Archive for 'Reviews'

Reviews – March 2019

Black Merlin Kode 12″ (Die Orakel)
After releasing killer twelves by Upsammy and Edward, I was willing to give a white German dude by the name of “Black Merlin” a try simply due to Die Orakel’s track record. I’m still not grasping the name (is it like a black magic version of Merlin? I hope?), but the music on this 12″ explains the label’s interest, as it’s a beautiful EP, equally as distinctive as the aforementioned labelmates. Whereas Upsammy and Edward were more or less making club tracks, however, Kode twinkles and flashes like remote galaxies on a cloudless evening. Black Merlin sets his modular processes in motion and subtly tweaks their forms for the length of each of these three tracks, resulting in what might resemble Dopplereffekt recreating a Terry Riley piece. These tracks consist of hardly more than a few layered sequences of synthesized bells, but they really soar through these narrow confines, with all the energy and vigor of cellular life as viewed through a microscope. They say that energy is never created, only constantly transferred throughout the universe, which makes me really hope my energy travels through one of these analog synth arpeggios following my death, if only for a little while.

Boy Harsher Careful LP (Nude Club)
Once I finally got hip to Boy Harsher (my greatest musical discovery last year!), it was all over for me – here is a group that distills moody synth-pop down to its most potent and primal essence. Their song “Pain” goes through my head at least once a week (even in moments where I’m not actually experiencing pain), so I did the right thing and camped out in front of Tower Records a day before their new album Careful was released (read: pre-ordered on Bandcamp) and it was worth the effort! While there isn’t a standout cut to rival hits like “Country Girl” or the aforementioned “Pain”, and there are at least a couple tracks of pleasant atmospheric filler, Careful is fantastic, full of seductive, neon-lit minimal-synth-pop; in other words, exactly what I wanted. Vocalist Jae Matthews continues to sound like Lady Gaga’s bedroom speaking voice over a long-distance phone line (or so I imagine), and Augustus Muller’s beats are wiry and sleek, the perfect synthetic housing for Matthews’ tales of lust and unlust. Boy Harsher never overload their songs with music – only the most essential beats, pulses, melodies and percussive elements are invoked, which is key to their success (and my enjoyment). Too many other dark-wave acts get caught up in their own fog, whereas Boy Harsher cut through like a beam of dark-red light, not afraid to harness techno’s pulsing rhythms and all the better for it. Matthews sounds as mysteriously wounded as ever here, and her eerie pathos connects these songs to an emotional present-day, which perfectly balances with Muller’s retro-vintage selection of synth sounds. If there’s only room for one EBM/goth/synth group in your collection/Spotify queue, it’s gotta be this one.

Thomas Bush Old And Red LP (Men Scryfa)
Gloriously strange album here from one of the thousands of men on this planet currently named Thomas Bush. This Thomas Bush is in or around London, and appears to pal around with other England-based sonic-tricksters like Rupert Clervaux (who mastered this album) and John T. Gast. Personally, I’d love to join these three for tea, as I was already a fan of Clervaux and Gast, and now Bush has warmly entered my consciousness care of Old And Red. It’s a weird one, to be sure, but not weird in the same way as everyone else; rather, Bush attacks outdated modes of songwriting with his own inscrutable logic, utilizing electronic percussion, live guitars and pianos (and whatever else), MIDI sampling, essentially anything he can get his hands on. I’m reminded of reissued obscurities like Mark Tucker’s In The Sack – private-press albums by lonely people who wandered free of genre (or audience) through songs that incorporate new-wave, piano ballads, post-punk and mainstream pop. I’m also reminded a bit of the smoother end of M Squared’s roster ala The Makers Of The Dead Travel Fast or Patrick Gibson, not to mention The Native Cats in the way that Bush unwinds his seedy tales over minimalist electronic percussion and moody bass. While reminiscent in spirit of the many adventurous musicians I’ve just mentioned, Bush is no imitator – the songs of Old And Red are entrancing and unsettling in equal measure.

Civilistjävel! Civilistjävel! LP (no label)
Quick un-sponsored advertisement: anyone else get emails from the Canadian label / distro Séance Centre? I’m not sure how they found me, but they have really dug into their own delectable little niche of sub-underground music both old and new, mostly trading in artists who exist on the outskirts of ambient, jazz, techno, funk, pop, singer-songwriter… whatever, really. Their quality level is disturbingly high, with the majority of their stock consisting of artists averse to simple classification. I say this because that’s where I picked up this Civilistjävel! album, and it’s something I wouldn’t have discovered otherwise. And best of all, I love it! This mysterious group is described as “from Sweden and primarily active in the ’90s”, so I’m not sure if this is a retrospective of previously-unrelated material or recently-recorded or what, but my ignorance of the proceedings only enhances my enjoyment. This is an album of stark and moody minimalist electronics, occasionally dipping into mournful melodies or drifty fourth-world percussion. It’s all instrumental, and the mood that Civilistjävel! is striking, one of deep isolation and alluring mystery. It could turn out that this is all a ruse and Civilistjävel! is actually some new Oneohtrix Point Never side-project, but I’m already so head-over-heels for it that I’m not sure I’d even mind.

Cookie Brooklyn & The Crumbs Is There Logic In Pop? 7″ (Epic Sweep)
I know, the band name reads like some miserable group wedged between Sunflower Bean and Jacuzzi Boys at a sponsor-branded Coachella afterparty, but bear with me here – this is not that! Cookie Brooklyn & The Crumbs are from New Zealand somewhere, and if you’re a fan of artsy post-punk that isn’t pretentious, or DIY dance-punk that’s not generic, you need to hear me out. “Is There Logic In Pop?” is a great title (apparently adapted from a 1996 interview with Mayo Thompson), and they do it justice with their stripped-down, no-nonsense tune. Groovy bass, tight drums, gang vocals, and just the right amount of guitar splatter has me imagining the glorious intersection of Gang Of Four and The Kamikaze Sex Pilots. The b-side “Puff Of Air” is great too, dropping fast lyrics over a slow groove in a manner that recalls Black Eyes (it’s the manic vocals, stalking groove and dubby bass). These songs could fit as easily on an early K Records tape comp as they could be a Desperate Bicycles side-project, which is to say they’re both versatile and hard to pin down. Looks like Cookie Brooklyn (sans The Crumbs) has a tape from a few years back called Get Out Of My Dreams, Get Under My Car, and at least one of us needs to hear that!

Leighton Craig Diamond Eye LP (Bruit Direct Disques)
In a time when streaming is king and any music that doesn’t immediately provoke a pleasant response is ignored or skipped, it’s reassuring to see that Bruit Direct remains dedicated to putting out music that takes a little work to get into, or at least music that doesn’t have a built-in audience eager to attach it to their branded lifestyle. Hope I don’t sound too bitter! Anyway, this one comes from Australian musician Leighton Craig, his first vinyl long-player after a handful of solo releases (including CDs and lathes) and albums by his group Primitive Motion. This one is mighty lonely; it sounds like the work of a man drifting out to sea on a Casio running on depleted batteries. If Harold could write and perform songs using his purple crayon, they might end up like this – there’s even one tune that sounds like a lo-fi synth version of “Little Drummer Boy”, if the singer muffled through the words he couldn’t remember. It’s charming in its subtlety, and comes with the perfect little sprinklings of sonic perversion – a droney track of tape-hiss and soft cymbal reverberation cozies up nicely next to one of the many wistful keyboard lullabies found here. If memory-foam was a musical genre as well as a style of pillow, Diamond Eye might be its marquee album.

Victor De Roo ‘Nachtdichter’ Poëzie Door Alex Deforce 12″ (Knekelhuis)
I continually turn toward the Dutch electronic label Knekelhuis for guidance and inspiration, and while they always come through with something cool and weird and enjoyably crazy, this Victor De Roo EP operates on its own level. It sounds like an old cigarette-smelling love-note found crumpled in a library-borrowed copy of Curzio Malaparte’s The Skin – beautiful, bewitching, probably a little depressing, all with a mystery never to be solved. De Roo’s music is dark and lustrous synth-based noir, sometimes rhythmic and sometimes untethered, like the opening credits of a Charles Bronson film translated on a minimal budget for a Dutch audience. Have I sold you on Victor De Roo yet? The kicker is De Roo’s vocals, as he speaks over these instrumentals in a calm and serious tone, somewhere between funeral poetry and a grisly homicide detective taking us through his thought process for catching the culprit. I’m picturing Detective Wallander wandering through an artist’s workspace after their eerie disappearance as “Beland In Bed” ominously rolls through over tense guitar and electrified drones. It’s great! I’m not aware of any genre that comfortably suits ‘Nachtdichter’ Poëzie Door Alex Deforce, which means De Roo needs to keep putting out records like this and force the issue.

Forra Mostrame Lo Peor EP 7″ (La Vida Es Un Mus)
La Vida pumps out more new records than practically any other contemporary hardcore-punk label this side of Iron Lung. I check in when I can (especially whenever anything Primetime-related is released), but some of my personal ‘core-respondents (get it?) were calling this Forra EP a can’t-miss, and I’d have to agree. In circumstances I do not comprehend, the members of Forra come from Mexico, Argentina, Catalonia and The Canaries, but they converged in London as a group to create what might sadly be their only EP. The postcard insert that comes with the 7″ looks like it fell out of 1982, and the music sounds similarly, a swirling lo-fi vortex of booming snare drum, gnarly guitar and barked vocals. I’m reminded of no-budget hardcore groups like The Nixe and Bloedbad, or similar international hardcore-punk bands that only ever made it to trade-based cassette compilations, bands who are given a 1″x2″ rectangle to fill with their lyrics, artwork and mailing address. It’s highly endearing by that aspect alone, but these six songs are top-shelf for the genre, sounding raw in a classic sense (not today’s digital GarageBand hiss and compression), and Forra play them as if they know all too well their time as a group is limited. It was recommended to me, and now I’m recommending it to you!

Headroom New Heaven 12″ (Ever/Never)
Allow me to take you on a psychedelic journey to the deepest recesses of your third eye. That’s right, we’re headed to… Connecticut! Not sure why such a scene of guitar-based experimentalists has sprung up in the sleepy, pizza-centric town of New Haven, CT, or if that’s simply my inaccurate perception of things, but with Headroom, Mountain Movers (who might just be a different configuration of Headroom?) and Stefan Christensen (who probably plays in both bands too?), there’s something noteworthy happening there. I’ve enjoyed all that I’ve heard from that crew, but this new Headroom 12″ is distinctly pleasant. The ensemble softly simmers through these three unhurried tunes, all of which showcase the multilingual guitars of Headroom leader Kryssi Battalene. If you thought a scorching, mournful guitar solo couldn’t work over a cozy, sedated bass-line, I invite you to lend an ear to “City Lights” and think again! I’m reminded of Wooden Shjips at their most poised and interesting, as well as the cosmic swirl of Bardo Pond, and The Velvet Underground at their most somber and/or noisiest. The biggest cut is the b-side’s “Skyliner”, which goes from soft to not-so-soft to kinda-loud to booming over eleven minutes, not unlike Davis Redford Triad in its natural levitational properties. I doubt anyone under the age of thirty listens to this sorta stuff, but that’s fine by me – they can go do their Fortnite dances while Headroom slips us aged folk through alternate planetary dimensions.

Andy Human & The Reptoids Psychic Sidekick LP (Total Punk)
Punk is a unique art-form, in that you pretty much only get worse at it as you go along. Can you think of any punk groups who released their finest work ten years into their career? And yet, Andy Human contradicts this theorem with the last few years of his music, proving that in some rare cases, people can get better at punk. I’m referring to Andy Human’s recent work with The Reptoids: the 2017 single on Total Punk and, in particular, this new full-length. He struts out his punk with a real laissez faire attitude on this one, as though he’s the type of guy who steps on a steaming pile of dog waste on the sidewalk and merely shrugs, not even bothering to find a curb to scrape it on. He shares that attitude with classic groups like Vox Pop and Jet Bronx & The Forbidden, and he shares their sonic template too, one of casual slacker-punk from an era before slackers were a codified thing. With decades’ worth of music history at his disposal, Human borrows liberally from anything that works, like punchy post-punk (“You Like Your Job”), saloon-style piano, the sweltering DIY skank of early Scritti Politti, Iggy Pop’s haircuts from 1979 through 1986, maybe even some of the more offbeat hardcore-related sounds emanating from Southern California circa 1984. Human makes it all work naturally, in what very well might be his finest musical achievement to date. Which, if my calculations are correct, means his next album will be even better.

Is In Unsamble Is The Belly / In The Belly LP (Gilgongo)
Gilgongo brings us some group improvisation from the Is In Unsamble, a group featuring Chiara Giovando (of Harrius) alongside Juk Suk Reet Meate and Oblivia (of Smegma) and four other friendly weirdos. The New Weird America vibes are strong here, no doubt – the organic clatter found within these two pieces certainly calls to mind the lighter sides of No Neck Blues Band or Sunburned Hand Of The Man, as well as the ’70s collective improv of groups like CCMC and Nihilist Spasm Band. While they sure do like to hoot and holler (and turn spokes on wheels, crank pepper grinders, chase chickens out of the roost, rub a rusty gas-tank with a wire brush, etc etc), these folks are keen listeners too, content to let tones drift in and out of focus and squelch only when squelching is absolutely necessary. Certainly has a “local opener for solo Thurston Moore show” vibe, but come to think of it that could be said for 90% of Gilgongo’s output. This sort of music is certainly fun to listen to, but I sense that the folks of Is In Unsamble particularly relished the opportunity to sit down together, bird-whistles, jingle bells and broken oscillators in hand, and brew up the heady stew that became Is The Belly / In The Belly.

Paul Jansen & Zn. De Toerisme EP 2×7″ (De Vrije Keijser)
There’s a nice selection of tantalizing obscurities discussed here this month, but this double 7″ EP from Paul Jansen & Zn. (which apparently stands for “Paul Jansen and his son”) might take the cake. First off, I love double 7″s – there’s just something uniquely perfect about them. Not too many sides as to be annoying (I’m looking at you, Rancid box-set), just the right amount of preciousness and difficulty, and it just seems inherently punk. And in this case, a gatefold cover and released in a limited edition of 150 copies (which used to be impossibly scant but now is probably the normal quantity any underground artist could hope to sell)… well, I haven’t even talked about the music yet and I’m already gushing. So let’s get to it! The music made by this father-son duo is bizarre, incredibly stark electro that is rarely more than one beat track at a time and some spoken vocals run through distortion. “Raamprostitutie” sounds like the sickliest Beau Wanzer track ever put to tape, but “De Fluit” opts for whistling in lieu of vocals, and “O Hoofd” features a men’s choir harmonizing with a slight sense of inebriation. It’s strange, but also incredibly charming, and could probably move some bodies in a sweaty basement (particularly the Paranoid London-esque groove of “Nakketikker”). I barely know who made this music, and I’m fairly sure where it was made (the Netherlands), but as far as how, why, and what this music is supposed to be, I’m enchantingly left in the dark.

Jay Glass Dubs Epitaph LP (Bokeh Versions)
As far as I’m concerned, the music of Jay Glass Dubs could remain in pleasant stasis forever – his dub-minded abstraction of hazy and blissful electronics is impressively graceful and enunciated. I’m completely content if he wants to make the same record over and over, which he’s done at least a couple times, but there are notable sonic leaps scattered through his ever-growing discography too, like the great collaboration with Leslie Winer and now this, his newest full-length. No, it’s not a dub edit of the biggest pop-punk label of the ’90s (don’t I wish), it’s an album that brings new elements into his specific aesthetic with glorious results. The presence of vocals is most noteworthy, not just because it’s new, but also because there are plenty of them (someone named Yorgia Karidi, and presumably Mr. Glass Dubs himself), and they bring an odd humanity to the proceedings, beautifully spiraling outward like the lemon peel on the cover. I’m reminded of Andy Stott at times, but the prettier end of his catalog… the beats of Jay Glass Dubs remain constricted and soft, like the soft flap of waves on a bay, not muscle-flexing techno power. I probably could’ve just cut right to the chase and said “if you ever wanted to hear the velvety tones of 4AD’s mid-’80s catalog dipped in a jet-black puddle of dub, Epitaph is just the ticket”, but I love to talk too much, especially about records like this.

Th’ Losin Streaks This Band Will Self-Destruct In T-Minus LP (Slovenly)
Anyone else dream of being in a band with the band’s name or logo painted on their van when they were a kid? My desire probably dates back to first seeing Scooby Doo’s Mystery Machine, and naturally increased when I encountered Flipper’s van, The Meatmen’s “Crime” van, and of course the Melvins’ old van that Kurt Cobain tagged up. It just seems like the pinnacle of band-hood, so Th’ Losin Streaks have every right to be proud of theirs, brandishing their band name on the side and prominent on this album’s cover. It’s a form of rock n’ roll fun that seems to be dying out, but Th’ Losin Streaks are keeping it alive in their music too, a raucous garage-rock record that actually seems to be having quite a bit of fun. I’m reminded of the earliest Black Lips records, The Rolling Stones (I guess that goes without saying, but I’m saying it), some Link Wray and The Monks too, and while these are all fairly common reference points, Th’ Losin Streaks sound like they’re living the dream, not imitating it. Even something as simple as the way the lead vocalist screams “yeah!” to kick in a song comes across as sincere and enjoyably unhinged, not as though they’re following confusing Ikea instructions to assemble Rocksöngingen or something. Rock music such as this is nearing extinction at this point, but just like Leslie Nielsen in his 1995 Dracula spoof, Th’ Losin Streaks are dead and loving it.

Mikan Mukku 缶 / ちんダン 7″ (Bitter Lake)
Bitter Lake continues its deep dive into the furthest reaches of Japan’s hidden ’80s synth-pop scene, and on 7″ single no less! It couldn’t be timelier, as reissue comps of Japanese corporate-ambient and solar-funk are selling better than the majority of the punk records reviewed in these pages, so if they were ever going to reissue two songs from two separate 1986 7″ flexi compilations by a group called Mikkan Mukku, now is the time! “缶” is an ornate chant, lurching forward on traditional percussion, woeful vocals and an unexpected Ghostbusters-style synth disruption. “ちんダン” has a similarly disjointed propulsion, full of stops and starts, and it feels a bit more developed; the inherent theatricality of their instrumentation results in a cooler, slicker song this time around. I have to wonder if this sound is something they continued to develop, or if these two songs were the only documented proof of Mikan Mukku’s brief existence, a tiny creative blip along the infinite branches of Japan’s musical underground. I can only assume that if more recordings of Mikan Mukku exist, Bitter Lake is currently wrapping them up into another attractive and stately vinyl reissue. Can I request a double 8″?

Muro Ataque Hardcore Punk LP (Beach Impediment)
If I had to sum up modern DIY hardcore-punk in one record, this Muro 12″ would be a fine candidate. Muro are a Colombian hardcore group, and Ataque Hardcore Punk was originally released on the Norwegian label Byllepest Distro in 2017 (with cassette versions released in Chile and Malaysia), now pressed for American audiences by the ever-reliable Beach Impediment. The cover design of Ataque Hardcore Punk appears to accidentally fuse the art used by Hoax on their 2012 Painkiller 7″ with that of their 2013 La Vida Es Un Mus 7″ – a mushy skull trapped in a crumbling brick enclosure – and to complete the timeliness, their music is raw and scrappy pogo-core that might remind you of Crucifix, S.H.I.T. and Blazing Eye, with a touch of Raw Power’s buzzsaw thrash and a light sprinkling of UK ’82 songcraft. And like most new hardcore groups that stick to this formula, it’s pretty good! That said, I can’t blame anyone for growing a little tired of the predictability of it all, but at least these are Colombians doing it, convening with like-minded conspirators on an international level. If you want your hardcore to be chock full of hand-drawn skulls and angry, no-frills attitude, Muro are here to satisfy. It might be fairly standard-issue for today, but it beats the “mysterious lurker in a ski-mask” aesthetic that dominated the scene some ten years prior.

Natural Man & The Flamin’ Hot Band Natural Man & The Flamin’ Hot Band 7″ (Neck Chop)
Kansas City, MO has more loony punk bands per capita than any other American city at this point, right? Much like I imagined Providence, RI in the early ’00s, I’m assuming the streets are overrun in young weirdos wearing homemade neon clothes, carrying hilariously undersized amps and cruddy instruments to the gig scheduled to take place in the parking lot of a burger joint or at the bottom of a half-pipe. There’s at least like six people in this group, and not one of them is a background player – it seems like each member is vying for the listener’s attention through these four tunes, and it makes for a glorious cacophony. Imagine Black Randy (with full Metrosquad) playing twice as fast, The Gizmos on Mountain Dew Code Red instead of booze and weed, or maybe if Warm Bodies (who share at least one member with Natural Man) toned down the ‘core and turned up the good vibes. If this band doesn’t print their t-shirts on ugly tie-dye, I’ll delete this website right now. For as hectic and frantic as these tunes are, they transmit their lunatic fun like a virus, curling the hairs on your head and turning that frown upside down, a skill that isn’t to be taken for granted in these dark days. By-the-books punk rock this is not, yet it’s just as (if not more) punk than any other groups coming to a basement near you.

Night Slaves Night Slaves III LP (no label)
Before even listening to Buffalo’s regrettably-named Night Slaves, they were entertaining to look at: the duo of David Kane (of first-wave synth-poppers Trek With Quintronic) and John Toohill (of prog-punkers Alpha Hopper) looks like The Undertaker and his nu-metal son. It’s a far superior look to most bands calling themselves industrial or synth-pop these days, and their music sets a higher bar too, gleefully pushing back the standard stylistic barriers into bolder, more ostentatious realms. Kane has decades of synth-work under his belt, and he lends that confidence and grace into these booming tunes, which often feel like Spiritualized reborn as electro-pop (Night Slaves aren’t afraid to utilize a vocal choir when appropriate), or perhaps a radio-rock version of minimal-wave? If you played me “Forgotten Ghosts” and told me it was Twenty-One Pilots, I’d believe you, while also wondering when they got good. There’s a little Bad Seeds in here too, seeping into the potent vibe of today’s youthful alt-rock hair-metal scene that runs throughout Night Slaves III. You’re probably a little perplexed by what you’re reading, and trust me, I don’t get it either; I’m particularly flummoxed by the fact that Night Slaves really make it all work, as if there is no style or musical element they couldn’t comfortably blend into their dramatic, stadium-sized-but-DIY synth-rock.

Ailie Ormston The Sedate / Tony Soprano Fashion Inspo. LP (50% Pure)
Those in need of some new corrosive n’ cruddy industrial bangers needn’t look further than the debut vinyl platter from Glasgow’s Ailie Ormston. Two “separate works” comprise this 12″, as noted in the title, and they display two distinct forms of electro-seizure, both of which delight my ears to no end. The a-side (The Sedate) is a punishing suite of high-impact klang, not unlike the harder end of Diagonal Records’ catalog. Beats overload speakers and are deployed haphazardly, with only the subtlest of melodic intervention occurring in later tracks… this side is all about thuggish, tetanus-riddled percussion and the joy it can bring. You probably wanted to hear more about the Tony Soprano Fashion Inspo. side though – what a title! – and it’s similarly mangled and grotesque, but it highlights textures and sensations over brutality. Perhaps if you let two cats walk across your synths, they might produce a similarly unsteady racket, but why bother setting all that up when Ormston’s already got you covered? I’m reminded of Nautical Almanac at their manic best, maybe some of Forcefield’s fevered analog channels too, but Ailie Ormstron feels like less of a basement-noise weirdo and more like someone who might co-host an NTS Radio show and play unreleased NHK Yx Koyxen dubs on it. Tony would be proud.

Priors New Pleasure LP (Slovenly)
Montreal has had its share of antagonistic synth-punk for at least a few decades now… something about the culture and climate just seems to breed sneering punks with keyboards. Take Priors for example, a relatively new quintet who produce aggressive and clinical garage-punk with frigid synth overtones. At least one member of the band looks like someone who would successfully build a time machine in his basement, maybe that plays into it? Their vocalist has an appropriately big mouth (with just the right acidic sting care of slap-back reverb), the guitars are jangling their disapproval and the keys come in only when electro-shock therapy remains the final option. Reminds me of The Stitches, or some of those other post-Y2K punk groups that would get drunk and wear scarves. It’s not a new style or sound, but Priors wear it proudly and confidently, as if the neighbors calling the cops to complain about all the noise they’re making are the real jerks, not them.

Rubber Blanket New Garbage Truck / Pedestrian Walkway 7″ (Spacecase)
I can’t help but think about the part in England’s Hidden Reverse wherein someone describes Sleazy Christopherson’s bedroom in the early Coil days, a painted-black room with a bed dressed in rubber sheets, when listening to this new group. It’s an enjoyable image, but it doesn’t quite suit Rubber Blanket, who are a new recording trio featuring Lars Finberg of The Intelligence and Brad Eberhard and Jun Ohnuki of Wounded Lion. The first Intelligence record received countless spins in my apartment (and even more in my car), and I’m glad to hear that same shambolic-yet-catchy DIY-punk essence within “New Garbage Truck”, which sputters across junky drums and a playful melody. “Pedestrian Walkway” works its magic from an even cruddier beat and a bloopy-bleepy keyboard, much in that early Intelligence fashion, sounding like Suicide guesting on Sesame Street. Very pleasant! I appreciate that both songs approach plain, negligible aspects of modern society with empathy and twisted appeal – I would love to get Rubber Blanket’s take on blowdriers, dog-walking and cellar doors, for example. It’s nice to have a full band and tour and “go for it” and all that, but Rubber Blanket seems to be more about putting together diminutive oddball pop songs with friends, and it suits them perfectly.

Sporten Är Död Sporten Är Död LP (Fördämning Arkiv)
If you share my tastes even a little bit, you were salivating just as I was when you first heard about this Sporten Är Död reissue (maybe that’s right now): a beyond-obscure Swedish DIY post-punk group, whose sole cassette was limited to a meager 100 copies (which, by today’s standards, would be a readily-available vinyl pressing, but I digress). Their name clearly means something like “sports are dead”, they look detached and unintentionally cool, and the reissue comes with their full tape remastered in addition to a live set, not to mention a handsome booklet insert comprised of band interviews, photographs and biographical info. You probably already ordered it, didn’t you? Well, I can confirm the package is as great as it sounds, but the music, well… it’s pretty much just okay. None of these tracks have particularly jumped out at me, and while the live set contains only a little overlap from the recorded session, I’ve found this collection of songs to be remarkable in its unremarkableness. They’re a plain group exhibiting plain music – slightly poppy but not catchy, rudimentary but not sloppy or noisy – and while it makes for the perfect soundtrack to reading the booklet, I wouldn’t rank them in the top twenty-five Swedish post-punk groups. Can’t blame you if you ordered one, though – the essence of Sporten Är Död, if not their music, is irresistible.

Strange Passage Shouldn’t Be Too Long LP (Syncro System)
Read this blog for a month or two and it should be fairly clear that I’m no indie-popper – sure, it’ll roll through here and there, and I’ll be polite about it, but it’s neither my bread nor my butter. Keep that in mind as I proceed to praise the hell out of Strange Passage’s debut album, a pedigreed indie-pop record that improves upon their 12″ EP (which I also liked a whole bunch). This is an indie-pop record through and through, in the classical sense, but the group’s keen mix of tenacity and tenderness, not to mention their meticulous performance and sharp songwriting, breeds widespread appeal. The music is generally pretty fast (with down-picking speeds to rival punk), but vocalist Renato Montenegro delivers his vocals in a calm and assured tone, and it’s simply a great combination. His voice falls somewhere between Michael Stipe and Calvin Johnson with regards to pitch and delivery, but he’s always on key and keeps his emotions in check, and it really works for me. No overt melancholy or brooding, Shouldn’t Be Too Long is an enticing suite of rollicking and energetic guitar pop, just waiting for someone who finally decided to dump their Smiths records out of Morrissey-shame and is looking for something new and exciting to replace them.

Throat Bareback LP (Svart)
Finland’s Throat have always struck me as a group who takes their noise-rock seriously, but their newest full-length Bareback seems particularly resolute. It’s a dynamic record, one that isn’t afraid to get unsettlingly quiet or ear-piercingly noisy, sometimes in the same track – Throat are clearly doing their best to keep the listener interested without veering too far off the map. What this means is, the majority of the record hits the collision point of post-reunion Swans and ’90s Seattle grunge – think of Alice In Chains performing parts of My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky, or if Michael Gira decided to seek spiritual guidance from Gruntruck and Helmet. I’m surprised I’m not hearing more of this particular sonic combination, or at least more attempts, as it’s not an entirely unlikely pairing, and the results here are nice. The newest Daughters record shares a similar sonic landscape at times (and, to be fair, achieves greatness not found on Bareback), but Throat are less infatuated with atmosphere and electronics, and more likely to grind some post-hardcore riffage into the dirt. Which should drip off nicely after a group trip to the sauna, of course.

Timmy Vulgar’s Genetic Armageddon Music From The Other Side of The Swamp LP (Mind Meld)
Mind Meld is a new offshoot (or mutation?) of the Total Punk / Florida’s Dying family of record production, and what better way to christen a label than with Timmy Vulgar’s newest thing? This man is a living slop-rock legend, with a discography so wide and vast (from cult-faves Clone Defects to Human Eye and beyond) and surely full of gems yet to be discovered by this writer. I check in with his newest material when I can (maybe once a year?), and while I was enjoying the foray Timmy’s Organism was taking into boot-stomping glam-punk, Timmy Vulgar’s Genetic Armageddon pursues a headier trip, as the title might’ve led you to believe. Is this Vulgar’s krautrock moment? His normal assortment of ostentatious guitar sludge, toad-mouthed vocals and red-raw percussion are intact, but he utilizes them in a manner similar to Faust or Brainticket here, drifting through psychedelic alleyways with eyes peeled open from a good trip verging on the bad. Fifteen different tracks are named, but it all flows like two different mind-bending excursions to the bottom of the titular swamp, moving through locked-in jams and trippy sound experiments with ease and purpose. Prior to hearing this one, I would’ve assumed song-shaped rock tunes were Vulgar’s area of expertise, but this out-rock hodgepodge is a particularly dapper fit.

Battle Break 2 compilation LP (PRR! PRR!)
Like most releases on the French PRR! PRR! label, I connected immediately with the first Battle Break compilation, so I was all over this one. The label’s intersectional interests of contemporary underground techno and low-brow sugary cartoon violence matches mine precisely, and this sequel doesn’t disappoint. From what I can gather, the label (and these compilations in particular) are the brainchild of Low Jack (aka B-Ball Joints), but whereas productions under the Low Jack name (as well as his birth name of Philippe Hallais) are mostly pretty serious affairs, the Battle Break series proudly brandishes absurdist comedy within its block-rocking beats. Battle Break 2 is full of wildly entertaining nonsense, as well as some actual bangers… drop the needle at any given point and you might be treated to an acoustic-guitar laden commercial (they’re in French – I wish I knew what was advertised), the mutated grooves of a Maoupa Mazzocchetti cut, Diplo-style Reggaeton madness, a slow-motion Miami bass cut layered with Klezmer fiddle and the sampled voice of a rapper repeating “that’s my shit”, retro power-trance, a mangled pro-wrestler entrance theme, and so forth. It’s all fairly obfuscated too, which adds to the fun – just check the Discogs entry for DJ Wolfi Bernreuther (he contributes “ZYX Mini Mix 2018” to this compilation) and see if it isn’t probably just some elaborate rouse put on by Hallais for his own amusement. You’ll laugh, you’ll twerk, you’ll wish you were playing Street Fighter II while drinking a 40.

Reviews – February 2019

Baby’s Blood Baby’s Blood 7″ (Neck Chop / Blast Of Silence)
After finally warming up to the work of self-aware punk rocker Drew Owen care of his Sick Thoughts album on Goner a few months ago, this EP by his new project Baby’s Blood arrived on my doorstep. Thankfully I’m over 18, because they could get in trouble for distributing this sort of punk-rock filth to minors! This group is Owen and at least one or two new friends he made while currently residing in Finland (you never know if his projects are “real” bands or just him playing all the instruments), and it’s rougher, meaner and undoubtedly more Finnish than Sick Thoughts. Jesus Christ Allin seems to be the main influence at play: tracks like “Against The Law” and “Ready II Die” are delivered in the classic early-GG style of nihilistic-yet-melodic punk, with exaggeratedly disgusted vocals and tight memorable choruses. For whatever apprehension I may have had upon first glance, there’s no denying the righteousness of Baby’s Blood – they come correct with all the right swear words, drug references and gleeful promotion of self-harm, and they’ve got the riffs and style to pull it off. I’ve always been one to live slowly and (hopefully) die old, but records like this tempt me to quicken the pace.

Bruce Sonder Somatic 2xLP (Hessle Audio)
Hessle Audio has been one of my favorite British electronic labels for a while now, but the few full-lengths they’ve released in the past (Pangaea, Pearson Sound) have housed some of the label’s least-enthralling moments. I’ve been loving the past few years’ worth of Bruce EPs, both on and off Hessle, and remained hopeful that he could put together a compelling full-length, especially when I saw the eerie-dance cover image. He didn’t let me down! Sonder Somatic is a big album, if not a surprising one – it makes good on the promise of his previous singles, retaining his signature style of pulsing grooves and oddball production tics. Tracks like “What” and “Elo” are primed to push a hall full of dancing partygoers toward euphoria, but are just as valuable for those of us planted on a couch and eager to dissect the ornate detail and mind-bending construction that went into these tracks. At his best, Bruce excels at connecting with the cerebral as well as the primal, crafting lush techno jams that are as fun to mentally investigate as they are to physically engage in rhythmic gyration. It’s a pretty long record too, eleven healthy cuts across four sides of 12″ vinyl – other techno full-lengths might leave me feeling fatigued, but Sonder Somatic continues to energize.

Bummer Holy Terror LP (Learning Curve)
It says “Holy Terror” at the top of the cover in Black Flag font, but the band is called Bummer, as evidenced by the logo on their kick drum. Or maybe they’re called Peavey, based on all those amps? Anyway, this is the first full-length from this Kansas City-based metal-core outfit, and if you are saddened by thick guitars, screamed vocals and frequent heavy breakdowns, this group will surely live up to their name for you. Their vibe seems to be that of “depressed wise-guy”, full of snarky puns as well as lyrics like “I am just the leftover piece of trash that you forgot to throw out”. Their music is heavier and more metallic than most of the groups who share Bummer’s outlook, calling to mind a punker Strife, or maybe a less-tricky Converge? The vibe is AmRep, whereas the sound is Deathwish. This one comes on fancy tri-color red, white and blue vinyl, as if there was any question as to Bummer’s country of origin. As far as I’m concerned, us Americans originated this art form!

C.H.E.W. Feeding Frenzy LP (Iron Lung)
Through my previous encounters with records by Chicago’s C.H.E.W., I had mentally filed them away as a solid lower-tier hardcore group, one of the many unremarkably-good hardcore-punk acts of today. I was a little surprised to see Iron Lung partaking, but upon listening to Feeding Frenzy, it makes sense, as this debut full-length is a firm step up from their previous EPs. Maybe they simply needed the extra vinyl inches to fully deliver their goods, or perhaps they’ve improved as a group in the past couple years – I’m guessing it’s a little bit of both, as this album sincerely rips. In what manner does it rip, you ask? Well, they blaze through a good number of fast hardcore tunes as though possessed by the ghosts of Talk Is Poison and No Comment, mix it with head-spinning thrash similar to No Statik or Permanent Ruin, and throw in just enough demented weirdness to ensure their dignified position within hardcore-punk’s colorful tapestry. I read somewhere that they were initially influenced by Crass Records and Dead Kennedys, which of course is a fine place to start any band (particularly teenaged ones though, let’s be honest), but those influences seem more mental and emotional than musical, as Feeding Frenzy is a hard-pounding menace in league with S.H.I.T. and Impalers. I wouldn’t expect to see a new release on Crass, but my fingers are crossed for a C.H.E.W. record on Alternative Tentacles.

Chronophage Prolog For Tomorrow LP (Cleta Patra)
Very cool debut here from Austin’s Chronophage on a new label run by Candice Metrailer of Mystic Inane. Chronophage take the opportunity to hone in on the art-rock that was created in the brief window of time that starts after cool punks grew bored with punk and ends before they fully transitioned into college rock. I’m hearing the tuneful yet abstract style of Homosexuals throughout Prolog For Tomorrow, a touch of Eat Skull’s feral pop sensibility, a big heaping of Doc Dart’s Patricia and the first couple Tactics albums, too. Chronophage’s songs are diverse in fidelity, structure and mood – a DIY country skiffle might butt up against a tenderly twee melody that segues into a distorted tape experiment, like a mixtape that seamlessly sticks Girl Ray next to Flying Calvittos and Thin Yoghurts. Chronophage are really bursting with ideas, but it comes out focused and fascinating, not messy or confused, even as seemingly every member of the group takes lead-vocal duties at some point or another. Strongly recommended for any fans of off-kilter DIY rock and the joy it brings.

Civic Those Who No 7″ (Anti-Fade)
Been hearing good things about Melbourne’s Civic ever since their debut 12″ came out last Spring. This new four-track 7″ EP is my first experience with the group, and even considering the large quantity of high-quality, melodically-minded punk bands that’s come out over the past few years, Those Who No is a standout! For some reason, I had it in my head that Civic were a hardcore group, but this is hook-driven anthemic punk, in the manner of groups like Radioactivity, Dillinger Four or even The Exploding Hearts. Probably a little Cocksparrer and Jawbreaker in there too, but Civic don’t sound remotely British or Oi-inspired, nor are they remotely emo or poetic, so more of a slight whiff than a stink of those two. On this plainly-designed EP, Civic jam through their great upbeat punk tunes with choruses that catch your brain by the third verse. They wrap it up with a cover of Brian Eno’s gem “Needle In The Camel’s Eye”, which could easily pass to an unlearned ear as a Civic original thanks to their assured delivery and unflinching attitude. A touch of glam suits this versatile punk group! And as is true with the very best Australian rock groups, Civic feature a member by the name of Roland; he plays bass.

Color TV Color TV LP (Deranged)
Minneapolis’s Color TV follow the preordained path of punk behavior by releasing this, their full-length debut, after a couple 7″ singles and a demo. That’s really the way to do it, isn’t it? Anyway, they were clearly up for the task, as this is a strong effort of frantic skinny-tie punk rock, akin to Jay Reatard, The Vibrators, The Time Flys, Clorox Girls, Dark Thoughts, Buzzcocks, that sorta thing. As far as the style goes, Color TV’s sound is somewhat anonymous – they certainly don’t make any wrong moves, but they don’t do anything to particularly establish themselves from their peers, either. Maybe by just being really tight and good, that’s how they stand out? Actually, scratch that – there are probably more really-good power-pop punk groups playing now than any other time in the past thirty years. It even goes through to their name, which certainly fits well within the genre of established punk tropes, but doesn’t really offer any fresh new angle. I’d be intrigued if they went with something more specific like “Big-Ass Projection Screen Box TV From 1994 That No One Wants And Is Too Heavy To Throw Away”, but honestly then I’d probably accuse them of trying too hard. You just can’t win with me!

Convenience Stop Pretending 7″ (Iron Lung)
Here’s a new hardcore band featuring old hardcore peeps: members of No Statik and Iron Lung ripping through seven tracks of ugly American hardcore-punk. I love that the members of Convenience have clearly played countless hours of hardcore music in their lives, and decided to get together with each other to do what? Play it some more! Across these tunes, No Comment and Capitalist Casualties come to mind, as well as early MDC (if they were a little heavier) and Cold Sweat (if they were less chaotic). Those are all reliable bastions of hardcore, and Convenience does it right too, mixing in fast-core pummels and thorny mosh parts to ensure the listener’s full attention is paid. My favorite is probably “Adult Contemporary”, for both the white-collar evisceration and the breathless vocal repetition that concludes it. As long as there are thoughtless, selfish jerks out wandering around and making life harder for everyone else, there will be pissed-off hardcore-punk bands taking them to task for it.

Dewaere Soft Logic LP (Phantom / Bigoût / Dewaere)
Far too frequently, I encounter underground rock bands where the act of singing (or screaming or yelling) seems like an afterthought, as though the vocalist picked the shortest straw and was assigned the role rather than begged his or her bandmates for the mic. Maybe it’s just the vocalist-pride in me, but it’s nice to encounter a group with a commanding vocal presence like Dewaere. This French group doesn’t sound French so much as manically European, thanks in no small part to the vocals of Maxwell James Farrington – he sings like a game-show host with his pant-leg on fire, some sort of unstable mix of the guy from The Pineapples and a mocking impression of Julian Casablancas. Attach that voice to the METZ-like throb of “Garden” and you’ve got a winner! Farrington varies his approach wildly, as though he’s auditioning for France’s Got Talent! one moment and French Impractical Jokers the next, and it works excellently with the group’s plunging riffs ala Drive Like Jehu and Girl Band. Playing loud rock music with your friends is supposed to be fun, and I have no doubt that the gentlemen of Dewaere are having a marvelous time.

Ryan Dino Chapter One: The Final Chapter LP (Scavenger Of Death)
If you didn’t stifle a slight chuckle upon reading the album title, check your pulse: you might be dead! Ryan Dino aka Ryan Dinosaur is the name used by Ryan Bell (of Predator, GG King, Hyena, Bukkake Boys and so on) for his “solo” material, but this album appears to be a deeply collaborative effort between Bell and his various hardcore-punk friends, not a lonesome basement recording. Chapter One features full-band lineups for essentially every tune, with varying personnel, and it certainly sounds like a real band, not a facsimile of one. If you’re familiar with any of his other bands, the music on here shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, as it all tends to orbit the same speedy, melodic, slightly-raw punk aesthetic. There’s less hardcore here though, and more forays into poppy punk and downer melodic ‘core ala Wipers or Rikk Agnew. “Krog St. Tunnel” sounds like Boomgates (the twee-ish Eddy Current side project), whereas a track called “Funeral War” ends with echo-laden screams and heavy riffing. “Breakin’ The Danelaw”, on the other hand, goes full-leather into Judas Priest territory, because why not? This album comes with an enormous poster of Ryan Dino and his friends hanging out in the street, probably fresh from practicing the genre-impure punk music that comprises this album, as if they weren’t already endearing enough.

?FOG 7-Inch Round Black Thing 7″ (Bunkerpop)
I’m waiting to hear someone say this band name out loud, but seeing as I don’t get into nearly enough conversations with experts of early ’80s New Zealand post-punk, I may never know how it’s pronounced. And don’t even get me started on where to properly file it in the alphabetized 7″ bins; that’s still up for lively debate! Whatever this band might be called, they released this 7″ on their own ?Fog City Enterprises label back in 1985, and now it has been rescued from total obscurity and placed into semi-obscurity care of the great reissue-punk label Bunkerpop. It certainly has that mid-’80s Flying Nun recording quality, with roomy drums and twangy guitars, but this group plays with the fierceness of early ’80s punk, which is to say it ends up sound like a particularly agitated session from The Fall around that same era. The vocalist angrily spouts his words, the drummer rips on the closed hi-hat, and the group lock into their succinct melodies for a couple minutes before stopping and starting a new one. Picking up some early Birthday Party vibes too (maybe the Boys Next Door days before any gothic drama entered the picture), as well as some standard snarling punk rock moves, a little late for 1985 but sounding sweet to these ears right now. The name has me shook, but if you can get past the zany and offbeat presentation (the back cover features a comic-book-style illustration for the song “Fatman With A Big Dork”), ?FOG are deceptively sturdy and ripping.

Geld Soft Power 7″ (Iron Lung)
Really quick, can we talk about the way that most of the new Iron Lung 7″ releases have a die-cut back cover in the shape of their logo? This is a hardcore label that considers the big things as well as the small, and we’re all quite lucky to have them with us. Of course, it’s not difficult to enjoy something like this 7″ from Melbourne’s Geld, one of the most ferocious contemporary hardcore groups currently active, offering four new tunes following last year’s Perfect Texture full-length. As expected, this EP is full of ragged searing hardcore: “L.O.W.A.G.” features the same melody as one of my favorite Agents Of Satan songs (always a plus), and the title track ends with a smoky piano dirge, reminding me of something Orchid would’ve done back in 1998. Whereas Geld’s album really honed in on psychotic, feedback-laden Japanese hardcore, this EP reveals other paths for the group… I don’t want to say more “mature” styles, because I hate the insinuation that primitive noisy hardcore is immature, so let’s say equally ugly and intense sounds, just more diverse in their application. Melbourne has quickly become the land of carefree, feel-good indie pop, so it’s nice to know Geld are helping balance it out. It can’t all be sailor caps, silly mustaches and wool cardigans.

Globsters Express Everything LP (SPHC)
“Kentucky’s Ultimate Noise” is prominently written on the a-side label of Express Everything, and I dunno about you, but my interest is piqued! This is a vinyl pressing of what was initially a cassette of Globsters’s sole full-length released back in 2014, which makes zero business sense (aka completely normal SPHC sense). I don’t think Globsters are still a functioning group, but who knows, and I guess who cares, too – I’m not planning on tracking them down, but I’m happy to listen to their proudly messy tunes. They play a very unintimidating form of noise-core punk: imagine if No Fucker called themselves No Fudger instead, or if Gloom were into video games and Slurpees instead of crust pants and alcohol. It’s kind of endearing, as Globsters clearly want to make impressively abrasive music, and they do, it’s just not particularly forceful or menacing. “Original Series Fuck Off” could’ve been a Chemotherapy song had it been recorded a little cleaner, which is a net positive. All this and multiple recorded-from-the-TV pro-wrestling samples, which go on longer than most of the tracks (an aesthetic choice I personally shared when I was nineteen). Globsters come from a sincere, unpretentious place, and while they won’t be winning any Hardcore Awards for style or popularity, there’s a soft spot in my heart reserved especially for them.

Gong Gong Gong Siren / Something’s Hapening 7″ (Wharf Cat)
A few years ago, a Chinese group called The Offset:Spectacles released one of my favorite albums of the decade. Quite simply, it’s just so good, a gloriously sideways take on perpetual Velvet Underground-style strum with minimal percussion, guitars working overtime on rhythm as well as melody, supremely catchy but also dark and inscrutable. Anyway, turns out the main force behind that group, Tom Ng Cheuk Ki, has continued this practice under the name of Gong Gong Gong, and this is their vinyl debut, somehow picked up by the sensible Brooklynites of Wharf Cat. “Siren” does exactly what The Offset:Spectacles did, and I love it – monotonously cyclical guitar, some primitive guitar heroics on top, vocals that provide a sense of structure and song, all delivered in their own distinct style. “Something’s Happening” is an instrumental, which I find to be less potent by default, but the progressions utilized are just as ferocious and shades-on cool – am I wrong in hearing some Randy Holden circa Population II on this one? I wouldn’t throw around the name of The Lord Our God Randy Holden carelessly, but The Offsets, and consequently Gong Gong Gong, are guitar groups of a truly elite caliber. Please tell me there’s a full-length on the way!

Graf Orlock Examination Of Violent Cinema Vol. 1 LP (Vitriol)
I recall Graf Orlock from over a decade ago as being the band that released a record that was also a backpack, or packaged in a backpack, or something ridiculous and hard-to-file like that. This new album, their fifth, is packaged in an opaque black plastic bag, and the LP jacket within is sealed shut diagonally across its front, requiring its owner to perforate it open, revealing the inner guts of a cyborg human in the form of a glossy inner sleeve. Are all their records completely crazy? I appreciate the band’s dedication to making striking visual pieces – you’ve gotta do something to stand out – but musically, Graf Orlock are fairly unremarkable, at least on this record. They play a fairly straightforward form of metallic hardcore / grindcore, reminiscent of Coalesce, Page 99 and early ’00s Pig Destroyer, not unlike a group that would’ve made the cut for a Hydra Head split single but not a full-length. It’s honestly kind of surprising how dated their music sounds, as it seems as though, for better or worse, most bands have moved on from this sound, either to more esoteric and experimental realms, or more primitive and bare-bones aggression. Graf Orlock squeeze in lots of movie samples of aggressive violent dialogue in between the songs as well, presumably in support of the album title, which also feels like a throwback move, although I suppose it’s not really a “throwback” if you’ve never left. Boilerplate metalcore with crazy graphic design, which would be an astonishingly perfect combination if they press their next album into some form of edible pancake-like material, so that you can headbang along until you get hungry. Maybe the cover could be printed on a biodegradable napkin?

Laurel Halo Tru / Opal / The Light Within You 12″ (Livity Sound)
Laurel Halo and Hodge: two artists that I routinely enjoy, whose most recent works I’ve either missed or spent insufficient time with. For as much as I love Laurel Halo’s second and third albums, I haven’t gotten around to peeping her fourth, and Hodge has dumped at least half a dozen new EPs over the past two years that I sill need to check out. Good thing then that they came together on this three-track EP for Livity Sound, as it’s a fantastic melding of their particular methodologies. “Tru” and “Opal” inhabit a similar aural zone, both with big vibrant beats, ornate melodies and lush pads. Halo’s unrestrained eccentricity pairs sharply with Hodge’s precision-guided room-fillers, no doubt. I’d say that’s most evident on “The Light Within You”, the standout track of the EP. It spotlights a self-help, spiritually-mindful sort of vocal sample (“all good things come to me”), ceaselessly repeated as the music slowly blooms from a hovering buzz into a playfully prismatic groove – it makes me want to book myself not simply an hour-long massage, but the deluxe all-day spa package. Fits right in with recent work by Peder Mannerfelt, Joy O and Batu, while plucking its own particular combination of emotions. If all good things weren’t coming to me before I listened, they’re certainly on their way now.

Dirk P. Haubrich Robinson Out Of Context 12″ (Quanta)
Not to be confused with any other Dirk Haubrich you might be listening to, Dirk P. Haubrich is a German composer and producer, and after years of composing music for various dance and ballet companies, his music has landed on vinyl care of Quanta Records. Robinson Out Of Context features two pieces scored for modern dance performances; they’re both around twenty minutes long, and while I was hoping to hear something along the lines of Gary Glitter’s “Rock And Roll (Part 2)” extended into infinity, there are no obvious rhythms or grooves to be found on either of these compositions. Rather, Haubrich takes to microtonal electronica here, wielding lavish slabs of sustained synthetic ambience, intricate clicks and intermittent puffs of bass to situate the mood. I bet it works well with limber, strapping dancers in leotards contorting themselves into prepossessing forms, but as far as a home-listening experience, this music quickly fades from focus, like a subtle sonic screensaver that is easily tuned out. Perhaps I don’t have the Dolby surround sound mega-speakers needed to truly immerse myself in Robinson Out Of Context (the promotional material does note that this record “is challenging and requires a lot of attention from the listener”), but whatever the case, this EP fades to pleasant musical wallpaper much quicker than many other artists plowing similar meticulously-arranged avant-ambient fields.

Heavy Metal Too OZ 4 I.T. 7″ (Total Punk)
The ingenious Heavy Metal are without a doubt one of the punkest bands in Europe at the moment, so it’s only fair they were given some airtime on one of the finest purveyors of the craft, Total Punk. Unlike many Total Punk artists, who seem to be in competition with each other to release the shortest 7″ singles possible, Heavy Metal contribute four tunes here, a meaty EP’s worth of their acerbic punk tantrums. At any given moment, it seems as though half of the instruments being performed are fully synthetic in nature, which lends Heavy Metal their own unique luster – the bass could be a four-stringed Fender blasting out of a crusty amp, or merely the lowest keys on a child’s Casio run through effects – who knows for sure? It’s a great sound, and Heavy Metal make excellent use of it here, writing songs that are 75% repetitive hook, 25% attitude. I’ve found myself singing along to “Overtime”, and I don’t even know the words! The vocal delivery reminds me more than a little of Ed Schrader this time around, which is particularly effective on “Gasmask Factory II”, a putrid strut that verges on the mean-spirited electro-sass of Virgin Mega Whore. Or maybe some sort of crime-ridden collaboration between Le Shok and FNU Ronnies? No matter how you slice it, Too OZ 4 I.T. is one of the more essential Total Punks in recent memory.

Khidja Și Balabaș Khidja Și Balabaș 12″ (Malka Tuti)
I fell pretty hard for Khidja’s Plot 12″, so I immediately went looking into what else this Romanian duo had to offer. This new one is a collaborative effort with violinist Mihai Balabaș, and the first track, “Chloe”, was exactly what I didn’t expect – a decidedly non-electronic foray into jazzy jam-band grooves, like John Mayer guesting with Dead & Company on a European vacation. What gives! I don’t necessarily mind it, but… still pretty distant from my preconceived notions of what Khidja are all about. The following three tracks, however, turn directly away from that fusion jam-band style and move in a direction I would have anticipated: opulent and hypnotic grooves with emotive live instruments worked into the mix. The twelve-minute “Mos Ene” is particularly alluring, slowly building a slurpy churn with minimalist keys that resembles Bruno Pronsato tackling the works of Steve Reich, whereas “Apa Grea” simmers like the fourth-world groove of Nuel’s Trance Mutation. The record closes with “Komagome”, a sparkling cut that melds glitzy synths with manipulated vocal snippets, as if Luciano got into vaporwave. Could this be the gateway record that gets Dave Matthews fans into contemporary experimental techno? Is the world ready?

Nick Klein Bathroom Wall 12″ (Bank Records NYC)
Based on his resume, Nick Klein could easily be described as a maker of techno music for noise enthusiasts. With releases on Monorail Trespassing, Alter and Ascetic House, his music is revered by those with a shared appreciation of Marshstepper, Richard Ramirez and Sickness, which is cool with me, but also a little surprising, as at least here, Klein’s music consists of no-fuss jacked grooves direct from a modular synth. The kicks and snares are a little crispy, and the melodies occasionally push into red-lined distortion, but mostly there’s nothing overtly noise-like about Bathroom Wall, both sonically and aesthetically. Sure, it goes well in a damp and darkened subterranean bunker at inappropriately loud volumes, but Klein taught his gear to dance, not destroy. I particularly enjoy the red-hot acid of “American Gut” and the relaxed-fit funk of “Poor Me Another”, both of which call to mind the distinct personalities of Beau Wanzer, Delroy Edwards, Mammal, and some of those ’90s-era Esplendor Geometrico records. Fine company for any practitioner of the synth-based arts, and Nick Klein’s Bathroom Wall is equally worthy of your time.

Lady Lynch Lady Lynch LP (Cut Surface)
More seductive gloom n’ doom from the Swiss Cut Surface label, this time from a group whose name I can’t help but misread as “Lydia Lynch” each time I see it. It’s not too far fetched to imagine Lydia Lunch and David Lynch getting hitched, although I have a feeling he’d be more likely to change his name to David Lunch than Lydia giving up her famous mantle. Enough fantasizing, let’s get to this record, which is a pretty par-for-the-course take on dark and gothic indie post-punk. I’m reminded of groups like DVA Damas and Savages, although Lady Lynch aren’t nearly as noisy and hypnotic as the former, nor are they as fiery and impassioned as the latter. I get that Lady Lynch are in it for the the slinking, simmering grooves, rather than any sort of bombast or pop hooks, but they don’t quite possess the charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent to push things to the next level, say like The Xx or Cold Beat. Still, Lady Lynch firmly establish a mood through this self-titled debut, one of dark velvet, lace and candle-smoke.

Mülltüte Mülltüte LP (no label)
Curiosity got the best of me, so I had to look up the English translation to “Mülltüte” (my money was on something like “mule toot”, so maybe “donkey fart”?). Apparently, it’s “bin liner”, which is even better! Anyway, this German group has been releasing their own 12″s and 7″s for a few years now, and I’m surprised a larger hardcore label hasn’t snapped up their taut and raucous hardcore-punk. It certainly sounds right up the alley of Deranged and Sorry State – maybe they tried, and Mülltüte politely declined? Whatever the case, this 45 RPM 12″ LP features twelve fast and pulsing tracks of clean-guitar hardcore. I’m reminded of groups on the moodier end of the spectrum, like The Vicious and early Iceage, as well as classic Euro-core like Zmiv and Electric Deads. The vocals are gruff and stoutly enough for any self-respecting street-punk group, and they work nicely with these high-energy tunes. I appreciate the commitment to the undistorted guitar tone, too – when they blaze through “Schimpf und Schande”, I’m getting Feederz sensations, which is imperative to my mental well-being (I usually get my daily supplement direct from listening to Feederz, but this works too). Next time I take out the trash, I’ll think of Mülltüte!

Neo Neos Kill Someone You Hate LP (Neck Chop)
The Neo Neos 7″ on Neck Chop from 2017 was a surprise hit here at the YGR office, a real treat of scatterbrained and primitive hardcore-punk, so I was excited to give this album a spin – not even the egregious Anime artwork could stop me. I have to say, while there has been a good bit of music I’d describe as “meme-like” or “meme-inspired”, Kill Someone You Hate seems to truly embody the meme form, much to my surprise after their notably less-deranged 7″. Hear me out: good memes are hilarious, display poor technical craftsmanship as well as advanced cynical wit, are often grossly pixelated from repeated re-posting, and are ultimately pretty disposable. The same could pretty much be said for this Neo Neos album! These songs are bristling with lo-fi crud; they share a uniform fidelity, each song falling into the next with another frantic series of parts; hilarious recordings of friends (or enemies?) talking about punk (and Quiznos) are interspersed throughout. Listening to this album feels like a manic late-night scroll through Instagram meme accounts, one poorly-Photoshopped gag after another in a seemingly infinite stream of shitposts. Musically, I’m strongly reminded of Coneheads and Liquids thanks to the nasal-alien vocals and high-speed Angry Samoans riffs, which works nicely, but the way Neo Neos have compressed all those tunes into this messy pile of in-jokes and sonic chaos is their true achievement. Even the insert seems to be hand-assembled over printed-out memes – someone could make Kill Someone You Hate their post-grad thesis on the brain rot induced by digital media consumption, I swear!

Overmono Whities 019 12″ (Whities)
Simply can’t go wrong with the Whities label as far as I’m concerned, so when I saw that the British duo Overmono (brothers Ed Russell and Tom Russell aka Tessela and Truss) dropped a fresh one, I had to investigate. Three tracks here, all varied in concept and delivery, and all pretty sharp and modern revisions of time-tested techno and IDM forms. “iii’s Front” opens it as a dramatic dissection of the “Funky Drummer” break – for at least a couple minutes, the track is little more than live drums, pulled apart and reduced and maximized. I didn’t realize such a concept would be as fascinating and pleasant to the ears as it is! “Quadraluv” sounds like one of those stylized Nissan Maxima commercials given a Whities makeover, with various colors disintegrating and fading as the pulse persists, eventually leading to some soft jungle breaks. “Yell0w_Tail” reads like a pesky computer virus, and I guess it kinda sounds like one too, albeit a virus that permanently loops clips of blissful waterfalls and cloud patterns on your screen. Not entirely unlike the more relaxed cuts by Bruce or Ploy, and an appropriate cool-down after the opening cut’s brilliant drum work. Add to cart!

Richard Papiercuts Twisting The Night 12″ (Ever/Never)
I still can’t believe “Peanut Butter Is Back” from Richard Papiercuts’s 2015 album If never became a worldwide smash-hit ala “Gangnam Style” or “Hey Ya”. As far as I’m concerned, that song demonstrates all that is glorious and fun about pop music, guided by the universal theme of peanut butter (sorry, those of you with nut allergies) – it must’ve somehow gotten lost in the algorithm. That tune earned Richard Papiercuts a place in my heart forevermore, and while the four tracks on this new 12″ EP do not achieve that same level of greatness, they’re a welcome addition to his trim discography. On Twisting The Night, Papiercuts and his gang deliver more tender, New Romantic-inspired pop, sashaying across similar meadows as Tears For Fears, Strange Boutique, Simple Minds and other ’80s groups with haircuts that were mocked in the ’90s but are carefully emulated by the teenage tastemakers of today. I’m hearing some sonic similarities to Dark Blue this time around too… maybe if Dark Blue were infatuated with Kate Bush and Spandau Ballet instead of Blitz and The Stone Roses? What’s striking about Richard Papiercuts here is the way the surface-level cynicism and irreverence is undercut by a sympathetic tenderness, visually represented by the softhearted inner-sleeve photo of children (the offspring of the group, perhaps?) hanging out on a city playground, looking like a GAP Kids ad in a world that somehow defeated capitalism. I wish more male artists could confront complex emotions with the unguarded sincerity displayed by Richard Papiercuts, but until that becomes the norm, he will continue to stand out.

Red Delicious Far From The Tree 7″ (Slugsalt)
Did you know about Great Lakes Hardcore? I’m sorely under-informed, but thankfully Red Delicious are here to blast some in my face. Theirs is a sloppy and turbulent form of hardcore – eight tracks, no fuss, all raw and petulant like Necros’ I.Q. 32, Svart Framtid’s 1984 or Hysterics’ Can’t I Live?. The vocals are menacing and exclusively shouted in Spanish, which hopefully means lots of pot-shots are taken at people who only understand English. Not sure I understand why this group named themselves after something as non-raging as an apple, but after blasting this EP a few times, I am certain there’s a vision behind it. All this makes for a very cool hardcore 7″, but the penis-as-recliner drawing on the back cover makes the whole package something you won’t want to miss, unlike the penis on the cover of Street Trash’s Five Dirty Fingers EP, which has haunted my nightmares since 2004.

S.B.F. Same Beat Forever LP (Neck Chop)
At first I thought the group was called “Same Beat Forever”, which I guess is partially true based on their revolving-acronym name (in the spirit of MDC), and I was immediately behind the concept – why not fully embrace the sameness inherent in so much good punk music? Unfortunately, this punk duo (two guys on guitars and vocals plus a drum machine) actually mixes the beat up a bit, but I’ll forgive them for not following through, as Same Beat Forever is great mean-spirited punk. In a weird way, I’m reminded of the earliest Fucked Up singles, as S.B.F. seem to hold classic street-punk progressions close to their hearts, but they channel those melodies through their own particular delivery system. “Rock To The Head”, for example, sounds like it was written by Cockney Rejects, but it’s performed by a digital drum machine, buzzing guitars and throaty American vocals. Unlike many studio-punk bands, it feels like S.B.F. are having a lot of fun – “Hole” sounds like the missing link between Suicidal Tendencies and Ministry – and their sort of fun is contagious. If your new year’s resolution was to mosh to a drum machine, S.B.F. is precisely what you need.

Schiach Schiach LP (Phantom)
German punk label Phantom Records put out German punk band Schiach’s debut LP, which is what I’m talking about right here. It’s already very German in origin, but I swear it sounds extremely German too, in the dry and rigid delivery and production, and vocals, of course. Schiach play rudimentary post-punk, similar to Crisis, but with a brusque delivery and a foreboding sense of the walls closing in around them, the same sort of tension inherent in great groups like Abwärts and Slime. Schiach aren’t as flashy though, and have instead decided to kick through their songs with the insistent aggravation caused by an itchy bug-bite or rash. The guitarist often picks at single notes, and the band as a whole never displays any swagger or pomp, just workmanlike and grueling punk sounds. Punk can be fun, but it can also be a viable outlet for miserable frustration – whether or not Schiach felt a spark of joy in making their self-titled debut album remains to be seen, but I liked listening to it!

Stern Missive: Sister Ships LP (Sleeping Giant Glossolalia)
There are some famous Sterns out there, but vocalist and composer Chuck Stern is bold enough to claim the surname for his own group. And what a strange group it is! Featuring notable NYC avant-garde players like Toby Driver on guitar and Tim Byrnes on synth, there’s not much else out there that sounds like Stern, or if there is I’m sorely uneducated. Missive: Sister Ships isn’t unlistenable or crazy, but rather its own distinctive form of brooding, maudlin, shoegaze-inflected slow-core. Phew! I’d liken it to Swans in their Burning World era, or perhaps if Jesu and Scott Walker got together for an album? The pace is slow, deliberate and oddly timed, and Stern’s vocals dance around and over the music, never harmonically matching but somehow always in place. You can tell these guys took some advanced math classes back in school, and have found ways to apply those concepts to the unlikely field of depressive avant-garde post-rock. Stern mostly sings like a comforting angel, but he occasionally screeches as well, black-metal style, which has me wondering if this is what it’d be like if Talk Talk and Khanate shared a practice space. It’s always satisfying when records prompt previously-unrelated neurons to connect, and there’s a lot of that happening here.

The Suburban Homes E.P. 3 7″ (Neck Chop)
I’ve seen this band around long enough now that I no longer think “Descendents cover band?” when I see their name, which of course is completely incorrect. Nope, they’re a DIY punk mostly-solo-project out of Billingshurst, UK run by a man named Paul Messis, and whereas my previous encounters with their music was fairly unremarkable, this new EP carries an urgency that works well with the beyond-simple chord progressions and delivery. From listening, I’m reminded more than a little bit of Desperate Bicycles, particularly their angriest songs like “Advice On Arrest”, as well as the quaint amateurism of Taco Leg (remember them?). What’s most remarkable to me about this EP, and The Suburban Homes in general, is the varied reasons for the ire he puts into his songs. In the liner notes, he calls out In The Red Records for being a “bigger label” only in it for the money, which by any metric is an amusing claim, and in an interview in the latest issue of the indispensable Dynamite Hemorrhage fanzine, he states that 7″ EPs are “being killed off by the pressing plants”, that live music was great in the ’80s and ’90s but now is only about being cool, that you shouldn’t take selfies because the person who made your phone may have killed themselves, that the ’60s garage revival is dead (although he apparently releases a large amount of ’60s garage under his own name, dressed up in garage-revival outfits), and so on. He’s probably got some reasonable points buried somewhere in all that fussy indignation, but mostly he just strikes me as an exasperated doofus, which of course is more entertaining than having nothing to say at all.

Ritchie Venus Demetria / Demi Dream LP (no label)
Ritchie Venus is one of New Zealand’s underground-rock legends, operating the fantastic Onset/Offset label as well as playing in the Flying Nun group Blue Beetles. I swear, does New Zealand have more underground-rock legends per capita than any other country? It’s like one in four, I think. Anyway, he’s got no plans of slowing down as he reaches retirement age, as music is clearly a passion, not a career, for this man. As for this single, I can’t comfortably judge it against his vast discography (of which I’ve admittedly heard very little), but it’s entertaining enough. “Demetria” is a lounge-y, unhurried tune with the sonic attributes of a low-rent karaoke rendering of a normal rock group – I can practically picture Venus in the corner of a dive bar, singing about someone named Demetria as the lyrics slowly populate on a wall projection. “Demi Dream” seems to pick up exactly where “Demetria” left off, riding a similar wave of schmaltz, as if Tom Jones was in charge of booking an All Tomorrow’s Parties based in Tasmania. I tip my hat to this endearing rock personality, and while this single isn’t beckoning for repeat performance in my household, I am certain that at least one WFMU DJ pumped their fist when they saw this 7″ in the bin.

Vessel Queen Of Golden Dogs LP (Tri Angle)
Vessel’s last album, 2014’s Punish, Honey, was my favorite album of the year and continues to receive frequent rotations. It was a bold reimagining of “industrial techno”, crafted from scratch on proprietary electronics, so naturally I was on the edge of my eat for Queen Of Golden Dogs. Not one to repeat himself, Vessel has moved on entirely from the sounds of Punish, Honey, and while I expected that and was ready for whatever bold new horizon he was charging toward, Queen Of Golden Dogs isn’t quite doing it for me. It seems to suffer from a similar circumstance of many of his peers: the boundless possibilities offered by today’s software processing power and digital workstations. Vessel charges out in many directions, almost all at once – there’s plenty of disturbed chamber music, for starters, often sculpted into unfriendly drones, clattering footwork rhythms and cybernetic beats. Similarities to Arca are undeniable, in the non-linear, unintuitive song structures and microscopic sonic detailing, as well as the predilection for orchestral composition. There’s even a part in here that sounds directly borrowed from the hyper-plastic cyber-pop of Sophie, and some that recall the imposing architectural noise of Emptyset. Vessel is unbounded by genre or stylistic limitation, but his experimentation sounds a lot like everyone else’s experimentation this time around, and doesn’t stick to the ribs the way his stylistically-limited, sonically-specific masterpiece Punish, Honey did and continues to do. Perhaps there’s something to be said for limits.

Viagra Boys Street Worms LP (YEAR0001)
Trust me, it took more than a couple proddings for me to look past this band’s name and give them a try. They’re from Stockholm… maybe Viagra is still a funny idea over there? Anyway, I hope you can give them a break with the name thing too and check out Street Worms, because it’s certainly one of the catchiest, funniest, least-pretentious-but-still-quite-smart rock records of last year. Imagine if Idles or Protomartyr were into Huey Lewis and George Thorogood instead of Ceremony and The Fall, and it’d probably come out sounding a lot like Viagra Boys: superbly memorable, proudly silly post-punk with an emphasis on punk and a saxophone never far behind. Their songs are all simplistic and direct, the sort of thing you might wonder “why hasn’t anyone written this before?”, to which the answer is “well, many other bands have”, just never quite like this. The vocalist really makes it, writing lyrics worth paying attention to, if not for universal profundity then for some cheap laffs, his arid and nicotine-stained voice illuminating various characters, sometimes indulging in strange American South accents and always with an endless supply of references to dogs (beats me). His deadpan baritone elevates the single “Sports” into a delirious party anthem, as if Andrew WK gained sentience and tried to play it cool. I’m also reminded of The Hives, not just geographically but in the way that Viagra Boys create a full-throttle and ludicrous form of punk rock that succeeds through its own overwhelming enthusiasm and commitment. “Shrimp Shack” smacks like the unguarded intersection of Watery Love and LCD Soundsystem – if you try to clown music like this, I’m afraid you might just be clowning yourself.

From The Bottom Of The Earth To The Top Of The Wazir compilation LP (Altered States Tapes)
Congrats to Australian electronic label Altered States Tapes on their 100th release, as running a sub-indie label focusing on marginalized, overtly-weird and tiny-fanbase artists can be thankless. So thanks! This comp features nine new tracks from a variety of mostly (all?) Australian producers, all of whom exist in the wide and hazy environs of electronic beats and techno. Which is to say, there’s sub-industrial clatter, chintzy vaporwave, 100% Silk-style lo-fi house, slinky EBM and seasick ambient, created by what is surely a dazzling array of electronic devices with little flashing lights plugged into each other and of course a laptop or two. Some names are familiar to me, like Lucy Cliché (previously of the late great Naked On The Vague), Trevor (aka James Vinciguerra of Total Control) and Tarquin Manek (of F Ingers with Carla dal Forno), but those that aren’t are equally intriguing, like the seedy pulse of Oil’s “VIP Lounge” and the smoothed-out, Kyle Hall-esque acid of WRX. To date, Altered States has released music by artists named Incompetent Cervix, Club Sound Witches, Static Cleaner Lost Reward and Suburban Cracked Collective, and for the simple pleasure of reading those names alone, I extend my gratitude.