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Album of the Day 7/22/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #557:

The Jam – Setting Sons

Maybe someday in 2013 when this list is finally finished, we’ll move this 1979 punk rock classic a little higher…or maybe into the alltime top 10, where it probably deserves to be. This might be the best rock bass record ever made, Bruce Foxton growling and punching his way through one fiery, melodic riff after another. The best of all of them might be the one in Private Hell, frontman/guitarist Paul Weller’s searing, sarcastic account of a day in the life of a yuppie shopper. There’s also the ripping, mod-punk Girl on the Phone; the rueful, metaphorically-charged Thick As Thieves; the scorching, anti-imperialist Little Boy Soldiers and The Eton Rifles; the alienation anthems Burning Sky and Wasteland; the populist Saturday’s Kids; the best version of Smithers-Jones, done with a string quartet here; and a punked-out cover of the old Motown hit Heat Wave. Foxton and drummer Rick Buckler still tour, with a new guitarist; Weller sadly and unexpectedly lost his touch as a songwriter when the band broke up in 1984 and never got it back. Here’s a random torrent via Mod 64.

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July 22, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 4/4/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #666:

The Brooklyn What – The Brooklyn What for Borough President

“If this is the only album the band ever does, at worst it’ll be a cult classic,” we said here in 2009, choosing it as best album of the year. Happily, the band is not only still together but still recording, with a ferocious series of singles coming out. What the Clash were to the UK in the late 70s/early 80s, the Brooklyn What are to New York thirty years later: fearless, funny, good at everything they do, eclectic beyond belief and armed with a social conscience. Where the Clash wanted global revolution, Brooklyn’s finest band at the moment would settle for an end to the gentrification that’s destroyed so much of the city over the last ten years. The acknowledged classic here is I Don’t Wanna Go to Williamsburg, a hilarious anti-trendoid rant that namechecks every silly indie fad and fashion circa 2004. No Chords echoes the anti-trendoid sentiment with a quite, satirical savagery; The In-Crowd mocks them again, much more loudly. The most intense point, musically is frontman Jamie Frey’s Planet’s So Lonely, a haunting, 6/8 blues with some screaming, intense lead guitar from Evan O’Donnell. There’s also the soul/punk We Are the Only Ones, an anthem for a new generation; the late Billy Cohen’s snarling, surreal Soviet Guns and Sunbeam Sunscream; the brooding For the Best; the Ramones-y She Gives Me Spasms, and a fiery tribute to Guided by Voices. Impossible to find at the sharelockers, but it’s still up at cdbaby and all the usual download merchants. The Brooklyn What are at Trash on April 16 at 9ish, as part of their monthly residency.

April 4, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Geoff Berner’s Pyrrhic Victory Party – One of the Year’s Best

Cynical, insightful, hilarious and iconoclastic, Canadian klezmer rocker Geoff Berner comes off as sort of the Eugene Hutz of current-day Jewish music. After wrapping up his Whiskey Rabbi trilogy, Berner made this ferocious, fearless latest one, Victory Party, with Canadian Jewish music maven Socalled. Berner is ironically more of a throwback to oldschool klezmer than any of the klezmer revivalists: in the days of the pogroms, klezmers (Jewish musicians) tended to be hellraisers, outcasts not only in society as a whole but often within their own culture as well, and Berner seems to embrace that fate as he calls bullshit on pretty much everyone who deserves it. This is a hell of an album, and ironically, though the music is more retro, less punk than his previous stuff, his vision is more fearlessly punk than ever.

The album gets off to a low-key, cynical start with the title track, a pyrrhic victory where the narrator journeys through a nightmare past “the charred remains of the orphanage, past the dogshit and corpses” to what poses for a party. “I knew we were right on the brink of our best years,” Berner remarks flatly. At his site, he explains that the song was inspired by the true story of a death camp survivor who “returned to Berlin to reclaim his bar. He paid German musicians to play klezmer tunes while he slowly drank himself to death.” Michael Winograd’s sarcastically blithe clarinet lights up the bouncy Jackie the Pimp, which offers an Iceberg Slim-style look at the downside of the profession. Wealthy Poet chronicles the ways the guy will help his girlfriend escape the oppressors, finally by giving her some matches so she can burn off her fingerprints at the border, the violins of Diona Davies and Brigitte Dajczer snarling and smoldering overhead.

The famous Yiddish-American protest song Mayn Rue Platz is transformed into a gorgeous duet with otherworldly vocals from Chinese-Canadian siren/erhu player Lan Tung. I Kind of Hate Songs with Ambiguous Lyrics is self-explanatory, and an instant classic, a song that needed to be written; Dalloy Polizei – a reworking of a hundred-year-old Russian Jewish folk tune – commemorates the murder of Ian Bush, shot from behind in police custody in Houston, British Columbia after being arrested for having an open container of beer. And with Berner’s accordion driving a cruelly amusing, deadpan, rustic shtetl-style cover of Canadian girlpunks the Sluttards’ I Am Going to Jail, he finds the commonalities between centuries of persecution of Jews, and centuries of persecution of nonconformists of all kinds.

A brutally sarcastic techno song, Oh My Golem explores the cruel irony of how the original, idealistic concept of Zionism was appropriated by genocidal, anti-Palestinian wingnuts in Israel. There’s also a plaintive, sad version of the waltz Cherry Blossoms, and a woozily slinky epic titled Rabbi Berner Finally Reveals His True Religous Agenda that pokes fun at religious cults. Savagely aware, catchy and contemptuous, this is refusenik rock at its best. Watch for this on our best albums of 2011 list at the end of the year if any of us are still alive to compile it.

March 26, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Brooklyn What Are the New York Equivalent of the Clash

The corporate media wants you to believe that New York is all master mixologists mixing $26 heirloom lobster cilantro mochatinis, with celebrity djs pumping up the bass while Shtuppi, Blandie, Faylor and the rest of the cast of The Real Housewives of LoHo poledance for the camera. That element does exist, and in greater numbers with every passing tax break for the ultra-rich, but those people don’t represent New York. They’re not even from here. And while we wait, and wait, and wait, for a high-profile murder or two to send them scrambling for the next charter flight back to Malibu or Lake Wayzata, the Brooklyn What write songs for the rest of us. Like the Clash, they use punk as a stepping-off point for a range of styles that span the history of rock, from the 50s to the indie era. This may be old news for those who’ve seen them live, but they’re not just playing crazed punk music anymore: they’re become a truly great rock band. They have five newly recorded singles out: the songs are complex, psychedelic, and socially aware without losing the in-your-face edge that made the band so compelling from the start.

I Want You on a Saturday Night has been a big concert hit for them for awhile. It’s punked out doo-wop, a Weegee snapshot of a random night out. Guy’s at the bar, got only half a buzz, annoyed by the annoying crowd, trying to drown them out with Johnny Cash on the jukebox. He could go to Williamsburg, or to the Village where he’d meet some people and “want to kill them,” or stay home, get stoned and listen to Springsteen. But he wants out. And like the Uncle Sam poster, he wants you.

Punk Rock Loneliness is the shadow side of that picture. The guitars weave a staggered tango beat, distantly echoing the Dead Boys but more funky. Jamie Frey’s lyric sets the stage: “Rain through your canvas sneakers, nervous breakdown in your speakers…” Who hasn’t been there? Down at the corner of Bleecker and Bowery, where CBGB’s used to be, he thinks back on the girl who’s gone now. “All the things you had to give her, first your heart then your liver, drowned in the East River.” And the world couldn’t care less: there’s no more Johnny, or Joey, or Dee Dee with a song that would dull the pain, and the club they made famous is just another stupid shi-shi boutique now. A classic New York moment early in the decade of the teens.

Come to Me is like punked-out Sam Cooke. It’s sly and it’s irresistible – the singer understands that the girl’s been working a twelve-hour shift, she has to smile when her heart’s a frown, but he’ll make her forget about the long day and how light her purse feels at the end of it. The brief doubletracked guitar solo at the end is pure psychedelia: Evan O’Donnell and John-Severin Napolillo make the best one-two guitar punch this town’s seen in decades. A more rocking take on early 70s psychedelic funk/soul a la Curtis Mayfield, Tomorrow Night is more abstract, floating in on a catchy yet apprehensive slide guitar hook, winding out with another nimble, incisive solo. The fifth song, Status Quo, evokes Black Flag with its furious vocal tradeoffs, then goes for an anthemic garage punk Stooges/Radio Birdman knockout punch on the chorus. “I’m so bored with the status quo/Everything here has got to go,” the band roar. “You get all your sense of humor from reality shows,” Frey taunts the latest wave of gentrifiers. At the end, they finally let it fly completely off the hinges. The Brooklyn What also have a monthly residency at Trash Bar, a Saturday night where they play alongside some of the best of their colleagues in the Brooklyn underground scene. This month’s show is this Saturday, December 18 starting at 8 with power trio New Atlantic Youth, the Proud Humans (ex-Warm Hats), the Highway Gimps (the missing link between My Bloody Valentine and Motorhead), the Brooklyn What, postpunk rockers Mussles and finally the new Pistols 40 Paces at midnight. Check with the band for these songs as well as their classic 2009 album The Brooklyn What for Borough President.

December 16, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 12/12/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #779:

The Vapors – New Clear Days

Best known for their inscrutable and uncharacteristically new wavey 1979 hit Turning Japanese, this ferocious and surprisingly eclectic British punk band put out two excellent albums, this one and 1981’s Magnets, the latter featuring one of the alltime great album covers. The two standout tracks here are the raging News at Ten, an alienated kid going off on his conformist, complacent dad, and the artsy, Asian-flavored epic Letter from Hiro, told snidely from the point of view of a kamikaze pilot who was luckier than most. Spring Collection is just as snide: “You’re just another little girl with stars in your eyes, and I don’t wanna go home with you.” Somehow shares Turning Japanese’s pop feel; Prisoners is more like the Clash; Waiting for the Weekend a rare respite from the gloom; Sixty Second Interval and Trains and have a scurrying, furtive angst. The album closes with Bunkers, a postapocalyptic reggae-punk number. Frontman/rhythm guitarist David Fenton would go on to play in a considerably harder-rocking second edition of Bow Wow Wow in the 90s; afterward, in a considerably bizarre twist of fate, he would become a lawyer with the British equivalent of the RIAA. Here’s a random torrent.

December 12, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/28/10

Tons of new stuff waiting in the wings: Mick Rock’s latest photo exhibit at Morrison Hotel Gallery; a punk/skinhead photo retrospective at the Calandra Institute in midtown; Middle Eastern groove band Copal’s new album, and much more, check  back in a few hours. In the meantime, as we do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #824:

The UK Subs – Crash Course

Believe it or not, the prototypical oi punks’ first live album made the top ten on the British charts in 1980. This is the original, classic lineup with Charlie Harper backed by Nicky Garratt on guitar, Paul Slack on bass and Pete Davis on drums. Unlike so many of the hardcore bands that followed in their wake, the Subs’ irrepressible sense of humor and genuine defiance are in full effect here: Harper always let it be known that he and the rest of the crew were just glad to be able to make a living without having to work for some slimeball boss. The original vinyl album has 20 tracks; the cd includes the bonus ep with four additional live songs recorded considerably earlier. Unfortunately, you can’t download the big 20-inch UK SUBS stencil that came with the record, an absolutely brilliant piece of marketing that literally can still be seen 30 years later in places where long ago, punks used to get together. All their early hits are here: the hardcore classic I Live in a Car; the Subhumans-style reggae-rock Warhead; a trebly New York State Police (without the loud lead bass on the studio version); a comfortably unhinged Emotional Blackmail; the punk-pop of Tomorrow’s Girls and Teenage (Harper was 36 when he sang “I don’t wanna be teenage”). After awhile, a lot of this starts to sound the same, but there literally isn’t a bad song among the total of 24 tracks here. Harper has assembled several different outfits to back him over the years, Garratt and later bassist Alvin Gibbs rejoining at times; after a detour into a more metal-oriented direction in the mid-80s, they’d make a return to their punk roots in later years to cash in on the nostalgia circuit. Now in his late sixties, Harper remains as unstoppable as ever and still tours. Here’s a random torrent.

October 27, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/16/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #836:

Wire – Chairs Missing

The fan favorite is Pink Flag: no disrespect to that. It’s as fun, and still practically as unique now as it was when these defiantly artsy British punks released it in 1977, despite Elastica and all those Williamsburg bands who stood behind Justine Frischmann in the plagiarism queue. This is Wire’s second album, from 1978, emphasis on the art rather than the punk, but the songs are arguably stronger this time out. As with Pink Flag, there are plenty of anthemic, staccato, chromatically charged, reverb-drenched Syd Barrett-ish vignettes like Practice Makes Perfect and the gleefully insistent anthem I Am the Fly (as in “I am the fly in the ointment”). The best song here is the surprisingly poppy, insanely catchy, genuinely beautiful Outdoor Miner, which a million lame indie bands claim as inspiration they’ll never be able to live up to. Side one also has the distantly off-kilter I Feel Mysterious Today; the Twilight Zone punk of French Film Blurred; the weirdly catchy Men 2nd; the macabre-tinged Marooned; the hypnotic Sand in My Joints and Being Sucked In Again. Side two’s highlights include the unselfconsciously funny From the Nursery, the woozily ominous Used To and the more-or-less straight-up punk Too Late. Colin Newman’s deadpan monotone vocals are not an affectation but a disguise: a lot of the band’s lyrics have a tightlipped, verrrry British absurdist humor. The 1994 reissue has four bonus tracks, which are worth hunting down if you’re a rabid fan. Wire’s frequently interrupted career arguably peaked in the 70s (their 1979 album 154 is also worth hearing), although their recent material is also choice, if a little closer to dreampop than punk. Here’s a random torrent.

October 16, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 9/23/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #859:

The Damned – Mindless Directionless Energy

The All Music Guide said horrible things about this one: goes to show, who can you trust? We chose this over the rest of their catalog since it has so many inspired versions of some of their best and best-known songs. Recorded live at the Lyceum in London in 1981 and widely bootlegged, to the point where the band finally released it six years later, this captures the band hanging onto their punk sound even in the wake of their first dive into goth music, the Black Album. As befits a bootleg from that era, the sonics manage to be both boomy and trebly – midrange is mostly nonexistent – but the spontaneous intensity of the performances is irresistible. Frontman Dave Vanian sounds like he’s been drinking about his baby and the band are just loose enough to be dangerous, stampeding through the riff-rocking punk of I Fall and New Rose, a blistering hardcore version of Love Song, the wickedly catchy guitar-and-organ punk-pop of Smash It Up and I Just Can’t Be Happy Today, a feedback-infested blast through a medley of the MC5’s Looking At You and the Stooges’ 1970 and a murderously careening version of their most haunting if lyrically mystifying song, Plan 9 Channel 7. The only miss is a completely useless cover of the Sweet’s annoying Ballroom Blitz. Most of the Damned’s albums – from the almost equally trebly, garage-style stomp of their 1977 debut Damned Damned Damned through the goth-infused Strawberries, from 1982 – are worth investigating. Here’s a random torrent.

September 23, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Album of the Day 9/17/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #865:

Agent Orange – Living in Darkness

Agent Orange have made a thirty-year career based on this one album, almost by accident. The LA surf-punks’ 1980 debut ep Bitchin’ Summer was well received in the scene, so the following year Posh Boy Records brought them into the studio to do a full-length album…and the guitar amp broke. Short on time and equipment, frontman Mike Palm ran his guitar through a bass amp turned up to the point of distortion, and a new sound was born. Through a wall of eerie fuzztone sustain, the band play fast and desperate. One by one, they rip through one Dick Dale-tinged punk smash after another: Bloodstains; Too Young to Die; A Cry for Help in a World Gone Mad; the brutally cynical No Such Thing; a woozily murderous cover of Misirlou; the absolutely exhausting, somewhat epic title track (reputedly drummer Scott Miller was at the point of collapse by the time they finally got a take they were satisfied with); and the band’s signature song, the ridiculously catchy Everything Turns Grey. If you see this on vinyl, grab it: it’s worth something. Otherwise, the version to get is the 1991 Rhino reissue which also includes the band’s searing, iconic covers of both Pipeline and Mr. Moto. The band still tours. Here’s a random torrent.

September 16, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 9/16/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #866:

Sham 69 – That’s Life

The second and best album by these first-wave British punks, from 1978. Their 1977 debut Tell Us the Truth was raw to the extreme, half of it recorded live and clocking in at barely a half hour. This one is a concept album, a day in the life of a dead-end blue-collar London kid. Thirty years later, it’s as powerful and vivid as it was when it came out. Stuck in a stupid office job, the kid still lives at home with his dysfuctional family, none of whom get along and always seem to blame him for everything that goes wrong. The early songs set the scene, frontman Jimmy Pursey playing the wry, fatalistic but ultimately indomitable role to the hilt. Of course, the kid eventually gets fired, as chronicled in the catchy, Kinks-inflected title track. The songs really pick up when everybody goes off to the dog track (in Win or Lose, fueled by lead guitarist Dave Parsons’ insanely delicious, judiciously screaming chordal work), and then the pub: Hurry Up Harry is a cockney punk classic. As the night goes on, the kid gets drunker, strikes out with the cynical girls who hang out at his local in the hilarious Reggae Pickup Pt. 1 and 2 and finally comes face to face with a Sunday Morning Nightmare in one of the greatest and most evocative punk songs ever written. Even the period references still resonate: he’s horrified that his brother looks like John Travolta and his sister like Olivia Newton-John. And the slower songs, like the organ-fueled Everybody’s Wrong, have a genuine plaintiveness. The band didn’t last much longer; after a disappointing follow-up album, Hersham Boys (whose only standout track was the classic If the Kids Are United), the band broke up, Pursey disenchanted with the Nazi punk crowd who had strangely glommed onto the group and made their live shows literally dangerous. Parsons would go on to play briefly with Steve Jones in the short-lived punk supergroup the Sham Pistols; bassist Dave Tregunna joined the Wanderers with Stiv Bators and then continued on with him in the Lords of the New Church. Pursey has soldiered on with a completely different, vastly more pop version of the band for decades but little to show for it. There is however a Sham 69 album in the Live and Loud series and although the sound is a bit dodgy, the performances are first-rate.

September 16, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment