Teenage Bottlerocket-Freak Out!

I say it’s not your music, it’s my attitude.  That is the only way that I can explain my reluctance toward listening to Teenage Bottlerocket.  I think it goes all the way back to SXSW 2011 when Ben Weasel had a physical altercation with two female fans.  A lot has been said of that of course, and why would that have anything to do with it? Especially considering they were very outspoken about the incident and were very quick to drop out of Weaselfest.   Well I was a fan of Screeching Weasel and couldn’t wait for the new album to come out (which I promptly sold), and I think I subconciously swore off any Ramone’s inspired pop-punk.

Fast forward to 2012 when Teenage Bottlerocket posted a stream of their first single from Freak Out, “I’m Done With Love.”  It caught my interest, and I even went back and listened to some of their older songs and I was hooked.  I am actually listening to it for a third time time today, and the thought of a fourth time just crept into my mind as I am currently listening to the final track “Go With The Flow” and the lyric “…I do as I feel like doing…(forgive me if I got that wrong)”  just inspired me to give it another go.

The other day I wrote a review of a new split from a couple Canadian hardcore bands, and while I did my best, hardcore is not my favourite punk genre, pop-punk is.  It is a combination of a lot of things, but mostly I love a good hook that I can sing along too.  Not to mention pop-punk is my style of choice while driving, I sing along, I do interpretive dances at times, and I drive equivalently fast as the music.

This last fact may get me into trouble as I drive across country this weekend and I head into Ontario where the Provincial Police and the 90 KM/H (approx 55 MPH) speed limit reign supreme.  Either way, it doesn’t matter much, songs like ” Who Killed Sensei”, “Freak Out”, “Mutilate Me”, and “Summertime” should fuel my driving and if I listen to it a compulsively as I have today, ensure that my fuel mileage isn’t as good as would be preferred.

Born Wrong/Kleins 96-Split 10″

I have a couple confessions to make, Hardcore is not my genre.  Even in times when I need to listen to something with hardcore’s intensity, the style is not my choice.  So when I was asked to review the new Born Wrong/Kleins 96 Split 10″ from Rebel Time Records I was a bit apprehensive because I hate not giving something a good review because I think the punk rock community has a lot of negativity in it, a lot of division where there should be unity.  So to help me prepare for writing the review I actually Wikipedia’d Hardcore.  I wanted to get a bit of history.  What I found was that the term Hardcore possibly originated from DOA’s 1981 album of the same name.  I guess I just found that a bit fitting considering BornWrong (Hamilton, On) and Kleins 96 (Regina,SK) are torchbearers for their countrymen’s scene.

My last confession for the night is that in a collection of 300+ punk albums,  this split is only the 3rd hardcore album in it (Triple Crossed, and Sick of it All’s Based on a True Story are the other two) so I don’t have a huge frame of reference from which to draw from.  When I Wikipedia’d Hardcore it also talked about the more technical aspects of the style, and while I read some of it, I didn’t take a whole lot away from that portion of the article, but what I can tell you is this, I enjoyed the 8 song album (4 by each group).  It contains all of the intensity and aggressiveness that I think I always assumed hardcore was supposed to have, while also having all the emphasis on rhythm, screamed vocals, and drop tempos into musical breakdowns (thanks Wikipedia) that Hardcore fan have become accustomed to hearing.

Highlights from the album include Kleins 96 “Eucharist” and Born Wrong’s “Burn a Debt” but for fans of this genre I don’t think there is a track that you could go wrong with.  Now when I need something to provide me with a little extra intensity, this is probably the album from my collection that I am going to turn to.

Jesse Lebourdais-I Go By The Sound

For those of you unfamiliar with Vancouver’s own Jesse Lebourdais, let me give you a brief introduction.  He is the lead singer of a melodic hardcore/punk band named Cambridge.  He is also an accomplished folk punk solo artist with three solo albums to his credit with his latest being I Go By The Sound.

The album was posted on Jesse’s bandcamp page Wednesday night, and I have to admit (and I have to pull this off this cheesy reference and there may be more  on the way) that I have been “following the sound” ever since and listening any chance I have gotten.

I don’t know where to start on the accolades for this album.  The song writing is sublime and in true folk fashion the story telling is rich (I am definitelythinking I must be smitten like a school girl right now because I am using words that are not normal for me).  Combine the storytelling with Lebourdais’ one of a kind vocal stylings and you have characters in the songs that sound, seem, and feel so familiar that it is almost as if they are old friends.  Check out “Union Man” for the best example of this. 

From top to bottom the 13 tracks that comprise I Go By The Sound are stellar but my personal favourite is the title track.  But I do have to say that my one issue with this song is when Lebroudais  belts out a reference to his music as “a testament to a life well wasted.”  I do have to say to Mr. Lebourdais that even if you never write another song, your life is not wasted in the least.

Pennywise-All or Nothing

A few weeks ago I was walking home from work and as I walked past the small skate park there were three kids skating.  They had their car pulled up close with the windows down so they could hear the eurotrash that was playing on the car’s stereo.  I asked the question that any self respecting skater from the 90’s would have asked “Do you actually skate to this?”  To my surprise they replied quite proudly, “Yes!”  I couldn’t help but think that if they had been skating with some of the people that I did that they would have had their boards taken forcefully and probably “focused” (which is what we called breaking the board in half).

It has been a few years since I have actually stepped on a skateboard in any meaningful way, but when I was skating in the mid ’90’s we were experiencing punk’s 3rd wave and height of popularity (check out the recent documentary One Nine Nine Four for more on this).  It wasn’t uncommon for someone to be listening to Bad Religion’s Stranger Than FictionThe Offspring’s Smash, or Pennywise’s About Time

It was the latter album that I would end up associating skating during those times with.  A lot has changed since those years though for Pennywise.  One of the biggest changes of course is the replacement of Jim Lindberg with Zoli Teglas on vocals.  Even though Jim has moved on to form another group and it was easy for me to accept them, I was much more skeptical of the new Pennywise.  I think it was because I had always associated Jim’s voice as being Pennywise and I wasn’t sure that they could move on without him.  Even after hearing the first two singles “All or Nothing”, and “Let us Hear Your Voice”, which I ,the uncertainty over their new direction still remained. 

I am now starting to think that it was because an initial synopsis said that it Pennywise’s best since Full Circle, which I definitely contend with, but not because All or Nothing isn’t good like I initially thought, but mostly because I really enjoyed Reason to Believe (Pennywise’s previous effort). 

As I am now listening to All or Nothing for my 5th or 6th time, I am starting to let go of that skepticism, and letting it be what it is, which is a solid punk rock album that can stand head to head with any other Pennywise album.  Zoli Teglas steps in to fill the void Jim has left, and truly makes being the lead vocalist for Pennywise his own, which wouldn’t be an easy task for a lesser band let alone punk rock legends. There are songs on the album that will remind long time fans of past music, and it also has a few songs that will leave fans feel as if they are listening to something fresh and new.  So while I was skeptical of the addition of Teglas originally, it turns out he can not only match the band’s past energy he also brings a fresh sound that helps vary the bands sound in a good way.

  Pennywise has been spreading messages of staying strong through adversity for years, and they have taken their own advice and turned out a very strong showing with their latest album.  I would recommend this album to anyone, and I actually have two copies of the cd, so I have been carrying one in my pocket when I go to work so that if I see those kids skating again I can give it to them so they have something to skate to.

Arkham Asylum-A Serious House on Serious Earth-15th Anniversary Edition

The original edition of this book was printed in 1989 and was groundbreaking at the time as it was the first comic to feature painted artwork, and at the time of publishing the 15th anniversary edition it was still the best selling comic of all time.  I must have been busy because I didn’t get around to reading it until just recently.  But even in 2012 Dave McKean’s artwork still stands out as being incredible.  I think that is one of the four aims of the book, and the one where the book doesn’t fail. 

Each page is perfectly drawn and pristinely coloured.  My favourite part of the book is parts where The Joker is laughing, the colourist did an excellent job of creating the tone of the HA HA HA  that is the character’s signature.  I just wish I could have replicated the same tone while trying to make the laughter in my head while reading.

Grant Morrison’s  second aim of the book is to explore Batman’s pysche by making him face his own demons when entering the asylum.  After reading the synopsis of the book I came to expect a lot of the story.  The basic premise is that the residents of Arkham lead by The Joker take over the asylum and take hostages and will release them on the condition that Batman enter the Asylum to face his own demons and his enemies on their own turf.  But in the end his enemies only make brief appearances and there are really no battles or demons faced.  After reading, I really have no greater understanding of Batman.

But the biggest failure of the book is the it’s third aim, and that is creating a dark symbolism to surround Batman.  Before reading the included original script and footnotes I would have never made connections to the symbolism, and after reading  I kind of find the intention to be pretentious and unaccessible to the common reader. 

The book’s fourth aim is to connect the history of Arkham Asylum to the present day, but where it fails is that the when the story flashes back it doesn’t transition well back into the story.  I look to the book’s contemporary groundbreaking book in its own right, The Killing Joke, for the manual on how it should be done.  Allan Moore and Brian Bollard seamlessly weave The Joker’s backstory into the main story by using the story and artwork together.  Look no further then page 8 when the future Clown Prince of Crime is reaching for his wife’s hand to understand what I mean. 

At any rate, I did like the book, but felt I needed to share what I think are valid criticisms of it.  Like I said, the artwork is stunning, and there are parts of the book that genuinely creeped me out.  For any fans of Batman books it is worth a read to those who haven’t, but as I get further into exploring Batman comics, I am finding that there are better reads out there.

Anti-Flag-The General Strike

On March 20th, Anti-Flag released their 8th studio album, The General Strike, and it seems like they haven’t received a whole lot of press for their efforts.  But that isn’t to say they don’t deserve it.  Much like their last record, The People or the Gun, Anti-Flag has once again scored the soundtrack to an important political issue of the time, the Occupy movement ( while the previous album addressed the Bailout situation).

It seems funny to me that just like both of these events have been largely ignored by the mainstream, Anti-Flag’s last two albums have seemingly flew under the radar of the punk scene.  Now, Anti-Flag is not breaking any new ground with their latest 12 tracks as they carry the same type of sound that they have become known for by mixing melodic moments with more street punk sounds.  What they are doing is putting together politically scathing lyrics and touching upon subject matter that is not common in a lot of music. When they released The Bright Lights of America, I read a review stating that the album really lacked direction.  This is not the case with The General Strike, and the direction becomes quite clear from the first aggressive track. Combine their tried and true sound with their lyric themes and direction and then you get something special.

I just received my copy of the album yesterday and I am still getting a handle on it, but I am completely enjoying it.  One of the coolest surprises though was when I opened up my package and a drop card for the Vans Warped Tour EP came out which includes 3 songs from the album and 2 unreleased tracks (“SKATE” and “Whistleblower”).  I knew that the download would be given out at the cd release shows, but I didn’t know it would be included in my order.  All I can say is this, if you are at all interested in Anti-Flag or political punk rock give the album its due, give it a listen, you won’t be disappointed.

The Magnificent-Bad Lucky

About once a year I will come across a band that at first listen I don’t love, but I keep goiing back to, then I try to resist buying the album because I am not sure I like it, but then I just bite the bullet and get it anyway.  The next thing I know I am waking up with the songs in my head although I may not have listened to it for a while.  Then the love affair truly begins.  This year’s album that has had that effect on me is Bad Lucky by The Magnificent

Looking at the album cover I can’t help but be reminded of The Ramones self titled debut album.  Then I am reminded of a quote from The Magnificent’s webpage that said ” If you are American, the music sounds English. If you are English, you have never heard of this band.”  From there I can’t help but think that  just as The Ramones’ debut introduced the world to the now legendary group, it would be nice if Bad Lucky were able to do the same type of thing for The Magnificent

At times the last statement may seem like wishful thinking, but when I listen I start to think that maybe it is not so far fetched.  Bad Lucky has everything that allows punk albums to endure for generations.  Not only does it contain slick guitar driven melodies and sing along choruses, the lyrics speak to a generation that doesn’t quite know how to make it’s way in the world.  All qualities which allow music to trascend time. 

Now only time will tell if this particular album will be considered great 30 + years later  (plus they may need to become known in their homeland first too), but if you take the time to listen, it will be something that you keep coming back to for some time to come.

The Sidekicks-Grace

I need to start by getting a couple things off of my chest, and if you like them you can keep them, if not you can throw them back at me.  Number 1, The Sidekicks are not a punk band.  I’m not trying to be negative, or add fuel to the fire of the genre acceptance fight, but there isn’t a single punk lick on the 4 tracks which appear on Grace.  I think sometimes when music appeals to listeners who prefer punk music we have to call it punk or else we feel like (for lack of a better phrase) “not repping the brand.”

Number 2, I didn’t like the single at first, which probably has a lot to do with gripe number 1.  I took repeated listens, and I actually had to make comparisons to other music that I like in order to help me along.  This is something I don’t usually like to do, but on the first two tracks “Grace” and “The Wallflowers” (the first of which also appears on their full length Awkward Breeds) lead man Steve Ciolek  vocals bring back fond memories of rocking out to Weezer without River Cuomo’s self loathing lyrics.  The next two tracks “The 9th Piece (Alternate version)”, and “Stay” (the first once again appears on their recent full length) have the same type of feeling as Graham Nash’s Songs for Beginners (one of my favourite non-punk albums). 

It has been a long time since I have been able to say I liked a different band or album without being able to attach the punk label to them mostly because I feel like it is cheating on my musical love, but sometimes to enjoy good music I have to accept the fact that I can be friends with other genres without betraying the other.  With Grace, The Sidekicks have introduced me to a new friend.

 

 

 

 

The Class Assasins-Equalize X Distort The Studio 3 Sessions

I have long been a fan  of Rebel Time Records and I own and enjoy almost every single release on the imprint, but for some reason I have always been weary of listening to one particular group that has released music through them, The Class Assassins.  I don’t even know if I can come up with a valid reason as to why, which became even more apparent when I actually sat down and listened to them.

I recently sat and listened to their two latest releases, Treason, which is available on 7″ vinyl from Rebel Time Records, and Equalize X Distort The Studio  3 Sessions. The latter recording is an 8 song live recording which was done in November at CIUT FM in Toronto.  The recording features 6 songs from the groups back catalog (including ” Treason” and ” Start Again” from the Treason 7″) as well as two covers “Breaking the Law” and “Fortunate Son”  (which I have heard covered before but the group has definitely added their own spin to this classic with a bass and drum intro).  The recording was apparently limited to 100 copies on cd but it is available in its entirety on their bandcamp page.

Listening to The Class Assassins reminds me of the Street Dogs songs “Punk Rock ‘n’ Roll”.  Not because it sounds like it, but because if Punk Rock ‘n’ Roll was added to the many sub-genres of punk I imagine they would have either wrote the recipe for it or redefined it.  Now while I am only currently familiar with the 8 tracks from these two releases, they are full of exactly what I like in punk songs,fast paced guitar attacks and  fist pumping, rabble rousing, sing along choruses.  Treason and Equalize X Distort were my introduction to The Class Assassins, and it is as good as a place as any to start, and I highly recommend you do.