Sunday, May 16, 2010

Review: The Manix - "Van Activities" [7-inch]

Pop-punk should not be this fun! Wait a minute, yes it should. It’s just that since melodic masochists like Alkaline Trio and all their equally distraught copycats exploded a few years back, it seems like everyone outside of the Ramones-core crowd has been singing about heartbreak and empty bottles. Not so, with the Manix.

Like the rusted rickshaw of its namesake, Van Activities burns rubber on a solid foundation of four on the floor. From ribbing Val Kilmer on the spry sing-along “Madmartigan” to shoulder-shrugging agnostics on “Metal Endings,” the quartet carves out a niche that’s increasingly their own despite well-deserved comparisons to Dillinger Four and Toys That Kill.

Intro paragraph notwithstanding, Van Activities isn't all smiles and chuckles, as the EP’s sole comedown “Reach for the Sky” asserts, “Thanks again, this is goodbye / You should hear yourself sometimes / You’re nothing more that I’d pursue / 'Cause you’re not pulling through this fine.” The blistering insomniac anthem “Awake and Up” demonstrates the Manix’s ability to use simplicity to their advantage, crafting a ripe minute-o-eight of pop-punk as Corey Ayd shouts, “I’ll sleep when I can breathe / Know there’s nothing underneath / I’ll sleep when I can breathe / No, there’s nothing underneath.”

Both Willow references and timely rhythm changes courtesy of drummer Mike DeGree abound on the jovial “Madmartigan,” while "Metal Endings” rounds out the record as arguably the finest track of the bunch. In it, the quartet makes the most of their multi-vocal approach and layers of guitar varnishing the EP’s final lines, “Spent years talkin’ bout leaving / Don’t know what to believe in.”

Progressing from their 2009 debut Stay Low and Go, the only real downside the Manix present here is that like its predecessor, the customary brevity of the 7-inch format is unfortunate. But it also makes the math easier, with a gold star of excellence for each pop-punk gem on Van Activities.

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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Review: Attitude Adjustment - "The Collection"

Attitude Adjustment is one of those moderately obscure bands that never received the attention they deserved and stayed fairly below the radar despite their relatively high profile on a local level. Proof is in both this re-release compilation on punk archive experts Taang! and the smattering of fliers across the liner notes that document billing alongside such immortal acts in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s as DRI, Suicidal Tendencies, Circle Jerks, Discharge, RKL, Poison Idea and even NOFX.

The Collection is a three-piece assemblage of Attitude Adjustment’s full-length studio discography spanning 1986’s American Paranoia, 1988’s No More Mr. Nice Guy and 1991’s Out of Hand. In what looks on paper like somewhat of a revolving-door lineup, the only constant in the group is drummer Chris K., while guitarists, bassists and even singers drift in and out.

AA’s snotty thrash-punk does nothing to belie their juvenile lyrics and half-baked ideas. But this is without a doubt the charm of the 16 songs that comprise their debut LP. It’s the primitive aggression and youthfulness that makes American Paranoia so convincing and the most enjoyable of any incarnation of the band.

By the time No More Mr. Nice Guy hits, the entire lineup outside of drummer Chris K. has been replaced, with a heavier feel thanks in no small part to lower-toned growler Kevin R. Unfortunately, the quality of lyrics doesn't keep up with the rest of the band’s development, as the awkward “Satan Is God” attempts, “I believe in you / I believe in me / But worshiping God or Satan I cannot see.”

The final installment in The Collection is Out of Hand, which opens with Travis Bickle’s infamous Taxi Driver excerpt and rips into a more metal-oriented sound with death bellows and a second guitar mixed into the fold. The straight-ahead thrash style of “Power of Control” takes full advantage of the soloing capabilities a second guitar brings, while the drums incorporate more double-bass rhythms than the heavyset No More Mr. Nice Guy. The lyrics still leave a bit to be desired in terms of vocabulary and flow, but the themes are all generally pretty solid as the thrash-punk ripper “Out of Hand” suggests, “The man in white he breeds the hate / And children learn from his racist traits / War--the downfall of man / Bombing--all inhabitants banned / Killing--one another with hate / For our world--is it too late?”

The folks at Taang! have done an excellent job reassembling the works of Attitude Adjustment, both in the stellar art and packaging and the chronological sequencing. Throughout the 41 tracks that make up The Collection, the musical maturation is effectively demonstrated, while the youthful zeal is never lost.

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