Reviews – February 2018

Bandshell Part-Time Gunslinger 12″ (F T D)
I was recently listening to Bandshell’s 2012 debut, Dust March, and couldn’t help but appreciate its continued freshness. Now it’s five years later and the mysterious Bandshell continues to drop new releases on an infrequent basis, like this four-track 12″ EP. It opens with “Credit Fangs”, a series of exhaust-blasting pistons operating amidst a Ginsu knife demonstration. “Gruberfund” twitches like an old robot made in the fallout of dubstep’s demise, somehow crawling out of the closet without the necessary battery charge, whereas “Polarising Haircut” (great title) works a similar rhythmic pattern (think early ’10s Skream or Mala) with body-blow percussion and an unwieldy laser beam. Two minutes of “Snow Directives” concludes the matter, a brief twinkling of artificial light. Part-Time Gunslinger doesn’t carry the dramatic effect of hearing Dust March for the first time, but as far as acerbic, industrial-tinged post-dubstep music is concerned, this one’s a winner.

Color TV Paroxeteens 7″ (Neck Chop)
Kinda weird that this group didn’t use “Paroxeteens” for their name instead, am I wrong here? It’s a cool weird name in the proud punk tradition, whereas “Color TV” just seems like a “we need to come up with something quick for our first show this weekend” kind of moniker, very basic and impersonal. At the very least they could’ve jazzed it up with the British spelling and been Colour TV! That’s the first and only criticism I have for this Minnesotan punk group at the moment, however, as both songs on this 7″ single are strong efforts, ready-to-wear right out of the gate and primed with an infectious energy. “Paroxeteens” has a Blood Visions-esque speedy jitter that calms down for the chorus with a great little volley of “oh-oh!”s one might expect from Marked Men. “Night After Night” pretty much moves in a similar direction, amped-up Brit-punk verses that smooth out into choruses ripe for The Hives or The Briefs – it’s definitely underground approved, but would easily appeal to a less basement-minded fan of poppy punk, someone who might actually bemoan the Warped Tour’s indefinite hiatus. Throw these tracks on a mixtape with Night Birds and The Ergs and see if you can’t convert that ex-Warped Tour lover to exclusively listening to live Coneheads bootlegs on YouTube in six months.

Cup Hiccup LP (Aagoo)
So the artist is Cup and the album is Hiccup, but I feel like I would’ve preferred it the other way around. (Why do I care about band names so much? Because of the various poor choices I’ve made?) I’ll just have to suck it up, though, and do my best to enjoy this album of entry-level garage-rock, straight outta Brooklyn, NY. After a few runs, nothing on Hiccup really stands out, but that’s not to call it bad – these tunes recall Ty Segall at his most straightforward garage-rock, a randomly-selected Burger Records release that doesn’t have “psychedelic” in the description, or the fourth best Oh Sees album released in any given year. The tunes are almost all under two minutes long, a strategy that I heartily approve of for basically any rock group, and no harm nor foul is committed. That said, there’s nothing to pull me back for multiple listens either (besides in my case, journalistic duty), and I have to wonder who is truly going to be thrilled to listen to Hiccup in our world of endless musical options. Hopefully someone!

Dadar Sick Of Pasta 7″ (Spastic Fantastic)
What’s up with Italian groups referencing stereotypically Italian food lately? First there’s the industrial noise of Stromboli, and now Dadar, who dare to come out and wish they could have tacos or stir-fry a little more often. I wasn’t sure what they’d sound like, but it turns out they’re a very easy-to-like punk group. It’s a high-speed version of the classic sound, somewhere around Adolescents, Total Control and Love Triangle, with a vocalist who sounds like Minor Threat-era Ian Mackaye at one moment and Per Almqvist the next. They do a fine job with it across these four songs, about as tight as speedy punk can be with pogo-ready rhythms and a fun sense of abandon. Cool trick in “Get Away” too, where the vocalist’s moan somehow morphs into a bloopy keyboard solo (or maybe there’s no keyboard at all and he’s the Michael Winslow of punk?). People travel from across the globe in an effort to taste authentic Italian pasta, and here are these bozos, ungrateful that they have to eat it at all. I applaud them!

Diamond Terrifier Cipher Chapel Master 12″ (Styles Upon Styles)
Looking for something different? How about this 12″ EP by the intriguingly-named Diamond Terrifier Cipher, who features members of bands as disparately strange as Zs, Ink & Dagger and Cibo Matto?? And what do you know, it’s really quite great, an unusual sonic journey that combines avant-garde sonic formations with the sturdy architecture of techno and the rigorous compositional detail one might associate with Zs. Discogs lists it as “experimental / jazz”, and while I don’t think that’s entirely wrong, I’d say that Chapel Master is a dance record at heart, even if it’s equally suited to high-brow choreography and sweaty basement-level dance parties. I’m reminded quite a bit of Gang Gang Dance, in the way that a potent melange of influences is wrangled together and led by a possessed vocalist. You’ll wonder if it’s a processed trumpet or the voice of Miho Hatori soaring like an agitated goose while a dusty tech-house rhythm chugs down at land level. Part of the fun is not knowing, and passing the steering wheel over to Diamond Terrifier Cipher, assured they’re going to take you somewhere strange and maybe a little scary but you’ll remain safe in their custody. The 12″ has four originals and four remixes (the originals steal the show), and it’s stupidly limited to one hundred copies, so why not join me and 98 other cool people before it’s too late?

DJ Richard Path Of Ruin 12″ (Dial)
The emergence of the White Material label / DJ collective wouldn’t have been the same without DJ Richard. He’s always been elusive in a way that I appreciate, so let’s check in with a new 12″ on the stately German label Dial. “Path Of Ruin (Pain Mix)” kicks it off, and it’s a well-considered cut of well-after-dark house music. Even the hi-hats sound like the twinkling of the moon’s reflection on water after midnight, with pulsing synth stabs that don’t imply pain so much as safety, a deep-house protector of sorts. That mood continues to the flip with “Gargoyle”, barely in the BPM triple digits as it glides over a cloudy melody with cool percussion and a couple peculiar leads, particularly a randomized arpeggiator that proceeds into a wine-soaked waltz… it’s lovely indeed! At this point I’ve nearly reached the perfect house-induced catatonic state and “Stygian Freeze” seals the deal, a soft gravity-free orbit around a frozen synth. I’m almost reminded of something off Tin Man’s Vienna Blue but “Stygian Freeze” isn’t a light snow flurry, it’s buried deep within the ice. This is the perfect 12″ to dance yourself into slumber all winter long.

Drunk Elk In The Tuscan Sun / Wings Of Winter 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
This website is one of the few outlets in my life where I can say something like “I love me some Drunk Elk!” and hope that someone else might understand. I’m lucky to have it! This new two-track EP comes from the unexpected locale of I Dischi Del Barone, but I suppose even the most hardened of avant-garde noiseniks can’t deny the sweet fragile beauty of Hobart, Tasmania’s Drunk Elk. “In The Tuscan Sun” isn’t as warm as you might expect, more of a hydrating breather in the shadows, slightly pained and beautiful (and strictly percussion-free). “Wings Of Winter” throws a second-hand keyboard into the mix but the tone and mood remain the same, a simple playground melody through which I can’t imagine vocalist Dave Elk making any human eye contact. Surely a cousin to moody slow-core like Bedhead and Kepler, but with the lingering sense of early ’80s post-punk, not ’90s emo. The 7″ comes with a short story that I’ve yet to read (waiting for a particularly chilly and lonely night), and would make a fine addition to anyone’s I Dischi collection.

Errorsmith Superlative Fatigue 2xLP (Pan)
Seeing a lot of praise for Errorsmith’s first album in thirteen years, Superlative Fatigue, and after sitting with its hypercolor grooves for a bit, it’s easy to understand why. In a sea of endless electronic releases (even the great ones are far larger in number than any one person could ever listen to), Errorsmith’s fairly simple setup stands out, both from a sonic perspective and the amount of fun that seems to be at play. Superlative Fatigue is pretty easy to summarize: reggaeton, West African and dancehall beats programmed on recognizable electro pads with refreshingly strange state-of-the-art software (in part designed by Errorsmith himself) used for the melodic voice-based leads. It’s music that sounds like it could easily be created live by one person with two hands and a mic on a stand, and hard to stop listening to once you realize what you’re in for. If it reminds me of anyone, the frantic live-action dub of Ekoplekz would compare, but Errorsmith seems far tidier, as though his setup fits in a shoulder bag and each patch cord is precisely wrapped and stowed for travel. Opener “Lightspeed” sets the tone with a rollicking beat and a humanoid voice slowly coasting through various vowel sounds, and by the time the tropical mania of “I’m Interesting, Cheerful & Sociable” hits, you can’t help but wonder why other producers insist on using so many different sounds all at once.

Fire Heads Fire Heads LP (Big Neck)
Fire Heads are a garage-punk group outta Wisconsin, featuring a couple members of The Hussy and a couple members of Dumb Vision. (I never heard Dumb Vision before, but I think I have to, as that name is really cracking me up – do they all walk around like Mr. Magoo on stage? How did they all agree on “Dumb Vision”? Do they refuse to wear their prescribed glasses? I have so many questions.) Anyway, Fire Heads is clearly the work of seasoned professionals, dudes who have probably spent years working toward being in a band as tight, taut and blazing as Fire Heads since they got their first musical instruments as teenagers. They’re like an amped-up Saints for the most part, executing these twelve tracks with authority and confidence, completely disregarding the fact that the majority of the world has moved on from rock bands. Things kinda blend together after a while, as most tracks maintain a similar tempo, and the guitar tends to blaze out a sweet solo around the same point in most songs, but the lack of a clear and obvious hit doesn’t diminish Fire Heads’ success – hell, even the bassist seems to be giving it his all, and whoever actually cares what the bassist is doing? Good on Fire Heads for stepping out with something to prove.

Fully Glazed Bone In / Bone Out 7″ (Petty Bunco)
I’ve traveled the world in the past year, and no matter where I go, the locals ask me the same question: “what’s up with Watery Love these days?”. Well, I’ve got good news and bad news: Watery Love are on a semi-permanent hiatus, but its two founding members started Fully Glazed with a friend, and after a tape or two, made it to vinyl. They play shows on occasion, but are centered on practice/jamming in the basement simply for their own pleasure, which of course is the most noble reason of all for being in a band. The two tracks here give us a peek into their process: cyclical rock grooves positioned directly between Crazy Horse and The Dead C. No vocals, just drums and two guitars, one of which tends to overheat while the other maintains a steady 98.6. You can almost hear the attitude of Watery Love in the one-chord down-strumming, but Fully Glazed are mellow and comfortable – if they were a pair of pants, you can bet there’d be an elastic waistband. It would be pretty awkward if you walked down the basement steps of the Philadelphia Record Exchange and stumbled upon a Fully Glazed practice sesh without a case of domestic beer over your shoulder, so listening to this 7″ single is a much cheaper option.

Gay Witch Abortion / The Grasshopper Lies Heavy split LP (Learning Curve)
Learning Curve is really gunning to be the AmRep of the ’10s, churning out lots of heavy, dude-centric rock carnage, like this new split between Minneapolis’s Gay Witch Abortion and San Antonio’s The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. The name alone has me thinking Gay Witch Abortion are Butthole Surfers fans, which is quite likely as this duo (aided by Tom Hazelmyer on bass for this studio sesh, apparently) pound out their heavy rock in the age-old tradition. I’m reminded of a workmanlike, non-artsy Lightning Bolt at times, or post-Landed act Vincebus Eruptum in the way that their blue-collar riffs are dragged through the street. Nothing fancy or special, just crunchy and pummeling rock. As anticipated, the music of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is certainly a suitable companion to Gay Witch Abortion. Churning and heavy rock aggression that nods in favor of Helmet and Cherubs, and probably would sound utterly sick with Zach de la Rocha angrily rapping over top. Instead, it sounds perfectly fine with the standard-issue bellowing/screaming, though by no means exceptional. Gets the job done, though!

Gee Tee Death Race 7″ (Neck Chop)
Quick, you’ve got sixty seconds to use this pair of children’s scissors, a pen and an old issue of Car And Driver magazine to design a 7″ cover! I bet Gee Tee still had forty seconds left over after turning theirs in, which seems to be the prevailing punk aesthetic these days. This prepared me to stare blankly through their music, but go figure, they’re actually quite entertaining! It has that modern sound, for sure: cardboard drums, the lo-fi warmth of a borrowed four-track, abrasively clean guitar tones, nasal vocals, a thrifted synth, but something about Gee Tee works better than most. Maybe it’s because there seems to be an underlying interest in songwriting, like they actually took some time to make sure the riffs have the right balance of familiar and different, and the vocalist has an appealing snarl, like if Joe Queer had a punk nephew who was constantly embarrassed by the right-wing crap his uncle posts to Facebook. Comparisons to CCTV and Coneheads aren’t entirely unfounded, but Gee Tee are proudly mid-tempo and never verge on hardcore, plus they’re singing about classic cars and horror schlock in the proud tradition. The first “elder” punk I ever met also collected vintage metal lunch-pails and displayed them alongside his collection of rare Misfits singles, and I bet if he heard Gee Tee’s Death Race, he’d ask to borrow and tape it. Then I’d tell him about Bandcamp and blow his damn mind.

His Electro Blue Voice Mental Hoop LP (Iron Lung)
At this point, His Electro Blue Voice are underground survivors: what other band got started with SS Records and Sacred Bones, jumped to Sub Pop, then struck up a deal with Iron Lung a decade later? And all from the remote peninsula known as Italy, no less! They’ve more or less been operating with the same sound for all this time too, heavy-grooving laser-guided post-punk, and it still suits them on Mental Hoop, perhaps better than ever. Songs here remind me of the punkest Melvins tracks, or a particularly heavy Venom P. Stinger, or maybe even Neu! under the influence of The Jesus Lizard. Many tracks have that classic krautrock drum propulsion, as though the song is being driven into an endless horizon… in case I ever wondered what Moon Duo would sound like reconfigured to play hardcore, I need only reach for Mental Hoop. There’s even a track that repurposes the chorus to Dr. Octagon’s “Earth People”, in case you thought HEBV were starting to get predictable. It’s deceptively melodic too, as though the group is tempted by populist rock riffing even if they insist on scuffing it up. I’m just hoping they can find a way to work with 12XU, Drag City and Total Punk over the next ten years.

Isotope Soap The WOW! Signal EP 7″ (Levande Begravd)
Swedish punk group Isotope Soap are presumably named after Geza X’s fine contribution to the Let Them Eat Jellybeans comp (a formative punk staple for yours truly), so I was looking forward to some appropriately loopy, perhaps keyboard-driven punk rock. I got all that and more on the opening cut “Magnetic Abortion Of A Black Hole”, a gloomy industrial-punk jam with outrageous evil robot vocals. They’re not human with effects, but purely psychotic cartoon villain, and I was thrilled to think that a band would commit to such a bold and polarizing vocal approach. Unfortunately, it was just a tease, as the rest of the EP plays out with far more accessible (but still crazy-eyed) punk vocals, bouncing off the walls of a rubber room as the rest of the group attempts to throw him off time with their zig-zagging post-punk moves. I wish that evil villain overlord voice persisted, but their more standard approach to nihilistic keyboard-punk is nice as well, clearly in homage to Midwestern misanthropes like Ice 9 and Mentally Ill. Plus I think there’s that unshakeable pride that Swedish people have in whatever they do, which ensures Isotope Soap are tight and well-recorded as opposed to being a truly degenerate mess of gaseous and liquid discharges. Even so, the b-side is a buzzing hive of punk electronics, and I’m mentally noting Isotope Soap as A Punk Band To Watch.

Jackson Politick Paste V.1 LP (Neck Chop)
Jackson Politick is apparently a new solo-project by Andy Human, whose other solo project is, umm, “Andy Human”, alongside playing in bands like The World, his group with The Reptoids, and even another band reviewed this month (true punk rock sleuths will figure it out). Clearly this guy’s unable to function without constantly playing music, and I’d say society is better off this way, as from what I can tell his output has only increased in quality over the past few years. This Jackson Politick album is pretty tops, that’s for sure – I would’ve never guessed it’s a solo project, as each song is a fully-formed capsule, as opposed to a collection of instruments played in unison. Most of the record is a laid-back form of DIY punk, reminiscent of Section Urbane or The Sleaze, punk bands where the singer quietly speaks their words rather than shouting or screaming. A track like “I Get Carried Away” answers the question of “what would Dan Melchior sound like in a real punk band?”, right down to the deadpan vocals and ease of delivery. Maybe a little Home Blitz in Paste V.1 too, although decaffeinated and subdued, punk that sounds like it’s exhausted after a long flight. I’d say that Andy Human should try to turn Jackson Politick into a “real” band, but he’s got enough of those, so fake it shall proudly remain.

Jade Helm Human Condition 7″ (Gilgongo)
Jade Helm (daughter of Brocas Helm?) hail from Phoenix, Arizona, as is often the case with Gilgongo artists. You can trust this label to enthusiastically promote otherwise-unpublished art from their general vicinity, so this two-song 7″ single fits right in, although those expecting a noisy edge might feel a little skronk-deprived this time around. Jade Helm is the brainchild of one Jackie Cruz, and these two songs are perfectly acceptable poppy indie-rock, locked into melodies any fan of the genre has heard many times before. In this case, it’s not a detriment so much as a desired feature – this is indie-rock comfort food, music born of The Pixies, The Ramones and The Shop Assistants, with zooming guitar leads, jangly guitars and a slight twinkle recalling some minor form of shoegaze. Your mileage will depend on your appetite for this sort of thing: if you’ve got an online radio show with an hour to fill every week, “Human Condition” would probably prompt a few new Facebook likes, but if you’re only searching for the best of the best, Jade Helm may need to continue working on honing their own voice before your attention is warranted.

Knowso Look At The Chart 12″ (Neck Chop)
The comic art of Nathan Ward has been popping up left and right lately, notably adorning various cool punk records and even a recent Maximumrocknroll cover. It’s about time then that he got to use it for his own band, Knowso, and it looks pretty slick here as well. I wasn’t sure what music would come from this artistic mind, but it turns out it’s basic contemporary weirdo punk, heavy on the floor tom, riffs continually down-picked, choruses shouted in unison. They seem to come from the same sort of “how does me acting normal are this it?” mentality as much of Steve Peffer’s punk output (Homostupids, Factory Men, Folded Shirt, etc.), a sort of feigned inability to participate functionally in society that generally avoids explicit content or vulgarity, or presents such in a childlike manner (I didn’t catch any swear words within Look At The Chart, for that matter). Perverts Again also seem to rep this aesthetic, and Knowso share certain sonic similarities with them, although Knowso are far more upbeat and jumpy, playing punk for the release of energy rather than a sorrowful self-shaming. “Me And My Friends’ Town” is the opener, and a modern punk hit that I strongly urge you to hear and enjoy. It’s honestly impressive that Cleveland is able to foster its own unique punk sound, particularly as the vast majority of their groups are quite good and would stand out in a lesser metropolis, Knowso included.

Florian Kupfer & Torn Hawk Hungry For Candy 12″ (Valcrond Video)
Seems like there’s been a lot of Torn Hawk activity lately, in the form of various EPs, a collection LP and even a CD-only release if I’m not mistaken. Some I still need to check out, but this collaboration with Florian Kupfer (if there’s a more European name I’ve yet to hear it) is tops, even if seasonally inappropriate. This one is artificially pumpkin-spiced the whole way through, and while I am not overly familiar with the music of Kupfer (I need to snag one of his many L.I.E.S. EPs), everything about Hungry For Candy seems to be soaked in Torn Hawk’s signature aesthetic. That is to say, a warped technicolor nostalgia of awkward teenage transitions, as if your only guide through puberty was three discounted Blockbuster rentals per weekend. I feel like Torn Hawk is probably around the same age as myself, and so many of his obscure cultural signposts knock me right in the nostalgia bone, if at least subconsciously. That’s all fine and good, but it’s the music that particularly stands out here: hazy trance pulses and frigid beats intermingle under a web of closed-circuit shoegaze effects, resulting in some sort of G-rated dark-ambient, as if there was an early ’90s Saturday morning cartoon starring Throbbing Gristle. It’s beautiful, occasionally quite funky, and aggressively Halloween themed (the “trick or treat” samples are nuts), so strap on a stinky plastic mask and see how many fun-size Snickers you can peel back before the regret starts to set in.

Leafar Legov Family 12″ (Giegling)
First off, I’ll break the bad news: Leafar Legov isn’t this person’s real name. It’s an alias used by Rafael Vogel, half of the fabulous Kettenkarussell, and this solo venture doesn’t fall far from that tree. If you’re a keen observer, you’ve noticed that I’m crazy about Kettenkarussell and last year’s Insecurity Guard, and Family makes for a stunning addendum, more sumptuous house music with subtle dub and jazz influences and a rich layer of nostalgic patina. Throughout these tracks, I’m reminded of the dusty vinyl static and cinematic warmth of Burial – Family can feel as though you’re listening through a half-remembered childhood train trip down the coast, unsure if they’re actual memories or merely dreams. Maybe a little Boards Of Canada-esque in that way too, but Vogel never gets overbearing with the sonic additives – this music remains firmly based on its reflective grooves, as cozy and meditative as wearing a shearling coat in a light evening snow. Start with the sparkling dub of “Peace By Peace”, then the romantic drama of “Our Love Is Strong” and see if you aren’t also considering getting the name “Leafar Legov” tattooed in script over your heart.

Little Movies The Little Movies Long Play LP (Wah Wah Wino)
I try to keep things fair and balanced here, but I’m not immune to bouts of fanboyism. Take the Wah Wah Wino label for instance, which released two of my favorite albums last year (Davy Kehoe and the Absolutely Wino compilation), and seeing as this Little Movies LP is the label’s third album release, I pounced on it. It’s a duo of Morgan Buckley and Ben Donoghue, and I was ready for whatever they were serving. Turns out, it’s a fairly intimate affair, one not of songs and structured rhythms but gear exploration. Little Movies Long Play was recorded in a day, and it feels like you’re right there with these two dudes, in a shag-carpeted basement somewhere in Dublin, surrounded by heaps of electronics. Listen as they tweak a few knobs over here, let a laser-zap loop spiral out, and slowly shift filters simply for their own entertainment. There’s even a track on the a-side that features one of them narrating exactly what knobs he’s turning (“now we’re at seven o’clock, now four…”), like a YouTube gear demonstration pressed to vinyl. As you can imagine, it’s not necessarily a listener-friendly record (unless you really love pointless suites of electronics burbles and arpeggiated warbles), but I’m so on board with these fellas that I’ve already listened to Little Movies far more than any person would reasonably be expected to.

Kassem Mosse Chilazon Gaiden 2xLP (Ominira)
It’s easy to appreciate a chef who works with the finest ingredients and follows classic recipes to perfection, but I’ve always admired the type who can pick four disparate items out of the fridge and whip up something amazing. German producer Kassem Mosse has always struck me as the latter, the type of guy who makes strange and simple things work that would fall apart in less capable hands. The opener “Blind Vom Licht” on this new double 12″ album is kind of a line in the sand for would-be listeners: a 4/4 thump accompanies a rapid electronic swish and the constant dribble of electronic water; nothing more. It’s a maddening zone to inhabit, like a nervous tick that can’t be quelled, and opening with it seems to imply that if you can’t hang with this, return the album now. The rest of Chilazon Gaiden oscillates across mentally-murderous low-tech repetition and a more agreeable form of deep house, usually falling somewhere in-between. It’s not for everyone, and will only make a high-stress situation worse, but I personally can’t get enough – you might undergo a little turbulence reaching the proper headspace for Chilazon Gaiden, but once you’re there the desire to remain in Mosse’s grasp will overwhelm.

David Maranha Cai-Bem LP (Tanuki)
David Maranha’s been experimentally droning it out for years now. It almost begs the question, with all these experiments, when will he provide us with the empirical results? I still need to snag a copy of his gorgeously drifting Antarctica album from a few years back, but now I have Cai-Bem, an improvised communal drone… with a twist. On Cai-Bem, Maranha enlists his pals in Portugese group Osso Ex√≥tico to switch instruments and see what happens. It’s kind of a well-worn conceit, from high-brow ensembles to low-brow punks, but the results here are a little different. Rather than exposing the unfamiliarity of each player with their newly assigned instrument (organ, tape deck, bass, drums), these players kind of step back and take a passive approach, as if all controlled by an incorporeal Ouija board floating in the room. No one makes any big moves, and Maranha covers up his lack of percussive chops by barely playing much at all, striking his borrowed kit with the consistency of any given Khanate tune. There are multiple frequencies at play, none of which overtake the rest, resulting in a disorienting float not unlike an Anla Courtis piece. In some ways, when it comes to drone all you really need is one strong finger to hold down a button or key, and while that’s probably the majority of what is happening here, Maranha and friends still capture their psychic magic, which remains unsnuffed in the face of swapped instrumentation.

Odd Hope Odd Hope LP (Fruits & Flowers)
Following their 7″ EP for the Fruits & Flowers label, Odd Hope are back with a full-length. Very nice cover art, I have to say: the smudgy, impressionist painting of a human Hamburglar in the long grass is a cheerful and fitting scene for the soft, equally-smudgy indie-pop of Odd Hope. The songs here vary in tempo and delivery, from the plodding and introspective to the upbeat and sunny, revealing the depth that simplistic indie-pop can offer when delivered from the right hands. I’m reminded of Belle & Sebastian, Brighter and 14 Iced Bears, but with a certain strain of foppishness that’s inherently American. At times, vocalist Tim Tinderholt sounds on the verge of tears, as though his lower lip is quivering to hold in heartbreak that teeters on the edge, even as he’s delivering lyrics that seem, at least on surface level, to be uplifting and positive. Indie twee like this has always struck me as kind of perverse, particularly as embodied by the genre’s super-fans, as though they are all harboring some terrible secret and covering it up with the daintiest, wussiest music around. While Odd Hope could be such a person’s new favorite band, I feel no guilt in enjoying these tunes, as they are merely the talented player, whereas it’s the game that deserves the hate.

Onion Engine Glume 7″ (no label)
Here’s some glorious DIY clatter from Onion Engine, the solo work of one Pete Warden, a Melbourne-based musician who also does time in a group called Shovels as well as Michael Beach’s backing band. I haven’t heard Shovels, but I feel like it’s safe to say that Onion Engine is my favorite thing he’s doing, as it’s a barely-musical melange of struck metal and horns alongside subtly morose and pitiful sounds that are less easily placed. The a-side “Grass Mites” is a loose, boozy march, ripe for importation on the Kye label (although I heard Kye threw in the towel – say it ain’t so!). Flip it for “Off Colour”, a horn-led jaunt that recalls an early Barnacled recital, and “Shifting House”, another two minutes of repetitive soup-pot clangor and stately trumpet. Would’ve fit perfectly on a Fuck Off Records compilation tape in 1979, but fits just as nicely in this plain brown sleeve that also includes a lavish full-color art book, reminiscent of Black Dice’s Peace In The Valley 7″. The name might’ve seemed nonsensical at first, but after a few listens I’m convinced that both an onion and an engine were somehow used in the creation of these tunes.

Razz Time Frames LP (Emotional Response)
Razz are an Oakland group (featuring members of The Talkies and The Pets, in case that means anything to you), a proudly retro-rock act that wants us all to revel in the timeless nature of feel-good rock n’ roll. Their sound encompasses early glam ala The Raspberries and Big Star up through the power-pop of the early ’80s ala Milk & Cookies and Boyfriends. It’s not an uncommon mix of flavors, high-waisted polyester and threadbare denim, and Razz approach it with reverence and sincere appreciation. It’s almost impossible now to imagine a time when music like this was considered edgy or inappropriate, as Time Frames is almost startlingly wholesome and upstanding, right down to their cover of The Turtles’ “Hot Little Hands”. When Razz really rock out, I’m almost reminded of M.O.T.O., but for the most part they’re decidedly well-behaved – I could hardly picture them tagging their band name in the backstage area of even the grodiest club. It’s enough to make Weezer look like Fury Of Five by comparison, so the next time I’m putting on a satin shirt and bell-bottoms for a frisky night out, I know what record I’m throwing on.

Tongue Party / USA Nails split 7″ (Learning Curve)
International noise-rock split 7″ here, featuring Minneapolis’s Tongue Party and London’s USA Nails. Tongue Party kick it off nicely with some fairly scummy-sounding noise-rock… I’m reminded of those rare moments when Cavity would play fast, with a strong dose of Mayyors’ sandpapery delivery. They actually play a lot of different notes, but something about the overall presentation makes it feel like proper knucklehead rock, like listening to KARP while watching a montage of car crashes, rather than anything brainy or sophisticated. Even though they’re a good twelve hours of air travel away from Tongue Party, USA Nails have such a similar delivery that one could easily believe it’s the work of the same band, just with a different member taking over vocal duties. Maybe a little more reverb overall in USA Nails’ tank, too, but they’re also flying off the rails with manic drumming and a vocalist whose brows remain perma-furrowed. Overall I’d give Tongue Party the slight edge, but maybe you’ve just caught me in a particularly patriotic mood.

Total Control Laughing At The System 12″ (Alter)
Holy moly, are we ever blessed: a new Total Control record! This phenomenal group has been taunting us with their presence for years now, never quite giving us enough (shows, records, social media events, collectible photosets, etc.) – even Australians have been bemoaning their lack of availability. So even if Laughing At The System was merely a repeat of the moody, synth-laced post-punk of their past, I’d be happy, but Total Control are far too restless and genius to tread water, even really good water. Laughing At The System pushes the band further out there, to bizarre musical realms I didn’t know existed – something like a glinting late ’70s new-age lounge infiltrated by ’90s alt-pop psychedelia, blazing Buzzcocksian punk and the peculiar spark of perfection buried on the fifth LP in a Vinyl On Demand boxset of maligned eastern European cold-wave synth? Each song is a fascinating, charming nugget, pop to their core no matter how jacked-up the Total Control boys insist on behaving, right down to both versions of the title track. (“Laughing At The System Pt. 1” is laced with synthetic pesticides, whereas “Laughing At The System Pt. 2” is dirty, raw and organic.) All inexplicably released on a cutting-edge British noise label with eye-popping artwork, of course, just in case the rest of Laughing At The System started to make any discernible sense to us mortal humans.

Trevor Toy Militia / Go Quick 7″ (no label)
Most people don’t realize that the secret to Total Control has always been James Vinciguerra, whose precisely-demented punk drumming and electronic programming are the reason we all can’t stop tapping along to “Carpet Rash” or “Retiree”. And like most musical geniuses, he can’t contain his efforts to one band or medium, as he has been making electronic music by himself for a few years now, most recently under the curious name of Trevor. Even more curious, this 7″ is pure hardcore jungle not unlike late ’90s Venetian Snares. “Toy Militia” rips into high-speed breaks with detuned chords fluttering throughout, like a choir of low-resolution angels trying to avoid the percussive artillery. “Go Quick” opens like a free-jazz tune-up that slowly reveals its digital properties, reminiscent of Squarepusher’s violent deconstruction of jazz, but never develops past a murky field of electronics, calling to mind American Tapes more than Planet Mu. It’s my understanding that Vinciguerra pressed this one himself and doesn’t expect anyone to actually buy it – I implore you to prove him wrong!

Vultures United I Still Feel Cold 2xLP (Black Numbers / Outsider Art)
I Still Feel Cold is the third full-length release from Southern California’s Vultures United, and if you like this band, you’ve lucked out because there’s a whole lot of music on this double LP! I guess if you’re going to do it, you might as well do it, and Vultures United clearly have suffered no loss for songwriting. The first LP is fairly direct and high-energy melodic hardcore, not unlike Rohnert Park-era Ceremony with a touch of At The Drive-In and Title Fight. The second LP was billed as more of the “experimental” album, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t sound a lot like the first – don’t expect Basil Kirchin-esque soundscapes, but rather more punchy, melodic hardcore, except some of the songs are a bit more drawn out with longer build-ups and breakdowns. Vultures United certainly do no harm to the genre with I Still Feel Cold, but I have to wonder if they couldn’t have had a round-table discussion and trimmed things down to one single LP of the cream of the crop. Although maybe I Still Feel Cold was originally slated as a triple LP and they already did just that.

Wax Chattels Stay Disappointed 7″ (Captured Tracks)
Admittedly it’s been a while since I checked in with anything on the Captured Tracks label – seems like eons ago that they were releasing DIY-screened Blank Dogs and Dum Dum Girls 12″s, and nearly as long since becoming synonymous with indie bedroom projects that move to Brooklyn and become “real” bands in search of publishing deals and free sneakers (the indie-rock Pinocchio story). Regardless of Captured Tracks’ long strange journey, they released this one-sided, one-songed 7″ EP by Wax Chattels, apparently not completely for sale but something to be passed around? Who knows. I’m surprised they couldn’t wait for Wax Chattels to at least write two songs, but “Stay Disappointed” is pretty cool nonetheless. It features rapid-fire bass playing (bassist Amanda Cheng could easily race DeeDee Ramone to the finish line) and drums that are so precise as to sound artificial, with a far more relaxed vocalist who plays a little keyboard for good measure. I’m reminded of The Native Cats, at least if their vocal delivery remained the same while the music came through at twice the speed, although this is merely one song and this manic tempo could be the deviation, not the standard. It comes with a note from label owner Mike Sniper insisting that “you have to see this band” – sure, fly me to Auckland to DJ a Flying Nun anniversary party and catching Wax Chattels will be at the top of my list, too!

Yogurt Brain The Lemon Tree EP 7″ (Orifice Dorm)
Oakland’s Yogurt Brain are doing their darndest to be accidentally filed in the black-metal bin, thanks to the menacing grim reaper on the cover alongside an illegible rendition of the EP’s title, The Lemon Tree. Don’t expect even the slightest hint of metallic aggression, though, as Yogurt Brain play sweet and fey indie, and unabashedly so. Vocalist and band mastermind Stephen Oriolo sings in a softly nasal high pitch over these poppy tunes, recalling Kyle Thomas’s Happy Birthday project, or perhaps in kindred spirit, Ween. Generally speaking this sort of thing is a little too intentionally wimpy/jokey for my tastes, a little too cutesy-clean, but I cannot deny the prowess displayed by Yogurt Brain across these four tunes. There’s plenty of nice guitar interplay and the title track in particular warms up the room, not unlike Beachwood Sparks at their prime. If it ends up flipping a few Bathory fans into jangle-pop, the world will be a better place.

Think I’m going to try to make this a yearly at-random feature, although I missed 2017 (and, umm, 2016), sadly. I spend far too much of my free time avoiding friends and family in favor of staring at Discogs.com, steadily increasing my useless knowledge, so I figured it’s only right to share. If you’re not familiar with previous installments, click on the “Consumer Report” link on the right side of this website to review previous editions, wherein I discuss killer and obscure records that can be had for five dollars (or usually less) over at the site, many of which are still available now, years later! It must be some weird and random lack of spotlight or scarcity that’s relegated these fantastic records to the floor-level dollar bin instead of a three-figure price tag on the wall, but that’s good news for you, the savvy vinyl consumer. I’ve got five more records I strongly recommend, and not including shipping, can all be yours for like twenty bucks combined.

Big Two Hundred Your Personal Filth 2xLP (D.C. Recordings, 2002)
Here’s a record that, back in 2002, I thought would’ve been a surefire hit. The Rapture and !!! and that wave of Brooklyn indie dance-punk was taking the world by storm, and while Big Two Hundred were from somewhere in the UK (very little information exists online so I can’t say exactly where), they certainly had “it”. Huge and spacious live drums, funky basslines that nod to ESG and Can in equal measure, and various studio effects and intriguing percussive elements, from Space Echo-ed keys to occasional vocal murmuring and other unidentified instrumentation. They were mostly an instrumental group, but these songs had legs, besting (and predating) the motorik mutant-disco funk of Tussle, who I also loved at the time (and suppose I still do). Maybe it’s because Big Two Hundred didn’t wear skinny jeans, or were from the wrong side of the pond, where jungle and rave were still the predominant form of underground dance expression? Their records all came care of D.C. Recordings, mostly known as a breakbeat / trip-hop label, after all. Whatever the case, if you check the primitive no-wave strut of “Replaceable Head” and realize you need it in your life, it won’t cost you very much.

Lenny Dee Fuckin Hostile 12″ (Industrial Strength, 1993)
Allow me but one “desert island” gabber record and I’m reaching for Lenny Dee’s spectacular Fuckin Hostile. It’s pure, untainted hardcore gabber techno direct from the source, Industrial Strength Records, storming in at 185 BPM and completely unrepentant. Everything sounds like it was baked with a thin crust of distortion, right down to the staph-infected hi-hats, but it’s the short vocal clip (Phil Anselmo off Pantera’s “Fucking Hostile”, naturally) that elevates this cut to anthem status. Much in the way that Merzbow explained his noise philosophy as attempting to elongate the peak ecstatic moment of a Jimi Hendrix solo or Robert Plant wail, Lenny Dee grabs perhaps the best two words Phil Anselmo has ever screamed and churns it out at a level of pure hardcore aggression previously inexperienced, upping the ante for all parties involved. It’s a real headbanger, and comes with a couple remixes. You’ll want to enjoy all three.

Dykehouse Midrange LP (Ghostly International, 2004)
Ghostly is one of the most successful American electronic labels, and rightfully so, but I was always surprised that Dykehouse never really went anywhere. Maybe it’s the name? It’s kind of aggressive and rude, and it betrays the synthesized, heart-achey, shoegazing bliss that lies within. The hit is “Chain Smoking”, which was also released on 7″ (and I think sells for literal pennies on Discogs, as opposed to the $4.16 an LP will cost you), but as a whole Midrange is a stunning collection of guarded pop, filled with chiming melodies, artificial drums and breathy vocals. Imagine Slowdive’s American cyborg cousin, full of dark wit and cynicism but never at the expense of a soaring chorus or uplifting hook. Right around when this came out, I heard from a friend that Dykehouse’s live show was more insult comedy than music, like a John Maus with a tiny number of fans and Todd Barry’s nihilist streak, and I’m so sad I never got to experience it myself. I wonder what he’s up to today? Maybe we are about to enter a Dykehouse renaissance.

Flowerpot Men Jo’s So Mean 12″ (Compost, 1984)
You probably didn’t even have to look at the date to guess that a group called “Flowerpot Men” were from the ’80s, but this is prime ’80s material, the sort of thing you’d fantasize about creating if you could go back in time to 1983 and meet some other freaks in sleeveless leather vests and eyeliner. I’m pretty sure “Jo’s So Mean To Josephine” has been comped here or there, and rightfully so – it’s the perfect amalgam of Suicide and goth-industrial with a very Nick Cave vocal delivery and a menacing synth that Trent Reznor wish he knew about back in 1984. If you DJ any remotely goth dance party and don’t have one of these in your crate, what’s taking so long? Or if you’re a shut-in home listener like me, it sounds just as good in solitary confinement. Elegantly brutal and highly effective! I have yet to fully immerse myself in Flowerpot Men’s discography, but I need to know if they’ve got anything else like this lingering out there. (Their cover of “Walk On Gilded Splinters” is great and also quite cheap.) I forget what the other two tracks on here are like, so I quickly revisited “UG”, which sounds like a hurried experiment of Severed Heads or Cabaret Voltaire gone awry, which of course is a wonderful thing.

M.C. Monkey & Ape With Attitude Human Zoo Pts 1 + 2 7″ (Kryptonite, 2004)
Here’s the only remotely “punk” record of this installment, but it’s so damn punk it makes up for all the electronic stuff listed above. I’m not entirely sure of the origins of this duo – one guy was in Last Sons of Krypton, the other who knows, but they really located that elusive spark of punk rock magic here. If it came out in 1978, you’d be bidding deep into the hundreds for a copy, but it’s from 2004 and probably was never really purchased when it first came out, so it’s still semi-available for pocket change. Think Freestone or The Dogs (the Rot N’ Roll one) at their most unhinged, both members flopping around like Iggys out of water but instead of being surrounded by razor blades and groupies, they’re in a basement with their old Fisher Price toys and a guitar amp you can easily carry in one hand. The track spans both sides and trails off into incomprehensability right around the start of “Part 2”, but it’s all gloriously idiotic punk rock, made for the purpose of no one’s enjoyment but their own. Joke’s on them, because I love the hell out of Human Zoo, and urge you to snag one before the punk collector cognoscenti realize what they’ve been foolishly ignoring for too long.