Cerebral Ballzy and the authenticity argument, again, because apparently we can’t just kill it.

Cerebral Ballzy
Self Titled
William Street

I’m probably going to have to eat some words here. But what can I do, genres and personal history and such are a tricky thing. So let me just come out right now and say it, I like this Cerebral Ballzy record.I think as a punk record, produced in 2011 and influenced by obscure skate punk bands from the 80’s, it’s a pretty good homage to a sound that even punk rock has mostly forgotten. We’ll get more into that in a bit, though. I feel like it’s necessary for me to be upfront though about my feelings for this album.

Sometimes, I cant help but question the authenticity of an artist. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing either. And though it is much easier to do it with bands in genres you only have a cursory knowledge of, it should probably be done more with bands in genres you are pretty familiar with. Somehow, I am less willing to give someone in hip-hop or black metal the benefit of the doubt because while those are significant parts of my record collection, they are paled by punk rock bands from all over the place. Punk rock is something I feel I am somewhat of an authority on. Not like an academic authority, but it’s the type of music I have been listening to most consistently since I was 13 and found Black Flag’s The First Four Years in my possession and decided everything else, including death metal, was full of a bunch of posers.

The thrashier, faster, snottier, angrier and all out chaotic a band is, the better. There are many different types of punk rock music, but the kind that really gets me is the kind that speaks to that 13-year-old boy that still lives inside me and largely operates every aspect of my life. So when I first Cerebral Ballzy, a New York City band of young boys, I felt a certain kinship to the sounds that were rattling my brain. I knew nothing about them, having only caught a whiff of their name after a viewing of the latest Mastodon video, which is AMAZING and a part of an ad campaign that KIA is doing with Adult Swim. So it seems that Cerebral Ballzy is in bed with some potentially not so punk people.

There’s been a lot of chit-chat I’ve come across about how CB are just a punch of hipster, posers from NYC better at networking than actually being a punk band. There’s not much of an argument for this. Their slick video for “Insufficient Fare” is more MTV worthy then VHS dubbed. Further, they’re loved by hipster darlings Trash Talk and OFF!, who have a fair amount of DIY credibility or straight up punk rock history. But rarely is the talk about the music itself. It seems people want to focus more on the fact that they are from Brooklyn then the music they make.

In my mind, location doesn’t have a lot to do with it. I’m not a big fan of music that comes out of New York City personally. It’s cool for cool’s sake. And there just seems to be nothing cool about Cerebral Ballzy. They seem like five 21-year-old kids that actually grew up in NYC. They sure carry themselves that way in the video I have seen. Further, their music takes cues from some pretty seriously overlooked bands. Skate Rock, as it was always dubbed by Thrasher Magazine when I was growing up was this very snotty, snarky side of punk rock that always seemed to be made by kids. It was the music of those dudes that loved punk, but loved skating too and spent more time out in the sun with their boards. Their songs were often less fixed, about to fall off the edge and not nearly as well rehearsed. And while Cerebral Ballzy recorded with Joby Ford, so it sounds bigger and cleaner then one might expect, these guys don’t seem that great at their instruments. The guitar parts aren’t that strong. The bass, it’s pretty simple. The drummer is fast, but you can hear the takes in his arms. Our lead singer, he’s the best aspect of the band, and in punk rock, has the easiest job. He happens to have a great, bratty voice.

You throw in songs about skating, being broke, skipping school, this is not the music of twenty something hipster kids living off mommy and daddy. This is about street kids and their day. It’s all too familiar in so many aspects, the anthems of children from working class parents absent between 3 and 6 once the last school bell rings.

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On the Announcement of Lollapalooza’s 20th Anniversary Lineup

I woke up this morning and put on Krallice. You might actually know about this US Black Metal Band even if you aren’t into metal, black or otherwise. The reason you might know about them is because Nation Public Radio, or NPR as it’s now solely referred to, did a review of their new album. I’m really curious to how and why this is happening. After all, growing up, parents, teachers, peers and others looked at me like an idiot for being into Heavy Metal music. It was considered low-class and dumb, full of comic book imagery and violence. Never mind that it got me to read more, do research into alternative religions and generally made me feel good. Now, heavy metal is getting reviewed on public radio for the sweater wearing Ira Glass wanna be’s and all the Paula Poundstone innocents who like to believe they are left of center and subversive.

I get the same amount of confusion when I see that the über indie nerds over at Pitchfork start covering the LA hardcore band Trash Talk. I like Trash Talk. I think they are a pretty heavy and intense band. But, when it comes to hardcore music, they aren’t really breaking the mold. They lean towards a more palpable side of hardcore music with a slick sound, eschewing the lo-fi grit that hardcore was founded on. But the reality is, they are a pretty typical hardcore band. Why Pitchfork would even bother covering this band and giving their record a mediocre review baffles the mind. This band doesn’t have anything to offer hipsters in the world of hardcore that a myriad of other bands can’t offer them.

Clearly, this has a lot to do with the internet becoming the main source for communication these days. And we won’t talk about the economic divide which once again leaves lower-income peoples behind like always. That’s an important factor in what music gains popularity in the internet age for sure. But I am not well versed or researched enough to talk at length about that. But as information spreads easier among the internet and faster, it is also more diluted with millions of blogs and writers and critics and fan-boys like me getting hard-ons for the stupid things they like. Now, that isn’t to say that punk rock music doesn’t have some interesting things going on. There is a whole nation of bands that are popping up in smaller cities and towns that make some terrible and vicious music. It’s not pretty and it’s filled with a resigned hopelessness. Further, it’s connected not by a network of national touring and small fanzines but by personal run blogs that post the music for people to listen to. This is interesting, this subverts the mainstream, and it’s music that is, for all intent and purpose unlistenable to even the average music aficionado.

So, as I read the line up for this years, 20th anniversary edition of Lollapalooza, I laugh to myself. I remember 1991, the first year that Lollapalooza existed. I didn’t get to go, despite the show in my area being less than five miles from my house. I had to go on vacation that week. We arrived home on that Sunday night and I rolled down the windows and could hear Jane’s Addition, amplified beyond belief, cutting up the air of Fairfax, Virginia. I listened to the rest of the set from my back porch. It was that loud. Despite not being at the show and not seeing the band, I was transfixed by the power that music could have, both in its electrical amplitude and in its sure beauty.

Of course at 14, I didn’t really understand that Perry Farrell, for all his talk about self liberation and individuality was  just another cog in the corporate rock machine. Sure, it sounded a lot more idealistic and crazy than Metallica. But at the heart of it, there isn’t too much different between those bands. They were rock and roll bands. Not a movement, or part of any scene or community. At that size, they had surpassed any notions of being “alternative” even though Lollapalooza marketed itself as the alternative. The true alternative, that I would learn not too much later, was in my backyard in Washington DC. And then I would learn that it was all over the world, happening in basements and churches and other reclaimed spaces.

This didn’t stop me though for the next five years from going to Lollapalooza every summer. And I don’t have any regrets of that either. I heard ten thousand white kids scream “Fuck You, Ice Cube” as prompted. I finally got to see my beloved Red Hot Chili Peppers. I was introduced to Nick Cave and George Clinton. I saw Superchunk two nights in a row because they played at the Black Cat the night before their side stage appearance. I saw fucking Neurosis. There was also The Breeders, The Beastie Boys and Sonic Youth. These were bands worth seeing. But it was the realization, that slowly crept over me, that this was nothing more than a machine designed to sell a lifestyle and beer to kids. That lifestyle was one that I had embraced, and now it was being co-opted. Or maybe it had always been co-opted. It did, for a while, at least try to be an alternative, and in some ways it succeeded, by having a local stage, a side stage of indie acts and tents filled with information about social causes. Which back in the days before the internet was massively important. Of course those good ideas ebbed and flowed with equal rapidity.

So, 20 years later, as I look at the line-up for the three-day festival, I wonder what the point even is of calling it Lollapalooza? There is nothing remotely subversive or alternative about any of the bands on the line-up at all. None of them are DIY bands or alternative from anything that most funded media outlets report on and support. And sure, that concept is more murky what with dirty punk rock and Black Metal now being haphazardly reviewed by these neocons of music “criticism”. But really, even on Perry’s so-called side stage, Kid Cudi, a master of self loathing and women hating is featured. What’s so alternative, or even palpable and acceptable about that shit? Eminem is your headliner, so surely the gays and women are not the target market for this festival of “alternative” music. Looking at the line-up the only truly, left field weirdo band on there is Ween. Ween? That’s all you guys can come up with? I mean, don’t get me wrong, Ween is great. This isn’t a reflection on Ween, but it’s always Ween with you people. Krallice and Trash Talk would be a welcomed addition at this point.

I don’t know, maybe there is a bitterness, watching my youth being more and more run through the ringer. The older I get, the more down into the holes of off the beaten path of music I get. There’s more dissonant sounds, more vile grindcore, more black metal that’s not being covered by leftists radio conglomerates. There are vinyl records of hypnotic drone and cassette tapes of story tellers. I am actually more invested in an “alternative” to what corporations want to sell me then I was when I spoke so fervently against “the system” as a youth. For the rest of you, taking in all these festivals of music, overpriced and over saturated with more bands than you could even reasonably care about in a three-day period, I hope you enjoy it. I’ve got some Wormrot to listen to.

Content Content Content

Defiance, Ohio
Midwestern Minutes
No Idea Records

Well, it was bound to happen. This is the first time I’ve reviewed three albums by the same band. That it’s Defiance, Ohio is probably not a coincidence. Though they don’t remember I am sure, I actually had the privileged of opening for them a few years ago. I didn’t know anything about them at that point, a friend of mine put on the show (The Max Levine Ensemble also played and that was really cool too). The kids loved the hell out of them. I was confused about this whole “folk punk” thing, but gave them the benefit of the doubt, traded my CD for theirs (The Great Depression) with their merch dude (a local of DC) and went about my merry way. Five years later, Defiance Ohio are pretty fucking popular with the kids and I still have about 20 copies of my first EP and don’t play shows anymore.

For what it’s worth, The Great Depression is one of punk rocks finest moments from the first decade of this, the last century. And when Defiance, Ohio followed it up with the flawless The Fear The Fear The Fear a year later I knew this was a great band of immeasurable talent. And they fucking rock. I just saw them play last night to a packed, but intimate crowd here in Washington DC and the place was going ape shit. Kids were singing along, bouncing off each other (and me) and the band was spot on. Certainly they are more punk than folk, but mostly, they are just a great band with a unique sound.

So, I’ve had Midwestern Minutes for less than 24 hours now and above all I can say this, it is their most intimate, soothing album to date. Dare I say, this is their least punk album to date. While they have embraced instruments and arrangements closer to country, the approach has always been more inline with three chord punk anthems. They just sounded more friendly on acoustic guitars and banjos. But Midwestern Minutes is more Bright Eyes then Black Flag. When “The Reason” rolls pass, it’s hard to imagine the musicians are the same from days past. This is a band that has always given a shit about their songs for sure, but now they sound all grown up.

This album has great potential to reach a wider audience outside the DIY punk kids. But it’s all on musical merit alone. Defiance, Ohio aren’t doing anything differently then they’ve ever done. Midwestern Minutes sounds more like Defiance, Ohio then they have ever sounded. But the core remains. By albums end, the touching, sad Everyone Else on the Other Side” is as pure a song as ever could be written. This sorrowful ballad about mental health speaks of madness, compassion and loss. It speaks from position of experience and an understanding that these experiences are not under the sole authority of the individual. Defiance, Ohio is a band for the people. They’ve never been inaccessible in any way, even when bashing it out. But once again they’ve graduated beyond anyone’s expectations. The songs are made by the band, but they belong to everyone.

Trash Talk
Eyes and Nines
Trash Talk Collective

Trash Talk is a popular band that seems to be hated by hardcore purists. But, if I have come to understand anything from trudging along in the ghettos of punk rock and hardcore for the better part of 15 years, it’s one thing. Purists don’t know shit about music. They have latched on to a genre, and glamorize and exhalt the worst examples of said genre for the sake of “being down” or “being true” at the sake of fidelity and listenability.  And it’s preposterous at best and exudes a deep suspicion of insecurity from a total fucking poser.

My relationship with hardcore started in 1995 with Damnation AD’s No More Dreams of Happy Endings. For my ears this was the first time that hardcore lived up to its name. The album was heavy, dark, pounding and sonically awesome. Before I heard this unsung gem from DC’s straight edge boys I found hardcore mostly jocular and pathetic. Bands either wanted to be Minor Threat (which they weren’t) or they wanted to be Metallica (which was boring as fuck). Damnation AD was both and the record sounded great. In fact, they were kind of fucking scary. The album cover was all weird and dark, the guitars were disjointed but cutting. The album was fantastic. And for the longest time, I tried to get into other hardcore bands, but nothing sounded good. In fact the only album that even came remotely close, and I mean this in the loosest sense, was Texas is the Reason’s Do You Know Where You Are? which was influenced more by Jawbreaker and Jawbox then Youth of Today or Judge (two bands whose albums sonic fidelity leave so much to be desired I fail to see how this genre ever even got off the ground).

So when people hate on Trash Talk and their new album Eyes and Nines I think they’re just a bunch of fucking pussies. This album is heavy as shit and sounds fucking excellent. Why? Because it was recorded in a state of the art studio with working equipment. It’s heavy as Sabbath wanted to be, as fast as Minor Threat was, and as pissed off as Converge’s Jane Doe. The fact that this album is made by four stoners from Sacramento, California is stunning. What is even more stunning is that these pot head thrash freaks have also created this buzz by being the hardest working band in America’s hardcore scene. Armed with a relentless tour schedule, Trash Talk self releases their own records and has had the brilliance to create a web store ordering presence the rivals most major labels. Dear stupid kids in shitty bands, you want to make it in this day and age? Take note of Trash Talk and do the following: 1) Write good songs and then make them better by actually thinking about them. Don’t just recycle the recipe add yr own shit to it. 2) Tour Everywhere, Always. Forget girlfriends/boyfriends , your parents, a place to live, your record collection. Everything. Buy a van, some decent equipment and never come home. 3). Do what you do better, louder, faster, heavier and more dangerous and evil then anyone else around. 4) Don’t give a fuck what anyone has to say.

Eyes and Nines clocks in at 17 minutes in 10 songs which actually manages to be three minutes longer than their last “album”. And while they don’t go crazy with weird shit, there is enough spice to make this more exciting and palatable then 99.99% of all other “hardcore” being made. Some of it is simple creativity in mixing. Some of it’s just concise song writing. It’s not much really, a bit of a wah-wah pedal here, maybe some flange there and some good layered vocal performances make Eyes and Nines the most promising hope for hardcore. It’s palatable, but it doesn’t lose it’s edge. Sure, suburban punks can swallow this down, it’s clean and cutting. But Eyes and Nines is still an explosive, battering display of hardcore goodness.