Saturday, January 21, 2012

January 21: The Adolescents, "Adolescents"

Artist: The Adolescents
Album: Adolescents
Year: 1981
Label: Frontier Records

Within the history of every musical style, there are a number of sub-genres that many argue formed from a wide range of instances.  One of the biggest issues one encounters in such arguments is in deciphering exactly "where" one style ends and another begins, as in many cases, the sounds are very similar.  Both of these statements are rarely more true than in the space where punk and hardcore music intersect, and yet it is in this place where some of the most exciting and important music in history resides.  Though one can easily argue that the roots of both punk and hardcore are firmly within East Coast bands, it was the spin on these sounds created by West Coast bands that pushed the sound forward, and there were few areas more important to this development than Southern California.  More directly, it was in the Los Angeles area, as well as the surrounding "beach towns" that served as the breeding ground for many of the most important and fierce bands in the genres' history, and among the best of these bands stands The Adolescents.  Though their most potent period of musical creation was exceptionally short lived, the band remains one of the greatest of the era, and their influence on later bands is absolutely immeasurable, and there are few records that are as outright powerful and enduring as one can experience within The Adolescents' legendary 1981 self-titled debut.

Throughout this record, one cannot get past the fact that each musical arrangement has an intriguing drive and tone, and yet there is a cleaner sound than on a majority of similar records.  It is the fact that both the music and vocals are so much clearer and have superior sonic quality that instantly makes Adolescents a better album, and yet the content is also far beyond almost all of their peers.  It is the way that so many of the songs seem to slowly creep in, creating an amazing level of tension, and the way that the band are able to sustain this tension, that makes this record easily withstand the test of time.  There is no question that in most cases, it is the bass playing of Steve Soto that is the key to the overall sound, as he is able to lead the band with slightly imposing, always brooding and powerful tone.  When one adds in the sound of guitarists Frank and Rikk Agnew, there is an almost overwhelming feel to the songs, and they also deliver a power that was the perfect sound for music fans looking for an alternative to the mainstream sound.  The guitars seem to ring out from every angle, in some ways seeming to provoke the listener, and it is the amount of movement these three are able to create within the music that makes these songs so superb.  Rounding out the band is drummer Casey Rover, and it is the high-energy, yet often mid-tempo style that he brings which completely separates the sound of The Adolescents from that of any other band of the era.

Serving as the ideal finishing touch to the overall sound of The Adolescents, singer Tony Cadena has what is without question one of the definitive voices of the entire punk and hardcore era.  Cadena has just enough snarl in his voice to engage those who seek such a sound in their singer, yet at the same time there is a clarity to his vocals that enabled him to reach a wider audience.  It is also the fact that one can easily sense the tension and frustration in every word that makes every song on Adolescents fit so perfectly alongside the music of those by whom they themselves were influenced.  Yet it is the content on songs like "Kids Of The Black Hole" that has enabled both the band and album to remain such an integral part of the development of both hardcore and punk rock, as even more than thirty years after its release, the subject matter is just as relevant within the punk rock culture.  It is the unapologetic realism that one finds in nearly every song on the album that largely defines much of the sound of the area from which the band came, as while other groups were taking on massive political issues, often times, The Adolescents simply reported the reality of the world in which they lived.  It is the aggressive defiance that one can hear within Cadena's voice on every song that is in many ways the quintessential punk sound, and yet it is the way with which he delivers each line that makes him a sound completely onto himself.

In nearly every aspect, Adolescents was able to rewrite what was possible within the hardcore and punk styles of music.  Whether it was their ability to retain musical intensity within a slightly slower cadence, or the fact that the songs on the album were sometimes nearly three times the length of the "standard" punk song, their contributions to the evolution of the genre cannot be overstated.  One can also make the case that The Adolescents were far more musical than nearly all of their peers and influences, and this is perhaps the reason that their extended instrumental sections are able to work within the punk ethos.  As the decades have passed, their entire self-titled debut record has become one of the most iconic records in the entire history of punk rock, and even after that time, the potency of the songs has not diminished in the least.  Every song still leaps from the record, instantly grabbing the listener, and with each song, one is quickly transported to dirty, slightly destroyed apartments or other social gathers.  Yet at the same time, the level of "family" that existed and continues to exist within the "true" punk scene can be felt within Cadena's vocals, and this is why the entire album has become an anthem within the community.  Though they remain slightly overlooked in comparison to some of their peers, there are few bands as important or musically powerful as one can hear within The Adolescents' brilliant 1981 self-titled debut album.

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