Issue #91: The Curse Of The Selby Tigers by Selby Tigers
November 13, 2017
Released On April 16, 2002
Released By Hopeless Records
But the light is green, I thought to myself. Surely he’s not… oh god, but he is, my thoughts run, as I fumble for the shifter.
Looking in the rear view mirror of the 10′ U-Haul truck I have jammed in an alley perpendicular to Ellwood, right at the intersection of Boulevard, I see my boyfriend frantically waving me out, one hand out to stop the intense flow of traffic confused at his presence in the left lane. I sigh, reverse out of the alley, jaw clamped shut while I try to maneuver the truck enough into the street without plowing over a compact car. Successful just as the light flicks back to red, he jumps into the cab, flushed. “Why,” I issue across the seat, “didn’t you want until it was red?” “Shit, Laura,” he screams, purple cheeks speckled with sweat, “can’t you fucking just shut up for a goddamn minute?!” For the next several blocks to his new place, for the last few trips up and down from the truck to his box-filled apartment, I’m told how fucking stupid it is to wait, how it didn’t matter anyway, how everyone does that when they fucking move here and was I fucking born yesterday because it fucking makes sense to just fucking go when it’s a big fucking truck. I sit, fury driving my heartbeat but our history screwing my jaw shut, until we switch off, me in my car to follow him in his rental truck back to the site.
Shaking hands making my lighter’s flame dance, I managed to light my cigarette while I shoved The Curse Of The Selby Tigers into my CD player. Punching the button to track six, I turned up the volume as loud as I could stand it and let the opening reverb and hacksaw guitar fill my car. Finally alone, finally with a voice, I screamed out Arzu “D2” Gokcen’s words, letting her rage stretch out my voice in a way I couldn’t yet to that boyfriend. As I drove, my hands punched out the drum fill, my throat scratched raw over “pulmonary” and “coronary,” my ponytail whipping around with every thrust of my jaw. So much of this album is unbelievably cathartic, with the band’s affront at political oppression raw over every chord played, every note sung. Like I have so many times in the past, like I will so many times in the future, I pushed my rage into theirs, breathing their intensity and energy reminiscent early ’80s punk, their relentlessness like that of the Riot Grrrl movement but paired with a charm found in pop punk of the ’90s and ’00s. Having loved this album since it dropped in 2002, I flipped through tracks searching for the little musical dips and quirks I hold the most dear as I wound along an unnecessarily long trip back to the U-Haul. “Dolph Indicator,” with its brash intro, fell into the reverb pause that starts “Down in Uppertown,” the welcome sexual aggression of “Punch Me In The Face (With Your Lips).”
Pausing for a breath inside that corrupt relationship, I held onto this album like a life vest, taking what I could until he was back in the car, twisting the volume down, mouth screwed up in disdain. “The fuck is this,” he said, my musical choice proving yet again how I was his personal failure. Even though it would take a little longer for me to get strong enough to end that relationship, moments like that built up to my final, painful, leaving behind of that abuse.
A couple of years later, as my lovely new husband and I spent a day shoving our lives into boxes to move to a new apartment, I once again turned to this album, frustrated even though I was happy about our decision to move. As those uncompromising screams burst from the speakers, I heard him call from the bedroom, “Fuck yeah, babe, turn it up! I didn’t know you knew this band!” Smiling, I filled our whole house with that angry, pulsing sound.
Laura Burroughs (@_thetwors)
Jestful Musical Erudite
Minnesota punks with perceptive talent and sensational flair.
The Curse Of The Selby Tigers channels a bright and fiery spark of lo-fi framed musical eagerness that makes the band’s less historically-punk-famous locale of Saint Paul, Minnesota feel like much less of a biographical detriment than onlookers might presume it to be. There’s no denying the genuine effort and emotion that’s hollered, hit, strummed, and fuzzed out on nearly every track of this 2002 release. The rough edged sound quality and at times flat, “take them as they are” vocals (“Down In Uppertown“) speaks to the kind of garage band that is out to simply make its points known, rather than take anyone’s particular iota of advice on how to advance in the music industry. Still, given that this band literally placed a marker of geo-specificity into its name (Selby refers to the avenue of the same name located in Saint Paul, Minnesota,) the sentiment that, on some level, Selby Tigers want to be noticed, and aren’t actually for just saying their piece regardless of who hears it, is hard to entirely dismiss. Where this loud and rowdy album seems to gravitate best is on those long and energetic car rides with friends, days when you’re really in need of a good run and an extra set of reps in the gym, or perhaps cranked up amidst literal messiness in a busy and lively auto body or metal shop. Individual notes of worth like the little bit of extra love for bass in the mix on tracks like “Tell It To The Judge” and the rolling drum introduction on “Superbreakout!” bring to mind pumped up punk of decades past. Sometimes it feels like Arzu Gokcen’s lead vocal could use some lower toned counter balancing to match the obvious emotional vigor; perhaps give that snarly character some pitch related weight. Nevertheless, one could argue such a cut throat vocal makes Selby Tigers like a punk rock palate cleanser between some of its more hardcore style and bass-heavy peers. The general groove and slow of the majority of tracks on The Curse Of The Selby Tigers can find complementary companion bands in founding punk rock outfits like that of the The Misfits, the Dead Kennedys, and The Clash — all of which are easy to hook onto and groove along with. Curse might not go to the exact same socio-political depths of the aforementioned bands but from a purely sonic vantage point, no momentum will be lost if they keep each other company in the digital queue. Whether one has ever been to Saint Paul or not, can understand the lyrics on first play through of the songs or not, Selby Tigers bring an old school musician’s spirit to this album and for a genre like punk, that’s virtually never a bad thing.
Kira Grunenberg (@shadowmelody1)
Prolific Sonic Scribe & Unifier
If you had the opportunity to give yourself just one superhuman power, what would it be? The power to fly, super strength, x-ray vision — the options are limitless! At this moment, I’m sure everything sounds good to you, but what if you were to get sucked in to a jet engine while flying? Or what if you stub your toe with your newfound super strength. Can you imagine the pain?! The way I see it, there is only one superpower with virtually no drawbacks: the power to resurrect bands from the dead and convince them to tour again. Think about it. No obligatory vigilantism, no chance of accidental injury — it’s perfect. Now, if I were to be blessed with the power to resurrect any band I wanted, Selby Tigers would definitely be high on my to-do list, mostly so I can convince them to play all of The Curse Of The Selby Tigers to me in my living room. If you’re wondering what this album sounds like, just imagine if you were to blend all the power and style of Dead Kennedys, Bikini Kill, and Iggy Pop together in to one band… and then give that band two lead vocalists. Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, it is at times. The album is a solid piece of work and you can clearly hear Riot Grrrl influences as the lyrics to this album are very socio-political, but still playful and relatable. The combination of the dual vocals, classic punk drum work, charged guitars, and those nuanced lyrics give Selby Tigers a unique sound that breaks them apart from other punk bands you may come upon in your musical travels. In short, The Curse Of The Selby Tigers is a 35-minute punk masterpiece that you must get your hands on. Oh and, if you know anyone with those previously mentioned superpowers, please get in touch.
Erin Calvert (@erinpcalvert)
Elder Goth In The Making
Time and pressure create diamonds in much the same way that teenage angst, hormones, and four years of high school created The Curse Of The Selby Tigers. The palpable aggression of “Cheerleading Is Big Business” and the perfect nostalgia of “The Prom I Never Had” instantly take me back to a time where I was just trying to figure it all out. I hear these records, and I can immediately feel the grain of the wood on the Maury High School bleachers. I can smell the locker room, and feel the extra-weird vibes of scoliosis test-day. But none of that is possible without the Selby Tigers’ pinpoint musicianship. I love the male/female call and response of “Dolph Indicator.” The vintage organs give the track a real San Francisco, sixties garage band sensibility, as does the excellent drum work on “Superbreakout!” I really dig that due to the jubilant hook of “Down In Uppertown,” I can’t tell if it’s “down” in Uppertown, meaning an emotional “down,” or a geographic reference. Or both. Maybe that’s the point? Overall, The Curse is an energetic trip down memory lane, for better or worse.
Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford (@jclyde757)
Steadfast Hip-Hop Historian & Creator
Together, Arzu Gokcen’s vigorous yelps & Nate Grumdahl’s poised snark were perhaps the best 1-2 punch of punk music at the time.
I don’t worship at the altar of punk. Just to be clear, I love The Damned, The Clash, Sex Pistols, et cetera from the first wave, as well as Bad Brains and some others, from the second. But punk as an ethos that should go on and on (and on) throughout music history for all time — meh. Mostly nostalgia, FOMO because you weren’t born or consuming music in 1976, or an inability to imagine other ways to èpater la bourgeoisie, in my honest opinion. Screed to the side, if you wanted to check in with 2000s-era punk, definitely get on this Curse Of The Selby Tigers record, especially the first half. “Dolph Indicator” and “Cheerleading Is Big Business” are both so freaking fabulous, with all the serrated guitars, churning bass, and slamming drums you imagine, elevated into the stratosphere by the vocals, especially the staggeringly scabrous exhalations of Arzu Gokcen. When she trades verses with husband Nate Grumdahl on the opening cut, it’s like a flame thrower vs. a Bic lighter. When she screams her head off on “Cheerleading,” it’s deeply satisfying, a knife in the torso of all that’s wrong in the world. “Down In Uppertown” is also great, with some nice Gokcen/Grumdahl chemistry, bass player Dave Gardner taking more chances, and power chords galore. They keep the quality up on “L5S1” and “You’re Off The Project“, which has a big dose of Gokcen’s magic, but on a song like “The Littlest One,” Grumdahl starts actually singing and sounds a bit like a Billie Joe Armstrong clone, which is anathema to these ears, but maybe not yours. Besides “Snoball,” Gokcen actually recedes on the latter half of the record, which is a damned shame. She’s the real deal and if you want to get to know her better, this Pink Mink session from 2010 is good, coruscating fun.
Jeremy Shatan (@anearful)
Prescient & Appreciative Musical Omnivore
Of my three favorite songs on this album, I feel like two of them are obvious no-brainer favorites. “Punch Me In the Face (With Your Lips)” is one of the best titles/refrains of any song I’ve ever heard. It encapsulates both the sweetness and energy and urgency of what it’s like to be young and newly in love. There’s a kind of violence to that feeling — you just want to wreck the whole world and be with that person. And then of course “The Prom I Never Had” is a killer ending to an album. Especially an album of hard-driving loud music. The energy is still there, but it’s being channeled into something bigger and brighter, like a rushing river that poses a generator that turns on a streetlight on a quiet corner of the city. But my third favorite from this album (not third of three, but third in the list) is “Tell It To The Judge” and I can’t for the life of me figure out why. It’s a fairly straight forward song. Something like what The Bouncing Souls might have put out at the time. And maybe that’s it. It’s a simple song that I can sing along to very easily. Maybe it resonates with me as strongly as the others because it also eloquently captures what it’s like to be young, staring down the prospect of getting old: “We are tied to the tracks and I can see the train. It’s coming.”
James Anderson (@unabashedjames)
Devoted Docent Of Musical Concepts
Comfortable in a casual sway or fighting stance, the band’s range elicits strong comparisons to the milestones of punk, while still pointing you forward in time.
I don’t know about y’all, but I get to feeling adrift more days than I don’t. Last weekend it was flying for the first time with two kids in tow. This weekend it was my first battle with leaf wrangling in my new backyard. Both had their ups and downs, though the latter benefited from a Selby Tigers soundtrack. Nothing combats feeling like you have no idea what you’re doing (and like everyone else in suburbia knows you don’t know what you’re doing) like a direct injection of punk via earbuds no one else can hear. But trying to talk about punk is another story, because adrift is how I feel in this moment, trying to write about an album I enjoyed but don’t have the vocabulary or context to dig into with confidence. I grasp at elementary points of reference, like the way “Snoball” reminds me of Bleach-era Nirvana when the coda kicks in at 1:56, or how the bounce in “Cheerleading Is Big Business” brings Rancid, The Clash, and the Ramones to the front of my mind, all at once. But in other ways, The Curse Of The Selby Tigers feels like it’s drifting right along with me. I can’t tell you how often I feel like a “Neighbor With A Defect,” and there’s a familiar sense of disorientation in “(Is This) The Boulevard?” Best of all, there’s a tune — “The Littlest One” — about grounding yourself when things get crazy by tapping into a more innocent point of view. That’s just what I experience each weekday when I pick my daughter up from daycare. That’s where the drifting stops.
Davy Jones (@youhearthat)
Idealistic Seeker Of Neoteric Sounds
An interesting album for sure, the background of most songs really drew me in. It’s obviously punk in your face, full of great lyrics full of angst, but there’s also classic rock and ’90s grunge hanging out behind that, primed and ready to steal the show if given the chance. The liveliness and tempo of the record was fun and enjoyable, but I really gravitated towards the closing track, “The Prom I Never Had,” which showed off the band’s true range. It had a sense of ending (fitting because it was the closing track of course), but not a sad ending. More like a momentary pause, giving you something to look forward to in the future. I myself am partial to slower songs with a vulnerable tinge so this was just icing on the cake for the record, one full of character and extremely entertaining.
Chelsea Kostrey (@chelseakostrey)
Retrophile & Festival Enthusiast
The inclination with a punk record, especially one from 2002, is to look backwards, and find the threads of musical history the band chose to follow. With The Curse Of The Selby Tigers, you’ll find plenty of these threads, many of which seem tangled in punk’s own gritty callbacks to the silver age of music. You can spend your time trying to untangle all of them, something that can be pretty rewarding. It will lead you to comparing Arzu “D2” Gokcen’s explosive and infectious vocals to singers like Gerry Roslie from The Sonics, and then you’ll lose track of time wondering how her voice would have faired in the same recording studio that brought us “Have Love, Will Travel.” You’ll focus in on The Clash and Ramones for their yesteryear sentiments, some more blatant like the retro ’50s dance-hall number “The Prom I Never Had” (perhaps the record’s most startling and endearing track) while others more subtle like the R&B clapback in “Dolph Indicator” which gives the opening track an extra punch that really propels the record from the get-go. (Quick side note — this is not the record to listen to lightly on repeat. Going from ’50s sway to ’70s snark can definitely be jarring if you aren’t paying attention.) For me though, I found the most interesting aspects of Selby Tigers’ record came from looking forward instead of backwards. So much of what I heard reminded me of what was to come in music, as opposed to what had already transpired. Now, I must say, I doubt Selby Tigers had as big of a reach and impact as I’m about to suggest, but I can’t help it. I hear Cloud Nothings in the structure and pace of “The Littlest One.” I hear a bit of later-years Gossip in songs like “L5S1,” while the title alone of “Punch Me In The Face (With Your Lips)” feels like a precursor to Florence + The Machine, at least before Florence Welch discovered the range of her voice. Of course, I have to know that the band’s reach was limited, because how could a singer like Gokcen, with her lethal vocal jabs and infectious energy, not be constantly mentioned as one of the great frontwomen of the 2000s? This doesn’t stop this line of thinking though. While wistful and lofty, it at least still has me thinking forward in time rather than backwards, which for music, especially punk, is always a wonderful thing.
Doug Nunnally (@musicdoug)
Garrulous Aural Braggart
I Do What I Do by Kev Brown
Chosen By Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford