Reviews – June 2016

Adesse Versions That’s What Friends Are For 12″ (Numbers)
I can always count on the Numbers label to provide the main-room underground techno hits I occasionally desire, so I figured this white-label 12″ by Adesse Versions would be a fine place to check in. “That’s What Friends Are For” is very nice indeed: lumbering, farty bass leads the way for a disaffected monologue not unlike the woman in Ricardo Villalobos’ “Andruic”, telling a story to which you can comfortably half-pay attention while dancing. It eventually opens up a bit, wide-lens synths and wood-block claps leading to the coup de grâce of the song’s title. It’s followed by an instrumental dub, but who besides the pickiest DJ would want to hear it without the full soliloquy? “In The Sticks” is the b-side, another unhurried and sophisticated cut that hovers through various percussive motifs, as if the listener is experiencing a hazy dream sequence of fond club memories both real and imagined (followed with a “no kick” dub, in case you needed that for your next party too). Very smooth, ahead-of-the-curve deep house construction from Adesse Versions and the trustworthy Numbers label.

Alto! LP 3 LP (Trouble In Mind)
Can’t get into bands that end their name in an exclamation point – do they expect me to yell their name instead of just casually speaking it? That’s not my style of social behavior, I’m happy to confirm. Minor gripe aside, Alto! is a trio of musicians who I can only guess used to play in punk or garage bands and eventually felt stifled by the Western rock-centricity, either that or Trouble In Mind has significantly branched out their scope in recent times. Whatever the case, they’re pretty dope, digging deep on mystical kraut-rock grooves filtered through the neo no-wave of Troubleman circa Y2K – imagine Pixeltan and Tussle contributing tracks to a compilation honoring Guru Guru and Can and you’ve entered Alto!’s wheelhouse. There’s still a sense of hard-rock guitar-worship throughout LP 3 though, and while their fairly academically-titled tracks (“Piece 12”, “Piece 16”, etc.) might make someone think they are coming from a stiff modern-composer mindset, “Piece 12” eventually grinds hard enough that I suggest they consider re-titling it “In Praise Of The Crimson Condor” or something equally stoner-fantasy evocative (if you need more, call me). Very nice effort, I’m just not totally certain they’ve earned the exclamation point yet.

Ansome Stowaway 2xLP (Perc Trax)
Took a chance on Ansome’s debut album due to its Perc Trax affiliation, and I’m glad I did, as this is a hefty bundle of indignant techno music. Ansome (is that British slang for “handsome”?) is fairly new to the game, but this is an album that pulses with intensity and energy… well-considered hard techno that is blasphemous and noisy but built for physical interaction. There are certainly traces of today’s industrial-techno fascination, but Ansome’s focus is never on creepy moods or imposing distortion – his tracks (or should I say “trax”) are impenetrable workouts built upon sturdy foundations of acid loops, Downwards-esque locomotion, durable kick pads and just the right seasoning of de-tuned metallic clanging and dystopian audio detritus. The familiar moments of foreboding atmosphere are still in range, Ansome just chops them up and distributes them over pummeling beats to recall the most ferocious British Murder Boys cuts with an awareness of today’s post-Demdike Stare landscape. Not groundbreaking by any means, but impressive just the same.

Bad American Scuzz LP (Torn Tendons)
After a couple lineup changes, Bad American return with their second album, this one self-financed and somewhat limited (as is the current non-reissue hardcore vinyl recession). They continue to hold down ugly, heavy hardcore-punk for the otherwise-deprived Lehigh Valley, with hints of vocalist Ray Gurz’s other projects: the heavy down-tuned riffage of Tile; the stompy mosh cues of Carpenter Ant; the intimidating menace of Fresh Meat. It’s hard to find a modern hardcore band that doesn’t borrow from or at least acknowledge multiple different strains of underground punk in their sound, and Bad American are no different here, with hints of both sides of My War, the simplistic crunch of modern torchbearers Gag or S.H.I.T. and the slight AmRep taste that comes with Condominium or Slices. Plus, as modern hardcore apparently requires makeshift violence if not actual real violence, Gurz brandishes a sledgehammer alongside his microphone. Give Scuzz a listen and then invite Bad American over to help demolish the old barn in your backyard.

Blawan The Communicat 1022 EP 12″ (Ternesc)
My interest in Blawan has slowly decreased over the past few years, as the chance for another mind-shattering dance-floor Armageddon like His He She & She seem less and less likely as he continues a new path of understated, well-mannered techno. I’m still a fan that will at the very least peep each new release, and I’m glad I checked out The Communicat 1022; while it does not rock me to my core, Blawan continues to refine his approach. The sounds that comprise these four songs are all quite robotic (or at least cyborgian), with freezing pings, elastic poings and helicopter blades as the basis for what is essentially stately, calm minimal-techno that calls to mind the heritage of both Studio One and Jeff Mills. It’s a nice combination, a sound-bank that’s best suited for Chris & Cosey or SPK but utilized for stoic techno progressions instead of icy synth-wave or harsh industrial. It’s clear Blawan is working towards something new, with a vision that looks to future vistas rather than re-treading prior successes. I can’t help but admire the man’s integrity, but I’m also hoping he brings it back around to shake my brain inside its skull once again.

CE Schneider Topical Antifree LP (OSR Tapes)
The OSR Tapes aesthetic is fully-defined at this point, and I can get down with it: microscopic pop music heavy on bent melodies, queasy song structures and approximately 200 songs per album. This new album by CE Schneider Topical certainly fits the bill, a project led by Christina Schneider and aided by Zach Phillips (he of Blanche Blanche Blanche and ostensibly heading the OSR Tapes empire). It would take a real curmudgeon to argue against Antifree, as it’s a particularly open-hearted album, waving its arms at even the shyest wallflowers to come over and join the party. Throughout, I’m reminded of the pure-sugar sweetness of Lavender Diamond, the oddball pop technicality of Art Bears, the library-friendly dub sonics of Young Marble Giants and the sunny DIY psychedelia of The Olivia Tremor Control. Of course, it’s all guided by Schneider’s soothing voice; even her occasional Danielson Familie-esque yelping feels like joy worthy of sharing. When the songs are really cooking, it can feel as if you’re inside Mattel’s Playdough factory, pumping out all sorts of colored goo with rhythmic intensity, and when The ‘Topical mellow out, it’s like a picnic where everyone brought your favorite dessert. Can’t go wrong with either option!

Charalambides Glowing Raw LP (Drawing Room)
Drawing Room does us a solid in reissuing two small-run Charalambides CD-rs from 2007, Glowing Raw being one of them. Either you never got a chance to grab one of these when released on their Wholly Other label, or you did and the CD-rs have since disintegrated over the last decade, so these stately vinyl reissues make for a nice addition to any home. It’s pretty incredible to think about the dozens of hours of music Charalambides have produced over the past couple decades, but in getting to know this group, it doesn’t seem so crazy after all: they’re a band that has created their own unique ecosystem and happily grow their sounds within it, not so much attempting to write songs as letting it organically flow outward from within. I’d put Charalambides on a short-list of other weird American originals who can take on a variety of sounds while always remaining distinctly themselves (I’m thinking Sun City Girls and Jandek for starters), and that ability is on full display across these five lengthy tracks. Atonal strumming and weightless droning are glued by Christina Carter’s inimitable voice, no matter if she’s wordlessly cooing or singing “Give Me Jesus” with a level of sincerity I’ve yet to determine. I’m so glad Drawing Room has given us these new opportunities to exit our world and explore theirs for a while longer.

Civil Union Seasick, Lovedrunk LP (Melted Ice Cream)
Someone had to do it, and Civil Union finally did: this group sounds as thought early Bright Eyes met late Iceage before eventually drowning in their own tears. Seriously, the vocalist does an uncanny Conor Oberst, straining his voice into a bloodshot moan as thought it’s the only way to avoid complete mental breakdown, with just enough Tim Armstrong-style slurification to recall everyone’s favorite unhappy post-teen vocalist, Elias Bender Rønnenfelt. The music suits this style well, recalling a baroque post-punk befitting The Bad Seeds or The Black Heart Procession depending on how murky the waters may be. For as unpalatable as this description may seem, the powers of two skinny, whiny, privileged white-guys put together into some sort of Tumblr-shaped Transformer, I’m personally a fan of both, and I like what Civil Union do with things as well – their songs are thoughtfully constructed, moody in the right places, and of course, obnoxiously morose. Speaking personally, I feel as though I’ve lost the chance to yell “just leave me alone, I’m fine!” before slamming and locking my bedroom door behind me, so a record like Seasick, Lovedrunk fills that void nicely.

Mike Cooper New Kiribati LP (Discrepant)
I’m Cooper-crazy over here, still loving the alien-hammock vibes of Fratello Mare and just as delighted to venture into New Kiribati. I believe it’s a vinyl pressing of select tracks from a 1999 CD-r release by the name of Kiribati, and I couldn’t tell you if they’re new interpretations or a straight reissue or what, as I don’t have a CD-r player these days, nor the CD-r to play. You probably don’t have it either, and there’s even a good chance you haven’t checked out Mike Cooper yet, for which I intend to shame you. New Kiribati is certainly great – just like Fratello Mare, Cooper conjures bizarre and lush otherworldly terrain, as if he stumbled not onto Mars or Venus but some distant planet in the habitable zone, teeming with life and creatures unbeknownst to the human species. This album is less guitar-centric than I expected, almost entirely devoted to bizarre tone sculptures, processed field recordings and soundscapes I am unable to place, at times calling to mind late-’00s Wolf Eyes, perhaps. My favorite is probably “An Aesthetic Of Bird Calls”, which is chock full of you-know-what, but really the whole albums simmers like a fascinating puddle of primordial ooze at the base of a particularly grumpy volcano. Don’t forget to pack your bathing suit!

Empty Markets Stainless Steel LP (12XU)
It was nearly a couple hours since I had last received a record by a cool new Austin-based punk band, and just as I was about to check my watch, Empty Markets’ debut album slid under my door. Apparently this groups features Drew Schlitz (is that a punk name, like Mikey PBR?) of Hex Dispensers, and it shreds pretty nicely, punk for the drinking-age set who still prefer tunefulness over feedback-laden nihilism. Empty Markets are clearly quite capable at their craft – I’m reminded of (the Canadian) Subhumans circa No Wishes, No Prayers, Defektors, early White Lung or perhaps a less pop-inspired Marked Men. Stainless Steel is equipped with plenty of Wipers-inspired downhill riffing, melodies that recall Hot Snakes and Cockney Rejects in equal measure, and vocals that are shouted in tune (and not entirely distant from Unwound, I’m hearing). Very efficient music, with nary an unneeded change, interlude or extension – they rarely (if ever) clock in under a minute, but all sonic information Empty Markets provide is vital to their tunes. Let us hope Empty Markets never find inspiration in Tarkus.

Glam Fail Cyclone Rodney / Just Deserve 7″ (Ever/Never)
Nope, it’s not a hilarious new Tumblr account, Glam Fail is a musical project, delivering two songs on the ever-expanding Ever/Never label. Let’s get right into the tunes then, as Glam Fail do as well. “Cyclone Rodney” sounds like those early acoustic Kitchen’s Floor demos with some ray of sunlight bleeding through the filthy windows, just kinda cruising along on centrifugal force until the beans and rice are ready to be communally eaten. “Just Deserve” is slower and more tender, like your baked cousin trying his best to play a Soul Asylum b-side on an acoustic guitar as he slowly nods off. It’s essentially a song, but a slight gust of wind could bring it all down. Glam Fail have a lazy sense of cool about them, not unlike Watery Love, although their musical influences seem to be more in line with The Clean and The Shadow Ring than Cro-Mags and KISS. This is a group that will assuredly not go far, and I am certain this troubles them not.

Gunk / Marge split 7″ (Ranch)
Here’s where cheekiness goes wrong: throughout the cover as well as both center stickers, the bands Gunk and Marge are listed as Munk and Garge (haw haw), and while my best guess is that Munk is Gunk and Garge is Marge, it could be that Munk is Marge and Garge is Gunk. See what I mean? There is no reassurance anywhere here, and both bands sound similar enough that I am unable to confirm which group I’m hearing. I realize vinyl records are entirely a collectible novelty with no real-world necessity anymore but come on, hook a guy up who just wants to know who he’s hearing without too much fuss! Both bands offer two songs, so there’s no clue there either. Anyway, Munk play lo-fi, upbeat indie-punk with grunge and pop-punk overtones, as is the aesthetic choice of so many college-aged punk bands these days (go figure). The vocals are sweetly amateurish and on the first track a guitarist solos through the song on a bunch of high notes. Garge take nearly the exact same approach to their music, maybe a little less wistful and slightly punchier, like they probably have more No Age tracks on their favorite Spotify playlists than Munk. I’m already picturing myself at the house show these bands are playing for their record release, crammed on one end of a stained couch while a couple with colored hair and piercings makes out next to me, wondering how and when I became so old.

The Hunches The Hunches LP (Almost Ready)
There’s something enticingly mysterious about cult-favorite bands who’ve withheld full recording sessions for years, particularly in this underground atmosphere where every artist releases every musical thought they’ve ever had at the earliest possible moment. Almost Ready dug up this Hunches album from a 2001 recording session, a full album scrapped (for reasons unknown to myself) that predates their 2002 debut. I’m not one of their loyal worshipers, but I don’t hold it against those who are, as the Hunches material I’ve heard has been good-to-great inebriated garage-rock, propelled by images of a blood-streaked Iggy, dirty long hair and even dirtier stages in corners of bars. The Hunches reveals this band at their infancy, where the New York Dolls and Stooges influences are quite pronounced – for every song with a Reatards-esque title like “Got Some Hate”, there’s a retro-rocker like “Blind Man Boogie”. It’s a fine first effort, even if “Mind Fuck Blues” has me imagining one of Jet’s earliest rehearsals, but I’m ultimately more curious about a band’s ability and decision to nix an entire album’s worth of material (particularly material as adequate as this) and move on without it. Raucous garage-rock isn’t exactly known for artistic restraint, after all.

The Incredible Kidda Band Bullet In My Heart / The Girl Said No 7″ (Last Laugh)
The Incredible Kidda Band are not only one of the best power-pop punk groups of the late ’70s, they’re one of the most intriguing, as they appear to have a large archive of recorded material, the majority of which didn’t see the light of day pre-Y2K. I have no idea why this is the case, as they really have a sound that’s a cut above the usual Powerpearls suspects – their music is beautifully tuneful yet not without a punk edge, and their choruses cut straight to the brain’s memory receptors. Just try and shake the chorus to “Bullet In My Heart” after spinning it once. “The Girl Said No” is great too, recalling Tours and Purple Hearts with energy to spare. Seriously, of all the bands to be neglected in their time, why are these songs first appearing as tidy 7″ singles nearly forty years later? Of all the decidedly un-incredible bands whose middling power-pop tunes made it to vinyl between ’75 and ’85, this is a truly confounding mystery.

Leda City / Clear 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
Another fine 7″ single in the no-nonsense I Dischi Del Barone tradition here, this one coming from Sweden’s Leda (one Sofie Herner, half of my new favorites Neutral). She makes some pretty cool music that I’m glad to have been exposed to on this all-too-brief single. “City” sounds like sounds like a bumblebee death march, some sort of ultra-fried keyboard pounding away in somber remembrance, eventually aided by Herner’s low-in-the-mix vocals. “Clear” is pulled out of the red and into a semi-soothing state, calling to mind Miaux’s Ultra Eczema album in the way that Leda makes delicately lonely music, as though it’s just her and a thrift-store synth perched atop a rain cloud. I’m more of a sucker for the “City” school of rock, but both sides offer interesting (and really quite listenable) slices of percussion-free bedroom synth music – I can’t help but assume that Leda has a bunch more material where this came from and I’d love the chance to hear it.

Locks & DDM Locks & DDM 12″ (L.I.E.S.)
Highly confusing 12″ record here from the L.I.E.S. crew, and one that I’ve quickly come to cherish. First of all, it came out like a month ago with the catalog number 029.5, which is weird because L.I.E.S. is otherwise up past 070, and secondly, I have no idea if Locks & DDM are two separate people or one entity or what, and I promised myself I wouldn’t Google – I prefer to think that this music was made simply by the Scotch tape dispenser located on the paper insert that accompanies this unjacketed release. Musically, it’s quite a trip too: Locks & DDM offer slow moving, floaty constructions of abstract electronics. It has a homespun feel, as if Juju & Jordash were attempting to replicate Manuel Göttsching’s E2-E4 in their own particular haze of Dutch weed-smoke. There are an alleged seven tracks on this record, but each side plays out like a singularly-mixed cut, with various patterns and loops pulled and replaced intermittently. At times, these tracks become so rigid and skip-like that I find myself checking to see if it isn’t trapped in a locked groove, which is compounded by the fact that both sides actually do end in locked grooves. Sometimes I just want my proto-techno electronic music to trick the hell out of me in all sorts of ways, and right now is one of those times.

Low Jack Lighthouse Stories LP (Modern Love)
Gonna cut right to the chase and tell you that “Six In The Morning” off this record is one of the best songs I’ve heard this year, the sort of track that is immediately catchy and fun and crazy, but also sort of alters one’s expectations for what underground electronic music is capable of achieving. Go pull it up on YouTube or Spotify or something, I’ll wait! The groove alone is delightfully druggy, like an automotive factory that turns into a BYOB erotic cabaret at night, but once those vocals hit, it’s over. Low Jack has processed the voice of Erwan Tarek into some sort of evil reptilian gangsta overlord – it’s as if Suge Knight and Spider Man‘s The Lizard combined into the ultimate mutant villain, and through the track’s duration, he just wants to sip Grey Goose and lean back into his leather seating (python, I’m guessing). Perfection! While the rest of Lighthouse Stories doesn’t reach that same impossible height, it’s all really fantastic as well, offering various displays of filth-laden hip-hop aesthetics, Actress-style microscopic pathways and the red-faced repetition of Sasu Ripatti’s eponymous 12″ series. That said, nothing else out there quite sounds like Lighthouse Stories, although I certainly expect many others to try their best at replicating it soon enough. Who wouldn’t want to make music like this?

Lucy Self Mythology 2xLP (Stroboscopic Artefacts)
Lucy’s 2014 break-though album Churches Schools And Guns was a lengthy, studied excursion in the realm of contemporary industrial techno, and like many of his peers, not only is the female-monikered Lucy actually a man, by 2016 he seems to be getting bored with the concept of dance music and its rhythmic grid. This time around, Lucy pursues mood and ambiance over the motion of club-goers, which leads him toward the inner-realms of dark ambient, early industrial and gothic exotica. It’s as if Demdike Stare and Shackleton discovered their respective planets over the past eight years or so, and Lucy went on his own exposition to explore those same worlds a couple years later, in search of something to call his own. It’s a slow-building album, churning up from the ritualistic industrial sounds of early Current 93 to Shackleton’s tribal hypnosis (one would be forgiven for thinking “Vibrations Of A Circular Membrane” was a Shackleton remix of one of Demdike Stare’s Elemental offerings), and ultimately a pretty enjoyable trip through the shadowy jungles of post-techno, even if Lucy can’t fully claim these paths as his own.

Maher Shalal Hash Baz Hello New York LP (OSR Tapes)
The magnificent Maher Shalal Hash Baz ensemble made their way to Brooklyn in the fall of 2014 and this hefty LP contains that performance, now available for private personal enjoyment. I’ve always admired Maher bandleader Tori Kudo’s dedication to his own music, no matter how unlistenable it may be – there’s a magical sense of naïveté and irreverence to Maher Shalal Hash Baz, and that spirit is properly captured here. I appreciate that this isn’t just a set of songs, but a set of songs clearly infused with their environment; Kudo is clearly delighted to be in New York, a city that must seem like an unachievable fantasy for the large majority of the world’s population, and he takes care to acknowledge his surroundings with Velvet Underground and John Cale classics. He also covers the inescapable Pharrell Williams hit “Happy”, which will have you busting out a wide smile or running for the nearest fire escape depending on your current mood. A total of nineteen musicians are involved here, which must’ve made for a cozy room (as well as a built-in audience), as it seems only a select few are playing at any given time, for this music that recalls some sort of sun-dried mix of The Music Tapes, No Neck Blues Band and Belle & Sebastian. The sense of warmth, cooperation and conviviality of this gathering comes through nice and clear on Hello New York, as if the city was still an elusive hideout for cool and groundbreaking artists and not just a giant Subway / Duane Reade condo-emporium.

M83 Junk 2xLP (Mute)
Junk is M83’s eighth or ninth album, depending how you’re counting, but it’s the first time I’ve really sat down and checked them out. It’s my lack of immunity to popular culture (I don’t just sit around cataloging the BPM of Blawan 12″s all day, you know) that led me to them, as I caught their performance on Jimmy Kimmel and found myself feasting on the visual and sonic delights, a sensory-overload ’80s candy shop led by Teen Wolf himself and flanked by two breathtakingly beautiful women. And the music! “Do It, Try It” is like the perfect Ford & Lopatin remix of a Phoenix hit, and “Go!” offers the ultimate Balearic chorus hook, a Barry Bonds-strength hit of which I desperately need an ultra-extended mix. It’s like a giant, sparkling bowl of Skittles staring at you in a waiting room, destined to make you sick but utterly irresistible. The rest of the album heads off on other ’80s tangents, testing out various unused theme-songs for Welcome Back Kotter spin-offs or Breakfast Club rip-offs – pure Sandals Resorts nostalgia garbage in the best possible way. I’ve gotten the impression that Junk critically bombed, which only cements my opinion that music writers have lost sight of idiotic fun in their never-ending, unsatisfying pursuit of The Next Big Thing.

Perc Ma 12″ (Stroboscopic Artefacts)
My tenure may be short as a Perc supporter, but I am firmly committed to the cause at this point, and was glad to see that a new 12″ dropped on the admirable Stroboscopic Artefacts label (owned and operated by Lucy). Whereas it was the blistering power of Perc’s Gob that had me smitten, he steps away from hardcore cross-fit techno for something less severe and more foreboding here. Opener “The Death of Rebirth” is a quiet pulse that’s frequently interrupted by outrageously loud bleeps and clangs – were I directing a music video for this cut, I’d hurl a grizzly bear through a library window to visualize the disruption. It’s followed by “Negative Space”, which seems to utilize the exact same distant 4/4 thud, all while someone from Staples tries to fix a jammed Xerox machine and a sculptor chips away at their final touches (I’m picturing a bronze bust of Dennis Rodman). Both are very understated and moody tracks, wherein the importance is not the beat but the various effects that take place in spite of it. “Ma” commandeers the flip, and the beat doesn’t even exist – rather, this is Perc in his basement, testing out every piece of equipment in his tool shed. Over nearly thirteen minutes, he harms the insides of a piano (perhaps real or synthetic), lacerates the beams supporting the house and finagles with anything in his reach. At times, the stuttery percussion reminds me of Aufgehoben in those tense moments before they go full-blast. I try not to swear if I can help it, but Perc kicks ass.

Puce Mary The Spiral LP (Posh Isolation)
For the fourth year in a row Puce Mary offers up a new full-length album, and while I consider myself a fan, I’ve missed the last couple, so why not check back in now, with a fresh tax return that allows me to consider purchasing imported Posh Isolation releases? I’ve read interviews and articles that discuss her deep synth obsessions, complete with working in the academic setting of the EMS, and was kind of surprised to see that very little of that high-minded, modern-composer veneer has rubbed off on The Spiral, what is essentially a harsh power-electronics record. It’s so much a typical harsh power-electronics record, in fact: the cover depicts a snippet of some sort of latex-clad bondage / performance art, the lyrics reference intense struggles of power and violence, and the sounds employed in Puce Mary’s music are all HVAC clatter, painful hissing, dirge-like metal squalls and unintelligible processed vocals, creeping at a zombie’s pace – the most significant difference from the rest of the herd is that it’s (thankfully) not the work of yet another dude, but a woman working these familiar tropes. I’m reminded of Le Syndicat’s brutal excursions for the Broken Flag label, Controlled Bleeding’s relentless albums for Subterranean and the industrial horror of early Test Dept, all of which is quite palatable to my ears, if not quite resulting in an album that is particularly distinct or unique. Maybe someone who exclusively wears black rubber and can differentiate between any given snippet of The Rita or Vomir can listen to The Spiral and pull out complexities and deviations that my ears miss, but The Spiral strikes me as a high-quality contribution to the formal tradition of transgressive power-electronics.

Regler Regel #6 (Techno) Regel #7 (Drone) LP (Quemada)
So here’s the catch: Regler is Mattin (Mr. Billy Bao himself) and Anders Brynhelsson (he of Brainbombs) attempting to “distort different musical genres” one track at a time. If upon reading that you’re bracing yourself like you’re about to be punched, your instincts are correct, as this is Mattin at his most vinyl-wasteful, once again pushing high-concept music into new levels of pointless boredom. “Regel #6 (Techno)” is as emotive and dense as most run-out grooves, offering little beyond a 4/4 kick and an extremely subtle hi-hat clicking along (or vague approximation thereof). “Regel #7 (Drone)”, however, is a surprising edit of circus sound-effects, rifle explosions and Dan Rather news briefs. Just kidding! It’s one big long boring hum. I am glad that Mattin exists and has been making music in so many thoughtful and strange ways over the years, but this project reads like the aural equivalent of a couple dudes setting up a bunch of mirrors and then jerking off in front of them, so enamored and impressed by the various angles of their own bodies as they go at it. Except actually that sounds a lot more interesting than the music Regler provides here, and I’m pretty sure The Gerogerigegege have already done that anyway.

Scupper Everything / Drown Me Out 7″ (Ever/Never)
With Ever/Never, I’ve come to expect either straight-forward Aussie-rock thuggery or coincidental rock strangeness, but Scupper are even more of an oddball contribution to the label’s empire: a basic, no-frills indie-rock group. Go figure! I’m told they come from a band called Lynnfield Pioneers who had a Matador contract, but damned if I had ever heard of them (and as is often the case, I am too lazy to fact-check this detail). I certainly believe it, as Scupper have that classic ’90s Matador sound, the sort of band that would open for Yo La Tengo on an east coast tour in 1995 and meet up with J Church for the west coast. Both tracks offer the sort of good-natured, jangly pop-rock you might expect from my description thus far, like you’re high-fiving your best friend because your favorite beer is on tap at the Built To Spill show. None of this particularly resonates with me on a personal level, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t give a nod and a smile if Scupper rode their bikes down my street someday in the future.

Andy Stott Too Man Voices 2xLP (Modern Love)
Does it seem crazy to anyone else that this is Andy Stott’s fifth album release since his Passed Me By game-changer? That’s a lot of material for one guy (and five gallery-quality black-and-white photographs for cover images), and yet he has never slowed into a creative rut, nor fired off any oddball experiments that left us hanging. I would’ve been satisfied with his discography for many more years even if Too Many Voices never appeared, but it’s upon us and I’m finding lots more to love. It’s pretty safe to say Stott has fully stepped away from the asthmatic grind of his low-BPM industrial techno efforts and moved into a lighter, airier place – perhaps he has left the production line and stepped into the grimy, humid restroom, warmed by the grey sunlight that flows through the dusty skylight as he pees. Whatever the case, Too Many Voices sounds like Stott’s infatuation with steamy R&B vocals has only grown, so he takes his toolkit to create the most Sade-like tunes he can, which of course come out all bent, fractured and sticky-black. Tracks like “New Romantic” sound like the exhumed remains of JJ Fad’s studio work, a Frankenstein that bears some resemblance to their beautiful origins but is nonetheless horrifying. Stott has always been a master of combining the sweet and the grotesque and his talents are once again on full display throughout Too Many Voices.

True Sons Of Thunder Spoonful Of Seedy Dudes LP (Jeth-Row)
True Sons Of Thunder are the current champs of blown-out Memphis garage-punk, and while Spoonful Of Seedy Dudes came and went back in 2011, Jeth-Row are offering up a fresh new pressing now. I missed it the first time around, and can understand why a rabid little fanbase has developed, as the ‘Sons take the standard garage-rock template and drop a nuclear bomb on it. The first few songs are pretty raging, fast-moving punk tunes, but with the addition of what sounds like a jet engine running at full blast behind the band. It can’t be an additional guitar, unless it’s borrowed from Hijokaidan, right? Unlike so many no-fi garage-rockers, True Sons Of Thunder seem to be having a fantastic time, as exuberant and juvenile as their drunkest fans in the audience. It’s a style that could use some new life, that’s for sure, and True Sons Of Thunder clearly attacked it with the fervor of the first Sightings album while maintaining their ex-Oblivians roots. Guess I better find out what else they’ve been up to over the past five years!

Vaaska Futuro Primitivo 7″ (Beach Impediment)
Ever since first encountering Vaaska, I’ve appreciated their dedication to skeletons doing punk things, and I think they may have outdone themselves here: the spiky skele-punk on this cover is not only punctured by nearly a dozen sharp blades, it’s vomiting a pile of chains. Shanté, you stay! I’ve always thought Vaaska were a good-if-forgettable entry in today’s hardcore canon, but for whatever reason the songs on Futuro Primitivo are hitting me particularly hard. “Descontrol” is a tough track to deny – it has the tightness of Impalers (and the heaviness too) with a booming righteousness that makes a strong case for all these shit-fi-on-purpose groups to consider going into a real studio once in a while. There are multiple road-burning guitar solos on here too, occasionally in the same song (just check out the heroics on “Histeria”), and as far as I’m concerned, if you’ve got it, flaunt it. Futuro Primitivo was originally released in Japan for Vaaska’s Japanese tour, and I’m wondering if they just knew they had to step up their game to ride with the big dogs over there? Whatever the case, I’m digging it.

White Lung Paradise LP (Domino Recording Co.)
Like most reasonable people, I know of White Lung as a good Canadian punk band, one that essentially writes the same song a dozen times over, but theirs is a decent song, like a melodic-punk Wipers with working knowledge of the Deranged catalog. I know they’ve gotten some indie-crossover dap over the last couple years, but I still wasn’t prepared for the audacity of Paradise, a “going for it” album that is at once both overwhelmingly catchy and outrageous. Only in 2016 could such an album be engineered: imagine Good Riddance’s most emotional songs (but played with a gallop instead of a Fat Wreck Chords diddle-beat) as performed by My Chemical Romance for a small stadium of teenagers where you had to scan an H&M coupon to enter the venue as part of some social marketing promotion. All I hear is sweet commercial synergy for today’s enlightened youth, where feminism finally enters the Warped Tour (Vans Half-Cab Doritos surf stage) and the change is irreversible. And I’m not scared to say I love it! It has the same shock as when you first heard Cold Cave’s Cherish The Light Years and realized their aspirations didn’t end at a limited cassette on What’s Your Rupture?, but rather to re-create teenage angst for a new millennium, even if the performers themselves were ironically the one thing modern teenagers wish they were (which is to be teenaged in the ’90s). Paradise is a bold, brazen sell-out record and it’s stunning me in so many ways; the most stunning of all being that I can’t stop listening to it.

Youth Code Commitment To Complications LP (Dais)
America’s preeminent EBM duo Youth Code return with their second full-length album care of the always dependable Dais label. Any idea that Youth Code were a brief stop on the trend-train for its members has to be completely extinguished by now, as Commitment To Complications feels about as fully-realized and dedicated as any aggro industrial-wave group can be in 2016. Whereas their debut was explosive by nature, stuffed with samples and harsh sounds befitting the most jagged and unfriendly KMFDM and Skinny Puppy EPs, Commitment To Complications tones down the sonic violence for a more studied approach to their craft. Produced by Rhys Fulber (he of stylistic pioneers Front Line Assembly), it is clear that Youth Code were aiming for authenticity not only in approach and attitude but in every considerable sonic touch, from the gating on a snare drum to the precision of a rubbery synth arpeggio. For what I can tell, they totally nail it, moving from menacing aggression to gothy high-drama with ease, the hoarse shouted vocals of both members as suitable as slightly-baggy black PVC pants with neon green piping. With music such as this, it can be great to just quickly toss it off in a fit of amateurish rage, but it can be even more rewarding to really study one’s craft and aim for a genre masterpiece, which is clearly how Youth Code intend to proceed.

Reviews – May 2016

Félicia Atkinson & Jefre Cantu-Ledesma Comme Un Seul Narcisse LP (Shelter Press)
Merely typing out the names of these two artists was all it took for me to feel slightly more sophisticated, but the sounds they’ve captured really push that sense of avant-luxurious listening over the top. Comme Un Seul Narcisse is an album as curious as it is gorgeous, as if the listener is privy to various illicit affairs, discreet poisonings, pretentious coffee brewings and HVAC malfunctions through a poorly-insulated wall, straining to get the full picture but never quite grasping it. I’m not sure who is doing what (nor am I interested to find out – this is a record that succeeds on mystery), but one of them plays tasteful little phrases on the piano while the other chews gum, tidies up the recycling bin, smokes and feeds the cat, each motion delicately rendered and mixed as though you are the third invisible member of their trio. Graham Lambkin’s recent works with Michael Pisaro are a close reference, but even with similar general descriptions, both pairs create beautiful and evocative worlds all their own… Comme Un Seul Narcisse comes with perhaps a bit more congruity throughout (to which I don’t prescribe a value judgment). Whatever the case regarding the many questions posed by Atkinson and Cantu-Ledesma, their work together has subtly enriched my life, and I thank them for it.

Bloody Show Root Nerve 12″ (Heel Turn)
Bloody Show are the latest raucous garage-rock act out of Columbus Ohio, a city which clearly has no short supply of such sounds. There’s no lyric sheet to verify, but song titles like “American Pimp”, “Bell Hooks” and “Magic Negro”, particularly with the cover image of a man holding a sign that says “YOU BETTER KILL ALL BLACKS”, will grab anyone’s attention; thankfully it seems as though Bloody Show are taking an aggressive stance against stereotypes and racial injustice, either that or this is the first white-power band to be fronted by a black man (I suppose stranger things have happened). Musically, they carry that rage into a set of fairly traditional garage-punk tunes (including a Pere Ubu cover), leaning further toward the garage end of things (ample guitar soloing and head-bobbing rhythms, to be sure) than punk. Bandleader Jah Nada shouts and screams his way through, somewhere between Rob Tyner, Larry May of Candy Snatchers and Bim Thomas. Nada sounds inspired, but ultimately the lo-fi recording and basic songwriting relegate Bloody Show to opening band status; good, but I find myself waiting around for someone better to show up. Who knows what Bloody Show might put together next though, as the inspiration is clearly there, they just need to properly translate their attitude onto vinyl.

Bruce Steals 12″ (Hessle Audio)
That’s me screaming “BRUCE!” at the top of my lungs, not to celebrate any handsomely-aged rocker but the mysterious British(?) producer, as his new EP Steals is my favorite thus far. The title track is the show-stopper here, just an utterly invigorating cut that has me pumping my first, dislocating my hips and simply losing myself in its sumptuousness. The track orbits around an infectious stutter-step groove, but it sounds as though Bruce hired an octopus to offer live mixing – fades go up and out, static bursts shock the track out of order, the mute button is generously smacked, and there’s even the occasional DJ Premier-esque running-back. I could listen to Bruce coax this beat down various colorful paths for days, but I am willing to accept the six-and-a-half minutes he gives us here. On those rare occasions when I flip the record, I hear “Relevant Again”, a slow grinder that floats past Andy Stott and Actress but exists in a distinctly Hessle Audible galaxy – I need to spend more time with this one to be sure. Finisher “Petal Pluck” is another slow-motion nipple-tweak, with a melodic lead that plays hide-and-seek among so many infrared blips and airy crackles. Fantastic stuff, and currently neck-and-neck with DJ Fett Burger’s Burger Trip for my favorite EP of 2016 thus far.

Bummers Eve Bummers Eve LP (Almost Ready)
Goofball Cincinnati punks Bummers Eve continue onward from last year’s Almost Ready single to this year’s Almost Ready album. In case you were low on songs about crying into your burrito because you got dumped and ran out of weed while skateboarding to the bong shop, Bummers Eve are here to replenish your supply. They come equipped with a full range of superfluous hipster-punk problems here, all delivered with a spaced-out indie-punk sound and vocals processed through some slightly off-tune and continuous phaser effect, a choice that only Bummers Eve can explain. Very sophomoric, silly stuff, in the spirit of Wax Museums and Tampoffs or essentially any of the thousands of pizza-face white-guy punk bands that celebrate their dorkiness rather than shy away from it. My quota for this sort of thing has long since been met, and yet Bummers Eve doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it should (a similar sensation I note while listening to Sloppy Seconds’ Destroyed). So good for them, and good for me too, I suppose.

Chaos U.K. Shit Man Fucker! 7″ (540)
Here are two entities without the slightest need to prove their punk cred to anyone, the legendary (and seemingly unkillable) Chaos U.K. and Timmy Hefner’s 540 Records label. Might as well team up for a 7″ EP of new material in that case, this being the 57th 540 release and quite nearly the 57th Chaos U.K. release. I’ll admit to not being an expert in the nuances and stylistic shifts of Chaos U.K.’s decades-long career, but it sounds to me as though Shit Man Fucker! could’ve been written anytime after 1982 and recorded anytime after 1992, with blazing hard-rock riffs, crunchy guitars, belligerent vocals and samples to open each side. They certainly haven’t gotten any softer, and whatever lack of talent they brandished in 1982 is replaced with skillful performance now – just listen to those cascading snare-rolls and rollicking changes and tell me these guys haven’t learned a thing or two along the way, even if by accident. I have no doubt that right now, somewhere in south-eastern Albuquerque, there is a new band calling themselves Shit Man Fucker! and recording their debut SPHC 7″, as Chaos U.K.’s global influence continues to spread like the flap of a butterfly’s wings.

Charcoal Owls Kid Brother 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
Surprisingly musical addition to the I Dischi Del Barone family here, care of British duo Charcoal Owls. I first put on “Kid Brother” and thought it sounded like a particularly barely-awake sunrise from Arab Strap with the Pheromoans guy on vocals. Did a little research and it turns out it actually is the guy from the Pheromoans on vocals, Mr. Russell Walker himself, following his sentences wherever they lead him, and often sounding like he is reading his lyrics from a poorly-scribbed sheet, pausing to make sure he’s reading each word correctly. “The Hound Of Hounslow” is less musical – no melodic stringed-instruments in sight, just high-pitched hovering tones and the rustle of a tape-recorder tucked away in someone’s sport-coat pocket as Walker speaks slower and with even less confidence. Which is to say, if you want a copy of this 7″ you’ll have to search elsewhere as I plan on keeping mine.

Essaie Pas Demain Est Une Autre Nuit LP (DFA)
Marie Davidson is half of Montréal’s Essaie Pas, and I regret not reviewing her solo album from last year, as it was a standout in the crowded field of hardware-centric electro-pop. Essaie Pas has Davidson teamed with a sharp-dressed man named Pierre Guerineau (as if you couldn’t tell he was sharp-dressed by that name alone), and together they offer an addicting suite of high-class synth-wave with Demain Est Une Autre Nuit. They simply have a knack for the most sumptuous, dare-I-say authentic synth sounds, which is paired with the lean, infectious drum programming by which DFA has built their empire, and the combination is endlessly repeatable and enjoyable for anyone with even a passing interest in sexy electro-pop. Throughout the album, I’m reminded of the guitar-absent tracks on the great Bippp compilation, in just how damn French Essaie Pas sound – I swear, I was eating a sandwich which listening to “Retox” and it instantly turned my bread into pain. Both Davidson and Guerineau provide vocals, all in French, and almost entirely spoken, with a complex sense of intrigue, boredom and mild disgust, the way only the French (or French-Canadian, apparently) can do it. Conseillé!

Foster Care Sterilization LP (Total Punk)
Foster Care are one of the latest Total Punk signees to end up with an album deal, and while I was previously unfamiliar with this NY group, Sterilization proves that the label’s investment was justified. They play a rapid-fire, breathless form of garage-punk, indebted to classic hardcore-punk riffing and regional pre-hardcore punk rock attitudes, and while I can’t rightly pick out any single song in this pile of speedy and frantic lines, I’m not complaining. At times, I’m reminded of the best that Atlanta’s had to offer in the prior decade, like the most ferocious Carbonas song cut in half and sped up a touch, and who wouldn’t want that? Kinda similar to Predator as well (if we want to keep comparisons within the family), in the way that Foster Care careen through songs in a way that would make most any other punk band crash into a jumbled mess, but they come away unscathed, like when you watch a stage-diver fall directly onto his crown only to get up and start bopping along instantly as if he didn’t just fracture his spine. Foster Care’s hi-hat is almost always open, the vocalist spits through a guitar-amped mic and Total Punk once again delivers on their bold promise.

Golden Teacher Raveinstigator / Divine 12″ (Sounds Of The Universe)
More Golden Teacher is always a good thing, and this limited (with individually hand-painted sleeves) 12″ single couldn’t be passed up. After witnessing them live (one of my live-music highlights of 2014), I’m always struck by how stripped-down their recordings are. This is a group of six busy people, yet their recordings are clearly the work of less than a dozen hands. It’s merely an observation and not a complaint, as a track like “Raveinstigator” is a welcome addition to my diet – riding a simple 100-ish BPM rhythm and some funky synth stabs, vocalist Cassie Ojay is truly the Raveinstigator herself, toasting her commands as though dancing was both pleasure and punishment. Flip it for “Divine”, an Alexander Robotnick-styled groove with the other ‘Teacher vocalist Charles Lavenac given the green light to spin his tale. He sounds like the guy from Flash & The Pan’s “Walking In The Rain”, as if that man was transported to the shady side of Shakedown Street, hustling while trying not to be hustled himself. It’s rare that an electronic-based dance group has one great vocalist, but Golden Teacher have two!

Heron Oblivion Heron Oblivion LP (Sub Pop)
Modern psych-heads were tripping without the need for acid when they discovered the existence of Heron Oblivion, a new-ish San Fran group featuring members of Comets On Fire alongside Meg Baird. If you’re at all familiar with both entities, you can see how a combination of Comets’ heat and Baird’s cool would be so tantalizing, and I think it’s safe to say they established themselves appropriately on this self-titled debut. Baird’s voice will forever be the commanding presence of any project that utilizes it, and that is certainly the case here – while the guitars smolder and occasionally soar, Baird pierces through it like a beam of light through a dirty window, and it’s easy to get lost in it. I’m actually a little surprised at how restrained the rest of the group is – no one would doubt the abilities of Noel Harmonson and Ethan Miller, but they only hint at their overblown, High Rise-inspired tastes here. Rather, Heron Oblivion is filled with slow-to-moderate rock in the classic psychedelic fashion, starting at Fairport Convention and The Incredible String Band and weaving through what must be dozens of tasty Acid Archives sounds my ears are too inexperienced to catch. The biggest curve is “Faro”, which moves towards a ’90s alt-rock atmosphere and is quite stunning because of it, the sort of track I’d perk up at in-between Cranberries and Collective Soul replays. I assume anyone in close proximity to good weed and a strokeable beard has already nagged a copy, so this one goes out to the curious few, to which I say: proceed.

Inhalants Deep Florida LP (L.I.E.S.)
It’s rare that I encounter an album of any genre that opens with such a striking motif as Deep Florida: right off the bat, Inhalants drop “Chasing The Dream”, a track of what seems to be infinite dirt bikes revving over endless dirt hills. In listening, I feel as though I’m instantly transported to the concept of “Deep Florida”, the netherworld of the South that is far from glistening beaches and tourist resorts, just inhospitable temperatures and bloodthirsty insects and the creation of one’s own fun through the destruction of goods and property. I could honestly listen to that track all day and feel content, but there’s a whole album that follows, and it seems as though the Inhalants boys have been paying close attention to the solo work of label-head Ron Morelli, as this is an album full of hardwired bleeps, unfriendly random-tone-generators and gritty textures. The many ways a car sounds when it isn’t working properly can be fascinating, and they share many similarities with tracks on Deep Florida, as if the synths used here had busted timing belts or faulty alternators. By the time “Deep Florida” hits, Inhalants seem finally ready to move to the dance-floor, and while I enjoy all of their night moves, I still can’t get over how great those dirt bikes sound.

Innsyter Poison Life LP (L.A. Club Resource)
Innsyter is a Brazilian producer by the name of Fernando Seixlack, and following a few odds n’ Soundcloud sods, the venerable L.A. Club Resource offers forward his debut album, Poison Life. I hate to be so geographically prejudiced, but you know how Brazilian thrash and black-metal groups often seem unhinged and uncontrollable in a way North American (and European) bands simply can’t? I’m kind of picking up a similar feel here with Innsyter, who certainly treads in the same crustily-analog techno rhythms of much of the L.I.E.S. label and surrounding entities, but Poison Life is particularly filthy. I’m not talking lyrical or aesthetic content (there doesn’t appear to be any of either), so much as actual sounds – each of Innsyter’s boxes sounds so corroded and worn down, like years of oily thumbs have rubbed off all lettering, leaving only stained rubber buttons and oxidized metal. Even the sound in-between beats is thick with humidity, as if everything is on the verge of permanent malfunction: just check the bubbly misery of “Cut Four” (it’s the third track, of course), it sounds as if Innsyter was pleading with a pile of old wires and electrical boxes to produce some sort of techno and somehow got drunk enough to make it happen. I’ll admit, there’s an even more killer mix he did that features some sort of Jonathan Davis vocalizing a few minutes in (please tell me that’s Seixlack himself), and while I anticipate more insanity to come, Poison Life is a disgusting round of shots in its own right.

Jealousy Paid For It LP (Moniker)
Can’t believe it’s been five years since the last Jealousy album, but he’s back with a new suite of violent psychedelic rock. While he hasn’t particularly been on my mind much, the solo work of CCR Headcleaner’s Mark Treise was great in 2011 and it’s even better now. As Jealousy, he maps out simple motorik grooves and stoner-friendly two-note bass melodies and proceeds to torch the whole thing with at least five vocal tracks per song (each with varying levels of reverb and sobriety) and what could just as well be vintage synths as imitation Fenders coasting through on a wave of effects in a drone-y din. I read that legendary freak Don Bolles contributed drums to some of these tracks, and I can’t say I’m surprised that these guys would pal around together, two drug-friendly Californians with sharp taste in underground music and a willingness to push beyond normal boundaries. Paid For It is dubby yet disturbed, with plenty of open space but never the slightest sensation of boredom (at least for my two willing ears). At Paid For It‘s best, I’m hearing a three-way Suicide / Loop / Guru Guru sound-clash, with vocals that often sound like a mumbly Beverly Hills rich kid who is simultaneously having the best trip of his life (to be followed by three days of dark sober depression), and this is an album that is almost always at its best.

K-9 Sniffies Master’s Touch LP (Urinal Cake)
After bestowing Protomartyr upon the world, Urinal Cake released a 7″ by a band called K-9 Sniffies a few years ago, to significantly less fanfare, but I was a believer. It seems as though K-9 Sniffies stuck it out long enough to write enough songs for an album, and voila, here’s Master’s Touch. I remember a level of thick garage-y distortion on that single that is absent here, as K-9 Sniffies play it out like some of the more notable Midwestern post-punky garage-rock groups instead, somewhere between the belligerent jangle of Tyvek and the strained basement psychedelia of Puffy Areolas. At their mildest, I’m reminded of the scuzziest Roach Clip tunes, but mostly K-9 Sniffies has me thinking of the less-catchy tunes on any given Tyvek album, the ones that sort of spread themselves out in-between the punchy hits. Not bad by any means, just the kind of record that slowly fades into the background rather than demanding one’s full attention, which is usually what you wanna do with this sort of music. That said, I appreciate the “random photo collage of band members and friends standing around” art on the back cover (from Suicidal Tendencies to any given Beer City Records 7″ this style never gets old), and maybe they just wanna hang out and play their tunes without giving much thought as to whether or not you or I want to pay attention, a decision they have every right to make.

Landlords Fitzgerald’s Paris LP (Feel It)
One thing that’s easy to take for granted in 2016 is the ease of communication within any underground community – socialist vegan basket-weavers in Portland, ME can share templates and techniques with like-minded folks in Omaha and Osaka with but a few clicks of the mouse. This wasn’t the case in 1983, when hardcore-punk was coming up in smaller suburban areas while coming down in larger metropolitan areas, and is presumably partly to blame for the delayed release of Charlottesville, VA’s Landords’ debut album, Fitzgerald’s Paris, some thirty-plus years after it was recorded. If the liner flyers are accurate, Landlords were relegated to gigs at Muldowney’s Pub, which is a shame for fans of American hardcore that weren’t in the immediate area, as Fitzgerald’s Paris displays a talented, confident hardcore band with all the trappings for success (besides their geographic isolation). At their meanest, I’m reminded of early Corrosion Of Conformity, but they’re usually a bit more tuneful and frantic, calling to mind Dayglo Abortions, Zero Boys, Tar Babies, or even the also recently-reissued Sand In The Face. Landlords would rip a guitar solo along a speedy Gang Green groove, goofy in one song and dead serious in the next, celebrating the ’70s rock records they loved as kids by playing similar songs, just five times as fast. The liner notes are a touching recollection of the group, and while I question the necessity of certain forms of hardcore archaeology, this was a T-Rex femur bone among so many trilobites.

Mary Lattimore At The Dam LP (Ghostly International)
Mary Lattimore is one of Philadelphia’s refined treasures, lugging her big-ass harp up and down trash-laden concrete stairs to dazzle quiet audiences for years now. While she’s often paired by the synth-based explorations of Jeff Zeigler, At The Dam is a solo outing, her first for the electro-centric Ghostly, and it’s a delightful experience. While frequently processed, surely in some ways I haven’t picked up, it’s a spare and delicate album, Lattimore’s harp twinkling in and out of dream sequences both pleasant and foreboding. If there was ever any doubt toward the versatility and emotional scope of the harp, Lattimore frees it from those story-book chains, wandering in what seems to be loosely-structured gardens, both uplifting and pensive. I swear I’m even hearing a little Jack Rose in “The Quiet At Night” the way she speaks through her fingers, but that could just be the spiritual Fishtown connection at play. Regardless, I am happy to wander through At The Dam from afternoon through evening and am confident you might feel the same.

Mosquitoes Mosquitoes 7″ (no label)
Supposing I live to be one hundred, I like to think that on my deathbed in 2081, if someone were to hand me a 7″ single and say, “hey, check this out, it’s limited to 100, self-released and is kinda no-wavey” I’d still light up like a child catching a Mickey Mantle home run. I certainly was glad to check out this one from the UK’s Mosquitoes, a bass / drums / guitar trio that play somewhere between DNA de-tuning their instruments before practice or Sightings with the PA system and all their effects turned off. The a-side’s “Keep Breathing” has that nervous Sightings bass transmission going, that’s for sure, while the other two squabble like Menstruation Sisters. The b-side’s “Life, End Of” follows an uncomfortable jazz dance on the bass while the guitar squeaks in and out and the vocalist mutters something about something, calling to mind some sort of informal interlude produced by a Mars / US Maple collaboration. Completely inessential and wonderful record right here.

Neutral Neutral LP (Omlott)
Don’t skip past this review on account of the band’s simple moniker – without a doubt, this’ll be one of my favorite records of the year! Neutral are a Swedish duo consisting of Sofie Herner and Dan Johansson, and they play an utterly enticing form of glacial acid-rock, full of bent corners, rippling electronics and primitive riffs. I hesitate to even classify Neutral as “rock”, in the way that their music seems to shift like clouds, at times slowly wafting forward and at others remaining an expansive grey blanket that lacks both beginning and end. They’ll build a simmering riff on bass or guitar (or both), and trickle little snaps and deviations throughout, as if Helm was lurking somewhere beneath the mixing desk. The use of Sabbath-style riffs for non-metal elevation reminds me of the wonderful Them, Themselves Or They single from maybe a decade ago, but Neutral put their own spin on it entirely, both focused and willing to indulge their least-musical ideas at length. I’m totally captivated (and the slick heavy gatefold sleeve seals the deal) and think that you might be too, lest we need to have a talk.

Puff Pieces Bland In DC LP (Lovitt)
Most bands, regardless of style, would be downright ashamed to represent themselves with the cover art of Bland In DC: a haphazard band name, album title and nerdy dragon dashed together in the time spent waiting for your check after you’ve finished eating. Puff Pieces clearly relish the unattractive simplicity, though, as it is takes hold of their music as well – they play supremely economical post-punk songs with zero flair or musical flourishes, like an Erase Errata record stripped to its bones. You can dance to mostly all of these songs, as held in place by drummer Amanda Huron’s Gang Of Four rhythms and colored by the muted picking of Justin Moyer (guitar) and Mike Andre (bass), but that seems to be more of a rhythmic by-product than any particular intention. Thinking of DC, I’m reminded of Et At It’s quiet minimalism and The Crainium’s caffeinated neurosis, except that Puff Pieces inject it with a proud nerdiness (Andre’s voice often sounds as though he’s passing the time waiting for a janitor to release him from the locker in which he was stuffed) and a DC-specific radar, what with its rapid-fire gentrification and violent lack of parity. The music of Bland In DC has me reminiscing over 2003 but the content within is proudly present-day.

Smiles Smiles 7″ (Melters)
I am of the opinion that even when San Francisco is fully transformed into a $5,000 / sq ft virtual-reality Google document a few years from now, there will still somehow be bands playing sunshine-y, feel-good indie-pop within its borders, as if they could still get a vegan cupcake for under eight dollars and kiss a sweetheart outside Gilman. Smiles are one of these bands, and they’re pretty cool – they remind me of some sort of chummy mix of J Church and Weezer (all eras combined), had those forces combined over a love of Big Star for a one-hit 120 Minutes video. There are four tracks here, and they’re all semi-hits, sung with a breathy early-Corgan sigh and peppered with hot guitar licks that knowingly wink at anyone willing to make eye contact. All of the songs appear to be about heartbreak, but the band is called Smiles after all, so you can count on them being there to dry the tears on your pillow and drag you to that new vintage-pinball-themed bar where you may meet the perfect rebound.

Snorre Magnar Solberg No-No 3 12″ (Club No-No)
Once I became infatuated with DJ Fett Burger, I had to seek out other records within that Norwegian techno orbit, like DJ Sotofett and the Club No-No posse, of which Snorre Magnar Solberg seems to belong. I recent snagged a Club No-No 12″ from 2014 and was bewildered by its hazy improvised techno, so it didn’t take long for me to scoop this new one either (I am nothing if not an efficient vinyl consumer). No-No 3 goes deep down the rabbit-hole, two lengthy excursions that change with such subtlety that I can’t quite tell if it’s the music or my brain that has altered these percussive workouts. The a-side teams Solberg with Torstein Mills for an acidic percussion workout, the sort of track that makes clocks spin backward. Solberg is joined by Tom Ace for production duties on the b-side (“No-No 3 B” as it’s lovingly titled), and it bears a hefty bass thump and pulsing rhythm (both of which the a-side lacked) but seems just as frozen in time as “No-No 3 A”, building slower than I knew human fingers were capable of turning knobs. Absolutely no frills, just patient extensions of techno’s genetic building blocks, the sort of thing someone might describe as “for the heads only”, but I’m no head, and yet here I am, loving it.

Theologian / Ancient Methods La Saignée 12″ (Metaphysik)
Very cool split 12″ EP here from a somewhat unlikely pairing, New York’s long-running dark-ambient project Theologian and German techno purist Ancient Methods. I had previously been unfamiliar with Theologian (shame on me, seeing as his Bandcamp is overstuffed with releases dating as far back as 1997), and his track here is a soothing wash in the river Styx, meditating past dead souls through mournful drones, occasional percussive plucking and string accompaniment. Sharp! It’s Ancient Methods that steal the show though, opening with one of the most distinct techno cuts I’ve heard this year (or in a few), “A German Love”. It’s a frantic piece of artillery that splits the difference between The Prodigy and Perc while an American man tells a frightening first-date story, a tale that has me kind of hating him while also longing for the out-of-control horror he relates. Both cinematic and dance-floor crushing, no doubt. Ancient Methods follows that with “Built On Scars”, which smacks like Karenn or Huren, industrial-techno without the contemporary “noise guy” feel, just jackhammering percussion and grey-scale steam blasts that would make Haus Arafna blush. Arrive for the wintry mix of Theologian and stay for the brutal triumph of Ancient Methods.

Tommy T & The Classical Mishaps I Hate Tommy T 7″ (Cool Death)
I know what you’re thinking: could it be the return of Tommy Tutone? Nope, this is a different Tommy T, fronting his Australian new-wave synth-punk group in an overly stylized retro-punk fashion. The a-side features two groovy, wonky stabs at Dangerhouse greatness, as if these folks stared at images of Black Randy and the Screamers logo to will their sound into being. The vocalist (Tommy T himself of course) has this overly-affected, nasally sneer that is almost too over-the-top to take seriously, but I suppose this band is intentionally riding the seriousness line anyway. This becomes particularly clear with b-side title-track “I Hate Tommy T”. It starts with a sad descending intro and Tommy T sobbing through his angular sunglasses before eventually cracking into a spastic jam you’d expect out of Downtown Boys (yes, there’s sax), just with a Lumpy-esque vocalist repeating nonsense. They even got Geza X to master it, and I have to wonder what that is like, receiving such a request on a piece of music quite similar to what you yourself had made some 35 years earlier. If you ever stop to think about it, punk is really old now.

TV Freaks Bad Luck Charms LP (Deranged)
Third album here from Hamilton, ONT’s TV Freaks, a band who I’ve always felt were unfairly limited by their classic punk-referencing band name. You might be expecting them to be working with a familiar Bloodstains-homage sound, and maybe they did to start, but Bad Luck Charms is a solid album that never feels overly same-y (an all-too-common pitfall). Rather, they run through neurotic slow-punk (the menacing “Forget You” that opens the b-side in particular), classic garage scorchers, hardcore blasts and variations on these themes throughout, all while sounding like the same band playing on the same album. Vocalist David O’Connor often reminds me of the great Tony Erba on here, particularly on the more manic numbers, and for the difficult task of writing what’s gotta be at least their third dozen punk songs, TV Freaks don’t overdo themselves by complicating their music or moving away from basic punk aesthetics (even if I swear I picked up a slight Hüsker Dü vibe on at least one track). And after all, maybe their band name is legit, and these guys have lost their minds since Netflix started streaming in Canada.

Whitney Houston’s Crypt Whitney Houston’s Crypt 7″ (Vacant Valley)
Saw this band name, and I don’t know, it feels a little “too soon” for me, what do you think? Perhaps the Australian mindset of this quintet makes it excusable, as their lumbering, no-wave-indebted post-punk has no relation to any sort of pop diva. These three tracks all swing slowly, instantly calling to mind Public Image Ltd. due to the pendulous bass grooves and sticky guitar lines that tickle the surface. I’m also reminded of Teenage Jesus at their most infantile or Arab On Radar before they learned dance-punk beats, although this is all kind of shot to hell because the vocals here range from atonal black-metal screeching to caterwauling meltdowns. Whatever lyrics there are seem to be put aside in favor of full-on screaming, an unexpected approach that I have yet to fully decide on. I mean, if you’re going to call a song “Michael Hotchips” I’d love to know exactly what you’re saying that’s got you so stressed! Perhaps it’s fitting that a band called Whitney Houston’s Crypt leaves me with unanswered questions and a sense that I wouldn’t want to know the answers anyway.