Archive for 'Year In Review'

Reviews – January 2019

Arv & Miljö Svensk Sommar I Stilla Frid LP (Omlott)
Matthias Andersson runs the great I Dischi Del Barone label, which seems to turn up in these pages on a monthly basis (the highest possible frequency). All that time spent with other people’s experimental noise and drone music has given him the itch to make his own, which he’s been doing for a few years now as Arv & Miljö. This full-length comes from the Omlott label, which seems to be the standard-bearer for Swedish underground avant-garde behavior, and it’s a fine trip through a shrouded landscape of earthbound ambient. National Geographic-style photos of animals in natural habitats adorn the album’s design (as well as a photo of Andersson preparing to consume a fresh beer), and the music contained within works with those images, calling to mind the vast impossibility of nature, or maybe the sound of a tree falling in the forest with no one to hear it. Much of Svensk Sommar I Stilla Frid hums with the pulse of synths, not unlike the repetitive Twin Peaks interludes used in moments of intrigue, but with an additional hand mashing more keys, and the slight interjection of other recordings (hallway echo, acoustic guitar, voices) sprinkled sparingly. Certainly conjures a contemplative mood, to the point where I’ve wondered more about the lives of the deer on the record cover than a good number of the actual humans I interact with on a daily basis.

Félicia Atkinson & Jefre Cantu-Ledesma Limpid As The Solitudes LP (Shelter Press)
It’s difficult to remember the time before Félicia Atkinson’s impenetrable sonic webs were a part of my world, but I existed then, merely in a lesser state. Her music (as well as her collaborations with Jefre Cantu-Ledesma) take life’s black and white images and color them in curiously – people with green skin, purple dogs, neon yellow skies. It’s hyper-strange ambient music, and if you blast it in private, your brain comes out a little different on the other end. This new one features less than half as many tracks as their first collaborative effort, Comme Un Seul Narcisse, and the extended track lengths allow Atkinson and Cantu-Ledesma to go deeper than before, plunging toward the undiscovered bottom as opposed to skimming briefly across multiple surfaces. They expertly balance serene melodic beauty with unwelcoming field recordings – plaintive electronic tones brush up against chirping birds, incessant static and even a pesky mosquito, as if you’re at your child’s senior piano recital on a particularly muggy evening as the nearby cellphone tower bursts into flames. Perhaps if Graham Lambkin put on a nice shirt and assembled a recording for 4AD’s consideration, it’d sound like this? No matter the case, Atkinson and Cantu-Ledesma drag me blindfolded through swamp, metropolitan patio and corporate server-farm with Limpid As The Solitudes and it’s most appreciated.

Axis:Sova Shampoo You LP (God?)
Chicago’s Axis:Sova keeps on keeping on, channeling the better-aged forms of platform-shoe-and-denim rock with their fourth album, Shampoo You. Unlike today’s youth, I’d prefer a nice lather n’ rinse to a stick n’ poke, so I’m happy to meet Axis:Sova on their level, particularly as their rock tunes grow ever cooler as the band continues its existence. Shampoo You navigates the various back alleys of classic rock with aplomb, displaying a confident comfort with their arrangement and performance of stompy glam, shades-on power-pop and Acid Archives-friendly grooves. These songs remind me of Wooden Shjips (if they were remotely sexy), Purling Hiss (if they traded in their Dinosaur Jr. records for Kiss and T. Rex), Brian Eno’s Here Come The Warm Jets (if it was released on Richie Records in 2014) and Lou Reed (if he was a more likeable person and substantially less famous). Great use of drum machines too, in that the electronic rhythms fold perfectly into the tunes with visions of grandeur, not the feel of your average basement-bedroom fuzz-punk solo-project. If you’re not stomping your boots next to the pool table when “Stale Green” hits the jukebox, you’re not worth the polyester suit you’re wearing.

Benni The Return LP (Goner)
I hadn’t even realized Benni had left, seeing as his other album came out in 2017, but lo and behold, he’s returned! Benni is the moniker that punk rocker Ben McCullough uses when he sits down to worship at the altar of the synth, and The Return continues in the same manner as his debut, delving into retro-soundtrack pumpers in the vein of Jan Hammer, John Carpenter, Vangelis, Tangerine Dream, Giorgio Moroder, that sorta thing. All moods are explored, from “investigating abandoned warehouse for clues” to “riding motorcycle into sunset”, which is pretty much par for the course, but Benni is true to the vision of this style. The opener “The Return Pt. 1” might be my favorite, as it makes me wonder if Benni ever took some edibles while listening to Herbie Hancock and Stevie Wonder records, but then I realized what a foolish question that is. Of course he has!

The Boiler Body=Death LP (Cut Surface)
Creeptastic minimal-synth is on order from The Boiler, straight from Austria and carrying the quality one might expect from that upstanding nation. Goth seduction can really happen anywhere on the planet, and The Boiler gets right into it on this slippery and seductive debut. I’d triangulate the specific sound between November Növelet, Portishead and Silent Servant, particularly the slower, funereal tunes in each artist’s catalog. Some tracks veer toward rough-edged techno (as is frequently the case with today’s underground synth scene), but those moments of high-energy bat-releasing are tempered by foggy drones, languid rhythms and repetitive vocal incantations. Body=Death sounds good, although for my specific tastes it seems to cover too much stylistic ground, or at least it never fully develops a musical aesthetic beyond its surface. The Suicide-esque squeal of “Born In A Bag” is my favorite, an electro-punk bash that would surely goad the more pretentious lycanthropes out on the dance-floor for at least a minute or two.

City Hunter Deep Blood LP (Youth Attack)
It’s generally accepted that the realm of metal is fantasy-based, and hardcore is reality-based. If you’re into demons fighting winged serpents, you listen to metal, and if you delight in beating up a friend who stabbed you in the back, you listen to hardcore. Of course, metal can embrace reality (or at the very least a performative interpretation of “reality”), but when hardcore-punk groups pursue fantasy, it often rubs the wrong way. City Hunter are very much a fantasy-based hardcore band, and they seem to polarize the typical hardcore audience with their presentation – a black-masked, murderous phantom that brandishes large knives on fright-filled killing sprees. It’s a one-dimensional aesthetic, but they really go all out with it – can you think of any other hardcore bands with photos of their singer murdering a family in cold blood? Imagine how different this musical form would’ve become had Bad Brains ever done that. It’s pure slasher-film mania, and if you’re willing to accept the theatrically violent presentation of City Hunter, you’ll probably love it. I do! Their music certainly helps their case: blistering, jagged hardcore as you’d expect from Youth Attack (not particularly far from Veins or Cult Ritual), but with a heavy edge, bolstered by occasional metallic leads and double-bass-drum blackened thrash. The vocalist (the titular “City Hunter”) sings through processed effects to ensure he sounds like a maniacal killer from beyond the grave, as if Jason Voorhees checked out Citizens Arrest after killing a camper who was wearing one of their shirts. That’s how it starts!

Closet Christ You’re In My World Now 7″ (Lumpy)
Heard some distressing news recently, that Lumpy & The Dumpers might’ve called it quits. Can anyone confirm or deny? It’s a tough break if so, but it happens, and thankfully there are numerous sprightly hardcore bands eager to carry their slime-coated torch, like DC’s Closet Christ for instance. They released You’re In My World Now as a tape last year, and I would’ve probably never heard it had Lumpy Records not given it the vinyl treatment here, so I thank them for that! This EP features six brief bursts of youthful aggression, with the delightfully muffled sound quality of Neos’s Fight With Donald EP and the snarling, attack-ready poise of United Mutation or, well, Lumpy & Their Dumpers at their feral peak. The drummer plays like they just got done listening to Stark Raving Mad’s debut EP, the guitarist and bassist do their best to keep up, and the singer bares all their teeth while projectile-groaning. If you require more than this from the music you like to listen to, I give you my pity.

Dead Waves God Of The Wild LP (Entheon)
Not much to make of the cover of God Of The Wild – a nostalgic photo and the album title in a retro font – but I suppose a record cover that properly reflects the confusing guitar music contained within God Of The Wild would need to be fashioned out of some material besides cardstock paper… peat moss, grip tape and burlap, maybe? Dead Waves pull from a variety of styles, or rather, I hear a variety of styles in their music, but these songs are so strangely out of touch, I highly doubt they’re influenced by anything that bears close sonic relation. That’s what makes God Of The Wild such an entertaining listen! I hear the lugubrious drone-rock of Coconuts, the melancholic simmer of Drunk Elk, the inebriated poise of Earth circa Pentastar, and even the outre emo-rock of Still Life (check “Innate”), all performed with a startling seriousness and commitment. Some of these songs are barely songs, more like unfinished stumbles into the realms of psych- or stoner-rock; closer in spirit to the slapdash nature of early Royal Trux, but aiming for some sort of psychedelic ascension, not glam-rock glory. With so many psych-rockers locking into the same comfortable formula, it’s more than refreshing to hear these two freaks stumbling along their own path, similar to Mountain Cult’s interpretation of garage-rock back in 2011.

Demdike Stare Passion 2xLP (Modern Love)
After slowly receding from their occult witchery cloaks and pushing out into various crannies and cracks of experimental techno, Demdike Stare look towards turn-of-the-century IDM and drum-and-bass for inspiration on Passion. In a way, it’s almost as if this sound is where Demdike’s hearts always resided, that they’ve been slowly trying to lead us back here since first hitting the scene some ten years ago – I can’t say that if they started sounding like this instead of, say, Forest Of Evil, I would’ve paid much attention. After all, a perusal of Demdike’s Miles Whittaker’s works under his Hate and Millie aliases makes his love of hard-hitting jungle and aggro breaks pretty clear, years before Demdike picked up their Ouija boards and summoned the complete Hellraiser series on VHS. With Passion, they utilize their experience and future-mindedness to inject the genre with today’s crisp and articulate textures, reimagining hard-style drum-and-bass with today’s boundless technological possibility at their disposal. Confield-era Autechre, the late ’90s output of Planet Mu, Tigerbeat6’s Violent Turd sub-label, the tricky rhythms of labelmates Equiknoxx, and countless other hardcore rave favorites come to mind while listening, a genre whose classics can be bought second-hand for pennies on the dollar, thanks to their ubiquity at the time and lack of desirability at the moment. Demdike Stare have been such efficient tastemakers throughout their career, though, to the point where I can only assume other goth-techno warriors are running to trade in their Haxan Cloak and Sandwell District records for a pile of Metalheadz twelves and some µ-Ziq albums. Wherever Demdike Stare have gone, others have quickly followed.

EOC The Path Of Untitled Memories 12″ (Mirae Arts)
I don’t mean to stereotype, but Japanese artists frequently come up with better and more outrageous English band names and artistic aliases than native English speakers – take Katsunori Sawa for instance, and his Enormous O’ Clock project, shortened to “EOC” here. I don’t get it either, but why aim for “getting it” when you can simply stand back and appreciate? This 12″ comes on the Mirae Arts label, an electronic label out of California attempting to bring foreign techno sounds to the US, an admirable if somewhat challenging effort. As EOC, Sawa digs into some lively dub techno. The beats are aggressive and agitated in comparison with dub-techno stalwarts like Echospace or Basic Channel, as if you smoked a big blunt and decided to go for a run through the forest instead of slumping into your couch. The pumping arpeggio that drives “Why You Need 100 Million” simultaneously conjures a cyclist zipping downhill and quicksand slowly engulfing a buffalo – heavy gravitational pull that creates both speed and slowness. Enormous O’ Clock was not something I had heard of prior to Mirae Arts releasing The Path Of Untitled Memories, and I’m thankful for the introduction.

Yoshinori Hayashi Ambivalence 2xLP (Smalltown Supersound)
With little fanfare, Smalltown Supersound has been releasing some truly high-end electronic records lately (namely Matt Karmil, Bugge Wesseltoft & Prins Thomas, and Bjørn Torske), but this full-length debut from Japanese producer Yoshinori Hayashi really takes the cake. After a few singles on cool labels like Going Good, Lovers Rock and Jheri Tracks, this album explores a variety of motifs, dabbling in exotic forms of house, techno, boogie, experimental electronics, DJ edits and whatever else tickles Hayashi’s fancy. What stands out to me most is the unexpected sonic similarities to much of what Blues Control were exploring on their last couple albums: some weird pumped-up fusion of ’80s soundtracks, fascinating loops, modern DIY haze and a heaping spoonful of Vince Guaraldi-style keys. Hayashi will smash the cosmic pop of Vanity Records artists like SAB and BGM into some funky house you might expect to hear at an Optimo club night and cut up some A Charlie Brown Christmas-sounding ivories for good measure. It sounds crazy, but Hayashi’s love of disparate sounds is infectious, particularly when considering his talent in making it all congeal together as smoothly as electric guitar pairs with drums. Maybe if Mark Mothersbaugh tried to make a record specifically tailored for today’s modern experimental-electronics audience, it’d come out close to this? I get the sense that an incredible amount of time went into Ambivalence, while the record itself sounds deceptively easy, as if Hayashi simply pressed play on a tape deck, ran a couple loops on his MPC and soloed on a synth while enjoying a beverage or texting a friend. Regardless of his specific process, I can’t stop playing this one, an album suited to practically any situation.

Just The Right Height Let Forever Be Only You Tonight LP (She Rocks!)
Eventually the toll to cross the Verrazzano bridge will rise to a couple hundred bucks and the island of Manhattan will exclusively be the realm of aristocrat billionaires, but even when that happens, there will still be resilient art-weirdos living in the cracks, determined to create new and exciting movements in the face of negative bank accounts and broom-closet apartments. I can’t claim to know the financial status of Keke Hunt, a “non-traditional tattoo artist” who also makes music as Just The Right Height, but she’s making some fantastically anomalous music here. Let Forever Be Only You Tonight is her debut, and it’s the sort of twisted, fascinating record that I immediately fall for. The project could be broadly described as vocal-based synth-pop, but it’s pretty far removed from anyone else operating in the genre right now. Her rhythms are stocky and brisk, more like the sound of Timberlands moving a dresser down a flight of stairs than high heels on the dance-floor, and her vocals range from jagged spoken-word to Sound Of Music-style emoting to straight-up character acting. I’m reminded of Flying Lizards’ version of “Money” (if it were accidentally cut to shreds by a ceiling fan), the electro-dry-heave of Blectum From Blechdom, a little Tim & Eric, some of PC Music’s short-circuited internet-pop… it all blends in, so that the track where Hunt seems to serenade R2D2 seems as reasonable as the country fiddle that leads into “Keep Calm & Pray”. Let Forever Be Only You Tonight plays out as though you’re following a highly entertaining maniac through the city, watching her pick fights and skip rope past million-dollar condos and pizza rats, and it’s an opportunity I urge you to consider.

The Lake Millions Thrednodius Daevidius 7″ (no label)
The Lake Millions appears to be the solo moniker of San Franciscan guitarist Josh Pollock. I’m not sure if he can’t find a full band to join, or simply doesn’t want one, but in any case he doesn’t seem to need one, just his guitar, a Microkorg and a pedal or two. This two-song single was recorded live on KZSU, performed in tribute to the passing of a friend, and it’s cool noisy psych, the sort of thing I’d appreciate if a friend wrote for me when I kick the bucket. “Demondance” loops a spindly riff and then splatters it with wet hot soloing. “Sea, A Mate” is calmer and soothing, not entirely far from one of those instrumental jams on Pearl Jam’s Ten, healing via tuneful and layered repetition. This 7″ comes with a digital download of a full album’s worth, and I dunno, I’m not the type to pursue digital extras unless it’s made by someone I’m actively stalking – considering the cost of 7″s has ballooned to nearly that of an LP, why not just press the whole damn thing on an LP if you’re feeling it? It’ll probably sell better, or at the very least, you might be able to convince your friends and relatives that your music is a legitimate endeavor.

Mark Morgan Department Of Heraldry LP (Open Mouth)
Mark Morgan is best known as the vocalist and guitarist of Sightings, whose contributions to experimental avant-rock in the ’00s and ’10s deserve high marks. I loved that group, and while my love was spread fairly evenly to each member (each guy uniquely approached their instrument of choice), I couldn’t resist checking out Morgan on his own, just him and his guitar, an amp, and what must surely be a thoughtfully-curated selection of effects pedals. Department Of Heraldry is pretty much in line with what one might expect based on the music of Sightings: turbulent tones that fluctuate in intensity and shape, sunburnt loops that seem to emanate from dead guitar strings, curdled noise and anxious sonic poltergeists zipping down the hall. It lacks the element of surprise, sure, but this record also gets right down to the good stuff, infernal racket straight from a molten and mutated guitar, with tracks that vary in intensity and temperament so as not to lull the listener into complacency. Certain moments recall the subterranean horror of Aaron Dilloway’s concrete dirges, too, but Department Of Heraldry is Morgan’s world alone, one where the gravity is oppressive and the atmosphere is mostly motor exhaust.

Nagual & Stefan Christensen Third 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
“All performers play guitar” is what it says on the insert to this 7″, and I can’t help but think, right on! It would be wonderful if every performer played guitar, as far as I’m concerned – imagine Steve Carell, Lebron James, Ariana Grande and Guy Fieri all jamming on guitars… wouldn’t the world be a better place? Anyway, Nagual is the duo of Ian McColm and David Shapiro, so by my calculations that’s three guitarists in total here, and it works for me. Speaking of the word “total”, I’m picking up some Total vibes through this music, or perhaps something else Matthew Bower-affiliated, in the way that the guitars all aim skyward on the a-side, hovering in the upper atmosphere and daring each other to look down. The flip-side starts at the same height and slowly twists into a distress signal before fading to black, cries for help unanswered. I’m impressed by the restraint wielded by all three players, as no one ever rips out and goes for it, preferring instead to fully extend their tones to the brink of feedback but never past it. I bet Guy Fieri would opt for a different approach.

Molly Nilsson Twenty-Twenty LP (Dark Skies Association / Night School)
International treasure Molly Nilsson continues to pump out a new album every twelve to eighteen months, showing not even the slightest sign of fatigue with Twenty-Twenty. It’s her eighth album in ten years, and while 2017’s Imaginations was one of my least favorite (but compared to most other misty synth-pop sirens, superior), Twenty-Twenty is sweet as could be. The record brings to mind a teary-eyed teen waving goodbye to their first love as they drive away in a car down a grey residential street, a specific emotional state of mind that no one does like Ms. Nilsson. She takes Monsters Of Rock-style balladry (think Toto, Whitesnake, The Scorpions, Firehouse) and stares it dead in the eyes until it shrinks down to a tiny drop of universal truth, delivered with the uncompromising sensibility of the outsider synth-pop artisan she is. The tunes are great (and consistent with the sound and style she’s always had), but Nilsson’s voice remains her knockout punch. It’s strong but vulnerable, deep but also kind of alien-sounding, without a Swedish accent or really any accent at all, and the perfect vehicle for her insightful and entertaining lyrics, sharply specific while speaking to common affairs of the heart and soul. And if you’ve made it through the first nine songs only to be disappointed by the lack of a saxophone solo, have no fear – there’s a succulent one in the closing tune “Blinded By The Night”.

Objekt Cocoon Crush 2xLP (Pan)
Has it really been four years since Objekt’s debut album? He’s been a fun German to follow, his early self-released and numbered 12″ EPs slowly revealing a distinct personal style, weaving intensely mechanical sounds onto a rigid grid, perfect for humans, cyborgs and half-human-half-cyborgs alike. I preferred the character found in some of his singles to the debut full-length Flatland, but Objekt shakes things up dramatically with Cocoon Crush, following the growth of many of his Pan-affiliated peers into intensely intricate sound design over pounding club music. Unlike some of the contemporary producers who gaze a little too deeply into their expensive laptop screens, Objekt keeps things compelling throughout the record, a journey full of unexpected and welcome twists, even if little of it seems to take the act of dancing into consideration. Orchestral strings mingle with electric ratchets, microtonal drones flitter around squelchy bass, and occasionally a beat will come up to the surface for air. “Deadlock” sounds like it could’ve been an abstracted instrumental off Dr. Octagonecologist, which is tops in my book, whereas “35” feels like Oneohtrix Point Never pulling a prank on Autechre. No matter where Objekt goes here, it’s engrossing stuff.

Shelley Parker Red Cotton 12″ (Hessle Audio)
Even after all these years, Hessle Audio still knows how to thrill and delight. Shelley Parker is new to me, a British experimentalist who has a limited-edition CD on Entr’acte to her name among other obscurities, and this 12″ hits the sweet spot between impassible musique concrète and modern British bass music. The title track hits the nail on the head, pairing what sounds like a lazy concrete mixer with some ‘ardcore drum programming, perfectly synced and ready to boogie. Kind of a Ministry feel to it, actually, which I wish I could say more often. “Angel Oak” sounds like Emptyset sleeping in a haunted hotel, with percussive rhythms as brittle and chilly as a frozen pond, beefed up for DJ utilization with a handy remix from Ploy. “Masonry Pier” wraps things up, and I have to say the phrase “masonry pier” almost sums up Parker’s musical aesthetic, re-purposing industrial cast-off and accidental sound-pollution alongside snappy and hypnotic rhythms.

Parsnip Feeling Small / Winter 7″ (Anti-Fade)
Anti-Fade seem to have locked in the very best that Melbourne indie-rock has to offer, coasting on the recent volume of their New Centre Of The Universe compilation and really emphasizing the point with this fantastic new 7″ from Parsnip. Go ahead, listen to “Feeling Small” and try to stay mad about what’s been troubling you – this tune is uplifting guitar-pop perfection, bopping down the sunny side of the street. There’s a sweet little guitar solo too, and it pretty much sounds like a bunch of Fraggles who wrote a cult-worshiped Northern Soul song in 1978, thanks to the vocalist’s cartoony chirp and the overall mix, which sounds like the song is being performed in the middle of a lively house party. “Winter” takes a different track, acknowledging punk rock while still maintaining a sheen of happy-cool attitude, recalling the great Pink Plastic & Panties single through its fidelity, energetic drumming and smiley keyboards. I don’t know about you, but after a couple great singles, I’m ready for a Parsnip album. Hell I’d say I’m ready for two Parsnip albums at this point!

Please Stop! Built To Die 7″ (No Front Teeth)
Here’s some amusing and sloppy punk outta Minneapolis, blissfully out of touch with today’s established punk behavior. They crammed eleven songs onto this 7″ (mystifyingly pressed by a British plant?), opted for a color-blasted collage for the cover, and chose a band name that calls to mind the post-screamo of Level Plane Records – taken together, it seems like a 7″ that would’ve come out in 2005, not 2018, although I suppose the mere act of releasing a 7″ record could be considered more 2005 than 2018. As for their music, it’s mostly mid-tempo and vaguely garage-y, and it tilts and leans precariously, with a cheap-sounding recording (for better or worse). The vocalist squawks with passion, really leaning into those high notes and daring a less-tolerant audience to pack up their things and go. It’s certainly great fun for Please Stop! and their friends and fans, but I’m not sure there is much to be taken away from Built To Die unless you’re directly within the group’s social or geographic orbit. Doubt I’ll be spinning this one again anytime soon, but my advice to the band is contrary to their name: by all means, continue!

Reckonwrong Whities 018 12″ (Whities)
After Reckonwrong’s Whities 009 split my heart open in 2016, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the follow-up, and lo, here it finally is. Four more tunes of his distinctive and unpredictable vocal house fill the EP, and while it took me a couple spins to settle in, I’m downright crazy about it. “Paris Is Melting” and “Half A Pill” are mid-tempo boppers of the highest order, full of slightly-off melodic flourishes and Reckonwrong’s queasy AutoTune, whereas “14 Days” and “I’m A Spoon” are piano-led ballads full of unexpected emotional resonance. He delivers his lines like a drunken philosopher full of unexpected wisdom, this clean-faced British guy who looks like he barely sneaked out of adolescence explaining that “sometimes the truth comes after the fact” and “nobody knows what the future holds, but it’s safe to say – we’re all getting old”. I’m doing 360s to the spirited pop of “Half A Pill”, which sounds like Matthew Dear’s newest album created with zero budget and zero sleep, and sopping my tears to his elegiac pleas for “14 days of happiness”, and then repeating everything when it’s done. I’d say it’s a must-hear, and seeing as Whities went all out to package the 12″ in a printed clear bag and an actual dried flower pressed into the dust sleeve, it’s a must-buy, too.

Rocket 808 Digital Billboards / Mystery Train 7″ (12XU)
Normally, if I saw a band called “Rocket 808″ with a rocket logo walking towards me on the street, I’d turn right around and duck into an alley, but this came out on 12XU, a label that always means well (and puts out more killer rock records per year than you or I). Apparently it’s the solo work of a guitarist named John Schooley, who has apparently played in bands on Crypt and Sympathy For The Record Industry and Goner (although I cannot confidently tell you which ones), and this 7” is a very pleasant interlude through classic rock n’ roll guitar territory. “Digital Billboards” opens with a crusty drum-machine rhythm (I wanna say a mix of “slow rock”, “bossa nova” and “rhumba” settings) and Schooley glides his guitar right over it in classic Link Wray fashion, coloring things in nicely with style. “Mystery Train” is a vocal cut, also aided by fundamental drum-machine, with the addition of a descending bass line and gratuitous rock n’ roll guitar soloing. Sounds good, but would probably sound better if I was peering into the motor of a classic car and admiring its many valves and pistons while the song blasted out of a nearby boombox. This may not be the record that convinces me to open up a combination old-timey rock n’ roll barber shop / tattoo parlor, but it’s pushing me in that direction.

Roht Iðnsamfélagið Og Framtíð Þess LP (Iron Lung)
What happens if this ends up being Roht’s only great record, and I want to recommend it to someone? “Err, yeah, the one you wanna get is Insane Fellatio Framtid Bess, I think…” I’ve heard that Icelandic is one of the most difficult languages to learn, and I believe it – thankfully, Reykjavik’s Roht make powerfully simple industrial punk music, the sort of stuff that only a few hundred brain cells are needed to successfully comprehend. I’m trying to figure out if there’s a guitarist in the mix, because I think there was on their debut 7″, but if so, kudos to them for providing nothing but a mild coating of white-noise to the songs, a soft and present crackling like ghosts in the wind. What I do hear is heavy drumming (both electronic and live), simplistic bass-guitar playing melodies befitting Doom, Vile Gash or Lebenden Toten, and a pained vocalist underneath it all, gasping for air in a thick sonic stew. The noise expands in different directions on the second side, in the classic oppressively greyscale way one might associate with the Broken Flag label, and the songs maintain a steady mid-tempo, a little too slow to headbang but perfect for disgruntled fist-pumps. For many reasons, it should be obvious why Iron Lung loves this.

Spiritflesh Spiritflesh LP (No Corner)
Check the Discogs entry for Spiritflesh’s debut album and you’ll notice that its style of genre is categorized as “Ambient, Techno, Dub, Drone, Grime, Post-Punk”. That’s a lot of directions for any one group to head, this Bristol-based trio included, but they come pretty close to checking all those boxes, and they do so without any awkwardness or sense of struggle. Most of the record is filled with heavy percussive rhythms and industrial-tribal beats, let’s say in the neighborhood of Kerridge and Shackleton. I’m not so sure about the grime or post-punk sonic similarity, seeing as there is no rapping or traditional vocals at all, but the unpolished, direct-from-the-source feel of both grime and post-punk is present throughout, as though these productions were not endlessly labored over but rather fired off when the group found itself particularly in sync with each other. Demdike Stare are probably an influence, but Spiritflesh feels inherently less cinematic, more direct; Chris & Cosey also come to mind, but a Chris & Cosey raised on Hospital Productions, perhaps. I’ve yet to feel compelled to purchase a black four-sided longsleeve t-shirt from the multitude of bands and artists printing them these days, but if a particularly sharp Spiritflesh one existed, it might be my time.

State Champion Send Flowers LP (Sophomore Lounge / Feeding Tube)
Bands like State Champion generally aren’t my thing – sweet, folksy, alt-country indie-rock that plays tender melodies garnished with violin and pedal steel. That said, they seem like a band that relishes the challenge of charming a cold heart such as mine, like they’d enjoy nothing more than to accidentally perform at a harsh-noise basement gig and leave the audience blushing and holding hands, forgetting that their personal aesthetic requires continued aggressive frowning. This is fourth album, and it displays the band as confident as ever, even as the members have geographically spread out and tend to live their lives without State Champion as its sole focus. The songs are calm and pleasant, flowing organically in a manner befitting casual gatherings, not rigid pop songs, and it’s the perfect template for vocalist Ryan Davis to endlessly rant and sing his crafty lyrics. Davis laughs at punk, cries at lust, teases himself and holds his love dearly, usually all in the same song. He practically has too much to say, but he fits it all in with ease, as if his words were matter-of-fact riffing and not expertly edited through multiple revisions. Like I said, this sort of low-key indie-country isn’t my thing, but by the time I’m finished spinning Send Flowers I’m oddly touched, wondering if I’ve got it all wrong and State Champion have it all right.

Tropical Trash Southern Indiana Drone Footage LP (National Waste Products)
If you’re like me, the tears you spilled lamenting the loss of the Load Records label still haven’t dried, but I’ve got excellent news! National Waste Products is a new label run by Ben McOsker (Load’s one and only overlord/head janitor), and it seems he has plans for National Waste Products to continue more or less where Load left off, releasing ugly and cantankerous rock records without the slightest care toward modern trends or the scene’s general disposition. Load released Tropical Trash’s first album UFO ROT in 2015, so it’s a fitting continuation that National Waste Products gives us Tropical Trash’s second vinyl long-player, Southern Indiana Drone Footage. I’ve been enjoying this group for just as long, appreciating their filthy rock music and its many twists and turns – at any moment, a Tropical Trash song might disintegrate into white noise, burst into some free-jazz mayhem, lock into a power-rock groove, or abruptly cut out entirely. At least that’s how they used to be, as this album is by far their most presentable work yet. The recording is quite clear – if not properly washed, they at least shook off most of the muck – and they blast through their red-eyed noise-rock in a fashion similar to groups like Spray Paint, Brandy and Shit & Shine. I can practically picture some of the members wearing button-up striped shirts while listening to these tunes, whereas previously I could only picture them in sweat-stained tie-dye, shredded cargo shorts and cowboy boots. Never underestimate the benefit of versatility in your tightly-wound noise-punk!

Vanilla Poppers I Like Your Band EP 7″ (Feel It)
My initial reaction was to thank Vanilla Poppers for their compliment, but then I realized it’s probably meant sarcastically, to be followed with something like “did your mom pick it out for you???” and lots of pointing and laughing. Then I read the lyrics, and it seems the song is actually lampooning an annoying social leech posing as a punk, which also seems to draw their ire in “I’m An Adult Baby”, and more or less in “Get Away From Me”, too. Word to the wise: if you’re a creep, sycophant, druggie loser or know-it-all, Vanilla Poppers have zero tolerance for your nonsense! This is the Cleveland group’s first follow-up to their 2017 album on Lumpy, and it’s pretty cool hardcore-punk that leans on the garage-y side of things, particularly in the groove of the title track. Opener “Get Away From Me” reminds me a bit of Kill-A-Watts (forgotten garage-punkers from Wisconsin whose Kill Kill Kill Kill single is one of my personal faves of the genre), although one has the sense that the members of Vanilla Poppers have probably at some point witnessed Tony Erba bleeding from the head with his pants down, which naturally seeps its way into these songs. I’m not cut out for life in Cleveland, but I admire those who are!

WLMRT Lube 2 7″ (Pleasence)
This young punk group is Canadian, so I ask them, why can’t you just call yourselves “Walmart”? Do you even have Walmarts up there in Canada? Can they really sue you for it? I like to think that American punks would simply call their band Tim Hortons, not TMHRTNS, but I digress. Lube 2 is WLMRT’s debut EP, five songs of keyboard-assisted speed-punk. Opener “Dark Dollars” kicks right into the Toxic State oom-pah drumbeat, but the rest of the EP loosens up into dance-friendly snot not entirely unlike something out of the Coneheads / Warm Bodies scene, enhanced by nonplussed vocals that sound as if the lyrics are being read off a sheet of paper for the very first time. Lyrics seem personal in nature, inside jokes mixing with sincere annoyance – “Emergency Money Available” seems to relay rightful disgust at service-industry employment and the lack of opportunities available to millennials (apparently even Canadian millennials, too). They’ve got the modern punk-band look – not all men, at least one mustache, someone wearing sandals – and their sound fits right in too, ready to play one of those punk fests in Northwest Oklahoma or southern Idaho that come across far more silly, fun and self-effacing than anything I had available as a pimply teen.

Yaws New 12″ (Alien Jams)
“Yaws” isn’t what people yell when they see a particularly stunning drag queen entrance – you’re thinking of “yasss”. Yaws is Dom Stevenson, a London-based producer of aggressive and modern electronic dance music, and this, his second 12″ EP, truly is new, at least for the time being. Stevenson manipulates the rapid-fire sampling associated with footwork and applies it to punchy, energetic electro, and it’s a combo that doesn’t miss. Never has the “Alien Jams” label seemed like such an apt descriptor! I’m reminded of Upsammy’s fast Detroit-style techno, Errorsmith’s colorful crowd pumpers and Profligate’s maniacal live-action techno sequencing while listening to these six fast-moving cuts. If you’re not at least slightly bobbing your head to the second half of “Burner” when all gears are in motion, or tapping your shoe to the sticky swing of “Red Clock”, I have to wonder if your brain is able to process rhythm. It’s fun music, but also serious, perfect for anyone who favors Drexciya’s harder-edged tunes, Jlin’s simplest cuts and the bounty of quality electro that lies between the two.

Butcher’s Waltz Volume 3 compilation LP (Learning Curve)
Learning Curve continue to provide its services to the modern noise-rock scene, releasing plenty of albums yearly in addition to splits, singles and, like this thing right here, compilations. Had a little trouble initially parsing this one – the first side offers two songs from the Australian group Dead, three from Chicago’s Lardo, and then the second side is “Marx Presents”, which I guess means guitarist Adam Marx chose a track from his band Marx as well as one from Novacron (who feature Gay Witch Abortion and Vaz personnel), and then North Carolina’s Wailin Storms wraps it up. It’s almost like instead of clicking around through various interlinked Bandcamp pages, Learning Curve stuffed that same sense of loosely-linked discovery onto a vinyl LP, for better or worse. The plainly-named Dead are probably my favorite of the bunch, as they get heavier and dirtier than the other contributors. They’ve got an intro called “Pig Plate” on the back cover (and “Piggy Plates” on the center label) and follow it with a grinding march called “Commander”, strongly reminiscent of Harvey Milk in construction and vocal delivery. Lardo are more pop-oriented in their fuzzy post-hardcore (at least until melody succumbs to the bizarre guitar frequencies of “Larunda”). The b-side acts are less distinctive, not quite noteworthy enough to get you to perk up and pay attention, nor are they poor enough to remove the record prematurely. Butcher’s Waltz strikes me as a labor of love, because why else would you willingly release a compilation album of lesser-known noise-rock bands in 2018? Learning Curve loves this stuff.

Best of 2018

Top Singles of 2018
1. Reckonwrong Whities 018 12″
2. Upsammy Words R Inert 12″
3. DJ Qu Heed The Message 12″
4. Gil.Barte Sssjp EP 12″
5. Job Sifre Het Bestaan 12″
6. Fåglar I Bur Platt / Öppen Inbjudan 7″
7. Monokultur Monokultur 7″
8. Yu Su Preparations For Departure 12″
9. Khidja Plot 12″
10. Joy O & Ben Vince Transition 2 12″
11. Graham Dunning Way Too Much Time 12″
12. Healer / Dank Goblins split 7″
13. Beau Wanzer Beau Wanzer 12″
14. Pig DNA Strong Throat 7″
15. O/H Market Values 12″
16. Alek Lee Colors 12″
17. Maoupa Mazzocchetti Gag Flag 12″
18. Giant Swan Whities 016 12″
19. Leslie Winer & Jay Glass Dubs YMFEES 12″
20. Parsnip Feeling Small 7″

Honorable Mention:
MR TC & Lo Kindre The Storm EP 12″
U-NIX Nuke Portland 12″
Nathan Micay Whities 017 12″
Nazamba Vex 12″
Alexander Arpeggio Streng Geheim EP 12″

Top Albums of 2018
1. Patois Counselors Proper Release
2. Amnesia Scanner Another Life
3. Sam Gendel & Sam Wilkes Music For Saxofone & Bass Guitar
4. Iceage Beyondless
5. Flasher Constant Image
6. Lolina The Smoke
7. Pious Faults Old Thread
8. DJ Healer Nothing 2 Loose
9. Yoshinori Hayashi Ambivalence
10. Daughters You Won’t Get What You Want
11. Wolf Müller & Niklas Wandt Instrumentalmusik Von Der Mitte Der World
12. U.S. Girls In A Poem Unlimited
13. Matthew Dear Bunny
14. Profligate Somewhere Else
15. De Leon De Leon
16. Gazelle Twin Pastoral
17. Tierra Whack Whack World
18. Eli Keszler Stadium
19. Edward Fortune Teller
20. Eternal Rot Cadaverine

Honorable Mention:
Niagara Apologia
Objekt Cocoon Crush
Lavender Hex Album 2018
Boothroyd Pure Country
Just The Right Height Let Forever Be Only You Tonight

And so concludes the tenth year of this website’s existence. Time flies when you’re avoiding cassettes, I suppose! Maybe now is an appropriate time to thank y’all for: sending in your records to review, particularly those from overseas for whom the postage costs are ridiculous; emailing me with corrections (typos, band info, record label spellings, etc.), kind comments and praise, friendly (or rude) disagreements, or any little message to let me know you’re out there; and telling your friends about the site, too. I write for me, but let’s face it, I’m really writing for you! Sometimes this can feel like work (you think all those little record covers re-size and upload themselves?), but those times are rare, and I intend to continue at it as long as I possibly can – I’d feel too guilty to stop, imagining my ever-growing pile of to-be-reviewed promotional records going undiscussed.
Looking back on 2018, I didn’t really have the one record that I knew would define the year for me: Amnesia Scanner, Sam Gendel & Sam Wilkes, Iceage, Flasher, Lolina and DJ Healer all felt like the best at times, to name a few. The rare CD release made it onto my list this year – Eternal Rot’s Cadaverine (superbly grotesque dirge-metal) – as well as the first YouTube-based release to make it onto a YGR year-end list, Tierra Whack’s magnificent Whack World, which seems to have elevated her from a Philly sensation with 500 Instagram followers to an international Grammy-nominated superstar. I’ve found that labels with strong curatorial abilities are more necessary than ever, as 500 new records are released daily, and wading through it all is impossible, even for geeks like us. Labels like Feel It, Neubau, Whities, Pan, Iron Lung, Growing Bin, Giegling, Knekelhuis and L.I.E.S. have been crucial in helping me discover artists I would’ve otherwise missed. I hope you’re sending them your money… I know I am. Fight war, not wars, and I’ll see you bright and early on New Year’s Day with the usual batch of reviews!

Reckonwrong Whities 018 (Whities)
The proper review for this one is forthcoming next month, but seeing as I’ve listened to this new Reckonwrong EP pretty much every day since it was released about a month ago, I’ve got plenty to say about it. It’s the work of a young British chap named Alex Peringer, and he takes the electro-futurist sounds one might associate with the Whities label and bends them into beautiful shards of art-pop. His British accent is either wearily drunk or just AutoTune-drunk, and it gives his delicate and infectious songs the signature quality of a pop auteur such as he. There are four songs here: two club-ready hits that’ll have your arms in the air no matter how full your drink is, and two tender piano ballads that are poignant and vulnerable, but still a little silly and gobs of fun. I so desperately want to know more about this man, how he came up with his music and what steps he took to create it, but it would be most fitting if I never find out. There’s beauty in his mystery!

Patois Counselors Proper Release (Ever/Never)
Yeah, so I’ve never heard of the Patois Counselors either, but they put together a shockingly unheralded masterpiece, the glumly titled Proper Release. They’re a post-punk band from an uncool state in an uncool country (North Carolina, USA), and they weave together so many of my favorite things about arty underground punk-ish music – the psychosis of Men’s Recovery Project, the art-funk of Liquid Liquid, the carefree bluster of Tyvek, the unbehaved jangle of The Fall, the lunatic squall of Mars… hell, I hear a little Ted Leo in there, some Pere Ubu sci-fi toughness, and the self-assured dance-punk of Parquet Courts too. I’m giving you inspiration for a solid mixtape, but Patois Counselors seem beholden to none of these other groups, so much as they share a kinship in the way that their ideas burst with weird life, resulting in songs that are memorable after a single listen, and of course warrant endless repetition. What do you think the folks down in North Carolina do with a band like this? Do they even know how to properly appreciate them? Does anyone? I’m hoping and praying Patois Counselors take their show on the road, as I intend to one day shout along to the bristly chorus of “Repeat Offender” no matter who might be watching.