Archive for 'Reviews'

Reviews – December 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviews – November 2019

Susan Alcorn, Chris Corsano, Bill Nace Live At #6 LP (Open Mouth)
You had me at “Chris Corsano and Bill Nace”, but add in pedal-steel experimentalist Susan Alcorn and it’s a no-brainer. It’s also cool that this group improvisation took place practically in my backyard at The Rotunda in West Philly, a long-standing house of the avant-garde arts (and the occasional smelly punk show too), recorded last September and now pressed to wax with minimal text or adornment, just a stark photo of the three of them paying attention to both their own selves and each other. I’d place this performance somewhere in the mid-range as far as free-improv intensity is concerned – it’s like a bubbling pot of rice that occasionally causes the lid to pop, but nothing you’d need to call the fire department over. Alcorn adds a sort of chopped-up melodic haze to Nace’s stormy turbulence, and Corsano, the master he is, is content to volley back and forth with the two, playing a traditional jazz kit in his traditionally untraditional manner. Nice sense of flow on this one: the slower, emptier passages invoke a pleasant form of sonic inebriation, and taken as a whole, it’s a potent and screwy wedge of contemporary improvisation worthy of the twelve inches of black vinyl it was pressed upon.

An-i + Unhuman An-i + Unhuman 12″ (L.I.E.S.)
Regrettably, I’m coming to An-i’s music a few years late, having recently discovered his phenomenal Kino-i 12″ from 2014 (shuddering industrial acid par excellence), so I snagged this new 12″ on L.I.E.S. without hesitation. Never heard of Unhuman before, but any friend of An-i is a friend of mine, and this EP really delivers the goods – I can’t stop spinning it. I’d expect to see this one filed under “industrial techno”, but that tag doesn’t properly reflect all the character, nuance and grit that An-i and Unhuman deliver here. Opener “Five To Nine” is a rapid deployment of basement energy, and while it’s a cool way to kick things off, it’s the weakest cut here, due to the severity of the other three tracks. “Hate Thy Neighbor” rides a sidewinding bass-line into the middle of a shock pit, presenting like The Egyptian Lover in full bondage gear moonwalking through a rented dungeon. Fantastic! “Entschuldigung” gets even crazier, stuttering and grooving amidst hazardous substances with vocals that sound like Masonna doing his best James Brown impression. “Cannibals” closes it out with a series of corrosive body-blows, like Ancient Methods moving at Beau Wanzer’s limped gait. No two tracks are particularly alike, but they al clearly share the same DNA: industrial without being corny, noisy without being predictable, techno but not soulless… whatever it is these two guys are doing I want so much more of it.

Aquarian Blood A Love That Leads To War LP (Goner)
Interesting transformation here for Aquarian Blood, the married Memphis duo who previously went wild in a lo-fi garage-punk fashion. The cover photo sets the tone here, a tintype-colored image of Laurel and JB Horrell looking like your great-great-grandparents who dug potatoes out of the mud with their bare hands so you could ride a Lime scooter to work and complain about the temperature of your latte. They look stern, borderline pissed even, but they’ve left their crashing drums and distorted guitars behind for what is a soft and hauntingly melodic album of acoustic-led ballads and what might rightfully be considered “ditties”. The Americana influence is strong, but the music is more along the lines of somber indie-folk, the Hallelujahs, or perhaps Townes Van Zandt than any pre-war blues or gospel. This style suits them (especially when taking JB Horrell’s fascinating hairstyle into account), and they seem particularly comfortable with it, interweaving light swabs of synth or additional guitar to keep these moody hymns fresh. Even the title sounds like a Cormac McCarthy novel, which is just the sort of rugged, blood-stained American image that Aquarian Blood are cutting into here. I feel less embarrassed eating beans directly out of their can when listening to A Love That Leads To War, that much is true.

Michael Beach Curtain of Night 7″ (Tall Texan)
Aussie troubadour Michael Beach is back at it, this time with a new backing band (members of Thigh Master and Shovels) and still simmering with complex emotions that are best expressed musically. “Curtain Of Night” has that coulda-been-a-hit vibe had Tom Petty delivered it in 1981, but instead it’s 2019 and rock music is entirely obsolete, so only the few underground nutcakes still willing to buy a 7″ (or, I suppose, stream it on Spotify) will get to enjoy it. It has that Replacements-esque charm, simple and effective, as it seems that Beach truly believes in what he’s saying, whatever it may be. There’s a cover of “Electricity” on the flip (originally by New Zealand luminary Peter Jefferies), and I’m not going to pretend to be familiar with the original version, but it’s a pleasant contrast to the straightforward pop moves of the a-side – a lo-fi claustrophobia threatens to swallow Beach alive alongside thumping percussion, nagging keys and what must be some guitar in there somewhere. Certainly sounds like something Peter Jefferies would’ve written! Makes me wish I hadn’t missed Michael Beach’s October tour when it came through town, but I’m not too worried – all these Australians just keep coming back to the States over and over again for some mysterious reason.

Cherubs Immaculada High LP (Relapse)
It’s pretty cool the way Cherubs went from their cult status as a ’90s underground noise-rock band to their ’10s reboot with ease and panache, as if they never left the game of releasing new albums and touring to promote them. Immaculada High is their second since their reunion, and it feels as naturally Cherubian as anything they’ve done distantly or recently. You don’t play your respective guitar, bass and drums for as long as these guys have without getting somewhat proficient, and while Cherubs’ musical talent is clear, it’s a relief that they have the self-awareness and restraint to give the kids what they want, which is pounding, aggressive, semi-angular noise-rock with the guitars running through an ungodly chain of effects and the vocals high and mighty. The vocal delivery almost has me wondering if this record might appeal to adventurous Tool fans, no diss intended of course. Ultimately, this form of noisy post-hardcore is nothing new, but if it’s what you came for, you won’t be walking away feeling cheated. My only gripe is that Immaculada High can be so thick and buzzing with midrange distortion that the power of these otherwise meaty grooves can feel diminished – it might not be what they were going for, but I’d love to hear these songs with a little more clarity to really emphasize the inherent heaviness. Kudos to them for choosing to flop around in the sonic mud instead, though.

Stefan Christensen The Upcoming Flame LP (Bruit Direct Disques)
Starting to wonder if at some point, will I develop Stefan Christensen Fatigue? His music is mighty nice, but with new records arriving at a speedy clip, it seems possible. Today is not that day, however, as The Upcoming Flame takes a different direction than his other 2019 full-length, Unknown Fortune, this time portraying Christensen on his lonesome, a meager pile of recording equipment laid out next to guitars both electric and acoustic, presumably in a room without windows (or a small one crusted-over with dust). These tracks are fairly direct by his standards, relying less on noisy atmospherics and instead in deference to directness and clarity but still swimming with drones and strange ambiance – more ‘experimental’ than ‘rock’ but both sides of the coin are presented. He still feels indebted to the underground New Zealand scene as well, just closer to Roy Montgomery than Dead C this time around. A track like “Substitution Days” stands out for me, weaving an acoustic guitar down a creaky staircase of spoken-word phone messages, ghostly tape manipulation and other forms of sly sonic trickery. In contrast with its title, The Upcoming Flame feels like a cold morning that’s colder than expected, the sort of music that doesn’t comfort so much as shares its distress; to be fair though, Christensen never said the flame is here, but rather that it’s on its way.

Adrian Corker Music For Lock Grooves 12″ (SN Variations)
Dare me to say it? Okay, here goes… this one’s a real corker! Wait, come back, let me tell you about the actual record: this guy Adrian Corker put together a delectable suite of tweaked modern compositions on a 12″ EP, and I’d like to recommend it to you. He’s a British musician who writes for television and film, and I can’t help but wonder what particular programs he’s worked on after hearing these intriguing vignettes, as they certainly lean closer to ambient-industrial or minimalist noise than your average BBC show. I’m not entirely sure what his musical practice is, if it’s mostly electronic or in the production booth or what, but he enlisted Aisha Orazbayeva on violin and Sam Wilson on percussion to help realize these phony “lock grooves”, and it’s really nice. Subtle patterns repeat, be it a quick slice of Orazbayeva’s violin or a less determinable sound (clangs, bumps and donks feature throughout), and they quickly swell with anxious tension and subdued calmness, sometimes simultaneously. Reminds me of a clarified version of Nocturnal Emissions or something else that might’ve appeared on an early United Dairies compilation, purposely rendered in sharp hi-fi. This isn’t the stereotypical monotonous tick that one might associate with a locked groove, it’s a fascinating sound-world you’ll want to spend some time in.

Jonny Couch Mystery Man LP (Damaged Sofa)
I never heard of Jonny Couch either, but this record came with a nicely annotated press sheet referring to Mr. Couch as a “Bryan Ferry pop crooner” alongside highlighted band names like Grinderman and The National, so who knows, could be great, right? I see you shaking your head, and fine, you’re right, it’s not great, but let’s talk about Mystery Man anyway. I realize we’ve been collectively plundering the aesthetics of the ’80s for basically thirty years now, but this is one aspect of that era I didn’t think would resurface – those local-act, private-press new-wave groups that do one record pressed by their management only for it to evaporate from the surface of the earth with the exception of a few dank and humid spaces (namely, the basements of local record shops). I’m thinking of records like Fingers’ Video Games 12″, new-wave power-pop that looks like it might possibly be cool but ends up sounding like a mix of Peter Gabriel and Dexy’s Midnight Runners. That’s pretty much the sound that Jonny Couch has latched onto here, although I’d say he has more of a “Meatloaf fronting The Hooters” vibe to be specific. Kinda limp, kinda catchy, like a skinny-tie-wearing version of Survivor in case you needed one of those. Maybe you do?

Das Drip Das Drip LP (Sorry State)
So it is Das Drip as in the German form of “The Drip” or something more esoteric like Das EFX, or a gag like Das Racist, or what? Maybe I’m putting unnecessary thought into it, but I need something to help me retain focus after the brain-scrambling hardcore-punk whirlwind that is Das Drips’ self-titled debut. Throughout, the formula is fairly the same: an itchy rash of a bassline wobbles on some pogo-punk drums, the guitar skitters along, and the vocalist does her best to cram as many words as she can over top, unconcerned with any sort of standard rhythmic cadence. It’s overtly fast music, frequently verging on becoming a crazy mess (thanks in no small part to vocalist Rach Canning’s furious babbling), but that’s a big part of the charm here – a rickety punk go-kart flying down a hill without brakes or adequate safety features. When I find myself able to actually focus on what is happening, it’s clear that the band is actually playing the same songs together, but Das Drip have mastered the act of creating music that feels like it’s pulling apart from itself at the seams. Those looking for classic hardcore-punk songs might feel a little overwhelmed by Das Drip‘s frenzied approach, but thankfully this is a 45 RPM 12″ record, so wimps can start at 33 and work their way up.

Disjawn Loud Kush Assault 7″ (Ranch)
Was hoping that the title of the newest Disjawn EP made reference to the violent destruction of Jason Kushner and his tribe of despicable goons, but it appears they just like to get high. Fair enough! If the name wasn’t already a giveaway, Disjawn play d-beat hardcore-punk, but as is the usual style of today, they push it to disturbing levels of intensity, rife with distortion, excessive crash-cymbal usage and ghastly effects-laden vocals. It can be a bit predictable (if satisfying nonetheless), but Disjawn are particularly spirited, and have given more thought to their songwriting than your average noise-core attack unit – “Pain Is Reality” relies more on its sinister bass groove than buzzsaw guitars, which is a nice change of pace. Their expression of futility in the face of planetary war and misery is relatable, if not necessarily commendable, but at least they’re keeping it real. Five songs, no fuss, so if you’re spiky and charged and feeling hopeless, might as well blast this one until the skies are choked with orange smog and the oceans dry up.

Tashi Dorji & John Dieterich Midden LP (Gilgongo / Moone)
John Dieterich I recognize from his years spent in everyone’s favorite twee-pop avant-rock deconstructionists Deerhoof; Tashi Dorji I don’t recognize at all, but they both play guitar, and they got together here to create Midden. You get two side-long pieces of dual guitar improvisation, and while we all know that sorta thing can crumble under the weight of formless meandering, Dorji and Dieterich clearly have an excellent rapport and do no such crumbling. They’ve got lots to discuss with each other, and they do so entirely with their guitars, which for the most part utilize only modest distortion – no daisy-chains of effects pedals being stomped back and forth, or at least not until the end of side two. Brief twangy phrases, extended freakouts, discombobulated chords, awkward plucking, physical scratching and scraping, it all goes down throughout this two-way conversation, and for an unscripted journey, it flows incredibly well. These two guitarists aren’t simply going through the usual noisy improv moves, they play off each other in ways that demonstrate keen listening and natural synergy. Really though, the only important thing is whether Midden sounds cool or not, and by my estimation it surely does.

Vera Dvale & Psykovarius Avav LP (Sex Tags Amfibia)
The Sex Tags family of labels has been a necessary conduit for Norway’s magical underground dance scene, providing deep house thrillers and offbeat weirdos in equal measure. I based my purchase of this, the second collaborative album between Vera Dvale & Psykovarius, on the Sex Tags name alone, because let’s face it, unless it’s a power-metal group I’m not perking up over someone named “Psykovarius”. Wasn’t sure what to expect, and to be honest I was a little disappointed by Avav, which is a fairly rote and exploratory suit of vintage synthesizers utilized in a twinkly new-age fashion. Across these six tracks, neither participant seems in much of a hurry to get things going, so at these fairly modest track lengths (most around five minutes or so), nothing really takes off. It’s not bad, and certainly scratches any itch for moon-landing synth explorations into the chilly black depths, but I can’t help but long for something greater when I pick up a Sex Tags record (like the recent 7″ flexi from Geir Tore Holm that’s a field recording of him peeing in the snow). Even in their most stargazing and amphibious sounds, Vera Dvale & Psykovarius have yet to dazzle me, but I’m going to keep this one nearby on the off chance that it clicks for me on one fateful winter’s night. Or trade it in for that Geir Tore Holm flexi.

E-Saggila My World My Way LP (Northern Electronics)
Heavyweight new album here from Toronto’s E-Saggila, who has already established herself as a potent dealer of North American industrial techno. Sometimes it feels like a genre where the best works have already been accomplished, that there’s nothing else to really do but shift around the same pieces everyone else is using (which, when done well, I enjoy heartily), but E-Saggila pushes things to wilder and fresh new zones while simultaneously deploying some of the heaviest, most corrosive electronics here. Opener “Aziza” really sets the pace with a minute or so of harsh cut-up violence ala Contagious Orgasm or early Prurient, eventually finding its way to a near-gabber slam that incorporates the shredded ribbons of a trance-pop track. Phew! “Aziza” proudly displays the wide range of styles and tools that E-Saggila has incorporated into My World My Way, and the rest of the record frequently hits similar electroshocked highs. “Alia” features the vocals of Thoom, which smacks upside the head like Ghostemane remixing Despise You or something – I could go for a whole album of this! And the other guest spot, someone named “Oil Thief” on album ender “One Last Midnight”, feels ripe for an eventual sex scene in John Wick 6, with Oil Thief sounding exactly as you might expect a Cobra villain named Oil Thief to sound like: untrustworthy and imposingly sinister. My World My Way is rich with character and feeling, varied in its rhythms and percussive devices but unified by the unflinching mind that stitched it all together. Recommended!

Fix Fix 7″ (Phantom)
That’s right, legendary Detroit hardcore pioneers The Fix are back with a brand new EP. Wait a minute! This is actually some new German weird-punk group who don’t care about recycling a band name. They open with a sparse spoken-word track, like some funky and coherent moment one might find on an early Nurse With Wound album, before getting down to the nitty gritty of lo-fi, presumably-somewhat-synthetic punk rock. It’s such an in-the-red mess that the instruments are nearly unintelligible, except for the snare (is that a real drum kit?), the guitars when they hit a high note and the vocals (although just barely). Reminds me of Factorymen at their most traditionally punk, a live Crazy Spirit tape, the Pillow Talk 7″ played on 33 instead of 45, or a particularly rough mix-down of one of the many current Neck Chop Records punk bands hailing from Nova Scotia or Fort Wayne or something. Personally, I enjoy it, particularly cuts like “Basement Life” and “The Goof Life”, whose main riffs overcome the sonic hurdles set forth by Fix’s production standards, although it remains to be seen exactly how many repeat listens Fix will bear. I’m gonna go out on a limb and answer my own question with “less listens than The Fix, more listens than The Fixx”.

Gong Gong Gong Phantom Rhythm LP (Wharf Cat)
Tom Ng was the mastermind of one of my favorite bands (and self-titled albums) of the past decade, The Offset: Spectacles, so I’ve been eagerly following his work with current outfit Gong Gong Gong, who are clearly traversing similar musical territory. Which is to say, stark and repetitive blues-guitar grooves with minimal accompaniment and sparse melodies. That’s certainly the basis of Phantom Rhythm, their debut full-length, which I pre-ordered the moment pre-ordering was authorized. Unfair though it may be, I can’t help but hold it up against The Offset: Spectacles, and while Gong Gong Gong does not reach the same creative peaks nor deliver the same distinct earworm hooks, it’s still cool as heck. Tom Ng plays with variations of Bo Diddley riffs and bassist Joshua Frank fills the gaps, almost reminiscent of Peter Hook’s Joy Division style, except these songs approach post-punk from a rockist, non-goth, non-dancey perspective. The chord progressions that appear are familiar ground for stoner-rockers like Nebula and Sleep, but Gong Gong Gong eschew fuzz-distortion and percussion almost entirely (certainly no drums, at least), so the whole thing feels unlike anything played by groups that do not feature Tom Ng as a member. It’s most exciting when the hot slashes of guitar provide the percussive elements (see “地下日記 Notes Underground” or “騎你的馬 Ride Your Horse”) and Frank jabs up and down his bass, writing his own song within the song, which thankfully happens often. That said, some of these tracks can lag a little, but I suppose that’s the nature of music that toes the line between hypnotic and monotonous.

Haircut Sensation 7″ (Beach Impediment)
Why is Virginia, and Richmond in particular, such a fertile ground for hardcore in the past decade or two? That’s the sort of sociological dissertation I’d love to read (or at least skim), and I bet Haircut would get a footnote or two in it, them being a fine example of Richmond hardcore. Though to be fair, they don’t have the “Richmond sound”: Haircut prefer to utilize the tough-guy melodies of Sick Of It All and Agnostic Front, but instead of performing them in a traditional NYHC manner, they force these aggro riffs into today’s pogo-punk rhythmic patterns, far more Toxic State than Combat Core. Add to that the strained vocals of Juliana Viana and you’ve got a final product notably different from anything that would’ve come out on Revelation in the ’80s, but it’s undeniably hardcore, and works as well as any other set of hardcore influences (or coincidental similarities) you might find in a band that has received the Beach Impediment seal of approval. Only four songs here, and while they’re not incredibly short, Sensation does feel pretty brief, although I’m not begging for a double LP just yet either… just a little more so I can decide whether their haircut sensation is more along the lines of a buzzcut’s satisfying tingle or the painful scalp immolation of a bleach job gone wrong.

The Ivytree A Pillar Of Clouds LP (Tall Texan)
I hadn’t previously heard of The Ivytree, but I’m certainly familiar with the work of the man behind it – this is yet another project from the restlessly creative Glenn Donaldson, he of The Skygreen Leopards, Horrid Red, Thuja, and roughly a million other projects both solo and collaborative. He’s been active as The Ivytree since the late ’90s, most recently releasing an album on Recital before this one, which actually collects recordings from 1999 through 2004. Gotta say, I believe that, as these tracks are very much in line with the darkly floral-scented psych-folk of that era, ready to share space on a burned CD-r with Espers, Fursaxa and Six Organs Of Admittance. Layers of soft melodic guitar (both electrified and acoustic), occasional washed-out synths, and high wispy vocals combine with the occasional field recording (is that someone walking through a creek in galoshes?) to create this tender, cautious set of songs. As far as comparing A Pillar Of Clouds to similar albums by other artists, I’m not sure it particularly stands out for better or worse, but it’s perfectly enjoyable just the same, home-recorded lullabies for the artist class.

Lassie Collected Cassettes LP (Phantom / Et Mon Cul C’est Du Tofu?)
Here’s a very modern punk equation: band-name blatantly appropriated from some generic slice of culture, a vinyl album that collects two previously-released cassettes, and a lo-fi, warbly punk sound replete with chintzy synths and a predilection for early DEVO and Midwest goofball punk (Gizmos, Ice 9, Dow Jones & The Industrials and so on). Lassie stands out by being from Leipzig, Germany, although they do a fine job of sounding as if they are a bunch of soaking-wet dorks in Warm Bodies t-shirts from Oshkosh, WI. Funny samples are peppered between Lassie’s tunes (not entirely unlike fellow Germans Heavy Metal), and the tunes themselves generally favor a more relaxed mid-tempo pace than the hectic speeds favored by similar acts. The whole thing works well enough here, as Lassie seem to have taken the time to write actual songs as opposed to bleating out twelve studies of the same idea, but I’m not sure it’s quite enough to carve out Lassie as a distinct underground voice among Neo Neos, BB Eye, Erik Nervous, Toyota, Urochromes, Vanilla Poppers, Liquids… I could go on, but you get the idea. There’s just a lot of this stuff currently happening, but if you aren’t already starting to feel a little burnt out by this particular globally-shared punk aesthetic, Lassie won’t do you wrong. If you’re wondering if Mikey Young mastered it, do you even have to ask?

Life Strike Primitive Future LP (Strange Pursuits / Omnipest Inc.)
More Melbourne rock, this time coming from a new band featuring Nick Pratt, who was in Deaf Wish for their first four albums. The apple doesn’t fall far from that tree, as Life Strike play a similar mellow-noisy form of post-punk indie, perhaps a little more conventionally rocking than Deaf Wish. Whereas Deaf Wish were forever chained (perhaps unfairly) to Sonic Youth comparisons, Life Strike remind me more of North American college-rock like The dB’s or Mission Of Burma, fairly restrained and in control of their moody power-pop moves. It’s not fully buttoned-up, though, as some songs jangle like The Lemonheads and others remind me of the weird post-post-grunge current happening with groups like Puzzlehead. Life Strike find the common thread through all those approaches, although there’s a general sluggishness to Primitive Future that keeps me from fully connecting. Maybe they rip ’em up a little harder live? If you like your indie-rock to come fully assured that a mosh pit will not break out during its performance, Life Strike are pleased to meet you.

The Living Eyes Peak Hour Traffic 7″ (Anti Fade / Episode Sounds)
Do they not call it “rush hour” in Australia, or are The Living Eyes simply taking artistic license with the way they phrased it here? “Peak Hour Traffic” applies an appropriately maddening ping-pong riff over an oom-pah thud to remind us all how much it stinks to sit in crawling gridlock. I’m glad they were able to make lemonade out of these lemons, finding inspiration in life-sucking monotony, as it’s a sweet little tune. “Almanac” is the flip, which is similarly paced but with a dance-punk groove, as if there’s a little LCD Soundsystem suddenly injected into the Living Eyes equation where there was none before. The Living Eyes are one of the tighter bands playing melodic classic punk these days, so it certainly works for them, not that I’m surprised. Two cool songs here, in and out fairly quickly (not even four and a half minutes including the time it takes to flip the thing), and a nice little reminder for me to pull out their 2017 album for some extended enjoyment.

Loose Nukes Behind The Screen 7″ (Beach Impediment)
Even to this day, there’s an abundance of skulls to be found within new hardcore-punk art, and yet Pittsburgh’s Loose Nukes eschew the skull entirely here for a far underutilized element: the cartoon hand giving a middle finger. They are numerous on here, and rendered in different styles, so kudos to Loose Nukes for realizing the dormant potential in this imagery – classic and crude! As for their music, this band features ex- and current members of Government Warning, Dark Thoughts, Direct Control and Sickoids, and Loose Nukes is a pretty logical successor, one that withholds any sense of “wacky thrash” in favor of furious hardcore pummel ala The FU’s, White Cross, Zyklome A, and much of the classic first-wave hardcore that pursued speed and mania at all costs. What’s good for Loose Nukes is that they don’t sound like a carbon copy of any of those particular bands, but rather another formidable entry from our modern era. I’ll chalk at least 40% of the credit up to drummer Vince Klopfenstein, who absolutely shreds through these songs as though his life depended on it – EP closer “I Could’ve Been A Killer” is certifiably nuts in the way he turns high-speed fills into the actual beat, cascading in a manner similar to Brian Chippendale but far more hardcore-minded and direct. Both loose and nuclear in his playing, I can’t help but assume the band was named after him.

The Mauskovic Dance Band The Mauskovic Dance Band LP (Soundway)
It’s late 2019, so how about some Dutch Afrobeat? Wrong or right, I generally find the global dance appropriation done by Europeans to be rendered in good taste (although the jury is still out on Goat). For now, I’m giving the thumbs up to The Mauskovic Dance Band and their debut full-length. It’s a fairly direct and undeniable trip into heady, weed-scented disco-funk and Afrobeat, and this group, featuring four members with the unverified last name of Mauskovic, do it with panache. Fela Kuti is clearly an inspiration, but this album is more rambunctious, modern and silly, calling to mind Kid Creole at his most infectious and Golden Teacher at their most straight-laced. The track title “Space Drum Machine” is slightly misleading, as its sharp-edged funk and high-pitched vocal chorus have me imagining The Rapture collaborating with Emmanuel Jal on some raucous outdoor stage. Eight tracks here, across which gratification is never delayed – these are communal live-band jams with just the right amount of electronic infusion, and they should subconsciously connect with any human capable of shaking their limbs.

The Middle Ages The Middle Ages LP (Ripe)
Truly living up to their name, The Middle Ages are a new Seattle group of experienced adult musicians. They feature ex-members of The Pets, Razz and The Dutchess And The Duke to name a small selection, and after relocating to Seattle to focus on family (how punk rock is that?), they started this new trio and released an album on their own Ripe Records label. I can already picture the members of The Middle Ages asking their kids what the difference between Snapchat and Soundcloud is, as these tunes seem frozen in time from decades prior, which of course isn’t a fault if you’re trying to play upbeat, swinging punk / garage-pop, as this group certainly is. They’re clearly indebted to teenage garage ala Nuggets and saccharine early ’80s power-pop, and having quite a bit of fun coloring within those lines, even if they don’t have the energy and unrestrained attitude that can only be found in youth. As far as their tunes are concerned, I’d say they fill the air nicely with the sounds of their intended genre, but there’s nothing to particularly get excited about either, which is a fairly tall order at this point in time. Seems like The Middle Ages are more of a very serious hobby than a band trying to make its mark on the underground, which I applaud as a middle-aged alternative to arguing on Facebook or hours of Bejeweled Blitz.

The Never Quartet 1.001.006 / 1.001.007 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
Here’s a new name from Michael Morley of The Dead C, The Never Quartet. He’s been putting out records solo as Gate for nearly as long as The Dead C have been kicking, so I have to assume something different is happening here – perhaps he’s not really performing at all? These two tracks reveal very little in the way of motion or expressive force, preferring to hover unto themselves like the private internal processes of a refrigerator keeping your milk cool or a microwave keeping your burrito hot. Drone music with a “set it and forget it” attitude, if my suspicions are correct. These industrial drones aren’t static – they flutter, slip up and cool down – but the feeling is certainly one of incidental activity, as though Morley stumbled upon these sounds by chance and was wise enough to put them to tape, and then send them to the I Dischi label with a note that says “hey, if you’re still looking to do another 7″, there’s this…” Or maybe this is Morley playing guitar in some way that hasn’t been otherwise created yet. This review is entirely speculative, but my enjoyment of this 7″ single is genuine.

Romantic States Ballerina LP (Gentle Reminder)
Baltimore’s Romantic States have returned, this time as a full rock band with Ilenia Madelaire taking on sole vocal duties. It’s pretty great! The music reminds me of the quiet-punk that Brooklyn’s Household delivered a few years back, as well as The Zoltars and early Cat Power, subtly churning minimalist tunes with softly spoken vocals just on the verge of singing. What makes it special are the words shared by Madelaire, who establishes herself here as a cruel poet of the mundane, consistently hilarious and wicked with a lyrics sheet you’ll want to read. The country-tinged opener “Changed Your Mind” ends with the chorus line of “fare thee well / I’ll see you in hell”, a sentiment that can be easily missed due to the deadpan delivery and jovial melody. I’m reminded of Arab Strap’s Aidan Moffat in the way that Madelaire seems resigned to some special form of misery, perhaps heightened by her acute ability of expressing it. “Real Real Blonde” and “Cocaine Cul De Sac” are particularly dire, deliciously dire even, the sort of songs I find myself repeating just to savor their ice-cold spite, more satisfying than an ice-cold Sprite. Hey look, I’m a poet too!

Searing Arrow Paranoid Fiction LP (Tall Texan)
Debut transmission here from Houston’s Searing Arrow, connected via Tall Texan’s Texan roots. The record lists “Chris, Denniz, Ted, Shan and Melissa” as members, but I’m also hearing that it’s mainly just the solo studio project of producer Chris Ryan. Whatever the case, it’s pretty cool stuff – driving, meaty post-hardcore that seems to take inspiration from early death-rock and wiry post-punk as well as big dumb ’90s noise-rock riffage. Not an unheard-of combination in this day and age, but Searing Arrow don’t dilly-dally with it, as their songs lock into place quickly, only spiraling outward into waves of drones when the moment calls for it. It’s nice that they can veer from the high-speed menace of “Private School” to the synth-led dark-wave of “Places In The Heart” as though they were always meant to be together. The album sounds good too, booming and punchy (not unlike fellow Houstonites Balaclavas, come to think of it – I wonder if they recorded with Ryan too?), a nice little showcase of his skills for hire. As with most Tall Texan releases, this one is limited to a hundred numbered copies, not looking to go virally huge so much as document what’s happening for those who wish to hear it.

Slump Flashbacks From Black Dust Country LP (Feel It)
So the punks are all on acid now, huh? I wistfully remember the days of weed-worshiping crust, and while I’m sure that scene has never entirely gone away, bands like Richmond’s Slump are looking to transcend reality with their third eyes open. New York’s Kaleidoscope and Tempe’s Destruction Unit have been traveling on similar planes in recent times, but I think Slump might be my favorite of the three, were I ever forced to choose. Slump traverse different tempos and moods throughout this debut full-length, recalling a diverse range of bands like TAD, Spiritualized, Alabama Thunderpussy, Chrome and Poison Idea, all with the sonic firepower to back it up. The use of effects and synths can be the trickiest aspect – do you just slap it all on top of regular punk songs and call it “psychedelic” – but the Moog of Tony Nowotarski combined with the shape-shifting vocals of Suspicious Sonny help craft a different musical fabric along with Slump’s sticky riffs, as opposed to carelessly taping a Magic Eye poster onto a punk record. I like Flashbacks best when it chugs hardest: see “Sensory Cocoon” for its potent mix of stoner grooving and hardcore energy, as if Kyuss spent a sleepless evening listening to the first Comets On Fire album, which, come to think of it, is something I strongly recommend.

Porcelain Summer compilation 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
Leave it to I Dischi to tackle one of the most endangered forms of underground documentation, the compilation 7″. No one wants 7″s anymore, and absolutely no one wants comps anymore (unless they’re streaming for free and called “playlists”), so I appreciate that I Dischi really leaned into this one with twelve brief tracks spanning the subterranean musical underground – might as well be really brazen about it! They get tracks here from a variety of names, almost certain to include someone you’ve never heard before. Cool skeletal punk from Vital Idles, a brief Heimlich maneuver from John Olson under his Johnny R. Spykes guise, a nice new Greymouth track, mid-morning piano from Karla Borecky, somber Germanic drone from the cult-adored Brannten Schnüre, twenty seconds of guitar-pop stumbling from JJ Ulius… it’s a dirty, stained kaleidoscope, but I wouldn’t have it any other way from I Dischi Del Barone. And if you’re one of those freaks who insists on owning the complete discographies of Red Brut or Amateur Hour, you’ll need to have it, too!