Once upon a time there was a band called The Observers. They were short-lived and I didn’t come to appreciate them until they were no more. Fortunately, right around that time former members were teaming up with some other fine folks to bring us Red Dons. They take their moniker from a mysterious group of Cambridge University professors who were Soviet spies during WWII.
It did not take long for Portland, Oregon’s Red Dons to become one of my favorite bands. When I first heard them, I don’t think I had even finished listening to the first side of the LP before I fell in love. This comes from the out of print 2009 LP for the Brazilian tour. It sounds quite different compared to the original pressing that featured a very lo-fi mastering of the album. That lo-fi mastering is part of what endeared it to me. It went hand in hand with the lyrical topics of the album, like feelings of alienation, dying hopes, consumerism, and tyrannical fascist dictators. When I heard the Brazilian LP master though, it was like a rediscovery. It is so cool to have these two different versions of this album, one of the catchiest, most intelligent and inspiring punk records I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to, and I’ve heard plenty. There have been comparisons of Red Dons to many great punk and post-punk bands of the 1980s, but there is something about the Red Dons that makes them even more indispensable for me. The totality of their art goes right for my heart and does not let go. The urgency and passion with which singer Douglas Burns delivers his lines is infectious. The music makes me wish I was at the show jumping around in the crowd. The album clocks in at just over thirty minutes, and if you are like me you will be playing it over again immediately.
Honestly, everyone should give this a listen. If this album does it for you, I implore you to buy their latest album Fake Meets Failure, which could not be a more perfect sequel for Death to Idealism. Red Dons are gearing up for a European tour in April and May. If you live near any of the places they are set to play, I recommend you mark your calendar and GO TO THE SHOW!
Death To Idealism is the best punk rock record I’ve heard this year. Sonically, it’s much like the classic So What’s Left Now by the Red Dons predecessor band The Observers. Telecasters pump trebly chords on top of pummeling drums and limber and driving, almost Rezillos-like bass lines, joined by chanty, T.S.O.L.-like vocals that drip passion. The song craft, though not breathtaking, is still good enough to count as top-notch. The record conveys its dominant theme, social alienation, not only through lyrics that lament mass consumerism, religious fundamentalism, the current political direction of the United States, and the difficulty of finding one’s place in the world. It conveys alienation also by its sound: the vocals are mixed to sound distant, and as if echoing in an empty space, and the overall tone is quite cold and clinical. No doubt this is due partly to the cheap production, but it’s there nonetheless. A perfect soundtrack to feelings of rootlessness. COID: “Walk Alone”
By now we’re all well accustomed to underground hardcore and punk bands not lasting long. One album, a couple of 7″s and a couple of tours sleeping in a van and eating nothing but cheese and bread later and they’re gone, onto the next band or, worse still, the lure of a proper job.
The Observers were one such band. Hailing from Portland, they made one great album, a couple of singles then stopped. Gutted. All is not lost, however, because in Red Dons we have a band that features Doug from The Observers and Justin from Clorox Girls doing an anthemic punk style that is similar to where the Observers left off, but somehow better and with more style and substance.
There’s a darkness here that recalls the blackened post-punk horror grooves of The Wipers, Social Unrest or later TSOL mixed with the glorious melodic rush of Naked Raygun, early Social Distortion and the snot-dribbled hardcore of the Angry Samoans or The Adolescents. In short, these are great punk rock songs played by a great punk rock band. What’s not to like? And now I’m kicking myself repeatedly in the balls for missing them when they toured through the UK this month. Sherry, you’re an idiot.
World-class punk rock is again brewing in PDX . The Observers (responsible for So What’s Left Now, one of the best punk records of the millennium so far) are sadly no more, but more or less the same personnel continue as Red Dons. Their debut album Death To Idealism is sonically much like The Observers. Telecasters pump trebly chords on top of pummeling drums and limber and driving, almost Rezillos-like bass lines. The lead singer and primary songwriter Douglas Burns again delivers chanty, T.S.O.L.-like vocals. This all is done with the passion of Stiff Little Fingers. The song craft isn’t quite as amazing as on So What’s Left Now, but it’s still good enough to count as top-notch. The record conveys its dominant theme, social alienation, not only through lyrics that lament mass consumerism, religious fundamentalism, the current political direction of the United States, and the difficulty of finding oneâ€™s place in the world. It conveys alienation also by its sound: the vocals are mixed to sound distant, and as if echoing in an empty space, and the overall tone is quite cold and clinical. No doubt this is due partly to the cheap production, but it’s there nonetheless. A perfect soundtrack to feelings of rootlessness.
The bottom line: If you like punk rock but are tired of revivalist punk bands, check out Red Dons. Death To Idealism is the best punk record I’ve heard this year.
The Red Dons are a band born out of continuity. Though the Observers thrashed up the Oregon coast for a good part of the first half of the decade, by 2005 they were no more. Members split, new projects formed, and in the space that once was a regionally prominent but overall painfully undercelebrated punk band, there was a void.
The first layer of audio spackle to fill it came in the form of the Revisions, a radical acoustic departure from the gritty hardcore garage punk of frontman Douglas Burns’ the Observers that initially came together to play at a book reading of fellow Portlander and Clorox Girls vocalist Justin Mauer. However, without the punk bite to properly continue what the Observers had begun, the void was still left slightly exposed. Cue the inclusion of Mauer on guitar, the Revisions’ Hajjii Husayn and Rich Joachim, and a few thousand kilowatts of electricity to accompany the classically catchy yet unconventional songwriting of Burns, and the Red Dons emerged, signifying the perfect link between the slam dance-ready Observers and anything-goes-acoustic Revisions.
Without ever crossing into sugary pop-punk territory, the Red Dons put forth some of the catchiest punk rock you may ever hear. Okay, that much may be an overstatement, but keep in mind this is a band comprised of equal parts Observers, Clorox Girls and Revisions. But it’s more than just the melodies and songwriting that make the Red Dons so potent. It’s something those Pacific Northwesterners have mastered as evident in the Clorox Girls’ J’aimes les Filles and the Briefs Sex Objects and that is an album that’s not just a collection of good songs, but an amalgamation of all the elements of the art flawlessly united. While concept albums usually produce similar, but over-the-top results, the Red Dons achieve this much more subtly through visual and thematic aspects on down to a production value that is not necessarily low-budget, but intentionally creates a hallow, two-dimensional atmosphere that corresponds perfectly to the other elements of the record.
Though all outstanding, the track “Incomplete Action” seems to represent the paradigm of this effort to an absolute ‘T.’ Burns’ melodies are hauntingly catchy, even above experimental instrumentation that at one point near the 1:50 mark whirls about recklessly like the inside of a Kansas twister bound for Oz. The rise and fall chit-chat singing sounds agitated and preoccupied as he restlessly comes to terms with dying hopes. Another lively and unorthodox tune is the trenchant and varied “Independent,” which is quite literally almost half-comprised of machine-gun drum fills even as Burns is shouting out his chorus “Fascista! But thank you for the world you gave us / So what is the difference, man?” There are also more traditional numbers like the infectious wailing of “Walk Alone,” which borders on a surf feel and the not-as-catchy “This City” which seems a nod to `50s rock and roll styles with the metered rebel chronicle of a restive vagabond. The most amusing moment on Death to Idealism is the few verses in “Just Write, Romeo” when Burns appears to be channeling Joe Jack Talcum on one of his more snarky rants.
With members obligated to other, more central projects, it’s hard to get too optimistic about the future of the Red Dons. But even if this was to be their sole LP, it’s one that won’t be getting a rest from spinning well past dizziness anytime soon.
Where Portland punk band the Observers left off, Red Dons take over. Featuring previous Observers singer Doug Burns, as well as Justin Maurer from the Clorox Girls on guitar, Red Dons are the replacement that Observers fans have been craving. Featuring a style that’s both catchy and dark, not unlike that of the Wipers, Death to Idealism (the band’s first full-length) is filled with powerful themes, vibrant rhythms and classic vocals. Burns proves his simple yet dynamic songwriting ability with the melancholy themes and eerie melodies of songs like “Walk Alone” and the almost menacing “Everyday Distractions.” Sonically, the production on Death to Idealism would typically leave a lot to be desired but the distant sounding vocals and rough guitars only add to the feel of the album. Death to Idealism is a must for anyone hoping to find a modern equivalent to the classic punk of the 70s and 80s. (Deranged)
Once again, Deranged Records comes through with another thrilling neo-vintage punk rock release. RED DONS are a marvelously executed lo-fi unit that recalls the best of groups like the BUZZCOCKS and California surf/skate punk like THE ADOLESCENTS, with a healthy dash ’77 style punk mixed in. The group, which is more or less a continuation of THE OBSERVERS (Douglas Burns is on vocals), and features Justin Maurer of CLOROX GIRLS, is particularly precise in its musicianship and steadiness. With off-kilter tempos out of the equation, the RED DONS excel in areas involving head-nodding and toe-tapping. The minimalist nature of the recording requires a bit of adjustment (x100 if the last thing you listened to was a FALL OUT BOY record), but it’s also much easier to take stock of the band’s effervescent harmonies and filthily fast drum rolls. The RED DONS leave a mark lyrically as well, as there’s an air of personal desperation and isolation to Death To Idealism, which only raises the stakes of the band’s impact. Everything old is new again, and I’m not complaining.