Following a string of DIY records, on the appropriately titled ‘Girls’, Orange County hardcore punks Vultures United pay tribute to works originally performed by female fronted acts.  And that’s not all: in addition to the half-dozen covers which make up the bulk of this release, the band have also included a few self-penned instrumental segues.  Largely made up of keyboard noodlings and drones, ‘Girls’ doesn’t always necessarily benefit from these distractions.  However, since each one is named after the performer that follows, it appears a more than reasonable idea from a conceptual point of view.

With regard to those covers, Vultures United’s re-working of Bjork’s ‘Army of Me’ is an instant classic.  Since it had already been given the alternative metal treatment by Powerman 5000, this tune has already proven to be easily malleable, but even Powerman’s best attempts don’t match the ferocity of VU’s offering here.  The hardcore punk riffs are like concrete blocks to the skull, matched with vocals full of throat-bursting intensity.  Bubbling underneath, a new wavish keyboard is on hand to remind the listener of the electronic bias of the 1994 Bjork hit, but does little to soften the otherwise uncompromising nature.  In short, this is a job well done from all concerned.  Equally enjoyable, a punky romp through Best Coast’s ‘Summer Mood’ brings out the best in the Vultures’ musical abilities.  Between the distorted vocals and meaty riffs, this tune somehow sounds as if it was made to be a hardcore classic, though it is no longer especially summery…  It would be great to find out what Bethany Consentino thinks!

The usually uber-irritating ‘Not My Name’ (a hit in the hands of the bewilderingly untalented Ting Tings) gets beefed up and – naturally – improved.  The simple riff (little more than one chord) adopts a hardcore punk stance – with unavoidable metal chug, while the dumb lyric moves from sounding twee to threatening…in a fun way.  A really oddball choice, ‘He Needs Me’ (as made famous by Shelley DuVall in the oft-panned ‘Popeye’ movie), presents the first of a couple of times this release really misfires.  The slower approach combined with deliberately discordant vocals makes this incredibly hard listening all round.  If you can make it past the first minute or so, the bass sound is terrific and nearing the end, xylophonesque percussion comes as a big surprise, so it’s not a complete dead duck.  Perhaps – and this the most likely – ‘He Needs Me’ just wasn’t that good a song to start with anyway.  Let’s face it: even Fat Mike and co gave this a wide birth when putting together Me First & The Gimme Gimmes’ album of film and show tunes.

A high speed romp through the X Ray Spex classic ‘Oh Bondage, Up Yours’ takes a great trashy punk number, toughens it up and gives it a Dwarves style send off, at least musically, while – as always – the lead voice opts for a more extreme delivery.  Often cited as one of the first wave of punk’s essential cuts, thankfully VU don’t trash it.  Their sledgehammer delivery should be of huge appeal to most punk fans.  A left-field choice, the Jackson Browne-penned ‘These Days’ brings the cassette edition (yes, cassette!) to a close with a world of gang vocals.  While the arrangement is perhaps the release’s weakest overall  – something not entirely helped by the vocal approach, resembling a raucous sing-along with friends – it doesn’t necessarily sit so comfortably with the rest of the material either… Although made famous via a recording by Nico, how would Jackson feel about having been considered one of the “girls”?  He’s probably not so worried – after all, he did once forget he actually played on the Nico recording!

Released on CD, vinyl EP and cassette, each version of ‘Girls’ has a slightly different track-list  [The Cranberries’ ‘Salvation’ appears on the vinyl, Nico’s ‘These Days’ on the cassette, a Bikini Kill track on the CD], but since the key songs are duplicated, you’ll get the three best tracks whichever format you choose.  Broadly speaking,  ‘Girls’ isn’t much more than a bit of fun, but you should still try and pick up this release if you can, since the Bjork, The Ting Tings and Best Coast songs are well worth the price of admission.

December 2012


Despite only recording two full length albums of original material between 1996-2012, Chicago punks The Vindictives have secured a cult following.  This is due in part to their having shared members with Screeching Weasel (including Ben himself).   Most of their legacy seems to revolve around punk fans’ love/hate relationship with their 1998 re-recording of Ramones’ ‘Leave Home’: in a controversial move, the band not only changed the running order, but also took it upon themselves to substantially alter lots of the arrangements.  Ben Weasel once claimed he would never listen to it in case “Joey [Vindictive] has somehow ruined the best punk album of all time”.  Perhaps ruined is a strong word, but it really wasn’t very good – certainly not as good as Weasel’s own cover of Ramones, or Mr T Experience’s take on ‘Road To Ruin’.  It’s biggest problem  was not its various musical embellishments but – like most recordings by The Vindictives – Joey Vindictive’s nasal delivery.

After ten year absence, the band returned to recording in 2012, ending the year with the ‘Mono Flexi’ EP – their thirteenth 7” release.  A coloured flexi-disc (with a digital download for ease of listening), with the tunes recorded in mono, it could be accused of mere gimmickry, especially given the lack of quality evident on some of The Vindictives’ prior releases.  Surprisingly, though, a couple of these tunes are half-decent.

Best of all, ‘Shrinkerhead’ is classic punk pop, capitalising on a solid Ramones-esque riff and call and response vocal on the chorus.  The general tone suits Joey’s delivery and despite the patchiness of The Vindictives’ past works, it’s unlikely that Dan Vapid or Ben Foster would have achieved better musical results with any of their projects.   Even more tuneful, the mid-paced ‘Nightmare, Man’ includes some superb guitar lines and a vocal that leans farther towards late 70s power pop/new wave than Ramones-obsessed punk.  The music is great, the wordless backing harmonies even greater, while the understated lead vocal is one of Joey’s best.  There’s a brief bridge section with an out-of-place almost cartoonish approach, but that can easily be overlooked.

The other pair of tunes are less fortunate.  ‘Touch It’ features a superb bassline and pleasing 50s rock ‘n’ roll twang in the guitar depot and, as such, is far from terrible, but the enjoyable moments are often quashed by Vindictive’s misjudged yelping.  Still, at a minute and a quarter, it’s over quickly enough.  Beginning with muted guitar motifs before blossoming into a classic punk chord progression, ‘Join The Circus’ seems as if it’s going to be another winner…and then it falls flat.  Aside from the main riff, there’s nothing much to enjoy here – Joey’s voice is more nasal than usual, while the chorus is irritating (probably designed that way on purpose) and the inclusion of circus theme music (‘Entrance of the Gladiators’ played as a sloppy guitar interlude) just pushes goodwill too far.

Based on this release, The Vindictives aren’t always as shoddy as parts of their 7”-heavy back-cat would suggest.  However, despite sparks of brilliance, it’s likely they’re always destined to be considered a second division outfit. Since this comeback only offers four numbers – two of which aren’t much to write home about – they’ve not put in enough hard-yards to make a long-lasting impression. After such a long time, surely a full-length wouldn’t have been too much to ask for?

November 2012


Mixing garage punk, a little garage blues and a whole world of attitude, this debut EP by New Yorkers (the) Thunderfucks has little time for subtlety.  Despite never taking the speed-punk route of bands like Zeke (whose debut clocked up twenty songs in just about twenty four minutes) it’s still pretty damn fast in places.  That speediness combined with a hefty love of trashy 50s influenced rock ‘n’ roll – bringing forth a little Ramones and a whole world of early Misfits in their sound – means these guys don’t mess around.

Without any time to warm up, ‘Crazy Wild Style’ crashes into a rock ‘n’ roll thrasher that sounds like Rocket From The Crypt spun at 45 rpm, with plenty of shouty gang vocals backing up a lead voice that attacks the listener with a near guttural delivery.  Another lightning fast romp, ‘Sick Girl’ – clocking in at just a minute and a half – allows drummer KC to let loose on his hi-hat, while the rest of the band sweat it out through a brilliant, screaming rock ‘n’ roll number with a killer old-school lead break from Leopardman Tom, underneath which  Handsome Dan delivers a lovely hurried bassline.  With the combination of semi-aggessive vocal, brief playing time and great soloing, this number presents Thunderfucks at their most urgent, even if not their most wholly accessible.

The other tunes are a little tighter all round.  ‘Another Day’ begins with a riff that would make Johnny Ramone proud, but by the time Charlie Kong launches into a strong lead vocal topped with a croon, this band’s Misfits about as subtle as a brick – but since this tune is potentially better than anything that band has committed to record since Glenn Danzig’s departure, who cares?  On the basis of this and ‘Entertain Me’ (which follows in a very similar mood), Thunderfucks take the punk ‘n’ roll ethic, kick it in squarely up the arse and get superb results, even in spite of a couple of wobbly lead guitar breaks.   On ‘Entertain Me’ in particular, Kong sounds very confident with his adopted croon.

Since these four tunes have two distinctly different attitudes, that means there’s just enough variation within the band’s chosen styles for them not to feel repetitive.  This too, of course, is helped by the shorter EP format.  All together, it adds up to a debut EP that’s a sweaty but joyous affair that no fans of punk/punk ‘n’ roll should miss.

October 2012


It’s often said that as punks get older they lose their edge.  Not Keith Morris, it seems.  He may have sounded like a little more restrained on parts of those later Circle Jerks releases between 1985-87 (and their 1995 reunion disc), but he’s more than making up for that here.   As frontman of OFF! – also featuring Burning Brides guitarist Dimitri Coats, drummer Mario Rubalcala (ex-Rocket From The Crypt) and Redd Kross bassist Steve McDonald – the original Black Flag frontman sounds like a barely comprehensible ball of rage.

This self-titled release from 2012 follows the release of four 7” EPs, a live release and a split 7” with Washington noisemakers (the) Melvins.  Just as those EPs comprised uber-short hardcore punk tunes, their first full-length record offers more of the same.  Full-length, of course, is relative: Sixteen tunes in under sixteen minutes, this release barely allows OFF! time to take a breath.

By the time the first three numbers have torn past in a relatively pacy fashion, it is abundantly clear that Morris sounds as vibrant – and as angry – as he did back in 1978, as the energy emanating from the 56 year old vocalist is absolutely immense.  Although his vocals have been slightly distorted, he sounds as edgy he did on those Black Flag recordings he made in his twenties.  Remarks like “You think you’re the king of the scene you created” (‘I Got News For You’) and “my life was saved by Darby Crash”(‘Jet Black Girls’) are delivered with brilliant arrogance, while ‘Cracked’s line regarding the “hardcore karaoke retirement home” shows more of the self-mocking streak which has often had a place in his lyrics.

While it could be easy to dismiss OFF! as primarily Morris’s vehicle, the rest of the band are equally awesome when it comes making these short, angry tunes truly burn.   Dimitri Coats churns out buzzing, fuzzy and dizzyingly brilliant chords at breakneck speed, very much in the spirit of classic Black Flag and the earliest Circle Jerks (although he’s never tempted to reproduce anything that sounds like one of Greg Ginn’s atonal jazz influenced lead breaks), while the rhythm section are superbly tight.  Coats’ tone and approach is particularly amazing considering his “day jobs” have been on the hard rock scene and not in punk (hardcore or otherwise).

Mentions of Pollywog Park (the location of a particularly badly received Black Flag show in ’79) and Redd Kross are notable in one of the record’s best numbers ‘Feelings Are Meant To Be Hurt’, a minute long flashback to Morris and McDonald’s place during the scene’s formative years.  As he spits “you cannot take what belongs to me!” Morris is a force to be reckoned with, taking on the hardcore bands that have had careers modelled on his influence from the early eighties scene.  What sets OFF! apart from so many post 80s hardcore bands, though, is the near-purity of their sound. Yes, Morris’s voice may appear distorted in a way that it just wouldn’t have been back in the late 70s, but looking at the big picture here, unlike lots of hardcore recordings, there’s absolutely no influence from other genres (most notably metal) creeping into their sound.  The old-school vibes have a lot to do with two of OFF!’s members being important faces on the early eighties scene and the presence of Raymond Pettibon sleeve art. But there’s another factor that just as important in the end result: thanks to Coats’s minimalist production, these recordings capture lots of the same spirit of Black Flag’s ‘Nervous Breakdown’ EP, Redd Kross’s ‘Born Innocent’ and Circle Jerks’ ‘Group Sex’.

There have been an abundance of great hardcore punk bands since the scene flourished in the very early 80s, but only a few have equalled the raw brilliance of ‘Group Sex’ by Circle Jerks, the earliest Husker Du outings and pre-1985 Black Flag.  OFF! – both the band and debut “full-length” record – brings classic hardcore back to its truer roots. Unlike some other punk stalwarts, Morris still has plenty of fire in his belly and and this release sounds like it comes from the heart.  Essential.

July 2012


A stalwart of the US punk scene, Wimpy Rutherford was the original frontman for pop-punk legends The Queers, contributing vocals to their first couple of EPs.  As fun as those records are, a ridiculously low budget combined with Wimpy’s unrestrained growly vocal makes those releases (later reissued as part of the ‘A Day Late & A Dollar Short’ comp) only of real interest to Queers completists.   Although Wimpy left the band shortly after,  as the their career took off, The Queers always included a few of his songs in their live set.

Wimpy returned to the band a few more times later on – seemingly whenever he fancied doing so – guesting on a couple of 7”s in the mid-90s and contributing to their 2000 LP ‘Beyond The Valley…’ [An almost wholly objectionable work, its over-reliance on shock value material easily makes it the worst Queers album released during their first 30 years].  Following a stint fronting a new band, The Jabbers, in 2005 (yielding one album, ‘American Standard’), Wimpy returned briefly to The Queers yet again, performing vocals on ten songs on the ‘Weekend At Bernie’s’ live LP, issued in 2006.

Six years on, Wimpy appeared fronting his own eponymously named band.  The title of their debut EP ‘Still Headed Nowhere’ seemingly mocks the New Hampshire vocalist’s approach to his career and connection with anything long-term; since all four songs were written and recorded within 48 hours, even the approach to its creation suggests a “living for the moment” attitude.

In The Medallions, Rutherford has a strong line-up behind him.  As well as collaborating with the expected  – ex-Queers/Nobodys guitarist Geoff Useless – he is also backed by one of the best musicians of his on again-off again career: namely pop-punk/power pop singer-songwriter Kurt Baker, here stepping into the role of bassist.  Wimpy’s gravelly bark of a voice, meanwhile, remains an acquired taste, but it has nevertheless softened a little over the years.

Following a count in, the title cut comes full-on with a classic three chord pop-punk riff.  It finds the perfect balance between spiky punk and bouncy rock ‘n’ roll trash, the latter bought to life via a fifties inspired twang from Useless.   The old rock ‘n’ roll vibes get an extra kick through the presence of organ, complete with a rather fun solo (played by Kris “Fingers” Rodgers).  In terms of songwriting there’s a one-line chorus guaranteed to provide dumb enjoyment, which delivered by Wimpy’s unsubtle tones comes with maximum punk sneer.  If you make it to the end of this track, it comes guaranteed you’ll want to stick it out to the end of the EP.

’36 Weeks’ casts aside the band’s more obvious punk roots.  For the bulk of the song, a superbly fat bassline takes the lead, giving everything a cocky swagger.  Given the stripped down sound, Wimpy’s delivery sounds more menacing than ever and a gang backing vocal works excellently on another instantly lovable simplistic hook.  There are bursts of hi-octane punk trashiness, but these are tempered by equally energetic bursts of organ creating something which isn’t merely the work of “just another three chord punk band”.  Unfortunately, The Medallions’ second attempt at slowing things down (‘Draggin’ The Line’) fares less well…

‘Girl’s Gone Psycho’ has a garage rock vibe and each of the musicians does what comes most naturally to them: Rutherford sneers and barks, drummer Craig Sala lays down a solid garage rock backbeat and Baker’s bassline is occasionally more complex than you’d expect from such a tune.  Given the task of topping that off and effectively holding everything together, Useless takes a more tuneful approach, with two separate rhythm guitar parts, each of which can be heard clearly in the left and right channels.  While a little more commercial than the previous two tracks, with the perfect balance between punky delivery and tight(ish) musicianship and another instant hookline, ‘Girl’s Gone Psycho’ is a track which shows Wimpy and The Medallions at their absolute best.  In fact, it’s so good, it should have been used to close the EP, thus leaving the listener with something both upbeat and infectious.

Instead, The Medallions’ bow out with a number that is by far their worst.  On the aforementioned ‘Draggin’ The Line’, Baker’s bassline is another winner, but in terms of enjoyable qualities, that’s almost it.   Wimpy’s limited vocal range just doesn’t hit the mark and it’s not until the whole band join in (relative) harmony on the all-too-brief chorus this particular song offers anything enjoyable vocally.  Even then, while that chorus is fabulous, the brilliant gang harmonies don’t seem to be able to stretch any farther: during the closing moments, the singing is easily the most tuneless on the whole release, as the band tackles a la-la refrain while sounding really, really drunk!  If their brief bio is to be believed, then this is quite possibly the truth.

‘Still Headed Nowhere’ is a little rough and ready, though in comparison to those early Queers outings has a slightly broader sound.   The EP’s hurried creation means it was never really designed to be a classic, but it’s certainly very enjoyable.  Let’s face it, although flawed, the union of Mr Kurt Baker and some chaps from The Queers was never gonna be a bad thing…

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October 2012