Swingin' Utters / Youth Brigade

BYO Split Series, Vol. 2

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Youth Brigade's Stern brothers haven't sounded so fierce or rocket-powered since Sound and Fury. The vocals are slightly buried in the middle of a screaming-hot, loud-as-jackhammers mix, yet Shawn Stern bellows so fast and hard and tunefully, like a young Jake Burns of SLF, that you can't help but hear him loud and clear. Nearly two decades of recording and touring really show: Even without the thunderous production, the Brigade have never been so tight and hard and quick as they are on cuts such as "It's Not Like That Anymore," a frank soul search on the current values of those who were part of the late '70s/early '80s punk scene. That same theme is revisited on the one mid-tempo cruncher, "Let Them Know," with a big chorus that will likely have the spiky-hairs all singing along at the top of their beefy lungs. The only thing wrong with this searing 15-minute fireball is that it's only six songs. That's because the Swingin' Utters open this LP with six songs of their own, as fast and also rather tight, but not quite as vicious and roaring -- and Johnny Bonnel's Mike Ness-smoky voice doesn't sound as drastic and committed as Stern's. But there would be no need to compare the two groups if they weren't sharing an LP, and in their own right, this San Fran quintet are better than the millions of mediocre punk hopefuls out there. Though their leanings are from the U.K. Oi! days, and their one truly lame songs is a bad Pogues imitation ("'39"), mostly they're American-sounding. The speedy, 4 Skins/Buzzcocks-like-guitar wall and soaring choruses are a textbook of the U.S. genre too, complete with minor harmony backing vocals, and lead-guitar parts in the great tradition of Southern California.

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