Reviews – April 2018

Acrylics Structure / Gluttony 7″ (Drunken Sailor)
Acrylics are back with another two-song 7″ single, this one in homage to everyone’s favorite mall-based men’s clothing store (at least before it turned into Express Men, what’s up with that?) and everyone’s favorite deadly sin. Pretty sure this one saw a domestic release on Iron Lung too, but I’ve got the British version in front of me, and it’s nice to know this Californian band is tickling fancies worldwide. “Structure” gets right to it, an up-tempo pogo beat driving a manic surge of hardcore energy while the guitarist is granted free range to fully go off, running through East Bay Ray demented surf lines to Greg Ginn jazz-noodles and back. It goes by in a blip, and it’s the rare hardcore tune I find myself immediately wanting to re-play, in hopes of grasping a better understanding of what just happened. If “Structure” was lean and mean, “Gluttony” starts on an overstuffed note, at least until it also kicks into a choppy thrash beat with more wandering guitar antics and a vocalist who can only manage two syllables at a time (with music this frantic, it works). Reminds me of Cult Ritual, if Cult Ritual were ever afforded a recording where one could discern what was going on. Excellent work!

Beta Boys Brick Walls / Littered Streets 7″ (Total Punk)
Total Punk went and snagged one of the lowest-effort punk bands around, Beta Boys, to join their elite ranks of stamped paper-sleeve singles. This one features “Brick Walls” and “Littered Streets”, two things I presume Beta Boys pass while walking to get their morning coffee, and it’s probably the most musically-present material I’ve heard from them yet. “Brick Walls” takes a hard stance as it stalks the alleys, like a less manic Hank Wood with the chorus pedal turned up far beyond recommended levels. The lyrics also mention “littered streets” which I thought was a cool effect, blurring themes into each other, unless of course the songs are mislabeled (probably more likely). “Littered Streets” is twice the speed, with twice the lyrics, very early Southern Cali ‘core ala Stalag 13 or perhaps 7 Seconds if they ever had a Darby Crash phase (sadly their interest in straight-edge killed that before it could start). If you’re already committed to picking up half a dozen Total Punk singles this year, this one very well might make the cut. I could tell you whether or not the cover features a crude pencil drawing of cartoons giving the middle finger, but I’d rather leave you wondering, sorry!

Big Heet On A Wire LP (no label)
Big Heet are from Tallahassee and Exploding In Sound recently released On A Wire on tape, followed by this LP version… on Laserdisc! I damn near gasped when I pulled it out of its sleeve, like a 12″ extra-thick CD that somehow was cut via lathe, and it sounds surprisingly great, with none of the mottled patina of your average Peter King lathe-cut. It’s a striking piece, and I have to wonder if more unsigned, underfunded punk bands are gonna figure out where Big Heet got this done to press up a hundred or fewer copies of their albums, too. I would! Anyway, cool that this exists and all, but I might as well tell you about Big Heet as well. They’re a spazzy punk band, reminiscent of Skull Kontrol, Popular Shapes, Xbxrx, but maybe with a predilection for scruffy No Idea Records pop-punk buried somewhere under all the frantic beats and careening guitars. There are definitely at least a couple tracks that overheat in the classic Fat Day and Quadiliacha traditions, too. I certainly enjoyed listening to it, as well as the fact that a bunch of snarky punks from northern Florida beat Jack White to the punch on an outrageous vinyl gimmick – this sorta thing used to belong to the unloved freaks anyway, not just retro-obsessed toy collectors.

Peter Brötzmann & Fred Lonberg-Holm Ouroboros LP (Astral Spirits / Monofonus Press)
Just like a full column of Oreos, I can go for a Peter Brötzmann skronk-fest just about any time, and this new one is a mighty helping indeed. Here he’s teamed with Chicago-based avant-garde menace Fred Lonberg-Holm (he on “strings and electronics”) and it’s just what you’d expect while still full of unusual turns and surprising motifs. Brötzmann and Lonberg-Holm spend quite a bit of Ouroboros conversing with each other through their instruments, ranging from shy pleasantries to drunken shouting matches. Brötzmann casts an intimidating shadow for anyone trying to make some loud noise, but Lonberg-Holm wastes no time getting into the thick of it, plucking his strings with at least two dozen fingers and shredding his electronic gear as if the authorities are on their way to confiscate it. I thought Brötzmann’s recent pairing with Heather Leigh was going to be the most thrilling thing he did this decade, but Ouroboros (culled from a 2011 session in Germany) is a contender for sure, another brash and curious potion from two seasoned outlaws.

The Cowboys Vol. 4 LP (Feel It)
Following their self-titled album on HoZac last year (as well as a self-titled collection of previously released material in 2016, and a bunch of tapes, etc.), The Cowboys continue to flood the basement with their songs on this new full-length (by some metric, their fourth volume). I like it! They’ve got a distinct sound at least, clean-cut power-pop punk for the Lumpy Records mutant-punk crowd, and while that sort of thing could easily falter due to a lack of chops or hooks, The Cowboys come equipped with both. They seem to embrace the lovable nerdy-outsider vibe of Jonathan Richman (just check those athletic socks and dress shoes on the cover) and they channel it through the rowdy teenage garage-rock action of the late ’60s, the pointedly poppy punk of the early ’80s and a slight touch of The Strokes’ calculated-coolness (check “Transatlantic Romantic” and tell me it doesn’t sound like The Nerves covering something off Room On Fire). Their versatility in various forms of wild n’ basic guitar-rock pays off well, not just in their ability to write dozens of songs each year, but to ensure the results are fresh, fun and worth repeating.

Dark Blue Fight To Love / For You 7″ (12XU)
Dark Blue continue their stint as an unstoppable force of post-modern melodic malaise, lacing up their boots with roses in their teeth and daring you to even think about trolling them. Cool shot of Dark Blue’s Next Generation on the cover, and the a-side “Fight To Love” is cool too, even if I can’t shake the mental image of Bono with his arms outstretched each time I read the title. It’s pretty tender, with barely the slightest whiff of skinhead stomp, instead geared up for a slot on 120 Minutes and maybe a package tour with Soul Asylum and Gin Blossoms (who, let’s not deny it, knew how to write some songs). The b-side is a cover of Anti-Nowhere League’s “For You”, and I have to wonder if the original is also seventeen minutes long or if Dark Blue took the liberty of stretching this one out to an extended length. “For You” repurposes the melody from Grease‘s “Summer Nights” into something ex-punks can dance to at their weddings in front of relatives, although truthfully I bet those ex-punks are all just dancing to “Summer Nights” itself anyway. I’d tease Dark Blue for playing showtunes, but I don’t want to have to explain to the EMTs taking me to the hospital that it was a Grease-related comment on my blog that got me curbstomped by Philly’s Rudest Skins.

Digital Leather Pink Thunder LP (FDH / P.Trash)
Even back in Digital Leather’s heyday (the mid-to-late ’00s?) I have to say, I wasn’t a fan of theirs. They released records on labels I appreciated and respected like Shattered and Goner, and friends of mine whose taste I admired were fans, but it never clicked for me. Listening now to Pink Thunder, this project’s eleventh album (not counting CD-rs, tapes or splits), I think I like Digital Leather even less! I just really don’t understand it, maybe you can help me out here: listen to “The Voyager” and tell me it doesn’t sound exactly like one of those “Casey and his brother” sketches on Tim & Eric. The vocals are almost comically muttered and out of tune, and the beats are, well, really dorky, but seemingly unintentionally so. It comes across as if it was an incredibly unpleasant experience to make and perform, and presumably an even less pleasant one to listen to. I get that if you’re a punk rocker who fell in love with Depeche Mode and OMD, you might be psyched to see that someone with a similar background is attempting a retro synth-pop sound, but man, shouldn’t it actually be at least kind of good? How did we wind up here?

Haircut Shutting Down 7″ (Feel It)
Something about the band name and messy use of a digital-clock font had me thinking (hoping?) this was going to sound like Le Shok, but nope, Haircut have different plans. They’re more shaved heads and DIY bleach jobs than Spock cuts, and they blade through five tunes on this, their debut EP. I have to say, I can’t remember the last time I heard a group bear such a striking similarity to Zero Boys circa Vicious Cycle – it’s not just the guitar tone that’s an exact match, but the frantic riffing as well, hands darting all over the necks of the guitars while the drummer sets a rapid pace full of changes and digressions. That great and overlooked Face The Rail album from a couple years ago or perhaps the first Suicidal Tendencies LP share a sonic kinship too, but Shutting Down is really like the fastest hardcore tunes off Vicious Cycle reproduced with less-melodic / more-aggro vocals. These five tunes are in and out in a blip, but it’s a blip that demands repeating if any of the aforementioned comparisons tickle your fancy (and tickle they should).

Häxxan The Magnificent Planet Of Alien Vampiro II LP (Slovenly)
Don’t say I never teach you anything here: Häxxan is actually pronounced “cha-san”. They’re from Tel Aviv, and clearly part of Slovenly’s plan to seek out punk and punk-adjacent sounds from all over the globe, not just North America (see other recent releases from Greece’s Nomos 751 and Chile’s ANMLS), a noble effort to broaden our US-centric tastes. I’d be even more into it if I found the artists to be particularly great, or even really good, but I’m sad to say there isn’t much in Häxxan’s outrageously titled second album that sticks with me. I get the feeling they want to write songs beyond the normal 1-2-3-4, verse-chorus punk rock formula, but they don’t seem to have any exciting ideas to replace it with. Instead, they kinda stretch things out unnecessarily, or force incongruent parts together. Plus, they mostly seem to be a jumpy pop-punk band at heart, as if they truly just want to cover The Rezillos and The Dickies and have some fun bopping around, but the person in charge of writing the songs is bogging things down with visions of grandeur. See, you think it’s all well and good to let your guitarist buy a Mahavishnu Orchestra album until they turn around and accidentally think they can do all of that, too.

Helta Skelta Nightclubbin’ 7″ (Deranged / Helta Skelta)
If I was working the door at a club called Rouge or Mint and these chuffed-up punks strolled up, I’d sure as hell turn them right around. I wouldn’t want any trouble in my lounge, and it’s clear that Helta Skelta are nothing but! They’re from Perth and this is at least their second 7″ EP to come through here, and it’s pretty good, definitely punk, and most certainly Australian. The title track kinda walks and talks, more attitude than hook, and it certainly works for me – I wish more punk bands would realize that the personality and presentation of their tunes is probably more important than the riffs themselves. They get more riled-up and frantic on the b-side, with tightly clamped hi-hats and a tasteful guitar solo to wrap it up “B88”, whereas “Autodidact” bounces like a jubilant punk who just found twenty bucks on the ground. It’s a quick in-and-out for Helta Skelta, but they clearly picked the right three tunes for the job… very self-assured punk rock, rightfully so, and it shows!

Yuzo Iwata Daylight Moon LP (Siltbreeze)
I love me some Siltbreeze, but was content to pass on this new one, that is until I found out that Yuzo Iwata works at my favorite local independent hippie-ish grocery store. It’s quite possible he is responsible for ordering my favorite dark-chocolate almond bars, or frying up those delectable seitan dumplings (their hot bar is undeniable), and now I’ve found out that he also produces pristine, introspective-yet-expansive guitar music, toeing the line between understated, no-nonsense folk and classically psychedelic rambling. You get stretched-out guitar bliss on tracks like “Drone Beetle” nestled up to cozy Velvets-esque communal strummers like “Gigolo”; it’s mostly instrumental, although happily-chanted interjections and sparse poetic lyrics appear when necessary. There’s an informal jubilance deep within Daylight Moon, which reminds me of Tori Kudo (who wrote the liner notes for Iwata’s sole prior LP), but Iwata rocks much too hard and frequently to be confused with Kudo’s playfully amateurish jangle. This one’s all about the expressiveness of an amplified guitar, free of time constraints or mortal concerns, speaking a language that can only be communicated through six strings and percussive accompaniment. Now those dumplings are gonna taste better than ever.

Korea Undok Group Continent 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
Just in case you thought I Dischi was on the verge of selling out into actual discernible songcraft, allow me to fly my drone over your backyard and have it drop this Korea Undok Group 7″ into your above-ground pool. I know nothing about this “group” besides that they are probably not from Korea and have self-released a number of tapes, so I’m assuming this 7″ is a nice intro into their sound and style. “Continent” somehow weaves lo-fi field-recording into melodic noise – a blender set to liquify rips over a drifting five-note piano motif until it becomes impossible to tell where the actual instrumentation begins and the tapes end. “On Alibi” opens the flip with more piano and the addition of slowed vocals, like a European homage to The Shadow Ring’s murkiest waters. It exudes a similar display of deep rumbling melodies melded with parts-unknown sonic manipulations, fairly simple (and the opposite of flashy) and strangely satisfying. I could honestly go for a whole cassette’s worth of this stuff, I just need to find a 1994 Honda Civic hatchback to play it in.

Litüus 2236 S Wentworth Ave LP (Avian)
Pretty handy album title here, as I bet if you dug the music found on this LP, you could roll over to 2236 S Wentworth Ave in Chicago and find Litüus himself jamming some foreboding and tense electronics in quite possibly the same cluttered room featured on the cover! It’s a very real and concrete way to ground an album, and it’s a nice contrast to the music here, which is mostly single-tone synth-work that resembles some of the dark new-age stuff Posh Isolation has been recently releasing. Or perhaps if you were listening to Autechre’s Confield on a stereo with only one working speaker, you might note a similarity to the pads and tones explored here. It’s certainly not dance music, not even prance music, but probably at least partially trance music, depending on your edible and vape consumption. Sounds pretty cool, although I often find myself wishing each track had more than one element at play, particularly during some cuts that sound like simply one ingredient rather than the full recipe. I’m all for minimalism, but when there’s just two echoed bleeps volleying back and forth, I can’t help but wonder if maybe there’s something fun or interesting happening next door at 2238 S Wentworth instead.

The Living Eyes Modern Living LP (Neck Chop / Anti Fade)
Modern Living is a well-rounded punk album, and the third one for this Australian group. The art is cool: a colorful rendering of each band member numbly staring at their phones (the insert continues the theme), and the music is even cooler, a mostly mid-tempo affair that references first-wave hardcore-punk without feeling overly nostalgic. I’m hearing a bit of that early Southern Cali sound, like TSOL or Bad Religion, but played slightly slower and with an impish sense of mischief instead of furrowed seriousness or even the slightest appetite for violence. They mix that in with some power-pop struttin’ and at least a slight nod to the modern mutant-punk scene (surely someone in The Living Eyes has tasted some slime). Whereas I’ve come to expect unschooled, basement-or-lower punk-rock from Neck Chop, The Living Eyes are clearly talented, or at least well-rehearsed, with songs that must’ve taken at least a little thought to construct, complete with zig-zagging guitar lines and cool drum fills. Doesn’t matter what time or place, a tune like “Horseplay” is top-shelf punk and I hope you get a chance to hear it.

Wolf Müller & Niklas Wandt Instrumentalmusik Von Der Mitte Der World 2xLP (Growing Bin)
I know it’s not even really Spring but we’ve already got a strong candidate for “cover art of the year” with Instrumentalmusik Von Der Mitte Der World – just check Müller and Wandt with their picnic spread of percussion and samplers, feasting on the possibilities of rhythm instead of Pinot Grigio and Roquefort. Both of these chaps are new to me, but I won’t soon forget them, as this sprawling double LP is a fantastic trip through various modes of techno, funk, Eurodance, house, Balaeric and even touches of trance and “world music”. Every dance-oriented option is fair game for these two groove wizards, and they really went all out on Instrumentalmusik. Bubbly synths are a constant presence, as are lush pads and of course out-of-this-world drums, both live and synthesized, all coming together to form fully-realized songs as opposed to organized jams (sweet though organized jams can be). I’m reminded a bit of Move D and Benjamin Brunn’s fantastic Songs From The Beehive album in the way that meticulous production expertise can be laid to joyous long-form house excursions, but this album is far more organic in nature – just check the jungle-funk freakout of “Lockerina” or the lazy poolside playboy swagger of “Welcome Zum Paradies” to see the ways in which Müller and Wandt skirt the conventional in pursuit of the exceptional. I’m highly recommending this record now and it’s not even warm out yet!

Nomos 751 Nomos 751 LP (Slovenly)
Those hankering for Greek electro-punk, gather round: the debut of George Fotopoulos’s Nomos 751 project is upon us! I’ve listened a few times now, and while I’d love to tell you it’s a new favorite, Nomos 751 is a weary listen, an album overstuffed with songs (seventeen) and not enough interesting ideas to carry them through. They mostly all sound the same, for starters: a drum machine loop starts and remains unchanged for the songs duration, direct-to-laptop fuzz-guitar (and bass) join in after four measures, Fotopoulos shouts out some lyrics in an unwavering tone, and some sort of funny sound-effect hits after the second chorus. The music is more wacky and cartoony (ala a slowed-down Polysics or off-the-cuff “Weird” Al) than grating and cool (The Normal or Count Vertigo, let’s say), and it really starts to blend together after a while. Maybe I’m just used to all these modern punk bands that barely commit three minutes of music to a 7″ EP, but sitting through both sides of this album in a row quickly becomes a chore. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Nomos 751 sucks, as it certainly doesn’t, but Fotopoulos produces a very predictable and monotonous form of synthesized punk music on Nomos 751. If it actually sucked, that at least might have a chance at being kind of interesting, you know?

The Number Ones Another Side Of The Number Ones 7″ (Sorry State)
Sorry State did the right thing by drafting four new cuts from Dublin’s The Number Ones. I swear, I put it on and opening cut “Lie To Me” startled me in it’s near-exact similarity to The Exploding Hearts – it’s like hearing the voice of an old friend you thought you’d never see again. Every aspect (but particularly the vocal delivery) is just so dead-on, and while it could certainly be coincidental, I don’t really care either way, as it’s such a potent power-pop puller-of-heartstrings. The rest of the EP has a similarly pro-crafted Powerpearls vibe, but not as distinctly ‘Heartsy, for better or worse. Maybe a little touch of The Moderns in their communication of harmless guitar-based fun, or The Bureaucrats in their studied pop delivery, but who really cares to split these hairs. “You’re So Happy I Could Cry” is great too – it’s delivered in the same manner as the rest, but the melody and lyrics are ripe for theft from corporate rockers like Weezer or Fall Out Boy to turn into rock radio gold. Now all we need is their scatological side-project The Number Twos to get a release on Lumpy and all will be right with the world.

Portal Ion LP (Profound Lore)
Couldn’t resist picking up the newest from Australian kings of WTF metal, Portal. This sorta thing just makes me feel like a kid again: the shiny cover practically looks like a “limited edition” Spawn comic book, and the music is a stockpile of profoundly pointless and gratuitous metal blasting, in the best way possible of course. Inside that reflective gatefold cover (and upon at least five different colored vinyl variants), Ion is an endless swirl of murky tech-metal riffing, blast beats and darkly summoned vocal groans, as one might have come to expect from Portal. Songs don’t operate on a normal linear grid, or if they do, it’s as if the grid was reformulated, Rubik’s Cube style, where guitars overlap against vocals when they normally wouldn’t, and the drums intermittently blast with the indecisive nature of an animal scampering through the forest, not traditional black metal. If you were to tell me that Portal improvised Ion in one live take, or took two years to craft each intricate moment, I’d believe you either way. Rather than concern myself with how mere mortals would’ve created such a record, I’m far more content to shut off 80% of my brain and allow Ion‘s torrential blasts, howls and infernal torment to fill me with their evil power, so that I may ascend to my rightfully wicked position alongside Skeletor and Cobra Commander.

Rabid Dogs Rabid Dogs 7″ (Aarght!)
There’s simply no slowing down Melbourne’s punk underground, especially not with cool labels like Aarght! propping it up and promoting it. This is Rabid Dogs’ debut, featuring members of Gentlemen (no-fi garage), Krosomom (heavy d-beat) and Lakes (gloomy industrial-folk), and it seems they’ve checked those various extremes at the door in the name of feel-good, high-energy leather-punk. Rabid Dogs are audacious enough to call their first song “No Fun” and pose in a Rose Tattoo-esque group hug for their online promo photo, and that devil-may-care attitude carries into their tunes quite well. I’m reminded of a glam-metal Patsy, or a dumbed-down Vexx with a party attitude, and if either of those concepts sound appealing (they sure do to me) you’ll have no problem enjoying the four speed-punk blasts on this 7″ EP. Maybe a harder-edged, less silly Amyl And The Sniffers vibe, too? I can only imagine Amyl and Rabid Dogs are either best of friends or sworn enemies, operating together as a collective criminal organization or constantly warring with each other in the streets. Maybe we can convince Mikey Young to leave his mastering booth for a minute and act as impartial mediator, for the good of the scene of course.

Rrose & Lucy The Lotus Eaters II 12″ (Eaux)
Excellent tag-team collaboration here from two of my favorite mysterious industrial-techno heavyweights. Might as well have called this one Lotus Eaters: The Revenge, as these three shots are as sharp and deadly as the cross-sectioned bullet adorning the cover. Of course only those in the studio truly knew what went down, but my hypothesis is that Rrose brought the ceremonial deep-harmonic occult drones and their associated long-form textures, and Lucy captured them for dance-floor use with an array of menacing tics, brittle percussion and elastic rhythms. It’s truly the best of both worlds, bringing Rrose out of the avant-garde gallery space and pushing Lucy to exciting and frightening new territories. “Inner Membrane” is my favorite example of the pairing’s success, with widescreen sonic swells matched to ticklish hi-hats and rubbery pads, although there isn’t a dud to be found on this white vinyl 12″ EP. If the records you usually put on during marathon sessions of latex gas-mask sex are starting to feel predictable, look no further.

SBSM Leave Your Body 7″ (Thrilling Living)
What do you think SBSM stands for? “So Brutal So Mean” is my guess, if the tunes on this 7″ EP are any indication! It was released on tape last year, and is now on 7″ thanks to the good people over at Thrilling Living. I’d been waiting for the vinyl myself, and it’s pretty great, which is no surprise given Thrilling Living’s track record. SBSM are by far the least traditionally punk-sounding group on the label’s roster, opting for heavy electronics and percussion in favor of trebly guitars and squealing feedback (although both of those elements factor in here too). Sonically, I’m reminded of heavy drum-machine riot squads like Foetus and Nitzer Ebb, but somehow the delivery is more akin to raging hardcore brutality like Phobia or No Fucker. Imagine Agoraphobic Nosebleed with zero metal influence and a whole lot of fiery queer energy instead – who could resist that? It’s quite a feat, using synthesized rhythms and electronic noise to inspire sensations of gnarly hardcore-punk, but SBSM do it as if it was the only way to be done. Let’s not make them do another tape in order to get a much-overdue full-length vinyl LP, okay people?

Scrap Brain Unhappy Hardcore 7″ (Thrilling Living)
As if SBSM’s smasher wasn’t enough, Thrilling Living reach deep into a London dungeon to pull out Scrap Brain. They’re a real drain-clog of a punk group, ripe for filing next to other London-based miscreants like Good Throb and Frau. Like those other two, Scrap Brain’s sound is distinguishable while sharing the same sense of vitriol, tension and probably more than a little misandry. Their songs are anchored by thick bass and bouncing floor-tom, and come to life through mortally-wounded guitar and motormouth ranting. Vocalist Camille Rearden gives us the news and the weather while delivering their words, turning a song like “Don’t Talk To Me” into some sort of Rudimentary Peni-esque feral thrash, far beyond the GG Allin cover I had initially hoped for. Most tracks start as dirges, and a few finish that way, although Scrap Brain happily utilize tempo changes as a means for delivering their manic sensibility. Proud to say that I saw them live a few months ago and they left before returning the favor later that night – they had a Good Throb reunion gig to attend instead, and I would’ve been suspicious if they hadn’t.

Skull Black Static 12″ (Pre-)
Don’t we all wish we could do what Trevor Jackson is doing: starting one record label as a clearinghouse for various unreleased and archival projects recorded over the past two decades (that’d be Pre-) and starting another label for new and future productions (that will be Post-, apparently). Either he must be filthy rich or quite good at what he does, and I’m thinking it’s probably a mixture of both. He went with the un-Googleable name of “Skull” for this 12″, apparently recorded between 1996 and 2000, and it sounds as fresh and cool now as it would’ve back then. The title track is a slow-weaving cascade of noisy drones (punctuated by what sounds like directly live percussion), and it’s quite supple indeed, but it’s the three b-side tracks that have me keeping Black Static close at hand. “Camazotz” is like a trip to Adam X’s leather dungeon while Crash Worship argue with the doorman outside; “Toxicity” is a slow-motion groove to recall Actress’s early productions (stoned noisy trip-hop?); “Rent Yourself” is the upbeat electro slam that sounds like Cabaret Voltaire, DAF and Clock DVA unexpectedly caught up in a lava flow. If Jackson was kicking this much butt some twenty years ago, I need to hear his Post- material ASAP.

Sparrow Steeple A Aardvark 12″ (Ever/Never)
If you’re the rare freak who files your records alphabetically by album title (I know you exist out there somewhere), here’s the new frontrunner for your stack! Philadelphia’s Sparrow Steeple continue to mine an antiquated form of sunshine-y psychedelia, music that’s frequently tucked away in the dusty reaches of old, creaky-floored record shops across the United States. The Sparrow Steeple players are also frequently tucked away in those same antique-y record shops, so it’s a perfect match. On this five-track EP, they’ve only got one song about food (“Candy Apple Kid”) but I still can’t help but picture these guys walking down a meadow lane, sniffing flowers that turn into lollipops and tickling their stubbly grey chins with buttercups, a kaleidoscope of old-fashioned acid-rock jams soundtracking the trip. Guitarist Barry Goldberg has one of those warbly hippie voices that practically deserves its own Ben & Jerry’s flavor at this point, the sort of voice you’re either for or against. It all makes for a pleasantly tweaked excursion into the minds of restless old guys who continue to press onward with their distinct musical journey, beyond the static realms of Hippies and Punks into something I might one day understand when I too reach an advanced age.

Tropical Trash / Brutal Birthday split 7″ (Maple Death)
Louisville’s finest stink-rockers Tropical Trash team up with Bologna’s Brutal Birthday, bridging a deep cultural divide through pesky noise-rock. I honestly didn’t even recognize Tropical Trash at first, and was wonder if maybe the center labels were accidentally swapped, but nope, this is them, dropping a surprisingly non-noisy cut of mid-tempo attitude. Is it crazy if I say they sound like an art-punk Cake here? It’s all groove and swagger, and what do you know, it works! Brutal Birthday do their part to stir up a frenzy with their cut. It’s of a distinct modern noise-rock style, where the drummer plays an easily-programmable drum machine beat on an actual drum kit, the bass sticks to one or two notes, the guitar flails, and the vocalist peppers his staccato shouting over top – think Metz or Idles. Brutal Birthday are more lo-fi than those two, though, and apparently a very new band (this is their “first song”, isn’t that kind of adorable?), so who knows how mighty they may become. There are worse places to begin one’s career than on the other side of a 7″ with Tropical Trash, I’ll tell you what.

Vile Gash Nightmare In A Damaged Brain LP (Youth Attack)
After over a decade of existence, Vile Gash finally drop their first full-length (and by “full-length” I mean like twelve minutes). They’ve got one of the most questionable names on the Youth Attack roster, but their songs and aesthetic always struck me as one of the most straight-forward and non-edgelordy of the modern Youth Attack era – songs about how life is horrible, how much they hate society, how much they hate horrible life and are disgusted by society, etc etc. Very direct and declarative lyrics backed with a bruising selection of molten hardcore riffs, and it really does the trick. Just as hoped, Nightmare In A Damaged Brain offers no surprises or twists, but rather a streamlined and nearly-perfected showcase of their capabilities. Throaty vocals compliment the tumbling drums and manic guitar feedback as these songs explode out of the speakers – I’m hearing a strictly American take on Framtid, as if the Swedish and Japanese riff structures gave way to classic Poison Idea and C.I.A. modes of thought. It’s fiercely brutal and primitive, yet I could easily pick Vile Gash out of a modern hardcore lineup of other groups attempting a similar thing. Really hope they can condense another twelve minutes of hardcore magic by 2028; I’m already thirsty for the follow-up.

Wetware Automatic Drawing LP (Dais)
Wetware’s debut 12″ received a lot of play in my household (much to my neighbors’ chagrin), so I hopped to it and immediately snagged their debut album on Dais, a label that always keeps an ear to the ground for ugly new electronic styles such as this. Perhaps it was always the case for Wetware, but on Automatic Drawing the lack of discernible structure or premeditated songwriting is particularly stark. I’m sure it wasn’t, but this record sounds like it could’ve easily been recorded live, in one particularly inspired take, thanks to the manner in which sounds come and go. Matt Morandi tweaks his gear into a few nervous processes and teases their filters, eventually joined by Roxy Farman whenever she decides to wander in and grab the mic. It’s as loose as cold-wave could be, and while this might make it a difficult experience for listeners who require something tangible to grasp onto, I find Wetware’s approach to be distinctive and appealing (although I don’t necessarily want to hear too many other groups trying it). Farman’s voice is often buried in the mix, intoning like a ball-gagged Peter Murphy, speaking like a Black Mirror rendition of Siri or doing her best Steve Brule impersonation before various effects process her voice into shreds. If anything, the true spirit of fearlessly hard-to-enjoy industrial is alive and well here, actual “songs” be damned.

Leslie Winer & Jay Glass Dubs YMFEES LP (Bokeh Versions)
Lotta weird records discussed this month but I don’t think any are more delightfully strange than this one. It’s a collaboration between occasional spoken-word artist / ex-model Leslie Winer and Greek modern-dub maestro Jay Glass Dubs, and the title stands for “Your Mom’s Favourite Eazy-E Song” – see what I mean? I don’t care how big your brain is, this is a hard one to wrap your head around, and while I’ve had fun trying to discern just what Winer is getting at, and how she got wrapped up with Jay Glass Dubs to begin with, most of YMFEES‘s enjoyment comes from sitting back and letting these two freaks have their way with you, sense be damned. Jay Glass Dubs will set a beat in motion and tweak it sparingly (and lovingly) and once Winer gets started talking, she rarely stops, dropping some fascinating phrases (“bring me the moon with a fence around it / starring no famous actors”). Jay Glass Dubs’s distinctly cautious experimentalism and rain-soaked dub reserve plenty of space for Winer, who often seems content to ignore the music entirely while delivering her mesmeric and provocative prose as though they were the last words she’ll ever read. Am I crazy in picking up a subtle Scott Walker vibe here, too, somewhere deep in the darkness of “About The Author”? It’s like being cornered by the scariest and most fascinating person at a party while an experimental dub-techno DJ plays records across the hall, only in this case you’re free to abruptly stop listening without causing a scene.

WINO-D WINO-D 12″ (Wah Wah Wino)
WINO-D is the newest transmission from the Wah Wah Wino camp, and I’m not sure if they actually decided to call it “WINO-D” or if the Powers That Be simply came up with that name based on the matrix number. I dunno – should we care? Clearly this posse of Irish sonic miscreants wants to muddy the waters of who does what, and while I would normally find that sort of elusiveness to be a little annoying, I’m down to let this posse blindfold me before driving away in their van. This new EP features five tracks of standard Wah Wah Wino fare: jagged synths, punchy drum programming, live instrumentation, experimental funk, post-modern krautrock and a freewheeling sense that any form of electronic dance music could be pulled up in its net at any given time. Some tracks are easy to bob along to, but I prefer the more esoteric hip-shakers like the second cut, with hypnotically-panned pads and shimmering guitar(?), calling to mind Ricardo Villalobos tasked with remixing the 99 Records catalog. The second b-side cut is even better, a mixed bag of dubby bass, elastic guitar and various bells/whistles. I’d bet money that Morgan Buckley and Davy Kehoe had more than a couple hands involved in the making of these tracks, but even if not I’m sure they’ve enjoyed listening to them, a bond I happily share.

Young Echo Young Echo 2xLP (Young Echo)
Very cool and dare I say overdue album (or perhaps “compilation” is more appropriate) from Bristol’s Young Echo squad. They’re a group of no less than eleven producers who are like-minded in aesthetic sensibility and social outlook but vary greatly from a sonic perspective. Here you’ll find the heavy dread-dub of Gorgon Sound, the harsh electronics / spoken-word combo of Asda, the deep swinging post-dubstep constructions of Killing Sound, the creaky loop miniatures of O$VMV$M, rapping, singing, noise, demented R&B and rustled field-recordings all commingling wildly, like the various organisms found in a Petri dish of pondwater viewed under microscope. There are 25 tracks here across four sides of vinyl, and you can tell that these guys must’ve pooled together hours of material, eventually culling their finest moments for Young Echo. It flows quickly, with no particular cut monopolizing the overall run time, and I can’t help but notice how well it flows when considering the disparate material. I guess it just goes to show that aggressive rapping, morose spoken-word, Rasta toasting and soulful singing can all sound great on top of crusty and leisurely broken-beat post-techno, or at least when in the capable hands of this inspired crew of forward-minded artists.

Bränn Ner Hela Skiten compilation LP (Förlag För Fri Musik)
Förlag För Fri Musik is one label I sit up straight for, with great releases by Enhet För Fri Musik and Leda, really tapping into the darkest freaky underbelly of Swedish noise (and noise-like constituents). I couldn’t resist this scene-spanning compilation LP, sticking all of their friends and foes together for a schizophrenic mix of speaker-shredding chaos, confusingly muffled field-recordings and subtly vulnerable acoustic ambience. Schakalens Bror opens things with a sharp capsule of free-noise guitar (I need to snag his new LP on Förlag too!), and from there things quickly become impossible to follow – toward the end of side one, is that dumpy trumpet solo David Eng or Arv & Miljö? Of the four tracks by Pig, are any of them actually music? These are questions that I push from my mind, preferring to let the jumbled mash of lo-fi muck and basement noise sorcery take the wheel. The energetic curiosity brandished by these weirdos is palpable, and I’m thankfully they got it together enough to collectively share on 12″ record.

Reviews – March 2018

Agnes 012016002001 12″ (Chained Library)
Yet another non-female techno artist opting for a female pseudonym. I have to wonder if it’s kinda like how they name tropical storms at this point – is there some sort of Techno Name Authority where you submit your tracks and they tell you if you’re Ethel or Jennifer? Thankfully the groaning, endless monotony that inhabits both sides of this record was just the fix I needed to snap my brain out of any such philosophical thought. Agnes gets right to the heart of the matter, essentially locking into two corrosive grooves and remaining there with only the slightest of textural changes for each track’s duration. If Vomir is doing “harsh noise wall”, I’d consider this “harsh techno wall”: the a-side’s speedy clatter is at once soothing, transcendent and maddening. One could conceivably dance to the a-side, too, but the b-side (I don’t believe either track is titled) flutters at a speed somewhere between a helicopter and a hummingbird, nearly (but never quite) flattening into a drone as the creak of unsustainable metallic pressure is the only aspect that confirms it’s not actually a locked groove. Plenty of industrial-techno experimentalists are pushing things to the extreme but the singularly-minded and minimal approach of Agnes is distinctly gnarly.

The And Band Outhern LP (Spacecase / Selection)
Go on, shout the phrase “late ’70s New Zealand DIY” and see if I don’t come running over, or at least pick up my gait a bit. The And Band’s split 7″ with Perfect Strangers has been sitting on my want-list for a good number of years now (little help anyone?), so it was a nice surprise to find out that they also actually released a cassette called Outhern back in 1981, now put to vinyl for modern consumption. It’s pretty much right in line with the scattershot pre-punk / post-punk DIY music of that era, mostly avoiding punk in favor of unique musical circumstances and unusual instrumentation. Through these fifteen tracks, one will encounter freewheeling guitar jangle, unplugged and re-plugged electronics, unorthodox percussion, a nicely buzzing Farfisa, the occasional eruption of an autoharp and a cello played more than one way. There’s a surprising amount of tenderness in these songs, replacing the more frequent tones of bitterness, rage and sarcasm that one might find in their early ’80s DIY underground groups – maybe that’s just New Zealand for you? If This Heat grew up among bright green lagoons and cuddly kiwis instead of London’s unwelcoming factory grime, I wouldn’t be surprised if their turmoil morphed into the loosely melodious clatter that comprises Outhern.

Bodykit / Drippy Inputs split 7″ (Acid Etch)
I’m not a record shop, but a split 7″ that comes without a cover or insert, just a stamped dust sleeve, strikes me as a particularly hard sell in today’s vinyl economy. Most shops don’t even have a section for new 7″s anymore, it seems, and while that breaks my heart, I have to wonder how Acid Etch are going to make it through with this design model. The power of online sales? I certainly wish them luck, as they seem to be exploring a specific strain of underground, punk-orbiting, DIY electronic dance music, and it’s generally pretty cool. I dug Bodykit’s debut LP from not too long ago, and this track maintains a similar pace, bleeping and blooping like a Nintendo cartridge on the fritz with more of Rich Ivey’s sneered vocals commanding center stage. It goes by pretty quickly and makes me want to throw on that Bodykit album again, so that’s a good thing. Drippy Inputs are new to me, and they’re traditionally acid by comparison, reminiscent of a poor-quality live bootleg of Jeff Mills or Robert Hood circa 1993. I perused the rest of the Drippy Inputs discography and it has that sort of raw, weird-techno aesthetic going on, not unlike Animal Disguise Records, and I kinda wish I would’ve seen some of that art here. The Drippy Inputs track on this split didn’t interest me enough to actually buy a tape, but it came close!

Bow & Spear Bad At Fun LP (What’s For Breakfast?)
This Bow & Spear LP arrived at the YGR compound with label-penned comparisons to Fugazi, My Bloody Valentine, grunge, Unwound and post-punk. Those descriptions always make me a little nervous – imagine someone saying “try this, it’s like tacos, pho, Thanksgiving turkey and smoked salmon!” before handing you a home-cooked dish. I guess it can happen when artists (and labels) don’t want to feel pigeonholed, but at the same time, unless you actually are reinventing music in a stark new configuration, those wide-ranging comparison lists doesn’t seem overly enticing (to me at least). Thankfully, the music of Bow & Spear is so distinct and clear, all those other comparisons melt away. I’ve simplified it for you: imagine a Stone Temple Pilots / Hum side-project album from 1995 produced by Billy Corgan and boom, you’ve mentally created Bad At Fun. Now I don’t know about you, but I am a big fan of Core and Purple, not to mention Siamese Dream, and Bow & Spear wear it well, dipping into the moodier side of ’90s major-label grunge via extended guitar effects and appropriately portioned loud/heavy trade-off. They don’t have a ton of memorable hooks, but they’ve got a few, and the title track feels like some Columbia House-funded cocktail of Sponge and Jeff Buckley (in music, not voice). I’m trying to grow a soul patch so it’ll sound even better.

Des Demonas Des Demonas LP (In The Red)
DC really seems to have one of the most vibrant underground music scenes today – there’s the “new wave of DC hardcore”, the Sister Polygon empire and all associated activities, the Future Times crew and their various future-disco offshoots, and that’s just off the top of my head without going to the library to research further! Maybe the abundance of great music from DC is my excuse for not having heard of Des Demonas, although I take it that they’re a fairly new group. They play a pretty traditional form of organ-guided garage-rock; not the sort of thing I’d associate with DC until I remember that The Make Up and Chain & The Gang are DC stalwarts, and Des Demonas would be a fine touring companion to either. Des Demonas have a powerful vocalist in Jacky Cougar, towering over bandmates and audience and shaking one of those sticks with jingle bells as though performing an exorcism, while the rest of the group press onward through their Back From The Grave-esque numbers. And as is often par for the DC course, Des Demonas fill their music with overt political messaging, such as opener “The South Will Never Rise Again”, and the grueling strut of “There Are No Vampires In Africa”, recalling a Fat White Family that was hooked on anti-imperialist politics instead of street drugs. Like I always say, “if I can’t skank to it, it’s not my revolution!”

DJ Lycox Sonhos & Pesadelos LP (Príncipe)
I’ve always admired the Príncipe label and its associated artists for their stark refusal to cater to mainstream dance sounds, European or otherwise. Rather than smooth things out for the lowest common denominator, they’ll gladly inject their beats with all sorts of wild clatter, or test the limits of post-punk dub through their distinctly Portuguese mindset. DJ Lycox is an integral part of the crew, and on his debut full-length, he leans the closest to main-stage dance music that any Príncipe release has yet, all without sacrificing his unique approach and flavor. Sonhos & Pesadelos is full of acoustic percussion loops, shimmering keys and hypnotic bass. I’m hearing Fatima Al Qadiri in some of the synth tones and melodic progressions, and Kyle Hall in the way the beats leap forward precariously, as though it could all fall apart and out of time at any second, but there’s really no misplacing any of these tracks as the work of anyone else. I’m a big fan of the “DJ Lycox!” shout-out that occurs in essentially every track, too – at first, I thought it was “bring in the drums!” said in a heavy Portuguese accent, but the meaning and intent seem to be the same either way.

Exek Ahead Of Two Thoughts LP (W.25th)
Exek’s first album snapped my head around back in 2016, and I’m happy to say that their follow-up is even more tantalizing. Here’s the formula: heavy-dub bass and drums interplay (almost directly cribbed from the playbook of Anika), a sneering vocalist somewhere between Native Cats’ Chloe Escott and a sleepy John Lydon, feebly piercing guitars and a small selection of stunningly appropriate sonic accoutrements. It’s mighty cool, but the first lyrics of opening track “U Mop” are “I’m sick / Of every bit / Of your shit / You mop”, in case you had any concern that Exek were all pretentiousness, no fun. Whatever level of pretentiousness Exek have, I’d say they’ve earned the right to it, as Ahead Of Two Thoughts is a fantastic entry into the overstuffed world of post-punk (particularly modern post-punk). They work out a variety of motifs, from numbing repetition to dare-I-say-energetic rhythms, and it all works so smashingly well… “Punishment” could be an Interpol arena hit if they wanted, followed by the soaking wet dub of “Weight Loss (Henry’s Dream)”, recalling an alternate history wherein Nick Cave sought punk-dub powerhouse Mark Stewart as his muse instead of Blixa Bargeld in 1984. Whatever the case, Exek are a true gem and I share this record with the highest recommendation!

Girl Ray Earl Grey LP (Moshi Moshi)
Had I discovered this North London indie-pop trio’s debut album last year when it came out, it surely would’ve placed among my year-end favorites, but I was late on the draw. I’m too enamored with Earl Grey to feel bad though, as it’s a fantastic album I’m glad to have heard at all, a record full of sweet and tender songs that instantly connect, as if they’ve always been a part of our musical vocabulary, merely waiting to be revealed. They’re a guitar / bass / drums trio, and their sound is undeniably British indie-pop, drawing distinct similarities to Belle & Sebastian, Camera Obscura, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and Allo Darlin’. But whereas there is a distant majesty to groups like Belle & Sebastian and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, who almost seem like impenetrable orchestras of musicians that inhabit some different form of society, Girl Ray are approachable and relatable, people you would expect to be familiar with cool local demo tapes and the minuscule DJ nights at which to play them, putting them in closer lineage to Marine Girls or DIY indie-punk. The songs are great, but it’s the voice of Poppy Hankin (how British is that name) that confirms Earl Grey‘s instant-classic status, her soothing tone and advanced melismatic abilities combining as successfully as Nutella and chocolate. Only difference is, you can consume Girl Ray at mass quantities without any possibility of stomachache.

Governess Governess LP (Radical Empathy)
It’s pretty cool how Governess got together as a band – the three of them met while organizing a preschool co-op for their kids! It’s never too late to rock, and I’d actually argue that it’s often far too early to rock (I’m looking at you, teenaged millennials). Anyway, this self-titled debut was originally released on cassette care of the wonderful Sister Polygon label in 2016, now given an attractive vinyl upgrade. Musically, it’s mostly mid-tempo indie-rock that finds a nice contrast through airy, harmonized vocals, beefy guitars and tom-heavy drums. Very moody tunes, dare I say bordering on goth if it weren’t for their angelic gang vocals and the surfy twang of the guitar. One might think a group of women who get to escape parenthood via playing in a band together would opt for harsh grind or free-noise as their aesthetic of choice (okay maybe I’m projecting), but the songs here are quite tuneful and analgesic, useful as bedtime lullabies if lowered to the proper volume. It’s evident that these songs come from an honest and immediate place, and I hope they’ve got more on the way.

Gaute Granli Animalskt LP (Drid Machine)
Fans of unattractive anti-musical nonsense, you’re in luck! I stumbled upon this Gaute Granli on the strong recommendation of mysterious WordPress fanatic Roland Woodbe, he a master of all unappealing musics, and I want to spread the good word to you, too. From what I gather, Granli is a Norwegian artist who may or may not have played in a group called Freddy The Dyke (uhh), and I may have to investigate that soon because Animalskt is really doing it for me. The opening cut is a long-dwindling guitar note with some muttered accompaniment, and it leads into a track that sounds like a broken accordion brutalized in rhythm, at least until the electronics show up, if you want to call their appearance “showing up”. I’m hearing something between the lonesome guitar-led misery of Jandek, the foolhardy electronic antagonism of Null & Void and Severed Heads, the alternate-dimension approach of Reynols, and the single-minded lunacy of Kraus and Hartley C. White, although Gaute Granli is clearly beholden only to his own particular whims. Not much of an emphasis on rhythm or percussion through the album, but rather a focus on the strained insistence of continuing forward with these songs, bilious and fragile as they may be. For all the singing, I can’t understand a word, but I get the impression that even if I was a native Norwegian I still wouldn’t have the foggiest idea of what’s eating Gaute Granli.

Job Sifre Bestaan 12″ (Knekelhuis)
Amsterdam’s Knekelhuis label has really been tickling my fancy lately (records by EYE and As Longitude in particular), and this new one by Job Sifre might be my favorite of all. It’s delirious, dungeon-friendly EBM, uncomplicated by design and gracefully striking all the right notes. It’s kind of amazing to think that Galakthorrö hasn’t scooped them up yet, as the aesthetics are a near direct match (maybe the disqualifying trait is the color-printed record jacket?), but a bright future awaits, or a dark and gloomy one if preferred. “Bestaan” is a wonderful slog, complete with male vocals bellowing in German, and it’s the hit, no doubt. I can picture the zombies from the “Thriller” video marching in half-time to this one, loving every minute of it. “Zodiak” is another standout, strongly recalling the sticky-wet synth from Matthew Dear’s “You Put A Smell On Me”, and the rest of the EP works similar motifs – picture Beau Wanzer in black pleather pants and a ruffly pirate shirt listening to Clock DVA on headphones and the vibe of Bestaan will reveal itself. The EP culminates with the nine-minute “At Least We Try”, another barely-conscious electro-groove that twists down narrow darkened hallways, a maze I hope to never escape.

Kundan Lal Periodic Perciotic LP (YNFND)
I’ve been trying to piece together some info on Kundan Lal, so that I might provide you with an informed review of his debut album Periodic Perciotic, but the internet isn’t giving me much to go on, and I have a feeling my local research facility would offer even less. What I can tell you is that this album comes from the German experimental / techno label YNFND, and the music of Kundan Lal is distinctly Indian, or at least initially borne of Indian music (although my suspicions are that it’s the work of a white German guy). Ragas are chopped into head-bobbable beats, as upbeat Bollywood dance numbers rub shoulders with forlorn banjos, dusty tablas and indeterminate sounds, all mingling over coasting tempos. Tracks are relatively short, averaging at three minutes or so, each with a specific musical idea, like a Sublime Frequencies compilation chopped and screwed (many of these tracks are just waiting for an excitable rapper to spit bars upon). The cultural tourism vibe is pretty strong here – a track like “Driver” recalls WWE wrestler Jinder Mahal’s theme song – so if that leaves a sour taste in your mouth, I noticed it too, but if you’re willing to take these tunes merely on face value, Kundan Lal’s knack for looping beautiful and mysterious samples is undeniable.

Mouton / Prahnas split 7″ (Wee Rock)
Intriguing split 7″ here, with cover art that reveals no obvious genre association, so let’s dig in! Mouton are obvious and enjoyable from the very start – it sounds like Julian Casablancas singing over The Modern Lovers’ “Roadrunner”, but for kids (although I guess there’s really nothing that would prevent children from enjoying such a collaboration in the first place). Mouton’s other track has a similar “Strokes for kids” vibe, circa Is This It of course, and it’s a sound I generally always enjoy, Mouton included. Prahnas are a fitting partner, similarly chugging on archetypal down-picked melodies but with flange pedals cranked, adding a fun nauseous twist. Prahnas’ vocalist opts for more of an everyman singing tone, oddly buried in the mix but nonetheless self-assured across these three tracks and tempos. Mouton are from Springfield, MO and Prahnas are from Fayetteville, AR, and now I know who to casually namedrop if I ever find myself at a hip cafe in either of those sure-to-be prepossessing towns.

Original Pranksta Off The Hook LP (Almost Ready)
Wanna take this moment to thank Almost Ready for providing this website with a long overdue first: finally, a crank call album! Not sure who Original Pranksta is, but Off The Hook is pretty quintessential prank call material, stuffed with angry characters who do their best to keep their unwitting victims on the line for as long as possible. Misconstrued want-ads are a typical conceit: black guy responds to “black metal guitarist wanted” ad and proceeds to berate the white guy for not being evil enough; old guy calls escort service to come clean his garage instead of engage sexually; dumb guy answers ad to host a “sex toy party” and completely misunderstands the concept. When properly executed, this form of comedy never gets old, and Original Pranksta is quick enough on his (their?) feet to keep things moving in bizarre and often hilarious directions, although not every track is a certified side-splitter (the “gay guy who wants to put a hamster in his butt” gag would’ve been better left in the previous century). If it’s the work of just one guy, his ability to change voices is impressive, although I get the impression Original Pranksta is a small crew of dudes, Jerky Boys style. Can a Longmont Potion Castle box-set on Last Laugh be far behind?

Pendant Make Me Know You Sweet 2xLP (West Mineral Ltd.)
Crossover techno/ambient guru Huerco S. has undergone a metamorphosis into 2018, shedding the name Huerco S. (I can understand how a person might get sick of having to introduce themselves as “Huerco S.”) for the tidy new moniker Pendant. Surprisingly to me, Huerco S. kinda blew up for a minute with 2016’s ambient opus For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have), and he continues that momentum with the airy electro-ambient that inhabits these two slabs of wax, full of both natural and artificial flavor. There hasn’t been any shortage of ambient drone music over the past couple decades, but Pendant is playing it how I personally like it best: long unfurling shades of harmonized drone sprinkled with unusual glitches and faint hints of rhythm, deeply rinsed with textural washes and left to move with the casual nature of jellyfish, either mildly contracting some internal muscle or simply drifting along with the greater current. I’m reminded of some of the Pop Ambient comps that came out in the mid ’00s, but Pendant is less sentimental and baroque, more pleasantly tweaked and susceptible to the gravitational pull of dub. I only need a new record like this once every two years or so, so now I’m good ’til at least 2020, assuming humanity makes it that far.

Preening Greasetrap Frisbee 7″ (Ever/Never)
Never thought of a 7″ record as a “greasetrap frisbee” before, but Preening found a poetic new way to self-depricate, and I dig it. Ever/Never was wise to reach across the US to squeeze a few new tunes out of them, just in time for some sort of US tour this spring (because nothing supports continental automobile travel quite like the sale of a 7″ EP!), and as much as I enjoyed their debut, I think I like this one even more. Five songs here, still the work of drums, bass guitar and saxophone, but with a little more fire in their belly, finding not just the misshapen angles of no-wave but the explosive aggression, too. Lyrics are often gang-shouted, and feature topics that I’m certain drummer Sam Lefebvre knows all too well (“P.O. Box” and “Associated Press”), with some agitated moves that would almost be Load Records-appropriate, like a spiky young cousin of Tropical Trash more interested in patterns of social movement and exposing fascism than acid and weed. That’s not to say it doesn’t still have the awkward delivery of classic The Cranium, which Preening thoughtfully freshen up for our current unfortunate reality. My copy came with a small poster, and I bet yours will too!

Profligate Somewhere Else LP (Wharf Cat)
Profligate (aka Noah Anthony) has years of banging, manic, live-action techno under his belt, the sort of thing that sort of blends together after a while but is irresistible nonetheless. I thought that Wharf Cat was an interesting fit for him, and scooped up this new album, only to be thrust into an alternate dimension, far, far away from any disco lights or thumping sub-woofers – Somewhere Else indeed! Rather, this is a record of quietly brooding electronics, filled with patient, breathy vocals, a melancholic sense of melody and a magnetic charm, which is a feat considering how depressing the music frequently sounds. I feel like he’s really breaking new ground here, not just for himself but for anyone making weird personal electronic music, and it’s quite fantastic. I’m reminded of the electro-infused slow-core of the ’90s, groups like Duster and Her Space Holiday, given a rotten jolt of early ’80s industrial ala Nocturnal Emissions or Zoviet France. The pensive mood unites those two disparate musical cultures, with the soft churn of industrial patterns giving way to hushed melodic vocals (from both Anthony himself as well as poet and musician Elaine Kahn). I really can’t get over how good this is, how it can be so menacing and sinister while also so sweet and disarming, not to mention that Profligate traveled into previously uncharted aesthetic territory and struck gold. Really hope he continues in this direction, but even if not, Somewhere Else is a gorgeous gem worth coveting.

Rik & The Pigs A Child’s Gator LP (Total Punk)
Rik & The Pigs have been tearing up the punk underground for a couple years now, throwing out 7″s like shuriken into the heads of jerks, cops, squares, adults, whoever, really. I’ve even got another new single in the bin waiting for some attention, but I’ve been too busy enjoying the debut LP by Rik & The Pigs, A Child’s Gator, to give it enough time. Their singles are great, but if you haven’t already tapped into this audacious punk outfit, this is where you should start, and start you should! They’re a great band, honing in on the nihilistic goofball / endless-detention vibe of early punk rock, bands of teenagers that would rather flick a booger on the principal’s forehead than shoot up heroin or smash the state. Rik is particularly suited for the role of front-person, as he truly brings these songs into vibrant technicolor, his voice comical and sneering, like a nerd who freaks out the jocks by laughing even after he’s beaten to a pulp. I’m reminded of Doc Dart as well as the semi-fake vocals that inhabit Peer Pressure’s That’s Why They Call ‘Em Moms 7″ (a teen-punk essential), but Rik is steadily carving out his own signature squeak, full of constant chattering and bizarre asides. I’d gladly watch a new animated series starring Rik and his misadventures with the Pigs… I’m picturing a reverse Scooby Doo, where each episode ends with Rik unmasked and thrown in jail.

Schlammpeitziger Damenbartblick Auf Pregnant Hill LP (Bureau B)
Casually surpassing twenty-five years of existence, Schlammpeitziger marches onward, the work of Köln-based Jo Zimmermann. I’ve heard a few but not all of Schlammpeitziger’s albums to date (one of which was even featured on a “cheap Discogs finds” feature here!), and while he’s by no means an everyday listen, sometimes Schlammpeitziger is just what the doctor ordered. This new one, Damenbartblick Auf Pregnant Hill is particularly intriguing, located in a sparsely-inhabited corner of contemporary electronic music, far from any prevailing trends. Rather, this record sounds like if Kraftwerk were tasked with soundtracking a G-rated Playstation 2 game back in 2000, full of artificial colors, sanitized computer rhythms and a deeply plastic form of happiness. These mostly-instrumental tracks reach a “powerwalking through the mall” tempo, floating with the unsettling optimism of James Ferraro’s Far Side Virtual, but in a distinctly German way. My favorites are the vocal tracks, like “Ekirlu Kong”, wherein the vocalist casually flirts with an imagined “girl” in English, using lines like “your hair is like a hazelnut helmet” for presumably intentional humorous effect. It’s a great mix, certainly a palate cleanser from all the industrial techno and ambient cold-wave everyone else is pumping out, a casual reminder that right now someone, somewhere, just reached a new high score in Animal Crossing while neglecting their real human relationships.

Straight Arrows Out & Down 7″ (Spacecase)
Sydney garage-rock stalwarts Straight Arrows haven’t done an album in a few years, but they pop out new singles on occasion, like this sprightly two-songer. “Out & Down” flips the old phrase around, and while the meaning mostly remains the same, you wouldn’t know that Straight Arrows were having a hard time from the way they pump through this tune. The drums are skipping briskly, the guitars are ringing out, and it comes with a nice choral refrain (I’ll let you guess the words), taking their bad luck as cause to celebrate rather than sulk. “Franchisee” is even more pumped-up, a chant-along anthem about, well, franchising a business, it seems? Easily the best financially-minded punk song I’ve heard in a while, although I can’t recall any other recent competition. Which one of you is gonna step up and write the first cryptocurrency-based punk song? Why do I even have to ask?

Swiftumz Game Six / Honey 7″ (Fruits & Flowers)
No, it’s not a vegan laxative, Swiftumz is a Bay Area indie-pop act, sometimes a full-on band with various guitars and synths and live drums, and sometimes just Christopher McVicker tracking it himself. You get a little bit of both on this new 7″, and I can’t imagine either variety will let you down, so long as happy-mellow grooves and softly shy vocals tickle your fancy. “Game Six” appears on an uplifting melody, a familiar up-and-down riff that sounds particularly pleasant through this mixture of acoustic and electric guitars and the remaining integral parts of a rock band doing the heavy lifting. “Honey” slows things down considerably, still ostensibly “indie-pop” but sounding a lot like The Band or The Flying Burrito Brothers or something else you may have pulled out of your parents’ records because you liked the cover art. All this along with a striking painting of a famous dunk on the cover, just in case you were on the fence about taking one home.

Very Mental Misconstrued 7″ (Total Punk)
How mental, you ask? C’mon fool, this is Total Punk, you know they don’t skimp! Very Mental are a newish punk group outta Olympia, and unlike much of the Olympia punk/hardcore scene that prides itself on being so incredibly extra, Very Mental are pretty sturdy and time-tested in their sonic approach… no frills, as opposed to frills. “Misconstrued” sounds as if hardcore never happened in LA, but rather Masque punk turned immediately into glam-rock, or something like that. You can’t really pogo or slam to it, unless you really wanted. Maybe we could classify it as post-Sheer Mag punk? “In The Morning” is a little harder and sassier, like one of Sin 34’s mid-tempo bangers or the New York Dolls at their absolute toughest. Pretty cool stuff, although I can’t help but shake the suspicion that Very Mental is more of a side-project group for musicians focused on their other projects, or at least that’s how these songs feel. It’s possible I’m just suffering from punk fatigue, but Very Mental didn’t even come up with some crude drawing or random collage for their cover art. Maybe they’re saving that stuff for their other bands.

Beau Wanzer Issue No. Twenty 12″ (Jealous God)
I’d been feeling like some new Beau Wanzer was overdue, so I approached this new 12″ on the chic Jealous God label like the arrival of an old friend. It’s really quite great, and the perfect record for someone first acclimating themselves to the sound of Beau Wanzer as well as hardened fans (like me). There are six tracks here, and they are particularly grody, even by Wanzer’s already-filthy standards. Synth-lines buzz deep into the red, drum machines utilize only the rhythmic necessities (kick, snare, chain, whip), and the tempos remain perfect for dance-floor flexing and dungeon lurking. Most notably, Wanzer’s vocals are a constant presence, and they’re processed beautifully, somewhere between an ’80s cartoon villain, Robocop and Attila Csihar. I’m painting a bleak and industrial image here, and while that’s entirely appropriate, there’s plenty of barbed-wire funk here too: “In One Ear” is like an exhumed Cybotron cut, whereas opener “Speaker Sisters” resembles a Mantronix album melted in the lab. All crucial listening for my home and presumably yours as well.

Whip Whip 7″ (Neck Chop)
Whip are yet another punk band from some frozen Canadian province (in this case, Winnipeg) who are making their vinyl debut care of Neck Chop Records. Like most of the recent Neck Chop batch, Whip are quite enjoyable, saving up their best cuts for this 7″ EP after numerous demo tapes dating back to 2015. When it comes to their namesake, they’re more “Cool” than “leather”, offering a spunky, hyper take on juvenile punk. No mosh parts, the guitar is mixed way up front, and the songs follow the same instinctual patterns of punk rock that have been there since the beginning. Kind of a charming early Mystic Records sound, but you can replace the casual teenage-boy sexism and homophobia of that time and era with the righteous messages that are in focus today: bosses are awful, horrible dudes suck, women are paid too little and forced to put up with too much. Sounds pretty good with single-string guitar leads and no-frills drumming, although I really could’ve gone for an anti-ice hockey / anti-maple syrup song, too. Maybe those’ll be on the follow-up record.