Monday, April 23, 2018

Thursday, April 12th 2018
Jannus Live, St. Petersburg FL

Published at Apathy & Exhaustion

Photo by Jay Cridlin (Tampa Bay Times)

Where’s Milo? is a tough game.  You find a terrific spot on Jannus’s raised balcony in the back third, and are quickly baffled by the sight of bespectacled, ageing, happy looking men all over the place.  They and many others are wearing the attractive orange and green pastel tour shirts, and yet more imposters appear to be Milos of the future. “Wait a minute,” snaps your partner in observation.  “What if he’s directly behind that huge tree between us and the stage?”

Luckily, I’m as much a treehugger as my girlfriend is short, so we make the spot work well enough.  Roger Lima of Rehasher might have a crunchy inclination too, his whiteboy dreadlocks swinging as he jumps about thrashing out skate rock.  When I saw the band at Lucky You earlier this year I could have sworn he had short hair, so I wonder if the dreads are clip-ons, but it would later turn out he must have had them tied up.  There’s to be no clip-on trumpets either, with Lima once again rebuffing apparently frequent demands for subJake performances (“no we will not be playing ska, sir”).  Legendary musician status is all relative I suppose, with Rehasher blasting through songs only to pause and bullet-speed comment on this being their biggest gig ever or the headliners their favourite band.  Lima is an effective and happy enough candidate to rile up our dormant adolescent enthusiasm to get cheap Descendents-anticipation cheers (Cheer!)  There are no lighthearted covers this time.  For you’ll surely get egg on your face offering such semi-shallow fun when everyone knows that very soon we shall have it ALL.  The sun is setting over the courtyard, with Rehasher having done exactly what a warm-up act is meant to do.

In continued ecological harmony with the surroundings things get just slightly gloomier but no less enjoyable with Radkey.  What’s interesting about the three Radke brothers is that they don’t shy away from their historical position as black punk contributors, but they do place it off to the side in the details.  Like fellow sibling trio and latter-day stars Death they’re playing garage proto-punk with the chunk, thick chords that age well plus solos (“we like solos”). Radkey be making Rad Beats. Their first gig was opening for Fishbone, and they have some imagery that pays homage to the Bad Brains lightning strike (Bad Brains rejected being labelled a hardcore band, and when Radkey kept getting the same treatment they penned the performed Core, so at least the broken clocks might be right twice a day).  Accompanying the proto-punk are Dee Radke’s dark vocals with their shock-horror similarity to Glenn Danzig.  Content including black reapers and vampires and record titles such as Dark Black Makeup (later renamed Delicious Rock Noise) and Devil Fruit adds to the Misfitting about.  But they have other areas of interest, with one performed cut about a Dragon Ball Z villain and another, near the end, being described as “surfy as shit”: that sort of gives you a clue as to why Descendents picked them for this tour.  To draw on their beach-lovin’ youthful lifeforce, obviously.

Nicely edited clip from Certified PR’s Videos

An incredibly illuminating interview over at Creative Loafing last week must have prompted Milo Aukerman to do some tourage research.  He informs the crowd that Descendents last played in Tampa Bay 21 years ago, then pushes us all down the rapturous mountain of pop-hardcore with Suburban Home and Everything Sux (a song that was new at that time, to put it into perspective).  I know how that wait goes, with over 15 years of pent up fanticipation for me before I finally saw them at Blackpool’s Rebellion Festival; now I’m seeing them for a second time in under two years thanks to Milo getting the corporate elbow and putting his science career on the back bunsen burner.  The first gig was an insane release of emotion. This time it’s different, but still a shade of euphoric, which is to be expected from a band who can make me feel amped up when I’m scrubbing plates in my kitchen. What I can now as a musical scientist call a trend is that Descendents want to give you value for money and they do not want to fuck about.

Over the course of an hour plus of delayed afterglow performing, most of your top 30 chainsaw cuts -- a list you should have -- are present here.  The bald and white-bearded gents (the latter in Karl Alvarez’s case) pull out I Don’t Want To Grow Up and My Dad Sucks for the sons and daughters present.  Tracks from 2016’s Hypercaffium Spazzinate such as On Paper and Shameless Halo are now officially part of the canon, which is to say we’ve had time to learn and sit with them and they largely meet the standard.  I could go on, but you know the songs, and if you don’t know them, get to knowing them. Milo and Stephen: “So you’re gonna tune for a song about living in a cave?”  “This song is important to me!” The time it takes for them to make this exchange is all the time that is taken tuning. Everything looks effortless because they put the effort in when they were writing the things.  Every note is perfect. Even the upcoming Record Store Day release Who We Are (a protest song so limp and bathed in nationalist mythology it makes M-16 and ‘Merican seem like weighty political tomes) is enjoyable in the live setting.

It’s possible I’m both a shit fanboy and shit critic, or that the two roles tripped over each others’ ankles, but in that CL interview Milo promised Pep Talk, and I don’t recollect hearing it.  But Bill Stevenson, the big beaming beautiful bear that he is, announces an encore where we get the modern friend-to-friend equivalent of Smile.  And smile we should.  One last quotable from the interview is that Descendents are committed to not giving it yet another decade before their next LP, with perhaps half an album already written.  We are in the midst of a renaissance for the Church of ALL. You can get old. Just see this band before you die.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Dub Righters
True Sound Killaz EP
Plasterer/A World We Never Made, 2018

Published at Apathy & Exhaustion

I get homesick relatively often. It’s usually mild, and can result in a wide variety of questionable viewing and listening choices. Something pretty effective at both provoking and scratching that itch is what King Prawn termed “Wildstyle”: the likes of Mouthwash, Dub Pistols, Asian Dub Foundation, China Shop Bull and The Mighty Mighty Boom.  Bands with names as spaghetti-like and involved as their musical output, quintessentially English potpourri for the stagnant armpit of guitar rock music; all different, all brilliant at their best. They more effortlessly provide a multicultural experience than yer typical guitars-to-the-hilt punk act. My going this route doesn’t happen much more frequently than a true-blue pleasant English summers day, but boy it’s sweet when it all lines up.

So it’s with pleasure that I come to finally review True Sound Killaz by London’s The Dub Righters (apologies for the delay, band -- I wish my email would let me know when I get an actual personal correspondence, rather than filtering it through hundreds of messages from organizations asking for money to elect people I’ve never heard of).  The ideal length for a visit, this is seven sunny slices of punky reggae party, English style, without the crusts cut off. It’s revelling in lifestylist subversion with a smile instead of a snarl. It’s a sunny day in a grim global power centre. It’s feel good music in the capital of grime.

Or at least that’s the tone set by the opening track Archway Keith. This is the story of top times living ideals in a home that was definitely a dump -- but it was their dump.  An infectious chorus accompanies details of a likely squatted shithole, with the comfortable knowledge that putting their freedom ahead of their comfort paid off. “The plugs are dodgy and the toilet’s fucked/The cost of living for free never too much.” The satisfaction of manageable dilapidation usually only lasts so long though, begging the question of how we make these options wider ranging for more people and more time.  A bug ran about on my screen during this analysis. Immediately the band then apply the same thinking to humans as buildings in Life is For The Living, honouring the past while asking how best to improve and keep honouring it in the future.  Having just passed the birthday of a lost friend of my own, I consider his tragedy whenever I’m contemplating how I spend my remaining time.

That friend absolutely loved Sublime.  Couldn’t get enough of them. The three-piece Dub Righters have been compared to the groundbreaking group, so he might have given them a go.  It’s not a comparison they mind, and you can see the logic as Sublime are one of few bands that did an American version of wildstyle that I’d say works on a similar level as the UK acts (especially their underappreciated weird middle album, Robbin’ the Hood).  With the track Boom Box the Righters not only celebrate the power of a wide variety of music, they make potential lyrical echoes of fellow gravelly-voiced vehicles Operation Ivy and Rancid (and the intro resembles Caress Me Down).  The street party widens with “skins, punks, travellers, squatters, ravers and you,” making for an anarchist travelling circus, a Who’s Who of SchNEWS contributors.  Tapes don’t skip though, mate -- signed, fellow analogue luddite.

The reverence doesn’t appear to extend to The Exploited though, with Beat The Bastards being far from a cover.  Exactly when you might expect aggression, it’s one of the lightest cuts here with it’s woozy dub cushioning.  Other than the friendship/brag title track the remainder is also a relatively laid back affair. The closing Black Coffee is a situation where a band hits a tender groove so hard that they basically just go around again and you do not mind.  It’s the best tune on the whole record, closely accompanied by the opener. In fact, this EP is shaped like a sideways rainbow or a neatly layered, dumpster-retrieved sandwich: 1 and 7 concern love and friendship, 2 and 6 are about making the most of life, and 3 and 5 are about music.  So at this point of course, I am obligated to get questionably thoughtful and semi-serious...

I’m one of those people that believes the left needs to refine and finesse the ways that we discuss issues of social hierarchy, if we are to learn anything from the current state of things.  So please believe me when I say that I don’t bring up the following topic lazily. Generally, the vocal style here is nothing but enjoyable, but there were a couple of moments when I asked myself if there was an element of having it on with the West Indies-influenced accent.  And the surrounding promo lingo. Fetishising of diversity, or at least the diversity of genres? The minor gripe that the band describe their sound as incorporating hip hop when I hear really no evidence of it beyond some clever wordplay -- not a single solitary scratch -- doesn’t help.  I don’t know anything about the personal background, experiences, or life of singer Lawrence Harrington or the other members, so this is not a “hit and run” criticism, and perhaps there is more nuance to it.

I’m also not saying this is a new trend in Jamaican-origin music, or even binarily saying that it’s a bad thing.  I did learn that the area of London The Dub Righters appear to be based near or in (Tottenham) is by some accounts the most ethnically diverse place in all of Europe, with 300 languages and 113 ethnic groups living alongside one another.  Which is pretty damn cool, and suggests that whatever is going on here is probably coming from a place of respect.  But I think it’s something to think about, whether the embrace of the cultural mosaic can be more honest, and get further to the heart of why it’s a great phenomenon for us all.  You don’t have to lose or hide parts of your identity. Keep it real. Especially when using a phrase not yet entirely ruined by white society like “keep it real.” For all their genre-mashing, Bradley Nowell didn’t generally sing in accents other than his own, and it’s difficult to imagine Sublime would be so widely lauded if he had made a habit of it. Tim Armstrong's success on the other hand I can't explain, but I think he's a joke, so maybe it's just me building a molehill-shaped mountain.

This is not the heart of the record however and I’m troubled by the fact that it takes up so much page space here (I sometimes wonder if I need a Saturday Night Live-style intervention to learn when I’m going on too long).  True Sound Killaz is a great time without being mindless “zany” drivel, and I enjoy it a bunch.  Reading about The Dub Righters they clearly give a shit about important rad issues, but none of that is directly addressed here, which at this point is frankly a relief.  The upstroke twangs are crisp, the messages and lyrics are positive and the dubby reverb is right on. If you want a break from the norm, or this sounds much like the norm for you, I’d definitely work it into your rotation.  When you’re being a lazy bastard on a pseudo Sunday, when coffee is doing nothing and the cider doesn’t yet seem wise, the Righters won’t do you wrong.

You can hear True Sound Killaz at the bandcamp link below.  To buy it on CD, send money through Paypal as a gift to, including an address and the name of the album. For other detail, see the Plasterer Facebook here.

You can see the Dubs’ upcoming gigs at their Fedbook page, including with Plasterer Records founders Wonk Unit in London on the 18th.

Friday, April 6, 2018

The ProblemAddicts/Kevin K Band/Silver Alert
Thursday, March 29th 2018
The Bends, St. Petersburg FL

DETERMINED OPENER: Leadfoot Promotions is here to give the Tampa Bay music scene a kick up the arse. Well, okay, there are punk gigs every two days so it appears on the surface at least to be quite healthy, and every time you don’t go to one of them your “Support the creative underground!” sensor flares up, sending pain down your leg and pangs of sellout guilt into your brain, suggesting a strong community might be bad for our personal wellbeing whether we schlep to the venues or not, but, well, is the quantity of events really a good barometer of strength, of the relationships we might be building as an alternative to an atomised society of selfish dick behaviour, and by god, where’s the headache medicine, and the beer?  This began so forthright. Perhaps if kicks turn out not to be necessary, we can ask Leadfoot Paul to contribute foot massages to some of our more loyal, exhausted and seasoned punk patrons (he seems a nice enough guy).

His concern for the elders is evident from the offset here, with boisterous locals Silver Alert named after a not-at-all condescendingly titled public notification system for missing dementia sufferers.  Certain members seem to relish the day they can legitimately cause such trouble. Bassist Ryan has a continuous father-son dynamic going with guitarist Chris, hinting at a desire for ageing in both, while their other guitar player Brad is mocked for having a mic that makes him sound “like the teacher from Charlie Brown,” i.e. completely indecipherable to the whippersnappers.  The sheer loudness of their instruments leaves them all as incommunicado to us as Peanuts children, but that doesn’t mean their songs are childish.  People Bubble is a reasoned warning against global overpopulation (a problem that the elderly are making more efforts to solve than any other age group), while another is a timely number about Condoleezza Rice, though whether it’s in relation to launching your own skin care products made from crude oil spoils and Iraqi blood is left unclear.  Ryan should really be wearing a Fuck World Trade shirt in that case, instead of late Clinton administration entry Rock the 40 oz.  Silver Alert’s final absurdly fast song is All My Friends Are Hipster Kids, dedicated to the clientele at The Bends, and it bears an uncanny resemblance to Oi To The World by goof-masters The Vandals.  Was it ever hip to like them? You can find some of these on the band’s collection of golden oldies, White Toyota Solara.

I saw Kevin K Band here at what I will soon begin calling the Kevin K Bends just 3 months ago, but this time, perhaps because not drained by the holiday season, they’re an even more alert and confident solid block of rock than before.  They make the kind of pre-hardcore punk that these days is barely considered distinguishable from rock ‘n’ roll, which, perversely, actually makes them stand out at many of these DIY gigs. Fun is what’s fun and that’s fine, but I feel a lot of bands starting out could do well to remember that there are speeds below Mach 1, that you can make something decent but different that still falls within the “nebulous big tent” of the genre (as I saw it described in a recent zine, Bleach Everything).  On the other hand, Kevin is playing a particular style from his own youth, so maybe I should shut up.  Sub-genre straddling visionaries Bad Religion are present on the drummer’s shirt, depicting a Trump and Putin reacharound session [see footnote for scheduled Russia commentary*].  Kevin K & co. perform Russian Roulette for good measure (maybe they could back it with their tune American Nightmare), and a true to form deafening interpretation of These Boots Are Made For Walkin’.  They end as if they’re closing down an arena show, with a guitarist shredding crazily and flashing lights.  The kickoff song for tonight was Justify, a cut from their new album; being careful with their MDC-style acronym-flipping, the band released Too Much Too Sun as Kevin K and the Krazy Kats in March.

Because I am a shallow fraud and apparently can’t write about a set without commenting on the artist’s threads, I’ll get it out of the way up front this time.  Punk-O-Rama pirouetting to Pennywise is The ProblemAddicts’ stand in bassist, foreshadowing the revved up cover of Stand By Me that would materialise (I attempt to shout “Do it Fletcher!” at the accurate moment, but miss my chance). These incredibly thankful and friendly chaps from “Orlando-ish” Deltona do indeed face problems, such as finding out they share a name with a rap crew in Massachusetts who play with the likes of Ghostface Killah, though with the Florida act sharing a stage with Agent Orange a few weeks ago it’s hard to say who would successfully lay claim in a legal battle.  Drummer Billy, fresh from cutting a hole through his finger at work the previous day, cuts thumpingly through the wall of string instruments, guiding my attention more than once, and I’m sure that’s not just the Coffee Blonde Ale in my veins making a mental connection with his Caffiends shirt (Orlando’s answer to Milo Aukerman).  A kind enthusiast buys the band some beers, and amidst the tiny performance area filled with noise Paul gingerly uses his lead feet to deliver them, including all the way to the drum kit spot in the back. It’s within all these altruistic vibes that a closing rendition of True Believers isn’t overly worried about being “cool,” and you remember the DIY arena is indeed capable of making community out of nothing, even if only temporarily.  The ProblemAddicts put out their EP Derailed (which sounds a lot like Pennywise when they’re doing good quality) in February, and you can hear it on Spotify.


* My disdain for the “blame Russia” narrative is high (recently vomming all over my review of Great Collapse’s Neither Washington Nor Moscow… Again!), and I am pretty sure Bad Religion used to be a band that were against war and actions that risked it.  But in the moment I have myself a chuckle, because at least it’s an improvement over the BR shirt that it seems to be a take on, of two half-naked nuns making out.  What the fuck is with Greg Graffin?  First that whole having a wank on webcam fiasco, now this?

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

What a Time to Be Alive
Merge, 2018

For a good while I’ve had the concept for a music magazine feature rattling around in my head, even as we’re told over and over that the magazine industry is as dead as a punk rock dodo.  The idea is to comically juxtapose profiles of two artists with similar names but completely different backgrounds, that you won’t want to mix up when trying to build your nerd cred: Goldfinger and Goldfrapp; Gorilla Biscuits and Half Man Half Biscuit; 7 Seconds and S Club 7; you get the point.  I’ll be waiting by the phone for you all to jam the line insisting that I bring the project to life.  A particularly satisfying pairing would be Superchunk and Supertramp.  Aside from the fact that both bands make me want to eat a hefty breakfast, I don’t know a great deal about either.  Over the years I gleaned that Superchunk were acclaimed alternative “dahhlings” who were considered the most obvious inspiration for The Get Up Kids’ anthemic, clean emo pop.  The chaotic yet easygoing approach to record acquisition led me to investigate these claims only recently, with the help of their eleventh studio LP What a Time to Be Alive, released in February.

Often, backtracking influences are a little hard to pick up on, at least without doing some surrounding research on specifics.  While taste does change and mature, if you’re in the middle of a love affair with the protégé band, it’s not unusual for the influencer to sound like a less developed version of the elements that you’re into.  Not so much here.  From the opening moments of the title track the comparison between the two acts is obvious.  Even at the age of 50, Mac McCaughan has that same kind of awesome, joyous, tenor voice as The Kids’ Matt Pryor.  The hooks are a bit less bold, but it’s pumping and high-inducing.  The drum intros, the sad little bridges; great stuff.  I would have liked this at 15 but probably not adored it.  It heavily resembles Something To Write Home About except there are no ballads or over the top cries of romantic love, meaning it punches out a full 20 minutes before the UK version of that album (it was two songs longer than the U.S. release, apparently.  Ending on I’ll Catch You not Central Standard Time?  Rubbish!) 

What a Time to Be Alive has no time for ballads because when variety calls it dips the other way towards brevity.  The two-word average and “on the tin” appearance of many of the titles in the tracklisting looks like an old hardcore one: super chunks you might say.  Lost My Brain with its feedback intro and barely absent chorus, and Cloud of Hate’s no-nonsense dismissal are the most clear examples of this sugar-sprinkled hardcore sound, but the pacy Reagan Youth spells out the intention before you even listen to the record.  “Reagan Youth taught you how to feel/Reagan Youth showed you what was real/But to tell the truth, there was more than one Reagan Youth” sings McCaughan.  A touching placeholder for the Dave Rubinstein tribute album that Paul Cripple has been promising for years, perhaps Superchunk are saying we’re all still children of that defining time, with current dunderheads created via the inbred lovechild of microwaved Reagan-era social conservatism and dissatisfaction with the poverty-breeding “globalist” policies of nonstop neoliberalism. 

The band have stated that WATTBA is a direct response to the Trump era, but mercifully his name is absent from the lyrics.  And speaking of runtime and Central Standard Time it brings up an interesting conversation about whether artists should be striving to discuss timeless topics or not.  On the surface a record that takes this approach will age better than one full of bleeding heart pleas, or a band named after a President who eventually left the White House (in body if not in ideology).  But I think time capsule media can be just as interesting or insightful to future generations of listeners or viewers.  Sometimes an artist needs to stop worrying about their legacy and make something that is useful for now.  If it’s such a time to be alive, let’s hear something that makes me feel empowered instead of depressed that I’m even thinking about it. 

Superchunk must get this or they wouldn’t be making this tilt towards the most immediately gratifying of genres, but they’re as bored and sick as we all are of fighting the same fights over and over.  I Got Cut, for example, is about reproductive and medical rights.  “Family Planning/Free Chelsea Manning,” things that basically already happened, but you never know what the hell will try and roll back around the next corner.  The song was released as a 7” last summer to raise money for Planned Parenthood, with some cool one-of-a-kind sleeves and a cover of Up Against The Wall by Tom Robinson Band on the b-side.  The band confronts the duelling desires to shrink back or step up to fools who think Earth is their big playground with All For You: “Fight me/I’m not a violent person but fight me.”  A battle cry for emo kids.  Also basically how I feel every time I hide in my living room and fire up Halo.

Speaking of Halo, there’s an amusing story that ties into this album’s early listens.  A few weeks ago, the missus and I, as we often do of a weekend, were getting trashed and preparing for a mass killing by shooting digital motherfuckers in the face (as any dipshit who takes money from the NRA can tell you, these games can teach you exactly how to operate a real machine gun, which is why they recommend going to the firing range baked out of your head to replicate the online experience).  These events are the closest I get to DJing at the moment, so I plonked on What a Time to Be Alive, and proceeded to drunkenly waffle on to my ever-patient girl about how great it was and how much it resembled the punky alt-rock that we both grew up with.  We had gotten to track 10 or 11 before I realised that I’d misjudged the stereo and we were actually listening to chapter one of The Emo Diaries, a compilation that came out on Deep Elm Records in 1997.  It features early Jimmy Eat World, Samian, Triplefastaction and a gaggle of decent bands no doubt lost in the cornfields of the Midwest before I had chance to ever investigate them further.  Music critic of the fucking year. 

Don't hold it against Superchunk though.  I’m now more familiar with the album, and it really is its own beast.  While the overall flavour here is as American as a supersized, super-pink milkshake that I may or may not be craving from staring at the pink back cover, there are also all these moments that remind me at least of swathes of English rock.  These moments bridge the oddly rigid divide between the many strains of punk-influenced American alternative and mainstream UK indie.  McCaughan is like Bernard Sumner (New Order) with his ageless boyishness, and is also not a thousand miles from the cheeky pipes of Gaz Coombes of Supergrass (ooh, there’s another one for the mag).  Sticking with Sumner for a second, All For You has a lengthy Joy Division-esque bassline in the intro, and sticking with bass intros, Bad Choices starts with notes that seem to be lifted wholesale from an interlude in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels known only as “bass riff”.  I’m no bigger fan of Guy Ritchie than the average person, and this doesn’t even qualify as a full song, so bugger knows why I remembered it.  But it is pretty damn English.

Careening back up North, it’s just a coincidence, but a few songs showcase words with hard extended “a’s” that leave McCaughan sounding like Lee Mavers from The La’s: “There’s a crooked line that runs through every crease in this maaap/You want to take us all the way baaack.  Maybe it’s the North Carolina way too.  You can enjoy it on the chorus of Break the Glass, a cut about hammers that thankfully doesn’t imitate the “granny rock” of Maxwell’s Silver Hammer by that other famous Scouse group.  A couple of tracks have this warbly, strained guitar that suddenly ducks to a lower tone that puts me in mind of Lowgold, one of the meeker acts of the post-Britpop field in the late 90s, which is saying something when you consider how meek that entire field generally was.  There’s probably a more noteable comparison but I can’t think of it.  They also had a rather shit string of luck as a band, if not as unconventionally awful as that of Reagan Youth.

I’m struggling to find much at fault with What a Time to Be Alive.  This many albums in you have to know what you are doing to make it worth a damn, and these people clearly know how to deliver.  Erasure is not a bad tune, but may be a tad slow and minimalist in the middle of the record, which otherwise has a really fun arc.  I’d prefer if, at some point at least, the politics went deeper, rather than being scattered about vaguely.  WATTBA is not going to set the world alight, but it’s a dependable quality melodic rock listen.  If their other ten releases sound similar to this, I can’t imagine it’ll be necessary to get them all.  But I’ll no doubt casually grab a few more going forward, and this seems as great a place to start as any.  Super stuff.

You can buy the album from Merge Records here and stream it at Bandcamp.  Superchunk will be doing a few dates in the U.S. throughout April and May then Europe starting in late May.

A limited edition acoustic 7” featuring the tracks What a Time to Be Alive and Erasure will be released on clear vinyl for Record Store Day 2018 (April 21st).   No link, ‘cause get your arse to the local shop.