Reviews – February 2021

Astute Palate Astute Palate LP (Petty Bunco)
Over the past fifteen years or so, there’s literally no one I’ve seen perform on stage more than Richie Charles (with Clockcleaner, Watery Love, Fully Glazed, Storks, and now Astute Palate). We’re all missing live music – I sure as hell am – but there’s a particular hurt in my heart from going this long without enjoying him and his friends on stage, almost certainly drunk, almost certainly playing their music with total disregard for the perceived pleasure of their audience. I may have permanently missed my chance with Astute Palate, as they may or may not be a one-off project, assembled over the course of 48 hours in the summer of 2019 for a live gig and recording session. Charles is on the drums here with Emily Robb (of Louie Louie) on guitar and vocals, Daniel Provenano (of Writhing Squares) on bass and David Nance (of none other than The David Nance Band) on guitar and vocals. For as hastily executed as this band is, they take a very relaxed and comfortable stroll through the hallowed halls of American guitar rock care of these seven songs. Opening with a scorched variation on The Stooges’ godly “1969” rhythm, Astute Palate pound The MC5, Mountain and Crazy Horse out of their carpet, with a prominent basement-fuzz take on some Euro additives (I can’t be the only one picking up a little Träd Gräs Och Stenar on “Bring It On Home”). There’s an undeniable similarity to the current CT psych-rock scene too, although Astute Palate put more of a blue-collar spin on that heady sound. Mean-spirited hippie music, although knowing what sweethearts they all are (and bearing witness to Nance’s oddly Hendrix-esque vocal enunciation) mitigates any sense of aggression Astute Palate might bring to the table. Recommended for anyone who isn’t currently freewheelin’ down to the quarry with a case of domestic beer on a sizzling summer day, but wants to feel as though they are.

The Chisel Come See Me / Not The Only One 7″ (Beach Impediment / La Vida Es Un Mus)
The first punk single of 2021 to enter my home comes from London’s The Chisel. Because it’s first, and because it’s quite good, I’m willing to overlook the fact that Chisel is already the name of a punk(-ish) band I enjoy. (“It’s Alright, You’re O.K.” enters my headspace at least once every few months.) The Chisel features Chubby (of Chubby & The Gang) on guitar alongside members of Arms Race, Violent Reaction and Shitty Limits (among others), and I wouldn’t be surprised if The Chisel snags the top-ranking slot in their practice schedules (whenever bands might practice again), as this is probably the best modern oi-related record I’ve heard in quite some time. It certainly helps that The Chisel are actually British – let’s face it, “American oi” is kind of like “California pizza” or “French hip-hop” – and there’s no denying the Britishness happening here, driven home by the confident throat of Callum Graham (though to be honest, the vocals are a little low in the mix for my tastes). “Come See Me” brandishes their pub-rock hardcore roots proudly, biting into an apple that didn’t fall far from Chubby & The Gang’s tree. “Not The Only One” is a boots and braces celebration, honorably recalling Cockney Rejects and 4 Skins, though The Chisel’s dual guitar attack is particularly booming and glorious. In true skinhead fashion, the b-side “Criminal Crew” is a raucous sing-along for sing-along’s-sake, the sort of anthem I wouldn’t want to be caught idly in front of the pit when it kicks in – novel coronavirus be damned, this one’s gonna need to end in a semi-shirtless pile-on.

City Band City Band LP (Bruit Direct Disques)
Not sure what your brain conjures upon encountering the phrase “city band”, but mine generally goes to Boston, Chicago, bands that are also very much cities and undoubtedly bands. Literal (and foolish perhaps), but that’s simply how I’m programmed and I’ve learned to live with it. Anyway, I didn’t expect Paris’s City Band to sound like arena-rock (though with the Bruit Direct affiliation, nothing would fully surprise me), and they don’t. Theirs is actually the sound of a post-pandemic city: kinda windswept, mostly empty, oddly peaceful, and maybe even suspiciously comforting, even if the overall mood is dark. It’s indie-rock on the smooth, almost jazzy tip, recalling The Sea And Cake and Rat Columns and other bands who don’t really associate with “the Pitchfork crowd” but could just as easily be embraced by that very audience. You can tell City Band are French, though, and not merely from the vocals – something about the lazy, sexy, sanguine way they play these songs has me wishing my glass was filled with natural unfiltered wine rather than the typical American fare (Lime-A-Ritas). Just kidding, I’m sitting here drinking warm Powerade through a metal straw, and even that’s not stopping me from fantasizing about bar-hopping down the Seine with some friendly chain-smoking strangers I met earlier in the evening. Très délicieux!

Coz The Shroom Bum Henry Adams And Craig Stewart’s Prince LP (Rural Isolation Project / Blue Circle)
Reading about the making of this Coz The Shroom album, I couldn’t help but think about how much I love the concept of “local legends”. I think back fondly on the ones I’ve encountered in my brief existence, and I hope they continue to proliferate in our disconnected digital age. Austin, TX isn’t short on its share of uniquely freaky people, but apparently Coz The Shroom (that’s the name of an individual, not a band) was out there cranking out homemade tapes alongside Daniel Johnston long before it was remotely considered cool for doing so. He’s definitely an interesting weirdo (and was apparently a member of Suckdog for a bit, perhaps the ultimate weirdo cred), which this selection of lo-fi songs reveals. This collection was put together by Craig Stewart (of Emperor Jones) and Matt Turner (of Rural Isolation Project), going through their old Coz The Shroom tapes and cherry-picking their favorite tunes for this vinyl retrospective. Coz, on electric guitar and vocals, generally plays actual songs by his lonesome, quirky and a little disturbing, calling to mind an early Ween demo, some disregarded Butthole Surfers outtakes or if The Dead Milkmen were simply The Dead Milkman. I’d probably really love these songs if I grew up mystified by them and their creator, but the irascible charm and irreverence of a tune like “Decorator Tornado” is no less evident to my far-removed, fully-grown ears.

Cured Pink Current Climate LP (Rough Skies)
Cured Pink seem to have mostly settled into their dub-centric post-punk format, following their initial foray on a split 7″ that displayed a “guy smashing a chain in an art gallery” Swans-esque provocation. I have to say, they’re really finding their stride on Current Climate, an album that showcases their natural fluency in post-punk dub, while also injecting their own deadpan gallows humor throughout. Opener “The New Public” is a fantastic way to start, with huge bass and the persistent fluttering of an out-of-rhythm keyboard… I’m physically seated, but this track sends my mind aflight. I have trouble locating the presence of guitar, so refined are these menacing dub soundscapes – I hear a couple obvious strums here and there, but Cured Pink are masters at setting a mood with undefined sonic terms. I love “September” as well, which sounds like a Mark Stewart production if he had a modest understanding of the appealing properties of cult black-metal. (Okay, maybe I’m reaching there, but even in its most pleasant tones, there’s something unsettling in Cured Pink’s presentation.) Mostly, Current Climate sounds like the best Public Image songs they never wrote fronted by that jabbering maniac from Slugfuckers, which is a comparison that should surely send all my fellow obscure post-punk devotees rushing to calculate the shipping cost conversion rate on this Tasmanian release.

Lyckle De Jong Bij Annie Op Bezoek LP (South Of North)
I’m at the point in my years of listening habits where I can detect oddball Dutch synth-wave by sound alone, as was the case when I first heard this album. Lyckle De Jong certainly shares that distinctive Dutch approach: lo-fi but not noisy, strange but not uninviting, curious about pop but certainly not pursuing it. As is the tradition, De Jong uses analog synths to create dashing and peculiar vignettes that, some 40 years earlier, would’ve most likely ended up on hand-dubbed cassette compilations that languished in the hands of collectors before receiving a lavish Vinyl-On-Demand retrospective in modern times. Bij Annie Op Bezoek has that first-wave industrial sound, similar to Throbbing Gristle’s electro-pop attempts, Hessel Veldeman’s songbook and the M Squared label’s left-field synth experimenters. Very queer electronic music, in the non-sexual sense of the word. De Jong gives credit where it’s due, listing an Arp Odyssey, a Roland E-30 and a Casio Sk-1 as the main instruments utilized here, as classically screwy sounding today as they did back when the first wave of post-punk experimenters got their mitts on them. Adding to the eccentricity at play here, Bij Annie Op Bezoek is thematically based around a touching tale of an older widow and the memories of her soulmate, which is a little hard to parse as a wriggly gem like “Haar Man Seban” squirts out of my speakers. Luckily, I quickly remembered that trying to make sense of Lyckle De Jong’s Dutch-wave is a fool’s errand, so I simply sat back and enjoyed the show.

Eyes And Flys New Way To Get It 7″ (no label)
Fourth self-released 7″ from Buffalo’s Eyes And Flys in less than two years, and while the fiscally-responsible side of me wants to scream “you could’ve just put out an LP!”, my artistic side appreciates releasing multiple hand-painted (-screened, -embellished) 7″ singles simply for the fun of it. It worked for lots of other punk bands, from Urinals to Fucked Up, so I’m not going to tell Eyes And Flys how to spend their money! Anyway, on this one, they split the difference between “real band” and “solo project” with Patrick Shanahan playing all the instruments on the a-side and joined by other humans on the flip. The murky pop they deliver here bears a strong resemblance to Eat Skull in their most presentable form, possibly inspired by New Zealand’s lo-fi indie greats but clearly American (you can tell by the slightly aggressive paranoia that runs through these tunes). There’s really no discernible difference in quality or style between the sides, and I might actually prefer the a-side’s “New Way To Get It” out of them all, as it sounds like some Olympian band Kurt Cobain would’ve repped on a homemade t-shirt. Do pop stars do that anymore? Maybe they should send a copy of this single to Billie Eilish and see what happens.

Freelove Fenner The Punishment Zone LP (Moone)
“Freelove Fenner” sounds like the name of the guy you’re told to avoid at the nudist resort, but the music of this Montreal trio is to be embraced! I had never heard of them before, but it looks like they’ve got a scattering of releases over the last decade, The Punishment Zone being their second official-ish album. They’ve got a very smooth, very cool minimalist indie-rock thing going on. Let’s say they don’t sound like Young Marble Giants, but they share an evocative emotional distance and stark delivery, with vocalist Caitlin Loney’s soothing voice at the helm. There’s that, plus a striking similarity to Ariel Pink circa Before Today (in sound, not deed!). Tracks like “LED Museum” and “2B From” really have that Pink-ish quality, embracing neon-lit soft-rock in a musically economical form. There’s also a Broadcast thing going on in the sweet retro quality of the instrumentation (both tape-loops and bongos appear); the insert includes “technical notes” on the gear used to record and mix the record, but these songs are too uplifting and easy-going to come across as the territory of snooty Tape Op types. I get a lot of mellow indie-rock records coming through here – there’s certainly no shortage of people playing it – but The Punishment Zone strikes me as a particularly remarkable one.

Häpeä Valistuksen Aika On Ohi 7″ (Urealis-Tuotanto / Tampere Hardore Coalition / SPHC)
Häpeä are relative newcomers to the storied tradition of Finnish hardcore, but they’re surely finding it easy to fit in with their blustery rag-tag hardcore. Rather than opting for the traditional evil skull / demonic-skeleton on their record cover, they went with a sort of slimy(?) sewer-monster thing, which I approve as a reasonable substitution. Musically, it’s certainly in line with classic Finnish hardcore sounds, if perhaps more rambunctious and looser – moments remind me of Cheetah Chrome Motherfuckers throwing a “Furious Party”, or the lesser-tier rumble of Totuus (née Hässäkkä). Not nearly as steamrolling, explosive or fiery as contemporary hardcore acts like Krigshoder, Warthog and Public Acid, but not everyone is gonna be. If anythig, they’re certainly a band that sounds to me like it should have at least two members named Mika or Mikka, but amazingly Häpeä has none. Maybe on the next EP?

Headroom Equinox 20 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
Not even the experimental nature of I Dischi Del Barone can resist the soothingly psychedelic comfort-food of New Haven, CT’s Headroom, one of the town’s preeminent dealers of head music. They have their style on lock, firing off long-form instrumental psych-rockers as effortlessly as you or I flop on the couch and pick what show to watch for the thousandth night in a row. “Equinox 20″ appears to be split across both sides of this single, as it’s rare that Headroom would ever conclude their proceedings in a manner befitting a 7″ record – even a 10” might be close quarters. This one unfolds slowly, with a soothing three-note bass-line and the guitars of Kryssi Battalene and Stefan Christensen conversing like the old friends that they are, weaving in and out of each other like birds on a playground. At times, I start to wonder if this isn’t all too easy for Headroom, that its all so effortless and smooth that I wish that maybe they’d actually try something that takes concentrated effort with the risk of possible failure, but then I come back to my senses, slide deeper into my couch and turn up the volume on their transcendent psych-rock communion.

Kenji Kariu Sekai LP (Bruit Direct Disques)
Seems like a particularly good time in history to be a Japanese musician who home-records their soft synthetic pop/ambient, if you ask me. It feels like the reissue market is flooded with offbeat Japanese corporate-ambient / lo-fi pop, and what do you know, the vast majority of it is pretty great! Kenji Kariu, however, is here making his music among us right now, and seeing as his new LP came out on the weirdo-centric Bruit Direct label, I wasn’t expecting anything as aesthetically straightforward as one might find on the Music From Memory or Light In The Attic labels. Kariu’s a fairly charming personality, sitting at his little desk and playing these soft, subtle songs as he sings along. They vary in style, from ambient meditations to snippy city-pop grooves, single-handedly delivered by Kariu’s nimble fingers and his hushed voice. With or without percussion, it’s a soothing, relaxing album to settle into, although not without its arousing little curiosities, like the childlike melody of “A Crown Of Flowers” or the vocodered lullaby of “It”. If only I had a moonlit beach upon which I could peacefully sway with my sweetheart to the twinkling magic of “Atelier”! Peaceful and quirky, nothing about Sekai jumps out at the listener; this is a record that shyly waits for its audience to make the first move.

Lead 2 LP (Radical Documents)
A quick internet search confirms my suspicions that Amy Howden-Chapman and Steve Kado, the two verified members of Lead, are artists who primarily work in mediums that aren’t music. 2 just has that “post-modern artists who decide to slum it as ‘musicians’ for fun once in a while” vibe, mostly because it’s inscrutable and random, and also I guess partially because it’s not particularly compelling? Sorry! It’s not that it’s bad, but rather there’s only so much mileage I can personally get out of a slowly pulsing synth overlaid with the sounds of someone shuffling papers or tossing their keys onto the dining room table. One listen is fine, two is cool, but after that, it feels like all the juice has already been squeezed out of this particular sonic fruit. There’s a reasonable chance that, like much contemporary art, these two extended pieces conceptually fly over my head, but as far as completely-out-there difficult listening goes, records by artists like Gaby Losoncy, Claire Rousay and Graham Lambkin find ways to pluck my inner-strings in a way that Lead does not. Honestly, maybe Lead’s 2 actually isn’t weird enough? These pieces shuffle through different sonic moments and patterns, but ultimate never commit to any sort of truly unexpected sonic upheaval or moment of brazen hilarity (or fright, or joy, or menace…) – it all feels more like “messing around with a couple of keyboards and mics”, which is generally more fun as practitioner than spectator.

Lethal Means Zero Sum Game LP (Not For The Weak)
Wasn’t too long since Olympia hardcore-punk outfit Sterlized released a 7″ EP entitled Zero Sum Game featuring an omniscient Grim Reaper looking lustfully down upon the mechanisms of war, but I suppose it’s a theme that’ll never go out of style. There are only so many ways one can utilize a skull and bombs on their art, and seeing as hardcore is nothing if not beholden to its orthodoxy, more and more records will look eerily like others that came before. Lethal Means do well by it, though, opting for a heavy and merciless sound by rolling out a pile of well-formed riffs over thick d-beat drums. I’m hearing Anti-Cimex, State Of Fear and Bastard in Lethal Means’ sound here, which is fine sonic territory in which to reside. The frequent backing gang vocals are a nice touch, and while this sound is almost always crust-friendly, I can’t help but think that you could win over an ardent Strife fan to the d-beat side of things if you quietly added Zero Sum Game to their gym playlist. Like the label’s name establishes, this music isn’t for wishy-washy nerdlingers – it’d be helpful to be able to bench your own weight before engaging in violent combat against your foes. Come to think of it, how long until a band called Violent Combat shows up? They could name their record Zero Sum Game too!

Little Gold Wake Up & Die Right LP (Sophomore Lounge / Science Project)
You know how there are bands that you love to hate? Well, Little Gold are a band I hate to love. If I’m completely honest with myself, I cannot deny the way their music resonates with me, which I find deeply annoying. They play an Americana-styled form of poppy indie-rock, a sort of honky-tonk emo indebted to Springsteen and Petty with tasteful pedal steel throughout, and they do it quite well. Guitarist/vocalist Smokey DeRoeck (whatta name!) knows how to spin a yarn about growing up, screwing up, giving up… all ups are covered, as are plenty of downs. Reminds me of Chamberlain with less of a Dawson’s Creek feel (more Gilmore Girls honestly), or The Decemberists if they spent their high school summers working at Jiffy Lube instead of the community theater. Not my usual sonic fare, and I can’t say I find myself reaching for Wake Up & Die Right all that much, but each time it spins it strikes that same emotionally-nostalgic chord deep in my ribs that I can’t figure out how to protect against bands as sweetly direct as Little Gold. You win this round, Little Gold, but I’ll be back!

Paranoid Time Lip Rippers 7″ (White Centipede Noise)
Never has it felt more appropriate to cauterize my eardrums with harsh noise than January of 2021, so this new Paranoid Time EP couldn’t have been better received. It’s the solo work of Midwestern noise enthusiast Pat Yankee, who really tears tendons from bones on “Lip Rippers”. Frantic but incredibly harsh, its constant electrical whiplash has me recalling The Rita, Sickness and C.C.C.C., with a mighty mastering job that really makes it jump out of my speakers like a Medusa’s head of downed electrical cables. “Gag Me With A Maggot” is the flip, and it roils deeply – the entirety of the track seems to be violently careening toward disaster, closer to “noise wall” form but mostly sounding like a small yacht coming loose from its trailer and wildly skidding across a highway. There’s a richness and depth to these tracks, which brings me more comfort than it rightly should. I should also note that the limited version of this record is one for the books: the 7″ record itself appears as a subtle afterthought as it is affixed to a machete wrapped in barbed-wire. It’s a version that no one has any business owning, which of course is peak noise-record packaging. Think I’ll store this one away from my other records and nestle it in between two rusty chainsaws I keep in the basement, as anything less would be inappropriate.

Science Man Science Man II LP (Big Neck)
Between Science Man, Alpha Hopper, Night Slaves, Spit Kink and surely one or two other projects I’m either forgetting or unaware of, Buffalo’s John Toohill seems to be in a perpetual state of playing, writing and recording music. I suppose there are those of us who constantly churn out new music, and those of us who merely write about it. Anyway, Science Man is his solo garage-punk project, and as Toohill releases new music as though his life depended on it, this is the second Science Man album in two years. These songs are fast and fuzzy, traditionally executed in a Goner Records / Rip Off Records style, though perhaps a little less dirty than the former and a little more hardcore than the latter. A drum machine is utilized in lieu of a live drummer, though the patterns are intricate enough (and the synthetic kit sounds natural enough) that it’s easy to not notice – electro-punk or synth-punk this ain’t. I’m reminded of The Coachwhips, The Reatards and The Candy Snatchers, perhaps in overall equal measure. It’s funny, usually a busy multi-band musician saves the weirdest stuff for his or her solo project, but that’s certainly not the case with Toohill, whose Science Man moniker might be the most conventional of everything he’s currently got cooking.

Shame Drunk Tank Pink LP (Dead Oceans)
Figured I might as well check out Shame, a plucky post-punk group of handsomely-ugly young British guys who I don’t even have to tell you whether they tuck their t-shirts in or not. Hadn’t heard them prior to now, and while the idea of more “funky white-boy post-punk” is not one that excites me the same way as “Latvian gore-grind” or “environmental ambient yoga drone”, I’m not immune to its charms either. Turns out I really like Drunk Tank Pink! Here’s what they’ve got: a cool snuffly drum sound with inventive beats, non-intuitive songwriting that’s still easily digestible, great British post-punk male vocals and enough charm and attitude to bring it all together. They’ve got the slipperiness of Black Midi without being half as musically annoying, the nihilistic youthfulness of Iceage without half as much narcissism, and the “angry British guy shouts smart-assed lyrics at you” component without half as much induced eye-rolling as Idles. Even the explicitly funky tunes like “Born In Luton” sound fresh and slightly-weird enough that I find myself fully on board, probably because there’s a grittiness to their sound that I find appealing (precisely the sort of grittiness that Savages’ records lacked, preventing me from fully connecting). Nothing here that’s gonna convert any non-believers – if you don’t already like brooding art-school boys with muted guitar riffs and more than their fair share of sass, I cannot craft a strong enough argument to demand your participation – but for those amenable to the style, Drunk Tank Pink is a sharp and satiating example of the form.

Spiral Wave Nomads First Encounters LP (Twin Lakes / Feeding Tube)
So get this: First Encounters is the second slab of vinyl released by Spiral Wave Nomads, but the first time they actually got together. Weird to think that such ragged American psych could’ve been an email-based file-swap before, but those are the times we’re living in, and it’s really warming my insides to imagine actually getting together to play music with friends, here in the pandemic’s eleventh month. Guitarist Eric Hardiman and drummer Michael Kiefer clearly had a solid psychic bond before, and it’s confirmed here across these four unhurried psych-rock instrumentals. Kiefer will dance around the kit, but he mostly commits to pushing things forward as Hardiman scans his guitar for riffs, as likely to lock in as he is to flutter off course. Reminds me of Bardo Pond and Davis Redford Triad, and especially Headroom, who share Kiefer’s hometown of New Haven, CT. Is it wrong that I hope they’re mortal enemies? That the Headroom / C/Site posse shut Michael Kiefer out of their fun years ago, and he was forced to recruit Eric Hardiman (out of Albany) to pursue his undeniably similar vision? This burgeoning psych-rock scene is nice and all, but you know what it lacks? Gang violence.

The Toms The 1979 Sessions LP (Feel It)
The band name implies a plurality, but there’s only one Tom at work here: Tommy Marolda, who wrote, performed and produced The 1979 Sessions. What Marolda lacks in graphic-design talent (why do all the Toms records look like generic diner menus?) he makes up for in pure pop-rock mastery. Pretty amazing to think he put these songs together all on his own, as they certainly sound like a fully-formed power-pop outfit ready to take over the tri-state club scene. These songs are pure power-pop bliss, low on attitude and high on pretty melodies and a sweet seriousness. Fans of The Beatles, Cheap Trick, David Bowie and Big Star will surely sprout hearts in their eyes when listening to these forgotten gems – I know I feel like I’m wearing corduroy bellbottoms and swaying under the swirling disco-ball’s reflection as “That Could Change Tomorrow” jangles out of my speakers. Pretty crazy to think that these songs are only part of the picture, as Marolda recorded no less than thirty songs over one weekend, but I suppose you’re either a genius from whom pop-perfection flows freely or you’re not. Outkast never relegated themselves to EPs either, you know? You know me, I’m skeptical of unearthed archival releases, but this one is, at least in my alternate reality, a smash hit.

True Sons Of Thunder It Was Then That I Was Carrying You LP (Total Punk)
True Sons Of Thunder are Memphis’s garage-rock stalwarts, a crew with the proper pedigree (ex-Oblivians, Manateees, The Feelers, Rat Traps and so forth) for a Total Punk full-length. Fans of frills or ostentation will have to look elsewhere, as these songs are about as rudimentary and chunky as garage-punk gets. I can’t imagine any one of these songs took more than a single session to write (and only a handful of rehearsals necessary before hitting the studio), which is a big part of the charm. No dazzling displays of power or eloquence, just dirt-kickin’ garage-punk grooves played at modest speeds to fend off exhaustion. What strikes me most about True Sons Of Thunder is the significant amount of fun they seem to be having, doing this band for the pure thrill of playing in a band with your life-long friends who share the same goal: free drink tickets and a momentary staving off of the depression and drudgery of life. The songs generally come with some sort of slight hint of humor (and obviously the title takes joy in mocking Jesus’s famous catchphrase), not really enough for a laugh but enough to have ’em smirking and sneering as they trot out these heavy garage stompers in a manner similar to Cheater Slicks or Gary Wrong Group. As the final track, “Male Box”, swirls to its eventual end, I can’t help but wonder what Flipper would’ve been like if they were all stay-at-home dads with Tesco Vee as their manager, because I’m thinking it might’ve been something like this.

Viagra Boys Welfare Jazz LP (Year0001)
For a band with as dumb a name as “Viagra Boys”, these Swedes have been nothing if not sophisticated in deploying their band upon the world. Sharing the same label as Yung Lean and Bladee (some of the finest hip-hop Sweden has to offer), Viagra Boys seem to have a medium-level film studio in their corner, churning out eye-catching, silly videos with the quality of prime-time cable TV. Alongside their knack for crafting smartly-stupid dance-punk anthems, they’re ascending toward modern punk-rock stardom alongside Surfbort and Amyl & The Sniffers (whose vocalist Amy Taylor sings a duet on “In Spite Of Ourselves” here), bands whose members simply look better wasted, half-clothed and eating boogers than everyone else currently attempting it. Anyway, Welfare Jazz is a subtle but effective slide toward the mainstream, smoothing out some of their music’s post-punk edges and favoring Sebastian Murphy’s outsized personality to carry these songs forward. Murphy continues his caricature as a dumpy useless loser through these songs, though to what end I’ve yet to decipher. He can’t possibly be sincere, but if he isn’t, what exactly is the joke, and why isn’t there a punchline? After the fourth song of Murphy convincing a woman that he’s a terrible person (though insisting she should serve his needs in spite of that), it can feel a little tiresome, particularly when accompanied by the faux honky-tonk voice he can’t help but frequently slip into here. I prefer when Murphy leads the band in full George Thorogood mode (ala “Toad”), painting humorous and descriptive pictures of his terrible behavior and its terrible results. Welfare Jazz is pretty much LCD Soundsystem for jerks, and well, there’s a lot of jerks out there who need something to dance to!

Ye Gods Dumah 2×12″ (L.I.E.S.)
Sad to say, but I wasn’t invited to any erotic holiday parties this year – I’m blaming Covid, so I suppose I’ll have to find a different use for Ye Gods’ full-length debut. I really like it, as Dumah recalls various occult-friendly techno units without sacrificing its own particular character. There’s the “body-piercing ritual” vibe of T++, Shackleton’s swirling, paranoid dream-state tones, the insistent thump of industrial techno and the dark sexuality of classic industrial. It’s an excellent and fluid mix, allowing for varied energy levels without disrupting the highly stylized aesthetic. Plus, there seems to be an ancient Egyptian mythological thread running through these songs, which very well might support Ye Gods as the undisputed Nile of techno. It’s hard not to feel a little woozy as Antoni Maiovvi (the person behind Ye Gods) repeats his words in a soothing, reverberating tone, as if his is the last voice you hear before the general anesthesia kicks in. Will you wake up with your human consciousness uploaded into the trans-dimensional form of Anubis? Don’t ask too many questions, just relax and allow Dumah to guide you through this esoteric transformation.

Parody Beef Primer

Alright, in previous years I used this space to highlight some of my favorite records that could be had on Discogs for the cheap, but I’m taking this moment to share with you a different genre of vinyl release that I find endlessly appealing: that of parody beef. Before the internet consumed our every waking thought, you could only troll someone in the punk scene by sending in a letter to MRR, making your own zine and passing it out at shows (or even better, running masked into a local record shop and dropping a stack near the door before running out ala the local one-pager Faux), putting up flyers around town, or, if you really wanted to go for it, pressing and releasing a record for that specific purpose! I’m To be clear, I’m talking about records that satirized their targets, were generally pretty unfriendly about it, and usually utilized some form of trickery or subterfuge in doing so. Bonus points for when the attack is sincerely hilarious, of course. Thusly, I’m not counting records that are simply hoaxes (such as the Frothy Milkshakes’ ingeniously fabricated Killed By Death #11 “compilation”) or records that are simply parodies (like the truly pitiful Gayrilla Biscuits). Allow me to discuss five of my favorite examples of this beautiful phenomenon below!

Oxes / Arab On Radar split 10″ (Wäntage USA, 2000)
Let’s start on this absolute gem of a fraud: the Oxes / Arab On Radar split 10″. Oxes were a great math-rock trio out of Baltimore (who apparently are putting out a new LP sometime in the near future after years of dormancy!), and a snide sort of unfriendly prankishness was always part of their MO – for live shows, both guitarists utilized wireless setups, which allowed them to run through or out of the venue, onto tables, in peoples’ unsuspecting faces; to basically do anything they shouldn’t be doing. To my knowledge, they’re the only instrumental math-rock group (of any era) to have released an album that came with a poster featuring a photo spread of the band snorting drugs with full-frontal nudity on display, if that helps set the scene. Anyway, they released this “split” with Arab On Radar, which ended up being not actually Arab On Radar but rather Oxes doing a spot-on impersonation of the Providence noise-rock pervert kings. Hilarious! They ape the nail-on-a-chalkboard guitars and high-pitched babble of vocalist Eric Paul, complete with brain-dead sex-pun song titles like “Fallopian Boobs” and “Rough Gay At The Office” (which is actually dangerously close to the real Arab On Radar album title Rough Day At The Orifice). I love Arab On Radar, and I also love that Oxes were able to imitate them so expertly, as if to say “look at how dumb your silly self-serious band is, that we were able to do basically the same thing in five minutes”. At the time, word on the street was that Arab On Radar were sincerely pissed about it, to which someone involved with the band or label ended up claiming that the record was actually meant to be billed as a sole Oxes release with the title of JVPVJ NO QVJV, because that’s the way Arab On Radar’s name on the cover looks if you read it upside down – mmhmm, suuuuuure that’s what you meant! If anything, I’d say both bands benefited from this record, as it elevated Arab On Radar to the level of “band that is worth trying to piss off”, while also showcasing Oxes as the most outrageous underground pranksters of Y2K. I remember when R5 Productions here in Philadelphia ended up booking both bands to play together around that time, but I can’t fully recall what went down – I think Arab On Radar cancelled? Either way, I’ll tell you who reaped the rewards from this silly mess: music fans like you and me.

Plainfield Jello Biafra With Plainfield 12″ (“Alternative Tentacles”, 1995)
This is actually the record that inspired this column, because wow, this is about as demonic of a fraudulent parody as any record listed here! Neither Plainfield nor Jello Biafra, this record was apparently written and performed by Grux, the San Franciscan maniac behind Caroliner and Rubber-O-Cement and a dozen other obscure projects that draped their records in paint and wet cardboard and zero discernible information. Grux imitates both Plainfield (the noise-rock group) and Jello Biafra here, opening the record with a phony phone call between Plainfield’s Smelly Mustafa and Jello Biafra wherein they make plans to commit homophobic murder and necrophilia later in the evening. It really sets the tone, which then leads into “Eric’s Throwpillow”, a chunky noise-rock instrumental with “Smelly” berating and admonishing “Jello”. “Jello” makes it clear he is only appearing on the record for the paycheck as he puts minimal effort into his vocal part while mumbling about lawsuits with Chumbawumba among other nonsense. It’s absolutely side-splittingly hilarious! The fake Jello voice is close but not perfect, and their banter is such a direct indictment of punk fame and its over-the-hill pointlessness. “Nuance Of Fifty Cents” follows with “Jello” on a bullhorn, ranting about everything and nothing over a scattered improv mess. Grux continues to make a fool of Jello over the rest of the record, attempting to reveal him as a past-his-prime businessman more interested in preserving his own status-quo than promoting any sort of creativity or commitment to the underground. The music is great, but the full scope of the record bears mention: Grux swiped the Alternative Tentacles logo for this release, complete with a “Virus 132” catalog number (which curiously does not exist on the real Alternative Tentacles!) and re-appropriated “1950s nuclear family” artwork to perfectly nail the aesthetic. Apparently, Jello and his crew took note, allegedly releasing DUH’s The Unholy Handjob in retaliation – I’m getting that from Wikipedia, because I’m unable to determine how exactly any of it pushes back against Grux. Maybe the song title “Our Guitarist Is In Faith No More” is a shot at how they don’t care about fame and fortune? I do know that Chris Dodge (of Spazz and Stikky fame) played on that DUH record, which is fitting as he is one of my favorite ’90s hardcore jokesters. Seems like Jello took the beating like a champ, which is really the best he could do when faced with this ludicrous and obscene indictment.

The Locust The Locust 7″ (I Don’t Feel A Thing, 2001)
I was a teenager active in hardcore-punk in the late ’90s, and let me tell you, The Locust’s 1998 tour supporting their debut full-length led to the most profound alteration of the state of the scene I’ve ever witnessed. It wasn’t just a tour, it was an evangelical cataclysm that seemingly changed the scene’s aesthetic overnight: you could watch as band t-shirts went from size XL to size S almost immediately following their show in your town (with the great Jenny Piccolo opening). Suddenly, you had cutesy pop-punkers Bedford turning into sassy Locust clones An Albatross, baggy skate-shorts turning into skin-tight girls jeans, and black-dyed Spock cuts replacing, I dunno, that thing where you grow your hair long on top, shave the sides and wear it in a ponytail? The Locust seemed to revel in the attention and infamy, inciting audiences to wear costumes (or nothing at all) at their shows, and releasing weird/annoying things like a 3″ CD (causing a riot amongst fans who listened to CDs in their cars, which was pretty much all of us) and a remix album with a single seventeen-second track on one side of a 12″ record. Not to mention their belt buckles and “coke mirrors”, which is probably the first instance a lot of my friends had even heard of coke as a viable party drug (we were so innocent!). Anyway, history seems to have forgotten the profound cultural change that The Locust heralded – would there have even been a Makeout Club or crab-core without them? – and I want to make clear the severity of their influence at the time. I was a huge fan (though I found my interest waning by the time they started wearing those bug costumes on stage), and still love their full-length debut, but along with popularity comes haters, of which The Locust had plenty. I remember stories of their van being vandalized on tour, but someone out there took it a step further and pressed up this one-sided clear-vinyl 7″ under their name. Rather than imitating the group musically, the prankster utilized an extended clip of a baby violently crying. If you told me this was actually a Haters record, it’d certainly make sense, but as a diss, it’s mostly ineffective – sure, the guilty party still doled out fake song titles in the convoluted Locust fashion, but it’s kind of a flimsy attack otherwise. Are they trying to say The Locust were crybabies? Crybabies about what, exactly? I suppose the entry of a new, fake Locust record to the marketplace could cause the band some grief, but besides that, it seems The Locust got the last laugh here. Just another notch on their white-belt of infamy (which, come to think of it, is probably a Locust song title).

Grudge Project-Ex 7″ (Jism, 1989)
Is there a more reviled / beloved topic in the hardcore underground than The Straight Edge? Methinks not. Countless feuds have erupted over its strict philosophy, lines drawn in the sand over and over again, with humorless and hilarious soldiers on each side of this never-ending war. At the height of straight-edge’s powers, members of Orange County hardcore band Half Off put together this one-off band and 7″ EP as a scalding send-up of essentially all of straight-edge’s top players at the time, and they did so masterfully. The amount of references, jokes and insults they crammed into this single 7″ EP is utterly staggering – this is a master-class in vinyl-based roasting. A few examples: the label Jism is a gag on popular edge-core label Schism, “Drinking’s Great” parodies Youth Of Today’s “Thinking Straight”, vocalist Carl Of Tomorrow is clearly a play on Ray Cappo’s “Ray Of Today” moniker, Grudge mocks Judge, guitarist Keg Ahead mocks Sick Of It All’s Craig Ahead… it truly never ends. They do a skit mocking Raybeez and Warzone, the cover is a Gorilla Biscuits parody with a wimpy straight-edger being beaten down, and the phony “live” shots of the band playing in their bedrooms with black electrical tape Xs covering their crotches and sneakers is a glory to behold. Grudge go so hard in their parody of the form that one could easily read this as a loving tribute as much as a bullying middle-finger, and if you were to ask me, I’d say it’s certainly both. These songs rip, and have also made it impossible for me to hear Youth Of Today’s “Thinking Straight” without mentally substituting Grudge’s inebriated words. One could argue that Project X (who are clearly referenced in the title of this EP) are the inverse of Grudge, a side-project that calls for direct violence against the non-edge quotient, but even though it seems unwise to take Project X’s aggressive lyrics at face value, they didn’t have an ounce of Grudge’s knuckleheaded humor (though Straight Edge Revenge is rightly lauded as one of the top five straight-edge EPs of all time). An original Project X 7″ will run you hundreds of dollars at this point, but you can still get a Project-Ex on beer-colored vinyl for like seven bucks!

Voodoo Glow Skulls & Hickey split 7″ (Probe, 1997)
Of all the records listed here, this is by far the most sophisticated take-down of the bunch. As the story goes (which is covered in exhaustive detail in the twenty-six page zine that accompanies this record!), Voodoo Glow Skulls and Hickey played a show together in Mesa, AZ in the fall of 1995. Through events that mostly remain unexplained (I’d love to get the ‘Glow Skulls perspective on that particular evening), Voodoo Glow Skulls were furious with Hickey’s performance and forced them to leave the venue immediately after playing, unable to collect their previously-agreed-upon fifty-dollar fee. On their way out, one of them swiped a trumpet belonging to Voodoo Glow Skulls (valued at an alleged and unbelievable four grand!), an unscrupulous move that set the wrath of The Glow Skull upon them. In the ensuing weeks and months, Hickey received numerous threatening voice-messages from the Glow Skull camp, which they then decided to save and press as the Voodoo Glow Skulls side of this split 7″, overlaid with, get this, the tuneless bleating of one of Hickey’s members playing the stolen horn. Impeccable! Thank god this conflict happened before text-messaging, otherwise we’d have what, some screenshots on Instagram to enjoy? Who cares. Seriously, can you think of a more infuriating way to handle the situation? Imagine having Riverside punk gangsters threatening you, and purposefully escalating the situation in response. If it wasn’t already clear at that point, Hickey DGAF, and this proudly-advertised move practically begged Voodoo Glow Skulls’ burly crew to come hang them up by their shorts. Unfortunately for us beef lovers, the zine documents that Hickey did give the horn back shortly thereafter, thus presumably ending the conflict (amazingly without an actual beatdown). They covered their tracks nicely by sending proceeds (though they don’t specific exactly how much of the proceeds) from this split 7″ to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, because what are Voodoo Glow Skulls gonna do, sue to have a few hundred bucks taken out of the hands of a noble charity? Truly a masterclass in trolling, and one of the finest documents of the “you’re a sell-out if you associate with Epitaph” movement of the ’90s.