Reviews – May 2018

Actors It Will Come To You LP (Artoffact)
Vancouver’s Actors are a pro-‘tude synth-wave group, and after spending the past few years dishing out a number of EPs, their debut album, It Will Come To You, has finally come to you. They clearly are going for it, what with publicity, promotion, touring, social media, etc., and in an increasingly hostile and unsustainable industry (that of non-megastar live bands), I can’t blame them for doing whatever they can to survive. Aesthetically, they do all the things you’d expect a group like this to do: seem emotionally distant and wounded; wear all black all the time (and sunglasses indoors); channel New Order’s synths with the radio-rock bombast of The Killers; call to mind Cold Cave and The Faint on their debut LP. Lead vocalist Jason Corbett occasionally channels a goth-night Josh Homme with his voice, and I have to say it does the trick, a tense falsetto straining over stock beats. I might actually raise my arms over my head while dancing if “Hit To The Head” came on in a club! Nothing groundbreaking, that’s for sure, but they’ve clearly oiled this machine well, and I’d much rather people follow and react to a living human group like Actors than an algorithmically-formulated fake-artist Spotify playlist for their gloomy dance-pop needs, which is the Black Mirror episode our mainstream future seems to be gazing toward.

Borusiade Silent 12″ (Cómeme)
Here’s how it worked for me: Lena Willikens’s great 2015 EP on Cómeme turned me on to the German techno label, who recently released this 12″ by the intriguingly-named Borusiade, whose striking cover image of a submerged human head sealed the deal. I guess that’s all it takes sometimes, because I purchased a copy, and I’m glad I did, as it’s a different vibe from both Willikens (and Cómeme label-head Matias Aguayo) but delectable nonetheless. “Silent” is a great slice of booming goth-techno – I’m reminded of a less dramatic Gazelle Twin, or a recent-ish Downwards offering (say, Oake or Talker) with all the chest-bursting power and none of the hazardous radiation. It’s eerie and majestic but you can easily dance to it, either jamming at its normal tempo or stomping in half-time to its pummeling kick/snare pattern. Makes me wish I was friends with more vampires, honestly. (Borusiade is Romanian-born, so clearly she’s close to the original blood-lusting source.) Khidja offers a remix of “Silent” on the flip, tilting back a little bit in order to bring out the track’s inherent groove, pulled from the cobwebbed catacombs and onto a nearby club ‘floor with the persistent bass pattern and a quick wipe of disinfectant out of respect to whoever uses it next. Borusiade just dropped an album, and Silent ensures I’ll be seeking it out as well.

Cave Curse Future Dust LP (FDH / P. Trash)
Cave Curse follow their debut 7″ (and as is the requisite today, a cassette filled with demos and previously released recordings) with an LP, and if you liked their debut, you won’t leave Future Dust feeling disappointed. I wasn’t a fan myself, however, and this album cements that fact. It’s the distinct combination of styles and sounds that doesn’t work for me: Jay Reatard-aping vocals, Tubeway Army-esque synths playing overly familiar melodies, and live drums that pound wildly along. I could enjoy any of those aspects separately, or maybe even a combination of two of them, but Cave Curse’s final product sounds as though a garage-rocker was tricked into believing that Reggie & The Full Effect’s debut album was the OG template for dark-wave and then took their own stab at it after raiding Guitar Center’s keyboard section. Just check “Drones (We’re All)” and you’ll hear exactly what I mean, from the glammy vocal warble to the pop-punk drumming and basic four-chord melody. At the very least, Cave Curse seems well intentioned, so hopefully someone out there likes this?

CCR Headcleaner CCR Headcleaner 7″ (Pollen Season)
Always a pleasure to obtain a new offering from the Bay Area’s CCR Headcleaner, a group of at least five people that seem to feed off each other’s sweaty energy in the creation of their unhinged, punk-adjacent stoner noise. Can’t go wrong with these four new home-recorded tunes, that’s for sure – opener “Mission Control” sounds like early ’80s GG Allin (musically, not vocally) until it’s caught up in a cloud of High Rise-style combustion. That’s my favorite tune here, but the rest are great too, like a slightly more focused Hospitals, Timmy’s Organism without any sense of kitsch, or perhaps if Keiji Haino was granted full conductorship of his favorite Chrome tunes. You can really sense the paranoia and frustration that comes with living in a once hippie-centric enclave that is increasingly eaten alive by Silicon Valley tech-bro gentrification (particularly in the tune “Ipso Facto Alcohol”), and I’m thankful that these folks react by channeling psych-rock with the same free-wheeling insanity of Royal Trux. I hope that CCR Headcleaner can continue to survive in this hostile environment, or at least take some pigs out with ’em when they go.

Church Shuttle Natural Disaster 7″ (Soft Abuse)
I always thought the label name “Soft Abuse” was an intriguing one, paradoxical and a little creepy, and I’m not sure any record on the label has embodied that vibe as much as this Church Shuttle single. It’s an audio-collage of despair: low-humming tones (the dishwasher? a malfunctioning phone charger?), lonesome mumbling, clocks ticking, even a little guitar and piano (or so they allege). It’s the sound of being awake at an hour that is meant for sleep, as if some sort of stressful event, physical or mental, is preventing the body and mind from rest. I’m reminded of Prick Decay without the harsh noise factor, or a less humorous Glands Of External Secretion in the way these two pieces unfold (haphazardly and with little explanation). Church Shuttle is the work of Chris Durham (he of Roachclip and The Bibs), and while I thought his Quilt Boy solo-project was his personal clearinghouse of sonic detritus, apparently he needed to take things one step further into unlistenability with Church Shuttle. I’d say he should get in touch with I Dischi Del Barone, if only to swap tapes of like-minded nonsense, but he probably already has… these types of freaks are always good at finding each other.

C. Memi Heavenly Peace 12″ (Bitter Lake)
Bitter Lake’s second release continues their mission statement of reissuing truly oddball Japanese obscurities in the realm of synth-wave / post-punk. This one comes from C. Memi, an artist that’s new to me but I’m glad to have discovered. This 12″ EP is a reissue of C. Memi’s sole 7″ EP, and seeing as these five tracks aren’t exactly short, the extra vinyl square-inchage is appreciated. C. Memi seems to come from that time and era when people knew they wanted to play different music than what they were hearing, but the underground was yet to be fully codified and genre-stabilized. This is evident as the moody opener “Ishin-Denshin” recalls early Cabaret Voltaire or Phew’s debut LP and it’s followed up by “C’est Une Chanson”, a cheesy accordion-based circus dance, the sort of thing that comes pre-programmed in a children’s carousel. The stylistic changes continue to baffle on the b-side, with a baroque piece for piano and voice called “For Monster Of Dr. Frankenstein” that gives way to “Hitojichi”, psychotic minimal-synth ala Systematics which ends in a cascade of fireworks. Heavenly Peace closes with a somber little new-age ballad, something you’d find in Kate Bush’s wastebasket circa 1982. Very bizarre, and I personally wish C. Memi explored more of her avant-garde side while leaving the cheese-pop aspirations on the shelf, but Heavenly Peace might not be as endearing if that were the case. What’ll Bitter Lake dig up next?

Control Test Verdadero Criminal 7″ (Iron Lung)
I wonder how many people quickly purchased this from the Iron Lung shop assuming it was some sort of Total Control test pressing? A sale’s a sale, and I can’t imagine too many customers would be disappointed in the end. Maybe I’ll call my next band Colored Vinyl Sleep LP. Anyway, Control Test is a Seattle-based synth-punk group, heavy emphasis on synth (there are no guitars from what I can tell, just live drums and keyboards). To be fair, there’s a heavy emphasis on punk too, as these four tunes rattle through the speakers with a ferociousness usually reserved for a Disclose clone. The synths bleep and bloop in that early ’00s way (think Le Shok or Virgin Mega Whore), and vocalist Anthony Gaviria (whom you might recognize from Lysol) screams til he sweats through his leather jacket, as though The Screamers and In/Humanity somehow melded into one. I like it best when things are a little less manic, like b-side opener “Abuso”, which taps out an angry computer virus with the same one-finger precision of Count Vertigo, but it’s clear Control Test exist for the purpose of spazzing out as much as possible. Each copy comes in a uniquely “hand-stained” sleeve, as if putting together records as a DIY label wasn’t punishing enough already. Respect.

De Beren Gieren Dug Out Skyscrapers LP (Sdban Ultra)
Not a lot of jazz discussed on these pages, probably for a lot of reasons (both valid and flimsy), but I’m tempted to revamp the entire site into a jazzbo’s paradise if there are enough jazz ensembles as quizzically sweet and insidious as De Beren Gieren out of Gent, Belgium. They’re a trio featuring piano, double bass and drums, and their compositions on Dug Out Skyscrapers really speak to me. I’d call it “espionage jazz” – it’s chilly and occasionally foreboding, but also baroque and heartfelt, steeped in the tradition of classical music but also clearly aware of cool things like dub-techno and avant-noise. They get quite technical and weird, but it’s never without a point, nor do they ever drift into improvised confusion. I can’t help but think of the great British crime drama Wallander when listening, as though the titular police inspector is rifling through documents late into the night, gathering clues and piecing the puzzle together as it’s revealed that he is under surveillance by a masked intruder. This is sophisticated and icy music, pleasant enough for background-listening while preparing dinner but exotically European too, full of sharp details and ear-catching twists for those who intentionally focus. Meanwhile, I’m just waiting for a suspicious murder to occur on my block so I can blare Dug Out Skyscrapers out an open window.

Eye Cocktail Mexico 10″ (Knekelhuis)
Can’t stop won’t stop snagging the newest Knekelhuis releases, including this 10″ by Eye. Not to be confused with any member of the Boredoms, this Eye is one Laurène Exposito, and she makes a very fashionable and entertaining form of DIY synth-wave here (as well as on her debut album from a couple years back). The four tunes here move pretty quickly but are certainly worth repeating so it all evens out. I’m reminded of the earliest Marie Davidson productions, Eva Geist’s dirtier cuts, maybe some of the minimal-wave material of the early ’80s (like Deux or Comix), or a Chrisma track with all the guitars sucked out. Classic to that lineage but by no means a retro act or any sort of aesthetic put-on. Exposito has a great disaffected vocal delivery (with no shortage of echo), and her drum machines and synths all teeter on the edge of collapse, levels occasionally flaring unexpectedly and rhythms that take dangerous shapes. I prefer my minimal-wave to come with this homespun, out-of-the-bedroom feel so I’m proud to welcome Cocktail Mexico into my home, no matter what room of the house it originated from.

Fossil Fuel Punk Rock Karate Chop EP 7″ (SPHC)
Thank goodness unheralded punk labels like SPHC are putting in the work, promoting and releasing truly garbage-pail music in the best possible sense. Although apparently releasing tapes and CD-rs since the mid ’90s, I had no idea that Fossil Fuel existed until now, and I truly thank SPHC for it, as this group (featuring at least one member of Sockeye and coming from the Wheelchair Full Of Old Men camp) is moronic genius. Here’s the rub: two guys (named “Gun” and “Knife”) provide mostly-spoken vocals and lo-fi guitar over pre-programmed Casio beats (not a big Casio either, one of those eighteen-inchers you could buy at a toy store). It’s a fairly basic musical concept, but it’s the lyrics where Fossil Fuel really shine (as is often the case with Sockeye-related projects) – “Brocore Movement” is a startlingly hilarious indictment of any dude who ever liked hardcore, just pure uncoated sarcasm from a crotchety old guy who clearly has no horse left in the race. The rest of the EP is cool too, although it drifts into the realm of awkward comedy sketches more than scene commentary (see song titles such as “I Took Beer” and “Back Pain Bobby”). Looks like Fossil Fuel also released an album called Who Gives A Fuck? L.P. Dick and I clearly need to locate a copy in case they wrote more “Brocore Movement”-caliber hits.

Geld Perfect Texture LP (Iron Lung)
Iron Lung reaches across the Pacific to bring us the debut album from Melbourne’s Geld. They might be new, but they’ve got dudes from d-beaters Krömosom and pub-rockers Power in their lineup, so it’s no surprise their first offering is fully matured and storming right out of the gate. Perfect Texture is solid stuff, a strain of violent and heavy hardcore that only a fool could find fault with. As I listen I’m frequently reminded of Nine Shocks Terror, particularly due to the buzzsaw riffing (and buzzsaw vocal delivery), but Geld mix things up a bit more than Nine Shocks ever did, integrating over-the-top effects (and even an electro-industrial instrumental segue) and leaning into black/thrash-metal motifs and Motörhead-style exhaust fumes on occasion. It’s top-shelf Japanese hardcore worship (I’m thinking Contrast Attitude and Zyanose), but they use it as a jumping off point for their own particular style as opposed to a direct rip (thankfully there are no song titles in purposely-butchered-English, a move I always found a little distasteful). Geld do a fine job of maintaining a direct assault without becoming overly repetitive, which is the key tightrope that any chaotic hardcore band must walk. Thumbs up!

Hot Snakes Jericho Sirens LP (Sub Pop)
I can’t think of a nicer rock band to pick up on your semi-corporate indie label than Hot Snakes. Is there a more universally beloved band of advanced-age, hard-rockin’ white guys than them? You can even feel good about liking them on a personal level too, which is rare in this era of well-documented problematic band member behavior that usually comes as unfortunate-at-best baggage for any group of dudes who’ve been putting out records since the ’90s. (At least at the time of this review’s publication, no member of Hot Snakes has assaulted audience members, hatefully ranted on Twitter, or casually associated with the alt-right in an interview.) And if all that wasn’t good enough, Hot Snakes return after a lengthy absence as if they never left, churning out more of their signature heavy strumming joined by the aggressively parched vocals of Rick Froberg. Right off the bat, “I Need A Doctor” ensures that Hot Snakes are giving the kids what they want, and it’s a soothing relief in this time of so much uncertainty. They mix it up a little too, throwing in some near-hardcore thrashers (“Why Don’t It Sink In”) and some simmering post-hardcore (gotta think of the Drive Like Jehu fans too). It all makes for an undeniably successful comeback album, offering more of what made the group so fantastic in the first place while also revealing new paths forward.

ISS ISS 7″ (Sorry State)
Glad I didn’t have to wait too long for more from ISS – they very well may be the only active band crafting songs out of old sampled punk records, but I have no doubt they’re the best, too. (Let us all politely forget that The Yah Mos Def ever existed.) This new EP is four more cuts that are greater than the sum of their parts, taking obscure and familiar hardcore-punk chestnuts and sewing them together for today’s modern cynical fashions. Just as on their LP, ISS sounds strikingly like a real band here, although one out of time or place, as likely to have existed in 1979 palling around with Crass or The Pop Group as something that would fit alongside Mystic Inane and FNU Clone on a contemporary bill (don’t I wish). Clearly a bit of layered thought has gone into these tracks too, with the final shout from Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” punctuating an anti-Richard Spencer tune, as well as what I presume to be a track tackling today’s mutant-punk uniform (“I can only judge a man by the dangle of his earring” being one choice lyrical quote). That would be an extra slick move, if ISS actually started sampling and roasting their contemporaries in real-time, particularly if they utilized the Mayyors-esque power-fuzz of closing track “Mi Miata” to do it. Maybe they already are!

Jing Adularescence LP (6dimensions)
Taiwan’s Jing hits the scene with this engrossing debut LP of avant-garde sound-art. She mixes the modern post-post-techno production of heavyweight weirdos like Lee Gamble and Mika Vainio with the bizarre vocal recitation of Graham Lambkin – a track like “Permission” is the perfect synthesis, with bass bobbing like one of Wolfgang Voigt’s Kafkatrax productions and a processed adult British male speaking glumly over top. It’s a lot easier to enjoy casually than one might expect from a “short stories accompanied by soundscapes” project… Jing’s productions are colorful and even a little fun, but never at the expense of the bizarre tension that runs through Adularescence. It’s a production I’d expect to witness in a contemporary art gallery in the hip part of town, but a crafty DJ could play many of these tracks in a crowded bar with great success (so long as everyone is already a little buzzed). It moves fast through tracks (monotony is one avant-garde tool Jing avoids), and by the time the woozy closer “Yet To Begin” drops, the room may not be fully spinning but a slight disorientation is guaranteed.

Kilchhofer The Book Room 2xLP (Marionette)
I’d be constantly angry if my last name had two Hs back to back, but Benjamin Kilchhofer is proud and bold, producing music under his surname and simply daring you to try and call him “Kilchofer”! He has a couple other records out but The Book Room is a massive work, twenty tracks across four sides of 12″ vinyl, revealing a complex and dense sonic vocabulary. Normally, I’d balk at twenty tracks of anyone (although one day I’ll have the courage to pony up for a copy of Prince Of Denmark’s eight LP release from late 2016), but Kilchhofer keeps things moving, offering brisk and intriguing new ideas and glimpses of intricate sound-worlds. Some tracks are melancholy and misty, like Boards Of Canada without the samples, whereas others seem to listen in on imagined tribes ala Jon Hassell’s “Fourth World” concept. Picture Shackleton sipping tea with Claude Rodap, the furthest reaches of Growing Bin Records’ “Club Med Esoterica” section, or a calm companion to Peder Mannerfelt’s Swedish Congo Record if you want to imagine the sounds you’ll find in The Book Room. So many flavors at play and I think you might enjoy them all.

The Modern Institute Another Exhibition At The Modern Institute 12″ (Diagonal)
Cool pairing here of two electro-agitators, Glasgow’s The Modern Institute and London’s Diagonal. The Modern Institute share personnel with Golden Teacher, but whereas Golden Teacher revel in loose and collective jams, The Modern Institute is as tight as a wedgie that includes not just one’s underwear but one’s dungarees as well. The minimal and high-pitched beats buzz as though The Modern Institute’s hardware overheated to dangerous levels, with bass switched to treble and regular treble pitched up, but you wouldn’t know it from the deadpan vocal delivery of Richard McMaster. It’s enough to garner a clear comparison to The Normal’s T.V.O.D. / Warm Leatherette, but whereas The Normal featured a groove one could conceivably dance to, The Modern Institute is frantic and unhinged, recalling the torturous pacing of labelmates Russell Haswell and Evol. It can be a bit much to take in extended doses, but this is a shortened release, so you’ll presumably be fine (although I make no promises). If you feel the blood vessels around your pupils start to swell, simply gaze into the mirror-reflected cover and remind yourself that this is only art… you’ll be okay.

Sean Morales Call It In LP (Super Secret)
If you’ve been privately writing some songs and finally decide to record them with a full band, you’ve got a good chance of making that dream happen in Austin, TX. That’s where Sean Morales ended up, and on his solo debut he enlists folks from OBN IIIs, James Arthur’s Manhunt, The Golden Boys and Faceless Werewolves to fill in on drums, guitars, saxophone, keyboards, hell even a dobro when necessary. I’d say the effort has paid off, as Morales put together a very fine album of studied rock n’ roll, one that can be enjoyed from both seated and standing positions. I’m thinking he located inspiration from various unheralded rock geniuses, folks like Tom Verlaine and Alex Chilton, or even lesser-knowns (but equally greats?) like Brother JT, Andre Ethier and Dan Melchior. You know the type of cult-followed songwriter: scruffy introverts who are never far from a cigarette and don’t speak often, but when they do, it’s worth overhearing. Morales is not just a willing sponge, but a fine purveyor of his own experiences, and if you can’t find something to enjoy on Call It In I frankly have to question your interest in hearing guitars played at all.

Negative Space Gestalt LP (Drunken Sailor / Always Restrictions)
Negative Space is a fitting moniker for this UK based post-punk (but more punk than post) group, as it implies both an adherence to uniform hardcore-punk band-name behavior (they must be the thousandth “Negative _____” group) as well as an interest in fine art, the use of “negative space” and ooh la-la and all that. They’ve clearly got feet in both camps, happily stirring up mosh-pits while also pondering the philosophical qualities of a flower, smashing a beer-can on one’s forehead after purchasing some experimental poetry chapbooks, that sort of thing. Musically it makes sense, as they come equipped with the hardcore monotony / tuneful drudgery of Ceremony circa Rohnert Park nestled up to tense riffing of Total Control circa Henge Beat, as well as the pogo-based energy of early Institute. That means speedy guitars that rely on an economy of notes, a vocalist who enunciates like a high person attempting to appear sober, and a spiritual kinship to Wire’s Pink Flag. I wouldn’t say Negative Space elevate the genre, but they certainly stand head-to-head with most of the artists referenced in this review – they know their way around a moody anti-riff, the singer’s British voice is exactly what I want to hear on this sort of thing, and there are enough weird little details and accidental hooks to not just keep my attention but stir up a little excitement, too. The labels splurged on a limited gold vinyl edition, and I’d say it was worth every extra penny!

Nerve Beats Nerve Beats LP (Fine Concepts)
Right off the bat I liked the cut of this album’s jib – screened cover with cool typography and a weirdly disorienting art-style, and Nerve Beats are from Honolulu (or at least wrote and recorded the album there), on the same Oakland label that released that cool Trashies LP from a couple months ago (with the endearing email contact “djstopdumping@gmail.com”). I was fully prepped to get down with whatever Nerve Beats actually sounded like (I’m always ready for more Hawaiian punk), and after a few listens, I dunno, it’s fine I guess, but if I’m going to be honest with you (for a change), I’m a little disappointed. They’re a punk trio that tend to drift toward garage- and post- prefixes, like something between The Intelligence, Eat Skull and The Oh Sees, but without any particular personality quirks of their own, just the most basic delivery of that sort of DIY-leaning, just-a-‘lil-noisy punk rock. There are probably a couple standout tracks here, but the album is overstuffed with eighteen songs (and they’re not short ones, either), so whatever possible gems are distributed throughout are hard to focus upon due to the extended listener-fatigue Nerve Beats carries. A little editing would’ve done wonders for my enjoyment here, but Nerve Beats wanted to give you all they could on their self-titled debut and I was helpless to stop them.

Open City City Of Ash 7″ (Open City)
Following last year’s debut LP, Philadelphian hardcore supergroup Open City (members of Paint It Black and Kid Dynamite, Ceremony, one of Ted Leo’s Pharmacists, etc.) put out this 7″ single on their own label, with more sharp black-and-white photos of metropolitan decline prominently featured. Don’t let the art-gallery aesthetic leave you thinking Open City are capital-M Mysterious, though, as they distro their records through Ebullition for chrissakes, and these two tunes are thoughtfully-considered emo-core ragers, hearkening to a time when “emo” and “-core” weren’t dirty words but signs of sincerity and a deliberate refutation of the mainstream. “City Of Ash” starts off mean and pensive before cutting into one of those trademark Dan Yemin stutter-step breakdowns – there are no “whoa-oh-ohs” so I had to restrain from adding them myself. “A Condition Worth A Mention” isn’t about record grading (I was hoping they were going to tear into the subtleties between VG and VG+), and I almost feel bad about joking about it as whatever vocalist Rachel Rubino’s going off about is clearly no laughing matter. This track takes a different mood, much slower and darker, like some rickety bridge between Grade and His Hero Is Gone at their most forlorn. I was hoping for a happy ending, or at least a glimmer of hope to wrap things up, but Open City aren’t catering to any foolish desires.

Perverts Again Friday Night Light LP (Total Punk)
Cleveland’s Perverts Again have really carved out their own little corner in underground punk, although I’m not sure anyone else is looking to claim it for themselves. Theirs is a world built on humiliation-as-catharsis, and I’m not talking light self-deprecation or amusing personal jabs but an authentic sense that they have comfortably resigned to be dateless dorks for the rest of their lives. They’ve even created their own pathetic mascot cartoon, now rendered in human form on the record cover, a pale shirtless character with large black eyes and both hands shoved in the front of his belted khakis. They’re really reveling in it (and sharply rib-tickling in doing so), with ultra-specific lyrics (opener “Blockbusted” references both Levis 550 jeans and Manchester By The Sea) detailing strange encounters and a profound lack of coolness. The music works great, a well-mannered mid-tempo punk with unwavering drums (floor tom and snare patterns with little to no hi-hat), continual picking and strange little hooks. I’d say they remind me of Life Stinks, but even Life Stinks’s self-pitying doesn’t come close to the self-imposed loserdom exposed on Friday Night Light – Perverts Again truly commit to it, where you can’t tell if the gimmick became their lives or their lives became the gimmick. Next time you’re aimlessly surfing Chat Roulette on a weekend night, getting laughed at by college jocks before they disconnect, make sure Perverts Again is playing on a nearby boombox for an enhanced experience.

Rik & The Pigs Blue Jean Queen 7″ (Feel It)
There’s just no stopping Rik & The Pigs this year, following their fantastic debut LP on Total Punk with this three-track tumbler on Feel It. They’re clearly on a roll, hereby locating the sweet spot between classic punk, glam-rock and good-natured sleaze, with a timeless denim-zip cover and the tunes to back it up. “Blue Jean Queen” and “TV Bloopers” both ricochet around the carpeted basement with zeal and Rik’s signature attitude, offering visions of what it’d be like if Doc Dart stumbled into an early Dangerhouse recording session and shooed the actual singer out of the booth so he could lay down some nasal nastiness. Great stuff! The b-side’s “Off / On” drops the tempo considerably, a comedic drunken waltz, Rik sitting on a sewer grate after being thrown out of the local tavern and sneering at his predicament, right as a car splashes a grey puddle in his face. It practically sounds like something I’d expect G.E. Smith and the Saturday Night Live Band to warm up with, although Rik makes a proper mockery of things. I hope I don’t have to wait too long for this wonderful band to take their live act east!

Rose Mercie Rose Mercie LP (SDZ / Jelodanti / Monofonus Press)
Here’s an intriguing but appropriate cross-continent label pairing, Austin’s Monofonus Press and Paris-based SDZ (with French wildcard Jelodanti in the mix, too). Can you just imagine the artisanal food trucks that would be inspired by such a rich combination? Anyway, they’ve gathered together to present the debut album by French quartet Rose Mercie. They’ve put together a sound that recalls the earliest non-punk post-punk sounds coming out of Rough Trade’s orbit circa ’78 – ’82 (think The Raincoats or Rosa Yemen) as well as the American DIY indie sounds of the late ’80s / early ’90s (picture a band playing after Mecca Normal but before Tiger Trap at a house show in 1992). There’s clearly a spiritual connection running between those two scenes (as well as up through today, and hopefully into the future too), and Rose Mercie fit nicely in that lineage, all while carving out their own sound. Mostly, I’m surprised at how slow and restrained their songs are – twice, I’ve put on the album and turned the speed from 33 to 45 as I was certain the drums were too deep and floppy and slow to be accurate. Wrong! Rose Mercie operate on a leisurely pace, keys and guitars chiming mildly and voices weirdly harmonizing – one of the singers (maybe they all sing?) has a Devendra Banhart-esque warble and I love the way it sneaks around the other more traditional voices. I’d say it’s the best French post-punk you’ll hear this year but it’s only May and I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

Samaritan Quell Samaritan Quell LP (Monofonus Press)
Happy to tell you about this cool-and-unusual debut LP from Samaritan Quell, a new duo starring Austin acid-king Bill Converse and Sam De La Rosa of Brooklyn’s synth-wavers Led Er Est. Samaritan Quell has the grandeur of epic prog played out on synths and turntables – it’s an unusual setup (you really don’t see “turntables” listed as an instrument much these days) but it’s a highly satisfying sonic journey. Converse’s synths flow from beatless dark-ambience to taut techno rhythms, working as the bedrock of De La Rosa’s edited samples, often some sort of throat singing or tribal chanting that is looped, diced and spread out. It’s a bit of a stretch, but something about Samaritan Quell’s approach shares the “distant alien transmission” feel from the instrumentals laid down on the first Dr. Octagon album – throw in a dusty jazz break and one could only expect Kool Keith to hatch from a nearby egg and start rapping. It’s similarly psychedelic in nature, but as a byproduct of its bizarre circumstances and studied approach, not because these two dudes decided they wanted to try being “psychedelic”. The song titles track the life cycle of “the Black Snake”, which gives some sort of parameter to the syrupy noise of “Healed And Stronger” and the strengthened groove of “Growth Of The Black Snake”, but this album would succeed even if the whole thing went untitled. Really hoping this isn’t a one-off but an ongoing concern, as Samaritan Quell’s unique approach to hallucinatory, hardware-driven electronic music is enticing and rich with promise.

Sex Tourists Sex Tourists LP (Paradise Daily)
“Sex Tourists” sounds like it should be the moniker for one of today’s ambiguously-offensive hardcore bands, so I braced myself for the middle-fingered attack after initially dropping the needle on Sex Tourists. You’ll be relieved to know no such assault came, as Sex Tourists is one of those one- or two-person synth-pop projects, yet another crowded field of musical pursuit. It can be a little tricky to stand out, but Sex Tourists succeed with their formula: busy drum machines, brightly-colored synths and a droll male voice semi-singing acutely personal lyrics over top. Even with the inherent silliness of the band name (and the retro-synth attitude of some of the music), Sex Tourists come across as ponderous and slightly sad, like they’re sulking against the machine instead of raging against it. The lyrics are often quite poignant and descriptive – I can relate to the disconnect felt in “Birthday Party”, and “Exercise Bicycles” comes across like an Aussie Morrissey backed by The Human League (minus whatever grotesque prejudice that may imply). Is it wrong that I want Sex Tourists to stay sad a little longer, at least until they can put together an equally enjoyable follow-up?

The Skids Crooked Cop 7″ (Shipping Steel)
Melbourne’s The Skids surely aren’t the first punk band to be named The Skids, but they very well might be the first Australian one, if my squad of unionized fact-checkers are providing me with accurate intel. Judging from the neon logo and name, I was expecting some sort of Bomp!-style punk n’ roll, like The Lurkers or Jet Bronx or something equally harmless and fun, but The Skids are walking around with gravel in their boots, carrying a green glass bottle full of either piss or vinegar (take your pick!). I’m actually reminded of New Jersey working-class heroes The Wretched Ones in the way that The Skids deliver these four tunes, like they just got off work at some physically-demanding factory and want nothing more than to drown their memories in domestic beer until it’s time to get on stage. Resigned to their calloused fingers and stained collars but all the tougher for it. The songs move slowly but with energy, anthemic and angrily railing against crooked cops and other restrictive forces. All four band members are wearing sunglasses for the back-cover mugshots, presumably hiding at least one shiner from last night’s skirmish.

Strange Passage Shine And Scatter 12″ (Syncro System)
It’s amazing that understated indie-rock has proliferated so successfully in a town known for their Bosstones and Murphys, but Boston’s Strange Passage are one of the latest outfits to come out fully-formed, confident and cool. This four-song 12″ EP is a nice introduction for sure, full of late ’80s college-rock jangle, with detailed and literary lyrics that probably go over my head and a warm emotional resonance that avoids naïveté. Imagine if the nascent REM only ever put out a couple EPs on Sarah Records before petering out and you might be close to Strange Passage’s vibe, although Renato Montenegro’s lead vocals are slightly deeper (but no less tender). Shine And Scatter is certainly ripe for the consumption of twee-based audiences, but there’s a tautness to the rhythm section and natural lack of wimpiness that might cause your paintball-enthusiast neighbor with the big Monster Energy sticker on his jeep to wipe a single tear from his eye. “People Being People” is my favorite, with its rippling guitar work and assertive vocal delivery, bridging the little gaps between Major Stars and Mission Of Burma and Cuffs in Boston’s rick underground-rock tapestry.

Trash Monkeys Trash Monkey Universe 7″ (Almost Ready)
Gotta love when Almost Ready pulls out something like this: a 7″ EP of mid-’80s nonsense-rock featuring Bill Orcutt and Mark Feehan in the prime of their youth (both later of Harry Pussy, among many others). I’ve always enjoyed the music made by those two guys, and it’s at least partly because they come from such a goofball background, one that values humor and idiocy over pretentious seriousness. On this four-song EP, I’m hearing plenty of silly pop ala Bunnybrains or The Frogs and a little post-thrash ‘core like fellow Floridians No Fraud or Roach Motel (at least on “Hitchhiking For Housewives”). Two of the tracks reference “housewives” in their titles for some reason, and for as dorky as Trash Monkeys proudly are, these songs are quite listenable – had they pursued the group a little further, I could picture Placebo Records eventually sticking them on a comp with Meat Puppets, Mighty Sphincter and Sun City Girls. What really makes this band for me is the fact that one ex-member has taken to Discogs to complain that this 7″ is an unofficial scam, as if there were massive royalties to be gleaned from the release of this highly-niche 7″ EP and he was unfairly getting screwed (and I quote: “This company is trying to rob me.”). I just love when old punk weirdos reveal their narcissistic delusions, and the fact that one of those characters was in Trash Monkeys 30+ years ago only endears the group to me further.

Ubik Ubik 7″ (Aarght!)
Turns out this is the eighteenth artist named “Ubik” on Discogs – who knew it was such a popular name? Anyway, this one wields the name as though it were an evil corporation in an ’80s sci-fi thriller, what with the menacingly sparkling logo on the cover, and it’s a decent setting for Ubik’s ominous post-punk. They’re from Melbourne and they’ve got more than enough eyeliner to go around, setting up shop with a warbly, ’80s goth-punk bass tone, guitars that scrape and simmer, drums that pound it out with zero subtlety and a vocalist who is as likely to conjure a circle pit as she is to release the bats. The song title “Andrew Bolts Twitter Account” seems out of character for such a dour group (what kinda self-respecting goth would use such a specific inside joke as a title?), so there’s a good chance they’re far more nuanced than I’m hearing here. It’s pretty cool, but I can’t help but wish Ubik would focus in on the classic ’82-style Brit-punk vibe and leave some of their murkier, gothier elements by the wayside – that sorta stuff doesn’t quite do it for me. That’s just me speaking personally though, and I’m certain that they are many people who are delighted that Ubik opt for gloomy riffing and solemn vocal echo amidst the feeble punk backbone. I promise not to step on your cloaks as you enter the club.

Warm Bodies Warm Bodies LP (Lumpy)
Okay, so this cover had to be drawn by a kindergartener, right? Scribbly crayon faces? I’m not going to miss the current “preschool arts and crafts” punk art trend when it goes away, but I certainly will miss Warm Bodies’ debut LP if anyone borrows my copy! This Kansas City quartet have been making some of the best modern punk for a couple years now, music that pulls from various directions while feeling fresh, vital and supremely weird. Musically it’s not too far from the spazz-punk of CCTV and Liquids (with whom they’ve probably shared a stage, and at least one bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos), with Sheer Mag-style guitar solos that are shoehorned into unlikely spaces, frantic speeds that rival Die Kreuzen, and the manic thumb-to-the-eye rhythms of DNA and Mars. Vocalist Olivia Gibb often recalls Suburban Lawns’ Su Tissue at her most bug-eyed, as if a feather was tickling the bare soles of her feet at various increments during recording, her voice frequently yelping into the stratosphere on any given syllable. No wasted space, just hit after hit, unified in sound but diverse in hook (there’s even a gang chorus on “I Need A Doctor”). They really found the perfect recording here, with a nice thin-crust fidelity that enhances the mania without dampening the clarity – you may find yourself tapping or even singing along if social decorum is not a personal concern. Recommended indeed!

Reviews – April 2018

Acrylics Structure / Gluttony 7″ (Drunken Sailor)
Acrylics are back with another two-song 7″ single, this one in homage to everyone’s favorite mall-based men’s clothing store (at least before it turned into Express Men, what’s up with that?) and everyone’s favorite deadly sin. Pretty sure this one saw a domestic release on Iron Lung too, but I’ve got the British version in front of me, and it’s nice to know this Californian band is tickling fancies worldwide. “Structure” gets right to it, an up-tempo pogo beat driving a manic surge of hardcore energy while the guitarist is granted free range to fully go off, running through East Bay Ray demented surf lines to Greg Ginn jazz-noodles and back. It goes by in a blip, and it’s the rare hardcore tune I find myself immediately wanting to re-play, in hopes of grasping a better understanding of what just happened. If “Structure” was lean and mean, “Gluttony” starts on an overstuffed note, at least until it also kicks into a choppy thrash beat with more wandering guitar antics and a vocalist who can only manage two syllables at a time (with music this frantic, it works). Reminds me of Cult Ritual, if Cult Ritual were ever afforded a recording where one could discern what was going on. Excellent work!

Beta Boys Brick Walls / Littered Streets 7″ (Total Punk)
Total Punk went and snagged one of the lowest-effort punk bands around, Beta Boys, to join their elite ranks of stamped paper-sleeve singles. This one features “Brick Walls” and “Littered Streets”, two things I presume Beta Boys pass while walking to get their morning coffee, and it’s probably the most musically-present material I’ve heard from them yet. “Brick Walls” takes a hard stance as it stalks the alleys, like a less manic Hank Wood with the chorus pedal turned up far beyond recommended levels. The lyrics also mention “littered streets” which I thought was a cool effect, blurring themes into each other, unless of course the songs are mislabeled (probably more likely). “Littered Streets” is twice the speed, with twice the lyrics, very early Southern Cali ‘core ala Stalag 13 or perhaps 7 Seconds if they ever had a Darby Crash phase (sadly their interest in straight-edge killed that before it could start). If you’re already committed to picking up half a dozen Total Punk singles this year, this one very well might make the cut. I could tell you whether or not the cover features a crude pencil drawing of cartoons giving the middle finger, but I’d rather leave you wondering, sorry!

Big Heet On A Wire LP (no label)
Big Heet are from Tallahassee and Exploding In Sound recently released On A Wire on tape, followed by this LP version… on Laserdisc! I damn near gasped when I pulled it out of its sleeve, like a 12″ extra-thick CD that somehow was cut via lathe, and it sounds surprisingly great, with none of the mottled patina of your average Peter King lathe-cut. It’s a striking piece, and I have to wonder if more unsigned, underfunded punk bands are gonna figure out where Big Heet got this done to press up a hundred or fewer copies of their albums, too. I would! Anyway, cool that this exists and all, but I might as well tell you about Big Heet as well. They’re a spazzy punk band, reminiscent of Skull Kontrol, Popular Shapes, Xbxrx, but maybe with a predilection for scruffy No Idea Records pop-punk buried somewhere under all the frantic beats and careening guitars. There are definitely at least a couple tracks that overheat in the classic Fat Day and Quadiliacha traditions, too. I certainly enjoyed listening to it, as well as the fact that a bunch of snarky punks from northern Florida beat Jack White to the punch on an outrageous vinyl gimmick – this sorta thing used to belong to the unloved freaks anyway, not just retro-obsessed toy collectors.

Peter Brötzmann & Fred Lonberg-Holm Ouroboros LP (Astral Spirits / Monofonus Press)
Just like a full column of Oreos, I can go for a Peter Brötzmann skronk-fest just about any time, and this new one is a mighty helping indeed. Here he’s teamed with Chicago-based avant-garde menace Fred Lonberg-Holm (he on “strings and electronics”) and it’s just what you’d expect while still full of unusual turns and surprising motifs. Brötzmann and Lonberg-Holm spend quite a bit of Ouroboros conversing with each other through their instruments, ranging from shy pleasantries to drunken shouting matches. Brötzmann casts an intimidating shadow for anyone trying to make some loud noise, but Lonberg-Holm wastes no time getting into the thick of it, plucking his strings with at least two dozen fingers and shredding his electronic gear as if the authorities are on their way to confiscate it. I thought Brötzmann’s recent pairing with Heather Leigh was going to be the most thrilling thing he did this decade, but Ouroboros (culled from a 2011 session in Germany) is a contender for sure, another brash and curious potion from two seasoned outlaws.

The Cowboys Vol. 4 LP (Feel It)
Following their self-titled album on HoZac last year (as well as a self-titled collection of previously released material in 2016, and a bunch of tapes, etc.), The Cowboys continue to flood the basement with their songs on this new full-length (by some metric, their fourth volume). I like it! They’ve got a distinct sound at least, clean-cut power-pop punk for the Lumpy Records mutant-punk crowd, and while that sort of thing could easily falter due to a lack of chops or hooks, The Cowboys come equipped with both. They seem to embrace the lovable nerdy-outsider vibe of Jonathan Richman (just check those athletic socks and dress shoes on the cover) and they channel it through the rowdy teenage garage-rock action of the late ’60s, the pointedly poppy punk of the early ’80s and a slight touch of The Strokes’ calculated-coolness (check “Transatlantic Romantic” and tell me it doesn’t sound like The Nerves covering something off Room On Fire). Their versatility in various forms of wild n’ basic guitar-rock pays off well, not just in their ability to write dozens of songs each year, but to ensure the results are fresh, fun and worth repeating.

Dark Blue Fight To Love / For You 7″ (12XU)
Dark Blue continue their stint as an unstoppable force of post-modern melodic malaise, lacing up their boots with roses in their teeth and daring you to even think about trolling them. Cool shot of Dark Blue’s Next Generation on the cover, and the a-side “Fight To Love” is cool too, even if I can’t shake the mental image of Bono with his arms outstretched each time I read the title. It’s pretty tender, with barely the slightest whiff of skinhead stomp, instead geared up for a slot on 120 Minutes and maybe a package tour with Soul Asylum and Gin Blossoms (who, let’s not deny it, knew how to write some songs). The b-side is a cover of Anti-Nowhere League’s “For You”, and I have to wonder if the original is also seventeen minutes long or if Dark Blue took the liberty of stretching this one out to an extended length. “For You” repurposes the melody from Grease‘s “Summer Nights” into something ex-punks can dance to at their weddings in front of relatives, although truthfully I bet those ex-punks are all just dancing to “Summer Nights” itself anyway. I’d tease Dark Blue for playing showtunes, but I don’t want to have to explain to the EMTs taking me to the hospital that it was a Grease-related comment on my blog that got me curbstomped by Philly’s Rudest Skins.

Digital Leather Pink Thunder LP (FDH / P.Trash)
Even back in Digital Leather’s heyday (the mid-to-late ’00s?) I have to say, I wasn’t a fan of theirs. They released records on labels I appreciated and respected like Shattered and Goner, and friends of mine whose taste I admired were fans, but it never clicked for me. Listening now to Pink Thunder, this project’s eleventh album (not counting CD-rs, tapes or splits), I think I like Digital Leather even less! I just really don’t understand it, maybe you can help me out here: listen to “The Voyager” and tell me it doesn’t sound exactly like one of those “Casey and his brother” sketches on Tim & Eric. The vocals are almost comically muttered and out of tune, and the beats are, well, really dorky, but seemingly unintentionally so. It comes across as if it was an incredibly unpleasant experience to make and perform, and presumably an even less pleasant one to listen to. I get that if you’re a punk rocker who fell in love with Depeche Mode and OMD, you might be psyched to see that someone with a similar background is attempting a retro synth-pop sound, but man, shouldn’t it actually be at least kind of good? How did we wind up here?

Haircut Shutting Down 7″ (Feel It)
Something about the band name and messy use of a digital-clock font had me thinking (hoping?) this was going to sound like Le Shok, but nope, Haircut have different plans. They’re more shaved heads and DIY bleach jobs than Spock cuts, and they blade through five tunes on this, their debut EP. I have to say, I can’t remember the last time I heard a group bear such a striking similarity to Zero Boys circa Vicious Cycle – it’s not just the guitar tone that’s an exact match, but the frantic riffing as well, hands darting all over the necks of the guitars while the drummer sets a rapid pace full of changes and digressions. That great and overlooked Face The Rail album from a couple years ago or perhaps the first Suicidal Tendencies LP share a sonic kinship too, but Shutting Down is really like the fastest hardcore tunes off Vicious Cycle reproduced with less-melodic / more-aggro vocals. These five tunes are in and out in a blip, but it’s a blip that demands repeating if any of the aforementioned comparisons tickle your fancy (and tickle they should).

Häxxan The Magnificent Planet Of Alien Vampiro II LP (Slovenly)
Don’t say I never teach you anything here: Häxxan is actually pronounced “cha-san”. They’re from Tel Aviv, and clearly part of Slovenly’s plan to seek out punk and punk-adjacent sounds from all over the globe, not just North America (see other recent releases from Greece’s Nomos 751 and Chile’s ANMLS), a noble effort to broaden our US-centric tastes. I’d be even more into it if I found the artists to be particularly great, or even really good, but I’m sad to say there isn’t much in Häxxan’s outrageously titled second album that sticks with me. I get the feeling they want to write songs beyond the normal 1-2-3-4, verse-chorus punk rock formula, but they don’t seem to have any exciting ideas to replace it with. Instead, they kinda stretch things out unnecessarily, or force incongruent parts together. Plus, they mostly seem to be a jumpy pop-punk band at heart, as if they truly just want to cover The Rezillos and The Dickies and have some fun bopping around, but the person in charge of writing the songs is bogging things down with visions of grandeur. See, you think it’s all well and good to let your guitarist buy a Mahavishnu Orchestra album until they turn around and accidentally think they can do all of that, too.

Helta Skelta Nightclubbin’ 7″ (Deranged / Helta Skelta)
If I was working the door at a club called Rouge or Mint and these chuffed-up punks strolled up, I’d sure as hell turn them right around. I wouldn’t want any trouble in my lounge, and it’s clear that Helta Skelta are nothing but! They’re from Perth and this is at least their second 7″ EP to come through here, and it’s pretty good, definitely punk, and most certainly Australian. The title track kinda walks and talks, more attitude than hook, and it certainly works for me – I wish more punk bands would realize that the personality and presentation of their tunes is probably more important than the riffs themselves. They get more riled-up and frantic on the b-side, with tightly clamped hi-hats and a tasteful guitar solo to wrap it up “B88”, whereas “Autodidact” bounces like a jubilant punk who just found twenty bucks on the ground. It’s a quick in-and-out for Helta Skelta, but they clearly picked the right three tunes for the job… very self-assured punk rock, rightfully so, and it shows!

Yuzo Iwata Daylight Moon LP (Siltbreeze)
I love me some Siltbreeze, but was content to pass on this new one, that is until I found out that Yuzo Iwata works at my favorite local independent hippie-ish grocery store. It’s quite possible he is responsible for ordering my favorite dark-chocolate almond bars, or frying up those delectable seitan dumplings (their hot bar is undeniable), and now I’ve found out that he also produces pristine, introspective-yet-expansive guitar music, toeing the line between understated, no-nonsense folk and classically psychedelic rambling. You get stretched-out guitar bliss on tracks like “Drone Beetle” nestled up to cozy Velvets-esque communal strummers like “Gigolo”; it’s mostly instrumental, although happily-chanted interjections and sparse poetic lyrics appear when necessary. There’s an informal jubilance deep within Daylight Moon, which reminds me of Tori Kudo (who wrote the liner notes for Iwata’s sole prior LP), but Iwata rocks much too hard and frequently to be confused with Kudo’s playfully amateurish jangle. This one’s all about the expressiveness of an amplified guitar, free of time constraints or mortal concerns, speaking a language that can only be communicated through six strings and percussive accompaniment. Now those dumplings are gonna taste better than ever.

Korea Undok Group Continent 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
Just in case you thought I Dischi was on the verge of selling out into actual discernible songcraft, allow me to fly my drone over your backyard and have it drop this Korea Undok Group 7″ into your above-ground pool. I know nothing about this “group” besides that they are probably not from Korea and have self-released a number of tapes, so I’m assuming this 7″ is a nice intro into their sound and style. “Continent” somehow weaves lo-fi field-recording into melodic noise – a blender set to liquify rips over a drifting five-note piano motif until it becomes impossible to tell where the actual instrumentation begins and the tapes end. “On Alibi” opens the flip with more piano and the addition of slowed vocals, like a European homage to The Shadow Ring’s murkiest waters. It exudes a similar display of deep rumbling melodies melded with parts-unknown sonic manipulations, fairly simple (and the opposite of flashy) and strangely satisfying. I could honestly go for a whole cassette’s worth of this stuff, I just need to find a 1994 Honda Civic hatchback to play it in.

Litüus 2236 S Wentworth Ave LP (Avian)
Pretty handy album title here, as I bet if you dug the music found on this LP, you could roll over to 2236 S Wentworth Ave in Chicago and find Litüus himself jamming some foreboding and tense electronics in quite possibly the same cluttered room featured on the cover! It’s a very real and concrete way to ground an album, and it’s a nice contrast to the music here, which is mostly single-tone synth-work that resembles some of the dark new-age stuff Posh Isolation has been recently releasing. Or perhaps if you were listening to Autechre’s Confield on a stereo with only one working speaker, you might note a similarity to the pads and tones explored here. It’s certainly not dance music, not even prance music, but probably at least partially trance music, depending on your edible and vape consumption. Sounds pretty cool, although I often find myself wishing each track had more than one element at play, particularly during some cuts that sound like simply one ingredient rather than the full recipe. I’m all for minimalism, but when there’s just two echoed bleeps volleying back and forth, I can’t help but wonder if maybe there’s something fun or interesting happening next door at 2238 S Wentworth instead.

The Living Eyes Modern Living LP (Neck Chop / Anti Fade)
Modern Living is a well-rounded punk album, and the third one for this Australian group. The art is cool: a colorful rendering of each band member numbly staring at their phones (the insert continues the theme), and the music is even cooler, a mostly mid-tempo affair that references first-wave hardcore-punk without feeling overly nostalgic. I’m hearing a bit of that early Southern Cali sound, like TSOL or Bad Religion, but played slightly slower and with an impish sense of mischief instead of furrowed seriousness or even the slightest appetite for violence. They mix that in with some power-pop struttin’ and at least a slight nod to the modern mutant-punk scene (surely someone in The Living Eyes has tasted some slime). Whereas I’ve come to expect unschooled, basement-or-lower punk-rock from Neck Chop, The Living Eyes are clearly talented, or at least well-rehearsed, with songs that must’ve taken at least a little thought to construct, complete with zig-zagging guitar lines and cool drum fills. Doesn’t matter what time or place, a tune like “Horseplay” is top-shelf punk and I hope you get a chance to hear it.

Wolf Müller & Niklas Wandt Instrumentalmusik Von Der Mitte Der World 2xLP (Growing Bin)
I know it’s not even really Spring but we’ve already got a strong candidate for “cover art of the year” with Instrumentalmusik Von Der Mitte Der World – just check Müller and Wandt with their picnic spread of percussion and samplers, feasting on the possibilities of rhythm instead of Pinot Grigio and Roquefort. Both of these chaps are new to me, but I won’t soon forget them, as this sprawling double LP is a fantastic trip through various modes of techno, funk, Eurodance, house, Balaeric and even touches of trance and “world music”. Every dance-oriented option is fair game for these two groove wizards, and they really went all out on Instrumentalmusik. Bubbly synths are a constant presence, as are lush pads and of course out-of-this-world drums, both live and synthesized, all coming together to form fully-realized songs as opposed to organized jams (sweet though organized jams can be). I’m reminded a bit of Move D and Benjamin Brunn’s fantastic Songs From The Beehive album in the way that meticulous production expertise can be laid to joyous long-form house excursions, but this album is far more organic in nature – just check the jungle-funk freakout of “Lockerina” or the lazy poolside playboy swagger of “Welcome Zum Paradies” to see the ways in which Müller and Wandt skirt the conventional in pursuit of the exceptional. I’m highly recommending this record now and it’s not even warm out yet!

Nomos 751 Nomos 751 LP (Slovenly)
Those hankering for Greek electro-punk, gather round: the debut of George Fotopoulos’s Nomos 751 project is upon us! I’ve listened a few times now, and while I’d love to tell you it’s a new favorite, Nomos 751 is a weary listen, an album overstuffed with songs (seventeen) and not enough interesting ideas to carry them through. They mostly all sound the same, for starters: a drum machine loop starts and remains unchanged for the songs duration, direct-to-laptop fuzz-guitar (and bass) join in after four measures, Fotopoulos shouts out some lyrics in an unwavering tone, and some sort of funny sound-effect hits after the second chorus. The music is more wacky and cartoony (ala a slowed-down Polysics or off-the-cuff “Weird” Al) than grating and cool (The Normal or Count Vertigo, let’s say), and it really starts to blend together after a while. Maybe I’m just used to all these modern punk bands that barely commit three minutes of music to a 7″ EP, but sitting through both sides of this album in a row quickly becomes a chore. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Nomos 751 sucks, as it certainly doesn’t, but Fotopoulos produces a very predictable and monotonous form of synthesized punk music on Nomos 751. If it actually sucked, that at least might have a chance at being kind of interesting, you know?

The Number Ones Another Side Of The Number Ones 7″ (Sorry State)
Sorry State did the right thing by drafting four new cuts from Dublin’s The Number Ones. I swear, I put it on and opening cut “Lie To Me” startled me in it’s near-exact similarity to The Exploding Hearts – it’s like hearing the voice of an old friend you thought you’d never see again. Every aspect (but particularly the vocal delivery) is just so dead-on, and while it could certainly be coincidental, I don’t really care either way, as it’s such a potent power-pop puller-of-heartstrings. The rest of the EP has a similarly pro-crafted Powerpearls vibe, but not as distinctly ‘Heartsy, for better or worse. Maybe a little touch of The Moderns in their communication of harmless guitar-based fun, or The Bureaucrats in their studied pop delivery, but who really cares to split these hairs. “You’re So Happy I Could Cry” is great too – it’s delivered in the same manner as the rest, but the melody and lyrics are ripe for theft from corporate rockers like Weezer or Fall Out Boy to turn into rock radio gold. Now all we need is their scatological side-project The Number Twos to get a release on Lumpy and all will be right with the world.

Portal Ion LP (Profound Lore)
Couldn’t resist picking up the newest from Australian kings of WTF metal, Portal. This sorta thing just makes me feel like a kid again: the shiny cover practically looks like a “limited edition” Spawn comic book, and the music is a stockpile of profoundly pointless and gratuitous metal blasting, in the best way possible of course. Inside that reflective gatefold cover (and upon at least five different colored vinyl variants), Ion is an endless swirl of murky tech-metal riffing, blast beats and darkly summoned vocal groans, as one might have come to expect from Portal. Songs don’t operate on a normal linear grid, or if they do, it’s as if the grid was reformulated, Rubik’s Cube style, where guitars overlap against vocals when they normally wouldn’t, and the drums intermittently blast with the indecisive nature of an animal scampering through the forest, not traditional black metal. If you were to tell me that Portal improvised Ion in one live take, or took two years to craft each intricate moment, I’d believe you either way. Rather than concern myself with how mere mortals would’ve created such a record, I’m far more content to shut off 80% of my brain and allow Ion‘s torrential blasts, howls and infernal torment to fill me with their evil power, so that I may ascend to my rightfully wicked position alongside Skeletor and Cobra Commander.

Rabid Dogs Rabid Dogs 7″ (Aarght!)
There’s simply no slowing down Melbourne’s punk underground, especially not with cool labels like Aarght! propping it up and promoting it. This is Rabid Dogs’ debut, featuring members of Gentlemen (no-fi garage), Krosomom (heavy d-beat) and Lakes (gloomy industrial-folk), and it seems they’ve checked those various extremes at the door in the name of feel-good, high-energy leather-punk. Rabid Dogs are audacious enough to call their first song “No Fun” and pose in a Rose Tattoo-esque group hug for their online promo photo, and that devil-may-care attitude carries into their tunes quite well. I’m reminded of a glam-metal Patsy, or a dumbed-down Vexx with a party attitude, and if either of those concepts sound appealing (they sure do to me) you’ll have no problem enjoying the four speed-punk blasts on this 7″ EP. Maybe a harder-edged, less silly Amyl And The Sniffers vibe, too? I can only imagine Amyl and Rabid Dogs are either best of friends or sworn enemies, operating together as a collective criminal organization or constantly warring with each other in the streets. Maybe we can convince Mikey Young to leave his mastering booth for a minute and act as impartial mediator, for the good of the scene of course.

Rrose & Lucy The Lotus Eaters II 12″ (Eaux)
Excellent tag-team collaboration here from two of my favorite mysterious industrial-techno heavyweights. Might as well have called this one Lotus Eaters: The Revenge, as these three shots are as sharp and deadly as the cross-sectioned bullet adorning the cover. Of course only those in the studio truly knew what went down, but my hypothesis is that Rrose brought the ceremonial deep-harmonic occult drones and their associated long-form textures, and Lucy captured them for dance-floor use with an array of menacing tics, brittle percussion and elastic rhythms. It’s truly the best of both worlds, bringing Rrose out of the avant-garde gallery space and pushing Lucy to exciting and frightening new territories. “Inner Membrane” is my favorite example of the pairing’s success, with widescreen sonic swells matched to ticklish hi-hats and rubbery pads, although there isn’t a dud to be found on this white vinyl 12″ EP. If the records you usually put on during marathon sessions of latex gas-mask sex are starting to feel predictable, look no further.

SBSM Leave Your Body 7″ (Thrilling Living)
What do you think SBSM stands for? “So Brutal So Mean” is my guess, if the tunes on this 7″ EP are any indication! It was released on tape last year, and is now on 7″ thanks to the good people over at Thrilling Living. I’d been waiting for the vinyl myself, and it’s pretty great, which is no surprise given Thrilling Living’s track record. SBSM are by far the least traditionally punk-sounding group on the label’s roster, opting for heavy electronics and percussion in favor of trebly guitars and squealing feedback (although both of those elements factor in here too). Sonically, I’m reminded of heavy drum-machine riot squads like Foetus and Nitzer Ebb, but somehow the delivery is more akin to raging hardcore brutality like Phobia or No Fucker. Imagine Agoraphobic Nosebleed with zero metal influence and a whole lot of fiery queer energy instead – who could resist that? It’s quite a feat, using synthesized rhythms and electronic noise to inspire sensations of gnarly hardcore-punk, but SBSM do it as if it was the only way to be done. Let’s not make them do another tape in order to get a much-overdue full-length vinyl LP, okay people?

Scrap Brain Unhappy Hardcore 7″ (Thrilling Living)
As if SBSM’s smasher wasn’t enough, Thrilling Living reach deep into a London dungeon to pull out Scrap Brain. They’re a real drain-clog of a punk group, ripe for filing next to other London-based miscreants like Good Throb and Frau. Like those other two, Scrap Brain’s sound is distinguishable while sharing the same sense of vitriol, tension and probably more than a little misandry. Their songs are anchored by thick bass and bouncing floor-tom, and come to life through mortally-wounded guitar and motormouth ranting. Vocalist Camille Rearden gives us the news and the weather while delivering their words, turning a song like “Don’t Talk To Me” into some sort of Rudimentary Peni-esque feral thrash, far beyond the GG Allin cover I had initially hoped for. Most tracks start as dirges, and a few finish that way, although Scrap Brain happily utilize tempo changes as a means for delivering their manic sensibility. Proud to say that I saw them live a few months ago and they left before returning the favor later that night – they had a Good Throb reunion gig to attend instead, and I would’ve been suspicious if they hadn’t.

Skull Black Static 12″ (Pre-)
Don’t we all wish we could do what Trevor Jackson is doing: starting one record label as a clearinghouse for various unreleased and archival projects recorded over the past two decades (that’d be Pre-) and starting another label for new and future productions (that will be Post-, apparently). Either he must be filthy rich or quite good at what he does, and I’m thinking it’s probably a mixture of both. He went with the un-Googleable name of “Skull” for this 12″, apparently recorded between 1996 and 2000, and it sounds as fresh and cool now as it would’ve back then. The title track is a slow-weaving cascade of noisy drones (punctuated by what sounds like directly live percussion), and it’s quite supple indeed, but it’s the three b-side tracks that have me keeping Black Static close at hand. “Camazotz” is like a trip to Adam X’s leather dungeon while Crash Worship argue with the doorman outside; “Toxicity” is a slow-motion groove to recall Actress’s early productions (stoned noisy trip-hop?); “Rent Yourself” is the upbeat electro slam that sounds like Cabaret Voltaire, DAF and Clock DVA unexpectedly caught up in a lava flow. If Jackson was kicking this much butt some twenty years ago, I need to hear his Post- material ASAP.

Sparrow Steeple A Aardvark 12″ (Ever/Never)
If you’re the rare freak who files your records alphabetically by album title (I know you exist out there somewhere), here’s the new frontrunner for your stack! Philadelphia’s Sparrow Steeple continue to mine an antiquated form of sunshine-y psychedelia, music that’s frequently tucked away in the dusty reaches of old, creaky-floored record shops across the United States. The Sparrow Steeple players are also frequently tucked away in those same antique-y record shops, so it’s a perfect match. On this five-track EP, they’ve only got one song about food (“Candy Apple Kid”) but I still can’t help but picture these guys walking down a meadow lane, sniffing flowers that turn into lollipops and tickling their stubbly grey chins with buttercups, a kaleidoscope of old-fashioned acid-rock jams soundtracking the trip. Guitarist Barry Goldberg has one of those warbly hippie voices that practically deserves its own Ben & Jerry’s flavor at this point, the sort of voice you’re either for or against. It all makes for a pleasantly tweaked excursion into the minds of restless old guys who continue to press onward with their distinct musical journey, beyond the static realms of Hippies and Punks into something I might one day understand when I too reach an advanced age.

Tropical Trash / Brutal Birthday split 7″ (Maple Death)
Louisville’s finest stink-rockers Tropical Trash team up with Bologna’s Brutal Birthday, bridging a deep cultural divide through pesky noise-rock. I honestly didn’t even recognize Tropical Trash at first, and was wonder if maybe the center labels were accidentally swapped, but nope, this is them, dropping a surprisingly non-noisy cut of mid-tempo attitude. Is it crazy if I say they sound like an art-punk Cake here? It’s all groove and swagger, and what do you know, it works! Brutal Birthday do their part to stir up a frenzy with their cut. It’s of a distinct modern noise-rock style, where the drummer plays an easily-programmable drum machine beat on an actual drum kit, the bass sticks to one or two notes, the guitar flails, and the vocalist peppers his staccato shouting over top – think Metz or Idles. Brutal Birthday are more lo-fi than those two, though, and apparently a very new band (this is their “first song”, isn’t that kind of adorable?), so who knows how mighty they may become. There are worse places to begin one’s career than on the other side of a 7″ with Tropical Trash, I’ll tell you what.

Vile Gash Nightmare In A Damaged Brain LP (Youth Attack)
After over a decade of existence, Vile Gash finally drop their first full-length (and by “full-length” I mean like twelve minutes). They’ve got one of the most questionable names on the Youth Attack roster, but their songs and aesthetic always struck me as one of the most straight-forward and non-edgelordy of the modern Youth Attack era – songs about how life is horrible, how much they hate society, how much they hate horrible life and are disgusted by society, etc etc. Very direct and declarative lyrics backed with a bruising selection of molten hardcore riffs, and it really does the trick. Just as hoped, Nightmare In A Damaged Brain offers no surprises or twists, but rather a streamlined and nearly-perfected showcase of their capabilities. Throaty vocals compliment the tumbling drums and manic guitar feedback as these songs explode out of the speakers – I’m hearing a strictly American take on Framtid, as if the Swedish and Japanese riff structures gave way to classic Poison Idea and C.I.A. modes of thought. It’s fiercely brutal and primitive, yet I could easily pick Vile Gash out of a modern hardcore lineup of other groups attempting a similar thing. Really hope they can condense another twelve minutes of hardcore magic by 2028; I’m already thirsty for the follow-up.

Wetware Automatic Drawing LP (Dais)
Wetware’s debut 12″ received a lot of play in my household (much to my neighbors’ chagrin), so I hopped to it and immediately snagged their debut album on Dais, a label that always keeps an ear to the ground for ugly new electronic styles such as this. Perhaps it was always the case for Wetware, but on Automatic Drawing the lack of discernible structure or premeditated songwriting is particularly stark. I’m sure it wasn’t, but this record sounds like it could’ve easily been recorded live, in one particularly inspired take, thanks to the manner in which sounds come and go. Matt Morandi tweaks his gear into a few nervous processes and teases their filters, eventually joined by Roxy Farman whenever she decides to wander in and grab the mic. It’s as loose as cold-wave could be, and while this might make it a difficult experience for listeners who require something tangible to grasp onto, I find Wetware’s approach to be distinctive and appealing (although I don’t necessarily want to hear too many other groups trying it). Farman’s voice is often buried in the mix, intoning like a ball-gagged Peter Murphy, speaking like a Black Mirror rendition of Siri or doing her best Steve Brule impersonation before various effects process her voice into shreds. If anything, the true spirit of fearlessly hard-to-enjoy industrial is alive and well here, actual “songs” be damned.

Leslie Winer & Jay Glass Dubs YMFEES LP (Bokeh Versions)
Lotta weird records discussed this month but I don’t think any are more delightfully strange than this one. It’s a collaboration between occasional spoken-word artist / ex-model Leslie Winer and Greek modern-dub maestro Jay Glass Dubs, and the title stands for “Your Mom’s Favourite Eazy-E Song” – see what I mean? I don’t care how big your brain is, this is a hard one to wrap your head around, and while I’ve had fun trying to discern just what Winer is getting at, and how she got wrapped up with Jay Glass Dubs to begin with, most of YMFEES‘s enjoyment comes from sitting back and letting these two freaks have their way with you, sense be damned. Jay Glass Dubs will set a beat in motion and tweak it sparingly (and lovingly) and once Winer gets started talking, she rarely stops, dropping some fascinating phrases (“bring me the moon with a fence around it / starring no famous actors”). Jay Glass Dubs’s distinctly cautious experimentalism and rain-soaked dub reserve plenty of space for Winer, who often seems content to ignore the music entirely while delivering her mesmeric and provocative prose as though they were the last words she’ll ever read. Am I crazy in picking up a subtle Scott Walker vibe here, too, somewhere deep in the darkness of “About The Author”? It’s like being cornered by the scariest and most fascinating person at a party while an experimental dub-techno DJ plays records across the hall, only in this case you’re free to abruptly stop listening without causing a scene.

WINO-D WINO-D 12″ (Wah Wah Wino)
WINO-D is the newest transmission from the Wah Wah Wino camp, and I’m not sure if they actually decided to call it “WINO-D” or if the Powers That Be simply came up with that name based on the matrix number. I dunno – should we care? Clearly this posse of Irish sonic miscreants wants to muddy the waters of who does what, and while I would normally find that sort of elusiveness to be a little annoying, I’m down to let this posse blindfold me before driving away in their van. This new EP features five tracks of standard Wah Wah Wino fare: jagged synths, punchy drum programming, live instrumentation, experimental funk, post-modern krautrock and a freewheeling sense that any form of electronic dance music could be pulled up in its net at any given time. Some tracks are easy to bob along to, but I prefer the more esoteric hip-shakers like the second cut, with hypnotically-panned pads and shimmering guitar(?), calling to mind Ricardo Villalobos tasked with remixing the 99 Records catalog. The second b-side cut is even better, a mixed bag of dubby bass, elastic guitar and various bells/whistles. I’d bet money that Morgan Buckley and Davy Kehoe had more than a couple hands involved in the making of these tracks, but even if not I’m sure they’ve enjoyed listening to them, a bond I happily share.

Young Echo Young Echo 2xLP (Young Echo)
Very cool and dare I say overdue album (or perhaps “compilation” is more appropriate) from Bristol’s Young Echo squad. They’re a group of no less than eleven producers who are like-minded in aesthetic sensibility and social outlook but vary greatly from a sonic perspective. Here you’ll find the heavy dread-dub of Gorgon Sound, the harsh electronics / spoken-word combo of Asda, the deep swinging post-dubstep constructions of Killing Sound, the creaky loop miniatures of O$VMV$M, rapping, singing, noise, demented R&B and rustled field-recordings all commingling wildly, like the various organisms found in a Petri dish of pondwater viewed under microscope. There are 25 tracks here across four sides of vinyl, and you can tell that these guys must’ve pooled together hours of material, eventually culling their finest moments for Young Echo. It flows quickly, with no particular cut monopolizing the overall run time, and I can’t help but notice how well it flows when considering the disparate material. I guess it just goes to show that aggressive rapping, morose spoken-word, Rasta toasting and soulful singing can all sound great on top of crusty and leisurely broken-beat post-techno, or at least when in the capable hands of this inspired crew of forward-minded artists.

Bränn Ner Hela Skiten compilation LP (Förlag För Fri Musik)
Förlag För Fri Musik is one label I sit up straight for, with great releases by Enhet För Fri Musik and Leda, really tapping into the darkest freaky underbelly of Swedish noise (and noise-like constituents). I couldn’t resist this scene-spanning compilation LP, sticking all of their friends and foes together for a schizophrenic mix of speaker-shredding chaos, confusingly muffled field-recordings and subtly vulnerable acoustic ambience. Schakalens Bror opens things with a sharp capsule of free-noise guitar (I need to snag his new LP on Förlag too!), and from there things quickly become impossible to follow – toward the end of side one, is that dumpy trumpet solo David Eng or Arv & Miljö? Of the four tracks by Pig, are any of them actually music? These are questions that I push from my mind, preferring to let the jumbled mash of lo-fi muck and basement noise sorcery take the wheel. The energetic curiosity brandished by these weirdos is palpable, and I’m thankfully they got it together enough to collectively share on 12″ record.