Reviews – April 2021

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B&W Cat / B&W Cake Ectoplasm Orgasm 7″ flexi (Swimming Faith)
There are a handful of artists in my general orbit who are wildy prolific, but Buffalo’s John Toohill might currently hold the never-stop-hustling crown. Alongside this flexi, I’ve got two other new records sitting here from projects he’s involved with (Alpha Hopper and The Hamiltones)… I could probably just save up and do an entire month’s worth of reviews exclusively featuring his output, if I really wanted to make his parents proud. This new one has a particularly bizarre name, B&W Cat / B&W Cake, which is Toohill on the music and his pal Dan Oh on vocals. It’s slippery electro-sleaze, the sort of vaguely-goth, vaguely-metal, vaguely-punk sound I’d expect to hear through the in-house Sonos system in Trent Reznor’s master bath. Kind of Revolting Cocks-like too, if the title of Ectoplasm Orgasm didn’t already make that clear, where the sexiness is somewhat outweighed by the imposing sinister demeanor of the music and vocals. Not necessarily a lot of substance in these two tracks, but it’s a one-sided clear flexi-disc, what were you expecting? Toohill’s got at least a couple projects going that hint at his interest in sex-dungeon aesthetics fueled by metallic guitars, evil synths and come-hither vocals, and if he keeps at it, something truly great might come of it.

Blawan Make A Goose 12″ (Ternesc)
Blawan is one of those artists that operates at their peak when they sound the most like themselves. The more Blawan sounds like Blawan, the happier I am, and I’m pleased to say that this new EP, amusingly titled Make A Goose, sounds a hell of a lot like Blawan! I’d hope that you’re already familiar with his sprightly-yet-abrasive techno at this point, but if not, you might as well skip directly to Make A Goose and blare it from the most powerful stereo at your disposal. This 12″ comes with four tracks, all of which ride the higher end of the techno spectrum (hitting 140 BPM perhaps?), rowdy and ready to move some bodies (living or reanimated) whenever they return. The persistent gallop of “My Guide To Dancing On Carpet” is met with the sound of asthmatic Terminators and an unattended kitchen stove, really a perfect way to get things started. “Spooky Fingers” might be my favorite on the EP though, shaking out an effervescent rhythm that meets a particularly horny android about two minutes in. It’s probably the most playful (yet heavy) industrial-techno I’ve heard in some time, if you want to even call it that – like I said before, Blawan is best described in self-referential terms by now.

Chris Brokaw Puritan LP (12XU)
Lifelong indie guitarist Chris Brokaw needs no introduction, but if you aren’t familiar, you’re invited to quietly pull up his Discogs page and discover that you’ve probably enjoyed him on at least a couple records through the years. He’s so established and consistent that the cover’s somewhat unflattering live shot of him deciding which pedal to step on doesn’t even subtract from Puritan – hell, that sort of workmanlike, unadorned aesthetic might even enhance it! He’s got a full band behind him here, with which he comfortably navigates somber post-hardcore, Lynchian slow-burns, classic guitar songsmithery in the tradition of Neil Young, slow-core grooves and faded-Levis indie-rock. He’s thoughtful and clear-eyed throughout, but still willing to rhyme “cocksucker” with “motherfucker” (see “The Heart Of Human Trafficking”) as a means of striking back against the injustices of today (again, very Neil Young-ish in nature). Like much of Brokaw’s work with Codeine and Come, Puritan is a record that will never age to the point of embarrassment, not in five years or fifty. If the kids don’t get the appeal now, they hopefully will someday!

Bumbo’s Tinto Brass Band Bumbo’s Tinto Brass Band 7″ (Bumbo)
There’s one thing you know Bumbo’s Tinto Brass Band didn’t have to do upon their initial formation: Google to see if any other bands already took their name! It’s a wacked-out moniker for sure, and it suits this very wacked-out band. If “circus punk” wasn’t claimed by dork squads like Gogol Bordello and World Inferno Friendship Society, I’d say that Bumbo’s Tinto Brass Band deserve the designation, as this is some freak-show-styled punk with plenty of bleating horns, zany vocals and insistent grooves. They’re from Detroit, and I hear a lot of that Midwestern weirdness in them, recalling Timmy’s Organism, Electric Eels and The Gizmos in bits and pieces throughout. On one hand, I can clearly visualize an eventual collaboration blowout with Crazy Doberman, and on the other, I’m picturing Shel Silverstein shirtless in overalls doing a jig on stage while the rest of the Tinto Brass Band carried on. I’m probably, okay definitely not a big enough freak to ever receive initiation into their crew, but as a square on the sidelines, the hairy party they’re throwing is a barrel of fun.

Child’s Pose Eyes To The Right 7″ (Thrilling Living)
New Thrilling Living release, so you know what that means: more testosterone-laden mosh-core from Newark, NJ. Sike! Child’s Pose are a sloppy-tight post-punk group out of London, featuring fine folks from other groups like Sauna Youth, Self Defense Family and Sarcasm, because as you know, no one in London is allowed to be in just one band. They’ve got the sound down pat, with lots of air between guitar stabs, energetic but not-remotely-hardcore drumming, almost too-funky bass and a casual sing-song vocal. The only thing keeping these tunes off the Wanna Buy A Bridge? compilation is the current inability to travel back into time, so who knows, they might end up there someday. As beholden as Child’s Pose are to that older sound, it’s one that I personally love, and they really understand the dynamics and songwriting required to make these songs pop (of which “Lil’ Snitch” and “October” are my stand-out faves). Feels weird to imagine that there are people out there who wouldn’t enjoy Eyes To The Right, but I guess there has to be a bunch, right?

Christopher Alan Durham Peacetime Consumer 7″ (Spacecase)
Yes, that’s the same Chris Durham you may recognize from Roach Clip, his solo Church Shuttle project and the All Gone label, but don’t let the resume-styled formality of his name fool you into thinking this is any less of a fried-brain noise-pop excursion than his other work. “Gratiot Crawl” is the a-side cut, and I like it a lot… it oozes out like a slowed-down Swell Maps recording, or perhaps the passive strum of a Velvet Underground tune given the “stumbling through a basement full of equipment in the dark” vibe that Mad Nanna possessed. The vocals are particularly weird, as if Durham didn’t finish his sandwich before recording his vocals and just kinda tucked a large bite into his cheek for the duration of the song. “50’s House Blues” is the flip, a warped blues choogle that recalls other unrepeatable freaks like Sweet Kelly, or dare-I-say Jandek at his most hootin’ and hollerin’ (which is to say not very). Durham recorded these tunes on March 14th 2020, and based on the befuddled haze these songs seem to exist within, I can only imagine him stumbling into the supermarket a few days later, wondering why all the toilet paper and pasta was gone.

Electric Chair Social Capital 7″ (Iron Lung)
Accidentally stopped writing about Iron Lung’s records over the past couple months, but that’s a me problem: this label remains the last great hope for underground hardcore-punk weathering the financially-impractical, digitally-constrained state of the modern music industry. Anyway, I dug the first two EPs from Olympia’s Electric Chair, and maybe I need to throw them on again as a refresher, as Social Capital is sounding insanely good to me right now. They play a fairly pure and unblemished form of raging American hardcore-punk, the sort of truly maniacal and untamed hardcore sounds that Toxic Reasons, White Cross and Corrosion Of Conformity were churning out in their earliest years. There’s simply no co-opting these short blasts of hardcore for any sort of corporate or monetized venture, so no one tries – Electric Chair are free to rage on their own behalf without any undesired intervention. They also somehow managed to release the best “live without an audience during Covid” video I’ve seen from any artist across any genre, presumably in support of this 7″? It’s them on a way-too-big stage, completely going off for no one, with a drum riser and lights and everything a club can offer in use. It’s not quite on par with “Siege live on public access TV 1984”, of course, but some of that same serious hardcore magic is pulsing through Electric Chair.

The Embarrassment The Embarrassment EP 12″ (Last Laugh)
Crazy to think this is the first straight-up reissue of The Embarrassment’s self-titled 1981 12″ EP, but that’s the case, and we have Last Laugh to thank. I was confused at first by the 2018 copyright on the disc – maybe they’ve been sitting on the rights that long? – but in celebration of the record’s 40th anniversary, here’s an unadorned replication of this seminal American post-punk EP. The Embarrassment were from Kansas, and that great sort of outsider energy is on full display here, like they know they’re as good as anything coming out of San Francisco or Manhattan and they’ve got a chip on their shoulder about it. I feel like anyone unfamiliar with The Embarrassment might be taken aback by their greatness here, as these songs are snide and fast and tight and, to get right to it, simply excellent. “I’m A Don Juan” kind of anticipates the pop-punk to come years later, and “Celebrity Art Party” is the go-to hit, with utterly propulsive drumming and admirably sarcastic vocals. It still sounds fresh today; any contemporary post-punk band could only hope to deliver such a sharp selection of inverted melodies, jangly guitars and unexpected hooks. It’s criminal to think that these tunes have languished in record-collector inaccessibility for a number of years, but that’s thankfully no longer the case.

EQD Equalized #009 12″ (Equalized)
René Pawlowitz is an unceasing source of fine techno music. You might know him best as Shed – I know I do – but he’s made some records as Head High and The Traveler that I also really enjoy, alongside like a dozen other monikers I’ve yet to peep. I love the tossed-off nature of his aesthetic – rather than put his effort toward developing any identifying visual style, he just pops off these white-label 12″s at will, the names of the projects seemingly adhering to a logic only Pawlowitz knows for sure. Truly no-frills stuff, but not in a way that feels like an anti-image either, but rather the product of an artist for whom the music trumps all other aspects, which I certainly commend. Anyway, this new one under his EQD alias is a banger, deployed at a moment in history where bangers are less than optimized, but who cares? Not EQD! The a-side cut is merciless and brooding – while plastered to a rigid 4/4 signature, the snare hits a staccato beat over buzzing electronic interference and a deep rumbling, like the sound of fluid-filled lungs exhaling under a powerful stethoscope. The flip is a minimalist acid seizure, all rubber and bones and no fat, like a skeleton wearing a latex catsuit. I’ve more or less heard these two styles countless times before, and yet they never sounded better to me than they do right now, right here, from EQD.

Fairytale Fairytale 7″ (Desolate)
I’ve been leaning on hardcore a whole lot over the past few dreary months, both new and old, to help get me by. It’s a healthy vehicle for my ever-present rage and frustration, sitting by myself with the lights off and nodding menacingly as the record spins, and I’ve done plenty of that with this vinyl debut from New York City’s Fairytale. They go straight for the throat with these five rippers – think of classic crude Swedish hardcore delivered extra crispy and enhanced by the potent odor of American political crust. It’s fast and pummeling stuff, certainly in line with Anti Cimex and Discharge, but I’m also reminded of Disrupt and State Of Fear by the heavy distortion in which their tone generally resides, Crucifix due to the verge-of-falling-apart performance, and even a little Randy Uchida in the guitar (check the razor-thin soloing on “Fantasy” to hear what I mean). It’s difficult but possible to go wrong with those combined influences, but Fairytale excel at the game, sounding incensed on a street level and absolutely in tune with the structural anti-pig viewpoint that myself and many others find agreeable if not imperative. Throw in some cool samples (as Fairytale do here), and you’ve got a righteous group I look forward to hearing more from, already worthy of inclusion among Aus Rotten and Capitalist Casualties patches on any decent punk vest.

Feeling Figures Feeling Figures 7″ (Celluloid Lunch)
Spring’s here, so the debut single from Montreal’s Feeling Figures feels particularly appropriate: this is grungy, lighthearted indie-rock meant to be enjoyed without a coat. It sounds like what could’ve been a particularly strong entry into the 1992 Sub Pop Singles Club, but that’s not to say they sound like a retro act, merely that their style of fuzzed-out guitars and tuneful vocals is pretty close to timeless at this point. Calls to mind groups like Times New Viking, Eric’s Trip and Dinosaur Jr. as well as the Misfit Heartbeat compilation (a personal favorite!), though Feeling Figures are probably on the younger and scrappier end of that particular spectrum. Kinda bums me out to think that there are merely 160 copies of this 7″ pressed (understandably so; no one wants to live with boxes of unsold 7″s in their living room), whereas even the worst Sub Pop single would’ve sold at least ten times as many back in the day. Times have irrevocably changed, of course, and I can throw my little pebbles at the digital-streaming tank in front of me all I want, but at least I’ll have this Feeling Figures single to warm my sullen heart!

Horrendous 3D The Gov. And Corps. Are Using Psycho-Electronic Weaponry To Manipulate You And Me… 7″ (Whisper In Darkness)
Fantastic debut EP here from Portland’s Horrendous 3D, a bludgeoning beast of blown-out hardcore. If you’re familiar with the Portland hardcore style, Horrendous 3D manage to emulate a variety of its glorious attributes: a guitar tone that sounds downright radioactive, a raging rhythm section as fast as it is heavy, and a vocalist with a throaty unintelligible bark that sounds like Todd Burdette after receiving Wolverine’s adamantium infusion. Sonic similarities to Lebenden Toten, Zyanose and Nerveskade are undeniable, but the rhythm section is so meaty and the songs themselves deviate from the typical verse/chorus structure most d-beat clings to, resulting in a fairly unique sound (though undeniably hardcore). Really could go for more than four songs, but it’s given me plenty of reason to spin this one over and over. And as a bonus, Horrendous 3D are unequivocal in their messaging: corporate digital surveillance has got to go before it destroys us all. I enjoy reading articles on Vox and The New Republic about this very topic, but you know what’s an even better way to encounter this sentiment? Through a blistering 7″ EP of crasher-crust, noise-not-music hardcore.

GG King Remains Intact LP (Total Punk)
GG King is a sterling example of how to age as a punk rocker: grow wiser and sharper, and figure out how to fluidly integrate your own personal inspirations without watering down the sound. Remain Intact is a fine example of this, as GG King’s songs flow better than ever before, while the varying influences (black metal, cock-rock, sludge, post-punk, etc.) shine through without disruption. The general template is still brooding punk rock, in line with Rikk Agnew’s earliest records, The Wipers and The Dils, but this is as far from a deferential genre-exercise as it can get. These songs are full of hooks, but weird hooks… it’s like there is a clear precedent in punk for the music GG King makes, yet the songs themselves are kind of unprecedented. The addition of pianos and unorthodox effects has me considering GG King alongside other idiosyncratic punks like Geza X, Billy Synth and Doc Dart, but he’s not even close to as weird as any of those guys, nor does he try to be. “Dekalb County Endless” has two barely-related parts, like Samhain meeting Flipper on Jon Spencer’s turf, if that provides even the slightest bit of help, whereas the insta-catchy “Melt On You” sounds like a song Green Day would’ve recorded during their Dookie sessions but left off the album for being too dark. My difficulty in tidily summing up Remain Intact should provide all the encouragement you need to check it out, from partial punks right up to the total ones.

Lavender Hex Bunch Of Flowers LP (no label)
Calling it now – this will probably be my favorite self-released album of the year! Lavender Hex came out of Berlin back in 2018 and knocked my socks off with their debut LP, and this follow-up, Bunch Of Flowers, is somehow even better! On their debut, the band was credited as the duo of Aahnt and Lianne Hall, but the roster has ballooned to some twenty people (or people and things?) for this one, though I get the impression it might still be Aahnt and Hall at the helm with a variety of guest contributions. Whatever the case, it’s a glorious mess, one that borrows from the farthest reaches of post-punk, dub sound systems, trip-hop, noise and the avant-garde in a stunning display of mainstream rejection. The closest group I’d feel compelled to compare them to is Crass, as Lavender Hex are consistently riotous, though their means are far more electronic and eclectic; it’s undoubtedly punk in spirit, but screamed vocals and guitar feedback are in short supply (if not entirely absent). A jumpy electro-pop tune will nestle up against a grimy dub redolent of On-U Sound, and then it’ll sound like Aaron Dilloway making basement reggaeton, but I swear to you, it flows perfectly and makes perfect sense in the world of Lavender Hex. You need to hear the whole thing, but for starters I’ll direct you to the last song on the first side, “Banana Jellyfish”, a wild confluence of broken techno and cut-up spoken-word.

The Midnight Steppers Isolation Drives LP (Radical Documents)
LA’s Radical Documents label continues to be a strong depository for underground acts that aren’t being released anywhere else, which is really the way to do it. This new one comes from The Midnight Steppers, whose Isolation Drives was released on cassette by the label last fall and has now hit vinyl, either due to some strategic marketing plan or backed-up pressing plants (I’m guessing the latter). They’ve got a dirty lo-fi rock thing going on, strongly recalling the vibes that the Columbus Discount label inhabited for most of the ’00s. Proudly self-recorded in mono, these are all very much songs, delivered in a ragged state similar to Psychedelic Horseshit or El Jesus De Magico, beholden to classic Ohioan indie-rock like Great Plains or Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments but performed and recorded by probably just one guy, all by himself, with no inclination to ever be more than that. Only a small handful of records ever really grabbed me from that scene (go find a copy of the Pillow Talk 7″ immediately) but it ultimately wasn’t my thing, a kind of slapdash indie-rock style with a low-power sound, and I’d have to say the same is pretty much true for this Midnight Steppers record – it’s fine, just nothing I’d have the ability to recall days later, nor find myself itching to throw on. On the other hand, if you’ve been sitting around wishing the kids (or folks in their late 30s) were still fumbling through melodies on borrowed guitars instead of noodling around on synths, you may one to (midnight) step to this one.

Monokultur Ormens Väg LP (Ever/Never / Mammas Mysteriska Jukebox)
I thought I was a big fan of Monokultur, following their debut 7″ and album releases, but this new album has catapulted my appreciation to near evangelical levels. It’s so good! I loved their murky, primitive take on dirge-y post-punk, but Ormens Väg is something almost entirely different, if still understandably the work of the same group (who, if you didn’t know, is JJ Ulius and Loopsel, two Swedish mensches operating in the sub-underground). The basic premise is tender, mournful guitar / keys / bass-guitar / synths, overladen with much of the great found-sound, soft junk-noise approach that seems to run through the Förlag För Fri Musik scene (within which they reside). Loopsel’s vocals (always in Swedish) add a strange pop beauty to the mix, and the uncluttered-yet-messy arrangements recall the farthest reaches of the early ’80s DIY post-punk sound, groups like 41 Degrees and 23 Skidoo and maybe even Section 25’s The Key Of Dreams if it was forced to rub elbows around town with Sewer Election and Ectoplasm Girls. If there was a shoegaze-pop beacon between Flaming Tunes and Neutral, I’d expect Ormens Väg to be floating nearby. Strongly recommended!

Palberta Palberta5000 LP (Wharf Cat)
Do y’all have love for Wharf Cat? They’re one of those odd labels that has some artists I really enjoy (Profligate and Gong Gong Gong in particular) that don’t seem to get the level of shine I think they should. Go ahead and add Palberta to that list, as this Brooklyn-based indie-punk trio have been making interesting records for years now. They’re quietly funny, poppy in an awkward way and clearly derived from the pure sources of DIY post-punk instead of like, career-minded indie-pop. A perfect example is “Big Bad Want”, which is a cool, self-assured rocker, kind of normal, until they repeat the chorus line a mind-melting forty-nine times. I actually sat there and counted – it’s insane! I can only imagine the laughter in the practice space when they were writing this song and someone proposed repeating the chorus to such a comical length. Moves like that are why I really like Palberta! Their songs remind me of a scrappier Grass Widow at times, each member performing like a different Tetris block to collectively form a line, but the inherent fun of being in a band together shines through more than musical virtuosity or compositional prowess (though, whether they like it or not, they’ve got that going for them too). No one else around could sound like The Raincoats one moment only to dip into the baby thrash of “Eggs n’ Bac'” the next, which is far more Wheelchair Full Of Old Men-sounding of a song than Rough Trade. Palberta don’t make the rules, they break the rules!

Ashley Paul Ray LP (Slip)
Ashley Paul is an American saxophonist, clarinetist and composer based in London, with a list of collaborators and associates of a fine experimental pedigree (she’s performed a Phil Niblock piece with Eli Keszler, as well as collaborations with Thurston Moore, Rashad Becker, Loren Connors and Charles Hayward, which should be enough for a WIRE magazine bingo). What’s her solo album like, then? Dispel any notions of noise or abrasion, as these songs are curiously sweet and sour, like getting warmly drunk on a foreign alcohol or tending to a prickly garden full of unexpected flowers. Paul handles saxophone, guitar, clarinet and percussion, and she’s aided by the firm double bass of Otto Willberg and Yoni Silver’s bass clarinet. You might be thinking avant-garde jazz is on the menu, but really this is a quizzical and tender album I’d find more comfortably filed under “experimental indie”. These songs are carefully constructed, with peculiar (yet welcoming) melodies taking the forefront. Guided by Paul’s hushed vocals, these are the sort of songs you can comfortably sing without waking the baby. I’m reminded of experimental DC group Et At It, though their music was far more rigid and less prone to moments of beauty, the avant-DIY music of London’s Still House Plants, or perhaps the Fort Thunder-informed jazz of Providence’s Barnacled, though they conjured a mighty racket that Ray calmly declines. Chances are, I simply don’t listen to many records that hit like this one, and while I may not have the adequate musical intelligence to best describe it, I’m enjoying it something fierce.

The Pink Noise Economy Of Love LP (Celluloid Lunch)
God bless The Pink Noise, for whom weirdo kooky post-punk was clearly not a trendy dabbling so much as an extended aesthetic commitment. And unlike the normal rule of punk, wherein every consecutive album provides diminishing returns, The Pink Noise continue developing their distinctive sound on a path I first noticed with 2013’s Greedy Heart up through 2018’s House Of Cards, and I’m currently bopping along to on their newest, Economy Of Love. It’s post-punk in nature, but without any aggression or anxiety; this music is loose, played kinda slow and stumbly, which of course is enhanced by Mark Sauner’s lugubriously glammy vocals. He sounds as if Tom Verlaine was the one pitiful ranting drunk guy at the end of the bar whose ramblings you hope to avoid, kind of lost in his own world and unconsciously connecting with the songs behind him. They’re pretty great, in particular the glittery strut of “On Trial” and the last-call slow-dance of “Mirror”. The instrumentation is stacked (horns, synths, even a tasteful violin finds its way into the fray), threading the line between teenage DIY punk, the earliest downtown NYC new-wave, and that first Intelligence album which I still love dearly. There aren’t many bands that I’d go on record hoping they exist for another ten years, but The Pink Noise are persistent and interesting enough where I’m already psyched to hear their 2031 album, assuming I still live in a house with electricity at that point.

John Sharkey III Shoot Out The Cameras LP (12XU)
John Sharkey III (generally recognized as the second best John Sharkey, following the fourth) has appeared in these digital pages for essentially as long as I’ve been writing them, first with noise-rock menaces Clockcleaner, then through the elusive goth of Puerto Rico Flowers and up until this pandemic hit, with his alternative-oi trio Dark Blue. I don’t recommend that punks ever attempt solo acoustic singer-songwriter records, but if they have to give it a go, waiting until they’re more or less middle-aged with significant life experience under their belts is their best bet. I wasn’t worried about Shoot Out The Cameras, though – I know Sharkey’s exterior has hardened while his interior has softened over the past couple decades, and I know he’s got that rich velvety croon that sounds good over basically anything, so he was the right man for the job. These songs are tender and mournful but not without hope, though it may be hard at times to find, as he’ll sing about picking roses only to reveal that he’s doing so in a cemetery. I can imagine iconoclasts like Neil Young and Rowland S. Howard might’ve inspired some of the stark characters, simmering emotions and implied malevolence found in these songs, but Sharkey continues to sound more like himself than anyone else, living or dead.

Silicone Prairie My Life On The Silicone Prairie Vol. 1 LP (Feel It)
Ian Teeple has been an ever-present force from the Kansas City scene, whose work with Warm Bodies and Natural Man has entertained me, and I’m sure his dozen other bands and projects that I haven’t heard would as well. Silicone Prairie is his (or at least one of his) solo projects, playing every instrument in full-band replication. This debut shares many qualities I associate with that scene, namely the sort of power-treble sound that’s become a signature since The Coneheads first hit, and the sense that the music surely might’ve been sped-up in post-production, even if it wasn’t. These songs are tinny and virtuosically zippy, with plenty of tricky guitar licks and precise drum fills. I’m always inherently suspicious of great musicians, but Silicone Prairie seems nice enough, as if an android replicated your favorite unknown power-pop and new-wave songs in a sonically-degraded, double-timed manner. Teeple’s vocals are agreeably nerdy, popping off like an Ergs record played on 45 with the guitars denied distortion but granted full clearance to rip arena-rock solos wherever they can be squeezed in. It’s a bit much, which is surely the point, but the trebly overload and barrage of dexterous musicianship crammed onto a 4-track recorder is not simply an acquired taste, you have to really be in the mood for it, too. Some people probably associate Limp Bizkit and Static-X with Monster Energy drinks, but Silicone Prairie captures that cheap synthetic overstimulated energy blast better than any nu metal, no doubt.

Snooper Music For Spies 7″ (Computer Human)
What better way to foster a deep connection with your romantic partner than doing a home-recorded punk project together? These are the bonds that hold us close. Nashville punks Connor Cummins and Blair Tramel are busy with their separate artistic lives (Cummins plays in G.U.N., Tramel is a video artist), but Snooper is their baby, and this is their debut release. One can assume they didn’t have hopes of changing the world with these four songs, as three of them are very contemporary-sounding lo-fi punk, strongly indebted to The Coneheads and the Lumpy Records scene and the multitude of Kansas City weirdos operating in the same orbit. Nasally vocals from outer space, wild runs on the bass and irritating jangle on the guitar, and the nagging sense that the songs themselves might’ve been sped up artificially. “Running” takes a slightly different approach, applying digital drums and a dance-y bassline to what could’ve been a party-punk hit, were punks currently having parties. Music For Spies certainly feels more like a fun musical exercise than anything “serious”, but let’s not forget that the realm of the non-serious is where so much good punk has grown.

SSIEGE Meteora 12″ (Knekelhuis)
SSIEGE have a mix out from last year titled Dreamy Pads Of Insecurity and that seems as good a way as any to describe their sound here. After some mild internet searching, I can’t figure out who they are or where they’re from, but I’m going to have to assume Europe, not only from the Knekelhuis connection but because most other continents are unable to reach these levels of blissful relaxation. This is airy, wistful electro, pastel tones bursting like soap bubbles under the sun. Opener “Il Re Delle Mandorle” is a great way to start, a playful take on Manuel Göttsching’s E2-E4 proto-techno that, with the addition of some subtle rhythm guitar, feels right in line with some of Music From Memory’s recent new-age hits. The beats ensure Meteora isn’t a strictly ambient affair, though, with shy melodies that remind me of Fatima Yahama, conjuring similar introspective, borderline-nostalgic emotions. Very pleasant stuff to put on in the background, which is mostly how Meteora has existed in my life, though I’ve also been rewarded by paying actual attention to its fuzzy tones and, well, dreamy pads.

Toads Toads LP (Sanctuary Moon)
Toads’ self-titled debut arrived at my home worse for the wear – the cardboard mailer must’ve encountered a shark (or at least a barracuda) en route, as it showed up soggy with a bite-sized chunk missing. Even so, the record plays perfectly (and amazingly the cover is only downgraded to a conservative VG), which is perhaps an accurate reflection of what it means to be a Bay Area punk band in 2021: resilience and toughness in the face of tech-bro dystopia and an ever-impending sense of cultural doom. I was certainly eager to hear Toads once I learned they feature ex-members of Loli & The Chones and Icky Boyfriends (two ’90s garage-punk bands whose music I hold dear), and while it’s neither as irritating or wild as those two groups, this is a nice set of studied punk tunes that avoid feeling too formulaic or genre-bound. Their sound is definitely Gonerfest worthy, with subtle and overt nods to the classic Dangerhouse style (particularly X or Alley Cats) and the reasonable understanding that they’ve smoked in the same unkempt bars as Life Stinks and Andy Human, getting drunk and grumbling humorously. Anti-aspirational punk rock, the sort of stuff that befuddles the Jello Biafras and Fat Mikes of the world.

TVO Alive! 7″ (Stupid Bag)
Very nice surprise here from West Philly, the debut EP from a group called (are they not men? they are) TVO. They’re new to me, and obviously I haven’t seen their name on flyers or anything, but I certainly hope to once shows return, as this is very well done aggro punk. Unlike a lot of today’s so-called post-punk, where it’s more like post-hardcore with rigid monotonous drumming and punk vocals, TVO’s emphasis is firmly on the punk side of the equation. I’m hearing a strong resemblance to Chain Gang, particularly in the combination of sneering American vocals and hardcore jangle on opener “Loser”. The rest of the EP kinda falls in line with the Monorchid / Drive Like Jehu approach, but more limber and more in line with the years 2021 or 1979 than 1996. It’s kind of refreshing to hear wild, self-assured punk like this played by twenty-somethings without any sonic similarity to the St. Louis and Kansas City scenes that seem to have set the guidelines for how modern punk is supposed to be written and recorded. These songs are forceful and fun, an invigorating form of punk that doesn’t have to ask the audience to move up front, because where else would they want to be?

TV Priest Uppers LP (Sub Pop)
Here’s a simple survey that will determine the amount of pleasure you derive from TV Priest’s debut album: how much do you enjoy being yelled at by a belligerent British dude? Very much, somewhat, or not at all? There seems to be no shortage of cantankerous wise-guy Englishmen in post-punk these days, and if you’ve made it through Sleaford Mods and Idles and still desire more verbal abuse, TV Priest are the perfect solution. I’ve spun Uppers a few times now and am still not sure where I stand; depending on my mood or disposition, it can sound like another sturdy entry in the big-indie post-punk canon alongside Protomartyr and Shame and Idles, but when I’m not in the mood to hear a guy crack wise with lines like “hey buddy, normalize this!” over cyclical riffing, I really don’t want to hear it. The vocalist has a great, too-ridiculous-to-be-fake name, “Charlie Drinkwater”, and his observations and accusations sit far better with me than the last Idles record, but the music seems content to act as a dressing, a post-punk scenery rather than songs that aim to be anyone’s favorite, if only the favorite of a handful of grumpy loners in their respective terrible towns. “Slideshow” is probably my favorite cut here, as it behaves the most like a catchy rock song, which ironically suits this group who generally seem disinterested in any music recognized as pop. I’m also suspicious of any punk-derived band that signs with a big label for their very first release, but that’s my personal bias against calculated success, managers, industry connections, and anyone who actually puts in effort and energy into their personal achievements.

USA/Mexico Del Rio LP (12XU)
There are still remnants of the tar-like substance that USA/Mexico’s previous album, Matamoros, left under my nails back in 2019, and now I’m getting even filthier with their third outing, Del Rio. At a time when blown-out noise-rock seems to be at a lull in the underground, I appreciate it more when it comes around, doubly so when it’s as unforgiving and brutal as this. USA/Mexico have prided themselves on their blown-outedness from the very start, but this new one feels even deeper than before – no longer are we teetering on the edge of the volcano, choking on toxic smoke, we’re deeply submerged in its churning core. Only three tracks this time (two of which have lengths of 13:06 and 16:28), and it feels less like songs and more like jams, which these players handle well. Think of Air Conditioning loosely covering one of those endless Abruptum dirges and you’re in the sonic neighborhood, particularly as the newly-added vocals of Colby Brinkman add a sense of classic brutality, like Crossed Out’s Dallas Van Kempen mid-waterboarding. If only I had the same monstrous bass rig as USA/Mexico’s Nate Cross at my disposal, I might finally grow some hair on my knuckles.

Reviews – March 2021

ATM Inglewood Tapes Vol. 3 LP (Radical Documents)
If it wasn’t clear, this is the third vinyl installment of Inglewood’s ATM, another varied assortment of DIY beats and keys. Like the ones before it, this is a collection of chintzy beats, lo-fi G-funk grooves, silly electro and basement-wave pranks. I’m reminded of the nostalgic tape hiss funk of Delroy Edwards, as well as the absurdist electro of PFFR on the vocal tracks here, which sometimes play out more like hysterical sketches than songs. This third volume finds the trio a little tamed compared to the previous two, with longer stretches of innocuous and breezy instrumentals and less of a frazzled atmosphere (though the one-two punch of “Titty” and “Brown Expensive” is a caffeinated antidote to album’s otherwise blunted nature). Pretty enjoyable stuff, even if some of these beats seem purposely disposable, or at least very easily rendered. Doesn’t seem like ATM thought too hard about many these tracks, and for the highest possible level of enjoyment, I recommend that you don’t either!

Bicep Isles 2xLP (Ninja Tune)
Weird time for dance music, considering how the very nature of the style depends upon social participation. Bicep were some of the reigning marquee DJs of the pre-Covid era, their breakbeat-inflected tech-house well-tailored for the enjoyment of the club-going populaces, so what are they supposed to do now? I’m not sure anyone knows, but on Isles, Bicep decide to continue onward making big-room techno music, albeit slightly morose and lonely-sounding. “Apricots” is an isolated house anthem, slowly building up into a laser light show care of mournful chords and an insistent vocal hook. Emo trance, let’s call it! Even the tracks with vocal guests, like “Saku” (featuring Clara La San), sound less like celebratory affirmations and more like plaintive calls for connection. Opening cut “Atlas” is probably my favorite of the bunch, a stellar cut of divine electronica with a very Aphex-like melodic hook, a pounding drum break and some sort of spiritual enchantress’s wordless vocal beckoning you to the other side. It sounds like a completely empty 4000-capacity club with the smoke machines and LED screens going full tilt, a stunning and imposing achievement that desperately needs human bodies to be complete. We can’t communally vibe to Isles, but Bicep’s tender acknowledgement of our shared isolation in their music fills me with more hope than loss.

Bipolar Bipolar 7″ (Slovenly)
Slovenly goes domestic for a change with the 7″ debut of New York City’s Bipolar, the band most likely to resemble Turbonegro’s coke dealers reviewed here this month. Sorry to say that I really don’t care for this one! This is extremely entry-level party-punk, featuring band members in wacky costumes and clown makeup playing generic and fuzzy punk songs. “Depression” is the most basic “I’m depressed” song I’ve heard in forever, “Virus” opts for the uninspired chorus of “I’m a virus”… I dunno, there’s really not much to salvage here, at least musically speaking. They do seem like fun people to be around though, even more particularly fun people to photograph, especially if you’re impressed by costumes and drugs and out-of-control life in the big city. Presuming it one day returns, every Trans Pecos punk show is going to need a local opener for which Bipolar would be a suitable fit, but in the absence of live shows and only this four-song 7” EP to go on, this band is nearly memorable in their unmemorableness. Nearly, but not quite!

Collate Medicine / Genesis Fatigue 7″ (Domestic Departure)
Domestic Departure continues to deliver the DIY post-punk with this new 45 single from Portland’s Collate. Like others from the Pacific Northwest, they deliver a scratchy, home-made sound, a sort of “Kill Rock Stars no-wave” vibe that never goes out of style. “Medicine” is low-key funky, working discordant guitar, disco drums and geeky attitude in a way that reminds me of Emergency (their Archigramophone LP remains an underrated gem!) or perhaps San Francisco’s Preening (if Preening could sit down and just calm down for a few minutes). “Genesis Fatigue” goes a little more aggro, an art-school spazz-out that would’ve fit perfectly between The Crainium and Black Eyes in a Washington DC house show circa 2002. I can practically feel the itchy combination of polyester thrift-store button-ups and body sweat as “Genesis Fatigue” whoops it up, hopefully taking Phil Collins to task – no lyric sheet is provided, and the vocals are a gobbled blur, so your guess is as good as mine. If you enjoyed the Neutrals 7″ that Domestic Departure released last year, and I know many of you did, this new one from Collate is its perfectly hairy little cousin.

Frank & The Hurricanes Love Ya Love Ya LP (Sophomore Lounge / Feeding Tube)
It might not be hacky-sack weather yet around these parts, but the bare-feet music of Frank & The Hurricanes seems impervious to snow, rain or The Man. Frank Hurricane and his trio play a very gregarious form of folksy rock n’ roll, one unashamed to not only sing the word “alcohol” as “alkeehol” but to spell it that way on the lyric sheet, too. Modern bell-bottom beer-drinking music no doubt, sure to tickle the fancies of free-spirits enamored by Meat Puppets, CCR, Souled American and of course The Grateful Dead. One can almost picture Frank and his friends, sunburned and floating in inner-tubes down a shaded creek, as these tunes outwardly unwind. Not a care in the world for these boys! Play it for your grandparents on their 50th wedding anniversary, play it for your kid’s 5th birthday party, Love Ya Love Ya will politely entertain either crowd with humility and grace. That said, it’s probably Frank & The Hurricanes’ supreme universality that has me feeling somewhat indifferent to their tunes, personally speaking. Absolutely nothing wrong with what they’re offering here, but it’s so damn regular-sounding to my ears that it fails to leave a significant impression. Doesn’t mean I wouldn’t split a Taco Bell cravings pack with them outside of the bar before their gig, though. Hell, I’m buying!

Freak Genes Power Station LP (Feel It)
The foil-embossed cover art had me worried Feel It was reissuing some long-lost Synergy side-project or some other form of electronic music completely devoid of punk qualities, but thankfully that’s not (quite) the case. Freak Genes are a punk duo (whose members previously did time in Hipshakes and Proto Idiot) who have fully synthesized their punk in a manner not unlike Nervous Gender, The Normal, Units and so forth. Gone are the buzzsaw guitars and thrashy drums of classic punk rock, replaced instead by their digitized counterparts. Charlie Murphy and Andrew Anderson sing as though there was an actual punk band behind them, and it feels somewhat natural considering that the rhythms and melodies of these songs could easily be translated by a live rock band. They do add in some guitars here and there, but it’s mostly a synthetic affair that hews pretty close to the classic synth-punk tradition, albeit one that prefers bouncy, nervous sounds to anything that might be considered cold-wave or minimal-synth. This is the duo’s fourth album, but the first to fully embrace an electronic sound, which makes sense as there is nary a more addictive gateway drug in the world of underground music than the synth – do you know anyone who’s bought only one and managed to stop there? I sure don’t.

The Hammer Party Smashed Hits LP (Psychic Static)
Some serious highs and lows as I settled into this album from Providence noise-rockers The Hammer Party. At first, I was delighted to realize that Dan St. Jacques (of Landed infamy) is the singer, but I was quickly saddened to learn that their guitarist Andy Newman passed away last November. Way too many of us dying! Regardless of whether or not The Hammer Party decide to move forward, Smashed Hits is a solid slab of ornery, blue-collar noise-rock, as gristly as the cover’s collage of torn flesh and broken glass. Their songs are repetitive and punchy, with primitive rhythms that replace groove with staccato bashing. There’s no denying the presence of early Swans in this sort of equation, but it reminds me even more of Landed’s later work (the less improvised, more song-based stuff) or fellow Providence scum-jockeys Snake Apartment. It’s certainly the perfect framework for St. Jacques’ mostly-human vocalizing – he sounds more and more like the monkey-troll-man he has tattooed on his chest, the sort of filthy creature who catches you after dark and forces you to answer a riddle about class politics before letting you pass. “Russian Collusion” is the one for me, with Newman’s guitar playing recalling both Andy Gill and Greg Ginn while St. Jacques tells it like it is in rhyming couplets. Friends and family of Newman should most certainly be proud.

Jane Doe Ensemble Pink Liquor / Respect 7″ (no label)
“New York City indie-rock” wasn’t always a phrase to run and hide from – it used to refer to bands that were just as ignored and unheralded as from any college town, weirdos who found each other and held on for dear life. That’s the vibe I’m getting from Jane Doe Ensemble, a guitar/drums/keyboards vocal trio whose two songs here are pleasantly messy and unresolved. “Pink Liquor” has a Joan Of Arc sort of discombobulation going on, moving from a lighthearted jangle to a more frazzled ending. Toward the end of the track, the keyboard is stuck on the “buzzing fly” setting and I want to reach into my speakers and swat it, which is a nice touch. “Respect” reminds me of one of Modest Mouse’s self-medicated slow dances, with lyrics like “sometimes I think about the gun inside the house” sung sweeter than such lines might normally allow. Kind of pretty, but with a subversiveness that Jane Doe Ensemble are unable to conceal, not that it seems like they’d want to anyway. The sleeve features two sets of delightfully unflattering portraits of each band member, looking on the front like they haven’t slept in years and then abstracted to bad-trip nightmares on the back. It suits them well!

Jensen Interceptor Master Control Program EP 12″ (Unknown To The Unknown)
The ever-reliable Jensen Interceptor is at it again with this succinct and effective new EP on Unknown To The Unknown. If Jensen Interceptor is unknown to you too, he’s Berlin-via-Sydney’s premier acid-house producer, consistently pumping out singles in a strictly-defined acid style. Master Control Program offers no surprises, simply more of that body-moving acid electro that only a mannequin could remain stoic within earshot. “Sweat” is the main jam, featuring ghetto-house legend DJ Deeon repeating the track’s title to intoxicating effect. It’s like a pumped-up acid Egyptian Lover groove, what’s not to love? “MCP (Swallowed My Tab Remix)” is another true-to-form banger, taking Kraftwerk’s distinct sound effects and dropping them into an 8-bit cyber-grid chase scene, whereas “Ridin'” twists some funky arpeggios into a perspiration-fogged club setting. I haven’t tested my theory yet, but I’m convinced I could do twice as many crunches at a higher speed if I plugged any given Jensen Interceptor track into my gym mix, but I’m not sure I’m ready for the responsibility of having a six-pack. There are a variety of reasons why a person might choose to sweat, and Master Control Program serves as a proper soundtrack for all of them.

Kiwi Jr. Cooler Returns LP (Sub Pop)
There’s something to be said for a band that isn’t hard to figure out. Kiwi Jr. are very much an indie-rock group in the classic sense, which is to say they’re four dudes with guitars and collared shirts paying direct musical homage to The Clean and the many bands that followed in their wake. They’re called Kiwi Jr. for chrissakes! Vocalist Jeremy Gaudet sings in a manner that reminds me of David Kilgour, where any given syllable is likely to be raised in pitch for no apparent reason other than its fun to do so. His lyrics are usually casually wry observations with plenty of chuckle-worthy lines that make the Pavement comparisons a no-brainer, too. They even have a song about getting a haircut (“Only Here For A Haircut”) that sounds like something off Terror Twilight – for chrissakes, again I say! That said, while their reference points are clear as day, Kiwi Jr. do them justice with these pleasantly upbeat indie rock tunes. They’re energetic and rowdy and deliver the goods without ever feeling too silly (or too serious), occasionally recalling the more modern style of The Shifters and Uranium Club, too. It’s a dying breed, the “four nerdy white guys with guitars” format, and I’m not going to stop anyone from celebrating its decline (maybe it’s time for, I dunno, some other types of people to find quick and easy paths to musical success?), but I still like it when it sounds good, and Cooler Returns sounds pretty alright.

Loma Don’t Shy Away LP (Sub Pop)
Alright, I’ll admit that I initially wrote off Loma with the sort of prejudice I reserve for big bland indie-rock music, assuming that they were to be filed amongst other indie artists whose main audiences want their music to behave like wallpaper. Wrong I was! This group is great, very much adult-oriented in sound and presentation, but that’s not a bad thing when done artfully and beautifully, as is the case with Don’t Shy Away. I’d consider it folksy slow-core krautrock, a widely encompassing style where each sound (be it a booming bass-guitar, a synthetic hand clap, a rolling snare drum or a breathy vocal) is delivered with a richness of clarity and purpose. It’s a sound that would appeal to fans of Portishead and Nils Frahm, Tamaryn and Duster, Nicolas Jaar and Bedhead… moody grooves with beautiful vocals and songs that verge on soundscapes. The accidental techno-pop of “Given A Sign” might be my favorite track here, recalling Austra’s angelic synth-pop, but the pounding “Ocotillo” is reminiscent of Earth’s country-western phase and features the most beautiful pronunciation of the word “creosote”, so I’m torn. See what I mean? A lot of good ideas happening here, all of which are expertly rendered – even Brian Eno came on board to produce album closer “Homing”, and you know he doesn’t roll out of bed for just anyone!

Modessa Modessa 7″ (Jabs)
I love when some new piece of history reveals itself to me in an area where I already thought I knew it all. I’m talking about the short-lived project Modessa (May 13th, 1999 to May 31st, 1999 to be precise), featuring Ethan Swan of Emergency, Helen White of Petty Crime and Amy Heneveld of Meltdown, a veritable who’s who of obscure late ’90s no-wave players who somehow ended up in Portland together (impressive seeing as Meltdown were from DC and Petty Crime from Brighton, England!). The Bandcamp description notes that they were all “influenced by each other’s bands”, which certainly seems to be the case through these five tracks. Spindly guitar lines, rudimentary drumming and bass-guitar that seems to be off in its own world are the name of the game, with sporadic, lightly-shouted vocals, as was the normal behavior of the time. Sounds a lot like a classic no-budget UK DIY single, though there’s an undeniable air of post-riot grrrl underground happening here too, before sass-rock become codified with disco beats and white belts. Definitely more of a curio than a formative document of that scene, but that doesn’t mean I’m not cherishing my copy!

Pipyu Pipyu LP & 7″ (Bitter Lake Recordings)
Logically speaking, it’s only a matter of time before Bitter Lake runs out of Japanese obscurities worth reissuing (or the quality of the material being reissued declines significantly), but that time is not yet upon us! Pipyu released but one cassette in 1985 and a split 7″ flexi in 1988, so I can surely be forgiven for learning about them care of this attractive new reissue. Unlike some of the wave-ier material Bitter Lake has put forth, Pipyu are firmly hardcore-punk, albeit an incredibly digital-sounding take on the genre. I’m almost certain the drums are entirely synthetic, and the guitar has that fizzy “direct to soundboard” tone that purists tend to avoid, but the songs are mostly mid-paced hardcore-punk in spirit and the result is pretty great. I could picture The Stalin playing these riffs a few years earlier, but Pipyu approach them with their own distinct sound and attitude. Plus, Pipyu’s sartorial style was closer to Crime & The City Solution or even Stone Roses than Confuse or Lipcream (so many cool hats and baggy jumpers). The accompanying 7″ features two songs from a 1990 recording that are less hard-hitting, but “墜落天使” and “その花は笑わない” are gloriously sweaty teenage hardcore tunes that Mutha would’ve released had Pipyu went to West Long Branch Senior High School in 1984.

Pódium Pódium LP (Slovenly)
Okay, everyone wants a psychedelic record cover, but the black and white lines on Pódium’s debut are truly straining my eyeballs – well done! They’re a new punk band from Valencia, and they pack in plenty of music on this, their first full-length. They opt for a fast down-picked style for most of the album, with the hi-hat generally maintaining 16th notes and the bass matching its pace on one or two (but rarely three) different notes. I’d say it sounds like Downtown Boys covering The Ramones, minus the horn section and plus a ’90s noise-rock guitar tone. It’s a combination I find appealing, although Pódium locks into the same general pacing and sound over and over again here, to the point where I feel completely satiated after one side of the record. “El Pozo” is a cool tune, for example, but as its surrounded by an abundance of music that sound like lesser variations on it, the overall impact is lessened. I’d rather be left wanting more than exhausted by excess, but Pódium are free to do whatever they want, particularly after harnessing the brain-warping power of this cover design.

Public Trust Dirt In My Eye 7″ (Active-8)
After releasing two modern-quintessential Boston hardcore albums, I had wondered what The Boston Strangler was up to. Turns out vocalist Ban Reilly has a new band going by the name of Public Trust, and if you are wondering if maybe he softened up a bit, or perhaps found a little kindness in his heart to at least reconsider openly celebrating murderers, think again my friend! Dirt In My Eye is Public Trust’s second self-released 7″, and Reilly takes his sound in more of a “collectible-punk” direction, though it suits him well. His booming, Choke-like voice remains the same, but this music caters more to delinquent behavior outside of a midnight movie than edge-minded hardcore pitting. The lyrics seem to pointedly echo the poetry of GG Allin, making it perfectly clear that he wants sex, he doesn’t like diarrhea during sex, he wants to cannibalize his lover (that’d be “Cannibal Love”), and he is impressed by the gruesome result of a disfiguring car crash. It’s crass, it’s crude, and I dunno, it practically feels wholesome at this point, as kids today have normalized face tattoos and turned online self-degradation into an Olympic sport, and over here we’ve got a grown-up Ban Reilly talking dirty about sex. Much of the record reminds me of The Freeze at their earliest and best – “Eyes Without A Face” in particular – and I can hear strains of The Misfits in “Dirt In My Eye”, though Reilly’s voice ensures Public Trust’s distinction, homage though it may be. It even comes with one of those “not for sale to minors” stickers that used to grace GG’s singles back in the day, a quaint reminder that parents actually used to care about their children.

Reymour Leviosa LP (Knekelhuis)
Knekelhuis starts their new year right with Swiss synth-wavers Reymour, feeling chilly, hopeful and refreshed. Leviosa is probably the sweetest release I’ve heard from the label thus far, though it still has that “foreigner in a foreign land” vibe that seems to run through the majority of the label’s signees, a sense of displacement and mystery which often results in some intriguing musical combinations. Reymour are somewhat straightforward in their approach, but it hits nicely – theirs is a soft and steamy reflection of minimal-wave pop, strongly reminiscent of the great BIPPP compilation, Antena’s Camino Del Sol, the short-lived Russian duo Private Entertainment and, yes, a smidge of Young Marble Giants (if they had thin mustaches, wore berets and drank red wine). It’s wearily romantic music, but with enough of its own style to avoid being tagged “goth”… I can’t help but feel that this is music to be enjoyed in head-to-toe Emilio Pucci, not Rick Owens. Reymour are sad about the futility of love, but it’s because they just seduced the pool boy next door while simultaneously having an affair with the lawyer’s wife, not because they hang out in cemeteries at night.

Soft Shoulder Copy Machine Fall Down 7″ (Gilgongo)
Soft Shoulder has always kind of been Gilgongo’s James Fella and whatever friends he can recruit at any given time, as opposed to a solidly formed band, now that I think about it. On this new two-song single, he’s got two different and formidable crews, who make it one of my favorite Soft Shoulder releases to date. “Touchless Display” is noisy indie-punk with a semi-functional reggaeton beat and a vocalist doing his best syllabic recreation of Mark E. Smith. This leads to a sound not unlike a bargain-basement Von Südenfed, or The Mae Shi meeting Pixeltan outside of Liars’ practice space circa 2001, which probably happened. Soft Shoulder were a trio there, and they inflate to a quintet on “Treat For Samson”, including Deerhoof’s John Dieterich, and it’s a gloriously scattered free-improv jam. It’s elastic and limber, like a yoga session where you actually do turn into a pretzel, complete with plenty of fluttering horns and Derek Bailey-informed guitars. It’s over six minutes, and while I’m hesitant to say I wish it was twice as long, I’ve found myself playing it repeatedly, happy to inhabit its woozy shuffle and involuntary spasms. I’d have to put in a little research to be certain, but I’m thinking this 7″ might be the best Soft Shoulder have ever sounded!

Speed Week Hey Hey It’s Speed Week 12″ (Legless)
Don’t let the Saved By The Bell-stylized art keep you away from the debut of this Melbourne punk group – Speed Week deliver the goods! Rather than try to enhance their straightforward punk with weirdness or some sort of attention-grabbing gimmickry, Speed Week write basic-yet-forceful punk songs, anthem-ready tunes that stand up for themselves. Think of a slightly faster Eddy Current with a less friendly attitude, or maybe The Chats if they graduated primary school. (Which isn’t to say that The Chats would benefit from higher education, or that Speed Week’s brains are bigger, just that Speed Week’s lyrics reflect a particularly thoughtful evaluation of modern society’s miseries and pitfalls.) I want to point your attention directly toward the song “Echo Chamber” here, a glorious ripper with a chorus I found myself singing along to by the end of the first time I heard it. The whole record is great, but that’s the ace! Speed Week paired a timeless sound with contemporary topics of concern, which is an excellent combination for any punk band of any era. There’s such beauty in fast post-punk simplicity such as this, a difficult feat that looks easy when Speed Week’s at it. I always assumed the graphic design was the easiest part of doing a punk band, but as I look at Speed Week’s Matchbox-parody logo, I’m realizing it doesn’t come naturally to everyone.

Styrofoam Winos Styrofoam Winos LP (Sophomore Lounge)
Sophomore Lounge is open to a variety of sounds, but generally has been giving the bulk of its attention to pleasantly hippie-fied indie-rock, as is the case with this debut record from Styrofoam Winos. They’re a “Nashville songwriting super-unit” according to the press release, yet don’t expect any top-down-on-a-dirt-road pop-country radio slickness; this is a group that would surely be more comfortable tucked into a loading zone at Cropped Out than at an IHeartRadio tailgate party. The three of them trade instruments and songwriting duties throughout, which explains the fairly broad range of styles displayed here, from nervous post-punk recalling DEVO and Pere Ubu to folksy Wilco strums, potent Yo La Tengo-esque indie jams and even some forays into what sounds like Christian indie-country or something (the softly shimmering “Once” in particular has me thinking of Drive-Thru Records hopefuls Steel Train). No complaints here, but I also haven’t heard any particular songs on Styrofoam Winos that made me stand up and/or shout. It’s probably a bit too plain for my particular tastes? One of those records that is perfectly pleasant listening, guaranteed to not offend even the most out-of-touch of boomer parents, and well, I suppose I’d rather run that risk.

Tin Foil 2 LP (Almost Ready)
Detroit’s Tin Foil make music beholden to an era when you could absolutely title your second album “2” and it would be a pretty big deal, because only a tiny sliver of the population ever got to be in a band that made a record, let alone two. They play fairly charming throwback rock, definitely the sorta thing that would tickle the ears of that one uncle who’s subscribed to Record Collector for the past twenty years, as well as the younger leather-jacketed cousins who never understood why anyone would care about Daft Punk in the first place. A little Stooges, a little Bubble Puppy, a little Cream, some Dust, and maybe (okay, definitely) a pinch of Pavement in there, too… road-tested rock music that has no pretensions as to its purpose or attitude. You sit at the bar and drink beer, you stand outside and smoke cigarettes, and when you want to hear some music, 2 is a perfectly suitable slab. It’s an old sound they’re working with, but not a “retro” one, if such a designation can be made? I mean to say that Tin Foil seem to be playing the music that naturally comes to them, not out of a desire to be liked or cool but simply to share who they are and what they’ve got.

Voice Imitator Plaza LP (12XU)
Interesting debut here from the seasoned Aussie rockers who comprise Voice Imitator. They’ve got personnel from Lakes, Exhaustion, True Radical Miracle and so on (an ex Ooga Booga, too!), and from that somewhat varied selection of underground names, I’d say that Voice Imitator come closest to the motorik noise-rock grooves of Exhaustion. This music is generally based on repetition, hammering a specific (and not particularly elaborate) progression until it’s six feet under, guided by the propulsive beats of drummer Per Byström. Kind of a typical thing for adult men who used to be in punk bands to do, but Voice Imitator manage to do their own weird things within this context – see “Vetting The Best”, for example, which takes a typical heavy metal riff, elongates it, deprives it of heavy metal drumming, and forces it to walk in a circle until it’s left a deep trench in the dirt. These songs can be aggressive, but Voice Imitator are constantly exercising restraint, as if they leashed these songs to a post instead of letting them run wild. They even dabble in some ASMR, or at least aren’t afraid to get kinda quiet for dramatic effect. No one has ever asked “what would’ve Neu! sounded like if they were a dirtbag band signed to Treehouse Records in 1990?”, but I think we may have found the answer.

White Suns The Lower Way LP (Decoherence)
White Suns emerged about a decade ago, right at the height of the blown-out improv noise-rock trend that has seemingly fallen out of favor in the past few years. They’ve always seemed like kind of an outlier though, operating on their own weird tip, probably unaware of what is or isn’t popular and simply following their nose toward their own sound. On The Lower Way, it’s inquisitive and playful, but still molten and caustic. If I can go by the live photo on the insert, it seems that they’re working with a couple guitars and three separate piles of electronics this time around. The guitars tweak and strain in a manner that can recall Otomo Yoshihide one moment and Justin Broadrick the next, and the electronic percussion delivers mangled trap beats or thermal-detonator-style booms that eviscerate all the lingering debris. Maybe a little like later Sightings in this regard, a sort of re-purposing of no-wave’s concepts via brutal noise-rock pummel, though White Suns’ vocals have me thinking of turn-of-the-century emo-core, a very direct and unmodified murmur/shout that grounds the proceedings. Those whose love of rock-inspired noise and noise-inspired rock has never wavered will surely approve of The Lower Way – I know I do!

Wolf Eyes / Blank Hellscape Winter Sunday / Concrete Walls LP (12XU)
There are seemingly an endless amount of crazy aspects to Wolf Eyes – their various lineups and side-projects, their immeasurably vast body of work, their meme popularity, their decades-long existence – but perhaps most stunning to me is that now, operating as the duo of Nate Young and John Olson, they’re at the top of their game. “Winter Sunday” is a great, lengthy excursion from these living legends, sounding unmistakably like Wolf Eyes through its murky horror electronics, decayed vocals and reed instruments from beyond the grave. As a duo, they leave plenty of space, unhurriedly deploying each element, but even at its most narcoleptic “Winter Sunday” is always lurching forward, new sounds bubbling up as though there’s a nasty clog deep in the Wolf Eyes drain. It’s beautiful! Blank Hellscape are new to me, but the pairing is fitting, as they pursue a similarly-fried form of circuit-broken electronics, corroded tapes and disembodied vocals. They must be thrilled to share a twelve-inch with the undisputed masters, as “Concrete Walls” is clearly indebted to the path Wolf Eyes paved. It’s a little more grayscale and Broken Flag-ish in its sonic palette compared to the toxic psychedelia of Wolf Eyes’ a-side cut, though its staggering rhythmic stumble and proliferation of junk-shop electronics is probably grounds enough for Blank Hellscape to owe Wolf Eyes royalties. Double-up on your masks if you plan on taking this record for a ride, as noise like this is impervious to all vaccinations!

Al Wootton Maenads 12″ (Trule)
Al Wootton seems to have retired his prior moniker of Deadboy, preferring to release music under the name his parents gave him. Makes sense, since it’s kind of an immature name, and the music Wootton has been making lately is refined, heady stuff, not something you could ever mistake for a Deadmau5 side project. “Baccata” opens this four-track EP nicely, with sparse and choppy percussion and some unusual sounds lurking beneath. You’ll have to turn it up to fully appreciate the weird interior plumbing sounds that lurk beneath the rigid and staccato percussion, but it’s worth doing so. “Alder” follows with more sparse, dubbed out percussion over a fast-twitching groove, kind of as if dubstep never learned about bass wobbling and instead focused on the half-timed rhythmic patterns that can become deeply hypnotic (as is the case here). The title track continues the theme of “no real bass”, but plenty of echoed percussive motifs, sometimes as fast as machinery and other times paced like a stone skillfully skipped across a lake. Probably in a similar wheelhouse as recent productions by Peder Mannerfelt, Donato Dozzy or Joy O, as far as impactful post-dubstep, post-industrial, post-drum-and-bass techno is concerned. Personally, I find these four tracks to be distinctly pleasurable, honing in on a specific vibe (presumably rendered with the same set of tools) that’s at once frenetic and calmly drifting.

Yu Su Yellow River Blue LP (Music From Memory)
Wasted no time procuring a copy of Yu Su’s debut LP, as I am a big fan of this Vancouver experimental-dub-techno producer and, well, I don’t have much else really going on to keep me from sitting around buying things online. Her music has continually located the sweet spot between downtempo house, wellness-ambient and fourth world exotica, and Yellow River Blue, her first full-length, continues as expected. “Xiu” is an interesting opener, surprisingly upbeat and soothing with springy bass and a plucked melody that makes it sound like The Cure on the receiving end of a house remix or something. “Futuro” is a low-slung dub workout, whereas “Touch-Me-Not” behaves like krautrock aromatherapy. It’s “Gleam”, the last track on the first side, that most resembles my favorite Yu Su material, the Roll With The Punches EP; slow and sensual house with luscious melodies and an aquatic sense of motion. That same sensation is explored on “Melaleuca”, another upbeat groove with melodic nods to her Chinese heritage. For a fan such as myself, Yellow River Blue is a fine new installment of Yu Su’s charismatic and elusive music, and for someone unfamiliar with her work, it’s a great place to start.