Whether it’s fair or not, the term “Ithaca music” has become virtually synonymous with the term “jam band.” With nationally renowned outfits like improvisational reggae act John Brown’s Body, and more local acts like the Sim Redmond Band, Ithaca has developed a strong — and well-deserved — reputation as one of the strongest jam scenes in the country. But, coming from Long Island, the land where everyone and his brother is in a punk band of some sort, I naturally wondered upon arriving at Cornell where the punk scene in Ithaca was.
It didn’t take me long to find it — if you want punk, hardcore or emo, in Ithaca, the place to go is definitely Cipher Records. With an impressive roster of 10 young local bands, plus a number of closely affiliated artists, Cipher has done a great job of promoting and supporting Ithaca’s fiery punks.
Shopping is Good is a brand-spanking-new compilation of the best the label has to offer, showing off the best face of all the label’s artists. The comp kicks off with the Cornell Republicans’ “Bob Loses It,” a great anthem for the underpaid and overworked laborer. It’s as good here as it was on the band’s debut album, Problems That We Can’t Ignore, but the production on this comp is a lot cleaner and crisper than anything I’ve heard Cipher put out previously — obviously, a nice addition.
Also noteworthy are two previously unreleased songs by Someone Loses An Eye, a band who at first struck me as hardcore until “My Intestines Are a Rope, I Climb Them to Heaven” underwent about three or four drastic changes over its 4-minute length, from balls-out Fear Factory channeling to steadily building indie rock to a fast-paced punk assault. “The Things that Some People Like Are Not Okay” follows a similar path, starting off with an ear-splitting metal assault that segues into more melodic rock.
Somewhat surprisingly for a comp of local bands, none of these artists seem willing to follow an established formula. Certain aspects of the music may recall specific influences, but each band provides their own individual slant on D.I.Y. music. Mumm Ra especially impresses with some unique melodic guitar interplay beneath the raspy punk vocals on “Blind Faith.” Fallout Boy’s two contributions, both from their worthy self-titled EP, should win plenty of fans for the band’s heartfelt emotional punk. With plenty of start-stop riffing, great overwrought vocals, and dead-on drumming, “Ode to the Hourglass” and “From Plastic to Skin” are as much standouts here as they were on the Fallout Boy EP.
The acoustic contributions of Paul Wenzel and Chris Antal seem a bit out-of-place here, but they’re still very worthwhile. Wenzel’s “What Part of Love” pairs impassioned strumming with his rough vocals, while Antal’s previously unreleased “You and Me, Kid” has banjo-like guitar, lovely harmony vocals, and a pleasantly surprising keyboard part. Both tracks, though stripped, have a distinctly punk feel.
This could actually be the most consistent label sampler I’ve heard in quite a while — all of the 23 tracks and 15 artists here are worthy of mention, which bodes well for Cipher’s future. Impasse turns in a melodic metal instrumental with some intriguing drum fills. Los Mariscos’ “Little Red Haired Girl” is an even more surprising contribution, a nostalgic swing number with upbeat horns. Agent 000’s fast-paced punk/ska uses horns and jumpy guitars to back up the pleasant female vocals. The band achieves a dense wall of sound at times, other times opting for a ska bounce; constant tempo changes keep things fun.
On “See You Next Year,” Zero to 60 turns in a typically snotty brat-punk performance. Fighter Destroyer, meanwhile, treads the seldom-visited middle ground between acoustic indie rock and hardcore on their two tracks, and comes off sounding rather accomplished at both their disparate styles–particularly on the melancholy “A Mechanical Bull.” Plucky’s “Dissociate” is a great slab of pop-punk that transcends the genre by throwing in a wealth of stylistic changes. Earl’s Garage rocks out on “The Halloween Song,” a rumbling, clattering head-on charge with a drummer who sounds like he uses every drum in his kit, plus a few he invented himself. Finally, Minor Infraction’s “News Flash” is pure hardcore with grunted vocals and an unrelenting musical bombardment.
Another new release from the Cipher camp is After The Fashion’s A Thousand Wasted Thoughts. Another good punk release from this