It’s not often that I use the word “lush” in reference to a pop punk band, but this new EP from Montpellier, France’s Quitters is just that. The music is thick, with interesting complexities in the arrangement that might be more often found in an indie band than a punk band. The five-song EP opens with the title track, and it’s one that jangles like mad. The melody is simple enough, but the thoughtful guitar interplay and hooky lines really make the track. And, like I said, it just feels very rich and full. “Better Off Dead” makes the unusual move of putting the song in 3/4, or waltz time. Despite this, the song has all of the hallmarks of a great sing-along, and the use of distorted guitar harmonics is pretty cool. “Letter to Forgotten Friends” may be my favorite track of the EP, with its sense of urgency, awesome hooks, and wistful feel. “Burn Your House Down” is a fairly standard emotional pop punk track, one that would be a standout for many bands but here is the plainest of the bunch. And the closer, “Biting the Dust,” has gorgeous meandering guitar lines and uses dissonant harmonics to punctuate melodic lines that sound familiar yet fresh. I hope Quitters never quit making great music like this.

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

PS

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Formed late in 2013, Witching Waves quickly released two LPs and three EPs in 2014 and 2015. Then they fell silent, at least in terms of recorded output, though they continued to play out and tour. Not too long ago, bassist Estella Adeyeri joined founding members Emma Wigham and Mark Jasper, and now, nearly four years on from their last LP, Witching Waves have given us a new full-length record. The ten songs are raw and urgent, with a stripped down post-punk sound. From the very start, the power taps are turned on full blast, with “Disintegration.” There’s nothing polished about this, with unnervingly raw vocals, noisy guitar and bass, and an elemental melodic line. But, at the same time, the end result sounds tight and driving. There is almost a mania, like the band believes their lives depend on getting this song out. Wigham’s vocals, particularly on “Best of Me” are intense, and that track blends tribal rhythms and dark dreaminess to great effect. “Shipping Container” starts off as a minimalist song, with a simple, repetitive line and robotic vocals, then halfway through the track, there’s a pause, and then the track starts to jam hard, in its own evil-sounding way. “Money” starts out with an angular jangle, but once it reaches the three quarter mark, it, too, transforms, and begins to rumble menacingly. “Underachiever” and “Inside Outside” are non-pop pop songs, with distinct melodic lines and distorted jangle, but both have an undercurrent of jeopardy. “Waiting for the Sun” closes the LP with a great pounding track, an almost mechanical rhythm accentuated by a higher register guitar. Witching Waves is named for an amusement park ride, but this record isn’t just amusing; it’s a thrill ride, for sure.

Check it out here: https://witchingwaves.bandcamp.com/album/persistence

PS

teenage-bottlerocket-2017-th813

To celebrate the release of Teenage Bottlerocket’s new album Stay Rad!, I decided to write up a top-ten list of the band’s songs that includes zero material from that record. Heh. It’s actually a decent record, but doesn’t contain anything top-ten worthy. You can see where my preference lies, with the vast majority of the songs on this list coming from the band’s first three releases. The positioning of these can be probably re-ordered, but I’m pretty sure these are my top ten…

  1. “TV Set” (Tales from Wyoming)

I think this song is the most recently released of the ten picks, which shows how highly I rate the last three TBR records. The new one is probably the higher quality and more consistent of the three, but none can come close to breaking the top ten. “TV Set” is on Tales from Wyoming, but it was released first on the Red Scare 10 year anniversary compilation. It stands out on TFW as a short, sweet and straightforward, harmony-driven pop-punk hit that is a throwback to the band’s earlier material. The underlying anti-technology suspicion on the track is very Lillingtons-esque, too.

  1. “Warning Device” (Warning Device)

Warning Device is for sure TBR’s most coherent and thematically-driven record and that is exemplified by the title track which serves as a one-two punch alongside the number one on this list. The album is essentially about coming through a break-up and regretting that you ever got together with the person, wishing that a ‘warning device’ of some kind could have warned you away all those years ago. Not a ‘new’ pop-punk theme in any way, but delivered in a refreshing and coherent way. The track has a fast-paced urgency and for one of the first times, TBR shift away from a standard Ramones-y verse-chorus-verse set-up. The pop-punk guitar solo is super fucking cool, too.

  1. “So Far Away” (Total)

The love-sick closer on Total. Making this list, I realise that TBR really knew how to close a record on the first three albums. “So Far Away” serves as a great epilogue on Total, releasing the pop-punk love-sickness that has been building on the rest of the record. It works well as this semi-melodramatic, (relatively) slowed-down mid-tempo tune, following on from faster-paced tracks like “Repeat Offender” and “Bloodbath at Burger King”. It is a super simple love song about dealing with long-distance, but I love the line, “how can I tell my heart that we’re a million miles apart?”. The repeated ‘so far away’ line at the crescendo of the song is so good.

  1. “Without You” (They Came From the Shadows)

There is an abundance of melody on “Without You”, one of my favourites from They Came From the Shadows. It has a wonderful sense of urgency and a heart-on-sleeve, melodramatic chorus; in many ways, I consider this to be a perfectly crafted pop song. “Without You” is a love sick pop-punker, but from a somewhat different perspective to that on “So Far Away”. On this one, the protagonist is longing for a significant other that has departed and is struggling to cope without them. Everything around them reminds them of the person. While Warning Device represented an anger at having fallen for that person, this track represents a simple sadness at the separation. The alternative version of “Without You” by Ray Rocket is also worth a listen!

  1. “Done With Love” (Freak Out)

By far, the standout on Freak Out. A Kody-penned tune, “Done With Love” is mid-tempo and super anthemic, with a hell of a chorus. The slower tempo really allows the vocals and lyrics the room to breathe. It’s great how much the ‘love’ in the chorus is elongated. For me, this track demonstrates TBR at the top of their songwriting game, in terms of melodies, song construction and lyrics. It sounds like it would fit in well on Warning Device, though the lyrical sentiments on “Done With Love” are in a slightly different place as that record. This is a very bitter song, with the protagonist having had enough of the game of love. They have ‘got shit to do’ and ‘no time to waste’ on any of that ‘bullshit’. As an ‘I’m out’, it’s very well delivered. Interestingly, I’m not sure if it was intentional, but the ‘no time to waste’ line makes me think of “Wasting Time” (read below); whereas previously, the protagonist couldn’t do anything but waste time on thinking about their significant other, now they have grown hardened and don’t waste time on it.

  1. “Social Life” (Warning Device)

A straight-up, fast-paced pop-punk ripper, clocking in at under 2 minutes. This was one of those on Warning Device that I loved straight away, whereas a bunch of the other tracks took a while to grow on me. As all the best pop-punk songs are, it’s simple (in hooks and lyrics), but really fucking effective. It’s about a guy not wanting to go out and see people and instead staying at home and listening to music. It’s really as simple as that! I love the last section of the song, when the chorus is repeated and the background ‘woah-ohs’ come in. It makes you want to pogo all around your living room, this one (on your own, of course). “Social Life” could have been as easily on Total, but I like how it fits in with the broader theme of ‘wasting time’ on Warning Device.

  1. “So Cool” (Total)

Another Kody song. I am super nostalgic about this track. I mean, all of Total, really, but particularly this one. It reminds me of doing stupid shit during the summer as a teenager and hanging out with a friend. It was also one of the first songs I got into from the mid-‘00s underground pop-punk scene and so kind of opened a floodgate for me. A fast-paced, intense and hook-filled punk track dedicated to the sheer joy of hanging out with a cool person. You get the sense that this is about the start of a relationship and everything blossoming, with the protagonist worried that the other person may leave eventually and pleading with not to (“cause if you do, I’m coming after you”). If you don’t like the back-up vocals towards the end of the song (“baby, baby, you’re so cool”), I dunno what to say.

  1. “Todayo” (They Came From the Shadows)

Like a classic Descendents or MTX track, this is an ode to everything going just right for once and pinching yourself: “Waking up next to me/ I hope you’ll always be”. There is an unbridled optimism and joy on “Todayo” that feels fragile and precarious. The themes of this track are not dissimilar to “So Cool”, I guess, although they are delivered in a somewhat different way. More than anything else TBR have done, it reminds me of mainstream pop-punk of the late ‘90s/early ‘00s, at least in parts. It’s a really energetic, urgent and anthemic punk track that tops anything else on They Came From the Shadows. I wish TBR had evolved more in the direction of “Todayo” or “Done With Love”, which stuck to the band’s roots but evidence a shift away from a simple pop-punk formula, instead of going down the ‘rawk’ route.

  1. “Bloodbath at Burger King” (Total)

Oh my, those opening guitar leads still get me every time. It’s essentially a straightforward pop-punk track about hating your job, but that guitar lead elevates it to a few notches above. I love the outro “blood on the register, the grill, and on the floor”, with the back-up vocals “bloodbath at burger king” coming in. I know there have been a ton of pop-punk songs written about hating one’s job, but this one is so visceral and really captures the intense feelings about working in the service industry and the blood that it makes you want to shed. At the time when I first heard this track, I was working in a fast-food joint (in a bowling alley) and I don’t think I have ever related to a song so much in my life! I remember walking around doing tasks at work, singing under my breath, “…blood on the fryer and the walk-in cooler door…”. Good times!

  1. “Wasting Time” (Warning Device)

It is often hard to say what is your favourite song from a band, but this is as close as I will get to a favourite TBR song, I think. “Wasting Time” is a mid-tempo, emotive and hook-filled pop-punk banger that forms part of an effective one-two combo with “Warning Device”. It makes for a great ending to the record. I can think of few pop-punk records that end on such a high note. I love the way the melody subtly shifts for the chorus: “And now the murdering of minutes is my only crime”. It’s a song that fits in neatly with “Warning Device” and the rest of the record: about fixating on a significant other that has left and not being to think of anything else. I think these are among TBR’s best lyrics!

Check out the latest record here: https://teenagebottlerocket.bandcamp.com/

DB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bad Sleep are a three-piece out of Olympia, Washington who play short, sweet and straightforward garage-y pop-punk. Their debut self-titled full-length, following a couple of EPs, is full of fuzzy powerpop melodies and catchy, understated choruses, akin to what regularly comes out on Dirtnap records. Bad Sleep’s sound is not dissimilar to the likes of Marked Men, Sonic Avenues or Something Fierce, or maybe a sped-up Tacocat. The songs pass by in 2 minute bursts, in staple fashion.

The best thing about Bad Sleep is their keen sense of melodies, and there are hooks-a-plenty on their S/T. The band are not Ramones-y per se, but are clearly influenced by their ear for a good melody. The vocals are pretty infectious; notably, on the album highlight “Don’t Have To”, the lovely ‘ooh-oohs’ from singer Lily combine wonderfully with the spikey riffs. Elsewhere, “Science Fiction” and “Future Trip” stand out on the record for their next-level garage-pop ear-worminess. The band invoke the attitude and spikiness of The Muffs or Big Eyes which helps to differentiate their Dirtnap-esque fuzzy garage punk from the masses. The song “Electric Blues” really stands out on the record as a slower-tempo track that allows the vocals to breathe and suggests a greater range and depth than the others do. The opening of the track reminds me somewhat of mid-west punks The Gateway District. This is a really, really solid LP that, while not particularly dynamic, is one of the better straight-up garage-punk albums I’ve heard in a good while and a hell of a debut!

Check it out here: https://specialistsubject.bandcamp.com/album/bad-sleep

DB

New-ish Oslo-based Spielbergs play a kind of noisy, lo-fi and shout-y indie rock that is full of massive distortion, fuzziness and urgent drum rolls. On their debut LP This is the End, Spielbergs dabble in post-rock, power-pop and garage punk, but they are anchored by an indie rock sound in close proximity to Japandroids, Cloud Nothings and Beach Slang. As with the former, Spielbergs exude joyous, ‘celebration rock’ and an emphatic sound that sounds permanently on the edge of a big sing-a-long.

Spielbergs sound energetic, bold and triumphant, while at the same time on edge and anxious. The band exudes heart-on-sleeve joy and recalls the romanticism of Japandroids and The Replacements.  This joyous spark is best evident on album highlight “Distant Star”, full of urgent hooks and a chorus that lodges itself in your brain: “Now we could be perfect, you could have made me better / And we could be soulmates, if we could find a place to live”. Elsewhere, the raucous and spiky “Bad Friend” sounds like Andrew WK organised a party with Rancid and Jimmy Eat World, the moody and contemplative “Familiar” comes off as a Let It Be b-side, while “You All Look Like Giants” is like early Foo Fighters, with all the confidence and bombast that entails.

This is Not the End veers down many side streets, but has a common road running through it; it’s a coherent body of work, but not same-y. The album is not mind-blowing by any means, but it’s earnest, if not innovative. Spielbergs’ sound is a familiar one, but if I could only hear one kind of indie rock for the rest of my existence, I wouldn’t mind if it was this style. Decent.

Check it out: https://bythetimeitgetsdark.bandcamp.com/album/this-is-not-the-end

DB

The Murderburgers new album is all I could have hoped for, and more. What a Mess is, crazily, the band’s 7th full-length. Since 2012’s How to Ruin Your Life, the Murderburgers have been on fine form indeed, but I really feel with this one that they have reached new peaks. In many ways, this is a continuation of the sound on The 12 Habits of Highly Defective People: bouncy, hook-filled and quote-worthy, Weasel-inspired sad-sack pop-punk. The Murderburgers have developed a sound in recent years that straddles a line between the classic Lookout! ‘90s pop-punk sound and a meatier melodic punk sound, closer to Dear Landlord or The Dopamines. Such straddling allows them to avoid the clichés of both Ramonescore and of the ‘Fest’ sound.

Tracks like “It Better Rain Tomorrow” or “October Lied to Us” are very much classic hard-hitting, super-melodic Murderburgers songs, while “I’m Sorry About Christmas Eve” is this album’s ‘instant hit’ in the same way that “The Waves” was on the previous record. There are new wrinkles to a well-established sound on What a Mess, though. The Murderburgers sound more influenced by a meatier ‘90s Fat Wreck-ish melodic punk than they previously did. There is also just more range and dynamism in general, as The Murderburgers edge a little further away from the rigid structures of archetypal pop-punk. Notably, I’m thinking of the opener “Turning 30 was an Eye-opener”, which opens with an acoustic intro before bursting into an intense and sped-up pop-punk blast, or of “Shots in my Skull”, a mid-tempo melodic track that is spacious and shows more restraint than previously heard, or “Pick a Knife, Any Knife”, that is probably one of the most fascinating tracks that they have ever written, shifting from pop-punk verses to gang vocals to a gut-punch breakdown at the end. Elsewhere, Fraser’s vocals are more dynamic in general, too, with one of the standout tracks on What a Mess, “Dying on an Empty Stomach”, sounding like latter-day Weasel, with greater vocal range.

More than that though, Fraser’s songwriting is just tighter and stronger; the lyrics are more concise, capturing intense feelings in a few short phrases or a couple of lines. I mean, the Murderburgers lyrics have been great for a while, of course. Fraser has been over the years unpacking the chorus “My Head is Fucked Again” from How to Ruin Your Life, and the results have never been as well-crafted as they are on here. Lines like “But I don’t want to stumble through life shitfaced anymore/ The only times I was thankful for double vision/ Was when it meant that I saw more of you” are just absolutely perfect. The equating of wind with bricks and rain with knives on “Shots in my Skull” effectively puts you in a certain frame of mind, while I don’t think sad-sack pop-punk has ever been exemplified by such cutting, visceral lyrics before, as on the final few on “Pick a Knife, Any Knife”:

“If you broke in with a knife tonight/ You know, I really wouldn’t mind/ If you caved in my fucking skull tonight/ You know, I really wouldn’t mind/ Because it would hurt less than the way that you’re killing me right now”

Off With Their Heads would kill for those lines. There a number of lines that are repeated at the end of songs or during certain points in songs that hit hard and are among the best on the record: notably “Maybe we’re just growing up and growing apart” on “Axes to Grind” or “Well, I guess I was far too lost in those eyes” on “October Lied to Us”. There is so much going on here, musically and lyrically, that you can’t help but lose yourself in the songs. As on 12 Habits, this record captures the complexities of mental health challenges and of feeling like shit on a daily basis, with lyrics as violent, intense and visceral as they have ever been. There are dollops of hope though (in a Banner Pilot-esque sense) and an acceptance of sorts to move on: notably at the end of “You Deserve Better, Samantha” (“I’ll try to start again/ I swear I’ll try to start again/ I’ll learn how to live again with you in mind”) and on one of my favourite ever punk album closers “The Thing That Helps Me Survive”, which simply repeats the lines “You need to let some things die/ So that you can stay alive”.

What a Mess is quite simply a stunning pop-punk album and one of the best I have heard in recent memory. The ‘Burgers have reached another new nadir. In the words of Shakin’ Stevens: lovely stuff.

Check it out here: https://themurderburgers.bandcamp.com/album/what-a-mess

DB

Woahnows play a quirky brand of boisy and poppy indie-punk, in the vein of bands like Great Cynics, Martha and Happy Accidents. Angular guitar riffs complement abundant bold hooks and earworm-y choruses. Despite being often mentioned alongside a bunch of bands that I love from the UK punk scene (including the aforementioned trio), I had somehow managed to neglect listening to Woahnows. They are actually right up my street, playing that kind of personable and relatable indie-punk and finding the right balance between earnest and forthright. This is something of a comeback album for the band, with three and half years having passed since their debut LP Understanding and Everything Else.

Here, Young and Cool is full of bright and energetic melodies, notably on tracks like “I Know, I knooow”, “No One Else” and “Dipping Out”. Woahnows remind me of the effortless cool, quirkiness and off-kilter hooks that Weezer excelled so much at in their early days. I also enjoy the focus and directness in the songwriting that feels refreshing and bold. A few of the choruses stick in your mind, in particular: “If you need a reason to leave, that makes two of us” (on “Skin Peels”) or “I want you, I don’t want nothing else” (on “No One Else”), or “I like you, but I’m better on my own/Everything is better when I’m on my own” (“Hippy Shit”). Young and Cool evidences sudden shifts from upbeat and bold to downbeat and vulnerable, in similar ways to Martha or The Spook School, which keeps things interesting throughout. The LP doesn’t quite the same heights as recent efforts from Woahnows peers, however; the songwriting is good, not great and, while the tunes are there, there is a spark missing which stops the album from reaching the upper echelons of indie-punk. I feel harsh pointing that out, as Young and Cool is, on the whole, a pretty great record.

Check it out here: https://woahnows.bandcamp.com/album/young-and-cool

DB

I had kind of missed out on listening to Burnt Tapes’ older material, having only previously listened to the single from their ‘Alterations’ EP “Things Get Weird”. Having grown up together in Athens, before moving to London, Burnt Tapes formed in 2014. I latched on to their debut full-length Never Better after listening to the melodic punk banger “Yuzi” at the end of last year. It really is a special song. Ostensibly a hard-hitting, crunchy and gritty pop-punk track, it slowly reveals unexpected melodic dynamism and shifts in tone that elevate it above the masses. A stark tale of loss and re-finding yourself following a break-up, “Yuzi” lodges itself into your skull and refuses to leave.

So, how’s the rest of Never Better? Well, despite nothing quite matching the intense brilliance of “Yuzi”, it is pretty great, to be fair. Fans of The Lawrence Arms, Iron Chic and Small Brown Bike will feel well at home here. It is semi-slick, addictive and gruff melodic punk ready made for Fest that feels indebted to midwestern emo, too. A punk band that has clearly grown up listening to ‘90s emo, rather than an emo band per se, in the vein of Spraynard and Arms Aloft. Burnt Tapes very much sound like a band from the West Coast of the US, rather than from UK (or Greece, I guess), although the ‘misery punk’ on display certainly recalls Goodbye Blue Monday, while I also get Apologies, I Have None feels on occasions in the band’s intensity.

The emotionally-charged, gruff vocals nicely complement the driving, bittersweet guitar anthems on Never Better. There is a real sense of loss and pained regret on this record that recalls the romantic hope-regret cycle drawn out by Banner Pilot. Themes of loss, loneliness, learning to move on from mistakes and nostalgia dominate the record. Largely, Never Better is engaged with a dewy-eyed reflection on a relationship gone sour, the regret bound up with that, and the crutches (to take The Copyrights term) that you have begun to lean on to deal with everything. Similar sentiments have come from emo bands as much as gruff punkers and, thematically at least, I am reminded of La Dispute’s Rooms of the House a little: a regretful and intense romanticisation of the past, contrasting with the current state that the protagonist is in. I’m not sure what the consistent references to teeth falling out are about, but they work well in the context of the record.

Aside from “Yuzi”, a few tracks stand out for me. Being a pop whore, the high-energy hooks and earworm-y guitar leads on “Don’t Make Me Play Bocelli” and “Birds and Birds, and Animals, and Things” are great. The understated, dark and driving melodies on “Drift Champ ‘16” recall semi-forgotten Californian punks Enemy You or the self-deprecating gruffness of Red City Radio. To complement the sincere gut-punch lyrics, there is a snark on that track that I can’t help but love too (with lyrics like “Hip hip hooray to all our misery”) and that reminds me a little of the recent EP from Goodbye Blue Monday. As well as that, I also enjoy the songs that are mellower, mid-tempo and show more restraint, allowing the vocals and lyrics more room to shine, as on “Dirt Roads” or “Forty, Forty Five”. These remind me of the elongated and quote-worthy whine of Spraynard or more recent Iron Chic. I particularly enjoy the moment on “Forty, Forty Five” when the music slows down and some female vocals join in on a solemnful and stripped back croon, suggesting The Hotelier or Tiger’s Jaw. There is a dynamism and depth on Never Better that I wasn’t expecting. Minus a couple of forgettable tracks, the album is full of high-quality gruff-punk.

Check it out here: https://burnttapes.bandcamp.com/album/never-better

DB

So the Copyrights and Kepi Ghoulie have collaborated on a re-recording of the classic Groovie Ghoulies Re-Amination Festival from 1997. Before listening to it I imagined the original album being played like a Copyrights album, but I don’t think there is much Copyright-influence here at all, but there are some very interesting musical elements that aren’t on the original, like the synths in the opening song “Tunnel of Love” rule so much! There are some minor additions in all the songs to make them even better, “School Is Out” is a really great song and this recording makes the song shine like it should.

Re-Amination Festival wasn’t an album I was familiar with before the re-recording was released, but it has a lot of good songs like the Elvis-tribute “Graceland” and what I believe is a song about aliens; “Evading the Grays” which also has a really cool synth. There’s also “Zombie Crush” that sounds like the Shadows mixed with Lee Hazelwood with an intro that sounds like an old cowboy ballad. Like expected on a Ghoulies album, there some covers on the album and, in fact, the two last songs are covers, but “School Is Out” is not an Alice Cooper cover and “Chupacabra” is not a Chixdiggit song like I thought. The penultimate song “To Go Home” is a Daniel Johnston cover and I feel like punk versions of Daniel Johnston songs work really well and this is no exception. The album ends with a cover of Wilson Pickett’s “If You Need Me”, which is pretty much a perfect closer to the album. I would say that re-recording a classic album is rarely a good idea, it usually sounds forced and never really improves the album, but somehow this one works. I think it’s a lot better than the original recording, but that might be because I didn’t grow up with the old one. Where it falls short, however, is when it comes to the cover art. The original album cover is a lot cooler, but that’s about it. This re-recording really shows how strong of an album it is.

Check it out here: https://thecopyrights.bandcamp.com/album/re-animation-festival

RH

René’s Picks

1995 was the year I got to see a lot of Northern Europe’s capitals. I went to Oslo for the very first time and what I remember the most is the delicious waffles and buying a Fred Flintstone backpack. I still had a girlfriend and I finally understood many things in life. I was told “you are going to pre-school” and I had no idea I had to go to school. I thought school was for stupid people, so I was a bit disappointed. I was honestly shocked. For some reason, I started making new friends at school and I remember my criterion for someone to be my friend was if they liked the movie Mio, My son. Anyways, adjusting to the idea that I was going to start school was frightening to me. Before starting school, I went on my first road trip with my parents. We were going to Moomin Land in Finland and we stepped by Sweden on the way. I have some great memories from that trip. One of the first stops on the trip was in the Swedish town of Karlstad and it was midsummer, which is a very notable occasion in Sweden and almost all the restaurants and stores were closed, and all the swedes went to the beach to barbecue or something. Me and my parents starving, and we found a kebab place and I ate a döner kebab for the first time in my life. It was great! Next stop was the island Åland and I remember losing one of my baby teeth. I think it was my second. I also got to see Stockholm and Helsinki, the capitals of Sweden and Finland.

The music we listened to on the car stereo was mostly my Dad’s CD’s that he had been copied onto cassettes. This was about the first time I learned what a CD was, and the concept perplexed me. I had no idea how that thing would have music come out of it. Another thing was that it started at track 1 every time you put the cd in, unlike cassettes that you could pause and it’d end up at the same place on another deck. I remember when I saw the movie Pocahontas, I wanted the soundtrack afterwards and they didn’t sell it on cassette, so I had to get the cd. So, this was my first cd, it didn’t make it onto my picks though! 1995 was a really good year for punk music and all my favorite albums from this year have all been analyzed thoroughly in my pop punk picks column. But I think these picks are great as well:

Green day-Insomniac

GD INS

I turned six years old this year. As a present from my class, I got a collage of pictures my classmates had drawn of cats. I also think we had cake at school. The same day (October 10), overseas, Green Day followed their major label debut Dookie with Insomniac. I was of course oblivious to this as I sat and ate cake and looked at weird kid-drawings of cats. The album, like Dookie, was released on Reprise Records. The backing of a major label and the millions of dollars raked in from the Dookie success gave us an album which to me is a perfectly produced album. I don’t think another punk album sounds this good. It’s both well-sounding and gritty at the same time. The poppy and classic rock feeling of Dookie is all gone on Insomniac. The album is a lot crunchier, angstier and darker. From the opening drums on “Armitage Shanks”, to the last chorus of “Walking Contradiction”, Tre Cool delivers his best performance on the kit. The songs about burning out, smoking pot and unrequited love are replaced with songs about meth (“Geek Stink Breath”), rich spoiled kids who wish for their parents’s deaths (“Brat”), giving up on society’s norms (“No Pride”) and hostile breakups (“Stuart and the Ave”), the latter being one of Green Day¨s greatest tunes. Mike Dirnt’s bass lines are fantastic on the entire album, but maybe especially on “Stuart…”. Billie Joe’s vocals are fantastic too and you can feel the spite in his voice, which is interesting as he just got married when the album came out. The song describes a breakup that took places years prior to the album. Amanda, a woman which almost appears more in Billie Joe’s songs than his actual wife, broke his heart and it turned into so many great tunes.

I remember buying the album in late 2003, the same day as I asked the local guitar shop if I could work there during work training week. I remember a few months after buying the album, I was in Liverpool for the first time. I walked around the station trying to find the bathroom. When I got there and did my thing, I washed my hands in the Armitage Shanks sink and thought “this I where they got the song from”. It got even weirder from there. I saw the number 86 on the wall and there was a sign that said “Westbound” and I felt like I was living in the Insomniac album and wondered if this is where Billie Joe got the idea. This was also the album that has the, in my opinion, worst GD song “Brain Stew”, its only silver lining is being followed by “Jaded”. The fun music videos of Dookie were also replaced with darker music videos for the album. The dentist office close-up of mouth video of “Geek Stink Breath” is just plain disturbing. The exception is of course “Walking Contradiction”, which is hilarious and possibly the funniest music video of all time. It’s also the most lighthearted song on the album, starting a series of songs where Billie Joe tries to be Elvis Costello. The album cover is just as cartoonish, but it’s also a lot more disturbing and less iconic than Dookie. This was the year that punk rock really turned mainstream, 1994 was when mainstream turned punk.

The Queers- Move Back Home

queers moveback

I remember getting the Asian Man reissue of this album in Stockholm, Sweden in October 2007 (the second time I was there), something I might get into more in 2007. What I didn’t know back then was that the vocals were very different in that reissue than in the 1995 version. In fact, the great line “I was so excited, but she was undecided” is gone from “I Didn’t Get Invited to the Prom”. Songs like “She¨s a Cretin” and “High School Psychopath Pt.2” sounded less snotty. In many ways, I got to admit that I still prefer the 2007 version in some ways, although that might be sacrilege. Another thing I loved in the 2007 version was getting to read Larry Livermore’s liner notes.

The first song that caught me (when listening to the album) was “From Your Boy”, which Larry also complimented a lot in his liner notes. I think, the album is what it is, a kind of silly pop punk album with a somewhat older gentleman singing songs about being a teenager, and often the second verse being “same as the first” in true Ramones fashion, but “From Your Boy” really stands out in the middle of the album. A midtempo tune that builds up, starting only with Joe Queer on vocals and guitar and then bass and drums slowly get added as the song builds up and let’s not forget the great solo, that is sort of in the same style as the Riverdale’s “Back to You”. The title is, of course, a response to The Muffs’ “From Your Girl”. Larry produced the album and also offered one of his band the Potatomen’s songs “That Girl” to Joe and the gang to cover on the album. I’d say the original is definitely better, but I think they do a great job covering it. The original appeared on the album Now, that was also from 95 and could easily also have been a pick for this year. The song is written from the point of view of a man who strays from the traditional objectifying and possessive male voices in many love songs. The girl in the song isn’t seen as some object the guy wants to own and he seems to see women as equal and states it, without it sounding forced like an “I’m a feminist look at me” song. Other guys are warning him about this girl, but he understands she wants to be her own person and has no plans to make her settle down. The second verse starts “I’m not saying that she’s my girl, she’s her own woman that’s one thing sure”, something that ties it to the next song on the album; “Peppermint Girl” where Joe sings “She’s not my girl, but I’m a fool”. “Peppermint Girl”, however, seems like the polar opposite. It’s obsessive, possessive and sometimes even kinda creepy “She wants out, but I want in”, but I definitely think it’s one of Joe’s better lyrics, both with its obsessive unrequited love, but also the peppermint metaphor. The girl is hot and cool, and sweet and neat just like peppermint. It’s a really poppy song with lots of noise elements in it, it was one of the first Queers songs I heard and fell in love with and it’s still one of my favorite Queers tunes.

There’s something Jesus and Mary Chain about it, and I would say there’s something even more Jesus and Mary Chain-esque about “Cut It Dude”, one of many anti hippie songs that dates the album on there (we’re told “It’s 95” quite few times on the album). It was also the first album where Joe, B-Face and Hugh all got songwriting credit for most of the songs. This was also the first album they did a Beach Boys cover, and “Hawaii” is probably their best one. “Everything’s Going My Way” has also always been a favorite of mine. And there’s of course a parody song title in “If You Only Had a Brain” (parodying “If I Only Had a Brain” from The Wizard of Oz), and it’s probably their funniest parody title. I honestly think the album holds up well. The Lookout version was first released May 10.

CUB- Come out, Come Out

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I wrote about the twee pop/cuddlecore masterpiece that is Betti Cola in the 1993 article. Come out, Come out followed it up perfectly. Lisa Marr delivered some of her greatest tunes. The production was a lot more slick than its predecessor, but the songs were nearly if not as great. The song is stacked with poppier tracks such as “Ticket to Spain” and “Your Bed”, snottier songs like “Voracious” and “Life of Crime” and ballads like “So Far Apart”. The album definitely is a bit more professional than Betti Cola, I honestly prefer BC, but they are close. There are far less covers on this album. They do a lovely version of the Go-Go’s “Vacation” and a possibly even better cover of Yoko Ono’s (and John Lennon’s) “I’m Your Angel”, from their Double Fantasy, which to me is a surprisingly good album. Other bands have also covered songs from the album. They Might Be Giants did a cover of the sugariest tune on the album “New York City”. A song about falling in love in NYC and being far away from the person you had your big city fling with. Another song about being far away from someone “So Far Apart” was also performed by Neko Case of New Pornographers fame at a CUB show, she drummed for the band for a while. Singing “So Far Apart” was her first vocal performance on stage ever, there are, as I can find, no recordings of her singing the song though. My favorite song on the album is “Tomorrow Go Away” and it might be my favorite CUB song; a song about a relationship gone sour. Two people that clearly hate each other that stay together, wishing another day won’t come and the song just gives a gloomy look at a failing relationship of metaphors like cards laid for solitaire, and passive aggressive lunches with parents and sex on the floor as they have no room for a bed. Every line in the verses rhyme with “bed”. They have given up on love and hope and their lives pass by. Beautiful melody, brilliant lyrics. To connect this album to the Queers one, CUB also did a split with the Potatomen this year. Come out, Come out was released January 15 1995 on Mint Records.

Dave’s Picks

Jawbreaker- Dear You

jawbreaker dear u

Of course, it is different listening to Dear You over a decade and a half after the fact, as I did when I discovered the album in around 2010. Having not lived through the experience of Jawbreaker transitioning from underground punk darlings to a slicker and emo-tinged indie-punk band and signing to a major label (Geffen) for what would be their last release. For many fans, Jawbreaker had, yep, sold out, and effectively done a deal with the devil. The backlash after such a well-loved record in 24 Hour Revenge Therapy was significant and it sounds like it invoked perhaps even more antithapy and anger among punks than Dookie did the previous year. I mean, it effectively ended the band, with Jawbreaker breaking up only a year or so after the release. Bandmates fought and, famously, on the US tour following the release of Dear You, many fans sat, arms folded, turned away from the stage when the band played tunes from the album.

But the idea of ‘selling out’ means something different in 2019; the ‘90s was a different landscape and the punk scene was more purist, as Blake had satirically drawn out on 24 Hour Revenge Therapy. So, I didn’t have to deal with these conflicts when I listened to Dear You;  I could just listen to it for its own sake and appreciate the music for what it is. The music is undeniably different: it’s mellower, more introspective and cleaner. Regarding the latter, it is the slicker production values of Dear You that the fans had the most issues with, with the band recording with Rob Cavallo who had only the previous year produced Dookie with Green Day. I can imagine the advert now: would you like your punk band to be labelled a sellout? On a mission to alienate your fanbase? Then I, Rob Cavallo, am your man!

While cleaner sounding and more closely embedded with the alternative rock sound of the era, Dear You still sounds like classic Jawbreaker in many ways. For me, it retains Jawbreaker’s original appeal and builds upon the sound that they had developed so well on 24 Hour Revenge Therapy. It is still basically pop-punk in many ways, albeit a gloomier and more emo-tinged version of it. The vocals are also distinctly cleaner on Dear You, following Blake’s vocal surgery.

More than anything though, the record represented a stark shift in tone, coming across as a darker and more downbeat sound. The soft-loud dynamics on tracks like Accident Prone, Jet Black or Million are bound up with a stark self-deprecation and glum attitude that makes it sound like Blake has just given up. This record is essentially a huge bummer and, for that reason, I consider it to be my go-to winter rotation album. I remember listening to Jet Black on the radio as a teenager, years before I would properly delve into the band and being almost shocked by the sheer bleakness and hopelessness of the song that was way beyond anything I had previously heard: Your floor is my ceiling/Lights out, you can’t come in. Tonally, Dear You is not far off the Smiths, albeit backed by a straightforward punk ethic and grit. You do have to be in the mood to really appreciate Dear You; if not, the self-pitying and wallowing can be overwhelming.

Lyrically, Blake was arguably at his peak on Dear You, evidencing brilliant, cutting wordplay throughout. Lines like I dot my T’s and cross my I’s (Oyster) or If you hear the dreams I’ve had, my dear/They would give you nightmares for a week (Fireman) immediately come to mind. The lyrics on the album retain Blake’s trademark bitterness, though this is directed less towards the punk scene and more towards failed romances: check out Fireman or I Love You So Much It’s Killing Us Both for example. Tracks like Save Your Generation, Jet Black, Oyster or Sluttering (4th) are up there with the best punk tracks of the ‘90s and provided the bedrock for a bunch of emo and punk bands through to today.

Green Day- Insomniac

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Coming back off the back of Dookie, one of the ‘90s most iconic pop-punk records, Green Day’s follow-up release was also going to be a challenging and interesting one. As the years pass, the more I appreciate Insomniac. When I first heard the record (at the age of about 17), I didn’t really get it, I guess, but it really is a great album that represented a distinct shift in sound for Green Day. Insomniac is full of aggression, angst and bile; it feels uncompromising in many senses. Tre’s drumming is incredible, perfectly bound up with the aggressive sounds on the album, and Billie-Joe’s vocals are iconic here: sneering and full of bile. The angst imbued in Billie-Joe’s vocals feels genuine and organic, in marked contrast to anything Green Day write these days.

The pop-punk on Insomniac is darker, crunchier and angrier, dropping many of the ‘60s pop influences from their earlier material. It is nevertheless chock-a-block full of melodic goodness, as can be heard on classic tracks such as ’86 and Westbound Sign, both full of heart and stop-start hooks. In tone, Insomniac comes off as more teenage than Dookie in some ways, with tracks about break-ups, rejecting society and killing one’s parents. The sound may have been more ‘mature’ (whatever that means), but the content of the songs wasn’t. Green Day touched on disillusionment, drug abuse and mental health issues on Insomniac. All of these, of course, were present on Dookie, but this time, things felt more serious and darker in tone. For me, Insomniac is a great example (alongside Dear You, actually) of how bands can do the whole ‘self-analytical angst’ thing, without it feeling pretentious or overly-forced.

The album sounds amazing, too: crunchy, yet clean; clearly, Green Day made the most of an expensive recording studio, while avoiding the trappings of over-production. Some of the songs work better (Stuart and the Ave, Westbound Sign, No Pride) than others (Tight Wad Hill, Brain Stew), but, on the whole, Insomniac feels like as coherent and well-rounded an album as Green Day have done. Despite sound great songs being released after this, this was Green Day’s last properly great album and the last you will be hearing about them in this series!

Rancid- And out come the wolves…

rancid wolves

It makes you realise how many great punk albums were being released in the early to mid ‘90s that And out come the Wolves… almost didn’t make my best of 1995 list despite my conviction that it embodies some of the best parts of the punk genre. Rancid’s third full-length was their ‘breakthrough’, I guess, despite never receiving the same recognition as Green Day or The Offspring. I mean, how could they with looking and singing like that? The mainstream semi-acceptance of Rancid represented the punk image (leather jackets, studs) being transported back to the public consciousness, albeit for a brief moment. In many ways, Wolves is an homage to ‘70s British punk (specifically The Clash) and ‘80s ska, but I feel that does it a huge disservice; it feels vibrant and contemporary and as much a product of the ‘90s East Bay punk scene as of those.

Wolves is more slowed-down and melodic than its predecessor Let’s Go, or at least the hooks are given more room to breathe. It also feels less like a barrage of punk growl, and more like a proper, full-bodied and thought-out record. I still often think of this album as being a bit too long or having too many tracks at 19, but I have to correct myself: there isn’t really any filler on Wolves. I love Olympia, WA, in particular: it is one of the first Rancid tracks I heard and it probably remains my favourite of theirs. Its anthemic sound is iconic and never devolves into Pennywise territory; it embodies a wonderful explosion of melodies and storytelling that feels unmatched when you are listening to it. Elsewhere, I always come back to tracks like Roots Radicals, Ruby Soho, Journey to the End of Easy Bay or Avenues and Alleyways; I am even partial to Junkie Man. The dual hit of Tim and Lars vocals works so well; it is a wonderful combination that feels peerless in this kind of punk rock.

While incorporating a diverse range of sounds and influences, from oi! to ska to ‘70s punk, Wolves has a coherent sense of itself and a consistent attitude, which is mainly ‘fuck you’ to be fair. I mean, the ‘wolves’ analogy from the album title is clear: the record has a sense of ‘us against the world’. The lyrical storytelling on the whole is outstanding on Wolves and is really what distinguishes Rancid from the pack. I read an article that compared Rancid’s lyrical stylings to that of hip-hop artists and I can see that; the songwriting on Wolves (and Rancid more generally, of course) is all about putting the listener in a specific place and time, so that you know what it is like to play a ‘lonely pinball machine in New York’, long for Olympia or to take the ’60 bus out of downtown campbell’ despite never having been there. It is an album full of characters that fill the protagonist’s life, from Ben Zanotto on the bus, to little Sammy, the punk rocker, to Jackyl, a struggling addict. In contrast to the self-pity of their peers (including the other two picks in this article!), there is a sense of pride, of breaking through the tough times, and simply storytelling imbued in Rancid’s work which feels refreshing. There are moments of semi-silliness, but that is almost part of its charm, as was the case with those early punk records in the ‘70s. I sometimes forget how great this record is; don’t fall into this trap ‘cos it’s a GODDAMN CLASSIC.

Dave also enjoyed:

The Queers- Move Back Home

Riverdales- S/T

The Muffs- Blonder and Blonder