Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Off With Their Heads - "From the Bottom" review

Minneapolis, MN has always been in the top ranks with me as far as music goes. I mean, they've given us Dillinger Four, Rivethead and Prince. What more could one ask for?
A couple years ago, this band, Off With Their Heads, opened for the Methadones at the Beat Kitchen. I thought they sounded like one of those hardcore bands. You know, "RAH RAH RAH I'M TOUGH NOW CLAP YOUR HANDS!!!"
There's this other band I love called Dear Landlord. So I picked up a split 7'' featuring them with Dear Landlord.
It was then that I became interested in what they had to offer, so I purchased Off With Their Heads' new album, "From the Bottom," which came out on August 12.

They weren't quite pop punk or punk rock. But at the same time, they didn't strike me as that hardcore band I thought they previously were either. They're just Off With Their Heads from Minneapolis.
What struck me about them first was their lyrics.
The desperation, heartache and sincerity really got me. I mean, on one hand, part of me wanted to say, "Jesus, stop whining about being hopeless and sad and helpless." But on the other hand, I can relate. And when I relate to a song, I like the band. And when I like a band, I review their newest album.
When I listen to Off With Their Heads' new album, "From the Bottom," I get a series of mixed feelings. I can't stop listening to that album, but at the same time, a little part of me still feels as if the lead singer is just totally helpless and/or depressed, scraping for some kind of truth or comfort.
The first song, "I Am You," starts out with:
"If you really want some answered questions
If you really wanna know just what its like
If you want to dig inside my head, pull up a chair, you got all night
I'll tell you why I fucking hate my life
I'll tell you why I can't seem to get it right
I'll tell you why I entertain the thought of dying all the time."

It's a bit depressing, yes, but at the same time, lead singer Ryan Young says there's a little bit of him in everyone. I can't deny it.
While I have yet to find a similarity between the band's name and Alice in Wonderland, I did find something interesting on its MySpace site.
I was fooled into thinking the band had a separate Web site than its MySpace site, but it just led me here. The link name didn't lie! That gives us a little bit more information about Off With Their Heads and their personal beliefs. An interestingly humorous Web site by the way, check it out.

"For the Four" is another song worthy of notice among the rest. This one was featured on their split 7'' with Four Letter Word. I think the story behind this 7'' is the two bands were driving down to Gainesville or back and they released a split titled "One For the Road."
It's a song about hope, but it leans a little towards the pessimistic stance.
"Let’s put the petty shit all behind
Remember when we used to laugh all the time
It makes me wonder why we bend over backwards
Scraping up nickels and dimes
What can end the constant struggle
Is there a light at the end of the tunnel anyway"
I automatically assume that Francis sings about a rocky relationship, which I think we all can relate to, male or female.
He's got the right attitude, and I agree with him when he desperately says:
"Let's put all the petty shit behind."
Two individuals in love, or even so-called love, should be able to work past petty differences and have fun without getting snagged on one of the barbs of insecurity, jealousy or whatever he may be particularly singing about in this song.

Finally, the album ends with "I Hope You Know," a song slightly different than all preceding ones.
"I hope you know wherever you are
I'm sorry I wasn't there from the bottom of my heart
I'm sorry that when you would call, I'd shut my ringer off
And I'm sorry I erased the mail you'd send to patch things up
But there's one fault of mine that I won't soon forget
And that was never being there when you were on the bed
I got the news in California sick with what you had
I was laid up in the hospital with pneumonia in my chest
I felt the pain that you had felt every day of your life
I regret all my selfishness..."
It's a truly heartfelt tune and while sang in the same voice and with the same fast, driving instrumentals, it's distinctively slower and more intimate than all the preceding songs, which tend to be faster and carry more of an attitude of selfishness rather than regretfulness and sincerity. "From the Bottom" has quickly made its way to the top of the ranks. For fans of Dillinger Four and The Arrivals.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Ben Weasel/Danny Vapid - "My Brain Hurts" show review

Saturday night started out pretty well. I got some food, had a few RC Colas and was feeling pretty damn good. There was a terrible DVD looping on the TVs of Gang of Four footage. They were really artsy and didn't seem to carry any sort of rhythm. But luckily after that, there was a Dwarves DVD. It wasn't much better, but it beat that Gang of Four crap.
So between looking at the naked Dwarves on four screens and looking at the Repellants on the live Reggie's feed, I decided to get up and go next door. I missed the Repellants unfortunately, but caught the Chinese Telephones. They were great, as always. During the show, a dude that goes by codename Jerry Cola requested "Crying In the Chapel," to which Justin Telephone, the lead singer, said "No requests!"
I figured it was worth a shot. They did play it at the Subterranean a little while back, though.
I was disappointed to learn that the Chinese Telephones might be breaking up really soon. Justin informed me after the show that the show I just witnessed very well possibly could be their last, which sucks. Something about the drummer leaving, I believe, but I don't want to spread non-facts.
That kind of bummed me out, because the Chinese Telephones are absolutely awesome and fun fun fun to watch. It's a shame the crowd is never really into them. Then again, most of the words are impossible to decipher.

Next up were the Jetty Boys, who I wasn't all too impressed with. The lead singer/guitarist of the band played in Ben Weasel's band in May, so I recognized him right away. The music was pretty good, but after all the clap-your-hands stuff, I got kinda turned off. They weren't bad at all. I just wasn't feeling them, and I was so excited to see Danny Vapid play with Ben Weasel, that any band that was up there, I probably would have felt the same restless feeling.

After the Jetty Boys left the stage, Ben Weasel's band came out and tore right into "Making You Cry."
My favorite part of the night was the fact that Reggie's doesn't give a shit who goes backstage. I witnessed the whole show from the side of the stage, and wandered up to the fence-balcony for a song. It was cool.
"My Brain Hurts" is my absolute favorite album, blah blah blah. It's a lot of people's favorite.
What I especially enjoyed were Vapid's background vocals. That's something Ben can't capture solo. His backing band does a pretty dead-on job of nailing the notes and has timing down. Simon Lamb, Ben Weasel's guitarist, did a great job especially. But it's the backing vocals that complete the true sound of the album. Ben is great solo. But Vapid and Ben together were incredible. Ace from the Steinways also took over for Simon on a song. They played, I think, four Riverdales tunes. Which, obviously with Vapid there, was really really cool. Ben will do Riverdales tunes, like in May. Sometimes Vapid will do Riverdales tunes during Methadones shows or that Mopes show in 2006. But having them together was awesome. One more person, and it would have been a Riverdales reunion show.

After the show, there was a free Vacation Bible School gig next door. They were fun. I want to check out some of their stuff. Another band of note was Teen Slut. They were fast and right on as The Queers, and they did a couple of covers, too. They covered "Terrible Monster" by The Vindictives and "Island of Pogo Pogo" by the Groovie Ghoulies. I think they did "Rockaway Beach" too. But I forgot who sings that originally.
After THAT, The Arrivals played next door.
Both shows were free if you attended the Ben Weasel/Danny Vapid show. You can't go wrong with the Arrivals. They've got a certain charm about themselves. I believe they are one of the more underrated bands in Chicago. All in all, though, Saturday night was awesome. The burgers next door in the music joint rule, by the way.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Steinways - "Unoriginal Recipe" 7'' review

I saw Ben Weasel at Reggie's (Chicago) in May and met Larry Livermore from Lookout! Records. He was wearing a Steinways T-shirt. I had heard of them before, but have never heard their music. So as much as I don't like to do this, a few weeks later, I went online and tracked down a couple of their seven inches. I didn't wanna buy the album, cause what if they suck?

Anyway, I picked up "Unoriginal Recipe" as well as a split they did with The Peabodys called "Irreconcilable Differences."
I immediately took them to my turntable, plugged in my handy USB cable, fired up Audacity and went to town making MP3s.
My first impression was, "Eh. Sounds kinda amatuer and redundant." I decided to take out the insert and read along to the tunes.
Not even after the third song, I was hooked. By the time I got to "Main Street, Flushing, USA," I was a fan.
The Steinways are the most fun pop punk band I've heard since The Leftovers. The songs are straight up fun, upbeat tunes about girls. Simple and sweet.
No redundant political statements or songs about stressful social issues (even though females can be pretty stressful at times). Just fun, upbeat stuff.
The absolute most fun aspect about this release is the sixth and final track, "Voce Tem Labios De Uma Galinha."

Yeah, what the fuck, right? Aren't labia vagina lips?
They totally are, but after reading the insert, I learned it's a song sung in Portuguese. And I guess in Portugueuse, "labios" just means "lips" (of the north).
But I was stoked because I, myself, am partially Portuguese and have a Portuguese last name, but don't know a word of it.
Translated into English, the song is titled, "You Have Lips Like a Chicken."

So, it's not the romantic pop punk serenade I half expected, but it is 100 percent cool. And plus, when people ask me what the hell I am when they see my last name, I can have something to actually say in Portuguese. Thanks, Steinways! It's kind of like the first impression of that NOFX song on "So Long and Thanks For All the Shoes" but way cooler cause it's Portuguese and who the hell speaks Portuguese?

Another song worthy of mention is "Main Street, Flushing, USA."
It's got a reference to Burger King, which, since the Ramones stapled it to "Oh Oh, I Love Her So," every punk band after them that mentions it is somehow paying homage. It's also got a Riverdales reference in there, too.

It's neat getting a peek at what The Steinways are into (like we can't just assume).
But the thing that gets me about this song is this "27 bus." Grath, the lead singer, sings about all these hot girls on a 27 bus. Where can you get on this bus? Or is it just some ironic "Route 27" thing? Either way, Grath's lyrics are blunt and catchy.

"Oh girl, c'mon, let's go/Get in your little car and listen to the radio/Oh please, please girl give me a chance/I wanna see you naked."
You know what, girls, at least he's honest.

Thanks again, Steinways, for the Portuguese lesson as well as some more great tunes to listen to as I go about my day. Fans of pop punk, check this out!

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Skuids - "Skate-Happy Demo" review

It's been a long time since I've seen a skate punk band come around. Especially a band of genuine 18-year-olds, who truly embrace a punk rock spirit. There's something about it that is just way too reminiscent of high school, which isn't a bad thing at all.
The Skuids, from El Paso, TX, are definitely no emo, Fall Out Boy-influenced guys. Rather, their tunes sound a lot like the older stuff such as NOFX, Screeching Weasel and Bad Religion.
Javi, the band's vocalist, seems to embody a sort of old school Tom DeLonge sound to his voice. But instead of being backed by Blink 182's poppy punk rock, the music has more of a ska influence and sounds like a mesh between Authority Zero, Suicidal Tendencies and NOFX.
The Skuids have a four-song demo up on its MySpace page, with free MP3s of the songs.
Listening to these guys brings me back to my early days of getting into punk rock; being upset, confused, frustrated and totally 100 percent fucking cynical.
The Skuids are a lot of fun to listen to, and the best part about it is that fans of old school punk rock and skate punk will appreciate them, as will the new fans of this 21st century band.
"The Power of Thinking Positive" is my favorite. It's a song about people always seeming to want to bring themselves down. Javi, The Skuids' lead singer, says that so many people don't know how to think positive; it makes him want to frown.
I find it kinda funny in way. It's a song about thinking positive, but with the negativity of all others around you, it's so hard to not frown. But there's a message of hope in there somewhere that says no matter how negative people are, you have to keep your chin up.
Fans of punk and all its subgenres should check out The Skuids.
The Skuids are not only fun to listen to, but reassuring in the sense that a hope for the next generation of good, true punk rock music is not totally lost.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Shot Baker - "Take Control" review

Most of today's "Chicago punk bands" have strayed far from their roots. By roots, I mean bands like Naked Raygun and The Effigies, two Chicago originals from the early 1980s that gave Chicago a defined, unique sort of working-class sound.

Sure, Chicago has popular bands like Alkaline Trio, whose influences include Naked Raygun, Pegboy and a slew of Chicago originals, but they are a completely separate animal.

But in 2003, Shot Baker exploded onto the scene.
My first time hearing them was at a Mopes reunion show at the Beat Kitchen in the summer of 2006, where I picked up a five-song demo with a little bird on the cover.
I immediately fell in love with the philosophical, yet contemplative lyrics backed by such strong, driving music.
At first, I was reminded of Screeching Weasel, not by the band's sound, but by its messages and thoughts. One of my favorite elements of Ben Weasel's lyrics is that he admittedly doesn't know everything, but finds a niche in not knowing and he still tries to figure things out. I sensed this in vocalist, Tony Kovacs' lyrics.
It's something I can relate to, just like Shot Baker's new album, "Take Control," released on June 24 on Riot Fest Records.

The album, less than 30 minutes long, has a lot packed into it.
The first song, "Short On Time," is a straight up punk song about accepting the way things they are, even if they would be better changed. It's not a song about giving up, but a song about living and going with the flow, so to speak.
Kovacs sings "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em/I'm done searching for the truth."

Immediately following "Short On Time" is "Falling Apart," a song re-recorded from the little bird demo I picked up two summers ago.
This tune's eye-opening lyrics sing of fear and man's ignorance. Kovacs sings about how the borders of large and powerful countries are nothing more than lines drawn in sand and how depending on which side you're on, the other side's men are always going to be less than yours.
It's about the ridiculousness of pride and arrogance. But like most Shot Baker songs, it's a hopeful tune, ending with a message.
"Let evolution strike the human heart/Ignite the light of truth/Compassion will triumph over ignorance/It all starts with you."
Kind of like a "Your vote matters" message, only without the false pretense lying underneath.

The next song that really caught my attention and sparked a bunch of neurons was "Just In Case."
Kovacs really digs a philosophical mine in this one, as he breaks everything down by saying, "Did you ever stop and think? Your ancestral history. All those people had to meet and all the circumstances had to be just right, down the line, back to the time when man first started. This big bad life is what you're handed, will you take your time for granted?"
There's a little hint of sarcasm in there, poking fun at all the depressed people we have wandering the Earth for no real reason.

But the real kicker in this song that makes me want to live each day to the utmost fullest is when Kovacs says, "Now is your greatest journey, make it all worthwhile just in case there is no afterlife/Live like it fucking matters, search for heaven deep inside just in case there is no afterlife."
I can't say enough about how truly amazing "Take Control" is. It covers both spectrums of musical enjoyment. If you're more into the words, this album's got it. If you're more into the sound, this album has it down to a beat.

Do your ears and mind a favor and pick up "Take Control" by Shot Baker. For anybody else who hasn't quite figured things out but are open to life's possibilities, this album is an ass-kicking, reassuring pot of gold.