Records Reviews: Part Une

ag

Aires and Graces

Hope and Fortitude ep

I’ve been aware of Aires and Graces for awhile now, but have only recently listened to their ep. I’m glad I did.

These days, it seems that most of what is out there is rather blasé. We’ve heard it all before. The first reviews I’d read on Aires and Graces did nothing to lead me to think they’d be otherwise; most contained fairly uninteresting observations associated with the genre. Descriptions tended to read that they had a “strong Blitz” influence, and while that’s seemingly a good thing, it can be rather generic. 90% of the time, the comparison turns out to be untrue anyway. For bands like Criminal Damage, who are excellent, the Blitz thing really works, but they seem to be the exception to the rule.

Thankfully, I did investigate, and was allowed to form my own judgments and am better off for it. I’m here to report that Aires and Graces really don’t sound much like Blitz, to me anyway. They have a rather esoteric sound of their own. If forced to describe it, I’d agree with whoever said this ep reminds them a bit of Those Unknown. I’d add influences from the Scottish oi! band The Strike as well. The vocals remind me of the Canadian oi! style like Subway Thugs/Alternate Action in that they are gruff, but clear. There’s a good amount of melody, which is always a bonus, and the guitar sound is nice and clear.

The lyrics are fairly non-generic as well. The one tune that conjures up the cliché is “Down the Pub”  which, while catchy enough, last only 45 seconds. The rest of the songs are all well-thought out and the delivery is excellent. My favorite songs include “Money Don’t Buy Brains” “Failed You” and “Victimless Crime.”

Aires and Graces have carved out a nice niche for themselves, and I’m looking forward to hearing what they have lined up for the future. In this day and age, it’s refreshing to hear this style of oi! Recommended!

NOTE: Artwork was done by a friend of mine, MUNA, from the Chicago area.  Look him up at JM Designs.Providing top notch service to the skinhead scene for many years now.

Look to this site for an interview with the band shortly as well.

http://www.myspace.com/airesandgraces


B-Side and Bullshit
Hatest Grits: B-Sides and Bullshit

Swingin’ Utters
Hatest Grits: B-sides and Bullshit
Fat Wreck Chords

Mark Rainey, owner of TKO Records, once said of the Swingin’ Utters“Without the Utters, the SF scene would have never developed the way it did in those years. No Utters = no Workin’ Stiffs, no Reducers, no One Man Army, no Bodies, no TKO etc. So if you want to blame somebody, blame them. I will carry my respect for those guys with me to the grave.”

Such is the admiration The Swingin’ Utters command within the scene.

A re-cap of any kind seems absurd since the Utters have been playing punk rock longer than most involved with the scene and their sound has been influential to most bands found within these pages, but if you’ve been living under a rock, their style is a mid tempo mix of Stiff Little Fingers British punk rock meets Shane MacGowan-ish vocals and general Pogues overtones. However, over the years, they’ve also thrown in elements of oi!, reggae, old-style country, Chiswick/Stiff pub rock, etc. Add guitar player Darius Koski’s lyrics, which often times read more like Elvis Costello than the 4-Skins, and you have something that’s going to stand out in the genre.

Five albums, and countless ep’s and singles, the Utters haven’t released an album since 2003, so this collection comes as a much anticipated treat – it is what the title states, a collection of B-sides, one-offs and demos. As expected of the Utters, the tunes run the gamut – you have the straight forward, esoteric punk rock of “Teen Idol Eyes,”  “To Return Now,” and “Yesterday’s Dog End” to the more varied sounds (using different instrumentation like mandolins, acoustic stuff) of “Black Mountain Rain” “I Follow,” and “Heroes of the Corner Bar” to no less than 3 Cock Sparrer covers to demo versions of classics like “Catastrophe” and “Stupid Lullabies,” it’s all unmistakeably the sound of The Swingin’ Utters.

Bottom line here: if you’re a fan, you need this collection. I can’t say there’s any filler at all, and even if you own most of the singles or the collections where these tunes originated, there’s still something of interest here for you. Having all the tunes in one place is always convenient and the packaging and liner notes are all top-notch. If you’re a fan, there’s no excuse for not owning this.

As someone once said of the Utters – “they’re the first and the best.” Pick this up.

 

smiths2

The Smiths
The Sound of The Smiths
Sire/Rhino Records

The Smiths are nothing if not divisive. Within the scene over the years, they’ve enjoyed popularity with audiences ranging from skinheads, to mods, to rockabillies, to girls-pants wearing hardcore kids, to Fred Durst and other pseudo-celebs of the world;  the latter two groups making it embarrassingly awkward to be a fan at times.  I can hear the groans now. I’m not going to whine “I liked The Smiths back in XXXX” but I am going to say I’m aged, and therefore have never worn girls pants and a Smiths shirt to a screamo hardcore show….but I digress….

I hesitate to call this release yet another cash cow in The Smiths/Morrissey catalog, but I’m of two minds about it. Point one: this release comes in two versions. One, a slender volume of 23 Smiths songs, the other version, the same 23 songs, plus a second disc of b-sides/rarities/live tracks. Point Two: If you are a long time fan of the band, there would be no reason in the world to purchase the single disc version. It’s yet another greatest hits/singles collection with really very little of interest to any solid fan, other than a couple 7″ and/or 12″ version of tunes any fan already knows and probably has anyway. Completely redundant on almost every level.

Fairing better is Disc Two. Likely all hardcore fans have nearly everything offered on here as well on some bootlegged format or the other, but it is nice to have them offered here. Kicking off with a classic (in my opinion) “Jeane” and including cuts like “Money Changes Everything” as well as running through such live highlights as “Handsome Devil,” and “London” there was enough to satisfy my curiosity and make me glad I bought it. There is a New York vocal of “This Charming Man” as well as regular cuts that usually don’t appear on Greatest Hits albums like “Cemetary Gates” (always a favorite) and “Vicar in a Tutu” and the like.

I don’t know that I’d recommend that long-time fans pick it up, save for the fact that it is nice to have nearly 50 Smiths tunes in one place; classics, b-sides and live tunes all together. And classics they are. This band isn’t revered simply because Morrissey invited a nation of whiners to worship at his alter, or the because Johnny Marr stole Roger McGuinn’s guitar sound. Nope, they really did have an obnoxious amount of CLASSIC material, as evidenced here.

Bottom line: This would be an excellent starting point for the new fan, or for those too surly to have checked them out in the past due to tasteless associations the band has attached to them, and who wondered secretly what all the fuss was about.

Remember, Morrissey loves the skins. Oh yes, Morrissey really LOVES the skins!

 

alternateaction

Alternate Action
Thin Line
Bords De Seine/Longshot Records

Alternate Action comes with an impressive pedigree. Made up of ex-members of both The Subway Thugs and The Lancasters (as well as The Glory Stompers), they expound on the sounds of the first two bands, while keeping the components that made them favorites with me: mid-tempo with clean guitar work, reminiscent of 60’s bands like The Who, early Skrewdriver, and more recent oi! bands like The Templars, gruff yet clear vocals, and a real sense of melodic catchiness.

This CD is essentially a collection of their earlier material – a split 7″ with Australia’s Marching Orders, their own Tough Times 10″ and the We’re Not Like You ep, as well as 3 unreleased tracks.

As previously stated, I was a fan of past efforts of this collective, and Alternate Action prove no different. In fact, right now, I’d rate this bunch as one of the top oi! bands in the world today, the material is that strong. I think one of their keys to success is keeping everything simple. There’s nothing fancy going on here, except excellent tune after excellent tune.

The CD wastes no time – the opener, “Dead End Street” is one of their strongest tunes. Other highlights include “Thin Line” “Tough Times” “Never Again” (which is very reminiscent of the more recent Templars material, I think) and “We’re Not Like You.” Really though, the entire CD is made up of top-tier material. They switch things up just enough to be interesting, yet never betray their root sounds.

If you dig The Subway Thugs and The Lancasters, this is a must-have. But more to the point, if you like quality oi! in general, this comes highly recommended.

Highest marks for this one.

 

marchingorders_last

Marching Orders
Last Train Home 10″
Longshot Records

Australia seems to be kicking out the quality these days. From bands like The Corps and Plan of Attack to T.H.U.G. and Marching Orders, the street scene is alive and well in the Commonwealth.

Mainstay label on the street music scene, Longshot, continue their quality releases with this 10″ from Marching Orders. 5 songs strong, and each one memorable.

From the opener “Had Enough,” which is a more revved up affair that immediately brings to mind Another Man’s Poison as well as a bit of early Exploited when they were at their best,  Marching Orders grab your attention and keep it. The title cut, and the strongest in my mind, slows things down to mid tempo, with a memorable chorus not easily forgotten, and the Antsocial/I Don’t Need Your Love line got marks for being cheeky. Clever bastards.  From here on out, the bar is set high and the tunes keep coming, their strongest point usually being the punchy, catchy choruses that each serve up.

I have always found Australian vocals to be more jarring than any of the other groups of whom English is their native tongue, but that’s what makes them unique, and Marching Orders’ vocalist Al is no exception. Unabashedly Australian, and sounding top notch.

This record is well worth a look; ten inch records are unquestionably cool, the packaging is excellent, and it helps that Marching Orders are one of Australia’s finest. Pick this up.

gj1Gentleman Jesse
Introducing Gentleman Jesse
Douchemaster Records

It’s no matter if you’re no fan of his other band, The Carbonas (and I couldn’t say if I am or not, having never heard them) nor if you think Jesse Smith is a hipster douchebag, the bottom line remains: fans of the overused descriptive “power-pop” would be doing themselves a disservice by passing over this LP for such reasons. It is simply an enjoyable time, and an album’s worth of excellent material.

Rather than shy away from his influences and drone on about trying to fuse this or that, or trying to be deftly original, Jesse Smith is blunt about this record: “Everything’s been done,” Smith says. “So when there’s a blueprint that you can work with, and the foundation is there and you’re let loose to do whatever you want within this—it’s probably the most artistically freeing thing I can think of. If you do something that takes a left turn that makes it original, then good for you. But it’s painstaking to try to be original. It’s tedious, and it’s no fun.”

Once needle hits wax, it is 100% apparent where this LP is coming from. Stiff Records all the way. By now, countless reviewers have laid down the formula – Elvis Costello (going so far as to ape the cover from This Year’s Model), Nick Lowe and Wreckless Eric, with a hint of the early Beatles and the Who. It’s really as simple as that, as are the songs. However, these songs are anything but poor approximations. They shine with the conviction of a real fan getting “it” right.

Side one opens with three burners – “Highland Crawler” “Black Hole” and “All I Need Tonight (Is You)” and the tunes keep coming from there. Familiar subject matter abounds – girls, the pursuit of good times, candybars and other such subjects; content that would be at home on an Undertones record. “You Got Me Where You Want Me” may be the highlight of the second side, but really, all the tunes are infectious highlights.

Without a hint of originality or musical progression, Gentleman Jesse has fashioned one of the better power-pop records in the last few years. Those that turn their noses up based solely on not wanting to appear “uncool” are surely missing out. This carbon copy, unoriginal record comes with highest recommendations.

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