Tag Archives: Punk

“Crash” by Against Me!

I’d pretty much written off fun pop-punk as something that only existed in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Punk is one of those genres that really belongs to young people, and when a new crop of artists didn’t spring up to replace the old guard…well we ended up with old punks. Nothing is more depressing to me than old punks. I’m not going to hijack this post, which is about a great new Against Me! song, by bashing Green Day. But boy is it difficult for me to not bash Green Day.

 

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Young and old punks appreciate clean boots. 

 

Anyway, I was vaguely aware of Against Me! but hadn’t really heard them until a few months ago when a podcast I listen to turned me onto their latest single “Crash.”I was blown away not just because the song is catchy as hell, but because it seemed to reinvigorate my interest in the pop-punk genre. Leaning more pop than punk, this track has a nice buoyant quality to it. The lyrics, while pretty straightforward, do a good job of reflecting on getting older without getting bogged down in the typical old-punk lameness. This song impressed me so much, that I wound up listening to all of SHAPE SHIFT WITH ME, the band’s new album. It’s a great record, one that will definitely end up on Best of 2016 end of year list. I thought about reviewing it now but decided to focus on this song because it’s so damn good.

It’s been a tough week, take a moment to check out “Crash” and forget about your troubles for a while. The band released an awesome KISS-inspired music video for the song, check it out:

 

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Rock N’ Read: Complicated Game Inside The Songs of XTC

‘I think it was the middle of 2000 when I was introduced to XTC via the band’s final swan song APPLE VENUS VOLUME 2 (WASP STAR). I remember being totally blown away by the band and eagerly devoured that album as well as the 1999 release APPLE VENUS VOLUME 1. I’ve always been a fan of lush, literate pop songs and that happens to be XTC’s specialty. I dove head first into XTC’s back catalogue and was surprised to learn that the band start out as a punk/New Wave outfit before slowly morphing into a Beatle-esque pop band. One of the reason the band never took off is because the band famously stopped touring due to lead singer/songwriter Andy Partridge’s stage fright. Partridge retreated from the spotlight after 2000 and the band only popped up on my radar occasionally when they released a smattering of demos and alternate takes of their previous output. The band remained a bit of a mystery to me, outside of their music for years, and other than one grizzled-looking CD Warehouse employee I never met anyone that seemed to be aware of them. I recently learned that Partridge has stepped back into the spotlight a bit via Twitter and writing for a few other artists (namely The Monkees whose new album I have previously reviewed).

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Writer Todd Bernhardt has spent the past decade interviewing Partridge on many of XTC’s greatest songs. Apparently, these interviews were posted on a now-defunct fan website. His book Complicated Game: Inside the Songs of XTC collects and expands upon these interviews. This sort of book, a back and forth conversation between a writer/reporter and an artist, is probably my favorite type of long-form music writing. I love hearing an artist talk at length about their work. I eagerly dove into the book, ready to finally get insight into some of my all-time favorite pop songs. And to that end, Complicated Game succeeds in spades. My only issue with the book is that it dives very deep into the mechanics of these songs. If you’re a musician and a can follow Bernhardt and Partridge’s conversation about chord changes and keyboard filters, then this book will be a treasure trove of information. If, however, you aren’t a musician and are a bit of a dunce like me you’re going to be a bit lost in a good chunk of the book. There are great behind the scenes tales and for the most part, Partridge answers all of Bernhardt’s questions with honesty and aplomb (no dodging here).

The best chapters focused on the band’s most famous song and one of their more obscure songs. I found the chapter on “Dear God” to be highly illuminating. “Dear God” has fascinated me for many reasons and I was very interested in learning about the song’s development and the how and why it was initially left off of the band’s album SKYLARKING (and how it got added back once the song took off and became XTC’s biggest hit). The reasons behind its omission aren’t quite what I was expecting and its addition to the tightly structured concept album SKYLARKING is less problematic than I’d always considered. The chapter on one of XTC’s side project The Dukes of Stratosphere songs was also very intriguing. I’d always wanted to know how the psychedelic alter-ego band came about and how this project’s songs were crafted. Those two chapters made Complicated Game worth every penny for me. The insight provided into the band’s other songs were interesting as well, though there were a few songs not covered that I’d have liked to have read about. The book also spends quite a bit of time discussing Swindon, the English town where Partridge lives and wrote about extensively in many of XTC’s songs. I’d always pictured a Kinks-esque VILLAGE GREEN type hamlet but Complicated Game paints a more realistic version. I was a bit disappointed that the band’s bassist, Colin Moulding, didn’t get as many props from Partridge as I’d have thought. Sure, Andy was generous on more than a few occasions when discussing Moulding’s bass parts…but he didn’t gush the way I’d have thought. I know the two had a bit of a falling out, but this still struck me as odd. Perhaps I’m a bit too sensitive when it comes to Moulding, whom I have always felt was an overlooked genius.

I’d recommend this book to only the hardest of hardcore XTC/Andy Partridge fans. I think that if you’re a huge fan hungering for more information on the band and their creative process, you should check this book out right away. If you’re a casual fan or someone unwilling to sift through some serious technical music-talk, then you should proceed with caution. Andy Partridge is a humble genius and much of the discussion found in Complicated Game will go over your head (it went over mine). There are a few songs/chapters where Andy’s recollections are a bit on the sparse side, but even when the songwriter can’t recall every single detail he’s able to provide a lot of insightful analysis of the song. Lastly, I very much doubt that Mr. Partridge will happen upon this review, but if he does (or if Mr. Bernhardt sees this) I’d very much like to convey to him how happy I would be if he were put out brand-new music. Demos and fuzzy warbles are fun, but nothing beats fully-finished tunes. The song he penned for the latest Monkees album was a slice of brilliance the world needs more of these days.

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“Piss The Season” by Wyldlife

It’s not even Thanksgiving and already it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! Living the great Capitalistic dream of moar! moar! moar!  can really bum a guy (or gal) out. Luckily for all of us naughty boys and girls, New York pop-punkers Wyldlife have the cure for another crappy holiday…their new-ish single “Piss The Season”!

Piss the Season

Don’t eat the yellow snow, indeed.

The song blends the band’s fuck-the-world snarl with happy jingle bells, which actually works better than I could have imagined. Another New York Christmas all alone? Somehow Wyldlife is able to take the pathetic and make it sound badass. So if you’re staring down the barrel of another lonely holiday season, take solace with the boys in Wyldlife:

You can go on Bandcamp and buy Wyldlife’s holiday themed EP HAPPY HOLIDAY’s now. I’ve been listening to it off and on for the past few days and wholeheartedly vouch for it’s awesomeness.  And if Santa is reading this blog post, can you pretty please bring me a new Wyldlife album? I know I haven’t been very good, but boy do I deserve it…

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YOUR NEXT FAVORITE BAND: The Star Spangles

Back in 2003, I was going to school during the day and working overnights as a security guard. It was lonely, boring work that involved a lot of sitting around and listening to late night radio. On Saturday nights, I’d snuggle up next to my $2 pocket radio and listen to Little Steven’s Underground Garage. Those were halcyon days, or rather nights, and it was during this period that I discovered many great artists thanks to Steven Van Zandt and his show. One of those bands was The Star Spangles.

I can still remember the first time I heard The Star Spangles. Their song “Which One of the Two of Us Is Gonna Burn This House Down?” was featured as the Coolest Song In The World on Little Steven’s show. Despite the impossibly long title, the song was a lightning quick burst of punky-pop. And it totally knocked me on my ass. Over the next week or so, Little Steven played the song a few more times, as well as the band’s other single “I Live For Speed.” I immediately got a digital copy of the band’s album BAZOOKA!!! and found that all songs were fantastic.

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You might recall that the early-to-mid 00’s (the aughts) was a period known as the Garage Rock Revival. This was a heroic return of basic, balls-to-the-walls rock that spawned a series of great albums by a half-dozen or so bands. These bands typically hailed from New York/East Coast and featured “The” in the band name. The Hives. The White Stripes. The Vines. The Strokes. The Star Spangles were cut from the same cloth, though their sensibilities skewed heavily towards punk. Their lead singer, Ian Wilson, had a sneering Sid Vicious quality and a Nick Cave haircut.

BAZOOKA!!!, as stated, had two great singles but it was the deeper cuts that really impressed me. The kinetic “LA” with its gritty, chugging guitar riff seared itself into my mind. This song should have been in a Grand Theft Auto video game and made the band a huge overnight success. Similarly, “Crime of the Century” with its Keith Richards-esque riff should have burned up the rock charts…had their been relevant rock radio in 2003-2004. Timing and changing musical taste worked against The Star Spangles, which happened to many bands in this era. Indie rock was getting huge and The Star Spangles were seen as a quaint throwback.

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The band did appear on Letterman and toured a bit, but for the most part they dropped off the map. I was a bit crushed, but as the 00’s wore on it became obvious that the Garage Rock Revival wasn’t going to last longer than a few years. Only the super-talented Jack White was able to survive the Revival’s sad collapse.

I cherished BAZOOKA!!! but had written the band off for dead when sometime in 2006 I found out that The Star Spangles were back! Their follow-up album, DIRTY BOMB, was self-released and featured a new band lineup. Both of these facts filled me with a sense of dread, would the second record stack up to the great first release? Happily, DIRTY BOMB turned out to be wonderful.

Though DIRTY BOMB is a bit less polished than BAZOOKA!!! it’s also a bit more complex and, in my opinion, the better of the band’s two albums. Still featuring a heavy dose of punk, DIRTY BOMB had a few slower songs as well as the (awesome) country-tinged “Someone In You.” The album was also more commercial and poppier, especially tracks like “This Side of the Sun” and “I’m On A High.” Both of these songs should have made a big impression on the music world.

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The band’s propensity for fast songs full of hard charging guitars and killer lyrical hooks remained, and I had renewed hope that the band would continue to record and tour. But sadly, DIRTY BOMB was the band’s swan song.

What the hell happened to The Star Spangles? Part of the reason I’m writing this post is to hopefully find out. The band’s web presence is limited now. You can find DIRTY BOMB on iTunes and CD Baby, but BAZOOKA!!! has now vanished falling out of print. According to the band’s threadbare Wikipedia page, the band had a “falling out” with Capitol Records in 2006. What happened exactly? Would the band be a household name if they’d managed to stay on Capitol Records? DIRTY BOMB’s pop-heavy sound could have easily landed the band on the radio if they’d just had a bit more promotion.

The band’s lineup change probably had something to do with the band’s failed commercial prospects. Originally The Star Spangles featured Nick Price on bass and Joey Valentine on drums, however on DIRTY BOMB Chris Orlando and Todd Martin replaced them. Only lead singer Ian Wilson and Tommy Volume remained in the band for The Spangles whole run, which has led me to believe them to be the Mick & Keith of the band. I assumed that Wilson or Volume would go onto to do other projects, but after an extensive search online I’ve turned but zilch. Did both of these guys fall of the Earth? Did they get straight jobs working in cubicles? If they’re working in the music industry they’re doing so under different names…of they need to hire a better marketing team. Anyone with information please either comment below or email me at DefendingAxlRose@gmail.com.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to accept that sometimes really great bands only put out one or two albums. Rather than be greedy and whine about all the great songs/albums I didn’t get from them, I try to focus on what the band did put out. Honestly, fate and a fickle music industry was stacked against The Star Spangles.  Dropped by their label and faced with a lineup change, we had no right to expect a second record and we got one. I’m satisfied with that, though I do wish these guys were still around.

Do yourself a favor and check this band out because they’re fucking fantastic.

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Classic Albums Revisited: MY AIM IS TRUE

Elvis Costello is one of those guys whose rep has suffered a bit as he’s aged. Kids today only know his as the “dude with the funny glasses.” Many more equate him to Phil Collins or Eric Clapton–a boring “adult-contemporary” singer-songwriter (Clapton’s last decade and a half of output as a bluesman has murdered his rock GOD status…what a shame). But in the beginning, before the duets with Burt Bacharach, Elvis Costello was punk.
Punk!?

His aim is still true.

Not really the word many would us to describe Mr. Costello, but after re-listening to his first three (mega-classic) albums, that’s the word that kept springing into my head. Oh sure, there’s a lot of organ…but the attitude, snide delivery, and sheer velocity of the songs on MY AIM IS TRUE is pretty damn punk.

Prior to MY AIM IS TRUE, Elvis Costello was Declean MacManus. He worked a lame office job (for the cosmetics company Elizabeth Arden no less!) and he dreamed of being a rock star. No one was buying Costello as a rock star. He was this thin, pasty, awkward looking Englishman. His voice was…unusual. But he could write a good tune, so in 1976 Stiff Records hired him as a songwriter. They wanted him to write songs for their prima-donna Dave Edmonds. Edmonds, however, had to be convinced that he needed to record Costello’s songs. So, the label had Costello record his songs, with backing band Clover, in order to give Edmonds an idea of how the songs would sound.

The backing band went onto become The News (of Huey Lewis and The News fame) and Elvis Costello’s career was launched. The songs turned out so well, that the label decided to release them with Elvis as the star.

Recorded over a stretch of 1976, in about twenty-four hours, MY AIM IS TRUE is a breezy, blast of English pop. And I mean “blast”: most of these songs clock in around 2 minutes. That said, even though these songs are short, they’ve all well-constructed. Prime example, the doo-wop backing vocals and sharp hand claps on “Welcome to the Working Week.” The song is literally over in the time it takes for most songs to reach the first chorus. And yet this is a whole, complete thought. Amazing.

Costello, looking dapper (read: like Buddy Holly).

There’s a surprising amount of Biblical references on the record. “Miracle Man,” “Blame it On Cain” (where Costello blames his problems on Cain, even though it’s not really his fault), and “Waiting for the End of the World.” The first time I heard this record my mind just sorta glossed over all these allusions, but they’re there.

Love and it’s opposite emotion, anger also pop up frequently on MY AIM IS TRUE. The chilling “I’m Not Angry” encompasses both. My favorite track, “(The Angels Want to Wear My) Red Shoes,” which is both bleak and strangely comforting (and features some of my favorite Costello lyrics). It’s so snarky, it’s downright magical. This song features one of the most brutally honest/realistic depictions of the relationship between man and woman:

“Oh, I said “I’m so happy, I could die.”
She said “Drop dead”, then left with another guy.
That’s what you get if you go chasing after vengeance.
Ever since you got me punctured this has been my sentence.”

What guy hasn’t had that happen to him. Who hasn’t been so utterly rejected? Costello distills this experience, and makes it rock ‘n roll. Fucking brilliant.

“Less Than Zero” is another great snarky track, and marks one of the earliest manifestations of Costello’s (understandable) fear of Nazism/Fascism (which pops up again and again in Costello’s early work).

You want punk? Nothing’s more punk than:

“Turn up the TV, no one listening will suspect
Even your mother won’t detect it, so your father won’t know
They think that I’ve got no respect but
Everything is less than zero.”

or how about:

“A pistol was still smoking, a man lay on the floor
Mr. Oswald said he had an understanding with the law
He said he heard about a couple living in the USA
He said they traded in their baby for a Chevrolet”

Of course, not discussion of MY AIM IS TRUE is complete without talking about “Alison.” Next to “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding?,” “Alison” is his most famous songs. It’s a quiet, love song (of sorts) about a lost love who’s gotten married to someone else. It’s sad and soulful.

“Alison”
Oh it’s so funny to be seeing you after so long, girl.
And with the way you look I understand
that you were not impressed.
But I heard you let that little friend of mine
take off your party dress.
I’m not going to get too sentimental
like those other sticky valentines,
’cause I don’t know if you are loving some body.
I only know it isn’t mine.

Alison, I know this world is killing you.
Oh, Alison, my aim is true.

Well I see you’ve got a husband now.
Did he leave your pretty fingers lying
in the wedding cake?
You used to hold him right in your hand.
Bet he took all he could take.
Sometimes I wish that I could stop you from talking
when I hear the silly things that you say.
I think somebody better put out the big light,
’cause I can’t stand to see you this way.

Alison, I know this world is killing you.
Oh, Alison, my aim is true.
My aim is true.

This song stands out like a sore thumb on MY AIM IS TRUE. Every time I listen to it, all the way through, it feels too much like a single. I can understand why, even to this day, people love it…but compared to the wit and irony of the rest of the record, “Alison” comes like a splash of cold water to the face. It’s refreshingly different, but also a little startling. This guy sings, kinda ironically–almost like he’s winking at you…then BAM! smack dab in the middle of MY AIM IS TRUE there’s this moment where his defenses lower a bit, and you’re kinda embarrassed–for him, because you know you’re seeing something unguarded, that you’re not supposed to be seeing. So, even though it’s an okay song by itself, “Alison” is one of the greatest songs (in my opinion) in the context of the album as a whole.

Go dust off MY AIM IS TRUE, it’ll surprise you how modern it still sounds.

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