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