Friday, October 8, 2010

October 8: L7, "Shitlist"

Artist: L7
Song: "Shitlist"
Album: Bricks Are Heavy
Year: 1992

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In nearly every genre in history, one can clearly see an overall dominance of male performers on nearly every instrument.  Furthermore, as the music style gets more aggressive, the presence of female performers becomes exponentially more rare.  Thankfully, the handful of females that venture deep into the hardcore and heavy metal styles often end up creating some of the most amazing and unique music one can find, and there is no other band in history that brings an aggression and sound similar to the legendary music of L7.  Though often thought to be part of the "Seattle sound," L7 actually came from Los Angeles and were far more punk-based than the group of bands that shot to fame and came to be called "grunge."  Creating a sound that pulled as much influence from Black Sabbath and Slayer as it did from Black Flag and The Ramones, the group pulled no punches and made it quite clear that they were fully capable of doing anything and playing anything like their male counterparts.  With their unique style of aggressive, hardcore sludge, the group were catapulted onto the international scene with their stellar 1992 album, Bricks Are Heavy, which remains one of the finest albums of the entire decade.  This album finally brought all of the talents of L7 into focus and there are few songs that better define the group than their aggro-anthem, 1992's "Shitlist."

Throughout all of Bricks Are Heavy, L7 deployed a dark, menacing sound that is perhaps more akin to the moods of Alice In Chains than any other band at the time, yet the attitude and aggression of their music makes it completely unique.  Powered by the guitar of Suzi Gardner and Donita Sparks, the song packs as much punch as anything else at the time, and the two play brilliantly off of one another.  The heavy distortion used on their guitars is absolutely perfect, as it gives their playing a growl that mirrors the vocals and the overall tone of the song.  Furthering this mood is the bass of Jennifer Finch, and the whips her instrument into a trashing, yet inescapable groove.  The drum playing of Demetra Plakas is far beyond that of nearly any of her peers as she brings an aggression and power that is remains unmatched.  The band is able to move as a single unit, and this combined sound is far more that the sum of its parts, as it is a complete wall of sound that knocks over and pummels the listener for the entire length of the song.  It is this tone that makes "Shitlist" seem almost ahead of its time, as it has a strange pop appeal that was nearly completely absent from the punk-metal at the time, as Bricks Are Heavy preceded the rise of this style of music by well over a year.  Both the mood and musical tone found on "Shitlist" can be heard throughout many of the most successful songs of the early 1990's, yet no other band brought a similar musical assault equal to that of L7.

Serving as the perfect finishing touch to the overly aggressive musical backing, the venomous vocals and lyrics from Donita Sparks set the standard for female vocalists in the more forceful styles of music for the years that followed.  Bringing an absolutely fantastic growl and grit, Sparks proves on "Shitlist" that she is able to combine this with a wide vocal range, and this duality in ability is what sets her far apart from both her male and female counterparts.  Much like the music, on "Shitlist," Sparks is singing at full-throttle, and there is not a moment anywhere on the track where she lets up for even a moment, and she displays her entire vocal ability from simple speaking to earth-shaking screams.  Along with the unrelenting attitude in her voice, the lyrics (also written by Sparks) to "Shitlist" stand as some of the finest and most unforgiving ever penned.  The title itself leaves no questioning as to the songs' content, as Sparks tees off on everyone who ever doubted her or brought negative energy into her life.  With lyrics like, "...For all the ones who bum me out, for all the ones who fill my head with doubt, for all the squares who get me pissed, you've made my shitlist...," Sparks captures a feeling that can be understood by all, and it is this common theme that turned the song into nothing short of an anthem.  Both in how she sings as well as what she is singing, it is the bitter, confrontational tone of the song that makes "Shitlist" such an amazing song.

While most people look to the more mellow, often acoustic-based female performers as the "important" musicians of the 1990's, it is in fact those at the opposite end of the spectrum that truly opened the doors once again for women in music.  Though they did not gain as much commercial success, it was the efforts of bands like L7 that made it "acceptable" for women to perform just as aggressively as their male counterparts, and it is much the reason that their music retains its power and influence nearly twenty years later.  In retrospect, L7's Bricks Are Heavy easily keeps pace, if not passes most of the "iconic" albums of the early 1990's, as it brings a completely unique musical approach, as well as displays far superior songwriting when compared to the other albums of the era.  It is the superb song structure that sets the album apart from the rest of the L7 catalog, and this was likely due not only to the maturity of the band, but also to the production work of fellow music legend, Butch Vig.  Regardless of where the inspiration and approach came from, one cannot deny the power of each song on the album, and the record remains the definitive L7 album, and unquestionably one of the most impressive of the entire decade.  Perfectly capturing the antagonistic, unapologetic mood of the band as well as their undeniable musical talents, there are simply no other songs in history that can compare to the force and ferocity found on L7's 1992 song, "Shitlist."

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