Thursday, November 3, 2011

Bikini Kill/Huggy Bear: Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah/Our Troubled Youth

Review # 51
Artist: Bikini Kill/Huggy Bear
Title: Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah/Our Troubled Youth
Format: LP
Label: Kill Rock Stars/Catcall
Year: 1992
Songs: 15

This record is a split LP featuring, on one side, Bikini Kill's second official release Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah and on the other, Huggy Bear's Our Troubled Youth. It was one of the first records I bought from an independent label, back in the days when getting my hands on stuff like this either meant a ferry ride to Seattle or, more commonly, sending a check in the mail to a record label's mail order service with a list of alternative choices in case what I wanted wasn't in stock at the time. In the 1990s, in the days before music was widely available on the internet, being punk rock in a small town was a lot more challenging. I'd send out my checks and then wait eagerly for the mail carrier to bring me a little slice of counterculture, out in the wasteland that was Poulsbo, Washington. This was part of one of those mail order purchases, recommended to me by one of the two people I knew who liked music that didn't get played on the radio, and it was very prized when it first came into my possession as one of only two or three punk LPs I owned.

But enough about me. Let's talk about the record itself, starting with the Bikini Kill side. Recorded on a 4 track, this record shows that it is possible for the band to be more raw and furious than they were on their first record. Musically speaking, this is just stripped-down punk recorded using basic technology in what sounds like a garage. The songs are heavier and more aggressive than the first record, and also a little better crafted. It captures the ethos and energy of the best hardcore bands.  It's compelling. Lyrically, the record is an even more uncompromising declaration of independence than the debut.  Every song screams out in self-confident defiance "We Don't Need You." By the time this record came out, people were becoming very polarized by Bikini Kill. Attracted or repelled by their uncompromising feminist stance, lyrics, and live presentation, most in the punk community were either with them or against them.  In "White Boy," Kathleen responds to the controversy: "I'm so sorry if I'm alienating some of you. Your whole fucking culture alienates me.... I'm so sorry that I think." Even as a white boy myself, being young and alienated in a small town that seemed at times to be closing in on me and in a school that largely seemed to encourage mediocrity, Bikini Kill's strident stance resonated. It should also be mentioned here that this record includes a less polished version of the band's well known single "Rebel Girl," which I think is superior to the 7" version.

In comparison, the Huggy Bear side of the record was a little harder for me to get my head around. The music is more varied, ranging from hardcore to garage rock to spooky bits that sound like a little like a horror movie soundtrack with someone ranting over them ("Jupiter Re-Entry" and "Nu Song") to the catchy pop of "Aqua Girl Star." It's pretty interesting listening, and "Aqua Girl Star" always gets stuck in my head every time I play this side of the record. To my budding punk tastes, though, some of this was a little hard to figure out, although it grew on me with successive plays. The politics were also harder to relate to. Many of the lyrics, and the poetic manifesto included inside the record sleeve, are pretty forceful about sexual identity issues, labeling the music "Queercore for the Queercorps." I wasn't someone who had an issue with people being gay, but as a straight 17 year old, I wasn't sure how to relate to music that dealt with these issues. They were topics that were simply not talked about by anyone I knew, and this record deal with them in an open and forceful way. I wasn't threatened by Huggy Bear per se, but just sort of confused by it, and vaguely uncomfortable with it for reasons I didn't quite understand. Today, there's nothing here I haven't heard in some form lots of time before, but at the time it was showing me something I hadn't seen before. It was educational and my perspective was broadened by it.

Taken together, the two sides of this record compliment each other nicely. Some of the music sounds a little dated at the end of the year 2011, but some of it could be released today and sound fresh. As far as the lyrical content, the messages here are as relevant today as they were nearly 20 years ago when they were first committed to vinyl. For the sake of alienated kids everywhere, I hope this record stays in circulation for a long time.

Here's the opening track of the Bikini Kill side, "White Boy" and my favorite track from the Huggy Bear side, "Aqua Girl Star."

Total songs listend: 648

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