Too Much Rock ... and Then Some

I'm not gonna listen to another complaint about the State of Music. I don't want to hear whining about boy bands and pop divas and one-record-company-owns-everything and I-hate-it-all tirades. The fact is, the same thing is true every year when it comes to music -- the little guys rock. Indie bands, punk bands, experimental/noise bands, hard rock bands -- that's what matters. There was enough good new rock out there in '01 to fill a third Amoeba, yet I'm supposed to whittle this list down to ten favorites, which means only two things: I'm gonna cheat and I'm gonna go way over quota. There were so many spine-tingling rock albums this year that it's impossible for me to cork my excitement after naming fewer than a dozen of them -- especially since most of these guys get somewhere between no press and a small buzz.

First off, a couple labels (and bands) that'll be worth keeping your eye on in 2002 if you like the rock, the punk, and the noise: Sub Pop (Zen Guerrilla, Vue, Love as Laughter, Nebula); In the Red (The Screws, Dan Melchior's Broke Revue); Sympathy for the Record Industry (the White Stripes); Small Stone (Men of Porn, Fireball Ministry); Lookout (the Pattern); Fall of Rome (the Sights); GSL (the Locust); Man's Ruin (R.I.P., but they put out great discs this year from the Cutthroats 9 and Drunk Horse) ... and, Jesus Christ, too many more for me to mention when I've still gotta narrow things down and not forget to mention my love for the Motley punk chick Crüe on Betty Blowtorch's Are You Man Enough? and the dark indie sounds of Now It's Overhead's eponymous debut. So here it is, in alphabetical order, my list of bands that I'll only give up listening to the day my neighbors stop blasting that same fucking Portishead CD from like 1994 (in other words, it's not gonna happen).

The Black Halos: The Violent Years (Sub Pop). This pretty boy Vancouver band sounds a lot like the next wave of the Dead Boys -- and I love the Dead Boys, so I love the Black Halos. The Halos signal their charge with high-energy slams of glam-spiked punk, and The Violent Years freight- trains one rock 'n' roll anthem into the next -- the best one being the mock-tragic, us-against-the-world mantra of "We'll show them all" on "Some Things Never Fall."

Bottles & Skulls: Never Kiss the Wasp (Cheetah's). These San Francisco punks have the ax-sharpened claws to shred rock 'n' roll threadbare. Never Kiss the Wasp attacks with brass-knuckled fists of dual guitar and trigger-happy lyrics. This album is fast, mean, and full of all kinds of rot -- from nightmarish ex-boyfriends to nihilistic rages against booze and drugs. Excellent stuff whether or not you're in the fighting mood.

The Cuts: The Cuts (Rocknroll Blitzkrieg). Garage bands that take their inspiration from the Nuggets box sets are something pretty special -- until you hear every boy and his shaggy-haired brother's covers of the Mysterians. The Cuts are definitely an exception to the uninspired masses, though. The Oakland act fits cozily in the psychedelic garage niche, but it spikes the punch with some '70s NYC art rock, and the combo is a tighter package than the one filling Lou Reed's pants. The Cuts is only available on vinyl, but well worth the extra effort.

The Dirtbombs: Ultraglide in Black (In the Red). Really two bands here: Both the Dirtbombs and Sympathy for the Music Industry's the Detroit Cobras are from Detroit; both cover obscure old soul and R&B with a rock 'n' roll edge and a couple silk-throated crooners -- Mick Collins is the Dirtbombs' energetic star, while the Cobras, on their new release Life, Love, and Leaving, stake claim on Rachael Nagy, a punk chick with a voice that heats rock into lava.

The Faint: Danse Macabre (Saddle Creek). Although the band would probably cringe to hear it, this record reminds me of high school. Back in the days of hating everything and everyone, big industrial dance beats and visceral indie rock saved my ass. There are traces of bands like Front 242 and even early Nine Inch Nails on Danse Macabre, together with a spitting disdain for sellout suburbia and a frontline of forceful guitars.

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