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The Gymslips – Rocking With the Renees: The Punk Collection

July 18, 2012 Leave a comment

Captain Oi! Records, 1999

Well, you know how I am by now I would think.  I see something from Captain Oi! records with an album cover that has an illustrated story of what looks like someone’s day.  Then there’s the front-and-center pair of jubblies that sort of overshadows the fact all of the ladies involved on the cover have short hair and look a bit tough.  So yes, when I picked this up I figured it as a punk record which made it a bonafide gimme when it comes to attracting my hard earned quarters.  I was a bit confused by what the band name represented (turns out it’s a full length tunic with a pleated skirt that kids wear to school) as well as the fact that the title of the album references a group called the Renees.  Two group names?  Jubblies?  What’s going on?  Let this be a lesson to any dollar bin shopper that when one begins to over think their purchase, they should just pop themselves in the eye and hand over the money.  Why bother with the details?

The Gymslips sound as they look, and that is blue collar rock ‘n roll.  However, whereas one might think there’s a lot of yelling and abrasive guitar screeching the Gymslips actually have a pop edge with a bit of humor.  The introduction of “Renees” (pronounced ree-knees) includes a chorus of “We’re the Renees/here we come/1-2-3/and up your bum”.  Hmm, oh really?  One of my favorite tracks, “Drink Problem” follows with an exceptionally catchy chorus of “Whiskey makes you frisky/gin makes you sin/brandy makes you randy/and rum makes you …”.  The band trails off, but if you’re good with rhyming and can think of a word that relates to being randy, well, there you have it.  The speedy pop punk of these songs begin the record off excellently, and if you like that no frills sound then the rest of the record is your kind of thing.

Along with their British accents, which sound a bit cockney, the allure of the Gymslips are their song subject choices.  They have a song about “Face Lifts”, which details a woman’s unfortunate vericose vein issue as well as a lady who is “a big fat lump at 21 going thin on top”.  Oof.  The liner notes mention that the song “Yo Yo” is titled so because it’s about someone whose underwear tends to go up and down.   I merely like the title of “Silly Egg”, which is a term used as an endearing thing to call someone else for being goofy.  Oh, those British.  The Gymslips do manage to get serious once in awhile, for “Thinking of You” is a light pop love song about yearning for another.  This gives the Gymslips a little bit of depth, though most of their songs are lighter fare so don’t think you’ll be wrapped up in too much emotion during the 27 tracks.

Unfortunately as the album continues on the lyrics and liner notes go away in the booklet, which is a pity since they were enlightening.  Along with the loss of information comes with a dip in interesting songs, for they get more polished and a lot more eighties.  Synthesizers, proper singing, and a general departure from the pop punk origins turn the Gymslips into just another band from that era.  There are remnants of the old Gymslips on songs like “Wonderland”, which if one gets by the prominant synthesizers one will appreciate the nearly spoken vocals and the catchy refrains.  The group leans a little more towards Blondie’s path on songs like “Loves Not the Answer”, where nearly all of the grit is gone and is replaced by a band that is enjoying the comforts of lightweight, toss off pop.   It’s not the greatest send off given the earlier songs, but since these later tracks are from 1984 I suppose it is understandable (or even inevitable).

It is amazing to see that a rather obscure UK pop punk band band from the eighties has a French fansite up!  And it’s being updated … since 2001!  Definitely check that place out for pictures or go to the MySpace page to hear a few tunes.

Ultimately, half the album had the eighties garage pop/punk sound that I love, which made it worth the purchase by far.   Even with the latter half of the record saturated by eighties musical trends, nearly every song has a catchy element that makes the whole record fun to listen to.   It helps that this collection of tunes is most of what the Gymslips released via vinyl singles, so it gives a pretty good overview of what the Gymslips were about during their half decade tenure.  And really, aside from a few tracks on some seven inch records, this CD is pretty much everything one is needs to get a great taste of the Gymslips.  Given that I got it for an affordable price perhaps readers will have the same kind of luck if they look around.

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Plastiscines – LP1

September 21, 2011 Leave a comment

EMI Records, 2007

When the opportunity comes to pick up an album consisting of four young, lovely French ladies that play poppy rock ‘n roll, one must immediately put it away and ignore it.

HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!

I kill me. Alright, obviousness aside, let’s review.

The immediate comparison to these French ladies’ sense of two minutes or less style are the Ramones.  Maybe it should be more like Shonen Knife, though the pioneer Japanese lady punkers seem more poppy than the Plastiscines.  I guess the Plastiscines are a mix of both with their catchy, quick hooks and lighter topics.

The ladies tear right into a rousing “Shake (Twist Around the Fire)” that includes a slew of power chords that one has heard many times before.  It’s a good start, as “Alchimie” and “Loser” are stronger punk follow ups.  “Alchimie” is particularly fun with the rest of the band chiming in with “Comme tu sais!” (or ‘as you know!’) during the chorus while Katie Besnard sings.  Besnard’s singing voice reminds me a little bit of Elastica’s Justine Frischmann, though she doesn’t sound as sarcastic or bored as Frischmann sometimes did.  Also unlike Frischmann, Besnard’s delivery on “Le Regle Du Jeu” and “Tu As Tout Prevu” is as pointed and fresh as it needs to be on the more rapid punk tracks on the record.

Most of the songs are easily enjoyable, but half if not less are in English.  The lyrics aren’t too complicated (another Ramones trait there) as evidenced by the line “I can hear your boom boom heart” in “Mister Driver”.  “Under Control” pretty much consists of “Oh ah” and “Everything is under control” throughout its nearly two minutes.  Perhaps some of the French songs have more depth, though the cutesy sounding “(Zazie Fait De La) Bicyclette”, which translates to “Going for a bicycle ride”, gives me some doubts.

While the band mainly sticks to the same formula of hitting the listener quick with hard riffs and early exits, the group does take a few moments to be cheeky.  Like “Bicyclette”, “Pop In, Pop Out!” is a one minute pop song that consists of Besnard periodically popping in and popping out with a playful reminder of the song title.  As much as I’d like to believe that the Plastiscines will stick to their brief, uptempo tunes in the long run, it does sound like there is a possibility that they may eventually lean more towards the poppier side of things with these two winking asides.

Les Plastiscines from France can be heard on their MySpace website or read on their blog.  While you’re on the blog, go pick up a Plastiscines t-shirt to add to your le cool wardrobe.

Ladies or not, this sound is my kind of thing.  I like the short bursts of energy that can invigorate me after a few songs.  If they’re singing it in another language half the time, who cares?  I was certainly glad to see that the french quartet released a follow up album a few years later, so I’ll definitely have to go check that out sometime.  I’ll also have to do some research to see if the Plastiscines are the biggest band in France right now.  I mean, c’mon … who else has the looks and the hooks over there these days?  Air?  Vanessa Paradis?  Edith Piaf?  Get with it, France!

Various Artists – Look Directly Into the Sun: China Pop 2007

September 5, 2011 Leave a comment

Invisible China, 2007

I know nothing about Chinese music, popular or underground.  Therefore, seeing an affordably priced compilation that declares it represents China Pop in 2007 easily captured my attention.  I have heard a lot of Japanese and Korean pop, so I thought that I might have to wade through quite a few sugary numbers.  With bands like Queen Sea Big Shark and Voodoo Kung Fu I felt I could survive a few cute dance numbers.

Apparently this compilation was put together by a fellow named Martin Atkins, who traveled out to China some years back and wanted to put together a collection that represented the Chinese underground scene.  Great concept!  He actually is a member of China Dub Soundsystem (on this disc with so-so flare) and created a film entitled “Sixteen Days in China” about his Beijing trip and the bands he ran into.  Whatever one thinks about this compilation, I bet that film would be fascinating to watch.

So, on with the music.  I know that compilations are a real crapshoot when it comes to hearing tracks that are interesting enough to spin again.  Unfortunately, this album required some serious effort to find much of anything that was agreeable with the stomach.  The compilation starts off with two serious clunkers, the first being Snapline’s “Close Your Cold Eyes” that has a vocalist that sounds a lot like a really bored Damon Albarn in an elecro noise effort.  Then China MC Brother’s “JaiJung” rap rock gave me the Limp Bizkit chills.  Like I said, awful start.

Thankfully, a pure pop punk number by Caffe-In saves the disc from a preliminary chuck out the window.  The female vocalist squeaks a little bit as the power chords speed through “Mario and Peaches”, which would be great to have the lyrics to for this Nintendo enthusiast.  After digging up a little bit more about them, it turns out the group is actually made up of Japanese folks.  Other good tunes on the album are an excellently blended guitar instrumental by White and a live ska-like track by Rococo.  “Panda” by Carsick Cars is also a solid straightforward rock song that reminds me of that 90s indie sound, but the vocalist is dull.

Alright, now for the outright junk!  Aside from those first two songs, Subs pulls a Linkin Park and tries to sound very soft and then blow up in your face with shouting.  However, at four plus minutes the song is tedious to listen through with its disjointed guitar and repetition of “Shut up, shut up, shut up” and top volume.  The Scoff’s “Nasty” probably is the equivalent of an American grrl band, so I guess one can’t ding too much on a punk song whose vocals that are intentionally ragged.  Unless, of course, it’s a guy singing.  HoneyGun stole a riff from Alice in Chains’ “Man in a Box” and Voodoo Kung Fu is just … out there.  I guess they are an artsy metal screamo band, which is fascinating to listen to once given the country of origin I guess.

Those looking for more about the music on this compilation might find something on the record label website:  Invisible China.  I also managed to find the Chinese MySpace page for Caffe-In if you want to listen to what pop punk out of China sounds like.

I feel sort of bad labeling this collection as a Bust, for I do like Atkin’s idea of promoting music we might not otherwise hear.  Unfortunately, aside from a few good songs from Caffe-In and Rococo, I couldn’t recommend this compilation to anyone unless they just want to hear what Chinese underground music sounds like for the experience.  According to these eighteen bands, it simply sounds similar to American underground music.  Glad to hear that bands are trying to make it over there in the East, but there aren’t many on this collection that makes me desperate to buy a plane ticket to go see what I’m missing.  I suppose this hurts my diplomacy score, eh?

The Hissyfits – Letters From Frank

August 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Top Quality Rock and Roll, 2001

The cover of this record looks like someone had a heck of a time with their typewriter.  All the duplication of letters and even the inclusion of a star key seems to indicate that the person was all sorts of ticked off as to why their typewriter was giving them issues when they just wanted to type the name of the band.  That ‘h’ key looks like it particularly got sticky and the user was just mashing it repeatedly.  I do the same thing with Control-Alt-Delete on days when I have had enough of frozen windows and buggy software.  Wham! Wham! Wham!  So needless to say, I identified a little bit with the cover art as well as the thought that a band called the Hissyfits was probably going to be a good rock ‘n roll time.  So I picked the album up.  I figured I owed the frustrated typewriter guy that much.

The Hissyfits are a three piece, all lady band that specializes in punky pop rock.  Given that the three, full-square headshots of the ladies show them all to be smiling kind of makes sense with that kind of genre, since all the grrl and hard rock girls tend to grimace and look like they don’t want you talking to them.  Although the Hissyfits might have made themselves a little typecast, what they do defy are the conventional song lengths of pop rock.  Some of these songs usually stick around for three and a half minutes!  Either the band wants the listener to pay some attention to their valued lyrics or the band likes to pull a freebird with some instrumental dabbling.

The early songs on the album fulfill what I figured the Hissyfits were all about.  The opener of “Something Wrong 2001” isn’t a particularly strong track, with some room temperature rock tempo and a some very timid vocals, but it fits that cute energy the band was giving off from its cover.  “Baby” sounds a little better with the light vocals from the main singer (I’m assuming of the three vocalists, it’s the one who goes by ‘Princess’ aka guitarist Holly Jacobs), though the tune warms up with a sort of sixties-sounding duet exchange early on.  “Superstar” seems to continue where “Something Wrong 2001” left off, and though it has some pretty harmonizing over the power riffs, I’m still waiting for the stand out track.  Unfortunately, the songs are starting to get longer …

When looking over the time stamps of the songs beforehand, tracks that I was weary of listening to were “So Sweet”, “Bloodsugarsister”, and “Giant Ants” since they all lasted longer than four and a half minutes.  I thought oh man, what kind of pop rock song lasts that long and retains its interest?  Well, it’s a mixed bag.  I think “Oh Sweet” is actually one of the stronger songs on the record with its grim, urgent tone and uncharacteristic seriousness from the Hissyfits vocalists.  The build up and chorus sound engaging, though at about three minutes one could easily argue that the song begins to overextend itself.  When the guitar takes over and the chorus repeats itself periodically without anything new, a casual fan of the song could begin to edge that finger closer to the skip button.

Unfortunately, the other two tracks don’t fare as well.  “Bloodsugarsister” starts off really slow with some really light vocals, yet thankfully picks up after about a minute and a half.  The song itself isn’t all that interesting to wait out the rest of it.  “Giant Ants” suffers from a chugging riff that just goes on and on while one of the singers ‘raps’ about Bruce Lee.  It is apparent she’s been labeled a vocalist so as to fit in, but really, it may be because the band is still trying to figure out who in the group can actually sing.  You either have the rapper girl who can’t sing, the very light vocalist who sometimes is overdone by the rockin’ raucaus, and the incognito vocalist who seems to prefer to stay in the background.  Despite all the noise going on, it’s the vocalists as well as the over-extension of the song that makes it forgettable.  The Hissyfits just do better when the songs don’t require a marathon length.

Speaking of short songs, I think one of the better tracks on the disc is the thrashing “Lock ‘N Load” that nearly ends the album.  It completely stands out as some kind of lark by the band given that nothing else matches its tempo, but it probably fits the band’s namesake most accurately.  The band quickly moves on back to its usual slower speed with “Today is the Day”, though this time Jacobs’ vocals are all fuzzed out.  It certainly gives it a nice summer feeling, especially with some summer thoughts-inducing hand claps included.  The song ends up as a nicely calming ending to a somewhat confusing album.  Oh by the way, the song is nearly five minutes long.

If you must hear some pop rock by three or so women *right now*, well, have a listen at Last.fm.  (Edit:  Unfortunately, their old website is down as of 2013.)

The Hissyfits have gone through quite a few lineup changes in their time, though the lead guitarist Holly Jacobs has been the consistent element.  Either way, the band hasn’t put out a record since this one and, though the band toured for a few years afterward it unfortunately looks like the Hissyfits have thrown their last tantrum.  As promising as the Hissyfits looked when I picked up this record I can’t say it fulfilling delivered, though I would have been interested to see what the group put out next to see if they got a little more exciting.  As it is, the Hissyfits left some fun untapped on the floor amidst the toy wreckage.

The Sounds – Living in America

February 18, 2011 Leave a comment

New Line Records, 2005

Do you remember those Geico commercials with the Neanderthals getting all angry about the hint that they aren’t very intelligent?  I thought the early ones were amusing, especially the one where two of them pull up in motorcycles and are approaching ladies in bright leather outfits like a young Michael Jackson used to wear.  The jagged, retro music that provided the backdrop fit the slow motioned commercial quite well so I sought it out.  It was the Sounds’ “Hurt You” from their second album and thus a mental note was made.  Unfortunately this isn’t the album that has that song but, as mental notes and a few quarters will go, I figured the Sounds were worth a spin.

Perhaps this has been discussed already, but the Sounds consist of four lightly leathered and loose men and a blonde chick as the lead singer.  They also utilize keyboards as well as a punk rock swing yet aren’t very edgy.  If you guessed Blondie the Sequel, you are in my head all the way.  Therefore, perhaps unfairly, I will sometimes compare these guys to Blondie throughout the review.  Do the Sounds have their own “Call Me”?  Do they slip into a “Heart of Glass” rap at any point?  Are they in a phone booth it’s the one across the hall?  Man, I love that cover.

In the year 2005 the indie music scene was caught up in a swamp of Interpols and Bloc Parties, so it’s not too much of surprise that the Sounds also specialize a bit in the punk dance genre.  They’ve got plenty of bursting choruses like on “Dance With Me” as well as fist pumping glitz on “Seven Days a Week”.  Maja Ivarsson (the concerned-looking lady on the leather jacket) who does emit a light raspy force that fits well with the style.  However, early on I felt that she easily gets drowned out by the tsunami of volume coming from the band of dudes.   Ultimately, after just a few songs I found that the Sounds might be trying a little too hard to pump up the masses.  If the whole record sounded similar to the first three songs then it would get tiresome rather quickly.

Even though they’re from Sweden, the Sounds do tend to get swept up with American and British stylings of the time often.  However, they do have moments that harken back to the earlier days of music from the countries they are emulating.  “Hit Me!” is one of the better tracks on the disc if only because it doesn’t sound so convulsingly overwhelming with audio flair.  It actually does sound like something Blondie might have managed in their earlier days, which is a good, quick rock song that primarily features Ivarsson’s vocals and Felix Rodriguez’s steady punk riff.  Also “Mine For Life” has a fantastic extended synthesizer solo … yeah, I said that.  It definitely tore things up like a neon light dance club from the eighties.

As one bops along through the album, one gets a feeling that these guys are not just trying to get in your face with their synthe-zeal given their early impression.  “Reggie” proves to be an excellent track with just enough modern trends to make it urgent but not too musically gluttonous.  In fact, it is better than any of that stuff they hurled at the listener early on.   “Hope You’re Happy Now” doesn’t have the strongest lyrics but Ivarsson sounds particularly miffed (if not husky) in what can be topically ascertained as a song that essentially flips off a former interest.  By this time the synthesizers have actually grown on me, so as the Sounds punk their way out on “Riot” I felt that this group may have earned their right to open for Blondie in an alternative universe time warp kind of way.

The Sounds are still making their way around Sweden, so if you happen to be out on that island these days then perhaps you can catch them in person.  If not, listen to a bit at their website, MySpace page, or Last.fm!

Dammit, I just looked around … some other sites have already compared these guys to Blondie!  Blast!  Well originality down the tubes, the album “Living in America” could be considered the Sounds’ attempt at getting familiar by being familiar.  They are still around putting out records that go a bit heavy on the electronically punk air, but I suppose that is what the popular flavor is these days.  Despite the mixed feelings gained from this record, I do believe I should catch up on what the Sounds, er, sound like these days.  I bet they’re fun.

Cheap Time – Self-titled

January 21, 2011 Leave a comment

In the Red Records, 2008

These guys look like they had some time off from their runway jobs and thought to start a boy band.  The one in the middle seems to have forgotten to turn off the eternally bored look that models tend to sport.  With the visuals screaming at me to beware the second coming of 98 Degrees, I caught the indicator of grand possibilities in the top right corner.  Looking at the 80s-themed logo with a resemblance of neon pink coloring, I thought there was a slight chance that Cheap Time was a either an 80s punk revivalist band or even the re-issued real thing.  Since listening to them would literally be a cheap time, I figured they were worth a grab.

Not long into their debut record, it is apparent that Cheap Time aren’t in the market for long players or deep lyrical conversations with their listeners.  The trio actually zip through most of their songs under two minutes with lo-fi production and catchy punk riffs.  They’re also not the angry type of punk, (the album cover kind of kills that idea anyway) but I can imagine they can light up a stage with the requisite noise and energy level.

The evidence that this hypothesis may be true can quickly be found in their music.   Though the opener of “Too Late” sounds a bit disjointed, the record really powers on when the chorus of “Glitter and Gold” crashes through some descending riffs.  The high speed chorus of “People Talk” definitely reminds me of U2’s “I Will Follow”, but it is a killer track.  It probably has to do with the repeated aspect of the title over a piercing, high guitar note that accompanies it.  Amidst all of the great adrenaline-inducing tracks on this record, “People Talk” stands out the most.

Since most songs are quick, it is rare for Cheap Time to let one get tired of any particular direction they’ve followed.  The one instance where they gamble with longevity is in “Trip to School”, which clocks in at just over three long minutes.  As the last track of the record, it begins quietly enough with slow guitar build that could go either way.  You know how it is; bands tend to make the last track of their record something personal, slow, and usually boring.  Just as one is about to give up on half of a song of build up, Cheap Time eradicates the notion of a cool off with another fantastically catchy pop punker.  That was the right way to go out on a record that just slips under thirty minutes with fourteen tracks.

Cheap Time do have a MySpace page, but the good man at Power Pop Overdose gives you a chance to check out this whole record for yourself!  You should think about doing this.

I think that Cheap Time’s debut record really appeals to me because they have quite a few similarities to a few of my favorite bands, such as the Exploding Hearts and the Marked Men.  I’m personally just thrilled that these guys are even still around!  Now with two records in the books, perhaps Cheap Time will be able to cull together a full hour live show if they end up touring away from their native Tennessee.  Either way, the exciting punch of their music deserves a Golden Dollar from me all the way.

The Pink Spiders – Teenage Graffiti

July 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Suretone Records, 2006

This album cover is excellent in its presentation.  How can one not think that these guys are going to come at you fast and hard?  Okay, okay, sure, there’s pink everywhere.  The drummer is wearing a particularly light pink t-shirt with, er, pink drums.  If one replaced “Pink Spiders” with “Barbie House Band” at the top then it could be believable.  I figure these guys were pop punk all the way, so I had to pick this record up just to see if they were really obnoxious or only sorta obnoxious.  I also wanted to know if they had information in the liner notes of where I can get a black and pink striped body suit like the singer.  I’d be all the rage at those Barbie collectible conventions I go to.

So yes, the Pink Spiders rip into a bevy of energized pop punk throughout the entire record, but one would think they were more of a garage rock band based on the opening tune of “Soft Smoke”.  It’s got the heavy and steady guitar riffs before getting a little high-pitched during the chorus.  It’s a good choice for an opener, as it sets the tone for the rest of the album full of songs exactly like it.  “Saturday Nite Riot” is more typical of what the Pink Spiders prefer to bring, for it has a cutesy pop element to it that one can envision legions of teenagers singing along to at a flashy concert.  It’s an exceptionally catchy song about a girl conflicted about her image, so I would be surprised if it hadn’t already made its way on an MTV reality show.

Some of the stronger tunes on the record are “Modern Swinger” and “Little Razorblade”, the latter of which actually slows the pace of the record down slightly as the band combines electronic elements with heartbreak.  “Nobody Baby” could be considered their strongest rock ‘n roll tune that doesn’t feel saturated with teenie ooze.  With this and “Soft Smoke”, it just makes one wish that the band decided to stick to the rumbling rock music that one can clearly see they can pull off well.  It’s clear that the Pink Spiders were going to stick with the popular music flavor at the time based on the rest of the output on this album, so the better tunes are more of an exception to their inevitable future.  The bouncing piano introduction and singalong of “Adalae”, as well as the short, personally pianofied “Secret Song” at the end, seal their fate.

Check these guys out at their Bandcamp page, which seems to stream the entire record.  Very cool.  That is, unless you hate it.

There’s a place for these guys in today’s music because, ah, that’s what the mainstream “rock ‘n roll” sounds like.  So, I suppose if you’re a jaded, college radio-listening music enthusiast you are more likely to wish these guys would go away.  Given the fact that there are too many of these pop punk bands with debatable lyric talent already, the Pink Spiders may very well split the scene soon enough.  However, for this record, they’re great for a quick pick up of one’s current state.  For a few quarters (or less), this record gives me a feeling that the 2000’s weren’t a total waste of pop punky attitude.

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