Archive for 'Reviews'

Reviews – February 2021

Astute Palate Astute Palate LP (Petty Bunco)
Over the past fifteen years or so, there’s literally no one I’ve seen perform on stage more than Richie Charles (with Clockcleaner, Watery Love, Fully Glazed, Storks, and now Astute Palate). We’re all missing live music – I sure as hell am – but there’s a particular hurt in my heart from going this long without enjoying him and his friends on stage, almost certainly drunk, almost certainly playing their music with total disregard for the perceived pleasure of their audience. I may have permanently missed my chance with Astute Palate, as they may or may not be a one-off project, assembled over the course of 48 hours in the summer of 2019 for a live gig and recording session. Charles is on the drums here with Emily Robb (of Louie Louie) on guitar and vocals, Daniel Provenano (of Writhing Squares) on bass and David Nance (of none other than The David Nance Band) on guitar and vocals. For as hastily executed as this band is, they take a very relaxed and comfortable stroll through the hallowed halls of American guitar rock care of these seven songs. Opening with a scorched variation on The Stooges’ godly “1969” rhythm, Astute Palate pound The MC5, Mountain and Crazy Horse out of their carpet, with a prominent basement-fuzz take on some Euro additives (I can’t be the only one picking up a little Träd Gräs Och Stenar on “Bring It On Home”). There’s an undeniable similarity to the current CT psych-rock scene too, although Astute Palate put more of a blue-collar spin on that heady sound. Mean-spirited hippie music, although knowing what sweethearts they all are (and bearing witness to Nance’s oddly Hendrix-esque vocal enunciation) mitigates any sense of aggression Astute Palate might bring to the table. Recommended for anyone who isn’t currently freewheelin’ down to the quarry with a case of domestic beer on a sizzling summer day, but wants to feel as though they are.

The Chisel Come See Me / Not The Only One 7″ (Beach Impediment / La Vida Es Un Mus)
The first punk single of 2021 to enter my home comes from London’s The Chisel. Because it’s first, and because it’s quite good, I’m willing to overlook the fact that Chisel is already the name of a punk(-ish) band I enjoy. (“It’s Alright, You’re O.K.” enters my headspace at least once every few months.) The Chisel features Chubby (of Chubby & The Gang) on guitar alongside members of Arms Race, Violent Reaction and Shitty Limits (among others), and I wouldn’t be surprised if The Chisel snags the top-ranking slot in their practice schedules (whenever bands might practice again), as this is probably the best modern oi-related record I’ve heard in quite some time. It certainly helps that The Chisel are actually British – let’s face it, “American oi” is kind of like “California pizza” or “French hip-hop” – and there’s no denying the Britishness happening here, driven home by the confident throat of Callum Graham (though to be honest, the vocals are a little low in the mix for my tastes). “Come See Me” brandishes their pub-rock hardcore roots proudly, biting into an apple that didn’t fall far from Chubby & The Gang’s tree. “Not The Only One” is a boots and braces celebration, honorably recalling Cockney Rejects and 4 Skins, though The Chisel’s dual guitar attack is particularly booming and glorious. In true skinhead fashion, the b-side “Criminal Crew” is a raucous sing-along for sing-along’s-sake, the sort of anthem I wouldn’t want to be caught idly in front of the pit when it kicks in – novel coronavirus be damned, this one’s gonna need to end in a semi-shirtless pile-on.

City Band City Band LP (Bruit Direct Disques)
Not sure what your brain conjures upon encountering the phrase “city band”, but mine generally goes to Boston, Chicago, bands that are also very much cities and undoubtedly bands. Literal (and foolish perhaps), but that’s simply how I’m programmed and I’ve learned to live with it. Anyway, I didn’t expect Paris’s City Band to sound like arena-rock (though with the Bruit Direct affiliation, nothing would fully surprise me), and they don’t. Theirs is actually the sound of a post-pandemic city: kinda windswept, mostly empty, oddly peaceful, and maybe even suspiciously comforting, even if the overall mood is dark. It’s indie-rock on the smooth, almost jazzy tip, recalling The Sea And Cake and Rat Columns and other bands who don’t really associate with “the Pitchfork crowd” but could just as easily be embraced by that very audience. You can tell City Band are French, though, and not merely from the vocals – something about the lazy, sexy, sanguine way they play these songs has me wishing my glass was filled with natural unfiltered wine rather than the typical American fare (Lime-A-Ritas). Just kidding, I’m sitting here drinking warm Powerade through a metal straw, and even that’s not stopping me from fantasizing about bar-hopping down the Seine with some friendly chain-smoking strangers I met earlier in the evening. Très délicieux!

Coz The Shroom Bum Henry Adams And Craig Stewart’s Prince LP (Rural Isolation Project / Blue Circle)
Reading about the making of this Coz The Shroom album, I couldn’t help but think about how much I love the concept of “local legends”. I think back fondly on the ones I’ve encountered in my brief existence, and I hope they continue to proliferate in our disconnected digital age. Austin, TX isn’t short on its share of uniquely freaky people, but apparently Coz The Shroom (that’s the name of an individual, not a band) was out there cranking out homemade tapes alongside Daniel Johnston long before it was remotely considered cool for doing so. He’s definitely an interesting weirdo (and was apparently a member of Suckdog for a bit, perhaps the ultimate weirdo cred), which this selection of lo-fi songs reveals. This collection was put together by Craig Stewart (of Emperor Jones) and Matt Turner (of Rural Isolation Project), going through their old Coz The Shroom tapes and cherry-picking their favorite tunes for this vinyl retrospective. Coz, on electric guitar and vocals, generally plays actual songs by his lonesome, quirky and a little disturbing, calling to mind an early Ween demo, some disregarded Butthole Surfers outtakes or if The Dead Milkmen were simply The Dead Milkman. I’d probably really love these songs if I grew up mystified by them and their creator, but the irascible charm and irreverence of a tune like “Decorator Tornado” is no less evident to my far-removed, fully-grown ears.

Cured Pink Current Climate LP (Rough Skies)
Cured Pink seem to have mostly settled into their dub-centric post-punk format, following their initial foray on a split 7″ that displayed a “guy smashing a chain in an art gallery” Swans-esque provocation. I have to say, they’re really finding their stride on Current Climate, an album that showcases their natural fluency in post-punk dub, while also injecting their own deadpan gallows humor throughout. Opener “The New Public” is a fantastic way to start, with huge bass and the persistent fluttering of an out-of-rhythm keyboard… I’m physically seated, but this track sends my mind aflight. I have trouble locating the presence of guitar, so refined are these menacing dub soundscapes – I hear a couple obvious strums here and there, but Cured Pink are masters at setting a mood with undefined sonic terms. I love “September” as well, which sounds like a Mark Stewart production if he had a modest understanding of the appealing properties of cult black-metal. (Okay, maybe I’m reaching there, but even in its most pleasant tones, there’s something unsettling in Cured Pink’s presentation.) Mostly, Current Climate sounds like the best Public Image songs they never wrote fronted by that jabbering maniac from Slugfuckers, which is a comparison that should surely send all my fellow obscure post-punk devotees rushing to calculate the shipping cost conversion rate on this Tasmanian release.

Lyckle De Jong Bij Annie Op Bezoek LP (South Of North)
I’m at the point in my years of listening habits where I can detect oddball Dutch synth-wave by sound alone, as was the case when I first heard this album. Lyckle De Jong certainly shares that distinctive Dutch approach: lo-fi but not noisy, strange but not uninviting, curious about pop but certainly not pursuing it. As is the tradition, De Jong uses analog synths to create dashing and peculiar vignettes that, some 40 years earlier, would’ve most likely ended up on hand-dubbed cassette compilations that languished in the hands of collectors before receiving a lavish Vinyl-On-Demand retrospective in modern times. Bij Annie Op Bezoek has that first-wave industrial sound, similar to Throbbing Gristle’s electro-pop attempts, Hessel Veldeman’s songbook and the M Squared label’s left-field synth experimenters. Very queer electronic music, in the non-sexual sense of the word. De Jong gives credit where it’s due, listing an Arp Odyssey, a Roland E-30 and a Casio Sk-1 as the main instruments utilized here, as classically screwy sounding today as they did back when the first wave of post-punk experimenters got their mitts on them. Adding to the eccentricity at play here, Bij Annie Op Bezoek is thematically based around a touching tale of an older widow and the memories of her soulmate, which is a little hard to parse as a wriggly gem like “Haar Man Seban” squirts out of my speakers. Luckily, I quickly remembered that trying to make sense of Lyckle De Jong’s Dutch-wave is a fool’s errand, so I simply sat back and enjoyed the show.

Eyes And Flys New Way To Get It 7″ (no label)
Fourth self-released 7″ from Buffalo’s Eyes And Flys in less than two years, and while the fiscally-responsible side of me wants to scream “you could’ve just put out an LP!”, my artistic side appreciates releasing multiple hand-painted (-screened, -embellished) 7″ singles simply for the fun of it. It worked for lots of other punk bands, from Urinals to Fucked Up, so I’m not going to tell Eyes And Flys how to spend their money! Anyway, on this one, they split the difference between “real band” and “solo project” with Patrick Shanahan playing all the instruments on the a-side and joined by other humans on the flip. The murky pop they deliver here bears a strong resemblance to Eat Skull in their most presentable form, possibly inspired by New Zealand’s lo-fi indie greats but clearly American (you can tell by the slightly aggressive paranoia that runs through these tunes). There’s really no discernible difference in quality or style between the sides, and I might actually prefer the a-side’s “New Way To Get It” out of them all, as it sounds like some Olympian band Kurt Cobain would’ve repped on a homemade t-shirt. Do pop stars do that anymore? Maybe they should send a copy of this single to Billie Eilish and see what happens.

Freelove Fenner The Punishment Zone LP (Moone)
“Freelove Fenner” sounds like the name of the guy you’re told to avoid at the nudist resort, but the music of this Montreal trio is to be embraced! I had never heard of them before, but it looks like they’ve got a scattering of releases over the last decade, The Punishment Zone being their second official-ish album. They’ve got a very smooth, very cool minimalist indie-rock thing going on. Let’s say they don’t sound like Young Marble Giants, but they share an evocative emotional distance and stark delivery, with vocalist Caitlin Loney’s soothing voice at the helm. There’s that, plus a striking similarity to Ariel Pink circa Before Today (in sound, not deed!). Tracks like “LED Museum” and “2B From” really have that Pink-ish quality, embracing neon-lit soft-rock in a musically economical form. There’s also a Broadcast thing going on in the sweet retro quality of the instrumentation (both tape-loops and bongos appear); the insert includes “technical notes” on the gear used to record and mix the record, but these songs are too uplifting and easy-going to come across as the territory of snooty Tape Op types. I get a lot of mellow indie-rock records coming through here – there’s certainly no shortage of people playing it – but The Punishment Zone strikes me as a particularly remarkable one.

Häpeä Valistuksen Aika On Ohi 7″ (Urealis-Tuotanto / Tampere Hardore Coalition / SPHC)
Häpeä are relative newcomers to the storied tradition of Finnish hardcore, but they’re surely finding it easy to fit in with their blustery rag-tag hardcore. Rather than opting for the traditional evil skull / demonic-skeleton on their record cover, they went with a sort of slimy(?) sewer-monster thing, which I approve as a reasonable substitution. Musically, it’s certainly in line with classic Finnish hardcore sounds, if perhaps more rambunctious and looser – moments remind me of Cheetah Chrome Motherfuckers throwing a “Furious Party”, or the lesser-tier rumble of Totuus (née Hässäkkä). Not nearly as steamrolling, explosive or fiery as contemporary hardcore acts like Krigshoder, Warthog and Public Acid, but not everyone is gonna be. If anythig, they’re certainly a band that sounds to me like it should have at least two members named Mika or Mikka, but amazingly Häpeä has none. Maybe on the next EP?

Headroom Equinox 20 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
Not even the experimental nature of I Dischi Del Barone can resist the soothingly psychedelic comfort-food of New Haven, CT’s Headroom, one of the town’s preeminent dealers of head music. They have their style on lock, firing off long-form instrumental psych-rockers as effortlessly as you or I flop on the couch and pick what show to watch for the thousandth night in a row. “Equinox 20″ appears to be split across both sides of this single, as it’s rare that Headroom would ever conclude their proceedings in a manner befitting a 7″ record – even a 10” might be close quarters. This one unfolds slowly, with a soothing three-note bass-line and the guitars of Kryssi Battalene and Stefan Christensen conversing like the old friends that they are, weaving in and out of each other like birds on a playground. At times, I start to wonder if this isn’t all too easy for Headroom, that its all so effortless and smooth that I wish that maybe they’d actually try something that takes concentrated effort with the risk of possible failure, but then I come back to my senses, slide deeper into my couch and turn up the volume on their transcendent psych-rock communion.

Kenji Kariu Sekai LP (Bruit Direct Disques)
Seems like a particularly good time in history to be a Japanese musician who home-records their soft synthetic pop/ambient, if you ask me. It feels like the reissue market is flooded with offbeat Japanese corporate-ambient / lo-fi pop, and what do you know, the vast majority of it is pretty great! Kenji Kariu, however, is here making his music among us right now, and seeing as his new LP came out on the weirdo-centric Bruit Direct label, I wasn’t expecting anything as aesthetically straightforward as one might find on the Music From Memory or Light In The Attic labels. Kariu’s a fairly charming personality, sitting at his little desk and playing these soft, subtle songs as he sings along. They vary in style, from ambient meditations to snippy city-pop grooves, single-handedly delivered by Kariu’s nimble fingers and his hushed voice. With or without percussion, it’s a soothing, relaxing album to settle into, although not without its arousing little curiosities, like the childlike melody of “A Crown Of Flowers” or the vocodered lullaby of “It”. If only I had a moonlit beach upon which I could peacefully sway with my sweetheart to the twinkling magic of “Atelier”! Peaceful and quirky, nothing about Sekai jumps out at the listener; this is a record that shyly waits for its audience to make the first move.

Lead 2 LP (Radical Documents)
A quick internet search confirms my suspicions that Amy Howden-Chapman and Steve Kado, the two verified members of Lead, are artists who primarily work in mediums that aren’t music. 2 just has that “post-modern artists who decide to slum it as ‘musicians’ for fun once in a while” vibe, mostly because it’s inscrutable and random, and also I guess partially because it’s not particularly compelling? Sorry! It’s not that it’s bad, but rather there’s only so much mileage I can personally get out of a slowly pulsing synth overlaid with the sounds of someone shuffling papers or tossing their keys onto the dining room table. One listen is fine, two is cool, but after that, it feels like all the juice has already been squeezed out of this particular sonic fruit. There’s a reasonable chance that, like much contemporary art, these two extended pieces conceptually fly over my head, but as far as completely-out-there difficult listening goes, records by artists like Gaby Losoncy, Claire Rousay and Graham Lambkin find ways to pluck my inner-strings in a way that Lead does not. Honestly, maybe Lead’s 2 actually isn’t weird enough? These pieces shuffle through different sonic moments and patterns, but ultimate never commit to any sort of truly unexpected sonic upheaval or moment of brazen hilarity (or fright, or joy, or menace…) – it all feels more like “messing around with a couple of keyboards and mics”, which is generally more fun as practitioner than spectator.

Lethal Means Zero Sum Game LP (Not For The Weak)
Wasn’t too long since Olympia hardcore-punk outfit Sterlized released a 7″ EP entitled Zero Sum Game featuring an omniscient Grim Reaper looking lustfully down upon the mechanisms of war, but I suppose it’s a theme that’ll never go out of style. There are only so many ways one can utilize a skull and bombs on their art, and seeing as hardcore is nothing if not beholden to its orthodoxy, more and more records will look eerily like others that came before. Lethal Means do well by it, though, opting for a heavy and merciless sound by rolling out a pile of well-formed riffs over thick d-beat drums. I’m hearing Anti-Cimex, State Of Fear and Bastard in Lethal Means’ sound here, which is fine sonic territory in which to reside. The frequent backing gang vocals are a nice touch, and while this sound is almost always crust-friendly, I can’t help but think that you could win over an ardent Strife fan to the d-beat side of things if you quietly added Zero Sum Game to their gym playlist. Like the label’s name establishes, this music isn’t for wishy-washy nerdlingers – it’d be helpful to be able to bench your own weight before engaging in violent combat against your foes. Come to think of it, how long until a band called Violent Combat shows up? They could name their record Zero Sum Game too!

Little Gold Wake Up & Die Right LP (Sophomore Lounge / Science Project)
You know how there are bands that you love to hate? Well, Little Gold are a band I hate to love. If I’m completely honest with myself, I cannot deny the way their music resonates with me, which I find deeply annoying. They play an Americana-styled form of poppy indie-rock, a sort of honky-tonk emo indebted to Springsteen and Petty with tasteful pedal steel throughout, and they do it quite well. Guitarist/vocalist Smokey DeRoeck (whatta name!) knows how to spin a yarn about growing up, screwing up, giving up… all ups are covered, as are plenty of downs. Reminds me of Chamberlain with less of a Dawson’s Creek feel (more Gilmore Girls honestly), or The Decemberists if they spent their high school summers working at Jiffy Lube instead of the community theater. Not my usual sonic fare, and I can’t say I find myself reaching for Wake Up & Die Right all that much, but each time it spins it strikes that same emotionally-nostalgic chord deep in my ribs that I can’t figure out how to protect against bands as sweetly direct as Little Gold. You win this round, Little Gold, but I’ll be back!

Paranoid Time Lip Rippers 7″ (White Centipede Noise)
Never has it felt more appropriate to cauterize my eardrums with harsh noise than January of 2021, so this new Paranoid Time EP couldn’t have been better received. It’s the solo work of Midwestern noise enthusiast Pat Yankee, who really tears tendons from bones on “Lip Rippers”. Frantic but incredibly harsh, its constant electrical whiplash has me recalling The Rita, Sickness and C.C.C.C., with a mighty mastering job that really makes it jump out of my speakers like a Medusa’s head of downed electrical cables. “Gag Me With A Maggot” is the flip, and it roils deeply – the entirety of the track seems to be violently careening toward disaster, closer to “noise wall” form but mostly sounding like a small yacht coming loose from its trailer and wildly skidding across a highway. There’s a richness and depth to these tracks, which brings me more comfort than it rightly should. I should also note that the limited version of this record is one for the books: the 7″ record itself appears as a subtle afterthought as it is affixed to a machete wrapped in barbed-wire. It’s a version that no one has any business owning, which of course is peak noise-record packaging. Think I’ll store this one away from my other records and nestle it in between two rusty chainsaws I keep in the basement, as anything less would be inappropriate.

Science Man Science Man II LP (Big Neck)
Between Science Man, Alpha Hopper, Night Slaves, Spit Kink and surely one or two other projects I’m either forgetting or unaware of, Buffalo’s John Toohill seems to be in a perpetual state of playing, writing and recording music. I suppose there are those of us who constantly churn out new music, and those of us who merely write about it. Anyway, Science Man is his solo garage-punk project, and as Toohill releases new music as though his life depended on it, this is the second Science Man album in two years. These songs are fast and fuzzy, traditionally executed in a Goner Records / Rip Off Records style, though perhaps a little less dirty than the former and a little more hardcore than the latter. A drum machine is utilized in lieu of a live drummer, though the patterns are intricate enough (and the synthetic kit sounds natural enough) that it’s easy to not notice – electro-punk or synth-punk this ain’t. I’m reminded of The Coachwhips, The Reatards and The Candy Snatchers, perhaps in overall equal measure. It’s funny, usually a busy multi-band musician saves the weirdest stuff for his or her solo project, but that’s certainly not the case with Toohill, whose Science Man moniker might be the most conventional of everything he’s currently got cooking.

Shame Drunk Tank Pink LP (Dead Oceans)
Figured I might as well check out Shame, a plucky post-punk group of handsomely-ugly young British guys who I don’t even have to tell you whether they tuck their t-shirts in or not. Hadn’t heard them prior to now, and while the idea of more “funky white-boy post-punk” is not one that excites me the same way as “Latvian gore-grind” or “environmental ambient yoga drone”, I’m not immune to its charms either. Turns out I really like Drunk Tank Pink! Here’s what they’ve got: a cool snuffly drum sound with inventive beats, non-intuitive songwriting that’s still easily digestible, great British post-punk male vocals and enough charm and attitude to bring it all together. They’ve got the slipperiness of Black Midi without being half as musically annoying, the nihilistic youthfulness of Iceage without half as much narcissism, and the “angry British guy shouts smart-assed lyrics at you” component without half as much induced eye-rolling as Idles. Even the explicitly funky tunes like “Born In Luton” sound fresh and slightly-weird enough that I find myself fully on board, probably because there’s a grittiness to their sound that I find appealing (precisely the sort of grittiness that Savages’ records lacked, preventing me from fully connecting). Nothing here that’s gonna convert any non-believers – if you don’t already like brooding art-school boys with muted guitar riffs and more than their fair share of sass, I cannot craft a strong enough argument to demand your participation – but for those amenable to the style, Drunk Tank Pink is a sharp and satiating example of the form.

Spiral Wave Nomads First Encounters LP (Twin Lakes / Feeding Tube)
So get this: First Encounters is the second slab of vinyl released by Spiral Wave Nomads, but the first time they actually got together. Weird to think that such ragged American psych could’ve been an email-based file-swap before, but those are the times we’re living in, and it’s really warming my insides to imagine actually getting together to play music with friends, here in the pandemic’s eleventh month. Guitarist Eric Hardiman and drummer Michael Kiefer clearly had a solid psychic bond before, and it’s confirmed here across these four unhurried psych-rock instrumentals. Kiefer will dance around the kit, but he mostly commits to pushing things forward as Hardiman scans his guitar for riffs, as likely to lock in as he is to flutter off course. Reminds me of Bardo Pond and Davis Redford Triad, and especially Headroom, who share Kiefer’s hometown of New Haven, CT. Is it wrong that I hope they’re mortal enemies? That the Headroom / C/Site posse shut Michael Kiefer out of their fun years ago, and he was forced to recruit Eric Hardiman (out of Albany) to pursue his undeniably similar vision? This burgeoning psych-rock scene is nice and all, but you know what it lacks? Gang violence.

The Toms The 1979 Sessions LP (Feel It)
The band name implies a plurality, but there’s only one Tom at work here: Tommy Marolda, who wrote, performed and produced The 1979 Sessions. What Marolda lacks in graphic-design talent (why do all the Toms records look like generic diner menus?) he makes up for in pure pop-rock mastery. Pretty amazing to think he put these songs together all on his own, as they certainly sound like a fully-formed power-pop outfit ready to take over the tri-state club scene. These songs are pure power-pop bliss, low on attitude and high on pretty melodies and a sweet seriousness. Fans of The Beatles, Cheap Trick, David Bowie and Big Star will surely sprout hearts in their eyes when listening to these forgotten gems – I know I feel like I’m wearing corduroy bellbottoms and swaying under the swirling disco-ball’s reflection as “That Could Change Tomorrow” jangles out of my speakers. Pretty crazy to think that these songs are only part of the picture, as Marolda recorded no less than thirty songs over one weekend, but I suppose you’re either a genius from whom pop-perfection flows freely or you’re not. Outkast never relegated themselves to EPs either, you know? You know me, I’m skeptical of unearthed archival releases, but this one is, at least in my alternate reality, a smash hit.

True Sons Of Thunder It Was Then That I Was Carrying You LP (Total Punk)
True Sons Of Thunder are Memphis’s garage-rock stalwarts, a crew with the proper pedigree (ex-Oblivians, Manateees, The Feelers, Rat Traps and so forth) for a Total Punk full-length. Fans of frills or ostentation will have to look elsewhere, as these songs are about as rudimentary and chunky as garage-punk gets. I can’t imagine any one of these songs took more than a single session to write (and only a handful of rehearsals necessary before hitting the studio), which is a big part of the charm. No dazzling displays of power or eloquence, just dirt-kickin’ garage-punk grooves played at modest speeds to fend off exhaustion. What strikes me most about True Sons Of Thunder is the significant amount of fun they seem to be having, doing this band for the pure thrill of playing in a band with your life-long friends who share the same goal: free drink tickets and a momentary staving off of the depression and drudgery of life. The songs generally come with some sort of slight hint of humor (and obviously the title takes joy in mocking Jesus’s famous catchphrase), not really enough for a laugh but enough to have ’em smirking and sneering as they trot out these heavy garage stompers in a manner similar to Cheater Slicks or Gary Wrong Group. As the final track, “Male Box”, swirls to its eventual end, I can’t help but wonder what Flipper would’ve been like if they were all stay-at-home dads with Tesco Vee as their manager, because I’m thinking it might’ve been something like this.

Viagra Boys Welfare Jazz LP (Year0001)
For a band with as dumb a name as “Viagra Boys”, these Swedes have been nothing if not sophisticated in deploying their band upon the world. Sharing the same label as Yung Lean and Bladee (some of the finest hip-hop Sweden has to offer), Viagra Boys seem to have a medium-level film studio in their corner, churning out eye-catching, silly videos with the quality of prime-time cable TV. Alongside their knack for crafting smartly-stupid dance-punk anthems, they’re ascending toward modern punk-rock stardom alongside Surfbort and Amyl & The Sniffers (whose vocalist Amy Taylor sings a duet on “In Spite Of Ourselves” here), bands whose members simply look better wasted, half-clothed and eating boogers than everyone else currently attempting it. Anyway, Welfare Jazz is a subtle but effective slide toward the mainstream, smoothing out some of their music’s post-punk edges and favoring Sebastian Murphy’s outsized personality to carry these songs forward. Murphy continues his caricature as a dumpy useless loser through these songs, though to what end I’ve yet to decipher. He can’t possibly be sincere, but if he isn’t, what exactly is the joke, and why isn’t there a punchline? After the fourth song of Murphy convincing a woman that he’s a terrible person (though insisting she should serve his needs in spite of that), it can feel a little tiresome, particularly when accompanied by the faux honky-tonk voice he can’t help but frequently slip into here. I prefer when Murphy leads the band in full George Thorogood mode (ala “Toad”), painting humorous and descriptive pictures of his terrible behavior and its terrible results. Welfare Jazz is pretty much LCD Soundsystem for jerks, and well, there’s a lot of jerks out there who need something to dance to!

Ye Gods Dumah 2×12″ (L.I.E.S.)
Sad to say, but I wasn’t invited to any erotic holiday parties this year – I’m blaming Covid, so I suppose I’ll have to find a different use for Ye Gods’ full-length debut. I really like it, as Dumah recalls various occult-friendly techno units without sacrificing its own particular character. There’s the “body-piercing ritual” vibe of T++, Shackleton’s swirling, paranoid dream-state tones, the insistent thump of industrial techno and the dark sexuality of classic industrial. It’s an excellent and fluid mix, allowing for varied energy levels without disrupting the highly stylized aesthetic. Plus, there seems to be an ancient Egyptian mythological thread running through these songs, which very well might support Ye Gods as the undisputed Nile of techno. It’s hard not to feel a little woozy as Antoni Maiovvi (the person behind Ye Gods) repeats his words in a soothing, reverberating tone, as if his is the last voice you hear before the general anesthesia kicks in. Will you wake up with your human consciousness uploaded into the trans-dimensional form of Anubis? Don’t ask too many questions, just relax and allow Dumah to guide you through this esoteric transformation.

Reviews – January 2021

Actress Karma & Desire 2xLP (Ninja Tune)
Actress, effortlessly-stylish techno king, returns yet again with another lengthy installment. I skipped out on the limited version of this one (seems gratuitous to own more than one Actress album in an oversized metallic bag), but it’s my favorite thing I’ve heard from him in a while. The premise this time is “the first Actress record with vocals”, which I find much more appealing than “Actress goes to the opera”. I like thinking of Actress’s music as removed from any human touch, these little self-propelling electronic processes whizzing past each other in fascinating formations, but it’s been such a treat to listen to the humanity that shines through Karma & Desire. It’s a multi-functional record, with numerous tracks that operate as soothing experimental-ambient (think trip-hop without the hop) alongside some straight-up tech-house bangers – “Turin” in particular is dialed up to deep house perfection, the sort of thing I’d expect to hear emanating from Detroit’s first colony on Mars. Vocalists Sampha, Zsela and Aura-T09 appear throughout, their bold and androgynous voices hitting the requisite amount of cool that one would expect from an Actress track. They manage to render into sound the same alluringly complex emotions found in Actress’s instrumentals, no matter if they’re headed to the dance-floor or the crushed-velvet chaise lounge.

Bathouse Bathouse LP (Happiest Place)
Shame on me for presuming Bathouse to be more polite n’ snuggly Swedish indie-pop, because the moment they kicked into the opening track “Bathouse” (I love when a band self-titles an album and then has a song by the same name on it) my hair blew back like that guy in the Maxell cassette ad. Nothing cute going on with this Swedish trio; this is unrepentant, volcanic, garage-y noise-rock and nothing less! Their self-titled tune sets the table gloriously, reminding me of what a thrill it was to hear the debut Hospitals album that very first time. Bathouse’s bass and drums rumble together in a cloud of smog before stomping out potholes in a way I thought I’d never hear again following the dissolution of Mayyors. There are also some signs of edgy Swedish garage-punk in the murk, distant relatives of The Hives covered under mounds of filth nearly as incomprehensible as the first couple Sightings records. The b-side has a super strong opener as well in “Bug”, which reminds me of the noise-as-rock-music bands that followed in Wolf Eyes’ wake – imagine if Hair Police or Burmese had the slightest tendency to groove. Bathouse have got the goods! My recommendation is to find a friend and split the Swedish shipping costs on two copies, because you’re not gonna want to have to share this one anyway.

Bruch The Fool LP (Cut Surface / Trost)
Days prior to receiving Bruch’s The Fool in the mail, I had seen the artist described as “kind of a Euro Daughn Gibson”, which of course meant I was set up to be disappointed. I’ll cut to the chase and confirm that Bruch, the solo project of Vienna’s Philipp Hanich, does not meet my high expectations here, but that’s not to say all is lost. All is a little confused, though, as these songs try to shoehorn American cowboy vocals (with a country sneer as inauthentic as Orville Peck’s) into a modern electro-indie sound, borrowing from big-room EDM and trance, pop and contemporary guitar-less radio-rock (like Imagine Dragons or Cage The Elephant or any of those other groups neither you nor I ever really stop to think about). The Fool feels aspirationally closer to Alex Cameron’s ventures into anthemic dance-pop, but Cameron goes much further over the top and comes naturally equipped with the charisma of a singer bound for international stardom (or at least millions of views on YouTube). Bruch seems to roam on the edge of such sweeping gestures – he certainly isn’t toning down his voice – but these songs aren’t quite the necessary vehicles to take him there. If I think of Bruch as being more in line with gristly iconoclastic weirdos like Tom Waits, it makes more sense, as these songs seem to wander at will, frequently losing sight of the traditional path that catchy pop music requires. That’s cool with me too, but Bruch only ever tends to go halfway toward any of these stylistic routes – my favorite is probably the b-side opener, also named “Bruch”, which builds a hearty pulse somewhere in the timeless tradition of krautrock, Suicide and trance. I’ve been wondering what Boothroyd’s Pure Country would sound like with vocals, come to think of it… perhaps Bruch is the man for the job?

Celebrators Wipeout! / Ex-Explorer 7″ (Tomothy)
Three cheers for the inaugural release by Tomothy Records, a new label out of Los Angeles based around the “analog recording studio and DIY performance space called House of Tomothy”. Run by two guys (you guessed it, named Tom and Timothy), I’m glad they exposed me to Celebrators, an excellent band for establishing the label’s intentions. “Wipeout!” is thankfully not a cover, but instead a hyper-speed muted-strum that combines the no-wave quirk of The Mae Shi with the extreme rigidity of early Total Control. I’ll take it! “Ex-Explorer” loosens the reigns a bit for a slice of shoulder-shrugging art-punk, calling to mind the party fouls of Vox Pop as well as the dorky charm of The Embarrassment, slowly fading into the sunset on an extended instrumental reprise. A nice contrast of tunes (yet not so contrasting as to not make sense together), leaving me satisfied yet intrigued to hear some more. Some seventeen years have passed since The Smell shut down for nearly all of 2003, so it seems to be the perfect time for another LA underground art-punk renaissance if you ask me. Celebrators are already there!

Chronophage Th’ Pig Kiss’d Album LP (Cleta Patra)
Austin’s Chronophage made a splash last year with their vinyl debut, appealing to both dirty and clean audiences of arty post-punk. Could’ve been a one-time planetary alignment, but Th’ Pig Kiss’d Album demonstrates that it wasn’t a stroke of luck – this scruffy group is clearly onto something special. These songs showcase a band even more at ease with each other, as there’s no other way these kind of songs can come together – the bassist, the guitarist, hell even the drummer all seem to be riffing around the main structure and melody continuously, finding ways to make their otherwise modest DIY-poptunes behave unexpectedly. I’m reminded of the way Television break their songs apart after like five minutes or so, except that seems to be Chronophage’s starting point. Even one of their more jagged numbers (“Any Junkyard Dreams”) has me thinking of my favorite songs by Shoes This High and Sara Goes Pop without directly resembling either – their sound is way more Max’s Kansas City than Fuck Off Records, anyway. And while they’re clearly cool punks with asymmetrical haircuts, homemade t-shirts and post-ironic Ali Express dresses, there’s a tender vulnerability underlying these tunes, bearing witness to the sad fact that one relatively-minor car accident or illness could upend their world at a moment’s notice. The insert provides a mailing address for communication that’s “valid until Aug. 2021”, because who can count on any sort of future beyond that?

Copiers Copiers LP (no label)
Copiers are a band, I suppose in as much as anyone is a “band” these days, from Louisville, playing together for a year or two and self-releasing an LP, as adults in bands sometimes do. I would file them under “instrumental post-hardcore”, but that sounds a little too stuffy and self-serious for the vibe that Copiers bring to the table. Their music is generally groove-driven, bass and drums locked into their perspective flights while the guitars (and horn, and accordion?) do their best to rip a hole in the presiding sonic structure. Very much in the spirit of Laddio Bolocko, but with a polite recording quality and at least a couple Slint records within arm’s reach? They’re from Louisville, after all, where that sorta thing seeps into the groundwater. Their music is occasionally psych-y (the slow build of “Alien Doctor” reminds me of Stefan Christensen and the contemporary CT psych-rock scene), sometimes entertains the idea of free improvisation (if not entirely puts into practice), and is always delivered with the sense of a band composing and playing in a manner that excites and challenges them. Personally, I prefer the moments of full flight, wherein math-rock metamorphosizes into amateur jazz fusion, but I’m not going to tell Copiers they can’t have their soft n’ slow-droning build-ups if that’s what they want. Being a teenager is fun, but when you’re an adult, you don’t have to listen to anyone!

CS + Kreme howwouldyoufeelwithoutthatthought 12″ (The Trilogy Tapes)
Took me ’til the end of the year to discover CS + Kreme, but I’m mighty glad I did, as their 2020 album Snoopy has been on repeat, almost as much as this new 12″ EP. These two lengthy tracks are an excellent place to start (or continue) one’s love affair with CS + Kreme, who I should explain are a duo from Melbourne featuring Sam Karmel of F Ingers. “April Fools’ Day” is the sixteen-minute a-side, a hypnotic expansion of occult electronics with a most haunting accompaniment of cello and lap steel. It’s sensual and alien, pretty much the perfect soundtrack for that eventual moment when a steamy love scene takes place in The Mandalorian (fingers crossed!). There’s one segment where it sounds like they’re dropping little plastic toys on a granite countertop over the groove, and it’s precisely the sort of idiosyncratic trick that CS + Kreme utilize so well. “Bugged” takes a different route (but familiar to fans of Snoopy) with ominously funky bass-guitar, an oddly-humming vocal melody and, for those who behave patiently, a trip-hop drum loop that’s sure to please. I’m reminded of Raime’s side-project Moin and Sun City Girls’ Torch Of The Mystics in the way that CS + Kreme seem to have accidentally invented rhythmic ambient post-rock on their own unique timeline. Feels similar in spirit to John T. Gast’s Gossiwor project too, care of the dreary melodies, haunting intrigue and classic drum-machine sounds, or a little further but still close to Leslie Winer’s fantastic Witch album. Mostly, however, CS + Kreme are doing a marvelous job of sounding exactly like themselves.

Dirty Burger Part Time Loser LP (Spacebucks / Pure Lust)
More garage-y punk from Sweden! It never stops coming! No one likes it like the Swedes do, including Gothenburg’s Dirty Burger, delivering their full-length debut in the form of Part Time Loser. Their particular strain veers towards the pop-punk end of things, offering a cartoony image of first-wave British punk that has kind of a Dirtnap / Lookout! feel. I definitely reference The Briefs more than I should, but their scent is strong here, with gang-vocal choruses (see “Information Overload”) over typical Damned and Dead Boys riffs played at slightly slower speeds and without any lingering sense of violence or morbidity. Song topics are mostly in the realm of traditional punk fantasy: “Video Violence” is thankful for the ability to feel excitement in watching movies at home, “Suburbia” is about the boredom of suburbia, and the title track is about, from what I can gather, punks being losers? The cover art of a colorfully-silly intergalactic diner certainly drives the vibe home, the sort of record a closely-monitored teen can leave around the house without arousing parental suspicion. It’s not doing much for me at all – I’ve long since exceeded my quota for new paint-by-numbers retro poppy punk bands – but anyone in short supply of this well-defined aesthetic would suffer no harm from bringing home some Dirty Burger, or at least waiting for the next weekly drop of Swedish punk if they’re busy at the moment.

Fleshen Fella FMR008 7″ (Fantastic Mess)
Melbourne’s underground/punk community strikes me as an inclusive and supportive one, but if all those bands got together to hang out in one room, I’d imagine there’d be some hesitancy in striking up a convo with the Fleshen Fella crew. They seem particularly talentless and unhinged, which of course is a great combination for throwing together a rock band. They play noisy and simplistic riffs, somewhere in the garage-punk pantheon but relying on the teenage-tantrum aesthetic of both the garage and punk scenes to put together these five songs. I’m reminded of the earliest Charm City Suicides recordings (before they had any band members who could play), or perhaps the Dirt Shit 7″ (without the six-minute reggae song). The drummer seems to really struggle (which, to be fair, is a lot harder to learn in ten minutes than bass or guitar), which makes it that much more fun to listen to, and the vocalist does his best job volleying between angry ranting (in that tantalizing Aussie tongue) and squealing like Ichabod Crane on the run. The sticker on the cover designates the various pressing info (limited editions on translucent red, hot pink, black and clear vinyl!), and it’s probably my least favorite aspect of this release – when you’ve got a band that monkeys around through their raucous garage noise such as Fleshen Fella, why acknowledge the realm of collectors and anything resembling civilized nerdy behavior? This is the type of record that should be pressed entirely on black vinyl, with half of the pressing falling out of the band’s van and permanently lost during a drunken gas-station stop.

Greymouth Cut A Crooked Track 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
The New Zealand-raised, Japan-stationed duo of Greymouth return to vinyl with a new six-track 7″ EP on I Dischi, the perfect home for their abstract and noisy tunes. The first side starts off with a rumbling instrumental swing, like those early Action Swingers singles that eschew any pleasantries, and before you know it, one of the members (they’re both named Mark) starts a choppy rant, which works far better for this sort of lo-fi noise-rock than any sort of standard-timed vocals. That quickly segues into what appears to be an acoustic guitar, distorted by the nature of the recording rather than any sort of effects pedal, and eventually subsumed by what sounds to be the creaking of a boat’s keel, that is before another incomprehensible tune arrives. I hear toms, so I know someone is drumming, and I hear someone shouting so I know that’s there too, but the rest is a swirl of room noise and technical difficulties, wherein lies Greymouth’s charm. They seem to have calmed down on the b-side, with the creaking of an old chair and plucked strings forming a sonic cobweb to accidentally walk through and get all over your face. It seems to be one long track, yet three titles are credited, so I’ll defer to Greymouth as to what actually transpired. They make us work for it, and it doesn’t go unappreciated!

Wren Kitz Early Worm LP (Feeding Tube / Sophomore Lounge)
When it comes to American hippie territories, I find Vermont to be particularly appealing – all those beautiful trees, soft white piles of snow, hacky-sack factories and free Ben & Jerry’s at every corner. Wren Kitz (that’s this person’s name) is from Burlington, a quaint town where the vegetarian restaurants still serve rabbit-food instead of textured gluten. I can easily picture him walking down the main pedestrian drag, wearing sandals in thirty-degree weather, guitar (in a soft case) strapped to his back as he walks to the gig. Probably has a cute dog, too. Anyway, this album is full of soft and sedate indie-psych, songs that are dappled in sunlight and shrouded in a pleasant haze. I’m reminded of Kurt Vile and The War On Drugs, that is if neither ever got famous and simply continued to release tapes for their friends’ little labels. Sounds like Beachwood Sparks at times too, although Kitz’s approach never reaches energy levels even close to the (also incredibly chill) Beachwood Sparks – some of these songs sound as if Kitz was laying down while playing them. Right at this moment, I’m enjoying Early Worm as it spins, but it’s so sparse and temporal and innocuous that I’m not sure I will remember the existence of this man or his record in a couple months. When it comes to music that appears like a soft puff of Neil Young’s coffee-breath, there’s more of it floating around than ever, so I’m content to wander through it when it comes rather than purposely seek it out.

The Lavender Flu Tomorrow Cleaners LP (Meds)
The Lavender Flu continue to scare all psych-rock pretenders out of the room with their newest full-length (and second of 2020), Tomorrow Cleaners. This is some deeply burnt DIY psychedelia, recorded with a disorienting mix not unlike Violent Change (though not nearly as lo-fi) and displaying a willingness to travel down any sonic rabbit hole that might appear, albeit not for very long. These tracks move quickly, each seemingly with its own unique instrumental configuration, in search of some crimson-and-clover reality through polluted beaches and panic-inducing suburban sprawl. Released by Meds, a label I associate with the great Siltbreeze rebirth of 2007-2010, The Lavender Flu carry a sackful of that noisy indie belligerence in their sound here (it’s not a long jump from the hippie end of Psychedelic Horseshit’s songbook) and it’s honestly somewhat refreshing. No other band around today can sing “sha la la la” in a song and have me believe it the way The Lavender Flu do here, that’s for sure! These songs are occasionally tender and authentically weird, moving in ways that most songs do not, and I find myself wanting more each time it hits the run-out groove. I wonder if they’ve considered capitalizing on the times with some sort of “Flu season” marketing campaign?

Ippei Matsui & Aki Tsuyuko Natsu No Zenbu 2xLP (All Night Flight)
Had I not stuck firmly to my “no reissues” policy, this one would’ve landed right in the top of my favorite albums in 2020, but alas, it’s the first vinyl pressing of a limited friends-and-family CD-r that was issued back in 2008 to commemorate Ippei Matsui and Aki Tsuyuko’s marriage. Easily my favorite reissue of the year though, as the whimsical sketches and mirthful ambient sonnets of Natsu No Zenbu are absolutely stellar. Recorded in a private, thirteen-room “old Japanese house” with mostly keyboards and pianos at the helm, Matsui and Natsu conjure the eloquent confusion of nature through these soft and unassuming melodies. Imagine if Roedelius wrote music for Japanese elevators, or if Tori Kudo and Conny Plank fought over who got to play the sole keyboard in the cabin? Folk, minimalist composition and field-recordings are all relevant tags here, but there’s a carefree playfulness (and unabashed weirdness) that permeates throughout, that sort of fearless, audience-less creativity that reminds me of T. Kamada’s DD Records label or bizarre one-offs like Canada’s One Of You and San Fran’s Prominent Disturbance. Really serene, beautiful, occasionally lighthearted stuff, pulling together to create a charming musical mindset that I want to exist within as long as I possibly can. Thankfully, at twenty-seven tracks, I never feel rushed to part ways. Highly recommended, even at the staggering import pricing that is quickly becoming the norm!

Mr. Teenage Automatic Love 7″ (no label)
If I let my mind wander for too long about what an actual person named “Mr. Teenage” might be like, it can get dark quickly, but let’s stick to the actual matter at hand, this new garage-rock quartet outta Melbourne, one of the top five international hot-beds for this sorta thing these days. They feature Nic Imfeld of Tyrannamen on bass, his brother Joe on guitar, and Nadine Muller on drums, who has the coolest cred in the band seeing as her dad is Dean Muller of Cosmic Psychos. If my dad was a Cosmic Psycho, I’d probably get deep into urban planning or computer programming or something far away from beer-fueled garage-rock, but this apple doesn’t fall from the tree, apparently! Anyway, Mr. Teenage released this four-track EP themselves, and it’s a fine start for punks who want to do something a little more pub-friendly while still keeping their denim-clad roots. “Automatic Love” is close to being a Vibrators song by name, and sounds enough like one too, if perhaps a little closer to Stiff Little Fingers if we want to split first-wave Brit-punk hairs. That’s at least until the guitar solo hits, confirming that following the arrival of Sheer Mag on the scene, Thin Lizzy’s influence has never felt stronger in modern punk (though never matched, of course). I get kind of an Exploding Hearts vibe on “Waste Of Time” and “The Loser” too, poppy punk that isn’t pop-punk, but rather steeped in the classic sound of gruff power-pop with a dynamic guitar sound and a tough exterior hiding a sentimental heart. Amazingly, somehow this record was not mastered by Mikey Young – did he actually call in sick for a day this year? Do I need to check in with him, make sure he’s okay?

Molchat Doma Monument LP (Sacred Bones)
Molchat Doma is one of the few bands that I distinctly remember when and where I first heard them: October 2019, in a friend’s Honda Fit en route to a post-show bar hang (remember those?). The youngest, goth-iest passenger loaded up his Spotify and entertained us with the sounds of Molchat Doma… surely a long-lost cold-wave group from the Eastern Bloc, right? Turns out that was only partly accurate, as Molchat Doma are indeed Belarusian but are very much a modern affair, starting out in 2017, making it big via YouTube playlists and TikTok viral success (disgusting, I know) and catching the attention of Sacred Bones, who I had feared was transitioning exclusively into a colored-vinyl horror movie soundtrack reissue label. Listening to them then, I was struck by the sheer oldness of Molchat Doma’s sound, how their recording quality was perfectly crisp and aged, sounding more like the ghost of a band that once existed than an actual band here among us now. As I spin Monument, I’m wondering if my recollection is accurate, as this record sounds much plainer than I recall the band’s earlier material. Maybe it was the Honda Fit’s sound system? They must’ve finally gotten into a “real” studio, but it comes at the expense of the cool alluring aura that was, honestly, the majority of their charm. These songs here are generally more Italo than cold-wave – it feels like I don’t hear morosely-chiming guitars and speedy drum programming until the fifth and sixth tracks – and while it’s fine to sound like Joe Yellow and Magazine 60 instead of Joy Division and Trop Tard, I suppose that’s not what I had come to them for. They don’t have the hooks or vocal prowess to make their Italo-electro tracks really pop, and with their out-of-time melancholia diminished by a more direct recording, Monument provides a decent-if-unexciting background listen. Imagine if we never heard from them again after their last record, though! Could’ve been legendary.

Moment Of Fear Covid Sessions 2020 7″ (Beach Impediment)
Another hearty installment of skull-laden hardcore-punk from the Beach Impediment posse, this one a debut! Moment Of Fear are a new Portland hardcore band, featuring a guy named Insane (formerly of Religious War and Rotten Cadaver) on vocals. Can’t be hard to start a band like this in Portland – you simply grab the first three people wearing black denim and spikes who walk past your porch to come inside and pick up an instrument – and Moment Of Fear maintain Insane’s healthy hardcore reputation. Two quick blasts on the a-side, both of which deliver the proud heavy-metallic-crust tradition as Insane warns of society’s decay. “Target For Killing” stretches out across the b-side, fully lunging into heavy metal territory reminiscent of Détente and Sacrilege with Insane’s gravelly bark the sole remaining link to hardcore-punk. The hardcore scene continues to embrace metal with open arms, so Moment Of Fear’s debut should get the local crew of drunk punks in King Diamond shirts hooting and hollering, I’d imagine. At some point, will we even be able to tell hardcore and metal apart? Is that the future these punks want?

Nina Harker Nina Harker LP (Animal Biscuit / La République des Granges ‎/ Le Syndicat des Scorpions)
No sooner had I compiled my “Best of 2020” list than I heard the full-length vinyl debut of French duo Nina Harker, which wouldn’t merely have found a high ranking on it, it may have hit the top! Seriously blown away by this riveting, difficult-to-classify masterpiece. I suppose you could start by filing under “post-punk”, then maybe the sub-heading of “electronic” or “experimental”, and while accurate, there’s just such a unique weirdness, a sort of imposing wickedness that makes even the more rickety rhythmic tunes like “Füsse” far more striking and imposing than they ought to be. Carlos Peron is probably the closest comparison I could come up with, another underground villain utilizing electronics and unexpected voices and sonic motifs to his own nefarious ends, but then some parts of Nina Harker remind me of Titmachine, while others recall Abruptum (gurgled black-metal vocals are brilliantly deployed throughout!)… see what I’m saying? It might sound like too disparate of a hodgepodge to effectively stick together, but I’m absolutely riveted upon every subsequent listen. Somehow, nothing seems forced or approaching the dreaded tag of “trying too hard”… Nina Harker simply re-imagine the past alongside the future, where Kleenex, Nurse With Wound and Monokultur commingle freely. It’s tickling my love of basement-level DIY post-punk strumming, my lust for experimental strangeness is more than satiated, and sincerely, I really can’t recommend this one enough! Anyone sitting on a fresh copy of Nina Harker’s 2016 7”, by all means, drop me a line with your exorbitant demands.

Alessandra Novaga I Should Have Been A Gardener LP (Die Schachtel)
It was the title that drew me in to this one, as I knew nothing of the artist or her deal besides the connection with the experimental-composer label Die Schachtel and what I took as a face value regret that she wasn’t out there plucking tomatoes from the vine. It opens on a lengthy, strange track, “April 21”, which offers a constant crunching (boots trudging through icy snow, most likely?) supported by fleeting drones. Not a particularly musical composition, but it’s a vibe for sure. I like to read books in silence, but if you’re the type who listens to music while reading, “April 21” is the perfect soundtrack for any sort of non-fictional account of an arctic explorer brutalized by the expanse. The rest of this record features solo plaintive electric guitar, notes carefully chosen with tremolo effects or often no additives beyond the cleanly electrified strings, plucked and amplified. The work of Loren Mazzacane Connors quickly comes to mind, but Novaga’s songs are cleaner and less mournful, though still comfortable to dwell in the morose alleyways of our souls. Some tricks occur (like the unexpected freak-out flubbing a couple minutes into “Father Forgive Me”, or the extended interview clip of Derek Jarman in the title track), but this is mostly a somber and comely album of unaccompanied guitar in the ambient / drone categories, far more reminiscent of frozen tundra than fertile soil.

Primpce Goodbye Marines And Hello Dad It’s Son Or Mr. Worm The Monster LP & 7″ (Syncro System)
If you’ve ever tried to google “Prince” while drunk, you may have stumbled upon Primpce, but for the rest of us, this is a fun new experience! The label sent this record over with a note saying “warning: not for everyone”, which of course is an excellent reverse-psychology trick to get someone to like your record – who’s gonna want to be that one grump who proves the label’s warning to be accurate? Regardless of the recommended caution, I took to the beguiling, way-too-complex music of Primpce right away. A better warning might be “you won’t want to listen to this every day”, but on the days when you do want to hear some synapse-blasting indie-prog, this will hit the spot mightily. Think of Deerhoof, Flaming Lips and Ponytail playing June Of 44’s songs at double speed. Maybe if Mark Mothersbaugh joined Hella and they decided to become a poppy emo group at the peak of their powers, it’d resemble something similar to Primpce? The guitars and composition are the virtuosic elements here, particularly as the drums are digital in nature (though generally delivered through a “normal drum kit” setting for added subtle disorientation). Extensive track credits are supplied, in case you were wondering what those weird vocals are on “Worm Surprise” (spoiler: various toy commercials from the ’80s and ’90s). Next time your niece or nephew asks to borrow a Frank Zappa record, slip ’em some Primpce instead and rescue them from heading down an unfortunate path.

Prized Pig PPEP 7″ (Tomothy)
Alongside Celebrators, Prized Pig are helping ring-in the Tomothy label with their vinyl debut. I like that Celebrators single plenty, but I think I might enjoy Prized Pig even more, as their specific confluence of styles really tickles my ears. They open with “Mistake”, which starts in full Arab On Radar irritation-mode before switching over to wailing noisy hardcore, as if Crazy Spirit tried to sound like KARP. An aggravated goblin on vocals, some heavy and perky chug, I’m sold! “Toothless Tom” follows with some angularity, eventually ripping into a stompy breakdown that feels like it should’ve come out on Troubleman Unlimited in 2001 and been my favorite thing I heard that year. “Race Car” gets the b-side, and let me tell you, it’s the most Monorchid-y sounding song I’ve ever heard that didn’t feature Chris Thomson on vocals. I love it! Weird vaguely blues-y riff (is one of the guitarists using a slide?), wild rowdy energy and sass but still undeniably punk music made for punk ears to enjoy. I’m constantly missing shows, but a song like “Race Car” has me really jonesing for the energy and shared particulate exposure that comes with a live gig. Is the title a riff on that early Butthole Surfers album? I hope to ask them about it in person someday after they fog up my glasses with a red-hot rendition of “Race Car”!

Profligate Too Numb To Know LP (Wharf Cat)
Of all the DIY noise guys turned synth-pop auteurs, I’d say that Profligate is the most convincing by far. I loved 2018’s Somewhere Else, a subdued and morose noise-pop album par excellence, and I think I might even love this new one more. Too Numb To Know is his purest synth-wave love affair yet, an album full of wavey bangers that are complex yet direct. Everything gets employed, from buzzing electronics to electric guitars, and Profligate does so in a way that seems natural and effortless, almost making a mockery of the numerous gothy synth-wave acts out there with far lesser tools in their boxes. “Hang Up” is easily the synth-wave song of the year, a relentless banger with magnificent stutter-delay vocals; it’s a fingernail’s length from TikTok virality, and while that would be enough for me to consider this album a success, its surrounded by other highlights. I don’t want my macho tendencies to turn everything into a competition, but he outdoes The Soft Moon’s industrial-pop on “Drink A Spider”, revels in a synth-violin waltz that has me wishing La Roux made another album like her debut, and essentially has me wondering why Profligate isn’t receiving equal billing to Drab Majesty and Boy Harsher in today’s upper echelon of independent cold-wave. Maybe because he looks like some plain civilian you’d see riding the bus as opposed to a photogenic weirdo in extravagant makeup and black PVC shrouded in fog and lasers? He doesn’t want fog and lasers, though, and you know what? Neither do I.

Public Acid Condemnation 7″ (Beach Impediment)
We’re at that time of year where best-of lists are unavoidable, and I’m sure you’ve been seeing Public Acid on many of those lists, as I sure have. They’ve got a cool name, people are raving about them, and there’s nothing I want more than to be knocked in the gut by a ferocious blast of hardcore-punk, but Condemnation has me approvingly tapping along as opposed to pulling the bricks out of my chimney with my teeth. Maybe if they were the first modern group to deliver rapid-fire twists and turns in the form of Scandinavian-inspired hardcore, my eyes would widen, but I can’t help but file this EP a millimeter below all those great Impalers and Warthog and Loose Nukes and S.H.I.T. records that are currently keeping me warm. Public Acid’s riffs are relentless and twisted, the drumming is as frantic and enthusiastic as any given Kriegshög track, and the vocalist sounds like a winded cynocephalus trying to scare you out of the forest (which of course is a smart choice considering how many bootleg Zouo tees I’ve seen over the past year), so I think this one comes down to the actual sound quality for me. Any given Impalers record sounds loud as hell no matter where my volume knob is pointing, but Condemnation is the opposite in that I find myself constantly turning it up, never quite feeling fully enveloped by their fury. Maybe these six meaty songs needed more than seven inches to spread themselves out on, or perhaps the vinyl masterer didn’t know how to expand these songs into the detonations they should’ve / could’ve been, but I put on an Ostgut Ton 12″ right after my last spin of Condemnation and my roof nearly caved in from the sonic force, as I had forgotten to turn the volume back down. Presumably, the best Public Acid experience is a, uhh, public one, which I hope to rectify in 2021, novel coronavirus be damned.

Quintron + Miss Pussycat Goblin Alert! LP (Goner)
Quintron and Miss Pussycat are my generation’s Lux Interior and Poison Ivy, right? Both couples have deeply forged identities, decades of punk creativity under their belts and are just so distinctly cool as hell (perhaps the most important aspect), lunatics who somehow managed to find their perfect heterosexual match in this mixed-up world that tries its best to snuff out freaky underground pioneers. It would bring a tear to my eye if I wasn’t too busy giggling at album opener “Teenagers Don’t Know Shit”, a ludicrous (and accurate) swamp-garage romp that sets the mood perfectly. The rest of the album follows a big-band version of the sound Miss Pussycat and Quintron have solidified over the past twenty years plus: organ-driven party-punk that laughs in the face of boredom featuring a long list of friends on drums, maracas, Mini-Moog Voyagers, all the essentials. Who else could write a song chastising the Texas rest-stop megamart Buc-ee’s with demented slide-guitar and a grooving disco beat? Haters of fun will certainly pass this one by in favor of obscure Scandi-punk reissues or mopey cold-wave, and I almost feel bad for them, as songs like “Stroller Pollution” do more to illuminate the contemporary American urban condition than any dozen skull-covered punk records that also came out this year, and they do so hilariously. Remember when these two adopted XBXRX for a minute there, too? Truly a couple of saints, it’s no wonder they’re from New Orleans!

Rodney Dangerous Fantasies 2xLP (Almost Ready)
Filing this one under R not D, as it seems Rodney Dangerous is the name of the project as opposed to a persona inhabited by bandleader Rafay Rashid. His previous band Ravi Shavi had a few records on Almost Ready, raucous and charming garage-rock that failed to make much of a splash, and with Rodney Dangerous he’s going big from the get-go, a double album filled with party music of varying styles and orientations. Guitars are in use, but merely one participant in the gathering than the central focus – this is music that seems indebted to the turn of the ’80s NYC club scene, music that moves with the energy of Ze Records, Blondie and new-wave punk. The synths aren’t retro, though, which often causes Matthew Dear (with band) and Julian Casablancas (solo) to come to my mind as I listen. Rashid has more than his fair share of charm and charisma, and he leaves no stone unturned, be it a coked-out disco romp (“Sweatin'”) or some Roger Troutman funk (“He Can Hang”), acting like he’s Prince no matter who’s watching. It generally works, sounding like an opening that Lou Reed would’ve actively hated but made a point of appearing at anyway. The parody name might keep some of y’all away (which I understand), but the rest of you party people have two full LPs of this stuff to dig into if it sounds at all appealing.

TV Freaks People LP (Schizophrenic)
Do you think TV Freaks and Cola Freaks ever hang out? That’d be my kinda party, guzzling syrupy sodas with multiple flat-screen HDs blaring! Anyway, it’s been five years since the last album from Hamilton, Ontario’s TV Freaks, and they’re still at it, with a sound that’s undoubtedly maturing without losing its way. It’s evident in listening to People that TV Freaks are forever in love with speedy garage-inflected punk music, but they temper that with songs that allow David O’Connor to stretch out a bit, delving into characters (see “Destined For Stardom”) and playing with the concept of being a singer in a punk band while actually also being one. Even a moody drifter like “Grain Of Sand” fits in well here, a somber song reminiscent of The Saints’ early ’80s albums. I’m also reminded of Buzzcocks, Unnatural Helpers, The Adverts and a dozen other classic or retro-classic punk groups, but TV Freaks own their sound enough that they manage to transcend a pure genre exercise into a loving homage with just enough personal character to keep it interesting. They seem to know that they’re not topping anyone’s Spotify year-end lists, and revel in the freedom that comes with not being indebted to current trends or rising social-media engagement statistics. They’re probably going gaga over all the streaming TV options now, too!

Typical Girls Typical Girls 7″ (Happiest Place)
Amazingly, here’s a group calling themselves Typical Girls who seem to have no relation to the sound of “Typical Girls” (the Slits song) or Typical Girls (the ongoing series of post-punk compilations), released on a quality Swedish post-punk label. Surely they must be aware of the connotations the name carries, but their music is pure throwback pop-rock, floating like a feather in the breeze, far from the land of scrappy guitars and rigid drumming. I’m reminded most of Daisies, probably because I’m still listening to their recent album a whole bunch, in the way that Typical Girls utilize soft dancey beats (some nice bongos on opener “Las Palmas”), glistening guitars and angelic vocals to replicate the butterflies one felt in their stomach as they walked into the middle school dance circa 1995. Of course, Typical Girls share the same home of origin as The Cardigans, and they do their alterna-dance-pop ancestry proud. “Tension” even has a slight Caribbean feel to the rhythm, recalling Cosima’s great single from last year (there’s another artist I’m waiting on new material from!). Sunny, happy, groovy alt-pop for bellbottoms and bucket hats, sure to melt the frost on your window no matter how miserable this winter might become.

Werewolf Jones Premium LP (Big Neck)
Simon Hanselmann is the wonderful cartoonist responsible for the character Werewolf Jones, but it’s unclear if this bears relation to the Michigan punk band of the same name. Is there room in the world for two Werewolf Joneses?? I’d say so, particularly as this band seems to be content in slumming around their hometown, not trying to bother anyone who doesn’t want to be bothered. They’ve got a scuzzy slow-motion punk sound going, familiar to fans of Drunks With Guns and early Nirvana (who among us aren’t fans of those two?), simplistic songs played with an air of frustration and resentment. Adam Hunter’s vocals vaguely remind me of Blaine Cook, maybe if Blaine was nursing a particularly sore throat and just wanted to run through some Fartz songs instead of pushing his larynx to meet The Accüsed’s lofty demands. Nothing funny, no outrageous attention-seeking moments, no over-the-top “LOL so random”-ness that today’s youth salivates over, just some basic-ass mid-paced grunge-punk for the day-drinking bar crowd and the teens who will one day graduate to day-drinking barfly status. Michigan gets mighty cold this time of year, and I bet Werewolf Jones are out there walking around in busted-up Vans, grumbling into knockoff N95 masks and freezing their toes off.