New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: punk rock

Revisiting an Unhinged Live Album by the Reducers

The best live bands always generate lots of field recordings. Some of those eventually turn into official albums: probably the most famous one is Black Sabbath’s Live at Last album. Another excellent field recording which finally made it to the web officially a couple of years ago is the Reducers‘ Live in Montville album. streaming at Bandcamp. While their Live: New York City 2005 album, recorded at Arlene’s, is probably the closest thing to a definitive concert recording of the band, this one is from a much earlier era and reveals what a great live act they’d already become, before they’d even made an album. The sound quality is shockingly good considering that it was recorded on a boombox. And there’s a ton of previously unreleased material.

The Reducers were to the US what the Jam were to the UK: ferociously catchy, tuneful, populist to the core and influenced by punk but not constrained by it. They had a long run, finally calling it quits in 2012 after the tragic, early death of their excellent bassist Steve Kaika. This album – recorded outdoors at a kegger in Montville, Connecticut in 1980 – validates the argument that the Reducers were already a first-class band before they were out of school. It’s amazing how tight, and how smartly constructed their songs are throughout this mix of originals and covers…even after several beer breaks..

They open with the choogling, rapidfire, Stonesy Little Punky Hood and follow with what was then an obscure Clash cut, Capitol Radio One: it’s cool to be able to hear all the lyrics for once, thanks to guitarist Hugh Birdsall.

As expected, the strongest material here is the originals. There’s Rocks, a dare to a generation of New London, Connecticut’s little punky hoods to shake up their local scene. New England rust belt decay and anomie pervades these songs: the savage Small Talk From a Big Mouth, echoed later in Big Time in a Small Town; the sarcastic No Ambition; and guitarist Peter Detmold’s blazing, minor-key Scared of Cops, a reminder of how kids of all colors had to watch their backs in those days.

The earliest-ever version of the searing, cynical Life in the Neighborhood resonates even more in an era where citizens are being encouraged to call the snitch patrol if somebody walks into a bar without a muzzle on. There are also a handful of choice rarities: BMW, which reminds that status-grubbing goes back a long way before Instagram; the Flamin’ Groovies-flavored Invisible Rain; and Chip on Your Shoulder, a defiant, tantalizingly short anthem. And Oh No It’s My First Time is as funny as you would expect.

The covers….um, the Reducers weren’t known for playing covers and are probably doing a slate of them here because they didn’t have enough original material to keep the drunks dancing for a whole afternoon. Their punked-out take of Secret Agent Man kicks ass, thanks to Kaika’s scrambling bassline and a searing Birdsall solo. Dr. Feelgood’s She’s a Windup has as much snarl as you could want.

I Think We’re Alone Now is an improvement on the original, right down to Tom Trombley’s momentary drum break. Janie Jones and Remote Control also rival the Clash’s originals for restless rage. The Groovies’ Shake Some Action, one of the few covers that the band frequently played, holds up well. Ditto Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight, predating the innumerable oil-punk versions of the early 80s.

The Modern Lovers’ Roadrunner? The Buzzcocks’ What Do I Get? The Undertones’ Girls Don’t Like It, itself a Buzzcocks ripoff? You had to be there. There’s more of this kind of stuff as the afternoon wears on, the crowd gets drunker and the band gets looser.

For one reason or another, the between-song audience chitchat wasn’t edited out. There’s a guy in the crowd with a Rhode Island accent who will. Just. Not. Shut. Up. Happily, you can’t hear him over the music.

A Couple of Crazed Vinyl Curios From the 80s

One of the 80s bands whose concerts were most widely chronicled by field recordings was the Gun Club. Which makes sense: when they were at the top of their game, they were one of the era’s most unpredictably explosive live acts. Frontman Jeffrey Lee Pierce went to the great whiskey bar in the sky in 1996, but the group remain a foundational influence on the scores of gutter blues bands who’ve followed in their wake.

What’s new is that there’s a Gun Club reissue, two choice tracks just out as a 45 RPM vinyl single ,from the band’s 1984 album Miami. With its with its layers of trebly Telecaster, the stomping Fire of Love – a Jody Reynolds cover – still sizzles. The flip side, Bad Indian is even treblier and closer to straight-up garage rock.

For Gun Club diehards, there’s also a new vinyl album, Soulsuckers on Parade which hasn’t hit the web yet. In this off-the-cuff, live-in-the-studio 1984 session, Pierce is backed by most of the Blasters – guitarist Dave Alvin, pianist Gene Taylor and drummer Bill Bateman, plus Green on Red bassist Jack Waterson. This stuff has been circulating in the cassette underground and then on the web for close to forty years.

Side A is the haphazard seventeen-minute jam Walking Down the Street Doing My Thing, which comes across as a Stooges ripoff, right down to Pierce’s X-rated trash-talking, the “take it down you-all” and the tinkling piano. It’s impossible to think that Pierce hadn’t heard the Metallic KO album and thought to himself, “I can do this too.” The Violent Femmes’ first album and the Doors are also obvious reference points.

The B-side has two blues tunes, the second being two takes of Willie Nelson’s Not Supposed to Be That Way. For someone who was as sloshed as Alvin has admitted to being here, he fires off some memorably unhinged Chicago blues riffage in each of them. It’s a tantalizing hint of the talent that could have made him one of the greatest lead guitarists of his era if he’d stuck with it instead of going the singer-songwriter route. Pierce, who sounds wall-hugging drunk, has the nerve to harsh on his bandmates for emulating a Detroit sound. There are also a couple of throwaway rock covers here as well.

A Sizzling Live Album From New England Rock Legends the Reducers

The Reducers were the American counterpart to the Jam – except that they lasted six times as long. And while the British punk band drew on the Who and 60s mod music, New London, Connecticut’s greatest musical export took inspiration from 70s pub rock acts like Ducks Deluxe and janglerockers the Flamin’ Groovies as well as the harder, faster sounds of the era. The quartet finally hung it up in 2012 after the tragic loss of their brilliant bassist, Steve Kaika. But there’s a lot of live Reducers kicking around, including a ferocious set, Live: New York City 2005, which is just out and streaming at Bandcamp.

Playing at a typical breakneck pace, the group blast through sixteen songs in forty-seven minutes, a mix of concert favorites, a couple of new tunes and a few covers. The sound quality, from Arlene’s on June 4 of that year, is shockingly good (founding member/guitarist Hugh Birdsall has gone on record as calling this arguably the best live recording of the band that’s widely available). They open with a cover, something they rarely did: in this case, it’s a straight-up punk take of the Boys’ Turning Grey, which is less about getting old than watching everyone around you get old inside.

“I hear that black and blue is the color scheme in town,” guitarist Peter Detmold sneers in one of the band’s catchiest songs, Nothing Cool About That, a spot-on evocation of dead-end life in New England rust belt decay.

Fistfight at the Beach, arguably the band’s best song, takes that anomie to the next level, from Birdsall and Detmold’s simmering twin-guitar intro, Kaika soaring skyward until drummer Tom Trombley kicks in hard. The riffs get more bludgeoning and Birdsall takes a tantalizingly brief, stinging solo in the similarly cynical workingman’s anthem Jackpot Fever.

The band slow down just a little for the more powerpop-oriented Meltdown – with a sweet pickslide at the end – and then their band-on-the-road saga San Antone (which they actually played in San Antonio). They follow that with an especially snarling take of the alienation anthem Out of Step, arguably the band’s biggest hit – and a chance for Kaika, who gave this band the luxury of a third lead player, a chance to slink his way up the fretboard.

The first of the new numbers is Tokyo Bay, referencing the band’s well-received tour of Japan a few months earlier. The band swing hard through I Call That Living, the closest thing to boogie rock they ever did, capped off by a slashing Birdsall solo. On the Road Again is not the Wilie Nelson hit but a punchy, relatively new original.

Let’s Go, another big live hit and the title track to the band’s second album, seems almost restrained, Kaika shadowing Birdsall’s best solo of the night all the way through. The Violent Femmes-ish bassline in Avoidance Factor will make you smile – although who came up with that first? And Bums I Used to Know is the high-octane rockabilly shuffle the Stray Cats only dreamed of pulling off.

The rest of the night’s covers are a mixed bag. Teengenerate’s I Don’t Mind is a pub rock New York Dolls knockoff, although the bit of a guitar duel is tasty. The Stones’ Get Off My Cloud…really? And the lone encore, Chris Spedding’s Hurt by Love isn’t much more than a vehicle for Kaika’s spring-loaded riffage. Still, who knew that in 2021, a soundboard recording by a Connecticut band who’ve been defunct for almost a decade would turn out to be one of the best albums of the year.

R.I.P. Deliver a Scorching Mashup of Punk Rock, Surf and Thrash Metal

R.I.P. call themselves a “street doom” band. In the crowdedly monstrous world of heavy rock, they’re unique: thrashy, macabre and as influenced by punk and surf rock as Black Sabbath. They keep their songs short, they like minor keys and have an unusually nimble rhythm section for such a heavy band. Their latest album Dead End is streaming at Bandcamp.

They open with the synthy horror-film instrumental Streets of Death and then launch into Judgment Night, a headbanging mashup of horror surf, hardcore punk and an action movie theme. John Mullett’s  slurry bass kicks off the album’s title cut, guitarist Angel Martinez supplying a muted fuzztone attack over drummer Willie D’s lithely sinewy groove: it’s the missing link between the UK Subs and Sabbath.

Nightmare has a heavy biker rock assault much like the band’s Riding Easy labelmates the Death Wheelers. Ominous doom metal chromatics take a backseat to a relentless series of punk rock chords as One Foot in the Grave stomps along, up to a tantalizingly venomous tremolo-picked solo.

Death Is Coming – the featured track on Riding Easy Records’ free Xmas playlist – looks back to Bon Scott-era AC/DC and Judas Priest.

The band move from a catchy cinematic riff to a haphazard, menacing gallop in Moment of Silence. They follow the ominously Doorsy instrumental Buried Alive with the hard-swinging, 70s-flavored riff-rock tune Out of Time. They slow down hard to close with Dead of the Night, the most doom metal-flavored track here, with a vampirish vocal cameo. Not a single weak track on this album.

A Blast of Garage Punk Intensity From the Grasping Straws

All of a sudden, good things are starting to happen around the world: resistance movements are building toward critical mass, and more rock bands are starting to release new material. The Grasping Straws’ latest single Help – which just hit Bandcamp – sounds nothing like the fantastic, fantastical, all-acoustic Quarantine Halloween, which frontwoman Mallory Feuer released last month. This one’s a full-band song and sounds like a cross between Patti Smith and the early Damned. “Meet me in the darkest room…I’m falling, I don’t need help,” Feuer warns. Love that gritty, catchy bassline!

A Savagely Spot-On Album of Holiday Protest Songs From the Pocket Gods

The Pocket Gods – British songwriter Mark Christopher Lee’s mind-bendingly prolific rock project – have a spot-on new album of protest songs, No Room at the (Holiday) Inn, out just in time for the last month of the year and streaming at Spotify. In the same vein as last year’s punk rock Xmas album, Lee has penned a collection of pro-freedom anthems that span a whole bunch of styles.

The best song on the album is the Beatlesque I Can’t Breathe, sending out a shout to the late George Floyd in a global context. “Like every battered wife strangled in lockdown…from oppressed singers to the homeless vying for patronage….it’s real for those with PTSD,” Lee reminds. Seriously: ask anyone who’s survived a building fire, a serious car accident, a near-drowning, or a violent assault that involved strangulation or asphyxiation. An awful lot of those people can’t be muzzled because muzzles are a PTSD trigger.

And what’s the most effective way to get a PTSD attack under control? Deep breathing. You do the math.

On the pissed-off, punk side, there’s the sarcastically galloping COVID Cavalry, part carnivalesque anthem, part phony Xmas carol, Lee speaking for a whole country full of people missing their significant others – or the kind of fun they used to have dancing in pubs, which they can’t have now, because it’s illegal.

“If you sing along to this catchy Christmas song in a pub you will be shot,” is basically all the lyrics to the sludgy, Jesus and Mary Chain-ish single COVID Christmas. I Saw Mommy Doing Track and Trace is a cynical, Ramonesy dis at Boris Johnson, “A big fat scrooge.”

The saddest song on the album is the title track, a gloomy psychedelic rock tune: “This used to be my town, now they’ve shut everything down,” Lee intones, speaking for urban dwellers around the world. Surplus Population is an ersatz funk number with a sample of Scrooge himself asserting that “If they would rather die they’d better do it and decrease the surplus population.”

On the optimistic side, there’s Celebrate, a pretty, jangly lo-fi folk-rock number. There are also a couple of careening, noisy, metalish horror themes and a horror surf tune titled Shitter Was Full.

Good to see the tireless Lee joining Jello Biafra, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton and Stone Roses frontman Ian Brown on the front lines of the pro-freedom movement.

Revisiting a Catchy, Fearless, Kick-Ass Rock Record by the Cleveland Steamers

The Cleveland Steamers’ Best Record Ever – streaming at Spotify– came out a couple of years ago. On one hand, it’s purist, catchy, dynamically shifting guitar rock with metal, garage and psychedelic influences. On the other, it’s incredibly original: nobody blends those styles like this crew. Some of these songs sound straight of 1980-  no doubt since many of the group were around back then – but the band really slay with the unexpected mashups.

The album’s darkest and most adventurous cut, Dream of Me is basically a slow, 6/8 doom metal theme infused with Cullen O’Connor’s creepy tremolo organ and an achingly melismatic Marianne Friend sax break. “Soon to share the cosmos with you,” frontwoman Meredith Rutledge-Borger soberly intones; then she makes a candy bar joke. Monsanto is much the same, from its menacing, flamencoish Nick Summa guitar intro, to drummer Emmett O’Connor’s stalking pulse afterward

Hung Up On You has a swaying garage rock beat and some slinky guitar work behind that keening, swirly organ, while Maple Leaf Girl is more of a straight-up, garagey powerpop number. The long trumpet intro to the vampy Last Love nicks a famous classical theme: “I found love is a good place to hide,” bassist/singer Cheese Borger confides.

The album’s funniest song is My Asshole Cousin, a punk tune: it’s a capsule history of Republican bigotry over the past hundred years. Never Saw You Again has a steady backbeat and a lingering guitar burn, a bitter reminiscence about a really bad choice.

There’s also the punchy powerpop tune, See You Tonight; Shut Up, a screaming, amusing punk song; and Something Bad, which sounds like Blue Oyster Cult taking a very successful stab at new wave.

Welcome Back, Thelonious Monster!

Thelonious Monster have put out their first new album in sixteen years, and Oh That Monster – streaming at Bandcamp – was worth the wait. Bob Forrest still has his creepy Leonard Graves Phillips voice, guitarists Chris Handsome and Dix Denney still wail, and the rhythm section of bassist Martyn LeNoble and drummer Pete Weiss hit as hard and as diversely as they did back when the band were a big draw on the club circuit. Their purist blend of punk rock and soul draws a straight line back to the first wave of punk in the 70s, and the new batch of songs, if anything, are stronger than ever.

The album’s first track, Disappear picks up like they never left, with a steady, fast punk beat, diversely textured guitars and eerie sound effects. Midway through there’s a voiceover: “Killing us all, imperialists destroying the world.” These guys don’t waste words.

The second track, Falling Behind is a gorgeously bittersweet, upbeat, organ-driven, Graham Parker-ish anthem, a cautionary tale about creeping complacency. The band work their way out of squirrelly rhythms to a straight-up anthemic drive in Buy Another Gun: the outro mantra, over a terse, icy guitar solo, is “Messed up!”

They channel late 70s Gang of Four and then the Beatles from ten years earlier over LeNoble’s gritty bass pulse in Trouble. Then they burn their way through the brooding minor-key anthem Elijah, sparks flying from their pedalboards, with a tantalizingly evil guitar duel on the way out. “People are gonna flock to you, oh they’re gonna love ya,” Forrest intones sarcastically.

Teenage Wasteland – about time somebody reclaimed that song title, huh? – is a pounding, sobering look back at wretched punk excess. Imagine the Ramones with a sax.

The band open Sixteen Angels with shards of psychedelic guitar over a clave beat, then punch in as the sax wafts broodingly overhead. “Shame on you, not shame on me,” Forrest’s homeless narrator rails. It’s the longest and most ferocious song on the album.

They follow that with the funky, anthemic, backbeat-driven LA Divorce: “Things used to matter, but nothing matters now,” Forrest rasps. Time After Time is a catchy, vampy, optimistic soul song with an electric mandolin. They close the record with The Faraway, a fond, bucolic, mostly acoustic tableau. 

A Brilliant, Scorchingly Lyrical Short Album From Swedish Rockers the Plastic Pals

Stockholm band the Plastic Pals are connoisseurs of the edgiest sounds to emerge from 60s American psychedelia, 70s powerpop and 80s punk. Frontman Håkan “Hawk” Soold sings in English and writes sharp, sardonic, spot-on lyrics in a very individualistic vernacular. The cover image of their new ep It Could Be So Easy, Free and Fine – streaming at Bandcamp – nails their sensibility, a municipal worker on a bridge struggling with a chain while a shiny expanse of skyscrapers looms ahead.

They open with their signature song, Plastic Pal, a scorching mashup of Radio Birdman, the Buzzcocks and the Clash. In two minutes eighteen seconds, they let you know they want no part of any New Abnormal:

I’ve got a brain the size of a planet
And they have me parking cars
I’m cruising through the universe
For some money in my tip jar
Artificial intelligence sex dolls
And self-driving cars
I need a better option
Than stumbling home from the bars

They completely flip the script with the second track, If Love Should Call, a slow, pastoral Velvets-inspired nocturne with a subtle revolutionary message:

You say life is like a circus
Well here you are, there’s the ring
Do you comply with the terms of service?
You fly like a butterfly but how do you sting?

The layers of jangly, lingering guitars – that’s Soold and Anders Sahlin – are exquisite.

With a completely different twin-guitar attack, Hangin´in the Louvre is a slashingly cynical, backbeat-driven minor-key anthem, its secret agent man waiting for the museum to close so the team can pull off the heist.

They close the album with More Than an Icon,, bassist Bengt Alm and drummer Olov Öqvist driving the new wave pulse:

Like Elvis, you left the building, you just took your cross and split
This planet wasn’t big enough for you
Palm branches at your feet, the future was already writ
A classic case of too much too soon

Along with Karla Rose‘s ep from earlier this year, this is one of the best short albums of 2020.

Girls on Grass’ New Single: Blazing Layers of Guitar and Sharp Lyrics

New York’s best janglerock band, Girls on Grass have a delicious new single streaming at Bandcamp. The A-Side, Who’s Gonna Cry, is the missing link between X’s Motel Room in My Bed and the Yardbirds at their jammiest – in less than three minutes.

“Gonna hurt yourself more if you’re trying not to get hurt, like when you hesitate before you jump,” frontwoman/guitarist Barbara Endes sings in Spill Your Guts, a triumphant coming-out story set to a swaying G-L-O-R-I-A vamp with honking harmonica by Glenn Spivack over Dave Mandl’s bass and Nancy Polstein’s drums. Imagine Van Morrison’s Them with a woman out front…and better guitars.