Shape of Punk to Come: 2001-2007, American Steel - Jagged Thoughts
"…when I think of bands that have done something different and very special with punk in the last decade of music, this band, and this album, definitely crop up. American Steel are/were a band from the San Francisco East Bay area, like Green Day, and hence their signing to Lookout! Records. They always had a big punk sound, fast and sort of punk-pop (and ska) influenced, but just as much on the hardcore punk rock side of things. Two initial albums, a breakneck speed self-titled effort and the viscerally mournful yet positive, far more developed, Rogue’s March led to this 2001 record.
Jagged Thoughts is a creative masterpiece, blending artistic expression with punk fury in a way that goes back to the early Clash records. Around the time of the recording of Rogue’s March, the guitarist Ryan battled with leukemia, an experience which informed a lot of the spirit of that album and further transferred on to Jagged Thoughts. In essence, it is a beautiful piece of music, but also an utterly powerful, explosive punk record.
Since the album came out in the same year as A Flight and A Crash, as well as both bands combining a strong emotional sense and post-hardcore styles, I thought I would switch the order of the songs from those albums around between the two sides of the mix. Hence the first side features the slow, building ‘Rainy Day’, which turns instantaneously between gentle near-silence and thunderously loud guitar chords, while the second side opens right off the start with ‘Shrapnel’, the bewitching, hook-laden album opener of “jagged words are all I’ve heard, spitting shards of vitriol/jagged thoughts are all that I’ve got, shredding my soul”.
"Series in which food writer and presenter Stefan Gates immerses himself in some of the most extraordinary feasts and festivals on earth. By joining ordinary people in these strange and wonderful distillations of their culture and beliefs, he hopes to gain a revelatory insight into how the world thinks and feels.
Stefan attempts to get under the skin of the traditional Japanese reserve by joining in some amazing feasts and festivals, a journey which culminates with Stefan and 10,000 Japanese men wearing nothing but loin cloths in a drunken rampage at a sacred Shinto temple.
He starts his trip by helping a Shinto priestess carry a six-foot wooden penis around a suburb of Tokyo, as she bemoans how kids today seem to have lost their traditional Japanese reserve, before joining the Baby Sumo festival where parents compete to get their children to cry first, to give them good luck for the rest of their lives.
Finally, he embarks on the most extraordinary event of his life - the Naked Man festival. He meets up with Mr Kosaki, a man from the classic Japanese mould who has never told his wife he loves her, who has forsaken his love of music to become a salaryman, and whose work consumes his life. He is as different from Stefan as anyone could hope to be, until his friends arrive and everything changes.
They get wildly drunk, practically naked, and stuff themselves with sushi. Then those still standing head off on a terrifying, barrier-wrecking festival that finally allows the Japanese man to reveal himself as passionate, expressive and loving as anyone. It is all rooted in centuries of Shinto food-related tradition, but is really a huge primal scream from men who spend their days unable to express themselves.”
- this was a fascinating show: it basically ended up as the world’s largest mosh-pit (or Dan Deacon show) as thousands of loin-cloth wearing Japanese men try to touch the bald head of the Shin-otoku, a kind of mascot who has to force his way through the crowd to the safety of the Shinto temple while ‘guards’ throw buckets of freezing water on the participants who get too close. and the ‘Hadaka Matsuri' isn't just interesting in a “Japanese people doing crazy things” kind of way, but because their culture normally seems so strait-laced that's it's cool to see a deliberate flip-side like this.
Blondie - ‘Heart of Glass’ from Parallel Lines (1979)
WMG appear have done a good job of taking every embedded YouTube version of the video for this song offline, although there’s still some to be found on the site itself if you look hard enough.
coincidentally, I got a comment on an old blog post of My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless today which requested the removal of the “illegal download” (yet which they had already done, it’s not that difficult), thanked me and then said “do not hesitate to contact the publishing label for a legal promo copy”.
fair cop (apart from that really daft last part), and I’m sort of surprised it did stay up so long - I just had it up there in case anyone hadn’t heard it and wanted to try it out - but I discovered Loveless via an illegal download in the first place, because I wasn’t going to spend €20 on an apparently over-hyped CD with descriptions that made no sense (remember, this is with no direct knowledge of shoegaze). of course, it is amazing and probably worth the €15-20, but it’s also now 18 years old and (for nearly all of that time) massively canonical, so funnelling even more money to Shields and the label was never that high on my list of priorities compared to supporting less-exposed artists… although I did eventually buy the LP when I came across it, for the sake of it.
"I’m a YYY fan so I would have liked this video even if it didn’t feature a bad-ass horror-style werewolf with Michael Jackson moves, and the way the (prodigious amounts of) gore is handled during the video’s second half is dazzling and inspired. Nice intestines, guy!"
I’m not sure I would have thought that anybody needed a dedicated werewolves news site. at least they don’t take themselves *too* seriously.
“In this second Blitz! vid, Karen, Nick, and Brian are relegated to backing a dapper, dancing wolfman. The synthpop-loving monster dismembers them at the end, as temperamental artists are wont to do, though Karen was really asking for it with the “Dance, dance, dance ‘til you’re dead”/”Heads will roll” nonsense. Wolfmen don’t know idioms. R.I.P. YYYs. The clip was directed by Richard Ayoade of The Mighty Boosh, the UK comedy that recently began airing on Adult Swim.”—Stereogum
Fondest memory of this is a couple of years back. On loop while I do dishes, plans to hang out with new crush that evening. I love how dense, silly, and maybe-metaphorical/maybe-neurotic the verses are, then it’s offset with such a beautifully simple chorus. The reason you can never totally dismiss Dylan is that he made ostensible nonsense with a level of electricity that revealed twice what any normal sentiment could have.
“American Idiot was the sound of a once pop punk band coming to the realization that their genre was a dying style of music, and also alienated a great deal of people who didn’t like punk rock to begin with…”
pop punk didn’t die, the faces just changed, man. check out what’s going on with no idea, asian man, plan-it-x, etc. i understand why they did it, but that’s for them and the people who like that sound. i do not back it.
exactly. I’m reacting against the notion that punk-pop was a “dying style” (surely a subset of the ‘punk is dead’ attitude) and hence a justification for one of the genre’s greatest bands producing insipid ‘rock’ music, when all you need to do is go to the next level, or the level below, to find people who are continuing it in a new and creative manner.
and what’s with the “their genre… alienated a great deal of people who didn’t like punk rock to begin with”? fuck ‘em, I say - so punk-pop, the friendliest form of a musical movement built on expressing the very feelings of alienation, was alienating the fans of a wannabe U2? I probably am being a jerk now, and I don’t usually subscribe to the ‘sellout’ argument, but I feel that Green Day are now taking it to ridiculous heights.
“You can have a left-wing agenda and still push it with the kind of airhead simplicity that confers dumb righteous on the audience every bit as effectively as Bill O’Reilly confers it on his; it doesn’t mean you’re rebellious or subversive, it means you’re the kid who refuses to stand for the pledge of allegiance out of laziness and says “nuh uh, freedom of speech” when he gets called on it. Green Day’s music is about ideology as a tag cloud, not as something that filters through a piece of art and inspires insight or exploration.”—from raptoravatar's Public School Intelligentsia article on 21st Century Breakdown: Never Made It As A Working Class Hero - The Unbearable Lightness of Green Day
“American Idiot was the sound of a once pop punk band coming to the realization that their genre was a dying style of music, and also alienated a great deal of people who didn’t like punk rock to begin with. So instead of writing a pogo bouncing punk record, Armstrong, Dirnt, and Cool banded together to write an anthemic, Who influenced rock n’ roll record. And that’s exactly how it sounded. A near perfect record in my book.”—
this very positive review of 21st Century Breakdown, while semi-adequately adressing most of the potential problems of a current Green Day album, also coincidentally sums up why the band means almost nothing to me at this moment in time.
“The year was 1997. I was 13 years old. Green Day was the coolest band in the world. Two years previous, they’d just put out their album, Insomniac, with an insane-looking cover. I checked out the liner notes, and found out it was done by a collage artist named Winston Smith:
I had a great art teacher, Robyn Helsel, who assigned us a project where we had to pick a contemporary artist and write to them. Most of the class picked their artists out of a catalog. I picked Winston. I used my dad’s e-mail account and sent probably half a dozen e-mails to a gallery curator I found online, asking for Winston’s home address. The curator finally replied: “Stop bugging me, kid. Here’s his address.” I sent Winston a two-page letter using a ransom note font in Microsoft Word, telling him about me and my band, asking him about his technique, his influences…I even had the audacity to include a sketch of an idea I had for a piece he might want to attempt. (I have the letter somewhere…but unfortunately, not the sketch!) A few months went by. As I remember it, nobody in the class heard back from their artist.
Then one day a huge, stuffed manila envelope came in the mail. I ran to the kitchen table, tore it open, and dumped out its contents. There was a 14-page hand-written note from Winston and probably 50 pages of color photocopies of his work and press clippings. I couldn’t believe it. An artist—a real artist!—had written me back!
To me, it was the equivalent of Rilke writing back to the young poet. He told me about his life and his methods. He urged me to always question authority, stay away from drugs, and keep getting straight As so one day I could pay the bills. (An artist—a real artist!—was telling me it was okay to get straight As!) I’d never heard anybody talk about the kind of things he wrote about—art, America, growing up in a small-town—it was like a time-bomb that went off in my brain.”-Austin Kleon
Winston Smith (named after the protagonist of George Orwell’s 1984) did the art - and logo - for the Dead Kennedys, which is a fantastic example of punk continuity. I didn’t go off to write to anybody - probably a major character flaw - but I’ve always admired his montage art and eventually went and tracked down a copy of Act Like Nothing’s Wrong, the first volume of his work. There’s some fantastic stuff in it, a sort of pre-Internet collection of satirical juxtaposition.
Green Day - ‘Armitage Shanks’ from Insomniac (1995)
"I must insist on being a pessimist
I’m a loner in a catastrophic mind”
I’ve always felt that this album is kinda superior to Dookie; apart from being the harder sellout-tag rejection record, it’s raw-nerved and aggressive but still hooky sound was definitely formative in my appreciation of punk rock.
I can see that 21st Century Breakdown is by and large the same band, but I don’t want it to be. 21st-century Green Day has been (Warning being an honourable exception) a crude caricature of the energy and punch of the classic 1990s punk-pop albums.
2. Bouncing Souls - How I Spent My Summer Vacation
3. Rancid - Life Won’t Wait
4. Pennywise - Full Circle
5. Offspring - Ignition
The first place goes to to the album which is not only my favourite of all time but ironically also my ‘way out’ of Epitaph-dependency, onto Fugazi, various bands of Dischord Records, and post-hardcore in general. Theoretically there should also be a Bad Religion album in there, but there isn’t. I’d accept Smash (but not Ixnay) in place of Ignition, and Let’s Go would be an almost equal contender for Rancid’s place (there’s something about every second Rancid album that I really like). I’m not really that big into punk-pop, so no Descendents/NOFX.
Bouncing Souls - ‘That Song’ from How I Spent My Summer Vacation (Epitaph, 2001)
"I put the needle on the record and play that song again…
A movement with no leaders. We stand tonight hearts in our hands”
Opening track from the happiest punk album ever. Partly responsible for my eventual turn to vinyl, although I can recognise a metaphor when I see one… ya gotta love the almost-throwaway profundity at the end, too.