Reviews – June 2017

Actress AZD 2xLP (Ninja Tune)
Actress has been a Yellow Green Red favorite for essentially both of our existences, so how could I resist picking up this new album in its fancy-edition silver bag? (Turns out this wasn’t the best idea, as it comes with a big sticky flap that greatly inhibits the ability to remove the LPs from the packaging, but alas.) Actress’s last one, Ghettoville, seemed to slowly crumble and decay until there was nothing but debris on the ground and dust in the air, so as I prepped myself for AZD‘s barely-there, beatless wasteland, it came as a bit of a relief to hear Actress up to his old tricks, pairing intricate and microscopic tones with hallucinogenic beats, as though you are at once both up-close and in the distance. AZD is distinct in that vocals are more prominent, if usually in the form of repetitive samples (including the great Rammellzee), but something like “Untitled 7” is classic Actress, even as his style’s imitators continue to increase in number. The biggest surprise for me is the presence of a straightforward club hit, “X22RME”, which has the smoothest little synth hook this side of Galcher Lustwerk, and debuted with a gorgeous music video that re-imagines major league sports as a Rei Kawakubo exhibition. Praise be to download cards, as I’ve been blasting AZD in slightly-diminished digital Bluetooth resolution while I stare longingly at the LPs trapped inside their unripped silver bag, just as Actress would want it I’m sure.

Body Four Body Four LP (Brunette Editions)
Body Four is the name John Roberts has chosen for this suite of unique electronic explorations, both artist and title, and I’m excited to tell you about it! I wish I knew what sort of gear Roberts is using here, but it’s clearly quite specific and unusual… sounds like an electrified cello (?) either struck with mallets or plucked with fingers, then played back in reverse and occasionally aided by vocals that seem to undergo the same process. It shares the intimate feel (and odd pursuit of melody) as much of Arthur Russell’s solo work, but in the context of modern industrial techno. Maybe if Vessel tried to remix Arthur Russell with his homemade gear, it’d come out like this. There are fourteen “tracks” here, although most are under two minutes (and some under a minute), and they act more like fancy little sketches and curious ideas than fully sculpted tracks. I think this is probably the best way for Roberts to deliver them, though, as the sounds themselves are so engaging and lush and bizarre, I kinda just want to witness his investigation of them, as opposed to “proper” tracks that were designed with much deliberation. One of the most pleasant and sonically-unique records I’ve heard so far this year, no doubt.

Bruce Before You Sleep / In Line / Sweat 12″ (Hemlock Recordings)
Not trying to brag, but I’m fairly confident that this website has one of the largest depositories of Bruce reviews on the web. If Bruce called me up and asked me to run his personal archive, I would book the first flight over, I’ll tell you that! This new 12″ is his first for 2017, and it favors the abstract, pushing deeper into unknown territory, where dancing is a foreign concept and the very chemical makeup of the atmosphere is in question. “Before You Sleep” greets you with a mechanical heartbeat, a constant force in a track that utilizes neon rain, invisible puffs of parfum and drifting keys to invoke a strange sensuality. “In Line” picks up the energy with a hotstepping Hessle-ish percussive motif, and “Sweat” sounds like the basic structure of an Adam X track that is mercilessly bullied by Terminators, which of course is one of Bruce’s recurring production techniques. Each track comes in under five minutes, with the full understanding that our time is precious and nothing less than the best will do. Here’s hoping for another great year, Bruce!

Charly Bliss Guppy LP (Barsuk)
Your pop-punk record of the summer has arrived, folks! It’s right here care of Brooklyn’s Charly Bliss, a band whose name I’ve seen around here and there but never thought twice about (like many of you, I’m not particularly enticed by the idea of “Brooklyn pop-punk”). It’s their debut full-length, and I truly cannot recall the last time a pop-punk album blew me away like Guppy – probably the Exploding Hearts’ Guitar Romantic some fifteen years ago? Charly Bliss cherry-pick from a who’s who of pop-punk / emo / alt-grunge: there’s substantial doses of Weezer, Fallout Boy, The Strokes, Reggie & The Full Effect, Paramore, New Found Glory and Veruca Salt in the mix (alongside lower-tier personal faves like The Rentals and The Stereo). It’s by no means a list of underground obscurities, and Charly Bliss certainly isn’t the first group to find such sonic inspiration, but few have distilled the form to this extremely palatable end, a zone in which Charly Bliss are peerless as far as I’m concerned. Five songs per side, and each one is packed with at least two award-winning hooks, thanks in no small part to the outrageously high-pitched voice of Eva Hendricks, whose first line in “Percolator” demands a little getting used to (in the same way that one might have to re-adjust their personal sensory parameters upon tasting ice cream for the very first time). Her lyrics are hilarious and captivating, her voice is golden, and I just keep flipping it over and over. Truly having difficulty describing how much I love this record, and I don’t care if that’s weird!

C.H.E.W. Demo 7″ (Neck Chop)
Here’s a pointless tidbit that I enjoy ruminating upon: C.H.E.W used to go by “Chew”, but now it’s an acronym, albeit one that doesn’t actually stand for anything. Can you still say “Chew” or do they go by “see aitch eee double-you”? I hereby dub them Chicago’s Hardest Ear Wrestlers, as they play a scrappy, writhing form of hardcore-punk, and hail from Chicago. Neck Chop is a big proponent of pressing demos to wax, a move of which I’m often wary, but these seven tracks work nicely as a 7″ EP. They definitely have that modern sound, rooted in classic American hardcore (Black Flag, Die Kreuzen and Necros are evident) with a touch of the Swedish d-beat chug and the seedy sense of mischief that is rife in Toxic State’s back catalog. The vocalist rarely wavers from an avian screech, maintaining her intensity through straightforward blasts and the intricately twisting riffs of “Fine Tuning” as though no force can move her. Overall, I’d rate them on the plus side of average, but it’s just a demo after all. Only time will tell if C.H.E.W. go big league.

Civilized Chopping Block LP (Youth Attack)
Youth Attack’s evolution has been an interesting one, often honing in on particular regional scenes, such as Boston or the Midwest. Now they’re the official hub for Denver hardcore, a city with a less-celebrated (and less existent?) history of hardcore-punk, and Civilized’s debut album is fresh for 2017. I have to say, I’m really feeling it! It’s far more traditional straight-edge-sounding than I would expect Youth Attack to deliver, but Civilized push the style into an uncomfortable mess, much to my delight. Normally I can’t stand any group with Ray Cappo-esque vocals (I’m looking at you, Committed and Redemption 87), but vocalist Zach Reini sounds more like he’s choking Cappo out, frothy spit flying in every direction, with a touch of whoever sang for ’90s politi-crust dollar-binners Civil Disobedience (highly underrated!). The music structurally comes from Youth Of Today, Turning Point and Project X, but they clearly saw Hoax and Cult Ritual when they came through on tour years ago, and they apply that same sort of unhinged menace and tangled noise to their under-a-minute blasts. I wish the cover was a pencil sketch of two faceless edgemen in cloak-like hoodies high-fiving while grinding a meth lab with their Powell-Peraltas, but Youth Attack insists on being artsy-cool, even when presenting youthful American hardcore.

Egyptrixx Pure, Beyond Reproach 2xLP (Halocline Trance)
My expectations were high for Egyptrixx’s fourth full-length – the Toronto-based producer seemed to figure something out with 2013’s A/B Til Infinity and 2015’s Transfer Of Energy [Feelings Of Power] built upon it masterfully. Pure, Beyond Reproach is a sick title, the sort of thing you’d expect some alien god to utter before boring a hole through Earth with his starship blaster, and while it certainly still sounds like the Egyptrixx I know and love, it hasn’t connected with me in the same fashion as his last two. Before, it always felt like Egyptrixx was a club DJ who succumbed to the pull of hyper-modern sound design as a form of social commentary, as though he was trying to say “if my music can sound like this, it should be clear that sentient technology will soon be waging war on humanity and we’re screwed” while making a room full of drunk people dance. Now, Egyptrixx is pretty firmly in the “avant-garde sound artist” camp, going further into the intricate software processes that morph images of polished chrome and 3D-printed latex organisms into their corresponding sounds. It’s still cool, and I bet if I listened to this album a hundred times all of its contours and babbling water samples and sharp metallic pings would really resonate with me, but for where I’m at now, it plays out more as a collection of highly-advanced sound architecture: interesting to peer into but ultimately kind of hollow.

Grace Sings Sludge Life With Dick LP (Empty Cellar)
I sincerely hope that anyone who reads this website on a semi-frequent basis would be just as interested in checking out an artist named “Grace Sings Sludge” doing an album called Life With Dick as I was. It just lures you in! I couldn’t help but assume I was in for some actual sludge, just one woman on stage doing her best to sound like Cattlepress and Seven Foot Spleen, but in actuality her music is far more tender. She’s Grace Cooper, who previously played in The Sandwitches and The Fresh & Onlys, two bands I mostly avoided, writing them off as hookless, trendy hippie-garage of the late ’00s (I can be unreasonably cruel sometimes, just like anyone else). Grace Sings Sludge isn’t that either, but rather solo, confessional-style singing and guitar. A track like “Runaway (Bad Timing)” comes with a strong whiff of Cat Power, but other tracks are less tense and more tender, as if Meg Baird covered Terry Manning and classed it up in the process. There’s no shortage of this style going on out there: vaguely precious, sorta haunted, rainy-day, acoustic bedroom troubadours, but there’s something about Grace Sings Sludge that is undeniably captivating and intriguing… it starts with the name and goes from there.

Killerkume Industrial Sunbath LP (Gaffer / DDT / Cosmic Tentacles / Politburó Recording Fiasco)
The album’s called Industrial Sunbath, the band is from Bilbao, and the only two artists referenced in their one-sheet are Throbbing Gristle and Peter Brötzmann, so it sounds like we’ve got a fierce and harsh squealer of a record on our hands, right? My hopes were high, and sadly, quickly snuffed when I put on Industrial Sunbath only to learn Killerkume are a guitar / drums duo that basically play standard-issue math-rock with long stretches of predictable improvisation. I mean, it’s fine and all, they’ve definitely got some chops, but don’t have me thinking you sound like Esplendor Geometrico on acid only to sound like a band that would open for Oxes in 2002 and be the least memorable part of the show, please. I might be more into it if they really flipped their The Champs-style rock grooves into overdrive, or if there was some level of Chris Corsano / Bill Orcutt wizardry going on during their unstructured passages, but neither aspect captivates. The improv in particular strikes me as rote, which is a bummer. It’s also possible that I simply have a thing against records that more than three labels joined up to release, Evil Moisture / Cock ESP split 5″ notwithstanding.

Hermann Kopp Cantos Y Llantos 7″ (Galakthorrö)
Who can resist a trip into the Weird World of Hermann Kopp, perennial outsider of pretty much any music scene, the Galakthorrö label included. This new four-track EP is quite satisfying, as is all the Kopp I’ve heard, in that it transports me to foreign places rich with a sense of dangerous and inexplicable phenomena. These four tracks take us from Kopp’s native Germany to an unidentified Spanish-speaking territory, where industrial drumming, foreboding strings and romantic pianos gather under his stern tutelage. These songs feel stolen from a week-long Hermann Nitsch play, or perhaps deep within a cave that Indiana Jones would haplessly stumble upon, their meaning clouded with a sense of occult magic. My Spanish is certainly rusty, but Kopp seems to be invoking death and demons through these tracks; my personal favorite is “El Odio”, which pulls a mournful violin through some backwards processing, the sort of thing you might expect to see Mr. and Mrs. Arafna listening to if they lived in Westworld. Long may Herr Kopp thrive.

Kyo I Musik LP (Posh Isolation)
Kyo wasted no time in following their debut LP Aktuel Musik with I Musik, and I was ready and willing to snag it, myself being a big fan of their “Musik”. Their debut felt like a curious new breeze, filled with traditional orchestral instrumentation, varied sampling and a strong sense of emotional investment. I Musik follows that same path but moves further into a sonic territory that has me envisioning the sprawling sadness of capitalism (maybe it’s just that time of year). The clustered, spiral stairs on the cover are like a window into I Musik, an apt soundtrack for shopping malls after midnight, or any large hub of human consumption emptied and dark, sad and slightly beautiful. Sorry if I’m getting too esoteric here, but Kyo really put me in that zone, as their hovering electronics, interwoven field recordings, loose-limbed percussion and melodic interventions all speak to visual imagery, things of majestic beauty that are either dying or decayed. One track relays a woman’s voice intoning buzz words in a random sequence, not unlike Heatsick’s “Re-Engineering” or much of James Ferraro’s catalog, and another intersperses short bursts of airhorn over an otherwise tender moment, recalling one of Vic Berger’s fantastic political video edits. I’ve examined I Musik up close and from afar, and no matter what the angle it’s a joy to behold.

Lewd Baron Small Sips LP (Weiner Shirt)
What was it, Action Comics #37 where Superman first defeated the Lewd Baron? I’m just playing, they’re a Richmond punk band and I bet they also have something to do with the Weiner Shirt label… just a hunch. Anyway, they play a form of heavy post-punk with strong ’90s noise-rock influences (just influences, not the full scope of their sound). They have bouncy, alternating-note riffs not unlike KARP, just played less forcefully, with the swing of Drive Like Jehu applied to basement-punk optics and the sense that the band is willing to follow any strange thought that might enter their brain (see “Plugfancier”, which feels like one of those avant-garde Dry Rot songs paired with Fucked Up circa Hidden World). Lewd Baron definitely have some interesting ideas of their own, but for my money, they bog them down a bit with the same consistent mid-paced tempo and songs that are either too long or too many. All three members sing, maybe they accidentally let the drummer write some of the songs too? Classic mistake.

Lugweight Yesterday LP (Circle Box / Forcefield)
The trippy neon nonsense floating over an infinite checkerboard that adorns Lugweight’s Yesterday was giving me strong Daniel Lopatin vibes – if I hadn’t noticed that the only credited instrumentation was guitars, vocals and electronics, I would’ve expected some sort of mutated R&B nostalgia thing. But nope, Lugweight genuflects deeply at the altar of the riff, taking Earth’s 2 as Yesterday‘s starting point and, well, kind of its endpoint, too. The guitars take center stage, like an oil spill extending past the horizon, imposing its stoner-friendly grooves for minutes on end. At times, the riffs give way to the imposing weight of drone, but there’s usually some sort of rhythmic form at work, although often outpaced by the drowsiest of turtles. Vocals occasionally mutter through, providing some muddled commentary as the guitars incessantly churn. It’s not a dynamic album, for the most part, as you can drop the needle on any given groove and a thick, meaty guitar chord will surely be ringing. Chances are, if you’re a fan of heavy guitar droning you’ve probably heard this sort of thing before, but you probably also want more of it, which Lugweight happily provides. And if you don’t like it, well, go run a 5K or something, what are you doing here in the first place?

Macho Boys Macho Boys LP (Neck Chop)
Now serving leopard-print, studs n’ spikes hardcore-punk care of Portland, OR’s Macho Boys, who I can assure you are not actually macho boys. They’re pissed off and gonna tell you all about it, with music that recalls ’90s crust-punk like Assrash and ’90s snot-punk like FYP in equal measure, delivered with a crisp amateurism. They are all quite capable players, but something about the general simplicity of songwriting I find highly appealing; I’ve heard it all before and can easily tell where each song is heading, but there’s a soothing comfort in that. The lyrics are mostly from a misandrist-femme point of view (who can argue with that), although there’s one song on here called “Stone Cold” that is an ode to none other than Steve Austin himself. It’s unexpected and impressive, the detail with which vocalist Tekiah Elzey espouses her love for the Texas Rattlesnake: “Shotgun a Steveweiser / And prepare for a pile driver!” she shouts, to which I reply “Aww hell yeah!”, in hopes that she doesn’t stomp a mud hole out of me.

Marbled Eye EP 2 7″ (Melters / Digital Regress)
Marbled Eye are a new-ish punk group out of Oakland, and the immediate stamp of Melters’ approval raised my brows. They’ve got a pretty distinct vibe, if not entirely their own: they play a rigid, minimal form of post-punk, specifically calling to mind Institute, later Ceremony and Crisis. The drummer is almost always keeping time with the floor tom instead of the hi-hat, the guitars are chord-averse and frequently employ extended passages of the same note, and the vocalists (two guys share duties) sound like they’re reading from Lou Reed’s autobiography to their creative-writing class, honing in on a coolly disaffected tone. It’s a very specific musical template, and if there were dozens of bands going in this direction (which there very well might end up being) I’d probably find it a little wearying, but from my vantage point there aren’t too many, and I enjoy them all, Marbled Eye included. Maybe it’s just easy to write interesting, cool songs in this style, or maybe Marbled Eye are particularly talented, too. Plus, is their band name a bread pun? Can’t go wrong with that.

Mattin Songbook #6 LP (Munster / Insulin Addicted / Crudités Tapes)
Who would’ve thought the world would one day be treated to six of Mattin’s “songbooks”? Not me! Everyone’s favorite anti-music provocateur is constantly at it, and I rate this new one on the higher side of his impressively thick discography. The concept here (and for previous “Songbooks”) is that Mattin gathers a few musicians and artists and creates music with them in a severely limited time frame, with some abstract idea guiding the project. (In this case, the lyrics were “used as score”.) Mattin’s ideas are often choked-out by the weight of their conceptualization, but Songbook #6 is a record I’ve honestly wanted to listen to more than once, so I’ll consider it a success. There’s a lot of open space here, as is often the case, but the varied instruments find ways to interject themselves in the proceedings – sometimes it sounds like the players are merely plugging and unplugging their gear, but on certain tracks, like opener “Die Form, Die Sich Selbst Formt”, the tension is nail-biting. Mattin manically screams his words throughout, often with the aid of AutoTune (why don’t more screamers use AutoTune?), and I’m reminded of something Einstürzende Neubauten or Die Tödliche Doris would have discarded on the studio floor and later gathered for a retrospective boxset. I’d say Mattin should try relaxing for a minute, but I’m pretty sure that would result in three LPs filled with violently-edited field recordings of him relaxing.

Moral Panic Moral Panic LP (Slovenly Recordings)
T-shirt check: in the live photo featured on the back cover of Moral Panic’s self-titled debut, the drummer’s sporting a Melvins tee, the guitarist is rocking a classic Negative Approach, and the bassist, I’m not entirely sure… could it be Cinecyde, a wild card? Between the shirts and the band name, I was expecting some by-the-books hardcore, but they’re actually a garage-punk band, and one of fine caliber at that. Throughout, I’m reminded of Video out of Austin, TX, in the way that Moral Panic take classic garage-punk and Killed By Death hooks as their foundation and create something thrilling and vital with it, rather than a studied re-enactment or simply going through the motions to occupy their spare time. Maybe it’s the speed of their songs: they’re never so fast as to become a messy blur, but the energy never lags either. I can’t help but assume that although Moral Panic is a new group, these three dudes have spent years honing their chops, both songwriting and performance, in other bands. They’re from Brooklyn, and no one is really from Brooklyn these days, so I’m fairly confident in my guess. However they arrived there, it’s some of the freshest, best garage-punk I’ve heard in a bit!

Mozart Nasty 7″ (Iron Lung)
Originally, I thought I saw Nasty advertised as a 7″ LP, and I think that odd misprint may in fact be correct – there’s enough ferocious punkness to cover twelve inches slammed onto these seven. Mozart seek chaos in their music, brandishing their lack of finesse with the pride that tech-metal groups show toward their abundance. Opener “LKNB” is the wake-up call, a hive of slams and feedback as vocalist Marissa Magic does her best “alleycat in heat” imitation, squealing like she’s got a particularly unruly litter on the way. I’m reminded of Within’s fantastic debut 1994 EP or Coleman’s 7″ on Heliotrope – records that seemed to come from the emo scene, oddly enough, but obliterated any and all sonic boundaries by sheer physical force and commitment to the form. Of course, Mozart are probably just trying to copy Discharge and Tožibabe, but the end result is a fantastic miss into a territory uniquely their own, a sound far lumpier than anything Lumpy Records would dare to engage with. Love the cover too, each individualized with a black “blob”, looking like something you’d find on Pettibon’s bathroom floor. Not sure what’s up with the title, though – maybe it’s a show of solidarity with Hillary? Just playin’!

Mutual Jerk Mutual Jerk 7″ (State Laughter)
I’m consistently impressed by the breadth of Atlanta’s underground rock scene… it’s like the Austin, TX of the South! There are all those cool Scavenger Of Death-related hardcore groups, a rich history of garage-rock, and bands like Mutual Jerk who exist outside of those firm boundaries. They’re definitely punk, but in the way that certain bands pushed back on hardcore’s stylistic limitations by the mid-’80s, going simultaneously mellower and more unhinged than your average 1-2-3-4 thrash outfit. I’m getting a big whiff of No Trend’s perennial classic “Teen Love” on Mutual Jerk’s “He’s Harmless”, the a-side cut: nagging bass-line, moody and inconsistent guitar, and a vocalist angrily reading his term paper / suicide note very much in the way of No Trend’s Jeff Mentges. I almost expected it to be an outlier, with two traditional punk tracks on the flip, but they really take the “Teen Love” aesthetic and flesh it out over the remaining two cuts, somewhere between the shaky gallop of The Fall and like-minded contemporaries US Weekly. I am a sucker for moody post-punk that’s more punk than post with a vocalist seemingly unaware that his saliva-laced soliloquies are receiving musical accompaniment, so I’m giving Mutual Jerk’s vinyl debut a firm thumbs up.

Nag False Anxiety / imsosmall 7″ (Total Punk)
A good part of me was hoping that this Nag 7″ was in fact a solo record from one of my favorite members of The Door & The Window (wouldn’t that be something!), but Nag are in fact yet another fantastic hardcore-punk group out of Atlanta. They’re debuting on Total Punk, an honor that could easily inspire jealousy in their peers, but it’s rightfully earned with these two menacing tracks. “False Anxiety” blares forward with a snaky bassline, bloodshot vocal delivery and a tense rhythm that has me thinking of the speed and control shown by local peers such as Predator and GG King. “imsosmall” cools things off with a zombie march before inexplicably entering into a black-metal death race. Didn’t GG King work black metal aesthetics into his garage-punk too? What’s up with these guys? It takes a little adjusting to, although the power with which the drummer delivers his blasts is enough to win me over. Thankfully, the vocalist maintains his glazed-over sneer, anchoring Nag in the corner of a smoke-filled bar rather than a frostbitten necroforest. I hope to hear more.

Neutral Neutral 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
Somehow I didn’t see this coming, but a Neutral EP on the I Dischi Del Barone label makes perfect sense: band and label seem to be friends who live in close proximity, and if there’s one group that exemplifies the anti-song righteousness of I Dischi, it’s Neutral. Needless to say, I was psyched to obtain a copy, and it delivers just the sort of seething, crumbly, hypnotic and occasionally-riffy noise of which I know Neutral to be fine vendors. “A – B – C” is the a-side track, a slow dissolution of guitar strings and imprecise noise that eventually finds live drums to carry it out to sea, right as Sophie Herner whispers Swedish into a sarcophagus. “2 – 0 – 1 – 6” opens the flip with a quick chemical rinse, leading into a “cover” of Le Forte Four, a LAFMS-affiliated group clearly in line with Neutral’s sonic ethos, and easily the goofiest ditty in Neutral’s catalog to date. Can you believe Neutral came all the way to the US just to play two shows in New York last year? I still haven’t forgiven them for not properly touring, but this 7″ is a reasonable way to start making amends.

No Faith Forced Subservience LP (Iron Lung)
Huge, huge missed opportunity here for No Faith to title their second LP More. Would’ve been perfect! That said, I understand that humor doesn’t often factor into No Faith’s brutal music and worldview, and Forced Subservience is an apt setting – the music feels like it’s one decade away from gracing a Cry Now, Cry Later compilation and the title is equally fitting. They’re a power-violence quartet from Amherst, MA, and they do the genre right with their thick, molten riffs, often segmented into doomy dirges that snap into breakneck blasts with surgical precision – I’m thinking of Despise You, Napalm Death and, well, Iron Lung when I listen to this record. No Faith’s uniqueness comes out in the form of their power-electronics interludes and additions; they’re deployed not in the squealing, car-alarm style of Suppression (at least not usually), but the bleak, crumbly, bass-heavy realms of Ramleh or Con Dom. I could almost do for a bit more of their noise, as the balance is like 80% grindcore / 20% noise, and the instrumental / instrument-less passages they have here are quite enjoyable, not merely filler between grind blasts. If you’re looking to buy one power-violence album this year…

Open City Open City LP (no label)
As much as I love the idea of four people who barely know how to plug in their instruments wailing away at hardcore-punk, there’s something to be said for those who have decades of practice under their belts too, like the various characters that comprise Open City, one of Philadelphia’s newest hardcore groups. To the myriad followers of PunkNews.Org, Open City is most notable as Dan Yemin’s newest project, he of Lifetime, Kid Dynamite, Paint It Black, etc., and while his presence is overwhelmingly evident in the songwriting, Open City follow a different lineage of hardcore thought. Their sound is strongly beholden to the sincere, dare-I-say-emo hardcore of the mid-’90s – they’re like a refined, well-oiled take on John Henry West and Merel, bold and passionate hardcore that speaks its concerns clearly and directly. I love a lot of that stuff, but Open City aren’t merely re-enacting, as Yemin’ sonic stamp remains distinct – the melodic breakdown of “Black Veils” carries the same uplifting sway of classic Lifetime, and the central riffs of “Hell Hath No Fury” and “On The Spit” could’ve certainly been held over from Kid Dynamite’s songbook. It serves Open City well, paying homage to the fury of their youth while utilizing the talent and insight they’ve since gathered.

Race Car B.Y.O.G.K. 7″ (Neck Chop)
The group is Race Car, and the acronym of their EP title stands for “Build Your Own Go Kart”. Hmm… okay! Not sure I understand where the auto motif is coming from, but at least it’s unusual, and the raucous, semi-synthetic sounds of Race Car are very nice indeed. Minor internet sleuthing has determined they’re from California, but they certainly have a touch of that weird NWI punk vibe, but only a touch – they use a drum machine in a ’90s way, not an early synth-punk way. Race Car sounds like an upbeat, early punk band surrounded by video games, car alarms and pagers all going off simultaneously. Someone jams hard punk riffs on their guitar and a vocalist chirps away from inside his reverb tank (an effect that has great similarity to the Abandos’ earliest offerings). I’m even reminded of Japanese Devo-worshippers Polysics at certain times, in the sense that there is a joyous form of sensory overload at play, but it doesn’t dominate the music or hinder the listening experience. It’s not an entirely foreign sound in 2017, but Race Car attack it with zeal – if there’s a better go-kart-themed punk record released this year I certainly want to hear it.

Roht Roht 7″ (Iron Lung)
Noise-driven Icelandic hardcore-punk: who could find fault with this? Roht are from Reykjavik, and I don’t know if they found Iron Lung or vice versa, but it’s a proper international accord. Immediately, Roht’s feedback is a constant presence, delivered somewhere between Confuse and Cult Ritual, to the point where they don’t even need to be playing their songs to singe your nose hairs – the brief moment of static that announces each song’s arrival is potent enough as is. At least in spirit, they seem to share the youthfully nihilistic, we-don’t-want-friends hardcore style of Sexdrome and the aforementioned Cult Ritual, but Roht’s songwriting is far more primitive. The drummer offers zero in the way of sick fills or style, he simply pounds the bare necessities while the guitar and bass slam appropriately along, a hive of noise expands like vape smoke and the vocalist shouts from what seems to be the far end of a warehouse’s HVAC duct. They offer fast, slow and mid-tempo tracks here, and while an album of music this uniformly grating might even test the patience of a freak like me, this six-song EP hits the spot.

Static Eyes The Thaw 7″ (Kitschy Manitou)
I must’ve listened to at least a dozen “____ Eyes” bands over the past few years, not to mention the countless skulls on record covers I’ve witnessed, to the point where I have to physically hold and stare directly into this Static Eyes 7″ if I want any hope of remembering it. It’s a pretty cool-looking skull at least, and their time-tested garage-punk does the trick just fine – I’m reminded of The Hunches and The Piranhas, fiery garage-rock bands that push their tempos into speedy punk and feature a vocalist who yowls as if someone just lit his coattails on fire. That said, nothing about these three songs speaks to any sense of originality or new spin on the form, but I wouldn’t expect positive results from anyone really messing with the formula too much anyway. I guess you just have to write unforgettable songs if you want to stand out, which is undoubtedly harder and harder to do as the genre is now old enough to receive AARP mailings. Of course, this is based on the assumption that Static Eyes wish to be one of the greats and not just another good band; there is absolutely nothing wrong with amusing yourself and your friends by playing in a band that sounds just like this.

Wolvon Ease. LP (De Graanrepubliek / Subroutine)
A bearded Dutch trio playing thoughtful and colorful post-punk emo? Sure, why not! Ease. is Wolvon’s second album, and I can get into their take on what I believe to be a fairly American form of underground rock: melodic and shoegazy emo-rock. When I say emo, I’m referring to its pre-mainstream-pop mid-’90s version: bands like The Van Pelt and The Jazz June, with the affected textures of Sonic Youth to fill out the sound (particularly notable as the final mix pushes the vocals way below, often barely audible in the din). When they get particularly energetic, I’m reminded of early alt-rock ala Foo Fighters or Hum, perhaps without the commercial aspirations. One could easily file it as “sensitive-guy” music, particularly as the vocalist’s tone takes on a Mark Kozelek-ish warmth while unobstructed by the music, and I get the feeling that Wolvon wouldn’t be overly bummed out if this were the case. They are certainly guys, after all, and if their music can console other melancholic guys in times of distress or confusion, who am I to get in the way.

Xetas The Tower LP (12XU)
If I were challenged to pick a team on some sort of indie-rock Survivor show (please let this never actually exist), Xetas would be one of my top choices – they’re a versatile, highly-capable rock group with a high level of energy and a sense of authentic passion. This is their second album, and as far as I’m concerned they’re really hitting their stride here. They’ve got the gruff melodic feel of Dillinger Four and The Marked Men, with a similar sense of the magnanimity those bands carry, as if they aren’t satisfied unless everyone in the room is having a good time. They also take things to a rougher degree, calling to mind pre-bongos-and-operatic-choir Fucked Up in the way these songs seem to leave scars upon both vocal cords and fingertips. They aren’t afraid to show “maturity” either, in the tense build of “The Break”, just waiting to soundtrack a particularly grueling Degrassi breakup. I feel like so many bands are trying to accomplish this sort of sound and fall short, probably because it’s deceptively difficult to play modern-sounding anthemic and melodic punk rock and have it sound fresh and unique – there are so many tempting motions that others have gone through countless times before. Xetas, however, wiped all the dust off and are ready to become someone’s favorite band, if not your life.

Absolutely Wino compilation 2xLP (Wah Wah Wino)
The compilation album’s ability to serve as scene document has been crucial to underground music, and it’s one that I’ve always cherished, from Not So Quiet On The Western Front to No New York and countless others. Absolutely Wino takes the temperature of the mysterious Irish scene surrounding Morgan Buckley and friends, and let me tell you, it’s scorching hot! I don’t particularly believe that half of the pseudonyms and aliases (and aliases of pseudonyms) credited here are actually other people and not just Morgan Buckley, Davy Kehoe and Olmo Devin, but who cares? The world they create with their music is fascinating and spirited; it’s rich with the unending quest for freedom found in experimental noise but the studied technique and musicality found within labels like Brain and CTI. Here you get two LPs full of impossible-to-categorize funk, house, krautrock, techno and electro, with a list of instrumentation longer than my arm, and it’s absolutely entrancing. Opener “7000 Years” by Gombeen & Doygen is an instant favorite (it’s like a post-punk take on Ricardo Villalobos’ “What You Say Is More Than I Can Say”), as is the chaotic swing of Wino Wagon’s “Paco’s Ode” and Morgan & Davy’s “Craudrock” (which gives me heavy Rastakraut Pasta feelings), but once I put this comp on I invariably listen to the whole thing – it’s a glorious achievement to behold.

Reviews – May 2017

Acrylics Despair / Reassurance 7″ (Iron Lung)
Acrylics’ debut tape-turned-12″ came through here not too long ago and I thought it was good-not-great hardcore-leaning noise-rock, so I was pleased to see the Southern Californian group make the jump into Iron Lung’s domain, a label I greatly appreciate and respect. Two songs here, in and out quicker than your microwavable burrito, and I can see why Iron Lung took a shine to these young men, as the songs they’re offering fit right in: spastic, tough and a little weird. “Despair” sounds like a mosh breakdown Septic Death would’ve considered before it flips into double-time hardcore action. “Reassurance”, on the other hand, is pure speed, fitting snugly next to NASA Space Universe and Double Negative in the way that it has the base-level feel of Die Kreuzen but the guitars insist on flailing in all directions at once, with unexpected tone (it’s not just buzz-saw distortion) and the song’s structure jumping all over the place, ending with another sideways mosh pattern. Rumor has it that Acrylics are dreadfully loud live, and if they’re playing songs like this, it’s a winning combination to be sure.

Angry Skeletons Angry Skeletons 7″ (no label)
I’m quick to bemoan the many ways in which punk and hardcore bands are formulaic or generic, but I don’t want to give off the impression that it’s invariably a negative trait. Look at Copenhagen’s Angry Skeletons, for instance: their band name has me wondering how it wasn’t already taken a dozen times over, but it’s almost so overly generic as to be skipped over, a sort of generic sweet-spot. Musically, while the rest of the Copenhagen underground is trading in their black-metal post-punk tapes for experimental techno 12″s, Angry Skeletons sound like a mix of The Sex Pistols and The Vines, with pleasingly basic Chuck Berry riffs and the whiny sneer to match. Angry Skeletons are so perfectly out of step with the current punk trends that their lack of distinctiveness is what ends up making them so distinctive, brandishing their proudly-rote garage-punk without a care in the world. I’m not sure I’ll end up listening to this self-released 7″ all that much (although it’s an enjoyable spin when I do), but I’m glad to see three young punk dudes acting on their own behalf without concern for underground trends, follows or likes.

David Arvedon & The Psychopaths The White Album 2xLP (Mighty Mouth)
Do you like chocolate chip cookies? Here, eat 70 of them. I feel like that’s the MO of the Mighty Mouth / Last Laugh / Almost Ready label empire: not just digging up a moderate selection of cool garage, punk or associated obscurities (both old and new), but making sure every last inch of material is fully excavated and pressed to vinyl. Take the not-quite-a-household-name of David Arvedon, for example: The White Album follows three LP-sized volumes of material recently issued by Mighty Mouth. That’s five LPs total – I don’t even need to own five Black Sabbath albums, let’s be real! Perhaps pressing records can be just as severe an addiction as collecting them. I get the impression this double album is recently recorded and not an unearthed artifact from decades prior, and it’s right on par with those other albums, measurable time be damned. Arvedon is a quirky, kooky singer-songwriter who clearly savors bubblegum pop, acid-fried garage and proto-punk grooves, giving it all a Zappa-esque nose tweak and using phrases like “that would be peachy fine” in a song about getting turned down for a date. It’s pretty entertaining for the most part, so long as you’re not too uptight about corny goofball rock – I can’t help but picture the Muppet band playing these songs. I just wanna meet the freaks who need five LPs of this stuff!

Batu Murmur EP 12″ (Timedance)
Timedance is a quality spot for modern British techno practice, a space for dudes like Lurka (and personal favorite Bruce) to drop all sorts of forward-thinking club music engineered for professional system playback. Batu has been kicking around a bit, so I figured Murmur would be a nice way to check in on both camps. The title track holds down the a-side with a glorious set of thumps: morse code is transformed into dance-floor artillery here, a nervous and skittery track with a great set of alien drums adding a melodic element to the workout. “Groundwork” opens the flip, violently wobbling as the bass kick leaves a sinkhole deep enough to claim a Honda Civic, while “Whisper”, the longest cut here, slowly teases the beat with a mighty donk as hats and synths chop above like a helicopter awaiting lift off. Batu really has the knack for crafting music that feels paradoxically dense and light, in motion and paused in stasis… it’s a strange and sublime sensation. If I had the slightest clue how to make my own music like this, I’d be doing it round the clock, I swear to you.

Stefan Christensen Open Day 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
Guitar-slinger Stefan Christensen returns after his Ever/Never 12″ EP with a single on the always intriguing I Dischi Del Barone label, a label for which I would’ve expected Christensen’s inherent tunefulness to immediately disqualify his participation. Shows what I know! Much like his recent 12″, Christensen fills this 7″ with five tracks of introspective guitar work; songs that sound like they’re yearning for a real band to find them, and instrumental passages that linger on the most basic appealing aspects of amplified, distorted guitar. I’m reminded of The Dead C at times, in the way that Christensen consistently approaches his guitar as if no one else is watching – I can’t help but feel like a voyeur to whatever his little recording setup is (it has to be little), bearing witness as he locks himself in a moody pattern of chords or flickers some magnetic tape over top. An easy-listening EP for individuals who favor difficult listening, to be sure.

Cube My Cube LP (Left Hand Path)
Cube’s debut album has been out for a few months now, and I’m kicking myself for not finding out about it sooner – or rather, I should be kicking anyone who was already jamming it and neglecting to tell me (I know you’re out there). It’s the solo project of Adam Keith, he also of the great San Francisco neo-no-wave unit Mansion, and Cube is even more to my liking: demented basement electronics that fuse the worlds of techno, noise, synth-punk and any suitable repulsive nonsense. Imagine if Beau Wanzer, Siobhan and other noisy American techno artists approached their beats from a distinctly punk point of view, or if the antagonistic synth experiments of early Severed Heads and Scattered Order gave subtle acknowledgement to the dynamics of a club, and you’re close to what My Cube is all about. It opens with a Harry Pussy-esque squall of distortion but doesn’t stay there too long, as there are thirteen tracks here and Cube never lets an idea linger too long. Cube’s music isn’t geared for locking into an extended, gritty groove anyway – his music feels more like “songs” than “tracks”, often replete with vocals, and are more befitting a Subterranean Records compilation circa 1983 than a L.I.E.S. 12″ (although my mind wouldn’t be blown if that were to happen in the future). I’m really quite amazed at the varied successes of My Cube, with nary a misstep or wasted moment, just a bunch of corrosive electro-punk noise that I’m so glad I’ve heard and get to share with you.

Dark Blue Start Of The World LP (12XU)
To a certain quantity of punks, John Sharkey (the third) will forever be defined as the destructive, improprietous leader of ’00s noise-rockers Clockcleaner, but his post-‘Cleaner projects Puerto Rico Flowers and Dark Blue have gone on for just as long, if not longer, than the entirety of Clockcleaner’s existence. He’s been steadily cleaning up his act ever since, or at least sharpening goofy insults and violence into cunning wit and cynical observation, and Dark Blue’s second album, Start Of The World, is his most tuneful offering yet. Dark Blue seemed to start as a rough concept, an attempt to answer the question “what would sad skinheads listen to on Valentine’s Day?”, and that basic template is richly developed here, easily the group’s most dynamic offering. Sure, the tempos are still slower than you’d expect anyone associated with punk to choose, and Sharkey continues to intone bitterness and disgust in his expressive baritone, but Start Of The World is full of a confidence and swagger that I haven’t heard from him since Clockcleaner wrote “Vomiting Mirrors”. Not only do Dark Blue get away with a piano ballad and a song that opts out of guitar entirely, they’re two of the hottest cuts on the record, tackling political misery-fatigue and human suffering with a nuance I didn’t know was possible, let alone from these seppos. And I swear, opener “Union Of Buffoons” is rich with the feel of Oasis, not just in guitar tone and vocal delivery but in its sense of conviction and unassailable pride. Fred Perry would be wise to start sending Dark Blue promotional garments while they still can.

Da-Sein Death Is The Most Certain Possibility LP (Galakthorrö)
Fresh for Spring, a new Galakthorrö batch! It’s irresistible as always, even if nothing new from Haus Arafna and November Növelet this time around, the bread and butter (or steak and red wine) of the label. I’ve been a fan of the label for a number of years now, probably reviewing everything they’ve released since, I don’t know, 2010, and yet if you were to play me Death Is The Most Certain Possibility sight unseen and tell me it’s actually a new album by November Növelet, I wouldn’t bat a shadowed eye. Go figure: when a hardcore label is run by a band and only puts out other bands that sounds like the label’s founding artist, it’s maddening, but I find Galakthorrö’s striking lack of sonic diversity to be something closer to aesthetic pureness, a trait to be praised. It doesn’t hurt that this Da-Sein album, judged alone, sounds great: the bookish, passive synths and pitter-patter drum programming of Fernando O. Paino lead the way for the morbid, near-catatonic vocals of Kas Visions (and just like November Növelet, Da-Sein is a tragically beautiful male / female duo). The music is soothing and alluring in its subtlety, each song operating with little more than a basic skeleton and the vital organs necessary to sustain a pulse, and they’re armed with a pile of romantic and morbid lyrics (a quick sample: “We are entering the ghost town / Only one step from the joy / And It’s staring at our souls / All the shadows of the past”). I’d say “buy or die!”, but there’s probably a good portion of Galakthorrö’s audience that are already dead, so I don’t want to discriminate.

Feral Ohms Feral Ohms LP (Silver Current)
Those still mourning the loss of Comets On Fire, I bring you hope: Ethan Miller’s Feral Ohms. Sure, Heron Oblivion are way cool, but they’re a far cry from the amphetamine-fueled guitar-rock explosion of Comets On Fire’s first couple albums, of which Miller, founding member of Comets (and also Heron Oblivion), brings us here. Feral Ohms’ self-titled debut album (not counting last year’s live record) is a callback to the earliest Comets On Fire days, where ZZ Top riffs were pushed to a High Rise state of mind, resulting in a raucous garage-rock sound (and burning wire smell). Feral Ohms are pure id, with every song boasting frantic guitar solos, kinetic drumming and Miller’s familiar yowl, somehow still in top form. The crusty haze (and live echo effects) of Comets On Fire has been scraped off, resulting in a leaner, more discernible recording, probably even more energetic and certainly tighter. “Teenage God Born To Die” is my personal favorite: a guitar typhoon, wild drum fills and a central riff that recalls The MC5 at their most incendiary combine forces with one of the coolest song titles I’ve heard in a while for an immediate rock gem. I think they’re gigging over on the East Coast this summer, I’ll see you there!

Gary Wrong Group Gary Wrong Group 2xLP (12XU)
I know that 12XU “gets it”, but this double-LP singles/EPs compilation of Gary Wrong Group proves that they really get it. I’ve been extolling the virtues of Gary Wrong Group on here for a while now (even did an interview a couple years back, check the links!), but his audience certainly seemed limited to basement-dwelling punk mutants, even though his music deserves the legitimacy that a label like 12XU inherently brings. Although I’m already familiar with the majority of the tracks here, listening to two LPs’ worth of Gary Wrong Group reveals a depth to their work that I didn’t realize was there, at least consciously – Gary Wrong Group travel from Hawkwind- and Chrome-based space exploration to the filthy carpeted basements of the Total Punk label and the synth-y grease of Quintron (which makes sense as Quintron is a frequent if not permanent member of the ‘Group). It all fits within the cult-y horror aesthetic of Gary Wrong Group, so that the eerie jangle of “Dream Smasher” and the inebriated shuffle of “Knights Of Misery” flow seamlessly into the Stick Men With Ray Guns-styled “Setting Fire To Your Loft”. I’ll pretend to understand what it’s like to not already have snatched up all the various Gary Wrong Group records and assume you’ll check this package out, lest I start admonishing at will.

Hawks No Cash Value LP (Rejuvenation / Learning Curve)
No Cash Value is the fifth and final album from Atlanta’s Hawks (heh, I didn’t make the basketball connection until typing it out now), and I can’t blame a group for calling it quits after five albums – how much tense n’ groovy post-hardcore noise-rock can any group of four men be expected to produce? Can’t say I’m overly familiar with their prior output, but I’ll assume they’re going out on top as this is a fine album (or if it’s actually their worst record, I need to check out the rest ASAP). Ten tracks here (including three short noise-based instrumentals) and they offer a proud display of all the noise-rock emotions: disgust, inebriation, cruelty, obsession and anger. So many groups of Hawks’ ilk get stuck in a tempo or song structure, but Hawks do a fine job of keeping things lively without any sense of forced eclecticism. I’m picking up plenty of Jesus Lizard and Cherubs (particularly a link to that nice and unexpected recent Cherubs record), but also the stoner-sludge of the Man’s Ruin label and maybe even just a touch of tasteful nu-metal (if such a thing exists). Vocalist Michael Keenan has a great throat for the job, simultaneously shredded but intelligible, calling to mind Iron Monkey’s Johnny Morrow (RIP) and Bloodyminded’s Mark Solotroff (may he live forever). Sad I never got to see Hawks, but I get the feeling guys like them can’t stay away from beer-stained stages and loud amps for too long, one way or another.

James Arthur’s Manhunt Staring At The Sun / Cherry Red 7″ (Spacecase)
This ain’t your mama’s manhunt! Nope, it belongs to James Arthur, and he’s following last year’s 12XU album with a fine two-song single, more agitated hard rock with nods to both punk and psych. “Staring At The Sun” repeats a three-note progression through passages of tense quiet and raging energy, the tried-and-true “soft/loud, soft/loud” template that remains irresistible. I like what the Manhunt do with it here! “Cherry Red” is a Groundhogs cover, and while I’m not overly familiar with the original, they certainly make it sound like a James Arthur’s Manhunt song, in the way that a steadfast rock pulse underpins various explosions of guitar-based joy, thanks in no small part to the frantic and tight drumming of Mr. Orville Bateman Neeley. The riff is righteously simple, but when you’ve got a drummer losing his mind over it, a tasteful amount of Wah pedal and Arthur’s cool-but-wild vocals, it’s an easy bet. They play this sort of stuff over the intercom when your plane lands in Austin, don’t they?

Jepeto Solutions Jepeto Solutions 7″ (Nicey)
Jepeto Solutions seems to be the newest version of CE Schneider Topical, which was also closely related to Blanche Blanche Blanche, and by default, half of the OSR Tapes scene. I like the name, as if Pinocchio’s master opened a corporate call center or something, and as is the usual case with CE Schneider and her crew, there’s no less than six members credited to this 7″, all with varying contributions meticulously spelled out on the back cover (God forbid that Derek Baron not receive proper percussive credit on track three). Musically, Jepeto Solutions is a logical continuation of the CE Schneider Topical model, although it remains so distinct and idiosyncratic – I don’t know of anyone else making music as oddly tuneful and scatterbrained. It seems like each band member is playing a separate song half the time, but they all interlock perfectly… it’s like they discovered the melodic link between an early Apples In Stereo seven-inch and the Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood theme, so they drank a bunch of coffee and laid their discoveries to tape. Even the errant electric-guitar solo on “Little Women” feels perfectly appropriate, like a living room filled with thrift store junk that still maintains excellent feng shui. I have a feeling this isn’t the last we’ll hear from Jepeto Solutions, which is probably why I’ve been sleeping so well at night.

Alek Lee Sfartot 12″ (Antinote)
Wow, I’ve had “Sfartot” on repeat since I first heard it, and not just because of the subliminal fart reference – this will be one of my favorite tracks of the year, no doubt! Alek Lee is new to me (and as it’s apparently his first vinyl release, probably you too), but it is a stone-cold, bad-news Balearic rocker, thick with a wild hook, bongos and a rude ‘tude. Lee plays nearly all the instruments here (with a little help on the bass, electric sitar and clarinet from some friends), and while this is pristine and exacting dance music, it also feels like it could be performed by the world’s coolest band. “Sfartot” has a slow roll, coasting in manual over a mean melody, but it’s all over when Lee drops in some children chanting – I’m reminded of Ricardo Villalobos’ “Enfants (Chants)” in the best of ways, like this crew of undead children are slowly coming to smoke you out. I don’t want the groove to end, but thankfully the b-side opens with “Sfarot Dub”, which extends the groove sans children for many more blissful minutes. (It’s also not a typo when I say “Sfarot Dub” – wonder why it’s not “Sfartot Dub”? This is a mere glimpse into my level of obsession with this record.) The EP wraps with “Harabait”, which makes the finest work of a finger sliding across a bass’s fretboard I’ve ever heard and continues to probe the moodiest, slowest form of dance music to which Tel Aviv (the home of Alek Lee) or any other populated city could rightfully claim responsibility. Truly fantastic and unique music that I can’t recommend strongly enough!

Life Stinks Hanging From The Ceiling 7″ (Total Punk)
What better than a new Life Stinks single, and who better to deliver it than Total Punk! The band ups the ante on Total Punk cover art here, brandishing a few chain links hastily photocopied and nothing more. Musically, they continue their distinctive approach to classically-styled unfriendly punk on these two tidy tracks. “Hanging From The Ceiling” starts with a nice percussive blast before settling into a pretty standard mid-tempo tune, to be filed next to The Dogs (think “Teen Slime”) and The Eat (think “Communist Radio”). “Shadow Chilling On The Sidewalk” kicks up a bit more dirt, sounding far more like early Hank-era Black Flag than I ever thought Life Stinks to be capable, although the group never pushes things outside their comfort zone – don’t even think about requesting a Ginn-styled solo, Life Stinks don’t play those games. I’ve come to expect smart-stupid hooks out of Life Stinks, who have written some great ones in their day, but these two tracks restrain the pop memorability in pursuit of punk purity, and I know better than to tell Life Stinks and Total Punk how to do their jobs.

Los Tres Pericos Los Tres Pericos LP (no label)
Here’s a fun obscurity coming from a different angle than most fun obscurities that pass through Yellow Green Red, the debut LP by Los Tres Pericos. They appear to be a loose collective of Los Angeles-based artists / musicians / non-musicians, at least one of whom is involved in the capital-A art world (a quick Google search reveals more art galleries selling Los Tres Pericos than record shops / distros). I’m not sure which one of these folks is the artiste, but it doesn’t make much of a difference to me what these people are doing outside of the band as it’s a glorious jumble of DIY rock, mutant R&B, screwball basement experiments and druggy grooves. I’m hearing the cut-up, experimental nature and jagged wit of artists like John Watermann and The Family Fodder alongside the early days of Not Not Fun’s gleeful amateurism and, maybe it’s just the inherent nature of Southern California synth music, the sense that this could just as easily all be a giant in-joke from Peanut Butter Wolf and Madlib (although I assure you it’s not). Think Dam Funk entering (and quickly leaving) a closet-sized studio where Angus Andrew was taping some Liars demos circa 2004, all broken down into bite-size tracks (there are eighteen here). And it’s not even on Discogs! Adventurous seekers of the strange will leave satisfied, it’s my promise to you.

Milk Music Mystic 100’s LP (Dom America)
Part of the fun of Milk Music is comparing your take on their particular brand of rock music with your friends’ – they manage to do one of the most difficult things a rock band full of stoner-y dudes can accomplish in 2017, which is provoke strong opinions from listeners, both adoring and scorning. To update you on mine, I found Beyond Living to be an enjoyable quick-fix of indie-grunge, and thought Cruise Your Illusion was a bloated example of uncompelling rock excess (although the endless and poorly-scripted guitar solos were great fun to torture my talented-guitarist friends with, in the similar way that it was great to bring those friends to go see Iceage for their disgusted reactions). I was anxious and skeptical to hear Mystic 100’s, and I’m not entirely confident that it was Milk Music who changed rather than myself, but I love it! Maybe it was the extended time between releases, their various life changes, etc., but they put together an LP that is far more relaxed, colorful and charismatic than anything they’d done before. I mean, within the first two minutes, there’s a sample of canned applause and a drum machine – this is a record that was meant to amuse and entertain themselves first and foremost, rather than fill a role as today’s scruffy Neil Young-but-punk desert acolytes. They’ve got long ones, slow ones, chill meandering, Mountain Cult-esque buffoonery, a krautrock pulse brimming through much of it (which works quite well) and lyrics that are occasionally actually quite resonant. You probably already bought one, hoping to join the conversation yourself – no matter what side of the fence you’re on, Milk Music made it a fun one to have.

Natural Causes Deirdre / Fashion Device 7″ (Acid Etch Recordings)
Got this one in the mail and upon first glance I was thinking “techno”, maybe from the lack of picture sleeve and label name (it has me thinking of Tin Man and his Acid Test series). I guess I was half right, as Natural Causes are a synthy punk band by nature who also aren’t afraid to engage in dance remixes. “Deirdre” is their tune entirely, with plenty of rolling toms, alien-abduction synths, lobotomized geek vocals and a sprinkling of additional percussion to really get the pit moving in some sort of oval shape. Cool tune, reminds me of Pop. 1280 if they fetishized Devo instead of Marilyn Manson, or perhaps some sort of ex-screamo synth-wave that got caught up in a Birthday Party fascination (in a good way). The flip is credited to Natural Causes but noted as a “Sponge Bath version”, which I take not as the style in which the tune was remixed but the artist responsible (someone calling themselves Sponge Bath). It reminds me of when GSL and Three.One.G got into remixes, in the way that the song isn’t much more than a fairly basic acid-house beat and an echoed snippet of the vocal hook – I swear I have some I Am Spoonbender, Black Cat #13 and Sunshine 12″s deep within my record vault that have tracks that sound like this. I won’t be leading off my NTS radio mix with it, but if this is how Natural Causes and crew like to party, more power to ’em.

Nearly Dead Weathered Meat LP (Geriatric)
Nearly Dead’s self-titled debut LP came through here in 2014, and I gave it a big thumb’s down back then, writing it off as pointless and uninspired Brainbombs worship. They released a follow-up in 2016, whose song titles lead me to believe a similar aesthetic was pursued, and they continue down this unlikely path on Weathered Meat. I really don’t want to hate it, particularly as they were kind enough to send an email inquiry about sending this one in (I said sure, send it in for a review), and Canadian postage for an LP isn’t cheap, but man… it’s more of the same, and I cannot abide. Weathered Meat continues the theme of elderly-based diagnoses as modern horror (incontinence, Alzheimer’s, reliance on medications, etc.) with the exact musical MO of Brainbombs: one heavy Stooges-esque riff per song, thick guitars, vocals that read a script rather than follow any sort of structured cadence, and a trumpet pronouncing a couple of sustained notes throughout. I’m trying to imagine the willingness of any small group of individuals to pursue this specific and scatological aesthetic for one full album, let alone three (and in such a humorless fashion, wherein the narrator is a disgusting elderly creep with ill intentions), but Nearly Dead remain committed to what seems to be a mean-spirited mockery / ironic celebration of old people who pee themselves via monotonous noise-punk. I sincerely enjoy a lot of stupid crap, no doubt, but I’ll be forever scratching my noggin over Nearly Dead.

Nurse Nurse 7″ (Scavenger Of Death)
Atlanta’s Nurse are back with their second self-titled / untitled 7″ on Scavenger Of Death (although the insert has “II” at the top of one side, and as they acknowledge the Japanese Nurse who came before them, perhaps this is some sort of homage?). I liked the first Nurse EP a lot, and this new one is probably better, or at least more in-your-face, as I’m sitting and blasting it this very moment. They’ve got four tracks here, and they steamroll through all four with a classic, menace-filled sound. Mecht Mensch and Die Kreuzen are undeniable influences, and I mean if you decide to play hardcore in 2017, why wouldn’t you go there? The riffs are mostly evil and the vocals verge on black-metal larynx torture, but the drumming ensures that this is purely a hardcore concern – they’re always cruising just a little faster than comfortable, throwing fills or extraneous rolls in the tiniest of crevasses and ensuring that each song is punchy and frantic. The recording is fuzzy but thick with power, a balance that is usually tipped one way or the other, but Nurse bolster both attributes to great success. When is everyone gonna care about the raging Atlanta hardcore scene, once they all move to Brooklyn or LA?

Orion Orion LP (Cool Death)
I’m always a little wary of albums that have foil-embossing on the cover… it instantly calls to mind “collector’s item”-style X-Men comics from the early ’90s, fancy packaging used to trick consumers into buying something sparkly that ultimately lacks substance. I won’t hold it against Orion, though, as their decidedly retro, new-romantic synth-pop stands on its own, foil be damned. They appear to be a bunch of punks (a couple ex-members of Oily Boys are in Orion, and one band member sports a Sadistik Exekution tee on the poster insert), but the music offered here is the sort of thing that scoffed at punk rock back in 1985, instead obsessing over The Cure, The Durutti Column, Tears For Fears and OMD as the music of the future. Electronic drums, bass run through vintage flange, chiming guitar and the light dusting of a synth make up the music, as vocalist Yuta Matsumura swings between iconic new-wave vocal stylings, going from Bernard Sumner to Morrissey sometimes in the same song (check “After Day”, which comes sauntering down the alley with a Smiths-y shake). These songs are moody and introspective without ever feeling generically gothy, and while my tolerance for new takes on this old style is running thin, Orion add to the enduring legacy of pop-minded new-wave rather than help wear it out.

Pharmakon Contact LP (Sacred Bones)
Pharmakon has been spoiling us with albums since 2013 – this is her third, and her reign as American power-electronics master remains firm. It seems as though Pharmakon’s general sonic approach to noise hasn’t changed since Bestial Burden, and that’s fine with me. Through Contact, she favors plodding electronic pulses, synth tones that slowly shift their pitch higher or lower (but always with a sense of dread or unease), the occasional rusty chain unfurling upon sheet metal, and a thick, sludgy feedback that doesn’t coat things so much as suffocate them entirely. The music of Contact is slow and deliberate, a nice change of pace for a genre that has so often been enamored with the fast, cut-up, throw-everything-on-everything style of Merzbow or Macronympha. Pharmakon is not only a keen sonic auteur, but her self-penned album statements send the otherwise noise-unfriendly indie-music press into a tizzy, happy to have an artistic philosophical explanation for harsh industrial noise – it’s clear that some people need to ruminate on the anguish of the corporeal form or humanity’s animal instincts in order to appreciate the sonic side of Pharmakon. Not me, though! I love when power-electronics are harsh, slow, refined, well-considered, and replete with a variety of throat-slicing vocal terror – Pharmakon’s next album could be a sonic exposition on catching all the Pokémon, I’d still buy the fancy limited version and righteously clench my fists to it.

Claude Rodap Bélétronic 12″ (Rush Hour)
Claude Rodap is a French Caribbean producer who dropped an album in 1982 and little else until Rush Hour put together this fantastic three-track EP, collecting recordings from the late ’90s and 2000. I’m sure he was quite busy, refining his synthesized dance-pop and zouk over the decades, and I can’t blame him for not trying to reach American or European audiences in that time: who cares what mainland people think? I’m glad Rush Hour put this together though, and I’m glad I took the chance, as I can practically smell the freshly machete-chopped coconuts while Bélétronic spins. All three tracks are dressed with cushion-soft synth rhythms, boozy leads and a technical prowess I thought was reserved for prog-rock. It’s interesting that they were recorded at the turn of the century, as I would’ve guessed 2016 or 1982 instead: Rodap’s sound is essentially timeless, as his zouk grooves are instantly affecting and untethered to any specific era of history. “Zouk Love” might be my favorite, recalling Mr. Raoul K’s most tender house moments with a Balearic sensuality, the sort of emotion that the Secrets resort chain was founded upon. The only problem is that these three tracks fly by (the first two are barely over three minutes a piece) – time for a full-on retrospective, Rush Hour guys!

Schizos Fuck Iggy Pop 7″ (Neck Chop)
First thing’s first, I want to support the sentiment behind Schizos’ new EP. Whatever happened to punk bands spitting on the graves of rock idols, even cool ones? I could compile a hundred great punk songs celebrating the death of merely Elvis, Jerry Garcia and Sid Vicious alone, but nowadays punks are likely to DJ David Bowie and Prince tribute nights in full sincere admiration. What gives? Thankfully, there are still some punk bands filled with terrible people, even if their numbers are fewer, like Schizos, for example. Their music is pretty fittingly terrible, too! Josh sings, Kevin plays a synth on its gassiest setting and Bill plays the drums, and they all share the last name Schizo. The lack of guitar comes through painfully clear, leaving plenty of room for good punk rock were it ever to decide to join the group. Instead, Fuck Iggy Pop is filled with fumbly horsing around, with a sonic link to Neon Hunk, Let’s Put The X In Sex and the true masters of the genre, Pillow Talk (can’t believe their sole Columbus Discount single isn’t a punk-rock holy grail just yet). I won’t be listening to this Schizos 7″ much more, if ever again, but am I with them in spirit? Absolutely.

Coby Sey Whities 010 10″ (Whities)
The Whities label has my full attention, and when it comes forward with a new beautifully-packaged 10″ by an unfamiliar name, I’m all over it – one of the main things I look for from Whities is to be introduced to the vanguard of the new. Coby Sey seems to be new on the scene, but he certainly fits right in with the rest of the hip young British beatmakers riding the tube everyday. His music fits in on the “experimental” side of things, which means he works with unusual sounds (pops, clicks, fuzz and other forms of sonic flora) just as much as bass-lines and snares. The tapping of a wine glass might lead way into a field recording of neighborhood traffic while a Microkorg slurps a bowl of noodles on any given track. What’s most unusual is that Sey opted to rap over the whole thing, laying down vocals and rhymes over rickety, half-imagined beats, tracks that any average rapper would slowly back away from. He’s confident and compelling though, although the vocal mix (and his British accent) ensure I only understand half of what he’s saying at best. The closer “Ticket” is my favorite, a melancholy dub somewhere between Mount Kimbie and Nicolas Jaar (and perhaps tellingly, it’s an instrumental). Sey’s combination of avant-garde electronic textures and steady-stream rapping certainly sets him apart, and lends a pop functionality to music that is otherwise expected to be rendered deep within a Young Echo radio show and far from the consumption habits of unadventurous music listeners. Plus, it’s a 10″, the bastard child of vinyl formats. It may not be my favorite Whities release, but I urge you to stay fresh and acclimate yourself.

Te/DIS Interrogation Gloom LP (Galakthorrö)
Alongside Da-Sein, Te/DIS come correct with their sophomore full-length for Galakthorrö. Unlike Da-Sein, Te/DIS (short for “Tempted Dissident”) is not the work of a duo of ambiguous romantic status, but one guy on his own, tweaking knobs and holding keys while also intoning his stern voice. Also unlike Da-Sein (sorry but I can’t help but compare the Galakthorrö b-team), Te/DIS does not bear an uncannily close sonic relation to Haus Arafna and/or November Növelet, although musically and aesthetically Interrogation Gloom is perfectly suited to Galakthorrö’s haunted corridor. Te/DIS’s tracks have a bit more motion in them, either by more complex drum programming (or at least far less one-two one-two simplicity), as well as varying temperatures of synth, not just ice cold. The vocals are probably my least favorite part, though: he’s clearly a German native singing in English, with a sonorous quaver not unlike Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan, although a little more cartoony goth and limited in range. Still, I give Galakthorrö a wide berth when it comes to accepting extravagant and sometimes over-the-top gothiness, I just need to find a particularly dark and cobwebby portion of my record shelves to slip Interrogation Gloom into.

Tropical Trash Decisions’ Empty Nest 7″ (Sophomore Lounge)
Big RIP to Load Records, who released Tropical Trash’s sole vinyl LP a couple years ago. Thankfully there will always be new, younger freaks to carry the torch of bothersome and noisy rock music, like the suspiciously successful Sophomore Lounge label. This new Tropical Trash 7″ is a real treat – I’ve always enjoyed the group, but this three-track EP is psychotic noise-punk perfection. “Early Wish” is the a-side, and it comes on a bucking motorik beat, guitars (and synths? who knows?) tunneling a hole in the earth while the vocalist wields the stuttered delivery of Landed’s Dan St. Jacques with the toxic mutation processing of FNU Clone. “Early Wish” actually continues on the flip side, pulling itself out of quicksand for a final gasp of life. “Exit Dust” comes next, sort of splitting the difference between the garage-rock menace of Six Finger Satellite and the rogue behavior of Landed (if I may continue with the Load references), and “Trouble Shot” closes the set, certainly the easiest track to mosh to on the EP and another disgruntled resignation from civilian life. The b-side tracks are nearly all about 90 seconds long, which is essentially the perfect length of time for any musical idea to begin, develop and conclude. A tropical smash is more like it!

US Weekly US Weekly LP (Night Moves)
US Weekly’s debut album brought to light a grammatical error I may have been guilty of for some time now: it’s gotta be US, as in “United States”, not Us, as in “me and you”, yet I’ve been calling the mag Us Weekly all along. Whoops! It seems as though throwing back in our faces our own reliance on modern-day depressive conveniences might be one of US Weekly’s main aims, at least lyrically: a wide variety of brand names are mentioned through these songs, from Snapchat to Subway to Percocet to sourcing lyrics from “found poems via Google image search”. Ultra-specific real things is a worthy lyrical device, albeit one that can be overdone, and while I think US Weekly might be on the verge of naming products we use as a means to profoundly shame us a little too frequently, it still works overall. I should probably mention the music too, but it’s fun when there’s a punk band who actually writes lyrics with intent; I got a little overly excited. Vocalist Christopher Nordahl has a phlegm-y yelp – I’d put him in good crust-punk company with Filth and Crucifix, although the music of US Weekly would never be caught in a patch-covered ass-flap. They come from an aggro school of post-punk that verges on hardcore-punk, meshing early antagonistic SST punk with the groove of The Fall and the ghosts of Texas punk doing donuts in the parking lot (imagine Parquet Courts covering / disemboweling Really Red’s Teaching You The Fear). Great album, although if they really wanted to get some attention, Night Moves would be selling this for $2.98 at your grocer’s checkout aisle.

Warm Bodies My Burning Love 7″ (Thrilling Living)
Warm Bodies continue to stake out their territory in punk’s rowdy pen with a new 7″ EP on the watch-listed Thrilling Living label. They’ve got four songs here that speak to modern hardcore-punk’s penchant for frantic rhythms as well as classic youthful snot, and it’s quite good indeed! Not too far from Thrilling Living’s recent Lemonade EP, as far as the general approach to hardcore as an art (or a fart, maybe), but Warm Bodies can’t resist pushing away from the standard downhill path with stranger guitar textures, lower levels of distortion and a curious sense of disgust that at times recalls the earliest no-wave groups. “Stinky” sounds like a Suburban Lawns track played on one of Christian Marclay’s intentionally-damaged turntables, for instance, and vocalist Olivia Gibb sings each line with a sense of stupefied horror, as if a surprise birthday party entered the vocal booth. They’re still a dirty basement punk band, though, the sort of status you either naturally inhabit or clearly are faking. To quote my old pal Eric Adams, Warm Bodies want to rock, not pose!

Wishgift Wishgift LP (Sophomore Lounge / Lake Paradise)
Wishgift are a Chicago-based trio, and I don’t know about you but I always take some bit of pleasure when bands sound like where they’re from – in an age of borderless, internet-rendered homogeny, I appreciate local flavor. This is Wishgift’s debut LP, and it has all the markings of a Chicago-based proggy noise-punk group, as if Wishgift was snatched from the hands of Skin Graft at the final second. Their songs generally have a million parts each, give or take, and while the riffing can be quite fast, this is a band where their fret-working hands develop Carpal Tunnel far quicker than the picking ones. Musically, I find myself reminded of Dazzling Killmen, Melt Banana, KARP, maybe even a little Scissor Girls and a dash of Crom Tech too – I’m starting to sound like a Troubleman sampler, but I don’t have a problem with that if you don’t. All three members are credited with vocals, but it seems to mostly be one guy, who shouts with an appropriate level of toughness, as if anyone got the wrong idea that all their shifting riffs and intricate changes meant they were to be messed with. It’s all a little too dizzying for me – I prefer one really good idea per song instead of half a dozen motifs set to skill level “difficult” in a single track, but I’m not here to tell Wishgift how to live their lives.