Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Review: Denvoid and the Cowtown Punks

Denvoid and the Cowtown Punks
By Bob Rob Medina
In Denvoid and the Cowtown Punks, Bob Rob Medina compiles an exhaustive history of 1980s Denver punk and hardcore with an impressive collection of personal anecdotes, interviews, old show flyers, and beautiful full-color animations on almost every page. With the selection of artifacts presented throughout the book, it’s as if Medina spent a lifetime compiling ephemera with the sole purpose of exhibiting it in an enormous encyclopedic tome. Beginning with interviews of arguably the most important figures of ‘80s-era Denver punk—Wax Trax’s Duane Davis and Mercury Cafe founder Marilyn Megenity—the book offers a wide spectrum of subjects that includes the scene’s heavy hitters (Frantix and Rok Tots) and its lesser known contemporaries (Acid Pigs and Malibu Kens). It also showcases promoters (Jill Razer), venue owners (Nancy and Tom of Kennedy’s Warehouse), artists that still perform locally (Little Fyodor), “that guy on the bicycle” (Phil the Fan), and the scene’s unseemly side (Shawn Slater, a racist skinhead who appeared in national newspapers after organizing a klan rally during a Martin Luther King Jr. parade). Denvoid and the Cowtown Punks is essential reading, not just for ‘80s punks who lived through the chaos, but for anyone who has been involved in the Denver music scene throughout the years, because it was the movers and shakers in these very pages that booked shows, built venues, started zines, cultivated unique audiences, and attracted nationally touring acts that paved the way for the thriving music culture that permeates Denver today. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Review: Cougar Gold

Cougar Gold
Archway (self-released)

If post-alterna-core were a genre—utilized by anyone other than music reviewers in desperate need of an adequate classification to catalog the very band they are trying to describe—Cougar Gold might be its standard bearer. Churning the waters of the Sparta/Jim Ward side of At the Drive-In as well as a bit of Hot Water Music and Mudhoney, the Denver trio plays powerful, persistent rock that’s either on the punk side of alternative or vice versa. The four songs presented here exhibit finely honed writing chops and a penchant for unleashing persuasive melodies that hum sweet nothings to listeners’ pop-sensibilities. “Elanors,” the EP’s shining moment, is filled with the sort of attributes characteristic of the group: pensive lyrics, hook-filled songcraft, and a brooding, determined verse followed by a bombastic, anthemic chorus. Archway is Cougar Gold’s second EP, overflowing with modicums of a formidable LP to come. 

Review: Skankin' Pickle

SKANKIN PICKLE "Sing Along With..." LP

Skankin’ Pickle
Sing Along with... (Asian Man Records [Reissue])

When I procured the Sing Along with... reissue, I thought it would be a nice stroll down memory lane. I would listen to it once, file it away in my collection, and take it out on the days I most yearned to feel the excitement and joy that my 15 year old self experienced when I first bought this CD twenty years ago at Wax Trax (immediately after seeing the band in 1995 at the Ogden opening for Sublime—who I didn’t see because my parents picked me up early). But that’s not happened. I actually liked the songs and enjoyed the experience. Maybe I’m older now and can admit my penchant for ska despite the protestations of all my youth crew friends (who spent the ‘90s karate kicking the air while everyone else tried to watch the show) and my punk-only friends (who hate everything, including most punk). Apparently, once you’re no longer concerned with being cool, you can start liking ska again. And let’s be honest, for all the hate it inspired, the genre was really all about acting goofy and dancing. What was wrong with that? Anyway, the members of Skankin’ Pickle were among the pioneers of the third wave of ska that became popular in the mid to late ‘90s. The group released four albums, including Sing Along With...—the pinnacle of its career in many ways. Twenty years on, the music is fun, humorous, and full of incessant energy—more or less the opposite of the dour indie rock that dominates public and college radio waves. Songs like “Rotten Banana Legs,” “I’m in Love with a Girl Named Spike,” and “Pabu Boy” brim with feverish, gleeful intensity that incites the titular dance whether or not one is in the presence of pickled cucumbers. More than just a exercise in nostalgia, the reissue is a whole hell of a lot of fun. 

Review: Leftover Crack

Leftöver Crack
Constructs of the State (Fat Wreck Chords)

UPDATE: In the intervening years since this record was first reviewed, I have to say that it has grown on me exponentially. I now think it's one of the best ska-punk records of all time—at least in the top five. (Perhaps Energy is the only LP that would chart higher on a "best of" list.) And with the election of 45, it's more relevant than ever. With any luck, we'll get a new record of of these punkers soon. If you haven't yet, add this record to your collection posthaste! —BP 12/13/17

“Don’t shoot ‘till you see the whites of their skins,” delicately opines Leftöver Crack on the second track of Constructs of the State, its first release in seven years. Obviously, subtlety was never one of the band’s strong suits, and of course, that’s part of its charm. In an atmosphere where people of color are systematically eliminated for petty offenses, radical sentiment such as this seems like an even-keeled, rational response. If nothing else, it’s pretty damn punk as fuck, which is what makes this album is so great. Even casual observers of this country have a lot to fret about—corrosive influence of religion, wealth inequality, and never ending wars (as addressed through songs like, “Archaic Subjugation,” “The War at Home,” and “System Fucked”). Musically, the ole LC doesn’t deviate much from its previous releases as it continues to perfect its blend of crust, hardcore, and ska—all of which is as catchy as it is searing. Constructs of the State is a collection of songs by a band at the creative zenith, and although it doesn’t have a lot of competition, it’s by far one of the best ska-punk records of the decade. 

More info: http://www.fatwreck.com/record/detail/936

Review: Muscle Beach

Muscle Beach
S/T (Sailor Records)

Is Muscle Beach the right band for you? Ask yourself the following: Do you like your post-hardcore with vocals screamed/shouted in utmost intensity? Are you fond of musicians who can play their instruments with ferocity, passion, and precision? What about your music collection: could it use a bit of de-laming? If you answered yes to any of the preceding questions—or if you have a pulse and a functioning set of ears—you should probably procure the new Muscle Beach record. In fact this isn’t a recommendation. Go get the new Muscle Beach record. And then go see them live, because this triad of handsome go-getters will melt your ears and rip your face off in the best way possible. (Oh and since this is a review, I should probably mention the album’s best songs: “Tiger Lily,” “Re-Animators,” “Eagle Wizard,” “Shark 22-Electric Boogaloo,” “Pressure Kills,” “Hot Trash,” “Feint Steps,” “Gnarlitude,” “Secrets of the Crooze,” “John Mahoney,” and “Smooch Booth.” Those are the good ones.)