July 22, 2000, by Bill Ribas
Wonderland, The End of Bliss
Star Island, Quadrophonic
Bankhead, Carnal Garage
Candy Ass, Orgy
Strung Out, The Element of Sonic Defiance
Boiler Room, Can't Breathe
Madball, Hold It Down
Supersuckers, The Evil Powers of Rock and Roll
All, Problematic (© 2000 Epitaph)
With a sound that's a cross between the Buzzcocks and the Dictators, All come crashing in with a speed-infused disc. A healthy dose of humor helps, as can be seen and heard from the rip-roaring "She Broke My Dick," a painful ode to lovemaking. Sometimes the chord changes come so hard and fast it's confusing to listen to, as in "What Are You For," but there's something about the sonic mayhem that keeps your ear glued to the speaker. The lyrics are smart and insightful too, carrying a street-smart philosophy home. What's most interesting is that all four band members are responsible for the songs and lyrics of the 18 cuts here, with each contributing more than a few numbers. If you're looking for espresso rock here you go.
Wonderland, The End of Bliss (© 2000 Jericho Records/Sire)
The first thing that hits you is the similarity between Scott Kail's voice and that of late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury. Add to that a distinctive Who/Queen/Brit feel to the music, and you'd think you were listening to a Queen tribute band that finally got around to writing their own songs. That may or may not be true; but the songs assembled here are well written pop tunes, almost theatrical in tone, and though the Queen/Who roots are evident, the boys manage to sound fun and fresh. Production by John Porter (the Smiths, Roxy music) is spot on, ranging from big and operatic to raw and rootsy. If you're looking for another song to sing with the boys while you're tooling around in the blue Pacer (moosh, gotta moosh), grab The End of Bliss and get to work.
Star Island, Quadrophonic (© Star Island)
Now this stuff is bizarre. A blend of hardcore guitar, digital sampling and mayhem, and vocals that sound like they belong in an off-Broadway rock opera. The effect is along the lines of Ziggy Stardust meets NIN meets Jesus Christ Superstar, and though I'm not sure that relationship would ever work, it would sound like this for sure. And in the big gray area of music review and criticism, this disc makes me wonder, is it just bad or is it brilliant? I can safely say it's not toe tapping pop, and that there is a similarity to the songs, but there's also a lot of thought involved in the layering of the music, and the overall production. Guess it's up to you, reader, to grab a copy and let me know.
Bankhead, Carnal Garage (© 2000 Mr. Tasty Records)
If you're pining for the sound of the old new wave days when anyone could start a band regardless of talent or musical training, then latch on to Bankhead kiddo, and don't let go. Lead singer Marnie's vocals have that "hey, I'm looking for the right note" wavering quality of Belinda Carlisle or Jane Wiedlin, but don't let it get in the way of your enjoying these power pop tunes. The music itself is clean and clear, no overly fuzzy guitars here, and the mood is like, well, having a sunny spring day to yourself and feeling giddy about it. And in true new wave form, "Hey You," an up-tempo number, clocks in at under two minutes with a healthy chord-changing chorus. Though you may not want to pogo in the apartment, the nine tunes here will get your foot to tapping, you'll smile at the fun of it all, and thank the stars for Bankhead.
Candy Ass, Orgy (© 2000 Candy Ass)
It's a shame there are only six songs on this disc, because I wanted to hear more. Singer Galadriel, guitarist Hopey Rock, bassist Siaini Pop and drummer Eric Cock rock their collective brains out, toeing the line between hard-assed punk rock and girl-group power pop. "Bullets Bounce Off" opens it all, a heavy, raunchy number, a Runaways-meets-Blondie tune that puts a new slant on girl power. "Go Away" shows the girls have a sense of humor, with lyrics like "I'm so glad I met you, even more I hate you." "Brenda's Boyfriend" is like a sinister punk Dr. Suess poem, with metered vocals that, again, are hilarious. The other three songs are equally fun, but you'll have to get the disc yourself to find out. Nyahh, nyahh.
Crease, Vindication (© 2000 The All Blacks B.V.)
Florida-based rockers blast on the scene with Vindication, which was a five-song EP until the boys ran out of cash. Along the way, they gained popularity, airplay, and most of all, more cash, thus the 13-song disc here. The boys apparently don't know there are nine digits before ten on the amp dials, because the tunes are all cranked up, and loud. For the most part, it works. The music is, for lack of a better term, "safe rock," in that it's not too anything (nasty, bitter, violent, etc.), you know, like Bon Jovi. The guitars are loud, the vocals big and multi-tracked, and it works well on songs like "Butterfly Stitches," or "Frustration," two of the better cuts. A remake of Tommy Tutone's "Jenny 867-5309" (yeah, that'll be in your head for the next 20 minutes) should have been left in the can though.
Strung Out, The Element of Sonic Defiance (© 2000 Fat Wreck Chords)
With junior sleeping in his swing, I threw on the headphones for this California band. After the first song, I felt like I had been pummeled by Mike Tyson. There's enough energy here to light up Broadway all the way to Albany. The press pack notes the band's "ability to fuse abrasive hardcore and metal punk with emotional melodic disfunk." And that's as good as I can think of for a description. The fourth track, "Blew" reveals a catchy tune with a good hooky chorus, while "Everyday Game" is a full-bore assault, with drumming that will make other hardcore banging seem positively pedestrian in comparison. What makes Strung Out stand out better than others is their use of melody throughout the songs. It's not just all speed and angst (though that's there too). A good find.
Boiler Room, Can't Breathe (© 2000 The All Blacks B.V.)
This funky foursome from NYC takes a healthy stab at the hardcore/heavy funk scene. Rob Caggiano's guitar rips through the tunes, with all the requisite chunka-chunka-chunka sounds, while the Meselsohn brothers, James on bass and Mike on drums, provide a solid foundation for Chris Lino's vocals. There's a tempered aggression at work here, and you can feel the tension of the restraint in the songs, just waiting to break out. And when it breaks, stand back, since these boys kick it way out. And though some songs tend to sound too much alike, others, like "Patience," or "Can I Live" show a bit more maturity in the songwriting. Pick up the disc and you can bang your head till the cows come home. Really.
Madball, Hold It Down (© 2000 Epitaph)
An unlikely title, given the sound of this NYC hardcore outfit, and no excuses here. These boys put the hard in hardcore, with relentless, driving, heavy-duty tunes. The guitar is loud and raunchy, the bass and drums pounding, the vocals gruff and pained. There are songs like "Everyday Hate," which clocks in at 1:16, or "Can't Stop, Won't Stop," which comes in at just under a minute. Taken all at once it tends to blend together, and with a total playing time of around 26 minutes, it's over in a hurry. But there's no denying the energy. These guys mean it. Come on, they're New Yorkers. Fuhgeddaboutit.
Supersuckers, The Evil Powers of Rock and Roll (© 1999 Koch Records)
Man, rock and roll was never so much fun. First off, these guys sound like they're having a riot. The songs are high-energy rock, pulsing forward with two guitars, bass, and drums. Part Social Distortion, part AC/DC, part Motorhead, with all the blazing enthusiasm of the Ramones, Supersuckers charge forward, with the subtlety of a brick on a gas pedal. The fun begins with the title cut, a hard-charging rocker that's almost too much fun to listen to. "Santa Rita High" is another toe-tapping blast of fun that reminds me of early Kiss. Things slow down a bit with "Dirt Roads, Dead Ends, and Dust, a lonesome ballad. In "My Kickass Life," a line reads "let the punks be punks so I can rock and roll;" that pretty well sums up what this band is all about. If you need a jolt of real rock, run to the store and pick up this disc. NOW!
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