by Thomas Harding on Jun 17th, 2012
[Editor's note: We're six months (that's half-way for those challenged by fractions) into 2012 and, at Thomas Harding's recommendation, we decided to take a unique look at 2011's music: six months later. There's a fair amount of time to absorb the quality and tire of inferior. So, please enjoy Thomas's 2011 musical retrospective.]
I stay pretty behind on new stuff. I know it comes out, but its often a year or two before I manage to grab it. I started this list (in no particular order) unsure of if I even bought 10 new releases this year. I generally find these lists, both making them and reading them, serve to show just how out of touch critics are with the world. But you know what they say about the unexamined life. In the spirit of transparency and openness and self deprecation, I share with you the top seven things I picked up in 2011 that I remebered enough to put on a list.
Screeching Weasel: First World Manifesto
Love them and/or hate them, Screeching Weasel genrated lot of buzz in 2011. Perhaps never has a greater drama of being true to oneself played out on the stage of punk history as Ben Weasel cold clocking two women in a completely provoked attack. Many have talked about who was the victim, but they miss the mark as, to quote Pagliacci, “La comedia e finite!” in a single clip of cell phone video, the world watched as in the midst of SXSW, Ben Weasel stood, spoke the truth, did his snotty asshole front man schtick, and the audience turned on him when he hit too close to home. Ice was spat, mean names were bandied around then punches were thrown. The tour in support of the new record was cancelled. The band quit.
What many saw was the death of Screeching Weasel and Ben Weasel. But they missed what really happened last March. In an instant, the man who was Ben Forester died, destroyed by his own alter ego, and we watched as a bizarre punk rock retelling of the aforementioned Leoyncavallo opera played out before us, with Ben Weasel playing Cornio, Screeching Weasel as Nedda, Ben Forester as Silvio, Danny Vapid as Beppe, the fair weather friends and fans in the role of Tonio, and us the bewildered towns folk who(spoiler alert) just watched a clown show turn into a murderous blood bath.
What were we left with? Some would say we still have Screeching Weasel, but I say they are dead; Forester has severed all ties with the fellows who helped make the band(Ben is a single link in a whole chain). We certainly have their legacy though, capped off with First World Manifesto, the final aria. It had a song that lead Fat Mike to boot the band from the label a few months after the release as Mike thought Ben was making fun of him. Some deride this album as sub-par and forgettable, but within the filler, were little glimmers of what was coming in the future. I offer that “Dry Is the Desert” is perhaps one of the band’s swan songs, much like how “I Wrote Holden Caulfield” was prior to the band’s first break up. No matter how you slice it, this was not a record to miss out on for pop punk fans in 2011, and the strange and twisted saga surrounding its release still continues to be documented to this day.
Stick Together: No More Games
Stick Together features members of War Hungry and a few other Pennsylvania hardcore outfits playing some of the best Youth Crew revival out there. Also they have one of the most positive messages I’ve heard from any band in hardcore, and present it in such a genuine way both on the record and on the stage. Watch out for each other, be true to your self, surround yourself with people who actually care about your well being. Having watched a few friends start destroying themselves, Stick Together has been a pillar for me this past year, having followed them since their second show and seen them two more time since. Every time they are tight, and above all friendly and glad to be playing for kids who may or may not be singing along. Their demo tape never left my car after I caught them in 2010, and I have two variations of this particular EP. Its solid Straight Edge hardcore; it’s plain solid hardcore. Keep watching these guys, cause 2012 is gonna bring us another EP on Triple B records, and these guys have gotten better every time I’ve seen ‘em!
Alkaline Trio: Damnesia
I just really enjoyed this one from Alkaline Trio. More for fans than new listeners, is just some acoustic version of of classic tunes. So often acoustic versions by rock bands lose a lot when the electric guitars and effects are are stripped away and the drummer is sent on vacation. Here we see the full band in the mix playing the songs much the way you have come to know them. They are not all turned into slow ballads or campfire fodder. Many songs actually still feature electronic instruments buried down in the mix to add some more texture, but for the most pat you have Matt Skiba’s guitars and vocals backed up by Dan Adriano on bass and additional guitars and Derek Grant on drums. An occasional piano floats in from somewhere at times. I think about why I liked this record so much; if it had come out when I was in high school, I would have hated it.
It calls to my mind AFI’s Sing the Sorrow. I really think that was a waste of record mainly because it was obviously AFI, but yet it was so far off from the AFI I knew at the time. It was a new mature sound and it fell totally flat for me. This record could easily have been the same. Yet, because the songs are mostly tried and true Alkaline Trio standards, there is a warm familiarity, but the matured sound offers these favorites a freshness. In their fifteenth year, Alkaline Trio really treated their fans. If you dig it, Damneisa offers you a new take and invites you revisit a band that I know many of us haven’t listened to since high-school and rediscover some warm memories. But if a quasi-unplugged album isn’t your thing, the band did just wrap up a series of shows where they played their classic Maybe I’ll Catch Fire album start to finish. This wasn’t a record for new fans to enter the fold really, but a record for their fans. It in many ways feels like a thank you from the band for the years of support and rickety skull heart tattoos (you know you have one hiding in that sleeve or under that Fred Perry shirt you keep buttoned up to the top button).
Off With Their Heads/Discharge split 7″:
If the fact that its one of the best pop punk bands of the last 10 years is doing a split with the band, which for better or worse, spawned 20 billion imitators all using the same prefix (i.e. D-beat, where all the bands like to be Dis____ or Dys____ and all the kids come extra crusty) is not enough to sell you, consider this: on the Off With Their Heads side, Ryan Young plays an unreleased Beltones song in a band with Todd C. and Jimmy of Toys That Kill and the legendary Mike Watt on bass, and on the other side is Discharge. It doesn’t make any sense but like all my ADD-fueled imaginary adventures of my youth, its freaking awesome. I hate Discharge and I still bought a copy. Classic sounding OWTH production values not really heard since before 2010′s In Desolation. Ryan Young’s vocals are scratchy as anything, and there is still a bit of snotty attitude to give it extra op-punkness. The Discharge side is completely different. Fast, dark, angry hardcore with lots of D-beats (when you invented the D-beat, you can use it as much as you like). I still don’t really like Discharge or D-beat, but I will hand it to Discharge for still keeping that self-righteous fury alive for all these years. No matter what side you buy it for, this record is well worth the listen.
These guys hail from the same scene as Stick Together (maybe even sharing members). At some point in time, power violence sheered off from the youth crew scene in the early 90′s with its marriage of that lovely NYHC sound and grindcore. This record could easily have been the prelude to that moment if it had come out 20 years ago. Nice blend of the fast and loud with the classic sounds of the late 80′s. Most people would argue this is nothing new, but I frankly feel like we’re coming up on another revival of this style perhaps as a backlash of the rampant early 80′s revivalism going on at the moment. Allow me to point out that by 1984, the early hardcore sound had pretty well been explored, so after another 4 years of revival rehash, its time to try some new nostalgia, and I think Disengage have it nailed.
This year had a few choice reissues, particularly on Record Store Day. Scope these puppies out if you wanna have a nice look back:
Bane- Give Blood (10 anniversary vinyl reissue):
I think most people may will agree that when you look at the Early 2000′s hardcore scene, this record sums up all that was good about it. I always found Bane to be a very interesting band. There are at times these almost emo elements to their sound and performances, but they always maintain that certain something of all great hardcore bands. Trial does this too, but Trial didn’t reissue Are These Our Lives this year. If you have been looking to get into hardcore, this is a good record to start with. Its easily the record that sums up all of what makes Bane one of the best bands of the last two decades(that’s right, Bane is almost 20 years old!) and the new reissues of which there are a couple variations are awesome. I like the solid red wax myself. This is a record so well known and revered, that there is little I can say about it that a good honest listen to the record wont say 100 times louder and clearer; it really speaks for itself.
Bad Brains- God of Love (Record Store Day):
I know a lot of people hate this record. Almost every one I know thought this was crap and slept on it when it dropped last Record Store Day, and nearly killed each other to get the Pay to Cum 7″ instead. I was going for the long haul, i was after both, but came out with just God of Love. I don’t care. This record is solid front to back. Not as hardcore as others, but the grooves are just so strong, and when the band is thrashing, they bring it hard. Just so much melody in this record, and I think when this record is compared to what bands like Fishbone, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Sublime were doing at this time, Bad Brains were blowing them off the face of the earth. This is of course looking through a lens of funk rock and punk flavored reggae. And if you look at actual hardcore bands on major labels in 1995, I think this record really stands out as solid. About the only guys I think who did the whole mainstream hardcore better were Civ, and Civ was pretty much just Gorilla Biscuits 2.o. Yet because this isn’t the Roir tape or I Against I, people tend to ignore it. Which means there were leftover copies at a lot of the stores last year so you may snag it pretty easy