Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Next Level Rock n Roll

Goddammit!  Ok, let’s start again.  I don’t think I’ve done a damn thing here in nearly a year.  Laziness, procrastination, excuses, rationalization.  Contrary to what you may think, that wasn’t the original idea.  August was my last post.  Between then and now, my wife got knocked up and had a baby.  I turned 36 and now I’m on the cusp of 37.  I’m at the point where I don’t even really remember my age.  When I was a little kid, it was a badge of honor and now it just comes out as a deflated sigh.  Thiiiirrrrty-siiiixxx.  But I digress!  See what I mean about procrastination?  It’s not that I don’t have ideas or the concept of motivation.  I just don’t appear to be motivated by my ideas, oh and there was that cool thing on Netflix I had to watch.  Ok, wait, NOW let me start again.  And you, you go start your own band!

Night Birds “Born to Die in Suburbia”:  Clearly, someone forgot to tell Night Birds about the sophomore slump.  When these punkers decided to sit down a few years ago and write their first LP, what later became The Other Side of Darkness, the guy in the band who yells the words confided in me that their aim was the best punk record ever.  And he further explained, cuz if they try to write the ultimate punk screed, it was bound to be pretty fucking great regardless. What became of those efforts was a blazing 13 songs produced in such a way that they, in essence, constituted an undivided whole; despite the track numbers on my iPod.  It not only exceeded immediate expectations, it set the bar really high for the next go round. 

With that, we are here to talk about what happens when a west coast-influenced hardcore band goes into an east coast studio on a cold February morning.  That curious cocktail gives us Born to Die in Suburbia (which shall be heretofore named BTDIS); 14 rippers making what is easily the best punk record of the year.  And it may be one of the best punk records ever.  Full disclosure: bassist Joe Keller has recently described my endorsement as “James Lipton-esque.”  That astute observation notwithstanding, let’s break this down on a subatomic level…

We start with the instrumental cover “Escape From New York.”  Penned by the guy who arguably invented slasher horror, inclusion of this number as the album opener says less about a one-eyed Kurt Russell’s endeavors and more about the statement this firmly-planted New Jersey band is striving to convey with this album.  The tune is melodic, but foreboding.  It doesn’t initially sound “punk” to me and it’s certainly not primitive.  It’s not even masquerading as juvenile though; it’s really fucking good and emblematic of true talent.  During the second half of this intro, PJ Russo, the latest addition to the group, and filling Mike Hunchback’s shoes so well that his big toe might be starting to show, hits Eddie Van Halen “Eruption” velocity.  I defy you to find a more interest-piquing invitation to listen further.

In no time flat they deliver the album’s title track.  Doesn’t this love song to the suburbs confirm what we already realized with the opener?   They’re waving the Garden State flag high.  The state that gave us Glenn Danzig and John Stewart has another champion. A line of demarcation runs the down the Hudson River and this band stakes their claim on the western bank and inherits a gritty birthright. The Misfits, The Worst, AOD, Tear it Up, Night Birds.

At this point in time, I will ask that you not look up their drummer’s zip code and please do not read the credits to see where this album was recorded.  Instead, let’s get down with the third tune – “Modern Morons.”  This is the last of a 1,2…3-punch album opener.  It’s a buck, twenty-nine shaming of the current state of our shitty society.  Now this is what hardcore punk does best, it rails against the system we so often appear happily shackled to.  I never thought the lyric “Sugar Salt Fat Tits Fuck Now” would make so much goddamn sense. 

You would think they could take a break at this point and the listener could let down his or her guard.  Naw, the story gets darker, with “Domestic Dispute.” Set to rock-n-roll riffage that would make Billy Zoom proud, we’re also treated with Eric Davidson’s New Bomb Turks howl on some guest vox.  Five songs in and the outlook is even bleaker as “No Spoilers” quickly decries hard drug abuse in :39, or the precise amount of time needed to make such an obvious point.

And now we’re back to a judgment on elements of American culture - the ever-present, inescapable advertisement saturation.  Would I have drowned all those M&Ms in my teenaged stomach with Coca-Cola Classic if Channel 1 hadn’t told me how great it would be in my homeroom? We’ll never know.  Still, this undeniably catchy song makes its point whilst embracing some piano notes during the chorus.  Lest you sneer, please remember that Bad Religion used piano on their first LP and Black Sabbath didn’t shy away from synth.

Upon reaching Side A’s closer, “Nazi Gold,” I’d like to remind you that we haven’t cracked 10 minutes yet, and no song has been over two mins.  Unaided by Google, I confess to having no idea what this song is about.  What we hear is nearly four minutes of what I’ve been saying Night Birds needed from day one – a dirge.  DI had them; Adolescents had them.  It’s complex and layered, but plods along at a static rhythm.  Yet it’s doesn’t betray the intensity of the first six, it highlights them. We’ve walked a bit deeper into the cellar here and the light is fading.  It very well could be a harbinger of things to come, flip the record over and see for your self.

Side B launches with another instrumental meshed with a ripper.  The surfy melodies we’ve come to love about this band gives rise to “Pretty Poison.”  This is classic Night Birds; fast delivery, nasal guitar leads, and a memorable chorus to boot. Up next, “Villa Obscura,” a mid-tempo driver with some noodley riffing ala DKs.  Again, without the internets, I’m at a loss on the subject.  Rest-assured, the content is dark, the mood somber, the presentation severe. 

I won’t dwell long on “Maimed for the Masses.”  If you got your hands on the Fat Wreck Chords 7” of the same name, then you know how good this is.  The machine-gun paced tune still taps out at three minute plus with a rousing refrain backed by drumming somewhere between The Damned’s first single and first LP.  It is a legitimate hit.  

By the time, the needle reaches “New Cults,” darkness pervades.  Again, looking at the bleaker side of American culture is a call for mass-suicide-inspiring cults to supplant popular religion, “something with the sting you don’t get in those old institutions.”  Musically, this may be the most singular track on the LP.  I’m hard-pressed to say it doesn’t sound like Night Birds though.  Could this be what maturity looks like with credit intact?  Would a third LP reveal tunes more akin to “New Cults” than “Thrilling Murder”? 

As we near the end of the Side B, a Christmas song.  Well, an anti-Christmas song.  Lyrically not extending Fear’s missive of “Fuck Christmas” much further, it’s wrapped in a pounding dirge.  Complete with riffs that bring to mind “Richard Hung Himself” and “Police Beat,” it sets you, the faithful listener, up for the excellent album closer.  “Golden Opportunity” collects everything we love about this band: infectious riffs somewhere between melodic and insane, a sing-along chorus, and lyrics both championing the self and nauseated by its very existence. Punctuating that is a fuck-you-all mosh part that they pound into the ground.  It’s a release much like “Can’t Get Clean” on LP numero uno.  Mosh your cats off the couch or if out of the house, your fellow commuters.

That’s all folks.  If you just skipped to the bottom and ignored the above pretentious ramblings, BTDIS is: fast and dark hardcore punk broken up the occasional dirge or mid-tempo number. Snotty guitars, pissed-off vocals and catchy all-around.  Actual songs at high velocity.  You can feel thoughtful and still air-drum wildly on your knees or the steering wheel.  Evident are all the usual influences you’ve come to expect, but packing a unique, dynamic energy and pacing. It’s Next Level Rock n Roll.

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