Art Brut Play “DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshakes”

Listen to this track by Deptford punk rock inheritors and comic geeks Art Brut. It’s “DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshakes” an anthemic cut off of their self-referential 2009 LP Art Brut vs Satan, their third.

By the time the band came to record this album, they had hit their stride and were free enough financially in their personal lives to all take the time to record while in the same studio together. On previous records, they’d had to stagger the sessions to make room for their straight jobs, with each member coming to lay down parts at different times. With Art Brut vs Satan, they could play like the punk band they were; in a room at the same time bashing out the tunes. It helped that Frank Black, himself no stranger to recording his own bands live off of the floor, was steering the ship as producer.

And what of this song, a tale of a twenty-eight-year-old boy who still reads comics and drinks milkshakes? Well, the arrested development angle plays somewhat into what it means to be in a rock n’ roll group where staying forever young, or at least with a teenage mindset, is actively encouraged. Even if there is a more than a whiff of self-deprecation to be found here, I think this song has a few things to say about age and our perceptions of maturity that actually shows wisdom beyond its years. Read more

Noisettes Play “Don’t Give Up”

Noisettes_-_What's_the_Time_Mr._WolfListen to this track by Croydon London three-piece Noisettes. It’s “Don’t Give up”, a single which would eventually appear on their 2007 debut album What Time Is It, Mr. Wolf? .

The band appeared in a new paradigm of pop music when songs had a life on more than one platform simultaneously. This is a good example of that, making it a true 21st century track. The song would also appear in other media as well, most notably on television shows and movie soundtracks, and in video games. It seems to lend itself to alternate media, being a particularly propulsive song, full of frenetic energy that made it a pretty common choice for montage scenes. The one I remember it from was the aborted Bionic Woman series, in a scene wherein (a very, very grim) Jamie Sommers is in training with her new bionic limbs as this song cheers her on. Maybe too that the idea of “don’t give up” is pretty applicable across many different contexts. It fits within the drama, whatever that drama happens to be.

Another thing to which this song connects on a basic level is the idea of struggle and conflict in general, attached to the musical traditions, and their social origins, from which this band draws. Read more

The Presidents Of The United States Of America Play “Lump”

The_Presidents_of_the_United_States_of_America-The_Presidents_of_the_United_States_of_AmericaListen to this track by instrumentally unique trio from Seattle The President Of The United States Of America. It’s “Lump”, their 1995 hit song as taken from their second LP that bears their name.

The song was a number one song on Billboard’s Modern Rock chart, and later a number seven on the Album Rock chart. It would later be a feature on several musically oriented video games like Rock Band 2, Just Dance, and others. It would also gain the distinguished accolade of being spoofed by Weird Al Yankovic (his version was “Gump”, which summarized the popular Tom Hanks-led film). The song was a radio single on mainstream radio as well, standing out uniquely even in that time when unadorned guitar-pop was a completely viable direction. It was kind of weird. But, totally catchy.

That’s the thing about this song. It seems pretty lightweight all around, and maybe willfully weird and wacky. But for me, it held within it something else to offer that wasn’t so lightweight, and was actually kind of heavy for a pop song. Read more

Stiff Little Fingers Play “Barbed Wire Love”

Stiff Little Fingers LogoListen to this track by Belfast, Northern Ireland punk-pop forefathers Stiff Little Fingers. It’s “Barbed Wire Love” as taken from their celebrated 1979 Inflammable Material album, which was something of a flagship record to the emerging Rough Trade label, and almost certainly an early example of that popular genre as it exists today – punk-pop.

The band are not often spoken of when it comes to arguing about the most influential U.K punk rock outfit. But, when it comes to being snotty, political, and tuneful all at the same time, SLF make a pretty good package.

This tune is a prime example of that. It’s a love story set in a war torn environment, center of the Troubles, referring to severe religious intolerance and the violence associated with it in that part of the world. But, instead of grief and misery, which was surely a big part of what was happening around the time of Bloody Sunday, the Birmingham Six, The Prevention of Terrorism Act, and the IRA hunger strikes of a few years later, we get something of a self-deprecating send up of the classic love during wartime story.

Talk about your punk rock! But, what else is here? Read more

The Go-Go’s Perform “Vacation”

Listen to this track of a summer romance gone wrong from America’s Sweethearts, and the first ladies of 80s punk pop radio-friendliness The Go-Go’s. It’s their storming 1982 hit single “Vacation” as taken from the album of the same name, Vacation, a follow-up to their debut Beauty and the Beat, which is now celebrating its 30th (!) year. If you’re looking for a soundtrack to a bittersweet summer, then surely this is an essential addition, written by guitarists Jane Wiedlin and Charlotte Caffrey, and bassist Kathy Valentine.

The Go-Go’s were a formidable radio singles act by the time this song hit the airwaves. They were signed to Miles Copeland’s I.R.S Records, with this single in particular making its mark not only on the charts as one of the first ‘cassette singles’ on the market, but also on pop culture as a whole many years after its chart action had ended. The song appeared in Michael Moore’s Farenheit 911, on The Simpsons, and covered by American Idol’s Kelly Clarkson, among many other examples.

Yet, before they made their cultural impact, they had a rough grind getting there. The pop industry even in 1982 was a pretty rough grist mill. And the pressures of success were not easy to bear, least of all for a group of women in their early 20s. Read more

Interview With The The Barettas, Performing “Touché”

Here’s a clip of Hamiltonian punkabilly-flavoured rock/pop punk rock  trio The Barettas.  It’s the video for their single ‘Touché”.  You can currently download the single for FREE on their bandcamp page, good people. The single, with an equally excellent B-side in “Black Sheep” was released last month.

The band is made up of three women – Katie Bulley (guitar, vocals), Kate Kimberley (bass, vocals), and Carly Kilotta (drums) –  who’s average age is currently 22, yet sound as though they’ve been at this game for twice that time at least. Since their formation in 2009, the trio has rubbed elbows in support slots for acts as critically acclaimed as the Diodes (!), The Fleshtones (!!), The New York Dolls (!!!) and A Flock of Seagulls (!!?) among others.

Among the references you’ll find about this band in the press are comparisons between their hometown of Hamilton, Ontario, and the soul music, blues, and garage rock mecca of Detroit Michigan.  Sure, both are industrial, blue collar towns. Both are criminally left behind in comparison to other cities when it comes to accolades of cultural importance where pop music is concerned (although, KISS never wrote about Hamilton – or they haven’t yet).  But, do the comparisons end there?

Well, I decided to ask Katie that question, among others including questions about dayjobs, about what a support band can learn from a headliner, and about what it is to be a woman in a 21st Century rock ‘n’ roll band.

Read more

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists Perform ‘St. John the Divine’

ted_leo_and_the_pharmacists_-_the_tyranny_of_distance_coverListen to this track by guitar art pop boffin Ted Leo with his rotating line-up from Washington D.C,  Ted Leo and the Pharmacists.  It’s their echoey and feral “St. John the Divine” as taken from their 2001 record The Tyranny of Distance, a tune streaked with post-punk, power pop, and noise pop.

The Pharmacists are a vehicle for Ted Leo’s interest in punk rock, guitar pop, reggae, dub, and experimental textures.  What stands out for me on this track is the barrage of imagery, all about contrast of dark and light, and about detail as spoken in a voice that practically doesn’t take a breath.  This song spills out, culminating in a squall of noisy guitar that matches the intensity of the lyrics in equal measure.

The song may or may not evoke the image of St. John on the island of Patmos, where he was exiled for his religious convictions.  It was here that John purportedly saw the Revelation, as recorded in the appropriately titled Book of Revelation.  Certainly this song has something of an end of the world quality about it. But, it also aligns itself with the idea of John The Revelator, a key figure evoked in early gospel and blues, and in folk music in general.

This is an interesting idea, that indie music or modern experimental pop can be just another way of expressing the same primal iconography that is found in the American folk songbook.  Instead of a dusty, sepia-toned texture of a world long gone, the suffering saint is repositioned here in the clothes of the modern day, ultimately showing that human spiritual turbulence is largely the same, even if the milieu has shifted.

For more information about Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, check out TedLeo.Com


Shonen Knife Play the Carpenters’ ‘Top of the World’

if_i_were_carpenterListen to this song by Japanese office clerks turned punk-pop princesses Shonen Knife with their 1994 take on the Carpenters’ classic ‘Top of the World’.  The tune is taken from the Carpenters’ tribute album If I Were a Carpenter, on which the hits of the Carpenters are covered by acts ranging from American Music Club, to Sheryl Crow, to Sonic Youth.

The first time I heard Shonen Knife, it was on TV, a musical segment program we have here in Canada aptly named the New Music.  Sadly, no such program has risen to take its place.  But, at its peak,  it followed some of the most notable bands active, many of which were way off of the beaten track.  And Shonen Knife are certainly that.  An all-girl punk-pop band, they formed in Osaka in the early 80s, and their initial tour of Japan happened when the members – Michie Nakatani (vocals and bass guitar), Naoko Yamano ( guitar), and Atsuko Yamano (drums) – took their vacation time from their day jobs and used the time to go on the road.

Generally speaking, the band’s material centres around a sound that draws heavily from the Ramones, and because of that from Phil Spectre girl-groups too.  But, lyrically the group is akin more to the Shaggs, singing about subjects that most rock songwriters don’t even consider.  They write about food a lot, for instance, and not as a euphemism for something else, mind.  Just food.

But one thing they put an emphasis on is melody, and with a huge pop sensibilty.  Maybe that’s why their take on punk rock is so attractive.  It’s not about what they’re saying or how they’re saying it.  It’s about the fact that they just are, and have infused their songs with pure, unadulterated fun.

Perhaps this ran contrary to many of their North American contemporaries by the early 90s when they began to make an impact here.  A lot of rock bands at the time were writing about weighty themes, and without all of the melodic sunshine that Shonen Knife brought.  But, it didn’t stop Sonic Youth,  Redd Cross, L7, and a number of other bands from loving them.  Kurt Cobain was an enormous Shonen Knife fan, and the band opened for Nirvana on a number of dates during both the Nevermind, and In Utero tours.

One thing I love in great pop music is something of the unexpected.  And another thing of course is a song that puts  across a sense of fun in writing and playing music because its a fun thing to do.  This cover tune of the Carpenters’ countrified hit, played in a pop-punk style and in their own accents takes in both.  It’s irresistible, good people!

Although the band has changed personnel since 1999, they remain to be active, having just released their Super Group album in Japan at the end of 2008.

For more information and more music, check out


Kenickie Perform “In Your Car”

attheclubHere’s a clip of punk-pop North-Eastern lasses (and a guy drummer) Kenickie with their 1997 British radio hit “In Your Car” as taken from their debut album At the Club. The band was named after John Travolta’s best friend in the movie Grease, which is kind of a teenage girl thing to do, maybe.

There are just some songs that make you smile, and one’s that are designed to make you laugh too.  With this tale of misunderstood intentions about what a ride home means from one person to another, this one is chock full of comedy.  It’s a  very British track that way, the Brits reveling in innuendo to a greater degree than we North Americans.  But the thing that grabbed me most about this song is the “yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah yeah” chorus.  I’m a sucker for that.

I first heard this tune while sitting on my couch in a rented flat in Poplar,  in the East End of London, England.  I went there to work, and while there I got hooked on British music TV shows like Top of the Pops.  And this one was an instant classic for me when I saw Kenickie perform it one night on TotP, just because it was so much fun, with so little artifice.  And I love the sight of women playing electric guitars, who am I kidding?

Yet, it’s soaked in irony too, with the narrator who tells the tale of chatting up a guy for a lift home, complementing his car in such a way that it seems like she’s talking about something else entirely.  Yet, by the end of the song, it turns out that she was talking about the car all along.

The band themselves had a few more hits, a second album, and a John Peel session. But, just as sugar rushes tend to be short-lived, so were Kenickie.  Yet, Lauren Laverne made an impression as a gifted vocalist outside of the punk-pop idiom, singing solo and guesting on dance outfit  Mint Royale’s 2001 single “Don’t Falter” single, which was also a big radio hit.  Later, she would carve out a TV career as a presenter, framing her bubbly personality in a new medium.


The Rezillos Perform “Top of the Pops”

Here’s a clip of Scottish  punk-poppers the Rezillos with their 1978 single “Top of the Pops” performed here, as it happens, on the Top of the Pops TV show for that extra level of irony.  The song is included on the band’s self-deprecatingly titled  1978  LP Can’t Stand the Rezillos . It would remain to be their sole release, and this their biggest hit.

'Do ah luke uptee deet?' The Rezillos were a going concern until the early 80s when they changed their name to the Revillos in order to get out of their record contract. Their career trajectory was somewhat uncertain through the decade, and split up in 1985. They reformed as a touring unit in the 90s and are active today with a new lineup.

Punk rock is often associated with iconoclastic images, aggressive stage antics,  and abrasive sonic textures that basically approaches the business of rock ‘n’ roll as something of a blunt instrument.  Many punk bands justify that perception, of course.   Another important aspect of punk is that it involved the audience, not unlike the 60s folk boom did.  It reminded the audience that punk could be made by anyone who really wanted to make it, even if you didn’t play, or perhaps more importantly look, like a standard rock star.  Among many attributes, the Rezillos embodied this ideal.

In many ways, it’s entirely appropriate that this is their signature tune.  This is one of the songs about fame which has a fun, yet biting, edge to it.   Punk-pop is an oft-derided form these days, being as it is something of a worn out form thanks to Blink 182, Good Charlotte, and their ilk. This might be because the biting, satirical side to the music isn’t evident in modern punk-pop.  It’s costumes without cleverness.

Once upon a time, punk bands  were all about conveying the essence of a pop song without the frills, instead of trying to establish credentials as being ‘punk’.  In this, being a punk band makes for something of a catch-22 these days.   Perhaps more than any other form, punk is  defined by what it isn’t, rather than what it is, and the ins and outs of this are regularly debated among music fans.  Yet, with the first wave of British punk rock in the late 70s, these distinctions weren’t really that important.

I love this tune, sung in their own Edinburgh accents (another punk aesthetic: sing in your own voice), and  there is a certain self-awareness to be found in this song beyond its seemingly banal  lyrics.  What this band did on this tune was to put some art school cleverness in and disguise it as knock-off fun about the thrill of being on national TV.

Ultimately, what’s revealed is the basic absurdity of being in a band in the first place, making your name in the world by appealing to a faceless TV audience.  But, there’s not to be attention placed on this as the song is playing.  If you really get it, you’re too busy having fun to notice the irony.

For more music and information, check out the Rezillos MySpace page.