Crucial Records #11 : Minutemen – What Makes a Man Start Fires ?

By Tieuma

A week ago, BURN landed in London for their first European show. Honestly, I was so thrilled about it, I listened to their records again and again for days, until the show, and I can’t even describe how amazing it was;  Thanks again to Adam Malik for organizing it, I think I saw my favorite show of 2015.

Despite my undeniable obsession with the nineties, I would have loved to witness how the band was welcomed by the kids at their time. Let’s face it, their sound is quite unique, and if afterward many people in New York took that groovy path, it’s nothing compared to BURN. As far as I’m when I first listened to them, I was quite puzzled.

If I’m talking about BURN right now, it’s because when I cameback home from London, after a discussion with my flatemate about how great HÜSKER DÜ and SST bands were, I ended up listening to my old MINUTEMEN records, and I got struck about how crazy it was, especially this “progressive” feeling in the sound, exactly what I found amazing in BURN’s sound. I’m not sure there’s any link between those bands, except for the sound, and I wouldn’t say the Los Angeles band influenced the New York one, but I can say for sure there’s similarities in their approach of music, trying to change the standards in the punk sound, adding new ideas in compositions and taking influence in everything around them.

First, I wanted to review Double Nickels On The Dime, their most recognized release so far, but then I listened to What Makes A Man Start Fires.

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Not long ago, from my point of view, MINUTEMEN were this underrated band living in the shadow of HÜSKER DÜ, or at least it’s how I percieved it when I was looking to all the band citing them as an influence. It was before I read about, in many media, how the RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS took their influences from MINUTEMEN. And there’s a lot of people claiming that, believe me. Anyway, I don’t think there’s any comparison possible between the two, nor competition implied, so I won’t extend myself on that matter. If I told you that, it’s to place it in a context.

1983, SST Records, in a time where Hardcore Punk was somehow searching itself a sound, bands were trying to challenge their approach on Punk : HUSKER DU release Metal Circus, MINUTEMEN put out What Makes a Man Start Fires ?. Both records are considered to be somehow a progression in each bands sound, the Los Angeles band writing songs sometime almost twice longer than their previous records. It’s still not a significant change, as we could hear in the next LP of those two acts, but we can already feel they wanted to do something “different”.

But the thing that will keep MINUTEMEN apart from their midwest friends here is that I won’t have to wait for another records to find what I consider to be their best work, and especially what define their sound for me. And even thought they might not have paid a lot of money for it, they sure worked hard. Or maybe not. I don’t know really if they’re born gifted or spent hours and hours to compose such tracks, but you got there some well written and intelligent Hardcore Punk.

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I could spend a lot of time on all the bands that could’ve hypotheticaly have inspired them, but it would be one hell of a job, and frankly, I would miss my point from far. Because some of their riffs might come from obscure underground Jazz records you’ve never even thought about before, that only geeks or some musicology Ph.D could possibly know. Or they are real geniuses and they just did a great trial and error job until they were satisfied, and it doesn’t seem that much impossible if you ask me.

A sens of groove like this one isn’t something you teach to people, I think you have to be born with it because it sound so technical and so raw at the same time, neither the punks nor the “proper” musician would tell you how to do that. You see, it’s not like RANCID and their incredible bassist for exemple. This guy knows his stuff, for sure, and I can’t deny Matt Freeman is one hell of a bassist, but he is still a bit classical you know, like it’s impressive because of the technique but could have been blessed with a bit more of craziness. And overall, the rest of the band are average musicians per se.

Here, you got a whole band that just played their stuff like it was a daily routine, and it sounds crazy good and it’s impressive. Especially on this record. If the previous one was way rawer, though still interesting, it didn’t got this funky vision of punk, and wasn’t meticulous as What Makes a Man Start Fires ?. Some part are even super trippy, like something PINK FLOYD could have wrote, and I can only admire how they managed to put those types of riffs inside this type of music without screwing it up.

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The most impressive thing thought is still the few means implied in the recording. If the band is renowned for their strict ethical approach on D.I.Y, they still manage to give something well done and you can hear they cared about their music, proving that you don’t need much to create great records. But above all, it gives a strong identity to the songs, it has a special sound you can’t really found that much elsewhere, and I’d like to listen to a band that would sound the same, with that little money involved.

Indeed, as above-said, they are playing song twice longer than on their previous LP, which could be a total failure considered it’s what made them so great before. But it’s quite the opposite. They managed to write longer songs without turning them as boring, or even create length where it wasn’t needed. Personally, I think it’s better this way, because it gives more space for the band to create even crazier songs than before, but still they can’t turn it to experimental rock, which would have ruined the whole thing.

The other huge point that made this band, and record, unique, is the lyrics. On each records I’m focusing on this point, but really, the MINUTEMEN knew how to write intelligent songs as well as personal stuff without making it a pamphlet or a weird/cheesy poetry. But it was still accessible to everyone, because the philosophy of the band always was to be close to the proletariat, to the people, and I highly respect this initiative and how in every aspect it doesn’t look cheap at all. It’s something they will lose a bit on their following work unfortunately.

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Sometimes, I feel like hardcore is a bit like a circle, and we’re running in place doing the same thing over and over, which isn’t always a problem, since the best bands I know are just taking the old to create the new, and honestly, bands who go in every directions to be original are most of the time boring. But there’s also this kind of bands, and records, that just try unheard stuff and don’t care much about how it’ll come out, and does it really well.

There’s no lack of taste, no overproduction to save the weird compositions, no cheesy concept. It’s a Hardcore Punk record, done by punks, but that challenge the style, more than just trying to be original for the sake of it. And this record challenge both the sound in general and the band’s sound itself. It’s a crucial record because, even though it keeps the standards in mind, it goes deeper in the search of creating something new.

Here, MINUTEMEN aren’t trying to do something better than everyone else, to show how original they are. There’s just playing punk how they like it, and they’re doing it well, true to their ethic amongst that. If they’re next records is seen as a masterpiece on their discography, this one define what the MINUTEMEN is, for me. A fast, aggressive hardcore punk band, that use their mind in any way possible. It’s an achievement compared to their previous work and you can relate to it really easily if you like Punk in general, both musically and lyrically.

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WE JAM ECONO.

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