Parody Beef Primer

Alright, in previous years I used this space to highlight some of my favorite records that could be had on Discogs for the cheap, but I’m taking this moment to share with you a different genre of vinyl release that I find endlessly appealing: that of parody beef. Before the internet consumed our every waking thought, you could only troll someone in the punk scene by sending in a letter to MRR, making your own zine and passing it out at shows (or even better, running masked into a local record shop and dropping a stack near the door before running out ala the local one-pager Faux), putting up flyers around town, or, if you really wanted to go for it, pressing and releasing a record for that specific purpose! I’m To be clear, I’m talking about records that satirized their targets, were generally pretty unfriendly about it, and usually utilized some form of trickery or subterfuge in doing so. Bonus points for when the attack is sincerely hilarious, of course. Thusly, I’m not counting records that are simply hoaxes (such as the Frothy Milkshakes’ ingeniously fabricated Killed By Death #11 “compilation”) or records that are simply parodies (like the truly pitiful Gayrilla Biscuits). Allow me to discuss five of my favorite examples of this beautiful phenomenon below!

Oxes / Arab On Radar split 10″ (Wäntage USA, 2000)
Let’s start on this absolute gem of a fraud: the Oxes / Arab On Radar split 10″. Oxes were a great math-rock trio out of Baltimore (who apparently are putting out a new LP sometime in the near future after years of dormancy!), and a snide sort of unfriendly prankishness was always part of their MO – for live shows, both guitarists utilized wireless setups, which allowed them to run through or out of the venue, onto tables, in peoples’ unsuspecting faces; to basically do anything they shouldn’t be doing. To my knowledge, they’re the only instrumental math-rock group (of any era) to have released an album that came with a poster featuring a photo spread of the band snorting drugs with full-frontal nudity on display, if that helps set the scene. Anyway, they released this “split” with Arab On Radar, which ended up being not actually Arab On Radar but rather Oxes doing a spot-on impersonation of the Providence noise-rock pervert kings. Hilarious! They ape the nail-on-a-chalkboard guitars and high-pitched babble of vocalist Eric Paul, complete with brain-dead sex-pun song titles like “Fallopian Boobs” and “Rough Gay At The Office” (which is actually dangerously close to the real Arab On Radar album title Rough Day At The Orifice). I love Arab On Radar, and I also love that Oxes were able to imitate them so expertly, as if to say “look at how dumb your silly self-serious band is, that we were able to do basically the same thing in five minutes”. At the time, word on the street was that Arab On Radar were sincerely pissed about it, to which someone involved with the band or label ended up claiming that the record was actually meant to be billed as a sole Oxes release with the title of JVPVJ NO QVJV, because that’s the way Arab On Radar’s name on the cover looks if you read it upside down – mmhmm, suuuuuure that’s what you meant! If anything, I’d say both bands benefited from this record, as it elevated Arab On Radar to the level of “band that is worth trying to piss off”, while also showcasing Oxes as the most outrageous underground pranksters of Y2K. I remember when R5 Productions here in Philadelphia ended up booking both bands to play together around that time, but I can’t fully recall what went down – I think Arab On Radar cancelled? Either way, I’ll tell you who reaped the rewards from this silly mess: music fans like you and me.

Plainfield Jello Biafra With Plainfield 12″ (“Alternative Tentacles”, 1995)
This is actually the record that inspired this column, because wow, this is about as demonic of a fraudulent parody as any record listed here! Neither Plainfield nor Jello Biafra, this record was apparently written and performed by Grux, the San Franciscan maniac behind Caroliner and Rubber-O-Cement and a dozen other obscure projects that draped their records in paint and wet cardboard and zero discernible information. Grux imitates both Plainfield (the noise-rock group) and Jello Biafra here, opening the record with a phony phone call between Plainfield’s Smelly Mustafa and Jello Biafra wherein they make plans to commit homophobic murder and necrophilia later in the evening. It really sets the tone, which then leads into “Eric’s Throwpillow”, a chunky noise-rock instrumental with “Smelly” berating and admonishing “Jello”. “Jello” makes it clear he is only appearing on the record for the paycheck as he puts minimal effort into his vocal part while mumbling about lawsuits with Chumbawumba among other nonsense. It’s absolutely side-splittingly hilarious! The fake Jello voice is close but not perfect, and their banter is such a direct indictment of punk fame and its over-the-hill pointlessness. “Nuance Of Fifty Cents” follows with “Jello” on a bullhorn, ranting about everything and nothing over a scattered improv mess. Grux continues to make a fool of Jello over the rest of the record, attempting to reveal him as a past-his-prime businessman more interested in preserving his own status-quo than promoting any sort of creativity or commitment to the underground. The music is great, but the full scope of the record bears mention: Grux swiped the Alternative Tentacles logo for this release, complete with a “Virus 132” catalog number (which curiously does not exist on the real Alternative Tentacles!) and re-appropriated “1950s nuclear family” artwork to perfectly nail the aesthetic. Apparently, Jello and his crew took note, allegedly releasing DUH’s The Unholy Handjob in retaliation – I’m getting that from Wikipedia, because I’m unable to determine how exactly any of it pushes back against Grux. Maybe the song title “Our Guitarist Is In Faith No More” is a shot at how they don’t care about fame and fortune? I do know that Chris Dodge (of Spazz and Stikky fame) played on that DUH record, which is fitting as he is one of my favorite ’90s hardcore jokesters. Seems like Jello took the beating like a champ, which is really the best he could do when faced with this ludicrous and obscene indictment.

The Locust The Locust 7″ (I Don’t Feel A Thing, 2001)
I was a teenager active in hardcore-punk in the late ’90s, and let me tell you, The Locust’s 1998 tour supporting their debut full-length led to the most profound alteration of the state of the scene I’ve ever witnessed. It wasn’t just a tour, it was an evangelical cataclysm that seemingly changed the scene’s aesthetic overnight: you could watch as band t-shirts went from size XL to size S almost immediately following their show in your town (with the great Jenny Piccolo opening). Suddenly, you had cutesy pop-punkers Bedford turning into sassy Locust clones An Albatross, baggy skate-shorts turning into skin-tight girls jeans, and black-dyed Spock cuts replacing, I dunno, that thing where you grow your hair long on top, shave the sides and wear it in a ponytail? The Locust seemed to revel in the attention and infamy, inciting audiences to wear costumes (or nothing at all) at their shows, and releasing weird/annoying things like a 3″ CD (causing a riot amongst fans who listened to CDs in their cars, which was pretty much all of us) and a remix album with a single seventeen-second track on one side of a 12″ record. Not to mention their belt buckles and “coke mirrors”, which is probably the first instance a lot of my friends had even heard of coke as a viable party drug (we were so innocent!). Anyway, history seems to have forgotten the profound cultural change that The Locust heralded – would there have even been a Makeout Club or crab-core without them? – and I want to make clear the severity of their influence at the time. I was a huge fan (though I found my interest waning by the time they started wearing those bug costumes on stage), and still love their full-length debut, but along with popularity comes haters, of which The Locust had plenty. I remember stories of their van being vandalized on tour, but someone out there took it a step further and pressed up this one-sided clear-vinyl 7″ under their name. Rather than imitating the group musically, the prankster utilized an extended clip of a baby violently crying. If you told me this was actually a Haters record, it’d certainly make sense, but as a diss, it’s mostly ineffective – sure, the guilty party still doled out fake song titles in the convoluted Locust fashion, but it’s kind of a flimsy attack otherwise. Are they trying to say The Locust were crybabies? Crybabies about what, exactly? I suppose the entry of a new, fake Locust record to the marketplace could cause the band some grief, but besides that, it seems The Locust got the last laugh here. Just another notch on their white-belt of infamy (which, come to think of it, is probably a Locust song title).

Grudge Project-Ex 7″ (Jism, 1989)
Is there a more reviled / beloved topic in the hardcore underground than The Straight Edge? Methinks not. Countless feuds have erupted over its strict philosophy, lines drawn in the sand over and over again, with humorless and hilarious soldiers on each side of this never-ending war. At the height of straight-edge’s powers, members of Orange County hardcore band Half Off put together this one-off band and 7″ EP as a scalding send-up of essentially all of straight-edge’s top players at the time, and they did so masterfully. The amount of references, jokes and insults they crammed into this single 7″ EP is utterly staggering – this is a master-class in vinyl-based roasting. A few examples: the label Jism is a gag on popular edge-core label Schism, “Drinking’s Great” parodies Youth Of Today’s “Thinking Straight”, vocalist Carl Of Tomorrow is clearly a play on Ray Cappo’s “Ray Of Today” moniker, Grudge mocks Judge, guitarist Keg Ahead mocks Sick Of It All’s Craig Ahead… it truly never ends. They do a skit mocking Raybeez and Warzone, the cover is a Gorilla Biscuits parody with a wimpy straight-edger being beaten down, and the phony “live” shots of the band playing in their bedrooms with black electrical tape Xs covering their crotches and sneakers is a glory to behold. Grudge go so hard in their parody of the form that one could easily read this as a loving tribute as much as a bullying middle-finger, and if you were to ask me, I’d say it’s certainly both. These songs rip, and have also made it impossible for me to hear Youth Of Today’s “Thinking Straight” without mentally substituting Grudge’s inebriated words. One could argue that Project X (who are clearly referenced in the title of this EP) are the inverse of Grudge, a side-project that calls for direct violence against the non-edge quotient, but even though it seems unwise to take Project X’s aggressive lyrics at face value, they didn’t have an ounce of Grudge’s knuckleheaded humor (though Straight Edge Revenge is rightly lauded as one of the top five straight-edge EPs of all time). An original Project X 7″ will run you hundreds of dollars at this point, but you can still get a Project-Ex on beer-colored vinyl for like seven bucks!

Voodoo Glow Skulls & Hickey split 7″ (Probe, 1997)
Of all the records listed here, this is by far the most sophisticated take-down of the bunch. As the story goes (which is covered in exhaustive detail in the twenty-six page zine that accompanies this record!), Voodoo Glow Skulls and Hickey played a show together in Mesa, AZ in the fall of 1995. Through events that mostly remain unexplained (I’d love to get the ‘Glow Skulls perspective on that particular evening), Voodoo Glow Skulls were furious with Hickey’s performance and forced them to leave the venue immediately after playing, unable to collect their previously-agreed-upon fifty-dollar fee. On their way out, one of them swiped a trumpet belonging to Voodoo Glow Skulls (valued at an alleged and unbelievable four grand!), an unscrupulous move that set the wrath of The Glow Skull upon them. In the ensuing weeks and months, Hickey received numerous threatening voice-messages from the Glow Skull camp, which they then decided to save and press as the Voodoo Glow Skulls side of this split 7″, overlaid with, get this, the tuneless bleating of one of Hickey’s members playing the stolen horn. Impeccable! Thank god this conflict happened before text-messaging, otherwise we’d have what, some screenshots on Instagram to enjoy? Who cares. Seriously, can you think of a more infuriating way to handle the situation? Imagine having Riverside punk gangsters threatening you, and purposefully escalating the situation in response. If it wasn’t already clear at that point, Hickey DGAF, and this proudly-advertised move practically begged Voodoo Glow Skulls’ burly crew to come hang them up by their shorts. Unfortunately for us beef lovers, the zine documents that Hickey did give the horn back shortly thereafter, thus presumably ending the conflict (amazingly without an actual beatdown). They covered their tracks nicely by sending proceeds (though they don’t specific exactly how much of the proceeds) from this split 7″ to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, because what are Voodoo Glow Skulls gonna do, sue to have a few hundred bucks taken out of the hands of a noble charity? Truly a masterclass in trolling, and one of the finest documents of the “you’re a sell-out if you associate with Epitaph” movement of the ’90s.

Reviews – January 2021

Actress Karma & Desire 2xLP (Ninja Tune)
Actress, effortlessly-stylish techno king, returns yet again with another lengthy installment. I skipped out on the limited version of this one (seems gratuitous to own more than one Actress album in an oversized metallic bag), but it’s my favorite thing I’ve heard from him in a while. The premise this time is “the first Actress record with vocals”, which I find much more appealing than “Actress goes to the opera”. I like thinking of Actress’s music as removed from any human touch, these little self-propelling electronic processes whizzing past each other in fascinating formations, but it’s been such a treat to listen to the humanity that shines through Karma & Desire. It’s a multi-functional record, with numerous tracks that operate as soothing experimental-ambient (think trip-hop without the hop) alongside some straight-up tech-house bangers – “Turin” in particular is dialed up to deep house perfection, the sort of thing I’d expect to hear emanating from Detroit’s first colony on Mars. Vocalists Sampha, Zsela and Aura-T09 appear throughout, their bold and androgynous voices hitting the requisite amount of cool that one would expect from an Actress track. They manage to render into sound the same alluringly complex emotions found in Actress’s instrumentals, no matter if they’re headed to the dance-floor or the crushed-velvet chaise lounge.

Bathouse Bathouse LP (Happiest Place)
Shame on me for presuming Bathouse to be more polite n’ snuggly Swedish indie-pop, because the moment they kicked into the opening track “Bathouse” (I love when a band self-titles an album and then has a song by the same name on it) my hair blew back like that guy in the Maxell cassette ad. Nothing cute going on with this Swedish trio; this is unrepentant, volcanic, garage-y noise-rock and nothing less! Their self-titled tune sets the table gloriously, reminding me of what a thrill it was to hear the debut Hospitals album that very first time. Bathouse’s bass and drums rumble together in a cloud of smog before stomping out potholes in a way I thought I’d never hear again following the dissolution of Mayyors. There are also some signs of edgy Swedish garage-punk in the murk, distant relatives of The Hives covered under mounds of filth nearly as incomprehensible as the first couple Sightings records. The b-side has a super strong opener as well in “Bug”, which reminds me of the noise-as-rock-music bands that followed in Wolf Eyes’ wake – imagine if Hair Police or Burmese had the slightest tendency to groove. Bathouse have got the goods! My recommendation is to find a friend and split the Swedish shipping costs on two copies, because you’re not gonna want to have to share this one anyway.

Bruch The Fool LP (Cut Surface / Trost)
Days prior to receiving Bruch’s The Fool in the mail, I had seen the artist described as “kind of a Euro Daughn Gibson”, which of course meant I was set up to be disappointed. I’ll cut to the chase and confirm that Bruch, the solo project of Vienna’s Philipp Hanich, does not meet my high expectations here, but that’s not to say all is lost. All is a little confused, though, as these songs try to shoehorn American cowboy vocals (with a country sneer as inauthentic as Orville Peck’s) into a modern electro-indie sound, borrowing from big-room EDM and trance, pop and contemporary guitar-less radio-rock (like Imagine Dragons or Cage The Elephant or any of those other groups neither you nor I ever really stop to think about). The Fool feels aspirationally closer to Alex Cameron’s ventures into anthemic dance-pop, but Cameron goes much further over the top and comes naturally equipped with the charisma of a singer bound for international stardom (or at least millions of views on YouTube). Bruch seems to roam on the edge of such sweeping gestures – he certainly isn’t toning down his voice – but these songs aren’t quite the necessary vehicles to take him there. If I think of Bruch as being more in line with gristly iconoclastic weirdos like Tom Waits, it makes more sense, as these songs seem to wander at will, frequently losing sight of the traditional path that catchy pop music requires. That’s cool with me too, but Bruch only ever tends to go halfway toward any of these stylistic routes – my favorite is probably the b-side opener, also named “Bruch”, which builds a hearty pulse somewhere in the timeless tradition of krautrock, Suicide and trance. I’ve been wondering what Boothroyd’s Pure Country would sound like with vocals, come to think of it… perhaps Bruch is the man for the job?

Celebrators Wipeout! / Ex-Explorer 7″ (Tomothy)
Three cheers for the inaugural release by Tomothy Records, a new label out of Los Angeles based around the “analog recording studio and DIY performance space called House of Tomothy”. Run by two guys (you guessed it, named Tom and Timothy), I’m glad they exposed me to Celebrators, an excellent band for establishing the label’s intentions. “Wipeout!” is thankfully not a cover, but instead a hyper-speed muted-strum that combines the no-wave quirk of The Mae Shi with the extreme rigidity of early Total Control. I’ll take it! “Ex-Explorer” loosens the reigns a bit for a slice of shoulder-shrugging art-punk, calling to mind the party fouls of Vox Pop as well as the dorky charm of The Embarrassment, slowly fading into the sunset on an extended instrumental reprise. A nice contrast of tunes (yet not so contrasting as to not make sense together), leaving me satisfied yet intrigued to hear some more. Some seventeen years have passed since The Smell shut down for nearly all of 2003, so it seems to be the perfect time for another LA underground art-punk renaissance if you ask me. Celebrators are already there!

Chronophage Th’ Pig Kiss’d Album LP (Cleta Patra)
Austin’s Chronophage made a splash last year with their vinyl debut, appealing to both dirty and clean audiences of arty post-punk. Could’ve been a one-time planetary alignment, but Th’ Pig Kiss’d Album demonstrates that it wasn’t a stroke of luck – this scruffy group is clearly onto something special. These songs showcase a band even more at ease with each other, as there’s no other way these kind of songs can come together – the bassist, the guitarist, hell even the drummer all seem to be riffing around the main structure and melody continuously, finding ways to make their otherwise modest DIY-poptunes behave unexpectedly. I’m reminded of the way Television break their songs apart after like five minutes or so, except that seems to be Chronophage’s starting point. Even one of their more jagged numbers (“Any Junkyard Dreams”) has me thinking of my favorite songs by Shoes This High and Sara Goes Pop without directly resembling either – their sound is way more Max’s Kansas City than Fuck Off Records, anyway. And while they’re clearly cool punks with asymmetrical haircuts, homemade t-shirts and post-ironic Ali Express dresses, there’s a tender vulnerability underlying these tunes, bearing witness to the sad fact that one relatively-minor car accident or illness could upend their world at a moment’s notice. The insert provides a mailing address for communication that’s “valid until Aug. 2021”, because who can count on any sort of future beyond that?

Copiers Copiers LP (no label)
Copiers are a band, I suppose in as much as anyone is a “band” these days, from Louisville, playing together for a year or two and self-releasing an LP, as adults in bands sometimes do. I would file them under “instrumental post-hardcore”, but that sounds a little too stuffy and self-serious for the vibe that Copiers bring to the table. Their music is generally groove-driven, bass and drums locked into their perspective flights while the guitars (and horn, and accordion?) do their best to rip a hole in the presiding sonic structure. Very much in the spirit of Laddio Bolocko, but with a polite recording quality and at least a couple Slint records within arm’s reach? They’re from Louisville, after all, where that sorta thing seeps into the groundwater. Their music is occasionally psych-y (the slow build of “Alien Doctor” reminds me of Stefan Christensen and the contemporary CT psych-rock scene), sometimes entertains the idea of free improvisation (if not entirely puts into practice), and is always delivered with the sense of a band composing and playing in a manner that excites and challenges them. Personally, I prefer the moments of full flight, wherein math-rock metamorphosizes into amateur jazz fusion, but I’m not going to tell Copiers they can’t have their soft n’ slow-droning build-ups if that’s what they want. Being a teenager is fun, but when you’re an adult, you don’t have to listen to anyone!

CS + Kreme howwouldyoufeelwithoutthatthought 12″ (The Trilogy Tapes)
Took me ’til the end of the year to discover CS + Kreme, but I’m mighty glad I did, as their 2020 album Snoopy has been on repeat, almost as much as this new 12″ EP. These two lengthy tracks are an excellent place to start (or continue) one’s love affair with CS + Kreme, who I should explain are a duo from Melbourne featuring Sam Karmel of F Ingers. “April Fools’ Day” is the sixteen-minute a-side, a hypnotic expansion of occult electronics with a most haunting accompaniment of cello and lap steel. It’s sensual and alien, pretty much the perfect soundtrack for that eventual moment when a steamy love scene takes place in The Mandalorian (fingers crossed!). There’s one segment where it sounds like they’re dropping little plastic toys on a granite countertop over the groove, and it’s precisely the sort of idiosyncratic trick that CS + Kreme utilize so well. “Bugged” takes a different route (but familiar to fans of Snoopy) with ominously funky bass-guitar, an oddly-humming vocal melody and, for those who behave patiently, a trip-hop drum loop that’s sure to please. I’m reminded of Raime’s side-project Moin and Sun City Girls’ Torch Of The Mystics in the way that CS + Kreme seem to have accidentally invented rhythmic ambient post-rock on their own unique timeline. Feels similar in spirit to John T. Gast’s Gossiwor project too, care of the dreary melodies, haunting intrigue and classic drum-machine sounds, or a little further but still close to Leslie Winer’s fantastic Witch album. Mostly, however, CS + Kreme are doing a marvelous job of sounding exactly like themselves.

Dirty Burger Part Time Loser LP (Spacebucks / Pure Lust)
More garage-y punk from Sweden! It never stops coming! No one likes it like the Swedes do, including Gothenburg’s Dirty Burger, delivering their full-length debut in the form of Part Time Loser. Their particular strain veers towards the pop-punk end of things, offering a cartoony image of first-wave British punk that has kind of a Dirtnap / Lookout! feel. I definitely reference The Briefs more than I should, but their scent is strong here, with gang-vocal choruses (see “Information Overload”) over typical Damned and Dead Boys riffs played at slightly slower speeds and without any lingering sense of violence or morbidity. Song topics are mostly in the realm of traditional punk fantasy: “Video Violence” is thankful for the ability to feel excitement in watching movies at home, “Suburbia” is about the boredom of suburbia, and the title track is about, from what I can gather, punks being losers? The cover art of a colorfully-silly intergalactic diner certainly drives the vibe home, the sort of record a closely-monitored teen can leave around the house without arousing parental suspicion. It’s not doing much for me at all – I’ve long since exceeded my quota for new paint-by-numbers retro poppy punk bands – but anyone in short supply of this well-defined aesthetic would suffer no harm from bringing home some Dirty Burger, or at least waiting for the next weekly drop of Swedish punk if they’re busy at the moment.

Fleshen Fella FMR008 7″ (Fantastic Mess)
Melbourne’s underground/punk community strikes me as an inclusive and supportive one, but if all those bands got together to hang out in one room, I’d imagine there’d be some hesitancy in striking up a convo with the Fleshen Fella crew. They seem particularly talentless and unhinged, which of course is a great combination for throwing together a rock band. They play noisy and simplistic riffs, somewhere in the garage-punk pantheon but relying on the teenage-tantrum aesthetic of both the garage and punk scenes to put together these five songs. I’m reminded of the earliest Charm City Suicides recordings (before they had any band members who could play), or perhaps the Dirt Shit 7″ (without the six-minute reggae song). The drummer seems to really struggle (which, to be fair, is a lot harder to learn in ten minutes than bass or guitar), which makes it that much more fun to listen to, and the vocalist does his best job volleying between angry ranting (in that tantalizing Aussie tongue) and squealing like Ichabod Crane on the run. The sticker on the cover designates the various pressing info (limited editions on translucent red, hot pink, black and clear vinyl!), and it’s probably my least favorite aspect of this release – when you’ve got a band that monkeys around through their raucous garage noise such as Fleshen Fella, why acknowledge the realm of collectors and anything resembling civilized nerdy behavior? This is the type of record that should be pressed entirely on black vinyl, with half of the pressing falling out of the band’s van and permanently lost during a drunken gas-station stop.

Greymouth Cut A Crooked Track 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
The New Zealand-raised, Japan-stationed duo of Greymouth return to vinyl with a new six-track 7″ EP on I Dischi, the perfect home for their abstract and noisy tunes. The first side starts off with a rumbling instrumental swing, like those early Action Swingers singles that eschew any pleasantries, and before you know it, one of the members (they’re both named Mark) starts a choppy rant, which works far better for this sort of lo-fi noise-rock than any sort of standard-timed vocals. That quickly segues into what appears to be an acoustic guitar, distorted by the nature of the recording rather than any sort of effects pedal, and eventually subsumed by what sounds to be the creaking of a boat’s keel, that is before another incomprehensible tune arrives. I hear toms, so I know someone is drumming, and I hear someone shouting so I know that’s there too, but the rest is a swirl of room noise and technical difficulties, wherein lies Greymouth’s charm. They seem to have calmed down on the b-side, with the creaking of an old chair and plucked strings forming a sonic cobweb to accidentally walk through and get all over your face. It seems to be one long track, yet three titles are credited, so I’ll defer to Greymouth as to what actually transpired. They make us work for it, and it doesn’t go unappreciated!

Wren Kitz Early Worm LP (Feeding Tube / Sophomore Lounge)
When it comes to American hippie territories, I find Vermont to be particularly appealing – all those beautiful trees, soft white piles of snow, hacky-sack factories and free Ben & Jerry’s at every corner. Wren Kitz (that’s this person’s name) is from Burlington, a quaint town where the vegetarian restaurants still serve rabbit-food instead of textured gluten. I can easily picture him walking down the main pedestrian drag, wearing sandals in thirty-degree weather, guitar (in a soft case) strapped to his back as he walks to the gig. Probably has a cute dog, too. Anyway, this album is full of soft and sedate indie-psych, songs that are dappled in sunlight and shrouded in a pleasant haze. I’m reminded of Kurt Vile and The War On Drugs, that is if neither ever got famous and simply continued to release tapes for their friends’ little labels. Sounds like Beachwood Sparks at times too, although Kitz’s approach never reaches energy levels even close to the (also incredibly chill) Beachwood Sparks – some of these songs sound as if Kitz was laying down while playing them. Right at this moment, I’m enjoying Early Worm as it spins, but it’s so sparse and temporal and innocuous that I’m not sure I will remember the existence of this man or his record in a couple months. When it comes to music that appears like a soft puff of Neil Young’s coffee-breath, there’s more of it floating around than ever, so I’m content to wander through it when it comes rather than purposely seek it out.

The Lavender Flu Tomorrow Cleaners LP (Meds)
The Lavender Flu continue to scare all psych-rock pretenders out of the room with their newest full-length (and second of 2020), Tomorrow Cleaners. This is some deeply burnt DIY psychedelia, recorded with a disorienting mix not unlike Violent Change (though not nearly as lo-fi) and displaying a willingness to travel down any sonic rabbit hole that might appear, albeit not for very long. These tracks move quickly, each seemingly with its own unique instrumental configuration, in search of some crimson-and-clover reality through polluted beaches and panic-inducing suburban sprawl. Released by Meds, a label I associate with the great Siltbreeze rebirth of 2007-2010, The Lavender Flu carry a sackful of that noisy indie belligerence in their sound here (it’s not a long jump from the hippie end of Psychedelic Horseshit’s songbook) and it’s honestly somewhat refreshing. No other band around today can sing “sha la la la” in a song and have me believe it the way The Lavender Flu do here, that’s for sure! These songs are occasionally tender and authentically weird, moving in ways that most songs do not, and I find myself wanting more each time it hits the run-out groove. I wonder if they’ve considered capitalizing on the times with some sort of “Flu season” marketing campaign?

Ippei Matsui & Aki Tsuyuko Natsu No Zenbu 2xLP (All Night Flight)
Had I not stuck firmly to my “no reissues” policy, this one would’ve landed right in the top of my favorite albums in 2020, but alas, it’s the first vinyl pressing of a limited friends-and-family CD-r that was issued back in 2008 to commemorate Ippei Matsui and Aki Tsuyuko’s marriage. Easily my favorite reissue of the year though, as the whimsical sketches and mirthful ambient sonnets of Natsu No Zenbu are absolutely stellar. Recorded in a private, thirteen-room “old Japanese house” with mostly keyboards and pianos at the helm, Matsui and Natsu conjure the eloquent confusion of nature through these soft and unassuming melodies. Imagine if Roedelius wrote music for Japanese elevators, or if Tori Kudo and Conny Plank fought over who got to play the sole keyboard in the cabin? Folk, minimalist composition and field-recordings are all relevant tags here, but there’s a carefree playfulness (and unabashed weirdness) that permeates throughout, that sort of fearless, audience-less creativity that reminds me of T. Kamada’s DD Records label or bizarre one-offs like Canada’s One Of You and San Fran’s Prominent Disturbance. Really serene, beautiful, occasionally lighthearted stuff, pulling together to create a charming musical mindset that I want to exist within as long as I possibly can. Thankfully, at twenty-seven tracks, I never feel rushed to part ways. Highly recommended, even at the staggering import pricing that is quickly becoming the norm!

Mr. Teenage Automatic Love 7″ (no label)
If I let my mind wander for too long about what an actual person named “Mr. Teenage” might be like, it can get dark quickly, but let’s stick to the actual matter at hand, this new garage-rock quartet outta Melbourne, one of the top five international hot-beds for this sorta thing these days. They feature Nic Imfeld of Tyrannamen on bass, his brother Joe on guitar, and Nadine Muller on drums, who has the coolest cred in the band seeing as her dad is Dean Muller of Cosmic Psychos. If my dad was a Cosmic Psycho, I’d probably get deep into urban planning or computer programming or something far away from beer-fueled garage-rock, but this apple doesn’t fall from the tree, apparently! Anyway, Mr. Teenage released this four-track EP themselves, and it’s a fine start for punks who want to do something a little more pub-friendly while still keeping their denim-clad roots. “Automatic Love” is close to being a Vibrators song by name, and sounds enough like one too, if perhaps a little closer to Stiff Little Fingers if we want to split first-wave Brit-punk hairs. That’s at least until the guitar solo hits, confirming that following the arrival of Sheer Mag on the scene, Thin Lizzy’s influence has never felt stronger in modern punk (though never matched, of course). I get kind of an Exploding Hearts vibe on “Waste Of Time” and “The Loser” too, poppy punk that isn’t pop-punk, but rather steeped in the classic sound of gruff power-pop with a dynamic guitar sound and a tough exterior hiding a sentimental heart. Amazingly, somehow this record was not mastered by Mikey Young – did he actually call in sick for a day this year? Do I need to check in with him, make sure he’s okay?

Molchat Doma Monument LP (Sacred Bones)
Molchat Doma is one of the few bands that I distinctly remember when and where I first heard them: October 2019, in a friend’s Honda Fit en route to a post-show bar hang (remember those?). The youngest, goth-iest passenger loaded up his Spotify and entertained us with the sounds of Molchat Doma… surely a long-lost cold-wave group from the Eastern Bloc, right? Turns out that was only partly accurate, as Molchat Doma are indeed Belarusian but are very much a modern affair, starting out in 2017, making it big via YouTube playlists and TikTok viral success (disgusting, I know) and catching the attention of Sacred Bones, who I had feared was transitioning exclusively into a colored-vinyl horror movie soundtrack reissue label. Listening to them then, I was struck by the sheer oldness of Molchat Doma’s sound, how their recording quality was perfectly crisp and aged, sounding more like the ghost of a band that once existed than an actual band here among us now. As I spin Monument, I’m wondering if my recollection is accurate, as this record sounds much plainer than I recall the band’s earlier material. Maybe it was the Honda Fit’s sound system? They must’ve finally gotten into a “real” studio, but it comes at the expense of the cool alluring aura that was, honestly, the majority of their charm. These songs here are generally more Italo than cold-wave – it feels like I don’t hear morosely-chiming guitars and speedy drum programming until the fifth and sixth tracks – and while it’s fine to sound like Joe Yellow and Magazine 60 instead of Joy Division and Trop Tard, I suppose that’s not what I had come to them for. They don’t have the hooks or vocal prowess to make their Italo-electro tracks really pop, and with their out-of-time melancholia diminished by a more direct recording, Monument provides a decent-if-unexciting background listen. Imagine if we never heard from them again after their last record, though! Could’ve been legendary.

Moment Of Fear Covid Sessions 2020 7″ (Beach Impediment)
Another hearty installment of skull-laden hardcore-punk from the Beach Impediment posse, this one a debut! Moment Of Fear are a new Portland hardcore band, featuring a guy named Insane (formerly of Religious War and Rotten Cadaver) on vocals. Can’t be hard to start a band like this in Portland – you simply grab the first three people wearing black denim and spikes who walk past your porch to come inside and pick up an instrument – and Moment Of Fear maintain Insane’s healthy hardcore reputation. Two quick blasts on the a-side, both of which deliver the proud heavy-metallic-crust tradition as Insane warns of society’s decay. “Target For Killing” stretches out across the b-side, fully lunging into heavy metal territory reminiscent of Détente and Sacrilege with Insane’s gravelly bark the sole remaining link to hardcore-punk. The hardcore scene continues to embrace metal with open arms, so Moment Of Fear’s debut should get the local crew of drunk punks in King Diamond shirts hooting and hollering, I’d imagine. At some point, will we even be able to tell hardcore and metal apart? Is that the future these punks want?

Nina Harker Nina Harker LP (Animal Biscuit / La République des Granges ‎/ Le Syndicat des Scorpions)
No sooner had I compiled my “Best of 2020” list than I heard the full-length vinyl debut of French duo Nina Harker, which wouldn’t merely have found a high ranking on it, it may have hit the top! Seriously blown away by this riveting, difficult-to-classify masterpiece. I suppose you could start by filing under “post-punk”, then maybe the sub-heading of “electronic” or “experimental”, and while accurate, there’s just such a unique weirdness, a sort of imposing wickedness that makes even the more rickety rhythmic tunes like “Füsse” far more striking and imposing than they ought to be. Carlos Peron is probably the closest comparison I could come up with, another underground villain utilizing electronics and unexpected voices and sonic motifs to his own nefarious ends, but then some parts of Nina Harker remind me of Titmachine, while others recall Abruptum (gurgled black-metal vocals are brilliantly deployed throughout!)… see what I’m saying? It might sound like too disparate of a hodgepodge to effectively stick together, but I’m absolutely riveted upon every subsequent listen. Somehow, nothing seems forced or approaching the dreaded tag of “trying too hard”… Nina Harker simply re-imagine the past alongside the future, where Kleenex, Nurse With Wound and Monokultur commingle freely. It’s tickling my love of basement-level DIY post-punk strumming, my lust for experimental strangeness is more than satiated, and sincerely, I really can’t recommend this one enough! Anyone sitting on a fresh copy of Nina Harker’s 2016 7”, by all means, drop me a line with your exorbitant demands.

Alessandra Novaga I Should Have Been A Gardener LP (Die Schachtel)
It was the title that drew me in to this one, as I knew nothing of the artist or her deal besides the connection with the experimental-composer label Die Schachtel and what I took as a face value regret that she wasn’t out there plucking tomatoes from the vine. It opens on a lengthy, strange track, “April 21”, which offers a constant crunching (boots trudging through icy snow, most likely?) supported by fleeting drones. Not a particularly musical composition, but it’s a vibe for sure. I like to read books in silence, but if you’re the type who listens to music while reading, “April 21” is the perfect soundtrack for any sort of non-fictional account of an arctic explorer brutalized by the expanse. The rest of this record features solo plaintive electric guitar, notes carefully chosen with tremolo effects or often no additives beyond the cleanly electrified strings, plucked and amplified. The work of Loren Mazzacane Connors quickly comes to mind, but Novaga’s songs are cleaner and less mournful, though still comfortable to dwell in the morose alleyways of our souls. Some tricks occur (like the unexpected freak-out flubbing a couple minutes into “Father Forgive Me”, or the extended interview clip of Derek Jarman in the title track), but this is mostly a somber and comely album of unaccompanied guitar in the ambient / drone categories, far more reminiscent of frozen tundra than fertile soil.

Primpce Goodbye Marines And Hello Dad It’s Son Or Mr. Worm The Monster LP & 7″ (Syncro System)
If you’ve ever tried to google “Prince” while drunk, you may have stumbled upon Primpce, but for the rest of us, this is a fun new experience! The label sent this record over with a note saying “warning: not for everyone”, which of course is an excellent reverse-psychology trick to get someone to like your record – who’s gonna want to be that one grump who proves the label’s warning to be accurate? Regardless of the recommended caution, I took to the beguiling, way-too-complex music of Primpce right away. A better warning might be “you won’t want to listen to this every day”, but on the days when you do want to hear some synapse-blasting indie-prog, this will hit the spot mightily. Think of Deerhoof, Flaming Lips and Ponytail playing June Of 44’s songs at double speed. Maybe if Mark Mothersbaugh joined Hella and they decided to become a poppy emo group at the peak of their powers, it’d resemble something similar to Primpce? The guitars and composition are the virtuosic elements here, particularly as the drums are digital in nature (though generally delivered through a “normal drum kit” setting for added subtle disorientation). Extensive track credits are supplied, in case you were wondering what those weird vocals are on “Worm Surprise” (spoiler: various toy commercials from the ’80s and ’90s). Next time your niece or nephew asks to borrow a Frank Zappa record, slip ’em some Primpce instead and rescue them from heading down an unfortunate path.

Prized Pig PPEP 7″ (Tomothy)
Alongside Celebrators, Prized Pig are helping ring-in the Tomothy label with their vinyl debut. I like that Celebrators single plenty, but I think I might enjoy Prized Pig even more, as their specific confluence of styles really tickles my ears. They open with “Mistake”, which starts in full Arab On Radar irritation-mode before switching over to wailing noisy hardcore, as if Crazy Spirit tried to sound like KARP. An aggravated goblin on vocals, some heavy and perky chug, I’m sold! “Toothless Tom” follows with some angularity, eventually ripping into a stompy breakdown that feels like it should’ve come out on Troubleman Unlimited in 2001 and been my favorite thing I heard that year. “Race Car” gets the b-side, and let me tell you, it’s the most Monorchid-y sounding song I’ve ever heard that didn’t feature Chris Thomson on vocals. I love it! Weird vaguely blues-y riff (is one of the guitarists using a slide?), wild rowdy energy and sass but still undeniably punk music made for punk ears to enjoy. I’m constantly missing shows, but a song like “Race Car” has me really jonesing for the energy and shared particulate exposure that comes with a live gig. Is the title a riff on that early Butthole Surfers album? I hope to ask them about it in person someday after they fog up my glasses with a red-hot rendition of “Race Car”!

Profligate Too Numb To Know LP (Wharf Cat)
Of all the DIY noise guys turned synth-pop auteurs, I’d say that Profligate is the most convincing by far. I loved 2018’s Somewhere Else, a subdued and morose noise-pop album par excellence, and I think I might even love this new one more. Too Numb To Know is his purest synth-wave love affair yet, an album full of wavey bangers that are complex yet direct. Everything gets employed, from buzzing electronics to electric guitars, and Profligate does so in a way that seems natural and effortless, almost making a mockery of the numerous gothy synth-wave acts out there with far lesser tools in their boxes. “Hang Up” is easily the synth-wave song of the year, a relentless banger with magnificent stutter-delay vocals; it’s a fingernail’s length from TikTok virality, and while that would be enough for me to consider this album a success, its surrounded by other highlights. I don’t want my macho tendencies to turn everything into a competition, but he outdoes The Soft Moon’s industrial-pop on “Drink A Spider”, revels in a synth-violin waltz that has me wishing La Roux made another album like her debut, and essentially has me wondering why Profligate isn’t receiving equal billing to Drab Majesty and Boy Harsher in today’s upper echelon of independent cold-wave. Maybe because he looks like some plain civilian you’d see riding the bus as opposed to a photogenic weirdo in extravagant makeup and black PVC shrouded in fog and lasers? He doesn’t want fog and lasers, though, and you know what? Neither do I.

Public Acid Condemnation 7″ (Beach Impediment)
We’re at that time of year where best-of lists are unavoidable, and I’m sure you’ve been seeing Public Acid on many of those lists, as I sure have. They’ve got a cool name, people are raving about them, and there’s nothing I want more than to be knocked in the gut by a ferocious blast of hardcore-punk, but Condemnation has me approvingly tapping along as opposed to pulling the bricks out of my chimney with my teeth. Maybe if they were the first modern group to deliver rapid-fire twists and turns in the form of Scandinavian-inspired hardcore, my eyes would widen, but I can’t help but file this EP a millimeter below all those great Impalers and Warthog and Loose Nukes and S.H.I.T. records that are currently keeping me warm. Public Acid’s riffs are relentless and twisted, the drumming is as frantic and enthusiastic as any given Kriegshög track, and the vocalist sounds like a winded cynocephalus trying to scare you out of the forest (which of course is a smart choice considering how many bootleg Zouo tees I’ve seen over the past year), so I think this one comes down to the actual sound quality for me. Any given Impalers record sounds loud as hell no matter where my volume knob is pointing, but Condemnation is the opposite in that I find myself constantly turning it up, never quite feeling fully enveloped by their fury. Maybe these six meaty songs needed more than seven inches to spread themselves out on, or perhaps the vinyl masterer didn’t know how to expand these songs into the detonations they should’ve / could’ve been, but I put on an Ostgut Ton 12″ right after my last spin of Condemnation and my roof nearly caved in from the sonic force, as I had forgotten to turn the volume back down. Presumably, the best Public Acid experience is a, uhh, public one, which I hope to rectify in 2021, novel coronavirus be damned.

Quintron + Miss Pussycat Goblin Alert! LP (Goner)
Quintron and Miss Pussycat are my generation’s Lux Interior and Poison Ivy, right? Both couples have deeply forged identities, decades of punk creativity under their belts and are just so distinctly cool as hell (perhaps the most important aspect), lunatics who somehow managed to find their perfect heterosexual match in this mixed-up world that tries its best to snuff out freaky underground pioneers. It would bring a tear to my eye if I wasn’t too busy giggling at album opener “Teenagers Don’t Know Shit”, a ludicrous (and accurate) swamp-garage romp that sets the mood perfectly. The rest of the album follows a big-band version of the sound Miss Pussycat and Quintron have solidified over the past twenty years plus: organ-driven party-punk that laughs in the face of boredom featuring a long list of friends on drums, maracas, Mini-Moog Voyagers, all the essentials. Who else could write a song chastising the Texas rest-stop megamart Buc-ee’s with demented slide-guitar and a grooving disco beat? Haters of fun will certainly pass this one by in favor of obscure Scandi-punk reissues or mopey cold-wave, and I almost feel bad for them, as songs like “Stroller Pollution” do more to illuminate the contemporary American urban condition than any dozen skull-covered punk records that also came out this year, and they do so hilariously. Remember when these two adopted XBXRX for a minute there, too? Truly a couple of saints, it’s no wonder they’re from New Orleans!

Rodney Dangerous Fantasies 2xLP (Almost Ready)
Filing this one under R not D, as it seems Rodney Dangerous is the name of the project as opposed to a persona inhabited by bandleader Rafay Rashid. His previous band Ravi Shavi had a few records on Almost Ready, raucous and charming garage-rock that failed to make much of a splash, and with Rodney Dangerous he’s going big from the get-go, a double album filled with party music of varying styles and orientations. Guitars are in use, but merely one participant in the gathering than the central focus – this is music that seems indebted to the turn of the ’80s NYC club scene, music that moves with the energy of Ze Records, Blondie and new-wave punk. The synths aren’t retro, though, which often causes Matthew Dear (with band) and Julian Casablancas (solo) to come to my mind as I listen. Rashid has more than his fair share of charm and charisma, and he leaves no stone unturned, be it a coked-out disco romp (“Sweatin'”) or some Roger Troutman funk (“He Can Hang”), acting like he’s Prince no matter who’s watching. It generally works, sounding like an opening that Lou Reed would’ve actively hated but made a point of appearing at anyway. The parody name might keep some of y’all away (which I understand), but the rest of you party people have two full LPs of this stuff to dig into if it sounds at all appealing.

TV Freaks People LP (Schizophrenic)
Do you think TV Freaks and Cola Freaks ever hang out? That’d be my kinda party, guzzling syrupy sodas with multiple flat-screen HDs blaring! Anyway, it’s been five years since the last album from Hamilton, Ontario’s TV Freaks, and they’re still at it, with a sound that’s undoubtedly maturing without losing its way. It’s evident in listening to People that TV Freaks are forever in love with speedy garage-inflected punk music, but they temper that with songs that allow David O’Connor to stretch out a bit, delving into characters (see “Destined For Stardom”) and playing with the concept of being a singer in a punk band while actually also being one. Even a moody drifter like “Grain Of Sand” fits in well here, a somber song reminiscent of The Saints’ early ’80s albums. I’m also reminded of Buzzcocks, Unnatural Helpers, The Adverts and a dozen other classic or retro-classic punk groups, but TV Freaks own their sound enough that they manage to transcend a pure genre exercise into a loving homage with just enough personal character to keep it interesting. They seem to know that they’re not topping anyone’s Spotify year-end lists, and revel in the freedom that comes with not being indebted to current trends or rising social-media engagement statistics. They’re probably going gaga over all the streaming TV options now, too!

Typical Girls Typical Girls 7″ (Happiest Place)
Amazingly, here’s a group calling themselves Typical Girls who seem to have no relation to the sound of “Typical Girls” (the Slits song) or Typical Girls (the ongoing series of post-punk compilations), released on a quality Swedish post-punk label. Surely they must be aware of the connotations the name carries, but their music is pure throwback pop-rock, floating like a feather in the breeze, far from the land of scrappy guitars and rigid drumming. I’m reminded most of Daisies, probably because I’m still listening to their recent album a whole bunch, in the way that Typical Girls utilize soft dancey beats (some nice bongos on opener “Las Palmas”), glistening guitars and angelic vocals to replicate the butterflies one felt in their stomach as they walked into the middle school dance circa 1995. Of course, Typical Girls share the same home of origin as The Cardigans, and they do their alterna-dance-pop ancestry proud. “Tension” even has a slight Caribbean feel to the rhythm, recalling Cosima’s great single from last year (there’s another artist I’m waiting on new material from!). Sunny, happy, groovy alt-pop for bellbottoms and bucket hats, sure to melt the frost on your window no matter how miserable this winter might become.

Werewolf Jones Premium LP (Big Neck)
Simon Hanselmann is the wonderful cartoonist responsible for the character Werewolf Jones, but it’s unclear if this bears relation to the Michigan punk band of the same name. Is there room in the world for two Werewolf Joneses?? I’d say so, particularly as this band seems to be content in slumming around their hometown, not trying to bother anyone who doesn’t want to be bothered. They’ve got a scuzzy slow-motion punk sound going, familiar to fans of Drunks With Guns and early Nirvana (who among us aren’t fans of those two?), simplistic songs played with an air of frustration and resentment. Adam Hunter’s vocals vaguely remind me of Blaine Cook, maybe if Blaine was nursing a particularly sore throat and just wanted to run through some Fartz songs instead of pushing his larynx to meet The Accüsed’s lofty demands. Nothing funny, no outrageous attention-seeking moments, no over-the-top “LOL so random”-ness that today’s youth salivates over, just some basic-ass mid-paced grunge-punk for the day-drinking bar crowd and the teens who will one day graduate to day-drinking barfly status. Michigan gets mighty cold this time of year, and I bet Werewolf Jones are out there walking around in busted-up Vans, grumbling into knockoff N95 masks and freezing their toes off.