Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Commonly Overlooked/Maligned Records that Kick Ass

There are lots of bands/records I've heard and thought "How is this not more popular?" I'm sure you have too. There are also some that are seen as a band's worst, or poorly executed, bad concept,etc, or sometimes a band follows up a successfull release with something no one was expecting which leads to bad reviews out of sheer disappointment. Some of these records are actually great, they just weren't critically/commercially successful for reasons beyond their control. This post is for those records that really deserve another listen,(or in some cases, a 1st listen)
Swingin Utters - Five Lessons Learned
          These guys were one of my favorite bands growing up. Their debut, The Streets of San Francisco (produced by Lars of Rancid!) was one of my favorites back in the day. I bought this one right when it came out and HATED it at first. The production was very un-Utters.Polished, slick even.  You really couldn't get much further from Streets... unless it were a Death Metal album. "Thats what happens when bands get on FAT!!", I bitched. I was in my "anything popular at all sucks ass" phase. Even punk likeNOFX was too happy sounding and poppy for me at this time. I was really into Napalm Death, Assuck, Capitalist Casualties, Suffocation, Deicide, basically the most angry, hateful shit I could find. This record was a curveball to say the least. The title track is the first song (usually not a good sign) which is a pretty standard fast Utters song, with trademark lyrics "I know I must not think that much, I'm always beaten to the punch/I'm holdin aces high and low and in between I'm trying to break my fall/ Love it! The second song , 'Tell Me Lies' is probably my favorite song on the disc. I should take this opportunity to tell you what Swingin Utters sound like, in case you haven't had the privilage. You have to mention Stiff Little Fingers first and foremost. That's their main influence. Don't be fooled though, they're no imitators. Their sound is as distinctive as anyone who has their own sound (not many these days), very irish influenced. I know there were a bazillion '77 style bands in the late 90's, but these guys set themselves apart. Anyway, the 3rd song 'A Promise to Distinction' is an old Irish folk-type track. Somehow, these guys can go from punk to folk, to country seamlessly and make it work EVERY TIME. As I said before, the production is very clean and polished sounding, which serves vocalist Johnny Bonnel's laid-back confidence well. His style isn't the usual of the usual 'gravelly' street punk variety (which almost always SUCKS btw. We know you don't really sound like that!) Mike Ness is an obvious influence, yet on this record, you won't hear much snarl. "This Bastard's Life" is another standout track, with just the right amount of piano/keyboards throughout. These songs really are timeless. Honestly every song on the record has it's own quirks and personality. This record is actually the reason I picked this topic to blog about. I can't recommend it enough. Why this didn't sell 5 million copies, I'll never know. It's incredible. The maturity of the song topics and lyrics also put these guys above 99% of punk bands. It's mostly working class type stuff, but very intelligent and wise. What puzzles me is they never really made another that sounded like this one. I dunno if it was a concept album or what, but their self titled LP after this one is more like Streets of San Francisco and Juvenile Product of the Working Class. OK I'll stop gushing now. Just buy the record.

Corrosion of Conformity - Wiseblood
          I'm not a huge COC fan, but enjoy this record immensely. I only bought this TAPE (lol) because of the glowing review it recieved from Metal Maniacs, a magazine that was basically my Bible during my teen years. Yet, I don't think I've ever heard a single COC fan (which is about the most diverse base you can get btw) say this is their favorite record. "Heavy" isn't even a strong enough word to describe this beast. The opener, "King of the Rotten" is an upbeat song with an almost too-simple main riff. The shit is so heavy, you won't care. One of my all time favorite records to drink to. (it may even be tied with Rancid's 1st.) Song 2, 'Long Whip. Big America' really showcases frontman Pepper Kennen's charisma. The chorus is addictive. I guarantee, the first time you hear this song, you'll immediately replay it. The 3rd song is the title track and is just as heavy and catchy as its predecessor. 'Goodbye Windows' is probably my favorite song on the album. Its pretty damn depressing blues-rock essentially done perfectly. The songs on the second half of the record are a bit more drawn-out (one of the trademarks of the Pepper era) generally, but there's plenty of diversity to keep you interested. 'Fuel' is a thrasher that shows equal parts 'Blind' and 'Eye for an Eye' DNA, 'Man or Ash' and 'Redemption City' sound alot like one another, yet different and distinct from one another, like twins whose lives both began as a single fertilized egg. The previous played deliberately at glacial pace to savor the crushing heaviness of the guitar sound. The final track, 'Bottom Feeder' is probably the trippiest of the album, which gradually fades out to the sound of swine feeding. Brilliant.

Napalm Death - Diatribes
              These guys need no introduction. From either external pressure from struggling Earache Records or boredom, Napalm Death decided to take the direction first explored in the experimental success Fear, Emptiness, Despair to its extreme. Most songs are mid-tempo, with near alternative rock rhythms and song structures that seem to toy with the tension and delay or even refuse payoff/release. The lyrics are a bit more abstract and introspective than their previous records as well, which is a bonus for those of us who aren't still riding the over-educated malcontent/contrarian bus.The songs are quite long by ND's standards, (in the grindcore world, 4:00 is epic) but they do a great job of keeping things interesting. It really is a tribute to this band's creativity and audacity to make a record like this, regardless of all the flack they recieved for changing thier sound so drastically. This direction had grown dull to me by their next release, Inside the Torn Apart, which in spite of a few high points (Lowpoint! lol) sounded bland and uninspired as Utopia Banished did compared to Harmony Corruption. They retured to their roots soon after, to the delight of their core audience, and released some of their best works of their collective carreer. Their latest, Utilitarian, is arguably their best. They've incorporated clean vox to the mix, giving thier sound the sense of atmosphere it lacked before, while remaining as pissed as ever. I don't know if they're proud or ashamed of Diatribes, they should be proud. Lesser bands rely on giving fans what they want to keep them, while ND challenged us and themselves as artists. It's no coincidence they are one of the most respected bands in extreme music.

Dead Kennedys - Bedtime for Democracy
              Ask any fan which is DK's worst album, and the answer almost invariably is Bedtime for Democracy. Look up any reviews for it, and nearly all are negative. There are a few good reasons for the bad reception. The first is the guitar sound. On many songs, it's all but impossible to make sense of what Ray is even playing. It's a hot mess. The second (I would guess) would be the fact that this is seen as a 'playing it safe' record. It's pretty standard 80's American hardcore punk (How is that a bad thing? Haveya read Maximum Rock N' Roll in the last 20 yrs?) musically. Nearly all the songs are fast, and DK's trademark weird/creepy anti-melodies and guitar work seem to take a back seat to a fast/faster/really faster  brutal approach. (I like this about the record, but I guess it's not ironic or sarcastic enough for the average DK fan). Anyway, this was the first DK album I ever heard in its entirety (another cassette,given to me by my brother in law Dave of DRUNK IN A DUMPSTER FAME) which may have alot to do with why I love it so much. As I said before, all the songs are up-tempo scorchers, most under 3 minutes. There's lots of humor and weirdness here, as with all DK records, which keeps things lighthearted and fun. All the songs are fun to sing to and the song topics are all at the least very interesting and thought-provoking even if you don't agree with Jello's social/political views (I couldn't DISagree more with most songs). I rarely skip any songs on this record. Each has it's own personality and is distinct from the other, which deserves praise considering how similar all the songs are to each other musically. If I had to pick favorites, I'd say 'Rambozo' (grey shrapnel flavored chewing gum...) 'The Great Wall', 'Triumph of the Swill', 'Macho Insecurity', 'I Spy', 'Chickenshit Conformist' 'Do the Slag', 'Gone With My Wind'.. really every song is great. There are also two 6 minute epics on here which add some variety to the chaos. 'Cesspools in Eden' is slow and neandering, with some cool signature eerie guitar parts and gradual buildups highlighted by Jello's maniacal vocal style. Classic DK.  A really well written song musically and lyrically. 'Chickenshit Conformist' is a scathing critique of the punk scene and the music industry in general, which will probably remain relevant as long as there is punk rock. You can say what you want about Jello, but his love and passion for music is obviously genuine. It's a shame he hasn't done much since. He's incredibly talented.

                  Logical Nonsense - Soul Pollution
             I read about this band in Metal Maniacs (I told you I read it ALOT) as a hardcore band that would also appeal to metal heads. They hit the nail on the head. They kinda reminded me of AUS ROTTEN (a discharge-inspired anarcho punk band from the 90's)but something different I could never quite put my finger on. Maybe it's the production. The vocalist sounds like he's from a metal band, with a very pissed gravelly snarl equal parts Wattie and Anselmo. Nearly Death Metal sounding at times. Most of the songs start out slow or mid-tempo, then fast, but done in such a way as not to sound repeatative or like they're following a formula. 'What's Left' is a good example. There are some very slight industrial/noise elements, but this is definitely a hardcore record, with rage to spare. It was released on Jello's Alternative Tentacles label, so you can probably still order a copy. I cant praise it enough. To have a sound so simple, yet diverse and distinct is quite an accomplishment.

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