Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Cloud Nothings - Life Without Sound LP - Green Vinyl


Carpark (2017)

I have been eagerly anticipating this new Cloud Nothings record for quite some time.  Their last, 2015's Here and Nowhere Else, completely took me by surprise and ended up my most played album of that year by a pretty significant margin.  It was without hesitation that I preordered Life Without Sound the day it came out.  Though I apparently hesitated long enough to have missed the green vinyl version for sale on its own.  I ended up having to buy a bundle with a T-shirt.  Unfortunately, the T-shirt was white. I hate white band shirts.  Then to add insult to injury, the label restocked the colored vinyl version on its own the next day.  At least the album is great.

Life Without Sound is definitely a change for Cloud Nothings.  As a whole it's a little bit mellower, lacking some of the really passionate shouting moments of Here and Nowhere Else.  But the songwriting and hooks are every bit as strong.  As soon as you hit the second track, "Things Are Right With You" you're drawn in to the vocal melody and the always building guitar riffs.  It's one of the best songs on the album and can hold its own against anything Cloud Nothings have released.

The entirety of the album is just packed with great songs.  There are moments that remind me a bit of Idlewild, but we're talking about a thousand times better than the very best Idlewild song that was ever written.  Still as a touchstone for a comparison, you could do worst.  The thing I'll say most about this album is that for me it was a grower.  It didn't blast me out of my chair like Here and Nowhere Else. Life Without Sound gradually took hold of me with each listen and once it clicked, I was all in.

Cloud Nothings - Life Without Sound:

Monday, February 27, 2017

Record Store Visit: Disk Union Shimokitazawa - Tokyo, Japan - 12/29/16


As the light started to fade, we hit up the last Disk Union we were to visit on out trip to Tokyo.  This one was located in Shimokitazawa.  It was an interesting neighborhood, though we were told that a lot of the construction going on for the upcoming Tokyo olympics was threatening to change the area a bit.  Still, it was a really cool part of town to walk around in for a while.

This Disk Union was another that had a broad range of musical genres represented.  It was only one
story, but it had a larger footprint than some of the other stores we had went to.  As with most stores in Tokyo, a substantial portion of the store was dedicated to CDs, but there was some solid vinyl representation as well.  They had lots of 7"s (Including stocking of a pretty killer record by this band called Custody), once again broken up by genre for easy digging.

They also had an interesting selection of LPs.  In particular, I was drawn to a section that was 90's rock and alternative.  It was interesting parsing through old Beck 12"s and seeing records by bands like Stone Temple Pilots and Soundgarden.  Not because I had any interest in buying them, but it was just kind of funny to see those sort of records displayed so prominently.

I don't really remember what specific records I bought here, but I did buy a few.  I bought at least one record in every single record shop we went to (Except from the heavy metal store we went in by mistake).  Our Tokyo record store quest was starting to wrap up, but we had one more store to hit and I'll write about that one next week.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Not Wonk - DisOrdinary 7"


KiliKiliVilla (2016)

Not Wonk is yet another band that I hadn't even heard of prior to my trip to Japan, but boy am I glad I know them now.  Even though they share a word with the band Wonk Unit, Not Wonk is a completely different type of sound.  I'm immediately drawn back to the early 90's in the UK, as Not Wonk remind me of the very best parts of bands like Senseless Things. If you wanted to pop by Canada to name drop The Doughboys as well, I think you could make that argument although Not Wonk certainly favors the sort of atmospheric guitar wail that Senseless things were more know for.

The opening song on this 7" is "This Ordinary."  It just rips along with swirling guitar and pounding drums.  The vocals soar above it all and it really is such a thick slice of 1991 that I almost can't believe it was released in 2016.  Things slow down on "Don't Get Me Wrong."  I don't like it quite as much as "This Ordinary," but it's still a nice song with good melodies and backing harmonies.  

Rounding out this 7" is "DisOrdinary."  It's an alternate version of "This Ordinary" that decreases the tempo and adds even more effects to the guitars.  I don't like it as much as the first version, but it's an interesting alternate take.  I also picked up an LP by Not Wonk while in Japan that I like even better than this 7" and I'll be writing more about that in the coming weeks.

Not Wonk - "This Ordinary":

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Links - Einmal Ist Keinmal CD


Blue Blue Blue (2003)

This CD is another one of those finds in Japan that I didn't even know I was looking for.  I've had a Links split 7" with a band called Ben Grim for a very long time.  I didn't even know they put out a full length, yet here it is in all of its glory.  This came out back in 2003, so I can't believe it took me so long to find it.

The links are playing super melodic pop punk.  There are lots of octave accents in the songs, chugging palm mutes and dynamic drumming in the breakdowns.  It sounds like the sort of bands you would have heard in the late 90's.  Kind of a bridge between the bouncy pop punk of Sicko or Zoinks and the sort of thing the Get Up Kids were doing on their first EP.  Though it's way catchier and upbeat than any of those Get Up Kids songs.

Unfortunately I can't find anything from this album online to link to.  I did find the version of the song "Not Perfect" that came out on the Ben Grim split, but it is a slightly different version than the one that appears on this album.  Still, even without the ability to listen to anything now, I absolutely recommend picking this up if you ever happen to come across it.  It's one of my favorite things I picked up in Japan.

The Links - "Not Perfect" (Split 7" Version):

Monday, February 20, 2017

Record Store Visit: Disk Union Shibuya - Tokyo, Japan - 12/29/16

Another day, another Disk Union.  Let me tell you how utterly incredible this Japanese record store chain is.  We went to so many of them while in Japan and they each had a feeling all their own.  I would be spending my life in these stores if I lived in Japan.  Maybe it's best I don't live there. I'd end up poor, but I would have a hell of a record collection.

The Shibuya location isn't quite as big and awe inspiring as its Shinjuku neighbor, but it is still a pretty gigantic shop.  Many floors and each floor broken up into genre specific shopping.  Although here, two floors are dedicated to used records. I wish we had the time to have spent some of it digging through there a bit, but on this day our objective was the fifth floor, specializing in heavy metal and (you guessed it) punk rock.

This was a great store and I'm guessing the two floors of used records seeped into the punk shop as well.  There were no shortage of used records up there, especially in terms of 7"s.  Also, like the Shinjuku shop, the sub genres of punk rock were split up in super specific sub genres, making it easier to dive into whole chunks of the store at one time.  It's probably no surprised I was digging in the 'Melodic Pop Punk' section for quite some time.

I don't remember the specific records I picked up here, but I do remember that I probably bought more CDs at this store than some of the others.  I also remember seeing some crazy 7"s for super cheap, ones that I already had but were way more difficult for me to find ten years ago.  Simply put, it was another incredible record store in Tokyo.  In case you haven't figured it out, Tokyo has a lot of them.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Wonk Unit - Mr. Splashy LP - Green Vinyl (/100)


TNS (2016)

My first experience with Wonk Unit was from their album put out by Drunken Sailor records called Feel The Wonkness.  That one was a compilation of some songs that had been released on other albums originally, but it provided a good starting point for someone not familiar with the band.  I had been hearing of Wonk Unit for a while, but it was that album that really made me a fan.  I decided then to keep better track of them and buy more of their records.

I did a piss poor job of that task as Mr. Splashy came out last year and I didn't have any idea it was out until I stumbled across it in Red Girlfriend's distro while buying another 7" late last year.  So, I missed out on listening to this album last year and didn't include it on my top records list for 2016.  If I had my shit together, there is no way Mr. Splashy wouldn't have been ranked quite high.  The saving grace is that at least I was able to buy the green vinyl version of the album, which if the internet is to be believed was limited to one hundred copies and is the tour version of the record.  So I've got that going for me, which is nice.

It's kind of difficult to describe the madness that is Wonk Unit.  At their core they're a punk band from the UK, with obvious influence from bands like Snuff and China Drum.  However, if you go in expecting Wonk Unit to really sound like either of those bands you're in for a shock.  There are also elements of the story telling side of bands like The Weakerthans.  Some acoustics here, some string arrangements there and a little comedy throughout.  It's the combination of these sounds that gives Wonk Unit a truly unique voice.

Mr. Splashy is a great, diverse album.  It grows on you each time you listen to it, revealing new layers of mad genius.  Their back catalog is still a little intimidating to dive into, but considering how much I've liked everything I've heard thus far, I think it's time to take the plunge.

Wonk Unit - Mr. Splashy:

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Short Story - Ignore The Way There Is CD


I Hate Smoke (2011)

One of the many things that I liked about record shopping in Japan was finding albums I didn't know existed.  I knew of the band Short Story, specifically from the Tribute To Chopper compilation that came out a few years ago, but I didn't know that they had any other records out.  For whatever reason, they just weren't on my radar.  Once I was in Tokyo, I was able to buy their full length from a few years ago.

It's funny that I first heard of this band from a tribute to Chopper, because they definitely have some similar attributes.  They play fast, loud and catchy punk rock with lots of backing vocals that go "whoa" and "ohhh."  Vocally, they remind me more of the higher pitch style of bands like Navel or Skimmer.  All in all, a pretty strong combination.

Short Story is at their best when they slow down the breakneck speed of their drummer and get a little closer to mid tempo songs.  They do tend to go a little overboard with the thousand mile an hour galloping drum beat on a few songs, so when it breaks down to something a little bouncier, everything stands out more and the hooks have time to really sink in.  Minor speed criticisms aside, this is a fun record that showcases another side of the Japanese melodic punk scene that I love so much.

Short Story - "It's Too Late":

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Yellow Dogs - The Sheik Of Araby 7" - White Vinyl


Tinstar (2000)

Since I wrote about one of the two Yellow Dogs 7"s I picked up in Japan last week, I figured I'd knock out the other one today.  Just to recap, I picked up both of the Yellow Dogs 7"s because I thought the artwork looked cool.  I wasn't familiar with the band and for whatever reason, during my tear through the record store, I didn't realize that all of the songs on both 7"s were covers of older songs from the 60's. Looking at the art, I had figured this to be a fun power pop/mod something or other.

My opinion of this Yellow Dogs 7" is pretty much the same as my thoughts on their prior one.  The songs are all good and fun to listen to, but I just can't picture any reason that would make me listen to them that often.  "Sheik Of Araby" is a fun upbeat cover with really nice jangly guitar.  "Three Cool Cats" has an easy going swing to it and "Boys" has some really nice call and response backing vocals, but none of the three songs really are that engaging.  They're nice background music, but nothing special.

I haven't bought many records based solely on the artwork in quite some time.  It was fun digging around record stores in Japan and taking some chances, but the chance I took on the Yellow Dogs didn't pay off quite how I was expecting.

The Yellow Dogs - "The Sheik Of Araby":

The Yellow Dogs - "Three Cool Cats":

Monday, February 13, 2017

Record Store Visit: Warehouse / Nat Records - Tokyo, Japan - 12/29/16


After going through the Disk Union punk store in Shinjuku, it was only a short walk (after a brief stop at the giant Godzilla statue) to Warehouse & Nat records.  Now, I can't say that I completely understand how there are two record shops in one store and to be honest, I wasn't really paying a ton of attention to that when I was in there.  But essentially, Nat records specializes in noisy rock and roll and Warehouse seems to focus on used stuff.  Exactly where one store ends and the other begins isn't something that I took a picture of, I guess.

No matter which store is which, Warehouse/Nat was a great place to dig.  Lots of 7"s, lots of punk rock and a good amount of interesting older records to peruse (you should see the Ventures 7" section at this place).

I bought a lot of 7"s while shopping here.  I don't think I picked up any CDs and unfortunately I don't really remember if I bought any LPs, but I would think I grabbed at least one.  As the trip gets further and further in the rearview, I'm having a more difficult time remembering exactly what records I bought in each store.

Warehouse/Nat is definitely a shop worth hitting up if you're in Tokyo.  It doesn't have quite as much foot traffic as the Disk Union stores, but they have a lot of hidden gems here.  If you are into some serious digging, you could probably spend quite a long time pouring over their stock.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Yellow Dogs - Ooh! My Soul 7" - Pink Vinyl


Tinstar (2000)

One of the things I really tried to do while I was record shopping in Tokyo was to try to behave like I did when I went to record stores in America as a younger man.  What that means in the context of this review is that I picked up a handful of records simply because they looked cool or looked like the sort of thing I would enjoy.  I bought two 7"s based on fonts alone.  One of the bands I decided to check out on a whim was The Yellow Dogs.

The sleeve of this 7" and another one of theirs that I picked up just sort of grabbed my attention.  It looked like a fun, power-poppy mod band and that seemed like the sort of thing I'd like to check out.  What I didn't realize at the time was that all of the songs on both 7"s were covers.  The Yellow Dogs absolutely seize a kind of ramped up 60's throwback vibe, though a large portion of that is because they are playing actual songs from that era.

The best song is also the lead off track, "Ooh! My Soul."  It's a Little Richard cover that's sped up and played with a ton of energy and enthusiasm.  It's a fun, though short listen.  Next up is another rocker, "Lonesome Tears In My Eye."  I'll admit I'm not quite as familiar with the original version of this song, but once again The Yellow Dogs deliver a pretty killer version of it.  Last up is "Money (That's What I Want)."  Truthfully, I've never really liked any version of this song over the years and The Yellow Dogs can't really save it either.  The vocals drop to a weird growl and the song just kind of plods along.

This isn't really the victory I was hoping for when I just started grabbing some 7"s based on artwork.  It's not bad at all and the first two songs are pretty good, all things considered.  I just can't imagine it's the sort of thing I would end up listening to very often.

The Yellow Dogs - "Ooh! My Soul":

The Yellow Dogs - "Lonesome Tears Over You":

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Middle - 尖音 CD


Impulse (2015)

I had such a good time while I was in Japan, but I also learned quite a bit as well.  Kazu from Waterslide set up a PopKid/Waterslide show at a club in Uguisudani called What's Up.  When I arrived, I found out that the club was run by Bun, who was in one of my very favorite old school Snuffy Smile bands Lovemen.  On top of that, I then found out that he was currently in a band I hadn't heard about before called Middle.  Then, as if that night could have been any better than it already was, Bun gave me a copy of the Middle CD.  

I've been listening to this album ever since I got back from Japan.  At first glance, it might not seem like the sort of thing that's right up my alley, but the more I listen to it the more I love it.  When you really examine it, it's almost a perfect record for me.  It combines the catchiness and melodies of 1990's punk rock (Lovemen would be a good example, for obvious reasons) with the screeching and powerful guitar antics of Hot Snakes or some of the shorter Drive Like Jehu songs.

According to internet translators, 尖音 means acoustic.  That title ends up being pretty amusing as throughout the CD's seven songs in twenty four minutes, the guitar assault is loud, blistering and nonstop.  However, the thing that really gets me is how the vocal melodies creep in keeping things catchy enough for a pop kid like me.  I was only able to find one song online from this album.  It's called "リセット" and is one of the less melodic songs on this CD.  But this is absolutely an album worth getting, especially if you like your guitars loud and a little chaotic.

Middle - "リセット":

Monday, February 6, 2017

Record Store Visit: Disk Union Shinjuku - Tokyo, Japan - 12/29/16


On the second full day we were in Tokyo, December 29th, Kazu from Waterslide records took my wife and I around for a whirlwind tour of record stores.  This is the day things really picked up as far as buying records went.  Our first stop of the day was the Disk Union in Shinjuku.  This is the best record store I have ever gone to in my entire life.

The store is seven stories and each story focuses on specific genres of music. World music? Head up to the fourth floor.  Looking for some J-Pop? It's down to the basement for you.  But for me, it was up to the seventh floor as that was dedicated to punk rock.  I really could not believe what I was walking into.  This store was just crammed full of records and CDs, all by bands that I love.  The genres were broken down in such specificity that became a little comical to see the sub-sub-sub genres of Psychobilly that had its own section.  But any store that had a special place to browse melodic pop punk is a store that I want to go to just about every day.

The other thing that I loved about the Shinjuku Disk Union was the sheer amount of 7"s they had.  It seemed like they were everywhere.  A section for new 7"s, a section for used 7"s, random 7"s stacked up on shelves that you didn't even notice the first time you walked by.  It was just crazy.  This is also the only store I have ever been in that has its own dedication portion of the used section dedicated to Snuffy Smile 7"s.  That was madness.  Flipping through that part of the used bin, I couldn't believe the 7"s that were just sitting around that had previously taken me decades to find.  Just as incredible as the records I did buy was the amount of records I already had that I couldn't believe I was seeing just sitting in a store.

I bought a ton of records at this Disk Union.  I can't even remember all of the ones that came from this store, but I got a lot of pretty great punk rock and I was completely shocked at how inexpensive it ended up being.  I spent less than a hundred bucks here, but walked out with a stack of 7"s over two inches thick and at least a dozen CDs and a couple of LPs.  More than anyplace I've ever been, excluding Flipside Records in Pompton Lakes NJ during the 90's, this store just felt like home.  I keep telling people that the thing I like most about Japan is the way they seem to really encourage people to find that thing they're passionate about and immerse themselves in it.  It felt like this Disk Union was built specifically with me in mind.  I just loved it there.

The crazy part is that we had such a busy day of record shopping planned, that I never even went into any of the other floors.  Sure, I can't imagine there was a hidden gem waiting for my on the progressive rock floor, but I bet there may have been some other interesting things lying around.  Just another reason to go back someday.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Flatliners - Nerves 7" - Blue Vinyl


Dine Alone (2016)

The Flatliners have been around for quite a few years, though it wasn't until somewhat recently that I began paying attention to them.  It just so happened that I got to see them open up for Rocket From The Crypt one night in Chicago and right away I became a fan.  Looking back, I still think it was something of an odd pairing, but The Flatliners were just so good live that I had to start looking into their records.

This two song 7" is one of the first handful of genuinely new releases the band has put out since converting me to a fan.  I'm still not as familiar with their back catalog as a lot of people, but from the little I know about it, this feels like a departure.  "Hang My Head" starts with the sort of impassioned growl that I'm used to from the band, but the song kind of gives way to more subdued side.  The bouncy guitars and start/stop guitar riff in the verse is a toe tapper and gives way to a really nice chorus, but it still feels different from what I'm used to.

On the B side there's "Mud."  This one is very much a lower key, mid tempo song that is missing some of the balls to the wall energy that I'm used to.  Neither song is bad, if fact I'd argue that both are actually pretty good, but they're a bit different than what I was expecting.  I'm curious to see what The Flatliners' next album holds.  Is this 7" an indication of where the band is going or is it a pit stop getting some different ideas out before getting fast and loud again?  

The Flatliners - Nerves 7":

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Husking Bee - Four Color Problem LP


Ini (2000)

Although I ended up buying the American version of Husking Bee's Put On Fresh Paint LP, I was able to find the Japanese version of their follow-up Four Color Problem.  It's especially gratifying as the artwork on the American version of this album is just awful.  This Japanese version looks so much better.  Again, I hope to add the Japanese version of Put On Fresh Paint to the collection someday (As well as their first album Grip - so if you ever see either, let me know!).

Four Color Problem is the last Husking Bee record that I really liked.  It was the first album to bring on second guitarist Kazuya Hirabayashi, but his vocal contributions are mostly limited to some background singing here and there.  By the time Husking Bee's next album came out, Kazuya was the lead vocalist on about half the songs and my interest in the band plummeted.

But at least on Four Color Problem, things are pretty good.  It kicks off with one of the best songs on the album, "#4."  It's an octave heavy rocker with impassioned vocals and a stellar chorus.  The album is filled with Husking Bee's trademark bouncy, popped up punk sound.  There's always a little more pop than punk and this band has always been one that can avoid the trappings of some of the cheesier moments of the genre.  I'll never really understand what happened to Husking Bee after this record.  They essentially became a completely different band.  But from Grip to Four Color Problem, they were pretty damn great.

Husking Bee "#4":
(Something funny, whoever uploaded this to YouTube used the American artwork, the artwork is of a promo CD from the radio Station WPSC, which was the college station I was music director when this album came out.  Someone must have stolen the stations copy at some point...)

Husking Bee - "Sketch":