Sunday, August 23, 2009

Perfect Albums: The Shape Of Punk To Come

I’ve experienced two music related, life altering moments while riding the Long Island Rail Road in New York. The first was when I had just turned 14 and I heard Black Flag’s “Nervous Breakdown” for the first time. One of the all time Seminal moments of my lifetime, but we’re not here to talk about that, we’re here to talk about the second instance.

This time, I was 15 and my family and I were back up visiting my home town (Farmingdale, Strong Island!!!). I was riding the train back from NYC and decided to put the new album I had just picked up in my portable CD player (yea, this was back in the 50’s when people listened to music in disc form, before they invented these future boxes the size of business cards that play 80 years worth of music. What a time to be alive, I tells ya. You kids don’t know how good you have it these days. Is it time for my sponge bath yet? Where's my Metamucil!?). I didn’t know it as I put the CD in the player but I was about to get the absolute shit kicked out of me through my ears.

The back story here is, I was way into punk rock, but specifically only really liked older 80’s and late 70's punk rock of all varieties. LA hardcore, NY noise punk, Midwestern post-punk, British Mod punk. It didn’t matter what type or sub genre it was, the common thread is that it was all from the 70’s and 80’s, when these bands still sounded fresh and dangerous. The early 90’s and its grunge explosion of garbage literally fucking killed punk rock for me, so I was always trying desperately to find new punk bands that felt the way older bands did: perfect. While there have been a handful in the last ten years or so, they are few and far between for me. Anyways, I used to get any Punk Rock compilation CD I could, to see if I could find any hidden gem of a band that worked for me. Epitaph Records had just put out their Punk-O-Rama 4 comp (I had all the previous collections) and it was the first time they put songs from their Swedish subsidiary, Burning Heart Records, on the mix. On it was a song called “Summerholidays Vs. Punkroutine” from a band I had never heard called “Refused”, who hailed from Umeå, Sweden. It wasn’t a fast or heavy song at all, it had less of a Black Flag feel, more of a Punk Mod-ish, almost Indie Rock quality to it like a song by Wire, The Jam, Television, or Dream Syndicate. I liked the song a lot, but it wasn’t my usual style. It didn’t bark in my face the way Black Flag or The Descendents did. It always stuck in the back of my head though, and I would hear it often as I listened to the Punk-O-Rama mix In following weeks. I began to find that it was very clever, very unique. Over time, it became my favorite song of the compilation. The very night before we left to visit our old NY stomping grounds, I was watching 120 Minutes on MTV (back when they still aired it, as they still should now) and a really odd music video started up with guys running around a building in animal suits. The credits in the lower corner of the screen listed the band as “Refused” so I perked up to see what other songs they had to offer other than the one from the Punk-O-Rama CD I had heard. What I proceeded to watch/listen to was a personal revolution. The song, “New Noise” was the fucking loudest, noisiest, heaviest thing I had ever heard in my life. The guitars were smothering, the drumming was borderline violent, and the vocals felt like a cheese grater against my face. I had heard some pretty heavy music in my life, but this song felt like an all consuming tidal wave. It had more energy than a song cold possibly know what to do with. I couldn’t get it out of my mind the whole next day on the plane ride to New York and the first chance I got to break away from my family and hop a train to the city to do some record shopping, I took it. I forget if I grabbed it at my beloved “Sound and Fury” or the Times Square Virgin Megastore as I picked up some stuff from each.

So here I am on the train ride back to my Aunt’s house and the first album I decide to pop in for the ride home is Refused’s third album “The Shape of Punk To Come: A Chimerical Bombination in 12 Bursts” (how fucking awesome is that title?), which had the two songs I had already heard from them on it. What I heard kicked the shit right out of me. The concept and execution of this album was so radical to me. It was everything I had ever wanted music to be, and here it was, right between my ears. It was the first contemporary hardcore album I had heard. The album was so heavy, It was the first time I ever described music as making me feel like I was drowning. There are parts of this album that smother you and don’t let you up for air. The last 40 seconds of the third Track, “Deadly Rhythm”, was the most unrelenting, suffocating thing I had ever heard at that point.

The album featured immensely heavy and fast guitar work, weird electronic breakdowns between songs, blistering drumming that had more roots in jazz than it did in punk or metal, absolute visceral screaming from beginning to (almost) end, leftist political quotes and phrases, jazz samples, an acoustic last song (which feels like the kiss and hug an abusive husband would give his wife after he finished beating her with how heavy the rest of the album feels), as much anti-capitalism as a Rage Against The Machine album, and an 8 minute song in three parts that initiated my love for long, building, dramatic heavy music in the vein of Isis, City of Caterpillar, Pelican, Neurosis, Sunn O))) and even Post rock bands like Godspeed you Black Emperor! and Mogwai . It is the oddest, most eclectic and most political hardcore album ever made and when I heard it the first time, it just about knocked my head off my fucking shoulders. My appreciation for the world’s loudest, heaviest, and most smothering music began here. It started my love affair with bands that have become my all time favorites, such as Converge, Cave In, Botch, Isis, Blacklisted, Trap Them, Burnt By The Sun, Disfear, Modern Life Is War, etc. It's heavy riffs got me not only into modern hardcore, but it's inspiration, heavy metal (and it's many sub genres) itself. My deep affection for heavy began right here. I was never the same. When I used to wear glasses I would constantly almost break them as they would repeatedly fly off my face as I would flail around while lip synching and pretend shouting to everything Dennis Lyxzén screams on this album

After making “Shape of Punk to Come”, Refused broke up and splintered off to start new projects that are still incredibly good, but could never possibly touch the legacy this album leaves in my eyes. It’s good they split up, honestly. I fear that they would never had made anything as complete and revolutionary as this. It is heavily revered in the hardcore community as one of the genre’s seminal albums and Refused remains one of modern Hardcore’s most beloved and most missed bands. They had two albums prior to this, both exceptional, but their Masterpiece is “The Shape of Punk to Come” which proved to be an accurate title for me as every aggressive album I’ve heard since, I’ve had to measure to this one. It set the tone for me and created a love affair with audio heaviness that will undoubtedly last the rest of my life. It’s been 8 years now and this still remains a perfect record for me, and while I have plenty more now that exceed it on my “favorites” list, it will always be my first love, the first perfect album that started it all and led me to some of the music I cherish now. If you haven’t heard it, get a copy. Hopefully, it will become as revolutionary and incendiary to you as it was to me.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Can you fly, Bobby?

Robocop - 1987

It's the film my Blog's name comes from, so it seems like just as good a place to start as any. (Although, that line was also used in the endlessly entertaining arcade/console video game “Smash T.V.”)

To fully understand my appreciation of this film, we should go back to the first time I saw it. When I was about eight years old, I was already deeply in love with Science Fiction. Anything that had anything to do with space, aliens, robots, or the future, I was deeply in love with, and made curious by. Therefore, when I saw an ad on TV for that night's prime time movie, and it had a police officer walking around in a fucking robot body, the concept was so incredible to me, I could barely stand it. I asked my Mom to record it for me (it was airing on a school night, past my bed time) so I could watch it the next day. When my parents saw the kind of shit that happens in Robocop (and keep in mind, this was an already edited for TV version of the ultra violent film), they decided there was no way my eight year old ass was going to see this movie. They didn't want to disappoint me either, so they came up with a novel idea. They edited down an already edited for TV version of a rated R movie so that I could see it without all that adult content. There was a problem, they weren't too great at manually controlling the record feature of the VCR. What I was left with, was literally an approximately 25 minute, poorly edited version of Robocop. It made almost no sense as virtually every major plot point in that movie is riddled with violence and was therefore cut out. The narrative was all cut up and crazy and Robocop only ever fired his gun at a lifeless practice target, a huge bi-pedal robot, and baby food bottles, never people. It would jump around and show people a little bloodied up, but it wouldn't show HOW they got bloodied up. It was just confusing.... and one of the greatest things I had ever seen. Who cares if it didn't make sense!? It was a huge badass robot walking around and saying cool shit. Luckily, I managed to get the kid-friendly movie adaption comic book of the film and that helped me understand some of the key plot points that my movie version skipped over for twenty whole fucking minutes at a time.

It's remained one of my all time favorite movies since then, and it's evolved into something completely different than an awesome, super violent movie where a robot shoots people (I eventually saw the full version). The older I got, the more it stuck with me. There's something very human about that movie. The cyberpunk style extreme violence is the “Hollywood” aspect of that movie, but there are points that movie makes that have stuck with me since I was a kid. For example, consumerism and advertising will one day numb us and seem even more important and exciting then the actual world news. Also, corporations do not care about people, only what they can do make their business more financially successful. They are soulless, just as soulless as OCP's ED-209, terminating humanity without a concern. Poverty and crime rise in the streets as the rich get richer and a find a way to profit of the misery of the down-trodden.

What gets me about this movie, is that the main drive of it doesn't make it an action movie at all, which it constantly gets billed as. Robocop really is postmodern science-fiction at it's finest. Robocop's real struggle in this movie, is the retention of his “soul” and personality in a body that has transformed into a company's technological concept of the future. He is man literally fighting his own machine. There's something overwhelmingly human about it. Don't get me wrong, it works fine as an awesome, entertaining, violent Hollywood extravaganza with plenty of excitement and quotable lines out the ass (the overwhelmingly, and at times sickeningly, villainous Clarence Boddicker provides 80% of these, the Benny Hill inspired television personality Bixby Snyder provides the rest: “I'd buy that for a dollar!”), but Robocop packs a little more punch than that. A little substance to go with the style. I've always appreciated that, especially as it introduced tones to me as a kid that later made Philip K. Dick interesting to me, as well as stories like the Dick inspired “Blade Runner” or “Ghost in the Shell”. The futuristic, deeply philosophical (and admittedly leftist) writing of Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner and the awe-inspiring, stylized directing of Paul Verhoeven (Total Recall? Seen that shit? Just awesome. Yet another of my favorite 80's movies. Also based of a Philip K. Dick short story) provide a level to this movie that I think is often missed by a sizable portion of those who see it. It has remained one of my favorite movies since I was eight, and remains so as I get older due to it's philosophical take on the modern Sci-Fi story.

The sad part is, the point was lost even further when Robocop eventually became
something the movie strongly detested: a brand name. A product. A manufactured advertisement to sell goods to children, especially when that awful TV show re-imagining directed at kids came out where it totally missed the point and put Robocop in a show that felt like “NYPD Blue” meets “Alien Nation” meets Saturday morning cartoon. He fought ridiculous Batman Villain-esque oddities like “Boppo the Clown” and “Pudface”. Ugh. It was gross. Those toys were WAAAY badass when I was a kid though, holy shit. That much is undeniable. I had most of the figures and Robocop's sweet OCP cop car. Had Robocop comics coming out of my ass too. It was was awesome, even though looking back now, I feel abused and misguided given the original film's weight-y subtext. I guess everything becomes a product eventually...

Additional Points:
1. Robocop 2 is actually not as bad as you remember it being. Based off a script written by the used-to-be-talented comic book writer Frank Miller (before All-Star Batman fell out of his ass and he decided that publishing it was a good idea), the movie keeps the focus on the Detroit down-trodden, by getting them all addicted to a cheap, highly addictive drug called Nuke. It might not pack the same philosophical or emotional punch that the first one does (although scenes where Robo comes in contact with his former family are pretty heavy), but it's still a good sci-fi action flick with clever jabs at the media, corporation again, and a potential future culture. Frank Miller plays a bit role as a drug chemist, and later penned what was his original version of the Robocop 2 script for a totally bitchin' comic book series published by Avatar Press. Miller was always upset with the treatment of his script as it was cut down and re-edited, and he gave himself his own chance to present the story as he intended. If you get a chance, check it out. It's collected in a nice, convenient trade paperback form.
2. Robocop 3 is actually worse than you remember it being.
3. I met fucking Robocop. No lie. When Robocop 2 was coming out, the Blockbuster Video store near where I lived on Long Island cross promoted. They had a guy in a fully functional, 100% accurate, awe-inspiring Robocop suit. I was like, 9 or 10 years old and I got to meet fucking Robocop. I got to go up to him and shake his hand and no shit, he said “Stay out of trouble” to me. It was awesome. I totally have the pictures to prove it. If you're ever over my house, just ask and you'll see.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Greetings Earthlings

Hello all.

First off, I should thank Carter, whose film review blog,, helped inspire this.

I used to write a lot, now I almost never write at all. I like writing because I tend to almost completely think in text and language (although i loathe language in general as an inefficient, garbled, confusing attempt at proper communication). I think a lot and I'd like to turn some of that monologue style text in my head into text on digital paper for people to read if they are so inclined.

That brings us to the next point. I won't lie to you, there's a bit of narcissism happening here. The assumption of this blog is that my opinion on things are interesting enough for people to read them. It's not necessarily that I feel self-important, I just really like a lot of what I think are awesome, entertaining, deep and interesting things. I would therefore like to talk all about those things here.

That is the objective of this blog: to discuss, review, and decipher some of my favorite things. This could be music, movies, comic books, video games, politics, philosophy, books, toys, anything! Perhaps you might even hear a little about my wonderful girlfriend and my amazing friends. Who knows. It's all on the table.

I simply hope you enjoy this schlock, and find something to get out if it. I just want an excuse to write about something, ANYTHING, and I want you to be curious enough (about me, i guess) to read what i have to say about all the goofy shit that I like so much.

Thank You.