Sunday, June 17, 2007

Suburban Voice blog #42

So I was sitting on the toilet one recent morning, which is where I get in some of my best reading. Hell, I’m not the only one. When I met James from Spazm 151 around 5-6 years ago, he paid me the ultimate compliment that any zine writer could ever get—“Dude, I’ve been reading your zine on the crapper for years.”

I have a box of old Trouser Press magazines. TP published from 1974 to 1984. In the early 90s, I was sitting near the magazine’s publisher Ira Robbins at a music biz conference and I asked him why he’d stop publishing. He said that he got burnt out and that the same would happen to me, eventually. Well, I’m still here after 25 years. True, it’s been awhile since I did a print zine but I try to maintain my enthusiasm and avoid the burnout, although it does happen from time to time. I think there was a grain of truth in what Robbins said but that’s it.

I just realized that I said TP above but, no, I’ve never had the urge to use the pages of the magazine for you-know-what. They started off as a black and white zine exclusively covering English rock, mainly of the progressive or folky variety—King Crimson, Fairport Convention, although harder-edged stuff like Thin Lizzy would get in there. I first started reading it in early ’79 when I picked up a copy at a small news shop in Lynn’s Central Square, while I waiting for the bus to take me home. Lou Reed was on the cover, there were pieces on the Clash and Police although they still emphasized mainly non-punk progenitors such as Brand X, Pat Travers (who had an anti-punk song called “Life In London”) and Captain Beefheart, who I suppose could be considered a kindred spirit to some of what happened in the late 70s/early 80s post-punk realm. Here’s a scan of the cover, in all its tattered glory, the cover held on with staples and I’m going to have to reattach the back cover at some point. I had a hell of a time getting it out of the plastic sleeve.

They had a tendency to use the term “new wave” instead of punk and it seemed as though certain writers were having difficulty dealing with some of this music. In the second issue I picked up, the fifth anniversary issue that featured The Who, Doors, 10cc and Frank Zappa on the cover, there was a review of the first PIL album and Robbins called it an “unremitting piece of shit.” Granted, it was a deeply flawed album but I don’t think that was a completely accurate assessment. A few years ago, on the Trouser Press message board, I asked Ira if he still felt that way about the album and he said, honestly, I don't think I was ready for it. I would not say that about the album now.” I’ll accept that—after all, I used to think Tad was a killer band and now think of them being more along the lines of unremitting… well, you get the idea. Incidentally, interviewing Tad was a rather unpleasant experience. It went so badly I did another interview with their bass-player Kurt and that was a vast improvement.

In any case, Trouser Press became my music bible at the time, eventually supplanted by Flipside and Maximum RocknRoll, as I dove head-first into hardcore. As I said, sometimes the coverage veered towards the more of the alternative and even rock mainstream but it still seemed hipper than Rolling Stone. As hardcore evolved, TP was going in the opposite direction. They’d pay some lip service to hardcore, with various scene reports and Tim Sommers’ “America Underground” column. But sometime around ’82-83, I started seeing such artists as Duran Duran and Flock of Seagulls on the cover and I knew it was no longer the magazine that had hooked me in 1979.

It wasn’t all bad, though—the best thing was Mick Farren’s “Surface Noise” column. Farren, one-time vocalist for the Deviants, was an astute observer on music, culture and politics—he was repulsed by the ascension of Reagan and Thatcher, for one thing. In early 1981, he tried brainstorming about the future of rock ‘n roll and, in the February ’81 issue, had this to say: “A high-speed mutation of heavy metal could easily provide youth anthems in Reagan America. If the economic moves Reagan sold to the US voters come to pass (as indeed they already have in the UK since Margaret Thatcher created the prototype for right-wing landslide), the hard-core market for basic rock will be huge crowds of alienated, desperate and often unemployed white kids.”

To an extent, Farren predicted speed metal and I suppose, with some of those bands, it was an expression of alienation, although that really came more from hardcore punk. It’s still quite an astute prediction. His crystal ball did correctly anticipate what would follow in the coming decade with Reagan and Thatcher’s regressive policies. Later in the 80s, of course, Metallica, for one, became hugely popular and one could say they tapped into some of that alienation.

What brought about this column, though, is the issue the issue that I was perusing in the “reading room.” It was from July 1982 and had Nick Lowe on the cover (OK—not that heinous a choice). TP, at that point, had a feature where they’d send out a copy of a new album to readers and have them write reviews. One of the albums that had recently been sent out was “Damaged” by Black Flag. This issue’s letter section has missives that decried the mainly negative reviews of the album. Here’s a sampling: “These people would not know punk if it kicked them in the head” (Mike Magrini, Meadville, PA)… “To all you ignorant assholes who wrote to bad-mouth Black Flag. Go piss up a rope!” (Colleen Infantino, Dedham, MA).

What brought out such a visceral response? For that, let’s refer to the reviews themselves, published in the April 1982 issue, this one with Talking Heads on the cover, long after they were an interesting band, and an issue that included a made-up greatest hits album for Led Zeppelin. Hmm… Anyway, as I look through the reviews, I’m taken by the ignorance not only about the music but also a lack of context or knowledge about the west coast punk underground that had been going full-tilt since the original ’77 era, skinny tie bands be damned. The segment had the headline “Wave The Flag, Stop The Music.” Chuck Schroeder of Waukegan, IL starts off his review with the declaration “although it took four years for punk rock to reach California, Black Flag’s “Damaged” is proof that the music is definitely alive and well in the US.” OK, so Chuck has a positive reaction but four years for punk to reach California? Huh? From ’77 on, there were vibrant punk rock bands coming out of San Francisco and LA. Flag themselves had been around since 1976 (originally called Panic) and their first EP, “Nervous Breakdown,” came out in ‘78. He also says it sounds like “it could have recorded in London in 1977 but this is pure punk made in America.” Once again, huh? I mean, one could argue that the “Nervous Breakdown” owed something to UK punk but “Damaged” wasn’t cut from that cloth. Name one punk record from the ’77 UK era that sounds like “Damaged.”

That’s the one thumbs-up review. Here are some pearls of wisdom from the other reviews. Kirk Carpenter from Dallas says that “Black Flag wastes the majority of their album trying to convince us what sick, vile and demented people they are. The real Black Flag mentality, though, leaks out on two cuts, “Six Pack” and “TV Party.” Sorry, but the imbecilic imagery of “We’ve got nothing better to do than watch TV and have a couple of brews” just doesn’t do anything for me.” I guess Carpenter is irony-challenged—how could he miss the sarcastic/satirical intentions of those songs. He also complains about the ineptitude of the playing—chiding, for one thing, a phenomenal performance from Greg Ginn.

Moving along, Jim Held from Philly calls listening to the album an ordeal and adds that Damaged is “bereft of commitment, wit, talent.” If anyone had a commitment to their art, it was Flag and, as for wit, I also direct Held to “TV Party” and “Six Pack.” Gary Upshaw of Manitou Springs, CO, makes reference to the “retarded LA post-punk scene.” I can’t think of one worthwhile punk or post-punk band that emerged from Colorado during that time—if I’m mistaken, I’m ready to be corrected.

Quite a fascinating look into the minds of those who didn’t “get” Black Flag. It reminds me of when an old college DJ friend of mine, who wasn’t into hardcore and little punk, period, at the time, said “Damaged” was one of the worst LPs he’d ever heard. To each their own, of course, but it’s amusing to read those comments. I doubt very much they’d like many of the releases I’m about to review here—well, maybe the Clash. I think that’s safe enough…


CLASH-The Singles (Epic/Legacy, CD)
Just the A-sides on this latest compilation, although they also include “Train In Vain,” from “London Calling,” and “Groovy Times” from the “Cost Of Living” EP. It’s basically a single-disc sampler for the box set that came out a few months ago, with the same essays in the booklet. It’s not even in chronological order—instead, the best-known songs—“London Calling,” “Rock The Casbah” and “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” are frontloaded 1-2-3.. Since there’s nothing else special about the packaging, it’s not an essential item unless you just want the singles in one place or are an absolute completist. And something like “This Is England,” from the “Clash-lite” lineup, is never going to be worthwhile, no matter the context.

DESTROY L.A.-Vandalize EP (No Way, 7” EP)
Snotty skate trash. Ranty vocals that sound like they could be coming from the kid brother of Martin from Career Suicide. The thumpa-thumpa bass and drums are actually the prominent instruments here, along with the stripped-down guitar sound. Actually, there’s only one song about skating—the rest deal with personal and interpersonal pressures and disappointments. Good stuff. (3211 Idlewood Ave.,Richmond, VA, 23221,

EVEN KEEL-Pain Cave Sessions (demo)
A new Boston hardcore band with Andrew Jackmauh (ex-Cut The Shit) on vocals. A slightly different approach, here. A few of the songs remind me of Career Suicide, in that it’s a combination of thrash and some rock ‘n roll (“Circle The Drain,” especially). No lack of aggression and I’m looking forward to hearing a better-quality recording from them ‘cause these songs hit hard. (

KYKLOOPPIEN SUKUPUUTTO-s/t (Tuska & Ahdistus/Hate/Spild Af Vinyl, LP)
After a few 7”s, Kykloopp… um, I’ll shorten it to KS (yeah, I’m lazy) have unleashed a hell-ride of an album. Frantic and frenetic hardcore presented in hammering and crazed permutations. Comparisons are lame, I suppose, but I thought of Kaaos’ craziness, Void, without the feedback and NoMeansNo, due to the complex rhythms and heavy bass-lines. It’s more in spirit, just a part of the muse instead of the whole description. This isn’t accessible, it doesn’t follow a simple pattern, it’s just chaotic. Great packaging with a colorful sleeve that has raised letters and a fold-out insert. The lyrics are in Finnish and have English translations. A summary could be “My Head Is A Bomb,” which states “my mind is loaded fully, it’s rims are squealing just to keep everything in.” OK, it doesn’t translate perfectly but you get the idea and there are also critiques of consumer culture, environmental destruction and dehumanization in the face of oppressive forces. I cheated and found out that a couple of these guys were in the 80s Finnish hardcore band Tampere SS. This is quite a bit different and shows that making in-your-face music isn’t bound by age. (Karhuntie 5 B 24 65350 Vaasa, FINLAND,


MECHANNIBAL-s/t (demo)
Thrash, grind and heaviness from Boston band Mechannibal, who have quickly emerged as a powerhouse. Pat howls as though he’s having his insides ripped out, accompanied by the tight musical crush. The sound is a bit muffled but that may be the dubbing or cassette quality since the songs sound a little better on their MySpace page. Good start. (

SOCIALCIDE-Sick Of The Pressure (Even Worse, 7” EP)
A vinyl pressing of Socialcide’s demo, which I reviewed awhile back. Nice to have a more permanent record (pun intended) of the band’s fast, old-school hardcore sound. East coast style, a mix of early New York and Boston sounds. “World Of Hate,” for instance, bears some resemblance to DYS’ “More Than Fashion.” Wrapped up with a cover of fellow Virginians White Cross’s “Jump Up.” (Noel de Boer, Saenredamstraat 44-2, 1072 CH Amsterdam, HOLLAND,

TRAGICS-Mommi I’m A Misfit (Loud Blaring Punk Rock, 7” EP)
This band were actually known as the Misfits and but there was apparently some band from New Jersey that had the same name—or so I heard. In any case, this was recorded in 1981 and the four songs here are trashy, tuneful punk rock with plenty of lovely guitar distortion. Liz Davies’ vocals sound like a cross between Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex and Pauline Murray from Penetration. After a poppier start with “Pretty Boys,” the songs get harder edged, particularly for the title track and the Liz’s exhortation of the song’s title and the “just kiss your ass goodbye “ refrain for “Laughing Lover” both stick with ‘ya. Packaged in a cool hand-screened sleeve. Killer. (PO Box 3067, Albany, NY 12208,


THE VICIOUS-Igen (Feral Ward, 7” EP)
No change in style for the Vicious. These three songs follow the same melodic Adverts-meets-Wipers sound—sort of. The Adverts part, as I’ve said before, comes from Robert Pettersson’s vocal style. Jabbing guitar lines accompanied by melodic bass lines and dexterous drumming that quietly throws in some fills but it doesn’t overwhelm the rhythm. For want of a better term, there’s a melancholy feel to the songs but the effect is stinging. (

WE THE PEOPLE-Time To Operate (Stop Whining, Start Winning, 7” EP)
These four tracks also appreared on a CD that I reviewed awhile back and now the vinyl pressing has been released. Chuck Hickey from Black SS is the vocalist and this band’s sound embraces some hardcore elements, particularly for “Time To Operate,” but they also have a straight-ahead rock ‘n roll pulse and Chuck’s vocals make me think of a gruffer Fugazi-era Ian MacKaye. They covered Naked Raygun’s “I Don’t Know” live and that’s part of the equation, as well. Extra kudos for the anti-patriotic “I Don’t Bleed Red White And Blue.” (58 Bellaire Drive, Horseheads, NY 14845,

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