Reviews – December 2016

Oren Ambarchi Hubris LP (Editions Mego)
I was overdue to check back in with the work of Australia’s busiest avant-garde guitarist, Oren Ambarchi, who seems to collaborate with an interesting array of characters with a frequency similar to how often I go through a pint of Ben & Jerry’s (we’re talking weekly). This new “solo” album, Hubris, features a big-band jam to include Arto Lindsay, Keith Fullerton Whitman and Ricardo Villalobos (it’s Villalobos’s presence that had me particularly excited), so I picked up a copy and am mighty pleased I did. Hubris comes in three parts: the first is Ambarchi by himself, interlocking synth-sounding guitars to create a fabric as impenetrable and ingenious as Kevlar. Briefly opening the b-side, “Part 2” has Ambarchi and Jim O’Rourke offering a soothing little snippet of guitar and “six string bass” interplay, but it’s “Part 3” that steals the show. It shares the basic framework of “Part 1”, confidently churning with the perpetual motion of Manuel Göttsching, but it’s blown out with layer upon layer of synths, guitars, live drums, edited percussion and anything else that sticks. At times, it approaches an overloaded mess, but what a mess to make! Everyone is playing off each other and having a grand old time; Ambarchi’s fuzz-baked guitar ripples through the mix while the rest of the crew follows the collective spirit. It ends with an abrupt robot voice saying “stop”, and each time I’ve listened I’ve felt disappointed that it isn’t longer than the sixteen minutes it already is. I certainly wouldn’t mind a touring act based on “Part 3”, would you?

Ancient Filth Earth Brains 7″ flexi (no label)
The one-sided 7″ flexi-disc continues to provide a budget-friendly way to get some tracks pressed on the increasingly-expensive 7″ format. All things considered, it sounds decent, looks cool (although why can’t any of these companies take the extra step to cut them into circles?), and gives a band like Ancient Filth another commodity to put out on their merch table that you listen to rather than wear. Their 2012 7″ EP was reviewed in these pages, and I’ve seen them perform live, so I can confidently confirm their status as a fun, inclusive hardcore-punk group. I wanna call them “posi-crust”, as they’ve got the fast, frantic mid-’00s hardcore sound for fans of Deathreat, What Happens Next? and The Rites and inject it with a well-wishing, optimistic world view. They’re one of those bands that probably do a lot of reading and really try to think about how they participate in the world on a socio-economic level, yet even with all that knowledge, they still fail to shower on a routine basis. Funny how that can be. It’s a good vibe to carry (if not necessarily to whiff), and these three concise songs offer good reason why you should invite Ancient Filth to play your next punk benefit fest.

Bad Noids It’s A Doggie Bag World 7″ (Feel It)
I must be hanging in the wrong circles, because I rarely hear Bad Noids come up in conversation, but they remain one of the best and gnarliest hardcore-punk bands around. My guess is that anyone who makes hardcore music this unhinged and gross must be uncomfortable to be around, and it seems as though so much of today’s hardcore popularity comes from not only one’s music but the social networks their members exist within – I can imagine Bad Noids are sending out friend requests and getting denied, their social status a poorly-updated page of broken links and blurry prank videos. “Into The Future” is the a-side and it’s a doozy, a raucous cut of rock n’ roll with a vocal delivery that has me thinking of fellow Ohioan Ron House with one of GG Allin’s most obscure backing bands behind him (haven’t we all stumbled across random bootlegs of “GG Allin and the Malibu Butt-Touchers” and wondered to ourselves?). “12 Years Old” kicks off the b-side with a speedy kick that sounds like Gordon Solie Motherfuckers on 45 instead of 33 (the Ohio connections continue!) and “My Friend Greg” feels like Electric Eels covering Angry Samoans. Three fantastic tracks here, performed so recklessly that I can’t help but imagine Bad Noids are the type of band that leave for a six-week tour with two pairs of socks, another dirty t-shirt and a deflated football. Time to see if the Bad Noids Facebook group will grant me with administrator status so I can really get their career moving.

Bib Pop 7″ (Deranged)
I chuckled when I first saw there was a modern hardcore band calling themselves “Bib” – truly all the cool words are taken at this point, I suppose. Maybe they should do a split with Pampers? Anyway, they’re from Omaha, and pretty much right on schedule for this noisy, down-tuned, moshable-yet-echo-laced hardcore sound in that they are arriving three to four years after it took over New York and Boston’s respective hardcore-punk scenes. Lots of speedy fist-pumpers on here, heavy on the toms, with barked vocals slathered in prerequisite cavernous reverb, a sound that’s admittedly cool but comes with diminishing returns each time I hear a new band play it. I think Bib’s vocalist wears black leather gloves while performing (also prominently displayed on the cover), and I dunno, maybe I am paying too close of attention to modern hardcore to be able to carelessly enjoy it, but it pains me to see trends being so clearly adhered to in a scene wherein I admire creativity and uniqueness over solid, strictly-by-the-books efforts. That said, Bib are certainly fine for the genre, and I would argue that every city, large or small, should have at least one up-to-date hardcore band playing in its basements and fire-halls, so why not Omaha, and why not Bib?

Botany Deepak Verbera LP (Western Vinyl)
I don’t know about you, but I sure could use as many escapes from reality as possible these days… fantasy-themed metal is nice (maybe it’s finally time to get deep into The Lord Weird Slough Feg), but I often gravitate toward psychedelic sonic spa treatments like this new LP from Austin, TX’s Botany, Deepak Verbera. As every other conceivable form of underground music that was once played by bands is now the careful craft of single people with studio access (or a decent bedroom laptop setup) as well, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that spiritual and psychedelic jazz can be the work of one person (in this case, Spencer Stephenson). What does surprise me though is how good this sounds. Stephenson melds free-jazz drumming with electronic programming and a dozen other instruments, from those as organic and pure as flutes and zithers to the modern technology of samplers and synthesizers, and he does so in a way that it seems unfathomable to think they haven’t been commingling for years. I’m imagining Boards Of Canada remixes of Brainticket and Joe McPhee, where inorganic blips casually brush past the strings of a harp into a sampled guitar with intoxicating results. But really, it’s most fun to glaze over a bit while Deepak Verbera spins and forget about picking out what instrumentation you’re hearing at any given moment, allowing the record’s graceful ambiance and peaceful clarity to transport one’s self to an existence far beyond this troubling planet.

Brando’s Island Duplicaat / Natural Order 7″ (Million Dollar)
The world’s leading xylophone-based punk band returns with a new two-song single, and it’s as fine a time as one can have lugging a concert xylophone into a cruddy basement. “Duplicaat” is built on drums and synth with the xylophone peppering in a little pumpkin spice here and there, and it’s kind of a lurching dirge until halfway through when the drummer starts playing a disco-punk beat and everyone wakes up a little. Nice! “Natural Order” is a bit more abstract, but still pretty rocking – imagine if Eddy Current had to cover a track from one of the first couple Liars albums using only the instruments found in a prep school’s band room, and you’re in the ballpark of Brando’s Island’s particular post-punk flavor. It’s an impressive feat to do a punk band that sounds like a punk band without guitar or bass, but Brando’s Island make it seem as though stringed instruments are optional when it comes to punk rock. Good on ’em!

Breakdown The ’87 Demo LP (Painkiller / 540)
2016 is nearly over and the appreciation for ’80s NYHC style is at an all-time high. Who would’ve guessed? From boutique street-wear labels to exclusivity-valuing underground punk bands and numerous spots between, it seems like everyone wants to pose with their crew as if they were invited to contribute tracks to the New Breed tape comp, and while I can’t deny the staying-power of this particular style and era of American hardcore, it’s still a little surprising. This probably helps explain the fact that Breakdown now has two fully-furnished LP releases of archival demo and radio show material, complete with thoughtfully-considered liner notes and copious flyer reproductions (which very well might be the greatest aspect of NYHC). I didn’t realize the ’87 demo, previously released on 7″, was hard to come by, but I got mine in the ’90s and haven’t really searched for it since, so my awareness is probably horribly outdated. There’s no denying the greatness of a track like “Sick People”, with its very un-Cappo-esque chestnut “my only release is when I get smashed”, but if I already have Breakdown’s Runnin’ Scared reissue, which compiles their WNYU “Crucial Chaos” set from March 10, 1989, do I need this demo reissue, which includes their WNYU “Crucial Chaos” set from August 6, 1987? By even asking the question, I have revealed my non-lifer NYHC poseur status, although if it’s any consolation, I’d champion a No Redeeming Social Value live/outtakes/demos box-set the moment one of these selfless hardcore archivists steps up to the plate.

Marie Davidson Adieux Au Dancefloor LP (Cititrax)
Marie Davidson is half of Canadian synth-wave duo Essaie Pas, but she’s been cutting cool tracks on her own for just as long. I greatly enjoy both, and this new solo LP is what I’d consider one of her finest works yet. She may be kissing off the clubs with this title, but Adieux Au Dancefloor is still full of energetic drum programming and somewhat traditional EDM / acid techno, not unlike Factory Floor (or at least how I remember them as I haven’t kept up with the last record or two) or the gritty simplicity of Levon Vincent. It’s impossible to deny the infectious funk of a track like “Good Vibes (Mocking Birds)” by the instrumental alone, but Davidson’s power lies with her vocals, a confident spoken-word delivery that displays restlessness, wit and style. At times, listening to Adieux Au Dancefloor feels like watching a DVD with the director’s commentary on, enriching the album in a unique way. I’m reminded of the abstract poetry of AGF, Christabelle’s fantastic collaboration with Lindstrøm Real Life Is No Cool and Lizzy Mercier Descloux’s effortless self-assurance, but Davidson taps into the foolish trappings of modern society with an ease all her own. With the combined presence of her efficient beats and entertaining vocals, I am immediately suspicious of anyone who doesn’t find some sort of satisfaction in listening to Adieux Au Dancefloor.

Exploded View Exploded View LP (Sacred Bones)
I was caught by surprise by this Exploded View album – I had seen the name around, but until recently I failed to make the connection that it’s Annika Henderson’s newest group! She’s the voice behind Anika, whose debut album from a few years ago is still on frequent rotation in my household, so I was psyched to get more of her gauzy, Nico-esque voice in my life. Exploded View is Henderson with three people she met in Mexico City, initially as some sort of loose backing band but now a fully-formed unit, and this self-titled album is great. Henderson’s voice dominates, sauntering around the songs like a gracious host, but the music is quite nice as well and more diverse than Anika. The heavy inflection of dub and its sonic properties that guided Anika are mostly absent here, replaced by a cooler-than-cool form of laid-back, no-wave-inspired post-punk – imagine if Jonathan Fire*Eater auditioned for No New York and you’ve got the idea. The drums generally maintain some sort of slick off-disco beat and the guitar and bass fill in the color, with a synth either coasting above it all or thickening the groove. The songs are diverse enough that Exploded View never lags, yet Henderson’s imposing presence unifies the self-titled debut as an album that stands strongly on its own. So glad I caught on!

Haan Sing Praises 12″ (Kaos Kontrol)
Nope, Haan isn’t a solo project (get it?), it’s a Brooklyn band taking their heavy metal music with utter seriousness. Like anyone in 2016 with a penchant for heavy guitars and pummeling drums, they’ve surely devoured a wide range of works, from Pantera to Swans to Sleep to Baroness to Deadguy et al., and they smooth it out into an easily-digestible four-track 12″ EP. It works pretty well – they’re clearly capable musicians, shaking up the time signature just enough to have you smirk at its ingenuity but not so much that you lose the ability to steadily bang your head. Vocalist Chuck Berrett showcases a wide range of vocals in this fairly compact set of songs, calling to mind Alabama Thunderpussy’s Kyle Thomas, Cavity’s Rene Barge and Josh Homme at his most throat-veined. There isn’t a clear distinction to Haan’s sound, but that probably works in their favor, as I could see Tool-worshiping mall-goths, Neurosis-hoodie tattoo artists and nerds who notate Dillinger Escape Plan tablature enjoying Haan in unison. It just might be a while before they become anyone’s favorite band, so much as highly-satisfactory filler between favorites.

Heavy Lids We Believe In The Night LP (Pelican Pow Wow / Backhaus)
Heavy Lids are a New Orleans punk quartet, and like many other Southern garage-punk bands, the lingering shadow of Jay Reatard is palpable. In the case of Heavy Lids, they favor speedy hi-hats, simple Killed By Death-ready song titles like “Stab Your Face”, purposely-bad attitudes and the continuous space-fuzz of an electric organ. Prime for a one-sided Rip Off Records single in 1997, but without the slight pop-punk influence – if anything Heavy Lids are spending more of their time with classic Mountain and Free LPs while cooking their beans on the stove than The Zodiac Killers or Registrators, but there’s also enough of that out-of-control-party vibe that The Mummies perfected as well. If you’re waiting for a clear and present hit, you won’t find it here – the songs are basic, which is good, but lack a sharp, unflinching dose of personality to really push it over the top. There’s no one aspect of Heavy Lids that goes above and beyond the call of duty, but if you’re looking for a budget-rock punk band to act as your current excuse to get drunk, Heavy Lids will gladly pass you the bottle opener.

Horse Lords Interventions LP (Northern Spy)
The question of whether or not these guys are lords with domain over horses or horses who rule over a specific entity is just the sort of pointless syntax exercise one can enjoy while listening to their fancy, intricate music. I’ve seen their name around but never checked them out previous to Interventions, and it’s a nice example of how complex algorithmic music can occasionally make for fun entertainment. The instrumentation isn’t listed, but I’m hearing live drums, guitars, bass, strings, horns, computer bloops and other elements that escape my keen ears, often working out some sort of complex equation for the sake of everyone’s good time, well beyond our mere-mortal 4/4 time signature. I’m reminded of the earliest Zs material, if they had a penchant for ZZ Top and krautrock, or perhaps some breezy form of dance-punk if you infused it with the buzzwords “just intonation”, “microtonal” and “Glenn Branca”. It’s undoubtedly intellectual music, but with more than enough cowbell to go around, and plenty of songs that make me want to bop side to side buffered by shorter pieces that offer welcome breaks to the otherwise joyous energy Horse Lords invoke. Who knew music requiring such a severe level of intellect to perform could be so dumbly engaging to listen to?

Graham Lambkin Community LP (Kye)
In a time of such tumult and uncertainty, who could resist the chance to have Graham Lambkin shuffle their deck a bit with another one of his non-musical serenades? I was eager to get my hands on this one, and it delivers, as Community immediately thrusts you into Lambkin’s distinct world of unloved and obscure sound. This one is fairly heavy on the vocals, complete with printed lyrics so the truly eager among us can study and eventually mumble alongside Lambkin. There’s a bit of violin too, played in the traditional sense, as if it was a family member entertaining relatives after a holiday meal with some classics. Most insidiously, Lambkin injects nearly all of Community with extended annoying high-pitch frequencies, as if someone is rubbing the moistened rim of a wine glass throughout, the sort of sound that eventually becomes so numbing, you notice its absence more than its presence once the grooves eventually run out. Community isn’t Lambkin’s busiest material, nor is it his most minimal – each track has plenty of grip, even as they float by in a semi-conscious state, like final transmissions of The Shadow Ring located on a hard drive that was previously thought to be erased. Hoping this is the start of a theme and Lambkin’s follow-up Parks & Recreation is up next.

Lanark Artefax Glasz EP 12″ (UIQ)
While I love electronic music for the fact that it is constantly pushing toward an unknown future and away from the confines of traditional rules of thumb, I have to say that I’m already getting a little restless with all the post-Arca avant-garde malware that is showing up these days. Like the debut EP from Lanark Artefax, for instance – there’s plenty of intricate, unpredictable and ostentatious sound engineering, surely the meticulous work of a bleary-eyed laptop master, but after you listen through once, how many more times do you need to hear it? Drum machines will pop off indiscriminately, synths are just as likely to fizzle and smoke as deluge the screen with long soothing drones, and the ghosts of grime and dubstep occasionally appear to form a functional beat or two, at least until you turn on the lights and everything scatters. I really enjoy this sort of thing if the artist has demonstrated a constantly-morphing sonic trajectory (Arca and Lee Gamble) or crafted a deeply unique universe of sound (Brood Ma) or incorporated the feel of hyper-modern luxury architecture into their tracks (Egyptrixx) but when Lanark Artefax is just firing off cool patches and pads without any notable substance beyond it, I start to question my love of progress and wonder if Lanark Artefax shouldn’t have just picked up a guitar and learned some Ramones covers with his friends instead. I’d check that out too.

Brad Laner Micro-Awakenings 2xLP (Drawing Room)
This one’s a doozy – two LPs filled with as much music as possible from Brad Laner, he of ’90s shoegazers Medicine. Apparently he recorded these sixty-one tracks from 2003-2009, originally offered as a free download on the Mutant Sounds blog (those were the days), and now they’re gussied up and properly presented on two slabs of 180-gram virgin vinyl (clearly nothing less would be acceptable). If you’ve heard Medicine before, forget it, as Laner’s solo work has as much to do with shoegaze as a pair of shoes. Rather, the music within Micro-Awakenings runs the gamut of instrumental composition, from math-rock to Muzak to drone to Badalamenti-esque soundtracking to baroque composition to Elephant 6-ish pop-rock, breathlessly edited without breaks. It’s essentially the best possible result one could have from tuning into WFMU at like 2:00 AM on a Wednesday: a jumble of melodic compositions that seemingly have nothing in common with each other, played out with the frantic speed of a demented genius. I’d say the album feels an epic collage, but the word “collage” seems to betray the fact that the music here is very much music indeed – nearly every track is thoughtfully composed with an ear for melodic twists and pop chord changes, songs that Laner’s brain quickly whipped up that other actual bands would be happy to call their own. There are more notes played here than a hundred Orthrelm records, which has me feeling exhausted by its end but ultimately glad I made it through. They should sell this one with complimentary sippy-pouches of Gatorade gel, lest the exhaustion lawsuits start piling up.

Levitations Dust LP (Adagio830)
Modern dreary post-punk is a brew so tantalizing to artists, creatives, punks and former punks that it only makes sense a good portion of it would be coming out of Berlin, a city bursting at the seams with bored artistic youth. Dust is Levitations’ debut album, and it certainly fits the genre well – cloudy riffs, a tonic of distortion and echo, gothy motifs – although that’s mostly all it does. I’ve spun it a few times, hoping that if I squeeze hard enough Levitations’ inherent charm will reveal itself to me, but nothing here really sticks out. The riffs fall in the unmemorable chasm between shoegaze and garage-y post-punk, the drumming is awkward and amateurish (and I usually love unpolished and awkward drumming more than any other drumming out there), and the vocals keep time with little excitement or intrigue. This is starting to sound harsher than I want it to be, because of course Levitations are a perfectly acceptable gothy post-punk group, it’s just that passing-grade genre exercises of exhumed ’80s and ’90s rock tropes are often my least favorite sounds being made, and Levitations have yet to offer any sort of personal stamp on their work.

Liquids E.P. 7″ (Yeah You!)
Over the last year, Liquids have taken the lead from Coneheads as the most active NWI punk group, scattering their self-released tapes in person or on YouTube with total disregard for the preexisting standard way punk bands are supposed to share their recordings. And much like Coneheads thumbed their nose at traditional distribution channels, Liquids vinyl debut is on a Brazilian label with shipping costs so extreme, only a guy who runs a middling music blog could afford to order it. What can I say, I’ve been following their random tape-comp contributions on YouTube and was psyched to grab their first vinyl platter. Thankfully, the music makes it worthwhile – they’re like a less-wavey, snottier version of Coneheads, which certainly works for me. They share Coneheads’ distinct recording sound: clean and punchy bass that sounds like it was recorded direct to four-track, dollar-store guitar fuzz and ultra-precise drum fills, which ends up sounding like Back To Samoa played on 45. It’s poppy but not pop-punk and occasionally rockin’ but never garage, just classic-sounding basement punk the way most of us wish we could make it. I’m holding my copy dear, unless of course a Brazilian who missed out has some old Sarcofago they’d be willing to swap.

Peder Mannerfelt Black Homes, Or How We Lost Solidarity 12″ (Hinge Finger)
Hinge Finger is a subtle techno imprint run by Joy Orbison, and it’s one of those spots where artists seem to push their own boundaries and achieve greatness while doing so: see the fantastic CO/R EP from earlier this year, or perhaps the best hard-techno 12″ of the ’10s, Blawan’s His He She & She. Case in point is this new EP from Peder Mannerfelt, who I’ve been keeping up with but neglect to review half the time – his music often falls in the category of “music I dig but forgot that I listened to”… perhaps you can relate. I won’t be forgetting Black Holes, Or How We Lost Solidarity, though, as it’s a monster four-track EP of aggressive house warfare. Opener “Cry To Your Soul” clears the air immediately, with rapid-fire electronic artillery and a stuttering house groove, as if Shake Shakir was suddenly dropped into a Call Of Duty mission to assassinate Objekt. It’s followed by “Clear Eyes, Full Heart”, which is easily the best Friday Night Lights-themed techno banger I’ve heard, coming through like a silkier take on Blawan’s Hinge Finger EP. The techno abstraction continues on the second side, with “Savvy” busting from its cage like a rabid iteration of Sistol’s techno conservatism, and “The Great Attractor” sounding as though Metroid got caught in one of Kerridge’s industrial-techno prisons during a riot lockdown. Each track is great, but combined it’s one of the most interesting takes on hard-nosed techno I’ve heard this year and my favorite Mannerfelt since The Swedish Congo Record.

Minor Science Whities 008 12″ (Whities)
I’m still playing Avalon Emerson’s Whities EP practically daily, but I’ve been sneaking this newer Whities EP care of Minor Science a whole bunch too. The a-side “Naturally Spineless” is immediate – it chimes like light dappling through a prism, resulting in a feeling of weightlessness, at least until the melody is cut and harsh jabs of bass whiz by like a crew of mean dudes on tricked-out Ninjas. Of course, Minor Science (a British man named Angus Finlayson) is too kind to withhold those synthetic chimes for too long, and soon enough both the Ninjas and the melody are holding hands and dancing, eventually finding a perfect spot on the beach to unwind. “Underripe” is the other cut and it’s nearly as nice – I’m reminded of Egyptrixx’s detailed sound constructions with the body-moving heft of Pearson Sound or Pangaea, resulting in something I’d seamlessly mix with one of those great recent Bruce cuts to the delight of a few thousand inebriated party-goers if I ever decide to get my DJ career off the ground. I’ve already installed the Whities app on my phone, so that a sharp bolt of electricity shoots into the pocket of my pants the moment a new 12″ is released – I can’t afford to change my setting to vibrate, lest I even slightly delay in snagging another edition from this fantastic label.

Mope City Petri Dish LP (Tenth Court)
Ah, Mope City, a place that’s always cloudy, filled with closed stores and chain coffee shops where everyone sits by themselves. It’s also a group from Sydney who channel the comfort of ’90s indie-rock misery with precision and grace. At their calmest, they recall the quiet slow-core of Duster or Low, and at their most raucous I’m reminded of Kitchen’s Floor, but mostly they work somewhere in-between, strongly calling to mind Pavement as so many have before them. The main vocalist sure has a Malkmusian tongue, but he makes good with it, rendering a track like “Incessant & Dull” catchy and heartfelt while still sounding a whole hell of a lot like one of the most famous ’90s indie-rock groups. You can’t avoid catching a whiff of the throwback, but Mope City come at it earnestly, with solid tunes and plenty of messy bangs in their faces, too indifferent and lazy to toss them aside. Makes me want to put on an old moth-eaten sweater and cobble together a zine about my failed relationships.

Oh Boland Spilt Milk LP (Volar)
Coming from the sleepy municipality of Tuam, Ireland, Oh Boland are disturbing the neighbors with their raucous, affable form of poppy garage-punk. This is their first piece of vinyl, and it’s a nice summation of a lot of what’s good about melodic punk in the late 2010s. Think Eddy Current’s catchy harmlessness, The Marked Men’s slick upcycling of the Good Vibrations Records catalog, and Ty Segall’s breezy riffs and fuzzed vocals. Oh Boland do a fine job of tailoring it together to suit their needs, confident in a post-Burger Records world and acting as Irish ambassadors to all the more popular bands from more popular countries that make their way through (Oh Boland have opened for Sheer Mag, Protomartyr and Speedy Ortiz if their one-sheet is to be trusted). I didn’t pick up any super-sized hooks on Spilt Milk, and the vocals are often a little too distorted to really stick to my ribs, but they’ve got a good foundation to work from. Worth peeping, particularly if you’ve wanted to hear a garage-y power-pop band authentically sing the word “garage” as though it rhymes with “carriage” – that always hits the spot for me.

Pauwels / Uns U.P. LP (October Tone)
Took me a while to decipher this one, as both sides of the silkscreened cover say “Pauwels” and “Uns” in wild type, and those aren’t exactly two words my brain is used to picking out. The fact that they’re both French bands might explain things a little bit, and after some Googling (and deciphering which band is which, as the center labels aren’t a huge help), I can finally tell you about not just their packaging efforts but their musical ones as well. Pauwels are stridently math-rock, complete with frantic drumming, unexpected stops and starts, extended effects-droning and whatever other pieces usually fit into this sort of puzzle. Imagine A Minor Forest and Growing tossing off a collaborative LP for Troubleman in 2004, if you may. Sonically, Uns are a fine pairing for Pauwels, as they are also an instrumental math-rock group, although they offer up a few more epic rock moves, calling to mind a time when you’d hear the name “Isis” and the first thought to enter your brain is of 8″ records on six colored-vinyl variants. Never realized I’d miss those days as much as I do right now. The simple description I’ll give them is “Don Caballero aiming for a Constellation Records contract”, which I think works well enough. Can’t say I’m feeling this one much – maybe if they opted for a frantic crackly-voiced emo singer ala Jasmine or Fingerprint I’d have a little more fun. Perhaps I’ll just do the screaming myself.

Pleasure Gallows Positivity + 2 7″ (Pelican Pow Wow)
Seems like there’s a lot of fantasy-filth punk bands kicking around these days, like Pleasure Gallows for instance – the front cover depicts a futuristic porn-dungeon that would make “Mad” Marc Rude blush, with a photograph of the band on the back to reveal three dudes who look like they interned for the Mentors in 1985 before being abandoned on tour. I can take or leave this vibe, but when you’ve got a couple songs as totaled and rotten as these, I don’t care if you wear baggy khaki shorts with a drooping chain wallet on stage, I’ll lend you my support. “Positivity” is a great one – picture the mundane anguish of Section Urbane with worse guitars volleying two “chords” for under two minutes and the Aflac duck on backing vocals and you’ll start to comprehend this punk perfection. “Beer” and “Find” are a bit more traditional, kind of knowingly-corny like a particularly suburban Killed By Death group (think Meaty Buys) down in the gutter behind Max’s Kansas City trying to huff Johnny Thunders’ leather trousers. They almost play together like one track called “Beer Find” which might work even better. Not much more I could ask for from this one – even the black-and-white print job of the sleeve seems to be fading already, as if the very ink that was printed on the record’s sleeve wants to stop being associated with this project.

Purling Hiss High Bias LP (Drag City)
Damn – this is Purling Hiss’s eighth album! Feels like only yesterday Mike Polizze’s debut under the Purling Hiss guise was peeling the skin off my speakers, and now he’s got a robust discography under his belt, both solo and fully-banded. High Bias is somewhat of a new direction for the group, but as far as I’m concerned it’s a welcome shift, keeping things fresh while still catchy and full of inhuman guitar theatrics. They’re in power trio form here, and tend to operate in two general styles within that realm: classic, sun-bleached Americana rock ala The Lemonheads or The Replacements and manic, British-inspired post-punk, not unlike Wire or Public Image Ltd. I’m actually kind of blown away at the similarity between Polizze’s voice and John Lydon’s on these tracks – he pronounces the word “fire” with two Cockneyed syllables and all of “Pulsations” is nearly Sex Pistolian in its fury. Polizze delivers it so well, particularly over a bed of up-tempo and manic post-punk (“3000 AD”‘s riff sounds like it came from an unreleased In Utero cut) to the point where I’m wondering if I should finally go and check out that PiL comeback album from a year or two ago. Mix all that with the breezy pop finesse of “Follow You Around” and “Fever” (and, the tried-and-true lengthy album-ending freakout “Everybody In The USA”) and you’ve got a rock record worthy of top shelf placement.

Reckonwrong Whities 009 12″ (Whities)
I’m truly tempted to put this entire review in bold, because we’ve got a “single of the year” contender right here! I was researching the Whities label (I’m obsessed) when I saw that they just released this single by the new-to-me Reckonwrong, so I loaded it up and “The Passions Of Pez” spoke to me immediately, like a thunderbolt from God. I highly recommend you locate the YouTube video for a-side cut “The Passions Of Pez”, as the song is improved by the fantastic video of who I believe to be Reckonwrong himself dancing with various instruments and singing along to his own song. In case you haven’t rushed off to do that, allow me to describe it in hopes of tantalizing you further – elastic synths come in close contact with clip-cloppy percussion, swaying back and forth like a Mirko Loko remix of Matthew Dear, and when the vocals come in, it’s all over. A dear friend described it to me as “Dan Melchior singing over Nicolas Jaar”, and I’d say he’s onto something – the vocal is pitched in all sorts of disorienting ways, with lyrics that are as numbskulled and pathetic as a failed fart joke – needless to say, I am completely enamored. “Getting Warmer (Hot Mix)” is the flip and it’s a wonderful instrumental of clunky techno-funk, the sort of thing I’d expect Beatrice Dillon to turn in for a Perlon release, but to be quite honest, I’ve only ever listened to it in the emotional wake of “The Passions Of Pez”, using it more as a soothing comedown than a piece of music that holds its own weight. Great cover art with a cool textured sleeve, too – have you seriously not picked this up yet? Email me when this task is completed, please.

Spahn Ranch Back To The Wood LP (Dais)
Surely the gothiest of all salad dressings, Spahn Ranch were an unheralded death-rock group out of Detroit in the late ’80s, and the sharp curators over at Dais brought this collection of archival recordings to life after all those forgotten years. Many tracks here overlap with their sole 1987 album Thickly Settled (love that title), and it displays a band that clearly operated in the midst of industrial music’s turbulent integration with college rock and the last vestiges of new wave. The insert shows them as the opening group for Swans, Sonic Youth , Psychic TV and The Jesus And Mary Chain, and they certainly sound like a suitable opener for all four – martial, tom-heavy drumming, thorny guitars and a tension that can only come from reading too many texts of the occult. They clearly were aware of The Birthday Party and Xmal Deutschland, trying their best to not sound American, but there’s something happening here that reveals their origins as dudes from Detroit. While I enjoy Back To The Wood, I can’t help but shake the sense that Spahn Ranch were cast into obscurity not entirely without reason, perhaps because they sound more like a collection of influences than a unique group, and there are no breakaway tracks hidden here by any means, but I’m glad Dais continues to unearth all manner of dark and sullen underground sounds.

Uniform Ghosthouse 12″ (Sacred Bones)
Not only is Ghosthouse my favorite Scooby Doo episode, it’s the newest EP by Brooklyn’s industrial-metal duo Uniform. As far as I’m concerned, at their worst they’re just okay and at their best they achieve a level of digital-metal fierceness to exceed their forebears, and this new EP falls on the higher end of their spectrum. The a-side title-track is based on a molten shoegaze riff that seems to be played through the blades of a battle-copter, churning incessantly with a fullness that many metal quintets wish they could wield. Vocalist Michael Berdan’s snarl, not unlike that of an agitated goose, sifts through the heaviness and boom, that’s a solid Uniform track. Flip it for “Waiting Period”, a righteous metal dirge with a thin Metal Urbain drum machine leading into something Youth Code would program if they finally got that slot opening for Mastodon on tour. Kinda reminds me of a digital-hardcore version of Stick Men With Ray Guns’ “Kill The Innocent”, which is just the sort of thing I want to be hearing these days. They wrap it with a headbanger in a cover of Black Sabbath’s “Symptom Of The Universe”, primed and ready to be edited next to “Jesus Built My Hotrod” in my exercise playlist. The only bummer is that I know for a fact that neither of the guys in Uniform have long stringy black hair, but there’s nothing stopping them from growing it.

Violence Creeps The Gift Of Music 12″ (Total Punk)
You want to be a lawless and unruly punk band? Here’s how you do it: release two 12″ records in close tandem, and basically break up at the same time! That’s apparently how it’s going down with Violence Creeps, a quick implosion after solid stretches of West Coast gigging (which I sadly never witnessed), but thankfully Total Punk is there to provide us with The Gift Of Music. There are six tracks here, and Violence Creeps are as disgruntled as ever, stomping mud holes as they push these tunes forward. The guitarist seems to pick up and start playing his guitar with whatever distortion and tone settings the person he’s borrowing his amp from initially chose, the bassist has an inexplicable urge to produce these frantic melodic runs (was he bitten by a Flea?) and vocalist Amber Feigel seems to truly inhabit the persona of a “Violence Creep”, be it directed internally or toward anyone in punching range. All this and the fact that The Gift Of Music was recorded and mixed by Bart Thurber at House Of Faith, who is responsible for nearly all of my favorite Agents Of Satan and Plutocracy records. Buy a copy if this sounds appealing, although I get the strong impression that Violence Creeps are already extremely dissatisfied with your behavior.

David West Peace Or Love LP (Tough Love)
Global citizen David West is never too far from a recording setup, be it portable or permanent, and he’s delivered what I consider to be one of his finest musical statements yet with Peace Or Love. You might know him from Liberation (reviewed here like a month ago), Rat Columns, Lace Curtain, Rank/Xerox or the occasional Total Control stint, but this album goes under his birth name, either because there is a deeper personal level to these songs or he simply ran out of band names. Or maybe it’s because he wrote and composed all these tracks, which cover a wide range of underground and sub-underground rock styles – hazy collages, Sebadoh-y lo-fi pop, Bruno Mars funk (“Dream On Dreamer”), Flying Nun-esque jangle, yachy-rock sleaze and No Alternative-ready buzz-binners. The only constant is his sleepy, quiet croon, as if the main guy from Belle & Sebastian forgot to sing with his British accent. Peace Or Love moves nimbly between styles, to the point where a noise squall recalling the File Under Pop 7″ feels perfectly appropriate next to the Balearic “Au Contraire” and an instrumental violin concerto, West’s parents dabbing their eyes with pride as they look on at the beauty their son created. There’s so much peace and love here; it’s truly wicked that West forces us to choose.

Worse Rubber Burner LP (Deranged)
Worse (not to be confused with The Worst or Even Worse) are a fairly new noise-rock trio out of Brooklyn, finding a home with Canada’s Deranged Records. They stick to a pretty standard formula, with heavy and jagged riffs that range from slow to speedy, booming drums and distorted vocals that never quite burble up above the mix. Thankfully, Worse’s aesthetic seems to be closer to METZ’s vague negativity than the unfortunate Brainbombs worship so many other bands are tempted by – there are no allusions to S&M nightmares or serial killing to be found in Rubber Burner, you’ll be relieved to know. Their sound falls somewhere between the aforementioned one-two grunge-punch of METZ and early Clockcleaner (particularly notable in the churning groove of “Slow Drip”), with plenty of space for guitarist / vocalist Robert Davis to one-handedly clutch his guitar against his body, delivering squealing feedback in tandem with his pained howl. The sticker says “for fans of Flipper, Harvey Milk and Cows” but you won’t find any acid-tripped pop nihilism or old-man tech-metal abuse that the first two offer, just the noise-rock drudgery of the latter. Worse don’t offer any strong sense of personality, just some workable post-hardcore songs, so I’ll let you decide if that’s enough to satisfy.

Reviews – November 2016

Alpha Hopper Last Chance Power Drive LP (One Percent Press / Radical Empathy)
No matter how hard I try, I can’t help but think of a toilet floating through the darkness of space when I read the name “Alpha Hopper” – it’s just where I’m at these days. Anyway, this group comes from the unlikely town of Buffalo, NY, which is as good as any for cranking out thoughtful post-hardcore music. They’ve got a pretty good angle on things: take a Hot Snakes riff and force it into a psychedelic chasm, sneak an At The Drive-In rhythm and hammer on it as though it was written for KARP. And then, a track like “Launch Pad Blues” sounds like Priests aiming for a Load Records contract. It feels as if Alpha Hopper want to write weird and perplexing songs but are so firmly anchored in ’90s post-punk / indie-rock that they’ll still find appeal with even the most conservative of rock-centric door-guys. It’s almost kind of refreshing, in that Alpha Hopper don’t revert to lo-fi noise or hordes of effects to crazy-up their music, but rather write intricate and loony melodies that a vocalist yells confidently beside (I’d tell you her name but in Googling I can’t find a single band-name listing for Alpha Hopper, which is kind of cool). You can do far worse things with your time than taking a ride on this space toilet.

Anxiety Anxiety LP (La Vida Es Un Mus)
Either this website has been around too long or punks are too lazy, as this is the second hardcore-punk band calling themselves Anxiety to be reviewed within these pages. I guess as long as they are as great as this, all punk bands can call themselves Anxiety for all I care, as this Scottish group is a recent favorite. They’re certainly of the modern era, most notably through the oom-pah drumming and general vocal delivery, but they stick out to me for a couple reasons. Most notably, they’ve written some actual songs: tracks like “Dark & Wet” and “The Worst” have lodged themselves in my brain for a few weeks now and I’m content for them to stay there as long as they’d like. Additionally, they cover a lot of stylistic ground without coming across as disjointed – I’m hearing plenty of Rudimentary Peni, but there are also some moments that recall Feederz’s pungent stench (they nail the guitar tone), the noise-laced bleating of FNU Ronnies, the thuggish misanthropy of Toxic State Records and the uncontrolled menace of Sick Things. There’s nary a dud song in the bunch, and while it moves by quickly, there’s plenty of meat to sink one’s teeth into. How pissed are Lumpy & The Dumpers gonna be when they find out some other band wrote a song called “Sewer In My Mind” before they did?

ARIISK Fatal Errors LP (Scrapes)
I was so crazy about the new Hogg EP on the Scrapes label that I decided to pick up the other recent Scrapes release, ARIISK’s debut LP, because why not. After a few spins, ARIISK is no Hogg, I’ll tell you that, but rather a fairly successful dish of instrumental synth-scapes. ARIISK definitely goes the classic John Carpenter / ’80s soundtrack route, avoiding any notion of dance music and instead creeping down the hallways of abandoned office buildings and loading a shotgun behind a desk in preparation for the final zombie confrontation. I feel like we’re just about coming down from Stranger Things mania now, just the sort of overexposure that can spur a backlash, but ARIISK are probably too deep underground to really feel any effect either way. They do a nice overall job, very prepped for bringing any Stephen King novel to life, particularly if he ever wrote about a haunted computer that trapped its users in a bit-mapped hell. Probably won’t visit Fatal Errors too much, as I already have an abundance of this stuff sitting around and nothing here significantly sticks out, but that’s not to say it isn’t a fine example of creepy ’80s nostalgia, ripe for autumnal consumption.

Jay Boivin & Germain Gauthier Pinball Summer – Music From The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack LP (Mighty Mouth Music)
How obsessed with the minutiae of early ’80s rock ephemera do you have to be, not just to seek out the soundtrack to little-known Porky’s rip Pinball Summer, but to put together a reissue? The freaks at Mighty Mouth Music may never reach an end for their first-wave punk-era archaeological quest, and this soundtrack, put together by none other than Jay Boivin and his friend Germain Gauthier, is a particularly amusing fossil. It seems like they’re aiming for punk-sploitation but don’t even have the edge for that – these songs are pure cheese-rock to be filed alongside The Wrestling Album, offering neutered, off-brand songs in the style of Rick Derringer, Billy Joel, Cheap Trick and Ric Ocasek. It’s harmless and stupid fun, like a funnel cake eating contest at your local county’s summer carnival, but ultimately just as much of a throwaway novelty. Unless of course you really care about funnel cake. Call me when someone reissues the soundtrack to The Stöned Age!

Sébastien Casanova Cloudy Others 12″ (Platon)
So glad I stumbled onto this mysterious new 12″ on the French label Platon, as producer Sébastien Casanova put together four gorgeous tracks of crime-noir house music. Can I will this genre into existence? Alongside Beatrice Dillon’s recent collaboration with Rupert Clervaux, I am digging techno with the feel of black-and-white city streets, fog shrouding the streetlights and a man in a tweed trenchcoat speed-walking into a dark alley. Casanova really conjures those images here, with sensual trumpet, plodding house beats (I’ve had to confirm more than once that this is a 33 RPM record) and plenty of sonic steam wafting up from subway grates. He integrates some acoustic bass quite nicely on “Chaloupe”, but it’s the opening title track that has me wanting to build an entire DJ night / Spotify channel / personal aesthetic around. I can’t stop listening to Cloudy Others, and hope this isn’t a random dalliance but a sign of more to come. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to smoke an unfiltered cigarette as I thumb through a yellowed Richard Stark novel and blast Sébastien Casanova into the wee hours of the night, pondering the perfect heist.

Centre Negative Emotion Is Cringey LP (Ever/Never)
Seemed like only a matter of time before sub-underground, experimental DIY rock music fell under the clandestine spell of internet meme culture, a condition of which Centre Negative seem to be diagnosed. They come from Auckland, New Zealand, a town I wasn’t entirely sure even had internet access, but Centre Negative come packed with post-ironic self-hatred and snarkily choreographed misery, and it suits their tunes nicely. They sway from semi-crusty acoustic jangle-rock to lightweight programmed beats, often led by a chorus of voices both affected and inebriated. Imagine some sort of style clash between The Frogs and Afflicted Man and you’re close, although neither of them quite touch upon the rickety drum programming favored by Centre Negative. Just like memes, there are a lot of genuinely funny moments within Emotion Is Cringey, alongside bad ideas that should’ve never made it out of their room. They’re a strange group for sure, pushing the limits of good taste without feeling like a tossed off waste of time, and I’m glad I spent some time with Centre Negative and Emotion Is Cringey, even if I’d feel a little reticent about letting them spend the night.

Sarah Mary Chadwick This Fits / This Is Familiar 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
I Dischi throws us a curveball by not throwing a curveball, as this single by Sarah Mary Chadwick is purely of the song-based musical variety. Chadwick put out an album on Siltbreeze a couple years ago and a new one on Rice Is Nice earlier this year, and offers a little extra here as well, all with the violently-painted pornographic cover art we’ve come to expect. I am a little thrown at just how strongly Chadwick sounds like Cat Power on “This Fits” – it’s a slow-burning after-hours guitar strum with Chadwick singing uncomfortably personal lyrics (be they fictional or otherwise), her voice creaking and bending as though the weight of all the world’s broken relationships is perched on her tongue. Same goes for “This Is Familiar”, and while I am well aware of how lazy a Cat Power reference can be for any female singer-guitarist who plays sullen songs, Chadwick doesn’t just inhabit the same airspace, her voice follows the same frequency with striking similarity, her Australian accent barely peeking through. Nothing about it seems to be an affectation, though – these songs seem to be performed in the only natural way Chadwick could play them. I just need to remember to hide this cover the next time my parents come to visit, lest I get Chadwick’d.

Cheater Slicks On Your Knees LP (Almost Ready)
Here’s a band with nothing to prove, Columbus, OH’s Cheater Slicks. They’ve got over a dozen albums under their belt already (that’s not counting the three or four live albums), and their bad-news garage-punk remains sturdy as ever, as if old age just brought about tougher calluses instead of arthritis. This being the case, there are hours of Cheater Slicks material I will almost certainly never hear, but I’m always happy to check in and make sure they are running smoothly, like with On Your Knees, their newest and second for New York punk mainstay Almost Ready. They still sound thick and solid, like the Cramps high on HGH or some sort of drunken celebration-turned-brawl between Gun Club, Watery Love and Dead Moon. I find myself tapping along with more of On Your Knees than most garage-rock records of its ilk, and some of their lyrics really stick, like the first track’s boast of stomping all over a hardwood floor (who can’t relate to that?). At this point, I’m convinced Cheater Slicks will outlive me, their world-weary bitterness propelling them into the advanced age that sensible diets and exercise never could.

Stefan Christensen American Pastoral Again 12″ (Ever/Never)
Stefan Christensen is one of the New York underground’s most active guitarists, with practically a dozen bands under his belt (you might be most familiar with Estrogen Highs) as well as stepping out solo. Ever/Never is just as busy, and just as underground, so it makes for a suitable partnership here via American Pastoral Again, a soothing suite of noisy and tuneful guitar music. The title track encompasses the a-side, and it’s pretty charming: imagine a particularly moody Moss Icon track where the band was replaced by The Dead C, with Christensen doing his best Jonathan Vance over a back-and-forth melody. There are four tracks on the b-side, and they move in different ways while sounding the same – “The Company Distrust” works a Teenage Jesus rhythm, “Feminist” chimes like a bootleg raga, “Gender” tears a sonic hole like a Forced Exposure-distributed Gate 7″ and “Home” is a dirge that stumbles through a dark foyer, calmly wrapping things up. Separately, these tracks are all nice, but played sequentially in the order intended, American Pastoral Again captivates, a satisfying antipasto of noisy, sun-ripened guitars and the various spaces they can comfortably inhabit.

Collector Triple Crown LP (Drawing Heat)
Don’t think that Australia isn’t also a suitable home for today’s “experimental” techno scene, as Jason Campbell’s Collector alias churns out a healthy dose via Triple Crown. Campbell favors a calm gloaming atmosphere for his beats without relying on spooky horror motifs – this is techno that welcomes darkness as a friend, not an enemy. He works somewhere between the mechanical groove of early Robert Hood and recent Terrence Dixon, with an atmospheric setting that has me thinking he’s probably familiar with the Modern Love label. Collector doesn’t harness the power of bass so much as smooth it out across all frequencies, allowing a track like “Borrowed Time” to slide through your consciousness, its warning-siren synapse more of a welcome than a caution, and “Shark Tooth Necklace” to cut the BPM in half and coast on puffs of industrial steam. Perhaps it’s Triple Crown‘s understated sonic template that has me appreciating it more than your average technofile upstart, or the fact that Mikey Young mastered it, as I like picturing him bobbing his head along with Collector’s insistent grooves. Either way, it’s an easy one to enjoy.

The Dance Asthmatics Lifetime Of Secretion 12″ (Ever/Never)
Really impressed by the vinyl debut from Christchurch, New Zealand’s Dance Asthmatics, Lifetime Of Secretion. They’ve got a great sound, one that could’ve wedged itself into various scenes through the decades (late ’70s UK DIY, mid-’80s oddball Texas underground (ala Butthole Surfers or Culturcide), early ’00s Load Records scum-wave), but also stands out on its own. A guitar (or guitar-sounding) riff will call to mind Arab On Radar at their most irritating, met by a lead-weighted bass reminiscent of PiL and a vocalist who sounds like Pheromoans’ Russell Walker doing his best John Lydon impression. Their songs are mostly pretty slow, about as relaxed as something no-wavey could ever get, which has me thinking of Satanic Rockers or Sacred Product granted a proper studio recording and proper musicians to flesh it out. The names I’ve checked in this review would make for a mix CD I’d rarely remove from my car, and The Dance Asthmatics manage to stir it all confidently and smoothly, as if their leisurely pacing was the only way a band could ever choose to perform misanthropic alternative rock. Very nice find, from the extensive and well-fed A&R team over at Brooklyn’s Ever/Never.

Albert Demuth Haircare For Assholes LP (no label)
Albert Demuth’s debut solo album came packaged in delicate gold foil paper, the sort of record so attractive and dicey to remove, I winced each time I decided to give it a spin. Demuth makes it difficult for us in a different way with Haircare For Assholes – the very cardboard mailer it’s mailed in is to be turned inside out and fashioned into its sleeve, filled with beautiful and elaborate silk-screens (and instructions for applying velcro tabs – this is what it must feel like to be one of Damien Hirst’s assistants). And as was the case with his debut, the music enclosed within makes all the manual labor worth it, as it’s a gorgeous album of subtle, very-much-solo guitar music. You can practically picture Demuth, a wiry figure hunched over a folding chair, clutching his guitar like a life preserver as he wrings his sad post-balladry out of a small practice amp and microphone. Picture a barely aware Leonard Cohen recording for Corwood Industries, or Bill Callahan cast as the music director for the next season of True Detective, where the entirety of the series is just King Dude gazing into a pile of diner pancakes, running through flashbacks of life’s little tragedies. The harder you stare into Haircare For Assholes, the more you cannot escape it, not that you’d ever want to anyway.

Ectoplasm Girls New Feeling Come LP (iDEAL)
I can’t get enough of this new album by Sweden’s Ectoplasm Girls, a sister duo who boast similar hair and sport matching denim jackets. The name Ectoplasm Girls has me thinking of turn-of-the-century neo-no-wave acts that’d appear on 31G or Troubleman, but their music of Ectoplasm Girls isn’t remotely grating or antagonistic – rather, they’ve crafted some wonderfully disorienting early-industrial soundscapes for us to enjoy. Throughout New Feeling Come I’m reminded of early experiments by Nurse With Wound and Throbbing Gristle, as well as the bristly collages of Black To Comm and the slow-building metropolitan menace of Shadowlust. It’s worth noting that there seems to be none of the antagonistic, shock-you-into-reality aesthetic that often comes attached to industrial music, however – Ectoplasm Girls create music with all sharp edges sanded down, like a box of poisonous snakes who’ve been defanged and rendered harmless. Rather, New Feeling Comes dances on the edge of perception, with sounds that filter in from all angles, not with a sense of foreboding so much as bewilderment. It’s easy-listening industrial for those who want mysterious darkness without the violence or pornography it often comes packaged in, and I can’t get enough.

Avalon Emerson Whities 006 12″ (Whities)
Whities is a new-ish UK dance label that I’ve already put on high alert, based on the tasteful and distinct sides they’ve released this year and last. My favorite of the bunch is this one care of Avalon Emerson, with two impactful and uplifting techno cuts and one beatless redux. “The Frontier” opens with a kinetic beat, tumbling forward with infinite energy, and that alone would be enough for me, but then Emerson lays this gorgeous, heart-melting melody over top. It’s as if the track itself is a morning jog through a nature preserve and its synth melody is the unexpected migration of some beautifully rare egret, taking your breath away with its strength and grace. The melody is so simple, easily playable by one finger, but it makes for a perfect combination, a melodic password that gains entry into my soul. “2000 Species Of Cacti” takes hold on the flip, and it opens with a nimble volley to resemble Ricardo Villalobos playing racquetball. It’s a fun little Perlon-suitable jaunt, and then a minute or so into it Emerson drops another pristine lead, crackling open like light through the blinds of a very expensive hotel in a faraway land. Before I can catch my breath, there’s an abbreviated version of “The Frontier”‘s synth lead to wrap things up. I want to live in these songs, in the hopes that dancing, rather than walking, becomes my primary mode of transportation.

Nicolas Jaar Sirens LP (Other People)
Man, does Nico Jaar know how to release an album! There’s a deluxe “scratch-off” cover (complete with an authentic twenty-five cent piece, practically flaunting Jaar’s ability to waste money) for an album that has its own exclusive domain name (that’d be, and when you get past all the ostentatious luxury of the packaging, Jaar makes you wait a full minute before any music or sound occurs on the album. It’s like he’s taken the concept of prolonging the beat-drop to a new level, as Sirens‘s silent opening forces the listener to shut up and sit at full attention, to realize the importance of what is about to happen. In the hands of anyone else, I might hate all this, but there’s something about Nicolas Jaar’s unabashed pretentiousness that works perfectly with his virtuosic talent as a producer of left-field electronic art-pop. I’ve been waiting for the follow-up to Space Is Only Noise for a while now, particularly as Darkside came and went and I feared he was exclusively going the route of avant-garde cinema soundtracking (which is pretty cool in its own right). Sirens is all I could’ve hoped for, and it’s truly great: there are plenty of other-worldly keyboards and pianos, slow-motion ’80s montages from alternate universes, and boppy electro-pop with his youthful Mark Knopfler-esque voice rapping along. Even a little drum n’ bass action, right on-trend with the British dub-techno experimentalists who are also trying to give it a modern update, and a track that features what seems to be a conversation between Jaar and his (famous artist) father, recorded when he was a boy, pushing all the right buttons for any Boards Of Canada fans in need of a little hyper-blurry childhood nostalgia. And “Three Sides Of Nazareth” is the best modern Suicide rip I’ve ever heard! All these influences flow effortlessly and beautifully under Jaar’s scrutiny, and it never feels like the pastiche of trendy styles a lesser producer would provide, but rather his own personal and detailed world of music and art. I’m just thankful he still allows regular folk like us to peer in once in a while.

Barry Knoedl Baby Don’t Give Up 7″ (Frodis)
The reissues just keep on coming, like an overflowing hot spring that no one actually wants, this time in the form of Barry Knoedl’s sole release, 1978’s Baby Don’t Give Up on Death Records (who really had one of the coolest center sticker templates in history). “Baby Don’t Give Up” is a pure shot of limp power-pop sweetness, like a candy cigarette laced with Diet Coke. I can’t help but think of David Cassidy rollerskating through the credits of some late ’70s high-school sitcom when I listen to “Baby Don’t Give Up”, just so wimpy and completely devoid of the bite that came with punk rock and even glam, and I have to say, it hits the spot nicely for me. Sometimes you just need a taste of the Starland Vocal Band masquerading as rock n’ roll, and Knoedl had the magic touch. Flip it for “I Just Want To Make You Happy”, which echoes Christopher Cross or Steely Dan, definitely stepping into the ’80s with a different kind of coke on the mind and just as slick, if not quite as sweet. Baby Don’t Give Up is one of at least four forgotten power-pop singles that Frodis Records has reissued this year, and I like to think they’re nudging at least one of those annoying Record Store Day Barry Manilow Super Mario Bros. Theme Song picture disc orders back a few weeks when they send their “digital remix” masters to the plant.

Kyo Aktuel Musik LP (Posh Isolation)
Posh Isolation has done a particularly keen job of transitioning from bleak noise (not unlike a Danish Hospital Productions) to avant-garde techno and experimentalism, and if they keep putting out records like this Kyo LP, I’m all for it. Kyo features Hannes Norrvide (Lust For Youth’s frontman) alongside Frederick Valentin (he of a project called “Complicated Universal Cum”) and they’ve put together a gorgeous selection of airy jazz fractals and beautiful post-noise somnambulance. This sort of stuff almost always sounds dark and foreboding, particularly in the hands of anyone remotely in Posh Isolation’s orbit, but Kyo sound downright optimistic and cheery at times, as if each track offers a fresh sunrise rife with possibility. The use of what I assume to be live horns and piano works wonderfully over their slow looping pads and patterns, at times calling to mind Circle’s ambient-jazz delight Tower. It’s the softest way to warm up your day, and yet Aktuel Musik avoids entering hokey “new age” territory by virtue of its sophistication and texture, like something Nils Frahm might produce if he were forced to hang out with Marching Church for a weekend. Recommended!

Lucy & Rrose The Lotus Eaters 12″ (Stroboscopic Artefacts)
Lucy and Rrose are two of the more intriguing artists to come out of the avant-industrial techno boom of the early ’10s, so I was interested to hear what they’d come up with in the form of a four-track collaborative EP. These four lengthy tracks are out to test the patience of anyone but the most dedicated of devotees, which is surely by design, and I’m on their side with this move – if you can’t handle a twelve-minute drone experiment or seven minutes of alarm clock-chirp, these dudes don’t want you around. The EP opens with that aforementioned smoke alarm, steady at first, then warped through various sonic holes and filters, eventually making it safely to deep space where previously depleted oxygen levels are augmented and a cozy sleep pod awaits. The inner two tracks (A2 and B1) utilize normal techno rhythms, albeit with the same twitchy feel, as though some grand technology of the future is about to malfunction and you’ve misplaced the user’s manual. As I listen, I enjoy wondering if it’s Lucy’s more esoteric and occult interests pulling Rrose toward long-form sound experiments, or if it’s Rrose’s avant history (his resume includes work with Bob Ostertag) causing Lucy to drift from the dance-floor (or whose idea it was to forgo much in the way of brutal bass treatments). It’s a murky, undefined relationship, and The Lotus Eaters is a fine result.

Magnetic Ghost Loss Molecules LP (Magnetic Ghost)
An endless brown horizon, undulating toward infinity, greets the owner of Magnetic Ghost’s album Loss Molecules. Depending on your point of view, the music of Magnetic Ghost renders a similar sensation to that of the cover image: perhaps profound and deep, perhaps kinda boring and brown. Magnetic Ghost is mostly the work of one man named Andy Larson, but the sound he conjures goes IMAX wide, combining shoegaze, drone and post-rock in a pretty reasonable formula. It’s music that seems to have Explosions In The Sky, Radiohead, SUNN O))) and Sigur Rós in its Spotify history, but would also work as a gateway group to Band Of Horses fans who are looking to take the plunge in something more epic and avant-garde, the sort of heavy beauty they can immerse themselves in while grading papers in a coffee shop. Larson does a fine job with things (and when he sings, he displays a tunefulness that any indie-but-aspirational group would be lucky to have), so if you’re not actively trying to avoid this sort of music, why not queue up some Magnetic Ghost?

Ryan Martin & Joachim Nordwall Trance Below The Streets LP (iDEAL / Robert & Leopold)
Trance below the streets… ambient in the sheets? Ryan Martin, co-owner and operator of Dais Records, seems to have amassed a collection of vintage analog electronics to rival NASA circa 1969. Rather than keep them to himself (this is what I’d do, taunt my friends with pictures and brag about how cool they sound), he has been releasing a number of records in the past couple years, this one teaming up with Joachim Nordwall of The Skull Defekts (among many other projects). Trance Below The Streets is a great title and it sets the stage nicely for these four meaty excursions into electronic hardware. As the album begins, deep sonar gusts keep inaccurate time as crackly sine-waves and blissful static intermingle, all while the title has me picturing a molten rave attended only by sewer crocodiles. “Retrace / Reverse” follows, a track that could just as easily be Terry Riley performing a piece for cargo trains as a lost Maurizio Bianchi spool. Two different but suitable excursions follow on the flip. Not only do I enjoy listening to these two young men twiddle and patch their vintage processors, Trance Below The Streets makes me wish I was right there twiddling along with them, an effect that certain forms of great music tend to have on me.

Messrs Messrs LP (Heel Turn)
A pairing as suitable as Hawk and Animal, Columbus, OH’s Messrs team up with Columbus, OH’s Heel Turn Records for their vinyl full-length debut. The cover displays the band’s name rendered in various cuts of meat, and it’s not a shock, as Messrs sound like the kind of band that would list “bacon” in their social media interests. They fall closer to hardcore than garage-rock, but mostly split the difference with belligerent noise-rock vibes that recall The Jesus Lizard and Cows, bands who thumbed their nose at anything they couldn’t eat, snort or hump. They even get a little Nirvana-Bleach-y with a track like “Slop Meat”, although Messrs’ vocalist insists on slurring through his vocals as though he were failing a sobriety test and well-aware of the fines to be levied. I’m not entirely convinced that Messrs have pushed through the hordes of groups offering up a similarly hardcore-informed noise-rock sound, but I do know that if I saw them storming through the crowd near me I’d give them a wide berth, lest I catch E. coli.

DD Owen DD Owen LP (12XU)
Caught posing: I didn’t realize DD Owen was responsible not just for Sick Thoughts, but also LSDogs and Chicken Chain, the latter of which is my favorite of the bunch, a mess of grotesque and confounding hardcore-punk. Apparently Owen also finds time to record songs under his birth name (Dunkin’ Donuts Owen, I presume) and toss them off to 12XU, proudly offering zero tour dates for their generosity. There are eight songs here, and they follow a familiar path of anti-social, pop-driven punk, much in line with Jay Reatard’s less garage-y material and Buck Biloxi. Owen adopts Joey Ramone’s inflection for many of these tunes, albeit slathered in electrical fuzz, and my favorite is probably the opener “I Should’ve Been Aborted”, uncharacteristically turning the knife on himself. There’s a tune called “Shattered” that has me thinking of Jay Reatard (and not just because his label was called Shattered Records), and a surprising number of moments that had me thinking of Nobunny’s harmless, half-naked fun. I figured someone with Owen’s nihilistic world view would write songs that sound meaner and more chaotic (if “Degenerate” isn’t already a note-for-note Screeching Weasel song it should be), but I guess GG Allin always toed the line between hair-metal pop-rock cheese and wild-man punk-rock perfection. Owen has some large toilets to fill if he wants to live up to the greats.

Pessimist Baklava 12″ (A14)
A14 is a new-ish sub-label of Blackest Ever Black (Greyest Ever Grey?), geared toward electronic dance music of the dark and serpentine varieties. Figured I might as well scope out their recent offering from Bristol’s Pessimist, and while I’m glad I am now familiar with it, I can’t say I’ll be returning too frequently. “Baklava” sounds like a Burial production reduced to its spinal column, with the occasional sound of an alien teleportation to add just the tiniest splash of color. Pessimist throws in lots of breaks, as if to imply something might change, but nope, the beat returns, almost defiantly the same. “Orphic” takes the b-side, and it follows a similar pattern, although it eventually works into a frantic jungle rhythm, aided in atmosphere by a keyboard’s “ghost” setting held down throughout. I’ll admit, if I were to accidentally stumble down some greasy cement stairs into an underground club illuminated only by the exit signs and Pessimist was blasting over a state-of-the-art sound system, I’d probably be the happiest boy on Earth, but listening at home, even on a daringly loud setting, leaves me scratching my head, wondering why Pessimist didn’t put together something a little more substantial.

Powell Sport 2xLP (XL)
Powell’s debut album might’ve been my most anticipated release of the year, and while it doesn’t surpass my super-fan expectations, it remains one of the most entertaining records I’ve heard in a while. Powell’s MO remains intact: huge neon-fart synth lines with clunky drum samples and no-wave / punk / rock snippets peppered throughout. I’m surprised there aren’t more Powell imitators, but that might be because he’s so distinct and strange that any aesthetic theft would be immediately obvious. Sport, then, is both a great entry point for someone unfamiliar and a wealth of new material to sink into for an obsessive like myself. There are a number of brief sample-based tracks that act as curious intermissions for the bangers, such as “Gettin’ Paid To Be Yourself (Al’s ‘Kick Ass’ Mix)”, “Frankie (Feat. Frankie)” and “Her Face”, my personal favorite of the lot. The tracks featuring HTRK vocalist Jonnine Standish are surprisingly electroclash-esque (“Jonny (Feat. Jonny)” could’ve been one of Peaches’ ripest offerings circa 2002), and they have me wondering what would’ve happened if the electroclash movement worshiped the discographies of Lust/Unlust and ZE instead of drifting off in search of newer trends. Powell always seems to be having the most fun of any electronic producer out there, with a wicked sense of humor that ensures he’s the only one in the room who gets all the jokes, and Sport is a wonderful debut, at once sinister, catchy and debaucherous.

Rosali Out Of Love LP (Siltbreeze)
Rosali Middleman (going by her first name here) is one of I think nine siblings, and it is evident in her music once you know that – this is a woman who has gone through life loving at least ten other people simultaneously (I’m counting both parents). Don’t let that album title fool you – she’s a tender soul, but as soon as she starts singing alongside her acoustic guitar, it’s self-evident anyway. It was nice of Siltbreeze to give her the platform to get her humble and soothing tunes out there, but don’t let the label’s association have you thinking there’s anything bent, avant-garde or lo-fi happening here – Rosali is a folk-rock purist through and through. I’m picking up a little Joni Mitchell here, maybe some Iron & Wine, and it’s hard not to associate her with ex-neighbor Meg Baird, although Rosali’s tunes come from more of a personal ’70s private-pressing folk vantage point, not a classicist’s traditional folk style. Gorgeous, melancholic, almost shy music that waits for you to find it, so go on and find it!

Stick Men With Ray Guns Property Of Jesus Christ LP (12XU)
12XU are truly doing the Lord’s work over there in Texas, following the Austin record shop End Of An Ear’s vinyl compilation of Stick Men With Ray Guns studio recordings with two Stick Men live shows, each on its own slab of wax. There’s Property Of Jesus Christ, taken from a 1984 gig on the Rock Against Reagan tour, and 1,000 Lives To Die, a 1987 Dallas gig. The 1987 show reveals a bloaty, stuffy-sounding Bobby Soxx, full of hatred and bile but ill in health, whereas this album showcases Soxx and the gang in their prime. His voice is feral and unrestrained here, not unlike what you’d expect a human-sized sewer rat to sound like if you tried to steal its cheese. You can’t go wrong with the opening trio of “What Am I?”, “Christian Rat Attack” and “Grave City”, truly pushing the expectations of hardcore-punk into a realm far darker and slower than any of their contemporaries – it’s amazing to think that a set this misanthropic and grotesque would be followed by the thrash of MDC and DRI, almost quaint in comparison. Fans of the Stick Men will be familiar with most of these tracks from their 2002 Emperor Jones CD compilation, which in my opinion remains the defining Stick Men document, but we all know how cool CDs are (not very), and it’s nice to hear this set in full uninterrupted fashion. Otherwise, I would’ve missed Bobby Soxx shouting “fuck everybody but me!” leading into “I’d Rather Throw Up Than Grow Up”, God forbid.

Torture Chain Wasting Syndrome LP (Darkest Heavy)
Torture Chain is a semi-anonymous American metal project, responsible for a host of cassette releases and now this debut three-track LP on the 540 Records-affiliated Darkest Heavy. Don’t be prejudiced against a three-song metal album, assuming funeral-doom or glacial guitar drone, as Torture Chain take the opportunity to run through a history of aggressive underground metal in three numbered installments. There has to be at least a dozen parts per track, and they run the gamut from Sabbath-y doom to the metallic grind of Earache Records’ earliest history to bone-chilling black-metal in strains of both Northern European and modern domestic. I’m no encyclopaedia metallum, so feel free to correct me with more appropriate references when I say that I hear a Manilla Road riff give way to a Cryptopsy technical breakdown, transformed into an Asunder march that eventually leads to a traditional Death blast. I can’t even imagine the amount of time and practice necessary to put together three constantly-changing tracks like these, each one filled with maniacally perfect soloing (often at the hand of American metal master Arthur Rizk, who also recorded an undisclosed portion of Wasting Syndrome). To my ears, this is the pinnacle of “parts instead of songs” metal songwriting, masterful epics you can easily lose yourself within. What is metal if not a necessary escape from reality anyway?

TV Crime Hooligans / Wild One 7″ (Static Shock)
The Automated Punk Band Name Generator never gets a break, this time coming up with “TV Crime” (I suppose you could relate it to Black Sabbath’s forgotten 1992 tune “TV Crimes”, but I’m not sure that’s what happened here). The hell’s a “TV crime” otherwise?? Regardless of moniker, TV Crime are a sturdy and upbeat punk group out of Nottingham, offering two succinct and dirty gems for our enjoyment. “Hooligans” comes storming in somewhere between Protex and Dillinger Four, a nice non-wimpy form of power-pop that’s simultaneously inebriated and optimistic (the vocalist really gets a lot of mileage out of his vowels). Same pretty much goes for “Wild One”, which takes a slightly more pop-punk route (check the boppy guitar lead), not far from Exploding Hearts and nearly on their same holy level. I can’t imagine there will ever not be an audience for music like this: energetic songs with easily recognizable melodies and changes, roughed up by a band of people who probably know the words to at least a couple Discharge songs. Next time I’m in Nottingham, I’m going to drunkenly skank down Robin Hood’s wooded lane in honor of TV Crime.

Uranium Orchard Unapproachable Light “LP” (Cold Vomit)
First off, big caveat here: while I am listing this as an LP, it’s not entirely accurate. Unapproachable Light looks and feels like a normal LP, until you pull out the vinyl to notice that it’s actually not vinyl at all, but rather a smooth pegboard disc, edges shaved to perfectly replicate the size and shape of a 12″ vinyl record, complete with center hole. To hear the music, you follow the paper insert’s instructions to a secret URL that features links for the album in MP3 format. If there’s one group of merry pranksters that can get away with such a move, it’s Uranium Orchard, and I did my duty and downloaded the things and listened, even ceremoniously spinning the imposter “record” in its honor (I drew the line at dropping the needle, however). I’ve written about the strong correlation between Uranium Orchard and Sun City Girls in the past, and while releasing an anti-record certainly fits the bill, their music has taken a turn in a different direction, at least for four of the six tracks – imagine if college-rock was spawned from lite-jazz rather than underground punk in the early ’80s and you’ve got a feel for what Uranium Orchard are going after. Some of Unapproachable Light feels like a strangely neutered combo of Tool, Sponge and other early ’90s buzz-bin offal, or perhaps not neutered so much as vasectomied – there is a definite complicity to their experimental alt-funk excursions, including a slow-core cover of Naked Eyes’ “Always Something There To Remind Me”. Of course, that’s all blown up by the album-closing title track, which sprawls across twenty-two minutes and takes the shape of The Dead C channeling one of Yes or Rush’s concept albums; truly glorious music. Turns out they’re out-Sun City Girls-ing the Sun City Girls after all.

Vanity Don’t Be Shy LP (Katorga Works)
You’d be forgiven for assuming this is a new album by the group Soccer Tavern, but that’s simply the bar that Vanity, upgraded from a two-piece studio project to a full quartet, tends to frequent. On their debut album and subsequent 7″ EP, they were the best All Skrewed Up tribute band I’d ever heard, so the drastic stylistic departure of Don’t Be Shy took some of the wind out of my sails. Apparently they’ve set their sights on a different form of underground British rock, namely ’90s Brit-pop, and even more specifically, Oasis. I’m not sure who was singing before and if they’re still singing now, but they aren’t nearly as vocally equipped to tackle Liam Gallagher’s disaffected whine as Ian Stuart’s frothy croak, at least by my count. Vanity’s songs are still mostly uptempo, which isn’t the best platform for delivering thick and memorable Brit-pop hooks – these songs speed by, but they feel long, and the hooks they’re delivering aren’t fit for the tail end of The Masterplan. I will say that the more I’ve spun Don’t Be Shy, the more I’ve grown accustomed to it, and even started to truly enjoy their hard-rock party-pub vibe, although I’m still thinking back wistfully to their one two fwee foah days. I just really hope they continue pillaging British music of the past and sound like The Prodigy on their next record.

Violent Change 3 LP (Melters / It Takes Two)
Violent Change are one of the more fascinating bands playing or not playing in basements these days, and not because they have some fantastical back-story about being twins separated at birth or wild drug histories or something that has nothing to do with their actual music. I am intrigued and delighted by Violent Change solely because of their music, specifically their approach to recording, as it doesn’t sound like any other band on Earth. It’s safe to say that by most accounts, 3 is a poorly-recorded lo-fi album, but those who disregard it based on conventional metrics are missing out on the mystifying sounds within, which seemingly defy how a record can be made. There are a few tracks on the a-side that I swear are slowed down or quite literally melted (as the label name would imply) – just check “Marvelous Tones” (great title) and tell me this isn’t a case of severe equipment malfunction. On certain tracks, the bass sounds like it was recorded direct sans amplifier while the vocals are transmitted from a World War 2 submarine; on others, the vocals are surprisingly audible, it’s the guitar that crumbles like week-old coffee cake. This isn’t the sort of recording that happens by chance – no four-track tape or GarageBand file would create such a disjointed cacophony on its own. It mutates these short, upbeat pop-rock songs into new beasts entirely, although a tune like “Marble Mansion” has the sweet taste of Big Star no matter how much dirt they bury it under. 3 is the lowest form of high art and I recommend you take it for a twirl.

Wolf Dem Hydrophobia 12″ (Great Circles)
I’m always excited for a new transmission from the Great Circles bunker, this one the vinyl debut of Philadelphia’s Wolf Dem, a new-ish duo that I hope to see perform soon. They’ve already developed a strong, distinct sound over the course of these four tracks, which seem take the EP’s title to heart, sounding as though their techno is pulled by deep currents, pressurized by the ocean’s weight and quick to disorient anyone who isn’t a fish. The first two cuts opt for classic drum-machine sounds mangled into something resembling reggaeton, which is then splattered, smothered and covered by various loops and melodies of different narcotic shades. Wolf Dem are happy to pile up the sounds, but it never feels overstuffed. “Tin Procession” opens the flip and might be my favorite, a down-tempo take on Rabih Beaini’s Ra.H material with what sounds like troubled breathing, fits of laughter and an endangered woodpecker adding color to the subterranean groove. “A Cruise Down The Styx” wraps things with the most minimal beat of the EP, each percussive hit warbling like their precise tuning was worn down after years of use. There’s a rich history of aquatic techno, from Drexciya to Scuba Death and Newworldaquarium, and Wolf Dem’s Hydrophobia is a fine canonical addition.

Woodboot Black Piss / Into Your Skull 7″ (Total Punk)
Just when I assumed all of Total Punk’s singles roster was caught in a race to the self-destructive bottom, Brisbane’s Woodboot show up with two righteous snot-attacks of, well, total punk. They called the a-side “Black Piss” (how is there not a band called Black Piss on Total Punk already?), and it plays like the stupidest Dead Boys tune they never wrote, with a recording so perfectly fuzzy, I’m reminded of the orange juice that’s served at a crappy hotel’s continental breakfast, the kind that stings as it goes down, 80% chemical powder mixed with 20% tap water. Pretty sure there’s barely more than one part to “Black Piss”, but who needs it when you’ve got such a perfect part? “Into Your Skull” picks up right where “Black Piss” left off, with a classic progression one might expect from The Buzzcocks, with vocals so acidic it’s as if they swapped antifreeze for the tap water in the aforementioned OJ recipe. Both tracks are over in a blip, just as they should be, and now I’m wondering if I stashed that Woodboot LP from earlier this year somewhere around here, as I don’t remember them being quite this wonderful.