Reviews – July 2016

Anohni Hopelessness LP (Secretly Canadian)
I’ve been a casual Antony (now Anohni) fan ever since their I Am A Bird Now garnered international spotlight (and with that voice, for good reason), so when I heard that they went synth-pop with Oneohtrix and Hudson Mohawke producing the beats, why not take a peep? I’m sure glad I did, as it’s a pretty amazing album, particularly in that it’s one of the few records I can recall in recent times to have me literally laughing out loud at moments that were most certainly no laughing matter. I’m referring to the fact that Anohni’s lyrics are often shockingly brutal, frank and completely free of allegory or metaphor – they directly comment on drone bombs killing innocent victims, politicians lying, environmental disaster and societal downfall in a way that makes Discharge and Anti-Cimex sound like Rumi. And to hear such uncomfortable lyrics over what would otherwise be joyous, modern synth-styled R&B pop tracks is more shocking than any d-beat riff, that’s for sure. It’s like you want to raise up your hands under a strobe light to the nimble, effervescent sounds of “Execution” until you realize the painful smack of reality delivered by the words (you better believe the phrase “North Koreans” is given a diva-esque croon). It’s like Anohni wants us to celebrate and feast while also shaming us into facing up to the irreversible disgusting mess we’ve made, and it’s a glorious form of confusion, even if I truly feel bad about things after listening to Hopelessness.

Asda The Abyss 12″ (No Corner)
Asda’s first release was a strange 10″ care of Vessel’s antagonistic vanity label FuckPunk, offering merely a few minutes of distorted beats and spoken word accompaniment. I’m thrilled to see that it wasn’t a random one-off, but that Asda continue to exist, and this new six-song EP builds upon their debut just as I hoped. Throughout The Abyss, Asda move from feedback/noise-play to in-the-red digital dub, not unlike a Jahtari remix of Whitehouse instrumentals. It’s a fairly constricted framework, perhaps only the work of a couple of sound boxes (or less), but Asda display a keen ability to bring out vivid imagery and unique situations within it. The beats alone are great, but the spoken-word vocals (care of Vessel’s bud Chester Giles) really make it pop. Giles paints surreal scenes, runs through repetitive poetry and posits sly questions, always in a calm, mannered tone that reveals no particular emotion or shtick; it sounds like he is simply trying to deliver his words in the most natural and direct way he can. I’m occasionally reminded of The Door & The Window or some other droll British DIY group circa ’79, but the peculiarities of Asda make them instantly recognizable within any conceivable Kugelberg list. There’s even a track of nothing more than flute and Giles’ voice, and it sounds just as reasonable as the manic blasts of static that preceded it, a testament to Asda’s ability to shine their strange aesthetic no matter what the circumstances.

Blackball Visions Of The Third Eye Undone 7″ (Sorry State)
In listening to and looking at this Blackball 7″, I can’t help but wish that “Blackball” was some sort of underground sport that only punks played. As a teenager, my group of friends invented a game called “street ball” that involved skateboards and a half-empty Pepsi two-liter, so why not, right? While I sit and fantasize about the rules and scoring, I’ll enjoy this EP by this Raleigh, NC hardcore group. They’ve got six tracks here, and it’s a pretty nice form of heavy, menacing hardcore that verges on crust. They fall somewhere between Totalitär and His Hero Is Gone (wait, isn’t that just Tragedy?), rugged hardcore built for both headbanging and slamming. Sickoids also come to mind, but there’s a palpable metallic-crust gloominess to Blackball that has my third eye visualizing Amebix patches. They also thank a band called “Drugcharge” on the insert, so perhaps that’s really all I had to say. Gotta go do my Blackball fantasy draft now anyway, bye!

Peter Brötzmann & Heather Leigh Ears Are Filled With Wonder LP (Trost)
Just like watermelon and Feta cheese, some combinations might seem unwise upon snap judgment but are quickly proven to be wonderful, as is the case with this live duo of lifelong saxophone abuser Peter Brötzmann and mercurial pedal steel player Heather Leigh. Ears Are Filled With Wonder was sold to me with the promise that it was a full-on sound battle between the two players, but that’s not quite what I’m hearing. On these two pieces, Brötzmann certainly goes off, shocking air through his instrument like a man possessed, but Leigh’s pedal steel acts as a salve, a wet dab of Neosporin on the patch of hair Brötzmann just yanked out. Even Brötzmann seems to be lost in Leigh’s hypnotic strings at times, chilling his puffs until they are forlorn and introspective, like the dog who just tore up your favorite pillow resting meekly at your feet. In other instances during these two long tracks, I can’t tell if it’s a musical conversation happening between these two, or if they are simply following their own paths in spite of each other, but connections occur regardless, particularly when Leigh gets heavy on the pedal steel, sweating and overheating like it’s about to hurl from some extended airplane turbulence. Great sessions either way, a pairing from whom I am both expecting and anticipating more.

CC Dust CC Dust 12″ (Perennial)
Record of the month alert! To quickly sum up the bio (which is important or I wouldn’t share), CC Dust is the synth-pop project of Vexx vocalist Maryjane Dunphe, her lungs and lyrics backed by the simplistic productions of Laurent Dagnicourt. The EP’s brilliance is immediate in the form of opener “Never Going To Die”, a truly joyous, unrestrained track that bursts like a dove unscathed through a barbed-wire fence. The rest of the EP is more reserved (how could it not be), but plays out in fascinating waves, like the art-pop spin on classic New Order via “Tonopah”, the M Squared-esque patter of “Baby Boy” and the early Simple Minds swing throughout the last two cuts. It’s an utterly fantastic record because Dunphe’s voice is bridled with emotion, almost to the point where she sounds like she’s quivering her tears away – I would make a case that she is the cold-wave Fetty Wap in that regard. Plus, Dagnicourt’s tracks have the rudimentary, early-attempt feel of the first Cold Cave records, wherein the simplicity and lack of sophistication are their biggest strengths, cutting right to the core of what makes electronic pop so satisfying. If Vexx weren’t still sort of around (with a new album dropping shortly, praise the Lord!), CC Dust might be my favorite band!

Beatrice Dillon & Rupert Clervaux Two Changes LP (Paralaxe Editions)
Over the past year Beatrice Dillon has quickly become my number-one Techno Person To Watch, as her carefully-considered discography covers all sorts of interesting electronic bases, from gauzy boogie to tightly-buttoned percussion exercises. This prepared me for the strange sounds within her second collaborative effort with Rupert Clervaux, a two-track album entitled Two Changes. “The Same River Twice” is the a-side, and it’s a strange fifteen minutes, that’s for sure. Fluttering noises and intermittent percussion slowly assume the shape of a beat, one that is soon accompanied by the seedy, noir-ish sounds of a pocket trumpet. It’s as if you’re reading one of China Miéville’s dystopian sci-fi novels and it suddenly transforms into a pulpy Richard Stark paperback. What could be better, right? “A Different River Once” grabs another fifteen minutes or so on the flip, and it’s nearly as fascinating. The pulse is torturous at first, presided by a leaky faucet, until a mischievous xylophone stumbles into the room and a tweaked tech-house beat befitting Bruno Pronsato quickly follows. Two Changes manages to fuse high-minded acoustic composition and populist techno with a sense of pranksterism that I find incredibly appealing. I wish more artists were willing to enter such strange territory, but then again, most people aren’t Beatrice Dillon and Rupert Clervaux.

Far Corners Far Corners 12″ (Limited Appeal)
Far Corners are a Rhode Island-based trio, the husband / wife duo of Justin Hubbard and Tara McManus along with various replaceable bassists (aren’t they all). They’ve been bashing around in Far Corners and other bands (Turpentine Brothers, for example) for a few years, and this is pretty solid slash n’ burn post-punk. I’m reminded of both A Frames and Spray Paint in the way that Far Corners robotically perform their garage-primitive punk tunes (and maybe it’s the geographical proximity but I’m hearing a little Arab On Radar in the different-but-interlocking guitar- and bass-lines), but Far Corners keep it pretty loose, sounding like actual humans in a room together. And while I’m sure it can be tempting, they never veer off into artsy experimentalism or noise – Far Corners is a punk record like countless others before it, which of course is in no way a weakness. Only 200 copies exist, all painstakingly sprayed-painted on the b-side of the vinyl (a risky move if there ever was one), so if Far Corners don’t sound too exceptional upon first listen, just huff the b-side and try again.

Framtid The Horrific Visions 7″ (Brain Solvent Propaganda)
Northeast American punks shed many tears when it came to light that Framtid were denied entry for their US gigs last March, but this new four-song EP is a strong consolation. Sure, it’s not the same without the spritz of second-hand beer in the air, spike-laden denim scraping your arms and Makino screaming in your general direction, but some of us are too old for that sort of thing anyway and prefer our righteous anti-war supersonic d-beat destruction in the form of private home listening. Even without Shin behind the drum kit, Framtid remain at the top of their game; the combination of thick, down-tuned guitars and fill-laden drumming continues to resemble an avalanche or stampede. Three of these tracks rage accordingly, while “By Any Reason” grinds on a metallic riff, gobs of political samples and sound effects and the righteous chant “by any means / war is unnecessary”. Ironic that a message as peaceful as this sounds so ferocious and violent, but that’s the name of Framtid’s game, of which they remain elegant masters.

Giorgio Murderer Holographic Vietnam War LP (Pelican Pow Wow)
Giorgio Murderer is the synth-based alias of Buck Biloxi (or perhaps Buck Biloxi is the non-synthetic version of Giorgio Murderer, depending on how you’re viewing it), and this is his first legit album under this moniker. Musically, it’s quite the same as Buck Biloxi – ultra-minimal drums (zero cymbals?), angrily down-strummed guitar with basic-setting amp distortion, simplistic punk rock with hilariously negative song titles. In the course of Giorgio, the drums appear to be electronic, and there is at least one layer of synth-sploodge covering each tune. Like a good comedy, I don’t want to spoil all the jokes within if you decide to pick up a copy, but I sniggered and guffawed at track titles like “I Ain’t Doing So Hot” and “Beat Up The West Coast”, as well as band personnel credited to John Synthwhistle on bass/synth, Kenny Logarithms on guitar and Diptheria Derbyshire on organ/piano/synth. There’s also the somewhat off-putting element of the Vietnam war in the artwork, apparently all photos and ephemera taken from Biloxi’s dad’s service – the true horror of war clashed with Giorgio Murderer’s campy punk negativity is incongruous at best. But even while played up, it’s clear that Biloxi’s hatred and disgust are real, and if I’m feeling awkward about Holographic Vietnam War, I am sure he would be quite pleased with himself to know it.

Hallelujah! / Holiday Inn split 7″ (Maple Death)
The cover art for this split features a pencil drawing of a woman holding her face in her hands as a maroon cloud surrounds her waist in a pool. Really, gang? This is how you want to represent yourselves? Both groups hail from Italy, where perhaps menstruation is taboo, and cover aside, they’re a reasonable pairing of noisy garage-punk styles. Hallelujah!, whose one-sided 12″ I enjoyed a few months ago, are back with a raucous Homostupids-esque burner (“Terror At The Post Office”) and the more dynamic “You Are The Champion”, which goes from grotesque to belligerent and back, stomping like Lamps in one of those big wooden tubs where you mash grapes for wine. Holiday Inn is Italy’s entry in the “one dude screams along to basic-entry synth beats while wearing a funny mask and sunglasses (perhaps shirtless)” canon, and while I feel like we’ve already got plenty of these dudes here in the States, out-shocking each other left and right (to be the king of this scene you have to eat your own toenails on stage at this point), there’s not much to differentiate Holiday Inn. (The French are often a cut above when it comes to this sort of thing; the sole 7″ by The Anals remains a personal favorite.) Good to know though that if I find myself in Italy and want to enjoy some boisterous attention-seeking party punks with my EVOO, I’ve got options.

In School Cement Fucker 7″ (Thrilling Living)
In School’s second 7″ EP is nothing if not bittersweet, as they seem to have reached an otherwise-unseen level of hardcore-punk greatness while at the same time calling it quits (or at least entering “indefinite hiatus” mode). I enjoyed this band before, but these four songs are worthy of study and admiration, somehow intensely familiar yet wholly original. Take opener “Bloodlust”, for example, which sounds like the first Shitlickers EP had they played punk instead of hardcore, or the following title track, which sounds like Born Against’s Bllleeeeaaauuurrrrgghhh! contribution, “Nail That Sticks Up”, buffered by greasy mosh parts. “You’re Not That Dumb” sounds like early Black Flag covering Psycho Sin (don’t we all wish), and “Awakening” is like a sloppy Gang Green drunk on hatred instead of domestic beer. In School truly inspire such colorful comparisons but never feel remotely like an authenticity re-enactment – they aren’t playing these songs to impress their record collector buddies, they’re doing it because they are truly revved up and inspired to play the most riotous and thrashing hardcore-punk they can. Thrilling Living indeed!

In The Mouth Of The Wolf In The Mouth Of The Wolf 12″ (Diagonal)
While Powell has kept his output fairly restrained in the past twelve months, the hits on Diagonal just keep on coming, like this eponymous 12″ from In The Mouth Of The Wolf. It’s a new project by Cindytalk and Ancient Methods, and if that isn’t intriguing enough, allow me to continue. The 12″ opens with “Need Of Angels”, and it immediately hits you with a huge sawtoothed-synth riff, sounding almost as if it was heavily strummed like a guitar rather than played with fingers on keys (or mouse-clicks, perhaps). It’s the perfect vehicle for the rest of the track’s eight minutes, chugging at a moderate pulse that recalls hard-edged Belgian EDM more than industrial techno, although both camps have plenty to sink their teeth into with this meaty cut. “Sleight Of Hand” opens the b-side with some dangerous machinery before ripping into another dense beat, the sort of thing over which you’d almost expect Trent Reznor’s voice to suddenly materialize, going from pained croon to emotive screaming as he does so well. Instead, random radio interference shows up (along with what sounds like a turnstile in hell) to commence gleeful destruction. Closer “A Search For New Realities” brings us down a bit, with a lengthy noise manipulation to open it up before a chase-scene beat arrives. It’s not remotely as heavy as the first two cuts, but it’s essentially an act of mercy, tantalizing us with scattered drums and fizzy percussion rather than bludgeoning once more. My brain isn’t back to its normal state afterward, but it comes close.

Samara Lubelski The Gilded Raid LP (Drawing Room)
There’s a light summer rain going on outside as I type this, the perfect chance to steep some herbal tea (loose and hand-sifted, of course) and listen to Samara Lubelski’s new album. It’s actually my first time listening to her music at all, although her name is a familiar one, as Lubelski was active in seemingly all aspects of the “New Weird America” boom of the mid-’00s, from interactions with sweet folk revivalists like Espers and noisy mongrels like Mouthus. I’m a little surprised to hear that her own music is so straightforward, but that’s not a complaint, as Lubelski clearly has a knack for writing tender and vulnerable psych-pop. I’m strongly reminded of Belle & Sebastian, Nico and Camera Obscura (the Scottish one), in the way that Lubelski’s soft lullabies are sweet and welcoming, like vaping a bowl of strawberries (you can do that now, right?). Bells, xylophones and horns all accompany her baroque tunes, while Lubelski’s voice barely registers above a whisper, the sound of someone who is here to heal rather than tear down; the psych-folk version of chicken soup. Not the sort of record I usually reach for, but once my ears lock onto The Gilded Raid, it’s too comforting to let go.

M Ax Noi Mach On The Edge LP (Alter)
So nice that M Ax Noi Mach’s second proper full-length is now available, care of the forward-thinking Alter label (owned and operated by Luke Younger AKA Helm). M Ax’s Rob Fransisco has been honing in on a regimented and narrow sound over the past decade or so, and his approach is refined within On The Edge. Operating on a couple drum machines in varying states of disrepair, Francisco wallops simplistic industrial beats with static shocks and analog noise – think early Clock DVA or Portion Control as interpreted through Bloodyminded’s rig and you’re not too far off. On The Edge balances things nicely, with obvious chant-along bangers such as “Walking At Night” and “Second Glance” (of which the chorus “I don’t / know / exactly / what’s / going to / happen tonight” is an inevitable industrial anthem) sharing space with instrumental walls of hypnotic noise and drippy rhythmic excursions (“Surrounded” and “Tender Sin”, for example). Personally, I love it most when Francisco is shouting at me about his passion for darkened doorways, seedy voyeurism and metropolitan fear, and there’s still plenty of that here, if perhaps slightly more nuanced than ever before.

Miserable Uncontrollable LP (The Native Sound)
On first glance, I had a slight spark of hope that Miserable was a new project by Olivia Neutron-John due to the physical resemblance to Miserable’s Kristina Esfandiari (it’s all in the brows and stance), but Miserable bears no actual relation beyond the tenuous one I just described. Esfandiari is hellbent on living up to her moniker through Uncontrollable, an album that tries out sad-sack-chic to moderate success. There are strong similarities to Tamaryn’s most arid tunes, Hope Sandoval’s shoegaziest work and whoever it was that played at the bar in the second season of True Detective. Think beautiful black velvet gowns, tear-stained eyeliner, a rusty Fender amp and a cowboy leaving in the middle of the night for vengeance and you’ve picked up Miserable’s general aesthetic. It’s a world that is already inhabited by many strong personalities (including those I previously listed), but Miserable doesn’t have any particular voice of its own; this is music that is willing to fade into the wallpaper, content with a semi-presence in the room as opposed to taking command. If I ever have to dye my hair black in a desert motel bathroom because I’m trying to leave my old life behind, I’ll try to find Miserable on YouTube, but chances are a bunch of other random videos will come up instead.

Mysteries Of Love Wasted Love LP (Alberts Basement)
For like a dozen people on Earth, this Mysteries Of Love album is a total treat, and luckily enough, I’m one of them! It’s one of the many groups that don’t seem to ever truly exist within the Alberts Basement / Breakdance The Dawn orbit, like faint ideas of bands that somehow actually laid down tracks at some point, then dissolved into another non-functioning concept of a band or three. I love this sort of ego-less, almost human-less music, and Mysteries Of Love is particularly tickling my fancy. This group consists of the two dudes in Greymouth (whose album from last year I love dearly), plus a guy from Love Chants and someone else, surely also of various other bands. The music here is guitar-centric slow-motion DIY post-rock noise, with the guitar tickled and splayed and confronted with foreclosure notices to ensure that it gently weeps. It’s played somewhere between Oren Ambarchi’s solo work and his feedback-laden nonsense in Menstruation Sisters, with a touch of Jandek’s bleary-eyed repetition even in the face of errors. There are drums and bass too, which are generally located in the back of the stage, away from the lighting, and a vocalist is credited, whose mic is turned down so low it’s as if you’re listening to his presence in the room rather than his actual voice. Imagine Mad Nanna’s tunes stretched out to five or ten minutes each, performed with the stuffy isolation of your favorite Gate records, and perhaps one day you may unlock the Mysteries Of Love.

Nah Woe LP (Ranch)
Ranch upgrades Nah’s 2014 cassette release Woe to a black vinyl slab, and I for one am pleased to hear it. Seems like there has been a lot of Nah output over the past few years, and while I had only previously heard the album Difficult (highly enjoyable instrumental post-punk), Woe reveals a different side. It’s ostensibly a hip-hop record, both with MCs and without (Givv and Prince Asshole appear on a few tracks), and as you may suspect, its style veers toward edgy experimentalism. I’m reminded of Clipping and Death Grips, although Nah’s beats are more prickly and tense, rather than blown-out and mean-spirited. A dying synth will sputter over a generic Roland digi-kick while an orchestral sample sneaks up from around the corner. Without rapping, it sometimes sounds like a bedroom synth-punk project that opts for funk breaks instead of punk rhythms, a stylistic road-less-traveled that maintains my interest longer than I may have guessed. Nah’s clearly spending a lot of time in his Belgian bunker putting together tracks, and I appreciate his willingness to share.

Nurse Nurse 7″ (Scavenger Of Death)
Not a reunion of the great ’80s Japanese hardcore group, but rather a new band out of Scavenger Of Death’s Atlantan orbit, here’s Nurse four-song vinyl debut. They certainly fit in with the current underground hardcore melee of bands like S.H.I.T., Gag, Warthog, Blazing Eye, etc., as they favor fast-paced oom-pah beats, guttural vocals and a distinct appreciation of the more violent-sounding original hardcore groups like Mecht Mensch, Die Kreuzen and the Dutch Agent Orange. And like most of those bands, they’re really quite good, if not particularly noteworthy – the most distinctive attribute here is the guitar tone, which coasts on a phasery wobble not unlike Gas Chamber’s bass. These four songs are tight and clearly well rehearsed, almost to an Impalers level of precision, and surely are quite thunderous when presented live (or at least there are no excuses for them not to be). Hoping to hear more from Nurse, not only because their hardcore is high-quality but also because I hope to discern their specific individual style – there is nothing better for a hardcore band than being both intensely ferocious and instantly recognizable.

OBN IIIs Rich Old White Men / On The Verge Of Collapse 7″ (12XU)
I remembered hearing that OBN IIIs had transitioned from a brawling garage-punk band into denim-and-leather rockers (maybe on their last album?), but I don’t believe I had actually witnessed their shift until this new two-song EP hit my doorstep. I loved OBN IIIs as sort of an arrogant American corollary to Eddy Current Suppression Ring, so when “Rich Old White Men” came out firing with twin guitar leads, it took a little adjusting. It’s clear these guys had the image of Thin Lizzy on motorbikes in mind when putting that tune together, and if you want to argue with that sort of rock inspiration, I’d be happy to show you the door. “On The Verge Of Collapse” is a bit punker, like an inebriated Wipers crashing at the Dils’ apartment all weekend and leaving this song as a thank-you card. For a style that doesn’t necessitate a ton of song-craft, OBN IIIs don’t mind putting the work in anyway, offering more choruses, verses, pre-choruses and bridges in this one song than the first side of any Ramones album. It could sink a lesser band, but the arena (or at least outdoor Red 7 stage) feel that OBN IIIs bring to the table is just their size.

Portable I Reflect Thee 12″ (Live At Robert Johnson)
Last year Portable quietly dropped “Surrender”, a truly uplifting and glorious slice of vocal house, and he continues that avenue on the Live At Robert Johnson label with “I Reflect Thee”. Just like “Surrender”, it’s a one-song 12″ (this one featuring an extended flute-solo instrumental and an acapella on the b-side), and while I wish he would’ve just combined both tracks for one utterly essential 12″ EP, I don’t mind doling out the loot for both when the quality is this high. “I Reflect Thee” isn’t the stirring masterpiece that “Surrender” is, but it feels awfully nice just the same – the beat slowly swirls up (there’s even a cool video of Portable performing it live out there), verging on pop structure were it not so regal and sophisticated. And Portable sings beautifully, like a South African Daughn Gibson with lyrics presumably sung to his parents or children, the sort of touching stuff for which iPhone commercials aim. I wish there was a Portable channel on TV, just so I could spend more of my time in his thoughtful, poignant world of techno-pop.

Raime Tooth 2xLP (Blackest Ever Black)
There are only a small handful of underground releases per year that feel like an “event” these days, but Raime’s second full-length is one of them. I’ve really enjoyed this duo, from their earliest cavernous industrial-dub excursions through their sophisticated first album, and I spent a good couple months eager to hear Tooth, waiting on the vinyl to arrive. You can really only do menacing, slow-motion industrial techno for so long before repeating yourself, but Raime never had me concerned, as they always seemed to be moving forward in a new direction, one that sounds different from prior releases but maintains the same dreadful, foreboding atmosphere. Tooth certainly accomplishes this, as they work with traditional rock instruments for the basis of their tracks, using electric guitars the entire time, often accompanied by what sounds like acoustic drums performed live (and sampled) and electric bass guitar. It’s certainly similar to their one-off 12″ as Moin, but not quite as post-rock – Tooth sounds like Slint and Lungfish chopped apart and edited into tense circular rhythms. Mostly every track on here has the vibe of dangerous espionage; it’s the music you’d expect to hear after breaking into someone’s office and uploading the info from their laptop onto your USB stick, waiting for the screen to say “100% complete” as you hear the quick steps of armed guards approaching down the hallway. It’s another form of mysterious, dark, dare I say blackest ever black electronic music, and Raime wears it well.

Razz Pleasantries 7″ (Warm Wet)
Oakland’s Razz inaugurate the Warm Wet Records label (love that creepy company name), and while they missed the chance to name a dude in the band Todd Nundgren, they’re coming with a working history of punk and power-pop music for a well-equipped four-song debut. It’s about as pleasant as music can get while still retaining some link to punk – I’m reminded of M.O.T.O. or Aussie power-pop obscurities Cheek, or perhaps someplace in between Ramones-friendly punk and unabashed sell-out power-pop. I feel like this style works best when the band has no fear of losing “punk cred” and writes the biggest pop hooks they can, throws in some dazzling guitar solos and allows themselves to be as corny as they want to be, and Razz seem to be well on that course. A track like “No Time”, the lead cut, sounds like it was meant for some ’90s slacker record-store movie soundtrack, like you’d hear it while the cast of Reality Bites meet up to browse used CDs. That’s a compliment of course, and I hope Razz can find their place in modern society as well.

TM404 Acidub 2xLP (Kontra-Musik)
TM404 is an alias of Sweden’s Andreas Tilliander, whom I first encountered via his bleak and unrelenting techno under the name Mokira. TM404 is a different beast entirely, one that centers around unabashed gear porn – it’s a vanity project in that the music exists in praise of the machinery that produced it, as well as Tilliander’s vast and impressive collection of Roland synthesizers (find him on Instagram and behold his analog majesty). If he could dress up his synths in sexy outfits and make love to them, I’m sure he would, but in the meantime he has put together two albums (this being the second) of pure and authentic dub techno with acid tendencies. You probably guessed that from the generic title anyway, and while techno orthodoxy isn’t something I often pine for, TM404 seems to be a project of true admiration, fandom and love, an enthusiasm I would never try to dampen. Plus, as part of the home audience and not a fellow producer, it’s a wonderful listening experience, with tracks varying from pulsing dub techno that recalls early Tin Man and any given Maurizio 12″ to floating, grumbly ambiance (album closer “MC 202 Quartet” is a beautifully morose warble). I can’t help but picture Tilliander as the Randy Holden of synths, as purely in love with his instrument as any human can be with an electronic device, and I just hope we all find that form of love for ourselves at some point in our lives.

Torn Hawk Union & Return LP (Mexican Summer)
You know, for all the touching eulogies we’ve all seen for the likes of David Bowie and Prince in the past few months, part of it rings hollow for me. All these writers want to act like they support bizarre and talented iconoclasts who operate outside of genre or time, and yet the same predictable Drake and Radiohead albums are on all of their top tens, you know? I bring this up because Luke Wyatt (AKA Torn Hawk) is one of the few visionary weirdos operating today, and no one seems to really notice or care. And now, thanks to the endless millions behind Mexican Summer, he’s onto his second full-length albu, and it’s as pretty as it is bizarre. Wyatt has seemingly dismissed any sense of techno or dance from Torn Hawk’s identity at this point, pursuing some amalgamation of Pat Metheny Group, James Ferraro, Final Fantasy soundtracks, Kate Bush instrumentals and Coldplay’s widescreen HD emotional gaslighting. The sounds are all familiar (some might say “pre-sets”) but Wyatt orchestrates them into massive flights of fancy, with both piano and guitar leading charges through various emotional trails, often with a sense of intrigue and melancholia. Subtle hints of Goldeneye and Mario Paint echo throughout, but I can’t tell if I’m simply fooling myself, lost in Union & Return‘s beguiling mazes (which, if I’m not mistaken, are thematically linked to some story of a futuristic city in the sky). Let’s not wait ’til Luke Wyatt dies before we rave about how great he is.

T-Tops / Cyrus Gold split 10″ (no label)
A split 10″, self-released by two unknown bands coming from somewhere in the middle of Pennsylvania? This isn’t the type of record Yellow Green Red shies away from! The T-Tops side of the cover features a Topps baseball card parody, and Cyrus Gold’s features a cartoon of two colorful anime mutants, so lets dig in. T-Tops have me imagining what Clockcleaner would’ve sounded like if they played stoner riffs, and I suppose the clear answer there is “The Melvins”. Lots of long, sticky riffs, harsh vocals, nothing too fast (or doomy slow), with classic-rock nods given the proper kick in the pants. Not bad! Cyrus Gold opt for more of a Hydra Head-metal format, with frantic drumming, throaty screaming, quick shifts and downhill rhythms. I’m reminded of Botch, maybe The Dillinger Escape Plan if they formed over a love of Rye Coalition and Avenged Sevenfold instead of Discordance Axis. Not really feeling it, but that doesn’t mean some Pittsburgh bar (where you can still smoke, sadly) won’t be lively when Cyrus Gold take the stage. Someone’s going home with this split 10″ in their tote bag, you can count on that.

Urochromes / Wizzard Sleeve Two Mens – Live At WFMU LP (Jeth-Row)
The catalog of cool bands that has graced the WFMU studios must be impossibly vast at this point, and Jeth-Row has cherry-picked their own house band (Wizzard Sleeve) and paired them with an up-and-coming hardcore-punk outfit out of Western Mass, Urochromes. Urochromes start it off and I dig their style: impossibly perfect drumming leads the way, sounding like an electronic drum kit set to “natural”, if that makes sense, with unpleasant down-picked riffs and a barking vocalist that sounds like Lumpy doing his best Hank Wood impression. I don’t hear any bass, and while I think Urochromes would benefit from filling that standard rock position, they’re gonna do what they do, right down to the Joe Matt-borrowed lyrics of “pissing in a bottle in my room”. Wizzard Sleeve’s set dates back to 2009, and as they haven’t existed as a band in a few years, I’m not sure if Jeth-Row was just looking to fill up some available vinyl property or what, but I certainly don’t mind hearing these cuts of mid-paced psychedelic sludge-punk, led by a synth that sounds like it must measure at about 6’5″, 330 pounds. By no means the bread-and-butter release for either of these bands, but perfect snacking material.

Reviews – June 2016

Adesse Versions That’s What Friends Are For 12″ (Numbers)
I can always count on the Numbers label to provide the main-room underground techno hits I occasionally desire, so I figured this white-label 12″ by Adesse Versions would be a fine place to check in. “That’s What Friends Are For” is very nice indeed: lumbering, farty bass leads the way for a disaffected monologue not unlike the woman in Ricardo Villalobos’ “Andruic”, telling a story to which you can comfortably half-pay attention while dancing. It eventually opens up a bit, wide-lens synths and wood-block claps leading to the coup de grâce of the song’s title. It’s followed by an instrumental dub, but who besides the pickiest DJ would want to hear it without the full soliloquy? “In The Sticks” is the b-side, another unhurried and sophisticated cut that hovers through various percussive motifs, as if the listener is experiencing a hazy dream sequence of fond club memories both real and imagined (followed with a “no kick” dub, in case you needed that for your next party too). Very smooth, ahead-of-the-curve deep house construction from Adesse Versions and the trustworthy Numbers label.

Alto! LP 3 LP (Trouble In Mind)
Can’t get into bands that end their name in an exclamation point – do they expect me to yell their name instead of just casually speaking it? That’s not my style of social behavior, I’m happy to confirm. Minor gripe aside, Alto! is a trio of musicians who I can only guess used to play in punk or garage bands and eventually felt stifled by the Western rock-centricity, either that or Trouble In Mind has significantly branched out their scope in recent times. Whatever the case, they’re pretty dope, digging deep on mystical kraut-rock grooves filtered through the neo no-wave of Troubleman circa Y2K – imagine Pixeltan and Tussle contributing tracks to a compilation honoring Guru Guru and Can and you’ve entered Alto!’s wheelhouse. There’s still a sense of hard-rock guitar-worship throughout LP 3 though, and while their fairly academically-titled tracks (“Piece 12”, “Piece 16”, etc.) might make someone think they are coming from a stiff modern-composer mindset, “Piece 12” eventually grinds hard enough that I suggest they consider re-titling it “In Praise Of The Crimson Condor” or something equally stoner-fantasy evocative (if you need more, call me). Very nice effort, I’m just not totally certain they’ve earned the exclamation point yet.

Ansome Stowaway 2xLP (Perc Trax)
Took a chance on Ansome’s debut album due to its Perc Trax affiliation, and I’m glad I did, as this is a hefty bundle of indignant techno music. Ansome (is that British slang for “handsome”?) is fairly new to the game, but this is an album that pulses with intensity and energy… well-considered hard techno that is blasphemous and noisy but built for physical interaction. There are certainly traces of today’s industrial-techno fascination, but Ansome’s focus is never on creepy moods or imposing distortion – his tracks (or should I say “trax”) are impenetrable workouts built upon sturdy foundations of acid loops, Downwards-esque locomotion, durable kick pads and just the right seasoning of de-tuned metallic clanging and dystopian audio detritus. The familiar moments of foreboding atmosphere are still in range, Ansome just chops them up and distributes them over pummeling beats to recall the most ferocious British Murder Boys cuts with an awareness of today’s post-Demdike Stare landscape. Not groundbreaking by any means, but impressive just the same.

Bad American Scuzz LP (Torn Tendons)
After a couple lineup changes, Bad American return with their second album, this one self-financed and somewhat limited (as is the current non-reissue hardcore vinyl recession). They continue to hold down ugly, heavy hardcore-punk for the otherwise-deprived Lehigh Valley, with hints of vocalist Ray Gurz’s other projects: the heavy down-tuned riffage of Tile; the stompy mosh cues of Carpenter Ant; the intimidating menace of Fresh Meat. It’s hard to find a modern hardcore band that doesn’t borrow from or at least acknowledge multiple different strains of underground punk in their sound, and Bad American are no different here, with hints of both sides of My War, the simplistic crunch of modern torchbearers Gag or S.H.I.T. and the slight AmRep taste that comes with Condominium or Slices. Plus, as modern hardcore apparently requires makeshift violence if not actual real violence, Gurz brandishes a sledgehammer alongside his microphone. Give Scuzz a listen and then invite Bad American over to help demolish the old barn in your backyard.

Blawan The Communicat 1022 EP 12″ (Ternesc)
My interest in Blawan has slowly decreased over the past few years, as the chance for another mind-shattering dance-floor Armageddon like His He She & She seem less and less likely as he continues a new path of understated, well-mannered techno. I’m still a fan that will at the very least peep each new release, and I’m glad I checked out The Communicat 1022; while it does not rock me to my core, Blawan continues to refine his approach. The sounds that comprise these four songs are all quite robotic (or at least cyborgian), with freezing pings, elastic poings and helicopter blades as the basis for what is essentially stately, calm minimal-techno that calls to mind the heritage of both Studio One and Jeff Mills. It’s a nice combination, a sound-bank that’s best suited for Chris & Cosey or SPK but utilized for stoic techno progressions instead of icy synth-wave or harsh industrial. It’s clear Blawan is working towards something new, with a vision that looks to future vistas rather than re-treading prior successes. I can’t help but admire the man’s integrity, but I’m also hoping he brings it back around to shake my brain inside its skull once again.

CE Schneider Topical Antifree LP (OSR Tapes)
The OSR Tapes aesthetic is fully-defined at this point, and I can get down with it: microscopic pop music heavy on bent melodies, queasy song structures and approximately 200 songs per album. This new album by CE Schneider Topical certainly fits the bill, a project led by Christina Schneider and aided by Zach Phillips (he of Blanche Blanche Blanche and ostensibly heading the OSR Tapes empire). It would take a real curmudgeon to argue against Antifree, as it’s a particularly open-hearted album, waving its arms at even the shyest wallflowers to come over and join the party. Throughout, I’m reminded of the pure-sugar sweetness of Lavender Diamond, the oddball pop technicality of Art Bears, the library-friendly dub sonics of Young Marble Giants and the sunny DIY psychedelia of The Olivia Tremor Control. Of course, it’s all guided by Schneider’s soothing voice; even her occasional Danielson Familie-esque yelping feels like joy worthy of sharing. When the songs are really cooking, it can feel as if you’re inside Mattel’s Playdough factory, pumping out all sorts of colored goo with rhythmic intensity, and when The ‘Topical mellow out, it’s like a picnic where everyone brought your favorite dessert. Can’t go wrong with either option!

Charalambides Glowing Raw LP (Drawing Room)
Drawing Room does us a solid in reissuing two small-run Charalambides CD-rs from 2007, Glowing Raw being one of them. Either you never got a chance to grab one of these when released on their Wholly Other label, or you did and the CD-rs have since disintegrated over the last decade, so these stately vinyl reissues make for a nice addition to any home. It’s pretty incredible to think about the dozens of hours of music Charalambides have produced over the past couple decades, but in getting to know this group, it doesn’t seem so crazy after all: they’re a band that has created their own unique ecosystem and happily grow their sounds within it, not so much attempting to write songs as letting it organically flow outward from within. I’d put Charalambides on a short-list of other weird American originals who can take on a variety of sounds while always remaining distinctly themselves (I’m thinking Sun City Girls and Jandek for starters), and that ability is on full display across these five lengthy tracks. Atonal strumming and weightless droning are glued by Christina Carter’s inimitable voice, no matter if she’s wordlessly cooing or singing “Give Me Jesus” with a level of sincerity I’ve yet to determine. I’m so glad Drawing Room has given us these new opportunities to exit our world and explore theirs for a while longer.

Civil Union Seasick, Lovedrunk LP (Melted Ice Cream)
Someone had to do it, and Civil Union finally did: this group sounds as thought early Bright Eyes met late Iceage before eventually drowning in their own tears. Seriously, the vocalist does an uncanny Conor Oberst, straining his voice into a bloodshot moan as thought it’s the only way to avoid complete mental breakdown, with just enough Tim Armstrong-style slurification to recall everyone’s favorite unhappy post-teen vocalist, Elias Bender Rønnenfelt. The music suits this style well, recalling a baroque post-punk befitting The Bad Seeds or The Black Heart Procession depending on how murky the waters may be. For as unpalatable as this description may seem, the powers of two skinny, whiny, privileged white-guys put together into some sort of Tumblr-shaped Transformer, I’m personally a fan of both, and I like what Civil Union do with things as well – their songs are thoughtfully constructed, moody in the right places, and of course, obnoxiously morose. Speaking personally, I feel as though I’ve lost the chance to yell “just leave me alone, I’m fine!” before slamming and locking my bedroom door behind me, so a record like Seasick, Lovedrunk fills that void nicely.

Mike Cooper New Kiribati LP (Discrepant)
I’m Cooper-crazy over here, still loving the alien-hammock vibes of Fratello Mare and just as delighted to venture into New Kiribati. I believe it’s a vinyl pressing of select tracks from a 1999 CD-r release by the name of Kiribati, and I couldn’t tell you if they’re new interpretations or a straight reissue or what, as I don’t have a CD-r player these days, nor the CD-r to play. You probably don’t have it either, and there’s even a good chance you haven’t checked out Mike Cooper yet, for which I intend to shame you. New Kiribati is certainly great – just like Fratello Mare, Cooper conjures bizarre and lush otherworldly terrain, as if he stumbled not onto Mars or Venus but some distant planet in the habitable zone, teeming with life and creatures unbeknownst to the human species. This album is less guitar-centric than I expected, almost entirely devoted to bizarre tone sculptures, processed field recordings and soundscapes I am unable to place, at times calling to mind late-’00s Wolf Eyes, perhaps. My favorite is probably “An Aesthetic Of Bird Calls”, which is chock full of you-know-what, but really the whole albums simmers like a fascinating puddle of primordial ooze at the base of a particularly grumpy volcano. Don’t forget to pack your bathing suit!

Empty Markets Stainless Steel LP (12XU)
It was nearly a couple hours since I had last received a record by a cool new Austin-based punk band, and just as I was about to check my watch, Empty Markets’ debut album slid under my door. Apparently this groups features Drew Schlitz (is that a punk name, like Mikey PBR?) of Hex Dispensers, and it shreds pretty nicely, punk for the drinking-age set who still prefer tunefulness over feedback-laden nihilism. Empty Markets are clearly quite capable at their craft – I’m reminded of (the Canadian) Subhumans circa No Wishes, No Prayers, Defektors, early White Lung or perhaps a less pop-inspired Marked Men. Stainless Steel is equipped with plenty of Wipers-inspired downhill riffing, melodies that recall Hot Snakes and Cockney Rejects in equal measure, and vocals that are shouted in tune (and not entirely distant from Unwound, I’m hearing). Very efficient music, with nary an unneeded change, interlude or extension – they rarely (if ever) clock in under a minute, but all sonic information Empty Markets provide is vital to their tunes. Let us hope Empty Markets never find inspiration in Tarkus.

Glam Fail Cyclone Rodney / Just Deserve 7″ (Ever/Never)
Nope, it’s not a hilarious new Tumblr account, Glam Fail is a musical project, delivering two songs on the ever-expanding Ever/Never label. Let’s get right into the tunes then, as Glam Fail do as well. “Cyclone Rodney” sounds like those early acoustic Kitchen’s Floor demos with some ray of sunlight bleeding through the filthy windows, just kinda cruising along on centrifugal force until the beans and rice are ready to be communally eaten. “Just Deserve” is slower and more tender, like your baked cousin trying his best to play a Soul Asylum b-side on an acoustic guitar as he slowly nods off. It’s essentially a song, but a slight gust of wind could bring it all down. Glam Fail have a lazy sense of cool about them, not unlike Watery Love, although their musical influences seem to be more in line with The Clean and The Shadow Ring than Cro-Mags and KISS. This is a group that will assuredly not go far, and I am certain this troubles them not.

Gunk / Marge split 7″ (Ranch)
Here’s where cheekiness goes wrong: throughout the cover as well as both center stickers, the bands Gunk and Marge are listed as Munk and Garge (haw haw), and while my best guess is that Munk is Gunk and Garge is Marge, it could be that Munk is Marge and Garge is Gunk. See what I mean? There is no reassurance anywhere here, and both bands sound similar enough that I am unable to confirm which group I’m hearing. I realize vinyl records are entirely a collectible novelty with no real-world necessity anymore but come on, hook a guy up who just wants to know who he’s hearing without too much fuss! Both bands offer two songs, so there’s no clue there either. Anyway, Munk play lo-fi, upbeat indie-punk with grunge and pop-punk overtones, as is the aesthetic choice of so many college-aged punk bands these days (go figure). The vocals are sweetly amateurish and on the first track a guitarist solos through the song on a bunch of high notes. Garge take nearly the exact same approach to their music, maybe a little less wistful and slightly punchier, like they probably have more No Age tracks on their favorite Spotify playlists than Munk. I’m already picturing myself at the house show these bands are playing for their record release, crammed on one end of a stained couch while a couple with colored hair and piercings makes out next to me, wondering how and when I became so old.

The Hunches The Hunches LP (Almost Ready)
There’s something enticingly mysterious about cult-favorite bands who’ve withheld full recording sessions for years, particularly in this underground atmosphere where every artist releases every musical thought they’ve ever had at the earliest possible moment. Almost Ready dug up this Hunches album from a 2001 recording session, a full album scrapped (for reasons unknown to myself) that predates their 2002 debut. I’m not one of their loyal worshipers, but I don’t hold it against those who are, as the Hunches material I’ve heard has been good-to-great inebriated garage-rock, propelled by images of a blood-streaked Iggy, dirty long hair and even dirtier stages in corners of bars. The Hunches reveals this band at their infancy, where the New York Dolls and Stooges influences are quite pronounced – for every song with a Reatards-esque title like “Got Some Hate”, there’s a retro-rocker like “Blind Man Boogie”. It’s a fine first effort, even if “Mind Fuck Blues” has me imagining one of Jet’s earliest rehearsals, but I’m ultimately more curious about a band’s ability and decision to nix an entire album’s worth of material (particularly material as adequate as this) and move on without it. Raucous garage-rock isn’t exactly known for artistic restraint, after all.

The Incredible Kidda Band Bullet In My Heart / The Girl Said No 7″ (Last Laugh)
The Incredible Kidda Band are not only one of the best power-pop punk groups of the late ’70s, they’re one of the most intriguing, as they appear to have a large archive of recorded material, the majority of which didn’t see the light of day pre-Y2K. I have no idea why this is the case, as they really have a sound that’s a cut above the usual Powerpearls suspects – their music is beautifully tuneful yet not without a punk edge, and their choruses cut straight to the brain’s memory receptors. Just try and shake the chorus to “Bullet In My Heart” after spinning it once. “The Girl Said No” is great too, recalling Tours and Purple Hearts with energy to spare. Seriously, of all the bands to be neglected in their time, why are these songs first appearing as tidy 7″ singles nearly forty years later? Of all the decidedly un-incredible bands whose middling power-pop tunes made it to vinyl between ’75 and ’85, this is a truly confounding mystery.

Leda City / Clear 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
Another fine 7″ single in the no-nonsense I Dischi Del Barone tradition here, this one coming from Sweden’s Leda (one Sofie Herner, half of my new favorites Neutral). She makes some pretty cool music that I’m glad to have been exposed to on this all-too-brief single. “City” sounds like sounds like a bumblebee death march, some sort of ultra-fried keyboard pounding away in somber remembrance, eventually aided by Herner’s low-in-the-mix vocals. “Clear” is pulled out of the red and into a semi-soothing state, calling to mind Miaux’s Ultra Eczema album in the way that Leda makes delicately lonely music, as though it’s just her and a thrift-store synth perched atop a rain cloud. I’m more of a sucker for the “City” school of rock, but both sides offer interesting (and really quite listenable) slices of percussion-free bedroom synth music – I can’t help but assume that Leda has a bunch more material where this came from and I’d love the chance to hear it.

Locks & DDM Locks & DDM 12″ (L.I.E.S.)
Highly confusing 12″ record here from the L.I.E.S. crew, and one that I’ve quickly come to cherish. First of all, it came out like a month ago with the catalog number 029.5, which is weird because L.I.E.S. is otherwise up past 070, and secondly, I have no idea if Locks & DDM are two separate people or one entity or what, and I promised myself I wouldn’t Google – I prefer to think that this music was made simply by the Scotch tape dispenser located on the paper insert that accompanies this unjacketed release. Musically, it’s quite a trip too: Locks & DDM offer slow moving, floaty constructions of abstract electronics. It has a homespun feel, as if Juju & Jordash were attempting to replicate Manuel Göttsching’s E2-E4 in their own particular haze of Dutch weed-smoke. There are an alleged seven tracks on this record, but each side plays out like a singularly-mixed cut, with various patterns and loops pulled and replaced intermittently. At times, these tracks become so rigid and skip-like that I find myself checking to see if it isn’t trapped in a locked groove, which is compounded by the fact that both sides actually do end in locked grooves. Sometimes I just want my proto-techno electronic music to trick the hell out of me in all sorts of ways, and right now is one of those times.

Low Jack Lighthouse Stories LP (Modern Love)
Gonna cut right to the chase and tell you that “Six In The Morning” off this record is one of the best songs I’ve heard this year, the sort of track that is immediately catchy and fun and crazy, but also sort of alters one’s expectations for what underground electronic music is capable of achieving. Go pull it up on YouTube or Spotify or something, I’ll wait! The groove alone is delightfully druggy, like an automotive factory that turns into a BYOB erotic cabaret at night, but once those vocals hit, it’s over. Low Jack has processed the voice of Erwan Tarek into some sort of evil reptilian gangsta overlord – it’s as if Suge Knight and Spider Man‘s The Lizard combined into the ultimate mutant villain, and through the track’s duration, he just wants to sip Grey Goose and lean back into his leather seating (python, I’m guessing). Perfection! While the rest of Lighthouse Stories doesn’t reach that same impossible height, it’s all really fantastic as well, offering various displays of filth-laden hip-hop aesthetics, Actress-style microscopic pathways and the red-faced repetition of Sasu Ripatti’s eponymous 12″ series. That said, nothing else out there quite sounds like Lighthouse Stories, although I certainly expect many others to try their best at replicating it soon enough. Who wouldn’t want to make music like this?

Lucy Self Mythology 2xLP (Stroboscopic Artefacts)
Lucy’s 2014 break-though album Churches Schools And Guns was a lengthy, studied excursion in the realm of contemporary industrial techno, and like many of his peers, not only is the female-monikered Lucy actually a man, by 2016 he seems to be getting bored with the concept of dance music and its rhythmic grid. This time around, Lucy pursues mood and ambiance over the motion of club-goers, which leads him toward the inner-realms of dark ambient, early industrial and gothic exotica. It’s as if Demdike Stare and Shackleton discovered their respective planets over the past eight years or so, and Lucy went on his own exposition to explore those same worlds a couple years later, in search of something to call his own. It’s a slow-building album, churning up from the ritualistic industrial sounds of early Current 93 to Shackleton’s tribal hypnosis (one would be forgiven for thinking “Vibrations Of A Circular Membrane” was a Shackleton remix of one of Demdike Stare’s Elemental offerings), and ultimately a pretty enjoyable trip through the shadowy jungles of post-techno, even if Lucy can’t fully claim these paths as his own.

Maher Shalal Hash Baz Hello New York LP (OSR Tapes)
The magnificent Maher Shalal Hash Baz ensemble made their way to Brooklyn in the fall of 2014 and this hefty LP contains that performance, now available for private personal enjoyment. I’ve always admired Maher bandleader Tori Kudo’s dedication to his own music, no matter how unlistenable it may be – there’s a magical sense of naïveté and irreverence to Maher Shalal Hash Baz, and that spirit is properly captured here. I appreciate that this isn’t just a set of songs, but a set of songs clearly infused with their environment; Kudo is clearly delighted to be in New York, a city that must seem like an unachievable fantasy for the large majority of the world’s population, and he takes care to acknowledge his surroundings with Velvet Underground and John Cale classics. He also covers the inescapable Pharrell Williams hit “Happy”, which will have you busting out a wide smile or running for the nearest fire escape depending on your current mood. A total of nineteen musicians are involved here, which must’ve made for a cozy room (as well as a built-in audience), as it seems only a select few are playing at any given time, for this music that recalls some sort of sun-dried mix of The Music Tapes, No Neck Blues Band and Belle & Sebastian. The sense of warmth, cooperation and conviviality of this gathering comes through nice and clear on Hello New York, as if the city was still an elusive hideout for cool and groundbreaking artists and not just a giant Subway / Duane Reade condo-emporium.

M83 Junk 2xLP (Mute)
Junk is M83’s eighth or ninth album, depending how you’re counting, but it’s the first time I’ve really sat down and checked them out. It’s my lack of immunity to popular culture (I don’t just sit around cataloging the BPM of Blawan 12″s all day, you know) that led me to them, as I caught their performance on Jimmy Kimmel and found myself feasting on the visual and sonic delights, a sensory-overload ’80s candy shop led by Teen Wolf himself and flanked by two breathtakingly beautiful women. And the music! “Do It, Try It” is like the perfect Ford & Lopatin remix of a Phoenix hit, and “Go!” offers the ultimate Balearic chorus hook, a Barry Bonds-strength hit of which I desperately need an ultra-extended mix. It’s like a giant, sparkling bowl of Skittles staring at you in a waiting room, destined to make you sick but utterly irresistible. The rest of the album heads off on other ’80s tangents, testing out various unused theme-songs for Welcome Back Kotter spin-offs or Breakfast Club rip-offs – pure Sandals Resorts nostalgia garbage in the best possible way. I’ve gotten the impression that Junk critically bombed, which only cements my opinion that music writers have lost sight of idiotic fun in their never-ending, unsatisfying pursuit of The Next Big Thing.

Perc Ma 12″ (Stroboscopic Artefacts)
My tenure may be short as a Perc supporter, but I am firmly committed to the cause at this point, and was glad to see that a new 12″ dropped on the admirable Stroboscopic Artefacts label (owned and operated by Lucy). Whereas it was the blistering power of Perc’s Gob that had me smitten, he steps away from hardcore cross-fit techno for something less severe and more foreboding here. Opener “The Death of Rebirth” is a quiet pulse that’s frequently interrupted by outrageously loud bleeps and clangs – were I directing a music video for this cut, I’d hurl a grizzly bear through a library window to visualize the disruption. It’s followed by “Negative Space”, which seems to utilize the exact same distant 4/4 thud, all while someone from Staples tries to fix a jammed Xerox machine and a sculptor chips away at their final touches (I’m picturing a bronze bust of Dennis Rodman). Both are very understated and moody tracks, wherein the importance is not the beat but the various effects that take place in spite of it. “Ma” commandeers the flip, and the beat doesn’t even exist – rather, this is Perc in his basement, testing out every piece of equipment in his tool shed. Over nearly thirteen minutes, he harms the insides of a piano (perhaps real or synthetic), lacerates the beams supporting the house and finagles with anything in his reach. At times, the stuttery percussion reminds me of Aufgehoben in those tense moments before they go full-blast. I try not to swear if I can help it, but Perc kicks ass.

Puce Mary The Spiral LP (Posh Isolation)
For the fourth year in a row Puce Mary offers up a new full-length album, and while I consider myself a fan, I’ve missed the last couple, so why not check back in now, with a fresh tax return that allows me to consider purchasing imported Posh Isolation releases? I’ve read interviews and articles that discuss her deep synth obsessions, complete with working in the academic setting of the EMS, and was kind of surprised to see that very little of that high-minded, modern-composer veneer has rubbed off on The Spiral, what is essentially a harsh power-electronics record. It’s so much a typical harsh power-electronics record, in fact: the cover depicts a snippet of some sort of latex-clad bondage / performance art, the lyrics reference intense struggles of power and violence, and the sounds employed in Puce Mary’s music are all HVAC clatter, painful hissing, dirge-like metal squalls and unintelligible processed vocals, creeping at a zombie’s pace – the most significant difference from the rest of the herd is that it’s (thankfully) not the work of yet another dude, but a woman working these familiar tropes. I’m reminded of Le Syndicat’s brutal excursions for the Broken Flag label, Controlled Bleeding’s relentless albums for Subterranean and the industrial horror of early Test Dept, all of which is quite palatable to my ears, if not quite resulting in an album that is particularly distinct or unique. Maybe someone who exclusively wears black rubber and can differentiate between any given snippet of The Rita or Vomir can listen to The Spiral and pull out complexities and deviations that my ears miss, but The Spiral strikes me as a high-quality contribution to the formal tradition of transgressive power-electronics.

Regler Regel #6 (Techno) Regel #7 (Drone) LP (Quemada)
So here’s the catch: Regler is Mattin (Mr. Billy Bao himself) and Anders Brynhelsson (he of Brainbombs) attempting to “distort different musical genres” one track at a time. If upon reading that you’re bracing yourself like you’re about to be punched, your instincts are correct, as this is Mattin at his most vinyl-wasteful, once again pushing high-concept music into new levels of pointless boredom. “Regel #6 (Techno)” is as emotive and dense as most run-out grooves, offering little beyond a 4/4 kick and an extremely subtle hi-hat clicking along (or vague approximation thereof). “Regel #7 (Drone)”, however, is a surprising edit of circus sound-effects, rifle explosions and Dan Rather news briefs. Just kidding! It’s one big long boring hum. I am glad that Mattin exists and has been making music in so many thoughtful and strange ways over the years, but this project reads like the aural equivalent of a couple dudes setting up a bunch of mirrors and then jerking off in front of them, so enamored and impressed by the various angles of their own bodies as they go at it. Except actually that sounds a lot more interesting than the music Regler provides here, and I’m pretty sure The Gerogerigegege have already done that anyway.

Scupper Everything / Drown Me Out 7″ (Ever/Never)
With Ever/Never, I’ve come to expect either straight-forward Aussie-rock thuggery or coincidental rock strangeness, but Scupper are even more of an oddball contribution to the label’s empire: a basic, no-frills indie-rock group. Go figure! I’m told they come from a band called Lynnfield Pioneers who had a Matador contract, but damned if I had ever heard of them (and as is often the case, I am too lazy to fact-check this detail). I certainly believe it, as Scupper have that classic ’90s Matador sound, the sort of band that would open for Yo La Tengo on an east coast tour in 1995 and meet up with J Church for the west coast. Both tracks offer the sort of good-natured, jangly pop-rock you might expect from my description thus far, like you’re high-fiving your best friend because your favorite beer is on tap at the Built To Spill show. None of this particularly resonates with me on a personal level, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t give a nod and a smile if Scupper rode their bikes down my street someday in the future.

Andy Stott Too Man Voices 2xLP (Modern Love)
Does it seem crazy to anyone else that this is Andy Stott’s fifth album release since his Passed Me By game-changer? That’s a lot of material for one guy (and five gallery-quality black-and-white photographs for cover images), and yet he has never slowed into a creative rut, nor fired off any oddball experiments that left us hanging. I would’ve been satisfied with his discography for many more years even if Too Many Voices never appeared, but it’s upon us and I’m finding lots more to love. It’s pretty safe to say Stott has fully stepped away from the asthmatic grind of his low-BPM industrial techno efforts and moved into a lighter, airier place – perhaps he has left the production line and stepped into the grimy, humid restroom, warmed by the grey sunlight that flows through the dusty skylight as he pees. Whatever the case, Too Many Voices sounds like Stott’s infatuation with steamy R&B vocals has only grown, so he takes his toolkit to create the most Sade-like tunes he can, which of course come out all bent, fractured and sticky-black. Tracks like “New Romantic” sound like the exhumed remains of JJ Fad’s studio work, a Frankenstein that bears some resemblance to their beautiful origins but is nonetheless horrifying. Stott has always been a master of combining the sweet and the grotesque and his talents are once again on full display throughout Too Many Voices.

True Sons Of Thunder Spoonful Of Seedy Dudes LP (Jeth-Row)
True Sons Of Thunder are the current champs of blown-out Memphis garage-punk, and while Spoonful Of Seedy Dudes came and went back in 2011, Jeth-Row are offering up a fresh new pressing now. I missed it the first time around, and can understand why a rabid little fanbase has developed, as the ‘Sons take the standard garage-rock template and drop a nuclear bomb on it. The first few songs are pretty raging, fast-moving punk tunes, but with the addition of what sounds like a jet engine running at full blast behind the band. It can’t be an additional guitar, unless it’s borrowed from Hijokaidan, right? Unlike so many no-fi garage-rockers, True Sons Of Thunder seem to be having a fantastic time, as exuberant and juvenile as their drunkest fans in the audience. It’s a style that could use some new life, that’s for sure, and True Sons Of Thunder clearly attacked it with the fervor of the first Sightings album while maintaining their ex-Oblivians roots. Guess I better find out what else they’ve been up to over the past five years!

Vaaska Futuro Primitivo 7″ (Beach Impediment)
Ever since first encountering Vaaska, I’ve appreciated their dedication to skeletons doing punk things, and I think they may have outdone themselves here: the spiky skele-punk on this cover is not only punctured by nearly a dozen sharp blades, it’s vomiting a pile of chains. Shanté, you stay! I’ve always thought Vaaska were a good-if-forgettable entry in today’s hardcore canon, but for whatever reason the songs on Futuro Primitivo are hitting me particularly hard. “Descontrol” is a tough track to deny – it has the tightness of Impalers (and the heaviness too) with a booming righteousness that makes a strong case for all these shit-fi-on-purpose groups to consider going into a real studio once in a while. There are multiple road-burning guitar solos on here too, occasionally in the same song (just check out the heroics on “Histeria”), and as far as I’m concerned, if you’ve got it, flaunt it. Futuro Primitivo was originally released in Japan for Vaaska’s Japanese tour, and I’m wondering if they just knew they had to step up their game to ride with the big dogs over there? Whatever the case, I’m digging it.

White Lung Paradise LP (Domino Recording Co.)
Like most reasonable people, I know of White Lung as a good Canadian punk band, one that essentially writes the same song a dozen times over, but theirs is a decent song, like a melodic-punk Wipers with working knowledge of the Deranged catalog. I know they’ve gotten some indie-crossover dap over the last couple years, but I still wasn’t prepared for the audacity of Paradise, a “going for it” album that is at once both overwhelmingly catchy and outrageous. Only in 2016 could such an album be engineered: imagine Good Riddance’s most emotional songs (but played with a gallop instead of a Fat Wreck Chords diddle-beat) as performed by My Chemical Romance for a small stadium of teenagers where you had to scan an H&M coupon to enter the venue as part of some social marketing promotion. All I hear is sweet commercial synergy for today’s enlightened youth, where feminism finally enters the Warped Tour (Vans Half-Cab Doritos surf stage) and the change is irreversible. And I’m not scared to say I love it! It has the same shock as when you first heard Cold Cave’s Cherish The Light Years and realized their aspirations didn’t end at a limited cassette on What’s Your Rupture?, but rather to re-create teenage angst for a new millennium, even if the performers themselves were ironically the one thing modern teenagers wish they were (which is to be teenaged in the ’90s). Paradise is a bold, brazen sell-out record and it’s stunning me in so many ways; the most stunning of all being that I can’t stop listening to it.

Youth Code Commitment To Complications LP (Dais)
America’s preeminent EBM duo Youth Code return with their second full-length album care of the always dependable Dais label. Any idea that Youth Code were a brief stop on the trend-train for its members has to be completely extinguished by now, as Commitment To Complications feels about as fully-realized and dedicated as any aggro industrial-wave group can be in 2016. Whereas their debut was explosive by nature, stuffed with samples and harsh sounds befitting the most jagged and unfriendly KMFDM and Skinny Puppy EPs, Commitment To Complications tones down the sonic violence for a more studied approach to their craft. Produced by Rhys Fulber (he of stylistic pioneers Front Line Assembly), it is clear that Youth Code were aiming for authenticity not only in approach and attitude but in every considerable sonic touch, from the gating on a snare drum to the precision of a rubbery synth arpeggio. For what I can tell, they totally nail it, moving from menacing aggression to gothy high-drama with ease, the hoarse shouted vocals of both members as suitable as slightly-baggy black PVC pants with neon green piping. With music such as this, it can be great to just quickly toss it off in a fit of amateurish rage, but it can be even more rewarding to really study one’s craft and aim for a genre masterpiece, which is clearly how Youth Code intend to proceed.