Yeah, let’s talk about Rancid. Tim Armstrong and Matt Freeman (both from Operation Ivy) formed the band in 1991 in Berkeley. The first self-titled album has a lot of great stuff on it. Tim Armstrong spews lyrics all over you as the bass refuses to be ignored and the guitar engulfs itself in distortion. Rancid does guitar solos, but the bass always seems to be doing its own thing, and it’s great. Rancid is oddly melodic and still aggressive. The drums provide a simple fast-paced beat and the lyrics are quick and meaningful.
Outta My Mind has a nice, steady feel to it as the guitar just provides a constant distorted noise and Tim Armstrong explains the situation. His vocals should also be discussed. He does a lot of melodic speaking — at times it’s close to rapping but not quite. Some songs have him speaking at times and singing at others. Rejected has some fantastic vocals. Put them together with the simple drum beat and the pulsating bass, and at times it sounds like hardcore.
I’m not sure if it’s hardcore or not, and I know it doesn’t really matter. It’s definitely intense, and when I first heard this stuff I didn’t really like it. It was too much, and I was not used to the vocals and the overall heavy, maniacal sound at the time. I came back to it, though, and it all made sense then. Maybe I just needed a few more years of frustration and shitty music before I was ready for Rancid. I do feel that a lot of music like this takes a while to get used to like it’s some sort of acquired taste. Maybe it only makes sense to you if you’ve felt certain emotions from certain circumstances or something. I don’t know, but their music is great for a variety of situations. If you just want to blast something or if you really need to hear someone scream kind of melodically in a way that will remind you there are people with similar viewpoints, Rancid is a good choice.
I guess it’s time we talk about Black Flag. If you like punk, you’ve probably already heard of them at least. I believe they were my introduction to hardcore along with Minor Threat. This stuff was really fierce, as can be expected with hardcore, but still musically interesting. It is certainly not as predictable as many of the hardcore bands became as time went on. The song Jealous Again for instance has guitar solos and a catchy chorus. The guitar solos in a lot of these songs are just mind-blowing. Somehow Greg Ginn perfected the art of playing the guitar really terribly in the best way possible.
Formed in Hermosa Beach, CA in 1976, the band has gone through many lineup changes with Greg Ginn being the only continuous member. Other members have included Keith Morris, Chuck Dukowski, Dez Cadena, Henry Rollins, Bill Stevenson, Chuck Biscuits, Kira Roessler, and Ron Reyes (there have been many incarnations). The band is especially known for their extensive touring and work ethic as well as the four bars logo (designed by Raymond Pettibon) that has become a very popular tattoo for punk fans.
Although the band has had many singers, Henry Rollins is possibly the most well-known representative of the band. He sang on the album Damaged (1981) when they were still a raw hardcore band up until the last one, which was 1985’s In My Head. The band went through many musical changes during this time period. Towards the end, there was a distinctive heavy metal influence that still carried with it the influence of punk and was able to explore its darker side a bit more thoroughly. It is this sound that Henry carried over into the Rollins Band, which was described as alternative metal.
Both the early and the later sounds are fantastic and should be heard by anyone interested in this kind of music. When it comes to the early stuff, the Nervous Breakdown EP stands out. The song Nervous Breakdown is vicious and desperate. The guitar is a fast and steady train wreck of a riff that accompanies Keith Morris’s surprisingly controlled but still severe vocals. This is a song very different from the ones on an album like My War. Speaking of that album, Scream is some sort of hardcore masterpiece. The beginning is like Black Sabbath with the lone drums, but the guitar is just like nothing else. Of course, the vocals are intense as Rollins brings out into the open everything that has been building up inside.
If nothing else does it for you, try listening to this band. I think it has helped a lot of people with various things. The music is certainly not difficult to relate to if you are already into other punk stuff. Chances are, if your favorite bands came after Black Flag, they were probably at least partly inspired by them.
This weekend I stumbled across the film 24 Hour Party People and was reminded of Joy Division, a band I discovered perhaps two years ago. It was only a year ago, however, that I truly began to appreciate them and listen to them more frequently. The song Love Will Tear Us Apart speaks to me in a way that I don’t really want to try to describe. You could say “There’s just something about that song.” The first time I heard it, it stayed in my head for days. I remember being at work and being completely absorbed by the song and not really caring about what was happening around me. Something about it makes it relatable, the lyrics concerning the inevitability of a certain progression of events based on past experiences. That feeling that something is going to happen once again, and there is nothing you can do about it. It’s also that riff, though. Imagine the excitement they must have felt when that was first played – when it still sounded awkward and uncertain and raw.
Anyway, Joy Division was Ian Curtis, Peter Hook, Stephen Morris, and Bernard Sumner. They formed in 1976 in Manchester, and if you want more context I recommend watching 24 Hour Party People. These were incredible guys. The bass lines and guitar riffs still sound fresh today, and Ian was a brilliant writer. Unfortunately, he had epilepsy and the music would frequently cause him to have seizures during concerts. After only two albums, Unknown Pleasures and Closer, Ian killed himself right before their first American tour. Of course, this makes the story of Joy Division a tragic one, but I encourage you to look up their live performances on youtube so you can see Ian’s insect-like dancing style. The other members later went on to form New Order. Two albums is an incredibly disappointing number of albums for a band this impressive. Simple, catchy riffs reflecting somber attitudes containing ridiculous amounts of power and emotion made up the majority of their songs.
The music was not necessarily sad nor was it happy. It was sort of an upbeat, (though sometimes slow) sobering and honest feel that is comforting and perhaps something else. The guys could really play and made a point to do so in a way that was different from others. Obviously, I am a fan of their stuff, and I really believe they are a band that more people should be aware of.
Formed in San Francisco in 1979, Flipper was Bruce Loose, Ted Falconi, Will Shatter, and Steve Depace. This band was a major inspiration for The Melvins and Nirvana. Ha Ha Ha is their most well-known song, but let’s look at some of the others. Get Away starts with a grimy bass that builds in tempo and is soon joined by the drums. The vocals are not exactly sung but instead recited slightly melodically, and the guitar basically just makes noise. In Your Arms is a steady, sloppy mess of a song, but it’s also beautiful. It’s a love song, or rather a failed love song involving drugs. Just like the other songs, the bass is prominent and dirty, and the guitar just goes nuts. What’s great about flipper is that they were the opposite of a lot of things. They were certainly the opposite of pop music and any kind of music that wants to please the listener. They were also very different from most punk bands. They played slowly and steadily (but still angrily and with a message, maybe). Way of the World basically just explains that sometimes the world sucks. This is a useful message because it is true. In high school, I came home and listened to these songs after being bombarded with incessant, easy-listening sounds and the predictable, stuck-in-a-rut situations that they provided a soundtrack to and just smiled and moved my head up and down as the foreboding, disgusting bass sent chills down my spine.
Brian McMahan, David Pajo, and Britt Walford made up the band Slint (Ethan Buckler played bass on the album Tweez and Todd Brashear played bass on Spiderland). They formed in Louisville, Kentucky in 1986 and created a dark, complicated mixture of spoken-word poetry and mutated rock. Ron is the first song on the album Tweez and begins with the singer stating that his headphones are broken. A jazz-like beat goes on in the background and a guitar that sounds like it should be in a metal band plays riffs that sound other-worldly. The first song on Spiderland, Breadcrumb Trail, contains a story and what is at first a light guitar that then turns into piercing, distorted notes that accompany the singer’s screams. Good Morning, Captain (last song on Spiderland) is haunting and steady as it builds up to a flood of distortion and yelling. This music stands apart from a lot of other stuff out there. It is a bit difficult to understand what it is, but the fact that it exists is strangely reassuring. This is music to get lost in and absorb. It is difficult not to be affected by it since it is proof that so much still has not been explored with music.
The Teen Idles was a band composed of Ian Mackaye, Jeff Nelson, Nathan Strejcek, and Geordie Grindle. Henry Rollins was also involved due to his close friendship with Mackaye. The sound of the Teen Idles is at first rather shocking, but with time it all makes sense. The bass gives the songs a dirty sound, which mixes nicely with the harsh vocals. There are some songs that are oddly catchy in a way that is difficult to describe. Perhaps a good comparison is the Germs (the song Lexicon Devil). It is rough, angry music, but it makes me want to move and scream at the same time in the best possible way. As a final thought, they make being angry a pleasure.
I picture a straight line when I hear the Ramones probably because of the guitar’s three chords that get lost in the distortion and dissolve into one sound. The bass seems to be more distinguishable than the guitar, and this is very much a good thing because it links with the drums nicely and creates the simple yet catchy style the Ramones are known for. It is easy to see how many people got into punk by first listening to them since their sound is not difficult to become accustomed to. Everything is presented in a very simple manner and people either like it or hate it. Joey’s vocals and the guitar are also always nicely aligned, which helps bring across the straight-ahead, simple style.
As one of the first bands to use a drum machine and synthesizer, they immediately stood out from other musical acts. Their songs range from the love-obsessed Cheree to the deeply disturbed, hypnotic Frankie Teardrop. In many cases, the music comes across more as poetry with a background noise. This does not dismiss the astonishing ambiance that the synthesizer and drum machine create though. Ending their self-titled album with the upbeat Keep Your Dreams after having gone through a wide spectrum of emotions (which are sometimes indefinable) creates an extremely surreal experience but still a happy one.
Are they really punk? Maybe. Musically innovative with a heavy focus on poetry, they created a truly original sound that influenced countless musicians. The vocals and music exist on an equal level with neither overpowering the other with greater importance. The guitar was either picked very fast or it played steady chords, the viola droned, and the drums thumped steadily. Many of the songs can be described as musical explorations mixed with vivid descriptions of certain scenes or people. The feeling of musical freedom is reinforced by the wandering guitar accompanied by the droning viola thereby creating the recognizable Velvet Underground sound.
John Stabb was the singer of Government Issue and the only consistent member. Other members included Brian Baker, J. Robbins, Peter Moffett, Mike Fellows, Steve Hansgen, and others. Their song “Hey Ronnie” starts off as a chant and then continues with carefully placed and quickly played chords. The guitar is played in a way that makes the whole sound resemble some kind of rogue marching band especially with the drums that sometimes consist only of the snare drum. “Lie, Cheat, and Steal” does not have the usual drum beat of hardcore songs. Instead it is full of fills and is played very loosely. Behind the screaming vocals and the drums that seem to be organized and disorganized at the same time, the guitar is lost and provides a simple background shimmer of noise.