Monday, December 17, 2012

The Vandals: Oi to the World!

Review # 74
Artist: The Vandals
Title: Oi to the World!
Format: CD
Label: Kung Fu Records
Year: 1996
Songs: 12

The Vandals, a long-running (but inconsistent) joke-punk band from southern California, released what may be the only full-length punk rock Christmas album in the mid-90s, well after their prime. I actually don't really like the Vandals, at least not as they exist today. Their early work features some great moments of 80s punk,  but if I understand correctly, the only person still involved with the band from those days is the drummer. In the years between their early 80s releases and the time this record came out, the Vandals changed from jokey hardcore to fairly generic 90s pop punk with "funny" lyrics. The Vandals weren't always clever even in the early days--some of their songs were hilarious, but others, like so many punk bands from their era, relied on shock value more than actually being funny. Call me a prude, but sometimes the Vandals' songs go too far over the line of political correctness for me to be comfortable. But that's a lot of 80s punk for you.

So I guess you could say I have mixed feelings about the Vandals. I picked up this particular record at a garage sale for a buck this summer. I had only ever heard the title track at that point, which is a pretty hilarious holiday-themed spoof on oi punk. Even though I've never really liked the later iterations of the Vandals as a band, I've always liked that song, so I picked it up. And... I have mixed feelings about it.

Oi to the World features some pretty hilarious holiday punk tunes. Similar to the title track, for example, "I Don't Believe in Santa Claus" is a send up of a punk sub-genre, in this case English anarcho-punk. The drums are all snare rolls and the vocalist takes on a thick (fake) British accent as he shouts out anti-capitalist cliches and denounces Christmas. Other tracks feature themes that would be familiar to most people who grew up celebrating Christmas--dealing with family members you don't really like, not getting the gifts you hoped for, people who are so obsessed with having the perfect Christmas that they end up ruining it for themselves and everyone else. They do it all to a pop-punk beat that's catchy and fun in small doses, but I wouldn't want to listen to all the time. A real stand-out track on the record, other than "Oi to the World" is the punk/metal version of "Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies" from The Nutcracker. I don't know how to to describe it, other than to say that rocks, and I would happily listen to an entire Nutcracker album done in this style. Metal ballet? Who'd have thunk it?

As with the rest of the Vandals' catalogue though, there are a few tracks that go too far over the line of good taste for me. Lest you think I'm just a prude, I'll say up front that "Christmas Time for my Penis" is actually NOT one of these songs--I expected not to like that one, but actually, its pretty funny, because if you weren't paying close attention, you would think it was just a normal Christmas song that someone had written about a friend of family member who was having-ahem-a hard time during the holiday season. It hugs the line of bad taste but remains funny. On the other hand, "My First Christmas (As a Woman)," is a complete miss. It's not clever or funny, and seems a bit insensitive to the challenges faced by transgendered people. Their cover the of Yobs "C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S" is equally if not more tasteless, relying on entirely on cheap shock value for its supposed humour.

So, the final verdict? For a buck, this was a good purchase, if for no other reason than the title track and "Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies." This record, however, is not for the easily offended, and features some tracks that make me push the "skip" button.

Here's the title track, if you want to check it out as well as "Dance of the Sugarplumb Fairies".

Total songs listened: 903

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

New Record! Bob Dylan: Tempest

Review # 73
Artist: Bob Dylan
Title: Tempest
Format: LP(x2) + CD
Label: Columbia
Year: 2012
Songs: 10

It's funny, I still run into people that don't know that Bob Dylan is still making records and that they are still good. Ok, sure, Dylan put out some not-so-great records for about 20 years (from the mid '70s until the mid '90s), but here's the thing: this year is the 50th anniversary of his first LP. When you make records for 50 years, you're probably going to make some stinkers.

So what of Bob Dylan's 35th studio album, Tempest? Well, it's very much in keeping with the material he's been making since 1997's Time Our of Mind. If you like the music Dylan's been making for the last 15 years or so, you'll like this.  I certainly do. Bob Dylan plays memorable songs, backed by a great band, with smart lyrics peppered with references to traditional American folk songs and other old-time music. The band sounds like a new band playing old music--the production is full and clean even though the music draws more on traditional folk, blues, and tin pan alley tunes than any contemporary music. The arrangements are similar to both of his 2009 albums, Together through Life and Christmas in the Heart, especially the latter (surprisingly). But that's not to say he's become a one-trick pony. There's a lot of variety on this album, even as it sounds familiar to a fan of his more recent work.

The record begins with the incredibly catchy "Duquesne Whistle" (pronounced "Doo-Kane"), which I frequently wake up hearing in my head. The song rolls along in an upbeat fashion reminiscent of a lot of the tracks on Love and Theft (2001). Lyrically, it's a classic "rambling on the train" song, and it feelss familiar and comfortable without being derivative. Similar in feel are "Narrow Way," with its upbeat tempo and slide guitar give it a similar blues-rock feel, and  "Early Roman Kings," another bluesy feeling song that would be great for a roadtrip mix. These songs really swing, and  have a defiant feel that fits one of the themes that appears on several tracks on the record--Dylan declaring himself to be (still) a force to be reckoned with. On "Narrow Way," he declares "I'm armed to the hilt and I'm struggling hard, you won't get out of here unscarred." During "Pay in Blood" he tells us "I've been to hell, what good did it do? You bastard, I'm supposed to respect you?... This is how I spend my days--I came to bury, not to praise. I drink my fill, and sleep alone. I pay in blood. But not my own." Dylan is still here and still fighting: "I ain't dead yet, my bell still rings. I keep my fingers crossed like the early Roman kings." He's pretty feisty on some of these songs, and the tone is matched by his voice, which over the last 15 years or so has been shifting from a forlorn nasal tone (still heard on Tempest) to an increasingly guttural grunt, which sounds more forceful and less mournful.

But it's not all swagger and bravado. There's some dark and/or dour moments too. My favorite track on the record is probably "Scarlett Town," which paints a surreal picture of a town where everything is a little off and something sinister seems to be lurking just beneath the surface. In this song, like so many of Dylan's ballads, he creates characters with fragments of information that leave you wanting to know more about them--who is Uncle Bill? Why is Sweet William dying? I kind of get the chills thinking about it sometimes, and tinkly piano and slow banjo picking reinforce the dark, creepy feel of the song.  It would not have been out of place among the tunes onthe rather dark Time Out of Mind. There's also a murder ballad, "Tin Angel," which ends with all three members of a love triangle bleeding on the floor. The album closes with "Roll on John," a touching song that, in Dylan's round about and poetic way, tells the story of John Lennon's life and death. It's a nice tribute, and adds another layer of emotion to the album.

The one track on this record that doesn't work that well for me is actually the title track. "Tempest" is a 13 minute ballad about the Titanic sinking. Musically, it pretty much does the exact same thing for the whole 13 minutes, and I just don't feel like it holds up. In my opinion, Dylan would have been better off to trim this down to seven or even five minutes. It's got the same character development thing going on as in other Dylan story songs like "Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts" from 1975's Blood on the Tracks, which I like, but the music on "Tempest" is just too repetitive for 13 minutes.

On the whole, I really like this record. I've been listening to it a lot since it came out, and if you're a Dylan fan I recommend it. If you're only familiar with his early stuff and have been curious about what he's been up to lately, this isn't a bad place to start.

To get you started, here's teh oficial video for "Duquesne Whistle."

Check back soon for more reviews, including some unusual holiday stuff!

Total songs listened: 891

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Various Artists: Ghostbusters Original Sountrack Album

Review # 72
Artist: Various Artists
Title: Ghostbusters Original Soundtrack Album
Format: LP
Label: Arista Records
Year: 1984
Songs: 10

With Halloween fast approaching, I wanted to make sure I did at least one more seasonally themed review. Even if it weren't Halloween time, who doesn't love Ray Parker Jr.'s Ghostbusters theme song? It's catchy and fun. It went to #1 on the Billboard charts. Lawsuits from Huey Lewis aside, it's a great little tune and is a big part of what made the movie memorable.

 I put this record on every year at this time, and it brings back all kinds of childhood memories of playing Ghostbusters for hours, sometimes convincing neighbors to let me into their homes to search for ghosts, and on at least one occasion convincing one of them to play me for catching one.  I must have been a cute kid, I guess, to get away with charging my neighbors to play in their houses. I was borderline obsessed with the Ghostbusters from ages 6 to about 9, watching the cartoon show every Saturday and renting the movie countless times. The song "Ghostbusters" brings it all back, as do a few of the other tracks on this soundtrack.

Selecting this record for review, however, has reminded me why I almost never make it all the way through this LP. It's got some pretty bad patches. It starts strong with Ray Parker Jr.'s famous tune, and that's followed by the (I think) underappreciated BusBoys song "Cleanin' Up the Town." It's no "Ghostbusters," but this is a fun tune in a swingin' jazzy style about our heroes that gets your foot tapping and your fingers snapping. This is followed by Allesi's "Savin' the Day," which is super dramatic but fun synth-pop. It's cheesy, and it calls to mind the scene where the boys roll up to Spook Central to save the day, which, alongside the over-the-top dramatic cheese of the song itself makes this a fun one if you're a fan of the film.

But after that, it just goes downhill.  Side one finishes up with "In the Name of Love" by the Thompson Twins, which I just find annoying and can't really remember from the film, and then a boring song by the always faux-mantic Air Supply.  Side two doesn't improve much.  It starts with "Hot Night," performed by Laura Branigan, who sounds like a low-rent Pat Benatar. This is followed by Mick Smiley's "Magic," which is pretty forgettable. Then we get two songs from the score of the film, "Dana's Theme" and "Main Title Theme [Ghostbusters]," the latter of which is not an orchestral version of Parker's song as you might think, but instead is a piece instrumental music that plays repeatedly throughout the film. You might remember this tune, unless I'm mistaken, as "the music that plays while the Ghostbusters have to go up a lot of stairs." These are both pieces of music that work fine in the context of the film, but I'm not sure how well they stand alone. The record finishes with an instrumental version of Parker's #1 hit.

So, yeah.  I've never really thought about why I usually turn this off part way through the first side, but I guess the bottom line is, I really only want to hear the first three songs on this record, unless I'm hearing them in the context of the film, which I still love and watch every couple of years.

Everyone's heard these songs, especially the title track.  But you may not have seen the music video, which is hilarious and includes orignal content featuring our four ghost bustin' heroes.  You can check that out here:

I don't know if I'll get to another post before Halloween. If I do, I'll try to pick another seasonal choice, but if not, have a great Halloween, and don't be afraid of no ghosts.

Total songs listened: 881

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Review # 71
Artist: Bauhaus
Title: 1979-1983 Volume One
Format: CD
Label: Beggars Banquet
Year: 1986
Songs: 14

Hi everyone, and welcome to the first review from the new and less restricted 30,000 songs. Now that I'm not trying to do everything in alphabetical order anymore, I can make choices like this one, which I selected not only in keeping with rainy blustery weather and the approach of Halloween, but also in honor of Bela Lugosi. Lugosi, best known for playing the role of Dracula in the classic Universal Studios film of the same title, was the subject of Bauhaus's best known song "Bela Lugosi's Dead." Lugosi would be 130 years old today.

I love listening to Bauhaus this time of year. Without retreading too much of the same territory from review #30, I'll just mention here that Bauhaus are considered by many to be the first goth band. This cd spans the first four years of the band's singles, and you can hear the progression here from what was essentially a dark and strange take on the punk sound to something  that has evolved into an independent genre (albeit one with punk roots still clearly evident). Throughout, Bauhaus sounds dark and ominous. Their musical approach to this is an interesting one.  Drummer Kevin Haskin's lays down rhythms that sometimes border on tribal, relying heavily on his toms to keep time rather than ride or high-hat cymbals a typical rock drummer would use.  The song structure of most tracks is held together primarily by bassist David J., who's style is often minimalist and droning in a way that provides an ominous feel to the songs.  Guitarist Daniel Ash, meanwhile, lays down guitar tracks that, in many cases, primarily add an eerie texture created through high-pitched, echoey noises that you might think were improvised, if they didn't sound so perfect.  Only on a few occasions on this disc does he play what one would consider a chord progression. Peter Murphy rounds out the sound with nasal, almost shrieking vocals.  The overall sound is bleak and cold, and fits well with their generally creepy lyrics.

What are the songs about? Much of the time, it's hard to say but I think the short answer is "nothing nice." Death, strange sex, alienation. As I mentioned before, their best known song is "Bela Lugosi's Dead," a tribute to Lugosi that describes his funeral as if he were an actual vampire, an undead being who would probably rise again to continue his lonely existence. That might sound silly, but it's actually a great song in my opinion. My favorite, however, is "The Passion of Lovers." The lyrics of this song paint a surreal picture of tragic woman. The Internet tells me the song was inspired by the true story a couple that killed themselves, although I have no idea if that's actually true. I just know the chorus gets stuck in my head for days.

On that happy note, merry Lugosi Day.  More spooky-type music reviews coming soon!

Here's "The Passion of Lovers" if you want to check that out, and here's "Bela Lugosi's Dead."

Also, in case I depressed you with my review of this record, here's a fun video about Bela Lugosi's birthday.

Total songs listened: 871

Friday, October 19, 2012

A new approach

Hello readers,

It has been a while since I have posted. I've been extremely busy lately with job applications and my dissertation and my own music and have a hard time making time for this project. In the interest of facilitating more reviews being posted more often, I've decided to change my approach a bit.

Part of what has made it hard to keep up with this is the format and alphabet rules I set out at the beginning. It's not that I'm not listening to music, it's just that, when my time so limited, it's often hard to prioritize listening to a record that I may not really feel like listening to at that moment so I can write a post. Instead, I end up listeing to what I feel like, and not writing anything.  To get around this, I've decided to shift my reviewing approach to a more flexible one. Rather than only reviewing records of one specific format in alphabetical order (i.e. LPs by artists with names that start with "C"), I've decided to just review whatever I feel like listening to, regardless of format or alphabetic position.  Along the way, I'll make sure to throw in reviews of unusual and odd things I have in my collection that I might not normally listen to that much, but I'll do that only when I have time to. The rest of the time, you can expect posts about whatever struck my fancy that day, which might be anything in the collection--punk, folk, jazz, rap, whatever. I think this will keep things fresh, prevent there being 7 or 8 reviews in a row by the same artist, and allow me to write a review of whatever I put on while I was cleaning the living room, shaving, or doing the dishes.

So check back soon for a new review, maybe something Halloween flavored. Thanks for bearing with me.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

New Record! Appalachian Terror Unit: Greenwashing

Review # 70
Artist: Appalachian Terror Unit
Title: Greenwashing
Format: LP
Label: Vex/Profane Existence
Year: 2008
Songs: 7

We're going back to "A" one more time. My band had the privilege to open for these folks recently and I had to pick up their record. I was annoyed by having to go back to "A," but this record is well worth it.

Appalachian Terror Unit is an anarcho-punk/crust band from West Virginia. The sound is reminiscent of some of the heavier anarcho-punk bands like Amebix and Antisect that would become the sonic inspiration for crust punk. Featuring heavy (but not sludgy) guitars and shouty (but not overly growly) vocals, ATU fills that space that bands like Aus Rotten used to occupy in the late '90s. There's nothing super original about their musical performances--they play a genre. But they play it REALLY, REALLY well. The performances are flawless and powerful, the production feels full without being overproduced.

This record features female lead vocals that alternate with a male backing vocalist in a way that remind me a bit of Nausea. The singers deliver passionate, urgent protests against the drug war, environmental degradation, the two party system, commercialized health care, and similar topics. The lyrics are intelligent and the content seems well-researched and thoughtful (leaving aside some spelling and grammatical errors in the accompanying lyrics booklet). Some of the songs feature rants in the middle that add a lot more content and substance than some bands in the genre bring to their lyrics. While there's nothing terribly original about the topics or critiques they offer, the band does a bring an interesting perspective to their discussion of environmental issues. Hailing from West Virginia, the destruction that is  inherent in Appalachian coal mining is right in their backyards. They have firsthand experience with the devastation that this industry leaves behind, and their lyrics recognize the hazards that workers in this industry face, the damage that is wrought on the environment, and great lengths that industry will go to cover up both of these travesties.

All in all, if you like crust or heavy anarcho-punk, this record is really good. I'd go so far as to say it's a must have for fans of Amebix, Aus Rotten, Nausea, Anti-Sect, or Icons of Filth. And their nice folks, too!

Here's the title track if you want to check it out.

Total songs listened: 857

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Oscar Brand: Bawdy Songs & Backroom Ballads Volume 4

Review # 69
Artist: Oscar Brand
Title: Bawdy Songs and Backroom Ballads Volume 4
Format: LP
Label: Audio Fidelity
Year: 1957
Songs: 14

So, after triumphantly moving on to "C" records, I found this sitting in my pile of records I hadn't actually listened to yet. I've had this for a while and it should have been reviewed before now, but it's very appropriate that this is review number 69, because this is a record of dirty, prurient songs. Being an enthusiast of old folk music, I picked this up out of a dollar bin, never having heard of Oscar Brand but curious about these ditties. Brand was a Canadian born folk singer who specialized in some of the less family-friendly folk music of Europe and America, so much so that he released at least four volumes of these forgotten and filthy tunes.

I sort of thought this record wasn't going to be any good, but I was mostly wrong. This record is a fun compendium of old-time songs about illicit sex. Some of them are sort of subtle (emphasis on "sort of") like "Two Maidens" and "Basket of Oysters" (you can guess what that one's about), while others are so graphic that they couldn't be played on the radio without significant censorship. These songs really put the lie to the idea that modern forms like rap and hard rock have made music a corrupting influence. With several of the tracks on this record dating back to 1607, it is quite clear that raunchy songs are nothing new. Many of these songs have familiar tunes that might have you absent-mindedly tapping your foot before realizing this is not the song from your childhood (i.e. "Cindy," "The Wayward Boy," and "The Money Rolls In," the latter of which is sung to the tune of "My Bonnie" but deals with prostitution and related matters). The record also contains a song called "Sweet Violets," which turns out to be a forerunner of the 1940s novelty hit "Shaving Cream," with mostly similar verses and choruses that replace the "shhhhaving cream, be nice and clean, shave every day and you'll always look keen" with "sweet violets, sweeter than all the roses."

The actual performances of these songs are pretty ok. Brand and his accompanist Dave Sear are both competent guitarists/banjo players and sing these tunes with the gusto that songs like these really require to work. The one place where it sort of falls apart is with the accents. Brand does an ok Scotsman--good enough that I initially found myself wondering if he was actuallyScottishf. But his English accent, on embarrassing display throughout "Don't Call Me," a British soldier song, is just laughably bad. Every time he sings "Cor, blimey!" I cringe.  He would have been much better off to just sing these with his natural accent, or failing that, skip the British songs, because he just sounds silly.

Overall though, this is a pretty fascinating and fun look at the scandalous side of folk music, if you are interested in that sort of thing.

The only song from this record I could find streaming is one of the tamer ones, "The Wayward Boy." Enjoy!

Total songs listened: 850

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Cars: The Cars

Review # 68
Artist: The Cars
Title: The Cars
Format: LP
Label: Elektra/Asylum Records
Year: 1978
Songs: 9

Many people say that the Cars were basically a cleaned-up, commercial version of early punk, made marketable by stripping away most controversial elements of the form and divorcing it more or less entirely from the subculture. I think that's pretty much correct, but I like the Cars anyway. Even though the Cars were basically selling a safe version of much more interesting music happening at that time, it's impossible to deny that they knew how to write great pop songs, and on no record is that so wonderfully clear than on their self-titled debut LP. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that it is really the only Cars album you need.

Side A features three perfect pop gems that are, not coincidentally, three of the band's best known tracks: "Good Times Roll," "My Best Friend's Girl," and "Just What I Needed." I have stories about two of these three. Back when I used to work retail, I worked with a guy who'd been playing rock music for a long time and had toured as an opening act for the Cars way back in the day.  He claimed to have written "My Best Friend's Girl." Not the lyrics, but the music, he claimed, was taken from a song by the band he was playing with at the time. They were never, he said, given credit for writing the song nor payed for their tune. While his story sounded feasible, I'll never know if it was true or not. I can say that even 20 odd years later, he was still bitter about it. I guess if a famous band stole my song and I never made it, I'd be upset too.

"Just What I Needed" is my favorite track from the record, and indeed, my favorite Cars song. This song will forever conjure for me memories of the Hi*Score Arcade on Capitol Hill in Seattle. The Hi*Score was one of my favorite places to hang out between 1998 or so and the night they closed, which I think must have been 2001. It was a video and pinball game arcade that also sold 80s nostalgia items and often had all-ages punk rock shows in an era when those were very hard to come by in Seattle. There was a also a pretty good collection of zines there, and the owners didn't mind if you just came in and sat on the couch and read them. It was a real community space for the punk and DIY music scenes in Seattle for several years. The newspaper I helped found had its first meeting there, and I saw countless shows and spent hours playing pinball over the years that it was open.  And, for whatever reason, "Just What I Needed" always seemed to be playing on the jukebox when I walked in. I came to associate that song with the Hi*Score arcade. I went there the last night they were open, for the farewell party, and for once, it wasn't playing. After playing some games and chatting with the owner for a bit, I put "Just What I Needed" on the jukebox. It was the last quarter I spent at the Hi*Score, and I still feel wistful when I think about it.

So those are my stories.  The rest of the songs are also good. Side one concludes with "I'm in Touch With Your World" and "Don't Cha Stop," both of which are Devo-esque and the later of which has a driving beat and a lead guitar part that I love. Side two has another of their pop hits "Your All I've Got Tonight" and the eerie and synthesizer heavy "Moving in Stereo," which always conjures images for me of driving at night in the city. The only thing I don't like about this record is that it has a pretty weak finish. "All Mixed Up" is the only song on this record that sounds like boring '70s rock. It lacks the herky-jerky feel of many of the other songs on the record and the harmonies just come off a little too smooth and produced. Plus, it's the slowest song on the record. Poor choice for a closing number.

Aside from that though, it really covers just about every Cars song you could want, except I suppose "Let's Go" and "Drive," the latter of which I've never actually cared for, but I guess was a big hit. You can find this album at thrift stores (I did) and you should pick it up if you don't already own it.

Here's "Just What I Needed." If you can remember the Hi*Score, put this on and raise a glass.

Total songs listened: 836

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Charlie Byrd: Byrdland

Review # 67
Atist: Charlie Byrd
Title: Byrdland
Format: LP
Label: Columbia
Year: 1966
Songs: 11

Almost a year into the 30,000 Songs project, Charlie Byrd's Byrdland marks the final LP by an artist who's name begins with the letter "B."

This was a record I got from my dad and which I had never listened to prior to putting it on for review. While my copy has seen better days, I'm actually quite pleased to have this in my collection. This record is quintessential 1960s cocktail party music, without being bland or generic.

Byrd plays bossa nova influenced jazz on a classical guitar, backed by a a bass, piano, and drums. Some sparse horn work appears on some tracks, but never does it eclipse Byrd's excellent guitar playing. While I might not go so far as to use the word "virtuoso" to describe Charlie Byrd, he gets pretty close at times. His performances on this record are always precise and often innovative.

Interestingly, the music on this record manages to be a clear product of the era in which it was recorded, while also sounding fresh and interesting. It is clear that Byrd did not limit his musical intake to artists playing in the same genre as himself. Some of the songs that stand out most on this record have melodies that might be familiar to fans of other other genres of music.  One standout track is Byrd's rendition of the Beatles' "Girl" from the album Rubber Soul, which would have been released earlier the same year as Byrdland. Another interesting track is "Work Song." Drawn from the folk tradition, this is in fact an interpretation of a Mississippi cotton field song, which Simon & Garfunkel fans will note shares a melody with their "We've Got a Groovy Thing Goin,'" a song appearing on their Sounds of Silence album the same year that Byrdland was released. Sinatra fans, meanwhile, may be struck by the melody of "Manha de Carnaval," a famous bossa nova tune from the 1950s which is the basis of Frank's "A Day in the Life of a Fool." Sinatra's rendition appeared on his famous My Way album a couple of years after the release of Byrdland. Byrd makes all these songs his own, and while instrumental versions of this era often fall off the edge of the cliff between real jazz and elevator music, Charlie Byrd doesn't even approach it.

Byrdland, then, is clearly a record of it's time, drawing on a range of musical influences that were ascendant in the mid 1960s, yet does so without being derivative. Pick up a copy of this if you can, and have some friends over for martinis. You won't find many better records to listen to while you sip on a cocktail.

Here's Byrd's rendition of "Girl."
Total songs listened: 827

Monday, May 7, 2012

Charles W. Burpo: A Minister Speaks for God and Country

Review # 66
Artist: Charles W. Burpo
Title: A Minister Speaks for God and Country
Format: LP
Label: The Bible Institute of the Air
Year: Unknown
Tracks: 2

Welcome to the penultimate "B" LP review. Consistent readers may note that, once again there has been a long time between posts. There are two reasons for this. The first is that I got bedbugs, and dealing with that took up way too much of my time. The second reason though, is that I haven't been too excited about listening to this record, so I kept putting it off.

I actually bought this record. I bought it, though, to use for samples on the ill-fated second full-length by an old punk band I used to be in. Had the band survived (and released an LP), it would have been reviewed three or four records ago on this very blog. The samples would have appeared before or during a song called "Blind Faith" that denounced dogmatic adherence to religion and the ways that it is used to justify an array of harmful policies. But instead, the album was never recorded and I was left with this piece of crap LP.

Charles Burpo, who describes himself on the back cover of this record as "fiercely against Modernism, Communism, or any evil that will threaten my Country," was (is?) as the title suggests, a minister, and this record encapsulates a sermon and his reading of the Declaration of Independence, both backed with patriotic music.

I don't have overly much to say about this LP--I'll skip over the Declaration of Independence side of the record, because it really is just him reading it dramatically. The other side, a sermon entitled "The Old Moorings," is a scree that mixes Christian fundamentalism and paranoid far-right ideology as it bemoans the supposed moral collapse of America. There's anarchy in streets, people are mocking Christianity and turning away from the true American values that generations of American veterans fought for, blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.  It's much of the same nonsense you'd hear today if you tuned in TBN or any number of AM radio stations around the country. The only thing interesting about it really is the fact that, although this record must be at least 35 years old (hard to say exactly, couldn't find any information about it on the Internet), the words on this record could be spoken today by any number of television or radio ministers and would not sound any more dated than anything else those folks say. The notion that the real America is about to be destroyed by Secularists, Socialists, and Bears (oh my!) hasn't changed much in 60 years.

The sad thing is, if someone listens to this record 35 years from now, they'll probably say the same thing.

Total songs listened: 816

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Bristles: Lifestyles of the Poor and Unknown

Review # 65
Artist: The Bristles
Title: Lifestyles of the Poor and Unknown
Format: LP
Label: Beer City
Year: 1997
Songs: 10

Hello 30,000 Songs readers! Sorry about the long delay between posts.  I was out of the country for a while, and then I was sick for a bit (not unrelated), and then I had a lot of catching up to do on work because of being out of the country and/or sick for three weeks. I'm back, I have a brand new record needle, and I'm looking forward to finishing up the "B" LPs over the next week or so.

So, let's dive in. I own The Bristles' Lifestyles of the Poor and Unknown because of a miscommunication. Many years ago, I recommended to my friend Tim that he check out local punk band Bristle (the subject of my previous review). He mistakenly picked up this record by The Bristles, who I had never heard of before. Years later, as regular readers are aware, he moved away and I got all his vinyl, and thus, this record that I didn't actually recommend came to be in my collection.

The Bristles are (were? Not sure, and internet searches have been inconclusive) a street punk band from New Jersey, not to be confused with the European band of the same name. This record sounds like the type of rock 'n roll influenced street punk that I probably would have liked a lot between the ages of 17 and 22 but have mostly moved on from. The record reminds me a lot of Blanks '77, and like that band, the Bristles would probably be fun to see live, but aren't something I listen to much on record any more. The music here is fairly generic, sounding like a lot of mid to late 90s street punk bands. There's nothing seriously wrong with any of the songs, if that kind of music is your cup of tea, but listening to this record I found my attention wandering at times. The songs are up-tempo and some of them (such as "Blue Collar Crime" and "Local 827") are fun and kind of catchy, but there's just not a whole lot of depth to the music. Aside from the opening instrumental track "109," it more or less just does the same thing from beginning to end.

Lyrically, the band is class conscious and seems sincere. The songs on this record mostly deal with the frustration of being stuck in a working class lifestyle, with a couple of songs about unionism and one about using substances to escape the bleakness of this life. The hopelessness that comes with poverty is a great topic for a punk song, but here it starts to feel more than a bit repetitive. If you're looking for deep insights or correct spelling, the lyrics here provide neither.

In a final analysis, I would describe this record as just ok. I've listened to it twice now and could imagine maybe putting it on again some time when I'm in the mood for street punk. There are definitely a lot worse bands in this genre (some would say I myself have been in one, but that's neither here nor there). This record just doesn't excite me too much.

I looked on youtube but couldn't find any videos of the US based Bristles to post. There are some songs on their myspace if you want to look them up.

Look for another post about one of the more unusual records in my collection coming soon.

Total songs listened: 814

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Bristle: Won't Die For You

Review # 64
Artist: Bristle
Title: Won't Die For You
Format: LP
Label: Ransom Note Recordings
Year: 1995
Songs: 14

The last several posts now have been about Seattle area punk bands, and this review follows suit but also concludes that trend for the time being. Bristle is/was one of the most enduring and beloved Seattle punk rock bands.  I never got to see Bristle back in the early days down at the Lake Union Pub, but they're a band that refuses to stay dead. So, while Lonny, Tim, and Graham have all gone on to do other things (including but not limited to Dreadful Children, the Load Levelers, The Villans [sic], Skeezix, and Cyanide Destruct), Bristle still gets together for shows now and again, and the result is that I've seen them play a good number of times now. They're a great band and a nice bunch of guys.

What kind of music does Bristle play? Bristle plays punk. They're not part of this or that sub-genre. While the street punk influence on the band is probably most apparent on this record and all their releases, it's also easy to hear the influences of thrash, metal, and crust (especially in Lonny's guitar lines) and also '77 style and even pop punk influences (especially in the songs that Tim wrote). What this means is that if you like punk rock, there's something here for you, no matter which kind of punk is your particular cup of tea. Bristle is a political band when they want to be. Songs like "Officer Right," "No Society," and my personal favorite "Liberty's Lying" criticize consumer society, corrupt police, and jingoistic patriotism. Other songs like "Fired From Live" and "Stand My Ground," and "Judgement Day," however, deal with more personal issues like the loss of loved ones and the havoc that drug addiction wreak on people's lives. But it's not all doom and gloom either: there are also songs that are just silly fun, both lyrically and musically, like "Dodge Ram," a song about driving around in a Dodge Ram with no brakes, and "Lake Union Pub," an homage to long since closed Seattle bar that had notorious shows back in the days when people in Seattle still worried about the Teen Dance Ordinance. Regardless of the lyrical content, the songs are fast and fun. There's enough melody on this record for fans of melodic punk, but enough hard-edge to make it enjoyable for fans of hardcore punk, too.

Maybe that's why Bristle has been so loved by Seattle punks for so many years. The band doesn't try to sound like one scene, they just play songs they like. To the trained ear, there's a lot of diversity on this record. Bristle recently released a cd that includes everything except their most recent full length, which encompasses this whole record. One of these days I'll get around to reviewing that. I've held onto this record anyway, because it's just such a good collection of songs.

Some day I suppose Bristle will call it quites for good. They're all in other bands and none of them are getting any younger (but then, neither am I... I'm already 7 years older than Lonny was when this came out, so it's all relative I suppose). When that finally happens, the Seattle punk scene will have lost some of its greatest champions. In the meantime, next time Bristle gets together for a show, go check it out if you're in the area.

Suprisingly, I can't find a youtube video of anything from this record.  Sorry about that.

Just three more "B" reviews to go...
Total songs listened: 803

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Briefs: Sex Objects

Review # 63
Artist: The Briefs
Title: Sex Objects
Format: LP
Label: BYO Records
Year: 2004
Songs: 14

Sex Objects is the third LP by the Briefs, and, like their first LP which was the subject of the previous review to this one, it's a fun and bouncy record of '77 style punk tunes in the vein of Generation X, Eater, 999, the Jam, and so on. Musically, it's a little more developed and complex than the first record, with better use being made of having two guitars in the band. Lyrically, while there's plenty snotty and/or goofy songs that are more attitude than content (e.g. "So Stupid," "Antisocial" and the title track "Sex Objects"), there are also some songs that  make a stab at social commentary. This record was released the year that George W. Bush, the president who was (rightly) the most maligned by punk rockers since Ronald Reagan was re-elected, and songs like "Orange Alert," "No More Presidents," and even the sillier "Vitamin Bomb" clearly reflect that social context. The lyrics and music, then, are both a bit more mature than their first effort.

So in a lot of ways, this record is objectively better than Hit After Hit, which has left me sitting her playing the record and wondering why I don't like it as well. Don't get me wrong, it's a fine record, but I never even got around to buying it--it's another one of the records I got from my friend Tim when he moved to NYC and abandoned his record collection. I've given it some thought this morning and I think I've figured it out. This record has more lyrical depth and musical complexity, but the fact is, that's just not what I ever wanted from the Briefs. The reason their first album was so great was that it was just so much fun to bounce around to. It was stripped down and basic and didn't make you think. It captured the simplicity that made the first records by many of the first wave of British punk bands fun and different from the lumbering dinosaurs of '70s rock that punk rock put out to pasture. Make no mistake, Sex Objects is still a fun and enjoyable record, but it lacks that primal feeling of "who cares, let's just play some fast music" that characterized the first LP. Probably if I heard Sex Objects for the first time in the year 2012, and then heard Hit After Hit for the first time shortly afterward, I'd think Sex Objects was the better LP. But as I mentioned in the last review, the Briefs' first record was the right record at the right time in the Seattle music scene and its simplicity and devil-may-care attitude was part of that.

Lest you should think I don't like this record, let me be clear: this is a fine record and I enjoy listening to it. If you like '77 style punk, this is worth having in your collection. Check out the title track "Sex Objects" and decide for yourself.

Total songs listened: 789

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Briefs: Hit After Hit

Review # 62
Artist: The Briefs
Title: Hit After Hit
Format: LP
Label: Dirtnap Records
Year: 2000
Songs: 13

In the Northwest at the beginning of the century there was an explosion bands that hearkened back musically to the first wave of punk. After reeling  and catching its fall in the post "grunge" years, the local scene in the mid to late '90s was dominated by metallic hardcore, crust, and some 1980s style street punk. After years of this, the blossoming of '77 style and new wave influenced bands was like a breath of fresh air. I love the hardcore of the 1990s, don't get me wrong, but even I was getting bored with going to see metaly crust, crusty metal, and metaly hardcore every single weekend, and the Briefs were at the forefront of a wave of poppy '77 style punk rock that injected a lot of energy and fun into the scene for a couple of years.

Hit After Hit is the band's debut LP, and while all of their records are solid, this one really is the one with the hits on it. Reminiscent of the Buzzcocks, Eater, Generation X, the first Adverts singles, the Ramones, and just a hint of Devo and maybe even the Cars, this record is high energy fun from beginning to end. Even the subject matter recalls the early punk bands--"Silver Bullet," for example, is a song about the urgent need to "kill Bob Seeger right now," a sentiment which would have made more sense in a musical era in which Bob Seeger was still considered musically relevant than in the early 2000s. But don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. The Briefs (and this record in particular) were a nice break from hardcore, and the music on this record, while perhaps not totally original, is a flawless take on a classic sound. The songs are incredibly catchy and, while I haven't played this disc in a while, it always has me bouncing around the room, singing and along and making snotty faces.

There's not really a bad song on here, but side A dominates, with four of the six songs among my favorite tunes by the band. "Poor and Weird," aside from being incredibly fun, expresses a sentiment that most punk rockers feel at some point in their lives: "I'm poor and I'm weird, you've got no time for me." Alienation with attitude, like the best of the first wave of punk bands. "Sylvia" is one of the most driving and fun punk songs ever to come out of Seattle. Then there's the aforementioned "Silver Bullet" and the mid-tempo live favorite "Rotten Love." The gem on side B is "New Shoes," which, along with being  a great pop song, pokes fun at the fashion-obsessed and self-satisfied. There's not a lot of depth to any of the lyrics on this record, and it's not really about that, but it's still nice to have a couple of songs that comment on something you can relate to. The band would make a couple of attempts to be a little more serious on later releases, but "New Shoes" and "Poor and Weird" are as close to that as you get on this LP, which again, is a nice change from the unrelenting earnestness of crust and hardcore.

In short, if you're looking for some fun '77 style punk that doesn't take itself too seriously, it's hard to beat Hit After Hit, this side of 1979.

Total songs listened: 775

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Born/Dead & Consume: Split LP

Review # 61
Artist: Born/Dead & Consume
Title: Split LP
Format: LP
Label: Yellow Dog
Year: 2003
Songs: 15

My last two reviews have featured complex records by innovative bands. This one doesn't, really. Born/Dead and Consume are generic, but I don't mean this in a negative way. They aren't generic in the sense necessarily of being bland or boring, but rather in the sense that they represent well the qualities of a genre of music. From the grainy black and white cover featuring armed to insurgents to the typewriter font lyrics poster, to the recording quality of these fifteen songs of angry protest, everything about the record conjures in my mind a hundred memories from the last 13+ years of dark rooms filled with black-clad punks, packed in to see to see the touring band or some local favorites on a Saturday night. This record sounds like crust. If you like crust, there's a lot to like here.

Let's start with the Born/Dead side. Born/Dead, not to be confused with Born Dead Icons, play Tragedy-esque hardcore punk. With alternating vocals, heavy guitars, one long sample, and pounding drums change effortlessly between breakneck speed and mid-tempo shout out parts, this band may not be doing anything new, but what they are doing, they do very well. Their lyrics address poverty, the military industrial complex, the culture of surveillance, the objectification of women, and the inability or unwillingness of either the left or the right to deal with any of these problems. Born/Dead are an anarchist crust band. If you've listened to many bands like this, you won't find a lot of surprises here, but what you will find is the style done right. It's passionate, high-energy, and musically competent.

While I don't have any deep investment in Born/Dead as a band, the same cannot be said of Consume. Consume was a Seattle band in the early part of the 21st century, during a time when I went to DIY punk shows nearly every weekend and was playing more than a few myself. The band included at least one member of late '90s Seattle punk luminaries Whorehouse of Representatives, and were one of my favorite local bands during their existence. I was disappointed when they went their separate ways (although the gap has largely been filled by Deathraid, which contains, if I'm not mistaken, at least a couple of the same folks). So obviously, I have a personal bias in favor of this side of the record. Consume played fast, metallic dbeat crust with socially conscious lyrics. Perhaps slightly less articulate than Born/Dead, these songs are none the less impassioned statements against war, consumerism, dependence on television, and, of course, George W. Bush. Everyone had a song about him back then, and rightly so. These songs are faster than the Born/Dead side of the record, and perhaps slightly less complex. It's just good, straight-up crust, played well. They were a lot of fun to see live back in the day.

I couldn't find a song from the Born/Dead side of this record on youtube, but here's "Walk the Plank" from the Consume side.

Total songs listened: 762

Monday, January 9, 2012

Born Against: Nine Patriotic Hymns for Children

Review # 60
Artist: Born Against
Title: Nine Patriotic Hymns for Children
Format: LP
Label: Prank Records
Year: 1991
Songs: 9

Born Against's Nine Patriotic Hymns for Children is a classic of 1990s hardcore punk. Over two decades later, Born Against remains one of most influential and memorable hardcore bands ever, and for good reason. With inventive guitar work and thought-provoking and sometimes self- and/or scene- critical lyrics, Born Against is the thinking man's hardcore band. This record showcases the band in top form. Many of the songs feature numerous tempo changes and guitar leads that often venture into dissonant and angular territory, alongside crushingly heavy distorted bass lines, pounding drums, and the crazed screams of vocalist Sam McPheeters. McPheeters alternates between incisive critiques, incoherent, frenzied babble, and desperate screeching (the lyric sheet actually includes "fgggffgt blaggga bdhg" in the song "Orang of Hope"). Musically, you get the best that straight-up, impassioned hardcore has to offer, along with a healthy dose of creative musicianship.

Lyrically, these songs are intelligent and highly critical of both mainstream American culture and all it's trappings (television, religion, and the "Jock Gestapo" that made so many of our lives miserable in high school) but likewise do not spare the counterculture.  In "Mount the Pavement," for example, the band points out that, unlike so many other nations, we in America (mostly) don't have "the boot to our heads," yet we still (mostly) fail to stand up against authority when it commits acts of injustice, a common theme running through many of the band's songs. The band's (and especially McPheeters) willingness to criticize punk scene participants for what they viewed as hypocrisy and simplistic thinking made Born Against somewhat divisive in their time, from what I understand. Today, their inventive hardcore still stands out, but is less controversial, as most fans of crust and hardcore punk have embraced Born Against in the years following their breakup.

This record features my favorite Born Against Song, "Well Fed Fuck." It's lyrical simplicity and repetition are reminiscent of Discharge, but it's sarcastic tone makes it feel less cliched. The music is relentlessly crushing, and McPheeters sounds more maniacal than on nearly any other song I know by the band.

A feature of this record that is worth noting is that the back of the outer sleeve features the full text of Mark Twain's "War Prayer," a short story critiquing the patriotic fervor, religious dogma, and willful blindness to the consequences of violence that go hand in hand with war.

In short: this is a gem of the 1990s hardcore scene, recommended to anyone who likes this sort of music.

Total songs listened: 747

Friday, January 6, 2012

New Record! Age of Collapse: Burden of Beast

Review # 59
Artist: Age of Collapse
Title: Burden of Beast
Format: LP
Label: Aborted Society Records
Year: 2011
Songs: 7

Happy New Year, readers!

I've been trying to finish up my "B" LPs for a while now, but I just keep on buying "A" records and having to backtrack. I've actually passed up a couple of "A" records that I wanted lately, because I don't want to back up again, at least until I get on to another letter of the alphabet. But I couldn't pass on the new Age of Collapse LP. I've been into this San Diego based band for a couple of years now, ever since I first saw them play at the now defunct vegan restaurant Squid & Ink and picked up their excellent split album with Warscroll. My band had the privilege of opening for Age of Collapse on Tuesday of this week, and after hearing the new material in their set, there was simply no way I could pass up their new LP (not that I really planned to).

I'll put this in simple terms and then elaborate: If you like crust at all, go get this as soon as you can, because this record is phenomenal.

Age of Collapse demonstrates with their new LP Burden of Beast that they are one of the best bands today playing in the crust punk genre. Their music is intense and spirited, but unlike so many punk rock bands, they refuse to trade trade proficiency and innovation for energy and passion. This band manages to escape that devil's bargain that so many bands fall prey to. They are as precise as any metal band and inventive as any prog or experimental band, yet manage to hold on to all the passion, energy, and excitement of the best hardcore bands. This record is the best of both worlds. Add to that that it is beautifully packaged clear vinyl and includes a free MP3 download of the album and you have no reason not to pick up this fantastic LP.

The music here shows a clear Neurosis influence, and listening to it, I also hear what appears to be an Iron Maiden influence in some of the lead guitar lines. Tempo changes abound, reminding me of some of the better crust and hardcore bands from the late 1990s (e.g. Botch). Melodic yet crushing bass lines weave in and out of the guitars, adding another level of sophistication to the music. Desperate, roaring vocals are backed with higher, shrieking backing vocals. The songs alternate between morose, trudging slow parts and moments of such intense speed that I am reminded of bands like Stack, Spazz, and Capitalist Casualties. Judicious use of guitar effects other than distortion create a layered sound without veering into shoegazey territory, and precise drumming with occasional hints of a tribal style pound out furious rhythms. This record really has the best off everything that crust punk can be.

The lyrics are very good too. The songs on this record speak out against environmental devastation, vivisection, and the confines that technological society impose on all our lives, and does so in a way that avoids sloganeering and mostly steers clear of cliche. The songs often use stories to make a point rather than simply saying: "it's bad to shoot wolves from helicopters," or "it's bad to kill elephants for ivory." And, to top it all off, the writing at times verges on poetic. Not in a crappy high school poetry sort of way, either. The lyrics are articulate, well crafted, and compelling. It is clear that as much care was invested in the lyrical content of these songs as was invested in crafting the music of these songs.

Burden of Beast is, in my view, one of the best records to come out in 2011. It came out so late in the year that I expect it missed a lot of people's top 10 lists, but I'll say it again: if you like crust punk at all, this record is a must. It's powerful, compelling, and interesting from beginning to end. It demonstrates what punk rock can be when placed in the hands of creative and competent musicians. And on top of that, they're a nice bunch of folks.

I'll stop gushing now.

Age of Collapse has a bandcamp site. If you haven't heard this album, go listen to these songs now.

Total songs listened: 738