Ajax Bleach For Breakfast 7″ (no label)
Ajax is a New York hardcore band that sounds like a classic Boston hardcore band, the sort of moral quandary that baseball rivalries were built upon. I hadn’t heard them before this, their demo put to wax, and it’s some top-shelf ripping hardcore-punk! They’re highly reminiscent of The Boston Strangler, just less-frequently laundered and shaved, and if Ajax had a song about soda pop I’d modify that to say they are direct descendants of Last Rights. Still, I want to make it clear that Ajax aren’t just another highly effective carbon copy – rather, they sound as if they are digging the same influences that caused Negative FX and Negative Approach to sound like they did, which is to say the Riot City / No Future riff catalog sped up far beyond the capacity of any English group. Five songs here, and they’re all quite sharp. Gotta say though, the art of Alexander Heir is becoming so damn ubiquitous… I know it looks great and all, but it makes for a duller hardcore experience when everyone is using the same person for their art all the time. I’m sure the hardcore-punks back in 2002 thought it was super smart to get Michael Bukowski to do their art, and well just take a look at the Caustic Christ / R.A.M.B.O. split 7″ and tell me what you think.
Arca Xen LP (Mute)
Arca is the of-the-moment hot producer, so insanely fresh that even as I type this he’s probably being replaced by someone else with access to prototypes of music software that have yet to exist. He’s worked with Kanye West and FKA Twigs to much fanfare, and striking out on his own, Arca seems to be wildly clicking away on his laptop, to entertaining results. Of the fifteen tracks here, I don’t think you’ll find a single song, but that’s part of the fun: Arca is content to mess around with a sound until it burns up, cools off or simply barfs all over itself. He’ll take one Tiesto-grade millisecond snippet and tickle it to death, upload that file into Mario Paint, replace the bass-hits with Yoshis, reverse-upload that back onto his Macbook 2019 and then image map it to a Burial WAV file. And then the next track will be a James Ferraro-esque study in “how stupid can I make synthetic violins sound?”. It amazes me that more than a hundred people on Earth want to hear music as fractured, strange and pointless as this, but that’s the beauty of modern life – people are more easily tricked into thinking something is cool than ever before. Which probably includes me, because I like Xen.
Ausmuteants Fed Through A Tube 7″ (Total Punk)
Total Punk doesn’t often look outside the United States, and while I appreciate their national pride, I can certainly see why they’d look to the great continent of Australia for more punk music to release, like Ausmuteants for example. “Fed Through A Tube” is another notable song title for these gents, and it might be the rippingest thing I’ve heard from them yet, toning down the high-pitched feedback of their earliest material and synthy grooves of their most recent for a lovely cut of garage-indebted punk rock. “Arguments” on the flip is similarly blazing, with its synth-rendered bleep-bloops cutting through like some lost Dow Jones & The Industrials track. At the very least, Ausmuteants have certainly captured the essence of four unpopular kids making a big racket in their basement solely for their own amusement, a time-honored suburban punk tradition. Is it weird that I’m starting to want to keep the Total Punk singles I’m not even totally into, just based on the strength of the hits (like this one) and the need to have a complete set? This is the same symptomatology behind the ’80s baseball card collecting craze, right?
Boston Strangler Fire LP (Fun With Smack)
Everyone’s favorite serial killer-named hardcore band is back with their sophomore album. I have to admit, for how exacting these guys are in their replication of classic Boston hardcore, part of me was really hoping they were going to finally go for it and put together a How We Rock-worthy album of godawful cock rock. I mean, the cover art is a painting of flames, this could be it, right? But nope – these guys remain unwilling to budge from the comfort of 1982. The drums might be my favorite aspect of this group, as they are so intensely heavy yet also punchy and sharp. While the riffs are standard X-Claim!-grade hardcore, those drums make it sound far more massive than any of their contemporaries (or heck, many of the OGs). I’m not picking out as many distinct smash hits on here as the debut (“Joke’s On You” is catchy enough that it seems like it was already written by someone else, though), and the vocals reach a Damian Abraham level of “Dicky Barrett doing the voice of a cartoon bear” at times, but that’s all part of the fun. And while they may never have the guts to commit their talent to a horribly misguided glam-rock album, I appreciate that one of them re-drew the rain drops from the cover of DYS’s Brotherhood for their insert, just because.
Broken Arm Life Is Short LP (Gringo / Art Blind)
Life Is Short feels like an unfinished statement – should I play hard? Or perhaps even pray hard? Regardless of their direction, Broken Arm are a hard-hitting rock band that you can take seriously. They’re based out of Leeds, although their blustery riffs had me thinking of Chicago or Seattle instead (I’m thinking of any band on Touch & Go who also participated in the Sub Pop Singles Club). They clearly aren’t old dudes (or at least the singer sounds like he was born in the ’80s), but the music seems to come from a place of the hard rock that inhabited the underground punk scene in the mid to late ’90s – I’m thinking of Rye Coalition and Mudhoney, with touches of Polvo and Drive Like Jehu. It’s very simple, workmanlike music, the sort of sound and general song-construction that either comes together in under five minutes or doesn’t come together at all. Not a whole lot sticks out to me about Broken Arm (this has gotta be at least the tenth album with a messy apartment floor photo on the cover that I’ve reviewed), and I would not particularly recommend them to anyone, but on the same token I refuse to impede their path. You may proceed, Broken Arm.
Bruce Just Getting Started / Tilikum 12″ (Dnuos Ytivil)
They’re not booing, they’re yelling “Bruce!” He’s the newest semi-anonymous first-name-only young British producer of post-post-dubstep, and this single for the Dnuos Ytivil label (read it backwards and unlock the secret!) is pretty tight. Both “Just Getting Started” and “Tilikum” work with punchy, sonorous beats that generally lock into place and are only mildly agitated throughout. Nothing too fancy, but all the necessary elements are firmly welded and ready to be taken on the road. “Just Getting Started” is faster and more physical, and “Tilikum” splits itself in half, shuttling in a bouncy synth beat after a couple mild minutes and riding that bronco out of town. Bruce employs the same tricks Powell and Objekt have trademarked over recent releases, wherein he interjects an obtrusive blast of noise or cuts the beat entirely for an incongruous sound-effect intermezzo, and just like Powell and Objekt, I enjoy when Bruce does it too (I could stand for a full track of the strange noises that bookend “Just Getting Started”).
Buck Biloxi And The Fucks Culture Demanufacturer LP (Total Punk)
For as great as Buck Biloxi’s debut LP was, I felt like the faithful Ramones parody cover was a bit of a misstep – where’s the bloodshot rage in a faithful recreation of a classic punk record cover? Mr. Biloxi fixes that issue with Culture Demanufacturer, whose cover image of a deflated football with a knife in it deserves iconic status, the sort of logo that kids should be getting tattooed next to their Black Flag bars and Germs circle. I’m holding Culture Demanufacturer close to my heart because of that, but musically, I’d say this one is a slight step down from the self-titled debut. The recording is noticeably thinner (and block-rocking bass was never Biloxi’s forte to begin with), and the song titles aren’t as funny – sure, “I Ain’t Going To Church” is anthemic, but track titles like “Butthole Bots” and “I Don’t Care” don’t zing like “They Should Have Killed You” and “I Look Like Crap”. I’m just splitting hairs here though, as this is still pure Buck Biloxi & The Fucks: the spirit of Loli & The Chones reincarnated into one perpetually angry little man. Now let’s make Buck proud as we rip the nets off basketball hoops and punt soccer balls into the river.
Coïtus Int. Coïtus Int. LP (Bunkerpop)
From the label that brought us a reissue of a Coïtus Int. 7″, here comes a reissue of their debut LP. I remember thinking the 7″ was cool if not entirely remarkable, another floater in a sea of rare obscure punk reissues, but this LP? This is my kinda record! I certainly don’t remember them sounding as hopelessly grim as they do here, which is great – it’s as if Coïtus Int. are the missing link between Flipper and Campingsex, another defiant post-punk frown that refuses to play at a tempo above “plodding”. I’m reminded of that Exiles In Clowntown LP at times too, which is a testament to the coolness of both bands, as Coïtus Int. sound surprisingly fresh some 33 years later. And while I like some extreme crap, this record is quite easy to get into, the sort of thing I don’t necessarily need to be in the right mood to hear – it’s a wonderfully miserable form of easy-listening. I’m not one to promote reissues (let’s pay attention to those here with us today, okay?), but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t add the original self-released version of this album to my want-list minutes upon first hearing it.
Crimson Wave Say / Calling You 7″ (Accidental Guest)
It’s not right that I can’t help but think about The Crimson Curse when I think about this band, but no one ever said being in a band was fair! Crimson Wave are another group popping out of Baltimore’s recent shoegaze-pop explosion (who woulda thunk it), and they sound pretty cool, opting for a jangly downer sound. “Say” talks about flower petals and love, but in a way that conjures dark autumn days, black candles and blacker coffee. Like Felt, but not quite as strident and soft (pun intended). “Calling You” is slower and more seductive, but in the 4AD sort of way, where that cute guy you liked ends up being some depressed artist who just wanted your cigarettes, not your heart. A pretty cool and simple single, just the right thing to put on if the seasonal depression hits and you want to revel in it for a few minutes.
Downbeat / F-on Downbeat Black Label 03 12″ (Downbeat Black Label)
In an effort to explore the furthest reaches of electronic dance music, I sometimes find myself staring at records like this, a 12″ featuring Downbeat and F-on (I never heard of them either). The record is practically daring me to try to figure it out – it has no sleeve (just a stamped center sticker), internet searching provides very little info, and the music is as beguiling and stone-faced as its presentation. I think I love it, though, and that’s because of the impenetrably slow music within. Downbeat’s “Moskitos En Siberia” feels inappropriate at 33 or 45, but I’ve confirmed it’s 33, which means that this is a slow-burning stick of incense indeed. I’m reminded of Nuel’s Trance Mutation in the way it lingers in the dark shadows of some sort of ancient ceremony, like if one of those “world music” CD samplers at Ten Thousand Villages was actually haunted. F-on offers “Smog” on their side, which is even further removed from dance music and closer to a field recording of a train chugging through some endlessly empty expanse, like West Texas if it were a giant swamp. Both tracks are super-slow, double-digit-BPM jams, and it feels like they’re on the cusp of some new genre entirely, if not just revamping Basic Channel’s dub techno for the Demdike Stare / Haxan Cloak set. I’ll keep an eye on these folks and let you know as things develop.
Fate Vs. Free Willy Every Human Was A Child 7″ (If Society)
I don’t understand why so many bands choose to remove vowels from or add consonants to their already-used band names, when they can just think up some crazy crap like Fate Vs. Free Willy and rest assured the name is theirs and theirs alone. Do you really need to be The Creatures that badly that you are willing to call yourself CRTURS or Thee Crrreatures instead? Anyway, band-naming isn’t the only thing Fate Vs. Free Willy get right: their music is a sweet form of blown-out, foolish art-garage, somewhere between the lighter side of FNU Ronnies, the squelch of Poppets or the deliberate annoyance of AIDS Wolf. Sounds like your head is inside the floor tom when they hit it (and they hit it often), and I was actually about to compare them to Soiled Mattress & The Springs, until I realized they actually just sound like Lamps or The Art Thieves performing on top of a soiled mattress (and what is that, some dying synth under it all?). Anyway, in a battle between Fate and Free Willy, it is you and I, the listeners, who come out on top.
Gary Wrong Group Floods Of Fire 12″ & 7″ (Jeth-Row / Bat Shit)
If loving this music is Gary Wrong, then I don’t wanna be right. This new 12″ (with “bonus” 7″ single) is a pretty lavish presentation for music so wretched, and I’m so glad a copy has found its way into my home. The a-side features an extended version of “Dream Smasher” (previously located on their split 7″ with Wizzard Sleeve), and it’s a treat no matter what format it comes in, that miserable riff tempered by a synth on the “intriguing chimes” setting. “Setting Fire To Your Loft” follows accordingly, sounding like a punk band raised on krautrock with one band member playing a kitchen garbage disposal run through a Space Echo. The b-side features an “FNU Clone Edit” of “Warlords Willing”, like a long pour of syrup into Chrome’s sonic black hole. The 7″ has two songs, “Miserable Life” and “Down On Me”, and although there are no credits I was able to recognize them from sound alone as Rusted Shut and Pink Reason covers, which speaks to my ailing social life. Definitely the type of record that is best purchased with funds obtained by stealing and selling your roommates video games or band equipment – Floods Of Fire is a safe space for bad karma.
Gazelle Twin Unflesh LP (Last Gang)
Gazelle Twin is a fascinating electronic artist, and I feel bad that only now have I caught on to her bizarre music and aesthetic. Musically, it floats somewhere within the industrial-electro / post-dubstep / synth-pop / trip-hop Venn diagram, slipping a Portion Control beat into Pearson Sound’s production values to create some blackened Björk remix. Sounds cool, right? But “Gazelle Twin” the person takes on this totally unique persona that mixes chav streetwear with Slipknot scare tactics (Google a photo!), resulting in the perfect gateway drug for a Marilyn Manson fan who is trying to get into Throbbing Gristle. The few intelligible lyrics seem to deal with dark familial issues, and the tracks that don’t have me dancing have me looking over my shoulder, almost positive I’m about to be kidnapped or hatcheted. All this and “Anti Body” is one of the sickest dance cuts I’ve heard this year… and the label is Canadian! You just can’t make this stuff up.
The Gotobeds Poor People Are Revolting LP (12XU)
The first thing you probably noticed about this record is that the title is Poor People Are Revolting, and that’s how The Gotobeds are playing it – shock value with a cynical wit, the sort of thing where you are either in on the joke along with them or they have no interest in your fandom anyway. They’re a pretty good group that follows in the “indie rock for people who are too cool for indie rock” lineage of Times New Viking, Protomartyr and Connections, pop bands who could play clubs that are 31+ instead of 21+ without leaving any of their fanbase outside, and this debut album is a solid, worthwhile effort. I like it best when they aren’t hiding themselves behind parody of classic punk (it says “Anarchy In The U.S.” on the cover and there’s a song called “New York’s Alright (If You Like Sex & Phones”), because I think these guys have interesting things to say when they aren’t draped in irony – “Wasted On Youth” (maybe that’s an old punk parody title too?) is a boppy cut with an appropriately-grumpy sentiment that I can get behind. The Gotobeds sounds isn’t usually what I am interested in hearing, but they wear it well enough that I’ve spun Poor People Are Revolting a bunch more than I expected, solely out of personal enjoyment. They may want to shock my stagnant yuppie self with curse words and crass statements, but The Gotobeds ended up moving me to listen to their record out of sheer sonic satisfaction. Joke’s on them!
Gunk Gradual Shove LP (Square Of Opposition / Ranch)
While the definition of indie-rock continues to shift toward “regular pop music”, it’s nice to know the spirit of its forebears remains alive and well in pockets all over the world, performed by artists who don’t care if you know about them or not. Take Gunk for example, who I initially hoped were an Anasazi tribute band (too soon?), but are actually a pleasant indie-rock trio that paint with a wide palate of color. I’m reminded of anything from early Sebadoh and Meat Puppets to scrappy K Records punk rock and the bedroom-pop explosion of the ’00s in Gradual Shove, and it all works for them. They’re the type of band that writes a Beach Boys melody and sings “I want to kill them all” sweetly over top, or overloads a wistful pop-punk bass-line with various movie samples, just because they wanna. Gunk aren’t the only player in this game, but Gradual Shove comes out ahead of the pack, if mostly because they pack it with focused hits – they didn’t just cobble together a mess of random recordings, as is often the wont of similarly smudgy indie-rock groups. Smash your head on the Gunk rock, why don’t you?
Hand Of Dust Walk In White 7″ (Avant!)
Avant! has been keeping the 7″ format dark, brooding and mysterious lately, and this Hand Of Dust single is a particularly enjoyable entry into their catalog. Hand Of Dust seemingly desire to play chiming neo-folk ala Cult Of Youth or Lakes (or their obvious influences), but they side-step any costumey, too-serious silliness with two straight-forward burners. “Walk In White” is a chiming electrified guitar and one mighty snare roll, with a man of indistinct cultural origin ranting about white clothes for a good four minutes or so. “A Sight For The Living” is even mightier, slowing the snare roll and adding some potent cymbal crashes. It’s almost dead-on with how Iceage currently sound (which I will get to shortly), but clearly Hand Of Dust reached similar musical conclusions on their own, soaking up Gun Club and Flesh Eaters records and leaving the pulp behind. Wasn’t expecting Hand Of Dust to be so killer, but then again bands like this usually sneak up on me unannounced.
Helena Hauff & Andreas Gehm Helena Hauff Meets Andreas Gehm split 12″ (Solar One Music)
Finally had a chance to check out Helena Hauff after seeing her name associated with all sorts of cool techno I dig, and this split 12″ has served me well. Her music is about as bad-ass as traditional acid-techno can get – unrelenting arpeggios, claps and snares liable to leave papercuts, and of course that fat worm of acid violently wriggling about. Both of Hauff’s cuts here seem to be the work of no more than two pieces of hardware, and it allows her cunning hand to shine through, casually manipulating her sounds like an alligator wrangler with a big scar on his face. Andreas Gehm, whom I am only listening to because of Helena Hauff, is pretty dope too, and a fitting sparring partner. Very similar style (one could easily believe all four tracks were the work of the same artist), but Gehm’s tracks seem built for larger rooms, as they huff and puff a little harder (and of course emit plenty of acid squelch). Yellow vinyl, which seems fitting – this acid is severe enough to render any slab of vinyl such a sickly shade.
Iceage Plowing Into The Field Of Love 2xLP (Matador)
Ever since first hearing New Brigade, I knew Iceage were something truly special, but who knew it’d be something that lasted and grew? I would’ve been content with them breaking up while they were still teenagers, just offering one scorching album and burning themselves up in the process, but here we are years later, with Plowing Into The Field Of Love opening up new avenues of enjoyment. “Maturity” might as well be a four-letter word in the realm of hardcore/punk, but Iceage have gained it with such carefree confidence that I wouldn’t have written their story any other way if I were granted full creative control. You’ve all probably heard the record by now, but let me reiterate that the way they incorporate brass and strings here is as natural as feedback from a guitar – once I heard this album, I couldn’t picture them doing anything else. The lyrics are as angrily depressed as ever, but conveyed with a clunky beauty, striving for deeper meaning than the vague rune-worship of early Iceage tracks and succeeding. And this is all with a couple cow-punk songs, plenty of Flesh Eaters and Sort Sol worship, and the vocal evolution of Elias Bender Rønnenfelt into Tim Armstrong. I hate to think that personal taste in music can signify one’s level of intelligence, but if you don’t enjoy at least some aspect of Plowing Into The Field Of Love you might be an idiot.
Impalers Psychedelic Snutskallar 12″ (540)
Impalers’ debut LP is a hardcore ripper of the finest order, but I have to come clean – I haven’t been spinning it all that much, mostly because quality hardcore in 2014 is as prevalent in the first world as running water, and I guess I’ve just been busy or something. I’ll tell you a record I won’t forget to spin early and often, though, and that’s their Psychedelic Snutskallar 12″ EP! Finally, an American group takes the concept of the d-beat and explodes it into something of Keiji Haino, Lou Reed or Ricardo Villalobos proportions, taking the basic concept and blasting it with nuclear ions until a Stargate opens up. The title track encompasses the entire a-side, and it’s just so relentlessly righteous that it makes other bands attempting hardcore almost seem foolish in their pursuits. There are four other killer cuts on the b-side (Dave Grohl might stop chewing gum for a second if he heard the lead riff in “Mower”), but really the spotlight falls on “Psychedelic Snutskallar” as the most conceptually powerful hardcore song of 2014 (not that there were many other contenders, since Hoax’s “Los Angeles” came out last year). 540 Records pressed 1,000 copies of this record (which is equivalent to 500,000 copies by 1992 standards) and their confidence in this record is completely justified.
Samuel Kerridge Deficit Of Wonder 12″ (Blueprint)
Thank goodness for Samuel Kerridge, an industrial techno protégé who goes by his own name (not “Tina” or “Jennifer”) and jams more firepower into his slow-grinding music than any Electro Come-Lately out there. I still blast his debut album into my own face on the regular, so this new EP was a welcome addition. “Operation Neptune” opens it us with life-threatening electrical damage and a slowly descending howl into the abyss, which leads into “Surrender To The Void”, a nasty slice of techno that bridges the gap between Skinny Puppy and Regis (a gap that will probably no longer exist by 2015). The b-side opens with an homage to his favorite Philadelphian hardcore group, “Paint It Black”, and for as throbbing and painful as the a-side was, this one really puts on the pressure, with loud structural swaying that recalls a four-lane bridge collapsing mid-rush hour. “Paint It Black Reprise” wraps it up without the beat, just the wild, hysterical clanging, like Godzilla after receiving a few well-placed missiles. A solid EP for sure, not only for the Transformers-level of metropolitan damage but because Kerridge retains his unique voice in an overpopulated genre. I assume they pressed this one on white vinyl because the sonic purity of black virgin wax would be too dangerous if it fell into the wrong hands.
Musk Musk LP (Holy Mountain)
Gotta give it up for a label like Holy Mountain, year-in and year-out delivering strange and cool rock records with little regard for weekly trends or marketability. Holy Mountain’s bands tend to swing closer to the meditative, transcendental zone of rock music, third eye wide open, so it was surprising to hear the swampy garage-rock of Musk, a band whose buzzing punk seems ripe for an In The Red contract. Anyway, Musk is an appropriate name for this group, as they take Link Wray’s signature guitar sound and desecrate it, not unlike throwing all of the Cramps’ influences into the mouth of that giant GWAR sex-worm. I’m frequently reminded of Lamps as well, thanks to their economy of songwriting, howled vocals and cantankerous demeanor, but Musk aren’t afraid to get down n’ dirty (Lamps would just stare at the mess with disapproving eyes). Throw Musk alongside that Pampers LP, close your eyes and click your heels, and watch as your quinoa salad and coconut water mysteriously turn into a 7-Eleven hot dog and a Budweiser.
New Cowboy Builders Black Moses / What Is Expected 7″ (Function Room)
Here’s some sturdy American-sounding post-punk indie-rock from a British group called New Cowboy Builders. Their general presentation has left me with no obvious quips or sassy remarks, so let’s get right to the tunes, shall we? “Black Moses” has a nice little bounce to it, reminding me of a wide variety of groups (let’s say The Fall, Drive Like Jehu, Blur, Dichroics) while not sounding particularly like any of them. “What Is Expected” feels like Shellac imitating The Native Cats, although the vocalist is doing his best Pheromoans-styled yawn. Pretty decent, but New Cowboy Builders play the sort of big-sounding, rock-based indie-rock that I never spent much time listening to, so while they might actually sound identical to Teenage Fanclub or Urge Overkill, I’m not the guy that’s gonna tell ya. I just checked and saw that these songs have five plays a piece on their Last.fm page – why not do these gents a favor and bump it up to six?
No Faith Dead Weight 7″ (Clean Plate / Vendetta)
Austin and the greater Boston area seem to be in a hardcore arms race, each locale seemingly bursting with dozens of new good-to-great hardcore bands every month. Take No Faith, for example, another Boston hardcore group with a healthy hardcore pedigree (Think I Care, Orchid, Vaccine and surely dozens more) who deliver the goods on this 7″. They play a fairly traditional form of power-violence with noise interludes, which calls to mind Suppression in their heyday (I’m thinking of the Cripple Bastards split LP), with some ripping Crossed Out-style fast/slow progressions. Not too far off from Iron Lung either, although No Faith push their levels further in the red and are less technically inclined (which is by no means a detriment). It might be the heavy recording, or their grind-core expertise, but whatever the reason, No Faith are thrillingly brutal without adding anything new to the equation. In the time it took to type this, two d-beat groups just formed in Austin for the inevitable city vs. city showdown.
Officer! Dead Unique 2xLP (Blackest Ever Black)
You can accuse Blackest Ever Black of being too black, but don’t accuse them of being easily pigeonholed – what started as a single-minded industrial techno label has turned over all sorts of strange corners in the world of underground music. Take this Officer! double-album for example. It’s a project featuring some Half Japanese personnel (relocated to England, albeit briefly), with a wide cast of characters and associates (even Leprechaun Catering’s Jason Willett is credited for various contributions). It’s certainly pretty wacked… at one turn I’m picturing Henry Cow shaking hands with Swell Maps, then it swings into something Volcano The Bear would’ve artfully rendered, then the DIY menace of a Fuck Off Records tape compilation takes hold and I’ve completely lost track of time. And yet, there is an obvious sense of strict and intentional composition here, which makes it even more dazzling to think that this giant group of players all put in the hours necessary to create such a tight and focused recording. To make it even more bizarre, this recording is previously unreleased from a 1995 session, a time when music as wild and unencumbered by genre restraints as this was at an all-time low. A truly beautiful form of crazy.
Pharmakon Bestial Burden LP (Sacred Bones)
Often, the concept behind noise music is about as important to its overall impact as its actual sonic properties, which is perhaps why Pharmakon and Prurient are America’s most celebrated noise artists at the moment. They know how to conceptualize! Pharmakon’s sophomore album focuses on the failings of the human body, almost considering it as a conspiring adversary rather than the vessel that contains oneself, and it’s worthy of however many NPR and Stereogum articles it receives. There’s not a whole lot of sonic progression from Abandon, but that’s alright with me – looped feedback, low-octave synth tones, one deadened floor-tom, black metal screams from the abyss, what else do you need? Staying true to the concept, there’s plenty of wheezing, retching and gagging on here too, adding a Schimpfluch-esque layer of madness to Pharmakon’s power-electronics death-dirge template. It’s varied without becoming a hodgepodge, modern yet timeless and generally just heavy as hell, and I’m so glad Pharmakon has picked up the pace after years of releasing very little. Both sonically and visually, Pharmakon is more arresting than a thousand anonymous noise guys using BDSM stock photos for their art, and I can only hope some of them take the hint that thoughtfulness and creativity are more important to noise’s health than genre conformity.
Rakta Tudo Que É Sólido / Serpente 7″ (Nada Nada Discos / 540 / La Vida En Es Mus / Dama Da Noite)
The opening comments made by Rakta’s guitarist Laura Del Vecchio at their show I caught earlier this year were some of the most inspiring pre-performance banter I’ve heard in forever, the sort of thing that any lazy American punk would benefit from hearing before they roll their eyes at paying a house-show cover. Rakta really embody the borderless freedom that punk’s more righteous philosophy entails, making them a hard band to dislike, unless you’re the CEO of Warped Tour and Monster Energy Drinks or something. Musically speaking, I thought their debut 12″ EP was okay, and while I was eager to hear more, this new lavishly-packaged 7″ does little to sway my thoughts on their actual songs, which is perhaps the least interesting aspect of the Rakta equation for someone like me. “Tudo Que É Sólido” is a repeating back-and-forth progression with more than enough reverb to go around, from the vocals to the guitar to the keyboard, and it slowly builds in intensity before wrapping up. On the flip, “Serpente” melds some sort of foreboding field recordings / loops with a languid beat, revealing a slightly more sophisticated approach to their dark and basic post-punk sound. It’s good, but that said, I can’t shake the thought that if this was some Brooklyn band on Sacred Bones or Dais, I’d probably quietly rank them in the lesser-half of those labels before forgetting about them altogether. With Rakta, it’s hard to separate their music from their impassioned attitude and strong identity, but if you manage to focus solely on their music, it might be a little disappointing.
Tin Man Ode 2xLP (Absurd Recordings / Acid Test)
Tin Man keeps up his busy work schedule with yet another full-length album, all with his signature Grayest Ever Gray art design. It can be hard to keep up (I’m a big enough fan that I released one of his albums myself, yet I am far from owning a complete collection), and while I’d love to sell my car and complete my Tin Man discography, records like Ode are cool but ultimately unessential to my life. I love when he takes a specific concept, be it the neon-smog wasteland of Los Angeles, the snow-covered cobblestones of Vienna or acid-house with a neutralized pH balance, but Ode kinda just seems like more of the same, following his frequent Acid Test singles. This album is full of Tin Man’s sad-bastard acid, and if you haven’t heard it before it’s a pretty sharp trick, calming acid’s frenzied arpeggios into chilly, contemplative grooves… I’ve just already got a big stack of his wax that does this very same thing. I’m also a huge fan of his HAL 9000 vocal incantations, but Ode is instrumental-only on vinyl, the CD version coming with four vocal versions in addition to the instrumentals (and much to my disappointment, the vocals are lower in the mix than ever and clearly an afterthought, whereas they absolutely stunned on Wasteland and Cool Wave). By all means, if you haven’t checked out Tin Man yet, Ode is a fine example of his current product; I’m just at a point where I want him to take my breath away all over again.
Torn Hawk Let’s Cry And Do Pushups At The Same Time LP (Mexican Summer)
Now there’s a title! I’ve been waiting for the first “proper” full length of Luke Wyatt’s Torn Hawk project, an entity I fell in love with a few months ago care of the Bad Deadlift EP on L.I.E.S. and have been moderately stalking ever since. Kinda weird he’s on Mexican Summer now, but I guess nothing is really weird anymore, and so long as I get to look at him making a serious face while wearing a black bed-sheet on the cover, I don’t really care. I’ve spun this one a few times now, and while the surprise of his unique style has since worn off, this is an easy record to like. Wyatt seems to have shifted his focus from the dance-floor, imagined or otherwise, veering closer to “closing credits”-style soundtrack work, with chiming guitars riding front and center over nostalgic drum machines and low-res synths. I can’t help but think that if Blues Control developed a sick fascination with Coldplay, they’d sound a hell of a lot like this. Even with the move toward sedentary music and a lack of jaw-dropping surprises (or pop hits), Torn Hawk’s exercise regimen is guaranteed to improve your quality of life if you can commit yourself to it. Results guaranteed.
The Ukiah Drag In The Reaper’s Quarters LP (Wharf Cat)
The Ukiah Drag’s debut 12″ EP was an exceptional slice of feverish swamp-rock, so I was getting pretty pumped to check out In The Reaper’s Quarters, their debut full-length. Somehow, the feeling of being surrounded by crocodiles in the dark with only a rusty chain and a candle to ward them off is lost here, or at least wiped clean enough that the threat is no longer imminent. It’s like The Ukiah Drag turned the lights on, and now the mystery of their dark corners just reveals boxes of old clothes and dry-goods storage. I swear the vocalist had a disgusting wheeze the first time around, but now he sounds like any regular guy you’d pass on the street, and the songs feel more like regular-rock with a slight post-punk-abilly tinge. I don’t want to say the magic is gone, but it’s severely hindered by their tightened-up, standard approach, even if the songs are still quite lugubrious. Pretty sure they open the first song with the same extended chord that the last one ends on, and I dunno, I plan on coming back to this one in a couple months to see if it just needed a little more time to click, but there’s a good chance I’ll forget.
Ulsers Remember Them 7″ (Wallaby Beat)
Of course I remember Ulsers, I reviewed their LP last month! Anyway, this is a faithful reissue of their 1980 7″, also lovingly reproduced by diligent oddball-Aussie archivists Wallaby Beat. Four tracks here, falling in line with Television Personalities and Alternative TV more strictly than their LP, which flopped all over the place. Nice mix of calm and chaotic here, going from a dull strummer to some Godz-style hullabaloo in quick time. I never had the experience of being a teenager in 1976, sitting around hating Peter Frampton, Pink Floyd and disco and being unable to escape any of it, but the sonic violence that Ulsers bring about, not to mention their humble means, speaks loud and clear to the rebellious nature that dwells inside all of us. Not sure I’ll be going out of my way to track down an original, but I’m glad Ulsers fired off this little spitball along with their more nuanced retrospective LP.
Beau Wanzer Untitled LP (no label)
Beau Wanzer’s “Balls Of Steel” was a true reckoning in the world of bizarre drum-machine music, and I’ve been following him closely ever since, a man seemingly tied to the underground techno scene but uninterested in participating in its methodologies and rules. Now he went and dropped his first album, a collection of songs spanning a decade, and it’s a doozy! Twelve tracks here, often with little more than a solitary drum machine slithering around the room, brushing up against your legs and generally creeping everyone out. On the modern-industrial tip, I’m reminded of Mammal and M Ax Noi Mach at their most seductive, and on the techno tip, I’m reminded of Omar S and Hieroglyphic Being’s more minimal, DJ-tool productions, but Wanzer has located his own distinct voice through it all. I also mean that literally, as he vocalizes over many of these tracks, his words blurred by layers of distortion, sometimes recalling a battery-drained Teddy Ruxpin. I suppose there are tracks you can dance to here too, but I’m more inclined to slowly slide into a couch, eyes closed, and envision myself in Wanzer’s mysterious hotel closet. There’s room for two, you know.
Whatever Brains W/E Brains 2×12″ (Sorry State)
Here’s a group who really loves their name, as after three self-titled albums, they’ve delivered a txt-speak version of their moniker on this double 12″ EP. It makes it hard to recommend specific records to a friend, in case anyone was gonna do that, but at least now I can say “the double twelve-inch is the one you gotta check out” because, well, it is! They really stretch their legs on this record, delving into long-form, electronically-bent versions of the standard Whatever Brains approach (spindly art-punk guitars with nasally vocals and a keen sense of detachment). One 12″ features two sides of the same dragged-out track, and the other has four roomy new cuts. “Conficker” sounds like an Aphex Twin song title, and Whatever Brains work with a similarly foreboding sense of electronic lurch, albeit with the perspective of a band that has surely played to hundreds of disinterested basement audiences through their career. I’m reminded of mid-’00s synth-punkers like Factums and The Pink Noise throughout this set, but Whatever Brains are writing actual songs within that framework, not just firing off pre-sets for two-and-a-half minutes and hoping for the best. Bizarre and highly enjoyable music, surely to be lost on the meat-and-potatoes end of the Sorry State audience, but isn’t that always how it goes?
Youth Code A Place To Stand 12″ (Dais)
As unfairly skeptical I am of Youth Code, they keep putting out records that are sonically pretty great, like this one. At least they went with “Youth Code” and not “Code Of Youth”, I need to remind myself. Anyway, there are four new tracks on the a-side, all very historically accurate to the Wax Trax / Nettwerk style of aggressive EDM, and they’re quite nice. Youth Code subtly remove the more dated aspects of the original equation (paper-thin treble, funk bass, amen breaks) and go straight for the good stuff, crafting every other aspect of their existence from the past and doing it well (the righteous spoken-word track was a nice touch). The b-side comes with a variety of remixes, and you might be sensing shades of GSL’s remix series here, going from slow n’ heavy grease (Sanford Parker Smoke and Dark Heart) to Death Grips-style rap (Clipping.), boppy Belgian new-beat (God Module Pandemic) and an institution of modern-day industrial techno (Silent Servant). I still feel a little strange about Youth Code’s precise re-enactment and ex-hardcore background, but at this point I think I just need to get over it. They’re good!