Saturday, 27 February 2016

Album Review: No Marks/Spoilers Split

Cardiff based Brassneck Records have just released a new split EP from punk bands The No Marks and Spoilers. It features five brand new tracks, three from The No Marks and two from Spoilers, and both bands put out impressive releases last year so I was expecting big things from this release.

The No Marks get the first half of the split underway with a song named Spirit. Playing melodic punk rock with some raspy vocals they manage to grab your attention immediately with big hooks and catchy lyrics. The chorus of "My Spirit Is Broken" will get stuck in your head instantly and you'll find yourself singing along straight away. Guilt Control As A Mechanism is the title of The No Marks second track on the split. This track starts with a fast tempo and doesn't relent throughout its duration. Musically it rocks so hard, making it difficult to remain still whilst listening. The singer’s raspy vocals do a fantastic job with the melody of the song and give it a fresh feeling. The final No Marks song is a thirty-nine second track titled Get Out. This short little song is a full on punk rock shouter and feels like somewhat of a bonus track rather than a fully fledged song.

The first song on Canterbury based Spoilers’ side of the split is called The Same Again. Frontman Dan Goatham's distinctive vocals come to the fore almost immediately. His vocals are a big reason that I really dig Spoilers; there's an everyman quality to them that make you think you could just as easily do what he's doing. As with all Spoilers songs it's superbly catchy and tells a great story - this one is about not being able to always relive the past and sometimes needing to talk about something else. The song also features Lee from Snuff on keys. Spoilers’ other song on the split is called Lost Your Way. This song starts with much more of a frantic skate punk sound with Dan's wonderful vocals giving the feeling of lightness. By which I mean the vocal stops the song venturing too far into the world of hard punk rock. At just one minute and twenty-three seconds long the song feels a bit short, almost like it's missing a verse or a chorus. Perhaps I'm just being greedy and wanting more Spoilers though.

Stream and download the split here:

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Friday, 26 February 2016

This Is A Blog About Venues

I'm assuming that almost everyone reading this absolutely loves going to gigs. There aren't many better feelings than going to a venue to see one of your favourite bands and singing and dancing the night away. The three most important ingredients to help make a successful gig are quality bands (of which there a many in the punk world), a great crowd and an excellent venue. This column is about what I think makes the latter.

First and foremost for me is the ability to get a good view of the stage. I'm not the tallest so it's very frustrating if I'm at a gig and I have to try and watch over somebody's shoulder or just stare at the back of their head for the entire set. This means I always find venues with a higher stage better. Sure it makes it harder for people to get on the stage to stage-dive but I can see and that's more important to me. The Montague Arm in South London has a perfect stage for seeing gigs. I've been to a number of gigs there (including a sold out RVIVR gig) and have never had a difficult time seeing the stage. Something else I always find to be quite frustrating at gigs is when stages have a gigantic pillar in the middle of the stage. I assume most of the time they are there for the structural integrity of the building but it can be annoying if you are towards the back of a room and have to keep peering round a pillar to see the stage.

Another important part of a good venue is the sound. Music is obviously something you listen to so sound at a gig is everything! There is nothing worse than a gig with terrible sound. Admittedly I don't want to hear a band live and it be a exact replica of the CD but I also want to be able hear the band properly. Too often I've been to gigs when drums have drowned everything out or the singer’s voice is at a strange pitch or the sound person can't set up horns properly. It's not good for the bands and it's not good for the fans if the sound at a gig is bad. If you're hearing a band for the first time and the sound is terrible it's quite probable you will come away from the gig thinking that band wasn't very good. Having a good sound person at a gig is so, so important. Not only do they make a band sound great but they play a big part in making sure the whole gig runs smoothly. It's important for a gig to run on time, especially the support bands. A lot of places have very strict curfews so if the support bands are delayed or even overrun that means the headline act will have to cut their set short or even skip their encore, and that's definitely not good. One venue in particular that I think does a great job with sound and also running a show is the Camden Underworld. I've been to that venue more than any other and I can't remember ever thinking that the sound is bad. 

For me personally, location is another important factor in a good venue. The majority of gigs I go to are in London so obviously I use the tube to get around. Also my sense of direction is terrible, if I didn't have Google maps on my phone I would never find any venues. When I'm looking at gigs I've often had doubts about going to a gig that's hidden away or is a good walk from the nearest tube station. One venue that comes to mind is The Windmill in Brixton. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love The Windmill as a venue, some of my all time favourite gigs have been there but it's such a long walk from the station. To be honest I'm not such a big fan of walking around Brixton in the middle of the night, often by myself. I like to feel safe and sometimes if a venue is a long walk from the tube I don’t.

Lastly something that is quite important to me in a venue is how they treat their customers. Something I've found from going to gigs in London and then going to gigs in other parts of the country is how expensive the drinks are in London compared to elsewhere. I'm completely tee-total so will probably only buy one or two drinks a night but I know that for gig goers who enjoy an alcoholic beverage and will often buy a lot more it must cost an absolute fortune! I was at Retro Bar in Manchester last October and bought two soft drinks and was shocked when the barman said it was £2. I was and am still amazed by that today. Having friendly door and security staff also makes a big difference at venues. Admittedly I'm sure they can meet some real idiots who make their job difficult and unpleasant but that's not everyone. If someone is rude to me it really sours me towards the venue. Everyone is there to have some good-natured fun so there's just no need to be rude or unhelpful. 

So there we go, a good venue should have a visible stage, good sound, be located well, well priced drinks and staff who look after you. Seems quite obvious really.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Top Tens: The Burnt Tapes Top Ten Punk Rock Influences

Hello, we are Phil and Pan and we both play guitar in The Burnt Tapes. Writing this list was super hard but we managed it because we are adults. We grew up together in Athens, got into punk together and made our weekly pilgrimage to the punk store every Friday, buying a CD each and hoping we’d uncover another punk gem. This list reflects the bands that stuck out like sweetcorn in the turd that is the music industry. They got us into punk and influenced not only the way we live but also the way we approach song writing.

The Lawrence Arms
I think we were 16 years old when we saw these guys in a sweaty basement in Athens, just after The Greatest Story Ever Told came out. They played an intimate, blistering set and we were in love. We bought 2 t-shirts each and wore both of them on top of each other. The dual vocals - raspy and aggressive on one side, clean and poetic on the other - as well as the catchy melodies had us hooked for life. All their albums slay, and all the side projects they created make us pop boners too. Oh, and Phil has a stupid photo of him and Brendan/Chris looking sweaty and fucking disgusting together.

The first Propagandhi song I heard was "Back to the Motor League" on a Fat Wreck comp. I had never heard anything so fast, so beautiful. Then I picked up Today's Empires, Tomorrow's Ashes and it blew my balls all over my pants. Since then, Propagandhi have been one of the few bands where their latest release has bettered their previous. Everything from the intelligent lyrics, the brutal thrash guitars to the beautiful album artwork make this band one of the greatest punk bands I've ever had the pleasure of seeing live. There is also a picture of me, in a robe, on a mattress that Phil thinks makes me look like Chris Hannah.

Hot Water Music
The granddaddies of org-core, the sexy, raspy voices that everyone (Phil) has been trying to emulate. I first heard "Trusty Chords" on Punk-O-Rama 8 and straight away knew these guys were da real MVP's. Caution is a perfect album, A Flight and a Crash has some of my favourite songs on it and the rest of their albums are bangers too. Musically and lyrically HWM are melancholy yet urgent, or to quote Phil "they make me sad but in a good way". Also, according to Phil, Chuck Ragan is good music to make babies to.

Banner Pilot
Banner Pilot should not be successful - their songs and albums as a whole are so similar that I forget which songs are on Collapser and which ones are on Hearts Beat Pacific. But who gives a flying dongwobbler when they write some of the catchiest and most melodic pop-punk songs my body has ever had the pleasure of absorbing. They are a perfect example of a band that does one thing, but does it so perfectly that it doesn't even matter.

Iron Chic
Out of the ashes of Latterman rose the org-core phoenix that is Iron Chic. We’re both suckers for this type of punk - anthemic hooks, mid-tempo rhythm and sing-a-long lyrics. Sure there are plenty of bands out there that do that - but none that give us excitement erections like Iron Chic. I don't think there's an Iron Chic song that I don't like – they sing about growing up, letting go, trying to better yourself and learning from your mistakes. It's depressing and hopeful at the same time but hey, that's life kiddos! Also, Lubrano looks like he's sleepwalking when they play live and I like that.

Despite Fat Mike being quite a divisive and controversial figure over the last few years, NOFX are undoubtedly one of the most influential punk bands around. Throughout our teens they were definitely our favourite punk band. They had such a range to both their sound and their lyrics; going from faster skate punk stuff to being more melodic, or going from singing about politics and religion to singing about fun things to fuck. NOFX also led us to a bunch of Epitaph bands that we fell in love with, and that carried on with everything Fat Mike & Erin did over at Fat Wreck Chords.

Blink 182
For a lot of kids growing up in the 90’s, Blink 182 were a punk rock gateway drug. Their catchy melodies, “alternative” personas, and wacky toilet humour certainly struck a chord with our pre-pubescent minds, and became one of the main reasons why any of us wanted to learn guitar and start a punk band. They always looked like they were having so much fun (not so much now of course). Through them we went on to discover bands like NOFX, AFI & The Descendents, just to name a few.

Vodka Juniors
Vodka Juniors are and were by far the biggest Greek punk band around. Growing up in Athens, they supported all the major bands, from Lagwagon to Propagandhi, while being a major influence on the local punk scene, playing a ferocious blend of thrash/skate punk. They were the first band we knew that booked their own tours across Greece and Europe, and made us dream of getting out there and playing every squat/house/basement/toilet show that would have us. This year they toured Europe for 100 days, and put out a 45 track punk rock opera all on their own. Legends.

The Flatliners
These guys manage to keep everything sounding so fresh, that it’s hard to imagine they have been around for over 10 years. They bring such a frantic energy, enthusiasm and passion to everything they create and I’ve yet to hear a Flatliners song that didn’t have me rocking. On top of that, I’ve got a creepy man crush on Chris Cresswell, sometimes I sit in my room naked with just my guitar thinking: “What would Cresswell do?”

Alkaline Trio
I’ve been into Alkaline Trio for almost 15 years and I just can’t shake them off. From Here to Infirmary has to rank in my top 5 albums of all time, and I always put it on whenever I want a serious nostalgia trip. Both Matt Skiba and Dan Adriano are incredible song-writers, I love the dark lyrical imagery they conjure up, the harmonies their very different voices create when combined and the riffs they come up with that I fail to recreate. A bunch of albums later, I still find time for this threesome.

Check out The Burnt Tapes Bandcamp here:

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Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Album Review: Derailer by Sic Waiting

Sic Waiting are a punk rock band from Oceanside, California. Last October (yes, yet again I'm late to the party) they released a new album on Felony Records named Derailer.

The album opens with a song called Active Alumni. The song starts quickly, which is always a good way to grab your attention. This is fast-paced punk rock in the style of No Use For A Name and Useless ID, which I'm a big fan of. As you might expect the song has plenty of hooks and a catchy chorus. Home Is Where You Hit Your Head begins with some harder in tone guitars before the vocals begin. These feel more serious than on Active Alumni and also a lot more thoughtful. The music is what really stood out for me on this track with some great guitar work all through the song. The third track - Lies Are For Living - has a fairly subdued start. The tempo picks up slightly as the song progresses but always feels like something is being held back. Things get a bit more bouncy for the bridge before a fantastic guitar lead breakdown and quite an uplifting ending to the song. It feels like the song takes you through a range of emotions without really doing much. I don't know how Sic Waiting did that.

War Is The Answer is another track with some awesome guitar playing. This up-tempo song is a real foot stomper from start to finish. Lyrically I'm reminded of Rise Against, with the line "Help Is On The Way". This is followed up with the song The Best Mistakes You Make. This song was the stand out on my first listen of Derailer. It starts out slowly with some restrained vocal delivery and lyrics about changing but still being the same. The chorus is a huge one that will have your undivided attention and have you screaming at the very top of your lungs. The Sell is a track that manages to take you back to the heyday of 90's skate punk whilst maintaining a modern feel with some great technical guitars. The tempo is fast and gets my heart beating a little faster and there are some great heavy breakdowns that get my head banging. Track number seven is titled A Red House And Bones. This song is much of a slower tempo rock song. I like the simplicity in the guitars, Sic Waiting show that not only can they really shred with some complicated chords, but they can also take things back and still have interesting melodies. I feel like this song would work amazingly well in a big stadium as it has a huge sound.

The eighth song, The Salesman, starts out simply with the lyrics "Is There Something To Be Said, For Beating A Horse When It's Dead, Or Beating Out The Demons In Your Head". They are delivered in a way that really grabs your attention, starting with a slow, emo style before launching into some melodic skate punk. This is a song with some fantastic hooks that carry the song forward and give it a fresh feel. The penultimate song on Derailer is named In Compatible Love. In Compatible Love is a fun pop punk song that could easily find its way onto a montage from an American summer teen film. It's upbeat (musically) and so wonderfully catchy. The tenth and final song on the album is named Maps. It begins with some great guitar playing that builds into some explosive vocals and is delivered in a punchy fashion that gives the song a high tempo feeling before switching into a more tuneful and melodic style on the chorus. A very strong final song.

Derailer feels like a bit of a throwback album but with many modern twists. Sic Warning have borrowed sounds from influences such as No Use For A Name and Useless ID and added their own, fast paced and technical spin to create a very fresh sounding album.

Stream and download Derailer here:

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Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Art of Punk: Dookie

Green Day’s third album, Dookie, turned 22 earlier this month. 22! To put that into perspective, I was not quite 3 years old when it was released. (Apologies if you bought it when it was first released and I have now made you feel really old!) I discovered Green Day about ten years after that and, although by no means a very favourite of mine or a band I listen to all that often any more, I know that Dookie is a classic. It was the album that first made the band known in the mainstream and it is one of, if not the number one (I’m not sure on facts), best-selling punk rock albums of all time. It’s also the Green Day album that I think a lot of people, punk fans or otherwise, rate most highly – just look at a handful of our Top Ten Punk Rock Influences posts and you’ll see what I mean.

It’s not only the musical content that makes Dookie such a popular album, the album artwork too is frequently discussed – both positively and negatively. It was, and probably still is really, a rather controversial album cover when it was first released. The album title itself – to put it in the most polite terms possible – means poop, so of course the artwork would be at least a little shocking.

From poop-throwing dogs to bombs, there is a lot going on on the cover of Dookie and it’s drawn entirely in coloured pencils – you can’t say that about many punk album covers (I can’t think of any others right now anyway!). The [in]famous scene of chaos on Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue was drawn by East Bay (San Francisco, California – where Green Day are also from) punk-come-artist Richie Bucher. Green Day pretty much said he could do what he wanted with the artwork… so he did.

‘All I had to work with was that it was Green Day and the album was called Dookie’, he said. ‘I used to listen to the Kerplunk! album all the time, and the first two songs especially just sounded to me like a fighter plane swooping down. That was the way in for me, the anchor for building the rest of the drawing. They didn't give me a lot of guidance, which was nice, and I just sketched out the basic design and brought it to them. Once they approved the sketch, I went back and fleshed it out with the crazy stuff in my head.’ (Willamette Week)

Bucher was also asked to ‘extend’ the artwork into a poster format by Green Day’s record label. Which he states, and I certainly agree with, would have been a lot easier to do the opposite way around – ie. cropping a poster down into album-sized artwork. I’m guessing the three smoking dogs taking centre stage at the bottom are a representation of the three members of the band. While the cat was apparently an icon for a band called Here Kitty Kitty that Bucher use to be a member of. He actually managed to fit a lot of his own elements into the illustration which is pretty awesome really – note his name and logo in the bottom right corner (of the original album cover) along with the number 93, for the year.

Billie Joe Armstrong, singer-guitarist of Green Day (Did I even need to say that? Everyone know who he is, right?), attempted to explain some of the meanings behind Dookie’s controversial artwork in an interview on VH1 many years later.

‘I wanted the artwork to look really different. I wanted it to represent the East Bay and where we come from, because there’s a lot of artists in the East Bay scene that are just as important as the music. So we talked to Richie Bucher. He did a 7-inch cover for this band called Raooul that I really liked. He’s also been playing in bands in the East Bay for years. There’s pieces of us buried on the album cover. There’s one guy with his camera up in the air taking a picture with a beard. He took pictures of bands every weekend at Gilman’s. The robed character that looks like the Mona Lisa is the woman on the cover of the first Black Sabbath album. Angus Young is in there somewhere too. The graffiti reading “Twisted Dog Sisters” refers to these two girls from Berkeley. I think the guy saying “The fritter, fat boy” was a reference to a local cop.’ (Wikipedia)

I don’t (yet) own a vinyl copy of Dookie but it would be great to have a closer look at all the finer details of the artwork, at a larger than CD scale. I can imagine sitting down – whilst listening to the album, of course – and examining the scene like a page from a Where’s Wally book!

And just as an added extra because I enjoy imitations and tributes, at least when they’re done fairly well, here’s Teenage Bottlerocket’s take of the Dookie album artwork. It was used for their cover of Having A Blast for an Under The Influence split EP with the Ergs. It looks as if their version is drawn with markers rather than coloured pencil! Unfortunately I can’t find a larger image anywhere. Anyone own it?