Archive for the ‘Punk’ Category

Smash it up: Punk rock Swedish style

June 25, 2008

The [International] Noise Conspiracy: Survival Sickness

For most people, when you say Swedish rock band, they say The Hives—unless, of course, they say, “Hunh?” Even Newsweek, who proclaimed them the the biggest rock band out of Sweden likened that to being the strongest person in your house. And while their punkish, garage-rock sound is a lot of fun, it turns out it’s also pre-packaged. The band claims that their songs are written by an honorary “sixth Hive”, Randy Fitzsimmons. Another version I’ve heard is that songwriter Fitzsimmons put together a band to perform his music.

For the real, radical deal, the band you need is The [International] Noise Conspiracy. Amazon named Survival Sickness one of the Best of 2000. Here’s what their reviewer S. Duda so eloquently said about the band: “The trailblazing American feminist Emma Goldman loved to say, ‘If I can’t dance, I want no part in your revolution.’ Emma Goldman would love the [International] Noise Conspiracy. Combining radical anarchist politics and punk-mod-soul sounds, the [International] Noise Conspiracy’s debut, Survival Sickness, reads like a manifesto but moves like a triple-bill featuring the Small Faces, Booker T and the MGs, and Fugazi.”

I’ve seen the band a couple of times, most notably at the legendarily cramped Fireside Bowl [which I used to call the scummiest place I ever paid money to get into and now miss terribly since it no longer has rock shows on a regular basis]. In that tiny, shabby space, it was pretty much impossible to be more than 50 feet from the stage as the band ripped through its set, charging around the postage stamp stage and sweating through their white shirts and suit coats [what is it with Swedish rock bands and dressing for success?]. The music and energy were transcendent.

And much of it was radically political. Between songs on that night in 2000, the lead singer began talking about politics. When the audience grew restless and obviously disinterested, he warned that Bush was going to be our next president. Those of us paying attention scoffed at the notion that the American public would be so stupid as to let that happen. And here we are, eight years later, with the revolutionary anger of songs like Smash It Up in the excellent music video below sounding more relevant, more necessary than ever.

I’m happy to say this all translates perfectly to this CD. There’s no escaping the radical messages, but they’re delivered in smart lyrics with a darkly energetic punk rock sound that is more a call to arms than a tedious, strident harangue. And unlike many punk bands, they exhibit plenty of musicianship and variety to keep the music interesting from beginning to end.

So if you like the Hives [and even if you’ve never heard of them], give this Swedish garage-rock/punk band a listen. This is the real thing.

Music to go

November 21, 2007

What music gets you going when you’re driving? Makes you tend to push the speed limit on the open road? Makes you dance in your seat at stoplights? Maybe even makes you, God forbid, sing along? Join the discussion in the comments below.


We always overpack for road trips, especially when it comes to music. And since we were flying to San Francisco before actually hitting the road, that meant cramming stacks of CDs—jazz [of course—including West Coast Jazz icon Stan Getz], classical, opera, rock, blues… And this mix CD.

I used to obsess over mix tapes for parties we’d throw, recording, erasing, rerecording until I got them just right. This CD was much more haphazard than that, thrown together last minute from our iTunes library, a spectacularly eclectic collection of music styles, tastes and sources, including music burned from our equally catholic vinyl collection.

A touch of the obsession remains, though. I bought one tune the night before we left that had to go on the disk. Had to.

So here it is, tune by tune, the first disk we popped into the rental car sound system as we left San Francisco. And it worked. When it started playing through a second time, we just let it.

1. On The Road Again, Canned Heat. This was the tune I had to buy, perhaps the ultimate road anthem by the ’60s California blues/rock band, with its harmonica-driven boogie over a drone borrowed from Eastern music for a perfect mystical touch. Not to be confused with the very different Willie Nelson hit. This YouTube video will give you a taste of their music—and of some of the dreadful psychedelic camera effects of the time.

2. Don’t Dream It’s Over, Crowded House. I don’t even remember how this ’80s tune found its way back into our consciousness this year, but its dreamy quality makes it a perfect track to follow Canned Heat.

3. Gimme Shelter, The Rolling Stones. Probably my favorite Stones song—nice and dark and dangerous, as much of the best rock & roll is.

4. Mystery Girl, Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Sexy punk from this New York band fronted by the alternately tough and girly Karen Oh.

5. Right About Now, The Mooney Suzuki. More New York music from this reliably fun garage punk band—almost as much energy as they deliver live.

6. Rehab, Amy Winehouse. Yeah, I know—I’ll bet she wishes any of her other songs had been her breakout hit. But even if her personal life is a trainwreck, there’s no denying the power of her voice. The song is also a great example of how Brits are keeping 60s-style American soul music alive, long after our own country has turned its back on it.

7. Bang The Drum All Day, Todd Rundgren. The only decent thing Rundgren ever recorded, but it is soooo good. Whenever it comes on, we always crank the volume.

8. I Only Have Eyes For You, The Flamingos. Okay, this is the one unabashedly, uncomplicatedly romantic tune on the whole disk. We love it.

9. When The Levee Breaks, Led Zeppelin. Another gift from the Brits: They gave us back blues music, yet another uniquely American art form we’d walked away from.

10. Bela Lugosi’s Dead, Bauhaus. Call them goth, glam, post-punk or whatever, this dark epic [almost 10 minutes long] would be an impressive debut for any band.

11. Breakdown, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. One critic called Petty’s debut album “tuneful jangle balanced by a tough garage swagger.” This song is what that sounds like.

12. Let’s Work Together, Canned Heat. When I was buying On The Road Again, I saw this one. I couldn’t resist.

13. Ex-Lion Tamer, Wire. I’m always a sucker for Brit punk, and these guys do it right, fast and loud. This is a track from their 1977 album Pink Flag—it blasts through 22 songs in less than 37 minutes.

14. Ecstasy, Rusted Root. More trippy hippie music, perfect for a California road trip, by way of… Pittsburgh?

15. Chains, The Cookies. Any good mix CD can always be made a little better with some ’60s girl group music.

16. Bye Bye Blackbird, Joe Cocker. Leave it to Mr. Cocker to turn a bouncy 1920s pop tune into a soulful, melancholy love song. Beautiful.

17. Sweet Dreams, Roy Buchanan. A wonderfully haunting solo guitar version of the Patsy Cline standard. We first came across it playing over the closing credits of the Scorsese film The Departed.


Okay, your turn. What are your favorite tunes to go? Music only, please. No talk radio, not even [and perhaps especially not] NPR.

Punk done good and LOUD

October 31, 2007

The Tyrades: Tyrades


Bands like the Tyrades are why I wish I went to more rock shows than I do these days. Not big stadium rock events, but loud, raw shows in small venues like Empty Bottle, Metro or the much missed Fireside Bowl. Places where how close you get to the band is determined by how much you’re willing to push through the crowd. And where, even if you dutifully wear earplugs, your ears will probably ring for a few days after.

I only saw the Tyrades a handful of times—in getting ready to write this piece, I was sorry to learn that they’ve broken up—but they blew me away every single time. Their live performances were filled with the explosive energy and hint of danger that makes punk so exciting to me. Jumping, spazzing and careening around often tiny stages, they seemed perpetually ready to crash into one another or just fly apart right there in front of you.

The video below is actually made up of still photos, but it captures a lot of that explosive energy. It was shot, edited and produced by Chicago-based punk rocker and photographer Canderson.

Energy is one thing, though. The music has to deliver too. And it does. It’s been dubbed garage rock and old-school California punk. Whatever you call it, it’s what I look for these days in rock music: fast and LOUD. Short, punchy songs that get in, get out and don’t pull any punches—the nine songs on the self-titled album clock in at under 23 minutes. Lead singer Jenny reminds me a bit of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Karen O, but with any girly tendencies stripped away. The guitar, bass and drums are tight, but not so locked down that you don’t get the sense that they could veer out of control at any moment. And that’s a good thing. The album’s songs are stylistically cohesive as a group, but not repetitive—not a given in punk music. There’s real musicianship here, also not a given.

The video below suffers from the same maladies that affect most amateur concert videos: poor sound quality [particularly in Jenny’s vocals] and a single point of view, for the most part. But it’s worth watching just for getting a sense of their live performances. Including how they dispensed with the “onetwothreefour” or drumstick hits to count off songs—the bass player would just shout “Go!”

The Tyrades may not have been “Chicago’s first and only punk band” as they were dubbed by their onetime label Big Neck Records, but they came damned close to living up to that charming bit of rock hyperbole.