Unabomers - Stand For Something Fall For Nothing 7" (Amendment Records)
Seven tracks of hardcore-inflected punk which didn't live up to the (misspelled) band name, unfortunately--Stand For Something Fall For Nothing struck me as a bit on the monotonous side. None of the songs really stood out of the grind, as they tend to share the same beat and riffs and follow the same old pattern. The guitar could have been mixed a bit higher, too--the vocals dominate everything, and not only are they far from the most melodic element, they're still mostly incoherent despite being far louder than any of the instruments. I'd suggest the band learn from the example of their namesake: choose your targets carefully, construct your explosives (songs) with loving care, perhaps taking them apart and putting them back together several times to make sure every piece fits perfectly, then let the unsuspecting stumble across an innocuous-looking package that's going to take their head off when they open it up. This record might only give them a slight headache, or at best create a little 'bang' with a brief flash of light. -Aaron J. Poehler
The Things Men Do CD--Slimstyle Records (3400 E. Speedway, Suite 118-272, Tucson, AZ 85716)
San Francisco's Undercover S.K.A. is one of these bands that dresses up like there's an open casting call out for Reservoir Dogs II and they need a ska band for a scene--it's as though they feel being in a ska band is such an inherently dorky thing that they feel they need to compensate by dressing up like tough guys, which they're clearly not. They also cover the interior of their record with photos of a model dressed up like a hooker as if to entice listeners to look at it longer. I think this band must collectively have some sort of self-confidence problem or inferiority complex, but I suppose that's more than enough amateur psychiatry for what is ostensibly a record review--on to the music. The seven-piece band has a fluid, supple, solid beat that never wavers, with a fairly 'pure' American ska sound; i.e. it's not ska-punk or hardcore-ska or whatever. The songwriting and melodies are all somewhat familiar-sounding, but then that's hardly a surprise for ska--it's like when you're buying a blues record, you're pretty sure the E chord will be in the song somewhere. It's very professional-sounding--all the members of the band are obviously relatively skilled instrumentalists--but all the same I doubt I'll be listening to The Things Men Do much. The smarmy personality evinced in some of the lyrics (especially "Hurt Me" and (We're) "Super Nice Guys") smacks of a fraternity mentality, and I'm certainly not going to go out of my way to hear that. Altogether this record is just too slick, too easily conforming to cultural traditions that the band obviously didn't grow up with, and too eager to please the masses to appeal to me, though listeners more into modern ska music than I am might certainly want to check it out.
Underdog - The Vanishing Point CD (Go-Kart/Sound Views/Mendit)
Underdog was a fairly short-lived late-eighties NY hardcore band, led by vocalist Richie Birkenhead and bassist Russ Wheeler, the only mainstays of the band during its four-year existence--and even Birkenhead barely counts as a 'mainstay' seeing as how he quit the band in 1987 to join Youth Of Today, then rejoined after Underdog did their first tour with a different vocalist. 'Stability' is not a word that springs to mind in describing Underdog; this was simply not a band that was going to last.
Ironically, the clashes among the members of the band lie at the roots of some of the best aspects of the band: elements of reggae (not ska) sit alongside more traditional HC grind, rap beats, and sung (rarely bellowed, but still forceful) melodic vocal lines, creating an interesting blend of familiar sounds. The Vanishing Point was originally released by Caroline Records in 1989, but for reissue the original album's eleven tracks have been supplemented by eleven live tracks drawn from across the band's history, including shows at San Francisco's Gilman St., CBGBs, and Greene St. in Boston, and two demos. Better yet, the live tracks don't just duplicate the album material--in fact, only four titles appear on both the original studio album as well as amongst the live recordings. The live tapes are a little on the hissy side, but I actually prefer their raw, gutsy sound to the slightly sterile sound of the studio album tracks, and they give a lot better idea of what the band actually would have sounded like set up in a room and thrashing away. In any case, the band splintered soon after the original release of The Vanishing Point , Birkenhead going on to form Into Another, leaving this as the only document of the band. An essential for anyone into the history of NYHC. -Aaron J. Poehler
UNIFORM, THE: Black And Vain: CD
I definitely get the impression these guys think they’re a lot more original and different than they really are. I mean, sure Gang of Four was new and different in 1980, but echoing them twenty years on and tossing in some lame pre-Geffen Sonic Youth moves isn’t exactly what I’d call breaking new ground. They also have the balls to put in the lyrics of the title cut: “the sonics/they’re all gone.../but we stick it out/what do ya think of that..../stamp them out now” Whatever. If these guys had half the tunes of the Sonics that’s be one thing, but hey...the Sonics have been gone for thirty years and their records still get listened to. Even the members of The Uniform aren’t going to be listening to Black And Vain thirty years from now. Tiresome. -Aaron J. Poehler (Morphius)
"Friendly"--Bloody Daggre Records (7336 Santa Monica Blvd. #705, West Hollywood, CA 90046)
The Users were apparently childhood buddies who formed a garage band together for kicks, just like hundreds of similar garage bands have formed across the country for well over forty years now; the difference is that the Users resurrected their adolescent fantasies and reformed the band in 1995. The trio of Mike Monsalve, Alan Ewald, and Rick Johnson churn out vaguely psychedelic blues-rock that's heavy on the jamming and solos and light on hooks and catchy songwriting. They seem to be aiming for Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd but the result is more often like Crazy Horse with a lot of wah-wah pedal--they can improvise passably together as a result of playing together for so long, but the music produced by the improvisations isn't too compelling in its own right. Just last night I was listening to Can's Cannibalism 1 and marveling at the striking music produced by that band's improvisational ethic; by comparison (I know, it's unfair) the Users can only reorder the same squealy psychedelic guitar clichés that have been floating around since 1967. They even cover a song off of Dylan's John Wesley Harding ("As I Went Out One Morning") just like Hendrix! I get the feeling this might all make more sense if you were tripping on acid and watching the Users jam on the back of a flatbed truck in a Hills parking lot on the Fourth of July, or hanging out in the band's basement and sucking down beers and joints like M&Ms.