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This Is Hardcore: Descendents – Milo Goes To College

Gallows guitarist Lags picks his essential hardcore and punk releases – every Thursday on TeamRock

Is it just me or has the Descendents replaced the Misfits in the punk rock must- have merch stakes? I’m definitely witnessing a decrease in Crimson Ghosts and plenty more Milos when I go to hardcore shows. The hand-drawn caricature of Descendents singer Milo Aukerman either appears on the band’s own T-shirt, or features on an imitation design by myriad clothing companies and new bands. I’m not entirely convinced that this trend is inspired by the music itself. What I do know is that teenagers have started to trade their My Chemical Romance 'Black Parade' jackets for Black Flag patches as a means of demonstrating their hardcore credentials. So for those of you unfamiliar with the Descendents discography (but have a tote bag bearing their logo at the bottom of your wardrobe), then I urge you to begin your journey with their rawest effort, 1982’s ‘Milo Goes To College'.

'Milo Goes To College' is instantly recognisable for that album cover, the first to feature the iconic doodle of their bespectacled frontman. This parody was created by Milo’s high school classmate, who would draw posters depicting him as a loveable nerd. The title of the record itself references the frontman’s early departure from the band to study at University of California, San Diego. Incidentally, before Aukerman joined the Descendents in 1980, the first single, 1979's 'Ride The Wild' / 'It's A Hectic World', also featured hand drawn portraits, this time of the three original band members – bass player Tony Lombardo, guitarist Frank Navetta and drummer Bill Stevenson. 

The Descendents of the early ’80s beared little resemblance to the Californian punk which was, at the time, overdosing in its own rock 'n' roll excess. The underground splintered into a feral style of music pioneered by local bands like Black Flag and Fear. It was called hardcore and inspired the Descendents to retire their surf pop roots. 'Milo Goes To College' is a far cry from modern pop-punk, a genre that the Descendents are widely credited for starting. And while today's genre leanings are more towards the pop end of the musical spectrum, this record is as punk as it comes. 

The iconic album artwork and the band in 1987 (Milo Aukerman, right)

Opener ‘Myage’ has a hint of the new wave stylings first heard on Descendents' single ‘Ride The Wild’, but the trashy guitar tones and Aukerman’s snarl reveal a far more confrontational band not out to make friends. ‘I’m Not A Loser’ and ‘Parents’ distil teen angst into two-minute ferocious blasts: 'Well you can fuck off, I’m not a loser!'. On the whole, Aukerman’s lyrics offset charming awareness with churlish immaturity, traits later pushed to their limits by giants Blink-182. 

The song ‘Suburban Home’ is a scathing commentary on the conformist way of life in America – 'I want to be stereotyped, I want to be classified, I want to be a clone, I want a suburban home'. Backing the frontman's dry wit is the kind of musicianship rarely seen in the early punk days. Lombardo, Navatta and Stevenson steer the music through tempo changes and together display a level of skill beyond their youthful years. 

‘Milo Goes To College’ is significant because it establishes many of pop-punk’s nuances, such as vocal harmonies (‘Statue Of Liberty’), infectious choruses (‘Kabuki Girl’) and lovelorn lyrics (‘Hope’). Not only did the create the blueprint of an entire genre, this record stands as one of the most important albums to come out of the California punk scene. 

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