Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Redd Kross - Phaseshifter (1993)

Though their debut LP Born Innocent (1982) placed Redd Kross amongst other pop-punk contemporaries (the Viletones, the Warm Jets...), by the time their fifth album, Phaseshifter, came out, it was hard to tell what the band's sound had mutated into. Sure, the album still contains many aspects that would warrant it being called a punk record, but at the same time its damn melodic and jangly, vaguely bluesy, and towards the end, really influenced by hair metal.

So did they fail at hardcore or simply adapt to the college radio pop sphere that was ruling the alternative universe of the late 80s and early 90s? And did they adapt, or cash in? How could a band that opened for Black Flag stray so far and end up producing a bubblegum album with lyrics like "sometimes all I want is the sunshine."

Simply put, I think the contradictory nature of the hardcore scene got to them, the same way it got to many other bands struggling to both be a band in a particular movement, while also striving to play their own (really good) songs. The same thing happened with Dinosaur Jr. They came off the tongue with bands like ALL, Descendants, Black Flag, and Minutemen as SST staples, but they never really embraced hardcore. Yeah, they can be loud and fast, but in the end it still sounds like you put your finger on a hardcore record to slow it down and add a ripping solo. They could actually play. And they could actually write really classic pop songs. But there wasn't any room for that in hardcore culture. Solos were not celebrated, extended sound was not considered "cool," and melody was shunned. In fact it's odd that a movement that claimed to be so individualistic, revolutionary, and anti-capitalist had so many rules to begin with. Because it wasn't a rock movement defined by subject matter or place (necessarily), but a movement defined wholly by sonic aesthetics. Much like the blues, it was a narrow subgenre that was defined by chord structure (to an extent), song structure, lyrical primitivity, and brevity.

And if a band breaks this, even to make unique, beautiful music, you no longer are seen as vital, or even relevant to a scene. This isn't a bad thing, but it will always mean that bands like Redd Kross, who lasted longer than their contemporaries and strayed further from their original sound, will always be an afterthought behind the "forefathers" of punk. Again, this isn't necessarily bad, but I would argue that the shunning of bands because of their divergence from the norm is a fairly transgressive labeling practice for a movement that is often seen to be so musically, economically, and politically radical.

What I'm trying to prove here, is that Phaseshifter is the perfect example of an album that has absolutely no place in Rock history, but remains a really, really good Rock album. Like the other classic example of overlooked bands, Big Star, it didn't start anything or end anything, but it's still really good rock. "Lady in the Front Row" and "Only a Girl," stand out to me as a band pushing themselves to the limits of what they never though (or probably believed) they would ever play. This album also proves that a band can survive for over a decade playing sub-5:00 songs, while also contributing to two musical sub-genres (hardcore and "indie rock") at the same time.

And in spite of Nick Lowe, I might proclaim it the best power-pop album of all time.

Here's a fun little video of bassist Steve McDonald trying, in desperate, to get his beloved bass back:



  2. again, priceless side banter from thurston.
    "bust open some cop heads"

  3. Word, the minutemen had the hardest time with what you're describing. I'll have to check this one out. ps. thurston's new album is gonna be gorgeous

  4. dude i got it pre-ordered for my bday

  5. and speaking of the minutemen:

  6. was that a shot at Nick Lowe, Austin?

  7. haha.
    describing how tight their rhythm was..
    "as-fast-and-furious-as-Paris-Hilton's-panties-dropping to as-buckled-down-and-funky-as-Darth-Vader-buttfucking-a-purple-Rolex"
    i love ballsy music calls, especially when i can almost agree with them

  8. Check out a podcast review of Phaseshifter by Redd Kross on Dig Me Out at, a weekly podcast dedicated to revisiting forgotten gems and uncovering overlooked albums of the 1990s.