LOTD Best of Punk Pop Variations: The Clean

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So, maybe my sheer unchecked gusto for this band is due to graduating from high school after a freezing winter while playing the Didjits in my old red Ford, but I needed a break from the record store pumping out the same old indie formulas, and lo and behold arrived the freshly minted, reformed Clean, whose earlier escapades I found too damn self-satisfyingly lo-fi, barely stitched together, and clunky-noisy-primitive, like basement tapes that resembled an inside joke. All of a sudden, though, crystalline Vehicle (1990) burst through the pompous cassette era bubble, and I found myself mesmerized, and I mean that. It glowed: sinewy in spots, and offering post-atomic era popscapes, they sharpened the tunes until the result was pitch perfect: layers of lean and angular guitars…insistent, snapping snare drum pows, and pining, needy, but somehow cool and calm vocals. They approximated Pylon’s swooning swing, Feelies’ jitters and slanted smarts, and Yo la Tengo’s cool grasp of indie rock mechanisms, then blended in their own South Pacific skittering underground nerves, shuffle, and rhythmic roil. Two minute songs sometimes fade instead of summarily end (a rare commodity in newfab indie rock!) and conjure entire oceanic wayside postcards via tunes like “Dunes.” Just listen to “Someone” and tell me you can’t hit repeat again and again: “it’s hard to feel any movement/when you are aware of all you lack,” they impart to us in half-solemn discourse. Then, of course, you might sense a John Cale (vocals like drained cellos)-meets-Sleater Kinney (blistering guitar parades) vibe from “I Wait Around.” Wow, how do they wax philosophical like Mission of Burma but still sound like a light bulb shattering over tile floors? I’ll never know.

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LOTD Best of Punk Pop Variations

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Newtown Neurotics

Products of drab post-WWII social engineering-styled (hence the name “newtown”) housing communities (Harlow, Essex), these blokes released some up-on-the-soapbox mimicking (“Keep Out the Tories”), serious-minded, literate, though surprisingly unfussy punk pop that seems to mimic the grit and gristle of Stiff Little Fingers’ first few albums. The sharp lyrical tirades and crunchy guitars make it all worthwhile. A good place to start your pop lust is the B-sider “You Said No,” with its stiff, stop and start Gang of Four beat, or the unyielding critique and cynicism of “When the Oil Runs Out,” which should be blared from every over-lit Exxon filling station in the western world. Don’t discount their inherent leftism, which partially paved the way for Billy Bragg. Infamous “Living with Unemployment” is a deft reworking of the Members’ equally potent “Solitary Confinement” but is a poignant swipe at the factors — economic, social, and political — that set off tensions between races and force the working class to join the ranks of the military in the dead-end world. “Unemployed, out of work…” they chant with broiling, dispirited, and lonely sincerity, embodying a sheer desire to find a meaningful sense place in a system that exploits labor by keeping wages depressed as possible and workers angry at the color of someone’s skin, all why the bureaucrats stir their own self-serving Machiavellian corporate stew and stoke their positions of undeterred power. Other forceful gems include “Wake Up” and “The Mess” (“all my dreams have gone down the drain…”), whose percussive parts pummel furiously in Southern California roll-upon-drum roll churns as the chorus tangles in surefire singalong style, not unlike the Adolescents. As they breathlessly avow, “Be like the Ramones, go man go!”And they did, like a lithe greyhound speeding in dust towards a certain prey.


LOTD Best of Punk Pop Variations

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Besides the band Trusty, who were actually exiles from the Midwest, these ladypunks are likely Dischord’s number one, and probably only, chainsaw punk-pop geniuses. All the pretension of the early 1990’s indie music scene fall away like dead skin or banana peels as they create a sound that resembles drums and guitars crashing at 85 mph instead of weaving in and out in some fake contest. With a penchant for “numerology” (“Nights X 9,” “Thirty-Thirty Vision,” and “March 6”) and naked helter skelter rhythms, the photogenic band forges art-drenched surf (probably totally unconsciously) and durable and duress-filled punk like “Double Edged Knife” and “Soda Pop-Rip Off,” which could and should have been the soundtrack to a truly angry valley girl insurrection in 1982. However, their prizewinning tune is “What Kind of Monster Are You?” The hurricane guitars and propulsive underbelly (which in the middle of the song take a break for about one awkward drifting minute, then double back with simmering vengeance) is stellar, though the Wire-ish “Semi-Blue Tile” is definitely no tidy bake sale either. They go for the gut with barbed music, and we are lucky to feel the pain.


LOTD Best of Punk Pop Variations

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The Outcasts

Don’t let the feral youth / ramshackle snotty punk photos deter you. Yes, indeed, invariably the boys look like boots and braces skinheads or sometimes they grimace like yesteryear’s punk rejects, but slam down this in your CD player and watch out (or effortlessly stream or find the very rare vinyl): the angst-ridden pop oozes from every track like milk from a broken dandelion stem. These four humble lads melt down the Ramones lyrical tendencies towards geeky love obsession to pure, utter irrational romantic woe and hardship that fully reveals itself in songs like “Self Conscious For You” and “Love is For Sops,” which despite their gusto and defiance are really nothing but achy breaky from-the-heart songs. The music? Well, again, surprise, it’s no frontal assault chugga chugga downstoke Ramones, but instead they unleash very nervy tunes, like botched attempts at both pop and punk, which makes the ‘naive’ tendencies even more appealing because the band fits in no place other than its own slot. Want something cheeky and fresh, gloriously inane, musically “challenged,” but somehow clamoring and momentous at the same time? Eat up.


LOTD Best of Power Pop Variations

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The Suicide Commandos

Much more single-minded and ballistic than the Nerves, these upper Midwest pop punk Green Berets know as the Suicide Commandos somehow engineered an assault on the record buying public by using the esteemed edifices of Mercury Records, who re-released their Make a Record, which originally appeared on Blank in, that’s right, 1978, the wonder year. Their songs are almost too incisive and ingenuous, even if the tom toms sound like plastic gallon tubs filled with potato chips. The high-voltage pop is underscored by fleet, swift, unhesitating speed dripping with adrenaline, plus they rarely relinquish tons of hooks and melodies. This makes the likes of Devo, Pere Ubu, and Television seem like lethargic, molasses-footed counterparts. And, if you don’t like the uncanny Jack White sounding “Mosquito Suicide,” then you should turn upside down when hearing their cover of the Monkees’ “She,” a favorite of mine, which is not to forget the blistering brilliance of their own tracks.


LOTD Archive Review! The V-Roys

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THE V-ROYS/ Are You Through Yet? (The V-Roys Live)

(E Squared)

Now that Pearl Jam has completely inundated the music market with bootleg Grateful Dead-sized live recordings, the idea of buying a raw gem by a relatively unknown band like the V-Roys is not exactly like finding a diamond in mud, but it comes close.

Formed in Knoxville, TN, they caught the attention of Steve Earle and released their first record “Just Add Ice” in 1996 on his E Squared label, which begat a long, fruitful relationship between the godfather of roots music and this group of clean cut guys who look like a Memphis horn section.

The V-Roys play feisty, torn-from-the-gut barroom rock shorn of the good-ol’-boy gone grunge stylings of Slobberbone and the Texas A&M frat boy frolics of Reckless Kelly. Thankfully, this sound board recording (or so it sounds), with its slightly tinny, naked, unfussy sound, preserves both their jauntiness and quiet melodic prowess. They have it all: crisp pop intentions (“There She Goes”, “Hold on to Me”), rousing, stripped down swampy blues (“I Want My Money”), pure unadulterated stomp (“Wind Down”) and conducive, full-blooded, guitar-slinging rock n roll (“Guess I Know I’m Right”, “Window Song”). If there was ever a mix between Marshall Crenshaw, Tom Petty, and Steve Earle himself, this is it.

It’s not surprising that Earle, not the country outsider that used to walk down Nashville’s midnight junkie row, but the cleaned up Earle who appeared on Nightline wearing a Beatles shirt, loves this band. They know how to flex and control every square inch of their songs and can switch from the pavement pounding, locked head-on groove of “Cry” and “Sooner or Later” to the milk-in-the-bucket twang of “Mary” as if turning on a dime. And lucky for us, they pull out The Replacement’s post-Bob Stinson, rollicking “IOU” to balance their dead on arrival version of Neil Young’s “Motion Pictures.”  As for their cover of London Wainwright III’s “Out of this World,” what might have been a quiet, sustained mood piece is a bit forced and teeters on the edge of forgettable. But a few drawbacks aside, this is a winner.


LOTD This is Now! An interview with filmmakers Paul Bishow and James Schneider

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Punk the Capital! Chronicling the History Of D.C. Punk ! An interview with filmmakers Paul Bishow and James Schneider

What do you think are some of the great misconceptions of DC punk?

JS/PB One of the things we cover in the film is the whole scene that preceded the Bad Brains in D.C. in the late 70s, that small but fairly cohesive group of people working together to build something. I’m not sure it can be called a misconception but definitely the pre-1980 DC punks deserve a lot more attention, historically speaking. The other thing is the Straight Edge movement. Drugs and alcohol just weren’t what the younger punks were looking for. The excitement and the establishment’s reaction to the music was enough. So the whole “boredom” thing just didn’t enter into the equation. The energy of the music and all the things going on around the scene made for constant activity. Drugs and alcohol just didn’t have a part in that new and intense DIY ethic. That was part of what harDCore was about beyond DC as well.

bbrainsmadDoes this documentary try to flesh out details or elements that books like Dance of Days could not, or did not?

JS/PB: First of all, Dance of Days was a major accomplishment in covering such a large time frame of DC punk, including the later DC punk period of the 80s and 90s that often gets less attention. Our film elaborates on the generational and cultural shift happening in DC circa 1979. We dive back into what happened before then, in the late 70s, and then after, with harDCore. We get to the heart of why DC Punk has such staying power, why harDCore had to happen, and why DC was such a fertile ground for this new scene. The answer to these questions come straight out of that transitional moment, and specifically the Madams Organ artists co-op. It’s something you can pick up on when all the pieces are assembled and when you see all the interconnections between the generations and how they perceived each other.

Bad Brains, Madams Organ, 1979

Bad Brains, Madams Organ, 1979, still from film

Looking back into DC punk origins, do you think bands like Slickee Boys, Tru Fax and the Insaniacs, and White Boy were just as vital as veteran punk bands in NYC, like J/Wayne County, Dictators, etc?

JS/PB: Definitely on a local level they were. These were bands you might see a couple times a month and that saw each other even more. They were as important in DC as those NYC bands you mentioned were to NYC. And DC has a tradition of hard working bands, whatever kind of music it is. Those early bands knew what was going on and had their antennas out. Those DC bands you mention were a huge influence on the younger generation, if not musically, at least in terms of proposing a model of how non-competitive and community-like a music scene should be. In our film we also go into how they also showed the younger generation the basics of DIY.

Much of DC punk has often been associated with Dischord, yet Pussy Galore, Half Japanese, and Peach of Immortality also sprouted. Why do you think harDCore gained such a strong presence in history and lore compared to other scenes?

PB: For me, I loved a lot of the non-Dischord bands like Half Japanese or the Velvet Monkeys, but also remember, not all Dischord bands sound or sounded alike, so I wouldn’t say there was just a “Dischord sound” either. Dischord definitely had a huge presence, to the point where bands even setting themselves up as anti-Dischord such as No Trend. But really that is just the dialectic of punk, all in good fun. DC harDCore took hold and spread widely largely because of Dischord’s well organized sense of mission, they really did want to change music from bottom to top.

I know the film has taken ten years: did any painful truths become evident — personas unmasked, limitations understood, places and people lost forever?

JS: Several people we interviewed have passed away since we started this film and several DC Punk landmarks have been transformed into condos or Starbucks. So there have been some major changes in D.C.’s character but that really has helped us in how to think about D.C.’s identity in our film. So our doc has hugely benefitted from the time it’s taken, including a lot of technical advances that will help with all the archival work. Also, some people are more willing to talk more than they did before, some less, but I would say overall that folks are now taking stronger positions and thinking more about about that history.

trufaxSome proceeds will benefit Positive Force, an iconic force within the conscience and outreach of DC punk. Do you think it helped re-ignite the ethos of local punk right as many critics saw it waning in mid-late 1980s?

PB: I do not think the conscience of punk waned.

JS: It definitely was part of the politicizing of DC punk, which was not a bad thing. I grew up going to those early Positive Force shows so my early exposure to any kind of political consciousness came from those events and the bands that were singing about issues. Then I could go see other local bands or out of town bands and get a totally different flavor, there were choices. It’s worth pointing out that even before Positive Force DC began, harDCore was on the outs and a lot of people in that scene were looking for a new direction. Positive Force became part of that evolution.

I know that punk in DC should be spoken in the present tense — bands still emerge. What ones today, do you feel, link to the spirit evident as in the mid-1970s?

JS/PB : There’s a resurgence of a harDCore scene happening in DC these days which is cool, but the links with the older scene are not always what they could be. That might be changing. In the meantime, the younger scene calls that 1980’s generation the “olds.”

Apart from the fan rituals (zines…) and band performances, what part of the DC punk legacy still deserves much attention — perhaps art and photography, like Jeff Nelson, Cynthia Connolly, and others?

Bad Brains, 9:30 Club, still from film

Bad Brains, 9:30 Club, still from film

PB: I think mainly what we know now is that the influence continues (though not always recognized) in terms of the directness of the ideas and presentation. The art of thinking for yourself. That’s the very basic ingredient of Do-It-Yourself.

JS: In terms of Dischord, there’s an aesthetic that has aged well, and those people you mention were a big part of that and hold a sizeable place in our film. I think it’s important to point out that this whole younger generation thought that something important was happening, which is why there were so many people documenting it. They were right.

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