Monday, October 31, 2011

Screeching Weasel - First World Manifesto

Well if this album isn't just a punch to the face after you've just thrown some ice at the band!

Okay, I've gotten my bad joke out of the way.

I think I've made it clear how much I like Screeching Weasel circa 1988-1994. Outside of that short era, I don't really care much for them. I guess Television City Dream was an okay album, but overall their Fat Wreck albums just sound too produced with Ben's vocals getting incredibly whiny sounding in direct contrast to his usual flat style of singing a la Fat Mike. The songwriting supposedly got more "introspective" but I don't think that it was really a step up or a step down from songs like "The Science of Myth."

First World Manifesto continues in the style of those latter day Screeching Weasel albums, although there is also some clear influence from Ben Weasel and Danny Vapid's time as the Riverdales- which is to say that it sounds exactly like the Ramones if they had fronted the band instead of Joey. It's nothing awful per se (although I've seen some choice words about the band ever since Weasel's SXSW incident), but it's nothing really inspiring either. Musically the band hasn't really changed despite their time apart and the lack of lead guitarist John Jughead, so if you've listened to a Screeching Weasel album that came out between 1996 and 2000 then you know what it sounds like. It's cool that they're sticking to what they know but there isn't even a weird out-of-place experimental track to show some sort of progression.

The most interesting thing about First World Manifesto is the lyrical matter. There's the standard fare like songs about girls (Creepy Crawl, Three Lonely Days) and songs about insecurities (Totem Pole, Bite Marks) but unlike other Screeching Weasel albums, First World Manifesto was released in a day and age where Internet shit-talking is the norm- and Ben Weasel has had his fair share of dishing out and taking Internet criticisms through the past few years. And now some of his responses have taken musical form. The opening track, Follow Your Leaders, is a vicious attack on modern punk rock which had tendencies to lean toward the political left and hold several day-long festivals- two things, among others, that Ben clearly has a problem with as evidenced from the lyrics (and yet the band still agreed to play at SXSW).

The admirable thing about Ben Weasel is that he knows that people hate his holier-than-thou attitude, and by extension hate him too, but he doesn't let it up. In some ways, it's kind of obnoxious and I think that's how most people see it. But like I said, it's also kind of admirable that he knows that people call him an asshole and he acknowledges their insults but then still continues to be an asshole. The biggest problem is that I'm not sure if Weasel realizes that he's doing it. If he does, then tracks like the album's closer, Little Big Man, are kind of funny and satirical- poking fun at himself as well as the people who talk shit about him. Specifically the line "But if you cross me then I'll shake my fist/and tell the internet about it/I'm a big man"- Weasel could very well be talking about himself. However, given his attitude concerning recent events, I do not think that it is the case and he truly believes that he's a victim of some snot-nosed kid in a dark basement. When looked at from that perspective, it only makes the song better because it adds a whole level of irony that's lost on the songwriter himself.
I do enjoy the simplicity of the cover a lot.

If Ben ever reads this, I'm sure to be the subject of a song on his next album. I think that would be kind of cool though, so I'm not going to complain.

Shakira Featuring Danzig "Hips Don't Lie" - YouTube

Shakira Featuring Danzig "Hips Don't Lie" - YouTube:

I've watched this at least 15 times tonight since getting home from work. It might be my favorite YouTube video.

I'm going to have to convince the next band I'm in to cover this.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

25 Albums. #01: International Superhits! by Green Day

Oh hey, it's another Green Day album.

This is a singles collection, yes, but this is the album that got me started on the musical path that I took. Like all the kids in the 90's before me, if it weren't for Green Day, I wouldn't have ever heard of the Clash or Ramones and then I wouldn't have become interested in checking out punk rock from the 80's and so forth.

Before this album, it was all soundtracks and NOW! compilations, with the occasional album by a one-hit wonder bought solely for that one single. And "Weird Al" Yankovich. Lots of "Weird Al" Yankovich.

Then I got this album one year for Christmas and it all changed. The funny thing is, I didn't even ask for it- I had wanted Sum 41's All Killer, No Filler (I also got that album). But needless to say, I received it as a gift and it literally didn't leave my discman for the rest of the school year (except for when I wanted to play it on my mini-boombox). I learned the words to every song and then the summer in between middle and high school was spent doing nothing but pretty much listening to Green Day as I had then bought copies of every one of their albums for myself and learned all the words to almost all of those songs too. Then I got sick of all those songs from overexposure and stopped listening to Green Day for awhile until American Idiot came out, which the entire world then got sick of from overexposure.

But I digress. I believe that I can safely say that without International Superhits!, I would be a very different person right now. Thanks Green Day.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

25 Albums. #02: Complete Discography by Minor Threat

The "big 3" of 80's hardcore are Bad Brains, Black Flag and Minor Threat. There's just no way around it- these three bands changed it for everyone.

Of those three, Minor Threat is the only one that I really listened to in high school. It wasn't the whole straight edge thing, although it was definitely appealing because all of the people I was meeting at that time in my life were experimenting with various substances and none of them made it seem very glamorous. I also really liked their message of music for everyone- I obviously wasn't able to ever see them live but they helped spread the idea of more widespread all ages shows so kids wouldn't have to miss out on seeing their favorite bands.

Their messages were cool and all, but what I liked about Minor Threat was that they played it harder and faster than anyone else. And for a hardcore band their production values were out of this world. Even when compared to some modern hardcore bands, Minor Threat's songs still sound better. You can argue for days on end whether The Germs' "Forming/Sex Boy" was a better single and more influential on punk rock but there's no way around the fact that Minor Threat's sonic approach was untouchable.

Minor Threat was one of the first real hardcore bands that I listened to. I may be more into that gruff orgcore sound these days, but Minor Threat will always hold a special place in my heart.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

blink-182 - Neighborhoods

It's finally here. 8 years after their previous album and 2 years after their reformation, blink-182 has released their newest full length, Neighborhoods. I think that it's a pretty big deal, seeing as how blink-182 is arguably one of the biggest bands out there right now (regardless of what people may think of talent- I'm talking numbers and whatnot) so a comeback album is bound to sell extremely well, unlike a certain other comeback album released this year (seriously, did you even know that there was a new Limp Bizkit album out?)

So that's all and well but how does it sound? I personally think it is impossible for anyone to review this album without mentioning Angels & Airwaves at least once. Not that Neighborhoods particularly sounds like it should have been released as an Angels & Airwaves album (although some will inevitably argue that it does) but it’s obvious that people are going to draw these conclusions when the world they have been living in has only had the spacey rock band for their Tom DeLonge fix. 

I'll try my damnedest to get the AVA comparisons out of the way first.

Neighborhoods begins with Ghost on the Dancefloor, its synth and drum intro creates an airy atmosphere that is bound to rack up the Angels & Airwaves comparisons (namedropping The Cure here is also acceptable), and hearing Tom take lead vocals will only boost those claims. As the song progresses it sounds less and less like AVA and more like something the band has never done before. It is a nice showcase of what is to come on the rest of the album: the band is taking what they know and moving forward with it. 

At this point everyone has heard Up All Night, with its Box Car Racer-esque riffing, its call-and-response verses between Mark and Tom and its “Tom-with-reverb-turned-to-11” chorus, which does slightly recall AVA but at the same time it also channels previous blink-182 songs such as Always. Second single, After Midnight, is probably the most AVA-esque track despite that Mark gets to take the lead during the chorus. Of the two guitar tracks on the song, one is light and airy while the other one has a much more distorted sound- a staple of AVA songs. The opening drums may be a little more technical and as I said, Mark gets to sing the chorus but it all follows a very similar vocal pattern and song structure to some of the catchier songs found on We Don’t Need to Whisper.

Snake Charmer is where it gets weird. A bonus track, thrown into the middle of the album, with heavy guitars, a bouncy sing-along chorus and lyrics that feature metaphors of biblical proportions. It’s probably one of the strongest tracks on the whole album- while plenty of the songs on this album showcase that the band is moving in a new direction, Snake Charmer manages to do it without having to rely on sounding like something they’ve done before.

Neighborhoods has more to offer than just taking cues from AVA and throwing in Mark and Travis for good measure. Natives is drawing many comparisons to the blink-182 classic, M+M's. I think that's hardly a good comparison to make; the lead guitar may sound kind of similar but there's no real relation past that. Natives is one of the faster, more straightforward rock numbers and features some of the best lyrics the band has ever written- "We'll have the time of our lives although we're dying inside" (perhaps a signal that things aren't as all patched up as the band claims? Or, since Mark sings the chorus, maybe it was written for the second +44 album that never came to be).

Heart’s All Gone, the first real “Mark” song on the album, is another fast one, recalling +44 songs such as When Your Heart Stops Beating and Lycanthrope. It sounds kind of like Bad Religion without all the vocal harmonies. More interesting, at least in terms of discussion, is the deluxe edition-only Heart’s All Gone Interlude, which is the second interlude that the band has featured on an album- the first being The Fallen Interlude from the band’s 2003 untitled release (in case you forgot). Whereas that song was its own entity, Heart’s All Gone Interlude is very specifically meant to be listened to in conjunction with Heart’s All Gone and it doesn't really stand as its own track. However, unlike The Fallen Interlude, it doesn’t sound out-of-place on the album- it’s a tad more mellow than the other songs up to that point, but it doesn’t completely switch genres completely to bridge the gap between the album’s first and second halves. Yet, since it does lead directly into Heart’s All Gone, it makes me wonder why it wasn’t just included in the pre-gap of its parent song. It certainly would make a less awkward transition when skipping around one’s music library on shuffle.

The second half of the album is where the band shows more ties to their previous material. Wishing Well and This Is Home are the catchiest songs on Neighborhoods. If the band were to try to record an Enema of the State: Part 2 at this point in their career, the songs would sound like this. They don’t actually sound like it would have fit on Enema of the State, but the playfulness of the two songs show that the band isn’t all about being grown up and showing maturity (in particular, the lyrics to Wishing Well are kind of nonsensical: “I reached for a shooting star/it burned a hole through my hand/and made its way through my heart/had fun in the promised land” but in spite of that it’s still a fun song and everything about it definitely screams “hit single”). This Is Home features a prominent synth and an infectious, stuttering chorus. It’s nice to hear Tom singing lighthearted songs once again.

And if the two aforementioned tracks are what the band would sound like if they recorded a sequel album to Enema, then Kaleidoscope and MH 4.18.2011 would both be at home on Take Off Your Pants and Jacket: Part 2. Kaleidoscope is another “Mark song” turned “Mark and Tom song” which features Roger Joseph Manning Jr. on the piano, while MH 4.18.2011 has the distinct pleasure of being a pure Mark Hoppus tune. The former re-lives the more somber tunes from Take Off Your Pants but manages to avoid being as sappy as songs like Story of a Lonely Guy, while the latter song uses the familiar energy to try a hand at writing songs about living in fear. Interestingly enough, both songs have lyrics that could be interpreted as a metaphor for the band getting back together. That’s just speculation, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who noticed it.

Love Is Dangerous fits the stereotypical “last song on the album” structure so well that there’s no way that it was recorded without knowing that it would end the album. Not that it’s a bad song or anything, but it doesn’t exactly reach the same level of “album closure” that other album closers reach. It’s not an awful or cringe-worthy track, but there’s nothing really special about it and it’s much less interesting than most of the other songs.

Deluxe edition track, Fighting the Gravity, harkens back to the slower, more grinding +44 songs such as Weatherman. In fact, I think this song could be a sequel to Weatherman. That’s how much it reminds me of that song. Lyrically it’s one of the darkest songs the trio has ever written and its slow instrumentals complement the lyrics in creating a moody atmosphere. A very direct contrast to what the band is usually known for.

Usually bonus tracks and B-sides can be alright, but they’re left of the final version of the product because there’s just something about them that makes them subpar to the songs that are on the album. But sometimes the songs that get cut out from the standard editions wind up being better than songs that did make it. Even If She Falls is one of those songs. While some tracks on Neighborhoods take some cues from the band’s back catalogue, Even If She Falls is a classic blink-182 song. Just listen and you’ll understand.

Was it worth the wait? To some, without a doubt. To others, not at all. The haters will continue to hate (I hardly think that blink-182 wrote this album with pleasing their dissenters in mind anyway) and the new sounds will turn off some old fans, but I think they did a fine job of taking bits and pieces of their previous efforts and combining them with the sounds of their side projects and running forward with the result. Sure, maybe some will complain that there are too many “Tom songs” and others might say that the production sounds sloppy (it doesn’t really, Jerry Finn may have passed on (RIP) but Mark has produced a fair number of albums at this point and it sounds like he knows what he’s doing). There is a very obvious influence of Tom DeLonge's other project that can be heard on a number of songs and there are also hints of +44 and just a touch of Travis Barker's solo ventures into hip hop, however after a few listens it feels very much like a blink-182 album. And that’s exactly what it is.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

25 Albums. #03: Dear You by Jawbreaker

Today's standard punk rocker loves Jawbreaker. They're held in such high esteem that you're more likely to be considered a poser if you don't like Blake Schwarzenbach. Punks love them so much that most are willing to overlook that Dear You was released on a major label. Okay, so some people don't like Dear You, but that's usually because of the stylistic shift as opposed to the label shift.

I bought Dear You on a whim one day in high school. I was waiting for my then-girlfriend to finish her last class of the day and I was browsing the nearby Best Buy for a gift for her (probably for an anniversary or her birthday or something, I don't really remember). I knew she liked the Offspring but didn't have anything by them, so I got her a copy of Smash and on my way to the register I saw Dear You on a shelf. Not knowing anything about Jawbreaker other than their name, I picked it up and decided to check it out.

I'm not going to say that it completely changed my life nor will I say that it made me become a better person but it didn't leave my CD player for months, so that has to count for something. I was at the end of my high school years, I had become distant from my group of friends, my new friends all still had a year or two left of high school, things with the lady didn't work out... I had a lot to be angsty about. And listening to this album made it all seem a little less difficult to deal with. I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels this way about Dear You (although I'm sure some people are wondering why I didn't start with Bivouac or 24 Hour Revenge Therapy and to that I say: that copy of Dear You that I bought was the only Jawbreaker album they had).

Saturday, October 1, 2011

25 Albums. #04: My Brain Hurts by Screeching Weasel

I wrote about this album a few months back when it appeared as my number 1 pop punk album of all time (that list can be read here). Looking back on it, I feel that what I wrote about it on that list still holds true to this day, just as it has for the past however many years it's been since I first started listening to Screeching Weasel. This album is what really sparked my interest in learning more about the entire pop punk scene (whereas before I was content with just the radio charting acts).

Screeching Weasel has had more of a direct influence on modern pop punk than people give them credit for. Seriously. Go listen to this album and then listen to the first 3 blink-182 albums. If you say that you don't hear even the slightest bit of Weasel in any of those songs, then I know you're either lying or not actually listening. Anywho, blink-182 has, in turn, been a huge influence (for better or worse) on a million and one pop punk bands. Ergo, Screeching Weasel has helped shape modern music more than some people like to pretend.

Oh yeah, and check this out:

"Stolen" is such a strong word. Especially when in this case 
I think "homage" is more appropriate. 

Anyway, regardless of what the band members themselves are currently doing, I still love this album. Kind of like how some kids still like that first Skrewdriver album because it's from before that whole "racist skinhead" thing kicked in, only to a less extreme in my case.