What's up Sorry Staters?
If you've been keeping up with our recent posts here on the Sorry State page, you'll know that our new format for blog posts requires each member of the SSR team to individually respond to the same topic of discussion. Time for topic #2! This round, we're talking about records that were "game-changers" for us, or that broke our preconceived expectation of what a record might sound like.
I was racking my brain trying to figure out an album that would suit this prompt. I feel like there have been several albums I've discovered along the way that were fresh and exciting, but not many that shattered the foundation of my musical palate. For instance, everyone knows I hate the saxophone, and it's not as if hearing X-Ray Spex made me appreciate squanky sax -- it's still the worst instrument. That said, when I think of a record that blew my mind and redefined what sounds I could expect out of a punk record, I can think of no better record to talk about than The Damned's Machine Gun Etiquette.
If you were to take a narrow glance at the era when The Damned emerged alongside their contemporaries (Sex Pistols, Ramones, etc.), a lot of these bands' records were reinterpretations of rudimentary rock'n'roll. They're great records, don't get me wrong! I had already heard early material from The Damned like "New Rose" and even songs like "Problem Child" from the 2nd LP before I dove deeper. And to me, even though Damned Damned Damned is groundbreaking in its own right, I sort of marginalized the album and lumped it in with milieu of classic "77 punk" or whatever. Needless to say, I had no idea what I was in for when I finally gave the 3rd Damned record a listen.
If I understand correctly, guitarist Brian James leaving the band is what allowed for the new direction on Machine Gun Etiquette. This album captures a dynamic shift in the band's songwriting where it seems nothing was off the table in terms of experimentation. When you look at photos of the band, the eccentricities of the individuals involved is fairly obvious. Only two years after their debut, The Damned made a daring and adventurous record, exceeding many efforts by their contemporaries in terms of style and substance. The broad incorporation of sounds and influences alludes to records from the psychedelic era, where Machine Gun Etiquette is almost like a punk Sgt. Peppers. The opening track "Love Song," as well as the title track, open the record at a blazing pace, which mind you, precedes hardcore considering this was 1979. Even with Rat Scabies' manic drive on these first two songs, a sullen mood and atmosphere is just beneath the surface. This vibe is set up perfectly by "I Just Can't Be Happy Today," which is a jarring left turn of a song, introducing organ as the primary instrument and some handclaps for good measure. The sequence of the record is like a journey, ebbing and flowing, incorporating the use of acoustic piano, ancillary percussion and even bizarre, eerie carnival music on "These Hands." All of these elements are still digestible because they are carried by such a strong sense of melody and structure. Captain Sensible also has amazing lead guitar playing all over this record, but he seems choose his moments very tastefully. Lyrically, Dave Vanian delivers lines that are witty and tongue-in-cheek at times, but also scathing at other moments. Some songs like "Anti-Pope" or the spoken section in "I Just Can't Be Happy Today" are politically confrontational, taking on religion and also painting a picture of the social climate in England in the late 70s. I think this record is a masterpiece top to bottom and really opened my mind to punk's musical possibilities.
Alright, now let's talk about some new rippers in the distro:
Urchin: Peace Sign 7" - 2nd release from this NY-based hardcore band that features ex-members of Razorheads and Bloodkrow Butcher. Roach Leg's own personal description mentions Stoke-On-Trent and Gothenburg as origins from which Urchin draw their sound. They also self-identify as "troglodyte hardcore" -- so while there are clear Cimex vibes going on, this band's delivery is authentically vicious and primal. This is seriously some like froth-at-the-mouth hardcore. Packaged in a b&w sleeve printed on normal printer paper with the lyrics and liner notes all kind of jumbled together, it's clear that these dudes just don't give a FUCK. I'm all about it.
Permission: S/T 12" - Debut release from this UK hardcore band. I'm not absolutely certain, but I'd wager that this is the new project from ex-members of DiE and No. For one, the slightly out of tune guitar sound is unmistakable. Also though, the aforementioned bands both just had this pounding, almost boneheadedly raw aggression. Sonically, Permission is no different, and from the second this 8-song LP starts, the energy is palpable and explosive.
Rashomon: Demo 2017 7" - I feel certain that I had already written a description when we first carried the cassette of Rashomon's demo, but here we go again! When hearing these songs refashioned for a 7" platter, more power and clarity are brought to what I thought was an already stellar first release. I feel like even within the confines of the sound Rashomon is going for, there are some unique musical qualities at play. There's some d-beat influences, sure, but the drums do a lot of things that are rhythmically interesting. The slower number, "Corpse Syndrome," is carried by this intricate single-note guitar melody that really stands out. Of course the major noteworthy aspect of Rashomon are Kohei's vocals, and I don't think the band would have the same ferocity if wasn't for his snarling in Japanese. I think I remember hearing that this band broke up and only had this demo recorded. It's a shame, would've loved to hear more from these guys. (edit: I confirmed that Rashomon has not broken up; maybe Jeff was thinking of Kombat? --Daniel)
So I think by the time everyone else is posting their next blog posts I'll be getting ready to hop in a van for a month. At this moment, I still feel severely unprepared, but I'm excited! If anyone who reads these comes to one of our shows, please come say hi! Here's a not-so-great photo of our tour poster:
I think that'll do it for this round. Thanks for reading!
'Til next time! (it'll be a while!)