Here’s the latest mixtape, this time focusing on 1970s era punk rock. Enjoy.
SHUFFLER 0085: UNCLEAN
Thursday, April 2, 2015
Dirty Dirt & the Dirts – “Greatest Evil” from s/t 7″ (1998 Western Disease)
I don’t have a ton to say abou this because I don’t know a ton about it. DD&tD isn’t a band I ever saw, but I remember hearing a lot about them in the late nineties. This was during a time when there were some exciting things happening in the world of fast hardcore, and one exciting aspect of that scene seemed to center around the Los Angeles area.
For instance, the singer, Rich Booher, later sang in Esperanza and Please Inform the Captain this is a Hijack, among others, and, get this, contributed back cover art for Christian hardcore band Focused’s second record. I’m not sure why, but I thought that there was also some kind of connection between DD&tD and one of my favorite hardcore bands of the era, LA or otherwise, Lifes Halt!. I can’t confirm that, and in the end I like Lifes Halt! a whole lot better, so go figure.
DD&tD played fast hardcore that was pissed off and pretty straightforward. The energy was exciting, and, like a lot of bands at the time, I think there was a certain excitement around the fact that they weren’t playing the moshcore that had dominated the hardcore scene for most of the decade.
I first heard them on the Memories of Tomorrow compilation on Youngblood Records, nestled into the number eight spot on a pretty stellar record alongside the likes of No Justice, Lifes Halt!, No Reply, Holding On and What Happens Next?, among others. What’s more, the compilation track (which you can listen to for free on Youngblood’s bandcamp page in the link earlier in this paragraph) is better than anything on this seven-inch, which stands to reason as the comp came out two years later.
The internet hasn’t always been kind to DIY punk projects from this era, and as such, I have no video or audio links to embed below, only spurious links from which you can download the record at no cost, just as I did.
SHUFFLER 0074: IN NEED OF SOME GLUING
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Jawbreaker – “Eye-5” from Unfun (Shredder)
The thing about Jawbreaker is that there are so many things to say about Jawbreaker. There’s that old saying that no matter how good you are at something, there’s always someone better, and I think that probably applies to Jawbreaker fandom. There are rabid Jawbreaker fans out there, many of whom would likely break my hands and rip my tongue out of my mouth upon hearing me state that I got into Jawbreaker via their swan song, Dear You, then worked backwards to 24 Hour Revenge Therapy, and have remained more or less indifferent (with some exceptions) to the rest of the catalog ever since.
It’s not a position I can defend to myself, as it turns out, and so I’m grateful to myself for my own blog which has caused me to give some close examination to some things that deserve that level of scrutiny.
So, for scrutiny’s sake, let’s start here. Jawbreaker formed in 1986. Depending on how you’ve got your sundial calibrated, punk music was somewhere between ten and twentyish years old at in 1986. Shit, (and again, it depends on who you ask), rock and roll music wasn’t much more than thirty or forty years old at that point. To put that in some serious context, next year will be thirty years since Jawbreaker formed.
This is probably more a commentary on just how explosive and ever-changing culture was in the latter part of the last century, and less about Jawbreaker, so let’s bring it back. Unfun was their debut album, released in 1990. For me, that’s kind of a weird time for punk music, existing as it does between a lot of things (youth crew hardcore, the evolution of DC hardcore into what would be called “emo”, the explosion of pop-punk, etc.). Looking at that list of things, though, maybe that was the perfect time for Jawbreaker to really emerge, especially given that they draw from so many diverse influences (like that entire list and more).
“Eye-5” works as an excellent example of this: it begins with the sound of a car turning over, followed by a super syncopated, almost wonky rhythm that brings to mind that old Joy Division/Warsaw song “Warsaw” (famously covered by the Swing Kids at a time after Unfun came out, but I digress). As the song continues, it evolves into something of a microcosm of who Jawbreaker would become as a band. Spoken parts? Check. Infectious melodies sung roughly? Yup. Evocative samples? Also yes. In fact, the song moves into some territory near the end that’s not really so different from the best parts of Dear You, kind of a pensive sprawl characterized by, yes, emotion, but also by a slowing down that is not accompanied by any kind of a letting up.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss the lyrics, a sort of stream-of-consciousness diary of an anti-hero careening down the interstate. He is unlikeable, murderous, anti-woman, and completely and utterly humanized by the gifted lyricist that is Blake Schwarzenbach, and all of this in a day before this became the currency of the kind of serial dramas HBO and others have leveraged to make television interesting again (see: Deadwood, House of Cards, Boardwalk Empire, etc.).
So yes, all these years later, my appreciation for Jawbreaker continues to increase. Please send “When it Pains it Roars” shirts, size men’s L/XL, to Shuffler HQ at your earliest convenience.
SHUFFLER 0060: INTO THE POOL
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Q and Not U – “Y Plus White Girl” from No Kill No Beep Beep (2000 Dischord)
Wikipedia’s desire to call Q and Not U “post-hardcore” probably has something to do with the world and record label from which they come. Maybe it’s like how I want to describe every Washington D.C. indie rock band with any kind of interesting level of noise and rhythmic composition as “angular.” Seriously, it’s a bit of a problem with me.
There you go. Nailed it in three lines.
Actually, the good people at Oh My Rockness do it even better, and they even use my word:
Nobody rocks spazz-pop better than D.C.’s Q and Not U. Catchier than most bands on the Dischord roster, these guys thrive on off-kilter minor-key melodies, technical wizardry and vocal node-scarring noise. If you had to compare them to their other labelmates, think Fugazi meets Black Eyes. However, bands like the mighty Drive Like Jehu and Les Savy Fav can also be heard within the roar of their infectious angular hooks.
But just in case that’s not enough, I’ll continue: “Y Plus White Girl” is a song whose lyrics, as near as I can tell, make zero sense (and as such are probably not culturally insensivitve), but they do work as a kind of fun dada poetry exercise. The music, though, is high energy indie-rock that is, at times, angular, which is to say, really interesting and original. For intstance, there’s lots of guitar noise, but none of it is feedback. It’s pick slides and weird bendy parts. There is some yelling near the end, so I guess maybe that makes it post-hardcore.
Later this band evolved into something a bit more electro-clash or dance-punk or whatever. I enjoy that progression more than I would have expected. If you listen for it, you can hear the foundations in this song.
I saw them not long after this, which was my introduction to the band. They were supporting Hey Mercedes at the 7th Street Entry. Braid had broken up not long before, and Hey Mercedes’ EP was really exciting, and so it was also exciting to see such an energetic new band in Q and Not U. More exciting was that they were able to sustain that level of energy and creativity throughout their career.
SHUFFLER 0059: DISCOMFORT COMES CLEARLY
Tuesday, December 2, 2014
Sunny Day Real Estate – “Song About an Angel” from Diary (1994 Sub Pop)
I’ve never been very good at being a Sunny Day Real Estate fan in the manner of true blue Sunny Day Real Estate fans, and in fact only really appreciate the band properly by not listening to them very often. I can’t account for this. The version I’d like to present goes like this: I heard them at the same time that I was being exposed to a lot of emo bands, and in the end went in a more Julia or Boys Life direction. In that version I come away with my DIY cred fully intact, which is, I don’t have to tell you, of paramount importance. Trouble is, that doesn’t account for the time spent listening to Mineral and the Get up Kids, and I know that some of you who read this blog remember those times, and if you’re real friends you’ll call me on my shit, and then what kind of cred do I have?
So let’s circle back to that, but in the meantime, speaking of “emo bands,” can we please all take a blood oath to stop using terminology like this? I know, it seems helpful and innocuous enough, but then pretty soon we’re typing out sentences like this: “While not the first band to be classified as emo, they were instrumental in establishing the genre.” Or worse, this: “It has also been called the missing link betweenpost-hardcore and the nascent emo genre.” This one I don’t mind as much, as it at least suggests a certain knowledge of some historical context: “The album is considered by many to be a defining emo album of the second wave.” But the real danger is that, I don’t know, maybe you’re a struggling journalist working for some shitty alternative weekly, spending your every waking moment trying to impress some douchebag editor for whom you can’t even muster the tiniest bit of respect, and next thing you know you’re responsible for something like this: “In 2013, Diary took the first place in LA Weekly‘s list “Top 20 Emo Albums in History”.”
In any case, I like Sunny Day Real Estate just fine, but I’ve never been able to get super duper excited about them in the way that others have. As I said, I can’t account for this, because listening to “Song About an Angel” now, I’m struck by its beauty and precision, the top-notch musicianship, the intricacies of the songwriting. It works the quiet/loud/quiet formula, but there’s so much more going on than that, including really strong melodic progression and hooks. So what’s my problem?
I have a lot of stuff in my iTunes library that I feel similarly about. I have to hope that, if you’re reading this, you’re enough of a music dork that maybe you can relate. As they say, there’s no accounting for taste.
But let me try anyway: I saw Fugazi play once at First Avenue in Minneapolis. It was, of course, fantastic. I remember being annoyed by the crowd (I’ve been a curmudgeony old man for as long as I can recall), but even so, my enduring memory is of these moments where the guitars were just so fucking perfectly in sync and in tune with one another, it felt as if we had all crossed over to another plane. Please know how self-consciously I wrote that description, but I don’t know another way to put it.
Listening to Sunny Day Real Estate now, I hear the potential for such moments built into the songs. Here’s the deal, though. I saw them play once, too, and they were SO BORING. Granted, this was in 1998 or so and a part, I believe, of their first reunion tour, so I have to believe that they weren’t at the top of their game at this point, but it has definitely colored my memory of the band.
But then I see their album art, and I’m transported back to an earlier time in Minneapolis, when Let it Be Records sat proudly on Nicollet Mall, and a high school kid could wander in and see a bright pink LP (LP2) right next to an LP with a painting of Little People on it (Diary), and think, “well, that’s pretty great.” I think that’s the kind of marveling I need to get back to.
SHUFFLER 0057: GABBA GABBA NAY
Sunday, November 23, 2014
Marked Men – “Right Here With You” from On the Outside (2004 Dirtnap)
Confession #1: I never quite liked the Ramones as much as I figured I was probably suppsoed to. I think we all have a lot of bands like that, probably, but still, I’m confessing. It sems especially terrible to admit this now, given that all of the original members have moved on from this plane.
Confession #2: I learned about the Marked Men years after this record came out. It was the spring of 2008, and I was walking the dog and listening to Sound Opinions. Those two jokers were fresh from South by Southwest and were talking about an exciting garage/punk band from Denton, Texas. The Marked Men were, in fact, fresh and exciting, if hardly as new as the show suggested. It was immediately obvious that you don’t get to the Marked Men’s sound without a heavy Ramones influence, but really they sounded to me the way I thought the Ramones probably should have sounded all along.
Confession #3: Not long after that I was at a barbecue with a bunch of aging punk rock types like myself. Talk turned to music, and someone mentioned the Marked Men. I wasn’t even part of the conversation, but I got real enthusiastic from across the firepit.
Confession #4: This is the least severe, I think. A few years back I was at a big hardcore show in Minneapolis. One legendary band was playing their final show, and another was playing their first in years. I ran into a friend I knew from way back in the hardcore scene, and complimented his Marked Men shirt. “Honestly,” he said, leaning in, “I’d rather be at a show like that than here.” I knew exactly what he meant.
Beyond that, I don’t have a whole hell of a lot to offer up, as I think this track stands mightily on its own. I’ll say these two things, though, for the Marked Men: melody and energy. They have them in spades, particularly in this song, which is actually a more slowed-down tempo than most of their offerings. Enjoy.
SHUFFLER 0056: A MULTIPLICITY OF MUNITIONS
Monday, November 17, 2014
Please Inform the Captain This is a Hijack – “Robot Rampage in Luxury World” from Please Inform the Captain This is a Hijack (2003 Empire)
I have to be careful here, because this band, situated as they are in my iTunes library next to The Plot to Blow Up the Eiffel Tower, could get me in some real trouble with the good people over at Quantico. On the other hand, maybe I should view this as an opportunity to turn some government wonks on to some good music. I don’t like to talk about my own security clearance, but suffice it to say I can only wonder what type of music is softly piping through the Quantico loudspeakers. I imagine it’s kind of Cat Stevensy, but without being so No Fly Listy. James Taylor?
Setting aside black helicopters for the moment, I find it impossible to go any further without addressing the humongous legacy of the late Sarah Kirsch, and there really is quite a lot to go into here.
For the longest time, Sarah Kirsch was known to the world as Mike Kirsch, pillar of the Bay Area DIY hardcore punk community beginning in the late 1980s, playing guitar and singing in such influential bands as Fuel, Pinhead Gunpowder (with that guy from that terrible popular band and the guy with the great fanzine), John Henry West, Torches to Rome, and Bread of Circuits, among others, none of which I ever got to see (I do remember seeing a flyer for a show Bread and Circuits played at the legendary and since-razed 1021 house, but I didn’t go to the show, and I think figured out three days later that Bread and Circuits was a Kirsch project. I’m a bozo.)
In 2012, Sarah Kirsch died from complications from Fanconi Anemia, which, from what I can garner from the internet, is a somewhat rare genetic disease that can lead to leukemia or bone marrow failure. Not long before that, and I think the timeline is important, Sarah Kirsch came out as a transgender woman.
It is, of course, tragic that her life was cut so short (she was 42). What really got to me, though, as a straight man (and I promise that we’ll get to the song at some point), is just how little we know about what others are dealing with and how easy it is to make assumptions as a result of that ignorance.
And maybe I’m still making ignorant assumptions, given that I’m speaking outside of my own personal experiences and don’t really know how it works, but I feel like Kirsch knew she was transgender years before coming out, maybe even decades. And what I would have assumed, prior to the lesson Sarah’s legacy and coming out taught me, was that, you know, if someone was involved in the super-liberal punk rock scene, in the BAY AREA of all politically radical places, that person would feel comfortable being their truest self and coming out and telling the rest of the world to fuck off if they didn’t like it.
This gives way to speculation, and I want to be real transparent in owning that, but I guess the conclusion I draw is that, for some reason, despite being in probably the most accepting environment ever, Sarah Kirsch didn’t feel comfortable coming out earlier in life. That makes me terribly sad, of course, but whatever faults my ignorance and speculation might betray, it also yields what I think is a terribly instructive lesson: I don’t know what kinds of things anyone else is carrying around. I suppose it’s not entirely outside of the realm of possibility that Plato was thinking of transgender people when he said “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle,” (thought the good people over at Quote Investigator question the accuracy of both the quote and its attribution).
Back to the music. I wrote a few days ago about Rites of Spring and my love for that era of hardcore, and I think that I also, in discussing my dream band, invoked Ebullition Records. Here’s the thing about that — when I think about the best era of Ebullition, I invariably think of the music of Sarah Kirsch, particularly Torches to Rome and Bread and Circuits. There’s a certain sound, a use of feedback, a way of playing with the rhythm in the cadence of the vocals that, taken together, always felt like a reimagining of what hardcore punk could sound like. Maybe that makes me just a little Pollyanna-ish, and I’ll own that, too, but I always enjoyed how fresh the approach of those bands felt.
Please Inform the Captain This is a Hijack snuck up on me, I’ll admit, at a time when I no longer had my finger on the pulse of the hardcore scene to the degree I had in years prior, and as a result I didn’t know they existed until after they didn’t any longer. Timing is everything, I guess. But I’m so glad that I discovered them. Composed of members of Bread and Circuits (obviously), Former Members of Alfonsín (three former Former members, at that — listen for that signature high-pitched scream), and, surprisingly (to me), Lifes Halt! and Dirty Dirt and the Dirts (I need their 7″, by the way — get in touch if you’ve got one to spare). Those last two are bands I’ve always held in high esteem, but didn’t expect this connection. I only wish I knew who from which band did what in this one.
What’s fun about PItCTiaH is their extensive use of samples, of both dialog/narrative and older music. This track begins with some warm electric piano, built upon by an urgent string part set against what sounds to be Yosemite Sam and a pundit talking about a radical cell somewhere. This gives way to what might be called a more traditional hardcore song, if it’s only traditional in the Bread and Circuits/Former Members of Alfonsín approach to hardcore. And indeed, fans of those bands will find that this song, aside from its sampling, doesn’t necessarily break any super new ground when compared to the work of its predecessors, but fans of those bands will be too glad to have more of it that they won’t care if it’s something of a retread.
Besides, the few seconds that sound most familiar (2:14-2:18) give way to some computer-y talk about just how powerless and complicit we all are in an oppressive system. If it’s a protest anthem, it’s a dark one to be sure, (“Analysis: we’re fucked”), but somehow, despite it all, this music fills me with a ridiculous amount of hope.
R.I.P. Sarah Kirsch. Thank you for everything.
Below is the LP in its entirety. If you can find a copy in print, you should purchase it. The Kirsch family, no doubt, could use the money. Our track begins at about 10:17, which is how much time I guess you should add to my times above to make them make sense.