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Neurotic Text: June 2006

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Society Dog "....Off the Leash" EP

For all the continued interest in '70's punk and '80's hardcore, the bootlegs and reissues and websites and discographies and cover versions and fanzines, there are still many great records from the period that have yet to attract the attention and credit that they deserve, and this 1981 EP, their second, is a fine example. With its surging guitars, sneeringly sung vocals and rough melodies, "Off the leash" is very much a '70's punk record, but the rawness and increased pace of the delivery indicate that it's not the '70's anymore after all. Society Dog's sound is very much like that of their peers the Subhumans, Black Market Baby, Negative Trend and Really Red, and they would've been a perfect fit on the "New York Thrash" LP alongside Kraut and the Undead; this is "hardcore" in its very first incarnation, about 10 seconds before the Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains and Minor Threat would push it into straight thrash territory.
Prior to this, the band appeared on the "SF Underground 2" comp EP in 1980 and issued a debut EP, "Working People", also in 1981. This was the short-lived outfit's final release, but vocalist Johnithin Christ (whoa sir, lay off the cheese...) soon surfaced with new band Code of Honour, who achieved a great deal more notoriety than Society Dog through their highly rated 1982 split LP with Sick Pleasure (aka COH minus Christ), "What are we gonna do?" EP (1982) and rather unfortunate "Beware the savage jaw" LP (1984). Every record listed here was on Subterranean, who have every right to their claim to be San Francisco's first hardcore label.

Bearded vegans and punk: mutually exclusive since 1975.

Went to see Imperial Leather the other night, and I never did end up seeing these Swedes deliver what was no doubt a perfectly good set of retro punk rock, because I simply couldn't last through the opening band, a dreadful North Carolina "Crimethinc"/trustfund act called Requiem. Seriously some of the worst shit ever from these hippies; the tepid, overwrought drudgery of their "epic crust" (no, NOT FUCKING PUNK) music, the sheer grossness of their filthy clothing, beards and dreadlocks, the pathetic, unexamined idiocy of their fantasy pseudo-politics.
"Steal what you want, burn the rest" read the banner they hung behind themselves, and I couldn't help but think just how wholeheartedly their current administration has embraced that philosophy this century, from Iraq abroad to the whole mechanism of progressive and forward-looking social policy at home. I guess that basic impulse transcends simple ideology where Americans raised with the same underlying sense of entitlement umarried to any concept of responsibility are concerned.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

More new punk records.

This past weekend's quick roadtrip to see Warhead and Forward in Portland wasn't quite quick enough to prevent Scotty and I from going a little nuts in the vinyl consumption department, believe it or not, since Portland is an absurdly rich city in terms of record shopping. Reissues and the specifically Discharge-inspired stuff have been covered already; these are just newer/recent records that fall into the broader punk/hardcore/garage genres. Thanks to Jesse at Know Crap (who is a king among men and actually sold me most of the following titles on the way to Portland anyways, freeing me up to spend $40 on Hellhammer 12"s), Mississipi Records, Green Noise, Brickwall and Discourage.

Asbest "Klaust Robofi" EP
Denmark's been making punks around the world sit up and take notice for a few years now, with bands like Gorilla Angreb, No Hope For The Kids, Amde Petersen's Arme and Young Wasteners releasing some of the more compelling hardcore/punk records to appear in awhile, and although Copenhagen's Asbest haven't attracted quite the attention of some of their better-known compatriots, their first EP won respectable reviews and being on leading Danish label Kick n'Punch guarantees a certain level of interest (if not quality, unfortunately, as anyone who took the plunge on the label's more juvenile anarcho/vegan nonsense can attest). This second EP continues in the style established on their first, a hefty early '80's-rooted hardcore that avoids thrashing in favour of a consistently burly and aggressive mid-fast attack with raw vocals and a frantic, off-kilter guitar clearly inspired by Greg Ginn. It's solid, serviceable stuff, but somehow misses that spark that separates the good from the really great. (Kick n'Punch,

Busy Signals "Can't Feel a Thing" b/w "All the Time" 45
Chicago punks defy the sophomore slump with a truly great single that's even better than the first, and that's no easy feat. The formula is simple enough-- classically raw punk rock'n'roll guitars, alternately ringing and slamming, and melodic vocals over a piledriving rhythm section that rams the songs home so much faster and harder than is standard for the style-- but it's totally convincing and never forgets to keep the songs catchy and memorable, nor to throw in a tasty lead exactly where it belongs. I'm loathe to raise expectations too high for a band so early in their career, but I don't think it's too much to say that this could be America's long-delayed answer to Teengenerate. Absolutely essential punk rock and sure to make my 2006 Top 10. (Shit Sandwich,

Criminal Damage s/t 12"
Yet another winner from the best hardcore label in the US today. I saw Criminal Damage play a house show in Portland last year and greatly enjoyed their set of tough but tuneful hardcore punk at its purest, but this is a style that's too often sterilized and neutered in the studio. No worries with that here, however-- this debut 12" is an exceptional eight-song set of overwhelmingly power and depth, with an ideal production job that perfectly captures the massive guitar sound and gruff vocals while leaving everything suitably rough and unrefined. There's certainly melody on this record, in the vocal and leads, but no nuance to speak of-- from the relentlessly tight and driving 4/4 drumming to the gang choruses to the brickwall powerchords, everything is completely solid and about as subtle as a riflebutt to the face. I guess the chief stated influence here is the "Chaos en France" oi scene of the early '80's (think Trotskids, Camera Silens, Warrior Kids etc)-- and the chorus of "Last chance", along with "Anesthesia" my favourite song here, so strongly recalls Kidnap's classic cut "No SS" off MRR's "Welcome to 1984" comp LP, that I probably would've thought so even if no one had told me so beforehand-- but most will see the closest resemblance to Blitz, tougher Italian bands like Nabat, and the early American hardcore bands that most unabashedly reflected UK oi in their own sound, ie Effigies, Negative Approach and Iron Cross if the latter didn't suck. This will probably appeal to a pretty wide range of punks right across the board, so check it out without hesitation (unless you're only into grindcore or emo or whatever, in which case you're probably beyond help anyway). (Feral Ward,

Frantic "Attaque of the Grizzlie" 12"
This Atlanta band's 7" EP was a fun set of manic punk rock that reconciled the garage and hardcore influences as well as anyone, but this follow-up doesn't quite hit the mark. It's by no means a bad record, it just doesn't stick to the ribs the way this stuff needs to. The choice to cover a song by Government Issue-- most boring of the classic DC hardcore bands-- speaks volumes; try SOA or Void next time. The playing is fine and the guitar tone is great, but there simply needs to be more punch in the overall delivery, whether that means slowing down and focusing on melody or speeding up and relying on sheer impact, but for now the songs aren't ultimately strong enough to warrant repeat listenings for a full-length. On the other hand, the inspired cover sold me on this record, so props to whoever designed it. (Die Slaughterhaus,

Knaughty Knights "Tommy of the River" EP
This is the fourth single from Memphis supergroup the Knaughty Knights, and given the pedigree-- members of the Oblivians, Reatards, Lost Sounds and Compulsive Gamblers-- it's pretty lame to admit that this is the first I've heard. It's pretty much what one would expect from the people involved, albeit a little cleaner and/or more straight-ahead in its basic, no-frills garage punk approach. This isn't entirely unwelcome; as much as I love the members' prior efforts, there's certainly no harm in laying off the distortion and chaos when the songs are well-written and memorable in their own right, as they are here. The fuzzed out guitars, quick tempos and sneered vocals are still in place anyway, just not half so exaggerated as before. The title track is the real winner here, a great '77 punker with a catchy chorus and a tasty lead breaks, while the following track is an appealingly amped-up Outsiders cover and the flip, Jack Yarber's sole contribution, is a pleasant enough but altogether less remarkable mid-tempo garage stomp'n'mope with a cool sneered vocal...I'm sure it'll grow on me further with the inevitable repeat listens. (Shattered,

Love It Or Leave It "Four Song" EP
Released by Vancouver's Clarence Thomas label, this far-flung but Bellingham-based outfit's debut EP is the sleeper hit of the pile-- a really strong, heartfelt punk record with memorable songs made up of excellent vocals, powerful riffs and a rock-solid rhythm section, delivered at a consistent, driving pace that never lags nor degenerates into simple thrash. The production is just about perfect, with the vocals neither buried nor too far upfront and the guitars ragged and thick. While the Avengers and Subhumans (Canadian, of course) might make for basic reference points, this pulls off the ideal balance between being at once a timeless pure punk record whilst remaining fresh and distinct enough to avoid being filed away as simple rehash or homage to any particular sound, and I've listened to it numerous times in the past couple of days alone. Don't know how many of these were pressed, but I doubt it was too many, so I highly recommend any fan of quality punk rock act now before the rest of the world catches on. (Clarence Thomas,

Nix "Speed Freaks" EP
Much anticipated second 45 from this Portland band continues pretty much exactly where the first left off, a one-sided job with three quick ones this time around, and considering that the previous single was among my very favourites of 2005, I'm not complaining. Assuming you weren't among the luck 300 to score a copy of that debut, the style is fast, catchy and raw punk in the vein of early Queers or Keith Morris-era Black Flag and if that doesn't sound good to you, you don't deserve to be buying reords anyway. Proof positive that inspiration and energy are more important than originality any day, and the lyrics dissing cokeheads and speed freaks are the icing on the cake-- something I've felt much more strongly since moving to the Pacific NW myself. Overall, it's a strong 45 that hasn't hit me quite so hard as the first one after a few listens, but it's still superior to 95% of product out there right now and more than worth tracking down. As with the first record, self-released with hand-written labels and no contact info provided, so I guess you'd better get yourself out to Portland fast.

V/A "No Bullshit Vol 1" EP
Richmond, Virginia's Direct Control have been receiving a lot of attention lately as one of the leading lights of the back-to-basic '80's hardcore scene, so it's only fitting that DC singer/guitarist Brandon should be compiling this sampler slab for his new No Way label. Side one kicks off with a generic but enjoyable blast of speed from Toronto's own Career Suicide before sliding into an even more furious burst of aggression from Osaka's Bad Dirty Hate, who take their name from the Nihilistics but actually dish out a much speedier and more direct attack than he older band; with its shrieking vocals and manic snare, this might be a little more at home on a 625 "fastcore" record than the sort of purist '82 hardcore comp I was expecting here. Their song is over as quickly as it arrived and the side is wrapped up with another predictably short, fast and loud rager from Brandon's other band, Government Warning.
Side two starts off with San Francisco's Strung Up, and they jump off the vinyl with a pair of rough, angry thrashers that recall Negative Gain or "Dealing With It"-era DRI-- totally pissed and violent with a thick rush of speed and choked out but legible lyrics. Good stuff, but the Direct Control song that rounds out the record is perhaps my favourite, with a steady, controlled speed and gnarly guitars that sound straight out of some obscure '83 midwest hardcore band. Speaking of which, this EP isn't quite a "Master Tape" for the new millenium, but it's a solid enough set of purist hardcore. At least two more planned volumes in the series have already been filled with like-minded bands; just remember what "compilation of current hardcore" meant in 1996 and be glad this stuff's happening now. (No Way,

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Nightmare Continues...and Continues, and Continues...

Discharge, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways....over a quarter-century since the release of their earth-shattering debut EP, and the influence of Stoke On Trent's finest continues to make itself felt and heard through the rawest and toughest of hardcore punk around the world. This past weekend's vinyl binge culled several new releases proving that point mightily, with strong Discore slabs from Japan, Canada and Spain as well as a new installment from the originators themselves. Dig in:

Kontempt s/t EP
Montreal's Kontempt debut with an eponymous seven-song effort that veers a little from the direct path to take its prime influence from the early Swedish bands that emulated Discharge with unprecedented effect in the early and mid '80's. With accelerated tempos and gutteral vocals applied to the burly, distortion-drenched "Fight back" template, this is a shredding assault in the finest tradition of Crudity, Sound of Disaster and Discard. The bass is a chugging monster and the guitars depart from their chainsaw riffing on cue with sick, atonal leads that quickly self-destruct and sink back into the charging mess below. 100% recommended, as is this band's equally relentless live set. (The End Records,

Disclose/Flyblown split EP
Easily the most important and perversely influential of the really overt Discharge copies, Disclose have made a substantial career out of endlessly rearranging and combining riffs and lyrics from a period of Discharge's own catalogue. The "classic" period, of course, but there's still something truly bizarre about approximately forty songs released between 1980 and 1982 becoming the source material for a repetoire of what must be a couple hundred Disclose songs recorded over the past fifteen years or so. Disclose very rarely tamper with the formula, either, with brief forays into more Broken Bones influenced material, or different variations on the principle of poor production, being about the only (barely) discernable shift in execution. Such single-minded devotion to such an incredibly narrowly proscribed musical endeavour as Disclose's version of d-beat is impressive, and this latest batch of three more songs (actually recorded in 2002) sounds exactly the same as every other Disclose record that enjoyed decent enough production. It's also testament to my own severely compromised tastes that I actually eagerly snapped it up without a second thought, secure in the knowledge that it would indeed be identical to every other Disclose record I own (let's not go there).
On the flipside, England's Flyblown waste their vinyl with five short tracks of disposable crust/grind noise with grunted vocals and downtuned everything, making for a completely forgettable listen. Admittedly, even this stuff is deeply rooted in Discharge, but its tedium and sluggishness (even at high speed) are no legacy to be proud of. (On the Verge,

Hermit Prose "Down Beats Sect" EP
This new Osaka outfit debuts with a blazing "nine minutes of thrash & rove", whatever the hell that means, an idea further reinforced by the back cover's bold declaration that "This is howling minded Japanese style!" I'm certainly not one to argue with any characterization of the cacophony within these grooves as "howling" or "thrash", and while their total debt to Discharge is undeniable, it's equally true that their expert distillation of the sound's essential qualities-- rawness, velocity and distortion-- is informed by the previous generation of Japanese crasher crust units (Gloom, Defector, Iconoclast, Abraham Cross etc) that took the concept to new extremes from the early '90's and on, so I won't quibble about the "Japanese style" claim either. Overall, this is a decent example of current Japanese crustcore, with its massive, buzzing production and impressive levels of power and energy, but its heavier impulses and very gruff vocals render it a little less than essential for this purist. (Crust War,

Discharge/MG15 split EP
Like so many other raw hardcore bands, Spain's MG15 formed in the early '80's with the expressed intention of recreating the power and fury of early Discharge (they had previously been called Slips Y Sperma), so it's no suprise that the liner notes to this new split release should refer to it as "making an old dream real". Unbelievably, the band's three songs of fast, angry d-beat hardcore here are actually pretty great; the production is a little cleaner and the guitars a little sharper than the fuzzed-out noise attacks of yore, but this is still genuinely engaging, relevant hardcore with charging rhythm section, powerful vocals and a relentless, charging energy that just can't be faked. Very reminiscent of prime Ratos De Porao (and not just because of the vocals), which is very much compliment.
The Discharge side of this record has received a lot of criticism, and it would be absurd to claim that it's on the same level as the material they were spitting out 25 years ago, but it's a perfectly enjoyable set of traditional hardcore punk that's far from embarassing for a band that's been around as long as this. A rougher, more stripped-down production job certainly wouldn't hurt, although it's far from slick, but the energy and structures are there and I'll take an authentic lifer like Rat doing competent, suitable vocals than Cal doing falsetto glam singing anyday. Recommended, honest-- and I'll review their new full EP next week. (Throne,

Saapaat: some recent hardcore bootlegs

Reviewed here, three recent bootlegs of three crucial '80's hardcore bands from around the world. Each of the countries represented here-- Japan, Finland and the USA-- was particularly renowned for the strength of its hardcore, and each band here was arguably the single most important in its own national scene. Equally importantly, each band maintained an authentic mystique that survives to this day, and each band surpassed and transcended the aesthetic limitations of the scenes that they are often regarded as epitomizing. It's also nice to see that, contrary to the unfortunate history of shoddily done, greedily-priced bootlegs marked by bad sound and either wrong information or none at all, these records are consistently nicely put together and easily recommended to fans both old and new.

GISM "Live Tokyo 1982 -1983" LP
Tokyo's GISM remain perhaps the single most intriguing and mythologized band in hardcore history, with a litany of anecdotes and rumours borne of singer Sakevi's all-too-real insanity, expressed through his brutally surreal visual artwork, haunting lyrics and honest commitment to the sort of violence and chaos that is simply symbolic grist to the artistic mill for 99% of punks. Married to an astonishingly strange yet undeniably effective reconciliation of rough hardcore, industrial noise and wailing hair metal with a extremist left revolutionary ideology and a sartorial sensibility borrowed straight from early Motley Crue records, the result was GISM. For this reason, any serious collector of obscure and foreign hardcore that might normally turn his or her nose up at the usual cash-grab live bootlegs can be forgiven for ignoring their better judgement and shelling out for anything otherwise unheard. As a fan and as an amateur scholar of this music, it's fascinating to see how GISM's signature sound developed, and these extremely early live recordings provide as good a chance as any to view that progression.
Side one's April 1982 gig is, of course, unspeakably raw and noisy, but the vocals are relatively clear, the drums audible and the guitars provide a steady churn of barely-structured rushing thrash and feedback that, while nowhere near so sophisticated or metallic as the band would become when late guitarist Randy Uchida joined soon after, is powerful and anguished. Recorded just five or six months after their November '81 debut and five months before the set partially captured on the seminal "Outsider" comp LP, it's probably a bit foolish to make any firm assessments of influence and inspiration based on such rough recordings, but I would nonetheless be surprised if the band weren't listening to an awful lot of very early UK hardcore at this stage. The speed and snarled vocals are much more suggestive of Discharge, Disorder and Chaos UK than of traditional '70's punk or even the better-known contemporary American hardcore, and the likelihood of likeminded Finnish, Swedish or Italian bands being widely heard in Japan at this stage seems slim (feel free to correct me if you know otherwise, because the possibilities are intriguing).
The second side was recorded some time in 1983, and the sound is marginally better (similar to the much-maligned live material on Negative Approach's "Total Recall", which I think sounds great). The sound has already progressed considerably, with the songs generally tighter and faster, and most importantly, Uchida's guitar thrashing out the serious riffing and wild leadwork that would soon become Japcore's defining components. It's less historically important than the first set, perhaps, but it's a great listen if you're a GISM freak and probably completely unlistenable to just about anyone else...consider yourself warned. Oh yeah, and as usual for Absolute Power releases, the packaging is stellar and packed with insight and information. Clearly a labour of love from some truly dedicated fans.

Black Flag "Licorice Pizza and more" EP

The Dead Kennedys were bigger at the time, Minor Threat lived out the ethic most consistently and Bad Brains probably had the best songs of them all, but when push comes to shove, Flag will have to go down in history as the single greatest American hardcore band of all time, and this is a pretty sweet reminder of why that's the case. Originally pressed in a limited promotional edition of 1000 copies and intended to be given away for free at the California chain Licorice Pizza's record stores, this 1981 single was the first Black Flag release with new DC transplant Henry "Rollins" Garfield on vocals and also featured Dez Cadena on second guitar. Few seem to have survived-- the liner notes here claiming that a good chunk of the pressing was simply trashed by the stores-- and the single is now a serious wantlist staple for punk collectors. Luckily, there's more to recommend this record than simple obscurity, despite the fact that it's a live promo. Recorded by Target Video in San Francisco, the two songs on the original 45 ("Thirsty and Miserable" b/w "Life of Pain") are anything but throwaways. Admittedly, I'm not inclined to believe that this legendary beast of a band, captured here near their peak, would even have been capable of recording a throwaway at this point, and this can only support my bias. "Thirsty and Miserable" is a driving chunk of sheer power with typically abrasive Ginn guitar throwing shrapnel all over the place, while "Life of Pain" starts off ugly and lurching but soon breaks into a sustained barrage of frantic thrash that's as fast as anything they ever put on a normal release (always ahead of the game, Flag soon opted to deliberately avoid playing this fast when everyone else decided it seemed like a good idea). The production is ideal, coming off like a nice, raw studio job rather than any sort of live recording, and the addition of a previously unreleased "Spray Paint the Walls" with Dez on vocals, culled from the 1981 "Damaged" demos, is a welcome bonus. Packaging isn't flashy, but it's packed full of info, including a large insert reproducing a 1980 interview with the band, and it's definitely the work of a fan and not just some hack trying to turn a quick buck. Very recommended.

Terveet Kadet "Jeesus Perkele" EP

The mighty Terveet Kadet (which means "Healthy Hands", incidentally) and their most famous compatriots Rattus both blew out of Finland in 1980 with great, short debut singles, but while the latter produced a very good but very traditional punk rock record that hardly suggested the brutality of their later, more hardcore material, Terveet Kadet came charging right out with a really savage, stripped down blast of raw, primitive thrash that predates pretty much everything else that sounds similar (it's interesting to note that the band's own website mentions them forming to play Discharge-inspired hardcore in January of 1980; the first Discharge EP was released in March of that year.) This new EP compiles the first single in its entirety (the three songs clocking in at about two minutes altogether!) and a couple of surprisingly good-sounding 1981 live tracks on side A, while the the flipside comprises all four songs the band contributed to 1984's excellent "Yalta Hi-Life" compilation LP. While the 1980 stuff is definitely cool and a worthwhile addition to any collection of quality hardcore, the 1984 songs are totally punishing, with speeds cranked up to the maximum, catchy choruses, more interesting guitar parts and a generally streamlined, more economical attack at work. It's great, great stuff and, along with the quality packaging and information enclosed, pushes this properly into the "essential" pile.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Harper's stands up, Indigo wilts.

It was nice to see Harper's, an essential monthly read of mine for the past decade, become the first truly major North American news outlet to run the Danish cartoons that so inflamed the world a few months back, although not entirely surprising given the strength and vehemence of Lapham's editorial response to that outrage a couple of months back. Unfortunately, it's equally unsurprising to see Canada's largest chain of book sellers, Indigo, all-too-predictably launch a pre-emptive strike on its own rights and responsibilities by pulling the June issue that includes these images. Perhaps there's just the hint of an important shift in the way that the nature of this apparently effective new threat to free expression is being viewed, however, or at least the vaguest suggestion of a willingness to identify that threat more honestly, in the corporation's stated reason for not selling Harper's-- rather than peddle the usual nauseatingly insincere and self-serving cant about respecting anyone's faith, Indigo has openly admitted their decision is based on the threat of "demonstrations" against the cartoons as seen worldwide in February. By no means is this a courageous or noble stance, but it certainly can't hurt to see people and instituations finally being honest about their bowing to the wishes of theocrats and fascists. A little bit more of this openness might just awaken even sleepy Canada.