Reviews – July 2020

Amnesia Scanner Tearless LP (Pan)
Amnesia Scanner’s Another Life was one of my top picks of 2018, a twisted anomaly of cybernetic pop with plenty of underlying psychosis to really make it snap. Last year brought a collaborative album with Pan founder Bill Kouligas, which was basically a divergent noise record (not a particularly enthralling listen but everyone’s gotta exorcise their noise demons once in a while), and now here’s Tearless, what is basically the true follow-up to Another Life. Another Life is a tough act to follow, and as the initial shock of hearing Amnesia Scanner for the first time has worn off, it’s not entirely unexpected that Tearless hasn’t moved me in the same way. The parts that made them great are all still in place – mutilated global pop sounds with (sometimes literally) inhuman vocals – but these songs don’t grab my ears with the same force. If you’ve been wondering what kinda musical project the alien baby of Grimes and Elon Musk will have by the time they’re a teenager, Tearless certainly fits the bill, but I prefer the vocals of Pan Daijing (found on the first album) to the more homogeneous club-pop voice of Lalita, who appears here. There’s at least one track here that sounds like gross-out breakcore producer Otto Von Schirach remixing Die Antwoord, but somehow it’s not as catchy as I wish it was. Theirs is still a startlingly distinct and unique sound, but some of the edges appear to be sanded off this time around, or maybe the hooks simply aren’t as strong. I will keep listening, though, because once the singularity hits I’m going to need Amnesia Scanner on my side.

Carrom Alter-Destinies / Prehistories LP (Branch Dradivian)
Guitarist, improviser and songwriter Chandan Narayan has been using his Carrom project to perform and record instrumental rock tunes, mostly winding up on Bandcamp. On this 12″ LP, he’s collected a new “EP” alongside an older one as a sort of best-of introduction to the group. I say group, but apparently it’s almost all at the direction of Narayan, who teaches his friends to play his songs often the same day they’re recorded – that’s one way to keep things feeling fresh! It’s mostly pretty pleasant, jammy stuff, closer to alternative prog-rock than psychedelia (although the sampled “historical recordings” between tracks are a nice touch). I’m reminded of what Jeff Buckley’s Grace would’ve sounded like as instrumental record, Steven R. Smith’s more jubilant material (like Ulaan Khol), or maybe even the mid-’80s Meat Puppets, whose “Up On the Sun” is covered here. There’s really no pretense here, no sign of purposeful obfuscation or deliberate annoyingness… these songs are as straightforward as studio-recorded instrumental alt-rock / post-hardcore can be. Nothing particularly groundbreaking or notable to be discovered in these tunes, just a noble form of musical self-expression with the aid of friends.

Julion De’Angelo / Viola Klein We 12″ (Meakusma / Ominira)
Beautiful split twelve here from two highly capable producers, Detroit’s Julion De’Angelo and Berlin’s Viola Klein. De’Angelo busts out of the gate with “N’aie Pas Peur (Exchange Mix)”, eight minutes of tumbling drums and a soothing vocal that seems to emulate a ferry’s horn, as if these gloriously crusty beats are about to dock on shore. “Don’t Be Scurred” maintains the vibe but increases the funk, with a pleasant bass nudge, piano and more crispy drums, very much in the school of Theo Parrish but with the playful attitude of Kyle Hall. Sumptuous tunes that I just wanna lounge around all day in. Flip it over for Viola Klein, whose name I’ve seen connected to Kassem Mosse (whose Ominira label co-released this record), and her Senegalese-inspired tech-house is a welcome pairing. “We (Part One)” sets the tone with a cyclical percussive loop, preparing the ears to hear that sound a whole lot more through “We (Part Two)”. Accompanied by Whodat, Klein punches it up with some fast techno kicks and the queasiest bass melody I’ve heard in a while – if anyone in the crowd ends up hurling when this one hits, you really can’t blame them. “We (Another Part)” really lets things fly, those drums sounding like a giant box of fireworks accidentally exploding into what appears to be a discernible rhythm. Certainly has the same forward-pushing mentality and gratifying results as much of Beatrice Dillon’s work, with a sense that any idea can be pursued and pushed further than one’s predecessors. Certainly glad Klein and De’Angelo are sharing their music with us!

Sandy Ewen You Win LP (Gilgongo)
As someone who has collaborated with Weasel Walter numerous times, Sandy Ewen is clearly a person of unshakeable fortitude. If you didn’t know, she’s mostly a guitarist of the improvised-noise variety, and she comfortably stretches out across the two long sides of the cleverly titled You Win. Her guitar comes in slow fits and swells here, periods of mostly-silence (or the occasional transient feedback tone) giving way to various low-res sounds: certain passages sound like the last inch of a Wendy’s Frosty being sucked through a straw, others recall the alien sound-effects used by Jimi Hendrix on Axis: Bold As Love, and there are some moments that have me imagining the loneliest Dead C practice session. I’m also reminded of Bill Nace, in the way that Ewen will play her guitar tabletop style in order to locate every crunchy moan that resides within it – I had to see if the two of them ever crossed paths, and the existence of a collaborative lathe between the two (from just last year) confirms it. In the right hands, the sound of a guitar’s input jack being mercilessly tortured can make for a satisfying soundtrack, a skill that Ewen has clearly spent a sizeable chunk of her time pursuing.

Flower Crime Kalte Fliesen 12″ (Elin Edits)
Been trying to find the right balance between maintaining a ground-level focus on reality and a desperate need to escape the prison of my own mind, so thankfully there’s Flower Crime’s Kalte Fliesen to aid the latter! They’re a new name to me, but these two tracks (well, four, seeing as both cut is supplemented by its instrumental version) are minimal trance bangers sure to roll your eyes deep into the back of your skull. “Kalte Fliesen” sounds too fast at first, but once acclimated to its overheated tempo, its an infectious rave pounder. Melodic leads beautifully intertwine, and a sensuously muttered vocal in a language I do not understand (which I’m ashamed to admit is mostly anything besides English) provides the track with a satisfying contrast of sleekness and grit – something to surely satisfy the separate audiences of both L.I.E.S. and Benny Benassi. “Flower Crime” is the b-side cut and I like this one even more. Its syncopated leads absolutely soar, full on Knight Rider bliss down a gravity-bending tunnel not unlike Petar Dundov’s most imposing cuts but stripped-down and cooler (let us never forget the importance of coolness). And the vocals on this one are in English, as if Flower Crime took my previous comment regarding their vocals as a complaint. Recommended!

Kiss Boom Bah Out Of Our Tree 7″ (Sweet Time)
Fitting that the cover art features a cheer squad of Crimson Ghosts, as that’s basically what this sounds like – raucous and retro pep-rally music for garage-rockers and muscle-car enthusiasts. “Out Of Our Tree” bips and bops via keys, drums and guitar, with the zesty organ right up front in the mix. Simple and old-fashioned, but easily enjoyed by anyone with a predilection for slightly-spooky garage-rock fun. If I haven’t adequately described the vibe of Kiss Boom Bah yet, allow me to inform you that the b-side is called “Marilyn A Go-Go”, which should do the trick. It’s a comfortable slice of fuzz-surf, mostly instrumental (save for the gang-shouted chorus), surely inspired by The Mummies, or at least inspired by the same stuff that inspired The Mummies. I had never heard of this group until this 7″ arrived, and it turns out they’re also based here in Philadelphia – gonna give them a call and see if they can commit to performing at my eventual funeral, they’d probably be the perfect group for the job.

Lewsberg In This House LP (no label)
You really have to hand it to The Velvet Underground – there are only a tiny handful of groups whose poorly-skilled and/or shameless imitators sound great, and VU might have the largest number of those to claim. Rotterdam’s Lewsberg are certainly one of them, and In This House might be the new album I’ve spun the most this month – it’s really fantastic! They take that “Sweet Jane” / “Run Run Run” template and apply it to their music with unwavering dedication, economical-to-the-point-of-absurdity guitar solos and a great Messthetics‘ sorta “don’t care” attitude that comes across sincere, not a pose. You don’t have to look at a picture of vocalist Arie van Vliet to know that he’s wearing glasses – van Vliet sounds as if Lou Reed pursued a career in the library sciences, his words delivered as though he were reading a particularly vulnerable shopping list. It’s certainly the perfect voice to go with these plain-as-day tunes, as if the band has no front-person, only a side-person on vocals. Almost feels unfair, what with so many bands trying to write original material and sucking, whereas Lewsberg have unabashedly tapped direct from the source and hit it big.

Lithics Tower Of Age LP (Trouble In Mind)
I haven’t stopped enjoying Lithics’ recent vinyl issue of their Wendy Kraemer demo/outtake sessions, but I’d been just as eager to hear what they’re up to now. Tower Of Age, their third full-length, seems right in line with what I’d expect – somewhat cleaned-up and more musically advanced, but in a way that I find appealing rather than off-putting (which is often the case with post-punk bands who aspire to technical greatness). They’re still playing herky-jerk post-punk with a cool sense of detachment, but the songs here strike me as more nuanced, that they must’ve taken quite a bit of work to create or finalize. Lithics expertly weave through verse-chorus dance-punk beats into wider, stranger territory that allows for extended guitar solos (in a very Television-y manner), sound effects wielded as non-sequiturs or splashes of color, bleary-eyed repetition and anything else they can comfortably stuff into their blender. “The Symptom”, for example, doesn’t sound like a song that one person can write and teach their bandmates to play – this is music that can only be figured out through strong musical relationships between a group’s members, the sum greater than its parts. Tower Of Age feels like a record made by a band that has been playing together for a number of years and has reached a high level of amenity, perhaps that peak moment in a band’s existence where the creative ideas and ease at which to create them are at their strongest. Please act accordingly when talking to your friends about this record – it’s not an old skyscraper, it’s a tower of age.

Kawaguchi Masami’s New Rock Syndicate & Kryssi Battalene Kawaguchi Masami’s New Rock Syndicate & Kryssi Battalene LP (C/Site Recordings)
Ah, I can distantly recall the days of flying somewhere for the sake of adventure and fun, which is what Kryssi Battalene (fixture of the New Haven psych-rock scene) did back in 2018. She flew to Tokyo and hooked up with Kawaguchi Masami, known best for his work with LSD March and Broom Dusters, spending what must’ve been an incredibly satisfying time jamming with Masami and his New Rock Syndicate. Who better to remind us that music, like, transcends boundaries, man, than two powerful pillars of psych-rock excellence? After getting somewhat acquainted, they hit the studio for this album, which covers a bit of stylistic ground within the general assumed frame: downhill molten jams recalling early Purling Hiss, nimble garage-rock grooves ala The Original Sins and sun-scorched stoner-rock ala Kyuss. They also bring it down considerably on the breezy psych-rock flotation device of “Sunday Afternoon”, aided by sitar in a move that has me thinking of Nebula at their most spiritual over softly cascading riffs that certainly hearken back to Battalene’s Headroom group. I like it best when she sings, although Masami generally commandeers the mic for most of the session. I can safely say I prefer the Headroom and Mountain Movers records to this collaboration (and that Broom Dusters LP is undeniably glorious as well), but this album makes for a fine commemoration of this bi-cultural scene summit all the same.

Mass Arrest Power LP (Iron Lung)
The stately black-on-black cover of Power has kind of a Metallica “black album” vibe, providing a stark seriousness that fits the mood. Power is the debut of Oakland’s Mass Arrest, and they strike me as one of the more necessary hardcore bands operating today, in terms of subject matter and the passionate articulation with which its tackled. The singer is named Boo Boo, and he discusses systemic violence, the police state and racism from his direct vantage point. Whereas pictures of nuclear bombs and tanks crushing skulls as means of saying “war is bad” are cool and all, they doesn’t necessarily offer much nuance or perspective. Boo Boo is speaking from the heart, of lived experience, and apparently crawls all over your face while doing so, as evidenced by the insert’s live photos. Musically, Mass Arrest certainly have a bit of that Bay Area sound (this certainly sounds like a band who is friendly with Replica, No Statik and Look Back And Laugh), but they frequently tone it down into a more anthem-minded street-punk fracas, reminding me more of Fucked Up circa Hidden World than anything else. Requisite hardcore-punk for these pivotal times.

Metal Preyers Metal Preyers LP (Nyege Nyege Tapes)
Absolutely killer debut from Metal Preyers, a collaboration between London’s Jesse Hackett and Chicago’s Mariano Chavez. They worked directly with Ugandan musicians Otim Alpha, Lawrence Okello, Omutaba, and Ocen, who provided the source material that they then lovingly torched, sculpted and morphed. The sounds of drums, Amadinda xylophones, Ndingidi fiddles and vocals are surely interesting enough, but in the hands of Metal Preyers they become heavy and treacherous industrial musics, sludgy ballads that don’t sound like traditional gloomy industrial by any stretch. I’m reminded a bit of the slo-mo industrial funk of Gil.Barte and the Neubau label, although Metal Preyers tracks don’t follow such a linear structure – if DJs had difficulty finding a spot for Gil.Barte in their playlist, the struggle will surely increase here. It’s more like Throbbing Gristle had they ever collaborated with Kevin Martin, along with the dreary and sullen blues of O$VMV$M and the crafty editing of the associated Young Echo posse. That’s kind of a long way of saying that Metal Preyers doesn’t really sound much like anything besides itself while still being easily digestible – this record hits a sweet spot pretty much immediately. Enthusiastic listeners of experimental industrial purveyors like Coil, Brood Ma and even Craig Leon will surely find much to savor here.

Pavel Milyakov Masse Métal 2xLP (The Trilogy Tapes)
If the name is unfamiliar, it’s because Pavel Milyakov has spent the past five years unloading music under the questionable guise of Buttechno, whose Badtrip album was one of my favorite hard techno records of last year. That’s what inspired me to check out this new record under his own name, and wow, I really love this too! A lot. Milyakov isn’t making techno here, so much as raw and immediate experimental-industrial. Masse Métal lives up to its title by sounding as if it was recorded in a 20th Century Soviet steel mill severely lacking in safety precautions – metal clangs are persistent, locomotive percussion juts in and out and men holler to each other across the assembly line. There are tracks that utilize beats, usually in the same corrosive manner favored by Beau Wanzer, but Milyakov’s productions generally avoid repetitive grooves here (as opposed to the rigid grids favored by Buttechno). A sludgy synth might repeatedly skulk across the factory floor, but it’s hard to lean into the groove when rapid-fire, ASMR-esque crackling threatens to drive you mad, or a dying siren erupts at random. I wasn’t surprised to learn that Masse Métal initially debuted as part of an audiovisual project at Berlin Atonal last year, although these tracks are so viscerally stunning that no visual is needed to feel fully enveloped by Milyakov’s crumbling world. Definitely an album that could sit alongside weirdo industrial greats like Swans’ Filth, Throbbing Gristle’s 20 Jazz Funk Greats and Einstürzende Neubauten’s Kollaps, in so far as how it revels in its own particular and captivating sonic dystopia.

Bill Nace Both LP (Drag City)
It’s about damn time Bill Nace stopped hiding behind his collaborators and stepped out on his own! I kid, but I’ve also been curious to know what it’d be like for him to record a purely solo album, one where his actions and decisions are based solely on his own moods and whims rather than in reaction to other players. Based on the cacophonous whirlwind he often kicks up in the company of folks like Chris Corsano and Paul Flaherty, I was interested to learn that this is a fairly pleasant record, at least by free-improvised electric guitar standards. Loops slowly burn and simmer like an extinguished cigarette or the final moment of a sunset, discordant but undeniably soothing (okay, maybe someone could validly deny the palliative nature of these compositions but they’re probably not reading this review). “Part 8” warbles in a way that has me expecting to hear the wounded groans of Jandek on top, whereas “Part 6” has the sensation of waiting on the tarmac in a rainstorm before taking off through the ill-tempered cloud cover, calling to mind Fennesz without the aid of computer processing. There’s almost always some sort of tone being sustained, but never in a static way… Nace is a master of guitar movement, creating meditative space through a busy map of turbulent and ever-morphing sounds. Why not have Both?

Neutrals Rent / Your House EP 7″ (Domestic Departure)
Gonna go on record that this is probably the most British sounding punk band out of Oakland ever? Their music is deeply indebted to the UK post-punk boom circa 1979 or so, and I’m not mad at that, as they do a fine job of jumping off from there into their own original tunes. “Rent / Your House” is full of Andy Gill-styled guitar stabs and features the lyric “I can see through your marriage”, probably one of my favorite punk lyrics this year in all its weird adult directness. The rest of the tunes are giving me vibes akin to early Mekons or the less-friendly Milky Wimpshake songs (the minority of their catalog, to be fair), complete with lyrics like “we are living in the modern world” which are not nearly as unique but certainly fit the style. Poppy, direct-to-the-point and upbeat, one could be forgiven for believing they had stumbled upon an unheralded gem on Chiswick or Fast Product upon hearing these songs on 7″ vinyl, but this is actually a group playing around today featuring at least one Maximumrocknroll contributor. Proceeds from the sale of this 7″ go to RAICES and Border Angels, two noble organizations, but are there actually ever proceeds from releasing a 7″ in 2020 or is that also a throwback to 1979?

Rank/Xerox Servants In Heaven 7″ (Iron Lung)
Rank/Xerox are about as understated as a quality current post-punk band can be – it took less than a blink to miss this 7″ single that came out around the winter holidays last year. Thankfully we’ve all got nothing but time to catch up on the past, living as we are in this suspended present, so I was happy to dig in. “Servants In Heaven” is a gloomy doomy synth-popper, calling to mind a suicidal OMD, Section 25’s The Key Of Dreams or perhaps Total Control if they stared blankly into the void instead of playfully meandering around it. Before completely soaking my satin pillow with tears, b-side “Cradle Of Life” slaps the taste out of my mouth. Think of Gang Of Four covering Crisis or Blitz’s Second Empire Justice, as icy as it is militant. Best part is that they opt for some sort of percussion solo where a guitar solo normally would be, reminding me of something The Pop Group would’ve tried to pull in 1980. Will Rank/Xerox play any shows once shows return to the realm of possibility, or will they even communicate anything to us at all? The answer is unclear, but if @rankxerox is their official Instagram handle, they’ve sure got some explaining to do.

The Reds, Pinks & Purples I Should Have Helped You 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
I’m starting to get mad at Glenn Donaldson – how can you have this many great projects? You should be allowed to have lots of decent bands or one very good one, but Donaldson continues to ignore my rules with his relatively new project The Reds, Pinks & Purples. This one is pure Sarah Records-styled indie-pop, with tear-stained vocals and uplifting chord progressions. Very much in the spirit of C86, and while these songs are certainly a genre exercise, they are so tender and beautiful and compelling that it doesn’t transcend the genre so much as demonstrate why so many people fell in love with it in the first place. The title track is my favorite, reminiscent of Another Sunny Day and The Smiths but nothing that could be considered outright copycatting. Wish I had a lyric sheet so I could sing along to “Unrequited” while drinking herbal tea in bed, but Donaldson loves instilling a protective distance to his music, and that’s no different here. I assumed at this point that I Dischi was going to focus on releasing the sounds of broken air conditioners and shaken cutlery drawers, but these catchy forlorn indie-poppers are undeniable in any context.

Regis Hidden In This Is The Light That You Miss 2xLP (Downwards)
Somehow this is the first Regis album in nineteen years, but I can’t think of a better time to be bludgeoned senseless by some heavy-duty techno. Thankfully, that’s pretty much exactly what the preciously-titled Hidden In This Is The Light That You Miss delivers, albeit with technique, grace and a smart sense of pacing. Of the four sides of vinyl, each one has at least one trademark Regis body-slam, similar in delivery to Surgeon or, well, much of Regis’s prior body of work. He loves to wallop on the first of four beats, giving the music a powerful circular thrust… a feeling similar to standing next to a carousel wherein the same kid repeatedly kicks you in the stomach while whizzing past, or so I’d think. It’s not all bruising thuds, however – producer Boris Wilsdorf (best know for his work with Einstürzende Neubauten) has surely helped sculpt the sonic nuances that make Hidden In This so satisfying after repeat listens – take the end of “The Sun Rose Pure”, for example, wherein rhythmic industrial noise gives way to an organ-led jam-out befitting Can or Agitation Free. There’s plenty of sonic detail to be discovered here – you can hear the furnace turning on and chains being dragged across concrete if you squint your ears hard enough, no matter how towering the bass kicks and violently pulsating the rhythms may be. Go on, listen to Hidden In This and see if you can remember what you had intended to do before you put it on.

Glen Schenau Jhumble / Jearnest 7″ (no label)
Thanks heavens for Brisbane’s Glen Schenau. If you’re wondering who that is, fair enough: he’s played in bands like Kitchen’s Floor, Psy Ants, Cured Pink, and Bent (whose 2017 EP Mattress Springs is a Discogs dollar-bin must-have), but I think I like him best when he’s steering the ship entirely. The artwork on this new self-released 7″ is plenty to take in on its own, full of possibly-legible squiggles, with every bare surface hand-printed and a detailed insert cut with special crafting scissors, because why not. I’m already entertained, but the music here is really something else. “Jhumble” somehow utilizes flailing no-wave guitar akin to Arab On Radar as a base, then cuts the tempo in half care of the fumbly drums and plunging bass. And then he makes it some sort of alt-pop blitz by singing like Julian Casablancas over top! It’s giving me visions of an alternate reality where Roxy Music and No New York collided head-on. “Jearnest” is a sinewy post-punk creeper, calling to mind Patois Counselors if they were the most popular buzz-bin clip on MTV circa 1996. At least that’s the case for the first half of the song, before it disassembles into a greasy stain resembling Kilslug after The Killers ran them over with their tour bus. Seems like every Australian band gets their own album without much delay, so I have to ask: where the hell is Glen Schenau’s?!

Sleeparchive Trust 2xLP (Tresor)
Big month for techno figureheads dropping albums for the first time in years: Trust might be Sleeparchive’s first vinyl full-length in his career! Pretty nuts, but I’m thankful we’re getting such heavyweight slabs of techno to dig into in these trying times. Trust, for example, is like a weighted blanket: it’s comforting, therapeutic and unrelentingly heavy. At times, Trust is a mind-numbing thrill of repetitive grinding, the sort of thing that will either propel you to greatness or to run off the nearest cliff in frustration. I for one love it, though, as each track is so perfectly refined for its purpose – many attempt to make grueling techno music but it takes a surprising level of careful finesse to fill out each frequency the way Sleeparchive does here. “Concrete” is appropriately titled, as Sleeparchive works his way through various jackhammers, whereas “Glass” refracts light in a manner redolent of its namesake. Stare hard enough into “Dust” and I swear a vocal hook starts to emerge from deep within… or is it simply the machines playing a trick on me? Y’all can spend your aimless summer hours playing Animal Crossing or lighting discount fireworks, I’ll be in my bunker with the lights out letting Trust rip on repeat.

Smut First Kiss 12″ (Iron Lung)
If there’s a more reliable source for modern West Coast hardcore-punk than Iron Lung, I am sadly unaware of it. Smut are a relative new group out of LA, and they utilize various contemporary signifiers alongside their classic and crude hardcore-punk. What are those signifiers, you ask? Alternating fits of pogo-punk and d-beat drumming, an extra layer of echo-y distortion on everything (the vocals especially), tucked-in t-shirts (which probably feature either hyper-obscure Swedish hardcore bands who never made t-shirts in their own day and/or hand-scrawled pornographic images and/or Mickey Mouse), and a singer who gets naked and bleeds, sometimes at the same time. Lyrically, Smut seem to view sexuality as a disturbing hall of mirrors through which self-degradation is the only release, which I suppose is more intriguing than the more typical and well-trodden hardcore-punk topics, if at least for one 12″ EP. Certainly seems like these guys were impressed by Hoax and Gag, and rightfully so – those are two killer bands – but I can’t quite tell if Smut will one day carve out their own particular niche or if they will reside solely in the shadows of their peers that arrived a few years earlier. Whatever the case, I’m sure these guys have freaked out their fair share of norms on the street, which is good enough for me.

Sniffany & The Nits The Greatest Nits 7″ (Thrilling Living)
‘Tis the season for more maniacal Brit-punk, although truth be told, when is it not the season? Sniffany & The Nits are a new group, splitting membership between Brighton and London (and featuring some ex-personnel of the beloved Joanna Gruesome), and they get straight to the point on these four tracks. A Good Throb comparison is probably inevitable, but that’s not a bad thing, since every punk band should aspire to sound like Good Throb. It helps that Sniffany is also an English punk whose voice drips sarcasm and disgust. It’s a thick and viscous slime, the sort of snot that lives in the deepest realms of the throat, and she delivers her lines with drama and flair, recalling Poison Girls at their most direct. The Nits generally hammer away at their instruments, with one-two-one-two drumming that has just enough of that “marching band from Hell” Crass Records-style to really bring it home (it’s those snare-rolls on opener “Girl Factory” that make their intentions clear). The fast tunes are cool, but I enjoy Sniff and crew most when they’re gleeful beckoning destruction in the form of “Spider Husband”, a spooky two-speed tremor that ensures that Sniffany and her Nits will haunt your dreams as well as your stereo.

Sunwatchers Oh Yeah? LP (Trouble In Mind)
Been hearing a lot about Sunwatchers in recent months (okay, primarily all from Tony Rettman in various places – did the group float him a sizable QuickChek gift card or something?), so it was only a matter of time before my ears became acquainted with this busy New York quartet. The label’s hype sticker categorizes them as “free-rock”, but Demo Moe or Blowhole this is not – Sunwatchers strike me as incredibly, deliriously locked-into their songs, which surely requires the hyper-focus of all its members. It’s gonna take some masterful playing to make this lofty form of music work, but thankfully for Sunwatchers they are up to the task. These long instrumentals feature almost continual guitar and sax soloing, often at the same time, careening through patterns befitting both jazz fusion and math-rock, both of which I suppose Sunwatchers could be filed under. When the songs are fast (like the careening “Thee Worm Store”) they remind me of Magma by-way-of Comets On Fire, and when they are slightly softer, I’m imagining one of those big-band 75 Dollar Bill lineups obsessing over “Hocus Pocus” by Focus. A little strange that this group are aligned with ostensibly garage-punk imprints like Castle Face and Trouble In Mind (although no one’s a purist anymore, of course)… seems like Sunwatchers should’ve linked up with their northern neighbors C/Site, or perhaps talked their way into being the one “loud” band on Paradise Of Bachelors’ roster, considering the sophistication of the goods they’re delivering. But that’s just me, treating underground music like fantasy sports because I have little else with which to busy myself.

Total Rejects Total Rejects LP (Slovenly)
Throw on the self-titled full-length debut from the generically-named Total Rejects and you might not be particularly impressed by their blown-out garage-punk noise. Take into consideration that they’re from Moscow, a city generally not revered for its underground garage-punk, however, and your interest might be piqued. Mine was! It’s cool to know that the raucous, belligerent sounds of The Reatards, The Oblivians and Supercharger have provided inspiration in the heart of Russia, played by guys named Vlad, Igor, Vasily and Ilya in what appears to be the same sort of grungy dive-bars a similar band would play in Oshkosh, WI or Buffalo, NY. They definitely have the sound and attitude down pat, full of scattered anger and frustration and complete with songs titled “I Hate”, “My Frustration” and “No Brains”. Interestingly, Total Rejects cover both The Creteens and The Fatals here, two noisy garage-punk groups out of France, so maybe that’s the scene and region most responsible for inspiring their sonic and aesthetic sensibilities? Music is a beautiful thing when you think about it.

Troth Garland And Gauze / On The Door 7″ (Altered States Tapes)
I love when labels dedicated to tapes put out records. It’s like watching a straight-edge person drink their first Long Island Iced Tea: you feel a little improper about the whole thing but you also know they’re going to have a great time. Altered States kinda split the difference here with a limited 7″ that seems to be somewhere between a dub-plate and a lathe cut, at least in how the vinyl looks and feels, because the sound quality is on par with factory-pressed wax. Troth is the duo of Cooper Bowman and Amelia Besseny, and they’re getting all lush and steamy on this single. “Garland And Gauze” sounds like its title: soft, slow-motion kicks open into a room filled with pink smoke and incense, more of an ambient stasis than any sort of groove. If Fabulous Diamonds released a drone record on Not Not Fun it might offer a similar result. “On The Door” carries a similar sense of lightness in the dark, although it progresses with a back and forth between a roomy percussive chug and a three-note piano melody. Bowman is talking underneath it all, in confused/confusing Shadow Ring fashion, which helps give the whole thing the lightweight industrial obfuscation of a later-period Blackest Ever Black release. Both tracks come and go fairly quickly; “On The Door” in particular feels like it’s winding down just as it’s getting started. I suppose if I wanted to hear more, that’s what all their cassettes are for. Well played, Altered States!

Hessel Veldman Eigen Boezem LP (STROOM)
Of all the reissue labels out there, STROOM is probably the wettest, wildest and weirdest, excavating scenes that I truly never knew existed – I’m talking 90’s Polish chill-wave, Belgian disco and however you want to label the music of Ingus Baušķenieks… Latvian sitcom pop? Anyway, I caught wind of Hessel Veldman care of a great 7″ EP last year, bizarre synth-wave that sounds like John Maus trapped in a Soviet simulacrum, so I had to step up for this collection of Veldman’s early ’80s productions. Seeing as he never made it to vinyl in his ’80s heyday, and the cassettes he was releasing (under his own name as well as the Y Create and Forbidden Photographs monikers) were traded to friends rather than commercially available, Eigen Boezem seemed like something I needed. It’s pretty great – these songs are strange, roughly-hewn and unmanicured. You can’t help but get the sense that Veldman is navigating these nocturnal and hazy songs with as much curiosity as the listener. Much of it is slow-motion synth-pop that seems to operate just below the surface, reminiscent of Fred A. (whose material was also recently reissued on STROOM), but there’s a queasy industrial murk that often overpowers these tunes. Veldman was a member of Fluxus improvisation group Gorgonzola Legs (of course they were called Gorgonzola Legs), and his penchant for DIY sound sculpting, trial-and-error home taping methods and synthetic experiments are rich in the folds of Eigen Boezem as well. Those concerned that this might be a little too pretentious, have no fear – the title translates to “My Own Boobs” in English, which explains the cover portraits of Veldman fondling his chest in satin opera gloves.

Whipping Post Cheating The War Game LP (Donor)
Here’s some angry hardcore-punk outta Leeds: Whipping Post’s sophomore album! Back in my day, I cheated the war game by using the Konami code, but I get the impression Whipping Post have something else in mind. Musically, they seem to have Black Flag circa Slip It In on their mind, as these songs follow that same sort of menacing mid-paced tempo that the ‘Flag beat their audience with back in ’84 and ’85. Very “Black Coffee” in sound and spirit. Plenty of Ginn-y guitar too, chugging on one or two notes for the majority of the riff and weaseling around the fret board in the brief open space between chugs. Vocalist Andrew Jones is less provocative and more strained than Rollins, as though each new line of lyrics requires the passing of a kidney stone – “You’re…” is a good example in particular. Whipping Post certainly seem comfortable with their speed and presentation, with a natural gritty ‘core vibe that ensures these songs resonate as hardcore-punk even as their rhythms and speeds could’ve led these songs into post-hardcore territory. Leeds could do, and surely has done, far worse!

Reviews – June 2020

Bananagun Out Of Reach 7″ (Anti Fade)
Ooh la la, here’s the second single from Melbourne’s most fashionable freak-beaters, Bananagun, featuring a cut off their upcoming debut full-length. They’re a relatively new band (these are only their third and fourth songs to be released), but they are clearly going for it: I count one manager, four press contacts and two booking agents among the contacts listed on their Facebook page. It’s a deep squad of employees for this group, but I can’t say I don’t understand why, as Bananagun have a slick and warm sound that will easily appeal to people of all ages. They tear pages from some pretty popular books – Stereolab, Belle & Sebastian, Cornelius, Beck, Fantastic Plastic Machine, Os Mutantes – and condense it into highly palatable pop tunes, not entirely unique but certainly unique enough. “Out Of Reach” might be their best tune yet… it’s an upbeat jam that pops into shape care of some breakbeat drumming, flutes, an earworm vocal melody and the finest bongos I’ve heard on an indie record since I don’t know when. “Takosubo” is the 7″ exclusive, an airy and funky b-side that reclines nicely. Essentially an instrumental (group vocals pop up during the infrequent chorus), it showcases the group jamming on piano and flute, in-the-pocket drumming and sunshiney bass. It clarifies the situation nicely: whereas other groups might try their hand at psychedelic Afrobeat yé-yé bubblegum garage on a lark, Bananagum seem to be constructed for that very task.

The Bedrooms Passive Viewing LP (Domestic Departure)
Life in Portland, OR isn’t all novelty donuts and vegan strip-clubs, you know: there’s plenty of bad weather and ample time to spend indoors, dwelling on things that make us sad. At least that’s the vibe I get from the super-serious melodic post-punk sounds of The Bedrooms. While the beat is usually punchy and buoyant, the chiming guitars and stern vocals offer forbidding proclamations of heartbreak and malaise, no matter how limber and funky the bass might be. I pity any audience member who is caught goofing off during a Bedrooms’ set, as I can easily imagine vocalist Jen Cobridge freezing them to death with a focused stare. I’m reminded of goth-y New Romantic groups like The Names and The Church, Siouxsie & The Banshees, Savages, Joy Division of course, and maybe even the final (for the time being?) Dum Dum Girls material. For a band clearly operating on a DIY / community-based level (as opposed to a multi-album deal with Factory), they’re quite professional, at least in the way that they are all talented players and recorded Passive Viewing with power and clarity. The Bedrooms are serious, and it suits them!

Leila Bordreuil, Bill Nace & Tamio Shiraishi Live At Pageant Soloveev LP (Open Mouth)
The Open Mouth “Live” series has been satisfying thus far, but here’s a particularly tasty trio: drone cellist Leila Bordreuil, guitar illusionist Bill Nace and sax squealer Tamio Shiraishi (of none other than Fushitsusha!). Pageant Soloveev is roughly a five-minute walk from my pad (and a pleasant walk at that), and yet I somehow wasn’t in attendance for this performance last August, probably because I figured live music would still exist in a year’s time. Foolish me, but I’m glad to experience their set now, which traverses various sonic terrains, all of which are pretty gnarly. Opening with a creeping drone of cello and guitar, it’s not long before Shiraishi steps up, his alto sax like an unattended tea kettle on the stove, begging for release. That piercing whistle is his primary zone, and he plays around within those eardrum-popping frequencies as Nace and Bordreuil solemnly stack their mud bricks beneath him, at least until they violently demolish the whole thing toward the end of the first side. Did Nace accidentally glance at a portrait of Greg Ginn or something? He’s the razor-edged swatter that’s trying to smash Shiraishi’s fly, whereas Bordreuil’s trying to suffocate them both in her unfiltered molasses. The b-side starts like the tense quiet after a blowout fight, eventually kicking up into a dust storm that leaves every tabletop object overturned and back again. A potent reminder to never skip out on mind-exploding improvised sound when it’s lurking in your neighborhood.

CB Radio Gorgeous CB Radio Gorgeous 7″ (Thrilling Living / Not Normal Tapes)
Been awaiting the arrival of some CB Radio Gorgeous wax for a couple years now, but sometimes it’s nice to actually feel anticipation and then eventually get something and it rocks. That’s the case for this four-song EP, which showcases the punk expertise of this Chicago group. They’ve got a pretty contemporary sound – jittery clean-guitar punk played a little faster than it should be – and the right personnel to make it click. Drummer Joe Seger comes from C.C.T.V. and Big Zit (to name but two prior groups), and his speedy playing is a godsend, wiling out all over the kit and providing the punch to these choppy and energetic tunes. In a style that seems at least a little indebted to Olivia Gibb of Warm Bodies (and going back to the OG source, Su Tissue), Anna Kinderman yips and yaps across the music, extending syllables with a theatrical flair and generally ignoring the hard work the rest of the band is putting in to keep things airtight, much to my enjoyment. What good is a punk singer if they aren’t constantly trying to screw up the rest of the band? File next to Vivienne Styg, Fried E/M and P22 in the category of “best new punk vinyl of 2020”!

Choir Boy Gathering Swans LP (Dais)
On paper, I shouldn’t gravitate toward this band: another retro synth-pop group, one with kind of a dorky name even, on Dais. And yet, here I am professing my fandom! Whereas many of their contemporaries seem to seek out a safely bland sound and feel through the same generic set of goth or vaguely-goth signifiers and affectations, Choir Boy has its own unique equation, easily spotted in a crowded batcave. I suppose much of that falls on the singer, Adam Klopp, of whom the band is apparently named (a mocking childhood insult turned band name, I believe). First of all, he looks like a miniature Jared Leto (it’s nearly uncanny!), and he insists on appearing on both Choir Boy album covers to date in sorta-sloppy Halloween costumes, a far cry from the super-serious, nothing-is-or-can-ever-be-humorous attitude displayed by many of Choir Boy’s contemporary synth-wavers. There’s nothing sloppy about Klopp’s voice, though, which sounds as if someone is lampooning Morrissey and accidentally out-maneuvering him in the process, his melodies dipping down and then rocketing up in a single phrase. It’s a little ridiculous, but that’s also what makes the group so notable and occasionally even captivating – Klopp is naturally talented and completely committed to being the most audacious singer around, and it works marvelously. These songs also benefit from a move toward more “adult-pop” sounds, mixing the eclectic instrumentation and emotive pull of Talk Talk and The Blue Nile with the airbrushed sheen of Duran Duran and the studious synth moves of Cold Showers rather than just sounding like some Bauhaus dance remix. If you can’t already tell, I’m impressed!

The Cowboys Room Of Clons LP (Feel It)
Soon as I get my new band “The Cowboy(s)” off the ground (the s is silent, we’re pretty arty), I’m sending a copy of our demo to the good people at Feel It. I have a feeling they might be interested! In the meantime, The Cowboys are keeping the label busy, and this new one (their hundredth?) finds them at their most distinctive – simultaneously inexplicably weird and classically guitar pop-centric – which suits them wonderfully. On the few faster tunes, I’m hearing similarities to Uranium Club, with unsettlingly-friendly game-show-host vocals and zany guitar licks, a sonic interpretation of that meme where a cartoon dog is drinking coffee in a burning building and saying “this is fine”. Those are the outliers on Room Of Clons, though, as the album more frequently digs into the street-view psychedelic pop of Syd Barrett and the eloquent rock mastery of The Kinks. And then there’s “The Beige Collection”, which sounds like a nerdy version of the biggest alt-rock hit The Killers never wrote, an odd musical triumph smushed between one song that sounds like Hubble Bubble and another that sounds like The Olivia Tremor Control (and prominently features kazoo). As the label’s promotional sticker says, it’s an ambitious album for sure, but these wild, nutty songs are great, and The Cowboys know exactly how to play ’em. I’m not sure if they walk around wearing colorful top-hats and animal-print bow-ties, but after releasing Room Of Clons, they’ve certainly earned the right.

Sam Gendel Satin Doll LP (Nonesuch)
2018’s Music For Saxofone & Bass Guitar really walloped me over the head, a disorienting concoction of experimental jazz, new-age weirdness and minimal electronics by Sam Wilkes and Sam Gendel that was unlike anything I had previously heard. Since then they seem to have blown up a bit (original vinyl copies of the aforementioned record have reached OG Nervous Breakdown prices on Discogs!), and as far as I’m concerned, rightfully so – these guys have really struck something widely enjoyable and curiously unique. Anyway, on Sam Gendel’s newest full-length, Satin Doll, he continues on that same trajectory, which has grown more familiar now and is nearly as satisfying. I guess this album came about from Gendel jamming with his friends Gabe Noel (electric bass) and Philippe Melanson (electric percussion), and it has the feel of three sonic auteurs playfully re-working jazz standards or simply improvising up new ideas that maintain a similar path, one of calm electro-spiritual righteousness, beauty and wonder. I’m reminded a lot of James Blake here, in the way that one talented visionary musician takes a classic style (for Blake it was R&B, for Gendel it’s jazz) and refashions it for a post-dubstep generation, filled with flittery drum machines, off-kilter rhythms, severe electronic effects and a sense of loving homage. If he hasn’t already met up with Frank Ocean and Justin Timberlake for sushi and oxygen masks while discussing their impending collaborations, it’s only a matter of time, you know?

George Heroine TMYLTL LP (Love Anthem)
Advertised as an album of “scrapped sessions from what would’ve been the second Meercaz & The Visions album”, TMYLTL sounds… pretty much like that. The name change is interesting enough (another punk George Harrison parody, or is it something else?), as is the Ultimate Warrior face-paint cover, but by my thorough evaluation, these tunes sound like the b-sides of b-sides. They’re garage-pop with hints of psychedelia, new-wave and private-press soft-rock, and while I like to think I’m open for that sort of sonic bouquet, there isn’t much that I find myself latching onto here, unlike say any given Dan Melchior record, who seems to inhabit a similar outsider singer-songwriter universe. I suppose it might come down to the crucial element of the voice, because I simply can’t connect to guitarist/singer/songwriter Muzz Delgado’s voice here or elsewhere – his singing style is amateurish and not particularly tuneful, which of course can be fine if he had some sort of exceptional personality or style to go along with it, but he mostly sounds listless and tired, as if he’s singing his tenth karaoke song of the night and just waiting for the bartender to close out his tab. He’s probably got the same range and natural vocal talent as Milk Music’s Alex Coxen, for example, but no one would ever accuse that guy of not going for it. If Delgado isn’t pumped up and rearing to share George Heroine with us, why should we be excited to hear it?

Green / Blue Green / Blue LP (Slovenly)
New project here from Jim Blaha, previously of The Blind Shakes and, you guessed it, the band called Blaha. I’m only somewhat familiar with his previous material, and yet I feel comfortable in stating that the debut album as Green / Blue, his duo with Annie Sparrows (previously of The Soviettes), is my favorite thing he’s done yet. I’m hearing an interesting, somewhat unexpected set of influences in here, which work nicely as this duo gives them a proper swirling. The ticking time-bomb energy of the albums Jay Reatard released under his own name, jangly indie-rock ala the classic Flying Nun canon and fuzzy minimal garage-pop (I’m thinking of The Raveonettes) all congeal nicely in Green / Blue’s hands. Opener “At A Loss” sounds like a fine Institute track with an entirely different singer, whereas other songs seem to combine fuzzed-out garage reminiscent of The Oh Sees with a whispered sour croon not unlike the one that propelled Billy Corgan to stardom. Plus, they seem to play all their songs a couple notches faster than most other Slovenly-approved garage bands would settle on, which provides a satisfying urgency to their sound. It’s a cool mix of agreeable styles that aren’t repeatedly put into play together, and Green / Blue have the chops to whip it up into some appealing tunes.

Jahder Bagigi Dub / WW Dub 7″ (Planet Rescue)
On their 2015 album, the group was known as Yader, but this Italian trio is going by Jahder on this recent 7″ single. If they crack their car windows, you’ll be able to smell the skunk from down the street, as these two songs are wonderfully psychedelic interpretations of classic digi-dub ala Augustus Pablo’s ’90s output. “Bagigi Dub” glides in on a thick carpet woven from an upbeat bass-line, vintage drum machines and swirly effects. Even the reverb has reverb, which is just how I like it. “WW Dub” clocks in at a suspicious four minutes and twenty seconds, and it wears a similar smiley face as the a-side (one with pot leaves for eyes) thanks to the sprightly bass-line and bouncy rhythm. Keys drizzle on top, throwing some color to an otherwise verdant setting. Fans of Jahtari’s 8-bit dubs and Niagara’s free-form grooves will certainly dig into Jahder’s pleasantly warm tunes, but honestly anyone who finds themselves unable to vibe with Jahder needs more help and care than I could ever personally provide to them.

Lemon Quartet Crestless LP (Last Resort)
You know what they say: when life gives you lemons, start a quartet! If you’re familiar at all with the avant-garde / ambient / experimental jazz of London’s Last Resort label (like that great Improvisations On An Apricot album from a year or two ago), Lemon Quartet brings together the players responsible for the label’s other releases, and it’s full of the tender peaceful bliss that hits so well in these warm springtime months. They recorded Crestless “at home in Akron, Mondays, 9 pm”, which grounds these soft and subtle evocations in a sort of social domesticity, which is a fun way to process these outre sounds. Bass, drums, vibes, horns, electronics and surely other instrumentation are involved, resulting in eight songs that sound best with the windows open, well-equipped to merge with the outside world no matter if it’s honking traffic or softly rustling fauna. I’m reminded of the tastefully subtle jazz of Arve Henriksen, the lighter side of the ECM catalog, that Bugge Wesseltoft & Prins Thomas album from a couple years ago, and even a touch of the Chicago post-rock scene ala Tortoise or Isotope 217. Some groups creak and moan and sprawl, others lock into forms of easily-recognized melody, but Lemon Quartet merge those two paths with careful ease and soft distinction. Recommended!

MM & The Peculiars Paean 12″ (Donor)
Okay, when you’re a band wearing tight denim outfits and posing next to a kick drum with your name written on it, I’m gonna expect garage, or garage-punk, or power-pop, or something in that extended family of retro-minded musicality. I found it peculiar indeed, then, to hear the booming, anthemic alt-rock that is “Paean”, which seems poised for MTV Buzz Bin success in 1995, somehow frozen in time until now. The MM in question here is Maegan Mills (of burly hardcore types Big Cheese and Rapture), and she wields her perfectly commanding vocal over the soft-loud dynamic of “Paean”, which smacks of post-grunge pop-rock such as Veruca Salt, early Foo Fighters and Quicksand. Makes me want to mosh at Lollapalooza, that’s for sure! “The Engine” and “Form An Orderly Queue (First Version)” keep the vibe going, finding a pleasant lane between Screaming Females, Helium and the heavy breakdowns prevalent in Siamese Dream. They toe the line nicely between the warring ’90s factions of college-rock and arena-grunge, bringing the heavy “Teen Spirit”-bouncy choruses in one hand and anxious noodly verses in the other. There’s no reason to play this sorta thing if you’re not going to aspire to greatness – MM & The Peculiars seem to have set their sights high, and rightfully so.

Moron’s Morons Looking For Danger LP (Slovenly)
Have you been wishing for a new stupid-on-purpose garage-punk band that’s not afraid to wear funny sunglasses and drip fake blood on themselves? Me neither, but that hasn’t stopped Warsaw, Poland’s Moron’s Morons from releasing their debut LP with the help of global punk ambassador Slovenly. This group takes its cues from the first wave of this stuff (The Damned, The Dickies, Angry Samoans) and into the second wave (Rip Off Records and the punker side of Estrus’s catalog), offering a fairly standard if enjoyable sound, delivered with a fuzzed-out recording and a sustained level of energy. Occasionally a song will recall the cretinous punk glory of Ivy Green, or the wannabe pop-star debauchery of early GG Allin, but it mostly sounds closer to The Rip Offs or The Motards, with lyrics that focus on murder, hating people, and murdering the people you hate, which I find to be both classically timeless and kinda boring if utilized without some specific panache. It seems to me that Moron’s Morons just wanna have fun being grotesque and clumsy punk rock idiots, just like their heroes were, which means singing about the same things and striking the same poses their heroes did. A noble intention, but nothing particular fresh or exciting, if those are two qualities you require your punk rock to possess.

Oilmen Tremendous Menace / Expect Excellence! LP (ADAADAT)
Just finished an exhaustive (too exhaustive, if you ask me) book on the early ’80s NYC club scene, so this vinyl debut from Berlin’s Oilmen is pairing nicely. Their sound is deeply indebted to the elastic funk and sputtering insanity associated with the downtown NYC no-wave scene. Tremendous Menace / Expect Excellence! is faithful to that time and sound, but there’s something about crazed jittery rhythms, wild vocals and bleating horns that will always strike me as a reasonable method for expressing one’s inability to find satisfaction in modern society. The vocalist shrieks in a similar fashion to Nick Cave losing his cool on “Big-Jesus-Trash-Can”, as if he’s accidentally sucking his syllables inward instead of puffing them out. Oilmen seem to be having more fun than should be legally allowed through these tunes, each of the three members never sitting still for a minute – if there’s no bass, grab some jingle bells, or a vibraslap, or screech uncontrollably like a monkey (as someone does in “Knuckle Walk”). Certainly not a style I would’ve associated with the frenzied-yet-intellectual electronic noise of ADAADAT, but Oilmen are clearly the type of group that’ll happily push their way into any scene and incite a wild happening.

Oksun Ox I Don’t Care I Already Told You LP (Round Bale Recordings)
The sole photographic image I’ve seen of Oksun Ox (whose membership is solely comprised of a guy named Ben Holmes) displays him holding some sort of rigged ukulele while seated in front of two big keyboards taped together, wild swirls of instrument cables, a couple effects pedals, and at least one cup of coffee precariously placed. That’s pretty much what Oksun Ox sounds like! File it under “unhinged solo project of the biggest freak in a small town”, a genre that has really blossomed as home recording technology morphed from an elusive, expensive venture to a built-in feature of any given laptop or cell phone. I’m reminded of the warped mindset of Oso El Roto, the childish mania of Teddy Fire, the intergalactic crud-funk of ONO, the lo-fi alt-reality “pop” of Pumice, and even a little Wesley Willis, particularly on the song where Holmes starts hollering “it’s the ace of spades!” over music that is very much not the “Ace Of Spades” we all know and love. Drum machines generally carve the path, but the thick gooey wash of whatever instruments are being played (at least one of those gunky keyboards, and probably a guitar at some point) quickly overtakes most of these tracks, with reverb bouncing back and forth in the fashion of a malfunctioning Zoom call. It’s honestly kind of wearying to listen to all of I Don’t Care I Already Told You at once – there are a lot of tracks here, over a lot of minutes, and the lo-fi haze and lack of discernible songs (or at least “songs” as customarily defined) is likely to increase one’s headache from mild to migraine. Oksun Ox doesn’t care, though: after all, you can’t say he didn’t already tell you.

Old Table Sexual Reproduction 12″ (Zag)
Oof… thanks to years of chilled-out indie-pop whoa-ah-oh music taking precedence as the current musical trend I find most painfully unappealing, I had almost forgotten about brashly whiny emo acoustic-guitar guys. I don’t know what Old Table are sounding like these days, but Sexual Reproduction is a five-track EP that came out digitally in 2008 and only recently made it to vinyl (for reasons beyond my comprehension), and it is extremely that. Singer / guitarist Willie T sings about wishing he was in elementary school and being scared to talk to girls while lusting after them online. It could be read as some sort of commentary on being a hapless loser (and the insert artwork, full of entertaining cartoon scribbles, leads me to believe Willie T is a smart guy), but if there’s some sort of ironic distance between the singer and the words he’s singing here, it’s not apparent enough for a listener such as myself to grasp. T sings in a register a shade higher than good sense would recommend (which is a common aspect of emo vocalizing); he’s clearly operating in the spirit of Jeff Mangum but nowhere in the same league (though to be fair, I don’t think anyone’s really in Mangum’s league). The guitar is accompanied by cello, which works as a pleasant and understated counterpoint (my favorite cello-centric emo group Very Secretary would surely approve). The chords are strummed with fervor, self-confidence in no short supply, and I have no doubt that he wants us to feel what he’s feeling. If they left these songs purely instrumental I’d happily keep spinning, but this sort of thing lives and dies on the personality and style of the singer, of whom I’ve had my fill.

Abe Partridge & The Psych Peas Lackluster LP (no label)
God bless local rock bands who follow their own hearts rather than common prevailing trends, particularly in this age where there’s only one big scene, called The Internet, which molds everything into everything else. There’s no big record contract coming for Abe Partridge and his band, The Psych Peas, but they’re pressing up their own album anyway, because they like playing their music and want other people to hear it! What does it sound like, you ask? Imagine heavy-metal-era Kid Rock fronting a Rage Against The Machine cover band, or Violent J if he tried his hand at a “don’t believe the government’s lies”-themed roots rock band. Partridge raps like an incensed street-preacher over lumbering hard-rock grooves, across both the “studio” side and the “live” side (of which three of the same songs appear on each). I certainly don’t mind it, although declaring it “very good” or even “pretty alright” might prove difficult if taking any standard musical rating system into consideration. This crew is having honest, raucous fun rocking out in their hometown Nashville bars, which is really what it’s all about. As Partridge says at one point on the live side, “it don’t really matter if I’m in tune anyway.”

Phasm Double Hell LP (no label)
Pure genre-exercise bliss from West Virginia’s Phasm on their self-released vinyl debut. That’s right, West Virginia! I honestly can’t think of a better American state for producing blackened, miserable metal such as this (okay, maybe Alaska): a region filled with creepy mountain forests, cultural despair and a stark lack of organic juiceries. Phasm take clear influence from the prominent first-waves of black metal and death metal, throw in some hardcore breakdowns (reminiscent of let’s say Mind Eraser) to make it pop and voila, every devil-horned skeleton in earshot will bang their heads on contact. I appreciate that, while overtly metal in structure and tone, they keep their songs short, generally around two minutes a piece, which appeals to the “short fast and loud” part of my brain (as opposed to my significantly smaller “dazzling masterful epic” cranial hemisphere). The vocals are generally a cacophonous blur, but with song titles like “Burned Crushed And Poisoned” and “Supreme Burial”, what do you want the singer to sound like, Mark Hoppus? Double Hell is a tried-and-true metal attack, right down the particularly intimidating form of Old English lettering they chose for the art (which, for the record, is attributed to someone named “Buttcoffin”). Nothing remotely new or unexpected, but the perfect soundtrack to blasphemous Appalachian terror. Big-city metal is overrated!

Primo! Sogni LP (Anti Fade / Upset The Rhythm)
It seems like any discussion of contemporary Melbourne post-punk has to include Primo!, if not simply because they’re quite good but because their members are intertwined with a heaping handful of other notable groups. Two members of Primo! play in Terry, one used to be in Constant Mongrel, another was in The Shifters… where they find the hours to devote to these various projects, I do not know, but I envy their time management abilities. Sogni is Primo!’s third full-length, and if you liked their unfancy and reserved songs from previous records, this one will surely offer similar satisfaction. They’ve got the casual melodiousness of The Dolly Mixture and deliver it with the unhurried attitude of Mark Perry’s early solo outings. Many of these tunes are pretty slow – certainly slower than your average Anti Fade or Upset The Rhythm act – which feels like one of Primo!’s defining features, a commitment to a deliberate, non-aggressive pacing. It allows the listener nestle into these comforting, steadfast tunes, and makes a tune like “Machine” sound like “Neat Neat Neat” in comparison to the rest of Sogni‘s offerings. Might be a bit of an acquired taste for listeners who equate post-punk with upbeat energy, but those who acquire it may never seek out a slam pit again.

The Puds Toxic Shock 7″ (Radical Documents)
While I’m generally not a fan of the prominence that reissue culture has attained in the underground, I won’t deny that I love finding out about cool old music that wasn’t already on my radar no matter how I find out about it, like this 7″ single. The Radical Documents label usually provides documentation of currently-active radicals, but I can’t blame them for popping out a faithful reissue of this one, The Puds’ sole vinyl release, a two-song single originally released in 1981. It sounds weird now and it surely sounded weird back then – this San Franciscan trio were artsy pranksters who pushed the limits of good taste with glee (as evidenced by the sole live photo of the group I’ve found, which features one member wearing nothing but nerd glasses, a hard hat and a 7″ 45 as a cod piece). Each member of the group contributes vocals and vocals alone: one member repeats the title in a rhythmic manner, another babbles, and the other babbles too, or maybe tries to provide some semblance of lyrical song. Somehow, it works, not entirely unlike a first-wave post-punk version of Jud Jud. I’m certainly reminded of the original no-wave artists who existed solely within their own reality, like Boris Policeband, Mykel Board’s You Suck! or that John Gavanti album, if more in kindred spirit than sound. Phil Minton’s spittle-spray muttering might come closest in actual sonic similarity, although b-side “Vege-Nam” has a definite Culturcide vibe in the aggression and discomfiting menace whipped up by these three crazy dorks. Ya learn something new every day!

Schizos Schizos LP (Sweet Time)
Schizos first came around in the form of their 2017 EP, Fuck Iggy Pop, which was a rude slice of less-than-amateurish synth-punk splooge. I didn’t hear any guitar on that one, but on this, their debut full-length, guitar is nearly all I can hear! The album opens with what sounds like a vacuum cleaner run through a RAT pedal, and not a nice vacuum either, one that you found in your dorm room left behind by the previous tenant with a bag that desperately needs to be emptied. I have to say, as a fan of bristly, ear-stinging guitars, I prefer this band in standard punk-rock formation, which is how they’re operating here. Vocalist Dale Schizo is furiously belligerent over these mostly fast-paced tunes, converging snotty hardcore with all the ways The Reatards taught us how to behave. I can certainly smell the GG worship too, particularly with a song called “Banned In Birmingham”, as there’s nothing more Allin-like than being proud of being unwanted and disliked. And seeing as current-day nihilist-punk-influencer Drew Owen provided the cover art (random explicit scribbles sure to land you in detention), I sense that Schizos looked up to his “hate you before you can hate me” attitude as well. I’d be incredibly impressed if Schizos ever learned to love, but for now they’re doing a fine job of hating.

Static Static The Future As Dark LP (Space Taker Sounds)
Space Taker has become a reliable vendor of dour punk rock from New Orleans and its various satellites, as is this case with this new album from New Orleans synth-punk duo Static Static. They completely opt out of live drums, guitars and bass guitars, instead programming their nervous and frigid rhythms through their synths, organs and drum machines. As is usually the case with this sort of style, John Henry and Heather Vinz sing over top, frequently in unison and with an icy disassociated tone. Suicide is a clear stylistic reference, whether Static Static were personally inspired or not, because this sorta thing usually leads back to them. It’s also when they’re at their most Suicide-like that I enjoy The Future As Dark the most, such as the bleary-eyed throb of “From The Dirt”. Songs like “Where Have I Been”, which push the drum machine up front and rely on traditional punk chord progressions, leave me less enthused. Just lock into a menacing spiral of electro power and stare me down, you know? No need to try to replicate mid-paced punk songs with purely synthetic means, unless you’re one of the select few capable of such feats. Pick a good setting, tape down the right key and let it rip ’til your speakers melt, that’s what I say!

TK & SÅJ Das Moabiter Duo – Recovered LP (Fantôme Verlag)
I love records that aren’t easily explained, why is a good explanation for my interest in this one. It entered my radar due to a Din A Testbild connection, but apparently that’s a bit of a stretch – sure, it was mixed by Din A Testbild’s Frieder Butzmann, but that’s all he did. TK is improv performer Thomas Kapielski and SÅJ is free drummer Sven-Åke Johansson, who apparently went by “Das Moabiter Duo” for at least a single performance in Berlin in 1983, which is the main source material here. Johansson playfully skips through his traditional jazz kit with gusto, and it’s a good thing he does, as the sound of his drumming accounts for 95% of the music on this record. Occasionally it’s met with radio interference, manipulated vocals, electronic effects or other sounds (“kitchen utensils” are credited), but for the most part it’s a fairly untouched and lengthy drum solo. Kapielski’s contributions are so sparse as to almost seem hallucinatory (did I really just hear a pitched-down voice a second ago?), and Butzmann cranks the levels once or twice as a means of making sure the listener knows he’s there, like a free-improv proctor in charge of the proceedings. But mostly, it’s one thirty-minute drum solo, and that’s cool too.

John Truscinski Bridle Path LP (Open Mouth)
Like me, you might know John Truscinski best from his duo with Steve Gunn, whose loose and exploratory rock improv has found its way onto numerous full-length releases over the past decade. I wasn’t sure what sorta music he made on his own, but upon learning of this solo album on Open Mouth, I was eager to find out. Turns out he decided to step away from his kit in the process of making Bridle Path, which contains six long minimalist drones. I’ve met plenty of drones I didn’t like, but these tracks hit a particularly nice spot in the back of my skull – each track tends to take a single extended tone that swells and fluctuates on its own particular scale. I like the lull of “Esker”, whose warm tone sways side to side with the simplistic elegance of something Ellen Arkbro might’ve conjured. I’ll admit, my enjoyment of Bridle Path isn’t solely due to the music itself, as I find the fact that it was recorded on a beach-adjacent street in Ocean City, NJ to be somewhat fascinating and unexpected. The pure and serene drones found on here don’t remotely conjure the family-friendly chatter and social bustle of the Jersey shore from where they emanated. In addition, the stark, hand-screened tip-on sleeve (is that a distorted abstraction of Ocean City’s ferris wheel?) is a sturdy and handsome dwelling for these patient and meditative works. It certainly has me seeing the boardwalk pizza of Manco & Manco’s in an entirely new light.

UK Gold Epigram No. 2 LP (UK Gold)
This Olympia trio didn’t have an album out, so they did the right thing: they recorded at High Command and they pressed up the records themselves. I can understand why labels might not have been knocking down their door to put it out, as Epigram No. 2 is not a timely or fashionable record, for better or worse (mostly for better). Their music strongly recalls turn-of-the-century indie, where emo (before emo meant “pop rock”) collided with dare-I-say-angular math-rock and the jagged post-punk of Gang Of Four. Reminds me a bit of Q And Not U, maybe a little Hoover, probably some Les Savy Fav, and just a hint of Measles Mumps Rubella, (remember them?). UK Gold seem pretty impassioned to be playing the form of music they’ve chosen, which makes sense because I don’t see any upside to playing this sorta stuff in 2020 unless you truly believe in it and get something out of it. The album definitely reminds me of that specific scene and musical era, which I look back upon fondly, more than it strikes out in a singular fashion one could exclusively attribute to UK Gold, but that’s fine with me. If you want more of this style, particularly a current band that is actually out there playing it right now with sincerity (or at least eagerly awaiting when it will be safe to go out and play again), might as well type “UK Gold bandcamp” into your search browser and see what happens!

Vincas Phantasma LP (Learning Curve)
It seems safe to say that colored vinyl is no longer an interesting aspect of records (the Funkopop-ization care of various Vinyl Me Pleases has nearly discredited the entire format, honestly), but it makes perfect sense that Phantasma is on gory red vinyl. Pretty much every song on the record is about blood, death, bloody death, dripping your blood in hell, a graveyard with bloodstained stones, bloody rain from above… you get the picture. And I have to say, it really works for this group out of Athens, GA. The lead vocalist has a tone and tenor that almost exactly replicates mid-’80s Michael Gira, and he booms his blood-lust over heavy post-punk. Is it possible to sound both swampy and mechanical? Vincas somehow make it work, with stormy guitars and electronic enhancements, particularly in the form of programmed drums. The songs are heavy and energetic, drearily dark but in a hopelessly death-obsessed way that recalls Crime & The City Solution or The Gun Club, not Black Tape For A Blue Girl or any band that would consider wearing more than just eyeliner. If you liked the last Daughters record but wished it was less screamy and experimental and more death-rocky and centered in bleak Americana, your limousine to Hell has arrived in the form of Phantasma.

Vladislav Delay Rakka LP (Cosmo Rhythmatic)
I could always go for a new album from the humble master Sasu Ripatti under his Vladislav Delay alias. The intricate and alien soundscapes he constructs under this moniker are fascinating and intense, often filled with more detail per square second than the vast majority of music I go out of my way to listen to. It’s usually fractured and deeply processed music, but with a sense of melodic beauty if not up front than on the horizon, which explains the shock I felt upon throwing on Rakka. This is basically hardcore power-electronics, extreme in its aggression and staunch avoidance of tunefulness. Think Ben Frost at his grumpiest, or maybe a violent software rendering of early Ramleh. “Rampa”, for example, sounds like Aunt Mary given a Digital Hardcore remix, with locomotive rhythms pounding at black-metal pace, chopped and spliced seemingly at random. It’s heavy duty stuff, often sounding like a gruesome battle between iron-clad fortifications and blistering sub-zero winds. Pretty out of character for the generally charming and benevolent Vladislav Delay, but if there was ever a time to strap on one’s sonic bazookas and start mercilessly bearing down on the terrain, now makes sense to me.