BIG CHOICE - 1995
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
The success of the hit single "Disconnected" on Los Angeles radio station KROQ catapulted Face to Face to a new level of popularity, causing their 1995 release, Big Choice, to sell more than 100,000 copies — a first for the southern California punk band. "Disconnected" had appeared on their previous album Over It, but the band redid it for Big Choice, making it a bit heavier and adding a somewhat humorous exchange with a "record producer" about whether to include the song on the album because they didn't want to be labeled sell-outs. The conversation ends with the band declaring "there's no way in hell this song is going on this record" and then launching right into "Disconnected." Although "Disconnected" may be the standout track, the rest of the album still measures up. In the tradition of fellow punk revival bands Down by Law and Samiam, the 13 raucous tracks on Big Choice are catchy, energetic and bursting with cynical lyrics about being tired of dealing with people and their flaws. In "Velocity," vocalist Trever Keith spits out the lyrics "Tell me all about your favorite human being/Tell me everything about yourself" and later "So let me take a good look at your perfect life/So I know just exactly how I don't want mine." "Debt" has the resounding chorus of "I don't owe you anything." It's the perfect album for when you're in a bad mood and sick of people.
Marquee Moon is a revolutionary album, but it's a subtle, understated revolution. Without question, it is a guitar rock album — it's astonishing to hear the interplay between Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd — but it is a guitar rock album unlike any other. Where their predecessors in the New York punk scene, most notably the Velvet Underground, had fused blues structures with avant-garde flourishes, Television completely strip away any sense of swing or groove, even when they are playing standard three-chord changes. Marquee Moon is comprised entirely of tense garage rockers that spiral into heady intellectual territory, which is achieved through the group's long, interweaving instrumental sections, not through Verlaine's words. That alone made Marquee Moon a trailblazing album — it's impossible to imagine post-punk soundscapes without it. Of course, it wouldn't have had such an impact if Verlaine hadn't written an excellent set of songs that conveyed a fractured urban mythology unlike any of his contemporaries. From the nervy opener, "See No Evil," to the majestic title track, there is simply not a bad song on the entire record. And what has kept Marquee Moon fresh over the years is how Television flesh out Verlaine's poetry into sweeping sonic epics.
MARQUEE MOON - 1977
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
The Jam's enduring, eternal popularity in the U.K. meant an ever-increasing number of archival releases that cropped up over the years, with Live Jam, a fine counterpart to the other official concert album, Dig the New Breed, turning up in 1993. Like that earlier effort, it draws together a slew of tracks from shows ranging from 1979 to 1982, including some cuts from the band's almost-farewell headlining bows at Wembley Arena. Quite happily, there's no track overlap at all with Dig the New Breed, making the two perfectly complementary recordings in ways. The real treat, thanks to the expanded space on CDs, is the inclusion of nine songs from two December 1979 shows in London, the best portrait of what an actual specific show must have been like. A masterful rampage through "Down at the Tube Station at Midnight" is well worth the entire disc, but takes on "Billy Hunt," "Mr. Clean," and "Away From the Numbers" are also high up there, the threesome making enough righteous but tuneful noise for a band three times its size. Two stand-alone cuts from separate shows had to be included just because they were so clearly awesome — a strong "The Eton Rifles" and an absolutely spectacular "Strange Town" that completely blows the socks off the studio take and then some. If there's one song to take away from the whole disc, that's it, but performances of "'A' Bomb in Wardour Street," "David Watts," and "A Town Called Malice" from later shows get close to the sheer energy of that number. At the end a couple of songs show all too well the huffy bluster masquerading as real soul which would dog Weller's career in later years, but, on the whole, Live Jam is manna for believers and entertaining for newcomers — the right kind of balance.
LIVE JAM - 1993
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
On Building, Sense Field sound more like an emo band than on the jangly Sense Field; this time around, the tunes are shorter, harder, and more derivative of post-hardcore, featuring less-predictable arrangements. The group's calling card is vocalist Jonathan Bunch, who at times sounds like a serious, more sensitive Dexter Holland. The band succeed most when they combine their energy with memorable melodic ideas and arrangements, as they do on the concise "Different Times," the inventive "Shallow Grave," and the driving title track. Andy Wallace's mix adds punch and definition to the proceedings.
BUILDING - 1996
Egg Hunt was just old pals Ian MacKaye and Jeff Nelson with some time on their hands in London after Minor Threat broke up, and before MacKaye would form Fugazi and Nelson would form 3. So from March 27-30, 1986, they went into Wood Green's Southern Studios for the only four days this "group" existed, and made themselves a single. While that's no formula for success and "Me and You" is merely average fare, the B-side, "We All Fall Down," ranks among the highest points of these two gentleman's storied careers. With no band to please, they stepped out of the bounds of punk or even punk-pop and made a marvelous one-song post-punk melodic masterpiece. It's MacKaye's unrivaled attitude and guts on vocals married to a pop tune (and soul-searching lyrics), anchored by his trebly bass and guitar playing, while Nelson pumps on the drums. The best part is the last chorus, where it seems like seven MacKayes and Nelsons are singing the title refrain over and over, in a wonderful three- or four-part harmony (it's all but the bloody Beatles!) as the melody soars with each change.
ME AND YOU (EP) - 1986
A hyper-speed blast of ultra-polemical, left-wing hardcore punk, and bitingly funny sarcasm, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables stands as the Dead Kennedys' signature statement. As one of the first hardcore albums, it was a galvanizing influence on the musical and attitudinal development of the genre, also helping to kickstart the fertile California scene. The record's tactics are not subtle in the least; Jello Biafra's odd warble and spat-out lyrics leave no doubt as to what he thinks, baiting his targets of conservatism, violence, overbearing authority, and capitalist greed with a viciously satirical sarcasm that keeps his unflinchingly political outlook from becoming too didactic. The thin production dilutes some of the music's power, but the ragged speed-blur still packs a wallop, and the hooks cribbed from surf and rockabilly give it a gonzo edge. The songwriting isn't consistent all the way through the album, but classics like "Kill the Poor," "Let's Lynch the Landlord," "Chemical Warfare," "California Über Alles," and "Holiday In Cambodia" helped define the hardcore genre and, thus, must be heard.
FRESH FRUIT FOR ROTTING VEGETABLES - 1980
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
The band's one album, taken from two separate mid-'80s recording sessions, finds the fusion of Faith's instrumentalists and Minor Threat's singer — Ian MacKaye himself, older brother of Faith's singer Alex — a successful enough blast of post-hardcore. It's no surprise per se that MacKaye wanted to push himself more strongly in future; compared to Fugazi, Embrace is fine but nowhere near as gripping or inventive. As a vehicle for his righteous, cutting lyrics and strong voice, though, it's more than fine. With engineering help from the legendary Don Zientara, everything's well-recorded and produced, MacKaye clearly cutting through the heavy band crunch. Interestingly, the instruments that come through the best are Ivor Hanson's drums, a neat switch around from the usual domination via guitar. Not that Michael Hampton's work sounds weak or poor; if anything, he brings a sharp turn-of-the-'80s U.K. style to fore, with the understated inventiveness of John McGeoch's early work in Magazine and Siouxsie and the Banshees. Consider his exuberant performance on "Dance of Days," both fiery and just pretty enough. Compared to both Faith's and Minor Threat's work in general, Embrace tries for something a touch poppier and a little less immediately frenetic, like a pause for breath after a full-on rampage. MacKaye's lyrical aim dwells as much on personal concerns and a search for courage as much as anything, continuing the themes of earlier efforts as "Look Back and Laugh." "Building" revolves around self-accusations of failure, while the shimmering, reverb-touched drive of "Do Not Consider Yourself Free" urges vigilance with the realization that "there are others held captive." It's not quite the birth of emo — if anything, Rites of Spring found themselves saddled with that peculiar honor — but it's easy enough to imagine more than a few '90s bands taking the words as holy writ.
EMBRACE - 1987