Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Keep Your Ear To The Ground: A Brief Review Of The Salad Days Soundtrack

Director Scott Crawford surveyed the harDCore history of the nation's capital succinctly and generously in the 2014 film, Salad Days: A Decade Of Punk In Washington, DC 1980-90. The documentary managed to cover so much so easily that a viewer could perhaps forget how challenging it must have been to impart so much information in just a single film. Similarly, one imagines the difficulties in trying to soundtrack the whole thing.

While the film featured a ton of songs -- and, it's worth reminding readers, with an expert sound-mix by Archie Moore of Velocity Girl -- there was no corresponding soundtrack available for purchase. Until now. Music From Salad Days: A Decade Of Punk In Washington, DC 1980-90 will be out on black and red vinyl via SaladDaysDC.com on December 10.

And since lots and lots of what's heard in Salad Days: A Decade Of Punk In Washington, DC 1980-90 literally soundtracked the youth of so many men and women in this area, it was surely a daring concept to suggest a single soundtrack record; how could one album possibly cover the birth of harDCore in this city, and the next decade of music made here? Well, thankfully, Scott Crawford has compiled -- curated, really -- a fantastic record here in Music From Salad Days: A Decade Of Punk In Washington, DC 1980-90. I never thought I'd say this about a release that *doesn't* feature Fugazi and Minor Threat (or Scream and Rites of Spring, I might add), but this set really does a fantastic job at encapsulating an entire scene, while simultaneously shining a light on the gems that outsiders may have never heard.

I mean, a very compelling case could be made that the genre-bending, pre-Riot Grrl, Revolution Summer-inspired rock of Fire Party, represented here by "Drowning Intentions", was every bit as vital to this city as the tunes of Rites of Spring, for example. Or that the nearly-metal stylings of the ubiquitous-in-the-era Kingface, whose "Tired" shows up here, neatly foreshadows the crossover appeal of this music, and provides a hint of why a good hook was sometimes just as important as good intentions (especially in a sometimes rigid scene). One could even make the case that the never-on-Dischord Black Market Baby effectively showed, through stuff like "Downward Christian Soldiers", on offer here, that it wasn't only straight edge acts who could make some political points in the nation's capital and environs.

And while there are a few numbers here that serve up some expected harDCore pleasures (the propulsive "Motorist" from reliable stalwarts Jawbox, or the punky power-pop of Marginal Man's "Under A Shadow"), there's loads more that surprises on Music From Salad Days: A Decade Of Punk In Washington, DC 1980-90. "Sensations Fix" reminds a listener of the corrosive power of United Mutation, while the familiar evisceration of "Who Are You?" from Void still amazes like much of that band's brief catalog always does. And while loads of listeners may first gravitate towards "Now I'm Alone" from Mission Impossible featuring a young Dave Grohl, I like to think that lots of fans are also going to buy this for "Swann Street" from Three, a classic of the era, rendered here by Gray Matter from a 2013 reunion concert at D.C.'s Black Cat.


Amidst other essential tracks here from Holy Rollers, Soulside, and Iron Cross, are important atypical numbers from this city's harDCore past, including "Chocolate" from the genre-defying and effortlessly-brilliant Shudder To Think, and "Godspeed" by Swiz featuring the ridiculously-fiery vocals of Shawn Brown, the original singer of Dag Nasty. Brown's performance here, alongside Jason Farrell (Bluetip), is fantastic, an unleashing of the sort of fury that the power-punk tunes of Dag Nasty didn't always allow space for. Similarly, "It's About Time That We Had A Change" from Youth Brigade reminds a listener of just how precisely on-point this scene's players could be, drummer Danny Ingram here hitting the skins with machine gun-like precision, and bassist Bert Queiroz providing a pulsating energy that he brought over from his earlier band, Double O, also represented on this soundtrack by a rare cut.

And while Nathan Strejcek's vocal-work on that Youth Brigade selection is energetic and rallying, full of the kind of energy one rightly associates with the early days of harDCore, it's the late John Stabb's performance on "Where You Live" from Government Issue that resonates still. A song that is as direct as a punch in the arm, the tune not only features J. Robbins, future leader of Jawbox, but Tom Lyle, the guy who mastered this soundtrack, on bass. For a band that's remembered sometimes more for Stabb's iconoclastic antics than the actual tunes, it's nice to hear a track from Government Issue that highlights just what a fantastically-tight musical unit the band was during their peak years.

At its very best, Music From Salad Days: A Decade Of Punk In Washington, DC 1980-90 serves as a sort of audio scrapbook, serving up the familiar memories one wants to revisit time and time again, along with a few nearly-overlooked mementos of a special time and place. For a scene that produced so many seminal bands, there's been a real lack of any essential, curated compilations. So Music From Salad Days: A Decade Of Punk In Washington, DC 1980-90 fills that gap with 18 reminders of the variety and versatility of harDCore, the cuts here sounding crisper and more electric than they've perhaps ever sounded.

Music From Salad Days: A Decade Of Punk In Washington, DC 1980-90 is out on December 10 on black and red vinyl via SaladDaysDC.com. Salad Days: A Decade Of Punk In Washington, DC 1980-90 is out on DVD and Blu-Ray from the same site, and available to stream from the usual outlets.

[Photos: Gray Matter, 2018, by me; Swiz, 2014, by me; Youth Brigade, 2012, by me; soundtrack cover and back-cover courtesy SaladDaysDC.com]