The DESCENDENTS invented pop punk. Overstatement? Perhaps, but spend ten minutes scanning FM or the idiot box and you’re bound to witness a ditty or video that tips its hat to a musical genre that was refined to a high art—if not created outright—by the ‘Dents. Formed in 1978 against the fertile musical backdrop of Los Angeles’ South Bay scene (see: Black Flag, Minutemen, SST Records, etc.), the caffeine-addled crew released their first 7” single “Ride The Wild” as a trio in 1979. Not long after, the boys recruited one Milo Aukerman (microbiology Ph.D. in waiting and poster boy for adolescent ne’er-do-well alienation) for vocal duties.
Milo’s fervent mic delivery coupled with his knack for hitting the lyrical nail on its heartrending head plunged him headfirst into the band’s fold, and together they released the “FAT” EP in 1981. 1982 saw the release of the stellar “Milo Goes To College,” a penultimate fusion of hooks and heartache which inspired the LA Times to write, “perfect for the little guy who was ever called a nerd and never got the girl… (its) earthy humor conveys what is often an inarticulate rage”. And Milo really did go to college, leaving the practice room for the hallowed halls of higher education. Drummer Bill Stevenson went on to beat the skins for Black Flag while the guys temporarily hung up the DESCENDENTS moniker, only to reunite with Aukerman for 1985’s “I Don’t Want To Grow Up” and 1986’s “Enjoy!”
The two releases comprise the perfect case study in the dualistic, yin/yang nature of the band’s output. While the former is a veritable user’s manual for post-pubescent angst, sizing up the themes of life, love, and uncertainty with infectious wit and dizzying energy, the latter is perhaps most notable for its testaments to the, umm… follies of flatulence. Their cover of the Beach Boy’s “Wendy” on “Enjoy!” is at once familiar and revelatory, the perfect amalgam of pop sensibilities and punk execution that would earn them fans the world over.
With the introduction of new members Karl Alvarez and Stephen Egerton on bass and guitar respectively, the release of 1987’s “ALL” full-length saw a band that had truly come into its own. While the tongue in cheek delivery remained intact, the music had become at once visceral and from the gut, a complex balance of straightforward delivery (“Clean Sheets”, “Coolidge”) and fringe-y, free jam inflections (“Schizophrenia”, “Uranus”). The band toured incessantly throughout the mid and late ‘80s; all that time on the road paid off in spades in the form of two live albums, “Liveage!” and “Hallraker.” And then Milo went back to college. The extant members went on to form the band ALL with ex-Dag Nasty vocalist Dave Smalley, continuing their prodigious musical output while maintaining a hectic tour schedule. It was not until 1996 that we’d see another DESCENDENTS release with “Everything Sucks,” a perfect return to the pop punk form that the band had become known for.
Fast forward to 2003, and lo and behold, the DESCENDENTS are back in the saddle with two new efforts slated for the release in 2004: a four song EP entitled “‘Merican,” and a bona fide full-length LP’s worth of new material that goes by the name “Cool To Be You.” Seeing as how punk is now a household name, and the ubiquitous “girl song” milieu infests the airwaves, will the DESCENDENTS reclaim their title as Kings of the Lovelorn Anthem? Only time will tell, but this much is certain: If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the DESCENDENTS must go to sleep with flushed cheeks every night of the week.