The Fartz – “Injustice – 15 Working Class Songs”

The Fartz were one of the earliest Seattle punk bands and they’re often cited as important influences by those in the first wave of grunge bands that formed in the mid-1980s. They were hardcore and political, playing fast and loud with vocals that border on being impossible to decipher. They got a decent amount of west coast exposure touring with the Dead Kennedys and D.O.A., and while they got a track onto Seattle Syndrome Volume 1 their reach was still pretty limited. Blaine Cook found later success with the Accused, while drummer/guitarist Duff McKagan went on to play with a band you may have heard of that put out a few albums called Guns N’ Roses.

Injustice – 15 Working Class Songs came out in 2002 after the band reformed with Cook back behind the mic, and the guys haven’t missed a beat. They’re still playing the same super-fast, politically charged punk they were known for 20 years earlier, having simply replaced Ronald Reagan (the original American punk nemesis) with George Bush. The songs are punk rock short – only five of the 15 tracks break are longer than two minutes, with none coming in longer than 2:23. These are intense, in your face bursts of musical energy, though I have to confess that after a bit many of the songs seemed to blend together to me, especially since following the lyrics was almost impossible. My two favorites are “Out of Control” and “What Do You Stand For”, two of the longer songs and also a pair that sound more metal than punk, with one even including a brief guitar solo, which may very well explain my preference.

The Pagans – “The Pink Album Plus!”

Another acquisition from my recent trip to Minneapolis was The Pink Album Plus! by the Pagans, which I unearthed in the new arrivals bin at Cheapo Records. I’ve written about these Cleveland punks before, specifically their live album The Godlike Power of the Pagans, a great record that is unfortunately marred by an anti-gay rant at the opening of the last song. I read Mike Hudson’s autobiography of the band, Diary of a Punk: Life and Death in the Pagans, and hoped to find some kind of explanation for this one way or the other, but came away empty handed. I was particularly bummed because I enjoyed the first album of theirs I bought, Buried Alive, and was looking forward to the concert album.

Look, I don’t have to agree with the messages bands put in their songs for the most part. For the most part. But when an artist treads into racist or homophobic territory it gives me a lot of pause. Certainly I’m not listening to bands that are about those ideas, and they certainly exist; but even hearing something one time in one song, or in the case of the Pagans in some stage chatter, makes me uncomfortable. In fact, I almost didn’t buy this album because of that, but I figured I’d give it a shot because that kind of thing doesn’t seem to be a theme in the Pagan’s music as far as I can tell.

The Pink Album Plus! is some sloppy punk. The bulk of the tracks were recorded in basements and a radio broadcast from Case Western (University) Radio circa 1982-83, with the last four tracks on side B coming from studio recordings in 1978-79. The recording quality is marginal and the sound appears to be at the maximum end of the recording range, with some of it seeming fried and too loud. The vocals in particular get kind of lost behind the music. A handful of these tracks also appear on Godlike Power: “Dead End America”, “Multiple Personalities”, and “Not Now No Way”, while the last four songs on side B were never previously released.

Side A didn’t have a lot going for it in my opinion, but the flip side opens strong with a blistering version of “Cleveland Confidential (Real World)”, though even this falls apart a bit due to bad sound quality during the short guitar solo. The Pagans were simply overpowering the recording equipment. The four late 70s songs that close out the record are my favorites – the mix is low, but at least you can hear what’s going on, including the vocals. “What’s This Shit Called Love” is probably the winner here, and the cover of Alice Cooper’s “Eighteen” is also solid.

While I like the other two records I have of the Pagans, to be honest I wouldn’t bother with The Pink Album Plus! unless you can find it cheap, and then only for the last four songs. The sound quality just isn’t good enough to warrant many future plays.

“Dope-Guns-‘N-Fucking In The Streets, Volume 1-3” Compilation

Amphetamine Reptile Records is right up there with Sub Pop in terms of bad ass grunge and punk labels. And it has unassailable punk cred, having been founded by former U-Men member Tom Hazelmyer. They put out some killer comps, LPs, and singles over the years, and Dope-Guns-‘N-Fucking In The Streets, Volume 1-3 is one of the best. The compilation of the first three 7″ers in the series sports 12 different bands each contributing a track, including heavy hitters U-Men, Tad, and Mudhoney, along with some more obscure groups like Lonely Moans, Halo of Flies, and The Thrown Ups. It’s a great mix of bands that are all over the grunge and punk scene, but have just enough in common to hold the whole thing together.

I found this nugget from 1989 at Cheapo Records in Minneapolis, the home of Amphetamine Reptile, for what I thought was a very reasonable price. I was initially struck by the cover, which stylistically reminded me a lot of something by Scraping Foetus Off the Wheel (which may say more about my brain than it does about the art itself…). The combination of the label’s rep along with the presence of some great Seattle bands made the purchase an easy decision.

Side A opens with a totally bad-ass tune by the U-Men, “Bad Little Woman”, a song that alternates between muddy, slow grunge and fast punk. Helios Creed gives us the most way out there track with “The Last Laugh”, which is pretty much impossible to describe… maybe psychedelic punk? I don’t know, but I’m probably way too sober to truly appreciate it in all its glory. “Action Candy” by Surgery is a surprise grunge juggernaut with that driving, relentless, tuned down sound that I love.

Side B starts off intense and aggressive with “Insecticide Stomp” by Halo of Flies before kicking in with the killer Mudhoney track “Twenty Four”. The rest is solid as well, particularly God Bullies’ “Tell Me” and, of course, my main man Tad who can’t help but be huge and awesome. No one lays it down like Tad. No one.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m having a late 1980s flashback and seriously craving a tallboy.

Carbonas – “Carbonas”

The Carbonas play basic, no nonsense, no frills, pop-punk a la the Ramones. They’re fast, they’re poppy, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they took their name from the Ramones tune, “Carbona Not Glue”, a song dedicated to huffing and a follow up to their controversial hit “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue”. The Carbonas sound like they have just a twinge of country mixed into their punk style which, given that they’re from Atlanta, makes a little sense.

There are a surprising number of articles about and interviews of the band online. But to be honest I’m feeling pretty lazy, so while I skimmed a couple I gave up pretty quickly.

Embarrassing revelation time. I came across this in the new arrivals bin at Easy Street Records the other day and picked it up because the cover picture basically says punk rock. When I flipped it over I misread singer Greg King’s name as Greg Kihn, and I thought to myself, “Huh, I never knew Greg Kihn was in a punk band. That’s a bit of a departure from that song ‘Jeopardy’ he did in the 80s.” Um, no it’s not stupid. Because it’s not Greg Kihn. Greg Kihn is arguably one of the least punk people on the earth today. But it would be funny as hell if he fronted a punk band for kicks, kind of like Pat Boone’s heavy metal album. Wait. Who am I kidding. It would suck hard. Probably still funny, though.

So what about the music on 2007’s Carbonas? I already told you! Ramones-esque pop punk with a dash of country… but just a hint. Sort of like when you think you smelled something, then take bunch more sniffs but can’t locate the smell any more. It’s like that. Except, you know, music.


Þeyr – “As Above”

A long time ago, in a blog post far, far away (September 2012) I wrote about the album Mjötviður Mær by Icelandic new wavers Þeyr, one of the first “important” Icelandic records I ever bought. That seemed cool enough to earn it a spot as the first record I ever reviewed on this blog, for whatever that’s worth. It’s a great album, way out there and different, and its uniqueness is one of the things that attracted me to it.

Now, I knew there were two different albums with the same cover, differentiated only by their titles at the very top – Mjötviður Mær from 1981 and As Above from 1982. It was my understanding that As Above was nothing more than an English language version of the original release, but it turns out that’s only partially, sorta true. When a copy of As Above showed up on eBay recently from an American seller at a reasonable price, I figured I’d pick up this “version” to go with my original Icelandic release. But it didn’t take too much digging to figure out that these two albums are not, in fact, the same. Not quite.

As Above comes with a big poster insert as well as a lyric sheet (see photo), so should you find a copy at some point make sure those are included, otherwise you need to take a hard look at the price. As for the music, best I can tell eight of the 12 songs appear on both albums, with the versions on As Above all having been re-recorded in English with the exception of “Wolf”, which has Icelandic lyrics on the insert and appears to be the same as the original version from Mjötviður Mær, called “Úlfur” on that album. The other four songs include what I think is a new track, “Killer Boogie”, along with a few tracks that appeared on other singles/10″ers. The band’s Wikipedia page does a decent job breaking down a bit of this, though it indicates “Are You Still There” is a version of a song originally called “Tedrukkinn” on Mjötviður Mær. Which is fine. Except there is no song called “Tedrukkinn” on that album. Confused yet? Good. Because so am I.

Holly’s friend Matt actually remembers seeing an add that included this album cover back in the early 80s, either in a magazine or inserted inside a different record. I originally thought this was odd, but once I realized that As Above was an English release it made a lot more sense. Needless to say he thought it was cool when we burned a copy of Mjötviður Mær for him and he finally got to hear that album with the cover of an album by a band who’s name he didn’t know that had stuck with him for three decades. Mystery solved. For my next trick I’ll work on the disappearance of D.B. Cooper, or at least come up with a playlist of songs that D.B. would have had on his iPod if they had existed back in 1971.

As Above is a great way to approach Þeyr on vinyl given its relatively reasonable price, distribution outside of Iceland, and English lyrics (of course, for my Icelandic friends I’m sure you’ll content yourself with the original, in Icelandic, thank you very much!). The songs are great and the style is something way out there, sort of avant garde new wave, almost like like Þeyr were trying to unintentionally develop their own new genre. If you run across a copy on eBay, do yourself a favor and pick it up.