This is an mp3 blog attempting to document the gross amount of music I listen to. About once a day, I'll post something I like. If you're a copyright holder on anything I host, get in touch, and we'll settle things in a steel cage instead of a courtroom.

Friday, August 24, 2007

American Steel's jagged words

In the world of underground rock, it's kind of disheartening how some bands get notice and respect after the fact, long after they've broken up and the members have moved on to other projects. Fortunately, for those of us who discovered American Steel too late, we're getting another shot to see them live, as the guys are reforming and going on tour with the roving spectacle that is the Lawrence Arms/Falcon/Sundowner tour (you better believe I have tickets, son).

The band broke up originally in 2002, in part due to the extreme negative backlash their new album, Jagged Thoughts, had received within the punk community. When the band formed in 1995 in the East Bay, they sounded like 'most every other East BAy punk band at the time - full-tilt ahead buzzsaw punk thrash with yelled, throaty vocals. 1999's Rogue's March was well-received too. It was still buzzsaw punk, but roots songcraft was peeking its head through the wail, and guitarist Ryan's battle with luekemia fueled the lyrics and gave it an emotional edge one didn't really kind in the political stronghold that is the East Bay scene.

However, 2001's Jagged Thoughts really pissed off a lot of stupid people, which is a damn shame. It's an incredible record. It's a forerunner to the distortion-free rock'n'roll/folk-punk that's all the rage these days with the kids (and me), and the songs are incredibly well-written. They sound like your favorite local band running though a set of Motown covers with new lyrics, especially on the jumpy, ultra-catchy "Lonely All the Time." The anthemic "Shrapnel" is still one of my favorite songs, and you can be sure that when I see them on stage, I'll be right up front singing every word at the top of my lungs. Every song sounds like it was put through the rigors to make it as good as possible. Even the bash'n'crash numbers like "Turn it Out" sound well-conceived and meticulous (in a good way). The record stands as one of the best punk albums of the 00's, and fortunately, most people are coming around to it. Here's hoping the boys are better received this time around.


New Religion Every Day:

Lonely All the Time:


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Prairie Home Invasion

Ever since Jello Biafra was attacked by thugs who made MaximumRockNRoll seem like Tiger Beat, he hasn't really been able to perform, at least up to his own standards. When he fronted Dead Kennedys, he was a hellcat prowling the stage, seeming like a rubber band coated in sulfuric acid ready to snap in the eye of any given audience member. After his assault gave him a limp, he came to the conclusion that just because people would pay to see him sing in a rock band doesn't mean that he should charge to that effect. After all, he couldn't give the all he had always given, so why make people pay to see some gimp hobble and warble?

In a lot of ways, his insistence on purity and credibility is more than a bit annoying to those of us who don't give a fuck and just want to see our hero belt out songs. You think Dean Martin fans give a shit when he got fat(ter) and old(er)? Hell no.

Anyway, it meant that his musical output was limited to collaborations with existing bands, and he's done quality work with DOA, NoMeansNo, the Ministry, and the Melvins. There was one, though, that was left field even by Jello's standards. He did a record with Mojo Nixon & the Toadliquors, and it might be the best alt-country album of all time. Yes, I include Uncle Tupelo and Lucero in that statement.

It's a rollicking, rocking romp through country's past, done up with a punk rock piss-take puking all over everything. How else would you describe a version of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" being redone as a pro-choice anthem called "Will the Fetus Be Aborted"? Jello never was subtle in his targets, but at least it's not all one-sided ranting. "Love Me, I'm Liberal" updates the Phil Ochs classic for the age of the Tipper Gores and Hillary Clintons, i.e. just because you grew up listening to the Jefferson Airplane doesn't mean you're any less of the problem or any more of the solution.

The most venom is saved for Jello's own generation, though. At the time this record was released, many of the former punk/hardcore/indie icons of the 80's were adopting the mantle of "alternative" in order to sell records. "Buy My Snake Oil" is a winding, 9-minute screed against "boring white music for boring white people" that whines about how much "life sucks 'cause it ain't easy." It's been 13 years since the song was written, and it could just as easily be about whiny gasbags like Thursday or My Chemical Romance. The fact that's a barrelhouse country-rock songs makes it all the better.

I guess my only complaint would be that Mojo's personality doesn't really get to shine as much as it does on his solo records. "Let's Go Burn Ole Nashville Down" and "Are You Drinkin' With Me, Jesus?" get close to Mojo's subversive take on country music, but it seems odd pitting funny songs up against Jello's sardonic rants, but it does work. I guess you have to hear "Burgers of Wrath" and "Mascot Mania" together to see how they fit together.

For people who wondered what it would be like if Merle Haggard had sung about beating up people at the country club.

Buy My Snake Oil:

Love Me, I'm Liberal!:

Are You Drinkin' With Me Jesus?:

Monday, August 20, 2007

You mean there's a NEW Mexico?

I hope the title will make sense later. Maybe not. I'm drinking and writing, and we all know good things happen when I combine two of my favorite pursuits.

Legend has it that reggae was invented in one particularly brutal summer in Jamaica. Word was that the local groups couldn't play rocksteady and ska because it was too hot to do music even that jumpy (and rocksteady was still pretty languid), so they played a molasses-slow take on their repertoires and lo and behold, a new genre was born.

Music is hard work. Ask one of the coolest and hardest-working bands in the city, JP McDemott and Western Bop, what it's like to play three one-hour sets in the summer in the Quarry House when the air conditioning is (of course) out. Patting Bob Newscaster on the back is like slapping a waterfall.

The thing I'm getting at (fuckin' finally, right?) is that sometimes it's too hot to go off, especially in the day and age of holes in the ozone layer. So don't let my current punk kick be mistaken for something that has been going on for the whole summer. There was a stretch here this summer that was too damn fry-a-riffic for uptempo music. When it's 100 degrees outside and the humidity is enough to rehydrate jerky, it's time to break out the blues records. A favorite over this last heat wave was Sonny Boy Williamson II (get the title line now?).

Sonny Boy, aka Rice Miller, specialized in a style of blues in which even then shitkicking numbers sounded like a slow burn, like being apathetic about having a hot iron fall on your arm, but exactly 6.75 times more tuneful. (I think the Cap City Amber Ale, courtesy of my awesome roommate Chris, is kicking in, buoys and gulls. Rock!) It's the perfect music for when it's too hot too move or drink too much, and you lay around sweating lightly and using every bit of available brainpower wishing it weren't so damn hot. It seems almost ironic to me that a musician of such passion and skill is the perfect soundtrack for days of motionless, lazy sprawling about.

There ain't much to say that hasn't been said already, although I would like to point out again that he taught Howlin' Wolf how to play harmonica, which is more than enough for veneration. He also wrote one of the single most badass songs ever written, "Your Funeral and My Trial." I listened to this song pretty much constantly in college, and my roommate Jon and I had dubbed it the "bitch I WILL kill you" song. It's great for sitting on an elevated porch, drinking Stroh's, and breathing that Southern air. God those were the days.

This has turned out to be more about me than the musician in question. I would apologize, but music is all about the personal.

Your Funeral and My Trial:

Fattening Frogs for Snakes:

Keep Your Hands Out Of My Pocket:

Sad to Be Alone:

The Cobra Skulls are man whores (viva la Cobra Skulls!)

Holy shit am I still alive? I dunno. Being domesticated is weird. I used to be contemptuous of people who lived nice quiet lives, but more and more I'm finding comfort in spending my nights sitting up with my girlfriend, drinking beer and tea, and listening to music while we both read. Of course, she's dating a dyed-in-the-wool punk rocker, so her fantasy and sci-fi novels are punctuated by blasts of the Copyrights and the Falcon.

Part of my old self might be thrasing about, though, as I've been on a major punk kick lately, foregoing large parts of my record collection in order to focus on punk, especially on more of the modern stuff. Don't get me wrong - Youth Brigade always has and always be one of my favorite bands - but there is so much amazing punk rock being made right now that it seems a shame to ignore it in favor of stuff that was recorded before I was even born.

One of the best of the latest bunch is the Cobra Skulls, a band I'm convinced is going to fill the gap left by the late, lamented Rocket From the Crypt. (If you're saying "who?" right now, sign off the internet, grandpa, and enjoy a life of televised golf and clocks that look like cats.) Their debut full-length, Sitting Army, pretty much came out of nowhere. I checked 'em out because they were signed to Red Scare Records, and Red Scare has yet to put out a bum record. It's like they're the SST of pop-punk. Or something.

Basically all you need to know is that 1) every song on Sitting Army has the word "cobra" in it, which is fuckin' rad, 2) they sing in Spanish sometimes, and 3) they sing about how Southern California sucks. I can emphasize how awesome number three is. Aside from cheap Mexican food, Southern California has nothing to offer the world except Guitar Center wankers and assholes who think tattoos = talent. But aside from their cool hates, they offer up a swinging version of punk rock that gleefully steals from rock n roll and nortena polka rhythms. In other words, killer.

Cobra Skullifornia:

The Cobra and the Man-Whore:

I'll Always Be a Cobra Skull (Fuck Off):

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Weakerthans sneak peek

So I'm totally gay for the Weakerthans. It's a fact. I know it, you know it, the American people know it. Despite some of my intial criticism of their last record, Reconstruction Site really won me over, and despite all the sheen, songs like "Plea From a Cat Named Virtue," "Psalm For the Elks Lodge Last Call" and "One Great City!" ranked easily with their previous stunning work (including Left and Leaving, one of the most affecting rock albums ever produced).

Thanks to StereoGum, who I'm basically stealing from, a new track from their upcoming album - four years in the making - has surfaced, giving us a preview of the LP to come. When I first heard "Night Windows," my gut was "it's really good, but it's standard issue Weakerthans." After playing it 50 times a day on loop, my opinion is the same, but with a much more positive connotation. I don't want the Weakerthans to change too much because they got it so damn right just out of the gate.

Four years is a long time, but quality is worth waiting for, kids. Reunion Tour hits stores September 25th.

Night Windows: