I’ll buy anything Portland’s mighty Dirtnap Records puts out, no questions asked. They’ve become, in the last few years, the 21st century answer to Lookout Records, at least in my house. That Dirtnap arm, like the jaunty Lookout logotype of yore, is all I need to see before the cash is on the counter.
In honor of Dirtnap’s revamped retail/distro concern, Green Noise, which officially settles into new digs (3840 SE Gladstone Street) this week, I’ve compiled a quick and dirty survey of the hot shit Dirtnap’s released in the last year or so.
Oh, and a little bird told me this reliable pusher of quality punk just signed Portland surf-punks Guantamo Baywatch, who are recording their Dirtnap debut as we speak. With a new Mean Jeans album on the horizon as well, it looks like Dirtnap’s ridiculous streak of essential records will continue. I’m not surprised.
All right, enough preamble. Without further ado, Dirtnap’s class of 2011...
High Tension Wires - Welcome New Machine
Marked Men drummer Mike Thorneberry dropped out of this Denton, TX supergroup after the spectacular Midnight Cashier (you should ditch all plans and go buy that album immediately if you don’t own it already), but Mike Wiebe (Riverboat Gamblers), Mark Ryan (Mind Spiders, Marked Men) and Chris Pulliam (the Reds) stuck around, and two-thirds of Bad Sports stepped in to assist on Welcome New Machine. It’s not as immediately gratifying as its predecessor—not many records are—but it abides the same elusive formula that makes Denton’s scene so special: It’s the all too rare sound of punk dudes growing up and getting wistful without ditching the speed and scuzz that got them all hot and bothered for loud music in the first place. It’s the band you wish you could be in. Okay, okay, it’s the band I wish I could be in.
White Wires - WWII
The rare Dirtnap act that’s not from Texas or Portland, Ontario’s White Wires had been in my ear as an insistent whisper for a while. The whisper was my brother’s, and the gist was this: “Dude, why the fuck haven’t you gotten into White Wires yet?” My answer was dumb silence plus a shrug. Dumb being the operative word, because my bro was right, as always, and will I ever learn? Anyway, I intended to limit myself to Dirtnap’s 2011 releases here, but I didn’t fall in love with this 2010 gem until a couple weeks ago, and the 12 saccharine powerpop-punk songs on WWII are so obnoxiously catchy that they’d probably hunt me down and kill me in my sleep if I didn’t give them their due. Seriously. Listen to “Be True to Your School (‘til You Get Kicked Out)” and try to get through your day without the chorus nagging at you ‘til you hit the hay. The other songs on the album are just as memorable, which is only a problem if you need to use your brain for important stuff. I don’t, obviously, so I’m stoked to have this record in my life. Thanks, bro.
Mind Spiders - Mind Spiders
It took a minute for me to warm to this one. Fronted by Mark Ryan of Denton gods the Marked Men (he’s also in High Tension Wires, because no one in Denton sleeps), Mind Spiders is teasingly similar enough to its forebear that it was, at first, hard to listen to the frantic opening number (“Go!”) without nursing a secret suspicion that the Marked Men had simply switched names instead of slowing to a pace of something like one live appearance per year. No such luck. But once my disappointment faded, I found myself digging Ryan’s plaintive take on the Denton sound—from the Bolan-esque swagger of “Slippin’ and Slidin’” to the teenybopper sweetness of “Read Your Mind.” Think of it as a Marked Men album you can make out to….with me.
Bad Sports - Kings of the Weekend
Stay away from Bad Sports if Ramones worship isn’t your bag. And keep away from me while you’re at it. I don’t wanna walk around with you. Glad to see you go. You’re a pinhead, etc. You get the idea. Featuring members of Mind Spiders, High Tension Wires and hardcore creeps Wiccans (Denton = best circle jerk EVER), Bad Sports come off as randy scene upstarts on Kings of the Weekend, a lovestruck pop-punk shindig featuring the aforementioned unabashed Ramones rips (“Sweet Sweet Mandi” owes Joey a few bucks for that “Chainsaw” lift) and eager mash notes to cute chicks (“Teenage Girls”). I have a feeling Bad Sports and Mean Jeans have partied hard together. I’m surprised we didn’t hear about the ensuing arrests on the news.
Something Fierce - Don’t Be So Cruel
This album. Goddamn. This beautiful beast. I had to stop listening to it when I quit smoking a couple months ago, because like sex and whiskey, Don’t Be So Cruel stimulates that tiny but tenacious part of me (no, the other tiny but tenacious part of me) that believes I will live forever, so why not light up, drive fast and crank “Empty Screens” until my car explodes. I’ll survive, so fuck it. This is the best album of the year so far—a perfect 35 minutes of anthemic punk rock that I have just barely enough willpower to blast again. I’d put it up there with London Calling and The Streets of San Francisco on my list of all-time great punch-me-in-the-face-because-I’m-too-powerful-to-feel-any-pain albums. Okay, I have to stop writing immediately. I’m feeling invincible. Could be dangerous. Just trust me. Get it. Know joy.
Wait! One last thing! TONIGHT, August 31 is the monthly Green Noise Records Night at the Know. Hooded Hags and Forsorcerers will be playing. There. I’m done.