Archive for 'Reviews'

Reviews – February 2017

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.

Reviews – January 2017

Acrylics Acrylics 12″ (Neck Chop)
Acrylics are a noisy hardcore group out of Santa Rosa, CA, and their debut self-released cassette (not a demo, mind you) was given a nice one-sided 12″ upgrade care of Neck Chop. They’re a Californian group, sure, but musically they’re all Midwestern, channeling the bluster of Chicago’s ’90s noise-rockers (The Jesus Lizard and Killdozer, let’s say) through a knowledge of Chicago’s recent hardcore scene (The Repos and Violent End, perhaps). Almost every track opens with guitar feedback, the vocals are run through AmRep-friendly effects (not quite as cavernous as the current Zouo-worship that continues with other groups) and the lyrics are in the “I’m a deranged normal person” school of thought, but the songs are bashed urgently and carelessly in true hardcore, not post-hardcore, fashion. They’re not the first group to bridge hardcore-punk and noise-rock in the past decade or two, but Acrylics handle it capably, even if I personally prefer bands to be either really great or really bad at it. They’re still a fairly young group, so maybe Acrylics will eventually attain such a high (or low).

Aquarian Blood Warlock Cock 7″ (Pelican Pow Wow)
Aquarian Blood apparently liked the title Warlock Cock enough to use it for their 7″ but not enough to actually write a song called that. Go figure! The two tracks here are “Freek” and “Acid Fascist”, and they’re more of the cluttered, noisy garage-punk I’ve come to expect from Pelican Pow Wow. “Freek” does the aesthetic rightly by being as simple as possible, pounding what I assume to be guitar chords alongside an underwater vocal treatment that repeats the line “I know a freak when I see one” (though they’re no lyric sheet, so maybe they verbalize it as “freek” too). “Acid Fascist” seems to be led by a gnarly theremin that probably isn’t actually a theremin right into a frantic garage pile that has me thinking of the first Nots singles, before they had truly gained control of their instruments. Just did a little research and it turns out that half of Aquarian Blood (they’re a duo, somehow) previously was in Nots, so it all comes full circle. Maybe the woman in Aquarian Blood simply refused to develop some level of finesse with her garage-punk and had to carve it out separately, a move that I can’t disrespect.

Balcanes Carne Nueva 12″ (Humo)
Balcanes’ Carne Nueva cover art immediately had me thinking of Aaron Dilloway’s great Beggar Master LP, and upon the first minute or so, I was digging the sounds it provided as well: miserable and simplistic bass chug with moaning vocalist accompaniment and no drums in sight. I liked how little it offered, but after that first tune, the whole band got involved, and well, my attention started to drift. My reaction remains the same over repeat listens, sadly: this is another entry into the canon of Brainbombs- and Swans-inspired modern dirge-rock and it’s not particularly impressive. For this genre to work, something has to be unexpected, wild, unique or over-the-top, but Balcanes choose to play incredibly basic hardcore-punk riffs at half-speed, with plodding drums and a vocalist who passively screams his way through, as if he’d rather not break a sweat if he can help it. The vocals have just a little bit of echo on them, the songs go on too long with no payoff… I don’t know, stop me if I’m merely a hater, but I can just picture a room full of punks in black band t-shirts standing around sullenly during a Balcanes set, behaving as if they know they should be respectful and appreciative of the bleak nihilist sounds they’re hearing, but really just waiting for the next band to come on and hopefully do something exciting. Balcanes are from Spain, and compared to how outrageously wild some of their contemporaries are doing it (Una Bèstia Incontrolable literally lick their cymbals on stage), I expect and want a little more of something, anything.

Beta Boys After Dark 7″ (Neck Chop)
Through their short career, Beta Boys have already covered some solid ground, kicking around the Lumpy Records scene in the Midwest (Kansas City, I believe) before heading west to Olympia, perhaps the punkest punk scene currently active in America. They’ve got the right sound to please both of those audiences and whoever is left in-between, as they write basic choppy punk songs, nuke everything with flange, wear funny Splatter Punks outfits and have a vocalist who has surely stared at one of those iconic Darby Crash photos where he’s holding the microphone wrong and barking through his broken teeth. I feel like there are entire fests happening these days that are filled with bands that behave and sound similar to Beta Boys, and while I think that’s both a positive and negative development, I am starting to expect bands like Beta Boys to be as good as After Dark is, but not greater, which is a bummer. It’s as if everything is perfectly in place except for the songs themselves, which are sonically appropriate but never stick around my brain once they’re over. Maybe I need to stop listening to records and get to one of those fests so I can figure out who’s really lighting it up and who simply wishes they were.

Burial Young Death / Nightmarket 12″ (Hyperdub)
It wouldn’t be a holiday season in the ’10s without Burial stealthily dropping a new EP, giving dorks who finish their “best of” lists by the second week of November the conniptions they rightly deserve. In some ways, it feels like I’ve been loving Burial for as long as I’ve been an adult, his music so game-changing and distinctive, of course, but also so intensely pleasing to my ears. This new one is a quick two-track shot, and whereas previously one could hastily define Burial’s style as “the sound of a rave from outside the club, walking home through the night”, this one is more like “the sound of a Burial record from outside the club, walking home through the night”. “Young Death” follows Burial’s cinematic approach that he’s favored over more recent records, almost entirely bereft of beats, instead unfurling like a plume of beautiful vape smoke at a dilapidated bus terminal. “Nightmarket” shows greater signs of rave reflection through a dramatic synth-line that repeats throughout, but ultimately both cuts feel more like atmosphere segues than fully-formed Burial tracks… this is keen soundtrack work for a gorgeously depressing “hopeless metropolitan teenagers in love and on drugs” art film, not so much “songs”. It’s still great, inimitable stuff, but it mostly served as a strong reminder for me to pull out Rival Dealer and Street Halo again, which is never a bad thing.

CC Dust Shinkansen No. 1 / New Ways 7″ (Night School)
It’s startling how the lifespan of cool underground bands seems to have shrunken in the past decade or so – it’s suddenly become common for great new groups to last a year or less before calling it quits, which I find concerning. I am almost certain the economy facing millenials as well as internet-age hyper-boredom are to blame, but that’s a term paper I need to write, not a review of this fine new CC Dust 7″. It will almost certainly be their last release, as the group has sadly parted ways, but it’s a fine way to go out! Their debut 12″ contains some of my favorite modern synth-pop songs period, and these two cuts are excellent as well. “Shinkansen No. 1” is punchy and upbeat, with a great little earworm arpeggio that reaches cruising altitude alongside some Peter Hook-esque bass-work and Maryjane Dunphe’s peerless voice. Suitable for a track about a Japanese bullet train, no doubt! “New Ways” has a moodier feel, like Simple Minds thumbing through Kate Bush’s book of melodies while only having Trop Tard’s modest gear with which to perform a song. I’m sad to see this band go, but at least while I listen to “New Ways” it feels like I’m slowly waving goodbye, over and over again.

Cellophane Garden Illuminations LP (Drawing Room)
Cellophane Garden’s Illuminations is the second in Drawing Room’s “Bootleg Series”, which seems to have the same basic meaning as Demdike Stare’s Testpressing series, which is to say not a bootleg or a test pressing at all, but a limited series of records with presumably lower overhead costs than a standard-edition LP. Cellophane Garden had a tape previously on Drawing Room and I can understand why the label wants to keep working with them, as this is perfectly pleasant, artfully-conceived instrumental music. Cascading ambient chords are ever present, but they frequently give way to chiming guitars, with the pace maintained by steady and unflashy drumming. I definitely pick up some Friday Night Lights vibes here, in the sense that it’s emotional-yet-harmless instrumental post-rock that knows how to set the mood, although Cellophane Garden never builds the intensity to any sort of obvious climax – it’s music for the assumed extra-point kick, not the game-winning touchdown. That’s not a diss, as I appreciate the casual, understated elegance of Illuminations for the graceful little record it is.

Carla dal Forno You Know What It’s Like LP (Blackest Ever Black)
There’s something about the cover to Carla dal Forno’s You Know What It’s Like that sticks out – maybe it’s the red border on a simple black-and-white portrait of the artist in residence, or maybe she’s just special. Whatever the case, it frames her music well. Perhaps you’re familiar with her noisy, collage-based electronic work with Tarcar or F ingers (their weird spelling, not mine) or even Australian inept-twee outfit Mole House, but this album is the first time I’ve heard her music sound like the distinct vision of an artist, as opposed to friends gathering sounds together for fun. The album is half instrumentals, drab and miniature cuts of homespun drone and rhythm, and they work as a nice buffer (rather than filler) for her vocal-based tracks. She sings confidently and without pretense, as if these songs were only meant to be heard by someone she personally trusts. Her vocals often drift within the mix, more of a melodic guide than rooted in the singer-songwriter tradition, although her tune “Fast Moving Cars” is a tender and resonant DIY-pop ballad – imagine Lana Del Rey if she were infatuated with Jhonn Balance instead of The Weeknd. You Know What It’s Like‘s closest Blackest Ever Black compatriot is probably that great Flaming Tunes album from Gareth Williams and Marie Currie, as both are reasonably “experimental” records filled with autumnal-sounding songs that are at once precious and inscrutable.

Dedekind Cut Successor LP (NON)
I’m not above enjoying a good artist backstory, and Dedekind Cut’s was hard to resist: a dude who used to produce beats for hip-hop artists like Joey Bada$$ changes his alias from Lee Bannon (too close to that Breitbart guy, I agree) to the stranger “Dedekind Cut” and starts crafting left-field soundscapes and harsh noise for the Hospital Productions label, releasing his debut album on the NON imprint which actually has nothing to do with Boyd Rice but is instead an international collective of Afro-futurist artists. I really enjoyed some of his previous material (that Last digital release felt like the tension of a Demdike Stare box-set crammed into four minutes) and I’m really enjoying his vinyl debut, Successor, too. Here, Dedekind Cut operates with beats either in the background or absent entirely, content to unravel sonic tapestries that render in sound the spectacular Northern Lights or one of Montreal’s endless underground tunnels in the dead of winter. Lush chords tremble in the thermosphere and crystallize, a beautiful display until Dedekind jars us back to Earth. Those jarring moments are fewer than I expected, though, as Successor mostly drifts with the grace of Fennesz and Gas rather than the exquisite laptop pyrotechnics of Arca or one of his many followers. I can’t help but assume Dedekind Cut won’t let us stay in this charming snow globe for too long, so I’m going to enjoy my time here and await his next record with open ears, knowing things are very much subject to change in his world.

Demdike Stare Wonderland 2xLP (Modern Love)
I don’t care how much I love the artist – once I’m pushing like half an Expedit cube’s worth of their vinyl, my interest in obtaining new records is going to wain. And yet, hear I am with the new Demdike Stare record, a gatefold double LP, and I couldn’t be happier. I picked it up because I clearly wasn’t going to not pick it up, and I don’t know if my hopes weren’t particularly high or what, but it’s been such a pleasure to listen to, repeatedly so. I found Demdike’s Test Pressing series to be somewhat spotty (although the highs were impressively high), but Wonderland feels like the best of that series refined and edited for album form. That means that the witchy, occult-coven vibe of early Demdike Stare records is mostly a memory, replaced with their dark and corroded takes on dancehall-dub, jungle, break-beat and a solid splash of industrial techno. There isn’t a moment on here where I feel like Demdike are treading water – a punchy electro-dub will segue into a dank drum n’ bass relay and then some off-the-wall recording of them in an airport or giggling in the studio will remind me that their subtle sense of humor is as much of a guiding force as their love of obscure necromancy. Plus, they look damn sharp on the cover, showing off their throat stubble in what appears to be outtakes for an upcoming Gap ad campaign. Good for ’em!

Beatrice Dillon Can I Change My Mind? 12″ (Boomkat Editions)
Beatrice Dillon tried to sneak this one-track, one-sided 12″ release past me at the end of the year, but not so, I’m on it! I can’t get enough of this woman’s singular take on electronic dance (or non-dance) music, and had to see what she was up to for the ten-plus minutes that make up “Can I Change My Mind?”. This is Dillon in her techno-dub mindset, geared up for some form of dance-floor action, and it’s another captivating entry in her steadily-growing canon. The track seems a little slow for 33.3, but that’s the correct revolution rate, and it shuffles onward through various neural pathways, with multiple faked endings and a sense of genuine curiosity. It feels like a slowed and extended edit of one of Melchior Productions’ recent Perlon offerings, with the “have we entered a locked groove?” feel of Locks & DDM, but nothing about it feels too academic; as is often the case with Dillon’s world, fun trumps all. I don’t think she’s done a track like this before, as far as the pads and synth-settings she decided on, but it certainly feels like her music, as “Can I Change My Mind?” bears that same form of inquisitiveness found in all her tunes, as though she’s unencumbered by the same general guidelines that the majority of techno producers unconsciously operate within.

FRKSE Desecration Anxiety I LP (Divergent Series / Auris Apothecary)
Experimental, industrial-leaning techno seems to mostly be made by two camps: folks with a dance music background who are looking for something more extreme and direct, and current- and ex-punks who decided to turn to noisy electronic beats for their musical expression. And then, there’s wherever FRKSE comes from: estranged from any pre-formulated musical scene, crafting their own script entirely and hoping someone out there enjoys it. I proudly enjoy FRKSE, and was delighted to see a new album come through my door. It’s great, and I might as well get to explaining what it sounds like: imagine the earliest Demdike Stare recordings devoid of bass or club knowledge, Kapotte Muziek and Nocturnal Emissions in industrial loop mode, or the “outside of the club at 4:00 AM” feel of Burial, if the club Burial was standing outside of only played Coil and Nurse With Wound. Desecration Anxiety I is industrial music without the bludgeoning effect of extreme bass or piercing feedback; if traditional industrial-techno works with laser-sharp fang bites, FRKSE is the massive python that swallows you whole over the course of ten hours. It’s passive and never too loud, but the trick is in FRKSE’s choice of sounds – a priest’s ceremonial bell is paired with synthetic thunderclaps and a menacing synth stab just before a crackly sample of voices comes in so soft it’s like it’s not there. FRKSE is always distinct and a welcome voice for a scene in grave danger of homogeny.

Jenny Hval Blood Bitch LP (Sacred Bones)
I’m probably one of the last music “bloggers” to talk about Jenny Hval and her Blood Bitch album, and that’s because I checked it out only recently, but I’ve been enjoying Jenny Hval all year. Her Wire cover story was fascinating and insightful, as she truly operates under her own philosophy (and might be the wittiest Wire-sanctioned electronic artist performing today)… every other interview and feature seemed to offer some new detail or consideration that left me feeling happy that I read it. And now, with all the year-end accolades pouring in and conceptual hot-takes, I’m a little surprised to find out that Blood Bitch is the soft, easy-listening album it is. Her voice is far more angelic and downy-soft than it was when I saw her perform live, and Blood Bitch‘s musical backing tracks could surprisingly work for Dido or The Postal Service, I swear. I went looking for the harsh-edged take of producer Lasse Marhaug, but Blood Bitch is mostly quite uplifting and jubilant, if also starkly intimate and vulnerable at times. I like the record a lot, I just expected to be shaken up a bit, but perhaps that’s what all those amusing interviews are for. If I could soothe the savage world with my beats and voice like Hval, I’d probably opt to do that too.

Lutto Lento My Number One High / Take Me Down The Dunes 7″ (Dunno Recordings)
Following a string of increasingly-strange 12″ EPs, Lutto Lento takes to the 7″ format in an unexpected twist. Of course, I should’ve learned to expect the unexpected from him now, which is reinforced by these two unusual tracks, stepping further away from house or techno and instead toward beat-oriented sample-delica, if I’m allowed to say “sample-delica”. “My Number One High” feels like an extended Madlib edit, as bells and strings from some old Nat King Cole or Frank Sinatra cut are stirred into a hypnotic brew, soon to be layered by what sounds like a “real person” halfheartedly praising music itself. I’m reminded of the amusingly chintzy feel of People Like Us’s plunderphonic experiments around the turn of the century. “Take Me Down The Dunes” is a rougher edit, a mangled radio transmission that feels like an experiment The Haters or The Gerogerigegege would’ve spat out on a split 7″ in 1994 – it’s a beatless collage of befuddling human voices that would be perfectly ripe for release on the I Dischi Del Barone label, a sonic postcard from an unnamed American street (via this Polish sound artist). I prefer Lutto Lento’s dance tracks, but that doesn’t mean I’m not sitting here smiling away as this weird 7″ plays.

Liquids Hot Liqs LP (Drunken Sailor)
Quickly following their vinyl debut (a 7″ EP on the Brazilian Yeah You! label), Liquids drop an album stuffed with their distinct form of NWI punk on the British Drunken Sailor label. Are there no American labels beating down Liquids’ door to put out their records, or is this band just really into the idea of overseas shipping charges? Anyway, this album offers no surprises if you’re already familiar with Liquids’ hi-octane attack: rapid closed hi-hats, frantically down-picked riffs and compact punk songs filled with tight little changes. They almost sound like an evil-gnome version of a standard punk band, as if each band member is roughly three feet tall, covered in coarse body hair and playing their instruments a half-speed faster than any normal punk band would. They cram it all in here, with minimal breaks or reprieve, and depending on my mood, Hot Liqs has felt like an exhausting blur that all runs together or a speedy-punk masterpiece. I’m used to my Liquids in small doses, but if they keep writing tunes like “Trashcan” and “Speed”, their name might soon be uttered in the same breath as Mentally Ill and Feederz.

Marching Church Telling It Like It Is LP (Sacred Bones)
Depending on your point of view, I’ve been a fan or a sucker for Elias Bender Rønnenfelt in practically all his musical forms – most notably Iceage, who have yet to put out an album I didn’t heartily enjoy, but also his side-project-turned-full-band Marching Church. I felt some smug form of solitude in my enjoyment of the first Marching Church album, which awkwardly channeled Here Come The Warm Jets into a rollicking post-punk fever, so I was excited to jump into Telling It Like It Is, which amazingly utilizes a rare unflattering photo of Rønnenfelt behind two generic fonts. I’ve been listening to it a bunch, and not because I’m particularly enjoying it but because I want to wring some sort of enjoyment out of it. I’m just not finding it, though – these songs ring uninspired, as though Marching Church thought a full studio production could subvert a lack of strong musical ideas. I read that Rønnenfelt intended Telling It Like It Is to be his first record to truly utilize the benefits of a studio, working in dozens of overdubs and backing tracks, but it’s not even particularly lush or enthralling musically – it mostly just sounds as if Bright Eyes’ Fevers And Mirrors was given a lightweight Euro-disco makeover rather than whatever second coming of Nick Cave’s From Her To Eternity they were aiming for. I’m gonna chalk it up as a mulligan and hope a new Iceage isn’t too far down the line.

The Nods Chromatic Recollections / Public Eye 7″ (Hail Atlantis)
The Nods (not to be confused with Nodzzz) are a new-ish group out of Salt Lake City, making their first appearance on vinyl with this 7″ single. If you told me they were from London circa 1983, opening for Echo & The Bunnymen, The Cure and Duran Duran on tour, I’d have no trouble believing it, as they approach their dark n’ steamy post-punk with flair and vigor. “Chromatic Recollections” cuts through a shadowy backstreet nicely, with a chiming guitar lead and vocals that are restrained but in a way that makes me like them more rather than less. “Public Eye” is a bit tougher, and offers some strong evidence that The Nods are a band that exists today, with a harder edge to the riff and a sustained tension that has me thinking of a band whose name is only one letter off, Nots. Neither track blows me away, but they’re a new band who are clearly enjoying themselves and putting their pieces together, so rather than be an old guy who wants to rip things apart, I’ll give them a passive thumbs up and hope that they continue forward as a group.

Oneida & Rhys Chatham What’s Your Sign? LP (Northern Spy)
Only makes sense that the old old-school guitar-centric avant-garde of New York City (Rhys Chatham) would eventually cross paths with the new old-school guitar-centric avant-garde of New York City (Oneida), and they do so in fine form on this collaborative LP. If you’re remotely familiar with the works of either, not much of What’s Your Sign? should come as a shocker, but rather a pleasant affirmation of experimental post-punk guitar-rock. I get the feeling that they shot from the hip with most of these tracks, operating on an initial idea and stretching it out for five or eight minutes through intuition and resolve. They’ll take a rattling motorik groove and digitally rinse it down after a few minutes before building it back up into a chiming spiral of sound. I’m reminded of some of Laddio Bolocko’s most out-there experiments, or perhaps what Cluster and Harmonia would’ve sounded like had they been subjected to the fiery menace of no-wave in the early ’80s. I prefer the more raging material here, specifically the opening tracks of each side, but I can get down with some whistle-y drones, synthetic squelch, free-improv splatter and pitter-patter percussion just the same. You can take the Other Music out of New York, but you can’t take the New York out of Other Music, or something.

Ov / Diego Perc Song (Chords) / Crack 12″ (Future Times)
Always nice to receive a new transmission from the Future Times network, an American techno label with global aspirations. At first, I thought this was by an artist named Ov Diego (cool name, right?) but it’s actually two different folks making similarly-minded dance music. Ov’s “Perc Song (Chords)” is a herky-jerky house cut, as if “Axel F Theme” was stirred into a cocktail to be served at a Ghostly International house party. Diego’s “Crack” is a little calmer, with big soft kicks and snares that smack like a luxurious pillow to the face. They both sound great, but “Crack” has an undeniable groove with remarkable breaks, the sort of music that can’t help but put people in motion. Regardless of who you prefer, this split isn’t a competition so much as a celebration of the uplifting, retro-futuristic Future Times vibe. As is the case with basically all Future Times releases, I can easily envision both Ov and Diego DJing these tracks with a parrot or toucan resting comfortable on their respective shoulders – it’s always that kind of a party with Future Times.

Poor Lily Dirt On Everyone LP (TV-Mayor)
You may have heard of concept albums, but I doubt you’ve heard of something like this before: old-dude pop-punk group writes fourteen songs about the NSA and the US surveillance state, recording the half-hour-long album live from start to finish without interruption. Actually, maybe Green Day have done something similar by now (I haven’t kept up post-Dookie). I have to say, I admire Poor Lily for tackling a topic worthy of such scorn and artistic critique, but listening to Dirt On Everyone is still a little jarring. Musically, they sound like a mix of Minutemen and Guttermouth, with a vocalist who clearly admires Jello Biafra, and the lack of breaks between songs makes it feel like two fifteen-minute jumbles of pop-punk drumbeats, interchangeable riffs and a lingering funkiness that fills me with unease. They’ve got the right attitude and mindset, and I sure as hell am glad these adults aren’t singing about taking their sweetheart to the diner for milkshakes, but they lack Propagandhi’s songwriting prowess or Hüsker Dü’s melodic finesse. Whatever the case, I hope they’ve triple-protected their email accounts by now.

The Powder Room Lucky LP & 7″ (Learning Curve)
Has anyone tried to define this genre of rock groups yet? The ones who are clearly informed by cool underground rock of the ’90s and ’00s (bands like Queens Of The Stone Age, Drive Like Jehu, METZ, Dinosaur Jr., Melvins, Sonic Youth, White Stripes, etc.) but also quite clearly want to be the next Foo Fighters or Kings Of Leon? Bands that are paying to have their Facebook show announcements “boosted”, who participate in battle-of-the-bands contests on sites like UnsignedArtists.com or MusicSubmit.com, and generally do anything they can to claw themselves to the top of the heap besides just focusing on crafting songs that a rock-loving audience will immediately gravitate toward and playing tons of shows (aka the Sheer Mag strategy)? That’s the vibe I’m picking up from The Powder Room, a group from Athens, GA who are definitely “going for it”. That’s not a knock, for the record: I appreciate bands who consistently put in zero effort as well as bands who come out fully-formed before they’ve even played their first gig, and The Powder Room seem proud of Lucky and eager to share it. By my count, it’s a decent if fairly uninspiring album – they seem to shoot for a mix of Rick Froberg-ish guitar negi-grooves, post-emo pop-rock (At The Drive-In and Jimmy Eat World) and just a hint of major-label embarrassment rock (Three Doors Down, Puddle Of Mudd and Nickelback come to mind). They’re definitely polished and well-rehearsed, and surely have a wide audience of folks waiting to hear such a particular rock cocktail (dare I say rocktail?) that I can’t help but root for The Powder Room, or at least root for the idea that in this modern social hellscape random new bands can still be located by the audiences who’d like to hear them.

Quilt Boy I Am Somebody 7″ (Sophomore Lounge)
Quilt Boy is the work of one Chris Durham, who you might recognize from time in Roachclip and The Bibs (as well as the All Gone label). Apparently he just can’t stop making weird crappy music no matter where he is or who he’s with, so he put together five tunes for a vinyl EP as Quilt Boy care of the always-busy Sophomore Lounge label. It’s a bunch of crazy lo-fi childish chatter, and I tend to enjoy it, just by virtue of the spirit that seems to guide it, all carefree and loose. I’m reminded of a more aggressive take on the early Microphones’ singles, Teddy Fire’s entire discography (whatever happened to him?), or maybe R. Stevie Moore recording over his friend’s band’s demo in 1986. It’s too poppy and tuneless to really fall into the category of “punk”, but it’s plenty DIY and just as likely to clear a room as any Television Personalities record. At the very least, I’m glad I heard “Love Letter To You”, my favorite of the bunch: it’s like a 4th grade bully taunting you for having a crush while Royal Trux practices in the garage across the street.

Soundwalk Collective & Jesse Paris Smith featuring Patti Smith Killer Road 2xLP (Sacred Bones)
Would you expect a vinyl album featuring Patti Smith, in tribute to Nico, released in 2016, to be anything but lavish? It arrives in a solid gatefold sleeve with a meaty booklet featuring interpretations and ruminations on the work within, glistening as though it was meant to be displayed in MoMA’s gift shop. I’ll admit, the sharp presentation nearly tricked me into thinking the music featured across these four sides was profound and divine, but I have to say, I’m not really feeling it. The first LP is a studio session, featuring Patti Smith reciting Nico’s poetry and lyrics over strange and minimal sound-worlds, with light queasy drones, bells, clickety-clacking and various statics flickering like a dying halogen bulb performed by her daughter Jesse Paris Smith (and the “Soundwalk Collective”). The second LP (a live performance) is quite similar, although the ambiance seems more clearly created by recognizable instruments, but it’s a damn fine live recording, Smith’s voice as clear and present as her studio sesh. That said, this is a form of hip artsiness that does little for me – Smith’s words are alright, and the creepy soundscapes are fine, but it never transports me beyond my room, nor does it strike me as particularly impassioned or, well, interesting. Maybe if the last words Smith uttered were a booming “vhat a klon!” into a mic drop, the whole thing would snap into focus for me, but there is no humor here, just the unflinching seriousness of professional artists. If I was completely cynical I’d think this album was just a way for Sacred Bones to sneak their name into the echelon of the NY bohemian elite, and if I was totally naïve I’d say this is a devastating work of emotional reflection and atmospheric manipulation directly pulled from the abyss of the soul, but Killer Road is probably somewhere in-between.

The Suburban Homes …Are Bored E.P. 12″ (Total Punk)
Oh dear, I hate to be the one to have to tell you, but get this… The Suburban Homes are bored! What a disaster. They’re one of those currently active British groups opting for a classic UK DIY post-punk sound, falling on the side of the traditional and shambolic versus synthesized and strange. Desperate Bicycles are a clear antecedent, but The Suburban Homes play it less jaunty and with typical punk drumming as opposed to rigid snare-centric pounding. It’s pretty fun, if admittedly low-stakes punk rock, with multiple songs about boring suburban life (go figure) and one song called “I-Phone Suicide”, which I find particularly endearing because everyone knows it’s spelled “iPhone”, duh. It’s poppy and upbeat without having the slightest resemblance to pop-punk, which I certainly appreciate, and these six songs move by with the speed and economy of a 7″ EP, my favorite being “Paranoia + Frustration = Constipation”, if mainly because it uses the same melody as Not Your Friends’ “Why Are You So Mad”, which is one of the first local-band punk 7″s I ever bought. Hopefully …Are Bored is one of the first punk 12″ EPs some young punks are buying in Kent and the glorious cycle of discovery continues.

Teach Me Collector 7″ (Volar)
Volar continues to bring us new bands featuring dudes who used to be in other bands, for better or worse, and are now offering the vinyl debut by San Diego’s Teach Me. The music they play is a style that I hear (and review) so frequently, but I’m not really sure it’s been recently defined as a genre just yet – it’s that mature form of noisy-but-intelligible, upbeat-but-controlled, garage-acknowledging modern post-punk where you can never quite tell if the band is actually enjoying themselves or just kinda going through the motions of “being in a band”. Surely influenced by the Hot Snakes and all the other bands in that orbit, as well as Ty Segall and METZ and Pinback or Slint. What do we call this stuff? For the most part, I think it’s perfectly acceptable music, Teach Me included. “Collector” is taut and speedy with a defined chorus (something many bands of this ilk lack), whereas “Pup Pup” has more of a sleazy bounce; both sound pretty good to me, probably because vocalist Jeremy Rojas is more charismatic than most of these bands’ vocalists (and he realizes that in the lyric department, less is often more). If you’re wondering if these guys have tattoos, sorry – I’m gonna keep you guessing until you get your own copy and look at their insert photo.

Violence Creeps Soul Narc LP (Digital Regress)
In last month’s review of Violence Creeps’ The Gift Of Music 12″, I shared the incorrect tidbit that Violence Creeps had called it quits, when in fact they are just replacing their rhythm section (and let’s face it, what rhythm section isn’t replaceable?). I guess I couldn’t help but get into the spirit of the times by disseminating my own misinformation, but I can confirm that their full-length LP, Soul Narc, most certainly exists. They’ve got ten more chunks of brazen, unscrupulous hardcore-punk, songs that find your finger with the hangnail and dig right into it. They’ve got more of a unified sound going on here, as the guitar tends to sound the same from track to track, and they even get a little calm and reflective at times, taking a title like “Sewer Baby” and applying it to the slow-burning Christian Death-esque song they wrote. If I’m judging their records, which is clearly all I do here, I’d say that I prefer their Total Punk 12″ in that it sounds more feral and unhinged, but that’s not to say that Soul Narc isn’t full of rotten, amateurish hardcore anthems. Long live the Violence Creeps!

Zoomers From The Planet Moon 7″ (Mighty Mouth Music)
I sure as hell hadn’t heard of the Zoomers and their sole 7″ single until Mighty Mouth Music unearthed it – maybe I need to spend a little more time with those now-digitally-deteriorated Hyped 2 Death CD-rs. In any case, it was worthy of the reissue treatment provided here, even down to hand-painting the cover, just as the original was back in 1981. “From The Planet Moon” is a gem for sure, a nonchalant mix of DIY aesthetics, Lou Reed’s unflinching coolness and a smidge of proudly oddball behavior that would’ve fit right in with the Gulcher roster. Musically I’d be convinced it was a track off the Desperate Bicycles’ Remorse Code if you swore to me it was, but Zoomers vocalist George Barr has such a calm and unbothered delivery that it’s clearly the work of a special and different band (yep, the Zoomers). “You’ll See” sounds great too, with touches of J.T. IV and Jonathan Richman, whereas “Somatic” closes on the strangest note of all, a barely-there collage of rock instruments (and piano) that surely had the studio engineer scratching their head. Great obscure punk or punk-ish single for sure – I’m not sure I’d be willing to pay $350 for an original copy like someone else did on Discogs, but I certainly tip my hat to them.

Battle Break compilation 12″ (PRR! PRR!)
This is just the sort of thing I needed, a 12″ compilation of ostensibly-French weirdos operating under various outrageous monikers to produce junky, stupid, outlandish techno / break-beat / gabber / nonsense music. I loved the An Ultimate DJ 12″ from PRR! PRR! over a year ago, and this one operates on a similarly oddball level, with the addition of a scatterbrained enthusiasm that I find particularly infectious. The artist names include Evil Grimace, Tough!, DJ Dee Kay, B-Ball Joints (which I believe is an underused alias of Low Jack) and Venderstrooik, and they randomly cram in all sorts of sounds to include mutilated drum machines, bizarre ’80s VHS detritus, generic acid-house tropes and in the case of Bischepiehls’s “Dancemix 2016”, a barely-remixed edit of the Clarissa Explains It All theme. It’s an overstuffed mess, but Battle Break plays out with an extreme jubilance, as the Battle Break crew throw the rule book out the window and do all they can to crack each other up with zero consideration toward Soundcloud likes or retweets. It’s like a French techno bastard child of Sockeye and James Ferraro, and if I ever get invited to spin records publicly again, you’ll be hearing Tough!’s “Die Hard Domination Pro (Iron Club Theme)”, no doubt.

Thank You, San Francisco! compilation LP (SmartGuy)
SmartGuy is a label that has quietly existed for nearly twenty years, offering some genre classics (the first Clorox Girls album, Total Control’s Paranoid Video, etc.) and generally just doing what they want out of personal excitement toward underground punk-centered music, regardless of social pull or popularity status. My hat’s off to them, and they seem to have commemorated things with this sharp compilation LP, roughly based around San Francisco (although I cannot truly understand how, as only one of the artists calls it their home). Intentional or not, Thank You, San Francisco! defines SmartGuy’s sonic parameters, while simultaneously making it seem like one of the smartest, sharpest labels around: there’s the rowdy punk of Out With A Bang and Clorox Girls (do either of them still exist?), plenty of slick Aussie characters like Leon Stackpole (Ooga Boogas) and David West, as well as the debut of Pate Snot (Mikey Young and James Vinciguerra of Total Control going electro-loopy). Oh, and the moody, autonomous irk of songwriters like Billy Childish (under his CTMF moniker), Dan Melchior and Bill Direen is accounted for. SmartGuy has clearly turned over all sorts of stones in search of the best mangled pop and subterranean punk across the globe, this compilation being a fine place to either start or continue in one’s SmartGuy appreciation.