May 2009

The Pointed Sticks: Canuck Punk

The bloated field of punk and power pop by the dawn of the '80s was becoming laughable. There was scant variety - really how many variations on Ramones' songs could there actually be. And for that reason a great many groups figured that the addition of a keyboard was the way to go. Unfortunately, the resultant effect of that frequently was to pin down those efforts to a specific time and place. That stuff just sounds dated now. But for some reason Elvis Costello and his band never suffered from that. Partially due to the former computer programmer's song writing acumen, the band unleashed two indispensible discs. And while British Columbia's the Pointed Sticks would only be able to record one full length before folding in 1981, some of the band's work is on par with its British counter parts.

Malfunction in Hoosier Land: Dow Jones and the Gizmos

I'm from the Midwest. And regardless of how I explain the place that I'm from, it seems that folks can't differentiate between reality and what they've figured through preconceived notions, television, its news programs and movies. Contrary to popular belief, there are pockets of relative culture in and around the Midwest. Yup, most of the industry is now a collection of rusted out sculptures representing past successes and current economic problems. But the Midwest isn't just an assortment of farms and cornfields.

Indiana, while still sporting sections of industrialized and burnt out cities and towns, is probably the most boring state to drive through - apart from Wyoming if you take I-90. So it's pretty surprising that there was a decent punk scene brewing in the Hoosier state during at least half of the '70s. With that being said, probably most of the bands on compilations like Gulcher Records' Red Snerts were from some of the more cosmopolitan areas or college towns like Bloomington.

Kicked in the Head: Mr. California & the State Police

A juvenile outlook and any sort of ill conceived behavior can be considered to be part of the general punk aesthetic. Of course, that's a pretty slim portion of what punk is and or could be. But if the Ramones were able to make a career for around thirty years off of bubble gum wet dreams and Judys and Sheenas, it would make sense that others would go ahead and try to replicate that.

With the ever growing cottage industry based upon scarcely available records and assorted collectible ephemera Mr. California has figured that if he cranks out a few slabs of vinyl with some tripped out designs gracing the cover and the record itself, he'd be able to make a few bucks while acting the part of an artist. I suppose he's not incorrect, but I suspect that a good deal of his recordings won't translate into a live setting - unless he's nuts, which is a possibility.

Boyskout - School of Etiquette (Alive, 2004)

Girls. Go buy this album. Lesbians. Go buy this album. Nu Wayvers, who are into lesbians, go buy this album. There. I reached the entire market. Good. And now for something completely different...

Frankly, when I saw what was in the package from one of the most respectable independent labels in the country, I was disappointed. Between the cheese-tinged name of the band to the picture on the cover of the cd, I wanted to toss this one aside and move on.  But, I didn't. I gave it a shot.

I have never been a fan of chick bands/female artists, except for Billie Holiday and Nina Simone.  I don't understand why. Are there not enough girls out there picking up instruments or singing? I can readily recall numerous girls throughout my time walkin' this land that play and sing but aren't in bands. What's the haps?

In high-school band there was the flute and clarinet section.  Where the hell did all those girls go? Are they busy fiddling with something else? Maybe my almost robotic readiness to dismiss this group is a reason for other ladies to get a guitar. 

Dead End Kids - I’m So Bored with the UK (No Front Teeth, 2004)

Sometime in the mid to late  90's I bought a split 12 inch by The Spent Idols and The Dead End Kids. The Spent Idols side consisted of punk covers and made my shorts dirty with pleasure. The Dead End Kids side included mostly originals and probably the best Stanglers cover I've ever heard ("London Lady"). I eventually tracked down full lengths by both of these acts and over the years The Spent Idols have been the background music for a number of debauched evenings in and around the suburbs of Cleveland and wherever else I've had the displeasure of living. But, Mike Spent has fallen off the face of the earth - he might be in a retirement home by this point. The Dead End Kids, however, continue on in the spirit of those evenings, even though I doubt that they're ever about to come anywhere near my home for a show. Regardless, they released a new slab subsequent to that 12 inch. I first plopped it down in my portable cd player, tossed it in my pocket and hopped on my bicycle. The voice was that same nasally-snotty yelp that I recalled for years prior.

The Ex: Dutch Disturbances

However many albums Crass has sold, that's how many bands have begun because of them. No one could be faulted for that- well maybe. But the British group's brand of politicism spread through punk as much as any fashion, cause or other trapping. That being said, conversely, the Subhumans concurrently created a stripped down and overtly politicized music. Yet, it seems as if the template that those folks worked from hasn't been taken to heart by other musicians.

The style that the Subhumans embraced incorporated some inside out rhythmic devices contrived from the two tone movement that was beginning to gain notoriety during its early days as a group. I've, in the past, decried the fact that not more folks ended up recycling these styles considering that everything else has gotten a re-working. Perhaps punkers just aren't up to the task musically. Who knows.

Nazis and a Vile Tone

Everything goes in cycles - not just music. Any art, politics, fashion. It all comes down to the same thing. People enjoy what they're already familiar with and if one figures out how to repackage it and shill it to the masses, than a few bucks are gonna come in. This applies to the Viletones, but to all of the punk class circa '77.

By this point, Iggy Pop was coked up and strung out, being followed around or following David Bowie through Europe and churning out some boring tunes that really could be considered the dregs of '70s rock. Iggy may have been confident in his new direction, but that doesn't mean that it was the right one. Hindsight, though, is perfect. But this all probably goes to explain why the Stooges released a new album last year and are currently touring.

DMZ: So Far Ahead, They Were Behind

There's no good way in which to introduce disappointment. The things that DMZ and its members wanted weren't attained. And, understandably, that created a pretty decent basis for vitriol towards other acts, labels and insider industry folks.

Beginning as early as any other band that might be considered a part of the first wave of punk, DMZ jumped out from a few of the other original acts from the period due to their intricate knowledge of aggressive rock music. Whereas the Ramones and the Cramps mined confectionary pop and rockabilly to inform their sound, DMZ had an in depth knowledge of northwestern rock bands. Utilizing the Sonics and the Wailers seemed to inject these Boston area dudes with some other sort of musical aptitude. That's not to say the Ramones were slouches, but DMZ bounced differently than anyone else. They were a rock band in a pretty strict sense.