. I used to spend these breaks, “break-dancing” because I found that funny. And this also resulted in a new hit, a hip hop song about breakdancing and hookers; quite a common theme in that genre to be fair. The song jokingly had the same verse in different languages, but the message was the same. I remember getting home telling my mom “I wrote a song about breakdancing and hookers today!”, she didn’t really know what to say. I guess that’s not a subject a ten year old boy is supposed to write songs about. This was also the time I was hooked on the Pokémon fad and I had recently gotten into South Park as well. So a lot of the song was also ripping off the Pokérap by yelling out the names of as many pokémons as possible and impersonating Eric Cartman. So that was the song’s themes; breakdancing, hookers, South Park and Pokémon. After seeing the movie, I would start watching South Park every Wednesday night and it’d become the highlight of the week. Like the kids did in the movie with Terrence and Phillip, me and my friends went to see South Park again instead of seeing Stuart Little, which we were supposed to. The next song we wrote was about the longer breaks we’d get from school. It was a gospel song called “Holiday” and it was celebrating that Jesus gave us weeks off from school. After that we made parody songs of famous boyband songs and I tried to make the official Euro 2000 football cup song, but I did not succeed.

This year my team also participated in the football street cup and we won the first game cause the other team didn’t show up, but we lost the second game. I also went to another cup later that year and we lost like all the games of course. The second half of the year I didn’t write many songs at all. Everywhere people were talking about some rapper that had the same name as a chocolate and had songs about doing horrible things to his own mom. That was even more shocking than ten year olds writing songs about hookers and breakdancing. When I turned eleven I invited my family for a birthday party and for some reason all of my cousins loved the Offspring and we had to listen to their new album Conspiracy of One on the stereo. I was like “There’s a skull on the cover, it’s gonna ruin the CD player!”, but someone convinced me it wouldn’t happen. Mike Love from the Beach Boys’s sampled voice introduced the album and I had to admit I enjoyed the song “Come out Swinging”, but then, of course, the CD player broke and I thought it was because of the skull. I had to buy a new CD player and ended up with a blue Boom blaster and I would start listening to the radio on it before bed. At the same party, we watched some TV and there was a commercial on for an upcoming movie called Get Ready to Be Boyzvoiced. A Norwegian mockumentary and parody of the boyband phenomenon, and it’s often been referred to as the boyband version of Spinal Tap. I heard the song “12 Year Old Woman” and it was one of the best songs I had heard, it was the catchiest song about paedophilia I had heard. I ended up getting the album with the same name for Christmas that year and I loved it so much and it inspired me to write songs. I wrote a song about only wanting to have a girlfriend because of her grandma’s candy. I ended the year with a Star Wars marathon. I watched all the four movies that had been made so far in one night, because they aired on TV. I used a commercial break to go watch fireworks at midnight. My picks for the year 2000 (as if the ones I’ve already talked about weren’t enough) are Pump up the Valuum by NOFX, Warning by Green Day and ‘The Miracle of Shame’ EP by the Mr. T Experience.

NOFX- Pump up the Valuum

I purchased this album in 2004 and it was my first NOFX album. The title is a pun on the movie Pump up the Volume and I always saw it as a parody of Blink’s Enema of the State. They misspelt “Valium” in the title to avoid a lawsuit. Songs like “Dinosaurs Will Die” and “Stranger Than Fishin” show Fat Mike’s discontent with the state of the music biz at the turning of the millennium. It also has very explicit songs like “My Vagina” and “Louise”. The latter is the third song in the trilogy about Liza and Louise. It has lyrics like “you better lick my puss and asshole clean and treat my clit like bubblegum, bitch make me cum”. “Herojuana” and “Pharmacist’s Daughter” was about the time that Fat Mike started writing about drugs, there had been some songs prior to that, I guess. This was also the album where NOFX got in touch with their polka side. The last song; “Theme from a NOFX Album” tells the story of the band and introduces each band member and their individual skills. Smelly has sobered up, Hefé knows how to breakdance, Melvin plays with Punk Karaoke and Fat Mike likes big lesbians. Still a special album to me and overall a quite strong punk album. Three songs that didn’t end up on the album ended up on later releases, these songs were “One Way Ticket to Fuckneckville”, “Medio-Core” and “Insulted by Germans”. I have no idea if these songs were only titles, but I’m quite happy they all turned out great songs, but it is strange they were dropped as they are even better than  a lot of the songs on the album. It was released on June 13, 2000 on Epitaph Records. It charted at #61 at the Billboard top 200.

Green Day- Warning

I remember first hearing the album Warning for the first time in either late 2003 or early 2004. I had only heard the singles from the International Superhits collection prior to that. I admired how different it sounded from the other Green Day albums. They had already started experimenting with acoustic guitars and harmonicas on Nimrod, but this album took it a bit further with folk-punk songs like “Minority” and the Beatles homages “Misery” and “Hold On”. The former was cool to me as someone who liked to play Beatles songs on guitar, because it included very many Beatles references that might not have been intentional. For one, the song shares the name with a Beatles track and had the line “she screams “why why why?” and I said “I don’t know”’, which is very similar to “Hello Goodbye”. It was apparently inspired by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. “Hold On” sounds a lot like “I Should Have Known Better”. This was the album where they really started to do the “this song really sounds like another song” thing; the title track is very similar to “Picture Book  by the Kinks. I think my favorite songs on the album are the three power-pop bangers “Church on Sunday” (one of the band’s all-time greatest), “Deadbeat Holiday”, “Castaway” and the ballad that finishes it all “Macy’s Day Parade”, a song I feel should’ve been a way bigger it than it was. “Minority” was the biggest single from the album, it topped the modern rock chart in the U.S and peaked at #18 in the U.K pop charts. The album itself was #4 on the Billboard top 200. It was released October 3 on Reprise.

The Mr. T Experience- ‘The Miracle of Shame’ EP

Choosing the third one for 2000 was hard as there weren’t that many good albums this year and I didn’t really want to write more about Boyzvoice or the Offspring. I did consider Screeching Weasel’s Teen Punks in Heat, but I instead decided to go with an EP. ‘The Miracle of Shame’was their only release with organist Erik Noyes and bassist Gabe Meline as official members. It continued where Alcatraz finished off, and it got possibly even weirder. It was released on Lookout! like most MTX records and produced by Kevin and with artwork by Chris Appelgren like most MTX records. The EP starts up with “Spy vs. Spy” a lovely piece of indie rock. The song is about two lovers spying on each other like the United States and the USSR did in the cold war. It contains the fantastic line “I Know you’ve been going through my pockets whenever you might/ At least I understand what you’ve been going through”. The second song “Leave the Thinking to the Smart People” sounds like it could be on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band or anything the Beatles did in 1967 mixed with Britpop of the 90s. It’s different to anything MTX had ever done before and I’ve been really into it lately, I even put it on my “MTX Forever” Spotify list. I think it has a nice message, that one might not be the smartest or the prettiest person, but you can get by just being you. It manages to walk the line between being inspiring and kind of mean and condescending and that’s what makes the song so great. The best way to defeat all the successful people is by not competing with them at all and doing your own thing and if you happen to be small you might fall through the cracks. “Mr. Ramones” is my least favorite song on the EP, but it has a lovely organ solo, which saves the song! The song is funny enough and it takes a clever crack at all those bands that try to be the Ramones and think they are on the top of the world because of it. The fourth  song “Stephanies of the World Unite” songs turns Stephanies into what workers were to Marx and Engels and what shoplifters were to Morrissey. It’s not really the most remarkable MTX song, but if I put it on, I have that guitar ringing in my ears the rest of the week. The song finishes with a tribute to Television Personality singer Dan Treacy and its title “I Don’t Know Where Dan Treacy Lives” is a reference to the TP song “I know Where Syd Barrett Lives”, there’s also a pet Syd in the MTX song in the weird appropriately psychedelic bridge. I think it’s sort of an underrated Dr. Frank composition and it also shows the relationship between a person and their idol and identification. Treacy has a history of being quite a troubled fella and at some point there was a “Dan Treacy is dead” rumor, similar to Paul McCartney, and he spent some time in prison. The “I” in the MTX song idolizes Dan Treacy and thinking of him helps him deal with his vaguely suicidal thoughts. He also wonders where Treacy is and hopes he is doing alright and that he comes back, which he did! And I think that’s a lovely image; fans caring for their idols in a world of carelessness.

Dave’s Picks

Less Than Jake- Borders and Boundaries

Despite always acknowledging its qualities when I stick it on, I probably never quite give Borders and Boundaries its full dues when looking back on Less Than Jake’s discography. I am typically just overawed by the one-two hit of Losing Streak and Hello Rockview (see previous Years of Our Lives articles). It is a great record though, being absolutely stocked to the brim with hits and anthems. Speaking of ‘anthems’, the first time I heard Less Than Jake was the “She’s Gonna Break Soon” single back in 2003. Soon after, I was rifling through the ‘punk & metal’ section at HMV, looking for Less Than Jake albums among others and ended up playing the whole of Anthem on one of the ‘listening stations’ that they used to set up with a few featured records. I was instantly captivated by “Look What Happened”, a song which of course also featured on Borders and Boundaries. While Anthem was my first port of call, the “Look What Happened” link led me to subsequently check out Borders and Boundaries. Accordingly, it’s a record that brings back a wave of nostalgia and reminiscing. “Look What Happened” continues to be one of my favourite Less Than Jake songs, too; I love the initial slow build up and Chris’s restrained vocals, before the ska-punk chorus to beat all ska-punk choruses bursts through.  

It’s very much a ska-punk record still, but Borders and Boundaries did mark a shift towards a rockier and less prominently horn-filled sound, which, from interviews I have read over the years, was certainly a conscious effort on the part of the band. “Gainesville Rock City” is the epitome of this and also probably the most well-known song from the album. One of my initial favourites upon hearing the record, I actually zone out a little when this is on now; it is undeniably great fun though and I still dance around like a madman to it live of course.

My highlights from the record have to include the opener “Magnetic North”, which evokes classic Less Than Jake infectiousness, with some wonderful guitar riffs and vocal melodies.

It also has some of the best lyrical flow on the record- which, yes, include references to ‘borders and boundaries’- notably on lines like, “There’s been new starts and they’ll be no sleep/And there’s been times when inspiration’s found me/ And there’s been walls built and there’s been worse days/ And times we’d find we spent the night awake thinking/ All those people they keep watching me”. Elsewhere, the opening guitar chords on “Kehoe” are to die for, along with a toe-tapping chorus about having the same old song stuck in your head.

“Suburban Myth” is perhaps my favourite on Borders and Boundaries, a straightforward ska-punk track with some great dual vocals from Chris and Roger and with lyrics laced in nostalgia about going back home and looking back with rose-tinted spectacles on old places you used to go to and old things you used to do. This acts as a counterpoint to the classic Less Than Jake trope of itching to leave town, as does the underrated track “Hell Looks a Lot Like LA”, a song about exactly what it sounds like it is about. I love “Bad Scene and a Basement Show” too, an urgent-sounding, angst-y song about a break-up with darker, downbeat feel to it than most of the record, blending seamlessly into “Is this on?”. “Pete Jackson is Getting Married” is a whole heap of fun, meanwhile, plying us with playful guitar melodies and humorous lyrics describing the scene at a friend’s wedding.

Finally, I just have to give a shout out to “1989”, the year which acts as the starting point of the Years of Our Lives article. Chris’s vocals are great on this, perfectly carrying the emotional weight of the song, which is all about looking back at all the turmoil and stress you have gone through over the last decade (perhaps a pertinent track to listen to in 2020) and wondering if anything has fundamentally changed: “lying awake, it still feels like it’s ’89”.

NOFX- Pump up the Valuum

Pump Up the Valuum is a NOFX record that I feel is pretty underrated and is not talked about enough when reflecting on the band’s back catalogue. It personally means quite a lot to me. I discovered this record in around 2004, not long after having got into War on Errorism (likely a gateway NOFX record for a lot of folks who came of age in the early-to mid 2000s). Aware of the band’s vast discography, I ended up choosing Pump Up the Valuum because

a) it was the one immediately prior to War on Errorism b)the striking, amusing artwork on the record cover and c) it was available at my local library. Yep, I used to loan out CDs at that time from the library, discovering albums from a bunch of ‘90s and early ‘00s punk and indie bands through it, like Weezer, Ash and Green Day. The CD collection was mostly mainstream or semi-mainstream as you would expect, but they did used to randomly stock a few Fat Wreck and Epitaph albums which was cool. I heard a few bands like Lagwagon or Down by Law through that; Pump Up the Valuum was NOFX’s only available record there so I snapped it up and was engrossed by it straight away. I remember thinking what the hell is valuum and what in-joke am I missing out on?

It’s an album that’s very lovable and charming; sarcastic, witty and purposeful in equal measure. I also think that it’s relatively accessible as far as those ‘90s NOFX records go. After Pump Up the Valuum, I ended up buying their ‘Greatest Songs Ever Written’ collection and then delved much deeper into their older material, but it continues to stand out for me as one of NOFX’s more cohesive and consistent efforts. I realise that this record came at the latter end of NOFX’s ‘golden age’ of ‘90s releases when they were super productive and could do little wrong, yet I would rank Pump Up the Valuum at the upper end of the albums that came out of that period. It also led to me discovering a whole host of other ‘90s punk records.

Before things took a turn for the overtly political on War on Errorism, Fat Mike seemed to be more playful than ever on this record, particularly on hilarious tracks like “What’s the Matter with Parents Today?”, “Thank God It’s Monday” and “Clams Have Feelings Too (Actually They Don’t”). As is often the case with NOFX, they hid some serious social commentary behind the humour on those tracks, with Fat Mike toeing that fine line between profound and silly throughout the record. Elsewhere, there are a couple of great ‘state of the music industry’ tracks with “Dinosaurs Will Die” and “Stranger Than Fishin’”. The former is an up-tempo, melodic punk song for the ages and the best of the anti-major label songs, full of proclamations like, “We’re gonna fight against the mass appeal/We’re gonna kill the seven record deal/Make records that have more than one good song/The dinosaurs will slowly die/And I do believe no one will cry”.

Alkaline Trio- Maybe I’ll Catch Fire

For a ‘years of our lives’ article, I don’t feel like I have much of a personal connection to Maybe I’ll Catch Fire. It’s probably because I first listened to it at a relatively late stage, but when I do an objective ranking exercise of Alkaline Trio’s albums, I pretty much put them in chronological order, meaning that Maybe I’ll Catch Fire is my second favourite from the band, just behind Goddamnit. I mean, Goddamnit, as I discussed a couple of articles ago, is pretty much untouchable as an emo/punk record, but Maybe I’ll Catch Fire follows suit to its predecessor stylistically and sonically. The production values are in the same ballpark, having been recorded in a similarly rushed manner and pretty soon after Goddamnit too. This was in a period in which Matt and Dan were writing ‘dark’ pop-punk but without the forced, self-aware macabre songwriting that would characterise them a few years later.

So Maybe I’ll Catch Fire is full of more great emotive, crunchy and desperate punk sing-a-longs. Closer “Radio” is the most well-known of the songs on this record, as a quite curious, angst-y slow-burner, with lyrics like “Red eyes on orange horizons/ If Columbus was wrong, I’d drive straight off the edge”. The song has an instant appeal to it, but I look elsewhere for the stronger tracks on this album. I love the opener “Keep ‘em Coming”, which has these wonderful rhythmic qualities, with Matt’s vocals soaring over a wall of guitars. As with a bunch of tracks on this record, the tempo shifts nicely throughout; it flows like an orchestral punk song, but with lo-fi, crunchy aesthetics. The pace shifts around dramatically and teasingly on “Sleepyhead” too; I love the crescendo reached when Matt cries out “nothing to see here but the rain”.

“Madam Me” is another great one, a classic slice of black-clad melodic punk with a bunch of visceral lyrics about being knee-deep in shit and warmer than piss, ending with the repeated refrain, “and I will keep you warm in hell”. “Fuck You Aurora” is a memorable, mid-tempo and melancholic track about having tragically fucked things right up.  Matt’s vocals on this right really hit home a sense of self-despair. The songwriting on “Fuck You Aurora” is perhaps more conventional compared to the rest of the record and closer to the style that we would encounter on From Here to Infirmary, while also giving us a glimpse of the macabre silliness that would come later- “you must be the cutest gravedigger I’ve ever seen”. It’s a great song nevertheless. Dan has three songs on the record, my favourite of which by far is “You’ve Got So Far To Go”, a trademark quiet-verse, loud anthemic chorus. It has these great lyrics too which stand out on the record about living for the moment and taking chances upon meeting someone, even though it may be scary: “I think we filled this ashtray twice, and I’m pretty sure/We emptied every bottle in the place, so/Let’s walk home, let’s be afraid/I want to grab you by the arms and kiss you so hard/Let’s do it right under the streetlight/I want it now, somehow I forgot how”.

Those are my favourites, but I honestly don’t dislike any song on Maybe I’ll Catch Fire, a sure-fire contender for second place behind the emo-punk royalty of Goddamnit.

Other albums I enjoyed from 2000:

Dillinger Four- Versus God

Screeching Weasel- Teen Punks in Heat

The Weakerthans- Left and Leaving