Wednesday, October 26, 2016

This Week's Punk: Black Flag - What The... (2013)

Black Flag again? So soon? And What The...?

Yeah, I love it. Maybe I'm just being contrary. It's awesome. It's exactly what I wanted. It's upbeat, sloppy, fierce and fun.

Chavo Pederast? He's great. He's gone, too, but isn't he always? Greg Ginn and some drummer no one can hear? I don't care. Black Flag is Ginn. Ginn is Black Flag. Black Flag on SST is whatever Ginn wants it to be and that's enough for me. It's just gravy on top that What The... is so damn fun.

Do I hate the cover? Sure. Do I get it? I won't pretend to know Ginn's mind but I have a pretty good guess. I can't listen to the cover. I hate the title, for that matter, but I don't listen to that, either.

Does almost every song feature the same lick? It sure as hell does. If something is great why not do it about 21 more times?

No, I'm not being sarcastic. What The... is fucking FANTASTIC and I wish Ginn would turn out three or four of these a year like he used to. I'd love to see Kira, Keith, Chuck, Dez, Henry and all the other dudes back on record or tour - with Ginn. I'd love to hear My War, Pt. 2 - with Ginn. You say Ginn is the one keeping this from happening? Cool, it's his band, his label. Start your own band and label and apply your own rules to that. I love Off! but fuck anything called Flag without Ginn. People wring their hands and act as if the lineup didn't shift almost constantly. People simultaneously praise Damaged and Jealous Again without moaning that they aren't the same. Get over yourselves and just enjoy it all. Just because What The... is not exactly the same doesn't take away from what you already love. So many rules about music without rules.

Friday, October 21, 2016

This Week's Punk: Dead Kennedys - Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables (1980)

Wow. So, while this makes all sorts of historic lists and was undoubtedly once one of my very favorite records, I kind of dislike Fresh Fruit... nowadays.

Dead Kennedys were an easy early target for me. They had a name riffing on a dynasty that my mother held in an infallible place of worship, groovy (Frankenchrist) and disgustingly wrong (Plastic Surgery Disasters) album art and song titles that more or less guaranteed my purchase of their entire discography. And purchase I did, one after the other, and for many years held the band in very high esteem.

Why don't I dig 'em now? I don't know. I know I was wrong at first. With a track like "Kill the Poor," obviously not meant to be taken literally, I in my early teen fat white privileged bubble (for which I refuse to apologize now and forevermore), more or less loved the song at face value. The poor were gross. Why not neutron bomb them? Am I embarrassed at that mindset? No. I was a dumb kid like every dumb kid. There's a reason you cannot vote until 18 and it should probably happen even later. Listening now, the song's meaning is clear, of course, but the satire isn't too clever.

Songcraft lacks, too. "California Über Alles" is a great hooky tune and I get it though the reference might as well have been Cambodia in 1980s Ohio. And, of course, "Holiday in Cambodia" is still a classic. So Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables is more or less a great A/B side 7". Jello Biafra is an artist I admire. I believe he is smarter than most and I believe his political views, even if I disagree on many, are well-informed and sincere. His vocal style is one I can no longer tolerate. Musically, his vocal style is so similar to Fred Schneider that, combined with the surf rock leanings of Fresh Fruit..., the entire affair now comes off as a slightly aggressive B-52s record. This reminds me kind of like a first listen to ...Bollocks - or even a KISS record - nowhere near as aggressive as you expect. 

Bottom of the pile, fellas.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

This Week's Punk: Black Flag - Slip It In (1984)

I can definitely remember my first Black Flag record. It immediately followed my first Misfits record (Walk Among Us), purchased in late 1992 at the sort of  horrible little college town shop you only find in horrible little college towns that sell greeting cards, bongs, Grateful Dead tapestries, stuffed animals, clever t-shirts and, sometimes, a few racks of CDs. I spent a miserable year in Berea, Ohio and went to this shop (called "The Shoppe") almost daily and browsed CDs, spending when I could (I rarely could). We were still on the cusp of the internet and my musical discoveries branched solely from word of mouth and this type of association: Hey, this Misfits CD has a similar font to this Danzig CD, I'll buy it. Hey, this Misfits CD has Glenn Danzig! Hey, this Misfits CD also has a drummer named "Robo." Hey, this Black Flag CD has a drummer named "Robo!" It really was that lame and naive. And I found so much great music that way. at that time, it was Damaged but that record led to a several-years-long obsession with all things SST and Black Flag emerged as a favorite ever since.

Why Slip It In? I don't know. Definitely the naughtiness of the Ray Pettibon cover. It, along with My War, are definite favorites based on artwork alone. Both also represent the most pure "punkiest" incarnation of the Rollins era, in my opinion, too. Later (also excellent) records veer more toward metal in some ways but Slip It In, even with its four to six minute run times on most tracks, keeps the bursts energetic and angry and really raw. The title track is really sleazy and I always wanted to think it informed Sonic Youth's blueprint as I knew they were closely associated with SST early on but they probably had their thing down long before the track ever came to light. Still, the disaffected female vocal trading back and forth over such extreme guitar and vocal dynamics was nearly a decade ahead of the "experimental" alt rock that dominated the early to mid 90s. Plus it is just a killer track. "Black Coffee" chugs along right after and is another personal favorite. "Rat's Eyes" and the interminable instrumental, "Obliteration," nearly ruin the record halfway through. "The Bars" and "My Ghetto" resurrect the Rollins desperation that defined Damaged and "You're Not Evil" is the successful meandering epic "Obliteration" only aspired to.

Slip It In is not a great record but it is a mean record. There's no strong statement, no consistent theme and nothing pretty but it sure as hell captured something that has lasted the test of time - anger, unrest, discontent - that shit is eternal.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

This Week's Punk: Circle Jerks - VI (1987)

I cannot recall where in my early punk collection the Circle Jerks' VI fell but it had to be early. My music purchases during those years occurred exclusively at one of two shopping mall record stores and their selection, while staggering compared to today's tiny racks at Best Buy or Wal-Mart, was certainly limited when it came to rock's fringes. I don't even really remember what rock record would have paved the path to punk exploration but I know I was often heavily influenced solely by t-shirts designs in the Burning Airlines t-shirt mailer.

If punk records were rare in southeastern Ohio, rock tees were downright precious. Back in the 80s you would see an ad in Rolling Stone and mail away for a hard copy catalog and Burning Airlines had great photocopied reams of designs. You'd list 1st, 2nd and 3rd choices (because what you wanted was always gone, it seemed), sneak off for a money order somewhere and wait weeks and weeks and weeks for a bag of fresh tees.

The rows and rows of pics were intriguing. I know this is what led me to D.R.I., for example, and it definitely guided me to the Dead Milkmen's Big Lizard in My Backyard. Knowing myself then - and now - it probably stands to reason I chose simply by proximity and landed on the Circle Jerks. I definitely recall they had naughty titles like Group Sex and Golden Shower of Hits and this would have appealed to me. Why, then, did I chose VI? Because, ass that I was at the time, I always assumed a band's latest release would be their best. It took discovery of Led Zeppelin to open my eyes to the excellence of the backcatalogue and seminal releases. It certainly didn't hurt that VI had great Ed Repka artwork with a little skanking man. It was years until I learned the joke that VI was actually the band's fifth album, too.

VI was a pretty good early punk purchase. And that which makes it good now also renders it more than a little bland. The tempos are manageable. The guitars border on straight-up rock (and provide a perfect segue to similar styles I dug back then as evidenced by my love of the proto metal of Manitoba's Wild Kingdom). The lyrical content reflects a dissatisfied voice but doesn't go anywhere near extreme or overtly political. VI was a safe gateway. I played this thing to death on cassette. Our neighborhood at that time was composed of three 1/3 mile loops and I would walk these for hours as this tape turned over and over. Still, not having spun it in a few years, if anyone asked me about VI two weeks ago the best I would be able to muster would be "Casualty Vampire!" I think the title must have impressed me but it wasn't until re-listening this week that I was also struck by how timely the content still is in this age of schadenfreude. Lead-off tracks like "Beat Me Senseless" and "Patty's Killing Mel" provide the comic book nihilism a 13-year-old would devour instantly. Keith Morris remains a terrific vocalist and wields a perfectly intelligible scream while easily shifting to actual melodic lines. He goes way too Johnny Rotten on the Sid & Nancy track "Love Kills" which is just kind of a lousy tune. I would complain that Greg Hetson's guitars are a little too accomplished for the proceedings if it were not for my affection for his skills in the Bad Religion arena. Leave it to a song like "Status Clinger," though, with a great lyric that better than ever fits our "look at me" society and a killer tempo shift around 1:50, to elevate VI on occasion to excellence.

As a whole, is VI a good record? Yeah. Is it a good record in the Circle Jerks' discography? Yeah again. Is it an important punk milestone that those who know the genre well would point to as significant? I bet probably not at all. It means something to me. It's a place in time that was incredibly important in forming my own musical tastes and, revisiting it, I vividly recall many of the same emotions I felt when I played this upon release. All in all, VI remains for me a hell of a fun record, incredibly representative of its time and, given its significance in my own musical journey, it sits high in the Top 100 albums in my life.