Reviews – November 2019

Susan Alcorn, Chris Corsano, Bill Nace Live At #6 LP (Open Mouth)
You had me at “Chris Corsano and Bill Nace”, but add in pedal-steel experimentalist Susan Alcorn and it’s a no-brainer. It’s also cool that this group improvisation took place practically in my backyard at The Rotunda in West Philly, a long-standing house of the avant-garde arts (and the occasional smelly punk show too), recorded last September and now pressed to wax with minimal text or adornment, just a stark photo of the three of them paying attention to both their own selves and each other. I’d place this performance somewhere in the mid-range as far as free-improv intensity is concerned – it’s like a bubbling pot of rice that occasionally causes the lid to pop, but nothing you’d need to call the fire department over. Alcorn adds a sort of chopped-up melodic haze to Nace’s stormy turbulence, and Corsano, the master he is, is content to volley back and forth with the two, playing a traditional jazz kit in his traditionally untraditional manner. Nice sense of flow on this one: the slower, emptier passages invoke a pleasant form of sonic inebriation, and taken as a whole, it’s a potent and screwy wedge of contemporary improvisation worthy of the twelve inches of black vinyl it was pressed upon.

An-i + Unhuman An-i + Unhuman 12″ (L.I.E.S.)
Regrettably, I’m coming to An-i’s music a few years late, having recently discovered his phenomenal Kino-i 12″ from 2014 (shuddering industrial acid par excellence), so I snagged this new 12″ on L.I.E.S. without hesitation. Never heard of Unhuman before, but any friend of An-i is a friend of mine, and this EP really delivers the goods – I can’t stop spinning it. I’d expect to see this one filed under “industrial techno”, but that tag doesn’t properly reflect all the character, nuance and grit that An-i and Unhuman deliver here. Opener “Five To Nine” is a rapid deployment of basement energy, and while it’s a cool way to kick things off, it’s the weakest cut here, due to the severity of the other three tracks. “Hate Thy Neighbor” rides a sidewinding bass-line into the middle of a shock pit, presenting like The Egyptian Lover in full bondage gear moonwalking through a rented dungeon. Fantastic! “Entschuldigung” gets even crazier, stuttering and grooving amidst hazardous substances with vocals that sound like Masonna doing his best James Brown impression. “Cannibals” closes it out with a series of corrosive body-blows, like Ancient Methods moving at Beau Wanzer’s limped gait. No two tracks are particularly alike, but they al clearly share the same DNA: industrial without being corny, noisy without being predictable, techno but not soulless… whatever it is these two guys are doing I want so much more of it.

Aquarian Blood A Love That Leads To War LP (Goner)
Interesting transformation here for Aquarian Blood, the married Memphis duo who previously went wild in a lo-fi garage-punk fashion. The cover photo sets the tone here, a tintype-colored image of Laurel and JB Horrell looking like your great-great-grandparents who dug potatoes out of the mud with their bare hands so you could ride a Lime scooter to work and complain about the temperature of your latte. They look stern, borderline pissed even, but they’ve left their crashing drums and distorted guitars behind for what is a soft and hauntingly melodic album of acoustic-led ballads and what might rightfully be considered “ditties”. The Americana influence is strong, but the music is more along the lines of somber indie-folk, the Hallelujahs, or perhaps Townes Van Zandt than any pre-war blues or gospel. This style suits them (especially when taking JB Horrell’s fascinating hairstyle into account), and they seem particularly comfortable with it, interweaving light swabs of synth or additional guitar to keep these moody hymns fresh. Even the title sounds like a Cormac McCarthy novel, which is just the sort of rugged, blood-stained American image that Aquarian Blood are cutting into here. I feel less embarrassed eating beans directly out of their can when listening to A Love That Leads To War, that much is true.

Michael Beach Curtain of Night 7″ (Tall Texan)
Aussie troubadour Michael Beach is back at it, this time with a new backing band (members of Thigh Master and Shovels) and still simmering with complex emotions that are best expressed musically. “Curtain Of Night” has that coulda-been-a-hit vibe had Tom Petty delivered it in 1981, but instead it’s 2019 and rock music is entirely obsolete, so only the few underground nutcakes still willing to buy a 7″ (or, I suppose, stream it on Spotify) will get to enjoy it. It has that Replacements-esque charm, simple and effective, as it seems that Beach truly believes in what he’s saying, whatever it may be. There’s a cover of “Electricity” on the flip (originally by New Zealand luminary Peter Jefferies), and I’m not going to pretend to be familiar with the original version, but it’s a pleasant contrast to the straightforward pop moves of the a-side – a lo-fi claustrophobia threatens to swallow Beach alive alongside thumping percussion, nagging keys and what must be some guitar in there somewhere. Certainly sounds like something Peter Jefferies would’ve written! Makes me wish I hadn’t missed Michael Beach’s October tour when it came through town, but I’m not too worried – all these Australians just keep coming back to the States over and over again for some mysterious reason.

Cherubs Immaculada High LP (Relapse)
It’s pretty cool the way Cherubs went from their cult status as a ’90s underground noise-rock band to their ’10s reboot with ease and panache, as if they never left the game of releasing new albums and touring to promote them. Immaculada High is their second since their reunion, and it feels as naturally Cherubian as anything they’ve done distantly or recently. You don’t play your respective guitar, bass and drums for as long as these guys have without getting somewhat proficient, and while Cherubs’ musical talent is clear, it’s a relief that they have the self-awareness and restraint to give the kids what they want, which is pounding, aggressive, semi-angular noise-rock with the guitars running through an ungodly chain of effects and the vocals high and mighty. The vocal delivery almost has me wondering if this record might appeal to adventurous Tool fans, no diss intended of course. Ultimately, this form of noisy post-hardcore is nothing new, but if it’s what you came for, you won’t be walking away feeling cheated. My only gripe is that Immaculada High can be so thick and buzzing with midrange distortion that the power of these otherwise meaty grooves can feel diminished – it might not be what they were going for, but I’d love to hear these songs with a little more clarity to really emphasize the inherent heaviness. Kudos to them for choosing to flop around in the sonic mud instead, though.

Stefan Christensen The Upcoming Flame LP (Bruit Direct Disques)
Starting to wonder if at some point, will I develop Stefan Christensen Fatigue? His music is mighty nice, but with new records arriving at a speedy clip, it seems possible. Today is not that day, however, as The Upcoming Flame takes a different direction than his other 2019 full-length, Unknown Fortune, this time portraying Christensen on his lonesome, a meager pile of recording equipment laid out next to guitars both electric and acoustic, presumably in a room without windows (or a small one crusted-over with dust). These tracks are fairly direct by his standards, relying less on noisy atmospherics and instead in deference to directness and clarity but still swimming with drones and strange ambiance – more ‘experimental’ than ‘rock’ but both sides of the coin are presented. He still feels indebted to the underground New Zealand scene as well, just closer to Roy Montgomery than Dead C this time around. A track like “Substitution Days” stands out for me, weaving an acoustic guitar down a creaky staircase of spoken-word phone messages, ghostly tape manipulation and other forms of sly sonic trickery. In contrast with its title, The Upcoming Flame feels like a cold morning that’s colder than expected, the sort of music that doesn’t comfort so much as shares its distress; to be fair though, Christensen never said the flame is here, but rather that it’s on its way.

Adrian Corker Music For Lock Grooves 12″ (SN Variations)
Dare me to say it? Okay, here goes… this one’s a real corker! Wait, come back, let me tell you about the actual record: this guy Adrian Corker put together a delectable suite of tweaked modern compositions on a 12″ EP, and I’d like to recommend it to you. He’s a British musician who writes for television and film, and I can’t help but wonder what particular programs he’s worked on after hearing these intriguing vignettes, as they certainly lean closer to ambient-industrial or minimalist noise than your average BBC show. I’m not entirely sure what his musical practice is, if it’s mostly electronic or in the production booth or what, but he enlisted Aisha Orazbayeva on violin and Sam Wilson on percussion to help realize these phony “lock grooves”, and it’s really nice. Subtle patterns repeat, be it a quick slice of Orazbayeva’s violin or a less determinable sound (clangs, bumps and donks feature throughout), and they quickly swell with anxious tension and subdued calmness, sometimes simultaneously. Reminds me of a clarified version of Nocturnal Emissions or something else that might’ve appeared on an early United Dairies compilation, purposely rendered in sharp hi-fi. This isn’t the stereotypical monotonous tick that one might associate with a locked groove, it’s a fascinating sound-world you’ll want to spend some time in.

Jonny Couch Mystery Man LP (Damaged Sofa)
I never heard of Jonny Couch either, but this record came with a nicely annotated press sheet referring to Mr. Couch as a “Bryan Ferry pop crooner” alongside highlighted band names like Grinderman and The National, so who knows, could be great, right? I see you shaking your head, and fine, you’re right, it’s not great, but let’s talk about Mystery Man anyway. I realize we’ve been collectively plundering the aesthetics of the ’80s for basically thirty years now, but this is one aspect of that era I didn’t think would resurface – those local-act, private-press new-wave groups that do one record pressed by their management only for it to evaporate from the surface of the earth with the exception of a few dank and humid spaces (namely, the basements of local record shops). I’m thinking of records like Fingers’ Video Games 12″, new-wave power-pop that looks like it might possibly be cool but ends up sounding like a mix of Peter Gabriel and Dexy’s Midnight Runners. That’s pretty much the sound that Jonny Couch has latched onto here, although I’d say he has more of a “Meatloaf fronting The Hooters” vibe to be specific. Kinda limp, kinda catchy, like a skinny-tie-wearing version of Survivor in case you needed one of those. Maybe you do?

Das Drip Das Drip LP (Sorry State)
So it is Das Drip as in the German form of “The Drip” or something more esoteric like Das EFX, or a gag like Das Racist, or what? Maybe I’m putting unnecessary thought into it, but I need something to help me retain focus after the brain-scrambling hardcore-punk whirlwind that is Das Drips’ self-titled debut. Throughout, the formula is fairly the same: an itchy rash of a bassline wobbles on some pogo-punk drums, the guitar skitters along, and the vocalist does her best to cram as many words as she can over top, unconcerned with any sort of standard rhythmic cadence. It’s overtly fast music, frequently verging on becoming a crazy mess (thanks in no small part to vocalist Rach Canning’s furious babbling), but that’s a big part of the charm here – a rickety punk go-kart flying down a hill without brakes or adequate safety features. When I find myself able to actually focus on what is happening, it’s clear that the band is actually playing the same songs together, but Das Drip have mastered the act of creating music that feels like it’s pulling apart from itself at the seams. Those looking for classic hardcore-punk songs might feel a little overwhelmed by Das Drip‘s frenzied approach, but thankfully this is a 45 RPM 12″ record, so wimps can start at 33 and work their way up.

Disjawn Loud Kush Assault 7″ (Ranch)
Was hoping that the title of the newest Disjawn EP made reference to the violent destruction of Jason Kushner and his tribe of despicable goons, but it appears they just like to get high. Fair enough! If the name wasn’t already a giveaway, Disjawn play d-beat hardcore-punk, but as is the usual style of today, they push it to disturbing levels of intensity, rife with distortion, excessive crash-cymbal usage and ghastly effects-laden vocals. It can be a bit predictable (if satisfying nonetheless), but Disjawn are particularly spirited, and have given more thought to their songwriting than your average noise-core attack unit – “Pain Is Reality” relies more on its sinister bass groove than buzzsaw guitars, which is a nice change of pace. Their expression of futility in the face of planetary war and misery is relatable, if not necessarily commendable, but at least they’re keeping it real. Five songs, no fuss, so if you’re spiky and charged and feeling hopeless, might as well blast this one until the skies are choked with orange smog and the oceans dry up.

Tashi Dorji & John Dieterich Midden LP (Gilgongo / Moone)
John Dieterich I recognize from his years spent in everyone’s favorite twee-pop avant-rock deconstructionists Deerhoof; Tashi Dorji I don’t recognize at all, but they both play guitar, and they got together here to create Midden. You get two side-long pieces of dual guitar improvisation, and while we all know that sorta thing can crumble under the weight of formless meandering, Dorji and Dieterich clearly have an excellent rapport and do no such crumbling. They’ve got lots to discuss with each other, and they do so entirely with their guitars, which for the most part utilize only modest distortion – no daisy-chains of effects pedals being stomped back and forth, or at least not until the end of side two. Brief twangy phrases, extended freakouts, discombobulated chords, awkward plucking, physical scratching and scraping, it all goes down throughout this two-way conversation, and for an unscripted journey, it flows incredibly well. These two guitarists aren’t simply going through the usual noisy improv moves, they play off each other in ways that demonstrate keen listening and natural synergy. Really though, the only important thing is whether Midden sounds cool or not, and by my estimation it surely does.

Vera Dvale & Psykovarius Avav LP (Sex Tags Amfibia)
The Sex Tags family of labels has been a necessary conduit for Norway’s magical underground dance scene, providing deep house thrillers and offbeat weirdos in equal measure. I based my purchase of this, the second collaborative album between Vera Dvale & Psykovarius, on the Sex Tags name alone, because let’s face it, unless it’s a power-metal group I’m not perking up over someone named “Psykovarius”. Wasn’t sure what to expect, and to be honest I was a little disappointed by Avav, which is a fairly rote and exploratory suit of vintage synthesizers utilized in a twinkly new-age fashion. Across these six tracks, neither participant seems in much of a hurry to get things going, so at these fairly modest track lengths (most around five minutes or so), nothing really takes off. It’s not bad, and certainly scratches any itch for moon-landing synth explorations into the chilly black depths, but I can’t help but long for something greater when I pick up a Sex Tags record (like the recent 7″ flexi from Geir Tore Holm that’s a field recording of him peeing in the snow). Even in their most stargazing and amphibious sounds, Vera Dvale & Psykovarius have yet to dazzle me, but I’m going to keep this one nearby on the off chance that it clicks for me on one fateful winter’s night. Or trade it in for that Geir Tore Holm flexi.

E-Saggila My World My Way LP (Northern Electronics)
Heavyweight new album here from Toronto’s E-Saggila, who has already established herself as a potent dealer of North American industrial techno. Sometimes it feels like a genre where the best works have already been accomplished, that there’s nothing else to really do but shift around the same pieces everyone else is using (which, when done well, I enjoy heartily), but E-Saggila pushes things to wilder and fresh new zones while simultaneously deploying some of the heaviest, most corrosive electronics here. Opener “Aziza” really sets the pace with a minute or so of harsh cut-up violence ala Contagious Orgasm or early Prurient, eventually finding its way to a near-gabber slam that incorporates the shredded ribbons of a trance-pop track. Phew! “Aziza” proudly displays the wide range of styles and tools that E-Saggila has incorporated into My World My Way, and the rest of the record frequently hits similar electroshocked highs. “Alia” features the vocals of Thoom, which smacks upside the head like Ghostemane remixing Despise You or something – I could go for a whole album of this! And the other guest spot, someone named “Oil Thief” on album ender “One Last Midnight”, feels ripe for an eventual sex scene in John Wick 6, with Oil Thief sounding exactly as you might expect a Cobra villain named Oil Thief to sound like: untrustworthy and imposingly sinister. My World My Way is rich with character and feeling, varied in its rhythms and percussive devices but unified by the unflinching mind that stitched it all together. Recommended!

Fix Fix 7″ (Phantom)
That’s right, legendary Detroit hardcore pioneers The Fix are back with a brand new EP. Wait a minute! This is actually some new German weird-punk group who don’t care about recycling a band name. They open with a sparse spoken-word track, like some funky and coherent moment one might find on an early Nurse With Wound album, before getting down to the nitty gritty of lo-fi, presumably-somewhat-synthetic punk rock. It’s such an in-the-red mess that the instruments are nearly unintelligible, except for the snare (is that a real drum kit?), the guitars when they hit a high note and the vocals (although just barely). Reminds me of Factorymen at their most traditionally punk, a live Crazy Spirit tape, the Pillow Talk 7″ played on 33 instead of 45, or a particularly rough mix-down of one of the many current Neck Chop Records punk bands hailing from Nova Scotia or Fort Wayne or something. Personally, I enjoy it, particularly cuts like “Basement Life” and “The Goof Life”, whose main riffs overcome the sonic hurdles set forth by Fix’s production standards, although it remains to be seen exactly how many repeat listens Fix will bear. I’m gonna go out on a limb and answer my own question with “less listens than The Fix, more listens than The Fixx”.

Gong Gong Gong Phantom Rhythm LP (Wharf Cat)
Tom Ng was the mastermind of one of my favorite bands (and self-titled albums) of the past decade, The Offset: Spectacles, so I’ve been eagerly following his work with current outfit Gong Gong Gong, who are clearly traversing similar musical territory. Which is to say, stark and repetitive blues-guitar grooves with minimal accompaniment and sparse melodies. That’s certainly the basis of Phantom Rhythm, their debut full-length, which I pre-ordered the moment pre-ordering was authorized. Unfair though it may be, I can’t help but hold it up against The Offset: Spectacles, and while Gong Gong Gong does not reach the same creative peaks nor deliver the same distinct earworm hooks, it’s still cool as heck. Tom Ng plays with variations of Bo Diddley riffs and bassist Joshua Frank fills the gaps, almost reminiscent of Peter Hook’s Joy Division style, except these songs approach post-punk from a rockist, non-goth, non-dancey perspective. The chord progressions that appear are familiar ground for stoner-rockers like Nebula and Sleep, but Gong Gong Gong eschew fuzz-distortion and percussion almost entirely (certainly no drums, at least), so the whole thing feels unlike anything played by groups that do not feature Tom Ng as a member. It’s most exciting when the hot slashes of guitar provide the percussive elements (see “地下日記 Notes Underground” or “騎你的馬 Ride Your Horse”) and Frank jabs up and down his bass, writing his own song within the song, which thankfully happens often. That said, some of these tracks can lag a little, but I suppose that’s the nature of music that toes the line between hypnotic and monotonous.

Haircut Sensation 7″ (Beach Impediment)
Why is Virginia, and Richmond in particular, such a fertile ground for hardcore in the past decade or two? That’s the sort of sociological dissertation I’d love to read (or at least skim), and I bet Haircut would get a footnote or two in it, them being a fine example of Richmond hardcore. Though to be fair, they don’t have the “Richmond sound”: Haircut prefer to utilize the tough-guy melodies of Sick Of It All and Agnostic Front, but instead of performing them in a traditional NYHC manner, they force these aggro riffs into today’s pogo-punk rhythmic patterns, far more Toxic State than Combat Core. Add to that the strained vocals of Juliana Viana and you’ve got a final product notably different from anything that would’ve come out on Revelation in the ’80s, but it’s undeniably hardcore, and works as well as any other set of hardcore influences (or coincidental similarities) you might find in a band that has received the Beach Impediment seal of approval. Only four songs here, and while they’re not incredibly short, Sensation does feel pretty brief, although I’m not begging for a double LP just yet either… just a little more so I can decide whether their haircut sensation is more along the lines of a buzzcut’s satisfying tingle or the painful scalp immolation of a bleach job gone wrong.

The Ivytree A Pillar Of Clouds LP (Tall Texan)
I hadn’t previously heard of The Ivytree, but I’m certainly familiar with the work of the man behind it – this is yet another project from the restlessly creative Glenn Donaldson, he of The Skygreen Leopards, Horrid Red, Thuja, and roughly a million other projects both solo and collaborative. He’s been active as The Ivytree since the late ’90s, most recently releasing an album on Recital before this one, which actually collects recordings from 1999 through 2004. Gotta say, I believe that, as these tracks are very much in line with the darkly floral-scented psych-folk of that era, ready to share space on a burned CD-r with Espers, Fursaxa and Six Organs Of Admittance. Layers of soft melodic guitar (both electrified and acoustic), occasional washed-out synths, and high wispy vocals combine with the occasional field recording (is that someone walking through a creek in galoshes?) to create this tender, cautious set of songs. As far as comparing A Pillar Of Clouds to similar albums by other artists, I’m not sure it particularly stands out for better or worse, but it’s perfectly enjoyable just the same, home-recorded lullabies for the artist class.

Lassie Collected Cassettes LP (Phantom / Et Mon Cul C’est Du Tofu?)
Here’s a very modern punk equation: band-name blatantly appropriated from some generic slice of culture, a vinyl album that collects two previously-released cassettes, and a lo-fi, warbly punk sound replete with chintzy synths and a predilection for early DEVO and Midwest goofball punk (Gizmos, Ice 9, Dow Jones & The Industrials and so on). Lassie stands out by being from Leipzig, Germany, although they do a fine job of sounding as if they are a bunch of soaking-wet dorks in Warm Bodies t-shirts from Oshkosh, WI. Funny samples are peppered between Lassie’s tunes (not entirely unlike fellow Germans Heavy Metal), and the tunes themselves generally favor a more relaxed mid-tempo pace than the hectic speeds favored by similar acts. The whole thing works well enough here, as Lassie seem to have taken the time to write actual songs as opposed to bleating out twelve studies of the same idea, but I’m not sure it’s quite enough to carve out Lassie as a distinct underground voice among Neo Neos, BB Eye, Erik Nervous, Toyota, Urochromes, Vanilla Poppers, Liquids… I could go on, but you get the idea. There’s just a lot of this stuff currently happening, but if you aren’t already starting to feel a little burnt out by this particular globally-shared punk aesthetic, Lassie won’t do you wrong. If you’re wondering if Mikey Young mastered it, do you even have to ask?

Life Strike Primitive Future LP (Strange Pursuits / Omnipest Inc.)
More Melbourne rock, this time coming from a new band featuring Nick Pratt, who was in Deaf Wish for their first four albums. The apple doesn’t fall far from that tree, as Life Strike play a similar mellow-noisy form of post-punk indie, perhaps a little more conventionally rocking than Deaf Wish. Whereas Deaf Wish were forever chained (perhaps unfairly) to Sonic Youth comparisons, Life Strike remind me more of North American college-rock like The dB’s or Mission Of Burma, fairly restrained and in control of their moody power-pop moves. It’s not fully buttoned-up, though, as some songs jangle like The Lemonheads and others remind me of the weird post-post-grunge current happening with groups like Puzzlehead. Life Strike find the common thread through all those approaches, although there’s a general sluggishness to Primitive Future that keeps me from fully connecting. Maybe they rip ’em up a little harder live? If you like your indie-rock to come fully assured that a mosh pit will not break out during its performance, Life Strike are pleased to meet you.

The Living Eyes Peak Hour Traffic 7″ (Anti Fade / Episode Sounds)
Do they not call it “rush hour” in Australia, or are The Living Eyes simply taking artistic license with the way they phrased it here? “Peak Hour Traffic” applies an appropriately maddening ping-pong riff over an oom-pah thud to remind us all how much it stinks to sit in crawling gridlock. I’m glad they were able to make lemonade out of these lemons, finding inspiration in life-sucking monotony, as it’s a sweet little tune. “Almanac” is the flip, which is similarly paced but with a dance-punk groove, as if there’s a little LCD Soundsystem suddenly injected into the Living Eyes equation where there was none before. The Living Eyes are one of the tighter bands playing melodic classic punk these days, so it certainly works for them, not that I’m surprised. Two cool songs here, in and out fairly quickly (not even four and a half minutes including the time it takes to flip the thing), and a nice little reminder for me to pull out their 2017 album for some extended enjoyment.

Loose Nukes Behind The Screen 7″ (Beach Impediment)
Even to this day, there’s an abundance of skulls to be found within new hardcore-punk art, and yet Pittsburgh’s Loose Nukes eschew the skull entirely here for a far underutilized element: the cartoon hand giving a middle finger. They are numerous on here, and rendered in different styles, so kudos to Loose Nukes for realizing the dormant potential in this imagery – classic and crude! As for their music, this band features ex- and current members of Government Warning, Dark Thoughts, Direct Control and Sickoids, and Loose Nukes is a pretty logical successor, one that withholds any sense of “wacky thrash” in favor of furious hardcore pummel ala The FU’s, White Cross, Zyklome A, and much of the classic first-wave hardcore that pursued speed and mania at all costs. What’s good for Loose Nukes is that they don’t sound like a carbon copy of any of those particular bands, but rather another formidable entry from our modern era. I’ll chalk at least 40% of the credit up to drummer Vince Klopfenstein, who absolutely shreds through these songs as though his life depended on it – EP closer “I Could’ve Been A Killer” is certifiably nuts in the way he turns high-speed fills into the actual beat, cascading in a manner similar to Brian Chippendale but far more hardcore-minded and direct. Both loose and nuclear in his playing, I can’t help but assume the band was named after him.

The Mauskovic Dance Band The Mauskovic Dance Band LP (Soundway)
It’s late 2019, so how about some Dutch Afrobeat? Wrong or right, I generally find the global dance appropriation done by Europeans to be rendered in good taste (although the jury is still out on Goat). For now, I’m giving the thumbs up to The Mauskovic Dance Band and their debut full-length. It’s a fairly direct and undeniable trip into heady, weed-scented disco-funk and Afrobeat, and this group, featuring four members with the unverified last name of Mauskovic, do it with panache. Fela Kuti is clearly an inspiration, but this album is more rambunctious, modern and silly, calling to mind Kid Creole at his most infectious and Golden Teacher at their most straight-laced. The track title “Space Drum Machine” is slightly misleading, as its sharp-edged funk and high-pitched vocal chorus have me imagining The Rapture collaborating with Emmanuel Jal on some raucous outdoor stage. Eight tracks here, across which gratification is never delayed – these are communal live-band jams with just the right amount of electronic infusion, and they should subconsciously connect with any human capable of shaking their limbs.

The Middle Ages The Middle Ages LP (Ripe)
Truly living up to their name, The Middle Ages are a new Seattle group of experienced adult musicians. They feature ex-members of The Pets, Razz and The Dutchess And The Duke to name a small selection, and after relocating to Seattle to focus on family (how punk rock is that?), they started this new trio and released an album on their own Ripe Records label. I can already picture the members of The Middle Ages asking their kids what the difference between Snapchat and Soundcloud is, as these tunes seem frozen in time from decades prior, which of course isn’t a fault if you’re trying to play upbeat, swinging punk / garage-pop, as this group certainly is. They’re clearly indebted to teenage garage ala Nuggets and saccharine early ’80s power-pop, and having quite a bit of fun coloring within those lines, even if they don’t have the energy and unrestrained attitude that can only be found in youth. As far as their tunes are concerned, I’d say they fill the air nicely with the sounds of their intended genre, but there’s nothing to particularly get excited about either, which is a fairly tall order at this point in time. Seems like The Middle Ages are more of a very serious hobby than a band trying to make its mark on the underground, which I applaud as a middle-aged alternative to arguing on Facebook or hours of Bejeweled Blitz.

The Never Quartet 1.001.006 / 1.001.007 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
Here’s a new name from Michael Morley of The Dead C, The Never Quartet. He’s been putting out records solo as Gate for nearly as long as The Dead C have been kicking, so I have to assume something different is happening here – perhaps he’s not really performing at all? These two tracks reveal very little in the way of motion or expressive force, preferring to hover unto themselves like the private internal processes of a refrigerator keeping your milk cool or a microwave keeping your burrito hot. Drone music with a “set it and forget it” attitude, if my suspicions are correct. These industrial drones aren’t static – they flutter, slip up and cool down – but the feeling is certainly one of incidental activity, as though Morley stumbled upon these sounds by chance and was wise enough to put them to tape, and then send them to the I Dischi label with a note that says “hey, if you’re still looking to do another 7″, there’s this…” Or maybe this is Morley playing guitar in some way that hasn’t been otherwise created yet. This review is entirely speculative, but my enjoyment of this 7″ single is genuine.

Romantic States Ballerina LP (Gentle Reminder)
Baltimore’s Romantic States have returned, this time as a full rock band with Ilenia Madelaire taking on sole vocal duties. It’s pretty great! The music reminds me of the quiet-punk that Brooklyn’s Household delivered a few years back, as well as The Zoltars and early Cat Power, subtly churning minimalist tunes with softly spoken vocals just on the verge of singing. What makes it special are the words shared by Madelaire, who establishes herself here as a cruel poet of the mundane, consistently hilarious and wicked with a lyrics sheet you’ll want to read. The country-tinged opener “Changed Your Mind” ends with the chorus line of “fare thee well / I’ll see you in hell”, a sentiment that can be easily missed due to the deadpan delivery and jovial melody. I’m reminded of Arab Strap’s Aidan Moffat in the way that Madelaire seems resigned to some special form of misery, perhaps heightened by her acute ability of expressing it. “Real Real Blonde” and “Cocaine Cul De Sac” are particularly dire, deliciously dire even, the sort of songs I find myself repeating just to savor their ice-cold spite, more satisfying than an ice-cold Sprite. Hey look, I’m a poet too!

Searing Arrow Paranoid Fiction LP (Tall Texan)
Debut transmission here from Houston’s Searing Arrow, connected via Tall Texan’s Texan roots. The record lists “Chris, Denniz, Ted, Shan and Melissa” as members, but I’m also hearing that it’s mainly just the solo studio project of producer Chris Ryan. Whatever the case, it’s pretty cool stuff – driving, meaty post-hardcore that seems to take inspiration from early death-rock and wiry post-punk as well as big dumb ’90s noise-rock riffage. Not an unheard-of combination in this day and age, but Searing Arrow don’t dilly-dally with it, as their songs lock into place quickly, only spiraling outward into waves of drones when the moment calls for it. It’s nice that they can veer from the high-speed menace of “Private School” to the synth-led dark-wave of “Places In The Heart” as though they were always meant to be together. The album sounds good too, booming and punchy (not unlike fellow Houstonites Balaclavas, come to think of it – I wonder if they recorded with Ryan too?), a nice little showcase of his skills for hire. As with most Tall Texan releases, this one is limited to a hundred numbered copies, not looking to go virally huge so much as document what’s happening for those who wish to hear it.

Slump Flashbacks From Black Dust Country LP (Feel It)
So the punks are all on acid now, huh? I wistfully remember the days of weed-worshiping crust, and while I’m sure that scene has never entirely gone away, bands like Richmond’s Slump are looking to transcend reality with their third eyes open. New York’s Kaleidoscope and Tempe’s Destruction Unit have been traveling on similar planes in recent times, but I think Slump might be my favorite of the three, were I ever forced to choose. Slump traverse different tempos and moods throughout this debut full-length, recalling a diverse range of bands like TAD, Spiritualized, Alabama Thunderpussy, Chrome and Poison Idea, all with the sonic firepower to back it up. The use of effects and synths can be the trickiest aspect – do you just slap it all on top of regular punk songs and call it “psychedelic” – but the Moog of Tony Nowotarski combined with the shape-shifting vocals of Suspicious Sonny help craft a different musical fabric along with Slump’s sticky riffs, as opposed to carelessly taping a Magic Eye poster onto a punk record. I like Flashbacks best when it chugs hardest: see “Sensory Cocoon” for its potent mix of stoner grooving and hardcore energy, as if Kyuss spent a sleepless evening listening to the first Comets On Fire album, which, come to think of it, is something I strongly recommend.

Porcelain Summer compilation 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
Leave it to I Dischi to tackle one of the most endangered forms of underground documentation, the compilation 7″. No one wants 7″s anymore, and absolutely no one wants comps anymore (unless they’re streaming for free and called “playlists”), so I appreciate that I Dischi really leaned into this one with twelve brief tracks spanning the subterranean musical underground – might as well be really brazen about it! They get tracks here from a variety of names, almost certain to include someone you’ve never heard before. Cool skeletal punk from Vital Idles, a brief Heimlich maneuver from John Olson under his Johnny R. Spykes guise, a nice new Greymouth track, mid-morning piano from Karla Borecky, somber Germanic drone from the cult-adored Brannten Schnüre, twenty seconds of guitar-pop stumbling from JJ Ulius… it’s a dirty, stained kaleidoscope, but I wouldn’t have it any other way from I Dischi Del Barone. And if you’re one of those freaks who insists on owning the complete discographies of Red Brut or Amateur Hour, you’ll need to have it, too!

Reviews – October 2019

Cereal Killer Beginning And End Of Cereal Killer! LP (Anti Fade / Drunken Sailor)
Cereal Killer’s demo-on-7″ came through here a couple years ago, and I hated on it pretty badly due to its glaringly trendy tendencies, but what the hell, why hold a grudge? I trust the Anti Fade label, and if they are entertained by a fake Lumpy & The Dumpers from Geelong, Australia, perhaps I should be too. And while there’s still plenty of Lumpy influence on Beginning And End, it’s pretty clear that this group has listened to other stuff since putting out their demo. The overall sound is a little burlier, perhaps akin to Crazy Spirit or Bad Noids in the crunchy lo-fi textures and hardcore tempos, and there’s at least one or two tunes that utilize metal riffs (as seems to be the growing trend for hardcore-punk in late 2019). I suppose it’s pretty good, but there’s not much on Beginning And End that really stands out, which is perhaps the worst offense a hardcore band can commit: being easily forgotten. Some of the song titles are intriguing enough, like “Your Punk Scene Can Suck It” and “Should Punks Be Allies”, but sadly no lyrics are provided either with this record or on the associated Bandcamp page, so the lyrical contents of these tracks will remain a mystery. Maybe being a great breakfast-themed punk band is simply an unachievable feat… go spin some Waifle records to see what I mean!

Chubby And The Gang All Along The Uxbridge Road 7″ (Static Shock)
Hmm, “Chubby And The Gang” you say? Did Static Shock get into reissuing private-press funk 45s or something? Allow me to assure you that no, they have not – Chubby And The Gang is an apparent side-project (hence the low-staying-power name) starring Charlie Manning Walker (of Arms Race and Violent Reaction) and other Londonite hardcore hoodlums (members of bands with names like Gutter Knife and Salt Wound, really pleasant stuff like that). And I have to say, they absolutely rip! “All Along The Uxbridge Road” is thick and hook-laden power-pop with the energy of manic hardcore, and what a combination that is. Reminds me of The Love Triangle at their finest, but with the additional deployment of Powerpearls-esque hand claps and a raw yet powerful recording. Wasn’t sure if they could strike gold twice, but “Mockba” on the flip is nearly as good, a little more of a throwback rock n’ roll vibe to the riff, but it’s still played with the snarling hunger of a hardcore street gang. Definite beer-in-the-air, triumphant, high-octane hardcore-punk that would appeal to fans of Motörhead, Fucked Up, Nasty Facts, Marked Men, Poison Idea, etc., which probably covers at least 80% of all fans of rock music. I suspect some of these guys might be straight edge, which is a perfectly perverse twist on the matter if true. Those nutty Brits!

Civic Selling Sucking Blackmail Bribes 7″ (Total Punk / Anti Fade)
Civic came through here with a 7″ late last year that I really enjoyed, of the gruffly-melodic, poppy-but-not-pop-punk style. I was eager to hear more of that, but instead they seemed to have taken the name “Total Punk” as a personal challenge, absolutely raging through the two songs they’ve provided here. Even considering myself a reasonable fan of their music thus far, I’m blown away! “Selling Sucking Blackmail Bribes” is one hell of a title, and man do they make good on it – imagine the speedy-tight style of Zero Boys integrated into Fucked Up’s 2003 no-frills-hardcore prime, delivered with the recording quality of any given High Rise album. It’s a scorcher for sure, one that surprises me with its unbridled intensity even after I’ve already heard it and know what to expect! B-side “Velvet Casino” could be an acappella rendition of a Tom Jones song for all I care, Civic have already won this round, but it has the same disposition and sound quality as the a-side, maybe a little tougher and garage-ier, something for Goner Records fanatics who ride their motorcycles to the gym to listen to. No wonder half of the Melbourne underground is racing to put on polyester suits and knitted cardigans, how can you play punk with any sort of personal pride when Civic are wandering your streets?

Rupert Clervaux After Masterpieces 2xLP (Whities)
In case any journalists reading this are concurrently compiling a “50 Ruperts Under 50 To Watch” list, please, save a spot for Rupert Clervaux! This British-born world-traveler has made some supremely enjoyable music over the past few years, mostly with Beatrice Dillon, but also solo under his own name or his CVX moniker. And now, with the honor of becoming the first artist to get a Whities full-length, Clervaux has gone bigger than ever before with After Masterpieces, a six-track double LP. I knew I wasn’t going to get something I had heard before with After Masterpieces, as Clervaux is constantly looking beyond his current musical horizons, and these massive pieces are great, if not something that allows halfhearted dabbling. They’re more like long-form audio plays, suited for an avant-garde radio station’s 3 AM slot where only the truly maniacal insomniacs are listening (and without distraction). Clervaux recites irreverent poetry and prose over live percussive improv, juddering rhythmic loops, trumpet and sax, plucked strings or maybe nothing at all, just the silent sound of fog creeping into town. It’s hard to measure how much is happenstance and how much was precisely orchestrated, but Clervaux leads the charge unheedingly throughout, not caring if he’s the sole human who has the slightest idea what he’s going on about over four lengthy 12″ sides. I certainly can’t tell you what After Masterpieces means, but I’m firmly in support.

John Collins McCormick Ad For Nails LP (Gilgongo)
Following the Waxy Tomb album, Gilgongo continues to release music by visual artists who also like to get a little noisy. This one comes from John Collins McCormick (any relation to Daniel Martin McCormick??), who likes to play the drums while surrounded by half-dying motorized objects and sound buzzers. I’ve never tried it myself, but it sounds like a great deal of fun, and the occasional frenzy worked up on here seems to confirm the good time McCormick is having. On the a-side, McCormick dips and dives into his traditional drum kit while small crackly piles of dust shift and blow around the room, almost as if he’s improvising in tandem with some junk on the floor. The flip side, titled “How To Consider It Done”, is less obviously percussive, and more of a spontaneous field recording of dollar-store wind-up toys falling on their sides, TV interference, chatter of passers-by and the like, very much in tune (or anti-tune) with the Shots album that is discussed below. It’s almost as if music has stopped being a sufficient escape from reality, so artists who enjoy pursuing the furthest reaches of acceptable sound documentation are more and more drawn toward the Kye Records style of ecstatic arbitrary nothingness, forever circling a zen-like black hole. Perhaps you can relate.

Craow Branded Influence LP (National Waste Products)
Here’s the next barrel of discarded fryer oil care of Providence’s National Waste Products – an album by Providence’s Craow. The name, design and label affiliation had me expecting harsh noise with a techno influence, but this is really more on the synth-wave / minimal-techno tip, albeit one borne out of Rhode Island basement parties and DIY raves. A few years ago, this sorta thing would’ve seemed a little more cutting edge (and to be fair, Craow was making it a few years ago too, on cult labels like Nostilevo), whereas now it sounds pretty nice if a little expected. The label keenly “recommends it if you like” Boy Harsher, Orphx and M Ax Noi Mach, which really seems to be the perfect triangulation for the sounds within Branded Influence. Nighttime beats, synths that hover and zig-zag away, vocals deep in the mix with industrialized echo and ‘verb ala Uniform, and a thick sense of sexy and mysterious danger akin to Black Rain. Techno might be a fully normalized practice within the American punk-affiliated underground at this point, but that doesn’t make it any less affecting when done with style and awareness, as Craow has done here.

Curleys Johnny 7″ (Total Punk)
At some point, Total Punk has to stop being totally punk, right? Being punk isn’t something you can just take for granted, it’s a state of being that can easily be lost, and yet Total Punk continues to rep its name with integrity and pride. Take Curleys, for instance: I never heard of ’em before, might never hear of ’em again, but they rip through six fantastic jolts on this vinyl debut. The songs are quickly strummed, low on heavy-metal distortion, high on nervous energy, and guided by the incessant squawking of a vocalist who sounds like a mix between Hot Rod Todd of Le Shok and the agitated goose who sang for Pillow Talk. (Each of the three band members are credited with vocals, but the singing is pretty standard throughout – who is the real hero here?) Around the turn of the century, I got a little sick of overstuffed hardcore-punk EPs and appreciated the race to see which punk band could contribute the least amount of time to their 7″ singles (which is frequently the case with Total Punk 45s), but I think I’m kind of over that now and appreciate that Curleys gave us three bloody lil’ rippers per side here… they’re all so brief and rotten that there isn’t the slightest chance of boredom setting in, anyway. Unless you don’t like punk, which I don’t think is humanly possible?

Dana Glowing Auras And Black Money LP (Heel Turn)
Dana isn’t a solo project, it’s a group from Columbus, OH (curiously featuring no members named Dana), and they’re really going for it here on their second LP with Heel Turn. The record opens with the neo-no-wave funk of “Creamed Corn”, which calls to mind the day-glo splooge of AIDS Wolf or My Name Is Rar Rar, and while it’s a sound I certainly enjoy, this group is far too restless to settle on any particular style for too long. They proceed through the rest of the album like a hijacked van careening through a narrow alley filled with garage-punk, noise-rock, just plain noise, and post-punk, scraping their paint on every parked genre. They’ve got songs in here, but they slather them in effects, synths, even “custom electronics” (I hope that means some sort of Google Glass-based laser gun?). Often a group will lose me by going as crazy as Dana do here, but the recording is rich and distinguished (as opposed to a sticky paste of mi-fi treble), and they seem to be having all shades of fun. They must be an outrageously fun live band, because I can’t imagine any possibility of these songs not being entertaining in person, particularly the ones that spiral much longer than recommended – closer “Ballroom Bitch” goes on forever, somewhere between Tropical Trash, Royal Trux and a warped Man’s Ruin 10″. Say what you want about Dana, but there’s no accusing them of half-assing it.

Bill Direen A Memory Of Others 2xLP (Sophomore Lounge)
New Zealandphiles rejoice, here’s a heaping, career-spanning retrospective / “soundtrack” to an accompanying documentary from Bill Direen. I know him from The Builders and under his own name, but surely the Siltbreeze interns among us are familiar with the dozen or so other projects he’s been associated with, of which some of those songs appear here too. It’s kind of great what a scattered pile all of this is, with songs retroactively credited to bands that never played them, old songs that sound new and new songs that sound old, etc., because for as jumbled as it is, it all sounds like Bill Direen. He covers about as much sonic ground as a monthly weather forecast: dark clouds roll in, sunshine gives way to flowers, thunder crashes and drought leaves you distressed. And much like the weather, there are passages in this double LP collection that can be a little boring, but I’m not sure how that could really be avoided on a thick volume of psychedelic, moody post-punk that generally seems to have spawned from the Velvet Underground school of musical theory. Overall it’s a very enjoyable listen, particularly when a surprise like “The Utopians R Just Out Boozin'” shows up halfway through the D side, sounding like a late ’70s art-punk groove until one notices that Direen references iPhones in the lyrics. Bill Direen’s music is timeless in all directions, and long may he continue to make it.

Drose Boy Man Machine+ 2xLP (Computer Students)
Wow, so is this how all Computer Students releases will be? Lavish as all get-out and just like the Big’n 12″ they released last year, this Drose double album comes in a large sealed silver bag printed with precise and attractive typefaces, and inside that, a gatefold LP jacket along with a large, thick booklet of art and notes. Really the kind of packaging that can make an album feel more like an event – maybe Computer Students should get into wedding invitation design and really bring in the big bucks? Anyway, I could go on about the attractive extravagance of the packaging, but the music of Drose demands comment as well. Boy Man Machine came out back in 2016 (and received high praise from this very website back then), and now it’s remastered alongside tracks from their debut 7″ as well as some unreleased bits. Myself already being a Drose fan, it’s a little bit of a bummer, because I already own those records and was hoping to hear something new from them. Understandably, though, Boy Man Machine isn’t an album that is easily popped out every semester, it’s a true opus of insane post-rock deconstruction – it’s as if Slint, Swans, Billy Bao and Shellac fused only their most exemplary aspects and labored over an album recorded inside a literal automotive facility with cavernous metal spaces and a section of basement called “the hole” that required a forklift to access (!). Singer Dustin Rose sounds like he’s trapped in the bottom of a well with two broken legs for much of it, and the ambiance that surrounds every groove or anti-groove is thick and powerful. If you’re not already familiar, and you like big thick silver bags, wait no longer!

Exit Hippies Stoned / Stoned Agin 7″ (SPHC)
If it were any other band, Exit Hippies’ records would be slowly growing more disposable with each new release, particularly a sleeveless, two-song 7″ single such as this. And yet Stoned / Stoned Agin feels like precious gold in my hands! This really might be my favorite band of all time. If you’re not already acquainted, type “exit hippies” in the search bar on this website (I’m pretty sure it works), but if you’re too lazy to do that, let me just explain that they’re Japanese crasher-crusty noise-core punks who integrate filthy acid-house into not just their music but their fabric of being. When it works, it’s fantastic, and when it doesn’t work it’s still pretty amazing; as for these two tracks, they are magnificent. “Stoned” is a prickly, slow-acid groove not unlike Paranoid London but with a proper tweak of the nips. “Stoned Agin” is an entirely different track, prime-cut noise-core that has more in common with commercial jet engines than Disclose… it makes No Fucker sound like, well, Yes Fucker. A perfect reflection of the two sides of Exit Hippies, whittled down to about four minutes’ worth of music (or at least some rough definition of “music”).

Flame 2 Dive / Rain 12″ (Pressure)
The concept of Flame (both 1 and 2) is almost built for slight disappointment. Much like some sort of Street Fighter / Mortal Kombat crossover event, how could the collaboration between The Bug and Burial, two of the biggest, brightest, most forward-thinking UK producers stack up against their separate bodies of work? I was curious, as I often am, and was pleased to discover that while Flame 2 isn’t necessarily a new blockbuster, it’s still deep as hell, gruesomely thick and menacing, and a fine slab no matter how you weigh it. “Dive” is full of physical pressure, like a thick soupy cloud that just hangs in place – a frozen hurricane, perhaps? Burial’s trademarked crackle and rain coat some distant rave synths and pressurized bass, kicks and hats. If Godzilla or one of his enemies didn’t rise out of the nearby river while this one is playing, be thankful. “Rain” maintains the same inhospitable, greyscale atmosphere, but instead of idling in an ocean of murk, there’s clear and determined movement – the rhythm calls to mind an alternate history where industrial music was an exclusive descendant of reggae dub. At under four minutes, it feels like it’s just getting started before fading away, the ominous cloud cover parting for some breathable air. Heavy duty stuff from two heavyweights, to be sure.

Scott Gilmore Two Roomed Motel LP (Crammed Discs)
Discovered this album by perusing some random “favorite albums of 2019” list a Discogs user put together, an activity I highly recommend in moments of idle boredom. Never heard of Scott Gilmore before, but he’s a guy from LA with a “non-famous younger brother of Jared Leto” sorta look to him, and his music is a highly pleasant, no-nonsense romp through ’80s synth-pop. No aggression, no sense of pathos, just expertly deployed rhythms, pads, arpeggios (and occasional breathy vocals), a bright-eyed reimagining of The Human League or Gary Numan with awareness of Ford & Lopatin’s Software label and Not Not Fun’s pop-aspirational side. The title track is what I heard first, and it lured me in immediately: the weird stutter-step groove is smooth as sherbet and the various rhythmic leads (are those electric steel drums or synthesized bells, or both?) pretty much slay in that Switched On Bach way, but far more listenable and not retro for retro’s sake. The instrumentals are my favorite, not because the vocals are bad (they are not), but because there’s such a vibrant richness to these synth-pop carols that they stand firmly on their own. It’s a crowded field that Scott Gilmore is playing on (I can’t throw a frisbee in my neighborhood without hitting some budding synth-pop producer by mistake), but his Two Roomed Motel is worth a weekend stay at the very least.

Idiota Civilizzato Civiltà Idiota 7″ (Static Shock / Black Hole)
My Italian isn’t the best, but I’m pretty sure the band name translates to “Super Smart Civilization” and the EP is thusly titled “Civilized Genius”. Weird, but I’ll go with it! I’ve been seeing lots of praise for this group (Sorry State weekly newsletter, I’m gazing in your direction), and as far as Italian hardcore out of Berlin is concerned, I doubt there is finer. Following last year’s debut LP, Idiota Civilizzato’s new 7″ EP offers four new tunes of blazing hardcore and nothing but. This group’s songs seem to fall in the 90 to 120 second range, which can present challenges as far as maintaining intensity, interest and style are concerned (much easier to blast out a good 20 to 30 second ripper, let’s face it), but Idiota Civilizzato are up to the task, clearly well versed in the earliest, canonical records by Poison Idea, Rattus and Indigesti. I like all four cuts, but the last one, “Guerra Di Spettri”, is my go-to, as it offers an anthemic sound with free-fall hardcore speed and what I believe to be overdubbed backing vocals of heaving squeals. If that’s not genius, I don’t know what is!

Michul Kuun Great (Then After Awhile, It Didn’t Mean Anything To Them) LP (Ranch)
Michul Kuun had a few records come through these digital pages under the alias of Nah, which displayed his interest in percussion and rhythm both natural and synthetic. Not sure what sets Great apart from his previous work – maybe he just got sick of being called Nah? – but this is another album cluttered with grooves and bounce, as fine as anything under the Nah name. On the more esoteric instrumentals, I’m reminded of the more forward-thinking Hyperdub artists (Klein, Kode9 and Ikonika, let’s say) if they came from a DIY West Philly basement show frame of mind, not a British one where electronic music is respected as a form of art. Kuun is smart but playful (with a pretty hilarious repeated use of some guy saying “yeah, great” multiple times through the entirety of the album), willing to veer off into an unquantized hyperspace as much as lay down a thick and crunchy boom-bap with guest rappers spitting verse on top. Other artists might have a similar broad spectrum of influence, from crusty punk to electroacoustic studio compositions, but Kuun has a particularly keen ability to meld it all together in a way that feels natural, sounds cool, and best of all, is undeniably fun.

Les Milous Annie Hall / Shampoo Nightclubbing 7″ (Happiest Place)
A rare English-based outing from Happiest Place here with the debut of Les Milous, who I suspect has Swedish origins in spite of the French moniker. “Annie Hall” sounds like what the absolute coolest of the cool kids were dancing to in 1965 – prep-school teenbeat with attitude and flirtation. No garage-rock fuzz on this, just the sour snap of clean guitar with cool minimal drums and some tasteful keyboard ploops. “Shampoo Nightclubbing” sticks out to me from title alone, thanks to the infamous goth club of the same name here in Philadelphia (RIP), but I suspect it has nothing to do with that. This one has even more rah rah ooh mau mau built into its beat, with more of that clean rock n’ roll guitar rising up and down in surf-like patterns, but it’s overall not quite as strong due to its instrumental nature (what can I say, I love when a person huffs and shouts over music like this). Kind of a manic form of twee, which isn’t really going to blow down any new doors, but if you’re DJing one of those upcoming The Make Up reunion shows and you need a hot new 45 to squeeze into your velvet-upholstered singles box, it might be worth giving Happiest Place a call.

Levande Död Upp Till Kramp LP (Happiest Place)
Up until now, I thought I knew what to expect from Sweden’s Happiest Place label: JJ Ulius-related indie-pop and punk rock alongside noisy experimental stuff. Levande Död’s debut album doesn’t really fit those parameters, though I’m hard-pressed to think of a sonic arena that’s immediately suited to this peculiar band. They remind me of charisma-driven-but-musically-basic indie-rock like Girls, but then they also have slower songs that sound like a less serious, less fashion-y The Xx, but the entire thing is sung in Swedish by a guy who sounds like Thom Yorke shouting for help from a lonely warehouse basement. Very hard to pin down, but when it works, it really works! These songs are a shaky bridge between professional-grade indie-pop like Frankie Cosmos or Girlpool and home-dubbed tapes from the British DIY scene (I’m thinking of groups like The 49 Americans and The Mothmen, to be precise). It feels like a pretty long record, but not in a bad way, as Levande Död write different songs that sound good together as opposed to subtle variations of the same thing. Plus, the total lack of English is a sweetly defiant move to the rest of the world, and the pictures of (who I presume to be) the band on the insert, hanging out on cliffs and city streets enjoying each other’s company, are quite endearing. Good record, and one that I’m sure to never figure out entirely.

Mr. Clit & The Pink Cigarettes Pipsqueaks From Planet Fur LP (Heel Turn)
Listen, I just review the bands, I don’t name ’em! Blame Heel Turn Records for giving Mr. Clit & The Pink Cigarettes the platform of a vinyl album, not me. Anyway, this trio is two-thirds non-men, mercifully, and they play campy, poppy garage-punk with a trunk full of costumes, fake blood, wacky helmets, and so on. I get the impression that they are probably fans of The Spits, The Rezillos and The Plasmatics (visually in particular), and their sound, rudimentary and noisy as it may be, fits in there somewhere. Gotta say, is there a punk band geared toward juggalos yet? If not, allow me to make a suggestion. Mr. Clit & The Pink Cigarettes are from Indiana (the Midwest being a staunch juggalo enclave), and they come equipped with the exact sort of slapdash, raunchy nonsense that powers The Gathering – if they aren’t already, it might not be bad for them to start attending these functions and pass out their CD-rs (their debut of which is titled Cancer Tastes Great) to the open-minded ninjas who may be looking for something more appropriate for skanking and pogoing than horror rap. You can thank me later!

Moral Panic Moral Panic LP (Alien Snatch!)
Second full-length album from Brooklyn’s Moral Panic, and just like the first, it’s self-titled. They’ve apparently got better things to do than name their albums, and considering the crisp, hardcore-influenced garage-punk they’re doling out, I suppose I can’t complain. Much like their debut, I’m reminded of Video, as well as Career Suicide and Carbonas, maybe a little Dead Boys too, but there’s no confusing Moral Panic with a band that existed decades ago. They’re tight and to the point, and while they may lack the bite or individual edge one might associate with a group released by Total Punk or Feel It, Moral Panic run through their set with confidence and skill. The only thing I’m waiting for is some distinguishable aspect to Moral Panic’s songs, of which there currently really isn’t, but perhaps distinction is not their goal so much as tough, workmanlike garage-punk. To their credit, the song “Flower Violence” has a chorus of “so sick of this flower violence / just want some power violence”, which may be the first instance of a garage-punk band celebrating Man Is The Bastard and Crossed Out in song. It’s a start!

Bill Nace & Chik White Bill Nace & Chik White 7″ (Open Mouth)
Rare 7″ outing from avant impresario Bill Nace here, but what’s not rare is him finding musical company with kindred spirits of the outre sonic arts. Chik White is from Nova Scotia (or at least that’s where he can currently be located), and he joins Nace (here on amplified acoustic guitar) on a jaw harp, a “wired stick”, and vocals. Can’t say I’ve detected the vocals, unless you count the use of mouth in playing the jaw harp, but my ears probably just aren’t deft enough to parse out the human voice in these beguiling tracks. “Eel (All Parts)” is surprisingly tonal and rhythmic, a jovial swing casting its wide net across White’s distinctive jaw harp. “Wild Wire” on the flip is a little more in line with what I’d expect from Nace – unflappable drones that rub like corduroy against White’s amphibian-esque murmurs, some sort of processional hymn for the midnight tree-frog meditation, even if it’s actually just two dudes with some humble, mostly-not-broken gear sharing in a focused musical dialog that only they can fully decipher. Edition of 150 copies and I’m damn sure holding onto this one!

Nightmare Thirsty And Wander LP (540)
Not all who wander are thirsty, but that doesn’t go for Japanese hardcore legends Nightmare. They’ve been around for over three decades, and they maintain their upper-echelon status here, not wavering for a second into progressive songwriting or any signs of fatigue or weakening. No one knows how they do it, which of course makes it all the more sweeter – can you name an American hardcore band who is writing utterly gnarly, grotesque hardcore music consistently over three decades? Maybe Iron Lung will eventually get there. Anyway, as for Thirsty And Wander in particular, the guitar is particularly distinctive, with a violent twang and a painful level of treble, almost sounding as if Bill Orcutt returned to playing in Harry Pussy, but surely coincidental in that regard. The vocals are ferocious and spouted off mercilessly, the drumming is deceptively tight and intricate while continually cascading forward, and while I don’t really have much to say about the bass, I’m sure if I focused on it long enough I’d discover some fascinating properties there too. Pretty essential stuff, which feels weird seeing as hardcore is forever a young person’s game, just not necessarily in Japan, and certainly not with Nightmare.

Parsnip When The Tree Bears Fruit LP (Trouble In Mind / Anti Fade)
Earlier this year I was grooving to Parsnip’s Feeling Small 7″, wondering when they might do an album, and here it is! Nice how things can work out like that. This Melbourne group is out-tweeing the twee-est of ’em, and whereas that could possibly result in some painfully embarrassing material, Parsnip make funky playful softness seem as though it’s the only way music should sound. I suppose one could make a sonic connection to The Raincoats, as far as the way that both groups use punk rock as a launching pad for creatively un-punk sounds, but Parsnip are smoother than The Raincoats and less anxious, appearing more spiritually aligned with Sid & Marty Kroft than Rough Trade. I like the songs that are most bold in their preciousness, like the overly charming “Lullaby”, the funk-tastic “Taking Me For A Ride” and the shortcake psychedelia of “My Window” (which could’ve easily fit on The Apples In Stereo’s glorious Her Wallpaper Reverie). I can understand if When The Tree Bears Fruit is a little too cutesy and wholesome for some listeners, but Parsnip show no hesitation in their musical approach, which fits into the greater scheme of the Melbourne (and international) indie-punk scene while still wildly sticking out of it, like a brazen and character-defining cowlick.

People Skills Magnet Hill 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
Is it a sad or happy thing that in order for me to enjoy the sounds of Philadelphia’s own People Skills on 7″ vinyl, I have to wait for a label from Sweden to release it? I’m not gonna linger on possibly depressing thoughts for too long, mostly because the music of Magnet Hill is enjoyably depressing enough as is! This single comes with two slow instrumental guitar/”drums” tracks and two infinite loops. “Three Smiling Dogs In A Dream” feels like a dreary sketchbook riff from Kurt Cobain’s diary; “Summer 1978” opens with some incidental street sounds before settling into a single repetitive guitar note punctuated by a high note on the keyboard, at least until Jesse Sinclair Dewlow (that’s People Skills himself) finds a lonely chord to press on before another cozy locked-groove takes the reigns. This is apparently one of three new People Skills releases, the other two being tapes, and I need to figure out which one comprises the live set I witnessed a few months ago, as that was an extraordinary puff of weary ambient choogle I wouldn’t mind hearing again.

Pleather Wasting Time With Riot 7″ (Feral Kid)
I had suspicions that the great hardcore-punk group Judy & The Jerks couldn’t exist in Hattiesburg, MS, all by themselves, and lo and behold, here’s the debut EP from Pleather, also hailing from that magical burg. They look pretty chill on the cover, wearing neutral tones and hanging out on piles of consolidated recycling, and their music, while firmly punk, offers a similar good-time, laid-back feel. “Riot” (which contrary to the EP title is the a-side) might be the least aggressive punk song to ever bear that title, feeling more indebted to the Velvet Underground than S.O.A. It’s catchy and tuneful, but avoids feeling like indie-rock… must be the attitude? “Wasting Time” is only marginally tougher, as there are moments when the drummer lets off of that Moe Tucker tom-ride and pounds, but the same sensation is delivered, the careless cool that made that dog.’s “Old Timer” and Redd Kross’s cover of “Blow You A Kiss In The Wind” so infectious and fun. I’m reading a vibe of “first time punk band”, but these tracks are too studiously crafted for newbies, so I’m not entirely sure what the case is with Pleather – all it takes is one member who can write a great song, I suppose – I’m just hoping to hear more from them soon!

Possible Humans Everybody Split LP (Trouble In Mind)
Another disc from down unda care of Trouble In Mind, who seem to have accepted the fact that if you want to put out well-considered modern underground guitar-band music, you’ll have to start combing through Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane to maintain a steady clip. Possible Humans are a new group from Melbourne, and I’d bet their members have been in other bands before (at least it’s… possible!), as they play a highly-controlled, properly-executed form of DIY-inspired indie-rock. All the parts are in check – driving bass-lines, tight and compact drumming, tuneful jangle, understated vocals – but I dunno, Everybody Split isn’t really connecting with me as much as I’d like. There’s The Clean, The Verlaines, probably a little Gin Blossoms and Cranberries, and surely some Swell Maps and Mekons in the Possible Humans formula, but it’s like they take the safest and most-expected parts of those groups rather than anything that might spark a little excitement or cause any sort of problem. It’s jangly indie-punk with the edges sanded down to ensure no one cuts themselves on it. Hope I’m not coming across too harshly, as it’s an album that sounds perfectly fine and comes with no glaring faults, but it’s the sort of humdrum amateur-professionalism, the sense of motions being gone through that leaves me wanting rather than satiated.

Product KF Songs Of The Groves LP (Chicago Research)
Here’s my Chicago research: very cold in the winter, windy, unfortunate pizza, Billy Corgan lives there. I kid, I love that city and its wonderful people, and it’s cool to see new label Chicago Research giving consideration to their various locals, like cold-wavers Product KF for instance. As if you couldn’t already tell they play cold-wave, what with their European, cold-war-styled name and all. Songs Of The Groves is my first exposure to the group, and it’s been an enjoyable one. They seem to be kind of new, or at least not particularly polished with what they’re doing, and it works in their favor. These tracks almost come across like various mash-ups of cold-wave / gothy post-punk signifiers (flanged-out bass lines, scrapyard percussion, Ian Curtis-style warbling, a spooky dance-ability, and so forth), but it’s the jumbled nature of these tunes that I find appealing. I mean come on, they’ve got a song called “Pitch Dark” followed by a song called “Day Comes Too Soon”, these folks are true vampires in training. Songs Of The Groves feels less scripted than some of their contemporaries on larger labels, and more like a group of individuals who really know what they want to sound like, but aren’t technically astute enough to create a picture-perfect facsimile, so they’re just kinda throwing stuff together. It’s not an equation that always works, but it works nicely for me here.

Puzzlehead Big Sniff LP (Stucco)
After a couple banging hardcore EPs (Electric Chair and Suck Lords) and one fantastic post-punk EP (Table Sugar), Stucco moves on with Puzzlehead’s debut full-length. This feels like music very much made for the younger underground, with songs that might come across as somewhat, umm, puzzling to older folks (like me). Puzzlehead play a slow-motion, fuzz-soaked form of indie-grunge that keeps popping up on labels both major-indie and DIY self-sufficient, much to my surprise. Puzzlehead sound like Shop Assistants attempting to play Breeders songs in the style and sound of Kilslug, by my evaluation. Downtuned, sludgy and unhurried, Puzzlehead must’ve accepted a puff off of Milk Music’s Juul at one point or another, and I have to wonder if the influence of that band both stylistically and musically is something I’m dreading or eagerly awaiting over however many more months or years. Not really picking up much in the way of memorable hit songs here, but this feels like a band where their vibe is the focal point, not any particular single (although actually, the stoned pop jangle of “Cruisin’ 4 A Bruisin'” sticks out with its lyrics of “I’m gonna kick your ass”, a timeless statement if there ever was one). Complete with Grateful Dead-esque logo, simplistic cartoon-dog-and-flower art and a big newsprint poster (which seems to be a prerequisite for any Olympia-based release), Big Sniff stands as a shining example of where 2019’s underground youthful punk sensibilities are at, if not necessarily a captivating musical statement.

Shots Private Hate LP (Careful Catalog)
Here’s an appropriately ambiguous name for this experimental trio featuring Home Blitz’s Daniel DiMaggio and the Friberg brothers, John and Matthew. It calls to mind not just ground-level warfare, but also a crew of bros with a handful of Jager-bombs at the local bar, or Steph Curry’s three-point percentage, and somehow it all fits what this New Jersey-centric group is doing (or at least I think they’re all from Jersey – they named a prior release after a Mouthpiece record for chrissakes!). Anyway, this beautiful-looking record is a strange one for sure, filled with expansive tracts of absent sounds. The a-side opens with what might possibly be some uncoordinated basketball-dribbling in a suburban garage, followed by an awkwardly silent car ride over to the park, then maybe a drum kit slowly falling over? The soft fuzz of ambient silence is plentiful here, giving the listener plenty of room to settle in. The b-side takes us to a more populated venue: sounds of children in the distance and some sort of routine commerce are interrupted by indiscriminate microphone pops, as if the recorder was tucked inside a Jansport while walking through a high school hallway. Improvised field-recordings, should we call it? There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of post-production, but much like with similar works by Graham Lambkin and Gabi Losoncy, the mystery is never to be revealed. Private Hate is a record that bears very little repeating, and yet I’m at least half a dozen listens in… either Shots are cunning sonic tricksters or I’m a fool. It’s probably a little bit of both.

Trampoline Team Trampoline Team LP (HoZac)
New Orleans punk might best be defined by the fact that it doesn’t mess around, which is certainly the case with Trampoline Team. This trio slashes and bashes through their songs in classic downhill garage-punk-with-emphasis-on-punk fashion. I’m reminded of personal favorites like Loli & The Chones, Oblivians, Nots, Carbonas and Kill-A-Watts, but Trampoline Team are on the no-frills side of what is already a pretty frill-less cross-section. They play their songs slightly faster than this style usually allows, which adds a nice dose of mania to their fairly traditional chord progressions, and the vocalist Sam DeLucia (also of the wonderful Black Abba) shouts with just enough charisma to inject these straightforward tunes with catchy hooks and repeated enjoyment. Trampoline Team certainly aren’t the first band to play fast punk with songs about the various behaviors of jerks and the hate that those jerks inspire, but from where I’m sitting they deserve to be in the starting lineup of the genre’s modern purveyors.

Victory Hands Bishop 12″ (Headphone Treats)
It’s not often that a band, or a record, truly blows me away, but wow… color me blown away. Victory Hands are a Richard Nixon-themed math-rock band (yes, you heard me right) and this 12″ EP comes inside a multi-fold out, chrome-embossed, die-cut (for special securing of the actual vinyl LP as well as for added visual flair) cover. And this band, from Atlanta, has been doing this thing since 2013, previously releasing a 7″ as well as a 10″, all with the exact same visual and sonic aesthetics (and all lyrics cribbed directly from Richard Nixon speeches and dialogue). Do you understand any of this? I certainly do not. Somehow four guys thought this was a reasonable idea, and have stuck with it for years now, making these carefully produced records (and, none of my select Atlanta-based friends have ever heard of them, for whatever that’s worth). As for the music, it’s fairly basic poppy post-hardcore stuff, not unlike Shades Apart or Ethel Meserve or something in that realm, perfectly fine as well as more or less unmemorable. The whole thing, however, this idea of a Richard Nixon-themed band that is somehow not even remotely amusing and has clearly received significant aesthetic thought in spite of what must be a significant lack of fanbase, is something I won’t soon forget.