Reviews – August 2017

B-Ball Joints Blue Boy Joints LP (PRR! PRR!)
The PRR! PRR! label is my go-to for top-notch techno tricksters… last year’s Battle Break “compilation” was a stone-cold killer of hardcore techno absurdity, and the An Ultimate DJ 12″ from two years ago melded riotous banging with an acoustic guitar cover of “Wicked Game” to glorious results. So now B-Ball Joints (which I believe to be another of one Low Jack’s aliases) gets their own album, delivering the same sort of cartoonish menace that made Battle Break so strangely pleasing. There’s a ton of tracks here, and they go all over the place, from aggressive EBM to choppy breaks to techno you’d expect to accompany the Power Rangers into battle. It can be pretty cheesy, but that’s the point, riotous techno with a ’90s aesthetic, the sort of thing you’re supposed to blast while eating five bowls of sugary cereal on a Saturday morning. The vocals (of which there are a bunch inserted within) sound more like characters from He-Man’s Evil Horde than human beings, and the intensity is not unlike a small child physically threatening an adult twice their size. If Cobra Commander ever gets the DJ residency at Berghain that he’s been pushing for, I’d imagine he’d be packing Blue Boy Joints in his titanium-reinforced flight case.

Mark Cone Now Showing LP (Neck Chop)
The name “Mark Cone” had me a little confused at first: this solo synth-punk provocateur isn’t Mark Winter of the Coneheads, but actually Jackie McDermott of Urochromes. Is this some sort of intra-scene potshot, or just a strange coincidence? Whatever the case, I’ve enjoyed spending my time with Mark Cone, who behaves like Geza X on the set of a Roger Waters film, throwing around cheap props and rattling his drum machine until its AAA batteries fall out. If he doesn’t sport one of those waxed twisty moustaches and a rumpled suit while playing his aggressive punk songs on a vintage karaoke machine, he should understand that this project affords him the circumstances to do so, just like the man with the pained grimace on the cover (or could that be him?). Very manic and aggressive delivery for something that is guitar-less and driven only by pre-set keyboard sounds and carnivalesque rhythms, but McDermott sells it hard. He even reduces the music to a single repetitive plink on “Intermission (If The Cone Fits)”, but his intense confidence makes it a standout cut, displaying his microphone mastery on a song that would surely falter for a lesser vocalist, recalling vintage Ed Schrader’s Music Beat. Now Mark Winter just needs to start a project called Jacky Chrome and the circle may be complete.

Arve Henriksen Towards Language LP (Rune Grammofon)
I try to move a little slower in the sweltering summer months, so a record like Towards Language by Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen has really been hitting the spot. He’s some sort of vanguard experimental jazz trumpeter, and I’m sheepish to admit this is the first I’ve heard of him (I don’t want word getting around that I’m not up on exceptional Norwegian experimental trumpeters), but it’s a very easy record to like, no learning curve needed. Towards Language features nine tracks of sedated and smooth motifs, all locating different points on the emotional spectrum: pensive, ebullient, playful, remorseful and inquisitive. Electronics, guitar, bass and sampler all provide the understated framework that Henriksen’s trumpet fills with color, at times reaching a gratifying sound that has me imaging a particularly tender Chet Baker sessioning with Jóhann Jóhannsson. It’s a record that rewards close listening with its various tics and strange forces, but you can just as easily toss it on while napping a small child or toasting your morning bagel and feel nourished by its sound. What good is experimental jazz if it’s not versatile? Oh, and the vinyl edition comes with a CD, which reminds me of that Mitch Hedberg bit where someone handing you a flyer might as well be saying “hey, can you throw this out for me?”

Intensive Care Voyeurism 12″ (Anthems Of The Undesirable / Divergent Series)
No sooner had I assumed I wouldn’t encounter any more harsh-noise-laced power-violence this year than Intensive Care show up with Voyeurism. Like a great deal of the hardcore records that are being released these days, it’s mastered by Will Killingsworth at Dead Air, and if you’re a particularly observant nerd, you know that he’s also in No Faith, the other recent noise-infused grindcore group I’ve reviewed. I have to say, while I admire Intensive Care for pursuing such a noble form of music, Voyeurism isn’t quite cutting it for me. They’re a bass/drums duo, and historically those have a tough time reaching the level of brutality that the style demands (I’m looking at you, Godstomper and No Comply, although both of you had your moments). Intensive Care are victims to this peril as well – their riffs aren’t strong enough, nor is the sole bass heavy enough to carry these songs, reminiscent in song-form to Phobia at their most straightforward and Black Army Jacket at their shiftiest. The noise is the best part, various harsh collages and effects looping around and through some of the tracks (not unlike Gasp), but it’s not enough to save Voyeurism from the discount hardcore bin full of other solid close-calls with greatness.

Joint D≠ مخابرات / Intelligence LP (Sorry State)
Been a while since the last Joint D≠ album (four years to be precise), so Sorry State corrected that deficiency by releasing last year’s Scavenger Of Death tape on vinyl. I’m not sure if Joint D≠ are still a “real band” or a studio project or on hiatus or what, but they’ve certainly amassed a righteous discography, merging familiar hardcore/punk influences into a sound that distinctly sounds like them. Like prior records, this one sounds like a mix of The FU’s and Code Of Honor with subtle garage-rock tendencies and the manic, no-breaks delivery of classic Japanese hardcore. I’ll be honest, I haven’t spun any of the earlier Joint D≠ records in a while, so I can’t comment with too much authority on any subtle stylistic shifts, but as far as I can remember this is what Joint D≠ has always sounded like, and they do it well here too. The record seems to be centered around the current global and political chaos, taking shots at the 1% and miserable tyrants controlling our lives, but I will never understand why bands put their lyrics in tiny-printed continuous blocks of text, as if they want to make it as difficult as possible to actually read what they have to say. Images of Ronald Reagan, military planes and a burning copy of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged make for a provocative design, but I wanna know what you’re really saying without having to fetch my magnifying glass.

Leda Gitarrmusik III-X LP (Förlag För Fri Musik)
As I’m always clamoring for more Neutral, I was pleased as punch to see that Leda, Sophie Herner’s solo venture, released a new LP. Took a little finagling to obtain a copy (shout out to the Australian shop Albert’s Basement for sourcing a copy of this Swedish record), but it was worth any financial or logistical struggles I may have faced. The title pretty much sums it up, as this album features eight tracks of “guitar music” (that’s the English translation care of yours truly). Leda usually fires up some sort of looping rhythmic structure, and either piles more sound on it or plays within its vicinity. I’m reminded of solo guitar slingers like Tetuzi Akiyama and Oren Ambarchi, but there’s something about Herner’s playing that feels distinctly PSF, like High Rise’s deconstructed rhythms are in her head and she’s clanging right along (“Gitarrmusik VI” has a particularly psychedelic stoner groove). Other tracks carry the industrial sludge of Hunting Lodge or Laibach to splendid effect. On the whole though, Gitarrmusik III-X unsurprisingly sounds more than a little like Neutral, merely with the colorful and atmospheric haze of electronics and voice stripped away. For a guitar noise record, it sure is entrancing and entertaining, about as easily digestible as this sort of thing can get while still retaining a degraded and tarnished sound. Recommended!

Long Knife Sewers Of Babylon 7″ (Beach Impediment)
Portland, OR’s Long Knife return after a couple years, now with the addition of Keith Testerman of Lebenden Toten on drums. Don’t you wish your inactive punk band could just come back to life with Lebenden Toten’s drummer? Move to Portland, I guess! Anyway, I’m sure they wouldn’t want to hear it, but there’s something about this five-track EP that has me imagining an alternate reality where Fucked Up never released any LPs and just got more and more into Poison Idea, pushing their tempos, raging guitar solos and Motörhead moves into overdrive. (Isn’t Sewers Of Babylon kind of a Fucked Up-y title, too?) I’m generally not a big fan of hardcore where you can understand every word in spite of the singer screaming, but vocalist Colin Jarrell really has the right voice for the job, even adding a welcome touch of melody (in the loosest sense of the word) to “Only A Reflection”, my personal fave of the bunch. It’s really all top notch stuff though, to the point where I was almost kind of surprised at how great Sewers Of Babylon is, even though Beach Impediment is already well established as a Hardcore Label You Can Trust.

The Mad Doctors No Waves, Just Sharks LP (King Pizza)
Brooklyn’s Mad Doctors are so familiarly garage-punk, it’s practically comforting in a time of such global uncertainty. Their album title paints a picture of pulpy beach violence, their band name conjures kooks in lab-coats and goggles, and their label name gleefully reveres garage-punk’s favorite food. It’s like they exist in a choose-your-own-adventure Ramones song, and for what it’s worth, they do the genre no disrespect. They’ve got their Ty Segall, Shannon & The Clams and Nobunny riffs down pat, and if someone isn’t spilling canned domestic beer while crowdsurfing in ripped jeans, something has gone terribly awry. There are a few moments on No Waves, Just Sharks that shake up the formula a little, if not lyrically but musically, like the strange, kinda classic-rocky sway of “Shit Hawks At Blood Beach”. The imposing monotone speakerbox voice works quite well in this setting, and it’s a nice change of pace from the usual blurry, middle-of-the-mix garage-punk holler. I’m probably the only sober geek paying attention to stuff like that, though, as the music of The Mad Doctors is clearly built for unscrupulous partying, not sonic theorizing. Screw it, I’m gonna drop my laptop on the floor, put on one of those human-sized hot dog costumes and see if The Mad Doctors need a roadie.

The Modern Institute The Modern Institute 12″ (Night School)
Sometimes I think I’ve had enough sci-fi synth-punk irritation in my life, and yet I keep buying it – even records like The Modern Institute, where I know the clear PVC sleeve’s toxic properties will eventually wreak havoc on the vinyl itself (if I ever get cancer, I’m blaming my picture disc collection). There’s something about the combination of a bitter electronic pulse and a person’s heavily-affected droll voice that I will always enjoy, and that’s exactly what The Modern Institute are offering, a Glasgow-based group featuring at least one fellow from the righteous Golden Teacher. These electronics are clinical and strict, mostly mid-range or high-pitched tones, twitching like state-of-the-art hospital equipment with a voice so echoed that I can’t even pick up the Scottish accent. Feels pretty American really, calling to mind other pessimistic synth-wavers like German Shepherds (without the depravity) and Voice Farm (without the pop aspirations), although The Normal surely factor in as well. The Modern Institute come across like a group of scientists dismayed that their research funding has been cut, with lyrics like “the universe is meaningless” sprinkled within syrupy synapses and sharp oxide puffs. Guess I’ll follow their lead and use disposable latex gloves to handle this record moving forward.

Nag No Flag 7″ (Space Taker Sounds)
One cool thing about modern punk is that if I hear a new band and like them, they probably have three other records coming out soon or already available. Feels like I’m still settling into Nag’s perplexing and cool Total Punk 7″ and they’re already offering another new EP. No complaints, just observing! “No Flag” opens this one with a nice unorthodox strut – it has me imagining a world where Mayyors traveled back in time to 1978 in an attempt to influence The Urinals. Heavy snare, snotty vocals somewhere in the hiss, very pleasing all around. We get two more cuts on the flip: “Patterns” plays a little straighter, with an on-trend oom-pah punk beat, one that they play in a fiercely punk manner. Think Reatards more than Dawn Of Humans, although things get pretty slimy. “Walls” is last, a big-mouthed bop that calls to mind Cheap Time if they enlisted Shin Takayama of Framtid for drum duties (and spiritual guidance). Definitely cool, but each track hits quickly, like three little blips on your beach-side metal detector. I can only hope that when it comes to live shows, Nag pull an OFF! and play fifty songs in a standard eighty-minute set.

Natural Causes Natural Causes LP (Sorry State)
Natural Causes aren’t simply my preferred form of death, they’re a synth-friendly garage-punk band out of Carrboro, NC. Both of their prior records (a debut LP and a 7″ single) have been reviewed here, so let’s make it three for three, shall we? This new one comes on the respected Sorry State label, and maybe I’ve just been smacked with a bunch of really superior and distinct punk lately, but Natural Causes isn’t doing a heck of a lot for me. Nothing about the album sucks, they just seem to tiptoe through their songs with caution, like they’re still trying on a new outfit and aren’t entirely sure it’s a proper fit. They’re clearly aiming for territory similar to Ausmuteants and Total Control, but they lack the memorable absurdity of the former and the razor-sharp hooks of the latter. A track like “Like It Should” feels like a Total Control song at 80% strength. They opt for stranger, post-punky tunes here as well (much of their previously noisy atmosphere has been cleaned up this time around), and while it’s perfectly fine, I can’t help but think how a contemporary group like Whatever Brains excels at the same sort of unhinged delirium that Natural Causes seem to be shooting for. There’s plenty of potential here, Natural Causes just need to figure out what makes them special and amplify it.

Newworldaquarium Chubby Knuckles EP 12″ (NWAQ)
Newworldaquarium’s The Dead Bears was one of the first techno full-lengths I really got into, so he’ll always have a soft spot in my heart. But casting nostalgic devotion aside, Jochem Peteri (the man behind Newworldaquarium) keeps kicking butt, like this new EP on his own label. “Chubby Knuckles” is essentially a loop that slowly arrives, hangs and then leaves, but it’s not about the intricacy or difficulty that makes deep-house great, it’s the ability to locate a godlike loop and let it hang in suspension, just as Newworldaquarium does with this one. Jungle flutes, stomping disco kicks, bongos taken out of DJ Fett Burger’s rucksack, funk bass and a two-note guitar additive make “Chubby Knuckles” an immediately satisfying cut, each element locking together to form a Voltron-esque dance imperative. I hate to flip it, but I’ll do it for the sake of “42”, a long cut of sunbleached dub-techno hypnosis that slowly lifts up and dissipates, like fog on a lake. And if that wasn’t chill enough for your tastes, “42 (Yoga Outro)” closes the EP, to ensure all muscles are properly stretched and cramping is avoided. Meet you for green smoothies later?

Niagara Comboios 7″ (Ascender)
Niagara are easily one of the coolest groups going worldwide, and now that I’m hip to them I’m trying to snag all their new EPs, which seem to come at a brisk clip. This new one is on the moving-toward-sad-obsolescence 7″ format, and it’s great. “Ida” is the a-side cut and it’s a rainy-day dub of drum machine patter and either an ancient melodica or an affected harmonica (maybe all that Davy Kehoe listening is getting to me). It’s airy and meditative, a lonesome Portuguese reggae. “Volta” pumps up the beat on the flip with bass guitar, one-two drum kicks, unquestionable harmonica and a stuttered vocal snip, and “Calor” brings it home with a collage of sounds you might hear down by the harbor on holiday: drinks being poured, stomachs growling, waves crashing and the faint hint of last night’s dance party. There seems to be a sonic kinship with the freewheeling dance eclecticism of Dublin’s Wah Wah Wino crew, but Niagara are especially organic, at times recalling what Mi Ami might sound like if they still existed and pushed beyond their comfort levels of experimentation. Crisp and beautiful 7″ EP, it only has me wanting more.

Molly Nilsson Imaginations LP (Night School / Dark Skies Association)
Molly Nilsson hit my radar last year via 2015’s Zenith and I was immediately hooked – her music felt so fresh, catchy and strange, it was as if moody synth-pop didn’t exist before her. And to my delight, she had a reservoir of previous albums (five prior to 2015!), so I slowly submerged myself in her world, one of amazing consistency, aesthetic uniformity and of course her unique voice, androgynous and soulful and slightly inhuman, the Gollum to Nico’s Smeagol. I was quick to grab Imaginations upon release, and for whatever reason, it didn’t immediately grab me like her previous records, so I’ve spent some time with it, listening mid-day, at night, while checking my phone and while laying on the floor, eyes closed in concentration. The sounds are all in place: Caribbean moonlit grooves, Eastern Europe karaoke-machine beats, pensive melodies and Nilsson’s distinctly captivating voice, just as I’d hoped. I guess I’m just not picking up the same hooks, or disarming wordplay I’ve come to relish – a song like “Let’s Talk About Privileges” is a great concept that hits a little too bluntly, and “Not Today Satan” overtly borrows from RuPaul’s Drag Race in a way that feels more like a musical meme than classically beguiling Nilsson verse. Imaginations is a grower for sure, and it’s growing on me, but with so much Molly Nilsson to choose from (even her recent 7″ of album outtakes is catchier and more immediately gratifying), I can’t offer Imaginations monogamy.

Bill Orcutt Bill Orcutt LP (Palilalia)
Here’s a crappy game-show I’d love to watch: Bill Orcutt interprets Top 40 hits on his guitar and contestants have to buzz in to guess. That’s kind of what he’s doing here on this self-titled album, the latest in his heavy string of releases since his return to the scene in 2009. His obsession with the Great American Songbook has popped up on other releases and continues here, what is somehow his first solo electric guitar record, and also one of his most somber, tender and somnambulant. He takes traditionals like “Ol Man River”, “White Christmas”, “Over The Rainbow” and “When You Wish Upon A Star” as starting points for the unique journeys his brain likes to carve out, offering a familiar chord change within sparkling clusters of notes and string-based conversations of his own creation. These tracks are slow-burning and moody, yet serene and occasionally joyous – I can’t help but imagine Orcutt having his “I’m having a fucking moment here!” outburst at any given point through the record, like he’s so damn in love with his guitar that he’ll fight you for disturbing it even slightly (search YouTube for “Bill Orcutt having a moment” and revel in its glory). If Bill Orcutt wasn’t already positioned alongside John Fahey, Loren Connors and Jack Rose in the pantheon of iconoclast guitarists, Bill Orcutt should certainly nudge him into such a noble and elite group.

Parris Your Kiss Is Sour 12″ (Hemlock Recordings)
I don’t just enjoy listening to techno, I enjoy reading about it too, which is how I first came across Parris. Articles and reviews made him out to be this future-techno visionary, juxtaposing strange styles into a vibrant new hybrid all his own, and well, what was I waiting for? This new 12″ on Hemlock seemed like a fine place to start, and I have to say, the music threw me for a loop. Not because it was even more forward-thinking than I had imagined, but because it’s so sparse and practically empty, to the point where it almost feels like he’s putting us on. “Your Kiss Is Sour” feels like a mid ’10s Hessle Audio production with the majority of its stems muted: you get one wavy loop, a strange vocal here or there, maybe a florescent drip into a koi pond, and they just move throughout the room for six minutes. “Flowering In Three’s” is next, the only track with a functioning beat, although it’s as rudimentary as they come, augmented by crashing waves, electronic droplets and a couple other foreign synthetic tones. By the time “My Beautiful Fantasy” is reached, one can’t help but wonder if the actual music is still coming later and this is all a ruse, but it’s just as fractured and empty as the rest, coming across like an Actress cut through a stereo with the left speaker unplugged. Listening to Parris is like looking at a painting that was abandoned halfway through completion: kind of annoying at first, but if you can get past your initial disappointment, there’s a certain twisted beauty to be discovered.

Perverts Again My Accident / My Embarrassment 7″ (Total Punk)
Just when I was certain I had finally reached my quota of intentionally-demented Cleveland punk, this 7″ by Perverts Again lands in my lap and I feel like I’m ready to go another ten rounds. “My Accident” kicks it off just right: smooth, subtle, groovy punk, like Flipper with a fistful of Cheetos instead of acid and heroin. The vocalist has a great delivery, too – not overly kooky, no fake accident, but rather a well-enunciated delivery that jives with his strange tale of a doctor’s visit gone wrong. “My Embarrassment” has the same basic deal – floor toms and snare driving a mid-paced beat, with down-picked guitar/bass and the vocalist’s conversational tone, this time with the solid hook of “underneath your clothes you’re not naked”, with “naked” given the high-pitch treatment, a weird-punk calling card that never fails to please. Seriously considering crowd-sourcing the funds to cover a fancy dinner attended by the members of Bad Noids, Folded Shirt, Wet Brain, Perverts Again and Bulsch, just to sit in and listen to these guys actually speak to each other and carry on conversation. Or do they just erupt into a food fight immediately?

Piece War Apathy 12″ (Square One Again)
Good friends Tina Pihema and Barbara Rocha lived in Auckland, NZ back in 2014, and decided to do a band. Intriguingly titled “Piece War”, they recorded a few tunes and released a 10″ lathe cut (limited to thirty copies, as lathe cuts often are), now rescued from the deepest depths of obscurity by Square One Again (to what will surely be a slightly more elevated level of obscurity). They’ve got a good thing going here, which makes the reissue understandable: Pihema and Rocha play a stripped-down form of rock music that splits the difference between forlorn indie-rock and jagged post-punk. There’s just one guitar along with the drums, but it never feels empty or lacking, as though additional guitar or bass would simply crowd things. I’m picking up moments that recall Red Monkey, The Courtneys and even The Make-Up through Apathy, but Piece War are clearly just doing their own thing, with poignant and thoughtful lyrics (that I mostly had to read to understand, thanks to the guitar’s up-front jangle) capping it off nicely. Kind of bittersweet that this is probably the only thing we’ll ever hear from Piece War, but I’m trying to learn to appreciate what I already have rather than endlessly wish for more.

Pinch Water Bomb / Cold New Worlds 12″ (Cold Recordings)
When it comes to quality, non-corny dubstep, Pinch is always there (in a pinch?) to make your next crossfit playlist extra ‘eavy. I have probably taken him for granted over the years, but this new 12″ is a refreshing wake up call, reminding me just how satisfying that big, hairy-chested dubstep aggression can be. There’s really no better way to describe “Water Bomb” than its title, which truly sounds like either giant explosive-laced aquariums crashing on the street, or those spiked floating mines blowing up underwater (are those real, or a Super Mario creation?). It’s such a great sound, I’m surprised he didn’t craft an entire album around it. “Cold New Worlds” on the b-side feels like an industrial-strength, steroid-abusing remix of Girl Unit’s “IRL”, like you brought in your Chevy Lumina for a tire rotation and when you came back it was a canary-yellow Polaris Slingshot. If someone in your household hates loud video game noises, they’re going to ask you to turn this one down (or more likely, off entirely), but you can always wait until they leave to work on your solo dubstep moshing, right?

Powell New Beta Vol. 1 12″ (Diagonal)
Without sufficient warning, Powell recently dropped a new 12″ “mini-album” on his own Diagonal label following last year’s high profile XL release. I’m a huge fan so I snatched it with the quickness, although it’s taken me a few weeks of listening and processing to really get a handle on it. Time will tell if this is a random divergence from the usual Powell sound or if he’s making stylistic moves, but most of what I recognize in Powell’s music is absent here: odd post-punk / no-wave samples, lurching drums, fat acid squiggles as bass, repetitive vocal snippets snatched from an early Rough Trade 45. Powell really built up his own form through multiple 12″s and culminating with 2016’s Sport, but New Beta Vol. 1 follows an alternate evolutionary path. Rather, these tracks are mostly rudimentary drum-machine workouts, bolstered by antsy synth arpeggios and rapid rhythms. I’m reminded of the “deconstructed ’90s trance” style of Lorenzo Senni at times, in the way that this EP seems to toy with early rave sounds, trying to stunt them into a modern form, indebted to ’90s pirate radio jungle sessions instead of early industrial and electro. At first I was disappointed, but now I’m appreciative of these tunes, although I’d still take Club Music or Sport over New Beta Vol. 1 any day. Maybe, as the title implies, Powell’s just working out some bugs.

Rat Columns Candle Power LP (Upset The Rhythm)
Been thinking I should change the name of Yellow Green Red to David West New Release Update Center. Doesn’t roll off the tongue the same way, but it’s more fitting, as beloved Aussie musician David West just keeps on churning them out: new records by Liberation and Rank/Xerox are still fresh, there’s a substantial (and great) album under his own name from last year, and rumors of a new Total Control record in the near future, too. And this is only what I’m aware of! It’s a blessing that he finds himself in the studio setting so frequently, as this new LP by his group Rat Columns is great, the sort of thing I didn’t know I needed until it arrived. He moves away from emo-rock to pastoral indie bliss on this one, delivering the scotchy scent of Belle & Sebastian, with humming organs buffering the billowy guitars and West’s soft vocal delivery leading the way. I haven’t kept up with Belle & Sebastian, but aren’t they a disco group now? Regardless, Rat Columns beat them at that game with “Blinded By The Shadow”, the album’s catchy pinnacle, which feels like the holy consummation of Young Marble Giants and ABBA (yes, there’s a brief violin solo), with lyrics that the Gallagher brothers only wish they wrote: “I was blinded by the shadow that you cast”. I can only hope West finds the time to take the show on the road at some point, perhaps some sort of greatest hits extravaganza spanning all his groups. I can already picture Mikey Young in a sequined tuxedo, somewhere toward the back of the stage, holding down rhythm guitar with a smile on his face.

The Rememberables The Rememberables LP (Adagio830)
I’d love to tell you all about this record, but I really can’t recall a thing about it. Just kidding! The Rememberables appears to be DC-centric hardcore dudes trying out commercial guitar-rock, a divergence that makes sense to me. There are only so many songs a band like Coke Bust can write, and the allure of putting together a collection of pop hooks better than the pros pulls at any musician who’s toured a bit and wondered what it’d be like to play the main stage instead of the basement below. I have to say, The Rememberables came out of the box well formed, perfectly mixing Weezer’s quiet / loud guitars and thick sound with the vaguely serious emo-isms of early Foo Fighters. It’s not a distinct sound, but it certainly gets the job done: a track like “If You Should” could’ve been a Killers single before they discovered Bruce Springsteen. There’s just enough pre-mainstream emo-pop to keep it from sounding too bland (some Clarity-era Jimmy Eat World-inspired melodies here), and a laid-back vocal delivery that falls somewhere between Merchandise’s Carson Cox and Sponge’s Vinnie Dombroski (just check “Walk” and see if you aren’t picking up those vibes). My instinct was to write The Rememberables off as a ‘mersh vanity project, but I can’t deny a solid set of pop hooks when I hear them, and this concise debut has plenty.

Roll The Dice Born To Ruin LP (The New Black)
Seems like Peder Mannerfelt’s been leaving his Swedish fingerprints all over the electronic underground lately, remixing, producing and releasing a dazzling array of projects. Roll The Dice is his long-running duo with Malcolm Pardon, and this new one is glorious, hyper-focused and sinister. Songs vary wildly in tempo, but all come with a sense of intense concentration, focusing on repetitive rhythms and dark, shadowy tones. What makes it stand out is the frequent addition of Per Johansson’s saxophone, released in staccato bursts that punctuate the rhythms like exclamation points. The maddening repetitive qualities and violent horn assault often has me thinking of Swans circa Children Of God mixed with Wolfgang Voigt’s Freiland Klaviermusik – the opener “The Derailed” is a fine example of this comparison, and also why Born To Ruin sounds so good. They also behave like some sort of cyber-punk reimagination of The Stooges with a cut like “Cannonball”, although that may be pushing it, and drop a mighty piano plonk on a particularly aggressive sax line with “Bright Lights, Dark Hearts”. For such a clear set of rules, Roll The Dice express a wide range of ideas within its confines, all of which I’ve been happy to spend time exploring.

Ben Schumacher & Eric Schmid Vienna Acid 7″ (FQW)
The Fusetron description for this one pulled me right in: “Ben and Eric mock each and their careers other over a crap techno song.” Sounded like the sort of thing I’d enjoy, and as that Los Tres Pericos album still gets plenty of play around my parlor, I thought my new thing might be Musical Side-Projects Of Serious Contemporary Artists. And yet, while that brief description is a spot-on explanation for what happens here, I’ve come to regret this purchase. The a-side is an acapella version (no music, just two male voices, seemingly taken from voicemail recordings, possibly in exaggerated accents, occasionally edited with minor effects), and as I let it spin, I slowly felt the desire to slather my face in grease makeup, so that I might resemble the clown I knew I had become. I love garbled nonsense, but nothing about the a-side pulled me in, or gave me any sense beyond “yep, this is a recording of hard-to-decipher inside jokes and complaints between two dudes I don’t personally know”. The b-side slightly makes up for it, as it does indeed come with an acid-house track, spacious and lonely and amateurish, like someone’s first attempt at copying Tin Man using free software, while the exact same vocals are laid over top. Far more tolerable, but still fairly unsatisfying. Of course, the more I research the FQW label’s offerings (acapella covers of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, “talking (German / English)”, and “an improvised audio drama”), I feel a strong urge to purchase them in spite of myself. Somebody scramble the password to my PayPal account, quick!

Sick Thoughts Songs About People You Hate LP (Neck Chop)
Just when I thought Sick Thoughts’ Drew Owen might have turned a new page and opened up his heart to joy and happiness, I checked the album title… Songs About People You Hate. What an irrepressible rapscallion! There’s probably no accurate classification, but I get the impression that Sick Things is his “main” project, maybe because it’s released the most records and the fidelity is on the higher end of the basement-fi spectrum. As far as snot-nosed leather-jacket pop-punk is concerned, Songs About People You Hate is pretty undeniable. The riffs are simplistic and familiar, the drumming is steady and mean, and Owen’s voice is ripe for the job, as if an alternate reality existed where Wavves never learned how to skate and make friends. Buck Biloxi seems like the strongest spiritual figure for Owens, though, as the majority of Sick Thoughts songs discuss their disgust, hatred, annoyance or boredom in crude and convincing fashion, with music that veers between the poppy garage-punk of Rip Off Records and classic Killed By Death standards. Not really music to truly hate yourself by, as much as songs like “Young And Suicidal” and “Wasting My Youth” seem to hope, but rather music through which you might enjoy the idea of hating yourself.

Soft Shoulder Songs & Intermissions LP (Gilgongo)
Songs & Intermissions is one of two new LPs by Soft Shoulder, both released by Soft Shoulder leader James Fella’s Gilgongo label. Gilgongo seems more and more like a clearing house for his personal work, a vinyl-based catalog of events, and if he doesn’t mind financing it, why not? The other one that came out, Repeat #4, features two long and drawn-out takes of the same track (again I say: why not?), but Songs & Intermissions is more substantial and diverse, as well as to my liking. They’ve really got a strong handle on disjointed, DIY, no-wave-inspired punk, which is explored in depth here. Echoes of Urinals, Mars, A Frames and Ex-Models persist throughout, as well as the noisy and gruff post-punk of pre-No Age group Wives. The neo-no-wave renaissance is certainly passe at this point, but that’s part of why Soft Shoulder are so satisfying – this is clearly a group making a turbulent racket because it’s a form of music they sincerely believe in, not because it’s what everyone is supposed to play this year. Things move fast and with purpose, from a crash n’ bash punk stomper to a percussion-free post-punk droner, all fitting together and generating a sense of discovery and excitement. Looks like there are at least a dozen rotating members of Soft Shoulder… I wonder if I could just sneak in to a practice someday without anyone noticing.

Taiwan Housing Project Veblen Death Mask LP (Kill Rock Stars)
Taiwan Housing Project’s debut 7″ EP was really good, and they’re a fantastic live force, but I still wasn’t prepared for Veblen Death Mask, the Philadelphia group’s first full-length. I think most sensible people would file Taiwan Housing Project under “no-wave”, but to me, no-wave infers some sort of anti-groove, a nervous and unavoidable tick that ensures rapid irritation. Taiwan Housing Project smell like that, but man do they groove, locking into these mean motorik formations as though they don’t realize every siren is wailing and their house is about implode. It’s as if you applied the chunky stomp of A Frames or The Stooges’ “Fun House” to the entire Lust/Unlust discography (played quadraphonically). And not only do Taiwan Housing Project fall deep in the pocket on many of these tracks, they’ve put together some memorable hits as well – if it takes more than two listens of “Multidimensional Spectrum” and you’re still not singing along to the chorus, I have to wonder what is seriously ailing you. It’s a special and satisfying thing, to find music that buzzes with disjointed noise while simultaneously locking your butt into a beat, so hats off to ’em!

Talker Battle Standards 12″ (Standards & Practices)
Talker is one of the mightiest units operating in the crowded realm of industrial techno – they don’t do anything particularly unique, they simply do it bigger and better. This new EP is the debut for a label run by Talker’s Jon Krohn, and it’s a great way to kick things off, complete with bold and visually-oppressive artwork to match the hard-hitting techno within. “Battle Standard” turns at 45 on the a-side, and it’s a populist take on their sound, replete with a pendulously swinging beat, a moaning wave of mid-range drone and a bass kick to knock the wind from your lungs. It’s a little faster than I feel like Talker usually runs, BPM-wise, but it’s a good fit for peak-time rave antics. “(Gold) Standard” opens the flip with a simplistic punch, dropping a hammer onto steel with a wobbling bass effect and an eventual choir of horns to announce the return of the wolves to the throne room. “Snub Nose” wraps it with a speed-bag workout that shucks and jives, a bit more nimble than the other two but nearly as bludgeoning. Back in 2014, Talker really figured out how to make Sandwell-inspired greyscale techno that is basic and elegant without being generic, and Battle Standards maintains their mastery.

Trans FX Gaslit LP (Jokes Got A Posse)
Trans FX cannot be stopped, following last year’s The Clearing with Gaslit, released on the bafflingly-named Jokers Got A Posse label (which also put out a Trans FX tape, of course). This time around, Trans FX set their sights on the post-rave Brit-pop of the ’90s, with sweeping melodic gestures, layers of keys, booming artificial drums and a vocal that slowly melts over top. They’re going hard on The Verve, The Stone Roses, definitely Spiritualized, music made by mop-topped white boys too drugged to care about anything besides love and loss and the next bag of drugs. Gaslit definitely verges on historical re-enactment at times, really trying to soak every sense in a 1992 issue of NME, right down to the trip-hop beat in “Jest Sane” that has me forcibly containing myself from shouting “you’re unbelievable!” along with it, EMF-style. I guess it’s the atmospheric strangeness, the neon-lit rain of a big city via the endlessly-cloudy home of Trans FX, Olympia, that saves the album from coming across entirely as an homage, but rather their own visualized creative expression. Or maybe Sneaker Pimps recorded an album for 4AD back in the day and Trans FX stole the tapes and slapped their name on it.

USA/Mexico Laredo LP (12XU)
Often, a new group consisting of notable ex-membership doesn’t stack up to its predecessors, but I’m here to tell you that USA/Mexico, the Austin, TX trio consisting of Craig Clouse (Shit & Shine), King Coffey (Butthole Surfers) and Nate Cross (Expensive Shit) exceeds whatever lofty expectation those toilet-centric names might inspire. Laredo is gloriously molten sludge-punk; it’s heavy as hell, just the right amount of dumb, and injects its own personality in each tune, even the Bullets For Pussy and Fall covers. That character comes in the form of rippling digital distortion, which often seems like it’s snapping the songs’ essential tendons, and a strange vocal effect, as though the voice is run through Macronympha’s noise processors or a child’s toy Yak Bak (I’m reminded of the chorus of Dr. Dooom’s “You Live At Home With Your Mom” more than once). USA/Mexico have most in common with Rusted Shut, but they utilize actual riffs more often than not (and never spiral out into ten-minute jam territory), calling to mind Kilslug, Quttinirpaaq and one of those over-fried Stickmen With Rayguns live sessions. I have faith in our youth to surpass the sonic brutality of my musical generation, but I’m wondering if anyone alive today can surpass the elder statesmen of USA/Mexico when it comes to igneous, putrid noise-rock.

Violence Creeps Ease The Seed Bag 7″ (Drunken Sailor)
Let’s say you’re Violence Creeps, and some British label sends you an email, asking to put out a single. What are you gonna say, no? Of course not, you’re going to dig up some random tracks and send it over, and make a 7″ EP like Ease The Seed Bag. The a-side features a Wormhole “variant” of “Sex Dwarf” (additional cowbell and chorus pedal?) and an “underwater edition” of “Amber Alert”. Both songs were previously released here or there, and these two versions are less direct than the Violence Creeps I’m used to hearing – I’ll take it! The b-side has two more tracks, both new as far as I can tell: “Backhand” alternates between fuzzy bass and static-cling guitar as vocalist Amber Feigel berates them both, then “Gentle” steps in like a sassy punk who just got a fresh mohawk, like something I’d expect out of Rik & The Pigs. Not the first Violence Creeps record I’d tell you to buy, but let’s be real, eventually I’d recommend that you buy them all.

Wiccans Sailing A Crazy Ship LP (Dull Tools)
Brooklyn’s Dull Tools are here to remind you that they also like hardcore-punk, care of the newest LP by Austin, TX’s Wiccans. It’s been five years since we last heard from Wiccans, but I can assure you they had no musical epiphanies since they last checked in, no maturation, no growth, no newfound appreciation of Father John Misty. For as strange and conflicting as their concept can be (they’re called Wiccans, the back cover offers a sci-fi Armageddon backstory, songs are titled “Medusa 3000” and “Sword Of Heaven”, etc.), they play a very straight-forward form of hardcore-punk, one that displays a reverence for all-forms of Black Flag without coming across as a pastiche. What’s impressive is that they take these basic, tried-and-true hardcore moves and stretch them to songs in the three-minute range without losing any intensity or urgency. As this group is a side-project in a realm of side-projects (Wiccans feature members of Video, Bad Sports, Institute and Radioactivity among surely others), it’s no surprise that they have the skill-set to craft sturdy and respectable hardcore-punk without bringing in strange sonic influences or “experimenting”. The experiment happened in 1981, the result being that hardcore was already perfect.

Xylitol Is Toxic To Pigs?? 7″ (Thrilling Living / Total Negativity)
Cretinous and radical punk is on order care of Olympia’s Xylitol, the latest Thrilling Living offering. They’ve got a distinctly modern hardcore-punk style: simplistic and speedy pogo-punk drumming, ugly mutated-street-punk riffs, moshy breakdowns and vocals that emanate from some sort of mythical forest creature (of the Grimm’s fairytale variety that tricks and eats misbehaving children). However, they also offer proof that greatness can be derived from this popular style by sheer force, as well as the ability to go bonkers as a form of catharsis (with just a smidge of nihilism). Vocalist “Mr. Meat” really conjures the heinous stink of evil spirits with her voice, like the Crazy Spirit guy on helium with the suave seductive abilities of the titular creatures in Gremlins. Plus, somehow, these songs simply stick to the inside of my skull more than others: it only took one lyric sheet follow-along for the first verse of “Bisquick” to be permanently stored in my memory, all prepped and ready to sing along (I’d print the lyrics here but they are far too obscene for this unrated website). If the cops are smart, they’ll let Xylitol walk with merely a warning, as who knows what sort of damage they’d do to the inside of a police cruiser.

Horrendous New Wave compilation LP (Fish)
The concept of the “fake punk compilation” has delighted me for years, and I’m not alone: Fat Day more or less did this with Killed By Death #11 (or maybe The Frothy Shakes truly existed at some point?), and Fucked Up did it with their David’s Town LP. There’s something about inhabiting an alternate punk reality that is infinitely exciting and aesthetically freeing, and I am fairly certain that’s what is happening here, care of Lumpy Records (although actually released by “Fish Records”) and various members of “real” bands like Rik & The Pigs, Glitter, Ausmuteants, Janitor Scum, Nosferatu and Trauma Harness, or so I’m told. It’s a pretty apt title, as these various, hilariously-named groups contribute punk-wave nervousness, sloppy synths, hilariously unfunny in-jokes, meaty rock moves and whatever tickles their fancy. You’ve got Dequantize doing a soft instrumental called “Quantize”, Knob Noster Band offering “Butthole Flag On Parade”, Sexual Christians with “Spiritual Headlock” and probably my favorite band name / song title combo, Duty Toot and “Bit By Bozo”. I should also make it clear that while the concept is hilarious and eccentric, the execution is what makes Horrendous New Wave a keeper, as each one of these semi-fictional bands are either very good or extremely great. I can only hope Lumpy and crew are programming a virtual reality headset so that I might get a chance to inhabit the universe where the artists of Fish Records live and play.

Reviews – July 2017

Félicia Atkinson Hand In Hand 2xLP (Shelter Press)
Tantalizing new full-length excursion from Félicia Atkinson, producer of abstract electronic dimensions and speaker of words both French and English. She loves to collaborate (either that or she frequently does so begrudgingly), but Hand In Hand is Atkinson on her own, and it’s great, at times beguiling, exotic, disconcerting and intense. Her space here is mostly filled with some sort of electronic soundscape, be it twitching electronic crickets or the ghost of an acid-house track roaming the halls after dark – the spectrum of her sounds is vast but never feels out of place (don’t expect anything resembling a danceable rhythm, that’s for sure). Atkinson often supplements these strange realities with her words, both direct and processed, usually spoken in hushed tones, as if she’s doing her best to emote each syllable without waking a nearby sleeping infant. It’s patient music, if you want to call it music; each track is unhurried and unfurls at its own pace, sometimes so subtly that I wonder how I ended up where I am. Hand In Hand is often quite beautiful, but in an unsettling way, like a vegan who just ate the tastiest meal of their life only to later find out that butter was a key element in every dish.

Bad Breeding Divide LP (Iron Lung)
It’s easy enough to get wrapped up in our nightmarish American reality that I sometimes forget what a regressive mess England is in too. Thankfully, Bad Breeding are here to flail uncontrollably at their situation, with Iron Lung taking care of the US pressing for our domestic pleasure. Divide is their second full-length but it’s the first I’ve heard of them, and I’m glad I did, as their frantic, noise-laden hardcore is right up my alley. I’m hearing nods to United Mutation, Cult Ritual and Rudimentary Peni in their tunes, particularly in the way that each song behaves like a rat caught in a corner, darting back and forth in hopes of escaping, and if determined to be untenable, clawing and biting. Most songs cut between parts quickly, offsetting a thrash beat with a few stoutly drum rolls, but Bad Breeding can’t resist a good hardcore dirge either, like the a-side closer “Leaving”, which resembles a modern noise-punk take on Siege’s “Grim Reaper” (sans saxophone). Bad Breeding are rigid and tight when it’s appropriate, and loose and menacing when it’s not, coming across as one of the more fully-realized groups to recently try their hand at unhinged and noisy hardcore-punk.

Beta Boys Oh Wow!! Hard Rock Music!! I Love It!! 7″ (Digital Regress)
This is either the second or third Beta Boys 7″ to make it to these pages… I can’t fully remember. Is it just me and my specific vantage point, or does it seem like every punk band has an overabundance of records available these days? Anyway, Beta Boys continue to be a pleasant mess of flange-y riffing and general punk nonsense, songs that feel loose and improvised, closer to partying than band practice. “No Solution” opens with a blast, actually recalling Zero Boys circa Vicious Circle in energy if not delivery, and it’s pursued by the slower “High On Drugs”, which feels like a semi-coherent interlude between Annihilation Time and Gag. “Return Of Snake Man” holds down the b-side with an even looser jam, as if Sick Pleasure didn’t break up by 1984 and instead got really influenced by Sonic Youth. Actually, that sounds cooler than the slapped-out incoherence that Beta Boys offer, but it’s on a similar wavelength. Not a bad 7″ of listless and cynical punk rock – I hope there’s someone out there that’s thrilled to spin it repeatedly, and that I may someday meet them under pleasant circumstances.

Bulsch Tartington 7″ (Blow Blood)
Normally, I’d think that when the singer in a hardcore band reveals to his or her bandmates that the lyrics they wrote are utter gibberish, it would bring about some sort of pause, probably a long discussion, perhaps even a new “singer wanted” ad posted at the local record shop. But in the case of Bulsch, they seem fully on board with this, opting for song titles like “Pon Toeleen” and “Innee-Innee Outbawl”, with what appears to be at least two, maybe three, singers! Sometimes there is truly no explaining Cleveland hardcore, I swear – it’s as if Sockeye poisoned the water supply in 1992 and that ensuing generation is firmly in their mid-20s now, forming bands left and right. Musically, it’s actually fairly non-weird – hasty drumming, muted riffs with zero sense of reverb, and enthusiastic gang vocals delivering every line. If I merely heard Bulsch on the radio (don’t I wish), I’d assume they were kind of a normal hardcore group, with the shared Bad Noids personnel making sense from a sonic perspective. Thankfully I have a record instead, revealing Bulsch to be the linguistically-challenged nutjobs they proudly are.

Control Freaks Mindless Entertainment LP (Slovenly Recordings)
Hats off to Greg Lowery, current member of Control Freaks, for playing essentially the exact same form of simplistic, poppy, knuckleheaded punk rock for over a quarter of a century. Such stamina! I can’t even imagine the sheer number of songs he’s been involved with, how many times he’s tackled the topics of shock therapy, booze, love gone sour, women, and boozed-up women who escape shock therapy in order to murder their exes, and yet, band after band, he is indefatigable. Mindless Entertainment continues in that fine tradition, replete with a goofy thematic cover photo and twelve new tunes that are sure to please any punk who’s ever thrown up their pizza while simultaneously drinking beer. Control Freaks are par for the course, perhaps slightly slower than The Zodiac Killers or The Rip-Offs, but they still get plenty rowdy, including a faithful cover of the Jack & The Rippers’ classic “No Desire”. In 2017, it’s about as edgy and provocative as a black-and-white horror movie marathon, but I assume that raucous, consequence-free punk fun is the goal, as opposed to any sort of heady artistic statement. We all need at least a little bit of that.

Devious Ones Djarum Summers 7″ (Rust On The Blade / No Front Teeth)
If you actually refer to yourself as devious, doesn’t it actually make you not devious? Wouldn’t a true group of Devious Ones actually call themselves “The Trustworthies” or “Honest N’ Reliant”? I just spent an hour thinking about that, now back to the review of Detroit’s Devious Ones and their new 7″ EP. You can file “Djarum Summers” under “punk / power-pop”, a song that reminds me of The Briefs in the boppy, sing-along chorus, but there’s something about the Devious Ones’ vocalist Eric Villa that I find peculiar and appealing – his singing voice is slightly frail and unable to fully reach the high notes he’s aiming for, but it’s those faults that draw me into the tune. It’s a distinct voice and I find it highly appealing when paired with this kind of group (I’ll even forgive his fedora). “Court Clothes” follows a similar path, more of a Blood Visions / Buzzcocks vein but that same slightly-off voice carries me from the back of the room to the middle of the pogo pit. I’m unsure if the crowd will float me at an old-guy punk show such as this, but I’m ready to find out!

Eaters Eaters LP (Dull Tools)
Brooklyn’s Eaters return with their second self-titled album on the Dull Tools label (why they didn’t go with the title Still Hungry I’ll never know). I dug the first one, and this one delivers the goods in similar fashion. Eaters are alive with the krautrock stride of Neu!, the scientific synthesis of Gary Numan, the neurotic dance-punk of LCD Soundsystem (perhaps their strongest musical similarity), the romantic excess of Roxy Music and the serious / unserious nostalgic homage of Trans Am – all the coolest, most indisputable forms of synth-friendly rock music’s past five decades are at work here. Eaters feel more like a band on this album, even if their status as “studio project” remains intact. Most songs have vocals (complete with printed lyrics), and the guitar is more prominent this time around, particularly infectious as it sneaks through “No Secret”, recalling Albert Hammond Jr. at his finest. Funkier moments like “The Grass, The Grazing” remind me of the unheralded Ghostly artist Dykehouse in the way that tech-house instrumentation is melded to alternative pop-rock as if it were an easy feat. I can picture deep collections of vinyl and studio gear, all neatly organized and at Eaters’ disposal, as they map out the specific vibes each track is aiming for before. All that cool stuff doesn’t mean much if you can’t write a great song, however, which is why I recommend you get you a man who can do both, namely Eaters.

Edward Shufflehead 12″ (Die Orakel)
Edward isn’t this German producer’s real name, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying this 12″ EP of twisted and bent techno music. He’s somewhat involved with the cool Giegling crew, although Shufflehead defies easy categorization. The title track is the finest cut here, as it oozes with the sense of organic matter, applying the profundity of nature to abstract techno. It sounds like you’re wading through a waist-deep swamp on the way to the club, each step churning up muddy mysteries and the lingering fear you might accidentally arouse a catfish. I could’ve gone for three tracks like this, but “Dekta” opens the flip with a locked-joint robo-groove, recalling early Dopplereffekt at their most caffeinated. That leads to “Etern”, which sounds like a jar of rusty pennies shaken over a fluttering bass-line, as if the murky water crawl of “Shufflehead” gave way to a march through quicksand. A lot of unique sounds going on here, utilized as a means to confuse natural processes with cutting edge technology and vice versa. I hope someone introduces Edward to Bruce, could be a powerful meeting of the minds!

Excessive Cruelty Excessive Cruelty 12″ (Sorry State)
Not even joking, when I first flipped this Excessive Cruelty record to the back cover, I thought it might be a compilation: with song titles like “Civilized”, “Attak”, “Hypocrite” and “Fall Down Dead”, I thought I was reading band names, not song titles. Turns out Excessive Cruelty are indeed a group, hailing from the Bay Area and featuring ex-members of Strung Up. They have a solid thrash-core sound, mixing thrashy, near-metallic riffs with hardcore drumming and gruff-yet-coherent vocals. Pretty polished, both in sound and execution, and with a “sincerely pissed off old guy” delivery that can’t be faked (or at least no one has tried thus far). I was a little worried when I saw the singer in a fresh online-store-bought Minor Threat tee on the insert, that Excessive Cruelty might be a little corny, but it’s only corny if you think traditional hardcore aesthetics are corny, in which case you’re wrong. They seem to really like big gnarly knives though, featuring the same one on both the back cover and the screened b-side of this one-sided 12″ EP, so I should probably watch my words. Definitely the perfect band to play with a reunited Demon System 13 on their North American tour, which amazingly isn’t a hypothetical situation: it recently happened!

Feature Banishing Ritual LP (Upset The Rhythm)
Feature, umm, feature Jen Calleja of the great Sauna Youth on drums and vocals, so I have no excuse for not fully checking them out sooner. By no surprise, they’re great, a punk trio that exercises frugal song-craft, sharp lyrics and a rhythmic throb you can count on. It’s a punk record at its core, but Feature shift between straightforward Ramones / Angry Samoans riffs to more nuanced, dreamy post-punk to recall Priests’ album (especially on the cool spoken-sung “Gatekeeper”). Much like Sauna Youth, there are essentially no breaks in these tracks, or even reasons for Calleja to throw in a fill on the toms when she can just plow ahead with the beat; even their bouncier songs recall a manic early Go-Gos tune, bubblegum music that would still get Darby Crash to come out and thrash around. Along with Calleja, guitarist Liv Willars and bassist Heather Perkins (her of Slowcoaches) share vocals, either harmonizing together or trading off, seamless but different, all clearly playing for the same team. Classy punk that never feels too cleaned up, just the way I like it.

Fried Egg Back And Forth 7″ (Beach Impediment)
Beach Impediment continue to scavenge the globe for fine hardcore product, this time bringing us the latest 7″ EP from Fried Egg, right out of their backyard (Richmond, VA). It’s my understanding that someone in Fried Egg also runs the great Feel It Records label, although I wouldn’t have to know that to understand that Fried Egg are heavily invested in hardcore-punk; there’s no sense of dilettantism here. These four tunes are all quite speedy, with vocalist Eric Tsow spitting his words in equal measure, sometimes choking on his rapid-fire syllables. There’s no d-beat in Fried Egg’s equation, sticking more to rootsy North American influences like Poison Idea and Corrosion Of Conformity; they even get a little sophisticated with the last track, “Side By Side”, which is not just another case of “hardcore song title that is also a hardcore band name” but a sharp groover not unlike D.O.A. or N.O.T.A. (two of the finest hardcore acronyms of all time). I wonder if it’s LP time, and if Fried Egg will manage to keep up the intensity and excitement without maturing in the wrong direction? If they change their name to Frittata, I might start to worry.

Petre Inspirescu Vîntul Prin Salcii 2xLP (Mule Musiq)
Romanian producer Petre Inspirescu made waves back in 2009 with his debut album, some of the most refined and gripping tech-house of its time (or now), and while I still need to track down a vinyl copy (it’s disturbingly pricey!), I’ve enjoyed keeping up with him since. Vîntul Prin Salcii continues the trajectory put in place with 2015’s Vin Plolie, away from the sticky basement dance-floor into a sonic realm untethered by danceable melodies and consistent rhythms. Vîntul Prin Salcii is punctuated with many techno-affiliated signposts: warm pads, twinkling keys and full kicks, but they flutter in and out, content to follow Inspirescu’s imagination like the flight of a butterfly. He pulls from a wide variety of sounds, be it a hurdy-gurdy (or synthetic imitation of) with oboe and harp accompaniment and 808 kicks, all working together to provide the most pleasant, soul-stirring experience that ostensibly-electronic music can provide. It’s far too busy to be considered ambient, but too comfortably melodic to be considered experimental, so Vîntul Prin Salcii playfully exists outside standard categorization (although something like “Miroslav 5” has serious NPR bumper-music potential; maybe that’s a genre by now?). Imagine a Nils Frahm-helmed orchestra remixed by Henrik Schwarz and Nuel for a state-sanctioned arts program and you’re close to Vîntul Prin Salcii, although Inspirescu’s playful creativity is exclusively his own.

Institute Subordination LP (Sacred Bones)
Institute’s earliest output seemed to be a keen collection of influences, whereas Subordination, their second album, sounds undeniably like Institute. They’ve always been quite good, but they have a particularly firm grasp at what an Institute song can and should be at this point, making for another highly satisfying, easily listenable album that I keep throwing on. Their songs remain simple – not “deceptively simple”, but just straightforward and basic, and I wish more bands would strip it down like Institute. Each song offers only vital organs necessary for survival, and they reveal the majesty and magic of minimal rock music. That isn’t to say that Institute haven’t also developed musically… many tracks here utilize proto-heavy-metal riffs as opposed to punk ones, but played with such rigid drumming and of course vocalist Moses Brown’s disoriented bark, it feels like something new (either that or they paid close attention to Vexx’s most recent EP, as we all should do). They also offer the most laudably Flipper-ish song since forever (let’s face it, most bands compared to Flipper never actually sound like Flipper) in “All This Pride”, and still stomp down cobblestone streets ala Crisis with speedy cuts like “Prissy Things” and “Good Ol’ Boys”, whereas “Powerstation” brings the Iron Virgin glam-bully vibes righteously into the modern world. I still haven’t seen Institute live, but I have every intent to correct that before the year is over.

Internazionale The Pale And The Colourful LP (Posh Isolation)
Maybe it’s just the label’s name (and current aesthetic), but I swear, so many of Posh Isolation’s records seem to be made by artists plagued by the fact that they’re so young, rich, beautiful, white and European. Like they just sprawl themselves across leather couches, crying into their champagne while boyfriends and girlfriends jump off of scenic cliffs merely to end their boredom. That vibe is certainly exemplified through the instrumentals laid down by Internazionale and The Pale And The Colourful – just gaze into the album art and make peace with the sad, faceless-yet-clearly-gorgeous model who is trapped by her own fame. It’s like the Posh Isolation crew was one life choice away from having written the famous lyrics “you bleed just to know you’re alive”, I swear. Anyway, back to this record… it’s full of sweeping melancholic melodies, glistening synths, pads that are shrouded in mist, and tones borrowed from ’80s synth-pop and forced to exist in a ’90s Calvin Klein ad campaign. Hints of a prior life as a noise artist poke through on occasion, but on the whole this record is soft and smooth. Clearly, style is key with Internazionale; I won’t be tracking down any of the numerous tapes (and tape box-sets) he’s previously released, but I’ll be happy to keep this one LP in my collection for those moments when I want to luxuriate in my own pitiful self-obsession. The Pale And The Colourful is an exquisite soundtrack for exactly that.

Kaleidoscope Volume 3 12″ (Feel It)
Reports keep coming in about how Kaleidoscope are one of the best underground hardcore-punk acts out of New York these days, now with an attractive new 12″ EP on the Feel It label. I really want to like Kaleidoscope, but just like my feelings on their Katorga Works 7″, it’s just not clicking with me. Musically, these six tracks are mid-tempo hardcore-punk, a more mature and serious take on the Mystic Records sound without feeling like a conscious throwback to any specific era. They’re perfectly fine (and “Cloud Control I” has a notably cool chug), but the recording feels muffled, and the vocals of bandleader Shiva Addanki fail to impress – they’re delivered in a very similar set of short aggro bursts ala Hank Wood, but Addanki doesn’t fully commit, or maybe it’s the manner in which they’re recorded that lacks a punch. It’s particularly disappointing in that I am a big fan of Addanki’s other groups (Ivy and JJ Doll are particularly top notch), and their recordings don’t have the same stuffy feeling as Volume 3, as though I’m wearing a paper bag over my head while listening. Maybe I just need to see Kaleidoscope live to finally get it, but there’s a ton of great hardcore being made today that I’d rather spend my time with, Addanki’s other projects included.

Davy Kehoe Short Passing Game LP (Wah Wah Wino)
Between this and the Charly Bliss album, it’s amazing that I’ve managed to listen to anything else in the past couple of months! Davy Kehoe is part of the Dublin-based Wah Wah Wino scene (discussed last month in review of the exceptional Absolutely Wino compilation), and stepping out on his own, Kehoe is a remarkable new artist, refusing to cater to the trends of the day (although I wouldn’t be surprised if his style becomes co-opted as a trend in the future). Kehoe and assorted friends play a variety of live instruments over ragged, fast-paced drum machines, resulting in something that sounds like a mix of Brain Records’ cosmic kraut-disco, the Future Times label’s positive tech-house vibes and the classic ’90s Thrill Jockey post-rock scene. Imagine Guru Guru’s Uli Trepte jamming with The Normal’s rhythm box and various members of The Sea And Cake and Tortoise contributing organ, MS-20, guitar, shakers and mbiras and you’re close to what Short Passing Game has to offer. It’s restless, joyful music, and it seems to celebrate communal creation as well as wildly-singular musical vision – I mean, are there any other records out that utilize AutoTuned harmonica to such a sweet result? The back cover sports a verbose list of all the instruments used, confirming Kehoe’s status as a gearhead, but more than anything he seems to celebrate music free of borders and restraints, confined only by his dreams. It was only a matter of time before someone claimed the title of “The John Popper of Techno”.

Kettenkarussell Insecurity Guard 2xLP (Giegling)
Kettenkarussell is the latest Giegling artist to receive a full-length, and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t exemplify why Giegling is at the forefront of modern house music. It’s everything I love about deep house, tidily showcased through six tracks that lure in the listener with their understated sweetness. Insecurity Guard is an easy, pleasant listen if you’re not paying close attention: the melodies bloom confidently at any level of volume, but the closer you are willing to inspect them, the greater the reward. The shuffle of a train-car flows into the rhythm of “Gate”, whereas “Just For A Second” manages to turn the kick pattern into a hook all its own, and the morse-code delay of “New York Blues” recalls the infectiousness of Fennesz’s Endless Summer. Dusty ambient sounds flow through and around these tracks, as if Theo Parrish decided to color his productions with a sampling of Mego’s turn-of-the-century catalog, but never to the point where things feel shoehorned in or overstuffed. Each track has plenty of room to breathe while deploying their breathtaking sounds, which is exactly how I want my chill-out house to behave. If you couldn’t understand how some German techno parties survive through the early morning hours, sit with Insecurity Guard and see if you can’t imagine yourself grooving past midnight and through brunch.

Molly Nilsson Single 7″ (Night School / Dark Skies Association)
Right alongside Molly Nilsson’s newest album comes this 7″ single of exclusive non-album tunes. I couldn’t resist! She’s fantastic, and this 7″ is no exception, two three-and-a-half-minute cuts of her uniquely empowered take on pop rock. Both songs are pretty uplifting, particularly by Nilsson’s standards, and it suits her well. “About Somebody” is a ray of sunshine peaking through grey Swedish clouds, riding high on friendly piano chords and a saxophone that toots out a rainbow. By the final chorus, it’s difficult to refrain from singing along with her “I’m somebody” line. “Quit (In Time)” isn’t as celebratory, but more of a “pick yourself up and start again” motivator, as if you’ve just woken up after a night of crying over your ex and Molly is in the kitchen preparing your favorite breakfast, just for you. If you notice me strolling through town with an extra little skip in my step, there’s a good chance I had spun Single before leaving the house.

Objekt Objekt #4 12″ (Objekt)
Objekt’s profile has grown over the past few years, working with notable electronic labels across the globe, but there’s something about the white-label 12″s on his in-house imprint that feel particularly heartfelt and personal. “Agnes Demise” off Objekt #3 still has the mightiest boom-thwack I’ve heard this decade, so I was excited to check out this newest installment, even with the understanding that Objekt is not one to repeat himself. It’s impressive how the Objekt sound remains so recognizable while continuing to evolve, like on “Needle & Thread”, the a-side here: a soft-spoken groove gives way to a euphoric breakbeat showcase, as if a highly-advanced automaton was tasked to impersonate ’90s Squarepusher. “Theme From Q” starts with a no-nonsense electro strut that cuts to some sophisticated new jack swing, which has me envisioning an alternate reality where Ron Trent held court over MTV’s The Grind, Eric Nies demoted to background dancer status. Neither tracks were what I would’ve expected from Objekt (nothing here feels like I’m being chased by a Terminator in an abandoned auto factory), but that would’ve been kind of a let down – he’s already done that to great success, and I can’t stop rolling my abs to the intoxicating melodic hook of “Theme From Q”, bless his heart.

Part Time / Drinking Flowers split 7″ (Volar)
Don’t see a whole lot of split singles coming down the chute these days, which makes me sad (another sign of the complete superfluousness of actually putting a record out if you’re a new band) as well as glad (it’s very rare to find a truly great split 7″, Slap A Ham Records excluded). This split’s cover has an “abstract art you’d find in a Beverly Hills dentist office circa 1985” feel, and it suits the music well, two bands whose ideas are well-suited for each other. Part Time’s “Useless Information” owes a serious debt to John Maus, as it also sounds like retro-futurist karaoke on Mars, although Part Time’s vocalist retains an icy emotional distance, even as he rhymes “more” with “whore”. Drinking Flowers’ “Night Time” is a little slower and chillier, with a Balearic swing, although if it weren’t for the vocalist’s energy, I could easily be fooled into thinking both tracks were borne of the same group. Maybe a bit more of an Ariel Pink vibe to Drinking Flowers, although I’m really splitting hairs at this point. Drinking Flowers also try to get away with the lyrics “Night time / I’m talking ’bout the right time”, making it clear that both groups shop in the same cheese aisle. Even so, I find myself enjoying both tunes (maybe giving Part Time the slight upper hand) and eager to visit Los Angeles once again, home to both of these artists and ground zero for this peculiar breed of modern music.

Performing Ferret Band Performing Ferret Band 7″ (Insolito)
Germany’s Insolito continues their noble mission of tastefully reissuing a pile of the finest oddball DIY punk and punk-orbiting music, like Kent, UK’s Performing Ferret Band. This one is a reissue of Performing Ferret Band’s sole 7″ EP, originally released in 1980, now with a previously-unreleased track tacked on to make it an even four. They might not be the first group to come to mind when it comes to classic UK DIY, but they should certainly be in the first ten or so, as they’ve got all the markings of what made that era and place of underground music so timelessly appealing: bizarre humor, awkward performance, plunky bass, rock n’ roll deconstructed for personal amusement, and of course, an incompetent and extended melodica performance. Performing Ferret Band sprawled out a bit on their album, almost verging on abstract theatre, but these four tracks are as close to rocking as they’re gonna get, with mangled Pop Group rhythms, vocals and lyrics seemingly improvised on the spot, and a pride in the absurd that’d make Jowe Head tip his feathered cap. Attractive design too, which pairs legible information with interesting ephemera, as is the usual case with Insolito reissues.

Puke Spit & Guts Eat Hot Lead LP (Slovenly Recordings / Black Gladiator)
Slovenly and Co. come to us with a reissue of one of the most tasteless, cartoonishly offensive punk obscurities, Puke Spit & Guts’ Eat Hot Lead. It’s got all the trappings of clueless rural punk that never went beyond the town limits, complete with homemade offensive clothes and prop weaponry for the band photoshoot – basically, the stuff that made Killed By Death such a captivating posthumous genre. On the spectrum of punk, Eat Hot Lead falls closer to the rock end of things, more Modern Lovers or Iggy Pop than Dead Boys or Germs, with plenty of groovy soloing and upbeat riffs. Of course, the vocals, shared by multiple members, are firmly in the GG Allin / Mentors camp, wherein each song is a new opportunity to threaten, offend or intimidate the squares. They’ll kick you, then kill you, then have sex with dogs, or more creatively, use your body as a host for spider eggs. While this group’s charm is certainly evident (they’re a lovable bunch of crass doofuses entering the 1980s), there’s still something a little weird about reissuing for widespread consumption an album filled with various glorified bigotry and sexual violence, even if it’s clearly schlock. Nowadays, you can sign onto Xbox and be blasted with far more inventive slurs and insults than anything Puke Spit & Guts came up with, so the “shock” aspect is lost to time… maybe we’re just supposed to feel a sense of nostalgia for a time when swears and threats of violence were actually an outrageous disturbance and not just the status quo? I would have hoped that Slovenly set their sights on reissuing The Beavis And Butt-Head Experience on vinyl next, but it turns out Geffen released a picture-disc version in 2016. What a world.

Pustostany 2012 LP (Sweet Rot / Pouet! Schallplatten)
Pustostany’s 2012 was originally released on cassette in, get this, 2012, on Oficyna Biedota, out of their homeland Poland. Amazingly, the insert alleges it was recorded in three hours. Can you imagine? In three hours, I’ve barely started going through the studio’s pile of magazines before deciding if I want to order falafel or pizza. Good for these guys, getting right down to it with clearly very little in the way of pre- (or post-) production. They sound great to me, and I can see why Canadian label Sweet Rot would be willing to take the possible financial hit in reissuing 2012 on vinyl, as it’s a particularly tight take on jittery post-punk with absurdist synth flourishes. I’m reminded of S.Y.P.H. or Mittagspause in the way that classic Wire moves are forced into unstable patterns with acute edges. The drums thump along with seemingly no cymbals, just thud and slightly-higher-pitched thud, as guitars execute taut and simplistic riffs (not entirely unlike Total Control) while someone plays a Gameboy in the background (is that Kirby’s Adventure?). Vocals are barked in the silences between riffs, and to go back to the insert, it makes for some highly “fruitful listening” indeed!

Romantic States Corduroy In Italy LP (Gentle Reminder)
Romantic States are a new-ish duo out of Baltimore and the remains of its Wham City scene. The title Corduroy In Italy sounds like a romantic state of being all its own, don’t you think? They’re a very pleasant, if easily-ignorable rock group – guitar, drums and hushed vocals are all you get, the sort of thing a loud-talking audience member could easily drown out at any given performance. It’s not music for boorish people, but rather those who fidget with their teabag string while thumbing through a thrift-store novel… nerds with some semblance of style. At first, I had to look up the names of the band members to make sure that the male vocalist wasn’t ex-Zoltars, as he has a strikingly similar tone of voice, like that of a math club president who covered his bedroom walls with collages of Kim and Thurston. Some songs are literally whispered, as if Romantic States insist on taking up as little room as possible, a group that’d rather be an ice-covered moon than a storm-covered gas giant. It’s a little too timid and soft for my tastes, as I can’t help but feel like if you want to be a rock band, you may want to entertain the idea of actually rocking once in a while, but who am I to say. There’s a confidence to Romantic States’ music that has me thinking they probably don’t really care what anyone thinks about their approach.

STNNNG Veterans Of Pleasure LP (Modern Radio Record Label / Rejuvenation)
I’ve always been amused by the way marijuana is associated with specific strands of music, like reggae or riff-rock or gangsta rap, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that everyone smokes weed. For example, STNNNG are a bunch of grown white men in button-ups and cardigans with mortgages and wives, but let me tell you, I was backstage with them a couple months ago and they smoked more weed than Om, by at least a few metric tons. It was like an endless inferno down there! But I digress: STNNNG have returned after a four-year hiatus with another album of nervous and rockin’ post-hardcore. I’m reminded of Rye Coalition and Mission Of Burma at times, as well as the unavoidable presence of Shellac, their shadow looming large if you’re a group of Midwest dudes in your late 30s who play smart-assed rock music with just enough twists and turns. (And naturally, Steve Albini recorded and mixed Veterans Of Pleasure at Electrical Audio, which I assume means pressing the record button and returning to a heated round of online poker.) Sounds pretty good to me, especially when their riffs are at their most simplistic, offering plenty of room for vocalist Chris Besinger to single out a couple bored audience members and personally shame them. I’m going to have to sell my copy of this LP, though, as the dry-cleaning costs for the clothes I wore in their sticky-green presence ain’t cheap.

Tilliander Compuriddim LP (iDEAL Recordings)
Andreas Tilliander’s music comes in various guises, like the gear-fetishizing TM404 and the brutalist techno of Mokira, both of which have previously received praise in these pages. I have to say though, this new album under his own name is probably my favorite encounter thus far, as it combines his antique hardware obsession with slow-motion skanks and trench-deep grooves. Often, his music comes across as a love letter to the gear with which he’s making it, but Compuriddim has a character all its own. Acid grooves are stretched like taffy, and dance-ready beats are impeded by their own sluggish weight, resulting in a hypnotic pulse. “Mokirian Tekno Trak” seems to explain itself in the title, and it’s the fastest tune here, but the bubbling oil that encompasses the groove is far from standard-issue. It’s actually the second side that has my favorite trio of tunes, with opener “Open Up The Cv/gate” resembling Gorgon Sound in spirit but far heavier in delivery (plus I enjoy knowing that the time-keeping stick-click that Tilliander uses here probably originates from deep within the belly of some ancient Roland worth thousands of dollars). Piles of rare old gear are certainly cool, but the only thing that ultimately matters is what you do with them (unless it’s the focus of your Instagram account) – with Compuriddim, Tilliander proves his mastery of coaxing bizarre and succulent tracks from his.

Transistor The Horde 12″ (Entr’acte)
My curiosity was piqued at the combination of Franck Vigroux (avant-electronics wizard coming off a fine collaboration with the late great Mika Vainio) and Ben Miller (he of Destroy All Monsters and brother of Mission Of Burma’s Roger Miller), two men coming from different continents and musical backgrounds. Together they comprise Transistor, and it’s a solid pairing not unlike Alan Vega’s work with Mika Vainio, wherein punishing, monolithic electronics are the backdrop for a crotchety old weirdo to mutter, rant and holler beside. There are two tracks on the a-side, both of which throb like vintage Nine Inch Nails given a UK bass-centric makeover, with kicks that inhabit a full city block and various electro-shocks that pulse like a plasma globe the size of a VW bug. Miller sounds like an obnoxious street-preacher on these tracks, just rattling off various proclamations and warnings, which makes for a thoroughly entertaining listen. “The Horde” covers the b-side, and it’s a different beast: Miller goes long-form, telling some sort of story that I can’t entirely follow – it’s like he’s mixing the plots of Lord Of The Rings and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as Vigroux jolts the story into Technicolor, aiding Miller’s imagination with a keen variety of wooshes, static fizzles and, at the very end, a synthesized wind chime waving goodbye. Makes me want to find a middle-aged avant-garde journeyman that can make cool tracks like this for me, too.

United Waters The Narrows LP (Drawing Room)
There’s a good chance that like me, you may have recently wondered whatever became of the two dudes in Mouthus, and if so, I’m happy to report that Brian Sullivan started United Waters. I’m late to the game, as this is their third full-length, and apparently their most rockist yet (or at least the first with a drummer). Don’t expect the sweltering, muffled noise-rock extrapolations of Mouthus here, but rather an assisted-living, easy-listening community for ex-noise freaks. Guitar shimmers like colored cellophane, the drums keep time indolently and Sullivan’s vocals murmur somewhere beneath (perhaps the sole musical similarity to Mouthus is the low vocal mix). It’s pretty mellow, vague music, somewhere between the more song-based Warmer Milks material and fellow harsh-noisers-gone-unironically-mellow Francisco Franco. Or perhaps, if members of Microdisney and Ducktails got together for a one-off on Siltbreeze, it’d come out something in the shape of United Waters. It took me a few listens to get into it, but once acclimated, the lazy haze of The Narrows makes for a satisfying breather. Comes with two giant posters too, continuing Drawing Room’s commitment to sparing no expense on vinyl LPs with extremely limited target audiences.

Wood Chickens Skunk Ape 7″ (Kitschy Manitou)
Lots of interesting species at play on this 7″: Wood Chickens and their EP Skunk Ape. They’re from Wisconsin, but judging from the hootin’ and hollerin’ form of punk they’re playing, they’ve gotta be out in the sticks somewhere far from Madison or Green Bay, drinking home-brew and cutting their jeans into jean-shorts by this point of the summer. It’s punk that fearlessly enters “-abilly” territory, and while that sort of thing is decidedly not for me, something about the way Wood Chickens handle themselves is undeniably charming. On “Skunk Ape”, they sound like a mix of The Minutemen and The Queers in the way that a wild punk hootenanny leans toward classic pop-punk hooks, and the other two tracks follow suit with even more twang. I can’t help but picture a Jackass montage to these tunes, which works for me. Better than CKY at least! It’s by no means a cool style, but Wood Chickens own it so brazenly that I can’t help but enjoy myself while listening, even if I’m still a little concerned that someone might notice.