BLAG, Vol. 18: (We're From The Future)

Featured Image is of Heterophobia, during their set at Chapel Hill's Nightlight on July 8, 2019.

In the last volume of BLAG, I discussed reunions. Or, how all this emotional and financial investment into our nostalgic past could be better aligned towards supporting the relevant present, therefore taking a bigger stake in our future. It’s not that I’m anti-reunion, but I wish just as much effort went forwards. Human nature fears the unfamiliar, I know.

To wade y'all in, here's a new song from recently reunited queercore pioneers, Team Dresch.

It's classic Team Dresch -- albeit a hefty amount of polish. While the band writes fantastic political ass-kickers, they equally excel at ballads, with politics subtly cut in by a turn of pronouns. Frank Ocean mainstreamed this in a big way with his coming out on Channel Orange, and it's been a productive 15 years for gay rights, so it's not quite the deep revelation. It's just another love song, and in context, that's comforting.

At the turn of the millennium, lots of attention -- mostly in the form of the talking heads documentary -- focused on the advent of US hardcore in the 1980s. You know, the 20-year retro rule. Referring back to these writings and interviews, there's a common refrain from The Greatest Generation of punk: who knew this was going to be such a big deal?

I’m now at that age where the dumb bands of my youth are garnering festival headlines and tremendous social media hysteria. It’s interesting to see what’s percolated, and what hasn’t. Most of these bands didn’t have this legendary aura about them then, and, for the most part, no one knew what was to come decades later.

Usually, we don’t have the presence to know what bands will go down as historically significant. But, occasionally, you come across an act where you know, at that moment, they’re special. I began this digression in the last BLAG, but decided to omit it -- this story warranted its own piece.

G.L.O.S.S. had a ton of hype behind them. So, when they announced a cross-country tour on the strength of an impressive demo, it was on everyone’s radar. Their North Carolina stop was at Static Age Records in Asheville.

I checked the event page to see if I knew anyone going. The discussion board was littered with carpool requests. That’s not unusual, but it was interesting to note that these kids were looking for rides from places like rural Tennessee, middle-of-nowhere Georgia, or non-Columbia South Carolina. Kids were coming far and wide for this.

I went to the show knowing no one, still new to this post-aughts North Carolinian punk scene. To compound the loneliness, I arrived at the posted time, not accounting for punk time. The bands were just arriving, so I pitched in a hand to help unload. I walked over to a gas station, got a six pack, strolled outside the Moog factory, then came back to Static Age to aimlessly flip through records as the crowd started building. Sadie Switchblade must have noticed -- she walked over to introduce herself and I thanked them for coming. Perhaps she was intuitive to that loneliness or briefly crossed that bridge between two marginalized peoples. Or both. Real recognizes real, to quote Waka Flocka Flame. Or Icepick. Eh, pick your queen.

In the idle time before the rock’n roll, I weaved through the crowd until it filled up to standing room only. A literal wallflower with my back against the wall, I noted the fire exits -- an artifact of going to shows around 2003 -- and people watched. I noticed the lack of black-clad Punx typical for a d-beat show. That didn’t surprise me -- the hype behind G.L.O.S.S. was starting to culminate in some backlash with the contrarians. Still, the place was packed.

Something caught my ear.
“This is the first time I’ve worn a dress in public.”
“You look so beautiful!”
“Thank you! I feel great.”

I looked over to the source and saw a crew of about a dozen really young kids, bushy-eyed and bright-tailed in that purgatory of awkward adolescence. I scanned the room and realized, it wasn’t so much a punk crowd, or even the queercore crowd from my own teenage years. This was a next generation of LGBT youth. Maybe some of these kids weren’t even into punk at all.

Then, I thought about all those carpool requests. The ones that trekked from far away. The gay and trans kids from rural Tennessee, middle-of-nowhere Georgia, or non-Columbia South Carolina, desperate to see a band that spoke to them and desperate to be seen in the open, at least in the comfort of allies.

As G.L.O.S.S. took the stage, you could feel the anticipation hanging languidly in the hot, humid North Carolinian air. This was bigger than my lil' weekend trek to the mountains, bigger than our little insular punk world, and it was going to be something special. When Sadie kicked it off by belting out the rallying cry on the demo, I was grateful I could bear witness.

They told us we were girls
How we talk, dress, look, and cry
They told us we were girls
So we claimed our female lives
Now they tell us we aren't girls
Our femininity doesn't fit
We're fucking future girls
Living outside society's shit

BLAG., Vol. 17

When interviewing for jobs, a dear friend of mine has this prepared answer:

Q: “What is your dream job?”
A: “Hakeem Olajuwon, 1994.”

In punk, we’ll talk about a musician’s legacy, but the topic is rarely framed in terms of their canon. Punk "careers" are rarely long. The subculture celebrates outbursts of energy, be it a youthful spring or nihilistic upchuck. As quickly as this creative energy is harnessed, it’s as easily snuffed out: someone dying at age 27, the band signs to a major label, the only good drummer in town quits, or the singer gets all libertarian and their dogma weirds out the band chemistry. Has the edge gone dull?

That’s what makes reunions so tricky. To cop some rhetoric from Jon Savage’s England’s Dreaming, much of (the first wave of) punk was a subversive reaction to its surrounding culture: political unease, socio economic imbalance, or mainstream cultural malaise. So when a band reforms outside of its native context, it’s inorganic – a zoo exhibition versus their natural habitat likeness.

No one ever wants to be Michael Jordan's 1994 baseball career.


A voice yells down the street, “What’s up, Old Man Emo?”

I had just left my apartment and crossed North Ave. to my neighboring falafel joint. Some friends from a recreational sports league were walking by. “Old Man Emo” was their nickname for me, based on my formative diet of Dischord and Gravity Records, whereas their tastes veered more towards bands that were poppier, more “_____core,” and had prepositions as names. Despite being into the same subculture, the generational chasm was vast, but we achieved enough common ground to talk at length about music.

“So, did you get tickets to see Refused?” The Swedish phenoms had reunited, and announced a tour, which included a performance at a 5,000 seat venue a few blocks from where we were standing. Tickets sold out pretty fast. My “No?” spurned anguished cries from all of them. “You’re gonna miss out on the show of the century!”

Refused / Guilford College, Greensboro, NC / October 3, 1998

Except, in the same century, nearly 15 years earlier, I saw Refused play in a basement of Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina. Afterwards, the band and a few of us all crashed at the Slave zine house. Ulf Nyberg, their touring bassist, and I were trading e-mails before the tour, but that night, the entire band seemed real distant and aloof. I learned later that the band had broken up a couple of days before. They all went to bed immediately, save for Dennis Lyxzen, who talked about revolutions with Brian D and Eric B early into the morning. A couple of nights later, they played Matt and Ben’s basement in Harrisonburg, Virginia. The cops shut it down. Refused flew home. Fin.

It was unceremonious then, but time turned pity into lore and the band’s posthumous life eventually sent them to Coachella. I remember that Refused in 1998 were pretty good, even among a stacked line-up of Frodus, Cavity, and Catharsis. In 2012, do I hold onto that memory, or dilute it with the capital-R Rock experience reflected on the “New Noise” music video?


The first draft of this was written in light of the Bikini Kill reunion. Or, the excitement pressurized when limited tickets were snapped up by scalping sites, then resold for outrageous prices. I returned to this writing upon the announcement that Avail was doing a reunion show in Richmond, Virginia. I'll probably upload this to the SSR site while Jawbreaker is playing DC. Here’s my thoughts on their reunion at Riot Fest.

I’ve seen all of these acts in their original incarnations, count them among my favorites, and still listen to their records with regularity. Will I see them in their afterlife? Maybe, if logistics work out, but I try not to dwell hard on that nostalgia.

Cultural zeitgeist aside, these bands are literally old. Young people – especially punks, with their nihilistic outlook and all – are oblivious to aging’s wear and tear: your knees don’t spring nearly as much as they used to, your back has a dull ache that inflames to changes in barometric pressure, or your butthole constantly leaks like holding water in your fist. Or, on a more serious note, your stamina and motor skills are affected by disease or chronic illness. Reclaiming that youthful exuberance is extremely difficult.

Everyone talks about Jordan vs. LeBron as the GOAT, but no one wants to actually see the two actually square off in 2019.

I’m not saying old people can’t rock. There’s an aging grace to it, and I’ve seen some bands embrace that: Mission of Burma are awesome in their modern form. I always enjoyed The Mekons in their later stages. Hot Snakes seem to get more ripping in their well-seasoned status.

I know it’s super dorky to plug SSR stuff on the SSR blogs  I’m really just an “at-large” denizen  but Double Negative was a perfect example of a band that did old folks’ hardcore correctly: instead of rehashing the sounds of their youth, they kept it fresh in today’s context. The best way to show the kids how it’s done is to beat them at their own game.
(end aside)

Back to “Old Man Emo.” One of those guys grilled me at the post-game bar over bands I had seen.

“How’d you get to see all of these bands?”
“By going to shows?”
“Well, obviously! But I mean, how’d you get to see all those great bands?”
“What are you talking about? I went to a lot of shows back then. I still go to shows now.”
“Yeah, but bands today aren’t as good.”
"That's debatable."

None of these reunion du jour bands had “greatness” attached to them when I saw them. Jawbreaker were major label sell-outs. Bikini Kill shows were bummers due to confrontational misogynists in the crowd. Refused were on Victory Records. Avail... well, Avail shows were pretty consistently great. They were only a handful of bands who made impressions on history. For every handful, there's as many bands that time forgot, and scores that are best left forgotten.

The point is, I saw all these bands because their Then used to be Now. So, why not see the Now, now? Click on that Featured Release Roundup and start a'readin.'


Recent Spins
b/w Brief Opinions

Various - American Idylls compilation, 2xLP (Sorry State)
So, so, so, so proud of how local punks galvanized around this. It's a wallop of a record because it's a wallop of a scene.

Butthole University - Slow Learner, 7" (self-released)
I copped a t-shirt. It's a hit at parties. The record's pretty good, too.

Haram - Where Were You on 9/11?, 7" (Toxic State)
I wish Haram would just sell out, sign to Relapse, and get airplay on some Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise. This personal angle on our national trauma needs to be broadcast far and wide.

Devil Master - Satan Spits on Children of Light, LP (Relapse)
It's a catchy record! I wore one of their shirts to a 4-year old's birthday party, and it was not quite the hit the Butthole University t-shirt was. 

Richard Vain - Night Jammer, LP (Big Neck)
The former The Ponys / Bare Mutants frontperson put this (probably literal) basement dwelling post-punk to tape. It's minimalist motorik that's not mundane: subtle touches layer out with each listen.

Uranium Club - The Cosmo Cleaners, LP (Fashionable Idiots)
The hook is just chaos that seems to always nail their parts, flip on a dime, and simply impress on sheer musicianship. Then you get to opaquely odd concepts that revel with in-jokes and references that this band is a glorious wall of WTF.

Czarface Meets Ghostface - s/t, LP (Silver Age)
Inspectah Deck as one of the more underrated Wu-Tang solo artists isn't a controversial take, but when you add Ghostface into the mix, that's when heads start turning. The real double take happens when one realizes the production's reference-packed sound collages overshadow the spitting.

Deep Tissue - demo, CS (self-released)
I caught their set at The Bunker, which subverted my hardcore expectations with tightly knit, haunting punk.

Fury - Failed Entertainment, LP (Run for Cover)
This doesn't have quite the epic sweep that 'Paramount' has, but I also do like how willing these post-Internet hardcore bands try out different sounds.

Shit Coffins - Termination, LP (Iron Lung)
Oh hi, ex-Talk is Poison and ex-Deathreat kind of automatically drops it in your Cart, right?

UPDATE: I read wrongly. Shit Coffins does not have a member or Deathreat. Or even Death Threat, for that matter. But there are ex-members of Mass Arrest and No Statik. Thank you for the correction. 

Rakta - Falha Comum, LP (Iron Lung)
Admittedly, I found the last couple of Rakta releases a bit tedious, losing me in gracious swaths of guitar noise. So. what now? Lose the guitars. This freed up the band to a behemoth of freak sounds that's, like, the cosmos, maaaan.

BLAG, Vol. 16: Best of 2018

During a lesson on The Scarlet Letter, my 12th grade English teacher was driving home the importance of adhering to "absolute truths." Rarely one to talk in class, I raised my hand, "There really isn't such a thing as an absolute truth, is there?" My teacher flipped out. At the end of her rant about my lack of morals, she challenged me, "I think child slavery is wrong. Do you believe in child slavery?"

"No. But child slavery exists in this world, so someone's good with it. It's relative, not absolute."

"Ladies and Gentlemen, let the record show that Vincent supports child slavery."

I'm not sure that's the reading that Nathaniel Hawthorne intended, but it's subjective, I guess. Whatever.

With subjectivity in mind, this is not a Best of 2018 List. It's a Stuff I Listen To That Happened To Be Released in 2018 List, in no particular order.

Rata NegraJusticia Cósmica LP (La Vida Es Un Mus)

Last year’s debut of driving, but infectious punk from Madrid, Spain made my 2017 list, and they’ve certainly stepped up on the follow up. Everything about this record is bigger, more thought out, and executed at a grander scale. Those infectious melodies build upon each other, and shines best on the slow crescendo of “Nada va a Permanecer Dorado.”

Hot SnakesJericho Sirens LP (Subpop)

One of the drawbacks of working at Sorry State Records is probably when I come into the store and drone on and on about how much I love John Reis. I’ve written plenty on that subject, so I’ll keep this simple: do you like riffs? Reis is your Santa and he’s got a magical Bag of Holding full of Riffs.

GeldPerfect Texture LP (Iron Lung)

The more I listen to this record, to more I admire how well Australia’s Geld balance high velocity hardcore with spacey flange noise jams. The last record I remember trying something to this effect was Cave In’s Jupiter, which was an exercise in contrast – and, retroactively, sometimes excess. Geld goes for a more economic and seamless approach, adding breath when necessary, then punctuating it with distorted violence. It’s a ripper that pauses so old people like me can catch up.

Negative ScannerNose Picker LP (Trouble in Mind)

Like the aforementioned Rata Negra, Chicago’s Negative Scanner came out with a solid debut of dark post-punk, then, on their follow-up, went bigger. The riffs embrace their Wire influence and get chopped and screwed with incredible wit.

C.H.E.W.Feeding Frenzy LP (Iron Lung)

Another Chicago band, but those who know me should always presume the chauvinistic bias. The city has a stellar reputation for straightforward hardcore, but C.H.E.W. spin a new velocity on that sound, creating something much more visceral. Make sure the catch them live if you can: the drummer is one of the most blistering performers out there.

Vince StaplesFM! (Def Jam)

This time around, the concept is an homage to West Coast rap, in the format of breezy FM radio. The twist is how the fun, summer jams provide foil to Staples’ dark, snarky cynicism. He harshes every good time: from the stark realism that summer is always followed by gun violence to the beat of “Outside!” where Staples’ punctuating “Yeah!” is so sardonic, you can pretty much hear his eyes rolling.

No LoveChoke On It LP (Sorry State)

No one here will put this on their Best of 2018 List because it’s too close to home (Daniel and Seth are in this band), so I’ll claim this hill to die on. If you’re a regular customer and don’t have this, you should be ashamed of yourselves for directly taking food out of Tobio’s mouth.


GummingHuman Values (self-released)

I got into this around October, a few weeks before Gumming played here at The Bunker, and it’s perfect for the holidays: demented punk that lurches menacingly. Some songs carry a playfulness where the cadence comes off like a spooky nursery rhyme. Fans of The Monorchid, do take note.


Cadaver DogDying Breed LP (Youth Attack)

Two words: misanthropic and mean. Just throw my regurgitated id on a platter and let it fester, alone, in the corner of a Golden Corral hot bar.

Tentenko – s/t LP (Toothpaste Records)

Let’s talk about this trajectory: Tentenko’s rise to fame was as a late addition to the unconventional – sometimes even satirical – Japanese pop idol group, BiS (Brand-new Idol Society). The first single she appears on is “DiE,” one of their many critiques of idol culture, this one specifically focusing on body image. That’s pretty dark for being on the pop music charts, right? Next, BiS teamed up with Japanese harsh noise band Hijokaidan and formed BiS Kaidan. Here’s a video of a cover of Jun Togawa’s “Suki Suki Daisuki,” with homages to Hanatarash and The Stalin.

BiS disbanded shortly after the BiS Kaidan collaboration, and Tentenko stayed in the noise community, releasing CD-Rs of atmospheric drone and electronica, which is probably best exhibited on her Soundcloud page.

Her international debut is hailed as a return to pop, but instead of the pre-fab, disposable spectacle of contemporary idol music, these songs feel lived-in. Tentenko’s comfort with experimentation deepens her pop vision, and songs like “Goodbye, Good Girl” will definitely catapult her out of the idol world. 


I ran out of words and/or time:

Alice BagBlueprint LP (Don Giovanni)
BB and the BlipsShame Job LP (Thrilling Living)
Booji BoysWeekend Rocker LP (Drunken Sailor)
Cold MeatPork Sword Fever 7” (Static Shock)
ConvenienceStop Pretending 7” (Iron Lung)
Crisis Actors – demo (self-released)
ISS – s/t 7” (Sorry State)
Janelle MonaeDirty Computer (BMG)
Personality Cult – s/t LP (Drunken Sailor)
SBSMLeave Your Body 7” (Thrilling Living)
Scarecrow – demo (Bunker Punks Discs and Tapes)
Vittna – 7" promo (Bunker Punks Discs and Tapes)
Warm Bodies – s/t LP (Erste Theke Tontraeger)




Various ArtistsBasement Beehive: The Girl Group Underground LP (Numero Group)


Laughing HyenasMerry Go Round, You Can’t Pray a Lie, Life of Crime, Hard Times LPs (Third Man / Touch & Go)

Life destroyed this band, so let history be kind to the Laughing Hyenas. If you haven’t seen this oral history, it’s a good read.

PrincePiano and a Microphone 1983 LP (NPG / Warner Bros.)

Season’s Greetings, you Grinches.


And, speaking of Grinches, this is worth a chuckle.

I guess this is a response to this tweet from our local Mountain Goat herder, John Darnielle.

BLAG. Vol. 15: Travelin'

"Travelinnnnnnn at the speeeed of... love."

That song gets stuck in my head more times per week than I'd care to admit, and if you haven't read this oral history of the Judgement Night soundtrack, it's a fun read.

When traveling, most of us seek out the local color that bleeds through the tourist traps: the native cuisine, idiosyncratic boutiques, or the bars where everyone isn’t. As fans of underground punk and hardcore, we look for the local scenes, right? Who are the good bands? Where are the shows? How does the local flavor digest the broader, established network?

With contemporary stuff, my friends and I are generally old and out of touch, so I tend to travel without leads. Most times, I go in cold – it's actually preferable. Start with a good record store – the smaller and nichier, the better. Otherwise, most musicians moonlight in the service industry, so asking around with bartenders and wait staff tends to help. Find a show in the weekly paper and talk to strangers over cool band shirts.

Errant note: the last time I was in PDX, I noticed that most bartenders and bussers wore Red Fang t-shirts. It was more often to be coincidental, like it’s part of a planned community or something. Someone, please enlighten me.

I’ve found that mid-sized scenes are far more interesting than big metropolitans. It’s something Daniel and I discuss a lot – maybe it assuages any of his existential anxiety about settling down in Raleigh, North Carolina. Big cities carry a lot of autonomy; which is the ultimate freedom, but its punk scenes tend to be fleeting – their foundations weakened by transient populations, rapid gentrification, and trying to create niche on a very large canvas.

Chicago was the latter, literally. The city itself is sprawling with endless, wonderful neighborhoods with punks peppered everywhere. There was constant activity, but it’s hard to gain cohesive momentum when various splinters are working in silos. And, as with most urban areas, other cultural events compete for time. Like, The Busy Signals are playing an afternoon show, but it’s also Paczki Day? That’s a legit standoff.

My wife’s from Rochester, New York. She’s not punk, and my visits there have entailed hopping from one family function to another. On my last visit, I enlisted my brother-in-law, Jarrod, to check out a few record stores.

It’s obvious that Record Archive is an institution, and it was cool to gawk at Dan Lilker stalking around behind the counter. However, its behemoth size flattens out, then it’s very apparent you’re just there to transact currency for goods. House of Guitars is also massive, but its disorganization bristles my OCD tendencies, that sorting through decades of neglected filler is a lot of heavy lifting.

“This place is probably more your style,” said Jarrod, as we stopped into a small shop on Gregory St. called Needle Drop. After flipping through a New Releases stack of well-curated indie store fare to the ambient industrial playing over the speakers, I looked up and saw a Repos promo noose, and a sign above the register that said KEEP CALM AND LISTEN TO INFEST. Walked to the back, and – ah, here we go – punk/hardcore had its own third of the store.

The owner, Russ, and I traded some small talk upon check out. Once the store traffic died down, I asked him about the local happenings. A good record store clerk relishes the opportunity to play scene ambassador to an out-of-towner: it’s a way to dish out on your favorite overlooked locals, upsell some dead stock, and swells that civic pride (which, is often clouded in cynicism). With the stranger danger tedium defenestrated, Russ was walking me through the local music section, talking up bands of years past and what they’re up to now. I walked out with a handful of Rochester-area stuff, ready to open like fortune cookies.

Seth told me that Rational Animals was the recent big band from Rochester. Surprisingly, I couldn’t find any of their stuff at my stops. However, the former members have stayed busy, so a number of those ex-Rational Animals releases are below.

Here’s some highlights of my Rochester Record Haul:

Tapehead, 7” (Cherish Records)
Tapehead’s pedigree is ex-members of Rational Animals, Brown Sugar, Love Pork, Ivy, and Aaron and the Burrs. Both songs are Dead Boys-style punk that just veers through a gamut of creative turns: off-kilter hardcore riffs, stompy rock ‘n roll, skittering leads, a false ending, shimmering hooks, rude ‘tude, spacey noise, and a big, 70’s rock finale. It sounds messy, but the transitions are well-earned and it’s an absolute journey.

Rotten UK, That is Not Dead… LP (Hells Headbangers)
The singer of Blüdwülf fronts this smart twist of UK 82 punk and deathrock that slaloms between ominous anarcho-punk gloom and ghostly oi, pierced by atmospheric interludes that harkens Goblin’s Suspiria soundtrack. The band executes its tone perfectly – “Their Dreams” refrain is “Thatcher! Thatcher! Reagan! Reagan! / It’s all happening again,” and “Back to War” ends on a spoken word part that feels so tongue-in-cheek that I’m hoping my chuckles are with them, and not at them.

Skate Korpse, Limited LP (Punks Before Profits Records / Feral Kid Records)
Dr. Daniel plugged this one heavily, so this was one of the ones I sought out. Skate Korpse are definitely a punk band in velocity, but the guitars carry a heavy surf influence. Top that tight execution with way sarcastic vocals, and you’ve got this absurd mix that just as funny as it is good. Part of me wants to think they existed just to annoy hardcore kids.

Lieutenant, s/t LP (Art of the Underground / Warm Bath Label / Peterwalkee Records)
Ohh, this one is good. Singer sounds like Tony Erba, but instead of the Japanese riffage of Gordon Solie Motherfuckers, it’s more rooted in American East Coast hc – there’s a dark and brutal tone brings on qualities of Rorschach and Protestant. Related bands include: Resist Control, Gas Chamber, Lemuria, and Running for Cover.

Running for Cover, demo LP (Painkiller Records)
The Buffalo, NY outfit play some No Comment-infused powerviolence: hyperventilating drums, beastly bass work, and kidney stone passing vocals. So it makes sense that one of these guys played on the No Comment-related Dead Language LP, which was one of my favorite records of 2011.

School Shootings, s/t LP (Casual Punks Records and Tapes)
I picked this one up from the stacks because it had a really intriguing cover: a Siegfried Lenz children’s novel, 5-ink pen, microcassette recorder, hammer, coffee mug, photos, and a graph paper pad with “School Shootings” written over and over – still trying to connect the dots. The music itself is much more straightforward. It’s fast and furious, with harrowing vocals and enough noise to bring on the dirge.

Flip Shit, Outgoing Rockers 7” (Reel Time Records)
Five songs of tornado-velocity garage punk played with hardcore discipline. The overly distorted barking and grimy swagger remind me of Buffalo-cum-Chicago’s Baseball Furies, but with much more polish.


A few years ago, a couple friends and I traveled through a few stops in Southeast Asia – Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Singapore, to be precise. Asia proved to be a hard nut to crack for a number of reasons: lack of local access, language barriers, and in some of the countries we visited, any sort of Western subculture carried a heavy stigma and marginalized to the far fringes.

In Cambodia, we found a record store in Siem Reap that specialized in your standard thrift store finds, but there's a neat selection on the wall.

Vietnam had an “indie rock” bar called Yoko Ono in Ho Chi Minh City that featured bands playing Western covers. The headliner warned the crowd, “We’re gonna be heavy,” and kicked off their set with Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name of…” Then, they followed up that jam with UB40’s “Red Red Wine.”

In Thailand, our friends Logan and Sandy were living in Bangkok, but a national flood emergency kept us from exploring much. They were involved with graf artists, and, from that, knew of a prolific straight edge scene. We did find subculture in the sense of a country/western bar. It was a haven for rural Thai workers, trying to escape the urban bustle of Bangkok. The live band played American country songs, and patrons would take turns, singing their own lyrics about the Thai heartland.

We found an independent record store in Singapore that had printed up some infamously subversive t-shirts, but when I tried to talk about local punk music, the clerk had no idea what I was talking about. We did see flyers for The Casualties and Every Time I Die.

We came out of the trip with the theory that punk rock – at least our modern version – was a byproduct of industrialized nations. Or, to take vernacular from that time, a First World Problem. For punk, our trip proved to be mostly a failure.

This is not the case with John Yingling, an old acquaintance from Chicago who pretty much dropped everything, moved to Asia, and now follows bands around on tour, through places like China and Indonesia, documenting as much as he can. Editing live footage, interviews, and touring b-roll into a project called The World Underground, he already got two episodes out. Each are over an hour, but very much worth your time.

Pluggin what's Buggin

Crisis Actors, demo (self-released)
This Boston peace punk outfit preview three songs off their upcoming demo. What elevates their Crass foundation are nervy lead guitar work that isn’t afraid to burst into rockin’ solos, and stellar vocal work that shifts effortlessly between pissed menace and belting melody.

Negative Scanner, Nose Picker LP (Trouble in Mind)
There’s a lot to anticipate after Negative Scanner’s s/t LP, a smart debut of dark and angular post-punk, but I didn’t expect Rebecca Valeriano-Flores and company to elevate their game this much. Their follow-up shines brighter, plays more tricks, and renders more shades out of the infinite post-punk well – tracks like “The Only One” emit a heavy Wire influence. When many of your friends across Chicago’s diverse punk scene are all calling out “Album of the Year” on this, in unison, you best perk up.

Tierra Muerta, (Trans) Human (C) Ages (self-released)
The first song perked my ears, as it has an Assfactor 4 blend to it that a lot of modern bands don’t do. While the rest of the songs diverge to other hardcore influences, there’s a melodic quality to the riffing that keeps bringing me back.

BLAG., Vol. 14: Kreative Kontrol

My train arrived in New York City around suppertime, so I met my friend at his office while he finished out some work at a design agency. “Wanna tour?” he asked, as I threw my bags under his cubicle. A graphic designer-in-training, I enthusiastically obliged. The dotcom boom had hit, and everyone was high on the hog, pouring in treasure chests of media company moolah, trying to capture the attention and eyeballs of a new digital age.

We walked into a windowless room with several computers. One guy was working late, animating cartoon characters. “That’s where we make the Flash games,” my friend explained, as we exited the room. Then, in a low whisper, he added, “That was Rick Fork. You know, from Drive Like Jehu.” I snapped my neck looking back at that closed door.

As someone who heartily enjoys the Midas’ touch of John Reis, Rick Froberg basks in that shimmer, and, therefore, had a hand in some of my favorite records. On this BLAG, let’s talk about Froberg, the visual artist.

I mean, look at this:

Straight outta Juxtapoz:

Looks great on uncoated stock:

Feel that warm, familiar embrace of nostalgia:

Thematically strong, and an excellent use of the “Creative Fee” line on a major label budget:

And, now we get to Hot Snakes’ latest, and arguably greatest, Jericho Sirens.

The cover art isn’t bad – in fact, at a weekly record listening party I attend, someone remarked, “That record cover is cool,” and then later said, “This band sounds like My Chemical Romance.”


When I first saw this cover, I thought maybe it might have been Subpop’s in-house designer – whose work I really enjoy, but there’s a commercial appeal that’s just very status quo. It doesn’t have the offhand illustrative weirdness or vintage artifacts of your typical Froberg piece. Is the meticulously shot surfing image a stock photo? (Daniel thinks that could be bassist Gar Wood) Was the size and prominence of the Subpop logo a contractual obligation? (Froberg's known to overstate mundane boilerplate items) I miss the hand-drawn over this san-serif, inputted type, with the only typographic flair on the insert: the liner notes being repeated and rotated every tubular 90 degrees.

At least they splurged on shiny. That’s a nice touch. I like shiny.

Design Trends that Need to Retire Now

1) Alphonse Mucha meets Pushead. Unless you’re Baroness, in which you completely own that aesthetic, and, as captain of the ship, must go down with it.

2) Runes as a band logo. This is about as contrived as farm-to-table restaurants and craft beer bars using a thin-ruled “X” in their logo, like it’s a delicate NYHC logo. Put your Pick-up Sticks away.

3) Child-like Drawings. If it was done by your kid, that’s endearing and, as a father, have my 100% support on broadcasting that farther than the refrigerator door. If not, then you’re that NARC sycophant on Art School Confidential. And a poser.

You Should Buy these Musics at Sorry State Records:

Hot Snakes, Jericho Sirens LP (Subpop)
I’m pretty sure I’ve written enough about this record above. Musically, it’s fantastic, and all I’ve been listening to since its release. Definitely does not have a My Chemical Romance vibe.

H.C. McEntire, Lionheart LP (Merge)
I’m not too familiar with Mount Moriah, but I did see McEntire crush “The Star Spangled Banner” at a Durham Bulls game a few years ago. Anyways, this record came out weeks ago, and it’s not standard SSR fare – despite Kathleen Hanna’s heavy consultation in its production – but I keep coming back to it. With a voice that boasts like Emmylou Harris, the tempered arrangements hold back just enough tension to create a quiet album that’s starkly stirring.

Perverts Again, Friday Night Light LP (Total Punk)
Tangential to this BLAG, I picked up this record because the cover art grabbed my nuts immediately. It works for the band: a disaffected pop record with a foreboding frontman who wields weaponized sarcasm. He’s the kind of person that walks up to you, hands behind his back, and cheerfully says, “Let’s fight!” I’ll take that chance.

Various Artists, Typical Girls, Vol. 3 (Emotional Response)
Various Artists, Typical Girls, Vol. 4 (Emotional Response)
I was looking through my compilation section last week, and came to this conclusion that I rarely revisit them after a few years. Very few are consistently great, bringing hit after hit. However, these exceptionally well-curated Typical Girls collections certainly stand-out.

BLAG, Vol. 13: Oh, Split!

“Now that I’ve got a much greater appreciation for jazz, I should probably give Iceburn another try.” — Daniel Lupton, 2018

Here’s your chance, Dr. Daniel, H.C.P.M.F.!

Iceburn / Engine Kid, split 12" (Revelation)

There’s an old joke I heard two, tree times around Chicago about moving into a space Tony Victory once occupied, and all that was left was an old mattress, coupla burnt condoms, and a box of Iceburn 7”s. No one liked that band – except for me! You see my 18-year old Iceburn beanie to prove it. In a time where kids were still wrapping their heads around chugga chugga breakdowns, this Salt Lake City outfit melded together hardcore-influenced jazz. Their later output grew more improvised, therefore, longer – at a time when hardcore trends were leaning fast and short. As the hardcore around them became more commercial, and the postrock they were more sonically akin to grew into its own cottage industry, Iceburn held a lonely island of their own. On this split with Engine Kid, they riff on one of my favorite classical pieces, Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.

I’m surprised at how little-regarded Engine Kid are, as Greg Anderson went on to Goatsnake, Sunn 0))), and start Southern Lord Records. It was the mid-90s and Revelation Records had branched out to more accessible sounds – lots of indies did, in hopes of getting the next Subpop/Nirvana partnership in the alternative rock feeding frenzy. Engine Kid did the soft/loud thing, where soft was the meandering picking of a post-Slint indie soundscape, and loud was a walloping crunch of doomy hardcore. Perhaps it’s the company they kept, but there’s no vocals on this release – letting the distortion pedal do the heavy lifting.

Shotmaker / Maximillian Colby, split 12" (Nervous Wreck Kids)

The first song on the Max Colby side made it onto the first DIY punk mixtape given to me, and it fires off such a scorcher of a side: perfect chaos to silence tension, manic drums, and eyes-rolled-back harrowing vocals. Woefully obscure, despite helping lay groundwork for what would eventually become screamo, the band ceased when bassist Bob Baynor died suddenly in his sleep in 1995 (hear Avail’s tribute here). Members went on to form the great Sleepytime Trio.

The Shotmaker side is my favorite work from this Canadian trio’s canon. Like Max Colby, it’s emo, heavy on the dynamics and riddled with twisty time signatures. Unlike Max Colby, the songs careen along more linearly, so it’s more of a reckless driver than rubbernecking into space – they fit a sound similar to their Ottawaian mates, (Union of) Uranus. Upon this 2018 listen, it’s pretty clear how proto-At the Drive In this sounds. Should’ve signed to Grand Royal!

Screeching Weasel / Born Against, split 7" (Lookout!)

It’s a concept record: Ben Weasel writes lyrics for Born Against and Sam McPheeters writes lyrics for Screeching Weasel. The bands play their respective, yet contrasting styles: Screeching Weasel sing about Salvadoran soldiers killing 800 civilians in the El Mozote Massacre in their Ramones-flavored pop-punk, and Born Against pay homage to Bay Area institution Janelle with misanthropic hardcore. It’s novel, but it works as an analogy of 90s punk, where disparate sounding bands were often pals in the broader punk community. Shows at the time were all over the place – for better or for worse.

Similarly, Coalesce and The Get Up Kids each covered a song by the other. The Get Up Kids turn “Harvest of Maturity” into a tender pop anthem with a weak-ass breakdown, and Coalesce do what they do, which I always describe as “that scene in Robocop where the dude takes a toxic waste bath.

Life’s Halt / No Reply, Goodbye California... ...Hell-O U.S.A. split 7" (Indecision)

One neat thing about age is being able to retroactively contextualize titanic shifts in hardcore. As the 90s made way for the advent of the next millennium, the scene had sprawling subgenres, all of which kept splintering, and the DIY(ish) infrastructure to support it.

All that bloat made an undertow for bands to bring it back to basics, and this split (made for the as-significant tour) kind of eclipsed that renewed spirit that enveloped underground scenes throughout the United States.

This split is seared into my brain for sentimental purposes: My friend Justin from DC and I set out to Cleveland Fest, which got cancelled. The bands scattered around the region, so we meandered from one show to the next, meeting new kids in every city, and crashing on the floors of kind strangers. We made it up to Life's Halt and No Reply in Buffalo, New York, and somehow turned that into a few days in Canada. We simply injected ourselves into the DIY network and let it run its course.

Protomartyr / R. Ring, A Half of Seven split 7" (Hardly Art)

I'm strangely apathetic to Protomartyr; there's contrarian fatigue to the "Joy Division as a Genre" post-punk that's the du jour of the stylishly hip. However, every time I put them on the turntable, I can't take it off. This split felt like a gamble: What if it was a throwaway Protomartyr song? I certainly enjoyed The Kelley Deal 6000 – 20 years ago – what's her music going to be like now? Whoa, this record is kind of pricey, and the Helvetica Letraset isn't even straight – will it be worth it?

Assuredly, the Protomartyr song is fantastic. Then Kelley Deal's featured vocals kick in and she just elevates Protomartyr to the next level. Then she takes it to another level after that. It's such an impressive and unexpected vocal performance, I was stoked to hear what came next.

Thankfully, the R. Ring side wasn't a simple throwback. Perhaps it's a freedom from the constraints of high expectations, or just time for these songs to marinate and nurture, but "Loud Underneath" is unique, and playfully experiments while maintaining momentum.

The Impossible Five / The Jerks 7”, split 7" (Lovitt)

There were a lot of smart melodies going on the DC area around this time: Chisel, Trusty, et al. This particular split flew a little under the radar, so it's worth a revisit a couple of decades later.

“Spy-rock” was what was thrown around when describing Virginia’s The Impossible Five, which brought to mind Bond soundtracks. However, this band exhibited much more. They sounded frenzied, with heavy swagger, yet still maintained that DC flavor (those Guy Picciotto-esque backing vocals always do it). Jason Simon eventually went on to start the Washington, DC stoner rock trio Dead Meadow.

The Jerks were a much more low profile band, a sort of stop-gap for Shelby Cinca when Frodus wasn’t on tour. Maybe a fun escape from the high-energy spasms of his normal band? The garage rock staples are there: "Louie Louie" chords, "Yeah, yeah!" chants, and lo-fi production that can't quite contain the high energy "WAAAAAAAAAAAAHS."



SBSM, Leave Your Body 7" (Thrilling Living) 

ISS, s/t 7" (Sorry State)

The House of Tomorrow trailer

Here's this upcoming punk rock coming of age film, a directorial debut by Peter Livolsi. In the trailer, the protagonist is introduced to punk through this Garden State moment. The song? It's by Football, a short-lived Chicago supergroup consisting of Jimmy Hollywood (Baseball Furies, Tyrades), Mike Lust (Lustre King, Tight Phantomz), Srini Radhakrishna (White+Outs, France Has the Bomb, Space Raft, The Guilty Pleasures), and Jered Gummere (The Ponys, Hot Machines, Bare Mutants, The Guilty Pleasures). One problem: if these guys are your introduction to punk, then this kid is ruined. NEVER RETIRE.

I won't link the new Vince Staples single here because I don't want to figure out how to get around the streaming sites, but the GoFundMe lead up to it was pretty entertaining stuff.

Arms Race, The Beast ep (Painkiller)

Superchunk, What a Time to Be Alive LP (Merge)

BLAG, Vol. 12: 2017 in Review

Record clerk gripe: When a customer comes in, and asks, “What’s out that’s GOOD?” Sure, it’s innocuous small talk, and a great opening to upsell certain records – an experienced clerk knows how to deduct suggestions by teasing out interests. However, when the question is blurted cold upon entrance, it’s rooted in this belief that there’s absolute “good” music and “bad,” and one look at TouchTunes data proves that’s pretty subjective. My go-to for these requests used to be, “Oh, dude, you’re gonna love this band called Scrotum Grinder…”

Drugcharge / The Bunker, Raleigh, NC / July 8, 2017

Therefore, I shy away from using “The Best...” for my Year End Lists. With nearly every corner of music accessible with a few keystrokes, there’s a lot of music I haven’t heard. Plus, I have a kid, so my day is really spent singing “Wheels on the Bus” over and over and over again, in hopes of distracting her from that endless kid-quest of “What Can I Maim Myself With Now?” Luckily, I live in the same town as Sorry State Records, which is like the Golden Corral of Stuff I Enjoy, so here’s what I went to for multiple servings.

Peppered throughout the post are some outtakes from photos I took with my phone throughout 2017. More can be found on my Instagram feed.

Scarecrow / The Bunker, Raleigh, NC / October 7, 2017

Ten Favorites I Whittled Down Using Subjectivity and Bias

ISS, (Endless Pussyfooting) LP (Erste Theke Tontrager)
My review was an old college radio anecdote about this band’s hip hop approach to punk music, and how sampling has musical merit. Once the novelty wears off, you’ve still got wonderfully written songs with a sinisterly sardonic sense of humor. My favorite release of 2017 is a whimsical side project, but, to make a completely meaningless statement, Weird Al has won multiple Grammys.

Bodykit / The Local 506, Chapel Hill, NC / March 4, 2017

Rata Negra, Oído absoluto LP (La Vida Es Un Mus)
Seth turned me onto the now-defunct Juanita Y Los Feos a few years back, and their ashes teamed up with a member of La Urss for this early 2017 release. It’s hard to pinpoint, whether it’s in her inflection, or pop sensibility, but the way Juanita/Violeta Terroba crafts a hook is incredibly infectious. The Dangerhouse-style punk drives it dark and mean, giving a foreboding stage for the vocal performance.

Fitness Womxn / The Bunker, Raleigh, NC / July 21, 2017

Impalers, Cellar Dweller LP (Magic Bullet Records)
This is a perfect record with perfect punctuation. The opening inhale made me want to throw a chair out the window and the final song – an instrumental rework with an extended guitar solo that never stops – is the kind of rager that subconsciously influences you to depress the gas pedal a little too far. Destroy, oh boy!

Mind Dweller / Neptune's, Raleigh, NC / June 14, 2017

Vince Staples, Big Fish Theory (Def Jam Recordings)
General consensus is that Staples’ homage to Detroit techno pales in comparison his breakthrough: the dark, introspective Summertime ‘06, which it does. But, I’ll wager this record will age well, like how The Wire: Season 2 felt off, but its contextual brilliance was apparent once the show’s canon was finally realized. That’s not to say Staples has a grand vision, but his keen intelligence and curiosity is ripe for exploration.

Public Acid / King's, Raleigh, NC / August 24, 2017

Taiwan Housing Project, Veblen Death Mask LP (Kill Rock Stars)
Much of the music we write about comes down to managing chaos, with some bands exhibiting that skill first and foremost. Harry Pussy was a 1990s noise punk stalwart, and guitarist Mark Feehan continues that bile expulsion with bigger ambitions in Taiwan Housing Project. The songs build to freak-out frenzy, then dissipate to spacey white noise, with some lost folk song in the background, then build again to some scuzzed out rock with haunting vocals. Oh, and there’s a saxophone. Somehow, it all falls in place with this tightly pulverizing structure. I can’t imagine what kinds of demons ping pong in Feehan’s brain, but I’d imagine he has a messy bedroom at the very least.

Nikki Dixx / The Bunker, Raleigh, NC / October 7, 2017

Das Drip, demo cassette (self-released)
Das Drip are ex-Whatever Brains, with Rich Ivey also juggling his electronic noise duo Bodykit, and the always cuttin’ up ISS. In this return to fast and loud, Das Drip are going for nervy punk layered with frantic outbursts. The singer brims with paranoia, matching riffs that skitter with precise abandon, both trying to catch up to a rhythm section that’s constantly threatening to take off, but never does. Their cacophony is a delicate balance, which is a feat to see live.

Das Drip / The Bunker, Raleigh, NC / July 21, 2017

Vittna, demo cassette (self-released)
Vittna rose out of the ashes of Blackball, but instead of excruciatingly regimented, tightly-wound hardcore, the band opens it up with to a darker, moodier set of dynamics. This doomy devastation stages a vicious, jugular gouging vocal performance. As a demo, I wasn’t expecting this to be so well-realized, so get it before Jeff cuts his hair and convinces the band to go pop metal.

Vittna / The Bunker, Raleigh, NC / July 14, 2017

girlSperm, gSp LP (Thrilling Living)
In modern indie rock radio, there’s a grating trend: the campfire sing-along refrain. I get that it harkens back to youthful innocence, but any authenticity is sanitized by formula and I don’t trust it like Alex Guerrero assuring me it’s not gonna hurt. That said, I’m a huge sucker for call-and-response, and gSp’s unhinged joy gets that. Flipper is the most obvious jumping-off point, especially when a singer holds a yell far longer than necessary, so much that it becomes integral. It’s a cathartic and freeing and spontaneous performance; raw enough to evoke chagrin, but still the funnest thing I heard all year.

Haram / King's, Raleigh, NC / August 24, 2017

Rapsody, Laila’s Wisdom (Jamla / Roc Nation)
Taking a cue from regular collaborator Kendrick Lamar, Raleigh talent Rapsody’s breakthrough full-length continues the beat-heavy jazz-funk sound that dominated To Pimp a Butterfly. It’s a heavy influence, at points stylistically detrimental, but Rapsody’s plenty talented enough to distinguish her ambition past mimicry. Much has been written about her maturity – how this is “grown up” rap – which I feel sells Rapsody (and rap) short. She’s too introspective for vapid party anthems and rhymes too smart to write a dumb hook, so while there’s no clear banger, it’s the densest hip hop record of 2017.

Heat, s/t 7” (Deranged)
“This sounds like if Crossed Out was a bigger flirt,” says my notes. Powerviolence by sheer force and brevity, but instead of “Are we on the same page? Ok, let’s fucking goooooooooo /stop,” Heat inverts and subverts with various influences from the hardcore paradigm flipping blastbeats to mosh to dirge without losing steam, which is a feat considering the song lengths.

Princess Nokia, 1992 Deluxe (Rough Trade)
Shout out to No Love vox master Elizabeth Lynch for nodding this at a Bunker show afterparty. Wary of the heavy ‘90s aesthetic and fearing a tone deaf nostalgia trip, the bangers power through with assured savvy. The ‘90s are only a point of reference, and this is a now record. Unapologetic and frank, but with just enough irony to keep one guessing, Princess Nokia’s versatile flow switches between disjointed trap call outs and acrobatic bravado. 1992 only sports one feature (Wiki), proving that Princess Nokia is a wellspring of diss spitting and pop culture non-sequiturs.

No Love / The Bunker, Raleigh, NC / November 8, 2017

Other 2017 Releases That Didn’t Make the Above List,
But I Had Some Words About Them

Sial, s/t LP (La Vida Es Un Mus)
On a trip to Southeast Asia a few years ago, I kept an eye out for any semblance of a punk scene. The only artifacts were found in Singapore, evidenced by an anti-authoritarian record store and flyers for The Exploited and Terror shows. Sial was what I was searching for, but couldn’t find. The lo-fi production adds wallop to a bottom heavy sound, but this is hardcore that doesn’t lurch. The riffs are fast and the Malay vocals are faster, and it just culminates like this fuzzed-out explosion.

Nurse, s/t 7” (Scavenger of Death)
Every night, when I wash my hair in the shower, I’m more alarmed at how much hair comes off with each scrub. I’m blaming it on this flamin’ hot bit o’ wax: it’s the perfect mix of pummeling tempos with rock’n roll breakdowns, anthemic leads, and a singer that is trying to discharge a kidney stone from his esophagus.

Sheer Mag, Need to Feel Your Love LP (Wilsuns Recording Company)
Let’s establish that Sheer Mag’s crossover success has led to some underground backlash – enough to warrant exclusion on year end lists in these circles, right? The third 7” didn’t move me as much as the second, so I came to the LP expecting a similarly tepid reaction. Whatever to the haters, this album is great. When the title track hit the stereo, my daughter immediately starts squealing and dancing, which immediately forged a bond with this record in one of those irrational parenting moments. To cop a term someone commented on my IG, it’s definitely “Dad rock.”

Bat Fangs, Wolf Bite / Rock the Reaper 7” (self-released)
See my notes here. Full length, like, next month? New music video up there.

Concussion / The Bunker, Raleigh, NC / October 7, 2017

Konvoi, No Rifts digital album (Friends Records)
Konvoi are lovers, not fighters now. While I miss the razor-sharp post-punk aggressiveness, the new album stands on its own merits. It’s warm and fuzzy, and spaces out like the best acid trips. There are fleeting moments that punctuate with acute clarity, earning that tension, then rewarding with some brimming hooks.

Konvoi / Kosher Hut, Raleigh, NC / May 6, 2017

Limp Wrist, Facades LP (Lengua Armada)
Check out my previous review here. Daniel’s review here. And here's a photo from their record release show in Chicago.

Limp Wrist / Archer Ballroom, Chicago, IL / August 19, 2017

Superchunk, Break the Glass / Mad World 7” (Merge)
Superchunk’s new single doesn’t stray far from their storied trajectory as North Carolina indie rock royalty, save for a poignant, anthemic moment aided with backing vocals from A Giant Dog’s Sabrina Ellis. However, noteworthy for Sorry State neanderthal types is the solid cover of COC’s “Mad World” for the b-side. Local punk historians know COC’s direct influence, but the Raleigh vs. Chapel Hill rivalry has ebbed and flowed over the decades/generations, so this was a nice nod down I-40. Maybe it's the Durham move, I don't know. Anyways, it’s enough of a moment for me to pull Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records, from the shelf and read that salacious Scott Williams gossip.

A Giant Dog / The Pinhook, Durham, NC / September 3, 2017

Uniform, No Trending LP (State Laughter / Scavenger of Death)
This sat, unloved, on my shelf until recently, and now I want that time back, so I could have fully digested this record at the time of this writing. Dark, melodic punk and its nuances are difficult to pin down, especially ones as experimental as No Trending. There’s a sardonic detachment mixed with minor chord progressions that remind me of the 1990s mostly-forgotten Pacific Northwest indie band Lync. However, it’s far more ambitious as a punk and garage record, combining melody with this oppressive, cold alienation.

R Ring with special guest TIM REMIS / Night Light, Chapel Hill, NC / April 29, 2017

Onto 2018!

On the day of this writing, Daniel put this up on the SSR Slack. Everyone knows I drool over anything John Reis related, so file this under "delicious."

BLAG. Vol. 11 Dear Santa,

Prompt: Our Record Wish Lists

As I’ve mentioned before, I have an admittedly middling record collection. Throughout my life, I’ve surrounded myself with close friends whose collections dwarf mine: rooms filled with nothing but record shelves and a door, with prized trophies encased in glass. These are high value hunters, with bloodthirst far more predatory than mine. Tell me a record is fifty bucks, and my face will contort with the reasoning of how many delicious sandwiches that could buy. The valuable ones I do own, have been acquired simply by being at the right place at the right time.

Reviewing my Wish List, it’s absurdly dated to a very specific time. Most hold nostalgic value from when compact discs were the more dominant format, and at the time, convenience won over collectability. That nostalgia also shows that the stories I’ve attached from my time in punk hold as much meaning as the music itself.

The Temptations, “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World is Today)”
This never made it onto any Temptations album, just singles and Greatest Hits compilations, but it’s an angry track that’s always buried in their canon – at least from a mainstream perspective. Pandora will always point towards earlier hits like "My Girl," but The Beatles taught us that the better songs of a musical legacy are fueled by drugs and disillusionment.

For most that know me, know I'm an obsessive David Simon fan, and I got hip to this song via a promo for Season 4 of The Wire.

Team Dresch, Personal Best LP
Nevermind this MJ vs. LBJ nonsense, Team Dresch is the GOAT. Much of punk is conforming to well-tread templates, Team Dresch whittled down a diverse range of genres into this infused fury. The one-two openers of pop jam "Fagetarian and Dyke" followed by the moshtastic "Hate the Christian Right!" could have sounded scattered and disjointed, but Team Dresch's confidence and smart songwriting created this broad and powerful voice that still sounds great over 20 years later. Nostalgic attachment: This record always seemed to be playing in the background of many 1990s house shows on Columbia St. in Chapel Hill, including a memorable massive "Freewheel" sing-a-long while bands were breaking down.

Bonus Track: C.R. "Hate the Christian Right!" split w/ Milhouse 7"
C.R. also recognized how beastly "Hate the Christian Right!" was, and this cover is fantastic.

Assfactor 4, Sports LP
There’s no reason why I shouldn’t have this, as I was working at Crooked Beat Records (Raleigh’s best record store at the time) when this waaaay posthumous record came in. My boss, the well regarded Bill Daly, was opening the Ebullition shipment and checking in the new stock when he doubled over in laughter.

Why U LOL, I asked. He showed me the cover, where the band just defaced a copy of Huey Lewis and the News’ Sports LP and called it a day. Those copies went pretty fast, and I never snapped one up. Anyways, I see the eponymous record in used bins all over the Carolinas, but never see Sports.


Vintage footage of Dillinger Four at Chicago's Fireside Bowl, Solid joke at 1:25

Dillinger Four, Midwestern Songs of the Americas LP
As written about before, I liked this band, but didn’t fully understand them until I moved to Chicago. The city’s punk scene had a passion and protectiveness for D4 that rivaled that of Bulls fans and Derrick Rose. The live shows were a testament to that love. My first “real” job up there included free gym access, and this provided an upbeat workout soundtrack during my first Chicago winter. I know that means little to anyone outside of the Midwest, but let's just say those winters were a masochistic exercise in brutal oppression to my snowflake Southern ass.

Lords of the Underground, Here Come the Lords LP
Obviously, there’s plenty of albums that take me back to middle school and feel of a specific time and place. Souls of Mischief's '93 Till Infinity certainly takes me back to eighth grade, but that youthful wonder is also muddled with pre-pubescent awkwardness. It's not the greatest feeling. Here Come the Lords was released the same year, but instead of feeling like an aging artifact of pure nostalgia, this record feels consistently fresh. Here Come the Lords warrants a few listens a year, and I catch something new with each round.

Local NC fact: While they're often regionally linked to the golden age of East Coast rap, the group actually met as undergraduates at Shaw University in Raleigh.

Karp, s/t LP
Daniel’s probably screaming, “But we have one hanging right behind the counter, and it’s been there forever!” It’s also $100, and I could eat for a week at Randy’s Pizza with that money. "Bacon Industry" reminds me of getting my driver's license, and that initial release of newfound freedom from suburban malaise. Until that one day when I’m feeling a little reckless, that record with the most perfect opening riff will just mock me at Sorry State.


New Soundz

Cry Babe, Picard / Glasses demo
Maybe I'm old, or haven't adjusted to college town transience, but so many North Carolina bands blip brightly on a radar, then vanish. I get it: young people move on because life is unpredictable, etc. Such was the case with Greensboro, NC's Daddy Issues. Their bassist up and moved to Portland, OR and now has this band with a promising demo.


Prompt: Songs About Partying

Bandages, “Lick the Bag”

Bandages were a short-lived Raleigh band from a few years ago. During a live set at Nice Price Books, guitarist Scott Williams (ex-Days Of..., Double Negative) called out Brain Flannel, whose Empty Set album featured an array of empty cocaine bags on the back of a guitar body. To paraphrase Scott’s intro, “The bags had residue in them. Any coke fiend knows you lick the bag. So, this next one is called ‘Lick the Bag’ and goes out to those posers.”

Unfortunately, I discovered in my research for this piece that “Lick the Bag” wasn’t an actual song – it was just trash talk. Instead, here’s a reminder to pick up the SSR singles series featuring Bandages.

This next one is for Jef Leppard.

Despite Chapel Hill, NC garnering tons of accolades in the 1990s for its independent music scene, there was one outlying Carrboro band that has since faded into obscurity. Hellbender’s vastly underrated, literary-minded pop-punk warranted lots of Jawbreaker comparisons, and for good reason: they wrote intelligent, smartly crafted songs that weren’t annoyingly catchy. This example is not one of them. Live, the song was prefaced with an anecdote of being approached by some UNC frat bro after a show, who told them, “You need to write more songs about girls.” And thus, they responded with this.

Hellbender, “Song About Some Girls”

Obviously, that can’t be your introduction to Hellbender, so here’s another jam to cleanse the palate. In Hellbender’s wake, Al Burian went on to start Milemarker, Challenger, and wrote his renowned zine, Burn Collector. Wells Tower is also an accomplished writer, including a very good compilation of short stories, and Harrison Haynes now plays for Les Savy Fav.

Hellbender, “I Thermostat / Unsolicited Anthem for the Portland Hipsters”

The Oblivians w/ Mr. Quintron, “Live the Life”

“If you’re going to Blackout this year, pour a beer on your head for me when The Oblivians play ‘Live the Life.’” — Tom Hopkins

Live the Life” is an old, much covered gospel tune, boasting spiritual greatness in day-to-day activities. It’s not so much as promoting God’s holiness, but using God’s greatness to springboard one’s individual life to its fullest. So, yeah, this song is about partying.

I can't go to church and shout all day Sunday / go out and get drunk and raise sand on a Monday.

See? Anyways… The Oblivians reunited for the Horizontal Action Blackout in 2006, and brought along Mr. Quintron. It was a time.

Promises kept, Mr. Hopkins, Esq.

N.Y.H.C. Documentary

“The Bronx is phat. You know, I got a weed spot down there, a weed spot down there, a weed spot right there. I’m closed in by the weed spots, bro!” — Cesar Ramirez, District 9

When you and your listless buds are bumming around Friday night, sitting on a porch to avoid the bars, I give the N.Y.H.C. documentary the highest suggestion. Filmed by Frank Pavich (who later directed Jodorowsky’s Dune), it covers the undertow that followed NYHC’s late 80s heyday. Covering pillars of the then-contemporary mid-90s NYHC scene: Madball, 25 ta Life, Vision of Disorder, Crown of Thornz, District 9, No Redeeming Social Value, and 108, the film fulfills its role as a document of the era, and that’s about it.

The music, arguably, isn’t the pinnacle of New York hardcore. There’s no insight to the scene’s contribution to the broader culture. The show footage suffers from low budget tech and lots of “Hell no I’m not bringing my gear into that enormous pit, so I’m just going to stand in the back” wide shots.

However, N.Y.H.C. is my personal second favorite quotable movie, next to Super Troopers. When you get a crew of knuckleheads together and ask them the meaning of everything, you’re gonna get some memorable answers. Couple that with the constant jovial busting of each other’s balls, and you’ve got yuks galore.

Anyways, it’s a perfect film for a low key night of baked goods and beer and pals when y'all were probably going to watch Valley Girl for the sixteenth time.

Gil Mantera’s Party Dream, "Elmo's Wish"

Conceived when a blizzard torpedoed a show in Youngstown, Ohio, Gil Mantera and The Ultimate Donny filled time with Party Talk, a synthpop act whose live show eventually utilized trampolines and flaming pubes. The pageantry involved ironic thrift store costumes that found their way to the stage and crowd in a gradual striptease -- a male revue that seemed choreographed with a mix of half-assed ballet, aerobics, and what looks like someone would do when dancing to Natalie Merchant. It was a gratuitous live show that indulged shamelessness, and I’ve seen them turn the most reticent crowds into all out dance parties (the most glaring example: a sports bar in the Chicago suburbs filled with Bill Swerski’s Super Fans types).

Sonically, Gil Mantera’s synth and vocoder plays foil to the Ultimate Donny’s “white dude tries to do MJB” croon, with an occasional guitar making its way into the composition. In the later years, they added virtuoso Tony Paterra (Zombi) on drums.

Joy Division diehards are a precious bunch, so here’s a “Love Will Tear Us Apart” cover that will surely piss you off.

Turbonegro, “I Got Erection”

In the early aughts, I worked at a bar called Club Foot, in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village neighborhood. Chicago punks of that era certainly remember it: its walls were adorned with rock, punk, and new wave memorabilia from decades past – owners Chuck and Lauree were steeped in the Chicago scene when punk broke. They had an incredible line-up of DJs, and the drinks were cheap in a neighborhood that, nowadays, is more known for its $15 craft cocktails than its dive bars.

Friday nights were my beat. And, every Friday night, three dudes would walk in, sporting greaser cuts, leather biker jackets, and Chuck Taylors, as if they were on hand for The Riverdales photo shoot in case Dan Vapid’s car broke down. Some time between last call and when the house lights would go up, one of those three gentlemen would start singing the refrain from Turbonegro’s “I Got Erection.” It would start in the back: “WOAAAAAAHHOOOOHHOHHHHHH I GOT ERECTION!” and keep going until most of the bar was a singing this jolly boner carol. My job as the surly door person was to be annoyed at such drunken tomfoolery, but I never got tired of this.

Amusing side anecdote: Turbonegro played The Metro a few years later. As the sold out crowd was waiting for our homoerotic Norwegian party rock to take the stage, I heard a familiar chant over the crowd noise. Towards the upper balcony, in the middle, I see one of our heroes, trying to get the crowd going. It wasn’t as successful as our intimate Club Foot settings, but I raised my beer in his general direction.

Now, for something I've been listening to lately...

Trash Knife at The Bunker, November 8, 2017

Philadelphia’s Trash Knife are doing everything superficially right: DGAF ‘tude? Check. Rune logo? Check. One band member with dreads? Check. But it’s the driving punk with songs about partying that will elevate them to crossover appeal. Mute the sound on that Tony Hawk game and jam this instead.


BLAG. Vol. 9

Header Image: Das Drip at The Bunker, July 21, 2017

Prompt: Where do you listen to music and how?

An idea that’s laid dormant on the backburner for years: photographing punk record fiends with their collections. I’m not so much interested in the pissing contest of rare records (online commerce definitely took the fun out of that one, huh?), but in the utilitarian aesthetics of the collection itself. What’s the set-up like? How do they organize their records? What kind of shelves do they have?


I’m not going to do a slick video like Daniel, in fear of mine ending up like this, so I took some photos instead.

Yes, those are custom record shelves, built by a carpenter who lost his movie set building job in Wilmington when then-Governor Pat McCrory's administration cut the state's film budget. The story behind these was a series of indulgences, mostly enabled by my spouse. I think she was hoping to also get a china cabinet out of this build, but somehow, all that space got filled with records. I'm not sure how that happened!

It's in the center of our place, so we can listen to records on the couch, while cooking / eating, defiling the guest restroom, or working in the office. I'd add settling into bed, but the media consumption there is usually my wife falling asleep to Netflix prison documentaries.

Top row sections, from left to right: new arrivals, my wife's records*, soundtracks / compilations

* I implored her that we could combine collections in a statement of marital bliss and harmony. She replied – and I paraphrase – "No. I don't want to have to hunt for my good records in your sea of bullshit. Your patriarchal hegemony can suck it!" Wise one, she is.

The records on the shelves are just organized by artist, then chronologically. Despite buying records through the majority of my life, my collection is actually pretty middling, so there's not many gems to brag about.

On the floor is a pile I'm currently culling to sell at this here Sorry State Records. The red box contains 7"s inherited from my uncle. His 45 collection was more interesting than his LPs, but they also didn't have any sleeves and looked like, well, like they lived through the '70s.

I've had this belt-driven Yamaha P-200 since the mid-aughts, purchased used at the now-defunct Village Records in Chicago, IL. It's paired with an Onkyo receiver that my friend Keara gave me around the same time. Both have been sturdy workhorses.

That thing in the back is a Bluetooth receiver/transmitter, with the idea that we could listen to records through a Bluetooth speaker on the front porch. This way, we're not those horrible neighbors that would twiddle (badly) on an acoustic guitar with some PBRs like we did in college.

In the foreground is an old Touch & Go catalog from 2000 that I misplaced when I shelved the record already. What record do you think it belongs in? It's driving me nuts.

This is a Fastbacks concert poster by one of my favorite designers, Art Chantry. I came across this piece in a magazine while in high school, and it was one of the first epiphanies to bridge my music world to design.

We struck up a brief correspondence when I sent him a photo I took of bootleg Art Chantry t-shirts for sale at a street vendor in Bangkok, which helped inspire the title to his most recent book. Knowing it was going to a massive fan, he was willing to sell me one of his last copies of this classic.

This print of outtakes from the cover shoot of Screeching Weasel's "Punkhouse" 7" is by Martin Sorrondeguy of Los Crudos / Limp Wrist fame. I got this at an opening in Chicago, celebrating the release of his photo book, Get Shot.

The first poster is of the 2006 Horizontal Action Blackout! festival, designed and printed by David Head (who's been doing some amazing fine art work in NYC, and playing guitar in Surfbort). I think this was the last of the massive, multi-day blowouts before taking a hiatus, and coming back at a smaller scale. Check out that line-up.

Second poster is from a Fugazi / Shellac / The Ex show at The Congress Theater the first weekend after I moved to Chicago. Jay Ryan was standing in the lobby, selling these out of a bag for $5. It was the first of many, many Jay Ryan prints I would pick up at various street fairs. About ten feet away, Kim Deal was also standing there, holding a sign that said, "Breeders tickets for sale."

Third poster is a Woody Gutherie quote, documented in woodcut by Ricardo Levins Morales.

The silkscreen screen is an artifact of a flyer I made for a Lightning Bolt / Necronomitron / Double Dagger / The Coughs show in 2003.

Yeah, yeah, we have a Google Home. While the "Don't Be Evil" doers are listening to every conversation in our household, we use it a lot. Most of these appliances advertise its intuitive software "smartypantsness," but we're more fond of coming home and being able to turn on the lights with a voice command like in Star Trek. That sounds gluttonous, but when your arms are full with a squirmy infant, keys, work bag, diaper bag, your coat, the kid's coat, and four bags of groceries, it's a little thing that goes a long way.

Behind it is a framed Dead Kennedy's Frankenchrist LP with "BANNED" stamped on the hype sticker. Not sure if that was done by Alternative Tentacles, or the retailer, but it's a nice artifact of Tipper Gore's PMRC culture war crusade against everything awesome about America.

Little decorations: The Rancor monster and Medicine Man Ewok are just toys that somehow survived in my life for longer than all of my friendships. The bobblehead is of Clay Davis from HBO's The Wire, and it features a button that plays his trademark quote. The triangle thing hung on our front door at our previous residence, and those who played Skyrim know what it is.

Not sure why is this back behind the receiver, but this is the first time I took photos at a show: Jawbreaker at The Cat's Cradle in 1996, I think?

That's my kid in the background, going through a stack on the floor. We've got a game where whenever she pulls a record from the shelf, we play it, which I've been documenting as a Facebook photo album.


I bounce back-and-forth between a couple of jobs, and those that live in the Triangle know that traffic can be a tedious haul during rush hour. But, what better time to actively listen to stuff?

WUNC 91.5FM: Most mornings I'm listening to the news, so it's NPR's Morning Edition on the Triangle's great public radio station. They did some original content last year with Occasional Shivers, a play about 1960's jazz by local legend Chris Stamey (The dB's).

For music, it's various streaming services. A discussion of the big ones seems like boring rehash for this audience, so I'll just mention you can follow me on Bandcamp here.

Worth noting: the genesis of this prompt is that, every spring, I go through a phase where I'll listen to Lifetime's Hello Bastards and Jersey's Best Dancers back-to-back, in the car, windows down, and volume cranked. This combination ran the gauntlet of formats through time: dubbed cassette, the failed MiniDisc, CD-R, and now playlists across multiple streaming services. What was once a perfect summer-jam-and-car-seat- mosh wind-up became nostalgic habit. So ingrained, that to listen to these records elsewhere seems alien.


Bed Wettin' Bad Boys, Rot LP (What's Your Rupture? / RIP Society)
Talk around the SSR stoop bets that this Sydney band is the Next Big Thing, filling that "What's in the water?" Aussie void until another Royal Headache record. They carry the power pop energy that Gentlemen Jesse embodies, but there's a heavy Replacements vibe that give the shimmering hooks some grit. 

Bodykit, No-NRG LP (New Body Tapes)
We've been anticipating this debut album from Raleigh's Bodykit (ex-Whateva Brainz and current ISS and Das Drip) for awhile. This duo exists in a hybrid world of avant techno and noise, where thumping beats are filtered through lo-fi static and ugly sounds make you dance. It's dark and lurches like the best power-electronics misanthropes, but maintains enough melodic integrity to keep you from killing yourself.

OR, if that's too pessimistic, know that my daughter goes bonkers to this record whenever I put it on:

(actual footage of her dancing to Bodykit, and there's plenty more where it came from)

Das Drip, demo cassette (self-released)
This new Raleigh outfit puts the "id" back in "mid-brow punk," tumbling quirky riffs and pissed vocals at a velocity that seems to be barely holding it together. It's not sloppy – but inspired, epitomizing punk's nervous nihilism in a spastic burst. Obligatory: ex-Whatever Brains, current Bodykit (see above) and ISS.

girlSperm, gSp LP (Thrilling Living)
Sporting a marquee name with Tobi Vail (ex-Bikini Kill, The Frumpies, The Go Team), I couldn't not pick this up. With Vail back on the drums, this Olympia, WA trio is rounded out with a twin guitar attack (from MRR's Marissa Magic and Layla Gibbon) that's minimalist in composition, but packs a wallop in its execution. The pointed call-and-response vocals hurl the songs between idiosyncratic playfulness to nervy punk, and every cut rings true.

Konvoi, No Rifts digital album (Friends Records)
I wrote about "Brakelights" / "Secretary" in the last BLAG, so here's the extension of an official album release. Choosing synths over a guitar replacement, Konvoi's new songs no longer have the choppy rhythm and angst that propelled their excellent first album. No riffs means ethereal textures that float over those familiar, pulsating bass lines like a stubborn fog. There's a heady fuzziness that brightens with noisy melody. It's a drastic departure, but I welcome the beautiful density.

Limp Wrist, Facades LP (Lengua Armada Discos / La Vida Es Un Mus)
First, read Daniel's very excellent write-up. I've seen Limp Wrist live in support of their last record, nine years ago, and just happened to be visiting Chicago for the Facades record release show. With increased visibility comes nuance, and it's fascinating to see a band evolve with the movement they speak to. Whereas earlier Limp Wrist played straight forward, balls-to-the-wall, in-your-face hardcore, the new songs have varying tempos and tone, more thought-out songwriting, and added depth to its lyrical topics. To call it mature seems too easy, as Limp Wrist's members were already seasoned hardcore veterans the first time around, but gay culture's influence has grown so much in the mainstream, giving Limp Wrist more room to play with other ideas.

Shortly after picking this LP up, an old college friend came up for a visit. He had spent the last few years getting deep into Dark Entries releases, a label that is reissuing lots of post-punk, goth, and dance music from the American gay scenes of the 70s and 80s, including minimalist techno that scored the gay pornographic films that played in arthouse theaters of the time. Coincidentally, those watching HBO's The Deuce, got to follow a plotline involving a bartender navigating the world of gay porn's influential rise and the NYC underground DIY dance parties of the 70s. I'm not versed enough to know if these cultures are related outside of a shared audience, but the exposure seemed uncanny for Facades' B-side.

There's a lot of discussion about how "out there" Facade's B-side is: four tracks of minimalist techno that's a far cry from their hardcore roots. But, that's no novelty gimmick – simply Limp Wrist exposing another part of their DNA.

Red Dons, "Genocide" / "Letters" 7" (Man in Decline)
It's been a spell since new Red Dons material (what, with members spread out across Chicago, London, Portland and the pits of Washington that might as well be Canada), but these new songs are some of their strongest to date. We still get the familiar dark, melodic punk with Wipers-esque riffs, but the songwriting – which is already smart – keeps getting more nuanced with subtler hooks and tiny brilliant details.

BLAG. Vol. 8

Prompt: A great album with a glaring flaw.

In the documentary It’s Gonna Blow!!! – San Diego’s Music Underground 1986-1996, one of the talking heads jokes about the post-Nirvana feeding frenzy – and I paraphrase – “Everyone [in San Diego] was on a major label. In fact, it was weird if your band wasn’t on a major label.”

It’s a striking contrast against the locale I grew up near: Chapel Hill, NC, which was also being groomed by the media as “The Next Seattle.” The difference was, the lightning rod of Superchunk and Merge Records didn’t take the bait. Plenty of local bands did land major label contracts, but the general consensus from the local scene was a defiant “meh, we’re good.”

Therefore, I saw the San Diego story as a cautionary tale. So many bands took the jump to try and “make it,” and most languished in what I call “Major Label Purgatory,” where a band becomes big enough to warrant a full-time gig, but isn’t successful enough to make any money, much less pay back the advance from the label. Every band in the documentary – save for Blink (182) – was promised the world, but none came out of the grinder intact.

There was one band that was supposed to be San Diego’s runaway hit. They were the mainstream crossover that would become a household name next to Tevin Campbell and Candlebox. They were supposed to be the Next Nirvana. That band, one of my absolute favorites, is Rocket from the Crypt.

In It’s Gonna Blow!!!, John Reis recollects the work ethic: Rocket from the Crypt practiced several hours a day, seven days a week. They toured extensively to promote their major label debut, Scream Dracula Scream – one tour offering free admission. Also consider that at the time, Reis was doing double duty in Drive Like Jehu.

Or, hear it from Daniel, when he wrote up a Facebook post about Buzzfest ‘98:

“I remember very clearly that Rocket from the Crypt was the first band of the day. Poor Rocket from the Crypt... they were trying so hard to break through, but they just couldn’t do it. I think that Scream Dracula Scream was probably just too good of a record (I still listen to it all the time... I kind of miss records with production that clear and powerful, but they don’t exist now that multi-million dollar recording budgets don’t exist either) and the band members were too smart for their own good. Scream Dracula Scream was clearly them trying to dumb it down, but like the Ramones they were smart people playing dumb, and while that plays great in the punk scene it’s just too much for Joe Six Pack to wrap his head around. Anyway, despite the fact that they were clearly doomed, RFTC worked their asses off... I must have seen them ten times between 1997 and 2000 without even really trying, including a great free show in Schafer Court at VCU during the fall of my freshman year. And they didn’t just play, they worked the crowd as hard as they possibly could. I remember the horn section wandering around the amphitheater, dancing with people in the aisles... it’s like they were trying to win fans over one at a time.”

Rocket from the Crypt’s 1998 album, RFTC, was the peak of their reach. As a sophomore major label release, it’s grander in a flawed way. The songs are bigger in instrumentation, needing an extra percussionist on tour. Kevin Shirley, known for his work with Journey, worked the knobs. The band hired a tiger for its promo photos (See the image header. I know this is listed as an album detraction, but it’s hilariously gratuitious). If Daniel thought Scream Dracula Scream was dumbed down, consider songs like “Dick on a Dog” and “Let’s Get Busy.” The songs played up the good-time-beach-party-anthem radio hit pandering, and that glossy sheen dampened the band’s trademark punk abandon.

However, the record still holds up as classic RFTC. There’s some brilliant bangers: “Made for You” and “You Gotta Move” stand out, and the opening track, “Eye on You” is one of the band’s finer moments. Featuring vocal work by Thee Headcoatee’s Holly Golightly, she weaves around Reis’ lead and the call-and-response backing vocals like Klay Thompson on a good night. I’ve given the record lots of listens over the past week, and the album still holds up great in 2017.

The most glaring flaw wasn’t apparent until the release of 1999’s All Systems Go, Vol. 2, Rocket from the Crypt’s collection of b-sides, demos, and other oddities. Somewhere in the middle of that compilation are tracks from a session at Milton Keynes’ Linford Manor with Holly Golightly and Dustin Milsap (ex-Rice) on backing vocals: “Cheetah,” “Turkish Revenge,” “U.S. Aim,” “Raped by Ape,” and “Crack Party.” The first being previously unreleased, and the latter four were b-sides for two editions of the “Break It Up” CD single.

WHERE WERE THESE SONGS ON RFTC? There’s a sharpness to these songs that reveal the loud, dumb, and mean, rather than just loud and dumb. Golightly’s presence adds polish, and her charismatic swagger is a brilliant foil against Reis’ glower.

Basically, I’m saying that RFTC’s biggest flaw was “Not enough Holly Golightly,” but you could say that about most records out there.


What I'm listening to:

Pod Save America podcast (Crooked Media)

I've lamented to Daniel that my hiatus from the BLAG was mostly blamed on myself writing a punk-related reaction to whatever political theater/hijincks is happening with President Trump's administration, and then torpedoing the idea the next week, when something else happens. My wife is a long-time listener, so we've taken to consuming this when our kid decides to take her nap on the way to the grocery store, and we have to burn an hour in the parking lot.

The podcast is hosted by four former President Obama staffers: Jon Favreau, Dan Pfeiffer, Jon Lovett, and Tommy Vietor, all discussing the current events of the week with a cadre of guests in politics and media. It's got an obvious leftist bias, and it's steeped pretty hard with Democratic establishment rhetoric, so there's a lot of "talking points over substance" to wade through. It's at its best when they get wonky about mundane administrative work and behind-the-scenes minutia, then make comparisons between their time in the White House versus how Trump is running the show.

Which sounds like a very dry listen, but remember that Obama staffed his office with a bunch of hip millennials, so they're intelligent and savvy – and can build pretty successful inside jokes.

Heavy Metal: LP 3 (Harbinger Sound)

Here I am, still digesting LP 2, and Heavy Metal drop another. How much foresight goes into their writing? As with previous ventures, this record is brimming with wacky ideas and executed with a spastic, Brainiac-like energy – yet the compositions seem so carefully curated. Listening to Heavy Metal is feeling unsure whether or not you're the butt of a grand joke.

With that said, LP 3 is probably Heavy Metal's most straightforward release to date. I don't know if that means they're finally finding their footing (and what a ride it's been), or they're just messing with us.

BLAG. Vol. 7

With the advent of The Warped Tour in 1995 (adding the Vans brand in 1996), “pop-punk” seemed to move from a genre to a commodity. The broader genre – punk rock with pop melodies – became a more distinctive sound, primarily focused on the successful labels, Epitaph and Fat Wreck Chords. Impressively, that specific genre of pop-punk became such a powerful, sustainable industry, it dominated conversations I had with strangers.

“I listen to a lot of punk.”
“Punk? So, you like Pennywise?!”
“Not really…”
“Bad Religion?”
“Well, yeah, but there’s so much more…”
“Like Millencolin?”
“So, you’re kind of a disaffected, aloof, no-fun jerk.”

Pop in punk rebranded into other subgenres: emo, melodic hardcore, power pop… but very rarely it ever returned to pop-punk. That Warped Tour stigma stunk so bad and subsequent generations had little variation from their formula, that pop-punk was rendered toxic in the DIY world. Suddenly, the genre was the bratty little sibling that you wanted to leave at home, because whatever you were doing was sooooooo mature.

Even a few years ago, a friend and I were walking home from a bar – or two, tree. He had been in a quiet mood all night. When we got to my stoop, with the courage of copious beers and the 2am bewitching hour, he unloaded on me. Earlier in the night, a mutual friend described his Wipers-inspired melodic punk band as “pop-punk” and it soured him. He fretted, “I don’t think we sound anything like what was on Lookout! in the 90s.” He felt misunderstood, but I could sense the aversion to the term “pop-punk” was pretty strong.

In 2000, I was doing my college radio show on WKNC. The Music Director sent me anything labeled punk, 90% of which were pop punk bands doing that Epitaph/Fat Wreck pop-punk formula. I got a package that included a number of Hopeless Records releases, one of which was Dillinger Four’s Versus God. I had been apathetic to them – due to that whole pop-punk thing – but I also knew there was some serious buzz on this release. I put it on. Yep, it certainly was pop-punk. I marked a few songs to play on my show, and sent it back to the Music Director with a suggestion to put it into the station’s daytime format.

For the next few weeks, I kept coming back to Dillinger Four. Obviously, it’s catchy – Versus God’s success in regular rotation and requests during my show supported that. But, there was something deeper that vaulted the band over the bar of low expectations for the genre.

A lot of the pop-punk from that era suffered from sticking to a homogenous brand, so albums were generally monotonous from start to finish. Dillinger Four employs three distinct singers: poppy, burly, and burliest. Each contrast played a foil, and smart songwriting provided another layer of counterpunch. The transition of “Total. Fucking. Gone. Song” to “Music is None of My Business” weaves in and out of a Botch-like breakdown riff to a kid’s choir to an indulgent noise collage, stops, throws in a obligatory dialog sample, and enters the next track with a booming, anthemic pop-punk riff that’s straight out of a teen sex comedy soundtrack.

To change up vernaculars on a dime like that is often the work of a learned mind – so there’s more to Dillinger Four than they let on. With song titles that verge on scene in-jokes, sardonic lyrics that expand past the genre’s tropes, and a general sense of self-awareness, they proved not just an adept pop-punk band, but a mastery of the culture surrounding it.

I asked my friend Tommy about them. “Ah, they’re ok. I mean, pretty good for pop-punk,” There it is, again! He relayed an anecdote of seeing them live in Columbia, South Carolina, where they goaded an unimpressed crowd with a joke that pretty much went through Chris Bickel’s discography. I was eventually enlightened to their own hardcore roots (ex-Billingsgate!) and learned they’re all a bunch of record nerds much like the ones that probably read this blog.

Dillinger Four fans are probably itching for a mention of their superior debut, Midwestern Songs of the Americas. On my last day of work at the record store, right before moving from Raleigh to Chicago, I picked it up. And there was no better introduction to the Midwest than that record, but that’s a story for another day.


Kombat: In Death We Are All the Same 7” (Hysteria)
This DC outfit played The Bunker a few months back with a set that sounded like a compounded unspooling. Slackjawed, I looked over at Daniel, who remarked, “That was one of the best punk sets I’ve seen all year.” On record, we get that relentless rhythm section with frenzied guitars on one compact slab. Even better: when it’s backing the Kombat video game.

Body Kit / Drippy Inputs: split 7” (Acid Etch Recordings)
Surely you’ve noticed the copious amounts of Rich Ivey fellating on this here website, and maybe heard a SSR clerk gush on his genius. The latter I bear witness to TWICE, even. Bodykit is an electronic duo (Ivey and Josh Lawson) that continues the idiosyncratic soundscapes of their previous band, Whatever Brains. Their contribution to this split is a lurching, creepazoid thriller that could easily back a Tim Burton funeral march. Drippy Inputs has the dance-worthy side, with a seedy, lo-fi bass thump that sounds filtered through some warehouse drywall, shaking off bits of debris, as the track works itself into a manic frenzy.

Rapsody: Laila’s Wisdom (Jamla Records / Roc Nation)
With her steady rise from the NC State dorms to the rare guest verse on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, you’d think Rapsody’s breakthrough debut would highlight that coming of age wisdom born from such success stories. But, no – Rapsody has always shown smart, even-keeled maturity, even in her early work. Now with Jay-Z’s backing, her introduction to the world is still the same Rapsody – Durham’s 9th Wonder carries the production load and her flows are rife with sharp command and thoughtful wordplay. What’s different? It feels a lot more marinated. There’s a variation here that wasn’t in Rapsody’s previous wheelhouse. The guests are given huge verses. Even the production takes more risks. It’s a bigger album in every way, but doesn’t feel like a huge departure – just the work of a seasoned veteran getting her due.