Band Aid: Apocalypse Hoboken

It’s a while since I wrote one of these posts and I’ve been meaning to plug Apocalypse Hoboken for a while anyway, so why not?

Apocalypse Hoboken were an idiosyncratic punk rock band hailing from Chicago, Illinois. Formed in 1987 by a group of highschool friends and beginning seriously in ’89, they spent a decade developing both a dedicated fanbase and a reputation for uncompromising individuality; there really isn’t another band quite like them. Eventually they split up in 2001, a slow splintering that began after the release of 1999’s final album Microstars. The official line on their website bio is that the members had simply outgrown the band, and felt themselves increasingly trapped in a formula of “Apocalypse Hoboken brand music”. They eventually broke up a year before I heard them: so often the way.

The first Hoboken tune I heard was ‘Pocketful of Lips’, a bombastic, screeching, demented minute and a half blast of power chords and apparently nonsensical lyrics (“My father had a large head / We attribute this to his death” and “I’m not crazy / I’m not sick / I’m a responsible scientist / Got a pocket / Got a pocketful of lips”). I say “apparently” because, er, you can figure them out, but you’ll probably regret doing so. But, erm, thanks once again to Mitch Clem’s Liquid Paper compilations for introducing me to that song. Before long I’d picked up a copy of Microstars, which is probably still my favourite Apocalypse album, and later managed to find copies of Easy Instructions for Complex Machinery, Inverse Reverse Perverse, Superincredibleheavydudes and the inspiringly-titled House of the Rising Son of a Bitch.

I think one reason I like Apocalypse Hoboken as much as I do is the sheer irreverence of the songs they write. Songs like ‘Dean is a Punk’ take sarcastic aim at punk rock poseurs, but the shots taken are as referential and snarky as they are acidic (“He went to the Hoboken show downtown / He went there just to follow them around”). ‘Sorry’ occasionally expresses genuine contrition for a relationship that the narrator ruined, but also repeatedly lapses into cruel and passive aggressive pranks – not to mention including the line “I’m sorry to hear you’re dead”. ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ is a sinister and sleazy reimagining of the eponymous fairy tale, sung from the wolf’s perspective, rendering it as a story of desire and seduction. ‘I’m At Least Eight Things’ is a  tongue-in-cheek ballad of self-hatred and mutually destructive relationships.

There’s also the sheer sleaze. Microstars is the album in which this crystallises: it’s almost a concept album about sexual stimulation. Half the songs are about masturbation in some form or another, there’s a cover of Prince’s ballad to a sex-fiend ‘Darling Nikki’, and even songs about domestic abuse (‘When’s Steve Coming Home’) are couched in terms of adultery. And god damn do I love dark songs about half-ironic, half-straight, mostly tongue-in-cheek sleaze and self-deprecation. It also helps that Hoboken had a real knack for short, simple, intense, hooky songs and vocal lines, definitely helped by singer Todd’s unmistakeable and nasal Chicago tones (weirdly, I first liked Billy Talent – a very different, not to mention Canadian band – because their singer reminded me of Todd’s vocal stylings).

I’ve uploaded a small selection of songs from a few Hoboken albums which you can download as a zip file below (hey, it’s faster and easier than individual MP3s). The band occasionally play reunion shows in the US, and a 4-CD box set was released a few years ago, so obtaining their material is much easier now. As always you can find more information via their website, MySpace page, and Wikipedia page. Wikipedia also lists a bunch of other bands ex-members are now involved in. Enjoy.

Apocalypse Hoboken – Dean is a Punk (Easy Instructions, 1996)
Apocalypse Hoboken – Hate is Such a Strong Word (Easy Instructions, 1996)
Apocalypse Hoboken – Sex With Children (Son of a Bitch, 1998)
Apocalypse Hoboken – Little Fingers (Microstars, 1999)
Apocalypse Hoboken – Pocketful of Lips (Microstars, 1999)

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