Reviews – April 2019

Alberich Quantized Angel LP (Hospital Productions)
When it comes to harsh techno-inflected industrial of the American variety, Alberich has been a personal favorite for a while now. He’s busy but reclusive (and one of the fine artists to politely decline a YGR interview back when I still did those), and when he actually puts out an album, or long-playing tape set or what have you, it makes a splash. Quantized Angel offers little in the way of surprise, but it delivers the goods with precision and efficiency. In a way, it feels like the rest of the world has caught up to Alberich, as there are countless new artists making gritty and rhythmic industrial music, but even as the increased population has slightly diluted the impact of this general sound palette, Alberich stands out. For whatever the reason, his gear pounds notably harder than your average player, with simplistic and repetitive patterns that maintain their own isolated DNA, even through the blown-out distortions and tense clangs that rain down like lava from a nearby volcano. The title track in particular dazzles with echoes of pounded metal, which has me envisioning a power-electronics interpretation of the musical Stomp starring Hospital’s Dom Fernow soft-shoeing over some rusty Oldsmobile wreckage. Anything is possible with these mischievous sonic connivers!

David August D’Angelo LP ([PIAS] Cooperative)
I can’t shake the feeling that Hamburg’s David August was created by some hyper-efficient algorithm tailored specifically to my musical tastes: cross Nicolas Jaar, Scott Walker, Daughn Gibson and Matthew Dear and you’ve arrived at his destination. Only seven tracks on D’Angelo, August’s sophomore full-length, and they make a lovely impression, one of a solitary male figure sweeping through the night into a world of hidden glamour and lust that plebes like you and I could only imagine. The Nicolas Jaar vibes are particularly strong, but there’s very little laptop-gazing to be had here; August likes a good riff, be it an outwardly spiraling harp melody or a fat chugging bass-guitar, and he knows how to use them. August’s vocals are generally ghostly moans or cyborg-enhanced crooning, certainly splitting the difference between Jaar and Matthew Dear, and across these unhurried, sumptuous tunes, they really hit the spot. Some of the songs feel like they would work as disco if they were sped up exponentially (he barely seems to break 80 BPM most of the time), but I prefer them this way, on the verge of nodding off, the guitars and keys sliding in and out of their natural states as August tries to get us home safely. Slapping a big recommendation on this one!

Beyond Peace What’s There To Be So Proud Of? 7″ (Slugsalt)
Philly’s Slugsalt label must’ve taken a Midwestern road trip last summer or something, because they dropped a heavy dose of Midwestern punk recently, which includes this EP from Iowa City’s Beyond Peace. It’s a nice package, silk-screened and stamped and all that, and their music is urgent and slightly-uptight, the way all good political hardcore-punk should be. Musically I’m reminded of Ill Repute and Christ On Parade, with perhaps an early ’00s detour through much of the thrash 625 was peddling at the time. 1984-style hardcore, let’s say, but with a finger pointed at today’s issues: monuments to political villains, white supremacy, complacency and cops. What’s nice is that their lyrics attack these issues beyond broad and vague sloganeering, and you can still slam n’ mosh to ’em, particularly the spirited chug of “For Peace”. Nothing trendy or of particular interest to today’s hardcore tastemakers here, but Beyond Peace are from Iowa City, what do they care? No one of social importance is gonna pay any attention to them regardless, so they might as well do their own thing!

Bitumen Discipline Reaction LP (Vacant Valley)
Vacant Valley is one of Melbourne’s more eclectic labels, covering pretty much any crevice of underground rock-ish or rock-esque music, so I was interested to dig into Bitumen’s debut album upon its arrival. Didn’t take long to figure out Bitumen’s vibe, which is textbook goth-rock, right down to their black shirts tucked into their black pants. Roomy, semi-electronic percussion; flanged bass and chorus-y guitars (or is it the other way around?); moaning, wounded vocals; the sensuality of spiders crawling up your spine. If this is precisely your deal, Bitumen are here to guide you through another dark night, but if you need something beyond a trustworthy genre exercise, Discipline Reaction might leave you a little bored or wanting. I kept waiting for hooks, or risks, or any attention-grabbing moment to come from this record, but Bitumen play it fairly safe, eager and ready to fill the opening slot when the distinguished seniors of goth come through to play one of Melbourne’s haunted theaters. I’d put on my leather pants if I was going to see Bitumen, but they’re going to have to wow me with their next record if they expect me to do my eyeliner, too.

Jackson Reid Briggs & The Heaters It All Comes Down LP (Grubby Publications)
In case you were worried the Aussie underground had gone fully twee, the lengthily-named Jackson Reid Briggs & The Heaters are here to ease your concerns, dishing out another album of sturdy pub-punk (it’s their term, not that I disagree). Nine tracks here, and Briggs and company do well by them, lodging themselves into each of these varied grooves until every last Heater is satisfied, from the rhythm guitarist to the keyboard player (his name is “Guy Buzz” and I can’t help but assume he was born with the name). I’m reminded of the OBN III’s in the way that The Heaters seem to aim for the back rows of the crowd with their songs, trying to get as big as a band can be in a small dive bar. I’m also hearing The Cheater Slicks in the way that Briggs seems to plea for his humanity over these thick and pleasant garage-punk tunes. To someone disinterested in the style, It All Comes Down might pass as acceptably generic, but as for rabid fans of tuneful and basic Aussie rock in the heralded tradition of Cosmic Psychos, feedtime, The Scientists, Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Tyrannamen and surely hundreds more, I bet they’ll be fist-pumping and singing along to “Australian Dream” the first time they heard it, just like I did here in very-much-not-Australian Pennsylvania!

Chris Corsano, Bill Nace, Steve Baczkowski Mystic Beings LP (Open Mouth)
If I was participating in an American Improvisor fantasy league (why doesn’t this exist?), these three would be high on my draft list! The octopus-armed percussive whirlwind of Chris Corsano, sadistic guitar surgeon Bill Nace and heavyweight saxophone powerhouse Steve Baczkowski, what’s not to like? Mystic Beings comes from a session late in November 2016, and they sure are playing as though it’s November 2016: frantic, shocked, dismayed and appalled, this is free-jazz at its most combustible and disturbed. The trio setting is fairly optimal, as each artist is well-represented in the din – Corsano’s percussion comes from all angles while Baczkowski rips a hole in the sky and Nace emits mechanical scrapes not unlike a roll of barbed wire dragged across glass. You can focus on any specific player (which is fun) or let the entire thing cleanse you out, like one of those intentionally-painful facials that leaves you looking decades younger. I doubt anyone was there to mosh to Mystic Beings at the time it was recorded, but rest assured, I’m moshing to it now.

The Cowboys The Bottom Of A Rotten Flower LP (Feel It)
At the bottom of a rotten flower… who among us hasn’t been there before? This is the sixth full-length outing for Bloomington’s The Cowboys since 2014, and while I normally look suspiciously toward extreme prolificacy, I’d say it has worked in their favor. This group continues to get better at what they do, and not by simply trimming the fat, either – this new one has sixteen tracks, and while that number strikes me as dangerously large for any power-pop garage-punk album, they never falter into fatiguing repetition. They’ve really stepped into a great formula instead: the compact-design retro-rock of The Strokes circa Is This It with the melodic sensibility and general aesthetic of late ’70s private-press American power-pop (Boyfriends, The News and other great bands with overused generic names), performed with the over-caffeinated zeal of the Liquids / Coneheads posse. “Wet Behind The Eyes” is probably the best Strokes-y song on here, and two tracks later “My Conscience Is Clean” sounds like a male-fronted, later-era Dum Dum Girls delivering the goods, but those are merely a couple of the flavors The Cowboys share with us here. This is a group capable of a lot of great rock n’ roll, which is a relief considering their feverish rate of production.

Dark Blue Victory Is Rated LP (12XU)
Not since The Vines played on Late Show With David Letterman has there been as precious an accord between the United States and Australia as the group Dark Blue, whose songwriter and vocalist John Sharkey bounces between continents with the frequency you or I might go see a new Star Wars movie at the theater. To be fair though, he’s kinda-fake Australian (proudly born and bred in the burbs of Philadelphia), and as Dark Blue are proudly kinda-fake skinheads, the whole thing just works. Victory Is Rated is their third full-length, and while this group arrived aesthetically fully-formed (cynically humorous sad-skinhead Britpop), Victory Is Rated displays the band fully confident with their decisions, no longer bridging the gap between punk and indie but simply setting up camp among the best that ’90s alternative pop-rock had to offer. It suits them! These songs are some of their most immediately enjoyable, rich with easy-to-swallow hooks and assertively guided by Sharkey’s increasingly masterful voice. When Kurt Vile’s guest trumpet solo hits on “Let Me Tell You A New Story”, and Sharkey extends the word “baby” to nine syllables, I can’t help but feel like they’ve unintentionally bested The Wedding Present at their own game. At the very least, much better than Better Than Ezra.

Equipment Pointed Ankh Live LP (Sophomore Lounge)
First and foremost, not since that first Satanic Rockers LP have I been so thoroughly entertained by an illustrated penis on a record cover! This one is worth zooming in on for sure, the sort of thing where I want to meet the person who conceptualized it, while also really not wanting to meet them. Anyway, about the record that inhabits this cover: Equipment Pointed Ankh is the solo-project-turned-live-ensemble of one Jim Marlowe, most notably of Tropical Trash. On Live, he’s accompanied by other locals like the Flanger Magazine guy, Dan Davis (also of Tropical Trash) and others. They space out over some superbly lengthy grooves, clearly under the psychic instruction of krautrock but speaking in their own musical language. The a-side locks into a springy rhythm and those who can solo over top, do. It’s trippy and vaguely humorous, with guitars that work themselves into sounding like honking geese before they call it a wrap. The three tracks on the b-side are murkier and less focused, a primordial soup of electronics and strings, at least until final cut “MA Wishlist” hypnotizes once more, replete with an expressive horn and Eastern scales. The label compares the album to Harmonia, Ashtray Navigations and Sunroof!, and while I like to think I know how to compare bands to other bands far better than the record labels that release them, I’d say Sophomore Lounge hit the bullseye.

51717 Paranoia Star LP (L.I.E.S.)
In a dark-electronics scene where releasing multiple records each year is fairly commonplace, 51717 is a notable divergent. Paranoia Star is the first official full-length from the long-running project of one Lili Schulder, and the fact that she finally decided to release a vinyl album really makes the record feel like it means something, you know? A solitary recorded statement from someone who has been incredibly deliberate with such. Through at least thirteen years of live performances and sporadic limited-editions, Schulder has been honing in on a very specific mood with 51717, and it culminates here, where claustrophobia, eroticism, tension and anomie collide. It’s clearly designed to work as an album with an insoluble plot running throughout, not merely a collection of tracks, although one could appreciated it piece-by-piece, too. Let’s take “Twisted Pair”, for example, and examine it: a languid heartbeat persists through violet fog and poisoned wind, not unlike Black Rain’s soundtracks or Huerco S. wearing corpsepaint. This leads into the nerve-racking electro-pulse of “Exile”, recalling the exact moment Alexa decided to lock your doors from the outside, kill the lights and raise the thermostat to 110 degrees while calmly reading you the Yahoo! News headlines of the day. The title Paranoia Star is a sharp fit, as 51717 intermingles oppressive electronics with pristine beauty and dreary atmospheres as though they were meant to be, sharing the spirits of Coil, Raime, Carter Tutti Void and any other fearless explorers of the abyss.

Forward Future Troops LP (540 / Todo Destruido)
Forget The Rolling Stones, Forward strikes me as the rock band that will outlive us all. Comparatively, they’ve only been at it since 1997 or so, but unlike other groups of their vintage, it feels like Forward are only getting stronger and more resilient as they march onward. Future Troops is their fourth full-length, hot on the heels of a 7″ single last year, and it’s as unrelenting and brawny as you could’ve hoped. No musical surprises, which is comforting: this is a record that sounds like a mix of Death Side, Motörhead, World Burns To Death and Judgement, all that good hardcore draped in chains and soaked in gasoline. On a side note, the crunchy guitar of Future Troops bears an unexpected resemblance to that of ’90s blue-collar punks Limecell, clearly the tone of choice for disgruntled middle-aged punks with a high alcohol tolerance. Forward aren’t singing about beer and other lighthearted party-punk subjects, however: Future Troops is a pointed attack at the Japanese government, most directly evidenced on “Mother Fucker Japan”. These hard times call for blunt and unflinching directness, and Forward are particularly suited for the task.

Freak Ritual Death 7″ (Vague Absolutes)
It’s sad, but I’ll admit it: I can’t see the word “freak” in the context of loud and distorted guitar music without thinking of Korn. This is my cross to bear, as this short-lived Los Angeleno hardcore-punk trio has nothing to do with eyebrow piercings or baggy bondage pants. They briefly existed in 2015 and recorded a demo, now lovingly upgraded to 7″ vinyl care of Vague Absolutes. It’s a shame, really, because they sound great, both plainly familiar and distinct, which is the paradoxical aim of any great hardcore-punk band. Their music is repetitive and easily understood; Freak usually locks into a riff for the entirety of a track, often favoring a more mid-paced slam indebted to the rough-edged mid-’70s rock that initially influenced hardcore-punk (Thin Lizzy and Alice Cooper?) complete with the sporadic fireworks of a guitar solo. The vocalist sounds a hell of a lot like Ross Farrar from Ceremony at his most unhinged, a gargly voice that works exceedingly well with Freak’s hellbent riffage and single mindedness. The label’s press sheet references Leather Nun’s “No Rule” as a sonic reference point, and while I don’t think anything on this demo quite reaches the glory of that tune, I bet Freak would’ve come close to matching it had they stuck around a little longer.

Fried Egg Square One LP (Feel It)
Arguably the best way to release one’s debut hardcore-punk LP: on a label that has developed its own distinct underground style that is also run by one of the band’s members. It’s DIY but not performatively so – when you really love hardcore, you end up doing a label that puts it out, and you end up playing in a hardcore band, and if you’re lucky, both of those ventures are enjoyed by other people. I’d say that’s the case with both Fried Egg and Feel It, and Square One is a fine display of their talent. Whereas prior Fried Egg records have been predominantly fast, they ease into more of a mid-tempo hardcore groove this time around, sure to raise comparisons to Black Flag’s Jealous Again and My War besides myself comparing it right here. Lotta loose Ginn-isms on the guitar, but vocalist Fried Erik is so frothy and winded in his delivery that Square One never falls into tribute-mode (and there’s a fair share of speedy ragers more in line with Haram, Arms Race, C.H.E.W. and today’s younger upstarts, too). Fried Egg deliver cool songs with character here, surely sending the chain punks back to their base for reinforcements. (Are we still doing the egg vs. chain thing? No? Okay, sorry.)

International Anything Like This Girl 12″ (Perlon)
Far removed from any of today’s techno trends, Perlon is a reliable bastion of playful tech-house. I love the stuff, so I grabbed this International Anything single based solely on Perlon’s reputation – figured I was due to check in. Both tunes are high-gloss fun, reminiscent of Ricardo Villalobos’s many collaborations with Chilean pop-freaks Los Updates, which is some of my favorite techno-pop ever. I love when Perlon artists utilize vocals, it’s almost always great, and that’s the case with both tracks here. “Like This Girl” is a mid-paced cabana-pumper, somewhere between Italo disco, The Hercules & Love Affair and Thomas Melchior. It combines the glitz of downtown NYC with the hedonistic excess of Ibizan tech-house, two of my favorite flavors of anything. “Echo Of The Years” struts onto the polished marble floor like a trust-fund playboy, tilting his shades in the direction of the complimentary frozen margarita station. Luxurious and gaudy, I’m imagining Röyksopp as an NXT tag team of narcissistic pretty-boys while blasting this cut. It’s just the sort of elastic, fizzy tech-house I’ve come to desire from the label… sleek, slightly preposterous and notably more fun than whatever the serious on-trend producers are doing.

Jensen Interceptor The Ultimate Wave Riding Vehicle 12″ (Craigie Knowes)
I’ve always been unfairly suspicious of Australian techno, but this new 12″ from Sydney’s Jensen Interceptor has converted me to a firm believer. The Ultimate Wave Riding Vehicle is my first encounter with the man, and it’s a pleasure to behold: timeless, supersized, breakneck electro-funk acid. Impervious to trends, this is music indebted to Drexciya, Kraftwerk, The Egyptian Lover, etc etc, but fully ‘roided-up and ready to force its way to the top of one’s playlist, making all that trendy deconstructed club music wish it was simply expertly-constructed club music like this instead. “Wave Slave” is the standout, a Drexciyan pounder that gets nice and sweaty while a thousand Kool-Aid Men bust through the walls in rapid succession. EP closer “Biometric” thumps for joy at a more relaxed pace, as if The Egyptian Lover’s “And My Beat Goes Boom” encountered Beau Wanzer’s “Balls Of Steel” in a sub-aquatic disco lounge. Four tracks on this one and all of them highly rated!

JH1.FS3 Trials And Tribulations LP (Dais)
Been intrigued by this group since I first learned of their existence, the duo of Frederikke Hoffmeier (aka Puce Mary) and Jesse Sanes (the skull-mutilating vocalist of Hoax). I’ve enjoyed both Puce Mary and Sanes’s work with Hoax, and they both seem like cool people, so finding out they were working together (and, if I may gossip, might be a romantic couple as well?) was good news. I missed their debut on iDEAL, but this Dais follow-up sounded good, and it is, ten tracks of cryptic and unsettling electro-acoustic noise. The look of the record is very Posh Isolation (clean typefaces haphazardly placed among gloomy still-life photography and plenty of white space), which I guess isn’t too surprising, but what does surprise me is the slow-burning creep and unresolved tension, nary a harsh blowout to be found. JH1.FS3 is far mellower in approach than either Puce Mary or Hoax – no screaming or wails of feedback, just looping pulses, clanking drones, spoken vocals (both unintelligible and clear) and various sounds that emit from various electronic sources plugged into each other on a table. There’s at least one overtly macabre sex story here, and a nice little interlude of what sounds like hundreds of tiny bones breaking, so while the mood is generally that of restrained murky dread (ala jazz-less Wolf Eyes, live Coil bootlegs or Nocturnal Emissions), it never grows dull. Plus, it’s cool to think that while most couples curl up on the couch and fight over what Netflix to watch, these two are layering samples of broken violins with scratchy tape loops while deciding which dark-erotic story to recite over top.

Komare Got To Stop Me / Hot Tarmac 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
The 28th IDDB release! This Swedish label is really putting in the work where no one else is, a dedicated series of avant/experimental/outlying noise and music 7″ singles. What’s even more amazing, they’re pretty consistently great, like this one from Komare, a British duo that is new to me. They’ve got two brief tracks here, both quite pleasing and certainly in line with the label’s basic intent. “Got To Stop Me” seems to be pitched-down cymbal reverberation and refrigerator hum over a brittle rhythmic tapping, with hushed vocals seeping through the cracks like carbon monoxide. Reminds me of Furious Pig, if they weren’t actually furious at all. Sleepy Pig, maybe? “Hot Tarmac” sounds like it should be a new Sleater-Kinney song title but operates with the same ingredients as the a-side (unnatural hum, synth-hiss, distant percussion), this time less of a forward-march and more of a sit n’ stew, as if Komare realized they locked themselves into the studio by mistake and had to wait until morning when the janitor comes by to let them out. I know our tax returns aren’t as hot this year, so financially speaking I’d love to let you know you can skip purchasing this one, but my conscience won’t let me – add it to the list.

Mary Lattimore Charlie’s Yard cassette (Petty Bunco)
Alright, so I somehow forgot to talk about Mary Lattimore’s most recent solo album when it came out last year (this just in: it’s beautiful!), so lemme do something a little unexpected and review this adorably understated cassingle that the Richie Records subsidiary Petty Bunco recently bestowed upon us. Lattimore has been everywhere and done everything in the last couple years – she gets my vote for hardest working musician in show-business – so why not add a tape of her playing guitar (not just harp!) to the stack? I love when musicians who are really good at one instrument swap it out for another; the results are almost always interesting, if not entertaining, but Charlie’s Yard is both. She washes out a few sickly guitar chords in the sun, layers in some electronic processing (wait, is that also some harp after all?) and just lets it steep until the water turns from clear to a rosy shade of purple. I’m reminded of outsider, semi-new-age gems like G.B. Beckers’ Walkman or one of Gigi Masin’s more playful compositions, and jealous that Lattimore can just sit down with some gear, focus for a couple hours and bestow these fully-formed ambient sparklers upon us. Could be her hard work, or her innate talent, but I’m guessing it’s both!

Low Life Downer Edn LP (Goner)
Sydney’s Low Life have come across as one of the more intense groups operating within Australia’s DIY underground over the past few years. Not a lot of records, possible break-ups and get-back-togethers (or so I’ve heard), lineup shifts, all the personality-driven drama and mystique that makes a band seem larger than (low) life. This is their second album, now with the inherent garage-respectability afforded by the Goner Records stamp of approval, and after a few listens, my feelings are mixed. I can’t quite tell if I like or dislike the music: their songs are basic driving rock tunes with little in the way of memorable hooks or choruses, but that seems by design. The guitars are fully shoegazing, drifting through various daisy-chained effects pedals while the drums plow ahead, occasionally at uptempo punk speeds. The vocalist sounds remorseful and weary, as if he wants to glorify hedonistic sex and drugs while also acknowledging the detriment they’ve had on his life. Reminds me a bit of Nothing, really, particularly in the way Low Life present themselves as emotionally-vulnerable old souls who also hang out with gangstas with Air Jordans and face tattoos – “RBB” comes closest to a hook with the repeated chorus of “you know who the fuck we are”, a phrase that also appears around their very Nothing-esque logo, come to think of it. Imagine Nothing if they were inspired by goth-punk instead of grunge-pop, maybe? Wish I could read the lyrics, as I get the impression Low Life are speaking frankly about uncomfortable subject matter, but no lyric sheet is included, and the guitars tend to swallow up all the other sounds around them. The back cover features matching portraits of all the band members, a rogue’s gallery of possible drug dealers you might encounter on Tinder, which I find oddly endearing. More than anything else, I just hope these guys are okay.

Mattin Songbook #7 LP (Munster)
Sonic provocateur Mattin continues his unlikely partnership with Spanish garage-rock label Munster for the latest entry in his “songbook”. As if Mattin has ever written an honest-to-goodness song in his life! Songbook #7 is another bleak suite of fractured electronics, live instrumentation, cut-up noise and plenty of Mattin himself screaming slogans over the din. As an artist who’s made pretty much every kind of avant-garde noise/silence at this point in his career, he’s kind of lost the element of surprise, as one can only expect the unexpected with his music. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though, as some of his most surprising records were also some of his least enjoyable (I still shudder to think of the black-hole of entertainment that is his Billy Bao-monikered Urban Disease album), and the impassioned, politically-minded collage of tracks presented here is engaging and cool. I presume that Mattin kinda told the other players what to do for this session, tricking and caressing them to follow his musical bidding and then manipulating the results even further until everyone lost track of whether it’s anti-anti-music or anti-anti-anti-music they were making. Cool to see that Moor Mother contributed to this record, too (although not through her trademark spoken-word) – I could go for a duo collaboration of these two, if only because I’d be curious to know which of these two distinct and domineering artists would guide the ship. Mattin may have met his match!

The Native Cats Spiro Scratch 7″ (Rough Skies)
Three great new ones from Hobart, Tasmania’s truest heroes, The Native Cats. Last year saw the release of their fourth full-length, which is worth your time, but there’s something about the urgency and diversity displayed on this EP that I find particularly enthralling. “Preservation Law” is one of the fiercest cuts I’ve ever heard from this group (and I’m pretty sure I’ve heard all of their songs) – thudding drums, circle-pit bass and vocalist Chloe Escott going buck-wild about preservation law, her delivery recalling Johnny Rotten’s performance on “Problems”. They quickly temper that with the muted electro-melody of “Olivia”, Escott this time locked into more of her trademark detective-noir lyricism, and yes, a soothing melodica solo. Flip it over for the syrupy industrial throb of “Mètre Des Archives”, wherein Escott sings as if it’s a pop-rock ballad backing her up and not the Wolf Eyes-esque lurch that it actually is. Marvelous! Three different approaches to The Native Cats’ humble setup of bass-guitar, vocals and electronic percussion, showcasing the wide range of ways they can turn their lemons into lemonade. Easily the best Native Cats single since, well, the one I put out nine years ago!

Negative Gears Negative Gears 12″ (Disinfect)
Been looking to get a full-size back tat, and I think I might’ve found it in the cover of Negative Gears’ debut 12″ EP – a faceless, naked human getting halved by a giant razorblade mid-somersault, held up by a rubbery arm miles above Australia. It’s a welcome introduction to this new Sydney group, who manage to perform their tightly-wound, energetic, Australian post-punk and only bear a passing resemblance to Total Control. On paper, they’re kinda similar – the guitar drives these songs alongside economic drumming, capped off by a vocalist who sneers through his distress, too disgusted to scream – but these riffs are more traditional, resulting in an overall sound closer to groups like Joy Division, Au Pairs and Crisis than their Aussie brethren. Like most groups who do this sorta thing successfully, it feels like Negative Gears are coming at their restrained, moody tunes from the vantage point of punk and hardcore rather than indie-rock, which I find to be a far superior approach. They probably mixed their Wire records with Flux Of Pink Indians and This Heat, and shame on anyone who doesn’t!

Night Vapor 1,000 Miles Of Mud LP (Corpse Flower)
Don’t bother setting the table, this mean-mugging slop-rock from Pittsburgh’s Night Vapor doesn’t require any silverware. They hail from the same family of bands as Brown Angel and Microwaves, and they remind me quite a bit of the latter this time around, in the way that Night Vapor take menacing noise-rock and abstract it into some demented form of proggy no-wave. Most notably, drummer John Roman doesn’t play the beat so much as the riff – his patterns punctuate and scour the gristly bass and prickly guitar, which is certainly a nice way to distinguish their sound. This leads to a pretty angular take on Killdozer- and Melvins-style mud-stomps, enhanced by the truly over-the-top vocals of Albert C. Hall, who sounds like he recorded them in an ambulance on the way to the hospital for severe indigestion. It’s a character portrayal, like what I’d imagine the Squidbillies to sound like (I’ve yet to watch an episode), but it works well for Night Vapors – you may not enjoy it, but you won’t forget it! They even throw in a well-suited cover of Captain Beefheart’s “Hot Head”, through which I picture Hall devouring the BBQ sauce-covered corpse of Don Van Vliet. Lean but tasty!

Nivhek After Its Own Death / Walking In A Spiral Towards The House 2xLP (Yellow Electric)
If you’re a fan of uncompromising artists who simply don’t give a fuck the way artists are expected to give a fuck in 2019, how can you not love Liz Harris aka Grouper? For more than a decade she’s been pursuing her beautifully lonely drone music through a variety of approaches and instruments while continuing to grow a sizeable fanbase, and lately has taken to self-releasing her albums on Bandcamp. Last year had the hasty “full-length” Grid Of Points, and she followed it with this, a lavish LP and 12″ set, sold together (but kinda packaged separately?) under the name Nivhek. I’m reminded of Young Thug being like “you can just call me Jeffery now” by Liz Harris’s switch to what seems to be “Kevin” spelled backwards (kinda), completely unconcerned with marketability or revenue maximization. That sense of freedom extends to these two records, which casually pursue beauteous solitude care of the haunting echo of bells, Harris’s disembodied vocals, brooding tremors of unknown origin, a piano or two, a guitar (or something with resonant strings), and so on. The music sounds distant but feels immediate, especially when she gets cooking and folds her vocals into the soft spots left between melodious chimes and tone swells. I know she didn’t, but by the time I’ve settled into side C and hold the letterpressed sleeve in my hands, it really starts to feel like Harris made Nivhek especially for me.

Ravi Shavi Blackout Deluxe LP (Almost Ready)
Providence’s Ravi Shavi keeps on rolling, this being their third album since 2015, all of which arrived care of Almost Ready. If you were familiar with Ravi Shavi’s prior records, good news, this one sounds pretty similar and is just as entertaining as the previous two, if not more. If you’re unfamiliar, I’d be happy to fill you in: this is a garage-pop group playing retro riffs through a modern prism of styles. I’m reminded of Chain & The Gang, some of The Walkmen (more than ever before, Blackout Deluxe feels somewhat indie-rock inspired), and the general sense that Austin Powers could easily suss out a dance routine to many of the tracks here. Not necessarily much bop-shoo-bop, but plenty of yeahyeahyeahyeahyeah, if that’s a distinction worth making. Ravi Shavi’s style and sound is not something I would usually gravitate toward, and yet I find myself happy to let both sides of Blackout Deluxe spin through to completion. Could be vocalist Rafay Rashid’s perfect-for-the-job voice, or the fact that the songwriting is interesting enough without veering off course (and the Austin Powers-isms are never too disturbing), but whatever the case, Ravi Shavi are breathing pleasant life into this geriatric art-form.

Science Man Science Man LP (Swimming Faith)
Wow, not only is Buffalo’s John Toohill one of the main forces behind Night Slaves (who came through YGR last month), he also plays in Radiation Risks and Alpha Hopper. And if that weren’t enough, he’s got a solo project under the name of Science Man. I honestly can’t tell if having this much creativity is a blessing or a curse – when does he sleep or binge-watch? Anyway, this science-themed project is extra-fast garage-punk, streamlined for ease of use and drum-machine guided. These songs all sound like highway chase scenes, ripping downhill in an attempt to shake off impending danger. The tempo and structure of Chixdiggit with the attitude of Zeke or Teengenerate, let’s say. It’s hard to really pick out any particular standout moments of this self-titled debut, as the record all kinda blurs together, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. When listening, it’s as if Science Man himself ran into the room and shook me by my collar for twenty minutes or so, hollering about viruses and dark matter and whatever else it is that science-y types tend to care about. Undoubtedly better than his counterpart, Social Studies Man, were such a project to exist.

Session Victim Dawn EP 12″ (Delusions Of Grandeur)
As winter starts to finally thaw out, I can’t help but want to listen to deep house records like this new one from German duo Session Victim. Don’t let the spooky name or foil-embossed cover intimidate you, Session Victim are a couple of sweet boys-next-door, wondering if maybe you wanna noodle on the Rhodes or run your vocals through their vocoder as they let these pleasantly smooth jams unfurl. That sense of communal satisfaction is reiterated by the guest spot of Nebraska on the title track (though, as Nebraska is also a producer of deep house music, I’m not sure of his specific contributions), as well as the mixture of live instrumentation, be it drums or bass-guitar, which helps these tracks to feel loose but guided, more journey than destination. Dawn comes with three such journeys, akin to the most sun-kissed work of Theo Parrish, Leafar Legov or Floating Points, and a smudgy Sven Weisemann mix, as is his wont. There’s no shortage of music like this, but Session Victim demonstrate an awareness and caring that makes Dawn the perfect antidote to any seasonal hangover.

Strapping Fieldhands Alluvium Trinkets LP (Omphalos)
After taking more than a decade off (I tell ya, kids don’t raise themselves!), Strapping Fieldhands have resumed semi-frequent activity, initially with a 7″ on Richie in 2013 and now with Alluvium Trinkets, their first album in sixteen years, released on the group’s own Omphalos label. Mercifully, they haven’t gotten any more mature, or bluesy, or decrepit, but rather they seem to be frolicking into advanced middle age, as carefree and jubilant and boinked as any group of twenty-somethings, perhaps even more so (the stress of social media does not seem to weigh heavily on Strapping Fieldhands). Nah, this album is full of silly ditties with semi-serious undertones, freaky indie-folk that relies on traditional songcraft rather than lo-fi abstraction. I’m reminded of The Cherry Blossoms this time around, or perhaps if Pentangle were reconfigured for Yo Gabba Gabba – “Back To Arkansas”, for example, is exactly what I’d expect to hear as Kermit and Miss Piggy roll their jalopy out of Manhattan and into the country, looking for adventure. If you have any willingness at all to hear a song called “A Pinch Of Patchouli”, I strongly recommend you listen to the one written by Strapping Fieldhands, which appears on the second side of this very album.

Tazer Human A+ EP 7″ (Levande Begravd)
Tazer are a Danish punk group, which of course means at least two members are wearing aviator sunglasses in any given promotional photo (pretty sure it’s a national requirement in order to get one of those sizable artist grants every country but the United States has). Kind of a weird vinyl debut – a three-song, one-sided 7″ EP – but weird works for me, and it clearly does the trick for Tazer as well. They’ve got a pretty modern thing going on in various ways, such as the absurdist cartoon cover art, creepy synth-punk sound, and predilection for Adidas tracksuits, so while it may not be the most shockingly original cocktail of influences, I’m happy to abide. Their music recalls Count Vertigo, Gary Wrong Group, Von Lmo, any sort of slow-ish punk that uses synths to simulate space travel, with a vocalist who keeps his cool through it all. I’m almost picking up a slight Viagra Boys influence, if not in the sounds utilized but the pacing and vocal delivery. Pretty optimal for a three-song EP, but can Tazer take this sort of thing to higher heights? Or even better… lower lows?

Terrine Cheat Days LP (Bruit Direct / [tanzprocesz])
When it comes to making weird-ass music, I feel like the French are inappropriately under the radar. Sure, they’re a romantic, chain-smoking people, but they also know how to bug out and create socially inappropriate music like the best of ’em. Take Claire Gapenne and her Terrine project for example, which has found a nice home on Bruit Direct after a handful of CD-rs, tapes and one prior LP. Cheat Days is my first encounter with her music, and it’s enchanting, as Gapenne leaves no sonic stone unturned while seeking out new pathways to amuse, delight and perhaps even summon up some dancing, too. She likes to make beats, but they are often at odds with each other – don’t expect the tight synchronicity of an Ableton grid here, as Terrine is happy to slap a handful of unmatched loops together and let them fight it out. It’s techno somewhere on the looser, goosier end of Knekelhuis and Not Not Fun’s respective outputs. Those beat tracks are buffered with various audio scribbles, be it a few loose piano improvisations (reminding me of something Elklink might stick between a tape manipulation), bustling field-recordings or other moments that avoid easy description. I’d say “it’s like if Jandek made a techno record”, but it’s also not at all like that, and Jandek has probably made a dozen techno records by now anyway.

JJ Ulius Tänder Ett Ljus / Era Jävla Manér 7″ (Happiest Place)
JJ Ulius is a person (presumably not his real name, although I wouldn’t put anything past the Swedish people), and when he’s not rocking out in his punk group Skiftande Enheter or experimenting with his post-punk/noise duo Monokultur, he’s playing wholesome DIY guitar pop under his own name! The label name “Happiest Place” seems to directly apply here, as these two songs are cute and tender little things, like a tulip popping up through the melted snow at the first sign of spring. “Tänder Ett Ljus” is wistful and breezy, and “Era Jävla Manér” is even lighter, like a zero-calorie dessert that’s actually delicious. I’m reminded of Eddy Current at their most infantile, Home Blitz in a rare moment of pop focus, or a more vulnerable Dagens Ungdom (to keep it Swedish). It’s just a quick two-song single, so as I find myself wanting more of these tunes, I just end up listening to them over and over again. Which has done wonders for my Swedish, of course!

Franck Vigroux Théorème 12″ (DAC)
Franck Vigroux first entered my consciousness in a way most heavy-duty electronic producers wish they could, via a collaboration with the late great Mika Vainio. That album was great, so when I saw the cover shot of a lil speedboat cruising through some dark grey water on the cover, I figured it was worth my time, and Vigroux didn’t disappoint. The first two tracks are the standouts, for sure: “Carré” is one of the best hostile electro-industrial tracks I’ve heard in a while. It rides a warble that almost recalls early dubstep, but utilizes it to slowly bore a hole through the earth’s mantle. If the drums were slightly faster, it’d pass as one of Nine Inch Nails’ best songs of the last decade, but I like it even more that it’s so slow and sinister (and free of vocalists, although I sure would love to give it a try). “VX90” is sonically similar but Vigroux adopts more of a Sunn O))) approach on this one – no percussion, just tidal waves of molten basalt created by processing electric guitars to an extreme degree. Kind of Heldon-esque, which works for me! The beats return on “TT”, the closest thing to techno on here (albeit a pro-sculpted techno abstraction), whereas “Nord” creeps through abandoned subway tunnels with rhythmic hisses and pulses, as all evil avant-garde electronics should. Funny how modern, state-of-the-art synthetic music can evoke such primal, earth-moving forces!

Reviews – March 2019

Black Merlin Kode 12″ (Die Orakel)
After releasing killer twelves by Upsammy and Edward, I was willing to give a white German dude by the name of “Black Merlin” a try simply due to Die Orakel’s track record. I’m still not grasping the name (is it like a black magic version of Merlin? I hope?), but the music on this 12″ explains the label’s interest, as it’s a beautiful EP, equally as distinctive as the aforementioned labelmates. Whereas Upsammy and Edward were more or less making club tracks, however, Kode twinkles and flashes like remote galaxies on a cloudless evening. Black Merlin sets his modular processes in motion and subtly tweaks their forms for the length of each of these three tracks, resulting in what might resemble Dopplereffekt recreating a Terry Riley piece. These tracks consist of hardly more than a few layered sequences of synthesized bells, but they really soar through these narrow confines, with all the energy and vigor of cellular life as viewed through a microscope. They say that energy is never created, only constantly transferred throughout the universe, which makes me really hope my energy travels through one of these analog synth arpeggios following my death, if only for a little while.

Boy Harsher Careful LP (Nude Club)
Once I finally got hip to Boy Harsher (my greatest musical discovery last year!), it was all over for me – here is a group that distills moody synth-pop down to its most potent and primal essence. Their song “Pain” goes through my head at least once a week (even in moments where I’m not actually experiencing pain), so I did the right thing and camped out in front of Tower Records a day before their new album Careful was released (read: pre-ordered on Bandcamp) and it was worth the effort! While there isn’t a standout cut to rival hits like “Country Girl” or the aforementioned “Pain”, and there are at least a couple tracks of pleasant atmospheric filler, Careful is fantastic, full of seductive, neon-lit minimal-synth-pop; in other words, exactly what I wanted. Vocalist Jae Matthews continues to sound like Lady Gaga’s bedroom speaking voice over a long-distance phone line (or so I imagine), and Augustus Muller’s beats are wiry and sleek, the perfect synthetic housing for Matthews’ tales of lust and unlust. Boy Harsher never overload their songs with music – only the most essential beats, pulses, melodies and percussive elements are invoked, which is key to their success (and my enjoyment). Too many other dark-wave acts get caught up in their own fog, whereas Boy Harsher cut through like a beam of dark-red light, not afraid to harness techno’s pulsing rhythms and all the better for it. Matthews sounds as mysteriously wounded as ever here, and her eerie pathos connects these songs to an emotional present-day, which perfectly balances with Muller’s retro-vintage selection of synth sounds. If there’s only room for one EBM/goth/synth group in your collection/Spotify queue, it’s gotta be this one.

Thomas Bush Old And Red LP (Men Scryfa)
Gloriously strange album here from one of the thousands of men on this planet currently named Thomas Bush. This Thomas Bush is in or around London, and appears to pal around with other England-based sonic-tricksters like Rupert Clervaux (who mastered this album) and John T. Gast. Personally, I’d love to join these three for tea, as I was already a fan of Clervaux and Gast, and now Bush has warmly entered my consciousness care of Old And Red. It’s a weird one, to be sure, but not weird in the same way as everyone else; rather, Bush attacks outdated modes of songwriting with his own inscrutable logic, utilizing electronic percussion, live guitars and pianos (and whatever else), MIDI sampling, essentially anything he can get his hands on. I’m reminded of reissued obscurities like Mark Tucker’s In The Sack – private-press albums by lonely people who wandered free of genre (or audience) through songs that incorporate new-wave, piano ballads, post-punk and mainstream pop. I’m also reminded a bit of the smoother end of M Squared’s roster ala The Makers Of The Dead Travel Fast or Patrick Gibson, not to mention The Native Cats in the way that Bush unwinds his seedy tales over minimalist electronic percussion and moody bass. While reminiscent in spirit of the many adventurous musicians I’ve just mentioned, Bush is no imitator – the songs of Old And Red are entrancing and unsettling in equal measure.

Civilistjävel! Civilistjävel! LP (no label)
Quick un-sponsored advertisement: anyone else get emails from the Canadian label / distro Séance Centre? I’m not sure how they found me, but they have really dug into their own delectable little niche of sub-underground music both old and new, mostly trading in artists who exist on the outskirts of ambient, jazz, techno, funk, pop, singer-songwriter… whatever, really. Their quality level is disturbingly high, with the majority of their stock consisting of artists averse to simple classification. I say this because that’s where I picked up this Civilistjävel! album, and it’s something I wouldn’t have discovered otherwise. And best of all, I love it! This mysterious group is described as “from Sweden and primarily active in the ’90s”, so I’m not sure if this is a retrospective of previously-unrelated material or recently-recorded or what, but my ignorance of the proceedings only enhances my enjoyment. This is an album of stark and moody minimalist electronics, occasionally dipping into mournful melodies or drifty fourth-world percussion. It’s all instrumental, and the mood that Civilistjävel! is striking, one of deep isolation and alluring mystery. It could turn out that this is all a ruse and Civilistjävel! is actually some new Oneohtrix Point Never side-project, but I’m already so head-over-heels for it that I’m not sure I’d even mind.

Cookie Brooklyn & The Crumbs Is There Logic In Pop? 7″ (Epic Sweep)
I know, the band name reads like some miserable group wedged between Sunflower Bean and Jacuzzi Boys at a sponsor-branded Coachella afterparty, but bear with me here – this is not that! Cookie Brooklyn & The Crumbs are from New Zealand somewhere, and if you’re a fan of artsy post-punk that isn’t pretentious, or DIY dance-punk that’s not generic, you need to hear me out. “Is There Logic In Pop?” is a great title (apparently adapted from a 1996 interview with Mayo Thompson), and they do it justice with their stripped-down, no-nonsense tune. Groovy bass, tight drums, gang vocals, and just the right amount of guitar splatter has me imagining the glorious intersection of Gang Of Four and The Kamikaze Sex Pilots. The b-side “Puff Of Air” is great too, dropping fast lyrics over a slow groove in a manner that recalls Black Eyes (it’s the manic vocals, stalking groove and dubby bass). These songs could fit as easily on an early K Records tape comp as they could be a Desperate Bicycles side-project, which is to say they’re both versatile and hard to pin down. Looks like Cookie Brooklyn (sans The Crumbs) has a tape from a few years back called Get Out Of My Dreams, Get Under My Car, and at least one of us needs to hear that!

Leighton Craig Diamond Eye LP (Bruit Direct Disques)
In a time when streaming is king and any music that doesn’t immediately provoke a pleasant response is ignored or skipped, it’s reassuring to see that Bruit Direct remains dedicated to putting out music that takes a little work to get into, or at least music that doesn’t have a built-in audience eager to attach it to their branded lifestyle. Hope I don’t sound too bitter! Anyway, this one comes from Australian musician Leighton Craig, his first vinyl long-player after a handful of solo releases (including CDs and lathes) and albums by his group Primitive Motion. This one is mighty lonely; it sounds like the work of a man drifting out to sea on a Casio running on depleted batteries. If Harold could write and perform songs using his purple crayon, they might end up like this – there’s even one tune that sounds like a lo-fi synth version of “Little Drummer Boy”, if the singer muffled through the words he couldn’t remember. It’s charming in its subtlety, and comes with the perfect little sprinklings of sonic perversion – a droney track of tape-hiss and soft cymbal reverberation cozies up nicely next to one of the many wistful keyboard lullabies found here. If memory-foam was a musical genre as well as a style of pillow, Diamond Eye might be its marquee album.

Victor De Roo ‘Nachtdichter’ Poëzie Door Alex Deforce 12″ (Knekelhuis)
I continually turn toward the Dutch electronic label Knekelhuis for guidance and inspiration, and while they always come through with something cool and weird and enjoyably crazy, this Victor De Roo EP operates on its own level. It sounds like an old cigarette-smelling love-note found crumpled in a library-borrowed copy of Curzio Malaparte’s The Skin – beautiful, bewitching, probably a little depressing, all with a mystery never to be solved. De Roo’s music is dark and lustrous synth-based noir, sometimes rhythmic and sometimes untethered, like the opening credits of a Charles Bronson film translated on a minimal budget for a Dutch audience. Have I sold you on Victor De Roo yet? The kicker is De Roo’s vocals, as he speaks over these instrumentals in a calm and serious tone, somewhere between funeral poetry and a grisly homicide detective taking us through his thought process for catching the culprit. I’m picturing Detective Wallander wandering through an artist’s workspace after their eerie disappearance as “Beland In Bed” ominously rolls through over tense guitar and electrified drones. It’s great! I’m not aware of any genre that comfortably suits ‘Nachtdichter’ Poëzie Door Alex Deforce, which means De Roo needs to keep putting out records like this and force the issue.

Forra Mostrame Lo Peor EP 7″ (La Vida Es Un Mus)
La Vida pumps out more new records than practically any other contemporary hardcore-punk label this side of Iron Lung. I check in when I can (especially whenever anything Primetime-related is released), but some of my personal ‘core-respondents (get it?) were calling this Forra EP a can’t-miss, and I’d have to agree. In circumstances I do not comprehend, the members of Forra come from Mexico, Argentina, Catalonia and The Canaries, but they converged in London as a group to create what might sadly be their only EP. The postcard insert that comes with the 7″ looks like it fell out of 1982, and the music sounds similarly, a swirling lo-fi vortex of booming snare drum, gnarly guitar and barked vocals. I’m reminded of no-budget hardcore groups like The Nixe and Bloedbad, or similar international hardcore-punk bands that only ever made it to trade-based cassette compilations, bands who are given a 1″x2″ rectangle to fill with their lyrics, artwork and mailing address. It’s highly endearing by that aspect alone, but these six songs are top-shelf for the genre, sounding raw in a classic sense (not today’s digital GarageBand hiss and compression), and Forra play them as if they know all too well their time as a group is limited. It was recommended to me, and now I’m recommending it to you!

Headroom New Heaven 12″ (Ever/Never)
Allow me to take you on a psychedelic journey to the deepest recesses of your third eye. That’s right, we’re headed to… Connecticut! Not sure why such a scene of guitar-based experimentalists has sprung up in the sleepy, pizza-centric town of New Haven, CT, or if that’s simply my inaccurate perception of things, but with Headroom, Mountain Movers (who might just be a different configuration of Headroom?) and Stefan Christensen (who probably plays in both bands too?), there’s something noteworthy happening there. I’ve enjoyed all that I’ve heard from that crew, but this new Headroom 12″ is distinctly pleasant. The ensemble softly simmers through these three unhurried tunes, all of which showcase the multilingual guitars of Headroom leader Kryssi Battalene. If you thought a scorching, mournful guitar solo couldn’t work over a cozy, sedated bass-line, I invite you to lend an ear to “City Lights” and think again! I’m reminded of Wooden Shjips at their most poised and interesting, as well as the cosmic swirl of Bardo Pond, and The Velvet Underground at their most somber and/or noisiest. The biggest cut is the b-side’s “Skyliner”, which goes from soft to not-so-soft to kinda-loud to booming over eleven minutes, not unlike Davis Redford Triad in its natural levitational properties. I doubt anyone under the age of thirty listens to this sorta stuff, but that’s fine by me – they can go do their Fortnite dances while Headroom slips us aged folk through alternate planetary dimensions.

Andy Human & The Reptoids Psychic Sidekick LP (Total Punk)
Punk is a unique art-form, in that you pretty much only get worse at it as you go along. Can you think of any punk groups who released their finest work ten years into their career? And yet, Andy Human contradicts this theorem with the last few years of his music, proving that in some rare cases, people can get better at punk. I’m referring to Andy Human’s recent work with The Reptoids: the 2017 single on Total Punk and, in particular, this new full-length. He struts out his punk with a real laissez faire attitude on this one, as though he’s the type of guy who steps on a steaming pile of dog waste on the sidewalk and merely shrugs, not even bothering to find a curb to scrape it on. He shares that attitude with classic groups like Vox Pop and Jet Bronx & The Forbidden, and he shares their sonic template too, one of casual slacker-punk from an era before slackers were a codified thing. With decades’ worth of music history at his disposal, Human borrows liberally from anything that works, like punchy post-punk (“You Like Your Job”), saloon-style piano, the sweltering DIY skank of early Scritti Politti, Iggy Pop’s haircuts from 1979 through 1986, maybe even some of the more offbeat hardcore-related sounds emanating from Southern California circa 1984. Human makes it all work naturally, in what very well might be his finest musical achievement to date. Which, if my calculations are correct, means his next album will be even better.

Is In Unsamble Is The Belly / In The Belly LP (Gilgongo)
Gilgongo brings us some group improvisation from the Is In Unsamble, a group featuring Chiara Giovando (of Harrius) alongside Juk Suk Reet Meate and Oblivia (of Smegma) and four other friendly weirdos. The New Weird America vibes are strong here, no doubt – the organic clatter found within these two pieces certainly calls to mind the lighter sides of No Neck Blues Band or Sunburned Hand Of The Man, as well as the ’70s collective improv of groups like CCMC and Nihilist Spasm Band. While they sure do like to hoot and holler (and turn spokes on wheels, crank pepper grinders, chase chickens out of the roost, rub a rusty gas-tank with a wire brush, etc etc), these folks are keen listeners too, content to let tones drift in and out of focus and squelch only when squelching is absolutely necessary. Certainly has a “local opener for solo Thurston Moore show” vibe, but come to think of it that could be said for 90% of Gilgongo’s output. This sort of music is certainly fun to listen to, but I sense that the folks of Is In Unsamble particularly relished the opportunity to sit down together, bird-whistles, jingle bells and broken oscillators in hand, and brew up the heady stew that became Is The Belly / In The Belly.

Paul Jansen & Zn. De Toerisme EP 2×7″ (De Vrije Keijser)
There’s a nice selection of tantalizing obscurities discussed here this month, but this double 7″ EP from Paul Jansen & Zn. (which apparently stands for “Paul Jansen and his son”) might take the cake. First off, I love double 7″s – there’s just something uniquely perfect about them. Not too many sides as to be annoying (I’m looking at you, Rancid box-set), just the right amount of preciousness and difficulty, and it just seems inherently punk. And in this case, a gatefold cover and released in a limited edition of 150 copies (which used to be impossibly scant but now is probably the normal quantity any underground artist could hope to sell)… well, I haven’t even talked about the music yet and I’m already gushing. So let’s get to it! The music made by this father-son duo is bizarre, incredibly stark electro that is rarely more than one beat track at a time and some spoken vocals run through distortion. “Raamprostitutie” sounds like the sickliest Beau Wanzer track ever put to tape, but “De Fluit” opts for whistling in lieu of vocals, and “O Hoofd” features a men’s choir harmonizing with a slight sense of inebriation. It’s strange, but also incredibly charming, and could probably move some bodies in a sweaty basement (particularly the Paranoid London-esque groove of “Nakketikker”). I barely know who made this music, and I’m fairly sure where it was made (the Netherlands), but as far as how, why, and what this music is supposed to be, I’m enchantingly left in the dark.

Jay Glass Dubs Epitaph LP (Bokeh Versions)
As far as I’m concerned, the music of Jay Glass Dubs could remain in pleasant stasis forever – his dub-minded abstraction of hazy and blissful electronics is impressively graceful and enunciated. I’m completely content if he wants to make the same record over and over, which he’s done at least a couple times, but there are notable sonic leaps scattered through his ever-growing discography too, like the great collaboration with Leslie Winer and now this, his newest full-length. No, it’s not a dub edit of the biggest pop-punk label of the ’90s (don’t I wish), it’s an album that brings new elements into his specific aesthetic with glorious results. The presence of vocals is most noteworthy, not just because it’s new, but also because there are plenty of them (someone named Yorgia Karidi, and presumably Mr. Glass Dubs himself), and they bring an odd humanity to the proceedings, beautifully spiraling outward like the lemon peel on the cover. I’m reminded of Andy Stott at times, but the prettier end of his catalog… the beats of Jay Glass Dubs remain constricted and soft, like the soft flap of waves on a bay, not muscle-flexing techno power. I probably could’ve just cut right to the chase and said “if you ever wanted to hear the velvety tones of 4AD’s mid-’80s catalog dipped in a jet-black puddle of dub, Epitaph is just the ticket”, but I love to talk too much, especially about records like this.

Th’ Losin Streaks This Band Will Self-Destruct In T-Minus LP (Slovenly)
Anyone else dream of being in a band with the band’s name or logo painted on their van when they were a kid? My desire probably dates back to first seeing Scooby Doo’s Mystery Machine, and naturally increased when I encountered Flipper’s van, The Meatmen’s “Crime” van, and of course the Melvins’ old van that Kurt Cobain tagged up. It just seems like the pinnacle of band-hood, so Th’ Losin Streaks have every right to be proud of theirs, brandishing their band name on the side and prominent on this album’s cover. It’s a form of rock n’ roll fun that seems to be dying out, but Th’ Losin Streaks are keeping it alive in their music too, a raucous garage-rock record that actually seems to be having quite a bit of fun. I’m reminded of the earliest Black Lips records, The Rolling Stones (I guess that goes without saying, but I’m saying it), some Link Wray and The Monks too, and while these are all fairly common reference points, Th’ Losin Streaks sound like they’re living the dream, not imitating it. Even something as simple as the way the lead vocalist screams “yeah!” to kick in a song comes across as sincere and enjoyably unhinged, not as though they’re following confusing Ikea instructions to assemble Rocksöngingen or something. Rock music such as this is nearing extinction at this point, but just like Leslie Nielsen in his 1995 Dracula spoof, Th’ Losin Streaks are dead and loving it.

Mikan Mukku 缶 / ちんダン 7″ (Bitter Lake)
Bitter Lake continues its deep dive into the furthest reaches of Japan’s hidden ’80s synth-pop scene, and on 7″ single no less! It couldn’t be timelier, as reissue comps of Japanese corporate-ambient and solar-funk are selling better than the majority of the punk records reviewed in these pages, so if they were ever going to reissue two songs from two separate 1986 7″ flexi compilations by a group called Mikkan Mukku, now is the time! “缶” is an ornate chant, lurching forward on traditional percussion, woeful vocals and an unexpected Ghostbusters-style synth disruption. “ちんダン” has a similarly disjointed propulsion, full of stops and starts, and it feels a bit more developed; the inherent theatricality of their instrumentation results in a cooler, slicker song this time around. I have to wonder if this sound is something they continued to develop, or if these two songs were the only documented proof of Mikan Mukku’s brief existence, a tiny creative blip along the infinite branches of Japan’s musical underground. I can only assume that if more recordings of Mikan Mukku exist, Bitter Lake is currently wrapping them up into another attractive and stately vinyl reissue. Can I request a double 8″?

Muro Ataque Hardcore Punk LP (Beach Impediment)
If I had to sum up modern DIY hardcore-punk in one record, this Muro 12″ would be a fine candidate. Muro are a Colombian hardcore group, and Ataque Hardcore Punk was originally released on the Norwegian label Byllepest Distro in 2017 (with cassette versions released in Chile and Malaysia), now pressed for American audiences by the ever-reliable Beach Impediment. The cover design of Ataque Hardcore Punk appears to accidentally fuse the art used by Hoax on their 2012 Painkiller 7″ with that of their 2013 La Vida Es Un Mus 7″ – a mushy skull trapped in a crumbling brick enclosure – and to complete the timeliness, their music is raw and scrappy pogo-core that might remind you of Crucifix, S.H.I.T. and Blazing Eye, with a touch of Raw Power’s buzzsaw thrash and a light sprinkling of UK ’82 songcraft. And like most new hardcore groups that stick to this formula, it’s pretty good! That said, I can’t blame anyone for growing a little tired of the predictability of it all, but at least these are Colombians doing it, convening with like-minded conspirators on an international level. If you want your hardcore to be chock full of hand-drawn skulls and angry, no-frills attitude, Muro are here to satisfy. It might be fairly standard-issue for today, but it beats the “mysterious lurker in a ski-mask” aesthetic that dominated the scene some ten years prior.

Natural Man & The Flamin’ Hot Band Natural Man & The Flamin’ Hot Band 7″ (Neck Chop)
Kansas City, MO has more loony punk bands per capita than any other American city at this point, right? Much like I imagined Providence, RI in the early ’00s, I’m assuming the streets are overrun in young weirdos wearing homemade neon clothes, carrying hilariously undersized amps and cruddy instruments to the gig scheduled to take place in the parking lot of a burger joint or at the bottom of a half-pipe. There’s at least like six people in this group, and not one of them is a background player – it seems like each member is vying for the listener’s attention through these four tunes, and it makes for a glorious cacophony. Imagine Black Randy (with full Metrosquad) playing twice as fast, The Gizmos on Mountain Dew Code Red instead of booze and weed, or maybe if Warm Bodies (who share at least one member with Natural Man) toned down the ‘core and turned up the good vibes. If this band doesn’t print their t-shirts on ugly tie-dye, I’ll delete this website right now. For as hectic and frantic as these tunes are, they transmit their lunatic fun like a virus, curling the hairs on your head and turning that frown upside down, a skill that isn’t to be taken for granted in these dark days. By-the-books punk rock this is not, yet it’s just as (if not more) punk than any other groups coming to a basement near you.

Night Slaves Night Slaves III LP (no label)
Before even listening to Buffalo’s regrettably-named Night Slaves, they were entertaining to look at: the duo of David Kane (of first-wave synth-poppers Trek With Quintronic) and John Toohill (of prog-punkers Alpha Hopper) looks like The Undertaker and his nu-metal son. It’s a far superior look to most bands calling themselves industrial or synth-pop these days, and their music sets a higher bar too, gleefully pushing back the standard stylistic barriers into bolder, more ostentatious realms. Kane has decades of synth-work under his belt, and he lends that confidence and grace into these booming tunes, which often feel like Spiritualized reborn as electro-pop (Night Slaves aren’t afraid to utilize a vocal choir when appropriate), or perhaps a radio-rock version of minimal-wave? If you played me “Forgotten Ghosts” and told me it was Twenty-One Pilots, I’d believe you, while also wondering when they got good. There’s a little Bad Seeds in here too, seeping into the potent vibe of today’s youthful alt-rock hair-metal scene that runs throughout Night Slaves III. You’re probably a little perplexed by what you’re reading, and trust me, I don’t get it either; I’m particularly flummoxed by the fact that Night Slaves really make it all work, as if there is no style or musical element they couldn’t comfortably blend into their dramatic, stadium-sized-but-DIY synth-rock.

Ailie Ormston The Sedate / Tony Soprano Fashion Inspo. LP (50% Pure)
Those in need of some new corrosive n’ cruddy industrial bangers needn’t look further than the debut vinyl platter from Glasgow’s Ailie Ormston. Two “separate works” comprise this 12″, as noted in the title, and they display two distinct forms of electro-seizure, both of which delight my ears to no end. The a-side (The Sedate) is a punishing suite of high-impact klang, not unlike the harder end of Diagonal Records’ catalog. Beats overload speakers and are deployed haphazardly, with only the subtlest of melodic intervention occurring in later tracks… this side is all about thuggish, tetanus-riddled percussion and the joy it can bring. You probably wanted to hear more about the Tony Soprano Fashion Inspo. side though – what a title! – and it’s similarly mangled and grotesque, but it highlights textures and sensations over brutality. Perhaps if you let two cats walk across your synths, they might produce a similarly unsteady racket, but why bother setting all that up when Ormston’s already got you covered? I’m reminded of Nautical Almanac at their manic best, maybe some of Forcefield’s fevered analog channels too, but Ailie Ormstron feels like less of a basement-noise weirdo and more like someone who might co-host an NTS Radio show and play unreleased NHK Yx Koyxen dubs on it. Tony would be proud.

Priors New Pleasure LP (Slovenly)
Montreal has had its share of antagonistic synth-punk for at least a few decades now… something about the culture and climate just seems to breed sneering punks with keyboards. Take Priors for example, a relatively new quintet who produce aggressive and clinical garage-punk with frigid synth overtones. At least one member of the band looks like someone who would successfully build a time machine in his basement, maybe that plays into it? Their vocalist has an appropriately big mouth (with just the right acidic sting care of slap-back reverb), the guitars are jangling their disapproval and the keys come in only when electro-shock therapy remains the final option. Reminds me of The Stitches, or some of those other post-Y2K punk groups that would get drunk and wear scarves. It’s not a new style or sound, but Priors wear it proudly and confidently, as if the neighbors calling the cops to complain about all the noise they’re making are the real jerks, not them.

Rubber Blanket New Garbage Truck / Pedestrian Walkway 7″ (Spacecase)
I can’t help but think about the part in England’s Hidden Reverse wherein someone describes Sleazy Christopherson’s bedroom in the early Coil days, a painted-black room with a bed dressed in rubber sheets, when listening to this new group. It’s an enjoyable image, but it doesn’t quite suit Rubber Blanket, who are a new recording trio featuring Lars Finberg of The Intelligence and Brad Eberhard and Jun Ohnuki of Wounded Lion. The first Intelligence record received countless spins in my apartment (and even more in my car), and I’m glad to hear that same shambolic-yet-catchy DIY-punk essence within “New Garbage Truck”, which sputters across junky drums and a playful melody. “Pedestrian Walkway” works its magic from an even cruddier beat and a bloopy-bleepy keyboard, much in that early Intelligence fashion, sounding like Suicide guesting on Sesame Street. Very pleasant! I appreciate that both songs approach plain, negligible aspects of modern society with empathy and twisted appeal – I would love to get Rubber Blanket’s take on blowdriers, dog-walking and cellar doors, for example. It’s nice to have a full band and tour and “go for it” and all that, but Rubber Blanket seems to be more about putting together diminutive oddball pop songs with friends, and it suits them perfectly.

Sporten Är Död Sporten Är Död LP (Fördämning Arkiv)
If you share my tastes even a little bit, you were salivating just as I was when you first heard about this Sporten Är Död reissue (maybe that’s right now): a beyond-obscure Swedish DIY post-punk group, whose sole cassette was limited to a meager 100 copies (which, by today’s standards, would be a readily-available vinyl pressing, but I digress). Their name clearly means something like “sports are dead”, they look detached and unintentionally cool, and the reissue comes with their full tape remastered in addition to a live set, not to mention a handsome booklet insert comprised of band interviews, photographs and biographical info. You probably already ordered it, didn’t you? Well, I can confirm the package is as great as it sounds, but the music, well… it’s pretty much just okay. None of these tracks have particularly jumped out at me, and while the live set contains only a little overlap from the recorded session, I’ve found this collection of songs to be remarkable in its unremarkableness. They’re a plain group exhibiting plain music – slightly poppy but not catchy, rudimentary but not sloppy or noisy – and while it makes for the perfect soundtrack to reading the booklet, I wouldn’t rank them in the top twenty-five Swedish post-punk groups. Can’t blame you if you ordered one, though – the essence of Sporten Är Död, if not their music, is irresistible.

Strange Passage Shouldn’t Be Too Long LP (Syncro System)
Read this blog for a month or two and it should be fairly clear that I’m no indie-popper – sure, it’ll roll through here and there, and I’ll be polite about it, but it’s neither my bread nor my butter. Keep that in mind as I proceed to praise the hell out of Strange Passage’s debut album, a pedigreed indie-pop record that improves upon their 12″ EP (which I also liked a whole bunch). This is an indie-pop record through and through, in the classical sense, but the group’s keen mix of tenacity and tenderness, not to mention their meticulous performance and sharp songwriting, breeds widespread appeal. The music is generally pretty fast (with down-picking speeds to rival punk), but vocalist Renato Montenegro delivers his vocals in a calm and assured tone, and it’s simply a great combination. His voice falls somewhere between Michael Stipe and Calvin Johnson with regards to pitch and delivery, but he’s always on key and keeps his emotions in check, and it really works for me. No overt melancholy or brooding, Shouldn’t Be Too Long is an enticing suite of rollicking and energetic guitar pop, just waiting for someone who finally decided to dump their Smiths records out of Morrissey-shame and is looking for something new and exciting to replace them.

Throat Bareback LP (Svart)
Finland’s Throat have always struck me as a group who takes their noise-rock seriously, but their newest full-length Bareback seems particularly resolute. It’s a dynamic record, one that isn’t afraid to get unsettlingly quiet or ear-piercingly noisy, sometimes in the same track – Throat are clearly doing their best to keep the listener interested without veering too far off the map. What this means is, the majority of the record hits the collision point of post-reunion Swans and ’90s Seattle grunge – think of Alice In Chains performing parts of My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky, or if Michael Gira decided to seek spiritual guidance from Gruntruck and Helmet. I’m surprised I’m not hearing more of this particular sonic combination, or at least more attempts, as it’s not an entirely unlikely pairing, and the results here are nice. The newest Daughters record shares a similar sonic landscape at times (and, to be fair, achieves greatness not found on Bareback), but Throat are less infatuated with atmosphere and electronics, and more likely to grind some post-hardcore riffage into the dirt. Which should drip off nicely after a group trip to the sauna, of course.

Timmy Vulgar’s Genetic Armageddon Music From The Other Side of The Swamp LP (Mind Meld)
Mind Meld is a new offshoot (or mutation?) of the Total Punk / Florida’s Dying family of record production, and what better way to christen a label than with Timmy Vulgar’s newest thing? This man is a living slop-rock legend, with a discography so wide and vast (from cult-faves Clone Defects to Human Eye and beyond) and surely full of gems yet to be discovered by this writer. I check in with his newest material when I can (maybe once a year?), and while I was enjoying the foray Timmy’s Organism was taking into boot-stomping glam-punk, Timmy Vulgar’s Genetic Armageddon pursues a headier trip, as the title might’ve led you to believe. Is this Vulgar’s krautrock moment? His normal assortment of ostentatious guitar sludge, toad-mouthed vocals and red-raw percussion are intact, but he utilizes them in a manner similar to Faust or Brainticket here, drifting through psychedelic alleyways with eyes peeled open from a good trip verging on the bad. Fifteen different tracks are named, but it all flows like two different mind-bending excursions to the bottom of the titular swamp, moving through locked-in jams and trippy sound experiments with ease and purpose. Prior to hearing this one, I would’ve assumed song-shaped rock tunes were Vulgar’s area of expertise, but this out-rock hodgepodge is a particularly dapper fit.

Battle Break 2 compilation LP (PRR! PRR!)
Like most releases on the French PRR! PRR! label, I connected immediately with the first Battle Break compilation, so I was all over this one. The label’s intersectional interests of contemporary underground techno and low-brow sugary cartoon violence matches mine precisely, and this sequel doesn’t disappoint. From what I can gather, the label (and these compilations in particular) are the brainchild of Low Jack (aka B-Ball Joints), but whereas productions under the Low Jack name (as well as his birth name of Philippe Hallais) are mostly pretty serious affairs, the Battle Break series proudly brandishes absurdist comedy within its block-rocking beats. Battle Break 2 is full of wildly entertaining nonsense, as well as some actual bangers… drop the needle at any given point and you might be treated to an acoustic-guitar laden commercial (they’re in French – I wish I knew what was advertised), the mutated grooves of a Maoupa Mazzocchetti cut, Diplo-style Reggaeton madness, a slow-motion Miami bass cut layered with Klezmer fiddle and the sampled voice of a rapper repeating “that’s my shit”, retro power-trance, a mangled pro-wrestler entrance theme, and so forth. It’s all fairly obfuscated too, which adds to the fun – just check the Discogs entry for DJ Wolfi Bernreuther (he contributes “ZYX Mini Mix 2018” to this compilation) and see if it isn’t probably just some elaborate rouse put on by Hallais for his own amusement. You’ll laugh, you’ll twerk, you’ll wish you were playing Street Fighter II while drinking a 40.