Archive for the ‘The Years of Our Lives’ Category

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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Hey, so a new feature! Having both been born in 1989, me and Read Hard are going to talk about our favourite three records for each year since 1989. Despite not being actively aware or conscious of these records at the time, these are nevertheless the EPs, albums and 7″ which define ‘the years of our lives’…and so we begin….with the final year of the 1980s….

Read Hard’s Picks

1989 was an interesting year. It was the year I was born, for one. It was the year of the first Brazilian election in 29 years and the year that F.W. De Klerk became president in South Africa and the times of apartheid slowly ended. It was also the year the Berlin wall was torn down. There was no longer a West Germany and a DDR or a West-Berlin and East-Berlin. This happened on the 9th of November, about a month after I was born. So, this is not something I remember much of obviously. The day before I was born on the 9th of October, an alleged UFO landed in Voronezh in the Soviet Union (now Russia). The Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize that year. There were some great records released this year too, not that I remember any of those either. I’m gonna write about three of them. NOFX’s album S&M Airlines, Operation Ivy’s album Energy and Screeching Weasel’s EP “Punkhouse”.

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Operation Ivy-Energy

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It was first released on Lookout in March 1989 and later re-released on Tim Armstrong’s own Hellcat records. I was thinking of writing about it in my “Read Hard’s Pop Punk Picks” column, but I recently wrote about …and Out Come the Wolves, so it was fitting to write about Energy, as it is the best album from the year I was born. The band didn’t last very long and only put out one full length album. Matt and Tim from Rancid were members of the band. The singer Jesse Michaels later went on to start Common Rider and The Classics of Love. Energy perfectly mixes 80s hardcore with ska, making the way for the third wave of ska. I think there’s some Who-inspiration here too. The drummer was called Dave Mello. The first time I heard Op Ivy was when I was 14 and I heard the songs “Knowledge” (covered by anyone from Green Day to the Aquabats and Millencolin), “Unity” and “Bad Town”. The latter was cooler than any Rancid song I had ever heard and I discovered I really liked this band. I ended up finding the LP in Oslo and dreaded not buying it. I found it again in Camden Town in London and bought it! One of my finest investments!

What makes the album great for me, is that it sounds really low fi and noisy, but the songwriting and lyrics really make up for that, if that were a bad thing in the first place. The lyrics are often socio-political or philosophical. There are still love songs like “Bombshell” and songs about music and punk rock like “Sound System”, “Jaded” and “Artificial Life”, but most of the lyrics seem to be about violence and hatred and how to stand against violence and unite (“Take Warning”, “Bad Town” and “Unity”). “Smiling” is also a song that deals with gender roles in an intelligent way. They also do a cover of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made for Walkin’”’ called “One of These Days” and it’s just the chorus repeated. “Freeze Up” shows a dystopic view of the world where elected politicians say their phony lines, but don’t offer solutions for the bleak future. The line “It’s 1989 take a look around” was changed from the original version. The album was originally recorded in 1988 at Gilman Street, but it didn’t sound quite right so they re-recorded it in Sound and Vision studios.

NOFX- S&M Airlines

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It was released on the 5th of September 1989 on Epitaph Records and produced by ER’s owner Brett Gurewitz. Fat Mike really wanted to take the band in a more melodic and Bad Religion inspired direction than the earlier NOFX stuff, so having Brett produce the album and other Bad Religion members do harmonics seemed perfect. Mike and Greg Graffin also do a duet on the album, a cover of “You Can Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac. This shows that Graffin was, and probably is, a way more skilled vocalist than Fat Mike. The album is probably the album with most collaborations between Fat Mike and Eric Melvin. It also was their first album with metal head Steve Kidwiller, making it a more metal-sounding album than any of their other records, with hair-metal riffs and solos. Their long hair also made them look like a metal band.

The album is lyrically very punny like most of Fat Mike’s lyrics. The titles shine with clever yet corny word play like “Day to Daze”, “Professional Crastination” (“We’re living in a procrastination!!!!!!”), “Drug Free America” and “You Drink, You Drive, You Spill”. The latter being about drinking and driving and how it’s not as bad as you think, unless you’re afraid of spilling your drink. The title track gives us a peak into one of Fat Mike’s hobbies that is BDSM and so does “Vanilla Sex”, that also mixes the theme of being into kinky shit and the moral majority and the government getting involved in people’s sex lives. The most serious song on the album “Jaundiced Eye” has always been one of my favorite Fat Mike lyrics and it deals with racism. The lyrics “Fascism racism all start up the same/ Stop feeding the fire, help put out the flame” and “All looks yellow to the jaundiced eye” made a huge impact on me as a kid. I bought the CD in Copenhagen, Denmark in October 2015, right before I turned 16. This was also the same holiday I bought Punk in Drublic! Though way too metal for my taste and with vocals that are too bad even for me, S&M Airlines really was the start of the NOFX we know today and it’s a pretty good album in spite of it all!

Screeching Weasel-Punkhouse

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It was released July 7th 1989 on Limited Potential. They had released the album Boogadaboogadaboogada half a year before, at the end of 1988. It’s the first release that features Dan Vapid. What’s interesting about the EP is that it both sounds more hardcore and also a bit more melodic than Boogada. Except for the cover “I Think We’re Alone Now”, all of the lyrics are written by Ben Weasel. The title track has music written by John Jughead and “Something Wrong” has music written by the entire band. “Fathead”, that appeared on My Brain Hurts was written by Weasel, Vapid and Jughead together. “I Need Therapy” is probably the most hardcore-sounding song on the EP and is my theme song. I think “Punkhouse” and “Something Wrong” are the best songs on there. “Punkhouse” is, as I’ve heard, based on a true story (the potato in mouth thing). The song is a catchy Pop Punk tune with the lead solos we got to hear on My Brain Hurts and got some tastes of on Boogada. The song satirizes living in a punkhouse and ends with a Peter Pan Complex statement “We’re never growing up” similar to newer Weasel track “Follow Your Leaders” (“Whatever you do don’t grow up”). “Something Wrong” is about being a band on the road and meeting “stupid” and “fucked up little girls” concluding that “there must be something wrong with us”. The EP was re-released a couple of times. Ben Weasel released it on his own label No Budget records and it was also released on Selfless records. The entire EP was also included on the Weasel compilation Kill the Musicians from 1995. And that was the first time I heard it back in 2006 or 2007.

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Dave’s Picks

Pixies- Doolittle

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Doolittle, Pixies’ second full-length, following the wonderfully raw and visceral Surfer Rosa, emerged amidst the veritable golden-age of indie-rock. The sound of ‘alternative’ was in its boom period, with Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth and Mudhoney having all released career-defining records during this period, but, for me, Pixies was always the crème de la crème of this batch of bands. Incidentally, I think Surfer Rosa is a little superior to Doolittle, but alas, as I wasn’t born until 1989, the format of this article series means that I can only ramble on about the latter.

To be fair, both of these records are great, albeit pretty different to each other. It is well-known that the recording process for Doolittle was in sharp contrast to its predecessor. While Surfer Rosa was recorded in little over a week with Steve Albini, Doolittle was ‘perfected’ over a much longer period with Gil Norton, who was much more ‘hands on’. It meant that Doolittle had a comparatively cleaner, poppier sound, with “Monkey’s Gone to Heaven” and “Here Comes Your Man” melodic hits likely to be found in indie clubs to this day (the latter with an incredibly memorable guitar riff). There are hints of Husker Du and Sonic Youth to the Pixies infectious indie rock sound, but not overly so; Pixies were always doing their own thing and I think they can be barely compared to their contemporaries.

Indeed, they could be put down as one of the most original, goddamn bizarre bands of all time: if they weren’t singing randomly in Spanish, Francis Black was squealing like his life depended on it (best heard on “Debaser”, of course), alongside some of the strangest (and at times, most violent) lyrics ever penned. The songwriting on Doolittle is, of course, fantastic. Although Kim Deal is only actually credited with songwriting on one track here, her influence can be found throughout (although this point of course marked the beginning of the end in regards to internal band relations). There is also incredible variety on Doolittle, where Pixies can just switch from the melodic alt-rock of “Monkey’s Gone to Heaven” to the jittery, country-ish ditty of “Mr. Grieves”. Indeed, the more straight-forward, poppy tracks just makes the weirdness stand out even more, like “Tame” for instance. “Gouge Away” is, meanwhile, a fantastic album closer, highlighting the band at their visceral best. Doolittle represents a thrilling ride, from first to last minute.

Fugazi- 13 Songs

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An influential and legendary band. Repeater is their best full-length, but 13 Songs is Fugazi’s go-to release for me. It combines the band’s first two EPs (‘Fugazi’ and ‘Margin Walker’) but for a while when I was much younger and first heard 13 Songs, I didn’t realise that this wasn’t an actual album. I mean, everything gels together so well. I guess the EPs were recorded more or less around the same time, so it may as well have been a full-length. I guess we all know the history of Fugazi but just in case you were unaware: Minor Threat dissolves; Mackaye forms the short-lived Embrace, an early pioneer of emo along with Rites of Spring; shortly after, in 1987, Mackaye forms Fugazi along with a couple of Rites of Spring band members and a member of Dag Nasty.

It is often difficult to know how to describe Fugazi’s sound, but it is somewhere between straight-up punk (of the spiky, anarchic kind), post-hardcore and emo. I know they have been said to inspire later bands such as Get Up Kids or Braid, but to me, they don’t sound anything like that kind of emo: rather, there is raw emotion running through 13 Songs, that sometimes comes out as pure unadulterated rage (most obviously on “Waiting Room”) while others are more considered, reasoned anger (see: “Provisional” or “Suggestion”). “Suggestion” is just great; a feminist anthem that must have been very much against the grain back in the macho ‘DC ‘80s hardcore punk scene (“We blame her for being there”). I guess there is an anger running through the whole of that scene and time, but Fugazi just channeled it in a whole different way. Some of it sounds a bit like reggae (“Promises”), as Mackaye wanted.

The word ‘fugazi’ apparently means ‘something fake’, but there was nothing at all fake about this forever-DIY punk band. They have always pinned their ideals on their chest and never deviated to gain profit or wider recognition. For one, they never had merchandise as such or had gig tickets above a certain price. There is a timeless quality to 13 Songs that derives from their ideals, meaning that it feels as fresh as it would have done back in 1989 (in contrast to so many of their peers). “Give Me The Cure” is post-hardcore brilliance; “Margin Walker” explodes in all the right ways; “Suggestion” provides a great lead into the much more upbeat “Glue Man”. Also, one of my favourite ever punk lyrics comes from this collection (“Waiting Room”): “I’m planning a big suprise/I’m gonna fight for what I wanna be”.

Screeching Weasel- ‘Punkhouse’ EP

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And so, to the Weasel! Screeching Weasel’s ‘Punkhouse’ EP marked the exciting period between Boogadaboogadaboogada and My Brain Hurts, when the band were really ‘finding’ themselves. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Boogada’ is great, but this EP marked the beginnings of a different kind of Weasel. They retained the brattishness, immaturity and pure fun of their previous work, but became more melodic here (partly due to the addition of a certain Dan Vapid). The songwriting also started improving significantly at this time.

In regards to a greater sense of melodic, I am referring specifically to the title track and closer “Something Wrong”. There is a sense of youthful exuberance and optimism in the former. I know there are a ton of songs about punkhouses, but this one must up there with the best. These are the kind of bratty, charming hooks that would later dominate ‘peak Weasel’ Although My Brain Hurts immediately followed this EP, I think the sound on ‘Punkhouse’ is more akin to the scrappy, faster-paced nature of Wiggle, particularly “I Need Therapy” and “Good Morning”. The vocal melodies on “Good Morning” actually remind me a little of “Dingbat”. “Fathead” is a cool song, but, as John Jughead said on his youtube blog thing, it doesn’t fit too well on My Brain Hurts, and it probably works better as part of the ‘Punkhouse’ EP. The cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now” is the only real filler on here (and cover-wise, pales in comparison to “I Can See Clearly Now”). Overall, though, one of the better Weasel EPs, and acted as the starter to the main course delight of My Brain Hurts!