Reviews – October 2015

Ajax Ajax 7″ (Static Shock)
Ajax expand the scope of their influence across the Atlantic with this new 7″ released on the British Static Shock label, with advanced copies supplementing their 2015 European tour. Not bad! I have yet to hear an Ajax song I didn’t like, and that continues here. Stylistically, they branch out a further on this platter: the first two songs groove more than they slam (there’s even an Impalers-esque unexpected guitar solo in “Appeal To Heaven”) while the vocals maintain a gruff bark somewhere between the Damian Abraham / Choke / Boston Strangler guy axis. “Nothing” has a one-two oom-pah beat that feels like a fleshed out, ‘roided version of Glue or Gag, and the main riff in “Paper & Steel” feels like an Americanized, clarified version of Framtid (sans drum fills, plus extended mosh part). Not sure how you can go wrong with any of this.

The Atlantic Thrills Bed Bugs / Sugar Sugar 7″ (Almost Ready)
This is the third Atlantic Thrills record to pass through Yellow Green Red’s hallowed halls, and while I thought their debut 7″ was cool and the album that followed was even better, I think I’ve had my fill. No offense to this fine Providence-based garage-rock band, of course, I just have a limited quota for this sort of thing – your hooks have to be either undeniably massive or you have to nail the sound with expert precision, and while Atlantic Thrills certainly come close, my bar keeps getting higher. On “Bed Bugs”, The Atlantic Thrills give their classic ’60s garage a sort of late ’80s radio-rock twist, like they could easily be nestled between Wham, Tom Cochrane and The Replacements in a Columbia House cassette bundle. “Sugar Sugar”, on the other hand, is a paisley-inspired acoustic ditty that’s as sleepy and generic as the title might lead you to believe, wherein the singer calls his sugar his honey as well. How sweet. I wish The Atlantic Thrills the best of luck, but I think I’m gonna cherish the time spent together and break it off.

Batu Dekalb / Collates 12″ (Mistry)
Here’s how I like it: a techno dude with a moniker I’d expect to see spray-painted in illegible bubble letters across a highway underpass, on a micro-label run by another similarly-named artist (Mistry belonging to Beneath). “Dekalb” is the a-side and it’s not meant for dancing, so much as wandering late at night with fear and danger imminent. The song has a repeating chirpy ringtone motif, which is slowly swarmed by distant sirens, suckerpunching bass and horror-movie strings. If it weren’t for the modern production, one could’ve been forgiven for mistaking “Dekalb” for an early Throbbing Gristle cut. “Collate” is a crowd-mover, though, stomping into tuned metallic percussion that sounds like someone falling into the cookware display at a Le Creuset outlet. It’s quickly looped, enhanced with a digital bass sparring partner and pushed to new and exciting limits throughout its five minutes’ time. It’s not quite chocolate and peanut butter level, but Batu’s pairing of paranoid ambient hustle and unlit club basement meltdown is nearly as delectable.

Century Palm Valley Cyan 7″ (Deranged)
It’s always a little unsettling when a new underground band comprised of members of other known and appreciated bands comes out of the gate fully-formed, not just as a band but as a promotional machine. Century Palm feature members of Dirty Beaches and Ketamines, among others, and they’re kicking things off with two similarly-designed 7″s and an attractive promo sheet that’s printed on nicer paper than my college diploma. I haven’t checked, but I get the feeling they probably already have a sharp website too (editor’s note: I did check, and yes, they own and operate, complete with “Video”, “Press” and “Store” pages), and I dunno, it worries me when bands are great at being start-up LLCs instead of just being dummies who only know how to be in a band. Anyway, this two-song single (on Deranged of all labels) is fine and good. “Valley Cyan” reminds me of the Total Control’s Typical System sapped of any punk influence, just sort of jangly-but-not-too-jangly modern new-wave with synth flourishes and an upbeat tempo. “Accept” is the flip, really pushing the ’80s coke-rock / soft-rock aspect with flirtatious saxophone. The vocals are stranger here, almost comically drawled as if to imitate drunkenness before the big screams kick in with the chorus (and the sax goes buck). Not really sure who this music is for, besides publishing companies and NXNE festival slots, but I’m still slightly curious where they’ll go next. They’re Canadian after all, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the Century Palm quintet are eventually fully assimilated into Fucked Up’s traveling 30-piece choir or something.

Cold Showers Matter Of Choice LP (Dais)
Cold Showers’ first album came out in 2012, which in today’s hyper-fast music cycle might as well be 1912, but I applaud them for the wait. Not only are they clearly not pumping out records just to maintain their blogability, they have also been working hard at refining their sound, tightening their gears and ultimately finding a way to breathe fresh air into modern synth-based indie-goth, a genre that is almost due for total extinction / eventual re-birth. I can’t get over how great Matter Of Choice sounds, in essentially every way: the production is lush and expansive, the songs are beautiful and interesting, and the vocalist manages to sound morose, disaffected and emotionally distant while not sounding remotely like Robert Smith or Ian Curtis. Throughout, Matter Of Choice reminds me of Interpol, Simple Minds’ Real To Real Cacophony, Modern English’s Mesh & Lace and the earliest pop leanings of Section 25, but even with all those older names, Cold Showers never feel like a retro act – the music feels like it was formed today, in our phone-obsessed, information-overloaded times. These gents are clearly more concerned with their guitar tone and synth settings than their haircuts, and I look forward to listening to it all autumn long, watching the leaves turn brown and red from my window while a single tear rolls down my cheek.

Concealed Blade Demo 2015 7″ (Beach Impediment)
I’ll admit, I was a little wary of this EP when I first pulled it from its cardboard mailer: generic “skeleton cop / skeleton tough guy” artwork with barbed wire and snarling teeth, the overly violent band name, the fact that it’s a demo pressed to 7″… perhaps it’s unavoidable to feel jaded with hardcore at some point, but I felt no connection to this Concealed Blade 7″ while holding it in my hands. Good thing I’ve got a turntable, then, as this is ripping and pure hardcore, completely manic and heavy and numbskulled. The vocals are commanding and boisterous, somewhere between Springa and Paul Bearer (with just a touch of Side By Side and Antidote), recorded with a slight late-’80s echo for added moshability. The songs shift between fast-core blasts and head-walkable mosh parts (complete with at least half a dozen divebomb-fueled mosh intros), and I dunno, it’s kind of a flawless victory when it comes to the pure essence of angry male-fronted hardcore. You know, I’ve been wondering why Dave Rosenstraus of Hounds Of Hate (with whom Concealed Blade share members) recently got all muscular, and now it’s clear – you can’t pal around with Concealed Blade and not catch at least a little second-hand roid-rage.

The Coneheads L​.​P​.​1. Aka 14 Year Old High School PC​-​Fascist Hype Lords Rip Off Devo For The Sake Of Extorting $​$​$ From Helpless Impressionable Midwestern Internet Peoplepunks LP (International Players Club)
Any conversation about punk in 2015 would be remiss if it didn’t include The Coneheads. By aggressively opting out of e-commerce and social media, they’ve created more buzz than just casually selling their records on a Big Cartel and posting on Facebook like any other band, which is par for the lightning-fast rate in which underground culture is hyped, co-opted and forced out of fashion. It’s annoying that the only people selling this record online are second-hand profiteers, though, because from a solely musical perspective, The Coneheads are fantastic! They manage to out-Devo Devo from the very start, with vocals so nasally I can only assume they come directly from a disembodied nose, bass playing so frantic and perfect that I swear the recording must’ve been sped up in post-production, offensively clean guitar, cheap plastic keyboards and a rickety punk feel that combines the best aspects of Ice 9, The Toy Dolls and the BIPPP French synth-wave compilation. The songs are deviously short and precise, the lyrics are mutated and dumb, and it’s executed flawlessly – just listen to those drum rolls! I can’t say there are many records this year that are worth sending text messages and concealed cash in order to obtain, but the music of The Coneheads is worthy of any severe leaps of faith one might have to take.

Decades/Failures G00DBY3 LP (Dead Tank / Popnihil)
Kind of a strange move, having a band name that sounds like a split of hardcore bands (I know of Failures, and there are at least a few Decades kicking around out there) when your music is released by underground hardcore labels, but hey, everyone can do what they want. Decades/Failures are clearly going for the whole gothy synth-pop trend here, and they fall closer to Toby Chan than Wes Eisold, stumbling through endless layers of vocal effects, basic drum programming and goth-lite guitar strumming. By all means, it should suck, and I suppose it does, but Decades/Failures are totally doing right by me, as their naturally-inept style pleases my ears considerably. I’m sure no one thought Trop Tard were any good in their day either, and that record is one of my all-time goth faves! There’s something about Decades/Failures’ waterlogged vocals, weak guitars and stumbly programming that I find irresistible, and they are late enough for the trend that it almost seems like they are disqualified from competing, which certainly suits them. G00DBY3 (ugh, that title) flops between “so bad it’s good” and “good” as it spins, and I couldn’t be happier.

Eel Eel 7″ (Beach Impediment)
Eel are Pittsburgh’s slipperiest punk band, featuring ex-members of Annihilation Time, Government Warning and surely more great hardcore-punk acts from the past few years. With this group, they’re diving headfirst into unadulterated G.I.S.M. worship (just check the metallic riffing, vocal attack and fidelity of opener “Fuck Off, The Human Insect”) as well as other classics from the noisier end of hardcore-punk’s spectrum (as seems to be more and more common these days). They blast through oom-pah beats not unlike Blazing Eye, twist all sorts of fiery distortion from their guitars ala Confuse, and push the Japanese angle extra hard, with broken English song titles, a fold-out collage poster of pop-culture and violence (featuring Taylor Swift as an evil commandant) and their band name in Kanji. The music is primitive and vicious; not the sort of thing you have to think too hard about, just rage with your friends (and the stellar drumming pushes things to a manic level). If I had any complaints, I wish they’d tone down the hardcore “tribute act” vibe a little, as their music stands up on its own without the overt Japanophilism. I for one would like to taste a little more anglo-Pittsburghian flavor in Eel’s brew, although I suppose at the end of the day it doesn’t matter how you get drunk so much as whether or not you are drunk.

500mg To The Firmament LP (Drawing Room)
500mg is the solo moniker of one Michael Gibbons, perhaps best known for his decades’ long tenure in American psych-rock institution Bardo Pond. He’s been occasionally releasing 500mg stuff on the side for a number of years now, and I feel like I should seek out some of his earlier material, because this album is really great. Through various solo guitar outings, dense orchestrations and barely-conscious vocal murmuring, To The Firmament feels like an intensely private listen, like you sneaked into a dark corner of The Lemur House (the studio where Bardo Pond and Gibbons record themselves and various other Philadelphian entities) and get to watch intently as Gibbons moves from one instrument to the next. It’s like a quaint mix of Total, Steven R. Smith and Crazy Horse, with the “sonic postcard” feel of the earliest Purling Hiss albums, as if Gibbons wanted to make you a mixtape but didn’t have any records, just instruments. New Weird American music that doesn’t impose any newness, weirdness or American-ness on the listener, and a fine late-night burn no matter what season.

Golden Teacher Sauchiehall Enthrall 12″ (Golden Teacher)
Golden Teacher utterly blew me away when I saw them live a year ago – there were like four dudes shifting between keyboards and drums, all wildly bobbing and shuffling like the Peanuts dance scene, and two vocalists, one of who sashayed and vogued in a leopard-print body suit, the other breaking into unhinged fits of dance that recalled Mick Jagger and James Brown in equal measure. It was impossible not to catch their kinetic energy as a bystander, and the music was suitably tight and wild. I checked out some of their other music after the gig, but much like another insane live band Black Eyes, the recordings were a bit more subdued than the live possession I had witnessed. That may still be the case for Golden Teacher, but this new four-track EP is as close to their live performance as a vinyl disc can get, and it’s wonderful! They go heavy on the percussion here, mixing organic and synthetic elements with ease, dropping unexpected dub elements for a sense of weight and miraculously never crowding the sound. For a group with so many performers, they give the music plenty of room here, which results in powerfully punchy tracks like “Shatter” (see if you don’t involuntarily cartwheel when the kick shows up) and “On The Street”, which feels like Bok Bok remixing Arthur Russell’s disco material for the post-modern dance crowds of today. You can tell they never use the same synth setting twice, but it never seems like a boastful display of their gear either – each song is very specific in its sounds, all tied together by the vocalists who seem to wander in and out of the studio at their own pace, toasting more than singing. Very well done, gang!

Helena Hauff Discreet Desires 2xLP (Werk Discs / Ninja Tune)
I’ve been enjoying the music of Helena Hauff for a while now, with each new 12″, split or remix building on her body of work, but even so, I wasn’t prepared for how utterly fantastic Discreet Desires is. Right away, she displayed a unique and crafty mind when it came to analog acid-techno, but she kind of blows past that here. Opening with the beautiful “Tripartite Pact”, I’m quickly reminded of the Galakthorrö label (maybe the cover photo’s similarity to November Növelet’s From Heaven On Earth and Heart Of Stone helps spur that comparison), in the way that Hauff establishes a mood both quizzical and sexy, like a black-and-white porno that never actually shows any naked human bodies. From there, Hauff treats us to dungeon EBM, the darkest flavor of Depeche Mode’s synth-pop, Void Vision-style electro-goth, Sandwell District style techno murk, and even her first foray into vocals, the captivating “Sworn To Secrecy Part II”. Discreet Desires is bigger than any of those disparate references, though, as it’s one of those rare ostensibly-techno albums with zero skippable tracks, the sort of record that captivates as it offers brave new sounds alongside satisfyingly familiar ones. Five-star recommendation!

Huerco S. Railroad Blues 12″ (Proibito)
Huerco S. has always been cool to me, as guys often say, although I thought that his recent A Verdigris Reader EP lacked the constitution of his other work. This new EP, however, sets him off on a slightly different course, further from the dance-floor and closer to something either vast or small – it’s like I’m looking at a blurry photo and I can’t figure out if it’s the cosmos or a single-celled organism. I’m leaning toward the latter, as these three tracks act as their own little self-contained biological systems, softly pumping as they swirl in place, like a busy microscopic anthill. There’s a little too much movement to classify the sounds on Railroad Blues as ambient, but they come coated in such dense lushness that it has ambient music’s sense of mystery, like when you’re out in a field at dusk, surrounded by chirping frogs but unable to actually see any of them. “Transit V (See See Rider)” is probably my favorite of the bunch, as it comes equipped with the algorithmic feel of Manuel Göttsching’s E2-E4. But, like any good music, you don’t have to be overly intelligent to enjoy it, myself a shining example.

The Hunches You’ll Never Get Away With My Heart 7″ (Almost Ready)
From all the noisy garage-punk bands to come around in the ’00s, The Hunches seem to be at once both the most revered and most ignored. It’s as if they probably barely sold a thousand copies of their earliest albums, but each of those copies remains cherished and savored by whoever grabbed it. I never personally made a connection with their music (I first heard the band after they had broken up), but I’m always willing to try, like on this new 7″ single consisting of two tracks taken from their earliest demos in 2001. “You’ll Never Get Away With My Heart” has a weary Velvet Underground tone mixed with some Back From The Grave vocal ferocity, and “Like I Could Die” feels like Royal Trux working their way through a Meat Puppets song, perhaps. I can certainly see the appeal in their combo of earnest, well-worn guitar-rock and frantic, blathering vocals, but I can’t help but see them as a solid punk rock band that predated a few ’00s trends rather than an altar at which to worship. We’ve all got our individual game-changing bands, though, so Hunches fans won’t want to miss this little archival appetizer (and newbies and casual fans will surely appreciate You’ll Never Get Away With My Heart as well).

The Jeanies The Jeanies LP (no label)
A couple years back I received an unassuming 7″ single of traditional garage-rock done quite well by a band called The Enthusiasts, who quickly receded back into the ether from which they came (and at a limited pressing quantity of 150, it’s unsurprising). Apparently some of those guys put together a new band called The Jeanies, and it’s nice to have these folks back in my life, slinging their time-tested, classic American power-pop garage-rock with ease on this self-titled debut. Throughout, it reminds me of Elvis Costello fronting Cheap Trick had they found themselves under the inspiration of The Replacements (I realize a time machine is necessary to complete this equation, so I ask that you suspend your disbelief). It’s one of those nice albums that offers no obvious musical clues that it was published in 2015, nor does it come across like a retro costume party. There’s a backing vocalist who harmonizes with the main guy, tasteful guitars not far from the better half of the Powerpearls comps, and songs about the kids, Jenny, the girls, and Judy. While I love new things, I also love when bands are great at doing something well-worn and true, be it no-wave, power-violence or the tasteful power-pop tuneage of The Jeanies.

M Ax Noi Mach Raw Elements: 1999 – 2009 CD (Handmade Birds)
As you may know, I’m not the type to spend much time with CDs (although we are nearly far enough out from the turn of the century that the nostalgia they carry is slowly gaining appeal), but I am certainly the type to spend time with any and all M Ax Noi Mach material. This is a fairly necessary release for M Ax’s Rob Francisco, collecting various tracks from 1999 through 2009, essentially documenting his “not a boy, not yet a man” period. Across 22 tracks, a lot of ground is covered, with plenty of cuts feeling more like adventurous ideas or hasty sketches than fully completed works, but that’s part of the charm – it’s a fascinating notebook to rifle through. At times, I’m reminded of Ramleh’s violent mechanics, Mammal’s noise-ruined dance music, Controlled Bleeding’s asphyxiating power-electronics and, well, M Ax Noi Mach’s more recent work, which manages to fuse all of that together into nuanced song-form. Baltimore club beats collide with squalls of harsh noise, enraged vocals arrive like shocks from an ungrounded electrical cord, and each new track presents some iteration of the M Ax Noi Mach universe. It’s amazing to consider that Francisco had essentially conjured his own distinct aesthetic before the Y2K bug failed to destroy civilization, and he continues to hone it to this day. So long as there is a shadowy figure lurking under a commuter train or mysterious drug deal happening in an unnamed alley, M Ax Noi Mach will be watching and taking notes.

Mønic Parsons Hill EP 12″ (Tresor)
Mønic remixed a Manni Dee track earlier this year that essentially stole the show, so I had to check out some of their original material as well. Parsons Hill sounds like it could be one of those first person mature-horror video games, so why not start there, right? It opens with the title track, pushing a 3/4 percussive volley into expansive dark-techno territory, with hi-hats buzzing like a swarm and heart-stopping bass curling around your ankles. Very Rrose-like, I’d say. “Hollow Victory” follows with an undanceable series of electric shocks, very much from Emptyset’s playbook before they became true artistes, complete with metallic snaps and industrial clicks somewhere in the adjacent hangar. “Morse” wraps things up and sounds like a compromise between the first two tracks, offering plenty of digital fear and techno-derived menace while providing some basis of forward motion (although I still don’t think you can dance to it besides doing some sort of Night Of The Living Dead strut). Not a particularly unique take on industrial-techno, but it’s suiting me just fine as I toil away in my science lab, chemically-assembling my idea of the perfect woman but giving her AK-47s instead of arms. What’s the worst that could happen?

The Mountain Movers Death Magic LP (Safety Meeting)
The Mountain Movers have a pretty funny Discogs profile, which I will copy and paste here in its entirety: The Mountain Movers were started by Dan Greene and Rick Omonte of New Haven, Connecticut in order to begin recording as many of Dan’s songs as possible. Dan has hundreds of songs. Sheer quantity of songs is something I usually get nervous about, unless your band is Evil Moisture or Seven Minutes Of Nausea, but from the smooth, focused rock songs I’m hearing on Death Magic, none of this seems to be the work of some unwanted Daniel Johnston / Jandek acolyte. Rather, the music of The Mountain Movers is laid-back, mildly-psychedelic and familiar, as if the more straight-forward material by Pavement and Destroyer were stripped of their eloquent and dense lyricism and given a modern-rock makeover. Or perhaps, it’s like My Morning Jacket without the sense of grandeur, Wooden Shjips without the monotony, or Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy without the idiosyncrasy. For my personal tastes, Death Magic is certainly without that little spark that keeps me intrigued, be it a captivating vocalist or acid-fried guitarist or even an error-prone drummer – there are no mistakes, nor are there any big gambles or payoffs to be found here. Surely there is a large audience that enjoys safe and thoughtful rock music such as this, but I’m the type of guy whose YouTube recommended section is all blooper videos, so there you go.

Obnox Wiglet LP (Ever/Never)
Obnox continues his quest to deplete the world of its crude petroleum supply with his third full-length vinyl album of 2015. I’m practically running out of new things to say about Obnox’s music, so I can’t even fathom how he is able to keep churning it out! Anyway, Wiglet is pretty great, and might be my favorite of this year’s bunch. It’s a pretty straight-forward album – no interludes or underlying theme, no rap songs, no special studio recording budget, just molten garage-punk constantly on the edge of becoming fully subsumed by the noise that surrounds it. Wiglet borders on a live Fushisusha recording at times, as if every speaker is ripped from the pressure and every amplifier overheating until the room is filled with electrical smoke (and probably other smoke too, if you catch my drift). Bim Thomas’s vocals are often nothing more than a melodic pitch in the explosive din, but his riffs are mean-mugging, fun and easy for anyone to enjoy. Unlike other blown-out garage records, the garbled wash of distortion doesn’t decrease the music’s inherent energy, but rather helps push it forward, to the point where it doesn’t matter if I’m hearing a muffled snare drum or a muted guitar chug at any given moment, it’s all about the sum of its parts. And at this pace, every boy and girl will soon have a personal Obnox album to call their own, praise be.

Patois Counselors Patois Counselors 7″ (Negative Jazz)
I know Negative Jazz from their great Mystic Inane catalog, and now they’re stretching out a little further with the debut 7″ of North Carolina’s Patois Counselors. It’s my understanding this is a solo-project-turned-real-band sorta thing, which are becoming increasingly common, and if any of these projects are as tight as this band, who cares how they formed? Patois Counselors play an aggressively-angular form of punk, indebted to Gulcher and Dangerhouse like the best of ‘em, but also calling to mind modern weird-garage entities like Evening Meetings and Whatever Brains. The songs are upbeat but not built for moshing, and the keyboard is like that one mosquito that’s been in the bathroom all week, sneaking little bites and buzzing in your face while you’re trying to poop. Maybe if Protomartyr wore beat-up leather jackets and Docs instead of J Crew khakis and loafers, they’d sound like this? Four songs, and they’re all way longer than the 7″ format should allow (I think there’s like twelve minutes of music here?), but kudos to the engineers and fine folks along the way who made this record possible.

Pigeons Buoy / But For The Waves 7″ (Soft Abuse)
First time I put on this Pigeons 7″, I was feeling its funkiness, sort of like G. Love & Special Sauce on helium… then I realized it’s a 33, not a 45. Whoops! At the recommended speed, Pigeons are far more sensual, and their soft watercolor art of two deadly jellyfish seems far more appropriate. “Buoy” is a very relaxed, warm-water cut of shoegaze-pop, made truly exciting by the guitar solo that comes unexpectedly ripping in halfway through, not unlike Red House Painters’ “Make Like Paper”. Smooth and quite cool! “But For The Waves” is a little more upbeat, but still operates on a planet with slightly less gravitational pull than ours; maybe like an easy-listening version of Damon & Naomi? Whatever the case, these Pigeons contradict the winged pooping nuisance of their namesake that we’ve all come to be annoyed by. “Swans” would’ve been far more aesthetically appropriate, but you know…

Power Nap Paranoid / Dexies 7″ (Rough Skies)
Power Nap are a rock group from the fascinating town of Hobart, Tasmania, and Rough Skies Records is run by Julian Teakle, he of Native Cats fame. All of this makes me want to root for Power Nap, and while I can imagine the ferocious fun that might occur at one of their local gigs (because where else are bands from Hobart performing if not locally), I’m not sure that this 7″ captures Power Nap quite like my imagination. “Paranoid” is a bold song-title to choose, and theirs is a pretty decent slam of repetitive riffing, early punk vocals teamed with feral screams (think Stiv Bators dueting with Adris Hoyos) and a defiant attitude. “Dexies” opts for a “No Fun” riff structure and quickly-spat vocals not unlike Maids’ “Back To Bataan” or any of the Toxin III EP. Of course, Power Nap don’t compete with any of the classic artists I’ve mentioned before, but they’re still fun (and manage to rhyme “tomato” with “volcano” with a level of sass I didn’t think possible). This is Hobart, not LA!

Psychic Baos Society’s Lien On Peace Of Mind / Can’t Keep Us Down 7″ (Magnetic South)
The top of this 7″ single recommends that it be filed under “Psyche-delic Seuzz”, which has me wondering, is Oh, The Places You’ll Go! not already psychedelic as is? Anyway, I was ready for my third eye to be shocked open, but Psychic Baos play a pretty basic form of Back From The Grave-inspired garage rock, not too far from the organ-driven Original Sins or The Mono Men. Confusingly, the title of this EP is just the title, and there are actually four tracks here, none of which ever get too fast. “Wallet Is Dead” has kind of a Mudhoney feel circa their turn-of-the-century material, though not as good. Perfectly fine band for those in need of more retro-garage rock, particularly if you ran out of A-Bones variants and Frank Kozik screenprints to collect, but personally, I find myself more intrigued by the coughing sound my trusty window air-conditioning unit has been making than this EP.

Shearing Pinx Poison Hands LP (Gilgongo)
I often marvel at the financial decisions Gilgongo makes, particularly in reissuing material that came out on a different format a few years ago, and I’m doing it again now with Poison Hands. It’s Shearing Pinx’s debut album from 2006, initially issued in double CD-r format on Not Not Fun (ah, the mid ’00s) and then reissued on standard CD in 2007 by Gilgongo. Is the Gilgongo label in some sort of Brewster’s Millions situation where they must spend a massive sum of money in a short time frame or something? Who wanted this? My incredulousness aside, it’s a decent-enough no-wave-inspired indie-punk record, not unlike offerings by Die Monitor Bats or XBXRX, bands whose records you can easily acquire for under five dollars (which, in both cases, isn’t the worst idea). The first side is fine, but the b-side heats things up nicely, a single track entitled “White Mud” that turns a minute-long punk track into a side-long noise freakout; it’s like they took the last couple seconds of every “crazy” rock song and extended it for minutes, never letting up on the intensity or sheer oblivion. If by chance you are a big enough Shearing Pinx fan to want their debut album, but don’t already own it, or already own it but insist on obtaining the vinyl format as well, your day has arrived, my friend.

Shed Constant Power 12″ (The Final Experiment)
Shed isn’t kidding when he named this new EP Constant Power – he’s always been a hit-or-miss producer for me, but the hits are huge, as is the case with this stunning four-track EP. The a-side is solely inhabited by “Break Up III TK 4″, and rightfully so, as it’s a hugely satisfying banger. The throbbing bass pulse is thick from the start, then comes a fractured drum break, and before long, it’s glazed with a weightless synth progression. I’m getting wary of the recent assimilation / experimentation of break-beats / drum n’ bass within the post-industrial techno community, but Shed wields it perfectly here, like another clunky weapon in his arsenal rather than his only trick. The flip-side tracks are great too: “Final Distortion” zips and zaps with the charisma of Splazsh-era Actress, “Up The Hills” navigates another funky drum-break into experimental techno oblivion, and “Crystal Cubes” is like Emptyset remixed by Ronda Rousey. I want to hear all of these things over and over again, and with this 12″ close by, I can!

Snooty Garbagemen Snooty Garbagemen LP (12XU)
Come on, you snickered at least a little bit when you found out that there’s a band called “Snooty Garbagemen”, right? And perhaps even more amusingly, this isn’t some Sockeye side-project but an actual functioning rock band that writes and performs real songs! I am almost surprised at how conventional they sound, given the name, as the ‘Garbagemen play a form of rugged, fast-paced, hardcore-infused garage-punk that’s as no-frills and sturdy as a used 2002 Dodge Caravan. I’m picking up some serious New Bomb Turks vibes here, with vocals that slobber somewhere around the guy from Vanity (I didn’t want to say Skrewdriver), George Tabb and the main guy in The Nobodys. Snotty, but whatever youthful exuberance you might expect is replaced with a sour workingman’s pessimism. Naturally, it sounds good to my ears, and maybe it’s just the 4:00 pm hungry-for-dinner blues I’m currently suffering from, but the messy Mexican meal they are polishing off on the back cover looks especially tantalizing right about now. Can’t beat the food in Austin.

St. Julien A16 12″ (Apron)
St. Julien seems to be the name that Steven Julien uses when he’s feeling experimental (his more club-oriented work usually flows under the name FunkinEven). The debut St. Julien 12″ nearly brought me to my knees in its unique glory, so I’ve been clamoring for this follow-up ever since, and now that it’s here… I dunno. At first, I loved it immediately, but I’m not sure I was listening to it, so much as basking in the glow of more St. Julien. These four tracks play out like nonchalant intermissions – the drum programming is slow and simple, the synth rides out on alternating chords, maybe a crackly hi-hat sneaks in, but ultimately A16 feels like a series of holding patterns. Don’t get me wrong, the synths are quite warm and comfortable, the surveillance-cam cover art is amusing, and my head almost instinctively bobs to every moment offered on A16, but none of the left-field weirdness of the first St. Julien EP remains. Maybe it’s weird because of how un-weird it is? Whatever the case, I remain hopeful for more of that St. Julien magic in the future.

Thee Tsunamis Saturday Night Sweetheart LP (Magnetic South)
The band is called “Thee Tsunamis”, the album is called Saturday Night Sweetheart, and the band members are putting on red lipstick on the cover, each with flair-speckled leather jackets and up-dos. I’m not trying to be just another useless curmudgeon on the internet, but can’t we all just close our eyes for thirty seconds, focus on the information I just provided and envision exactly what this record sounds like with stunning accuracy? I can’t think of a less-surprising record I listened to this year. That said, Thee Tsunamis are charming enough, with the lead singer’s charismatic yowl and simple-but-satisfying song arrangements, and thankfully there are more upbeat boppers than slow-dance waltzes. But did I mention all three band members have taken on the surname “Tsunami”, there’s a song called “Teenage Dreams”, and the back cover design features each song title as its own button affixed to black leather? Perhaps if they just owned their vibe and called their band Thee Clichés, I’d appreciate it on some meta-ironic level, but for many people besides myself, Thee Tsunamis’ total lack of creativity doesn’t diminish the fun, and I’m not looking to bring them down with me.

Throat Short Circuit LP (Kaos Kontrol / Reptilian)
Hope you’re not too busy for some Finnish noise-rock, because that’s what Throat is offering up. As you probably guessed, they are not an instrumental group, and the vocalist is in fact one of the most striking aspects of their sound, as he has managed to perfectly fuse David Yow’s slobbery howl with Michael Gira’s overly enunciated commands circa Swans’ early years. Opening track “Roast” is almost startling in its Swansliness, as the guitars cut away to reveal nothing but heavy tom action and the vocalist barking his Gira-like orders. Throat manage to mix it up a bit though, as seemingly no heavy rock-based attribute is out of bounds – they’ll lock into a stonery rock groove as though they were trying out for Man’s Ruin, toss in the occasional blast-beat grind part, or jib and jab the guitars not unlike US Maple and the Skin Graft empire. There’s even a wanky solo over a grungy riff that doesn’t sound too out of place from the Sugartooth album I was just listening to on YouTube (don’t judge). Kind of clumsy at times, but generally pretty fine for anyone into semi-ironic muscle-flexing noise-rock… I know you’re out there.

UFUX You Look Dark 7″ (Jeth-Row / Expensive And Time Consuming Hobby)
Gary Wrong is performing quite a service with his Jeth-Row label, really mining the nastiest, most miserable noise-punk across the globe, like a modern-day Noiseville with less silliness, more misanthropy. Not sure how he keeps finding this stuff (perhaps it finds him), but the debut release by Chicago’s UFUX certainly fits the parameters. “You Look Dark” sounds like Quttinirpaaq churning out a Bongzilla cover, a heavy head-swayer with bile-caked vocals. “Trash Walk” has a little more swing, as though there’s a Cramps record soaking in brown liquid at the bottom of UFUX’s sonic dumpster, and the band anthem “UFUX” wraps things up, surely a mess of tangled guitar cords and pushed-over drums functioning as its denouement. I was first impressed by the word “fuck” being incorrectly spelled when I found out about the Fuct skate company in 6th grade (and later in high school when discovering the French Connection brand), and apparently I remain comfortably at that level.

Kurt Vile b’lieve i’m goin down 2xLP (Matador)
Kurt Vile truly is one of Philadelphia’s great treasures, and I’m not talking about touristy garbage like cheese-steaks (no one actually eats those) and Rocky statues, but rather the stuff that Philadelphians actually cherish, like cheap-ish rent, excellent access to live music at all levels and a downright pretentious selection of beer. To know the man is to love him, and while that may make accusations of “friend-rock” somewhat plausible, he’s written more modern-classic hits than whatever long-haired slacker indie-troubadour that lives in your town, okay? I know him (and thusly love him), but I’ll admit I never even checked out his prior album, Wakin On A Pretty Daze – he’s incredibly prolific, and my listening habits don’t always follow suit. So now I’m checking in on this new one, and I’m really enjoying it! Much like all the other Kurt Vile albums, it starts out strongest, the first song hitting the home run rather than just trying to get on base: “Pretty Pimpin” is such a beautiful, instantly-memorable and sweetly idiosyncratic tune. It has this odd sort of Modest Mouse hop in its step, and Vile’s vocal style is more exaggerated and great than ever before, coming across like Tom Petty doing his best Joey Ramone impression. The rest of the record slowly settles down from that vibe, maybe a bit more subdued (and far less reverb-haze) than previous efforts, and a bit more of that ’90s Tom Petty vibe – it’s hard not to picture Tom Petty dressed up as the Mad Hatter when I hear Kurt sing some of these songs. Much like his other albums, the songs are all fairly long and I rarely make it all the way though (the catchiest tunes are always stacked up front), but after listening I don’t recall my boredom toward the end so much as the joy offered by the first few songs. I presume Kurt Vile will continue his ascent into stardom, although I appreciate his modesty in opting against the album title B’LIEVE I’M BLOWIN UP.

Zulus II LP (Aagoo)
I could pretty easily get down with a mixtape of Rice, Aa, Battleship and The Homosexuals, couldn’t you? Well, ex-members of all those bands play in Zulus, and I can only assume it’s not all like, bassists that only lasted six months or touring drummers, as this band certainly carries some of the nicer qualities of those other groups. Heavy drums, weaselly guitar riffs, plodding bass and vocals that run through some sort of effects unit that has the same chemical tang as the orange juice in any Motel 6 “Continental Breakfast”. At times, the delivery and overall sound reminds of Clockcleaner’s high-mark, Babylon Rules, but Zulus are a little too energetic and speedy for that comparison to really stick. It definitely has that sort of Factums / Popular Shapes / The Intelligence sort of Pacific Northwest heavy post-punk vibe (and I believe Zulus hail from that general geographic quadrant as well), but Zulus are low on quirk, wit or gimmick, preferring to stomp or slam through their primitive and noisy post-hardcore punk as though they were afforded no other option.

Times New Viking

Is it too early to pine for the glory days of 2006? We were right on the cusp of free music-recording software making its way into every dorm room and basement across the globe, Soulseek was expanding the iPods of nearly every web-savvy twenty-something and stores still sold CDs, or at least tried to. Oh, and Times New Viking were initially making waves with their humble, back-to-roots form of indie-rock, back when the genre was an actual alternative to the mainstream and didn’t just signify an ever-growing slice of the mainstream. They kept putting out great records up through and including their last one, which may or may not be their last, and I was delighted to pick the brain of keyboardist/vocalist Beth Murphy, who clearly has thought a lot about everything, often with hilariously insightful and poignant results.

Are Times New Viking officially over? I don’t believe there was ever any official announcement. Perhaps Times New Viking isn’t a “formal press release announcement” sort of band?
You nailed it. That, and the notion of a band “breaking up” is a kind of received idea that no band stands by anyway.

Do you ever think about the dozens (hundreds?) of “lo-fi” bands that came about in the wake of Times New Viking, and thought, “God, what have we done?”?
We didn’t do that; Pitchfork and the rest circa 2008 did that. The only culture event we’re responsible for is resurrecting Siltbreeze Records by making a CD-R for our friends and family to listen to that made its way to Tom Lax in 2005.
I do agree with your making the term alleged by putting it in quotation marks. In fact, that should be the genre’s official written presentation: “lo-fi.”
As far as what music genre terms are made of, there is nothing like ​it. It’s a genre named after a description of the audio sound, but that audio sound is also not exclusive to the genre. It’s similar to electronic music in this way. Meaning, there is electronic music, and then there’s one-man melodic black metal made by electronic means. There is lo-fi, and then there’s Crossed Out or Burzum who never had to answer these questions.
​But e​lectronic music is further legitimized ​by​ instruments ​specific​ to the genre. “Lo-fi” doesn’t have that. Further, “lo-fi” only refers to recorded audio sound. (Lugging a PA system on tour to run vocals through is a conceit to be ignored.)
So! The origin story of “lo-fi” is wholly in the recorded artifact, rather than the live and recorded composite. And this is where it gets interesting; because if you trace music back to when the recorded version emerged as the ideal over the live version, you’ll find yourself at the birth of rock-and-roll as we know it.

It’s almost impossible to read about Times New Viking without the “lo-fi” thing coming up (as proven by this interview too, I suppose). Do you feel as though other great things the band has done, like specific lyrics or hooks that you’ve written, or memorable live performances, just kind of get ignored in favor of the buzz word? Or are we hopefully past all that in 2015 (the downside being that everyone has moved on to other indie “trends” to think about)?
When our music gets boxed in that way, it’s at a level that has no business discussing it the first place. With enough publicity, everything gets typecast. How much it takes for this to happen varies, but it always felt unprecedentedly minimal for us. Our music was certainly covered on a scale in which it was never intended. This was a confluence of us getting signed to Matador at the same time music media was expanding online to the scope we know today. I first heard of “Best New Music” when Adam’s brother told me we got it. Folks needed content, and these luddites from Ohio — now endorsed by a respectable major indie — had just released a record with a fidelity fit to mirror the economic collapse. Shit writes itself.
The best writing about our band comes from Internet-generated English translations of reviews written in a foreign language. That illiterate poetic slippage captures us perfectly.
Conversely, the fact that Shazaam will recognize a song as Times New Viking, but get the song wrong every time, is a perfect analogy for the particular brand of shitty music writing we’ve inspired.

What do you miss more: the swank European festivals or the random Midwestern basements?
The fondest memories are in random basements. That’s where the evidence of what we did having any meaning is stored. Shit felt pure. In-the-momentness happened. One thing I miss about playing live is being 100% present in a moment. It doesn’t happen in real life.
That said, at this moment, I’d take a fat European-festival paycheck before I’d agree to all that woo-woo alone. Just me being practical and in my thirties. And basement shows are ​an inevitability​.

If all of Times New Viking’s material was permanently destroyed but for one song, which song would you want to survive?
On the Friday you sent this question, my first thought was “Teenage Lust.” To be sure, (or more accurately, because I had the house to myself, my band is my “guilty pleasure,” and it had been awhile) I pulled all the Times New Viking records from the shelf, made a small stack on the coffee table, and started listening at high volume. It was during “Teenage Lust” that I suddenly did not have the house to myself anymore. So I shut it down — this kind of behavior is obnoxious, even to a life partner I won the lottery with, and I already knew this song was the answer. What I didn’t know was that it would be the last song we heard in our house before it was broken into that weekend, the thief making off with: our receiver, television, record player, a fan, video camera, and all of the records that were still on the shelf. Because we were out of town when it happened, and only had the house-sitter as first responder to relay the scene, I didn’t realize until I got home that the Times New Viking stack I set on the coffee table, an act triggered by your question, had been spared.
Correct me if this is reductive, but your hypothetical could have been anything eliciting my favorite Times New Viking song; it may as well have been some variation of what played out.
Before I got home and realized the Times New Viking records were left, I reflected on the question as a spooky prologue to its own manifestation-somewhat. Then, and now, its some kind of precognitive firefighter.
(There is actually a third layer to this, that’s a little hairy to get into now. Let’s just say the Times New Viking record stack may have offered a clue…)
So yeah. Magical thinking reaches an all-time high whenever shit hits the fan.

After the success of Times New Viking, would you be willing and able to start a new band that does a CD-r to pass around to friends, play house parties for donations, sleep on a stranger’s floor, or are you spoiled by the success you’ve had? What I’m wondering is, is it possible to get a taste of fat European paychecks and hotel rooms with separate beds and then go back to starting from scratch?
Look, success is relative, but I’m afraid you’re overstating ours. Let’s just say Pomplamoose would have had a problem. And sleeping on the floor was always probable. Sure, from 2008 to 2011, we eked out a living touring six to eight months out of the year and bartending / working record store jobs back in “cheap beer, cheap rent, Indian mounds” Columbus, Ohio the remaining four to eight.
Unless you mean successful for a band like us; that, I’d understand. But then, that’s not really success, is it? “Success” implies hotel rooms and tickets to Europe were ever goals. Certainly not. As my friend Bobcat Goldthwait says, success is for creeps. We were blessed or lucky hard workers who just ran with it. We were shepherded toward each of our opportunities by people whose opinion we counted.
But to answer your question: It’s naive and transparent to take money as granted in the pursuit of music. Nobody is going to pay you to be yourself. Even in low Heatseeker degrees of popularity, it’s going to be uncomfortable. For professional artists to business professionals alike, to make it, you’ve got to be willing to play the game. A person decides what game they have the capacity for: what they are willing to mitigate, risk, etc.
For us, the trappings of eking out a living in that way began to discourage creativity, something we didn’t want to risk. It wasn’t that it was all that gross. If you’re philosophically intuitive these signature sell-out moments have their appeal. (A Kia Soul show in Cincinnati played to about 25 folks who were all optioned free packs of Camel Lights stands out.) It was the ennui of it: Twenty too many attempts to capture our image (why aren’t you guys more photogenic?); lip service, broken record, college credit press, canned response (only twice were we interviewed by someone older than us, one was John Norris); seeing bands like No Age and Wavves soar past us, seeing bands like No Age and Wavves on tour, only seeing bands like No Age and Wavves on tour.
Turns out I’d rather play someone else’s game than have someone play mine.
Get a job. Make art. Maybe in the next economy it will be different. I kinda buy into the whole “future of no work” thing.

How integral was Columbus, both its musical scene and general style of living, to Times New Viking? It always seemed like Columbus was mentioned in conjunction with Times New Viking, almost as if you were its musical representatives.
Columbus was super integral. Because it has no national identity, the artists and musicians living there feel no weight of influence, allowing for ad hoc gangs of meaning.
But we are hardly its musical representatives. That belongs to a clutch of ‘80s – ‘90s bands: V-3, Scrawl, Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, Gaunt, Mike Rep and the Quotas, New Bomb Turks, Gibson Brothers, the list goes on.
Many members of these bands, or even the bands themselves, were still active in Columbus music when we started playing. If not active, any dormancy was slight enough to be disrupted when a small scene emerged post-Y2K. Not old enough to be our parents, but with established legacies to behold, the sounds and stylings of this music was in our DNA. It was not for nostalgia’s sake that we recorded on four tracks and liked loud and fuzzy rock music, it was the only we would ever be.
Keep in mind, we all graduated high school in 2000; it was 2003 when the band formed. Our adult sensibilities were established before the internet began its sociocultural effect.
We were on the last bus of organic influence.

Who did your cover art? The sort of collage-y, hand-written notes with scribbling and whatnot seems inseparable from your music – like I don’t think I’d process it the same way if your records came out looking like Klaus Schulze’s or something.
As part of our 300% creative control business model, we all did. We met in art school, so it could be said that our visual aesthetic was agreed on before anything else.

What were the best aspects of working with Matador and Merge? Were they vastly different labels to work with, in how they operated, or was it kinda the same thing?
Aside from the fact that we were with Matador for two albums and an EP, and with Merge for one album, operations were pretty much the same. We could email Mac or Gerard respectively, tell the same jokes around them.

Do you feel bad for bands starting today, that they can’t exist in any sort of anonymity thanks to the overwhelming presence of the internet? Would you want to start a new band soon, or does it seem exhausting?
Any degree of online anonymity can be managed if desired (False, His Hero is Gone, Tragedy). Some bands only use Bandcamp, a lot of obscure stuff can be found on Soundcloud. The internet doesn’t look good on bands that go all-in with it from the get-go, but a band with a marketing strategy is nothing new.
The internet is neither good nor bad, it’s the ebb and flow of applications that affect certain culture industries, and in real time. Twitter has been great for comedians; podcasts are a new option for journalists. From 2003–2006, we worked MySpace. A group without much technological interest or knowledge could create what was essentially a networked website. You had complete control of the content: songs, tour dates, photos (and ours were only ever album art and flyers), videos, you could even change the page colors and backgrounds by editing the HTML (Fun fact: the open code feature was an oversight which became one of the platform’s main attractions). If you found a band that you liked, check out their “Top Friends”! This was the networked part.
Anyway, I hope the fact that I’m waxing nostalgic about MySpace speaks to the absurdity of valuing the state of anything by the technologies that exist. I’m not saying, “back in the day, everything was different, because MySpace.” Technology is fleeting, good music is forever, and the internet isn’t going away either. \
I’d start a new band.

Would you feel comfortable going on record at confirming or denying the possibility of a Times New Viking reunion, say in 2020 or so?
I feel comfortable denying it. That way, if it ever happened it’ll be all the more unexpected and special.
We might record soon. I aspire to be one of those non-touring bands that just make records.