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Posts Tagged ‘hardcore punk’

Dead Kennedys – Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables (1980)

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Here’s an album with two souls inside of it, fighting for supremacy! On one hand, we have a (relatively) poppy, occasionally even surf flavored rock band called the Dead Kennedys. On the other, we have a mile-a-minute, no fucks given loud fast rules hardcore punk band who’s also called the Dead Kennedys. Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables doesn’t mix these two approaches all that often, so it’s basically a rollercoaster ride of quick punchy songs with plenty of songwriting variety. That doesn’t always work, though – relatively older bands have been felled by their failure to pull this off, so what became of the Dead Kennedys’ debut?

DK, however, has an ace up their sleeve. Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables is a stereotypically vocal-driven album, so it really helps that the band is fronted by Jello Biafra. His skills go undermentioned here for my lack of relevant genre experience, but when it comes to these types of music (hardcore punk and… uh… not-so-hardcore punk), you can’t find many who are better. His actual vocal technique seems adequate for both if not particularly special, but the way he performs (and his lyrical finesse) contributes enormously to the potency of these songs. It’s hard to exactly quantify the level of snark and vitriol on display here, but you’ll hopefully agree that it’s integral to the overall aesthetic on display here.

Jello Biafra also happens to be fronting a band with reasonable chops and… an admittedly iffy studio budget, although I’ve forgiven that last bit on many occasions. It might be due to the older influences here, but the actual instrumental parts are rarely as deconstructed and simple as they are on some of this band’s rough contemporaries. Critics like to talk up the ‘surf rock’ influence, if that means anything; it does add a neat, wavy gravy flair to the more pop inflected tunes on here, and presumably was a nice bonus for the earliest listeners who, back in 1980, presumably weren’t innundated with an entire internet’s worth of music in all genres. The actual recording fidelity doesn’t do as well, although “Holiday in Cambodia” is a notable and significant exception, with a deep and virile sound compared to the generally tinnier, trebly sounds that the other songs showcase. Expecting a really good production might be too much, but to my (clearly not a professional audio engineer) ears this sounds like the sort of thing that could’ve benefited from having some knobs turned up, perhaps at random. You can perform pretty much the same effect on your own by turning up your speakers/headphones, so maybe the problem is just that I don’t listen to music at levels that are acutely harmful to my hearing? Whatever.

It might be a bit obvious of me to say that I accept Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables‘ high position in the hardcore punk pantheon, but that’s what I do. Given that I don’t listen to a lot of straight up (or straight edge) punk rock, it’s probably for the better that what I do have is quality stuff.

Highlights: “Kill The Poor”, “Chemical Warfare”, “California Uber Alles”, “Holiday in Cambodia”

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Sodom – Tapping The Vein (1992)

folderAKA Stormtroopers Advancing Under Gas: The Band. The production on this album is blatantly huge in a way that must not be ignored under any circumstances. While Sodom remains in a typical “extreme” speed-thrash mode here (if perhaps more concise than on previous albums), the huge, crunchy guitars make this sort of an under-noticed gem in their discography. The key to understanding my affinity for Tapping the Vein isn’t solely its production, but how it fits Sodom’s own affinities, which tend towards the violent and percussive even within their own genre.

You see, Sodom never really got away from their apparent hardcore punk roots to an extent rarely matched by their contemporaries. Interestingly enough, this would peak mere albums later before (if I understand correctly) Sodom returned to the more elaborate style they’d used in the late-1980s. The writing here is generally pretty basic, with a big emphasis on vocals and catchy choruses. To be fair, though, Sodom was never too concerned with complicated songwriting. Vocals here have improved from previous material by Sodom – at times, Tom “Angelripper” Such adopts a style based around shouts as opposed to snarls and shrieks and comes out more expressive and assertive for it. However, even his previous style of vocals comes across better on this album than on previous ones.

While the band’s roots show rather more than on… let’s say Agent Orange for simplicity’s sake, they’re still writing the same kinds of songs as they were back then. Tapping the Vein alternates between intense, blurry tremolo riffing and a few slower, almost doomy songs. The guitarist this time around is the relatively obscure Andy Brings. In contrast to Frank “Blackfire” Gosdzik’s relatively technical style (also heard on contemporaneous works by Kreator), Brings plays a lot of one note riffs linked together by various ornamental frills, like the chord progression before the first vocals in “Skinned Alive”, although there are more traditional/complicated riffs as well to hold songs together whenever Angelripper has to breathe. I wouldn’t have expected the simpler material on here to work, but it actually does sometimes, probably because when I listen to Sodom, I go in expecting pretty basic stuff.

Anyways, perhaps the greatest fault this album has is that its longer songs get repetitive due to the simple materials used to construct them. On its briefer songs, Tapping the Vein manages to successfully tap into realms of intensity that recall their formative works, but their more elaborate material isn’t as successful due to not being quite elaborate enough. It also serves as a valuable example of how a good production can draw me to content I might otherwise not pursue. Has that ever happened to you, the reader? I’d like to know.

Highlights: “Body Parts”,”Bullet in the Head”,”Hunting Season”