Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Suburban Voice blog #128


At Chet's Last Call, June 1984

HÜSKER DÜ-Savage Young Dü (Numero Group, box set)
An exhaustive overview of Hüsker Dü's early years, spanning from 1979 to 1982 i.e. material up until their SST debut Metal Circus. There are different configurations--mine is the four LP version. There's also a vinyl version that came with a bonus 7" of Metal Circus outtakes called Extra Circus, but the vinyl version is currently out of print and you can only get it on CD or a digital download, so that kind of sucks. Pity because the songs are raw, visceral rage, save for the early version of "Standing By The Sea," which would show up on Zen Arcade and the somewhat more melodic "Won't Change" (which came out on a couple of compilations in the 80s). I hope they do a repress but I'm not holding my breath. There's also a 3 CD version and all come with a hardcover book filled with photos, flyers, detailed information on the recording sessions, as well as a lengthy essay telling the story of their savage young years. It's quite an impressive package.

Getting to the four records, the first features early demos and live tracks and shows a band working on finding an identity. "Do You Remember?," "Sore Eyes," "Sexual Economics" and an early version of "Do The Bee" (which is very rough sounding) are good snotty punk rousers. But it's wildly hit and miss. The demo of "Data Control," is inferior to the live version on Land Speed Record (more on that later). Definitely some skip-over tracks--their mid-tempo poppy songs hadn't really gelled yet. "Outside" is an exception, a stinging mesh that has stinging guitar work and endearing ragged harmonizing. 

The second is also on the haphazard side, although it gets off to a great start with the sturdy post-punk of their debut single "Statues." "Writer's Cramp" and "Let's Go Die" are both sharply catchy. But other songs suffer from substandard sound quality and, once again, things hadn't completely gelled and there's a good reason why many of those songs didn't last long in the set list. The early, deconstructed version of Metal Circus' "Wheels," is done as tense, moody dirge with repetitive keyboards, far-removed from the chugging arrangement on Everything Falls Apart. 

Things took a 180 degree turn for their first 12" release, Land Speed Record. A live recording that shows the band hammering out blistering high-velocity thrash, seldom taking a break between songs. However, it's not the original version of the album that came out on New Alliance and later SST (no doubt due to licensing issues). This comes from a show taped two weeks after the one that was on the original release and holds its own quite well. It's a bit cleaner and the set list is the same with the exception of three songs--"Do The Bee," "Tired of Doing Things" and "Data Control," all of which appear elsewhere on the box. As I said, it's a shame about "Data Control," because that was a show-stopper, a slower, bashing conclusion to the speedy mania that precedes it. However, there are five songs from the second set they played the night of the original recording and it includes an early version of Metal Circus' "Diane." The songs are much more tuneful, a harbinger of what's to follow. That really started with the In A Free Land EP. It's a slightly different mix than the original 7" but the title song remains one of their all-time greats. A politically-charged, speedy anthem with a knockout chorus and guitar line. The two other songs were in a LSR vein and there are two outtakes of songs that'd end up on their Everything Falls Apart album, blazing renditions of "Target" and "Signals From Above." 

Finally, the last disc is a remastered version of the aforementioned Everything Falls Apart, along with half a dozen unreleased live tracks, including three live versions of Metal Circus songs. "Travel In Opposite Car" is a tuneful track that should have been done in the studio. EFA solidified the transition or yin and yang, if you will, of their balancing hardcore savagery with blatantly poppier compositions like the title track and "Gravity." Even the harder hitting tracks (well, all the songs here are hard-hitting) offered glimpses of melody--the guitar line between verses of "From The Gut," for instance. It set the stage for what would follow, at least up through Zen Arcade--a smorgasbord of high energy punk, pop and hardcore. 

Obviously, this box is only one chapter of the Hüsker story and I'd recommend Zen Arcade for novices, but it's a vital history lesson, a treasure trove for lifelong fans and shows them going from a hodgepodge of styles into something focused and highly influential. (


The title for this review comes from a sticker on the cover of 7 Seconds 1988 album Ourselves that was put there by their record company. When I sent a photo to Kevin Seconds, he said, “even at my corniest, I couldn't have come up with anything that ridiculous. The first time i saw it, I just about threw up.” As bad as that sticker is, the album’s contents aren’t much better—tepid melodic punk with abysmal, echoey production that was fairly common on late 80s albums. Let’s just say it won’t make you forget Skins, Brains & Guts, The Crew or Walk Together, Rock Together. In fact, some opted out with New Wind and Praise, the latter of which had a decided REM vibe.

I thought of that sticker while reading Tony Rettman’s latest book Straight Edge—A Clear-Headed Hardcore Punk History, an oral history presentation that traces straight edge back to its roots in the embryonic DC hardcore scene with Teen Idles and Minor Threat. From there, it delves into three decades of the edge story and just about all of the major players are heard from—members of Youth of Today, Uniform Choice, Insted, Earth Crisis, Judge, Chain of Strength, Mouthpiece, Ten Yard Fight and Floorpunch. as well as fanzine publishers and record label people who continue to keep the straight edge banner flying. The subjects talk about how they embraced straight edge and, in some cases, left it behind and what it’s meant to them in their lives. Various feuds and beefs are discussed and some mention how they were ostracized after “breaking” their edge—that became particularly true in the early 2000s.

It’s interesting to read the comments by the old-timers. You get the feeling some of them felt like they might have created something of a monster, something that strayed from the original intent. For instance, John Stabb (R.I.P.) of Government Issue said, “straight edge is not a movement to me” and that ““Straight Edge” is a great song but it’s a song about anti-obsession… it’s not a fucking religion. It’s a song.” Brian Baker from Minor Threat said, “the band didn’t brand ourselves a straight edge entity. The idea of having straight edge bands came after us, with the Boston people.” Baker’s bandmate and Dischord co-founder Jeff Nelson says, “Straight edge became a religion, and it’s a very strange feeling to be one of the unwitting founders of this religion.”

Indeed, over the years, straight edge increased in militancy and codification in some quarters. As Baker mentions, the Boston bands added a vehemence to their take on straight ege. The philosophy was expanded by some to embrace vegetariasnism/veganism and spirituality (Krishna consciousness, in particular). It was taken to ridiculous extremes with the Hardline movement (Vegan Reich, Raid and Statement), which also embraced regressive viewpoints, such as being anti-choice. All eras are covered—the mid-to-late 80s “youth crew” scene, its revival in the late 90s to the subsequent generations of bands and individuals keeping the flame burning.

There’s a discussion of straight edge fashion—an effort to separate from the punk style. It became, in the words of Sammy Siegler (Youth of Today, Judge, Side By Side), “a powerful culture and look, like in hip-hop, in that there was an identifiable look.” A certain amount of conformity set in. Ray Cappo from Youth of Today described it as, “a bubble, a scene within a scene that wasn’t really interested in anything that wasn’t straight edge.” The fashion element has certainly never gone away. Ray’s bandmate John Porcelly owns a company called True Till Death Merch that sells clothing with a straight edge theme. The demand is certainly there.

Straight edge as a worldwide movement is also covered—straight edge bands and scenes in the UK, Europe and Scandinavia (Umeå, Sweden, home of Refused)—and how a lot of those people faced resistance and hostility from other punks. People from LÄRM talk about how left-wing politics had more of an influence than in the straight edge scene in the States.

I have to mention one noticeable element—just about every person interviewed is a white male. Only a few non-males are mentioned in the story and Vique Martin, from Simba fanzine and Revelation Records, is the only one who speaks at length. And there isn’t any mention of LGBT people in straight edge. You have to look elsewhere for that. The 2012 book Sober Living For The Revolution (edited by Gabriel Kuhn, PM Press, covers more diverse territory. It provides a wider variety of perspectives on straight edge. An assortment of voices are heard from--activists, non-male and LGBT straight-edgers and it visits different countries. It gives more voice to individuals who look at straight edge being part of an activist mentality. Taken together, those two books provide a more complete survey of a subculture that continues to bring a wide variety of reactions and opinions to this day. (Bazillion Points,


Neck Chop Records, out of Fullerton, CA, started in 2016 and, in that brief time, already have 25 releases in print. Lest you think it’s just throwing shit against the wall to see what sticks, most of these have been quality releases, including the likes of Erik Nervous, Acrylics, Macho Boys, Woodboot, Mark Cone and plenty more. The tagline for my radio show is “punk, hardcore, garage and other loud music” and that’s what Brandon puts out, in different forms and permutations.

Label honcho Brandon sent me a huge package of 13 records, seven of which were released at the same time and that’s what we’ll focus on here. Knowso’s one sided 12”, Look At The Chart, sounds like a slightly-less mechanized A-Frames but there’s a robotic element. The title track is a paranoid tale of science possibly gone too far. The speed up and slow down of the riff signature at the end sounds like an adjustment is being made to the narrator’s wiring until the plug is pulled. Straddling the line between post-punk and nervous new wave, with an edgy intensity.

Jackson Politick is another solo project for Andy Jordan aka Andy Human. His Paste V.1 album is a wide-ranging effort of punk and pop minimalism and the results are scattershot. The lo-fi punk of “Habit” and “Learning To Live With It” are nervy delights and “I Am A Raver” has an engaging catchiness. The early OMD-meets-bedroom pop of “The Hours” has an offbeat charm. Other songs are on the too-cutesy/twee side. If you’re into the C86 bands or Tenement, you might like those songs more than I do.

Living Eyes are from Australia and I’d imagine there’s a good chance they’re named after Radio Birdman’s second album but you can only hear faint echoes of that band and it’s not really a major component of their muse. Their third album Modern Living is a hit and miss collection of tuneful punk with garage and psych shadings. “Better Think Again,” “Party Theme,” “Stuck In A Hole” and “Horseplay” are all good charging rockers but other songs don’t have nearly as much presence. All in all, kind of an average effort—some good moments but not always that gripping.

Moving on to the 7”s, Winnipeg band Whip's self-titled EP is a raucous joy. Snotty, insolent-sounding punk with a trebly guitar attack and a whole lot of fuck-you attitude in Ferro’s vocals. Pretty straight-forward, although they add some against-the-grain elements at times, as with the post-punk jab for “Double Life” and “Melle.” In addition to this 7” (their vinyl debut), Whip also just released a new demo, Can Con Icon, which includes a cool cover of Dow Jones & The Industrials’ “Can’t Stand The Midwest.”

Gee Tee is another solo project, this one masterminded by an Australian named Kel Gee, who plays in garage mavens The Draggs. Hissy, lo-fi, quirky new wave/punk/pop that has an appealingly skewed nature. A cruder-sounding version of Ausmuteants-meets-Spits-meets-UV Race-meets-Total Control. Something like that. There are hooks to go along with the weird, mad-scientist ambiance. Death Race is his second 7”, following the Thugs In Cars EP released on Goodbye Boozy early last year and that one is just as enjoyable as this scorcher.

Philly bashers Penetrode and Chicago hellions C.H.E.W’s split tape Strange New Universe has been given a vinyl pressing and both bands generate some skull-crushing sounds with different wrinkles. Penetrode’s songs have a mean/stomping old-school hardcore cadence ala 86 Mentality at times, although “Egocentric” takes an anarcho punk turn. C.H.E.W. impressed on their split with Rash last year and their four songs on this split. Nightmarish hardcore with a relentless quality, accompanied by anguished and howling screams from the soul.

Color TV’s second 7” Paroxeteens is a pair of jabbing, tuneful punk gems along the same lines as Marked Men. The chorus for the title track has an absolutely knockout hook and “Night After Night” is just as punchy. These two songs feature denser, less-clean production than on their debut and that makes it sound harder-edged. Fine with me.

I have to mention a few of the other releases—Science Project’s Basement Blues is entertaining one-man-band synthy weirdness. The culprit is Cody, who hails from Nova Scotia, and also plays in a bunch of other projects including Booji Boys. His cover of Negative FX’s “Might Makes Right” is hilarious, as he explains “we ain’t gonna stop… fuck you!,” just like Choke did at NFX’s final Boston show.

Raymond Schmidt is another one-man science project, Race Car and B.Y.O.G.K. (or Build Your Own Go-Kart) was originally released on tape on Abnormal Broadcasting. While synths and programmed drums are part of the equation, it’s a noisier, clattering, head-messing approach laced with searing guitar licks. Channeling Metal Urbain and Chrome and stripping them to their barest elements? That works. If you can’t get enough of that sort of thing, Raymond has another project called S.B.F. who released a really good demo on Abnormal Broadcasting a few years ago. Along the same lines with programmed drums and drill-press guitar, although it’s more of a straight-forward punk attack.

Another Abnormal Broadcasting release that’s been pressed onto vinyl by Neck Chop comes from Process of Elimination, once again featuring one performer, Grant Berry. Three songs of electrifying mechanized primitivism with distorted vocals and spacy synth and guitar effects.  Grant also plays guitar in The Snails, whose two Abnormal Broadcasting demos have been given the vinyl treatment (hmmm… something doesn’t sound right about that). More traditional-sounding punk and hardcore bordering on nerdy new wave, but with live drums and no synths. Just buzz.

Round Six, with five more releases, is already in the works and should be out very soon. It includes a new Liquids LP, an Erik Nervous singles compilation LP and new 7”s from Kid Chrome, Lysol and Stiff Love. (PO Box 5635, Fullerton, CA 92838,


Chris Wrenn started Bridge Nine Records in 1995 while he was a college student in Vermont and, over the past 23 or so years, it’s grown from a tiny DIY label run on a shoestring budget to one run out of a large warehouse in Peabody, MA, about five minutes from my house. Chris is up to over 250 releases at this point, a long way from running the fledgling label out of his dorm room.

The First Nine Years is a box set with five 7” EPs, each with a heavy stock picture sleeve, with songs drawn from the label’s first 50 releases—29 songs in all—accompanied by a 128 page soft-cover booklet. It tells the Bridge Nine story—all the trials and tribulations and the creative ways he financed and promoted the label, like painting the company’s name in the middle of the night on a bridge over the Charles River that was usually painted by rowing teams. He talks candidly about his struggle to keep things afloat when he runs into a serious snag with his distributor. There are reminiscences about the bands who had records released on B9 during that time. It’s been an interesting journey, one borne of an abiding passion for the music and that continues to this day. There’s never been anything half-assed about a Bridge Nine release.

Bridge Nine’s roster has become more diverse in recent years—my favorite release is Ceremony’s Rohnert Park album from 2010, which branched out into post-punk, garage and shoegazer rock along with more traditionally hardcore sounding material. During the early era, though, the emphasis was on straight-edge hardcore that generally used early Revelation Records as a starting point. Opening band Tenfold sound more than a little like Chain of Strength. In fact, the last song is taken from B9’s reissue of Project X’s Straight Edge Revenge EP. There are darker shadings from the likes of Panic and Give Up The Ghost (aka American Nightmare). Cops and Robbers hearken back to classic early 80s hardcore, as their song “On The Decline” borrows from Negative FX’s “VFW.” But it’s mainly aggressive, pummeling material from some well-known parties—Terror, Carry On, No Warning and Hope Conspiracy, along with the slightly-underrated Striking Distance and Holding On.

It has to be noted that this end of the hardcore spectrum was (and still is) a very male-oriented scene, at least in terms of the bands included—that’s my perception, anyway. You don’t see that many women in the photos and few are mentioned in the story. Still, this is a well put-together package, coming out some thirteen years after its projected release. Better late than never! (