Reviews – May 2021

Chris Corsano & Bill Orcutt Made Out Of Sound LP (Palilalia)
Even in times of societal peril, we can rely on the top-tier improv tag-team of Chris Corsano (drums) and Bill Orcutt (guitar) to supply us with their inspired abstractions. This new one is a long-distance collab, apropos of the times, with each player recording his part separately and then layering them together, not that you can really tell by listening. I am unsure if any specific guidelines or intentions were discussed prior to their recordings, because the two of them certainly seem to be on the same page here, a little more relaxed and introspective than on their barnstorming Brace Up! album from 2018. I’m pretty certain Orcutt lays down two guitar tracks per song as well, either that or his playing has reached some new, otherworldly plane of existence, which I’m not comfortable fully ruling out. If you know what these two do, you probably like it, and Made Out Of Sound will surely please. If you don’t, why not check this one out?

Dry Cleaning New Long Leg LP (4AD)
At this point in my life, I can safely own up to not understanding the underground trends popular with teenagers and even those in their early twenties, but what happens when I don’t understand the hot trends amongst my age-appropriate peers? London’s Dry Cleaning have only been around since 2018, and New Long Leg, their 4AD full-length debut, is apparently flying off the shelves, wherever shelves may currently be. It’s a head-scratcher! Not because the group is bad – I think they’re good – but you’re telling me this is where the indie zeitgeist is at right now? Boggling. Anyway, before I speak solely on hype and ignore substance, allow me to describe their sound to you: a band plays basic one-two one-two indie-rock, mostly riffs and tones you’ve heard many other bands play in different iterations before, with a vocalist who more or less reads her (entertaining) poetry at the same time (as opposed to in time with the music). Her name is Cleopatra Shaw, which of course sounds like a great name for a poet, and her warm voice seems to casually contort into different shades of British, reciting lines that are often comical, seeming like she’s off-the-cuff but clearly too good to be entirely winged. Shaw’s delivery and verbiage reminds me of Kim Gordon’s No Home Record, though the music behind Shaw is far less adventurous, closer to The War On Drugs than Body/Head. Maybe that’s the appeal, the mix of edgy/intriguing words and music that can be easily chilled-out to (ie. ignored)? If the recording were rougher and more Ohioan, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Siltbreeze logo on the back, but if there’s one thing New Long Leg proves, it’s that the method by which the British music press designates their indie darlings of the day will forever float outside my realm of understanding.

Géométries La Tristesse Du Facteur LP (Animal Biscuit ‎/ Dim Dampe Dumpe Dim / Troglodisques ‎/ Coolax ‎/ La République Des Granges)
If you couldn’t tell from the artist name, album title, and handful of labels responsible for its release, this debut from Géométries is French. So very French, and in the manner of the great French avant-garde, La Tristesse Du Facteur is truly out there, two long and inscrutable sides of unrestrained ideas and dexterous musicality (or, quite often, non-musicality). There are plenty of vocals, mostly delivered in a devotional sort of extended technique or casually conversational, sort of splitting the difference between a mantra and a one-act play. It gets even loonier on the second side, opening with a bizarre call and response that I’d place somewhere between the “no-wave opera” John Gavanti and the softer side of Costes. Very out-there stuff, somewhat fitting that the label responsible for the great Nina Harker album (Animal Biscuit) co-released it, but it also feels like it could’ve found an equally suitable home with Ultra Eczema (particularly as the packaging here is appropriately vivid and hand-spun, featuring a printed envelope filled with material glued to the back of the sleeve in addition to some bright interior printing only visible to those who peek inside). I’m tempted to open the windows and blare La Tristesse Du Facteur, just to see what kind of weird birds show up on my windowsill.

Gombeen & Doygen D’Americana / Auto-Lies 12″ (Wah Wah Wino)
Ireland’s Wah Wah Wino is one of my personal favorite blink-and-you’ll-miss-it electronic labels around – sure, it may be a stress-inducing challenge to source copies of their releases without obliging a greedy Discogs flipper, but it’s always worth the struggle. Gombeen & Doygen is label-head Morgan Buckley’s project with vocalist James Grünfeld, and their only other public release, the opening track on the Absolutely Wino compilation, was an immediately gratifying cut of sci-fi reggae, a ruthless skank through rugged digital terrain. That same sound is extrapolated on these two cuts, carving out a specific style that I can’t believe more people aren’t attempting to make. To my ears, it sounds like Ricardo Villalobos’ minimal classics found on albums Alcachofa and Sei Es Drum given a digital-reggae scrubdown, which is an exceptional combination. Buckley and the Wino crew are nothing if not inventive, and while the work of Davy Kehoe seems to enter entirely brand-new territory at times, Buckley has been nothing short of a master of stirring up various styles (krautrock, grime, house, dub, et al) into stunning new mutations. These two cuts follow similar paths, both armed with basic rhythm grids, a cabal of synthesizer effects and Grünfeld’s distorted spoken-word smoothly applied on top. Sounds simple, and I suppose in some ways it is, but it’s been blowing my mind on repeated spins, a solid reminder that I need to Google the phrase “new Wah Wah Wino record” every morning the moment I wake up.

Kyoufu Shinbun Death Training 3xLP (Bitter Lake Recordings)
Holy moly, just when I thought the lake couldn’t get any more bitter, they drop this absolutely repugnant triple LP box-set from obscure ’90s industrial-noise-punk artist Kyoufu Shinbun. As is the case with the overwhelming majority of the Bitter Lake roster, Kyoufu Shinbun are a Japanese act of whom I had no prior knowledge, and this hefty set, while probably not necessary, is a joy to behold. It’s the work of a man named Proletariat Honma, keyboardist in Kikeiji and Crazy SKB, who recorded and released nearly a dozen limited cassettes in the ’90s, all lovingly compiled here (alongside Kyoufu Shinbun’s sole flexi release). As a vinyl culture (of which I am absolutely a guilty party), so much of the various tape-only undergrounds are often written out of the story, which is a bummer seeing as the material compiled here is at worst pretty good and at best astonishingly sick. These direct-input, noise-laden songs recall Gudon’s second and third EPs, KK Null, occasionally G.I.S.M.’s M.A.N., a direct Flipper rip (“転落死”) and the lurking specter of Al Jourgensen. Space Streakings meets Deviation Social, maybe? It’s almost too much to really parse out and process, at least in the handful of weeks I’ve been spinning these records, but there’s really no bad place to drop the needle here, as the Kyoufu Shinbun aesthetic remains sadistic and snarling and future-shocked throughout, naturally delivered with the occasional porn sample (as was customary for the era). The unfussy packaging is the perfect vehicle for this project too, with the original explicit drawings starkly rendered in black and white in the accompanying booklet. Bravo!

Bobby Lee Origin Myths LP (Tompkins Square)
Wow, this record is so aesthetically spot-on that I have to wonder if “Bobby Lee” isn’t some sort of highly advanced AI developed by a round-table of influential-reissue-label urban-hippies in search of the perfect album to market to their followers: epic Earth-style guitar ripples, modal improvisations, jaunty riffing ala Steve Gunn, of course a cosmic drum-machine kept on hand (probably next to a suede poncho and a vintage ashtray with at least three active joints resting upon it), and earthy song titles like “The Badger And The Locust”, “Fire Medicine Man” and “Rule The Summer Clouds”. I probably sound more cynical than I intend, because even though I don’t consider myself to be one of those ex-punks who got super into Jerry Garcia bootlegs and Boot Boyz t-shirts and fancy stereo setups in the past few years, I’m enjoying the hell out of Origin Myths just the same. Sure, being a dusty sunburnt traveler in a beat-up VW van with a big Brain Records import sticker on the rear bumper and a handshake promotional deal with a local craft brewery has never felt trendier than right now, but there’s also no way to deny Bobby Lee’s easy-breezy hypnotic guitar jams, the sort of sound that would be more appropriately joined by The Grateful Dead’s rose-crowned skeleton than the actual music of The Grateful Dead.

Kathy Leisen Proof LP (Syncro System)
Kathy Leisen kicked up some dust when her group Soft Location dropped their debut Diamonds And Gems back in new-weird-2007, and she’s stepping out on the solo stage here with this wonderful album. Music has so many possibilities, and Leisen dances through and dunks on many of them, from blissful psych-folk to gauzy techno and DIY dub. These songs are spirited and strange, and while one track generally doesn’t sound like the one that preceded it, all of these songs share a sense of openness and freedom that many by-the-books artists will never be able to locate. I’m reminded of Fabulous Diamonds in the echo-y keys/drums tunes, Charalambides when the guitars flicker like constellations in a smoky sky, and I dunno, maybe a few similarities to Monokultur’s great new album in the way that synthetic home-recordings and live instrumentation meld to form something greater than their individual parts. It also feels as though the specter of Su Tissue hovers close over Proof, though more if she ditched the day-glo costuming for a long suede cloak befitting Fairport Convention. I’m simply trying to convey Leisen’s sound here to you, though, as like many really special artists, Leisen’s personal inspiration probably sounds nothing like the stuff she ended up making.

No Friends Band To All My Friends LP (Baggage Claim)
For a full-length collection of four-track recordings recorded over the course of nine years, To All My Friends, by the winkingly-named No Friends Band, sounds surprisingly cohesive! I suppose if you’re playing rowdy garage and noisy indie-rock, the chance of it all swirling together is somewhat high, as is the case with this, the solo project of one Kevin Cascell. He played in Trumans Water, and No Friends Band shares a similarly scrappy and underrated sound, picking up those dusty rock riffs off the floor and beating them like a carpet. I’m reminded pretty strongly of Brother JT’s work with The Original Sins, though not as strictly tethered to a garage structure… maybe throw a little of Sonic Youth’s discordant moves and Times New Viking’s dirty hooks into the picture. Cascell covers Dead Moon and Pere Ubu here (as well as… Bob Dylan?), which not only works with the style of his No Friends Band originals, it also acts as a reasonable guide for Cascell’s sonic reference points. Not sure if he’s anti-band or simply can’t find three other people to play music with, but considering the above-average quality of To All My Friends and the numerous lesser groups comprised of multiple people, some aspect of our society is deeply flawed.

Omar S feat. John FM Music For Hot Babes Only! 12″ (FXHE)
For as much as I wanna moan and groan about the current state of new records (they’re all thirty bucks or more, the good ones sell out immediately in tiny quantities, half a dozen vinyl “colorways” per release is annoyingly normalized, and so forth), I need to remind myself that Omar S and his FXHE label continue to thrive. And they thrive in their own unique way, sidestepping the eerily-standardized Bandcamp model and simply selling records on Omar S’s own actual website, and selling them for dirt cheap (this 12″ was an astonishing eight dollars, his standard EP price). It’s a truly beautiful, truly DIY thing, and the best part is that his productions remain fresh and strange, of which Music For Hot Babes Only! is a sterling example. The a-side “Cadillacs & Dinosaurs” is cool, a restless cut that goes a few minutes before the beat drops, an eventual sub-woofer workout that features I-wanna-say saxophone in both mournful and party-starting ornamentation. The b-side “Ain’t No Real Pimps Anymore” is the must-hear track though, a ridiculously fidgety and wild cut of booty bass with call-and-response spoken-word that goes slightly faster than my brain can parse. It’s like the perfect collision of DJ Assault’s Ghettotech and DJ Central’s deep house, with a weirder hook than any trying-to-be-weird techno producer… truly life-affirming music. I can’t even fathom a world without Omar S at this point, and I hope I never have to!

Opposite Sex High Drama LP (Spik & Span)
The New Zealand city of Dunedin simply does things differently, as evidenced by the last forty years of underground music up through High Drama by the trio Opposite Sex. I’d file them under alternative post-punk, but they don’t seem to adhere to post-punk’s general rules and regulations; these songs are as likely to meander or burst with theatricality as they are to employ a nervous rhythmic groove or primitive rock maneuvers. One moment I’m thinking The Raincoats covering Hole, the next I’m thinking of Helium butchering a Flipper song… nothing is hurried or forced, but it’s all delivered with conviction, even if that delivery includes making wild animal noises or de-stringing one’s guitar in a minutes-long web of feedback. The shrinkwrap sticker claims that the group is “liked by members of The Pastels, The Fall and Parquet Courts”, and while that’s surely meant to be taken with humor, I doubt it’s a fabrication. Sometimes these tunes are either a little too much or a little too little for my particular tastes, but the band certainly seems nutty, and I never know when I might end up in a back alley with members of Parquet Courts after dark, so I don’t want any trouble!

Panoptique How Did You Find Me? LP (Macadam Mambo)
To be honest, even though I ordered this record only like two weeks ago, I can’t remember how I found it – must’ve been one of my nightly crawls on the internet for interesting new music. It jumped out to me immediately, though, and upon repeated spins I’ve only grown fonder of this French duo’s debut vinyl album. They manage to combine two strains of the underground that I respectively embrace: the slimy, sluggish electro of the Neubau label and oddball synth-laden new-wave. Many tracks ride their grooves at a Beau Wanzer pace, scrubbed clean of his basement grime and overlaid with melodies, bizarre vocals and unexpected twists. I’m also reminded of the playfully regurgitated techno of Maoupa Mazzocchetti, though Panoptique are a little less goofy (yet far from serious in demeanor). Their music is delivered in a synth-pop fashion, but I can’t help but think of fellow French freakers like Nina Harker, Jac Berrocal and Ghédalia Tazartès as the record spins. They all share a homeland, as well as an appreciation of the absurd alongside the musical prowess necessary to translate their fantasies into something worth hearing. I love it!

The Reds, Pinks & Purples Uncommon Weather LP (Slumberland)
Glenn Donaldson wears many musical faces, but to be the best contemporary sad-sap indie-pop artist? It’s practically showboating at this point. I first heard The Reds, Pinks & Purples via a somewhat unexpected I Dischi Del Barone single, which I loved, and while I missed last year’s ensuing full-length, I didn’t make the same mistake with Uncommon Weather. He’s really found his lane and is sticking to it, which is great news for anyone who loves heartbroken pop strumming… it’s twee for mature audiences who decorate their depression with flowers, candles and self-deprecation. Sarah Records, The Smiths and The Cure are all channeled but not imitated, which results in a fairly one-dimensional album of heart-on-sleeve indie-pop (of the highest order). Donaldson’s lyrics are sly and witty, songs like “Don’t Ever Pray In The Church On My Street” and “A Kick In The Face (That’s Life)” truly embracing his role as the sardonic love-worn truth-teller as shimmery guitars and lightweight drum machines push these tear-stained melodies upward. One of those groups where I probably don’t need to own a ton of records by – their sound is comfortably repetitive – but it’s already essential that at least one Reds, Pinks & Purples record is within arm’s reach of my unmade bed at all times.

Marc Riordan Life Systems LP (Sophomore Lounge)
Chicago-based drummer/pianist/composer Marc Riordan gets to stretch his legs on Life Systems, which is from what I can tell his first solo record. He’s actually got some guests on here, quite a few in fact, who help him bring these rich instrumental passages to life, adding clarinet, saxophone, electronics and pianos to the mix (though it’s really the pianos and electronics I’m hearing the most). Tranquil, airy, sometimes kind of empty, Life Systems is a pleasant (if not particularly thrilling) escape into extended tones, impish melodicism and hard-to-place sound effects (is that a woodpecker or knuckles on a countertop on “Lost Above Lubinski”?). The title is fairly apt, as these songs would make the perfect background for a particularly curious nature documentary – when I listen to the soft pads and graceful movements of “Blood’s Journey”, I can’t help but picture the voice of David Attenborough describing some sort of endangered tree frog that has to carry its adorable babies on its back in the middle of an unexpected storm. Much of what is going on here compositionally and tonally is probably over my head, but I don’t need to firmly grasp every step of the process of making fudge in order to enjoy its sweet cocoa taste, now do I?

Rosali No Medium LP (Spinster)
There’s been a hole in Philadelphia ever since Rosali Middleman decamped to Michigan last year, but maybe it’s for the best, seeing as the change of scenery must’ve played some role in her fabulous new album, No Medium. She’s always had a knack for singing and playing guitar, but this record in particular reveals a bold fearlessness and artistry that demands attention far beyond the intersection of Girard and Frankford. She hooked up with members of The David Nance Group for this one, but they might want to change their name to The Rosali Group once No Medium starts making the rounds – if you’re missing my unsubtlehints, I think it’s an excellent record! For a basic and slightly inappropriate description, this record has me thinking about all those great full-band Red House Painters songs were they sung by an undiscovered Sheryl Crow instead. These loose, spindly and happily-damaged rock tunes swing with the breeze, not so much slacking as simply declining to participate in the instant-gratification madness that has become society’s default. Rosali’s voice soars with her finest lyrics to date, humble and funny and vulnerable and, I’m a little shy to admit, downright goose-pimpling at times. I thought I knew Rosali before, but having spun this one as many times as I have, I feel like I really know her now, and it’s been a sincere pleasure.

Smirk Smirk LP (Feel It)
I think I’ve hit that point where I can’t muster much excitement for any new punk solo-project where one person plays all the instruments. For the most part, the ones I’ve heard are good and occasionally great, it’s just that I dunno, there are a million of them now, and I’m kinda sick of how easy it is, how low-stakes the whole thing seems? Like if you wanted to be a one-person-band back in the ’80s or ’90s or even the ’00s, it took some serious figuring out and personal investment, whereas now practically everything needed to do it comes pre-loaded on our phones. I should clarify that that’s more of a general gripe and not any sort of personal beef with Nick Vicario’s Smirk, however. Vicario plays in Public Eye and Crisis Man, but Smirk is entirely his own thing, this long-player collecting his two short-run tapes of chippy and proficient first-wave punk. For the most part, these songs have kind of a Chiswick sound, punk that directly descends from rock n’ roll and is notably rough around the edges. I particularly enjoy the songs that bop at a skipping pace, reminiscent of The Lurkers and Johnny Moped, or perhaps closer to Institute before they caught the glam-rock bug. The speedier tunes remind me of Vanity’s first album, which of course reminds us all of another band who doesn’t warrant mentioning. So yeah, good stuff, and Vicario’s been playing in various multi-person bands since the early ’00s, so I suppose he gets a pass for putting together this sonic showcase of his talents, at least this one time. As for the rest of you, go start a real band!

Spiritual Mafia Alfresco LP (Ever/Never / Anti Fade)
An obscure band even by obscure standards, the members of Spiritual Mafia are apparently spread across the continent of Australia but got together to record Alfresco. Not sure if that means this will be the first and last we hear of them, or if they’re going to find a way to stick around, but at least they’ve got this album on their permanent record. Their style falls pretty squarely in the “repetitive discordant garage-punk riff” zone, one popularized by the inimitable Brainbombs, who many bands imitated anyway (and mostly failed and have already moved on to the next thing anyway). Motorik drumming, droning guitars, and a singer who often seems to be reading his older sister’s innocuous text messages aloud, hoping that the brooding band behind him and his stark delivery provide his words with menace and dark intrigue. I dunno, it doesn’t fully work for me? I can’t tell if he’s trying to shine a light on modern social monotony or the dark underbelly of our society, but these songs don’t quite hit that mark, presuming that’s what’s intended. If getting lunch with a friend and taking a bath are actually deviously transgressive behaviors (“Lunch” and “Bath Boy” respectively), well you can call me Matthew Breyer P-Orridge! Perhaps if the music was wild or brutal or intriguing enough, it could make up some of the gravitas that the vocals lack, but for the most part the music seems content to hide behind the curtains before ultimately receding from the stage entirely. Sometimes there are deeply creepy elements at play under a friendly guise, but I’m not really feeling it with Spiritual Mafia.

Spodee Boy Rides Again 7″ (Goodbye Boozy)
Connor Cummins has his band G.U.N. and his side-project Snooper with his partner, and while that’d be plenty for most people, he’s got his solo project Spodee Boy as well. He’s got a few singles under Spodee Boy’s (rhinestone belt-buckled) belt, and this new one on the seminal Goodbye Boozy label offers four cuts of cowboy-twanged punk. Imagine Country Teasers covering Fang songs on Homostupids’ gear and you’ve got a reasonable understanding of where Spodee Boy tends to reside, with surfy guitar, stompy rhythms and a honky-tonk vocal that is probably both sincere as well as an intentional characterization. Spodee Boy takes it fast and slow on these four tunes, imbuing them with a lighthearted sleaze and inebriated stagger suited to a punk being tossed out of a saloon into that big water bucket outside that the horses drink out of. If you spin records by Lamps and Link Wray in equal measure, you might need to add a little Spodee Boy to your life as well.

Spread Joy Spread Joy 12″ (Feel It)
When this new Chicago group tells you to Spread Joy, they mean it, as this 12″ debut celebrates life in a jumpy post-punk fashion. Not too far stylistically from Maximum Joy, honestly, although Spread Joy’s songwriting veers closer to punk basements than new-wave clubs (though both venues are suitable). Their music is fun, energetic and tightly wound, reminiscent of early Rough Trade-styled artists who found popularity outside the 7″ underground (I’m thinking of Wire, Scritti Politti and Delta 5 in particular). Vocalist Briana Hernandez certainly brings the joy, squeaking and yelping throughout, and singing at least one song in German (“Kanst Du”) to give me “Suburban Lawns via Zickzack” vibes. I wouldn’t have guessed that Su Tissue would be one of the essential iconic punk influencers in the ’20s, but I’m certainly not mad at it, as it results in new bands sounding like Spread Joy instead of, I dunno, Kill Your Idols or The Casualties. And while I’ve made it clear that Spread Joy are very much indebted to the earliest post-punk era, they’re certainly working out their own specific thing, recalling the mania of Warm Bodies one moment and directly borrowing three-quarters of Elastica’s most famous riff (for the uber-groovy “Unoriginal”) the next.

Stella Research Committee A Proposed Method For Determining Sanding Fitness LP (Fernald Field Archives)
A proposed what for determining a who?! Ohio’s Stella Research Committee (f/k/a Stella) are at it again, pushing further away from (an albeit abused form of) indie-punk and into a wild splatter of chaos. Works for me! This is caterwauling no-wave-inspired boisterousness, broken up into delineated, mostly-coherent tracks, the sort of thing one might associate with the furthest reaches of Skin Graft Records or the skinny-pants end of Load Records’ menswear section. Reminds me a lot of To Live And Shave In LA in the way that electronic pulses are fused with feedback and guitars to a frenzied end, though it feels like Stella’s vocalist is trying harder to harness James Chance more than Neil Sedaka. I can practically feel my consciousness’s Jenga stack tumble as Stella Research Committee lay into some of these tunes, flapping a warbly acid line over broken-string guitar jangle, manic vocals and at least two or three less distinguishable elements. I love bands like this, not only because I enjoy their music, but because I know the other members had to convince their conventionally-talented drummer to give up any hopes of commercial success and instead play in a band that sounds like this.

Andy Stott Never The Right Time 2xLP & 7″ (Modern Love)
A serious argument could be made that Andy Stott’s five-album run from 2011 through 2016 is the strongest single-artist collection of electronic music that came from the last decade. If you haven’t heard any of them, from Passed Me By through Too Many Voices, I implore you to do so! They’re as solely distinctive as Burial or Sophie, and still sounding as fresh today as when these albums first came out, even in the wake of countless imitators or stylistic piggybackers who have since entered the fray. I say this because I already feel so incredibly satisfied by Stott’s output that Never The Right Time, a beautiful album, doesn’t particularly expand his universe so much as increase its population. The same tricks and maneuvers are in place: emotionally-unavailable melodies at half-time speeds with heavyweight trip-hop beats, misty vocals and a keen use of space (both positive and negative). A plummeting bass tone will suck the air out of the room right as a vocal line expels some life-saving oxygen, and it’s all done with such grace that the overall effect is addicting. It’s fantastic stuff, but Never The Right Time falls closer to “more of the same” than “something new”, if that makes sense. My favorite cut is actually the Arthur Russell remix on the bonus 7″ that came with the package, a dramatic reworking that retains the captivating sorrow of Russell’s cello while infusing it with industrial grit, a path I’d certainly love to see Stott follow. Never The Right Time is a lovely album from an artist who has already given us so much, but, greedy bastard that I am, I can’t help but hope he continues to push outward with whatever comes next.

Virgin Thorns Onske / Song 4 7″ (Música Desechable)
Mexico City’s Música Desechable label follows its first couple lathe-cut 7″s with two new ones, genre allegiance be damned. Gotta say, I’m kind of scratching my head over this Virgin Thorns one – they’re apparently a disbanded duo from Vancouver, this single featuring their only two songs I could locate (their internet presence is impressively nil). Not trying to be rude, but it kinda stinks – the music is incredibly basic, reminiscent of the earliest Cold Cave attempts (sans hooks or personality), and the quality of the music on the clear lathe-cut disc really hinders any possible enjoyment I could’ve otherwise had. I had to turn it up to twice the normal volume, and even then, it required my brain’s full attention to process that I was listening to some generic synth-wave music. If Virgin Thorns are no longer a band, and the record is of such poor quality as to verge on the unlistenable… who benefits from this? There very well might be a perfectly valid reason for this release, but between this and the other new Música Desechable record, an equally hard-to-hear EP from Venezuelan organist Miguel Ricardo Rodriguez (who plays intermission-style rocksteady), I can’t figure out who beyond those directly involved might derive some form of joy from this venture. I want to love Música Desechable, an interesting Mexican DIY label with unusual taste and style, but these records aren’t making it easy.

Waste Man One Day It’ll All Be You LP (Feel It)
Wow. Just wow! Consider me blown away by the debut from New Orleans’s Waste Man. Like you, I never heard of them before, and the band name and place of residence had me expecting some sort of pleasantly-low-effort noisy punk, but this is very much not that. Instead, it’s one of the finest punk records I’ve heard in forever, hearkening back to an alternate hardcore-punk history, one in which the mid-’80s bands that formed in the wake of the classic first-wave hardcore groups continued to deliver catchy spurts of aggression while also venturing into more musically-inclined and melodically-complex realms. As I listen to One Day It’ll All Be You, I’m imagining a world where Government Issue’s fourth album actually ends up being their most ferocious and best, or how killer I imagined Embrace to be before I actually heard them. Imagine your favorite early ’80s SST hardcore records combined with the best aspects of your favorite late ’80s SST college-rock records, and you’re getting warm. (Of course, make sure you filter it all through the weirdness of New Orleans, and the fact that United Mutation and Void are more popular with the kids these days than D.O.A. and 7 Seconds.) These songs are fantastic and made even greater by Jack Long’s vocals – his compelling voice could just as easily replace Rollins in Black Flag as Shogun in Royal Headache. He’s tuneful and wiry, a voice that seems to audibly translate that picture of Guy Picciotto hanging upside down from the basketball hoop, full of bile and emotion and just a teeny tiny sliver of Joe Strummer. I don’t know what else to tell you, I can’t stop listening to this truly inspired debut, and once again tip my hat to Feel It for their incredible service to the community.

Woodstock ’99 Woodstock ’99 7″ (Media Schlitz)
So we’ve got a raging hardcore punk band with an intentionally terrible name, song titles like “Pickled Bullfrog Titties” and a vocalist who leans towards performative idiocy… it’s starting to smell like Ohio in here, isn’t it! That’s right, Woodstock ’99 are a Cleveland band, and they certainly carry the same funny-yet-violent flag waved by fellow Clevelanders like Nine Shocks Terror, Bad Noids and Cruelster. Musically, they’re about as straightforward as it gets, heavy-duty American hardcore ala Poison Idea with a slight Burning Spirits style propulsion, and a vocalist who rages accordingly. I assume the song titles have nothing to do with the lyrical content (though I would love it if “$200 Pickled Red Onions” is lyrically true to its title), but then again it opens with a spoken-word intro that includes the line “listen Nazi, Popeye’s Chicken is fucking awesome”, which is about as memorable of a spoken punk intro I’ll probably hear this year or next. To be honest, I never understood the people’s preference toward ultra-serious / miserable hardcore bands, as if a completely humorless demeanor somehow implies higher quality. Playing hardcore-punk with your friends is one of the few joys this world offers, so why not act like hilarious morons while doing so? Woodstock ’99 understands this.

Reviews – April 2021

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B&W Cat / B&W Cake Ectoplasm Orgasm 7″ flexi (Swimming Faith)
There are a handful of artists in my general orbit who are wildy prolific, but Buffalo’s John Toohill might currently hold the never-stop-hustling crown. Alongside this flexi, I’ve got two other new records sitting here from projects he’s involved with (Alpha Hopper and The Hamiltones)… I could probably just save up and do an entire month’s worth of reviews exclusively featuring his output, if I really wanted to make his parents proud. This new one has a particularly bizarre name, B&W Cat / B&W Cake, which is Toohill on the music and his pal Dan Oh on vocals. It’s slippery electro-sleaze, the sort of vaguely-goth, vaguely-metal, vaguely-punk sound I’d expect to hear through the in-house Sonos system in Trent Reznor’s master bath. Kind of Revolting Cocks-like too, if the title of Ectoplasm Orgasm didn’t already make that clear, where the sexiness is somewhat outweighed by the imposing sinister demeanor of the music and vocals. Not necessarily a lot of substance in these two tracks, but it’s a one-sided clear flexi-disc, what were you expecting? Toohill’s got at least a couple projects going that hint at his interest in sex-dungeon aesthetics fueled by metallic guitars, evil synths and come-hither vocals, and if he keeps at it, something truly great might come of it.

Blawan Make A Goose 12″ (Ternesc)
Blawan is one of those artists that operates at their peak when they sound the most like themselves. The more Blawan sounds like Blawan, the happier I am, and I’m pleased to say that this new EP, amusingly titled Make A Goose, sounds a hell of a lot like Blawan! I’d hope that you’re already familiar with his sprightly-yet-abrasive techno at this point, but if not, you might as well skip directly to Make A Goose and blare it from the most powerful stereo at your disposal. This 12″ comes with four tracks, all of which ride the higher end of the techno spectrum (hitting 140 BPM perhaps?), rowdy and ready to move some bodies (living or reanimated) whenever they return. The persistent gallop of “My Guide To Dancing On Carpet” is met with the sound of asthmatic Terminators and an unattended kitchen stove, really a perfect way to get things started. “Spooky Fingers” might be my favorite on the EP though, shaking out an effervescent rhythm that meets a particularly horny android about two minutes in. It’s probably the most playful (yet heavy) industrial-techno I’ve heard in some time, if you want to even call it that – like I said before, Blawan is best described in self-referential terms by now.

Chris Brokaw Puritan LP (12XU)
Lifelong indie guitarist Chris Brokaw needs no introduction, but if you aren’t familiar, you’re invited to quietly pull up his Discogs page and discover that you’ve probably enjoyed him on at least a couple records through the years. He’s so established and consistent that the cover’s somewhat unflattering live shot of him deciding which pedal to step on doesn’t even subtract from Puritan – hell, that sort of workmanlike, unadorned aesthetic might even enhance it! He’s got a full band behind him here, with which he comfortably navigates somber post-hardcore, Lynchian slow-burns, classic guitar songsmithery in the tradition of Neil Young, slow-core grooves and faded-Levis indie-rock. He’s thoughtful and clear-eyed throughout, but still willing to rhyme “cocksucker” with “motherfucker” (see “The Heart Of Human Trafficking”) as a means of striking back against the injustices of today (again, very Neil Young-ish in nature). Like much of Brokaw’s work with Codeine and Come, Puritan is a record that will never age to the point of embarrassment, not in five years or fifty. If the kids don’t get the appeal now, they hopefully will someday!

Bumbo’s Tinto Brass Band Bumbo’s Tinto Brass Band 7″ (Bumbo)
There’s one thing you know Bumbo’s Tinto Brass Band didn’t have to do upon their initial formation: Google to see if any other bands already took their name! It’s a wacked-out moniker for sure, and it suits this very wacked-out band. If “circus punk” wasn’t claimed by dork squads like Gogol Bordello and World Inferno Friendship Society, I’d say that Bumbo’s Tinto Brass Band deserve the designation, as this is some freak-show-styled punk with plenty of bleating horns, zany vocals and insistent grooves. They’re from Detroit, and I hear a lot of that Midwestern weirdness in them, recalling Timmy’s Organism, Electric Eels and The Gizmos in bits and pieces throughout. On one hand, I can clearly visualize an eventual collaboration blowout with Crazy Doberman, and on the other, I’m picturing Shel Silverstein shirtless in overalls doing a jig on stage while the rest of the Tinto Brass Band carried on. I’m probably, okay definitely not a big enough freak to ever receive initiation into their crew, but as a square on the sidelines, the hairy party they’re throwing is a barrel of fun.

Child’s Pose Eyes To The Right 7″ (Thrilling Living)
New Thrilling Living release, so you know what that means: more testosterone-laden mosh-core from Newark, NJ. Sike! Child’s Pose are a sloppy-tight post-punk group out of London, featuring fine folks from other groups like Sauna Youth, Self Defense Family and Sarcasm, because as you know, no one in London is allowed to be in just one band. They’ve got the sound down pat, with lots of air between guitar stabs, energetic but not-remotely-hardcore drumming, almost too-funky bass and a casual sing-song vocal. The only thing keeping these tunes off the Wanna Buy A Bridge? compilation is the current inability to travel back into time, so who knows, they might end up there someday. As beholden as Child’s Pose are to that older sound, it’s one that I personally love, and they really understand the dynamics and songwriting required to make these songs pop (of which “Lil’ Snitch” and “October” are my stand-out faves). Feels weird to imagine that there are people out there who wouldn’t enjoy Eyes To The Right, but I guess there has to be a bunch, right?

Christopher Alan Durham Peacetime Consumer 7″ (Spacecase)
Yes, that’s the same Chris Durham you may recognize from Roach Clip, his solo Church Shuttle project and the All Gone label, but don’t let the resume-styled formality of his name fool you into thinking this is any less of a fried-brain noise-pop excursion than his other work. “Gratiot Crawl” is the a-side cut, and I like it a lot… it oozes out like a slowed-down Swell Maps recording, or perhaps the passive strum of a Velvet Underground tune given the “stumbling through a basement full of equipment in the dark” vibe that Mad Nanna possessed. The vocals are particularly weird, as if Durham didn’t finish his sandwich before recording his vocals and just kinda tucked a large bite into his cheek for the duration of the song. “50’s House Blues” is the flip, a warped blues choogle that recalls other unrepeatable freaks like Sweet Kelly, or dare-I-say Jandek at his most hootin’ and hollerin’ (which is to say not very). Durham recorded these tunes on March 14th 2020, and based on the befuddled haze these songs seem to exist within, I can only imagine him stumbling into the supermarket a few days later, wondering why all the toilet paper and pasta was gone.

Electric Chair Social Capital 7″ (Iron Lung)
Accidentally stopped writing about Iron Lung’s records over the past couple months, but that’s a me problem: this label remains the last great hope for underground hardcore-punk weathering the financially-impractical, digitally-constrained state of the modern music industry. Anyway, I dug the first two EPs from Olympia’s Electric Chair, and maybe I need to throw them on again as a refresher, as Social Capital is sounding insanely good to me right now. They play a fairly pure and unblemished form of raging American hardcore-punk, the sort of truly maniacal and untamed hardcore sounds that Toxic Reasons, White Cross and Corrosion Of Conformity were churning out in their earliest years. There’s simply no co-opting these short blasts of hardcore for any sort of corporate or monetized venture, so no one tries – Electric Chair are free to rage on their own behalf without any undesired intervention. They also somehow managed to release the best “live without an audience during Covid” video I’ve seen from any artist across any genre, presumably in support of this 7″? It’s them on a way-too-big stage, completely going off for no one, with a drum riser and lights and everything a club can offer in use. It’s not quite on par with “Siege live on public access TV 1984”, of course, but some of that same serious hardcore magic is pulsing through Electric Chair.

The Embarrassment The Embarrassment EP 12″ (Last Laugh)
Crazy to think this is the first straight-up reissue of The Embarrassment’s self-titled 1981 12″ EP, but that’s the case, and we have Last Laugh to thank. I was confused at first by the 2018 copyright on the disc – maybe they’ve been sitting on the rights that long? – but in celebration of the record’s 40th anniversary, here’s an unadorned replication of this seminal American post-punk EP. The Embarrassment were from Kansas, and that great sort of outsider energy is on full display here, like they know they’re as good as anything coming out of San Francisco or Manhattan and they’ve got a chip on their shoulder about it. I feel like anyone unfamiliar with The Embarrassment might be taken aback by their greatness here, as these songs are snide and fast and tight and, to get right to it, simply excellent. “I’m A Don Juan” kind of anticipates the pop-punk to come years later, and “Celebrity Art Party” is the go-to hit, with utterly propulsive drumming and admirably sarcastic vocals. It still sounds fresh today; any contemporary post-punk band could only hope to deliver such a sharp selection of inverted melodies, jangly guitars and unexpected hooks. It’s criminal to think that these tunes have languished in record-collector inaccessibility for a number of years, but that’s thankfully no longer the case.

EQD Equalized #009 12″ (Equalized)
René Pawlowitz is an unceasing source of fine techno music. You might know him best as Shed – I know I do – but he’s made some records as Head High and The Traveler that I also really enjoy, alongside like a dozen other monikers I’ve yet to peep. I love the tossed-off nature of his aesthetic – rather than put his effort toward developing any identifying visual style, he just pops off these white-label 12″s at will, the names of the projects seemingly adhering to a logic only Pawlowitz knows for sure. Truly no-frills stuff, but not in a way that feels like an anti-image either, but rather the product of an artist for whom the music trumps all other aspects, which I certainly commend. Anyway, this new one under his EQD alias is a banger, deployed at a moment in history where bangers are less than optimized, but who cares? Not EQD! The a-side cut is merciless and brooding – while plastered to a rigid 4/4 signature, the snare hits a staccato beat over buzzing electronic interference and a deep rumbling, like the sound of fluid-filled lungs exhaling under a powerful stethoscope. The flip is a minimalist acid seizure, all rubber and bones and no fat, like a skeleton wearing a latex catsuit. I’ve more or less heard these two styles countless times before, and yet they never sounded better to me than they do right now, right here, from EQD.

Fairytale Fairytale 7″ (Desolate)
I’ve been leaning on hardcore a whole lot over the past few dreary months, both new and old, to help get me by. It’s a healthy vehicle for my ever-present rage and frustration, sitting by myself with the lights off and nodding menacingly as the record spins, and I’ve done plenty of that with this vinyl debut from New York City’s Fairytale. They go straight for the throat with these five rippers – think of classic crude Swedish hardcore delivered extra crispy and enhanced by the potent odor of American political crust. It’s fast and pummeling stuff, certainly in line with Anti Cimex and Discharge, but I’m also reminded of Disrupt and State Of Fear by the heavy distortion in which their tone generally resides, Crucifix due to the verge-of-falling-apart performance, and even a little Randy Uchida in the guitar (check the razor-thin soloing on “Fantasy” to hear what I mean). It’s difficult but possible to go wrong with those combined influences, but Fairytale excel at the game, sounding incensed on a street level and absolutely in tune with the structural anti-pig viewpoint that myself and many others find agreeable if not imperative. Throw in some cool samples (as Fairytale do here), and you’ve got a righteous group I look forward to hearing more from, already worthy of inclusion among Aus Rotten and Capitalist Casualties patches on any decent punk vest.

Feeling Figures Feeling Figures 7″ (Celluloid Lunch)
Spring’s here, so the debut single from Montreal’s Feeling Figures feels particularly appropriate: this is grungy, lighthearted indie-rock meant to be enjoyed without a coat. It sounds like what could’ve been a particularly strong entry into the 1992 Sub Pop Singles Club, but that’s not to say they sound like a retro act, merely that their style of fuzzed-out guitars and tuneful vocals is pretty close to timeless at this point. Calls to mind groups like Times New Viking, Eric’s Trip and Dinosaur Jr. as well as the Misfit Heartbeat compilation (a personal favorite!), though Feeling Figures are probably on the younger and scrappier end of that particular spectrum. Kinda bums me out to think that there are merely 160 copies of this 7″ pressed (understandably so; no one wants to live with boxes of unsold 7″s in their living room), whereas even the worst Sub Pop single would’ve sold at least ten times as many back in the day. Times have irrevocably changed, of course, and I can throw my little pebbles at the digital-streaming tank in front of me all I want, but at least I’ll have this Feeling Figures single to warm my sullen heart!

Horrendous 3D The Gov. And Corps. Are Using Psycho-Electronic Weaponry To Manipulate You And Me… 7″ (Whisper In Darkness)
Fantastic debut EP here from Portland’s Horrendous 3D, a bludgeoning beast of blown-out hardcore. If you’re familiar with the Portland hardcore style, Horrendous 3D manage to emulate a variety of its glorious attributes: a guitar tone that sounds downright radioactive, a raging rhythm section as fast as it is heavy, and a vocalist with a throaty unintelligible bark that sounds like Todd Burdette after receiving Wolverine’s adamantium infusion. Sonic similarities to Lebenden Toten, Zyanose and Nerveskade are undeniable, but the rhythm section is so meaty and the songs themselves deviate from the typical verse/chorus structure most d-beat clings to, resulting in a fairly unique sound (though undeniably hardcore). Really could go for more than four songs, but it’s given me plenty of reason to spin this one over and over. And as a bonus, Horrendous 3D are unequivocal in their messaging: corporate digital surveillance has got to go before it destroys us all. I enjoy reading articles on Vox and The New Republic about this very topic, but you know what’s an even better way to encounter this sentiment? Through a blistering 7″ EP of crasher-crust, noise-not-music hardcore.

GG King Remains Intact LP (Total Punk)
GG King is a sterling example of how to age as a punk rocker: grow wiser and sharper, and figure out how to fluidly integrate your own personal inspirations without watering down the sound. Remain Intact is a fine example of this, as GG King’s songs flow better than ever before, while the varying influences (black metal, cock-rock, sludge, post-punk, etc.) shine through without disruption. The general template is still brooding punk rock, in line with Rikk Agnew’s earliest records, The Wipers and The Dils, but this is as far from a deferential genre-exercise as it can get. These songs are full of hooks, but weird hooks… it’s like there is a clear precedent in punk for the music GG King makes, yet the songs themselves are kind of unprecedented. The addition of pianos and unorthodox effects has me considering GG King alongside other idiosyncratic punks like Geza X, Billy Synth and Doc Dart, but he’s not even close to as weird as any of those guys, nor does he try to be. “Dekalb County Endless” has two barely-related parts, like Samhain meeting Flipper on Jon Spencer’s turf, if that provides even the slightest bit of help, whereas the insta-catchy “Melt On You” sounds like a song Green Day would’ve recorded during their Dookie sessions but left off the album for being too dark. My difficulty in tidily summing up Remain Intact should provide all the encouragement you need to check it out, from partial punks right up to the total ones.

Lavender Hex Bunch Of Flowers LP (no label)
Calling it now – this will probably be my favorite self-released album of the year! Lavender Hex came out of Berlin back in 2018 and knocked my socks off with their debut LP, and this follow-up, Bunch Of Flowers, is somehow even better! On their debut, the band was credited as the duo of Aahnt and Lianne Hall, but the roster has ballooned to some twenty people (or people and things?) for this one, though I get the impression it might still be Aahnt and Hall at the helm with a variety of guest contributions. Whatever the case, it’s a glorious mess, one that borrows from the farthest reaches of post-punk, dub sound systems, trip-hop, noise and the avant-garde in a stunning display of mainstream rejection. The closest group I’d feel compelled to compare them to is Crass, as Lavender Hex are consistently riotous, though their means are far more electronic and eclectic; it’s undoubtedly punk in spirit, but screamed vocals and guitar feedback are in short supply (if not entirely absent). A jumpy electro-pop tune will nestle up against a grimy dub redolent of On-U Sound, and then it’ll sound like Aaron Dilloway making basement reggaeton, but I swear to you, it flows perfectly and makes perfect sense in the world of Lavender Hex. You need to hear the whole thing, but for starters I’ll direct you to the last song on the first side, “Banana Jellyfish”, a wild confluence of broken techno and cut-up spoken-word.

The Midnight Steppers Isolation Drives LP (Radical Documents)
LA’s Radical Documents label continues to be a strong depository for underground acts that aren’t being released anywhere else, which is really the way to do it. This new one comes from The Midnight Steppers, whose Isolation Drives was released on cassette by the label last fall and has now hit vinyl, either due to some strategic marketing plan or backed-up pressing plants (I’m guessing the latter). They’ve got a dirty lo-fi rock thing going on, strongly recalling the vibes that the Columbus Discount label inhabited for most of the ’00s. Proudly self-recorded in mono, these are all very much songs, delivered in a ragged state similar to Psychedelic Horseshit or El Jesus De Magico, beholden to classic Ohioan indie-rock like Great Plains or Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments but performed and recorded by probably just one guy, all by himself, with no inclination to ever be more than that. Only a small handful of records ever really grabbed me from that scene (go find a copy of the Pillow Talk 7″ immediately) but it ultimately wasn’t my thing, a kind of slapdash indie-rock style with a low-power sound, and I’d have to say the same is pretty much true for this Midnight Steppers record – it’s fine, just nothing I’d have the ability to recall days later, nor find myself itching to throw on. On the other hand, if you’ve been sitting around wishing the kids (or folks in their late 30s) were still fumbling through melodies on borrowed guitars instead of noodling around on synths, you may one to (midnight) step to this one.

Monokultur Ormens Väg LP (Ever/Never / Mammas Mysteriska Jukebox)
I thought I was a big fan of Monokultur, following their debut 7″ and album releases, but this new album has catapulted my appreciation to near evangelical levels. It’s so good! I loved their murky, primitive take on dirge-y post-punk, but Ormens Väg is something almost entirely different, if still understandably the work of the same group (who, if you didn’t know, is JJ Ulius and Loopsel, two Swedish mensches operating in the sub-underground). The basic premise is tender, mournful guitar / keys / bass-guitar / synths, overladen with much of the great found-sound, soft junk-noise approach that seems to run through the Förlag För Fri Musik scene (within which they reside). Loopsel’s vocals (always in Swedish) add a strange pop beauty to the mix, and the uncluttered-yet-messy arrangements recall the farthest reaches of the early ’80s DIY post-punk sound, groups like 41 Degrees and 23 Skidoo and maybe even Section 25’s The Key Of Dreams if it was forced to rub elbows around town with Sewer Election and Ectoplasm Girls. If there was a shoegaze-pop beacon between Flaming Tunes and Neutral, I’d expect Ormens Väg to be floating nearby. Strongly recommended!

Palberta Palberta5000 LP (Wharf Cat)
Do y’all have love for Wharf Cat? They’re one of those odd labels that has some artists I really enjoy (Profligate and Gong Gong Gong in particular) that don’t seem to get the level of shine I think they should. Go ahead and add Palberta to that list, as this Brooklyn-based indie-punk trio have been making interesting records for years now. They’re quietly funny, poppy in an awkward way and clearly derived from the pure sources of DIY post-punk instead of like, career-minded indie-pop. A perfect example is “Big Bad Want”, which is a cool, self-assured rocker, kind of normal, until they repeat the chorus line a mind-melting forty-nine times. I actually sat there and counted – it’s insane! I can only imagine the laughter in the practice space when they were writing this song and someone proposed repeating the chorus to such a comical length. Moves like that are why I really like Palberta! Their songs remind me of a scrappier Grass Widow at times, each member performing like a different Tetris block to collectively form a line, but the inherent fun of being in a band together shines through more than musical virtuosity or compositional prowess (though, whether they like it or not, they’ve got that going for them too). No one else around could sound like The Raincoats one moment only to dip into the baby thrash of “Eggs n’ Bac'” the next, which is far more Wheelchair Full Of Old Men-sounding of a song than Rough Trade. Palberta don’t make the rules, they break the rules!

Ashley Paul Ray LP (Slip)
Ashley Paul is an American saxophonist, clarinetist and composer based in London, with a list of collaborators and associates of a fine experimental pedigree (she’s performed a Phil Niblock piece with Eli Keszler, as well as collaborations with Thurston Moore, Rashad Becker, Loren Connors and Charles Hayward, which should be enough for a WIRE magazine bingo). What’s her solo album like, then? Dispel any notions of noise or abrasion, as these songs are curiously sweet and sour, like getting warmly drunk on a foreign alcohol or tending to a prickly garden full of unexpected flowers. Paul handles saxophone, guitar, clarinet and percussion, and she’s aided by the firm double bass of Otto Willberg and Yoni Silver’s bass clarinet. You might be thinking avant-garde jazz is on the menu, but really this is a quizzical and tender album I’d find more comfortably filed under “experimental indie”. These songs are carefully constructed, with peculiar (yet welcoming) melodies taking the forefront. Guided by Paul’s hushed vocals, these are the sort of songs you can comfortably sing without waking the baby. I’m reminded of experimental DC group Et At It, though their music was far more rigid and less prone to moments of beauty, the avant-DIY music of London’s Still House Plants, or perhaps the Fort Thunder-informed jazz of Providence’s Barnacled, though they conjured a mighty racket that Ray calmly declines. Chances are, I simply don’t listen to many records that hit like this one, and while I may not have the adequate musical intelligence to best describe it, I’m enjoying it something fierce.

The Pink Noise Economy Of Love LP (Celluloid Lunch)
God bless The Pink Noise, for whom weirdo kooky post-punk was clearly not a trendy dabbling so much as an extended aesthetic commitment. And unlike the normal rule of punk, wherein every consecutive album provides diminishing returns, The Pink Noise continue developing their distinctive sound on a path I first noticed with 2013’s Greedy Heart up through 2018’s House Of Cards, and I’m currently bopping along to on their newest, Economy Of Love. It’s post-punk in nature, but without any aggression or anxiety; this music is loose, played kinda slow and stumbly, which of course is enhanced by Mark Sauner’s lugubriously glammy vocals. He sounds as if Tom Verlaine was the one pitiful ranting drunk guy at the end of the bar whose ramblings you hope to avoid, kind of lost in his own world and unconsciously connecting with the songs behind him. They’re pretty great, in particular the glittery strut of “On Trial” and the last-call slow-dance of “Mirror”. The instrumentation is stacked (horns, synths, even a tasteful violin finds its way into the fray), threading the line between teenage DIY punk, the earliest downtown NYC new-wave, and that first Intelligence album which I still love dearly. There aren’t many bands that I’d go on record hoping they exist for another ten years, but The Pink Noise are persistent and interesting enough where I’m already psyched to hear their 2031 album, assuming I still live in a house with electricity at that point.

John Sharkey III Shoot Out The Cameras LP (12XU)
John Sharkey III (generally recognized as the second best John Sharkey, following the fourth) has appeared in these digital pages for essentially as long as I’ve been writing them, first with noise-rock menaces Clockcleaner, then through the elusive goth of Puerto Rico Flowers and up until this pandemic hit, with his alternative-oi trio Dark Blue. I don’t recommend that punks ever attempt solo acoustic singer-songwriter records, but if they have to give it a go, waiting until they’re more or less middle-aged with significant life experience under their belts is their best bet. I wasn’t worried about Shoot Out The Cameras, though – I know Sharkey’s exterior has hardened while his interior has softened over the past couple decades, and I know he’s got that rich velvety croon that sounds good over basically anything, so he was the right man for the job. These songs are tender and mournful but not without hope, though it may be hard at times to find, as he’ll sing about picking roses only to reveal that he’s doing so in a cemetery. I can imagine iconoclasts like Neil Young and Rowland S. Howard might’ve inspired some of the stark characters, simmering emotions and implied malevolence found in these songs, but Sharkey continues to sound more like himself than anyone else, living or dead.

Silicone Prairie My Life On The Silicone Prairie Vol. 1 LP (Feel It)
Ian Teeple has been an ever-present force from the Kansas City scene, whose work with Warm Bodies and Natural Man has entertained me, and I’m sure his dozen other bands and projects that I haven’t heard would as well. Silicone Prairie is his (or at least one of his) solo projects, playing every instrument in full-band replication. This debut shares many qualities I associate with that scene, namely the sort of power-treble sound that’s become a signature since The Coneheads first hit, and the sense that the music surely might’ve been sped-up in post-production, even if it wasn’t. These songs are tinny and virtuosically zippy, with plenty of tricky guitar licks and precise drum fills. I’m always inherently suspicious of great musicians, but Silicone Prairie seems nice enough, as if an android replicated your favorite unknown power-pop and new-wave songs in a sonically-degraded, double-timed manner. Teeple’s vocals are agreeably nerdy, popping off like an Ergs record played on 45 with the guitars denied distortion but granted full clearance to rip arena-rock solos wherever they can be squeezed in. It’s a bit much, which is surely the point, but the trebly overload and barrage of dexterous musicianship crammed onto a 4-track recorder is not simply an acquired taste, you have to really be in the mood for it, too. Some people probably associate Limp Bizkit and Static-X with Monster Energy drinks, but Silicone Prairie captures that cheap synthetic overstimulated energy blast better than any nu metal, no doubt.

Snooper Music For Spies 7″ (Computer Human)
What better way to foster a deep connection with your romantic partner than doing a home-recorded punk project together? These are the bonds that hold us close. Nashville punks Connor Cummins and Blair Tramel are busy with their separate artistic lives (Cummins plays in G.U.N., Tramel is a video artist), but Snooper is their baby, and this is their debut release. One can assume they didn’t have hopes of changing the world with these four songs, as three of them are very contemporary-sounding lo-fi punk, strongly indebted to The Coneheads and the Lumpy Records scene and the multitude of Kansas City weirdos operating in the same orbit. Nasally vocals from outer space, wild runs on the bass and irritating jangle on the guitar, and the nagging sense that the songs themselves might’ve been sped up artificially. “Running” takes a slightly different approach, applying digital drums and a dance-y bassline to what could’ve been a party-punk hit, were punks currently having parties. Music For Spies certainly feels more like a fun musical exercise than anything “serious”, but let’s not forget that the realm of the non-serious is where so much good punk has grown.

SSIEGE Meteora 12″ (Knekelhuis)
SSIEGE have a mix out from last year titled Dreamy Pads Of Insecurity and that seems as good a way as any to describe their sound here. After some mild internet searching, I can’t figure out who they are or where they’re from, but I’m going to have to assume Europe, not only from the Knekelhuis connection but because most other continents are unable to reach these levels of blissful relaxation. This is airy, wistful electro, pastel tones bursting like soap bubbles under the sun. Opener “Il Re Delle Mandorle” is a great way to start, a playful take on Manuel Göttsching’s E2-E4 proto-techno that, with the addition of some subtle rhythm guitar, feels right in line with some of Music From Memory’s recent new-age hits. The beats ensure Meteora isn’t a strictly ambient affair, though, with shy melodies that remind me of Fatima Yahama, conjuring similar introspective, borderline-nostalgic emotions. Very pleasant stuff to put on in the background, which is mostly how Meteora has existed in my life, though I’ve also been rewarded by paying actual attention to its fuzzy tones and, well, dreamy pads.

Toads Toads LP (Sanctuary Moon)
Toads’ self-titled debut arrived at my home worse for the wear – the cardboard mailer must’ve encountered a shark (or at least a barracuda) en route, as it showed up soggy with a bite-sized chunk missing. Even so, the record plays perfectly (and amazingly the cover is only downgraded to a conservative VG), which is perhaps an accurate reflection of what it means to be a Bay Area punk band in 2021: resilience and toughness in the face of tech-bro dystopia and an ever-impending sense of cultural doom. I was certainly eager to hear Toads once I learned they feature ex-members of Loli & The Chones and Icky Boyfriends (two ’90s garage-punk bands whose music I hold dear), and while it’s neither as irritating or wild as those two groups, this is a nice set of studied punk tunes that avoid feeling too formulaic or genre-bound. Their sound is definitely Gonerfest worthy, with subtle and overt nods to the classic Dangerhouse style (particularly X or Alley Cats) and the reasonable understanding that they’ve smoked in the same unkempt bars as Life Stinks and Andy Human, getting drunk and grumbling humorously. Anti-aspirational punk rock, the sort of stuff that befuddles the Jello Biafras and Fat Mikes of the world.

TVO Alive! 7″ (Stupid Bag)
Very nice surprise here from West Philly, the debut EP from a group called (are they not men? they are) TVO. They’re new to me, and obviously I haven’t seen their name on flyers or anything, but I certainly hope to once shows return, as this is very well done aggro punk. Unlike a lot of today’s so-called post-punk, where it’s more like post-hardcore with rigid monotonous drumming and punk vocals, TVO’s emphasis is firmly on the punk side of the equation. I’m hearing a strong resemblance to Chain Gang, particularly in the combination of sneering American vocals and hardcore jangle on opener “Loser”. The rest of the EP kinda falls in line with the Monorchid / Drive Like Jehu approach, but more limber and more in line with the years 2021 or 1979 than 1996. It’s kind of refreshing to hear wild, self-assured punk like this played by twenty-somethings without any sonic similarity to the St. Louis and Kansas City scenes that seem to have set the guidelines for how modern punk is supposed to be written and recorded. These songs are forceful and fun, an invigorating form of punk that doesn’t have to ask the audience to move up front, because where else would they want to be?

TV Priest Uppers LP (Sub Pop)
Here’s a simple survey that will determine the amount of pleasure you derive from TV Priest’s debut album: how much do you enjoy being yelled at by a belligerent British dude? Very much, somewhat, or not at all? There seems to be no shortage of cantankerous wise-guy Englishmen in post-punk these days, and if you’ve made it through Sleaford Mods and Idles and still desire more verbal abuse, TV Priest are the perfect solution. I’ve spun Uppers a few times now and am still not sure where I stand; depending on my mood or disposition, it can sound like another sturdy entry in the big-indie post-punk canon alongside Protomartyr and Shame and Idles, but when I’m not in the mood to hear a guy crack wise with lines like “hey buddy, normalize this!” over cyclical riffing, I really don’t want to hear it. The vocalist has a great, too-ridiculous-to-be-fake name, “Charlie Drinkwater”, and his observations and accusations sit far better with me than the last Idles record, but the music seems content to act as a dressing, a post-punk scenery rather than songs that aim to be anyone’s favorite, if only the favorite of a handful of grumpy loners in their respective terrible towns. “Slideshow” is probably my favorite cut here, as it behaves the most like a catchy rock song, which ironically suits this group who generally seem disinterested in any music recognized as pop. I’m also suspicious of any punk-derived band that signs with a big label for their very first release, but that’s my personal bias against calculated success, managers, industry connections, and anyone who actually puts in effort and energy into their personal achievements.

USA/Mexico Del Rio LP (12XU)
There are still remnants of the tar-like substance that USA/Mexico’s previous album, Matamoros, left under my nails back in 2019, and now I’m getting even filthier with their third outing, Del Rio. At a time when blown-out noise-rock seems to be at a lull in the underground, I appreciate it more when it comes around, doubly so when it’s as unforgiving and brutal as this. USA/Mexico have prided themselves on their blown-outedness from the very start, but this new one feels even deeper than before – no longer are we teetering on the edge of the volcano, choking on toxic smoke, we’re deeply submerged in its churning core. Only three tracks this time (two of which have lengths of 13:06 and 16:28), and it feels less like songs and more like jams, which these players handle well. Think of Air Conditioning loosely covering one of those endless Abruptum dirges and you’re in the sonic neighborhood, particularly as the newly-added vocals of Colby Brinkman add a sense of classic brutality, like Crossed Out’s Dallas Van Kempen mid-waterboarding. If only I had the same monstrous bass rig as USA/Mexico’s Nate Cross at my disposal, I might finally grow some hair on my knuckles.