Punks Called Horrible by Holly Golightly Face What They’re Afraid Of

Holly Golightly describing depressive disorders in Breakfast at Tiffany’s: “The blues are because you’re getting fat and maybe it’s been raining too long, you’re just sad, that’s all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly, you’re afraid and you don’t know what you’re afraid of.” Oh yeah, that incomprehensible anxiety that frays your nervous system till it looks like an angora sweater. At first you try to befriend this beast, humor it, so it might leave you alone. Then you try to fight it, puff up your meek chest, and frantically punch and kick when it gets too close. A combination of both tactics works best. Join the beast and try to keep up.

Tucson, Arizona’s Mean Reds chronicle this marriage on Together at Last, and This Is Our Wedding. No matter what’s wrecking their psyches, the boys attack by stuffing the buggers into a cannon, lighting the fuse, and partying hard. “Extreme Cave Moms,” “Teenagers Only Zone,” and “Penis Flower” are equal parts fear and fight, but as diffuse as the songs are—from skittish electro and hyperactive pan flutes to cyber-funk bass solos and Germs-infected pansy-punk—they’re feverishly focused around thrash attacks, a blur of bodies, and Anthony Anzalone’s acrid screams. Unfortunately, their marriage didn’t last. The Mean Reds disbanded on Halloween.


Shirley Manson Progresses From Foreplay to Banging Full-On

In 1998, when Shirley Manson sang, “I think I’m paranoid and complicated,” she wasn’t kidding. She’s got a voice that feels like a nocturnal emission, her haughtiness could make Hell’s Angels pee their chaps, and she’s got it goin’ on like rowwwr. But she can’t see that last bit due to body dysmorphic disorder—a distressing condition whereby people obsess over some aspect of their physical appearance. There’s a likely connection between this strife and the merciless bullying Manson endured during her adolescence and her subsequent history with self-mutilation. The vicious resentment that has become the eau du Garbage is ripe on Bleed Like Me. In the first single, the uncomfortably frenetic “Why Do You Love Me,” she suggests, “I’m not as pretty as those girls in magazines. I am rotten to the core if they’re to be believed.”

Yet the flip side of Manson’s self-contempt is her infamous love of sex, evident in the opener “Bad Boyfriend.” The foreplay that defined Garbage’s early material has been substituted by aggressive, flashy guitars and rock drumming power-pounding the G-spot. So how can a woman who can’t stand herself be so at home body-banging? Sex for Shirley isn’t merely physical; in “Sex Is Not the Enemy,” fucking becomes a psychological playground where she disassociates from the ugly and boldly turns empowered minx. In April at the Hammerstein Ballroom, Manson was all body: hips and legs comfortable in a tight miniskirt that offered copious crotch shots. Go, baby, go, go.

But for a woman who loves pleasures of the flesh, Manson prays to be less human (read: less paranoid and complicated) in “Metal Heart.” By contrast, “Run Baby Run” and “Right Between the Eyes” urges ugly ducklings to bloom and flourish—on Bleed Like Me, it isn’t their poignant pain that sticks out, it’s Manson’s bravery in the face of it all. In a huge display of balls, “Hurt” by Johnny Cash was Garbage’s entry song at their show. It mirrored the confrontational title track about people dealing with anorexia, cutting, and gender crises. A glacial, angelic chorus of “you should see my scars” offers an exclusive invitation to these sacred hells. We’re asked, “Hey, baby, can you bleed like me?” but we obviously can’t. However distorted such perceptions of the self are, they are absolute realities nonetheless. As Manson’s fellow sexual provocateur Anaïs Nin explained: “We see things not as they are, but as we are.”


Juliette Lewis Gets All Excited When She Whips Out Her Big 10-Inch

Actress Juliette Lewis is committed to showing you she is very, very serious about this rock stuff. When she and her ’80s-blessed band the Licks perform, Lewis is so explosive that it’s like Con Ed set up shop inside her hoo-ha and flipped every switch. Likewise, on the EP . . . Like a Bolt of Lightning, she displays all the front-bulge bravado of her cock rock idols, adopting their arrogance and wild-child blood lust, only to trample over them with don’t-piss-on-my-leg-and-tell-me-it’s-raining lyrics and castrating laughs. She warns the masses to cover their asses in “Shelter Your Needs,” and antagonistically slaps her dick on the chin of “blue-eyed, culture-deprived” corporate pigs in “American Boy.” Her sexual appetite flares up over a “20-Year-Old Lover”; she’s ready for action on the tumbling rouser “Coming Around” and liberating head rush “Got Love to Kill.” Lewis is diligently working for everything her spandex pants represent, and so far, she’s got the gifts to fill ’em.


Emo Band From Florida Embraces ’80s Corporate Rock With Open Arms

A big misconception among emo-core bands is that hardcore punk is the best musical vehicle with which to translate their earnestness. They believe the severity of their anguish and longing to be tangible as a result of tonsil-wrecking screams and bone-bruising dissonance. Instead of studying the Dischord catalog, lonely-hearts-club rockers could convey their turmoil just as effectively—and perhaps even more convincingly—if they took notes on emo’s fabulously cheesy precursors, the arena-rock bands of the 1980s.

Journey and Foreigner were not lost on St. Augustine, Florida’s Moments in Grace. The group absolutely channels the momentum of mullet music on their debut full-length Moonlight Survived. Lead singer-guitarist Jeremy Griffith’s got soaring pipes worthy of Steve Perry, or Kelly Keagy in Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian.” Amid the pop-savvy euphoria of “Stratus,” he’s caught by wind, gliding along in ways peers Thrice and Thursday would never dare. Though Moments in Grace’s industrious drumming and hard-nosed riffs keep the poodle hair at bay, the band eschews grizzly rhythms for prettiness even when singing of loss and regret. Hoist a thousand cigarette lighters, boys, and don’t stop believing.


Mama Mama Mama Weer All Heartbreakers Now

There’s a surplus of screamers on the rock scene who do little more than wail as if someone’s yanking on their short-and-curlies. All the more reason to revere Wendy Case, singer-guitarist of Detroit garage mavericks the Paybacks. She makes the screamers sound like they’ve got balls the size of birdseed. When Case throws back her head and opens her jaws, the lung-rattling roar that comes out is gruff, sexy, and salt-of-the-earth, a haughtier echo of Slade’s Noddy Holder.

Her pipes instilled a sense of pride and fullness in the Paybacks’ 2002 album, Knock Loud, and they return with even more whomp on the aptly titled new Harder and Harder. “I work twice as hard to get half as far,” cries Case, but she’s not above flashing priceless shit-eating grins.

She blows a kiss to her bitchin’ self in “Jumpy,” howling, “I’m so clean, baby, I might disappear.” A rodeo of guitar solos and rhythmic clamor kicks up dust that Case bites right through. She’s a fiendish heartbreaker who mama warned you about in “Me,” but there’s anguish in her voice when she pleads for respect in “When I’m Gone.” Raunchy and poignant rock ‘n’ roll? Holler back.


Youthful Braggarts Figure Out How Not to Get Burnt Up by the Sun or Hell

Like the band’s mythic namesake, the Icarus Line’s debut album, Mono, reeked of naïveté. It teetered between speed-fed screamo and erratic chugging, and the band assumed the more reckless it sounded, the badder-ass it seemed. Joe Cardamone’s yowls tore forth with a mania that made his throat blister and peel. His forlorn teenage poetry combined with a sensational but floundering sense of flight, and the Icarus Line wound up more foolhardy than butch.

On Penance Soiree, they channel sights lower. As in hell. Searing white light and scrappy vocals are replaced by the druggy stomping and weighty grooves of ’70s cosmic metal, yet the band’s alluringly youthful braggadocio remains. The skewed and voodooed rock ‘n’ roll of “Virgin Velcro” parades down a filthy catwalk as guitars squiggle and shock like eels darting around in giant steel tubs. Cardamone’s erotic intonations beckon you closer instead of screaming you into the rafters, especially on the Stones-ish, come-hither “Party the Baby Off.” But the album is loaded with frequency-fucking industrial grease and grime that begs to be licked, and anchored by a rhythm section that erupts through muddy earth. The nine-minute, spaced-out Zep-ic “Getting Bright at Night” is layered as intricately as Dante’s Inferno. Here’s to rocking out with a little more wind beneath those wings.


Gawky Geek Turns More Mundane But Lets His Chaos Light Up Your Living Room

A 22-year-old cross between a Muppet and a Beach Boy whose amped-up antifolk and homely mannerisms make a case for gawky, free-spirited chic, Ben Keller is the dude all the dorks want to be. 2002’s Sha-Sha was a mosaic of tuneful alt-country and sunny indie rock, peppered with idiosyncratic musings name-checking asteroids, slackerism, sex, and spaghetti. On On My Way, his attempt at a stronger identity leads to less variation: Beatles-style tunes crank out with steady snares, blaring power riffs, and languid keyboard interjections, but feel mundane.

Still, he shines when he’s askew. In the slightly deranged acoustic title track, Kweller’s sweet loafing voice tells Ma about newfound affinities for burglary, murder by karate, and friendship. In “My Apartment,” an ode to his tiny NYC abode, guitars burst like sunbeams through windows to illuminate this soft, safe place, but the jaunty hoopla and piano-bar skronk of “Hospital Bed” leave the air shaken and stirred. When Kweller flips up his collar in the badass street prowl “Ann Disaster” and sniffs, “You want a piece of me?” the dork’s got sass to spare.


A Plunger for Mom

The Shocker remind me of my mom. In our house, my mom ran the show; if she was sick, we all suffered. When she finally had it with hearing, “Ma, can you [fill in the favor]?” she’d say, “Ma’s not here.”

In the family of early-’90s rock bands, L7 wore the pants. Their effort was audible: With a snaggletoothed snarl, songs like “Pretend We’re Dead” and “The Bomb” mocked laziness and superficiality like it was a job. L7 resented having to kick our ass, but it was their self-appointed duty, and they probably loved it. By the time the four women co-founded Rock For Choice in 1991, Rosie the Riveter had a rock band.

Bassist-singer Jennifer Precious Finch left L7 in 1997, and has a new quartet. The Shocker’s EP Up Your Ass Tray! is heavy yet brisk punk rock ‘n’ roll with a chrome sheen. Finch takes a well-deserved detour from being a workhorse of social consciousness.

“My Life as a Plumber” opens with a two-note guitar siren, rescue-mission style, and chords jab forward like a plumber’s snake being fed through a pipe. From an early age, Finch was a problem solver. “While everyone around me was too scared to react/I said ‘Hand me the plunger, baby, and stand back,’ ” she bellows. But now she’s through playing Ms. Fix-It, and flushes her dependents down the crapper so she can tend to her own clogs.

She switches occupations to archaeology in the ebullient and raucous “Your Problem Now.” After busting her ass on the dig, Finch is ready to let someone else break their back. “Uncover, discover, recover, plow. . . . It’s your problem now!” she triumphantly cries as a gang of vocalists (nine of them, the credits say) belt out the husky, sashaying chorus.

Finch is always going to rock the frontline, but now she’s got other priorities. Fittingly, the Shocker cover Chip Taylor’s (then Merrilee Rush’s, then Juice Newton’s) premarital fuck-and-run anthem “Angel of the Morning,” which sparkles like a can of Coors Light in the sunrise. It’s an apropos song for someone learning how to freely come and go.


Suffragette City

Resolved, That the objection of indelicacy and impropriety, which is so often brought against woman when she addresses a public audience, comes with a very ill-grace from those who encourage, by their attendance, her appearance on the stage, in the concert. Or in feats of the circus. —Elizabeth Cady Stanton, excerpt from the Seneca Falls Declaration, 1848

Brody Armstrong sings as if there’s a battle royal inside her. Her words are like bodies getting hurled out of the ring. The 24-year-old singer-guitarist (married to Rancid’s Tim) is at the center of L.A. punk trio the Distillers. She’s Australian-born, with a cathedral-high mohawk and armor of inked skin that includes a tattoo of a skull with a pink hair bow and the words “FUCK OFF” on her upper left arm. Add to that a caustic feminist attitude, and you have one ass-kicking individual. Some punks may cry “sellout” at the band’s signing with Warner Bros. after two albums on Hellcat Records and two videos recently conquering MTV2. But it’s pivotal that TRL culture get a dose of adroit punk songwriting by a pissed-off woman with a heart that bleeds through the fingers that clutch it. L7 is M.I.A., 7 Year Bitch and Babes in Toyland are not coming back, and Courtney Love is off excavating the valley of the dolls. And while bratty rock is alive in the Donnas, Sahara Hotnights, and Kelly Osbourne (kidding!), those bands don’t get ugly or dig deep.

For over a year, the Distillers’ second album, Sing Sing Death House, has been attracting increasingly mainstream ears. The themes are generic punk—alienation, anger, rebellion—but their invigorating execution sets the Distillers apart from all those barking mooks. Armstrong translates her rage into rollicking hooks, pummeling melodies, and sing-along choruses, so her do-or-die hope and determination wind up as emotionally encouraging as they are intensely addictive. Andy Granelli’s drums hail down like Tetris pieces locking in place; Ryan Sinn’s basslines kick up sludge that welds spot-on with Armstrong’s power riffing. Significance is provided by lyrical situations that kids will recognize.

Armstrong’s acute awareness and empathy distinguish her. “Sick of It All” casts a dark light on kids likened to “silent stars on a B-role.” Armstrong sings as a 13-year-old girl with an eating disorder, a self-mutilator, a Columbine-like killer. “All the world’s light won’t ease my pain. It won’t cease, I’m diseased, will you hang me please,” she chokes. In “City of Angels,” she exposes the reality of chronically wayward youth. “Look around, ain’t no R.I.P. signs here. We don’t rest in peace, we just disappear.”

Armstrong’s intuition keeps her smart, but it’s simultaneously ostracizing. She grew up a troubled kid in Melbourne. Her mother threw her father out of the house for battery; Armstrong frequently ran away from home, got into drugs and other sorts of self-abuse. After a while, she got fed up and reached for a guitar. The message is clear: Use your voice or risk getting swallowed. So she sings for herself, and also for others who got damaged along the way. In “Young Girl,” she directly apologizes to her childhood friend Gerti Rouge; Rouge is also mentioned on the Distillers’ previous album. She obviously lived through some unsavory shit; Armstrong’s apology, which has her taking responsibility for actions not her own, is akin to saying you’re sorry when your friend’s mom dies, even though you didn’t kill the friend’s mom. Her band’s self-titled debut album, from 2000, was more raw; it scratched its way through the air with more screaming. Sing Sing‘s songs are haughtier and groovier; melodies bubble up and rock side-to-side. In the title track, fierce as whiplash, Armstrong’s guttural, acrid rasp proclaims, “I keep the memories of a broken you. Sing, sing the stories of a fractured few.”

While her words may speak for others, they speak loudest for stifled women. She abides by a brand of feminism best exemplified by her predecessors L7, when they warned, “Get out of my way or I’m gonna shove.” The new album’s most emotionally stirring war cry is a history lesson modified into a latter-day call to arms: “Seneca Falls” returns us to New York, where, in the summer of 1848, the first Women’s Rights Convention was held. Armstrong invokes Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, “forever reminding me, I don’t steal the air I breathe.” Her fearless, crass voice might earn her scowls, but she’s entitled to a piece of the pie. It’s a fight she’ll be in for the rest of her life.

Armstrong’s songs would leave stretch marks on the mouths of Karen O or even riot grrrl’s sanctioned wet nurse Kathleen Hanna; she isn’t about to strut like a sassy fashion plate or whip out some well-meaning discourse while coyly fiddling with her tits. Her power lies in a don’t-even-think-about-fucking-with-me attitude. It’s immediate, forceful, and unwavering—and too many girls still need to be convinced this is a beneficial way to be. Ignorance is not tolerated, and there is no discussion. You throw a punch—literally or figuratively—and you’re getting one right back, weightier than the shit you brought. Sing Sing Death House is about survival, and it makes the odds of thinking, believing, bleeding-heart punk kids look better than they have in years. If you don’t concur, take the hint from Armstrong’s arm, and fuck off.