Suffer is a monumentally influential record, among the most notable of punk rock in the 1980's. Not only did it re-kindle Bad Religion's career (which had been reeling since the release of Into The Unknown), but along with Operation Ivy's Energy, it breathed life back into punk rock, a genre that was fading as its practitioners quit, died, or morphed towards metal. Bad Religion's signature harmony-rich, cerebral hardcore was defined with this album, creating a blueprint that countless bands would emulate (though few could equal) birthing the So Cal punk sound. Green Day, Sublime, and others might have taken the sound to more financial success, but Bad Religion did it first, did it smarter, and did it better.

Bad Religion has always unflinchingly embraced their suburban roots, a fact that might not seem very shocking today, but at the time ran counter to the image that most punk rock had. Hardcore punk, in its early days, was the music of struggle for the youth of larger cities like L.A., Boston, and New York, even though the genre has always attracted those who are outsiders from all areas. The fact that Bad Religion was proud of being well spoken, educated, angry, and isolated men from suburbia revolutionized the face of punk rock and inspired armies of young Americans to pick up instruments, start bands, and create scenes in their hometown, no matter the size.

Jerry Mahoney's striking artwork encapsulates the energy and rage of the music of Suffer as well as all the intangibles that the band brings to the table, including their suburban roots. Many bands have indicated that this cover was inspirational to them, most notably NoFX who parodied it on an E.P.
joshthevegan: (screamy)

Bad Brains' self-titled debut is arguably the most important hardcore punk release of all times. Initially a cassette-only album, it has since been reissued on CD, vinyl, and digital formats and has been hailed critically as the enduring, influential, powerful work it is. The seemingly disparate genres of hardcore punk and reggae that the 'Brains introduced on this album would not only serve as a template for the rest of their own recording career, but would inspire some punk artists to blend ska and reggae with punk and some other musicians to explore extreme dynamic differences within their compositions.

The fantastic, legendary cover art (designed by David Lee Pearsons) is one of the most immediately identifiable images in rock history. The Bad Brains had originally hailed from Washington D.C. and had been such an explosive force there, and their shows so famously chaotic, that they were literally banned from playing in basically every venue for live music in the city (which inspired this song from the album) forcing them in effect to another town to continue as a band. This is how they ended up in NYC where they recorded these tracks. But the songs, their spirit, and their lasting legacy is firmly rooted in the Washington D.C. hardcore punk scene (which the Bad Brains more or less invented and influenced). With this in mind, a lightning bolt striking one of the best known buildings in D.C. is a fitting depiction of their time there.
joshthevegan: (Hank)

Black Flag's mammoth debut long player (which I talked about at length over here) is notable not only because it is one of the finest (or, in my opinion, the finest) hardcore punk albums ever laid to tape, but also because of the iconic photo of singer Henry Rollins putting his fist through a mirror taken by legendary punk rock photographer Edward Colver. One of only a few releases by 'Flag that doesn't feature artwork by guitarist Greg Ginn's brother Ray Pettibon, the image of young Hank reaching a boiling point and destroying things fits perfectly with the destructive mood of the music found within. The band created the perfect soundtrack for frustration, alienation, and abandonment, and Colver captured those same emotions on film, showing just how in tune he was with the musicians and their vision.
joshthevegan: (Hank)

OFF!'s debut full-length is the second album on my list to feature the artwork of Raymond Pettibon, who cut his teeth designing album covers and promotional material for Black Flag, Minutemen, and other prominent punk and hardcore acts in the 1980's. His distinctive sketches (which always come accompanied with captions that simultaneously add clarification and make the works more enigmatic) were an integral part of the punk rock scene in days gone by, so it is unsurprising that OFF! requested that he contribute art to their releases (this isn't his first piece for the group) as they are a super-group consisting of alumni of hardcore punk acts. OFF! has been making a splash for a few years now by proving that age is only a number, and with the right attitude even older punks can make some of the best music in the land. Similarly, Pettibon's art on this release is leaving offerings by people half his age in the dust.

The simple image of (Minor Threat vocalist) Ian MacKaye's brother Alec sleeping on the steps of Dischord House (the place where many of the D.C. punks were living at the time, and where Dischord Records was founded) is fantastically powerful, and has gone on to be one of the most recognizable images in rock history. Alec's shaved head, the tattered clothes, the scuffed boots, the presence of refuse (located directly below the descending script of the band's name), and the contrast the bright color adds to the black and white image all work together in such a way to portray the no frills, all business attitude that Minor Threat brought to their music.

This cover art has gone on to be so much more than the cover for a 7". Minor Threat has used it themselves again on the compilation The First Two 7"s on a 12" and then again on their career retrospective Complete Discography. Other bands have paid tribute to it, most notably an album that made this list. Even corporate America couldn't resist attempting to snag the image.

Social Distortion's 1983 debut blasted onto the hardcore punk scene, and stood high amongst the strongest releases in the genre at the time. Frontman Mike Ness' songwriting was incredibly powerful even at this young age. He was constructing songs of life on the road, alienation, and longing that wouldn't sound out of place amongst folk and country music greats of the earlier part of that century.

Social D was playing music that was more mature than their years with lyrical content a shade deeper than most of their peers, and the cover art for Mommy's Little Monster is also a bit more sophisticated than many of the images found on other hardcore albums from the early 1980's. There is no question that the cover of Bad Religion's How Could Hell Be Any Worse? is iconic (for example), but the apocalyptic imagery found on the sleeve of Ness and Company's debut is a fantastic achievement nearly as important as the music found inside.

While the fourth and final studio album from the Kennedys is musically their weakest, the album art is far and away their best. The intricate, super-busy art looks like something out of the sketch book of an incredibly talented, albeit a bit disgruntled and hyperactive artist. Which is pretty fitting for the Dead Kennedys.

The artwork is even better once it is fully folded out:

joshthevegan: (screamy)

Originally conceived as a jazz-fusion group under the moniker Mind Power, Dr. Know and his companions (including vocalist H.R., bassist Darryl Jenifer, and percussionist Earl Hudson) eventually broke from that format, and pioneered what would become hardcore punk. Blending the attitude and aggression that bands like X and the Germs had introduced with the intricate rhythms and melodies from their jazz background, the Bad Brains created a musical experience unlike any other. They inspired legions of followers to begin their own musical careers (everyone from Ian MacKaye to Henry Rollins to the Beastie Boys owe allegiance to the Brains), and left a mark on the sound of east coast punk the impact of which is second only to the Ramones.

Hardcore punk was to be only the first of several musical revelations Bad Brains unleashed on the world. Their rastafarian beliefs led them to incorporate reggae into their sets, and after a brief hiatus in the mid-1980's, they returned with a funk-laden metal sound that would rocket acts like Living Colour and Faith No More to stardom a few years later. At the core of every one of these musical twists and turns is Dr. Know. His intricate, powerful and immediate performances still have the ability to amaze.

Here's a quick sampling of the three styles Dr. Know is best known for playing with Bad Brains.

For hardcore punk, here is "Riot Squad".

One of my favorite of their funk-metal offerings, "With The Quickness".

Lastly, a fantastic reggae track that is a study in minimalism, "Peace Be Unto Thee".
joshthevegan: (Hank)

As the brains behind the hardcore juggernaut Black Flag and as the founder of ├╝ber-influential independent record label SST Records Greg Ginn's impact on the underground music scene of the late 1970's and early 1980's is immeasurable. The roster of bands he had signed to SST through the better part of the 1980's is staggering in retrospect. Everyone from Sonic Youth, Meat Puppets, Screaming Trees, and Soundgarden to Minutemen, Bad Brains, Descendents, and of course his own Black Flag released records through the SST imprint, and all of them went on to considerable acclaim and influence.

The wide variety of acts that SST attracted can be attributed in a large part to Ginn's vision with his own band, Black Flag. The more inventive his band became, the more the label attracted bands with different musical approaches. Although they started as a hardcore punk band (often credited as the southern California band that defined the style) each and every one of Black Flag's releases sounds nothing like the ones that came before it. Where Damaged was an explosive howl punctuated with squealing feedback, by the time they got to Loose Nut, Black Flag was channeling Black Sabbath so completely they hardly sounded like a punk band anymore.

As the band's primary songwriter, each step away from hardcore punk and towards psychedelic, jazz-influenced metal was calculated by Greg Ginn, and he took the band down that path whether or not the fans would like it. It was the music he wanted to play, and if the world liked it and wanted to hear it, then great. If no one cared, it seemed that Ginn didn't either. His focus on art over fame is evidenced by the fact that following Black Flag's demise, Ginn focused on a completely instrumental band, Gone.

His angular, semi-tonal style stands completely alone amongst all his peers. In fact, it is nearly impossible to think of a single person to ever touch the guitar that played quite like Ginn does. He might not be the most polished player to ever pick up the instrument, but what he lacks in cleanliness he makes up for in sheer passion and ingenuity.

To show how much his songwriting changed over the years, here are two songs from opposite ends of Black Flag's career. From the early, hardcore days, "Police Story" (even on a comparatively simple song like this, Ginn manages to add personal flairs through out, particularly at the end.)

The other end of the spectrum is the spaced-out instrumentals the band would perform towards their later years. "The Process Of Weeding Out" is a great example of Ginn at his most expressive.
joshthevegan: (Hank)

Wednesday October 19 was overcast with a light mist in the air as [ profile] veganjill and I headed into the City of Brotherly Love. We spent the afternoon wandering down South Street, patronizing the various quaint little stores, and stopping for a drink here and there at a few of the many bars. We met up with [ profile] jesskathand and her husband for dinner at Blackbird Pizzeria, an all vegan establishment where we had several different types of fantastic pizza topped with Daiya. It was quite a unique atmosphere, having a great dinner while listening to the classic hardcore punk playing, and the experience was particularly memorable since I had the chance to meet Pat Thetic (the drummer for Anti-Flag who happens to be vegan) as he was stopping in for dinner before the show.

After dinner, we headed around the corner to the Theater of the Living Arts. This was only my second time at this mainstay of the Philadelphia music scene, and I had nearly forgotten how great of a venue it is. It doesn't matter where you stand in this place, be it on the huge, open floor, or up in the 21+ balcony area, you have clear sight of the stage. The sound is fantastic no matter where you are, which is one thing that can certainly not be said for The Electric Factory (the 21+ section wraps around in front of one of the huge speakers, making it incredibly uncomfortable at times).

After The Holy Mess started things off in with energetic, barroom-type punk, relative newcomers to the Fat Wreck Chords family Old Man Markley took the stage. I was curious to see how a punk rock audience would take to these folks, since they play an interesting blend of bluegrass with punk mentality. Punk audiences have a reputation for being very narrow-minded, but that stereotype was proven false that night. The fans were incredibly receptive, dancing and slamming to OMM's super fast picking, strumming and stomping. Amidst a set of infectious originals, they played the b-side to their first 7", which is a cover of Screeching Weasel's "Science of Myth".

The next band to take the stage was Pittsburgh's Anti-Flag, a band that is always relevant, but feels particularly so right now with progressive protests popping up all around the nation. As always, Justin Sane, Chris #2 and company worked the crowd into a frenzy with their anthems of unity (and even worked in that cover of The Clash they've been doing for a little while now), but undoubtedly the best moment of their set (if not the whole show) was when Pat Thetic set up his drum set in the crowd and played from there to finish their last song, something he's been doing for this past tour

That made two incredibly tough sets to follow, but NoFX rose to the challenge. One would think that after nearly 30 years of taking this act on the road, the songs and on-stage banter would sound tired and hackneyed, but that was certainly not the case that night. Whether they were playing a relatively new song, a long-standing crowd favorite, or even an obscure track from a seriously out of print 7", they performed with gusto and the crowd ate it all up. These four guys certainly show no signs of slowing down in their older age.

The encore of "Doornails" featuring members of Old Man Markley was a surprisingly poignant touch for a band best known for their irreverence and goofiness. They have another tour already in the works for early 2012 that will feature NoFX and Old Man Markley every night and a rotating cast of punk all-stars to back them up (No Use For A Name, Pulley, Lagwagon, etc.). If you missed them this time around, don't be a fool and catch them on that tour.
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: (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

When Bad Religion passed through Philadelphia on their 2004 tour, they brought along a band that was only just starting to gain national recognition, Rise Against. Sure, Rise Against had released two albums on independent labels, and bassist Joe Principe had performed for several years in 88 Fingers Louie, but it wasn't until Rise Against signed to Geffen Records and released their major label debut Siren Song of the Counter Culture, that they really started their journey to stardom.

Jump forward to May of 2011. Rise Against has released four albums for Geffen, they have also offered several songs that have gone on to be popular radio singles, and they are now headlining their own sellout tours across the U.S. When they headed out on tour in support of their most recent album, Endgame, they brought along Bad Religion, the very band that helped them start getting their recognition.

The show that I attended was the first of two nights at Philadelphia's Electric Factory, which I consider to be the best of all the music venues in the city. Four Year Strong started the show off with an energetic, metal-tinged set that set the tone for the evening. Their blend of dueling guitars, rattly bass and powerful drums was entertaining, if not the least bit ordinary. They are still a (relatively) young band, and with a starting point like this, Four Year Strong could be a band to watch for in the next few years.

The second of the three sets for the evening was the 30-year punk veterans, Bad Religion. Greg Graffin and company did not seem the least bit out of place playing after a group of 20-somethings. With each passing year, Bad Religion redefines what it means to age in style as a punk band. For a genre that is known for youthful vitriol, it is sometimes shocking that a band of men in their 40's can stay on top of the pack, but with a catalog of music like theirs, there is no questioning that they are.

Bad Religion's set consisted mostly of material from their albums released in the 2000's, only briefly touching on their lenghty backlog of classics. Fortunately, the band has enough great songs from their recent albums to justify this choice. Surely the reason for this decision lied in pleasing the crowd which was largely younger fans there to see Rise Against (of course), who might recognize the more recent BR releases, but not something from, say, Against The Grain.

As 10:00 rolled around, Rise Against exploded onto the stage to roars of ravenous approval from their fans. Lead singer Tim McIlrath raged his left-leaning political diatribes into the microphone while Principe and guitarist Zach Blair bounced all over the stage acrobatically. Their set was every bit as anthemic and empowering as one might expect from a band that uses their music to stand up for the working man, animal rights, and other fantastic causes.

Part way into the set, they took a break from the aggressive rock to deliver what was the most moving portion of the evening: two acoustic numbers. The first ("Swing Life Away"), was performed by McIlrath alone, and then he was joined by Blair to start the second song ("Hero Of War"), which by the end featured all four members. These songs (especially the second one) showcased the fantastic songwriting this band benefits from, and exemplified how a simple ballad can enchant a crowd just as easily as the hardest, fastest songs can.
joshthevegan: (Hank)

Late 2010/early 2011 has seen a number of albums released by "vintage" punk bands/artists. Many of them have been quite good, but the debut release(s) by OFF! is probably the most impressive of all of them. This isn't to say that the new Social Distortion and Bad Religion records weren't great, or that the upcoming release from Bad Brains won't be incredible (I'm sure it will), but OFF! is an unexpected home run.

OFF! is a supergroup of sorts, bringing together Keith Morris (the original lead singer of Black Flag and frontman of Circle Jerks) and members of Red Kross, Burning Bridges and Rocket From The Crypt. This line up only came together after a failed Circle Jerks reunion recording session forced Morris to look for new people to perform his new song ideas with. (Their promotional slogan has been "From the ashes of a really screwed situation!")

The similarities between OFF! and the early recordings of Black Flag are pretty obvious even before listening to the music. Between the band's name (both are insect repellents), the artwork found on the releases (Raymond Pettibon created all the art for the OFF! releases, as well as most of the Black Flag catalog), and even the compilation's name (First Four EPs sounds a bit like The First Four Years, a compilation by Black Flag), the intention is clear. Morris and company want to be clear that they are promising the listener rough, blistering hardcore, trimmed down to the bare bones. Boy, do they deliver.

These songs are living, breathing proof that punk and hardcore are not exclusive to the very young anymore (Keith Morris was 55 when recording these songs). The twelve songs contained on this release are every bit as in-your-face and anti-authoritarian as anything any of the members had recorded in their impressive collective back catalogs, and more relevant than most other punk rock that has come out in the last ten or so years. These are shitty times we live in, and luckily OFF! is there to supply a soundtrack for those of us who are paying attention enough to be up in arms about it. "You wonder why I'm always shouting, You wonder why I've gotta yell. . .'Cause you turned this into a livin' hell!" Morris belts out on "Upside Down". Yeah, that seems about right.

First Four EPs - 9 out of 10
joshthevegan: (screamy)

Nothing ever changes! )

September 2014



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