Thursday, October 8, 2009

October 8: The Descendents, "Milo Goes To College"

Artist: The Descendents
Album: Milo Goes To College
Year: 1982
Label: New Alliance

One of the most basic fundamentals of the punk rock ethos is the representation of the outsider, of the less popular, those who looked different, of those who simply don't fit in within mainstream culture. From the sense of community to the music, and perhaps most importantly, the lyrics, the punk community offers refuge and solace for these individuals. When it comes to bands completely embracing this idea, few did so better then California punk pioneers, The Descendents. With songs centered around rejection, girls, and the frustration of their own day to day lives, few bands have written as universal a set of lyrics as can be found within the music of The Descendents. Musically, the band infused a clear, more pop-centered sound more than any of their peers, and in many ways, one can view The Descendents as the first "pop punk" band. It is this unique sense of melody, whilst still keeping a punk, often hardcore edge, that keeps The Descendents set far aside from nearly all of their contemporaries. A group that focused on brutal honesty, is was the addition of singer Milo Aukerman that enabled the band to reach their greatest heights. While their first record is truly fantastic, the band comes into their own and have rarely sounded better then they do on their undeniably monumental 1982 follow-up album, the legendary Milo Goes To College.

Truth be told, there is no "joke" or irony behind the album title. In fact, Aukerman WAS off to college, and the band would not record again for another three years, with drummer Bill Stevenson joining Black Flag for a majority that time period. SST Records "house producer," Spot handled production duties for Milo Goes To College, and after the departure "ROBO" and Chuck Biscuits from Black Flag, Stevenson took drumming duties for the next two years. This relationship between Stevenson and Black Flag led to The Descendents being formally signed to SST records, which re-released Milo Goes To College in 1987. While the record is amazingly powerful, it also shows many of the bands' trademark, more humorous characteristics. The band had a rather peculiar practice of adding the suffix "-age" to the end of their song titles, resulting in titles like "Bikeage" and "Tonyage" among others. Clocking in fifteen songs at just over twenty-two minutes, The Descendents epitomize what has been dubbed "blink or you'll miss it" punk, and this economy of space and sound is only rivaled by later label-mates, The Minutemen. Even in their briefness, every song on Milo Goes To College is truly fantastic, presenting a musicality that was lacking in the hardcore scene at the time. Many of these songs have become icons of the genre, and the songs and album have been covered and referenced by everyone from Bad Religion to Face To Face. One song in particular has received more covering and accolades then others. Featured near the end of Milo Goes To College is the song "Hope," which has been covered by some of the most commercially successful "pop punk" bands, and perhaps most notably, the band Sublime covered it on their album, 40oz To Freedom in 1992.

All of the homage payed to both the band and album serve as a testament to their massive influence across genres, as well as the amazing musicianship within the band members. Led by one of the greatest drummers of his generation, Bill Stevenson in many ways re-wrote the books on what was possible as a punk/hardcore drummer. Bringing as much speed as any of his peers, yet also possessing an undeniable musicality, he is by far one of the most powerful, yet diverse drummers in history. His ability to seamlessly transition into an overly aggressive band like Black Flag, as well as more pop-centric and more music-based songs like those of his own band live on as proof of his greatness. Fellow band-founder and lead guitarist, Frank Navetta puts an undeniably "surf" twist on the music of The Descendents, it this is another key aspect that sets them aside from their peers. Whether he is playing powerful, quick chords, or more complex arrangements, Navetta is truly extraordinary on every song. Powering many of the songs into a true frenzy of sound, bassist Tony Lombardo proves to be one of the best punk bass players in history. From his prominent, winding bassline on "Myage" and "M 16" to small, punctuating riffs and solos throughout the rest of the album, Lombardo often seems to be playing off of the rhythm guitar, as opposed to the drumming. It is this concentration on making fast-paced, quick hitting, and powerful punk songs, with a stronger emphasis on the musicality that make The Descendents and Milo Goes To College so extraordinary.

After releasing a single in 1978 as a trio, The Descendents enlisted the help of school friend Milo Aukerman to handle lead vocals. This proved to be the missing piece for the band, and the landscape of punk rock was never the same. Bringing an aggression and gritty vocal style that rivaled any of his peers, Aukerman's singing was far more clear and prominent than most of his contemporaries. Possessing enough snear and snarl to be "authentic," yet similarly having a certain amount of emotion and welcoming within his voice, there are few artists of the time who so perfectly walked the line between inviting and standoffish. Much of this also as to do with the fantastic lyrics that Aukerman brings on every song found on Milo Goes To College. Penning one of the greatest outcast anthems of all time, the song, "I'm Not A Loser" stands as a rallying cry against mediocrity and those who feel they are entitled and superior, Aukerman rants, " down the boulevard, wasting Mommy's gas while you're looking for kicks on Friday night...your only goal in life is to smoke a joint, and decide how you're gonna get laid tonight..." In many ways similar to the way that the lyrics of Joe Strummer gave "permission" for the outcasts of society to think differently, The Descendents gave such freedom to an entirely new generation. Also, it is within their lyrics that The Descendents quickly drop one of their influences, and it is a band that is rarely associated with any of the punk movement. During the brilliant rant that forms the lyrics of "Catalina," Aukerman sings, "...I'll steal some gas, fix my motor...turn on my Beatles tape, and get you out of my head..." The phenomenal lyrics that Milo Aukerman brings on every song on Milo Goes To College cement both the band and album as one of the great moments in music history, and it remains a rallying cry for countless disenfranchised youth across the globe.

Milo Goes To College is filled with brilliant music, fantastic lyrics, and it also features one of the most treasured covers of the punk rock era. Truthfully, the "Milo" caricatures is one of the most recognizable icons of the time, and it has been heavily assimilated throughout popular culture. The Descendents truly represent everything that there is to love about the punk and hardcore genres. With a high energy, "everyone can play" mood to their songs, the group seemed more centered around more positive outlets of emotions than a majority of their punk rock peers. Certainly taking the lighter side of things, their songs are just as powerful, and they endure to this day with the same amount of impact. The fantastic musical ability of Navetta and Lombardo is rarely rivaled anywhere else in the history of the genre, and the way in which the two interact with one another is truly awesome to experience. Proving that one could be just as musically diverse, and rising far above the simple "fast 4/4 time," drummer Bill Stevenson genuinely re-invented the punk approach to drumming. Without his unique approach to the instrument, one can make the case that the "pop punk" explosion of the late 1990's would never have occurred (and some might argue that it would not necessarily have been a bad thing). Easily one of the most uniquely amazing bands to ever records, The Descendents created some of the most timeless punk/hardcore music of all time, and their sound is perfectly captured on their phenomenal 1982 album, Milo Goes To College.

Standout tracks: "Myage," "I'm Not A Loser," and "Hope."

No comments: