While doing some research on Coffin Break, I noticed that a few different web sites note that they held close to their punk rock roots while everyone else in Seatown was growing out their hair, dressing in flannel, and playing grunge. It’s interesting to read this assessment now, because back in the day, Coffin Break sounded like a prototypical grunge band. In fact, they still sound that way to me now, at least with regard to their early singles.
I don’t say this in derision. As you know, “grunge” isn’t a bad word in the Lamestain offices. In fact, we’d love to someday compose a thoughtful history of the term and how quickly it became co-opted by the mainstream media to refer to all sorts of polished, radio-friendly, clean-sounding music (played by guys with long hair in flannel shirts, of course). We all knew what grunge really was, and it wasn’t Candlebox.
But the stuff about punk rock roots--that is certainly true when it comes to Coffin Break. If Skin Yard, for example, arrived at grunge via art rock, and if Mudhoney came to it via the Stooges and the MC5, then Coffin Break came to it from punk rock--specifically, the early to mid-80s punk rock like the Circle Jerks and Gang Green. (That is, the stuff that has some melody and a pretty good sense of humor.) But when you pop on “Noise Patch,” yes, dear reader, what you hear is grunge. Good grunge!
The band revolved around Pete Litwin on guitar and Rob Skinner on bass, who split vocal duties, and David Brooks on drums; second guitarist Jeff Lorien joined the band a bit later. Litwin’s vocals have a 70s arena rock quality to them, whereas Skinner’s vocals share more in common with the aforementioned melodic punk bands from the early 80s (Skinner sang on “Kill the President,” the Coffin Break song you’re most likely to know). Come to think of it, even their hair reflects this difference (Litwin’s = long, Skinner’s = shaved off).
Coffin Break recorded their debut 7” (“Noise Patch” w/ “Boxes and Boxes” and “Obsession”; 1988; C/Z Records) at the OK Hotel in 1988. The reason you don’t hear any crowd noise is because a change in the zoning status for the OK Hotel meant that the venue had to cancel the show, and the audience shivered outside before heading home in the rain (and in flannel). The venue still permitted the band to record. Of the three songs, “Noise Patch” is my favorite; it reminds me a bit of Bundle of Hiss.
“Just Say No (To Religion)” is closer to straightforward punk. This was on the 1988 C/Z Records compilation, Secretions.
“Pop Fanatic” (1990; C/Z Records) ranked among my favorite singles during my teenage years. I bought it at Cellophane Square after having admired the cover for weeks and weeks; it served as my introduction to the band. It was refreshing to hear it again when we unearthed it after more than a decade, as it’s lively and fun. Skinner’s bass and Brooks’s drums own the song. In a way, it sounds as if it came out of a really lucky jam session. Sadly, they didn’t perform this song the one time I saw them live. Rumor has it that the lyrics take a dig at Sub Pop, although that doesn’t seem likely, as they released a single (“Pray”/“Lies”) on Sub Pop in 1990. I can verify, however, that the cover of “Free Bird” on the b-side isn’t funny or interesting in the slightest; we recommend that you pretend that both sides of the vinyl contained “Pop Fanatic” by listening to that song twice.
Coffin Break released three full-lengths (Rupture, on C/Z Records, and Crawl and Thirteen, both on Epitaph) before parting ways in 1994. Not long thereafter, Litwin formed Softy, who appear to have played more straightforward grunge, although I confess I only know what I’ve heard on that website. Skinner formed a poppier band called Popsickle, who I recall seeing once or twice. Brooks pounded the traps for a number of bands, including the RC5. Coffin Break, of course, reunited for Geezerfest not long ago.
Boxes and Boxes
Just Say No (To Religion)
And the songs are, as usual, also available via zip file.