Reviews – October 2021

The Bug Fire 2xLP (Ninja Tune)
Crazy to think that I was first blown away by The Bug’s mega-heavy dancehall back in 2003 with Pressure, and now some eighteen years later, his music has grown even more exciting and ferocious. Impressive! I hadn’t checked out The Bug for an album or two, and maybe the breather is responsible for some of the impact Fire is leaving on me now, or maybe it’s simply that exceptional. I’m leaning to the latter, as his beats here behave like lead-plated thermal detonations, like a fifty-pound dumbbell dropping on an ant (and you’re the ant). At times I’m reminded of the doom-laden industrial-techno of artists like Kerridge and Emptyset, but The Bug is always clearly The Bug, thanks to a host of incredible guest vocalists. They all sound unhinged and hungry and like they’re having the time of their lives, and I hope they’re getting paid handsomely for it! The post-apocalyptic theme is exceptional (though things veer into weed-centric themes on a few tracks), and the beats exceed expectations. On “Vexed”, the usually even-tempered and prophetic Moor Mother goes absolutely buck, threatening to kill you while gnashing her teeth. It doesn’t get much better than that!

Container Creamer 12″ (Drone)
Has it really been five years since the last Container EP? In the beginning, I was suspicious of this noise-rocker-turned-techno artist, but that was really only in the very beginning – I am happy to declare that Container has been a distinctive and downright brutal participant in American techno for a decade now with some downright magnificent recordings under his belt (not to mention countless sweat-soaked live gigs across the globe). This new four-track EP reminds me of how great his music can be, finding another way to push acid-techno deep into the molten red without sacrificing nuance and texture. These four songs are different but the same, each lined up with powerhouse beats and absolutely stinging acid lines. You’ll want to handle these tracks with rubber gloves, so destructive and potent are his synths. The secret’s gotta be in the pedals he runs things through, right? I don’t know of any keyboards that are halfway as demented and violent-sounding on their own as the ones Container is using here, which he uses to surprisingly propulsive measure. Recommended!

Equipment Pointed Ankh Without Human Permission LP (Astral Editions / Sophomore Lounge)
If I’m understanding this right, the memorably-named Equipment Pointed Ankh started off as a side-project for the freakier, less rock-based musical ideas of Tropical Trash’s Jim Marlowe alongside a few friendly conspirators. Not sure if their priorities have shifted in the last couple years (or if, under current circumstances, “being in a band” is anyone’s priority at all), but Without Human Permission is a bold and ear-catching album, a colorful smack upside the head. They create a variety of intricate pieces here, seemingly leaving room for improvisation but often so finely performed that I can’t quite be sure of their compositional basis (“Chrome Run” is particularly dazzling). I’m hearing Blues Control and Rastakraut Pasta at one point, and Terry Riley and Harry Partch the next; Equipment Pointed Ankh weave through all sorts of intriguing sounds in pleasantly beguiling manners, never resting on any instrumental or melodic motif for too long. Honestly, the instrumentation as a whole is a bit of a mystery to me – did they rig up some of Harry Bertoia’s old sound sculptures; is someone using the dog-bark sound effects from Mario Paint? – but whatever they’re doing, the varied pieces of their puzzle fit snugly. Often this sort of “punk guys moving towards a semi-krauty avant-garde sound” thing can feel like a temporary form of cosplay, but the oddball tunes of Without Human Permission flow as naturally and intuitively as a game of catch.

Eugh The Most Brilliant Man Alive 7″ (Svart Ljud Rekords / Savage)
Time for your monthly dose of beep-beep honk-honk punk, this time coming from Melbourne’s Eugh. Overloaded synths and too-fast drumming are the name of Eugh’s game, very much in line with Erik Nervous, Count Vertigo, Schizos, Coneheads, Cereal Killer… yet another player in a genre that’s gotta be standing-room-only at this point. What else can one expect from punk’s modern era, where the ability to self-record one’s music and the desire for it to sound raw (read: crappy) have intersected so powerfully? I’ve certainly grown a little weary of this particular sound, if that isn’t already evident by my grumbling, but I don’t want to hold Eugh to the fire. They do DEVO vocals and melodic bass-runs and sci-fi noise as well (or as badly) as anyone else in the game, and I’d much rather their music be filling up what precious quantities of polyvinyl chloride are currently available. Songs like “Irritating Song” and “Galactic Terror” deserve it far more than whatever dumb Record Store Day-branded Pokémon soundtracks are currently clogging up record pressing plants worldwide.

Fashion Pimps & The Glamazons Jazz 4 Johnny LP (Feel It)
I instantly recognized the handwriting of Steve Peffer on the cover of this new Feel It release, which is precisely the sort of can’t-be-taught critical expertise you’ve come to expect from this blog. I’m presuming he’s also the “Steve Chainsaw” credited with bass-guitar and vocals here, and speaking of the credits, I was delighted to see that Noah Anthony (whose work as Profligate I strongly endorse) plays synth! Fashion Pimps & The Glamazons certainly seems to be a lark for these fellas, as serious of an investment as the band’s name would imply. They’ve definitely got that modern Ohio punk sound, with a tweaked guitar tone, inane lyrics and a mellow straight-facedness in the general delivery. Very much in line with Perverts Again and Knowso, who were probably influenced by Peffer’s earlier bands… the circle of life continues. Reminds me a bit of Folded Shirt too, another group he’s in, though Jazz 4 Johnny prefers to sputter and bop rather than wheeze and contort. I love the ease with which that Cleveland crowd churns out these projects, even if it seems like they forget about and move on from their own bands quicker than their fans like you and me.

Friendly Boyfriend Pick Up! 7″ (Happiest Place)
I love that Happiest Place shares a love of both harsh noisy experimentation and simplistic guitar pop, of which Friendly Boyfriend is the latter. They appear to be either married or brother and sister, or if not, it’s fascinating to think that two unrelated people named Tyra Hasselrot Uksila and Vihtori Hasselrot Uksila found each other. Anyway, four tracks here, one of which is a Clean cover, and also a decent reference point to start with when examining their sound. It’s filled with chiming guitars, buzzing keys and harmonious vocals, but the whole thing is recorded with such extreme tape warble that it almost sounds like the recording is falling apart in real time, twee-pop meeting The Disintegration Loops or something. The Clean always managed to record themselves with some level of clarity if not a glossy big-budget sound, but Friendly Boyfriend remind me more of Pumice or Flying Saucer Attack in the way that tape hiss and room noise are as inherent to their sound as the melodies themselves. Makes me want to pick a flower and then photocopy it over and over until the resulting image is only a coarse grey-black outline of its natural beauty.

HTRK Rhinestones LP (N&J Blueberries)
One cool thing about bands is that it’s impossible to hear them all. Case in point, Australian duo HTRK. They’ve garnered a substantial cult following that gobbles up their records even if they aren’t limited edition, playing what I understood to be a downbeat minimal electro-wave style that I usually find appealing, and yet I hadn’t heard them until now. I’d love to talk to some HTRK fans, because Rhinestones isn’t what I had expected, considering the album is mostly acoustic guitar and vocals. They weren’t always like this, right? Anyway, my expectations dashed, it took me a minute to settle into the soft and dare-I-say-ethereal sounds here, as intimately solemn as the final flickers of a candle. It’s a classically 4AD sound, like Hope Sandoval quietly sussing out her feelings alongside an acoustic guitar and Slowdive’s shoegaze production, or The Xx taking a staunch stance against mainstream pop. It’s not until the fifth track “Fast Friend” where any sort of percussion appears, a dubby electronic heartbeat alongside delayed guitars and vocalist Jonnine Standish’s bedside lamentations. Nothing about Rhinestones jumps out – this is a record that waits for you to come around, inspect it, and raise the volume loud enough so that its seductive qualities might reveal themselves. A few listens in and I’ve developed a fondness for the understated artful sophistication at work here, though I may have to dig into some of their earlier stuff to hopefully find that minimal synth-wave I was initially looking for.

Al Karpenter Music From A Private Hell LP (Bruit Direct Disques)
Al Karpenter arrived on the scene with a blistering, almost too blistering garage-noise EP in 2017, and followed it with an Ever/Never album that dissected noisy post-punk into patterns befitting a fractured iPhone screen. I’m still not sure “Al Karpenter” is a real person and not simply another Mattin alias (Mattin himself is credited here with various instruments, production, mixing and design), but I suppose that doesn’t matter in the end… it feels as if Al Karpenter (the person) is never meant to be known in any real sense, and I am willing to go along with that. So what does Music From A Private Hell sound like? Well, it’s pretty great! Lonely post-industrial weirdness is the name of the game, with Karpenter muttering over digital bass, twinkling pianos, acoustic bass, a host of electronics and even some guitar (often delivered one note at a time). The title is stark, and Karpenter lives up to it with these songs, really pushing for a zone of rich inner turmoil and musical cacophony that avoids feeling like your run-of-the-mill musical cacophony. I’m reminded of Alexis Marshall’s solo debut from earlier this year, in the way both men plaintively choke out their bluesy words in seeming obliviousness to the harsh or dreary soundscapes that accompany them, and in both cases, it works effectively. Though of course, one of the two is very popular and posts black and white photos of Blixa Bargeld and Nick Cave on his Instagram page and the other very well might not be a real person at all.

Lore City Participation Mystique LP (Lore City Music)
Normally, when a band I’ve never heard of sends in a record and they have a professional-looking promo sheet that features a long list of positive critical quotes from websites I’ve also never heard of, it’s a red flag. Are there really sites called Destroy//Exist, POST-PUNK and MangoWave that are offering worthwhile critical evaluation? (They’re probably saying the same thing about Yellow Green Red, of course.) Anyway, my guard was up, but Portland duo Lore City quickly eased my tension with their pulsing, drone-y, psych-y grooves. Art-school-tribal, we could call it? They remind me a bit of Fabulous Diamonds (though they tend to fill up more of the available sonic space), or perhaps a softer Rakta? I prefer when the drums are programmed in a krautrock manner over the ritualistic tom patterns, but it all works for what Lore City seem to be going for, which would be an approachably-witchy take on repetitive drone-rock grooves. I’m not certain that my chunky amethyst necklace would start to glow if I saw them live, but at the same time I’m not ready to rule it out entirely.

Mujeres Podridas Muerte En Paraiso LP (Beach Impediment)
Glad to see this new grip of Beach Impediment releases, as the Richmond label was surely, umm, impedimented by the same vinyl production delays as every other indie label over the last year. Anyway, this one comes from Austin, what seems to be a not-quite-full-time punk group featuring members of Criaturas and Vaaska (among others). They play a darkly jangly, moderately aggressive form of classic hardcore-punk, in ways reminiscent of groups like Gorilla Angreb, Kalashnikov, Cola Freaks, The Stalin and probably a good thirty percent of the P.E.A.C.E. compilation. I’ve been seeing people excited about this record on the internet, and I certainly don’t want to ruin anyone’s good time, but this strikes me as one of Beach Impediment’s weaker recent releases. There’s nothing wrong with Muerte En Paraíso, I just don’t find it particularly exciting, what with its tame tempos, infrequent hooks or riffs of distinction, and general gloomy vibe. They kind of sound like a Chicago punk band to me, which, let’s face it, is not on the top of anyone’s list. I’m sure they’re very cool people who have surely kicked ass in various ways both personally and musically throughout the years, so I offer them not only my respect but my honesty, too.

Neutral Live PÃ¥ Autodidaktik LP (Happiest Place)
There have been many times over the past few years that I took note of the fact that I never heard Live PÃ¥ Autodidaktik, a live tape by one of my favorite current acts, Sweden’s Neutral. Thanks to Happiest Place and this stately vinyl reissue, I no longer have to wonder! As a big fan of the group, I’m hungry for new material; normally a live set from any group’s earliest days wouldn’t be my first choice, but I have to say, this rips pretty hard. Neutral always seemed to be fully formed from the get-go, and that case is supported here: bong-ripping riffs (played on antiquated keyboards) are drenched, smothered and ignited with tape experimentation and harsh(ish) noise, often met with the commanding-yet-murky vocals of Sofie Herner. It feels like Nocturnal Emissions in their Sterile Records phase had they summoned the melodic doom of Black Sabbath from deep within, if you’re not already familiar with Neutral’s fantastic sound. Some of these tracks I’ve never heard before, while others come from their first two albums (though, as expected, are far from exact replicas). Excellent stuff! And while we’re on the subject of Neutral vinyl reissues, can one of you fine Swedes step up and press Neutral’s contribution to the On Corrosion ten-cassette compilation box-set? I’m ready when you are!

Orchid Spangiafora + Glands Of External Secretion Couscous Bizarre LP (Feeding Tube)
The live performance I witnessed of Orchid Spangiaflora and Glands Of External Secretion very well may have been the most entertaining show I caught in 2019, its flyer replicated in full color on the back of Couscous Bizarre. Thus, I couldn’t help but jump on this new album that features collaborations from that same general moment. While witnessing the two regular-looking old men chuckle on their stools as they whizzed through an unthinkable collection of sampled dialogue was the absolute best, this album is an excellent document for posterity as well. The gist is this: these two guys must’ve spent countless hours sampling bits and pieces of radio shows, documentaries, news reports, reality shows, podcasts, etc. etc. and so on, and loaded them up on their Neil Young Ponos or whatever, playing them back and forth in a seemingly improvised fashion. And yet, there is a clear constitution to these pieces – these guys lay out their samples in unexpectedly poignant, hilarious and connectable ways. It reminds me of those refrigerator magnets with various phrases or letters that you can put together in some novel new way, except instead of casually piecing together one nonsensical sentence, Orchid and Glands have put together enormous and fascinating verbal collages. Sometimes it helps to have our culture slightly rearranged to be reminded of how utterly mad and disturbing it all is, of which Couscous Bizarre is a potent example.

Ponys Auf Pump Wirt Schon Wieder LP (Phantom)
What does “Berlin punk” mean to you? To me, it doesn’t come loaded with any overbearing stereotypes, at least in my narrow view, which is kind of a nice setting to exist: no baggage. So here comes Ponys Auf Pump with their full-length vinyl debut, and I can safely say it hasn’t uprooted my notions of Berlin punk and what it can or cannot be. They’ve got a fairly well-traveled sound going, reminiscent of a groovier Gorilla Angreb, a non-gothy Subtonix or many of the vaguely garage-y, vaguely dancey punk bands that were around at the dawn of the ’00s. They seem to be having fun, but I can’t say I’m feeling much inspiration when Wirt Schon Wieder spins here, familiar as I am with the many bands who’ve done a similar thing in catchier or livelier ways over the past three decades. Not trying to be a curmudgeon – I would never begrudge a punk band their existence – but I can’t imagine much happening here would floor anyone who chooses the garage-punk bands they listen to with selectivity and discrimination.

Rat Heart Rat Heart LP (Shotta Tapes)
Exceptionally British-sounding mutant techno here from Rat Heart, a new alias bandied by one Tom Boogizm (is it pronounced “boo-gizm” or “boog-izm”, I wonder?). It’s a vinyl record, but the album feels more like a dusty cassette dub, or perhaps even more accurately, a late-night pirate radio show of which you happen to be the sole listener. Grubby beats, rickety drum machines and DIY dub effects stitch together nicely, all with Boogizm’s seemingly improvised toasting over top (which usually consists of the phrase “rat heart” over and over). It’s an oddly soothing pair of syllables when coming out of Boogizm’s mouth, a breathy rah-TAHH punctuating drowsy or frenetic grooves reminiscent of MF Doom’s Special Herbs & Spices series, O$VMV$M and Omar S at his most unhinged. The fourth track (they’re all annoyingly untitled) is a good example, with crackling hi-hats, tickled keys and a single guttural howl crudely interjected – there’s an inherent fun to this music, fully aware of its built-in obscurity and not giving an F. Grimy house is a certified style at this point, but Rat Heart has enough of its own playful energy to stand out.

Rearranged Face A Rare Caged Fern 12″ (Tomothy)
LA label and recording studio Tomothy has quickly established their lane, which is DIY neo-no-wave post-punk. Not a bad place to be! I appreciate that they continue to offer a platform to local acts that aren’t putting out records elsewhere, and recording it in their own studio for a real communally DIY (perhaps “do it together” is more appropriate?) feel. Rearranged Face are spastic and fun, file-able as a punk band but also a fine purveyor of borrowed disco beats, keyboard squiggles and vocals that sound like they’re delivered by a person wearing a pantsuit three sizes too small. I’m hearing Ex-Models, Uranium Club and Guerilla Toss here, certainly in line with the rest of the Tomothy roster of energetic and freaky punk bands (which of course includes a band called The Freakees). Is it possible that Los Angeles is really this fun, in a sincere no-frills DIY punk way? I want to believe it’s true.

Jacques Renault Sky Island 12″ (Let’s Play House)
Don’t close up the grill just yet, Brooklyn’s Jacques Renault is here to soundtrack the remainder of your summer parties, even the ones that are awkwardly masked or distanced. Not sure how I hadn’t encountered his music before, as he seems to run in similar social circles as a lot of DJs whose work I enjoy, but I’m glad I “discovered” him now because Sky Island is great. It’s a playful, non-stop selection of disco edits, house jams, roller-rink pop and convivial dance styles, reminding me of Tensnake, Daphni’s remix of Paradise’s “Sizzling” and The Avalanches’ Since I Left You, which is probably like comparing any given hardcore record to Minor Threat but what can I say, I hear it in there. Great live bass-lines, vocal hooks, funky drums, sound effects, party claps and melodic bluster really push this collection over the top, and at twenty-three tracks in less than half an hour, Renault keeps the party moving in a way that reminds me of Edan’s Echo Party mix. Now that pumpkin-spice-everything is back, I might have to tuck Sky Island away for a few months, but it’ll be back next summer alongside my inflatable pineapple-shaped raft.

Répéter Bad Twang LP (Bokeh Versions)
Props to the Bokeh Versions label for consistently doing the best, most difficult thing a label can do: provide music I didn’t know I wanted to hear. That’s certainly the case with this album from Austria’s Répéter, who had the good sense to combine surf guitar instrumentals with dub sound-system grooves. Sure, most things can be successfully mixed with dub – it’s like the garlic of the music world – but this mix of subdued dub grooves and active guitar twang hits particularly nicely. Each track is kind of the same, but the realms of dub and surf are broad enough that it feels fresh and interesting throughout… either that or I just really enjoy the combination. Don’t be scared, go straight to the track “Corpse In The Attic” for a tight percussive hook, a nimble Dick Dale-inspired riff and the sense that James Bond is about to stumble upon a crucial clue to push his mission forward.

Roadhouse Aladdin Sales LP (Sophomore Lounge)
Is that supposed to be a riff on Aladdin Sane, do you think? I’d assume so, but it’s still kind of baffling, which I suppose is an attribute most weirdo home-recording artists find appealing. Such is the case of southern Indiana’s Roadhouse, presumably a single person who spent some quality time in their music room editing beats, loops, samples and rhythms into easily-parsed tracks. The beats are usually a little cluttered, or at least frazzled sounding, reminding me of early cLOUDDEAD, Babel Fishh, Snakepiss, the Los Tres Pericos LP and at least a few things coming from the Radical Documents label. You know, unorthodox-sounding samples and instrumentation resulting in dance music that no one has ever actually danced to. Not exactly what I’d expect from someone called Roadhouse on Sophomore Lounge, but I dig it! I think I prefer when it reminds me more of lunatic early post-punk (see “Ballad Of Oberhansley”), sounding more like a precursor to what Beau Wanzer does than a noisy hip-hop instrumental. Not sure this record is a particular standout in the very crowded field of folks making random beats by themselves for fun, but I stand in solidarity with anyone out there who partakes in the age-old craft of making random beats by themselves for fun, Roadhouse included.

Rommel (ロンメル) セクシー スマイル b​/​w 甘いキッス 7″ (Bitter Lake Recordings)
Good Lord, I thought Bitter Lake had already outdone itself in the realm of underground Japanese archaeology but this single by the unfortunately-named Rommel takes the cake: it was released at a sole 1978 gig in a scant edition of one-hundred copies, fifty sold and fifty given to friends (though I doubt anyone counted the specific breakdown). What’s next, a reissue of a song a guy thought about once in Sakai in 1980 and forgot immediately thereafter?? Anyway, this one departs from the usual punk-or-electronic Bitter Lake aesthetic, offering up two well-polished power-pop gems. This is power-pop without any punk influence, closer to Bay City Rollers or Jefferson Starship than The Jam or 20/20. That’s not a detriment, though, as Rommel swing and bop through these two feel-good pop songs with precision and flair, if perhaps lacking in unique distinction. And now, decades later, what was all but forgotten is available once more (and without pandering to Western audiences, as the band name and song titles appear only in Japanese on the cover and center labels).

Jana Rush Painful Enlightenment 2xLP (Planet Mu)
So often, footwork is a musical style that I appreciate more in theory than practice, but whatever is lacking in either my understanding or the music itself, Jana Rush’s Painful Enlightenment is knocking my socks off. Perhaps it simply goes harder than many of the other records I’ve heard? And not hard in the sense of macho physicality, but in the intense selection of sounds she uses. Rush digs deep to find the strangest combinations of sounds, from gloriously bleating horns (opener “Moanin'” is a gorgeous shock) to raunchy porn sounds (“G-Spot” has a surreal, almost mournful flow that is usurped by some decontextualized, well, moanin’). I was reading an interview with Rush, where she talks about butting heads with her radio director during her time as a radio DJ who wanted her to play more palatable, pop-friendly tracks, and her dedication to the uniquely raw is on full display here. Like many records that will be coming out over the next year, there’s a depressing serenity to some of these tracks, very much an isolated Covid state of mind, but there’s also rambunctious joy, hilarity, and wisdom to be found within Painful Enlightenment. And it slaps tremendously.

The Soul Patrol Mara / Take Back The Night 7″ (Feel It)
At first spin, I was thinking goddamn, these New Orleans bands are getting so incredibly good at aping classic punk-wave that it’s scary! And then I realized that, at least in this case, The Soul Patrol were a short-lived Louisiana act from back in 1979 and this single was originally released back then. I blame the cover art, which is very much in line with today’s graphic aesthetic (I swear it looks like it should be some new project featuring members of Public Acid or Warthog), for duping me for those first five minutes. Anyway, kudos to Feel It for rescuing this one from total obscurity, as both tunes here hit that sweet spot between proto-punk and proto-heavy metal. “Mara” sounds like Joey Ramone back when he still wore his wizard costume singing with friends in his teenage neighbor’s basement all fueled on cigarettes and detention slips. “Take Back The Night” stomps even harder, recalling White Boy And The Average Rat Band if they removed their aviator sunglasses. Both tunes seem to be the product of bandleader Buckshot Coxe, an impossibly cool name of a man who is sadly no longer with us today. I hope to one day follow his lead!

Terrine Les Problèmes Urbains LP (Bruit Direct Disques / Tanzprocesz)
Listening to Terrine’s newest album for Bruit Direct and Tanzprocesz, you’d have no idea Covid ever happened – hers is a gloriously warped, carefree and social vision of the world. I heartily enjoyed her previous album on the label, and I’m happily cackling at Les Problèmes Urbains too. You know how some artists throw everything at the wall to see what’ll stick? It seems as though everything hurled by Terrine sticks firmly, from sputtering drum machines to cartoonishly gloomy synths to piano/horn improvisations to clips of French men raucously clapping and singing at a bar. Her mind moves fast, but pleasantly so – I never entirely forget where I am while listening to Terrine, but often it feels like she’s gripping my wrist as she pulls me through a crowded and bustling Parisian piazza. Fans of Ekoplekz, Jac Berrocal, The Residents, Nina Harker and Luc Ferrari might wish to stay a while if they ever find themselves in the company of Terrine’s Les Problèmes Urbains.

Li Yilei 之 / OF LP (Métron)
Métron seems to have made their name on the music of Japanese modern-ambient master Meitei, among some other fine releases, so Meitei fans similar to myself may have found themselves peeping this new one from China-born, London-based sound artist Li Yilei. If you’re hoping for soothing synth drones, blissfully cascading tones and bird song, your order’s up! On one hand, a lot of this stuff has become so predictable and formulaic that engaging with a new record of soft “experimental” ambient can feel as reliable and unexciting as tying my shoes, but at the same time, if it sounds good, who cares how many times it’s been done and how many people are currently doing it? The sound of rushing water, Tangerine Dream-y arpeggios and digitally-manipulated string instruments are a trustworthy balm for my ears in this time of so much mental turbulence, and 之 / OF provides a bouquet of delicate comforts. Am I sad that I missed the limited version that came with a ceramic xun (a xun being a “globular vessel flute” dating back hundreds of years in Chinese culture)? Sadder with every passing day.

Spasmes Du Hasard compilation LP (SDZ)
A label-centric compilation LP is pretty rare these days, but one where the artists involved all seemed to give the best they’ve got for it? Downright impossible to find, yet that’s how I’d qualify SDZ’s Spasmes Du Hasard. SDZ is a quality underground French label that has apparently been around for twenty-one years now, hence the basis for this compilation. It showcases a somewhat wide range of underground indie / post-punk / experimental music, though certain qualities are a constant throughout: a detached coolness, a slightly nihilistic streak of humor, and raw guitar sounds. I’d hope you are familiar with personal faves like Exek and The Rebel, and they’re in good company alongside Nathan Roche, Pierre & Bastien and Rose Mercie (whose wobbly, skeletal “Marie Toi De Moi” might be my favorite cut here). Rose Mercie’s post-punk goes nicely with Marie Mathématique’s “Holopherne” following it, a charming drum-machine indie-pop tune with a whistled chorus. See what I mean? SDZ knows what they like, and I like it too.

Reviews – September 2021

Alpha Maid Chuckle 12″ (C.A.N.V.A.S.)
Read a couple intriguing profiles of London’s Alpha Maid over the past year, and decided to wait until vinyl surfaced to properly investigate. It’s finally here, and she’s pretty phenomenal! It’s not too often that music comes out of the gate sounding so unlike anything else, but Alpha Maid (the solo work of one Leisha Thomas) is cutting a hairy new path, and seems to do so naturally. A song like “Newly Woke & Thought Provoked”, for example, is a perfect fifty-fifty split of Frank Ocean and Jandek to my ears, the sort of eyebrow-raising comparison that Thomas manipulates with ease. Imagine Frank Ocean’s tender bedroom melodies and lyrics presented with Jandek’s supreme avant-awkwardness, and you’ve got weird guitar-pop that feels as though it were conceived in solitary confinement. Thomas takes these songs and wrings them out, layering lo-fi drums over hi-fi guitars, processed vocals and uncomfortable sounds to the point where it feels like Hyperdub artist Klein releasing a record on Kranky in 1999, or June Of 44 dropping a surprise album on PAN in 2021 (check “Mild Weather” to see what I mean). I’m probably getting a bit off course here, because for as fun as it is to contemplate the unorthodox combinations that Alpha Maid’s music inspires in my cute little brain, it’s even more fun to sit back and listen to Chuckle, which really couldn’t have come from anyone else.

CDG Unconditional 7″ (Domestic Departure)
At first glance I thought the band was calling themselves CDC, which would be kind of a funny throw-away provocative punk band name now that I think about it. But no, this Portland-based group is called CDG, and whatever that might mean (including perhaps nothing at all), they maneuver a form of classic groove-driven post-punk no-wave. I’m reminded of multiple generations of artists who’ve worked out this sound, from The Mekons to Emergency to Priests. The drums lock in an uncomfortable funk, the bass is applied accordingly, and the vocals and guitar scritch and scratch in various cool directions, abstract but never too noisy. Some bands sound like at least one member is wearing sunglasses, whereas CDG sound like at least one band member is wearing sunglasses upside down. It’s a stripped-down sound that never gets too fast or out of control and CDG make excellent use of it. My only gripe is that I wish it came with lyrics – I’m gathering the respective gists of “Remove Officer” and “Audiophile” from listening but I’d love to confirm the precise sharpness of the barbs CDG are dishing out.

Come AKA The Come Club 7″ (Chunklet Industries)
The cool thing about having an independent label is that you can literally do whatever you want with it. Sure, most labels generally follow some prescribed genre allegiance, either for the sake of avoiding financial ruin or because it’s simply what the people who run the label like. Chunklet, on the other hand, seems to take great pleasure in releasing fake records by real bands, real records by fake bands, joke records, lathe records, serious critically-lauded albums, ornate retrospectives… it’s like taking a tour of label owner Henry Owings’s mind, for better or worse, generally slanted toward the rougher side of ’90s indie-rock that was enjoyed by the twentysomethings of that era. This new single certainly fits that MO, two Gun Club covers performed by Come back in 1993, transferred from videotape to the record that spins here before me. So very niche, but for the select group of listeners who are devoted to that sliver of rock n’ roll history, they probably already picked up this 7″ on multiple colors of vinyl. “Preaching The Blues” and “Sex Beat” are raucous and loose, a treat for underground insiders and the random barflies who happened to be at TT The Bear’s on November 10th, 1993. And now us, too!

Computer American Digital Prayer 12″ (Skrot Up)
Bay Area miscreants Computer continue to shine a light upon the most shameful hunks of data lurking on our hard-drives with their newest album, American Digital Prayer. Coming from members of FNU Clone and Slicing Grandpa, it should come as no surprise that they’re dealing with a gross and murky form of digital noise and cultural detritus, this album featuring two side-long forays into such. They’ve got other bands if they want to write songs, so they go full-on extended collage here. The sound of bitcoins roasting on an open fire? By my estimation, I’m thinking of Glands Of External Secretion mixed for an American Tapes release as I listen, with cascades of synthetic tones and sampled snippets bubbling up amongst computer voices, clanging gears and terrible YouTube video wormholes. No one seems to get out alive from this one, which somehow reminds me that climate change is an irreversible nightmare even though nothing on this record speaks of any particular cause or sentiment. We all hate our computers and we’re all on them everyday anyway, a fact that Computer is all too happy to remind us.

Darkside Spiral 2xLP (Matador)
Not sure how to explain my fandom of Nicolas Jaar: enthusiastic but wary? There’s at least like three hours of music he’s made that I absolutely love, which is far more than I can say about 99% of the other artists who come through these pages, but I also find myself wondering how much of his allure is based on the cache of cool that buffers everything he’s done… is he really great at denying a beat-drop and patching together dusty piano loops, or is he simply great at presenting as though he’s great at it, chorus of critical acclaim by his side? I’ve been wondering that while listening to the new Darkside album, Spirals. I’ve really enjoyed Darkside’s records this far, but this new one feels like it relies on the established Darkside moves while kind of succumbing to that modern universal indie sound that I find insidious, music that at its base level is meant to be simultaneously ignored and streamed. The little guitar riffs here are more cool variations on Dire Straits and Pink Floyd for the Editions Mego generation, and the various production tricks and percussive elements are mighty nice, but I can’t shake the feeling that this kinda just sounds like The War On Drugs who sounds like Tame Impala who sounds like Toro Y Moi who sounds like Phoebe Bridgers and so forth. Probably a timeless complaint, but I think Nicolas Jaar and Darkside have plenty to offer conceptually and musically, so I want the very most out of them. Spiral sounds pretty sweet, but it’s a casual lap through the neutral zone, not an expedition into the unknown.

During Birds Of Juneau / Big Farmer 7″ (Chunklet Industries)
Intriguing slice of vinyl here, a 7″ with what appears to be an LP-sized center sticker and a substantial run-in (as opposed to run-out) groove. Turns out there’s a good reason for all that, as this is actually a hand-cut record limited to fifty copies! During are a new trio with members of Brandy, Spray Paint and Ballroom respectively, practically an Ever/Never SXSW showcase package, and if you liked any of the snotty post-punk and in-the-red rock those entities were dealing, you won’t have any problems enjoying During. “Birds Of Juneau” is dance-y and mean, somewhere between Wire, Clockcleaner and Electric Eels. “Big Farmer” is less friendly, with what sounds like an Australian vocal(?) that has me thinking of Lubricated Goat aiming for a record contract with 12XU. I realize that sort of description might only make sense to like fifty people here on Earth, but big deal, there are only fifty copies of this record so it works out perfectly!

Eyes And Flys Anxiety Tools / God’s Management 7″ (no label)
Eyes And Flys are a band, not a record label, but they should consider offering some business advice to all the labels out there struggling to get records pressed, seeing as they continue to release these 7″ singles with speed and quality. The Buffalo group has wavered between garage-rock, the lighter side of hardcore-punk and Flying Nun-inspired indie-pop on previous singles, and “Anxiety Tools” goes straight for the latter, a soft strummer that’s simultaneously uplifting and moody, from the chiming guitars and string accompaniment to the bitter, downward-facing vocal. “God’s Management” (is that a fancy phrase for “angels”?) kicks in with a soaring alt-rock instrumental groove, the sort of thing I’d expect to uncover when digging through bootleg outtakes from Pearl Jam’s Ten sessions (something I need to remind myself to do). Kind of a shame they couldn’t get Eddie Vedder to belt something out on this one, or at the very least, have one of the Eyes And Flys posse give it their best shot. It’s been an interesting band (and occasional solo project) from the start, but I think I like this single the most of all of them, what with the amiable strum of the a-side and the uplifting instrumental on the flip.

The Freakees Freakee Deakee 7″ (Tomothy)
You best be freaky if you’re showing up with this band name and record title, and I am happy to say that Los Angeles’s The Freakees come correct. They play a spastic but not gimmicky form of noisy punk, reminiscent of scrappy ’90s unknowns like Los Huevos, Yah Mos, Old Man Homo and The Mormons, the sort of sound I’d expect to hear on one of the great million-band comp LPs of the era like America In Decline or Wood Panel Pacer Wagon With Mags. (I highly recommend both, which you can pick up together on Discogs for less than ten bucks plus shipping, but I digress.) Three slippery directionless moshes on the a-side akin to FYP covering Red Cross, and one bleary come-down on the b-side, like Sonic Youth imitating the Germs for fun on Halloween or something. A cool punk single that defies contemporary trends, and also brings to mind the trite but sincere statement that it’s a good sounding record by a band who is probably even more fun to listen to live and in person.

Frigate Dreams Of The Deep LP (D.Q. Records T.U.)
Thinking this will be my favorite reissue of the year! Originally released in 1977 on the impossible-to-find tax-scam label C.C. Records, I’m thrilled to be hearing these demented psych-rock tunes now for the first time. No idea who Frigate were, or if that was even their real name (so deep does the intrigue run), but this is kind of the classic rock of my dreams, no pun intended. The album’s theme seems to be loosely based around seafaring heartbreak, which suits these loose and ketamined tunes. I’m picking up visions of Golden Earring falling asleep while attempting “Radar Love”, a classically-inclined Mountain Cult, Randy Holden playing every instrument with his feet, and Speed Glue & Shinki if Shinki quit the band and they ran out of speed. Truly warped music, the bass and drums barely, barely held together with a charming vocalist who sounds like he’s laying down with his eyes closed while delivering his lines. “There She Stands” almost predicts the unhinged hippie meanderings of Moss Icon? I love classic rock, but I love when music goes horribly wrong even more, and Dreams Of The Deep is a shockingly fantastic combination of the two.

Guardian Singles Guardian Singles LP (Trouble In Mind)
Here’s a good case for actually having friends: when I first got this Guardian Singles album, I threw it on once and kind of forgot about it, until a friend of mine who rarely checks into new music asked me if I heard the Guardian Singles album, much to my surprise. He was raving about it, and you know what, on repeated and focused listens, I can see the appeal! They’ve got a cool sound going, one that traverses rain-cloud power-pop, moody emo-rock and traditional punk-derived garage. Guardian Singles spin that all together nicely, not having a garage part or a power-pop part but rather fusing those elements together, so that it sounds like Tweed and Bureaucrats covering The Anniversary and Mineral while The Stranglers look on in approval. A song like “Roll Undead” even has enough of that darkly-chiming, rhythmically propulsive groove that I would expect to hear on the The Crow soundtrack, a high mark of ’90s culture. Even so, the whole thing still sounds punk, or at least punk-informed, which is probably inevitable considering Guardian Singles are from New Zealand, where indie-rock is their mainstream and no one has ever heard of Justin Beiber or Post Malone. Or so I like to believe.

I.G. Isolationsgemeinschaft LP (Phantom)
No, Instagram didn’t put out a vinyl album just yet, this I.G. stands for Isolationsgemeinschaft and this is their debut! They play a very German-sounding form of restless cold-wave, which is reasonable considering the duo’s Berlin residence. Synths and drum machines lead the path forward out of a neon-lit ’80s bunker into, well, a very similar-looking ’20s bunker. I’m reminded of Voice Farm, Vono, and that brief intersection where NDW bands revolving around the ZickZack label encountered the Sky Records synth scene that preceded it, a nice pairing of ’70s synth worship and ’80s post-punk paranoia. I.G. are certainly closer to the post-punk paranoia side of things, with many of these songs sounding as though they’re being tailed by a dark figure shrouded in a long trench coat, even if it turns out it’s only one of those Drab Majesty mimes looking to score party drugs. A genre exercise for sure, complete with some subtle Kraftwerk rips here and there (let the electronic group who has never ripped Kraftwerk cast the first stone), but it’s pleasant enough, or should I say unpleasant enough, that Isolationsgemeinschaft receives a synth-wave passing grade if not high honors.

Lysol Soup For My Family LP (Feel It)
Last I heard, Lysol had to change their name, but in that same way that I guess Tyvek had to change their name (where they went by “TYVK” for like one record and then just quietly went back to “Tyvek”), as the band is listed as “L.I.” on the cover. Is that how the law is written, you just can’t use it on your record cover? Anyway, this Seattle trio has been clouding up the basements of Olympia, Seattle and associated boroughs for a few years now, claiming a coveted Total Punk single along the way and not releasing much besides that in the past five years. Good thing that punk isn’t a race, then, as they’ve come around with their debut full-length here, Soup For My Family. It reveals the band as I knew them to be, leather-clad and raucous with the severe attitude of fellow Pac NWers like Gag and Electric Chair but choosing a looser, rawk-ier path. They’re a four-piece, so even though the singer can roll around on the floor all he wants, he prefers to hold things together, punctuating every line with a saucy “yeah!” or “woooow!” in the classic bad-news rock n’ roll tradition. Can’t tell from the lyrics if the song “Blessures Graves” is supposed to be a straight-up diss track against Blessure Grave, but considering the sassy attitude of this crew, I would be disappointed if it wasn’t.

Bill Nace One Note (Solo Guitar 2) LP (Open Mouth)
Last year’s solo album Both was a remarkable entry into Bill Nace’s already deep catalog, notable for its lack of collaborators and stark, hypnotic tone-burn. Now he’s turning the pages back to 2007, the time when he recorded this suite of tracks on his lonesome in Bennington, VT, surely within close proximity of a Ben & Jerry’s outlet. While his oeuvre has certainly grown in the thirteen years that have followed, it’s nice to get back to his formative days with this stately vinyl reissue of what was previously a 2008 cassette release. Reminiscent of many of the live performances I’ve witnessed, One Note has Nace lacerating his amplifier, with squalls of harsh noise more reminiscent of Macronympha than any improv guitarist, astringent frenzies of hiss and what sounds like metallic pebbles dropped into the bottom of a well. The noise scene was harsher and less nuanced back in 2007, and while I appreciate the wider variety of sounds that basically everyone is making these days, there’s something to be said for sheer sonic bludgeonry. Nace’s guitar is eruptive more often than not here, and if that Bennington cabin is still standing to this day, I’ll be impressed.

Onion Engine Bulbs 7″ (no label)
The first time Pete Warden released an Onion Engine 7″, I found it to be a beguiling curiosity worth holding onto, and as far as this new one is concerned, that sentiment has returned. Like the first, the songs on here are mild and woozy excursions, a musical sensation akin to finding out the steak you just ate was actually venison, not beef as ordered. Trumpet and simplistic drumming waltz out of the speakers, sounding as if Warden had some extra studio time at the end of one of his sessions as a part of Michael Beach’s band or with his other group Brain Drugs and decided to give the Onion Engine its due. Seems like something the Careful Catalog would like, presuming they aren’t afraid to get a little musical once in a while. Cool single, but the best part is certainly the lavish art prints that come inside: I count at least ten richly-detailed pencil drawings of bulbs from alternate realities, as if Nick Blinko completed a fine art degree while only listening to Wolves In The Throne Room or something. Tempted to hang all these up down my hallway, but I don’t want my house-guests to assume I’m rich.

Bill Orcutt A Mechanical Joey LP (Fake Estates)
National treasure Bill Orcutt has kept himself particularly busy over the last decade, and it’s been a joy to behold. His distinctive guitar playing continues to develop in inventive and strange ways, but we can’t forget that he knows his way around a mouse, too. Orcutt’s computer music first came into the world with Harry Pussy’s Let’s Build A Pussy, a split-second snippet of a scream stretched across four painful LP sides, and now he’s offering A Mechanical Joey, an equally ridiculous yet significantly more listenable (relatively speaking) full-length album. The concept here is thus: Joey Ramone counts out the numbers one through six and they’re relentlessly chopped up and spit out in rapid formation. Hypnotic and downright paralyzing, this sounds like Joey Ramone put through one of Evol’s sonic experiments, or the closest thing we’d ever get to Philip Glass working with The Ramones, or a more accurate piece of music for the title “Blitzkrieg Bop” than the actual song of that title. The patterns (and numbers) change throughout, even as the pace remains unbroken, resulting in a perfectly maddening piece of experimental computer music. It rules!

Kuzma Palkin Stadion Sever LP (ГОСТ ЗВУК)
The cover of Kuzma Palkin’s new album reminds me of the labeling of a dangerous new energy drink, which is a suitable analogy to his music. It’s energized and highly synthetic music with addictive properties, and as someone who has had nary a sip of Monster Energy in his life, I’m glad this Saint Petersburg-based producer is filling that void. His beats are rigid yet textural, snapping into place like a Transformer with what must be dozens of tiny parts flawlessly in place. Stadion Sever bears a similar sonic signature to works by Objekt and Upsammy, a fresh combination of neck-snapping electro (ala Dopplereffekt) and modern updates on the Rephlex aesthetic. Even at its most dizzying, I can bob my head to any track here and feel deeply connected to the groove no matter if my brain is only comprehending thirty to forty percent of it at any given time. Yet another reason for me to take a lengthy tour of Russia post-pandemic!

Pigeon Deny All Knowledge Of Complicity LP (Adaio830)
Loved that Ostseetraum LP that rolled through a couple months ago (Berlin group doing a punky minimal-synth thing for those who don’t instantly recall every band discussed here), and it turns out they share a member or three with Pigeon, a post-punk band who favor live rock instrumentation. This record sounds like a mix of where the indie-leaning post-punk underground is at today: Total Control, Wire, Iceage, Blitz’s Second Empire Justice and Moaning all enter my headspace as I spin Deny All Knowledge Of Complicity. Dark, brooding and slick-ish post-punk that aims to highlight the fact that we’re slowly becoming digital automatons through both the feel and rhythms of its sound. Not bad by any means, but certainly typical, perhaps extremely typical if I want to take a tough stance on this innocent band. This sound has been co-opted by a lot of bands with managers and agents and an eagerness to sell out in a scene that doesn’t even acknowledge sell-outs anymore, but to Pigeon’s credit, they seem to be not that. Either that or I’ve got a weak spot for any band that still puts a photocopied lyric booklet inside their LP.

Snooper Snõõper EP 7″ (Goodbye Boozy)
How do you like your egg (punk)? I realize it’s a dated term, but Snooper go hard on the egg sound here with these four cuts. The recording sounds physically sped up, which is a funny trick if true and an even funnier trick if they managed to simply play their instruments this speedily and high-pitched. The guitar is twangy and direct, the drums sound as though they were fashioned out of cardboard, and the vocals are spoken with the rapid-fire delivery of a little green martian asking the first human they see to take them to their leader. It’s got Coneheads written all over it, which at this point I’m ready to hear again, seeing as Coneheads stopped existing before Trump was even a viable presidential candidate. Snooper don’t take themselves too seriously, but they make good on this sound, un-serious as it may be. A suitable direction for the timeless Goodbye Boozy label, whose history of flaming dice “aWOOga!” punk rock is better left in the past.

Spllit Spllit Sides LP (Feel It)
If you can’t trust Feel It, who can you trust? I love the fact that I am familiar with barely a quarter of the bands they release, and find something to appreciate in all of them (some of whom I certainly appreciate a lot). I was excited to see that Spllit are from New Orleans, following my ongoing love affair with the last New Orleans punk record Feel It released, Waste Man’s masterful debut. To their credit (and as per my expectation, thanks to the wildly creative New Orleans punk scene), Spllit sound nothing like Waste Man. Rather, this feels more like a conceptual punk record, as much devoted to mood, attitude and recording trickery as to actually being a punk band. (This is predicated on the idea that they are in fact a punk band, which seems to be the case, but in this time of uncertainty, nothing is a guarantee.) Anyway, they’ve got a very quirky, semi-nerdy post-punk thing going on, full of dance rhythms, funky bass, weird sound effects and assured vocals. I’d compare it to the whole Kansas City / Ian Teeple / Uranium Club / Suburban Lawns strain of intellectual punk weirdness that’s taken off in the past couple years, and it’d be a reasonable comparison, but somehow Spllit seem less dorky about it. Maybe New Orleans simply has less room for dorks? Spllit still use altered high-pitch voices and xylophones in sparing ways, but the delivery and overall sentiment makes it clear: Spllit are doing a cool thing, not a nerd thing.

The Tubs Names 7″ (Trouble In Mind)
Might just be an exhausting time of year, slogging through the tail-end hottest days of the summer, so forgive my lack of immediate excitement over some new band with a “The (some basic item pluralized)” name, though I found the artwork (either inspired by, eerily similar to or actually created by James Vinciguerra) appealing on first glance. This was the perfect no-expectations setting for me to throw it on, as I can say with confidence that this is probably the best power-pop EP I’ve heard all year! Blew me away from the first note, a calmly confident spin on the sound of Protex, Purple Hearts and Jimmy Edwards, scruffy but firmly polished. Perhaps The Tubs are doing for first-wave UK jangle-pop what Chubby & The Gang seem to be doing with pub-rock and oi, which is to say cherry-picking the genre’s winning attributes and leaving the corny, dated aspects on the cutting room floor. As is often the case with this style, the vocals make it or break it, and whoever is singing here (no performance credits are listed) has a beautifully distinctive voice, masculine but delivered with a feminine flair on par with The Housemartins’ Paul Heaton. “Illusions” and “Names Song” are my favorites, more worthy of a hand-cranked mixtape than the inevitable Spotify playlists that will find them instead. Regardless of the media format, these are wonderful songs that everyone should hear.