Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Review: The Business - "Doing the Business"

London, England’s legendary Oi! boys the Business have been cranking out working-class punk rock longer than many of us have been alive, and despite periodic bouts of inactivity, have remained a productive musical force for 30 years.

Doing the Business is the band’s first release on Sailor’s Grave, a union that seemed bound to happen and is, frankly, a little surprising it took this long. Obvious statements aside, this release combines a four-track studio EP with six live tracks, five of which were recorded at the London’s Marquee Club in 1982. Why they didn't feature all the live tracks from the same show is anyone’s guess, but the live tracks here aren't the main thrust of the release anyway.

The studio portion of the disc is made up entirely of covers, which is surprising since the release hasn't been marketed as a covers album at all. First, English rock band Status Quo has some punk energy injected into their 1973 single “Mean Girl,” which makes for a pretty good opening to the album. Beerzone’s “Don’t Give a Fuck" follows and is easily the worst cover of the bunch, lacking any hooks or clever lyrics while being redundant as hell. American Oi! pioneers the Bruisers get songwriting credits for the best cover here in the form of “Till the End,” which the Business send out to former Bruiser Rick Wimert, who passed away in 1996. Another of the top tracks on the disc is the cover of “1-2-3,” originally by the Professionals, a short-lived punk band featuring Paul Cook and Steve Jones that formed after the Sex Pistols initially disbanded.

The story behind the live tracks as explained in the liner notes is that the band had always wanted to play the Marquee Club, but were as good as banned from playing there due to a restriction on the number of skinheads the venue would allow inside. As luck would have it, they were finally a given a last-minute opportunity to play a 15-minute set in between Chelsea and the Adicts in 1982 and the performance was captured on tape. While the live portion does include classics like “Blind Justice” and “Suburban Rebels,” the rough audio quality makes it hard to enjoy, and seemingly obsolete since most fans should have the classic album of which the latter song serves as title track.

The live tracks don’t really take away from this release at all, but they don’t enhance it much either. It’s a nice bit of archivist history, but the four studio tracks--even as covers--are what make this record worth buying.

Review: This Moment in Black History - "Public Square"

This Moment in Black History is a difficult act to analyze, not merely due to their crosscutting stylistic directions or unorthodox structures, but for their entire approach as it pertains to art and substance.

In what might be deemed the burgeoning style of hipster hardcore (or ”blipster” hardcore depending on whether you agree with the New York Times coining cultural terms), TMIBH joins the ranks of those such as Pissed Jeans, the Death Set and latter-day Fucked Up who dabble in experimentalism as much as raw energy. On Public Square, the sense of irony in songs like “Forest Whitaker (In an Uncompromising Role)” and “Theophylline Valentine” bubbles over much more so than any Minor Threat, Bad Brains or even late-era Black Flag.

Sure, at times TMIBH can be rather straightforward, like in “MFA” where the simple message of the chorus is “It’s what I worked so hard for.” The verse is another story, though, spewing cryptically “250 miles down south / Put that chili back in your mouth / Fake metropolitan segregated river town / All your theories are an empty ballroom floor that evaporate the second the coroner calls.”

Tinkering with odd time signatures and garage riffs (“About Last Night”) or being as noisy and discordant as possible (“90% Tone"), the band’s willingness to experiment and lack of regard for convention is palpable. But the disconnect at an emotional level keeps this collection of songs at arm’s length from the listener. Musically, though, with the exception of the particularly out of place indie-hip-hop “My Notes” (“I write my notes on a piece of mail / I write on toilet paper when I’m in jail / Bitch don’t touch my notes”), there is a general cohesiveness that suggests a skilled ability to wrap together a set of such varying approaches.

While it’s impossible to deny the musical mastery and artistic vision of Public Square, it’s hard to muster up any kind of personal investment in spinning a disc that seems mostly bound by aesthetics and avant-garde appeal. While it would surely feel at home shuffling about in the iPod of your average thrifty hipster or MFA candidate, it may remain well outside the grasp of those who seek solace in music.

Review: Adams Dagger - "Adams Dagger"

Of all the retro styles bands are aping today and turning into their own, what sound is conspicuously absent in releases of the past few years is that of the early Southern California punk scene. No, not the SoCal hardcore of Black Flag, Uniform Choice or the Circle Jerks, but the quirky, quasi-melodic punk of bands like the Vandals, the Angry Samoans and D.I.. That’s what Adams Dagger has masterfully revisited, and it should come as no surprise that they happen to hail from Long Beach, California.

At times amusing and at times disturbing, the most prevailing set of adjectives to describe Adams Dagger’s self-titled release would be “delightfully catchy yet unrefined.” Not just in their name (an 18th century slang term for “penis”) but even more so in their music and lyrics. With simple, melodic basslines and straight-ahead drumming, Adams Dagger doesn't need to soak their approach in allegiance to the past to recall the formative years of California punk.

Whether it’s a brutally open acceptance of addiction (“Over and Over”) or smirking approval of radical conspiracy theorists (“David Icke Was Right”), it’s hard not to cringe through this record. The opening track, in fact, is almost enough to warrant stopping the disc and questioning whether to continue. “My libido’s in a rage / Wait til I get off this stage / Gonna whip you and beat you / And lay it on thick tonight / ... / Ain't you just the sweetest thing / Still wearin’ your promise ring” declares vocalist Damon on the totally creepy “Bad Man.”

The band’s morose outlook bleeds through in Vandals-like storytelling on “Here Lies”: “Here lies Jim age 49, pretty ordinary guy / ... / One day his heart attacked him / He’s pronounced dead on the scene.” The ratio of morbidity and sincerity seems to be about 1:1 though, as “End of Suffering” plainly asserts “My spiritual health means much more to me than wealth / To be, or not to be or just be myself.” The five-and-a-half-minute closer “The Little Things” would normally be way too long for a punk song, but Adams Dagger pulls it off as it moves from energetic to repetitive and slightly monotonous to a frenzied anthem of paranoia.

It’s possible that Elvis Cortez (of Left Alone) who produced the record might have had something to do with the sound captured on AD’s self-titled, or it might just be the band doing what they do. Either way, Adams Dagger is an intriguing album for a variety of reasons, but not the least of which is its catchy tunes.

Review: Born to Lose - "The Dreams of Kids"

Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers were “Born to Lose.” Social Distortion was “Born to Lose.” The Bouncing Souls, Johnny Cash, and even Ray Charles were all “Born to Lose” via Ted Daffan and the Texans outlaw classic. But Austin, Texas’ Born to Lose was born to bruise, because this shit gets deep.

Not just “deep” from a philosophical standpoint (which it really isn't), but sonically, with a thick low end and a weighty wall of sound-like approach. The production on The Dreams of Kids also helps obscure whatever distinct stylistic boundaries might be imposed. Though the aesthetic tendencies might have pointed to street punk from a surface standpoint, the full, beefy sound at times more closely resembles hardcore, while multiple points in the album have the delivery and lyrical motifs of early Strung Out.

The record itself is a tad lopsided, starting slowly with the cliché-ridden “Fall on Your Sword” and title track, but ending with the phenomenal “The Swing,” “Last Chance Boys” and “Forever Ours.” However, even the weaker tracks provide something to take away, if not the hooks, then at least the lyrics. While “Shallow Graves” doesn't pack the melodic punch of some of the other tunes, its paradoxical couplets paint a nice picture for the listener: “We are the moral man / We are the whore / We are the protest scene / We are the war / We are the socialist / We starve our poor / We are the scientist / Whose Christ is Lord.”

Born to Lose offers glimpses of Hot Water Music-like brilliance on songs like “Hard Rain,” with its well-absorbed lead guitar and urgently delivered vocals that don’t skimp on melody and harmony. Despite background "whoa"s that are nearly identical, “The Swing” and “Last Chance Boys” both hit impossible heights when the booming chorus barrels forth.

What really separates Born to Lose from the pack isn't just the unique sound captured on The Dreams of Kids, but a certain level of austerity and restlessness that belies their confident songwriting and implementation. Regardless of which niche this record ends up calling home, it’s an enjoyable release and a testament to what this band is capable of.

Review: Swingin' Utters - "Brand New Lungs" 7-inch

The Swingin’ Utters are back on the attack with their first new studio material since 2003’s Dead Flowers, Bottles, Bluegrass, and Bones. It may be coming a little late, and it may not be the full-length I was promised (LP is due out this fall), but it’s yet another great addition to the already overflowing Utters catalog.

The three songs that comprise the Brand New Lungs seven-inch are all essentially entrenched in the same hybrid of street punk, power-pop, and pogo elements. While it’s not unusual for the Swingin’ Utters to mix things up and move in a different direction, it is somewhat atypical of recent times that they cluster songs of a similar sound together as they've done here.

The EP opens with the title track, a bouncy, darting punk number that proclaims “I’m gonna find myself some brand new lungs / Because these ones are black and tired / I’ll use them well, and mind my health / Think nothing but pure thoughts." The track hits its stride with a gorgeous hamonic bridge that emerges from an uneasy rest and reaches soaring heights before kicking back into the chorus. As usual, Johnny “Peebucks” Bonnel’s penchant for street punk poetry is exceedingly evident: “And the drunks all cheat and lie / While the sober ones all cry / They feel obliged to apologize / Beg for forgiveness, make it feel alright.”

The real gem of the set, though, is the second track, “Lepers, Thieves, and Whores.” It’s not only catchiest of the bunch in terms of melody, but has a warm and feel-good guitar solo sandwiched between the EP’s best lyrics: “Keep your eyes glued to the ground / And tuck your wings behind ya because the wind can be so strong / Grab your things and mind you all the kids can be so wrong.”

The last track, “Forward to Fun” is a couple notches lower than the first two in terms of what the Utters are capable of, but it’s still pretty good. The melody and guitars are extremely repetitive, but it creates a kind of hypnotic effect that one rarely encounters in traditional punk rock.

Although at only three tracks it may be a small taste of what the Swingin’ Utters have to offer, most fans have been in withdrawal so long that it’s still extremely satisfying. While the songs on Brand New Lungs represent just a tiny portion of their stylistic arsenal, it’s safe to say that the Swingin’ Utters are back.

Review: The Scarred - "At Half Mast"

Before the label’s impending dormancy and announcement of hiatus, one of Punk Core Records’ best releases was the Scarred’s No Solution. Rather than the label’s typical hardcore street punk of the Casualties, Career Soldiers and A Global Threat, the Scarred embraced a more traditional street punk sound rooted in pervasive melodies and mid-tempo rhythms.

Fast-forward to 2009 and the Scarred had jumped ship for the more active Basement Records and gone from aping Cock Sparrer and the Business to aping mid-'90s Green Day. With high-quality production and a snotty faux-nasal vocal approach not unlike that of Billie Joe Armstrong, At Half Mast is close to having crossover appeal.

If you don’t believe me, try this: Play the Scarred’s “2009” for your undiscerning friends and see if it isn't immediately assumed to be Green Day. The same would probably work for the catchy tunes of “Vice” and “Panic!” as lead singer Justin Willits spouts "Paranoia, mind control, but what can I do? / There's not a lotta options left for me and you / Terrorism, nihilism, violent warning / Just when you thought your life was getting boring."

At times, though, the band really comes into their own, like on the hook-filled “21st Century Girl,” despite a chorus dangerously close to "Nice Guys Finish Last." The album’s hidden track is a rather enjoyable punk-lite number employing hand drums, tambourine and a fuzzy electric guitar, all wrapped together with a memorable melody and vituperative punk lyrics.

The band pays sardonic tribute to their hometown in “Anaheim,” a feisty street anthem that goes about a minute too long at 3:10 before another 90 seconds of silence leading into the hidden track. “Lowlife” is a slightly retooled version of the same song that appeared on their debut LP, Repression, which is decent but not all that different from the original. The only real dud on the disc is “Medicate Me,” which lacks any hooks but tries to make up for it in redundancy.

Despite the bad luck that has plagued their journey, the Scarred has forged on to deliver their best yet on At Half Mast, a catchy and energetic record that will appeal to fans of street punk and pop-punk alike.

Review: Short Changed - "Short Changed"

Somewhere between raw DIY hardcore, crust and slightly slower, extended, powerviolence is Short Changed, a California quintet that lives up to its name.

Resembling more the hardcore of the early 1980s than most of those claiming to represent the genre today, Short Changed doesn't entirely throw back to the past. Lyrically, many of the album’s topics address present-day issues, such as the verbal chiding of “Reinventing Against Me!” and the four-second “Morally Bankrupt,” which simply proclaims, “Two girls, one cup, ‘nuff said.” The former is a bit more derisive, lashing “Don’t tell me what to do / I've got it on my own” to a breakneck snare rhythm. The band also drops a cover of “Hard as Fuck,” an Against All Authority song from Destroy What Destroys You that came out in the mid-'90s.

Still, there are plenty of themes that are just as relevant today as they would have been 30 years ago. The 45-second “Pipebomb Party” is one of the band’s more incisive sets of lyrics, even if indiscernible to the naked ear: “Strung out on the line with a two-week notice / Just trying to survive, going to be homeless soon / Greedy fucking asshole wants to kick us out to get yuppie tenets who will pay twice as much.” The primal album opener, “Life Is Expensive” recalls the aggression and simplicity of Negative Approach, while “D.Y.F.L.” (“dude, you’re fucking lame”) is a snotty thrashblaster that clocks in at a cool 1:11. The best track of the LP is the ever-so-slightly introspective “Bottle or the Knife,” a realistic confrontation of coping mechanisms: “I've seen a lot in my 18 years / Seen my innocence rot away / Drowning myself in alcohol is easier than facing the day.”

Short Changed plays punk rock in the short, fast, and loud tradition, taking each measure to the extreme. There are no frills on their self-titled LP, but there’s nothing to complain about either. For anyone looking for unadulterated hardcore that does't ape the past, Short Changed is worth the 17 minutes its 13 songs comprise.

Review: Strawberry Blondes - "Fight Back:

Despite their somewhat cutesy name that might remind some of us of a certain cartoon our sisters used to make us watch in the 1980s, the UK’s Strawberry Blondes play a rough, melodic brand of punk rock that falls somewhere between Rancid and Anti-Flag.

Admittedly, much of the album is fairly standard anthemic and slightly sloganeering street-styled punk (see “Social Control,” “Revolution Radio”). However, there are some effective guest spots on Fight Back that give the album some much needed deviation and break up the homogeny a bit.

The most significant of such appearances in regards to the album’s variety comes from New York’s King Django of the Stubborn All-Stars and Skinnerbox on the horn-punk number “Manners and Respect.” Joey LaRocca of the Briggs drops by the four-and-a-half-minute “Goodbye Inspiration” to help out a bit on the hooks, though the repetitive formula keeps the track from really flourishing.

While there are some straight-ahead punk tracks that stand out among the rest of the bunch (“Hang ‘Em All High,” “Hard Times”), the clear highlight is the band’s fusion of ska classics “007” by Desmond Dekker and “A Message to You, Rudy,” the latter made popular by the Specials. With the flickering of the album’s sole steady upstroke rhythm, the Strawberry Blondes masterfully combine the hornline of what they label “Rudi” with the chorus of “007” before launching into the chorus of “A Message to You, Rudy.”

The biggest and most distracting detractor in Fight Back is song lengths that border on ridiculous. Melodic street punk songs on the side of four to four-and-a-half minutes is just excessive, and happens to occur several times on the record, with the bulk surpassing three minutes. Some bands can pull it off, but for the Strawberry Blondes, it just starts getting repetitive after a while.

ADHD complaints aside, the Strawberry Blondes have amassed a capable and enthusiastic collection of punk rock jams on Fight Back. While they could use a bit more diversity, they clearly know what they’re doing and why on the 15 tracks that populate this disc.

Review: The Hollowpoints - "Old Haunts on the Horizon"

Fresh off the heels of their phenomenal contribution to the recent Swingin’ Utters tribute, Seattle, Washington’s the Hollowpoints make their Sailor’s Grave debut with one of the best and most surprising releases yet this year. It probably shouldn't come as a surprise, though, as the band has amassed a dizzying 10 releases in the last five years (on labels like Dirtnap and Disaster Records), and evidently proven enough to tour alongside legendary bands like the Business and the U.S. Bombs.

With vocals by lead singer Matt Mckinney that recall Dillinger Four’s Erik Funk, an undulating skatepunk rhythm that rarely lets up and an aesthetic lyrical and stylistic approach that puts them alongside bands like One Man Army and the Briefs, the Hollowpoints are no easy act to pigeonhole. Perhaps the most discernible quality the band puts forth on Old Haunts on the Horizon is their seemingly unyielding ability to garnish their compositions with pleasing progressions and candy-coated melodies that sit lightly on top of the music and breeze by comfortably.

From the opening riffs of “Runaway” through the impossibly catchy “Shea Politika” and closer “Keep the Bubble in the Middle,” the Hollowpoints toggle between Dead to Me, Swingin’ Utters and a hint of the Dickies without rooting themselves in any particular influence. Their two-guitar approach (“new” since 2006) produces a warmth and interplay that glazes a smooth finish around each one of the tunes, and Mckinney’s melodies never descend from ebullience. Even when lamenting personal trials and cautionary tales, the lofty pitch emanates cheerily as on “Nameless”: “Saturday, it feels like shit / But no one ever quits / [...] / The funny thing about abuse / Or the way we use ain't there / I don’t remember yesterday / Don’t remember anything.”

Gang and background vocals on the poppy speedster “Falling Up Stairs” embellish the song with a more dense but still tender quality, while its impressive guitar soloing further aids the melodies. The similarly-layered “Service Is Our Business” is as political as it is catchy, as Mckinney proclaims, “Iraq’s been pigeonholed / the new age oil drill / Just shut up and take your pill.”

The only two tracks that keep Old Haunts on the Horizon from bordering on perfection are “God Save Anna Nicole,” which is a little inane, and “No Name,” which takes aim at the always-easy target of fashion punks. Even with small complaints present, the quality and fun of this album cannot be denied. It may have taken 10 releases for the Hollowpoints to get the attention they deserve, but this band clearly has what it takes to make their mark in punk rock.

Review: Cheap Sex - "Dead Today: Five Years of Cheap Sex" DVD

From 2002 to 2007, Cheap Sex was one of the best, most incisive and uncompromising hardcore street punk bands in the scene. At a time when street punk was booming and the look and attitude was becoming more important than the music and dissent, Cheap Sex put forth hard-nosed leftist political anthems through the heart of the Bush administration and military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. This DVD tells the tale of Cheap Sex, from the van crashes and heroin addiction to struggles in the studio and constant lineup changes, with a smattering of live footage and fan interviews interlacing the documentary.

The story picks up with frontman Mike Virus leaving New York and his old band the Virus and heading out to San Diego to pursue a job offer. Initially imagining the band as a ’77 pogo-style act, Cheap Sex immediately morphed into an all-out hardcore street punk band upon writing their first song “Eyes See All.” In the documentary, the band credits their ability to get on big shows with bands like Slaughter and the Dogs, 999 and the Virus with the nearly instant success they were met with.

Described on the back of the DVD as a turbulent existence, Cheap Sex endured more tribulations in their five years of existence than most acts of 20 years encounter. On their first coast-to-coast tour, a truck full of cinder blocks collided with their van, tearing it apart and smashing the chest of guitarist Johnny O. and putting him in the hospital for three months. Later, guitarist Chris Wick lost his mother and aunt before committing suicide himself at the age of 23 after struggling with heroin abuse. In the retrospective interviews, the band devotes some five to ten minutes confronting drug use and depression, topics that still seems to burn in their minds following the death of Wick.

Aside from the band history and interviews, the clips of fans (some of whom traveled enormous distances) outside the last show are funny and enjoyable. A German fan who flew 17 hours (and whose green hair is no longer spiky by the time the footage is shot) talks about his love for Cheap Sex, while girls from Canada and Orlando make the long haul out to San Diego to see one of their favorite bands. The live footage ranges from pretty good to pretty bad depending on audio quality, while it’s still surprising Cheap Sex was such a live draw based on how lifeless and how little stage presence the band ever commanded.

Packaged with the DVD is a bonus CD that includes four unreleased studio tracks from the band. The first, “Hot Topic” is the only original (and kind of ironic since the band’s label Punk Core distributed music at the store), with an excellent cover of GBH’s “No Survivors,” Motörhead’s “Bomber,” and a nice take on “Nothing” by Negative Approach. Also included is an insert that credits each of the 10 members of the band throughout its existence.

Following Cheap Sex, members went on to such a diverse set of acts such as Evacuate and the Muslims. But Cheap Sex won’t be left behind, and thanks to this DVD, certainly won’t be forgotten.

Review: Ramouns - Rockaway Beach Boys

There aren't many free clues regarding the nature of this release, with nothing provided but the CD, liner notes and a cryptic one-sheet that describes a tall tale account of members of the Ramones and Beach Boys recording an album together following a happenstance meeting in 1980. Said album was then allegedly discovered “in a cave, deep in the East German pampa,” and is precisely what is presented here by the Rämouns on Rockaway Beach Boys.

What the Rämouns do is play Beach Boys songs in the same style as the Ramones. And with the same clothes and hair as the Ramones. But since the Ramones already played many songs in a similar style as the Beach Boys (albeit with a “1-2-3-4!” launch), the Rämouns are essentially a derivative of a derivative.

That’s not to say Rockaway Beach Boys isn't an enjoyable listen by any means, though. It’s extremely fun hearing what the Ramones playing “Help Me, Rhonda” may have sounded like, along with fantastic versions of “I Get Around” and “In My Room.” Some of the Beach Boys classics had already been envisaged and morphed into punk songs like the Queers' take on "Little Honda" and Pennywise doing "I Get Around," but they still sound great here.

There’s little else that really needs to (and even can) be said about this release. In terms of originality, Rockaway Beach Boys is a bust, but it’s hard to argue with songs executed so flawlessly as those by the mysterious Rämouns.

Review: Batusis - "Batusis"

What do you get when you combine luminaries from two of the most influential protopunk bands in history, aged 35 years since the pinnacle of their influence? The answer, though more complex than stated simply here, is about what you would expect.

Batusis is, at its core, legendary guitarist of Rocket from the Tombs and the Dead Boys Cheetah Chrome and founding member of the New York Dolls, Sylvain Sylvain. Adding to the glam-punk-rock-'n'-roll resume of the Batusis co-frontmen is the addition of Joan Jett and the Blackhearts’ rhythm section, Thommy Price on drums and Enzo Penizzotto on bass.

But back to the initial inquiry: It would be hard to imagine aging glam-punks writing songs that weren't steeped in the blues scale, and that’s exactly what you get with the opener, a cover of Davie Allan and the Arrows’ staple "Blues' Theme," complete with replica motorcycle revving. It also wouldn’t be surprising if there was lewd, fairly objectifying fawning about a wayward female, captured here in the mid-tempo rock 'n’ roll stroller “What You Lack in Brains.” Sylvain peppers the track with some complementary piano bangs while the lyrics gush on the superficial side of feminine allure: “What you lack in brains / You got in looks / What you lack in brains / You got it in the tush.” With catcalls, eye-rolling truisms and all, the song is a bit of a cringer, but clearly within the glam tradition.

The best track of the four-song self-titled EP is the nearly five-minute-long, fuzzy punk number “Bury You Alive,” which alternates between a flat vocal delivery and untamed guitar soloing among the disc's only political slant: “In the desert kids are dying for the lies you told / Someday you’ll have hell to pay, but that’s a long way down the road.” “Big Cat Stomp” rounds out the four with a slick bluesy instrumental arrangement that is lively enough but not entirely satisfying.

Although just a taste of the possibilities that emerge from uniting two of the great early punk rock minds of the 1970s, Batusis lays out their own set of mannerisms and style. Though the project is clearly lacking in originality and is rife with glam-punk platitudes, it’s a pleasure to be hearing the nascent project of such seasoned veterans.

Review: MDC / The Restarts / Phobia / Embrace the Kill - "Human" 7-inch

The four-way split known as the Human EP is the product of a joint effort between Rodent Popsicle and Crash Assailant Records, featuring Millions of Dead Cops, the Restarts, Phobia, and Embrace the Kill.

Not surprisingly, the four songs combine for a healthy mix of dissent from bands generally known for their musical activism. Millions of Dead Cops begin Side A with “Patriot Asshole,” in which, as usual, Dave Dictor packs a mouthful into each verse: “Donut-eating, piggy-squeeling, patriotic asshole / Commie-hating, fag-bashing, homophobic asshole / Roofie-spiking, woman-scaring, date-rape fucking asshole!” London’s the Restarts contribute a bitingly pessimistic scorcher called “Dead Inside,” which takes aim at selling out to the financial industry: “How come there’s global starvation? / How come there’s wars to fight / It’s the same system you work for of greedy corporate genocide."

Side B opens with Phobia and their trademark style of anarcho-grind on arguably the best song of the split, the mid-tempo bruiser “We Burn Flags.” Chugging along to the crushing guitars, vocalist Shane proclaims, “Freedom doesn't come from a fucking cloth / But ignorant pride and lives lost / Is that what you call loyalty to the sovereign state? / You sacrifice your body only to be blown away.” Embrace the Kill plays a style of speedy, crusty hardcore and features Dave Dictor as a guest vocalist on their similarly titled track “Embrace the Kill.”

The only real complaint that could be leveled against this is that while it may have come out first, its exclamation “All tracks exclusive to this release!” is erroneous since “Patriot Asshole” also appears on MDC’s Mobocracy split with the Restarts, and “Embrace the Kill” also appears on Embrace the Kill’s Embrace the Kill. Still, the four songs on the Human EP complement each other nicely, both in their music and in terms of political rhetoric.

Review: Crookedhook - "Breathe Pollution"

Crookedhook is a four-piece punk band from Toronto, Ontario. Apparently, they also play ska-punk from time to time, but for this five-song EP, they've turned the ska-punk to skatepunk with clear production and a polished sound.

Steve Rawles, formerly of famed Canadian punkers Belvedere and currently of This Is a Standoff, contributes guest vocals for the opening track, “Breathe Pollution.” The lyrics of the song decry unrestrained development and overconsumption, asking, “How far will suburban sprawl make its way across the nation? How long ‘til we lose it all? All vegetation trampled in time.” “Ends Meet” packs a bit more of a hook (err...crooked hook), while “Size Zero” takes aim at using fashion to make up for shitty music.

The band incorporates a unique semi-march rhythm on “Don’t Think, Just Swallow,” which is executed well, and adds a level of variety to the EP that might not otherwise exist. The lyrics follow along with the title, which mock, “Don’t think, don’t chew, just swallow / They've laid out the rules to follow / You’ll find bliss in ignorance.” The closer, “Just About Time” is the catchiest track of the disc, but should have ended after the first two minutes instead of extending for double that.

Even though it's short, Crookedhook has assembled a very nice set of songs on this EP. Fans of skatepunk, pop-punk or just plain punk rock should find something to enjoy on Breathe Pollution.

Various Artists: Unitled 21: A Juvenile Tribute to the Swingin' Utters

The Swingin’ Utters are one of the best punk bands ever, hands down. "Best," of course, encapsulating fully their high-quality musicianship led by multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Darius Koski, their incredible songwriting and mastery of styles, and the arcane lyricism of street punk poet Johnny “Peebucks” Bonnel. After 20 years of touring and timeless records, it’s high time for a tribute to one punk’s most accomplished mainstays. Red Scare to the rescue.

Ranging from high-profile bands like Dropkick Murphys, Fucked Up, Off with Their Heads and Street Dogs to lesser-known acts as Joe Coffee, Outlaw Dance Society, Moonshine and the Oozzies with a bunch of punk stalwarts like Teenage Bottlerocket, Left Alone, the Forgotten and Cobra Skulls also in the mix, Untitled 21: A Juvenile Tribute to Swingin’ Utters is one of the most capable and well-selected punk tributes in a long time.

Despite the stellar overall assembly of the tribute, it begins with one of the more questionable covers in Useless ID turning the saucy, horn-infused ska of the original "Unpopular Again" into a distraught melodic punk number that sounds extremely ‘Fat’ but is nowhere as good as the Utters’ version. However, this is quickly made up for with Roll the Tanks' rendition of “Windspitting Punk.” I wasn't terribly crazy about the band’s latest, but they do an incredible job on one of the Utters’ best. The current indie-hardcore powerhouse Fucked Up returns to their early Oi! influence on a gorgeously discordant take on the somewhat obscure “Lazer Attack.” California rockabilly act Moonshine put an interesting spin on the Utters’ Short Music for Short People track “Back to You,” while La Plebe amps up the tame acoustic “All That I Can Give.”

Of the more faithful covers on the tribute are Left Alone’s version of “23” and the Departed doing “I Need Feedback,” which sounds like a female-fronted imitation of the Utters imitating the Ramones. Russ Rankin of Good Riddance does a very nice Johnny Peebucks impression on “Beached Sailor,” and the Utters’ good friends, the Sore Thumbs, do the band right on “15th and T.”

Arguably the best cover of the compilation is Off with Their Heads’ take on “The Next in Line,” which is coincidentally what the Utters ended their set with last time they played Minneapolis. OWTH swaps out the acoustic guitar intro of the Utters for some sparse keys and incorporates the bouncy Midwest pop-punk into the Utters classic. Another standout comes from the extremely confusing Everybody Out!, though it seems like this is the Rick Barton incarnation complete with an acoustic train-track rhythm and outstanding harmonica solo. Sailor’s Grave act the Hollowpoints sound a bit like the Dickies on their cover of “From the Observatory,” but it works extremely well with the playful melody of the song.

There aren’t too many songs that detract, though Zero Bullshit doesn't do a whole for “Something Sticky” nor does Massacre Time with “Nine to Five.” The Frantic sounds a little Pro-Tooled on “Heaven at Seventeen” and the Oozies' “Storybook Disease” is pretty standard.

While few of the covers here can come close to matching the ingenuity of the Utters originals (with perhaps the exception of OWTH and Fucked Up), Untitled 21 is a sterling tribute to the immortal act paid homage on this record. Any Swingin’ Utters fan needs to pick this up, and the variety of artists featured means that punks from all ends of the spectrum will find something they enjoy on this release.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Review: Fiction Reform - "Sins of the Father"

Don’t mention Brody Dalle, don’t mention Brody Dalle, don’t mention Brody Dalle...

As much as I’d like to avoid falling into a trap of generalizing punk bands with female singers, there’s no way to escape the comparisons between L.A.’s Fiction Reform and the Distillers of the exact same locale.

Revolution in the Palms of the Weak is nine bursts of female-fronted fury plus one meandering acoustic number in the form of “Come Back Home,” a minor-keyed creeper that stands in stark contrast to the rest of the album’s more abrasive approach.

”Whites in their Eyes” is a militant-sounding but expressly non-militant anthem of an opener, one in which lead singer Brenna shouts, “I walk the narrow path of discipline and perseverance / If what I want is truly written / I must not jump the gun, I’ll stand my ground and hold my fire / ’Til I see the whites in their eyes.” “Small Silhouette,” which also appeared on the recent Protect 2 benefit compilation, follows suit, with even more of a Distillers sound and a rather hostile tone. The band pounds along through “Sins of the Father” and “Cancerous Gold” before the catchy “Mr. Eva Braun,” which is either about Adolf Hitler or Joseph Ratzinger based on the references to Mussolini, Stalin and Pope Innocent.

”180 Avant Garde” is a half-speed rocker with lyrics revolving around a sinner’s salvation, and a tempo that provides a nice change from the driving pace of the rest of the album. Rounding out the LP is the melodic punk of “The Bitter Crop,” which attests, “I touched the fire / Flesh burns an effigy of flames / Sweet scent of magnolias in the air / I tied my noose, I’ll swing in it.”

With members from such high-profile SoCal acts as Bullet Treatment and the Last Gang, it’s no surprise that Fiction Reform would deliver in such a confident manner on their debut release. Whether you’re looking for a replacement since the Distillers broke up or just dig gritty, melodic punk rock, Revelation in the Hands of the Weak will satisfy either craving.