Archive for the 'punk rock' Category

20
Jun
09

Blues Explosion “Extra Width”

I preferred to alphabetize the band as “Blues Explosion” rather than wait for later in the alphabet (and be faced with alphabetizing dilemmas–Spencer, Jon Spencer, The Jon Spencer?)– but this is indeed The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, one of my all time favorite bands, I’ll admit right away. This isn’t my favorite of their records (and I haven’t even HEARD all their records) but it’s pretty solid. Also nice is that it’s a record–one of the newest in the current collection I’m writing about– though it’s from 1993– which now seems as long ago as The Fifties. The boys look pretty young in their individual Richard Kern glamour portraits– Jon Spencer’s, on the cover, which should have sold a record or two, is particularly striking with all the stuff in his hair and his Kuchar-esque eyebrows. Hell– I’D buy that guy a double bourbon!

There’s even some pointless liner notes on the back, for an old-fashioned touch– by Herb Hitts– a description of a live show that is so generalized and cliché-ridden it may as well say, “they rocked” with one fist in the air. Is it meant to be ironic? While I think it is — the once ironic fist in the air, and heavy metal fist in the air, and expression “rocked!” — once intended to be ironic, is no longer taken, or even intended that way– so what you have instead is a willful reduction of the IQ by half. But with this band there is no discussing irony or sincerity, they are so far beyond those considerations, you can’t figure it out and you shouldn’t try. Though, I can imagine if I was in a band with Jon Spencer I might at some point beg him to “please sing normal for once!” I might roll my eyes violently when he comes into rehearsal with a song called “Back Slider.” It might lead to a fight, someone walking out on the session, sulking on a bar stool, but would any of that be real or just another episode in a cheap paperback version of the life of a blues band that’s a rock band and a punk band?

I guess the question with this band will always be (as it is with every band): are they just an act– are they merely ABOUT what they seem to be, or are they the real thing? I have had the benefit of seeing a live show a few years back (maybe the last live show I’ve seen) where that question was answered; either they were the real thing, or else the real thing doesn’t really exist. Which might be the case. As time goes on and layers of history are peeled away, and you closely examine what you considered the important bands from your past, you find out they were ALL acts. The only thing that is real are the rare moments when no one was looking, the mistakes, and the tiny miracles that occasionally transcend the cement weighted egos and vanities.

But enough about me. This record is the kind of record, unfortunately rare, that I always prefer to listen to all the way through. I love some of it and hate some of it, but to isolate individual songs seems pointless. It all runs together the way a record album should. I’ve listened to it now hundreds of times, but I couldn’t tell you what a single song title is or what any of them are about. There’s a lot of grunting, groaning, screaming, unsettling noises, and then suddenly you find yourself in a groove that you wish you never had to leave. The guy’s singing “typecast” but he may as well be singing “hotpants” – guitars are destroyed, and the side is over.

To all of you in the CD generation, you will, I’m sure, not believe me when I tell you that you will never, ever be able to understand the singular, sublime pleasure of turning a record over and putting the needle on the second side. After some Elvis from hell bullshit, we again find ourselves in a groove that is over far too soon. Then some kind of an incomprehensible plodding noise out of which suddenly can be heard the phrase: “a Roy Rogers roast beef sandwich!” Probably the high point of my life. Then an instrumental funk groove that serves a similar function as when, in certain times and certain cultures, one would excuse oneself from the table to gracefully throw up. Followed by an unpleasant exorcism of a song– but it all works together, because then you get to the last song on the record, which is also the best, and it’s like you endured your dreadful vegetables, formalities, and pleasantries so that you can be rewarded with (your favorite dessert here). Bon appetit!

30
Apr
08

Agnostic Front “Victim In Pain”

By the time this record came out in 1984 I had rejected hardcore completely, as well as most types of current music other than what I was playing myself. I was aware of this band, but never gave them a chance, because by this time I thought it was all over, and hardcore punk was pretty much music for frat houses and sweaty weightlifter guys. So I listened to this record, now,  expecting to cringe, and I was surprised at how much I like it. On a technical level, it strikes me as a pretty great example of this type of music from this time period. It’s lean, energetic, and, of course, angry, but also really pleasing musically, with compelling songs and playing. I mean you hear the inspiration, and a certain joy of making music. They do a lot of that usual hardcore thing, extremely fast tempo that then shifts into a slower, more human scale, compelling tempo. It’s like the hardcore song “hook.” It might be overused, but it works extremely well. Really, a lot of this record reminds me of punk rock when I really liked it, early Black Flag, and Minor Threat, and bands from Ohio that I really liked. I’d say it was nostalgia, though I didn’t think I was nostalgic about hardcore. But listening to this kind of transports me to a bar in the Cleveland Flats, it’s a sweaty summer night, and I’m drinking a bottle of Night Train, and generally things feel pretty edgy but good.

There’s a nice black and white live show photo on the inside of the album cover (which opens, and contains the lyrics). They’re young, have shaved heads, and lots of tattoos, but look like nice guys. I looked them up on the internet, and they’re still together, and still playing, like a lot of bands are, which always surprises me, because I can’t even imagine still being in a band that I was in that many years ago. Or maybe I can. Their website and MySpace page has pictures of them, older of course, more tattoos, and it looks like they’ve gone through a lot of band members over the years, but they’re still doing what they believe in, which is inspiring enough. The art on these sites makes it look like it’s an ad for a video game with lots of weaponry and blood imagery, but this might be mostly due to promoting their newest record, called “Warriors.” But, I mean, when your band is together for over 25 years, imagine the spectrum of fans you must have. You could literally have three generations attending an all-ages show!




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