Wednesday, August 3, 2011

August 3: The Adolescents, "Kids Of The Black Hole"

Artist: The Adolescents
Song: "Kids Of The Black Hole"
Album: The Adolescents
Year: 1981

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Much like the fusion of sounds which result in sub-genres in any other style of music, the point at which punk and hardcore meet is often up for debate, and yet it is in the mixtures of these sounds where some of the most exciting and influential music in history resides.  Though one can easily argue that the roots of both punk and hardcore are firmly within East Coast bands, it was the spin on these sounds created by West Coast bands that pushed the sound forward, and there were few areas more important to this development than Southern California.  More directly, it was the Los Angeles area, as well as the surrounding "beach towns" that served as the breeding ground for many of the most important and fierce bands in the genres' history, and among the best of these bands stands The Adolescents.  Though their most potent period of musical creation was exceptionally short lived, the band remains one of the greatest of the era, and their influence on later bands is absolutely immeasurable.  Having watched and learned from the efforts of earlier local bands who are legends in their own right, The Adolescents can be seen as the marker of the "second wave" of California hardcore, as both their sound and overall approach differ slightly from their predecessors.  Regardless of how one terms their sound, there are few songs from the punk/hardcore styles that are as powerful and remain as pivotal as what one can hear on The Adolescents' classic 1981 single, "Kids Of The Black Hole."

The musical arrangement on "Kids Of The Black Hole" has a presence and perfection that is unlike any other song in punk history.  It is the way that the song itself seems to slowly creep in, building an amazing level of tension, that makes it so fantastic, and one is quickly overwhelmed by the mood the band sets.  Bassist Steve Soto is the key to this tone, as he leads the band with a slowly descending pattern, that finds a base, and then seems to brood around, waiting for the rest of the group to join in the fray.  The guitars from Frank and Rikk Agnew are in top form, as they seem to jut out from every angle, almost provoking the listener as well as the other band members.  As this all comes to a head, The Adolescents give the song just enough of a pause to rear back, before jumping in at full strength, with drummer Casey Royer setting a uniquely high-energy, mid-tempo pace.  It is the fact that the group is able to restrain their speed, yet never sacrifice any of the intensity which sets them aside from nearly all of their peers, and it would be this formula that many later bands would follow.  However, The Adolescents completely separate them from almost the entire punk and hardcore scene in the fact that "Kids Of The Black Hole" runs well over five minutes, filled with extensive solos and musical exploration.  This in itself shows the pioneering vision of the band, as well as proves that the spirit of punk can be easily kept afloat in longer musical pieces.

Serving as the ideal finishing touch to the overall sound of The Adolescents, singer Tony Cadena has what is without question one of the definitive voices of the entire punk and hardcore era.  Cadena has just enough snarl in his voice to engage those who seek such a sound in their singer, yet at the same time there is a clarity to his vocals that enabled him to reach a wider audience.  It is also the fact that one can easily sense the tension and frustration in every word that makes every song from The Adolescents fit so perfectly alongside the music of those by whom they themselves were influenced.  Yet it is perhaps the content of "Kids Of The Black Hole" that has enabled it to remain such an anthem of punk rock, as even more than thirty years after its release, the subject matter is just as relevant within the punk rock culture.  The song is in fact about an apartment that was once owned by Mike Ness of Social Distortion, and it turned into a sort of "squat house" for local punk rock kids, as well as those who had traveled to the area to see shows.  On so many levels, this represents the true ethos of the punk lifestyle, and the chaos of the place is perectly captured in the lines, " in a fast lane living for today, no rules to abide by and no one to obey, sex, drugs and fun is their only thought and care, another swig of brew another overnight affair..."  The level of defiance and social anarchy that is the soul of the song is presented perfectly all across "Kids Of The Black Hole," and Cedena has the perfect delivery style for this unique homage.

In nearly every aspect, "Kids Of The Black Hole" was able to rewrite what was possible within the hardcore and punk styles of music.  Whether it was their ability to retain musical intensity within a slightly slower cadence, or the fact that the song was nearly three times the length of the "standard" punk song, their contributions to the evolution of the genre cannot be overstated.  One can also make the case that The Adolescents were far more musical than nearly all of their peers and influences, and this is perhaps the reason that their extended instrumental sections are able to work within the punk ethos.  As the decades have passed, their entire self-titled debut record has become one of the most iconic records in the entire history of punk rock, and even after that time, the potency of the songs has not diminished in the least.  Every song still leaps from the record, instantly grabbing the listener, and on "Kids Of The Black Hole," one is quickly transported to this dirty, slightly destroyed apartment.  Yet at the same time, the level of "family" that existed and continues to exist within the "true: punk scene can be felt within Cadena's vocals, and this is why the song itself has become an anthem within the community.  Though they remain slightly overlooked in comparison to some of their peers, there are few bands as important or musically powerful as one can hear within The Adolescents' brilliant 1981 single, "Kids Of The Black Hole."

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