No sentence throws up a red flag quite like “Check out this band, they play hardcore with a
twist!” As far as my taste is concerned, hardcore is meant to be played as true to its
forefathers as possible, leaving innovation and genre-bending to any of the hundreds of other
rock-based styles. Let the indie rockers, prog nerds and metalheads twist things around, I just
want my hardcore to sound like Victim In Pain, okay? And yet, in spite of my puritanical
needs, a band like Dry Rot exists to play hardcore as if they created the style themselves,
with influences that either cancel each other out or make no sense. It really shouldn’t gel, and
yet through their slow-growing discography, recently capped off with their fantastic debut
album Philistine, Dry Rot have proven to be worth following, so much for their victories as
for their losses. Masterminds Jordan and Drew have no qualms explaining themselves here –
just be thankful that I didn’t prod them into a deeper discussion of MxPx’s Life In General, a
true 90′s pop-punk gem that time and shame seems to have erased from the collective memory.
When and how did Dry Rot get started?
Jordan (guitar): Dry-Rot had its impetus from a group house we all shared in Santa
Barbara (about 25 miles north of Ventura, where I grew up and currently live) in 2004-5.
A bunch of friends who were all going to different colleges in the area at the time. If you
look at it, Santa Barbara was the perfect breeding ground for Dry-Rot: a beautiful resort
town paradise. It’s a place that gives you the feeling that everyone is rich, good-looking,
etc. Of course that’s not the case; in fact Santa Barbara’s class gap is even wider than
Ventura’s. So for instance, you go downtown and for every ego’ed-out rich bozo there’s
a drunk bum banging on cans for change. This was the perfect paradox milieu in which our
band was conceived.
I was away on a semester abroad in Europe while Drew (singer) and Patrick (drummer) had
been kicking around a new band idea. I believe it was to be called GAK. Drew had sang in
a wonderful band called Blood Dumpster and Patrick and I had played in a long-staying local
hardcore band called Hit The Deck. We were fresh off that band when we wanted to break
from that (not necessarily musically, but “scene” and environment-wise). They had a plan
that kind of fizzled. I’m the “hard-nosed one” of our group of friends (I prefer the “father”
moniker but let’s be honest). I can’t find the words… I’m not stubborn, it’s just I have the
tendency to force action. I can’t stifle creatively or I’ll just ruin everyone’s time around me.
I was itching to play guitar (had sung in the aforementioned band) so I took the reigns and
wrote a grip of songs… what would be the first three songs from the “Permission” album.
The guys took to it fine enough and we went from there. Patrick kind of drifted off while
Drew and I (the only contiguous members of Dry-Rot) tried to stabilize something. After a
very strange and memorable first show (a whole different topic there!) the band finally
settled into what I would consider its’ “classic” line-up: Drew (vocals), me (guitar), Patrick
(drums) and Cameron (bass). It should be made clear that from the beginning and until now
the band has, at its core, been Drew and I. Patrick and Cameron resonated closest to the
vision of the band, and had things worked out they would still be a part of it.
Drew (vocals): If Jordan won’t talk about the first show, then I will! We had a different
drummer who was this snotty little prude who we recorded a demo with, in either late January
or early February 2005, and like I said, the guy was a wimp, but he could play the drums very
well. The show was a birthday party for some kid in his bedroom. On the first note of the first
song, the PA system somehow flew across the room and I probably grabbed Jordan’s guitar and
threw it out of tune. I don’t think we actually played a full song, because every time we
started to play, one of us would just break something. At one point I looked over and Cameron
had thrown his bass on the ground and was punching the bridge, and his hands were bleeding.
By the end, none of the instruments were working, I had broken the PA and drumset, and every
one of us was bleeding. The drummer didn’t say anything to us afterwards, he just left. So the
show was over, and I decided to go to an indian casino with a friend of mine. He had a butterfly
knife and a can of mase in his bag, and I had a pocket knife and a razor-blade in my pocket, so
we got those confiscated. Keep in mind, I was still bleeding at the time, from the chest. I walked
up to a blackjack table and sat down, and the dealer said, “Hey man, are you alright?” It was
raining outside and I was pretty wet, and my shirt was like covered in blood. I said yeah, and
proceeded to loose a couple hundred dollars in about 15 minutes.
I can think of plenty of reasons, but what do you think makes Dry Rot different from Generic
Hardcore Band A?
Jordan: Gosh this is a tough question! To be honest, absolutely nothing. Well, that’s not
entirely true. I would have said “Nothing” prior to our latest record, “Philistine”… I’ll get into that
in a bit. But until that recording, I didn’t view Dry-Rot as anything different from anything I’d
done prior, which many people would (and have) called ‘pedestrian’ or what have you. To me,
it has all been more of an extension. One thing has always followed another, and this was simply
the next creative step. I’ve never really measured my music / creativity in comparative terms
until recently, when we’ve been scrutinized up against other bands. It’s hard for me to see us
as ‘different’, any more than any band being different.
So with Dry-Rot, we had the serendipity of being at the “right place” at the “right time”. We kept
our heads down, had very small but very specific goals and most importantly we believed in it.
Maybe that’s what makes Dry-Rot different, the fact that we actually believe in it? That shows
through, I think. Whatever the case, we had a non-existent social network that was suddenly
fabricated by very “cool” / actually cool people: namely, to begin with, Chris Corry and Mike
Priehs. All of a sudden it went from 0 to 100.
As a “musician” though, I’d make a case that with our newest material we are markedly different.
Sonically, I wanted to create a new sound. Something that, in my narrow view of the world,
hadn’t been done but could be replicated. That is to say, it’s easy to do something new with
studio trickery, but to try to come up with a new style of playing the guitar is a small feat. I
think I accomplished what I set out to do; I wanted something really abrasive, but different
and still listenable. Something made with minimal effects.
Lastly, what’s possibly made us different and set us apart is honesty. Drew is the most honest
lyricist of our time, in my opinion. His writing shows not a hint of pretension. The music is
honest – we’ll play what we want when we want to; that’s the most liberating aspect of being
in a band! We’ve known since day one there would be a mountain of contempt for us as a band
and people, so that takes a lot of pressure off and allows us to make simple honest music.
Why did you expect a mountain of contempt?
Jordan: Well I guess coming up in punk / hardcore, I’ve been made fun of so much for
being religious that I knew this would be no exception. In fact I’ve experienced way more
persecution as a result of Dry-Rot than before. I grew up in the Nardcore scene and initially,
going to shows was FRIGHTENING. Those people are hard and scary, let’s not be mistaken. But
hanging out with them and playing music with them, putting on shows, etc created a relationship.
So I never really received anything negative for believing in Christ because, as fate would have
it, I’m not a jerk. So locally I became well-accepted. I remember being defended by the elder
people in the scene when I was verbally attacked for philosophical differences. I was defended
because I was actually doing things — drawing band art, booking shows, playing in bands,
promoting bands, making zines, etc. At that point, those people were mature enough to think
“Who cares, this guy is CONTRIBUTING” which was more than could be said of my detractors.
But when Dry-Rot started, it wasn’t music associated with that scene so it’s been a more
national thing. And since people are cowards, there’s been much mud slung at us over the
internet or through word of mouth. I’ve never once had a live confrontation since starting Dry-Rot.
I’m not selling anything and therefore I have no need or use for disclaimers, but as an example
I’ve looked at our mention of Christ as a litmus test: If you are going to get bent out of shape
over our decision to thank what you don’t even believe in the first place, then you are the
WRONG PERSON for our creative expression. If, on the other hand, you are skeptical yet
intrigued, I want to get to know you. I understand how that can be mistaken for arrogance.
I don’t know if you are familiar with Umberto Eco. He’s a superb author that is notoriously
difficult; a popular story goes that he intentionally makes the first 100 pages of his books
really insanely hard to get through. If you do get through them, you are rewarded with some
of the finest literature of our time; maybe ever. I won’t dare to make a direct comparison
but he’s a direct influence for my personal approach to this band. If you are true to what
you make, “your” audience will find you. It’s wading through the sea of idiots that proves
Drew: I think what makes us different, which Jordan touched on, is that we do things
exactly how we want them to be done, and in turn, every move we make is the right one.
Regardless of the outcome, we always win. Meaning we play some big festival and as soon as
we start to play and everyone leaves because we are stupid, or tons of people come and see
us and we play a great show. Or we play to nobody and people miss a great show. Whatever
happens, we like it. We played bar shows on tour, like three in a row, where everyone would
leave, even the bartenders. That makes me feel great, like we really accomplished something.
And I don’t know how we got stuck in that mindset. It could just be extreme arrogance. It’s
probably that, actually. But I don’t know, it really works for us!
What were the pivotal records that got you into hardcore in the first place?
Jordan: I grew up completely isolated from contemporary music, which I count as a
plus. My parents exposed me to classic rock like The Who and The Beatles and then Christian
music pioneers like Larry Norman and Randy Stonehill and so forth; I was encouraged to explore
and I never remember being scolded for wanting to listen to different music; I just never had
an interest in boring-people music. In a way it was a subversive upbringing of rejecting the
mainstream- a value I hold dearly to this day. So it was really fluid and easy for me to get into
punk. In fourth grade my uncle, who attended shows in LA in the early ’80s, played me Flipper,
Germs and The Ramones. It really scared me but a seed was planted; he’d make me tapes with
Jesus Lizard and Butthole Surfers on them… I just couldn’t get my mind around it. A couple
years later, in middle school, I was eased in by pop punk but I was still searching. I had some
really twisted friends in high school… I guess we gravitated toward each other in the same
way Drew and I do. I’m the perpetual straight man. So I remember getting really into the SST
stuff like Minutemen and Descendents. Didn’t get into Black Flag then… I heard them but they
weren’t fast! Then I distinctly remember hearing Minor Threat, the song “Guilty of Being White”.
From then on it was instant scavenging for THAT sound. Again, didn’t have many friends into
punk so we’d go to the record stores and I remember vividly searching for anything “punk”
with a publishing year between 1980-1985. I bought a lot of really crappy records, as you can
Any crappy records in particular that you remember purchasing, and disliking, but
still spending a lot of time listening to anyway, because you had no other options?
I feel like that’s kind of a crucial event that kids growing up today won’t ever really
suffer from, since all music is essentially available for free on the internet.
Jordan: I know there are plenty. I’ve never presumed to have good taste. Let me think.
I still stand behind them, but that pop punk band MXPX was huge to me. I knew this was not
good music in the traditional sense, and I had a moment of clarity even in middle school
picturing myself phasing it out. But it was something that related to what I was into at the
time. I loved every local band growing up, and many of them were absolutely not good. I also
was into the “later” material of many bands such as RKL, Stalag 13, Ill Repute, Suicidal
Tendencies and the like. I just had heard so much about these bands (from Nardcore locals,
zines, etc) but I could never find their early records in the stores! So I was “that guy”, just
buying CDs by the bands because I had heard of their names but their crucial (read: good)
albums were no longer in print/available at that time. Nowadays, coinciding with the day of
the internet is also the day of the re-issue, which is huge.
It sounds stupid but there’s something really great about the innocence of tastelessness. In
my ignorance, I was listening to music 24/7 (much like now) but I was completely
non-discriminating in my tastes–I could be easily convinced. Genres didn’t exist in my world
so I listened to everything, so long as it fit into a very large spectrum I’d crudely mapped out.
Drew: The first hardcore record I heard was Can’t Close My Eyes when I was
in 7th grade. My friend’s older brother made me a couple tapes of that, Break Down the
Walls, and Toilet Kids Bread by FYP. I was really into Gwar at the time, so going
from something like that with all the pomp and circumstance to something that was as fast
and angry sounding was an experience. I mean, listen to any Youth of Today record, Ray
sounds like he’s playing a show, that’s how intense his vocals are. And I couldn’t believe how
fast they were playing, and I didn’t know what was going on with the gang vocals, I thought
they had five singers or something. That instantly changed my life, like completely. It was an
empowering moment I think. Like everyone else, I was mad and felt very out of place in school,
and I didn’t know music could reflect the same feelings I had. I mean, I grew up listening to like
Alice In Chains and Soundgarden and Pantera from a pretty early age, but that junk didn’t even
sound aggressive compared to Youth of Today. I’m really having trouble articulating this right
now, but that was one of the biggest turning points in my life, definitely.
Does every band member have to agree with every decision you guys make, or
is the band more of a democracy? I ask this because you’ve done some pretty varied
stuff and I am curious if everyone is on-board 100% of the time or if some members
just let others take control.
Jordan: I’d describe the band as a dual dictatorship… maybe an oligarchy? Again, Drew
and I are the guts of the operation. I think we independently come up with ideas that are
presented with the foreknowledge that they will be given the green light. Although we are
extremely different personalities, we have a connection that allows us to think as one
musically. I can distinctly remember instances of independently drumming up ideas and
directions; it’s never a surprise that we are on the same page. Like Siamese twins.
I’ve had to go out on some pretty far limbs these past few years but I don’t think I’ve regretted
backing Drew on anything. He’s a very strange person, you know. There have been instances
live where I’ve been nervous about what he’ll do. But the pendulum swings both ways, I mean
I poured bleach on him for goodness’ sake so I can’t be too sheepish there.
Drew: I think in most bands it kind of ends up that one or two people kind of lead things.
In our case, Jordan and I are the ones that write all the music and lyrics, so that kind of makes
us the leaders by default I guess. I think when Cameron and Pat were in the band it was kind of
equal. Like, we were all on the same page musically I think. There was a lot of tension there but
I think we all equally shared the vision. The new bass player Adam is on the same page for sure,
I’m really excited that he is in the band because I think he’ll come up with good ideas. For one of
our shows he was planning on using a distortion pedal, but he would only turn it on in between
songs. Come on, that’s funny and good.
What happened with Cameron and Pat leaving the band? Did they play on Philistine?
Jordan: Our only tour, a full U.S. undertaking in the summer of 2007 practically dismantled
the band. For all intents and purposes, we are all fundamentally different people as a result of that
tour. It was literally life-changing. The best part about it is it wasn’t even that “crazy” on paper.
Many shows were badly promoted/attended, nobody cared, etc. I don’t think we did anything I’d
deem crazy. I attribute it’s importance (for lack of a better word) to the fact that we played live
what you hear on those records every night. If you think about that, it’s insane. Everyone’s always
so surprised that we are the visual representation of our recorded output. I remember getting
banned from a local club because of how we acted (I think bird seed and Pepto-bismol was
involved?). The guy said we were too much. It’s punk! I don’t know what you’re expecting! The
problem is the ‘genre’ has totally atrophied…there’s no muscle anymore. People are sedate and
play fast music for novelty when in fact there is nothing novel about this kind of music. It’s ugly,
dullard idiot music and so it suits us perfectly. So, long story short, those two kind of didn’t really
want to continue with that. And I don’t blame them. I never want to do a tour again; I doubt
Drew could. Patrick ended up moving away to Seattle and we are all four still friends today.
Would you prefer that Dry Rot garnered negative attention or no attention at all?
Drew: I would WAY rather get only negative attention. I would almost rather get negative
attention than positive attention. I mean I wouldn’t, I think it’s great that people like us and I
love hearing that this person likes the record or that person likes the record, but negative attention
is much more entertaining and funny. My attention span is really going to the dogs, so I’m always
looking for ways to make myself laugh. At Sound and Fury Festival, I overheard someone say that
we “just looked and sounded stupid.” I can’t get enough of that.
Jordan: There are days when I’m definitely in a ‘just get the name out there’ mood. I stand
behind the music. But more often than not, I simply don’t have time to think about it. So I guess
I’d prefer Dry-Rot get no attention at all, if that means we are left alone to do whatever we feel like.
Although, if there are any people out in the world who are like us, then maybe negative attention
because that’s all that really catches my interest in music these days. I will seek out negative
record reviews for new bands. Plus, a band like Dry-Rot exists as a signifier or beacon to be
noticed; there aren’t any bands with messages anymore. So in that regard, maybe we need all
the attention we can get.
Does Dry Rot have a message?
Jordan: Most certainly. I don’t think I’d be able to articulate it though. I’m not trying to be
cryptic either. It just never sounds right when put into words. It’s like explaining God to people.
Can you think of anything more absurd? It’s a failed technique. I’d say, musically at least, we
have a very distinct message that is completely open to interpretation; much like looking at a
Francis Bacon or Richard Diebenkorn painting. I’m sure they could explain it to you, but wouldn’t
that kind of ruin it a little bit?
If you could only provider the listener with a Dry Rot record or a Dry Rot live
show, which would you choose?
Jordan: Live show, no question. That is the most gratifying for us and least gratifying for
them. But in a critical analysis, I’d want to be held up on the merits of our recorded output. I
think “Philistine” has breached the water a bit and I’d rather be remembered for that than doing
something foolish on stage.
Drew: Oh, live performance definitely. Then we can not only sound stupid, but look stupid as well!
Matias Aguayo Ay Ay Ay 2xLP (Kompakt)
Ay Ay Ay is one of those effervescent albums that cannot be hated in any right mind. Matias Aguayo has always maintained a playful, friendly persona, and this record is all about that persona blooming in your face, completely exaggerated and silly. Every track on here is based around his vocals; from beat-boxing to harmonious singing, deep melodies to falsetto improvisation, they run the show. He covers a lot of ground with that voice, singing in various languages or none at all, using it for percussion or the lead vocal hook. It’s like the diametric midpoint of Rahzel, Gwen Stefani, Mark Mothersbaugh and Yoko Ono celebrating Earth Day together. Resolute technophiles might act like they aren’t feeling it, because the tempo changes with essentially every song and it’s by no means a straight-up dance record, but come on, Aguayo uses a slide whistle gratuitiously on “Mucho Viento”! It’s pretty clear that Aguayo’s musical agenda is simply his own; he is not trying to beat the rest of the pack at the next big thing, or follow a pre-tested path to success. The vibe I get from Ay Ay Ay is similar to the goofy headrush from one’s first Girl Talk experience, with the startling exception that Aguayo hand-crafted every whisper and wheeze himself.
Demdike Stare Part 2 12″ (Demdike Stare)
As promised, here’s the second 12″ in the Demdike Stare equation, with a matching style in both appearance and sound as the first. Starting off with “Haxan”, Demdike Stare kind of go in a Maurizio direction with things, pumping some isolated techno that is more club-friendly than anything on Part 1. Demdike Stare almost veer into power-electronics territory on the next track, with pulsing tones and an unhinged female vocal, only to follow that with a Shackleton-style ghost ragga. One of the thickest tracks on here is “Nothing But The Night”, a night filled with queasy stars and a slowly-building paranoia aided by a slow-mo dubstep swipe. An uneasy dream sequence if there ever was one. I wasn’t as bowled over by Part 2 as I was Part 1, but I think that’s only because I already knew what to expect and had lofty expectations (which were most certainly met). Both of these 12″s have been compiled on CD entitled Symbiosis if you have trouble running down copies. It’s really not important how you hear Demdike Stare, just that you do so immediately.
Andre Ethier The Running Of The Bulls / Gibraltar Rock 7″ (Dull Knife)
What the hell, Dull Knife. How’d you coax this sort of powerhouse, awesome track out of a distinctive artist to be released on a pressing-of-300 7″? What did you promise Andre? Is he your uncle or something? Or is he just blissfully ignorant of the quality of music he sent you? “Running Of The Bulls” is such a hit, the type of gloriously-rocking, catchy, triumphant tune that is rarely found in the realm of well-distributed albums, let alone vanity singles. And that buttery Neil Diamond voice! Hallelujah. “Gibraltar Rock” is a spoken-rocker that calms things down but commands attention just the same. Fantastic single from a guy I will certainly be following from this point forward. Someone set up an Andre Ethier / Endless Boogie US tour and maybe we can finally get all musicians under the age of 30 to hang it up.
Factums Flowers LP (Sacred Bones)
When it comes to sculpting out new alien-punk terrain, few have been as prolific as Factums, Flowers being their fifth album since 2007. And like their Siltbreeze debut, the material here was recorded two to three years prior to its release and is completely packed with tracks (20 on the debut, 22 here!). Just looking at the tracks on the actual vinyl, the short and skinny cuts all circling each other, I’m reminded of the first BGK and Dayglo Abortions albums, when it was a necessity to cram as many tunes as possible onto an LP. Factums’ short-and-sweet approach to songwriting is kind of refreshing in an experimental economy that favors side-long tracks, but there’s still more to digest here than I could ever really take in one sitting. The only time they released a 7″, I loved it; their disjointed style seems to work best in a small series of short bursts, not a marathon. It’s pretty clear that Factums are oriented towards specific sounds, not songs, and while I normally look for something to stick in my head once it’s stopped playing, Factums come with no pretense and manage to make their time on the turntable worthwhile.
Fluffy Lumbers The Police Cruisers EP 7″ (Weird Hug)
Ever wonder what it’d be like if Wavves and Blank Dogs collaborated? Of course you did! It very well might happen someday, but in the meantime, your best bet is the debut Fluffy Lumbers single. On The Police Cruisers, Mr. Lumbers serves up some painfully contemporary lo-fi bedroom pop. The two a-side tracks really pound that Wavves / Blank Dogs collab home, “Cruisers Pt. 2″ sounding like Wavves covering Blank Dogs and “American Visions” sounding like Blank Dogs covering Wavves. Rough stuff. However, I made it to the b-side, and fearlessly listened to a song called “Mutant Barrymore”, which drops the Wavves vibe and is a pretty pleasant Captured Track if there ever was one. Final cut “Shore Patrol” is both the corniest and best tune on here – a lazy, organ-propelled rocker with a memorable and dopey hook, the type of song you’d make up in your 8th grade head on your last family vacation before the divorce. I know Fuzzy Lumbers is from New Jersey and “Shore Patrol” captures the essence of the Jersey Shore as well as that Promise Ring song ever did. Sometimes it pays to stick with what you know.
Former Ghosts Fleurs LP (Upset The Rhythm)
You’d think Zola Jesus would’ve mentioned an upcoming “synth-pop” project with the main Xiu Xiu guy when I asked her about her upcoming releases a couple months ago, right? Had no idea this one was in the pipeline, but it doesn’t take much of a listen to realize that Fleurs is far more Jamie Stewart than Nika Danilova. The music is all synthesizers, drum machines and assorted clicks and loops, sounding very much like the Xiu Xiu I remember (I’ll be honest, I haven’t tuned in for the past three albums or so), just a little more straight-forward and verse/chorus-y. I guess it’s pretty similar to Zola Jesus too, although the music of Former Ghosts feels limp compared to the mammoth percussion found in the ZJ discography. Stewart is the main vocalist here, doing his usual “Average Joe having a mental breakdown” thing, which would be fine if I wasn’t just waiting for Danilova to bust out her deep pipes and go all diva on us. Former Ghosts just comes across like a slightly-divergent Xiu Xiu, with the few Danilova-fronted songs stacking up short against her Zola Jesus material. Lots of creepy love ballads on here, with rhyming lyrics to accompany a lonely slow dance. It’s a cool album and I appreciate that they actually wrote songs and didn’t just “plan and jam”, but I can’t picture myself reaching for Fleurs while I still have Knife Play and The Spoils on my shelf.
Luciano Tribute To The Sun 3xLP (Cadenza)
Luciano’s Fabric mix from last year was an uplifting and entertaining dancefloor exercise, but it only hinted at the weird beauty to be found within Tribute To The Sun. Tribute starts off with an album (career?) highlight, “Los Ninos de Fuera”, possibly an homage to Villalobos’ “Enfants (Chants)” from last year, taking things in a totally new direction. It’s got what sounds like Sigur Ros vocals melted over a sped-up children’s playground rhyme, repeated continuously and subtly paired with a micro-house beat. This is some seriously adventurous music, with a joyous vibe that continues on “Celestial”, starring a passionate choir of angels singing from their souls and flapping their wings into a set of wind chimes. I certainly haven’t heard music like this before. “Sun, Day and Night” is just as gorgeous, built around live jazz percussion breaks, ethnic drums and sumptuous vocals. I imagine this is what plays in one’s head during the birth of their first child. After the first half, things slow down a bit and fall into more familiar techno territories, but that come-down is almost necessary after the overload of musical information in those first few lengthy cuts. It’s not a disc that you throw on and dance to for 70 minutes, but each song has that standard pulse, skipping around the room. Tribute To The Sun is some other-level, life-affirming music that anyone can and should enjoy.
Melted Sunglasses Sparks / Melted Sunglasses 7″ (Weird Hug)
Sometimes, a crappy punk 45 can get by on sheer force of will, which is the case with Melted Sunglasses’ debut. Both “Sparks” and the self-titled anthem are top-quality modern KBD, the type of hits that bands will attempt to cover in 2029 (at which they will ultimately fail). “Sparks” sounds like a lost Loli & The Chones song, if the Chones all switched instruments before recording and the vinyl was mastered slightly off speed. Two chords that you’ve heard before, played with a je ne sais quoi that manages to pull me in deeper with every listen. How can this be so good? “Melted Sunglasses” is just as great, coming through with a motorik churn and what sounds like half a dozen guitars racing down the toilet. I’ve bought more new punk singles than loaves of bread this year, in hopes that I’d find something as timelessly rotten as Melted Sunglasses. They should just break up now, their Mona Lisa has been painted.
Moon Duo Killing Time EP 12″ (Sacred Bones)
Moon Duo is the work of Ripley Johnson, known best as Wooden Shjips’ shy and bearded frontman. Apparently, when he’s not playing with Wooden Shjips, he plays music that sounds like Wooden Shjips, as all four cuts here follow the same “one riff per song” rule and offer no tempo changes, no drum fills and hardly any reason to believe this music is made by humans and not just a robotic loop. This guy nearly loves his guitar as much as Randy Holden – nothing stops him but the finite nature of vinyl. The full-band dynamics and hooks of Wooden Shjips are removed from the Moon Duo equation, which I honestly don’t miss as much as I thought I would. By no means essential, but this Moon Duo (a Moon Duo? Amon Duul? Did I just unlock the Da Vinci Code?) is a fine if unobtrusive trip.
Bill Orcutt A New Way To Pay Old Debts LP (Palilalia)
Billy’s back, which is surely sweet relief to the hundreds (thousands?) of Harry Pussy fans who missed his fiery guitar extrapolations since he hanged it up a few years back. Within the first few notes of “Lip Rich”, Orcutt blasts off his guitar like a wasp trapped in your skull, violently suffocating against your eardrum, which continues through both sides of this unassuming piece of wax. He’s got one of the most identifiable guitar tones around, playing some sort of four-stringer with cascading, angry plucks that remind me just how visceral an experience it can be to play a guitar. A lot of A New Way To Pay Old Debts sounds like Sir Richard Bishop doing a Mick Barr pisstake, like a tantric experience in the storage space above your parents’ garage. It’s pretty cool when he hollers along with the notes or you hear a motorcycle speed past his window, too. He packs in such a large amount of musical verbage that I feel stressed after listening; it’s the type of record that will ease the listener into developing a nail-biting habit. Part of me wishes he’d gear up with a full band again, but I can’t imagine there are many people who are mentally and physically up to the task.
Pumice Magnedisk Recordings Of Gfrenzy Songs 7″ (Dirty Knobby)
My love of terrible music is put to the test on this new Pumice single, the type of record that has probably led to more than one close friend of the Dirty Knobby label questioning its well-being. Magnedisk Recordings is just that, Pumice recording some acoustic filth on an ancient dictation machine, which had me leaving the couch to make sure both my turntable and the record itself weren’t destroyed beyond repair numerous times. It’s an idiotic record, as almost every sound is melted before it pops off the vinyl; you would have better luck enjoying actual music on that Tumor Circus picture disc with the hole drilled through it. I can’t imagine any time or place where listening to this record would be appropriate. That said, I certainly admire the gusto of both Pumice and Dirty Knobby, as they clearly took the steps, both financial and physical, to turn this bag of dirty old newspapers into a mass-produced vinyl record. This is some fearless music making, because there is essentially no one in the world who would want to hear this.
Pygmy Shrews Lord Got Busted / Kill Yourself 7″ (Fan Death)
Pygmy Shrews throw their name in the Brooklyn noise-rock hat with this debut single, where my interest in also-rans is quickly diminishing. I saw them live and they had all sorts of tricky rock moves, conjuring A Minor Forest instead of the usual modern noise-rock references, but “Lord Got Busted” has none of that, as the drummer plays a slow and simple oom-pah that never veers off course, content to bump along with the irritated guitars. The male vocals do nothing for me, but the female singer has a lousy drone that calls to mind a young Teenage Jesus; I wish she sung the whole thing. The b-side is a cover of Pussy Galore’s “Kill Yourself”, which I wouldn’t have caught if I wasn’t told. I guess I’ll blame PG for the Flipper-lifted bassline, but this is a pretty run-of-the-mill b-side and not what I was expecting from a band who seemed to have a decent handle on things live. It’s not a bad record, but Pygmy Shrews don’t seem very interested in offering something special to listen to with this one; seems like more time went into crafting the cover painting (I’m guessing the same person who did Clockcleaner’s Nevermind, or someone else in love with that “mongoloid nuclear family” aesthetic).
Rosemary Krust Bernt Anker 7″ (Dull Knife)
Bernt Anker is one of the laziest records I’ve heard all year, like a band that would rather get bitten by a mosquito than swat it off their arms. There are four songs here, and the two on the a-side are sweltering in low fidelity with no percussion to remark of (unless you count that ultra-slow clap that finishes “Fire”), just simmering guitar and vocals. Flip it over and “For Matthia” sounds like a ten year-old girl’s family recital ruined by her noisy four year-old brother, pretty sure he even blows out her birthday candles right as the song ends. The most divergent tune here is the last, “Redicularis”, a Krustified take on early punk, kind of like The Foams or The Petticoats if they didn’t have a reliable place to practice. Not sure I’ll be playing this one often, but as a fan of the Dull Knife label it’s a worthwhile piece of the puzzle.
Shackleton Three EPs 3xLP (Perlon)
Took me a while to really understand the Skull Disco vibe, as initially it was a little too “serious drum n’ bass artist” for me. It probably first clicked on the “Blood On My Hands” Villalobos remix, and as I’ve since followed along more closely, somehow a lofty triple LP release on the impenetrable Perlon imprint seems perfectly fitting at this point. These three records are completely stuffed with prime Shackelton material, each track bearing his unmistakable touch. The stuttered and hazy vocal samples, Arabic percussion and unintuitive rhythms all make me feel like I’m hanging in some open-air market in Dubai circa 2099, kids on hoverboards cruising by old women with bluetooth headsets sewn into their scalps selling live chickens. Lots of healthy bass here too, although Shackelton uses it as an ingredient within a larger dish, not a crutch with which to bludgeon. It’s a lot to take in, but somehow I feel energized after traversing Shackelton’s maze, not exhausted. It’s probably that strong “distant future meets the ancient past” vibe that is highly appealing and so distinctly Shackleton.
Twin Stumps Twin Stumps 12″ (Dais)
Finally, some modern noise-rock that owes nothing to the Brainbombs or any of the popular touchstones that are of themselves fantastic but weak when imitated. Twin Stumps don’t just blare feedback, they understand it, and when you pair that understanding with a desire to create ugly music, something great is bound to happen. Each of these six tracks are monotonous and grating, never coming close to hardcore’s speed, instead content to waddle along, pants at their ankles. I keep getting reminded of the earliest Black Dice material, up through that 10″, as the guitar-crud is just as visceral and confusing. The vocals sound a lot like the unholy bark of Mike Connelly’s work with Hair Police, which is most certainly a good thing in my book. Just like the Drunkdriver / Mattin collaboration, these guys put an emphasis on the noise side of the equation and come out on top because of it. This is about as thick and gnarly as a 33 rpm record can sound. They pull out a couple more records like this and I’ll be happy to dub Twin Stumps the Unholy Swill of our generation.
Kurt Vile Childish Prodigy LP (Matador)
Well, it took some blood, sweat and beers, but Philadelphia’s Rock Savior finally got a record deal worthy of the hits he so constantly makes. So here’s Childish Prodigy, another hearty slice of Vile’s signature “Tom Petty goes kraut-rock” style. One thing I find so appealing about Kurt Vile is evident all over this one – his songs never seem to really begin or end, and there is enough overlap between songs (and albums) that you can step into his realm from any angle. In a world of side-scrollers, Vile’s got his own 3D universe. He’ll repeat that “snake slithering up a spiral staircase” line when you least expect it, or record various versions of the same song (“Hunchback” appears here in a slightly groovier form, while “Inside Lookin Out” is essentially the shadow of “Good Lookin Out”). Fans of the moodier, early-evening vibe found throughout most of God Is Saying This To You and the tail-end of Constant Hitmaker will find lots to love here, especially with “Overnite Religion” and “Blackberry Song”. It’s about time “Freak Train” made it to vinyl too, which was nice to finally own on vinyl. I have to admit, first hearing Childish Prodigy wasn’t as exciting for me as it may be for you, since a good handful of these tracks were floating around on a CDr for a year or two and have been live show staples. These are clearly the words of a creepy fan / borderline-stalker though, so I’m glad this stuff is finally available for mass consumption, but my eyes are aimed towards Vile’s horizon. This is a cool record that will receive lots of autumnal play, but I think we’re all waiting for the double LP (two sides solo, two sides with the Violators, of course). It’s a necessity, Kurt.
Peter Wright The Terrifying Realisation We Might Be Wrong 7″ (Dirty Knobby)
There’s certainly something in New Zealand that drives a man to make a drone; maybe it’s the lush landscapes that surround their backyards? Whatever the reason, Peter Wright is another quality NZ-born soundsmith who works with guitars, laptops and contact mics to form his music. I swear it’s not just a convenient coincidence that Wright reminds me of Birchville Cat Motel, as his moody drones come with a similarly earthy patina that sound like they’ve been created on the edge of the Earth. There are three cuts on this short record, so he’s winding down by the time most drones would be getting warmed up, but it’s still a lovely dose of drift.
Vibe 1 compilation 12″ (Future Times)
Man, DC really caught the disco-funk flu, for which the only prescription is more disco-funk. The Future Times family has the retro-electro on lock, with a positive outlook based on inclusiveness and a shared love of deep grooves. Vibe 1 features four artists from this ever-growing community: Max D, Sensual Beings, Protect U and Beautiful Swimmers. Max D kicks it off with the banger, classic drum machine sounds and a tight little vocal line. I want to hang in this dude’s basement and just watch him make it happen. Sensual Beings and Beautiful Swimmers do a similar thing, popping off some nice cuts that could easily buffer Kraftwerk and Fast Eddie on the dancefloor (where at least one person is breaking). Protect U is probably my favorite though, taking some Tangerine Dream with their funk, doing a weird retro thing that no one else is doing, like an electro-Blues Control who can get away with synthesized slap-bass. A successful DIY 12″ compilation if there ever was one, I just hope some of the proceeds are being put towards a proper Protect U release.