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.

Green Day's second album for Lookout! Records, which would also be their last released by an independent label, is a charming pop punk romp which hides a surprising level of musicianship behind bubblegum-y melodies and a lighthearted, devil-may-care sneer. When I was in my early teens and first being exposed to punk rock, the two indie albums from the East Bay's most famous punkers were practically unavoidable. I always preferred Kerplunk because the lyrical content was slightly stronger (fewer simple love songs and more introspective brooding, something that suited me perfectly at that age) and also, I have no doubt, because of the striking cover art. I must have sketched that smiling potted flower on the cover of nearly every text book I had between 9th and 10th grade, and to this day the spare, barely colored drawing is one of my favorites.
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.

Although nearly every song recorded by the Minutemen was a brief burst of inspired genius, few would argue that Double Nickels on the Dime is the crowning achievement of (singer / guitarist) D. Boon's short, yet prolific career.

After cutting their teeth on the underground music circuit in and around their hometown of San Pedro, California, and releasing a surprising number of singles and short albums in a brief time period, Boon, Mike Watt and drummer George Hurley set down to record Double Nickels, an album named as a typically Boon-esque stab at Sammy Hagar's infamous song about his inability to drive the newly instated federal speed limit. They found speeding to be a trite form of rebellion, and Mike Watt was quoted as saying, "The big rebellion thing was writing your own fuckin' songs and trying to come up with your own story, your own picture, your own book, whatever. So he can't drive 55, because that was the national speed limit? Okay, we'll drive 55, but we'll make crazy music."

Originally conceived as a single LP, upon hearing Hüsker Dü's Zen Arcade, a sprawling, double LP punk masterpiece, the Minutemen decided to expand their most artistic recording to compete with their contemporary's broad scope. Comprised of a staggering 45 songs, Double Nickels isn't just an album, it is an in-depth manifesto, and the fact that it was all mixed in a single evening and cost $1,100 to make is further evidence of the Minutmen's philosophy of "jamming econo" (economically).

For the cover art, Mike Watt drove down the local highway in his VW Beetle with a photographer in the backseat, and when they got to a sign marking the exit for San Pedro while Watt was driving exactly 55 M.P.H., the photo was taken and history was made. The usage of this image on the cover along with the title of the album help to define the unifying concept of the album, which is the Minutemen's cars. (There are even several tracks included on the record titled "car jams" which are nothing more than the sound of the guys starting up their respective vehicles).

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.

Following two outstanding (though largely monotone) records, Rancid's third offering is a smorgasbord of styles, tones, and moods. It is the first record that Tim Armstrong and Matt Freeman had included ska styles on since their days in Operation Ivy, and it is also the first album where guitarist Lars Fredriksen seems to feel at home within the band. These are four guys that clearly love playing music with one another, and sincerely adore what they are doing. The sheer enthusiasm is infectious, and it makes this not only one of the best records of Rancid's career, but one of the best punk rock records of the 1990's.

The cover art is clearly paying homage to the legendary cover of the first Minor Threat E.P., on which Ian MacKaye's brother Alec is sitting on a set of concrete steps with his head down. In this case it is Fredriksen, and his mohawk and tattoos mark the difference between the scenes and generations in which both of these bands came from. This album cover became so instantly iconic, that many people might not have even known the fact that it was a tip of the hat to an older record cover.
joshthevegan: (Roland in Tull)

Easily one of the most provocative album covers in the last decade-or-so, the photograph of Justin Sane's niece dressed in U.S. military garb was so controversial at the time of it's release, that some stores simply refused to carry the record with that cover, and a censored edition was created (with a now-dead URL listed to explain the censorship). The image becomes even more powerful when the artwork found on the inside and back of the packaging is seen.

Descendents' first long player is credited with being one of the first (if not the first) melodic hardcore records. The blending of catchy melodies with speedy tempos topped with goofball lyrics about girls and conformity was a new formula in the early 1980's southern California hardcore scene, but it has gone on to become one of the most copied formulas in the genre.

The cover art was inspired by drawings that were made of (lead singer) Milo Aukerman in his childhood. A classmate would draw pictures of him depicting him as the class nerd, exaggerating his big, thick glasses and goofy hair cut. This caricature of Aukerman would be used as a template for many of the Descendents' subsequent releases, and has become one of the most immediately recognizable images in rock music.

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.

Screeching Weasel's fourth album is one of their weaker albums, especially when compared to the fantastic releases that flank it. While the music that is found on Wiggle is not their best, few albums have artwork that is as instantly recognizable. The liner notes have this to say: "Front cover: Careful! This could be you someday!"

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:

As guitarist and vocalist for Propagandhi, Chris Hannah has taken fervent stances against animal abuse, sexism, homophobia, imperialism, rampant captialism, and human rights violations. These causes are all fantastic ones that deserve as much attention as they can get, and Hannah and company touch on each of them with tactics ranging from the humorous to the stringently serious, with quite a bit of success. The only unfortunate thing about taking such overt stands on issues like Propagandhi does, is that their staggering musicianship can get overlooked. From their earliest recordings, Hannah's guitar playing has been extremely technical and precise, and as the years have gone by, his proficiency as an axe-handler has grown in proportion to the maturing sound of the band.

"Purina Hall of Fame" is a personal favorite, and aside from being a great song about veganism, the solo at the end of the song perfectly exemplifies Hannah's abilities.

When Screeching Weasel returned just a few months ago with First World Manifesto, their first album in over a decade, long time fans who didn't follow the behind the scenes drama might have been confused why John Jughead was not involved. He has been the only constant member besides frontman Ben Weasel for the band's entire career. His involvement in a Ben Weasel-related project is practically the only thing separating a Screeching Weasel release from a Riverdales or Ben Weasel solo one. I'm certainly not saying that his guitar playing was indispensable to the band's sound (he only ever played rhythm guitar), but it's hard not to think of the bands you love as being friends, and that perceived friendship is part of what draws us back to those bands, especially ones that play (generally) light-hearted, fun music like SW always has.

It turns out that there was a definite reason why Screeching Weasel had not released any new music for so long, while the Riverdales and Ben Weasel by himself managed to keep recording. It seems that Weasel and Jughead were involved in a lengthy legal battle regarding the usage of the band's name. The summary of which is that Weasel wanted to continue recording with the band without the involvement of Jughead. Apparently Jughead had some legal claim to at least a part of the band's nomiker. He would eventually lose this battle, and Screeching Weasel would reunite for the first time without the guitar playing of John Jughead.

The one saving grace for the lineup of Screeching Weasel that appeared on First World Manifesto was the return of lead guitarist Dan Sullivan (A.K.A. Dan Vapid). Sullivan had played with the band during what most people consider their "classic" period, performing on My Brain Hurts, Wiggle, Anthem For A New Tomorrow, How To Make Enemies and Irritate People and Bark Like A Dog. He had also played in every incarnation of the Riverdales, contributing not only guitar, but also vocals on some of the band's best songs. His return to the Screeching Weasel fold (in addition to guest vocals by "Dr." Frank and Joe King of the Mr. T Experience and The Queers, respectively) was enough to make First World Manifesto an enjoyable album for long time fans of the band, and the Lookout! Records pop punk scene of the early '90's in general. Add to this plans by Fat Wreck Chords to reissue the entire Screeching Weasel and Riverdales catalogs (which fell out of print yet again), a full national tour, and tons of online media hype, and momentum seemed to be going in the right direction for Ben Weasel and company.

That is, until the much publicized incident at SXSW.

The story goes that fans were throwing ice at the band, and as Ben Weasel heckled the crowd about it (note: pissing off his audience is nothing new for Weasel, he even penned a song called "You're The Enemy" to play when he felt that audiences weren't acting the way he saw fit), he attacked a female member of the audience who had the misfortune of jumping on stage at the time his anger reached a boiling point.

This led to all the members of the band quitting, issuing an apology on their behalf to the fans, and Fat Wreck Chords backing out of their plans to offer the reissues. Around the same time, Weasel also released an apology, and it seemed that it was all over for Screeching Weasel.

Well, apparently, Ben didn't want all his legal battles with John Jughead and the process of rebuilding interest in the band to be for nothing, because just a few short months later, he recruited a completely new line up for the band, and they headed quickly into the studio to record a new E.P., Carnival of Schadenfreude which was released exclusively on vinyl by Recess Records. Much like First World Manifesto was bookended by two songs decrying the punk scene and those that Ben Weasel didn't find fit into his view of it, Carnival of Schadenfreude starts and ends with songs about the "incident", and Ben Weasel's half of the story. Or at least, how he's telling it now. He paints himself as a victim of a petty punk scene that wanted nothing more than to see one of its long time heroes fail, his band members as fair weather friends that turned on him, and his label nothing more than a bunch of elitists who left him when the cards were down.

Unfortunately, Weasel forgets that the internet has documented everything that happened regarding the event, so his tirades are going to fall largely on deaf ears, and he comes off looking like the petty one.

The rest of the E.P. plays like typical Screeching Weasel fare (the backing band sounds great, by the way, if not a bit like the world's best Screeching Weasel cover band), proving, if nothing else, that Ben can still pen a catchy, fun punk tune or two (although the song about how rich he and his wife are and how all his old punk friends are losers is a bit confusing to say the least), and hopefully as he moves forward with Screeching Weasel version 5.0 (which he undoubtedly will, for better or worse), he focuses more on having fun, and less on his curmudgeonly gripes.

Carnival of Schadenreude - 6 out of 10

This is the title track from Carnival of Schadenfreude, in all it's whiny, self-important glory.
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: (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

September 2014



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