Four essential picks of 21st-century Arizona punk and alternative

In the 21st century, Phoenix punk and alternative rock have had an underappreciated renaissance, an emergence of boundless energy and new creative forms of music not possible in earlier times. To highlight the resurgence of the Arizona rock scene in the past decade, we’ve chosen a short sampling of some of the great new albums that give a taste of what’s been happening.

Dog Problems (2006) – The Format
Before he went on to found fun. and reach international stardom, Nate Ruess was in a not-very-little, not-at-all-obscure band called The Format. The band’s blending of mid-2000s pop rock with some of the prominent folk-punk elements in Phoenix’s music scene made them a national success. While it’s tough to argue that The Format were anywhere near as influential as their fun. counterpart (thanks for making every pop song need orchestral strings, Nate Ruess), they were part of a movement that kept guitar pop fresh through the 2000s when it easily could have stagnated.

Dog Problems came at a critical point in The Format’s career, as it was the first album released after the band’s departure from Atlantic Records. The band used their newfound freedom to publish Dog Problems on their own label: The Vanity Label. This resulted in an album that took more chances than some of the band’s early work. The mix of ’70s- and ’80s-style pop with Arizona’s folky cowpunk influences resulted in something special, even if it doesn’t stay in your head the way “Some Nights” might.

People That Can Eat People Are the Luckiest Kind of People in the World (2007) – Andrew Jackson Jihad
Andrew Jackson Jihad’s People That Can Eat People Are the Luckiest Kind of People in the World is to acoustic folk-punk what My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless is to shoegaze: it defines its subgenre. The country twang of cowpunk and the political consciousness of folk music combined to build this collection of catchy analysis of Arizona’s social problems. While People didn’t exactly inspire a wave of acoustic folk-punk imitators within the Phoenix music scene, it did put Phoenix and AJJ on a shortlist with the likes of Ghost Mice and Defiance, Ohio.

Musically, People is catchy enough for a casual listen, with most of its depth and replay-ability coming from singer Sean Bonnette’s lyricism. It seems fitting that one of Phoenix’s definitive albums would cover topics ranging from replacing religion with people to ending racism, HIV and drug use in one fell swoop. Phoenix is a city that tries to tackle everything in a grassroots art scene, and People is an album that tries the do the same with just a few acoustic guitars.

Knifeman (2011) – Andrew Jackson Jihad
Knifeman signaled Andrew Jackson Jihad’s transition from a top-tier local band to one with national acclaim. Thematically, it maintained much of what AJJ came to be known for –- social and political commentary that hits extra close to home in Phoenix. It feels like most Phoenicians can relate to lyrics like “I wish I had a bullet big enough to f—— kill the sun/I’m sick of songs about the summer/And I hate everyone.”

While Knifeman‘s lyrics may have only been a small progression from albums like People, it was a more notable evolution on a musical level. The simple acoustic setup from People was mostly gone, in favor of electric guitars and a full band. Strangely enough, the band’s musical styling grew closer to the hardcore punk bands that are prevalent in Phoenix today as they expanded further away nationally.

Checkognize (2012) – Treasure Mammal
Some people might say that anything with synthesizers and spandex doesn’t belong on a punk rock list. Some people might not have heard of Treasure Mammal. Few things are more definitively Phoenix than the blow-up doll-“interacting,” ripped clothes-wearing, audience-harassing joy that is Treasure Mammal. While they haven’t exactly blown up on a national level, they’ve certainly become a mainstay in Phoenix’s scene -– and they might be the only synth-driven band to do so.

Checkognize itself is as manic and all-over-the-place as a Treasure Mammal live performance. The album varies dramatically, from the dance-y, feel-good “Shake Weight” to the emotional (but still feel-good) ballad “Bromance.” It’s tough to really put the music of Treasure Mammal in words, though. Like any great performer, their loveable insanity must be experienced live to truly be appreciated — and their location means that’s an advantage the Phoenix music scene has.

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We’ve chosen a low number of albums for this new time period, and we’re hoping to encourage response. Phoenix has never been a greater wellspring of underground rock than it has been in the 21st century. What albums do you think should be enshrined with the greats?

Record Store Day celebrates classic vinyl

If there’s one thing the young and old can agree on, it’s that vinyl is pretty cool. Even in today’s world of instant music downloads and Internet streams, something is just better about having a huge disc of plastic to play music through.

Record Store Day, held on Saturday, April 20, is an international event celebrating the continuing existence of records and the stores that sell them. Record Store Day features a list of exclusive releases that range from classic rock (Bob Dylan, King Crimson) to modern metal (Between the Buried and Me, All That Remains) to indie mainstays (Phoenix, Titus Andronicus).

The full list of releases is available here. It should be noted that stores don’t know exactly what records they’ll be getting until they arrive – they can put in requests, but they won’t get everything they want.

Thankfully, the light rail gives downtown Phoenix residents access to some excellent record stores for Record Store Day.

(Marianna Hauglie/DD)

(Marianna Hauglie/DD)

STINKWEEDS

The Place: 12 W. Camelback Road. From the light rail, it’s just off Camelback and Central. Stinkweeds feels like home for many of downtown’s record enthusiasts for good reason – they combine the sense of community of a local shop with impressive selections.

The Event: Stinkweeds has an impressive list of local acts along with national headliner FIDDLAR. Food truck favorites Short Leash Hot Dogs, Mama Toledo’s Pies and Pizza People will all be there providing their services.

The Verdict: With quality local bands like Playboy Manbaby joining FIDDLAR and a variety of food trucks, Stinkweeds is probably worth a quick trip down the light rail. They’ve also ordered every single RSD release. While they certainly won’t get all of them, their dedication is impressive.

(Madeline Pado/DD)

(Madeline Pado/DD)

REVOLVER

The Place: 918 N. Second St. Set on Roosevelt and 2nd streets, Revolver is the closest record store to ASU’s Downtown campus and the only one accessible without the light rail. With the beautiful mural on its outside wall and the quirky personalities sure to be inside, it fits in well with the rest of Roosevelt Row.

The Event: Popular local act Dogbreth and the incredibly interesting Minibosses (they play prog metal covers of video game music) highlight a lineup of local bands. For food needs, Revolver is surrounded by RoRo coffee shops and restaurants.

The Verdict: Revolver occasionally gets criticized for only having an impressive selection during First Fridays – they’re likely to pull out all the stops for RSD as well. While it’s unknown what exactly they’ve ordered or are getting, Revolver has posted pictures on their Facebook page with lots of boxes, so there should be something nice.

(Thomas Hawthorne/DD)

(Thomas Hawthorne/DD)

ZIA

The Place: 1850 W. Camelback Road. There are a few Zia Record Exchanges throughout Arizona and Nevada, but this one – just off the light rail at Camelback Road and 19th Avenue – is large, new and nice.

The Event: Zia hosts a big name headliner for Record Store Day this year in Wavves. The very successful beach punk will be performing there at 3 p.m. and signing autographs. Emerson Fry Bread will be there selling food, but only for the early risers – they’ll be there from 8 to 10 a.m.

The Verdict: A chain like Zia may not have the personality of a more local shop, but it’s hard to argue against seeing Wavves before he performs at Crescent Ballroom that night. Imagining Zia’s huge store full of Record Store Day releases should also be enough to make vinyl fans take a ride to the second-to-last stop on the light rail to check it out.

Second annual Showbot a success

2nd Showbot Liam and the Ladies

Every cliché about musicians working at coffee shops came to life in the most incredible way imaginable in the backyard of Jobot Tuesday night. The second edition of Showbot, a yearly music festival celebrating the continuing existence of Jobot, brought … Continue reading