Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Interview: Paint it Black (Dan Yemin and Andy Nelson)

Full interview with Dan Yemin and Andy Nelson of Paint it Black. Abridged version originally appeared in Poweredge skateboarding magazine. Check out Poweredge for the interview details and intro. Interview by Tyler Barrett, photo by Adam DeGross.

RadioActivist: Why’d you decide to play your two Midwestern shows in the dead of winter?

Dan Yemin: To be honest, we were so excited about coming we didn’t really consider the weather until we arranged everything. We haven’t been here in like six years because of a weird combination of things—partly that we don’t really tour and partly because coming out just to play a couple shows in the Midwest from Philly is really hard. It’s either drive and play Chicago and Detroit or fly and play Minneapolis and Chicago. And we’ve been talking about doing it for the last three years but we keep going to like England, like someone offers “Hey, we’ll fly you over to England” and we’re like “Okay, cool.” And so we end up spending all the time we had to tour. So we’ve been talking about it, Andy and I making all the plans for the last three years. So first it was like, “When the album comes out we’ll go do a Minneapolis/Chicago weekend” and that was like three years ago. And then it was, “Well, when the seven-inch comes out, we’ll go…”
Andy Nelson: It’s like vacuuming. We’re like, “Yeah…we’ll get to it.”
DY: And it’s gotten to the point now where we’re so embarrassed and ashamed that we haven’t been here that it’s not something we could let go. Our schedules are fucked between work and family and living in different cities. I looked at my calendar—mine and my wife’s calendar—and there were like four weekends in the first half of the year that I was available. And we wanted to give the Midwest priority because we hadn’t done it so long. And after I bought the plane tickets I thought, “Jeez, that’s February…what the fuck are we doing?” And people started telling me “You’re gonna eat the cost of the plane tickets…you’re fucked.” And it turns out we’re not fucked.
AN: Not yet! [laughs]
DY: So why do it February? Because if we waited any longer I was afraid it’d be another two years. And we picked our two favorite cities in the Midwest. It was like, Detroit or St. Louis, yeah…but bottom line, it was like where do we wanna be? Minneapolis and Chicago.

RA: It seemed like 2010 was a pretty quiet year for Paint it Black, any particular reason behind that?

AN: What did we even do in 2010?
DY: I had a baby.
AN: Oh, right. Did we even tour?
DY: We played Richmond…
AN: A house show in Philly, three shows in California, the record release with Ceremony, returning the favor they did for us the year prior. We did Gainesville, Reading, Leeds, seven other shows. Some with Blacklisted, some with Off With Their Heads. But yeah, even for us, pretty quiet.

RA: It seemed like Surrender and Amnesia had songs among the heaviest that you’ve done. Was that intentional in the direction you were heading or more a product of Kurt Ballou from Converge and God City Studios producing it?

DY: I think a lot of the stuff that we’ve done in the past is heavy, but it doesn’t sound like 21st century-heavy in the way it was recorded. Like when you do something heavy with [produce] J. Robbins, it’s not gonna sound brutal. It’s gonna sound heavy like heavy was in 1985, not like heavy sounded in 2005. So I guess yeah, Kurt had a lot to do with it.
AN: I think we continued to stretch. I think there’s what I would consider maybe our poppiest song, and our most sparse ones.
DY: The Bridge Nine record has our heaviest and poppiest song on it. Begins with “Salem” and ends with “Bliss.” The most fun part about this band is we can write something and not be like, “Oh, this song doesn’t work for Paint it Black.” Whatever we feel like works. We’ve established this parameters that are really broad, so we can convince ourselves we can get away with a really wide variety of heavy and pretty.

RA: There’s been some talk of you working with Minneapolis rapper P.O.S., can you elaborate on that? Has anything materialized or is that just ideas being floated?

DY: Stef and I are friends and he’s talked to me about writing some stuff, like “Write some stuff that you would normally do for one of your bands and record it and send me the file, and I wanna make beats out of it.” And that’s awesome, I’m flattered. I love P.O.S. and I love [Minneapolis hip-hop collective] Doomtree, but I’m writing songs for three bands and I don’t have a lot of extra stuff. And I’m not just gonna give Stef bullshit, like leftover riffs. I’d love it to happen, but, you know…in the next year I want a Paint it Black seven-inch, a Lifetime seven-inch, and an Armalite seven-inch, so I don’t have a lot of extra.

RA: Aside from having Oktopus produce your last LP New Lexicon, how does hip-hop influence you?

DY: It definitely influences the vocal cadence more than anything else. And also, I feel like I get a little better at the words each time. I feel like when I’m able to pull off writing something smart that also lets me to have fun, like play with language a little bit, I feel like that’s when I’m most influenced by hip-hop. Also, I think in the 2000s, underground hip-hop people pushed the boundaries of their genre way more than underground punk people did, so in that sense, I find that to be an inspiration.

RA: What’s been the connection between skateboarding and hardcore punk going all the way back to bands like Minor Threat and JFA?

DY: Minor Threat is my favorite band of all time. I have a video from an old Flipside—Flipside used to do a video campaign as well—and they have all these videos of bands playing or talking or hanging out in the early ‘80s, and there’s a video of Ian and Jeff skating this schoolyard with these major-league blacktop banks and that was one of the earliest things I watched over and over again. I have no claim to skating credibility since I’m so uncoordinated. I fell off my skateboard more than I rode it. I got sick of bloody knees and bruised faces real early. So I got rid of my skateboard when I was really young. And now I’ve come back to bloody knees and bruised faces by playing in a hardcore band way past my prime.

RA: I think there’s a parallel in that both are kind of bound by their form and the tools of the trade which somewhat constrain progression. How does Paint it Black approach a concept like progression?

AN: I think we absolutely try to progress, like we’re part of a scene and we want things to progress. We have no interest in stagnation. Over the last couple years the way we’ve tried to operate in the band has been with progression in mind, both artistically and in terms of the business of the band. I mean, just changing to doing only singles rubbed people the wrong way, I don’t know why. Commercialization is so engrained even in punk and hardcore kids and they’re like, “Well, why aren’t you making [full-length] albums?” And the reason why people expect albums now is because of publicity and record labels and corporate chain stores that want albums. And so we’re trying to play with people’s preconceptions of that and trying to control the kind of shows we play. We try to book our own shows and book the bands we play with and a lot of times they’re not the type of bands people who listen to our records would expect…which is nice.
DY: That’s one of the biggest ways in which we try to push the limits a little bit is curating our own shows. We’ve got three shows on the East Coast coming up next month and we’re very deliberate about what bands are playing, about the gender mix, and everything. This has less to do with form, or less to do with musical form in an obvious way.
AN: I think we’ve been trying to set an example, also. Like the idea of people sitting around and saying, “Oh man, it’s not like it used to be, there aren’t bands like Fugazi around anymore that really carry the torch. And I think a couple years ago, we were like, “Well, we’ll do that!” Not on as big of a scale, but so what? And there’s like this weird careerism with even the smallest hardcore bands, where they’re like “Oh yeah, we have a demo out so now we have a booking agent and we’re gonna get on a packaged tour and then a bigger packaged tour and a bigger one and it’s like, “Whoa, that’s not how you’re supposed to do it!”
DY: I like to think of each show as it’s own separate thing. And the whole point is that if there’s a band that we think is doing it like it was during your heyday, then make that band. If you don’t like the gender balance of punk shows, then book shows that are more gender-balanced. Don’t settle for what there is, make it the way it should be. I’m an idealist, and people think I’m crazy, but I’m gonna do it the way I wanna do it. Part of that’s the way it was, like in the heyday of the ‘80s or ‘90s and part of it’s the way it should be in the future. In that way, having a kid really plays into it in imaging the future I want her to have. I want my kid to be able to come see play and not think, “Oh, I could never play drums because there’s no girls that play.” I don’t want that to happen.
AN: It’s weird to think that the idea of independent underground punk rock that you can make something DIY by yourself and make it inclusive. I mean, that’s the idea, but it’s really weird to think that that’s a progressive idea, because that’s the blueprint.

RA: As skateboarding has become more eclectic in the past few years it seems like a lot of the hardcore scene has gravitated towards mixed martial arts, with Deathwish sponsoring fighters, and the lead singer of Raised Fist doing Thai boxing—

DY: Make sure you get it on tape that two people just rolled their eyes. [laughs]
AN: What do you think about it?

RA: Well what I wonder about—and actually I wanted to get Dan’s perspective as someone with a PhD in clinical psychology—is likelihood of brain damage people might be inflicting at an early age and the mental health issues it might bring up.

AN: Are you suggesting you have to be mentally ill to take part in it? [laughs]
DY: I think about the risks in much more of a personal, nonprofessional level. If you’ve read anything about this band, you know that I started this band after I had a stroke. And I have to take blood thinners for the rest of my life which means I’m constantly at risk for a hemorrhage, which is why I don’t stagedive anymore and why I’m way more conservative about what I do with my body when we’re playing. Because if I run my head into something hard I could have a brain hemorrhage. So it makes me think way more when I’m riding my bike around town, when I’m playing shows, when I’m going to shows, how easy it is to fuck somebody’s world up by hitting them in the head. And you know what…fuck all that shit. Fuck this, “I’m in a hardcore band, I’m in a hardcore position, I support mixed martial arts and I support its integration” [attitude]. I don’t want fighting. Hardcore already has two much overlapping Venn Diagram area with violence. I think it’s silly and irresponsible.
AN: Here’s what I think, and I’m going to try to be very diplomatic because people that I know and I’m friends with are into it. Let me put this straight: That shit has nothing to do with punk rock. I’ve read some things that are sort of like “it’s that violence and aggression and it’s engrained” and that’s fucking bullshit. If you’re into it, that’s fine, I’m not necessarily going to judge you on tape right now. But, what I will say is that I didn’t get into punk because I had all this pent up violent aggression. I’m attracted to the energy of [punk], but energy and aggression are not the same. Also, I fucking hated jocks when I was a teenager because they’d beat me up and call me a fag. And there’s a difference between being physically fit and being a fucking lughead that punches people. I find no attraction in fighting, the sport of fighting, or just something to do. It doesn’t solve anything. We’re pacifists, Dan and I, and it’s absolutely insane that this connection is being made. If you’re doing it for fitness, okay…if you’re into it for the sport, okay. But let’s keep it straight, it has nothing to do with punk rock.
DY: I’d be more interested if it was a thing you do because when the revolution comes, you don’t want all the jocks and people with shotguns to run things. But mostly it’s a bunch of dudes in a cage beating the fuck out of each other.
AN: It doesn’t even really concern us, which is why I feel we shouldn’t even be talking about it.
DY: It’s like if you’re into hardcore and into the stock market, that’s cool, but you don’t try and combine the two.
AN: And no particular judgment to anyone who’s into it or anything, but to suggest that it’s part of hardcore is crazy.

RA: Andy, what’s the status on your new band Fuck Drugs? Is that still happening?

AN: It’s absolutely happening. I spoke with Anthony on the phone two days ago. I have no idea when.
DY: It’s happening right now. I offered Andy drugs earlier and he said “Fuck drugs!”
AN: It’s happening, I just literally can’t say when. I have songs, Anthony has songs. It’ll be a straight edge hardcore sound. The songs I have are a little more intense. Someday I’ll find an excuse to go to California for a week and we’ll make the record.

RA: So Andy, you’re straight edge, and Dan, you’re vegan? How do those choices affect you?

AN: It doesn’t affect me on a daily basis. I have no interest in drugs or alcohol. I’m around it all the time, my friends do every kind of drug imaginable. I work as a concert promoter so I’m around it all the time and I’m just not interested in it.
DY: I’ve been vegan for twenty years. So it’s my philosophy of life, I guess. It has to do with anti-violence and sanctity of life and making wise and responsible consumer choices.

RA: Being a little bit older (Dan is 43, Andy is 29), does it make it more important to make money off your music when you have a family and the other responsibilities of an adult?

DY: It makes it less importantly actually. I’m so grateful that we don’t do music for a living. Because then you get to figure out how it should be done and not worry about the added pressure of rent. It’s like we were thinking this weekend, we might lose hundreds of dollars. And we’re okay with that. That’s why I have a job.
AN: I’m not into punk because I’m into money. If I was into money I’d play in a jam band.

RA: How would you compare the time you spend together as a band now with when you first getting started?

DY: It basically consists of coffee, food, and jokes.
AN: I think it’s way more fun now. The people in the band now, their brains are exactly like ours.
DY: We can not play together for five months and then we can get together with no rehearsal and play a show.

RA: You mentioned a 7-inch for Paint it Black and a 7-inch for Lifetime in the next year, what else is on the docket?

DY: Seven-inch for Armalite. That’s almost done actually.

RA: Anything else that I didn’t bring up that you want to mention?

DY: Skate or die. Just a little pandering there.
AN: I love skateboarding, but I wish it was easier. I skated for ten years and I had like the cliché sixth grade boombox with 7 Seconds tapes on it skating around with all my straight edge friends. But then by seventh grade they all stopped skating and listened to reggae and smoked weed and all that. But I skated for ten years like, to get around and I could never fucking do a trick, ever. All I could do was fall, that was the only trick I could do. It sucked. And it’s humiliating to be skating around and little ten year olds are skating by and doing crazy tricks.
DY: They’re ollieing over you while you’re lying on the ground.
AN: They’re grinding my face and it’s totally humiliating. And if they want skateboarding to be more popular they should make it easier. We occasionally play at like a skatepark or something and I’ll try and drop in and every single time I land on my chin.
DY: The experience of skating for a lot of our peers was getting into punk at the same time. My friend Dave who plays in Lifetime…on one tour fifteen years ago he pulls out this tape. And it was clear, all the writing was worn off, and it was the first Bad Brains ROIR tape. And he was like, “I found this other day, this is what we skated to in my boombox when I was like 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 years old.” And I was kind of obsessed with the tape because it had so much history. And I cherished it until it broke. I mean, I played it. I didn’t like, keep it in a plastic bag. I mean punk isn’t about being sentimental, I think it’s the opposite. But I mean, I was like “Wow, this is the tape they skated to, like ducking out of school to go skating.”
AN: Do you still have it? That’s kind of cool, a broken tape, you should frame it or something.

RA: It’s like a broken skate deck.

DY: Actually the apartment that [Lifetime] wrote Hello Bastards in was decorated with broken decks. All around the living room and everywhere. Like seven people lived there and it was all their broken decks. It made me wish I was badass enough to participate in it.
AN: Yeah, that’s why I kept doing it. I was like, “This is cool, I’m just horrible at it.” I had to hang it up. [laughs]

Review: The Heat Tape - "Raccoon Valley Recordings"

I've been mulling over possible introductions for this review for a while now, but I think the best way to do it is start with the obvious conclusion: This is the year’s best record thus far.

the heat tape is fronted by Brett Hunter, the familiar voice of pop-punk darlings the Copyrights and Dear Landlord. Joining him is Ben Bleyer (Conniption Fitts) and Brooks Davey of the Southern Illinois Invasive Species Strike Team (that’s a thing, not a band—thanks, Google).

Essentially a song-a-day project that morphed into a band, the heat tape has all the trappings of poppy garage punk done right. Raccoon Valley Recordings was written and recorded in Brett’s trailer in Makanda, Ill., a detail that seems to radiate from each track. What separates the heat tape from the smattering of crappy garage overflowing in the U.S. and Europe is that Hunter’s previous pop-punk endeavors have laid the musical foundation to distinguish it from the majority, sharing only the lo-fi sensibilities and DIY recording aesthetics. the heat tape is certainly not the first band to accomplish this (the Marked Men, High Tension Wires and Scared of Chaka have all succeeded in similar ways), but it’s still nice to hear garage punk that skips the slop and showcases a more mature sense of melody and musicianship.

In lieu of lyrics, the digipak includes brief annotations explaining such insights as that, though “Oh Camilla” sounds like a smitten serenade to a certain female human, the song is, in fact, about a chicken. There’s a good deal of self-deprecation (“21st Century Turd”, “Feel No Good”, “Crackin’ Up”) but there’s a sense of sincerity that emits from each song, making every painful concession seem genuine. The mid-tempo “4-Track Mind” could be the anthem of the album, as Hunter earnestly makes metaphor of his current condition: “The only thing left of my youth is the hiss in my four-track mind.”

While “Idle Hands” is undoubtedly the catchiest song of the album (and a phenomenal closer), the best song has to be “Quotes from an Unopened Letter”. As explained in the notations, the lyrics are composed of words taken directly from an unopened letter from the White County jail Hunter found in his trailer when he bought it. The heart-wrenching storytelling is compounded by the reality of the circumstances, as Hunter takes the first-person role of the anonymous author: “Grandma was the only person there for me / She testified on my behalf / It hurted me to see her cry on the stand / Right now I feel broken / I guess I just didn't try hard enough... Sometimes I wish that I was dead / I can’t believe I’ll never see Shelly again / The more I try, the worser I get / I guess I just didn't try hard enough.”

There’s a realness inherent in this record that’s lost on so much of the music that comes out today. It’s not necessarily the lo-fi aesthetics or the fact it was recorded in a trailer, but is probably more of a reflection thereof. It’s the life of an unemployed 30-year-old in rural southern Illinois put to tape...err, heat tape. The result is the best garage punk record this side of Texas since...well, maybe ever.

Review: Absinthe Rose / HUMANWINE [split]

Acoustic balladeer Absinthe Rose joins New England eclectic collective H.U.M.A.N.W.I.N.E. on this punk-by-association split on Rodent Popsicle Records.

While Kimbo Rose was mostly solo on her previous release, Digging Ditches and Escaping Holes, she’s joined here by Toxic Narcotic/Mouth Sewn Shut members here for a sound that’s both more animated and whole, moving each song forth with an energy and dynamic previously not heard. The additions of a snapping drum beat and steady rolling bass help transform what was an occasionally tepid solo acoustic engagement into what more closely resembles a folk-punk—or at least acoustic punk—ensemble. Rose’s voice is soulful and full, with a slight Southern curl belying her Oregonian roots. On “Upon a Drift”, she sings wistfully: “When you have a closet of skeletons / And you wonder how you got them all in / Piled high and everlasting / And when you’re done, there’s more than you began.”

At first I thought H.U.M.A.N.W.I.N.E. was a dumb name. Then I thought maybe it was antithesis of white whine/black wine/red wine and all the divisions between them and thought it was kind of cool. Then I found out it’s actually an acronym for Humans Underground Making Anagrams Nightly While Imperial Not-Mes Enslave. Then I thought it was dumb again.

Their music is kind of like a less brassy and ostentatious World/Inferno Friendship Society, with cello, violin and bass fiddle alongside the standard drum-and-guitar rock setup. Actually, the W/IFS comparison isn't good at all. H.U.M.A.N.W.I.N.E. is dark, sparse and cavernous. They actually sound more like something along the lines of Murder by Death, with more of an anarcho slant...and a female singer.

While H.U.M.A.N.W.I.N.E. doesn't do a lot for me on an enjoyment level, at least they’re introducing new styles to the legions of punx who only listen to both types of music: punk and hardcore. Absinthe Rose delivers the best cuts of the split here, a clear step up from the slow acoustic tunes of Digging Ditches and Escaping Holes.

Review: The Warriors - "See How You Are"

A gap of three-and-a-half years between releases is an eternity in hardcore. Bands routinely form, release a 7-inch, tour, release a full-length, and split up in less time than that. Yet in 2011, the Warriors return with See How You Are, and another 33-minutes of the metallic Nardcore that brought the band to prominence over six years ago.

Crawling forward with the opening title track, the Warriors do little to impress or instill any sense of urgency off the bat. Fortunately, that changes with the successor “The War Unseen”, a bobbing, grooving, nearly hardstyle jam as good as anything the Warriors have done. “Seize the Fire” displays the band's Rage Against the Machine influences, changing tempos and flow, and only faltering to a lifeless, humdrum breakdown. Perhaps the most anthemic track of the album, “Where I Stand” is slightly reminiscent of audio themes present on the band's previous release, 2007's Genuine Sense of Outrage.

The second half is highlighted by “Subirse El Muerto”, which enters weakly with a round of uninspired monochord hammers before exploding into one of the band’s most aggressive, punk-influenced songs. “Here We Go Again" follows, beginning with the same single-chord repetitiveness, though unfortunately never picking up the way its predecessor does. The record closes out with “Along the Way”, a metallic hardcore song fairly indicative of the album as a whole, hearing vocalist Marshall Lichtenwaldt growl, “Never real in the first place / There never was a light at the end of the tunnel.”

See How You Are is, if nothing else, a reminder that Victory still releases a few quality hardcore albums every year, like Grave Maker and Comeback Kid’s efforts of 2010. If you’re going to compare just those in the Warriors’ catalog, this album doesn't quite match Genuine Sense of Outrage, which is a good starting point. But since some anonymous chumbolone accused that review of sounding like a Mountain Dew ad, listen instead with a nice, tall glass of Tehachapi tap water and maybe you’ll better understand where the Warriors are coming from.

Review: The Varukers - "Murder / Nothing's Changed" [remastered]

Formed in 1979, the Varukers were one of the first bands to immediately follow suit after Discharge paved the way for the waves of D-beat soundalikes thereafter. This release is a remastered version of the 2004 compilation that combines the Varukers’ 1998 LP, Murder, along with the 1994 EP, Nothing’s Changed.

Those familiar with D-beat probably fall into two distinct categories: devotees to the style, and those who find it preposterous to base an entire genre off one drum pattern. I guess I’m somewhere in between, because I find myself enjoying most of this album despite the less-than-groundbreaking approach.

Murder is fairly thrashy and faster than what one might expect, save for a few more mid-tempo tracks (and I use that term loosely) like “Genocide” and “Eradicate the Problem”. The lyrics are pretty much the standard, gloomy left-wing rhetoric of the crust punk and anarcho-punk lore, like “Nightmare Vision”: “Here lies our earth / Its dead in torment / The cancers been caused by our abuse / Battlefields computer board games / Corporations drown out our cries / Men in suits slaughter thousands / Sign a check so many die.”

The Nothing’s Changed EP is only four songs long, though the difference in sound is palpable. The tempo of “Missing Out” is about half that of most of Murder, and the repetitive, angular riffs are nothing like the frenetic, quick-moving progressions of the LP. The next song, “Tortured by Their Lies” moves back to the thrashy D-beat style, which continues through “Obey” and the title track.

Anyone familiar with UK 82 bands like the Exploited, Discharge and GBH should know what to expect from the Varukers. It’s mostly fast, two-dimensional hardcore street punk mixed with a little thrash and Motörhead influence, and despite the sloganeering can be a fun listen, if for no other reason than the novelty.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Review: Various Artists - "Fat Music Vol. 7: Harder, Fatter + Louder"

Like Jesus Christ and the slap bracelet fad, what once was dead is back again. After eight years of absence filled with various benefit comps, online samplers and other intangibles, the Fat Music series returns to the compact disc format stronger than ever.

When you really think about it, assembling an outstanding collection of songs should be a piece of cake for a label with the roster of quality bands Fat is able to boast. And an outstanding collection of songs is exactly what you get on Fat Music Vol. 7: Harder, Fatter + Louder!.

The compilation enters with Old Man Markley in the same way their Fat Wreck debut Guts n’ Teeth begins: the bluegrass harmonies of “For Better or Worse”. With a pattering banjo and spinning fiddle, Old Man Markley shows just what the buzz has been about with a song that’s actually vaguely reminiscent of Guttermouth’s “Foot-Long”...for better or worse. The Swingin’ Utters deliver the title track of their excellent Brand New Lungs 7-inch, while the Mad Caddies offer up the spaghetti-reggae tune “Why Must I Wait” from their “greatest hits” collection Consentual Selections. It’s an alright song, but nowhere near as good as “Save Us”, the other new track the Caddies tacked onto Consentual Selections.

Banner Pilot exploded in 2009 with Collapser, and the house show anthem “Greenwood” certainly helped. It’s the best song on the comp, but it makes the following track—Pour Habit’s “Heads of State”—sound a little mechanical and hollow next to the Midwestern sincerity of Banner Pilot. Fellow no-coast pop-punk bands Dillinger Four and the Lawrence Arms also appear, the latter of which contributes the digital bonus track “Demons” from Buttsweat and Tears, an exceptional inclusion for those who where left out after purchasing the EP on vinyl. Dead to Me is represented by the dub collage of “X” from their divisive LP African Elephants while Teenage Bottlerocket and Chixdiggit! make up the Ramonescore portion of the CD.

On “Hot Sand”, the Cobra Skulls sound a bit like Against Me!, who is also represented with a demo of “Holy Shit”. None More Black’s comeback effort is included in the form of “Sinatra After Dark”, while fellow East Coast melodic punks Smoke or Fire sound fresh on “Integrity”.

For those of us who grew up on Fat comps, there’s a bit of a nostalgia factor with some of the label’s California core of Good Riddance, Strung Out, No Use for a Name and, of course, NOFX. All the tracks by those bands are strong, and NUFAN’s cover of Cheap Trick’s “Dream Police” is outstanding.

For whatever reason Fat decided to bring back the physical comp, the result is a success. Take one of the best labels in punk, extract some of its finest material, and you have Fat Music Vol. 7: Harder, Fatter + Louder!.

Review: Fire at Will - "Hoping for the Best...Expecting the Worst"

Fire at Will? Who’s Will? And what did he do that we should be firing at him? With a title like Hoping for the Best...Expecting the Worst, you’d assume they’d be firing at Alphaville and their attempts to stay “Forever Young”.

Actually, Fire at Will is a French hardcore band. Musically, a very good French hardcore band. But unfortunately, still a French hardcore band, which is the main problem with Hoping for the Best...Expecting the Worst. Their grip of the English language is not as developed as contemporary Francophone counterparts Nine Eleven, while their vocals are more decipherable than, say, No Guts No Glory. The result is that while the lyrics are not a complete massacre of the English language, they are distracting enough to substantially hinder what would otherwise be a great hardcore record.

Everything else on Hoping for the Best...Expecting the Worst is solid, if not splendid. From the riffs to the tones, the guitars set the foundation, at the same time punishing and dynamic. The energetic drums temper vibrant breakdowns with unremitting circle-pit rhythms, while vocalist Quentin Rettig delivers an impressive display of passion. U.S. bands like American Nightmare and the Hope Conspiracy probably lent some influence from a songwriting perspective, though there are more solos, breakdowns and quiet, meandering moments here than the Deathwish scene generally offers.

Without dwelling on the lyrics too much, the following are some examples to demonstrate what’s holding the band back. Take “These Days” to start: “What happened to these days? / It seems I’m lost on a tragic way / I cannot wake up from my nightmares / It’s only fears that I share.” So it’s obviously not terrible. There are plenty of American artists with worse lyrics than those. But in hardcore, where words are so important, it’s hard to connect with a song like “It’s Nothing Personal”: “How do you feel when you wake up and you can not face the past? / When you’re the lonely boy whom everyone forget the name? / Four walls of hell in an empty room where the sun never lights in / Everyone took his distance and I never could bring it back.” I mean, could you imagine a gang vocal effort of that in broken English?

There may be a kind of double-standard that bands need to sing in English to reach a broad market, but even those from non-English countries are expected to do it well. Of course, bands like Refused and Millencolin have thrived under such conditions, while Wyzo, Gauze and Los Crudos gained fame while defying the norm.

Final summation: This record is pretty darn good from a musical standpoint. It’s a bit long and the lyrics are kind of distracting, but it’s good hardcore and any aficionado should be pleased with the sound Fire at Will has developed.

Review: The Aquabats - "Hi-Five Soup"

It’s been almost six years since the Aquabats released an LP. SIX YEARS. Sure, they've been busy with their award-winning Nick Jr. television show, Yo Gabba Gabba!, producing The Aquabats Super Show! and touring the world several times over, but what kind of an excuse is that? Buncha slackers if you ask me.

In a December 2010 interview with the OC Weekly, MC Bat Commander Christian Jacobs said Hi-Five Soup! would be “definitely a departure... I guess what we came up with is more Yo Gabba Gabba!-meets-the-Aquabats.” Expounding in AMP Magazine, he claimed, “I think this new record has more stuff like that on it, silly kid stuff, which is fun. It’s less trying to appeal to a little bit older crowd and just trying to appeal to the Halloween costume crowd.” Given that the Aquabats have never exactly been pandering to the inner grown-up in all of us, that should tell you how kid-friendly this album is. It’s got a gang chorus of what sounds like children and/or Brobee’s posse along with a verse of Auto-Tune (“B.F.F.!”), a hugs-not-thugs anthem (“Hey Homies!”) and an appearance by 2003 internet sensation Strong Bad of Homestar Runner fame (“Pink Pants!”).

But there’s still enough of the Aquabats’ exciting musical arrangements mixed with a newfound obsession with electronica alongside their zany cartoonish storytelling to make the album enjoyable for listeners of any age. Following in the same style of synthed-out pop-punk as 2005’s Charge!!!, songs like “Poppin’ a Wheelie!”, “Just Can’t Lose!” and the album’s opener “Shark Fighter!” buzz and whir like Devo on a sugar high.

The Yo Gabba Gabba! influence is audibly apparent on those tracks like “Radio Down!” (which features legendary rapper and YGG! star Biz Markie) and “Hey Homies!”, whose robotic electronic rhythms beep to the beat under a plethora of auxiliary vocals.

The best songs of the album are those that vaguely revisit the band’s early years as a staple ska act like “In My Dreams!” and the epic closer “Luck Dragon Lady!”, which enters with a head-bobbing rocksteady beat and morphs into an electro-rap halfway through before returning to the grandiose refrain for a formidable outro.

The only downsides to the ultra kid-friendly themes is that there isn't any (albeit light) social commentary like “Idiot Box” or “Fashion Zombies”, while songs like “B.F.F.!” and “Hey Homies!” genuinely do sound like they belong on a Nick Jr. children’s show. Jimmy the Robot doesn't pull out his saxophone once on the album (bummer), and there aren't really any cute relationship songs like “Red Sweater”, “Lovers of Loving Love” or “Hot Summer Nights”. The closest to anything like that on here is “In My Dreams!” with the line “We can be together if we only believe / But then you go away / But tonight I’m dreamin’ ‘bout you tonight.”

In the grand scheme of the Aquabats’ discography, Hi-Five Soup! will probably land somewhere in the middle on the perpetual scale of greatness. Behind The Fury of the Aquabats! but slightly better than ...vs. the Floating Eye of Death!, Hi-Five Soup is the right album for the midst of the Yo Gabba Gabba! craze. It's the best record Fearless has put out in ages, but will hopefully be the last that requires a supporting cast so the Aquabats can write their next album as the sovereign band of superheroes we've come to love.

Review: Mustard Plug / The Beatdown - "Ska is Dead, Vol. 2"

In the second installment of the Ska Is Dead 7-inch club, Grand Rapids, Mich., veterans Mustard Plug combine with Montreal, Quebec’s the Beatdown for a split effort of Northern ska exposure.

Mustard Plug has put out consistently good albums since 1997’s Evildoers Beware and only been on hiatus once since their formal formation in 1991. As a matter of personal preference, it’s always seemed like many of their major-scale songs are instant classics (“Yesterday”, “Go!”, “Beer”, “You”, “Box”, etc.), while their minor-scale offerings (“Never Be”, “Not Again”, “Mendoza”, etc.) are less infectious.

Their offering here is kind of in between. “Aye Aye Aye” is, in some ways, a typical third-wave ska song, with fast, flickering upstrokes, intermittent horn blasts and walking bass. There’s no distortion overkill though, and the quality dual horn soloing helps stretch out the structurally standard song. If you generally like Mustard Plug, you’ll probably like this song.

The Beatdown contributes a nice, warm reggae tune called “Piece of Mind". It has a smooth, surf-like guitar lead that helps make up for the lack of horns, and the instruments all mesh together very well to produce a relaxing, carefree vibe that stands in stark contrast to the uppity upstrokes of Mustard Plug’s mischief.

Mustard Plug and the Beatdown both deliver solid songs on this split 7-inch. While “Aye Aye Aye” is a caffeinated skank-stimulator and “Piece of Mind” is more of a mellow relaxative, they join for a nice, concise Ska Is Dead combo platter.

Review: No Good Reason - "Far Away"

No Good Reason is for, lack of a better description, a melodic hardcore band from Almada, Portugal. They sound female-fronted, but upon closer inspection of their MySpace page, it would seem that they’re all male. Maybe they’re just young?

That would be one explanation for the high-pitched shouts, but the second song on the record is “College”, a look back at “Four years gone / And I'm glad I used this time to multiply.” Adding to the confusion is that Side A plays at 45 RPM, while Side B plays at 33 RPM. Have you ever heard of such a thing? It’s not a huge deal, but I've never run across it.

The record begins with a nice hardcore guitar riff complemented with good tone and a rolling rhythm of kicks and snares. The vocals are distorted (and high-pitched, as previously exhausted), but the melodies are fairly good and the opener “Monument” is concise enough to work. The aforementioned “College” follows with more of the pleasant melodic hardcore guitar introduced in the first song, but lacking a real engaging melody to match it.

Side B (which is pretty amusing if you don’t flip it to 33 RPM) starts off with “Tuesdays = Nowhere”, which may be the highlight of the 7-inch, with some of the best music and lyrics on the record: “Our lives / We've been growing up with values that are not our own / We stand alone.” It rounds out with some stellar guitar playing that punches into the driving rhythms perfectly. The closing title track is also pretty good—albeit a bit drawn out—but making the “B-sides” better than what’s on Side A.

Far Away is a bit of a grower. Once you figure out what’s going on with this band and their wacky record speeds, No Good Reason shows that they’re capable of some pretty good stuff here.

Review: Vic Ruggiero / the Forthrights - "Ska is Dead, Vol. 3"

Ska Is Dead began as a tour package in 2004 to prove that even though ska was officially dead to the mainstream, there was still enough interest to warrant large-scale shows from some of the scene’s biggest names and up-and-coming acts. The success of the tour and the five that followed proved ska wasn't really going anywhere, and rode that momentum to an Asian Man Ska Is Dead compilation CD and Skanksgiving celebration.

The next logical step? A 7-inch vinyl series featuring the same array of heavy-hitters and newbies the tour has employed. A joint effort by Underground Communique, Asbestos Records and Ska Is Dead, the 7-inch club is a subscription-only series with a set of six split 7-inches.

The particular split in question here is that of the prolific Vic Ruggiero of the Slackers/Stubborn All-Stars/Transplants/Crazy Baldhead/etc. and Maddie Ruthless on side A, with Brooklyn rocksteady ensemble the Forthrights taking up the other side.

Ruggiero and New Orleans’ Maddie Ruthless combine for a brilliant take on “Policeman”, which Hellcat aficionados should remember from the first installment of Give ‘Em the Boot, which was credited to the Silencers, who were allegedly made up of Ruggiero, Tim Armstrong, Lars Frederiksen, Brett Gurewitz and Josh Freese. This version keeps the same infectious chorus but reworks much of the instrumentals and the verse. If anything thereafter in the Ska Is Dead 7-inch club can top this tune, it would be a miracle because this song is simply orgasmic.

The Forthrights do a nice, simple, hornless ska number called “Carla” that features a slick little guitar riff leading into the warm melodies of vocalist Jack Wright. It too is a good song, but is slightly overshadowed by the majesty of what’s heard on Side A.

This installment of the Ska Is Dead 7-inch club verifiably proves that ska isn't dead as it pertains to releasing quality new music, as I’m sure the rest of the series also attests. The Forthrights contribute a nice song in the form of “Carla”, but it’s Vic Ruggiero and Maddie Ruthless who steal the show with their take on the Silencers’ “Policeman".

Review: La Plebe - "Brazo en Brazo"

La Plebe became one of the biggest buzz bands in punk in 2007 when ¡Hasta La Muerte! was released by growing powerhouse Red Scare, though they've actually been around since 2001 and independently put out several releases since 2003. Even without Red Scare on Brazo en Brazo, La Plebe has another solid record on their hands that is sure to convert even more into believers of the bilingual horn-punk fiesta.

The record begins with a traditional canción ranchera in ¾ tempo before kicking in the punk with trompetas blaring and gritas de unidad. Following is “Campesino” (farm worker), which proudly proclaims “¡La tierra para los que la trabajan!” (roughly “The land for those who work it”). The bravado politico continues on the bilingual “Jaulas”, which asserts “Racist fucking pigs that control this democracy / Don’t care about the damage to working-class families / Migrant workers face incarceration / The mentally ill don’t get rehabilitation.”

The poppy left-wing punk maintains through “Guerra Sucia” (“Dirty War”), “Opresión” and “La Soledad”, which attests strongly “No es criminal ser pobre” (“It’s not a crime to be poor”). La banda occasionally dives into more traditional estilos de música mexicana, like on “Bella Ciao”, which is actually una canción italiano sung by anarchistos, comunistas, y socialistas en World War II. The best song del disco es “No No”, a catchy Spanish punk number with an almost traditional meringue rhythm interspersed in the chorus.

Even though it was released in 2010, it’s clear that La Plebe released one of the year’s best punk records to their name. Brazo en Brazo is simultaneously fervent, frustrated, but overwhelmingly fun, and leaves the listener with a feeling that this music is more than just the product of a band, but is a way of life for the San Francisco quintet.

Review: The Cheifs - "Holly-West Crisis"

Apparently the Cheifs were a Los Angeles punk band from the early ‘80s who played alongside bands like the Circle Jerks, Black Flag and X. I can’t vouch for them because I wasn't around (well, maybe I was an idea), but judging from the raw, granular recordings and primitive punk disposition, I’d say that sounds about right.

From the style and melodies, the Cheifs actually sound closer to late ‘70s L.A. punk bands like the Germs or Fear or Angry Samoans. They packed in too much melody to really be called hardcore and lacked the austerity of stalwarts like Black Flag and Uniform Choice.

In place of the raw aggression and minimalism is developed musicianship and sugary multi-vocal melodies that put them closer in style to their neighbors to the south in Carlsbad, the Dils. Songs like “Eddie’s Revenge” and the title track, “Holly-West Crisis”, demonstrate a songwriting that seems more rooted in traditional pop than the unorthodox structures employed by early hardcore bands.

Lyrically, the Cheifs reflect a lot of what was going on in Southern California punk from the ‘70s to mid-‘80s with songs like the album’s best track, “Riot Squad”, and “Holly-West Crisis” (“Hollywood poverty / Living on imaginary charity / Holly-West Crisis / Everything’s another crisis.”)

The tracks are all generally fairly listenable and even enjoyable despite the rough production one would expect in a rescued punk album from the early ‘80s archives. The six-minute “Drowning” is a couple minutes too long, but otherwise it’s hard to find much not to like about "Holly-West" Crisis. For those interested in an overlooked band of punk’s formative years, the Cheifs are certainly a nice find.

Review: Pacer - "No. 1"

[trans-puh-zish-uh n]
6. Mathematics . a permutation of a set of elements that interchanges two elements and leaves the remaining elements in their original positions.

I guess for a means of drawing parallels, you have to trace the UK’s Pacer to their former band, the Steal, a melodic hardcore act in the same vein as Kid Dynamite and Lifetime, whom they actually toured with. Following the breakup of the Steal, members Mark and Dave went on to birth a slightly less hardcore, more pop-punk-influenced band called Pacer: a transposition not unlike the origin of None More Black, with nuances ignored for comparison’s sake.

Much more straightforward than None More Black in stylistic tendencies, Pacer actually aligns closer with gruff punkers like Banner Pilot or the Menzingers. Classic chord progressions and poppy but occasionally harsh melodies comprise the seven tracks that make up their No. 1 EP. This is especially noticeable on closer “The Long Drop”, a mid-tempo rocker with a warm guitar lead that rounds out the release on a positive note.

Working backwards, “Lonely Critics” has a bit more of a hardcore feel, with not much of a melody to speak of, as well as the record's most breakneck pace. “Rediscovering the Telephone” has a major Bomb the Music Industry! feel (minus any ska or auxiliary shenanigans) that’s readily apparent from the first five seconds of the track.

The best of the bunch is probably “xGU16x”, with a strong chorus something along the lines of “We've got a lot to do / But we won’t give up on you.” The sluggish “Pasternak” is probably the weakest, with a slightly over-the-top chorus, though it’s still not a particularly bad track.

Though the seven tracks only clock in at 15-and-a-half minutes, Pacer’s No. 1 shows a lot of potential from a band of musicians already well-established in the UK music scene. With New Jersey punk mainstay Chunksaah Records picking up the release, this thing may just go worldwide.

Review: Glen Matlock and the Philistines - "Born Running"

Most know Glen Matlock as the original bassist for the Sex Pistols, who was either booted or left of his own volition depending on who you ask, and eventually replaced with the late John Simon Ritchie a.k.a. Sid Vicious. But Matlock has also put in work with bands like the Damned, the Rich Kids, Iggy Pop and the Faces in his 35 years making music. Here, he combines with members of Chelsea, Generation X, the Rich Kids, the Stereophonics, Public Image Ltd and the Higsons for Glen Matlock & the Philistines’ Born Running.

Like many of the more recent albums by former punk originators (Carbon/Silicon, X, etc.), Born Running takes essentially a straight-ahead rock approach comparable to big guitar Americana like Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band with steady, energetic rhythms and palm mutes to channel the punk of yesteryear. So, then, it’s not altogether unsurprising to hear traces of Boss devotees like the Hold Steady and the Gaslight Anthem in the booming choruses and guitar licks.

The best songs on Born Running emanate a warm, glowing radiance of major scales and electric organs and choruses that seem to bubble out of the speakers. Nowhere is this more evident than on “Way to Go”, which not only packs a punchy verse and chorus, but is aided by the same “ba-ba-ba-baba” backing vocal pattern as Against Me!’s “Thrash Unreal” and Yo La Tengo’s “Tom Courtenay”. Similarly, “Nowheresvile”, “Timebomb” and the closer “Somewhere Somehow” all achieve the same catchy, nostalgia-inducing rock and roll.

There are a few songs slightly off the mark, like “Rock Chick”, which repeats “You’re such a little rock chick, ain't that what you are? / Such a little rock chick and you’re so spectacular.” “T.R.O.U.B.L.E.” is a decent tune, but ends up sounding almost like a carbon copy of Rocket from the Crypt’s “Trouble” due to the orthographic devices employed.

Glen Matlock co-wrote 10 of the 12 songs off Never Mind the Bollocks..., but don’t expect to hear any sloppy, angst-ridden punk rock on Born Running. For polished, catchy, American-influenced guitar rock, though, Glen Matlock and company hit the spot with hooks to boot here.

Review: Anne Frank Zappa - "Anne Frank Zappa"

With one of the less clever before-and-afters that have come along, Anne Frank Zappa brings their sloppy, amelodic brand of garage punk to record players everywhere with the release of their debut self-titled 7-inch on Stardumb.

Straight outta Rotterdam, The Netherlands, Anne Frank Zappa is the newest act from Jerry Hormone (ex-Ragin’ Hormones, the Apers, the Quotes), Elle Bandita, and Marcel Wiebenga (Das Oath).

Borrowing from the Thomas Hobbes School of Punk, Anne Frank Zappa’s rowdy rock ‘n’ roll is nasty, brutish and short. The opener, “I Breathe Fire” clocks in at a swift 1:25 before bleeding seamlessly into the equally concise and repetitive “Inside My Head.” The entirety of Side A checks in at a mere 3:10, concluding with the squealing punk of “A-B-C.”

The Side B leadoff is a little catchier, a blitzkrieg bootyshaker called “I Wanna Die for You.” Its successor, “Would You Kill for Me?” passes by before ever really getting going, while “(Hey Baby) Dig My Moves” is so muddled and grating it’s hard to even tell if it’s any good.

Like a lot of garage punk out there, Anne Frank Zappa is decent enough although not really anything special. There are a couple nice tunes on this 7-inch EP, but all in all it’s pretty standard fare.

Review: Pelican - "What We All Come to Need"

Why did it take so long for me to review this album, you ask? Well, I kept waiting for the promo company to send me a lyrics sheet, but I never got one.

[insert rimshot / crickets chirping awkwardly]

In reality, I kept shuffling this disc to the bottom of my pile in the hopes that someone a little more qualified to review this would take up the task. I mean, I really like the Buzzcocks’ “Walking Distance” and that nice little “doo-doo-doo-doo-do-do-do-doo” secret song after the Descendents’ “Thank You.” But when it comes to instrumental music of the stoner, post-metal sludge variety, I know just about as much as your average rube plucked off the street. So if anything, you can credit this review for its genuinely unbiased (and uninformed) reflections on all things related to this release.

Rather than attempting to go track-by-track describing the music of one sludgy stoner metal instrumental after another, I think this space would be more effectively spent on sweeping generalizations of the album as a whole. This makes even more sense given that each song is an average of six-and-a-half minutes long, moving through a diverse set of moods, melodies and timbre.

As a whole, Pelican’s What We All Come To Need is a dark, brooding, passive-aggressive swirl of guitar-driven rock. The steady rhythms range from timekeepers to tempests, displaying everything from moments of prodding sludge in “The Creeper” to a punk rock tempo in the buildup during “Specks of Light.”

Despite their Chicago roots, the wandering, ominous psychedelic post-metal of Pelican has a desert rock feel that goes further than the barreling crashes of “An Inch Above Sand.” Where it does deviate, though, is on the album’s best song, the riff-heavy and melodious title track. While the bulk of the record is a dark cloud of misanthropy, “What We All Come to Need” shines through like a heavenly beam of light bathed in major-scale ecstasy.

On the closer, “Final Breath,” Pelican crawls out from their instrumental pigeonhole, as former Shiner frontman Allen Epley croons along with a ghostly disposition to the jagged, staggering rhythm. It’s an interesting way of rounding out an album that also features the guitar work of stoner metal stalwarts Greg Anderson (Sunn O))), Goatsnake, Lotus Eaters) and Aaron Turner (Isis, Old Man Gloom, House of Low Culture, etc.).

While it’s not something I’m going to pull out for a drive to the beach or afternoon skate session, What We All Come to Need is a solid rock album with a dark, almost symphonic feel of layered guitars and crashing walls of sound. With eight songs in 50 minutes, it puts your attention span to the test, but rewards you in the end with overpowering riffs and tumultuous crescendos.

Review: Various Artists - "50" (Stardumb Records)

The modestly titled 50 is a pop-punk compilation put out by the Netherlands’ Stardumb Records. Never heard of them? Well, 50 would seem like a good opportunity, commemorating the label’s 50th release and marking one of its most significant collections.

All of the bands heard here come from Stardumb’s formidable roster of releases, which includes big names like the Groovie Ghoulies and Zatopeks, as well as some of the most offensive and/or sexist releases since the Dwarves (see the Nerds’ ...Just Because She Didn't Wanna Fuck or the split EP Beating Up Schoolgirls). This compilation is rather innocuous in comparison, therefore rendering discussion of the album’s music the chief purpose of this review.

Each band here contributes one new song as well as a cover of a song previously released on Stardumb. Side A is all covers, and includes a nice ‘50s surf take on the Groovie Ghoulies classic “Running with Bigfoot” by Peawees, and an excellent cover of the Favorats’ “Surfin’ Surfin’” by the Apers. The best of the covers is the Manges taking on “Say Goodbye to You” by the Methadones in all its American pop-punk glory.

Side B is all original tunes, which is pretty impressive for a compilation. Among the standouts here are Zatopeks’ “Buddy Holly’s Grandchildren,” the Accelerators’ “Gate Shut Panic” and the Windowsill’s “She Wasn't Lying.” The Manges and the Apers also both contribute sterling selections to the set of originals, which should be no surprise to those familiar with either band.

There’s a handful that don’t do a lot for the album’s replay value, such as the lo-fi garage of the Dirtshakes and El Pino and the Volunteers. Even Kepi Ghoulie’s songs aren't terribly engaging, though much like Kevin Seconds and Matt Skiba, it’s often hard to go without comparing acoustic material to the celebrated work of their bands.

Fans of pop-punk will find plenty to like on 50, with insanely catchy numbers by bands like the Apers, Zatopeks, and the Manges. There’s a little fluff here and there, but overall 50 delivers a nice sample platter of what Stardumb has to offer.

Review: The Dreadnoughts - "Polka's Not Dead"

Is polka dead? Probably, if the Recording Academy’s recent scrapping of Best Polka Album Grammy Award is any indication. Do the Dreadnoughts care? Probably not. They don’t seem like the type of band to be knocking at the door of any Grammy nominations, plus they get to allude to the classic slogan/overrated album of the Exploited (although, to really draw the parallel, the Dreadnoughts should have foregone the apostrophe and went with Polkas Not Dead).

It would be hard to go without mentioning Gogol Bordello in a review of Polka’s Not Dead, but that’s not to say it’s any kind of carbon copy of NYC’s gypsy punk underdogs. Still, when you combine the frenzied snare-kick onslaught of punk rock rhythms with accordions and violins in the years after Eugene Hutz and company staked their claim, avoiding comparisons is futile.

However, the Dreadnoughts push forward in other directions with an audacity that’s both admirable and effective. The two-minute a capella sea shanty “Randy Dandy-Oh” fears no dead disc space, while its successor, the instrumental “Goblin Humppa” swirls like the opening sequence of Beetlejuice on amphetamine.

There are dashes of Celtic punk influences throughout, too, like on the rowdy romp “Turbo Island” (which suggests to “drink like lunatics”) and mandolin-inflused “Gintlemen’s Club.” “Clavdia’s Waltz” combines the standard ¾ time signature of the classical waltz with a heavy instrumental rock section, while the scraping upstrokes of “Sleep is for the Weak” morph into a driving punk anthem.

Whether or not polka is dead to the music-consuming populace is of little concern to the Dreadnoughts, who whip together a furious frenzy of traditional Eastern European music and punk rock energy. It won’t be winning them a Grammy, but it will certainly show that at least to them, Polka’s Not Dead.

Review: Johnny Rev - "Kill the Lights"

I haven’t heard any of Johnny Rev’s previous material, but based on past reflections, it would seem that they have at least made some improvement in the quality of their musical output.

Whereas the afore-linked Not Your Scene featured the production of sought-after mainstay Matt Allison (Lawrence Arms, Alkaline Trio, the Copyrights), the Kill the Lights EP was produced by Dan Precision (Much the Same, Shot Baker, Flatfoot 56), of Rise Against, Break the Silence, and 88 Fingers Louie fame. And while the music still resembles loose, formulaic skatepunk, at least the lyrics seem more coherent and perhaps a bit less amateur.

In the three tracks that make up the Dropcard EP, the band assembles mildly capable sounding melodic punk that sounds more like early 2000s Drive-Thru than the mid-'90s EpiFat they claim as influence. The vocals are strained and fairly weenie, making their Bad Religion influence sound more like the Benjamins, only much less endearing. Furthermore, the songs are all way too long for their own good, all clocking in at a narcissistic four minutes or more.

While there’s not a ton to go crazy about on Kill the Lights, it’s generally tolerable save for the forced screaming breakdown at the end of the title track. “Hail the Princess,” an uptempo wailer, seems to follow the traditional skatepunk formula, but pulls up into an unexpected marching cadence at its conclusion, which serves as a nice and unique outro. “Last December” is the slowest and most melodic of the bunch, an emotive sob story that actually comes off as sincere as the hook attests, “Time is all we have to kill / When your photographs have been lost / Still I cannot believe that you’re gone.”

At the very least, Johnny Rev has managed to sound like a capable, albeit formulaic melodic punk band on their EP Kill the Lights. It probably won’t be selling a ton of copies (who buys Dropcards?) or earning accolades, but at least it shows the band is moving in the right direction.

Review: United Nations - "Never Mind the Bombings, Here's Your Six Figures"

The enigmatic ensemble that is the United Nations first made waves some time before their debut ran into trouble on the way to its release. Initially dubbed “grindcore” in early press coverage, what emerged from United Nations’ self-titled debut was an abrasive blend of Golden Age screamo, extended powerviolence and the melodic post-hardcore frontman Geoff Rickly popularized in Thursday.

Never Mind the Bombings, Here’s Your Six Figures doesn't depart much from the hectic, noisy smattering of its predecessor, including the equally blatant copyright bending of the front cover. Whoever is spanking the skins (Ben Koller of Converge is commonly suggested) makes his presence known immediately on “Pity Animal,” a complex jumble of precision blast beats, snapping marches and sludgy rhythms. The drums either prod along to the twisting guitarwork opposite the spoken-word bridge or slam heavy with a force equal to the throat-searing screams of Rickly and company.

The slightly more straightforward “Communication Letdown” succeeds in building what comes closest to an anthem as the refrain shouts “Everybody’s talking about the things they know nothing about / Everybody’s talking about the things they couldn't figure out.” The title track rounds out the four-song EP with its most intricate composition of slicing guitar riffs, machine gun rhythms, and a climax that builds twice before finally coming to an orgasmic swirl of blast beats and atmospherics. Above it all are the acerbically political lyrics that brush the edges of nihilism: “It's always the same: Things change, but never when you need it / You can show us the campaign / But no one's ever watching / Don't you get it?”

United Nations may have already made their biggest impact on their debut, but Never Mind the Bombings... is arguably their finest work. It’s focused and incisive, uncompromising yet progressive. It’s what happens when art and substance converge towards a common goal at the hands of those who have the abilities to pull it off.