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Album Review: NOFX “RIBBED – LIVE IN A DIVE”

Advertised on the Fat Wreck Chords website as “one of their top 3 live albums to date”, NOFX released their third live album last month.

A brief history: NOFX first released I Heard They Suck Live, a classic for sure, way back in 1995. In 2007, they released They’ve Actually Gotten Worse Live. This second one was unique because the band went out of their way not to repeat songs from the first live album, thereby leaving off classics “Bob”, “The ’Brews”, and “Linoleum”. But considering the band had released so much new material since 1995, this was an uncharacteristically classy move for the band. What was not classy was teasing the listener by playing the almighty Decline as an encore only to fade the recording out after just a couple minutes (pisses me off just thinking about it). The band did eventually release a live version of The Decline, though by itself and in DVD and vinyl format only.

In the early stages of this millennium, Fat Wreck Chords launched the Live In A Dive series, subsequently releasing seven volumes between 2001 and 2005 and featuring, among others, Lagwagon, Bracket, and the Subhumans. The Live In A Dive title was shed when NOFX released They’ve Actually Gotten Worse Live, though the Mad Caddies 2004 live album had also gone by a different title.

Then a bunch of years passed before the Live In A Dive series was revived with Ribbed – Live In A Dive. As the title suggests, the band plays songs only from their 1991 album, Ribbed. In fact, they play them all, and in order. The band even plays “Brain Constipation”, despite suggesting beforehand that the audience members take a break to go to the bathroom, and calling it “one of our worst songs ever”.

It has actually become commonplace for bands to perform albums in their entireties, and even releasing those concerts commercially; Less Than Jake did this for each of their first five albums. Ribbed – Live In a Dive is a first for NOFX, though.

Going back to “Brain Constipation”, this is a song that I’ve surely listened to dozens of times while listening to the Ribbed album or to NOFX on shuffle, and while it never stood out as a particularly strong song – I’m sure I didn’t even know what it was called before now – nor did it strike me as particularly awful. That’s one of the interesting things about NOFX in concert: they are so NOT rock stars. Their stage demeanor is casual and conversational and filled with self-criticism. I’ve always been fascinated when a band critiques its previous output, as NOFX often does before and after songs, whether panning “Brain Constipation”, or giving themselves passing grades on the final three songs, calling them “all pretty good”.

From their earliest days NOFX has been known for humor, though never really as a musically comedic act, like The Vandals kind of were, and maybe not intentionally, either – how seriously should we take Fat Mike as he sings about bathing on Wednesdays and Saturdays only, that they are “Shower Days”, and that he hates them? Sure, sometimes they cross the line, but in general Fat Mike, El Hefe, and Eric Melvin make me laugh.

Fat Mike also talks down “Food, Sex, and Ewe” as he laughingly reminisces of the days when he thought ska was cool because of Operation Ivy but suggests that he now thinks ska is stupid. Which is too bad because, while most of my favorite NOFX songs are of the fast and hardcore variety, one of the reasons I originally got into NOFX over twenty years ago was because they were often considered a ska-punk band. S&M Airlines has one ska song while Ribbed has two – I say “I Don’t Want You Around” counts – and they continued that practice throughout the decade. “Food, Sex, and Ewe” is not a bad song.

“I Don’t Want You Around” is a better song, though. Not to give too much away but there is a guest singer for this one due to Fat Mike’s inability to sing and play the song at the same time (the guest is Kody from Teenage Bottlerocket/The Lillingtons; ok, I gave away everything).

While the second NOFX live album avoided repeating material from the first, this third one makes no such promise, a good thing because otherwise it would be pretty short – “Moron Brothers”, “El Lay”, “Together on the Sand”, and “Nowhere” were all on I Heard They Suck Live; “Green Corn” was on They’ve Actually Gotten Worse Live; and (this only kind of counts) Ten Years of Fucking Up had live videos of the studio versions of “Shower Days” and “Gonoherpasyphilaids”. Teenage Me thought “Gonoherpasyphilaids” was hilarious. Thirty-Something Me still finds it amusing.

Speaking of things Teenage Me liked, how about the new boobs-jugs-balloons doo-wop tag at the end of “New Boobs”? They actually pull it off live! Comparing the songs “New Boobs”, about breast implants and cosmetic surgery, and “Malachi Crunch”, about racist skinheads, show the wide range of lyrical content NOFX can showcase throughout an album. Showing their range musically is showcased in “New Boobs” alone. Moments like the doo-wop tag seem to have been built for El Hefe. So perfect for him is this tag, as well as “Together On The Sand” and the doo-do-do-do-do-doo interlude in “Moron Brothers”, that it’s easy to forget that El Hefe didn’t actually join the band until after the original Ribbed was released. The transition from the acoustic pseudo-love song “Together On The Sand” into “Nowhere” is identical to that on the first live album, which was identical to the studio version. I’ve always loved the guitar lines in “Nowhere”.

Is “Cheese/Where’s My Slice” one song or two? The title suggests two but they’ve never been split into separate tracks. The sarcastic refrain “Where’s my slice? I want more than equal rights. I want everything for free” along with the line “You think I give a shit if you’re a socialist” from “Nowhere” serve as reminders that punk rock’s political views used to be more libertarian rather than the extreme left it generally promotes today (my quoting from “Nowhere”, by the way, is a perfect example of a writer taking something out of context. Feel free to look up the rest of the lyrics).

While there will always be those who violently disagree with me, I will fight to the death in defense of my claim that Ribbed was NOFX’s first good album. Brett Gurewitz produced it (note the Bad Religion-like harmonies in the middle of “Green Corn”), but he produced their first two albums as well, so it would seem the band simply got better. Ribbed is a solid-sounding record, but the quality of indie punk recordings has gone way up since 1991, so even though this is a live recording (made in 2012 though not released until 2018) the sound quality is superior to the original studio quality.

While the sound quality is better, the performance is sloppier, which is often the case for live recordings, though not always – NOFX’s performances of “You Drink, You Drive, You Spill” and “Beer Bong” on I Heard They Suck Live were both better and tighter than their respective studio versions. One excuse the guys, especially Fat Mike, allows themselves is that these songs are harder, apparently way harder than the First Ditch Effort material. Fat Mike begins the album by warning the audience that they’re “going to fuck up a fucking lot.” Before “Shower Days” he says, “everybody watch me; this is hard”. After “New Boobs”, Hefe and Melvin have a playoff to demonstrate how difficult the guitar lick is in the song they’d just played. I haven’t tried to play any of these songs, but I’ll take their word for it – these songs do sound more complicated than, say, “Six Years On Dope”.

Too much talking often prevents a live album from holding up over time; I like blink-182 but The Mark, Tom, and Travis Show is almost unlistenable now. The novelty wears off after four or five listens as the chitter-chatter turns more annoying than funny. I’ve never found that to be the case with NOFX. I Heard They Suck Live in particular still makes me laugh over two decades later. Their crude potty humor somehow comes off smarter than their peers, despite the onstage discussion that Fat Mike, at the time forty-six years-old, started doing drugs when he was thirty-two, so he’d only been doing drugs for twelve years (uhhhh…math much?). Other talking points include the differences between ska-punks and punk-punks, how to distinguish a high five versus a Sieg Heil, the pronunciation of the word “sabotage”, the consistency with which Jews have good ideas, and that the writers of Californication plagiarized a line from “Moron Brothers” for an episode.

NOFX still sounds good despite the drugs and middle-age. Seems like I haven’t heard a great live album since the demise of the original Live In A Dive series, which coincided roughly with the decline in popularity of punk rock. This one probably won’t become a classic the way I view I Heard They Suck Live, but any fan of the band is going to get a lot of enjoyment out of Live In a Dive – Ribbed.

4/5 stars

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Night Birds Stream New Song “Onward to Obscurity”

New Jersey surf punks Night Birds are streaming a track called “Onward to Obscurity” off their upcoming mini-LP Roll Credits, out September 21st via Fat Wreck Chords.

The first release from Night Birds since 2016’s Who Killed Mike Hunchback?, this nihilistic track features  “King of Punk” Jerry A. of Portland hardcore punk band Poison Idea.  

If you’re into music reminiscent of Dead Kennedys and Black Flag, you can check out the new song below.

(more…)

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Album Review: Chris Fox – “Portly Formed” EP

The cover of Chris Fox’s 6-song EP shows a penciled sketch of a guy – presumably Fox – from the neck down without a shirt on. The guy is overweight, the EP is titled Portly Formed, and the songs are all covers of Fat Wreck Chords songs. Portly…Fat…get it?

I must confess that I listen to Fat bands more than bands on other labels (for no good reason other than that’s what I’m most familiar with) and so when this EP was “recommended” to me, it took all of two seconds to decide to download it.

Good Riddance’s “Stand”, known to punk fans from Physical Fatness Fat Music Volume 3, leads off the album. This was a compilation-only song during a time when many of us listened to these compilations like it was the radio, because the real radio sucked, and music wasn’t abundantly free on the Internet like it is today. Nostalgia abounds listening to this song. Fox’s voice doesn’t have the power of Russ Rankin’s, and it doesn’t take long to realize we’re not listening to a high-budget production, but that doesn’t change the fact that “Stand” is a great song.

The Swingin’ Utters are represented here with their upbeat feel-good tune “Glad”. This is the moment of the EP when one realizes that some of these stripped down “acoustic” versions of punk songs aren’t really all that different from their original versions (after all, The Utters do use acoustic guitar more than a lot of punk bands, though not in the original version of this song). There are no drums here, and Fox’s vocals have less of an edge than Peebucks, but the tempo and the feel are nearly identical.

Fox makes use of a trumpet and trombone in “10 West”, a song first released back in 2003 by the Mad Caddies who also sport a horn section of only trumpet and trombone. Here “10 West” is recorded sans drums, of course, (although, for the record, if we define “acoustic” as unplugged and unaltered, then the drums are generally the only actual acoustic instrument in a punk band) and the guitar part isn’t strictly a ska feel like the Caddies’ version. But again, like the Utters song, this arrangement isn’t terribly different from the original recording.

Somewhat later Fat releases are represented with tracks 4 and 5, first with Dead To Me’s great tune “California Sun”, followed by the Feel Good Moment of the EP with “Pacific Standard Time” from No Use For a Name’s 2008 and final studio album. Like most of the EP, Fox doesn’t alter the mood of any given song. He begins the latter mellow, the most mellow moment of the EP, before opening it up big; fans of NUFAN’s version will feel the entire band even without it there.

The original Fat band closes out Portly Formed. From Lagwagon’s 1997 friends-themed album Fox cheats and merges two songs into one – “Smile”, which most people think is really called “I Hate My Friends”, and “To All My Friends”, featuring the final guitar solo almost identical to Double Plaidinum’s (what a shame Fox couldn’t have snuck some of “Making Friends” into this medley, as well).

Portly Formed will not go down in history as one of the great treasures of acoustic punk rock, but it is a lot of fun, especially if you’re an unabashed Fat-o-phile like me.

3.5/5 Stars

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7″ REVIEWS: NOFX – “HEPATITIS BATHTUB” and “OXY MORONIC”

I’m trying to keep emotion out of this. I saw on the Fat Wreck Chords website that NOFX was releasing a brand new 7″ called Hepatitis Bathtub featuring similar artwork to that of their book of the same name. The item description on the Fat Wreck Chords website gave no information other than the track listing, but since this was less than two months following the release of their best full-length studio album at least since 2006 I assumed that this new record consisted of First Ditch Effort rejects. Of course I’d recognized the title “Nothing But A Nightmare”, a Rudimentary Peni cover song that was performed on NOFX’s 1995 live album, but I’d thought the band must have re-recorded it, as they had laudably re-recorded “Hold It Back”, another 1980s track, a few years ago. Songs “Young Drunk and Stupid” and “Death of a Friend”, judged by their titles, seemed spot on with other First Ditch Effort song topics, as well as prominent themes in their collective autobiography.

But no, this record does not consist of new songs, or even of new recordings of old songs. Rather, these songs were recorded in 1987 “in a basement in Omaha”, before NOFX signed with Epitaph Records and long before El Hefe was a member of the band. To be fair, I did find a press release on the Fat Wreck Chords website from a few weeks prior to the release date that described the Hepatitis Bathtub EP as consisting of a “recently unearthed, crazy old NOFX recording to go along with the crazy old stories in the book.” So, while this information wasn’t, and still isn’t, in the item description on the Fat website, had I done a little more research I wouldn’t have felt as let down the first time I gave it a listen after receiving my pre-order in the mail.

For those yet to delve into the first chapter or two of NOFX’s career, be aware that Fat Mike and Company weren’t very good in the 1980s. Liberal Animation (1988), the band’s debut LP, may be hard to listen to but compared to the earlier stuff it’s pristine. The recording quality on Hepatitis is poor, but if we can look the other way for Operation Ivy, then we can forgive NOFX, too; it’s the songs that matter most. But severely lacking in NOFX’s early work are melodies. The band was stylistically more hardcore-punk back then, but on the occasion Fat Mike attempted a melody he too often paralleled the guitar riffs and bass lines, rather than having a distinct vocal melody with instrumental accompaniment. This is evident at times on each Hepatitis song, particularly “Too Mixed Up” and “Nothing But A Nightmare”, the latter of which is longer than I’d previously known it to be (I admit I’m not familiar with the original version); the band must not have thought the song was worth playing in full on I Heard They Suck Live (1995).

Now, I feel like I know kind of a lot about NOFX . Still, Maximum Rocknroll, a compilation of pre-Epitaph NOFX recordings, is one NOFX record I’ve had trouble spending much time with. In fact, I’m so unfamiliar with the compilation that upon seeing the track listing for Hepatitis Bathtub I didn’t recognize the titles “No Problems” and “Too Mixed Up” from Maximum Rocknroll. The versions are slightly different, but that would have gone unnoticed, too, had I not looked it up out of sheer curiosity. This “new” EP’s bright spot is “Young Drunk and Stupid”. It’s impossible to make out the lyrics, but the overall composition has by far the most depth, and would most benefit from a re-recording a la “Hold it Back”. All in all, this new release of old material is a disappointment.

Also released sporadically throughout the fall, and on various colored vinyl, was the Oxy Moronic 7” single, dubbed “Original Demos #3” by Fat Wreck Chords. With the album version on side A and a demo version of the same song on side B this record struck me as a cop-out money-grabbing gimmick, but I overpaid for it on eBay anyway.

And I’m glad I did! “Oxy Moronic” is one of the stronger songs on an album filled with strong songs, but to see where it came from is fascinating. The demo version bears the same title and the occasional lyric – although “Oxy Moron” is uttered repeatedly, not “Oxy Moronic” – but otherwise it sounds like a completely different song. While faster, the demo is simply not as clever melodically or lyrically as the final product, and, for what it’s worth, the production quality of a demo is never as good as the studio version, though this track still blows the Hepatitis Bathtub EP out of the water. If only someone could provide a detailed step-by-step description of how the First Ditch Effort version came to be. Maybe for their next book.

In summary: NOFX still good, Hepatitis Bathtub EP bad, Oxy Moronic 7” interesting.

 

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Album Review: Chixdiggit – “2012”

Chixdiggit, Canada’s premier pop punk band (Sum forty-wha?), and composers of classic love songs such as “I Wanna Hump You” and “Where’s Your Mom?” are back with “2012”, the longest Fat Wreck song since NOFX’s “The Decline” (I think?), which they happily put to shame clocking in at 25 minutes. An autobiography of the band’s 2012 tour, Chixdiggit up the ante with this one, covering the little details all while playing their simple brand of punk rock they’ve been known for over the last twenty years.

Through this release, a variety of topics are covered, all under the banner of silly punk rock in the same vein as the Ramones. The song/record/whatever starts off in Amsterdam, and travels to Edmonton, San Francisco, and more, finally ending in Victoria. The thing that’s so loveable about Chixdiggit is their ability to make everything about these places funny. Constant praise of abstract hot spots like Trader Joe’s, Nimrod Land, and an unnamed coffee place by Whole Foods paint a fun story for each place they went.

The humor is fairly juvenile, but that’s what’s so fun about it. For instance, at one spot of the song, a recounting of a conversation concerning Orangevale – where there’s only “hookers and hockey players” – sprints into a chorus of “What Position Does She Play?” regarding somebody’s mother. To top it off, that part ends with “We went to Walmart to buy some Stage Uniforms,” and continues on to the next section. And no autobiographical Fat Wreck tale could survive without a story of meeting Masked Intruder (“I’d only heard them on my personal computer.”).

While they primarily stick with their brand of Ramones-core, they do mess around a little bit with classic rock, cow punk, and there’s even a point where the music sounds kind of spooky (reflecting the lyrics). All in all though, Chixdiggit is still that silly, catchy pop punk band from up North, and a 25 minute song/release connected by a common theme of their 2012 tour is a great way for them to change it up while still retaining what makes them them.

Granted, a 25 minute song drags on a bit. And that’s why I’m giving this release ⅘ stars. Chixdiggit, however, did a good job at separating themselves from their previous career and put out a pretty kick ass release. If you haven’t checked it out, do it. Also, nice Rush tribute photo, boys.

4/5 Stars

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Album Review: Joey Cape – “One Week Record”

One would be hard-pressed to find another singer-songwriter as prolific as Joey Cape. Already under his belt are eight Lagwagon albums, three Bad Astronaut albums, LPs by The Playing Favorites, Scorpios, and Joey Cape’s Bad Loud, not to mention his role in a whole bunch of Me First and the Gimme Gimmes releases, as well as countless seven-inch and compilation appearances.

And here’s another. Joey Cape’s One Week Record, on his own label, One Week Records, kicks off the same way Lagwagon kicked off Hang, with the one-minute acoustic “Burden of Proof” introducing “Reign”. The two albums begin similarly enough that at the conclusion of “Burden” the listener isn’t positive which album he’s listening to until it either takes off at blistering speeds, as with Hang, or, as is the case here, continues as if performed by a guy on a street corner wearing a “Joey Cape is Bullshit” t-shirt with his guitar case opened to invite coins.

The idea of One Week Records is to produce ten songs in seven days, all within the comfort of Cape’s home. The limited schedule is designed to eliminate the temptation to overproduce and let the songs “give an honest representation of the artist’s creativity.” Membership to One Week Records is available, making it feel more like a club than a typical record label. Cape had previously recorded five songs, available as a bonus only to those with membership to the label. He has since expanded his five-song One Weekend Record to a full ten-song album. Because it is his label, his studio, and his house, one can’t help assuming Joey cheated a little and spent more than seven days recording it – evidenced by guest appearances by One Week artists Walt Hamburger, Yotam Ben Horin, Brian Wahlstrom, and Laura Mardone, all of whom have recorded albums with Cape – but when you’re the owner, you can do what you want.

Without liner notes accompanying the digital download it’s difficult to know for sure who is doing what, though sometimes it’s obvious: that’s Laura Mardone’s sweet voice lending some interest to an otherwise boring arrangement of Lagwagon’s post-hiatus favorite “E Dagger.” Brian Wahlstrom, Cape’s Scorpios bandmate and frequent guest keyboardist on punk albums, is heard tinkling the ivories on nearly every track, most prominently in “Laymens Terms”, what with his instrumental introduction and, later in the same track, some pretty nifty harmonies. Too, Joey opts to leave the guitar out entirely during the first minute-plus of “Sick” with only Wahlstrom’s keys accompanying his voice until the downbeat of the first chorus.

We may still call him “Joey”, but Joey Cape is getting old – he just turned 50, for crying out loud! Needless to say, he’s not singing about girls too often these days. Instead, his friends are dying. “Days of New” is a tribute to Bad Astronaut and original Lagwagon drummer Derrick Plourde, and “One Last Song” features a shout out to Cape’s best bud, the late great Tony Sly. Joey clearly misses them both dearly, but, rather than somber funereal ballads, both tunes are upbeat to better convey celebrations of their lives, and their impact on Cape’s own.

No new songs here, this is an album of Cape-fronted band covers: one Bad Astronaut song (opener from Twelve Small Steps, 2006) and another from Joey’s least talked about side project, the Playing Favorites (“Waiting”, from I Remember When I was Pretty, 2007). The remaining eight were all originally Lagwagon songs, including three from Lagwagon’s latest full-length, Hang. “Obsolete Absolute” is a rare example of a fast punk song being longer in duration than its slow acoustic version, and is one of the strongest tracks on each album. Cape softly plucks the strings of his acoustic guitar, outlining the opening chords, providing the impression that the guitar is in the background even as the only sound present, before his voice presents the opening melody. A piano is added halfway through the first verse, and then light gang vocals and vocal harmonies to embellish the chorus. Fan-tastic.

These One Week and One Weekend records are digital releases, though PEARS’ Zach Quinn’s One Week Record was given a limited vinyl pressing through Fat Wreck Chords, so perhaps something similar will happen with Cape’s album.

Find another example of a songwriter providing so many alternate versions to previously recorded songs; not live recordings from acoustic sets, but – between two split albums with Tony Sly, a split album with Jon Snodgrass, six songs between Cape’s first two solo albums, Bridge and Doesn’t Play Well With Others, as well as numerous standalone tracks scattered here and there – actual studio recordings. I can’t think of anyone, at least not in the punk world, the only sect of pop music I feel qualified to discuss. Any punk fan ought to appreciate what Joey Cape has brought to the genre, and most would enjoy this album. Joey Cape’s One Week Record is not as polished as the splits with Tony Sly, nor do I think is it as strong. For a Lagwagon fan, however, it’s a must-have.

4/5 Stars

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Album Review: NOFX – “First Ditch Effort”

Everyone has their own unique story of the first time they heard NOFX. For me, I heard “Dinosaurs will Die” on Purevolume.com at age 12. At first I didn’t quite get it, but it grew on me and a few months later I picked up War on Errorism at Fred Meyer of all places (this was sort of toward the middle-end of the ‘punk rock is commercially successful’ phase we witnessed in the mid-00’s [see: Vans Warped Tour]). WOE is probably in my top 10 or 15 favorite records of all time now, and over the years the band has continued to put out stand out material. So when I heard that Fat Mike (of all people) was going sober, I was curious how it would affect their music. I don’t do drugs, I don’t care about drugs, I drink way less than all of my friends – but it seemed like such a big part of their music and his personality that it couldn’t go unnoticed in the music, right?

Well, turns out that he wasn’t sober during the making of the album, but completed 85 days of sobriety around that time. Also, he’s doing the whole “moderation” thing nowadays. So with that said, a lot of the songs on the album deal with sobriety, but they also touch on other dark corners of Mike’s life. Of course musically NOFX is still NOFX. They still have their trademark mix of slop and pop and while some might worry that they’re “maturing”, don’t fear! The subject matter is more honest, but they’re still written like you would expect NOFX to write them. It’s still counter culture, still challenging, and still a punk rock album.

First Ditch Effort has some of the best songs NOFX have ever written, in my opinion. It’s notably catchy but also aggressive when it needs to be, keeping you on your toes most of the way through. “6 Years on Dope” is one of their most aggressive opening songs since “It’s My Job to Keep Punk Rock Elite.” Melvin’s yell on that song is better than ever (even better than on “The Separation of Church and Skate”, which is possibly my favorite NOFX song of all time) and is a clever ode to the drug abusing life Fat Mike (and his fellow band members) lived prior to this release. “Happy Father’s Day” begins with a sweet “Sadie”-esque riff, and quickly hits the 90’s skate punk territory that NOFX is so famous (or infamous) for. “Sid and Nancy” is a great piece in which Fat Mike theorizes about Nancy Spungen killing Sid Vicous instead of the other way around, similar to a Courtney Love-Kurt Cobain conspiracy theory. The first seven songs on the album are particularly catchy actually, whether it’s the NUFAN-ish “I Don’t Like Me Anymore” or “I’m a Transvest-lite”, which is a confessional tune about Fat Mike’s cross dressing that reminds me a lot of “Quart in Session.” I don’t have much to say about “I’m So Sorry Tony,” besides that they nailed the NUFAN-ish chord progression and the ending sound clip made me really sad.

Of course NOFX has always been known for their puns – is there a punnier band in punk rock? This usually works well for them, but they may have overdone it on “Oxy Moron”.

My three least favorite songs on the album were “Ditch Effort”, “Dead Beat Mom“, and “Generation Z”. “Ditch Effort” and “Dead Beat Mom” aren’t bad, they just didn’t really resonate with me. And as much as I really wanted  to like “Generation Z”, the spoken word ending just came off as a little overly cheesy for me.

All in all First Ditch Effort is definitely a stand out record, but what else would you expect from Mike, Smelly, Melvin, and Hefe. Well done guys, and hooray for punk rock in 2016!

4/5 Stars

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DS Writer Matmoksik On Why Rise Against’s “Last Chance Blueprint” Makes Him Cringe

Is there anything worse than a bad song on a nearly perfect album? Probably, but for the sake of our series, Seeing Red, there isn’t. In Seeing Red we ask our staff writers to talk about the songs that they hate on albums that they love.

Today we have Dying Scene writer Matmoksik, who brings up his problems with the unnecessary movie samples in Rise Against’s “Last Chance Blueprint” from their 2003 record, Revolutions Per Minute. You can read his thoughts below. (more…)

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Album Review: No Use For A Name “All The Best Songs” (reissue)

Fat Wreck Chords first released No Use For A Name’s All The Best Songs back in 2007. One more full-length album followed before the tragic passing of front man Tony Sly in 2012, and the official disbandment of No Use For A Name. In numerous “Fat Wrecked for 25 Years” interviews, label co-owner Fat Mike repeatedly referred to Tony Sly as the best songwriter in the Fat Wreck Chords family. With the re-release of All The Best Songs, now to include songs from the final album, Fat Wreck Chords continues to show their devotion to one of their most important and beloved bands in the history of the label.

I wasn’t a fan of this release in 2007 because I was sure there was more music to come. And I was right, even if only by an album. Now that the band has officially come to an end, depressing as that may be, a retrospective album of the band’s entire catalogue is appropriate. All The Best Songs is a worthy representation, if not entirely comprehensive; despite being billed as the “definitive collection” of the band’s 27-year career, missing are songs from NUFAN’s first two albums, Incognito and Don’t Miss the Train, though given the collection’s title, perhaps that is by design.

The great thing about “Best Of…” albums by bands that had little, if any, mainstream success is that it is the band and the fans that, over time, determine which songs are the best, rather than MCA, Sony, or another major record label giant pre-determining ahead of time which songs will be played on the radio. For example, “21 Guns” reached no. 22 on the charts, though it wouldn’t make my personal Green Day playlist.

No Use For A Name did have genuine radio hits – “Soulmate” (1995) received air time on MTV, and “Coming to Close” (1999) was better than most modern rock singles of the year. The hits are all here, but they’re not going to fill out a 28-song greatest hits album, so the remaining twenty-some-odd tracks are filled with songs the band and their fans have organically determined over the years to be the best.

If you are new to No Use For A Name, and don’t have the means to purchase their entire catalogue, then this is the perfect place to start. If, however, you are like me and already own everything NUFAN has put out, then buying All The Best Songs may seem unnecessary. I can make my own mix, and there are roughly a half-dozen songs I would have left off of this disc in favor of others (i.e. “Friends of the Enemy” is inexplicably not included). Furthermore, the two exclusive songs from the 2007 version – “History Defeats” and “Stunt Double” – have been taken off for the reissue. Still, I offer three reasons why this album is worth buying:

  1. If you’re stuck in the 20th century, like I am, and you have your No Use For A Name albums neatly organized and displayed on a rack in full view, how can you live with yourself knowing that the collection is incomplete?
  2. Also for the hard copy fans: the liner notes are fantastic, and somewhat different from the original release. There is a sentence or two on every song, and write-ups by long-time band members, former members, and even drummer Rory’s mom!
  3. The songs have all been remastered. Remastering differs from remixing in that remastering only improves the sound quality without actually changing the song. For example, if I was making my own No Use For A Name playlist, songs off of 2008’s The Feel Good Album of the Year are much louder next to songs off of 1995’s Leche Con Carne. That is annoying, but, among other things, remastering solves that problem.

 

I loved No Use For A Name and I still consider them one of my all-time favorite bands. I’m clinging to the hope that there is previously unreleased material lying around that can be compiled for a future B-sides and Rarities album. I don’t want this to be the end. If it is, though, All The Best Song is a fitting send-off and tribute of the legacy left by No Use For A Name.

4 /5 

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Album Review: NOFX – “Backstage Passport Soundtrack”

“We’re NOFX, screwing up since 1983.” Such is the opening lyric to the first song on NOFX’s Backstage Passport Soundtrack, a fast, in-your-face, melodic-hardcore tune, refreshingly typical of those NOFX has been pumping out for decades. It’s odd to hear NOFX say “screwing” in a song instead of “fucking,” but then you remember this is the soundtrack from a documentary series that aired on television, so NOFX was congenially doing the censor a favor by sparing him a “bleep.” Earlier in the band’s career, they refused to do the same thing with 1993’s “Please Play This Song on the Radio.” Is this a sign of their growing maturity? Probably not.

To the band’s credit, NOFX remains more active than many bands who haven’t yet reached the three-decade milestone. They’re not quite as prolific as they once were, though; after releasing five studio albums between 1991 and 1997, a new studio album has since been released once every three years – literally: 1997, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2009, and 2012. Barring some incredibly well-kept secret, that streak is coming to an end.

Still, since the turn of the century, they’ve filled the gaps in their discography with “other” releases such as b-sides/rarities albums, a live album, a “greatest hits” album, a slew of EPs, and countless 7-inch records. Following The War On Errorism (2003), NOFX started a 7-inch of the Month Club, in which members received twelve brand new NOFX 7-inch records over a year. Some of those songs went on the Wolves in Wolves Clothing full-length and the Never Trust a Hippy EP. Now, several more have been put on this Backstage Passport Soundtrack.

In the liner notes for Pump Up the Valuum, NOFX promised the inclusion of three songs on their next album. Only one of them actually ended up making it, though, while the others were part of the 7-inch club. One of the songs is “Insulted By Germans,” which makes its CD debut here, although the insults by the German were different, and better, on the vinyl version (most of the songs have been remixed).

Teenage Punching Bag will likely stick in listeners’ memories long after the album is over, with its cascading, brooding, and relentless bass line, Fat Mike’s minimalist yet disturbing lyrics, someone (Melvin?) screaming the lyrics in the background of the final verse, all of which make it unusually intense for a relatively slower punk song.

Most of the songs on Backstage Passport Soundtrack hadn’t been previously released on CD, but the CD-only crowd will recognize “Leaving Jesusland”, only this version is live. The performance and recording quality are decent, not great, but it segues into a live performance of The Greatest Country in the World, a brand new joke song that rips South Africa a new one (“You’ll probably get carjacked in South Africa…”).

Other highlights include “We’re Bros,” a short bro-mantic tune about being best friends; an acoustic version of “You Will Lost Faith,” featuring, in the closing seconds, some of Fat Mike’s all-time best screaming; “Your Hubcaps Cost More Than My Car,” a companion to Wolves in Wolves Clothing’s “The Man I Killed”; and “Fan Mail,” a cover of a Dickies song.

The album comes to a conclusion with a reprise of the first track, but before that there is Eric Melvin on lead vocals and accordion with “I, Melvin.” Songs with Melvin as the lead singer (“Cokie the Clown,” “Hardcore 84,” and “Pump Up the Valuum”) tend to get axed from their respective studio albums and instead get stuck on EPs. While this isn’t a typical studio album, one feels happy for Melvin that, this time, his voice made the cut.

Most of these songs were recorded ten years ago, while the band was still in its prime, and perhaps that is why Backstage Passport Soundtrack comes off a little better than some of the band’s other more recent releases. The album feels short, but, after double-checking, there are fifteen songs covering 33 minutes, so maybe it feels longer if you’re not already familiar with most of the songs. Personally, I’m left wanting the rest of the songs from the 7-inch of the month club. Still, a release by NOFX is better than no release at all, and this one’s pretty good.

4/5 Stars

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