Friday, March 26, 2010

The Suicide Commandos - Make A Record (Blank, 1978)

Common names are often shared by notable figures, but it's usually obvious which person is more known by the Average Joe. For example, John Smith was one of the Jamestown settlement's founders in 1607. Most folks know that his head was saved on the chopping block by Pocahontas, but are you aware it was Smith who gave the New England region its name? In the same part of the United States 375 years later, John Smith, a kicker for the NFL's Patriots, scored the only points in a 3-0 victory over the Miami Dolphins as time expired. The contest would later be coined the Snowplow Game. OK, John Smith was an easy pick. Hell, it's used on samples of credit cards. What about a handle like Adrian Peterson? Oddly, the APs to whom I'm referring are employed by the National Football League and play similar positions. The one starting for the Minnesota Vikings is a Pro Bowl running back who holds the single-game record for rushing yards (296). On the Chicago Bears, AP might as well be in the WPP. Switching sports, Chris Osgood has hoisted the Stanley Cup three times as an ace goaltender for the Detroit Red Wings. Back to Minneapolis, Chris Osgood is held in high regard as a founding father of that city's punk rock history. Feel sorry for Osgood, because his band's tag is also upstaged. Suicide Commando, AKA Johan Von Roy, is an electro-industrial musician from Belgium with 5,245 fans on Facebook. Headed by CO, The Suicide Commandos have 106 FBers singing their praises.

Make it 107. Joined by Steve Almaas (bass/vocals) and Dave Ahl (drums/vocals), Chris Osgood (guitar/vocals) put forth two singles ("Monster Au-Go-Go" and "Match/Mismatch") in 1976. The following year, SC recorded Make A Record's fifteen tracks at Sound 80 Studios in Minneapolis. Memorable gigs at the hometown Longhorn Bar led to several cross-country tours. A fruitful friendship with Pere Ubu blossomed for SC in January 1978, when the newly constructed Blank Records released both bands' debut albums simultaneously. If this ain't an art-punk's wet dream, call me Colin Newman with a towel.

Speaking of Wire, that UK band's 1977 masterwork is a towering template for Make A Record. Indeed, SC's song lengths (often under two minutes), jittery vocals, and jagged musicianship tap heavily on the fabric. Though Minutemen and Urinals backers would be quick to debate, Make A Record is arguably the best salute of Pink Flag that's been done by an American band. Please don't think I'm calling SC a tribute act, though. Chris Osgood's massive riffing suggests a duel between Chuck Berry and Johnny Ramone on a stage blanketed in nerve gas. Also, a sonic kinship with fellow Midwesterners Devo and the aforementioned Pere Ubu keeps SC's passport tucked away in Ahl's drum case.

DA's sticks pound the snare, but your previously distant roommate Charisse is busy "Attacking The Beat." Because you've never seen her moving in a club before, the vision of the "Little Petite One" in a short skirt compels you to join the lovely Latina on the floor. Dancing in the dark? On the ceiling? For you, Charisse, I'd feign fandom of Bjork and Lionel Richie. To impress the lady, you glue the clippings of your gray hair onto your face. Talking in an accent similar to the man from the Dos Equis adverts, you tell Charisse about the thirst for her tongue in your mouth. Unfortunately, she bites off your nose and spits it into a beer glass. Discussing reattachment surgery with "Mr. Dr.", he lets you live. Why? So you can pay the bill. Sense of smell regained, you exit the love nest and find the wispy woman at the stove tackling tofu, tuna, and taco sauce. The lunch shows Charisse cares a lot, but you think she's "Semi-Smart." More proof of a sliced IQ is given, when "She" tries to convince you that one of The Monkees is named Peter Dork. Charisse's sweet love (juice) offsets her lack of music trivia, so you go back to kissing her (lips). The morning after, she leaves you with nothing but a plate of dirt. It's better than the tofu taco salad, for sure. Still, you miss the one who's done you wrong and wonder if Charisse has heard this song. Walking away from the abandonment, you see a thing that makes you frown. It is Charisse's nightgown. Neither black nor brown, the memory of her makes you drown. You're left with no choice but to "Burn It Down." That goes double for the apartment. Luckily, the fire station is across the street.

The Suicide Commandos. A band by any similar name...

-Gunther 8544

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Pagans- Shit Street (Crypt Records, 2001)

“The Pagans were as unwrought, impudent and gnarly a buncha rock'n'roll bedlamites as America's ever spewed outta its queasy underbelly."
-Mark Trehus

Of all the “classic” punk bands, The Pagans are perhaps the most under-appreciated. Never able to get a proper album out during their first incarnation, the red-hot Cleveland foursome nonetheless amassed enough killer material between 1977 and ’79 to allow for the legendary posthumous compilation Buried Alive. Even more definitive, the Crypt Records issue Shit Street compiles the entirety of the original Pagans’ studio cuts with a 13-song live set from August of ’79. If your list of top-tier class of ’77 bands doesn’t include The Pagans, you ought to give Shit Street a listen and get your pen and paper ready. You may need to do some revising.

Unlike many of their contemporaries who formed in the wake of Sex Pistols hysteria and more or less copied the formula, The Pagans were making punk rock music before anyone knew what to call it. The Hudson brothers had been playing in bands together since 1974, years before “Anarchy in the UK” was even conceived. Perhaps they were influenced by the true first punk song, “I Got a Right”. More likely they were influenced by Cleveland, Ohio in the mid-1970s - a crumbling blue collar city on the verge of bankruptcy, ridden with a perennially losing baseball team. Most likely they were influenced by extremely large quantities of drugs and alcohol. Whatever the case, the resulting music was on fire. As snotty as their fellow Clevelanders the Dead Boys, no less unsavory than those rotten Pistols, as sonically destructive as Iggy and the Stooges, and more lunkheaded than the Ramones and Dictators combined, The Pagans were the archetypical first wave punk band. And although their influence on modern-day sub-genres such as “punk rock n’ roll”, “garage punk”, and “snot-punk” is unmistakable, there has never really been another band that sounded quite like The Pagans.

Shit Street has all the songs you know (or ought to know!): both sides of the “Street Where Nobody Lives”/ “What’s This Shit Called Love” 45 from ’78 (one of the greatest punk singles EVER!), the gloriously awfully-recorded 1977 classic “Six and Change”, the blistering, demented “Eyes of Satan”, the Denny Carlton penned shaker “Boy Can I Dance Good”, the Cleveland manifestos “Dead End America” and “I Juvenile”, and the tasteless proto speed punk of “She’s a Cadaver” (surely the Angry Samoans were fans!). And although a handful of the studio tracks were either too hastily recorded or simply not as inspired, the best stuff here absolutely kills. From the very opening notes of “What’s This Shit Called Love”, you know you’re hearing something extraordinary, Tim Allee’s thick, stabbing bass lines and Brian Hudson’s abusive drumming laying the ground for Mike Metoff’s guitars, which growl like alien destruction machines. And then in comes Mike Hudson with his powerful, wailing vocals, and forget about it! Try to name some punk singers better than Mike Hudson. Come on, try! You won’t get very far.

The live cuts capture The Pagans in their natural habitat, the fabled dive Pirate’s Cove, and give you a tiny taste of what it would have been like to have caught these guys in their prime, when they gigged relentlessly, drank heavily, fought internally, trashed hotel rooms, and delivered the goods on-stage to the delight or horror of whomever happened to show up that night, their raw, streetwise brand of rock n’ roll arriving at least a decade too soon for any kind of recognition from the “respectable” world. And once Cheetah Chrome and Jimmy Zero join the fellas on stage for bang-up renditions of “It’s All Over Now” and “Search and Destroy”, you’re gonna wish so badly that you had been there! The Pagans were soon to break up, and they'd come back to life a few years later and turn out the not-unworthy Pink Album. But come on, man. There's nothing like early Pagans.

Welcome to Punk 101, kids. I assume you've all bought the first four Ramones albums and burned your blink-182 t-shirts. Very good. A's for all of you! Your next assignment: start listening to The Pagans.
-Josh Rutledge

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Prostitutes - discography CD (Pelado Records, 2000)

The mid-to-late '90s was one of the greatest-ever eras for punk rock music. Sure, this was a time when an incredible volume of absolutely terrible bands sprung forth out of garages and basements the world over, the hidden path to the underground having been blown wide open in previous years by the likes of Nirvana and Green Day. Punk bands were everywhere, and they couldn’t all be awesome. But with the bad came the good, and boy were there ever some great punk bands circa ’96-00! And in this age when groups like The Humpers, Stitches, U.S. Bombs, Teengenerate, New Bomb Turks, The Rip Offs, The Queers, and Swingin Utters were at their best and mightiest, one little band from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania ruled over all: the fuckin’ Prostitutes!

Amidst the vast and incessant shitstorm of uninspired revivalists, generic thrashers, banal bar bands, pointless imitators, cartoonish Mohicans, talentless noise-spewers, drunk-punk retreads, Warped Tour whack-offs, wannabe rock stars, washed-up oldtimers, third-rate Ramones clones, clichéd sleaze-rawkers, fashion-happy mediocrities, straight-edge grunters, riot grrl screechers, nu-skate wastes, prettyboy posers, pseudo scumbags, suburban skankers, post-grunge opportunists, Epitaph hacks, retooled headbangers, p.c. crust-slingers, and intolerable emo wankers that passed for “punk rock” music in the 1990s, a select few bands left behind recorded legacies comparable to the all-time punk greats’. One such band was The Prostitutes, who set the standard for obnoxious/trashy/“snotty” punk rock in the late ‘90s. They were the most compelling and authentically degenerate band of their time and style. Their music was unabashedly primitive yet seemingly inspired by a rare, twisted genius. No punk rock n’ roll group since has even come close to topping the ‘tutes.

Hailing from the festering environs of Harrisburg (perhaps the only state capitol in the U.S. that can rightfully be called a “dead-end town”), the Prostitutes lived their music and affected no pose. They were chemical-abusing, people-hating, fast-living, going-nowhere miscreants who played music that was real, raw, dangerous, and true. They were poster children for a generation of failures and fuck-ups left behind by the American dream. They were holdovers from the pre-’94 era of punk, when calling yourself “punk rock” was tantamount to commercial suicide and a sure pathway to disrepute and societal rejection. Songs about heroin, hangovers, and extreme family dysfunction reflected their true experiences - not some put-on notion of what punk music was “supposed” to be. At a time when much of the burgeoning “underground” rock of the day seemed tailored for the approval of the good-looking, mall-shopping masses, the ‘tutes made music that spoke to the damaged souls who roamed the dive bars, meth labs, and halfway houses of downtrodden America.

The Prostitutes were the archetypical snot-punk band of their day, but their peculiar brand of deviant rock n’ roll was not traceable to any obvious influences. The Pagans and G.G. Allin & the Jabbers were probably their primary precursors, but one is just as likely to hear traces of Crime pugnacity or Humpers swagger in now-classic songs like “Rock N’ Roll Outbreak” and “Suburban Trash”. Songs like “Rich Spoiled Brat” and “Fashion Victim” burned with a smoldering intensity that recalled the hottest and fiercest of the early LA punk bands. But unlike so many of their contemporaries, the ‘tutes didn’t sound like they were imitating other bands. Punk rock for them was not an easily-copied musical formula but rather a base outlet for the expression of boredom, despair, unsavory thoughts, and misanthropic rage. This was a group that oozed fuck-off attitude of the nastiest variety. But attitude was just part of the equation. They had the chops too. Singer Kevin McGovern was probably the greatest punk vocalist of his day, his voice raspy, enraged, and full of genuine madness. Behind him wailed a trashy, brilliantly-crude rock n’ roll band, a reprobate wrecking crew that handled those essential three chords as if they were grenades that needed to do some damage in a hurry. And although the ‘tutes’ music wasn’t the least bit “pop”, it did exude a supreme tunefulness in the grand tradition of the best '70s punk. It’s hard to find punk tunes catchier or more memorable than “Suicide Is Fun” or “I’m Tired”.

Lyrically, the Prostitutes were keenly attuned to the debauched, drug-addled realties of life on the wrong side of the tracks. With black humor and a perverse intelligence, McGovern snarled like the poet laureate of suburbia’s seedy underbelly, songs like “Living Wreck” and “No Good” quickly turning into anthems for outcasts, dropouts, and derelicts everywhere. Choice lines from “Rock N’ Roll Outbreak” (“You look real ugly tonight/at least you’re doing something right”), “Suicide Is Fun” (“And then when she slashed her wrists on Wednesday night/That’s when I knew that she was out of sight”), and “Teenage Girls” (“I hear teenage girls like to be alone/I hear communists like to sit by the phone/I know they like everything I am/Give me action, put a bullet in my head”) demonstrate the sick brilliance working inside McGovern’s mind. 1997’s Can’t Teach Kids Responsibility, the band’s first LP, is full of songs articulating the frustrations of a messed-up pariah embittered by the phoniness of society and doomed to a life of alienation and drug abuse. “I’m just a fuck-up/in a fucked-up world,” McGovern sings on “Living Wreck”, and no punk lyric has ever been more honest or accurate. Throughout the album, he sinks his skewers into oppressive authority figures, poser punks, and the small-minded assholes next door, his supply of venom seemingly inexhaustible. “22”, released in 1998, is a definitive statement of youthful disaffection, made all the more convincing by McGovern’s choleric vocal delivery. “I’m 22 with nothing to do,” he cries. “I’m surrounded all day by people like you!” Coming from a lesser singer, such sentiment may have seemed trite. Coming from McGovern, it’s a stinging indictment of a hollow, conformist society. An essential Prostitutes track, “22” is a musical firebomb hurled at respectable America.

The original Prostitutes’ recordings are now out-of-print and probably difficult to obtain, but I’d urge the uninitiated to make the effort. The best place to start would be the discography CD released by Pelado Records in 2000, which collects all the band’s singles, the entirety of Can’t Teach Kids Responsibility, and two cuts from the first Pelado comp (one of which is the must-have “Suicide Is Fun”), all recorded between 1995 and 1997, that classic period of the punk revival. In addition to his incredible Inversions project, McGovern has revived The Prostitutes a number of times with new band mates, and the current, Los Angeles based incarnation released a new album a couple years back called Kill Them Before They Eat.

So many punk bands in the ’90s were transparently formulaic, their music mere imitations of yesteryear’s greats, their songs lacking the urgency and conviction that are supposed to define punk. The music of the Prostitutes, on the other hand, was anything but a copy of other
bands’ genius. It was more like a compulsion, a destructive mission born out of the deepest, darkest place in man’s soul. More so than any of their contemporaries, the ‘tutes were convincing. Reckless, ornery, and defiantly radio-unfriendly, they embodied Pelado’s “punk rock that’s real” ethos. Sure: no band’s music can destroy the fabric of society or cause physical harm to the world’s collective douche bags, dickheads, posers, and phonies. But I love to hear groups that play like they’re single-handedly capable of obliterating everything and everyone they hate, solely through the power and fury of their music.

And that, in a nutshell, is why The Prostitutes ruled.
-Josh Rutledge

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Zombies- Odessey and Oracle (CBS Records, 1968)

Leaving CPR training this past Friday, I got into my Honda Civic and discovered that my CD player was showing no signs of life. I tried to push play – nothing happened. I tried to push eject – nothing happened. An error code flashed before my eyes. All attempts to revive the faltering machinery were to no avail. My copy of The Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle was stuck inside the busted player, seemingly destined to an eternity mired in the purgatory of mechanical malfunction. Never again would I hear the dulcet tones of this copy of a musical masterpiece. I reasoned that this was karmic retribution for the time I intentionally ran over a copy of Radiohead’s Kid A with my Ford Escort. I even considered writing a formal letter of apology to Thom Yorke.

More so than any ’60s band save The Beatles, The Zombies laid the template for early power pop with their sublimely-crafted array of beautiful melodies and lush, majestic harmonies. And while they had evolved eons past the realm of simple pop by the time they recorded Odessey and Oracle, said album is the first Zombies title anyone ought to buy. Intertwining the psych and baroque pop genres with the group’s British Invasion roots, Odessey and Oracle is distinctively late ’60s-ish yet utterly timeless. So of course it was released to zero interest from the record-buying public.

Nearly a year after its April 1968 release (and well after the band’s breakup!), the rapidly-tanking Odessey and Oracle was revived by the surprise hit “Time of the Season”. Arguably one of the greatest hit singles of the ’60s, this #3 U.S. smash precipitated a cash-in reissue of the LP. Newcomers to the Zombies experience will be surprised to see that this particular track is the album’s very last song – it wasn’t supposed to be the hit! That there are other, earlier songs that showed obvious hit potential is a testament to the strength of the record. Conceived, written, and recorded at a point in music when the “album” was still a new concept and lesser bands filled out long-players with covers and throwaways, Odessey and Oracle offers a depth of riches that’s quite rare for its time. Just as importantly, it embraces psychedelia without succumbing to its excesses and flaws, its trippy textures and dreamy soundscapes illuminating the melodies, not replacing them.

Having lost their record deal with Decca, The Zombies decided to call it quits in the spring of 1967. Aiming for one last visionary hurrah that would redeem the group as true artists, The Zombies went to CBS A & R man Derek Everett and secured a one-off record deal. And as they say, the rest is history. Recorded cheaply and hurriedly without any interference from producers or label execs, Odessey and Oracle sounds beautifully focused, with the emphasis remaining on the songs and the self-production coming off celestial but not bloated. There are minimal, if any, overdubs, and the sophistication of the material is nicely balanced by a genuine “live in the studio” sound. Making great use of the mellotron, acoustic piano, minor key shifts, and Colin Blunstone’s rich, plaintive vocals, this imploding band with nothing to lose ended up making one of the greatest and most influential long players in the annals of English pop. It’s just such a pretty album – and I don’t think a single LP in all of popular music has ever made better use of harmonies.

And what about the songs? “Care of Cell 44”, the first-ever rock song about a man with a girlfriend in prison, boasts harmonies that Queen probably admired - and one of the catchiest melodies ever committed to vinyl! Gorgeous, symphonic stunners like “Changes” and “Maybe After He’s Gone” hint at the album the Beach Boys could have made after Pet Sounds. “Beechwood Park” is picture perfect psych-pop, but with a decidely English bent – way closer to Village Green era Kinks than to anything coming out of San Francisco at the time. With its peppy feel, circular harmonies, cheeky lyrics, and radio-friendly chorus, “Friends of Mine” brings to mind the Paul McCartney side of the Beatles (which I actually prefer – so sue me!). And let’s be real – “Time of the Season” is the business! What kind of crack were CBS’s UK execs smoking to not be won over upon first contact with this magnum opus of psychedelic soul? Legend has it that Blunstone and guitarist/songwriter Rod Argent almost came to blows in an argument over how this song was to be sung. Thank God Argent prevailed!

So today I started driving to work, and a spring miracle occurred. My presumed-dead disc player had, as if by magic, revived itself over the weekend. I pushed the eject button. The error code vanished, and out popped my treasured copy of Odessey and Oracle, which I immediately snatched and returned to the safety of its environmentally unfriendly jewel case. It will live to spin again, countless times, to my listening delight. So fuck Thom Yorke – Kid A still sucks!

-Josh Rutledge

Monday, March 8, 2010

Lemonheads - It's A Shame About Ray (Atlantic, 1992)

The other night, I went and saw Evan Dando play solo at The Double Door. Before the encore, Nash Kato came out and told the crowd to give it up for one of the best singer/songwriters of our generation. After my 5th $6.50 Stella, I was willing to go the distance with the rest of the crowd on this one, even though I didn’t think Evan realized that he had played a few of his songs twice! I found that quite endearing, knowing that it was Evan, and he had probably been whoopin’ it up with Nash all day!

I remember getting It’s A Shame About Ray a few weeks before my friend Emily and I went and stayed a weekend by ourselves at her cabin on some lake back in Michigan. Although it was not the heavy rock stuff that I was listening to at the time, I absolutely fell in love with this album. The melodies were so amazing! I instantly picked up my acoustic guitar and learned how to play along with IASAR. That whole weekend was spent listening to this album, raiding Emily's parents' liquor cabinet, smoking cigarettes, playing along to the tunes on an old acoustic guitar, and falling off canoes. Such a great weekend!

This is easily one of those albums that you can put on and play from front to back and throw back on and play over again. I know that I do! I honestly can’t say that there is a bad song on IASAR. Alternative pop near-perfection! Evan’s songwriting was right on the mark when he penned this album, with its witty lyrics and simple-yet-catchy melodies. What’s great is that Evan is a simple singer/songwriter who lays out what he has to sing about and puts it to the perfect tune, whether it’s an acoustic ballad or something with a bit more backbone to it.

IASAR starts out with “Rockin’ Stroll.” When I hear this song, I imagine a baby in a stroller singing this tune in his head. If only babies were that awesome and could sing along with Evan...

“Confetti” is the next track, which is my favorite, since, well, it was the easiest that I could play on my guitar way back on that weekend! And I love the lyrics to this one: “He kinda shoulda sorta woulda loved her if he could’ve.” The music behind the lyrics to this one accompanies it just perfectly…complete synchronicity.

The record label had a problem with one of Evan's song titles, so he had to change it to “Buddy” from "My Drug Buddy", as it refers to him and his drug buddy going out to score. But, Mr. Record Executive, it’s such a pretty song! And it’s just some of the same stuff (they) got yesterday. And Evan loves his drug buddy. You definitely hear way worse these days. He was so 1992!

After a few more drug reference numbers, you get to the last two songs on the album that happen to be covers, the first being “Frank Mills” from the musical Hair. Just Evan and his acoustic. It's such a beautiful version! To me, it really shows his emotional vocal range. “Tell him Angela and I don’t want the two dollars back/Just him.”

Being a longtime artist who finally became popular, I’d be pissed if my big hit were a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson.” It's not a bad take at all. In fact, the Lemonheads do a fantastic job of it! But, come on. The people didn’t recognize their other great works like Lick and Hate Your Friends, but now you get noticed for this track? Yeah, I’d go and develop a crack cocaine habit, too. Well, maybe I wouldn’t go that far.

We fast forward to 2010 and see that Evan is still alive and kicking, playing solo gigs, and is still doing the Lemonheads! He forever has rotating members of great musicians who will always tour with him. Notably, on the last tour, Evan had Karl Alvarez and Bill Stevenson of the Descendents/ALL backing him (I could kick myself for missing that one!). He has settled down and found himself a nice model to marry. This past year saw the release of an all-covers album entitled Varshons with my favorite being GG Allin’s “Layin’ Up With Linda.But that’s for another review.

-Angie Granado-Wehrle

Material Issue- International Pop Overthrow (Mercury, 1991)

Alright, I’m just gonna say it: Material Issue was the best power pop band there’s ever been. Period. End of story. Done. You doubting me, son? Tell me who was better! Shoes? Nah…they were all pop, no power. Cheap Trick? A greater band overall, sure, but not really power pop. Ditto for Big Star. Raspberries? Even their best albums were half filler! 20/20? The Beat? They probably had better debut albums, but after that…not so much. If we go by the textbook definition of power pop, as per All Music Guide (“a cross between the crunching hard rock of the Who and the sweet melodicism of the Beatles and Beach Boys, with the ringing guitars of the Byrds thrown in for good measure”), Chicago’s mighty Ish was not only the genre’s most emblematic band, but also its best.

It wasn’t until its third album, Freak City Soundtrack, that Material Issue captured the hard edge and big rock energy of its live show on record. But for anyone seeking the best introduction to this extraordinary band, International Pop Overthrow remains the mandatory starting point. With the first three songs featuring girls’ names in their titles, and only one of 14 tracks exceeding the four minute mark, the battle plan is clear before you’ve heard a single note. This is classic power pop, and as such it exhibits a perfect simplicity that masks its considerable artistry. Given the familiar melody-driven style and well-worn “songs about girls” motif, it would be all too easy for one to dismiss these songs as formulaic dreck. Some rock critics already have, and as punishment they will face an eternity in a fiery hell, where there are no cute chicks or record shops, and “Party In the U.S.A.” plays 24/7. Sure, it's pop. And no, it didn't overthrow anything. But to sell this album short is to deny the distinct gifts of one of the finest singer/songwriters to ever pick up a guitar, one James Walter Ellison.

With a singing voice so pure and plaintive and unique that it feels like you’re listening to your best friend, Jim Ellison infused these simple pop songs with rare emotional depth and profound insights into the human condition. He was hardly the first man to write pop songs about broken hearts, infatuation, and unrequited love. But I can think of few others, ever, who’ve done it better. His melodies were gorgeous and instantly memorable. His lyrics were touching and truthful and sometimes so unbearably REAL that they could break your heart in ten words or less. And if the pop singer’s greatest task is to summon up all that heartbreak and longing and loss and despair and tortuous relationship woe of a short lifetime and somehow make the listener FEEL it, then Ellison was the king.

Recorded over a two-year period at Short Order Recorder, with Jeff Murphy in the producer’s chair, IPO has the sonic sensibility of a Shoes album. The recording is minimalistic, demo-like, and devoid of the power trio’s live oomph, forcing the songs themselves to the forefront. And what songs they are! Most pop bands would kill to boast a career best-of with as many “hits” as this humble debut. The college radio staple “Valerie Loves Me”, a jangly slice of melancholy as haunting as it is hummable, isn’t even the best track! “Li’l Christine” and “Out Right Now” would have been pop radio smashes if pop radio actually played radio pop. “Very First Lie” starts off like standard ballad fare, then surprises, musically and lyrically, in all the best ways. Listen to “Diane” once, and it’ll be stuck in your head all day.

Material Issue would follow with Destination Universe, a brighter and equally hit-packed gem of an album. And Freak City Soundtrack, with its glammy arena feel, rocks it up without abandoning the plot. But IPO is Ellison’s master work, its tales of love and longing as beautifully rendered as a film or a collection of short stories. Even the funniest lines (“You're only breaking my heart/But that's the very best part” or “And I'd write this down if I only had a pen/And I'd skip the lonely part”) come from a sad place in the aching heart. The painful truth about “Valerie Loves Me” is that she doesn’t love him, and never will, and our protagonist’s only consolation probes the darkest realms of the adolescent heart:

Valerie's lonely in an apartment down the street you know/
And her hair has turned so grey/
But she's so happy, for the memories she has you know/
She can believe in the day when love was on a string/
And she could have that anything she ever wanted/
But she can't have me

And leave it to a soul as wounded as Ellison to catch you off-guard with a sudden, unexpected turn that nails the flawed essence of boy-girl relations:

I'd like to wake up with you early in the morning/
Or stay up late just playin' records on your phonograph/
I'd like to get to know your mother and your father/
Maybe just once pretend to be somebody's better half/
And I would like to tell the very first lie

Considering that Jim Ellison took his own life a mere five years after the release of International Pop Overthrow, there’s the temptation to hear him as a specter, eerily pining away from the great beyond. But there’s nothing spooky about any of the band’s recordings. Ellison sought out to make fun, enjoyable music, and that’s exactly what he did. If IPO is anything, it’s warm, reassuring - its songs reminding all of us who’ve suffered from love’s great agonies that someone out there felt our pain and managed to articulate it so beautifully. Laden with melodies that will never leave our brains and harmonies that could have fallen from the heavens, this is one of those albums that everyone ought to own.

-Josh Rutledge

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Danko Jones - I'm Alive And On Fire (Bad Taste, 2001)

I must say if I were a man (and not just any rock-n-roll man), I would want to be Danko Jones. A bad-ass, balls-out, fuck-your-girlfriend-in-your-own-car rock-n-roller! I am jealous of this man, as early in his career, he had the same credo as I believed in when it came to playing: all touring, no recording (I hate to record. Ask my past bands!). Luckily, this man blessed us with not only countless tours, but also multiple amazing albums that made it so hard to nail down just which one to write about when they all bleed sex, confidence, and above all, rock-n-roll…The Mango Kid style!

I’m Alive And On Fire, Danko’s second full-length release in 2001, offers a collection of singles released from 1996-1999. So the best thing about this album is that you can’t clump it together and talk about it as a whole, as all of the tracks just stand out on their own.

It carries, most notably, a track from the first EP entitled “Sugar Chocolate” that as soon as I heard it, I was in LOVE!!! Pure and simple, this is WHITE-HOT!!!

Now if you want some chocolate with your sugar/

Some cream with your coffee/

Some butter with your scotch/

You can call it cocoa butter/

Or you can call it white chocolate/

But, baby, I just call it delicious

For being a three-piece outfit, Danko and Co. push the rock ticket further than most arena rock bands these days. And to see them live puts their recordings to shame! Eight-track studio recordings can only capture so much power that this band has over a crowd. Danko gets on stage, and it’s the best rock show you’ve never seen! Girls are screaming his name, and guys are wishing they had the rock power that he has! It makes me think of what a KISS show at Cobo Hall back in the day would've been like.

A personal favorite of mine off this album is “Cadillac.” Simple drum beat with a guitar riff reminiscent of AC/DC…to the point and no frills (This is why AC/DC are GREAT!!!). And the words Danko offers to you, ”I keep the backseat for lovin’/I like to drive up front/And then we're makin’ out/I keep your boy in the trunk." Of course at this point, he is licking the neck of his guitar…OW!!!

Anyone who doesn’t know who Danko Jones is or own any of his albums needs to get up right now and go to your local record store and buy anything from him! Borrow it from a friend, download from iTunes, or however you kids get music these days! I personally guarantee that you will dig what you hear. If not, come find me, and I’ll convince you face to face that you’re crazy and you know nothing of true rock-n-roll! This is the best export that Canada has sent us in quite some time…besides hockey players. Just remember, as Danko says, “You can call me The Mango Kid, but your girl calls me 'baby' ”.

-Angie Granado-Wehrle