Culturespill » Punk

This Bike is a Pipe Bomb–No, NOT Really

17th April

Pipe Bomb!

Stand back N.W.A., and make way for This Bike is A Pipe Bomb, America’s newest terrorist conspirators. This folk-punk outfit is Straight Outta Pensacola, pissed as hell, and destined to terrorize a bike rack near you. They are, after all, reportedly “concerned with the civil rights movement,” an antagonistic sentiment if we’ve ever heard one. Thanks to the collective and eternal vigilance to which our great nation was summoned after the 9/11 attacks, however, it appears that we will all be spared the vicious tactics of these “musicians.” (The current terror-alert color, by the way, is a light shade of fuschia today–just in case you were wondering. “Light Fuschia,” the Department of Homeland Security advises, means that you must evaluate your supply of duct tape immediately and make sure you know where your children are. Godspeed to all!)

The good people of Ohio University, for instance, had their conscientious fellow-citizens to include in their traumatized prayers when, after a student’s bicycle was spotted ouside the Oasis restaurant “bearing a promotional sticker for the band,” emergency responders closed off large parts of the campus, classes were canceled, the Athens, Ohio bomb squad moved in to apprehend, detain, and eventually destroy the bike, the student was charged with a “misdemeanor”–for what, we’re not exactly sure, but we suspect the student was rightfully charged with the offense of “parking bike while liking music,” an increasingly visible threat to national security–and accused of “inducing panic.”

Bafflingly, though, all charges were later dropped and the student was awarded money for the loss of his bicycle. Not to worry–we here at Culturespill pledge to follow-up on this story to assure ourselves and our readers that the “student”–A.K.A. “terrorist”–was only absolved of wrongdoing after a thorough water-boarding that squeezed out the names of various accomplices believed to be roughing it in the hills of Tajikistan. “The university updated its emergency response procedures after Sept. 11,” Dean of Students Terry Hogan, who “encouraged student fans of the punk rock band to think carefully about the ways they show their support,” assured concerned parties, adding that those procedures were followed. We ARE able to assure you at this time that the student was indeed “charged criminally,” as University Spokesman Jack Jeffrey put it.

Culturespill promises to push for a more thorough explanation, but we must also confess to being equally puzzled after learning that “the team found no explosives.” There were, however, “short, explosion-like sounds heard in the area” that caused a stir (Junior Lisa Ball reported hearing a “boom”), though these were “created not by a detonation but by a water device used to assess if the bike contained a bomb.” Right–we know you guys just have to pretend it was nothing to protect the confidential security secrets you harvested from your assessment of the bicycle of evil. It’s OK.

bikers

But this band of evildoers and scare-ifiers collectively known as “This Bike is a Pipe Bomb” continued their reign of terror following this initial strike. At a so-called “peace rally” (read “terrorist training camp”) in Austin, Texas, an officer spotted a woman whose bicycle also sported the band’s promotional sticker. She too was quickly detained, but released after “the band’s existence was confirmed.” (I would have loved to be a fly on THAT wall. Seriously. What the hell do you say to a cop who looks you in the eye and demands that you please “confirm your existence” at once?)

Yet another bicycle with the offending sticker was discovered on the second floor of Bellarmine Hall at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. Culturespill is heartened to learn that “security officers” took such appropriate measures as evacuating the entire hall, sounding the fire alarms, and demanding that students “back farther away from the building” in full anticipation that the whole thing would be blown halfway to the moon any second. Powerful devices, these “bicycles.” Philly cops were then called in “to secure the situation” while security officers “monitored the scene and blocked every exit.”

Be at ease, America–these are just a few of many anecdotes available to confirm that we have indeed become a safer nation since September 11th, 2001. But we’re equally grateful to the many fine officers and officials who, through their hard work in these chilling instances of bicycle terror, also brought to our attention a band that is most worthy of greater notice. The endearingly misspelled “The Arguement,” one of four tunes found on the band’s MySpace page, evokes the analog aggression of true punk greats like Cock Sparrer, Dead Kennedys, or Lou Reed’s Blue Mask album-an appealingly straightforward rock that’s raw enough to pass as a De Stijl-era White Stripes demo or an alternate take of Electric Six’s “Germans in Mexico.”

Cock Sparrer: We Love You

Replete with rhetoric that’s guaranteed to send them packing to Gitmo in no time, their songs hilariously anticipate exactly the kind of ignorance they’ve exposed at bike racks from coast to coast. ” You think things are bad now,” they sing on “Body Count” from 2002’s Front Seat Solidarity, “well they’ve always been scared that kids have guns.” But it’s on “A Hundred Dollars,” a track from the same album, that they summarize their credo with the sneering directness of authentic punk:

When I walk downtown you know I gotta walk with my head held high,
because those stupid southern yuppies they don’t like
to see a punk rock kid with his head held high.
They like the way that their money feels.
They got bank accounts and boob jobs and a fast set of wheels.
They fear a smile on the young, they fear the actions of the young.

Indeed they do. Especially those among “the young” who ride bikes, listen to music, and go to college–otherwise known as “enemy combatants.” Be on the lookout, everyone, and report any suspicious behavior–such as the riding of bikes with headphones on–to the authorities at once!

The Vulgar Boatmen: What 16 Potty-Mouthed Sailors Can Do For You

2nd April

Boat Dudes

OK, so they don’t really have potty mouths. They’re actually quite refined creatures, these “vulgar” boatmen: Robert Ray, a film studies prof at the University of Florida in Gainesville who became the common denominator of a curiously scattered group, has published several books that “challenge the film studies orthodoxy,” including “How Film Theory Got Lost and Other Mysteries in Cultural Studies,” “The Avant Gard Finds Andy Hardy,” and “A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema.” Dale Lawrence, a former student of Ray’s who would become another of the band’s many vital parts, published something of his own: the “Hoosier Hysteria Road Book,” a work whose audience one reviewer narrowed down to “those who love basketball, Indiana, and life in general.” Top that, mortals! These are no drunken sailors, folks, and this is no ordinary band. Meet The Vulgar Boatmen, the third band to earn Culturespill’s distinction as one of the best bands you’ve never heard of.

If you check out the below video of the group performing their criminally catchy and flawless pop masterpiece “Mary Jane,” we’re pretty sure you’ll quickly join us as we scratch our heads in utter disbelief at how this, of all bands, could possibly have been tossed to the cluttered dumpster of music-biz hostages and has-beens. OK, so maybe they’ve been making music long enough to have released their earliest albums on cassette (here’s what a “cassette” looks like in case you forgot), and maybe Robert Ray was 46 years old when they released their brilliant You and Your Sister LP in 1992, but their sound remains as fresh today as it was when they got their start by mailing cassettes of songs-in-progress back and forth between Indianapolis and Gainesville so many years ago.

The only act in recent memory to be split between states–described as “actually two bands” on furious.com–one foot in Indiana where Lawrence had already secured some street-cred with disbanded midwest punk outfit The Gizmos (the hell with cassettes–those guys released their first EP in 1978 on a seven inch!), and another in Florida where Robert Ray toiled by day as an aficionado of film at UF, the band worked through a thousand miles of distance and a faster turnover rate than your local Wendy’s (at least 16 people counted themselves among the Vulgar Boatmen over the years) to produce a sublime pop-rock that evokes a time when “pop” meant something other than T & A and televised custody throwdowns on TMZ.

With uniquely literate restraint and hooks so sweet you could pour them on your waffles, the Boatmen’s music is born of an affection for a time when pop meant horn-rimmed glasses and wistful crooning about a girl named Peggy Sue. Lawrence, an avid lover of Buddy Holly who introduced audiences to his spare and fascinating final sessions on a 2003 NPR segment, continues to express more sympathy for pop’s founding fathers than for their overpaid and bawdy daughters. “Little Richards and Rodgers & Hart speak to my life in ways that Eminem and the Strokes do not,” he insists. A true lover of songs, Lawrence’s musical sensibilities “traversed sub-genres through finding in them a commonality that was once called rock ‘n roll,” Kyle Barnett writes, “a music built around simple chord structures, insistent rhythms and elliptical lyrics about everyday life.”

CD

From the gnawing anxieties of suddenly finding yourself an adult and on your own after college to the disillusioned surrender of a boy in love with an unattainable hometown girl, the songs of The Vulgar Boatmen keep their themes as simple as their music, and it’s exactly that rebuke of overwrought production or grand poses that distinguishes them as one of the most shamefully underrated bands of our time.

Kyle Barrett concedes that “What happened to the Vulgar Boatmen is probably the most commonly repeated narrative in popular music: a promising band with strong critical accolades and a growing fan base gets lost in the machinations of the music industry.” Honestly, though, they should have taken the hint when an internal shakeup at Elekra Records, their doomed label, culminated in a change of name from “Elektra Records” to “Elektra Entertainment” (because we can’t have them thinking that we make, like, music and stuff. That’s just so eew!)

So famous for their failure to publicize their own acts that insiders referred to the label only as “Neglectra”–we are, after all, talking about the same label that kicked Tom Waits to the curb after he released the most widely praised LP of his career at the time, the incomparable Heartattack and Vine–the shake-up lead to the hiring of the hugely ambitious Sylvia Rhone, a woman known for her indifference to rock music who dumped the Boatmen along with several other bands on her way to Mowtown Records as Elektra faded into oblivion in a merger with Atlantic.

Rhone

Sylvia Rhone

All that left the Boatmen–you guessed it–shit out of luck, just as they had been promised by Elektra an American release of their 1995 album Opposite Sex, which ultimately found its way to stores in Europe but never saw the light of day on U.S. soil after Rhone waved her flaming wand and fled (thanks, bitch). With no distribution in America and the dwindling number of alienated fans that followed, the Boatmen cruised to an early, if reluctant, retirement, publishing their road guides to basketball schoolyards in Indiana and impassioned screeds on film theory.

The band scored a mild degree of renewed interest in 2003 when they released Wide Awake on their own No Nostalgia label, a compilation of previous–and in some cases reworked (as in the masterfully stripped down renditions of “Anna” or “Mary Jane”) –takes from their first few albums. The band’s days as a fractured whole with half in the midwest and half in the sunshine appear to be over, as an aging Robert Ray bemoans the”attrition rate” in a college town where musicians graduate and go looking for their lives somewhere else. Lawrence remains active with the Indianapolis contingent, which continues to perform occasional live gigs.

It may sound like yet another story of an out-of-luck band of dreamers who found themselves on the verge of kissing the stars and instead were sent to kiss the dirt by the hard shove of circumstance, but these are no self-pitying grovelers. As this kick-ass take on “Mary Jane” from just last summer attests, these guys rock just as hard now as they did before their fall.

Meet the Spartans (no, not the stupid movie)

30th March

Spartans!

For those interested in simulating the sound of Porcelain or Threes, Sparta’s latest and most focused outing to date, we’ve devised the following recipe: take two supernovas, one-and-a-half thunderstorms, any song from U2’s October, a flock of gazelles being shot at by a band of rabid man-eaters, any song from Radiohead’s The Bends, and one teenage girl who has just learned that her boyfriend’s been sleeping with her sister. Throw all ingredients down the stairs at once. Garnish with a dusting of speed and serve dangerously hot. Yields infinite servings.

Of course, you can always go for the old fashioned approach and just listen to the albums. But be warned: approximately 90 seconds into songs like “Taking Back Control,” the band’s most radio-ready single to date, you may begin to feel as though you’re trying to drink down a comet. Do not be alarmed. This is normal. You’re listening to Sparta, the second in Culturespill’s new series of “The Best Bands You’ve Never Heard Of.”

If you’ve heard anything about this rising bunch of slingers and singers from El Paso, then you might know that they’re half of what used to be known as At the Drive In, those now-defunct sorcerers of distortion-soaked hardcore punk. But don’t let that fool you. Sparta’s sound boasts as much testosterone but less of the angst of their famously afroed forefathers. OK, so maybe only one of them sported the whole let’s-be-white-dudes-with-afros thing, but Jesus, Cedric, that hair was really frickin’ big.

Sparta performing “Taking Back Control”

But if the only thing At the Drive-In is remembered for is big hair and, well, maybe that one time they pretended to be a polka chapel band just to score a live spot on a TV show (I’m still waiting to hear the polka-punk rendition of “The Lord’s Prayer”–I would give my first-born child for that bootleg–hell, take ALL my kids–no, I’m serious. Please.), they’ve got Sparta to thank for it. Trading the slash-yourself-and-sing-about-it abandon of ATDI’s Acrobatic Tenement for the softened but still-present edges of their own Porcelain, Sparta has found a way to risk the leap from ATDI’s adolescent mania to a sound that some might be tempted to describe with the word that has driven a steak through the hearts of many careers in music–hold your nose now–“mature.” I know, I know. Here–take this barf bag.

But that’s just the thing about Sparta–if we must call them “mature” in our useless comparisons with their predecessors, they find a way to do it without sounding so bored you think they’re just singing along to their grandpa’s record collection. In fact, the lush, sonic roller coaster of “The Guns of Memorial Park” or the gorgeously trippy “Syncope” burst from the stereo like exploding stars, the blistering hooks of Keeley Davis’s guitar riding Jim Ward’s soaring vocals into the unexplored reaches of your dreams. Now with the searing single “Taking Back Control” climbing as high as #24 on US Rock charts, Sparta threatens to make a quick transition from “The Best Band You’ve Never Heard Of” to “The Best Band You’ve Heard Too Much About,” especially with their relentless touring of Europe recently with bands like Lola Ray, Lovedrug and My Chemical Romance (hey, don’t judge a band by the company they keep–Sparta’s got to make a living too.)

In the meantime, if you’re in Texas, you’re also in luck. Check out their website for the slew of dates they’ve got coming up in Lonestar country starting with an April 14th gig in Austin.