Reviews – July 2019

Alien Nosejob Buffet Of Love 12″ (Aarght!)
I thought Alien Nosejob were a punk band, at least they certainly seemed like one, but that definition continues to fail them as they branch further out into various non-punk styles. Buffet Of Love is their biggest divergence yet, a purely electronic dance EP. Inspiration is attributed to Fancy, Black Devil’s Disco Club, Alexander Robotnick and Decadance on the back cover, and while I appreciate the willingness to be frank about one’s influences, this particular musical frontier is not Alien Nosejob’s strong suit. It’s no easy feat, embodying Black Devil’s psychotic effects or Alexander Robotnick’s impeccably memorable hooks, so I’m not entirely surprised that these four tracks sound more like close calls with The Human League, Depeche Mode or Cold Cave than the stated inspiration. As is often the case with this style, the vocals could make or break it, and the vocals here are like semi-comfortable, not-entirely-tuneful karaoke attempts – passable, but passable isn’t really good enough for this sorta thing, especially when there are so many artists knocking this sort of retro synth-pop sound out of the ballpark right now. I’m sure it was fun to make these tunes, and there’s no denying that Alien Nosejob has wide ranging musical talents, but if I’m being selfish, I’d like them (or is it just a “him”?) to get back to the sardonic and sticky punk rock they were churning out a year or two ago. Like Jon Bon Jovi told us: who says you can’t go home?

Amnesia Scanner & Bill Kouligas Lexachast LP (Pan)
Amnesia Scanner rocked my 2018 with Another Life, so I was thrilled to see this new album hot on its heels, even if I knew better than to expect more of the same. It’s not like Pan founder Bill Kouligas is known for his personal pop sensibility! Together on Lexachast, it seems as though they took a couple dozen terabytes of electronic dance music and mulched it down into a fine slurry, then sifted through the remains with curious intentions. The opener “Lexachast I” (all nine tracks are numbered Lexachasts) is what I’d imagine power-electronics using Spotify R&B instead of white noise and feedback to sound like, and from there the trio’s tempers cool. The alien-baby vocals that I loved so much on Amnesia Scanner’s Another Life are back on “Lexachast IV”, and they seem to be singing in that Sigur Rós language this time, or something similar. The rest of the album slowly invokes various subtle and repetitive motifs, not unlike Arca’s Xen at its most sparse and uninhabited, with the sense that deep consideration went into every sweeping sonic gesture or dramatic synth stab. A cool curio no doubt (especially when witnessed with the world’s most disturbing screensaver that visually accompanies the album, care of director Harm van den Dorpel), and a friendly reminder that Amnesia Scanner are probably watching me in my sleep, harvesting my shadow-data and cyber-metrics. It would be a scary thought if I didn’t dig their vibe so much!

Ausmuteants The World In Handcuffs LP (Anti Fade)
It’s been three years or so since the last Ausmuteants album, which in garage-punk years is a lifetime, and they come back with this curve-ball: a satirical cop-themed album! And not only that, its ten tracks appear twice on this vinyl record: once on the a-side with police-themed skits between each tune, and then again on the b-side without skits (and inexplicably in an entirely different order). I love creativity that I don’t fully grasp, of which The World In Handcuffs is exemplary. Musically, the ‘Muteants are in top form, playing aggressive garage-punk with proto-hardcore leanings (and plenty of DEVO-esque kooky keyboard), and they seem more at ease with their craft than ever. As for the lyrics, I dunno, I fully appreciate the satirical concept and their commitment to it, but there’s something about the vocalist maintaining the character of an assholish cop for the entirety of ten songs that grows a little unpleasant, at least for me. Maybe if American cops were lighthearted clumsy crossing-guards instead of a legalized gang of racist thugs I could find more a(us)musement in the whole package, but some of the miserable behavior lampooned here hits too close to home. That’s just me though, and the songs are great (and clearly Ausmuteants are saying ACAB in their own sarcastic way, don’t get me wrong). I do recommend hearing the side with the skits at least once – they’re about as stilted and awkwardly hilarious as ’80s porno dialogue.

Brandy Clown Pain / Rent Quest 7″ (Total Punk)
If there’s a band alive today that I want telling me about clown pain, it’s New York’s Brandy – they’re like the Impractical Jokers of punk, and I’m here for it. After the igneous post-punk klang of their debut LP, I was ready for more, but “Clown Pain” slows the pace down a bit, a confident strut versus a supermarket sweep… it’s oddly anthemic, using one of those public-domain three-chord progressions, but it feels glorious, either in spite of or because of its genericness. “Rent Quest” is less friendly, and more in line with the demeanor of their album, splitting the difference between Mayyors and Urinals in both fidelity and monotonous riffing, with reverb-laden vocals that burn a hole in the song like a red laser beam through a bank safe. I like that they were able to get a little happier on the feel-good punk tip of “Clown Pain”, but it’s reassuring to see them go back to their mean-mugging, no-fills / no-choruses style of aggressive post-punk on the flip. I like knowing Brandy can be happy sometimes, but I don’t want them to be too happy.

Bruised Arrow Of Disease + Psychic Stain 7″ (Randy)
Cool debut 7″ single here from Chicago’s Bruised: two songs, no fuss! “Arrow Of Disease” has the dead stare of early Cali punk ala The Dils, with plenty of open hi-hat splashing around everything else. The recording is great, in that it’s clearly lo-fi but in all the right ways, capturing this punk band in their natural raw state – the perfect sound for a song with a chorus of “destroy-oy-oy”, which happens to be the case with “Arrow Of Disease”. “Psychic Stain” is unable to maintain the same composure, thrashing and bopping like a crowd of angry runaway teens at The Masque. The melodic progressions remind me of Bags or The Dogs, whereas the pesky bass-line and energy have me thinking of The Urinals. I can’t say that Bruised transcend or are even on par with the other bands mentioned here (and to be clear, basically no modern bands are), but they certainly exude many of the same sonic qualities that made those bands so special, so for a debut 7″ EP on the Randy Records label, what else could you ask for?

Stefan Christensen & Friends Unknown Fortune LP (C/Site)
I have to wonder, does Stefan Christensen even have any friends who aren’t musicians? He probably has one friend who’s a painter or sculptor, but besides that, it seems like everyone in his orbit keeps some sort of musical instrument on hand, ready to jam at a moment’s notice. He’s gathered a nice selection of them here, on an album that maintains a sort of hazy introspection no matter if there are multiple soaring guitars or it’s something more stripped down. Unknown Fortune has a very New Zealand feel to its proceedings, with slow rumblings of guitar, patient interactions and a elegiac feel to nearly every track, no matter if it’s cruising at a nice altitude or softly murmuring below. I’m reminded of Dadamah and some of the earliest, most meandering Red House Painters records, but by now Christensen (and Headroom, and Mountain Movers, and etc. etc.) have put together a large enough body of work where it sounds most familiar to himself. I like it most when they throw structural integrity out the window, whipping up a turbulent boil of guitars and percussion (see the b-side opening “Illustration I”), but the more traditional tunes (complete with Christensen’s vocals) balance it out reasonably. Is it too much to ask for a “Stefan Christensen & Enemies” record next? I’m picturing him jamming with members of Antiseen and Psycho and I’m ready to smash that pre-order button.

Chrome Skulls The Metal Skull 7″ (Vanilla Box)
What was the first upgrade I made to the bike I got in 6th grade? You guessed it, chrome skull valve caps! Chrome skulls will make anything a good 25% more bad-ass, and this New Jersey hardcore band clearly respected that when choosing the name. They play a powerful form of d-beat hardcore that reminds me of Krömosom, Kriegshög, Anti-Cimex, and more than anyone, Framtid. Okay, so the Chrome Skulls drummer isn’t playing endless sick fills (as is the Framtid standard), but the vocalist really takes time to strain and enunciate every screamed word, as if his throat is constipated and he truly has to squeeze with all his might to get words like “war stories” into the mic. The sonic influences are obvious, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful when properly executed, as is the case here. There’s a song called “Public Animal”, and I was initially hoping for an unexpected GG cover, but then I remember that his is #1, whereas the Chrome Skulls “Public Animal” remains unranked. Probably best that they leave the covers to sleazier, slimier punk bands and continue with their raw d-beat assault.

Clever Hangin Egg LP (Tropical Cancer Rort)
From my outsider vantage point, it seems like Brisbane punks carry their own particular cynical chip on their shoulder, at least in comparison to those in Melbourne and Sydney, and it’s an attitude that I find mostly pretty appealing! I’ve been unable to verify if Clever are from Brisbane proper (at the very least, Tropical Cancer Rort is), but they certainly carry that same swagger, the stuff that made Kitchen’s Floor and Meat Thump come across as slightly intimidating, even when they’re shaking your hand and patting you on the shoulder. It helps that Clever are good at what they do, too, which is slamming out some disjointed noise-punk. Closest, basest comparison would be The Jesus Lizard with Darby Crash on vocals, and while I stand by it, Clever don’t strike me as a mere imitation. They’ve got some cool riffs for sure, often swinging side to side like Slint or Shellac but with a basement-punk perspective, not any sort of technical-challenge masculinity test. It helps that the vocalist is prone to violent babbling and scrawny hollering, which plays well off the group who remain pretty locked-in for most of these tunes. I can already picture the hordes of drunken University of Queensland students wandering between bars and clubs on a Friday night, and Clever watching it unfold from their windows, sneering and seething and writing new songs in retaliation.

Condor Singles 2017-2018 LP (Beach Impediment)
You can’t spell “oui, oui!” without “oi!”, which is perhaps why oi from France is such a natural fit. Condor is the solo project of Maxime Smadja, who plays drums for beloved French oi group Rixe (and is apparently also the mastermind behind those humorous synth-pop covers of classic punk songs under the Digital Octopus alias), and I guess Rixe wasn’t operating at an acceptable pace or something, so Smadja started doing Condor on his own. This 12″ collects two cassette singles, and it certainly sounds like an accomplished street-punk band, not one guy manning all the instruments on his own. These songs cruise without feeling too slick, and they’re melodic without verging on the melodies of, I dunno, Lagwagon or some other pop-punk that I often accidentally hear when listening to modern oi. I like a sparing amount of street-punk oi, and I generally either want it super amateurish ala Skin Deep and Iron Cross or raw and frightening like early Combat 84 or Blitz, but although Condor falls in neither camp, I find myself tapping my oxbloods and snapping my suspenders with righteous authority while listening to the seven quick tunes across this 12″ record. It can be tricky territory for some, but Condor’s tunefully driving oi-punk is a considerable success.

Da-Sein Mirror Touch LP (Galakthorrö)
It’s ironic how the fathomless misery of Galakthorrö’s output brings me such joy. Maybe I’m only happy when it rains? This new album from Madrid’s Da-Sein is an excellent case in point, as it is stridently on course with Galakthorrö’s general aesthetic (morbid and gothic industrial power-electronics) and an incredibly pleasurable listening experience just the same. Much like Haus Arafna, Da-Sein is a male/female duo of presumed romantic involvement (and remarkably similar in appearance, with both groups featuring a bald man and a blonde-haired woman), and they harbor the same ill intent for their static-laced oscillators and harsh analog electronics. These tracks are mostly dreary dirges or pulsing throbs of white noise, enhanced by the chillingly calm vocals of Kas Visions. One could describe this as “funeral music”, but to me it’s more like deathbed music, suited for a comatose lover slowly drifting into the afterlife from their rickety hospital bed, the thrum of their heart monitor pumping out a doleful rhythm. It seems like Da-Sein understand and embrace this as well, as their lyrics are more elegantly macabre than anything I’m writing here – the lyrics to “King Ov Pain” eloquently display their morbid fascinations far better than I could. Personally, I’m absolutely horrified of dying, but listening to Mirror Touch alleviates my fear… if death is half as sexy as Da-Sein make it out to be, I’m more accepting of my eventual fate.

Dollar Band Permanently Reduced LP (Tall Texan)
Put on your faded denim and meet me by the quarry – Dollar Band’s self-released 2017 cassette is now on vinyl! It comes care of the new Tall Texan label (which comes from the ashes of the Dull Knife label, if my intel is correct), and since I’m doing some explaining, I’ll mention that Dollar Band is a part-time rock trio featuring Dylan Sharp and Daniel Swire of Gun Outfit and Steven Urgo of The Solar Motel Band. Thus, the urban hippie vibe is strong with Permanently Reduced, and they deliver on their well-versed skill sets through these nine thoughtful tracks. This sorta stuff isn’t my area of expertise, which is my excuse for why I’ll say it reminds me a hell of a lot of Steve Gunn at his most rambling (both Paradise Of Bachelors albums, let’s say), which probably means most other people will be reminded of The Grateful Dead. Sharp’s vocals are direct with a slight matter-of-fact drawl, in the same neighborhood as Kurt Vile and State Champion’s Ryan Davis. Their tempos are either easy or breezy, their playing is loose with a firm sense of security, and their outlook appears to be cautiously optimistic. Not sure if Dollar Band is a project with legs, or a one-time meeting of some like-minded heads, but it’s a gratifying rural-rock document just the same.

Eliza B.C. Eliza B.C. LP (Chained Library)
Here’s an attitude that I find particularly endearing: so you’re an experimental electronic artist who occasionally releases cassettes to tiny audiences (probably a big chunk of which are personal friends or like-minded artists), and rather than try and promote yourself or get on social media to stir up a buzz or even take the basic steps to be recognized by someone online or anywhere, you change your moniker from Elizabethan Collar to Eliza B.C., you know, just because. I truly appreciate artists who operate with a proud indifference to the rest of the world’s reaction, and as is the case with much of Chained Library’s roster, that seems to be what’s happening with Eliza B.C., whoever they might be. This self-titled album offers five repetitive tracks of reductionist techno – no bass-lines, no percussive elements, certainly no vocals, just five different rhythmic arpeggios which maintain course for a few minutes (with subtle and occasional variation) and then move out of the way for the next one. The closing track simultaneously chugs and twinkles like something I’d expect Petar Dundov to make into a full-scale dance cut, but Eliza B.C. is content to leave it alone, as though it were suspended in gravity-less space. The opener’s rubbery pings are cool too, like some sort of acid take on Morse code, elongating itself over a couple of minutes as it waits for a beat that never arrives. I’m a fan, but I love patience-testing and monotonous electronic music, so be forewarned that if you need to hear music where stuff actually happens, Eliza B.C. probably isn’t for you. I doubt Eliza B.C. cares much either way!

Ero Guro No Nansensu 7″ (Belly Button / Ronny Rex)
Second single from this Belgian punk group, and I question the sincerity of the title: there seems to be plenty of nonsense happening here. They play a rascally form of crunchy lo-fi punk, mostly mid-paced so no one has to worry too hard about playing their respective instruments perfectly. I’m reminded of the earliest singles by Wavves and Home Blitz, French garage-punk of the early ’00s like Cheeraks and The Feeling Of Love, and the punker end of the Columbus Discount Records discography. “Male Pornstars” is the hit (with the incongruous chorus of “running outta wisecracks”), but the rest of these six songs chug along just fine, unconcerned with changing your life. Ero Guro just wanna have fun living theirs, and if their 7″s to date are any indication, they’re doing just that.

Észlelés Középtempó Radikále 7″ (Megvető Kiadó)
The Hungarian hardcore onslaught continues with Észlelés and their cool-as-hell eight-track 7″ EP. This one also appears as though it might actually be a lathe-cut, or some odd plastic material between lathes and pressed vinyl, but it sounds better than your average Peter King limited edition, so who knows? Clearly lathe technology has improved in recent years. Anyway, Észlelés play a rowdy and noisy form of insubordinate hardcore-punk, and it’s really hitting the spot for me. I’m reminded of No Trend circa Too Many Humans and the noisier hardcore repped by Iron Lung Records (Cold Sweat, Mutant Video, Control Test, etc etc) with maybe a touch of Dawn Of Humans-style splatter-crust. They seem to be a hardcore-punk band firmly disgusted by the general hardcore-punk consensus, and eager to provoke close-minded ears (which, for those of us who get it, is a delight). The bassist occasionally goes into trippy Eric Wood mode, and there’s saxophone more than once on here, which blatantly rips the breakdown of Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters Theme” for good measure. Freaky hardcore-punk for freaky punk rock freaks!

Felchers Felchers LP (General Speech)
First off, I had to look up what “felching” is, and lemme just say that if this group used it as their name because they thought it sounded cool and not because they actually enjoy felching, I’m giving then a thumbs down! Assuming they are tried and true felchers, however, let us continue with the review of this Kentucky hardcore-punk group’s debut album. Theirs is a juvenile, tantrum-prone form of sneering and amateurish hardcore, sharing a spirit with crude offenders like Nihilistics, The Inmates and Chronic Sick, if not necessarily sharing an abundance of sonic similarities. The vocalist often reaches Doc Dart levels of maniacal bleating, whereas the band plays an aggressive but not heavy form of hardcore akin to Feederz, Angry Samoans and Mentally Ill, captured with what sounds like a rehearsal-room recording. Is there a place in modern hardcore for bands writing songs like the self-evident “Who’s Gonna Fuck Your Mother When I’m Gone”? I like to think so, as puerile behavior and inexcusable rudeness are core elements of what’s commonly defined as punk rock. I just hope these southern pranksters are putting their money where there mouth is and felching the night away.

Golden Pelicans Grinding For Gruel LP (12XU)
Glad to see Orlando’s persistently-agitated Golden Pelicans continue to put out records and do their thing. 2015’s Oldest Ride Longest Line impressed me, and this new one on the venerable 12XU label does the same, reminding me that there will always be a place for male American pissed-off rock n’ roll in my life, at least so long as it’s of this high caliber. This time around, Golden Pelicans seem to have found some inspiration in the music favored by guys that would’ve beaten up punks in the early ’80s, bands like Van Halen, Mötley Crüe, Judas Priest and the like, but the ‘Pelicans are still playing these tunes with the bitter barfly frustration one might expect to find on any given Cheater Slicks album or Headache Records release. It really works for them, but I get the feeling Golden Pelicans could rightfully tackle any hallowed loud rock tradition and make it their own. As was the case before, a good bit of this credit goes to vocalist Erik Grincewicz, who sounds like he’s shouting every line through gritted, bile-crusted teeth, but whereas a regular Joe like you or I would immediately start coughing or need a sip of water, he seems to only grow stronger with every gravelly scream. Truly the perfect set of pipes for these working-class-rebel songs – I bet the polyps in his throat have polyps of their own! So long as Grincewicz can continue his righteous croak, their mighty marriage of garage-punk attitude and heavy metal riffage need never cease.

Hoover1 Hoover 1-2 12″ (Hoover)
A little confused if the artist here is actually Hoover, or Hoover1, as I’ve seen both used, but that sort of obfuscation (or perhaps more likely, total lack of caring) on the part of the artist is something I find undeniably charming. In any case, this isn’t the old Dischord emo-core band, it’s René Pawlowitz, who you probably know best as Shed or Head High. Hoover1 sounds a bit like the difference split between Shed and Head High, as these tracks feature the air-tight rigidity of the finest Shed techno, but they deploy classic jungle break-beats and raved-up vocal samples, of which Head High’s discography is packed. I’m digging it! “Hoover1-2A2” is about as tidy and efficient as throwback jungle can get, each little piece perfectly operating and doing nothing beyond that – I’m sure Pawlowitz’s ancestors were German cuckoo clock makers, as his music shares that sort of technical precision. “Hoover1-2B1” is cool… a bit more skittish, with retro synth-stabs to recall an 8-bit motorcycle racing game, almost like a proto-footwork from the post-footwork era, if that’s not too time-bending. I prefer “Hoover1-2B2”, however, which is the exact same as “Hoover1-2B2” (literally) but it features the addition of a time-stretched British politician vocal sample, providing this sharp throwback exercise with a colorful splash of WTF. Sitting here listening to “Hoover1-2B2” as I finish writing this review, I find myself feeling sympathetic and sorry for anyone who doesn’t love techno music. Their loss!

Karenn Kind Of Green 12″ (Voam)
Always nice to receive a new transmission from the duo of Blawan and Pariah, known to you and I as Karenn. Their early twelves were some of my favorite slabs of non-gothic industrial-techno of the early ’10s – no romance, no drama, no emotion, just hard-hitting percussion and a heavy and warbly synth line to match, with a diffused cloud of radiation surrounding it all. It’s impressive how, years later, the Karenn template really hasn’t changed, but if you’ve got a good thing going (merciless dance-floor artillery), why mess with it? “Salz” is probably my favorite, or it’s at least the heaviest banger here, but there’s something to be said for the “malfunctioning space station” aura of “Newt”, operating at an unhurried BPM with what sounds like a supercomputer desperately attempting to replicate human language (but failing) as a hi-hat ticks down the seconds til implosion. It’s funny, even before I heard Kind Of Green I had a fairly accurate guess of what it would sound like, but rather than turn me off by its predictability, it’s making me want to pull out those other Karenn 12″s from a few years ago and revisit their efficient and minimalist aggression. May they never stop!

Khidja In The Middle Of The Night 12″ (DFA)
I khidja not – Khidja released a 12″ EP on DFA! This Romanian duo seems to be everywhere these days, so while I’m surprised to see them working with DFA, I’m also not surprised at all. And I’m also not surprised at the fact that these four tracks smoke! “Don’t Feed The Animals (Hiding In Your Room)” opens the EP, and for good reason – this is the one you’ll want to play in front of party crowds, family gatherings, whatever, really. This one has a super-cool descending bass riff over a 4/4 disco pulse (very DFA of them) and garbled vocals trying to warn us before it’s too late. It’s a corker! “Devil Dance” is sneakier and slightly less spooky, pads careening over each other like a helicopter traversing mountain ranges at low altitude. I’m already satiated, but there are two more cuts on the b-side – “I Can Never Relax” is as twitchy and distracted as the title might lead one to believe (complete with some “Robots”-style Kraftwerk vocals), but “I’m So Bored” is anything but boring, working a rubbery bass-line and patterns of congas into something I’d expect Matthew Dear’s name to be associated with. Each cut is great, with flecks of John Carpenter and Sis and The Juan MacLean sprinkled throughout, but ultimately all very Khidja-esque. Which is great, because I love Khidja!

Meitei Komachi LP (Métron)
Métron Records ‎is a German label with an exclusive distro deal through Toronto’s carefully-curated Séance Centre, and Meitei is a Japanese artist fairly new on the scene. Isn’t it nice when things come together on an international scale such as this? It’s especially nice when a debut album comes along like Komachi, as it’s a beautifully refined suite of abstract sonic miniatures. From what I gather, Meitei is searching for Japan’s ancient soul, one where patience, harmony and a search for understanding are guiding principles both philosophically as well as his approach to making music. I’m assuming these tracks are mostly sample-based, but I don’t know if it’s Meitei’s own piano compositions and personal field-recordings he’s manipulating or if these sounds come from times and places long ago. Wherever they originated from, Meitei loops and shuffles them with the tenderness one uses to swaddle an infant. Rustling water bumps up against delicate piano keys, Japanese percussion loops over crackling static and electronic warbles… I’m reminded strongly of O$VMV$M, although the oil-stained midnight alleys of O$VMV$M’s Bristol are replaced by Meitei’s contemplative rivulets and hushed forests. Some of these cuts bear subtle grooves, to the point where the addition of a drum loop would have me hearing echoes of J Dilla, but Meitei never gets rowdy enough for rapping. This is experimental lullaby music, and I plan to continue to set aside undisturbed time for Komachi‘s soothing tunes. Self-care y’all!

Metro Crowd Planning: LP (Maple Death)
London’s Maple Death has been a busy conduit for the Italian rock underground for a handful of years now, and I might go ahead and dare to say that Metro Crowd’s Planning: is their finest offering to date. This group is from Rome, where the tourism surely makes them sick, and they mash a number of trendy and previously-stylish techniques into their own potent entree. They’ve got the queasy mechanical lurch of Throbbing Gristle and the like, the languid post-punk simmer of contemporaries such as Exek or Shopping, and the spastic screamy hardcore of groups like The VSS or Jaks, all with vocals that are distorted beyond recognition. That’s a lot to throw in one pot, but Metro Crowd sift out the bits and pieces worth saving, and write some great tunes, like “Student”, whose supple rhythm allows for a wide range of dancing, from tantrum-moshing to jiggly swaying. It often feels like the best case scenario of Y2K Spock-haircut sass-rock, one that pursues dance-punk rhythms while maintaining a wildly ugly demeanor, as liable to bite into your throat as co-DJ your after-party. Planning: doesn’t retread the same ideas, nor does it lash out in conflicting directions, which makes for a highly entertaining listen, both for chin-scratching critics and those looking to have a little noisy brain-dead fun. Pencil me in for both, please!

Nots 3 LP (Goner)
Writing one great garage-punk album can be tricky, writing a second is even tougher, and a third? Well, you better be that incredibly rare minority that can maintain the excitement of that initial spark of activity across three records, or more likely, you’ve found a way to grow and mutate your sound to keep it fresh. The latter is the case for Nots, who are down to a trio here, with vocalist Natalie Hoffmann handling both guitar and synth duties. It tends to result in a starker sound, particularly as she seems to be playing the synth and guitar in real-time, so if the song relies on wooshing outer-space sound effects, there’s a good chance the guitar will be mostly absent. Their songs are also moodier and ever-so-slightly slower this time around, embracing their lyrical themes of paranoia, isolation and surveillance with tense drumming and fundamental bass-lines locked in unison. There’s still plenty of rapid-fire floor-tom destruction care of the indefatigable Charlotte Watson, much to my delight, but some of these songs feel a little too sparse for my personal tastes – I guess I still enjoy garage-punk most when the guitars are out of control and blaring in my face, and that happens notably less here than on previous Nots records. On “In Glass”, for example, the guitar is conspicuous by its absence, particularly considering the raging temperament of the tune. Nots seem to be moving towards something else here though, a more neurotic and tightly-wound form of spastic post-punk that doesn’t rely on the sizzle of electric guitars, and while 3 isn’t my favorite of their discography to date, it points to intriguing future territories.

Nun The Dome LP (HoZac)
A wise man once said “nuns have no fun”, and who am I to argue? This Melbourne-based synth-wave group don’t seem to deny it either with The Dome, their shadowy sophomore album. Nun play a fairly by-the-books version of moody synth-pop – no guitars, just a trunkload of keyboards and modular synths and electronic percussion – and if your lifestyle is based around this form of music, Nun make for a welcome addition. One could file them in a lineup with Adult. and Xeno & Oaklander without aesthetic interruption, but Nun haven’t quite hit the whiplash electro-highs of Adult. nor do they possess the clinical precision of Xeno & Oaklander. “Another Year” is probably my favorite cut here, strongly reminiscent of Ceramic Hello care of the drum rolls and bilious synths, but much of The Dome feels like a basic genre exercise, for better or worse. Maybe it’s the song lengths? Almost half of these tracks coast past the five minute mark (and the rest are just under), but they don’t quite have the substance or variety to warrant such spans of time… expect to hear verses and choruses a good four or five times per track. I’d probably develop a greater affinity for album opener “Wake In Fright”, for example, if they whittled it down to under three minutes, as opposed to its 5:28 running time. I could chalk it up to my adult ADD, but then that doesn’t explain why I’m happily sitting through 45 minutes of a single Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society track… but enough about me, all music is free online now, so you can be the judge!

Rakta Falha Comum LP (Iron Lung / La Vida Es Un Mus)
Rakta have been a reliably gloomy, reverb-y post-punk band for a few years now, so it’s only a matter of course that the two artists I’m reminded of most on their sophomore album Falha Comum are… Magma and Hawkwind?! It’s crazy but it’s true, and what’s even more crazy is that it still sounds like the Rakta I became familiar with over the past few years. Falha Comum uses essentially the same ingredients they’ve always had – heavy ceremonial drumming, booming bass, cavernous vocals careening off every hard surface – but this time they’re playing as if their lives depended on it, trading in a sullen gloom for a fervid presence. It works especially well on “Flor Da Pele” and “笑笑”, both of which call to mind the possessed visions of Magma; I could listen to “笑笑”‘s heavy piano loop all day. “Fim Do Mundo”, on the other hand, is a perfect example of Rakta’s scorched-earth take on Hawkwind’s astral chug, eventually switching to a dance-punk beat over a cavalcade of echoed vocals, guitars and synths (while the single-note bass keeps the train on its track). Much like fellow Brazilian noisemakers (and European tourmates) Deafkids threw out the rule-book for heavy metallic crust, Rakta have expanded their post-punk beyond expectations and it’s thrilling to behold.

Sleeper And Snake Junction & High LP (Aarght!)
Hey, are you into bands? Amy Hill and Al Montfort sure are! Hill is in Constant Mongrel, School Of Radiant Living and Terry, and Montfort is in Terry too, plus Total Control, Dick Diver, Lower Plenty, and on and on. My head is spinning just imagining their weekly band practice regimens. Does Montfort ever get on stage for a Lower Plenty gig and accidentally play Straightjacket Nation songs (another band he’s in?)? It boggles the mind! And now, these two Terry musicians have their own duo album as Sleeper And Snake (she’s the sleeper, he’s the snake), and they found a way to make it great, too. The songs here alternate between tender twee-pop (I’m reminded of Elf Power or Olivia Tremor Control, as well as the softer side of Terry) and free-form experiments in cheap electronics, horns, keys and whatever else is lying around the garage. It’s a surprisingly smooth combination, and reminds me of the endless creative energy that orbited the Homosexuals camp in their heyday (I’m thinking of records by George Harrasment and Sara Goes Pop). Before the tweaked whizzing drones of “Royal Filth” have a chance to overstay their welcome, the sleepy summer swing of “Wisdom Vermin” takes over; Hill and Montfort harmonize the lyrics “gonna be a hot one” over a twinkly keyboard solo, stately bass-guitar and a time-keeping acoustic strum. If you think that sounds nice, but wonder why they don’t end the tune with a harmonica solo, have no fear – Sleeper And Snake have got you covered.

Small Cruel Party La Chrestomathie Du Désespoir 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
Seemingly unstoppable by all the factors that are rendering vinyl 7″ records obsolete and financially ruinous to labels, I Dischi Del Barone marches on with the first new Small Cruel Party record in over a decade! I don’t know if it’s archival material or something new, but who really cares, the noisy avant-garde sounds of Small Cruel Party are more or less divorced from time. It was a small cruel move for I Dischi to not list the RPM on this one (though I’m fairly certain it’s a 33), but these tracks are wonderfully evocative and probably work at a variety of speeds. “Titania: Il Passagio Al Bosco Come Un Atto Di Libertà Nella Catastrofe” (that’s the a-side) sounds like some sort of long-extinct pulley system being worked – I’m picturing old rope and rusty axles pulling buckets of wine down a winding cobblestone path, some sort of steam-punk fantasy that’s actually magnificent and beautiful. “νεκυįα: La Nostalgie De La Lumière Comme La Nostalgie De La Conscience” is a consistent stream of tapping laden with squeaks and yanks – this time, I’m picturing someone trying to stretch a buffalo hide over a frame of copper pipes while an old man sits cross-legged nearby, nervously tapping on his Mason jar (directly next to the microphone that captured this recording). I love noise records like this, ones that create their own vivid mental scenes, and I thank I Dischi Del Barone for keeping the ‘Party going.

Soft Issues Soft Issues LP (Opal Tapes)
When I think of Opal Tapes, I think of avant- and/or lo-fi techno cassettes, but Soft Issues is neither of that! It’s the vinyl debut of this Leeds duo, who are intent on bludgeoning the listener with harsh, digital power-electronics. They’re far from the first British duo to take this aggressive approach to noise music, but Soft Issues are quite adept at it, forcing drum machines to convulse on the floor, overloading power supplies and screaming until the microphone cuts out. I’m reminded of Bloodyminded, Sissy Spacek and Consumer Electronics, or perhaps some red-eyed mix of the three, with quick cuts, potent blasts of electronic noise and percussion utilized as weaponry (or vice versa). The short track lengths help too, as over eleven tracks Soft Issues get in, pummel, and get out, with more of an economical approach to sonic construction than your average harsh noise act. And while some of the song titles have a very Swans-y aftertaste (“Crawl Backwards”, “Personal Sewer”), I get the impression that Soft Issues are exploring inward issues of distress and frustration, as opposed to the overdone power-electronics tropes of sexual perversion and serial killers. Maybe those count as hard issues?

Suck Lords True Lords Music 7″ (Edger)
Surely you know Marie Kondo’s “does it spark joy” test by now, right? I have a similar but slightly different test I like to apply to music: would it spark joy in Beavis and Butt-Head? I like to think that Portland’s Suck Lords would delight those two losers to no end, and after spending time with their two ripping 7″ EPs, they delight me too. At first, I thought this was some sort of repackaged repress of their debut, but that one is called New Lords Music, so rest assured if you decide to pick this one up, you’re treating yourself to eight new tracks of unrelenting hardcore thrash. They absolute plow through these songs, reminding me of the first Sex/Vid EP, or perhaps an American version of Olho Seco, or maybe Neos if they shared Poison Idea’s domineering physicality. Their vibe reminds me of post-Y2K Clevo-core, similar to Upstab or Bad Noids in the way that Suck Lords present themselves as rude and unsupervised punks causing trouble for trouble’s sake, but Suck Lords play faster than anything out of Cleveland probably ever. The songs are fantastic (and interesting and technical without being off putting), and the “Getting to know the Lords” side of the insert is one of the funniest hardcore-punk liner notes I’ve seen since In/Humanity’s The Nutty Anti-Christ fake t-shirt order form. I’m already sending in my money orders for Blue Lords Music and Screw Lords Music.

Justin Sweatt Say Your Goodbyes LP (Night Rhythms)
Scene trend prediction time: the Italians Do It Better-style neon-wave disco-house du jour is on its way out, and the private-press computer-folksy Weather Channel ambient-synth is on its way in. Take Justin Sweatt for example, who used to release electro-house synth-wave stuff under the Xander Harris moniker (and probably still does, seeing as the last Xander Harris album came out last year), but he’s trying something different here under his own name. Gotta say, I’m enjoying it! This music is wistful and restrained, moody and downcast, and precisely the sort of composed electronic filler you hear while waiting for an actual human Verizon employee to pick up your call. Say Your Goodbyes also falls in line nicely with rare and expensive gems by Leon Lowman, Doug Snyder and G.B. Beckers, stuff that the underground zeitgeist pushed aside for thirty years until realizing that hey, putting aside Kitaro and Vangelis, some of this new-age synth-jazz is actually pretty sweet. Sweatt certainly understands that when doing this sorta thing, less is more – he is able to locate a simple groove or a cozy-soft chord change (I give myself a little hug each time “Chasing Paper” comes on) and stay there, resisting the urge to inflate it with big sounds or attention-grabbing additives. No acoustic guitar or flute solos just yet, but if Sweatt keeps this up, he may want to start working on his embouchure.

Thought Broadcast Abduction LP (Chained Library)
Bleak times call for uplifting music, but Ravi Binning doesn’t care – his new album under his Thought Broadcast moniker, Abduction, is bleak as hell! The New York-based Binning seems to be one of those noise artists that other noise artists name-check, and I’m not surprised, as this album of submerged chunky loops, grinding industrial processes and dystopian ambient shift is of fine distinction. I’m honestly curious where and how these sounds are sourced – they sound too organic and analog to be entirely synthetic, but they unfurl in careful patterns and shapes, negating any chance of pure field-recording origins. I’m hearing smokestacks oozing black silt, locomotive engines straining with friction, the run-out grooves of an ancient 10″ acetate, toxic smoke softly filtering out of an abandoned air duct… the fruitless sounds of human-derived wreckage, on full display. If that Chernobyl series wasn’t already expertly soundtracked, Abduction would’ve done the trick masterfully, as these tracks embody a similarly passive horror; this isn’t a monster coming to get you, so much as an interminable, insentient process that lacks any awareness of the damage it reaps. If you’re a fan of mechanical post-industrial noise, Abduction is eager to take you there.

Upsammy Wild Chamber LP (Nous’klaer Audio)
Are you down with Upsammy? I surely am! Last year’s Words R Inert was at the top of my 2018 singles chart, so I snagged a copy of this album the moment I realized it existed. What I loved most about Words R Inert was the unique way Upsammy marries propulsive percussion to glossy synths, but that’s not necessarily the focus here. She’s still got that gear on hand – “Screaming Colours” displays a similar percussive palate – but these songs are less vigorous and pumping. In fact, I’d file Wild Chamber under “IDM” as opposed to “electro” or “techno”, as these songs drift in a sickly harmonious way that recalls Aphex Twin’s Richard D. James Album or maybe even Autechre’s Confield, with a forlorn ambiance reminiscent of Milan W.’s recent work. Late ’90s / early ’00s experimental electronic music seems to be the main sonic reference point, although Upsammy is more fascinated with the tweaked tones and busy sonic environments her gear can render than cut-up breaks or anything remotely drum n’ bass affiliated. It’s certainly not what I was expecting, although it’s not a drastic departure, either – her synths were always clinical and spotless, but without a muscular beat behind them, these songs focus on twinkling arpeggios, delicate melodies and mysterious little chambers of sound, a style one might associate with the heyday of Mille Plateaux. Throwback or not, Wild Chamber is a highly pleasant album of rarefied electronic gestures… but I’m hoping she brings back the wallop of Words R Inert sometime soon, too.

YC-CY Béton Brut LP (X-Mist / Order05)
Swiss noise-rockers entertained me with their 2017 album Todestanz, and they’re sounding even better this time around on their third full-length, Béton Brut. As before, they seem to approach their sound from the noisy, arty hardcore side of things (as opposed to the riff-centered, gear-head side), and they manage to make that sound their own; YC-CY do not appear afraid to write weirder songs or, if not veer entirely off course, at least wobble a bit. At their ugliest, I’m reminded of White Suns and Twin Stumps, but there’s still plenty to be enjoyed by a plainclothes Metz fan looking to head-bang and get floated. It would probably go over well with fans of that latest Daughters record too (there are some clear similarities in the shrill, overtly-synthetic guitar tones), but YC-CY aren’t particularly looking for regal artistic perfection – they wanna smash n’ crash around the room like any bunch of spastic hardcore fools, it’s just that they’re tighter and musically more interesting than artists cut from a similar cloth. I’d say YC-CY are ready to break into the North American market with a record on Three.One.G or GSL, but sadly I don’t think either of those labels are really operational anymore, which doesn’t bode well for my Bottlenekk credit slip.

Yu Su Roll With The Punches 12″ (Second Circle)
Not sure this Yu Su is the best record I’m writing about this month, but it’s certainly the one I’ve listened to most! This is one of those records that goes well at any time, in pretty much any situation: doing the dishes, driving to a show, morning exercise, evening time-wasting on the internet, you name it. I really enjoyed last year’s Preparations For Departure EP, but whereas that one had more of a somber, reflective tone, Roll With The Punches is a rejuvenating sponge-bath of electro rhythms, new-age chords and left-field electronics. “Little Birds; Moonbath” could just as easily have been titled “Little Moon; Birdbath”, as both scenes are conjured through its meditative synths and hop-skip percussion, with the soothing vocals of Michelle Helene Mackenzie baked in the middle of the mix. It’s great, but all five tracks are great, a small abundance that has me wondering if this isn’t more of a “mini-LP” than a 12″ EP, but that’s some grossly nerdy territory I do not wish to pursue any further. “Tipu’s Tiger” feels like a funky corollary to Meitei’s recent album, but my favorite cut is “The Ultimate Which Manages The World”, which utilizes a sprawling reggae downstroke and finely chopped vocals to explore some new blissful form of sunbaked dub-techno, as if it existed for centuries on some remote island untainted and Yu Su somehow discovered it. Actually, who am I kidding, this is definitely my record of the month!

Reviews – June 2019

Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society Mandatory Reality 2xLP (Eremite)
Here’s a first for me, and not exactly a precedent I was looking to set: I paid fifty freakin’ dollars for a newly-released domestic album! It’s nuts, and not something I intend to do again anytime soon, or at least not until the next Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society album comes out. In this highly specific case, it was completely worth it! While I’ve seen Joshua Abrams’ name around for a while (and enjoyed the shuddering noise scrapes of his recent solo bass album), I wasn’t prepared for the immensely chill vibes that inhabit Mandatory Reality. Over four massive tracks (the sprawling “Finite” covers two full sides at nearly forty minutes!), Joshua Abrams and his Natural Information Society meld the smoothest aspects of New York-style minimalism with the floaty jazz sculptures one might associate with Pharoah Sanders or Alice Coltrane. They lay down a cozy melodic blanket that progresses through the same six-or-so notes, and the individual members take turns spinning their own rich textures throughout. There’s something about the pacing and melody that feels akin to a meditative practice – this is music that flushes the bad air from one’s system, leaving them relaxed and refreshed and oddly empowered. When you combine that with the fact that this is a double LP in a richly silkscreened cover, with screened inner sleeves, center stickers, and liner notes, suddenly fifty bucks doesn’t seem so bad for sharply-packaged transcendent enlightenment.

Alexander The Pale Light Over The Dark Hills LP (C/Site)
I think I figured it out: guitarist David Shapiro’s full name is actually David Alexander Shapiro, hence the choice of moniker for his solo guitar excursions. Initially I assumed he was just being precocious, and while his music might be described similarly, there’s a very warm heart beating behind all of the tracks on The Pale Light Over The Dark Hills, and a sense that this music goes far beyond mere technical exercise. Solo acoustic fingerpickers are like ice cream to me – I’m ready to enjoy them at any given time, just not too much at once – and this new Alexander is particularly tasty and sweet. He’s clearly technically talented, but I appreciate the leisurely pace of many of these tracks, allowing the tender pulse behind them to shine, his melodies untangled and unhurried. Some of these tunes are lyrical in a style reminiscent of Glenn Jones or Jack Rose, but they harbor very little in the way of melancholy or darkness. I suppose you could listen to this record while in an emotional funk, but it wouldn’t patiently sit beside you at your bedside so much as open the curtains to let the sun shine in. Optimally, I’d be listening to The Pale Light Over The Dark Hills barefoot and creek-side in mid August with a handful of wild blueberries I picked myself, but I’d need to get a mighty long extension cord for my turntable. Time for a Home Depot trip!

The Anemic Boyfriends Fake I.D. 7″ (HoZac)
Even though I’ve been aware of The Anemic Boyfriends for a number of years now, and own their other (fantastic) 7″ single, something about them still doesn’t seem real – how could a band this cosmically cool, with such timeless proto-punk tunes, have actually existed in Anchorage, Alaska at the dawn of the ’80s? And a bunch of teenagers, no less! The whole thing seems like fantasy-fiction drafted by a sweaty record collector, but all evidence points to The Anemic Boyfriends being a real group that actually existed, and no matter what timeline of reality we’re in, these songs are real and can be heard. And not just can, but should! “Fake I.D.” is a coulda-been hit, with lyrics true to the title and a streetwise bop that combines the toughness of Joan Jett with the goofball fun of Big Star. “Bad Girls In Love” is the b-side (taken from their other single), and on any other 7″ by any other band from the era, it would’ve certainly qualified for the a-side slot. It has that Bomp! Records glam bounce with the ready-to-fight attitude of early Chiswick Records, but of course this wasn’t made by snotty British men, it was made by teenage girls from Alaska. Not trying to get patriotic, but when I gaze into my framed poster of a rippling American flag with a bald eagle soaring in front of it, the chords of “Fake I.D.” and “Bad Girls In Love” ring through my subconscious.

John Atkinson & Talya Cooper Plains LP (Florabelle)
Synth player (or should I say “synthesist”?) John Atkinson and guitarist Talya “Don’t Call Her Tayla” Cooper got together to score the film Two Plains And A Fancy; Plains is an “extension and expansion” on their score. While the movie is currently resting comfortably on my Netflix DVD queue (that’s right, I rent DVDs through the mail), I certainly don’t require its visuals to find satisfaction within the beautiful soundscapes these two have created here. I’m reminded of Grouper (although Plains is of studio-grade fidelity, not dusty lo-fi), Jóhann Jóhannsson’s work with BJ Nilsen, and Earth in their cowboy-hat mode (at least in spirit if not direct sonic resemblance), although the music here is so calming and universal that it feels free of obvious influence, more like a timeless process of nature. For much of the record, it’s difficult to determine where the synth ends and where the guitar begins, which of course is a testament to the fluidity of Atkinson and Cooper’s compositions, but occasionally the clear sound of plucked strings pokes through, reminding us that a guitar was physically handled during this recording. It’s most notable during “Geologer” and “Seconds”, which utilize field recordings from Federico González Jordán to ensure that the untamed Western expanse is vivid within our mind’s eye. Plains is a luminous ambient formation, shimmery and deep and likely to make you think of donuts, as most good things do.

Bananagun Do Yeah 7″ (Anti Fade)
What’s Anti Fade offering this time? Why, some groovy ’60s dance-pop, bay-bee! This 7″ is Bananagun’s first release, and I doubt it’ll be their last, if only because I can’t imagine they bought all those dapper vintage outfits to only wear once. “Do Yeah” is very entertaining, the perfect modern tune to spin at one of your local retro dance-party nights; you know the type, ones with names like “Vinyl Fetish” and pictures of The Supremes surrounded by 45s on the flyer. The auxiliary hand percussion here is excellent, and the song hovers somewhere between a James Bond theme and Los Cincos at their most kaleidoscopic. B-side “Top Cat” is notably less Barbarella-esque, instead conducting itself with the garage-rock manners of The Pretty Things or Love. It’s music meant to be performed in Small Faces haircuts, felted-wool berets and skin-tight turtlenecks, which is a stroke of luck, as that’s exactly what Bananagun are wearing! If they rolled up in baggy skater shorts with a Fender covered in Fat Wreck Chords stickers, it’d be a mess, but they look the part and respect the tradition and know their way around a tune and I’m on board with all of that.

Nick Craft Minerva LP (Cheersquad / Dolos)
Decades beyond his days in Aussie major-label alt-rockers Sidewinder, Nick Craft has comfortably settled into solo-acoustic adulthood with Minerva, his debut. It’s overly precious stuff, perpetually tender and wrapped up in emotions both sad and profound. Not really a style that comes through these pages too often, but I suppose Craft is as if not more capable with his acoustic Starbucks-indie as anyone else I’ve heard, though he rests more on the general tone and feeling of the style than distinct hooks. Reminiscent of Iron & Wine covering The Postal Service, or the music that plays during the promo for an especially touching episode of This Is Us, or, worst case scenario, The Plain White T’s cancerous abomination “Hey There Delilah”. By the time “Leaves” hits, and Craft softly explains to us how the insects behave during the change of seasons as backing vocals coo along, I feel as though I’m transported to a rustic church watching my daughter marry her soulmate at our family-drama series finale, tears streaming down onto my Men’s Wearhouse tuxedo, and I am almost angry at Nick Craft for playing with my emotions so easily. But he’s undeniably sweet and adorable (just look at him on the cover with a sleeping child on his shoulders), so I can’t stay mad for too long.

Crazy Doberman Crazy Doberman LP (Mastermind)
There’s been an absolute flurry of activity over the past few years from Midwestern collective Crazy Doberman – shows and tours to records, CD-rs, and tapes, tapes and more tapes. I’ve enjoyed all that I’ve experienced (both live and recorded), but it’s nice to settle into a thoughtfully-crafted full-length vinyl LP, which is exactly what this self-titled album is. Each side gets its own long sprawling cut, and together, it’s a fine demonstration of why this group is perhaps the hottest psycho-jazz act on the Instagram-meme scene. “Immortal Hand Or Eye” is the a-side and its notably nuanced for a group that is liable to come at you with a four-headed saxophone attack. It slowly arrives at dusk, a particularly dark-red sunset that forebodes calamity, finally climaxing with a flock of little Albert Aylers migrating for the winter. The b-side is somewhat split into three parts: “Held Inside / Fragmented / Kept Close”. It arrives with the clattering power of Amon Düül, but only for a moment before Crazy Dobe’ reassesses the situation with suspicious horns, loose percussion, skittering guitars and electronics and even a bass to maintain a sense of gravity. Some of their foggy lurking makes sense given their relation to the American Tapes / Hanson Records universe, but their application on this album isn’t noisy or harsh, and I appreciate that. They really stir the stew up for a while here, with each member of the tentet ensemble pulling their weight in pleasantly stimulating ways, collectively making a burbling, hazy and sinister form of music that a duo or trio could not. I look forward to their next album, and will probably have to dip into another live gig or limited release before then, too.

Carla dal Forno So Much Better 7″ (Kallista)
Good news – here’s a new 7″ single from Carla dal Forno! The London-based Aussie really located something marvelous in her solo material, combining the most romantic aspects of industrial music with a pop sensibility that remains barely out of reach. Her music often feels as if Lana Del Rey was raised on Throbbing Gristle, and dal Forno’s distinct sound remains fully intact for these two new tunes. “So Much Better” is lovely – its bass guitar and drums carry the patient insistence of much of Dark Blue’s music, except dal Forno supplements them with eerie tones and out-of-focus ambiance instead of electric guitar. Over it she sings what appears to be a bitter hate-song, made all the more sumptuous by her unflustered demeanor. Like much of her discography thus far, the b-side “Fever Walk” is an instrumental, and it’s a ghostly reggae-dub that drifts over shark-infested water, the final puff of weed before being pulled to one’s watery grave. Kallista Records is apparently dal Forno’s own label, as in she created it to release her own music, and I’m already chomping at the bit for KALLISTA002, whatever it might be.

De-Bons-En-Pierre EP No. 2 12″ (Dark Entries)
I consider myself a pretty enthusiastic Beau Wanzer fan but I still probably own like, 40% of his discography at best. Dude is constantly cranking mutant techno tracks in various collaborative formations as well as by his lonesome, and when I saw that his De-Bons-En-Pierre duo with the great Maoupa Mazzocchetti dropped two new EPs on Dark Entries (sold as an affordable twenty-dollar bundle), how could I resist? On the first of the set, I’m hearing a friendly compromise between Wanzer and Mazzocchetti, wherein Wanzer tidies up the muck and grime that often surrounds his beats and Mazzocchetti drops an antacid into his queasy sound palette. They’re both on their best behavior there, but they get truly nutty on EP No. 2, by my count the stronger of the two. Beats seem more devious and impish in this second installment, with Wanzer’s aberrant tendencies causing delightful little reactions with Mazzocchetti’s almost comical sound design. Wanzer’s barely-audible vocals hide out throughout these songs, like little Gremlins scampering behind the drywall of your bedroom, and Mazzocchetti clearly brought his trusty tool-kit of elastic spasms and nauseous synths to make it all snap. Between the seven tracks here (and the six on the other), it’s a bountiful buffet of twisted alien-funk, greywater electro and inscrutable nonsense from two of the brightest weirdos on the scene.

Game No One Wins LP (Beach Impediment)
Cool, a new band on Beach Impediment with a grotesque scene of zombie Grim Reaper carnage and fantasy evil on the cover… probably gonna be enjoyably-forgettable hardcore-punk or d-beat crust, right? Wrong! Maybe you knew better, but I wasn’t prepared for the raging metallic brutality that awaited me within Game’s debut album. I’ll tell you, it was like entering a scalding shower that I presumed was only lukewarm when I first put it on! This London group really nails what they’re going for, which seems to be a hybrid of NYHC crossover-thrash (lotsa Crumbsuckers mosh parts and Attacker-style guitar heroics) with early UK thrash-metal ala Sacrilege and Celtic Frost, but delivered with a thorny, dare-I-say-demonic attitude that makes me think at least one band member owns the Zouo 7″. Jonah Falco from Fucked Up provides the surgically-precise drumming, and London punk heroine Ola Herbich (of Arms Race, Slur, Stab and more) sings. From what I understand, this is the first band Herbich has sung for, and my god, her playing an instrument instead of singing makes as much sense as Chris Cornell playing drums for Soundgarden. What a voice! She growls, screams and commands hellfire to rain down upon us, maintaining a guttural intensity no matter if she’s bellowing a single note or delivering rapid-fire recriminations (in both English and Polish!). I can only picture her recording these vocals from atop a throne made of axe-blades and writhing poisonous snakes, not a normal human recording booth. The music rules, but the vocals upgrade Game from a cool project to a must-hear for any fans of sword-wielding, metal-tinged, unlawful hardcore assemblies!

Gonzo Do It Better Again LP (Anti Fade)
This Gonzo is the 45th documented Gonzo over at Discogs.com – perhaps someone is willing to handle the task of listening to and ranking each one? I’d read that! Anyway, this Gonzo is another Aussie punk group out of Geelong (see also: Vintage Crop), and they’ve got a good thing going. They play an easily approachable form of twisty post-punk, something that ties the early melodic punk styles of groups like Protex and The Deadbeats with the spazzy post-emo stylings I associate with Troubleman Unlimited’s turn of the century output, groups like XBXRX, Erase Errata and Harriet The Spy. Gonzo do right by it, coming across as itchy young men who are trying to shake their anxieties via the writing and performance of punk music, which of course is an outstanding reason to play this stuff. Their songs are tightly-wound and fun, with cool bass-lines that have me thinking of Tony Lombardo on those early Descendents records, somehow. The kids need something to boogie to, so why not Do It Better Again?

Juma Selected Works 2xLP (Bitter Lake Recordings)
There are so many entries in the modern-day reissue game – some good, some bad and some ugly – and I feel comfortable in saying that this Juma retrospective is essentially the best possible outcome that comes from the practice. Selected Works curates tracks from an impossibly rare discography (cassettes originally made-to-order?) of an artist that sounds fresh and intriguing by today’s standards, let alone 1981 when it was initially released. It’s not like you can just plop down $250 for an original – the originals are so rare as to be practically non-existent – so this varied and expansive double LP collection is a treasure to behold, reminiscent of Vinyl On Demand’s finest moments. From what I can gather, Juma was a project run by Koushirou Toshimatsu and friends, released exclusively on the DD Records label, and it investigated all the hot styles of today nearly 40 years earlier: warped synth excursions, free noise, aquatic ambient pop, outsider minimal-wave, and so on. Very much on par with what Vanity Records was releasing at the time (both stylistically and quality-wise), yet relegated to home-dubbed cassettes instead of glossy vinyl LPs. I’m crazy about the longer, noisier tracks (imagine if Maurizio Bianchi jammed with Kaoru Abe, Aube and Klaus Schulze!), but I’m intrigued by the soft pop-rock cuts that also appear here under the Juma name. Bitter Lake has done a fine job reissuing underground Japanese music thus far, but Selected Works is unquestionably at the top of the stack.

Jasmin Kaset & Quichenight Tuxedo LP (Cheersquad)
Seems like there’s a burgeoning new genre of “indie artists with celebrity parents”, which kind of makes sense in that it’s becoming more and more of a necessity to have a strong financial backing if you wanna get into the music biz, indie or otherwise. I don’t think Jasmin Kaset is one of them (although according to Discogs, her mother was a country singer), but she certainly has that pro-tude vibe, as thought she’s always been free to follow her own musical devices at an unhurried pace. Maybe she was home-schooled? This might all sound like a diss, but I’m a big fan of this vibe when the songs back it up, and I think Kaset’s do so mightily! Her songs feel indie while attempting to replicate glam, country and classic rock, which kinda puts her somewhere in the middle of a big Bonnaroo lineup, an easily overlooked gem in a sea of adequacy. These songs have a strong “hippie lost in the city” vibe, not too far from John Mayer or Portugal. The Man in both aesthetic and practice. And much like John Mayer, Kaset knows how to write a damn hook! “Things I Wanted” is bell-bottomed Liz Phair rock glory, whereas my personal favorite, “O Dam”, succeeds at implementing a throw-back Rod Stewart glam-boogie where so many other hipsters have failed. Stealthily cool tunes, and if anyone of importance ends up hearing Jasmin Kaset and her Quichenight backing band, who knows what might happen for her.

L.O.T.I.O.N. World Wide W.E.B. LP (Toxic State)
Jeez, I loved L.O.T.I.O.N.’s 2015 debut, but I didn’t know what love was until I heard World Wide W.E.B.. It’s really that great! First, the art: the cover seamlessly merges ’80s psycho-fringe war magazines with the pixelated vibes of Konami’s Contra, COBRA henchmen, Robocop heavy-metal fantasies, pretty much anything that my ten year-old self would’ve had exciting nightmares about. It’s over the top and perfect, outdoing any other band that dares approach cyber-punk aesthetics, and a keen match for the music contained within. They’ve kind of perfected their sound here, which is to say a crushingly-distorted mix of G.I.S.M., contemporary Ministry, early KMFDM, Zouo and Powerman 5000. Whew! Electronics are as seamlessly integrated with the live instrumentation as the microchips and wires that run through the cyborg super-soldiers on the accompanying fold-out poster, pulling from gabber and early SPK but delivering them with the rock n’ roll flair of that tractor-trailer guitar guy in the Mad Max remake. These songs are memorable and peppered with sharply curated samples to further remind us of the insane tech-enslaved hell-world humanity has created for itself. It’s a fine achievement on many levels, some amusing and some downright scary, and I intend to buy a new copy after I wear this one out.

Maurice Louca Elephantine LP (Sub Rosa)
Got turned onto Maurice Louca by a friend who works at a notable record label that really should be signing stuff like Maurice Louca instead of the stuff they are signing. I mean, come on – psychedelic and amorphous jazz from Cairo? Why aren’t the big indies squabbling over stuff like this? Louca plays guitar and piano on Elephantine, and has quite the group at his disposal, with the ferocious Anna Högberg on alto sax and a long list of other musicians holding down vibraphone, violin, bass guitar, clarinet, oud, tuba, you name it. An array of emotions and musical dispositions are explored, from post-rock grooves that recall Tortoise or The Sea & Cake to howling big-band romps ala Barnacled and cosmic jazz explorations not unlike Sons Of Kemet, all clearly steeped in Louca’s proudly Egyptian culture. Pairs nicely with Sam Wilkes’s recent solo album, although Maurice Louca is clearly operating from a vastly different time zone, one where Westernization is not the presumed norm. Is this just it, I’m a jazz guy now? I assume I’ll need to start wearing pleated slacks with orthopedic sneakers, but I’m hoping to hold off on the balding ponytail for at least a couple more years.

Josh Mason Coquina Dose LP (Florabelle)
With over twenty releases in the past five years, Florida’s Josh Mason sure likes to keep himself busy in front of his laptop, or amp, or tape reel, or whatever technology he decides to utilize at any given moment. Coquina Dose is my first encounter with his music, and if it’s any reasonable representation of what he’s normally up to, I owe it to myself to dig in deeper. It’s electronic music that seems to come from some organic source, albeit one maybe three or four steps removed from the final product, which comes in the form of drippy electronic melodies, hazy churning atmospheres and bubbling chords. I’m reminded of the Fennesz classic Endless Summer, Mike Cooper’s tropical guitar experiments, and maybe a little of Ian William Craig’s eroded choral harmonies. It’s an excellent and well-considered mix, one that allows acoustic guitar to bleed through the cracks while microscopic IDM textures crash in and out with the tide. I always assumed the music of Florida mostly sounded like Limp Bizkit blaring out of Diplo’s jeep at a Coors Light spring break party, but Coquina Dose offers an entirely different perspective.

Nathan Micay Blue Spring 2×12″ (LuckyMe)
Following a couple great 12″s, Toronto-born / Berlin-stationed techno producer Nathan Micay steps up quickly to his first full-length. It’s a risky move, but I swear more and more people are figuring out how to write a techno album while maintaining their core strengths and avoiding listener malaise. Micay succeeds by my metrics, crafting an album of mostly short-ish tracks (by techno standards) that work wonderfully as a cohesive statement as well as in separate bites. His vibe here is somewhat unique, too: a modernized take on power-trance melodies, rave throwbacks and ’90s Japanese video game soundtracks. It’s more fresh than nostalgic, but instead of getting all a-hundred-mouseclicks-per-millisecond on us, Micay is playful and agile, happy to oblige any reasonable party instead of showing off his hardware processing power. “He Has The Key” feels like Donato Dozzy’s K as a selectable Final Fantasycharacter, and while it absolutely rips, the epic synth-riffing of “Ecstacy Is On Maple Mountain” practically owes royalties to Whities labelmate Avalon Emerson’s “The Frontier”. “11.11.90 (Beat Version)” somehow does what Burial and Zomby did ten years ago in a way that feels prescient and chic, not dated. Field recordings (both real and imagined) add texture and presence throughout, but Micay’s productions are novel and engrossing no matter how you feel about crickets and seagulls.

Norms Hülye Hardcore LP (Mindig Otthon Punk Discs)
Woo daddy, here’s some hardcore that cannot be denied! Straight outta Budapest, Norms are putting us all to shame, without your help or my help or anyone’s help. I hadn’t heard them before, but Hülye Hardcore isn’t an album I will soon forget. The fast parts (of which there are many) remind me of Deep Wound in the way that the drums seem to be perpetually outracing themselves, just a hair slower than No Comment and slightly more traditional than Cult Ritual. They supplement that speed with other first-wave, non-metallic hardcore-punk moves, guitars taunting like Greg Ginn at his least despicable and their vocalist frothing like Tony Erba at his Gordon Solie peak, all of which is delivered with the unbridled ferocity of early Rattus. And they get weird in their own weird way: the title track is an instrumental zombie-march that samples various tough-guy hardcore banter into a deadly poison serum. I can’t even tell if it’s a straight-up diss to macho hardcore or what, but it has moved me, and that’s the point of any good art, right? Honestly can’t remember the last time a gimmick-free hardcore-punk record has excited me this much – Norms took the same building blocks as thousands of others, and came together with a distinctive (yet classic sounding) album of smart-ass, radical hardcore rage. A+!

Nox Novacula Hitchhiker / Drug 7″ (Moo Cow)
Whoa, Moo Cow Records! That’s a name I haven’t seen in years, and it’s a name I hold dearly, as it’s the first label to ever release one of my bands on vinyl (ahh, 1998). Whatever the reason for their return, they’re now working with Seattle’s Nox Novacula, whose name sounds vaguely like a boss Mega Man or Sonic the Hedgehog would’ve battled, but I assure you 16-bit nostalgia is not what they’re going for. The switchblade, gloomy Polaroid and dying lily on the back cover make their mission statement clear: this is moody goth-rock, wax dripping from candelabras as an owl hoots menacingly from an old church spire in the moonlight. “Hitchhiker” has a driving energy that many similarly-styled bands don’t go for, feeling like Tamaryn backed by Murder City Devils, perhaps. “Drug” brings in the synths and drum machine for a spooky dance party, with guitars a-blazing – it sounds like some sort of mix of Esben & The Witch and post-Fall Out Boy mainstream dance-rock, with New Order and 45 Grave posters on the wall. Neither song really does it for me, although this particular style is harder to win me over than others – you’ve gotta be really something else to catch my attention with your post-punk goth-rock, and Nox Novacula are really more of the same. But to be fair, my Moo Cow Records release pretty much sucked, and I’m still around decades later!

The Oilies Psychic Dog 7″ (Fruits & Flowers)
Carly Putnam was an upstanding member of groups such as The Mantles and The Art Museums, and now she’s stepping out on her own as The Oilies. If you ask me, this is where she shines! She bestowed four tunes upon this 7″, and they’re a pleasure for any ears interested in demure yet durable indie-pop. Putnam strums her guitar and sings, sometimes with drums (of a programmed nature?), sometimes with candy-coated keyboards offering melodic encouragement, sometimes floating on their own mild reverberations. They call to mind Marine Girls, Felt or Orange Juice, stripped down to the home-recordable basics and emoting a sense of purpose and optimism. The Oilies are understated by their very nature – certainly the last record in the bin to try to gain your attention with some sort of brash gimmick – and it’s the honest simplicity of these songs that shines through. I don’t know any psychic dogs, per se, but The Oilies have me convinced they’re a heartfelt and universal occurrence.

Olivia Neutron-John Olivia Neutron-John 12″ (Sister Polygon)
Olivia Neutron-John is one of those artists so enchanting and distinctive that I often forget their name is a silly groaner of a pun, and I’m the type of person to take close note of puns! They do things the old-fashioned way: lots of live performances and touring with only a scant and selective physical discography. I’ve been waiting on something new for a while, so this 12″ EP on the praiseworthy Sister Polygon label was exactly the treat I needed. On here, Olivia Neutron-John (whose “real” name is Anna Nasty, so it’s kind of one of those Nika Roza Danilova / Zola Jesus, Malefic / Xasthur deals) lays down classic drum-machine beats with hypnotic and clinical precision, supplementing the rhythms with bass guitar, understated synth and their own gauzy vocal (which bears pleasant similarity to Kitchen & The Plastic Spoons). I’m impressed by the patience shown throughout these tracks, which comes with the sense that Olivia Neutron-John has really lived within these songs for a while before finalizing them in recorded form. Take “16 Beat” (which appears twice on here!) for example – the beat is withheld for what seems like a few minutes before it all drops into place, creating an exciting sense of anticipation that many similar artists forego. Even when the track falls apart towards the end, it’s like you can visualize Olivia Neutron-John with their finger on the sampler, physically cracking the groove to shards. Freedom in all its forms seems key to Olivia Neutron-John’s equation, which is a significant reason why their performances, and this quizzical, sleek and shifty new 12″ EP, are so captivating.

Philipp Otterbach The Rest Is Bliss 12″ (Knekelhuis)
The unexpected hits just keep on coming from Knekelhuis, like this 12″ from Berlin’s Philipp Otterbach. The Rest Is Bliss sounds very of-the-moment while avoiding easy categorization, which I suppose is a trait that ties together most of the Knekelhuis roster. Otterbach’s music shifts between languid, guitar-centered ambient music to reclusive acid techno and disassociated house, and while those might sound like three distinct colonies, they feel like naturally-occurring mutations of the same body here. I’m reminded of Daughn Gibson’s most melancholy instrumentals, Tin Man’s frozen acid tears and DJ Healer’s sampling techniques (“The Weak Song” in particular), but it’s on “The Roamer Pt. 1” and “The Roamer Pt. 2” where Otterbach enters entirely new territory, something that sounds like an unsettling mix of Enigma and Raime’s post-punk side-project Moin. Those two tracks venture into a sensual form of post-punk dub, as if Balearic electronica act The Beloved took a nosedive into Coil’s darkest recesses. Evocative and outré, soothing yet disconcerting, The Rest Is Bliss is another crucial piece of the Knekelhuis puzzle.

Pinocchio Pinocchio 7″ (Toxic State)
After the dissolution of Vexx, who were probably the best punk band of the ’10s if we’re being real, I had been hoping and praying vocalist Maryjane Dunphe would find her way into another rock band (although her forays into synth-pop with CC Dust and indie-country with The County Liners have been great too). That’s now the case with Brooklyn’s Pinocchio, whose debut 7″ EP delights and confounds. There are eight tracks here, but there’s a catch: three of them are different versions of “Light Speed”, and two of them are different versions of “My Time”, and there’s also a song called “Your Time” which might also be conceptually related. If you’re confused, you’re not alone! It’s almost like something Philip Glass would do with his compositions, except Pinocchio is a punk band on Toxic State… this sort of sketchbook approach to punk songwriting is intriguing to say the least. As for their music, it’s mostly upbeat punk with hard rock riffing, as if The Dead Boys or Wire were covering Tank or Judas Priest – “Behind You” is the perfect example, as the main riff sounds like a bloody executioner’s axe but it feels like dirty punk. The music is cool if oddly tricky (not to mention the two glammed-out bootstomps of “My Time”), and Dunphe’s voice is in peak form, cascading over the rhythms or riding the melody as she sees fit, still as iconoclastic and fearless as ever. Very intriguing debut, not that I’d expect any less!

Scrap Brain A Journey Into Madness LP (Thrilling Living / Drunken Sailor)
How is it that bad music makes me feel so good? I find myself wondering that while listening to the debut album from London’s Scrap Brain, who deliver on the promise of their debut 7″ EP from last year. The high points of A Journey Into Madness seem to answer the question of “what would happen if Honey Bane fronted Flipper?” – plodding, simplistic, unreasonably noisy and unsophisticated, I can’t help but wonder why anyone would want their punk performed any other way. I was reading an interview with the band, and the guitarist mentioned that no one ever notices when he messes up, and I have no reason to doubt him after hearing the faster songs on here, which maintain an uneasy equilibrium on the verge of collapse, as though everything is held together by duct tape and safety pins. For as simplistic as it is, Scrap Brain’s sound is atypical, with progressions and changes that haven’t been written by other punk bands a hundred times over. And while the musical presentation is not a graduate-level display of prowess, the lyrics are keenly critical and take aim at the many disparities, crises and miseries Scrap Brain encounter on a routine basis. It’s a journey into madness in both senses of the word: furious anger and spiraling insanity.

Skiftande Enheter Skiftande Enheter 12″ (Levande Begravd)
There’s one big problem with this Skiftande Enheter 12″ – the music’s only on one side! This Swedish punk group is top notch, so you can imagine my disappointment to learn that only one side of this 12″ contains their brand of unrefined DIY punk. I’ll have to find a way to survive, and I suppose the best way to do that is to listen to the eight tracks on the a-side over and over. If you’re a fan of Swedish punk like Ebba Grön and Kriminella Gitarrer, as well as fine DIY snot like Nixe and The Four Plugs, you really can’t go wrong with Skiftande Enheter. I’ve enjoyed band-member JJ Ulius’s solo material, but Skiftande Enheter is more punk than pop, which is my typical preference. There’s a slight Mummies vibe to some of these tunes (maybe it’s the antagonistic keyboard), whereas others seem to utilize Boston hardcore melodic progressions for their lightweight sloppy punk (the melody of opener “33” sounds like it could’ve been lifted straight from a DYS song). Lots of cool influences (or unintended similarities) at play here, all of which works wonderfully for Skiftande Enheter and the international punk-listening populaces.

Spiral Wave Nomads Spiral Wave Nomads LP (Feeding Tube / Twin Lakes)
Of all the various musical pastures ex-punks go to retire in, this is one of my favorites: loosely-improvised psych-rock. You know, people who used to play aggressive music in their 20s that stumbled upon the gospels of Neil Young and Jerry Garcia in their 30s and have been pleasantly lost upon those seas ever since. I think Spiral Wave Nomads is a nice example of the style (although I cannot confirm their personal musical journeys), this being a group featuring a member of Burnt Hills and one of the guys from More Klementines, New Englanders with plenty of barn space to set up their drums with piles of auxiliary percussion and a few guitar amps with varying chains of effects pedals. Spiral Wave Nomads remind me of Bardo Pond (duh), Gunn-Truscinski Duo and maybe a touch of Charalambides when the spiral-waves venture toward the lighter side of things, as well as Headroom, Stefan Christensen and the assorted New Haven psych-rock players. Spiral Wave Nomads stick out a bit through the use of a sitar, often swirling and chiming in the mix, although they’re surely not the first group to pack a sitar for their psychotropical excursions. Regardless of this style’s increasing ubiquity among my generation, it’s satisfying and pretty and sometimes spiritually soothing when done properly, and though Spiral Wave Nomads haven’t leveled me with a “come to Jesus” moment on this debut, I can’t deny the blithesome effect this album has had on my couch-based evening relaxation.

Thistle Group Thistle Group 7″ (Soft Abuse)
Here’s something I didn’t realize I needed – the first 7″ from Thistle Group! Beyond it being the primary work of a person named Claire Mahoney, I don’t know much about it, but as far as musty DIY ineptitude is concerned, it’s a hard one to beat. Across these four songs, I’m reminded of the anti-greatness of Mad Nanna as well as the peculiar solitude of One Of You’s 7″ EPs. Keyboards linger from under a closed door, drums (a single snare?) keep their own secret pace, and vocals ignore the rest, singing what are presumably English words with the carefree attitude of a drunken shower while the roommates are out of town. Definitely too noisy and crude to appeal to the usual lo-fi indie crowd, but too sweet and timid to get the basement-noise tape-traders to perk up… Thistle Group happily exists in a space between discomforts. “Always The First To Sleep” might be my favorite, a dreary environment of clangs and bangs and a too-loud guitar solo, but then the pudgy synth-tones and pained vocal hook of “Into The Night” follow it, and I’m torn. For lovers of intrepid post-noise anti-pop such as myself, the whole EP is golden!

Unknown River Driver / Rations Noise Remains / Dronestruck LP (Farsot / 86’d / Tor Johnson / Different Kitchen / Ersatz Reality / Rad Girlfriend)
Goddamn, no less than six labels got together to put this out! How is that sort of financial situation navigated? I can’t tell if it’s a great idea or a logistic nightmare. What I do think is a great idea is the hardcore-punk split LP, a format which seems to be dying out (along with 10% of the earth’s species). I’m not sure entirely what to attribute its loss to (although I have my ideas), but it’s cool to see these two similar-but-clearly-different artists sharing this 12″ slab. The name “Unknown River Driver” sounds like an NJPW finishing move, but they’re a group from New York (from what I can tell, the state, not the city) playing a mix of Ebullition-style emo-core and gruffly anthemic melodic punk ala Avail or Dillinger Four. Music for people who love beards, bikes, tattoos and IPAs but also wear their heart on their sleeves and are sickened by today’s political climate. That’s how I’ll segue to the Rations Noise side, their Dronestruck clearly raging against endless military actions. They’re a noise duo, but not in the power-electronics or harsh-wall sense; rather, they prefer to remix hardcore-punk into tense and menacing collages, which feel like disembodied melodic hardcore songs looking for a host body. It’s an esoteric take on the same general themes pursued by Unknown River Driver, and I can’t think of a better way to deploy this cooperative statement than a split LP.

USA/Mexico Matamoros LP (12XU)
At first glance of the cover, I was afraid this was a new Orville Peck record, but thankfully this is no such travesty. It’s USA/Mexico’s sophomore album, continuing in the manner of their primordial sludge-rock debut! When it comes to this style, they’ve got some big names in their roster – namely King Coffey of Butthole Surfers and Craig Clouse of Shit & Shine – and fans of those groups will not be disappointed: USA/Mexico’s MO is tormented, crawling, distorted and beyond-heavy noise-rock grooves. When you’re recording music that’s in the red, what’s the color beyond that? Brown? If so, this record is definitely “in the brown”, probably in more ways than one. Matamoros is so blown out and heavy, I worry that my humble home stereo is only giving me a quarter of the album’s true sonic force, but maybe there was just no way to truly capture the oppressive tones at play, and this recording is modern technology’s best replication of the real thing. It’s like listening to Rusted Shut inside a parked car with the windows up in the sweltering summer sun, reaching dangerous levels of pressurized heat and airlessness through each new blown-out slog. “Vaporwave Headache” careens precariously, but the punitive march of “Anxious Whitey” gets USA/Mexico back to their trademark sluggish slam. Making this kind of music is like digging a hole to China – how far can you go until you’re blocked by the churning magma and intense gravitational pressure? – but USA/Mexico are already deeper than just about anyone else out there.

Warren Winter’s Band Crossbar Hotel LP (Sophomore Lounge)
Even Sophomore Lounge, tireless purveyor of underexposed underground sounds, can’t resist the temptation of the reissue racket. It seems to be an inescapable allure, or maybe it’s simply economics at play, seeing that your average indie record buyer seems more likely to scoop up a reissued obscurity than take a chance on an unhyped contemporary artist? Whatever the case, there’s no denying how nice Sophomore Lounge’s version of Crossbar Hotel looks, with its sharply silkscreened (and die-cut!) cover. They clearly gave it all the love it deserved and then some. As for the music itself… I dunno, I think the hype sticker’s allegation of “biker folk cult classic” is pushing it. Circuit Rider this ain’t! These tunes are mellow AOR with plainclothes vocals, like Christopher Cross in an ill-fitting denim vest, or Townes Van Zandt making an unlikely late ’80s cameo on Miami Vice . No freak-outs of any sort, simply unobtrusive pop-rock with piano, strings, folksy underpinnings, harmonizing backing vocals and acoustic and electric guitars. If that’s your steez, you’ll probably want to purchase and file Warren Winter’s Band appropriately, but for my ears, it seems like a vague musical footnote from 1988 that was perfectly fine remaining relegated to the deepest and dustiest record shop basements.

Young Skulls Bomb Train Blues 7″ (Slovenly)
How about a new garage-punk band featuring an occasional associate of Trans Am to get your attention? It worked for me! Trans Am were a real eye-opener for me in the late ’90s, with albums that have (perhaps surprisingly) aged quite well, so if I find out that Chris Turco (also of Kukim and Pines Of Nowhere) is doing a new project with one of the guys from The Chrome Cranks, why wouldn’t I give it a listen? “Bomb Train Blues” is no-nonsense fun, stomping mud-holes with a routine three-note progression, spazzy vocals, budget-rock keyboards, and stop-starts that provide plenty of space for Turco’s meaty drum rolls. “We’re Gone” is more on the Y2K sass-rock end of things, like Le Shok at the end of a long night with a slobbering party-dude replacing Hot Rod Todd on the mic. Nothing life-changing happening here, just a stupid good time from some experienced underground rockers doing things they’ve more or less already been doing for years, which is perfectly fine by me.

BC 35 Volume Two compilation LP & 7″ (Bronson Recordings)
Cool idea here: as Martin Bisi’s BC Studio turns 35, a large group of underground NYC lifers and friends get together in groupings (both random and predetermined) to record new material at the studio for this celebratory compilation. It’s a long list of attendees, featuring ex- and current members of Art Gray Noizz Quintet, Live Skull, Blind Idiot God, Swans, Cop Shoot Cop and Alice Donut, not to mention no-wave’s biggest sweetheart himself, Bob Bert. As one might imagine, the sounds (and songwriting) vary significantly, to include aggressive post-hardcore, funky no-wave, sample-laden noise, bluesy rock and some deviant lounge-jazz (while Lydia Lunch doesn’t appear here, her spirit is felt). It’s certainly an older crowd of musicians, which is why I’m sometimes surprised that certain tracks remind me of Explosions In The Sky or Protomartyr or Uniform or hell, even Linkin Park, but shame on me for thinking the middle-aged can’t rock like millennials. I enjoy that a smattering of applause follows many of these songs, as I can’t help but envision the studio packed with ’80s and ’90s indie-rock luminaries hanging out and cheering each other on, no pressure to do anything besides have a good time and reconnect. Although there aren’t any standalone cuts that stuck out to me as particularly impressive or noteworthy, the convivial spirit and creative energy is palpable throughout BC 35, and I’m glad to have had the chance to listen in.