Tuesday, January 22, 2002

Music to My Ears II
A six-pack of new record reviews!

The Colour Blue: six-song casette
This band contacted the Anchormen last summer to see whether we could help them get a show in Massachusetts while they were on tour. We couldn't; we can hardly get ourselves shows. But maybe it'll help a little to review their demo tape. Opening with an energetic burst of indie-rock chunka-chunk, the tape quickly switches into some sensitive, start-and-stop shout-along emo. While the slower, sensitive parts don't do much for me, the earnest, strained sections are quite impressive and interesting, especially the bit at the end with layered vocals. (No song titles with the tape, so apologies extended.) The third song seems to be relatively straight-ahead SoCal pop punk, sporting the standard song structure popularized by bands such as the Ataris, although less bright. Here, as in the fourth song, as well, the rough vocals are a liability, as their thin tonality doesn't really carry the songs too strongly. That said, the Colour Blue are competent songwriters and performers, and the low production value of this tape probably doesn't do their Midwestern emo justice. There are enough promising bright spots in these six songs to intrigue me: What are they like live? What are their newer songs like? This tape, albeit not very satisfying, is just a taste. Pirate Party Record Co., P.O. Box 814, Dundee, IL 60118-0814.

James Kochalka Superstar: "Don't Trust Whitey" CD
If you think that Atom & His Package is the "Weird Al" Yankovic of the punk-rock world, then prolific indie comics maker James Kochalka might very well be our Dr. Demento. From his previous hardcore punk attacks recorded with the Zambonis to his Coctails-style children's songs, James represents a wide range of musical genres and lyrical themes -- occasionally channeling from beyond as he improvises a new song at a party or at the bus stop. On this 23-song CD recorded in Copenhagen, Connecticut, California, and Vermont, James touches on a number of subjects: racism, karaoke, cunnilingus, frogs, horses, ice skating, marijuana, corn on the cob, toast, Ozzy Osbourne, computers, and beer. While it's tempting to file this under joke rock, the music is too good to dismiss. Accompanied by a number of talented friends on synthesizers, strings, horns, and other instruments, James indicates that even the smallest of ideas might be worth expanding on -- and that it's always good to do even the small (and occasionally disposable) things well. The DIY production on this recording, made in many basements and bedrooms, is hella impressive, and James even works in that glitchy little vocal effect used by Cher and Madonna on "Sleighride to Heck." Made me laugh out loud, that one. James takes his charming, precious brand of joke rock very, very seriously. James Kochalka, P.O. Box 8321, Burlington, VT 05402.

Onion Flavored Rings: "One Big Onion" cassette
Featuring Bay Area productive punks Steve Funyons, Paul Curran, and Iggy Scam, these 10 songs written in 1984 but recorded in the fall of 2001 capture the area's bouncy pop-punk sound a la Sweet Baby or the Potatomen while carrying a darker lyrical theme. Song topics include a self-destructive lack of self-esteem, the antisocial treatment of friends (something I have a little experience with these days), not telling the people you love how you feel, addiction, breaking up, and resignation. I was surprised and delighted that Paul and Iggy were involved in this project, but Steve is new to me. His vocals are reminiscent of Dallas Denery and Franklin Bruno, perhaps with a little but of the Pansy Division dude thrown in. If you don't listen closely or read the lyrics, you might miss the down feeling of the songs -- with a name like Onion Flavored Rings and somewhat funny songs about quantum physics and mummies, it'd be easy to mistake this tape for classic, sunny, Bay Area pop punk... which is is but isn't all at the same time. Steve tells me that this is also available as a CD for $5 postpaid (the tape costs $3), including three extra songs from their last show at Gilman. 1450 7th Ave. #6, San Francisco, CA 94122.

The Queers: "Today" CD EP
Remember when the Queers were agressive and snotty? This Ben Weasel-produced CD EP featuring Joe Queer on guitar and vocals, this time backed by a proper band, walks the line between the band's hyperactive heyday ("Yeah, Well, Whatever," a nice burst of bile) and Joe's current songwriting default setting: Beach Boys-styled bubblegum pop. The Queers even cover a Beach Boys song on this five-song release: the just-in-time-for-the-Olympics "Salt Lake City." That track makes for a nice contrast with the still-snotty and Weasel co-written "I've Had It with You," which targets California indie punk aristocrats. "We do all the work and you get rich," Joe sneers. Curious. The Queers have never been as popular in the Northeast, where Joe lives and works on a lobster boat, as they have been in the Midwest or Bay Area. Is "I've Had It with You" a bit of New England second city finger pointing? Maybe, as suggested by "Salt Lake City," there's room for more than one hardcore hometown. Sad to say, it's not Boston these days. Nevertheless, I think this release calls for a relevance check. Between Ben Weasel's obsession with the Ramones and Joe Queer's taste for the Beach Boys, what do the Queers offer punk rock today? I'd like to see Joe pick a direction and sail more swiftly. Lookout! Records, 3264 Adeline St., Berkeley, CA 94703 or Joe Queer, P.O. Box 1201, North Hampton, NH 03862.

Traitors: "Everything Went Shit" CD
Take a largely unknown band. Take 33 songs on a CD. Take 18 unreleased tracks. Take two songs that came out on record with the founding singer, Todd Pot (ex-Apocalypse Hoboken). Add one reviewer who lived in Chicago for five years, and you get a CD full of unsung punk-rock hits. This postmortem best-of release captures more good songs than I heard at any one whole-hog local show at the Fireside Bowl the entire time I lived in Chicago. They don't say when these songs were recorded, but if it was post-1997, why wasn't anyone in the recording industry watching that city? This is the shit. Better than the Bollweevils and all the post-Screeching Weasel/Vindictives/etc. bands, the Traitors are innovative, interesting, and intriguing. Todd Pot is freaking schizo, spazzing between Mike Patton-like noise-rock yelling and Billie Joe-esque pop punk crooning, mixing in Midwestern hiphop and Victims Family-like funk. Sure, the Traitors draw on traditional punk-rock formulae, but they also rope in Dead Kennedys-reminiscent diminuendoes in "Homeless for the Night" and many other divergent and diverse elements before Billy Smith's vocal takeover in... when? With the arrival of Mr. Smith, who is much more consistent, perhaps, but much less interesting, the Traitors quickly devolved into a band good for, at most, a series of several 7-inches that, though more energetic and aggressive, were less exciting and important. Of the Steve Albini-produced and other post-Pot songs, "Superhero Zero" and "Last Will & Testament" stand out, and that's about it. I can't understand why 13/20 of the lesser singer's songs were released prior to this -- while 11/13 of Todd Pot's songs weren't. Go figure. Johann's Face, P.O. Box 479164, Chicago, IL 60647.

White Collar Crime: "Their Laws Are Dimwit Greed" CD
One of my favorite unsung and largely unknown bands for awhile, this guitarless drama-punk band blends the political polemics of Billy Bragg with the black-box theatrics of Maestro Subgum and the Whole or the World Inferno Friendship Society to take "the Idea into the street." Henry Rollins-reminiscent Sander Hicks (who often wears kneepads so he doesn't hurt himself at shows) wears his politics as well as his heart on his sleeve, even covering "The Eight Hour Day," a song originally sung by striking miners in 1897, and other labor songs, including Woodie Guthrie's "Union Maid." By bridging union anthems and keyboard-fueled punk-rock aggression, White Collar Crime refreshes leftist sing-alongs and punk rock, calling for listeners to "unite and fight with our teeth and our speech." The record's not all political manifesto, however. Sander and the gang also offer several heartfelt personal songs -- "My Comrades I Failed You" and "You Are Not Mine" -- that touch on the frustrations of trying to live up to your ideals and the sadness that stems from unrequited love. In lieu of perfection or romantic bliss, White Collar Crime throws its shoulder to the wheel and keeps striving to realize its ideas and ideals, falling prey to neither the intellectual limitations of the Left nor the distractions of day-to-day life. Practical political punk for the artistic activist. Soft Skull Press, 98 Suffolk N. 3A, New York City, NY 10002.

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