Category Archives: Music

This Song Rips: Killing Tree “The Bronze”

Most people know of Tim McIlrath from his current and relatively successful band, Rise Against, but before he found fame with that group, he fronted The Killing Tree, a much better band, even if I do like Rise Against. Whereas Rise Against is catchy, fast, singalong pop punk, The Killing Tree was a much darker and heavier band, pulling more from metal and hardcore with thick, chugging riffs and a focus on rhythm more than melody. Their songs were long for hardcore songs, often topping out over six minutes like this one, and they often come in waves, building and crashing against the listener over and over again. Those who can’t find the rhythm may find themselves disoriented and worn out, but if you let yourself ride the waves it becomes an intense and enjoyable experience. This song, “The Bronze,” is from their first EP, Bury Me at Make-out Creek. I don’t think that one’s available anymore, but click the Killing Tree link above to get their second EP (with a bitchin Soundgarden cover) at Amazon.

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This Song Rips: Coliseum “Blind in One Eye”

Alright, this is not the rippingest Coliseum song. In fact, as far as Coliseum songs goes, it’s pretty toned down, but I am so hyped about their new record. I like Coliseum’s past records, but this one sounds like they might have taken some cues from the other Patterson brother’s last album. I loved that Young Widows record, and if the new Coliseum has elements of it mixed in, it might just be the perfect rock album for this summer.

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This Song Rips: Iron Maiden “Number of the Beast”

Sometimes the anticipation of rippage makes a song go so much harder. Consider Iron Maiden’s “Number of the Beast,” one of the truly great metal classics. There is no doubt that a song called “Number of the Beast” is going to get live, but Maiden knew the value of a good build up. First, there is the text from the book of Revelations: Woe to you O earth and sea for the Devil sends the beast with wrath because he knows the time is short… And you get hyped and think, ‘Oh, man, this song is going to bring it.’ Then the guitar starts with a riff that jams and Bruce Dickinson starts in with Harris’ bad poetry and you just feel that tension start to rise. Dickinson can hardly bear it himself, letting a little steam bubble out at 45 seconds in, and the rest of the band takes his cue and starts to rev their engines, and, god damn, that pot gets boiling and you just get ready to rage hard. Then at around 1:20, Horatio Caine says, “Looks like this beast’s days are numbered” and puts on his sunglasses, and Dickinson lets out a wail that makes Roger Daltrey cry himself to sleep at night. The lid blows off the mother, and for the next three-and-a-half minutes or so it’s constant back flips. God damn, this song rips.

And just for good measure, here’s another classic Maiden track:

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This Song Rips: Descendents “Jean is Dead”

Some people never get punk music. They mistake rawness of emotion for a lack of sophistication and a lack of sophistication for puerility. But to my mind there is no other music that works on such a fundamental level, with such an economy of words and sounds, that it taps into your most primal emotions and lets you vent them all out in two minute bursts of catharsis. It’s like in that scene in Ordinary People when Conrad’s walls finally break down and he says, “I need something. It just keeps coming. I can’t make it stop.”

For every time your emotions are boiling over, there’s a punk song to get you through it, like this song from the Descendents. The first song in this clip, “Jean is Dead” is such a pure response to a complex and heartbreaking situation for the young singer. (Note the tie back to Ordinary People in the subject matter. Great book and movie. Anyway…) This song rips.

You should have told me. I should have known.
Now you’re gone, and I’m alone.
Your mother told me last night on the phone.
Why’d you do it? Now I’m alone.
I would have helped you, would have done anything.
I would have taken you with me or bought you a ring,
But now you’re gone and I’m alone.

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This Song Rips: “Crucified”

Originally recorded by Iron Cross and popularized by Agnostic Front, “Crucified” (here done by 25 Ta Life) became the de facto skinhead anthem on both sides of the political aisle. Traditional skins were fed up with being lumped in with Nazis, and Nazis felt persecution for their racist beliefs (Irony Cross?). But any member of a little-understood and widely-disparaged subculture can identify with the song’s themes of misdirected persecution. I remember goth kids getting harassed after Columbine. I remember having to explain over and over again to people that when I was straightedge, it had nothing to do with the militant moron crowd. It’s guilt by mistaken association, and it’s frustrating as hell. Sometimes you just need to go off, and a song like “Crucified” is perfect for it. This song rips.

They don’t know our feelings, only desperate cries.
They see reflections through distorted eyes.
We don’t care because it breaks their views.
Got to learn to fight to live
Before they grind us under heel!

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This Song Rips: Fucked Up “Crooked Head”

After a lifetime of listening to hardcore music, it is rare for me to hear something in the genre that feels new. Fucked Up are one of those rare bands that can stretch the boundaries the genre while still maintaining a very clear hardcore aesthetic. This song is at once psychedelic, ambient, passionate and thoughtful. This song rips.

Fight against the swell just to throw yourself at the wall.
They’re all dogs, fighting over the bone.
I’m gonna live, I’m gonna leave it alone
Crooked head.

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This Song Rips: 108 “Holyname”

108 “Holyname”

I ran into my old friend Chris this weekend at what amounted to the hardcore high school reunion (a.k.a., the Endpoint reunion weekend), and while catching up, we talked a bit about all of the hardcore bands from the 90s reuniting. Bands like Coalesce have turned in really strong new efforts that build on their previous work without sounding dated, and even Earth Crisis put out a record that rages every bit as hard as they did in their heyday, before that unfortunate foray into nu-metal territory. Above all others, though, I was most excited a few years ago when 108 reunited and released A New Beat from a Dead Heart, one of my favorite records of 2007.

I started listening to 108 when Chris gave me their debut album Holyname, a brilliant, passionate blast of hardcore punctuated with interludes of traditional Krishna music and capped off a set of Krishna talks (now only available on their discography collection Creation. Sustenance. Destruction.). Despite the fact that I am not at all interested in the religious message of this album, the overflow of emotion and unbridled energy still get me to this day. The album really should be listened to as a whole (and the CD was originally released as one long track), but the songs all stand on their own. Above is the title track that opens the album. The whole album is incredible, but this song rips.

I won’t settle for this false me. I’ll cry it out: holy name. I’ll cry it out: your holy name.

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French Punk in Dub

Paris at Night

(credit due to whoever took this)

When I was a teenager, I was fortunate enough to join a school trip to France, and — maybe predictably — it was a week of drunken debauchery, teenage awkwardness, and extraordinary moments that I will always remember. I fell in love with France that week. There is nothing quite like sitting on the steps of Sacre Couer at midnight on Easter, the sound of the choir drifting out over you and the city spread out at your feet, having one of those “life is amazing and mysterious” conversations that you can only really have when you’re a teenager. But that was later.

On my first day in Paris, I did not yet know what kind of magic the city held, but I was eager to see what I could discover. Our group’s first planned outing was a tour of the Opera Garnier, the setting that inspired the novel The Phantom of the Opera (Puffin Classics). That was all well and good, but I was in the biggest city I had ever seen and full of youthful curiosity and self-confidence. While the rest of the group moved into the building, a couple of friends and I stayed back and took off down the street to see what we could find. I didn’t want to see history that day. I wanted to see the living Paris.

Unfortunately, I did not keep a journal then, and I regret it to this day. I do not remember well where I walked that afternoon, but I do remember that I ended up in a music store nearby, likely Fnac, possibly at Le Passage du Havre. There, I purchased a French Iggy and the Stooges seven inch and a CD compilation of French punk bands I had never heard of: France Profonde vol 1 et 2. I had a short conversation with the clerk about Iggy Pop, the Kentucky Derby, and my first visit to Paris. It was the best introduction I could have had to the city, and thought I would end up making a lot of great memories that week, I get to relive these moments every time I spin my iPod over to the A’s.

I did not have a CD player with me on the trip, and neither did my friends. It wasn’t until I got home that I was able to see if the comp had anything worthwhile on it. To my elation, it turned out to be a great mix of oi, melodic punk and 80s hardcore that I still listen to regularly some twelve or thirteen years later. Standing out from the crowd of faster, more traditionally “punk” songs are two tracks by Ausweis, each a gothy post-punk blend of early Killing Joke and Joy Division. The stringy bass, chorused guitars and sterile, metallic reverb on the vocals all sound like they came from the hand of some French Hannett-phile and offer a stark contrast the rest of the music on the disc.

For years, I figured that this compilation would be the extent to which I got to know any of these bands, but the internet (really, the blogosphere) changed that. Recently, I stumbled across a post at the Phoenix Hairpins blog with some information about the Ausweis discography and a link to their debut album. Sparked by this post, I started digging deeper to find other releases, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that they progressed from post-punk to full-on dub reggae over the course of three years. Punk and Jamaican music have crossed paths many times over the past several decades, but it is rare to hear this dramatic of a shift in one band’s career.

Ausweis’ 1984 self-titled debut is in my opinion a forgotten masterpiece. At this early point, they retained quite a bit of straight-forward punk influence, but the overall sound of the record is more Unknown Pleasures than Never Mind the Bollocks. Each song is good on its own, but taken as a whole, the album is nearly perfect. “Eva” (listen via Youtube above) and “Berlin” provide a distinctly Bauhausian opening for the record, being very reminiscent of In the Flat Field, but with “Gangsters United” and “Ella Choice,” the tempo is amped up to more typically punk levels. “Mecaniks” and “1984” split the difference, tying the album together stylistically and setting the stage for the final two tracks on the album. Stretching out a bit, the synth-and-drum coldwave vamp “Phase Fatale” isn’t so much a song as it is a five minute stretch of rhythm and washes of sound with indistinct snatches of vocals floating out of the haze. Though there’s no hint of Jamaican riddim in this song, it more than any of the others hints at the future direction of the band. Finally, the goth post-punk of “Murnau” brings the album full circle.

Ausweis followed their debut with the Victimes maxi in 1985, which I have not yet found, and Jours de Haine in 1986. Jours de Haine retains many of the post-punk qualities of the debut, but the increased use of keyboards and atmospherics give it a much more focused cold/darkwave goth sound, stripping out much of the traditional punk influence. What is most notable on this release is the final track, “Jack (Dub)” (listen below). This Lee Perry-via-Clash-inspired dub track takes the Ausweis sound into a traditional reggae format that just plain works for me. Despite being a big departure from their earlier work, this track does not feel forced, instead seeming like a natural progression. The original sound of the band is still there, just reconfigured. I wish they had made a whole record in this style before their subsequent experiment with Puppa Leslie, but this track is the only glimpse I’ve gotten of the goth post-punk dub group that could have been.

Ausweis “Jack (Dub)”

After releasing the Pas Demain single (another one I haven’t yet found) in 1987, the group hooked up with Puppa Leslie, a toaster in the Jamaican style whom they met through a mutual friend. Together, they produced Dub Action, a dancehall and dub album that sounds considerably different from anything the band had done before. Whereas before they had worked in mostly dark, murky sounds, this new record was bright and colorful. Snatches of Ausweis’ past slip into the guitar work on the songs from time to time, but little else of their earlier sound appears on the album. This record borrows heavily from Wayne Smith’s Under Me Sleng Teng, with heavy synth and drum machine use and more rigid rhythms than one finds in more traditional reggae. Puppa Leslie’s deejay-style chanting vocals shine throughout the album, and he goes hard on songs like “Le Feu Va Les Bruler” and “Tout, Tout, Tout.” The dubs are not heavy on effects, playing more on drop-outs and altered mixing with occasional dubbed-out flourishes, evoking the Upsetter more than King Tubby. This style suits the dense arrangements, where a large dose of delay or reverb crashes would muddy the mix.

From what I can piece together from rough translations, the politics of Dub Action made it difficult to find a label that would release it, with only Danceteria willing to do so. I won’t pretend to know much about French politics in the 80s, and with only Google translations of the lyrics, I am somewhat in the dark about why this album was so inflammatory. This highlights my one big frustration with listening to foreign-language music: my inability to know what’s actually being said. I know that the song “Tout, Tout, Tout” (listen below or find the video on Myspace) calls out members of Chirac and his cabinet directly and compares them to Hitler, but as an American who grew up on punk bands calling our government fascists, it seems odd to me that the lyrics of this record were such a big deal. Perhaps a French reader could educate me on this sometime.

Ausweis + Puppa Leslie “Tout, Tout, Tout”

Unfortunately, Dub Action was the last record that Ausweis released. Guitarist Croc and bassist Luz left the group, and Puppa Leslie and the rest went on to form Gom Jabbar, along with other Leslie projects before his death in 1999. Luz did some industrial stuff in the 90s and is now part of electronic dub group Dub Wiser. None of their subsequent work has drawn my interest quite like Ausweis. Something about that blend of post-punk, goth and dub mentality just gets me on another level.

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White on Black

One of my favorite records released in 2008 was The Dad Horse Experience‘s Too Close to Heaven, a collection of twisted “keller gospel” songs based heavily in Appalachian old-time music, German folk and murder balladry. The album struck a balance of dark humor, whimsy and heartfelt poetry that is often hard to come by and harder still to maintain. Chief among the album’s highlights is “Gates Of Heaven,” a song of reluctant repentance. The refrain — I will stand before the gates of heaven with a bucket full of sins. Lord, I’m a bad ass motherfucker, but won’t you please let me in? — encapsulates the entire album.

Since that album, Off Label Records has released two parts of their three-part White on Black series of limited-edition Dad Horse seven-inch singles, each of which features the art of a different artist working only under the guideline that they must create a white-on-black design.

Electric Gates of HeavenThe first record in the series features an electric version of “Gates of Heaven” along with the traditional “Moonshiner” and the non-album track “I’m Not Here Anymore.” The new version of “Gates of Heaven” starts with an electric banjo and the thump of bass pedals and proceeds at a slightly faster clip than the original. After the first refrain, shakers and hand claps add a percussive element the original lacked that propels the song. While the overall arrangement is not drastically changed, the electric banjo brings a sort of grit that works very well with the spirit of the song. Whereas the original had an old-time character, this new version feels more akin to something from Sun Records in the fifties. It sits closer to At Folsom Prison than it does to O Brother, Where Art Thou?. I love it and hope to hear more in this vein from Dad Horse in the future. My only complaint with this song is that the mix is a little off. The voice is too loud, while the banjo is too quiet. A little more volume on the music, and this song could get rowdy.

Following “Gates of Heaven,” the drunkard’s lament, “Moonshiner,” is a somber waltz (or possibly polka mazurka?) that brings the mood down. Like many Dad Horse numbers, his take on this traditional song showcases a certain unschooled quality in the music that supports the artistry, rather than diminishing it. On the flip side, closing out the disc is “I’m Not Here Anymore,” a fuzzy, phased and filtered psychedelic two-step paean that bounces along with a driving rhythm that stumbles a few times while pushing ever forward. If “Moonshiner” gives us the folk storyteller side of Dad Horse, this song gives us the experimental, off-kilter (and slightly manic) religious side.

Lord Must Fix My SoulThe second disc in the series is fan-favorite “Lord Must Fix My Soul,” backed with “Find My Body Down,” both songs from the album, though these may be different recordings or mixes. “Lord Must Fix My Soul” is one of Dad Horse’s more ridiculous tales of sin and redemption. It’s a fun and funny song, a series of heinous crimes punctuated with the plea that the lord turn his shit soul into gold. On its own, the song treads dangerously close to novelty music, but in the context of Dad Horse’s other work, it’s the winking grin that reminds the listener to not be so serious all the time.

The B-side, “Find My Body Down,” is the story of a man who dies in a fiery mid-air collision while flying across the country to see his love. It has some of my favorite imagery in Dad Horse’s catalog (a mighty, might cloud of blood and kerosene), and more than most of his songs it manages to work  his macabre humor and moving poetry into the same lines, no mean feat. Juxtaposing a lighthearted sing-song nature with the gory details of the story is nothing new, but Dad Horse does it particularly well here. The chorus really makes the song, though, and is some of the most simplistically beautiful sentiment in all of Dad Horse’s work: Find me in the blue sky. Find me in the dark cloud passing by. Find me in the rain upon your skin. Find my body down.

Of course, I can’t talk about these records without mentioning the artwork. Artist Veronika Schumacher‘s design for “Electric Gates of Heaven” appears to be a collage of elements from a few of her wallpaper pieces. While the elements are striking, I don’t feel like the piece is successful. Christopher Mueller’s illustration for “Lord Must Fix My Soul,” however, is really fantastic. Ultimately, the songs on this seven-inch are not necessary for someone who already has the album, but the artwork alone makes this one worth the money.

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Anthrax – Among the Living

If memory serves, the first tape I ever purchased was Anthrax’s “Fistful of Metal.” I believe I was between third and fourth grade, and the family was on vacation, likely at Myrtle Beach or Daytona. Our parents gave my brother and I a small amount of money to spend on souvenirs, and with shark-tooth necklace secured, we both had enough left over for a tape apiece. Budding heshers, we watched Headbanger’s Ball religiously, but we were just getting to the age of buying our own music. I bought “Fistful of Metal,” which I immediately regretted. My brother, however, had picked “Among the Living,” a masterpiece of an album that has had such lasting influence that I still listen to it regularly twenty years later. (What follows is a bare bones sketch of an idea that’s been rolling around in my head over the last week. When this session at school ends, I hope to find the time to fully research and develop this idea.)

[clearspring_widget title=”Widget” wid=”499b6a92ccff3dc1″ pid=”499b6b202fdcafb8″ width=”250″ height=”254″ domain=”widgets.clearspring.com”] As the 1970s came to a close, so too did the era of social experimentation the hippies started in the late 60s. Americans turned instead to traditional values, the social and economic conservatism of the Reagan era, throwbacks to an idealized 1950s that never truly existed outside of sitcoms. The new focus on so-called family values was coupled with a renewed dedication to capitalism and consumerism. Money, and more importantly the things one could buy to show how much money they had, was the new-old standard by which everyone would be judged. Young urban profession-

als, hot cars, hot clothes, hot women, Wall Street, nuclear family, nuclear supremacy, America (fuck yeah), the soldier-hero, and everyone clawing their way to the top in some sort of Randian wet-dream of capitalist competition. America fully embraced a culture of style over substance, but this golden age of hyperpatriotic capitalism was a thin veneer laid over a society facing times of raw desperation.

Reagan’s fiscal policy was a boon to the already wealthy, but everyone else was left to fight over the scraps. The middle class withered. Friction between the haves and the have-nots escalated. Poverty was rampant, and crime was an epidemic in the cities. Continually stoked fears of Soviet invasion or nuclear annihilation left little future to hope for. Class-based Romeo and Juliet tales and dystopian visions of the future filled books, movies, and comics as art shifted to reflect the mood of the times. And while East Coast punks were letting their frustration boil over into hardcore music, West Coast longhairs were creating thrash. Combining hardcore’s tempo and aggressiveness with the more advanced musicality and darker tone of the NWOBHM, bands like Megadeth, Metallica and Slayer were pushing the boundaries of extreme rock music. Reacting to glam/hair metal, thrash was tougher, meaner and generally heavier and harder. The riffs were faster, deeper and more aggressive, solos shorter and more chaotic. Glam’s lyrical themes of sex and love were discarded in favor of social commentary or explorations of humanity’s underbelly. Alongside hardcore, this was the music of a society in disrepair.

Though the thrash movement started in California, Anthrax came to life in the New York. Theirs was a unique take on the style, their songs featuring the shout-along choruses and mosh parts characteristic of the New York Hardcore bands that influenced them and singer Joey Belladonna’s distinctive vocals. Where Metallica’s Hetfield and Slayer’s Araya growled and howled their way through songs, Belladonna carried Bruce Dickinson’s torch with melodic, soaring vocals that shared the spotlight with Dan Spitz and Scott Ian’s guitar blistering guitars. That voice, combined with the band’s gruff shouts and combat-boot stomping rhythms, created an altogether unique sound that appealed to metalheads old and new as well as skins and hardcore punks.

By their third album, “Among the Living,” the band had started to set themselves apart from most thrash bands not just in sound, but also in character, in their lyrics and personality. Where others were grim and serious, Anthrax kept a sense of humor and playfulness, at times being unabashedly cartoonish. Like the Ramones before them, they had an obsession with pop culture that came through in the lyrics, which dealt with many of the same morbid topics as other thrash bands but with an escapist twist. Slayer sang about real-life Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, and Anthrax sang about Kurt Dussander. Metallica gave us death in the electric chair, and Anthrax gave us the ballad of Judge Dredd. Still, they managed to balance those songs with some serious ones, finding a sweet spot between not being too earnest and not just being a bunch of goof-offs. Even the more cringe-worthy moments of paltry politics (“Cry for the Indians! Die for the Indians!”) are tempered with tongue-in-cheek mirth (the cry of “War dance!” leading into the mosh part of “Indians,” for example).

The mildly air-headed, goony character of the band actually allows them to be something most thrash bands generally couldn’t: positive. Insomuch as any band that sings about drug abuse, mass murder, and the plight of the American Indian can, Anthrax manages to have a positive outlook through much of “Among the Living,” or at least if not distinctly positive, not as apocalyptically gloomy as the bands of the day. Later albums would find the band maturing and writing more serious songs, but “Among the Living” was a goofy and hopeful statement of defiance in an otherwise depressing time. It remains to this day their finest hour.

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