Never Trust A Hippy
Fat Wreck Chords
The guys in contemporary punk rock act NOFX have always enjoyed the best of both worlds — smart if you say so but dumb when they want (or need) to be; political except when they're not; resolutely anti-corporate but Warped Tour fixtures; all about the kids, but pushing 40.
But it's OK, because they never asked to be more than guys in a punk rock group. Most of the hoopla surrounding NOFX's 20-years-plus career was created by the fans instead of the band. Fat Mike (who owns the undeniably profitable Fat Wreck Chords) is constantly held up against punk dogma, and the guys in his band — which, by the way, has proved itself again and again over decades of tours and releases — can't control a genre that changes with the tides.
And no, they don't care.
NOFX has sounded more or less the same since the turn of the millennium: Fat Mike's lyrical bent has shifted from scene politics to national politics, and the music has gotten more ambitious. But at its core, this is music made by friends who taught themselves, and followed their own instincts; '99 EP The Decline may have been all sorts of progressive (for a punk release), but Never Trust A Hippy — an EP that serves as a sneak peak at the band's forthcoming full-length — showcases a band fucking a little, but not a lot, with the formula that endeared it to punk fans young and old. If anything, Hippy is among NOFX's most "rock 'n' roll" releases, which will no doubt once again stir the punk-scene waters. The immaculately constructed "Seein' Double at the Triple Rock" (an inside joke about a Minneapolis bar co-owned by Dillinger Four), the moody "The Marxist Brothers" and the straight-up "Golden Boys," however, are among the group's best work, and the band's collective fuck-the-system we're-kidding-but-we're-serious character remains intact, especially in "You're Wrong" and "I'm Going to Hell for This One." 3.5 stars Scott Harrell
This group of Scottish post-rock auteurs has seemed lately like it's on the verge of true greatness, like it's always capable of releasing a masterpiece, but you just don't know when it's going to strike. Mr. Beast, unfortunately, isn't quite there either, but it's still an awfully stirring take on atmospheric and instrumental rock. "Glasgow Mega-Snake" is a blinding white-noise assault that takes everything deep into the red, while "Acid Food" actually features some country pedal-steel guitar lines. Needless to say, the unconverted may not dig Mogwai's (mostly) wordless and wild vibe, but for its attention to sonic detail, respect is due. 3.5 stars Cooper Lane Baker
Songwriters as good as Will Johnson just shouldn't be this prolific. Alt-country songwriters like him are usually named Ryan Adams, and accordingly, they produce songs in scattershot fashion, averaging one gem for every five or so turds. But unlike the far more commercially successful Adams, whose songwriting has deteriorated with each album, Johnson has grown stronger with each effort, most notably on Centro-Matic's Fort Recovery. Centro-Matic, Johnson's decade-old outfit hailing from the Dallas suburb of Denton, doesn't really specialize in anything. They just make classic, durable rock music. No guitar theatrics; no gimmicks. The centerpiece is (and always has been) Johnson's voice, a tenor that sounds pieced together with rusty sheet metal and bejeweled with Neil Diamond's rhinestones. You hear Johnson's voice and you ask: Is this guy for real or is he just trying to sound like a decrepit old wino having a fit of lucidity? But before you can get too analytical, rockers like "Patience for the Ride" and "Triggers and Trash Heaps," and creepers like "The Fugitives Have Won" take over your life, and you're caught, like a hapless little bird that flies into a grocery store. 4 stars Mark Sanders
Below the Branches
Stoltz is a San Francisco-based one-man band with a gift for simple and catchy pop-rock, and a proud amateurism that pays homage to other self-made bands like Beat Happening. Stoltz, though, definitely has the skills that some of his indie peers lack, flashing his multi-instrumentalist talent. Unfortunately, now that indie rock has become so stiflingly traditionalist, Stoltz's straightforward tunes sound all too similar to the rest of the underground. Nevertheless, the record is filled with nice touches, like the almost-psychedelic drums on "Summer's Easy Feeling" and the multi-tracked backing vocals on "Ever Thought of Coming Back." 3 stars CLB