Reviews – March 2015

Ajax Ajax 7″ (Katorga Works)
The psychedelic, Brain Records-esque cover art had me concerned that Ajax might traverse topographic oceans on this new 7″, but have no fear, they’re as raging and unapologetically hardcore as ever, this time even offering a rousing hardcore “intro” to kick it off. They go with a mid-paced d-beat for many of these tracks, and with their thick, classically American riffs and Choke’d-out vocals, it’s scientifically impossible to go wrong. Nice to see them standing in front of a wall on the back cover too (theirs is tagged with graffiti – nice choice), and I can’t help but wonder which one of these young gentlemen is responsible for that gruff bark, as none of them have the look of partial insanity in their eyes… there’s no obvious Raybeez in this lineup, you know? Kinda wish there was an Ajax LP, as both 7″s flow together quite nicely (and don’t particularly differ in sound or style), but maybe one of those is forthcoming. There are simply too many hardcore labels out there for an Ajax album to not be in the works, right?

Arthur Dreams And Images LP (Light In The Attic)
I could drop my ice cream cone, skin my knee and crack my cell phone in the same fluid motion and I’d still be less annoyed than I am sitting here right now, pondering the existence of this reissue of Arthur’s Dreams And Images album. Is this where we are as an alternative musical culture? Have the “cratediggers” and “vinyl junkies” won, where obscurity, nostalgia and vinyl gram-weight outweigh, you know, the actual music? This record is “psych-folk” from a guy named Arthur, originally released in 1968, and it’s basically the most fragile, boring, who-cares form of music I could imagine, now pressed in an impressive gatefold with faithfully restored art and lyrics (and a limited run on colored vinyl, as if I wasn’t already dry heaving). Seriously, who is this for? The New York Times clickbait “vinyl is back” Fleetwood Mac Rumours crowd doesn’t even want to hear music as dated, fragile and cloying as this, do they? If I think of the economic and natural resources wasted in the production of this reissue, I can almost feel the same pain and suffering poor Arthur must’ve been going through when he wrote the songs on this album. But you know what? Fuck him.

The Band In Heaven The Boys Of Summer Of Sam / I Know You Know 7″ (Hozac)
Two quick and painless songs here from The Band In Heaven, whose West Palm Beach, FL locale probably isn’t far off from that great white cloud in the sky. “The Boys Of The Summer Of Sam” has an appropriately nihilistic slant toward otherwise innocuous reverb-drenched garage-rock, as if someone swapped out a Pebbles comp for a Spacemen 3 record right as everyone crossed the threshold from sober to faded. Not bad! “I Know You Know” slows the pace considerably, riding an acoustic guitar downhill toward impending doom, unintentionally recalling Alice In Chains unplugged while also satisfying today’s need for hazy effects on every instrument (including the vocals, of course). Can’t say I flipped my lid for any of this, but any of you readers with a shag-carpeted den, Blackout Fest ticket stubs and blacklight posters surrounding your slightly-leaning Expedit might want to locate a copy.

Black Sites Unit 2669 12″ (Pan)
From the beautiful sleeve design to the fact that Black Sites is a Helena Hauff collaboration, this record had my name written all over it. I’ve been meaning to check out Black Sites for a little bit now (the aforementioned Hauff paired with some guy named “F#x”), and Unit 2669 is a welcome addition to my “experimental acid techno” crate. “Unit 2669″ maintains a singular, chiming percussive loop from start to finish, lassoing it onto a particularly wet acid surge and riding a meaty kick, resulting in a paradoxical sensation of stasis and intense energy – like moving so fast it feels like you’re standing still. “MOCKBA” has me imagining Dead Machines remixing Tod Dockstader (alien bleeps and bloops dumped into the sewer) before settling into a looping groove that grows in size and weight, almost entering Ben Frost’s orbit but maintaining an analog grit, as if the room is lit only by the little red “power” lights on the hulking antique synths used in the creation of this music. I think I might prefer Hauff’s solo material, just for its undiluted acid purity, but Black Sites is mighty dope too. We all probably could’ve guessed that.

Cages Vivipary LP (Black Dots)
When I read “avant-garde post-noise” in the press-sheet and “member of Gas Chamber / Dead Language” online, I naturally assumed this was the inevitable Swans-inspired side-project (Swans t-shirts have given Void a run for their money at hardcore shows over the past couple years), but that couldn’t be further from the minimal weirdness of Cages. I honestly have no idea why anyone would want to bother making music like this, so I guess I’m strangely attracted to it – over the course of six tracks, you get brittle, high-pitched guitar drone / string-pluckery with soaring, sometimes-wordless vocals akin to either Björk or Amy Lee (of Evanescence, of course). Vocalist Nola Ann Ranallo will stretch out a chant while a single melodically-unrelated tone hovers around her, and if there is any person out there that truly feels captivated by listening to music like this, I’d like to meet them. Not a very likeable final product – it gives me the same sensation as an art exhibit that is just big pictures of corpses for no apparent reason, but hey, we’re all weirdos and we’ve all got to do our thing.

Cherie Cherie C’mon Let’s Share 12″ (Gilgongo)
Here’s some more Phoenix-based music care of the unpredictable Gilgongo label, this time coming from a pleasant group named Cherie Cherie. They play a form of retro-influenced indie-pop, kinda close to Dum Dum Girls – perhaps the slower, ballad-y end of Dum Dum Girls’ more recent output, but with the humble, fuzzy sound quality of their earliest records. They’ve got both the sound and vibe down, utilizing public-domain garage riffs to fine results, hand-delivered with a smooth, vulnerable-yet-strong vocal. I can’t rightly say that C’mon Let’s Share stands out in any particular way, but they’ve got a nice thing going, and maybe if I could understand the lyrics on the next record (understanding the words is kind of key for me to enjoy guitar pop like this) I might find myself humming along even after the record is over.

Coma In Algiers Happy Forever LP (A Wicked Company)
Happy Forever has a big mess of colorful squiggles for a cover, no text or anything, and it’s the sort of incoherent blob that says “nothing to notice here, just flip on past, please.” If you actually pull it out and flip it over, though, you might be intrigued by the name “Coma In Algiers” and the photograph of six men, varying wildly in size and shape, all staring into the camera like they just realized they’re facing jail-time for whatever misdemeanor they committed. If that sucks you in and you listen to the record, you’re in for a treat, as this is some unnerving, satisfyingly nauseous rock music. At times, I’m reminded of Scratch Acid, Mayyors, maybe a tiny hint of Arab On Radar and a touch of that great Psy Ants album from a couple years ago, but it doesn’t feel like a band trying to sound like anyone else so much as one that proudly does their own thing. Lots of guitars playing different parts that all sync up nicely, a gruff vocalist that doesn’t steal the spotlight so much as prowl through it on the hunt for vengeance, and it’s all performed with an indefatigable attitude, like they can’t take a break lest their neighbor come yell at them to stop. I’d venture a guess that maybe they listen to more kraut-rock than noise-rock from the way some of these cyclical grooves play out, but what do I know? Hope to hear more from this strange band soon, and if they need any help with cover art, I am available for consultation.

Constant Mongrel DCM 7″ (R.I.P Society)
Constant Mongrel are so undeniably punk that I always thought it odd they hadn’t released any music on the punkest vinyl format, the 7″, so it’s nice to see that finally take place. They cracked me up with the cover, that’s for sure – from their butchered name to the “email print-out as art” back cover (complete with incorrect track listing), this thing is just the right kind of stupid. Getting to the songs, those are great too – it’s clear that Constant Mongrel are no longer amateurs at their respective instruments, and they’ve started writing songs to reflect that. They still sound like a Happy Squid band from 1981, though, and they put the downer, hazy guitars of their Heavy Breathing album to smart use here. “The Law” might be my favorite, but they’re all great, and I love the stop-start droniness of “New Shapes” too. If you’ve been waiting for another good Australian punk 7″ to come out (assuming you either already own all the Ausmuteants ones or got a little bored with them), the time is now my friend.

Crime Desire Your Power LP (Standards)
Crime Desire’s vocalist Colin Tappe is one of the friendliest dudes in hardcore today, running his own record shop and unabashedly celebrating hardcore (and its many colored vinyl variations) with an infectiousness no one can deny. It was his winning attitude that convinced me to order the first Crime Desire album back in 2006, and while the packaging was lavish, I disliked the music so much that I instantly put it in the sell pile (and you should see some of the records I willingly keep). I hadn’t checked in with them until now, avoiding their alleged Danzig phase (which I’m still kinda curious about), and well, this new album is not the heinous offense I recall from their debut, but it’s not particularly good either. The riffs are pretty generic, going from metallic-crust to crossover-thrash and back, but it sounds more like Demon System 13 than Gloom; more like Crumbsuckers than Cro-Mags. The music’s just not very intimidating or exciting, and Tappe’s vocals fall in this cartoony tough-guy range that I find highly unappealing (he reminds me a lot of the guy from NYHC obscurities Neglect, although I dig that guy, so go figure). I applaud Tappe and his crew for all they do to support hardcore on a daily basis, it truly is inspiring (see if you don’t shed a tear at his perfectly laid-out Uniform Choice pressing-variation display), but I can confidently say I have no interest in hearing them perform it.

Deas String Studies LP (Alter)
Many props to Cameron Deas for his show of restraint in not naming this album Nuts. I never know what to expect from a new Alter release besides a sense of adventurousness (and lack of traditional song structure), and String Studies fits in nicely, an album of severely-treated guitar to the point where I shouldn’t have even said the g-word. Rather, it sounds as if Autechre or Oval were working with one specific acid modulation, and ripped and scraped away at it, twisting knobs wildly and subjecting the wave-form to all sorts of stimulation. At times, it feels like a Robert Hood track disemboweled and splayed open (which are my favorite moments), other times it dances like a flame in a science lab, rapidly cut-up and pushing in any direction. Listening through the whole thing can be a little exhausting, but a track randomly came on shuffle and it was the best thing I heard all day, an endless deluge of poisonous squiggles pouring out of a cracked wall. I don’t know how he avoided it, because Deas really is nuts.

Manni Dee Dreams, Fears & Idols 12″ (Osiris Music UK)
I forget exactly how I stumbled upon Manni Dee (a late night Discogs wormhole, perhaps?), but his name stuck out to me (could it be Lenny Dee’s long lost brother, or Willie Dee’s second cousin?) and damn, this EP is killer! Manni Dee comes correct with the violent swing of British Murder Boys and the IMAX heaviness of Kerridge, like dropping a bowling ball in a half-pipe and watching it wildly roll until injuring someone. These tracks take hard cuts, the sort of moves that would shake any defender off, all while maintaining a dark and sleek sophistication. The last track, Mønic’s remix of “Sister Nobody”, might actually be my favorite though – stripped down to a deadened thud, it feels like Emptyset impersonating the earliest Demdike Stare material. All this with great skinhead/skinbyrd photo-booth pictures on the center stickers means I have made immediate plans to thicken out my Manni Dee collection.

Demdike Stare Testpressing #007 12″ (Modern Love)
I had to call my credit card company and assure them that this is the last of the Demdike Stare Testpressing series, as they were looking to freeze my account due to fiscal irresponsibility. While I’ve enjoyed these records a whole bunch, I’m also slightly relieved that this is no longer one of my monthly bills, and hope Demdike are busy saving their creative energy for another album, not just a DJ mix cassette or soundtrack for a silent film or whatever. Anyway, on to Testpressing #007: if you haven’t already shelled out your cash for this one, you may want to avoid it entirely, as while it’s a cool 12″, it might be the least exciting of the series. “Rathe” whips up some cold snowy wind before settling into its queasy melody and drum n’ bass beat. Cool, but kind of normal, like something I’d expect to hear on Pearson Sound’s Fabriclive mix. Flip it over for “Patchwork” and it’s even more regular, almost slightly outdated – the chopped vocal, juke-y rhythm and general attitude recall Addison Groove or Joy Orbison circa 2012, which in techno years is a lifetime ago. Not saying it’s not good, because it is, it’s just not what I would hope to hear from a Demdike Stare “test pressing” (unlike Testpressing #005, which remains a pinnacle in their catalog). Still, were I to find myself in desperate need of money, I’d probably sell plasma before this one, because I’m deeply disturbed.

Egyptrixx Transfer Of Energy [Feelings Of Power] 2xLP (Halocline Trance)
Once a solid producer of timely post-dubstep club/techno/bass music, Egyptrixx has slowly relinquished his musical aspiration to the dark side. It’s like his light saber went from blue to red, and I personally couldn’t be more delighted, as Transfer of Energy [Feelings of Power] follows his fantastic A/B Til Infinity record deeper into the abyss. This album kinda plays out like that “young people imprisoned in digital touch-screen cubes” episode of Black Mirror – most of these tracks just sound like Terminators swiping pictures on their iPhones, with de-tuned metallic clangs firing at random and various creeping drones doing their best impression of what it sounds like when your memory is wiped. There isn’t an actual beat for four tracks; even the disaffected vocals of “Nyssa” do little to add any sense of physical humanity to the mix. It’s dark in a decidedly modern way, projecting a hopeless sci-fi future where we’re all trapped by our battery-charged techno-gadgets, and I absolutely love it.

Lee Gamble Koch 2xLP (Pan)
The first time I listened to Koch, it was on a portable speaker in my stairway while I was cleaning up, and I don’t know if it was the acoustics or what, but it sounded like a truly alien transmission, the sort of thing that as soon as it’s over you can’t figure out if you imagined it or not. I always thought Burial had “techno as heard from across the street after you left the club” down pat, but this record takes that feeling even further, into “techno as still echoing in your head as you fall asleep after a night dancing” territory. Over two LPs, there’s plenty of foggy ambient distortion, skipping house beats and chugging techno jaunts, all laced with a healthy dose of confusion. Why is there tape-hiss on this clearly digital track? Is that a vocal or a synth? And while the album is a healthy sixteen tracks long, I swear some of the ones that seem to last forever are only three minutes, whereas the Gas-esque “Frame Drag” feels like a quick dip (and it’s more than six minutes long). A whole lot of questions and not many answers are lurking within Koch and I hope to never unravel their mysteries.

Ruth Garbus Joule EP 7″ (OSR Tapes)
If you’re anything like me, you hoped this was an EP of Jewel cover songs sung in French, but alas, we must continue to wait. Nah, Joule is four tracks of humble solo guitar-pop care of Ruth Garbus, her of Happy Birthday and Feathers fame. It certainly fits in with OSR labelmates like Chris Weisman (he also of Happy Birthday?) and Blanche Blanche Blanche, as this is music made from the softest synthetic fleece, the sort of songs that sound like a person holding a mug of coffee under their nose as they inhale and smile. Garbus opts more for mood than pop-catchiness here, double-tracking her soothing vocals over acoustic guitar and some other slight melodic accompaniment (“Kisserine Chalk” spotlights some great whistling). Even though the songs are so slight and easy to miss if you aren’t focusing, I could go for an album’s worth of this stuff, easy. It’s just too cold outside to not want a little of Garbus’s warmth.

Grebenstein Grebenstein 12″ (Downwards)
Downwards is a name you can trust for bleak tribal-industrial techno, and while the name Grebenstein doesn’t ring any bells for me personally, I had a sneaking suspicion of what was in store. Turns out I was right: this is grayest-ever-gray, ritualistic industrial music, heavy and dark and scary, and while there were zero surprises to be uncovered, sometimes I just want to hear stuff exactly like this. I’m reminded pretty strongly of that recent Talker EP on Downwards (who knows, maybe they’re the same person?), or maybe Kerridge if you swapped out his giant corrosive pavement-spreading synth for a stringed drone and a couple of Neubaten’s best snare drums. While Grebenstein is almost surely an atheist (my second guess is Agnostic, followed by Buddhist), this music is just so delightfully Satanic-sounding that I feel like I need to slip a copy of Grebenstein to that guy I see walking around once a week with the Volahn patch on his jacket. If more people worshiped Satan to this sort of music, I might consider purchasing my first corpse-paint makeup palette.

Hot Guts Wilds LP (Avant!)
After assuming various forms, from noisy post-punk to a multi-instrumental synth-cabaret, Hot Guts has pared down to the duo of founding member Wes Russell and Void Vision’s Shari Vari. Sometimes you just gotta do you, and with the electronic sophistication of Vari taking over, Russell has streamlined Hot Guts into a brooding electronic project that carries the punch of Portion Control while showing November Növelet’s restraint. It’s goth as hell, but in a way that feels natural – Hot Guts don’t need a picture of a bat flying out of an open grave, they let their melancholy, slow-dance synths and unsettling beats do the talking. Just imagine the music that Xeno & Oaklander make when they are fighting with each other and not on speaking terms overseen by a desensitized baritone male vocal. It’s nice to see Hot Guts continue to evolve (and by most accounts improve), and as these two seem like a fitting pair, I can only hope they continue to pursue this musical partnership.

The Intended Huguenot / The Alchemist 7″ (All Gone)
The Intended recorded at least these two songs in the summer of 2013 (I am quite curious to know their current status), featuring Kevin Boyer of Tyvek and Heath Moerland of Roachclip and Sick Llama. Seeing those names, I naturally expected two tracks of pointless messing around and noisy nonsense, but the first second of “Huguenot” proved otherwise: The Intended are a killer hard-rock post-punk group! So much perfect Wah in use on “Huguenot”, stomping as heavy as The Monks with one of Boyer’s most hardcore vocal deliveries, just a fantastic tune that I’d enjoy any day of the week. “The Alchemist” doesn’t rock as hard, and consequently feels more like peak Tyvek, like it could’ve fallen off the 2×7″ on the way to the pressing plant, which of course is a compliment. If The Intended are no longer, it’s a shame, and if there’s more on the way, I’m awaiting it eagerly.

Kostis Kilymis Crystal Drops / Ground Loops (a line, obscured) 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
I Dischi Del Barone is back at it with their minimally-packaged series of avant-garde 7″s, this one coming from the London-based Greek artist Kostis Kilymis. Can’t say I’m familiar with the man (although a name like his I won’t easily forget), and he gives us a cool and quick EP of menacing, unemotional electronics. “Crystal Drops” sounds like four different heart-monitoring systems competing for prominence – I swear a Fitbit even chimes in toward the end, monitoring your sleep and uploading that data into your iPhone. “Ground Loops (a line, obscured)” is less rhythmically direct, disrupting any sort of forward-motion with what sounds like a microphone rubbed up against a cotton shirt, men hollering to each other in an airport parking lot and the dripping of a rusty pipe… it has me picturing some sort of run-down city in an otherwise lush geographical location, which is a lovely place for the mind to wander. Cool single, but I noticed that Kilymis also collaborated with Leif Ellgren for an album, and that dude is such a true freak that I feel like that’s the record I should be going after. Maybe I will!

Graham Lambkin & Michael Pisaro Schwarze Riesenfalter CD (Erstwhile)
After last month’s interview with Graham Lambkin, how could I not check out his newest collaboration with experimental guitarist/composer Michael Pisaro? Vinyl preference be damned, Lambkin is so fascinating that I’d listen to his music on microfiche if it were the only available format (and if there’s anyone who can make microfiche listenable, it’s probably him), so here I am enjoying this patient and curious album called Schwarze Riesenfalter. It’s a sparse, somnambulant work, with presumably Pisaro’s piano sprinkling the room with color as Lambkin’s classified sound recordings rustle past (I’m certain I picked up the vibrational hum of a muted cell-phone at one point, but the rest remain a mystery). Just as he implied, it makes for great dinner music, the sort of indirect soundtrack that spawns unusual conversation and a conviviality that minimal piano and hushed noise might not usually offer. These guys just know how to serve it up.

Mope City Halfway House 7″ (Tenth Court)
Mope City aren’t joking – you’re not gonna want to blow up any balloons or make a big bowl of guacamole while listening to their mellow, rainy-day indie-rock. “Small Eye” covers the a-side, politely chiming with a musical sound somewhere between Pavement and The War On Drugs, and a vocal sound somewhere between Brighter and Wildhoney. I flipped it to hear “Halfway House (Bleeding At The Station)”, which has such a similar sonic template that were it not for the physical act of record-flipping I might’ve assumed it was just one long song. The EP wraps up with “Blunt Razor”, a great name for an Australian grind band but utilized here for the mopiest of the three tracks, as if Bedhead just got fired from their barista job for choosing the “Red House Painters” Pandora station. Can’t say I was moved in any particular direction by Mope City, but I didn’t mind sitting there and sulking along with them for six minutes or so either.

Psychic Teens Face / All 7″ (Reptilian)
Psychic Teens had that cool debut album a few years ago, and while I haven’t kept up since, Reptilian’s “Keystone Noise” 7″ series brings them back around again. At first, “Face” started off like it was gonna parallel Metz’s noisy guitar-based approach, but then it quickly calms down, the singer speaks over a quiet part, and it’s something else entirely. The whole track seems to have a light layer of reverb applied, which is the only way “Face” represents itself as a modern song and not a reissue gripped from one of the many poppy noise-rock bands that were signed to a major in the wake of Nirvana, given horrible cover art and destined for the cardboard bin of dollar CDs under the record racks. “All” even brings in some clean, lonesome guitar, and I finally figured out that the singer reminds me of the guy from Pleasure Forever – if I had any doubt that the members of Psychic Teens attended a Slowdive reunion gig or two, this track erases any doubt. They could use some help with the graphics, though – the Japanese OBI strip and corny pentagram art on the center sticker aren’t doing them any favors, but I bet it wasn’t really their idea anyway. Oh well…

Raspberry Bulbs Privacy LP (Blackest Ever Black)
Here’s an equation I would’ve never expected: black metal + grunge = ripping punk rock! Yep, everyone’s favorite band-you-initially-assumed-were-twee-based-on-their-name is back, and while I’ve delighted in their pink and black existence for a while now, even if not actually wanting to listen to their music, Privacy changes that. Seriously, this record rules – imagine Bone Awl (not much of a stretch since Raspberry Bulbs feature a founding Bone Awl member) playing their stompy riffs to the tune of Bleach or Superfuzzbigmuff and you’re pretty close to what Privacy has to offer. You get eight ripping tracks where the buzzsaw guitar never feeds back, the drums are simple yet inventive and the riffs are gnarly enough to turn Rudimentary Peni’s heads, along with six interludes that vary from twilight ambient drift to scraped noise (and one track that sounds like Men’s Recovery Project if they weren’t remotely funny). Tell me you can’t picture Krist Novoselic jamming the bass-line to “Big Grin” while Jesse from Hoax stage dives and Puce Mary headbangs. I always assumed Raspberry Bulbs were a cult-for-cult’s sake side project that required zero of my attention, but Privacy has turned me around completely. Recommended!

Rectal Hygienics Ultimate Purity LP (Permanent)
From the moment I looked upon the shocking cover art collage of naked or scantily-clad women and vague human atrocity, my life was changed forever: this is the transgressive art I needed to shake me to my core, no longer witnessing humanity through blinders, but now privy to all of its harshest realities. Just kidding! Rectal Hygienics are another Brainbombs-aping, Macronympha-loving, Total Abuse tour-mating band, and while that’s all about as exciting as my daily lunchtime decision (Amy’s frozen lasagna or Amy’s frozen burrito?), the music is actually pretty solid. The bass tone is particularly ugly, I love the way the hi-hat is consistently floppy and open, and the vocals are above average, varying from angry speaking to violent yelling to my personal favorite, casual whispering (more heavy bands would benefit from a vocalist who knows how to calm down once in a while). Of course, their solid music is overshadowed by the painfully played-out and idiotic lyrics, freshman-year “I’m so sexually creepy and evil” aesthetic and random pictures of anal sex on the center sticker (can you believe people do that with each other???). I can only hope Rectal Hygienics (cool name, by the way) soon reveal that their presentation is actually a meta-commentary on the stagnant uniformity of post-Brainbombs shock-rock, but apparently they are calling themselves “drug punk” in all seriousness, so I have a feeling that moment will never come.

Red Red Krovvy II 7″ (Helta Skelta)
Red Red Krovvy take their time, following their 2013 7″ EP with this new one roughly two years later (which is equivalent to fifteen years in punk time). I appreciate their unhurried approach, and that sort of casual attitude seeps into the unpolished lo-fi punk rock of this EP. They plod along like Fatal Microbes, occasionally recall the gnarlier moments of Naked Aggression’s existence, and probably work in fine tandem with Ausmuteants, were they to ever share a bill. Maybe some early FYP moments too, in the way that the drumming is delightfully sloppy and results in some unexpected beats and changes. A song like “New Year” shouldn’t make me want to mosh, and yet it does, as the band’s humble means do little to mask their fiery intent. This band is probably all wimpy nerds, but I still wouldn’t mess with them, you know?

RHDP Parusa 7″ (Tension Head)
I know what you’re thinking: The Red Hot Dilly Peppers? We may never know what it stands for, but this isn’t Los Angelean funk-punk, RHDP are a Virginia Beach-based punk band with lyrics sung entirely in Tagalog. And while they are generally of the mid-paced, upbeat punk style, RHDP aren’t afraid to fully succumb to standard rock tropes and break it down like Jimi Hendrix or Mount Carmel (all while their singer continues to tunelessly yell, seemingly unaware of the sonic shift). I dunno, the music is fine and innocuous enough, but something about the singer’s roomy holler (kinda like a less-passionate guy from Rice) is particularly bothersome and out of place. Maybe it all comes together live? I’ll probably never know.

Russell St. Bombings Russell St. Bombings LP (SmartGuy)
Everyone involved in Total Control has at least a couple other cool projects going, so it’s about time the quiet guy with the mullet (and the only member of Total Control I don’t think I’ve personally met or interacted with) got his. It’s not a solo project, but rather a collaborative musical think-tank with members of UV Race, Eastlink and Dick Diver contributing to the scatter-shot collection of songs, song-ideas and jams on here. At times, I’m reminded of 49 Americans and their jovial insistence to disregard rock music’s many formalities, at others I’m picking up an emotionally-ominous vibe similar to that great Flaming Tunes LP by Gareth Williams and Mary Currie, and the whole thing seems to loom in The Shadow Ring’s umm, shadow, which is a fine place to cool off. Regardless, vocals are few and far between, and when they do appear, it’s like the last guest at your party and you’re just waiting for them to leave so you can go to bed. Russell St. Bombings never get as harsh or vulgar as their name might imply, but are content to strum a twelve-string guitar while someone else has an old Macintosh firing out bleeps and bloops and a third person attempts to sort through a pile of cymbals. Apparently Henry Rollins really likes this record, and if you want to argue with him then by all means be my guest!

Secret Tombs Secret Tunes LP (Caesar Cuts / Wigtunes)
Pittsburgh’s Dave Rosenstraus has already laid out a vinyl discography equivalent to any Exxon oil spill, one which you may now add Secret Tombs. They’ve got an interesting thing going on, a sort of extended-mix, mathy blues-rock vibe that not many others dare to attempt. It’s a two-song LP, for example, but each side plays out more like a suite than any regular pop song, moving from Southern-fried boogie to raucous party-rock and grizzled riffing within their lengthy grooves. At times, I’m reminded of Don Caballero messing around with Black Keys covers, or perhaps Dead Moon if they wanted to get signed to Thrill Jockey? At times, it’s as perplexing as the way I just described it, but for the most part Secret Tombs make smart use of their “Bohemian Rhapsody” approach to classic guitar rock. Nice job!

Secret Valley The Glisten EP 12″ (Alberts Basement)
Always nice to receive a new transmission from Alberts Basement (their lack of a possessive apostrophe, not mine). Had no idea what Secret Valley was before I put it on, and while I was ready for solo Casio improv or a duo that farts into a can and snaps a rubber-band, it was nice to hear that Secret Valley are more or less keyboard / guitar / drum-machine pop-punk. Four songs here, all of which utilize big major chord changes for pop delight, the musical DNA of Weezer and Screeching Weasel put to keyboards, drum programming, guitar and trombone (you didn’t think Alberts Basement would let you off that easily, did you?). They get slightly somber on the two b-side tracks, drifting a little deeper into outer space, but it’s still one-finger guitar-pop that goes down smooth. Simple stuff for sure, but Secret Valley play with such an effortless, just-woke-up sort of congeniality that I can’t imagine anyone rightfully disliking it. There are a lot of jerks out there, though.

SGNLS II LP (FDH / P. Trash)
Vowels can’t catch a break when it comes to band names these days – just take SGNLS, for instance. They’re a Philadelphia based rock group, loosely goth and overtly synthy, and this is their second album. It’s a weird one, that’s for sure: the vocalist reminds me of Bobby Blitz from Overkill more than a little bit, the drummer seems to think he’s playing garage-punk, and the synths and electronics give off this regal classiness that seems slightly out of place. It ends up sounding like some sort of Dead Kennedys / Clan of Xymox hybrid, the sort of thing that would unite steam-punks and mall-punks (as if their paths don’t already cross). And there is more than one somber, acoustic-driven ballad that feels like a synth-pop reworking of “The Unforgiven”. Seriously, this band is weird, and not in a predetermined way! Now I just wanna go listen to some Overkill, and I can’t help but approve of any record that stimulates such feelings.

Shaved Women Just Death LP (Malokul / Full Contact)
Released with slight cover variations for American and Finnish audiences alike, Shaved Women offer forth their second album, Just Death. I hadn’t heard them before, and got the impression they were some sort of Scratch Acid-inspired Midwestern noise-rock unit from what I’d read. If that was the case at some point, it certainly isn’t now, as Shaved Women play burly, heavy hardcore with little deviation. They kind of split the difference between Poison Idea and hardcore-era Fucked Up here; Shaved Women relentlessly fire off lots of mid-paced, down-picked, hard-nosed grooves with a gruff singer who rarely comes up for air. It’s surprisingly regular, I suppose – they use plenty of familiar chord progressions, keep the pace brisk with the exception of the last track (which is a fairly standard hardcore album trait), and kinda just blend into a world of Deranged, Painkiller and Katorga Works bands that only an obsessive fan could parse. It’s a 45 RPM LP, and the brevity works in Shaved Women’s favor, as their music is suited to concentrated bursts. It comes equipped with skeleton / zombie / S&M / switchblade art to seal the deal on their indistinguishable vibe, and if you need more of this stuff, they’ll be waiting for you.

Skemäta Skemäta LP (Sorry State)
What do you do when the grim reaper skeleton on your cover isn’t even that scary-looking? Skemäta are going for the “this is our war-torn apocalyptic future if we don’t change our behavior soon” d-beat thing, a righteous endeavor if there ever was one, but I dunno, nothing about their music really does it for me. Maybe it’s the recording? It’s clean and not overly heavy, which has me thinking about Lagwagon or NOFX if they played mean-sounding riffs and slowed the tempo just a little. No one is gonna confuse Skemäta with Shitlickers or No Fucker, you know? The vocals are a pretty decent-if-generic throaty bark, the lyrics safely political (“destroy hierarchy” is a nice albeit useless sentiment, featured in “System Of Parasites”), and I dunno, I’d rather just go listen to State Of Fear or give Tragedy another try than spend much more time with this one. No offense to Skemäta and their fans, though, as I would hate to live in a world where bands like this cease to exist.

Tracey Trance Keep It Up 7″ (All Gone)
Ms. Trance has been firing out random tapes and musical ephemera for a few years now, but this is my first experience, and I swear if I aimed this 7″ at the snow outside, it’d melt a big patch and a big old daisy would sprout right up. She just sounds so carefree, joyful and drunk that I want to be right in the room where she recorded these three songs, just to soak up some of that inspiration. I’m reminded spiritually of Kurt Vile, at least pre-popularity Kurt Vile, when there was no expectation beyond a fun time with an acoustic guitar, some beers and some friends… that special time and place where a goofy joke can inspire your best song. The first two tracks are vocals accompanied by guitar, and the last, “Burpin’ How R U Ridin?” is acapella and so damn happy and stupid and fun that I want all my friends to sing it at my funeral.

Vereker Murder License EP 12″ (Berceuse Heroique)
Berceuse Heroique opted for manhole-thick 180 gram vinyl for this Vereker EP, which is kinda funny because this is some of the least heavy hard-techno I’ve heard in a while… usually when I’m playing aggressive dance music and it sounds like “Flesh & Blood”, it means the wire to my sub-woofer came loose. That’s kind of Vereker’s charm, though – his music feels more like sandpaper than a grenade, slowly chafing your eardrums with the repetitive chirps, mid-range snares and kicks in his toolkit. Low Jack teams up with Vereker for “Event Horizon” on the flip, which behaves like some sort of SPK / Throbbing Gristle nuclear freakout (and even in it’s mid-fidelity might cause muscles to spasm), and Vereker wraps it up with the brief and equally industrial “Bedroom Jihad”, which calls to mind Rosemary’s Baby or Controlled Bleeding in all their glory. Kinda cool to see him seeking a less dancefloor-oriented sound, catering more toward the crowd that has at least one Vinyl On Demand boxset on their shelves, and for my money it’s an avenue worth pursuing.

Void Vision Sub Rosa LP (Mannequin)
So nice to finally have a Void Vision album in my life, as Shari Vari’s solo cold-wave project is one of the finest in the land. I’m lucky enough to have heard many of these songs live on numerous occasions, but they sound great laid down to wax and no longer at the mercy of a shoddy PA system – 16th-note arpeggios provide tense urgency, sweeping synth melodies add glamor and drama, and Vari’s goth-Madonna vocals bring it all home. Hits like “One”, “Sour” and “To The Sea” are great, like a Led Er Est / La Roux collaboration, the sort of songs you can break a sweat to in numerous ways, from full-on dancing to gothy swaying (and I’m far too shy to publicly discuss the ways in which Sub Rosa would be a good record for the bedroom). I kinda wish a solid American label would’ve stepped up to the plate to release this one, y’know, support our troops and all, but Void Vision has a way of wrapping the music in a sort of mysterious old-European beauty that it makes sense Italy’s Mannequin put it all together. Fine work, this!

Graham Lambkin

If you’re not familiar with Graham Lambkin, one of the great sound-gatherers of our modern time (and I suppose probably ever, since humans have only been gathering sound for so long…), whatever little intro I share with you now won’t even be a few snowflakes on the tip of the iceberg – go Google the man, find his recordings, investigate his record label Kye, treat it like you found out you were secretly adopted and just handed the names of your biological parents. His records display modern life in a way that only he can, magnifying the little moments we take for granted and ignoring the obvious, re-framing other peoples’ memories and discarded detritus into hilarious, baffling and meaningful statements. Either that or he’s just having fun. I get the impression I could have asked him about the 2016 presidential race, extreme sports or Ming vases and he’d have an equal range of well-considered ruminations on the topic at hand, but we mostly stuck to his process and the various musical formats currently available.

At what point did you realize that you could gather non-musical sounds and present them to an audience? Was there some epiphany or was it more of a gradual process?
I’ve never drawn a distinction between the ‘musical’ and ‘non-musical’ in my own work – it’s all just sound as far as I’m concerned. It’s always been my instinct to look behind the couch for ways to make sounds, and I’ve always shunned efforts to learn a conventional instrument. Whenever our paths have crossed it’s been through happenstance, and our relationship has always been tenuous and brief. Working within a spectrum of impure sound has been a major part of my process since I became interested in recording. I feel excited by sounds that are traditionally unloved, ignored or viewed with suspicion, sounds that are seen as detrimental or offensive to a greater goal. Last December I was going through some old cassettes I had recorded back in the early 90′s and had forgotten. Most of it was absolute rubbish and extremely crude: mics dragged across carpets, ashtrays bashed against tables, moaning and groaning… and it dawned on me that for the past few years I’ve really been finding my way back home to these primitive sounds.

How is it the case that you never made the ‘musical / non-musical’ distinction? I feel like the concept of appreciating sound as art is one that has to be learned or discovered, rather than just assumed, but I certainly could be wrong. Was that not the case with you? At what age did you start making recordings?
As a teenager I was a fastidious listener and collector of records, most of which came from the Spastics Society and could be brought for little money. I was quite a fan of sound effects LPs which were fairly easy to find and good fun. You could buy an LP devoted to sounds of the English countryside, military processions, horror noises – the human leg being cleaved from the torso… and many a rainy afternoon would be spent listening to them. I remember getting Atom Heart Mother for my 16th birthday and being wildly impressed by “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast”, with its confusion of sound effects and conventional instrumentation. That was as close to an epiphany as I came. The same was true when I started buying bootlegs. There was always something perversely appealing about the fifth generation no-fi demo, or the wooly concert recording made from the Portaloo adjacent to the venue. The corruption of sound gave more pleasure than the song struggling beneath it. So my earliest recordings offer a coarse response to these exposures.
The question of whether or not I was making ‘real music’ existed in the shadows at that stage, but it took longer to come into sharp focus. Certainly “that’s not music” was the mantra most often heard from family or friends at the time, and that did reinforce the question of when does a sound stop being just a sound and start becoming music. If one accepts the definition of music as organized sound, does that then disqualify a field recording of the sea from having musicality? So within my own work I’ve always preferred to level the ground and call sounds for what they are, and if someone else wants to call it music I’m happy to accept that, but it has to be up to the individual.

Is there any sound you’ve wanted to work with that has eluded you? Any specific sound you’ve yet to capture but want to?
No, I already feel spoiled for choice. I think the question of finding new sounds is more applicable to someone who is devoted to a specific musical instrument. Guitar players often seem to be locked in the endless pursuit of coaxing new and exciting sounds from their instruments, through the use of effects pedals, extended techniques, or what have you. I only have the sounds that already exist to work with, and the only way I can affect them before they are immortalized on cassette is through mic placement. But something as simple as that opens up huge possibilities for variation and scope, so I’m not so much interested in finding new sounds, as I am in finding new ways to capture old ones.

Should I take it that you don’t do much post-recording processing? Do you stay away from adding effects and distortion to the sounds you initially record?
If I’m interested in affecting or distorting a particular sound in my solo work I’ll try to do it in the recording stage, either through unorthodox mic application, or by recording onto treated cassettes and “damaging” sounds as they are captured to tape. But by and large I try to and keep my material as unprocessed as possible. That approach suits my work better than relying on lots of artificial application after the fact. These considerations don’t necessarily apply when working in collaboration with other artists though. The trilogy of discs produced with Jason Lescalleet leans quite heavily on distortion and recontextualization of sound, particularly Air Supply and Photographs. Those techniques are far more prevalent in Jason’s work than mine, so it was interesting to take my methodology and surrender it to such a radical process.

Do you approach your creative process differently when collaborating than when working entirely on your own? What I’m wondering is, do you leave your work a bit more open-ended or unfinished, knowing someone like Jason is going to transform and alter it? I’m curious as to how possessive you feel over the sounds you create, and if you’ve ever had a moment of ‘that’s my baby you’re messing with!’ when you hear what your collaborator has done with them.
The process is completely different, and it varies with each collaborator. Fortunately, I’ve been lucky enough to work with people who have shared certain core sensibilities, but are not so similar that the collaboration is pointless. A good collab needs to start with mutual respect and a shared trust, but also a willingness to lower boundaries and allow the second party to influence the shape and flow of the work in ways that may not have seemed obvious to you. That has to continue on through the recording, the editing, mixing, mastering, sequencing… and then into titles, packaging, the whole shebang. It’s rare that this kind of total collaboration happens and is successful, but I found it in my work with Jason, I found it with Keith Rowe, and most recently with Michael Pisaro. If you’re defensive toward the idea of change, or it’s taken as a personal insult, then you probably shouldn’t be in a collaborative position to begin with.

Have any of your friends or contemporaries ever come up with a specific sonic moment or audio trick that you wished you came up with first?
It’s funny, but I don’t really pay much attention to contemporary goings-on. Of all the things I listen to I would say about 10% of it was current, and I don’t feel in competition with any of it. I stopped trying to keep up with the latest happenings about 10-12 years ago. There’s just such a continuous glut, and my tastes were drifting further away from anything I was hearing, so it wasn’t a tough decision to make. I do still buy a lot of new releases but they’re usually historic/archival in content.

How much effort do you want the listener to put into your music? Does it make a difference to you if your fans are listening intently on repeat, or if they just throw it on in the background while cleaning or eating dinner?
It’s really none of my business, and wouldn’t expect my audience to be sat in constant rapture anyway. They’ll be times when it’s convenient and appropriate for the listener to lend a more concentrated ear, and they’ll be times when my stuff will take a backseat to a more urgent activity. I would like to think my work could survive in both those situations. A lot of the material I produce comes from thinking about, and observing music in that type of supporting role: music heard in the car, music playing in the home, a half-remembered tune whistled in the street. This has kind of become my hunting ground, so I am perfectly happy to imagine a person in their kitchen, making a delicious bolognese, with Millows rattling away on the kitchen counter boombox. Quite a lot of my listening is done in that exact environment anyway, so if it’s good enough for Jimi Hendrix then it’s good enough for me.

MP3, cassette, vinyl record, CD… do you hear a difference? I’m curious if the format matters to you, from a sonic perspective, and if so, if there is a specific preferred medium for your own work.
There’s room for all the formats, and each comes with its own strengths and weaknesses, depending on what the consumer demands of it. On a personal level I prefer CDs. I believe they have the best potential to accurately reproduce sound when mastered knowledgeably, although of course they are as vulnerable to abuse as any of the formats, and a poorly mastered, or “brickwalled” CD will invariably sound awful. There’s something aesthetically pleasing about the possibilities of the digipak/booklet combo, and I like the potential for creative CD box setting (Magma’s Studio Zünd would be a good example of that done right). CD is also a very practical format, which again, makes it appealing. I like that I can play them in the kitchen, or car, which is perhaps my favorite listening environment of all, or when I’m working on art – I don’t have to worry about handling expensive vinyl with ink-stained fingers… these are all factors to consider. Moreover, the majority of things I am interested in listening to are really only available/affordable on CD, so from an economic perspective they also make sense.
LPs are more fetishistic, have scope for nicer packaging, and will probably always be the most romanticized format, but I’m not sure they all sound that great anymore. Purists talk about the superiority of the all-analog format but overlook the fact that there’s almost always a digital link in the production chain, and in worst case scenarios LPs are pressed using masters intended for CD, rather than a specifically produced independent master of their own. This leads to all sorts of ugly issues, and a pretty ropy sounding record at the end of it. This isn’t always the case of course, but it’s a practice that’s on the rise.
Kye puts out the majority of its titles on LP because it’s the preferred format right now, and if I didn’t recognize that fact sales would suffer. But I am dubious about the long-term viability of this vinyl resurgence if things don’t change. There needs to be more money invested in the production of new presses, as well as maintenance of the existing ones, and there needs to be proper training available for the manufacturers who work at the plants. The craft and artistry involved in making a quality end product seems to be on the wain, and the time investment needed to properly skill employees has been trampled down in the mad rush to fill orders for Record Store Day – all so some silly sod can buy a warped “limited edition” 7″ picture disc of Brown Sugar for $15.00. The vinyl manufacturing industry is under enormous stress and has become steadily more unreliable over the past few years. In 2014 Kye produced six LPs, each in an intended edition of between 400-500. Out of those six, four had to be returned, and the complete run repressed due to flaws (despite signing off on faultless test pressings for each), then out of those four repressed runs, two of them had to be returned and repressed a second time, due to flaws that were even worse than before. This all added months of time to forecast release dates, was tremendously frustrating, and in the latter two cases remains unresolved. These kinds of situations are becoming more commonplace, and if this industry hopes to avoid self-asphyxiation then it needs to address the concerns of supply and demand, and quality vs. quantity.
Another reason I don’t take this resurgence all that seriously is like everything else, vinyl has become the target of nostalgia. A generation of music consumers who are tired of spending money on faceless download files are currently reveling in the novelty of a handsomely adorned physical object. But novelty passes, and it’s no great stretch to imagine the next generation pining for the archaic delights of the jewelcase, the bonus track, the glorious prism of rainbow light, the halcyon days of 1989… Everything comes around again, and CDs will enjoy their resurrection.
The cassette is another example of a format that lived to read its own obituary. I love working with cassettes and use them exclusively, having no digital recording means. There’s something magical to me about the flaws inherent in the medium, and I’ve used them in much of my work over the years. MP3 is the most disposable format, and the best thing you can say about it is it’s quick and easy. I don’t value MP3, and I don’t purchase music on it. My kids will rip CDs to MP3 and make mixes for their iPods, and that’s about all the format’s good for as far as I can tell.

I’ve certainly noticed that the Kye titles that remain available for purchase the longest are CDs. Do you truly think CDs will return to prominence at some point? To me, they lack the romantic nature of LPs, or the personalized warmth of cassettes, and if you are looking for ease of use, an iPod can play the entire recorded works of John Coltrane with the push of a button, not just an album or two on a CD. Then again, I don’t think anyone in 1994 would’ve predicted the collectible vinyl boom of the past couple years…
Right now CDs are the whipping boy of the new vinyl generation. They’re uncool, they’re ugly, they’re characterless, and no one who truly loves music should want them. Vinyl is back. My mother phoned me up today and told me she’d just bought a turntable with built-in speakers that plays LPs, 78s “and those other little ones.” – and it was only thirty quid…

You talk about the sound quality, and poor mastering running rampant… do you think this is only going to get worse? I feel like artists are expected to release so much music these days if they want to stay relevant, sort of a side-effect of the 24-hour news cycle, and this pushes less sexy aspects of record-making like mastering and production to the background.
The productivity of the artist and the caliber of their product (in terms of its actual construction) should be mutually exclusive. I think what you’re seeing is just a general decline in standards right across the board. Take a moment to browse the threads in any given audiophile chat-room on the topic: ‘Just brought the new 180gm deluxe edition of Nevermind and it sounds like shit’; ‘This new Lana Del Rey LP’s warped and has all these fingerprints on side 1′; ‘My beat up old 50¢ yard sale copy of Mahogany Brain sounds better than this new one’ – it’s endless. People are bound to get cheesed off eventually, because these things aren’t cheap, and when you’re spending $25-$30 on an deluxe LP that sounds like it was mastered by an intern and pressed on asphalt that’s going to start to burn.

Do you like retrospective boxsets, generally speaking? They seem to be more and more prevalent these days.
I do, but I have to be really strict with myself because they can be quite an undertaking, and a real commitment of time/money. I had that King Crimson Starless box in a shopping cart a couple weeks ago, and I kept going back and forth. It’s a lot of money, do I really need to hear umpteen different mixes of the same LP? (One I already own three versions of) and 20-odd discs of the group running through essentially the same set every night in varying degrees of completeness, half of which I already have on bootleg or traded tapes? Some of it’s on Blu-Ray so I can’t play those… I don’t have 5.1 Surround, so that’s no good either. Do I really want to spend $200 on a 12″ X 12″ print of Bill Bruford? I probably will get it.

Does your family understand your passion for sound? Is it something you’ve had to explain? It seems like being in a punk band is hard enough for an elderly uncle to understand, let alone a sound collagist…
My parents were baffled and thought the whole thing was ludicrous at first: “What the bloody hell’s The Shadow Ring? Why would Graham and his dodgy mates suddenly be making this racket every week? They can’t even play, yet alone release records”… But they never tried to stop it happening, and as time went on I think they realized it was just something beyond their comprehension. Certainly, the occasional foreign fan letter and a few American tours lent more ballast to our cause. Seen from the other side of the fence, I don’t think my kids really bat an eyelid – it’s just what Dad does.