Wonder what it takes for an album earn a spot on the KALX Top 35? Check out our album reviews for two of the most played records in February, Dr. Demento Covered in Punk and Superchunk’s What a Time to Be Alive.
V/A – Dr. Demento Covered in Punk
Beloved novelty radio DJ Dr. Demento is back at it with another eclectic yet instant classic comp. His latest release is a 60+ song spotlight on punk titled Dr. Demento Covered in Punk, in which classic household names such as Joan Jett, the Dead Milkmen, and the B-52’s come together with obscure oddballs and everything in between to celebrate Demento’s longtime prescription of anything-but-ordinary setlists with eccentric punk covers.
Demento slaps you early on with a cover of The Cramps’ “Garbageman,” executed by none other than William Shatner, whose guttural growls and purrs dredge up a theatrical, spookier twist to the song. Toward the latter part of the first disc, the doctor transitions to stoner punk territory; Heathen Dan’s parody song “I Like” gets an ethereally fitting makeover from lo-fi artist Colleen Green, and Adult Swim fans will get a kick out of The Meatmen tackling “I Love Beans,” originally performed by Brak from cartoon Space Ghost.
However, when Brak makes an appearance himself during the Demento’s mic breaks, the schtick gets old pretty quickly. Suicidal Tendencies’ “Institutionalized,” screeched by Brak, is a cringey four-and-a-half minute track that would be better left off the comp entirely. Luckily, Disc 1 wraps up strongly with Joan Jett’s interpretation of Rocky Horror Picture Show opener “Science Fiction/Double Feature.”
Disc 2 continues to embrace Demento’s zany humor. The Kipper Kids’ over-the-top grimy snarls and grunts on “Mah Nà Mah Nà” are so ridiculous that you cannot help but chuckle (or at least roll your eyes in amusement). Two-thirds of the way through Disc 2, you’ll run into what may be the best cover of the entire comp—an urgently killer treatment of Halloween staple “Monster Mash,” rattled and discharged by The Kids of Widney High. The Kids, a group of disabled high school students, turn the mash into a straight up anthem with scorching, howling vocals.
What really ties Covered in Punk together are Dr. Demento’s musings peppering in and out of the compilation. Though the two hour timestamp seems daunting, the album flies by quickly thanks to Demento’s fun fact-filled intros and backstories. It might be tempting to cherry pick whatever name jumps out to you, but, if you can, stick this one out. That way, you’ll get to soak in an incredibly tongue-in-cheek history lesson on punk–in all its demented glory.
Favorite Tracks: Balzac – “Rat Fink,” Joan Jett & The Blackhearts – “Science Fiction/Double Feature,” Juicehead- “Suicide is Painless (Theme from M*a*s*h),” The Dead Milkmen – “Lydia, the Tattooed Lady,” The Kids of Widney High – “Monster Mash”
Superchunk – What a Time to Be Alive
In quelling the sense of impending doom following the 2016 election, music fans half-joked with one another that it would at least ignite a revival in punk music. Fast forward to 2018, and North Carolinian indie rock stalwarts Superchunk have emerged from a five-year hiatus with their eleventh LP What a Time to Be Alive. In a 32-minute blister, the DIY-championing quartet spells out the anxieties and turmoil brought about from a certain orange-hued, authoritative government through a mature—yet still impassioned—vitality.
Most of the tracks on What a Time are fast-paced, barn-burning streaks of anger, channeled into pop-punk stylings. Eponymous opener “What a Time to Be a Alive” rips open with a bouncy guitar line and a fervent drum beat that crescendos in. In the chorus, guitarist/vocalist Mac McCaughan sarcastically cries, “Oh what a time to be alive/The scum, the shame, the fucking lies.” Sardonic humor has always been a kind of lyrical coping mechanism, but considering Superchunk are parents now, McCaughan’s words carry an especially distressed weight in the context of worrying about his kids’ future.
While Superchunk unites friends Katie Crutchfield (Waxahatchee) and Stephin Merritt (Magnetic Fields) to provide backup on the mellower, hook-minded “Erasure,” the speed picks right back up with “Reagan Youth” and “Cloud of Hate.” The former parallels today’s White House with that of the conservative ‘80s, acknowledging the harsh yet meaningful realities of underground movements. The latter is a straightforward one-minute slam on the hateful administration, composing a cathartic anthem that is best experienced by screaming along yourself. And at the same time, McCaughan nods to the younger generation’s efforts: “You scare the kids / I hope you die scared / Of all the kids that know the truth.” Not only a jab at the President, the song gives recognition to the underestimated potential of his harshest critics, millennials and Gen Z’ers.
And it’s something we really need to hear. One of the most frustrating things about being a young person during this disheartening time are all the comments from older folks claiming that we are “overreacting.” “We’ve seen it all. It’s not the end of the world,” baby boomers declare with a know-it-all huff. With members aged 50 and above, Superchunk could very well share this sentiment and disparage us too. Yet, instead of talking down to those who wish for change, they forged What a Time to Be Alive to vocalize their empathy, to shout in solidarity. It might be too late to change what’s been done, but it is never too late to validate our experiences. And of course, it doesn’t hurt when message is delivered in a catchy, high-octane rush of Superchunk punk.
Favorite Tracks: “Lost My Brain,” “Erasure,” “Reagan Youth,” “Cloud of Hate”
Adrienne majors in a soft science and has a soft spot for “Pacific Coast Party” by the band Smash Mouth. Catch her sporadically on the KALX airwaves as DJ yan yan.