Hello friends, welcome to The Listening Booth where I dive into the best (or most interesting) of what I’ve been listening to in the past week. As we kick off May I’ve had a slightly different aural seven days featuring a Fat Mike confessional and some Japanese, em, punk? We’ll go with that for the moment. Throw in the return of an old favourite, and there is plenty to get your teeth into.
Back in 2010, the then members of The Damned Things (Keith Buckley, Joe Trohman, Scott Ian, Andy Hurley, Rob Caggiano and Josh Newton all of whom are famous for other things) dropped Iconoclast, a fucking rager of an album that seemed to come out of nowhere. They went onto play a few shows, generally wow everyone with their ability to be an actual good supergroup and then vanished back to their day jobs, presumably never to be heard again because, well, those day jobs take up quite a bit of time.
We all presumed wrong because they are back, and they brought another arse kicking album with them. Caggiano and Newton are gone with Dan Andriano stepping in, but fuck, it ain’t made a blind bit of difference to their ability to write incredible rock songs. High Crimes is packed with them. From ‘Something Good’ which will leave you chanting ‘Y-E-L-L all of my friends are hell’ for the rest of your life to the punky rock of ‘Young Hearts’, it’s song after song that will leave you feeling tingly all over.
And, my God, is this Keith Buckley’s album. Unless you’re a fucking moron, you know how good Buckley is. However, hearing him get to let loose and really sing is incredible. He gets to do it a bit in Every Time I Die, but they aren’t releasing a track like ‘Invincible’ where he really stretches those pipes. While the guy could already do no wrong in my opinion, if you’re judging purely on his singing, this might be the best performance of his career. That’s not a bad accolade.
He’s backed-up by a few people who know what they’re doing too. Scott Ian is a fiend for a beefy riff while the less metal half of the band bring with them a pop sheen that lets this album roar off your speakers. I don’t care what kind of music you like, High Crimes sounds huge, and you should be listening to The Damned Things. They’re definitely better than whatever crap you’ve got on right now (okay, maybe not definitely, you might have very good taste in music, but most of you don’t).
So, now the question is whether The Damned Things are here to stay or will they swagger off back to the day jobs and leave us waiting another nine years for album number three. On this evidence, I’d rather they didn’t. I will happily sacrifice Fall Out Boy’s future for more Damned Things. You can have Anthrax too actually, although not Every Time I Die, we need them. And we can’t upset the goths too much by killing Alkaline Trio. Look, my point is that these fuckers have gone and done it again, they’re the supergroup that all other supergroups now have to live up to. Good luck to anyone daring to take that fight.
When you hear that Fat Mike of NOFX fame has released an album underneath the moniker Cokie the Clown, you might be forgiven for having certain expectations. This is a man who has made an art of telling crude jokes and getting himself into trouble. If he’s dressing up as a clown, it would be natural to assume he’s leaning into that side of his character. Well, it would be natural until you remember that clowns aren’t that funny and ten seconds into opener ‘Bathtub’ where Mike/Cokie details the story of waking up to find his ex-wife floating in the tub you might even begin to remember that they’re ultimately tragic. The whiny voice that’s told a million dick jokes has gotten serious.
And not just a little serious. You’re Welcome is not for the faint of heart. It’s a harrowing and brutally raw exploration of whatever the fuck is going on inside Mike’s head. If you’re looking for fun time punk rock you have come to the wrong place. This is closer to a thirty-minute confessional backed up by minimalistic music mainly comprised of acoustic guitar, strings and piano. It’s his chance to tell his story, and it’s not always a fun one. We get a weirdly emotionless recounting of finding his roommate after he committed suicide (‘Swing and a Miss’) sitting next to a loving tribute to a dead friend (‘The Queen Is Dead’). It’s an album rooted in tragedy which has no problem with making you uncomfortable.
All of which comes in the voice of Fat Mike, at times almost speaking his way through these tracks with that whiny drawl we’ve all heard a million times before only serving to make it all the more shocking. He’s never been a man to hide his feelings, but this takes things to a new level. From his family (‘Punk Rock Saved My Life’ and ‘That Time I Killed My Mum’) to his marriages (‘Fair Leather Friends’ and ‘Pre Arraigned Marriages’) to his friends (‘Fuck You’) and finally to himself (‘Down with the Ship’), this dives into every inch of Mike’s being and rips it out, holding it in front of your face and asking you to look. You’d have to be made of stone to listen to it and not feel like you’ve been through the wringer. It’s horrible.
I don’t mean that an insult either. Because You’re Welcome is also brave and experimental and something that I will never forget. It’s as much a memoir as it is a piece of music and I can only feel respect for the man who was strong enough to release it. However, I’m not sure I ever want to listen to it again. It leaves me worried and unsettled, unsure whether Mike is alright. This isn’t an album I can fall in love with or relate to because it’s not my life. It’s very much his. And I hope that putting it out into the world helped him face some of what its about. If that’s its legacy, it will have done alright.
For all alternative music claims to be the home of society’s misfits, the truth is that if you want to live in that world, you’re expected to follow the rules. From extreme metal to punk it is demanded that you have listened to all the right bands, wear the right clothes and play the right way or you shall be cast from the community and deemed not real metal/punk/whatever. It’s a sad state of affairs, but it’s true. You have got to follow the rules, and if you’re good enough, you might just be allowed to break them a little bit (although Metallica couldn’t get away with cutting their hair, so don’t hold your breath).
However, now and then you get a band that don’t realise there are rules. A band who ignore all that shit to release something that doesn’t fit in, a sonic blast of fresh air that leaves you asking what the fuck was that? Well, in this case, it’s Japan Otoboke Beaver.
Now, let’s make it clear, for all I know Otoboke Beaver grew up listening to Discharge and The Ramones, are aware of all the rules and have punk etched into their skin, I couldn’t give a shit either way, and I honestly know nothing about them. What I do know is that if they are aware of the rules, they ain’t following them. Itekoma Hits is, well, to be fucking honest, I’m not sure what it is. It’s Dead Kennedys, melded with Metallica, teaming up with a pop band and then tossed into a blender with enough sugar to send an entire nursery into meltdown. It’s fucking bonkers, and I love it.
Because for roughly twenty-six minutes these four women from Japan bounce around the place blasting through fourteen songs that take in a little bit of everything. At one point ‘Bad Luck’ slips into them singing in the round which honestly wouldn’t sound out of place on a kid’s TV show. Then, a couple of songs later, ‘Binge eating binge drinking bulimia’ is emitting fifty seconds of noisy hardcore, ditching anything approaching a song in an attempt to explode your brain. It’s heavy, sweet, frantic and all over the fucking place. It shouldn’t work, yet it does.
Nothing I have listened to this year or last or possibly ever sounds like Itekoma Hits. There is no one-word or even five that can be placed on this website to accurately describe it. I’m pretty sure we could sit down for an hour-long conversation, and I would still have failed to get across what it is. Otoboke Beaver are fresh and experimental, and I know fuck all about them apart from the fact I like this album. What could be more exciting than that?
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