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Staff Picks: August 27, 2020

Staff Picks: Daniel

Bad Religion with Jim Ruland: Do What You Want: The Story of Bad Religion book

My staff pick this week isn’t something I’d recommend to everyone, but something I wanted to share some thoughts on. I’ve said numerous times that I’ll read almost any book about punk or a punk (or punk-adjacent) band. I would have read this book even if I wasn’t a fan, but I do count myself as a Bad Religion fan, albeit with some caveats. The first Bad Religion record I heard was Recipe for Hate when I was 13 years old or so, and between the new records they were putting out at the time like that and Stranger than Fiction and discovering their older material, they became one of my favorite bands. At some point, though, I cooled on them. Nowadays my position is that How Could Hell Be Any Worse? is awesome, their pre-Atlantic albums are classics, and while I like the two records I mentioned above, I don’t have time for anything after that. Further, when I revisit anything after How Could Hell, I can’t help but think about my high school years when I obsessed over those records, and I usually think to myself something like, “if this was my favorite band, I must have been an arrogant, insufferable little prick.” And I’m sure I was.

Do What You Want’s strength and weakness is that it takes everything I feel and think about Bad Religion and translates it into book form. The parts of the book that cover the records I like are interesting to read, as they cover a period when the band seemed passionate about their art and were engaged with a scene I’m still interested in. However, around the time they sign to Atlantic, it seems as if the band members start to view Bad Religion as a business, and those parts of the book read like a CNBC reality show. Their artistic decisions seem subservient to catering to the needs of their fanbase (customers?) and their attempts to stay politically relevant feel like ham-handed attempts to deliver a mainstream liberal ideology through a narrow template of melodic hardcore punk. Or, if you’re more cynical, to continue to market their music to an audience who has aged out of being teenage punks and into being Daily Show liberals.

Another thing that bugs me about Bad Religion’s music when I listen to it nowadays is that on one hand it’s comically pretentious, but in other respects it shows a lack of ambition, occasionally even laziness. This is another aspect of the band’s aesthetic that gets subsumed into the book. The book praises the band for their “intelligent” lyrics (even implying that they didn’t become more successful because their ideas went over their potential fanbase’s heads), but the book itself doesn’t have the depth of thought or research I would have liked to have seen. In particular, the book’s later chapters that cover the post-Atlantic years feel like paraphrases of those albums’ press releases. The main research for the book appears to be interviews with the band members, but it doesn’t seem like the interviewer ever challenges them. Their quotations are rarely insightful, and there isn’t much from perspectives outside the band. This includes Greg Hetson, who was in Bad Religion for something like 20 years before they fired him, but as far as I can tell did not contribute to the book. It would have been interesting to hear his perspective on the material in the book, as well as other people outside the band’s bubble.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure it took a ton of work and effort to put together Do What You Want, but much like Bad Religion’s music, it feels like it’s holding something back. Bad Religion is a business, and there’s a company line that everyone has to toe. And again, just like Bad Religion’s music, while I enjoyed Do What You Want on some level, it’s not insightful, exciting, fresh, or innovative enough to get me fired up.

Staff Picks: Jeff

What’s up Sorry Staters?

So, the other day, Usman and I were both working at the store. I was listening to the Falling LP by Decry while working the counter and Usman was working in the back room. Decry’s version of “Sonic Reducer” came on and Usman hollered loudly above the music, “This isn’t Dead Boys is it?” Admittedly, I forgot that Decry did that cover and that it plays right at the end of the record. It is a pretty faithful interpretation of the original, all things considered. But by weird coincidence, I had grabbed a copy of Dead Boys’ 2nd record We Have Come For Your Children from our new arrivals to listen to at some point that same day. I’d revisited this sophomore LP by Cleveland’s finest earlier during quarantine and was just blown away by how good I thought it was…

An ongoing disorder I seem to struggle with is that I end up gravitating toward and loving records that are clearly NOT generally accepted as the band’s classic record. Now, would I venture to say that We Have Come For Your Children is better than Young, Loud & Snotty? Probably not. But I do think it’s criminally overlooked, and I’ve heard the “hits” off of the debut so many times that it’s grown tiring. And honestly, call me crazy, but songs like “Caught With The Meat in Your Mouth” are a dull moment for me. When I was younger, I was lucky enough to acquire both Dead Boys records pretty early on. I think I would tend to shy away from the 2nd record just because I wasn’t looking for what its sound had to offer yet. YL&S definitely possesses the venom and hunger that you want out of a band on their first record. The record is honestly pretty sloppy, but that’s part of the charm… like you can feel the ruthlessness and nihilism behind those songs. At its core, it’s just a dirty, irreverent rock’n’roll record.

Okay, but by comparison, does We Have Come For Your Children suffer from the ailment of the dreaded “Sophomore Slump”? No way, not by a long shot. One of the qualities I detect from Dead Boys on their sophomore effort is the shift from a blood-soaked bar band who doesn’t give a fuck into a band who tried to write earnest and wholehearted songs. In fact, I draw parallels and a kind of kinship between this record and Valley of the Dolls by Generation X, another criminally underrated sophomore punk album in my opinion. Maybe as a result, you get an album that’s a bit “softer,” but the Dead Boys’ shift from the ephemeral to the enduring is a good look on them -- even if they are the same scumbags underneath it all. I hate to use the cliché that the band “matured,” but the songwriting feels more thoughtful and less like a flash in the pan. There’s also just more diversity. I think the arpeggiated guitar intro, the repeating catchy, sing-along refrain, and intermittent guitar melody on “Calling On You” is among some of their best. The sort of melancholic lamenting on “I Won’t Look Back” is also a standout, and one of their best choruses. Also, the buildup that bursts into to the main riff on “Flamethrower Love” is as badass as it gets -- with lyrics as simple and as powerful as: “I don’t care about livin’, and I don’t care if I die!” And then, there’s even some Ramones-esque doo-wop influence at the end of “Tell Me”.

Maybe I won’t convince you that the follow-up record is better than the popularly regarded classic. But if my endorsement is unable convince someone that has never heard this record to buy the copy we currently have in our used new arrivals, then I’ll quit? …. No I won’t, never mind.

As always, thanks for reading,

Staff Picks: Eric

The Mods - Heavy Rain / Two Punks 7” (Epic; 1983)

I picked up this Mods record last week. I had never heard them; it was truly an impulse buy after looking at picture sleeve and thinking “damn these dudes look cool.” The Mods were a punk/power poppy/Mod style band from Japan formed in the 70s. This particular single came out in 1983. The A side, “Heavy Rain,” is a banger. It reminds me of a lot of other groups cut from the same cloth many miles away, like the Jam. You can hear this is an 80s Mod/power pop jam and not a late 70s track; it’s hard to describe but the production and feel for the song is way more bouncy and anthemic. I’ve been bumping this track all week and I wish I knew Japanese so I could sing along!

The B side I am less in love with. It’s a live rendition of their track “Two Punks”. It’s a ska/dub style track that is about 7 minutes long. It’s cool that you can hear the crowd singing along and loving it, but to me this doesn’t hit nearly as hard as the A side. Perhaps I just have no little to no patience for any song over 3 minutes.

Couldn't find a streaming link for this one... sorry!

Staff Picks: Dominic

For any evangelist of good music, the biggest thrill is to be able to introduce something that you love to other people and have them enjoy it as much as you do. For me that has come in the form of mix-tapes made for friends, working as a DJ at a party or playing records in the store where I worked. The other day the latter happened twice and it was pretty cool and those two records are going to be the ones I would like to briefly mention to you in this week’s newsletter.

These two records almost bookend the 1960’s, the first coming out in 1960 and the second in 1971, although recorded the year before. They are both highly enjoyable and give a snapshot of the state of America during this period particularly with regard to the Civil Rights Movement. Without getting too deep into the subject, there are much better places for that discussion and from someone way more qualified than I. All I will say is that listening to records like these can be an education as well as entertainment. As a matter of fact, we were just talking the other day about how many of our life’s major decisions and choices were shaped and influenced by records and the artists behind that music. So, with that said, here we go.
Oscar Brown, Jr.: Sin & Soul. Columbia Records, 1960.
Oscar Brown, Jr. came from Chicago and this was his debut release in 1960, although he been active as a writer previously, this marked the beginning of a full career that followed. That year alone, he also wrote and co-produced a Broadway show called Kicks & Co which was critically well received if not financially successful. Interestingly, Brown closed the decade with another stage show called Joy, which if you ever see the soundtrack to is worth checking out.

The vibe on Sin & Soul is pure African-American culture up to that point, taking in Jazz, Blues, Gospel, Work Songs and points in between. Most of the songs are light in nature and in celebration but there are some darker moments, particularly on track Bid ‘Em In, a recreation of the slave auctions. Tough listening but something that we need to be reminded of. This happened to human beings inflicted by other humans in our country and not that long ago. The mood quickly changes from that track to the fun of Signifyin’ Monkey and Watermelon Man, not the Herbie Hancock hit from a few years later but quite possibly a big influence. Other standouts include, opener Work Song, proto-rap But I was Cool and closer Afro-Blue. Each song really is a complete story and mood within itself but they all tie together seamlessly helped musically by some of the best musicians working at the time. Three people that helped write that music should be familiar to Jazz heads, Nat Adderly, Bob Bryant and Bobby Timmons.

I first became aware of Oscar Brown via the hit song The Snake performed by Al Wilson, which Brown wrote. It was and still is a classic on the Mod scene. Sin and Soul was also big with the Mods and one of the staples of any record collection. I have had my first copy since the eighties and always thrust it into willing hands if I see copies in the wild. We had one here at Sorry State and I was playing it in store while a couple were shopping and before the record had been turned over they were asking about and it and wanting to buy it. It’s not an expensive record but packs more emotionally than a lot of big ticket items. If you were cool, you would check it out.
Baby Huey & The Babysitters: The Baby Huey Story: The Living Legend. Curtom, 1971.
Next up, what is now considered a classic but at the time did not sell that well. This is a soul funk album of real quality and deserving of the more recent praise and high price tag that originals demand. Baby Huey was born James Ramey and came from Indiana but moved to Chicago. A large man, he was over 350 pounds for most of his life and that weight combined with his other poor life choices such as alcohol and heroin abuse contributed to his early death. This record was released posthumously and was the groups’ one and only release on Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom label. Formed in 1963, the band did have a couple of singles before this, most noticeably the song Monkey Man, which is more of a garage rock record. By the time they got to cut the album, the end of the band was already taking place. Several key members quit and session musician were preferred for much of the recording. Regardless, what came of those sessions and the subsequent album was pure gold-a record that twenty years later would be raided by hip-hop producers for beats and samples and start to command three figures on the collector’s circuit.

I had it playing in the store the other day as I like the record and because I also wanted to hear their killer version of A Change Is Gonna Come by Sam Cooke which they cover. No offence to Jennifer Hudson but I was not overly blown away by her reading of the song at the Democratic National Convention the other week but I’m not hating. The Baby Huey version really does give you chills, he hits some notes that are just incredible plus gives a nice little rap in the middle of the song and might have the definitive version after Sam Cooke’s original. It was on hearing this that another customer shopping had to ask what we had on and they bought it, wanting to expand their listening habits. A good move on her part and one that as I said before makes working at the store so rewarding when you can turn folk onto good shit.

More social commentary comes on the record from tracks such Listen To Me and Hard Times, which has the hook used by the hip-hop producers that many of you will recognize. In addition to Hard Times, producer Curtis Mayfield also wrote the track Running, another highlight, and there is even a jazzy cover of The Mamas & Papas’ California Dreamin’.

My copy of the record came out in the UK in the 90’s and adds both sides of the Mighty, Mighty Children single, another Curtis tune and one that he cut himself. The Babysitters do a good job on it and it’s a nice addition to the record and completes the picture.
So, there you have it. Two records recorded ten years apart but speaking directly about life in America at the time and that in many ways are more apt now than ever. I do hope that you will take the time to discover these two gems if you are not familiar with them yet and if you are maybe pull ‘em out for a spin. There is a ton of good bio information to delve in to on the internet if you are curious but in the mean time I will leave you with a couple of links and will see you all next week. Thanks for reading.

Staff Picks: Ava

Terminal Nation: Holocene Extinction LP (20 Buck Spin)

Terminal Nation's newest release "Holocene Extinction" is definitely one for the books as far as 2020 new releases go. Aggressive as hell hardcore beat-downs and heavy doom/ death metal influence combines into the perfect concoction of "lets tear this venue apart" vibes. They so easily combine many different metal subgenres and still all the songs flow/transition really well together. It's a totally epic listen full of surprises like some random clean/ melancholic vocals, mega fast- almost thrash riffs that will suddenly transition into a somber, doomy moment. The vocals are straight up evil, backed with some wicked guitar and bass tones support the blistering hot drums just perfectly. Just 1 minute in listening to this album totally hooked me and I'm sure it'll do the same for you. For Fans of Gatecreeper, Vastum, Creeping Death, Tomb Mold...

Released 08/07/2020 on 20 Buck Spin.

Staff Picks: Usman

Yeah I am definitely a record collector, but I’d like to think that I am not a pretentious one… I love reissues. It’s a great opportunity for liner notes with cool trivia about the band, the recording process, badass photos, etc. Well-done reissues are always worth buying even if you already own the original pressing. It’s also a great way to satisfy your need for that ridiculously rare poster insert or booklet that everyone and their mother is always searching for (and also willing to pay exorbitant amounts of money for).

When it comes to the Generation Gas reissue I doubt that really anyone even has the original tape since it was never distributed, so we are all kind of in the same boat here. This is a top-notch reissue worthy of anyone’s record shelf. It’s got a great sound source, includes all artwork from the original cassette release, and features a band member interview providing a brief history of the band with some photos. It originally came out 5 years ago on General Speech and Not Very Nice. When I saw recently Not Very Nice was selling copies again, I reached out to see if we could re-stock them at Sorry State because I love this release so much. Since this record was released many years ago I assume that most people have already obtained their copy, but I also know there are always people who miss out on stuff, or maybe some people who didn’t even hear about it in the first place. So naturally I have chosen this for my Staff Pick.

When I first heard about this reissue, I had never heard of Generation Gas. But someone informed me it was members of L.S.D. and that’s all I needed to know to buy it. At the time, I did not realize that L.S.D. had entirely different members aside from the vocalist on their two releases, so in a way that comparison really wasn’t saying much. Regardless, I was not let down by this record. It doesn’t sound like a whole lot like L.S.D. to me (or Tranquilizer, another band they “shared” members with – the interview on the insert will tell you more!) It sounds a bit like ソドム (Sodom) in my opinion, but I don’t think these bands have anything at all in common. Well one tie between G-Gas and ソドム is legendary Kazuo “Tam” Tamura. Tam produced L.S.D.’s first release DESTROY and he also released ソドム on ADK Omnibus Vol. 1. Anyway, in G-Gas I hear a rawness similar to L.S.D. but in a more chaotic way. They play catchy riffs more reminiscent of ソドム, but all this is played faster than either band played - it’s fucking sick. It’s a perfect blend of groove and raw. Remember that dumbass chart that blew up with the “egg” punk and “chain” punk spectrum? Well G-Gas should have been right in the middle, if that helps. If you didn’t scoop one of these up already and you like raw HC punk/Japanese punk, I’d just go ahead and jump on it. I’m sure there will be a day when these become scarce and people start to jack the price up re-sale websites. Thanks for reading, ‘til next time…

p.s. I have a few BOMBANFALL E.P.s in stock, if you need one hit me up

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