Archives for : November2011

…And Out Come the Wolves – Review

Epitaph Records, 1995

Rancid is not my favorite band. They’re up there, probably in the top 5, but not number one. However, I do think that their 1995 album …And Out Come the Wolves is the best punk album ever recorded. And as the best example of my favorite genre, it gets the title of “Best Album” from me without question.

It meets all the criteria of a great album. I can listen to it any time, as many times as I feel like and never get tired of it. It gets better the more I listen to it. There are no tracks I feel like skipping. It brings me back to a nostalgic place and several individual tracks conjure specific memories, and all of good times. Most importantly, it captures a band at their perfect creative peak, when their musical talent was mature, the environment was primed, and they struck while the iron was hot. Brilliant music was simply effortless for Rancid in 1995. It was as though people were just waiting for this exact album to drop.

The record kicks off with one of the most famous, blistering opening tracks in punk music history, Maxwell Murder. For all of its one and a half minute runtime it crackles with energy, and halfway through, lets the whole world know exactly how good a bass player Matt Freeman is with perhaps punk’s first virtuoso bass solo. I’ve told people about this bass solo before and had them scoff at the idea, only to be silenced the moment they heard it. I’ve been playing bass guitar for more than 10 years and I still can’t play this solo.

After that, the gears switch to mid-tempo, perfectly catchy punk rock with The 11th Hour, priming you well for Roots Radicals – widely considered one of the best punk songs ever written. Of course, I’d agree. It might be the best. I still remember the first time I heard this song. I’d listened to a little punk rock before, mostly of the Green Day/Offspring/NOFX variety, and while Rancid would find themselves in familiar company with those bands, before hearing Roots Radicals I never considered myself a “punk fan”. This one song converted me. The chorus is the definition of the word “hook” – it’s irresistible.

I didn’t think it would get any better than that, but then I was hit by Time Bomb – Rancid’s first recorded foray into ska (on full-length albums at least. I Wanna Riot may have come before, but was a B-side). Coming from Operation Ivy, Tim Armstrong and Matt Freeman were adamant that Rancid would be straight-up punk, not another ska band. Fortunately for me, they couldn’t resist the pull for too long. If Roots Radicals is a perfect punk song, Time Bomb is a perfect ska song. Upbeat, extremely energetic, and ridiculously catchy.

I could describe every one of the 19 tracks on this record with the same level of passion, but that would be a little too self-indulgent. Suffice to say, there isn’t anything approaching a dud on this entire album. It’s got Olympia, WA, a touching but energetic ode to the Pacific Northwest. It’s got Ruby Soho, probably Rancid’s most famous single, with the unforgettable line “Echoes of reggae coming through my bedroom wall, havin’ a party up next door, but I’m sittin’ here all alone”. Daly City Train and Old Friend are another pair of amazing ska songs, bookending Journey to the End of East Bay (another ode to the Northwest I suppose) with its instantly legendary bass line. Wolves even knows when to slow it down, such as in The War’s End, which begins with Lars Fredrickson’s solo guitar and voice singing about Sammy, the punk rocker, whose father never understood him: “went into his room and smashed his Billy Ratt record, didn’t want him to hear that Communist lecture”. They’re not particularly subtle or amazing lyrics, but they’re real. Misunderstood punk rockers are the type of thing a band like Rancid should be singing about in 1995, and they nailed it effortlessly.

The sequencing of the album is flawless as well. Years ago I used to believe that the one and only flaw of Wolves was that Avenues and Alleyways should have closed the record. I no longer believe that to be true. While it does feel like a great “final track”, I’ve started to perceive it more like the final scene of a film, with the actual last track The Way I Feel being the music that plays through the credits. Going through the album from beginning to end, the energy level ebbs and flows at the right spots, moving faster or slower, going from punk to ska, and switching between personal subject matter and classic punk rock defiance with ease. The two frontmen, Tim and Lars, have never worked together so seamlessly. While later Rancid records tended to alternate between “Tim songs” and “Lars songs” (Tim songs becoming more prominent as the band went on for some reason), on Wolves, they are both heard together on most tracks, either alternating verses or sharing the mic. It makes the album sound so much more powerful and dynamic.

Rancid has never topped this record after 16 years (the very next record, Life Won’t Wait, came the closest, but was just a tad too experimental for most). While some fans will certainly refute that, the fact that every Rancid album since has been accompanied with the query “as good as And Out Come the Wolves?” by the press shows that they are still under its shadow. I can imagine this being frustrating for a band, but how many people get the opportunity to create something that earns universal acclaim? I can think of worse fates.

And seriously, that bass solo will melt your face off.



5 Semi-Current Fashion Trends That Will Look Ridiculous in 5 Years

The interesting thing about fashion is how many people seem to think that it evolves. It’s a common and deadly misconception that fashion trends are improvements upon what has occurred in the past, when in fact it’s more like filling out a Bingo card that allows repeats. Fashion only changes, and the more it strays from “basic” the more ridiculous it looks in hindsight. But we are a bored species so this is unlikely to change until they finally invent metallic silver jumpsuits, which, as we all know, is the Omega of fashion.

Generally, we’re all in the monkey house with this stuff. We cannot easily discern during the fact how horrible our fashion trends are. But it’s a skill that can be developed if you’re excessively cynical. I’m not great at it, but I’m better than I used to be. I remember looking at myself in giant baggy JNCO jeans with long wallet chain and World Industries skateboarding shirt and thinking “Yeah, I’ll most likely dress like this for the rest of my life.”

We’re near the start of the decade known as “the tens” (I guess), and it’s an interesting transitional period. Several of the fashions from the previous decade known as “the oughts” (I don’t know anyone who calls it that) are still in use but very clearly on their way out. That’s why I estimate these will only take a maximum of 5 years to become completely ridiculous to our eyes. You might look at many of these and say “they always looked ridiculous to me”. If so, how very clever you are.

Side note: How Meta is it that this very article will seem comically dated in five years?

T-Shirts with lots of crazy shit on them

Most popular in douchebag circles and peddled by Affliction (among many other brands), T-shirts of the 2000’s became a miniature arms race to see who could cram the most nonsensical, vaguely-masculine imagery onto a single garment. Common objects included skulls, crosses, eagle wings, entire eagles, fearsome animals, old English lettering, and generic mottos including the words “truth”, “live”, and “honor”. My theory is that shirts developed this design philosophy in order to blend in with the collection of douchey sleeve tattoos found on the dudes wearing these shirts. They only got more ridiculous as time went on, adding rhinestones, additional stitching, and metallic foil fabric. It even infected other garments and started appearing on button-up shirts and even the ass pockets of jeans.

I admit with great shame that in the early days I flirted with T-shirts of this style. Not because of all the crazy shit printed on them (which I hated), but because these shirts were commonly made of ultra-thin fabric and fitted (which I loved). I still have a long-sleeved black Affliction thermal hanging in my closet which I would never wear in public, despite the fact that it is very comfortable. I keep it as a reminder of my shameful past, the way Mark Wahlberg most likely hangs on to a single pair of white briefs.

Giant bug-eyed sunglasses

Nobody cares what Paris Hilton is doing anymore, which to her means she may as well be dead. And with her, these giant sunglasses should die as well.

Here’s the first rule of pre-determining whether a fashion statement is bound to look ridiculous in the next decade: If you take a thing and make it excessively big or excessively small, it will look ridiculous someday. Which leads me to….

Skinny jeans

In the 90’s it was all about making our jeans excessively big. For men, it was the entire jean, with back pockets large enough to store a laptop (a 90’s laptop no less). For women, it was just the bottom part, called “flared”. At the turn of the century men’s jeans briefly transitioned to “boot cut” (“flared” by another name, which itself was “bell-bottom” by another name), before finally going full skinny. Striking a blow for gender equality (I guess), men and women alike are now wearing skin-tight jeans that taper all the way down and form a weird arch in the crotchal region. Here’s another rule just for pants: If the fit of the pant makes the pockets totally impractical, it’s going to look ridiculous soon. You shouldn’t need needle-nose pliers to retrieve coins from your pocket.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and risk future embarrassment to declare what I believe to be the only “timeless” set of variables for (men’s) jeans: Mid-to-low rise on the hip, straight leg, fitted (but not tight) in the thigh and just long enough to break slightly at the ankle. No bedazzling or ostentatious stitching anywhere. No faux distressing or destroyed look.

Boat shoes and mocassins

I hate this trend. No, I Hate this trend. Capitalized Hate. It’s the most current of the fads on this list and one of the rare cases where I can look at it the moment it hits and say “that is retarded”.*

What shocks me the most is how suddenly the boat shoe or mocassin became the default shoe for men. No one seems to understand how insane this is. One day I could walk into an H&M or Urban Outfitters store (both the domain of hipsters, I admit) and pick from a variety of shoe styles, and the next I got to choose between one ugly suede shoe and another ugly suede shoe. Here’s another oddly specific fashion rule I just invented: If you can’t distinguish a shoe from a slipper, it looks ridiculous.

This is to say nothing of fur-lined boots worn with Summer clothing and Crocs worn by non-nurses, both of which were out faster than they were in.

* Another instance of this happening was when pre-wrinkled shirts started appearing in stores for three months in 2002.

Deep V-neck T-shirts

These possibly emerged as a Hipster response to the T-Shirt With Lots of Crazy Shit on it trend. The deep V-neck is commonly one or two solid fluorescent colors (or basic stripes) and has a V-shaped neckline that extends low enough to see the entire bony sternum and hairless chest. Naturally, this only works on skinny dudes. These shirts are usually small enough for your girlfriend to wear but if she actually did she’d be showing an inordinate amount of cleavage.

Bonus trend: Suit jackets worn over T-shirt and jeans

I’m marking this as a “bonus trend” because even though I’ve always thought it looked stupid, it seems to have surprising longevity. Men’s Health magazine has been telling me to “steal this look” for what seems like ages. Underscoring the fact that I know nothing about fashion, I could never tell the difference between a nice blazer and a suit jacket. So when I see a black or navy blue blazer worn over a T-shirt and jeans to me it looks like one of those moves akin to wearing casual sneakers with a suit and tie – comically dressing down fancy clothes. Of course, Men’s Health has also been recommending I do just that, so I guess I really don’t know what I’m talking about.