Reviews – September 2020

Ishai Adar feat. Maurice Sarfati Ana Belephoneq 7″ (Confused Machines)
If you came to this website hoping to read about some extremely dope Arab-Israeli synth-wave, look no further! This 7″ is really hitting a sweet spot for me, that same slow-motion electro-churn favored by Gil.Barte and Beau Wanzer, but this time delivered with a sweet electro sheen that seems to split the difference between those aforementioned artists and the retro-pop of Pender Street Steppers. Adar is the producer, and he uses the spoken voice of the late Maurice Sarfati (who Confused Machines states was a “Jerusalem legend, Arab-Jew of Tunisian descent, a poet, a singer, a rock historian and a retired income-tax investigator”, in case you weren’t already feeling unaccomplished). Sarfati has a rich, weathered voice, the perfect vessel for his well-enunciated Hebrew. The pacing, sound-effects and groove, delivered with an old man’s speaking voice, remind me of last year’s double seven-inch EP by Paul Jansen & Zn., which you should also hear if you haven’t already. “My Life In Bethlehem” is less dance-y, more wave-y than “Ana Belephoneq”; the clicking rhythm track and warbly guitars have me thinking of Choir Boy or Drab Majesty, but Sarfati’s no-nonsense vocals shifts the mood to an entirely different, Eastern realm (although anyone with more than a couple Dais or Dark Entries releases on their shelves would surely light up when encountering this evocative dark-wave tune). Wish there was more than just a two-song single of this fabulous collaboration – apparently an album is in the works, and I’m ready to give it a warm and caring home whenever it enters this world.

B.C.F.W. Barragemirage Megamultifurcation LP (Radical Documents)
Sorry to disappoint fans of British Columbia Frontier Wrestling, but this is actually a modern free-jazz summit involving Andrew Barker on synths, Daniel Carter on a variety of horns, Pat Foley on guitar and Fritz Welch on drums. Based on the Radical Documents association, and the funky title, I was prepared for a full-blast free-jazz caterwaul, but Barragemirage Megamultifurcation is actually quite restrained and even downright seductive at times. Welch’s drums are mixed kind of low, so his rapid clatter (is he playing a drum-set or a fully furnished test kitchen?) never overpowers Foley’s languid guitar lines. Barker’s synths firmly anchor the sound to our modern era, adding a variety of subtle buzzes and tropical chirps to the mix, but it’s Carter’s horns that bring it all together, the cornstarch to the rest of the quartet’s various liquids. His melodies bend over backwards, flutter softly and occasionally dazzle – while the rest of the group stirs up rackets both ominous and optimistic, its Carter’s lines that my mind immediately latches onto and tries to follow along. Very cool stuff, and I appreciate that they gave this configuration its own distinct moniker, even if it’s based off their names. Can you imagine how less cool Minor Threat would’ve been if the band was called Brian Baker, Ian MacKaye, Jeff Nelson & Lyle Preslar?

Brain Bagz / Blood Bags split LP (Big Neck)
No longer can we idly sit by – the time has come to pick a side! You’re either Team Brain Bagz or Team Blood Bags; there can be no in-between. Let’s start with Salt Lake City’s Brain Bagz. They play a loose n’ sleazy form of noisy garage-rock, music without even the possibility of a happy ending. I’m reminded of the cavernous scuzz of TV Ghost, Lubricated Goat’s dry heaving, the cackling depression of Laughing Hyenas… that sorta untrustworthy demeanor. Not hearing much in the way of memorable songs here, but as for the style and sound, Brain Bagz make sure spirits are suitably dampened. If I gave you ten guesses as to where Blood Bags hail from, you probably still wouldn’t get it: Auckland, NZ! Fittingly for this split, they sound like the opening band on a Nashville Pussy / Candy Snatchers tour, pissing and stomping through their booze-fueled garage-rock in a raw, lo-fi fashion. The singer plays a Flying V, the rest of the band has beards or black sunglasses or both… I think we all know the drill by now. Honestly, I was expecting a clear victor to emerge on this split, but both groups do a fairly decent job of playing complimentary forms of loose and noisy garage-punk without really excelling at it. One of these bands is far more likely to catch Covid than the other, though, if that counts for anything.

Cro-Mags In The Beginning LP (Mission Two Entertainment)
We’ve all seen hardcore described as “ignorant” in a complimentary fashion, so how about an ignorant review? Like so many others, I cherish The Age Of Quarrel as the NYHC behemoth it indisputably is, but I haven’t really listened to anything from the group beyond it. Hell, I actually don’t even know for sure who is in this Cro-Mags lineup… I’ve never been interested in following the Harley Flanagan / John Joseph drama that so many hardcore fans gawk over like an episode of Real Housewives or something, and in service of my ignorance, I’m refusing to look it up. Sounds like Harley on vocals, but who knows, he’s probably got a son in his 20s who could’ve joined as the singer at this point. Anyway, probably unfairly, I wasn’t expecting much out of In The Beginning, but what do you know, it’s actually an aggressive and feisty hardcore album that bears repeated listens! They open with “Don’t Give In”, which boldly rips off Cro-Mags’ legendary “We Gotta Know” intro. What other band could get away with shamelessly ripping themselves off? The rest of the record follows with hard-hitting metallic hardcore, equal parts stompy mosh breakdowns and that classic laid-back NYHC gallop beat. I’m often reminded of Pantera’s faster parts (the vocals can echo Phil Anselmo’s meaty shout too), which they enhance with labyrinthine guitar solos suitable for one of King Diamond’s solo albums, but it’s alll still trademarked Cro-Mags music through and through. Even the violin-centric instrumental, “Between Wars”, fits right in, conjuring the streetwise mysticism that made The Age Of Quarrel such a potent, consistently-relevant classic. They’ve still got it!

Dame Dame LP (Beach Impediment)
If I’m going to Beach Impediment, it’s for burly hardcore-punk that isn’t afraid of a little blood, not rain-soaked post-punk in funeral attire. It’d be like going to a dentist to treat my eczema! That said, I realize the whole world is a stylistic melting pot at this point; everyone is friends with everyone else, and for the many passed-out-drunk Poison Idea fans in Beach Impediment’s mist, there are surely some somber art-lovers who enjoy dour post-punk in there, too. That’s definitely what Boston’s Dame are offering on their sophomore full-length, right in line with what anyone already familiar with the group would expect. They’ve been a fixture in the scene for most of the last decade, and continue to work with actual punks instead of the indie-industry publicity/promotion circuit, much to their credit. Is it okay if I say that I’m not really feeling this album, though? The parts are all exactly in place as they should be, from the shimmering guitar to the taut drumming, keyboard-enhanced melodies and gloomy/warbly monotone vocals, but nothing is particularly standing out to me, for better or worse. This sort of pleasantly-derivative, Joy Division-inspired sound has reaped significant underground popularity for close to two decades now, long enough to no longer be considered a resurgence so much as the normal lay of the land – don’t forget, we were first subjected to Blessure Grave back when Obama was first taking office. Maybe I’m simply tired of the by-the-books uniformity this style tends to breed (actually I know I am), or maybe it’s increasingly difficult to stamp a unique imprint into a style such as this. Either way, and by my fault or theirs, I’ve been unable to connect with Dame.

Eyes And Flys Coastal Access / Black Flowers 7″ (no label)
Has it been a year already? Eyes And Flys’ debut single came out last fall, showcasing two songs from what was a solo-project at the time. Now, guitarist/vocalist Pay Shanahan’s enlisted three other folks in the group (including a bassist with the wonderful name of “Biff Bifaro”), for what is surely more fun than trying to track each instrument separately all by one’s lonesome. “Coastal Access” is enjoyable and sonically interesting, as it seems to be a speedy garage-punk song played with decidedly non-garage-punk settings. The guitars are best suited for jangly college-rock ala REM or The Stone Roses, but they don’t seem to notice they’re being used for a fast-jolting song that is structurally far more akin to Jay Reatard or The Marked Men. “Black Flowers” actually shows some signs of buzzy distortion, with an ugly, choppy groove that feels like it would’ve come from an angry small-town band that managed to open for Mudhoney in 1990. Across four songs thus far, I can’t quite tell exactly what it is that Eyes And Flys are after, and maybe they’re not sure either, but it’s the figuring of things out (for both them and me) that’s the rewarding part, right?

First Boy On The Moon Sofia / Fast Machine 7″ (Manic)
I had to put on my shades to look at the cover of First Boy On The Moon’s new (first?) single. This thing looks like a Hot Topic-branded makeup palette or something, which I’m assuming is kind of the vibe that Malmö’s First Boy On The Moon are happy to oblige. “Sofia” blurs the line between radio-rock ala The Killers and Franz Ferdinand and moody punk/indie touchstones like Social Distortion and The Cure. Come to think of it, did I just describe the entire contents of a Hot Topic t-shirt display? Interestingly enough, I enjoy “Sofia”, with its muted attitude and smoothly-crooned vocals… if you can deliver me this sort of slickly-serious pop-rock with bravado and a decent hook, I’m in. “Fast Machine” is even more impressive, in that it kinda sounds like modern-day U2 but I also somehow like it! I can picture The Edge being responsible for those chiming guitar chords, Bono kneeling at the edge of the stage to deliver these dramatic vocals, and the other two U2 guys (has anyone ever figured out their names?) holding down the majestically plodding rhythm. Swedes are just annoyingly good at music sometimes, from Ace Of Base to Mob 47, and this new group, with an image that seems geared to appeal to American teenagers in 2006, might have to be included in that list.

Grave New World The Last Sanctuary LP (Bitter Lake Recordings)
It’s not hard to imagine the legions of hardcore-punk collectors who sat agreeably on the sidelines as Bitter Lake released one synth-wave curio after another, then rushed the stage upon word of this, a lavish reissue of Grave New World’s sole release. Made up of members of Last Bombs, Asbestos and Crow himself, The Last Sanctuary has achieved legendary status, thanks to both its boggling unavailability (Discogs hasn’t seen a copy in five years!) and its even more boggling musicality. It would seem that this project aimed to directly interpret a post-Armageddon hell-world, and while that’s not a particularly novel idea, The Last Sanctuary embodies that dark fantasy with mind-bending plausibility, succeeding with wild flair where so many others have come up short. It’s a big sonic mess, that’s for sure – psychedelic guitar noise gives way to Crow’s tortured shrieks, overdubs of sound-effects and acoustic guitars are plentiful, and it seems that every crazy idea received at least some serious consideration. The songs call to mind the metallic ‘core of The Clay, the glam-thrash of Randy Uchida Group and the mainstream gloom of Metallica’s self-titled 1991 breakthrough, released one year before The Last Sanctuary originally came out. I can even hear hints of Cradle Of Filth in the baroque metal of “Spiral Moment”, but only hints, and I swear there’s a Flower Travellin’ Band homage to some of Crow’s extended caterwauling, much to my delight. Combine all these disparate, sometimes incongruous styles, dose them with the intangible magic possessed by these four underground Japanese lifers, and if you’re lucky, a beautiful headscratching steamroller of a one-off like Grave New World just might occur.

Home Blitz All Through The Year 12″ (Sophomore Lounge)
Has it really been five years since Daniel DiMaggio’s last Home Blitz release, the Foremost + Fair album? Maybe it’s because my brain is still processing that one that it doesn’t seem so long, but I better set aside my plans (just kidding, I have no plans) and spend the appropriate time to process this one! I’m like half a dozen listens in, at the time of writing, and I feel like I’m only beginning to scratch the surface of half of what’s going on here. If you’re not familiar with Home Blitz already, I have to wonder what blog you’ve been reading all these years, but All Through The Year continues the same thread while also leaning into newer, stranger territory, which is a feat for this group/project that has never been short on strangeness. “What We Were” is a speedy power-pop flip-trick, barely a minute long, leading into the college-wave swing of “Final Decay”, which utilizes bass-guitar and electronic percussive elements for what might be the catchiest Home Blitz tune yet? Not counting the unexpected musical drop-out a couple minutes in, leading to just a kick-drum and DiMaggio’s frustrated ranting, of course. Foreshadowing things to come on the b-side, a-side closer “What I Say I Mean” is a sassy stream of melodic speak-singing and crusty chimes (presumably borrowed from Shots, his suburban-concrète noise project). This leads to the unbridled mania of “Real Green”, a wildly spiraling suite of precocious classical piano, strings, musical theater, sound effects, and the near-constant stream of DiMaggio’s vocal consciousness, which slowly grows more and more indignant – his words are practically impossible to follow, but I know a string of swear-words when I hear them. The song eventually breaks into Home Blitz’s “Pointed Sticks at the Ren Faire” vibe that consumed much of Foremost + Fair, but there’s so much musical information packed into these nine minutes that trying to dissect it is pointless. I will say that this is the first Home Blitz record to leave me curious about DiMaggio’s sexuality, for whatever that’s worth. Love or hate it, how can you make it through 2020 without hearing All Through The Year?

ISS Too Punk For Heavy Metal 7″ (Total Punk)
Pour one out for Total Punk – they were really doing the Lord’s work over the past decade or so, pumping out these hand-stamped 45 singles with the tireless dedication only shown by true behind-the-scenes punk fanatics. What better way to end the imprint, then, than with a 7″ by digi-punk pranksters ISS, who take the opportunity to roast the label on their a-side track “Too Punk For Heavy Metal”? Over a lurching bass-line (ripped from Dead Kennedys?) and disco-punk drums, vocalist Rich Ivey goes Jeff Ross on Total Punk’s ass, and it’s a delight. Throw in some surfy guitar (ripped from Dead Kennedys too?) and some electronic sound-effects and you’ve got an ISS classic-in-the-making. And then, in an effort to out-punk the rest of the pack, they drop two tracks in roughly a minute’s time on the flip. “MSG2U” is a fast one, with drums that sound like one of those programmed Institute of Technology drum-robots trying to emulate Deep Wound’s fills. It’s followed by “Hittrack”, which is the exact same music as “MSG2U” with a different vocal line, a clever trick that I first personally encountered on The Vindictives’ Eating Me Alive / Johnny, Where Are You? single (and of course utilized by reggae artists the world over), and ISS seem as rightful a punk group as any to give it a go. The whole record is a quick, sneering blast, wrapping fully in under four minutes’ time. I can’t think of many/any punk labels that delivered such a fitting finale, so kudos to Total Punk’s singles line for going out as (un)tastefully as it came in.

Lalalar Isyanlar 7″ (Bongo Joe / Dunganga)
Gonna slip on my A&R hat (it’s a ruby-red fedora) before writing this one, because it’s criminal that a big indie hasn’t swooped in and signed Istanbul’s Lalalar yet. Domino, Merge, Upset The Rhythm, XL Recordings, hell even Sub Pop, I’m talking to you! This band’s really something special, perhaps too special for ignorant Americans actually, but non-ignorant Americans would probably lose their mind a little bit over this new group, much as I currently am. I guess I should tell you what they sound like, but that’s not particularly easy as there isn’t much of an obvious genre or sub-genre I can point towards. They’re a trio, opting for guitar, bass-guitar, drum-machines, vocals and electronics, but don’t expect something inspired by Interpol or Cabaret Voltaire or anything Anglophile. Their music is steeped in Turkish heritage, from the scales they play and melodies they craft, but they anchor it with butt-jiggling beats that call to mind Mr. Oizo at his most unhinged. “İsyanlar” is killer, using a pure Knight Rider bass-line and Turkish guitars for a stunningly strange product. The flip, “Yalnız Ölü Balıklar Akıntıyı Takip Eder”, stomps like Khruangbin before getting all disco-noirish, as if Matthew Dear was a Turkish dignitary trying to organize an underground rave. This is all delivered with a formidable, potent vocalist, whose deep buttery croon adds another fascinating edge to Lalalar’s sound. Be cool like me and get into this band while they’re still only releasing 7″ 45s on the prescient Swiss label Bongo Joe!

Long Knife Night Of The Hunter 7″ (Beach Impediment)
Portland’s Long Knife have spent the last decade proving that they’re a hardcore-punk group you can hang your hat on (especially if it’s one of those old-timey motorcycle helmets with a sticker of a hand giving the middle finger on it). They’re burly, closer to old than young, and are not afraid to write a hardcore song that’s over three minutes long without “reinterpreting” or “revolutionizing” hardcore. “Night Of The Hunter” tells the tale of a horrible drug- and booze-addled murderer wandering unfriendly streets, at least until it seems like vocalist Colin Jarrell has changed perspective as though he himself is in the ranks of The Hunter? Who knows for sure, he probably just wanted to write some lyrics about murder and coke and misery, and well, mission accomplished. It’s a heavy mid-tempo groover with a thuggish attitude and a melodically-inclined chorus hook, not too far off from that little patch of land where Poison Idea and Fucked Up once overlapped. “Rough Liver” is the flip, and it’s about the discomfort and pain of life, not a poorly-executed foie gras appetizer. This one is primed for the fist-pumping punk crowd, with a shout-along chorus and a daringly-extended guitar solo that is sure to unite both long-hair and skinhead (or at least those of us victimized by male pattern baldness). It’s gonna be a beer-soaked celebration when Long Knife are once again able to perform in front of a hometown crowd, no doubt.

Museum Of No Art Museum Of No Art LP (Séance Centre)
Séance Centre has taken too much of my money in the past couple years, thanks to their impeccable streak of unearthing far left-field gems and offering them up for sale to obscure-hungry bozos like myself. Figured I’d give this one a shot, a rare contemporary artist coming from their ranks, and it meets my expectations nicely (although for the price-tag, I was a little surprised to see they went the “piece of paper glued to a blank record jacket” design route). Museum Of No Art is the work of one Mona Steinwidder, and it fits the Séance Centre aesthetic almost too well. These tunes generally skip between early ’80s avant-garde composition (strong shades of Arthur Russell, Julius Eastman, Meredith Monk, Laurie Anderson), obscure basement-brewed new-age music from the ’80s and ’90s, the supremely eccentric synth-pop obscurities reissued by labels like Growing Bin and STROOM, a little Kate Bush, and the modern-day sparkle that reminds me of the synth-wave one might’ve found on Not Not Fun or 100% Silk in the early ’10s. Definitely sounds like music you’d expect to hear at a post-modern dance performance at an ICA that’s attended by mostly cool-dressed hipsters as opposed to their uncool-dressed arts-supporting parents. Steinwidder flows from a multilayered acapella movement into a pensive synth instrumental redolent of Tangerine Dream with ease, something that may have been highly unorthodox in decades prior that now makes perfect sense. I wonder which came first, Séance Centre’s refined style or the artists who so easily resemble it?

Norms Háború És Fű 12″ (Mindig Otthon Punk Discs)
Sorry if I’m shouting too loudly, but there’s a new Norms record out! I can’t help but get excited by this Hungarian hardcore group. Háború És Fű is a seven-track “mini-album” and much like their 2018 full-length debut, it’s full of high-speed hardcore-punk that flails in all directions. I’m reminded of classic first-wave maniacs like Neos and Rattus, but also sense a common thread shared with current-day groups like Portland’s Reek Minds and Brisbane’s Pious Faults, as Norms are willing to push a song far beyond its acceptable limits, verging on an unstructured freakout befitting Harry Pussy. Check the b-side-opening title track, for instance, which calls to mind E-150, Antioch Arrow and Fat Day all at once, three very different groups whose energy overwhelmed their music. Norms are a crazy mess, but they’ve still got songs, and with their more-than-capable drummer (who integrates some sort of cowbell or bottle nicely), this record remains a satisfying jolt after repeated spins.

Parsnip Adding Up 7″ (Anti Fade / Episode Sounds)
Four new tunes from the ‘Snip… who wouldn’t be pleased by this news? I can understand not loving this precious Melbourne-based indie-pop quartet, but to hate on them would be like hating rainbows or birthday cake – the territory of monsters. These songs offer no new surprises or divergences from their already-established sound (a sort of early poppy Rough Trade post-punk infused with a potent dose of childlike psychedelia), but they fall closer to the standard poppy DIY indie side of things, at least by Parsnip’s standards. This works for me, as I like it when they write in more of a minimal/economical style, as opposed to a cutesy Sid & Marty Kroft technicolor mania, which they also do exceedingly well. “Treacle Toffee World” should probably be the theme song for a reality cooking show of the same title, wherein Parsnip devour caramelized sweets across the globe, but maybe that’ll have to wait until this whole Covid thing blows over. “Crossword Cheater” has a funky go-go vibe ala Pizzicato Five, and “Repeater” dips into the garage a bit. Interestingly, I noticed that songwriting credits for each of the four songs here are attributed to a different band member, which is pretty cool, kind of a throwback to the golden days of The Beatles or whoever, which most retro-minded indie groups don’t or can’t abide. Go on, let your drummer write a song and see what happens!

Pearson Sound Alien Mode 12″ (Hessle Audio)
New Pearson Sound! And on Hessle Audio! This feels like something that used to happen a lifetime ago (read: in 2012), but he’s back, right where he belongs. One might expect Pearson Sound to have changed with the times, either delving into gritty lo-fi hardware techno or into the opposite end of the spectrum with warped hyper-modern sound design, but nope, Pearson Sound is still doing what he always did, much to my relief. Which, if you’re unfamiliar, is post-dubstep breakbeat rave. “Alien Mode” is a prime example, rocking the party with a pristine break, pumped-up subs and a catchy vocal hook, wherein a disturbed woman says “I think I’m losing my mind” only to be consoled by some robotic guy’s response of “you’re not losing your mind”. I caught myself singing along the first time I heard it, which is a good sign. “Cobwebs” reminds me of Ramadanman (one of Pearson Sound’s earlier aliases), with skittering percussion and a surge of bass that sounds like half of the Fast And Furious gang gliding up to the curb on racing motorcycles. “Everything Is Inside Out” wraps it in a relaxed fashion, still quite redolent of Pearson Sound’s earlier releases while also in line with contemporary ravers like Head High and Dynamo Dreesen. “Alien Mode” is the track, but it’s simply nice to see a fresh new Hessle Audio slab in a time where any good news is at a premium.

Prutser Netels 7″ (STROOM)
Gotta say, I’m really enjoying STROOM’s move toward releasing 7″ singles. What other weird electronic reissue-minded label is doing that, and often with new artists, no less? Even down to the flimsy and glossy color sleeve, the vibe is right. This is probably the best I’ve heard from STROOM thus far, too, the debut of Prutser, a new collaboration between Victor De Roo (whose Knekelhuis 12″ was a 2019 standout) and the shadowy figure of Frederik Willem Daem. Just kidding, I looked up Daem and he’s wearing a baseball cap like any other slightly-hip millennial, but he sounds damn mysterious on “Netels”. I love this form of cold-wave, one that relies more on nuance, noir and mood than aggression or derivative goth signifiers… it strikes me as particularly Belgian in nature, relaxed and prepared for whatever form of doom awaits. Daem’s voice is breathy and firm, occasionally dipping into a warble similar to Mr. Arafna on a November Növelet track. I can say “Netels” with ease, but the b-side title “Derealiteit (Alles Wat Ge Denkt, Zijt Ge Zelf)” has required a little more practice. This one feels slightly more urgent, with a bass line that dips in and out, scintillating keys and guitars that seem to be hiding behind a velvet curtain. Daem is clearly pleading with whomever the song is directed toward, and if it wasn’t for the language barrier I’d be tempted to offer some sort of help. Seems like I can finally stop looking for something to stick between Grauzone’s Eisbær and Joy Division’s Transmission on the antique cold-wave jukebox I keep in the darkest, dreariest corner of my basement.

Rigorous Institution Survival / Despotism 7″ (Roachleg)
Had it in my plans to pick up something on Brooklyn’s Roachleg for a while now (maybe an Urchin 7″ or two?) but Rigorous Institution’s new single is my first. Pretty swell place to start, as this Portland group’s metallic dirge-punk reeks of exactly the kind of nuclear-fallout poison wind I was hoping for. They seem to be inspired by some of the cult-worshiped Japanese crust groups who more or less played metal, such as Death Comes Along, Effigy and of course G.I.S.M, as well as British metallicrust masters Amebix, probably their closest sonic relation. There aren’t a lot of bands I know of who are currently doing doom-laden metal from such a classically crust-punk perspective, and Rigorous Institution in particular seem to know what they want. Take “Survival”, which rides a funereal riff through smoke-filled mountain paths in search of potable water. Throw in the Mumm-Ra inspired croaking of vocalist Savonarola and a creepy synth that only seems to show up a couple minutes in once the riff finally changes, and you’ve got a hit! “Despotism” creeps around in the murk as well, less metallic and more in line with goth-punkers Lost Tribe and Anasazi, although Rigorous Institution seem too punk for any goth characteristics to really stick – there’s no morbid beauty to be found here, just the molten wreckage of a fallen society. Portland seems to grow these bands like flooded drywall grows black mold, and Rigorous Institution are a notable specimen indeed.

Saskia Eeuwig Op Reis 7″ (STROOM)
It should be fairly clear that I’m not a “reissue guy” at this point, but I don’t want to be inappropriately stubborn about it. When it comes to, say, a 7″ EP featuring two tracks plucked from a cassette that was “given to friends and family in an edition of no more than ten in 1983”, well, that seems like grounds for an attractive vinyl edition if the music is special. That’s precisely the case here, and these tracks certainly deserve it, as they are prime examples of lonesome DIY synthwave that operated on a scene-less, friends-and-family basis. This is music that sounds like a tiny karaoke machine slowly floating in the unlit recesses of outer space, its little red power light slowly flickering on and off. “My Lips Get Hot” is a cosmic bedroom vision; it utilizes barely more than a heartbeat rhythm, dissolving synths and Saskia’s unimposing voice… a lullaby for broken dreams. B-side “You Left Your Soul Behind” has more of a soft, jazzy, homespun Pink Floyd sound. It’s an instrumental, and while I could’ve gone for more of Saskia’s emotionally-inscrutable vocals, the mood conjured here is nearly as rich and strained, like a nightclub in one of Éric Rohmer’s films. It should be impressive that STROOM somehow discovered this tape, presumably not being part of Saskia’s family or friends back in 1983, but they consistently make it look so easy.

Science Man Match Game 7″ (Swimming Faith)
You’d think Buffalo’s Science Man would be putting his skills to use in discovering a Coronavirus vaccine, or at least developing some sort of virus-repellent active-wear, but nope, he’s recording and releasing 7″ EPs! The nerve. Seeing as it’s a solo punk-band project sorta thing, at least one can assume he’s kept his social distance, although with this sort of spazzy, weirdest-kid-in-the-room vibe, I’m not sure social distance has ever been an issue for him. Anyway, this 7″ features nine new tracks, most of which are energized noise-punk over a drum machine. I’m reminded of the jump-all-over weird-punk of XBXRX, and a track like “The Rush” is closely related to the sound of Lumpy & The Dumpers, but there’s something about Science Man’s general delivery and aesthetic that doesn’t feel like the aping of any particular contemporary artist. Lots of herky-jerkin’ in these tunes, to be sure, as well as an uneasy alliance with thrash-metal, or so the riffing tends to come across. Many would ask why, but Science Man asks why not?

The Slow Painters The Slow Painters LP (Keep Secret / Diger)
Sixteen years is a long time between a band’s formation and their first album, but they’re not called The Fast Painters, now are they? This Oslo indie group takes a very clear and direct set of unsurprising influences, and applies them gratuitously to their own music, for better or worse. Vocalist Andreas W.H. Lindvåg can’t decide if he wants to be Bob Dylan, Thom Yorke, Alec Ounsworth or Hamilton Leithauser, so he vacillates between them all, a nasally vanilla swirl that certainly fits these chiming, boppy tunes. Certain tracks recall the soft shoegaze touch of Slowdive, others jam with the box-store advertising pop of Foster The People, and at least a few have me wondering why Jimmy Eat World was always the very best at writing songs that sound like Jimmy Eat World. If I was going to have a nondescript night out on the town in Oslo, running with a pack of friends I just met and following their lead, I’d be absolutely delighted to come across The Slow Painters on stage somewhere, wondering to myself if perhaps a member of Sportwear is also in the room. As for spending much time around the house listening to The Slow Painters, however, I’m not so sure.

The Slugs Don’t Touch Me, I’m Too Slimy! 7″ (Related)
Unexpected dose of merry DIY post-punk from The Slugs, who are probably what, the hundredth band to be called The Slugs? I dare you to finish listening to Don’t Touch Me, I’m Too Slimy! in a grumpy mood… these songs are such simple, merry fun that even the stinkiest curmudgeon in your group won’t be able to complain. Guitar, drums and vocals are The Slugs’ equation, about as simple as it gets, yet these songs really come alive with the same innate pizazz that made records by The Petticoats, Television Personalities and Thin Yoghurts the timeless delights that they are. “Not Here For That!” offers a catchy chorus that seems to have both members singing a chorus of, correct me if I’m wrong, “I’ll just eat my chips from the boat”. Little effort appears to have been put into the drum pattern and guitar riff of “Last Night I Had A Dream I Had Conical Breasts”, but that leaves plenty of open space for The Slugs to sing lines like “I got married in a dress by Vera Wang” and ensure they remain in your skull after the single stops spinning. I wanna say they sound English, but who knows, they could be from Akron or Mississauga for all I know. The Related Records’ Bandcamp page offers little info, which makes this release all the more intriguing and pleasurable. Fans of the lighter side of the Messthetics comps need to jump on this one ASAP!

Sweeping Promises Hunger For A Way Out LP (Feel It)
If your feed is remotely like mine, then this is this month’s record you’ve already been hearing about for the past couple weeks: the full-length debut of new Boston group Sweeping Promises! If you’re even more like me, you hadn’t heard of this group before (really, how could anyone have, barring friends and neighbors of the group?), and if you’re like me and apparently everyone else, you’re already in love with Hunger For A Way Out. It’s a pretty winning formula, but this duo (with what must be pre-recorded live drums?) really knocks it out of the park. Their music is a playful-yet-serious form of DIY post-punk, keen on intriguing melodies and interesting songwriting while still firmly planted in the economical world of Wire, Desperate Bicycles, The Fire Engines and such. I’m usually happy to accept a faithful re-creation of that sound, but Sweeping Promises jump off from there into indie-pop moments recalling Times New Viking (in both fidelity and demeanor) as well as Sleater-Kinney in the bold and fully-committed vocals of Lira Mondal. This results in a song like “Safe Now” sounding like Parquet Courts covering Slant 6, or maybe vice versa, but honestly probably better than either of those fantasy situations! It’s no wonder that Sweeping Promises are catching on, number one because no one is playing shows so it’s more about the recordings than the exhaustive touring schedules at this point in time, and number two because these songs are all really, really great. A year-end contender on what will surely be many different lists, mine included!

Variation Four 7″ (TDF)
The key to my heart is pretty simple: just utter the words “sixteen song seven-inch EP” and you’ll see the hearts in my eyes. That’s what Baltimore’s Variation are offering here, their vinyl debut among a small handful of cassettes, apparently all self-released. They play tuneless crust-core, and I’m here for it! Reminds me a lot of groups like Stapled Shut, Phobia, Laceration and maybe a smidge of Terveet Kädet, but at a very early-demo / first-attempt level of musical aptitude and delivery. They mix the speeds up, from painful dirges to sloppy oompah-blasts, running the gamut of acceptable behavior for hardcore-punk such as this. Vocals are mostly unintelligible mush, too, although I could actually make out the repeatedly uttered word “Variation” on the song that is also titled “Variation”. If Bovine Records still existed, they’d be finalizing a Variation / Suppression split 7″ right now, just waiting on one of their friends to finish up the “zombie-demon surrounded by pot leaves” pencil art for the cover. Brings a tear to my eye to know that kids are still pursuing such noble endeavors.

Virtualdemonlaxative Virtualdemonlaxative LP (West Mineral)
Wow! Sometimes the endless genre-churning can leave me feeling a little uneasy, but this one is so completely unexpected (not to mention in my sonic wheelhouse) that I have to tip my hat. Virtualdemonlaxative is a new collaboration between artists best known for their post-ambient, experimental dub creations: Pontiac Streator, Ulla and Special Guest DJ are credited in these ranks. One could comfortably expect something that fits within those loosely-defined sonic parameters, but this? Never this! Virtualdemonlaxative is a noise-core record through and through – I’m not saying it’s “inspired by” noisy high-speed grind, so much as that’s precisely what it is. Pin this one next to Arsedestroyer, Sissy Spacek, Gore Beyond Necropsy and Discordance Axis, as the same level of unhinged screaming, post-human drumming and atonal riffing is deployed here. Sure, the drums are all of a synthetic nature, so some of that traditional band feel is gone, but Agoraphobic Nosebleed has existed for over twenty years now, and Virtualdemonlaxative fit in nicely alongside them. Perhaps most amazingly, this album doesn’t play out like a genre-hopping lark, so much as a sincere adherence to making the most uninviting and harsh noise-not-music possible, true to the spirit of the genre while also cutting its own software-guided path. If they get on next year’s Obscene Extreme fest lineup, I may have to risk it all and book my non-refundable flight straight away.

Yambag Posthumous Pounce! LP (Convulse)
Not sure if I’m supposed to take the title to mean that Yambag are no longer with us, but as is the case with most Cleveland hardcore bands, none of them ever really break up, do they? Some will merge with each other, or take years-long breaks, but they never fully die. Yambag are new to me, but they feature members of The Cowboy, Vanilla Poppers, Bad Noids, and, you guessed it, Shit Blimp. Just reading that reminds me of the grand tapestry of hardcore that Cleveland has already provided us with, which also includes Yambag, who are really cool! Their brand of hardcore hearkens back to the nasty, fun-loving Y2K thrash/grind that is very much not en vogue at the moment, but I dare any fan of the artform to listen to Posthumous Pounce! and tell me it doesn’t whoop butt. I’m reminded of snot-nosed speed-demons like Stark Raving Mad (that debut is insane!), the spontaneous chaos of early Indigesti, but also stuff like Life’s Halt and Nine Shocks Terror (two very different but very good late ’90s groups). When Yambag double up the already-fast tempo to Fuck On The Beach speeds, I can’t help but think that Yambag would’ve been a standout on a ten-band 7″ comp released by 625 Productions in honor of skateboarding and kung-fu movies in 1999. I’ve got a friend named Sanchez – perhaps he’s your friend too – and the next time I see him, I’m gonna slap him with this Yambag record before he gets a chance to complain about modern hardcore.

Zaliva-D Immorality 12″ (Knekelhuis)
Of all the Knekelhuis artists I love (and there’s more than a handful), Zaliva-D is probably the… weirdest? This Chinese duo makes music that is immediately identifiable to my ears, even in the crowded field of slimy basement industrial music. I loved last year’s Forsaken, and this new EP, Immorality, is a welcome addition. It trades in similar materials, namely low-tempo rhythmic chug, Eastern percussion, and unrecognizable groans, bleats and gurgles of presumably organic origin. Imagine if Muslimgauze was as inspired by insect larvae, farm animal noises and BDSM as the political conflicts in the Middle East and you’ve got a reasonable lead on what Zaliva-D is up to. Check the title track for instance, which ominously combines non-Western strings, detuned piano and what seems to be someone screaming through a bagpipe into a tough-as-nails beat perfectly ready for some oddball morbid rapper to freestyle over. And even though it’s fairly evil music, there’s a sneaky sense of humor built into the music of Zaliva-D, as if they’re fully aware that they sound like Clock DVA lost inside a deadly rainforest and they’re just as amused by it as we are. You can dance to it (“Sick Step” is not only the name of one of the songs here, but presumably the name of the dance one is expected to do it), but I’m certain Zaliva-D have a variety of uses in mind for their music, some of which cannot rightly be printed here.

Reviews – August 2020

Big Laugh Manic Revision 7″ (11 PM)
Remember the muscular skinhead on the cover of the Abused 7″? Turns out he’s still hanging out in front of that same brick wall, but now he’s using a rope to strangle someone who looks just like him! Nice of Milwaukee’s Big Laugh to continue the tale through the cover of their Manic Revision EP. It’s their debut 7″, and they’re offering four hardcore songs clearly influenced by late ’80s NYHC, more on the emotional (but not emo) tip, right before things fully codified over into the youth crew aesthetic. Pretty New Breed inspired with an appropriate level of grit and heavy chug, even when it’s fast – think Absolution, Pressure Release or Beyond if you’re wondering what kind of pit Big Laugh are looking to start. Personally speaking, it wouldn’t be my first choice if I was looking to play traditional hardcore, but I suppose it’s as fine an era of hardcore as any from which to take inspiration, and at least it’s not a painfully trendy one right now. Nothing particularly new is sonically explored or invented here, nor is this EP a game-changer for hardcore circa 2020, but Milwaukee’s gotta mosh too, so mosh they shall.

Blawan Immulsion EP 12″ (Ternesc)
My love affair with the music of Blawan is nearly a decade long at this point, and like any lengthy relationship, it’s had its ups and downs. I was feeling like I had my fill following his sole full-length from 2018, but then Immulsion showed up and reminded me that I will always need new Blawan tracks in my life. It could also be that this is an exceptional EP, far superior to the last few releases on his Ternesc label. It opens with “40 Spiral”, which does all the things I want Blawan to do: pound out a rhythm with ugly kicks and claps, and supplement it with weird alien sound-effects. This cut has what seems to be a human voice straining to make itself heard (one of my favorite industrial-techno conceits) and it barely relents, all without the aid of any sort of bass melody. “Immulsion (Come To Me In Full Mix)” is next, and might be my favorite here – oddly enough, it has the minimalist thwack of late ’00s Ricardo Villalobos, as if Villalobos attempted to produce a track for the Downwards label and failed beautifully. Skeletal and creepy, with faint background sounds that recall adhesive tape being slowly pulled off a shiny surface, it’s an electric haunted house in which I’d love to perpetually hide away. “Rain” is more urgent, with another cool vocal hook and the grinding gears I’ve come to expect from Blawan’s side-group Karenn, and the EP wraps with “Immulsion (That Kind Of Kink Mix)”, kind of a subdued groove highlighting the glorious sounds of electrical interference. Perfect place to start if you’re a newcomer to Blawan’s music, and the perfect place to resume if you loved his iconic His He She & She EP and haven’t checked in recently!

Bokeh Lenses Dances LP (Mirae Arts)
When I see the word “Bokeh” in the context of electronic music, my mind immediately goes to the great Bokeh Versions label. This, however, is the entirely-unrelated duo of Katsunori Sawa and Martin Heinze, although judging by the wonky and cavernous techno they’re made here, there has to be at least a couple social connections in common. Bokeh’s techno has a spring-loaded pulse that reminds me of a softer Female, although they also roam into deeper dub territories that recall classic Maurizio or the spaced-out bliss of Rod Modell’s last album. Even when reclined into dub position, though, there’s a certain restlessness that seeps through, perhaps a tweaked-out siren in the distance or a peculiar rhythmic pattern that slowly enters the fold and reminds you that all is not at ease. Still, I’d say that Lenses Dances is fairly typical and momentarily satisfying if not overly memorable or significant. What stood out most to me is the super-dated cover art, which seems like it should grace some late ’90s electronica compilation CD. Turns out it was designed by Paul Nicholson, most famous for creating the iconic Aphex Twin logo! Can’t deny that sort of authenticity, but it’s not quite my style.

Jackson Reid Briggs & The Heaters Hammered LP (Beast)
You want a name? “Jackson Reid Briggs”, now that’s a name! Sounds like every cast member of Friday Night Lights combined or something, and yet Mr. Briggs isn’t Texan, he’s Australian, which I guess is kinda like the Texas of the southern hemisphere. Anyway, this is a band that sounds like they lay blacktop for a living, drinking cheap cold beers with calloused hands, tired but tough. They’re four albums in at this point, and Hammered displays Briggs and his Heaters in fine condition, stomping out their hard-nosed rock n’ roll with boots, not sneakers. Sonic resemblances to Cosmic Psychos, The Saints, Rocket From The Crypt and OBN III’s are easy to sniff out, and certainly make sense in the scheme of what Briggs & Co. are offering. His vocals offer more passion than tunefulness, the sort of delivery that leads a vocalist to lose their voice one week into a four-week tour, but what are you gonna do, mumble instead? The band sounds suitably big, the riffs are better than average, and the attitude is pissed-but-welcoming. All they need now is Taylor Kitsch to star in their music video and they’re all set.

Cadenaxo Lenguas Pordidas LP (11 PM)
I’m not sure if there’s more hardcore-punk coming out of Mexico now than ever before, or if it’s simply being promoted and released in the United States better than ever? Probably a little bit of both, but whatever the case it feels like there’s a solid new Mexican hardcore group appearing monthly if not weekly these days. Mexico City’s Cadenaxo have been around since 2014, but this is their first vinyl full-length, coming from Richmond’s 11 PM upstart. Ten tracks on 45 RPM, Lenguas Pordidas delivers a dependable slab of fired-up hardcore. Rudimentary in design and delivery, I’d compare Cadenaxo to American ‘core heroes Necros and N.O.T.A. as well as the unpolished delights of the Attack Punk label (I’m talking about Underage and MG 15). Angry hardcore-punk, and rightfully so, of course. Sitting here listening to Lenguas Pordidas is fun, but I’d imagine that Cadenaxo commanding a packed Mexico City warehouse venue with punks climbing every nailed-down surface is the finest way to experience this group. Time to add that to my post-Covid to-do list!

C.H.E.W. In Due Time 7″ (Iron Lung)
Can Haters End (the) Whining? Pretty sure that must be the current definition of C.H.E.W., a Chicago hardcore group who continue to grow more maniacal and unhinged with every new release. I was lukewarm on the band at first (maybe even one of the aforementioned haters?), but their 2018 debut full-length is a corker, and this new five-song EP is even a cut above that. The riffs are fast and ugly without feeling heavy or metallic, closer to vintage Poison Idea, Brown Sugar and perhaps Impalers when they’re at their least Scandinavian. Vocalist Doris Carroll offers an inspired performance, somewhere between Tony Erba’s tenure in Gordon Solie Motherfuckers, Die Kreuzen’s Dan Kubinski and Sara Abruna fronting the short-lived JJ Doll. Phlegmy and snarling, she cuts through the seemingly endless array of riffs, riffs that could easily swallow up a lesser frontperson. In fact, I’m not sure how you could mosh to this with any sort of rhythmic pacing, seeing as the songs twist and turn quicker than one’s brain could reasonably expect. Any physical response to In Due Time would have to involve spasmodic and randomized flailing, which of course is an acceptable response in these times.

The Cool Greenhouse The Cool Greenhouse LP (Melodic)
The Cool Greenhouse entered my life with last year’s Crap Cardboard Pet EP, a real strike of ridiculous post-punk genius. Seemed like a surefire one-hit-wonder, so what’s amazing about The Cool Greenhouse’s full-length debut (and first outing as a full-band rather than a solo recording project) is that it’s still a one-hit-wonder, and still completely great! If you’re not already familiar, they play an ultra-repetitive form of groove-based post-punk with vocalist and orchestrator Tom Greenhouse calmly ranting in a form clearly guided by Mark E. Smith. Now performing as a band, there’s a bit more heft to these grooves: bass plunks the same two notes, guitar follows with one-finger chords, a keyboard chirps and sputzes and live drums energize the sound in the way that a programmed Casio cannot. The difference is easily discerned via “Cardboard Man”, which appeared on the previous EP as well as here, sounding like this full-band version could’ve found its way onto an adventurous 120 Minutes playlist back in 1993. Endlessly cyclical riffs, occasionally to the point of madness, but that’s the point! This self-titled album is sure to appeal to fans of Parquet Courts, Patois Counselors, LCD Soundsystem, probably even Viagra Boys and certainly The Fall. Silly-smart and unpretentious post-punk you can shake a leg to, recorded in an old potato-packing warehouse in Nottingham, lest you forget for a second this is a solidly English affair.

Dark Thoughts Do You Dream 7″ (Peterwalkee)
Superfluous 7″ here from a most necessary punk band. This is a two-track single from Philadelphia’s Dark Thoughts, and it’s presented in classic “first wave punk rock on Sire Records” fashion, taking a song off their newest album Must Be Nice and pairing it with an exclusive b-side. Cool idea, and while the music is great, boy does it go by fast. Like, really fast – it seems as though “Do You Dream” is barely thirty seconds, but maybe that’s a byproduct of the manic energy and fist-pumping speed the band has given it. A glorious track for sure, unabashed in its Ramones worship but so fun and catchy that any sense of nostalgic homage is brushed off by Dark Thoughts’ winning enthusiasm and attitude. Kinda wish they would’ve just pressed this song three or four times in a row on the a-side – it would’ve saved the trouble of getting up as soon as I’d sat down, feeling more like an exercise program than a record listening session. “It’s Too Late” is a formidable b-side, like a DIY basement version of the hyper-pop Chixdiggit were peddling back in the mid ’90s, but this one moves quickly too. Certainly can’t blame anyone for being a Dark Thoughts completist, as they’ve undeniably attained high-ranking status in the contemporary pop-punk playing field, but for the rest of us who need a fix, might as well follow the advertisement on the back of this 7″ and pick up their newest album instead.

Dendrons Dendrons LP (Earth Libraries)
It’s gotta be extra tricky to be a new band during a global plague, particularly one that seems eager to do all the things a band needs to do in order to get popular: put out an album, promote it, tour on it, socially mediate it. That’s the upward climb that Dendrons are facing, but they’ve got this album out now, so that’s pretty good at least, right? They’re from Chicago and they play an overtly melodic and lush form of propulsive indie-rock. I’m hearing a lot of The Dismemberment Plan here, in the brooding arrangements, broadly-sweeping gestures and emo-ish backdrop. The vocals here are more universally palatable though, soft, thick and kind of plain, certainly none of the “Eddie Vedder on helium” that made you either love or hate The Dismemberment Plan’s Travis Morrison. Dendrons could probably attract some Snow Patrol or Muse fans with these songs, although I’m not sure how you reach them besides opening for either group on a European tour. Dendrons are certainly capable and well-polished right out of the gate, so who knows what their future holds, presuming there is still a future for any of us.

DJ Central Passion 12″ (NES)
DJ Central’s “Drive” was my hands-down house anthem of 2017, a truly magical moment brimming with sentimentality. I’ve been chasing that dragon from him ever since, and mostly kinda let down (although last year’s full-length Om Dans has some truly sweet moves – not sure how I forgot to write that one up). Anyway, any prior contentions are forgiven thanks to Passion, a pitch-perfect four-song EP of Danish tech-house. “How” is the perfect opener, as it feels like the early morning hours after a restful night’s sleep. The butterflies are in the backyard, coffee’s on the stove, and DJ Central is getting his gear setup for a productive day. “TGTBT” is appropriately funky and lush, recalling Move D’s successful collaborations with Benjamin Brunn. When “Passion” hits, though, it’s all over – Central found the perfect vocal sample in the two syllables that make up its title, recalling Luomo at peak Vocalcity prowess. I love this cut! Makes me want to drive a factory-fresh Hyundai Sonata through an empty highway tunnel late at night. “Promise” wraps things up, but at this point I’m already completely satiated, and DJ Central seems to have anticipated this, as this final track diddles and dawdles into a soft after-hours formation. After all, the best DJs know what you want before you even know you want it.

Doldrey Invocation Of Doom 12″ (Iron Lung)
No matter what the extreme underground genre Iron Lung is peddling, there’s usually some sort of twist involved: maybe it’s harsher than anything out there, or weirder, or coming from some angle unique to that particular artist’s point of view. I was waiting to locate Doldrey’s distinctive traits, but after spinning this one a few times, it’s almost intensely typical hardcore-tinged death-metal. You’ve got a goat-demon presiding over a horde of skeletons on the cover (attributed to an artist named “Necfrost”), and song titles as basic as “Void”, “Harbinger Of Death” and “Eternal Oblivion”. The music falls comfortably between Possessed, Innumerable Forms and the stompy breakdowns of Hoax, with a big roomy recording that provides an expansive sound at the expense of its overall heaviness. Don’t get me wrong, it’s perfectly passable death-core, but we’re all spoiled with exceptionally great bands here in 2020 and Doldrey, while perfectly good, are not one of the ones I’d call great. They’re from Singapore, which certainly casts their music in a different light (bustling hub of underground metal it is not) – it’s gotta be harder to gather a crew of death-metal-loving conspirators there than in any major (or minor) American, European or South American city. Kudos to them for making it happen, but I think I’m gonna pass over Invocation Of Doom in favor of Iron Lung’s other recent slabs.

France Far-Out Far-West LP (Standard In-Fi / Mental Groove)
Vive le France! This drone-rock trio continue their quest to release as many live records as possible; Far-Out Far-West documents a 2008 show in Bordeaux. Theirs is a consistency you can rely on: much like all the other France records I’ve heard, this one is a plodding bass/drums groove (as much as a single note can really groove) with slowly heightening hurdy-gurdy wailing and churning over top. Completely devoted to the “Faust with Tony Conrad” school of drone-rock hypnosis, this record is one-sided, with the full thirty-three minute performance (only one “song” if you wanna call it that) playing from the inside out. While there are highs and lows here, the pacing and tenor of this performance is quite steady, a jam to slowly slide down into, like a hot-tub without the initial temperature shock. I can’t rightly say you need this one if you’ve got any other France records (their OTT double-album is probably the one I’d recommend), but it’s absolutely imperative that you own at least one of these France records. I’ll leave the specifics up to you.

The Futurians Atuan 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
I’ve always been fascinated by the type of underground groups who perform rough and unscripted music (err, for the sake of argument let’s call it “music”) and insist on documenting and releasing every last drop of it. It’s like they’re more of a production facility, screening sleeves, copying CD-rs, dubbing tapes and occasionally sending their music out for professional duplication, than they are musical entities focused on the sounds they produce. Fascinating. Dunedin, New Zealand’s The Futurians are certainly one of these outfits, with a dazzling array of releases surely only heard by a select couple dozen humans total, and now they have what might be their highest-profile release to date: a 7″ single on I Dischi Del Barone. Don’t expect any Kiwi-pop hooks here – “Atuan Part One” is a dizzying flurry of atonal bashing, with every effect turned all the way up on whatever the synth, guitar and vocals are running through. “Atuan Part Two” goes further into the unknown with percussive call-and-response that bends my ear in a similar manner to Crash Worship, Foot Village and Menstruation Sisters. Nothing particularly exciting, but I’m not gonna turn down a good lo-fi crash n’ smash for at least a couple go-arounds. Can you believe that they don’t even have Covid in New Zealand anymore? They have lots of Futurians CD-rs instead.

Gulch Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress LP (Closed Casket Activities)
It’s rare in these days of the musical long tail that three unconnected friends mention loving the same new record in a short period of time. It’s even rarer when it’s a hardcore-grind album, which is the case with Gulch’s full-length debut. They’re from southern California, power-violence’s fertile homeland, and they’ve put together a heavy, formidable, moshworthy debut. My scientific analysis has located equal parts Despise You, Napalm Death, Trapped Under Ice and Morbid Angel, a hard-hitting formula that is just unique enough to avoid listener fatigue while also solemnly adhering to traditional hardcore-grind behavior. The vocalist has a raw squawk (not too high-pitched, with the right level of esophagal masochism), and the songs move quick and abruptly but with a sense of cohesion, not just stacks of parts deployed at random. Definitely sounds like the type of band who could share the stage with Xibalba, Healer, Turnstile, Power Trip or Jesus Piece and possibly show them up, depending on the crowd’s mood. And much like the rest of that lineup, even in today’s pitiful economy, these guys know how to shift units: unless my eyes are deceiving me, they sold out of the 1,500 vinyl copies of Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress in a week. Who does that anymore, besides Bruno Mars, David Bowie and The Beatles?

Hero Dishonest Maailma Palaa Taas LP (Peterwalkee / If Society / Trująca Fala)
Eighth album from the indefatigable Finnish hardcore-punk unit Hero Dishonest. Where do you go for your eighth album as a hardcore band? Hero Dishonest’s answer seems to be the exact same place they’ve always been, melding ’90s melodic punk with “old-school” American hardcore-punk and Japanese hardcore thrash. They’re past the point of having any chance at being cool, comfortably settled into middle-age and playing music initially crafted for teenage enjoyment, so they just keep doing their own thing exactly in the way that they like to do it. The plus side is that no one could ever accuse Hero Dishonest of being trendy, but the downside is that their music isn’t quite what I’m personally looking for, either. It reminds me at times of SNFU, Kill Your Idols and Judgement, with a lingering sense that they listen to far more Fat Wreck Chords discs (let’s say No Use For A Name, Strung Out and Good Riddance) than the currently-revered hardcore influences (United Mutation, Void, G.I.S.M., Sick Pleasure, you get the picture). Peterwalkee pressed this version specifically for American customers in an edition of one hundred copies, so surely there are ninety-nine of my fellow citizens willing to give Maailma Palaa Taas a welcoming home, right?

Jäverling Meets Ganjaman_72 Chasing Dub / Insane Pissapes 7″ (Höga Nord)
I know what you’re thinking: “Jäverling encountering Ganjaman_72 in the studio? Not in my lifetime!”. Well, much like many other things that seemed utterly preposterous prior to this year, Jäverling did indeed meet up with Ganjaman_72 for a 7″ single, and it’s a beautiful dubbed-out excursion. Like a lazy river ride for your stereo, these two cuts are deep and charming left-field dubs. “Chasing Dub” utilizes what appears to be live bass-guitar and it pushes it through a prismatic lens of effects, percussion rattling off into infinite reverberations. The b-side track title sounds like it should be a new side project of Wolf Eyes and Crazy Doberman, but “Insane Pissapes” is another heavyweight vibe. Digi-dub bass meets clanky percussion meets a rising synth arpeggio that has me feeling like I’m at least a couple inches off the ground, even if I’m lying down. If I had any sort of human social contact planned, I’d be queuing up “Insane Pissapes” to immediately set the mood. Stoned-out Swedish dub is here to stay!

Kong Kong Raw And Primitive 7″ (Gorilla City)
Can you believe this is the first ape-themed Swedish oi record to be reviewed in these pages? It feels long overdue, I’ll tell you that. I can’t quite tell from the record itself the level of gimmickry this band is going for – do they wear ape suits and stuff, or are they merely content with calling their band Kong Kong and going by pseudonyms like B.B. Kong (guitarist) and Megaprimatus Kong (bass)? I may never know. Anyway, they’ve got four songs on here, which sound like 80% Dropkick Murphys and 20% Fucked Up. Bouncy and anthemic, this is oi for ex-skinheads who collect Funko Pops with their children and have more of a nostalgic rather than active connection to punk. Nothing wrong with that – it’s honestly a little unnerving when angry numbskull skinhead teens stay that way into their 40s and 50s – so if there are people looking for some harmless street-punk fun with a wacky gimmick, and they happen to live in Sweden, they’ve probably already ordered a limited Kong Kong t-shirt and 7″ bundle, and I am not one to begrudge anyone for that.

Landing / Headroom split LP (Red Scroll)
If there’s one thing I won’t accept from fans of CT guitar sorceress Kryssi Battalene, it’s complaining that there isn’t anything new to hear – just wait a few minutes and I promise you, some new recording featuring her signature smoldering guitar will materialize. I had never heard Landing before (due to an unfair personal grudge based on the occasional confusion I’d suffer when seeing their name and thinking it said Landed instead), but their music here is a keen fit. Lovely long-term-married-couple indie-psych ambience, like Labradford on a chill-wave diet, or Windy & Carl if they allowed a little trip-hop to seep beneath the blurry tapestry of soothing chords (both guitar-based and synthesizer-derived). If you weren’t relaxed before the record started, you certainly are now, and Battalene’s Headroom maintain your horizontal position with three elegiac psych-rock movements. I have to wonder if they’re showing their hand a little bit by pumping out so much content… their music is soothing and extended, like a drip of sweat on the tip of Neil Young’s nose, but by releasing so much of it at such a furious clip, is it basically as though Headroom And Co. are saying “this is all much too easy for us”? They could at least pretend that some level of frustration and trial-and-error went into their tunes, so that it feels like a special moment of success, like some secret one-of-a-kind gem we must tenderly hold. Chances are that it’s both easy and special, though, and as long as the CT Psych-Rock Association continues to have such a productive run, I hope their faucet remains wide open.

Loss Prevention Shoot To Kill 7″ (11 PM)
Kansas City’s Loss Prevention got together back in November 2019 – what a lucky time to be a new hardcore band! They managed to squeak out this debut 7″ EP with the quickness, and it’s a nice opening statement of immature and youthful hardcore-punk. Theirs is probably the millionth hardcore song with the title of “Vicious Cycle”, but they were bold enough to spell it “Viscious Cycle” on the back cover – why don’t more hardcore bands throw proper spelling out the window? Even bolder, lyrics are included for this song but I swear the singer is only yelling “cycle / cycle / cycle / vicious cycle” for the song’s duration. Why don’t more hardcore bands only sing the title of the song with no other lyrics, too? Loss Prevention is stirring up all sorts of questions in me. These four tunes are in and out fast – they could’ve easily fit on one side of a 7″ – and they stick with a fast, aggro delivery, recalling if not quite emulating aspects of Urban Waste and Headcleaners. No mosh breakdowns, just hardcore speed with a singer who seems to be content screaming as few words as possible. Works for me, and it should work for you, too.

Samara Lubelski Partial Infinite Sequence LP (Open Mouth)
Samara Lubelski continues her journey to the cosmic center of the violin with this new solo album, Partial Infinite Sequence. She’s clearly zoned in for its full (or should I say partial) duration, doling out a hypnotic otherworldly transmission that swells like the tide. In a way, I’d say her technique here resembles early electronic music, as she manages to finagle the same frazzled frequencies Tod Dockstader would’ve used to soundtrack a cartoon character seeing stars after an anvil fell on its head. You can tell it’s violin though, from the wheezing scrapes that lap each other and the physicality of her performance, reminiscent of those great Agencement albums (although far, far less maddening – there’s a definite healing property to Lubelski’s enforced hypnosis here). Towards the end of the second side, it starts to sound like the violin is trying to form words, as though it’s attempting to share some urgent warning from another dimension. It’s definitely out-there stuff, which of course means its appropriate company for the rest of the Open Mouth roster. Partial Infinite Sequence will aid you in your quest to lose or find your mind, depending on exactly what you’re looking for.

Minor Science Second Language LP (Whities)
About six years ago, music critic Angus Finlayson put his money where his mouth is and started making his own music instead of just writing about others. Bold move, although I guess it’s bolder if you suck, because Finlayson’s Minor Science moniker has brought some serious hits over the past few years: peep “Volumes” off Whities 012 and see if you don’t catch your pelvis twitching to the rhythm. Now he’s got his own album, and while it hasn’t been as compelling as prior singles (as is often the case with techno full-lengths), there’s a lot to love here. It’s sophisticated stuff, clearly well-versed in sound design while simultaneously beholden to the power of a sick beat. Finlayson packs a lot into these tunes, often upending tracks (see the full-stop in “Polyglottal”) with a curiosity that’s contagious. It’s like he wants to look under the hood of post-dubstep techno and futz around with things until something new is happening. Very much in line with artists like Joy O, Overmono, Nathan Micay and Batu (not to mention the rest of the ever-growing Whities family), but with his own particular set of predilections. Minor Science likes to rave hard (the pulse-pounding “Gone Rouge” makes me want to hop up to one of those pedestals above the dance-floor and really show off my stuff) while still ensuring there’s no easy read on where the track is headed or by what methods it plans on traveling. High caliber techno that makes you move without holding your hand through the process.

Psychic Graveyard A Bluebird Vacation LP (Deathbomb Arc)
What a nice surprise! I love(d) Arab On Radar, from their bee-in-your-bonnet guitars and frazzled rhythms to their perverse and grumpy demeanor, but I hadn’t done much recently to keep up with the new bands that sprung from their ashes. Made In Mexico were alright if kind of a letdown, and the little I heard from Doomsday Student and The Chinese Stars didn’t stick. I decided on a whim to peep A Bluebird Vacation, this relatively-new group’s second album in two years, and wow, it’s an absolute joy! Scuzzy, pounding noise-rock that’s still very much noise-rock even though I can’t hear any guitars? Live drums, what sounds like three or four menacing oscillators and synths bleating on and off, and the firmly-spoken voice of Eric Paul, down a few registers from his days in Arab On Radar. It’s heavy, gruesome music, recalling my favorite moments of Six Finger Satellite and Pop. 1280 without remotely copying either. Actually, A Bluebird Vacation feels very similar in mood and delivery (a sort of post-screamo minimalist industrial?) to Daughters (with whom they share producer Seth Manchester), and it makes me wonder why Daughters blew up and I haven’t heard anyone I know mention Psychic Graveyard once. Is it because Daughters’ vocalist Alexis Marshall is sexy and Eric Paul decidedly is not? As far as I’m concerned, Paul could write circles around Marshall – his lyrics here are particularly curious, memorable and darkly amusing, and they seem to flow naturally from him, as they always have. Daughters’ endless touring schedule surely plays a significant factor, whereas I get the impression that Psychic Graveyard are more of a hobby, less of a “going for it” affair. Now that we can’t go out anywhere anymore though, perhaps the odds are slowly tipping in favor of Psychic Graveyard.

R.M.F.C. Reader 7″ (Anti Fade)
From the cover art, I had assumed the band was actually called “R.M.F.C. Reader”, which seems excessive as far as band names go, but worry not – it’s just R.M.F.C., and it stands for Rock Music Fan Club. It’s on Anti Fade, so I knew it had to have some cool guitars and feature at least one person lurking within New South Wales, Australia, and I was right on both counts. It’s apparently the solo project of a teenager named Buz Clatworthy (please let that be the real name his parents stuck him with), and I’m impressed, seeing as all the instruments are performed with confidence and skill. “Reader” starts off with a nod to the nerd-pogo mania of Liquids or Erik Nervous, but the verses cool down with a taut groove that has me thinking someone slipped Young Clatworthy a Total Control disc during his freshman year. Certainly fits right in with the stuff Neck Chop and Digital Regress are peddling, and as worthy of your ear as any Ammerican act that home-records their solo-project punk rock. “Faux Freaks” is on the flip, and it’s a little more traditionally first-wave punk sounding, as if The Vibrators or The Adverts were actually just one lonely teenage boy surrounded by people on their phones all day. Unlike many of the other lo-fi solo punk records I’ve been hearing, there’s a subtle sophistication in the songwriting here that has me curious what else might come from the R.M.F.C. once they are allowed out past midnight.

Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb Fake Nature LP (Big Neck)
So we’ve got one member in a gold snake-print bodysuit, two in funny animal masks, and a third in a bunny mask, who’s pictured while gnawing a studded carrot (?) in multiple images. You’ve got my attention… do go on! Unfortunately, the slapdash costuming is where the fun ends for me with Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb’s sophomore album, Fake Nature. Is there still an audience for this stuff? It’s like, semi-jokey pop-punk with a serious deficiency of memorable hooks, riffs, choruses, or anything else that makes pop-punk fun and catchy. It sounds like the early ’00s albums by bands like The Queers and Screeching Weasel – everyone’s least favorite albums by those once celebrated, now disgraced acts – with maybe a subtle splash of flame-tattoo garage-y attitude. It doesn’t even strike me as particularly fun music, and they’re all wearing wacky masks for chrissakes! Even so, I suppose I was fine to tolerate Fake Nature, that is until the chorus of “Perverse Mortgage” hit, featuring the most egregious Fat Mike vocal imitation I’ve heard in forever. I’d say it’s like nails on a chalkboard, but I could actually go for a recording of nails on a chalkboard, whereas corny pop-punk by adults who should know better is what truly gets me shuddering in anguish.

Ulla Tumbling Towards A Wall LP (Experiences Ltd.)
I’m not immune to curiosity over the most hyped underground electronic record of the year, particularly in a year when there is little else to do besides listen to music at home. Ulla’s Tumbling Towards A Wall has been out for a few months now, but scarce to come by, at least until somewhat recently, presumably due to a repress (although like pretty much everything about Ulla, confirmed details are scant). Gotta say, this one lives up to the internet thirst, as it’s a captivating album of nuanced electronics, rich with healing properties amid plenty of left-field sound construction, forever to remain mostly unidentified. The equation here seems to be one part Autechre, a dash of Mille Plateaux’s seminal soundscaping, a pinch of Pendant’s skyward lo-fi drones, a hefty spoonful of Mike Cooper’s ambient-exotica and a Pop Ambient finishing glaze. Very hazy, mysterious sounds, delivered with both rhythmic pulses and beatless drifting. The flow here is pretty perfect, as drone-y moments give way to slow-motion grooves and back again; Ulla expertly weaves organic and synthetic sounds until it becomes impossible to tell which is which. “Leaves And Wish” is a particularly sumptuous groove: dystopian Balaeric, perhaps? It’s mixed for maximum impact, with swells of bass that strike at just the right frequency; jealousy from any average dub-techno unit is certainly warranted. I’m far from the first person to say it, but Tumbling Towards A Wall is a year-end contender, on my list and probably yours, too.

Upsammy Zoom 2xLP (Dekmantel)
Upsammy rocked my world with her Words R Inert EP back in 2018 (can you remember 2018, because I cannot). I’ve been chasing that thrill with her music ever since, and she hasn’t skimped on sharing it – since then she’s dropped another 12″, a full-length, and now another full-length, this one titled in homage to the only way we can see friends anymore: Zoom. Across these two 12″s, Upsammy doles out more of her warm, percussive IDM. She continues to craft effervescent pads and chiming tones with precision engineering here, very much in line with Aphex Twin’s Syro if a little less dense and a little more restrained. “Subsoil” is a pretty good example of the Upsammy sound, wielding beats straight out of Drexciya’s aquatic dreamworld, the bleepy-bloops of some classic Warp Records IDM and a tender melodic groove. At times, it’s as if Upsammy figured out a way to harness the split-second moment of an ice-cold can of flavored seltzer (coconut-lime, I’m thinking) being cracked open, using that refreshing crack as the center of her rhythms. Other moments get even warmer and fuzzier, with kindhearted synths that recall some of Dekmantel’s cozier artists like Fatima Yamaha and even Juju & Jordash. Not saying this one will change your outlook on life, but it’s a refreshing, energizing album with all the healing benefits that prismatic breakbeat techno can offer.

Vladislav Delay, Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare 500-Push-Up LP (Sub Rosa)
Helluva 2020 for Vladislav Delay – he drops his first solo album in a number of years and it ends up being a harsh power-electronics divergence from the presumed Vladislav Delay sound, and now he’s got a new collaborative album with legendary dub duo Sly & Robbie. For this one (it’s not the first time Vladislav Delay has worked with Sly & Robbie), he went to Kingston and acted as a fly on the wall for a handful of the legendary production duo’s jam sessions, recording not only the drums, bass and vocals but the conversations between takes and the room itself. He then took the tapes back to Finland and gave them the expected Vladislav Delay treatment, warping these dub riddims with wild effects, misty dub echos and various tricky mixing techniques to which I’m not privy. I was reading a recent interview with Vladislav Delay, in which he shared his dislike of repetitive, locked-in-place loops, and from the sound of 500-Push-Up I’d confirm that he means it – these tracks bop and lurch themselves forward, but never in a rigid groove or synthetically looped format. Even when digitally altered and transformed, the playful humanity of Sly & Robbie’s production shines through, organic and genial.

Days Of A Quiet Sun compilation LP (Feel It)
At first glance, I was dismayed to think that Feel It has gotten into the old-guy-reissue game, music meant for ex-punks, balding and bearded and sitting in their recliner listening to the music of their parents’ generation. I looked a little closer, though, and I think I get it: they’ve always had a sharp sense of regional pride, and this compilation is a selection of remastered cuts produced by Richmond, VA’s Martin Gary between 1966 and 1968. It also doesn’t hurt that these tracks are all pretty darn palatable, ranging in styles similar to The 13th Floor Elevators, The MC5, Motown, The Doors, Northern Soul… it seems most counter-cultural rock sounds of the late ’60s passed through Gary’s studio. I’m assuming that like me, you haven’t heard any of this stuff, from what must’ve been one of the dozens of groups named The Barracudas in the previous century to The Hazards and Duck Baker. “Hippie Queen” by The Bosom Blues Band is a particularly refreshing blues-rock jam, threatening to knock your Mount Carmel records off the shelf. As it turns out, Days Of A Quiet Sun does a great job showcasing some of the forgotten history of late ’60s garage-bands in the vicinity of Richmond, DC and their countless suburbs. Try as I might, there’s no way to hate on this one!