Monday, December 31, 2007

Chapter Twenty-One: Reflecting

Top Ten Under-Appreciated Albums that Rocked 2007
Top ten album lists are a bit ridiculous and the more objective they are made out to be the more comically subjective they become. That said, they always make for good reading even if they make you angry enough to spit. A list with a pronounced limitation is always more helpful than a catchall best o’ the year list. Therefore, this particular slanted list is designed to highlight blazing albums that somehow got missed.
Songs from each album are available in The Ruiner (down and to your right) and the song numbers correspond with their “ranking” number.
1. Star Spangles – Dirty Bomb
Does the idea of a Boy Named Goo era Goo Goo Dolls and Dookie era Green Day (with a dose of Johnny Thunders) make you vomit? Please return to the Pitchfork best indie-snores of 2007.
2. Manic Street Preachers – Send Away the Tigers
Pretentious? – uh, yeah! Queen-level bombast? a bit, maybe. Unnecessary cover of Working Class Hero? erm…you got me there. Destructively melodic and angry enough to count? Damn straight.
3. Queers - Munki Brain
Joe Queer may never get the respect he deserves. Working in the narrow genre of pop-punk is one thing, insisting on throwing a couple one-two-fuck-you throw-backs on every album is quite another. The keepers here are all his variations on pre-Beatles rock. Unlike almost every Ramonesclone out there Joe has gone back to the sources that inspired da bruddas and - I shake as I write this - he may have assimilated those sources better than the Ramones ever did.
4. Holloways - This is Great Britain
The British need to crank out a recycled guitar-bass-drums pop band every fifteen minutes to keep the boys in the press happy. You need a scorecard just to keep up and NME is happy to help. It’s no wonder the Brits invented the Pop Idol franchise; they have a hydra-headed star-making cultural apparatus that works more insidiously than the more vaunted American version. The Holloways, who may wind up disbanded or ignored by their 3rd release, are an example of when it all goes right. The band who almost fit in with the Arctic Monkeys, Kaiser Chiefs et al have added the sounds of Madness, Kinks, Jam and (yes) Dexy’s Midnight Runners to their assault. Try getting “Generator” out of yer head- I dare ya!
5. Adam Thorn and Top Buttons – Where’s the Freedom?
If The White Stripes with more obsessed 60’s R + B than old blues and if Jack White sang more like a drunken Karaoke mike hog then this is what you would get.
6. Copyrights - Make Sound
It’s been a great couple of years for pop-punk but who is acknowledging it these days? The Copyrights are young enough to have, without apparent irony, named an original album-opening rocker Kids of the Blackhole. That first Adolescent album is a primary influence on the whole SoCal pop-punk phenomenon so to just pilfer a title like that is almost as cheeky as the Replacements calling an album “Let it Be”.
7. Ike Reilly Assassination – We Belong to the Staggering Evening.
The Dylan was a Punk album of the year. Those of us weaned on punk often learn to love Dylan’s stripped down music that was aided and abetted by his sneering social critiques. Ike Reilly will not bear the New Dylan Curse because he’s moving too fast; this album blazes on the image-laden rockers and the searing ballads.
8. Short Attention Span – Clever, Maddening, Annoying
Sure, it’s only a 7” but it’s got 29 songs that invest the excitement of early 80’s hardcore with the wiseacre pop smarts of mid 90’s pop-punk.
9. Ben Weasel – These Ones are Bitter
A sloooow grower but it packs almost as much emotional depth as the (actually excellent) Neon Bible by Bruce Springsteen the Arcade Fire. Ben’s voice is a little weaker these days but his songs still bite deep. It’s ironic that for a man who, more than anyone, championed Ramones Fundamentalism, Ben has expanded the lyrical scope of pop-punk far beyond what any of his disciples attempt.
10. Modern Machines – Take it Somebody!
2006? Well, nobody told me. If you ground up Minneapolis (think Replacements, Husker Du and Soul Asylum but no Prince) circa 1985 this is what you’d end up with. And it all sounds new. There’s no stink of nostalgia here just that bitter-tinged, flat-out music that cold, desolate climates can produce. Kinda like a more retro Weakerthans, who belong on this list but they get all the respect they deserve, except from Pitchfork – go figure.
COMMENTS! (or counter-offers) are an unequivocally great concept.
With thanks to Apollo C. Vermouth (former maven of the sadly defunct Power Pop Lovers site) who introduces me to new and interesting albums every week.
Addendum: Music Blogs Further Ruined My Life
Here without fanfare are the, highly biased, twenty best album shares of the year from around the blogosphere. As per our philosophy the albums are primarily functionally out of-print and hence often older. I could have added a hundred more..
1. Jason and The Scorchers Lost and Found (U.S. cow-punk 1986) C-60 Low Noise
2. Hanson Brothers Multiple albums (Can. puck rock 1990's) Born in the Basement
3. Nikki and the Corvettes S/T (U.S. new wave 1980) Commercial Zone
4. The Beat S/T (U.S. power-pop 1979) Control Total
5. Holly and the Italians The Right to be Italian (U.S. power-pop 1981) Cueburn
6. Lightning - Lightning Strike (UK Clash-punk) Nuzz Prowlin' Wolf
7. Lost Durangos - Evil Town (Can. roots-rock 1986) PVAc to 41khz
8. Piranhas S/T (UK ska 1980) Twilight Zone
9. Nick Heyward - Rollerblade (UK power-pop, 1996) Power Pop Criminals
10. Wanderers -Only Lovers Left Alive (UK/US punk-pop) Eternally Yours
11. Stretch Marks - Who's in Charge (Can. H.C. 1983) Good Bad Music
13. X-ray Spex - Germ-Free Adolescence (UK punk 1978) Music is a Better Noise
14. V.A. - Last Call (Can. punk/new wave/post-punk 1978-1988) O Canadarm
15. Grusomes - Hey (Can. garage Rock 1988) Wicked Thing
16 Bad Religion - Into the the Unknown (U.S. psych-punk, 1983) Wilfully Obscure
17. Greenland Whalefishers - Down & Out (Norwegian Pogues-punk) Subers
18. Subhumans - Incorrect thoughts (Can. punk, 1980) Punk Not Profit
19. The Shackelfords (plus more Lee Hazelwood folk-country weirdness) realm of x
20. TV Smith's Cheap - R.I.P. (UK Post-Punk, 1995) Hangover Heart Attack

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Chapter Twenty: Singles Going Crazy

Punk bands jam packed ideas and words into short spaces; hence the necessity of the 7” e.p. A zillion punk band issued seven inches not for their traditional purpose of ending up on radio, jukeboxes or in the hands of pre-adolescent music buyers (hey I could afford to buy my friend the Boomtown Rats “I Don’t like Mondays” for his tenth birthday – coolest present he got) but as the sole way their music could escape their local stages.

The e.p. let the band show off more then a couple of songs, often allowing cover tunes and odd tangents to escape. And they played at 33 r.p.m. so if was “too slow” you could speeditfuckingup. The 7” e.p. was that transition between the lowly demo tape and the more rarefied album. Sadly it was also a wall. Bands that produced some crystalline e.p.’s when faced with the daunting task of a full album fell apart (i.e Cringer discussed in the last chapter). Even the vaunted Misfits album (Walk Among Us) was considered a let-down after all those blistering e.p.’s (Bullet, Three Hits from Hell).

It’s the obscure bands from the fag-end of the vinyl era (are we still there yet?) that offer a heartbreaking truth: most bands only have a few good songs and that later attempts to diversify or recapture the original sound are only the grasping of straws. Bands have a Moment: one time where history and their particular talents align and if they grab it – Bam! - we end up with, at the least, a single. After a few more star-crossed attempts they end up careerists, crack addicts or computer programmers. Writers are the same: think Nick Hornby. Hornby had a rock n’ roll career trajectory; that album of early demos (Fever Pitch) the Moment (High Fidelity) the similar-sounding sophomore album (About a Boy) the Mature album (How to Be Good) and the album that tries to reach old and new fans (Long Way Down).

Glibness aside, this Theory of Moments applies especially well to pop-punk bands. So let me present a series; Single Moments of Unfettered Brilliance - bands who fizzed out and quickly faded away. The series will be expanded in times to come.

Radon (Bill Clower - drums, Dave Rohm - guitar, vocals, Brent Wilson - bass, vocals) released this exceptional four song e.p. of emo-pop-punk-hardcore mash-up on No Idea Records back in 1992.The four tracks from this single are available on a retrospective CD from No Idea records.


The Invalids (Tony on bass guitar, Sean on drums and Scott on guitar and vocals) wanted to be Green Day and we can enjoy their failure. Failing imitators have a history of serendipitous innovation, though in this case the band ended up sounding like another amazing East Bay punk band – Sewer Trout – maybe I’ll throw in that band's ten-inch Moment to cap things off. This however is the 'Punker Than Me" single from the mid 90's and it's jam packed with sing-along chorus, off-kilter lyrics and stripped-down chord progressions. Insubordination Records has put out an Invalids comp - though not with these songs.

The Invalids

Kamala and the Karnivores (according to the Lookout catalogue, "East Bay pop band that featured Ivy, later of Sweet Baby, Kamala, later in Cringer, the Gr'ups, and Naked Aggression, and Todd, of Spitboy. Sweet songs about being in love, killing boys, and black thumbs") sounded a little indie-rock in their tempos and melodies but they pulled it off with a punkish swagger.Kamala got name-checked by both Screeching Weasel and Sewer Trout! The vinyl is still available and this single got tacked onto to a gargantuan CD of Lookout also-rans so if you like it - buy it.

Kamala and the Karnivores

Monsula (Paul Lee on vocals, Chuck Goshert on guitar, Bill Schnieder on bass and Jeff Stofanon drums) got tagged 'D.C." a lot in their time. There seemed to be a doppelganger District of Columbia hidden in the East Bay with bands like Fuel, Jawbreaker and Monsula playing a raspy, angular punk that Ian Mackaye could love. Lookout still has a Monsula album in print but it does not contain all the tracks from this single.


The Operation Ivy Energy CD pictures singer Jesse Michael’s in his favourite Clash shirt. Hence charges of Clash-revivalism dogged Op Ivy, then Tim Armstrong and Matt Freeman’s Rancid and even Jesse's last band Common Rider.

However, a legend has built around Jesse’s post Op Ivy disappearance (despite briefly leading Big Rig) and rumoured vanishing into a Buddhist Monastery. In this novel-in-progress that haunts me Jesse has served as an inspiration (alongside Brian Wilson and Californian music in general) for an unseen singer named Rob Crook.

Jesse’s lyrics combine that Dylan-via-Strummer explosive chains of images with a literary economy his novelist father (Leonard Michaels) was famed for. Jesse tossed off stinging aphorisms like, “Sympathy is only friendship’s whore” in a way few punk lyricist’s ever did.

Common Rider broke up a few years back and Jesse’s creating art now. He’ll reappear one day and be re-appraised for more than just his Clash t-shirt.

The e.p’s that follow are: Jesse’s band Big Rig (out-of-print but available digitally in far better quality on Amazon) and the Common Rider single (out-of-print but I just scored a copy at a local store, named War on Music) plus a rarities single.

Big Rig Re-up

Common Rider Re-Up

Common Rider Rarities

Cringer, as mentioned often, released a series of great e.p.s in the early 90's. To bolster the argument for Lance's strength as a sprinter I've posted the "Rain" e.p which also happens to feature a Kamala song. The original Peanuts cover cannot be located

Cringer - Rain

Also from the East Bay in the early 1990's ('93 to be specific) were Dogs on Ice. Definitely almost-rans they had a nice LP on Allied Records but they never surpassed the magnificent "On a String" from the "Housefly" E.P. Joe Popp has made all the Dogs on Ice material available on line - so go hear more.
Dogs on Ice

Let us not neglect the nobly perverse double-seven inch comp e.p. It's advantages over the LP are small - but hey you can have a mini-gatefold like Frampton Comes Alive.

Turn it Around is one of those vinylized moments of history. The Gilman Street Project is better rhapsodized by actual participants (for which you can always count on Larry Livermore). I can tell you tracking this down in the apartment of a pen pal in Chicago (I still have the tape I made of her seven inch singles) back in 1990 was a tiny triumph. This comp includes Operation Ivy, Crimpshrine, Isocracy, (See here), Sweet Baby, Sewer Trout, No Use for a Name and many others.

Turn it Around

Sasquatch was also bought by a friend and committed to tape. It's much less cohesive historically, though with a clear jazz-punk bias, including such bands as NoMeansNo, Victim's Family and Schlong. As well there are the pop-punk bands such as Cringer (again!), Moral Crux (more later) and Nuisance.

Sasquatch Pt. 1

Sasquatch pt 2

Then there is the ten inch e.p., which occupies the space between single and album.

We begin with the shockingly obscure Blundermen. Four guys from Toronto who got compared to Stiff Little Fingers but who sounded like Minor Threat had grown up on Steady Diet of Johny Cash. This e.p is great throughout and "My Train's Still at the Station of the Crass" is a standout punk shit-kicker with deft lyrics. Plus it made for great post-break-up listening just like those country hurtin' tunes did. The latest Blundermen-related project is The Blastcaps.

The Blundermen Blunder on Bikini Island

Sewer Trout (from Sacramento from 1985-1990 and included Jim MacLean, bass, vocals Hal MacLean, drums Keith Lehtinen, guitar Erik Benson) were a Gilman Street era punk band who, like the Blundermen, made use of acoustic guitars and loved (in a more obvious way) country music - even stopping to cover "Foolin' Around at the end of this e.p. Their discography was briefly released on CD only to disappear again. I sold my copy (bought at this basement record shop who let the band I was touring with, the Paperbacks, sleep in their storage room) since like so many punk odds n' sods comp it was stuffed with muddy demoish material. I kept the aptly named Flawless 10" though.

Sewer Trout Flawles

Mutant Pop was a label hopelessly devoted to pop-punk. Between 1995 and 2000 Timbo released (or re-released) dozens and dozens of singles from "The" bands with three chord songs about girls. His hit ratio was pretty good. Someday someone will compile a Mutant Pop Nuggets comp to showcase the high points. In the meantime Music Ruined My Life is gob-smackingly proud to present a grab bag of seven rocking Mutant Pop singles. While the label is on long-term hiatus many of these singles can, and should be, be ordered at a modest price (especially if you're in America) from Mutant Pop. The bands herein are: Moral Crux, Cletus, The Hissyfits, The Kung-Fu Monkeys, Darlington and the Wannabe's.

Download Mutant Pop Hits

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Chapter Fifteen: Jazz Punk is my Tangent.

The Sarcastic Mannequins were obscure, Canadian, Clash-loving punks but since they weren’t three chord bashers they do break one of the promises of my mission statement. They’d like that. They used to hand out lyric sheets before their shows just to make sure that even the inattentive could be offended by their words. As well the (remaining) dogmatic punk punters were probably enraged by their forays into ragas, ska, spy, and tricky, jazzy instrumental sections. Never wanky (and usually catchy) the Mannequins would have been a good opener for NoMeansNo but with less “Kill Everyone Now” and more “Everything Pisses Me Off”.

The Sarcastic Mannequins (Beez on bass/vocals, Bradford Lambert on drums Andrew Shyman on guitar/vocals) played a tight, blistering set on a Tuesday in October of 1989 at the U of M’s pub. The assembled crowd wasn’t - so they let us hang out backstage and showered me with quotes (I was reviewing the show for the university paper). Their demo tape (still their peak) was a disconcerting yet fun jazz-punk fusion and though this album came a bit too late in their career (less propulsive) it too gave CBC Radio’s late night bizzarro programs more wild content in the dullest era of modern musical history.

Yeah, I dropped the name of the Bad Brains and my band (see ch 14) into the review. Shamless. The band members kept in touch for while and Beez was always friendly – even when I hinted that they should’ve tacked the demo onto the CD. He went on man the bass for the most-excellent Smugglers and plays in a band called the Beauticians.

This album will not be everyone’s cup of meat (hey what here is?) but to those who get it – you’ll return to it for those WTF moments spread throughout the album and if you just download for a quick look-hear don’t stop till you hit their reloaded version of Sandanista’s “Charlie Don’t Surf”.


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Chapter Fourteen: Og n' Me

I’ve been in a band. So has everyone, right? Well, no. Lots of people have no musical talent. I don’t mean the way failed musicians deride the playing of Ramones or Meg White - I mean people who by universal standards have no place on the performance stage. Such untalented music lovers work in record stores, write music criticism or manage bands. I did those sorts of things later. My band (Jane Fonda and the Hondas) was a two-piece (a sorta cross between They Might Be Giants and The Shaggs) who my, vastly more talented partner (later a member of the socialist-punk band The Strike), described as, “Sludgeabilly with extra sludge”.

“Sludgeabilly” was Gerald Van Herk’s self-description of his band, Deja Voodoo, a Canadian two-piece psychobilly-swamp-punk band that sounded like the Cramps with a denser, leaner, cruder taste for pre-rock blues. Fifteen years later that sound could get you on the front of Rolling Stone but in the cultural vacuum that was the late 1980’s almost no could hear Deja Voodoo scream. They toured the country by Greyhound and started one of the most diverse yet cohesive indie labels of all-time: Og Records. Og pilloried the vacuousness of the nineteen-eighties by pushing bands bands who were a hundred different shades of anachronistic: Western-Swing, gospel-punk, garage rock, country blues, psychedelic, 77 punk, lounge-jazz, faux girl-group and cow-punk and I’ve just begun. It was the vinyl era and the five-volume 'It Came From Canada' series (the icfucks as Gerald called them) sent me on a nationalistic music bender, which I never regretted.

They also inspired me to form a band and perform one earth-shattering show for fourteen close personal friends, thirteen of whom were still close personal friends after we finished. We performed two songs; a butchered cover of Billy Bragg's ‘Strange Things Happen’ and an original called ‘Socialized Hairdressing’ and then we served pizza. Don’t count it against Gerald it’s not really his fault.

The Dik Van Dykes worshipped one of the all-time great neglected bands (The Rezillos) and hence they were the Og band I loved the most. Musical comedy is a Canadian Weakness but The Diks pulled it off with scads of aplomb. The songs are hummable, if mangled, and the lyrics will return a thousand joys - even if you never understand them all.


Deja Voodoo was an acquired taste which seeing their flailing live concerts finally imparted me with. (Their live introductions were spot-on, “This is a song about my girlfriend. It’s called My Girlfriend. “This is a song about Saskatchewan – it’s called Big Pile of Mud.) This is their most distinctive album – enjoy.


My Dog Popper was not an Og-affiiliated band that I listened to a lot but two considerable music guys (Mike Koop of a million Winnipeg bands including Kicker and Winston of Nuclear Armed Hogs blog) requested it – so here it be. Sorry for the lack of cover art (it is is one album well-served by its cover) and the dodgy sound quality.


Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Chapter Two: Death Metal is my Jazz

“I hate music,” Art Bergman once sang with viscous irony. In the song of same title Bergman attacks the charts, the disco beat, rock n’ roll and melody itself before twisting everything around. Suddenly in the middle of the narrative Bergman declares his love for all those things before asserting, “You would buy almost anything” and then finally returning to that hate for the big ending. In this pounding smear of a song, Bergman encapsulates the continuously shifting dichotomy of the music obsessive. “Hate.” “Love.” “Oooh look - something shiny.” “Hate.” “Love.” Repeat ad nauseum. For a man who once named his band the K-Tels* (a Canadian label whose heavily TV advertised compilations blenderized every genre of 70’s pop into cornucopia of garish trash) you know Art loved it all all along.

However, years later Bergman appeared to disavow his scrawny punk tunes dismissing (likely obnoxious) audience requests by saying, “It ain’t 1977 anymore.” While, like Iggy Pop, Art Bergman almost can’t help but be Punk (whether playing acoustic or under the egregious synth-driven production of Bob Rock and his ilk) in this stage pronouncement Bergman seemed to be dismissing the sounds and ideas of the past.

It’s a common trope to prove one’s ongoing march to maturity by proclaiming to have shed certain musical styles – often a variation of simple, loud rock music. It’ s such patent bullshit. You cannot prove you’ve broadened your palette by claiming your tastes are ‘eclectic’ (Most. Pretentious. Word. Ever.), disowning music you once enjoyed or buying a Miles Davis album. I mean no disrespect for the fearsome legacy of jazz – but jazz supremacists do prattle so. For instance one of these ‘serious’ jazz fans (of whom Richard Ford nails when he says, approximately, “Those forty-something single men who drive around in a convertible with the top down listening to progressive jazz who feel their life is under control – when in fact they have nothing to control.”) said to a musician friend of mine, “When you’re older you have to start liking jazz”, to which my friend (thirty-something fan of Angel Witch and a zillion other bands with so-morbid-its-comic names) grimly replied, “Death metal is my jazz.”

(Cue Bruce Springsteen croaking “Oooh – Grooowing Up!”)

Well I still love that Beatles album my parents draft-dodging friend left behind (Hey Jude, thanks for asking) the folk revival album my parents bought (Pete Fuckin’ Seeger – yeah!) that Rezillos album (bought on a hunch) – plus a batch of predictable radio hits from all over the place. When taste grows up it should expand not contract. My favourite album right now? The Queers ‘Munki Brain’. Juvenile? Stop asking so many damn questions and go listen to the last song on the album, ‘Brian Wilson’. That song is a high water mark in – well... everything. Thanks Joe Queer (who said something to the effect of “why can’t I like the Shirelles and Black Flag at the same time?”) you’ve made me sing along and you trumped Art Bergman by writing a song called “I Hate Everything.”

* Winnipeg’s Phillip Kives, owner of the K-Tel company threatened to sue the band – it was okay Bergman changed their name to the Young Canadians, later forming the short-lived Poisoned who would surely have been sued by Brett Michaels.