Archive for 'Reviews'

Reviews – April 2020

Alien Nosejob Suddenly Everything Is Twice As Loud LP (Drunken Sailor / Anti Fade)
The chameleonic Alien Nosejob continues to put out records faster than any reasonable person could consume them, but who am I to try to put a lid on anyone’s creative output? Especially when the records are as solid as Suddenly Everything Is Twice As Loud. I wasn’t super into Alien Nosejob’s indie or dance records, but this one does a fine job of combining two of the group’s strengths – knuckleheaded Ramones-y punk and tightly-strung power-pop. Some tracks are purist three-chord slams, others zig and zag with the agility of Nasty Facts, and there’s a neurotic, wave-y sound to some of these tunes that recalls a vintage Geza X production. I appreciate that Alien Nosejob (which still remains the solo project of Ausmuteants’ Jake Robertson and not a full band, right?) is able to navigate these different archetypal punk styles with ease, and this particular set of songs feels especially confident and capable. I don’t like when skilled musicians try to play dumber than they are, as if false amateurism could somehow make their punk rock more authentic (which I suppose, in limited cases like Helen Keller, it does), but Alien Nosejob avoid that by blazing through these unrefined punk rock zaps with the dexterity and flair of a performer who already has countless other records under his belt. Good on ya, baby!

Anunaku Stargate 12″ (3024)
Anunaku’s debut 12″ on Whities really grabbed my attention, so I leaped towards this new one on Martyn’s 3024 imprint as soon as I learned of its existence. These three tracks further elaborate on Anunaku’s individual style, bursting with energetic, uptempo electro that highlights his dazzling percussive techniques. “Stargate” is a sharply-tailored tech-house cut, sunlight shining through the groove and tuned percussion rippling over top. “Teleported” operates from a different base: a funky New Jack Swing loop is the backdrop for a truly dazzling display of metallic drum rolls and Middle Eastern melodies (is that a duduk, or perhaps a synthesized one?), converging these disparate styles into a righteous new form of dance. “Atlas4088” essentially picks up right where “Teleported” left off, those same fantastic drums delivering peak-time energy through unorthodox means. Not entirely unlike Shackleton’s Drawbar Organ EPs with the addition of a steady rhythmic focus reminiscent of Sis, yet after merely two EPs clearly the work of this exciting new artist. All in all, these three tracks result in a fantastic concoction from this Italian-born, London-based producer, and if you’ve been sleeping on him thus far, please allow this to be your wake up call.

Brannten Schnüre Durch Unser Zugedecktes Tal LP (Youdonthavetocallitmusic)
Last month I was enjoying Brannten Schnüre’s newest 7″ EP on I Dischi, but this is what I really needed – a deep full-length excursion from this German experimental/folk/ambient duo. It’s incredibly wintry-sounding, which is a little late for my seasonal enjoyment, but seeing as we never really got hit with any sort of snow last winter, Durch Unser Zugedecktes Tal is the solemn, reflective blizzard Mother Nature withheld. Particularly on this great new full-length (their second of 2019!), Brannten Schnüre strike me as a pastoral, string-based corollary to the dank industrial wreckage of Neutral – both groups smear their sounds into unique configurations, they both appear to be influenced by early ’80s underground avant-garde noise styles, and they both have an uncanny knack for making incredible records. Oh, and as actual people, they even kinda look the same! I really never took much to dark folk, or anything too Lord Of The Rings-y, but Brannten Schnüre don’t feel like they’re putting on Renaissance costumes – their sounds are far too dingy and grimy to equate to anything from a classic storybook. Rusted strings, corroded church organs, dulcimers, pastoral singing, and ripples of wind are their tools (among a variety of sounds normally to be discarded), and it’s such a pleasure to behold. Recommended!

Corridor People Corridor People LP (Push My Buttons)
I don’t know about you, but it’s rare that I get particularly excited upon learning that a person who’s played traditional punk rock moved on to a dark-wave band. Dan Gräns from Impo & The Tents is no exception – it’s especially jarring when one goes from silly, dick-jokey pop-punk to leather-clad post-punk synths – but it’s a common progression in this day and age. Corridor People is Gräns’s new group, and this self-titled album is their debut, and while I realize I may have stacked the deck against it before spinning, Corridor People is unable to overcome my odds. That’s not to say they suck, though, as these songs are moody, grooving dance-punk, recalling Balaclavas and The VSS at best, and a knock-off version of The Faint at their worst. Pretty typical and average for the genre, which isn’t currently lacking any variety of choices for anyone thinking about trading in their bondage pants for a vinyl cape. I don’t wanna be a hater, I swear, but when those disco-beat drums kick in and a standard pre-set synth sweeps a melody over top, it’s a difficult urge to resist. Unless of course the music is exceptional, either in songwriting or personality or both (see the Jorge Elbrecht review a couple inches down, for instance), but only a small minority is capable of that. Maybe Corridor People will eventually reach higher heights, but I’m not patient enough to wait and find out.

The Cowboy Wi-Fi On The Prairie LP (Feel It)
The Cowboy (don’t you dare confuse them with that other group on Feel It called The Cowboys) are a Cleveland punk band featuring two-thirds of Homostupids (and let’s be real here, probably the most important two-thirds). I think I’ve figured out how the two groups differ (although it isn’t by much): whereas Homostupids had more of a blown-out Estrus garage sound, The Cowboy are in alignment with an early SST style. The guitar/bass interplay on Wi-Fi On The Prairie carries the agitated and jittery mentality of something Saccharine Trust or Meat Puppets would’ve cobbled together in 1983, and is delivered at a looser tempo, unsuitable for manic garage-punk but appropriate for propulsive, unpretentious lo-fi rock such as this. Hearing a little Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments in these songs too, as they carry a similar irritable attitude, as if they might scratch at you if you get too close. The lyrics remain as oblique and curiously nonsensical as any Homostupids prose, seemingly more interested in the way words sound than the meaning behind them (although I suspect there’s some kernel of purpose to the words of “SS”, which ostensibly stands for “sexy secretary”). Whatever the case, I remain ever thankful that Orville Peck has zero involvement in The Cowboy.

Beatrice Dillon Workaround LP (Pan)
The restlessly creative music of Beatrice Dillon has elevated her to “must-watch” status around these parts, so picking up her debut solo vinyl full-length was a no-brainer. Like her previous works, this one follows its own particular logic, not an aesthetic continuation from her last releases but its own peculiar sonic island (her discography is a sea of fascinating islands, really, with no easily-followed aesthetic pattern). This one works with a locked-in 150 BPM for its entirety, although these tracks translate to my ears at more of a 75 BPM flow – much of Workaround is filled with spacious and slinky grooves, with very little that could constitute obvious dance-floor potential. I have to wonder if Dillon started with fully-stuffed tracks and then slowly removed their pieces until only the semblance of structure remained, like a 500 piece puzzle with only 100 of the pieces laid in place, or if her rhythmic restraint was always at the forefront of these compositions. Only Dillon knows for sure, but in the process she created a hypnotic suite of vanguard techno on par with Moritz Von Oswald Trio, Mark Fell and Laurel Halo (who guests on a track here, her “Workaround Two” vocals a sophisticated art-pop twist not unlike the most recent Mount Kimbie album). I tend to enjoy Workaround most when it behaves approachably (“Cloud Strum” is a personal fave – pristine Luomo-esque minimal techno), but I understand and accept that Dillon decided to place a fumbly acoustic bass improvisation next to it (“Workaround Six”). If anyone has earned the right to be this kind of maniac, it’s the acclaimed Beatrice Dillon.

Jorge Elbrecht Gloss Coma – 002 LP (no label)
There’s no shortage of retro-wave weirdos trying to get underground-famous these days, but putting that fact aside, some of them are actually pretty good! Like Jorge Elbrecht, for instance, who has as strange a resume as they come: his first release under his own name came in the form of an Ariel Pink collaboration, and he’s got the dubious honor of releasing black metal 7″s on Mexican Summer, if that gives you any sense. A good friend who never recommends me music actually recommended Gloss Coma – 002, though, and as far as retro-campy synth-wave drama is concerned, this one really does the trick. Elbrecht’s clearly located the right circle of friends and collaborators with which to surround himself, as Drab Majesty, SRSQ and Sky Ferreira contribute bits and pieces to some of these tracks. Geneva Jacuzzi adds vocals on my favorite track, “Perish”, a nimble goth-night anthem that seems to bridge the ever-shortening gaps between Eurythmics, Grimes and My Chemical Romance. Other moments recall a John Maus who went to a school of performing arts instead of biotechnology, or the more dance-pop end of the Dais catalog (which seems to be growing at a sharp clip these days). I realize this description might not sound particularly appealing to my more serious-about-music readers, but that’s only if you balk at the idea of reasonably corny, PVC-pantsed, black-lipsticked fun. In which case, you can go listen to your Neil Young and Dead C records on your fart-stained couch. I’m going out – please, do not wait up for me.

Femme Ruderal Exotique LP (Bruit Direct Disques)
From what I can parse from the accompanying one-sheet, French duo Femme take inspiration from modern bio-engineering and societal decay on this new album, and they certainly whip up a wild ride of brisk and disconcerting electronics while doing so. This album never lets up, to the point where it often sounds like multiple records playing at once: the simultaneous playback of three separate Nurse With Wound albums or two Felix Kubin LPs might deliver a similar effect. Personally, I love stuff like this, a maximal noise affair with sounds whipping past at a higher frequency than the brain (or at least my brain) can fully process. Reminds me a bit of Leprechaun Catering (although far less rhythmic), or Nautical Almanac and Prick Decay (though not nearly as dirty), but certainly in that same arena of a couple of maniacs with tangled piles of electronic devices being pressed, tweaked, shaken and clicked with gusto. The tones and frequencies that Femme locate are consistently interesting and vibrant, never too harsh or painful, which helps a non-masochistic noise listener settle into their peculiar world of sound. I could use a good brain-scrambling at least once a day, and Ruderal Exotique does the trick nicely.

G.A.M.S. G.A.M.S. LP (Karlrecords)
There are a few alluring things about the debut album from Berlin’s G.A.M.S., but I’m not sure what it was in particular that led me to throw it in my good old-fashioned e-cart. The concept of a drums / feedback duo? The guest percussion by Mick Harris? Whatever the case, I’ve been enjoying this one. The drums are a fairly traditional kit, played with an insistent kick and typical body-moving patterns by Andi Stecher, while Guido Möbius finds different ways to shape his feedback, either into long colorful strands or, more frequently, ripples of gated arpeggios. I’m reminded of Liars in their Drums Not Dead formation, and there’s surely some Can influence in the approach taken here, which involves locating tremulous and floaty grooves through simple means. Definitely more suited to modern dance-y post-punk than the psychedelic groove-thang pioneered by Silver Apples, but the ‘Apples must’ve passed through the headspace of Stecher and Möbius at some point during the formation of this project. It might seem a little Troubleman Unlimited-y as the first side plays, but once Mick Harris enters the fray on penultimate track “Yanari”, G.A.M.S. is serving a heady stew.

Gomme Absent Healing LP (Adagio 830)
Gomme’s debut opens with the voice of a confused American male complaining that he cut his finger, almost Neil Hamburgerian in its awkwardness. Hilarious and outlandish, I was ready for a whole record of that, but it turns out to be a complete non-sequitur in regard to the rest of Absent Healing, which has none of that uncomfortable comedic weirdness. Much to my disappointment, Absent Healing is a pretty bland slice of grungy, goth-y indie-rock. I’m not in a position to know how much effort Absent Healing took to put together, but I can’t help but shake the feeling that it didn’t take much – the whole record sounds very lazy, as if this were a senior project by a few disinterested students just trying to get a passing grade, as opposed to a band deeply proud of their art. The riffs are along the lines of the first thoughts that come from most sets of hands when they initially hold guitars, the drums plod at a tempo too sleepy for punk, and it really doesn’t seem like anyone is having even the slightest shred of fun, myself included. Perhaps I’m so used to judging music on my own personal terms – the specific things that I find exciting, or the shared philosophies of why anyone would want to make any sort of music in the first place – that I find myself disconnected from anything Gomme has to offer, or maybe, just maybe, they kinda suck.

HLM38 First Order Addictions 12″ (Notte Brigante)
Dirge-techno producer Gil.Barte has become such a priority in my life that I find myself purchasing anything he’s left his fingerprints on. I had never heard of Lyon, France’s HLM38 before, but Gil.Barte has a remix on this new EP, so I slid headfirst into this 12″ as though it were home plate. Turns out this was a thread worth following, as HLM38 makes some great weird downtempo electro too, perfectly suited for the engagement of Gil.Barte and ripe for a Neubau release (just putting that out there). Opener “Fold-in” is a throbbing new-beat groove that’s barely fast enough to accommodate dancing, whereas “Subliminal Kid (2019 Alt. Version)” negates dancing entirely, a weakly-pumping heart and understated murmurings paired up with some tasteful saxophone and spoken dialogue echoed into the ether. I’m already impressed, but the Gil.Barte remix of “Untitled Exo” is pure doomy bliss, as if Black Merlin programmed a Khanate cover into his hardware systems. It’s ungodly slow, unusually twinkly and full of little surprises, like the non-existent intersection of Air and Abruptum. As if that wasn’t enough, Harmonious Thelonious is inspired on his remix of “Subliminal Kid” as well, looping an insistent and slinky chug (featuring guitar!) over what sounds to be feeding time in the elephant cages. Well done, everyone!

Islet Eyelet LP (Fire)
Not the usual musical fare reviewed here, but let’s discuss it anyway: the newest album from Welsh electro/indie trio Islet. I always wonder who exactly it is that actively enjoys music like this, because I never seem to know anyone personally who fits that description, yet bands like Islet seem to thrive in our modern times. You know the stuff: chilled-out, beats-friendly indie music with reverb-laden falsetto vocals and guitars and electronics in equal measure. On this album, I’m reminded of Animal Collective, Air, Stereolab, The Xx and Yeasayer, to name but a few. Islet squishes all those sounds together and polishes off the edges until the result is perfectly-acceptable, easy-going festival fodder. I suppose Islet are pretty good at their profession – their songs move around comfortably, as likely to snap into a rhythm-box bossa nova beat as a Fleetwood Mac harmony – and with a couple different vocalists on hand, things remain interesting. I’m just not hearing any massive, undeniable hit (which is what I personally need to really connect to music such as this), or any sort of feeling that this music matters deeply to the people writing and playing it. Eyelet comes across as a successful business-indie endeavor, but nothing built for long-term durability or committed cult worship, which can probably also be said for most modern household appliances. Seeing as there is a growing movement of people who treat music like a modern household appliance, perhaps this is fitting.

Al Karpenter If We Can’t Dream, They Won’t Sleep!! LP (Ever/Never)
Al Karpenter faded from my memory after his debut 7″ EP of enjoyably combustible noise-punk, but thankfully Ever/Never is there to keep tabs on fierce weirdos such as he. Now Karpenter’s got a debut album, the protest-titled If We Can’t Dream, They Won’t Sleep!!, and it picks up where he left us, presumably causing a ruckus in Bilbao’s town square. Even though Al Karpenter gets the marquee billing for this project, Mattin is credited with playing a variety of instruments, and the stink of his unique aesthetic is all over this one. Punk songs are disemboweled and strung up; scattered samples are looped out of a computer; a buzzing sine-wave will be the only sonic aspect for endurance-testing lengths of time; muttering and rustling are as prominent as bass and drums. That said, this album is surprisingly listenable (at least relative to other Mattin projects), mixing samples and electronics into the fray and finding a continuous thread to hang onto, even if it’s going to scare away the vast majority of music listeners, even adventurous ones. Most of you could probably make it through the off-kilter dubsteppy gauntlet of the track “2020”, but there are at least a few of you freaks out there that will sincerely enjoy it, which is a beautiful thing.

Kite Tranås/Stenslanda 7″ (Astronaut Recordings)
Thrilled to finally get to talk about Kite on here, seeing as they’ve become one of my favorite active groups over the past few years. They’re a Swedish synth-pop duo, and it’s been a while since they’ve put out a new record – this is their first since 2015’s masterful VI, so I was clamoring for it the moment it was announced (and this 7″ now has the dubious honor of being the most I’ve ever for a brand-new single, a price I’m too embarrassed to publicly share here). I get it, “Swedish synth-pop” might not be enough to grab one’s attention, so I implore you to please, please just go pull up their video for “Dance Again” on YouTube so that they might become your new favorite, too. As for this 7″, it’s probably not where I’d recommend a newcomer to begin, as both tracks are sweeping major-chord ballads, full of wide-screen grandeur and sincere emotion but not particularly energetic or geared for any dancing besides slow, nor equipped with the same quality of hooks on previous records. Vocalist Niklas Stenemo is the majority of why I love this band so much, as his voice is so beautifully unique and bracing, pretty much like nothing I’ve ever heard before. Maybe if Geddy Lee was 20% Swedish and 80% Martian From Outer Space he’d sound like this? He gives these vast and tender songs a heightened sense of vulnerability, joy and pain, which provides a necessary distinction as they both follow chord progressions not entirely dissimilar from Pachelbel’s “Canon In D Major”. Stenemo’s voice is a hallowed treasure, particularly when paired with the lush and conventional synth-wave that Kite has been offering for the past decade. I’m telling you – “Dance Again”!

Laffing Gas It’s A Beautiful Day In The Gulch LP (Beach Impediment)
A salve for the soul in these troubled times: the full-length vinyl debut from Bloomington, IN’s Laffing Gas. It was over a decade ago that hardcore-punkers were trying their best to zero in on the classic ’82 sound, but It’s A Beautiful Day In The Gulch nails it, not just from the songwriting but the recording quality as well, which I’d argue is perhaps even more important to hardcore-punk than the songs themselves. This recording is tinny and direct, the drums are dirty and punchy, and the vocalist sounds like he climbed out of some So Cal suburban development in the summer of 1983 with a bandana on his wrist, chain on his waist and a Tony Alva deck under his feet. Had they existed 40 years earlier, Laffing Gas would’ve surely found room for themselves on classic comp LPs like the Master Tapes, any regional Mystic collection pre-1984 or Toxic Shock’s Barricaded Suspects, and provided some of the stronger material on those collections, dare I venture. The cover art has that mid-’00s look, like a Regulations record or something, but unlike some of the best European imitators of Dischord 1 through 8, Laffing Gas sound natural and breezy, not nervously self-aware. A solid recommendation for fans of the earliest and best recordings by The Freeze, Angry Samoans, White Cross, Adrenalin O.D. and Dayglo Abortions, to name but a few.

Man-Eaters Gentle Ballads For The Simple Soul LP (Feel It)
Warning! Contrary to the title, these are not gentle ballads for the simple soul! Why on Earth would these guys try to fool the unsuspecting public like that? Oh right, because they’re leather-clad, drug-abusing punk rock miscreants from Chicago, featuring ex-members of Tarantula and Cülo. This is their debut, and as for hardcore-punk players who take a turn toward hard rock, it’s pretty top notch. The songs are either mid-tempo by hardcore standards or fast by rock standards, and they play their discount Thin Lizzy riffs with the intensity of Poison Idea, so how can you really go wrong? I suppose you could go wrong by choosing a singer ill-equipped for the job, but Man-Eaters’ vocalist is exceptional, huffing and puffing with a tar-stained throat that’s perfectly positioned between Hank Wood, John Joseph and Lemmy. Which is interesting, because none of the four goofballs on the insert appear capable of such a mighty blast of dogbreath, but maybe the wacky outfits they’re wearing are clouding my judgment. If you’ve ever placed songs by Buffalo and Crushed Butler between Warzone and Fear on your internet Mixcloud radio show, you’ll want to get Man-Eaters into that lineup without hesitation.

The Monsters I’m A Stranger To Me 7″ (Slovenly)
When it comes to playing primitive garage-rock, one has the option to try to pretend that what they’re doing is original, or wield their genericness like a badge of honor. Hailing from Bern, Switzerland, The Monsters clearly opt for the latter, proudly basic in their musical vision, but apparently having the time of their lives, so joke’s on you if you’re trying to hate! “I’m A Stranger To Me” is both the title and nearly all the lyrics of the song, but it’s so frantic and fast (by garage-rock standards) that I can’t help but feel enthused while letting it rip. One note on the guitar, ripped out in its own particular morse-code pattern, and crashing bashing drums, what else do you really need to have a good time? “Carpool Lane” is the b-side tune, proceeding into a Sabbath-ian stomp after a loopy theremin-sounding opening, then into a choppy soccer-chant that alternates with some Purling Hiss-style guitar-arson (guitarson?). I can picture these maniacs in a power-blue station wagon careening down the carpool lane, dangling out of the windows in matching sunglasses and suits on their way to a show, can’t you?

People Skills Former January Ending Through 52 Weeks LP (Sophomore Lounge)
The world seems to be catching up to the music of People Skills, as this is the sound of guitar pop under a global quarantine: hopeless and defeated. Former January Ending Through 52 Weeks was first issued as a cassette back in 2016, but Sophomore Lounge wisely granted it a slick vinyl upgrade (albeit with some tracks omitted and a reordered track-listing from the original issue); whereas a number of People Skills releases have been dropping lately, this is a standout in the pack. This is People Skills mostly in “song” form, but understand that I’m using that term as loosely as the plot of a dream. Slow guitars strum over makeshift rhythmic noises, keyboard murk and undiscernibly affected vocals. Some of the more tuneful tracks remind me of Her Space Holiday’s lonely lo-fi emo, and that same melancholic longing permeates most of the record – dare I say that People Skills are the Dashboard Confessional of I Dischi Del Barone’s roster? Other moments recall the most isolated New Zealand DIY solo projects, although People Skills has his own particular technique, often utilizing what sounds like disconnected rotary lines for rhythm (or rhythmic disruption), or playing piano on what must surely be the furthest little island somewhere off Nova Scotia, after midnight, without cell service. Or even worse: the basement of a Philadelphia row home.

Pisse Pisse LP (Phantom / Harbinger Sound)
German punk band Pisse (from Hoyerswerda, to be precise) go all Wild Style with the graffiti-centric cover art, but don’t expect to hear anything Fab 5 Freddy would remix here – this is unfriendly punk that certainly earned the group’s name (which, my research reveals, translates in English to “piss”). Pisse enter a few different sonic modes throughout this 45 RPM long-player: speedy down-picked punk with keyboard enhancement ala Le Shok or Really Red, bloopy-bleep synth-wave tomfoolery, and snide garage-punk somewhere between the downright meanness of The Mummies and the crappy attitude of The Black Lips. I certainly prefer when their sound is more punk than garage, which is probably the majority of this record, much to my satisfaction. A track like “Feind/Fehler” is just what I want out of Pisse, which sounds as if Urinals had signed to Zickzack in 1980. I’ve spent a good deal of my free time practicing saying German punk band names like Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle and The Wirtschaftswunder out loud, on the chance I might one day need to discuss them, so I wanna broadcast my thanks to Pisse for making casual conversation of cool German punk music that much easier.

Primitive Motion Elemental Dreaming 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
Primitive Motion had a solid string of albums on the Bedroom Suck label over the past decade, and I really enjoyed Leighton Craig’s solo album last year (he being one of the two members of Primitive Motion), so it was nice to see this new single on I Dischi. “Telegrams For Comets” is the a-side cut, and it features “beats by Glenn Donaldson”, which is odd seeing as he lives a dozen hours away by plane (not to be creepy), and let’s face it, beats aren’t exactly a precious commodity these days. But regardless, he provided Primitive Motion with the galloping rhythm, to which they must’ve added the bleeps and bloops and high-pitched caterwauling. It almost sounds like one of those weird tracks that would show up at the end of a Kurt Vile CD-r before he got famous, a miniature harmony of Casios and lo-fi recording techniques. “Night Colour Song” feels a little more song-like, with presumably some form of language sung over the churning chords, resulting in something akin to a kraut-y Broadcast demo with a true basement feel. It’s swell, and my favorite of the two cuts here. Of course, now I can’t help but wonder, are Primitive Motion actively soliciting for beats? Where should I send ’em?

Protruders No More / It’s Not Easy 7″ (Goodbye Boozy)
Come to think of it, Goodbye Boozy was decades ahead of the curve, releasing bare-bones punk 45s (mostly all one-sided) in pressings of 250 copies or so (which seemed so tiny back then and seems fairly optimistic now). I don’t always connect with the Goodbye Boozy roster (not sure I ever need to hear a band called “Thee Almighty Handclaps”, for example), but when they’re right, they’re right, and this new one from Toronto’s Protruders is pretty glorious. “No More” is top-shelf spazz-punk, like a garage-y Neos in a hurry to finish the song before their parents flicker the basement lights. It darts in and out nicely, with neurotic rapid-fire vocals in perfect form and a guitar anti-solo for at least half the song. They change it up significantly with “It’s Not Easy”, which is pure Max’s Kansas City swagger, like a forgotten Richard Hell & The Voidoids track that blatantly, mockingly rips The Rolling Stones. Can’t decide which tune I prefer, as they’re both so different and both so good. Long may they protrude!

P22 Human Snake 12″ (Past Present Medium)
Nothing I love more than some out-of-nowhere psychotic post-punk, which is exactly the case with LA’s P22 and their vinyl debut Human Snake. There’s a member listing on the back cover, so they seem to be a band, or at least a really convincing facsimile of one, and their sound seems to come from two distinct camps, both of which I love: the crazed performance-art, anti-music / pro-snare-drum sounds of Crass Records’ stranger exports, and the too-cool post-punk antagonism of Subterranean Records and the first-wave underground San Fran scene. I’m reminded of the rigid blasts of groups (and personal faves) like Urinals, CCTV, Seems Twice and Manisch Depressiv, although P22 maintain their own icy distance from the pit. Plus, one member is credited as the viola player, but I’ll be damned if I’m picking up any viola in these songs. My favorite tune is “Reprise For The Steer” (or at least I think that’s what it’s called, as the tracklist is a little unclear), as it features nothing more than chronically-bored vocals, electric guitar and the grating tone of some sort of electronic maracas. Punk-edged minimalist beauty is the name of P22’s game, and I certainly expect to hear everyone talking about them soon.

Sacrifice Total Steel 2xLP (Bitter Lake Recordings)
Who do you think would win in a fight, the flame-forged devil skull of Mercyful Fate’s Don’t Break The Oath or the flame-engulfed metallic demon of Sacrifice’s Total Steel? It’s a trick question, because everyone knows they’d actually be close friends, not potential combatants. Anyway, they certainly share the same form of heavy-metal authenticity, although the music of Tokyo’s Sacrifice is far heavier and more streamlined than anything King Diamond-related; their evil is delivered by fist-clenched power rather than sinister magic. Total Steel was a CD-only release back in 1990, and this lavish vinyl reissue (the only way Bitter Lake knows how to do it) is a welcome upgrade, a corrective measure to a somewhat vinyl-deficient discography. And thankfully, it’s not merely an obscure curio but a pretty great record – I’m reminded of the evil thrash peddled by Venom, the speed metal dexterity of Agent Steel, the street-tough mosh of Biohazard (one track even features the sound of helicopters and sirens) and the larger-than-life aspirations of Metallica (you can count on at least one mournful guitar instrumental). The vocalist can often make or break this sorta sound, but the gruff bark of Akira Sugiuchi is pitch-perfect – he could’ve just as easily fronted a hardcore band with his violent shouting. If Bitter Lake has more metal of this caliber on deck, I better start growing my hair out now!

Siri Karlsson Horror Vacui LP (Tombola)
Siri Karlsson are a Swedish experimental-folk duo, and to clear things up before we get started, they bear no relation to the Amazon home-surveillance device of which they share a name. Horror Vacui is my first experience listening to them, and I think I get their vibe, which is one that weaves the dread of industrial-folk into bloated ’70s krautrock epics. They’re heavy on synths and percussion and horns, with live drums often presenting a martial or solemn pacing (the title track is apparently inspired by “15th and 16th century mapmakers”, so it certainly has a Game Of Thrones slow-burn menace in spots). In the last couple tracks, things get almost a little weirdly funky, reminiscent of the low sprawling dips of sound that Spiritualized will ring out on between more substantive grooves. The parts are all in place, but Horror Vacui never quite feels like anything more than its individual parts – the songs kind of plod along, the harmonies are fairly rudimentary and the compositions are far too well-behaved and plain to catch my ear. I can’t help but compare Siri Karlsson to another Swedish duo who operate with an array of synths and horns, Roll The Dice, whose 2017 album Born To Ruin is a prime example of how excitingly tense and unexpected this particular musical equation can be. Horror Vacui, however, is not.

Soakie Soakie 12″ (La Vida Es Un Mus)
New Melbourne-based hardcore-punkers Soakie are debuting in style: a 12″ EP care of La Vida Es Un Mus! They feature at least one member of Ubik (and may or may not feature some Americans in their squad, too?), and they recorded this debut EP in Kansas City under the egg-punk wisdom of Ian Teeple (he of Warm Bodies and Natural Man, among a small squadron of other projects). You can’t have all those attributes going for you and not kick at least a little butt, and after spinning Soakie a handful of times now, I can confirm that they kick more than their fair share. The guitar tone is acidic and bitter, the drums strictly adhere to the 1-2 1-2 pogo beat that continues to be de rigueur, and vocalist Summer shouts with a pitch somewhere between the feral snarl of Xylitol and the repulsed disapproval of Good Throb – in addition, her EP-opening squeak calls to mind Bali Baby’s signature sound effect, which I find refreshingly entertaining. The hit is certainly “Boys On Stage”, a righteous sick-of-dudes anthem that feels aesthetically aligned with the Thrilling Living label, which of course is responsible for some of the best modern punk records in the past few years, but the whole EP is rock-solid from start to finish. By modern misandrist-punk standards, Soakies are a bit more polished and ‘core-sounding, which of course is great as I can only hope this attitude and artistic mindset continues to proliferate. If there isn’t a man-hating death-metal band yet, how much longer until there is one?

Vacant Gardens Under The Bloom LP (Tall Texan)
Glenn Donaldson has what, a hundred different projects under his belt? But as far as my money’s concerned, this one right here, this is the one. Teamed up with vocalist Jem Fanvu, Vacant Gardens’ Under The Bloom is a blissful shoegaze slow-core masterpiece, which is especially tough considering how overworked and worn out this specific style has become over the past three decades. These tracks move with the slow-motion grace of early Red House Painters, with guitars that seem to ring out forever and angelic vocals buried just deep enough into the mix to ensure tender unintelligibility. Mazzy Star is certainly a solid reference point, probably Bedhead too, and I can’t help but wonder if Heron Oblivion were a 4AD band instead of a Sub Pop band would they deliver something similar to Under The Bloom. There’s an airy lightness to these songs, matched well with the languid tempos and attention to detail, be it the flickering light of a guitar or the well-spotted addition of a piano. I sincerely would’ve thought I’d been permanently oversaturated by groups that try to do this sort of thing, particularly as it’s not one of my go-to genres to begin with, but Vacant Gardens remind me how this sound can be so captivating and cool when in the right hands. This is definitely something special.

Tassilo Vanhöfen War Manual Of Gear EP 12″ (Neubau)
Had to jump on this new Neubau joint simply because it’s a new Neubau joint. Hadn’t heard or even heard of Tassilo Vanhöfen before, but I trust the ‘Bau’s judgment, and these three tracks click firmly into the Neubau aesthetic: slow, hypnotic, dub-techno trance. With a title like War Manual Of Gear, I was prepared for something a bit more militaristic in sound or design – industrial techno with weaponry clinks or hazy distortion fields – but Vanhöfen doesn’t go that route. Rather, it’s more on the sensual side of Neubau’s offering… b-side opener “Gutter Churl” (which could honestly be an appropriate name for Neubau’s genre of choice) pitches down a Eurotrance groove for nocturnal enjoyment. Opener “Primer” keeps it four-to-the-floor and does that cool thing where the most microscopic fraction of an exhaled sound is clipped to the end of the pattern, flushing the track with a peculiar flicker of humanity not unlike dark-techno duo Veiled. Closer “Volatile” might be my favorite, as the synths pop some color onto the canvas, composed mainly of an alternating two-note bass-line and vigorous bongo drums. It’s lovely music, if not quite as distinctive as Gil.Barte, Lo Kindre or Bocksrucker, but few producers working in this oozy, slow-motion web of techno can claim to be.

Vanity Anticlimax / Seat At The Table 7″ (Feel It)
The thing I like most about Vanity is that, while probably a lucky coincidence, the band is called Vanity and they have the most beautiful, luxurious hair of any band operating in the punk-based underground these days. Do you like it curly, wavy, or straight? Doesn’t matter, they’ve got you covered! I can certainly understand why labels like Feel It and Beach Impediment were charmed into simultaneously releasing two separate and new 7″ singles by the group, and I’m gonna focus on the Feel It one here, as it’s my favorite of the two. (The Beach Impediment single was a touch too same-y for me, maintaining the same energy, style and vocal-pitch across both sides.) “Anticlimax” shimmy-shakes like fundamental rock-centric punk ala The Saints or The Scientists, or even Faces at their most revved-up. Cool stuff, but I prefer the b-side “A Seat At The Table”, not because the title reminds me of Solange, but because the guitar licks are flaming-hot and the drums work a cool little stutter-snare rhythm reminiscent of premier early power-pop like the first Nerves 7″ or the sole Bureaucrats single, all with that same attitude-y blues vibe that could leave a permanent crease in any pair of denim bell-bottoms within range. Do you think they all comb each other, in circular formation, before gigs?

Vivienne Styg Rose Of Texas LP (Tall Texan)
One hundred copies strikes me as an impossibly small run for what will surely be one of the best punk records of 2020, but I guess that’s the market we’re working with these days. This one’s a coup for Tall Texan: the reissue of Houston, TX’s Vivienne Styg’s self-released debut tape. It’s a knockout blast of minimalist garage / proto art-punk, music that is inherently familiar and easy to process due to the nature of its ingredients while also bafflingly original and distinct. I heard the tape back when it came out in the fall of 2018 and, amazingly, kinda forgot about it (I don’t have a great relationship with tapes), and hearing it once again on vinyl, spread out on thick 45 RPM grooves, it’s a forceful reminder of what a stunning debut Rose Of Texas is. Maybe if Suburban Lawns only played Roky Erikson covers, or if CCTV stayed around long enough to get into rockabilly, they’d have sounded like this, but there’s a stoic coolness in a Urinals sort of way that Vivienne Styg are coated in – I can’t imagine they’d ever wear dayglo tights or funny sunglasses, only dusty jeans and ripped tees. They’re similar in fidelity and attitude to Anemic Boyfriends as well, but there’s no silliness or pop aspirations here, not even when vocalist “Bex” stares directly into the camera and utters the line “I wanna take you home / fuck all night” in “Leather Love”. It strikes me as completely unreasonable that they aren’t the hottest underground rock band of the moment, and either that will change or I’ll have one more reason to never trust the opinions of the rest of the world. Highest order of recommendation!

Hank Wood & The Hammerheads Use Me 7″ (Toxic State)
I like to think I’m fairly impervious to seductive advertising, but I watched that funny little promo video for this new Hank Wood single and was endeared enough to pull the trigger. I love the first Hank Wood & The Hammerheads album, found the second to be mostly alright and never got around to checking out the third, so this new four-song EP seemed like a reasonable way to check back in with these NYHC mainstays. It’s certainly later-period hardcore music, which is to say that the energy is drastically reduced, the tempos slowed and the musicianship improved. Many a hardcore band has found their demise from this altered equation, but I think I dig Hank Wood in this mature and somber mode. The guitars pack a bit more twang, which seemed to be always lying under their overall tunes but might not’ve had the room to escape, and Wood still huffs and puffs as though the stagedivers continue to careen past his shoulders, even if these songs don’t call for nearly as much aggro crowd participation. On the sleazed-out title track, Wood even falls into a semi-rapped pattern, recalling Anthony Kiedis at his most crunga-conged, much to my delight. Not sure where Wood and crew will go from here, if they’ll fall back into pit formation or continue the uneasy slide into adulthood, so maybe I should finally go peep that third album for further clues.

Reviews – March 2020

Paul Arambula Submarine 7″ (Gilgongo)
Paul Arambula (a member of both the defunct Vegetable featuring the great Anna Nasty and Soft Shoulder) clearly has the sort of musical pedigree that James Fella often seeks out for artists on his label – that is to say, someone who is either named James Fella or plays music with James Fella. Clearly there’s a tight little scene of weirdos lurking around Phoenix, Arambula and Fella included, and it can be nice to get a dose of what they’re up to, even if it’s not something I will be returning to all that frequently. “Submarine” is a laid-back slice of art-punk; think of a very homespun take on the pathways between early Jonathan Richman and Television’s “Little Johnny Jewel”. Flip it over for… a different and supremely concise version of the same song, clocking in at a whopping nineteen seconds, originally utilized in a video collage Arambula put together based on multiple nineteen-second snippets. Supremely superfluous stuff, which is often how I like my DIY post-punk, but I’m not sure my memory is strong enough to recall the existence of this micro “Submarine” a week or two from now. Perhaps to make up for it, this 7″ single includes a CD-r featuring roughly an hour of on-the-street interviews and the spontaneous sounds that surround them, presumably conducted by Arambula, but I don’t have a CD player handy and am not tantalized enough to go locate one. Gilgongo has prodded me into listening to a lot of unpleasant sounds through the years, but it’s yet to find a way to convince me to listen to a compact disc.

The Archaeas Rock N Roll 7″ (Total Punk)
Heard rumors that Total Punk will be shuttering its doors shortly, and while it’s a sad thought indeed, I’d rather focus on all the great records they bestowed upon us, not to mention their unwavering dedication to the endangered 7″ format. Kudos! They have such a knack for finding these bands, like The Archaeas for instance, yet another scrappy new punk band probably from some Southeastern region of the United States who are stomping in the same musical mudholes as generations of punk forebearers. Kind of a bold move to start off your debut 7″ single with a song title as gloriously generic as “Rock N Roll”, but that’s the sort of gutsy move I’ve come to expect from this label. As far as this specific track is concerned, it sounds perfectly fine, not too raw nor too melodic, somewhat reminiscent of the more upbeat punk tunes on Tyvek’s debut full-length (I’m thinking “Frustration Rock” with a little more low-end). “Replica” is ever so slightly more refined, coasting downward on a chorus of “your brains / fell out”, which works for me. Not sure where bands like The Archaeas will look to get their vinyl EP starts once Total Punk folds, but I hope someone else steps up to provide this valuable and necessary service.

Black Merlin SFORMATOR 2 12″ (Pinkman)
I’m still adjusting to being a fan of someone who goes by “Black Merlin”, but after the twinkling darkness of last year’s Kode EP and the industrial power-surge of this EP right here, I’m pretty much hooked. He’s got quite a deep discography I’ll have to dig into at some point in my life, so I can’t rightly say what is or isn’t his normal production style, but unlike the repetitive minimal techno found on Kode, these three tracks are heavy industrial techno akin to aggressive Function cuts or Rrose in their most bleary-eyed form. The construction is fairly uniform to these three tracks, which vary in BPM from an easy-going strut to energetic dance-floor power. A simple, unwavering beat underscores a variety of bone-chilling additives, be it nails-on-chalkboard synthetic scraping or vocals processed beyond recognition, imitating what it might sound like if a computer virus were able to suck its victims directly into the screen. I suppose it’s pretty basic for the genre, and there aren’t any new or stunning sonic heights reached, but it’s just so good as far as unfriendly industrial-techno music is concerned, cutting away any extemporaneous bits or gaudy atmosphere and getting straight to the goods. Simple and highly effective.

Brannten Schnüre Ei, Wir Tun Dir Nichts Zuleide! 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
There’s been a fair amount of hype in recent years over German pastoral-industrial duo Brannten Schnüre, and for good reason if you ask me – they’re truly a cut above the dark-folk pack. I think it’s because they have a knack for making music that feels earthy and rich, as if it came from the soil rather than a goth-club catwalk, and that resonates with listeners who rank substance over fashion. These songs waft in with samples of acoustic and orchestral folk (is the first song on the b-side borrowing from the Bambi soundtrack?), ancient violins, jet-plane noise and cavernous bass, and the fairly continual presence of hauntingly soft German vocals. Certainly within the aesthetic neighborhood of Hypnotic Sleep, F Ingers and Caroline K, let’s say, but their own distinct participant. It feels as though you’re as likely to hear a guitar being strummed as an oar pushing through a lake in the music of Brannten Schnüre, and they combine these various sensations cohesively and without any awkwardness. If you’re new to their sound, this new 7″ on I Dischi is a great place to start, as it basically features six short vignettes, a sampler of their various approaches (and a great example of how keenly it all fits together). I get the feeling this one will probably sell out fast, so be decisive!

Contractions Demain Est Annulé LP (Adagio 830 / Purepainsugar)
I’ve come to associate a specific form of hardcore-punk with Germany’s Adagio 830: screamy post-hardcore, crusty emo, gritty punk, basically anything that can be aesthetically traced back to the pages of HeartattaCk – so this Contractions album is a bit of a swerve. This French group plays a slicked-out style of alt-rock that reminds me of the jangling melodies of the Gin Blossoms with the smirking pluck of The Replacements. Nothing wrong with it, but also nothing I’d particularly want to draw your attention to… just kinda sounds like another rock band among all the others. I have to wonder, is this really where Adagio 830’s heart is at these days, this sort of low-stakes indie-alternative, music that is perfectly fine yet uninspired? Could it be that there just aren’t a lot of exciting hardcore-punk bands in Europe actively writing new material and going for it these days, so they’ve gotta work with what’s out there? I hate to think that’s the case, but it really does seem like everyone is playing synth-wave or grunge-y shoegaze, to the detriment of hardcore. I appreciate that Adagio 830 continues to act as a sounding board for the Euro underground, I just hope they can locate more of the underground that’s worth raising up.

Doronco Gumo Oldtribe LP (Selection)
When I caught wind of (not one but) two of my staunchly rock-centric friends heaping praise upon the decidedly non-rocking Oldtribe, I raised a brow, but when I learned that it features an ex-member of Les Rallizes Denudes, well folks I simply had to investigate for myself. The duo of Doronco Gumo have been releasing weird semi-improvised psych/rock/avant discs for a few years now, but apparently Oldtribe is a left turn even for these guys who have made nothing but left turns during their respective musical careers – it features little more than a Korg Monotribe rhythm box played by Hiiragi Fukuda and the groggy mumblings of Kiyohiro Takada (the one who was in Les Rallizes Denudes). To be fair I think Takada might actually also play a little harmonica here, and come to think of it, “little” is probably a great descriptor for the whole album – everything about this music is small. The Monotribe emits simple crawling patterns and Takada speaks softly with seemingly little consideration of the music he’s paired with. I suppose it could fit in with an artist like Phew, or some of the more deconstructed techno-pop that Vanity was pushing in the early ’80s (Sympathy Nervous and R.N.A. Organism), but it also fits in by not really sounding much like anything else, which is a key characteristic of those artists as well. Some of the VCO/VCF patterns almost recall the morbid pulsations of Haus Arafna, but there’s nothing remotely gothic about Doronco Gumo, seemingly closer in spirit to a decades-long creative wanderer like Tori Kudo. Perhaps most impressive is that as of this writing, not a single track of Oldtribe exists online for your freeloading perusal, and the label’s website (which is all over the packaging here) leads to one of those expired domain pirate pages. Doronco Gumo are valiantly obscure both in method and practice.

Facility Men It’s Fun To Disappear LP (Big Neck)
My brain keeps reading the name as “Faculty Men”, but that’s the wrong name as well as the wrong vibe for this Buffalo group, whose music is better suited to some hopeless warehouse complex than the hallowed halls of learning. They play a garage-y form of post-hardcore that reminds me of groups like Laughing Hyenas and Flesh Eaters, bands who lashed out at the narrow confines of punk and hardcore even though their blood remained full of the stuff. Facility Men are a little cleaner and tighter than either of those two though, probably taking more of a structural queue from bands one might associate with Electrical Audio and Steve Albini’s handiwork (which is to say, they might like to get down n’ dirty, but at least one song-contributing member surely must admire Fugazi and At The Drive-In’s seminal contributions). They’ve got the sound down pat, but It’s Fun To Disappear doesn’t have much in the way of any standout moments or “must hear” tunes, which of course is tricky for any group, new or old, who attempts to create music in this decades-old manner (although last year’s Hash Redactor album traverses somewhat-similar sonic territory to a smashing success). A solid if not particularly remarkable showing, if you’re asking for my opinion.

Fitness Womxn New Age Record LP (Sorry State)
This is the least Sorry State-looking Sorry State release I’ve ever seen – nary a skull in sight, North Carolina’s Fitness Womxn utilize angular shapes in shimmering gold, looking like a still-life from Liberace’s smoking lounge or something. They seem to approach their music with those same bold colors and acute angles, performing a decidedly minimal and herky-jerky form of no-wave derived post-punk. Whereas a normal punk bass-line involves eighth-notes, Fitness Womxn barely deploy two or three in any given bar, while the drums (heavy on the toms and hi-hat) skitter past, keyboards plink, guitars pluck and voices sneer. Reminds me of a refracted Erase Errata, or Scissor Girls with more of a retro-modern outlook, as if they palled around with Klaus Nomi instead of Lake Of Dracula. These songs get so pointy that at times it can be a little difficult to fully connect as a listener, like trying to hug a pile of elbows or something, but that seems to be by design, Fitness Womxn happy to keep anyone at bay who cannot (or is unwilling to) penetrate their icy-cool veneer. I suspect that their name is a tongue-in-cheek reference against societal expectations, as I can’t load New Age Record (the title also presumably at least 50% sarcastic) into my Peloton without getting an error message. Gonna have to find another way to break a sweat to this album, I suppose.

F.U.P. Noise And Chaos LP (Bitter Lake Recordings)
Oh, so you think you’ve got the consummate Sapporo City hardcore collection? Not without this F.U.P. compilation, pal! Bitter Lake continue to impress with the specificity and breadth of their pickings with this retrospective LP from late ’80s / early ’90s hardcore-punks F.U.P., collecting tracks from their demos and compilation appearances. The layout makes it fairly difficult to establish what comes from where, but I’m not going to be teaching a class on this stuff, so I might as well sit back and enjoy without precise formal knowledge of the subject. F.U.P.’s hardcore is stiff and unpolished, thick with distorted mids and gravelly vocals, perhaps inspired by the noise of Confuse and the propulsion of Gauze but tempering both impulses for something a little more subdued. Certainly the bread and butter sound of MCR Company during those early ’90s years, if a little on the rawer end of things (and thus sounding better by today’s accepted standards). I like the songs toward the end of the second side best, as the drummer ferociously sings through a veil of distortion, adding a little more character to these tunes (which progressively display more finesse and metallic leanings as the LP plays on). Certainly worth peeping if this is of remote interest, which should be the absolute lowest level of interest in obscure Japanese hardcore any readers of this page are allowed to have.

Gossiwor Domestic Saga 12″ (5 Gate Temple)
John T. Gast is nothing if not one of the most inscrutable British producers of our time. He’s got a ton of discs out there under his own name, mostly with little or no information and staunchly hermetic designs (good luck even seeing his name written anywhere on the packaging), EPs with the equally puzzling Inga Copeland, and various projects under different monikers – surely some that he still hasn’t revealed as his own. Gossiwor is a new-ish collaboration between Gast and someone named Asger Hartvig (of course they’re named Asger Hartvig), and it’s truly out-there stuff, occult music for the crumbling societies of today. These three lengthy tracks utilize what sounds like live stringed instruments, thickened out by synths and electronics both meditative and menacing. The classical instrumentation used alongside ominous keyboards recalls Current 93’s early experiments, tapping into that same sort of “scary old mystical occult England” vibe, whereas the texture and flow reminds me of some of the recent Shackleton collaborations (although I find Gossiwor to be significantly more palatable than those). Domestic Saga fits in an odd spot, as likely to be released by Blackest Ever Black as remixed for a grime MC to rap over, honestly. It would certainly appeal to the Dungeons & Dragons / Kye Records crossover crowd, who I suspect is larger than one might think. Final track “Thank You Lord” is the one to peep first, a mournful elegy with flip-phone chirps and suspicious spoken-word, somehow conjuring an entirely new world that is eerily like our own.

Dr. Pete Larson And His Cycotoxic Nyatiti Band Misiginebig LP (Dagoretti)
Pete Larson has been an infamous figure on the Midwestern sub-underground for decades now, an imposing beacon of demented rock/noise deconstruction via 25 Suaves, Couch, Danse Asshole and of course the almighty Prehensile Monkey-Tailed Skink (who remain long overdue for a retrospective reissue). He’s worn lots of different suits in his career, but I can’t say I saw this one coming: obsessive promoter and player of Kenyan folk music. I’ve now discovered that he started the label Dagoretti mostly in service to Kenyan artists, but seeing as he’s forever unsatisfied to merely stand on the sidelines, Larson has taken to the stage with a few friends to emulate these decidedly African psychedelic sounds. Larson and his players pretty much smoke these lengthy jams, which surprised me a little (dexterous technical mastery was never quite Larson’s forte), but they really rip through their music here as though it was destined to be. It’s fast and frenetic instrumental music, a dazzling swirl of African strings and a joy to hear. That said, it’s always at least a little unsettling when a group of white first-worlders directly lift musical cultures whose originators are often relegated to the “world music” bins, but the fact that Larson is actively working with Kenyan artists and promoting their music makes this feel like more of a cooperative celebration and less of a crass cultural appropriation.

Lolina Who Is Experimental Music? 12″ (no label)
Incredible new EP here from one of the shining beacons of inexplicable electronic trickery, Lolina. I got into her inexcusably late (in 2018 with The Smoke), and have been voraciously scooping up whatever I can find since then, which includes this new five-track EP. In a way, Lolina reminds me of To Live And Shave In LA, simply for the fact that each new record is unexpected and fresh and somewhat unprecedented, the product of a restlessly creative mind that operates without any sort of acknowledgment of the reigning underground trends. I certainly didn’t expect to hear what I’m hearing on Who Is Experimental Music?, which is an extended rhythmic study of double-helixing beatbox shrapnel? I realize that doesn’t really make any sense, so let me try again – it sounds as if the verbal spew of Jaap Blonk and the beatboxing prowess of Doug E. Fresh were sampled by Kraftwerk for some sort of sequel to “Tour de France”, whose master tape accidentally shredded into ribbons and was stitched back together in some sort of loop-based Frankenstein. It’s occasionally funky (there’s a moment in “Skipping” that slaps like Edan’s Echo Party) and frequently maddening, but consistently compelling, at least if you’ve got a brain like mine that is desperate to be dazzled by weird rhythms and unexpected sonic treachery. The answer to the titular question has never been clearer: it’s Lolina!

Lot Lizard Lot Lizard LP (Different Folk / Total Drag)
Next time someone wagers that there simply isn’t any moody post-punk coming out of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, toss this Lot Lizard album in their face and collect your winnings! They’re a relatively new group from what I gather, coming together from various other Sioux Falls punk and indie groups, and if their music is any indication, it seems as though the dull despair and gloom that’s taken over the rest of the United States has made its way to Sioux Falls as well. Lot Lizard’s songs are mostly morose – even the upbeat ones coast in on grey clouds – and wear the frayed edges of goth, although the lack of keyboards or melodrama ensures that Lot Lizard exist in the realm of punk, not goth (or at least closer to the punk border in mutually-occupied territory). The singer comes across like an American-accented version of Elias from Iceage, slurring his moans and moaning his slurs, and he does it with such commitment that I don’t really mind that this is probably the millionth Joy Division-inspired group I’ve heard in my adult life. Plus, it was released by Total Drag, their local record label-slash-shop that doubles as a DIY show space, and I’ll get behind that sort of community-driven effort over publicist-led Brooklyn/LA goth-rock pros any day of the week.

Magnesium Crest Of Red / Metal Soldier [Demo] 7″ (Bitter Lake Recordings)
So here’s how I think it happened: all the serious hardcore-punk record collectors ran out of rare hardcore-punk records to collect, so they moved onto the closest available genre, one rife with little-known DIY obscurities waiting to be dug up: heavy metal. It’s not particularly exciting to buy the same Minor Threat 7″ over and over again, so why not start digging for Mithrandir and Jaguar 7″s? I certainly don’t share the same affinity for heavy metal that I do for hardcore-punk (although both claim space in my heart), but I can understand the need to seek out unknown realms of music that prominently feature distorted guitars and screams, so I’m preparing myself for the continued excavation and reissuing of heavy metal’s mysterious rarities by punk-raised labels… which takes us to this 7″ by Japanese heavy metal group Magnesium. From what I can gather, although the group has been around since the ’90s (with barely any recorded activity until the ’00s), this highly-limited 7″ features two songs originally released on their 2007 album Magnesium Lady Bites Mad Metal Men, this time performed in their entirety by member Shinji Tachi. He dances up and down the frets of his guitars over a programmed drum track on these two tunes, singing in a fairly restrained (by metal standards) voice. “Crest Of Red” is fairly tuneful, its melody and fill-laden drumming nearly power-pop in their construction, whereas “Metal Soldier” lives up to its title with a rugged riff that recalls Manowar circa Battle Hymns. It’s not particularly thrilling music by my estimation, but it’s limited to a scant 100 copies and probably already sold out, so the record-collecting masses have overruled this one guy’s opinion, at least for today.

Magnetic Ghost Pixels LP (Magnetic Ghost / Round Bale)
Pixels opens with the cyclical chimes of a finely-tuned guitar, the sort of sound that I find inherently relaxing and capable of taking a song to a variety of places. Then the voice kicks in, and everything is immediately explained: this group likes Radiohead! I’ve never spent much time with the band myself – I’m sure they have some great cuts, and are worthy of at least some of the praise that has been heaped upon them over the past thirty years, but I dunno… other people can have Radiohead, I’d rather listen to The Party Of Helicopters or Fear Of God if I wanna hear white guys do cool stuff with guitars. Anyway, back to Magnetic Ghost: Radiohead is a good starting point for categorizing their sound, but their post-rock is closer to post than rock. These songs have slow-core roots but are made over with rich harmonies and electronic synthesis, which has me imagining Ian William Craig composing for Mogwai with Fennesz on the mixing deck. Not really the sort of thing I’d find myself reaching for – believe it or not, I’d prefer something a little more traditionally emo like Kepler or Very Secretary, or something purely electronic and instrumental, not the fusion that Magnetic Ghost demonstrate – but the longer Pixels spins, the more comfortable I get with their particular style. Certainly worth investigating if you’ve ever gotten heated over a discussion of Kid A versus OK Computer.

Nicholas Malkin A Typical Night In The Pit LP (Soda Gong)
It’s title of Nicholas Malkin’s new album that got my attention – I knew it wasn’t gonna sound like Pantera or Cro-Mags, but still… what if it did? This LA-based composer/DJ must’ve had a different pit in mind, as this record is full of soft, cautious and playful jazz-tronica, enhanced by today’s finest technological production tricks and created by a small group of talented players (including none other than M. Geddes Gengras on modular synth). The cover artwork by Whities in-house designer Alex McCullough is distinctively his style, and certainly places Malkin in league with the Whities vanguard, although his music skews closer to live-action ensemble than pure software manipulation (although there’s certainly some of that here, too). These smoky, rainy vignettes remind me most of Bristol’s O$VMV$M, although Malkin allows his compositions to spread their wings a bit, untethered to quantized looping. A track like “Secondhand Identity” seems ripe for D’Angelo’s sultry croon, quite a distance away from the abstract, Autechre-styled bleats and puffs of “Estacionamiento Privado”, although the soothing sax and keys of “Perfect Terminal” bridges the two comfortably, not that it particularly matters in this time of disintegrated genre boundaries. I’m not sure if I should wear my rave jumper or jazz beret while spinning A Typical Night In The Pit, but it’s a most pleasurable experience regardless of dress.

The Native Cats Two Creation Myths 7″ (Rough Skies)
Going out on a limb here and declaring The Native Cats to be the finest cultural export ever to come from Hobart, Tasmania. They’ve lasted longer than your average post-punk duo (eleven years and counting!) and continue to find ways to twist their basic premise (vocals, bass guitar, programmed rhythms) into all sorts of interesting shapes: mournful, solemn, manic, silly, poetic, and dark, to name a few. The a-side of this single, “Run With The Roses”, is my favorite thing they’ve done in a while, perhaps their heaviest and punkest tune to date. The bass seems to be emulating a DYS mosh progression and the drums follow suit, but no moshing ever happens, just the stunning verse of Chloe Escott. Will an underground vocalist shout a better line than “I’ve felt my body happening to people on the street” in 2020? Doubtful! You can go deep into Escott’s words or simply marvel at their poetic fury, and the music (nearly a sort of anti-music here, really) follows suit. The b-side is a sharp contrast, then, floating on a melodic, synth-y haze redolent of Public Image Ltd.’s Album with the benefit of Escott’s lyrics. It feels meditative and assured after the a-side’s fury, but don’t mistake its kindness for weakness… really great stuff. “Run With The Roses” is the anthem here, albeit an anthem of thoughts and feelings that remain unfiltered and undefined. The Native Cats offer no easy explanations and we’re all the better for it.

Oso El Roto Pop De Cuchillo LP (Bruit Direct Disques)
Bruit Direct is often a conduit for bizarre underground sounds that I haven’t otherwise encountered, which is impressive since I spend most of my days actively seeking out bizarre underground sounds. Case in point is Chile-born, France-stationed maniac David Loayza aka Oso El Roto, who has been cranking out frazzled lo-fi noise / rap / weirdness since the ’90s. Pop De Cuchillo is my first encounter with the man, and it feels like the sonic equivalent to a giant tangled nest of electrical cords, a wild pile of knots that will take dedicated time to even begin to unravel. Everything seems to go into the Oso El Roto blender, from cruddy hip-hop beats to Flamenco guitar, indiscriminate field-recordings, rudimentary keyboards, vocals slathered in Autotune, you name it and it’s probably bubbling somewhere in this hot stew. He sings (and raps) in Spanish over beats that are loose and sloppy, chugging forward until some of the duct-tape rips and the song falls into a tender keyboard ballad, ceremonial dance or drunken rant. The beats tend to remind me of noise-affiliated Load Records act Hawd Gankstuh Rappuhs Emsees Wid Ghatz, and the whole thing kinda has that “’00s CD-r noise culture” vibe to it, and not simply because Oso El Roto has previously collaborated with junk-noise paragon Crank Sturgeon. My favorite cut is probably the one that involves rapid-fire rapping, intermittent beats and what seems to be a warped snippet of the lead riff from “Sweet Child O Mine”, to give you more of a feel for what’s happening here. This album comes with a pro-printed jacket, but it has the aura of a record packaged with recycled cardboard scraps and still-wet paint.

Pop. 1280 Way Station LP (Weyrd Son)
Brooklyn’s Pop. 1280 released some of the finest noise-rock mutations between 2010-2011 or so – “Step Into The Grid” might make it on my list of best songs of the decade, were I to compile one (have no fear – I will not). Somewhere after that point they must’ve been huffing from whatever cans were laying around at the headquarters of their former label Sacred Bones and got more and more into the synth-wave / industrial-goth du jour, and I found myself progressively less interested, if only because I loved what they first sounded like the most. Now they’re on a new label for their fourth full-length, and it continues in an overwhelmingly electronic direction, the group slimmed to a trio with a synth in front of each member. While vocalist Chris Bug’s hoarse moan continues to stand firm over whatever the rest of the group is doing, and his lyrics remain vivid and descriptive, these songs are content to meander through cobwebbed hallways rather than thump the crowd from on stage. What might’ve seemed like a Birthday Party / Big Black fascination in their early years has given way to a weird sort of Marilyn Manson vibe, albeit one that lacks Manson’s sleazy brain-dead hooks… Way Station is mostly just sleazy instead. It certainly suits them, and these songs do feel like a reasonable progression for this aggrieved industrial post-punk group, but I can’t help but long to feel the cold hard smack of their early sound once more.

Puppy And The Hand Jobs I Hate Everything 7″ (Black Gladiator / Slovenly)
This is the second Puppy And The Hand Jobs single to pass through these pages, and I feel as though both have rendered me stupider than I was before hearing them. That’s probably exactly as they’ve intended, but I fear that any further encounters with this band will render me illiterate and unable to continue. Anyway, as the name proudly broadcasts, they’re trying to be offensive in the dumbest ways possible, and while it’s not exactly a major achievement to string together some inappropriate language suited for bathroom walls over lo-fi punk, I can’t deny that Puppy And The Hand Jobs have a firm grasp on the matter at had. To no one’s surprise, these songs recall the early GG Allin singles, The Spits, Buck Biloxi and Loli & The Chones, but Puppy and Co. clearly try harder than the rest of ’em, desperate to be noticed in an era where attention spans are exponentially smaller than back when GG was flinging poo across the Northeast. Honestly, if they toned down the shock-jock aspect, I might enjoy these tunes a little more, as the bizarre mixing of “Cocksucker” deserves multiple spins, not because of but in spite of the fact that it’s a grown man in a novelty diaper singing it.

S S S S Walls, Corridors, Baffles LP (Präsens Editionen)
What’s nice about communicating with you via text instead of in person is I never have to say any of these artist names out loud. How do you think you say this one, is “S” spoken four times in equally-spaced repetition, or hissed like a snake, or something else entirely? We may never know. Anyway, I had the itch for some experimental industrial-techno abstractions, and this recent full-length from this Swiss (or should I say “Swissss”) producer is hitting that nail firmly on the head. The sound palate reminds me of Lucy, Emptyset and Kerridge, but S S S S is constantly mucking about with it, pulling some sounds like taffy and strangling the life out of others. It’s a bleary-eyed form of sound design, redolent of Ben Frost for sure, but rather than going fully cinematic, the chopping helicopter blades, laser blasts and poisonous drones were crafted for the sake of the tracks themselves, not in service to any supplementary media. It’s an aggressive record, even when the percussion is somewhere off to the side as cavernous echo and steam combustion rip through the speakers, and it’s just that sort of restless hostility that does the trick for me. As soon as someone finally figures out how to mosh to this stuff, no club will be safe.

Tenshun / Maunarc split 7″ (Divergent Series)
Always nice to have a fresh offering from the Divergent Series label, this one in the form of a white vinyl 7″ (which is apparently the worst color of vinyl when it comes to audio fidelity, not that I’ve ever personally noticed). Tenshun came through these pages way back in 2011 for another split, and while I cannot recall much about it besides the phonetically-spelled name, this track’s got my attention! It’s an absolutely crazed drill n’ bass massacre, utilizing a crusty kit over some lingering tones. It almost feels like digi-dub as far as the sonic atmosphere, but the percussion is rippling like peak Planet Mu break-core circa the turn of the century (and Tenshun was around back then as well, making similar tunes). Maunarc is also spelled like it sounds, and in the five minutes I spent trying to figure out the person(s) responsible for it, I came up empty. It actually sounds like a tremendously slowed-down version of Tenshun’s cut, as if Tenshun was a 78 and this is the same record on 33, although the beat here is locked in place, moaning vocals waft in and out, and it staggers like a drunk wandering through a haunted house. Nice pairing of fast and slow, demonstrating why out-of-control speed and stoned-out wobbling are excellent aesthetic choices for underground electronic music of this caliber.

Yamaneko Spirals Heaven Wide LP (Local Action)
If you’re gonna name your album Spirals Heaven Wide, it damn sure better be beautiful, but thankfully London producer Yamaneko is up to the task. You can stick this one under “power ambient”, or if you opt for a more esoteric filing system, in between the rainclouds that seem to follow Burial everywhere he goes. These songs certainly share that same “echoes of the club on your 4 AM walk home through rain-slicked cobblestone alleys” vibe that Burial essentially invented, but Yamaneko is less filmic about it and a little more direct, opting for large sweeping chords and uplifting melodies. (The album even ends on what sounds to be an old-timey music box melody, the sort of thing you’d find in your great-grandmother’s attic after learning she was once a beautiful ballerina.) Thus, these tracks often feel like the spellbinding builds before some massive trance drop, although in Yamaneko’s case the drop never arrives, content instead to hover, sail and drift through these curiously soothing electronic vistas. Titles like “You Envied The Stars Their Height” might call to mind grandiose post-rockers like Explosions In The Sky or Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and while there’s certainly a shared sense of classical magnificence, I find Spirals Heaven Wide to be deeply engrossing and mood-altering, whereas your average Mogwai copycats have me running to the nearest exit.