Action Swingers Miserable Life / Losing My Cool 7″ (Total Punk)
Can you go wrong with Action Swingers? I don’t think it’s possible. Maybe you’ve seen one of their LPs with cheesy ’90s cover art and thought “not for me”, but you were wrong – this band is primitive nihilist punk rock at its finest. “Miserable Life” sounds like Brainbombs, if they weren’t a bunch of Swedish pretend-serial-killers but rather a bunch of American steelworkers sitting at home collecting meager disability checks. If Watery Love were in their 40s instead of their 30s, they’d probably sound like this too. “Losing My Cool” is slightly funkier in that Pussy Galore / Jon Spencer sort-of way, but still about as pissed-off and grizzled as any Cheater Slicks record. As far as I’m concerned, this Action Swingers 7″ sets the bar for a singles label billing itself as “Total Punk” – unless you deserve to share the same cigarette-burnt stage and smelly microphone as Action Swingers, you should not working with this fine record company.
Bad American Bruises 7″ (Eleven Twenty Four)
So there are like four different Black Flag reunions going on right now… can’t we just cancel all those and send out a band like Bad American instead? These guys are all pretty old (or getting there), and they do a fine job of slamming out ugly mid-paced hardcore punk. Four songs here, using riffs that bands like Crowbar or Prong could’ve metallicized, but Bad American insist on squeezing them into the form of moshworthy hardcore. Definitely more singular-minded than the somewhat-recent Bad American album, as Bruises has no interest in thrashing; it just wants to hurt. If Drunks With Guns were actually Laborers With Tempers, they’d surely sound like this. Not sure if this is just a slight aesthetic detour for Bad American or what, but you can’t go wrong with four tracks of heavy, dirge-like punk such as this.
Bad Noids Everything From Soup To Dessert LP (Katorga Works)
Bad Noids came on the scene with a 7″ limited to like 84 copies or something stupidly inaccessible like that, and I’m glad to say that with this follow-up LP, they’ve grown up without getting any smarter. The recording is a step up from the boombox or four-track they used for the single, still raw but with a thicker mid-range and greater sense of clarity. The songs are better, and I dug the 7″, so this is all quite good! For those unfamiliar, Bad Noids are youngsters from Clevo who certainly seem like the kid-brothers of Nine Shocks Terror and H-100s, although they play a very American form of punk rock (no Japanese hardcore worship here), like a mix of Necros, Bobby Soxx and Sick Pleasure. The singer has a nasally Arab On Radar-guy voice, but instead of talking through his lyrics he squeals like an unmedicated toddler, a pretty perfect fit for the ramshackle, flailing hardcore that the rest of the band has assembled. I was expecting to enjoy this record, but Everything From Soup To Dessert is really a top-notch slice of hardcore-punk – you don’t have to toss fireworks in the pit or obsessively collective Cleveland hardcore obscurities to dig into Bad Noids.
Big Boys Fun, Fun, Fun 12″ (540)
Let me tell you about a Texas punk group called Big Boys! Seriously, how are you supposed to “review” all-time-classic punk records? “Boy, these Dead Kennedys are really onto something with Holiday In Cambodia and I think they will have a prosperous career!” I don’t blame you if Big Boys aren’t in your weekly listening rotation (they sure aren’t in mine), but they are one of the true gems of early Texas punk, really personifying the “do what you want” creativity that defined punk rock to so many people decades ago. They wore mumus, had a horn section, skated before anyone cared about kickflips, and generally just shocked the hell out of the norms while playing with a level of skill usually reserved for kids in Rush and Yes cover bands. This six-song EP covers breakneck hardcore, goofy funk and riotous punk rock, and even if the idea of “funk punk” is unappealing in today’s vigorously unfunky hardcore scene, it’s certainly worth hearing. I keep thinking this is a double 12″ reissue, but that’s because there is a gigantic, beautiful booklet filled with lyrics, photos and ephemera that is practically worth the price of admission on its own, a real inspiring package of what artistic freedom can foster. And if you’re still unconvinced, just spend half an hour or so skimming Big Boys videos on YouTube and see if you don’t decide to skate (rather than die).
Bitter Fictions Bitter Fictions LP (Shaking Box)
If “Bitter Fictions” is a solo project, which it is, I’m thinking it should sound like Pedro the Lion or Bob Nanna, like some emo acoustic guitar-pop that covers your local coffee shop in flyers. I thought wrong! Bitter Fictions isn’t the all-ages indie show in the basement, it’s the loft space art-gallery with musical accompaniment on the top floor. It’s pretty good, too… Bitter Fictions roams from Thurston-y guitar stunt-work to Birchville Cat Motel sunburnt drone to Oren Ambarchi’s electro-acoustic pitter-patter to the slow, haunting expanse of late-period Earth. Even some finger-picking in there, too. Bitter Fictions kinda goes to every place a modern solo “experimental” guitar record can go, but it hops around without seeming jittery or uncomfortable. More like one guy (in this case, Devin Friesen) just working out a series of interesting compositions and letting the chips fall where they may. To quote Borat: “very nice!”
Boddika & Joy Orbison / Kassem Mosse Think & Change Album Sampler 1 12″ (Nonplus)
I got so excited by the prospect of a split 12″ featuring Boddika & Joy Orbison collaborating on one side (as a duo, they’re solid gold) and techno reductionist weirdo Kassem Mosse on the other that I didn’t notice this is actually just some sort of “sampler” for what will be a larger-scale, official release. I hate that stuff… give vinyl it’s proper due, it’s not supposed to be used in the same manner as buttons and stickers! Anyway, my anger at buying just part of what will be a larger release quickly subsided as I put this one on and let these three gents smack me with their beats. Boddika & Joy Orbison turn in a great remix of their own cut “Mercy”, letting the pulse simmer while still aiming for the dance-floor (and hitting the bulls-eye). I dig Kassem Mosse, but he’s never clicked for me like he does here with “Broken Patterns”; the title implies some sort of undanceable groove, but it’s actually quite groovy, sounding like classic rave-tech shot through a helicopter’s spinning blades. For such a mysterious, white-label kind of guy, Mosse seems to be having a blast with this one, and that vibe seamlessly translates to my legs and torso. I’ll admit, this 12″ sample has me salivating for more… it’s impossible to withstand a marketing strategy that sounds this good.
Caged Animal Caged Animal EP 7″ (Warthog Speak)
During the day, Tony Molina walks around getting his heart broken and picnics in the park, but at night, he does a dozen push-ups, zips his black hoodie up until all you can see is the whites of his eyes, and becomes the maniacal frontman of Caged Animal. I hope the entire band is under 5’5″, because everything else about Caged Animal is short – the thrashing lasts mere seconds before the mosh part kicks in, the vocals are brief indecipherable bursts of anger, and I can barely finish typing a sentence of this review before I have to flip the record over again (I only type with my left pinky finger). Caged Animal have a real knack for writing intense mosh build-ups and breakdowns, and that’s essentially what this EP is, peppered with the occasional blast to give us a chance to crawl out of the dogpile. If Painkiller isn’t knocking at their door right now, the world is no longer what it used to be.
Chris Corsano & Bill Orcutt The Raw And The Cooked LP (Palilalia)
I got kind of annoyed by those expensive and ultra-limited singles Bill Orcutt was dealing not too long ago, just seemed like the poor supply/demand ratio and high ticket price were meant to antagonize the fans, but this collaboration LP between Orcutt and drum-team captain Chris Corsano was too hard to pass up. And the KFC-based artwork! Even if you didn’t catch this duo live last year, I think we all knew what this one sounded like without ever hearing it – tangles of scalding hot blues-guitar with a free-jazz octopus seated on the drum stool. You can almost imagine these songs if you try hard enough, but even with that being the case, The Raw And The Cooked is a fantastic record and one worth hearing, not just imagining. It’s either tense or cathartic, and when Orcutt starts hollering like a wounded mutt, the thrill of the moment leaps from his body to yours. These guys could probably make this record while preparing breakfast, they’re both just such complete masters of freaking out on their respective instruments, but it still sounds amazing, no matter how easy it may come to them. Thankfully, this record exists, so the rest of us don’t even have to try.
Coyote Clean Up 2 Hot 2 Wait LP (100% Silk)
Coyote Clean Up is no longer just the worst job at the zoo, it’s a smoothed-out house project befitting of the 100% Silk namesake. If there’s anything vaguely “hipster house” about this one, I dare you to find it, as 2 Hot 2 Wait is like taking a night drive through Ibiza in a rented Mercedes, windows permanently down. Or during daylight hours, deep within the confines of the chill-out tent at a Cadenza party. It’s ethereal and precious, but with a comfortable, plush groove that can just as easily pull you out of your seat as it can tuck you under the sheets. There’s one voice throughout most of these tracks, and it’s a soothing coo that is frequently chopped (in the usual modern-day production technique) and occasionally given freedom to wander across the song, like an Anthropologie ad turned into a digital dance track. Same kinda look and feel as Sapphire Slows, but more refined, pop-friendly and glossy… could be some sort of relation? Either way, I’m more than willing to grab a scooper and join in with Coyote Clean Up.
Cuntz Aloha LP (Permanent)
Do we really need another band called some variation of “Cunts”, even if they mix it up with a Z instead of an S? There are at least five bands with this name already, and it’s a stupid one. These guys aren’t off to a good start with me, but their music isn’t bad… pretty standard low-IQ (but probably actually smart and just intentionally pretending to be dumb) noise-rock, like a mix of Degreaser and Running. These dudes are Australian, and the singer does kind of a “loud belligerent talking” vocal style, which puts him somewhere between Nick Cave and the guy from Feedtime. If you are absolutely enamored with this style (and go four out of four with the bands I just mentioned), you’ll probably dig on Cuntz just the same. I don’t fall into that camp though, as the music is good but not great, and with songs like “Meth” and their general “we are degenerate freaks, aren’t we, hmm, aren’t we?” vibe, I can’t say there is much about Cuntz that has me hankering for more. If the point of the band was simply to annoy their parents, however, I congratulate Cuntz on what is surely a mission accomplished.
Dangerous Boys Club Pris LP (Dais)
I think we’ve all read that entertaining interview that Aaron Montaigne recently did with Vice by now, chronicling his adventures from Heroin and Antioch Arrow to the US military and beyond. He’s a unique individual for sure (my one buddy swears Montaigne was the sole creator of the “white belt” trend), and his current musical offering comes in the form of Dangerous Boys Club, what one might call a “cold-wave” group. I suppose I might call them that too, but the music of Pris sounds nothing like the many punks-gone-synth with their fresh-out-the-box gear. I think there’s some sort of homemade electronic device at play here, and it gives the music this subtle-yet-constant layer of treble, like someone is playing a dog whistle and you are convinced you can kind of hear it. Or maybe like if you converted an electro-pop WAV to MP3, then back to WAV, then back to MP3 again, until the cymbals sound more like digital mist than intentional percussion. There’s not much to say about the songs themselves, there isn’t much in the songwriting department that moved me to dance or squeal or tense up, and the vocals are standard-issue, but their actual overall sound is unique enough that I keep listening in hopes that these songs will eventually ingrain themselves in my brain. It didn’t really happen on Pris, but I won’t be shocked if the next DBC record spins me for a loop.
Demdike Stare Testpressing #001 12″ (Modern Love)
Alright, time for another series of limited Demdike Stare 12″s that are released just far enough from each other that obsessive fans (such as myself) are forced to order them separately, lest we miss out entirely, and essentially causing us to pad our orders with other records in order to soften the import-shipping blow. I’d start to feel like I was being taken advantage of if all these records weren’t so damn good! The first cut on this “test pressing” (not sure I follow the aesthetic concept here either, but I am withholding full judgment) is a real treat – a wormy, slimy synth tone wiggles through narrow passageways as a dissected break-core beat tumbles around it, narrowly averting disaster. It’s so simple, but such a great pairing, that shifty synth pulse and a giant pile of confiscated jungle-drums. Flip it over and it’s another example of Demdike Stare’s rhythmic beauty, pulling percussion from places most English-speaking Caucasians have never ventured and building remarkably textured beats from their skin and bones. I have to admit, I may have had some slight Demdike fatigue when they were wrapping up the last couple 12″s in the Elemental series, but Testpressing #001 has me as thrilled as the first time I heard them. Get yours if it’s not already too late!
Deviation Social Tempus / Deathwatch “From End To Beginning” Vol. 2 LP (Dais)
Often when an artist or label releases a “Volume One”, the second volume fails to surface, but Dais has always been a label to live up to their promises. Really glad they are excavating these Deviation Social rarities, because this is great stuff, truly disturbed and outraged synth / musique-concrete / noise experiments from a man named Arshile Injeyan. This volume collects the Tempus Purgatio Part 7 7″ EP along with the Workforce / Deathwatch cassette, and they flow marvelously on 12″ vinyl. This material pushes further from standard song structure, instead flowing long-form with inaudible news samples, tidal synth pulls, echoed vocals, unsettling sound effects and various tones of unknown origin. It’s as if Nurse With Wound’s stream-of-consciousness approach was applied to the earliest dark-wave sonics and punk rock’s fiery anger (hence a song title like “F.O.P. (Fuck Off Prick)”). Deviation Social really nails something special, and even as these tracks casually morph into one another, Injeyan really has me captivated, like one of those grainy videos of terrorists sitting behind makeshift desks and barking out threats in languages I don’t understand. Pick up some Deviation Social today and say “yes” to Dais!
Dichroics Short Dirty Threads LP (no label)
Dichroics follow their self-released debut album with their self-released second album. Who needs a label anyway? In the case of Dichroics, unless they are just complete jerks as people, I’d imagine they had at least one record company sniffing around, as they combine a few easy-going indie-rock styles in their music, Short Dirty Threads being no exception. At times I’m reminded of the mathy yowl of At The Drive-In, the mental meandering of Modest Mouse, the artsy-cool of Talking Heads, and the slacker-y bumble of Pavement covering The Fall. Generally, this sort of cordial, talented indie-rock music isn’t something I want to listen to, and I suppose I don’t really have a desire to hear Dichroics when I’m out gassing up my car or at work or playing frisbee in the park or whatever, but in spinning Short Dirty Threads I am able to appreciate their talent. I guess no band wants to hear “I appreciate your talent”, like it’s a sneaky, politically-correct way of saying “you suck”, but I truly do appreciate that Dichroics are able to combine various influences into their own thing and perform it with gusto. If they were my kids, I’d be proud.
Ego Summit The Room Isn’t Big Enough LP (540)
540 continues to reissue most of your want-list with the Ego Summit LP, a late-’90s gem of Ohio’s finest dirtball indie-rock. There’s a beautifully detailed map inside the record documenting Ego Summit’s intertwined band member histories (linking Vertical Slit, Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, Great Plains and roughly 25 other acts), and it certainly sounds like a bunch of capable and wildly talented men playing together solely for the sake of it. Everyone shares songwriting duties, which leads to the Neil Young-ish bent of “Beyond The Laws” being tailed by the downer indie-pop of “Illogical”, and the rest of the record unravels in a similarly disparate fashion. It all sounds like the same group though, even if the musical ideas pull at different tablecloths, as the recording is pretty steady and none of these guys seem particularly thrilled by life. I’m no Ohio freak, I mean Pennsylvania is bad enough, but The Room Isn’t Big Enough is an obscure session worth revisiting, even for those of us who don’t know all of Mike Rep’s Quotas by first name.
Elgato Dunkel Jam 12″ (no label)
Elgato is one of the lesser-repped Hessle Audio artists, real easy to miss, but he’s one of my favorites. Alongside Bandshell, Elgato is making music that ostensibly is part of the British post-dubstep scene, but I swear the music is so strange that it could easily fit into some M Squared or Vanity Records compilation from 1981 and no one would be the wiser. “Dunkel Jam” wouldn’t be so easily concealed, though: the constant hits of indiscernible diva-flash are thoroughly modern, even if the rest of the song seems to float in stasis, paralyzed by the constant hi-hat tics and frozen groove. “We Dream Electric” sounds like the name of some stupid major label indie-rock band, but Elgato uses it to guide another subtle house track into the cold night air. The vocal trick employed here is essentially the same as that of “Dunkel Jam”, but I find Elgato’s minimalism and continuity to be starkly alluring rather than annoying and cheap. These tracks have barely enough functioning parts to be called dance music, but they make for a lovely stack of bones.
Emptyset Material 12″ (Subtext)
At this point, I consider my commitment to Emptyset a permanent one. I’m most comfortable when their records are housed in black-and-white jackets that display spooky empty places, like a dusty old cathedral, or in the case of Material, a creepy bath-house and a well-lit bomb shelter. This one is a pretty nice midpoint between the bombastic shrapnel shards of Collapsed and the tentative, fearful murmurings of Medium. Just as it’s always been, Emptyset’s music hinges on how and when they detonate their bass blasts, and for most of this one, the blows come slow and deliberate, the perfect soundtrack for someone slowly being chased by a sentient robot through a sewer (the early part of the chase, when there’s still a slight change of escape). I find Emptyset’s music to be so incredibly satisfying; they just really nail it, and Material is another same-yet-different take on their signature grayscale post-musical industrial electronics. Those who are familiar will not be disappointed, and if you’re not familiar, time to get on board.
Fat History Month Bad History Month LP (Sophomore Lounge / Exploding In Sound)
The curiously-named Fat History Month are back with their sophomore album on, umm, Sophomore Lounge, and if you had any inclination to give their first one more than a customary spin, you’ll dig this one too. The music is still surprisingly delightful, optimistic and loose, very Pavement-y but with a touch of the Modest Mouse blues. Usually when I listen to this sort of band, I’m refreshing my email on my phone by the third song, but Fat History Month manage to keep my attention, if not because the music is mind-blowing, but because I’m curious to know what the singer is going to say. It feels like Fat History Month paid such close attention in school that they were contradicting the teachers over meaningless details and realizing what a sham the world is while their classmates were doing Beavis impressions and making plans to get drunk. I don’t necessarily “agree” with all their lyrics, but Fat History know how to turn a phrase or two, so the lyric booklet/comic that comes with Bad History Month is a smart and useful addition. The record ends with “I was born with a body that works and a mind that works to destroy it. It’s easy being alive, it’s hard to enjoy it”… if you can’t relate to that at least once in a while, please get off my planet.
Good Throb Culture Vulture 7″ (Muscle Horse)
Record of the month right here! Good Throb destroyed my life with their debut 7″, it was just too punk and too good and too nasty for me to do anything but feel wonderfully bad about myself, like I ate the perfect brownie sundae and then immediately had another. And dare I say it, but I think Culture Vulture is even better! “Culture Vulture” slowly wakes up into a plodding, sloppy march through a field of icons worth demolishing. “Headache” is ironically the sweetest sounding tune on this EP, almost like Eddy Current if they weren’t a band of delightful boys but a rotten crew of cynical women, and “Torture Garden” features the lyric “shall I put these golf balls up your behind?”, a question the rest of the world has never had the guts to ask. I’m going to be in the UK next month, and I’m gonna beg to carry Good Throb’s amps around, in hopes that the tiniest bit of their punkness rubs off on me. It’s worth a try!
Kremlin Drunk In The Gulag 12″ (Beach Impediment / Bad Vibrations)
Neos aside, three-piece hardcore-punk is always kinda tough to pull off… there’s just something about having a solo front-person that seems crucial to the hardcore lineup. Like how are you supposed to jump into the crowd and do a backflip off the PA if you’re wearing a guitar? Kremlin are such a trio, and while they are cool, I feel like today’s hardcore standards are so high that you’ve really gotta blow minds to stand out, which Kremlin do not. They’re a mean melange of classic ’81 hardcore (The Fix, maybe Jerry’s Kids), crusty protest-punk (Crucifix, Flux Of Pink Indians), ’90s political hardcore (Disrupt, State Of Fear) and just a hint of Black Flag’s penchant for metallic wanking. Sure sounds like a recipe for success to me, but Kremlin’s vocals quickly fade into the noise, the songs tumble forward without any significant hooks, and while the guitars have a killer sound, the recording is a little too muddy to make any significant impact. Definitely a good record, it’s just that hardcore is now a university where you need a 3.8 GPA to graduate, and these guys are getting Bs and B+s on their finals. Hope they don’t get crushed by student loans a couple years from now.
Alexander Lewis A Luminous Veil LP (Blackest Ever Black)
The name “Alexander Lewis” strikes fear into the heart of no man or woman, but a record like A Luminous Veil certainly aims in that direction. This one is very much of-the-day industrial synth abuse, each track drilling a single idea into the ground. Most of this record is rhythmic, but without any 4/4 pulse, just undulating soundwaves that occur when you tape the keys on your synth down instead of just playing them like a normal person. I’m reminded of a smoother Alberich, Subliminal’s last 7″ EP or Will Over Matter’s Lust For Knowledge were it less charismatic and more po-faced. Really, this sort of record is so deep in my wheelhouse that even though it might not be adding much to the genre, it’s a style of music I enjoy so much that I find myself continually throwing on A Luminous Veil at all hours of the day, eager to let these sawtoothed synths jab back and forth until I’m fully under their spell. You might like things black, but this is the blackest ever, baby.
Lossmaker Lossmaker 12″ (Lo-Bit Landscapes)
Lo-Bit Landscapes is quickly cornering the market on avant-emo-electronics as they welcome Lossmaker to the family. This is electronic music that I’d imagine the 1% would listen to – it’s demure, often beautiful, subtle and melancholy, and pretty much the perfect soundtrack for Downton Abbey – In Space (please BBC, make it happen). I’m reminded of B. Fleischmann, but without the mumbly German vocals, or maybe if Four Tet put out an album commissioned by an herbal sleepy-time tea company, or Boards Of Canada if they were Boards Of Dubai. Kind of Her Space Holiday-ish too, when the synths start weeping electronic tears in that ’90s sadtronica sort of way. I’d say it falls pretty squarely into “not my thing” territory, but the EP never drags. If I had the proper ornamental 18th century cabinet, I’d probably hold onto this one… it’s just too dignified to dwell amongst the plebeians on my Expedit shelves.
Miles Unsecured 12″ (Modern Love)
As if to remind everyone that the Demdike crew holds the industrial-techno game in their grip, Miles has been back in solo action with a new album and this 12″ of material that didn’t make it on there. I actually have yet to check out the album (there’s only so many goth-techno hours in a day), but Unsecured is totally killer. Seems like he went deep into auto factories and oil refineries for the source material on this one, using steam exhaust in place of hi-hats and steel-on-steel hammering for accent percussion, with degraded acid-bass hurrying beneath. It’s way faster than any Demdike material, or even Miles’ first EP, reminding me of Shed at his most aggressive or a filthier Rrose. Not quite dance-floor oriented, as most tracks lack an obvious 4/4 stability, but it’s that unsettling herky-jerkiness that adds to the “Robocop versus Terminator” feel, really hitting the industrial-techno sweet spot. I hate to say you need to spend the money on this expensive Modern Love import too, but…
Milk Music Cruise Your Illusion LP (no label / Perennial)
Just in time for backyard grilling season, here’s Milk Music’s Cruise Your Illusion, suitable for both gas and charcoal. I’ve listened to this album a bunch now, and listened to their debut EP plenty, and I’m still not sure how I feel about this group. On one hand, the guitar sounds cool, they look like Wayne’s World extras in the best possible way, and they seem like genuine Pacific Northwest party freaks that are fun to be around. On the other, the songs kinda just blend into each other, they rhyme “high” with “die” in the first five minutes, and the record feels way too long, like they’re trying to jam but don’t know where else to go. And then there’s the vocalist: I appreciate that he seems to lack any self-consciousness and just goes for it, but he’s also clearly kinda tone-deaf and straining himself way beyond his range. I guess it’s a good record, but I’ve had more fun thinking about this band and wondering why they are such prominent internet-discussion fodder than actually just kicking back and listening to the record. Definitely feels good hearing those guitars in the late afternoon heat though, so while I will probably forget about this record six months from now, at least we’ll have had the summer of 2013.
R. Stevie Moore I Missed July 7″ (Sweaters & Pearls)
Shameful admission: I’ve never heard R. Stevie Moore before. I understand that he is one of underground-pop’s sweetest gems, a veritable Santa Claus of off-beat guitar pop (and not just because he dons a big white beard). This single has one song from 1978 and another from 1993, so it seems like as good a place to start as any, and after giving it a few spins, I can understand why the name of R. Stevie Moore is revered among critics and musicians alike. “I Miss July” reminds me a lot of The Apples In Stereo circa Fun Trick Noisemaker, except this song was recorded a good ten years before the Apples ever were a band, and it shuffles in a way that they never quite did. I’ll keep it! “Traded My Heart For Your Parts” is the flip, and a delightfully drunken walk on the beach, like if The Eagles weren’t an evil right-wing corporation but a non-profit music group overseen by Bruce Vilanch. Pretty amazing to hear two songs of equal quality, presence and vibe and to know that they were recorded fifteen years apart. Those of you who already own a bunch of Moore’s records are probably “no duh”-ing this review all over the place, but just let me enjoy my new discovery, okay?
Negative Reinforcement Negative Reinforcement 7″ (Coffin Cut)
Eight more songs of crushing hardcore care of Australia’s Negative Reinforcement. It’s really heavy – I’m reminded of Strife and Hatebreed and Left For Dead, although it seems like Negative Reinforcement are writing songs more in tune with Mind Eraser or Iron Lung or some other modern-day grindcore champion. Will Killingsworth mixed this EP, and I’m not sure if he is due all the credit, but this is a pretty evil-sounding record in all the right ways. The vocals are a deep bark that displays no sign of Australian accent (when your bark gets deep enough, it doesn’t even matter what language you’re “singing” in), and they fade in a touch of foreboding noise to appropriately match the spooky minimalism of their design. I wish the song “Koro Anxiety” was about the stressful state of mind one enters after dropping $1,500 on a rare hardcore 7″, but instead it’s sadly about a woman “gagged and bound” with a “bloated condom” on the floor. I can only hope this is a song decrying that sort of behavior (the lyrics are vague enough that the intention isn’t totally clear), but the whole “violence against women as transgressive artistic statement for hardcore dudes to use” thing is so bunk that I wish they just avoided it entirely.
Negro Spirituals Black Garden / Ancient Trees 7″ (A Wicked Company)
Man, naming your indie-punk band “Negro Spirituals” is poorly considered at best and shamefully offensive at worst. You really want to tell your niece and cousin at Thanksgiving that you’re in a band called that? If you gave up on this review at the band’s title, I don’t blame you, but for the few who are still willing to give this band a chance, they are pretty decent, run-of-the-mill queasy post-punk, like Factums with a touch of Joy Division’s dour melodies, or Blank Dogs with a meatier rhythm section (and those same underwater vocals). If I pretend this band is actually called The Pineapple Eaters or Backyard Friends or any of the million other unused band names that are not as needlessly offensive (seriously, why can’t bands name themselves these days?), it’s a pretty decent single of modern-day smeary goth-punk (if you melted early records by Section 25 and 23 Skidoo together it might come across like this), but I keep coming back to the name and how I want nothing to do with this band.
Optional Body Surviving Avalanches / Inelastic 7″ (25 Diamonds)
Angel Hair and The VSS will never not be cool. I don’t care how many dorks co-opt the worst aspects of screamo or wear black outfits with Spock hair, both bands are impeachable, and both feature the vocals of one Sonny Kay, who sings in Optional Body. Or maybe he sang, because this was recorded in 2008, and he seems like a delightfully volatile person. This band certainly fits in with his oeuvre – frantic guitars with staccato drumming, discordant melodies and his not-quite-pitch-perfect howl over top. Optional Body sound like a post-Interpol version of The VSS or At The Drive-In, in that there is an awareness that dark, gothy post-hardcore can successfully go radio-pop if pushed hard enough. This certainly sounds like a band of seasoned players at work, smartly produced and tightly performed, and if they ever manage to write a truly catchy tune (presuming they still exist, which they probably don’t), who knows how many souls they might steal.
Paint It Black Invisible 7″ (No Idea)
Paint It Black are my favorite MTV Video Music Award-winning punk band (you know, from being on the soundtrack to Tony Hawk’s Underground… take that Blink 182!). They are more of an institution than a band at this point, converging when schedules allow and dishing out the same impassioned, melodic hardcore we’ve come to expect from Dan Yemin for the past ten (twenty?) years. This single might look all Youth Attack-y with it’s scary black-and-white cover, but it’s still true to the ‘core that made Kid Dynamite hoodies a certainty at any punk or hardcore show between the years of 1998 and 2002. It’s a speedy and nimble six-song EP, with plenty of melodic backing vocals and sing-along choruses, all with Yemin’s sharp and pointed musings on life and punk (and in the case of “Little Fists”, what must be a sincere love-song directed to his daughter). There aren’t many punks that can get away with a love song to their children, but if anyone can make it seem stupid not to scream words of passionate advice for their kids, it’s Yemin. Chances are most self-identifying punks over the age of 24 will quietly ignore this one, as Paint It Black seem to belong to the youth, but I have to wonder if it’s not just out of a fear of sincerity and the lack of sarcastic distance, forcing the listener to stop hiding in an ironically-ignorant cave. Or maybe they just don’t like the music, who knows.
Psychic Blood Drrrty / Bed Head 7″ (Nerve Hold)
The cover features a blurry live image of the guitarist rocking out in cut-off jean shorts. That’s a punk rock sin! Unless you’re NOFX, or Henry Rollins in his tiny soccer shorts, there’s no excuse for any band to wear shorts on stage. I guess this record is pretty okay, though – too fast for grunge, too groovy for punk, and certainly not hardcore, I could see this fitting in alongside Roomrunner or Milk Music or the rest of the ’90s alt-punk resurgence out there, although Psychic Blood are certainly messier, noisier and less focused than the other groups I mentioned. Might be that little taste of Mudhoney that’s lurking in “Bed Head” that has me feeling this way. Now if these guys could just put on a pair of pants, they might be going places.
Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement Black Magic Cannot Cross Water LP (Blackest Ever Black)
No specific person is taking credit for the Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement project, but it’s gotta be Dom Fernow, right? I mean it got started on Hospital Productions (and this album is actually the vinyl reissue of a Hospital cassette), and how many other people out there are nutty enough to come up with “Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement”? The project is premised on some Christian missionaries who went to the jungle in hopes of converting the locals and dying horrible jungle deaths instead, which sounds like a pretty good theme to me… it’s like if Herzog made a horror movie. Very cinematic indeed, and Black Magic Cannot Cross Water plays out like a soundtrack, slowly creeping through unsettling bass tones, sparse rhythms, plenty of rain and just a smidgen of jungle sound-effects. I can just picture some white guys in robes and pope hats trudging through vines and mud, slowly getting eaten by crocodiles and fatally stung by insects as monkeys and colorful birds cackle from up above. I probably don’t need more than one Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement record, but actually maybe I do, as this one just really nails the vibe without ever overdoing it, and it’s a concept most other evil post-industrial, dark-ambient folks would’ve never dreamed up. The perfect record for those who want to see Bear Grylls fall down a ravine or get swallowed by a whale but would never publicly admit it.
Savages Silence Yourself LP (Matador)
If you haven’t heard about Savages yet, I suggest you reset your modem – if there’s one thing this group has full command of, it’s the indie music press. I’m not gonna hold that against them though (okay, maybe a little bit), because I dug their first single, and any band that can make post-punk disco-beats and Joy Division revision come across as interesting in 2013 has my support. I put on Silence Yourself for the first time, heard the cool and weird little intro piece, and then quickly found myself surprised at how polished, shiny and professional this record is. I guess I was hoping for more of that “Siouxsie Sioux meets Ian Curtis at a Rapture show in 2001″ vibe, but this record is radio-ready all the way through. Just listen to a song like “Strife” – if the singer was an elderly male narcissist instead of a youthful female narcissist, this would be U2′s new single. A few other tracks give me some pretty strong Killers vibes, and perhaps its the distinctive, suffocating-Sinead vocals of Jehnny Beth that make Savages sound like Savages, but if this group had some boring normal guy singing, they’d sound like anything else on your favorite cubicle-rock streaming internet radio station. I guess, good for them? I’d rather constantly read their ramblings and look at their posed photo sessions than that of Kings Of Leon or The Heavy or something. Maybe they’ll do something cool with the fifty grand they get for the Nissan Altima commercial that ends up licensing them.
Sic Bacchus Sic Bacchus 7″ (God Of Whine)
It kind of amazes me that kids ostensibly born in the ’90s are as taken with hoarsely-screamed melodic emo-core as those born a decade earlier. For me, that music is indelibly a ’90s art form, and for kids to be earnestly playing it now just seems weird. Not that that’s a bad thing… I mean it’s better than all the youth just being into Forever The Sickest Kids and Brokencyde, right? Sic Bacchus are definitely from the Hot Water Music school of rock, with multiple dudes yelling until they sweat through the pits of their thrift-store t-shirts. The lyrics of “Sweater Casual” are written in the form of a letter, they’re not afraid to have “whoa-oh” vocal parts, and one guitar gets to noodle around the riff while the other holds it down. If you’re a fan of the style, Sic Bacchus definitely do no wrong, although if you’re looking to be amazed or find the new band that could be your life, this debut 7″ single probably won’t be it. I’m sure that at the very least, their friends are stoked, and isn’t that probably how all the great emo bands started out anyway?
Sightings Terribly Well LP (Not Not Fun)
I don’t know about you, but after the recent Sightings interview, I sure wanted to listen to them. They’ve got such a deep, innovative discography, that it’s great to just pull out Arrived In Gold or City Of Straw and get locked into some weird musical moment you had forgotten about or never caught in the first place. It’s also great when they release new albums, like Terribly Well here. Not that I had any doubts, but it’s another killer addition to the Sightings family – they’re still forcing their instruments to behave badly, and taking routes that most bands don’t even know exist, let alone consider. The bass will trick me into thinking it’s drums, Mark Morgan will howl over torrents of scorched guitar, and I will comfortably soak it all in. Of note with Terribly Well is the occasional addition of Pat Murano on synth, but he fits in so seamlessly that I can hardly pull him out, particularly as Sightings frequently take delight in forcing their respective rock instruments to sound like synths. Some of these tracks are downright pummeling, “Mute’s Retreat” being a particularly exuberant cascade of industrial mechanics, and others just kind of tickle you in the dark. Nicely done!
Spent Flesh Spent Flesh 10″ (P. Trash / FDH / Sit & Spin)
The back cover of this 10″ reveals one band member in a Regulations shirt, another in a Jay Reatard shirt (and the third in a zipped-up hoodie, which isn’t quite as aesthetically revealing), so it’s not out of line to expect some sort of historically-reenacted punk rock with a dash of power-pop and maybe a nod to the first fifty Killed By Death volumes. Spent Flesh might sound like that, but played with such a frantic intensity that were they Japanese and were this 2001, 625 Productions would’ve signed them to a five seven-inch, two LP deal. Maybe if snotty, drunken ’90s punk like Filth and Assfactor 4 and I-Spy were played by Total Fury and Razor’s Edge, it’d be reminiscent of Spent Flesh. Although to be fair, Spent Flesh still maintain plenty of mess in their performance, even with the slightly unfulfilling lineup of vocalist / drummer / guitarist. (Is it really that hard to find a bassist? You don’t even have to be a musician to play it!) Regardless, Spent Flesh get it done nicely, screaming like maniacs and thrashing like there’s no school tomorrow. 10″s are a pretty hate-worthy format, but you’d have to be a real bigoted yuppie to try and diss this one.
Teenage Moods Grow LP (25 Diamonds)
I’ll never understand when bands that don’t consist of teenagers insist on referencing that age period. Have you hung out with any teenagers lately? They’re annoying babies, and if you can recall the time when you were a teenager, it was probably filled with uncertainty, acne and fear. I will hope for the best and just presume that Teenage Moods came up like the kids on Dawson’s Creek, highly educated and emotionally complex, because the music of Grow is pretty alright. They remind me of mid-’90s Bay Area punk with the addition of a healthy power-pop obsession, like Groovie Ghoulies or The Hi-Fives mixed with Milk & Cookies. Mostly all of the record is upbeat, fun, and sweetly innocent, like somehow none of Teenage Moods suffer from depression or unemployment or unsatisfying personal relationships. Definitely a fun record to have around, the sort of thing you want to play after a successful first-date or consuming a particularly delicious smoothie. Maybe being a teen isn’t so bad after all?
Uh Bones Only You 7″ (Randy)
Randy Records keeps the classic garage-rock flowing with four Uh Bones tracks on one 7″. “Only You” is pretty cool, reminding me of a straighter Los Cincos. Really, the whole EP is pretty tasteful, well-oiled garage rock, staying pretty far from punk or anything that may have occurred post-1974. The singer’s voice is well-coated in the usual modern-day reverb, but I can tell that he’s capable of singing this sort of music, which is somewhat refreshing when it comes to these semi-anonymous garage-rock singles I end up hearing. I might’ve gone for a brighter, bigger recording if I were Uh Bones, since it seems like they’ve got good-enough chops that they don’t need to hide behind a wall of quiet fuzz, but maybe this was the best they could afford, so I’m not holding it against them. Maybe it’s just that so much of Uh Bones’ competition is so mediocre, but I feel like Uh Bones did me right with this little single.
After Hours Sleepwalker 12″ (Not Not Fun)
With records like this After Hours 12″, I can no longer reasonably determine the fundamental differences between Not Not Fun and 100% Silk. Maybe this is just a hair too slow to be considered “dance” music? I guess it really doesn’t matter either way, because no matter who released Sleepwalker, I’m appreciating its subtle, sensual charms. The name is incredibly apropos – Sleepwalker is filled with early ’90s made-for-TV-movie soundtrack moves. I’m reminded of the programming that earned Cinemax the “Skinemax” nickname, or any of the hundreds of movies with plots that involve a hardened detective befriending a prostitute in order to solve the murder. Very slow, head-bobbable beats, but that’s really only if you’re absolutely dying to move around to some music – generally, After Hours keeps you chill and sedentary, deep within the cushions of your couch. For as nostalgic as the music is, there’s still a sense of modern-day motion to it, and the random images these tracks conjure are fun and easy to get lost within (and if you’re lacking in imagination, a track title like “4 A.M. On The Local 83″ helps get you started). While the rest of the world sleeps, After Hours makes sure all those nympho-insomniacs are getting their fill.
Art Of Burning Water This Disgrace LP (SuperFi / Bed Of Nails / Riot Season)
One guitar chimes on a discordant note, an audio sample of some depressed man is played over-top, and then the chugga-chug explodes all over your room like a shaken Pepsi. Art Of Burning Water are the walking definition of metal-core, proudly wearing their Converge / Cave In / Keelhaul / Jesuit / Dillinger Escape Plan influences like pins on their hoodies. It could almost be an expert parody of the genre if Art Of Burning Water didn’t seem so damn serious about their metallic riffing, endless breakdowns and tense build-ups. They definitely serve the genre well; the vocalist has a nice frothy bark to go along with the eighteen guitar tracks, the guitarists are more than capable at creating the right sounds, and the drummer is heavy without being flashy. My only question is: who really cares? Art Of Burning Water are so relentless with their riffing that I quickly become numb to what I’m hearing – the songs churn continuously, to the point where it just fades into a mushy, strung-out pile of non-descript heaviness. Maybe I’ve just already reached my personal quota for this sort of thing, because Art Of Burning Water are good at what they do, it’s just that This Disgrace is so unrelenting and same-y that it becomes easy to tune out.
The Blind Shake Garbage On Glue / Go Go 78 7″ (Sweet Rot)
I haven’t had a good experience with many “shake”-related garage bands out there today, but I trust Sweet Rot to treat me right. This band features the brothers Mike and Jim Blaha (good last name) and their bud Dave Roper, and they play a taught, Wire-y form of minimal punk rock that feels pretty good. “Garbage On Glue” is little more than two notes, but they picked a good pair, with a nervous tension running through the chords and crisp, snappy drumming. “Go Go 78″ is a song title I’d generally try to avoid, a little too “hot rods and Betty Page” for my taste, but musically it’s pretty much the same deal as the a-side, super simple and speedy, like Hot Snakes raging up an A Frames tune, or Jon Spencer sitting in with Lamps. Proof positive that as much as people can try to kill garage-punk by endlessly sucking at it, there will always be some folks dishing out the sweet stuff.
Case Studies Villain / Dull Knife 7″ (Sweet Rot)
Some surprisingly “sensitive soul” stuff here from the Sweet Rot label, who usually take pleasure in torturing garage-rock secrets out of guitars. Case Studies is Jesse Lortz, and he’s gotta be some sort of garage-rock guy, right? A-ha! Apparently he was the “Duke” (in The Duchess & The Duke), and while I avoided that group, this Case Studies single is a pretty nice stroll through an Allegra-commercial meadow. The lyrics are printed on the back cover in neat little stanzas… know what I mean? “Dull Knife” sounds like a direct continuation of the a-side, like The Band or The Yardbirds or Crosby, Stills and Nash or any of those bands my parents liked that I am forced to pretend to know about because many of my friends have grown out of punk and into craft beer and non-ironically following sports. Now please pardon me while I reach for my Dawn of Humans 7″ and figure out what sugary cereal to eat for dinner.
Cold Cave Oceans With No End 7″ (Deathwish)
Ah, just another band doing the Dais to Matador to Deathwish label route. Say what you want about Cold Cave, but Wes Eisold has done his own thing with this project since the very start, and it’s that sense of freedom from the usual “indie band trying to ‘make it’” nonsense that has always attracted me to Cold Cave (well, that and their knack for writing music I enjoy). This new single is just Wes at home in Hollywood, resting up after that tour with the AFI and Samhain guys, and it goes in a different-yet-understandable direction. Guitars take center stage here, ringing out with out-the-box distortion and a serious Depeche Mode sort of “black leather and sunglasses in the desert” feel. Not too far from The Jesus & Mary Chain either, although the electronic drums ensure that both tracks are ready for dance-club performance. I suppose I prefer Cold Cave when they are at their most synthy, but this single is another good one for sure, two more tracks from Wes Eisold’s seemingly endless wellspring of ’80s nostalgic melancholy.
Counter Intuits Counter Intuits LP (Pyramid Scheme)
Heard rumblings that this Counter Intuits LP, the product of Ron House and Times New Viking’s Jared Phillips, was an “album of the year” contender for a certain fella named Roland, and if that’s not the sort of approval-stamp that will get my PayPal finger itching, I don’t know what is. I can’t keep up with all the various Columbus side-projects and side-projects of side-projects, these folks just do nothing but make music all day everyday, but this one cuts through the noise loud and clear, a spirited and unhinged trip into one man’s psyche with a DIY art-punk soundtrack. Songs like “Anarchy On Yr Face”, “No Computer Blues” and “Non-Essential Personnel” really hit home with me, particularly with Phillips’ tin-can punk rock forcing me to show my ID upon entrance. There’s an image of House on the cover, screaming into a pencil-thin microphone as he stands at a desk stocked with paper and glue-sticks, which is exactly how I want Counter Intuits to be. No indie riffs, no hummable melodies, just a bunch of messy, nervous clutter that has me grinning so hard that you can actually see the one cavity I got as a kid. It’s back there pretty far.
Dead Ghosts I Sleep Alone / Spot A Trend 7″ (Randy)
I appreciate the redundancy of this group’s name, and went into this single pretty open-minded, looking for a good time. I suppose they don’t really let me down, but there’s nothing here that will have me searching for MP3s and telling my friends about Dead Ghosts – this is super-simple, by-the-numbers retro-garage twang, the sort of thing that Black Lips cast out in their ever-widening wake. There’s a tasteful organ solo on the slow-dance of “I Sleep Alone”, and a stompy, swampy beat to “Spot A Trend”, and it’s all well and good, just nothing I will ever intentionally listen to again. The back cover notes that these songs were recorded in 2008 and 2009, and I’m pretty damn sure this record was released recently, so I’m kinda just wondering why? If they haven’t written anything better than this in the past four or five years, maybe Dead Ghosts should call it a day.
Founding Fathers Rapid Transit LP (Snax)
Founding Fathers should probably be a Philadelphia band, what with their historical band name, or at the very least be a Columbus band, what with their driving, weathered indie-rock. Geographically, I’m wrong, but close – Founding Fathers are a Cleveland band, who somehow avoid being inebriated rock n’ roll miscreants (or at least do a good job covering it up with their music). I like this record – it doesn’t seem in place with any of the lo-fi trends, nor does it ever strive to be anything weird or crazy. Founding Fathers got themselves a nice, suitable recording, put together a bunch of catchy-at-best, pleasant-at-worst riffs, figured out a way to tunefully sing over them and let that be that. I suppose they’re kind of in that whole Dinosaur Jr. / mid-’90s Matador bucket, but they don’t seem to be striving for any sort of ’90s nostalgia; more like they just want to rock. Maybe I’m just thinking too hard, but Founding Fathers seem like one of the least conniving bands I’ve heard in a while, like there is no secret and unsavory scheme to their band. Even if I’m completely wrong, I’m having a fine time being fooled by Rapid Transit.
The Fucking Party The Fucking Party LP (no label)
This LP by The Fucking Party arrived at my doorstep with a note from a band member, going off about how drunk and drugged-out he is. Whatever purpose that was supposed to serve, I’d imagine it did the opposite, because who would be impressed by that? Did GG Allin have to go around telling people how crazy he is? They already knew, and if you’re really that drunk and drugged-out, it’s gonna come through the music; don’t worry. The Fucking Party, for example, make it clear they weren’t of sound mind and body when putting this album together – there are two songs with “Craig” in the title, they screened the front and back cover images on the wrong side of the sleeve, and they slapped some other sticker across the center sticker. Musically, they go a very Jesus Lizard / noise-rock (that isn’t actually too noisy) route, maybe with a touch of Shellac in the riffing and a hint of grunge when they break it all down. They might want to come across like The New Flesh, but their songs are mostly pretty coherent and deceptively intricate, the sort of thing that would take my gang of friends at least a couple weeks to get down. Maybe if the vocalist stood out, I’d be poking these guys on Facebook or something, but ultimately The Fucking Party are a good band that doesn’t offer much personality beyond your average heavy, herky-jerky underground-rock group. Which I suppose is exactly what they are.
Kerridge Waiting For Love 12″ (Downwards)
Downwards is easily one of the coolest, punkest techno labels of all time, so when I get the rare chance to scoop a new release that isn’t already instantly sold out, I make it happen. Never heard of (Samuel) Kerridge before this 12″, but it’s a name I haven’t stopping thinking about since I first threw on Waiting For Love. “Waiting For Love” comes in four numbered parts here, and with mean and imposing electronic fudge like this, I’d imagine Kerridge’s roses will have withered away long before love walks through his door. It’s certainly another entry in the overcrowded “techno gone noise / noise gone techno” field, but Kerridge proudly stands out from the rest due to the weighty production and technical superiority. The whole thing is incredibly thick, with very little space that isn’t flooded by sub-atomic bass. I’m reminded of Regis and Rrose, but Kerridge barely glances at the dance floor with Waiting For Love; sufficient beats are provided, and the music moves forward, it’s just that it’s such a flush of heaviness that you’re better off melting into a smelly leather couch in the basement of a club than soul-strutting under a spinning disco ball. The great utilitarian packaging only adds to the “futureworld in the grips of a fascist alien regime” vibe, but really there’s no aspect about this record that I don’t find highly appealing.
Leech Tusks 12″ (100% Silk)
I’ve never known an uncool Leech, so this new 100% Silk 12″ from a person I’d never heard of before (which is most of them) was on my good side from the get-go. I’d like to think I let my ears do most of the judging, though, and this four-track EP is pretty palatable in its own right. Leech does a pretty straight-forward, Trax-style acid-house thing, but with the ebb and flow of Tri Angle’s average tempo. Not entirely a world away from Ital either, but far more restrained and buttoned-up… Leech probably just slightly bobs his head as it hangs over his gear, and if he’s wearing sunglasses, no one is going to tell him to take them off. He (is it a “he”?) is more than a “let the pre-sets roll for the duration of the track” artist too, deftly mixing different patterns and rhythms into one song without it feeling rushed or overblown. There’s a nice mix of samples too, from disembodied vocals to wild sax, all of which fits nicely into nostalgia for places like The Loft and The Garage for people who weren’t there (yours truly). Last night this DJ probably didn’t save your life, but if you’re filling your Juno or Boomkat cart in a wild post-paycheck spree, I can safely say you won’t be feeling any remorse over the Leech 12″ that arrives a week or two later.
Love Chants Love Chants EP 12″ (Quemada)
I always enjoy getting these Quemada releases, as it’s a label with a distinctly fragile aesthetic. All of their records just sound so wounded and frail, it’s crazy – it’s like Quemada just hangs around the music ward of the terminally ill with blank record contracts in hand. Love Chants certainly fits their MO, and is even quieter, weaker and more patient than Mole House, even. Picture a one-handed Loren Mazzacane Connors by candlelight, his drunk cousin who just came back from a funeral on tear-stained vocals, and a drummer who’s into all that deep-listening / improvisation stuff (and probably has no business being a part of Love Chants). Quite a rag-tag trio, and it puts me in that strange place where I am both actively liking and disliking their music as I listen. Very late-night, cigarette-burned-to-the-filter music, kinda like if most of The Garbage And The Flowers was inside their one-room shack while one of them soothed the rest to sleep, or if you fell asleep with a mix of Jandek and The Velvet Underground playing at a low volume on your iPod. Not sure I can fully recommend this one, but check back with me in a few months when I’m laying in an un-air conditioned room with seasonal allergies and mild insomnia – there could be no better company for my misery than Love Chants.
Nostalgist Monochromatic 7″ (Nostalgium Directive)
The logical endpoint for the goth aesthetic has gotta be death, right? Like when you finally die and your soul can turn into a black butterfly or whatever the standard belief is. This Nostalgist 7″ seems to exemplify that, moving past “woe is me” thoughts to the point where the medication overdose starts shutting down the body’s organs one at a time, sending you peacefully across the river Styx. “Illusory” is the a-side, and I know it can’t be incorrectly slow because I’m playing it at 45 rpm, but this song barely has the will to live – it’s so plodding and woozy that it can barely be considered “rock”, and the waterlogged vocals just add to the confusion. “Twisting, Slowly (Cleansing Doubt)” rocks a bit harder, but it’s still traditional shoegaze goth-rock, without even the slightest hint of post-punk or modern tailoring. It even breaks down into some jam that sounds like Steve Winwood choreographing a Black Tape For A Blue Girl performance. This isn’t my cup of tea, I find it to be just a bit too one-dimensional, boring and cheesy, but they certainly hit the nail on the head with what it seems they were trying to accomplish as far as being traditionally, unerringly goth (doubly confirmed by their “Addams Family: The Next Generation” band portrait on the insert).
Oaks Field Beat LP (Ass)
That’s right – Ass Records! I love it. Hi, your band is good, would you like to sign to Ass? This label should really just put out Quincy Punx and Showcase Showdown reissues all day, but Oaks couldn’t be further from that. They don’t even crack a smile through the duration of Field Beat, a very modern-sounding record that incorporates trebly drum machines and ethereal goth-strum into a hazy day at the lakeside cabin. The inner sleeve reveals photos of the woods, a cat, and Oaks themselves (the duo of Jim Kolles and Erica Krumm), and it’s a perfectly suitable Pinterest with which to gauge their sonic sensibility. Kinda like a less interesting Tamaryn with heavy drumming, or My Bloody Valentine if the valentine actually wasn’t bloody at all, but lightly stained with some sort of artisanal ketchup one of the band members has started selling at the local farmer’s market. I can get down with Field Beat, as there’s this slight touch of Vermin Scum-style emo deep down in it that I will always appreciate. Regardless, I hope this is surely the start of a prosperous relationship between Oaks and Ass.
Octa#grape As Long As I Forget / Elephant Telephone 7″ (Thing Thing Thing)
Bands, I implore you: think long and hard about whether or not you really need a symbol in your band name. It’s not an advantage! !!! are the only exception that comes to mind, because when you start throwing dashes and pounds and asterisks in your name, you’re just begging to be ignored. I had enough problems with “Wzt Hearts”, and they’re entirely alphabetical! Anyway, this is a pretty good-natured single, mining the usual overblown garage-rock tropes with a touch of inclusive hippiedom. “As Long As I Forget” relies on a big “Ooh-OOH!” chorus, and “Elephant Telephone” takes a Flipper bassline and gives it the Wavves / Ty Segall / Oh Sees / King Tuff treatment, dressing it up in Raybans, scuffed sneakers and a pizza t-shirt. Not bad, even when graded harshly, but I feel like there is so much Octa#grape-style music out there that they’ll really need a grape-eating octopus on drums to stand out and catch the public’s eye. It’s gonna take more than a hash-tag in the middle of the band name, that’s for sure.
Ooga Boogas Ooga Boogas LP (Aarght!)
I maintain that Ooga Boogas’ debut album Romance And Adventure is one of the unheralded punk-rock gems of the past decade. It was just hit after hit of rough-and-tumble, snarky, stubbly punk, shoplifting artsy influences when no one was looking and selling them out back behind the pub. They followed it up with the half-baked Sentimental Stranger EP, which I desperately tried to like but couldn’t, and now on this self-titled follow-up… I dunno. I am pretty sure this band is smarter than I am, so I find myself cautiously wondering what it is that I’m not getting when listening to Ooga Boogas. There are some really long tracks on here, and the Ooga Boogas sound I loved so much seems to have been infiltrated by ’80s coke-rock, like Dire Straits or Squeeze or bands that seemed too old and out of touch when I would see their videos on MTV in 1989 or whatever. “FYI” is driven by chintzy organ, like it’s some sort of elevator music based on a spy movie, and “Sex In The Chillzone” kinda squanders that killer title by reminding me of Ariel Pink. I’ve stuck with it and played this record a bunch, in spite of myself not immediately digging it, and while it has definitely grown on me, I’m still a bit uneasy about it, like that feeling you have after drinking a glass of milk that was sitting out on the table for a few hours. I hope to come to terms with this record soon, but in the meantime I’m gonna keep subjecting myself to it, because I love Ooga Boogas, even if this record doesn’t love me.
Permanent Makeup The Void…It Creeps LP (No Clear)
“Permanent Makeup” sounds like the best synth-screamo band-name that was never used, but that’s not what this group is going for (which is probably a relief to most readers out there). No, this group goes for a loose n’ rugged take on noisy ’90s indie-rock, mixed with a touch of Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments and the multitude of roughshod Ohio rock that circles in the same orbit. Like an American take on The Fall, played by folks who spent the ’90s smirking at the Monica Lewinsky scandal and drinking cases of Pabst Blue Ribbon before hipsters discovered it (back when hipsters were called “scenesters”, at least)… maybe? Except I presume that Permanent Makeup exist today, exhausted by the disappointment of Obama and the inability to do a meager tour because gas is four dollars a gallon. I’m reading a hell of a lot into this group, and am probably entirely wrong, but while their music may not be the finest (or even fourth-finest) rock record I’ve heard this month, it has me envisioning and fantasizing over their lives a little, which is almost all you can really ask for a rock band to do at this point.
Pleasure Leftists Elephant Men / Not Over 7″ (Katorga Works)
I had all but forgotten about Ohio’s Pleasure Leftists, but I place the blame on the endless deluge of new bands and my deteriorating memory, not them. They’re probably the most distinct-sounding group that’s doing the whole new-wave goth resurrection thing, and while the music plays a part, the vocals of Haley Morris are key – she absolutely wails, like a zombie Kate Bush on the hunt for brains. Actually, maybe she’s just half-Keith Morris, half-Hayley (close enough) Williams (of Paramore, of course)… or not human at all, but a highly evolved sentient computer interface? At times it sounds like her vocals are in reverse, but I know that can’t possibly be true. I absolutely love her singing, and the way she commands the rest of the Pleasure Leftists, who keep to their dour, flange-effected post-punk pop with tidy efficiency. Both of these songs keep true to the sound established on Pleasure Leftists’ Fan Death debut, and are worth inviting into your residence. Esben and the who? Cold Show-what?
Purling Hiss Water On Mars LP (Drag City)
If I was a really lousy record critic, this is where I’d yell “rock is back!”, but since I’m just a moderately lousy one, I can assume we all know better than that. I’ve been watching Purling Hiss blossom from a feedback-drenched, one-man guitar meltdown into one of the most formidable rock trios around, and it has been an incredibly pleasant transformation to take in. I’d been waiting on this, their first studio record, for a while, with the exciting knowledge that people who don’t frequently see the band live can enjoy their catchy, riff-wild songs without having to strain their ears over a tinny, boombox-esque recording. And just when I figured I knew what the album would sound like before I even heard it, Purling Hiss go and flip the script with Water On Mars. Sure, opener “Lolita” is a prime-time shredder, but the ‘Hissers go straight-up mellow on most of this record! I was expecting street-walkin’ riffs and grizzled blues, but much of this record reminds me of The Lemonheads, the softer Dinosaur Jr. material or Soul Asylum. Who knew? After a mental realignment, I was able to grasp these songs for the slacker-rock jams they are, like a band that wants to be Nirvana but are deep down far too sweet and thoughtful to ever lash out and smash their gear because of failed father/son relationships. Water On Mars grew on me for sure, and if there’s any sort of heart under your denim vest, you might learn to love this record too.
Repeater Pan Together LP (no label)
It amazes me how some bands get other people to finance the release of their records while bands like Repeater Pan are putting it all in themselves. Maybe it’s more of an intentional choice than their only option, as this band really seems to have their act together, and it’s an act worth hearing. Coming right out with “Together”, they lead with their strongest foot – imagine some sort of Wire-influenced, snappy punk group with Jeff Buckley crooning his eyes out. The singer Dylan DiMartini really has such a Jeff Buckley voice, and he makes good use of it alongside the rest of Repeater Pan. “Together” is the hit and album highlight, an album that quickly tones down to NPR-friendlier adult-rock tunes, but it’s still quite enjoyable, and the songs never dip into dull territory. Repeater Pan is kind of what I wish Radiohead sounded like, big and sophisticated guitar-rock with distinct vocals that doesn’t go to such overcompensating lengths to prove how intelligent it is. And much like that one Radiohead record, Together is free on the internet (or I guess you can buy MP3s too, if you’re really that nutty), so why not go hear what I’m excited about?
Sauna Youth False Jesii Pt. II 7″ (Static Shock)
Am I even allowed to review this one? Am I breaking some sort of moral code here? Whatever, Static Shock sent it in and I’m not about to break my “review all recent vinyl” promise! Sauna Youth are an interesting English punk band, kinda taking ideas from various generational smart-alecks like Wire and Fucked Up, but generally just doing their own thing in the name of speedy, tuneful punk. The a-side is a surprisingly sweet rendition of “False Jesii Pt. II”, proof that certain chefs can make cilantro and garlic into palatable gelato flavors with the right expertise. I’d like to hear their angelic takes on other loud punk bands, as they managed to find the buried melody and wipe it clean. B-side “Oh Joel” is just as friendly, but with a high-strummed energy that reminds me of The Ramones or The Busy Signals or anyone else who can play guitar while wearing a leather jacket two sizes too small. I swear it’s not just the subtle ego boost this record’s existence gives me – Sauna Youth have done right on this simple and effective single.
Soviet Valves Death Trumps Romance 12″ (Vertex)
I remember reading high words of praise toward Soviet Valves a few years ago, when they did a 7″ on Smart Guy Records (or was it Cool Guy Records? I’m so confused). I wasn’t too impressed, so after spinning Death Trumps Romance a few times, I’ve concluded that either my ears were off back then or this is far and away their best stuff. Highly taut, poppy punk, but very classic sounding, and with lots of frequent changes… it’s like the drummer can’t go more than a couple measures without throwing in a tightly-executed roll and changing the direction of the riffs. Maybe like The Undertones, played with the urgency of Nasty Facts? Or The Exploding Hearts if they were released on the same label as that raging Burning Sensation LP and they felt they need to intensify their music at an exponential rate? On a nice slab of 12″ vinyl, these six songs sound thick and full as they whiz by, the guitars jangling near my throat and the vocals tapping my forehead. It’s my understanding that Soviet Valves broke up years ago, and while I don’t often understand the purpose of posthumous odds n’ ends records, this one is a clear necessity – Soviet Valves wrote some top-shelf, frenetic punk rock and the documentation is deserved.
Trade Untitled (Sheworks 005) 12″ (Works The Long Nights)
Works The Long Nights has quickly become a “buy on sight, no questions asked” label for me. All its releases seem to revolve around Blawan collaborating with someone else cool, and the Germs-esque logo seals the deal for me. Trade is the work of Blawan with Surgeon, a definite aesthetic predecessor to the techno punishment Blawan likes to dish out. I really dug the Karenn double EP, but this one is better – there are at least four cuts here, and they’re all massive and ugly, but with plenty of subversive groove, too. Whereas Karenn was grey-scale and minimal, Trade is bludgeoning with overblown 4/4 thuds, acid-bass carcasses and errant noises, but it has the structured, knowing flow of any seasoned Perlon producer. The second-to-last track on the b-side (they’re all untitled – there’s basically no writing on this record anywhere) is my favorite, with its Blawan-specific skittery chirps and a truly pounding beat. Add in the scratchy, metallic effects and spoken-word ending and it’s as if the Broken Flag label was reborn in the form of contemporary dungeon-techno – Ramleh ravers, perhaps? Can’t stop spinning this one!
Violent Change Violent Change LP (Catholic Guilt)
This is the third record in just as many weeks to feature a photo of Tony Molina on the back, and that’s starting to become a seal of quality of sorts. I liked Violent Change’s debut EP, even if I didn’t fully understand it (or find myself putting it on all that often), and this self-titled full-length helps extrapolate why this band is both interesting and cool. Somehow, Violent Change do the same things that bands like The Hospitals, Eat Skull, Sic Alps, Psychedelic Horseshit and pretty much any other pop band that did a record on Siltbreeze do, but their sound doesn’t tire me out. It’s probably the sweet, pop-punky blood that runs through many of their tunes, doing the sort of pop moves that many of their contemporaries seem more comfortable mocking, or Violent Change’s aversion to “the jam”, as these songs are all quick and tidy and leave no room for improvised interludes or messy detours. The recording quality is still a little too thin and lightweight for my tastes, but it’s been fun getting to know this album, one that grows on me further with every listen.
Violent Reaction Violent Reaction 7″ (Quality Control HQ / Static Shock)
It’s been almost fifteen minutes since the last “Violent ____” band showed up, and I’m getting a little antsy… oh wait, here’s Violent Reaction! They’re a British straight-edge hardcore group, and I’d say the Painkiller influence is plentiful – even if the one guy wasn’t wearing a Boston Strangler shirt in the insert pic, it’s clear that these guys are digging hard into Waste Management, Knife Fight and No Tolerance records. Many of their riffs come with the feel of a fresh Fred Perry right off the rack, melding Oi into angry, youthful hardcore (much like 86 Mentality). They’re ready to break your cigarettes in half and flush your pills down the toilet, and don’t even think about trying to stop them! Pretty good stuff for what it is, which is the same thing it’s been for years now, but some people don’t just listen to records like this, they build their entire personas off of them. At least Violent Reaction do it well, I suppose.
Wild Child Wild Child 7″ (Fashionable Idiots / Rock Bottom)
Can always count on Fashionable Idiots for trashy, smashy hardcore punk, so I had no fear going into this Wild Child 7″, which I believe is their demo pressed to vinyl. It’s good! At least one guitar has that clean-ish jangle to it, and the songs are frantic and tumbling, kinda like that recent Manic 7″ that I loved so much, or maybe The Grabbies or Brown Sugar. The singer does a lot of “yow!”s and “wow!”s, which might push Wild Child from punk rock to the dreaded “punk rawk” territory, but it never quite gets to be too bothersome. The songs are in-and-out and always pretty fast, and the energy nearly reminds me of early Gang Green, if not necessarily in speed but the feeling of youth on drugs. Wouldn’t mind hearing some more!
Zulus Zulus LP (Aagoo)
I know I had a Zulus 7″ floating around here somewhere that was a part of one of those “singles club”-ish punk labels. (Lemon Session? Total Punk? I’m getting old.) Pretty sure I liked it, and I like this full-length too – Zulus aren’t reinventing the wheel, they’re just coating it in a little extra reverb. It’s generally pretty heavy, roomy punk rock… the drummer pounds the toms for as long as he can reasonably stay away from the snare, and the guitars are twangy but loud. The vocalist is pretty sassy, not far from Sonny Kay or Lars Finberg (not that either are close to each other, but maybe I’m making sense anyway). Definitely sounds like something that would’ve worked in the waning years of GSL / Three.One.G, where screamo was moving out in favor of garage-punk and goth and other more interesting influences. This is a 45 RPM record, and it moves along briskly, so that by the time I find myself growing weary of the shrill, echoed vocals, it’s over. Brooklyn has done far, far worse than Zulus!