Archive for February, 2010

Protect-U

While that recent Fan Death Records interview that was floating around may have
appropriately assessed the DC indie-punk scene as lackluster / non-existent, there was
one glaring omission – that of the Future Times posse. True to the same spirit that spawned
Dischord Records, Future Times is a label formed by a group of DC-based friends determined
to produce, release and promote their own music and events, all with a signature style both
cool and recognizable. Arguably the most curious of Future Times soldiers is that of Protect-U,
the electronic duo of Mike Petillo and Aaron Leitko, taking cues from retro-futuristic funk,
new-age, house and disco, and sculpting those forms with a wiry, post-punk frame of mind.
They’re still pretty new, with only one 12″ and a compilation track to their name, but the
initial reports aren’t just intriguing hints of things to come – each of these three tracks is
precisely crafted and wildly blissful. East Coasters, keep an eye out for more live gigs in 2010;
everyone else, let’s hope for some more vinyl.

When did you first try your hand at making dance music? What prompted the attempt?
Mike: The shift from noisy guitar punk to what Aaron and I are working on now wasn’t
an overnight thing. We’ve both been playing music for many years, either in a band together
or doing solo material, some of which dabbled in chill ambient drone, mellow improv, etc.
Aaron: I think the ideas had been percolating for a while, even back when we were
still playing in our old bands. Arthur Russell records, Trax Records comps, and Rhythm & Sound
stuff had been getting heavy rotation.
It should be said that the D.C. music world felt really dark at the time (back in ’06/’07). A lot
of our friends had broken up their bands and moved away. More and more, people were doing
psych-noise and drone stuff. And, to be fair, Mike and I were in on it, too. Mike was doing this
Donald Miller-style noise guitar project under the name Plain Lace and I was doing Jim O’Rourke /
Fennesz-knockoff laptop composition.
But to me, at least, some of the shows were really unappealing. There was a lot of cool music,
but also a lot of bad vibes. This guy recorded himself cutting the tip off of his pinky finger and
then ran the tape through a delay pedal or something. Apparently it was going to come out on
12” (to my knowledge, it remains unreleased). For me, personally, that was a moment where I
started to think, “There really has to be another path.”
Mike: I first worked on making some dubby techno tracks with my friend Dan a few years back
in a project called Wealth. We played live a few times and worked out a couple of nice ideas,
but ultimately nothing really happened with that project. In 2008, after Wealth fizzled out,
Aaron and I got talking and decided to try working together. He had recently bought an MPC
and a 707, and so we just began tooling around and came up with some concepts. Nothing really
prompted it; we both probably subconsciously wanted to challenge ourselves and try out a new
musical set-up and work in new directions. We kept at it for a while and slowly found ourselves
with a bunch of slightly leftfield house tracks.
Interestingly enough when Protect-U first started I explicitly told Aaron that I didn’t want to
make “dance music.” I guess in my head I was thinking of traditional big room, club-friendly
tracks. In other words, shit that was approached from a pretty singular direction. I think we
both subscribe to that heavy–but possibly apocryphal–slogan attributed to the UK band This
Heat, “All possible processes. All channels open. 24 hours alert.”

Have your views on dance music changed since you started making it yourself?
Mike: Yes, but like a lot of people who listen to and make a fair amount of music, they’re changing
all the time. In checking out tracks my friends are working on or some old 12″ they just found
at the flea market, or in digging for records myself, I’m always coming across stuff that to me is
mindblowing in different ways. I guess all the subtleties that make certain songs stand out to
me get compiled in the back of my brain somewhere. When its time to work on Protect-U, these
ideas hopefully reveal themselves and get reconfigured in our own music. Dance music can be
formulaic and follow traditional structures, but I think Aaron and I are always on the lookout for
new ways to mess up some time-honored ideas instead of simply replicating them.

Do you think there is a psychedelic aspect to the music of Protect-U? Is that something you
have thought about?

Mike: Sure I have thought about it. Not sure what the implication of ‘psychedelic’ is for
everbody, but for me, music is very visual. When I am really jamming to a tune I like, say,
some Richard Schneider Jr. track, or some Laaraji, or Ace and the Sandman, or some Innergaze
[a new project featuring our friend Aurora Halal and Jason Letkiewicz, aka, Steve Summers, aka,
Rhythm Based Lovers, aka Sensual Beings], I am picturing some nice imagery in my mind. I hope
that Protect-U music appeals to people out there, and that they are able to use the music as
a guide. To reflect on something that is important to them, or to remember a special memory.
Often if someone has an intense thought, they’ll categorize it as a ‘psychedelic’ experience.
I feel that intensity is a goal, to some degree, in our sound, and in the sound of Future Times.
So if that is ‘psychedelic’ then yeah, fuck yeah.
Aaron: Oh yeah, for sure. I mean, certainly in the sense that the music is repetitive and uses
a bunch of spacey synth sounds.
Also, the idea of creating music that’s conducive to an ecstatic state is really appealing to me.
That’s something I think a lot about while we’re working on tracks.
A few years back I was writing a kinda goofy newspaper column on D.C. churches, so I’d have
to go sit through these 5-hour long evangelical services every couple of Sundays. Music was a
big component in those. People would just get totally out of their heads–running around the
room, screaming, passing out in the isles. Once I saw a drummer get really carried away and
bash a giant chunk out of crash cymbal. Then this woman climbed on top of the drum set and
fainted. It was pretty wild.
Anyway, those services made a big impression on me. I think that kind of collective community
freak-out is a cool/important thing to aspire to. It certainly informed the way I though about
how our music was structured in a live setting – that songs should be sort of elastic and meld
into one another. I guess I’d like our music to be psychedelic in that sense – that it would inspire
bewilderment and mystical experiences and whatever. That said, I don’t think anybody has ever
passed out at a Protect-U show.
The short answer: I played “Double Rainbow” for my parents and they told me it sounded like
the Grateful Dead. So that’s something.

What reaction do you want out of a listener? Do you want them to dance?
Mike: This is something I am not sure I know how to answer. I would like as many people
as possible who hear our music to react to it in some way. Dancing is one of the most
enjoyable ways to react to music, certainly the most primeval and human of ways. But we
didn’t start the band with a lot of preconceived notions, and we don’t spend a whole lot of
time structuring our tunes to elicit specific responses. Of course its helpful to be versed
enough in the examples and history of classic disco, boogie, techno, house – common dance
forms that work on a dancefloor, in other words – to draw from them when its appropriate.
We try to just feel our way through the songs, and more often than not, if you have drum
machine sounds, synths, basslines, etc., you can do a lot of simple manipulations to make
something that people are going to feel like moving their body to.

Credit: Dark Lord Disco





























































Is your approach for creating a Protect-U song drastically different than if you were writing a
rock song in one of your previous bands?

Mike: Since we’re using different mediums and instrumentation that the process is obviously
going to be different.
Aaron: There are some similarities. One of us will take a piece of gear home, write a basic
idea, and then we’ll meet up and flesh the whole thing out together. But beyond that, it’s
pretty different. For one thing, because you’re programming sequencers, the music isn’t
something that you perfect in the same sense as you might rehearse a rock song. Instead,
you’re setting up and idea and adjusting it while it’s in motion.
Mike: It was extremely hard at first learning how to program and manipulate the sounds in
ways we wanted and maintain control over the track, especially in a live setting, which is
very important for us. By nature, its harder than guitars and drums which have a lot less
variables to contend with, or at least variables that we had ‘mastered’ in a way over the
years playing in our old bands.

Have you learned any important lessons about making music since starting Protect-U? Like, have
there been any specific mistakes you’ve made, or valuable advice received?

Mike: In writing our music and developing our tracks, we make mistakes constantly, just like
any musician. When we first started collaborating, I don’t think we realized that it’s desirable
to have parameters and constraints. With electronics sometimes you can feel like you have
too many avenues to explore and too many options and that can be intimidating. I think
ultimately the finished projects (recorded versions) speak for themselves. We’re happy with
our extremely modest ‘official’ output so far.
I think we’ve learned lessons about how we play in a live setting, just naturally by trial-and-error.
There have been a few bummer moments at shows with extreme technical difficulties, so
yeah, we’ve learned things about how to troubleshoot our gear in the moment and how to
isolate an issue, etc. We’ve attempted to start recording our shows so we can listen back
and try and fine-tune things and re-work things Monday morning quarterback style.
Aaron: It took a long time to arrive at a sound that we were confident in. Some of the first
practice recordings were pretty bad. Imagine William Orbit jamming with Wolf Eyes. Bad. But
those weren’t mistakes so much as just the gradual process of figuring out our sound.
Having to learn to write on machines was kind of liberating. The interface of a 707 doesn’t
really loan itself to verse-chorus-verse very well, at least not without a lot of tedium. The
way you write on the machines sort of pushes you toward this loop-based mentality. It
suggested a different way of structuring music than we were used to at first.

William Orbit jamming with Wolf Eyes sounds fantastic. I take it your earliest recordings were
rawer?

Aaron: Ha. I’m not sure I’d call them raw. Confused, maybe. Early on the gear was sort of
unfamiliar to us, so we were just fumbling around in the dark trying to figure out what sounded
good. I was re-sampling the 707 sounds into the MPC through a bunch of footpedals and also
pulling weird samples off of Nonesuch Explorer records or whatever. At practice that stuff
would get combined with the drum machine samples that came with the MPC plus whatever
soft-synth sounds Mike had on his computer. We had spent time doing noise and improv
stuff, so I think that’s initially the angle we went at it from. But, yeah, it just sounded sort
of messy.

Has the electronic music community been supportive of Protect-U?
Mike: Totally. AFP, my tight bud and partner in the Future Times label, as well as the rest
of the FT crew, has been encouraging from the start, and our friends from DC Justin Moyer
and Sean Peoples, among others, have done huge favors for us and let us borrow equipment,
assisted us with recording our record, and just helped spread the word in DC and beyond.
Obviously running Future Times has brought us into contact with tons of new people and DJs
from around the world that seem to enjoy the output of our small but prolific group of friends.
Aaron: Yeah, everybody has been really supportive and helpful. Back when we were tossing
around early versions of “Double Rainbow,” Mike and I were a little unsure of ourselves. Hearing
those guys say, “Yeah, this is cool,” really boosted our confidence.

What’s the best time you ever had at a club?
Mike: Future Times has had great parties over the past year so each one of those is super
fun to me, especially when Beautiful Swimmers, Andrew Morgan, or Steve Summers is playing.
The first Future Times party in DC at the end of ’08 was crazy because we all felt that we
had found a new niche in DC in which to work (and hearing a really special Rhythm Based Lovers
live set was also magical). I don’t go out to ‘the club’ all that often which means I sometimes
miss out on some happenings in DC, but whatever. I remember when Aaron and I toured
Europe in our old band we had lots of great shows followed by dance parties. We’d finish the
set, we’d stow our gear, and then jump off the stage and start dancing to “Blue Monday.”
That shit was the best and I remember at the time thinking that was the epitome of partying.
Playing a Protect-U set can sometimes be a little too stressful to always have a carefree
experience at a club, but our recent Philly show with Ron Trent was great.

You mentioned This Heat, they are a pretty great choice to have as a spiritual guide or whatever.
Is there any electronic artist whose aesthetic has really affected Protect-U? If not in sound,
but in mentality or approach?

Aaron: As far as sound goes, Wally Badarou, for sure. His solo album “Echoes” along with the
random records he was producing down at Compass Point Studios. I just liked how lush and
warm it sounded. Newworldaquarium, too.
Mike: Its encouraging to read the history of house / techno music in America as the story of
amateur musicians learning to use new, often popularly-discarded technology to attempt to
imitate Italo/German/Euro synth-driven disco and remodeling it into a whole new beast which
blew up in the club. Early Chicago house and Detroit techno sounds totally insane to me, and
I think its partially due to the fact that a lot of those artists were sincere in their desire to
make experimental (but still rooted in the social aspect of a dance club), personal music
without really giving a fuck about expectations. I think this approach especially resonates
with me.

Who is the first artist that comes to mind when I say “cosmic disco”?
Mike: Daniele Baldelli. I mean, he is pretty much synonymous with ‘cosmic’ of course, even
though he didn’t play all that much traditional ‘disco’ or stuff that was even considered club
music during his heyday. A true musical pioneer in my book, and one that makes me proud
to have Italian lineage.

Reviews – February 2010

Balaclavas Balaclavas 12″ (Dull Knife)
There are a million plural-noun bands around today but Balaclavas are far more intriguing than the rest of the pack. This is a severely-limited 12″ issue of their earliest recordings, with improved mastering and some bonus sax for good measure. Like their vinyl debut on Phonographic Arts, Balaclavas have a haunty, moody, visceral sound, located somewhere before Bauhaus saw any pop marketability in themselves and after Nick Cave started to fancy himself a writer. It’s gothy in that “skeletons dancing in a cabaret” way and somehow lacks the goofy pretension that such an aesthetic might entail. It’s good, but this record really just makes me curious to know what they’re up to nowadays. Lots of promise here. New album is out next month, so I don’t think I’ll have to wait very long to find out.

Bastard Noise / The Endless Blockade The Red List LP (Deep Six)
This one’s a dream come true: Eric Wood and company gearing up the bass rig and drum kit once more, for a result that is far more Man Is The Bastard than Bastard Noise. In their standard, umm, “noise” formation, Bastard Noise can be great (their live set from 2007 still burns fresh in my mind) but there is nothing else on Earth like the MITB bass/drum assault. Any fears of accumulated rust from the decade-long break are for nought, as these four Bastard Noise tracks are of the highest caliber – magnificent prog-core bass-lines cutting through the smog, locked to the drums with an Orthrelm level of precision. And the vocals! Coming in three flavors (orangutan, Gollum and serpent), there is simply no one who can deliver a treatise for the elimination of the human race like these guys. Man Is The Bastard are one of the few bands to leave such a mark on their genre without ever being imitated, probably because it’s simply impossible. And speaking of impossible, The Endless Blockade are given the task of holding their own on the flip, which they do nicely in a fifteen-minute suite filled with alternating passages of grindcore and noise. Reminds me a lot of Mind Eraser’s Conscious / Unconscious, if not quite as good. The CD (read: Rapidshare) version also comes with two remixes of The Endless Blockade, one in a chopped-up Sissy Spacek style, the other a crackling lava flow courtesy of one of the modern masters of that sort of thing, The Rita. I never really checked out The Endless Blockade before, there’s just something about GISM-appropriated band names that doesn’t sit well with me, but they have proven formidable here. Doesn’t matter either way though, Bastard Noise has already made this an essential purchase.

Coconuts Coconuts LP (No Quarter)
I saw these guys live and they pretty much looked like the Brooklyn chapter of the Thurston Moore Motorcycle Club; three dudes, all easily over six feet a piece, hair in their eyes, a well-worn leather jacket, one guy in dirty corduroys. Come to think of it, Thurston Moore Motorcycle Club is a pretty apt description of their music too – they’ve got real hazy, affected guitar and slow-motion vocal chants, suctioned to earth by the most righteous of stoner basslines and minimal percussion, reminiscent of that great Them, Themselves Or They single from a couple years back. It’s a great style, surely crafted with recreational drug-use in mind. Kind of weirdly sinister too, in that Bobby Beausoleil way, and it makes me wonder how much I’d dig Wooden Shjips covering Abruptum (the answer: very much so). Don’t let that blog-wave band name fool you, the only beach you’ll find these Coconuts on has animal skulls in black sand and thunderclouds in the distance.

Edie Sedgwick / Aran Epochal split 7″ (Silver Rocket)
An odd pairing here, but one that works nicely in the form of a split single. This Edie Sedgwick is a confusing musical exhibition, as it’s a guy from El Guapo taking the form of one of Andy Warhol’s best-known muses. Maybe he just wanted to be un-Googleable, but on the other hand, there are bands called Food and Girls that do the trick just as well. Anyway, when I hear a soulful, funky tune with a charismatic singer from DC, it’s impossible to not feel the shadow of the Spiv looming overhead. I love the Make Up, and while Edie Sedgwick is a little smoother and probably closer to the realm of Jamie Lidell or !!! in delivery, I get a similar sensation from his side’s “Who’s That Knocking On My Door (Blacula Mix)”. Sedgwick’s indie-gogo is curiously matched by Aran Epochal’s downer pop. Aran Epochal’s singer reminds me of The Edge on U2’s “Numb” (remember that video?) and the instrumental chorus is total Arab On Radar, from the ricochet drum-beat to the sea-sick surfy guitar riff. Weird tune that offers no explanation whatever. Really, this entire record offers no explanation to anything, but it’s probably just as well.

Martyn Fabric 50 CD (Fabric)
Martyn has risen to become one of the most desired DJs in the past year or so, and for good reason – he’s as thoughtful a curator as he is a consistent shaker of rumps. He’s clearly uninterested in sticking to any single path, too – just in the last few months, his gorgeously sad remix of Efdemin’s “Acid Bells” bears no resemblance to the funky house of “For Lost Relatives” on All Night Long Vol. 2 but they both work famously. On Fabric 50 he takes the opportunity to really stretch his legs and showcase his variety of tastes, from the Outkast-y funk of opener Hudson Mohawke to the jittery dubstep of Zomby and the dance-rock of Detachments. A lot of it leans towards the young UK dubstep sound (I don’t think anyone is surprised by the inclusion of Joy Orbison and Cooly G) but this isn’t a negative, as Martyn’s mixing somehow summons an added vibrance from otherwise familiar material. 50 Fabric mixes is a bit of a milestone and Martyn’s has an appropriately celebratory feel.

Medication This Town LP (Hozac)
I’ve been seeing the name of Medication around for a while, Hozac is nothing if not successful at getting the word out. With their (or rather, his) debut album, I can now say I’m familiar with the music of Medication too, although it’s already clear that our relationship will be short lived. Reason is, This Town is a quietly-mastered collection of unengaging acoustic rock that fails to bring me into his lonely world. He sings like Jeffrey Novak in Cheap Time, whose voice I’ve always enjoyed, but the songs themselves are just too boring for me to derive any pleasure out of the whole deal. I get that this is trying to be dark or somber or sad, but in no way do I find myself wondering what the inside of his bedroom looks like or where his friends went or why he landed in this sorry state in the first place. Instead, I find myself hoping that people aren’t tricked into thinking this is anything near as cool as Pink Reason or Kurt Vile just because he’s another mopey and introspective modern-day troubadour.

Mess Folk Something I Remember 7″ (Hozac)
Truly a horrible record, the only good thing to come from Mess Folk’s self-titled 7″ is that I will finally stop knee-jerkedly reacting to Urinals and Electric Eels comparisons when I read them. Did the label actually listen to this band first, or does the MySpace band page creation process now include a “Do you wish to have a record released on Hozac?” check-box? Boring, uninspired, pointless music that I can’t imagine anyone enjoying, not personal friends of the band nor some die-hard weirdo who blindly buys every new lo-fi bedroom cassette. “Give Me A Gun” is the crappiest song I’ve heard in years, so I guess that’s some sort of accomplishment. Purchasing the “gold edition” provided me with a similar sensation to finding an issue of People magazine in my stall while taking a painful dump.

Mi Ami Cut Men / Out At Night 12″ (Thrill Jockey)
Not ones to rest on their laurels after the unfortunate dissolution of the Touch & Go label, Mi Ami are back with a 12″ courtesy of their new home, Thrill Jockey. “Cut Men” harkens back to Mi Ami’s spastic roots; it’s a high-energy blast of funk, probably the song to wait for if you plan on stage-diving at one of their shows. Daniel Martin-McCormick’s guitar playing is at its most coherent too, kind of like a post-punk version of the Purling Hiss guy just wailing over the potent rhythm section. There’s a calmer synth-break in the middle but “Cut Men” finishes up as frantically as it started. “Out At Night” is an excellent yin to the yang of the a-side, a narcoleptic house track that’s as peaceful as it is psychedelic. Mi Ami have always gravitated towards electronic dance music and “Out At Night” just showcases their comfort with creating this sort of sound. I could certainly go for a full album like it. It all makes for a highly satisfying 12″, worthy of the Red Hot Chili Peppers logo that adorns the center stickers.

Mickey She’s So Crazy / I Am Your Trash 7″ (Hozac)
Mickey are a bunch of dirty rock n’ rollers with a 1976 CBGB’s style, taking their band photo by squeezing all five guys on a tiny couch whilst giggling and drinking booze. It’s cartoony proto-punk, influenced more by suede vests and bell-bottoms than chipped teeth and spiked bracelets. “She’s So Crazy” is a self-explanatory rocker that I wouldn’t recommend, but I wouldn’t turn off either, as something vaguely Cheap Trick-ish keeps me from pulling the plug. “I Am Your Trash” is the softer side, with a lyrical sentiment eerily close to that of Lit’s “My Own Worst Enemy”. There are definitely some people out there who like their punk rock to be foppish and limp-wristed – you know the middle-aged guy in the tie-dyed shirt and leather jacket selling New York Dolls picture sleeve variations at the flea market? I should tell him about Mickey.

Myelin Sheaths Do The Mental Twist 7″ (Hozac)
Even the stodgiest of wallflowers will find themselves mentally twisting to this Myelin Sheaths single. Sure, it’s a lo-fi punk 7″ with the reverb turned up, which accumulate faster than dishes in my sink these days, but these guys and girls have clearly studied the right records for the job. “I Don’t Wanna Have An Operation” is the best of the bunch and a satisfying ripper that could easily fit into a classic Angry Samoans set; the title cut swerves all over the road that divides Loli & the Chones and Dum Dum Girls. I might grow weary of an LP, especially if it’s filled with longer/less-snotty tracks like b-side “Drugstore / Pharmacy”, but taken by itself, this one’s a winner.

Nazi Dust Nazi Dust 7″ (Youth Attack)
The provocatively-named Nazi Dust are the latest young band in the post-Sex Vid hardcore landscape to catch my attention, where skateboarding skeletons have been replaced by bleak black-and-white photography and a secular black metal aesthetic. Nice to see seven songs on here, and it’s even nicer that those seven don’t include a boring dirge or artsy noise-collage that seems to be de rigeur with the Youth Attack crowd. Instead, it’s all pretty thrashy and blunt, with a vocalist that falls somewhere between the Civil Disobedience guy and Pushead. The drummer really sucked live, to the point where he was unable to keep up with the rest of the band, but I’m not noticing that here, thankfully. A couple of these guys are ex-Cult Ritual, and while it’s not quite of that same caliber, they don’t make any mistakes with this yellow piece of wax.

Nerve City Red Tops 7″ (Hozac)
Nerve City are purveyors of musical amnesia, because I’ve listened to this one at least five times and find myself unable to recall anything about it, mere seconds later. It’s so insignificant that Red Tops is one of those records you don’t even realize has stopped playing until a few minutes later and you hear the subtle pop of the needle, begging for release. I don’t even feel like I’ve really heard Nerve City after listening to this, the record is just so quiet and fuzzy that it’s like listening to the band from outside the club. Nerve City has a number of tapes and records out, with more on the way. I ask you, fine labels, is this really the best thing you can find to invest your hard-earned money in? A band whose music is recorded so poorly and quietly that it makes Myelin Sheaths sound like Pink Floyd in comparison? I can’t blame Nerve City, it’s great to have someone release your band’s record, but I can blame the labels who decide to press this sort of horribly-executed music into my favorite form of plastic. If you don’t want to do it for me, do it for our future generations.

Puerto Rico Flowers 4 12″ (Fan Death)
Perhaps John Sharkey (guitarist/vocalist of the freshly deceased Clockcleaner) grew disgusted by his former band’s fanbase, or simply lost the will to antagonize, but through his Puerto Rico Flowers project, his unexpected and new-found maturity has improved his craft as both singer and lyricist. Most people knew of Clockcleaner as that band that peed on stuff, figuratively and literally, but on 4 Sharkey wishes to atone for his sins and move on with his life. Here, he mentions his wife numerous times, in terms of devotion and security. A Clockcleaner song about a wife would’ve probably involved a jail cell and lipstick. And to all those he’s offended through the years, “Let’s Make Friends” is essentially an olive branch, a sincere request to start fresh. It’s possible to imagine Puerto Rico Flowers as a hoax, a soft buttering-up before pushing us in the mud again, not unlike Anal Cunt’s satirically-successful acoustic love song EP Picnic Of Love, but the thing is, Puerto Rico Flowers sounds too damn good to possibly be anyone’s idea of a joke – while all four tracks share essentially the same pace, tone and sentiment, each comes with a separate set of hooks that are stronger than any other gothic post-punk to come out after 1987. His voice is killer, deeper than before, but pitch-perfect and emotionally-wounded. I’m not sure if this is a one-off project, due to Sharkey’s nomadic lifestyle, but no matter what, I hope there is more of this to be pulled from his well. And then I notice the John Mayer quote on the back cover and wonder if I’ve actually gotten punked like I feared all along.

Sentence Diagrams Always Try Your Best At Stuff 7″ (Malleable)
Here’s a cool single from out of the blue, courtesy of New Jersey’s Sentence Diagrams. The titular song is a Powerpearly rocker that grabbed me by the shoulders and shaked, about as triumphant as a record with goofy notebook paper art can be. “Diamonds and References” is a little more frantic but just as good, like Weston covering Sparks, and like the a-side, there’s a snack food reference snuck into the lyrics (Twix here, Ruffles on the other). It never hurts to take a lesson from the Go Nuts. I heard something about Sentence Diagrams being associated with Home Blitz, and while that may or may not be true, the two of them together would make for one hell of a backyard gig come summer.

The Seven Fields of Aphelion Periphery LP (Graveface)
The Seven Fields of Aphelion is one of the Black Moth Super Rainbow people, and Periphery is her debut album. I can kind of see the correlation to Black Moth Super Rainbow, but The Seven Fields of Aphelion doesn’t rock in the slightest; this is plaintive and ambient piano music, the type of thing your Grandma hears in her head when she finds an old pair of earrings, puts them on and closes her eyes, recalling herself at a dance in 1948. Close your eyes hard enough and I bet you too can hear these random clusters of pleasant piano chords, sometimes augmented with a synth whirl or ambient winds. It’s incredibly precious – the perfect soundtrack to writing thank you cards. Not a whole lot to sink into here; as your annoying co-worker likes to repeat, “it is what it is”, and the soundtrack to Fox’s 24 it ain’t, but that doesn’t mean we couldn’t go for some background music while looking through a box of old photos.

Sis Uhhhh / You Want A 12″ (Cocolino)
Sis is one of my favorite players in the minimal house game, and that’s not just because he looks like a Jersey Shoreified version of Devendra Banhart. This guy knows exactly what to do, and while it’s clear many of those cues have been pulled from Ricardo Villalobos and Luciano among other Ibizan swingers, he just puts it together so well that it doesn’t matter where his inspiration comes from. This new one is fantastic, and placed at the top of my Sis pile – “Uhhh” starts off with a thick Tone Loc bass slide, quickly complimented by some diva vocal slices. “You Want A” works with a cool set of wood-shop percussion that reminds me of Pearson Sound, if Pearson ever calmed down enough to work a simple 4/4 beat. If Sis has a signature move, it’s that rapid-fire percussion pitch-drop, tastefully paired with some Spanish brass here. Sis builds momentum up and down so effortlessly that I can’t imagine anyone having anything less than an ecstatic time at one of his parties. If he ever comes to the States I will buy a pair of drop-crotch pants for the event, you have my word.

Skream Repercussions of a Razorblade / A New Dawn 12″ (Swamp 81)
Skream’s “Midnight Request Line” is one of the first dubstep tracks I’d ever heard, and a pretty fantastic introduction to the genre, even in 2010. He’s contributed to no less than 40 releases since then, and while I have failed to really keep up, this new one is as minimal, thuggish and raw as I could’ve hoped. “Repercussions Of A Razorblade” slinks along with percussion that sounds as though it was lifted from a Mortal Kombat finishing combination, karate chops for snares and kicks to the gut for bass. Some strings even show up later on to really give it that “haunted dojo” feel. “A New Dawn” comes with a similar approach, only hinting at the fluttering power-bass that has become a signature for so many of his contemporaries, never fully pressing down that glass-encased red button. It’s kind of a chill-out, but don’t take that to mean “easily ignored”; “A New Dawn” is emotionally tense in spite of its subtlety. If I forgot to keep my eye on Skream in the past few years, this 12″ serves as a powerful wake-up call.

Slavescene Fuck Off Away From Me 7″ (Deranged)
My first impression of Slavescene, based on a downloaded cassette (this is what I do on weekends, I download cassettes), was that of a hackneyed Drunkdriver rip-off. Yet still I pressed on, catching them live (they were pretty good) and picking up this 7″, which has been a nice pay-off for all my hard work. “Fuck Off Away From Me” is totally great, I remember it from their set, because it’s based on essentially two chords, strung together in a tense and frantic manner. You could do anything with them, but the drummer pounds away at a hardcore pace and gives it a nervous energy not unlike No Trend (and I don’t throw around that name without meaning it). “Shit Gait” has a little of that Drunkdriver feel that they were so much better without, but it’s a short song and I can’t stay mad at the same band who just asked me to fuck off away from them.

Levon Vincent Double Jointed Sex Freak 12″ (Novel Sound)
Without even taking the title into consideration, the three parts of Double Jointed Sex Freak just sound straight-up X rated. This is dark and carnal NYC club music, but there’s no cut-up porn samples or DJ Assault-fashioned lyrics here, Levon Vincent’s samplers and drum machines ooze that nasty, sweaty groove on their own. It’s such a simple groove too, with arpeggios bordering on pre-sets, as “Double Jointed Sex Freak” is an amazingly intuitive piece of music that one can only assume Vincent put together in the same manner a punk band writes a song, rather than by spending hundreds of hours holed up with various computer programs. “Part 1” is especially bleak, with a couple vocal samples delightfully skewed beyond the point of verbal recognition. It’s that vague human element, along with a set of sounds that would’ve easily fit within a KMFDM gig, all processed into a dirty house track, that has kept “Double Jointed Sex Freak” on my mind and turntable for weeks now.

Vindicatrix Die Alten Bosen Lieder CD & 12″ (Mordant Music)
People throw around the word weird, but this is weird: A Demetri Martin look-alike, comically bellowing German lyrics over either a techno pulse, classical music samples, live drum outbursts and/or nothing. And it’s packaged as a CD with an accompanying 12″. You think your shoegaze band is difficult to explain to relatives over Thanksgiving, imaging being this guy. Whether or not this is good music remains to be determined by my ears, it’s just a totally alien concept that beguiles more than anything else. What makes a man do something like this? It almost sounds like Ghedalia Tazartes if his friends forced him to go to dubstep parties, but I doubt even Tazartes sat at home listening to as much Wagner and drinking as much wine out of a tuba as Vindicatrix. Credit is certainly due to Vindicatrix, as I didn’t really care for Die Alten Bosen Lieder but I’m absolutely dying to hear what he does next.

Wetdog Frauhaus LP (Captured Tracks)
Captured Tracks must have a well-funded English A&R department, as they’ve added a number of UK acts to their roster in the past couple months. I’d imagine many of them are fuzzy bedroom solo projects, which Wetdog certainly ain’t – this is a post-punk trio who opted for a studio recording and seem to have aspirations beyond a couple limited singles. Rightfully so, as their sound is a satisfying update on the Kleenex / Liliput axis. Their songs are jarring, sweet, economically-sound and often made great by the multiple vocalists, who frequently break into unexpected harmonies. Of the 14 songs here, I could probably do without the instrumentals, but cuts like “Lower Leg” and “Womens Final” make me believe that Wetdog are securing their place in the lineage that started with the Slits and continued through Meltdown.