Reviews – October 2016

Craig Bell AKA Darwin Layne LP (Ever/Never)
Ask and I shall receive! Craig Bell’s recent archive 7″ on Violet Times was a nice taste of the past, and now Ever/Never is offering a full album of obscurities, outtakes, demos and live tracks, spanning 1974 through 1988. It offers a wide view of Bell’s musical tastes, from stompy glam rock (“Muckraker”) to blue-eyed bar-rock (most of the 1988 “Frank Sinatra Studio” sessions). I’ve found it to be a mixed bag in terms of quality, too – a track like “Muckraker” is perfect for riding your clay-wheeled longboard through town with a big can of spray-paint in your hand, but much of Bell’s ’80s material sounds too much like G.E. Smith and the Saturday Night Live Band, or George Thorogood if he were merely not-entirely-good to the bone. Just when I find myself ready to pull the needle off, though, Bell and his gang will kick out a catchy power-pop rocker and I settle back into my half-empty beanbag chair. Are there really that many Craig Bell fans, or fans of what is now fairly ancient good-time rock n’ roll, to support such an archival release? Only Ever/Never’s accountant knows for sure.

Cold Meat Jimmy’s Lipstick 7″ (Static Shock / Helta Skelta)
Cross-continent 7″ release here from Perth’s Cold Meat, a nice and new-ish antagonistic punk quartet. They seem to be taking cues from early Good Throb, or at least reached the same conclusions on their own – miserable lyrics, stompy beats and guitars barely held together, guided by a vocalist who bites as well as barks. Oh and they’ve all got silly punk names too, such as “Grotti Lotti” on drums and “Ack! Ack! Ack!” on vocals. (I feel bad that “Terrible Tim” on the bass didn’t get anything cooler – feel free to email me your surname and I can brainstorm some decent pun-based punk names if you wish to change.) They don’t quite reach the same level of vitriol as Good Throb, but the chorus of “I Hate Myself” is pretty catchy, and “Au Naturel” has enough bounce to shake the studs loose from any biker jacket. Solid 7″ if not quite a great one, but Cold Meat certainly have the right attitude and demeanor for creating hateful punk music (bonus points for lyrics that include “he’s sucking the cock of Cobain”) and I look forward to whatever they do next, Goddess willing.

Crown Court Capital Offence LP (Katorga Works)
It must be so satisfying, as an American punk label, to get to release a British skinhead band who use a word with a British spelling in its title, don’t you think? I wonder if Katorga Works had to stop themselves from calling this their “favourite” street-punk band in the press release. Anyway, much like most of the Katorga Works roster, Crown Court take a tried-and-true form of early-’80s underground rock music, in their case oi, and perform it with a keen knowledge of what works and what doesn’t work, stealing a pinch of Combat 84 or The Templars here and avoiding any Vanilla Muffins references there. I have to be honest: I find the majority of authentic oi to be mostly pretty uninteresting musically, but Crown Court never lose me – perhaps it’s just that their songs perfectly replicate the best parts of the genre, if at the expense of not having a particularly unique voice. The vocalist is gruff but can carry a tune, the guitars are as classic and refined as John Varvatos in a vintage Dead Boys tee, and there is nary a moment wasted – even a tune called “Disco Skins” comes across serious and respectable in Crown Court’s hands. They’re from London and probably bare-hand box each other in a Lonsdale gym, even if two of the guys are rocking a sharp business-casual look on the back cover, more like characters in the USA Network’s Suits than thugs who’d hock loogies on The Exploited. Perhaps that’s an area of authenticity too far for any sophisticated modern skin.

Flat Worms Red Hot Sand 7″ (Volar)
Not quite a super-group so much as a band formed from guys in other bands (Thee Oh Sees, The Babies and Sic Alps, to name but a few), Flat Worms are a new fast-and-jagged punk group out of Los Angeles. They’ve got a pretty good debut EP here, opening with “Petulance”, which speeds along like Sauna Youth, complete with a chorus that recalls an ambulance siren’s rhythm. This is followed by “Sovereignty”, a brief jolt of upscale jumpy punk not unlike The Intelligence. The title track takes hold of the b-side, ready for the overnight drive with a motorik drum-beat and lots of open air for the guitar to play along, beside and against the beat, the vocalist given plenty of time to finish his beer before stepping up to sing the title of the song as though he were a Kraftwerk robot. Good stuff all around, and a nice example of modern-day underground punk in the way that Flat Worms are clearly informed by all cool forms of rock music from the past four decades but borrow sparingly from anything besides Wire’s Pink Flag. We could all do much worse!

Fried Egg Delirium 7″ (Negative Jazz)
For all the classic hardcore-punk design choices, I’m a big proponent of the “multiple photos of the band members’ faces with different funny expressions” gimmick. Beats standing in front of a wall any day, and Fried Egg utilize it here. I thought their debut flexi was good if fairly contemporary-cliché, and Delirium is a step up. Two ragers on the a-side, “Mixed Feelings” and “Second Fiddle”, both moving around through tempo changes and considered riffing, not unlike Warthog (particularly as vocalist Fried Erik approaches many of his lines like a dog shaking the slobber from its mug). “Eggshells” gets the b-side all to itself, and it has me wondering how many egg-related puns these guys can fit into their music, at least until I remember that the McRackins were even more serious about their egg aesthetic and managed fifteen goddamn albums (and counting!). I was expecting a creepy, noisy dirge, just because Fried Egg seem to follow the modern-hardcore playbook pretty closely, but instead it’s a mid-tempo anxiety builder that boils over quite deviled-ishly in the end. I guess egg references aren’t as hard as I thought!

Steve Gunn Eyes On The Lines LP (Matador)
Steve Gunn’s jump to the major-indie Matador dropped in early summer, but just like his last record, I took my time settling into it. I was actually just listening to Way Out Weather, a record that initially felt like a slight disappointment after his debut, and as I’ve since come to love it, it sounded even better than I remembered – Steve Gunn is a master of the grower album. So now I’m a few months deep in Eyes On The Lines, and while it might be my least favorite of his, it’d be like picking the least favorite of your three children – it’s a possible task, but you love ’em all. As is often the case with psychedelic indie-folk troubadours, Matador has Gunn writing his most straightforward material here, as far as a rock context is concerned – lots of verses and choruses, guitar solo breaks, repeat-chorus-and-end structuring, whereas previous Gunn endeavors spiraled freely into the firefly-speckled evening sky. I always admired his ability to make a loose groove into something as catchy as a two-minute pop song, and while I miss some of his sprawl, none of the songs on Eyes On The Lines are throwaways… the goods are still delivered, replete with Gunn’s calm and soothing voice and plenty of ‘Dead-inspired grooves. If it takes a few rock-structured tunes to get Steve Gunn into the eyes and ears of the CBS This Morning audience, so be it – I’m not so insecure in my Gunn love that I refuse to share him with the general populace.

Happy Times It’s Psychological LP (Swashbuckling Hobo)
Swashbuckling Hobo’s releases generally fall in two camps for me: records that make me embarrassed to enjoy dudes playing guitars, and records that confirm that dudes playing guitars is one of the few timeless glories of our popular culture. Happy Times thankfully fall into the second category, an Aussie group that are cut from the same cloth as MC5, The Sonics and The Dead Boys. Their rock is classic by nature, but not by the drawn-out, overstuffed Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd definition, so much as the economical, “sped up Chuck Berry” form that refuses to die. At their best, it feels like I’m witnessing The Saints reincarnated, at worst I feel like I’m standing around in a beer tent waiting for Turbonegro to go on, but It’s Psychological is more meat than gristle. Happy Times have very little distinction in their own sound, but that essentially works to their advantage here – they’re going for such a classic early-punk / proto-punk hard-rock sound that if they were to attempt to deviate from the formula, chances are it’d be more of a hindrance anyway. They can save that for their next band, Progressive Times.

Hogg Solar Phallic Lion 12″ (Scrapes)
Hot band alert! Hogg are stationed in Chicago, although I think they may have moved from Atlanta or something, as gross semi-drifter noise crews are wont to do (sick of Baltimore? move to Oakland for a few months!). Anyway, they’re one of my new faves, as this five-track 12″ EP is hitting all the right notes. I can’t help but think of the early heyday of San Francisco’s damaged art-punk scene circa 1982 when I listen to Hogg; they’ve got a strong Live At Target vibe, combining the best elements of Nervous Gender, Factrix and Flipper, where punk rock became so slow, evil and drugged that keyboards, rhythm boxes and effects replaced the guitars. Of course, the bassist was allowed to stay, so long as they stick to repetitive, lugubrious melodies, which naturally Hogg do. There’s a bit of inherent awareness of the Hanson Records / Wolf Eyes scene, but Hogg strike me as more of a “band” than a noise project; closer to Throbbing Gristle than Panicsville, let’s say (the latter of whom released their debut cassette in 2015, pressed to vinyl earlier this year). They really nail that “legit” creepy feel in a German Shepherds way (see the disturbing “I’m Henry The VIII, I Am”-sampling “Conform Or Die”), and I still can’t tell if the group is a duo or the full crew of post-apocalypse freaks photographed for the insert. No matter who is in the band, I’d happily join their garbage fire under a bridge any day of the week!

Limbs Bin Bliss Tech 7″ flexi (Follow Me Into The Laser Eye / Moon Machination)
Limbs Bin’s Bliss Tech is a refreshing blast of noise-as-grindcore, on the popular one-sided 7″ flexi format, the consolation prize our economy and vinyl bubble has brought to the DIY underground (kudos to any label that can turn a profit on a 7″ vinyl pressing these days, in the event that such a label exists). Imagine if Iron Lung lost their guitar and drums and just had one powerful sine generator and a RAT pedal and you’re close to the racket Limbs Bin kicks up here. The lyrics are short phrases of the usual hatred / paranoia / frustration domain (a song title like “Grim Ineptitude” feels especially right), and while fifteen tracks are listed it ultimately plays out like one solid piece with a number of indiscriminate breaks. Not much to it, just a guy screaming, grindcore-vocal-style, with a penetrating and warbling noise beneath, and it works nicely for me. If An Albatross never used “Follow Me Into The Laser Eye” as a song title, I bet they’re kicking themselves now!

Mia Loucks Sister Honey Demos LP (Gilgongo)
Mia Loucks’ Sister Honey Demos continues the Gilgongo Records ethos of releasing records that label-owner James Fella simply wishes were in his personal collection, a methodology you can’t help but respect. According to the press info, he heard the tape back in 2015 (it was originally released on cassette by Related Records) and fell in love, particularly touting Loucks’s outsider-ness as a reason he was drawn in. I can certainly appreciate an artist that doesn’t hire a publicist and register their fancy Squarespace site before their first show, but music is enough of an outsider’s game at this point that it means less now than a couple decades ago. Anyway, getting back to Loucks, she plays acoustic guitar and sings, performing in a decidedly hushed and cozy style. Her songs, however, aren’t the sort of casual-strummed indie-folk you might anticipate, so much as down-picked, repetitive tunes that recall The Damned or Ramones more than Elliot Smith or Cat Power – they just happened to be performed by a woman on her acoustic guitar with little other accompaniment. “Demos” in the title seems to hint that these aren’t meant to be finished products, and that makes sense, seeing how full-band-ready they are, although on their own it’s a pleasant listen too. Clearly Loucks and Gilgongo are pleased with the quiet existence of Sister Honey Demos, so no matter what else happens they’ve already succeeded on their terms.

Monogamy Semifloral 7″ (Almost Halloween Time / Citizen Of The World / Side Wound Worship)
Alright, here’s a 7″ fit to print on this website: a weird homemade affair with songs that would only ever appeal to a small majority of the population and a cover that was “hand assembled and printed using a spinach anthotype process (dried spinach on paper exposed to the sun)”, says the hand-scrawled note that came with it. There are five songs here, and while I have no doubt believing they’re all from the same band, they scratch off in different directions, such as manic and damaged synth-pop, miniature acoustic psychedelia and noisy, experimental-leaning indie-pop. I’m hearing the ghosts (and fresh corpses) of artists like Ween, John Maus, Lovesick, Girls Are Short and maybe even a little Flaming Lips, all with the frenzied slacker attitude you’d expect to find in some forgotten corner of a Sub Pop or Matador singles club in 1996. It’s a labor of love in every way, surely to be savored most by friends and family (and strangers like me), and I applaud the three weirdly-named labels involved. Best part is, if you don’t like the record, you can eat the cover before tossing the vinyl in your recycle bin!

Mono Junk State Of Funk EP 12″ (Rat Life)
I was casually browsing the racks at CD Cellar in Arlington, VA a few weeks ago when this Mono Junk 12″ jumped out at me – the name was vaguely familiar, and when I saw that there was a track called “Panic At The Disco Fan” on here, I couldn’t leave it for someone else to buy. Turns out Mono Junk has been spiking his basement EDM since the genre basically began, and I can’t say I’m surprised by the quality to be found in these four tracks. They follow fairly simple trajectories, often repeating with little human involvement, but when you’ve got the perfect little electro loop going on and a raw vocal hook slapped on top, what else do you need? “Can’t Understand” sounds like Magas dressing up as Max Martin for Halloween, whereas “Leave This Feeling” sounds like Mr. Oizo doing his best to clear the room with a Gameboy. The aforementioned “Panic At The Disco Fan” doesn’t include the samples or edits we all hoped for (it might be the plainest of the bunch, not unlike a Cold Cave instrumental circa Love Comes Close) but “State Of Funk” concludes things like one of those grody Sleaford Mods beats that dig themselves into your brain. Great EP, thanks CD Cellar!

Mount Trout Mount Trout 7″ (Rough Skies)
Tasmania’s Rough Skies is back with more cool underground sounds, this time from a group called Mount Trout. I certainly appreciate when what one might call an “indie-rock” group has zero aspirations for fame, popularity or “likes”, and that’s the vibe I’m getting from Mount Trout, writing songs to simply please themselves (and as a sweet by-product, they please me as well). “Tarn” opens things on a volatile sway, with a vocalist that sort of shrugs his words out as the music recalls a particularly dub-fascinated Drunk Elk, let’s say. They follow it with what else but two short and jangly instrumental rockers that I’d expect to hear on the Mittagspause 2×7″ I wish I owned (“Post Driving” and “Water Based”, respectively) before entering “Mutton Birds”, which hits a similarly semi-soothing tone as the opener. It’s like a miniature, pocket-sized version of an epic stoner-psych tune The Davis Redford Triad (or even Pearls & Brass) would’ve written, except that Mount Trout had to turn down their amps so as to keep the local constable from knocking on their barn door. I certainly own more than enough 7″s, but I look forward to stuffing this one in the bin and rediscovering it years later, mind-blown once again by its humble and righteous glory.

Nots Cosmetic LP (Goner)
Nots continue their reign as one of the best current garage-punk bands in the US or otherwise with their sophomore album Cosmetic. When I saw them live, I was amazed that the drummer’s right arm hadn’t fallen off (or attained a John Cena-esque musculature) from the near-constant tom hits, and nothing has changed here – only by the fifth song does the rapid-fire tom-hammering let up, and by the end of the song she’s wailing away on the tom again, as if to make up for lost time. It’s a pretty steady formula Nots have got here – those pummeling drums, unfriendly garage-punk riffing, swirls of synthesized noise-effects and vocalist / guitarist Natalie Hoffman’s scowling shout, and they’ve further refined it for Cosmetic. I appreciate sloppy, amateurish glee when it comes to punk, but Nots are a fully oiled machine at this point, as technically sharp as any radio-rock band; they just happen to play superior music. There are a few songs that take on different moods, like the negative psych of “Fluorescent Sunset” (as if you couldn’t tell by that title) and the epic closer “Entertain Me”, but I think most of us just want to hear Nots pound out two-and-a-half-minute punk burners that drill directly into the core of great rock n’ roll, of which there are plenty here. Slap your thigh along with Cosmetic and see how many songs you make it before the forearm burn becomes intolerable!

Opposite Sex Hamlet LP (Melted Ice Cream / Dull Tools)
From the storied town of Dunedin, NZ comes Opposite Sex, brandishing a firm buttocks on the cover of their debut album (self-released on CD in 2015, graciously put to vinyl today). One would be hard-pressed to deny their rock moves as distinctly New Zealand-ish, but within their twisted template of pre-punk / post-punk CBGBs and Flying Nun’s jilted re-purposing of Velvet Underground pop, a distinct and flavorful voice has developed. They frequently find themselves strapped into slick, shades-down grooves, locked up by the bass and drums and teased into submission by whoever is flapping out the guitar lines like a sandy towel, or whichever vocalist decides to commandeer the mic. They’ll go from an early Television skank like “She Said” into “Oh Ivy”, which sounds like an adorable pop song that eventually eats you alive, like a teenybopper fan that goes Misery on you before you can get to your car. This of course is to say nothing of the gallant piano ballad that follows (with the lingering melody of “Oh Ivy” in its keys, unless my mind is tricking me). Sophisticated yet mischievous, smart yet ugly… for a band on their first record, Opposite Sex sure have a lot figured out already.

Paranoid London We Come To Rock 12″ (Paranoid London)
Paranoid London’s debut album made some waves within the electronic community and beyond over the past year or so, and I wasn’t immune to its nostalgic charm and sardonic wit either. I’d been waiting on something new from this crew, and while We Come To Rock doesn’t necessarily diverge from Paranoid London’s general description (classic and gritty acid-house aided by guest vocalists), this one seems like more of a purely nostalgic affair than any sort of contemporary take. “We Come To Rock” is about one of the least meaningful things a group can say in 2016, but naturally Paranoid London weren’t using it for any sort of literal meaning so much as a “hey, how can we vaguely remind people of Afrika Bambaataa and downtown NYC?” additive to their analog acid-house (it’s a cover of the Imperial Brothers’ 1984 electro classic). “Buck Stoppin” is the flip and more to my liking – the music is just as exactingly-retro as the title cut (it’s also a cover, this time of Fantasy Three), but the vocals here act more as a rhythmic element than any sort of generic call-to-arms. I don’t want to be a fun hater, and We Come To Rock is a fine time capsule to open in any social setting, I just assumed Paranoid London were more forward-thinking than ironic, like they were going to drop the 2016 equivalent of “Losing My Edge” and leave us all speechless instead of finding a comfortable retread. Maybe next time?

Ploy Iron Lungs 12″ (Timedance)
Just like my boy Bruce, Ploy is part of the current class of Hessle Audio stars, and I’m glad to see he is popping off another new 12″, this one care of the also youthful and forward-thinking electronic label Timedance. Just as I had hoped, Ploy offers three cuts of inventive, enjoyable post-dubstep that speak to up-to-the-minute production techniques as well as timeless analog craft. “Iron Lungs” teases the big break care of sleigh bells and a vortex-like kick but it never quite arrives, suspending the momentum as if you’re trying to ride a bicycle while floating in zero gravity. Flip it for “Number 24”, which takes on the popular “alien rainforest rave” vibe and never quite erupts – as I comfortably sit while listening, the music offers a satisfying sensation as though I succeeded with a heist and remembered to wipe my prints. “Footprints In Solid Rock” rounds it out with the least dance-able cut of the three, with all sorts of tweaks and creaks to remind one of Joe, Elgato or perhaps a remix of one of Mike Cooper’s recent sonic postcards from the tropics. Three chic looks for A/W 2016, as if you had any doubt.

Portable Alan Abrahams 2xLP (Studio !K7)
Portable is the name Alan Abrahams uses when he produces and DJs music, usually of the sumptuous tech-house variety, so I wonder if naming his newest album Alan Abrahams isn’t some sort of sign that he is offering his most personal music to date, opening the curtain a bit and showing his true colors. It’s certainly not a techno record, at least not in the conventional sense, as Abrahams sings on nearly every track, following in the path of his recent 12″s on the Live At Robert Johnson label. It’s a great listen, the sort of album that can inspire you to wake up and cook a real breakfast in the morning without reaching any sort of volume or aggression that might rile your cats. He has an expressive, confident voice that splits the difference between Daughn Gibson and Dave Gahan with a slight South African accent (Abrahams was born and raised in Cape Town, after all). His lyrics are both intriguing and disarmingly sweet, with a voice that can make awkward lyrics sound profound (he clunkily sings about ABC and HBO at one point), with far more acoustic instrumentation than I would’ve guessed (the piano and violin were busy in the studio). Alan Abrahams fits in nicely with other modern dance producers who’ve detoured from the dance-floor toward intricately-produced and deeply personal vocal pop, such as Tin Man and Matthew Dear. Some guys might never share their feelings if they didn’t have a fully-stocked studio and mixing board at their disposal, and I’m glad Portable is one of the privileged few, as his talent remains undeniable.

Powder Afrorgan 12″ (Born Free)
When it comes to sunshiney, soothing Afro-house, why not go to a Japanese producer on a Swedish label? Techno and the internet have slowly turned dance music into a vibrant global community, and this new EP by Powder (aka Moko Shibata) is particularly intoxicating. The title track opens the EP, and it’s a gorgeous fusion of effervescent, liquid beats and African rhythms; I’m reminded of Mr. Raoul K were he to mix his productions for a Detroit block party. “Random Ladder With 40” is next, and while it has a similar blue-sky feel, this one veers away from classic house and toward the indie-rock repurposing of such, like a Panda Bear or Manitoba remix. Cut the BPM in half, and it could also serve as the perfect template for another Frank Ocean gem. Powder closes things with another slight diversion, “Fridhemsplan”, which replaces the top-down weekend cruise with a bleary-eyed groove that rocks like a particularly demented St. Julien track after a night spent with Neu! on the headphones. Powder goes three for three here and I don’t care if it’s time to pick pumpkins, I’m gonna keep jamming Afrorgan like it’s the first week of August.

Powell / Not Waving Diag N.A. 2016 12″ (Diagonal)
I could barely believe my eyes when I saw that Powell was bringing his Diagonal Records tour to Philadelphia in August, and it was a fantastic night indeed, myself and a couple dozen admin-level office employees dislocating our hips to his hyper-aggressive tunes. He was peddling this limited “tour only” 12″, and while the urge to flip was strong, I love Powell’s music too much to pass it on. I’m dying for his impending full-length, and his cut here “Underground Rock N’ Roll” is true to Powell’s game – a flanged bass-rub gets looped into neon hyperspace while some classic downtown NYC musician is caught on tape muttering the same four or five words over and over. Bellissimo! The real surprise for me here is Not Waving’s contribution – I thought his recent album Animals was fine if par for the course, but his live set worked a variety of excellent new angles, and his cut here, “Poison Yourself”, is a rugged combination of Belgian New-Beat, laser-fire acid-techno and one of those early Atari racing games where your car crashes within seconds every time, all given the proper kick and impatient attention span of the Diagonal universe. It comes in a plain white DJ sleeve with no insert or information and cost thirty dollars at the merch table, yet I don’t feel remotely ripped off, even when considering a Turnstile hoodie might run me the same.

powertake0ff / Multicult split 7″ (Learning Curve)
I always wonder why some bands find it so alluring to insist on leaving their name uncapitalized. It pains me to type “feedtime” and “fluf”, and it’s not like those bands are following some sort of E.E. Cummings-esque dedication to bizarre punctuation throughout their songs and records, right? Gripe aside, I’ll give powertake0ff a pass, as they’re just some small band trying to make it on a split 7″, and their three beefy rock songs find a comfortable cushion between math-rock and stoner-rock to lay their heavy dupa upon. The singer does that thing where he stubbornly and loudly speaks his lyrics with total disregard to the rhythm of the song, and maybe I’m just in a good mood each time I listen but I really enjoy it here. Multicult I am familiar with, they’re like four albums deep and continue to be math-rock nerds no matter who cares, practically flaunting it with a song title like “Repeating Decimal Point Of Trauma”. This one gets kinda funky, almost on the Fugazi tip, but it’s ugly and disjointed enough that things fall closer to Kurdt Cobain than Ian Mackaye. If you are willingly buying split 7″s of new rock bands, why not buy this?

Procedure Club Pinky Swear LP (Safety Meeting)
To my knowledge, there is yet to be a crossover thrash album with the title Pinky Swear, and CT’s Procedure Club maintain that sanctity by performing sweet, cushiony indie-pop instead. While I’m fairly certain they play live, they’ve got a bedroom sound here, with a clattering drum machine and a crisp bass guitar guiding each song and the angelic vocals of Andrea Belltower swooshing through the clouds. Procedure Club are most effective when they’re coasting on a tuft of reverb and tuneful effects, as if they were a low-calorie Stevia-based juice drink instead of the Mexican Coke of Black Tambourine or The Vaselines. It doesn’t seem to work as well when they get weirder, like on “Low Emotional Quotient” or “Lockdown” – it often feels like a children’s television show that knows it’s about to be cancelled and morale is low (or the synths get so wonky, it’s as if the ghost of Bruce Haack is having fun at their expense). Some great moments and some so-so moments on Pinky Swear, but seeing as I mostly just use the bedroom for sleeping and putting away laundry, perhaps I could learn a thing or two from Procedure Club.

Pure Disgust Pure Disgust LP (Katorga Works)
Leading the charge of the New Wave Of DC Hardcore (just call it NWODCHC if you’re tweeting), Pure Disgust come correct with their debut full-length, complete with cover art that renders one of the most stunning scenes in Olympus Has Fallen (or was it White House Down?). If you’re at all like me and tired of hardcore bands randomly pairing the words “violent”, “abuse”, “society”, “mental”, etc. with seemingly no original ideas in their heads, Pure Disgust’s immediate and undeniably relevant lyrics are a breath of fresh air (the stuff straight-edge people breathe). They’re a multi-cultural hardcore band and sing about it, calling out their racist peers, their indifferent peers, the police state and respectability politics with the fury such topics deserve. So many hardcore bands are like Trump in that way: they talk loud, but could never offer any sort of specificity, but here are Pure Disgust, laying it out plainly and without any room for misinterpretation. Oh, and the music is cool too – rugged and burly modern hardcore with a vocalist who I swear sounds like Sportswear’s Peter Amdam (RIP) when he stretches three or four words into a full verse’s length. When he barks it out, I’m reminded of 86 Mentality’s Steve Clark, so either way works for me. What is the point of hardcore in 2016 if not this?

Randomer & Cadans Pyramid / Anchor 12″ (Neighbourhood)
It’s always a fine pleasure for me, checking out little-known, London-based, under-thirty experimental-techno producers, and when the results are as fine as this 12″, I have little reason to stop. I’ve seen Randomer’s name around before (and admittedly never even heard of Cadans prior to this), but this 12″ had me sitting up straight and immediately taking notice of their impressive skills. Both “Pyramid” and “Anchor” sound strongly indebted to Blawan, but in a way they beat him at his own game, or at least conjure up what has made many of his productions so invigorating. “Pyramid” has a punchy, dense kick and sets it loose with some rusty hi-hats and a brittle warble that could be a brief Bill Orcutt riff edited into incomprehension or perhaps more realistically a very slick synth plug-in. “Anchor” works in a most similar way, with a thuggish beat and a few decrepit melodic bits, what could very well be the sound of milk curdling in time-lapse exposure. Blawan’s own productions have become more sanitized over the past year, so it’s nice to hear Randomer & Cadans scuffing it up once more, with all the urgency and force that such a sound deserves.

Rik And The Pigs Life’s A Bust 7″ (Feel It)
While I sit here patiently waiting for the Vexx LP I pre-ordered who knows how long ago to arrive, I’ll give this new 7″ by Rik And The Pigs a spin, featuring both Corey Rose and Mike Liebman from the aforementioned America’s Greatest Probably Broken-Up Rock Band. Rik and gang sound better than their Total Punk EP here, really nailing the snot-nosed, intentionally-offensive strain of Killed By Death punk on “Vile Order” and “Nothing” – think The Mad, Tampax, Freestone’s “Bummer Bitch”, The Dogs’ “Teen Slime”, that sorta thing. “Vile Order” in particular sounds great, with junk-shop drums perfectly recorded and Liebman playing a feedback-laden solo for nearly the entirety of the song. The title track takes a different route across the b-side, injecting a little classic blues into a purposely-silly slow jam that never quite goes anywhere (much to my delight) and probably involves some sort of amusing crowd interaction when performed live. Definitely a cut above the rest of the modern “sick weirdo” punk crowd, across the board in sound, execution and style… I just hope they cut out nonsense like the earlier track “Feed The Animal” with it’s “I’ll do ya then kill ya!” lyrical theme. This 7″ is proof that Rik And The Pigs are better than that.

Sam Shalabi Isis & Osiris LP (Nashazphone)
For as tense, depressing, horrifying and numbing as today’s political landscape is, Sam Shalabi is one of the few artists who seems capable of translating that immediate anxiety into musical collage without downplaying the horror or losing his sense of humor, however dark. Shalabi has played with many groups, both improvised and structured, perhaps most notably including A Silver Mt. Zion, and I need to dig into his other material as Isis & Osiris is a fascinating listen that amazes in various ways. I understand Shalabi is one to focus on the oud and the guitar, but Isis & Osiris taps into various worlds of sound, field recording, improvisation and collage to create something that stands firmly on its own. Some of the more manic passages of oud / piano / slapstick-noises call to mind Ghédalia Tazartès, and the long-form spoken word samples certainly fit in nicely with the Constellation Records / Godspeed scene, but Shalabi’s work strikes me as more immediate and direct than your average comfortable high-minded art project. The sonic consciousness flows through strings, drones and atmospheres that constantly tug at one’s senses, and on the b-side (the album is cut into “Part 1” and “Part 2”) a stark speech is jarringly cut into an explosive sound that had me literally jump in my seat when I first heard it. Isis & Osiris is a dark mirror to gaze into, but one that is infinitely rewarding, both as catharsis and fine art.

Trans FX The Clearing LP (Sister Cylinder)
Trans FX (also know as Transfix, a differentiation I don’t fully grasp) are Olympia’s morose, self-reflective retro-pop group du jour, each new record building upon the last in a way that many bands wish they could. This new one, The Clearing, is a particularly interesting and strange affair, of which I am sure they are very proud. They seem to dig around in the Columbia House bargain bin for melodic inspiration (I’m picturing severely-marked-down CDs by Microdisney, Hooverphonic, Paul Westerberg and Lush in a small stack on a coffee table cluttered with misdemeanor drug paraphernalia) and add a modern-day DIY punk twist by way of abhorrent noises or rustic field recordings. The band photo of a lurking, indoor-sunglasses-wearing dude contentedly listening to his bandmate tap out some plaintive chords on a piano while sporting a cred-abundant YDI shirt is an excellent visual explanation and it comes printed on the inner-sleeve. I appreciate their movement away from synth-dominated pop to easy-breezy college-rock (perhaps a similar yet smoother transition as Merchandise), and if the lead singer didn’t sound like he was casually exhaling cigarette smoke with every velvety lyric, I might sniff some REM in their DNA too. It’s a sad record, as though Trans FX want to exist in a world of beauty but are all too aware of the misery of reality, right down to the Jonathan Vance-esque spoken-word “Underneath The Willow Tree” that closes the album. Worth checking out if you also struggle with the choice between ratty band tee and expensive button-up each time you open your closet.

Turnspit / J.R. Fisher split 7″ flexi (What’s For Breakfast?)
The What’s For Breakfast? label has released a few of these one-sided split 7″ flexis recently, and while I’m not here to tell any record label how to operate, at what point does simply a streaming MP3 / download suffice? You’ve got one song a-piece from the Chicago-based Turnspit and J.R. Fisher, on a format known for shoddy quality… I dunno, this all sounds like something I would normally actually really like, so maybe it’s just the music here that’s rubbing me wrong. If this were a Prick Decay / Sick Llama split, I’d probably be grinning as it spins, but these are two pop-friendly indie artists who probably actually wrote their songs on purpose and would like people to hear them, and I’d like them to find their audience as well. Turnspit does an acoustic, dare-I-say “folk punk” track rallying against Rahm Emanuel, and rightfully so, a ditty filled with region-specific lyrics and hatred to spare. J.R. Fisher follows with a similar sound, sans anger and with more of a Modest Mouse circa-This Is A Long Drive feel, buoyed with just enough quirk and a frog in the throat. Both of these artists surely deserve proper full-lengths of their own, and I’m going to hold Rahm Emanuel personally accountable for this oversight.

Turquoise Feeling Turquoise Feeling LP (Heel Turn)
A lot of good things going for Turquoise Feeling’s debut here: bold primary-color cover art with a locked-face guy, intriguing band name, and a home-base of Columbus, OH, one of the last standing great American rock n’ roll towns. These four dudes have played in various bands that operated around the Columbus Discount orbit (perhaps appearing on a singles’ series or two), and now they’re doing Turquoise Feeling. They play a very Columbus form of garage-indebted indie-rock, leaning heavy into Siltbreeze and Homestead catalogs circa ’94, rocking as if the only records they own are Rocket From The Tombs and Vertical Slit bootlegs. I get a more trad-leaning Eat Skull vibe in some of these tracks (“(Remember) Memento” has a particularly Eat Skull vibe, had they added a little Thin Lizzy to their diet), and I can only assume these guys have attended at least a couple Counter Intuits gigs and let it soak in. Nothing on Turquoise Feeling really shakes me to my core, but as far as low-stakes, fun-havin’ indie-punk goes, I like Turquoise Feeling and am relieved to know that bands like this aren’t an endangered species quite yet.

Warthog Warthog 7″ (Beach Impediment)
Gotta hand it to Warthog for understanding how to gussy up a skull – give it Predator dreads and wolf fangs! That’s how they greet us with this new EP on the hardcore-minded Beach Impediment label, and I’d say it’s their best yet. They tone down the explosive shock of their earlier records, both by song structure and sonic clarity, but it’s a welcome step for a group that’s already proven they can be a furious storm of barely-discernible hardcore-punk. All four tracks here come with miserable and abrupt breakdowns, Headcleaners-style downhill riffing and well-considered hardcore drumming (these songs would tread water with a merely competent drummer), guided by the nasal bark of everyone’s favorite industrial synth-pop publicist, Chris Hansell. Each track is a sharp winner, but it feels especially good when “Coward” hits, the last of the four and a mosh party that beats up a doom metal riff until it looks like it’s punk. It’s rare that a hardcore band continues to improve by their third 7″ (and fifth year of existence), but Warthog have clearly unlocked the secret to maturing as a band without lessening their raging impact… dare I say this calls for an LP?

The Wilful Boys Rough As Guts LP (Ever/Never)
The Wilful Boys, a New York-based group featuring a couple Aussie immigrants (have we considered building a wall to protect us from Australians?), offered up their debut 7″ on Ever/Never not too long ago and now they’re back again with a full-length. I liked the 7″, but Rough As Guts steps things up a notch, as if their songs wouldn’t register to tape unless they played them extra hard. It sounds pretty great, as they even verge toward the energy of hardcore (check “Hatchet”) while never leaving their working-class rock n’ roll duds – imagine Watery Love utterly devoid of humor or dark irony, just pummeling their songs with as much muscle as they can muster. Rough As Guts isn’t a monotone aggressive blast, though, as they wrote a bunch of songs that all work nicely together, particularly when an inebriated slog like “Flat Out” stumbles in, catchy in its belligerence. The perfect modern companion to the Cosmic Psychos and Easy Action records that helped countless young men grow chest hair in the ’90s.

Will Over Matter Power Dances CD (Bestial Burst)
I very well may be the biggest Will Over Matter fan on the planet and if so, I’ll wear that title with honor. He quietly released a new CD (also streaming in full on his easily-Googleable Bandcamp) called Power Dances, and if you are looking for hyper-extended analog synth monotony across a vast and crumbled landscape, this is your stop. The five tracks range in length from seven minutes to thirty-three, and while I’m certainly saddened by the lack of a vinyl edition, these behemoths simply wouldn’t fit on any currently-existing record, so I have no problem offering an aesthetic pass. I should also mention that they are totally sick – these are transmissions from the red rusty soil of Mars, distress signals that were broadcast centuries ago from civilizations across the galaxy that no longer exist – listen to “Thick Skull” and tell me you’re not experiencing life after humanity, right as our sun slowly bloats into a brown dwarf and subsumes all surrounding planets. A large portion of the aggressive analog power-electronics genre is based around sexual deviancy and power, and I appreciate that Will Over Matter goes vastly beyond any social concerns and instead sounds like the violence of ancient physics, Galactus leaning over a corroded EDP WASP. Why watch another Seinfeld rerun when you can sit with “First Not Fourth” for the same amount of time and feel the universe atomize around you?

SUE014 compilation 12″ (SUED)
For essentially all of 2016, I’ve been hot on the hunt for as much DJ Fett Burger as I can eat, which includes this new 12″ EP featuring tracks by PG Sounds & DJ Fett Burger, Dynamo Dreesen, and PG Sounds solo. I’ve really enjoyed the hypnotic, impenetrable tech-house that the SUED label has been offering, and this new one takes the tedium of grooves to a new level. All the tracks are untitled, and it almost seems as if the same amount of effort went into their musical construction – check in at any point on DJ Fett Burger and PG Sounds’ cut and you’ll hear the same vaguely-tribal hand percussion looping in perpetuity. Dynamo Dreesen clearly takes this test of strength personally, as his cut is nearly as repetitive, with a couple wood blocks and some sparkly squeaks freezing time mid-jump. PG Sounds brings things back to earth with their final number, a sketchy 116 BPM cruise past a weary drum circle. At first, I was disappointed with the utter lack of dynamics or movement within these tracks, but the more I listened, SUE014 delivered a calming effect, a meditative place where the confines of Eastern Standard Time were put aside for a while. Leave it to these weird Euro dudes to give my soul a much-needed squeeze.

Reviews – September 2016

Auxiliary Mammals Auxiliary Mammals LP (no label)
Auxiliary Mammals feature ex-members of Charm City Suicides, whom I consider to be the finest punk band to ever come out of Baltimore (if I’m wrong, please tell me why), so naturally I was excited to check out the ‘Mammals self-titled debut. The cover is a thick piece of cardboard folded in half and colorfully screen-printed, so I was already vaguely thinking of Arab On Radar before I dropped the needle and the band hit that comparison home. Very, very strong Arab On Radar vibes here: mosquito-in-your-ear guitars that play entirely different parts than the bass, which locks into the tumbling, math-rock-inspired drumming and a vocalist that angrily shouts in time. Mercifully, Drew Bena doesn’t follow Eric Paul’s vocal lead – rather than sounding like a pervert on helium, Bena shouts along at a normal tone, closer to Unsane’s Chris Spencer perhaps. I’m an Arab On Radar fan for sure, and it’s nice to hear a new band doing something similar, pairing caustic guitar-scree with tightly-fastened bass and drums and a vocalist comfortable enough to shout over all of it. Now all they need to do is cover Charm City Suicides’ classic “Down At The Reservoir” and I’m all set.

Container Vegetation EP 12″ (Diagonal)
Container releasing an EP on Diagonal is the sort of musical courtship that seemed inevitable if not tardy, as both Container and Powell share a mutual love for twisted, aggressive techno that may or may not work in a crowded room. I couldn’t resist checking it out myself, and Container doesn’t disappoint, offering five urgent and occasionally menacing tracks. The opening title track sets the tone, tapping out a little pattern that is quickly met by an alarmingly fast snare, not so much a call to dance as a call to evacuate the premises immediately. “Soak” follows with a repetitive fill on a corroded drum machine, a jam made for over-caffeinated booties where twerking isn’t a sexual dance but an involuntary twitch. “Funnel” is most Powell-like via its cartoonish poing, as though an ogre was carrying you around by your suspenders (all in and out in under three minutes), whereas “Radiator” falls back on booty-bass filled with NBA dribbling theatrics and your roommate’s hairdryer. “Insulation” wraps things up in similar fashion, another truncated episode of wiggling body-parts under harsh neon lights. Container has certainly come into his own, offering a distinct style beyond the many post-industrial techno players from which he arrived, and this 12″ is more evidence to prove it, slapped wetly into your lap.

Copeland & Gast Sisters Of Control 7″ (All Bone)
I’m at the point where I realize I should’ve really checked out Inga Copeland’s work years ago – the name “Hype Williams” was just so annoyingly on-trend for the non-contextual re-purposing of ’90s nostalgia that I passed it by, but I get it now that both Copeland and Hype Williams co-conspirator Dean Blunt are exactly the sort of weirdo electronic provocateurs that I’d dig. This new and limited white-label 7″ by Copeland and John Gast offers a seductive and mysterious cut of post-trip-hop experimental pop. Picture the icy textures and somber vocals of AGF with the slinky backbeat of Machines Of Loving Grace’s “Golgotha Tenement Blues” stabilizing things into a pop structure. Great use of cymbals as coloring and various additional sonic seasonings to reward repeated listenings. “Sisters Of Control (Version)” isn’t just a throw-away edit, but a weighty dubstep rumination on the original, recalling the brutish swing of Mala or the rest of the DMZ crew circa 2005. Wish there was more than just this one song to enjoy, but Copeland has never been shy about releasing a ton of music in the past and I’ve got plenty of catching up to do anyway.

CO/R Gudrun 12″ (Hinge Finger)
A name like CO/R isn’t going to catch my eye, but the label Hinge Finger does, as it’s the infrequent imprint of Joy Orbison, a post-dubstep producer who has fallen out of the spotlight in recent years while I’ve remained a fan (in spite of the name, of course). Turns out CO/R is a new collaboration between Joy Orbison and Herron, and together they offer four songs of deftly-composed experimental techno (with a focus on “techno”, not “experimental”). The clearest reference I’m picking up is that of T++, in that way that CO/R utilize punchy kicks and sharp snares while patches of white noise, faded rave motifs and radio interference skitter about. A cut like “Bells, Walking” could easily be transformed into a big-room EDM anthem if it weren’t so enticed by the unconventional darkness explored by Blawan and Surgeon, and “Dripback” comes right out of Andy Stott’s playbook (with essentially the same level of quality). I’d almost say Gudrun would be a nice fit for the Downwards label, except that CO/R are much more nuanced and detail-obsessive than your average Downwards steamroller; it’s like they take the concept of post-industrial techno and run one of Nicolas Jaar’s fine-toothed combs over it. It has to be increasingly difficult to make this sort of thing sound fresh or interesting in 2016, what with so many players in the game, but CO/R are something special.

Ian William Craig Meaning Turns To Whispers LP (Aguirre)
Ian William Craig has been firing off a flurry of albums in 2016, and while there are at least two others I still need to peep, I caught up with Meaning Turns To Whispers on the Belgian Aguirre label. I really loved Cradle For The Wanting from late last year, an album of complex ambient vocal compositions, so I was a little surprised by the absence of Craig’s vocals here. I thought they were his trademark, like he could walk into a Wire magazine convention and be like “hey it’s me, the ambient choir vocal guy”, but clearly he’s working with a variety of sounds and instrumentation, and that’s cool with me. Meaning Turns To Whispers is a suite of piano improvisations run through various processes (or none at all), often broken up with tarnished tape erosion, as though he was playing back his music on a reel-to-reel that slowly caught fire. It’s not an entirely original conceit, but it sounds really nice here, his babbling piano consumed by harsh static or sanded down until the final notes blow like dust in the breeze. Meaning Turns To Whispers finally answers the question of “what would a Nils Frahm album sound like if someone buried it under a ton of sediment?”, and it’s a sweet way to go out.

Denim & Leather II 7″ (Milk Run)
You’d think Denim & Leather would be the perfect name for a Brazilian heavy metal band, not a Mancunian hardcore-punk band, but according to Discogs they both exist! This one is the latter, as you may have expected, and they feature a shot of an ostensible band member in a Calvin-esque pose, only to reveal on the back cover that “no pissing” is allowed, taking the theme so far as to release the 7″ EP on neon yellow vinyl. Can’t say I fully comprehend their aesthetics besides a random hodgepodge of naughtiness (and the ever-classic mushroom cloud collage insert), but none of this would matter if their music stunk, which isn’t the case. No, they’re a quite capable group, reminding me of The Shitty Limits, Career Suicide or someplace in between the two – close your eyes and imagine a Sorry State distro update circa 2011 and you’ll hear it too. I like their mellowest moment, “Pink Flamingos”, the most, as it offers a bit more personality and a playful vocal compared to the faster (and more straightforward) tracks (the fastest has me thinking of What Happens Next?, in fact). Cool enough band, I’d just warn them about associating with urine too strongly! It has its downsides.

Downtown Boys Downtown Boys LP (One Percent Press)
Downtown Boys have been designated America’s Most Exciting Punk Band by more than one news source, and not without reason – I can’t think of a current punk band whose between-song banter / build-ups have more visceral human energy. Makes sense then that a label would want to give their self-released debut cassette from 2012 a tidy vinyl pressing, which is what I’m reviewing here. Downtown Boys certainly shows the band in their infancy: their enthusiasm and constantly-peaking energy burst through these flailing, sloppy party-punk tunes. They’ve certainly gained technical prowess since 2012, but skilled performance doesn’t interest me as much as unhinged righteous screaming, demonstrated nicely on this early version of housing anthem “Slumlord Sal”, as well as Victoria Ruiz’s incensed vocal tantrum at the end of “Maldito”. People who only listen to music for judgment of its pure sonic waves and live in a vacuum separate from any message that might accompany it may want to pass on this one, as Downtown Boys slam and worm with an amateurish glee that some classic hardcore-punk re-enactors find irksome. I probably won’t listen to this one much myself, as Downtown Boys continue to get better as both agitators and musicians (I love their most recent material and can’t wait to hear what they do next!), but if there’s a modern punk band whose earliest moves are worthy of proper vinyl documentation it’s the ‘Boys, for sure.

Fadensonnen Gutter Wanderer LP (Fadensonnen)
Wow, I love when a record like this shows up on my doorstep, a project I’ve never heard of (and surely few have) that completely slays, free from the restraints of modern society or, even worse, the music biz. Fadensonnen hail from Brooklyn, and I’ll have to forgive them for that, as Gutter Wanderer is an immaculate long-play record of pointless guitar fireworks. It sounds like the first Purling Hiss album (the one that was all scorching-hot solos and no songs), with less in-the-red distortion and more notes – endless, endless notes. Many of these tracks sound like the folks behind Fadensonnen left the Tascam four-track on fast-forward and decided to riff along with it, in wild swirls of guitar that recall five Demo Moe tracks playing at once, or Borbetomagus if their instrumentation was two guitars and a tape deck. I’m certain that at some point, there was a coherent riff or two, but Fadensonnen stacks a pile of guitars so large that one’s brain cannot focus on anything but its vast outline. What I’m describing could easily be a Merzbow-esque squall that you automatically tune out after a couple minutes, but Gutter Wanderer is constantly moving, bouncing off walls and stumbling over garbage cans like they’re chased by the cops. The confusing hand-made sleeve, wherein you have to fold this tiny little flap open in order to read any liner notes, is the perfect inconvenience to top off this mighty slab of hostile guitar music.

Finished Cum Inside Me Bro LP (Load)
Yep, the album is called Cum Inside Me Bro and has a couple meme-people hugging on the cover with fonts taken from Microsoft Word’s 1995 collection. This is the sort of unfriendly garbage that Load Records built its reputation on, and I’m delighted to see that now, long after any sort of noise-rock trend has completely passed by, Load are still doing what they love simply because they love to do it. Musically, Finished fit the bill perfectly too – they play a loud, cavernous form of garage-y noise-rock that would fit well between Homostupids and White Load, not only sonically but aesthetically (so many dudes fascinated by their own sweaty body parts). It’s pretty traditional sounding stuff, not far from Thee Hydrogen Terrors or even Vaz, where the intensity rarely relents, perhaps only at the end of a track where the vocalist unleashes a loud expletive. “Secret Scum” has a particularly nice Kilslug swing, but there’s no fault to be found with any of Cum Inside Me Bro. May the Northeast continue to produce gnarly and gross guitar bands until the Atlantic finally swallows it up.

Good Throb Good Throb 7″ (La Vida Es Un Mus)
By now you surely know I’m a huge Good Throb fan, so chances are high I’ll be praising this, what may very well be their final record (continental bandmate relocations will do that), but trust me when I say that Good Throb have truly outdone themselves on this four-song EP. Opener “Scum” is a revelation, with soaring, evil guitar that feels like Klaus Fluoride trying out black metal and a rugged oom-pah that beats Dawn Of Humans at their own game. They follow it with “Slick Dicks”, which is more in line with the material on Good Throb’s album (which I had the pleasure of co-releasing) – how they get that bass to sound so thin, ugly and rubbery I’ll never know. Same goes for “The Queen Sucks Nazi Cock”, a shifty punk slam with a very Good Throb song title, so demure and sweet, and the EP wraps up with the tumbling “Welcome Break”, like a colander of hot pasta water dumped over your shoulders. I’m fairly certain Good Throb started as one of those “let’s all play instruments we’ve never played before” bands, and it’s amazing to hear how sharp and tight they’ve become without losing the venomous piss that inhabits every crevice of their music. I’m sad to see them go, but when it comes to briefly existing as a punk band, I’m not sure you can do it any better than Good Throb.

Heart Beach Counting / Relief 7″ (Rough Skies)
I gotta get to Hobart, Tasmania sometime before I croak, just to see if it’s as gloriously quaint of a town as I imagine it to be. I picture Native Cats riding bicycles with flowers and fresh eggs in their baskets, and Heart Beach working at the bodega that rents surfboards near the beach, listening to rare Dead C records on the company turntable. They’ve put together a pleasant and tender two-song single here on the local Rough Skies label, mastered by Mikey Young (who else?) and limited to a scant 150 copies. “Counting” offers a sweet splash of minimal pop, with Claire Jansen and Jonathon McCarthy sharing the wordy vocal lines much like friends sharing a sundae, calling to mind Look Blue Go Purple with a touch of Felt’s resigned worry. “Relief” is a soft and hesitant little strummer, punctuated by a cool drum pattern that sort of stutters the song forward. I wasn’t sure if the results of Google image-searching “Heart Beach” suited the group, but the corny romance of foot-drawn hearts in sand aren’t as incongruous with this group as I may have initially thought.

James Arthur’s Manhunt Digital Clubbing LP (12XU)
James Arthur is an Austin-based garage-rock institution, the sort of guy whose previous band history reads like the full schedule of any given Gonerfest. He’s checked in with his Manhunt recently in the form of Digital Clubbing, a new album with a misleading title and a mysterious cover image, complete with a small scab that I can’t stop staring at. Anyway, these four fully-grown boys (including Orville Neeley of OBN IIIs on the skins) continue their lifetime commitment to loud, blaring garage-rock. Theirs is a refined style, one that borrows from fringe psychedelia, hardcore-punk and outlaw country while never deferring to any of those territories – there’s a strict BPM range at play here and James Arthur’s Manhunt are content to work within those tried-and-true garage-rock lines. It’s a little too traditional and polished to get me too riled up, but personal preference aside, I certainly appreciate that James Arthur’s Manhunt are seasoned players who continue to hone their craft rather than rely on former glories. It’s a little strange, living in this modern world where rock n’ roll is almost exclusively the domain of adults, but I think I can learn to accept it.

JK Flesh Nothing Is Free 12″ (Downwards)
JK Flesh (short for “Just Kidding Flesh”) is one of Justin Broadrick’s newest monikers, wherein he tries his hand at the brutal and sludgy techno game that so many find so enticing (myself included). Naturally, he’s got a hand for this sort of thing, particularly when opting for primitive beats, which is the case on the title track. It sounds like one of the earliest The Bug demos played through a blown-out JVC Kaboom Box, with a brittle hi-hat keeping time over a plodding and dank bass-line that might turn Aardvarck’s head. Surgeon remixes “Nothing Is Free” in double-time to follow; pretty classic Surgeon style that keeps the moody top-line intact while tidying up the bass for the club. “Kontorted” might be my pick of the bunch though – it utilizes the same sonic template as “Nothing Is Free”, but in a snappy two-step rhythm and with bass that seems dead set on imitating the heinous flatulence of an adult grey whale. For much of the track, there are no more than three to five sounds happening at the same time, a modest setup that allows the listener to concentrate purely on how ugly and warbly bass can be. Sneak this one into your next DJ night and watch as the jocks run to the bathroom before their bowels get the best of them!

Steven Julien Fallen 2xLP (Apron)
Steven Julien has recorded as both Funkineven and St. Julien, whose releases have graced these pages, and Fallen is his debut album, the first to be released under his full name. His productions have ranged from forward-sounding tech-house to warped experimental synth (my personal favorite being the wonderfully-peculiar self-titled St. Julien 12″), and both styles inform Fallen, although I’d classify it as entirely its own beast. The majority of the record is based on obscure funk, soul and disco samples, either meticulously re-created or ganked straight from the source, not entirely unlike the MF Doom’s instrumental mixes or Madlib’s Quasimoto productions. Very Waxpoetics, which I mean as a compliment – much of Fallen has me thinking of one of Mingering Mike’s imaginary bands with Joe Zawinul behind the keys. That said, this is far from a tastefully standard suite of instrumental hip-hop / house reproductions. Julien always manages to squeeze a little sour into the mix, tilting his sunkissed funk into unexpected directions. “Chantal” is one of my favorites, starting off with what sounds like clinical minimal-synth not unlike Systematics before settling into a g-funk groove, and “Begins” kicks things off with a melody that is oddly discordant, like a K. Leimer track that Sympathy Nervous tweaked into submission. And even with all that, I can still picture Too Short rapping over basically all of Fallen. Well done!

Kaleidoscope Vol. 2 No. 1 7″ (Katorga Works)
Kaleidoscope is the “solo” project of New York guitarist / artist Shiva Addanki, he of Deformity, Ivy and JJ Doll, the last of whom I recently fell in love with. Under the Kaleidoscope guise, I’ve read that he often leaves the earthly plane of hardcore/punk for more psychedelic odysseys, linking up all sorts of pedals and releasing colorful tapes that document the results. Either I’m understanding things wrong (very possible) or Addanki decided to play it fairly straight for his vinyl debut, which feels like teenage hardcore-punk circa 1982 Southern California, just as the goth started to seep in. Imagine early TSOL at their sloppiest, or perhaps Rikk Agnew delivering his strangest tunes to Subterranean for release. Most of the songs are raucous while defying standard punk timing, which occasionally has me thinking of the Dark Sarcasm 7″ on Gravity, for better or worse. I think for me, this sort of project comes down to the vocals, and Addanki’s voice just kind of fades into the background… his is a boomy, lo-fi shout that seems to hold place for where one would expect vocals to be, like a box he knew to check off. For the full Kaleidoscope effect, I probably need to be in the backseat of a Ford Aerostar that hasn’t been vacuumed once in its existence, traveling across the middle of nowhere when someone puts in a dubbed Kaleidoscope tape, but for now I’m kinda just wishing Addanki would spend more of his spare time with his friends in JJ Doll and crank out another record or two ASAP.

Liberation Liberation LP (Night School)
Allow me to present you with a nice surprise, the debut LP by Liberation, David West’s newest solo venture. Surely you know him from Rat Columns, Total Control, Rank/Xerox, Lace Curtains or various other punk and electronic outings, and his debut as Liberation offers that same understated, curiously defiant feel as West’s previous work, this time in the form of sleazy synth-pop that fits right in on the Night School roster. The sounds here are often familiar but out-of-context, like seeing an old friend in a place you’d never expect them. Liberation will pair the recognizable tones of Kraftwerk’s Computer World with the hazy fuzz that you’d wipe off a 100% Silk production, or a classic Gary Numan synth that only hints at pop accessibility. My favorite track is probably “Cold And Blue”, a perfectly-programmed new-wave pop hit that hints at Fast Eddie and Madonna, but then West’s vocals neuter the whole thing – his voice is so wounded and meek that he makes The Postal Service sound like Andrew WK. And for as unabashedly pop as most of Liberation is, much of the music comes with a disarming awkwardness, like you’re watching a robot try to walk for the first time. As far as Liberation goes, it’s the kind of uncomfortable first-date that I love reliving.

LSDogs Creeps / Yr Done 7″ (Total Punk)
At this point, there would be seemingly no difference between the most earnest Total Punk group and one that viciously sends-up the genre with a ridiculous piss-take. The line between self-parody and sincerity has never been blurrier, as is the case with this LSDogs 7″ on Total Punk, featuring, you guessed it, a tossed-off pencil drawing of a dog on the cover. Musically it’s in line with what you’d expect Total Punk to offer – brash guitars up front in the mix, poor drumming, snotty vocals. I’m a little more partial to the glum riffing of “Yr Done” than the trad-punk “Creeps”, but anyone outright denigrating the music offered by LSDogs is just punking themselves (pun intended), as they play a form of punk rock as standard and dependable as black leather Doc Marten 8-Eyes. Of course, there’s nothing particularly exciting happening here either, but I get the impression that our shared excitement was never the basis for LSDogs existence, anyway. They probably just thought the name was funny and decided to form a band around it.

Mordecai Want To Be / Pictures Of Her W/ Them 7″ (Richie)
Mordecai probably has more back-stock sitting around than the other two Richie Records Summer Singles Series artists combined (Homostupids and Watery Love), but they probably don’t care, and it’s not their fault anyway if the record-buying public isn’t charmed by this lazy group of dudes from Montana. They’re really quite good, and this two-song single displays their mellower side, turning the amps down so that the cats don’t run out of the room while they record. “Want To Be” is a leisurely ride through an abandoned development, like Eat Skull without all the caffeine or The Clean without the ambition. The track actually seems to stop and then start over again, which is an interesting trick. “Pictures Of Her W/ Them” plays out similarly, like Garbage & The Flowers if it was mostly just garbage chilling there, fading through a couple recordings as well in a handsome haze. In my 20+ years of watching amateur live music on stage, Mordecai remain the single drunkest band I’ve ever seen, so it goes without saying that they will always have my respect.

Musk Musk 2: The Second Skumming LP (12XU)
Following their 2014 debut on Holy Mountain, Musk hop over to another highly-respectable American guitar label for the sequel. Here’s a band that has their aesthetic down pat: each album comes with intricately-detailed color paintings of flesh, random shapes of organic material that you can picture writhing and seething on the floor, pathetic, gross and barely sentient. Plus, they’re called Musk, and if this band doesn’t physically stink, something is deeply wrong, as their music is gnarly swamp-rock rife with danger and bad attitudes. I could go for an album’s worth of tracks like “The Hidden Cost”, the album opener that sounds like an old-timey saloon caught fire and was extinguished with a pile of Flying Luttenbachers records, but Musk quickly go into standard song format after that, which is nearly as entertaining. Their sound falls somewhere between Gun Club, Candy Snatchers, the first couple Danzig albums and Lubricated Goat, and probably an actual lubricated goat too. Tracks vary from spastic to somber, but it all fits under Musk’s dank tent. If I didn’t need a shower before listening, I need one now!

NHK Yx Koyxen Doom Steppy Reverb LP (Diagonal)
When NHK Yx Koyxen dropped the similarly-titled Hallucinogenic Doom Steppy Verbs EP last year, I suspected, possibly naïvely, that it was a random one-off project – the grooves were simply too tweaked to be the work of a consistent producer. I’m glad to have gotten that one wrong, as NHK Yx Koyxen has been stamping his awkward moniker on a bunch of records since, including Doom Steppy Reverb, his full-length debut. Much of what I loved about his first 12″ remains in place here: double-helixing acid lines, snappy drum programming, repetitive grooves that never feel concretely in place. That last aspect is particularly striking here, as throughout these seven tracks, nothing ever feels immovable – from the tiniest tick of a hi-hat to the fluttering bass, any sonic element is prone to sudden or gradual shifts, like a violent tsunami or the subtle pull of high tide. Opener “1073+Snare” might be my favorite of the bunch, and it’s also the most unusual, opening with a good half-minute of silence before an acid worm pokes out of the ground and the rest of the track arrives like a darting school of fish, both monolithic and composed of countless tiny movements. I’ll be damned if this isn’t exactly what “Doom Steppy Reverb” should sound like.

1997EV Love Symposium Alien Spider LP (Boring Machines)
I keep reading the album title and imagining Gwen Stefani designing a clothing line for Hot Topic, anyone feel me on that? Anyway, 1997EV is the work of Andrea Ev, and while it’s my first time listening (there is a rich 1997EV discography dating back to, umm, 1999), I am strongly convinced that No Doubt holds no influence over the project. Rather, this stuff comes out of the England’s Hidden Reverse post-industrial axis, with brooding, occult-friendly post-rock, tantric looping and sensual rhythmic gyrations. I would imagine Ev is a big Coil fan, in the way that the music seems to be guided by an invisible hand, even though 1997EV favor the traditional instrumentation of guitars and drums. Of course, these elements are utilized more as patterns in a tapestry rather than riffs and hooks, dipping in and out as Ev’s spoken vocals attempt to conjure sexy evil spirits, the perfect soundtrack to an obscure movie where Cindy Crawford plays a vampire. When this stuff is truly menacing, I worry for my own spiritual safety while listening, but Love Symposium Alien Spider is innocuous enough that it often feels more like a fully-unraveled gothy post-punk group, like Slaves if they turned into My Cat Is An Alien instead of Pleasure Forever. As someone who never wants to meet an actual ghost, I’m cool with this.

Passed Illuminant / Glory 12″ (Boring Machines)
Passed provides a tantric offering in the form of two lengthy cuts on one side of a 12″, leaving the other to solemnly reflect upon silence (shades of Coil’s How To Destroy Angels, perhaps). “Illuminant” is a slow-grower that incubates as a drone before pulling up a mighty percussive chant, something between a Spartan army’s pre-battle ritual and a sober Crash Worship show. It ends up sounding like really great source material for Demdike Stare or The Haxan Cloak to interpret, but on its own is a fairly indistinguishable cut of looped tribal percussion with heavy bass overtones. “Glory” is a solid blast of melodic jet-engine drone, grand and overbearing, and halfway through the sound of a needy baby bird appears, although it’s actually a man yelling in strained black-metal style. Pretty par for the course, although it’s a course I enjoy inhabiting semi-frequently, one where dark, sweeping gestures and ominous atmospheres help me forget the hours I spend sitting at a desk.

Ravi Shavi Independent 12″ (Almost Ready)
Providence, RI’s Ravi Shavi received my approval on their 2015 debut album, a pure garage-rock album that even someone who doesn’t really care about garage-rock cannot deny (that’d be me). Independent is a nice addendum to that, six more songs on a candy-apple-red 12″ EP, the sort of color I’d expect Ravi Shavi’s tour van to be painted. In comparison with their rougher, buzzier debut, the guitars stick out to me here in that they favor a clean, classic tone – all pedals with funny “fuzz” puns in their name were kept outside of the studio, apparently. The drums are nice and dry, and vocalist Rafay Rashid continues to squeal and sing his way through the set, with enough charisma to sweet-talk his prom date’s parents into letting them stay out past midnight. Perhaps it’s the absence of any and all feedback or distortion that causes a dip in Independent‘s energy, or maybe Ravi Shavi are already “maturing”, but it still works. When I think garage-rock, I just want to hear the Hospitals banging on a contact-miked floor tom, so it says something that not only do I tolerate Ravi Shavi’s thoughtful professionalism, I enjoy it as well.

Shackleton & Ernesto Tomasini Devotional Songs 2×12″ (Honest Jon’s)
Without a doubt one of the most exciting electronic producers of the ’10s, I was starting to notice Shackleton’s absence in the past year or so, so it was great to hear about this new album that features vocalist Ernesto Tomasini. Shackleton is about as visionary as a post-dubstep producer can be, always forging new ground while keeping his personal DNA firmly intact, and he continues to move into unexpected territory with Devotional Songs. That said, while I continue to admire his free-spirited creativity, I’m not sure I’ll be coming back to Devotional Songs too often. Shackleton’s productions are almost entirely divorced from dance music here, opting for acoustic percussion, chimes, classical arrangements and only smears and dabs of sound from clearly electronic origin. That much I dig, particularly as Shackleton’s trademarked poly-rhythms remain instantly recognizable even removed from the construction of the club, but Tomasini’s vocals, while technically talented I’m sure, add an air of Ren Faire drama-club elocution that I find distracting and kind of silly. There is certainly an audience for this, but it has me thinking of Art Bears or Current 93 or Comus before I listened to enough Comus where it no longer irked me (this being the exception, not the rule), where the flair of an over-dramatic vocalist distracts more than enhances. That said, I wouldn’t want Shackleton any other way, and as his name implies, I look forward to his continued journey into the unknown.

Sick Thoughts 18 And Free / Choose Death 7″ (Total Punk)
It really seems like there is an arms race over at Total Punk as far as which band can actively show that they care the least – just look at this Sick Thoughts 7″, which not only omits their name from the cover, it features a skull and crossbones so lame that I’m almost no longer scared of pirates. Someone needs to remind all these bands that GG Allin actually wanted to be a rock star! These two songs are apparently archival tracks from Sick Thoughts’ humble beginnings in 2013, so hop in your time machine and give it a whirl. “18 And Free” is fairly by-the-books negi-garage, landing somewhere between The Reatards and The Rip Offs with maybe a touch of The Final Solutions’ self-aware Killed By Death-isms. “Choose Death” is the b-side, and probably a phrase that Black Label Society prints on their merch, and it’s a phrase used repeatedly on this track, cruising a simplistic death-ray riff as DD Owen’s purposely ugly vocals push it through the crowd, staining your shirt with a mixture of blood, sweat and burger grease. It’s punk, to be sure, but I’m not sure it needed to follow us into 2016.

Tanz Ohne Musik Infinity LP (Galakthorrö)
What, like I’m not going to pick up every new Galakthorrö release? Sure, nothing beats Haus Arafna and November Növelet, but I love the way that Mr. and Mrs. Arafna continue to find projects that fit seamlessly into Galakthorrö’s universe, somehow avoiding the redundancy that such similarities could cause. Tanz Ohne Musik (which translates to “Dancing Without Music”, a name I am tempted to steal) are clearly perfect candidates, after releasing a number of albums and singles on Red Cavity and coming across big with Infinity. It is strikingly similar to November Növelet in particular, with relaxed tempos, creepy sung vocals (put through some excellent processing) and a general sense of beautiful gothic despair, as if Frankenstein and Eyes Wide Shut were edited together so that it was impossible to determine where the creepy horror ends and the deviant sexual excess begins. The vocals are attributed to a guy named “Babywolf” and his confidence carries Infinity beyond a good genre exercise and into something I want to listen to frequently. I plan to enhance my listening by setting up a bunch of Betty Page posters and chemistry beakers filled with bubbling green liquids around my room, wearing rubber clothes and softly cackling to myself.

Vincas Deep In The Well LP (Learning Curve)
Atlanta seems overly ripe with hard-rockin’ punk and garage bands these days, which is startling when you consider they still allow smoking inside venues there (yuck). So many musicians, young and old, braving cancer for a chance to rock out with friends and admirers, and I find their dedication noble, Vincas included. They did an album back in 2012 on the venerable Douchemaster label and are back again, peddling their particular stew of strung-out blues and steely post-hardcore. Throughout Deep In The Well (whose cover looks like a chilling Italian horror film circa ’79), I’m imagining a band like Refused or Drive Like Jehu getting sick on Cramps and Gun Club records, doing their best to recreate a strip-tease in the bayou while still performing their music like intense professionals. I’m reminded of early OBN IIIs and late TV Ghost at times too, alongside the Nirvana / Birthday Party mash-up of “Black Rose” and “Murder”, which sounds like Rikk Agnew re-interpreting Bush’s “Come Down”. If that description tantalizes you, it should, as Vincas manage to mine death-rock without becoming a goth punchline, not to mention that they write catchy and distinct tunes. Hope to catch ’em live sometime!

The Wad The Wad 7″ (Lumpy)
Nowhere on this 7″ by The Wad does it mention it’s a Lumpy Records release, and while I appreciate the hermetic design, this is a record any punk label should be proud to put out! I know little about The Wad, but I know that I love the snotty synth-punk they are peddling. “Ron Is Wrong” kicks off the a-side and it’s a barnstormer – picture Ed Schrader’s Music Beat covering a Count Vertigo tune as they interrogate Atom’s package in the corner, just to be mean. “Nog Bag” whizzes through on a frantic floor-tom, choogly bass guitar and meek, undistorted guitar lick, not unlike a particularly focused Coneheads tune. “Atomic” is the b-side’s sole inhabitant and it’s a maniacal slice of circus-punk (the good kind, not Gogol Bordello), which has me imagining Geza X’s “Isotope Soap” were it produced by Mel Blanc. There are a million projects out there similar on paper to The Wad (a couple dorks with a keyboard and a microphone attempt to irritate), but these three songs demonstrate a keen ear for what works, how to be zany without missing the point, and how to never lose sight of punk’s sneer even in the face of novelty sound-effects. Looking forward to more!

Watery Love Ned’s Dreamcatcher / Meg’s Dreamcatcher 7″ (Richie)
A new Watery Love 7″ is a big enough pull around these parts to accept that you’re forced into picking up two other singles just to obtain it, as is this case with the first-annual (?) Richie Records Summer Singles Series. I’ve been lucky enough to watch this band perform for years, and their evolution (and occasional devolution) has been fascinating. In case you’re still enjoying the casual nihilism of Decorative Feeding, they go nearly pop-rock on here, like White Boy And The Average Rat Band or some Mutha release from 1986 that never became collectible. Case in point is “Ned’s Dreamcatcher”, a nimble groove with riotous guitar soloing (it tastes like a cocktail of lemon juice and vinegar) and vocalist Richie Charles ranting about the ways in which you might perish, quite similar to Cyanamid’s “This Is Hell” in every aspect of the vocals and lyrics. “Meg’s Dreamcatcher” is a re-recorded version of their previously drum-less take on a split 7″ with Kurt Vile that only came with Pitchfork magazine (how these apes sneaked in there I’ll never know), and within seconds that trademark three-note guitar soloing is back, like a nagging case of athlete’s foot. Pretty sure the riff here is the same as the one used in The Ultimate Warrior’s theme song, so if you want to violently shake some ropes and kick Roddy Piper in the kilt when this one hits, that explains it. Summer, your jams have arrived!

Tendres Ténèbres compilation LP (Crudités Tapes)
Tendres Ténèbres is a compilation that tasked its artists with applying the theme of sleep and/or lullabies to their music. I love a good themed comp, so long as it’s not pop-punk bands covering ’80s hits or TV themes (okay, I actually do like those too), and this one is a nice and varied trip through the French nocturnal underworld. Most groups take the concept pretty seriously, opting for hushed melodies not far removed from a child’s music-box, or perhaps a woozy collage of airy loops and warm tones, like Throbbing Gristle had they started Morr Music instead of Industrial Records. Of course, some bands throw the concept to the wind – b-side opener Nicolalala offers two minutes of sloppy post-punk, a nice little jolt among the more passive compositions. There’s a “C side” of digital-only tracks as well (imagine agreeing to be on a comp only to find out you’re on the “digital-only C side”, ouch) and I haven’t checked that out, although the presence of an artist named Discombobulatrix has me intrigued. Perhaps it’s best if I just doze off tonight and dream about them instead.