catchiest and strangest songs
A beginner’s guide to noise-pop
by Sarah Collins (August 21, 2009)
Some artists are ahead of the times, and some are just eternally weird—Apocalypse Hoboken was a
little bit of both. When three-chord pop-punk ruled the land following Green Day’s breakthrough
in the mid-’90s, the Chicago band only got stranger, frequently abandoning the genre’s conventions.
While Apocalypse Hoboken had plenty of stadium-ready riffs, it used them to challenge verse-chorus-verse
song structure, melody, and, like all art, good taste. The band developed a devoted fan base during its run
from 1989 to 2001, even though some songs—like ones about drinking and drugs (“Drunk Helen”) and suicide
(“Brett”)—could be off-putting. Since its breakup, Apocalypse Hoboken has occasionally reunited for one-off shows,
like the pair coming up this weekend at Bottom Lounge and Reggie’s, which had The A.V. Club wondering: Now that
cacophony is the new pop, thanks to artists like Dan Deacon and Animal Collective, has time caught up with
Apocalypse Hoboken? Or will the band just always be a little too quirky? We sifted through the band’s six albums
to find out.
The modern pop
A “hit” is relative when talking about an atonal punk band, but clap-a-long choruses and do-do-dos will always
worm their way into listeners’ hearts. So much so that “Little Fingers” received Q101 airtime during the ’90s
punk boom. It’s as worthy of wooing new listeners now as it was then.
One of Apocalypse Hoboken’s most tuneful early songs, “Duct Tape” was the first sign of the looser, more melodic
material that would characterize later records. The music draws from different genres, only roughly fitting the
definition of punk, and veering toward art-punk as vocalist Todd Paglialong strains his voice at the beginning of
the song. A spelling-bee chorus in the center lets anyone who can spell "duct tape" sing along.
The delightfully odd
The lyrics are pure nonsense, and the music sounds something like three different songs spliced together.
“Monchichi” spends two minutes and 29 seconds bouncing back and forth between a slow, driving intro/outro,
a fast punk-rock song, an oo-ba-ba chorus, and the infernally catchy line “bang, bang, bang, goes the little gun.”
The surprisingly seamless combination is classic Apocalypse Hoboken.
“Port Wine Stain”
Paglialong crams as many different vocal sounds as he can into this song, and the schizophrenic effect makes
“Port Wine Stain” sound like multiple bands working with multiple singers. That ambition with the vocals helped
Apocalypse Hoboken push boundaries, and it carried over to live performances, where Paglialong would sing songs
like “Submissive Wetter” through a megaphone.
The fan favorites
Hear that manic screaming at the beginning of the clip? That is the sound of adoration. “Pop Sensibilities” was
a staple of Apocalypse Hoboken in the late ’90s years, and how it opened its sold-out 2006 reunion show at the Abbey Pub.
The uncharacteristically simple chorus —“Pop sensibilities, I think I’m losing my abilities”—is about half of the song,
making shouting along easy for fans. This energy in this clip bodes well for this weekend’s shows.
“Recipe For Oblivion”
This track, an ode to another great-but-lost Chicago band, Oblivion, appeared on a split release between the two.
“Recipe For Oblivion” shows Apocalypse Hoboken could work well within convention, with dueling vocals, a breakdown
with guitar solos, a bass solo, and a fade-away chorus.
The stuff that may just be too weird
“I’m At Least Eight Things”
On the list of things that Paglialong is: a bedsore, your unpaid loan, a plastic Jesus—the rest are mostly NSFW.
This fan favorite is also one of the strangest stop-and-go songs Apocalypse Hoboken ever recorded, and a clear attack
on conventions of the genre. Even in punk rock, innovation is possible.
“Sex With Children”
It doesn’t take a video clip to show that a song called “Sex With Children” would be unpopular with the mainstream,
and this breakneck track could turn someone off Apocalypse Hoboken forever. But it shows the band’s penchant for
making songs that sound like nothing else: The tempo is much faster than Hoboken’s other stuff, and the distorted
vocals and background electronics give the song an apocalyptic feel.