Thursday, March 31, 2011 | Weasel Fest canceled | Weasel Fest canceled

I can't really say that I'm surprised. At least I wasn't planning on going even before all that stuff went down though.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011 | Descendents confirmed for Riot Fest | Descendents confirmed for Riot Fest

It's times like these I wish I had a job or lived in Chicago or knew people who lived in Chicago.

Green Day - American Idiot

Writing about the pre- and post-American Idiot eras of Green Day in the previous post got me thinking about how people view Green Day these days... all the cries of "sellout" and statements of "only liking their older stuff" that generally accompany the mere mention of their name.

I should say this now. I am a Green Day fanboy, without a doubt. They were the first real band that I got into, before them it was all select tracks from the NOW That's What I Call Music comps and various soundtracks. So even if I don't necessarily like every single song they've ever written, I am usually quick to jump to their defense.

While Dookie is usually the "go-to" album for people to say is their favorite Green Day album, I have to admit that Insomniac is probably my all-time favorite. It's just so dark and heavy and the lyrics are very pessimistic... there's just something I really love about it.

Anyway, back to American Idiot. I really enjoy that album. I'm not trying to change anyone's mind or convince them to like it- I know the sound isn't for everyone. That said, it kind of bugs me when people accuse Green Day of "changing their sound" when that album came out. Yes, obviously they did change their sound, but it makes me wonder if these people ever even listened to any other Green Day albums. As I already mentioned, Insomniac was much heavier than Dookie, but generally it was a very similar style of song writing. But what about nimrod? It starts off Green Day-esque enough with Nice Guys Finish Last, but before the album is over you've got a surf instrumental (Last Ride In), harmonica ballad (Walking Alone), quasi-hardcore (Take Back), goofy ska (King for a Day) and the ever-famous acoustic break up song (Good Riddance).  I know some of these songs are associated with "old Green Day" but they're hardly the same sound that they rose to prominence with.

And then there was Warning. That album was pretty much an ode to the Kinks (and a bit of later-day Replacements).

So why was American Idiot singled out for "changing their sound"? Probably due to the mainstream attention. That's generally when and why people hate music. I personally dislike the lack of a distinct bassline on the album (popular examples include Longview and Welcome to Paradise, or live cuts of Minority and King for a Day  but even on lesser known examples like Panic Song or Armatage Shanks have some strong bass parts), but once again, I don't really hate American Idiot.

It was Green Day's "political album" and they were all jumping on the anti-Bush bandwagon. Yes, they definitely were more active in talking anti-Bush policies during their live show, but I wouldn't really go as far as to call it a "political album."  The title track could be seen as critical of the country, and maybe Holiday, but the other 11 tracks are pretty neutral because, you know, it's a rock opera (as evidenced by the musical). The story is pretty typical, kid is fed up with his lifestyle, moves out to the city, gets hooked on drugs, finds a girl, makes a mess of his new lifestyle, goes back home. If anything, the biggest problem with American Idiot is the fact that it can't really be listened to in any order other than the sequencing present on the album because the story is so heavily prevalent in the lyrics.

Oh, you know what else is kind of a problem about American Idiot? A bunch of the tracks (minus the slower tunes) sound a whole lot like Dillinger Four. Not just American Idiot the song (which, at this point everyone should know is really D4's Doublewhiskeycokenoice) but a bunch of the songs use similar riffing and distortion. Remember when Dillinger Four released that split with Pinhead Gunpowder? It could just be a coincidence, but probably not. I don't think it's too far fetched to think that maybe D4 had a big influence on almost every song on the album.

Except She's a Rebel. That one is all Jawbreaker.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Top 5 Pop Punk Albums

Feeling inspired to write something, but inspired enough to write anything original. So I made a list of my five favorite pop punk albums.

One thing to note before I get started. "Pop punk" is kind of difficult to define because it's used so broadly. I generally use it as a term of describe the waves of bands that were on Lookout! Records in the late 80's and early 90's and aped the Ramones at every chance. Just clearing that up so there's really no surprise at to what's on this list (and if you know anything about that sound, you can probably already guess a majority of the albums I'm about to mention).

Without further ado, here we go

#5. The Ergs! - dorkrockcorkrod

Duh? The Ergs! took the pop punk formula- mostly the Descendents route, writing songs about nerdy things and girls- and mixed it up with fantastic musicianship. Dorkrock kept it simple while also being complex (at least by the genre's standards), writing songs with only three or four chords and catchy hooks.  Only two out of sixteen tracks surpass the 3 minute mark and that's just because one of them contains a hidden track. If there is any reason why pop punk is still alive and kicking today, there is a good chance that it is because of this album.  Unfortunately, the Ergs! split up not too long ago, but the members are still out there making music (namely drummer/vocalist Mikey Erg who is currently playing in The Slow Death, Star Fucking Hipsters, Psyched to Die and House Boat amongst others) so it is not like they just vanished off the Earth forever.

Some Tunes for the Interested:
A Very Pretty Song for a Very Special Young Lady Part 2
Pray for Rain
Rod Argent

# 4. The Queers - Love Songs for the Retarded

Who doesn't know the Queers by now? Sure, this was after they lost Wimpy on vocals and started going toward a more Beach Boys oriented direction (and then continued to make albums that aren't exactly distinguishable from one another), but Love Songs for the Retarded is most definitely a pop punk masterpiece.  Lyrically, the Queers take a mostly humorous approach as evidenced by most songs (and some titles like "Ursula Finally Has Tits" and "I Can't Stop Farting"), and they don't necessarily break new ground (girls, teen angst, insulting hippies, bowel problems) but sometimes the best albums aren't the ones that venture into new territory, but the ones that explore previous themes that just sound good together ("Fuck the World" is also one of my favorite love songs, for the retarded or otherwise).

Some Tunes for the Interested:
Ursula Finally Has Tits
Fuck the World (sometimes known as "Fuck This World")
Granola Head

#3. The Lillingtons - Death By Television

The Lillingtons are highly praised by people who know them and are criminally underrated by everyone else. That's not 100% true, but I think it's close enough that it could be. In terms of sound, the Lillingtons definitely rip off the Ramones the most out of any band on this list, but I mean that in the best way possible because it's still a well crafted disc. What makes this album so fun is the lyrical aspect, it's based entirely around 1950's Sci Fi B-movie themes. It's also really easy to sing along to pretty much all the songs (although I'll admit, most pop punk is easy to sing with, it's a staple of the genre). And if that is not enough, Fat Mike also called this the greatest pop punk album ever. So yeah, there's some credibility(?) for ya if my praise wasn't enough.

Some Tunes for the Interested:
Black Hole in My Mind
X-Ray Specs
Phantom Maggot

#2. Green Day - 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours
The one album that kind of deviates a bit from the typical sound. A few things to note:

1. Yes. An "old Green Day" album, I know- "how typical."
2. An "old Green Day" album that isn't Dookie?
3. I know this isn't technically an "album" but a "compilation."

My responses:
1. I've been a huge Green Day fan since International Superhits. That was only in 2001 so it wasn't that long ago, but it does mean that I've liked "old Green Day" before there was any distinction between pre- and post-American Idiot.
2. Dookie is a fantastic album, but not my favorite.
3. 1039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours is marketed as an album in most cases, hence its inclusion (although the best songs are the ones from the Slappy EP).

Also, I'm stoked that some of these songs made it on to the Awesome as Fuck tracklisting.

Some Tunes for the Interested:
Road to Pasalaqua
Paper Lanterns
409 in Your Coffeemaker

#1. Screeching Weasel - My Brain Hurts

Screeching Weasel used to be at the top of the pop punk game. I won't go into what's happening with them currently (I think I said enough in my previous entry), but in the early 90's they were the best of the best. Musically, and like everyone else in the genre, they took a lot of cues from the Ramones with lead guitarist John Jughead creating some great, bouncy lead lines to make it distinguishable, but lyrically it all came from the mind of Ben Weasel.  There's a lot going on in his head that not many seem to understand and it might have led to some questionable career moves as of late, but when he puts it all into a song it comes out really well.  There's a lot of ground covered on this album; abusive relationships ("Making You Cry," "Veronica Hates Me"), the futility of kicking addictions ("Cindy's On Methadone"), the questioning of faith ("The Science of Myth), growing up and giving in ("What We Hate"), girls ("I Want to Be With You Tonight"), insults ("Fathead") and general confusion and frustration with the world (the titular "My Brain Hurts"). Oh yeah, and a cover of "I Can See Clearly Now."  No matter what the band members themselves are up to, I don't think there's anything that can make me not love this album.

Some Tunes for the Interested:
Cindy's on Methadone
The Science of Myth
My Brain Hurts

And yeah. That's that. I hope that was fun to read (and listen to).

Saturday, March 26, 2011

And We Become What We Hate.

I feel like I should wait to write a post about Screeching Weasel, considering what's going on with the band but at the same time I feel like this is the perfect time to write about them. If you don't know what's going on, you could either do a quick Google search on "Ben Weasel SXSW" or just keep reading. But first, a few things out of the way:

I love pop punk and I love Screeching Weasel. It's not a ground breaking genre and SW sure as hell doesn't break into any new territory at all, but it's just something about the sound that's very basic and simple, which is why I love it. I also really enjoy the contrast between the music (which is often full of bouncy melodies and quick power chords) and the lyrics (which have a tendency to be very negative and hateful, especially in the case of Screeching Weasel). I know it's not everyone's cup of tea, but I'm a huge fan of both the genre and the band. In fact, the band's third album, My Brain Hurts, is one of my favorite albums of all time.

That said, frontman Ben Weasel is kind of a jerk. And by "kind of" one, I mean he is one. It's no secret and everyone knows it. He more or less talks shit for a living, but just because the band leader isn't very likable doesn't mean that the music is less enjoyable. So even though I might not enjoy meeting him in person, I'd still probably be able to put on a SW album and enjoy it.

Now, to the big stuff. Last week a reformed Screeching Weasel (given that mainstay lead guitarist John Jughead is not a part of this line up, some people doubt its authenticity as Screeching Weasel, but I'll overlook that part for now) played at SXSW. During the set, Ben began trading some choice words with an audience member after having beer thrown at him. Mere moments later, ice was also thrown at him, which got him to taunt the person to come closer to the stage threatening a punch to the face. After being spit on, Ben got off the stage and actually punched the person in the face. Acting quickly, one of the [alleged] club owners grabbed Ben from behind to stop the violence, which lead him to turn around and throw some more punches until finally the bouncers pulled everything apart. Did I mention that both the audience member and the [alleged] club owner were both women? Because every news story about the situation likes to stress that part.

I'm not going to defend what Ben Weasel did, because what he did was much too extreme, but I also think that the story is never presented very fairly either. I know it's frustrating to be heckled and have shit thrown at you and I sure wouldn't like it either but there are so many better ways to deal with such a situation. He was already throwing out insults, which probably made it worse but the security was there for a reason and if she was throwing ice at his face, they could've stepped in. Screeching Weasel also has a number of angry and insulting songs  (to name a few, "I'm Going to Strangle You," "Fathead," and "I Don't Wanna Be Friends" amongst others) that they could've played and dedicated to the heckler. All better solutions than to punch another human being in the face.

That said, I do not think that Ben Weasel is 100% at fault. Yes, it was his actions that crossed the line and I get that, but no news story I've read on it (as of right now) has mentioned that the female audience member was being incredibly rude. Did she deserve a punch in the face? No, of course not, but she probably deserved a visit from the bouncers to tell her to stop throwing things at the least. And speaking of the bouncers, what about them? Ben Weasel outright said "I'm going to punch you in the face." and they didn't do a single thing until after he had already acted. If they aren't going to stop a fight when someone says that, then what the hell are they doing in the first place?

About the [alleged] club owner. I believe that she was the only true victim in this whole thing. She was just trying to stop a fight and, in the process, got punched a couple of times. I haven't heard much of a follow up on what happened to her (or the audience member), but I hope (and I'm pretty sure) that she's doing much better now.

One thing that really bugs me about the whole situation though is how everyone is trying to paint a picture of Ben Weasel as a woman beater. I know that a lot of people will disagree with me on this, but some people have said that it's worse that he hit two women as opposed to if he had hit two men. I find that to be an incredibly sexist statement because it puts men and women on two completely different levels. What he did was wrong because he, a [somewhat] public figure lashed out physically at someone. I don't believe that in a case like this, gender really made a difference. Yet people are still treating him like Chris Brown (who is doing unbelievably well for a celebrity known for beating his ex-girlfriend almost more than for his music, what the fuck America?).

When Ben publicly released an apology, there were cries of it being insincere. Genuine emotion is a difficult thing to express via text, I understand, but this isn't the first time that Ben has made an apology online (I do believe that he also made one after insulting the Max Levine Ensemble and they released a 7" as retaliation). Does the apology make his actions right? No, I don't think they do, but I do think that it means he acknowledged that he overreacted and is going to work on his attitude. Given that every member of Screeching Weasel also quit, I do believe that he is going to do a lot of self evaluation and I don't even know if he'll continue performing music after this. I suppose that remains to be seen, but if the past week is any indication I think it will be awhile before anyone wants to perform with Ben, as Screeching Weasel or otherwise.

I know I've had my own personal history of violent encounters. But that's also why I can kind of relate to Ben's case in that it is hard to think clear in the moment. I think that he had plenty of viable options, just like I did in my own situations, and he just happened to choose the absolute worst one. That audience member, however, was also being completely irresponsible and for next year SXSW really may want to work on who they hire as security (the guards might not have been able to prevent the riot that happened during DFA1979's reunion set, but stopping a single person after announcing he is going to punch someone should be a job that they could have accomplished).

Anyway, that's my two cents. I just felt like I needed to get some sort of say on the subject because I don't really have anyone to talk to about it in person.

Friday, March 25, 2011

We Are the Proud, the Few, Descendents

For my first post, I thought it'd be appropriate to write about the Descendents. Their song "Cheer" is one of my favorite songs and even went as far as to name my blog after some of the lyrics from that song.

A lot of people like the Descendents, so saying that they're one of my favorite bands might not mean much to anyone who randomly finds their way upon this blog, but they do really mean a lot to me. I started listening to them sometime between my junior and senior years of high school... I don't really remember much, but I do remember listening to the Fat EP and Milo Goes to College and finding it amazing. If you've ever read anything about the band, then you already know how instead of singing about hating politicians and various foreign affairs, they chose to sing about girls and parents and even fishing, so I won't go into that too much.  Every band member (throughout their career they've had several guitarists and bassists) is also a very skilled musician; something that is not necessarily a requirement to be in a punk band (I would know- I'm pretty bad).

Anyway, what really draws me to the Descendents is their ability to easily transition between hard-hitting, aggressive songs to tunes that are much more melodic in both vocal and instrumental performance. Lyrical content is also something that I can more easily relate to because I know a lot more about feeling rejected by the opposite sex than I do about what it was like to live during Reagan's presidency. I know that they almost single-handedly influenced wave upon wave of terrible sounding pop punk bands, but that doesn't make their music any worse.

I feel like I should also acknowledge ALL in this post. When the Descendents split up a second time due to Milo going to back to school (I believe that was the case anyway, I do know he ended up getting a doctorate in biochemistry), they decided to reform with a new singer under a new name. Thus, the band ALL (named after the fourth Descendents album) was born. ALL and the Descendents are pretty similar in sound (for obvious reasons) and while ALL is a great band, I still find myself preferring the Descendents over them. Anyway, maybe I'll do a post on ALL in the future, but I just wanted to get that out there now.

I always have it in my head that I can write about my favorite bands in a way that will make people want to check them out, but I'm so self critical that once I write something that it sounds terrible. So I'm also going to make a list of my ten favorite songs and link them to YouTube videos in order to give a much better idea of what they sound like:

(it's hard to narrow it down to ten, so I approximated)

10. I Like Food - Fat EP - 1981
This 17 second rush was one of my first introductions to the band, and even though I think they have much better songs I still think it's a classic. This is what the Descendents were about: fast songs with silly subjects. This is only part of the beginning though, they got much better than this.

09. Bikeage - Milo Goes to College - 1982
This is still one of their earlier songs, but it's a nice reflection of how the band members weren't afraid to go a catchier route than their peers. Even the lyrics show that there's more to this band that going fishing and being rejected by the cool kids.

08. Christmas Vacation - I Don't Want to Grow Up - 1985
I think it was when I heard this song that I began to really enjoy a lot of the band's post-Milo Goes to College work. It shows a more "mature" (I hate using that word to describe music) side of the Descendents' songwriting, showing off a much more melodic sound and introspective lyrics. 

07. Thank You - Everything Sucks - 1995
I don't actually know who this song is about, but I'm sure as hell that every single Descendents fan feels this way about them.

06. M-16 - Milo Goes to College - 1981
Here's another sonic attack. I really love how frantic it gets while still resembling a conventional song rather than some sort of noise art.

05. MyAge - Milo Goes to College - 1981
The first track on the seminal Milo Goes to College. It sets the tone for pretty much the entire record and the only slow parts are the seconds in between each track. Also, listen to that drumming. Bill Stevenson is one of the best (punk) drummers out there.

04. Nothing With You - Cool to Be You - 2004
This is one of my favorite love songs. It also describes some of my favorite things to do ever. The title makes it sound like kind of a nihilistic tune, but it's actually a really sweet song. (also, sorry that it's a fan-made video... but I guess it helps illustrate the point of the song)

03. Cheer - Enjoy! - 1986
Enjoy! is kind of a weird album. It's got some great tracks, but it's also made up of tracks in which the band members just take turns farting into a microphone. Cheer is, in my opinion, one of the best songs the band has ever written. It's got a solid rhythm, sing-along chorus, and lyrics that (errr...) cheer me up. It isn't the happiest song they've written, but it's a good one to listen to when I need to be taken out of a bad mood because it shines some hope out there that someone can come along and make things better.

02. Silly Girl - I Don't Want to Grow Up - 1985
By far their best song about a girl. I don't think I know a Descendents fan alive who wouldn't put this on a mixtape/CD/playlist for a girl they fancied.

01. I'm Not a Loser - Milo Goes to College - 1981
I know I just praised Cheer and Silly Girl a whole lot for being some of the band's best songs, but this one is at the top of the teen angst list.

There are a lot of songs that I left off this list, but if I had included them all it would've just been way too long. If you liked any of these songs, I would recommend finding a way of getting yourself a copy of Somery, which acts sort of a "best-of" from their first four albums (Milo Goes to College, I Don't Want to Grow Up, Enjoy! and 1987's ALL, which did not get any representation on this list and I feel badly about). You also can't go wrong with just getting Milo Goes to College or I Don't Want to Grow Up. Or just get them all, there's only six (plus 3 live albums).

They've gone on a number of hiatuses, but as of this writing they are currently playing shows sporadically and one can only hope that they decide to play a couple of East Coast shows so I can go and see them.