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Various Artists – Punk Goes 80’s

Despite mixed results in this installment, I hope that Fearless Records continues the Punk Goes… series

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The most important thing I’ve learned from American Idol is that when covering a song, song choice is everything, dawg. To begin with, it has to be a song that your audience knows or it may not hold their attention. This is where Midtown, Emery, and A Thorn For Every Heart go wrong on this compilation. While there is no Billy Idol, Duran Duran, Culture Club, or the Cars here, these bands illogically chose to perform songs from The Outfield, Bonnie Tyler, and Oingo Boingo. The core audience for these “punk” bands, likely composed of the under-18 set, doesn’t know these songs and would be less likely to call in a vote (if this were a televised talent contest).

Secondly, you should choose a song that hasn’t been covered before. For example, you never saw Clay Aiken performing the same song as Ruben Studdard. If you do choose a song that has been covered earlier, you better be damn sure that you can pull it off better than they did. Four artists on Punk Goes 80’s violated this rule, and only two emerge victorious. 

I decided to show this in the ever popular battle format. It is better if you imagine each band in spandex and Mexican luchadore masks.

COVER BATTLE #1: SUGARCULT VS. MEST

Sugarcult provide an early, three-minute festival of yawns with “I Melt With You.” It’s pretty bad when Mest, who covered the song for the soundtrack to 2001’s ridiculously bad Not Another Teen Movie, do a better job on a song than your band. In Cover Battle #1, the “What’s the Dillio?” guys totally kick Sugarcult’s collective asses, and that is sad.

COVER BATTLE #2: RUFIO VS. YELLOWCARD

Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget About Me,” covered here by Rufio, was also recently covered by Yellowcard at the annual celebrity ego-fest known as the MTV Movie Awards. Apparently Yellowcard had discovered a cure for insomnia and were very excited to share it with the world and to accompany it with a montage of scenes from The Breakfast Club. Rufio’s version is energized and more complex, making them the clear winners here.

COVER BATTLE #3: AMBER PACIFIC VS. PRESIDENTS OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

“Hey! Why don’t we cover the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star!” Nobody’s done that before…” In fact, the Presidents of the United States of America covered the song six years ago for the soundtrack to Adam Sandler’s The Wedding Singer. The song wasn’t only heard in theatres. It was also a radio hit and has been played on many a VH1 countdown since. On the other hand, Amber Pacific’s rendition sounds more like a cover of the Presidents’ cover than of the original song. Amber Pacific loses because their cover is completely unnecessary.

COVER BATTLE #4: GATSBY’S AMERICAN DREAM VS. 311

While Gatsby’s American Dream and 311 covered different Cure songs (“Just Like Heaven” and “Love Song,” respectively), I wanted to compare them because I am still enraged over 311’s blasphemous, reggae-tinged trainwreck. After hearing the cover of “Love Song” on the radio, I ranted about the untouchable nature of the Cure for at least twenty minutes. Surprisingly, Gatsby’s American Dream does a great job with “Just Like Heaven.” After an arduous battle between good and evil, Gatsby’s wins with an astonishing cover that even Cure fans approve of.

Petty problems with song choice and momentous battles aside, the remainder of Punk Goes 80’s is just as polarized. Moog is not enough to save Relient K’s cover of the Bangles’ “Manic Monday,” which feels like it belongs on a Disney movie soundtrack. In an uncharacteristic move, the artists offered up by Drive Thru Records don’t embarrass themselves here. Instead, Halifax, Hidden in Plain View, and The Early November actually carry this album, acting as little bursts of retro joy in between big messes. Additionally, Brazil’s Police cover, Motion City Soundtrack’s moog heavy version of “Pop Song 89,” and So They Say’s ballsy choice of Rod Stewart’s “Forever Young” even out the positive side of this compilation.

Despite mixed results in this installment, I hope that Fearless Records continues the Punk Goes… series. I’m just dying for Punk Goes Ace of Base.

(Fearless Records)

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Interviews

Like a Hurricane: An Interview with Year of the Fist

Year of the Fist are a much needed short in the arm of rock music. We chat to vocalist/guitarist Squeaky.

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Oakland based rock n’ roll band Year of the Fist are the kind of the rock n’ roll band you can’t bring home to meet mom. Evoking the sounds made famous by labels like Sympathy for the Record Industry, Year of the Fist are “a hurricane of swirling rock n’ roll poundage”. Unrelenting and visceral, their music is the unforgiving wave in a sea of safe rock music; a sentiment best exemplified by their brand new full-length album, Revive Me. And like the title itself, Year of the Fist are a much-needed shot of energy; raw, no-frills, and urgent.

We caught up with guitarist and vocalist Squeaky, who, along with the band, have just returned from a short trek through California and Nevada to showcase their new album. We talk about the history of the band, their fantastic new record, Oakland, small-town shows, and rock n’ roll.

Congrats on the new record- reception has been positive to it (we loved it)- how do you all feel?

We are all very happy with the way the album turned out. The last year and a half working on felt like an eternity but it’s done and I am stoked.

How did the writing and recording for the record go? It sounds fantastic- did you self-produce or work with someone in the studio?

The album is self-produced and the recording was a multi-step and studio process.  We were lucky to work in some amazing studios with some terrific engineers.

Do you have a favorite song from the new record? Or maybe one you all love playing live in particular?

I believe I can speak for everyone when I say “Ghosts” is one of our favorites off this album to play live. And speaking for myself, “Red Lights Flash” is another one I really like playing. 

Revive Me is your third full length; what were some of the things you wanted to get done with this record- things maybe you learned from the two LPs prior?

It is actually of 2nd full length. In between the two, we released a 4 song EP.  To be honest, I always have an idea in my head on how I am going to approach something and it never works that way. There is always a curveball, an emotion, a gut feeling that pulls you a different direction. So I am trying to get better at going into something with no direction to be honest ….. we’ll see how that works out.

You are based in Oakland- are you guys all from the area and how did Year of the Fist come together?

Our lead guitarist, Katie, is the only member from the Bay Area. I am from the East Coast. Our drummer, Hal, is from the Mid-West and our bassist, Serge, is from Russia. Hal & I met on tour in different bands, I believe sometime in 2006. He lived in Washington and I was in California. Hal eventually moved down to Oakland and we started YOTF in 2011. We anticipated it being a 2 piece band but after writing the first few songs we knew that wasn’t going to be the case. I knew Katie from playing shows throughout the Bay Area,  so she jumped on board, then skip ahead 8 years, we found our bassist, Serge. We played with several bass players over the years but now I feel we have found our fit. Serge was one of us within minutes of meeting him.

Do you remember what your first experience with rock n’ roll was? Was it a show, something on the radio, a record, or a band?

I was raised in a rock n roll household so I don’t recall a 1st experience, my upbringing was the experience. As far as going to punk shows, I was living in Richmond, VA and I went to my first punk show at 12 or 13. I was immediately drawn to the energy. I was already playing guitar but after seeing a hundred punks packed into a tiny, sweaty club and feeding off the energy coming off the stage I knew I wanted to be the one on the stage.

What makes Oakland a good place for a rock n’ roll band? Is it the venues, the community?

Oakland has its ups and down with good punk venues to be honest. It seems we will have a ton of good rock venues for a few years and then it takes a nosedive for a few years. It’s tricky like that. Oakland is such a diverse city it keeps every band from being full of a bunch of white straight men. It’s a breath of fresh air.

And some of you pull double duty in multiple bands?

We sure do. Hal & I are in a 2 piece rock band called Cut-Rate Druggist while Katie has a solo project that goes by her name, Katie Cash, and a rock/funk band called Skip The Needle. Serge is the only smart one by not burning the candle at both ends.

You played a bunch of shows in July- across California and then to Nevada- what are some of the things you enjoy most about being able to play these songs live?

We just wrapped up that quick 4-day run and it was terrific. There is nothing like seeing people singing the words you wrote, seeing their body move to a particular part in a song that makes your body move the same way, to have someone tell you how much a song means to them. It is so therapeutic. It is the best shrink that I have ever had.

I used to live in Stockton; it was a tough place when I lived there. But it was always exciting to know bands stopped by (when they did)- how important it is to you guys to find new cities and towns to play in each tour?

Really? You lived in Stockton? What a small world!! 

I really enjoy playing smaller cities/towns. The crowd isn’t as jaded as big cities. I don’t mean that as an insult, hell, I am probably one of those jaded people. Living in a big city you can see awesome local and touring bands any day of the week, it gets taken for granted. When you go to a smaller city that has 2, maybe 1 rock show a month, people appreciate that you drove 4-6 hours to get there.

What are the plans for Year of the Fist for the rest of the year and beyond?

We have some light US touring in the fall along with playing FEST in Gainesville, FL. And maybe getting some rest!

Year of the Fist’s new album Revive Me is available now via Heart On Records.

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Reviews

Pretty Vicious – Beauty of Youth

Beauty of Youth is what happens when raw talent and a knack for writing great songs finds itself surviving the hype

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Pretty Vicious

The perils of industry hype and stardom have been unforgiving for many young bands. The brutal nature of the rock n’ roll whirlwind is both an inescapable thrill, and the overdose that has claimed the scalp of many. Welsh rock band Pretty Vicious are no stranger to the often destructive nature of record label glory and lofty expectations. The band members were mere teens (15-17) when they signed their mega-deal with Virgin EMI in 2015. What followed was a roller coaster ride of failed recording sessions and the burden of unmet expectations that come with signing big-money deals at such a young age. But the remarkable truth is, Pretty Vicious seem to have come out of the industry slog having survived their initial foray into the fire with an album that is quite a remarkable achievement.

Initially touted as the “next Oasis”, Pretty Vicious have thankfully shunned that tag and done away with writing the next Definitely Maybe for something more visceral. Beauty of Youth is what happens when raw talent and a knack for writing great songs finds itself surviving the hype. If Beauty Of Youth is a record signaling Pretty Vicious’ convalescence after their initial break down, then please, feed this medicine to all the bands.

There is no Oasis, but rather the furious, feverish unpredictability of rock music that we had seen with early Biffy Clyro, early Idlewild, packed with the dangerous uncertainty that came with The Libertines. It’s immediate too; from the raucous riff-heavy opener “These Four Walls” to the vagabond “What Could’ve Been”, much of the album channels frenzied palettes of distortion and beautiful noise. “Force of Nature” is a little Josh Homme, while “Someone Just Like You” is what Dave Grohl sounds like when he’s trying, but the album’s best moment is perhaps the gorgeous, slow-burning “Playing With Guns”. A song that’s composed of great wistful melodies that slowly incinerate the ears with infectious songwriting that makes Beauty Of Youth sound massive while being personal at the same time.

You can’t go past songs like “Move”, with its buzzsaw guitars and wall of energy, without thinking of all the best rock bands we’ve heard over the past decade. It’s got it all- to a T- but its urgency and hectic nature make it feel all the better. “Something Worthwhile” has got the bright lights and big stages of Glastonbury written all over it. And while their 2015 stint at the festival saw them on the “Introducing…” stage, this song is headlining main stage material.

It is quite an achievement to be as accomplished as Pretty Vicious at such a young age. Even more remarkable that they’ve survived the industry machine to release such a damn good debut album. Beauty of Youth is a composed, compelling, high energy debut that answers the question, “what became of the likely lads?”. They went on to write one of, if not the best, rock records of 2019.

(Big Machine / John Varvatos Records)

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