joshthevegan: (screamy)
Before I even start in on this, I want to put some emphasis on the title of this entry. It is "Why I'd rather listen to In Utero than Nevermind", not "Nevermind is a lame album that I, as a music snob, will turn my nose up at, and pretend like I never loved".

If I were to claim that In Utero is a better album, that would just be a subjective opinion, that many (most?) people would disagree with. If I were to claim that In Utero holds a bigger cultural significance than Nevermind, that would just be flat-out untrue.

I really like Nevermind. I do. But that doesn't change the fact that In Utero is the Nirvana album that I turn to far more often.

This could get lengthy )
joshthevegan: (screamy)

When a band establishes themselves within a certain genre, it is generally pretty hard for them to break that mold. For every instance of a band releasing an album that is different and/or challenging that succeeds critically and commercially (Bad Brains' I Against I introduced a new sound and ushered in a new era for the band, and Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot sounds nothing like the alt-country offerings that came before it but was hailed by critics and adored by many fans), there are several examples of bands attempting to diversify their sound and ultimately failing. Bad Religion's Into The Unknown, Neil Young's various genre exercises in the early to mid 1980's, and the notorious disco-influenced album by KISS are just a few examples of total failures from artists established within a certain sound. Even if the music is well-written and performed with sincerity, there is no guarantee that it will succeed.

Face to Face learned this lesson the hard way. They burst onto the punk scene in the beginning part of the 1990's with a series of albums that each gained the band more recognition than the last. After their song "Disconnected" was played on the radio station KROQ, the public really started to take notice, and Face to Face was on the verge of becoming serious punk superstars like some of their contemporaries. They eventually signed with A&M Records, and released their self-titled album which is a powerhouse of melodic hardcore that plays better than most bands greatest hits records.

At this point, Trever Keith and co. knew that they were at a very important crossroads. If their next album was as strong as the one they just offered, they could possibly solidify themselves as a band with a serious legacy. How strange, then, that their next album wouldn't be a punk record at all, but rather a straight-ahead heavy rock album chock full of mid-tempo songs about relationships and philosophical concepts rather than political anthems and speedy hardcore blasts.

Ignorance is Bliss is not a bad album. In fact, if one listens to it for what it is (a heavy rock record with psychedelic melodies and stellar production) then it borders on great. The interplay of the two guitars is complex without being flashy, the melodies are haunting and catchy, and the lyrics are some of the strongest that Keith has ever offered. This is the kind of record you want to listen to in your car on a cool autumn night while driving through the city after a heavy rain finally ends.

Even though Ignorance is Bliss received hearty critical acclaim, the sales were sluggish, and Face to Face soon found themselves struggling to reclaim the momentum they had going for so many years. Even though their next album, Reactionary, would be one of the best of their career, not nearly enough people heard it, and after one more attempt (How To Ruin Everything), Face to Face called it quits until 2010. The band is back on tour, but they refuse to play any of the songs from Ignorance is Bliss (probably because of a combination of bad memories and poor reactions from fans), so this album will remain an out of print oddity that only hardcore fans of the band will ever hear and get to enjoy.

Ignorance is Bliss - 9 out of 10

Here are just two examples of how great this album is:
"In Harm's Way"

"Heart of Hearts"
joshthevegan: (Roar)

We are deep in the heart of summer here in the northern hemisphere, and although I'm a fan of brainy pop punk all year 'round, the warm weather basically demands a steady stream of upbeat, fun songs about love and life's other disasters.

This particular summer, I have found myself turning to some of the classic releases from the hey-day of Lookout! Records. This is the label that brought Green Day and Operation Ivy (which would eventually morph into Rancid) to the world initially, as well as some other smaller act like The Queers, Screeching Weasel (who have a newish album out) and The Mr. T Experience.

The Mr. T Experience (or MTX for short) are considered to be the first punk band in the "Bay Area" punk scene of Southern California's East Bay. They built their following around gigs at the 924 Gilman Street punk club, where such punk heavyweights as NoFX and Bad Religion also performed back in the 1980's.

MTX's first few albums are a blend of pop punk that is heavily influenced by The Ramones, via Descendents and 1960's-style surf rock. While these first releases are rather enjoyable, it wasn't until their sixth album, and after all of the original members (aside from frontman "Dr." Frank Porter) had quit the band, that MTX started releasing their most memorable and enduring works.

Their first full-length during this peak era is Love is Dead, and it also happens to be the first album they offered after their former label-mates Green Day exploded into the mainstream with Dookie. Love is Dead is a masterpiece of peppy sunshine pop, which pairs perfectly with Dr. Frank's offbeat lyrics about love. Whether it is unrequited love ("I'm Like Yeah, But She's All No"), or love in the blossoming stages ("I Just Wanna Do It With You" which isn't nearly as dirty as it sounds), or simply love of playing music just for the fun of it, even though some of your peers are cashing in ("Dumb Little Band"), the full spectrum of love's possibilities are explored, and although love might be "dead", it sure is fun.

Love Is Dead - 8 out of 10

Punk bands were just starting to delve fully into the world of the music video in the mid '90's, and MTX put together a pretty excellent one for one of the songs from this album, "Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba":

joshthevegan: (screamy)

There was no shortage of punk bands in the 1990's that played speedy, poppy songs that were a cocktail of goofiness, heartache and angst. There were literally hundreds of bands that were playing and recording during that time period that could be described in just that way. What is it then, that made Plow United so memorable to the people that were fortunate enough to see them perform during their all-too-short career?

Well, first, it's the fantastic sense of melody that Brian McGee brought to his spirited vocals. Secondly, it's the superb musicianship by all three members on their respective instruments. But above all of that, there is just something really intangibly unique about Plow United's sound that set them apart from all their contemporaries. Their songs are anthemic, empowering, and inspiring, all without demanding allegiance to their cause. These songs exist to inspire, not to alienate.

When listening to their self-titled debut, a trained ear might be able to catch a slight country twang underneath all that distortion and speed (especially on the closer, "World According to Me"). In retrospect, this isn't terribly surprising, considering that McGee would go on to record a bluegrass album with his band Brian McGee and the Hollow Speed following Plow's breakup, but at the time, punk fans might have simply had a blind spot for the twangy strumming that makes an appearance from time to time.

Plow United is so peppy and enjoyable, by the time it's 20ish minutes are up, you are left wanting so much more. Fortunately, songs like "That Girl", "Poison Berries" and "St. Patrick's Day" hold up to repeated listenings. Even after 15 years, I can still listen to this album twice in a row without a second thought.

Plow United has been broken up since the late 1990's, and they have turned down opportunities to play reunion shows on several occasions. Because of this, when news started leaking that Plow United would be playing a music festival in Philadelphia this coming September, their old fans (myself included!) are ravenous to see these guys play again.

Plow United - 8 out of 10
For the better part of the 1990's, the Lehigh Valley Pennsylvania punk rock scene was alive and thriving. On any given Friday and/or Saturday night, there was a killer pop punk show happening at one of several local venues. As the deceade wore on, many of the venues started shuttering their doors, bands began disbanding, the sense of family at shows was fizzling. . .in other words, our hometown scene mirrored what was going on with punk rock on the national level.

During the time that scene was alive and well, however, there were certain bands you could always count on to put on a fantastic show. Digger, Plow United, Grieving Eucalyptus, Nooner, The Heartdrops, and countless others. The undisputed kings of the scene, however, were Weston and to a lesser extent, Walter Krug.

This past Saturday night, Secret Art Space on Bethlehem's South Side hosted those last two bands in a show that embodied all the positive elements of the Lehigh Valley punk scene back in those golden years.

The venue is a non-descript basement with the only entrance being from a back alley. There are no markings of any kind to let you know where to enter (shows are not technically legally allowed to be held there, so advertising is pretty taboo), but word of mouth advertising (something independent music scenes are quite good at) has gotten the word out enough that people in the know can find it pretty easily. Even though it is nothing more than a basement, the addition of comfy couches and strings of lights hanging from the ceiling transform the space from a cold concrete box to something really special. There isn't technically a stage, only a specified area for the bands to set up. I've always loved this format because the "we're the band, we're up here, you're the fans, you're down there" wall is smashed to pieces.

After two outstanding opening acts, Walter Krug took the stage. Their set consisted largely of material from their final demo tape, their F.O.E. Records single (both of which are available for free download in their entirity here) and the split E.P. they released with The Slap Happies (which was to become their last release while active). Many of the songs were given a slowing-down treatment, succesfully proving that Walter Krug was just as influenced by Pavement and The Pixies as they were The Mr. T Experience or The Queers. The band made sure to point out (several times) that they had only one practice for the show, but in spite of this, they sounded together enough, and the looseness gave their sound the kind of charm expected from a show of this nature.

The Weston lineup that took the stage was basically the Matinee on out lineup (this time with a new drummer). The song selection, however, was strictly early material, drawing mostly from A Real Life Story of Teenage Rebellion ("Just Like Kurt", "Little Mile", "Mr. Lazo", "Two"), with a few songs from Got Beat Up ("New Shirt/Heather Lewis", "Just Like You") and one track from their early E.P.s ("Elephant").

If you are thinking that great music isn't still happening here in eastern Pennsylvania Weston and Walter Krug (and by extension, the Lehigh Valley punk scene)'s ability to be insanely spastic, explosively rocking, incredibly funny and inspire a general sense of unity proved that it is still there, you simply need to know where to go to find it.
joshthevegan: (screamy)

Save the baby! Kill the doctor! )
joshthevegan: (Bassy)

Where's Sly? )
joshthevegan: (screamy)

Nothing ever changes! )

September 2014



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