"Best" is such an ugly word, and when it comes to slapping it on this band or that, it's just plain dangerous—a punch line if you're lucky and a lightning rod if you aren't. When we poke holes through the dextromethorphan haze that masked much of our 2001, we don't remember bands being the best; we just remember bands getting better. So here's 10 more-or-less-local indie/punk/saw-'em-in-someone's-living-room bands that happened to make a dent in our own personal musical sensibilities, bands that you'll want to look for in the new year.
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COLOSTOMY BAG Sheer geeks-gone-apeshit hardcore mayhem (one of these guys was in the Donalds?) that goes from plug-in to bug-out in about 10 seconds flat. They've taken crowd participation to naked new levels at least once that we've seen, and we love the delightful assortment of party-favor-style props they routinely toss into the mosh-pit maelstrom. It's rare to see a band that's as fun as it is fierce, so be warned: Colostomy Bag is so much fun it's scary. ALLEGED GUNMEN The chemistry here is as addictive and wildly hallucinatory as any cough syrup we ever chugged: immaculately crafted lattices of dreamy guitar reverb, propulsive bass and the most expertly efficient drumming we've heard since ever. The Gunmen just hum with passion and potential. One of the few bands to figure out there's more to referencing the Clash than just turning into Rancid, the Gunmen spin raw punk energy into something sophisticated and mesmerizing—and they're a shot in the arm live. PUT-ONS With a new guitarist to fill in the gaps, the Put-Ons are really starting to push power pop back in the direction it belongs: away from Weezer and toward classics like the Only Ones and Buzzcocks. The lyrics might get a little goofy (um, "Good morning, sunshine"?), but the guitars never waver, and the A-side of their Different Kind of Single seven-inch on local label Unity Squad just roars. If we still made mix tapes for girls, the Put-Ons would have a slot all picked out for them.
Von Steins: Robo-metal
Photo by Jeanne Rice
VON STEINS It has always been a sterling shtick ("robo-metal," they called it, like Poison and Kraftwerk channeled through a bunch of berrepressed pseudo-German nerds), but the Von Steins have somehow managed to transcend their own nerdiness with their new CD of suddenly evolved Devo-esque synth punk. Is there life beyond monkey and transvestite humor? We don't know, but the next time we hear the Von Steins on Rodney on the ROQ, we'll call in and ask. IT'S TIME TO ROCK Do they have a new CD? Who cares? The front man for this squalling R-A-W-K band is a disaster in all the best ways: Iggy Pop must've left some sperm somewhere around here 20 years back because this kid is nothing but raw power live. Word is Mom came to check him out at a typically stripped-to-the-undies-smeared-in-honey-gimme-another-beeeeer performance and fled in tears. Awesome. See 'em live or die bored. STARVATIONS Maybe they're slipping away from their Laguna Beach roots, with principal members relocating to voodoo-saturated apartment complexes on the seamy side of Hollywood, but we'll hold on to the Starvations until someone pries them from our cold, dead fingers. This pitch-black heartbreak-with-a-chaser-of-whiskey jangle punk leaves all the cheese-ball country-poseur clichs in the dust; instead, singer Gabriel Hart and company do it like the Dils or the Gun Club, which is to say they do it just right. YOUR ENEMIES FRIENDS Pedigrees are for poodles. Your Enemies Friends might have had a little ex-members of Pressure to wiggle out from under, but they've more than picked up where that other band left off. With a new CD coming out courtesy of Buddyhead. com, the resulting virtual-hipster groundswell could lift this sweet-one-second, snarling-the-next band right out of Long Beach. They're always so snotty and mean when we see them play. We like that. NEON KING KONG Live, they might be Redd Kross meets X (the one from Australia), but it's hard to tell when things keep falling on you, which is kind of what tends to happen when these post-Le Shok bands play. And then we heard a little snippet of tape: put good ol' Electric Donkey Kong (or Neon Ping Pong or whatever the hecklers are calling them this week) up there for Most Shockingly Revelatory Demo yet; turn down the damage, and there are some sharp little songs hiding in there. MIRACLE CHOSUKE Superspazzy, supertight, supertechnical geek pop that never stays in one place long enough to pin it down. Is it like listening to a Television LP backward and on 45? Like teaching your old Nintendo to play guitar? Science may never know. They had to kick out their crazy, hard-drinking singer, whom we loved, but we hope the new one's just as out-of-control: you can't go wrong with a little bit of chaos.
Squab: Dark, beautiful, post-punk
Photo by Jack Gould
SQUAB We've been loving Squab live forever, and if these four girls can translate their darkly beautiful post-punk art damage to that long-promised CD, we'll love that, too. If you started ripping the seams, you'd find bits and pieces of everyone from Lydia Lunch and Stereolab to Blonde Redhead and Joy Division, and you'd be amazed at how well Squab stitches it all together. Probably the most criminally unknown band this side of the 405—but we shouldn't all write happy little pop songs, should we?