Friday, September 18, 2015

Hippies vs. Punks: ALL's Trailblazer

Recorded live at CBGBs during the summer of 1989 -- the same summer and venue I witnessed The Lemonheads perform music off their new album Lick (1989) -- and named after a portable camping commode (featured on the album's cover art), Trailblazer (1990) is my favorite album by the too-little appreciated Pop Hardcore Punk group ALL.

ALL is the band that was formed in the wake of the dissolution of Descendents after Milo Auckerman left the group to pursue a graduate degree in biochemistry. ALL is basically Descendents without Milo. At first Dave Smalley was Milo's replacement; then the able Scott Reynolds (who performs on Trailblazer) took over the lead vocals until leaving the band in 1993 (which is when I stopped buying ALL albums).

I listened to a lot of ALL after the breakup of my marriage and my return to the East Coast. I lived in a studio apartment in the Washington Heights neighborhood. By climbing my fire escape to the roof I could take in a soothing view of the greenbelt of Fort Tryon Park and Inwood Park hugging the Hudson River. Up in that northern tip of Manhattan there were hawk and raccoon. I would run in Fort Tryon and do my shopping at a Korean green grocer on 181st Street. I felt good up there.

Listening to ALL is like listening to the heartbeat of a late 1980s California young man nourished on SST Records. You feel yourself jogging out into the surf and butterflying through the breakers. If you ever want to get a sense of what our youthful sensibilities were at the end of Reagantime, Trailblazer is an excellent document.

The subject matter is the usual one for bubble-gum pop -- girl/boy trouble; but it is treated from a California Hardcore perspective, which is to say with a cynical honesty. So the combination that results -- a pining earnestness matched by withering self-deprecation -- is embracing and novel.

What is also unique about ALL as found here in Trailblazer are the bass and drums of Karl Alvarez and Bill Stevenson, respectively. Athleticism was always an essential, though never explicitly acknowledged, part of the California Hardcore ethos. In Trailblazer, with the sound of the CBGBs mob roaring its approval, one feels almost as if he is listening to a Punk Flashdance.

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