Sunday, March 25, 2012


It's sorta fun to be dead wrong each and every year here on the internet about what's going to go down in Major League Baseball.  I've been doing it, and doing it well, for five years now. This way, you hone your skills, you learn from your mistakes, and you move forward. And this year I'm truly dead certain I've got it right, and that I have succesfully prognosticated a series of events that will lead to an October World Series between the Texas Rangers and my only-one-year-removed-from-being-the-World-Champion San Francisco Giants.

Wait a minute, you're saying - dude - are you flashing back to 2010? Who'd blame me, right? Yet no - I'm confident that this semi-offbeat pick has the weight of all the scientific research that I put behind it - you know, reading three preview magazines this past week and being on the internet a lot. (And it's not that offbeat, since Sports Illustrated has the Angels beating the Giants in the series; I just think it'll be Texas doing the drubbing instead). I also have tried to buck the conventional wisdom a bit and shoot holes in some common favorites - like last year's hot-at-the-right-time St. Louis Cardinals; the regressing-to-the-mean Arizona Diamondbacks (they always do after a good year); the not-good-enough Cincinnati Reds; and (yes!) the finally too-old, too-slow New York Yankees, who will finish a disgraceful third. Die, Yankees, die!

Funny, too: I wasn't all that off last year in my picks. Remember one or two days before the end of the season, when Boston and Atlanta were about to make the playoffs? I'm sure you were recalling my Boston vs. Atlanta World Series pick from earlier in the year, and mentally congratulating me for my prescience (and thanking me for my belief in the Milwaukee Brewers to boot). Well, baseball's a funny game, isn't it? Both brought simply epic collapses upon themselves, making for the single best night of baseball in decades. This was followed up a couple of weeks later by a World Series Game 6 that might seriously be the single greatest game I've ever watched, up there with the Aaron Boone game, the Joe Morgan '82 walkoff grand slam against the Dodgers (I was at that game) and of course every moment of the Giants' 2010 World Series victory. I can't imagine that this year can have the drama of last year, can it?  

Well, I think it'll still be pretty wild. They've now got this one-game, play-in wild card going, which I guess I'm more or less OK with. So that's two more teams in the playoffs, albeit only for a game each. I wish I could explain my reasoning for each and every one of the placements here, but since I can't/won't, let me provide a few statements of soon-to-be-fact:
  • Some teams are simply better than people give them credit for. Fact is, Boston and Atlanta each missed the playoffs by about five minutes last year. That won't happen this time, and I've picked each to be my bonus wild card team.
  • Texas has a better top-to-bottom lineup than the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, hands down, and the pitching staff rates a B+ to Anaheim's A-. Texas will finally win that World Series they've been scratching for the past two years, then start dismantling their team - but right now they're easily the strongest club in baseball and I expect them to steamroll their way to the playoffs.
  • Philadephia will just barely win their division. Utley, Howard, Victorino, Polanco and Ruiz will all either suffer from injury or regression, and only Hunter Pence will keep the lineup bangin'. One of their big 3 pitchers will have a rough year as well. I'm betting on Cliff Lee. They'll make the NL Championship, but they are beatable.
  • Milwaukee will not lose a step post-Prince Fielder, and their pitching will continue to blossom. I don't like the trendy Reds pick and I don't like the Cardinals without Pujols.
  • My second favorite team is the Kansas City Royals, and I think they'll be blast to watch this year. They will likely only finish .500, but in Kansas City that's a major accomplishment. Next year in this space I'll be pencilling them in for their first division championship since 1985.
  • Finally, I think there will be an epic San Francisco Giants/Los Angeles Dodgers battle down to the wire the last week of the season for the NL West, as it should be. The Dodgers are nobody's pick this year, but I think they are going to be fantastic - just 1 to 2 games less fantastic than the Giants, who'll score at least 150 more runs than they did last year and will finally be on the right end of multiple 2-1 and 1-0 games, as opposed to last year's godawful offensive year. My guys this year are Brandon Belt, Pablo Sandoval and (yes!) Melky Cabrera - to say nothing of pitchers Matt (contract year) Cain, Tim Lincicum and Madison Bumgarner. One of those guys is going to win 20 games, and two are going to win at least 15.
  • At the end of it all, the Texas Rangers will earn their first title and my Giants will feel the harsh and bitter sting of the loser. But that's OK. Don't forget, we/they won the World Series in 2010.

National League East
1. Philadelphia Philles

2. Miami Marlins (wild card)
3. Atlanta Braves (wild card #2)
4. Washington Nationals
5. New York Mets

National League Central
1. Milwaukee Brewers
2. St. Louis Cardinals
3. Cincinnati Reds
4. Pittsburgh Pirates
5. Chicago Cubs
6. Houston Astros

National League West
1. San Francisco Giants
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
3. Arizona Diamondbacks
4. San Diego Padres
5. Colorado Rockies

American League East
1. Tampa Bay Rays
2. Boston Red Sox (wild card)
3. New York Yankees
4. Toronto Blue Jays
5. Baltimore Orioles

American League Central
1. Detroit Tigers
2. Kansas City Royals
3. Minnesota Twins
4. Chicago White Sox
5. Cleveland Indians

American League West
1. Texas Rangers
2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (wild card #2)
3. Seatle Mariners
4. Oakland A's


NL Wild Card = Atlanta over Miami
NL = San Francisco over Atlanta
NL = Philadelphia over Milwaukee
NL Championship = San Francisco over Philadelphia

AL Wild Card = LA Angels over Boston
AL = LA Angels over Tampa Bay
AL = Texas over Detroit
AL Championship = Texas over LA Angels

World Series = Texas over San Francisco

Friday, March 23, 2012


The excellent all-femme San Francisco band PAMELA are too far down on the public radar for my liking & it’s my duty to help change that. This debut EP on Southpaw Records takes a couple tuff, short, roaring Runaways-esque tracks from their “Pamela is Hung Over” cassette and tosses on a dreamy tribal garage stomper called “Desert” and calls it a record, and we couldn’t be more pleased over here. Vocals are crisp and strong, and they play w/ a confidence that makes for one of those records you just know you’ll still be playing ten years from now.

There are folks from Oakland’s Splinters and a former Wax Idol or two keeping the faith here, and if you know & love those bands now, then keep in mind that the apple’s not falling too far from the tree here – Pamela just happen to write even better songs, or at least release only their shitkickers. Buy the hard vinyl and you get to download all three digital tracks as well. Easily one of 2012’s best.

Play Pamela - "I'm Nobody"

Download PAMELA – “I’m Nobody”

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


The cover art here, what with its broken glass and dead/bored teenager, looks like something better suited to something by Anti-Pasti or Chron-Gen (well, maybe with the pink lettering, not so much) - but never you mind – TERRY MALTS' “Killing Time” is a boisterous, feedback-laden set of blink/missed, hook-drenched, wall of sound pop music. Unlike just about every other record, I can’t find a turd song in the bunch – and that’s saying something.
Now perhaps you deep punkers might call it a little light in the loafers for your tastes, and maybe you pop fiends might call it a little too slashing & burning for yours. Maybe it’s true on both counts, but these San Francisco piledrivers are juuuust right far as Hedonist Jive is concerned. I’ll admit I didn’t cotton to these guys at first, either. Vocals take some getting used to, as they’re relentlessly “average”, and occasionally a little too close for comfort to late-period Joey Ramone for me, particularly when the music’s going hard for that 1-2-3-4 vibe to boot.
Generally, though, you not only get used to it – you embrace it. As I have. TERRY MALTS crank out a reverbed, fuzzed-out set of fast gnarlers, all of which sound like they were recorded in a giant cathedral with amps piled up into the stained glass. Generally you’ll find each song clocking in at a couple of minutes, tops, and everything usually centers around a thick dose of fuzz in the verses and a big wild roundhouse of a chorus. In many ways it’s kinda “English” in its overall orientation, especially late 80s/early 90s noisy reverb pop, but there’s something pretty fresh about it as well that makes “Killing Time” eminently listenable, over and over again.
They’ve done a fine job recording the 2012 atheist’s theme song, “No, I’m Not a Christian”, which truly does have the lyrical zeal of the newly-born again atheist convert. Welcome, fellas! That’s not even the best thing, though – their 45 “I’m Neurotic” – again, a total grower and not an initial shower – is an earworm of the highest order. And get this: their cover of Negative Approach’s “Can’t Tell No One”, only one of the 5 great hardcore punk songs of all time, is masterful. It could have broken down on so many levels, and yet they simply took the fightin’ words and the general forward propulsion of the song and grafted them onto their reverb/fuzz template. It’s as good a reimagining of a classic punk song as I’ve heard since The Tyrades took on Wire’s “Former Airline” nearly a decade ago. Terry Malts have one of the best releases of this young year, so if you’re tallying up what you’re going to go out & buy when you hit the "record store", should you still have one near you, put this near the top of your list.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Eight years ago I wrote up an “American Hardcore Hall of Fame” piece on my Agony Shorthand blog, designed to settle all debates around who were the greatest hardcore punk acts of all time. I’m pretty sure all debates did end after this post, in fact. Clocking in at #4 was Washington DC’s VOID, a legendary group who barely registered in terms of vinyl output when they were around. One half of an LP and two compilation tracks – not bad, I guess, when you consider the lifespan of most of 1980-83’s honor role. I came across their psychotic flipside of the FAITH/VOID split LP back in college in the 80s, and I’ll admit that I actually did a little thrashin’ about the dorm room to it more than once. No punk rock had ever been this intense, art-damaged, creepy or loud – none. Here’s what I wrote about it on the old blog:

If you’ve never heard the incredibly twisted artcore of VOID, I have to say there’s never been anything like it before or since. These guys were supposedly thick-necked suburban jocks with pickups & gun racks, but lurking somewhere in their collective psyche were a surrealist, a Dadaist and a deranged mental patient. Their side of this split LP starts strong and hard, but gradually gets more and more insane and weird, until the last 3 tracks, “War Hero”, “Think” and “Explode”, which are off-the-charts damaged, full of stops and starts and reverses galore. Totally amazing, and it blows me away every time I hear it.

I actually only mark about three “scenes” as having been responsible for 95% of all great hardcore punk records: Boston, DC, Michigan/Wisconsin and….that’s it. VOID stood apart from all their peers, and only the Japanese hardcore that came a year or two later was as weird and eardrum-damaging. I heard rumors that Void, like so many of their once-great peers (SS Decontrol, Gang Green, Negative Approach, you could argue Die Kreuzen), morphed into a punkish “hard metal” after their record, and since no one was apparently interested, these recordings never got officially released. What did come out, on a couple of 7” bootlegs, were Void demos and live recordings. I bought one semi-official EP of 1981 recordings called “Condensed Flesh” that was OK. Never thought there’d ever be another VOID release of any significance – until, uh, now!

Dischord Records, the label that put out FAITH/VOID back in the day, has compiled 34 tracks spanning their career called “SESSIONS 1981-83”, with studio tracks running up until 1982 and then two live tracks from 1983 at the very end. None except for the two tracks that made it to the “Flex Your Head” compilation have ever been “officially” released. Is any of it as good as the Void side of Faith/Void? No. No it is not. That said, you can track the evolution of the band into the monster they became, and even at their most generic in their early ’81 days, they weren’t generic. In other words, even when they’re singing about being “Annoyed” or how “Suburbs Suck”, they still rule a far sight over most HC lunkheads. John Weiffenbach’s vocals were terrific, and even before they’d incorporated feedback and odd time signatures, guitarist Bubba Dupree still shredded like no one this side of Greg Ginn.

Then around the last third of the CD you can hear the parasites start to take over these four gentlemen’s brains. Songs start with weird feedback hums, split-second breaks happen in hugely unexpected places, Weiffenbach raises the tonal level of his voice a couple of octaves and starts enunciating like a cartoon character, and wow – it’s amazing, breakneck stuff. The live version of “Explode” is awesome – a song you can’t even slam to! It’s too crazed! The other live track brought me back to the thankfully-gone days of “Pass the mic around – let the audience sing the chorus!”. Remember that? “SESSIONS 1981-83” should on no uncertain terms be your entrĂ©e into the twisted world of Void, but once you’ve successfully marinated for a while in their side of Faith/Void, let this one be your proverbial dessert. You’ll have earned it.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


I upgraded my basic cable package to “digital enhanced” or whatever the hell they call it last year just so I could check out a key core of networks I didn’t have access to: BBC America, NHL Network and IFC. IFC were getting some media attention for their comedies, of which “PORTLANDIA” sounded the most promising; a sketch comedy show set in Portland, Oregon that made fun of that city’s holier-than-thou eco-hippies, uber-feminists, bike nazis and various alterna-jerks of all stripes. Problem was that during the two or so weeks I had the “digital enhanced” package, nothing good was on any of those channels. Re-runs, old hockey games, unfunny comedies I’d never heard of, British cross-dressing lame-fests, and so on. My wife and I decided to drop the ten extra bucks a month on HBO instead. We’re glad we did.

Meanwhile, I saw the viral “Dream of the 90s is alive in Portland” and “Put a bird on it” sketches from PORTLANDIA’s season one on YouTube and thought, “Funny, but……meh.”. It was only when Season Two came out to rave reviews from comedians I trust (usually on Twitter!) that I started to pay closer attention. This wasn’t just the usual logrolling – these folks were genuinely digging the show. So then what pops up on Netflix streaming but Season 1 of “Portlandia”. At only six episodes and 22 minutes apiece, it’s not much of a slog to complete the season in record time – hmm, let’s see: you can do it in 2 hours and 12 minutes, maybe with a few extra minutes built in to futz with your remote. Now that I’ve done that, I’m wondering why more people haven’t been touting this show than already are.

The key players who center every sketch are Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein. Armisen is an SNL veteran who already had the sketch comedy chops; and given that this show is executive produced by SNL creator Lorne Michaels, it already started with a pretty strong comedy pedigree. The wild card was former Sleater-Kinney guitarist Brownstein, whom I’ve seen play live a half dozen times (“SK” were my wife’s favorite band in the 90s) and who I’d have never pegged back then to be a future wacky comedienne. Yet she’s great. Often playing the straight “man” to Armisen’s more highly-strung or off-kilter weirdos, she’s excellent both at deadpan humor or at putting forth the vibe of the clueless, self-delusional egotist. This whole show seeks to (gently, mockingly) portray a city of egotists stuck on their own micro-trips – be they bicycles, music, “local food”, crafting, dumpster diving and so on.

The show this most closely resembles is “Mr. Show”, in the interconnectedness of the sketches, the recurring characters and the successful ability to mock everybody and everything. It can get a little bizarre at times too, not quite “Tim & Eric” bizarre, but it does have sketch endings that go CLUNK when you least expect it. Charmingly so, though. Kyle MacLachlan memorably plays the Mayor of Portland, a fun-loving, bicycle helmet-wearing goofball who only wants his city to be cooler than Seattle, and who oh by the way secretly moonlights in a dub reggae band that play “The real heavy stuff, Augustus Pablo heavy”. The show has coffee jokes, Japanese cutie-pie tourist jokes, Adult Hide & Seek league jokes, beard jokes, feminist bookstore jokes (Armisen is amazing in those sketches) and so on. I’m into it – and so should you!

Sunday, March 4, 2012


I certainly can't forget where I was the first time I heard first-wave LA punk band THE BAGS and their 45 "Survive". It was 1986, eight years after the record had come and went - but a new bootleg had just come out with the early Dangerhouse singles called "Me Want Breakfast", and the Maximum Rocknroll radio show played "Survive" as a means of posthumously talking up the incredible LA punk rock scene of the late 70s. You know how sometimes you just know you've heard what will become one of your all-time favorite pieces of music, even before it's done? We weren't even to Craig Lee's spazzy, broken-down guitar solo when I'd decided that this was the coolest punk rock record I'd heard to date. Not having the $25 or so (!) that it would have taken to buy the original single (though I learned upon returning to college that Fall that my much-admired punk rock cousin owned it), I bought the Dangerhouse bootleg that week - and was exposed to The Weirdos, The Dils, the early X singles and more all in one fell swoop.

So it was through my musical education of the next few years. Alice Bag and THE BAGS were among about three or four punk-rock standard-bearers and holders of the flame of the all-time greats (Germs, Weirdos, Flesh Eaters, Bags). Not knowing much about what ever happened to her after her brief time in the Masque/Hollywood spotlight, my friends and I used to imagine we'd seen her during our LA record-shopping trips in the late 80s - any time we'd see a tall Latina with wide eyes and short hair. We knew she was doing some stuff with the man known as Vaginal Cream Davis, but I felt that she was this elusive character who'd stopped making the scene a long time before.

Then about seven years ago, when I was doing my music blog Agony Shorthand, I got some "proactive" emails from Alice Bag, i.e. Alicia Armendariz, i.e. Alice Velasquez. What a coup! She liked my site! Alice Bag! I arranged a short email interview with her, which you can read here. I was really impressed that she'd easily weathered the storm of LA punk and post-punk heroin mania and self-destruction, and was now a happily-married mother and schoolteacher, still committed to the joint causes of social justice and keeping the internal punk flame alive. Now I know how she did it, because the second that her autobiography "VIOLENCE GIRL" went on sale, I snapped it up. Suffice to say, you should too.

The book is subtitled "East LA rage to the Hollywood stage", and its subtext is how Alice's at-times difficult, at-times stable upbringing in all-Hispanic east Los Angeles contributed both to her violent, angry on-stage persona and reckless life in Hollywood, as well as to her quick mental "sobering up" and exit from Hollywood and into a world of ideas, philosophy and eventually a life centered around helping others. She tells her tale as series of vignettes, usually chapters that are about 2-5 pages, often illustrated with photographs.

The first near-half of the book is about growing up - a childhood full of alternating great, "normal" memories and then memories of her beloved father beating her mother bloody on multiple occasions. While how this led to her wild-woman, banshee-on-wheels Bags frontperson persona is never explicitly stated, it doesn't need to be. Alice carried in her years of simmering anger at her father and a chip on her shoulder the size of Montana, and it served her well both as a singer and in keeping herself safe & strong during her late-teen Hollywood punk years. She makes the connections implicitly through chapter alternation and through stories of fights, near-fights, encounters with weirdos and drug-addled teenagers of all stripes.

I guess I knew it already, but it is clear that this was also a very grounded woman, despite some wayward years. When her time living the crazy life at the infamous Canterbury apartments was starting to hit the rocks of too much drinking and the introduction of drugs into her young life, she knew well enough to leave, and move back to East LA to live with her parents. She went to college and worked at a flower shop, even while still being the she-demon that fronted The Bags. She's a case study in "surviving", not to go for the all-too-obvious pun.

Those who might read this not as a life memoir but as a voyeuristic glimpse into the incredible LA punk scene of the time will also not be disappointed. There are various tales of The Weirdos, Black Randy, Darby Crash, the Middle Class, Kickboy Face & Philly and much more - even one in which Alice almost joins the nascent Go-Gos, which as she modestly admits, would probably have been a disaster. This isn't a Pulitzer-bait memoir full of lavish prose and weepy melodrama - not on an edgy imprint like Feral House - but it is well-written and -edited, and if I've got a complaint, it's that I would have liked to have learned a little more about the most recent 25 years of her life, which are unfortunately crammed together in the book's final paragraphs. She's obviously been a lifelong learner and explorer of her own psyche and has really come out the stronger for it, even as many of her punk peers peeled off into degeneration and death. Maybe I'll start the petition now for part two. Until then, you can pick up "VIOLENCE GIRL" right here.

Friday, March 2, 2012


When I was a younger man I definitely went through a very pronounced "dumb is good" phase with regard to punk-inspired music. The whole "KBD" thing was in full swing in the early 90s, and 70s/80s bands like The Mentally Ill,The Mad and The Authorities proved that having absurd lyrics and retardo riffs were no hindrance to creating transcendent punk rock art. So it was with current bands of the era as well. I loved simple, minimalist garage punk as long as it captured that Urinals/Desperate Bicycles sense of barely knowing how to play but still succeeding to bash out something brilliant anyway. So bands like The Motards, The Inhalants and even The Red Aunts (!) were on my cool radar at the time. A lot of it didn't age too well - one could argue that I haven't either - and I've been a lot of more skeptical of dumb-ass rock and roll for at least a decade or two of quote-unquote adulthood ever since.

Until FERAL BEAT, that is. Feral Beat are an active two-person guitar/drum, boy/girl act from Memphis. The fella is from a punk band called The Useless Eaters, which is a great name for those of you who've studied your Bloodlands history and such, but not a band I can say has moved me to date. When I first heard their new 45, "Canned Heat/Cold Lover", I thought it was maybe the stupidest thing I've heard in a coon's age. Like something a 24-year-old would like! Then I listened to it again. And again. And then that feeling showed up again, that one in which you know that the band you're listening to has moved beyond lyrical ineptitude and musical ineptitude and into an otherworldly, godlike level of calculated primitive, raw and savage ineptitude that's somehow absolute genius. They made me into a philistine again, one who loves dumb riffs, faggy vocals, awful lyrics and the like. And all was then good. And one of my favorite records in the world right now was so enshrined. And now I tell everyone who asks me what's good, I say, I tell 'em, "Feral Beat is what's good". And now you shall know as well.