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Songs of a Mixtape Vol.1: Here’s Looking At Us

We here at Sound the Sirens continue on the long tradition of mixtapes and bring you Songs of a Mixtape.

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The art of making mixtapes has become as revered to music fans as the music on them. Cherished for their personal touch and their sometimes sentimental value; they have been part of music culture for as long as we can remember. From those mixtapes you’ve made for your high school crush, to those made for the road; they are an indelible part of any music lover. So we here at Sound the Sirens continue on the long tradition of mixtapes and bring you Songs of a Mixtape; select tunes from some of our favorites of today, yesterday, and tomorrow. Our first edition, named “Here’s Looking At Us,” shares songs of personal value to each writer- for reasons noted in each accompanying text.

(This article has been updated since 2004 to include links to the songs in new formats- Ed.)

[PLAY MIXTAPE]


01. Operation Ivy – “Sound System”

From the album Energy (Lookout, 1989)

This song rests on the shoulders of a talented bunch. Included in this bunch is the great Jesse Michaels. While I love every song on Energy I chose this one merely because it says what I feel. By that I do not mean that it is profound or that it is inexplicably articulate. What I mean is that it is simple, fast, and wonderful. I am an admirer of Jesse Michaels’ voice. It seems to have changed since his Operation Ivy days but admirable nonetheless. The lyrics may make this seem like a cheesy and lame choice but I don’t really care. This song is great, it makes me smile, it makes me happy, it makes me want to jump around, and it provides me with a superb visual image of being saved my good music (which is a heavenly and most difficult feat). Fast, energetic, and lovely. This is one for the ages. – Shivani Verma


02. Jimmy Eat World – “For Me This Is Heaven”

From the album Clarity (Capitol, 1999)

This album was one of my very last memories of a great friend that I haven’t seen in over four years. It was this friend who introduced me to music that was full of quintessence and substance. Introduced me to music that could make your eyes fill up with water because of how beautiful it sounded and how close you could hold the lyrics to your chest. It was this friend, who gave me the meaning of “memories and melodies”.

This is the real Jimmy Eat World that most only knew after their mainstream success. What a shame for them. This entire album is full of instrumentation that ranges from string assembly, bells, chimes, keyboards, pianos, vibraphones, and coated vocal synchronization that form the masterpiece that is. It is all best displayed in this very song. A song that whenever I listen to it, my insides cave in. This song was able to provide an ideal showcase of my friendships, relationships, and changeover during that portion of my life. Maybe the song moves me because it reminds me of that friend, maybe it reminds me of a time of innocence and incorruptibility, and maybe it reminds me of what music should be. For whatever reasons, I still feel the butterflies. – David Walter


03. Elliott Smith – “Happiness”

From the album Figure 8 (Dreamworks, 2000)

I’m a huge Elliott Smith fan and I’ve always been completely in love with all of his songs. So when it came time to pick a single song that meant something to me I had to go directly to his music catalogue. I listened to all of his albums back to back and went through a different memory with each song. I remember listening to “No Name #2” while I was in one of my lowest moods and finding comfort in his voice, declaring “St. Ides Heaven” my personally summer anthem and then following suit, crying to “Oh Well, Ok” when I found out he had died, making a mix tape for my friend and finding that most of it was songs from XO, and I’m still trying to learn how to play “Waltz #2” on the piano.

After all of this I decided to pick one song that I felt the most connected to at this current moment and that song happened to be “Happiness.” Isn’t it funny how one song can perfectly describe everything you’re feeling in the smallest amount of words? The lyrics “she made her life a lie so she might never have to know anyone” seemed to have come directly from my mind and then to follow that up with “What I used to be will pass away and then you’ll see / that all I want now is happiness for you and me” just seemed to be a blessing of the lyrical kind. This song is my life’s anthem at the moment and whenever I hear it I’m filled with this inner warmth that can only be interpreted as happiness. – Angela Rodriguez


04. Something Corporate – “Konstantine”

From the compilation Welcome to the Family (Drive Thru, 2001)

So much of music today is disposable and vapid; with no feelings and incites no emotional reaction what-so-ever. Singers don’t write their songs, and even if they do they lack vulnerability that makes a song feel intimate. When I find a song I can actually connect to it is an exciting prospect. I came across “Konstantine” a couple of years ago, and listened to it over at over again the second I got my hands on it. From the first time I heard it I was entranced. At 9:35 it is the longest song I have ever really liked. “Konstantine” is so intense that even though it is nearly ten minutes long, it seems to end far too soon.

Explained in the blandest of terms the song is a monologue on the rise and fall of a relationship. By monologue I mean that as a listener you actual feel like singer Andrew McMahon is telling you this story first-hand, and that makes it much more emotional. An extra perk to the song is that it makes reference to one of my other favorite songs Jimmy Eat World’s “For Me This is Heaven.” This is the type of song you listen to on an iPod at 1 am while you lay on your bed pondering life. Want some intense introspection? Plop this one on repeat. This song has inspired more than one piece of successful writing, because it sparks so much feeling. It’s comforting to know that genuinely emotional songs can still be found. – Ashley Lefor


05. Boy Sets Fire – “Rookie”

From the album After the Eulogy (Victory, 2000)

The past year of my life has been full of change. I’ve moved away from the world I know and ventured out into a new part of my life. I loved my first year of college. I feel free because I have been exposed to diverse people and ideas. “Rookie” by Boy Sets Fire shows my change in perception. The contempt in the verse is mirrored by my disdain for the small redneck town that I grew up in that influenced many of my opinions growing up. The song is very important to me because it is about growing up and realizing that the only important thing is to be yourself. It may be very cliché because we are all told to be ourselves from an early age, but now, for the first time, I really know what it means to be myself. – Mary C. Smith


06. Big Drill Car – “Friend Of Mine” 

From the album No Worse for the Wear (Cargo, 1994)

Unfortunately, like a host of other unlucky folks, I came into Big Drill Car long after they had faded into the members respective “next chapters.” Nonetheless, it was around 1998/99 that I came across No Worse for the Wear, it was post-graduation and time had come to leave behind something I had only begun to know … moving from one coast to the other and in the process, discovering an entirely new group of friends. The one track that elicited more repeated listens than any song I can remember was “Friend of Mine” – a near perfect exposition of friendship’s strange, complicated, yet undeniably human quality. At least this is what I’ve gotten from the song (both lyrically and musically) each time I listen to it. And I’d be damned if I didn’t get a little teary-eyed every time. So to that I say, “I’m not drowning in my beer / so let’s make that one fact nice and sparkling clear.” – Billy Ho


07. Warren Zevon – “Keep Me in Your Heart”

From the album The Wind (Artemis, 2003)

On September 7th, 2003, we lost one of our finest American songwriters, Warren Zevon. He was a consummate artist that combined an extraordinary sense of melody with finely honed, often satirical and sometimes beautiful lyrics. During the last year of his life, he chose to chronicle his impending demise with an eleven song record called The Wind. Last week, while driving to my Mother’s home in San Diego, I listened to this powerful record with my wife Kelly. I found myself intently caught up in the last song on the album, “Keep Me in Your Heart” and wanted to share a passage from this profoundly moving song:

“Sometimes when you’re doing simple things around the house, maybe you’ll think of me and smile. You know I’m tied to you like the buttons on your blouse, keep me in your heart for a while. Hold me in your thoughts, take me to your dreams; touch me as I fall into view. When the winter comes, keep the fires lit and I will be right next to you.”At the end of this song, my eyes were full of tears, remembering that life is all too brief. It reminded me that it is important to savor the joys this world has to offer. As Mr. Zevon so succinctly said, “Enjoy every sandwich.” – Phillip E. Hardy


Vol.1

Lists

If U.S. presidential candidates were rock bands they’d be…

Here’s where we think the current crop of Democratic presidential candidates stack up if they were a band headlining a 2020 music fest

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Dem candidates

We still have a long, long, long way to go until the 2020 U.S. presidential election — and the list of candidates seems to get a bit longer every day. So, how do you actually keep track of who’s who? Let’s try turning it into a soundtrack.

Admittedly, the list runs too long to actually break down all of those candidates (there are 20+ actually running in the Democratic primary, though several are polling close to zero percent), so we’ve focused in on the folks who are actually showing a bit of buzz in the polls. Plus, of course, the incumbent who is currently president. From hip-hop to corporate rock and everything else in-between, here’s where we think the current crop of would-be presidents stack up if they were a band headlining a 2020 music fest.

Joe Biden: The Rolling Stones

Uncle Joe has been a fixture of American politics for decades, and he’s launched failed bids for president over the past few decades. But with 2020 in sight, Biden is — by far — the most popular Democratic candidate on the ballot. He’s leading most polls by a mile, thanks in large part to the good will he accumulated as President Obama’s vice-president and a solid legislative record (though it does have some troublesome bits in there, too). But, pretty much everyone sees him as likable, solid and — keyword here — “electable.” Translating that to music, Biden feels like The Rolling Stones of this election cycle. Most everybody likes The Stones, from your granddaddy to your aunts and uncles. They also run pretty high on a bunch of those lists of the best band ever. They’re a solid bet, and pop in just about any Stones record, and you’re bound to get something pretty darn good. Sure, it can get a bit worn at times, but even after all these decades, it’s still good stuff.

Bernie Sanders: Big Star

Bernie has been around the scene for decades, much like Biden, but despite the name recognition he’s still not polling as well as Biden. He was huge in the last primary running against Hillary Clinton, and briefly hailed as the Next Big Thing for a while there. He also introduced some forward-thinking policy ideas, many of which have been adopted by a bevy of candidates now running against him this time around. Take that resume to the music world, and Bernie feels a whole lot like Big Star. The Memphis-based rock band burst onto the scene in the early 1970s, and sadly flamed out not long after. Much like Bernie, it took a while for folks to really latch onto just how great Big Star was at the time. They found a cult following a few years later in the 1980s, and went on to influence pretty much every decent band that’s formed ever since. That said, there are still plenty of people who still love and appreciate Big Star to this day. But, they’ll never be as big as bands like the Stones, or The Beatles.

Elizabeth Warren: Radiohead

Elizabeth Warren is a smart, smart candidate. Of the folks vying for the Democratic candidacy, she arguably has the best ideas and platform concepts laid out in detail. Oddly enough, she’s also polling well below folks like Biden and Sanders. Turning to music, she feels like the Radiohead of this election. She’s smart, probably one of the smartest if not the smartest candidate out there. That feels a lot like Radiohead, an indie band that puts out some clever music and has developed a strong, loyal fanbase with their excellent output (a lot like Warren has these past few years).

Kamala Harris: Tupac

This may seem a bit obvious, considering Harris has spoken publicly about her affinity for Tupac’s music, but hear us out. Much like Tupac, Harris has some OG bona fides. Before running for the senate she served as a district attorney and attorney general in California, leading an up-tick in the conviction rate for homicides and overall felonies. She also took on hate crimes during that time. As a senator, she’s taken full advantage of her DA roots to ask the smart, hard questions — without backing down. She has guts, much like Tupac did. Tupac also has a ton of name recognition, something Harris is quickly working to acquire as the campaign heats up.

Pete Buttigieg: Conor Oberst

As a city mayor in Indiana, Buttigieg has exploded onto the scene as a bit of a wunderkind candidate over the past few months. He’s young, smart, energetic and almost always knows the right thing to say when the moment comes. He comes off as accessible and fresh, much like the Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberst has during his career. Sure, Oberst’s output has always been a bit niche, but if it’s your flavor it’s fantastic stuff. Buttigieg has had much the same kind of run in the lead-up to the primary. In certain circles, he’s quickly becoming a buzzy, respected voice. But, ask random folks on the street, and odds are they have no idea about Mayor Pete. That said, Oberst has always had the potential to blow out the Top 40 with a chart-topper — and Buttigieg is in the hunt to do much the same in the presidential race.

Beto O’Rourke: Foss (just kidding, Weezer)

The handsome, punk rock candidate from Texas became a national sensation when he gave Ted Cruz a scare — but ultimately lost. So, he used that buzz to launch a presidential bid. He’s had some missteps, but there’s no doubt O’Rourke is a tall, charismatic dude. He was also literally in the little-known punk band called Foss back in the day, but we won’t go with that one. Instead, O’Rourke feels more like the Weezer of this election. He’s the dude bro, and is largely popular in a broad, thoughtless, “Oh It’s On The Radio So Just Listen To It And Idly Tap Your Toe” kind of way. Weezer is sometimes the butt of jokes (like that run SNL skit), but they’re still huge — and Beto has much that same kind of potential

Donald Trump: Kid Rock

Time for the big, loud Commander-in-Chief himself. Trump isn’t refined, he’s not all that bright, and he typically just beats you over the head with whatever he’s saying. Kind of like one of his biggest supporters and golf buddies, Kid Rock. He appeals to a certain conservative type of redneck, which is where most of his popularity lies (that applies to both of ‘em, to be clear). There’s also the fact that, if you actually listen to what he says, it’s typically really stupid and nonsensical. We’re just waiting for the presidential radio edit.

Editor’s Note: To be clear, this is all meant in good fun. The presidential race in 2020 looks to be one of the most contentious and important in the modern history of the United States. It’s a big deal, and everyone should take it very, very seriously. But, between all that seriousness, there should be a bit of space to have some fun musing about the folks who want to lead the free world.

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Feel Unlucky Punk: 5 records lost in the punk explosion

We take a look at 5 records lost in the post-1994 scramble of punk’s mainstream success.

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We could sit here all day and discuss the ethos behind the entire punk mantra but it has been discussed to no end. Instead, we’re inspecting the spiraling consequences of the mainstream upsurge of punk that ultimately peaked in 1994/95. Three years after what many dubbed as “the year punk broke” (1991), the resurgence of the punk subculture back into the mainstream scope was in significant contrast to the 70’s and early 80’s – there was now widespread acceptance. An extension of the earlier indie rock signing spree, 1994 was the pinnacle, underscored by two California bands that saw their popularity rocket into previously unfamiliar extremes. With the success of Green Day’s Dookie and Offspring’s Smash, major labels sought to find continued and similar success in unearthing hopeful bands and signing those who had called the underground home previously.

However, the effects of a genre’s popularity often result in a number of those caught up in the wave to get left behind. Casualties of other people’s success. For one reason or another, glory did not come to them as expected, and the resulting fallout ends with bands disbanding and careers changing. The fallout of an entire movement are far too great to tackle in mere paragraphs. We will instead section the years 1994 to 1996 as a small example of these fleeting successes, a time during and immediately after Green Day and the Offspring opened the floodgates to the modern punk underground. We circle five records that the major labels released; all of which merited success in many ways, but undoubtedly lacked the mega-sale attraction their financiers had hoped for. In a different time, under different circumstances, these records would have led to more, but in the shadow of platinum records these albums just did not pay back their investment. At the height of major label power, that was the death knell for many bands.

Here are the 5 records lost in the post-1994 scramble of punk’s mainstream success.

Hog

05. Hog – Nothing Sacred
(Geffen Records, March 1996)

Los Angeles punk band Hog were fueled by frontman Kirk Miller’s monstrous anthemic handiwork and the band’s love for melody, Nothing Sacred was a blast of a time. It was a simplistic record yes, one that relied on crunchy alternative rock riffs and soaring melodies, but one that was as easily digestible as it was loud. Miller’s raspy voice rang clear in “Shut Down” and “Walls”, providing guidance for the band’s heavily distorted appeal. Perhaps in an attempt to sustain a level of ingenuity, they combined honky-tonk fragments with aggressive punk riffage in “Don’t Know Why” and took on punk acoustic in the terrific country-bluegrass fueled “You & Me”. There was no love from the public however, as stints on the Black Sheep soundtrack and limited airplay did little to bolster the band’s success. Nothing Sacred was the band’s only offering.

I wore out my cassette tape copy of Hog’s Nothing Sacred it was so good. The title track is fantastic in particular, but there are so many great songs on this album, like the aforementioned “Walls” and “Not Perfect”. To this day I still go back to this album as the perfect windows down highway album because sonically, it sounds like a damn rock record. If you ever come across this album somewhere in a record shop and you like loud guitars, melodic punk, and some attitude, don’t hesitate to spend the money on it.

Stream: Hog – “Shut Down”

Waterdog

04. Waterdog – Waterdog
(Atlantic Records, October 1995)

Atlantic’s pop-punk flag carriers depended greatly on Green Day’s popularity to carry over. This self-titled disc was surprisingly accessible (bolstered by radio-ready tracks “Can’t Let Go” and “Jessica”) but ultimately lacked a strong connection to the recently converted masses. Unlike the Berkeley trio’s unabashed, juvenile visage, Waterdog relied on slightly more cultured lyrics and less simplistic chords, but kept true to mainstream pop-punk’s then alternative sound. Waterdog was a band that had the chops and the songs, but for a myriad of reasons, just couldn’t find their ground in a crowded radio field. After the dissolution of Waterdog, members of the band spent time in (ironically enough) Mike Dirnt’s project The Frustrators.

This album was not the best produced but had some great songs- most notably the closer “Good-bye, Good-bye”, and the track below “Jessica”. I still like listening to this song today and while it isn’t as loud or as urgent as Hog’s Nothing Sacred, had plenty to like, especially if you enjoyed pop-punk with a less bouncy appeal. The band came and went after only one album, but who knows just what they could have done during a different era.

Stream: Waterdog – “Jessica”

Samiam

03. Samiam – Clumsy
(Atlantic, August 1994)

Amongst their respective discography, Samiam’s Clumsy can easily go unnoticed. Their foray into the majors did not end here but unlike some of their kind, Samiam lasted through all the troubles and are still around today. Their creative blend of chunky pop punk components with more rock-oriented mechanisms resulted in their fiery guitar powered focus. Keen on quality vocal delivery and constantly trying to rework their musical progression, Samiam are front runners of pop-punk/rock with definitive style and substance. Clumsy however, is far from being their definitive work, but thankfully, major label misteps aside, they got even better after their foray into the majors. Albums like You Are Freaking Me Out and their 2000 release Astray, proved that there was life after the majors. Clumsy was the only album they ever did for Atlantic.

Sergie Loobkoff of the band also spent time in seminal emo band Knapsack as well as indie rock band Solea. I had a chat with Sergie Loobkoff about Solea back in 2002 about his then-new band.

Samiam are one of the lucky few.

Jawbreaker

02. Jawbreaker – Dear You
(Geffen Records, September 1995)

Pulled from shelves just months after its release, Dear You is a painful reminder of the fickleness that saturates the major label landscape. Far more restrained than their previous work, Jawbreaker’s (then) final release is as mysterious as it is admired; a defining example of bad things happening to good bands. Almost completely disappearing from North American retail stores (and most definitely from the Geffen catalogue), it has been the scourge of punk record collectors who have been unsuccessful at securing a copy. Featuring the classic Jawbreaker track “Jet Black”, Dear You was re-released in 2004 via Blackball Records. After Jawbreaker’s initial break-up, Blake Schwarzenbach went on to form one of my favorite bands, Jets to Brazil.

Dear You is not such a lost commodity since its reissue. However, it’s still a fascinating example of how the majors reached deep into the underground to try and replicate Green Day’s success any way they could. Dear You was a real step away from previous Jawbreaker material and the commercial results were unfortunate. In the Jawbreaker discography, it isn’t the easiest of records to get in to, partly because it was a shift from what the band were known for. But in hindsight, it’s a shining example of a band exploring new surrounds while jumping head first into the major label game.

In 2017, against all odds, Jawbreaker reformed. Remarkably, there is new music on the way. New Jawbreaker. In 2019. Who would have thought post Dear You?

Klover

01. Klover – Feel Lucky Punk
(Mercury/Polygram Records, August 1995)

Featuring members of legendary Boston hardcore outfit Gang Green, Klover epitomized all that was the spirit of a misunderstood generation. Leering like the Buzzcocks, influential like the Jam and embodying the youthful enthusiasm of early Social Distortion, Feel Lucky Punk was an immensely competent release. Confidently portraying ideas of rebellion, social rejection and an underlying cause for unity, it was a record that exuded all that was great of the punk movement. Strengthened by the “Basket Case”-like “Our Way” (how did this song not resonate with the radio crown? I just don’t know), the gang vocals of “Beginning to End” and the truly wonderful cover of the Real Kids’ “All Kindsa Girls”, Feel Lucky Punk is a real gem that deserved far more than it received. The album sounded great, the songs were exactly what you would expect from a shiny, major label punk release- everything seemed poised for success. It never came. Klover disbanded in early 1996 after just one album.

If there was ever an album so commercially ready to be big, it was this one. Mercury Records didn’t do anything for the band, and the songs here were relegated to used bins in Tower Records all around the world. Too bad because there is so much good material on here, so much of it is still so listenable today (you could argue that it holds up better than a lot of mainstream punk of the last decade). Their cover of “All Kindsa Girls” is still one of the best covers you’ll hear. However, it is the opening track “Our Way” that really sets the tone for the album and remains one of the best things not to have been huge.

Stream: Klover – “Our Way”

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