THE GROOVE MUSIC LIFE

Punk Rock

BEST ALBUMS OF 2011: #1: FOO FIGHTERS “Wasting Light”

FOO FIGHTERS
Wasting Light

(Roswell/RCA)
Available on CD, LP, iTunes, AmazonMP3, eMusic, and Spotify

While I’ve been inconsistent in my buying of Dave Grohl’s efforts since his first Foo Fighters album dropped in 1995, to be honest, listening to this album made me regret it immensely to the point where I turned around and filled in the considerable holes in my collection. And Pat Smear’s back in the band while Bob Mould and Krist Novaselic join in on the fun? Yes, please.

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BEST ALBUMS OF 2011: #4: SCANDAL “Baby Action”

SCANDAL
Baby Action
(Epic/Sony Japan)
Available on CD, CD/DVD, and iTunes

The Osaka Four are still unstoppable. This album is just more proof of why that is so. And the whole SCANDAL album catalog is on US iTunes now? No more excuses, folks – pay your $9.99 apiece and see what I’ve been raving about for the past four years!

BEST ALBUMS OF 2011: #10: MEAT PUPPETS “Lollipop”

MEAT PUPPETS
Lollipop
(Megaforce/Red Ink)
Available on CD, LP, iTunes and AmazonMP3

It took them a couple of albums and a change of drummers, but the Kirkwood Brothers really got their footing back with this album, which while occasionally nodding towards past achievements (some of this material, as I stated in my review earlier this year, could have fit nicely on past MP’s long-players), is fresh from beginning to end and is pretty much a timeless album already. At this rate, I can only imagine how the next MP’s album will sound like.

REVIEW: SHONEN KNIFE “Sweet Christmas” single / FEAR “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” single

SHONEN KNIFE
“Sweet Christmas” single
(Good Charamel)
Available on 7″ single, iTunes, AmazonMP3 and eMusic
Rating: ★★★★½

 

FEAR
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” single
(The End Records)
Available on 7″ single, iTunes, AmazonMP3 and eMusic
Rating: ★★★★★

OK, Christmas season is here, and as much as you might like the holidays, there’s a good chance you might not want to put up with the same fucking Christmas songs all over again. And what’s out there for new Christmas music, anyway? Justin Bieber? Too easy of a target, and besides, he’s had a rough enough time being falsely accused of paternity – leave the little Canucklehead alone. A fourth volume of Now Christmas repeating some of the same songs as Volumes 1, 2, and 3? Blech! Where’s my Christmas mix CD with select cuts from the Punk Rock Xmas comp, Mojo Nixon’s Horny Holidays album, various Hello! Project-related Christmas songs, and of course, Spinal Tap’s “Christmas With The Devil”?

But wait! Could it be? New Christmas releases from ARTISTS I ACTUALLY WANT TO LISTEN TO ANYWAY? Yes, please.

It shouldn’t be any surprise that Shonen Knife would drop a Christmas record – the great majority of their back catalog, save for their wonderful Ramones tribute album (which had some of the darkest moments ever recorded by them), is peppy, poppy, rockin’, and puts a smile on your face instantly. The title track of their “Sweet Christmas” single is a typical punk-pop concoction in the Shonen Knife vein, with frontwoman/songwriter/J-Pop & Punk Rock MILF Naoko Yamano’s vocals and guitar leading the way. Not wanting to blast your grandmother across the room, however, the girls throw in an acoustic mix of the song for good measure, then close things out with a power trio arrangement of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” whose only flaw is the stiff 3/4-time beat from drummer Emi Moriomoto. Otherwise, all three of the SK ladies (bass cutie Ritsuko Taneda, down with the Knife since their brilliant Super Group album, rounds out the trio) share lead vocals and redeem the track.

The bigger surprise comes from the notorious punk band Fear. Yep, the same bastards that caused a few thousand dollars (so called) of damage during their national TV debut on Saturday Night Live, then went straight into the studio to record their landmark debut long-player The Record. The A-side is a major surprise – a very straight cover of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” sung very sweetly by frontman Lee Ving over clean jazz guitar and some lonesome-sounding Western harmonica. “Wait a fucking minute,” you say – “Lee Ving singing SWEETLY? The same dude who sang ‘I don’t care about you, FUCK YOU!’ on national television?” Yep. Look up his performance of “The Impossible Dream” from Fame on YouTube sometime – this isn’t new territory for him. This being a Fear record, you might expect the jazz guitar to be  interrupted by a rapid shout of “1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4!” followed by a typical punk rock poleaxing of the song. But with Fear, you get what you deserve, not what you expect. And since anyone buying this single deserves at least some typical Fear thrashing, they deliver it on the B-side with the original “Another Christmas Beer”. Yeah, it’s not “Fuck Christmas”, but then again, Lee Ving has written a LOT of songs about beer. This single is a lead-in for a re-recorded version of their first album to be entitled The ReRecord, which should be at least interesting to hear.

4.5 for the Shonen girls and 5 for Lee and his crew.

REVIEW: MEAT PUPPETS “Lollipop”


MEAT PUPPETS
Lollipop

(Megaforce/Red Ink)
Available on CD, LP, iTunes and AmazonMP3
Rating: ★★★★½

I welcomed the return of the Meat Puppets ever since Curt Kirkwood polled fans as to whether they wanted to see a reunion of the original lineup through his MySpace page. The first result of that question’s aftermath, 2007’s Rise To Your Knees, was the indie-rock equivalent of Star Trek: The Motion Picture: It was great to see/hear from some old friends again, even if the end results didn’t fully live up to the anticipation built up from years worth of passing time even before a return to action became reality.

With that seemingly odd comparison having been made, it’s not a stretch to suggest that the follow-up, 2009’s Sewn Together (which made TGML’s Top 10 Album list that year) is the Meat Puppets’s Wrath of Khan. Fully recharged after the test run that was Rise To Your Knees, Curt and Cris Kirkwood and then-drummer Ted Marcus had delivered in Sewn Together a long-playing effort that was (and is) fully worthy of standing up with the best albums (II, Up On The Sun, Mirage, Huevos, Too High To Die) of their classic back catalog.

Now, two years later, comes Lollipop; While they’ve had a major personnel change – Shandom Sahm, son of the late Sir Douglas Quintet/Texas Tornados leader Doug Sahm and also a former Meat Puppet back in the short-lived Golden Lies period, replaces Marcus behind the trap set – they not only haven’t lost a step, they’ve progressed nicely without losing an ounce of what makes the Meat Puppets who they quintessentially are, be it Curt Kirkwood’s lead lines or his and Cris’s brotherly harmonies. Much of the material could have fit nicely on Up On The Sun or Mirage, but there are also a few welcome twists and turns, like the reggae/ska rhythms that propel the verses “Shave It”, or the almost Coldplay-esque piano chords that open “Orange” only to get near-obliterated by “My Sharona” drums and some nasty fuzz bass from Cris Kirkwood. All of it works.

So, if we’re going to fool around with Meat Puppets/Star Trek comparisons, does that make Lollipop their Search for Spock? Well, put it this way: Search was a must-see flick back in the day. Lollipop is a must-hear album. Enough said.

(Hot tip: Advance order customers who ordered Lollipop from the band’s website – your humble reviewer included – initially received a high-quality digital download of the album with the songs in their original, pre-manufacture sequence [but accidentally labeled with the final sequence’s song titles] – an error long since corrected and rectified by the band’s management. To emulate the original sequence, program your CD player or iPod playlist in the following order: 2, 3, 11, 10, 9, 5, 6, 7, 8, 4, 1, 12.)

Stream: Meat Puppets “Damn Thing”

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Bass-Pounding-Lyric-Hollering-Kind-Hearted-Soft-Spoken-Man

Last night I saw Mike Watt for the third time in four solo tours of his (a bit of waffling on my part led to my not making arrangements to see him when he did his “Prac’n the Third Opera Tour 2009”). It has never been not worth the wait and the two-hour drive from Hazleton to Philadelphia to get to wherever he was booked to play. There were a few differences, though:

For one, Watt was back to playing in a standard guitar/bass/drums outfit, The Missingmen (with guitarist Tom Watson and drummer Raul Morales) – the first two times I had seen Watt play, he was working with his organ trip The Secondmen. Two, Watt was playing a different venue, the North Star Bar (the prior location for Watt’s Philly shows until then, the Khyber, has apparently stopped hosting live music – a shame). Third, the release Watt was touring behind, hyphenated-man, was the first solo album he’d released since he parted amicably with Columbia Records in 2005 (as well as being the first album to be released on his newly minted clenchedwrench label). And last but not least, I got married last June – which meant I brought my newlywed wife Tara, who taste in music is quite radically different than mine, this time around.
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ALBUM REVIEW: NEW YORK DOLLS “Dancing Backwards In High Heels”

NEW YORK DOLLS
Dancing Backwards in High Heels
(429/Savoy Label Group)
Available on CD, iTunes, and AmazonMP3
Rating: ★★★☆☆

After listening to the advance single from this album, “Fool For Your Baby”, I had a severe amount of trepidation as the release date for the New York Dolls’ third studio album approached. “Fool For You Baby” and its Phil Spector-gone-lo-fi production really underwhelmed me, and in my track review I openly stated that I hoped that this song was the exception rather than the rule as far as the full album was concerned.

Two of the major tenants of the Dolls’ operating manual – the strong songwriting and the mining of 50’s and 60’s rock and pop influences – are still abound on Dancing Backwards in High Heels. That’s the good news. David Johansen is in the best voice he’s ever been in his entire career. That’s more good news. For the first time on a studio album since Too Much Too Soon the group throws in a Dollsified cover of an oldie, this time taking on “I Sold My Heart to the Junk Man” (an early Patti LaBelle hit), while DavidJo and Syl Sylvain reclaim “Funky But Chic” from David’s first solo album and insert it into the Dolls canon that it belonged into in the first place.

Knocking down the star rating on this album is the production. The electric guitars on the album take a pretty much permanent back seat to the rest of the instruments, including the same cheesy organ sound that dominates “Fool For Your Baby”, and the drum sound is quite wimpy, almost cardboard-box like. These are two developments that simply run counter to the usual Dolls esthetic. Blame for this should be placed squarely on new producer and bassist Jason Hill, rather on the absence of Steve Conte and Sami Yaffa who had been filling the voids left behind by Johnny Thunders and Arthur Killer Kane quite nicely.

While Dancing Backwards is a decent effort from the band, it’s not definitive Dolls and is basically a fans-only album, if that. It definitely wouldn’t be the album I would recommend to be a first New York Dolls purchase. Unfortunately, this album is what David, Syl, and company will be touring behind this summer when they open (what?) for Motley Crue and Poison (what the fuck?), which means this well-intentioned misstep will probably be the first – and last – purchase for Dolls newcomers unless someone in their immediate vicinity steers them to their earlier albums first.

REVIEW: MIKE WATT “hyphenated-man”

MIKE WATT
“hyphenated-man”

(Clenchedwrench)
Available on CD, LP with download code, iTunes, and AmazonMP3.com
Rating: ★★★★★

From his second solo album Contemplating the Engine Room onward, Watt’s solo album output to date has been centered around concept albums that he affectionately calls “punk operas”. …Engine Room’s 1997 release saw Watt mix parallel storylines about the Minutemen, his father (a career Navy man), and the novel/movie The Sand Pebbles with musical influences as varied as Creedence and Coltrane. The long-in-the-planning followup, 2004’s The Secondmen’s Middle Stand, had Watt going in a different direction musically without straying from his punk roots, performing in an aggressive organ trio to deliver a story that combined the chronology of a near-fatal illness with that of Dante’s Divine Comedy. It took me a little while to get fully into Engine Room upon its release, admittedly, but with Middle Stand this listener was able to plunge in from day one.

Hyphenated-man
– which has already been out in Japan since October of last year – is also a concept album/”punk opera”, only without a fixed storyline. Instead, the album is a suite of thirty short songs, each inspired by a character in a Hieronymus Bosch painting. None of the songs are longer than two minutes – most average a minute and a half, actually – and the lyrics are somewhat abstract, slipping in bits of Japanese language here and there. What may be surprising to some listeners is that the whole thing comes off rather accessible. The idea of short songs harks back to the Minutemen, of course – Watt’s self-re-immersion into his first major band’s back catalog was spurred by his participation in the documentary We Jam Econo – but, even though Watt composed all thirty songs on one of his late Minutemen bandmate and best friend D. Boon’s Fender Telecasters, none of the songs are retro recreations of almost thirty years ago. This particular effort was helped during the basic track recording of the album by Watt not recording his vocals and bass parts until much later on – guitarist Tom Watson and drummer Raul Morales recorded their parts, mostly in tandem with few guitar overdubs, without knowing what Watt’s parts even sounded like, by design. (Coincidentally, a few of the guitar parts on the songs – “Belly-Stabbed-Man” is one example in particular – actually come off in the same style as those on the first two fIREHOSE albums.)

One of the most pleasant surprises on Hyphenated-man is Watt’s vocal work, which seems to be at its most comfortable and is definitely at its most varied here: singing sweetly on some tracks, hollering like someone less than half his age on others, reciting in a whisper here, doing multi-tracked harmonies there – whatever each song and each lyric calls for. As it should be.

Is Hyphenated-man the best thing Watt has done in his solo career yet? That’s hard to say, but only because Watt has not really done the same thing twice in the past decade and a half since fIREHOSE split, and he’s not about to start repeating himself, ever. And now that he’s got his own label deal going down, the wait between Watt projects will not be as ridiculous as it was since 1997. Hyphenated-man, is, however, a highly-recommended listen – and the tip of the iceberg as far as Watt’s future musical output is concerned.

Preview: “Hollowed-Out Man”

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An article I wish I’d written…

While I get the next blog post ready (hopefully by the end of tonight), here’s a little bonus reading material: an article from Alternative Press on the current financial struggles of most bands. Think before you do that illegal download or choose not to buy merch at a show, people…

Thanks to Christopher Fuentes-Woods for the link.

A Humble Beginning…

Every record label has had its unusual beginnings. Had one label in particular not started out in another area, it’s likely that a lot of things we take for granted simply would not exist. Case in point, the advertisement below:

An impromptu bit of Googling revealed the above scan: a print ad in a ham radio magazine called Check-Off for a company called SST Electronics.

If that logo and their PO Box address look familiar, you’re absolutely right – that same logo and address would get a lot more exposure on a long list of punk, alternative, and indie rock releases that are now considered classics.

In brief, Greg Ginn had already been running a pretty good business selling ham radio equipment of his own design (if I remember correctly, he may even have a patent or two under his belt for some of that stuff). Around the time this ad was being seen by ham radio enthusiasts all over the country, Black Flag had already recorded the session from which their first EP Nervous Breakdown – and a few years later, the first half of Side A of Everything Went Black – would be derived. They were waiting on Bomp! Records to release it, but when delays proved too long, Ginn decided to put his business skills, some of the profits he had made from his ham radio products, and the PO Box he already had to good – soon to be better – use, found a pressing plant in the phone book, and, with a first pressing of about 300 to 500 copies (stories vary), SST Records was born.

Both SST Records and SST Electronics would exist side by side for a few years – according to Michael Azzerad’s book Our Band Could Be Your Life, the Minutemen all even had jobs assembling some of SST Electronics’ products – but by 1982 SST would strictly be a record company, leaving ham radio enthusiasts in the dust but giving music fans a reason to live and then some.

For even having a small business of his own to help fund what would become one of the most influential labels in contemporary American music, music fans should be grateful. Had Greg Ginn not taken that first step, none of us would have ever heard of Black Flag, The Minutemen, The Meat Puppets, Husker Du, Saccharine Trust, Bad Brains, fIREHOSE, Sonic Youth, or Dinosaur Jr., countless bands of today that we take for granted would never have been influenced by artists like the aforementioned in the positive manner they were, and blogs like this one might not even exist.

Definitely something to think about.