|By Jessie Lynn|
What’s cool, Jessie Lynn here, I used to write “Mix Tapes from the Midwest” and I haven’t abandoned Forces of Geek! but there have been some changes.
For one thing, the title of my column has changed – it’s now “Ace of Records,” for three reasons.
- The column is no longer formatted like a mix tape.
- I am now focusing on entire albums/EPS/7”s rather than single songs.
- “Ace of Records” is a more energetic name and it comes from the Punk Rock Tarot images I designed earlier this year, which are awesome. (My favorite is the Ace of 40 Ozs., but that wouldn’t be quite as appropriate a title for a music column.)
And I’m not going to be writing so many themed columns, anymore. I may still do those every once in a while but for the most part each column is whatever I feel like listening to at the time, some new releases, some classic albums, some that I’m just discovering, some that I’ve known and loved for years.
The main change – the music I write about in my column will now be almost exclusively punk/hardcore and their offshoots. A large number of my old columns were about punk and punk-related stuff, but then I had some weird idea that I had to try to write about other types of music so that my readers wouldn’t get bored and so everyone would know I’m a well-rounded individual or something.
Why did I even care? I mean, if people are bored with my column, they don’t have to read it, and also yes, I do like all different types of music but punk is what I know best, what I love best, and what I’m most interested in writing about. (Punk Rock Tangent: Hey, I define punk for myself, so leave your ‘this isn’t true punk’ vitriol out of the comments section, and instead write your own column or blog or whatever; also please spare me your jaded ‘punk is dead’ bullshit, maybe punk is dead, maybe I don’t fucking care, maybe I just believe in DIY rock’n’roll, maybe I just believe in something burning so furious and bright it could destroy us all so we don’t have to destroy ourselves.)
Two more things: you’ll see me around Forces of Geek! in other capacities; I’ll be writing reviews of books and zines – and even some albums that don’t quite fit into this column.
And, yes, I am still doing a companion podcast, containing one song from each release – click over to Ace of Records: The Podcast to listen to this month’s installment.
This 7” comes with the second issue of Turnstile Comix, which is the coolest thing ever – it’s where comix artist Mitch Clem works with a band and makes a comic book illustrating some of the band’s best stories. This release is worth buying for the comic alone, because Mitch Clem is one of the best punk comix artists out there, and W/IFS has some of the best stories of any band, ever. The other reason it’s worth buying is that all three songs are great. Well, there are only two songs on the 7” – Side A is “The Faster You Go The Better You Think,” Side B is “Second Chance Saloon.” But when you get the record you also get a download code for mp3 versions of both songs, plus a third, bonus song – “Pickles and Gin.” I’ve got a lot of heavy emotions coursing through my caffeinated veins; see, as I write this, it has been nearly nine years to the day since I first saw World/Inferno live, and explaining to you how life-changing that day was, and how much they’ve meant to me in the years since, would take more time than I’ve got to get this column done. Sometimes I think I’ve fallen out of love with W/IFS band, their line-up has changed so often over the years and my life has changed so much that sometimes I think I’m no longer a true Infernite. Then, I listen to the songs and, well, maybe I’m not as close to them as I once was but I love them just as much. A Side – “The Faster You Go The Better You Think,” it starts out with a shout of Go! Faster! Think! Better! and the legend of Jack Terricloth is alive and well, the purr of his voice makes me picture him jumping from rooftop to rooftop like some kind of well-dressed alley cat, and there’s a line in the song, you give me an excuse to get out of the house and do something reckless, which is what W/IFS has always given me, not that I need an excuse, cos I’m addicted to bad ideas. B Side – “Second Chance Saloon,” oh man, there’s a wild uproar of cabaret-circus-big band horns, a slinky saloon-style piano, and Jack sounds like he’s letting you in on a secret when he tells you there ain’t no second chances. Bonus download – “Pickles and Gin,” it’s like a punk cabaret jump rope rhyme; everything’s a fucked up sin. I’m still very much in love with this band, and I’ll still go see them live whenever I need to get out of the house and do something reckless. Somebody get the confetti.
Purchase it HERE
Terminals – Takin’ Care of Brooks 7” (2006, Dead Beat Records)
In November ’06, I was visiting a pal in Omaha, and my last night in town, after a previous night spent driving to Kansas City to see a different show, getting thoroughly drunk, and ultimately getting kicked out of the bar, she took me to some dingy bar in Omaha to see the Terminals. I got drunk that night, too, and messed my foot up while pogoing, though I don’t remember if I twisted my foot or if someone stomped on it, but the next day it was swollen black-and-blue and I had to drive back to Milwaukee all injured and hungover. It was worth it, the show was a hell of a lot of fun, and I purchased this 7”. I haven’t listened to this 7” in several years, but spinning it now, I hear things in it I never heard before. Side A – “Ritual,” it has a real Dead Boys vibe, but imagine if the Dead Boys had a girl singer with a real bluesy swagger in her voice, blues-punk vocals, kinda Mia Zapata-style. Side B – “Alley House,” also has a buzzed, fuzzed Dead Boys thing happening, this one has a guy singing, he kinda yowls all the words and at one point he shouts “Go, Johnny!,” and the lead guitarist plays this Stooges-caliber guitar solo. Yeah. It’s two songs, both only slightly over two minutes long; it’s fucked up Midwestern garage punk. I don’t know if this band is still together, but if I ever get the chance to see ‘em live again, I will be right up front dancing, and I wouldn’t even mind getting another injury in the process.
Purchase it HERE
The Spits – Vol. IV (2009, Thriftstore Records)
I am very late getting into this band, and I am ashamed of myself. Because they’ve been around for, like, thirteen years, and they’re from Michigan!, and I know a ton of people that listen to them so it’s not as though I’d never heard of them, and, most important of all – they are super fun. They make sloppy, noisy, raw garage rock/synth pop/punk for weirdos and fuck-ups. All the songs on this album are under three minutes long. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with longer songs, longer songs can be great if done right, but – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, y’know? Here is what this album contains: keyboards, distortion, rock’n’roll guitar riffs, reverb, drone; elements of The Damned, Ramones, and Ten Pole Tudor, as well as some earlier, pre-punk bands – with The Spits, the ‘60s meets the ‘80s meets the ‘00s; some great melodies and a pop sensibility that shine through the noise; and songs about alienation, crime, and causing trouble. Get it.
Purchase it HERE
Mean Jeans/Big Eyes – split 7” (2013, Dirtnap Records)
When I bought this 7”, I already liked Mean Jeans, but I’d never heard Big Eyes. The Mean Jeans tracks – “Since You Left,” and “I Miss Outerspace,” are pretty much what I’ve come to expect from Mean Jeans – fun, dumb, snotty Ramonescore pop punk. The Big Eyes tracks floored me. “Losing Touch” is a little sad-sounding, Kate Eldridge’s voice gets all ragged, it’s equal parts power pop and garage rock. And “2 Twisted 2 Love You,” holy cow – it’s a bouncy kinda power pop summertime tune, I mean it sounds bouncy but it’s about a crush that doesn’t work out – and what better time of year for doomed crushes than summer? One of the lines is – I’ve made a lot of mix tapes but they don’t work on you – and boy, I can relate.
Purchase it HERE
RVIVR – The Beauty Between (2013, Rumbletowne Records)
I have listened to this album over and over since it was first released. It has been saving my life and breaking my heart, all at the same time. I liked RVIVR prior to this album, but this album made me love them so much that I made myself a RVIVR t-shirt because I want to advertise to everyone how awesome this band is. The Beauty Between is a 42-minute masterpiece of melodic punk rock, or, if you prefer, just really good rock’n’roll with plenty of punk energy. It has killer lyrics about topics like growing older and losing touch with old friends and feeling like you’re never going to escape your pain, yet somehow there’s a tinge of hope to it, like, we may be fucked but we’re not giving up the fight. The interplay between Matt Canino and Erica Freas’ vocals is beautiful as ever, and many of the songs have group shout-alongs and gang choruses (with extra vocals provided by Dogjaw, more about them later). One song has a horn section. Many of the songs have hints of some of my favorite ‘90s punk and indie bands: I hear Jawbreaker, I hear Superchunk, I even hear the Breeders. Listening to this album makes me wonder why RVIVR aren’t more well-known outside of the punk scene; they are better, musically and lyrically, than anything I hear on mainstream ‘alternative’ rock radio these days. I can’t even tell you which songs are my favorite because each song blends so seamlessly into the next. This is an album that is meant to be listened to in its entirety.
Purchase it HERE
Small Bones – s/t (2010, Plan-It-X Records)
I took the train down to Chicago last June, with the express purpose of seeing Small Bones play a small show. I never made it to the show, cos my friends and I decided it was more important to wander the hot city streets for hours and then pound cheap beers at a punk bar. I’m kinda bummed I missed the show, but I don’t regret it cos that night was fucking epic. Sound-wise, this album is full of excellent contrasts – the music is sort of pop punk, but all the songs are loud and fast with a hint of thrash, and the vocals are screamed and glass-gargled. Which I guess you might classify as ‘orgcore,’ except that the lead singer of Small Bones is a woman, not some PBR-swillin’, Lawrence Arms-lovin’ dude, and also I am bored of orgcore but not at all bored by Small Bones. So, let’s call it hardcore pop punk, or pop-crust, or, I don’t fucking know, man. What else? Well, the dual vocals occasionally remind me a little of RVIVR, but they’re also a little more caustic than RVIVR. Musically, I hear some Crimpshrine-style stuff, but they throw in some dissonant post-punk guitar riffs; this band is tight and loose at the same time. And lyrically – there are a lot of songs about New Orleans, but that’s no surprise, cos they’re a NoLa band. All the songs feel very anthemic, and they’re all under three minutes, and don’t forget that we learned more from a three minute record than we ever did in school.
Purchase it HERE
Raooul – Jail-Bait Core (1993, Lookout Records)
Remember last year when I wrote that column about my favorite Lookout Records releases and a bunch of people felt it was their duty to tell me that my choices were wrong and give me a list of all the records I’d ‘forgotten?’ And how my response was: “Hey, I know there’s a ton of stuff I left out but first of all this is my column and it’s subjective, and second of all, I couldn’t possibly have included all the Lookout releases I like, or the column would have been hundreds of pages long?” This is one of the releases I’ve long enjoyed but wasn’t able to include. It’s a split with Skinned Teen, their side is called Bazooka Smooth! and is hella rad in its own right, but in this case I’m just talking about side Raooul. Raooul were an all-girl east bay band who were around for all too brief a time. On this EP, they shriek (their vocals were obviously influenced by the vocal stylings of Annie Lalania of Blatz and Tami Contreras of Youth Gone Mad), they strut, they spit. Easy listening it ain’t, you might say it’s too abrasive, say that and I’ll cut you, the world needs more screamy girl punk bands forever and ever amen. You can’t even understand what they’re singing/screeching half the time but it doesn’t even matter. This EP makes me wanna drink 40s, get in fights, and make out with punk rock boys. Sadly, it’s out of print, cos Lookout shut down and no one else has bothered to re-release the record, but if you poke around the Internet you can sometimes find used copies.
Dick Binge – Listen Hard (2012)
You wanna know what other kind of band the world needs more of? We need more queercore bands. For a while, in the ‘90s and early ‘00s, it seemed like we had a lot of ‘em – Tribe 8, Mukilteo Fairies, The Third Sex, Team Dresch, Pansy Divsion, Limp Wrist, the Rotten Fruits, I could go on… Of course, there have still been queers in the punk scene, there have always been queers in the punk scene, but it feels like over the past ten or so years we’ve been getting less visible, and there have been fewer specifically queercore bands. I’m happy to say that, over the last two-ish years, a buncha queer punx are burning down their closets and making hard-as-hell (pun intended) punk rock music. Dick Binge are one of those bands, and they will tear your stereotypes about queer and trans* folks to shreds, and be fucking fabulous doing it. They play messy garage-y hardcore. They’re angry about homophobes and heteronormative binaries, but they can also give a straight boy head in a dark alley and make him wonder if he might be gay. They’re against queer assimilation, but they also get their hearts broken by the boys they like, the cute boys that are ‘hella tight.’ They’ve got the swish of Pansy Division and Hunx and His Punx and the fury of Limp Wrist. As they say – “From circle pits to circle jerks, Dick Binge blows your perception of what the boys’ club is really all about…”
Purchase it HERE
MDC – Millions of Dead Cops/More Dead Cops (1981, Rhythm Vicar)
Speaking of gay punk rockers… I often wonder why I wasn’t more into MDC when I was a young punk. I mean, I liked their stuff, and I often put them on mix tapes, and a few of their songs kinda wormed their way into my brainspace in such a way that even if I haven’t listened to them in years, I still know every word. But I can’t say I ever just hung out in my room, listening to MDC. That’s so strange to me, now. I’ve been listening to this album on repeat in the past few weeks – which is why it’s in this column. In my opinion, Dave Dictor had one of the better voices in hardcore; he could sing almost as well as Lee Ving, with the bonus that the views he espoused were a lot more left-wing than Ving’s knee-jerk reactions. (Though I think a lot of Ving’s right-wing posturing was just that – a posture, a big joke – but that’s a topic for another column.) And MDC are just classic fucking ‘80s hardcore. (Why was there so much great punk happening during the Reagan years? Discuss.) This album has all the important punk rock elements – growling anger, blistering guitar riffs, super fast drums and cymbal crashes, and little splashes of melody and funk to keep it interesting; songs about dead cops, anti-capitalist anthems, songs about shoplifting, songs about dysfunctional families (“My Family Is A Little Weird” is on par with “We’re A Happy Family,” for real). And, if you track down the re-release with all the bonus tracks – it’s worth it just for their punk-funk-soul cover of Albert King’s “Born Under a Bad Sign.” If it weren’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.
Purchase it HERE
Gas Rag – demo tape (2013)
Hardcore punk from Chicago. I’ve seen people categorize this band as D-Beat, which is a style of hardcore created by the band Discharge, but I’m getting too old to remember all the sub-sub-genres of punk and hardcore. “Oooh, listen to this crust powerviolence d-beat mysterious guy hardcore band.” Man, all I care about is if it shreds. And this tape does. According to the band themselves, they like to get high and play fast punk, and from what else I’ve gathered they’re also about fucking shit up, like Blatz puts it, ‘burning cop cars and looting stores.’ Yeah. It’s dirty, it snarls, it has some nasty guitar riffs and the right amount of feedback. And the entire tape clocks in at around five minutes. Download it HERE
CREEM – s/t 12” (2012, Katorga Works)
Killer hardcore with a street punk edge. There’s some mid-tempo hardcore menace, some super brutal stuff, some marching drums, and the vocals have teeth. Fuck with my friends and you’re fucking with me, they say. Right on.
Purchase it HERE
Bits of Shit – Cut Sleeves (2012, Homeless Records)
This album is so good. The title is great – every time it gets warm in late spring I cut the sleeves off half my shirts, and then when the weather gets cold again in the fall I regret doing that and have to buy a bunch of new shirts. Punk! Anyway, this album sounds great, too. It’s chaotic, and it sounds like it came out of a garage or basement, perfectly imperfect – I’d rather hear imperfect fire than polished blandness. On Cut Sleeves, Bits of Shit rail against so many things – they rail against boring (polished, bland) rock and punk music, they rail against the institution of marriage. But the songs don’t come across as bitter tirades, because they are funky, sexy, bratty, and fun. Sometimes the singer sounds like Todd Pot (of Apocalypse Hoboken), sometimes he sounds like Johnny Rotten, sometimes he sounds like Richard Hell; musically, I hear punk, hardcore, garage rock, noise, post-punk, and even a little grunge. Through it all, I hear passion.
Purchase it HERE
Die Kreuzen – Gone Away (1994, Touch & Go)
Apparently, ‘Die Kreuzen’ is pronounced ‘dee kroyt-zen.’ I have always pronounced it as ‘dye cruisin.’ Whoops. This CD contains the Gone Away EP, the Cows & Beer EP, the Pink Flag 7”, and the cuts from the Master Tape Vol. 1 compilation. For some odd reason, it starts off with the latter-day stuff – maybe because they knew that if they put the later stuff at the end no one would listen to it? I tried to get into the first half of the CD but I just couldn’t. It’s like folk/goth/metal, a bizarre and boring hybrid. They made a Wire song sound dull, how is that possible? They made a Germs tune sound dull, which is even more impressive! I mean, I like some slow music, but I dunno, tracks 1-10 (with the exception of track #8, “Bitch Magnet”) are just so watered down compared to their older stuff, and there is way too much reverb on most of the tracks, and dammit, I came for the punk rocks. If you feel the need to listen to the first ten tracks, I would caution you to avoid track #9, “Number Three.” It is six minutes and thirty seconds long and here’s the thing – when a long song is awesome, it feels epic, and you want it to go on forever…but when a long song sucks, listening to it feels like a fucking chore, and, sad to say, “Number Three” falls into the latter category. I got to about the 4:00 mark, then I had to skip to the next tune; it was either that, or start smacking my forehead against my computer screen. I’d recommend just skipping straight to track #11, “In School.” Tracks 11-19 are so good that they make up for the first half of the CD. Tracks 11-19 are hardcore punk, I mean there’s a hint of heavy metal but there’s nothing wrong with that if it’s done right, and for the most part it is ‘80s hardcore punk in the vein of all the SoCal bands from that era. It pounds, it yowls, it makes you wanna start a circle pit. Yes.
Purchase it HERE
Broken Prayer – s/t (2013, Sorry State Records)
Not too long ago, I was lamenting to several of my pals that it had been a long time since I heard about a new band, got their album, and had the album freak me out so bad I wanted to rip my heart out and scream. I was saying that it’s not because there’s no good music coming out, but it’s because I’m too old and jaded to feel quite that strongly about a band, anymore. Broken Prayer’s self-titled proved me wrong. Let’s see if I can write about this album in a way that makes sense: the lyrics bounce back and forth between the personal and the political. The sound is hardcore, yes, but also strange and synth-heavy. It’s like they took 80s hardcore, the brutal shit, threw it into a blender with Joy Division, the Screamers, the Phantom Limbs, and Sonic Youth, and came out with a drink that tastes like nothing you’ve ever had. It’s delicious, but it will fuck you up. Also, they’re from Chicago, and I’d love to see ‘em live. I know it’s only June, but I’m gonna say this – if you only buy one album that is released in 2013, make it this one.
Purchase it HERE
Flipper – Gone Fishin’ (1984, Subterranean Records)
Someone, I can’t remember who, pointed out that Flipper should be the worst band ever, but they’re not. No, in fact, they’re amazingly awesome, one of the weirdest bands to ever come out of punk. They can hardly be classified as punk, hell, they can hardly be classified as music, but I mean that in the best possible way. You know how they say you gotta know the rules in order to successfully break them? Yeah, it’s like that. Their first LP, Generic Flipper, is considered their ‘classic’ album, and it is definitely worth repeated listens. But what about Gone Fishin’? Yeah, it’s worth repeated listens, too. Here is some of what you will find on this flawed gem of an album: hardcore, punk, post-punk, noise. Tunes that are out-of-tune and off-rhythm, but on purpose. Eerie droning. Hypnotic bass lines. Static. Plinky piano. A xylophone. And, on “First the Heart,” a saxophone that sounds like something straight from a Morphine album. And lyrics that are like spooky poems set to strange instrumentation.
Purchase it HERE
The Monorchid – Let Them Eat… (1997, Simple Machines/Dischord/Lovitt)
It was the summer of 1998, and I was visiting my best friend Ali, out in Frederick, Maryland. We went where we always did – Interzone, an independent record shop where I always found something worth buying. That particular time, I found this album. I’m not sure what made me pick it up in the first place, maybe the cover – a collaged image of a pair of lips sitting above strange flowers with lips and eyes – but it intrigued me, and when I took it up to the counter, the owner of the record shop said: “Great choice, they’re an awesome DC band.” That sold me – I spent a lot of time in the DC area because of Ali, so I was sort of on the fringes of that scene, but never truly a part of it, though I wanted to be. So, yes, I bought the album, and a few days later, brought it home to Wisconsin with me. It blew my mind. Let Them Eat… is discordant and disjointed, dark and startling, sometimes pure hardcore, other times post-punk, with a little jazz phrasing and sometimes even a classic rock feel. All the songs have a snotty bite; Chris Thomson’s vocals will scorch your soul. All the tracks are under three minutes, but they feel longer, in a really good way. I adore the whole album, but my favorite tracks are – “Bitch Test,” “Diet for an Underdog,” and “Curse of the Potty Trained Children.” “Bitch Test” is the song I would blast in my bedroom every time I had a fight with my mom. “Curse of the Potty Trained Children” starts off with horrible squeaky feedback, and then it gets all distorted and hard and brutal, Chris sounds like he’s screaming through a megaphone, and it ends with a straight-up wall of noise. And “Diet for an Underdog,” I know it sounds like he’s saying things were better back in the day, but damn I love it, the guitars fight each other and then they make out with each other, and it makes me wanna do leg kicks. Hey, all you boys and girls, I gotta know what makes you shake your ass. This is another record that’s out of print – again, you can probably find a used copy if you search a bit.
Fugazi – End Hits (1998, Dischord Records)
I remember when this album was released. It was April 1998, and the day it came out, I rode my bike to the one decent record store in my town to get it. That was fifteen years ago, god damn, I feel old. The other thing is that until I was working on this column, I hadn’t listened to End Hits straight through in close to a decade – but as I listened to it, I realized that I remembered it so well; every word, every drum hit, every guitar breakdown stayed somewhere in the back of my mind for all those years. I think this album is seriously underrated as compared to other Fugazi albums. You hear a lot of so-called fans talking about how it’s not hardcore enough, too experimental. In my opinion, that’s what makes it great. It has some of the more hardcore elements that the kids love, enough to ensure it’s not overly arty – I mean, several of the tracks still have those chugging Fugazi guitars and Ian MacKaye’s mumbled shout. Several of the tracks feature Guy Picciotto’s breathy whine; you know, when I was younger, I preferred the Ian tracks, but nowadays, I think I’m more into the Guy cuts. This album is beautiful. Can I say that? It’s beautiful and has a rather dreamy quality to it. Keyboards and synths and layered drums, moments of straight-up ‘90s post-hardcore jamming, gorgeous funky bass lines, sexy noise, some songs that sound like they’re coming through a distant radio, Guy’s twitchiness, Ian’s deep voice, lyrics that are sometimes delivered like spoken word poetry. “Five Corporations” is in 7/4 time, fer chrissakes; “Floating Boy” is all dub with a hypnotic bassline and a buzzing guitar in the background, during the summer of ’98 I’d get high and lie around and listen to that song, listen to the whole album. Don’t tell Ian MacKaye I used to get high to one of his bands.
Purchase it HERE
Dogjaw – Slow to Build (2012, Rumbletowne Records)
If Broken Prayer’s s/t is my favorite album in recent memory, Slow to Build is a close second. Though it maybe didn’t hit me quite as hard on first listen, it means more to me, in a different way. Broken Prayer I wanna listen to, and I wanna see ‘em live – Dogjaw makes me want to be in a band, myself. Dogjaw make grungy, sludgy stoner punk. They work with a lot of my favorite elements of music from the ‘90s, but they don’t sound derivative at all. They’ve got some beautiful melodic hooks tempered with epic walls of noise. Sometimes they get into a dirty groove. In some songs I can hear 7 Year Bitch, in others I hear Lifter Puller, Sleater-Kinney, even Fugazi. It makes me nostalgic but it doesn’t make me want to go back, as they say in “Time,” we are not time travelers.
Purchase it HERE
J.T. IV – Cosmic Lightning (2008, Drag City)
No one has ever heard of John Timmis IV. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, he was a marginal member of the Chicago punk scene, and he spent much of his time institutionalized. He recorded all these amazing glam/folk/punk tunes, by himself, lo-fi bedroom style, and Drag City released them in 2008 – but still, very little is known about his life. In a way, that’s alright. As Aaron Cometbus says – nothing sounds quite so good as failure. I’m not sure I fully agree, but I think I get it, in that failure makes something more mysterious. There’s no mystery to fame; the more you know about your idols, the less you idolize them, right? Anyway. Cosmic Lightning is a tour-de-force of weirdness. It starts off with a cover/parody of the Velvet Underground tune “Waiting for the Man,” except J.T.’s take on it is “Waiting for the CTA.” He sings about a thing that every Chicagoan has experienced, and does it with a passable Lou Reed impression, atonal guitars, an X-Ray Spex-esque sax, and Ramones-style gang vocals in the background. “Destructo Rock” is psychedelic and insane. “Death Trip” is not a Stooges cover but it’s a rager, he sings I wanna die but I gotta be remembered, and that gets right at the heart of it all, right – sometimes we feel too fucked up to go on, but we can’t cut out ‘til we make our mark on the world. “Song for Suzanne” is pretty and folky but it’s also weird and warbly and off-key, same with “One Fine Day with the Karma Man,” both of them sound like a guy who listened to a bunch of T. Rex (back when he went by Tyrannosaurus Rex) and Donovan and then dropped acid and made this music. And then there are the two songs about being institutionalized – “In the Can,” and “Out of the Can,” the former about what it’s like being inside, the latter about what it’s like after you get back out. This album will make you cry for all the lost, unknown geniuses, but at the same time be glad that J.T. left us this to remember him by. This one is also out of print, but please, look around for a copy, you won’t regret it.
Rocket from the Tombs – The Day the Earth Met the Rocket From the Tombs (2002, Morphius Records)
Self-destruction, depression, and underdog genius, those seem to be themes in the second half of this column. Rocket from the Tombs were raw proto-punk from Cleveland. Much as The Stooges sprung from the decaying industrial city of Detroit, Rocket from the Tombs were Cleveland’s answer to that. Dave Thomas (who, at the time of this band, went by the moniker Crocus Behemoth) and Peter Laughner went on to form Pere Ubu after the demise of RFTT, and two other members – Cheetah Chrome and Johnny Blitz – went on to form The Dead Boys. There was always a tension between the future Pere Ubu and the future Dead Boys, and that’s part of what makes RFTT so interesting to listen to, you can hear that tension bursting through the speakers in every track. Basically, Dave and Peter were more into the New York art-rock scene, they wanted to be Television, and Cheetah and Johnny wanted to keep the primal Midwestern garage feel, they wanted to be The Stooges. What camp am I in, in that duality? Well, I love both sides, but I will tell you that I listen to The Stooges and The Dead Boys more than I listen to Television or Pere Ubu. The Day the Earth Met the Rocket From the Tombs is, for all intents and purposes, a bootleg. Tracks 1-9 are from a rehearsal in 1975, tracks 10-16 are from a live performance in July 1975 (and those are the only tracks that don’t feature Dave Thomas on lead vocals), and tracks 17-19 are from a May 1975 show. All of it is a glorious peek at the roots of two great bands; in fact, you may recognize some of the songs as Pere Ubu or Dead Boys numbers – “30 Seconds Over Tokyo” became a Pere Ubu song, for instance, and “Sonic Reducer” and “Ain’t It Fun” were done by The Dead Boys. But what I really want to talk about here is the darkness, the sadness, the terror, and Peter Laughner. See, Laughner, the guitarist and one of the main songwriters (and also a writer for Creem), was so incredibly depressed and self-destructive, had such a problem with alcohol and amphetamines, that he died of acute pancreatitis at age 24. He destroyed himself, in part, because he was trying so hard to be like his heroes, trying so hard to be part of a certain scene; the other side to it is that he was in so much pain that he just wanted to numb it all out, to deny life. And of course this happens all too often, even now, kids kill themselves trying to emulate rock stars and poets, rock stars and poets destroy themselves because they hurt too deeply; and in strange ways, we, the fans, cheer it on. We somehow love to watch people self-destruct, we somehow think that depression makes an artist more authentic, we somehow think it’s unhip to say a great and holy Yes to this world. We watch them destroy themselves, or we destroy ourselves. And I just wonder, can’t there be a balance? Can’t we allow people, allow ourselves, to feel real feelings, even the misery and the pain, but also let them work through the pain and keep living life in all its shit and heartbreak and glory? To quote Lester Bangs: one of the reasons I am writing it is that there is more than a little of what killed Peter in me, as there may well be in you.
Purchase it HERE
Pagans – Dead End America 7” (1979, Drome)
Another Cleveland band. Cleveland had some great proto-punk and punk, but it so often gets overlooked, along with the rest of the Midwest. Hey, assholes, just cos you wanna fly over our states doesn’t mean you gotta ignore our records, too! Ahem. This two-song 7” is fervent, jumpin’, punchy garage punk. Side A – “Dead End America,” you can pogo and twist to it, it’s like a rawer Ramones number, the band shouting: Dead end! America! America! Dead end! Side B – “Little Black Egg,” cover of the Nightcrawlers’ tune, which I have heard might be about race relations, and yeah, I could see that, but in any case it’s also a fun howling rocker of a tune. This one’s also out of print, but you can find the songs if you look around a bit.
X – Los Angeles (1980, Slash)
Sometimes I think X are secretly my favorite band. I’m always going on and on about The Clash, that whole ‘only band that really matters thing,’ and sure The Clash will always be one of my favorite bands, but if I’m being honest, in the past decade or so, I’ve turned to X more times than I’ve turned to The Clash. They feel closer, more tied to the reality of my life. Four years ago, I was at a punk show in Milwaukee, and while one of the bands was setting up, the sound guy played Los Angeles. The singer of the band, who looked the part so precisely that I already distrusted him (I mean, he had the perfectly liberty-spiked hair, the shirt so purposefully torn in the right places, the three bullet belts around his skinny hips), said, “Turn this fucking hippie music off.” I shouted from my spot in the back: “You did not just call X hippie music.” Sorry they don’t fit into your narrow-ass definition of what punk is, dude. Make no mistake, X were a punk band. They also transcended punk. Los Angeles sounds punk but it also just sounds like Los Angeles, the city itself; it also is not just an album but is a noir film or pulp novel in audio form. Oh, and the album was produced by Ray Manzarek, who passed away on May 20th – I don’t give a shit about the Doors but Ray was cool. Wherever you are, Ray, I want to thank you for producing one of my favorite all-time albums, and even thank you for getting X to cover “Soul Kitchen” cos that is a pretty great cover. I could go on and on about this album, about X. Maybe it is Ray’s influence that made that True Punk kid call it ‘hippie music,’ but if he ever gave it a real chance…it’s way too dark to be hippie music. This album is full of fear and tension. The tension between Exene and John which comes out in the interplay of their vocals, accented by Billy Zoom’s blistering guitar and DJ Bonebrake’s – no joke – bone-breaking drums. And all the lyrics are about tension or fear of some kind – songs like the title track and “Johnny Hit and Run Paulene,” which force the listener to confront the darkest parts of their own psyches. “The Unheard Music,” which is a haunting song about your friends not getting noticed by the mainstream and turning against each other. A thousand kids buried their parents. “Sugarlight,” about drug use. My arm is tied off, waiting. “The World’s A Mess, It’s In My Kiss,” one of my favorite X songs, one of my favorite songs, period. There are no angels; there are devils in many ways. Take it like a man. And “Nausea,” which was the song playing when that dude said it was hippie music, I don’t hear any peace and love, any flower power, in Exene singing: Today you’re gonna be sick so sick, you’ll prop your forehead on the sink.
Purchase it HERE
Wipers – Is This Real? (1980, Park Ave)
I am so into the Wipers, and this album, these days, that for a hot minute I even renamed my blog “Don’t Know What I Am” in homage to one of the tracks. Wipers are another band that I’m not sure why I wasn’t obsessed with when I was younger, but I guess it’s okay, I’m now obsessed enough to make up for all those lost years. No, I was never obsessed back in the day, but the thing about this album is that it has the kind of songs that you only have to hear once for them to stay with you forever. “Return of the Rat,” for instance, and “Window Shop for Love.” And yes, I know they were a huge influence on Nirvana and other bands of that ilk, apparently Nirvana covered both “Return of the Rat” and “D-7,” but I’ve never heard either cover. Ugh, this album is too good. You can hear the proto-grunge in some of the songs, the slowness, the sludge, the fuzz. And then other tracks just bring back the best of old rock’n’roll, strip off the bullshit, make it like disaffection you can dance to. Oh yeah, this is another album that is so full of sorrow and pain – but on a happier note than some of the other albums I’ve talked about…Greg Sage is still alive. Another thing I wanna mention is, everyone talks about Greg Sage, being that he was the frontman and the songwriter, and yes he was amazing – but so were Dave Koupal (bass) and Sam Henry (drums). Especially Dave Koupal. I am a bass player, I always get hooked by beautiful bass work, and Dave Koupal had it down.
Purchase it HERE
Adolescents – s/t (1981, Frontier Records)
Classic ‘80s SoCal hardcore, both of the loud fast rules variety and the more mid-tempo stuff. And all of it is merciless. So much anger and alienation from these suburban kids, and that’s something I can understand – in many ways, small towns and suburbs can be more cruel than big cities. There are a few moments of homophobia which bother me, like in “Creatures,” and in “No Way” he sings cannot live in a world this gay. What, are you twelve? But I try to remember it was the early ‘80s, and these kids were screwed up and didn’t know where to direct their anger. And the rest of the album makes up for it. “I Hate Children” is one of the most hard-hitting indictments of abusive/neglectful parents you will ever hear. “Self-Destruct” is 45 seconds of pure circle pit fodder with a cacophony of buzzsaw guitars. And “Kids of the Black Hole,” a five-and-a-half-minute epic – this is one of those songs that is endless in a great way – is an ode to punk houses and chosen family, and it is one of the most brutal, beautiful, sad, angry, best songs of all time.
Purchase it HERE
Minutemen – Double Nickels on the Dime (1984, SST)
I used to have this album on vinyl and I got rid of it. What was I thinking? I feel that way about a lot of records I used to have that I sold over the years, and I know why I did it – because I was broke, and needed the money more than I needed the record. So there was a very good reason for it, but still, I am filled with regret. Okay, so this album is way too long to describe in its entirety – there are 43 tracks, and they throw in so many different elements that I can’t possibly sum up the entire album. I’ll give you a handful of my favorite cuts. “Cohesion” is an instrumental number, and it sounds like it could be a damn Simon & Garfunkel tune; it’s not truly one of my favorites but I have to mention it because nowadays you’d be kicked out of hardcore for even having a song like that on an album. “Do You Want New Wave Or Do You Want The Truth?” is like a beat poem set to strange music, it is like a precursor to what Sonic Youth did with New York City Ghosts and Flowers. “Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing,” I’ve always wanted to cover this one, mainly so I can shout I must look like a dork! “Maybe Partying Will Help,” super funky jam, beautiful bass line (almost nothing makes me want to pick up the bass and play along like Mike Watt’s bass playing does); As I look over this beautiful land I can’t help but realize that I am alone. “Storm In My House,” co-written by Henry Rollins. And “History Lesson, Part II,” this one can make me weep if I’m in the right mood; it is just so refreshing to hear someone say punk rock changed our lives without a hint of irony.
Purchase it HERE