1) CRUSADES - Perhaps You Deliver This Judgement With Greather Fear Than I Receive It - [No Idea Records]
I had no doubt in my mind that Crusades, whose debut full-length was my favorite release of 2011 by such a large margin it felt weird even bothering with the rest of the list, would deliver with this new album. And, shocker, deliver they did. I will say, I didn't anticipate them dominating another year-end list, and yet here we are. Good for them. This sophmore triumph finds the group eschewing a bit of the familiar Samiam/Face to Face nostalgia that won them a place in my heart initially in favor of a darker, moodier sound that's more uniquely their own, though one that would still sound perfectly at home on a dusty VHS compilation of skateboarders falling down. "Perhaps You Deliver..." is a concept album about Giordano Bruno, a 15th century martyr whose torture/execution Crusades maintain constitutes a damning argument against the church. Pretty heady stuff, that, but hey, at least it's catchy!
2) NONA - Through the Head - [Mandible Records]
Let it not be said that 2013 didn't prove an exceptional extention of the recent 90's-revival trend (this very best-of list will handily prove as much). Personally, I couldn't be more for it. I spent the 90s in middle/high school exposing myself to as much of what was happening music-wise as possible. Those were my formative years. So, you know, this is a bit of a treat for me. And Nona is a standout band amidst the trend. Harkening back to sounds as vast as Superchunk and Veruca Salt while still retaining a vital and exciting originality that's kept this album playing on repeat for me througout the bulk of the year. Nona is one of the more exciting newer bands around, and this album is absolutely stellar.
3) RVIVR - The Beauty Between - [ Rumbletowne Records]
I love this band so much it's stupid. I had the great fortune to see them live twice this year and was shocked to see how little justice their recorded output does them, especially considering how much I absolutely adore their recorded output. Yeah, this is a sensationally talented band, urgent and passionate and important. One of the big things that attracted me to punk rock in the first place as a sheltered young suburban kid from Minnesota was its political leanings and its collective yearning for social justice. RVIVR carry on that crucial torch of punks who sing about giving a shit about shit that actually matters. God bless 'em for it.
4) THE COURTNEYS - s/t - [Hockey Dad Records]
It's like there's a party in my ears and I'm actually invited! Woohoo! A welcome throwback to the more pop-centric groups of the pacific northwest riot grrl scene (Bratmobile, Sleater-Kinney, etc). Straight outta Vancouver, B.C., singing songs about watching Beverly Hills 90210 and dating irritating boys, I don't really know what more you could possibly ask for from a band. This album is so full of win it's insane.
5) THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS - Nanobots - [Idlewild Recordings]
Fuck you, kid, these guys are the real deal. It always shocks the hell out of me when a band puts out something so strong a million years and a thousand LPs into their career, but here we go. This is probably TMBG's best album since Factory Showroom (or at least since Mink Car). If you were a fan once upon a time and lost track for whatever reason, it's time to come back. And if that song about Nikola Tesla doesn't make you cry, then I'm sorry, but that was a test, and it turns out you have no soul.
6) SWEARIN' - Surfing Strange - [Salinas/Wichita]
I didn't really think these kids could get better than on their debut LP, and yet here we are. Equal parts modern porch-punk and 90s-retro Pavement-esque dreamy pop. I wasn't quiet about the fact that P.S. Eliot was one of my favorite bands to come out of the past decade, and I was heartbroken when they broke up. I couldn't be more pleased that both the Crutchfield sisters have continued on with their own projects. And, as much as I dig Waxahatchee, I feel like Swearin' retains the edge for me if only for its sincere and passionate dedication to keeping things at least a bit on the pop punk side.
7) WRINGER - Bullfighter - [Smellhound Records]
Wringer is an all-male pop punk trio from Indiana that quite miraculously sounds nothing at all like Dillinger Four or the Copyrights. I didn't realize that was even still an option! This album is just killer, such great songwriting, super catchy, lots of fun.
8) RADIOACTIVITY - s/t - [Dirtnap Records]
Radioactivity is Mark and Jeff from the Marked Men reunited under a deceptively changed moniker. I say deceptively because this is basically just the Marked Men. They're back, and it's just as glorious as you think it's gonna be. Lightning fast powerpoppunk from the guys who perfected the sound years ago, back again to show all the kids how it's done. Fine by me, I never wanted them to leave in the first place.
9) BENNY THE JET RODRIGUEZ - Home. Run - [Recess Records]
Good tiiiiiimes, good times. This sounds like the kinda stuff you expect to hear playing over a montage of 8mm footage of punks running around having fun on a beach. If that makes any sense? I don't know, ten album descriptions is a lot for me, cut me some slack. What's important is Benny the Jet Rodriguez are badass and I love them and so will you.
10) DIRECT HIT! - Brainless God - [Red Scare Industries]
You know how they say, at the beginning of the Big Lebowski, that sometimes there's a person who just fully encapsulates the mood and spirit of the time and place in which they exist? Well, that's a regular phenomenon musically, too, and Direct Hit are fully the Dude for the 2013 punk scene. Encapsulating everything modern without being trite. Frenetic, spastic, anthemic, brilliant. It's only a matter of seconds before Direct Hit is the biggest band in all of punk music, mark my words.
[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE]
I got to hang out with a Famous Celebrity Friend last night and he asked me to draw a picture of us together for him to Instagram, so now WHO’S NAME-DROPPING WHO??
by Mitch Clem
Jump to page 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6
Alright, we're on installment five of six, that means we're almost done! Finally, right? Let's get on with this:
OFF WITH THEIR HEADS - Hospitals - [2006, Recess Records / Rock Bottom Records]
Depression got ahold of me, depression gonna kill me, depression got ahold of me, depression GONNA KILL ME BA BA BUP BUP BAAAA NAAA NA NA NAAAA NAAAAA
I write about being sad too much. I write about all the same things I write about too much too much.
It's dumb, you know, making comics about your life when you don't ever do shit. I did like three in a row for Razorcake just about ennui. Like, UGH WHO CARES? And getting super, super personal is problematic. On the one hand, people like being able to relate to you on a human level, and, I've noticed, that if you're prone to depression or anxiety or maybe suicidal impulses every now and then WHO'S ASKING HUH, that the more open and honest you are about those experiences, the more other people in that same, dark, lonely situation are prone to go "Oh my god, dude, me too." But then, on the other hand, for every person who gets it and relates and appreciates your voice there are a thousand who say "Get over it" "Cheer up" "Stop being such a whiner" "White people problems" "Shut up, quit begging for attention" "When are you gonna bring back Nothing Nice to Say?" ETC ETC ETC ETC
So it's hard. It's hard being fucked-up in the head, because other people who aren't fucked-up in the head either 1) Can't relate at all and thus belittle you for not being able to overcome something they don't even have any idea about, or 2) THINK falsely that they've been in the same boat and it was no big deal for THEM so it should be equally easy for YOU ya dumb crybaby.
To whom can you turn? With whom can you talk? Loved ones are OUT OF THE QUESTION, because any talk of suicidal thoughts is automatically a threat, or an attack against them and "what did I do wrong" etc, as though logic plays that clearly into it. Therapists, fuck, therapists cost MONEY. You need INSURANCE for that. Out of the question.
So what's left for us but the camaraderie of art and music? To whom else can we turn but to other fucked-up sad sacks the world over who share our defects and understand them and don't belittle them or use them as opportunities to gain one-up over us?
My favorite song about depression is the song "Everybody Knows You're Crying" by the Mr. T Experience. Seriously, he couldn't hit the nail any harder on the head if METAPHOR ABOUT NAILS OR SOMETHING. The loneliness, the people around you who don't get it offering their empty, patronizing advice, which ultimately leaves you even lonelier than before. Goddamn perfect song.
All the rest are by Off With Their Heads. Respect.
P.S. ELIOT - Introverted Romance in Our Troubled Minds - [2009, Salinas Records]
More porch punk, this time less technically inclined than Good Luck but just as inclined, like, emotionally or whatever. The Crutchfield sisters are like these sonic goddesses sent to Earth to share the magic of just how goddamn awesome music is capable of being. These songs are so great, so wonderful, such amazing lyrics and beautiful singing... I love this album, and I loved this band, and I will continue to follow the musical careers of the Crutchfield sisters well into the future.
PARASITES - Pair - [1994, Shredder / Munster Records]
Ninth grade, I think it was. The Queers, the Mr T Experience, and the Parasites all played together at First Avenue in Minneapolis. That's one of those lineups that I can tell people about now and they'd shit themselves. And rightly so, it was incredible. Truth be told, I spent most of the night wondering why the Queers were headlining and not MTX, but, ya know, so it goes.
The Parasites played first and, you know, didn't really seem to grab the crowd's attention all that well. One of those scenarios where, look, it's a huge, huge show, and everyone there was eighteen. Kids that didn't know to pay attention to the openers yet. What can you do. So they played their set and it was really great. They played "Ronny is a Psycho" and I recognized it from that Joe Queer comp. My friend and I had a great time. But then, to close their set, and this was actually pretty funny, the lead singer goes, "Okay, we're gonna play one more song, but first, I've got something to say. I mean, ahem, HIIIII GAWT SOMETHINNA SAAAYYYY" and they launch into a dead-on cover of "Last Caress". This was amusing not just because of how he introduced the song, which was comedy gold (NOTE: comedy gold via on-stage concert banter is weighed on a different scale than via actual comedy), but because, as soon as they hit those three notes after the opening line, BAM BAM BUMMM, EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN THE VENUE RAN, not walked, not jogged, RAN to the front of the stage and jumped around and screamed like idiots. THAT got everyone's attention.
Ben Snakepit is a friend of mine. I know, I'm a pretty cool dude. He used to play in a band that did a cover of "Parents" by the Descendents as their set closer, which I always got a big kick out of. I told him as much one time, and he told me that he'd learned, over years of playing in opener bands, to always close with a cover song everyone knows. Because, no matter what, almost no one is paying attention to you the whole time, but if your closer is something memorable, they'll walk away remembering only that they liked you. Those of you who read the intro in Turnstile Comix #1 (available now at Silver Sprocket!) remember my story about misremembering the artist who another of Ben's bands closed their set with at a Slow Death show one time (I thought it was Flipper, it was the Dead Kennedys). Smart! And now I told his secret to all you. Oops.
After the show, my mom picked us up and brought us home (I was like 13, shut up) and told me, privately afterwards, that she could smell smoke on both me and my friend and thus knew we were smoking and was mad. In hindsight, we probably were, but walking out of a venue before all these smoking bans meant you reeked like smoke no matter how straight-edge you were. Thank god for smoking bans.YEAH I SAID IT.
PINHEAD GUNPOWDER - Goodbye Ellston Avenue - [1997, Lookout! Records]
San Francisco, California. Why does this list keep coming back to this one week? Whatever. Pinhead Gunpowder were playing a show and I was SO STOKED to get to see a cool SF band in SF and then realized the show was 21+ and got bummed. BUMMED ON A VACATION YOU GUYS. No good.
Who cares. Ummm I already talked a ton about why Aaron Cometbus is my co-pilot so I guess all that's left is the fact that the best benefit to liking this band is knowing Billy Joe Armstrong was in another band besides Green Day and getting to put them on and someone at the party goes "Durr what Green Day album is this" and you get to be all "Bro this ain't even Green Day DON'T YOU KNOW ANYTHING UGH WHY ARE WE EVEN FRIENDS" but it's cool because at least you're at a party so things can't be too bad.
PROPAGANDHI - Today's Empires, Tomorrow's Ashes - [2000, Fat Wreck Chords]
When Propagandhi's first album came out I insisted Chris sang like a pirate.
Propagandhi went through a significant lineup change between their second and third albums. John K Sampson had been on bass through the first two LPs, and even lent lyrics and vocals to a tune here and there. Thing was, his songwriting and vocals were comically out of place. Seriously, "girls with the greenest eeeyyyyyyyes..." I mean come on. But, of course, I loved the band and I loved his contributions, so I'd have defended him to the ends of the Earth.
Then he left. And, you know, it seemed like a bummer. And I guess it was a bummer up until each of the following two things happened:
1) You heard the Weakerthans, the band John left Propagandhi to form, and the band for whom his songwriting and vocals take the forefront in a far more appropriate manner. The Weakerthans are breathtaking in their poetic beauty and their only downside I can see is that they don't have ten million more albums.
2) You heard Propagandhi with Todd "The Rod" The Rod from I Spy in John's place.
Because good fucking god did these guys come into their own once a more appropriate bassist and co-singer came into play. Again, I love John, really, but he just didn't FIT in an anarcho-skatepunk band! And, without him, the group has gained focus and chops enough to be one of the coolest speed metal bands around.
But, you know, their third album still kinda counts as the early days, the portent of things to come. Musically they were still super melodic, kinda funny (but no longer jokey), but still recognizable as the same ultra political anarchistic fun-loving punk rock troubadours that brought you "Stick the Fucking Flag Up Your Goddamn Ass You Sonofabitch (Not to be Gender Specific, Of Course)".
Say what you will for their music now, the humor replaced with morbid brevity and the tunes upped to the relative intensity of a root canal (I mean, you know, I like it, but I get why some fans wouldn't), but, with Today's Empires, Propagandhi hit a clear apex.
THE QUEERS - Love Songs For the Retarded - [1993, Lookout! Records]
You move to a different town on the other side of the country and it's like, completely different bands touring through. When I lived in Minnesota I saw the Queers once, and I feel like I missed them maybe two other times. And yet, I moved to Texas, and all of a sudden I saw them three times within my first two years here. And it's not like they're from anywhere closer to Texas than Minnesota. I mean, New Hampshire? Kinda random.
I fucking hate stage diving. Like, seriously, that shit is SO ANNOYING. Dude, I am trying to enjoy myself at a show, it is NOT ENJOYABLE when you jump on stage and throw yourself out over the crowd so now I have to get sucked out of it, now I can't hear the music, I can only fixate on you and catching you and holding you up while you flail about and kick me in the head and UGH. Seriously, congratulations for having seen MTV, you're a big fucking rock star, now KNOCK IT OFF, I'm trying to enjoy the fucking band here.
At some point I decided, enough with this. You wanna jump on my fucking HEAD? Try it. But I'm not catching you. You wanna stage dive, I don't make the rules, I can't stop you. But you can't make me put up my arms. You can't make me catch you, you can't stop me from moving out of the way. YOU DON'T HAVE THE RIGHT TO RUIN MY FUN JUST BECAUSE YOU WANNA ACT LIKE A DUMB SHIT.
Did I mention I hate stage diving?
So I stopped catching people. Fuck em. Let em fall. Assholes.
I can only imagine this was what got someone pissed at me when the Queers opened for the Briefs in Austin. I can't think of anything else I was doing that would piss someone off enough that, while I'm jumping around, having fun, singing along to a band I dig, some fucker would come up behind me, grab the hood of my sweatshirt, and fucking PULL ME down onto the ground.
I jumped up and turned around, trying to see who did it. No one would even make eye contact with me. My attacker blended in with the crowd like the coward he was.
So they'd surrounded me. Nowhere to go but to stand in the back with my arms folded, lest some butthole from either side decides I have no right to enjoy myself at a show.
Friends don't let friends stage dive.
RADON - 28 - [1998, No Idea Records]
(NOTE: Here's another instance of my preview song from an album I picked being from a different album than my selection because my selection doesn't have any tracks up on YouTube. Otherwise I woulda picked "Science Fiction". But, actually, "Kibbles and Bits" is my favorite Radon song, even if it is from a different record, so fuck it, this works.)
Why did I put Radon on this list and not J Church? Man I must be some kinda special dummy if I can get away with shit like this and people still take anything I say seriously.
Gainesville, Florida is a hell of a town. Bands play shows at laundromats and, if you're either not careful or specifically daring, you can be eaten alive by an alligator. Tons of prominent punk bands have emerged from the swamps of Gainesville and risen to rather prominent ranks (Less Than Jake, Hot Water Music...)
But, I'd spoken earlier of the influence a city can have on the sounds of its resident musicians, and I feel like no band fully encapsulates that feeling of Gainesville quite like Radon. Jangly guitars, sloppy musicianship, a kind of aura around them at all times that suggests, "fuck it, we don't really care." But not, like, not in that phoney baloney youngter rock and roll poser way, like those twenty year-olds who sag their tight black jeans, white studded belts, BIG HAIR, staying up late studying their Johnny Thunders albums praying to get the whole image JUST RIGHT. That shit is the least rock and roll thing ever, I find it so irritating. No, Radon doesn't really care not because they actually don't care. Because it's just, like, fuck it, dude, we're having a good time. Don't worry about it. You know? It's central Florida, it's hot, everyone's drunk and it's a Tuesday night.
Maybe it's because I'm old and boring. Who knows. But these songs just absolutely do it for me. A beautiful, sloppy mess. Punk fucking rock.
RIVERDALES - Storm the Streets - [1997, Honest Don's Hardly Used Records]
Seriously, why am I allowed to talk about music? Christ.
RIVETHEAD - City Sound Number Five / Cheap Wine of Youth - [20?? - Recess Records]
These guys only ever released two EPs, so I'm counting them both as one installment in this list.
These guys used to open for Dillinger Four like EVERY TIME Dillinger Four played a show. To an insane extent. Also one of them used to wear the same Queers shirt every time I saw them play.
This is a Queers-heavy installment today, jeez.
Anyhow, in punk rock, there were outliers that sat sort of in the shadows of the heavy-hitters despite generally being just as good. Your Parasites, your Vindictives, etc. And then there were the outliers' outliers, who were impossibly obscure and yet, again, just as good as those who sat on the thrones. So, like, okay, you've got Screeching Weasel, who were amazing and blah blah blah. Then, slightly in their shadow, you had the Vindictives, who were not as popular as Screeching Weasel but kinda similar sound-wise and just as good, really, if not as prolific. Then, standing there in the shadow of both, you had Rivethead.
They sounded pretty much exactly like you'd expect, just a young band who obviously really dug Screeching Weasel and the Vindictives, but who were just as goddamn amazing as both of them combined. Cool lyrics about being poor and sad in a cold city, lightning-fast blasts of music, and, to an extent almost ahead of their time, the music was GRUFF and AGGRESSIVE and ANGRY in a way unconventional for pop punk. Pop punk was so frequently slick and singy and Rivethead were just dirty and angry.
Yeah, these guys were fucking awesome, I'm glad I got to see them so many times.
SCARED OF CHAKA - Masonic Youth - [1996, Empty Records]
ARE YOU KIDDING ME?? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?? If you don't like Scared of Chaka, you are a fucking chump, no bones about it. Jesus ass. This album is UNSTOPPABLE YOU HEAR ME? UNSTOPPABLE.
One of the last times I was in Minneapolis I popped back into the Red Dragon with some friends, including an ex who I was afraid would hate me because of what a butthead I was when we broke up but, turned out, she didn't, so it was cool. We got drunk as shit and she stepped outside to smoke, and I followed her and told her smoking was dumb and not refreshing and that we should do jumping jacks instead. And we did, we did a bunch of jumping jacks and laughed and it was good times. See? I used to be fun.
Anyhow I bring it up because my other friend and I were listening to Scared of Chaka on the drive out.
Is this a phone-in? Am I phoning this in? Trying to think if I even have a Scared of Chaka story. I mean, that same friend and I saw them at the 7th Street Entry in Minneapolis when they were touring for Crossing With Switchblades, that's something. They were super funny between songs. They'd just replaced their bassist with this woman Gwen Stubbs and, constantly, between like every song, kept saying "Gwen Stubbs on bass, everybody." You know. So that was pretty funny.
I have a Crossing With Switchblades tattoo, true story, and I have several times now run into a guy in Austin, Texas with the same tattoo, but smaller, and on a different part of his arm. And I've met him more than once and always forget his name. Andrew? Could it possibly be Andrew? He's not even from Austin, he keeps coming through with other random bands and all I know about him is that we have the same tattoo and that I like him, so, whenever I see him at a show, he'll say hi and I'll wind up feeling like a dick for not remembering anything about him other than the tattoo and that I like him. Should I be drinking less, maybe? Or maybe I'm really just a dick? At least this list is almost over.
by Mitch Clem
Jump to page 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6
by Mitch Clem
Jump to page 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6
Man, all this writing is getting exhausting. I definitively got this list down from 71 to a nice, round 60 albums, so it will indeed remain a six-part series rather than spilling out to seven as previously thought. Of course, the focus just keeps slipping further and further from traditional pop punk as it goes, but, fuck it. That's alright. By the way, if anyone at Spin sees all this and wants to pay me a stupid amount of money to write about some boring radio-rock band you guys are schilling now, I am not afraid of selling out, you should know that right off the bat. I have no scruples.
Ahem. Anyhow, let's get on with it already:
I FARM - Sincerely, Robots - [2000, Cool Guy Records]
(NOTE: The sample song is off a different I Farm album because YouTube didn't have anything off Sincerely Robots on it. Ya know, in case you're weird enough to care)
Old people are the worst. There's no denying that. This thing kicks in with age where one begins confusing nostalgia for their lost youth with the feeling that the way things were when they were young were actually empirically better than they are now. Not just for themselves, but for society at large. That idea that change is a bad thing, the desire to go back to when things were better.
I'm not so stupid as to believe that to be the case, that all change is bad. It all seems more or less balanced out, really. Sure, I miss arcades, and I hated when they started focusing more and more on ticket-winning games like Wheel 'em In over the actual fun GAMES they used to have like pinball and that five-player X-Men game. But it's not like video games are gone now. Hell, where once I'd have to go out and BUY all these old consoles to play something from, say, Super Nintendo, now I can just download emulators and play all of them for free on my computer with this five dollar USB controller I got off Amazon. That's not so bad, when you think about it.
Or fashion. I'm guilty of being annoyed when I see teenagers all over town doing that thing where they wear basketball shorts under their jeans so they can sag their jeans to fit snugly just at the exact base of their asses... That kinda drives me nuts until I remember, when I was in high school, people wore fucking Jencos. I knew someone in high school who wore a pair where they actually measured the width of the cuff at the bottom of the pant leg. You know what I mean? Like, they were men's pants, so they had the standard measurements of waist circumference and leg length, in inches, but also had a third number detailing the circumference of the cuff of the pant leg. It was like, 30 inches or something. That's fucking ridiculous. It looked really dumb.
So it's not like teen fashion is really that much stupider than before, it was always really dumb, it's just those rose-colored glasses we view the world through as we get older than tricks us into thinking we somehow had it together more when we were kids. And, really, why the hell should I be concerning myself with teen fashion anyhow? I'm thirty. The way Kids These Days (tm) dress is none of my goddamn business!
It's like those 30+ year-olds that complain about Justin Bieber. Dude, who the hell is making you listen to Justin Bieber? His music is for ten year-old girls, you know that, right? And their love of him and his style and his music and all that already 100% validates what he does. Is it good music for an adult to listen to? Not really. But it's not FOR us. Again, it's for little girls. AND THAT'S OKAY! Why shouldn't little girls be able to like music too? When I was a kid, it was the Spice Girls, a band for preteen girls that most women I know now used to love when they were little. Women who now have pretty trustworthy tastes in music, I might add. Give those ten year-old girls like four years or so and THEN hand them a copy of, like, Lincoln by They Might Be Giants or whatever and blow their minds. For now, dude, just let them be.
I say all this ramping up to the subject of the internet. Of all the things that have changed in society since I was a young warthog, the proliferation and omnipresence of the internet in our modern day-to-day lives is inarguably the biggest.
So what does that mean, and how does it relate to I Farm? I'm getting there, kids, be patient.
You see, I got into punk rock pre-internet. I mean, the internet EXISTED in whatever form, but I didn't have much access to it. Hell, I didn't even own a COMPUTER until I'd been out of high school for over a year. And, in the pre-internet days of punk rock fandom, there were fewer safety nets in terms of gaguing the quality of a record before actually spending money on it. Apart from reviews in Maximum Rockandroll or Flipside or whatever, if no one you knew owned a record you wanted to hear, you weren't going to hear it until you actually bought the thing. There was no YouTube or BandCamp or torrent sites to offer you free previews. You were just making your way down to the record store or stuffing an envelope with "well-concealed cash" and praying your instincts were right.
Is that better than now? Is it worse? On the one hand, I feel like the immediacy and availability of entertainment online does, to some extend, weaken the importance of each individual record. Their existence as files on a computer, no money having to have been sacrificed, no album art to hold in your hand or lyrics sheet to flip through, kinda makes the whole affair more easily dismissed versus Back Then.
Like, consider, for instance the Hickey / Voodoo Glow Skulls split. Hickey was this weird pop punk band who played a show with the Voodoo Glow Skulls, right? And VGS were being dicks to the guys in Hickey. So one of the guys from Hickey took one of VGS' trumpets or whatever and hid it from them. I think they may have outright stolen it. VGS were FURIOUS, and proceeded to, after the show, leave this slew of threatening messages on Hickey's answering machine. The messages are nothing shy of pure comedy gold, and so Hickey, in response, released what was billed as a split 7" between the bands. Hickey's side was a couple Hickey songs, and the Voodoo Glow Skulls' side was all those answering machine messages.
We would sit up in my friend Matt's bedroom way out in the sticks outside Melrose, Minnesota and we would listen to that shit over and over, laughing our asses off. Honestly, find someone over thirty who still likes punk rock and just mention that record to them, I promise they have similarly find memories of it.
I wonder, sometimes, what if those voice mails had just been a clip you could watch on YouTube? What kind of life does an event like that have in the internet age? Memes grow stale and fade from existence as quickly as they started now. There's less shared experience, it's more just water cooler talk. "Hey, did you see that keyboard cat thing?" "Yeah, pretty funny. Sorry, I need to run, my forehead is bleeding."
But that isn't to say that the internet is all bad. I mean, hell, it got you here reading my inane ramblings, right? Yay internet.
The point is... God, what was my point? Oh right. I Farm. I bought their album blindly, never having heard the band, never having read a review, just because I liked their band name. That was it. I saw it at Extreme Noise, thought it was a cool name and felt like taking a risk on something new. This could have turned out horribly, as it often did when taking risks on a band like that. But, fortunately for me, the shit was totally awesome, and I wound up rewarded for my efforts quite handsomely.
JAWBREAKER - 24-Hour Revenge Therapy - [1994, Communion Label, Tupelo Recording Company]
There's a tendency in adolescent men to sort of vilify women for not properly fulfilling their needs emotionally. Post-breakup songs often reek of misogyny. Often angry, occasionally violent, that kinda "you're a cold bitch for not loving me back" bullshit that's gotta prove especially damaging to a young man's psyche when taken in large enough doses. Hell, I know I was guilty of the same line of thinking when I was younger, but consider myself fortunate enough not to be so much of a backwards-ass fuck that I couldn't learn from my mistakes and find it within myself to grow out of that kinda bullshit.
It's especially disheartening when you go back and listen to shit you'd liked when you were a teenager and hadn't realized the scope of just how ugly and dangerous the lyrics you were pumping your fist to so many years ago really were. Back before you'd ever read a Bell Hooks essay or, you know, TALKED TO A WOMAN about anything. Just tonight, before writing this, I'd popped on The Quickening by the Vandals in a bit of nostalgic whateverness, and was more or less humdrum about the whole affair (man, I can't believe how much I used to love this crappy album) until I neared the end of the album and got to a track called "(I'll Make You) Love Me". Now, the Vandals' approach to music was always satirical, trying to be funny, blah blah. This track, though, detailed a lovesick man's increasing insistence that a woman accept his love, which quickly escalate into super-rapey murder threats:
"You'd better listen up / I'll give you one last chance / You won't be safe until you love me"
Of course all the adolescent men would point to something like that as "Bro, it's satirical, it's just a joke" (because, you know, rape is so funny), but the Vandals' cavalier use of such imagery and the fervor with which you know guys would defend them betrays something broken, not just within young men, but in society at large. Young men are emotionally vulnerable, and exist within a society that says it's not okay for young men to be emotionally vulnerable. It's like how the Catholic Church says their priests have to abstain from sex their entire lives and so they eventually end up fucking little kids. Suppressing our desires and our feelings doesn't lead to healthy, happy lives. And so young men are thusly predisposed to furious rage when a woman dismisses them and breaks their fragile little hearts. Their heartache becomes ugly and violent and frightening. And this all becomes grossly apparent when listening to rock songs (pop punk or otherwise) about heartache. The songs often come across as disturbingly anti-woman.
So thank god for Jawbreaker. Thank god for that pained poetry of Blake Schwarzenbach's lyrics. Here was a sad sack motherfucker who wasn't afraid to feel and to talk about his feelings. Songs about heartache and loss and struggle that didn't resort to such juvenile horseshit as sexism to get a point across. Jawbreaker was above that. They were like this turning point for me as a young man, a mile marker noting that I was finally ready to be a grownup. "You can listen to this now if you're ready for it, but this means you have to put away those Vandals and Guttermouth and Nobodys albums and stop being such a fucking shithead."
Jawbreaker became regular listening though good times and bad. Breakups, moving, parties... Hell, I had been playing Bivouac on a loop while sitting in a small hospital room last summer, not-so-sneakily plowing through a whole bottle of Jameson I'd stashed in my overnight bag, literally watching my dad die in front of me through a haze of morphine sleep. Few punk bands can identify with being an upset dude like Jawbreaker could. Music as therapy. Music as a means of knowing you're not alone.
KID DYNAMITE - self titled - [1998, Jade Tree]
This album rules. Like I'd said in the introduction a couple pages back, it's an amusing case study of how differently we all hear music. When this thing came out it was a revelation for me. I was never particularly into hardcore (I mean, I like a few bands here and there, and I love crust live, but, you know, I'd rather sing along to my jams), but here was a band who melded so much melody and pop into their hardcore songs that it was impossible not to instantly fall in love with. I considered this hardcore first and foremost. Still do, really.
And yet you put this on in a room full of crusties, the room all spikes and studs and sweat... You take a Voivod album off the turntable and replace it with this and people will ask what the fuck you're doing playing pop punk at a hardcore party. You know what I mean?
I loved the Mighty Mighty Bosstones from 8th to 10th grade. I had five of their shirts. And I would never have considered them a heavy or aggressive band, not really. Too much horns and upbeat fun for that. Yet I recall being at a friend's house back when I lived in Andover, Minnesota, and putting on Question the Answers while he had some girl over that we were kinda both trying to impress (him more successfully than me), and the start of the song kicks in with Dicky Barrett screaming over the guitar riff, at which point this girl literally COVERED HER EARS AND LEFT THE ROOM, all the while proclaiming that she hated screamy music. Screamy music, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.
It's all relative.
LEATHERFACE - Mush - [1991, Roughneck Recording Company]
There used to be catalogs, you know? Before absolutely every single thing was online, record labels and distros used to print actual physical catalogs to showcase the records they had to offer. And I mean even beyond the little folded-up inserts Asian Man would tuck into the liner notes of their CDs, I mean like actual zines, basically. No Idea's was the best. Super thick, with lots of little doodles and notes about all the releases in their distro. Lookout's had a lot of cool drawings and tons of info on their bands. Hopeless' was entertaining as well, offering each band their own page to do with as they saw fit, more or less.
It was here, in the Hopeless catalog, that I first heard of the existence of an English band called Leatherface. Not because Hopeless put out any of their records, no, but because on Dillinger Four's page, the band had written a really amusing stream-of-consciousness rant about nothing in particular that included, at one point, the statement ...We also think Leatherface's "Mush" LP is the greatest pop-punk record ever..."
Well there I had it. Midwestern Songs was my new favorite album and D4 was pretty much my favorite band at that point (we've talked about this), so, if they told me I needed to listen to Mush by Leatherface, then listen to Mush by Leatherface I shall.
Their assertion that the album constitutes "the greatest pop-punk album ever" is a bit strong, at least in my opinion, but the thing is goddamn brilliant, that's for certain. A rare flawless album, at least a decade ahead of its time. The vocals as gritty and rough as the music is bright. This album sounds like a spring morning in Minnesota. The rain stopping just before the dark starts to fade from the sky. You're awake, who knows why, before the sun rises, and you get to experience that kind of weirdly magical time of day, the twilight, not quite day yet, but no longer night. That's the best, especially in the spring when the air is just barely chilly enough to warrant a hoodie, but not so cold that you're in any danger of discomfort. Blowing on your coffee to cool it enough to drink, listen to the birds just waking in the trees. Jamming Leatherface on your headphones. Good times.
THE LILLINGTONS - Death By Television - [1998, Panic Button]
Theme bands are a thing kinda weirdly not-uncommon in pop punk. Why is that? The Lillingtons began as a more-or-less typical pop punk band (not that they weren't good, mind you, but their lyrical content was pretty by-the-numbers) before the release of Death By Television, wherein they upped the sonic intensity of their sound (Faster Songs! Better production!) and started singing exclusively about science fiction. "War of the Worlds", "Don't Trust the Humanoids", "Robots in My Dreams"... The Lillingtons, out of nowhere, became a theme band, and good god did it work.
Unfortunately, good things don't always last. As quickly as they transformed into a sci-fi pop punk band, so too did they morph into a band that sang exclusively about spies and espionage and kinda iron curtainey shit for their next album. I mean, some people like it. Some people like all kinds of shit. But, for my money, four good songs out of sixteen does not a good album make. Still, brownie points for being a band from fucking Wyoming to gain national attention. That wouldn't happen again until way later when Kody Lillington would join Teenage Bottlerocket. The man's a living comeback story through and through.
On the subject of Teenage Bottlerocket, I first saw them live while they were touring through San Antonio with the Epoxies and the Phenomenauts. Their second album (and first featuring Kody Lillington sharing the singer/songwriter duties), Total, had just come out, and some friends and I had become more or less obsessed with it, excited that a band was revamping the then-dead Formula 27 sound. Teenage Bottlerocket played first, to a receptive crowd, but none more receptive than my friends and me, all up front the whole time, singing along, dancing like idiots, having a blast. When the band finished their set, we shouted for them to keep playing, much to the shock of the band themselves. But, upon checking with the sound guy, were clear to play another song or two. An encore from the opening band. That shit just doesn't happen.
But they caught us off-guard by turning to us and saying, "Okay, what do you guys wanna hear?"
Instantly, we were all put on the spot. Yes, we were super into these guys, but it's not like they were our All-Time Favorite Band Ever, you know? We didn't have a go-to song we NEEDED to hear ready off the tops of our heads. We were drawing a collective blank. And so we awkwardly looked to one another for a cue, until one of us (okay it was me) just shouted, "Play a Lillingtons song!" My compatriots were with me on that, and we all started shouting and cheering again.
You could tell by the looks on their faces that this was not the request to make. It hadn't occurred to me in that moment, but they must have been hearing that shit all the time that early on in their career. I wasn't being helpful or coming off as being in-the-know. I was being a dick. I had no idea. Sometimes it's hard to tell. Especially for me.
THE MARKED MEN - Fix My Brain - [2006, Swami Records]
A couple times in my life I have just found myself in the right place at the right time to be a guy who likes punk rock music. I got to live in Minnesota when Dillinger Four became a band and thus got to see them live about a thousand times before I moved to Texas. In fact, it's actually kinda funny, because I didn't realize how huge those guys were. I mean, yeah their shows in Minneapolis always seemed to do pretty well, but they were local superheroes! Of COURSE they were gonna do well! I moved to Texas and, for the first time, really got the scope of "oh shit, these guys are like a HUGE national act!" I made a few friends who were crazy jealous that I'd seen them live even ONCE, let alone several dozen times.
But, what can you do. Right time, right place.
It happened again shortly after moving to Texas. A band formed out of Denton, Texas called the Marked Men, who proceeded to come down and play in Austin (just an hour up the road from where I currently live in San Antonio) about a hundred thousand times, and for whom I gladly made that hour drive a whole heck of a lot just to see them play.
They were amazing, so awesome. Totally unique sound, two singers each doing their own songs, the whole show erupting into an insane party as soon as they took the stage. I remember them playing at Beerland once to what at least FELT like a sold-out crowd, and they ended their set and put their guitars down and started to walk away in that way a band does when they know they're gonna play an encore but they want you to ask first, and I literally put my hands on Mark's shoulders, turned him back around to face the stage, and said, "You guys aren't done yet! You haven't even played 'Sophisticate' yet!" In hindsight, kind of an embarrassingly aggressive move on my part, but what can you do, I was drunk and it was the Marked Men. They played an encore starting with "Sophisticate".
Now one of them moved to Japan, one of them moved to Las Cruces... They are no more. Sadly. They were the best thing we had going around here, and their absence is definitely felt. Still, they get back together once every year or so and play around for a week, so there should be plenty more opportunities for me to drink too much and act like an ass in front of people I respect.
THE MR. T EXPERIENCE - Love is Dead - [1995, Lookout! Records]
Above all else, I love good lyrics. Good lyrics can make an okay song great, and bad lyrics can make even the catchiest song unlistenable.
The Mr. T Experience has goddamn amazing lyrics. Probably the best lyrics in all of punk rock, let alone pop punk. Frontman and songwriter Dr. Frank is seriously a genius in that department. Smart, insightful, sometimes deceptively amusing. Like, some of these songs seem like the type of shit joke songs are made of, which is more often than not the sign of an awful band, certainly in the world of punk rock. Yet, even though these songs are often funny, they're still super introspective and self-effacing and intelligent and savvy. Honestly, I'd say, in that respect, that they remind me a bit of if They Might Be Giants had written songs almost exclusively about being bad with women back in their heyday. That combination of writing about dark, sad subject matter but with a keen, intellectual lyrical flair all over super fun, upbeat music. Except that musically they sounded more like 60s singer/songwriter tunes run through a Green Day filter. I mean that in the nicest possible way.
I alluded earlier in this series about a trip I'd taken out to San Francisco with a hippy girl that I didn't really know at all. Well, it was on that trip that I was first really struck with how much a band's surroundings can inform their sound. Not just in terms of local references, but just in how the feel of a city shapes you as a person. The weather and the people and the things to do or lack thereof totally shape you as a person.
This is why, for instance, Chicago always, ALWAYS has the best punk bands, hands-down. Because the city is, outwardly, a harsh place. It's dark and grimy and cold, GOD is it cold, but it's also full of cool, fun people who like to keep warm over a cold beer and warmer comradery. Name any period in time since the late 70s and at least one of the top five punk bands in that era called Chicago home (and a couple more were at least probably from the midwest).
It's why New York City routinely cranks out the worst punk bands. New York City is an overpriced escape plan for yuppie kids who wanna find an identity for themselves away from their moms and dads while still spending their mom's and dad's money. This is a town that'll give you some awesome club DJs or fuckin whatever, but not so much in terms of worthwhile punk bands.
The music of San Francisco has a genuine, definitive vibe to it unmatched by the musical input of other large, American cities. And this became clear to me upon finding myself there, having specifically grabbed a couple SF bands' CDs for my trip. I sat on the BART, Mr. T Experience playing on my Discman, and that revelation of how much a city can be heard through the music of its inhabitants just CLICKED. Clicked in a profound way. I went to a coffee shop at night and listened to Black Fork. This music sounded better here! I GOT it!
One more tidbit about this album: There is a lyric on this record that goes "We're so far apart, and the trouble is / That I can't take BART out to where you live". Having been exposed to this album in high school up in the desolate wasteland of corn and turkey farms that is Melrose, Minnesota, I didn't know what the fucking BART was. I had all these theories, perhaps the silliest of which was that Bart was the name of his pet dog, and that the girl for whom the song was written lived in an apartment that didn't allow pets. I don't know.
It was only until I was listening to that very song while riding the Bay Area Rapid Transit subway thing that I finally understood.
THE MUFFS - self titled - [1993, Warner Bros. Records]
It is my understanding that women in bands do not like hearing about being the object of affection for their male fans. I get that. Women are constantly being unfairly graded on a scale of beauty, even (especially) when their appearance is in no way relevant to the discourse.
This is a phenomenon not just perpetuated by men, either, but by women as well, making the whole affair that much more difficult to overcome. I dated a girl once upon a time who was ALWAYS saying catty shit about other women. Always. It kinda drove me nuts. Like, we'd be at a club, sitting on the sidelines, waiting for the alcohol to take effect enough to wanna get up and dance. And all the while she'd be commenting on how dumb everyone else looked. Their clothes, their hair, their makeup, the way they moved, the company they kept... It was especially disheartening because of the scenario. Like, you go to a club and you wanna just let loose and have a good time, you have to tell yourself, before getting out and dancing, that you have nothing to be embarrassed about, no one's looking, no one cares that you're the tallest person here and kinda fat and too old and you don't dress cool and you don't dance well. You wanna just lose yourself in a good time. But spending time with a lady like that constantly drove home the point, oh no, people are watching, they are watching YOU, and they are making fun of you while you're out there having fun. You SHOULD be embarrassed, you SHOULD be self-conscious, because you are a joke and everyone knows it.
Ugh. What a nightmare.
So, yeah, guys definitely shouldn't be weighing the merits of a woman's physical beauty in a public forum. Let's not worry if you think the lead singer of whatever band is hot. You can think it, fine, but, you know, keep it to yourself. You're not just not helping, you're doing serious harm.
This is one of those very, very, VERY few scenarios wherein women kinda have it a little better than men, though, right? Not being on the receiving end, I mean. They lose there. But by being able to crush on people in bands. Because, let's be real, we're human, we have feelings, we have desires, and we get crushes. Not only does every woman I know have a list of dudes she has a crush on (many of whom are in bands, that's just the crowd I run with), but, in all seriousness, I don't think I know a single woman who hasn't AT LEAST made out with a dude in a band she thought was cute. Seriously. You know why? BECAUSE THEY GET TO DO THAT. Because their desires are charming or sexy and don't make them creeps like they do men.
Me, I've never made out with a girl in a band. Never. In fact, I have talked to women in bands on whom I had very active crushes at the time of the conversation, and, at some point, I kinda cut the conversation short because I was afraid she'd think I was flirting with her (knowing me I guarantee you I was) and would think that I was being a creep and was objectifying her and all that, and so I wanted to leave her alone and not co-opt all her time by being some fucking weirdo. Turned out, of course, that she thought I was snubbing her because I didn't take her seriously enough as a woman to warrant my attention. When you live this deep within my head all the time, trust me, there are no winning scenarios.
NO USE FOR A NAME - More Betterness! - [1999, Fat Wreck Chords]
I haven't heard this album but Amanda told me I should include it.
NOFX - The Decline - [1999, Fat Wreck Chords]
I don't care if it's not a proper album, it's the best goddamn thing this band ever did. Ever. EVER EVER EVER BY A LOT. Hell, it's the only CD they ever put out that wasn't one-third worthless, oft-misogynistic "joke songs". So fuck it. This makes my list. Make your own list if you wanna be a crybaby about it.
Things were not going great for me in Duluth, Minnesota at the age of 17. I'd just dropped out of high school and started living in my car. Thankfully, through the efforts of a nonprofit outfit for homeless youth, I got hooked up with a tiny little room all my own at the YWCA in downtown Duluth, and even managed to get my shit together enough to snag a job at Taco Johns in the mall. The first thing I remember buying with my first check was The Decline by NOFX.
I didn't even know they'd had a new album. I was just at the record store, saw it existed, went "Oh, new NOFX" and was still young enough for that alone to be a selling point. I didn't realize until I got back to my room and looped this a couple times that this wasn't a proper album after all, but rather one 18 1/2-minute track. So, an EP, kinda, but something more than that. It was the type of thing that could have been so easily written off as a silly experiment had the whole thing not turned out SO GODDAMN GOOD. Hell, even Maximum Rockandroll was shitting themselves over how cool and exciting this release was, and those bastards hate EVERYTHING.
A couple years ago I was working as a stagehand at a huge show at Waterloo Park in Austin, Texas during SXSW. NOFX were headlining.
This was the type of show where there's two stages side-by-side, right? And so, once one band finished, we'd haul their amps down the stairs and haul the next band's amps up the stairs while, on the next stage over, another band could continue their set. This avoided big half-hour gaps between bands, but also afforded us the opportunity to get to watch each band from the empty stage next to them. This was a bigger benefit than the actual money I was being paid. I got to watch Municipal Waste, Annihilation Time, Jay Reatard, the Night Marchers... It was cool.
I'd gotten there really early and was still working over 12 hours later once the sun had set. Most other people I'd started with got to leave halfway through the day, while others got to show up halfway into the day. Honestly, I don't think I was actually supposed to still be working all the way through from before it started until after it ended, but I guess I didn't have it together enough to let them know I should have been done when I was. So there I was, all day, all afternoon, and into the night, hauling heavy-ass amps up and down stairs, over and over, up and down the stairs, so that, by nightfall, I'd completely destroyed my body and was reassigned to work "security" (i.e. tell all of NOFX's shitty fans that they couldn't get backstage regardless of how obnoxiously they insisted they were tight with the band).
I'd heard NOFX would occasionally play "The Decline" all the way through as an encore at live shows, though that didn't happen this time around. What did happen, though, was that their set consisted mostly of the entire Punk in Drublic album all the way through (which is the first album I got by them when I was 13 or whatever, and is thus, of course, my favorite), plus a couple select tracks off White Trash. I don't recall which ones, specifically. I couldn't really see, couldn't really hear that well from my spot a couple hundred feet to the right of the stage, standing by an open gate, trying to stop all the shitheads from pushing their way through to the back so they could harass the band and steal their shit.
by Mitch Clem
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by Mitch Clem
Jump to page 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6
Part three of my list of (mostly) pop punk albums that I think are great. Going over my list earlier, I realized this might actually stretch out to be a seven-parter? I'll keep you posted. Go here to start at the beginning. Otherwise, have at it:
THE EPOXIES - self-titled - [2002, Dirtnap Records]
Generally, while perusing the music at Extreme Noise, the punk rock record store in Minneapolis, I'd tune out the music being played overhead. Nothing against the staff picks or anything, don't get me wrong. People like what they like. But, you know, punk shop, it always kinda seemed like the staff were trying to outpunk one another with their picks. Trying to pick the loudest, fastest, most devoid-of-any-semblance-of-melody hardcore horseshit they could find to blow everyone else's feeble mind. And, yes, I am factoring in when I say this that I listen primarily to the wussiest shit ever. Even still.
Now HEY! Again, I mean no offense by that! Hell, I haven't lived in Minneapolis for like eight years now, so the people who were working there when I was a regular customer have more than likely already dropped out of punk rock and joined the army and come back and have kids by now. This is OLD NEWS! But, I'm saying, for my money, when I was still living there and shopping there all the time, you know... No thanks on the staff picks.
An exception came one day when I went with my friend and heard kinda crazy awesome shit on the speakers. Gone was the aharmonic noisy hullabaloo, and, in its stead, some super fucking catchy poppy fun awesomeness, replete with wild keyboards super present in the mix. This was FUN! This was COOL! I dug it, and so I, for the first time ever, actually went up to the guy working behind the counter at a record store and said, "Excuse me, but what are you listening to?" He tells me it's brand new, that he and the other guy working were just going through all the new stuff that had come in that week. "This one is some band called the Epoxies," he says. Yeah. You know what? I'll take a copy of that, please. Thank you.
It was easy to fall in love with. While the backup band's roots were clearly pop punk (in fact, I think the backup band was just more or less the Automatics, right?) frontwoman Roxy Epoxy was clearly schooled more in 80s goth and new wave, adding a really fresh and exciting dynamic to the old pop punk formula. Me, I fucking love 80s goth. LOVE. And, sure, the Epoxies didn't have the downtrodden and drab sorrow of your Bauhaus or your Siouxsie and the Banshees, but there was a feeling there, a hint at an aesthetic, that yielded something fun and unique that I just couldn't help but love.
Only one other time did I ever ask about what was playing over the speakers at Extreme Noise. My friend and I had just seen the Explosion at the 7th Street Entry downtown (this was after the release of their awesome Jade Tree LP but before their horrifyingly bad major label debut), and we were kinda high and elated on the good times. Since it was an all-ages matinee show, we still had time to swing through the record store before we headed back to St. Cloud. My friend (actually, my St. Cloud roommate I've alluded to a couple times thus far) knew one of the guys working, and was chatting him up about the show and about whatever else while I thumbed through used CDs. My turntable had recently bit the dust, and so it was all CDs for me at that point.
My friend mentioned to the employee where we had just been, and the employee was excited to throw on an LP recently received at the store of an Explosion member's side-project (I don't recall the name). Though a 12" record, the whole thing was actually just an EP, and was over quickly, as quickly as it took for the guy to explain what we were listening to. Not having noticed that I didn't approach until the song selection had changed, I went up and asked if they had any copies of what was currently playing. Deurr. The one dude was crazy excited, all "I told you so! I told you if we put this on someone would want a copy!" to his coworker, and procured for me a CD copy of Misery Loves Company by the Freeze. In hindsight, yeah, I woulda been fine just buying that, but I wanted the Explosion side-project thing. I explained that to the guy working, who was disheartened, but dutifully procured the 12" record I requested. "Oh no," I explained, "I actually wanted it on CD?" Sorry. Vinyl only.
I was embarrassed, and we left. AND THAT'S THAT STORY!
THE ERGS! - Dorkrockcorkrod - [2005, Don Giovanni Records]
I used to go to comic conventions a lot more often. I'd get a table in artist's alley, rent a hotel, buy plane tickets, the works. Lately, however, I haven't been able to scrape together the funds to do such a thing, which is especially disheartening now that I actually have BOOKS I can sell, and am aware of more indie-friendly cons where people who would potentially be actually interested in my work would be. Previously I'd just sold the one book I had out at the time and maybe a shirt or something at a bigger, more mainstream superhero-centric convention. Not a match made in heaven.
The problem with not presenting my work at a convention that would more likely cater to my potential (or existing) fans or readers was that, every time I'd go to a con out of town, people would come to see just me. And I mean, like, JUST me. I was the only cartoonist they ever liked. Which, sure, that's flattering, but it's uncomfortable to think that someone dropped thirty bucks for admission to some huge convention that, apart from me, doesn't actually interest them at all, and now the onus falls on me to give them their thirty dollars worth of, what, companionship? They'd often just linger around my table, all of us super awkward. Seriously, this happened at every con I went to back then. It was kind of a bummer.
So my solution was, when traveling out of town to conventions, to try and get in touch with some locals and set up a punk show the same weekend so my fans who were into punk rock but were otherwise not big on comics could just come out to a show instead and be awkward around me in an environment where I could at least get drunk first.
One such convention and accompanying show was New York Comic Con in, you guessed it, New York City. I'd gotten in touch with Frank from the Unlovables who helped me (read: did 100% of the work) get a venue and put the show together (honestly, I just suggested the lineup and drew the flyer). It was the Ergs, the Steinways, the Unlovables, the Measure [SA], and Short Attention. And it was so awesome, all the bands were just killer. The Ergs fucking DESTROYED IT at the end. All these people crammed into the tiniest Brooklyn basement, everyone singing along, everyone moving. Really fucking great. I had such a blast.
However, it seems NYC is not an all-ages-friendly city. It was super important to me, for the purposes of sitting at a table of my own merch, that the show be all-ages because, you know, that matters, that's a big deal. I don't think people should be turned away from a punk show because they're not old enough to drink, I think that's total horseshit and I've missed out on too many awesome shows myself to ever wish to be implicit in a 21+ booking. ALSO, let's be real, I drew comics on the internet. My fans weren't all drinking age. I don't know, it's not a big deal for everyone, but it's always been a big deal to me, I don't think 21+ shows should be a thing and so I didn't want to have any part in booking one or presenting at one.
Unfortunately, like I said, NYC doesn't give a shit about punk rock ethics or whatever, and they, at least at the time, weren't gonna allow any all-ages show nonsense. As much as I pushed for it, the show being all-ages was off the table, totally out of the question, it was 21+ or nothing. Okay, fine, I guess. But, at that point, I didn't wanna have a merch table there anymore. And, seriously, not in a crybaby "I didn't get my way so I'm gonna take my toys and go home" way, not like that. But just, as I said, most of my fans back then were under 21, it wouldn't have been worth carrying a big box of shit on the subway all the way from Manhattan for nothing. So, no big. I'll still go, but, just, I won't set up a merch table.
And, let's be real, it's weird for me to be at a show selling merch not related to the bands on stage, right? Doing so was an idea put into my head by a friend of mine who would book shows around Texas and who insisted it wasn't weird at all, but, come on, it's a LITTLE weird. I always felt so, anyhow, and only ever did this for about a year before scrapping the whole concept of selling my shit at shows altogether. Yes, it's entirely possible that I'm just fucking nuts.
So I wasn't gonna have my table there anymore, opting instead to just be at the con and deal with the thirty-dollar-weirdness. I said as much on my website. Now, I don't THINK that I was putting down Frank and the effort he put into booking the show. I still did the flyer, I still plugged it, I still WENT. Frank himself didn't seem particularly peeved by my deciding not to sell merch at the show. In fact, I talked to him a bit, thanked him for putting on the show and all that, and he seemed like nothing short of the nicest man alive. Cool. But one person from one of the bands was SO. PISSED. They wrote me a very angry email saying that I was a dick for shit-talking the show after Frank had put so much work into it, that I was ungrateful and wishy-washy and was just all around a piece of shit. I tried apologizing for the miscommunication and clarifying my actual point, but it was too late. They hated me.
This is a person in a not-irrelevant band. Someone who shares a lot of mutual friends and fans as me. Someone whose band I LIKED. Someone who I wanted nothing more than to be cool with. They wouldn't talk to me at the show. Their final, furious email was the last correspondence we had with one another. I can't even listen to their band anymore, it just makes me think of the whole uncomfortable situation.
Sometimes these things happen, someone gets pissed at me or we get into a fight, and my assumption is just that this is over, this is awkward forever. I'm dead to this person. But I sometimes wonder, really, do you think they even still really care? The odds are immense that they don't even remember who I am, or that there was ever any beef to begin with. Is the feud all in my head?
But then I think, if I'm still thinking about it, if I still think about the conflict when I'm reminded of their band's existence and my chest feels tight and I get short of breath, why wouldn't they still harbor some negative feelings as well? Shit, THEY were the ones who were pissed off in the first place!
Anyhow. This person in question isn't in the Ergs. As far as I know, none of the Ergs hate me. But, honestly, who the fuck even knows at this point.
EXPLODING HEARTS - Guitar Romantic - [2002, Dirtnap Records]
Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper, three of the biggest rock acts around in 1959, shockingly and tragically all died together when their plane fell from the sky above Iowa. The Big Bopper wasn't even supposed to be on the flight, but their tour up to that point, which consisted of cruising around in a bus with no heat in the upper midwest in January, had him with the flu. Waylon Jennings, who was playing bass for all three acts on that tour and who actually had a ticket for the flight, graciously traded his spot for the Big Bopper's seat on the bus. Holly, upon learning Waylon wouldn't be flying with him, jokingly chided his tour mate, "I hope your bus freezes up," to which Waylon replied, "Well, I hope your ol' plane crashes."
Rock and roll is filled with bizarre and tragic deaths. Sid murdering Nancy. Kurt Cobain blowing his brains out in a shed at the height of his band's popularity. The horrifying case of Great White playing a Rhode Island show where their pyrotechnics caught the venue's soundproofing on fire, causing what was effectively napalm to rain down from the ceiling, killing a hundred people. Can you imagine? Going out on a Thursday night to have fun at a rock show and ending up burning alive under a storm of liquid fire? Terrifying.
But death affects us all. Obviously. It's the one constant, the one inescapable factor in all our lives, that they will eventually end. For some of us, unfortunately, that end can come early, and in a tragic way.
I had a friend who died young and tragically, after just having graduated high school in the small farm town of Melrose, Minnesota.
There is a romanticism about life in a small town in America that I feel, from experience, is beyond misinformed. All these country songs about dirt roads and simple, salt-of-the-earth folk just livin' their lives, yeehaw and all that... I went to three different high schools: One in a small, farm town, one in the suburbs, and one in a kind of typical medium-large midwestern city. You know what teenagers do in small towns? Drugs. Like, seriously, a ton of drugs. More So than in the suburbs, more so than in the city. And by a significant margin. Those pickup trucks on those dirt roads are full of teenagers smoking pot, drinking beer, the works.
And, you know, there is a certain type of person that doesn't fare well in such an environment. My friend just succumbed to that world of drugs. His parents were apparently somewhat wealthy, but died when he was young, and he was slated to inherit some insane amount of money upon turning 21. Of course, as is often the case in such a scenario, that knowledge that he'd eventually come into money no matter what took from him any desire to, you know, TRY and stuff when it came to life. But then, I guess we were all kinda fuck-ups, right? This guy, though, he went off the rails. From doing drugs to selling them, from weed to crack, he kept going and going, always fucking with crazier and harder stuff than before, seemingly fueled by the knowledge that, eventually, his pay day would come. There was a contract and everything.
He had a girlfriend, by the way, through all this. Even after he'd descended into full-on junkie status, he was dating for real one of the hottest girls in the entire school by a long shot. And fortunately so, because she was the one who finally got him to lay off the drugs. She got him clean and even got him to start applying for jobs. Early one morning he left his house in Melrose and hit the road, heading into St. Cloud where he had a job interview at Best Buy. He didn't make it, instead hitting a parked semi truck on the side of the road. His body was thrown clear of the accident. He spent a couple days in a coma, and finally died.
People blamed drugs. For the crash, I mean, people were very callously, "Oh, he was probably high." These fucking farm kids, these little rednecks that didn't know anything about anything, casting their judgement. I was so mad. Fuck them.
A year later another friend of mine from Melrose died in a car accident. We'd spent an entire Summer driving around in his car, listening to music, talking about girls. He was sort of this self-appointed mentor of mine in a funny way. We were friends, yeah, but he saw some sort of untapped potential in me that I was always too scared to meet. He thought it was cool that I was into drawing comics and that I listened to "weird music" (he pretty much exclusively listened to rap) and gave me advice and encouragement on girls. We got high and drove around or we sat in his room and played Twisted Metal 2 on his PlayStation. His father was the chief of police in Melrose, but was actually a really cool guy. When his family learned I was leaving town for Duluth after the end of tenth grade, they legitimately offered to let me come live with them. Really great people.
The following Winter he was driving his little red car on the New Munich overpass. A semi truck was approaching from the opposite direction, and he judged that he could turn left in front of it and still make it to the highway. And I'm sure he could have, had the road not been slick with ice. The truck hit him, and he died there in his car. Worst of all, as his father was the chief of police, his father was the first one at the scene. Imagine that, pulling up to an accident and slowly realizing the mangled car you see on the road belongs to your son.
Death. There's no escaping it. The Exploding Hearts had so much potential by the end. In their short career as a band they'd revamped a stagnant genre, that 70s glammy power pop thing, and breathed new life into it with the release of Guitar Romantic, a gorgeous and flawless album. They headed out on tour, no doubt to become one of the bigger punk bands around, and then, tragically, crashed their van on the highway. All but one of them died.
Life is hard sometimes, being around people, having friends. Watching them go, one way or another. It doesn't always seem fair or just. And yet here we are, pushing forward, waiting for our turn. At least we have music. Music helps.
F.Y.P - Toys That Kill - [2000, Recess Records]
F.Y.P was an unusual case for a band in that they kept getting better and better every time they put out a new album. This isn't just uncommon, this is absolutely unheard of. Off the top of my head I can't think of a single other band I can say that about. This helped them become and remain one of my favorite bands all through high school.
Their final moment as a group was an amusing nod to one of my other high school favorites, the Descendents. You know the story, of course, that the Descendents recorded what was to be their final album, entitled ALL, after which a new band was formed from the Descendents' ashes called, you guessed it, ALL. F.Y.P followed suit in that fun "name your new band after the old band's last album" game by breaking up more or less exactly as this album came out and reforming (with a slightly altered lineup) as Toys That Kill. I've always maintained that, in what would certainly prove to be an amusing wrench to throw in the filesharing machine, Toys That Kill should name their next album F.Y.P.
F.Y.P reunited for Chaos in Tejas in Austin a couple years back, and I was lucky enough to attend. God, what an amazing show. Obviously frontman Todd Congelliereellgereiere has been keeping very active ever since the fall of F.Y.P, between fronting Toys That Kill, Underground Railroad to Candyland, Stoned At Heart, and his own solo stuff, it's not like playing live was some lost skill he had to relearn, and so that reunion set fared much, MUCH better than a lot of reunion shows I've seen. F.Y.P smartly themed their set list primarily, it seemed, around songs that had appeared on comps before, which is, in punk rock terms, about as close as you get to a single, making it a sort of live best-of. Alcohol was consumed in copious amounts in preparation for their set, which was still buried a couple bands below the headliners, the Marked Men, which meant that, by the actual show's end, my blood was more alcohol than it was actual blood.
Through this haze I saw this guy that I sort of knew who worked at this label in California, a guy I hadn't seen in about a year or two, but with whom I had hung out at a Shang-A-Lang show in Austin and we drank beers and talked about STUFF, and we'd had a good time and he was a cool guy, so I went up to say hi to him, and, literally, as I approached him, he SHOVED me away from him, like HARD. I staggered back, confused, and he walked away amidst a crew of friends more worth his time.
THE GAIN - Sing Ready Steady Smash [1997, Mighty Recording]
My roommate in St. Cloud, when he was younger, worked one Summer caddying at a golf course in town. As he was never predisposed to drug use or spending any time with Rodney Dangerfield, his tales were sadly not of the calibur any Caddyshack fans would expect to hear from such a gig, but there you have it, a Summer spent in the sun, handing rich people their sticks. We've all had worse jobs.
Back before every kid with a trust fund and a passing interest in punk rock bought a screen printer and started their own company, the go-to guy for stickers in punk rock was Pete Sticker Guy. Hell, he may still be the go-to, I know he's still doing it. His sticker company had once made a claim via an ad in Maximum Rockandroll that you could stick one of his stickers to the inside of a toilet and it wouldn't fade or fall off.
It was with this ad in mind that my then-roommate-to-be took a sticker he'd acquired from the Sticker Guy featuring The Gain and their cool logo, and stuck in right on one of the urinals in the golf club's restroom. Right in the sweet spot, where it wouldn't miss a splash of water or urine, and where Sticker Guy's claims could truly be put to the test.
It remained. His position ended when the school year started back up and, upon the dawn of the next Summer, he went to inspect his handiwork, in no way expecting it to still be there. And yet there it was, right in the center of the urinal, an oval sticker, still inexplicably white, the words "THE GAIN" printed across the center.
GO SAILOR - self titled - [1996, Lookout! Records]
Cuddlecore, I think they called it. Go Sailor was another band like Cub that played kinda pretty, jangly pop tunes. Except, where Cub would often delve into kinda strange, almost experimental stuff here and there, Go Sailor were perfectly content just singing these pretty songs about love. Nothing wrong with that. Plus, brownie points and GLBT cred for being a female-fronted band that sang about being in love with other females. Their biggest claim to fame, I think, was having one of their songs over the opening credits of But I'm a Cheerleader. This album is terrific.
GOOD LUCK - Into Lake Griffy - [2009, No Idea Records]
It's a running joke amongst fans of punk music that technical skill is not only not required to start a punk band, it's frowned upon. The Ramones would supposedly stop practicing for a couple months leading up to a tour so they'd sound good and sloppy at their live shows. And of course, we'll all point to a group like Metallica, whose musicianship is nearly unmatched in all rock music, but who haven't put out a listenable album in like twenty years.
And yet, when all the ingredients are there: The technical skill, the quality songwriting, and that Hip Punk Rock Sound that's makin' it happen... We are left with something extraordinary.
Good Luck are breathtaking in their beauty. Their albums are modern masterpieces, the things you listen to and just know, in twenty years, will still sound as fresh and exciting as the day they were recorded.
Admittedly, upon first listen, I didn't know what to make of this band. Ginger, one of the group's two singers and their bassist, had previously played bass and supplied half of the vocals to a group called One Reason. One Reason were also extraordinary, blurring the lines between punk and hardcore, screaming and singing in a cacophony of beautiful noise. I loved their album. I mean, I still do, you know. But, when Good Luck was billed to me as "Ginger from One Reason's new band," I have to admit I was expecting something louder, something screamier. I guess I just wanted another One Reason album.
And this certainly isn't that. Where One Reason could, at times, pass as anarcho punk or something like it, Good Luck sounds more like a couple kids sitting around in their sparse home reading poetry and listening to old Weakerthans records on repeat. They sound like a living room band, a band who play to a group of close friends, everyone clad in jorts, trying to keep their ten thousand dogs out of the room while the band is playing. They're modern and nostalgic at the same time. Great lyrics, great melodies, great instrumentation... This is the real deal. Good Luck are one of the best bands to come out of punk rock in the past decade, but also quite probably one of the best bands to come out of punk rock ever.
GREEN DAY - Kerplunk - [1992, Lookout! Records]
Green Day first broke huge when I was like twelve years old and just on the cusp of being able to want to listen to dark, scary rock music. It's funny to think of it as that now, "dark and scary," but, to a child that young, songs about suicide bombing your enemies or being locked up in an attic are pretty goddamn dark, especially when you're used to Simon & Garfunkel. But the singles on Dookie couldn't help but creep into my head, however slowly, and, once Insomniac came out, I was ready. I was hooked.
Andover, Minnesota, a suburb just outside of Minneapolis. I'd walk to my friend's house across the street. He played guitar, I played bass, and we'd sit in his basement playing Green Day songs in our "band." Our band name changed every week. We'd draw new logos and album covers. But, you know, we were kids, we were playing. We weren't gonna get a gig at a local coffee shop let alone put out an album. Who wants to hear a couple suburban kids in their basement playing Green Day covers?
Sometimes I think about what it must have been like to be older. Maybe ten years older than I am, and to have already been into punk in the early 90s. Picture whatever club in your town is your favorite. For me, here in San Antonio, it's the Ten Eleven. Now picture an average show, or even a big show. And now picture if just some random band, doesn't really matter who, all of a sudden has a #1 song on the radio and a video looping constantly on MTV, and all of a sudden you can't even get into your favorite club because nine thousand new people in your town decided they were into punk rock too. And they wanted to slam dance like they saw on TV, and do cool stage dives like they saw on TV. They wanted to be PUNX like they'd read about in that Rolling Stone article all about the "next big thing." You can't begrudge a band their success, of course, but goddamn that must have been a fucking nightmare. The birth of pop punk as a mainstream trend.
The only thing I can think of that would be worse would be a few years later when ska broke, and all of a sudden you couldn't go to any show without a fucking SKA BAND playing. Gross.
GROOVIE GHOULIES - Re-Animation Festival - [1997, Lookout! Records]
Hanging out in the coffee shop I more or less lived at in St. Cloud once, a girl I barely knew at all invited me to come with her to San Francisco.
She'd had a tumultuous relationship with a friend some time before, where they were in constant competition with one another, primarily, it seemed, over guys, and eventually had a crazy falling out. After whatever amount of time had passed, her ex-friend invited her to accompany her on a trip to San Francisco so they could rekindle their friendship. I was invited along as a safety net, someone the St. Cloud girl could go off and hang out with instead if this friendship rekindling didn't pan out.
Of course, it ended up panning out quite well, the two girls got along famously, as though not a day had passed since they'd last hung out, and I was left to wander the streets of San Francisco alone.
My roommate back in St. Cloud knew the guy who put out the first American Steel record, and so he got the two of us in touch with one another as a means of getting me something fun to do. I took the BART out to his apartment and we drove in his car about an hour outside of the city to go see the Groovie Ghoulies play a rec center out in the middle of nowhere with Lucky Strike and a couple other openers I don't remember at all.
I guess, if you've read this far, you know I'm a bit of an awkward person. Not the extroverted social butterfly one would want to accompany them for an hour's car ride out to the middle of nowhere. But, alas, this kind gentleman who brought me out to that show didn't know that going into it, and was treated to an hour's worth of intensely awkward, stilted conversation the whole drive out. At the show itself, we didn't much talk to each other (he knew people at the show who were actually, you know, FRIENDLY, while I sat by myself in the back and was just, you know, a weirdo). I don't think we exchanged a single word on the drive back.
GUNMOLL - Board of Rejection - [2004, No Idea Records]
Sure, this can count as pop punk, why the hell not? No Idea Records out of Gainesville, through they and their followers' obsession with Hot Water Music, kinda bolstered the growth of a distinct "No Idea Sound," giving overweight, bearded white dudes a scene all their own. As an overweight, bearded white dude, it's hard to be angry about such a thing, even if I do think the formula is a bit played-out at this point. Plus that beardpunk credo of "Shirts off, dudes on" always rubbed me the wrong way, seeming a bit, if unintentionally, misogynistic. I'd prefer we all became gentlemanpunks: "Shirts on, dudes off, pinkies out."
Still, no genre is without its standouts, and Gunmoll are nothing if not an exemplary example of beardpunk, that No Idea Sound, done to perfection. You'll note the gruff, growly vocals, the clean production. You'll note the band has no fear of jamming into a slow song here and there, or of tossing a jammy breakdown into an otherwise fast song. But, above all, you'll note an extraordinary competence in singer Mike Hale's ability to craft just a fucking great melody. The opening track, "Less Than You Hoped For," is nothing short of one of the best punk songs ever written, and I say that with no intent of hyperbole. This album is killer, and it's killer within a subgenre that, like I said, I'm not always on board for. But, when something works, fuck it, it works. This works.
by Mitch Clem
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by Mitch Clem
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Part two of my six-part series listing pop punk albums I think are especially good or relevant. Go here to start with part one.
It's been pointed out to me that some of the "albums" on this list so far are actually b-sides and rarities collections and are thus not proper albums. Yup. That is true. I'm sorry if it bothers you. I'd recommend therapy.
Okay, let's get on with it:
CRIMPSHRINE - Duct Tape Soup - [1992, Lookout! Records]
One special thing that sets punk rock apart from other subsets of musical fandom is that it's encouraged not to be seen as a spectator sport. If you can play an instrument or like writing music, you should start a band. If you're in any way business-savvy and have an ear for music, start a label. If you're good at networking, book a show. If you can draw, make some flyers. If you can write, start a zine. ET CETERA.
My first contribution to the world of punk rock was Summer's Over, a zine I'd started working on while going to high school in Melrose, but finally published the first issue of upon moving to Duluth. The first issue was actually #2. After #1 kept bogging me down and changing and confusing me, I opted to scrap the whole issue altogether and just have #2 be the first issue instead. You get to do that kinda shit when you're self-publishing.
From zines I eventually started doing an online comic about punk rock called Nothing Nice to Say which proved shockingly successful for a little while, then it was doing a couple other webcomics, then putting out print comics... What I'm getting at is that punk rock and its insistence that I use my interest in cartooning to create art and show it to the world, and its ready-made blueprints for methods with which I could do just that, are, as it stand, responsible for me ever starting a comic and showing it to people in the first place. I owe my whole career as a cartoonist to having done a zine, and, more specifically, I attribute my interest in starting a zine way back then to Cometbus.
Cometbus was one of the first zines I'd ever read, and is, to this day, still my favorite. I have every issue in one form or another, I still collect every new issue as they come out, and I still go back and reread them on occasion. Aaron Cometbus is like the great American author that never got his due. Honestly, it's sort of weird, how deep and beautiful and relevant his writing is, and to have it exist as sort of punk rock's little secret... Thinking on it now, it's almost a disheartening thought. His novel Double Deuce is legitimately one of the top 20 best novels I've ever read. Ever, any genre. And it's not just because "dude, punk rock," because plenty of people have written on the subject of punk rock without it being even remotely good at all. Cometbus is something special. Without having published a zine for so long, is it possible that the world never would have known his writing at all? Or is it possible that, without burying himself in the punk scene, he may have had a shot at achieving actual success? Does there exist some parallel universe where the Aaron Cometbuses of the world are New York Times bestsellers while the Dan Browns are the ones self-publishing little hand-stapled minis and trying to convince the book store owner to consign them on spec?
And, frankly, where does that leave me, as a writer? I've achieved probably as much success making comics for and about punk rock as I possibly could. I've lapped my apex by now. Is this it? Is there a future here, any measure of sustainability? Is it insane to wonder if, after self-publishing for over a decade now, if I might ever have my shot at the same opportunities handed to the bigger bands and labels who at one point struck big and now don't ever have to work again?
Maybe that's wrong to even say out loud. Obviously my goals aren't motivated by money. I mean, OBVIOUSLY. Look how much time I've spent writing THIS, for crying out loud. But it is a weird thought, this perdicament of selling one's art to a punk rock community. Who knows, maybe Aaron's secretly more successful than I'd expect. Maybe he makes a stupid wad of cash every time he puts an issue out, and that's why he waits once every couple years: Because that's all he NEEDS.
Or maybe I have no idea what the fuck I'm talking about.
Cometbus' primary contribution to the world of punk rock, at least for my money, may be zines, but he's also lended drums and lyrics to a metric fuckton of bands, one of the most notable of which, of course, is Crimpshrine. Crimpshrine were one of the earlier bands laying the groundwork for what would become widely known as pop punk a couple years later when labelmates and hometown buddies Green Day would become the biggest goddamn band anyone ever heard of, while Crimpshrine would remain this fondly-remembered relic of potential the genre once held. Sloppy, often ugly-sounding, but, beneath that rough exterior, something heartfelt and beautiful.
THE CRUSADES - The Sun is Down and the Night is Riding In - [2011, It's Alive Records, Razorcake Records, Hardware Records, SABOTAGE]
I don't believe in god. That's not something I'd consider a defining characteristic of mine, or even close to the most important thing about myself, but there it is. It's been the case all my life, since I was very, very young. I remember being in elementary school, or at least being that age, and learning, in whatever context, what Lutherans were. I'd learned that Martin Luther, once upon a time, was unhappy with how the church conducted itself, that he disagreed with those in charge, and so he made his own rules and nailed them to the door of the church.
That, right there. That was the moment. I thought, wait, you can just CHANGE THE RULES? So Martin Luther didn't like the rules of the church, so he just made up his own religion? Can you do that?
The obvious answer to me, even then, that young, was of course not. It's fake.
It was easy to extrapolate from there.
My family was Catholic. Catholics used to believe in Purgatory, a place somewhat similar to Hell in that it was unpleasant, but where you would sort of serve out a sentence based on your sins, and, once you'd served your time, you were free to ascend to Heaven. Then, in 2005 or so, the Pope decided that wasn't the case. Just undid the rule, just like that. Purgatory was no longer a thing, now it's just Heaven and Hell.
What happened to the people who died and went to Purgatory before that ruling? Did they stay? Was there a grandfather clause? Or did they just go to one or the other, Heaven or Hell, maybe based on how much of their sentence they'd served thus far? Maybe they ALL went to Hell regardless. That would suck, right? To have been one day away from Heaven and then have to spend an eternity in Hell just because the Pope decided to change his mind on the subject?
The real answer, obviously, is that it's all bullshit. Duh. We're adults. And yet there is such a vocal faction of other seemingly-rational adults who actually believe this shit. Perhaps more alarmingly, there is a vocal faction of adults who cite it as reasons to vote one way or another, reasons to treat certain people like second-class citizens.
This is the reason why so many Atheists are so goddamn annoying. Imagine we weren't born in a predominantly Judeo-Christian society. Imagine everyone in our part of the world believed in, I don't know, the plot of Toy Story. That toys came to life when we weren't in the room and they had adventures and stuff. Imagine everyone believed that and you were the only one you knew who didn't. Wouldn't that be kinda frustrating? Seeing the President on TV: "Thank you all, and may Buzz Lightyear continue to bless this great country of ours."
Even people who claim to be "spiritual" still always believe in such a Western version of spirituality, still believe in one god, all-seeing, all-knowing, that created everything. But why is it so far-fetched to suggest that maybe there's more than one god? Maybe God has brothers and sisters. I mean, supposedly he has a son, why can't he have brothers and sisters? Maybe they made planets somewhere too. Maybe our God only made the planets in our solar system before moving on to other solar systems to create other planets. Maybe God isn't all-seeing, all-knowing. Maybe we're just a side-effect of the chemistry of our environment. Maybe God forgot he ever made Earth. Maybe he's busy with other planets he likes more. Maybe he's not infinite, and maybe he died.
It's all hypothetical, it's all kinda nonsense, frankly. And yet I can't begrudge any longer the people whose lives are genuinely improved and enriched by their belief in whatever religion. I used to. Oh shit, I used to big-time. But, seeing other vocal Atheists online, or feeling the way I've felt when a religious person totally dismisses me as a human being based solely on my beliefs (or lack thereof). That stuff puts things into real perspective. Plus, I know a handful of religious-leaning people who, really, aren't dicks at all. They believe in civil rights, they believe in the Golden Rule, and their faith makes their lives richer and more fulfilling. Why would I begrudge someone that just because, at a base level, those specifics that bring them joy are kinda stupid? Or, on the other hand, are they really stupid if they make a positive impact in someone's life?
So yeah, be religious, don't be religious, I don't fucking care. Live your life. Just, with that obvious caveat, that you don't use your beliefs or disbeliefs as an excuse to be dicks to everyone else. It sucks that I even need that qualifier. Be cool to one another.
The Crusades are loud and proud about their Atheism. That's cool, to each his own. I think this album kicks fucking ass.
CUB - Mauler - [1997, Au Go Go]
Can I be totally honest with you about how I came into the possession of this album? This is so embarrassing. You see, I'd heard Cub on some comp or another, and I really dug their stuff, and I wanted to scoop up one of their albums. And one of the music catalogs I had back then, I don't even remember which one it was, but it had short little descriptions of a lot of the stuff for sale within. Next to the listing of this album, for whatever reason, the catalog mentioned that the album art for this record featured a photograph of the three women that made up this band in their bras.
And that was why I bought it. I know. I KNOW. I mean, yeah, I was gonna get something by them ANYHOW, but, yeah, I chose this one specifically when I did because I'd heard there was a picture of some ladies in their undergarments.
Is this patriarchy in action? Is that objectification? I don't know. I mean, yeah, I guess probably. It wasn't like it was some sexualized picture. Hell, it wasn't even easy to see. Certainly not the type of material to instigate any kind of spirited J/O-sesh (nah, we'd have Blanks 77's C.B.H. for that a year later). But there it is, out on the table.
Anyhow, the music itself is just goddamn wonderful. Jangly, poppy, and sweet. They have a song on it called "My Chinchilla" that goes:
"Satan sucks / But you're the best / Holy smoke / You passed the test / When I'm with you / I feel blessed / My chinchilla"
and there was a very VERY brief period while living in St. Cloud where I was kinda dating this super Christian girl. Things didn't work out for obvious reasons (see above, re: The Crusades). I think I was maybe her kinda rebelling a little bit? At least acting without thinking. For me, I just thought she was cute. She didn't use any tongue when making out, it was the weirdest goddamn thing ever.
Anyhow, she bred chinchillas, so I put this song on a mix tape for her. I'm so smooth.
THE DEAD MILKMEN - Big Lizard in My Back Yard - [1985, Restless Records]
When I was young I put a real premium on humor. I mean, I still like stand-up a lot, and maybe a small handful of sitcoms. But I find most comedy movies to be a waste of time, and I find most punk bands who write "jokey" songs to be about the worst thing that can ever happen. And yet, there was a time when I just wanted every single thing I ingested, art, music, books, movies, television... EVERYTHING I wanted to be funny in some way.
The Dead Milkmen were fucking funny. This album is fucking funny. It's silly and goofy and it makes me laugh to this day. That's not to discount the music by any means. The album is just solid throughout. Kinda taking that punk rock paradigm to a different place. Not a lot of distortion on the guitar, not always super fast, but undeniably punk rock, and just thoroughly great. This album is a relic from my childhood that I still just love the hell out of. I defy anyone to tell me they don't like "Bitchin' Camaro." Classic.
DEAR LANDLORD - Dream Homes - [2009, No Idea Records]
From the dark recesses of space, the cold, indifferent abyss, comes this record, screaming, on a flaming chariot. Or something. Right? This album is SO DAMN GOOD! There used to be this band in Minneapolis called Rivethead, and they were just the best shit ever. I'll get to them later, probably. But this band has a couple members from that band and it shows. Alternating vocalists, which I always like, songs that were obviously written by different people, but with a real tangible cohesion to the whole affair. This is just, I don't know, this is just one of those goddamn perfect albums that comes out every once in a while and there's just no denying its power or its awesomeness. God bless you, Dear Landlord. And thanks.
DESCENDENTS - complete discography [1979-2004, SST, Epitaph, Fat Wreck Chords]
I'm trying to stick with just one record by each band on this list, but, for the Descendents, it's just impossible. Yes, I recognize that about one-third of each of their albums is totally worthless (Milo Goes to College and Everything Sucks nonwithstanding, those are more or less flawless), what with the crappy experimental songs or the fart songs... Ugh. But when these guys hit, holy god do they hit.
"Coolidge" was such an anthem for me. "I'm not a cool guy anymore / As if I ever was before". Hell yeah! Another punk nerd to help me know I'm not alone! Except, you know, Descendents frontman Milo Aukerman was one of those nerds who's, like, smart, and, you know, good at stuff, so now he's a successful biochemist and I'm writing about albums I like on a blog. *sigh*
"Pep Talk" legitimately helped get me through my first big breakup. I'd walk to and from the library in Duluth every day, ALL by the Descendents on my walkman, just jamming that song, rewinding, jamming it again, rewinding, and on and on until I felt better. That's some real shit right there. That's relevant. The power of music, and all from a band most people write off because, yeah, okay, so they have more than one song about farting. I DON'T LIKE THAT ANYMORE THAN YOU DO OKAY?
The Descendents did the unthinkable when they reunited in the late 1995 after a nearly ten-year hiatus and actually put out one of the best records of their career, Everything Sucks. That's an impressive feat. I'd jam out to "I'm the One" and "Hope" while sitting alone in my bedroom in Melrose lamenting that I was too much of a wuss to make a move on this girl who I was "just friends" with, but who I kinda knew woulda been into me if I'd just DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. I recall her after I told her I was moving from Melrose to Duluth, a more than three-hour drive away, and she sat there on my couch in my room with me just WAITING for me to make a move, to make a tangible moment out of my goodbye. And I couldn't, I was paralyzed with nervous anxiety. We didn't do anything, not then, not ever. Just sat there, each awkwardly waiting for one another to lean in.
THE DICKIES - The Incredible Shrinking Dickies - [1979, A&M]
There used to be a record label, Mutant Pop Records, that put out a really cool series of 7" records by different pop punk bands. But very strictly pop punk bands. No hardcore, no, I dunno, street punk or whatever. POP. PUNK. I'd read an interview with Tim, the guy who ran the label, where they asked him "Why pop punk?" And he pointed out that, if you go all the way back to the early days of punk rock (the Ramones, the Buzzcocks, the Misfits, etc) that you'd find a sound a lot more similar to what we'd now consider pop punk than to any other kind of punk rock. He said that, if Static Age by the Misfits came out today, it'd be a very exciting pop punk album. Thus, he claimed, pop punk was a more authentic interpretation of punk rock's initial conception.
That's interesting. I mean, he's right, he's dead-on right about that. And that's why including really old albums on this list feels a little morally ambiguous to me. Because, come on, if classic 1977 punk albums constitute pop punk, then we're talking about an entirely different list than the one I'd intended on making, the one a little closer to what we all agree constitutes "pop punk" now that such a thing has a true distinction amongst the various other punk sub-genres.
Still, I'd be remiss to leave the Dickies off this list just because, of all their contemporaries, these guys were POP PUNK AS FUCK. I mean, people had to have noticed it even then, right? Where the Ramones self-titled album was reminiscent of those old Phil Spectre girl-groups from the 50s played a bit faster and with shittier production, the Dickies were the theme song to a Saturday morning cartoon. Fast and frenetic and insane and silly and fun. Yeah, everything that came out in the late seventies probably counts as pop punk through a certain filter, but these guys were the real deal.
DILLINGER FOUR - Midwestern Songs of the Americas - [1998, Hopeless Records]
I kinda wanna put Versus God by these guys on this list as well, but I really am trying hard to stick to the one-record-per-band rule.
One of the things that attracted me to punk rock in the first place (you know, besides STAGE DIVES and NEVERENDING POVERTY! WOO!) was that, to me, it felt like there was a real sense of a community that gave a shit about politics and social justice. These were always things I cared about and felt mattered, but I can't say I'd ever really heard these issues being sung about in a song before (not a GOOD song, anyhow). And so entered punk rock, the community built around which seemed to share my ideals, my yearning for social justice, my opposition to things you'd think would be so easy for everyone else to figure out were bullshit, like racism, homophobia, consumerism, and so on. Yeah yeah, blah blah blah, I know, but, look, cheesy or not, THAT SHIT MATTERS, and it's never mattered any less or any more to me or to our world than it did to me back then, in high school, just some angsty teenage boy surrounded by farmers' kids in a brutally small town in central Minnesota.
Dillinger Four, of all the bands I'd become exposed to while seeking out people who would sing about actual relevant shit, were hands-down the best. First off, they were from Minneapolis, less than three hours away from where I lived, and they were on Hopeless Records, a kinda big label at the time for punk rock. Local Boys Make Good! It made me proud.
But there's something so much more substantial to this record than that surface stuff. Yes, they sang about sociopolitical issues, but they did so DEFTLY and ELOQUENTLY. These lyrics weren't just "fuck the man / fuck the man / racism sucks / oi oi oi" (though, that's not bad, let me write that down for my next band...), these guys tackled these issues with true poetic abandon. Take the lyrics to "Shut Your Little Trap, Inc.", a dark and brutal assault on our broken American justice system and our barbaric predisposition to trying underage hoodlums as adults to satiate our own thirst for vengeance:
"I know it's hard to believe/ But half of me was scared to leave / They were so concerned about what I DESERVED they never thought about what I'd NEED / And I know my friends from high school are dropping my name, cuz they think it's so cool / That I'm caught in a cage match run by the state / Where middle-aged men whisper softly about rape
Where does this leave me, where should I go? / Trapped with worse evil than I've ever known / Think of what you had seen when you were sixteen / Then think of me
Now I'm just a guy who's got half his time to go / If good behavior means a two year show / Other cons are talking about me now, they call me 'The Kid' / And the judge who set me up made a good impression for the next election / But what the media won't say is, even with my freedom, I still wouldn't be old enough to vote against him
Sometimes all I can do is sit and cry / Is this what they want? Do they want me to die? / If that's the case, spark up the chair / Tape up my face and kill me right here / Cuz I can't take living in fear / What I'm getting out of this has never made itself clear
As a free man I've had to deal with what they taught me: / Paranoia and constant bigotry / A mindset designed and provided just to hold me down / Where respect comes only though intimidation, so I'm always expecting a confrontation / Apparently this is what they call 'rehabilitation'"
Jesus. I've got goosebumps, you guys. The power of lyricism had seldom shown its range to me as a kid until I heard that album, and I listened to it constantly, and I STUDIED the lyrics. These guys were onto something.
This is to say nothing of the actual music. I'd never really considered the debate that was apparently raging about Dillinger Four, but, upon moving to Duluth a couple years later, someone explained to me that there was an ever-present question of whether or not they counted as a pop punk band, or just a punk band. Seems a stupid and pointless distinction to waste one's time with until you consider, come on, we're music nerds, that's what we fucking DO.
And the confusion is not without merit. I mean, these are by no means your basic three-chord 4/4 songs. These songs have PARTS, they have CHANGES, they have three distinct singers changing the songs up constantly. Truthfully, they were like nothing I'd ever heard. And not just, like, "oh, this is new," but I mean like on a FUCKING COSMIC LEVEL, these guys were changing the whole game. It's funny to think now that there was ever a time that their sound wasn't totally omnipresent. Truthfully, their influence is apparent and obvious in punk rock across the board.
But I remember when it wasn't. It was just them. Just one amazing, amazing band, years ahead of their time. No bullshit, singing about real shit, and doing so in a groundbreaking way. This isn't just an example of "awesome pop punk albums," this is one of the best records ever made by any band, any genre, period.
And to think they were semi-local. How about that.
DISCOUNT - Half Fiction - [1997, Kat Records]
Impressionist painting was a movement built around the idea of a painting capturing a time of day. Being able to look into a painting and feel the sun on your face, smell the warm Summer air, hear the birds calling to one another in the distance. It was about capturing a time but also, along with it, a mood. The two often go hand in hand.
Discount, to me, captures a time, and captures a mood, and captures a place. Discount to me is sitting outside on the patio of a coffee shop in uptown Minneapolis, stealing glimpses of passing traffic rushing down Hennepin Avenue as you sip your coffee and return to reading whatever book you're on that day. It's warm out but you wear your hoodie anyway.
They're a warm, comforting band, and they make me feel good every time I hear them.
THE DWARVES - The Dwarves Are Young and Good Looking - [1996, Epitaph]
Oh boy, this album. Okay. So, what happened was the Dwarves were this just kind of evil scumbag rock and roll group a la Motorhead or what-have-you whose guitarist was killed in a bar fight and they broke up. Until a short while later when they revealed their guitarist wasn't really killed, they were just fucking with everyone, and now they're back to put out a new album. Weird.
Of course, some people took this shit seriously. They were kicked off their record label. Other people thought it was just the type of shenannigans to expect from a band who were notoriously mean, violent, who came on stage naked and threw punches into the crowd.
Here's where the twist comes in, though: rather than putting out another in a series of nigh-hardcore rock and roll, these fuckers returned from the grave to put out a POP PUNK ALBUM. A-WHUUUUUHHHH?? I think people at the time had to have been weirded out by this. I mean, a slick singalong pop punk album from one of the more vile, evil bands in punk rock?
Guess what, though? Here's the other twist: IT'S FUCKING GOOOOOOOOOOD.
I'm serious. Yes, the lyrics are still ugly and violent and misogynistic and satanic and all other kinds of wrong, that never changed, but The Dwarves Are Young and Good Looking proved that these cats were hiding all along their undeniable knack for writing a good, catchy tune! The mind reels.
by Mitch Clem
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by Mitch Clem
Jump to page 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6
Buzzfeed just published a pretty hilarious article detailing one young buck's account of what constitutes "essential" pop punk albums to anyone too young to remember where they were when 9/11 happened. Naturally, the ever-ornery Jaded Punk rebutted with a list of his own, which was a little closer to the mark, though still more or less a list the former kid would have compiled had he been born ten years earlier (plus, come on, not ONE female-fronted band? For shame, dude).
It's cool. Music is for everyone, and everyone likes what they like. I love reading these lists, these albums people consider so important to their lives, or to the greater scope of pop punk or punk rock or whatever.
So I decided to make my own! (hold for applause)
I'm not as strict about what constitutes pop punk or pop punk-relevant as Jaded Punk, though I do try and stay more or less in that world. It's funny, with categorizing shit like that, because of how much what you listen to normally colors what is and isn't pop punk. Like, when I was just out of high school and Kid Dynamite was first starting to be a thing. In my mind, that was a hardcore band. Yeah, there were melodic bits, but, overall, they were hardcore. But then you'd play that same Kid Dynamite album to someone with an Assuck patch on his jacket and he'd tell you they were pop punk. Or, like, the Mr. T Experience, right? I, and most people like me, would call them the quintessential pop punk band of their time. But I remember when that time was, when that album came out, and there were an awful lot of angry punks who took umbrage to "punk" even being one half of the descriptor used for them. To these Tru Punx, MTX was just pop music, nothing punk about it.
So it's all relative. What's more interesting to me is pushing boundaries within the genre. Or just putting out something so goddamn perfect that there's no avoiding it, traditional though it may be. I'll try and stick to stuff we can all universally agree on as pop punk, but I won't try THAT hard. This is all at least MELODIC punk, which is close the fuck enough.
Anyhow, I don't have to explain to you how music works. Here's a list of pop punk albums I like or consider extra relevant and that you should check out if you're so inclined:
(NOTE: This came out WAY longer than I'd anticipated, so I'll post this in installments, I think. I'd considered just making it an e-book or something, but somehow that seemed silly. We'll see.)
AGAINST ME! - Reinventing Axl Rose - [2002, No Idea Records]
I know, one-deep and you're already ready to argue with me about what does as does not constitute pop punk. To reiterate my point from earlier: It's punk, it's poppy, it fucking counts, leave me alone.
This album came out at a funny time in my life, where punk rock by-and-large just wasn't grabbing me for whatever reason, and so I was jamming a fuckton of indie rock. Jets to Brazil, Built to Spill, Eliot Smith, Sleater-Kinney... You know, the early 00's. Fucking Bright Eyes and shit.
Against Me had recently formed and put out a couple EPs that caught the attention of a fried of mine, who recommended I check them out. And so I got my hands on the first couple EPs and was instantly floored. But it wasn't until this, their first full-length, came out that the whole goddamn world changed.
Angry, screamy, but beautiful and melodic. Against Me hit me right in the sweet spot, and even moreso with lyrics that danced between left-wing politics and songs about JUST FUCKIN' LOVING MUSIC, MAAAAN! The titular track in particular summed up what made these guys so goddamn special: The idea of reinventing Axl Rose stemmed from the band's love of Guns N Roses, and what a fucking bummer it was that their frontman, one Axl Rose, was such a total rockstar butthole. Their ethos as a band was to change that, to take the rockstar mythos and bring it down to a populist level.
"We want a band who plays loud and hard every night / And doesn't care how many people are counted at the door / That would travel one million miles for nothing more than a plate of food and a place to rest / They'd strike chords that cut like a knife / It'd mean so much more than t-shirts or ticket stubs - They'd stop at nothing short of massacre / And everyone would leave with the memory that there was no place else in the world and this is where they've always belonged"
This wasn't a new sentiment, but the beauty and clarity with which they so poetically expressed what were, at their heart, purely traditional DIY ideals... Well, it was just so fucking goddamn perfect it would make you wanna cry.
ALKALINE TRIO - Goddamnit - [1998, Asian Man Records]
For a couple years in high school, I lived in a corn field in the middle of nowhere in a tiny farm town called Melrose, Minnesota. Here's an idea of where I was: Go to Minneapolis. Then go about an hour north and you'll find yourself in St. Cloud, a town most Minneapolitans already consider to be no-man's land. Then drive ANOTHER hour or so north. Smell all that turkey shit in the air? You're in Melrose.
I worked at the Dairy Queen on the other side of the highway from where I lived with my dad, and I would walk to work every day, ducking under the highway overpass to get high before stumbling into work. God I was a fucking terrible employee. Constantly just kinda standing around, staring at the grill, the slowest guy ever to make a sandwich. My manager hated me, especially since I was too fucking dumb and high all the time to ever know when I was being punished or hazed. He made me clean out the fryer, some total shit-job only given to the lowest face on the totem pole. Obviously, this was me. I drained the oil, got a razor, and I scraped and scraped and scraped. Took me two days. We were short of a fryer for two entire days because of how slowly I would scrape, staring mindlessly into the empty fryer, coated in grease.
Another menial task I was given was to mow the lawn around the store. This was a task that should never have taken longer than, I don't know, two hours? But this was me. Hell, more than once during this task my friends would drive by on the main road, honking and waving as I pushed the mower across the lawn. Eventually, it became more than I could take, and I jumped into the back seat of their car to go drive around getting high with them, leaving the mower sitting where it was, my job waiting for me. I managed to stretch that task out to THREE WHOLE DAYS. Amazing. Three whole days, stoned, mowing the lawn. And, all the while, the Discman in my pocket played the first Asian Man Records sampler, Mailorder is Fun!
The Alkaline Trio track on that sampler was unlike anything I'd ever heard: It was dark and sharp and unique, and I loved it. I got my hands on the EP the song was from, as well as the Alkaline Trio's first full-length, Goddamnit, shortly before quitting that Dairy Queen job. A friend was visiting who I liked a lot, and we were kinda hanging out one-on-one for the first time, making that initial bridge from "friendly acquaintances" to "actual friends" and I didn't wanna stop hanging out, so I went to the other room, called my boss about an hour after my shift was supposed to have started, and told him I quit. You've never heard a restaurant manager so relieved to be short-staffed.
The first time I listened to Goddamnit, I literally stopped at one point and said aloud, "Is this guy CRYING?" This was my first foray into emo music, a genre I would otherwise resist wholeheartedly. But, unlike their contemporaries, something about the Alkaline Trio just clicked for me. They wore their hearts on their sleeves in angsty dismay, but there seemed to me a sincerity in their angst. It was relatable as hell to me through those formidable teenage years. A stoned fuckup, constantly losing friends, constantly driving girls away. But I always had those Alkaline Trio records to keep me company through the hard times. And that's about the best thing you can say about a band.
AMERICAN STEEL - Jagged Thoughts - [2001, Lookout! Records]
St. Cloud, Minnesota, my home for a couple years immediately post-high school, was one of those unfortunate towns that bands just didn't want to play. We were a mere hour or so from Minneapolis (a more-or-less standard stop for any bands passing through on a midwest tour) and weren't really on the way to anything else (unless you count poor old Fargo, who for real never fucking get ANY shows). Heck, even Madison, Wisconsin, another college town roughly the same size as St. Cloud, still got their share of shows by simply being a halfway point between Minneapolis and Chicago. But not St. Cloud. Not worth the time.
And so it was all the more special when a band WOULD come up and play for us, especially someone touring nationally. It only happened a couple times a year, but I remember every goddamn show. I remember the Teen Idols and I remember the Thumbs and I fucking sure as hell remember American Steel.
Everyone loved them after they played. And, when I say everyone, I don't just mean the punk scene. Frankly, St. Cloud didn't really HAVE much of a punk scene to speak of. But we had nerds, and we had freaks, and they liked to have a good time too. All of a sudden you'd see computer programmers strolling down St. Germain in an American Steel shirt. A random car parked outside a bar with an American Steel sticker. People went nuts for these guys. And rightly so, they were fucking awesome.
We even threw a big house party and got them to come party with us one time. They were touring with Caprtured By Robots, another "band" I was quite fond of. But J-Bot, the brains behind Captured By Robots, was about as awkward back then as I would be now in the same situation. He quickly retired to his van where he spent the night.
Yep, American Steel were the shit, and we all thought so. Then, upon release of their third album, Jagged Thoughts, things changed. Their sound, though always undeniably Clash-influenced, took on a distinctly more mature, polished sound. This was their London Calling. Lookout Records, recognizing this, wanted to really push them as a major act. They were given a booking agent and a road manager, and stopping an hour out of Minneapolis to play some college town in bumfuck nowhere was out of the question. Some of us discussed driving all the way down to Minneapolis to see them still until finding out their show would be 21+. No dice. It was like being broken up with. An over-21 friend of mine who DID make the trek passed along the word that they felt bad they couldn't come up to St. Cloud that time around, but we knew well enough that we were lucky to have gotten what we did when we did.
American Steel broke up, of course, shortly thereafter. Almost no one even still lives in St. Cloud anymore.
APOCALYPSE HOBOKEN - Microstars - [1999, Kung-Fu Records]
I had a roommate in St. Cloud who was obsessed with the idea of punk music breaking down the walls of tradition and growing within the genre. Of shrugging off that heavy leather cloak of standards. "The drums have to sound like this, the guitars have to sound like that, and our songs can't be any longer than this, or else IT DOESN'T COUNT AS PUNK!" Getting past all that and just, like feeling the music and shit, bro. Letting it take you where it takes you. He didn't even smoke pot.
Apocalypse Hoboken achieved just that with their five-jillionth album, Microstars. The record opens with "Little Fingers," a bombastic rock and roll floor-stomper; then it's into "Legs of an Asian," with it's bizzarro-rap chorus and Prince-esque breakdown; then into slap-bass and angular-guitar-riff contry with "God Damn That's Love"... The fourth traqck finds the band at perhaps their most traditional (on that album, anyhow) with "Summer Assault," and even THAT doesn't sound like any other punk band, with it's dreamy guitar intro and constant tonal shifts.
Apocalypse Hoboken were always a badass band, and certainly didn't need to do anything special to set themselves apart from the crowd. But they did anyway. And it was crazy awesome.
THE ARRIVALS - Marvels of Industry - [2007, Recess Records]
Minneapolis, Minnesota, last Summer. I was up from my current home in San Antonio, Texas because my dad was sick, dying, and I came to take care of him. It was unbelievably trying, and I'm pretty certain I did a fucking terrible job all the way up to the end...
But, ugh that story is the longest possible story ever, and not one appropriate for the topic at hand.
Needless to say, I was stressed out, and there was a festival in Minneapolis that was just the thing to take my mind off my ills, however temporarily. It was at a bowling alley that's apparently been doing shows for quite some time now, and featured almost entirely hardcore bands, with the occasional thrash band tossed in for good measure.
One of the bands, earlier in the afternoon, was a kinda typical goonish-instigator band. You know, the lead singer's Punk As Fuck (tm) so he's kinda violent, kicking people, slapping beer out of people's hands, and, in typical douchey front-man form, yelling at anyone who isn't up front dancing (by "dancing" of course I mean FUCKING MOSHING BRO and getting beer slapped out of your hand by the lead singer - no thanks). "Hey you pansies in the back, folding your arms and nodding your heads, this is a fucking PUNK SHOW, get up here and FUCKING MOVE YOU POSERS!"
God I fucking hate that. First off, BRO, it's five in the afternoon, I'm not in the greatest of moods, and you're an annoying dick. Second off (fifth off?), if you want people to move to your music, the onus falls on YOU to create an environment where people WANT to move to your music, which doesn't mean antagonizing those of us who are on the fence about you so far. Yelling at me to get up front and start dancing is the quickest way to get me to say fuck this and just go home and watch Star Trek instead.
Of course, a band or two later, that same lead singer is standing there right near me, several rows back, arms folded, nodding his head. What a fucking chump.
The headlining group, nearly inexplicably, was the Arrivals. Sure, they were probably the biggest NAME on the festival, but, you know, a pop punk band after five trillion crust and brocore and thrash bands just wrapped up? Not a BAD choice, mind you, I mean I fucking loved it. Just amusing is all. And, as you'd expect, there were about fifty of us left for the Arrivals' set, all crammed together up front, jumping around and dancing and singing along, our arms around one another in a glorious shared experience. The high point of punk rock for sure, that comradery of mutual love of something beautiful and meaningful. They played "Pull Down the Willows" and I literally had to hold back from crying. It was extraordinary.
Afterwards, my friend and I went to the Hard Times Cafe and I had a grilled cheese sandwhich. I really miss Minneapolis sometimes.
ATOM & HIS PACKAGE - Making Love - [1999, No Idea Records]
Duluth, Minnesota. Another example of a town too far on the outskirts of any sensible tour route to warrant a stop, and thus a town almost entirely devoid of shows, making the few we DID get all the more special.
One such show involved headliner Atom & His Package headlining over a bunch of Duluth locals and this one one band from Minneapolis called Onward to Mayhem. Onward to Mayhem were a more-or-less by-the-numbers anarcho-punk quartet. They had the right patches on the right kind of clothes, their hair was spiked the right way and dyed the right colors. Kind of a yawnfest for me now that I'm thirty and boring, but, at the time, when I was seventeen, that shit was COOL.
What I liked best about them, besides that their songs were damn good, was how well-spoken the lead singer was between every song. He'd introduce whatever they were going to play next with such eloquent precision it was hard not to be impressed. The guy knew his shit and it showed.
A month or two later, a friend and I were down in Minneapolis on some excursion or another, and who should be playing a gig in town that very night but the one and only Onward to Mayhem! I excitedly talked him into going, and proceeded to talk the group up to him the entire night until, finally, they took the stage. It was then that I realized, as the lead singer proceeded to say, word-for-word, everything he had said during that show opening for Atom & His Package, that he was reciting scripted banter.
Years after that, in a bizarre twist, that same lead singer turned from these left-wing politics he'd previously so eloquently (if over-preparedly) espoused, and became a fucking Neo-Nazi. He was all over this Twin Cities Punk message board at the time, "You guys don't understand the first thing about National Socialism!" Last I'd heard he got banned from the Triple Rock for brandishing a gun. Fucking yikes.
Now, on the other end of that weird spectrum lies Atom & His Package. His between-song banter was excellent as well, though far less scripted. Far less serious as well. Atom's songs, though often about, like, actual shit, tend more towards the funny. His banter read like punk rock stand-up comedy, and his songs were just as funny.
Musically, of course, there was no further you could get from anarcho-punk within the punk genre than Atom. I guess nowadays the idea of mixing media in punk rock isn't all that noteworthy, but there was a time when Atom & His Package's method of programming punk songs into a vintage sequencer (resulting in a spastic pop punk / new wave hybrid) was goddamn revolutionary. Of course, the one-man-band was not without its detractors. Tru Punx around the globe couldn't fucking STAND Atom and his shrill, nasal vocals, or the beep beep tomfoolery of the Package's output. But those of us who COULD appreciate it sure as hell did.
A hilariously odd experiment whose songs were as catchy as they were poignant. Best of all, you KNOW Atom's never gonna slide towards Neo-Nazism. Hell, the only thing about his songwriting that's changed, if his contributions to his new band, Armalite, are any indicator, is that he's now just totally fucking obsessed with having diabetes. But that's an article for another time...
THE BANANAS - The First 10 Years - [2001, Plan-It-X Records]
Now THIS is something special. Spazzy and sloppy and silly and fun, the best of all things punk. The Bananas are some weirdo townies from California who apparently never leave their home state, and who I have thus never had the opportunity to see live. Goddamn are they fun, though. I dated a girl once upon a time who sort of pointlessly didn't like female vocalists. I don't know what her problem was. I guess she perceived women in bands as posing some sort of threat? My personal ability to get a crush on absolutely any woman with a guitar in her hands and a song on her lips proves that maybe she was right to be jealous, but I always thought it was stupid. Anyhow, the singer for the Bananas isn't a woman, but the bass player (and occasional backup vocalist) is, and so, this girlfriend of mine, she'd do this thing where, whenever she caught a female vocal anywhere on a track, would point it out with a scoff. "Ugh, hi female vocals." Seriously.
We broke up, thank god.
FUN FACT: Some of the songs on this collection were recorded at an abandoned green bean cannery, thus rendering the song "(Ain't Nobody Rockin' At the) Vegetable Factory" by Boris the Sprinkler null and void. Thanks for playing.
BENT OUTTA SHAPE - Stray Dog Town - [2005, Recess Records]
You know, for as much props as the Replacements get for being Relevant At All in punk music, their influence sure is hard to hear in the genre. Sure, they were a punk band for about thirty seconds in the eighties, but that shit was over as soon as it started, and their real big-deal records everyone shits themselves over are more malancholy bar rock than anything. I mean, don't get me wrong, I like their records as much as anyone. But it was just always one of those things, like Tom Waits and Billy Bragg, one of those non-punk bands that punks always love.
Enter Bent Outta Shape, who took that patented Paul Westerberg drunken wail and applied it quite directly to punk rock. Who knew! After all this time, punks kept espousing the virtues of the Replacements' music, but it took BOS to really draw that line for us, make it obvious.
This is a perfect album, suitable for absolutely any party. It SOUNDS like getting drunk and falling into your friends. It SOUNDS like good times. This is the band you want playing in your living room on your birthday, all your friends around to catch you when you drink to much and fall.
BORIS THE SPRINKLER - Mega Anal! - [1997, Bulge Records]
I never fit in. Ever. I was always too nerdy to be cool, but not smart enough to be a nerd. I liked art, but I drew comics, and was thus not arty enough to roll with the art crowd. I like punk music, but I'm awkward and not fun, so punks never really like me very much. I am a man without a country. A loner, Dottie. A rebel.
Melrose, Minnesota. In high school, I spent a lot of time alone in my bedroom ruminating on the aforementioned facts while breathing in copious amounts of pot smoke and spinning a collection of punk records as bottomless as the reviews section in every issue of Maximumrockandroll that came to my mailbox each month. My favorite columnist was Rev. Norb, whose articles, in their connecting the dots between being into punk rock but also being into comics and science fiction and other assorted geekery, that was a highlight of every issue for me. I didn't even realize Rev. Norb HAD a band until a friend of mine brought over a freshly-obtained Mega Anal picture-disc LP. I'd never seen a picture disc before, and studied it through a haze of pot smoke before finally settling it onto the turntable and setting the needle down on its outer rim.
What I heard first was the good Rev. Norb, already a hero, bellowing "MEGAAAAAA! AAANNNAAALLLLL!!!" through a din of reverb, then in with the drumbeat, a simple "ba-DUM, ba-da ba-DUM, ba da..." and Norb, after quietly announcing, "'Weird Lookin' Woman," take one," launching into a rapid-fire monologue espousing he and his own band's virtues that was so keen and clever that it made most hip hop artists of the era attempting the same thing look like fools in comparison:
"Well I'm built like a platypus, hung like a gigolo, bad to the bone like Bam Bam Bigelow, scored more often than Antonio Freeman, got more rhymes than the Navy's got seamen..."
And so on.
Admittedly, upon first listen, I couldn't even tell whether to be impressed or not. The whole affair was just so goddamn WEIRD. And it got weirder yet when he a capella'd through the first round of the chorus, which consisted of Norb loudly and nasally bellowing out a string of what sounded almost like a playground taunt; "nanna nanna boo boo" turned punk. It was WEIRD, I'm telling you. Then, finally, from out of nowhere, the guitar and bass kick in, and all this strangeness finally took actual form. It made sense, I GOT IT. "Ohhh, it's a PUNK song! Even I'm not too dumb to follow THAT!" The lyrics were so fast as to be impossible to ascertain without a lyrics booklet (thankfully, the CD version of the album that I went out and picked up the very next day had one).
I may have been a man without a country, I may not have fit in anywhere, not as a punk, not as a geek, but goddamnit if Rev. Norb and his possee didn't represent exactly the same thing. I wasn't alone. I needed that.
CHINESE TELEPHONES - self-titled - [2007, It's Alive Records]
Can I tell you a really long story? I'm guessing, by the fact that you've read this far, that I can.
So I'm fresh out of high school, living in St. Cloud, and about six of my friends and I start renting a house. When visiting this house for the first time before signing the lease, the then-current resident was standing outside, a hose in his hand, spraying a dog that was sitting in a shallow pit in the dirt. Turned out the dog was blind, and had dug himself this shallow pit to sit in and feel, I don't know, safe, I guess. So the dog is sitting there and the dude, this kinda redneckey Minnesota dude, is just standing there, a cigarette dangling from his lips, spraying the dog with the hose. "That's a dog," one of us remarks as we walk past. "Yup," the guy replies, his accent inexplicably southern considering how close we were to Canada at the time, "That's a WET dawg."
Of course, "That's a wet dawg" becomes a mantra of ours in the months to come.
I should mention that I'm allergic to dogs. Like, insanely allergic. I call dibs on the room in the basement and the rednecky dog-sprayer assures me his dogs never go in the house, never into the basement. I don't know why he lied to me about that and I don't know why I believed him, but there I was, moving my mattress and several boxes of CDs into this dank basement that I would later discover was absolutely covered in dog dander.
My housemates agree to let my friend and I book shows there on occasion, the first of which was a band from Wisconsin called the Modern Machines, who were goddamn amazing, plus a couple openers. Ferd Mert and the Valentines, I think.
I didn't make it to the show. My own first show at my new house and I couldn't go. You see, a couple weeks of sleeping in a room covered in dog dander culminated in my left lung collapsing in my sleep. I trudged up the wooden staircase into our kitchen that morning in an extraordinary amount of pain, while one of my housemates stood there in the kitchen, drinking a mug of coffee and laughing at my limp. I walked three blocks to Perkins, ate some breakfast, drank some coffee. I fucking SMOKED, for piss sakes! Trying all the while to ignore the pain in my chest, the shallow breathing, but my girlfriend eventually talked me into going to urgent care. They took an x-ray, collapsed lung, bam, I was high on demerol and under the knife in the emergency room before I knew what was happening.
I spent eight days in that hospital, eight fucking miserable, awful days. My friends would come by on occasion and we'd play Magic the Gathering. I read the entire Sandman series. But, mostly it was miserable.
God, I could write a billion words on this hospital visit alone, but that's not the point. The point is that the Modern Machines show happened without me.
Fast-forward a hundred thousand years. Now I live in San Antonio, Texas, and I still book shows every now and then. One such show was headlined by the Chinese Telephones, who were on tour with Tenement from Wisconsin. Sitting at the bar, drunk, waiting for the Telephones to take the stage, I started talking with one of the guys from Tenement. Somehow the subject turned to the midwest, booking shows up there, and we realize we were both kinda active in our respective scenes in the same region at the same time. I mention having booked a Wisconsin band back then, but missing the show because I was in the hospital.
"Holy shit!" he exclaims. "The Modern Machines show in St. Cloud! I was AT that show! It started in the garage and then the cops showed up and moved it to the basement! The guy from Ferd Mert said the guy who booked the show was in the ICU!"
"Oh my god, that was ME! I mean, I wasn't in the ICU, just, you know, the hospital. But still!"
From a basement show in a small, college town an hour away from civilization in Minnesota to a sweltering dive bar on the outskirts of downtown San Antonio. These strange things that can connect total strangers. Punk rock is a uniting force in ways we sometimes can't even predict.
by Mitch Clem
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A flyer I did for the Evaporators a while back just showed up on the last episode of Supernatural! (Thanks to Frau Brittanica for alerting me and taking the screencaps)
For those of you keeping score at home, this is, if I'm remembering correctly, the third time my art has appeared on an hour-long sci-fi serial. The first was an extra sporting a NN2S "It Has Begun" shirt on the Ghost Whisperer, and the second was another Evaporators poster gracing a wall on Alcatraz.
Now if there were only some way to parlay this into a money-making venture...
I don’t really have the effort or interest, frankly, in trying to create an empirical “THESE ARE THE BEST ALBUMS OF THE YEAR IN ORDER OF BESTNESS”. However, 2012, while a shitty year to be a human being with feelings and stuff, was a good year for punk music. So here’s a list of a few of the albums that came out that I liked, in no particular order. (NOTE: I didn’t listen to everything, so this list is definitely incomplete).
MITCH CLEM’S LIST OF GOOD THINGS, 2012 EDISH:
BIG EYES - “Back From the Moon”
This is just a 7” and thus doesn’t count or something. I don’t make the rules. STILL, as much as I said I wasn’t ranking anything as better or worse than anything else, “Back From the Moon” is HANDS DOWN THE #1 BEST SONG OF 2012 BY MILES AND MILES. As many miles as it takes to go to the moon and back at least. This is probably my favorite currently-touring band. If they play in your town, I am not kidding, go go go see them. You’ll thank me. And tell them I sent you, if only to annoy them.
FUTURE OF THE LEFT - “The Plot Against Common Sense”
Yeah, not as good as their first album for sure, but still better than whatever crappy band you play in. Frenetic, weird, catchy, and great. Like if Apocalypse Hoboken were a Sub Pop band or something. Plus charming Welsch accents. Wonderful stuff.
TOYS THAT KILL - “Fambly 42”
Maybe TTK’s best album, which is saying quite a lot. More garage influence than previous records without sounding like a different band. This shit is genius.
TRAGEDY - “Darker Days Ahead”
Slower and broodier than previous records, but still brutal and powerful. One of the best hardcore bands around. I love these guys.
MASKED INTRUDER - s/t
Flawless, uber-slick pop punk concept band who write songs more or less about stalking girls, thus subverting the entire oft-misogynistic pop punk subgenre and creating possibly the sneakiest feminist punk record ever. Bikini Kill never had hooks like this.
SWEARIN' - s/t
Goddamn those Crutchfield sisters can do no wrong. This project stars, specifically, Allison (P.S. Eliot, Bad Banana, P.S. Eliot, P.S. Eliot), alongside Kyle from Big Soda, and some other kids from other stuff, whatever. Allison and Kyle are the stars here, and WONDERFUL SHIMMERING STARS THEY ARE. I suck at writing reviews. Swearin' mixes equal parts jortscore pop punk with striped-shirt 90s indie to create a wholly familiar but still relentlessly likeable sound. I hope these kids stay together, if only for the kids (me, I am the kids).
RISE AND FALL - "Faith"
Rise and Fall achieve what so precious few bands are capable of: Hardcore punk that is heavy and brutal and angry but still totally CATCHY. Right? This album is a real rager.
WORLD’S SCARIEST POLICE CHASES - “Unfuckwithable”
What the hell is even happening here? These guys are a riot. Kinda sloppy party-punk about being cops and stealing drugs from kids or something. If I did an album cover for them it would be a skeleton police officer doing some tweaked-out grabs on a skateboard. I’ll bet they’re awesome live.
SICKOIDS - s/t
Pretty cool hardcore punk from Philly. The couple times they flirt with more melodic stuff, they become absolutely unstoppable. Good debut album showing lots of promise.
BRAT FARRAR - s/t
One-man-band that sounds like if Jay Reatard and the Spits had a baby. Some really great songs here, this guy knows what he’s doing. Plus he recorded it by himself, playing every instrument, in his bedroom, and released it himself. DIY OR DIE, BABY!
WHITE LUNG - “Sorry”
Even Spin likes this album. Awesome female-fronted punk punk punk punk rock. Overall a solid record, but a couple of the tracks on here in particular are absolutely astounding.
LOMA PRIETA - “I.V.”
Cool-ass hardcore band that sound like they probably wear pretty tight pants but, whatever man, good songs are good songs.
PROPAGANDHI - “Failed States”
These guys haven’t made a bad album yet. To hell with the nonbelievers. Political speed metal from a band that used to sound like NOFX. Or that NOFX used to sound like, I kinda forget how it works again. This record sounds exactly like you’d expect it to. And it’s great.
MIND SPIDERS - “Meltdown”
Some kinda crazy psychadellic weirdness from ex-Marked Men. Sounds like Marked Men on acid. I guess? It’s awesome, whatever it is.
DINOSAUR JR. - “I Bet on Sky”
How the fuck does a band break up for ten years and then get back together and still be just as good? This album is flawless. Just astounding.
…plus several others I know I forgot or just haven’t heard yet. Happy New Years!
There's a show on FOX called Alcatraz, and a recent episode (season one, episode three) featured a poster I'd drawn on the background in one scene. Here's a screen cap:
Here's a larger version of the poster itself:
FUN FACT: This is the second time my art's appeared in a supernatural network drama. The first was when an extra wore one of the NN2S "It has begun!" shirts on The Ghost Whisperer.
FUN FACT 2: I don't watch any of these shows. Crossing my fingers for a "TRU PUNX" sticker to show up on Parks & Recreation some day. Now THAT would be exciting.