It seems like only yesterday we were celebrating the first decade of Red Scare with Red Scare Industries: 10 Years of Your Dumb Bullshit. Somehow, five more years have passed, and it’s time to recognize another milestone. This time it’s called Red Scare Industries: 15 Years of Tears and Beers. Like its predecessor, it brings together a bunch of unreleased songs from many of the label’s past and present artists.
At 10 years, Red Scare was already one of the bigger and more respected pop punk labels going. At 15 years, they feel like a rare constant in an ever changing scene. The list of bands that the little label from Chicago has helped bring to bring to the world is impressive. The Brokedowns, The Copyrights, Direct Hit, The Lillingtons, The Lippies, Sicko and Teenage Bottlerocket are my personal favorites, but the list goes on and on.
Compilation records are a little tricky to review, as even the great ones rarely have the same continuity as good traditional records. I find the best ones usually have a theme, or at least a narrow focus. This one sort of meets that criteria, in that it celebrates 15 years of what we think of as the “Red Scare sound”. In an attempt to be fair and balanced, I’m going to take the extremely unusual step of breaking Tears and Beers down track by track.
The Copyrights - “Maine or Oregon”. It’s always good to hear a new track from these pop punk stalwarts. This one is funny, bitter, clever and just a little too short. 8/10
Sincere Engineer - “Dragged Across the Finish Line”. This song was a really amazing surprise. I loved it from the first spin and it made me wonder why I’d never checked out Deanna Belos and company before. Reminds me a bit of Turnspit. Awesome, raspy female vocals. 9/10
Broadway Calls - “Sunday Morning”. Man, I hated this one at first, but it really grew on me. It’s just so damn earnest. 8/10
Sam Russo - “The Window”. A sincere, satisfying acoustic song to break up the pop punk action. 8/10
Elway - “High Drama, Low Comedy”. See my above reaction to the Broadway Calls song. This is the epitome of the modern “Red Scare sound”. 8/10
The Bombpops - “East and West”. This is way too slick for my tastes. The current Fat band’s sugary female vocals remind me of ‘90s teen comedy soundtrack music. 5/10
Garret Dale - “Dead Body”. This a straight up rock song complete with sax. May or may not be inspired by the movie Stand By Me. 7/10
Tightwire - “AYL”. More of the solid type of pop punk that you have come to expect from this label. 7/10
Brendan Kelly and the Wandering Birds - “All I Hear Is Static”. This is the song I most want to hate. But I can’t. I actually love it. The electronic treatment of the Lillingtons classic is ridiculously catchy. 9/10
Ramona - “Yeah Again”. I was expecting female lead vocals. It turns out there are male and female vox. Nevertheless, this is a pretty great song. 8/10
Makewar - “TJ”. Another solid track from another band that has moved on to Fat Wreck Chords. 7/10
The Brokedowns - “Thinking With the Lights On”. The goofballs in The Brokedowns made the inspired decision to cover fellow suburban Chicagoans The Copyrights. It’s as jerky and wonderful as you’d hope. 8/10
Sundowner - “Bleed Together”. Sometimes a song can be too earnest. And too wimpy. This one just didn’t grow on me. 6/10
The Lippies - “Acid Head”. This is the song I was most looking forward to. A couple of years ago I wouldn’t have dared to dream about new material from my old pals The Lippies. This doesn’t disappoint. 8/10
Billy Liar - “The Escapist”. This guy is good. Think maybe a Scottish Frank Turner. He does the acoustic singer songwriter thing and the full punk band thing equally well. This stripped down gem is a perfect closer. 9/10
Most of the songs have that good tension that’s created when pop punk is injected with a heavy dose of melancholy. The comrades at Red Scare seem to have a good ear for picking talented songwriters. Ultimately, Red Scare Industries:15 Years of Tears and Beers succeeds at two levels. It celebrates the label’s past while also turning you on to their future.