Reviews – February 2016

Bandages All Extreme Measures / Tokyo Carwash 7″ (Sorry State)
For a second there, I was hopeful that this was the Hot Hot Heat tribute band I’d been waiting for, but nope, Bandages are a rough-and-tough hardcore band, offering two tracks to the steadily-growing North Carolina Singles Series hosted by the ever-gracious Sorry State Records. “All Extreme Measures” interjects a little of that “My War” tension throughout its three-or-so minutes… it’s a plodding, heavy hardcore track with entertaining guitar noise and a sense that the band wasn’t quite sure where the song was headed until it was finally put together (there’s even a chug-chug mosh part toward the end, trying to find its way back to the Strife song it was kidnapped from). “Tokyo Carwash” is similarly strange, creating an entire song out of a mosh breakdown with deceptively complex changes; it’s a song for moshing lunkheads to enjoy but only capable musicians to play. I’m not sure I am crazy about Bandages, but I am highly intrigued at what this band is trying to do and how they reached their sound, and in a modern hardcore landscape filled with bands that do all the right things in all the exact same ways, a sense of intrigue is in some ways most satisfying of all.

Billy Bao Communisation 12″ (Insulin Addicted / Fuck Yoga)
Like some of you I’m sure, I was a little surprised to see some new Billy Bao records coming out – I figured Mattin had basically exhausted this guise, from pounding, harsh anti-punk to empty field recordings, but it looks like he’s recharged his batteries and is ready to go. I was fearing another slice of unlistenable noise/silence, but was taken aback to hear Billy Bao at his punkest here. This EP is great – “Debt: The Crisis To Come” is gnarly as can be, somewhere between Couch and Kilslug, with a plethora of irritating sound effects piling on top (perhaps in the same manner as our national debt?). Pretty much peak Billy Bao, if you ask me. “Communisation” is the flip and works more as a collage of plucky minimal synth, unhinged bashing ala a live Harry Pussy recording and various stretches of found-sound (read: boredom), but it flips through scenes fast enough that I find myself entertained by Billy Bao’s scatterbrained approach. It’s like as soon as you are finally over him, he comes back with just the right cut of belligerent rock music to suck you back in…

Bleed The Pigs / Thetan split LP (Dead Tank / Anti-Corporate Music, Inc. / IFB)
The grindcore split LP isn’t necessarily thriving these days, but it isn’t dead either, as evidenced by this thoughtfully-designed split between two of Nashville’s preeminent hardcore-grind bands, Bleed The Pigs and Thetan. The sleeve itself is screened both inside and out (which is a neat trick seeing as the sleeve is glued into a standard pocket design), with each center label featuring an intricate etching that extends onto the vinyl – Jack White, I hope you’re taking notes! Thetan offer an intense-if-standard take on grindcore, with hoarse, throaty vocals, brief breakdowns, plenty of blast-beats and only the slightest metallic touch, not unlike Kungfu Rick or Iron Lung. Bleed The Pigs are a little more dynamic, kicking it off with a squall of noise that recalls vintage Suppression before the blasting begins, similar to Cattle Decapitation or Insect Warfare, with the occasional doomy foray into Despise You’s territory. Anyone already versed in the genre won’t be hearing anything they haven’t heard dozens of times before, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a thoroughly satisfying affair for those interested in grinding, blasting and the areas in which they intersect.

Corrections House How To Carry A Whip LP (Neurot Recordings)
I couldn’t resist checking out the new Corrections House album: the main promo photo looks like an ad for G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra as directed by William Bennett, and the band is an underground-metal supergroup of sorts, claiming folks from EyeHateGod, Bloodiest, Twilight and Neurosis, among others. As Corrections House, they attempt to revive the heavier end of the Wax Trax catalog, where industrial and EDM collided in the late ’80s – think Ministry, Skinny Puppy, Revolting Cocks. Sounds great on paper, but in listening to How To Carry A Whip, I’m not totally sold. They certainly stand out from today’s industrial-goth pack, at least – Corrections House are undoubtedly more familiar with heavy guitars than your average industrial-nostalgia group, and it certainly imprints a more “authentic” sound than Youth Code or High-Functioning Flesh. Plus some of these guys have actually spent time in jail, so their themes, while in some ways fantastical, are based in their reality. I’m just not sure it’s the sound I’m looking for, though, as How To Carry A Whip has more of a nu-metal feel than I expected, veering into territory that recalls a KMFDM remix of Down, or something that even the staunchest Slayer fan would accept. And where metal guitars are clearly familiar territory for the members of Corrections House, electronic programming might not be, resulting in beats that lack the sonic punch, mixed lighter than one might recommend. Even so, I’ve had fun listening to this record, pun-based song titles and all, and am glad I no longer have to worry about what I’m going to be for Halloween this year.

CP / BW CP / BW LP (no label)
Released days after every year-end best-of list besides mine, apparently, came this glorious collaboration between one of my favorite electronic weirdos, Beau Wanzer, and a duo previously unknown to me by the name of Corporate Park. They all decided to go by their initials here, and when your music is this tweaked, delirious and potent, you don’t really need any name at all. As far as who deserves responsibility for this fine record, I’m not sure what exactly Corporate Park added to the mix, as these tracks all sound like Beau Wanzer at the peak of his game – corroded drum machines, ancient Speak & Spells rewired for dungeon use, synthetic monster vocals and an undeniable pulse that survives through it all. These tracks are never overcrowded; rather, each cut is succinct and unique yet CP / BW is fully developed as an album. Every track offers its own bent idea on what might cause a person to rhythmically bob their head, as though the worlds of Mammal, Throbbing Gristle and Ron Morelli collided and simplified their means in the process. I’d recommend you check out “Bored Hurt” first, as it carries all the best qualities of this album within it, but I’m also partial to “Whips, Chips, Chains & Dips”, and not just for the mental image of a supermarket-purchased snack bar laid out on the dresser at a Motel 6 bondage orgy. If I don’t have your attention now, I doubt I ever will.

Dark Blue Vicious Romance / Delco Runts 7″ (12XU)
In case you’ve heard some drunk dudes chanting “Dark Blue!” while getting kicked out of a minor-league hockey game or Irish-themed pub in the past few months and been curious about the band they so adamantly support, I recommend you start here! Dark Blue have been honing in on the unusual coordinates of skinhead aesthetics, new-romantic pop and drone-punk monotony, and these two tracks are the best distillation yet of the good that can come from such a mission. “Vicious Romance” is their purest pop thus far: it’s a song that could be sung by The Anti-Heros or Fall-Out Boy with equal success. While restrained as always, the drums are actually quite propulsive (and actually switch up the beat halfway through), and vocalist John Sharkey III repeats the song title more than Steve Grimmett does any given Grim Reaper song (go on, count the “see you in hell”s in “See You In Hell”). It’s an instant ear-worm, which has me wondering if Sharkey has started switching his knob from AM sports talk to pop-country. “Delco Runts” feels more like the street-punk Dark Blue claim to be, spinning a tale of dead-ended suburban life with little sympathy for anyone involved. I’d consider this a double a-side single and hope you might agree.

Manni Dee Behaviour Cycles 12″ (Earwiggle)
Manni Dee came at me unexpectedly in 2014, dropping two 12″s with a stunning level of post-dubstep heaviness… truly some keen and forceful tracks that felt slightly ahead of the curve. The man had a knack with manipulated bass and texture (and the skinhead artwork on Dreams, Fears & Idols was a nice touch too), so I was excited to check out his 2015 offering here. Much to my surprise, this is a purely nostalgic throwback to the pummeling acid techno of the ’90s, neglecting the future (or even the present) for a sharp look into the past. Once I got past my expectations, I was able to get into the barely-changing grid that Manni Dee sets into place over these four tracks – drop the needle on any dusty Jeff Mills or Underground Resistance 12″ from 1994 through 2000 and you’ll locate highly similar waveforms. I suppose what I’m lacking here is the point; clearly, Manni Dee is more than a tribute producer, and has stoked my flames with a variety of intriguingly heavy tunes, so why bother running something as standard as this? It’d be like having a chance to ask Rodney Mullen to perform any trick he can do and you ask to see him ollie. I’m gonna hope this was just Mr. Dee getting a little bit of that old-time rock n’ roll out of his system as he gears up for bigger and better things.

Fucking Atomic Orgasm 7″ (no label)
That’s right, this Minneapolis hardcore-punk outfit is called Fucking, as in the act of, and seeing as that name somehow wasn’t already used by a transgressive math-rock band around the turn of the century, it’s fair game. They’re aiming to the left of center with their general vibe, opting for a green dust sleeve in lieu of a standard record cover with an insert detailing their eccentricities via outrageous pseudonyms (“Clean X Pee” on what I presume to be drums) and antagonistic sloganeering (“for a good time call your mother”, they recommend). Musically they are a-ok, with frantic, tumbling riffing that pushes hardcore speed into garage-punk riffs (not unlike Brain F≠ or Double Negative), with a vocalist who seems to ignore song structure altogether, slowly squeezing out his words as though his throat was suffering from constipation. I can picture him stumbling about, seemingly unaware of the hard-rocking band behind him as he stares a little too long into the audience’s eyes, trying to convince both them and himself that he’s truly the sexually-frustrated, enriched-uranium-desiring psychopath these songs paint him to be. I’m not entirely convinced myself, but the rest of Fucking supply the goods to the point where it doesn’t matter if the singer’s a try-hard goon or the second coming of H.R. himself.

Gary Wrong Group Away In Heathen Darkness 12″ (Scavenger Of Death)
Away In Heathen Darkness, now that’s the name of a record I want to hear! It’s a four-song 12″ EP, and Gary Wrong and his Group really spread things out, continuing to open up their punk rock as though it were soaked in primordial ooze instead of blood and alcohol. Opener “Massacre Island” is an instrumental tune-up, the sound of a spaceship landing in hostile alien territory. It’s followed by “Stuck Inside”, a stompy jam that goes heavy on the sci-fi effects and keyboards; not sure who’s playing with Gary Wrong on here, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Quintron (or one of his electronic gadgets) was featured. It’s “Destroy You” on the flip that really steals the show though, and the closest modern torchbearer to Bobby Soxx I can think of (certainly living up to the label name). Wrong’s vocal delivery here is so Soxxian it’s almost eerie, the way each syllable is ejected from his throat, complete with a wordless nyah-nyah chorus and at least two guitars soloing at all times. “Thank You” continues that vibe, glacially paced but feeling far more like “Kill The Innocent” than anything remotely close to Khanate. If you aren’t listening to Gary Wrong Group, I have to ask why not?

German Army Kalash Tirich Mir LP (Yerevan Tapes)
By Discogs’ authority, German Army released seven albums in 2015. Seven! Sure, most are tapes under half an hour, but what is going on here? Do these two guys not have jobs, families, friends, Xboxes? I can only picture them, sweaty and feverish, one of them trying to load free space on his Mac while the other finds a new synth plug-in to use, perhaps bickering nervously to each other: “C’mon, get moving, we’re due to turn in three more tapes by sunrise!” Regardless of the actual struggles of German Army, and thinking strictly about Kalash Tirich Mir and not the other metric ton of plastic they’ve produced, it’s a pretty enjoyable outing, especially for fans of experimental post-punk (the semi-established genre more so than any actual experimentation). I’m hearing bits of Cabaret Voltaire, Blank Dogs, Factums and Scattered Order here, with a significant nod toward the dub-techno practices that have crept into the American experimental underground consciousness to the point where beats are the norm, not the deviation. I appreciate that Kalash Tirich Mir isn’t so distorted and affected as to be muffled, as they hit on a smart level of clarity that provides just enough visibility through the fog. I just hope German Army didn’t bother reading this review, as they could’ve used that time to crank out at least another couple tapes.

Grizzlor Cycloptic 7″ (Hex)
In one of the few Grizzlor press photos I found online, one of the members is wearing a backwards baseball cap (fitted, not adjustable), and I don’t know about you, but isn’t that subtle sartorial decision kind of refreshing, in this time where bands coming from hardcore/punk backgrounds are expected to wear some sort of intriguing punk costume at all times, to make sure their Void or Swans t-shirt actually got its rips and stains from a fireworks-laden mosh-pit? It’s nice to see a band that’s clearly catering to no one, just wearing the clothes they own and not thinking twice about it, naming their band after a He-Man character and not worrying that it might not impress you. That comes through their music too, which plays out like a young and rowdy take on Helmet and Unsane – Grizzlor certainly don’t have the guitar rigs to match, but they’ve got the feistiness that any band who is used to playing to more than fifty people a night has surely lost. There are seven songs on this 7″, and to be perfectly candid, I’d happily accept seven more.

Ipman Regicide / Ghostrunner 12″ (Tectonic)
I figure it’s gonna be hard to go wrong with a dubstep dude on the Tectonic label calling himself “Ipman”, right? Those are some great movies, and I can easily picture “Ipman” tagged on a metro-area highway overpass, so he’s really passing any tests I could give him before listening to his music. That said, the rugged, modern-throwback drum n’ bass Ipman kicks up here is quite stunning. “Regicide” feels like The Prodigy remixed by a top crew of Hessle Audio employees – the drums are fast and jungle-y, but their gruff exterior is patted down softly with a variety of ambient hisses, colorful tones and sweeping melodies, very much placing Ipman in the ’10s instead of the ’90s. “Ghostrunner” opens with a Burial-esque torrential downpour, quickly displaced by a gated synth, like watching a city via high-speed train. Soon enough this cuts away to some peak-time propulsive techno, with all sorts of percussive elements, vocal snippets and rugged drums pushing you through to a new personal-best in spinning class. “Ghostrunner” is as intense as it is intriguing, certainly one of the most unique and physically-satiating tracks I’ve heard in the past few months. The Ipman name implies some level of asskickery, and this 12″ boasts those skills proudly.

Lutto Lento Dog Leaf 12″ (Proto Sites)
After savoring all that Lutto Lento had to offer with his Whips 12″, I had to seek out more, and as it turns out there was more to be found, as he released three EPs in the tail end of 2015. Dog Leaf is filled with music to match its intriguing title, techno that beguiles and confuses those searching for some sort of answer. The title track sounds like the beat is being played by hand, unquantized and free, and it’s not long before some old-timey bebop saunters in, soon to be joined by an operatic choir, as if Lento raided his grand-mama’s 78s for samples. Still haven’t figured out if I like it. “Gang Dog Ghosts” follows and has more of the sound that made Whips so great, as if he sampled the same dust-covered jazz records as Wu-Tang, only to use them for the forces of underground techno instead of rap. “Mantle Of Strength” goes a little deeper into Ostgut Ton-style techno stalwart behavior, but still with drum programming that feels slightly off. “Anika” teases a Dido sample before stutter-stepping into something that feels like early Squarepusher or Planet Mu at the turn of the century; kind of an unexpected twist, but not particularly what I’ve been looking for. Curious man, this Lutto Lento, and I intend to stay hot on his trail.

Meercaz & The Visions Get Muzzed LP (Sweet Rot)
Anyone else have trouble reading the name “Meercaz” without picturing an adorable crew of rodents standing on their hind legs, scoping the tundra together? It’s an intriguing name, but unfortunately that’s where my curiosity ends with Meercaz & The Visions, a basic, psych-inspired garage-punk power-pop trio. They look like nice enough guys on the insert: bandleader Muzz Delgado with two guys who look like cousins of The Black Keys hanging out next to their basement practice space, but there isn’t a whole lot grabbing me within Get Muzzed. It’s an album filled with anthemic riffs you’ve heard before, like a mix of Roky Erickson and Home Blitz melodies with any individual character or flashes of personality pasteurized away for sanitary reasons. In addition, the songs are generally a hair slower than you might expect them to be played, which has a wearying effect on my ears, at least. Not my cup of tea for sure, but I make no question as to the nature of the character of these gents, and will shut up about this album before harping on my tastes any further.

Ron Morelli A Gathering Together LP (Hospital Productions)
Ron Morelli’s first solo outing, Spit, was one of my favorite underground electronic records of 2013, and its 2014 follow-up, Periscope Blues, I found to be “just okay”. Goes to show just what a fine line there is between a captivating masterwork and a ho-hum display of machinery when it comes to instrumental industrial music, perhaps up to the ear of the beholder more than anything. I was eager to hear A Gathering Together, if only because Spit stuck with me so strongly, and I’m getting the same sort of non-committal feelings with it as the last one, wondering where the magic is hiding. For most of its run, it’s like listening to a stereo recording of Nocturnal Emissions or Severed Heads through a mono setup – Morelli will work one or two flashes of synth abuse or incorrectly-wired mixers at a time, resulting in an uninvolved listen that demands very little of one’s attention. There’s continual motion, so it’s certainly not a drone record, but it’s kind of like listening to an inkjet printer: fascinating at first, but quickly humdrum. The title track picks up the most speed, recalling one of Demdike Stare’s tribal-inflected collages found within their Elemental series, and “Desert Ocean” warbles nicely as well, but on the whole I’m feeling like A Gathering Together requires so little of me as a listener that I am just as content listening to it as no records at all. My old creaking walls and the loud people on the street can be pretty damn passive-industrial too.

Much Worse Chronic Instigation LP (25 Diamonds)
Very thrash-centric hardcore from Minneapolis’s Much Worse (not to be confused with ’80s NYHC band Even Worse, who had possibly the best cartoon rodent artwork ever to be associated with hardcore). Much Worse is a band that looks and sounds like at least one guy in the band has bid hard on a vintage Anthrax tour shirt on eBay: they seem to appreciate the maniacal thrill of early thrash and crossover, where a wanky guitar solo is cut short for a galloping riff, all with gruff-yet-intelligible vocals not unlike Municipal Waste. Much Worse don’t opt for any nostalgic thrash gimmickry within their vibe though – they seem to be pretty much just about the music, with feelings of alienation, disgust and rage moving the songs forward (the holy trinity of hardcore-punk). I’m more of a casual fan of thrash-core than a genre enthusiast, so I haven’t found myself itching to come back to Chronic Instigation that often (unlike most of thrash’s pinnacle records, there are no overtly memorable tunes here), but it’s nice to know that right now, somewhere in the middle of our country, Much Worse are probably going to town on some beer and pizza while they work out a tricky mosh-to-slam transition in their practice space.

Odd Hope Brave And Olde / I’ll Follow You Soon 7″ (Fruits & Flowers)
At this point, I’ve come to expect a certain level of quality in the sad-sack indie-pop from Fruits & Flowers, more of which is provided in this tasteful two-song single by Odd Hope. “Brave And Olde” is a nice way to start a Sunday brunch, wistful yet ultimately optimistic, while vocalist / instrumentalist Tim Tinderholt clears the mist from his eyes, singing as though he might be Tobias Jesso Sr. “I’ll Follow You Soon” has an early Belle & Sebastian vibe, as Tinderholt’s vocals are of a higher, less comfortable register and the music is befitting a dance party comprised of bookish teens in their private-school uniforms. This sort of music can annoy me greatly when it misses the mark, but I find Odd Hope to be perfectly acceptable, as its twee-ish tendencies never overrule good taste and studied song-craft. Perhaps if the singer’s name was Oscar Okcupidholt I’d feel differently.

Gerry Read Stand By The Bomb 12″ (Clone Jack For Daze)
Gerry Read was still a teenager when he produced “All By Myself”, one of my favorite house tracks from this decade (or any), and while I picked up the rest of the singles he released that year into the next, my enthusiasm waned. His janky, junk-shop house music is consistently nice, but never came close to the buttery-soft emotions of “All By Myself”, and as he seemingly has an endless supply of tunes, I lost him in the shuffle. I still check in here and there (he released five records in 2015, one of which is a 7″ flexi with a track called “Limp Biscuit Anthem”), and I’m glad I pulled up this one, as “Stand By The Bomb” is another notable melody destined to enter my brain while showering, driving to the post office or grilling zucchini. Unlike the bulk of his tracks, this one offers no crusty jazz drum samples, instead leaning entirely on a bright, exuberant melody of non-English origin: I feel like it could be an Iranian traditional that I’ve never heard before, or an old Argentinian melody that Ricardo Villalobos would’ve transformed for Fabric in 2005. Read runs that percussive melody through a few iterations and it has me dancing in ways I can’t fully explain. There are five other tracks here (where’s that old “The Nice Price” sticker when you need it), and none of them match “Stand By The Bomb”, but they’re all quite good; the rest of the EP has a similar pacing and slight dab of retro-silliness that reminds me of Joe, if not entirely in sound but spirit. Quantity may be Read’s MO, but his bursts of quality are dazzling all the same.

The Screaming Abdabs / City Ram Waddy split LP (Wallaby Beat)
Wallaby Beat continues to excavate the deepest, most mysterious crevasses of Australia’s earliest punk / pre-punk history, this time with a split between The Screaming Abdabs and City Ram Waddy, two groups known only to the most die-hard of Australian archivists (which is to say, they’re both news to me). Accompanied by a handy and interesting zine that documents the bands’ history (particularly that of the tragic murder of Abdabs singer Carmel Strelein), this split LP is a fascinating document if not the sort of thing you’ll be pulling out weekly. The Screaming Abdabs take a furiously primitive stab at what punk rock was turning out to be, covering AC/DC and “Surfin’ Bird” in triple time, coming across like what I always assumed Chipmunk Punk sounded like before actually hearing it. Out-of-control fast, no cymbals just drums, and Strelein’s strangulated finch vocals, like a loud, fat fly buzzing your head in an elevator. City Ram Waddy also opt mostly for covers (Chuck Berry, Neil Young, Rolling Stones and more) and are less vocally jarring, but with a guitar that sounds as though it’s made entirely of repurposed tin. Musical notes are barely audible through the metallic din, unrepentantly repetitive and unfriendly. When it’s just an occasional vocal and fast muted guitar, I almost pick up an accidental Suicide vibe from City Ram Waddy. Once again, this bizarre Australian archival release proves that anytime you hear some contemporary punk band do something particularly outrageous or bothersome, chances are strong that punks had already done it, probably better and more outrageously, decades prior.

Slaap Iceberg Alley 7″ (Close Up)
It’s getting to be that miserable time of year where the sun shines for two and a half hours, so why not sulk it up with music that evokes a similar form of universal despair, like this 7″ from Slaap. They are a very murky, slow-moving post-punk band that located the perfect production for their sound, as though they are performing these soft little tunes from the bottom of a shallow pond. It’s like their music is wearing pitch-black sunglasses, which is evened out by the fact that their simple riffs are uppers, not downers. While listening, I recall that great lone 7″ by The Prefects, had they developed an infatuation with Interpol, or the recommended under-the-radar obscurity The Eternal Scream. Not much in the way of punk going on here, but more like that moment when DIY bands in the early ’80s realized they could indulge their infatuations with The Velvet Underground instead of The Ramones. Quite supple indeed.

So Pitted Neo LP (Sub Pop)
I’m contractually obligated to get excited about every new Sub Pop release, but I would’ve checked out So Pitted’s debut regardless. They seem like the prime sort of weirdos I wasn’t sure still grew up in Seattle, and the preview tracks I heard sounded good, so why not? Now I’m listening to Neo, presumably named after everyone’s second-favorite Matrix character, and quite enjoying it indeed! To my ears, they sound like a heavy, grunge-punk update on No Age’s early days (think Weirdo Rippers); the drummer will lay out an interesting pattern that generally remains in place for a song’s entirety, the riffs evoke anything from Butthole Surfers to Mayyors to Karp, and the vocalist usually delivers an off-kilter, slightly-whined harmony with extended syllables, much like No Age’s Dean Spunt (check the chorus to “Rot In Hell”). Pretty simple formula really, the sort of thing that could go over just as smoothly at a K Records’ coffee-house gig as one of these modern exclusive jet-setter punk festivals (I’m looking at you, Austin and New York), and rightfully so. It doesn’t hurt that So Pitted are visually appealing, with at least one band member sporting orange-soda-colored hair at all times and what I can only assume is one of Chris Cornell’s unspoken love-children on drums. (Keep on never wearing a shirt, please.) I can’t think of a better way to reacquaint yourself with the greatness of Sub Pop grunge than giving So Pitted a swirl!

Soupcans Soft Party LP (Telephone Explosion)
Now that Metz are a touring band and on the road ten months out of the year, someone has to provide quality noise-rock for the city of Toronto, so why not Soupcans? They’re also a trio of dudes playing a thick and frothy form of AmRep-influenced punk, with plenty of fast-paced two-note riffs, hammering drums and vocals curdling on the edge of feedback. The main difference is that Nirvana doesn’t seem to factor into Soupcans’ equation – the closest they get to grunge might be a nicked Melvins riff here or there, but Soupcans seem to come from a speedy punk mentality as opposed to flannel-coiffed rock. Sounds pretty good to my ears, and the songs all sound different enough that I don’t feel any Noise-Rock Fatigue setting in (the backwards drum/guitar-noise break at the tail end of “Psychosomatic Rash” is a nice palate cleanser). I just worry that if Soupcans start to tour a bunch, Toronto will develop some serious noise-punk abandonment issues.

Spacin’ Total Freedom LP (Richie)
If you have any concern that Spacin’ don’t live up to their name, I offer you this: the band practically all lives in the same house together, plays music together all the time, mostly record themselves, and it still took them practically four years to put out a new record. They are truly living the lackadaisical lifestyle, so have no fears that they bought loafers and started working at a job that provided health benefits or something like that. Nah, they’re sticking to the script laid out for them by classics like The Rolling Stones, The Stooges and Big Star, chooglin’ through the best major-label rock of your parents’ lifetime for their own personal enjoyment. Their pleasure is infectious, as grooves like “Human Condition” and “Over Uneasy” could brighten the grimmest of funerals. They also branch out just enough into previously-unexplored territory (at least as far as their first record), with the Xpressway-ish guitar noodling of “Kensington Real” and a riff ripe for Fela Kuti’s taking in “Stopping Man”. Maybe not as immediately catchy on the whole as Deep Thuds, but that’s the kind of album a band can only really write once, stunning in its borrowed simplicity, and Total Freedom builds upon that sturdy base, staring out into the cosmos through a tiny grime-encrusted basement window.

Spray Paint / Exek split 7″ (Homeless)
This split 7″ was released in conjunction with Spray Paint’s 2015 Australian tour, which begs the question: is Australia the global hotbed of split 7″ consumption I’ve been searching for? Global economics aside, I know Spray Paint released a couple albums last year, and I can’t remember if I heard either of them, so it’s nice to get a quick little dose here, two songs that bastardize country-blues licks for the sake of menacing DIY punk. It’s as if Lamps, Country Teasers, Protomartyr and Afflicted Man blended to form the efforts of these three Austin-based men. Nice job! Exek are new to me, and they sound a hell of a lot like Anika to me, of all things. A robust bass-line is triggered forward by minimal dub percussion and a deadpan vocalist – not entirely unlike those earliest Tussle recordings, but with an eye on PiL instead of !!!. In this day and age, it seems like a split EP’s purpose is to make you want to hear more of each group, more of a promotional advertisement than a stand-alone release, yet I’d say this one works well for purposes both commercial and artistic.

Stick Men With Ray Guns Grave City LP (End Of An Ear)
My life has been indelibly changed by three different artists the first time I heard them: Guns N’ Roses, Ricardo Villalobos and Stick Men With Ray Guns. I say that with no exaggeration – if anyone ever distilled the pure nihilistic ugliness of hardcore-punk without all the useless machismo and aggression, it’s Bobby Soxx and his compatriots. Stick Men With Ray Guns were previously relegated to various compilations (all of which worth the price of admission) and a comprehensive CD discography including live recordings and outtakes (which was my mind-blowing introduction), and this new LP collection perfectly splits the difference, offering arguably the best eight Stick Men With Ray Guns tracks (although I could just as easily petition for the inclusion of “What Am I?” and “Buttfuckers (Try To Run My Life!)”); a highly suitable primer, if you will. These songs will never sound anything less than superb to me, that ultra-heavy, toxic bass, metal-buzzing guitars and Bobby Soxx’s inimitable sneer, practically dripping with alcohol and grease from the pizza shop that employed him. It’s also notable to hear the subtle influence of The Cramps coming through some of their more groovy moves, a band one doesn’t normally associate with heavy noise-punk, but Stick Men are still so thick with hate to the point where I appreciate the rockabilly influence. Truthfully though, theirs is a sound all their own, one under-appreciated in its time, as most valuable works of art tend to be. As fine and necessary a reissue as they come, particularly if it blows the minds of the next generation of pure punk seekers, instantly rendering their recently-purchased Cuntz and Rectal Hygenics records completely obsolete.

SW. Reminder Part Three 12″ (SUED)
In search of strange new worlds of techno music, I stumbled upon the SUED label, fell in love with their citrus-y website (that’s right, a record label with an actual website!) and found myself hooked on the strange club constructions within the Club No-No & SVN 12″. Figured I’d check out SW. as well, who is up to his/her third installment of the Reminder series, and it’s been a pleasant affair through and through. Four untitled tracks here, opening with a spacious, jittery groove to recall the common ground shared by Kassem Mosse and Melchior Productions, underpinned by what sounds like a particularly funky dial-up modem connection. The second track opens with a soothing rainstorm (not unlike my favorite Threadbare EP) before calling up a twitchy tech-house groove. Flip it over and the weather system moves out; the jungle-life resumes its daily behavior, this time bolstered by a mid-tempo house shuffle. It wraps up with a bossa-nova groove that floats effortlessly into the evening, the sound of crickets ensuring nighttime. While I can’t say there is anything particularly special about the music SW. has showcased here, I find myself continually returning to it, like a chair that doesn’t look particularly attractive but feels like heaven once you’re plopped down in it.

Taiwan Housing Project Three Song Record 7″ (M’Lady’s)
Taiwan Housing Project have been peppering all sorts of interesting gigs for the past year or two here in our shared home of Philadelphia, but I’ve still yet to catch them. This new 7″ is certainly a wake-up call that I need to make it a priority, as it’s a fine example of how noisy post-punk can be so damned appealing when the band goes all-in. “Maintenance Of An Application” yanks some old honky-tonk riff and throws it into the fire, somewhere between the middle of a Bulb Records 7″ sampler and the rawest Huggy Bear material, like a violent dance party where half the crowd brought their own musical (or non-musical) instruments and is banging along. “White Frosted” is a Sonic Youth-ish jam with top-shelf guitar abuse, and to be honest, it sounds like the song I’ve always been trying to find from Sonic Youth but never been able to locate in my sporadic listening. The last of the promised “three songs” is “Behind The Green Curtain”, a sweetly minuscule tune with those same buzzing guitars hiding behind a cutesy riff and what sounds like Baby’s First Drum Machine… a nice way to wrap things up. Now I just gotta make sure I catch them live before their inevitable album drops, lest I start to be known around town as a shameful poseur.

Utah Jazz Ivory Wave LP (Black Dots)
At first the whole “naming your band directly after a professional sports team” thing amused me; it’s certainly a level of audaciousness I can appreciate, as it ensures your band remains underground or has to change with success, even more so than a band name filled with expletives (see Fucked Up’s continued major media coverage). I think Utah Jazz fills the quota though (lest we forget the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins and probably more I’m forgetting – do Metz count?), and they’re a band who takes the silly name and wears it proudly through this album of cynical, energetic punk rock. They seem to combine the straight-forward, rock-based Dangerhouse sound with the frantic garage-punk of today – I’m hearing songs that remind me of the Bags and Predator in equal measure, maintaining some level of composure and historically-safe rock moves with wild punk tantrums and uninhibited attitude. It’s my understanding that Utah Jazz features an ex-member of Brown Sugar and I can certainly hear that here as well, although Ivory Wave offers a clearer, more “mature” recording that works in the group’s favor, as they play tight enough that their talent is worth showcasing. Of course, there’s still a song that starts with an extended instrumental and the sound of someone eating chips (?), and another featuring choruses of barks and grunts, so it’s not like these folks have cleaned up completely. Thankfully, it’s possible to grow up without getting too smart in the process.

Reviews – January 2016

ADMX-71 Coherent Abstractions 2xLP (L.I.E.S.)
Initially I thought the self-chosen moniker “Adam X” and consequently ADMX-71 were a little silly, but I’ve made it past that minor hurdle and would tolerate it if this man called himself Hatchetface Da Klown for all I care: I absolutely love the music he is making. His earlier EP The Redacted Files hinted at a sort of techno-espionage vibe, not unlike an American version of Black Rain, let’s say, and this new album expands and solidifies that vibe, truly a masterwork of “less is more” EBM from the darker corners of life. At times, I’m reminded of the coldest Tin Man instrumentals, or the most erotic Clock DVA dungeon mixes, or Militia’s fantastic New European Order at it’s most club-oriented. Coherent Abstractions might seem eclectic in that regard, but the tone is completely focused on a sort of undisclosed cyber-sex transaction, some hidden scene where LAN cable is used for bondage and leather is scuffed on basement cement. No track is overloaded or too sparse, and while dancing could be an occasional side-effect, the mood is more about tension and touching than solitary dance-floor engagements. Let’s just hope my mother doesn’t read this review!

Body Tools Locusts & Lions / Brave 12″ (Valcrond Video)
Body Tools is a new duo featuring Luke Wyatt (known best as Torn Hawk) and Sheela Rahman (known best as Xosar), released on Wyatt’s Valcrond Video label, so why not, right? I knew to expect the unexpected, with perhaps some sort of driving beat and obscure sonic nostalgia, and after a few spins, I’m not sure my expectations were correct. “Locusts & Lions” is the sort of track that I forget as I’m hearing it, but not necessarily in a bad way: it’s kind of like a musical version of that memory eraser they use in Men In Black. I have to listen to it right as I type this, lest I forget that the track is a slow build of non-descript loops, cut so short that I could be listening to Roseanne Barr laughing or a Keurig pouring a macchiato. There’s no real bass, or treble, just a persistent light thump and various sounds clipped to the form of radio static or crickets in the night, at least until it unfolds with sparse piano and some signs of melody. “Brave” was clearly born closer to techno, throbbing like one of those painfully-repetitive Wolfgang Voigt tracks with a flurry of chopped samples, taking the salad of the a-side and spinning it. Both tracks have a “let’s roll with this live” feel, as though neither Wyatt nor Rahman ever fully took control, letting their gear play out Ouija-style. I probably don’t hate it, am pretty sure that I like it, and am 100% positive that I’ve listened to it.

Bummed Smoking Jewels / No Reward 7″ (Accidental Guest)
Bummed’s debut 7″ has a great depiction of being bummed on the cover: a couple of jolted adults fresh from a car accident, lacking only some cryptic Raymond Pettibon prose to complete the image. Can’t say I expected the boppy shoegaze that Bummed are offering, in that case, as theirs is music usually accompanied by a blurry photograph of an ocean tide or a pollinated flower, but I suppose it’s time we all progressed a bit. Bummed have three guitarists, and while I can’t say for sure they are all necessary to the cause, it works pretty well in that one guy gets to twinkle while the other two fuzz or chime along. “Smoking Jewels” has a Smiths-y backbone before going through a few instrumental breakdowns (and ending on an unexpectedly sad note), while “No Reward” sets the stage with booming drums and a Johnny Marr-esque lead guitar before Sophie Ploegh’s vocals show up like the breeze your sailboat has been waiting for, not unlike a Lush song I can’t quite place. Sounds good to me, what I’d describe as a locally-sourced, artisanal shoegaze sound, and they thank at least two members of Mind Eraser in the liner notes, which I hope becomes a new dream-pop trend.

Rupert Clervaux & Beatrice Dillon Studies I-XVII For Samplers And Percussion LP (Snow Dog)
So glad I didn’t have to wait long for more Beatrice Dillon material, following her fantastic Face A/B 12″ that I’m unable to stop talking about. Here she’s teamed up with a man named Rupert Clervaux, a name I can’t help but picture seated on an Eames lounge, feet on the matching ottoman, beret casually framed on his head and creased philosophy paperback in hand. Fan-fic aside, The album title pretty much spells this one out, and it’s a highly enjoyable suite of percussive ideas, reaping far more repeated listens than I may have originally guessed. That’s the talent of Beatrice Dillon for you! These seventeen tracks usually clock in at three minutes or less, and offer a sort of easy breezy Folkways feel, seemingly free of digital manipulation, post-production editing or anything that carries the sense of the samplers referenced in the title. Instead, these tracks offer melodic, upbeat and casually delightful tracks of tuned percussion of various origin (my ears can barely tell the difference between a bass and a guitar, so you’ll have to look elsewhere for the djembe specs on this one). Go ahead, put this one on while you’re cooking your next soup or stir-fry and see if the results aren’t inexplicably more flavorful.

Dynamo Dreesen, SVN & A Made Up Sound Untitled 12″ (Acido)
Been meaning to check out the lauded Berlin-based techno label Acido for a bit now, and it was this collaborative 12″ between Dynamo Dreesen, SVN and A Made Up Sound that I managed to snag. Even if it’s not in actuality how it goes down, I love the idea of three people sitting at the same laptop, one person using the mouse-pad while another yells “click over there!” or “loop that part again, but with the other filter this time!”, stuff like that. Regardless of how these three put together these tracks, they’ve got it figured out, as this is a highly satisfying trio of refined and forward-thinking tech-house. The a-side (all three tracks are untitled) is punchy from the start, taking a staccato beat I’d expect Pearson Sound to handle and manipulating it into something anyone can dance to, with just the right amount of shape-shifting and additional effects throughout, not unlike something Joey Anderson might toss our way. The b-side starts off with a down-tempo think-piece, like a transmission from a spacecraft entering Jupiter’s orbit, were Donato Dozzy on board. It’s chill without feeling remotely sleepy, which sets a perfectly contemplative mood. The last cut builds on the second track’s relaxation with a sense of paranoia, like you’ve been having a really great massage and suddenly notice a small camera in the corner that’s been recording you the whole time. Prime stuff for sure, and I’ve got my eye on Acido from here on out.

Earthen Sea Ink LP (Lovers Rock)
I can’t think of a better way for a band to break up than the way Mi Ami did it: stay friends with each other, continue to collaborate and release each other’s music, and form solo projects that maintain a high level of creativity and vision (as well as sound dope as hell). Earthen Sea is the work of Mi Ami / Black Eyes bassist Jacob Long, and he’s been plugging away at it for a while, initially using the project to push through thick ambient glaze and meditative smoke plumes, and now taking a turn for the dance-floor, or at least a very large chessboard where the pawns and queens bob their heads in time. This is really beautiful, sumptuous music, Earthen Sea’s form of techno – it’s as if he located a natural beat in the ocean’s tide and has finally decided to share it with the rest of us. Clear, crisp piano shows up frequently too, offering a gentle, contemplative sound not unlike Sven Weisemann, although without any melancholy or sadness permeating the air. No, Ink is all about the pursuit of the weightless zen that might not actually exist on Earth, pushing past human emotion to something primal and heavy. And that’s cool with me!

Era Del Vacio Era Del Vacio LP (Cintas Pepe)
Upon its arrival, I wasted no time throwing the debut Era Del Vacio album on, as a few subtle details had me titillated, namely the flimsy parchment album sleeve that seems constructed solely to house a raging punk obscurity and the fact that it was released on Cintas Pepe, home of the excellent Tercer Mundo and in close conjunction with Inservibles. You can imagine my disappointment, then, when I was met with moody, punk-inflected goth-rock of the mundane variety. Anyone else ready for this trend to pass? Era Del Vacio sound like Strange Boutique and Dead Can Dance playing through Anasazi’s gear, but without any memorable hooks, personality or creativity. Listening is like driving on a long flat highway, except instead of passing mile-markers you pass genre tropes (dangly earrings, Joy Division drum-beats, eyeliner, reverb, sadness). I completely understand that certain musicians and artists might want to play music beyond hardcore’s rigid confines, I just wish people could come up with ideas that aren’t this. If I hear one more band that is a boring mix of The Cure and Clan Of Xymox in punk outfits, I swear I will start a petition to bring back the days of hand-painted costume-noise CD-rs.

Frodus And We Washed Our Weapons In The Sea LP (Lovitt)
Reissues keep the smokestacks pumping outside your local pressing plant no doubt, and you can add Frodus’s final album from 2001 to that list. Who was demanding it, I have no idea, but here it is, barely cognizant of 9/11 and illegal file-sharing and exactly how much George W. Bush we had left. I was never really a Frodus fan back in the day (brag of the month: I personally shared the bill with them in the Poconos some fifteen years ago), but I suppose this sounds pretty okay. It certainly doesn’t live up to the “math-core” tag, instead sounding like a well-oiled emo-core group that felt the reverberations of both Fugazi’s final albums and At The Drive-In’s ascent to stardom. Some of the vocals strike me as overly Jazz June-ish, which is surely a coincidence (or symptom of the serious melodic emo band), and they generally sound like a band who is quite comfortable and adept at their chosen style of music. Mostly, I could just never shake the lingering fact that they put out records on Tooth & Nail, which of course confirms their Christian beliefs one way or another. I can take Christian pop-punk on some level, but Christian emo-core just sounds so sinister and undesirable that I’d want to sit at an entirely different lunch table… give my regards to Pedro The Lion.

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! 12″ (Depression House)
When I think of Italy, I think first of their delicious cuisine, second of their horrifying postal system, and third of their unhinged, noisy punk rock, seemingly expanding from the ground-zero attack of The Grabbies. Okay maybe I’m lying a little, but it gives me the perfect setup to discuss Hallelujah!, another gnarly European punk group that would easily share the same jail cell as Out With A Bang, The Anals, A.H. Kraken, The Feeling Of Love and bands of that ilk, where the red wine and blood flow with equal abandon. I appreciate that the vocalist is credited with the synth but all I hear are bashed drums, noisy guitar and vocals where the microphone must be directly in front of its speakers, awash in harsh feedback. This one-sided 12″ verges on hardcore, but just when it gets pounding and aggro they switch over to something more suited for In The Red than Sorry State, more of a wild party pit than an arena where mosh moves are debuted. I for one would have no qualms stuffing my face with fresh fusilli and then cartwheeling into the basement venue that Hallelujah! are stinking up, that much I can confirm.

Hieroglyphic Being & J.I.T.U. Ahn-Sahm-Buhl We Are Not The First 2xLP (Rvng Intl.)
While I love Hieroglyphic Being, his release rate is so hurried that I find myself unable to keep up. Still, the concept of Jamal Moss collaborating in his Hieroglyphic Being guise with a jazz-minded troupe featuring none other than Arkestra leader Marshall Allen seems like such a natural fit for all parties that I had to give it my attention. Really glad I did, as it’s been one of my favorites this year, even considering the memorization skills necessary to recite that artist name and title. Most of these tracks have Moss laying down one of his itchy grooves while the others let their spirits soar, be it Allen’s electrified flutes or the other players’ horns, guitars, drums, electronics, whatever. That alone would satisfy my needs, but they frequently push beyond the “house beat with a freak-out” template, blessed with Rafael Sanchez’s lively spoken-word and Shelley Hirsch’s wordless exhortations to consider space and its properties. The title track really takes the cake, as Moss’s beat is particularly unhinged, its melody bouncing off every surface in the room while the other players digress into territory recalling Herbie Hancock, the fiercest BYG Actuel sides and Morphosis at his most melodious. I usually don’t notice, but We Are Not The First makes it abundantly clear that we are all constantly flying through space at thousands of miles per hour.

Kowton On Repeat / Holding Patterns 12″ (Livity Sound)
Of all the names in the Livity Sound crew, Kowton has always stood out for me, by virtue of his compositions: there’s an undeniably blockiness to his music, as though his music is created on a planet with a gravitational pull far more significant than ours. That effect is certainly present in “On Repeat”, as a hypnotic bass slide pulls you into the deep while lofty, angelic chords attempt to carry you out. Toward the end, I didn’t even notice I was still being bludgeoned, as Kowton shone a bright warm light down upon me. “Holding Patterns” is a little more subdued, like being dropped onto the roof of a techno club via helicopter but unable to find your way inside… just the right amount of quizzical bleeps and sonar bloops to feel like you’re on a covert mission to dance into the wee hours. Seems like Kowton has a million tracks, just as particular and thumping as these, and I intend to continue sampling my way through his supply.

Mansion Early Life LP (Degenerate)
At this point, if you’re a punk band in San Francisco, you have to really want to exist there, fighting against so many currents both culturally and economically. You really need to live like a weed, and that sort of refusal to die comes through in Mansion’s debut album. The cover art grabbed me right away, what looks to be some sort of public hazing / Dadist art aktion / fetish performance involving shaving cream, lipstick and dental floss, and the music maintains my interest. They play a pretty thunderous version of modern no-wave, indebted to pioneers like DNA as much as the short-lived Sleetmute Nightmute from the turn of the century, going from silence to full-blast in timings both standard and unexpected. The vocals occasionally recall the bitter taste of Culturcide’s Perry Webb, and it works well with the nearly Swans-like metallic pound of the guitar and drums. Sounds like what would’ve been one of the best releases on Troubleman Unlimited in 2003 or Load in 2001, which of course is meant to be some of the praise this tough group deserves.

Muerte Muerte LP (Cintas Pepe / SPHC / Cabeza De Vaca)
It’s almost becoming standard practice among actively-participating punks to do their hardcore band and then also have a goth-rock band on the side. Muerte, on the other hand, have managed to merge those styles with much success, never sacrificing the energy of hardcore or the dark, melodic moodiness of goth. They can work up a mean d-beat when necessary, propelled by the highly capable drumming, and shift into a tuneful chorus that your average Dis-clone would never consider. I’m reminded of Part 1, Destino Final and Lost Tribe in equal measure here, as Muerte certainly leave their fog machine on blast for the duration of the album, with vocals escaping a chasm of reverb and echo. Muerte works for me best when the group doesn’t get too thrashy or too theatrical, but rides the line between a Bauhaus 12″ maxi-single and a Bauhaus patch on a studded leather jacket. Plus, it comes in that same floppy brown parchment-esque sleeve that seems to be the Cintas Pepe trademark, and I love these things.

Predator Drag / First To Know 7″ (Total Punk)
I never understood why I didn’t hear more people chattering about Predator’s debut album last year, as it was one of my personal favorites, really hitting the fast-paced, classic melodic-punk sweet spot not unlike early Total Control and Zero Boys. Nice to see that at least Total Punk shared a fondness for this Atlanta group, and these two songs sound right by me, if not quite as impactful as their album. “Drag” adapts more of a Wipers vibe, if still a tad faster than most bands, and tops it off with nasal punk-alien vocals, like a more Earthly version of Coneheads or Count Vertigo. “First To Know” slows it down but is all the better for it, chugging along with a bad attitude, like Joan Jett & The Blackhearts if they found themselves on the Red Snerts comp. If the singer needed a track where he could crawl between the crowd’s legs and cause a little commotion, he’s got it in “First To Know”. It seems pretty clear that Predator are moving toward a more “mature” form of songwriting, what with multiple fills and bridges, articulate playing and a complexity that isn’t found in most of Total Punk’s roster, but they prove that they are up to the task of thoughtfully writing punk songs without sucking in the process.

Psychic Blood Alien LP (Wharf Cat)
I assumed I’d heard Psychic Blood somewhere before, but maybe it’s just that the words “psychic” and “blood” have appeared in over a thousand band names in the past couple years, so it’s all starting to blend. Band fatigue is real! Anyway, this noisy post-hardcore group from Western Mass do the best they can with that name, colliding through various iterations of echo-y, frantic indie-rock, heavy on the drum fills and melodic guitar leads and sounding as though it was recorded at the end of a very long hallway. I’m thinking of Metz if they bought the No Alternative compilation CD instead of Nirvana’s Bleach with their Christmas money in 5th grade. Or rather, every time I see pictures of bands with long-haired dudes with facial hair under the age of 30 wearing rumpled dress shirts and baseball caps (Impose Magazine seems to have a never-ending supply of these), I assume they sound like this. Sounds good enough to me, although I have to wonder if the blurry, reverb-on-everything production isn’t ultimately a hindrance for people who prefer to hear songs over sounds. There are probably some songs within Alien, and even if not, they’re doing the sound nicely.

Rik & The Pigs Pig Sweat / Feed The Animal 7″ (Total Punk)
Foolishly, I’d long assumed the only famous punk Riks would be Rik L. Rik and Rik Mayall, but now the singularly named Rik is on the scene, backed up by his Pigs. The artwork has me hoping for some tuneful Pork Dukes-esque raunch, but Rik & The Pigs make good on a more Total Punk form of punk, smashing through some of the more hard rock-inflected Killed By Death entries while still keeping GG Allin in their hearts. “Pig Sweat” is a downer strut that has me thinking of The Shitdogs, whereas “Feed The Animal” pumps the fuzz guitar further to the front while Rik (presuming he’s the singer and not the bassist, although that’d be a great idea for a band, the titular person being merely the bassist) blarfs and splurfs about how animals need to be fed, right before a ripping rock n’ roll guitar solo shows up (which has me wondering if the rumors are true that Mike from Vexx plays in this band). More dependable modern-throwback punk from America’s Label, Total Punk.

Subliminal Sterben Lassen 7″ (Galakthorrö)
Subliminal will forever play second-fiddle to Galakthorrö all-stars Haus Arafna and November Növelet, but that’s not a bad thing – we all loved Scottie Pippen too, right? I can’t say that my ear is able to qualify the similarities and differences of this new Subliminal 7″ with regard to the other Subliminal records on my shelves, but it’s basically more of what I want from this project: wavering synths that produce sound (not musical notes) while some sort of tortured scream emanates from inside the boiler room, a place you didn’t know anyone could be. Very dreary, morbid power-electronics, with “Causing Pain Receiving Pain / Trust In Pain A Blood Stain” being not only the lyrics to the second track “Blood Stain” but also the design for my next chest tattoo. Either you’re on board with the magically macabre world of Galakthorrö at this point or you’re not, and I’m quite comfortable in the passenger car on my patent leather examining table if you’d care to join.

The Suburban Homes Conformity In The U.K. / Television Spies 7″ (Total Punk)
I can’t be the only one who reads this band’s name and assumes they sound like The Descendents, can I? Of course, that’s far from the truth, as The Suburban Homes are a British group of the classic DIY order, full of amateurish jangle, nursery-rhyme-level choruses and plenty of the same musical note in a row. “Conformity In The U.K.” sounds like the worst song Desperate Bicycles ever wrote, which of course is still pretty good. “Television Spies” has a happier gait, feeling more like Alternative TV and their pop aspirations while still firmly rooted in the DIY no-talent ethos. There’s no silliness at play here, nothing like the oddball dry humor (or should I say humour) of The Pheromoans or even The Door & The Window, just an evenly sung list of things that The Suburban Homes feel are wrong with society. It’s good, but so plain that no actual flavor comes through. It might occasionally work for punk rock, but it doesn’t work for yogurt, I’ll tell you that.

Thisclose Chapter III LP (SPHC)
Some records suck, but this album by Thisclose reaches an Ice Bucket Challenge level of suck: the extent of its lousiness causes a physical shock to one’s system. The band name and logo appears to be a direct homage / rip of Disclose (who of course were referencing Discharge with their name and logo), but that’s where the comparison to tuneless d-beat ends. Thisclose play fast, standard-issue, metallic ’80s thrash-by-way-of-hardcore, and they’re fronted with one of the least appealing vocalists I’ve heard in years. The guy sings in this high-pitched caterwaul that recalls the worst aspects of Overkill’s Bobby Blitz and Crime Desire’s Colin Tappe, the sort of ridiculous metallic whine that has no business ever being recorded, as far as I’m concerned. The music ultimately passes just fine, but when paired with these godawful vocals, the entire project is the sort of horror I usually only dream about but never actually hear. Most people would know better than to unleash such sonic misery on society, but much like coal rollers, gun hoarders and meat eaters, Thisclose are clearly too selfish to care about the well-being of others.

Charlie Tweddle Knee Deep Blues LP (Mighty Mouth Music)
I wasn’t feeling the Charlie Tweddle reissue released by Mighty Mouth and Ever/Never, but it seems as though my feelings have changed toward the man care of Knee Deep Blues. Maybe I’ve matured (that last Tweddle album came out in 2015, after all), or maybe this collection of quaint solo material is simply of finer quality. On this record, he sounds like a Townes Van Zandt who instead of dying just grew old, his sadness transforming into a vaguely-hopeful worldliness, like he could distill the essence of human existence through a proverb about chicken farming. I can picture Tweddle as some sort of Southeastern American Buddha, sitting on his front porch roasting chestnuts and waiting for someone to come up and ask him the meaning of life. His tunes are humble, confident and often quite beautiful, as well as occasionally quite humorous without delving into camp. Maybe I’m just a city slicker prone to romanticizing about splitting wood with an axe for the fire, but I just can’t help it when I’m sitting here with Knee Deep Blues.

U.S. Girls Half Free LP (4AD)
If anyone wants to talk smack on the abilities of those who came out of the mid-’00s bedroom post-punk / noise-pop movement, I offer a shining contradiction in U.S. Girls, who keeps getting better and better. I loved 2012′s GEM for all its unhinged glitz and virtuous attempts at pop, and Half Free, her first for 4AD, is the best U.S. Girls’ Megan Remy has offered yet. In a way, she’s working in similar territory as Daughn Gibson, in that she also comes across as an intense loner who builds such glorious and vivid scenes from a couple dusty loops and a whole lot of orchestration. She goes heavy on the Balearic disco-glam here, but somehow wipes it clean of any cheese or corniness, just after-hours noir geared for libidinous dance-floors filled with parents on vacation. I’ve loved her voice before and I love it even more now, reminding me of Glass Candy’s Ida No if she actually gave a damn about singing and tried her hardest to inhabit David Bowie in both body and spirit. At only nine tracks (one of which is a fascinating minute-long phone conversation), there is no fat to be chewed here, a succinct album as curious as it is memorable (what’s up with the psych-rock freakout of “Sed Knife”?). If my iPod didn’t have a “repeat” function, I’d have to go buy Half Free on CD for that very purpose.

Vial Vial 7″ (Cut Rate)
Vial’s debut 7″ EP qualifies as a tasty ripper no matter what decade it came from, but it’s nice to know it was recorded just a few months ago and that this band exists right now, available for anyone willing to seek them out. I might be mistaken but I think there are some ex-Pang and ex-Rank/Xerox personnel here, along with people who haven’t really played music before, resulting in a tasty cocktail of classic-sounding punk rock. Opener “You’re Not Safe” really sets the stage with a riff that is barely more than one note, wherein the guitar actually slightly finds itself off time with the drumming, much to the delight of my ears. Musically I’d say Vial falls somewhere between Defektors (whose debut album remains one of my favorite punk records of the ’00s), the general “Dangerhouse sound” and Nots; it’s incredibly angry without throwing a tantrum, a premeditated form of revenge in the shape of punk’s pioneers. These four songs are in and out in a flash, just like all good punk singles, and even at 300 copies pressed it remains available for you to purchase today, months after release, further evidence of the crumbling infrastructure of the punk economy.

Violent Bullshit / Chron Turbine split 7″ (Peterwalkee)
Hail Mary, Orchid, Rye Coalition, Merel… these are all Northeast hardcore bands you could hang your hat on in that dark period of 1996-2000. As as is often the case, many of those dudes are still alive now, and still playing music, just older and with significantly less media exposure (perhaps due to Punk Planet, HeartattaCk and Skyscraper closing shop). Some of them went on to play in New York’s Violent Bullshit, who share a sort of hardcore sensibility with Off!, in that the music is ostensibly okay but seems to lack any actual excitement, instead feeling more like older guys reliving their youth. Their track is slower and longer than other Violent Bullshit songs I’ve heard, almost heading away from Trash Talk and toward Murder City Devils. Chron Turbine, on the other hand, take a Shellac-ish riff and drive it into the ground on their side, eventually striking oil. It feels like Oneida at their heaviest, or the aforementioned Rye Coalition, in the way they seem to be having the time of their lives bashing through a two-note riff ad infinitum, vocals be damned. I’ll take more Chron Turbine for sure, hold the Violent Bullshit.

Wimps Suitcase LP (Kill Rock Stars)
I’ll be honest, I had no idea Kill Rock Stars was still putting out new bands, but I’m glad they aren’t exclusively reissuing their classic titles or relying on nostalgia. It makes me sad when landmark indie labels do that, but getting to the topic of Wimps, I can’t imagine anything about this band makes anyone sad. They play simple, harmless punk; not too fast, never noisy, just kinda geeky, poppy and dryly silly. I’m reminded of an upbeat version of The Zoltars as I listen, like a Zoltars that would’ve aspired to sign to Lookout! had they existed twenty years ago, particularly because of the nerd-stuck-in-a-locker vocals and quaintly chiming tunes. I get the impression that Wimps aren’t seeking world domination so much as a means to obtain free drink tickets and socialize with friends outside of their respective living rooms, and it seems that by that metric the band Wimps and their album Suitcase are a success.

Youth Brigade First Demo Summer ’81 7″ (Dischord)
You know, I wouldn’t put it past today’s hardcore kids to start a band called Youth Brigade (did you know there’s currently a new Fury in existence?), but this is the original deal right here, carefully remastered and designed with all sorts of early DC hardcore ephemera that you just know Ian Mackaye spends one day a week putting into orderly scrapbooks in his mom’s basement. I had a weird double 7″ bootleg of this demo for a while now, and it’s nice to enjoy these songs like this, nicely touched-up but lacking none of the raw intensity that made Youth Brigade so great. I was in a band that covered “I Object”, the lead track here, and I can’t blame my younger self for attempting to latch onto some of the kinetic, under-thirty-seconds energy that Youth Brigade were emanating. Youth Brigade were explosive, like Minor Threat but without the hooks, just the manic exuberance of teenagers realizing they could play as fast as they wanted and no one could stop them, and I am delighted that it’s widely available for all to enjoy.