The genre of punk has long been sliced and diced into various subgenres, and nowadays it seems that just about every slightly hardcore indie band seems to slap the “post-punk” or “prog-punk” label onto itself. In the 1970s, the meaning of punk was clear as hair gel — no one was confused about the dude with the three-foot-tall mohawk or the music that he was into.
The 1980s saw various genres come out of punk, such as post-punk and thrash, but the definition of pure “punk” still held some clout. In the 1990s, the rise of pop-punk began the deviation from the roots of the genre, and the 21st century has seen just about every genre of music contain “punk” somewhere in its description.
Whether this is good or bad is a conversation for another column, but this week’s edition of New Noise looks at four different bands with new releases that all fall under the “punk” category, even though there are distinct musical differences between them all. From the retro influences of the Swingin’ Utters to the post-thrash of Big Dick, punk seems to have become a master of disguise that musicbombs (the musical equivalent of a photobomb) as many bands as it can, similar to your drunk friend who can’t help popping up looking half-dead in every picture from your night out. Oh, punk — what are we going to do with you?
Big Dick: big dick
Named after a song by the legendary Victoria punk band NoMeansNo, Big Dick is a post-punk duo based out of Ottawa, Canada. The Dirt Cult labelers released their self-titled debut last week and the result is a melange of the hardest, thrashiest, loudest, most wonderful music that you can imagine.
The band is just drums and a heavy, distorted bass, and each song on the LP grabs you by the ear and demands your attention. Big Dick wants you to headbang until you’ve rocked yourself out into a coma, and with gems such as “Wolves,” “School Yard Violence” and “Colours,” it would be best to keep your doctor on speed dial. The frantic frenzy of the LP is a perfect embodiment of the post-punk sound, and fans of bands such as NoMeansNo, the Melvins, Big Black, The Jesus Lizard and Death From Above 1979 are sure to get their kicks from Big Dick.
The Thermals: “Born To Kill”
Portland, Ore., is one of those cities that surprises you with how vivid it actually is, at least music scene-wise. Just like Minneapolis, Portland has a mind-blowing underground scene with some of the best bands getting churned out constantly.
The Thermals is one of the greats from PDX, made up of Westin Glass, Hutch Harris and Kathy Foster, the latter two notable for their folk project Hutch and Kathy.
The Thermals’ “Born To Kill” finds the band going back to its lo-fi, basic punk rock style: short, sweet and to the (very blatant) point. The anthemic “Born To Kill” serves as a sing-at-the-top-of-your-lungs song that brings back memories of the vintage British punk anthems of Stiff Little Fingers and The Business. Harris’ distinct vocals add to the charm of the song and build up much anticipation for the band’s next release, Desperate Ground, which is due out in April.
Fake Problems: “Small Devil Song”
Naples, Fla., three-piece Fake Problems is one of those bands that has had a number of genres describe their musical style, one of them being punk.
If Fake Problems is punk, it’s surely not the classical definition of punk, but the various musical styles that have influenced the band work for it and result in a unique sound that is further inimitable thanks to the unique vocals of lead singer Chris Farren.
“Small Devil Song” is off of their Florida Doesn’t Suck split album with You Blew It!, and the song is like a punkish version of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil,” at least lyrics-wise. Farren sings from the POV of a “small devil” and the yearning melody works well with the sarcastic tone of the words. The beginning of the song and the subsequent verses have a staccato, playful feel to them, and the chorus begs to be sung along to. The band is unique in that its arrangement and instrumentation differs from the usual indie-punk acts of late, and fans of The Sainte Catherines and The Menzingers are sure to dig having some Fake Problems.
Swingin’ Utters: Poorly Formed
After hearing “Stuck In A Circle” and “Brains” from Singin’ Utters upcoming album, it is clear that the S.F.-based band is making a left turn from its usual punk-rock route. The band’s eighth studio album is a collection of more radio-friendly songs, yet somehow the band manages to keep its authentic feel and doesn’t conjure up disgruntled feelings of “They sold out!”
Songs such as “Brains,” “In A Video” and the title track employ a frantic guitar against a simple melody that suggests influences from bands such as The Velvet Underground, Television and The Cure (or, for all you young’uns, The Strokes). “I’m A Little Bit Country” stands out just for being a parody of a country song with the hilarious opening line of “I’m a little bit country / And a little bit of an asshole,” while “Greener Grass” has a … violin?!
The whole album is catchy and melodic, but even with the perfectly pitched package that the songs come in, when you unwrap it all, the punk sentiments that always defined the Utters are still there. There is not one bad song on Poorly Formed, and the album serves as an example of risks gone right. Twenty-six years later, these Utters are still Swingin’, and news doesn’t get much better than that.
Rishbha Bhagi is a graduate student pursuing a degree in communication management. Her column “New Noise” runs Wednesday.