Archive for 'Reviews'

Reviews – May 2020

Takumi Akaishi Memoria LP (Art Into Life)
Art Into Life indeed! What a gorgeous package Takumi Akaishi’s Memoria is from head to toe. The album jacket features hand-glued, one-of-a-kind collages wrapped in gauzy fabric, which interestingly enough is exactly how the music sounds. Akaishi uses little more than a hurdy gurdy, a tube amp and tapes to create these stirring pieces, music that seems to have beautifully decayed through natural processes. The hurdy gurdy is most prominent and fairly continuous throughout, restlessly churning and groaning from its internal stress, like the warped boards of an old fishing boat if they had the ability to sing. Interstertial sounds seep through the cracks, which gives these pieces a sense of place, grounding the proceedings in the dirt and covering them with a thriving bed of moss. Certain moments slip into hypnotic drones (“Sea Change” has my head wobbling on its axis), whereas others detail quiet earthly motions, like what appears to be the sound of boots crunching through icy snow on “Lisbon, Hakodate”. Call it a noise record, I suppose, but it’s serene and oddly beautiful at times. Highly recommended for thoughtful listeners of labels like Open Mouth and Kye and appreciators of the esoteric and organic.

Bloody Hell The Consultation 7″ (Spik & Span)
From the band name, the stark visual presentation and a song called “Sex Dot Com”, I repeated the mantra of “please don’t be a Brainbombs rip, please don’t be a Brainbombs rip” as I brought Bloody Hell’s new EP to my turntable. What sweet relief, then, to discover that Melbourne’s Bloody Hell couldn’t be further from that! They play a mischievous form of art-rock that nods towards Talking Heads and The Makers Of The Dead Travel Fast, musical auteurs who refused to be pigeonholed (or take themselves too seriously). They’ve got bass, drums and guitar, but keyboards and sax as well, which gives these dance-y tracks a freaky-fun sensation similar to when one gazes upon a photo of The B-52’s from 1979. “Keep It On” features a rousing repeated chorus of “keep your track suit on”, whereas “Weeds And Seeds” feels like four different M Squared-related groups at once, settling closest to Wild West. Looks like Spik & Span released a Kraus split single prior to this, which, while stylistically different, makes sense on an aesthetic wavelength, both artists clearly delighted by their own wonky orbits. As am I!

Borusiade Fortunate Isolation LP (Dark Entries)
Damn… do you think Borusiade has since reconsidered the title to this, her second full-length, considering the circumstances we’re in? Maybe, but maybe not, as her music has always seemed to carry a gloomy loner vibe, as though she is ensconced in a dark room full of dancing people but still all alone. I’m a fan, for sure, and this new album showcases her various sides, from spooky dark-wave to club-thumping electro and industrial-ambient distress signals. “Time (No Time)” does a fine job of combining nearly all these aesthetics into one cut, recalling St. Julien, Whodini’s “Haunted House Of Rock” and much of the Galakthorrö label in equal supply. “When I Read The News Today” is nocturnal industrial-synth reminiscent of Richard H. Kirk’s recent solo outings, whereas “Lament (Fortunate Isolation)” comes through with a gorgeous vocal melody over an insistent synth pulse, an unlikely pop anthem were it to ever crawl out of the shadows. Borusiade’s voice guides much of Fortunate Isolation, if not through lyrics (like in “Lament”) then through the palpable emotion her voice provides, even if it’s the emotion of “miserable disinterest”. Now that we’re all stuck in our countless solitary confinements, I hope Borusiade is happy!

Caribou Suddenly LP (Merge)
Times like these call for music that can emotionally coddle me, so I decided to check back in with Dan Snaith’s Caribou project after not paying attention to the Canadian artist since he was going under the name of Manitoba many years ago. (Who sued him to change the name, anyway? The actual province of Manitoba?) Considering the terms of what I was hoping Caribou would deliver, I’m completely satiated by Suddenly, a soft, tender and loop-friendly suite of charming electronic pop tunes. These songs sound like careful Kompakt-approved remixes of main-stage festival-pop acts Phoenix and M83, knowingly retro in sonic signifiers and decidedly modern in production techniques. They’re perfect songs for a midnight rave populated by elementary school children, safe and dance-y electro-folk fun with a sense of security that nothing will get too out of hand, or if it does, loving adult guardians are close-by. Snaith’s singing voice is a rainbow of beiges, perfectly suited to these songs no matter if it’s the clappy throwback funk of “Home” or the moonlit synth arpeggios of “Sister”. Getting a lot of mileage out of Suddenly, more than I expected, which could be due to my need for untroubled sonic comfort-food; Caribou’s knack for finding the coziest sweet-spot hooks for his synthetic, house-y indie pop songs; or most likely a combination of the two.

Cold Feet Punk Entity 12″ (Feel It)
Here’s a testament to the thriving, bountiful American hardcore scene: an excellent hardcore group from Baltimore! When was the last time this happened, never? Obviously Trapped Under Ice count, but I’m talking classic fast American hardcore-punk, a style that seems to have eluded Baltimore over the years. (To be fair, there is so much great underground punk outta that fine city, it’s usually just weird or disgruntled or psychotic in a way that traditional hardcore-punk isn’t.) Anyway, Feel It did what they always do and gave this talented young group their vinyl debut, which is a meaty, hard-pounding ripper in the classic tradition. I’m hearing Gang Green, Career Suicide, The Worst, Poison Idea, Necros and Kraut, with some slightly Swedish leanings (the drums are relentlessly tumbling forward) that are clearly assimilated into Cold Feet’s melting pot. They adhere to the format pretty closely, with nary the scents of John Waters or Mike Apichella surrounding the proceedings. It’s almost suspiciously traditional, but only almost – the attitude and presentation of Punk Entity, down to its fake “CIA letter warning you about the band” cover art, ring sincere. Alright Feel It, I challenge you to locate some top-notch ‘core from Honolulu and Anchorage. I have faith.

The Cosmic Sand Dollars Requiem For King Dick LP (Old Comet)
Who better to eulogize the passing of universally-beloved surf god Dick Dale than the freakiest surf-rock tricksters out there, The Cosmic Sand Dollars? I loved their first album and all its inexplicable weirdness, so I dug right in the moment Requiem For King Dick landed on my doorstep. The general musical aesthetic remains the same: start with traditional electric surf-guitar and subject it to a buffet of torture techniques. A surf instrumental will be digitally unraveled, as if the WAV file was retrieved off an iPhone that recently fell in the toilet; a chiptune interlude will corrupt the inherent surfability using what sounds like 1998’s best available technology; a pitched-down voice will recite a psychotic narrative over some chintzy organs. Requiem For King Dick flows with a good-natured haphazardness, the ‘Dollars inviting us on their weird little nuclear-fallout sci-fi take on the genre, injecting just enough surf music to keep us grounded while shaking every other detail until they’re out of order. A man named “Tony Melino” is credited with “accompaniment” on this record, which means that either they spelled “Tony Molina” wrong or there is another guy with a similar name operating in a similar scene – either way, I’m elated!

Walter Daniels & The Hungry Hearts Out At Dusk / Where’s The Pain Point 7″ (Spacecase)
Walter Daniels and The Hungry Hearts – Walter Daniels and the Hah-hah-hu-ungry hea-e-arts! Is it possible to read that name without falling into the chorus of that irrepressible Bruce Springsteen song? Anyway, I doubt that was much of a concern to Walter Daniels and his band of Hungry Hearts, as this is some dirt-kickin’, staggering-towards-the-bar blues-punk that barely keeps it together. Which is just how I’d prefer it! “Out At Dusk” sounds like drummer Luis Tissot is slapping old car parts, with guitars chugging along on muscle memory and Daniels kinda blathering into the mic, repeating his two or three lines of lyrics and then wailing on his harmonica in some feverish fit of expression. “Where’s The Pain Point” slows it down, Daniels belligerently bragging moments before falling off his stool, the rest of the band paradoxically locked into a shambolic looseness. Both tracks have the mania of Obnox, but with a sense that Walter Daniels and company are significantly closer to their respective graves (and don’t care). Somehow this reminds me of how sliders were called “sliders” because they slide down into your belly – maybe it’s all the grease that these two songs rolled around in? Blues-punk is rarely my bag, but the gasoline stench of this single is undeniably satisfying.

DJ Hank Traffic Control 12″ (Sophomore Lounge)
Glad to exist in a world where ex-members of Whatever Brains are also respected participants of the Chicago footwork scene. I’m referring to DJ Hank, who moved from North Carolina to Chicago, became immersed in the sets of DJ Rashad and the like, and has taken up track production himself. This is his first vinyl release, and he stuffs it with eight tunes that run through a number of electronic sub-genres but are tied together with playfulness and ear-catching samples. Some tracks remind me of turn-of-the-century IDM, others recall Nicolas Jaar’s dance edits, and the majority bear some form of footwork’s imprint, usually the stutter-step bass kicks and trademark rhythms. Mostly, I like Hank’s ear for sampling, whether he’s taking an Instagram-sourced rant, funny phrase or sound effect. The most obvious and immediately gratifying track for me is the title track, which runs through the standard cycle of car-alarm sounds perfectly synced to a popping Miami bass beat. It’s so stupid and so good, which is often the winning formula for footwork music – direct and gritty and prompting a chuckle or two, the musical equivalent of a great dank meme. An interesting, unexpected release for Sophomore Lounge, although as details become clearer (an apparent mutual relation to the experimental group PC Worship brought them together), it makes perfect modern sense.

Family Underground Glitchblade / Sand Between Us 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
I had wrongly assumed that like most of their fellow class-of-2004 drone-noise-experimentalists, Family Underground had faded into the ether (or had kids, or opened a bar, or got into memes), but nope: turns out this Danish duo (a trio in the past?) have been pretty consistently doing their thing without interruption for over seventeen years. Wow! I applaud their dedication, and the two tracks on this new I Dischi 7″ display no lack of ideas. While certainly classifiable under “experimental / noise”, “Glitchblade” operates with its own vocabulary: some sort of affected keyboard, sounding like a dubby Rhodes, is plunked in a bizarre sequence while it sounds like a neighbor is mowing some chunky patch of lawn and a psych band is practicing down the hall. I’m reminded of Rabih Beaini’s 2013 album in the way that it resembles some sort of cosmic jazz without any traditional jazz instrumentation. “Sand Between Us” inhabits a similar psychic space with different instrumentation – extended keys meld with screaming feedback, bongos and hand percussion, as if Family Underground crawled into a snippet of some ’70s Pink Floyd bootleg and laid their eggs inside. Great stuff, which has me wondering what Double Leopards or Hair Police would be sounding like if they made it to 2020. Maybe it’s time I gave fan-fiction a go.

Fried E/M Modern World LP (Lumpy)
It’s safe to say that in 2020, the slime-punk of Lumpy Records is no longer the Hot New Thing in underground hardcore, and that’s probably for the best – us appreciators of sincerely weird-ugly hardcore-punk can enjoy it without worrying that Vice is gonna try to act like they actually care about it too. Modern World is my first encounter with St. Louis’s Fried E/M (who I previously thought had something to do with Richmond’s Fried Egg, if you can forgive me), and I’ll be damned if they aren’t the second coming of Circle Jerks. I’m talking prime Circle Jerks, Group Sex era, where the songs are simplistic yet varied, punk as hell and sarcastic and utterly disgusted, with discernible lyrics that you want to shout along with at oncoming traffic. The recording is spot on – crackling and raw but never overbearingly noisy or lo-fi – and the songs lend themselves perfectly to it, as if they should be played by delinquent teens to a crowd of disinterested Huntington Beach burnouts and unwitting nuclear families just trying to get to the pier. Nothing weird or ironic or remotely cartoonish, if you were expecting something more akin to Lumpy & The Dumpers or Janitor Scum, just pure American hardcore punk energy that sounds like it should’ve been made by people named Dez, Chuck, Lucky and Greg (Hetson or Ginn, I suppose). Lumpy himself apparently plays drums (and is incredibly talented, go figure!), furthering his status as one of the most productive and necessary punks of our modern time. Seeing as “Inner Peace” and “Lobotomy” will easily be two of the best punk songs I’ll hear this year, I may have to send him a letter thanking him for all his hard work, even though he’d probably wipe his butt with it.

Hallelujah! Wanna Dance LP (Maple Death)
Following a handful of EPs, Verona, Italy’s Hallelujah! continue their march toward synth-punk numbskullery with their debut album. The cover image prominently displays a wedgie being picked, and these songs fit right into that sort of sensibility – for example, there’s the song “Your Duck”, which features a repeated chorus of “now I wanna be your duck”. Mmhmm, that’s what we’re dealing with here. I vaguely recall there being guitar on previous records, but they’re operating with a streamlined approach of bass/drums/synths on Wanna Dance, and to be honest I don’t miss the guitar at all, were it ever there to begin with. Whereas most synth-punk tends to favor rigid, jittery rhythms, this plays out looser and (presumably a bit) drunker, feeling like a band that would’ve found itself in Load Records’ orbit in the early ’00s rather than something directly indebted to Screamers or Primitive Calculators. And more than anything else, the title track sounds like an early LCD Soundsystem practice recording, with its repetitive staccato vocals and insistent groove. Not a bad one to add to your ever-growing “belligerent dance party” playlist.

Harsh R The Burden 12″ (no label)
After four cassettes, Olympia’s Harsh R takes it to vinyl with this succinct and aggressive five-track EP. The Burden is an industrial EBM record, for sure, but rather than stretch things out into lengthy dance mixes, these five tracks are in and out quickly, none over three minutes. The music hits hard, focusing on aggression over any sense of melody, with shouted vocals to drive the point home… straightforwardness wielded with conscious intent, as I can’t think of many other EBM acts who cut their tracks this short. These tunes would fit alongside Klinik, A Split – Second and Mike Berdan’s Canal Street Electronics project, and while no guitars are found on this recording, it carries enough of a metallic swagger that your Korn-obsessed cousins wouldn’t commandeer the aux cable if you blasted “The Shroud” at a family gathering (or, in a tent at The Gathering). What I find most interesting and unique about this record is the booklet that comes with it, providing not only lyrics and lyrical explanations, but a track-by-track listing of the way in which the songs themselves were inspired and then crafted, going into specific technical detail. It’s a thoughtful update on the “it was easy it was cheap go and do it” ethos set forth by Desperate Bicycles, with Harsh R welcoming the listener to not only enjoy his music, but to take from his knowledge and experience to make noise of their own.

Paul Haslinger Exit Ghost LP (Artificial Instinct)
Austrian composer Paul Haslinger has a pretty solid resume: join Tangerine Dream in 1986, proceed to make fifteen albums with them over the next five years (wow), then shift toward soundtrack work for big-budget Hollywood flicks like the Underworld series, Resident Evil and The Three Musketeers. He must have a sick house somewhere in the Hollywood Hills, and while I’m sitting here fantasizing about the Eames recliners and Nakashima credenzas that surely furnish his home, Exit Ghost is a suitable soundtrack in its own right. As someone clearly skilled at making music that colors a scene without overpowering it, this album is pretty content to fade into the recesses of one’s mind while listening, even if the listener isn’t doing anything particularly engaging. Somber, elegiac piano is the prominent instrumentation, and it’s aided by soft electronic squiggles, ambient drifts and calm electronics. I’d imagine Haslinger can toss off an album like this before finishing his morning cup of coffee, although I’m assuming he labored over these tracks a little longer than that. Pleasantly unobtrusive, but seeing as I hear the work of Haslinger whenever I watch an episode of Halt And Catch Fire or the 2008 Death Race remake (to name but a couple more of his soundtrack jobs), I feel as though he’s already been capturing plenty of my time, if not my focused attention.

Kalle Hygien Absolute Bomber 7″ (Push My Buttons)
Kalle Hygien used to play in The Manikins (no, not the Kim Salmon one, the Swedish power-poppers on P. Trash), and like many current-day punkers, he has found solace in making punk music under his own name (although to be fair, a couple of friends are credited here on drums and synths). There definitely seems to be kind of a distinct sound to many “one man band” punk projects – rudimentary drum programming, direct-to-digital fuzz guitars, a subtle sense of buffoonery – and while this four-song EP mostly checks those same boxes, it’s also a pretty fun listen, and certainly better than the median average. “Absolute Bomber” recalls Attentat or maybe even a touch of Kalashnikov, but the morse-code rhythm box makes it a little less threatening and a little more fun. “Troubles” is similar if a bit more ‘core, but the two songs on the flipside push into weirder territory, not entirely removed from what Urochromes are up to with a menacingly bleepy synth hook reminiscent of first-wave Midwestern mutant-punks like Count Vertigo or Dow Jones & The Industrials. A fairly overdone conceit, the synth-laden weirdo-hardcore solo project, but Hygien is clearly intent on writing actual memorable songs instead of just filling the air with a vibe, and Absolute Bomber succeeds because of it.

Isotope Soap An Artifact Of Insects LP (Push My Buttons)
After a handful of EPs, Stockholm’s Isotope Soap molecularly-expand onto their first full-length, An Artifact Of Insects. Named in homage to Geza X’s best-known tune, they’re clearly going for mutant sci-fi synth-powered punk, and I’d say they pretty much succeed. If anything, it might be a little too polished and pro-sounding for the slimy chaos they’re looking to conjure, but it’s not a detriment overall, as their tight playing, ridiculous synths and vocal effects deserve to be heard without a crusty lo-fi barrier. I’m reminded of Nervous Gender, FNU Ronnies and the synth-ier Lumpy Records stuff (The Wad in particular), although Isotope Soap often take things a step further with ridiculously processed vocals, almost to the point where one might feel justified in calling them “fake” vocals. The result sounds like various Space Ghost villains on the mic, which provides a cartoonish aspect most punk groups would stop short of. It’s over the top, and certainly endangers the group from being taken seriously, but those who are interested in groups that are looking to push the limits of good-taste and suspended disbelief might relish this one – let’s call it the Gutalax Effect.

JASSS Whities 027 12″ (Whities)
Surprised to see JASSS dropping a single on the Whities label – her music always struck me as closer to Throbbing Gristle than Aphex Twin in the great continuum of electronic music, whereas Whities was more of a post-modern techno concern. You can then imagine my surprise when throwing on the a-side, “Turbo Olé”, which references neither – this is a full-on cyber-rave meltdown. Staccato trance horns are deployed like common vampire thugs impeding Blade’s path through the catacombs, with a striking junglist-goth rhythm and heavy duty percussive elements. Throw a railing guitar line on top, and it could’ve worked as an instrumental on Cold Cave’s Cherish The Light Years, I swear! It’s so unembarrassed by its own cheesiness that it quickly transcends it, and while I do not understand why JASSS wrote it and why Whities released it, I’m in full agreement with their decisions. B-side “We Solve This Talking” is much closer to what I’d expect, a restless and jagged deployment of post-industrial artillery not unlike Objekt’s last album or something Rrose and Lucy would’ve conspired to create. It slowly blooms into rave formation as well, an army of glowstick-wielding ninjas locked into some basic choreo as the slower BPM chops away. Is this where JASSS is firmly headed, or is Whities 027 a neon anomaly? I look forward to finding out.

Kürøishi Sound The Alarm LP (SPHC)
Finnish punks of a Japanophile persuasion have existed for quite nearly as long as hardcore has utilized the d-beat, and I find it both intriguing and understandable. Japanese hardcore rules, but there comes a point where tasteful homage turns into unnerving replication, which is closer to where Oulu, Finland’s Kürøishi (presumably named after the Japanese city of the same name) lands. Their artwork and design is both tribute and rip-off of classic Japanese hardcore, or perhaps more accurately, Japanese-imitating Finnish hardcore, as Selfish seems to be a particularly strong influence, along with the typical reappropriated Crass-style stencil logo (and Japanese lettering). Anyway, let’s get to the music, which could elevate Kürøishi beyond copycat pastiche, but sadly I’m not particularly impressed. They play a well-oiled, proficient form of stadium-crust, with vocals that emulate Todd Burdette of the mighty His Hero Is Gone and Tragedy. These songs maintain basically the same fast d-beat tempo throughout, raging through rote and conventional riffs with a seemingly endless supply of heavy-metal guitar solos. They certainly nail the style, but in all its well-produced, technically-sound glory, Sound The Alarm maintains the same general energy and pitch for its duration. If you’re down for that specific cause, you’ve hit the jackpot, whereas otherwise you might find yourself hankering for some actual Japanese crust instead, the type that doesn’t mind flashing its inherent weirdness or opts for a dirtier sound and presentation.

Jonny Kurt Und Die Hühnerficker Kombo Jonny Kurt Und Die Hühnerficker Kombo LP (PHantom / Plaste)
Chalk some of it up to the cultural divide, but this album from Jonny Kurt Und Die Hühnerficker Kombo is a confoundingly nutty album that can be tied to punk in spirit if not necessarily sound. A German fantasy of American hillbilly farm-life translated into loose, ugly songs? I can’t begin to understand the why of this record’s existence, but as for a ridiculous fake-country album filled with barnyard sounds (some sampled, some imitated by human mouths), this one is surprisingly listenable (and dare I say enjoyable?). Imagine Mojo Nixon’s music interpreted by Die Tödliche Doris, or the Government Issue side-project The Wanktones given a modern lo-fi nihilist-punk makeover. Some moments even remind me of Reynols in their song(ish) form, the way that untuned guitars clamber ever forward and vocals chortle and wheeze, in spite of the centuries of music history begging them not to. Jonny Kurt and crew certainly don’t take themselves too seriously, because really how could they, but they approach the barnyard setting with a Mummies-level of mania and have certainly earned my respect, if not quite adoration.

Muro Pacificar LP (Beach Impediment)
Pacificar is the second album from Bogota, Colombia’s Muro to come through these pages, and for the record, I was lukewarm on the first. Thinking the problem might’ve been me, not them, I came into Pacificar with an open mind (if you can’t trust Beach Impediment for burly, brick-and-mortar hardcore, who can you trust?), and I dunno… my feelings toward Muro generally remain the same. Their fast n’ raw pogo-core attack remains in place, as if Rattus was playing the belligerent street-punk riffs one might associate with No Future Records and recorded with the thick n’ heavy sound of Destino Final, but somehow it doesn’t move me the way such an equation should. Perhaps it’s that these songs sound more controlled than I’d hope, as if the members of Muro are not bursting at their physical limits but playing these songs well within their capabilities, or that they have the fist-pumping rhythms of The Casualties without the same memorable hooks, or maybe I’m simply hitting an overload of this particular strain of hardcore at the moment. The vocalist’s reverby bark is nearly interchangeable from so many other groups of a similar style, and while it’s certainly an appropriate approach, I find my mind drifting as Pacificar plays on. If we were in a drought of great current hardcore music, Pacificar would be a godsend, but in this era of sprawling hardcore bounty, it fails to make a splash.

Nag Dead Deer LP (Die Slaughterhaus)
Atlanta’s Nag are one of the most underrated punk bands playing today, but maybe that’ll change now that they have this great album available to the public. It’s their first full-length following a handful of singles, and it doesn’t change up their formula (pounding, repetitive, grayscale punk) so much as add to the number of great tunes they’ve already got. The mood is certainly “dark side of Posh Boy”, with an occasional resemblance to early Total Control in the way that the riffs are more mechanical than emotional, with plenty of fast down-picking. Perhaps if you melded the opposite sounds of A Frames and Carbonas, you’d get something akin to Dead Deer? I suppose the same equation might fit for Rank/Xerox, in a way, and I like them a lot too. Nag’s songs are certainly more punk than post-punk, but there’s a dreary maturity to these tunes that a person of my age and social standing finds quite appealing. I liked Dead Deer upon first listen, and have only grown more attached through repeated plays, as the unique shapes of these songs continue to reveal themselves. “Day Glow”, for example, is a dagger-shaped shard that’ll cut through most anything.

Neinzer Whities 025 12″ (Whities)
It was maybe a couple of months ago that I commented something to the effect that Whities had fallen off a bit, and it stands out as one of the more regrettable opinions I’ve shared on here in recent times. The last few Whities releases have been knockouts, or at least perplexingly cool, as is the case with Neinzer’s new one. There are two tracks on the a-side, “Voyager” and “Deff”, both of which pump out eccentric forms of techno. I’m reminded of Hessle Audio’s prime, when weird new 12″s by producers like Elgato and Bandshell would spring up seemingly out of an alternate reality. “Voyager” is like a T++ track guided by the cutest little tugboat, whereas “Deff” is oddly calming, at least until the punchy vocal snippets arrive. I was ready for three more tracks like this on the b-side, but Neinzer screeched across three lanes and took the exit ramp to peculiar new realms. “Elliptical Footsteps” is a hypnotic lullaby flashback sequence, a beatless dream-state I’d expect the ghost of Ken Nordine to be wandering through. Hmm! “Ronda” utilizes similar slumber-y tones and adds some ASMR vocal trickery, to ensure the room I’m inhabiting slightly tilts. Just when I’m wondering if I’ve been dosed, “Falafalus” saunters in on softly frantic kalimbas, with more ASMR sound-effects tickling the inner hairs of my ears. Whities 025 starts weird and gets progressively weirder, a journey from dance-floor to Lynchian nether-zones that I suggest you strongly consider.

New Primals Horse Girl Energy LP (Learning Curve)
It’s about time spastic post-hardcore noise-rock was injected with a strong dose of horse girl energy, don’t you agree? Lord knows there’s a surplus of sausage Albini energy that’ll seemingly never deplete. Minneapolis’s New Primals are stepping out with their debut on the Minneapolis-based Learning Curve, and I for one enjoy when there’s an actual real-life community taking place within DIY culture, particularly in this age of online-centric connection, so I hope the relationship between this band and this label continues to grow. Anyway, New Primals opt for a fairly tried-and-true take on the mathy post-hardcore form, emulating the itchy grooves of The Jesus Lizard, …Trail Of Dead and Les Savy Fav with the irritating-on-purpose guitar tricks of groups like Mount Shasta and Dazzling Killmen. They find time to get obnoxiously funky as well as hard rocking, and imbue these songs with more, umm, energy than your average Jesus Lizard tribute. I’m not sure New Primates have really carved out their own voice yet with this one – there’s not much in these songs that stands out from the bands that came before them – but they sure seem excited and fired up about what they’re doing, which is an excellent place for any band to start.

Noxeema Noxeema 7″ (…)
This Noxeema 7″ came to me in an absolutely destroyed package: waterlogged, gloppy cardboard stuffed in one of those “oops, our mistake!” postal-service bags that only hurried the growth of toxic mold within the packaging. Real punk survives such minor setbacks, though, and this 7″ is proof. The label “…” comes from Berlin but Noxeema are from Portland, OR, and they stomp and slip through these eight tracks; surely a debut of which they are proud. It’s almost impossible to go wrong with a sloppy punk 7″ with eight songs on it, and Noxeema certainly succeed on their terms. I’m reminded of the too-cool art-punk of Kleenex mixed with the youthful spazz-rock of Sheep Squeeze or FYP when listening to Noxeema make their way through these tunes. One riff will have me thinking of The Gossip, the next will sound like 7 Seconds… it’s a grab-bag of rudimentary punk, to be sure. I’m even coming around to the musky scent the soaked-and-dried sleeve has been emitting!

Pender Street Steppers Faling / Our Time 12″ (Mood Hut)
My tolerance for ultra-nostalgic synth-pop dance music lessens with each passing year, a natural result from an overwhelming glut of producers looking to mine the exact same period and influences. Good thing for me, then, that this Pender Street Steppers single, which clearly tries to replicate a very specific ’80s Eurodance sound, is so exceptional! Either bring the hits or don’t bring anything at all – these two cuts (and their respective instrumental dub versions) are perfectly rendered and pristine, activating all my brain’s pleasure-receptors when it comes to dance-club synth-pop such as this. “Falling” pops and locks across a skipping beat, Italo effects in place and a shyly romantic vocal capping off the hook. Truly satisfying, even on repeat. “Our Time” pays just as much homage to the same era, but the shades are down for this one – dramatic romance teetering on heartbreak is in order. Maybe a little Jan Hammer in its confident beat, and a vocalist who melodically deadpans in a voice incredibly close to Heatsick’s Steven Warwick (the British cousin to this Canadian tongue, perhaps). Really fantastic material from this Vancouver-based duo, which manages to celebrate dance music’s past by whipping up a couple of shoulda-been classics.

Pleroma Vitriol 12″ (Push My Buttons)
Remember that Swedish post-punk group from a couple years back, Holograms, that sounded like a mix of Iceage’s first album and The Cure’s first couple? I thought they were pretty good, if derivative in an easily-spotted way, and now their guitarist/vocalist, Anton Spetze, has a new group, Pleroma, who sound like… Iceage’s last two albums. Seriously! If you told me Vitriol was a collection of unreleased tracks from Iceage’s most recent sessions, I wouldn’t have trouble believing it, and I consider myself a fan of the group familiar with their sound. Of course, there are some differences: whereas Iceage are perpetually sloppy, grandiose, and uncannily talented at pulling a hook out of some inebriated post-punk melodrama, Pleroma are less peculiar and more musically-adept, which renders these songs a bit more regular than anything Iceage would write, for better or worse. Martial drums pound forth over a super-serious guitar lead and pleading, moaning vocals, while a candle in the shape of Nick Cave’s bust burns softly in the corner. Seriously, go listen to “Night Of Pan”: I’m fairly certain Iceage already wrote this song. A song like “Inferno Valley” sounds more like Tamaryn’s music with Elias Rønnenfelt on vocals, but I’m really splitting hairs at this point. If you can get past the somewhat blatant similarities, or simply aren’t bothered by it (which is certainly reasonable), Vitriol is a promising debut of capable and assuredly hard-edged post-punk goth, but Anton Spetze’s continued sonic similarities to Iceage hit a little too close for my personal comfort.

Popp Laya LP (Squama)
Can’t seem to get enough of records like this one, the debut album by Munich-based drummer Simon Popp. It’s another album of precise and dreamy “fourth world” percussion, music that seems to be borne of natural sounds that are then processed and deployed via covertly synthetic means. File it next to Beatrice Dillon & Rupert Clervaux’s Studies I-XVII For Samplers And Percussion, the great De Leon album, both Mkwaju Ensemble records or any other modern takes on percussion-centric new-age musics. Popp’s percussion runs a wide array of tones, from wooden to metallic, melodically tuned to atonal clanging (but mostly pretty melodic), and he layers his sounds nicely, providing plenty of breathing room without leaving the songs understaffed. Laya certainly fits within the bounds of this sub-genre that seems to be growing in popularity (and rightfully so, as these are some delicately lovely sounds), but Popp is no dilettante – these tracks are inquisitive and playful while also technically solid and masterfully executed. I’d love to see a rig rundown for the track “Partially Ordered”, mostly because I’m expecting a pile of exotic spoons and one long bow hair.

Raspberry Bulbs Before The Age Of Mirrors LP (Relapse)
It’s rare to find a band these days that hasn’t positioned itself firmly into some easily-defined aesthetic slot – even though everyone likes every kind of music now, it feels like bands are expected to stay within the formal guidelines of their chosen sub-genre, lest they be misunderstood and ignored. Thankfully, there are still groups bucking this trend, like New York’s Raspberry Bulbs for instance, who have a surface-level black-metal vibe that doesn’t quite equate to the songs they’re playing, much to my delight. There’s a photo of the trio on the insert, who amazingly look like the same guy at 20, 40 and 60 years of age, and while they’ve certainly ensured their music is blackened and grim, the songs themselves offer a variety of strange pathways beyond black-metal’s cloak. “Missing Teeth”, for example, sounds like it could’ve come directly from Ceremony’s Rohnert Park album, whereas other tunes recall Crowbar’s strangulated sludge-metal, Flux Of Pink Indians’ subterranean punk and the Sisyphean chug of Bone Awl (with whom Raspberry Bulbs share a member). The songs themselves are tucked between a number of uneasy interludes, restless little storm clouds that intensify the bleak moods within which Raspberry Bulbs seem to thrive. Before The Age Of Mirrors doesn’t significantly depart from their previous albums, perhaps more a refinement of their dirge-like dungeon-punk, but seeing as Raspberry Bulbs’ particular brew of songwriting and production styles is entirely their own, it’s a welcome addition to an uncrowded field.

ROT T.V. F.D.A. / Transylvanian Nights 7″ (RTV Recs)
Here’s a Melbourne rock checklist for you: Miss Destiny, Cut Sick, Deaf Wish and Slug Guts. Not a bad mix, but what if you cranked it up a little louder and added Annihilation Time? Why, then you’d have a list of the bands that members of ROT T.V. have previously played in! Yup, Annihilation Time’s Graham Clise made the right move (leaving the US for Australia) and presumably wedded Harriet Hudson-Clise, and now they’ve got a new band together that shares their sensibilities of hard-livin’ punk rock. “F.D.A.” chugs along a classic chord progression reminiscent of The Damned, played with the loose n’ boozy attitude of Brutal Knights and the lingering aftertaste of late-period Annihilation Time, to be honest. “Transylvanian Nights” cools it down a bit, a steamy rocker ready for The Cathay De Grande circa 1987, part Joan Jett and part Murder City Devils, sure to make your leather motorcycle jacket smell more like Jack Daniels than it usually does. On the whole, probably a little too Trash and Vaudeville-y for me, in that sort of stylized rocker sorta way (you can already picture those classic Iggy Pop, Joey Ramone and David Bowie posters, can’t you?), but perfectly reasonable for those enamored by that style. Others have bastardized it, but ROT T.V. clearly keep it real.

Rubber Blanket Our Album LP (Spacecase)
It’s always inspiring when musicians whose bands I’ve enjoyed over the decades – like say, Lars Finberg of The Intelligence and A Frames, for example – move forward with new groups that are interesting, enjoyable and fresh. Finberg’s got that with Rubber Blanket, a new trio (the other two folks coming from Wounded Lion), and following their great debut single, Our Album is something they should all be proud of. I suppose a diligent record-shop employee might file this one under “post-punk / new wave”, but this isn’t the same-old same-old. It’s… pretty odd. I’m reminded of German Shepherds without even the slightest hint of maliciousness, or maybe if Jonathan Richman found himself trapped on an Earcom compilation. The music is simplistic and clunky post-punk synth-wave stuff (in a good way), occasionally reminiscent of The Intelligence’s earliest recordings, but the vocals of Brad Eberhard establish the Rubber Blanket Sound, as he sings in an entertaining awkward-guy-at-karaoke sorta voice, or simply speaks his way through. It’s great, and his lyrics are worth hearing, at turns insightful, curious, eloquent and very, very funny. Opening track “Scented Candle” is a great example: the band’s devious electro-chug is met with hilarious lyrics (it’s about time someone roasted that Vandals song!), resulting in a highly-replayable tune. Fans of Batang Frisco’s sole album, Voice Farm’s first few records and of course The Intelligence should step up and claim this prize.

Street Weapon Quick To Die 7″ (Not For The Weak)
Not For The Weak continue to rep big bad hardcore outta Virginia and its associated communities via 7″ EP format. This time it’s the debut of Virginia Beach’s Street Weapon, a new band with members “barely out of high school” as per the label’s note. While I am disappointed to learn that this band graduated high school (true hardcore punks drop out by the 7th grade, duh!), they’re stomping through some mean-spirited hardcore here, old-fashioned and pure. These songs recall Virginia hardcore toughies like Wasted Time, perhaps with a slower NYHC edge, as if Street Weapon spent more time listening to Krakdown than Government Warning. Vocalist Zach has a good schoolyard-bully voice, as though he were the spunky younger brother of Boston Strangler’s Ban Reilly. Basic and true, these tracks complete the mission without adding anything new or vital to the tapestry of hardcore, but that’s usually how it goes. I liked Street Weapon after spinning this disc a few times, and after I perused the liner notes and noticed that drummer Ben’s dad was given photo credit for Ben’s live shot, I liked Street Weapon a little bit more. More supportive fathers in hardcore, please!

The Strokes The New Abnormal LP (RCA / Cult)
Personal anecdote time: I bought the first Strokes album shortly after it came out, on CD, at Best Buy, because it was one of those inexplicable deals where they’d price certain new CDs at like $9.99 (and there weren’t any No Limit Records CDs tempting me instead). It was love at first listen, and while the group has strayed from that pitch-perfect script over the following nineteen years, I’ve always found something to enjoy in their albums, usually due in no small part to the voice of the precocious and inscrutable Julian Casablancas. It seems The New Abnormal is being hailed as a return to form, the old Strokes returning to the acutely hip, retro-winking, metropolitan rock of yore, and I’m not particularly seeing that so much as a steady continuation of their third and fourth albums. The same old parts are here and clearly in well-oiled shape, and while it’s no disappointment, there isn’t much to get truly excited about either, unlike the Julian Casablancas solo album and his first record with The Voidz (underrated semi-mainstream rippers to be sure). The good is that Casablancas continues to whip his voice up into a blinding falsetto, at what seems to be the pleasure and insistence of only himself, whereas the bad is that The Strokes somehow managed to drag these Strokes-y songs to an average of five minutes’ length, songs that would’ve benefitted from nips and tucks against the tendency to bloat. Is there any popular rock band that has slowly shortened the average length of their songs as they progressed? If one exists, they’re my heroes. I suppose all I really wanted was one new Strokes hit from The New Abnormal, which I’ve got in “Brooklyn Bridge To Chorus”: it invokes Survivor-style synths before leading into a weirdly sincere and self-deprecating chorus. In a time where it seems like the worst case scenario is also the most likely outcome, this underwhelming-but-not-disappointing new Strokes album feels like a subtle relief.

Reviews – April 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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