July 2010

The Yolks: Punk cum Pop

The difference between power pop, hard rock (of the seventies variety) and punk is slight at best. During the earliest years of the genre(s) one was almost indecipherable from the next. The Ramones are obviously the easiest touchstone, but so are Boston’s Real Kids and any other band with a guitar player exerting effort to render his chords in the most jangly manner.

Maybe jangly is the wrong word. Even Major Accident, in its music at least, had a bit of that never ending, but pleasant guitar style inherent in most of its songs. Whatever the case is, though, Chicago’s the Yolks have turned in a disc that takes all of that into consideration (minus that skinhead band), adds some proper singing and came up with a start-to-finish- solid rock effort.

F.U.2.: Imported Punk

There’re so many unheralded punk nuggets floating around the world that it really has become impossible to track each and everyone down. And oddly enough, it’s taken a Japanese label to ingratiate listeners to the sounds of F.U.2.

1977 Records appears focused on re-releasing a great deal of scum punk in order to perhaps re-tell part of history – the awful, forgotten part. And for this particular release, the label’s not only re-told some of it, but explained a bit of it as well.

TWOFR: Backstabbers Inc. x Crimson Sweet

Backstabbers Inc.

Kamikaze Missions

(trash art!, 2004)

Well, the first track is an intro, so really there’re only 13 songs full of contemporary hate from the northeasterners in Backstabbers Inc. The most startling discovery on this plate is that there is rhythm in most every song (especially “Ask, Answer”). After the inception of HC style in the early eighties, a number of bands simply began playing as fast as possible. And while that yielded interesting effects, the inclusion of rhythm changes the music. The music maintains its’ inherent viciousness, but instantly becomes more easily digestible. It’s noise that swings. And here it achieves the ever-elusive groove. In hardcore the tempo is obviously as nauseatingly fast as possible, and then the breakdown. Backstabbers include a third tempo; there’s a sort of real fast punk tempo (between the thrash and the breakdown) that moves songs along in an interesting way. This is displayed to some extant on “Even Slaves Will Be Swimming In the Blood of the Iron Fist”, which boasts the chanted chorus of, “We are not you’re fucking friends/Not now/Not fucking ever”. But, the title of this track brings me to a point that needs to be made. Long, pompous titles (ala Shai Hulud), don’t automatically make you a thinking man’s band. Maintaining your ideals while thoughtfully articulating them makes you a smart dudes rock outfit. At-least these guys sound authentically pissed, I’d buy it even if rock music is all posturing. Production, as much as posturing, always plays a paramount role in how an album is perceived overall. On this slab, the production fits the music. But the vocals, already unintelligible yelps of disdain, are drowned out regularly by guitar attacks. Troublesome, but fitting. Oddly, I can understand his anger without the words.

TWOFR: Coachwhips x The Ohsees


Double Death

(Narnack Records, 2006)

John Dwyer sounds distant and disturbed as he yells at listeners through what sounds like a bullhorn in time to his dirty two or three piece band – depending on what track is dialed up. What this band does well, as it’s playing its own brand of thrashy, stop and go garage, is create rhythms that are pleasing even as the melodies are ridiculously simplistic. Pretty much all of these songs clock in at less than three minutes. So, you’re looking at less than an hour of music over the twenty-four tracks presented here. To conceive of all of these melodies, even if they reach their natural end in a short time, is still an incredible feat. And while this is not an album proper, but a collection of b-sides and rarities, it serves to survey the band’s style.

In addition to the original material there’re a number of covers towards the end of the disc. Included is an instrumental version of The Velvet Underground’sI Guess I’m Falling in Love”, a Gories track and “The Witch” by The Sonics. The last track mentioned lends itself to the band nicely partially due to The Coachwhips’ uncanny ability to stay perfectly in time with each other while playing the stop and go game.

The DVD that accompanies this slew of music is what makes Double Death enticing. On the DVD various engagements the band had over its brief career are displayed. Video and sound quality vary, but in this case – for this band - that’s appropriate. No one will say that Double Death is the buy of the year, but it’s damned entertaining and makes the Black Keys and Holly Golightly look like a buncha hacks.

TWOFR: The Intelligence x Sabertooth Tiger

The Intelligence


(In the Red, 2007)

Yes, I concur, the singles by the A-Frames on S-S are pretty decent and with the creation of AFCGT, there’s no lack of newly recorded, skewed rock on the market. But the third full length, the second on ITR, from the Intelligence includes some dingy fuzz with a thick layer of pop melodicism that isn’t always proportioned well on recordings being birthed from this genre.

The skronk of AFCGT recalls everything from Can to Zappa, but leaves out the ample pop needs of the listening community. That being said, Lars Finberg recording the Intelligence in a studio for the first time, brings about Deuteronomy, whose title itself is a bit mysterious. The name comes from the fifth book of the Torah and seeing as if you combine the number of full length albums between the A-Frames and the Intelligence the resultant integer being five, it all make sense. Kinda.

What doesn’t seem to be sensible is the pervasive point of view that this group is a pre-programmed exploration of sound. While Finberg does work alone, the albums that have resulted seem to be full fledged rock ensembles. Granted, few tracks sport a full line-up, but if you’re listening at home you probably just won’t know.

Hot Rod Tod. Where’s he been? Not on this disc, but HRT and Finberg share similar vocal styles and deliveries as evidenced initially on the lead off “Moon Beeps”. That alone doesn’t make the album, perhaps it yields a bit of endearing sentiment. But unfortunately the female whoa’s on “Dating Cops” stomp that feeling from one’s ears. With that being the low point, Finberg’s ability to work within a genre, no matter how loosely defined, while shifting tempos as well as mood is exceptional. The elastic bass, so often associated with funk, gets some play here as on “Bad Sirens”, where the Intelligence sounds alternately like an ‘80s punk band and the Strokes.

The media, in general, has hailed this as an insightful melding of sound, noise and style. No one will be so bold as to disagree, but this won’t make too many top ten’s. Either way, once it goes into the ole cd player, if you didn’t just rip it, it’s not coming out for a while. Or at-least, not until you find your copy of We Are Electrocution.

TWOFR: Speed x The Yuppie Pricks



(Temporary Residence Ltd., 2005)

Crain was a little bit too early and a little bit too late. Earlier, they would have preceded the first Fugazi full length and been hailed as ushering in alternative rock. Later, they would have been considered a catalyst for whatever screamo is. But as luck has it, Crain released this, their first album in 1992. Speed was recorded at Inner Ear Studios (home to pretty much every Dischord band) and produced by Steve Albini. Since it’s worth noting the appearance of Albini, it’s also worth mentioning that he is above all else a businessman and has stated the he’s be willing to work for anyone with the funds. So his appearance doesn’t necessarily dictate quality, but it should hint at the sound. What Albini did manage to get down on record wasn’t exactly punk or metal or pop, but an early nineties amalgam. There’s almost funky drumming coupled with a brusque bass player and couple of noisy guitarists. Since Speed is an early ‘90s recording, there are marks of SST and the aforementioned Dischord bands everywhere. Most notably, the Minutemen are evoked consistently on the tracks “Monkey Wrench”, with the start/stop timing, the seven minute “Kneel”, “Ten Miles of Fiction” and “Ribcage”, which showcases a screamed chorus of, “Let me loose/Let me free”. Amongst the fourteen tracks, there’s no undeniable stand out, but only one complete loser. “Blistering” comes towards the end of the album with an enticing guitar part, but then surges forward with off key crooning. This band isn’t your life. And there’s a reason that Speed wasn’t repressed for thirteen years, but it’ll probably please you if you’re a fan of early-nineties-tiny-label-rock.

Das Damen: When Punk and Rock Don't Mix

It’s confusing as to why folks persist in celebrating group’s like Dinosaur Jr. and the Butthole Surfers. Stripping away the most noisome elements of any song penned by either group, you’re left with nothing other than middle of the road hard rock. Of course, each song has that noisy element. And while an occasional excursion into noise for art’s sake is a laudable endeavor, it’s really not enough to formulate a band around. Yet, even the reconstituted formations of group’s like these continue to pull in new fans and a good deal of loot to boot.

TWOFR: Thee Snuff Project x Rise Against

Thee Snuff Project

Dyin' Ain't Much of a Livin'

(Hackshop Records, 2004)

If you turned down the volume on your stereo to “1” Thee Snuff Project will still make blood spurt from your ears.  Scott Taylor has one mode of singing and it’s called attack.  The whole album is just unrelenting.  From the guitar drone on the longest intro ever,  “Intro To Every Black Window”, to the varied tempos on “Start Your Own Cult” the rage doesn’t let up.  I don’t know if these kids were beaten just prior to the recording and this is how they got out the aggression, but this disc doesn’t lack energy.  It also doesn’t hoard talent, but it’s a trade off.  Pretty much the groove that’s reached amidst the crunch of every track is minimalistic.  And while I enjoy everything simple from Kraut Rock to Steven Reich, the reliance on the wah-wah peddle (“A Little Strange”, “Random Deity”) is a little disturbing.  Fortunately, the tempo changes on “Next Time I’ll Be A Spider” hints at the practice that theses DC natives have put into their craft.  The track sounds like Sabbath listening to The Who while trying to cover a Stooges song.  The Stooges connection ain’t done yet either.  On “How To Use A Butterfly Knife” there’s a fight between the rhythm section and the guest sax player.  Everything about the track is forgettable, but the sax farts on top of the guitar distortion is definitely admirable.  Lyrically, “I Contact” presents itself as the most conscious, getting out the lines, “All the kids wanna die for the USA/Let ‘em go, it’s all the same to me.”  Thee Snuff Project, when they keep the tracks short, are affective.  And even though I don’t think that they’re gonna become millionaires, they should at least make gas and beer/liquor money wherever they go for a decade or so.

TWOFR: Mac Blackout x The Daily Void

Mac Blackout

Self Titled

(Dead Beat, 2008)

A t this point in the history of recorded musics it’s supremely difficult to examine a disc in a micro sense. Everything is related – it’s past the point of being ‘seemingly’ or ‘tangential.’ Even ignoring the output of Max Blackout as a part of a group, this self titled album forces the question, “Does this need to be disseminated to the masses?”

I dunno.

As unsettling as other projects that Mac Black out has been associated with – Functional Blackouts and Daily Void – this easily trumps his other discs in that one area. It’s creepy. It’s even more disquieting that the unlikely city this all sprung from was Indianapolis, where Mac attended art school during the late ‘90s. And despite the date of these recordings, there is an obvious ‘80s influence. How these songs have thus far avoided comparisons to the Screamers is beyond ludicrous, but there is a unifying sewer dwelling nihilism amidst each track.

Beyond that comparison, the lead off track “Everybody Rock”, still immediately recalls the Ramones’ “Happy Family.” It’s not that funny or poppy, but listeners may still extol a chortle. Ideally, there’d be a stand-out, alas there’s not. Lyrically, “Baby Face Killer” is easily recalled by simply leaning upon its Oh Brother! related title – or maybe “Nowhere Man,” because it’s a bloody Beatles song.

Mac Blackout (the album, not the man) should not cease existing, mostly because it’ll easily make a buck, but there are sporadic redeeming qualities throughout the solo offering – occasionally summoning Jay Reatard. Unfortunately, the scant rewards of Mac Blackout can be found elsewhere in a group setting – and occasionally in the same song – “You’ve Lost Your Eyes.”

Void: Half of Its Thrash Stinks, but Then There's the Good Stuff...

Figuring out what group first ushered in the metal influence within punk’s confines isn’t going to be agreed upon. But despite the various folks making the claim that Void, a Dischord hardcore band of the highest order dating to the early eighties, is the culprit, that’s not really accurate.

While the band followed in the wake of other local acts, though not necessarily taking direct cues from any, Void really just took the music to its logical, extraordinarily fast breaking point. There was an unquestionably Black Flag influence especially in Void guitarist Bubba Dupree’s tone and random experimentation with sheaths of feedback.