It’s a fool’s errand to attempt a concise and worthy profile of BYO Records’ importance to and impact on hardcore punk history.
Ostensibly a zine at its genesis, the Stern Brothers of Youth Brigade quickly pivoted into fledgling record label in 1982. Releasing the essential LA punk primer compilation Someone Got Their Head Kicked In, and their own Sound And Fury, it wasn’t long before the residents of Skinhead Manor were a going proposition. Despite being immortalized in the 1984 film Another State of Mind that chronicled an ill-fated tour bus odyssey alongside Social Distortion, Youth Brigade are, like their legendary label, oftentimes omitted from the larger conversation.
BYO is, of course, responsible for releasing two absolute landmark albums by the legendary 7 Seconds…1984’s The Crew and the following year’s Walk Together Rock Together. Sadly unavailable (at least for broke punks) for decades, the debut from Reno’s finest has been given an amazing reissue treatment courtesy of Trust Records.
The lack of overall chatter surrounding the storied label and their sterling discography is likely due to nothing more than their absence from all streaming platforms. No judgements here, but there’s a litany of killer albums begging for rediscovery. It took years for me to snag affordable copies of various BYO titles, as I was typically priced out of the rare record market.
The label was relatively inactive after the drought and shift into rock that was hardcore in 1986 but they roared back to life during the renaissance of the '90s punk boom. Reaching their zenith with the 1999 launch of their much beloved 5-part split series, the label found their novel take on the two band split to be their most successful releases to date.
The NOFX/Rancid collab is apparently the top selling BYO release ever. Also paired were HWM/Leatherface, Swingin’ Utters/Youth Brigade, Bouncing Souls/Anti-Flag, and my dark horse favorite that found Alkaline Trio teaming up with One Man Army for the series’ finale. A bit of digging unearthed the unconfirmed legend of a D4/Off with Their Heads collab that sadly never came to fruition.
Though it’s been over a decade since BYO Records graced us with a proper release, I never count them out. Mark and Shawn Stern remain forever active as the long running Vegas institution Punk Rock Bowling can confirm. Below is a tight list of five records well worth deeply digging the record shops or late night scroll through discogs. Hopefully you find something you dig. Cheers, friends.
Manifesto Jukebox, Remedy (2002)
Despite the backing of BYO, this impassioned Finnish trio remained well off radar. Toiling in obscurity or not, they were not so loosely attached to a burgeoning scene that revolved around their hometown of Helsinki’s Combat Rock Industry Records. Alongside Wasted, The Phoenix Foundation, I Walk the Line, and the utterly essential Endstand; Manifesto Jukebox’s sonic mission statement was marrying the personal and political.
Clearly influenced by the likes of Hot Water Music, Small Brown Bike, Leatherface, and Avail, their gravel-throated approach also managed a dash of something a touch harder which resulted in a few SOIA inspired moments scattered across their albums. Reliant on urgency and intensity as opposed to obvious hooks, it’s not an instantaneous reward but instead an extended release of buried melodies. It carries with it a haze of resignation and bleakness, all sounding as if this song might be the last you ever hear.
Album highlights include the hyper-literate Hüsker Dü-isms of album track “Trail," the vicious Planes Mistaken for Stars-inspired noise workout of “A Losing Battle," and “Remedy,” which predated the mega-single from the aformentioned bearded Floridians' Caution album. Not as immediate or catchy, it’s still an early oughts analogue for anyone craving more Jawbreaker inspired, buried classics.
The Briefs, Sex Objects (2004)
The minor success that was the Briefs flawless Dirtbap Records debut, and aptly named Hit After Hit, somehow landed them a major label deal. Though the ink on that failed partnership quickly dissolved as quickly as it was announced, signing to BYO was the perfect fit for the Seattle troublemakers. The sharp-dressed Northwesterners, alongside The Epoxies, captured perfectly the sneery and self-deprecating genius of first wave punk, new wave, and street punk.
The cheekily titled Sex Objects avoided the dreaded letdown of a second LP and instead dropped a sophomore slam dunk. Immediate and instantly memorable, this is a must for anyone who digs old heads like The Damned or The Buzzcocks, revivalists The Exploding Hearts and The Spits, and modern masters like Steve Adamyk or Dark Thoughts.
The playing is so tight but the lyrical melodies are next level. The Briefs can make catchy choruses out of little more than Ramones-styled “oooohs” and “aaaahs.” Absolutely jammed full of hooks and hyperactive blasts of soda-fueled Adolescents worship, it coalesces on “Destroy the U.S.A.” which takes gobbed aims at everything from sports and war to straight edge boneheads.
The Briefs also recorded two worthy follow-up records for the label but, again, they’re not so easy to track down. This, though is unquestionably the most fun album ever released on the label. It should be your go-to party starter and a palette cleanser for those that take themselves a little too seriously.
One Man Army, Rumors and Headlines (2002)
I’ve covered a number of overlooked records but this one feels like the greatest slight of them all. Having the distinct misfortune of signing exclusively to labels seemingly intent on not streaming anything, all three One Man Army records rule. After dropping two killer street punk/rock 'n’ roll records in the form of 1998’s Dead End Stories and 2000’s Last Word Spoken on Billie Joe’s Adeline Records imprint, One Man Army proved the long-standing rule of three with their swansong.
Featuring Jack Dalrymple of Dead to Me/Re-Volts/Swingin’ Utters fame, his uniquely gorgeous vocal talents put on an absolute clinic across the runtime. In essence a string of impossibly rousing anthems, it’s a glorious mixture of street punk, pub rock, and straight up rock 'n' roll that’d appeal to fans of Cock Sparrer, The Bouncing Souls, or tragically underappreciated Aussies The Living End.
Kevin Army's production lends the album an enormous and booming sound despite the trio’s taut and streamlined approach. Look no further than the one-two punch of opener “Victoria” and follow up “It’s Empty” for a primer on what made this band truly special. The former tips the listener to the sort of vocal acrobatics Dalrymple would go on to master on masterwork “Cuban Ballerina” and the former is a straight ahead bootboy ripper as done by a power pop enthusiast. Each one of the three One Man Army albums is a bit difficult to track down. Feel free to hit me up and I’ll send you a copy (for real).
Greetings From the Welfare State (A Compilation of The Best of British Punk Rock) (1999)
Defenders of the comp, Unite! This end of the century collection was released in conjunction with the utterly essential and long-running Artcore fanzine. This is likely the compilation that launched the most secondary purchases. I hastily snagged albums from gruff melodic masters masters Road Rage and Four Letter Word. Among other treasures, it gifted me Stains, Newtown Boys, and Red Flag 77’, all bands that sound as if unfrozen Encino Men who once opened for The Adverts.
The zine editor Welly’s band, Four Letter Word, also contributes a touching slab of pacey, melodic hardcore. There’s a tossed off Gloria Gaynor cover pitched in by Snuff and an impossibly catchy tune by the Lucas-led Citizen Fish.
Crammed with skate punk, pop-punk, and slowly diminishing returns, Greetings From The Welfare State would still be as important to me for one reason. It happens to be the first time I heard Leatherface. “Boogie on Down” still stands as a Top 5 composition from the Stubbs-led squad from Sunderland.
It’s a glorious and clattering rager that’s likely the heaviest thing they ever committed to tape. Leatherface loyalists are likely to know it, but for those who want to hear the boys play what you can almost call a breakdown, give a listen.
Leatherface, Horsebox (2000)
I’m gonna get the hot take out of the way first. This is the best Leatherface album. Endless respect to the titanic Mush, which will surely never fall from its revered spot as most beloved album. Yet, Leatherface’s second act is downright ignored, due in part to an absence on streaming platforms. Both Horsebox and the subsequent Dog Disco are deserving of the same reverence.
Their early 2000s return run of albums is, at its core, a case of the masters returning to show everyone else how it’s done. As the influence of their whiskey-soaked, gritty sound hit its zenith with the rise of The Fest and assorted acolytes, they delivered their definitive work.
Look no further than the jaw dropping “Watching You Sleep.” It matches the pained poetics of Stubbs’ deceptively simple lyrics with a more seasoned and adventurous band, pairing ramshackle rhythms and impossibly intricate guitar lines that sound like no one else.
Bizarrely, they find new highwater marks covering unlikely mates. First up is the Cyndi Lauper penned “True Colors” which gets triumphantly mangled until it’s rendered unrecognizable. Late album addition “Ship Song” finds the band incorporating the ivory keys in service to a seafaring Nick Cave track. Don’t get it twisted…“Minx” and everything that came before is more than enough to warrant legend status, but Horsebox is like coming out of retirement and hitting 60 homers in a season. Seek it out.
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