Archive for 'Reviews'

Reviews – January 2020

Bato Ravages Of Time 7″ (Not For The Weak)
No, this isn’t that handsome presidential candidate dropout’s solo project (although that’s gotta be in the works, right?) – Bato is unrepentant Virginia Beach hardcore. The label is called Not For The Weak Records, for crying out loud! You better have a decent push-up count before heading into Ravages Of Time. Anyway, if you’re up to snuff, you will probably enjoy these seven tracks of by-the-books hardcore. They’re energetic and mosh-ready, and I’m kind of surprised they haven’t found a home with Beach Impediment just yet, based on their geographical proximity and the fact that Bato’s sound bears similarities to Wasted Time. At the very least, they don’t waste any time themselves, punching through these tracks with tight (but not technical) performances and a meaty presence. “Rot” is probably my favorite cut, but the whole thing makes me wanna take my shirt off just like vocalist Chris Taylor and clobber an inanimate object.

Buttechno Badtrip 2xLP (трип)
Listen, I’m not trying to say the name “Buttechno” out loud in public spaces, but as far as my hard-earned dollar goes, Badtrip is the best pure techno album of 2019. The template remains basically the same throughout these nine tracks, but it’s so catchy, raw, simple and satisfying… undiluted techno pleasure. Buttechno utilizes little more than raw drum machines, tweaked synth leads and brief vocal samples (all in the form of a droll, monosyllabic male voice through a crusty loudspeaker), and it makes me wonder why anyone intensively labors over modern sound design when they could bang heads and drip sweat over some basic analog gear such as this. It certainly feels closer to some form of humanity than the ice-cold artificial-intelligence vibes so many other producers are delivering – many of these tracks sound as though they’re edited on the fly, dials turned and fades pushed in real-time by Buttechno, choppy edits and/or mistakes included. Plus, it really doesn’t hurt that while listening, I’m picturing these songs as the property of dingy underground Moscow clubs where Buttechno resides, zombie-faced Russian youths decked out in Gosha Rubchinskiy and passing unfiltered cigarettes among each other. If opening cut “Bbbase” doesn’t get your motor running, I’m not sure we have anything left to discuss.

Ben Carey Antimatter LP (Hospital Hill)
Deep in some Sydney laboratory, Ben Carey is twiddling knobs on a massive wall of electronics suitable for an obsolete nuclear reactor, or at least that’s what it sound like he was doing to create the long pieces that comprise Antimatter. The two a-side cuts sound like Tod Dockstader tasked with repairing a fleet of androids: electronic burps and whizzes ring out against jumbles of wave-forms or the black nothingness of space. For as sparse as it can be, there’s some sort of musical conversation happening; either that or my brain is permanently damaged by listening to records such as this. The second side is filled entirely by a piece called “Networks Articulated”, which gives a nice glimpse into Carey’s particular frame of mind for this composition. Unlike the first two cuts, tones ring out here, eventually rippling into layered drones and humming with microscopic activity. I think I like “Networks Articulated” best, particularly when the ground starts to shake during its second half, but all of Antimatter is a pleasant study in primitive-modern electronic sound. Plus, it comes in one of the nicest Stoughton sleeves I’ve seen in a while, sturdy and tailored and ensuring that Antimatter is handled with the serious reverence it deserves.

C.I.A. Débutante The Landlord LP (Siltbreeze)
By my calculations, this is the sole Siltbreeze release of 2019, following only one in 2018, but I don’t attribute that to a lessening of the label’s activity so much as a heightened level of choosiness – selling records is harder than ever, so you might as well be extra considerate regarding one’s plan for doing so. Whatever the circumstance, I’m glad Siltbreeze decided to put out the full-length vinyl debut of C.I.A. Débutante, a duo featuring jack-of-all-trades Nathan Roche (whose records with Le Villejuif Underground still sound fantastic) and Paul Bonnet, a man whose resume is more mysterious. It’s fitting, because this is some mysterious music, to be filed next to your Vinyl On Demand sets of early ’80s tape-trader industrial. Weary mechanical rhythms are forced into rotation, distorted voices read ransom letters at a barely audible volume, telephone receivers are hacked and the dust on Roche’s speaker cones takes on a life of its own through these inscrutable tracks. I like when noise is mild and vaguely rhythmic, which could be said for much of The Landlord. In fact, I believe Siltbreeze described the album as “The Shadow Ring meets Cabaret Voltaire”, and while I wouldn’t disagree, I’d expound on that by clarifying that it’s easier to parse than The Shadow Ring and less danceable than Cabaret Voltaire, which is probably the best way to meld those two distant sonic points. A fine slab of post-modern industrial no matter how you slice it.

Crimson Ghostbusters Crimson Ghostbusters LP (no label)
You know those random mash-up t-shirts that have proliferated in the last few years, ones where it’s like Darth Vader quoting Breaking Bad for no reason, or Rick and Morty dressed like Pikachu (or vice versa)? Crimson Ghostbusters is the punk band version of that, a mash-up-for-mash-up’s-sake of Misfits songs and karaoke classics. Now, if I’m walking into O’Neal’s Pub and there’s a live band playing under a moldy Pabst Blue Ribbon banner, I’d love to hear them gleefully cover Cheap Trick, Slayer and The Misfits with their own silly lyrics, but that’s pretty much where my interest in this sort of thing begins and ends. I wasn’t into Schlong’s interpretation of West Side Story back in 1995, and while I may have enjoyed one of those “Punk Rock ’80s TV themes” compilation CDs back around that time (I didn’t say I did, I said I might have), there’s not a lot of substance for me on this record, not even the Marilyn-themed update of the Buggles’ classic “Video Killed The Radio Star” or the “American Nightmare”-themed take on Tom Petty’s “American Girl”. Those are real songs that happen on Crimson Ghostbusters, sure to delight dozens, maybe hundreds of other people, I’m just not one of them.

Carla dal Forno Look Up Sharp LP (Kallista)
Nothing turns the leaves from green to dark red quite like a new Carla dal Forno record. Look Up Sharp is her second full-length and the first on her newly minted Kallista imprint, and while it offers no musical surprises or deviations from her previously established formula, it’s great, probably her best one yet. If you’re not already familiar, you’re in for a treat: dal Forno plays this somber, ethereal (yes ethereal) form of skeletal, dubby post-punk: think of Crisis given a deep dream-pop rinse alongside the addition of gothic Lana Del Rey vocals and a subtle industrial-folksiness and you’ve got a rough sketch of dal Forno’s distinct musical world. This time around, the electronic elements are more prominent behind the bass guitar, drums and vocals, flushing these songs full of mood and intrigue in a more sophisticated way than her earlier recordings. She seems to be in full control of her sound at this point, no longer feeling out the process (which of course was wonderfully charming and great too, just in a different way), resulting in an album with a lot of crossover appeal, assuming it’s still possible to crossover from indie to mainstream (or if those two designations even continue to exist). My favorite part is that her lyrics seem to have gotten more hateful and bitter than ever, providing a sharp contrast to her soothing vocal delivery – she ends the song “So Much Better” with the line “I am so much better / than you” with an unflinching seriousness, and she’s probably the only artist around today who could get away with it. She is better than whoever “you” is, of that I have no doubt.

Eddy Current Suppression Ring All In Good Time LP (Castle Face)
With not a bang but a whisper, Eddy Current Suppression Ring sneak out a brand new album after a ten-year hiatus. Understatement has always been a key to their formula, and that’s never been more true than now on All In Good Time. Their lineup remains unchanged, as does their sound – it’s almost shocking how precisely Eddy Current-sounding Eddy Current are now, a decade after their last transmission. Danny Current’s simple punk rhythms are in place, Rob Solid bops along, Eddy Current jangles out his copywritten-so-don’t-copy-me guitar lines and Brendan Suppression squeaks along like a precious child experiencing wonderment for the first time. Whereas they went a little grander on their last two albums, with epics like “Rush To Relax” and crowd pleaser “Which Way To Go”, they dial the energy back a bit on All In Good Time, winding through these songs without the slightest sense of urgency. It works well with Suppression’s lyrics, which remain some of the most kindhearted punk lyrics ever written, heartwarming slices of inspiration to anyone feeling underappreciated or down in the dumps. On first listen, I was underwhelmed, but All In Good Time is a true grower, softly revealing its charm (of which there is plenty) through multiple listens – truly in line with the title’s message. Please, sweet Goddess above, tell me a United States tour is in the works!

Exek Some Beautiful Species Left LP (Anti Fade / Digital Regress)
Melbourne’s Exek continue to efficiently churn out new material and I’m not mad at ’em. I think their hazy, dubby post-punk is tops! Some Beautiful Species Left follows 2018’s Ahead Of Two Thoughts, and while the sonic properties and general tenor of both albums are undeniably similar, it seems to me that the group are loosening their grip a bit this time around, content to swirl outward, away from pop song-form and closer to misty dub versions. Some Beautiful Species Left opens with a few minutes of nothing more than hypnotic drums and spirals of guitar noise, helping the listening acclimate to Exek’s off-kilter equilibrium, as these songs softly shift around, a feeling similar to standing on a ferry instead of solid ground. It’s very nice, but I personally gravitate towards their catchier moments – “Lobbyist” has a precocious little chorus tucked away in there, which I could sing to you now if asked. Ahead Of Two Thoughts crammed in more of those repeatable, poppy moments, and it remains my favorite Exek record to date, but this one is a pleasantly menacing trip as well… I can’t blame them if they’re slightly more disoriented this time around, seeing as society continues its various self-harming habits around us.

Figure Eighter People’s Last Words Are Often Insignificant LP (Fuzz)
Figure Eighter are an Albany- / Philadelphia-based duo and they’re pushing some dreamy suburban ennui here on their first vinyl offering. It’s my understanding that they come from an indie-rock background (understandable), but the Figure Eighter I’m hearing here avoids drums and vocals to instead pursue fluttering melodies, drifting tones and an evocative sonic grandeur. I’m reminded of something on Constellation Records (minus the spoken-word samples of street preachers rattling off doomsday prophecies), Ian William Craig, The Caretaker, the noisy parts between songs on the earliest Merchandise recordings… maybe a little early Fennesz as well. It’s a little too busy or attention-grabbing to comfortably sit as the backing soundtrack to a film, but only barely. The second side introduces repetitive acoustic guitars, recalling the ghostly echoes of basement shows from years past, hinting at a song that is perpetually on its way but never fully arrives. Very enjoyable sounds, ripe for painful self-reflection, drifting off to sleep, or some combination of the two.

Giant Swan Giant Swan LP (Keck)
I recently learned that Bristol’s heavy techno duo Giant Swan named themselves after… a Blood Brothers song. What a world! I kinda love that these amped-up British bros are fans of sassy Y2K Southern Cali screamo, and I suppose it makes a little sense, as both Blood Brothers and Giant Swan know how to work combustible, jagged noise into their grooves. This is Giant Swan’s debut full-length, on their newly minted Keck label, and as far as techno full-lengths go, this one is a winner. They mix up the moods enough to keep things interesting without losing their intensity or power. You can practically hear their sweaty bodies banging into their messy tables of hardware on tracks like opener “55 Year Old Daughter”, with a vocal hook that sounds like it was violently shaken sideways before being served. “‘I’ As Proof” seems to split the difference between forward-thinking British techno and the horror-gaze of Health, leading nicely into the swirling industrial clank of “Pan Head”, which brings to mind massive vats of factory foodstuffs churned and pressed into bars on a human-free assembly line. Giant Swan can certainly hang with artists in a similar regional orbit, your Karenns and Bruces and Kowtons and such, but their visceral approach finds broader appeal with dance-floors that give way to mosh pits, fans of modern industrial and, well, at least a couple Blood Brothers devotees.

Gino And The Goons Off The Rails LP (Big Neck)
Quite a handful of records by Gino And The Goons have arrived in my mail over the past few years, and I consistently find myself put off by their visual aesthetic: hand-scrawled band name, maybe a skull or two drawn with the skill and precision of a distracted third grader, and that’s it. Good thing I have ears as well as eyes, then, as the music of Gino And The Goons on Off The Rails is really about as top-notch as you can get from modern-retro garage-punk. They certainly sound like truant high school smokers hanging out under the bleachers, and while I am fairly certain this group is all of legal adult age, their vibe is so convincing and their songs are so catchy that I find myself fully on board regardless. Nothing new is ventured here, but that’s fine with me, as they absolutely nail stupid-tough garage anthems like “Got No Friends”, wherein Gino laments, you guessed it, not having friends. (The band even chants the song title together, which leads me to wonder: are The Goons not each other’s friends? What an interesting form of solidarity.) Graphic designers they are not, but when it comes to couldn’t-care-less garage/punk/junk, Off The Rails is a fine modern specimen.

The Hiveminds The Hiveminds LP (Back To Beat)
Still kinda blows me away, the way that punk-inspired garage-rock has thrived and continues to thrive in Europe. I know it’s been a globally-embraced form of music for decades now, but there’s something about the European Union that nourishes decidedly throw-back garage bands. Good for them! Take The Hiveminds for example, a new Norwegian group who certainly sound like they’re all wearing matching suits, even if they’re not. Their sound is pleasantly predictable, standard-issue garage-rock with hand claps, tambourine, fuzzed guitars, guitar solos, vintage amplification, probably at least one pair of black sunglasses, too. At times I’m reminded of The Original Sins, but it’d almost be like saying one particular wave in the ocean reminds you of a different one – there is no beginning or end to the vast array of bands in this style. The Hiveminds don’t do wrong by their chosen major, and they have a nice crisp recording that benefits this debut (with a vocalist who could probably handle covers of The Hives, The Killers and The Walkmen with equally relative ease), but I’d only recommend The Hiveminds to dedicated fanatics of the style, the maniacs gifted with the mental facilities to truly savor and remember each individual garage-rock swell as they come coasting toward the shore.

K-6000 Bloodsport LP (100 Limousines)
Rugged and restless house here from someone (or something) called K-6000 on a label that comes from one of my least favorite named cities in America: Hamtramck, MI. You’ve gotta be at least a little adversarial to come from a place named Hamtramck, and the music of Bloodsport certainly fits the bill. I’m merely presuming that K-6000 is a local native of course, but I’m gonna go ahead with that presumption, particularly as these tracks remind me of other lonesome Midwestern techno savages like Snakepiss and Siobhan, wherein a skipping electrical current or lo-fi tape hiss are just as prominent as cut-up hip-hop breaks or a smooth house bass-line. There are nine tracks listed, but each side flows smoothly even as ideas rapidly change, occasionally calling to mind the creepy pastoral-industrial of Boards Of Canada and the crude electro-confusion of Actress. I’m particularly partial to the monotonous and imposing tones of “Yah Is Again Genesis”, but all of Bloodsport works well, sure to please seekers of adventurous and unfriendly techno and nearly-techno. Cool cover design too, reminiscent of something K. Leimer or Marc Barreca would’ve released in the mid-’80s, an era and scene that more and more people are eager to escape to, myself included.

Charlie McAlister I’m The World’s Richest Man LP (Almost Halloween Time / Tick Tock)
Underground folk artist Charlie McAlister sadly passed away in 2018, but not before touching the lives of many and leaving a deep trail of music, art, performance and creative works behind him. John Darnielle and Shepard Fairey both contributed to the accompanying notes for this posthumous album, if that’s a slight indication of the various lives he touched. Tick Tock and Almost Halloween Time did a nice job with this one, collecting his most recent recordings and packaging them up with a thick book of art and writing (mostly scribbled, but writing nonetheless). His musical approach reminds me of guys like Eugene Chadbourne, Dan Melchior and The Rebel, sharp contrarians who sit fearlessly in front of punk audiences with only an acoustic guitar to defend themselves. McAlister’s songs here also align pretty closely to the post-Y2K folk-punk sound that emanated from nutritional yeast-dusted basements across America, but there’s a twinkling charm and unpretentious fun inherent to McAlister’s music, making it significantly less annoying than, say, Mischief Brew or Defiance Ohio. Fun, at times silly, at times poignant music from a man who wasted no time making his wild creative ideas tangible in his brief Earthly stay.

Midland The Alchemy Of Circumstance EP 12″ (Graded)
I first encountered Midland some ten years ago (damn) on a collaborative 12″ with Ramadanman. Haven’t thought much about him since, that is until I stumbled upon this four-song 12″ packed to its round edge with sonic treats. The title track comes first and it’s the star, opening with some funky drum breaks that eventually step aside for a minimalist thump and the most wacked out R2D2 styles I’ve ever heard. I’m assuming this is what R2 would sound like absolutely munted on pills and staring at the psychedelic rave-ball that adorns this EP’s cover. Beautiful! It’s one of my favorite techno cuts of the year, no doubt, and three other gems follow. “Frequency FM” is a low-tempo spa treatment that’s both effervescent and elastic, the sort of thing I’d expect to hear Matthew Dear crooning over. “Play It As It Lays” returns to a more straightforward tech-house template with muscular arpeggios and well-placed whoops, and “Tortuga” guides the energy level down back down with some snuggly synth patterns. Really though, it’s all about that title track, a marvel of left-field techno precociousness and manic robot freakery.

Monokultur Monokultur LP (Ever/Never / Förlag För Fri Musik)
So glad to finally get my mitts on a copy of Monokultur’s debut LP, thanks to the powerful international alliance of Ever/Never and Förlag För Fri Musik. Monokultur are a Swedish duo, both of whom also are members of indie-punkers Skiftande Enheter, but I prefer them in Monokultur mode, where songs get smudged, riffs are repeated and bloops are bleeped. Throughout this self-titled album, I’m reminded of Siltbreeze artists like Factums and Teenage Panzerkorps in the way that industrial, gloomy pop is crusted with a thin layer of murky basement grime. In the case of Monokultur, this often results in something that sounds like a prehistoric Carla dal Forno demo, or Wooden Shjips under the tutelage of Amor Fati. It doesn’t feel as though these songs underwent much in the way of careful crafting prior to being recorded, which certainly works in Monokultur’s favor – dank DIY post-punk is often best when it plops out onto the floor without much forethought or planning. Got a cool melody on the bass? Let me fire up this second-hand drum machine to an appropriate tempo and slap some distorted guitar over top! If this sounds appealing to you, I recommend you start with the Schleimer K-esque “Dåliga Nyheter” and travel onward from there; you won’t regret it!

Musk Animal Husbandry 7″ (Total Punk)
I had assumed a mouse had died somewhere near my singles, but nope, it was this Musk 7″ that I had misplaced for a couple weeks! I should’ve recognized its particular scent – hints of pink peppercorn and burnt plastic – but I’m glad to be spinning it now. “Animal Husbandry” is great, a meaty noise-rock jam where the bass propels the action and the guitar is so slathered in slap-back and distortion it might even cause the members of Confuse to raise an eyebrow. It hits quick, with the zest that might accompany a collaboration of Mayyors and Tropical Trash. You’d think they might need a breather on the flip, but “The Floor” is ugly honky-tonk noise akin to Stick Men With Rayguns’ “Satan Baby”, deep-frying a Cramps groove until it’s golden brown. Been a few years since the last Musk album, and by the tone of these two top-notch cuts I’d say we need a new one now more than ever.

Nameless Creations Upon God’s Call LP (Kill Your Parents)
Very cool debut here from Poland’s Nameless Creations on their charmingly-titled Kill Your Parents Records imprint. Their visual vibe jives with today’s Dais / Sacred Bones goth styles (the sole band member on the cover certainly resembles a typical Boy Harsher fan), but their music is firmly rooted in snarling, feral post-punk with only subtle goth undertones, much to my delight. They chocked this album full of spindly, noisy grooves, much of which reminds me of the first Christian Death album, The Birthday Party circa Junkyard, and, when it gets particularly unhinged, the untethered spazz-punk of Yugoslavia’s Sexa. Fans of early 45 Grave and The Leather Nun will surely have lots to enjoy here too, as would anyone who finds value in dirty, decrepit post-punk adorned with hairspray, eyeliner and fingerless gloves. Can’t imagine a better soundtrack to lurking in centuries-old Polish graveyards, that much is certain.

100 Flowers Fascist Groove Thang 7″ (Spacecase)
Woah… this is like that classic Twilight Zone trope where you wish for a million dollars and then the IRS shows up and takes it all away. Want some brand new, unreleased material from the great San Fran post-punkers 100 Flowers? Careful, it might end up being a supremely dorky cover of Heaven 17! I’m seriously scratching my head over this one: their take on “Fascist Groove Thang” sounds like what I’d imagine Paul McCartney’s Sirius XM station sounds like. Adult-contemporary pop-rock where one member wears a funny hat and sunglasses or something; just really heinous stuff. The flip is an inexplicable “remix” of the a-side, adding some electronic effects to the proceedings but overall pretty similar (if ultimately more tolerable, although I’m really just splitting hairs here). Who is this for? I can’t imagine any fans of 100 Flowers (let alone Urinals) finding much to enjoy here. What’s worst of all, I feel compelled to want a fascist groove thang after hearing this. Woof!

Program Show Me LP (Anti Fade)
Anti Fade Records has been on a tear in 2019 – fourteen new releases by my calculations! The label runs the gamut from indie to hardcore and new-wave, of which Program’s tuneful, easy-going indie-punk comfortably fits in. Show Me is about as cordial as electrified rock music gets; I can picture the band happily turning down the volume at the request of an aggrieved neighbor and then helping an elderly woman carry her groceries to her door. The artwork features photos of the group seated around a crackling fireplace, contemporary mullets on proud display, and you can’t help but wonder if they’ve had a bad day in their lives. Feels like lots of Australian rock bands convey this similar easy-breezy attitude, somewhere near the musical neighborhoods of The Go-Betweens, Possible Humans and The Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys, paying unintentional homage to The Clean and R.E.M. with their spindly riffs and vulnerable vocals (reminiscent of The Zoltars’ Jared Leibowich). At this point, the returns on this style are diminishing for me, just based on the sheer quantity of bands playing harmless indie-rock such as this (particularly from Australia!), and Program don’t quite have the pizazz, songwriting prowess or distinctive character to grab my interest. I stand by my assumption that they are perfectly nice and friendly folks, though.

Psychic Void Skeleton Paradise 10″ (Vanilla Box)
Pretty sure Skeleton Paradise was the name of the haunted-house ride I walked briskly past at local carnivals as a kid, and now it’s also the name of Psychic Void’s vinyl debut. They’re from Windsor, Ontario and they’ve clearly soaked up a lot of the more popular hardcore-punk styles of the past ten years or so, which is what they’re spitting back here. It’s mostly fast and moody hardcore in line with Warthog and echo-laden Toxic State hardcore, but they also have electronic intros and chorus/flanger effects to recall the gothic fog machines of Lost Tribe, and a surprisingly silly tune called “Denim Daddy” that shares the spirit of Good Throb’s songbook. I’m a fan of all of those references – they’re certainly fertile soil for any new punk band – but I’m not hearing Psychic Void’s distinct voice in there, or anything that reaches the same level of those stylistic peers. Psychic Void are good, but the bar for even average hardcore is so high at this point that I can’t see myself returning to Skeleton Paradise much in the future, considering the wealth of contemporary options out there. If they’re able to locate a band called Psychic Faith and do a split LP, however, I may be convinced otherwise.

Quintron Erotomania 12″ (Mind Meld)
Much respect to living legend Quintron – he’s a New Orleans treasure, a true original who’s surely done more cool stuff in the past three decades than you or I. He probably won’t stop making music so long as he’s physically able to do so, and now the Total Punk-related Mind Meld label has caught him for a new 12″ of instrumentals. Erotomania focuses on tiki-bar exotica, instrumental lounge, Mardi Gras street party music and such. Very true to the heart and soul of Quintron’s formative influences… but not something I really would ever wanna listen to, if we’re keeping it 100. It’s just not for me, this sort of kooky, old-timey, Martin Denny-esque easy listening. He does jack it up a bit, like the last couple minutes of “Dixie Disaster” (those maddening edits are certainly my favorite part of Erotomania), but on the whole this EP plays too closely to sounds and styles that don’t personally resonate with my pair of ears. Not saying I can’t be convinced otherwise – maybe there is one traditional exotica record I need to hear for it to truly click – but for now I’ll sit this one out.

Rocket 808 Rocket 808 LP (12XU)
Rocket 808 debuted with a 7″ single on 12XU a few months ago, and it issued a clear mission statement: classic Link Wray-styled guitar over rudimentary, Suicide-esque drum-machine rhythms. This debut album offers no U-turns or diversions from the single’s template, as it features eight more tracks of that very same thing. Rocket 808 is the work of one John Schooley, and he sings on some tracks (lyrics like “my baby looks cute”) and leaves others instrumental, both strategies yielding similarly satisfying results. Certainly ripe for Quentin Tarantino’s plucking, the camera scanning past women’s feet dipping in and out of the pool at a rundown Southwestern motel the morning after a bloody shootout. Were Schooley able to wrangle Chris Isaak to lay down some spirited vocals over these tunes, I’d probably add Rocket 808 to my daily rotation, but for my particular tastes this album is mostly just a pleasant interlude, agreeable background noise but nothing that would ever steal the spotlight. It’d jazz up any classic car show by at least 10%, though!

The Shitdels Shape-Shift Faces LP (What’s For Breakfast?)
Quick complaint: this scatologically-themed garage-punk band released their album on what is clearly vomit-colored vinyl. It’s impressively barf-like, with spatter and chunks and not the same-old same-old Pirates Press color configuration, but it really should’ve gone to a Vomit Visions singles collection or something. Anyway, this group comes from Nashville, a fertile ground for roots rock exploration, and they play a nice n’ trashy form of garage-punk, buzzing like a virus-laden mosquito in a manner that recalls Cramps, Lamps and The Coachwhips (who I actually wish were called The Coachwhamps so I could’ve completed the rhyme). The vocals are essentially unintelligible, all slap-back reverb on a high-pitched quack, and the keyboard basically does the same thing on a different frequency, while the drummer favors the crash cymbal over the hi-hats and the guitarist loosely follows the rest of the group’s musical threads. Nothing particularly inspiring, but pretty decent overall; surely a fun time live, and if not, The Shitdels need to break-up immediately because this form of music is custom-tailored to being a fun live experience. One cannot coast by on a poop theme alone, take my word for it.

Mark Sultan I’m A Filthy Rat / Heart Attack 7″ (Slovenly)
I had assumed that Mark Sultan was one of the many distinguished garage-rock musicians who kept the surname of his earliest band even after making a name for himself elsewhere (y’know, like Jay Reatard and Mike Sniper and such), but I did my due diligence and it turns out he wasn’t a member of The Sultans, but rather did time in Les Sexareenos and The Spaceshits. There’s still time for him to change it to Mark Spaceshit, I suppose, but whatever the case, Mark Sultan has been a fount of garage-punk for decades now, and is showing no signs of slowing. This new two-song single, taken from the sessions of his Let Me Out album, are well done, revealing his sly charisma and knack for simple yet effective hooks. “I’m A Filthy Rat” lists off reasons why he’s a terrible human being to a slinky organ-led groove, whereas “Heart Attack” messily bops from side to side with lazy teenage angst, even if Sultan is closer in age to parents of teenagers than teenagers themselves. Nostalgic garage-rock tunes with all the trimmings, but performed with enough gusto and lack of polish that I find them endearing and enjoyable no matter how many similar songs were written before.

Sweet Knives I Don’t Wanna Die 2×7″ (Big Neck)
I’ve been pretty consistent through the years in my solidarity with the double 7″ EP format – so many good ones exist, and while it can be a pain to have to go through a 7″ boxset, two doesn’t strike me as an unreasonable amount of trouble. This one is pushing it, though, as it’s a handsome gatefold sleeve (with art by the immortal Timmy Vulgar) but each side opens inward rather than outward, decreasing the ease with which its handler can pull out the records. On the positive side, that might also result in the listener paying closer attention to these four songs, as unlike everything else in our phone-based world, they actually took a little effort to enjoy. And they’re pretty enjoyable! Coming together out of the ashes of The Lost Sounds, Sweet Knives ride through some melodic garage-punk with occasional synthetic overtones and a thick grungy vibe that wouldn’t be out of place alongside groups like Bully or The Breeders. Quite sweet indeed, although the group opted for a devil-winged mutant skull with a knife through it on the front cover, lest we think they’ve gone soft.

Under Attack Through The Blade 7″ (Iron Lung)
Here’s a new band with some familiar old names for anyone who’s been following DIY hardcore for the past couple decades: Richmond’s Under Attack features Mark Telfian of Hail Mary, Dave Witte of Discordance Axis and Municipal Waste, Jason Hodges of Suppression and apparent newcomer Alex Copeland (on vocals). Under Attack’s pedigree reads like a Deep Six Records compilation, so I was surprised to hear the relatively straightforward sounds of Through The Blade. Honestly, if I heard these tracks sight unseen and had to guess the label that released them, I would’ve proffered Youngblood before Iron Lung – this is fairly clean-cut aggressive hardcore that would appeal to fans of No Tolerance and Stand Off perhaps more than Pig Heart Transplant and Rakta. Witte doesn’t even resort to any of his trademarked blast-beats here, cementing the idea that Under Attack are traditional, no-frills hardcore with a back-to-basics approach. Pretty cool, but I’m hoping for an Iron Lung release that has more of a Back Ta Basics approach – surely some group of kids is starting a band that sounds like Fatnuts and Comin’ Correct and needs a solid label to take them to the next level?

Russ Waterhouse 1 Minute 2 Midnight LP (Drag City)
Sad to see Blues Control call it quits, but they gave us more than their fair share of great music (which continues to stand the test of time), and it seems both members are off on new sonic ventures, so I wish ’em the best. Russ Waterhouse is first out of the gate, with this pleasantly perplexing solo album, two side-long tracks that go deep into some unusual explorations. “Hopewell” follows a pulsing heartbeat for nearly twenty minutes, building at an unhurried pace through fields of twitches, glitches and intrusive industrial additives. It has that deep dark pacing of Suicide, but turns toward tweeting feedback tones and crushed noises, like a particularly heavy part of a Helm set elongated into a noisy meditation. Not what I expected, but I shouldn’t be surprised that Waterhouse is so adept at grinding industrial blues. “Too Many People” starts off with some middle-of-the-mall vérité (did Shots get loose in his studio?), but that leads the way to an aching electronic pulse – if “Hopewell” was a healthy checkup, “Too Many People” is the sound of a pacemaker groaning over its depleted battery. That pulse blooms over the next seventeen minutes like some sort of putrid alien egg, ugly synth tones vibrating against each other in a way that has me wondering why this came out on Drag City in 2019 instead of United Dairies in 1982. Definitely surprising how raw and industrial 1 Minute 2 Midnight is (particularly considering that the sharp, gold-embossed cover design is more suited to a fancy $80 candle than a noise record), but a most pleasant surprise indeed.

Werewolf Jones Werewolf Jones 7″ (It’s Trash)
I could’ve sworn Werewolf Jones was a Tracy Morgan character, but apparently it’s a downer punk band from everybody’s favorite Detroit (Michigan, USA), released by a label from nobody’s favorite London (the one in Ontario, Canada). They play very strained, frustrated punk with a fuzzy, dare-I-say-grungy thickness to their sound (check the Bleach-y bounce of “Falling Out”). The songs start and don’t dip or vary for their individual durations – I’m imagining each track’s waveform looking like a solid thick line – but that’s what they want to do, and I certainly have no intention of stopping them. The vocalist has a nice delivery, sounding like he’s gasping for air inside a padded cell, which gives these otherwise fairly basic tunes some added life. Definitely sounds like a local band that would’ve impressed me as a scrubby teenager in homemade punk clothes, so I appreciate Werewolf Jones giving me a taste of those pleasantly nostalgic vibes. If they’re out there playing shows in Ontario, I can only assume they are impressing current-day teenagers with their depressive punk attitude, and I salute all parties involved.

Reviews – December 2019

Anunaku Whities 024 12″ (Whities)
Kinda lost touch with the Whities label over the past year… maybe it’s because the last couple EPs I checked out (Forest Drive West and Pugilist) didn’t do much for me. Anunaku’s debut 12″, however, is prime-time material, the sort of stuff that made me fall in love with Whities to begin with: techno that is inherently future-minded and experimental while also catchy as hell. Three tracks here and none two are exactly alike, but they all succeed at their individual missions. “Temples” is a junglist raver, moving swiftly across break-beats and enhanced by distorted toasting and the melodic leads of some sort of synthetic accordion(?). “Bronze Age” is even better, more of a 4/4 techno cut with absolutely dazzling percussive work. Sounds like tuned metal drums, and they’re deployed in intricate, hypnotic patterns, really stealing the show – think Shackleton at his most precise. “Forgotten Tales” closes things in a playful fashion, bringing more of that fancy drum-work into an uplifting reggaeton bop, recalling Joe at his most sunshine-y. “Bronze Age” is the ace in the deck, but the whole thing is an undoubtedly winning hand.

Jefre Cantu-Ledesma Tracing Back The Radiance LP (Mexican Summer)
File under self-care: Jefre Cantu-Ledesma returns with a solo full-length ready to soothe what ails you. Sure, you could hold up a football-sized conch shell against your ear and zone out to that, but Cantu-Ledesma’s music here is a sophisticated digital rendering of nature’s quietude – it’s not just spring water, it’s carbonated and dashed with an essence of fruit flavor. The opener “Palace Of Time” is a peaceful drift, tones wafting in like good smells from the kitchen and pushed ever-so-forward by the light rattling of percussion. It feels as though Eli Keszler should appear at any moment with one of his dazzling microtonal drum fills, but this one is all drift, like sand on an abandoned boardwalk. “Joy” is the briefest of the three tracks, barely five minutes of church-like bells and rising chords, and assuming you’re fully hypnotized by that point, the fifteen-minute title track zones furthest out yet – don’t be surprised if you start wading out while putting it on and then realize you can no longer see the shoreline as it wraps. I actually had a serious conversation while listening to Tracing Back The Radiance, and it almost made things too overwhelming and monumental, so I recommend harnessing the transformative beauty of Tracing Back The Radiance only when your chakras are appropriately aligned, lest things take a dark turn.

The Chinese Restaurants Instant Music LP (Ever/Never)
Here’s an interesting paradox: I tend to enjoy music made by musicians who are making music explicitly for their own personal gratification, not that of the listener (ie. me). That seems to be what’s happening here with Instant Music by The Chinese Restaurants, a NYC “group” who first joined the fray in 2010 with a couple of lo-fi, lo-effort noise-punk 7″s on the S-S label, only to disappear immediately thereafter. Nine years later, they’ve surely done some living, and they’ve left their menacing rock moves elsewhere, choosing instead to unleash a modest cornucopia of underground sounds both improvised and pop-based. It’s punky, funky and junky, an insular world where soothing clarinet offers a moment of introspective clarity, a smutty xylophone-accompanied hymn confuses (but wait no xylophones are credited, so what am I actually hearing?), and more than one moment of classic downtown NYC funk ala Fab 5 Freddy or Johnny Dynell gets the party started (or at least sustains one that’s already in progress). This album seems to be teeming with subtle in-jokes, all of which are aimed at any innocent bystander who comes in contact with The Chinese Restaurants. Even as the record starts to really feel like a prank, the band flips into some unexpected moment of poignancy or tenderness, subverting the already subverted until all sense of direction is lost. As far as I’m concerned, the joke’s on them, because I like it!

Dan Melchior Group Ruins 2xLP (Heel Turn)
Dan Melchior inhabits a great and specific corner of the underground, the rare artist who can lay claim to full-lengths on avant-garde labels like Kye and Chocolate Monk as well as split 7″s with The Spits and The Pheromoans’ Russell Walker. Not to be confused with Dan Melchior Band (who also somehow managed to release two full-lengths this year), Dan Melchior Group is Melchior in standardized rock-trio mode. I wish he was backed up by Ruins (maybe that collaboration is forthcoming?), but he enlisted the services of two-thirds of Columbus, OH’s Bloody Show to back him up here, following a productive stint based around the magical Cropped Out festival. Ruins displays Melchior in a more traditionally rock-based manner than I’ve heard from him in recent years, crashing and bashing through familiar and well-worn melodies (see if you haven’t heard “Police Dog”‘s bass-line countless times before), and it’s comforting and pleasant if not particularly creative when compared to his recent solo outings. Nice to know that for as far-out and experimental as Melchior wanders, he still enjoys playing rock music in a rock band.

Disco Junk Underage Punk 7″ (HoZac)
Strange levels of self-awareness at play here from Melbourne’s Disco Junk, a band proudly noting their individual ages on the back cover: 15, 26 and 16. What do you think disco means to someone born in 2004? It’s like the equivalent of my generation positioning itself against Benny Goodman or jug bands or something. And as for titling their EP Underage Punk, I dunno, back when I was an underage punk, I didn’t see myself from the point of view of a fully grown adult, I saw myself as the normal, correct age for being punk, and anyone 21 or older being out-of-touch has-beens. But I digress! These four songs certainly sound like teenage punk as I’ve known it since the mid ’90s or so: scratchy performance of basic pop progressions with yelpy vocals, similar to Sick Thoughts, early Screeching Weasel, The Rip Offs, The Vindictives, LiveFastDie and so on and so forth. Not hearing much uniqueness in these four tunes (most punk bands these days have Aussie accents anyway), but I’d be foolish to expect teenagers playing snot-nosed pop-punk to have a revelatory new spin on the concept. Besides, playing in a dopey punk band with your friends sure beats Minecrafting or TikToking or whatever other useless crap their generation is investing all of its time and energy into!

Electric Chair Performative Justice 7″ (Iron Lung)
Go on, pull the switch: Olympia’s Electric Chair have followed up last year’s 7″ debut with a new EP care of Iron Lung. The cover art and general presentation remind me of labelmates Gag, but for as dryly humorous and belligerent as Electric Chair can get (with one of the best punk EP titles of the year), their music stays true to the classic ‘core sound. The drummer seems to only know one beat (with the exception of the brief Minor Threat-ish breakdown that ends “Double Cross”), but it’s the only one a hardcore drummer needs to know, and the rest of the band slams along in time, performing riffs that aren’t necessarily original but just interesting enough so as not to be completely generic. I might’ve expected at least some sort of stylistic curveball from Electric Chair, based on the fact that they’re an Olympia hardcore band in 2019, but their photocopied collage insert, sonic properties and no-nonsense delivery all smack of classic hardore-punk ala Gang Green, No Fraud, Kraut, you name it. Maybe that’s the trick, that they play it so by-the-books that it’s to be taken as meta commentary on by-the-books hardcore? Or, perhaps in a slightly more likely scenario, they’re just punks who wanna play fast hardcore like their favorite bands did.

Emptyset Blossoms LP (Thrill Jockey)
The restlessly-creative Emptyset are always at it, and while I tend to enjoy their brutal electronic bludgeoning more than their tense and heavy ambient material, Blossoms isn’t really either. Apparently, they developed their own AI (along with Holly Herndon, is this the next frontier for electronic music?) and played a bunch of percussion for it to somehow interpret, which results in these warbling, repetitive passages of thick and gooey digital sound. Knowing that these tracks were actually created by artificial intelligence rather than the members of Emptyset themselves adds a heightened level of creepiness, as this music sounds like a voice desperately but ultimately unable trying to form human words. When Westworld shows flashbacks to their earliest, not-quite-humanoid models, I’m picturing their strained attempts at language replication to come across quite similarly to the production of Blossoms. Is it something you’d want to listen to over and over again? Perhaps not, as it’s more of a pure experimentation than something you’d ever play in a club (or while hosting a dinner party), but the results Emptyset gathered here are chilling, engaging and oddly soothing, depending how willing you are to accept your new robotic overlords.

Extended Hell Mortal Wound LP (Media Disease)
Wow, here’s a megaton warhead hardcore inferno blast from Brooklyn’s Extended Hell. They’re new to me, and trust me, I’m discerning when it comes to modern-day Brooklyn hardcore too, but this is the real deal. Even among a very strong crowd of contemporary hardcore punkers, Mortal Wound stands at the top of its class in brutality and rawness, but a more elusive quality is repeat playability, of which Extended Hell excels. They remind me of Shitlickers, Code 13, Impalers and Krömosom; fine company for sure, but much like Impalers, Extended Hell seem less concerned with adhering to the specific songwriting templates previously laid out for them by decades of raw d-beat crust, and have instead chosen to seek their own path. That means that they write catchy hardcore songs with the fired-up feeling of Crucifix, the steamroller noise of Disclose, the heavy non-metallic technicality of Blood Pressure and plenty of other twists and turns not as easily identifiable. I’d direct you to check the last song on the record first – “Dissident” features saxophone (yup, that’s saxophone) and one of the most anthemic, fist-pumping hardcore choruses of the year, a song that sticks in your head long after hearing it and is no less primal or furious because of its catchiness. Mortal Wound is the cure for “listen once and file” hardcore!

Foster Care El Abuso LP (Total Punk)
A fascinating melting pot of hardcore styles here on Foster Care’s latest full-length. What to make of this NYC group? They’re quite nearly too stylistically hardcore for Total Punk, the unnerving cover art seems to feature a guest cameo from City Hunter (or so my imagination has led me to wonder), the singer sounds like Raybeez, the drummer plays with a Framtid-level of energy, and sludgy, noisy interludes are located throughout. I mean, it certainly works, it’s just an interesting concoction they’ve got going here! The riffs are probably the closest thing tying them to the Total Punk roster, suitable for hardcore as well as fast garage-punk, but El Abuso is undeniably meant to be filed in the hardcore section, closer in sonic spirit to a Radio Raheem reissue than the lo-fi snot-punk 45s this label built its reputation on. If I close my eyes and simply listen, I’m hearing similarities to The Abused and The Mob – if you can do a band that sounds like those two, why on earth wouldn’t you?

Gil.Barte L.I.G EP 12″ (Neubau)
My favorite Neubau recording artist returns with a new solo EP, and if you loved the relaxed-fit industrial skank of his prior work, L.I.G will not disappoint. This one feels slower than ever, coasting on a rising tide of toxic sludge, a persistent kick and a woodblock clap, although of course there’s always more to Gil.Barte’s story. Gil.Barte knows how to set things in motion while ensuring it remains an interesting trip, painting the walls with screechy tones, radio interference and the ghosts of acid past. Really an ace cut! Lamusa II gets the honors of remixing “L.I.G” on the flip, enhancing its supernatural properties for nocturnal club-goers, which I find to be a perfectly acceptable redux. “AGH” is the final cut, another Gil.Barte original, and it goes in an impressive new direction, reappropriating Lil Jon-era crunk beats for something far more sinister and deviant. Is it possible to twerk in slow motion? “AGH” seems to be our best hope for answering that question. It grinds spiritedly, true to the nature of Gil.Barte but not a repeat of anything else he’s done. If you’re wondering if it all means that this 12″ EP is essential listening, the answer is yes.

Kim Gordon No Home Record LP (Matador)
Whatever I expected a solo Kim Gordon record to sound like, it’s not No Home Record. Noisy, artsy rap-rock? Sign me up! This is a weird one for sure, but not in an intentional and self-conscious way, nor does it sound like the same strain of “weird” that everyone else is trying out. It’s really quite great! Gordon plays her noisy guitar with abandon, heaving chunks of it over Suicide-style drum machines, sound effects, distorted bass, all sorts of cool trash – “Murdered Out” sounds like Death Grips sampling a Rage Against The Machine bass-line, for example, and it totally rules. She speaks, sings and speak-sings over these songs, her voice apparently utilizing its own alternate tuning, not unlike Leslie Winer on her recent Jay Glass Dubs collaboration or Kilynn Lunsford of Taiwan Housing Project when the strangulated vibrato kicks in. More than anything, I’m reminded of another rock star’s solo project, Julian Casablancas & The Voidz, in the way that No Home Record is overstuffed with digital instrumentation, clashing frequencies, unexpected influences and a bewildering charm all its own. There’s a serious one-two punch from the noisy no-wave grunge-pop of “Air BnB” into the trap-hop of “Paprika Pony” sounding like it came off a seasonal Hyperdub compilation, but the whole album bears frequent repeating.

Hand & Leg Lust In Peace LP (Slovenly / Black Gladiator)
It’s a weird post-punk bass/drums duo out of Athens, Greece, so you know it’s coming to you from the label that scours the globe in search of punk that no one else is showcasing, Slovenly Records! This is Hand & Leg’s second album, and I am fairly certain that I at least heard the first one (it came out in 2017, but it’s been a long two years), but Lust In Peace sticks out nicely. I’m reminded of the funky neo-no-wave that showed up shortly after Y2K, bands like Ex-Models and Coughs and Die Monitor Bats, but played interminably slower than any of those groups. It’s like no-wave without the acute angular speed, so I dunno what you’d call it (slow-wave?), but it’s not half bad. The bass is fuzzy and thick, the drums are primitive and rudimentary, and the vocals relay the melodic hook (or lack thereof), but it’s all so unrepentantly sluggish… imagine Ed Schrader’s Music Beat performed at Kilslug’s narcoleptic tempos and you’re close. When they hit a cool idea, I’m reminded of Seattle freak-rockers Stickers, but when they miss the mark it just kind of drags, which is still moderately entertaining. They picked a good style of music to play, because even when you kinda suck, you still sound pretty good!

Holy Shit! Not My Tempo 7″ (Snuffy Smiles / Vinyl Smash)
So many strange details coming together on this one: a Milwaukee hardcore-punk group that uses a Simpsons font for their band name on a Japanese label I had previously associated with ’90s pop-punk. I’d say they should’ve named this EP What The Fuck!, but that’s what they called their first 7″ from 2005! Anyway, confounding details aside, Holy Shit! play a pretty tried and true form of spastic-but-not-macho hardcore, reminiscent of Adrenalin OD, Fat Day and th’ Inbred, with a sprinkling of blast-beats for good measure. Not sure if anyone remembers Haymarket (I used to constantly listen to their tracks on the Fucking Noise Terror compilation CD that Sound Pollution put out), but I’m picking up their vibe on here as well, which warms both heart and mind. You know it’s good hardcore-punk when you’re reminded of a CD comp from 1996, and although Holy Shit! are decidedly out of step with today’s hardcore trends, it only makes me appreciate them more.

ISS Alles 3rd Gut LP (Sorry State)
No one pillages the obscure histories of punk quite like ISS, one of the most interesting and entertaining punk acts not just of their home state of North Carolina but much of the east coast and probably the country (perhaps even the world?). At least in the group’s earliest days, their songs were cobbled together from samples of classic punk, hardcore and associated records, and I’m not sure if that’s still entirely the case, because they are so skillful at weaving these samples together that new songs emerge from their old parts. Like a hardcore-punk Avalanches, a tag I’m sure they’d be repulsed by! The cover art repurposes Einstürzende Neubauten and the first Beastie Boys 7″, there’s a “track” called “Fletcher From Pennywise”, and they’ve hidden at least a few dozen other punk Easter eggs that reveal themselves to the nerdiest of punk nerds upon close examination. Nothing is safe from ISS’s keen skewering (even Sheer Mag and Tiny Desk receive lyrical mentions), but it wouldn’t be all that effective if the songs were dull – good thing then that Alles 3rd Gut is fantastic, ISS’s finest outing in an already exceptional discography. “Elevator Shaft” is an inexplicable dance-punk hit (featuring the vocals of Warm Bodies’ Olivia Gibb) and certainly the track I’d recommend, but the rest of the album snakes through flailing hardcore, stompy punk, snide post-punk and cut-and-paste dementia with gusto. You can tell that ISS cracked up a lot while making this record that they’re completely serious about, a truly commendable approach to punk rock creation.

The Kiwi Animal Mercy LP (Digital Regress)
As it’s impossible for any underground label to exist these days without dipping into the reissue game, at least Digital Regress is doing some particularly cool stuff, homing in on New Zealand with repressings of Maxine Funke, Alastair Galbraith and now The Kiwi Animal. Digital Regress has pressed up both Kiwi Animal albums (1984’s Music Media as well as this, 1985’s Mercy), and why not – these are cool records that aren’t turning up randomly, and still sound pretty fresh considering today’s general “all styles all the time” attitude. Which is interesting to consider, since The Kiwi Animal certainly weren’t creating their sounds thanks to having the entire musical universe at their disposal on Spotify and YouTube, but rather summoning their own style mostly out of thin air. This album is tense, creepy, pretty, and strange, reminiscent of the tenderest Velvet Underground songs, Gareth Williams and Mary Currie’s Flaming Tunes, Comus, early Bright Eyes home recordings, The Black Heart Procession, and so on, and it’s really on par with all of those as far as quality of song is concerned. Mercy benefits from its clear studio recording, allowing foreboding horns to creep up in the background alongside whispered vocals, cello, guitars and shortwave radio, even dipping into some tasty DIY minimal-synth with “Woman And Man Have Balance”. Recommended!

KRGA Mysterious Lady / Don’t Ask Don’t Tell 7″ (Hoser)
Sure, you like power-pop, but how about mysterious power-pop? Not much info can be gained from searching the web (both dark and deep) for information on KRGA, but it comes on Hoser Records, which apparently bears some affiliation with HoZac, so who knows. My guess is that it’s a new artist desperate to appear old, and well, these tunes certainly help make that happen. “Mysterious Lady” is an unhurried guitar-pop gem, clearly deep in the mindset of Big Star and Milk N’ Cookies. Pouty vocals (complete with moans of either pleasure or distress) complete things nicely. Very, very simple, but just as effective. “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” relaxes even further, aided by acoustic guitar and heartwarming piano in its mission to dry the tears from your eyes as you watch the final episode of That 70’s Show. Very well could be that this is an archival ’70s recording, but wouldn’t we all have heard of KRGA by now and already be wading through their (his?) reissued material? The music certainly feels authentic enough, and there’s not much fault to be found in these two starry-eyed tunes. To be fair, though, if it ends up that this is some funny side-project put together by Mike Sniper or Daniel Dimaggio I’m going to feel disappointed in myself.

Larma Larma 12″ (Beach Impediment)
Name your band “Larma” and you know it’s gonna be filed next to Lärm, so you better be ready to kick some ass! Larma are a new Swedish hardcore band (some call the style “käng”, but I’ve yet to hear anyone say it in person) and this is their debut, on the highly reputable Beach Impediment (with Danish release care of Adult Crash). I know from my many trips to Ikea that meat and potatoes are a standard Swedish meal, and this is pure meat and potatoes Swedish hardcore, with the requisite nods to Totalitär, Skitkids and the like. I’m also reminded of a group much geographically closer to myself, Tear It Up, in the way things rage ever forward with a heavy hardcore sound that touches upon both thrash and “old school” (how come no one calls it “old school hardcore” anymore?). All the proper boxes are checked to verify that yes, this is raging hardcore, but I’m missing that certain magical element that keeps a hardcore band lingering in my mind long after the record has stopped spinning – 100% functional hardcore-punk music here, but not particularly of note, by my humble estimation. It’d probably sound wilder if I had a lip-full of snus leaking nicotine into my brain while listening, but I’m not quite ready to make that accommodation.

Leather Lickers Leather Lickers 7″ (Cool Death)
Nice to get a little fast hardcore outta Melbourne, as is the case of this debut EP from Leather Lickers. I’m told to believe that they feature members of Civic and Geld, two bands who manipulate various strains of hardcore to interesting new results, but Leather Lickers are directly, defiantly generic. Which, for hardcore-punk, isn’t necessarily a flaw! These songs follow the same rage-filled melodic progressions you’ve heard countless times before, and they are led by a squawking vocalist whose vein-popping pitch falls somewhere between Charles Bronson-era Mark McCoy and Michael Berdan. Not really the sort of thing that would make waves a couple cities over (or across an ocean or two), but the sort of band that every town, big or small, absolutely needs at least one of. When writing these reviews, I assume to be speaking mainly to an audience of listeners who are interested in seeking out the cream of the hardcore-punk crop, but if you’re a hardcore fanatic who loves everything from Gay Cowboys In Bondage to Nine Shocks Terror to Pretentious Assholes to Government Warning and simply cannot get enough ‘core no matter what, you’ll probably want to buy this Leather Lickers EP and call me a poseur. I can take it.

Neon Neon 12″ (Square One Again)
Wild horses couldn’t keep me from smashing the PayPal button the moment I saw that Neon’s debut record came out – this is the kind of punk rock I like! Single repetitive notes, endless 1-2-1-2 progressions, scratchy guitar, pretty much anything that sonically emulates the sensation of a pebble deep within your sock or a mosquito in your ear, all with a constant stream of Grace Ambrose’s vocals, her voice particularly hoarse this time around (I guess a stint in Mozart will do that to you), clearly utterly exhausted by the continually rotating piles of BS that make up modern life. Her delivery often reminds me of Katie Alice Greer on Priests’ early EPs – the cadence and pitch of schoolyard taunts are repurposed for punk songs and improvised vocal melodies bring these bloodshot, sandpapery tunes a contrasting splash of (neon) color. No finesse, no groove, just cheese-grater punk noise akin to Maniax, The Silver and Foams. And while verbal nonsense works perfectly well for this sort of sound, Ambrose is intent on dissecting and dismembering all our misguided intentions and status quo ideals through her lyrics – I feel personally attacked while listening, but it’s a curative whupping that will surely do me some good. The music stings, so the words might as well sting too!

Power The Fool / Give It All To Me 7″ (Feel It)
Was pleased to see that Feel It released this 7″ single by Melbourne’s Power, as I’d heard good things about the group but hadn’t yet given them a listen. My expectations were high, hoping for some diesel-fueled, hard-rockin’ heavy metal somewhere between Crushed Butler and Tank, and “The Fool” makes good on that, screaming forward with fast pounding drums and epic riffing. “Give It All To Me” takes the tempo down from a road race to a bar-room boogie, with more of a shout-along chorus and a sense of cigarette smoke wafting through the air. Pretty cool tunes, but the recording is raw and blistering in a modern hardcore-punk way, which unfortunately swallows up the vocals. It’s acceptable for noisy d-beat, but if you’re playing a revved-up take on NWOBHM, I wanna understand the singer, or at least hear their voice loud and clear. Singer-guitarist Slimy Williams seems to have a voice up to the task, but I can’t properly appreciate it due to the way these songs are mixed. That said, these cuts are certified rippers, and I’m fairly certain Power were the first band to popularize the ridiculous throwback mullet look down-unda (which has since made its way to the States), so I’m interested to hear more, preferably recorded by Albert Productions next go around.

Skee Mask ISS004 12″ (Ilian Tape)
Munich’s Skee Mask has asserted himself as the master of the post-modern breakbeat – sometimes it seems as though he could take a worn copy of “Funky Drummer” and edit it into something as fresh and forward as anything from Hessle Audio or Whities. The opening track off his latest Ilian Skee Series 12″ backs up my assertion, as “Juug” weaves the same seven beats through various modifications. I never knew a break could be so blatantly, stupidly catchy! “Slow Music” misleads with its title, as this is more Ginsu-sharp techno power, akin to Objekt’s club-minded productions or a particularly irritable Shed cut, and then “RZZ” kicks off the flip with a masterful tech-house production, like one of those recent Burial bangers with the atmosphere sucked out via industrial vacuum. Five tracks total and not a dud in the bunch, nor any signs of creative stagnation or dwindling imagination. I’m gonna figure out how to set “Juug” as my morning alarm and start back-flipping out of bed to start my day, or at least hurt myself trying.

Soga Demo 12″ (Iron Lung)
I don’t necessarily think of Iron Lung as a “demo pressed to vinyl” sorta label, but they clearly heard something special in Mexico’s Soga, and I guess rather than wait for new material they went right for memorializing the group’s self-released demo cassette on wax. It certainly sounds like a demo, not just of a band in their infancy but of inexperienced musicianship in general, which of course makes for wonderful punk rock. Soga play a trashy and energetic form of it, both crusty and snotty with all three band members shouting separately as well as in unison. Some songs recall the whizzing mania of Manisch Depressiv, whereas others sound like a band that would’ve released a split 7″ on Clean Plate in 1996, such as maybe Mankind? or Laceration. Proudly raw and unpolished, with a drummer who seems just slightly unable to hit the hi-hat with the rapidity that these hardcore-punk songs require. I see the beauty in this demo, no doubt, but to be fair I find it far less exciting and entertaining than the good majority of what Iron Lung is releasing these days, if only because a lot of that other stuff is really quite exceptional. A bounty of riches over there!

SPF Paul’s Mccartney LP (Digital Regress)
Cool new band alert! SPF feature members of Cube, Mansion and Jackie-O-Motherfucker… tell me that isn’t a top quality mixtape of outré noise right there. Lucky for me, then, that SPF feels similar to what one might expect from a zesty combination of the art-punk of Mansion, the industrial synth curiosities of Cube and Jackie-O’s particular zone of freakery. Live drums generally guide things here, with keys and guitars and various sounds joining the process (no vocals, though), resulting in songs that are kind of tricky (but not in an annoying way), loose and gunky… I’m reminded of the haphazard electrical spew of Leprechaun Catering and the hypnotic avant-grooves of Gang Gang Dance while spinning the delightfully titled Paul’s Mccartney, just with a lot more junk rustling throughout. Very Load Records-esque, in the best possible sense, recalling that brief period of time when Excepter would release multiple records a year and hundreds of people would buy them. That said, I don’t mean to imply that SPF have an early ’00s nostalgia to them – their sounds are fresh and entirely their own, happily grooving through refrigerator hum, broken guitars, modified keyboards and whatever else could be reasonably plugged in at their recording spot. Really hoping this is an ongoing concern and not a brief convergence, but even if so, we’ll always have this one beautiful Mccartney to share.

Spray Paint Into The Country LP (12XU)
It’s been an interesting trajectory for Austin’s Spray Paint, emerging in the early ’10s as a committed noisy post-punk group, releasing a slew of records, and then recently collaborating with other quality names of underground garage-y punk weirdness like Dan Melchior, The Rebel and even Protomartyr. Now, two of the band members have fled the country (to Australia and Mexico, apparently), and Spray Paint is no longer the full-time concern it once was, but that’s kind of freeing, especially for a band who has nothing to prove and no sights set on “making it”. Maybe that’s part of why Into The Country is so enjoyable, that they are fully letting loose, having fun and uninterested in who it might impress, writing morose and semi-robotic post-punk droners simply because it’s something they love to do. Their guitars remain twangy and uncomplicated, and they’re bolstered by drums both live and synthetic, pulsing out repetitive grooves as if they never heard of a drum fill. The vocals are acerbic and direct, not entirely unlike John Sharkey in his Clockcleaner days, the perfect deadpan foil for songs that are equally over-it. Not sure if they’ll ever live in the same city again, but perhaps the distance is serving them well – I can only imagine how good Spray Paint might sound if one of them moved to Chile and the other to Siberia.

Spykes & Parashi Braille License Plates For Sullen Nights 7″ (Radical Documents)
It’s amazing to think that in his current role as Mememaster General, Wolf Eyes’s John Olson still has time blow into homemade reed instruments, but we should be thankful that he does. I saw Wolf Eyes earlier this year, and it might’ve been the best time I’ve seen them yet! If you didn’t know, he records solo as Spykes (among countless other monikers), and here he teams his slo-mo skronk with Mike Griffin of Burnt Hills, who likes to go by Parashi on his own. Griffin offers some background electrical malfunctions and Olson weaves his horn lines throughout, clearly interacting with Griffin’s wave-forms. Across these two untitled improvisations, I’m reminded of what it might be like if Arthur Jones was trapped inside the control room of a World War 2-era submarine during a hectic battle… Olson emits a restrained patience and Griffin guides his sounds away from any particularly harsh realms. Both sides end in locked grooves, which also happen to be my favorite parts.

Sunny Balm Eucalypt LP (Sacred Summits)
I used to rub a little eucalypt-flavored Sunny Balm on my lips to keep them from getting chapped in the winter, and now I have the pleasure of listening to Sunny Balm, an Optimo-affiliated producer from Glasgow, and his debut album, Eucalypt. “Fourth world” sonics abound here, with a plethora of hand drums, shakers, bansuris and so on woven through the usual-suspect electronic devices such as synths and drum machines. Repetitive loops and cyclical patterns are the name of Sunny Balm’s game, and it’s marvelous, with pleasant and unfamiliar melodies repeating over the clinking of hollowed wood percussion, blocks and claps. The a-side has seven tracks, exploring the triangulated coordinates between Jon Hassell, Mike Cooper and Meitei, but the b-side features only three. This allows ample room for the low-tide pull of “What’s Happening World?” and album closer “Din Of The Mill”, which takes a separate approach from the rest of the album, turning out a dazzling high-speed composition that feels like a synthetic, flowery neighbor to Philip Glass’s Music With Changing Parts. It certainly feels like this lush and exotic positioning of electronic music is popular these days, but I am a huge sucker for it, Sunny Balm certainly included.

Tom Of England Sex Monk Blues LP (L.I.E.S.)
Anyone still writing L.I.E.S. off as a gritty industrial-techno label clearly hasn’t been paying attention, as the label has truly gone off in a flutter of directions over the past few years in particular, tied together only loosely by the desire to dance. I was previously unfamiliar with Tom Of England, but he has an interesting resume (remixing with DJ Harvey, intercontinental DJing, writing “a definitive book about Mezcal”), and I’ve been having difficulty putting much of anything else on since Sex Monk Blues entered my household. Very hard to categorize, this one – it feels as though these songs could be placed somewhere between the 2002 Brooklyn DFA dance-punk explosion, the brief rise of electroclash and Mr. Oizo’s bonkers Ed Banger productions, but nothing here would fit neatly into those boxes. I’m hearing a little Errorsmith in there too, in the way Tom Of England works with only the vital organs of club music while still being wildly funky and unique. The instrumentation fades between programmed and live instruments (featuring saxophone from The Rapture’s Gabe Druzzi, in fact), and features the attention-grabbing vocals of someone named Rene Love, who sounds like Les Claypool (“Sniffin’ At The Griffin”), Arthur Russell (the tenderhearted title track) or Public Image-era John Lydon (“Neon Green”) throughout. Love’s vocals were a bit too much for me at first (does he sing entirely through his nose?), but I’ve grown to appreciate them in the context of these effortlessly catchy tracks (and seeing as it’s only been a couple weeks of listening, not months or years, it wasn’t too painful of an adaptation). A most pleasant surprise!

Trevor Becoming A Bed LP (Alter)
Y’all can praise Mikey Young and Daniel “DX” Stewart all you want, as far as I’m concerned James Vinciguerra is the secret weapon behind Total Control’s continued greatness as they weave through post-punk, minimal-synth and however you care to classify Laughing At The System. He’s been recording as Trevor for a couple years now, releasing a 7″ in 2017 and now this full-length for the always-thoughtful Alter label. Becoming A Bed is a weird one for sure, but not in a way that feels put-upon or out of reach – Trevor’s party is a welcoming one, so long as you come loose and prepared for a good time. Vinciguerra treads erratically on drum n’ bass, house and techno, linking them up with free-form, psychedelic maelstroms, cut-up noise and plenty of bizarre (and entertaining) spoken word. I’m reminded of street-level hip-hop mixtapes, but imagining Graham Lambkin and Jason Lescalleet controlling the ones and twos instead of DJ Drama. This record is a frequently disorienting trip, so don’t expect any of the smooth lo-fi house grooves to last long – an oddly-edited poem or unquantized drum machine workout (not unlike the roughest of Hieroglyphic Being CD-rs) will be sure to disrupt it sooner rather than later. It sounds nutty because it is, but what’s nuttiest of all is how incredibly listenable and fun Becoming A Bed reveals itself to be.

Ubik Next Phase 12″ (Iron Lung)
It’s happened before, where a band I previously thought were merely okay moved on to releasing a record or two with the esteemed Iron Lung label (I’m thinking of C.H.E.W. specifically, but I know there are more). That’s the case with Ubik, and as history has shown us, bands tend to step it up once Iron Lung comes knocking. Next Phase is a solid 12″ EP, seven songs of moody and aggressive downer-punk. Kind of anarcho but not crusty, and verging on death-rock moodiness but always too energetic and direct for any corpse-paint to really stick. Some of the guitar leads and general attitude remind of Pittsburgh’s severely underrated Icon Gallery, but Ubik play hardcore, not heavy metal, and it certainly suits them. They sound like they’re from Leeds or Minneapolis, but in an interesting twist, they’re from Melbourne, and the 1983-desktop-computer-style artwork adds to the possible confusion. This is music that should be adorned with war atrocity photos and black and white images of ancient cathedral ruins, but Ubik ain’t playing it like that – in fact, this is the second record they’ve released to include a song that directly references Twitter in its title. It’s a little weird when you put it all together, but maybe that’s because I’m used to hardcore bands doing things within the current accepted guidelines. Not Ubik!

Zatua Sin Existencia LP (Second Circle)
First Indonesian group to get reviewed on this site? Shame on me if so! Zatua are an ensemble based around the improvisations of producer Dea Barandana and they’ve got something really nice going here, a big hodgepodge of outré electro and Indonesian psychedelia. They’ve got live guitars and drums, but also a damn Buchla Music Easel alongside a heaping pyramid of various Yamahas, Casios and Rolands. The vibe varies from track to track, but Zatua conjure a sound that has me thinking of the hip-hop no-wave of Implog, the mysterious art-dub of Niagara and the electro-house thwack of Juju & Jordash, all with a heady dose of the mystical DIY spirituality peddled by the Séance Centre imprint. Probably a little bit of Beatrice Dillon’s curious artistry in there too, or perhaps she’s simply traveling on a similar trajectory as some of the musical ideas Zatua get into here. I can’t get enough of this stuff, the combination of techno architecture and non-Western instrumentation that has been showing up more and more lately, much to my delight. It’s good company all around, but Sin Existencia deserves a spot at the top of the stack.