Monday, October 23, 2006
i feel like as time goes on, i discover fewer and fewer bands that i think are among the BEST bands. since high school/college, which was when i was figuring everything out, there have been a few though, and one of them is definitely All.
for the uninitiated, All are basically the last lineup of the Descendents plus a singer who is not Milo. there was Scott Reynolds, Dave Smalley (i think) and Chad Price. i first heard All in high school via the album "Breaking Things," which is a respectable enough pop-punk album, but not life-changing. at that time, i was busy ignoring the fact that i loved the Descendents, probably because my friends discovered them and not me and i always wanted to be the one who was discovering bands. but i couldn't avoid listening to them b/c my friends Kyle and Adam--who intro'd me to punk rock via their tastes and their unbelievable punk-metal-hardcore-pop band the Crackbabies--played their stuff all the time.
after a while, it became impossible for me to ignore the fact that i had developed an intense affection for songs like "Silly Girl" and "Clean Sheets" and i bought "Somery," the greatest hits thing, without telling any of my friends. back then, i only had a tape deck and so i made a tape of "Somery," but i made MY version of what i wanted that album to be, which was only the poppy Descendents songs. anyone who has ever spent any meaningful time with the Descendents knows that their catalog can pretty handily be divided into the poppy "hits" and the weird heavier and/or proggy stuff. a song like "Hope" or "Bikeage" would fall tidily into the former category, while something like "I Wanna Be a Bear" or "Kids" belongs in the latter. anyway, i decided then that i didn't like anything but the supercatchy bubblegummy stuff and that's all i wanted on my tape. i dug that a bit, but the Descendents were never really one of my favorites; as far as that poppy stuff, i probably spent a lot more time with J Church and even Green Day--i still contend that their song "Going to Pasalacqua" is one of the best things i've ever heard--and definitely the Misfits and a bunch of others than Milo & Co.
i can credit Tony, the bassist of my band and one of my best friends, for getting me back into the Descendents. the first time his band Archaeopteryx played w/ Stay Fucked, he told us afterward that he thought we sounded like the instrumental Descendents stuff. i'm always happy when someone bothers to compare us to anything, but i thought that was a real cool complement b/c it was so obscure. the only no-vocals track i could recall by them, though, was "Theme," which is this weird funny little ditty-like thing. but Tony told me to go listen to the song "Uranus" from the "All" record (the name of the final record of Descendents 1.0, not the band). i checked it out and i was totally blown away. this song, recorded in 1987, is officially a math-rock song. it's totally, totally proggy, complex and virtuosic but with that weird Descendents charm still very much intact. (anyone interested in the little-known antecedents of math rock, as i very much am, will find this one to be a revelation methinks--a true prog-punk fusion.) anyway, so obviously i was even more flattered to be compared to that and also newly interested in the Descendents, so over the next few years i amassed the whole collection and realized they were really one of my favorite bands. i had a new appreciation for all the material, not just the poppy stuff, and i especially liked the songs that were sort of in between the two aesthetics, e.g., "Cameage," which has this awesome weirdly Van Halen-esque guitar part and a really wrenching chorus.
only this summer did i revisit All though. Tony and Ben had it on all the time in the tour van and it slowly started to hit me how fucked up and awesome this music was. when we got back, i knew i had to buy something of theirs and Tony recommended "Allroy Saves," which is one of the Scott Reynolds discs. this record is a real tour de force, no joke. it's more absurd, complex, psychically tortured and ambitious than anything by the Descendents. it's really like the Egerton (g), Alvarez (b), Stevenson (b) team just totally went off and dragged Reynolds along with them. the prog-punk thing is in amazing effect here. when "Educated Idiot" kicks in, the uniqueness of the sound just smacks you: the bass and guitar are totally independent, with Alvarez pretty much playing the heart of the melody and Egerton sounding like a more chopsy Greg Ginn kind of. and the tempos and rhythms are all over the place--the overall sound is honestly closer to fusion than punk at times. "Idiot," like so many of the others, has a killer chorus that sort of irons the weirdness out but it keeps coming back.
"Just Like Them" is beautiful too (it was actually written by Milo, weirdly enough). really catchy and hard-hitting and it's got one of the most incredible drum fills i've ever heard leading into the first verse--it's like some Zach Hill-style shit; honestly, you will rewind it a million times even if you've heard it a million times. my favorite song though is definitely "Just Living" which is an almost unbearably emotional song. the guitar line in the verse is this weird, wistful, washy thing that kind of reminds me of "Cameage" just in that it's hard to believe how sophisticated and beautiful it is, but also in the tone. the lyrics are just about being sort of strung out and feeling empty: "What about the bills? What about the rent? What about the days in the park you never spent? I wonder what's the use. I need time to have a purpose." Reynolds just sounds so listless and dejected and pissed and weary, and then he gets to the title line: "Not alive, just living," which you're crazy if you can't relate to. the whole thing is hugely catchy and hugely affecting. Tony and i played it in the van last night and it was late on a Sunday and i felt the encroaching week and also it felt like the first real day of fall and i felt like it was time to start girding up for the cold, which is an emotional thing as much as a physical one, at least for me. this song just screamed fall and Tony described it as "brutal" and i was like, "no shit."
i'm not as familiar with the later tracks on the album, though i know they're all good. the lyrics completely hold up on the whole thing and you cannot have this disc on in the background b/c the music is so fascinatingly involved and inventive and just special. also it's got that crazy weird SST production that makes everything sound kind of terrible and muffled but in a way you love and know. the album just has the feeling of being a labor of love in every sense, a lost classic, blah, blah, blah. like Cheer-Accident, these guys are American geniuses, still making really good music. Alvarez and Stevenson back Dando on the new Lemonheads disc and they do a damn good job. word has it that there's a new All instrumental album coming out sometime--that could very well be unreal. get "Allroy Saves" and listen to it as you welcome/resent fall.