Archive for July, 2009

Zola Jesus

Zola Jesus, née Nika Danilova, is one of the most intriguing and capable chanteuses to
recently emerge from the modern underground. From as unlikely a locale as Madison, Wisconsin,
Danilova made a startling splash last year with her debut Die Stasi 7″ single, turning heads
with her capable lungs and blurred keyboards. Her subsequent releases have shifted in all
sorts of directions, from power-electronics to Diamanda-quality dirges, proof that Ms. Jesus
has no plans of settling into a predictable rut anytime soon. Squeeze “Last Day” in-between
Drexciya and Lady Gaga at your next DJ night and it will make perfect sense. Her first official
full-length, The Spoils, is released on Sacred Bones this week, and I am eager to slap it on
my turntable and enter the latest incarnation of her world. While you wait for the post office
to deliver yours, here are her forthcoming and intelligent answers to my questions.

What’s your earliest memory of hearing music, and when did you first play it?
My most distinct childhood memory of music has to be hearing Oingo Boingo and Talking
Heads churning from my father’s playlist of music he’d listen to while working out. My
dad’s words of wisdom growing up were often “there is water in the bottom of the ocean…”
I first started playing music when I was about 7. I started with piano lessons, but it never
really took like voice lessons did. I started studying voice a year later, and from then on I
was absolutely sold on being an opera singer.

What drew you to opera? Was it a circumstance where you were just naturally
capable, or did the inspiration come from somewhere else?

I’m not sure. I think at that time I was so taken by the potential of the human voice, I
wanted to go as far into my studies as possible. The resources I turned to all suggested
that singing opera allowed you to get the closest with your voice. And I loved how it
sounded. You’d see these tiny little women, and they’d open their mouths and create the
most verbose, powerful sounds. Maybe it was just the next step in my Napoleon complex.

When did Zola Jesus officially begin?
Zola Jesus officially began when I was in high school. The name was conceived when I
was 15 or 16, and it was then that I began making music under that name.

How different is the earliest Zola Jesus material from what you are doing today?
Same instrumentation? Has any of it ever been released?

The earlier stuff is very minimal. The majority of the material is purely vocal-driven. I’d
use my voice as an instrument, doing all parts: drums, guitar, bass, etc. I had a guitar
and a piano, but there was something about being able to use your voice as the only, or
the bulk of the instrumentation that seemed really funny/interesting to me. The only song
that that has been released from my earliest recordings is “Little Girl” which is on New Amsterdam.

Do you record all of your music yourself? Has your recording process changed since
your earliest days?

Yes, the recording process has always been just me. It’s very personal, and usually filled
with a lot of self-criticism, so it’s hard to bring other people into that. The syntax of the
process has remained pretty much the same, as I’ve learned what works best for me when
sitting down to write a song. At the seat of the process is the vocal melody, though, which
is what I usually base the rest of the music off of.

I know a few different people who caught you at SXSW, and everyone noted the
same two things: how much they enjoyed your performance, and your size. Do you feel
like people who have never seen you might expect you to be someone different, just
based on the strength of your voice?

Hilarious! Yes, people often become a bit nonplussed when they see me play live and I’m like,
barely breaking five feet. I think these days most people are exposed to others’
misconceptions about their flesh. We’re living in such an era of digital simulacra that it’s an
easy error to make. But all that aside, I’m sure people have expectations of me being a bigger
woman like Odetta or something because I have a voice bigger than my body. Sorry everyone,
I’m a premie!

Are there any pre-conceptions of you or your music that you have had to deal
with, since putting out records and gaining some level of popularity?

I think sometimes people expect my sound to remain static through all my recordings, which
is difficult because I have so many different genre-interests with my music. I love to make
everything from pop songs to power electronics. Trying to find a balance between it all is the
hardest thing, and I think it demands a lot from the listener to really be patient and open
themselves up to the project as an organic, ever-changing form. Like the scramble suits from
PKD’s “A Scanner Darkly”. Constantly changing and composed of so many different parts, but
still representing a semblance of a greater, cohesive body.

Are there any specific styles, or sounds, that you’d like to incorporate into Zola
Jesus that haven’t found their way in yet?

There’s always things I want to try that I either haven’t experimented with or haven’t done so
enough. I like to use Zola Jesus as a science project for exploring my own interests.

Credit: Frankie Teardrop

The WNYU set on New Amsterdam features a full band and sounds significantly
different from the solo Zola Jesus material I’ve heard. Is the full band lineup something
that we can expect more of on recordings, or just a live thing? Was adding band
members a necessity for a live performance, or just something else you wanted to try?

I had the full band for a couple of reasons. After much attempts of finding what worked best
for me in the live-setting, I realized it is best when I let other people play the music so as to
allow me to just focus on singing. I really don’t consider myself an instrumentalist, and when
I play live I’m battling that with having to focus on my voice and doing certain things with
my body that yield distinct sounds. I’m also coming from a history of going to see garage punk
bands play and loving that full, live sound. I wanted that in my own music. I’ve always
wanted a band. Thankfully, with the help of my great friends, we put together a live band
that had the same energy as those garage punk bands, and also let me sing and contort
myself in ways I couldn’t if I was stuck behind a synth. However, I think as the project
evolves, I’m always finding different ways of doing things and recreating the music through
new mediums. But I don’t anticipate having that many people backing me up as of now, or
using them in the recording process.

What will the lineup be like for your upcoming shows this summer?
Chaos. Every show will feature a new and different incarnation of my live project. I’ll be playing
with a mess of different people, and even doing things myself. My friend who makes music as
Biotron will probably be helping me with my European tour next summer.

The Xxperiments compilation was interesting in that it was all female-based
Midwestern groups playing the sort of weird underground noise that has somewhat
been established as a boy’s club in recent times. Do you feel any sort of kinship with
the other Xxperiments artists?

I definitely bonded early on with the Cro Magnon girls. They’re in a different dimension, and
I’ve been way into that ever since the beginning. Putting those two together is heavy. Their
live shows are like a seance for channeling Valerie Solanas. Meghan is also doing some real
great stuff with US Girls that I’ve connected with.
As for the notion of a movement based on women making left-of-center music, I’ve got too
much to say about that. I’m proud to be in a scene so driven by challenging the archetypes
of femininity in music. But at the same time I feel like having a group of women being bound
together by gender is limiting and contradictory of the entire purpose. As a feminist, I identify
with postmodern feminism, which gives insight to the idea that gender is fluid and constantly
changing with cultural and social constructions. So to be grouped into a scene where the only
real constant is our sex is like assuming our sex and gender are static with one another. If I
identified myself as a male would I still be included in this scene? I don’t know. I go in and out
with identifying myself as an overtly feminine being. I can feel feminine on the outside but
when I make my music it’s often very aggressive and comes from a fairly masculine place in
me. I really respect artists like Deborah Jaffe of Master/Slave Relationship, who makes
extremely masculine, aggressive music, but does so from this pornographic, sexually and
burlesquely feminine perspective. But it is definitely not dainty. She challenges and crossbreeds
gender. I respect all of the women in the XXperiments scene for being outstanding musicians,
regardless of whether or not they’re females. And it should be known that I’m not denouncing
the movement at all, but without destruction there can be no progression. So long as we
preserve the movement as a means of allowing us free-range to explore our sex and gender
as disparate players in our art.

How often, if ever, do you encounter an audience with a far more limited and
backwards view on gender than your own? Like, if a guy were to describe Zola Jesus
as “hot”, would you want to punch him in the face, or take it as a compliment, or ignore
it, or what?

I mean, I’m not the kind of feminist that has these obsessively ram-headed principles. I’m
comfortable with myself as a woman on the outside. I choose to do things to augment my
feminine looks and one can only expect that that will yield certain comments from people.
Comments about my physical appearance don’t really affect me, so long as it’s not interfering
with how one responds to my music. But on that same note sometimes I like to play with the
two together, as a feminine body making masculine music. At that point, comments such as
that are only natural. Not really bothered or affected by it.

Who are the male vocalists that have inspired you? I hear a little Danzig in your
voice, especially on the WNYU recording.

I’d have to say, you know, Peter Murphy, Ian Curtis, a lot of the great minimal synth-wave
voices (Martin Dupont, Steven Grandell, Frank Tovey, Dirk Ivens). I like the flatness of those
vocals. So dark and cold and even without that expression there’s still so much they’re saying
with their voice. Danzig definitely, too. I grew up listening to a lot of Danzig around my brother.

What do you want someone to take away from your music, when they listen to it?
What’s the best way to enjoy a Zola Jesus record?

On a very surface level I just want people to enjoy it. I use pop songs as a way to hit the
largest group of people at once. I feel like if you can get them with a hook they’re already
open up to accepting whatever else you can embed in there. I hope that people hear what
they like and still keep patience in allowing themselves to explore along with me all the
different tributaries that seed off from that. There’s too much that hasn’t been done to
continue making the same music over and over.

Have you ever considered collaborating with other people?
Yes! I have many collaborations in the process right now. I love the idea of collaborating
and putting two distinct sounds together. I’m very excited about the projects I have underway.

Anything you care to reveal?
I think it’s all pretty well out there!

Reviews – July 2009

Circuit Des Yeux Fruition 7″ (Dull Knife)
Here’s a new 7″ from Dull Knife Records, which in and of itself means there’s a 50% chance of ethereal female vocals. “Fruition” opens with just that, recorded with a clarity not found in the previous Circuit Des Yeux material (the work of one Haley Fohr), and then she accidentally presses play on a groady drum machine and just rolls with it, singing along to herself in an attempt to reach a trance state. The b-side makes even less sense, as her trance has taken her back to the days of King Arthur and she beautifully sings a soliloquy over some classical strumming, deciding to end it by blowing some raspberries all over the otherwise regal affair. Real strange record, and while I still greatly prefer the damaged punk of Fohr’s other group, Cro Magnon, this short single provides evidence that her solo material is worth following to see if Circuit Des Yeux really blossoms or if she just gets embarrassed by this stuff five years down the road.

Cold Cave Edsel & Ruby 12″ (What’s Your Rupture?)
Cold Cave have an incredibly deep well from which to pull ideas, as the three tracks that comprise Edsel & Ruby are all very different from what we’ve already heard, yet totally fitting amongst the rest. “Love Comes Close” is the a-side for a reason; much like “The Trees Grew Emotions And Died” was the dancefloor-filler on their first 12″, this is their closest encounter with pop yet (and also their most successful). Serious New Order / Factory vibe, and while that can be said for hundreds of records that came out this year, I haven’t heard anything else that can harken to such distinct musical genres while still completely retaining their own unique identity. There’s even guitar on this one, and along with that, a higher confidence level that almost scares me into wondering just how huge Cold Cave could become. The two b-side tracks are great too, as “Cebe And Me” treads toward EBM with a disconnected female vocal (ostensibly Cold Cave member Caralee McElroy, previously of Xiu Xiu) and “Heaven Was Full” drops in like some heavy and stoned Gary Numan or Ceramic Hello track with more intricate percussion than I’ve come to expect from Cold Cave. Really a great, fully-formed 12″ that exceeds their excellent debut. Limited to 300 copies and presumably sold out, but songs like “Love Comes Close” inevitably make it into the general public no matter how many copies are pressed. I have faith.

Cold Cave & Prurient Stars Explode cassette (Hospital Productions)
Cold Cave and Prurient are two like-minded groups whose different creative paths have recently converged, evident for the first time on this collaborative tape. Surprisingly, Stars Explode sounds pretty much like neither artist, as all three tracks are comprised of somewhat discreet tones. The first two cuts are the most subtle in either artist’s catalog, antique synths slowly unfolding on one another with a conspicuous serenity. I was waiting for the monster to burst out of the closet, but he never arrived. Only on the final track does a beating pulse arrive, along with some noisier swirls, yet still quite soft in comparison to your average Prurient collaboration. It’s not worth the eBay value if you are hoping to hear Prurient singing over synth-pop, but if you stumble into someone’s library and find it on a coffee table next to an old bottle of brandy, pour a snifter and pop it in.

Cult Ritual Holidays 7″ (Life’s A Rape)
They haven’t come to my town yet this summer, so this quick single will have to tide me over for a fix of this frequently-discussed Floridian hardcore group. “Holidays” comes off the debut LP that I have yet to hear, but it’s a real ripper, nicely collapsing hardcore aggression, noise-rock defeat and arty leanings into a fairly simple sound that doesn’t sacrifice any of those styles. It’s real noisy, but this is still hardcore and can only really be evaluated as such. If Born Against were buying live Sex Vid tapes and formed in 2008, they’d probably sound like this. The untitled b-side is a sound collage that is neither here nor there, but I prefer it to the other noisy hardcore bands of their generation that try their hardest to let the listener know they really like power-electronics or whatever. Looking forward to their live show in what is sure to be a humid and foul-smelling room.

Destino Final Atrapados LP (La Vida Es En Mus)
The last modern hardcore album from Europe to leave a nasty boot-print on my face was Onna For Pleasure by Skitkids, that is until I dropped the needle on Atrapados and was instantly met with their blazing wall of violent hardcore punk. And it’s from Spain! Invasion begat Destino Final, whose LP left me unimpressed, but apparently upgrading their bassist and drummer were just the changes they needed, as there is nary a false move to be found here. Opener “Donde Estan?” is all Shitlickers intensity matched with some violent vocal echo, followed by another question, “Que Vas A Hacer?”, which sounds like Bone Awl playing through Tragedy’s gear. Really heavy, powerful hardcore that somehow finds the perfect balance between utter chaos and technical proficiency. Maybe the fact that all these songs are structurally simple helps, because these guys just pound it out in a way thought by many to be only capable by the Japanese. I keep returning to this record and it only sounds better, none of the initial shock has worn off. The ghosts of Cheetah Chrome Motherfuckers, LSD and Negazione are all alive and well here. Es jodidamente chevere.

Francis Harold and the Holograms Who Said These Happy Times LP (Going Underground / Square Wave)
In 2009, the gap between the imitated and the imitators is steadily shrinking, as Francis Harold draw seemingly all of their inspiration from the recently deceased (Clockcleaner), the still-breathing elderly (Brainbombs) and those they would like to open for (Homostupids, Pissed Jeans*). Their sound and image is so uncannily borrowed from those four groups that it is nearly impossible to connect with Francis Harold as anything other than a modern punk pastiche. The vocalist has his delay pedals set to Sharkey, aping his every last pronunciation, the songs utilize the Homostupids template at various tempos and the guitarist has memorized every feedback nuance that Pissed Jeans has previously offered. I shouldn’t have read the lyric sheet, but I did, which yielded some of the most thoughtless, pansy-fied versions of Brainbombs prose I’ve ever witnessed. There’s a song about loving little boys, shocking I know, but these guys still seem too timid to actually go there and be like “I’m a pedophile, so what”, like their parents might end up eventually hearing this. The record ends on a dirge with a riff unsuitable for carrying so many minutes of music. If you’re able to get past the clear-as-day modern homage of this band’s essence, it’s a nice platter of grunge-punk that works it out well for the most part, but I can’t help but wonder who these guys think they are fooling. *(Editor’s note: Pissed Jeans are clearly the best of these four bands and their new album ‘King Of Jeans’ is released August 18th)

Ghost Hospital D+ 7″ (Teen Ape)
Band name that reads like a weird-punk Mad Libs, cover picture of an America’s Funniest Videos-looking baby… I don’t know, what do you think? I put on “D+” and it’s got a cutesy little two-step like something off the first couple Of Montreal albums, and then the chorus stomps on that garden with a nicely pulsing Dino Jr. type of abandon. Repeat those two, cool bloopy guitar solo, repeat once more, and we’re out. Sure, I’d do it again. “Religious Bias In Nursery Rhymes” is the flip and a little moodier but still has that sort of Southeast, comfy khaki indie vibe, the type of optimism that separates these guys from someone like Psychedelic Horseshit. Not much on “Nursery Rhymes” to really grab onto, but there’s nothing to fault it for either. And I’m not just saying that because they thank Monty Buckles.

Haemmorhaging Fetus Procreation: A Disease / Tangled Desires LP (Gaping Hole)
Two sides of uninterrupted head-clean from Haemmorhaging Fetus, culled from the two cassette releases that comprise the title. Haemmorhaging Fetus pretty much makes one long sound, with little variation, and plugs away until he decides to stop. There’s not even a change in volume to signify the beginning or end of these three tracks, just a violent thrust into his world. And that sound? The classic harsh-noise squall, used by anyone from Macronympha to Masonna, although Haemmorhaging Fetus puts essentially zero flavor or character into it. This is his monolithic blast of sound, do with it what you will. I admire the dedication and refusal to accommodate anyone besides himself. It’s incredibly loud and effective, and it offers no condolences. Every record collection needs something like this.

Iron Age The Sleeping Eye 2xLP (Cyclopean)
To get you up to speed, we’ve got an Austin, TX hardcore band that released one decent but ultimately unremarkable metallic hardcore album a few years ago. They shifted gears slightly and then proceeded to spend multiple months and thousands of dollars crafting their modern metal masterpiece, The Sleeping Eye, which they then released on their own record label in a lavish and expensive double LP package (and is now slated for re-release on Tee Pee Records). A nice story, but does the actual music hold up to the myth? On first listen, I’d say no, and describe it as an innocuous but enjoyable mosh-metal record. I figured that’d be my last word on the matter, but I found myself reaching for The Sleeping Eye more and more, and after catching the band live (who pulled it off perfectly), I am totally sold on both the band themselves and the enjoyability and guts of The Sleeping Eye. Most all semblances of hardcore are totally gone, replaced with a buffet of riffs that is continuously refilled. Each song has at least one elongated guitar solo and on a whole, the tempo is built more for hard-pitting than skanking – the fast parts are tasteful and never too long. The vocals are cavernous and fill the gaps nicely, and the singer knows when to shut up or actually go for a high-note (which he nails). It’s a simple concept, and while it may not hit you instantly, The Sleeping Eye is a total rarity in that it’s essentially a metal album with no bad parts. Every second of this record has been put together with a drive for perfection and a discerning taste, and for that I am highly appreciative.

The Lava Children The Lava Children CD (Graveface)
Lava Children’s debut EP is so typical that I almost feel ill-equipped to be discussing it. It’s built in that very specific and modern strain of indie-rock (sans rock) that relies heavily on quirky female vocals, animal references, childlike imagery and a safe inoffensiveness that drives me nuts. I understand that not everyone needs to connect with the music they put on while studying for a test or driving to a friend’s house, and that not every bit of music needs to be thoroughly dissected in order to be pleasantly processed, but still – I can’t help but get slightly annoyed at something like the Lava Children, with their veritable checklist of approved modern-day indie characteristics, the type of band that only exists to eventually open for the Flaming Lips and ruffle as few feathers as possible in the process. Their music moves from indie-funky to soft n’ sweet guitar jangle, with each of the five tracks (featuring titles like “Troll” and “I Am A Pony”) played quite capably and with few distractions. I like my music to be either really bad or really good, so each time something this blasé and cutesy comes along, the Sockeye fan in me dies a little more.

Locrian Drenched Lands CD (Small Doses / At War With False Noise)
If you read last month’s BLOODYMINDED interview with the attention to detail it deserved, you’d notice the mention of Locrian as one of the newer Chicago bands to be carrying the torch for bleak and intense sonics. Drenched Lands is their longest and most readily-available release yet, worth investigating for any fan of the extended atmospheric tension that only guitar and synth can create. Locrian build it up and bring it down on Drenched Lands, sometimes softly and sometimes not, swelling up the room with their sound, calling to mind that hour-long Abruptum soundscape or the first Jesu EP. No drums, so any sort of rhythm is usually based on the chiming guitar/noise that underpins most tracks. Vocals show up on some songs, generally of the shrieking black-metal variety. There’s enough variation and instrumentation that I don’t find myself drifting off, but everything fits nicely, from the acoustic guitar to the occasional gong. There’s effort here and it shows.

Mayyors Deads EP 12″ (Hurl)
On their first two singles, I thought Mayyors had nailed their sound, but hadn’t yet crafted the songs to keep their records off my shelves and on my turntable. With Deads, they’ve completely stepped up their game. The 12″ EP format suits them perfectly, as these wide grooves make for a louder record than any other piece of punk vinyl I’ve heard this year, the type of thing that leaked MP3s are unable to replicate. The recording is wildly noisy yet totally punchy and sounds dramatically fuller than any of Mayyors’ home-recorded contemporaries. And as for my previous complaint, something about these songs has finally caught hold of my cerebellum, from the choppy Karp-like riffing of “The Crawl” to the abused live looping that peppers “Clicks”. It sounds great and gives me the same thrill I got from the first Comets On Fire album, who similarly unhinged a different strain of rock music to their own end. I hope that their stubborn independence (strictly self-released records, zero web presence or MySpace page) doesn’t slowly morph into an annoyance at having fans, as the cruddy, mudded-up piece of paper for a cover and below-demand record quantities might suggest. I will just continue to PayPal them my money and do so as quickly and quietly as possible.

Menstruation Sisters Should Sisters Suck? 12″ (Ultra Eczema)
The Sisters are back on track with Should Sisters Suck?, a stinky new one-sided 12″ on the fittingly grotesque Ultra Eczema label. Their recent Ecstatic Peace LP was a bit of a misstep into the world of the song for them, but Should Sisters Suck? is pure pain. I love this group and the fact that every time I put this record on, I turn the volume lower in preparation, and then find myself continuously adjusting the knob closer to zero, as the infinite guitar feedback is so piercing that I’m not just worried about upstairs neighbors, I’m concerned for the people who live across the street. The percussion really shines here, as one track even reaches a blast-beat pace when it’s not totally fumbling, and the bass still sounds undead. The vocals are as inhumanly twisted as ever, too; it’s like Menstruation Sisters knew their last LP was a bit too polite so they came back with a vengeance on this one. One of the few groups I know to have released multiple one-sided 12″s, I guess any sensible pressing plant wouldn’t have the scruples to press more than one side of this at a time. A fascinating and disruptive listen from one of the most unique “noise” groups of our time.

Mr. Raoul K Sun Of Gao 12″ (Fatsouls)
Seems like every month I am reviewing a new Mr. Raoul K 12″, but I’m not complaining! “Sun Of Gao” is on both sides, the a-side “City Mix” being a little more heart-pumping than “Village Mix” on the flip. The sound is still strictly Raoul K: various African percussion smoothly mixed with some minimal house music beats. “Sun Of Gao” sounds more like a community jam sesh than a carefully-manicured electronic track and has some real nice guitar lines that sweep in and out. There’s also some really cool organic bass that sounds like sheet metal popping in and out of place, as is the MO of Mr. Raoul K to work with at least one unrecognizable sound per 12″ to my American ears. I’m pretty sure he works personally with the musicians he is sampling, and it’s that human relationship that really elevates Sun Of Gao and the rest of his fast-growing catalog beyond electronic dance music into sound sculpted by flesh and blood.

Obits I Blame You LP (Sub Pop)
I can understand why a guy like Rick Froberg has developed such a following throughout his career, and I can appreciate that is essentially built upon the strength of his voice and the tunes that accompany it. Anyone whose music can build and maintain this sort of interest without the assistance of wacky outfits, a confessional blog or notorious on-stage outbursts, in 2009, is surely onto something. I still listen to that first Hot Snakes album a lot, and while Drive Like Jehu don’t mean to me what they mean to many others, I can appreciate their contribution just the same. Obits is Froberg’s new project, as anyone familiar with the man already knows, and their debut album I Blame You is a softer, more adult take on his previous projects. The first thing I noticed was how wimpy the whole thing is, compared to his previous groups, and while that may not be a fair thing to do, anyone expecting some ballsy rock and mean guitar riffage is going to be left hanging. Even when things are at their most rocking, like on “Widow Of My Dreams”, I can’t help but notice the void where youthful energy might’ve once been. If you can get over that, and don’t mind acting mature once in a while, I Blame You is still a very nice record; it’s clear that these guys put a lot of time and effort into making an actual album, with songs that flow appopriately as well as attractive and humorous artwork (it’s been weeks since I first saw it but I still chuckle at “xtra compressed for maximum listener fatigue”). Honestly, a lot of this really calls to mind the first Chris Isaak album – sparse and confident rock with clean guitars, tight drums and an experienced and capable vocalist. A bunch of guys that respect the rock tradition and honor it by taking the time to hone their craft and share their experience with the rest of us.

The Rita Shark Knifing 7″ (SNSE)
With Shark Knifing, The Rita is setting himself up to be the Bear Grylls of noise. First thing you notice is the gruesome black and white picture book that makes up the packaging. The photos of sharks getting knifed are raw, but there are a number of creepy pencil drawings of masked dudes cutting at sharks, including one particularly disturbing series of a shark with a human’s head, also knifed. The packaging sets the mood perfectly for these two concise yet potent blasts of harsh noise, with the occasional shark-based sample bubbling to the surface, only to be drowned back into the whitewater. The Rita stands out because of his masterful use of low-end, which could easily get swallowed up in the squall by a less capable pair of hands. Really heavy, aesthetically-solid record from a pretty intriguing guy, not to mention the fact that he goes by “The Rita”, a name I still haven’t begun to comprehend. There’s some uncomfortable and sad humor coating a much darker core here, not unlike the childish drawings of a mass murderer.

Rusted Shut Dead LP (Load)
If you ever wanted to be verbally abused by Sylvester the Cat, that’s exactly how Dead opens up, to the point where you can feel the cartoon spit running down your cheeks. Soon enough, the instruments kick in and a swirling pot of bad vibes is produced, thanks to the abused guitar, bass, drums and their human abusers. Two long, churning tracks on the first side; monotonous, filthy, and similar to Air Conditioning when they used to play rock songs. A more red-eyed companion to the recent Hot Sex 12″. The b-side takes a different approach, six tracks (and only just as many riffs) all with varying muffled recordings spanning a number of years. I can’t imagine these guys could hold down rent at any given practice space for very long, so it comes as no surprise. These six tracks might be my favorite Rusted Shut medley yet, as the shorter song durations make for a more potent and focused blast of hate, rapidly firing with the spite of a teenage drop-out. Much admiration for the label guys who can act as a liason between the world of reality and the world of Rusted Shut to turn these songs into tangible product.

Tamaryn Weather War 7″ (Hell Yes!)
Gratuitous new 7″ on a gratuitous new label, releasing only one-sided singles pressed in quantities exponentially less than the artist’s number of MySpace friends. I love the world Tamaryn has created and “Weather War” is no deviation, all tumbling percussion, languid guitar and her voice, both drowsy and forceful. It’s a cool song and sounds like a live take, a bit more chapped and raw than her album, but without sacrificing any of its punch. I would think most casual fans of Tamaryn can do without this one, and I myself had no intention of ordering it, but I ended up seeing it on a rack in a shop and I became weak under her shadowy gaze. The vinyl itself has one of those pop-out centers that I didn’t know they still made, too. When a record only has one song, it’s these little details that count.

Tiga Ciao! 3xLP (PIAS Recordings)
Tiga looks a lot like the Project Runway winner who kept saying “fierce”, just with more eyeliner and the ability to get laid constantly. His electro-house is similar to that guy’s fashion too, as it revels in style and campiness and is slick and sexual but not without a witty self-awareness. Ciao! could’ve easily been cast off to the electro-clash dungeon of 2002, but we are far enough past that trend and Tiga has been established for years as the type of guy to go to for this sort of thing, so Ciao! remains unhindered by any outside force. The obvious monster hit here is “Shoes”, filled with silly/dumb trade-off lyrics and an incessantly catchy beat. You will feel like a dumb-ass singing along to this one but there’s really no fighting it. It’s the type of track you hear inside Urban Outfitters and Google the lyrics when you get home. Songs like “Beep Beep Beep” and “What You Need” are just that, attempts at being actual pop songs, and while it’s nice that the entire album doesn’t fall under the same BPM and premise, the decision to alternate betwee pop-hit and techno-banger leaves both sides a little under-developed. The lyrics can get bogus quickly too, as “Luxury” comes across a little too seriously and ends up dopey. I am better off just buying the “Shoes” 12″ that Green Velvet and Mr. Oizo throw down on and leaving Ciao! to the diehards; you probably are too.

Fresh Cuts & Cigarette Burns compilation 7″ (Criminal IQ)
I’m all over any new chunk of FNU Ronnies vinyl, which Criminal IQ was kind enough to provide on this six-band 7″ comp, whose only theme seems to be dirty punks and the problems they can cause. The Ronnies rightfully start things off, and they are in fast-punk mode, with Street Kyle playing so nervously fast and the other guys adding a cascading, gnarly punk riff on top. Way more traditional punk than the Golem 12″ but nearly as great. Sick Jump! are next and while I try to avoid bands with superfluous punctuation, I need to see if these guys have a demo or something, because their amateurish and raw playing style meshes well with the slobbering bozo on the mic. Not sure I could handle an LP of this but “Fuck Kids” is perfect for following the Ronnies. Rounding out side one is Kill the Hippies, who I thought for sure were different from that Ohio band from the mid-90’s, but apparently they never went away. Their song, along with the tracks by The Curtains (unsurprisingly not the Deerhoof side-project) and White Load, fails to leave any impression either way, all satisfactory takes on snotty punk rock. Flying Trichecos are the same, but their manic behavior bumps them up to the same league as the first two. I bet all these guys love the Grabbies, and I can’t blame them. The packaging is noticeably crappy and the record is limited, but it serves as a nice contemporary answer to those Bag of Dicks compilations out of Chicago some ten years earlier.