Reviews – September 2016

Auxiliary Mammals Auxiliary Mammals LP (no label)
Auxiliary Mammals feature ex-members of Charm City Suicides, whom I consider to be the finest punk band to ever come out of Baltimore (if I’m wrong, please tell me why), so naturally I was excited to check out the ‘Mammals self-titled debut. The cover is a thick piece of cardboard folded in half and colorfully screen-printed, so I was already vaguely thinking of Arab On Radar before I dropped the needle and the band hit that comparison home. Very, very strong Arab On Radar vibes here: mosquito-in-your-ear guitars that play entirely different parts than the bass, which locks into the tumbling, math-rock-inspired drumming and a vocalist that angrily shouts in time. Mercifully, Drew Bena doesn’t follow Eric Paul’s vocal lead – rather than sounding like a pervert on helium, Bena shouts along at a normal tone, closer to Unsane’s Chris Spencer perhaps. I’m an Arab On Radar fan for sure, and it’s nice to hear a new band doing something similar, pairing caustic guitar-scree with tightly-fastened bass and drums and a vocalist comfortable enough to shout over all of it. Now all they need to do is cover Charm City Suicides’ classic “Down At The Reservoir” and I’m all set.

Container Vegetation EP 12″ (Diagonal)
Container releasing an EP on Diagonal is the sort of musical courtship that seemed inevitable if not tardy, as both Container and Powell share a mutual love for twisted, aggressive techno that may or may not work in a crowded room. I couldn’t resist checking it out myself, and Container doesn’t disappoint, offering five urgent and occasionally menacing tracks. The opening title track sets the tone, tapping out a little pattern that is quickly met by an alarmingly fast snare, not so much a call to dance as a call to evacuate the premises immediately. “Soak” follows with a repetitive fill on a corroded drum machine, a jam made for over-caffeinated booties where twerking isn’t a sexual dance but an involuntary twitch. “Funnel” is most Powell-like via its cartoonish poing, as though an ogre was carrying you around by your suspenders (all in and out in under three minutes), whereas “Radiator” falls back on booty-bass filled with NBA dribbling theatrics and your roommate’s hairdryer. “Insulation” wraps things up in similar fashion, another truncated episode of wiggling body-parts under harsh neon lights. Container has certainly come into his own, offering a distinct style beyond the many post-industrial techno players from which he arrived, and this 12″ is more evidence to prove it, slapped wetly into your lap.

Copeland & Gast Sisters Of Control 7″ (All Bone)
I’m at the point where I realize I should’ve really checked out Inga Copeland’s work years ago – the name “Hype Williams” was just so annoyingly on-trend for the non-contextual re-purposing of ’90s nostalgia that I passed it by, but I get it now that both Copeland and Hype Williams co-conspirator Dean Blunt are exactly the sort of weirdo electronic provocateurs that I’d dig. This new and limited white-label 7″ by Copeland and John Gast offers a seductive and mysterious cut of post-trip-hop experimental pop. Picture the icy textures and somber vocals of AGF with the slinky backbeat of Machines Of Loving Grace’s “Golgotha Tenement Blues” stabilizing things into a pop structure. Great use of cymbals as coloring and various additional sonic seasonings to reward repeated listenings. “Sisters Of Control (Version)” isn’t just a throw-away edit, but a weighty dubstep rumination on the original, recalling the brutish swing of Mala or the rest of the DMZ crew circa 2005. Wish there was more than just this one song to enjoy, but Copeland has never been shy about releasing a ton of music in the past and I’ve got plenty of catching up to do anyway.

CO/R Gudrun 12″ (Hinge Finger)
A name like CO/R isn’t going to catch my eye, but the label Hinge Finger does, as it’s the infrequent imprint of Joy Orbison, a post-dubstep producer who has fallen out of the spotlight in recent years while I’ve remained a fan (in spite of the name, of course). Turns out CO/R is a new collaboration between Joy Orbison and Herron, and together they offer four songs of deftly-composed experimental techno (with a focus on “techno”, not “experimental”). The clearest reference I’m picking up is that of T++, in that way that CO/R utilize punchy kicks and sharp snares while patches of white noise, faded rave motifs and radio interference skitter about. A cut like “Bells, Walking” could easily be transformed into a big-room EDM anthem if it weren’t so enticed by the unconventional darkness explored by Blawan and Surgeon, and “Dripback” comes right out of Andy Stott’s playbook (with essentially the same level of quality). I’d almost say Gudrun would be a nice fit for the Downwards label, except that CO/R are much more nuanced and detail-obsessive than your average Downwards steamroller; it’s like they take the concept of post-industrial techno and run one of Nicolas Jaar’s fine-toothed combs over it. It has to be increasingly difficult to make this sort of thing sound fresh or interesting in 2016, what with so many players in the game, but CO/R are something special.

Ian William Craig Meaning Turns To Whispers LP (Aguirre)
Ian William Craig has been firing off a flurry of albums in 2016, and while there are at least two others I still need to peep, I caught up with Meaning Turns To Whispers on the Belgian Aguirre label. I really loved Cradle For The Wanting from late last year, an album of complex ambient vocal compositions, so I was a little surprised by the absence of Craig’s vocals here. I thought they were his trademark, like he could walk into a Wire magazine convention and be like “hey it’s me, the ambient choir vocal guy”, but clearly he’s working with a variety of sounds and instrumentation, and that’s cool with me. Meaning Turns To Whispers is a suite of piano improvisations run through various processes (or none at all), often broken up with tarnished tape erosion, as though he was playing back his music on a reel-to-reel that slowly caught fire. It’s not an entirely original conceit, but it sounds really nice here, his babbling piano consumed by harsh static or sanded down until the final notes blow like dust in the breeze. Meaning Turns To Whispers finally answers the question of “what would a Nils Frahm album sound like if someone buried it under a ton of sediment?”, and it’s a sweet way to go out.

Denim & Leather II 7″ (Milk Run)
You’d think Denim & Leather would be the perfect name for a Brazilian heavy metal band, not a Mancunian hardcore-punk band, but according to Discogs they both exist! This one is the latter, as you may have expected, and they feature a shot of an ostensible band member in a Calvin-esque pose, only to reveal on the back cover that “no pissing” is allowed, taking the theme so far as to release the 7″ EP on neon yellow vinyl. Can’t say I fully comprehend their aesthetics besides a random hodgepodge of naughtiness (and the ever-classic mushroom cloud collage insert), but none of this would matter if their music stunk, which isn’t the case. No, they’re a quite capable group, reminding me of The Shitty Limits, Career Suicide or someplace in between the two – close your eyes and imagine a Sorry State distro update circa 2011 and you’ll hear it too. I like their mellowest moment, “Pink Flamingos”, the most, as it offers a bit more personality and a playful vocal compared to the faster (and more straightforward) tracks (the fastest has me thinking of What Happens Next?, in fact). Cool enough band, I’d just warn them about associating with urine too strongly! It has its downsides.

Downtown Boys Downtown Boys LP (One Percent Press)
Downtown Boys have been designated America’s Most Exciting Punk Band by more than one news source, and not without reason – I can’t think of a current punk band whose between-song banter / build-ups have more visceral human energy. Makes sense then that a label would want to give their self-released debut cassette from 2012 a tidy vinyl pressing, which is what I’m reviewing here. Downtown Boys certainly shows the band in their infancy: their enthusiasm and constantly-peaking energy burst through these flailing, sloppy party-punk tunes. They’ve certainly gained technical prowess since 2012, but skilled performance doesn’t interest me as much as unhinged righteous screaming, demonstrated nicely on this early version of housing anthem “Slumlord Sal”, as well as Victoria Ruiz’s incensed vocal tantrum at the end of “Maldito”. People who only listen to music for judgment of its pure sonic waves and live in a vacuum separate from any message that might accompany it may want to pass on this one, as Downtown Boys slam and worm with an amateurish glee that some classic hardcore-punk re-enactors find irksome. I probably won’t listen to this one much myself, as Downtown Boys continue to get better as both agitators and musicians (I love their most recent material and can’t wait to hear what they do next!), but if there’s a modern punk band whose earliest moves are worthy of proper vinyl documentation it’s the ‘Boys, for sure.

Fadensonnen Gutter Wanderer LP (Fadensonnen)
Wow, I love when a record like this shows up on my doorstep, a project I’ve never heard of (and surely few have) that completely slays, free from the restraints of modern society or, even worse, the music biz. Fadensonnen hail from Brooklyn, and I’ll have to forgive them for that, as Gutter Wanderer is an immaculate long-play record of pointless guitar fireworks. It sounds like the first Purling Hiss album (the one that was all scorching-hot solos and no songs), with less in-the-red distortion and more notes – endless, endless notes. Many of these tracks sound like the folks behind Fadensonnen left the Tascam four-track on fast-forward and decided to riff along with it, in wild swirls of guitar that recall five Demo Moe tracks playing at once, or Borbetomagus if their instrumentation was two guitars and a tape deck. I’m certain that at some point, there was a coherent riff or two, but Fadensonnen stacks a pile of guitars so large that one’s brain cannot focus on anything but its vast outline. What I’m describing could easily be a Merzbow-esque squall that you automatically tune out after a couple minutes, but Gutter Wanderer is constantly moving, bouncing off walls and stumbling over garbage cans like they’re chased by the cops. The confusing hand-made sleeve, wherein you have to fold this tiny little flap open in order to read any liner notes, is the perfect inconvenience to top off this mighty slab of hostile guitar music.

Finished Cum Inside Me Bro LP (Load)
Yep, the album is called Cum Inside Me Bro and has a couple meme-people hugging on the cover with fonts taken from Microsoft Word’s 1995 collection. This is the sort of unfriendly garbage that Load Records built its reputation on, and I’m delighted to see that now, long after any sort of noise-rock trend has completely passed by, Load are still doing what they love simply because they love to do it. Musically, Finished fit the bill perfectly too – they play a loud, cavernous form of garage-y noise-rock that would fit well between Homostupids and White Load, not only sonically but aesthetically (so many dudes fascinated by their own sweaty body parts). It’s pretty traditional sounding stuff, not far from Thee Hydrogen Terrors or even Vaz, where the intensity rarely relents, perhaps only at the end of a track where the vocalist unleashes a loud expletive. “Secret Scum” has a particularly nice Kilslug swing, but there’s no fault to be found with any of Cum Inside Me Bro. May the Northeast continue to produce gnarly and gross guitar bands until the Atlantic finally swallows it up.

Good Throb Good Throb 7″ (La Vida Es Un Mus)
By now you surely know I’m a huge Good Throb fan, so chances are high I’ll be praising this, what may very well be their final record (continental bandmate relocations will do that), but trust me when I say that Good Throb have truly outdone themselves on this four-song EP. Opener “Scum” is a revelation, with soaring, evil guitar that feels like Klaus Fluoride trying out black metal and a rugged oom-pah that beats Dawn Of Humans at their own game. They follow it with “Slick Dicks”, which is more in line with the material on Good Throb’s album (which I had the pleasure of co-releasing) – how they get that bass to sound so thin, ugly and rubbery I’ll never know. Same goes for “The Queen Sucks Nazi Cock”, a shifty punk slam with a very Good Throb song title, so demure and sweet, and the EP wraps up with the tumbling “Welcome Break”, like a colander of hot pasta water dumped over your shoulders. I’m fairly certain Good Throb started as one of those “let’s all play instruments we’ve never played before” bands, and it’s amazing to hear how sharp and tight they’ve become without losing the venomous piss that inhabits every crevice of their music. I’m sad to see them go, but when it comes to briefly existing as a punk band, I’m not sure you can do it any better than Good Throb.

Heart Beach Counting / Relief 7″ (Rough Skies)
I gotta get to Hobart, Tasmania sometime before I croak, just to see if it’s as gloriously quaint of a town as I imagine it to be. I picture Native Cats riding bicycles with flowers and fresh eggs in their baskets, and Heart Beach working at the bodega that rents surfboards near the beach, listening to rare Dead C records on the company turntable. They’ve put together a pleasant and tender two-song single here on the local Rough Skies label, mastered by Mikey Young (who else?) and limited to a scant 150 copies. “Counting” offers a sweet splash of minimal pop, with Claire Jansen and Jonathon McCarthy sharing the wordy vocal lines much like friends sharing a sundae, calling to mind Look Blue Go Purple with a touch of Felt’s resigned worry. “Relief” is a soft and hesitant little strummer, punctuated by a cool drum pattern that sort of stutters the song forward. I wasn’t sure if the results of Google image-searching “Heart Beach” suited the group, but the corny romance of foot-drawn hearts in sand aren’t as incongruous with this group as I may have initially thought.

James Arthur’s Manhunt Digital Clubbing LP (12XU)
James Arthur is an Austin-based garage-rock institution, the sort of guy whose previous band history reads like the full schedule of any given Gonerfest. He’s checked in with his Manhunt recently in the form of Digital Clubbing, a new album with a misleading title and a mysterious cover image, complete with a small scab that I can’t stop staring at. Anyway, these four fully-grown boys (including Orville Neeley of OBN IIIs on the skins) continue their lifetime commitment to loud, blaring garage-rock. Theirs is a refined style, one that borrows from fringe psychedelia, hardcore-punk and outlaw country while never deferring to any of those territories – there’s a strict BPM range at play here and James Arthur’s Manhunt are content to work within those tried-and-true garage-rock lines. It’s a little too traditional and polished to get me too riled up, but personal preference aside, I certainly appreciate that James Arthur’s Manhunt are seasoned players who continue to hone their craft rather than rely on former glories. It’s a little strange, living in this modern world where rock n’ roll is almost exclusively the domain of adults, but I think I can learn to accept it.

JK Flesh Nothing Is Free 12″ (Downwards)
JK Flesh (short for “Just Kidding Flesh”) is one of Justin Broadrick’s newest monikers, wherein he tries his hand at the brutal and sludgy techno game that so many find so enticing (myself included). Naturally, he’s got a hand for this sort of thing, particularly when opting for primitive beats, which is the case on the title track. It sounds like one of the earliest The Bug demos played through a blown-out JVC Kaboom Box, with a brittle hi-hat keeping time over a plodding and dank bass-line that might turn Aardvarck’s head. Surgeon remixes “Nothing Is Free” in double-time to follow; pretty classic Surgeon style that keeps the moody top-line intact while tidying up the bass for the club. “Kontorted” might be my pick of the bunch though – it utilizes the same sonic template as “Nothing Is Free”, but in a snappy two-step rhythm and with bass that seems dead set on imitating the heinous flatulence of an adult grey whale. For much of the track, there are no more than three to five sounds happening at the same time, a modest setup that allows the listener to concentrate purely on how ugly and warbly bass can be. Sneak this one into your next DJ night and watch as the jocks run to the bathroom before their bowels get the best of them!

Steven Julien Fallen 2xLP (Apron)
Steven Julien has recorded as both Funkineven and St. Julien, whose releases have graced these pages, and Fallen is his debut album, the first to be released under his full name. His productions have ranged from forward-sounding tech-house to warped experimental synth (my personal favorite being the wonderfully-peculiar self-titled St. Julien 12″), and both styles inform Fallen, although I’d classify it as entirely its own beast. The majority of the record is based on obscure funk, soul and disco samples, either meticulously re-created or ganked straight from the source, not entirely unlike the MF Doom’s instrumental mixes or Madlib’s Quasimoto productions. Very Waxpoetics, which I mean as a compliment – much of Fallen has me thinking of one of Mingering Mike’s imaginary bands with Joe Zawinul behind the keys. That said, this is far from a tastefully standard suite of instrumental hip-hop / house reproductions. Julien always manages to squeeze a little sour into the mix, tilting his sunkissed funk into unexpected directions. “Chantal” is one of my favorites, starting off with what sounds like clinical minimal-synth not unlike Systematics before settling into a g-funk groove, and “Begins” kicks things off with a melody that is oddly discordant, like a K. Leimer track that Sympathy Nervous tweaked into submission. And even with all that, I can still picture Too Short rapping over basically all of Fallen. Well done!

Kaleidoscope Vol. 2 No. 1 7″ (Katorga Works)
Kaleidoscope is the “solo” project of New York guitarist / artist Shiva Addanki, he of Deformity, Ivy and JJ Doll, the last of whom I recently fell in love with. Under the Kaleidoscope guise, I’ve read that he often leaves the earthly plane of hardcore/punk for more psychedelic odysseys, linking up all sorts of pedals and releasing colorful tapes that document the results. Either I’m understanding things wrong (very possible) or Addanki decided to play it fairly straight for his vinyl debut, which feels like teenage hardcore-punk circa 1982 Southern California, just as the goth started to seep in. Imagine early TSOL at their sloppiest, or perhaps Rikk Agnew delivering his strangest tunes to Subterranean for release. Most of the songs are raucous while defying standard punk timing, which occasionally has me thinking of the Dark Sarcasm 7″ on Gravity, for better or worse. I think for me, this sort of project comes down to the vocals, and Addanki’s voice just kind of fades into the background… his is a boomy, lo-fi shout that seems to hold place for where one would expect vocals to be, like a box he knew to check off. For the full Kaleidoscope effect, I probably need to be in the backseat of a Ford Aerostar that hasn’t been vacuumed once in its existence, traveling across the middle of nowhere when someone puts in a dubbed Kaleidoscope tape, but for now I’m kinda just wishing Addanki would spend more of his spare time with his friends in JJ Doll and crank out another record or two ASAP.

Liberation Liberation LP (Night School)
Allow me to present you with a nice surprise, the debut LP by Liberation, David West’s newest solo venture. Surely you know him from Rat Columns, Total Control, Rank/Xerox, Lace Curtains or various other punk and electronic outings, and his debut as Liberation offers that same understated, curiously defiant feel as West’s previous work, this time in the form of sleazy synth-pop that fits right in on the Night School roster. The sounds here are often familiar but out-of-context, like seeing an old friend in a place you’d never expect them. Liberation will pair the recognizable tones of Kraftwerk’s Computer World with the hazy fuzz that you’d wipe off a 100% Silk production, or a classic Gary Numan synth that only hints at pop accessibility. My favorite track is probably “Cold And Blue”, a perfectly-programmed new-wave pop hit that hints at Fast Eddie and Madonna, but then West’s vocals neuter the whole thing – his voice is so wounded and meek that he makes The Postal Service sound like Andrew WK. And for as unabashedly pop as most of Liberation is, much of the music comes with a disarming awkwardness, like you’re watching a robot try to walk for the first time. As far as Liberation goes, it’s the kind of uncomfortable first-date that I love reliving.

LSDogs Creeps / Yr Done 7″ (Total Punk)
At this point, there would be seemingly no difference between the most earnest Total Punk group and one that viciously sends-up the genre with a ridiculous piss-take. The line between self-parody and sincerity has never been blurrier, as is the case with this LSDogs 7″ on Total Punk, featuring, you guessed it, a tossed-off pencil drawing of a dog on the cover. Musically it’s in line with what you’d expect Total Punk to offer – brash guitars up front in the mix, poor drumming, snotty vocals. I’m a little more partial to the glum riffing of “Yr Done” than the trad-punk “Creeps”, but anyone outright denigrating the music offered by LSDogs is just punking themselves (pun intended), as they play a form of punk rock as standard and dependable as black leather Doc Marten 8-Eyes. Of course, there’s nothing particularly exciting happening here either, but I get the impression that our shared excitement was never the basis for LSDogs existence, anyway. They probably just thought the name was funny and decided to form a band around it.

Mordecai Want To Be / Pictures Of Her W/ Them 7″ (Richie)
Mordecai probably has more back-stock sitting around than the other two Richie Records Summer Singles Series artists combined (Homostupids and Watery Love), but they probably don’t care, and it’s not their fault anyway if the record-buying public isn’t charmed by this lazy group of dudes from Montana. They’re really quite good, and this two-song single displays their mellower side, turning the amps down so that the cats don’t run out of the room while they record. “Want To Be” is a leisurely ride through an abandoned development, like Eat Skull without all the caffeine or The Clean without the ambition. The track actually seems to stop and then start over again, which is an interesting trick. “Pictures Of Her W/ Them” plays out similarly, like Garbage & The Flowers if it was mostly just garbage chilling there, fading through a couple recordings as well in a handsome haze. In my 20+ years of watching amateur live music on stage, Mordecai remain the single drunkest band I’ve ever seen, so it goes without saying that they will always have my respect.

Musk Musk 2: The Second Skumming LP (12XU)
Following their 2014 debut on Holy Mountain, Musk hop over to another highly-respectable American guitar label for the sequel. Here’s a band that has their aesthetic down pat: each album comes with intricately-detailed color paintings of flesh, random shapes of organic material that you can picture writhing and seething on the floor, pathetic, gross and barely sentient. Plus, they’re called Musk, and if this band doesn’t physically stink, something is deeply wrong, as their music is gnarly swamp-rock rife with danger and bad attitudes. I could go for an album’s worth of tracks like “The Hidden Cost”, the album opener that sounds like an old-timey saloon caught fire and was extinguished with a pile of Flying Luttenbachers records, but Musk quickly go into standard song format after that, which is nearly as entertaining. Their sound falls somewhere between Gun Club, Candy Snatchers, the first couple Danzig albums and Lubricated Goat, and probably an actual lubricated goat too. Tracks vary from spastic to somber, but it all fits under Musk’s dank tent. If I didn’t need a shower before listening, I need one now!

NHK Yx Koyxen Doom Steppy Reverb LP (Diagonal)
When NHK Yx Koyxen dropped the similarly-titled Hallucinogenic Doom Steppy Verbs EP last year, I suspected, possibly naïvely, that it was a random one-off project – the grooves were simply too tweaked to be the work of a consistent producer. I’m glad to have gotten that one wrong, as NHK Yx Koyxen has been stamping his awkward moniker on a bunch of records since, including Doom Steppy Reverb, his full-length debut. Much of what I loved about his first 12″ remains in place here: double-helixing acid lines, snappy drum programming, repetitive grooves that never feel concretely in place. That last aspect is particularly striking here, as throughout these seven tracks, nothing ever feels immovable – from the tiniest tick of a hi-hat to the fluttering bass, any sonic element is prone to sudden or gradual shifts, like a violent tsunami or the subtle pull of high tide. Opener “1073+Snare” might be my favorite of the bunch, and it’s also the most unusual, opening with a good half-minute of silence before an acid worm pokes out of the ground and the rest of the track arrives like a darting school of fish, both monolithic and composed of countless tiny movements. I’ll be damned if this isn’t exactly what “Doom Steppy Reverb” should sound like.

1997EV Love Symposium Alien Spider LP (Boring Machines)
I keep reading the album title and imagining Gwen Stefani designing a clothing line for Hot Topic, anyone feel me on that? Anyway, 1997EV is the work of Andrea Ev, and while it’s my first time listening (there is a rich 1997EV discography dating back to, umm, 1999), I am strongly convinced that No Doubt holds no influence over the project. Rather, this stuff comes out of the England’s Hidden Reverse post-industrial axis, with brooding, occult-friendly post-rock, tantric looping and sensual rhythmic gyrations. I would imagine Ev is a big Coil fan, in the way that the music seems to be guided by an invisible hand, even though 1997EV favor the traditional instrumentation of guitars and drums. Of course, these elements are utilized more as patterns in a tapestry rather than riffs and hooks, dipping in and out as Ev’s spoken vocals attempt to conjure sexy evil spirits, the perfect soundtrack to an obscure movie where Cindy Crawford plays a vampire. When this stuff is truly menacing, I worry for my own spiritual safety while listening, but Love Symposium Alien Spider is innocuous enough that it often feels more like a fully-unraveled gothy post-punk group, like Slaves if they turned into My Cat Is An Alien instead of Pleasure Forever. As someone who never wants to meet an actual ghost, I’m cool with this.

Passed Illuminant / Glory 12″ (Boring Machines)
Passed provides a tantric offering in the form of two lengthy cuts on one side of a 12″, leaving the other to solemnly reflect upon silence (shades of Coil’s How To Destroy Angels, perhaps). “Illuminant” is a slow-grower that incubates as a drone before pulling up a mighty percussive chant, something between a Spartan army’s pre-battle ritual and a sober Crash Worship show. It ends up sounding like really great source material for Demdike Stare or The Haxan Cloak to interpret, but on its own is a fairly indistinguishable cut of looped tribal percussion with heavy bass overtones. “Glory” is a solid blast of melodic jet-engine drone, grand and overbearing, and halfway through the sound of a needy baby bird appears, although it’s actually a man yelling in strained black-metal style. Pretty par for the course, although it’s a course I enjoy inhabiting semi-frequently, one where dark, sweeping gestures and ominous atmospheres help me forget the hours I spend sitting at a desk.

Ravi Shavi Independent 12″ (Almost Ready)
Providence, RI’s Ravi Shavi received my approval on their 2015 debut album, a pure garage-rock album that even someone who doesn’t really care about garage-rock cannot deny (that’d be me). Independent is a nice addendum to that, six more songs on a candy-apple-red 12″ EP, the sort of color I’d expect Ravi Shavi’s tour van to be painted. In comparison with their rougher, buzzier debut, the guitars stick out to me here in that they favor a clean, classic tone – all pedals with funny “fuzz” puns in their name were kept outside of the studio, apparently. The drums are nice and dry, and vocalist Rafay Rashid continues to squeal and sing his way through the set, with enough charisma to sweet-talk his prom date’s parents into letting them stay out past midnight. Perhaps it’s the absence of any and all feedback or distortion that causes a dip in Independent‘s energy, or maybe Ravi Shavi are already “maturing”, but it still works. When I think garage-rock, I just want to hear the Hospitals banging on a contact-miked floor tom, so it says something that not only do I tolerate Ravi Shavi’s thoughtful professionalism, I enjoy it as well.

Shackleton & Ernesto Tomasini Devotional Songs 2×12″ (Honest Jon’s)
Without a doubt one of the most exciting electronic producers of the ’10s, I was starting to notice Shackleton’s absence in the past year or so, so it was great to hear about this new album that features vocalist Ernesto Tomasini. Shackleton is about as visionary as a post-dubstep producer can be, always forging new ground while keeping his personal DNA firmly intact, and he continues to move into unexpected territory with Devotional Songs. That said, while I continue to admire his free-spirited creativity, I’m not sure I’ll be coming back to Devotional Songs too often. Shackleton’s productions are almost entirely divorced from dance music here, opting for acoustic percussion, chimes, classical arrangements and only smears and dabs of sound from clearly electronic origin. That much I dig, particularly as Shackleton’s trademarked poly-rhythms remain instantly recognizable even removed from the construction of the club, but Tomasini’s vocals, while technically talented I’m sure, add an air of Ren Faire drama-club elocution that I find distracting and kind of silly. There is certainly an audience for this, but it has me thinking of Art Bears or Current 93 or Comus before I listened to enough Comus where it no longer irked me (this being the exception, not the rule), where the flair of an over-dramatic vocalist distracts more than enhances. That said, I wouldn’t want Shackleton any other way, and as his name implies, I look forward to his continued journey into the unknown.

Sick Thoughts 18 And Free / Choose Death 7″ (Total Punk)
It really seems like there is an arms race over at Total Punk as far as which band can actively show that they care the least – just look at this Sick Thoughts 7″, which not only omits their name from the cover, it features a skull and crossbones so lame that I’m almost no longer scared of pirates. Someone needs to remind all these bands that GG Allin actually wanted to be a rock star! These two songs are apparently archival tracks from Sick Thoughts’ humble beginnings in 2013, so hop in your time machine and give it a whirl. “18 And Free” is fairly by-the-books negi-garage, landing somewhere between The Reatards and The Rip Offs with maybe a touch of The Final Solutions’ self-aware Killed By Death-isms. “Choose Death” is the b-side, and probably a phrase that Black Label Society prints on their merch, and it’s a phrase used repeatedly on this track, cruising a simplistic death-ray riff as DD Owen’s purposely ugly vocals push it through the crowd, staining your shirt with a mixture of blood, sweat and burger grease. It’s punk, to be sure, but I’m not sure it needed to follow us into 2016.

Tanz Ohne Musik Infinity LP (Galakthorrö)
What, like I’m not going to pick up every new Galakthorrö release? Sure, nothing beats Haus Arafna and November Növelet, but I love the way that Mr. and Mrs. Arafna continue to find projects that fit seamlessly into Galakthorrö’s universe, somehow avoiding the redundancy that such similarities could cause. Tanz Ohne Musik (which translates to “Dancing Without Music”, a name I am tempted to steal) are clearly perfect candidates, after releasing a number of albums and singles on Red Cavity and coming across big with Infinity. It is strikingly similar to November Növelet in particular, with relaxed tempos, creepy sung vocals (put through some excellent processing) and a general sense of beautiful gothic despair, as if Frankenstein and Eyes Wide Shut were edited together so that it was impossible to determine where the creepy horror ends and the deviant sexual excess begins. The vocals are attributed to a guy named “Babywolf” and his confidence carries Infinity beyond a good genre exercise and into something I want to listen to frequently. I plan to enhance my listening by setting up a bunch of Betty Page posters and chemistry beakers filled with bubbling green liquids around my room, wearing rubber clothes and softly cackling to myself.

Vincas Deep In The Well LP (Learning Curve)
Atlanta seems overly ripe with hard-rockin’ punk and garage bands these days, which is startling when you consider they still allow smoking inside venues there (yuck). So many musicians, young and old, braving cancer for a chance to rock out with friends and admirers, and I find their dedication noble, Vincas included. They did an album back in 2012 on the venerable Douchemaster label and are back again, peddling their particular stew of strung-out blues and steely post-hardcore. Throughout Deep In The Well (whose cover looks like a chilling Italian horror film circa ’79), I’m imagining a band like Refused or Drive Like Jehu getting sick on Cramps and Gun Club records, doing their best to recreate a strip-tease in the bayou while still performing their music like intense professionals. I’m reminded of early OBN IIIs and late TV Ghost at times too, alongside the Nirvana / Birthday Party mash-up of “Black Rose” and “Murder”, which sounds like Rikk Agnew re-interpreting Bush’s “Come Down”. If that description tantalizes you, it should, as Vincas manage to mine death-rock without becoming a goth punchline, not to mention that they write catchy and distinct tunes. Hope to catch ’em live sometime!

The Wad The Wad 7″ (Lumpy)
Nowhere on this 7″ by The Wad does it mention it’s a Lumpy Records release, and while I appreciate the hermetic design, this is a record any punk label should be proud to put out! I know little about The Wad, but I know that I love the snotty synth-punk they are peddling. “Ron Is Wrong” kicks off the a-side and it’s a barnstormer – picture Ed Schrader’s Music Beat covering a Count Vertigo tune as they interrogate Atom’s package in the corner, just to be mean. “Nog Bag” whizzes through on a frantic floor-tom, choogly bass guitar and meek, undistorted guitar lick, not unlike a particularly focused Coneheads tune. “Atomic” is the b-side’s sole inhabitant and it’s a maniacal slice of circus-punk (the good kind, not Gogol Bordello), which has me imagining Geza X’s “Isotope Soap” were it produced by Mel Blanc. There are a million projects out there similar on paper to The Wad (a couple dorks with a keyboard and a microphone attempt to irritate), but these three songs demonstrate a keen ear for what works, how to be zany without missing the point, and how to never lose sight of punk’s sneer even in the face of novelty sound-effects. Looking forward to more!

Watery Love Ned’s Dreamcatcher / Meg’s Dreamcatcher 7″ (Richie)
A new Watery Love 7″ is a big enough pull around these parts to accept that you’re forced into picking up two other singles just to obtain it, as is this case with the first-annual (?) Richie Records Summer Singles Series. I’ve been lucky enough to watch this band perform for years, and their evolution (and occasional devolution) has been fascinating. In case you’re still enjoying the casual nihilism of Decorative Feeding, they go nearly pop-rock on here, like White Boy And The Average Rat Band or some Mutha release from 1986 that never became collectible. Case in point is “Ned’s Dreamcatcher”, a nimble groove with riotous guitar soloing (it tastes like a cocktail of lemon juice and vinegar) and vocalist Richie Charles ranting about the ways in which you might perish, quite similar to Cyanamid’s “This Is Hell” in every aspect of the vocals and lyrics. “Meg’s Dreamcatcher” is a re-recorded version of their previously drum-less take on a split 7″ with Kurt Vile that only came with Pitchfork magazine (how these apes sneaked in there I’ll never know), and within seconds that trademark three-note guitar soloing is back, like a nagging case of athlete’s foot. Pretty sure the riff here is the same as the one used in The Ultimate Warrior’s theme song, so if you want to violently shake some ropes and kick Roddy Piper in the kilt when this one hits, that explains it. Summer, your jams have arrived!

Tendres Ténèbres compilation LP (Crudités Tapes)
Tendres Ténèbres is a compilation that tasked its artists with applying the theme of sleep and/or lullabies to their music. I love a good themed comp, so long as it’s not pop-punk bands covering ’80s hits or TV themes (okay, I actually do like those too), and this one is a nice and varied trip through the French nocturnal underworld. Most groups take the concept pretty seriously, opting for hushed melodies not far removed from a child’s music-box, or perhaps a woozy collage of airy loops and warm tones, like Throbbing Gristle had they started Morr Music instead of Industrial Records. Of course, some bands throw the concept to the wind – b-side opener Nicolalala offers two minutes of sloppy post-punk, a nice little jolt among the more passive compositions. There’s a “C side” of digital-only tracks as well (imagine agreeing to be on a comp only to find out you’re on the “digital-only C side”, ouch) and I haven’t checked that out, although the presence of an artist named Discombobulatrix has me intrigued. Perhaps it’s best if I just doze off tonight and dream about them instead.

Reviews – August 2016

Bad Vision Turn Out Your Sockets LP (Adagio830)
Bad Vision’s 2013 debut album came through Yellow Green Red back then, which I found to be overwhelmingly Jay Reatard-esque, and three years later the comparison seems apt as ever. It’s not a bad thing, of course, because who doesn’t love Jay Reatard (besides all the people he screwed over, the people he beat up, every sound-guy he worked with, etc.), and Bad Vision have gotten quite competent at their trade. Turn Out Your Sockets is full of that sharp, tightly-wound punk sound, borne of The Undertones, Buzzcocks and The Adverts and maintained throughout the decades by the select bands capable of such precision, along with a few slower numbers befitting a melodic punk band in at least their fourth year of existence. The vocalist has an odd sort of snotty affectation, as if his tongue is stuck to the bottom of his mouth while he delivers every line, which sounds particularly sharp on the opener (and most likely candidate for a hit) “Very Melbourne”, which comes out more like “very [i]Mel-bahhh[/i]”. I always enjoy songs where you’d never guess what they’re saying until you read the song title, and this is something I’d certainly play if I was doing an hour-long weekly punk radio show. I’m not, but maybe you are, and if so I’m sure you could pull a few tracks off Turn Out Your Sockets and get an aging Briefs fan firing up his or her Spotify search bar.

Craig Bell America Now / Annie 7″ (Violet Times)
The Violet Times label comes around intermittently to offer obscure and unheralded guitar music they deem important, be it New Zealand’s The Cakekitchen, someone calling themselves “The Blimp”, or Craig Bell, he of influential Cleveland powerhouses Mirrors and Rocket From The Tombs. While punk history often neglects the careers of first-wave punk rockers post-1980, many of these musicians actually didn’t evaporate upon the arrival of new-wave, and this two-song live single is a small and sturdy piece of proof. I wish I could hear a proper studio recording of “America Now”, because it’s a fine downtown rocker, the sound of Bell’s band at the time (The Bell System) going for plainclothes success with equal reverence for Lou Reed, David Thomas and Richard Hell (recorded in 1985). “Annie” is an acoustic rendition recorded in 1979, played to a crowd that refuses to zip their lips, but Bell doesn’t care, sounding more invigorated and tough than I would expect an acoustic rendition of a Mirrors song could be. If it were 1999, I’d say a CD retrospective of random live tracks and outtakes would suit Bell better than two unrelated tunes on a 7″ single, but the record business makes zero sense to anyone anymore and it’s simply nice enough that these songs are available in any form at all.

The Bibs From The Fish Houses LP (Soft Abuse)
If you’re anything like me, you’re hoping that a band calling themselves The Bibs is a new tough-guy hardcore project featuring ex-members of Terror and Wisdom In Chains, but sadly it’s not to be. No, this is about as nonthreatening as music played by amplified guitars can be – these songs practically offer up their lunch money before you even start to raise your fist. The Bibs operate within the sun-damaged field that separates Mad Nanna from The Velvet Underground, with a smattering of off-kilter Kiwi pop and a faint whiff of the inside of Beachwood Sparks’ tour van. From The Fish Houses is replete with jangly, noodly guitar that often ventures off to nowhere in particular, organ borrowed from the set of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and vocals that sat at home during their prom. If my research is to be believed, The Bibs are actually the guy behind lo-fi techno unit Siobhan and a member of Roachclip, and while I can certainly see the Roachclip resemblance (although Roachclip sound like Metallica by comparison), it’s an amusing pairing with an amusing result. Might as well make all sorts of music if you can, and The Bibs most certainly count as music.

Bruce The Trouble With Wilderness 12″ (Idle Hands)
As far as I’m concerned there’s only one musical artist in history named Bruce, and it’s this guy, coming correct with a few new 12″ offerings including this three-song banger. I didn’t expect him to top Steals from earlier this year, and he hasn’t, but Bruce goes in a different direction here. The title track starts off like another murky, virus-infected techno cut until it stops, a man whispers “I will always love you” and some icy synth tones usher in a seductively smooth house cut, albeit always at an arm’s length distance from the center of the club. “Waves (For Yasmin)” is a buzzing, mostly-beatless track that feels like a midnight dip in a moonlit pool in a suburban townhouse development named Huerco S Estates. Yasmin’s a lucky lady! “Summer’s Gotta End Sometime” opens with crickets, a sound I will never tire from hearing as long as I live, eventually brewing into a chirpy groove, the sort of cut I’d expect to hear from Cornelius were he signed to Hessle Audio. This might be Bruce’s Nebraska moment and I invite you all to give it a peep.

Calhau! Ú LP ((K-RAA-K)³)
Of all the bands I’ve come across opting for an exclamation point at the end of their name, I think Calhau! might be my favorite. They’re a beguiling experimental-noise duo out of Argentina, and this is my first encounter with the group, who’s been casually releasing MP3s, tapes and vinyl over the past five years or so. It’s right up my alley, I’ll tell you that: their sound is usually based around vocals, both uncomfortably direct and highly distorted, often accompanied by loops, synths, samples, effects and whatever else they can plug into the nearest power strip. Their particular approach leaves plenty of space, which can be a risky endeavor, as two people puffing into a microphone isn’t necessarily captivating by its very nature. But with these two, it certainly is, as frequent vocal provider Marta von Calhau will sing to her own imaginary choir just as confidently as she’ll choke on candle-smoke on the next track. Just check out “Herodes” and enjoy how their dual vocalizations can sound like an aborted Can side-project. Comparatively, I’d say post-Beaches And Canyons Black Dice, Phil Minton’s hilarious jabbering, the junk-shop psychedelia of Avarus and the exotic industrial of pre-breakup Throbbing Gristle all come to play, but Calhau! are distinctly on their own path, one where Anglophile experimental music isn’t the sole reference point.

The Conformists Divorce LP (Aagoo)
The Conformists are a Chicago post-punk / no-wave group so damn Chicagoan that my dish instantly became deep upon listening. You guessed it, they recorded with Steve Albini at Electrical Audio (where else?), and if you are remotely a fan of this style, the sound of grown men unraveling at their navels, I recommend you seek out Divorce post-haste. They’ve got the dislocated riffage of US Maple, the unexpected and extended song structures of Harvey Milk and the miserable drum style of Oxes down pat, and the vocalist speak-sings his way through what is probably a lot of biting, bitter commentary on modern middle-class living, at least the parts I can make out. Their songs weave through interesting little crawlspaces, always teetering on the edge of the band just giving up and finding something else to do with their spare time, although they realize music is the only true calling they’ve ever had. They certainly commit to it, and with their vibe of “going to the post office to buy stamps and picking up takeout is my own personal hell”, I’ll admit that more than a small part of me relates. In modern Chicago terms, they could be the dark flipside to Fake Limbs, the America’s Funniest Video where the punchline is just someone getting brutally hurt on a trampoline, where actual pain becomes the laughing matter. The Conformists see that and shine it right back.

Congenital Death Fucklove: Prophet Of Death LP (Ranch / Hydrogen Man)
At first I thought they were “Congenial Death”, and I enjoyed the image of the Grim Reaper kindly offering some fresh lemonade before harvesting someone’s soul, but “Congenital Death” works too. They’re a Philadelphia-based techy grindcore group, and they serve the genre well with Fucklove: Prophet Of Death. On merit of skills and composition, Congenital Death stand up among the many groups that I’d assume served as influences: Converge, Pig Destroyer, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Daughters, Insect Warfare, et al. The vocals aren’t attributed to any specific band member (although the lyrics are written by guitarist Ryan Fitzpatrick), and it seems like more than one guy does the screaming, although the pitch differential of their harsh bellows is slight. They’re really so technically adept that I’m surprised a “bigger” label hasn’t snatched them up yet, but maybe Congenital Death are fiercely DIY, or perhaps technical grind just doesn’t carry the same weight it used to (it seems like there is more cred given to someone repping Stone Roses than Discordance Axis in the youth-metal scene these days, go figure). Congenital Death appear to be dudes who are more likely to wait in line for Supreme than sew Assück patches onto their butt-flaps, at least, which makes sense as it must be significantly easier to write and perform pummeling triplets and stop-on-a-dime drum fills while wearing Adidas pullover fleece.

Der Stab Tracers / It’s Grey 7″ (Negative Jazz / Elective Affinities)
Der Stab (German for “The Stab”) were a short-lived punk out of Orange County in the early ’80s, featuring Rikk Agnew on guitar, whom had he not existed Californian hardcore would not appear in the same shape as we know it today. For whatever reason (the band-written liner notes never fully explain), this 1982 recording was shelved until now, and in case you already had all the other good OC hardcore from this era, you may want to add this to the handwritten want-list you keep crumpled in your butt pocket. “Tracers” is pretty par for the course, maybe a little more “rock” than youthful snot, including a pretty accomplished guitar solo, and “It’s Grey” reveals Der Stab’s Christian Death connection, plodding around like Circle One and Samhain competing in a voodoo dance. No musical revelations here, and almost understandably a band that never quite made it to vinyl (although they are certainly comp-worthy), but I suppose if I stumbled upon some archive material from a group of classic hardcore dudes and had the chance to stamp it into vinyl for posterity’s sake, the urge to do so might overcome me too.

Beatrice Dillon / Karen Gwyer split 12″ (Alien Jams)
Basically anytime Beatrice Dillon commits any bit of her recorded material to vinyl from this point going forward, you can expect me to talk about it here – she’s my current techno fascination, no doubt. That said, naturally I didn’t miss this two-track split EP with Karen Gwyer. Dillon’s track “Curl” is an interesting groove that cooks in under five minutes. It’s a patient, fluid tech-house cut that recalls mid-’00s Melchior Productions or the rubbery techno of Kassem Mosse, a confident strut that’s never too flashy. Karen Gwyer’s track “Common Soundproofing Myths” is three times as long, and it stretches its legs nicely. Hi-hats skip like rocks over the melodic pond, with skittering percussion teasing a beat, until about halfway through when an acid loop emerges and I feel like I’m inside Omar S’s backyard shed, helping him hand-stamp 12″s. Each side of this coin offers pleasant, good-natured techno with an artisan touch, and while it doesn’t explode my mind as many of Dillon’s productions have, I’m dancing just the same.

Margaret Dygas Even 11 12″ (Perlon)
It’s always a pleasure to receive a new single by Margaret Dygas, an America-via-Poland DJ and producer who operates within the world of minimalist techno. On this new 12″, nothing is particularly new or innovative, but that’s fine, as I enjoy her records for their soft, spacious and patient rhythms, not for the next big thing. This is an EP on Perlon, and it truly sounds like an EP on Perlon – both tracks consist of clicky, intricate rhythms that eschew heavy bass or conventional percussion sounds, the sort of minimalist tech-house upon which Perlon built their reputation. Dygas’s last EP from 2014, In Wood / That, offered some playful percussive moments, but Even 11 is more traditional, with the beat darting around like a ghost conjured by Ricardo Villalobos or Bruno Pronsato circa 2006. Some weird vocals permeate the surface of “Even 11”, the speedier of the two, while “Wishing Well” slowly stirs with the dub sensibility of Moritz Von Oswald; the beat has a presence like some sort of meat-eating predator lurking beneath the brown water of a swamp. It all makes for a sumptuous and understated EP, not so much for dancing as sophisticated contemplation, and we all know I’m one hell of a sophisticated contemplator so there you go.

Lee Gamble Chain Kinematics 12″ (UIQ)
UIQ is not only quite similar to the name of a collectible sneaker store here in Philadelphia, it’s Lee Gamble’s new vanity label, and this new four-song EP is a notable entry into his catalog of peculiar post-techno. Techno music is made for dancing, but what Chain Kinematics presupposes is… what if it isn’t? It’s impossible to not feel a slight smarter-than-thou vibe when it comes to Lee Gamble’s music, like his advanced brain could never be satisfied with predictable cadences and tones, and depending on my mood, I either fall deeply under his spell or wish he’d take off his lab coat and just have a little fun. Of course, he’s probably having fun in his lab coat. Even though the title of this EP refers to the physics of robotic programming, these tracks only utilize an impenetrable Autechre-esque sound-bank rather than succumb to it. Thumping kicks are present, and while they are likely to drop out at any given moment (or land somewhere off the grid), Gamble’s attitude seems more pleasant than exclusive. If you’ve ever been curious, Chain Kinematics is a nice way to start following this freak.

Gate Saturday Night Fever LP (MIE Music)
There’s nothing I like more than shop-worn loops with distorted guitars blaring over top, so as soon as I heard about this new Gate album that was based on cut-up loops from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, I ran to the nearest vendor and placed my order. Even in the worst case, it’d still sound pretty good I’m sure, but Gate’s Michael Morley made it great, a nice melange of hazy grooves, warm amp distortion and muttered vocals. The first cut “Asset” feels like vintage Blues Control before it slips into reverse gear, and throughout the rest of the album, moments recall Oren Ambarchi’s fantastic Stacte Karaoke EP. The closer “Hijack” is my personal fave, as it veers closer to the smudged techno attempts of Richard Youngs’ Like A Neuron, dance music that is produced by a man who can’t help but add a thick layer of smog and confusion to the music he touches. It’s also worth noting that the loops, while serving as the foundation for each of these tracks, shift and morph throughout each track in ways that I can’t fully perceive – Morley’s clearly massaging every aspect of the sound, never content to let anything loop in peace. Fantastic piece of vinyl, this!

Haus Arafna Children Of God LP (Galakthorrö)
The Galakthorrö label isn’t one to dwell in the past, but Children Of God, Haus Arafna’s debut album from 1998, was never given their lavish vinyl treatment (or any, in fact) up until now, so it’s nice to finally place it on my shelf where it always belonged. While I can’t accuse Haus Arafna of greatly changing up their aesthetic over the past two decades, Children Of God does display them in a raw, almost feral form at times, with tracks that seep over into the Genocide Organ-esque power-electronics side of their spectrum, with barked vocals that act more as electrical shocks than a human sound. Their classic cut “Last Dream Of Jesus” still sounds powerfully fierce, but I’m particularly chuffed to finally have “The Way You Go” on vinyl – it’s the first Haus Arafna song I ever heard, and to this day remains my favorite, with an unsettling, Frankenstein-esque synth progression and Mr. Arafna’s vocals sung like a lout in the alley behind the bar at 4:00 AM. If I die slowly instead of suddenly, I plan on singing this one on my way out.

Hero Dishonest Liha Ja Teräs LP (Peterwalkee)
Hero Dishonest continue onward with this, their seventh album in sixteen years, in firm position to be the second-generation Terveet Kädet (which presupposes that there will actually be a time in which Terveet Kädet cease to exist). On this US edition, Peterwalkee continues to make Hero Dishonest available for the hundred Americans who are interested in such a thing. On one hand, I’m surprised there aren’t more eager fans (the Peterwalkee pressing is limited to 100 copies), but at the same time it seems pretty clear that most old hardcore people are either hopelessly out of touch and buying Strung Out CDs or are too cool for bands that aren’t the specific micro-genre flavor of the week. Regardless of who else enjoys Hero Dishonest, I sure do – they haven’t skipped a beat here, at their most frantic recalling Gauze were they raised on Lärm or otherwise toning it down for a sort of rocked-out, Murder City Devils-meets-Bl’ast zone. And then there are the tracks that sound like they came off a Southeast Asia CD compilation on 625 Productions with 40 bands, which I might enjoy most of all. Hero Dishonest will keep playing manic hardcore and it’s up to us if we care to tune in.

His Clancyness Pale Fear / Coming Up Empty 7″ (Maple Death)
A moniker like “His Clancyness” seems like it should be reserved for the one and only Tom Clancy, but Jonathan Clancy has claimed that title for his own. It’s the name of his band, who have done time on labels like FatCat, and I can see why, as they’ve got a studied, bad-boy-but-not-really form of cool going on here. “Pale Fear” rides a clunky drum-beat through a very Spoon-like demeanor, sounding like guys who finally became sexy in their late thirties. They even push the tune over to a more traditional drum / guitar style in its second half and it works just as neatly. “Coming Up Empty” is a lonesome slow-dance, two people holding each other up on a dance-floor covered with confetti and streamers that fell hours before. It’s the perfect song for going over to your exes’ house to ask for your Walkmen LPs back. I’m far more partial to the upbeat slink of “Pale Fear”, but there’s an audience out there for both sides of this single and I have no doubt that His Clancyness will continue to locate it.

Homostupids Sleepy Tree 7″ (Richie)
Dwell on this 7″ long enough and you might actually transport back to the final days of George W. Bush’s reign, back when 7″ singles series were popping up left and right and Homostupids were active and on the tip of every garage-monkey’s tongue. Unlike many singles series of that era, this Richie Records Summer Singles Series (2016) arrives all at once and with zero flakery, and this brief chestnut from Homostupids is their first transmission in at least five years by my count. There are three brief tracks here, and I can’t help but notice that it sounds like a gentler, older group this time around – their songs are played notably slower, even if the general picking style and riff arrangement remains the same, and vocalist Steve Peffer (or is it the other guy? I can’t tell) is far from his throat-curdling former self, with lyrics that are actually close to audible and a relaxed delivery that ensures a dry collar. It sounds good, just not as raucous and indifferent as my favorite ‘Stupids material (although they’ve still got the song title game on lock, what with “Sleepy Tree” and “Sneaky Leaker” here, in their usual “nihilistic Shel Silverstein” style). More on the other two singles next month…

Hypnotic Sleep Füörm Hüölertnstruk Maut Mä´n Haut Afniemn 7″ (Hüüpnootsche Platen Un Kassetten)
It’s a relief that I can simply recommend this record to you by writing about it, as there will never be a day in my life wherein I’m comfortable enough attempting that title out loud. The band name, Hypnotic Sleep, is quite easy for a mono-languaged American like myself, and I’ve been really enjoying this strange little two-song single, following a full-length album of which the snippets I’ve heard are equally fascinating. Take the title track here, for instance: it’s built on a rickety drum machine and simplistic bass melody, with the soothing spaciousness of Duster or some other introspective ’90s space-rock indie group that felt solace in Moss Icon’s steely verse. Beautiful tune. The b-side “Dolli” utilizes different instrumentation, what sounds like a pump organ operated with two hands rifling through Medieval phrasing and weepy folklore, like a Current 93 outtake from 1991 that was put aside before being properly finished, or perhaps the bizarre cult-work of Canada’s One Of You (look them up, I’m glad I did!). The a-side’s stronger, but together it’s a wonderful, out-of-time experience. Time to go buy that LP.

JJ Doll JJ Doll 7″ (Katorga Works)
All the punks with their ears to the streets have been talking about JJ Doll in the last year or so, the band that quickly formed out of the ashes of the short-lived Ivy (who mostly came from Brown Sugar – I love punks that can’t keep a band together for any reasonable amount of time). I thought the JJ Doll demo sounded cool, but this new 7″ offers a clarity in both sonic quality and songwriting style that I find most appealing. Musically, they are speedy, grody hardcore-punk not unlike Patsy (or to an obvious extent, Ivy) or any given snippet of Not So Quiet On The Western Front, a standard I don’t take lightly. It’s solid stuff for sure, with a tasteful use of oom-pah drumming and a particularly subterranean guitar tone, but it’s the vocals of Sara Abruna that make JJ Doll a standout (let’s face it, the vocalist is at least 75% responsible for the success or failure of any given hardcore band). She shouts but rarely screams, sounding more bemused or taunting than enraged, and it’s a nice fit – I’m reminded of the short stint of Drunks With Guns material when they were fronted by a teenager named Melissa, NBJ’s “Dead Porker” (there I go with Not So Quiet again!) or a less new-wave version of CCTV’s Jennifer Giba. On the whole, JJ Doll have certainly found their mark with this single, and if they can’t keep it together for another record, I look forward to their next slightly-different incarnation just the same.

Le Villejuif Underground Le Villejuif Underground LP (SDZ)
Nathan Roche is the man behind Le Villejuif Underground, a musician and poet whose records and general underground presence I’ve enjoyed in the past, but never quite to the degree I’m enjoying Le Villejuif Underground’s self-titled debut. It’s a simple, goofy-happy rock record, the sort of product of which there are already an infinite amount, but few carry this level of effortless cool. It’s like what I assumed Girls were going to sound like before I heard them – some accidental confluence of Lou Reed, Jonathan Richman and Elvis Costello presenting itself over a bopping rock group that recalls The Clean or Scott And Charlene’s Wedding. It’s an obvious style choice, but simply the way Roche pronounces the name “Shannon” is enough for me to follow this guy off a bridge, pied-piper style. No idea where in Australia he was raised to have such a cool downtown NYC accent, but I want to visit that town and talk to the locals. Le Villejuif Underground is a great record, the sort of thing I would expect Pitchfork to fall over themselves to cover, at least back when they were all about What’s Your Rupture? and Captured Tracks instead of Drake and Yeezy. The fact that they’re called “Le Villejuif Underground” certainly isn’t helping their ability to connect with prospective fans, but I don’t plan on talking about them much anyway – this band is so cool and righteous that I plan on keeping them to myself.

Lumpy And The Dumpers Huff My Sack LP (Lumpy)
Like so many seminal hardcore-punk bands before them, a great singles band like Lumpy And The Dumpers finally put together their debut album, with somewhat mixed results. I am certainly a Lumpy fan (both band and label); they brought slime to punk rock prominence in the 2010s, not to mention the reigning best modern punk YouTube video clip, “Boy Hit By Fireworks In NYC”. I was ready to love Huff My Sack, but I dunno… something is slightly off. I can’t locate the instantly memorable anthem that I was hoping for (nothing close to “Gnats In The Pisser” or “Sex Pit” at least), and their sound is a little muddier than before – a slight step-down in sound quality similar to Hank Wood’s slide from first album to second. And while I appreciate Lumpy’s fascination with testicles throughout Huff My Sack – his lyrics are strongest when focusing on bodily functions, macabre gross-outs or anything generally yucky – the grossness here doesn’t seem as genuine somehow. The lyrics of “I’m Gonna Move To New York” kinda miss the mark when one considers the wealth of material that clueless trust-fund hipster-punks provide (a Thurston Moore jab in 2016 feels particularly flat), and an anti-cop song doesn’t feel ragingly righteous when followed by a track called “Pee In The Pool”. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a solid slice of garbage-pail punk, but something about Huff My Sack feels like a band impersonating the things that Lumpy And The Dumpers do rather than Lumpy And The Dumpers themselves, as if they are now aware of their underground fame and trying to do the things they think people want them to do rather than simply letting their most bizarre tendencies lead the way. You thought it was impossible to be serious about Lumpy And The Dumpers, but look at me over here.

Machine Woman Genau House 12″ (Where To Now?)
Where To Now? has quickly become a “buy on sight” label for me – they’ve released mind-boggling 12″s from Lutto Lento and Beatrice Dillon in the past year, and this new one from Machine Woman is equally fantastic. I reviewed Machine Woman’s For Sweden 12″ a couple months ago, a six-track EP brimming with ideas, but she slims it down with Genau House, comprised of two originals and one remix. “I Can Mend Your Broken Heart” is a gorgeous and sensual dip into Machine Woman’s flotation tank, working a chilly ambiance and crackly glitches into an all-night groove, topped off by her disaffected, looking-elsewhere vocals. If this song was a muffin I’d eat the whole dozen and sit there smiling stupidly, chest covered in crumbs. “Friday Night” has a similar effect, with swerving kicks and codeine-dipped vocals to imagine a Paranoid London track that can’t feel its own face. Nice choice in bringing in Kassem Mosse to remix “I Can Mend Your Broken Heart”, and his bass goes beneath the foundation and rattles the earth’s crust while he slowly dissolves Machine Woman’s original cut like a drop of red food-coloring in a bowl of chilled vodka. Pretty much everything is right about Genau House, and while I’m eager for more from both Machine Woman and Where To Now?, I’m content to linger in this pool well beyond the pruning of my fingers and toes.

Mosquito Ego Glomb LP (Ever/Never)
Mosquito Ego’s Glomb comes with a strikingly beautiful cover painting, replicated even larger in fold-out poster form as an insert, the sort of thing you’d want to hang up in your toddler’s bedroom until you start counting the penises and anuses that are subliminally rendered within. It’s a busy, colorful grab-bag of craziness, which extends to the sound of Mosquito Ego as well. My first thought was “this sounds like a band that would have a split record with Melt Banana”, and I’m sticking with it – if you’ve collected Melt Banana records like I have over the years, you’re used to the zany noise-rock, digital grindcore, spastic funk and occasional ska-punk bands that shared vinyl real estate, and Mosquito Ego float somewhere between all that. I’m reminded of the psychotic noise-funk of Mercury 4F, of course the Boredoms, maybe a touch of Dazzling Killmen and Nisennenmondai too. Elastic noise-rock riffs will meet synthetic animal noises, break-beat samples skitter past inorganic drones and everyone involved seems to be having a marvelous time. All this from a German band featuring ex-members of ’90s somber hardcore outfit Cluster Bomb Unit. The world is a beautiful place.

Mulan Serrico Discret LP (Crudités Tapes)
Crudités Tapes is a small label under the umbrella of SDZ Records (perhaps my favorite Parisian experimental post-punk label going today), focusing more on the electronic / dance side of things, and Mulan Serrico is their latest export. Do punks really not buy dance records unless they are on a dance-specific sub-label? I’ve never understood the need for that differentiation, but alas. Anyway, Mulan Serrico is the work of one Nicolas Murer, who I enjoyed as a member of smash n’ bash noise-punk duo Gueule Ouverte a couple years ago (seek out their LP, it’s cheap!), now out on his own with a couple keyboards, a pack of smokes and surely a pair of tinted sunglasses ready to land on the bridge of his nose. I’m strongly reminded of the simplistic synth-wave sleaze of fellow Frenchmen Scorpion Violente, although Mulan Serrico is mercifully free of lecherous imagery. Discret plays out somewhere between early Chris & Cosey and the Excitebike soundtrack, with basic acid movements and throwback melodies not far from the first Veiled album, much of which is joined by sonically-affected male vocals. Nothing particularly exciting, but if you’re throwing a dungeon dance-party and the bar is only serving red wine, you might be wishing you had a copy of Discret nearby.

Nones XOXOXO Sue LP (no label)
Chicago group Nones move from the stable housing of HoZac to a self-financed residence, offering their second full-length album, XOXOXO Sue. Been listening to it for a while, not so much because I’m loving it but because I’m hoping to find something to say worth reading about it. Nones play a very basic form of mid-paced punk rock, with debt to both the ’90s Touch & Go scene and the ’00s HoZac scene (which is to say, strong flourishes of moody indie-rock and snarky garage-punk). Maybe a touch of Wipers in there too, although referencing the Wipes halfheartedly is about as useful as saying a band sounds like rock music. Vocalist Brandon Bayles has kind of a stilted, well-enunciated delivery, and there’s even a song where he assumes the perspective of a woman named Sue who wrote him a letter, singing her lyrics in a higher register, which was probably amusingly awkward to witness in the studio. Definitely not a record I’ll be coming back to much, but I’d imagine they have a small-but-dedicated crew of friends who come out to support them and sing along to songs like “Too Old To Die Young” and they surely matter more to Nones than whatever I might have to say.

1-800-BAND High Beams LP (Amost Ready)
Either you’re willing to acknowledge a band named “1-800-BAND” or you never will be, and for those on the wrong side of the line, I’m sorry you hate fun so much! High Beams is my first interaction with the group, and it’s a solid dose of buttery rock n’ roll comfort. I’m hearing sky-high Cheap Trick hooks on basically every track, with an affable mainstream new-wave sound that recalls The Records or The dB’s or one of those other bands that you ended up buying an album by because you really didn’t want to leave the record store empty-handed and it was fifty cents and looked vaguely punk. (Maybe I’m projecting – do any of you own Tuff Darts LPs?) 1-800-BAND sound so insanely confident in their heart-on-sleeve ’80s commercial power-pop that their songs almost instantaneously transport me to a place in time I never truly inhabited: skipping out of detention to go chew gum and make out under the bleachers before hitchhiking to the big city to see Tom Petty perform on his Full Moon Fever tour. If you ever heard Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long” and wished it was cool, go get yourself some High Beams.

Posset Fanzine Ink Dries Like Black Blood / Slurpy Slurpy Creep Creep 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
The I Dischi Del Barone singles just keep on coming, this one from Joe Murray AKA Posset, a sound artist who’s been committing his experiments to tape for almost a decade. Can’t say I’m familiar with him previously, but not knowing anything is often part of the fun of the I Dischi Del Barone experience. “Fanzine Ink Dries Like Black Blood” is a quickly-cut assemblage of vocal wheezing – some deep asthma is explored here, to be sure. Took me a while to determine the record speed, considering the unusual tone of the human voice being applied, but speed determination is the other fun part of the I Dischi Del Barone experience. “Slurpy Slurpy Creep Creep” certainly slurps and creeps along, meditating on what sounds like a sun-melted Walkman attempting to play a Pork Queen cassette from 1995. It’s like a glass of water with plenty of backwash, both viscous and gross. Nice move, Posset!

Primetime Going Places 7″ (La Vida Es En Mus)
Primetime were one of the best punk bands (maybe the best?) I saw live last year, and not because they all did backflips into their gear after every song or anything crazy like that, but simply because of the songs themselves. Each new tune was beautifully dumber than the last, inexplicably catchy to the point where you assume they are classic obscure punk covers you need to go home and research. They’re all Primetime originals though, and the opener here, “Pervert”, is probably their pinnacle thus far. It has the same delightfully rudimentary charm of Delta 5’s “Mind Your Own Business”, but with the best sex-themed punk lyrics since Good Throb’s album – charming and sloppy and hilarious all at once. Actually, if vocalist Claudia Serfaty just sang “da da da” instead of actual words, the stop-start riff makes it an unforgettable tune regardless of anything else – truly a song for the ages. The other three tunes are fantastic as well, sweet and goofy and memorable in a way that Eddy Current could’ve went instead of becoming grandiose and introspective. If anything, Going Places is over much too fast, but I can’t think of a better way to develop carpal tunnel than flipping this one over and over. Top recommendation!

Rough Kids Rough Kids LP (Sorry State)
Rough Kids sounds like the name of a fictional band to rival The Nasty Bits on HBO’s Vinyl (RIP), and it suits this LA quartet, what with their attractive black-and-white portraits on the back, band member Luis seductively taking a pull from his cigarette as if he has no idea they cause cancer. Musically, they work pretty well as a “grown-up serious punk adults” unit – I’m hearing the tuneful power-pop of Exploding Hearts channeled through a scowling, unhappy set of songs befitting No Hope For The Kids or The Observers (and one track that cribs the “Rockin’ In The Free World” riff). Very classically-inspired stuff here, with hooks about their “TV screen”, denim jackets with just the right flair (is that an original Bags pin I spy on Tsubasa’s?), images of the band standing in front of an empty lot with a chain-link fence backdrop… it’s a nostalgia that goes down incredibly smooth for anyone who ever wanted to pump their fist at CBGBs while wearing ripped jeans. Rough Kids don’t add to the lexicon, but they certainly studied it well, and if you’re looking for a group of bad boys (which I guess is an exact synonym for Rough Kids) to bring you back to a time that most of us are too young to have experienced firsthand, they’re ready and able.

Soft Gang Soft Gang LP (Sophomore Lounge)
New York City’s Soft Gang, featuring ex-members of Dichroics and Sapat, arrive with this self-titled album on Sophomore Lounge. If all I had to go on was sound alone and I didn’t have the handy promo sheet in front of me, I still would’ve guessed that this album was the work of grown adults, probably closer to having teenaged children than being teenagers themselves – this is experienced avant indie-rock. Soft Gang play a moderate, plaintive form of post-punk, reminiscent of the smarter-than-emo bands out of DC like Lungfish, or maybe Bluetip or Unwound’s milder tunes. The songs are far from energetic, but purposeful, as though each lull or guitar dropout was thoughtfully considered. Vocalist Kaori Nakamura’s soft, quaintly mumbled prose that seemingly ignores the song structure behind it calls to mind Deerhoof’s Satomi Matsuzaki, although the manic energy and child-like giddiness of Deerhoof is nowhere to be found on Soft Gang, even though both bands are probably roughly the same age. Soft Gang prefer to pensively skulk through their tunes, to the point where you can’t tell if they are suppressing an explosion of sonic intrigue or just really tired. I suppose that’s what it means to be a Soft Gang.

Tackle Benzedrine 12″ (Another Dark Age)
Australia’s answer to Blackest Ever Black, Another Dark Age, comes correct with the debut 12″ EP of Tackle, an artist working in the realm of metallic and frightening industrial-techno. It’s a genre that has certainly passed its ideal weight by now, and the trope of using a prescription drug name as a song title to infer some sort of sinister darkness is a bit played, but I made it past my reservations and was pleased I did. The title track is pretty interesting – instead of taking metallic pings, live-wire shocks and crunching machinery and laying it out over a bass-soaked 4/4 grid, Tackle treats it like Doormouse or Venetian Snares circa 2003, whipping up a fierce and minimal drill-n-bass workout. Picture Chris Corsano as an X-Men villain, laying over the slain bodies of Blue Man Group as he pummels a chemical factory with his drumsticks and you might catch my drift. The b-side offers other interesting takes on negative-sounding modern industrial: “Stung” sounds like Fieldy from Korn caught in a Saw death device, his only way out by joining Moebius and Plank in their sessions for Rastakraut Pasta (others might say it sounds a hell of a lot like Powell). Final track “AGR 003” is the least interesting but still quite enjoyable, hitting like an Ed Banger remix of Emptyset, with monotone static bursts snugly snapped into Mr. Oizo’s template. It all makes for a wonderful, optimistic take on evil electronic dance music, one that 2016 certainly needs.

Writhing Squares In The Void Above LP (Siltbreeze)
My city has a musical duo that play bass guitar, drum machine, flute and saxophone, does yours? They’re called Writhing Squares and it’s only appropriate that their debut album is released by Siltbreeze, one of the vanguard labels of international underground music. Writhing Squares are quite cool, bringing their own particular ideas and instrumentation to tried-and-true rock. Most songs operate around the nimble bass lines and drum machine accompaniment, providing the flute, saxophone or whatever else plenty of room to soar around, kite-like through their psychedelic skies. Both members of the group are clearly accomplished players, so don’t expect any skronking or tuneless-for-tuneless’-sake squealing; rather, Writhing Squares play with melody and bounce ideas off each other to the point where it’s hard to tell if these songs are righteous mind-melded improvisations or fine-crafted compositions. The music has me thinking of some sort of Hawkwind and Huey Lewis collaboration, but with all guitars extracted and just the melodic bones loosely dancing together. There’s certainly the feel of Americanized kraut-rock action too, like Neu! and Can aren’t far from Writhing Squares’ personal turntables but it’s actually ZZ Top and The Ramones that are embedded in their DNA. The album really gets cooking by the second side – I’m reminded of the earliest Wooden Shjips records, where it was clear the group struck gold by building their sound from a few distinct sonic ingredients (and both groups have similarly echoed / unintelligible vocals). I can only assume Writhing Squares will continue their upward journey into and through the void.