Wednesday, January 12, 2011

2009 Album Of The Year

(Originally from January 7, 2010)

If you were to name the most influential punk band formed in the last 25 years, Operation Ivy would be a good candidate. While never achieving the mammoth success of their peers in Green Day, it could be argued that the latter band would have never been as popular without the former. In the two years that Op Ivy existed they became the most popular band among those at the newly formed Gilman Street, and as one of the first bands to sign to the newly formed Lookout! Records, they helped bring attention to what would both become punk rock institutions, and drew together that Bay Area scene. This all helped pave the way for the bands who made punk rock popular in the mainstream in 1994, as well as pioneering the sub-genre "Ska punk".

Before breaking up they put out "Energy" the best one-off punk album since the Sex
Pistols "Never Mind The Bullocks", but in the 20 years since Energy was released the sound was often copied among Ska punk bands, but often distilled of any sort of message or the energy that gave the album it's name.

Fast-forward to some months ago when I heard a song called "SBC" by a Ska punk band called the Have Nots.

"2008 another bummer
Not a sound from the encumbered numbers
No not a peep 'cause the scars run deep
So awash in grief we escape to slumber
Who can sleep in these beds they made?
Good fucking joke short sheet a shallow grave
Alarm clock ringing bring the dead."

These lyrics brought back thoughts to the Operation Ivy song "Freeze Up":
"It's 1989 stand up and take a look around
Weather's bitter tension it seems is sinking down
Drunk with power and fighting one another every hour
Shows the winter getting harder
There's a freeze up coming
One nation stands the tallest radiating blinding light,
Plastic and fluorescent energy robbing us of sight-
Set in our way, content with our decay,
We wave the flag of freedom as we conquer and invade"

It was as if all the energy, power, and excitement that Operation Ivy had brought was being brought back by a new band. I don't want to give the impression that the Have Nots are simply a copy of the former band, which is far from the truth. But I make
he comparison because both are Ska punk bands that use the same instruments as traditional punk music (or traditional Rock N Roll music for that matter) keeping a raw sound without relying on horns or keyboards.

After hearing a few other Have Nots songs I bought their album "Serf City USA", and was amazed at how consistently good the songs were. Not only was the sound a great combination of raw ska chords and punk, but the lyrics to the songs were so scathing and poignant, pointing fingers at all the wrongs in society. Take the song "One in Four" a track about returning veterans trying to survive with PTSD in the recession economy:

"Johnny got fucked by the GI bill, choking on that bitter pill,
took what seemed the safest bet
and now he's home drowning in debt.
He hates his wife his life's a mess,
house and car got repossessed,
said it ain't right man I'm a vet
and set out for the statehouse with a gun"
It's not all politics either. The albums closing track "My Way" scathes about a deceased friend:

"Try to picture where you'd be today can't see you in the present tense
I think about that place you disappeared to man and why I never went
They say the darkest part of night is always right before the dawn
Wish you'd be able to see through, wish you'd be able to hold on"

Ending before the final chorus with the singer angrily screaming:

"I wish that stupid shit had meant to you just what it meant to me
I hope you finally found what you are looking for I guess I'll wait and see"

There's nothing sappy or sentimental about it, just raw emotion, and that sums up the entire album. By opening their eyes and taking a look at America circa 2009, the Have Nots have crafted an album fueled by sites of injustice, corruption, poverty, drug abuse, death, and all the things most people want to turn a blind eye to. Years from now if someone wanted a time capsule of the trials and unease of the recession years "Serf City USA" could paint that picture... and it would also make for a pretty great listen.

Honorable Mentions-
I don't like to do these year-end lists because no matter how many albums you listen to there will always be great ones released that you missed only to discover years later. However I feel that Serf City USA as well as these following albums were too good not to be acknowledged:

*Rich White Males- We've Come Here To Ass And Play Bubblegum

San Diego's Rich White Males spew tongue in cheek nihilistic songs with titles like "Little Morphine Annie", "In Love With A Nazi Girl" and "I'm On Drugs" all played at a speed and sound that begs comparison to popular 70s punk bands like The Heartbreakers, Sex Pistols, and Ramones. There's nothing deep or political about it, but it makes for a great 20 minutes of buzzsaw riffs and nihilism, and does a better job at capturing the spirit of the first Ramones album than any of the so-called "Ramonescore" bands.

*Cobra Skulls- American Rubicon

After releasing one of my favorite albums of 2007 with "Sitting Army", the Cobra Skulls have topped that effort with this sophomore release. The songs on American Rubicon are more diverse with instrumentals, straight up ska, and tracks that can't really fit into any specific genre. If someone had given me this description before hearing the album I would be weary, but it all works out great with nothing straying too far from the bands punk roots. Also like their previous album, this one is again fueled by a Dead Kennedys-esque combination of pointing a finger (a humorous one at times) at today’s political issues and the punk scene itself throughout the lyrics.

*The Mighty Mighty Bosstones- Pin Points And Gin Joints

After breaking up in 2003, the guys who coined the term "Skacore" were silent until late 2007 when they reunited for a set of Hometown Throwdown shows and did a few new songs for a compilation. Now for the first time in 7 years they have a brand new album out, and one listen to Pin Points And Gin Joints will dispel any doubts that the Bosstones had lost a step in their time off. The album is layered with the bands great combination of Ska and punk, and unlike many of their third wave contemporaries the band continues to steer clear from cheesy goofball themes and lyrics, dealing with subjects as diverse as Dicky Barret's strained relationship with his father, to the economic collapse, to the war.

*Jello Biafra and The Guantanamo School of Medicine- The Audacity of Hype

After a pair of stellar albums backed by The Melvins, Jello Biafra is back and promising The Guantanamo School of Medicine to be his first fully concentrated touring and recording group since his days with the Dead Kennedys. Despite the title, The Audacity of Hype is primarily a collection of songs that paint a time capsule of the Bush administration and the past decade of Republican dominated politics starting with the opening lyrics, "Lost the vote, but god elected me, I'm never wrong cause he speaks through me". Any fan of the Dead Kennedys catalogue or any Jello stuff has no excuse for not enjoying this. Here's hoping this band will stick together and continue to tour and record.

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