September 2009

The Fall in 1985

The Fall was and remains a group in constant flux. I have no idea how many people have come and gone from the ranks of the band, but it’s clear that Mark E. Smith, the band’s front man, has a lyric pouring out of him at pretty much every moment when he’s awake. Who knows, he might even dream songs. But that’s gotta be a lot to deal with as a musician in his employ. And for that reason, I suppose, the rotating cast of players in the Fall could be explained. But beginning in 1983, with Smith’s marriage to Brix (aka Laura Elisse Salenger), there was a moment of stability. Of course, that only lasted for a few years prior to the Hanley brothers – who played bass and drums – departing. Steve would return to play bass for 1985’s This Nation's Saving Grace.

The Members: Punk, Pop and JA

After the surprising chart success of the first wave of Brit punkers that eluded their American counter parts, a crop of new bands began recording after learning a few lessons from those older dudes. The popularity that the reggae tinged works from the Clash received wasn’t missed by these new folks and as a result, some of the groups worked to incorporate much the same approach. It obviously worked to various effect, but with the 2-Tone thing happening at the same time, the musical approach may have been burdensome to the nascent style. It wasn’t dead in the water, but bands like the Members aren’t really anything more than a footnote at this point.

The Nation of Ulysses: PunkhardcoreJazzWeird

Elevated language, usually glowing in nature, accompanies anything written about the Ian Svenonious fronted Nation of Ulysses. It’s not that the group doesn’t deserve such affection thrust in its direction, but the fact that the band is perceived to be something of a political force is a farce. The line about politics was profligate by the band’s lyrics and furious efforts to present themselves as something more than just a musical ensemble. It worked. Today, the Nation of Ulysses is one of the more heralded Dischord bands from the label’s formative period. Again, the adulation is deserved, but not for the reasons that people expound.

A Recollection: Seattle, Wa circa October 2007

Spurred by their somewhat surprising ascension to popularity by an association with the snide hipsters at Vice Records, the Black Lips have toured relentlessly for the past year and change. Despite the fact that the band has been playing for around seven years and released three albums before landing with Vice, fame had not found them. Regarded as one of the most exciting live rock acts touring shite bars, the band persevered and has found an ever expanding audience since the live Los Valientes del Mundo Nuevo. The recent release of Good Bad Not Evil, which is numbingly void of punctuation, has spurred the band to continue on their relentless route back and forth across the country and across the ocean for a visit to Israel. A successful appearance between their two releases this year at SXSW probably didn’t hurt either.

Brit Punk: Pistols and Beyond

The Sex Pistols
These jokers were as much media construction as genuine article. That doesn’t mean that the music wasn’t good, though. Glen Matlock and Steve Jones (who wound up starting a band called the Professionals that might be musically stronger than the Pistols) are really an underrated duo, the latter possessing the guitar talents that many in the early punk scene did not. Regardless of who was good at what – and Sid was good at nothing – this band was able to release just one proper full length before the wheels fell off. It’s a classic. You’ve probably heard it roughly 10,000 times.

Try A Dull Knife: Xenia, Oh

If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you’re a weirdo. It might then also be safe to guess that you saw Gummo. If not, you probably know what that is. Right? Yeah. The follow up to Kids, directed by Harmony Korine, goes in on a psychotic look at what bored, poor, white trash do in the middle of nowhere Ohio. Xenia, Ohio to be exact. And while that place might not mean too much to anyone, my family almost moved there when I was a little kid. That woulda been a bummer. It was subsequently leveled by a tornado. Double whammy.

Reddy Teddy: A (Meh) Boston Band

Boston often gets overlooked when bands that inform punk are discussed. The Real Kids are obviously an important touchstone, but even before that garage approach to the music was worked out Willie Alexander was kicking around before his ill fated trip to the Big Apple to be a part of the (pretend) last Velvet Underground recordings. And while Alexander wasn’t a player in the Reddy Teddy line up, the fact that he had a hand in the recording of its album says a great deal about the direction of the music – namely that it’s not too special, but has a few elements that would later be important to the nascent punk scene that sprung up around the Rat.

The Busy Signals: More Than I Expected...

I came to the party late. Yeah, this disc is a few years old, but what’s all this nonsense about the Exploding Hearts? Yeah, both the Busy Signals and that defunct NW group have a predilection for ‘70s punk and power pop, but to compare the two seriously reveals the inability for rock writers to independently think about a disc. Ok, both groups are on Dirtnap. You know who else is/was on Dirtnap? The Cripples. And those guys sound like drunken robots fighting with the instruments of a new wave band. So, for real folks, listen to a disc, digest it and think. That’s all. Just think.

Proto Punk: Dawning of a New Era

No, proto-punk isn’t a real thing, it’s been concocted in order to more easily explain where stuff comes from. None of the groups below really had any inkling as to the effect that they’d have in subsequent years and more over, it’s safe to assume that none cared – except the MC5, who thought that it functioned as a mouth piece for the revolution. That obviously didn’t pan out, but the music that each of these groups below unloosed during the ‘60s and early ‘70s was able to change the way in which music – and art to a certain extent – was perceived. Each launched the career of at least one player that would go on to record for a few decades. Whether those individuals matter any longer is open to debate, but the quality of this music is not. The more you know…

'90s Punk Classics

There really hasn’t been a bad decade of punk. ‘80s music in generally is looked down upon as sleek, corporate nonsense, but even in the decade after this genre’s inception, there was enough for pissed off kids to scream about that resulted in scores of independently produced music. It might not have always been well done – that’s a relative term, though – but it was genuine. For the most part.

Considering that a great deal of that ‘80s punk stuff was made up of anti-government polemics aimed at Reagan and his cohort, the ‘90s and its perceived affluence would then seem a bizarre time for the genre to continue. It did – and with a blustery force not found in newer punkers all that frequently. What follows shouldn’t be understood as the best of the best – it might be – but instead as a clutch of discs that were able to me through that decade.

The Features: PA to NYC Floozies

So, let me again reference the Stitches as a way by which to figure my punk education. Yeah, they’re a ‘90s band, but outta that crop of groups who, apart from the Bombs, has the same sort of inarguable taste in older, completely obscure punk singles? Probably no one. That’s not the point here. What is, though, is the fact that on the first Stitches album, 8 x 12, the band covers “Floozie of the Neighborhood.” I don’t believe the version of that album I possess has song credits on it, but pretty quickly after coping that disc when I was fourteen (?) someone hipped me to the fact that the Features originally penned the tune. Where it came from – and I assumed that the band was from SoCal, I was wrong – though, is almost as interesting as the band itself.

Limes: A Relaxed Garage

There’s not too much to do in the garage genre any longer. Just ways in which to re-envision the past adding in some mixture of punk, soul, blues or other American musical caveat that has a group of collector geeks surrounding it. Coming from Memphis, though, deciding which way to sway with one’s garage is probably easier than if a group was from – let’s say – Cali. But enough west coast baiting. The dudes that make up Limes – fronted by Shawn Cripps and supported by none other than freeqin’ Jack Oblivion alongside some other Memphis stalwarts – swagger through eleven tracks on its first full length entitled Tarantula! released way back in 2005 on Death Valley Records.

The Merton Parkas: Style over Substance

Being figured as a part of some revival genre isn’t always going to be a good turn for a band’s career (ska?). But of course, the fact that the whole mod thing during the ‘70s was comprised completely of throw back groups should probably have excused anyone from being labeled as something of a Johnny-Come-Lately. The Jam never ran into problems like that – and while Paul Weller and company were easily the most ballsy performers as well as perhaps the best musicians outta that entire crew, they were still as beholden to ‘60s American soul and the Who as any other Brit combo. Fair or not, that’s how it was. The Merton Parkas weren’t quite as lucky as that Weller fronted combo, though.

Steve Treatment: A Marc Bolan-ish Good Time

The best music not only encompasses more than a single discipline or genre, but also is able to keep fans and listeners guessing as to what’s coming next or how it’s to be purported. I guess that’s why Monk should be considered one of the most interesting pianists in music – and you’re right, this really has nothing do with jazz, but Monk’s kind of a punker himself. Anyway, there are a veritable treasure trove of old tyme punk related recordings and acts that didn’t sit properly in the genre and resultantly were dismissed either by fans or the recording industry when it was interested in exploiting punk for profit.