Descendents | 9th and Walnut (Epitaph Records)

As those who have inspected the Descendents/ALL Family Shrub know, there was life before the iconic and famously illustrated Milo Aukerman. When Descendents began as a three-piece (Frank Navetta—Guitar , Bill Stevenson—Drums, and Tony Lombardo—Bass), the vocals were shared between Navetta and Lombardo. The author of the lyrics was the singer. It wasn’t until around 1980 did Aukerman take over vocals. During that time, Aukerman was a huge fan of the band and would frequently hitch rides with Stevenson and watch the band practice. In their wonderfully great bio pic Filmage, Stevenson said that during one of those practices, Navetta, frustrated with playing their increasingly complicated guitar parts and singing at the same time, hollered out in-between songs, “Fuck it. Let’s just get Milo to sing these fucking things.” Thus, from that day forward, Descendents were a four-piece. Eventually, Navetta and Lombardo both departed the band. It wasn’t until 1987 that the group settled into their present-day lineup of Aukerman, Stevenson, bassist Karl Alvarez, and guitarist Stephen Egerton.

Fast-forward to 2002 when the pre-Aukerman lineup gathered in Fort Collins, CO, at Stevenson’s recording studio, The Blasting Room, to record the instrument tracks for a new album. You know, those songs from their never recorded, lost “first album.” As Stevenson explained, that by the time they got proficient enough on their instruments that they were ready to record, they had grown tired with these songs. Only “Marriage” and “Statue of Liberty” would appear on Milo Goes To College. Coinciding with that same visit to Fort Collins, there was a series of ALL [1] and ALL-centric shows entitled Stockage. With little fanfare, the original Descendents [2] took to the stage and played those songs.

After that one-off show, the aforementioned tracks sat unmixed for years. Tragically, Navetta passed away in 2008. While Stevenson stated in an interview with Rolling Stone that he always intended Aukerman to record vocals for the record, it was not until the pandemic that he sent the songs to the band’s frontperson to add said vocals. With everything collected, the finished product is 9th and Walnut. Named after the intersection of an old practice space from their earliest years, the album will sound quite familiar to fans of their actual debut LP. If you consider Milo Goes To College a classic, then 9th and Walnut is certainly to be welcome comfort food.

As with most origin stories, if you comb through 9th, you’ll find plenty of echoes for things to come. “Baby Doncha Know” is bouncy, catchy as fuck, and feels very like “Hope.” The reflective and regretful “To Remember” has a guitar opening that’s much like the “Bikeage,” and Lombardo’s bass tone from “MyAge” shows up on “Tired of Being Tired.”

The best of 9th and Walnut’s are opener “Sailor’s Choice,” the Lombardo-penned “Nightage,” Navetta’s ode to The Last “Mohicans,” the regretful “To Remember,” and the song most likely to inspire the Pogo, “It’s My Hair.”

The new versions of “Ride the Wild” and “It’s A Hectic World” here have shed most of their original and overt 1960s influences. When taken side-by-side with the Milo Goes to College track “I’m Not a Punk,” you can see why “Like the Way I Know” (previously a Milo outtake) was left off. And as if you needed further evidence of Descendents’ love of that pre-hallucinogenic era, the album closes with a cover of The Dave Clark Five’s “Glad All Over.” Only the crass and bitter “You’re Disgusting” qualifies as a straight-up skip.

Every now and then something comes along that you weren’t asking for nor were expecting. To be honest, actually new Descendents songs and albums really don’t register with me but 9th and Walnut certainly did. These songs definitely deserved to see the light of day and to be offered up for mass consumption. 9th and Walnut is by no means a remarkable album with zero context, but given the history behind it, it’s definitely a punk rock highlight of 2021. | David Lichius

Footnotes:

[1]  I still have a minor, petty grudge towards Descendents fans that never embraced the Descendents minus Milo group ALL (NO ALL!) Look, I get it, they were a musically different from Descendents, but why Percolater isn’t treated with reverence has shrunk from being a fucking disgrace in 1996 to a minor annoyance at present. Seriously, I’ve always felt that if Milo sang on an ALL record, the masses would crawl out of the cracks and the record would be lifted into the upper echelons of Descendents canon. OH WAIT. THAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED. Call me shallow, but the idea that a once in a lifetime Descendents reunion actually happened at an ALL show makes me smile.

[2] Listening to Navetta’s vocals, I found them very reminiscent of Minutemen singer/guitarist D. Boon but different. They’re slightly more emotive. After watching the video once, I did not expect to keep returning to listen to the audio portion. I kept returning to his rendition of “Statue of Liberty.” After only knowing the Milo version, you can’t help to think about alternate Descendents’ timelines, one with a debut Descendents LP with Lombardo and Navetta handling vocal duties.

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