Sunday, February 04, 2007

Quick Hits - Hardcore Part 1

I've been on a hardcore listening spree since I started reading the book American Hardcore: A Tribal History by Steven Blush (thank you Scott!). It's an interesting read -- certainly someone who spent his years in the pits and on the road. So, I decided to listen to some of the seminal albums of the era (or at least according to him).

What I've discovered is that I'll never know what it was like to hear these bands when they originally came onto the scene. The historical context is lost on me, which I'm guessing is part of why they were considered so great, and what was a meaningful expression in the moment becomes just noise or something that has been copied by a zillion bands since that time, and thus seems unoriginal.

On another note, I am WAY too old to listen to most of this stuff and appreciate it. Which sucks. Bottom line: Don't get old, kids.

Any assistance or perspective on where I've gone horribly wrong in my assessment of any of these albums, or where I can find an "in" to figure out what some of these albums are all about, would be much appreciated. So without further ado... in alphabetical order:
  • Bad Brains - Bad Brains. Remastered album. Perfect example -- probably the most name-dropped hardcore band and album, and I can't hear what the fuss is about. Am I too old to listen to this or is it too late for me to figure it out? Sadly, I think I like the reggae songs on the album the best -- and I hate reggae. Please help me out here, people.
    Early verdict: I just don't get it.
  • Dag Nasty - Can I Say. Remastered album. I love a few songs, but most of the other tracks were just noise on my first listen. Still, I had this weird vibe (does this ever happen to you?) that this would be an album I would eventually really get into, even though I was toughing through it right now. Subsequent listens are helping but I'm not quite there yet. Lots of potential, very nice stuff.
    Early verdict: Recommended.
  • Effigies - Remains Nonviewable. Remastered compilation. It only took one listen to realize these guys (and this album) were special. To be honest, this is "cheating" -- it's really more heavy punk pop than hardcore. At times, they sound like the Ramones, other times the Misfits, and even like later-day Butthole Surfers. Very accessible and well produced. Intelligent lyrics and smart playing. It's not perfect, and it won't change your life, but it is very good and recommended if you like your music loud, fast, and melodic.
    Early verdict: Highly recommended.
  • Hüsker Dü - Everything Falls Apart and Metal Circus. Expanded original and original EP. You should be surprised it took this long for a Hüsker Dü/Bob Mould/Sugar reference. I know I am. But the book mentioned them. Everything Falls Apart is a little too fast most of the time, but at other spots it shows the pop and punk sensibilities that were the hallmark of the band's later great work. Metal Circus is less hardcore, more punk, but flat out great. There are 7 songs on this EP, and 4 are great (and I mean great) songs.

    Metal Circus
    final verdict: if you don't own any Hüsker Dü, buy New Day Rising and Zen Arcade (in that order) first. Then buy Metal Circus.
    Everything Falls Apart final verdict: For completists only.*
  • Scream - Still Screaming & This Side Up. Two original albums combined. I've been intrigued by the Stahl brothers (Peter and Franz, vocals and guitar, respectively) since they recorded a very very good song called "Kill the Crow" as part of their band Wool. The rest of the album was bad, but the song showed the potential for something great. I knew Franz went on to play guitar for the Foo Fighters, but otherwise they were a mystery to me. So you can imagine when I read that the Stahl brothers formed out of a legendary DC hardcore band called Scream that I was all over it. Turns out there were three good tracks. The rest sounded like a dog successfully giving birth to a goat. (Or perhaps unsuccessfully -- if I were less ignorant about hardcore I'd probably be able to tell the difference between success and failure here.)
    Final verdict: The most satisfying part of the whole experience was when I physically threw out the discs I burned from iTunes. Not recommended.
When I get a chance to listen to some more stuff, I will post a Part 2. I'll probably have a larger review this weekend. Until then...


You may have noticed, if you are a true nerd like me, that Land Speed Record (the first Hüsker Dü album and the most hardcore album they ever did) did not get a mention here. That's because I've listened to it once and that was enough. Final verdict: for the truly masochistic or hardcore purists.