Advent Pain & Suffering 12″ (Bridge Nine)
Here’s some proof that you can’t always judge a book by its cover, even when it comes to hardcore records. The design of this Advent EP comes straight from the Youth Attack / Deranged handbook – imposing Old English fonts, grainy images of ancient occult violence… I had to scratch at the band’s name on the cover to make sure it wasn’t just a sticker covering Total Abuse’s name beneath. I throw the record on, expecting a noisy, reverb-laden tribute to Hoax and Gag, but Advent have no time for anything but the purest form of metal-core. I’m hearing Hatebreed, Strife, all those heavy classics in the four songs Advent offer here. Pristine recording quality, prime chug, gruff barked vocals (but clear enough that the lyrics are intelligible), group backing vocals into mosh breakdowns, mosh breakdowns into extended pit violence, etc., all the hallmarks of classic ’90s metal-core are tightened up and in full effect, with four tracks all clocking over four minutes a piece. I assumed people were still playing music like this (has any strain of hardcore-punk, since its inception, ever truly disappeared?) but I was surprised to hear it here, in this format. It sounds tight – Advent are clearly well polished, and I guess I can’t blame them for not doing the whole “blurred live band photo stretched out as a background with pixelated Varsity font logo” design style I’m used to accompanying bands who sound like this. Some things aren’t due for a comeback quite yet, I suppose.
Allegory Chapel Ltd. Without Tears: Noise In Theory & Practice LP (Throne Heap)
Allegory Chapel Ltd. is a noise fixture dating back to the ’80s, the sort of name that might come up over polite dinner conversation about The Haters or Hijokaidan. I had no idea it was an ongoing concern (the limited split-tape noise scene has passed me by) but was glad to grip Without Tears. It’s a fine album, one that manages to clearly fit within the noise genre without feeling overtly harsh or grating (at least by my standards) – there’s no confusing this with Merzbow or Whitehouse. Rather, Allegory Chapel Ltd. constructs long strands of feedback and distorted synth, all tightly edited and processed to include sounds of seagulls at the beach and futuristic spoken word. This often leads to an oddly therapeutic sensation, like I’m trapped inside one of those falsely-pleasant alternate universes that exist only in prescription drug commercials. (This record often feels like I’m watching a grandpa play catch with a golden retriever while a voice-over says “may cause immediate heart failure or dysrhythmia”.) The b-side surprisingly enters electro-wave territory and sticks with it for a while, like a particularly unsettling Magas track, before abruptly entering into a live recording of human confusion and twinkly drone processes. Swish!
Annie Anxiety Soul Possession LP (Dais)
I can’t be the only one who got into punk in the mid-’90s and met Crass Records and their associated offshoots with knee-jerk confusion and derision, can I? Besides their actual punk rock tunes, it didn’t make sense to my teenage self, so it’s been a joy discovering just how damn great so much of it is (you can imagine my shock when I first heard Poison Girls in my mid 20s and realized they were utterly sick). Annie Anxiety is another great example of Crass Records’ outstanding reach, herself a teenage punk who moved to the UK and got into all sorts of strange and artsy music scenes, blended righteously on her debut album Soul Possession. It first came out in 1984, and it manages to combine some of the coolest sounds 1984 had to offer – Crass’s anarchic drum circles, the burgeoning hip-hop of a Celluloid 12″, On U-Sound’s funky dub, industrial music’s white-knuckled tension… it’s all smushed in there. While I listen to Soul Possession, I imagine Jean-Michel Basquiat tagging up a squat in North London with The Pop Group practicing on a different floor. And yet, Anxiety’s music sounds so fresh and current, as her hazy, hypnotic beats and vocal style recalls LA Vampires and would easily sneak onto Not Not Fun’s upcoming release Soundcloud without being revealed as a thirty year-old relic. Dais continues to be keen excavators of punk’s dark and art-driven underbelly and Soul Possession‘s attraction is immediate.
Bear Bones, Lay Low Hacia La Luz LP (No ‘Label’)
Bear Bones, Lay Low is the curious moniker of one Ernesto González, who I believe has some sort of indirect connection with Morphosis, not to mention a thick pile of releases on labels like Sloow Tapes and (K-RAA-K)³, and one way or another I ended up checking out his newest album, Hacia La Luz. It’s been a real treat, the rare psychedelic electronic record that can be fulfilling in settings both solo and communal. It opens with “Lightning Eyelids”, a fifteen-minute jubilation that recalls Morphosis at his most spiritual – a clopping rhythm is used as the base for ascending synths, an excursion that goes as deep as the listener is willing to go. The four tracks that follow all seem to exist in its wake, but not in a bad way – Hacia La Luz works monastic drones and techno percussion into wondrous journeys of the psyche, as if you went so deep into Brainticket’s catalog that you unlocked a secret level and received Bear Bones, Lay Low as the reward. Spacey krautrock and underground techno are easily bridged if you have the right tools for the job; González is a keen and sophisticated guide.
Bleeding Gums II 7″ (Neck Chop)
Is it possible to read this band’s name and not instinctively think “Murphy” directly after? Surely I’m not the only one with this problem. Anyway, they’re a wild punk group from Chicago, and they do well with the eight tracks offered here (along with an intro). I’d place them on the end of the garage-rock spectrum that is so frantic and slamming that it becomes hardcore, quite similar to The Dwarves in both sound and delivery. The vocalist tries to get the most out of his vowels, howling them out as though he were trying, stork-like, to catch any errantly-tossed beer directly in his gullet. The guitarist is solo-ready, and the insert comes with a sharp illustration of a punk drinking booze upside-down next to some garbage cans and vermin, because naturally every new crazy hardcore-punk band aspires to someday live in a dumpster. Better than the suburbs, no doubt!
Brown Angel Shutout LP (Sleeping Giant Glossolalia)
Brown Angel have been dishing out their dense and burly noise-rock for at least a decade now, and if you’re a fan of Harvey Milk, Evehategod, Melvins and Neurosis and wished you had a new chunk of fat to chew on, I highly suggest Shutout. They get straight to the point on their third album and stick there for its full duration; this is clearly the work of a band who have already established their parameters and continue to refine and intensify their work rather than seek out new environs. Each track has plenty of slow-motion chug, and the guitars are coated with a particularly abrasive form of synthetic distortion, a sensation similar to when you think you’re stepping into a shallow puddle but it’s actually a mud-hole that goes past your shin. Brown Angel are so adept at this particular form of heavy, patient noise-rock that the Chrome and Hüsker Dü covers that appear on the b-side could easily be mistaken for original Brown Angel material, as they are rendered with a similar dreadful intensity. I’m fairly certain you can still smoke in most Pittsburgh bars, which makes sense, as Brown Angel sound like a band that is used to performing in a cloud of unventilated human pollution.
Cereal Killer Demos 7″ (Neck Chop / Anti Fade)
I was recently talking to some pals about the idea of whether or not every town should have their own Lumpy & The Dumpers. On one hand, childish and grotesque punk rock should never be withheld from the people, but on the other, why are you putting out records if your identity seems to mirror other current bands so acutely? Cereal Killer feature some Ausmuteants personnel, whom I dig, and this group seems to be their Lumpy tribute, from the visual aesthetic down to the sound of the music. Their insert features an ugly, scatologically-porny character (the “Cereal Killer” himself) and their songs are thrashing, slimy pogo-punk played vigorously with a frantic and zany vocalist. I wouldn’t be surprised if they bring out their own slime pit during shows, but fill it with reduced-fat milk and Weet-Bix instead. Before I sound like I completely hate fun, I’ll say that Cereal Killer sound perfectly fine and their songs are more than adequate, it’s just that when it comes to bands willingly entering the international stage by releasing records and getting their name out there, I value creativity much higher than a successful imitation of one’s peers. Punk bands copying each other is of course a tradition practically as old as punk itself (just ask Discharge) but when you’re doing things so similarly in practically every way to another great band that exists simultaneously, it mostly just makes me want to listen to that other band, or even worse, neither.
Concealed Blade Concealed Blade LP (Beach Impediment)
Concealed Blade’s demo (reissued on 7″ by Beach Impediment) was a true hardcore stomper, the sort of effort that sticks out thanks to its audaciousness and swagger, and the Pittsburgh group do right for themselves on this follow-up LP. They still have a burly American hardcore sound, with clear praise of X-Claim!’s discography, yet their songs feel more like original creations than cut-and-paste homages (you won’t spend your time figuring out specifically which DYS drumbeat or Negative FX riff they’re borrowing). What truly elevates them, however, is the feeling that they’re playing hardcore music to fill stadiums, that their songs are meant to echo across Glastonbury Fest at sunset with a sea of humans headwalking each other – Concealed Blade clearly celebrate the larger-than-life sensation that often comes with being in a loud guitar group. The guitars are constantly on overdrive, dive-bombing and squealing out solos if there is ever a slight break (or just as often, wailing away over the rest of the group). The vocalist has a classically meaty vocal approach, somewhere between Boston Strangler’s Ban Reilly and Crucial Youth’s Joe Crucial, and it is the perfect companion to the music, tough without taking himself too seriously. If you were seeking out 2017 hardcore’s answer to Queen, stop right here!
Control / Exit Hippies split 7″ (Paank Levyt)
Another buy-on-sight transmission from Exit Hippies and their current residence, Paank Levyt. I own more Exit Hippies records than I know what to do with, and yet it’s still not enough. Some of their prior split-record partners have been dubious (not sure I ever need to hear The Wankys or Lotus Fucker again) but Control were a nice addition. They’re violent, thrashing hardcore, with the bass high in the mix, a snare drum that sounds to be made of tin and guitar that is as atonal as Philip Corner’s Coldwater Basin, and they maintain an unwavering intensity throughout these three songs, almost to render them not intense but soothing. Of course, we’re all here for the ‘Hippies, and they open their side with the distant thump of after-hours techno (has Exit Hippies gone Burial on us?) before cracking open the universe with the standard aspects of noise-core (drums, gutteral vocals, distorted guitars) soaring past independently of each other, as if someone finally disassembled the space-time continuum in order to listen to Napalm Death’s Scum. The rest of us continue to exist in the long shadow of Exit Hippies.
De-Bons-en-Pierre Crepes 12″ (Dark Entries)
I’ve spent the last six months twiddling my thumbs impatiently as I await Beau Wanzer’s third full-length (I was told pressing plant issues are to blame), but mercifully this De-Bons-en-Pierre EP dropped out of nowhere, a fresh new collaboration between Wanzer and Maoupa Mazzocchetti. Am I the only one who thought Dark Entries just did reissues? Whatever the case, I am eternally grateful for this record, six tracks of transmogrified EBM and gutter electronics. I have such high expectations for Wanzer at this point, but Crepes still impresses, with its insistent thwack, seasick synths and uneasy sense that the sewer is going to back up through my speakers at any given moment. De-Bons-en-Pierre sure sounds like peak Wanzer to me, which has me wondering what Mazzocchetti’s involvement was – even if he just sat back and sizzled up some crepes while Wanzer went at it, I appreciate his contribution. (There are some French(?) vocals glazed across a few of these tunes, so I’m looking in his direction for those.) Each track kicks butt, although the syrupy shimmer of “The Mud Man Is Coming” raises my neck hairs like one of those wire scalp-massaging tongs. The cover and insert feature both men wearing crepes on their face, looking like an edible version of Lightning Bolt, and I couldn’t be more pleased.
Emptyset Borders LP (Thrill Jockey)
I had wrongly assumed that James Ginzburg and Paul Purgas had said all they needed to say with their Emptyset project, but they came back for one more round, this time on American indie Thrill Jockey in an album that I can only assume pays homage to one of the finest American CD and book sellers to recently go bankrupt. Emptyset’s first few albums (and Collapsed EP in particular) have bludgeoned me like nothing else, before or since, but they started to lose me a bit on the last few records that assessed ambient sound and the relation of drone to its architectural habitat – there was far less to chew on, at least for a low-minded ECW fan like myself. Nice to hear that they got back into various simplistic and painfully throbbing patterns on Borders, although I kept waiting for something unexpected to develop, or some new level of sonic sludge to materialize (which I realize very well may be impossible). Emptyset’s music isn’t about the sound itself, so much as the sound of its deployment – the various sensations of vibrating speaker cones, burning wires and overloaded amps was just as crucial to Emptyset’s recordings as the synths or electronics they use, and that remains intact here. I had hoped Emptyset were coming out of semi-retirement to snap my skull back all over again, but instead they’re offering another eleven tracks of violent thud and molten reggaeton rhythms, which works just as fine.
Exek Biased Advice LP (Another Dark Age)
Another Dark Age very well might be the finest Berlin-based Australian label, I’m just gonna go ahead and say it. This Exek LP is full of sumptuous, dark n’ dubby post-punk and it fits in perfectly within the techno / noise / punk axis Another Dark Age has stuck its flag into. Nothing about Exek is particularly new or inventive, and yet I find Biased Advice utterly tantalizing – they’re just effortlessly cool about a style of music that demands such presentation. Their equation is basically Anika’s sparse, dubby post-punk sound (right down to the muffled snare) with the nicotine-laced guitars of vintage Birthday Party; picture Anika’s “Masters Of War” with the guitar stabs of “Big Jesus Trash Can” and you’ve zoomed in on Exek’s street-view. The vocalist has the perfect disinterested moan to go along with the music, the sort of half-there sneer that has me assuming he has double duty as a guitarist or something (just checked the personnel listing and I am correct). Exek songs tend to drift beyond five minutes more than not, but it feels like the only way to play these songs, moderately-paced and narcotic. If I move to Berlin, do I get to start a band like this too? Please?
FNU Clone, Inc. Binary Or Die LP (Total Punk)
FNU Clone, Inc. is an off-shoot / mutation of FNU Ronnies, who I believe were one of the finest punk groups to ever perform and implode in the ’00s. Amazingly, I think FNU Clone, Inc. manages to top the greatness of the Ronnies with Binary Or Die, the first more-or-less official release under this moniker. Let me explain why! FNU Clone takes the hot street-garbage vibe of FNU Ronnies’ more esoteric tracks (the Golem EP in particular) and applies it to what is basically some classic old-school bashing punk rock, riffs that were probably fondled by Circle Jerks and The Lewd decades prior. Thus, the inherent catchiness and energy of the dawn of West Coast hardcore-punk is given a molten lava makeover, care of vocalist (and sole member?) Jim Vail’s bridge-troll vocalizations and what sounds like an infected scab covering each specific instrument, from the digital drums to the guitar (is he playing it out of a cigarette-box amp turned all the way up?). It’s as if Timmy’s Organism tried to sound like Crazy Spirit instead of Chrome, perhaps, but at the same time, greater than any half-baked comparison would lead you to believe. It’s so primitive, it’s post-modern, just as vile and menacing and unfriendly as I’d want any punk band to sound in 2017.
Ruth Garbus & Friends Hello Everybody 7″ (OSR)
I’m not entirely sure, but I think OSR put out like twenty releases in the past month or so? I’m trying to figure out the logistics at work there, maybe this is a “let’s empty our bank accounts on fun stuff because nuclear Armageddon is nigh” move, but whatever the case, it’s been fun catching up with all these OSR joints if mostly just because they’re all quite good. Ruth Garbus entered my life via her participation in the far-too-short-lived group Happy Birthday, but her solo material is nearly as compelling, indie-pop that is as idiosyncratic and lyrically anomalous as it is smooth and upbeat. “Hello Everybody” opens with the line “Hello everybody / there’s a Nazi living in my head” and goes from there to call out Doritos by name, for example. There are four tracks here, fleshed out by percussion, bass, tapes, clarinet and extra guitars, all welcome additions to her arrangements – the pots n’ pans percussion of “Black Bag” lends a breezy Bohemian feel that I find particularly rousing. Garbus and crew seem to gather and make music with the same nonchalant conviviality of regular people getting together for dinner, although I bet they also put together some damn fine meals, too.
Housewives Housewives 12″ (Ever/Never)
There must be a million bands named Housewives, but this one hails from London, and this 12″ EP is actually a reissue of their debut cassette from 2013. I assume the band still exists, otherwise this vinyl release will be even less profitable than usual, and I certainly hope they still exist as they play a fine form of traditional early no-wave rock (at least if “traditional no-wave” could ever exist). Their frantic rhythms, tense behavior and guitar-as-weaponry aesthetic reveal a band in full control of their sound, which recalls Mars and DNA in some highly pleasant ways. The bass wildly jaywalks into a propulsive drum pattern, the guitar imitates barnyard animals and the flutter of a horn wriggles itself past the rest – great stuff! They bust out some Teenage Jesus-ish atonal strum on “Almost Anything” and thump like Troubleman recording artists Numbers, with the sprawling song structures that have me thinking Housewives could’ve easily found space in Cold Storage some 35 years ago. I’m throwing around a lot of old names here, but Housewives feels less like an adoring tribute and more like its own distinctly rude burst of life, which is really the only way to do no-wave if you’re gonna.
Nathan Jonson In The End 12″ (Lo Bit Landscapes)
Lo Bit Landscapes generally has the lock on emo techno this side of Berlin, so my interest was piqued on this Nathan Jonson 12″, a name that’s new to me. I guess I was expecting something a little more avant-garde, or perhaps more specifically I mean “difficult to listen to”, but Jonson plays it pure and sweet here. “In The End” sounds eerily similar to a CD of electric lullabies you might find at the bottom of a baby shower registry, like an album of Foo Fighters or Metallica songs played softly and slowly by only warm, soothing synth tones (this scene exists, I’m telling you). I kept waiting for something to jar Jonson’s sweet and tender arpeggio out of its orbit, but nope, this track glides through their air like Vangelis on his daughter’s wedding day. “Softly” is on the flip and it’s just as pleasant, although the rhythmic chords and spiraling synths at least nod toward some form of techno or house, barely visible on the map below as Jonson soars through the clouds on Falkor’s downy soft back. These songs are so airy and sweet that it’s not quite enough for me, like being served tropical-fruit bubblegum for dinner. Perhaps Jonson drops a heavy 4/4 elsewhere in his life and just wanted to lose touch with gravity for a bit, so I’ll just have to respect his wishes.
Lemonade Pink 7″ (Thrilling Living / Not Normal Tapes)
Thrilling Living is certainly one of modern hardcore-punk’s labels to watch, so if you aren’t already, put on your glasses! Their second release is by Minneapolis-based punk band Lemonade, not to be confused with the half dozen indie-rock and electro-pop Lemonades already out there. Because of all those impostors, I wasn’t immediately receptive to this group, but of course then I put on the 7″ and they won me over instantaneously. Imagine if the frantic-yet-tight drum and strum of The Coneheads was applied to raging hardcore-punk instead of outrageous synth-punk and you’re kinda close to Lemonade’s flavor. Or perhaps, imagine the ferociousness of Die Kreuzen and Mecht Mensch with the unpredictability of Brown Sugar? And then, a song like “Forced Sterilization” sounds like the best track Career Suicide never wrote. I’m not saying Lemonade are instantly quintessential, at least not yet, but they manage to sound both modern and classic without being too strongly beholden to either. Here’s hoping they buck the modern trend of breaking up after six months and stick around to develop what they’ve already delivered on this praiseworthy debut!
Lost System No Meaning No Culture 7″ (Neck Chop)
If any of you fools were thinking about sending me a nasty email insisting that there isn’t a single synth-punk band in Grand Rapids, MI, allow me to bounce this Lost System 7″ off your nose! They’ve got a few ideas on the four songs presented here, all of which are borrowed from familiar sources, but it ultimately works out in the end – imagine the soporific side of classic gothy synth-punk, with flourishes to recall New Order and Suicide. The vocalist kinda reminds me of the guy from Filth (the Dutch group of “Don’t Hide Your Hate” fame) in the way he seems to shout without actually raising his voice, and the music seems interested in reaching similar smoke-machine levels as Lost Tribe or the moody scowl of Pleasure Leftists, but I can’t help but hear a punk band at heart here, trying on some Gary Numan facepaint for the heck of it. Of course, by the time I flip the record, the vocalist is doing his best Ian Curtis on “False Companion” and the synth churns like Cold Cave, so who can really say. Every regional punk scene needs one of these bands, that much I know.
Lysol Wired / Knucklehead 7″ (Total Punk)
Straight out of the grunge mecca Seattle, Lysol is here to gleefully spray themselves in your face. I had seen their name around, usually on flyers for Seattle house-venue The Nuthole (one day I’ll finally crawl inside), and much like Tyvek, I look forward to seeing if their popularity status eventually earns them a cease-and-desist letter. Two tracks here, in the “gone in a flash” vein of Total Punk – pretty sure there’s enough real estate across seven inches of vinyl for at least another seven Lysol tunes. That just gives me the chance to play these two songs over and over again, which I’m happy to do anyway. “Wired” reminds me of No Fraud’s “It’s All Economic” in its frantic stop-start, which leads into a DOA-esque slam device, tightly rendered and gone in sixty seconds. “Knucklehead” is a little longer and a bit more classically melodic, hardcore that leans toward fall-on-the-floor garage-rock (is that a keyboard I hear pittering along?) and a chorus that seems to be saying either “I wanna be like you” or “I don’t wanna be like you”, eventually confirming “I wanna be a knucklehead”. I think it’s safe to say that Lysol will someday become the knuckleheads they aspire to be, bless their hearts.
Midnite Snaxxx Chew On This! LP (Pelican Pow Wow)
Tina Luchessi is one of my favorite horizontal-stripes-and-black-leather-jacket-wearing West Coast punk rockers so I was curious to check out Midnite Snaxxx… at least until I found out she was no longer in the group. Oh well! Junk food, being an idiot and punk rock have always meshed excellently, particularly with groups from the Bay Area, and Midnite Snaxxx, although lacking in the Luchessi department, are quite capable with this style. I wonder if Lookout! would be putting out groups like this if it still existed? Midnite Snaxxx are very Burger Records-y at least, with upbeat, bouncy punk to recall Ramones, Pointed Sticks, The Queers and The Briefs, and occasionally Loli & The Chones (although the ‘Snaxxx are far too polished for that sort of comparison to stick). There’s a song called “Attitude” that’s not a Misfits cover, as well as the argumentative double-shot “I’ve Been A Jerk” and “Quit Being A Dick”. I prefer Midnite Snaxxx at their simplest, but they’ve got a number of contemplative power-pop tunes, revealing an interest in Big Star and Cheap Trick (who can blame them). Not gonna listen to this one much more, as it doesn’t really go beyond the tried and true genre confines, but I’m gonna go play “Quit Being A Dick” at myself for saying that.
The Minneapolis Uranium Club All Of Them Naturals 12″ (Fashionable Idiots)
Forty years into punk rock, it’s nearly impossible to carve out a unique style that could still rightfully be considered punk, but I am fairly certain The Minneapolis Uranium Club have done it. Bravo! This new 12″ EP follows up on the sturdy promise of their debut LP, pushing further into some sort of strange everything-corporate, capitalism-as-religion future world that is actually not the future but the here and now. They do so without any heavy-handedness, or overt political messaging, so much as through the sound of their voices, their riffs, their hilarious intros / outros and artwork (I particularly liked the idea of cutting out the center of the record as a mail-in coupon). Musically, I’m hearing plenty of Pink Flag, a slap of The Crucifucks, some Tyvek, the sharp quirk of Devo and the smirking violence of Dangerhouse’s discography, but really there’s no mistaking Uranium Club for anyone but Uranium Club at this point. Their playing is taut and groovy, and the vocals really push their agenda in a way that most other punk bands would be far too timid to try. Essential punk listening for 2017!
Nah Michael LP (Ranch)
Before I start, I’d like to point out that there is both a Nah and a Naaahhh operating in the underground right now. Nah has the lengthier history, and continues to refine his beat-making with Michael, another solid dose of avant-noisy instrumental hip-hop. Nah seems to exist in the same state of mind as the beats behind Death Grips, Clipping and Moor Mother (who actually donates her unflinching verse to one track here), where robotic malfunctions, grimy bleeps and bizarre loops are loaded into an MPC and blasted at full force. Hip-hop has successfully assimilated and processed every other interesting musical strain to some degree, so why not noise and industrial? Nah is particularly crafty, and never gets caught in a specific mood for too long – a pounding washing machine loop will meet some Jan Hammer synths and a chaotic snare roll ala Rashied Ali, and in three minutes’ time, some other entirely separate idea will take its place, maybe a sampled didgeridoo tethered to some Jonzun Crew beats. Sometimes things can get a bit overloaded, but it’s excellent work overall. I encourage you all to wait for my new solo project Nnaaaahhhhh before you decide who you wanna ride with, though.
O$VMV$M O$VMV$M LP (Idle Hands)
So glad I caught this album before the nature of new release promotional schedules slipped it past my periphery forever, as it’s one of the most tantalizingly understated albums I’ve heard in a minute, the sort of simple pleasure I come back to frequently. I still have to look up the name each time I type it, but O$VMV$M is a couple guys in the Young Echo orbit (one of whom does time in the fantastic Gorgon Sound), and on this, their second self-titled album (thanks for the extra confusion, dudes), they’ve put together ten perfect looping miniatures. Imagine short snippets of rhythm and texture snatched from the gear of Actress, Madlib, Oneohtrix Point Never and even Daughn Gibson’s instrumentals, manipulated into beatific loops. It’s like the sonic equivalent of a gorgeous animated GIF, the sort of thing you get unintentionally locked into; or perhaps, if the intro to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood panned past a Bristol nightclub, these sounds might be located inside. If these tracks were twice as long (most fall under three minutes), I’d still be stuck in their glorious and tender microcosms, but O$VMV$M move quickly, sad as it may be. Considering this is their second album, pardon me while I smash that PayPal in the general direction of whomever’s selling the first.
Priests Nothing Feels Natural LP (Sister Polygon)
Surely it’s a bit of a burden to be considered one of DIY punk’s greatest hopes, especially in a time of political horror where no one knows what to do and each day brings some new awful news. There are a lot of people looking to Priests for answers, but Priests manage to evade liberal reassurance or dogmatic pledges like the prevailing and cunning post-punk group they are. And naturally, as any exceptional underground rock group would, they push forward into new and unexpected territory (and that’s coming from me, someone who thought they already knew what Priests were all about) while retaining the core qualities that made them so cool from the start. They still rock, with more than a couple tom-heavy, minimalist punk explosions on offer, but vocalist and lyricist Katie Alice Greer isn’t afraid to turn down the burners, filling each tune with the pathos and mood they demand (which, of course, still might involve red-faced shouting). Their mutated surf-rock sound often yields to sophisticated instrumentation, resulting in confident and strange new-wave music, the sort of tracks that I’ll hear on a mix, love, and then research to find out it’s Maximum Joy from 1983 or the third Raincoats album. It’s a startling development, especially for a band that gets sweaty and crawls through the crowd each time I’ve seen them, but Priests clearly always had this cosmopolitan approach to DIY punk rock and hadn’t had the chance to get these songs out until now (which took two recording sessions along with all their mental energy and money). World tour happening now… go give them some of your mental energy and physical money!
Rank/Xerox M.Y.T.H. 12″ (Adagio830)
Not sure what strings Adagio830 had to pull to snag such a rare and coveted group for release, but I’m certainly glad it happened as I had essentially assumed we had heard all there was to hear from Rank/Xerox. It’s been years since they’d done anything, and as guitarist/vocalist David West is clearly busy with a dozen other projects at any given time, I figured that was it. Not so – here’s four great new tunes, recorded last year and put out on flashy silver vinyl (rightfully so). I have to say, I’m picking up a strong Total Control vibe here, and as David West is closely tied (and has played in?) that group, it can’t be too surprising. But whereas many other bands do their best to impersonate Total Control and come up short, these tunes match Total Control in the way that this frosty, synth-laden post-punk (with the emphasis on punk) music comes with big hooks and immediate gratification. The title track’s chorus is already indelibly etched into my skull, and after the whip snaps of the first three tunes, they stretch out “Deletion” for all of the (still quite brief) b-side, somewhere between Mission Of Burma and Wire at their most uncaged and tense. Pretty flawless, as far as post-punk can get, and I can’t help but yearn for more.
Rik & The Pigs Don’t Tell On Me 7″ (Total Punk)
Rik & The Pigs have made fine work of various rock styles (punk, garage and hardcore thus far), and their chameleonic tendencies continue on this single, which is sassy bubblegum glam, of all things. Turns out that this might be their best fit yet, as “Don’t Tell On Me” struts into the room in rhinestone platforms, sweeter than Sweet and looking to bum all your smokes. Interestingly, Rik steps back on this one, softly (yet firmly) sneering his words while the infinite solos of one Mick Liebgrin (not his real name) steal the spotlight. In keeping with the theme, for the b-side they cover an obscure early Saturday Night Live song (written by Paul Shaffer and Gilda Radner) that sends up the main ‘Stones stud, a song that would compositionally-speaking fit perfectly within The Wrestling Album but is handled with all the boombox fuzz and lo-fi ‘tude that you’d expect of Rik & The Pigs (and Total Punk). Very cool, and it even comes with a big fold-out newsprint insert, a first for Total Punk’s low-budget style. I’d like to take this time to pose a formal challenge to Rik & The Pigs for their next single: 2 Tone ska. Your move, Rik.
Shackleton & Vengeance Tenfold Sferic Ghost Transmits 2xLP (Honest Jon’s)
I know, I first read this as “Shackleton & Avenged Sevenfold” too, and was thrilled at the prospect of Shackleton’s dank tribal-dystopia getting a teenage mall-metal makeover, but alas, Vengeance Tenfold is a spoken-word artist who’s appeared with Shackleton previously (he contributed vocals to Music For The Quiet Hour). Sferic Ghost Transmits follows Shackleton’s other album-length vocal collaboration (with Ernesto Tomasini), and it feels a bit more like home for him, or at least for me. For this project, Shackleton brought his usual box of tricks, with plenty of space-aged hand percussion, chiming bells and the specific strain of tumbling, Tantric rhythms that Shackleton solely claims. These tracks are all pretty lengthy, allowing Vengeance Tenfold plenty of space for his lines, sometimes approached like occult hymns, at other times conjuring a hazy post-techno version of Comus’ First Utterance. England’s witchy past soaks into much of Sferic Ghost Transmits; if David Keenan’s England’s Hidden Reverse continued past Coil, Nurse With Wound and Current 93 into the ’00s and ’10s, a Shackleton chapter would be a necessity. I still prefer Shackleton’s solo, vocal-less works that acknowledge the club, at least obliquely, but I’m not about to interrupt a séance such as this.
Sparrow Steeple Steeple II LP (Richie)
Sparrow Steeple’s debut album (there is no Steeple I that I’m aware of) ignores the age-old question of “can old guys rock?”, instead answering “can old guys shamelessly have fun being weirdos without caring who’s noticing?”. It’s a resounding “you betcha”, of course, and a true achievement in what can only be dubbed Old New Weird America. I’m under the impression that most of this album was recorded in Sparrow Steeple’s practice space, deep in the heart of some forgotten Philadelphian court, but it has the flavor of a late-night fireside jam, each member picking up either a stringed instrument or a percussive device to wildly jam on while they wait for their sausages to flame broil. I was expecting something much more traditional, in the garage- or college-rock canon, but Sparrow Steeple sound like Sunburned Hand Of The Man if they were raised on scratchy flea-market 45s, like they’re absolute acid freaks who can somehow recite every Jan & Dean or Hollies lyric by heart, or perhaps the red white and blue reflection of Träd, Gräs Och Stenar (Trees, Grass & Cheesesteaks?). Lots of good food-themed songs here too, my favorite being “Chocolate Memories”… if you can’t ad lib some avant-rock with your friends and stuff your face while doing it, what kinda life are you living anyway?
S-21 Year Zero 7″ (Slugsalt / World Gone Mad)
Intermittent Philadelphia punk label Slugsalt has a fine track record, including this, S-21’s debut EP. They’re a Philadelphia group as well, barely a year old, and they play a very raw form of hardcore-punk, the sort of sounds emanating from non-flyered, ask-a-punk DIY shows far removed from any sort of lawful club system. Like many groups today, they favor riffs on the uglier side of classic hardcore, closer to Chaotic Dischord and Hellhammer in melody than Teen Idles or Necros, propelled by a mid-paced oompah beat, which has clearly dominated underground hardcore-punk in the past decade. (I swear, I feel like if you pinpointed where this became the beat of choice it would lead directly back to Bone Awl, but I digress.) S-21’s drummer doesn’t have much in the way of finesse, which actually makes it stand out positively – hardcore-punk bands in their infancy are often the most exciting, S-21 certainly carrying plenty of energy and grisly slop. Is it too early to compare another band to Krimewatch? Anyway, one of these days I’m going to finally ask a punk, in hopes of witnessing S-21’s basement assault before what will surely be an abrupt demise (either theirs or Earth’s).
The Trendees Go To Town 7″ (Epic Sweep)
What good would this site be if I didn’t tell you about crazy and limited punk 7″s from New Zealand every once in a while? That’s the story with The Trendees and their debut 7″, which has all the unfiltered energy of the early Savage / Shake catalog and a severe impulse to boil their songs alive ala Danny & The Dressmakers. “Horror Watching Youth Watching Horror Watching Youth” is the closest thing I’ve heard to Maniax since Maniax themselves, and they follow it with “Be A Rebel”, which shoplifts Fang’s riff from “The Money Will Roll Right In” and obliterates any sense of professionalism thanks in no small part to the squawking vocalist who seems incapable of emitting anything but vowel sounds. If this were a group from 1980, I’d be scrambling to sell blood platelets so that I might go big on Discogs, but from what I can tell The Trendees are very much a real band alive today (there’s even a video for the Eat Skull-esque “Abandonded Hospital” on YouTube). Will you email the label, just as I did, and figure out how to awkwardly PayPal them far too much for a single 7″ and the necessary shipping costs in order to secure one of the mere hundred copies that exist? I can only hope so.
T-Tops Face Of Depression 7″ (no label)
Pittsburgh’s T-Tops continue their fierce interrogation of AmRep riffage on this new four-song 7″. I feel like there are plenty of folks wishing someone would come along and fill KARP’s void, and while I can’t say T-Tops are quite on that level, they’re still wielding a mighty force. Their guitars are aiming downhill, with just enough technicality so as not to interrupt the necessary flow, and aided by a hoarse vocalist and a drummer who knows when to fill and when to put all his effort into making each hit count. They mix it up a bit with the extraneous recording collage that opens “Pig Of Hell”, but eventually dig back into a riff you’d expect Rob Zombie to have stolen from Clutch in 1996. No frills to be sure, which is clearly how T-Tops like it, and I’m right there with ’em.
Ahoe-Ahoea True Love Never Dies LP (Bunkerpop)
Bunkerpop is only four releases in, but they’re already a label you can count on for attractive no-frills vinyl reissues of obscure DIY post-punk from Europe and beyond. Ahoe-Ahoea is new to me, and I can’t really be blamed as True Love Never Dies is their sole release, issued on cassette back in 1983 to presumably little fanfare in their native Netherlands. Lucky then that I’m hearing it now, as they’ve got a great thing going on. Throughout True Love Never Dies, I hear a lot of the impassioned, free-flowing lyricism of Crass or The Ex, with the measly post-punk beats of Instant Automatons and forays into twitchy dub rhythms not unlike The Pop Group. I would’ve loved to peruse the book and record collections that Ahoe-Ahoea kept on their shelves, as True Love Never Dies is tightly wound and full of sharp wit, performed with the “who cares?” attitude shared by many of the great early post-punk groups (I’m thinking of The 012 in particular here). Cool insert too, with lyrics and some history as well as intense live video stills of the vocalist clutching his mic on its stand next to a guitar leaning on an amp and an otherwise black void surrounding it all. Seems like there might be a WFMU connection to Bunkerpop and their deep collection of ’80s Dutch post-punk strangeness, and I hope their desire to share continues – I love this stuff.
Ashley Bellouin Ballads LP (Drawing Room)
Ashley Bellouin got me – she named her album Ballads, on a label that could ostensibly release an album of ballads, but nah – this record is two sides of expansive and soothing drone meditation. Even her photo on the back cover, she looks more like a rock troubadour than a drone composer – she doesn’t even wear glasses! But anyway, getting to the music, it’s quite pleasant and bare… these tracks aren’t too invasive yet they still take up the space they deserve. Bellouin is credited with harmonium, glass armonica (that’s no typo, I had to Google to be sure and it’s a crazy-looking instrument indeed), aluminum rods and “electronics”, with some electric guitar and cello played by two friends, but for the most part Ballads finds the right tone to heal and nurture one’s body and spirit and hangs there, like a cleansing massage you didn’t know you needed. Even when bells (must be those aluminum rods?) chime, I can’t help but picture them as audible specs of dust hanging in the sunlight, myself shrunken to their size and floating in the lower atmosphere alongside them. She should call her next album Drones and write a dozen Whitesnake-esque slow-jams, don’t you agree?
Black Bananas Spydr Brain / Frozen Margaritas 7″ (OSR)
I’d been meaning to check out Black Bananas, Jennifer Herrema’s post-Royal Trux project, so I thank the OSR Tapes label for this warped 7″ EP. Not warped in a sense of the vinyl’s physical properties, but rather the sonic kombucha that emanates robustly from its grooves. “Spydr Brain” sounds like a nervous, hastily-edited computer edit of some long-lost funk track, but I get the impression that actual human musicians are inexplicably behind the instrumentation, from the slimy bass to the coke-dusted keys. Herrema mostly sticks to the choral hook, “you’ve got a spydr brain”, like a psychedelic sweat-stain on George Clinton’s blazer. I would assume most everyone has a positive psychosomatic response when they hear the phrase “frozen margaritas”, and the song lives up to that upbeat, about-to-get-wasted feeling. The bass on here is particularly farty, working up a strut that avoids a straight line into an eventual daytime nap – I have a feeling if I asked any of the players to recite the alphabet backwards after recording this tune, they’d barely make it to W. Great tunes, to be sure, in a style that no other artist dares to approach, either out of intimidation or disgust. Screw ’em!
Blod Käre Jesus / Mandys Bil 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
I hope the I Dischi Del Barone label never quits it with these weird 7″ singles. They wrapped 2016 with this one from Blod, a solo project from one of the loons in Enhet För Fri Musik, and it’s certainly something to behold. “Käre Jesus” is a lazy polka waltz with male vocals indiscriminately hollering over top – I assume Blod is using a “found” tape for the music and added his own vocal nonsense? Surely I will never know. “Mandys Bil” I take personally, since I know a couple named Mandy and Bill, but I realize that just like the words spoken on the a-side, it’s all in a language I don’t remotely understand, and whatever point Blod is trying to make, I’ve gotten it completely wrong. Anyway, “Mandys Bil” is a more rousing affair, with saxophone blurting in between at least four voices passionately arguing at what must be a dinner table with plenty of libations handy. Very disorienting stuff, and for my money, not one of the hottest I Dischi singles on the market, but I’m still glad Blod is out there, just waiting to bamboozle some unsuspecting fool.
Bruce I’m Alright Mate / Post Rave Wrestle 12″ (Timedance)
Bruce thought he could quietly slip this two-track EP through the close of 2016, but I’m on full alert! Had to pick it up, on the trustworthy Timedance label, and I’m glad I did. Both tracks are proper club constructions for the most part… a bit more conservative when compared to the rest of Bruce’s work but not without his distinct desire to screw things up a bit. “I’m Alright Mate” is a four-on-the-floor banger, snapping and popping just as one might expect, but Bruce goes haywire with what sounds like the entire internet crashing at once – a massive electronic slurp cuts the track entirely, the sort of move no right-minded DJ would pursue. The title “Post Rave Wrestle” conjures a direct confluence of my personal interests, but sadly there are no Sgt. Slaughter samples over Sven Väth beats. I wasn’t disappointed for long though, as “Post Rave Wrestle” cycles through a couple different tunnels, making sense of the initial chaos and locking up a sensible bounce. The groove is relentless, even as Bruce frequently shifts the rhythmic elements, like a child creating random structures from a colorful pile of Lego. It’s not my first, or second, favorite Bruce EP, but it’s nevertheless quite entertaining and worth my while every time I give it a ride. There may come a day where I disrespect Bruce, but we’re not there yet.
Coordinated Suicides False Pleasure 7″ (Kitschy Manitou)
It’s hard for me to think of Madison, WI without drifting off into dreams of Bovine Records and all the stoner, sludge, grind and noise-rock bands that graced their split 7″s throughout the ’90s. Madison is also where Coordinated Suicides come from, and I’ll be damned if they aren’t walking a similar path two decades later. They’ve got a pained, noisy sort of post-hardcore vibe going on, not unlike Pachinko or Thug, groups who never quite made it but had at least a couple good tracks between them (and who could forget the tidy Who Shaved Pachinko? 5″ EP, I know I couldn’t!). In other words, False Pleasure feels like a homespun, amateurish take on Melvins, as if the musicians of Coordinated Suicides want to make music as heavy and intense as possible but are still just kinda figuring it out (and at least one band member probably secretly wishes they could try to sound like Hum and Fugazi (probably the drummer, it’s always the drummer) but the rest of the band are the only other dudes in town who want to play remotely underground music so what can you do). At least that’s how it would’ve went down in 1996, and I can only hope that much hasn’t really changed. Not a lot on this EP moves me musically, but I’m getting a little misty-eyed imagining these three young guys practicing in a cold basement together trying out different distortion pedals and screaming. It’s a sweet and tender thought.
Nicky Crane Bent Water / Bent Night 7″ (Rhythm Works)
Nicky Crane is the moniker James Vinciguerra (he of Total Control and Lace Curtain fame) has chosen for his solo tech-house excursions, making the step from tapes and CD-rs to vinyl on this Rhythm Works 7″. The man is clearly obsessed with rhythm, and as his efforts with Total Control include some of the best punk drumming this century, it’s no surprise he’s ventured off into an electronic corner of his own, surrounded by a mismatched pile of synths, drum boxes and knotted cords. “Bent Water” is a gear workout goes through numerous motifs and sounds, although the beat remains constant throughout; I’m picturing the fast-moving hands of Profligate with Fast Eddie’s casual-cool demeanor as I listen. “Bent Night” hops on a different track, chopping some jungle break-beats into a retro drum n’ bass stew. Disembodied vocals moan across the astral plane as Mr. Crane stutters the rhythm like Squarepusher in the late ’90s – your party won’t be dancing to this one until hours of “Bent Water” variations work things to a sweaty frenzy. I can’t help but feel like these are merely two small transmissions from a mind that is constantly thinking about beats, someone who hears a train passing by and immediately starts thigh-drumming along with it. The generic white sleeve comes with art by in-demand hardcore-punk artist Matthew Bellosi, just in case you forgot where this all came from.
Avalon Emerson Narcissus In Retrograde 12″ (Spectral Sound)
Just reading, thinking or saying the name “Avalon Emerson” immediately triggers the melody to her track “The Frontier” in my brain – I don’t know when that song will stop feeling so vital and intense for me. Clearly, I wasn’t the only person afflicted, as Emerson’s Whities EP drew strong praise from the dance community, and she followed it with this, a four-track EP on the Spectral Sound label. Naturally it was unfair to expect her to match (or even top) “The Frontier”, but I couldn’t help but hope she might. I’ve spun Narcissus In Retrograde a few times now, and it’s safe to say that she hasn’t, at least not here, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a finely-crafted and highly-enjoyable EP all its own. Opener “Natural Impasse” is probably the strongest of the four, riding a “Humpty Dance” bassline with stuttering snare hits and glossy melodies. “Dystopian Daddy” has a little ’80s workout-tape funk to it, all set for your cardio program, and “Why Does It Hurt” offers a disconnected vocal hook over sausage-thick synths and a persistent thwack before the tank-sized bongos of “Groundwater” brings it home. She’s only been producing records since 2014, but Narcissus In Retrograde speaks to the quality and depth of her talent, as these tracks would easily stand up against anything Audion, Guy Gerber, Luciano or Boys Noize are producing for the club – the delicate dynamics of crowd-moving yet carefully-considered track construction are either incredibly well-studied or naturally inherent for Emerson. Gonna be spinning this one quite a bit more, if only to get something besides “The Frontier” out of my head for a few minutes…
Mark Feehan M.F. II LP (Richie)
Mark Feehan is one of Philadelphia’s hidden treats, and I mean that literally when referring to his band Taiwan Housing Project’s live show: he’s always tucked behind someone else’s amp, teetering on the edge of the stage far removed from any club lighting. I admire a guy who shuns the spotlight while furiously creating, and this, his second solo album (the first care of the mighty Siltbreeze) is an entertaining thirty minutes or so, rich with spastic ideas and a frenzied denial of the musical rule-book. It opens with an acoustic guitar passage so mature and introspective, you might think Glenn Jones or Richard Bishop commandeered the instrument, but that idea is quickly dismissed once a bizarre bleepy-bloopy one-act play follows, a form of bubbly hysteria I’d expect out of Carlos Peron or Ghédalia Tazartès. The rest of the album playfully dances between those two extremes, offering plenty more stoic acoustic guitar wanderings alongside creaky, borrowed-gear punk (not unexpected considering Feehan’s time with both Broken Talent and Harry Pussy) or the occasional undead techno beat jumbled with other undetermined instrumentation, putting M.F. II in the same Richie Records’ loony bin as Factorymen and Violent Students (RIP). Feehan is clearly a man of many (broken) talents, with ideas bouncing in his head like children in Ikea’s ball pit, and I’m thankful he restrained himself long enough to capture another fourteen of them here.
Final Exit Seasons Are Going And Going… And Lives Goes On 12″ (SPHC)
Will SPHC ever willingly release their tax records, so I can find out how they’re funding gratuitous noise-core records such as this? Seasons Are Going And Going… is a 2005 recording originally released on CD in 2008, now available on one-sided 12″ vinyl in a lavish glossy gatefold sleeve. I can’t for the life of me figure out why, but good for Final Exit, I suppose! They’re a mid-card Japanese noise-core group with many years and dozens of releases under their belt, and this one is fairly par for the course, mixing harsh atonal noise-core blasts with jokey genre excursions. At one moment, the vocalist will be screaming as though his microphone was a Vitamix, and the next, they’re covering an Iron Maiden riff, toying with surf-rock guitar parts or jumping headfirst into some Epi-Fat melodic punk. It’s fine, although not nearly as brutal as Sete Star Sept or Noise (if I’m comparing recently released SPHC noise-core records), and the musical silliness wears a little thin for my tastes, but hey: you want this on vinyl? I’m not going to stop you.
The Flying Calvittos Goodbye You Spaghetti Punks 7″ (Insolito)
I feel like I’ve grown up right alongside Germany’s Insolito Records: they released a triple 7″ set of some of my favorite power-violence groups back when I was a teenager, and in recent years, they’ve been excavating some of the most exciting and obscure experimental post-punk noise, most notably that highly-necessary Slugfuckers compilation (perhaps the finest Australian group in history). The reissues continue with this proper and tidy reproduction of The Flying Calvittos’ sole work, Goodbye You Spaghetti Punks. If you didn’t add that one to your want list based on the title alone, check your pulse! The a-side features two tracks about Mama and the food she’s cooking: a hysterical collage and a pokey new-wave strut. The b-side gets a little rougher with “Squeal Like A Pig”, which resembles Le Ritz’s “Punker” or Pork Dukes at their most inflamed, then spacier with the spoken-word synthesized space capsule of “Fastnet” (quite similar to Systematics). It wraps with the stompy rock anthem “Lucky To Be Australian”, a powerful rock piss-take that resembles what Life Stinks have been doing to Rolling Stones and Who riffs with great success. Five disparate and intriguing tunes here, each quite worthy of further exploration, but as far as I can tell the Calvittos didn’t make it past this singular EP. I suppose once you’ve said goodbye to the spaghetti punks, there’s not much left to accomplish.
Grouper Paradise Valley 7″ (Yellow Electric)
Inexcusable poser alert: this two-song 7″ single is the first time I’ve heard Grouper. I know, right? She’s clearly one of the top names in the experimental guitar-drone game, but I dunno… when she first came out, I had a strict aversion to checking out artists that were just specific animal names (I still haven’t heard Panda Bear yet, either), and then by the time I realized I should, all of her records were like eighty dollars a piece. Why am I trying to give you excuses when I already said it’s inexcusable? Anyway, here’s my fresh take: she’s great! I think I was expecting a little “more” from her music here, like it was gonna flush my brain with twelve layers of field recordings and blown-out guitar rituals, but these songs arrive at a chilly distance, as if their beauty would evaporate if you actually managed to get a close look. “Headache” is a soft strummer with unintelligible vocals, but what is lacking in clarity is made up for in ambiance and melody. “I’m Clean Now” is a little warmer, with Grouper’s voice offering no hooks but rather a rising mist of emotional tone, the perfect foil to her repetitive and melancholic guitar. Guess I need to save up eighty dollars!
Chester Hawkins Natural Causes LP (Intangible Arts)
Chester Hawkins has been recording a mix of psychedelic electronic styles for a few years under the moniker Blue Sausage Infant but this is his first time producing under his own name – maybe he got tired of answering “Blue Sausage Infant” when people asked him what he did at parties (don’t I know the feeling). Anyway, Natural Causes is comprised of two lengthy tracks, apparently a commissioned soundtrack for a movie called Pale Trees (sorry, but unless your movie was a Taken or Jason Bourne sequel I probably haven’t seen it), and they both exude a confidence and curiosity in the world of long-form instrumental electronic habitats. The a-side opens with the squawking of long-extinct birds and various rustling before settling into a dub techno loop not unlike cv313, then it transforms into some sort of interplanetary craft I’d expect Patrick Vian to have designed. The second side starts out with a similar wide-open atmosphere, eventually docking into a heavy bass tone – presuming Hawkins made this record with actual keyboards, he must’ve spent a lot of time holding down keys. The deep drone eventually heeds to a violent laser light-show that brings forward a sleazy drum beat, the sort of outro I’d expect to frame Charles Bronson calmly exiting an alleyway lined with the corpses of thugs who dared mess with his family.
Idea Fire Company The Synthetic Elements LP (Crisis Of Taste)
A new album by Idea Fire Company always feels like a small but thoughtful gift. The core duo of the group remains Karla Borecky and Scott Foust, and they are uninterrupted here through eight pieces of piano and synth accompaniment. The piano-led tunes are quite gorgeous and pleasant, like Nils Frahm on a restricted recording budget, melting the frost on your window with delicate little musical phrases. It’s Borecky on the piano, and Foust is never too far behind with some sort of synth-based modulation, almost at odds with her stately playing, as if he’s trying to distract her away from her composition in some sort of game. There are also three versions of “The Synthetic Elements” on here, a synthesized algorithm that sounds like something unintended for human ears, as if it were a process deep inside the belly of some mega-server warehouse. As is often the case with Idea Fire Company, the result is a beguiling mix of soothing melodic comfort and inexplicable electronic processing, may they never stop.
Janitor Scum Scenes From The Grocery LP (Lumpy)
Thank the good lord for Lumpy Records, both aggregator and magnet of the most damaged and unfiltered punk sounds happening across this continent. I’m not sure I would’ve ever located the psychotic jangle of Janitor Scum otherwise, what I believe is a two-person project out of Calgary (it may or may not share personnel with Glitter). They have a great thing going on: the amateurish Germs / Dead Kennedys worship of FNU Ronnies is present here, mixed with crappo drum tracks (is everything but the guitar and vocals synthesized replications?), squawked vocals and a sense of discombobulated home studio (read: laptop) post-production. Janitor Scum’s punk lunacy fits right in with the Lumpy roster, no doubt about it, from the fidelity and attitude right down to the art: Scenes From The Grocery comes with one of the most righteously demented inserts I’ve seen since In/Humanity’s The Nutty Anti-Christ, like a bad-trip take on a grocery advertisement inserted into a small town paper in 1989. I wouldn’t be surprised if the insert took longer to make than the actual recording, which would only be fitting, as great sloppy punk like this should be excreted quickly and carelessly.
Ava Mendoza, Maxime Petit, Will Guthrie Untitled 7″ (Be Coq / Ranch)
Three talented players converge in France on their respective guitar, bass and drums and drop a few tracks on the French label Be Coq and the Pennsylvanian indie-punk label Ranch. Works for me! I wasn’t sure how “out” things were going to get (Ranch’s promotional squad assured me it sounded “European”), but the answer is not very. Rather, these three got together for a few cuts of raging math-rock, with precision and outrageous timing acting as guiding principles. I’m reminded of early Battles, late Don Caballero, or Spring Heel Jack’s live recordings with Evan Parker and J Spaceman in the way these tracks sizzle with crisp snare rolls, inverse guitar theatrics and a sense of difficulty-as-pleasure, as if slowly jamming on a Jimmy Buffett cover would cause all three players to collapse simultaneously: death by easiness. The last track kinda kicks up a storm like a mini Magma, which is always a good sign. Not sure I have much reason to re-visit these tracks on vinyl too often (and I mean come on, they couldn’t come up with a band name? some of the best band names are math-rock band names!), but if they move this gathering outside of France and closer to the home of Ranch Records, I may have to pull up a folding chair and bear witness in person.
The Moving Pictures EMDR PTS 1 2 + 3 LP (Perennial / K)
Very cool and beguiling debut from The Moving Pictures, who naturally have very little information about themselves available online. They’ve put together quite a hodgepodge of experimental pop, dour synth-wave, DIY punk and post-punk attitudes on the catchily-titled EMDR PTS 1 2 + 3. They’ll go from a soft synth ripple that recalls early Simple Minds to a loud guitar echoing Elastica’s “Connection” that comes and goes in a flash, and then retreat back to some crepuscular pop. I’m reminded in bits and pieces of labelmates Cairo Pythian and Trans FX, in the way The Moving Pictures handle their wistful and depressive synth tunes, but there are a good number of tracks that have me imagining some sort of collaboration between Carla dal Forno and Merchandise – the vocalist shares Carson Cox’s emotive register and the songs drift loosely on the outskirts of pop structuring. This leads to a jumbled, sometimes-scatterbrained feel to The Moving Pictures and what they’re offering (some tracks are over ten minutes, others less than sixty seconds), but there’s nary a dud in the bunch so no complaints here.
Erik Nervous Teen Distortion Art Junk Music 7″ (Neck Chop)
The influence of Coneheads and their associated cluster of bands continues to grow into 2017, a development that I’m personally fine with so long as the influenced groups are good. Erik Nervous is clearly aware of this as well, as the insert to this 7″ proudly proclaims “Not On Lumpy, Not From NWI”, as if those are the first two questions people ask him upon hearing his music. It’s not without good reason, as his musical style is filled with speedy and distortion-free guitars, anxious drumming and sci-fi zap-gun keyboards. There are six songs here, and the shorter ones are my favorite, as twitchy punk rock is best delivered in a minute or less (I’m reminded of the holy Seems Twice 7″ more than once), although I wouldn’t be surprised if Nervous’s songwriting chops continue to grow (he looks a bit like that Car Seat Headrest guy, after all). I also have to what he’d sound like if he started smoking pot medicinally – Erik Chill, perhaps.
Niagara São João Baptista 12″ (Principe)
Principe has been responsible for bringing Portugal’s underground techno / electronic / dance scene to international prominence for a couple years now, and while I’ve been digging bits of pieces of DJ Marfox and DJ Firmeza in recent months, this Niagara EP is really speaking to me. In a scene of DJs, Niagara are apparently a “band”, or at least they are three people creating music in real-time, not a DJ with a laptop screen. Their music is unique and fresh while also feeling familiar, as Niagara manage to take a few popular and unrelated flavors and splash them together. I’m hearing the downtown NYC avant-funk of Arthur Russell’s Dinosaur L productions, Mi Ami’s freakout post-punk tribalism and the glorious lo-fi crunch of Jamal Moss. There’s a kick, some keys, and various other sounds commingling (is that an old change purse jingling for percussion?), and the occasional echoed vocal ugh has me thinking of a laid back, stripped-down Golden Teacher. Or perhaps Juju & Jordash on a This Heat trip would yield similar results. The four tracks here are fantastic, and it looks like Niagara dropped a whole bunch of EPs in 2016 (mostly CD-rs, go figure), so I’ve got to dig into those too.
Noise Demo Tapes 1991-1995 LP (SPHC)
If there was ever a reason for the “vinyl reissue” to exist, this is the case for it right here: four never-before-on-vinyl demo tapes from Brazil’s Noise collected with all artwork intact. I had only previously caught Noise via compilations (their contribution to the 28-track Chards Of Civilisation 7″ being my personal intro), so I’m thankful I don’t have to trade dubbed tapes in Sweden and Peru in order to hear Noise in all their brutal glory. Demo Tapes 1991-1995 is pure unfiltered noise-core grind par excellence: most songs are under ten seconds or so, the drumming is so crisp and gnarly I can practically taste the smell of burnt popcorn in the air while listening, and the vocals are predominantly high-volume buzz-saw noise, with occasional fidelity upgrades to reveal that it’s an actual human making those sounds. Noise take on a strident anti-capitalist, anti-fascist stance which I find personally appealing, especially when coupled with brutal blasts of hardcore-based noise-core to rival Fear Of God at times (and I would never make that comparison lightly). Makes me want to hit a snare drum twenty times per second in a basement with my friends, that’s for sure.
Omegas Power To Exist LP (Beach Impediment)
Toronto’s Omegas always had a potent mix of classic NYHC chops and a winking, amusingly exaggerated approach to their personal style. I saw them live a few years ago and they looked like a who’s who of the characters on Murphy’s Law’s claymation album cover: thrash guy, straight-edge jock, drunk punk, chain-wielding criminal, etc., but in their back cover portraits they seem to have assumed some sort of Escape From New York heavy metal bondage thug look, all five dudes wearing sunglasses as if they were mercenaries hired to kill Turbonegro. It could easily come across as silly (and if there’s one thing the modern hardcore scene despises, it’s silliness), but Omegas have always written thrilling hardcore songs, which they continue to do here. Imagine Warzone and Sick Of It All if they had the lightning-fast reflexes of The FU’s, with time changes and unexpected twists to rival Impalers. This all comes with a vocalist (named “Hoagie”) who seems to envision Raybeez reborn as a nemesis of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – the lyrics are fascinating, cryptic and often poetic, singing about society’s underbelly in his own way. Omegas are clearly on their own trip, and if you’re not digging it I have to wonder why.
Prince Ratchets A Storm Of Seas LP (Drawing Room)
Prince Ratchets is the second artist to be released as a part of Drawing Room’s “bootleg” series, and little about them is known – the press release keeps things mysterious. I wonder if it’s someone I know (Dad, is that you?), but whatever the case, this mysterious stranger has concocted a fine album of self-assembled industrial klang. A Storm Of Seas often sounds like Jack Bauer waterboarding a cello in the basement of some abandoned factory, with mechanical creaks, percussion echoing through the rafters and small hives of feedback maintaining themselves throughout. I’m reminded of Innercity in the way classic industrial noise is given an orchestral makeover, or perhaps Niellerade Fallibilisthorstar through the constant ambient sense of post-societal decay, as if living organisms are suddenly in short supply. Prince Ratchets, keen recording artist that he is, manages to take all this and shape it into somewhat functional songs, at least in a loose sense of the word… if he needs to remain veiled in shadows to amass such delights, I’m content to let him do his thing.
Question S/T LP (Fashionable Idiots)
Glad to see Fashionable Idiots back at it again, a trustworthy Minneapolis hardcore-punk label that’s been quiet as of late. Question are a great addition to the family, and perhaps the heaviest and most pummeling group to ever appear on the label. They’re got a heavy, propulsive hardcore sound going on, much like Framtid and Kriegshög, where the insane drumming kinda runs the show – I truly wonder how hardcore drummers manage to get this good, where they’re hitting so hard and running through precise little fills nearly every measure. The music is also appropriately blown-out, but not as a means to obscure their lack of ideas or talent so much as a necessary sonic texture for music this raw and steaming. I thought I recognized the snarl of vocalist Saira Huff, and it turns out she also sang in Minneapolis crust institution Detestation. Minneapolis certainly has a rich history when it comes to menacing, crust-influenced hardcore-punk, and Question are one of its finer exports. My only question for Question is, why call your album S/T when you can simply omit a title and the record becomes self-titled as a result? The rest of you can go mosh, I’m gonna sit here and ponder this for a little while.
Rkss Cutoff EP 12″ (Alien Jams)
I was given the hot tip to check out Rkss by some real live British music fans a few months ago, and who am I to ignore a recommendation straight from the source? Alien Jams also released that cool Beatrice Dillon / Karen Gwyer split, and musical scientist Rkss is a fine addition to their interplanetary roster. Rkss (whose legal name I have been unable to uncover) seems to be an experimental hardware technofile, similar in spirit to artists like Vessel and Egyptrixx in their ability to locate previously non-existent sounds and finagle them into beats and tracks. “Cutoff” opens with what sounds like Steph Curry dribbling two basketballs simultaneously in an empty court as a track slowly forms behind it, whereas “Drive” appears as a dishwasher on its last legs, soapsuds oozing onto the floor right before the house party begins. One can’t help but wonder what processes were necessary in order to create these sounds, but before long everyone is moving to the beat and initial inquisitiveness gives way to physical motion. It’s a personal sweet spot for me, where adventurous sound-craft and brain-dead funkiness meet, and I have to wonder if I’ll ever tire of artists like Rkss sharing it.
Sete Star Sept Beast World LP (SPHC)
Sete Star Sept are one of my favorite currently-active noise-core groups today, and I extend my gratitude toward SPHC and whoever else is shelling out their money to ensure that records as grotesque and brutal as Beast World continue to leak into the underground. In case you aren’t aware, they’re a blasting bass/drums duo with two flavors of vocals (guttural or piercing), and their approach is generally (but not always) the same: Napalm Death, Brutal Truth and Pig Destroyer songs condensed into tiny miniatures that eschew the definition of “music”. Here’s what’s new and exciting about Beast World: firstly, their art received a huge upgrade from the corny horror-Anime style of 2013’s Visceral Tavern thanks to illustrator Rudolfo Da Silva, whose horrific slime-monsters call to mind Johnny Ryan’s Prison Pit series, or perhaps Lumpy on an MFA track. The music is a little different too, in that drummer Ryosuke Kiyasu and bassist Kae Takahashi switch instruments for the b-side. The b-side is a bit sloppier and not as heavy, but they make up for the lessened brutality via the minimalist vulgarity of their song titles: “Worthless Piece Of Shit!”, “You Fucking Dick!!!”, “Eat Ass, Jerk!”, “Mother Fucker” and “Jerk Off” are merely the first of twenty-two similarly-titled songs. In the hands of a lesser group, it’d just seem stupid, but I’m sitting here Da Vinci Code-ing myself through these titles, hoping to unlock the secret of life.
S.L.I.P. Slippy When Wet LP (Sorry State)
The Braddock Hit Factory never quits, its latest offering in the form of S.L.I.P.’s debut album. They’re a Pittsburgh-based punk group, fronted by the half-man, half-machine punk Dave Rosenstraus (who appears to be more machine than man in his shirtless back-cover photo), and I have to say, I still can’t believe it’s him on the mic. He’s sung in bands before, but his voice here is that of a snotty teenager on week-long detention duty. It sounds like the voice of a cartoon skater kid, or the semi-affected vocals of Killed By Death classics Peer Pressure, and I still can’t get over it. However he came into this voice, it works well with the rest of the band, who play scrawny, surf n’ turf punk rock, like Agent Orange or Shattered Faith or any of the dozens of bands that shared LP compilation space with them. It’s a little startling to imagine the music of S.L.I.P. coming from anyone above drinking age – these songs carry an anti-authority, bored-in-school attitude so strongly and sincerely, even if the lyrics are occasionally more nuanced (rest assured there are anti-cop, anti-USA, and anti-heroin tunes present). If Peter Panning yourself through a life of hardcore-punk can sound as fun and rambunctious as Slippy When Wet, I may have to pull on some green tights myself.
Submissions Submissions LP (Sleeping Giant Glossolalia)
Submissions are a heavy post-industrial duo, belching all sorts of smog from their smokestacks on this self-titled debut. They’ve got James Plotkin on mastering and thank Godflesh in the liner notes (for what reason I cannot say), and that offers a fairly reasonable radius for listening to their music. Their drum machine sets a leisurely pace for most of these tracks, with stormy, droning guitars and some sort of hazy swab of vocals permeating the mix as well. I’m reminded of Black Mayonnaise if they were showered and shaved, or a less violent Quttinirpaaq. Godflesh certainly aren’t too far from the mix either, and I’m sure the men of Submissions own at least one lavish gatefold SunnO))) album between the two of them. It’s a style of music I find easy to enjoy, and Submissions keeps things interesting withough feeling antsy or impatient… once they lock into something majestic and sinister, you can rightly expect them to stick with it for a while. I prefer the heavier, more gruesome tracks to the Jesu-ish shoegaze touch they sometimes approach, but either way I am openly accepting Submissions.
SW. Untitled 2xLP (SUED)
An interesting backstory on an artist isn’t lost on me, and reading about SW. has only made me appreciate his music more. Not because of anything crazy (he didn’t live in Antarctica as a teenager, wasn’t a backup dancer for Christina Aguilera), but because everything I’ve read has made it clear how SW. and the rest of the SUED crew simply love music; they constantly seek out grooves for the sole purpose of losing themselves within them, with downplayed / non-existent artwork and a humble aesthetic. I’ve enjoyed previous SW. recordings, and this new double 12″ is an impressive bounty of eclectic house and techno. Many of the tracks here favor authentic drum-kits, working those pristinely-recorded ride cymbals and woodblocks into dazzling rhythms. Much of this album seems to be set within tropical alien landscapes (think bird-calls mixed with horizon-sized synths) but SW. enters an unexpectedly funky territory at times too, most notably with the funk bass guitar and taut disco-edit feel of side C’s opening track. There’s a lot to process over these four sides (although having spent some time recently with Prince Of Denmark’s infinite opus 8 I feel somewhat prepared for the task), but the beauty of SW. and his debut album is the space it gives the listener, to either lock in and focus on all the remarkable subtleties or drift off, allowing the music to inhabit a pleasant background expanse. Doesn’t matter either way to SW., as he’ll be spending endless hours in his little production room no matter who’s checking in or out.
Vexx Wild Hunt 12″ (M’Lady’s / Upset The Rhythm)
I pre-ordered this Vexx 12″ back when the idea of an orange president was scoff-worthy, and now here it finally is. Vexx are undoubtedly one of the most important punk bands of the ’10s, if not for the world for me personally, and this EP reveals their talent as well as offers a few ideas of where they might’ve gone had they not split up (far too early, I’d say). Whereas previous records showed Vexx as a raging punk band capable of disassembling the DNA of a basic riff much like the best early emo bands (I swear there was some strange sense of Clikatat Ikatowi and Moss Icon buried in their musicality and violently sped up), live they were unparalleled, each musician firing on all cylinders while vocalist Maryjane Dunphe put her body on the line like an avant-garde stuntwoman, utilizing interpretive dance the way Iggy used peanut butter. And now, on Wild Hunt, they’re displaying a side I wasn’t expecting: proto-glam metal power-pop played at hyper speeds. Go figure! They’re like the toughest leather band, as if the earliest Judas Priest garage demos were actually performed by Nasty Facts or Screaming Sneakers. Guitarist Michael Liebman is possessed throughout, Corey Rose remains the most interesting (and relentless) American punk drummer, and of course Dunphe is taunting and terminating with her elastic voice, all co-existing on the edge of a total breakdown. I guess they did break down, or at least someone moved to a different city, so while I’ll have to consciously force myself to stop thinking “what if Vexx just kept being a band?”, at least I’ll have the thick grooves of Wild Hunt to wear out.
Warm Bodies Domo 7″ (Neck Chop)
Warm Bodies are another cool Midwestern punk band to pop up (from Missouri, as it is), and Neck Chop got its meaty paws on their Domo cassette, giving it the vinyl treatment to which all cassettes secretly aspire. I have to say, I like what they’re putting down here: rambunctious, splashy punk rock with guitars constantly firing, like one of those modern Nerf guns that has half a dozen foam darts blasting at any given moment. I’m reminded of Vexx thanks to the combo of wildfire guitars and fearlessly emotive vocal yowling, but Warm Bodies don’t seem to be pursuing any higher plane of artistry so much as they’re simply a bunch of goofballs who want to have fun in your basement for fifteen minutes or so. I’m always impressed when bands filled with musicians who display strong technical mastery of their instruments just want to play junky punk rock with their friends, and I really hope Warm Bodies can fight the urges to “mature” their sound or write more complex or difficult songs in order to challenge themselves. I mean, who doesn’t wish Government Issue kept writing Legless Bull a few more times instead of Joyride? Domo is pretty fantastic right where it is.
Hartley C. White & Friends Something Better LP (OSR)
Hartley C. White is a charming, idiosyncratic songwriter, whose previous OSR album slapped me like a wet towel, a stunning refreshment. I’m glad to see he put out a new one, Something Better, which maintains his distinct approach to song-form. He’s aided by various OSR-related personnel here (Zach Phillips and Christina Schneider among others) and they do a fine job of adhering to White’s aesthetic while filling it out and thickening the songs, be it with a jangled ring of keys, a tremolo-ed guitar or some floppy bongos. In case you haven’t already familiarized yourself with White’s music, the tempos of his songs flow with the cadence of his sentences rather than any sort of traditional 4/4 beat. It makes his music sound jittery, jumpy and almost non-musical, more like tuneful Morse code than rock or pop. I’m not sure many other people could pull this off, but White fully inhabits his songs, a style I might envision as Gil Scott-Heron leading Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band. Something Better benefits from the inspired instrumentation of White’s friends, which I recommend to anyone wanting to hear songs they most certainly have never heard before.