Year in Review with Steve Strange

Well, another year down the drain and you know what that means: with the adamantine certainty of death, taxes, and that cute girl you're got your eye on having a boyfriend, every two-bit hack from here to Siberia is going to feel the need to compile a year-in review ranging from such exciting topics as "the 128 best microwave pizzas I ate this year" to "most improved transsexual kickboxer of 2004." Truly, the amount of obsessive listing found at the end of each calendar year is enough to make an aspiring psychologist giddy with thoughts of case studies and dissertations dancing though his or her head. Didja ever see that scene in the movie "A Beautiful Mind" where Russell Crowe, playing the part of schizophrenic mathematician John Nash, plasters his entire office with magazine clippings he has been frantically trying to decode for evidence of a (hallucinatory) Communist bomb plot against the USA? That's what I imagine whenever I think about all of these dweebs with their self-important year-in reviews and top ten lists. It's a sight to be pitied: a million obsessive guys (cause lets face it, year-in review types are almost always dudes) taking more care and consideration to compile a million identical lists than a surgeon performing a double bypass. And here's the kicker, the surgeon gets paid six figures whereas the majority of geeks making lists do so for free! What could possibly be driving them to devote so much time to write lists that readers will likely skim over between visits to websites like "Nubile Nuns of Nigeria" and "Gyrating Geriatric Goose-Steppers Gone Gonzo?" (That last one is Soriano's favorite I hear.) At least I have an excuse, namely, Rich asked, nay DEMANDED, every TB-staffer to submit a year-in review column or else face the Ultimate Penalty (I didn't ask what it was but I'd imagine it would involve listening to that Makers "comeback" LP and the Night Terrors record on endless rotation). Honest, I wouldn't have scrawled three pages of nothing but band names & record titles and then taken the time to listen to my picks for singles of the year back to back in order to ensure their placement was correct, not to mention numerous "refresher-spins" of the years' LPs & reissues, unless I absolutely, positively HAD TO. Honest.
Without further ado, let the dorkiness begin.

Compilation of the Year:
"Carbon Natural Number Eight: King Size Needle" (Needle Records)

This is like wining "Best Musical" at the Oscars - the competition is seldom fierce. However, this really is a comp that's worth your money as it features five of the best up and coming Japanese bands going today (Sneeze, Knocks, Frantic Stuffs, Keen Monkey Work and Warmed Over Band) and its on Needle Records, the Japanese scene's current "it" label. Depending upon time/laziness factors there's possibly a big feature on this label/comp coming up in a future edition of TB. By the first part of the preceding sentence, you should be able to infer the likelihood of it ever seeing the light of day.

CDEP of the Year:
Boyce - "The Soundtrack For Us" (Reactor)

Perhaps a better name for this award would be "Overpriced Piece of Shit That Will Soon be Rendered Obsolete by Both File Sharing and the Return of the 7" Single to Prominence" (more on that last one later). Boyce takes home this less-than-coveted prize based on the first two songs alone, which are so great that if they were released on a proper single they would definitely crack my top ten singles this year - no easy task!

Worst Career Move of the Year:
This goes to the Registrators for their alterna-pop turn on their split with Water Closet from this past spring. The Strokes-lite (who even knew that was possible - isn't that like watering down Bud Lite?) sounds of tunes like "Beautiful Souls" were a far cry from the Olympian heights of the "4-Vibrate" EP and the album this zine takes its name from. However, recent developments in Japan indicate that the Registrators may also be eligible for the "Comeback of the Year" award as they took a turn at the end of the year that brings to mind Darth Vader at the end of "Return of the Jedi." More details to come in my next column…

The Epoxies Memorial "Just-Fucking-Cut-It-Out-Already" Most Gratuitous Use of a Keyboard Award:
Jeffie Genetic and His Clones "Need a Wave" CD (Dirtnap)

I'm sure you're shocked that a Dirtnap band would take this award. Operation S might have been a better record without the keys, but this album was so loaded down with superfluous keys that it was like listening to Frankie Goes to Hollywood or Thomas Dolby try to cover 20/20 in a Korg factory. There might have been some good tunes on here, but who could tell with all of that cutesy keyboard drowning out any trace of rock and or action that these tunes might have otherwise had.

Moustache of the Year:
Mark Murrman, Short Eyes' Bloodstains Summer Tour.

'Nuff Said.

Best Trend of the Year:
Hands down the best thing about 2004 was the unprecedented number of good seven inches that came out this year. The sheer amount of great to incredible singles released this year tops just about any year I can think of dating back to 1994, when I first started buying vinyl. Not bad for a musical format that was said to be on its last legs due to skyrocketing vinyl prices and the increasing affordability of CDs. Hopefully this marks the end of the lamest musical format since the 8-track- the CDEP. Nothing like paying fifteen bucks for two good songs on a format that's inconvenient to listen to. Well there is, but it involves a staple gun and taking your pants off so we'll just leave it at that.

Second Best Trend of the Year:
In the Red sending me a promo of the new Lost Sounds. Now let's get a copy of that Lamps!!!

Demo of the Year:
Without a shadow of a doubt this belongs to Blank Its. If there was ever a demo that made me wish I could afford to start a label, this was it. Someone needs to release an album. Seriously.

Best Use of a Punk Rock Song in a Film:
"Search & Destroy" in 'The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.'

Sucker of the Year:
Anyone who bought a record on Ebay for more than $50. That guy who bought that one Misfits single will shamefully accept this award in honor or all of his fellow brain-damaged brethren with too much disposable income.

Pud of the Year:
ME. For not driving eight hours to see the Lids, Reatards, Real Losers, and Testors at the Blackout, and then missing out on a chance to see the MOTHERFUCKING KIDS play in New York. I'm still fuming over missing that one.

Best Live Bands of the Year
1. Marked Men: Of all of the bands I've ever seen that are still active today, only Firestarter can top these guys when they're at their best. Both times I saw them this summer they were definitely firing on all cylinders.
2. Lost Sounds: Perhaps the most visceral and powerful live band walking the earth. Total Destruction…even if they didn't actually play it this time.
3. Tyrades: The first time I saw them Jimmy body-checked Robert off a five-foot stage. They were great. The second time I saw them they were a p-rock tornado of energy and aggression that left me in a stupor. If there were a Platonic "form of the live punk rock band" this Tyrades set would have been it. The third time I saw them they were plagued by equipment problems and just kind of sputtered to a frustrating and destructive halt, much like my attempt to have drunken sex this past New Years Eve.
4. Fevers: Sandwiched between a pud-assed last minute replacement for Sweet J.A.P and Kill Bill-darlings the's the Fevers played for twenty five minutes of pure pop/rnr bliss. Now let's have that second album.
5. Ponys: Saw 'em three times and they never disappointed. A total breath of fresh air amid a sea of bands that seem to be competing to see who can get tinnitus first. Ethereal and enchanting yet always tuneful and energetic, the Ponys deserved all of the hype they got in early 2004 and none of the backlash that came just a few months later.

Top 5 Reissues of the Year
I should preface this by saying that as I am neither a billionaire nor a crack dealer so there's no way I could afford to stay abreast of the plethora of reissues that came out this year. Due to finances I had to pass on such potential heavy hitters as the Gun Club, Homosexuals, Zolar X, Monoshock, and Weirdos. Of what I did manage to buy, here is the cream.
5. Supercharger "Live at the Covered Wagon" LP/CD (Rip Off)
I usually hate live records, but this one is actually really great. If you don't already know and love Supercharger you're reading the wrong zine buddy!
4. Reatards "Bedroom Disasters" LP/CD (Empty)
Last night I was reading Metal Mike's review of a Green Day record wherein he claimed the first song on Green Day's first album was the best song ever written by a seventeen year old. While I dunno about that, "Fashion Victim" is surely one of the best things a fifteen year old has ever recorded.
3. Scientists "Pissed On Another Planet" CD (Sympathy)
This is the kind of reissue that makes you wonder how you ever lived without it. Near perfect bubblegum punk rnr that stands up to most of the era's greats. There's more to the early Scientists than just "Last Night!"
2. Rhino 39 "Xerox/No Compromise" (Dangerhouse bbot)
The first ever hardcore record? Maybe. A fantastic slab-o-prime amped up teenage punk brilliance from an era when the first wave of Cali punk's initial excitement had yet to fade away? Definitely. ABSO-FUCKING-LUTELY ESSENTIAL!!!!
1. Crime "San Francisco's Still Doomed" LP/CD (Swami)
Frustration. Crime Wave. San Francisco's Doomed. Murder By Guitar. Rockabilly Drugstore. Rockin' Weird. Hot Wire My Heart. Baby You're So Repulsive. No, you're not reading a transcription of the first song on the Black Time LP's lyrics, rather it's a list of the reasons you need this record if you don't already have it. BOX SET. NOW.

Top Ten Albums of the Year
Allow me to be blunt: I hate trying to rank my favorite anything, let alone albums. With as mercurial a mistress as taste, it's possible to totally overrate a ho-hum record and overlook a fantastic one when compiling this kind of list. I find it takes about a year of steady listening (or not listening in some cases) to decide how good an album is, and that's not even accounting for the fact that different moods call for different records, making it all but impossible to quantitatively rank them. With that being said, allow me to try to do so anyway. Once again financial limitations prevented me from hearing everything and potentially great records by Kajun SS, No Hope For the Kids, Final Solutions, and Gris Gris went completely unheard by me this year. The best of what I did hear goes as follows:
10. Black Lips "We Did Not Know…" LP/CD (Bomp!)/Black Time "Blackout" LP (Concrete Life) Two-Way Tie.
No I didn't rank both of these at number ten just because they are the only good current bands whose names begin with the word "black." Both records are drop-dead killer at times, but both also have a few tunes that are downright unlistenable (see the Lip's "Jazz Odyssey" and Black Time's "Mass Production of Corpses"). Still, the good far outweighs the bad here.
9. Catholic Boys "Psychic Voodoo Mind Control" LP/CD (Dropkick/Tricknee)
I must be the only person in the world who either didn't get a promo from the 'Knee or download this off Soulseek back in 2003, so for me this was a 2004 release. Fantastic punk rock the way it was meant to be: loud, fast, and completely fucked up.
8. Marked Men "On the Outside" LP/CD (Dirtnap)
I've heard a lot of people say that they fell off with this record. A lot of people are wrong.
7. Jet Boys "Jet Patrol" LP/CD (Demolition Derby)
At times this brings to mind Lookout-era Queers with its mix of hardcore tunes and pop-punk, but there's actually more Gimmies-like "action rock" and classic mid-nineties Japanese punk on here than anything that sounds like "Love Songs For the Retarded." Am I a dork for liking something that at times bears a passing resemblance to both pop punk and "rawk?" Maybe. Do I give a fuck? Absolutely not.
6. Henry Fiat's Open Sore "The Parallel Universe Of…" LP (Raw Deluxe)
This was a huge surprise for me since I never remember them sounding this melodic or memorable. Hardcore velocity and top notch hooks…how can ya beat a combo like that? Throw in over the top lyrics/song titles, a great gimmick, a well-placed "Sling Blade" sample and you've got a formula that demands many repeat listenings. I think I might be underrating this by putting it at number six.
5. Ponys "Laced With Romance" LP/CD (In the Red)
When the Ponys are at their best they write infectious tunes that are a nigh-perfect mix of understated power, obsessive rhythms, and otherworldly melodies. When the Ponys are at their worst they're either playing "Chemical Imbalance" or Ian is singing (at least on the two songs on this album…live he sings some good ones).
4. Hunches "Hobo Sunrise" LP/CD (In the Red)
At first I thought this was an unlisteneable mess that sounded more like some psycho scraping metal across a concrete floor and hacking up corpses than it did music. After listening to it a bit more the fantastic songwriting began to shine through, and then a little while later tunes as beautiful as "Two Ghosts" won me over completely. Still not a record I can listen to on a daily basis, but undeniably an amazing artistic achievement. Take that Christgau!
3. Johnny Cash "My Mother's Hymn Book" CD (American/Lost Highway)
Yeah, I know it's an all acoustic country album. And yeah, I know it's also an album of Christian spirituals that Cash was raised on. It's also, in both Cash's own estimation and my own, the best record he ever made. Much like his until-now unparalleled comeback album "American Recordings" this record eschews any and all instrumental flourishes in favor of just letting Cash's guitar and weathered baritone speak for themselves, to spectacular effect. In truth, this very well could be the best record of the year as, unlike my choice for number one, it's a perfect album from start to finish. If you have even a passing interest in country music you need this record.
2. The Lids "S/T" LP/CD (Rip Off)
What if the Radio X-era Donnas and Supercharger where the same band? They wouldn't sound exactly like this, but they wouldn't be too far off either. The best garage rock album with no discernable Oblivians influence since 1997! Whenever I hear this record it feels like the record of the year, but there is no denying that there was one that was just a little bit better…
1. Reigning Sound "Too Much Guitar" LP/CD (In the Red)
Part of me didn't want to rank this at number one because of all of the lists I've already seen it at the top of. Besides wanting to seem all iconoclastic and hip, I also couldn't conscience my pick for the number one record of 2004 having a cover as brutally ugly as this one does. Think I'm overreacting? Go ahead; look at that thing! It's hideous. If you where a Joe off the street who didn't know dick about the RS other than some positive buzz you heard, would YOU buy a record with a cover that hippy-drippy? Jesus Christ, that thing looks like it belongs on a String Cheese Incident album or something!!! Add to that one tune which is only so-so ("Excedrin Headache #265) and surely I've got just cause to put the Lids in at number one, right?
Wrong. Those minor flaws aside, this is an incredible album that already sounds like a classic. Unlike every other record on this list, I STILL listen to this at least every other day and I've had it for the better part of the year. This record is a spectacular garage rock cocktail of Oblivians-like rockers (no one does it better than the originators!), more laid back ballads like those that predominated "Timebomb Highschool," greasy r&b (A Hank Ballard cover? OH FUCK YEAH!), sterling pop, and downright, well for lack of a better term, classic sounding rock n roll (You're Love is a Fine Thing" already seems like I've heard it on oldies radio a thousand times before). As cliché as it sounds, rock n roll truly doesn't get much better than this. Graphic design on the other hand…

And now for the main event…
The Top Fifteen Seven Inches of 2004
If you were paying even the slightest bit of attention during the past year, you already know that 2004 belonged to the seven inch. It seemed like every week a new "essential-must-have-unless-you're-a-hopeless-simp" single came out and caused the u-ground to go into a mass frenzy. Which would have been fine and all, except for the fact that a large percentage of said singles went out of print within the proverbial blink of an eye. Seriously, I waited ONE WEEK to order the Tokyo Electron single when I saw it for sale on the U-Med site, and by that time it was already history. Shortly thereafter copies were going for roughly twenty bucks on Ebay. Think about that for a second: when a single that's only a couple months old is already fetching a Jackson on the collector's market something is FUCKING WRONG and WRONGLY FUCKED with the state of rock n roll. Are we no better than comic book nerds? Are rock fans the modern day incarnation of Beanie Baby collectors?!?!? I don't fully blame the labels that release microscopic print runs, as based on what I've heard they are usually run by obsessive music fans who want to release as many records as possible. A noble sentiment, but on the other hand, who cares how many records you release WHEN NOBODY EXCEPT THE MOST CLUED-IN AND/OR WEALTHY RECORD GEEKS EVER GET THEIR HANDS ON THEM?!?!?!? Finally, after months of dead ends, I broke down and decided I would pay up to fifteen dollars to buy a copy of Tokyo Electron off Ebay. I had my eye on an auction, figuring that if I was smart with my bidding I could win it for a price that fit my budget. That copy ended up going for more than fifty dollars. FIFTY FUCKING DOLLARS!!!!!!!! For a single released this year. Luckily, before that auction even ended I heard from Rich Dropkick who told me he still had a couple copies laying around for sale/trade. Fourteen dollars and three weeks later, Tokyo Electron was finally on my turntable. It turned out to be well worth the wait. Fifty dollars, however, might be pushing it…
(It should be noted that this is in no way a complete list. This year I missed on more promising singles than I care to think about. Singles from the Final Solution, A-Frames, Fi Fie Fo Fums, Hunches, Suspicions, Spits, Headache City, and the Blank Its/Feelers split all evaded my grasp due to either finances or my not having a chance to order them before this report was due. Hell that right there is probably half of some people's top tens.)
15. The Dirges "Cold River" (Missile X)
Brides go r&b? Sign me up! Too bad they already called it quits.
14. Kill-A-Watts "New Things" (Goodbye Boozy)
The A-side would hold its own on any volume of KBD or Bloodstains. In other words, it's really, really fucking good. The B-side reminds me of one of the songs the Loose Lips guys wrote on the Infections LP. It's okay.
13. Ponys "Prosthetic Head" (In the Red)
I think this one kind of got lost in the shuffle with all of the killer singles released this year. "Prosthetic Head" is one of the Ponys' best tunes, but the flip "How Does it Taste" is a little too slow and meandering for me.
12. Boyce "21st Century Modern Boys" (Daisy Tongue)
Top-notch Japanese power pop from an ex-Tweezer and three other guys with a similar sensibility. Totally melodic and more infectious than the flu.
11. Carbonas "Frothing at the Mouth" (Douche Master)
The A-side is as brutal as the Reatards and as catchy as the early Registrators. It's also on Douche Master records. What else do you need to know?
10. Feelers "Fuhrer's New Miniskirt" (Death By Noise/Contaminated)
Speaking of the Registrators… The Feelers came out of nowhere (okay, Ohio) and knocked a lot of us for a loop with their debut single. I really need to hear their split with Blank Its!
9. Tyrades "Incarcerated" and "I am Homicide" (Die Slaughterhaus and Shit Sandwich)
I couldn't decide which one was better so I just listed them both. "I am Homicide" is the best Tyrades song ever - it sounds like bubblegum with shards of broken glass stuck in it. The "Incarcerated" single is more solid as a whole, but as good as the leadoff cut is, it isn't anywhere near as immediately catchy as "I am Homicide." Who's gonna pass the PCP?
8. Real Losers "Don't Leave Me Now" (Bancroft)
If there is a single wherein the singer says the word "alright" more times than Shake does here, I need to hear it. Teengenerate would be proud.
7. Sweet J.A.P "I'm Only Moonlight" (Dirtnap)
Criminally underrated single here. The bizarrely titled "Found There No Go" on the B-side stands up to pretty much anything released this year. The A-side ain't no slouch either.
6. Fatals "Angry," "Stereo-no-Phonic," and "Slave My Soul" (Nasty Product, P-Trash, and Yakisakana)
Once again I'm grouping all of the Fatals singles together since it's impossible for me to rank them. Their brand of aural Oblivian reduced my mind to mush many times over in 2004. Here's to another ten singles in 2005. Albums are for sissies!
5. Mighty Go Go Players "If You Wanna Play…" (Nasty Product)
This was a totally out of left field surprise that keeps getting better with repeated listens. The early Piranhas gangbang Monoman and record it for posterity.
4. Blank Its "Johnny's Tongue" (Band Its)
This record reminds me of the Spits covering Head covering the Kinks. Or something like that. These two tunes plus the more angular sounds on their demo have me drooling over the thought of an album. And remember, there's no "the" in Blank Its!!!!
3. BBQ "Take a Message" (Goodbye Boozy)
I absolutely love this record. Mark Sultan delivers his best tunes since "Winter Dance Party." Any other year and this would be my pick for single of the year.
2. Tokyo Electron "Make Me Bleed" (Solid Sex Lovie Doll)
Rich Dropkick, you are my rock n roll hero for the year 2004. Once again, thanks a lot! I wish more records sounded like this one: completely savage and punishing, yet also surprisingly catchy and hook-laden. The title track has probably my favorite hook of the year. If you paid more than $20 for this record you are officially gay.
1. Slowmotions "Make Love" (HG Fact)
The most refreshing thing I've heard out of Japan since the Sneeze. As far as I can tell these guys don't belong to any of Japan's pre-established garage/p-rock/power pop cliques and boy does it show. Tokyo Rockers-like tunes played with hardcore energy and aggression. As long as you don't pay a king's ransom to buy this off Ebay, I don't care what you have to do…make sure you own this single!

-Steve Strange