I read the phrase “New York City noise-rock” with the same furrowed brow as any concerned
music enthusiast, but Twin Stumps are reviving that tag with the intense gusto bands
like Swans and DNA had shown some twenty (wait, thirty) years ago. I enjoyed the Market
Hotel live performance that I caught, but the debut Dais Records 12″ really set a new
standard for this sort of thing in the modern era – seemingly skipping over the 90s for any
sort of influence, Twin Stumps weave the noise textures and harsh environments of early
Broken Flag tape comps into a gnarly form of rock song, anchored by deliberate and
pummeling percussion. There’s no shock-jockery here, rather Twin Stumps allow the
listener to fill in the blanks, which yields far more satisfying results. They’ve got their
debut full-length on the way via Fan Death, and if I’m to believe these guys, it sounds
like it’ll be spending plenty of time on my turntable this year.
How did you guys get together? Were you all friends prior to Twin Stumps,
Alessandro (vocals): We’ve been friends for years, we all went to college together. About
three years ago I moved back to NY after going to school in Chicago. Mike and I were
sharing an art studio and we were hanging out and listening to music there all the time.
One day we were just saying how awesome it would be to start a band. Mike got a bass
off Craigslist, our friend Zach had a basement to practice in and a drum kit, and he knew
how to play pretty well, and I didn’t really know what to do so I just screamed into the
microphone. Then Allen moved here from Baltimore and he had been doing noise stuff
with his guitar already, so he just started playing with us. After about six month of just
dicking around we thought we were doing something interesting and we started playing
out. And here we are today.
Mike (bass): We figured as long as we had a drummer who could play, we’d sound like a
real band. The rest of us never really played music before. Just noise.
Allen (guitar): Mike was just about the first friend I made at college. Everyone I’d met before
him only wanted to pull off to JRR Tolkien and watch Michael Moore documentaries. Then,
I was kicked out of school for a spell, and moved to Baltimore. Eventually my college
let me back in and I returned to New York. Mike said he’d been thinking of starting a
band with Zach and Alessandro, and I told him I wanted to be involved.
Was there any specific reason the four of you decided to give it a go as a “rock” band,
rather than continue to exclusively make noise?
Alessandro: So many people make noise with guitars, it’s just more interesting for us to do
that and have a really good drummer and then try to make the bare bones of a song. It’s
more challenging. But ultimately I think we really just wanted to be in a rock band because
it looked like it would be fun.
Mike: It seemed more dynamic and exciting at the time. We didn’t want to be another knob-
turning noise group that was boring to look at. Most of us had never even tried playing rock
music before. I was astonished at myself when I realized I could keep a beat.
Allen: Noise music as a genre comes with a lot of hubris and a whole lot of politics. Noise music
is connected to electronic music. We’re still making music tethered to a traditional
guitar-bass-drum configuration. I’m intrigued by that point in time when many of the
progenitors of what we call noise, or at the very least industrial, turned away from
strict electronics and towards a more psychedelic, noise-based guitar sound. Like Matthew
Bower’s progression from what he was doing in Pure to what Skullflower became. Or
the similar direction Ramleh went in. Or even the music of Terminal Cheesecake. This was
music with one foot in industrial or noise, and the other in the rock idiom.
With the type of music you make, so many people describe it as “hateful” or
“brutal” or “deranged”, adjectives of that nature. Is that how you perceive your
own music? Is it intended to be as ugly as people are viewing it?
Allen: I don’t think we’re particularly hateful. It’s not like we’re an NSBM or RAC band. You
won’t find us worshiping the white god or hitting women anytime soon. If people find
our music abrasive and ugly, that’s great.
What force, outside of music, has had the most profound effect on the band?
Alessandro: Drinking beer.
Are you always in the same mental space when you perform? Like, is there any specific
mindset that you find yourself in before performing, or does it vary?
Alessandro: I go into a certain state of mind when we do a show, it’s very hard to describe,
but every show is different. I think the audience is the biggest variable. What comes
of a show often hinges on what kind of presence the audience has or how much they choose
to interact. The space also changes the performance. There’s a different vibe I respond
to in a cramped basement as oppose to a stage in a big venue.
Allen: I like to perform when I’m in a good mood and know that people I give a shit about and
respect will be there. I loved playing the AVA House in Philly with Drunkdriver and Leather
because both those bands are fantastic, and the show gave me an opportunity to catch up
with some friends from out of town.
Who’d you rather play a show in front of – a crowd composed entirely of your parents
and grandparents or a crowd of all of your ex-girlfriends?
Alessandro: Entirely? That would be awkward, mainly because it wouldn’t be a whole lot of
people there. But I really wouldn’t care if my folks or some ex-girlfriends were at
a show. It would probably be more uncomfortable for them than it would be for me.
Mike: Parents and grandparents.
Allen: Ex-girlfriends. I have more ex-girlfriends than I have parents, so at least there would
be a handful of people there. A very small handful.
How does your upcoming album differ from the 12″? Are there any significant changes
that you’ve found, either during recording or after listening to the final product?
Alessandro: I think it’s really different in many ways. Our songs seem tighter, the overall sound
is heavier and we tried a lot of new things for better or worse. There’s even moments
on the album that are almost quiet. There was a little more control exercised over this
album than the 12″. The 12″ was recorded in Ben Greenberg’s basement in one day,
while Seedbed was done over the course of a few days in his new studio, with new equipment
at our disposal, situated in the basement of an old convent. It’s a huge basement with
lots of empty rooms and we tried to use the space in a few recordings in order to get different effects.
Allen: Seedbed is a much more dynamic record than our Dais release. I love our 12″ but it does
plateau somewhere in the red. We had a better idea of what our strengths and limits were
with the new record. Ben has just been such an asset to us at each step of the recording
process. We’re incredibly comfortable recording with him. If the record succeeds in any regard,
it is due in part to Ben’s contributions. The record’s faults remain our own.
What is the significance behind the title?
Alessandro: We tend to prefer titles that suggest something unseemly rather than ones that
are more blunt or over-the-top. Allen came up with Seedbed. It’s not really related to the Vito Acconci
thing, were he masturbated in a gallery, but there’s nothing wrong with people choosing
to make that connection. We also just thought it was interesting how there’s a certain harmony
between the title and the photograph of Allen’s head on the cover.
Are there any local bands that you feel a kinship towards? Comrades in arms,
so to speak.
Alessandro: Yeah, fortunately there are some great bands in NYC that we love and love to play
with. Drunkdriver, White Suns, Pygmy Shrews and Pop. 1280 to name a few. We tend to all
get lumped together as being “noise rock” or something but all those bands have very
distinctively different sounds.
Mike: When we started playing together we didn’t really know of any bands in Brooklyn that were
in the same vein as us. It was mostly just bearded hipster day-glo bands. A couple of months
later a couple of us stumbled upon Cutter at some house party in Bushwick and later White
Suns and Drunkdriver at another show. After that, we met more people and bands that
had the same taste and a little scene developed, which was nice.
Allen: Cutter’s first show in Ben’s basement, and then the Drunkdriver / Mattin live collaboration
at Silent Barn remain my two favorite performances from any contemporary NYC acts.
Landlords is another band doing great stuff along similar lines as those mentioned above. They
don’t really get the attention they deserve.
AFCGT AFCGT LP & 7″ (Sub Pop)
You ever adore a band so much that you don’t check out their side projects? The first two A Frames albums are untouchable works of modern punk malaise, highlights of any record collection from the last decade. I own a few Climax Golden Twins records too, sorting them in my brain as the sounds emanating from beneath the Sun City Girls’ practice space – murky, disorienting noises riddled with peculiar field recordings. I knew these two groups had been jamming together as AFCGT for a while, and I don’t know, I was content with not hearing it, you know? Of course, curiosity finally got the best of me, as I could only go so long before delving into this handsome Sub Pop debut (one-off?) album. It’s pretty much what I anticipated: lumbering, monotonous noise-rock with a wide variety of rattling, squealing frequencies and other musical ephemera jumping from the sidelines, all with a studio-grade recording. These Northwesterners are probably talented enough to improvise all of AFCGT, maybe they did; it certainly comes with a compact tightness that a lesser collective would require endless rehearsals to pull off. It’s a pretty fun listen, like a mid-period Sightings concentrating on the rock part of the equation, and it certainly hasn’t tarnished the A Frames legacy – maybe they’re saving that for AFRHCP.
The Alphabet / The Invisible Hand split 7″ (Funny/Not Funny)
Don’t let the disjointed and kitschy collage artwork lead you to believe this is some Black Dice- or Dead Machines-styled noise undertaking, as The Alphabet and Invisible Hand are firmly rooted in rock of the indie variety. The Alphabet are frantic with mathy guitar (basic alegbra, to be precise), a yelping singer and the type of uncomfortable energy that reminds me that Cap’n Jazz are reuniting later this year. Obviously I can’t see it, but the Invisible Hand is probably alternating between a thumbs-up or a hang-loose, certainly no flipping of the bird from this warbly indie group that seems to be digging hard on Animal Collective but probably don’t feel comfortable making the jump from acoustic instruments to digital samplers and drum machines, at least not yet. If I ever offend the world to the point where I am forced to live in Harrisonburg, VA, I’d go see these bands, why not?
Frank Alpine Night Tripper / Another Land 7″ (Dais)
Judging by the out-of-focus creep on the cover and the fact that this is a Dais record, I was expecting either ghostly electronics or militant neo-folk here; thankfully for my tastes, I received the former. “Night Tripper” isn’t a minimal synth take on Girl Talk’s Night Ripper – no, Frank Alpine goes for a subtle, instrumental route, working with lukewarm analog sounds that are calming and soft, yet underpinning something far more sinister. I’m getting a Schleimer K vibe from his synths, which is exactly what I want to hear right now. Both of these cuts follow a similarly steady path, like a recently-freed patient’s first steps out of the mental institution, careful not to break their stride, lest they be swept back into their padded cell. The production is crisp, and while the lack of vocals will lead to disinterest in those who require a more traditional (read: predictable) form of musical stimulation, I think Frank Alpine’s really onto something here.
Balaclavas Roman Holiday LP (Dull Knife)
Seems like Dull Knife is interested in cultivating an artist roster to grow with the imprint rather than a series of one-offs, more of a long-term approach to running a small label, which is a cool and rare thing these days. There may not be any specific aesthetic that runs through every Dull Knife artist, but Balaclavas are as appropriate of a flagship band as any – they’ve got their own cool sound and have improved exponentially with their debut full-length, Roman Holiday. The first two 12″s came nicely wrapped in black mesh and lace, but this album finds Balaclavas stepping out from goth’s velvet drapes and sounding more like a taut, fiery post-punk band than a pre-sorted genre act. The biggest improvement I’ve noticed is a thick and heavy bass groove that is constantly present, almost qualifying Roman Holiday for its own “Metal Box” edition, if you catch my drift. The singer still wields his voice with conviction and grace, with effects that brighten and tweak his words, rather than shroud. The seven songs here use this new-found heaviness to support Birthday Party-esque romps and modern industrial grooves that could place as easily on the Nurse With Wound list as within GSL’s discography. All of this makes for a fantastic debut album that is weirdly unique and highly listenable, easily exceeding whatever expectations I had. Download comes with a dance remix too, if your weekly DJ night demands it.
Contrast Attitude Apocalyptic Raw Assault LP (Whisper In Darkness)
Sick Brain Extreme Addict, the title of Contrast Attitude’s debut single, summed up their vibe eloquently, as the cuts off that record came with an ear-bleedingly visceral approach to guitar and a Confuse-worthy hand on the treble knob. I was expecting more of that violent hiss on their debut long-player, but it seems these guys have traded in their noise-core ways for a more refined and powerful approach. Not only can I actually discern songs here, they are great – the riffing varies between hardcore and metal, not unlike Nightmare or Judgement, with perfect solo positioning and anthemic choruses that lead me to believe at least one of these guys wore an Aus Rotten patch at one point in his life. Don’t get me wrong, the earlier Contrast Attitude material is some of my favorite hardcore-related music of the last decade, as it teetered on the verge of a disorganized mess at all times, but the concentration and focus shown here has moved their rank further from the weirdness of Exit Hippies and closer to Gauze’s weight-class.
Dolphins Into the Future The Music of Belief CD (Release the Bats)
Hello and welcome to the Dolphins Into the Future salon and spa. With this compact disc (how long until CDs are released solely as ironic 90’s kitsch?), Mr. Dolphin himself, Lieven Martens, turns on the little electronic waterfall and rests his elbows on a keyboard while reading the Kama Sutra. That’s pretty much how this thing goes down – lots of silence, sweeping synth loops that don’t require much if any premeditation, maybe even a recording of birds building a nest layered over top. Great non-music for a college freshman who insists on tie-dying his own shirts and wearing a homemade aluminum foil helmet to class, or anyone who thinks the two Skaters guys are actually going to walk through the Stargate someday. Does the title “Observations Through the Halocline of the World” make you want to subscribe to its associated newsletter or swiftly exit the room? Let that answer guide you through any Dolphins Into the Future-related decisions you need to make.
Eddy Current Suppression Ring Rush To Relax LP (Goner / Suppression)
Now that the world has caught up to the authentic rock n’ roll of Eddy Current Suppression Ring, I’ve been dying to know how they spent that thirty grand “Best Australian Musicians of the Universe” award they won last year. Third albums are weird, as they’re too advanced to really just sit there and repeat the past, but at the same time, no one’s really looking for an artistic detour either, especially from a band as cocksure and unapologetic as ECSR when it comes to crafting high-powered and affordable punk rock tunes. On Rush To Relax, they compromise wonderfully, stepping out further into relaxed, gentle ballads, as well as loading up on the guitar-charged Aussie punk they’ve built their foundation upon. “Anxiety” takes the lead nicely, reminding me how much I’ve missed Brendan Suppression’s youthful chirp. “Walked Into A Corner” is their fastest yet, and “I Got A Feeling” almost has a Buzzcocks vibe going on. Soon-to-be-classic Eddy Current that could incite a stage rush from any half-decent crowd when played between “Get Up Morning” and “Which Way To Go”, no doubt. I love it, but it’s the slower stuff on here that’s somehow more interesting, like “Gentleman” for example. It’s built around the saddest riff I’ve heard from them yet, with Brendan pleading like a ten year-old to his first girlfriend, sounding more like a Disney character than the lead singer of a popular punk rock band. It wouldn’t work for anyone else, but he’s just so naive, lovable and earnest that it’s impossible to find fault in his words; the lack of sarcasm is bracing, and it’s just who he is. By the time he’s apologizing on “I Can Be A Jerk”, who wouldn’t invite this guy back in from the rain? Wrapping things up, Eddy Current thumb their nose at the many so-called beach punks and finish the record with 20+ minutes of ocean sounds, leaving me to wonder what Australian beach has a tropical jungle so close to the surf. Rush To Relax might be the slowest-grower of their three albums but it’s no less rewarding than the rest. Can’t wait to see them in June.
Extortion Loose Screws 10″ (Deep Six)
In spite of my overwhelming enjoyment of Extortion’s 7″ on Stained Circles last year, Loose Screws is really only the first time I’ve dipped into their substantial discography otherwise. I’m not sure if the material on here follows a similar trajectory to other Extortion records, but the supreme rawness of the Stained Circles single is replaced by a crisp efficiency here, with strained yet intelligible vocals and a clear recording. It might be splitting hairs to some, but this stuff sounds way more like What Happens Next? or later Capitalist Casualties than No Comment or Infest, the vibes I was previously picking up. Most people would probably consider that a step down, and understandably so, but I’m considering pulling out the WHN? 10″ again due to my enjoyment of Loose Screws. Might not be the hardcore record you’ll tell your neighbors about, but it’s a fine addition to the Deep Six discography nonetheless.
The Garbage & The Flowers Alamo Rose 7″ (Skulltones)
How relaxed of a band are The Garbage & The Flowers? It’s been over a decade since their last release, which means a Greatest Hits collection should be available by the time my grandchildren force me into a home. Both of the songs on this quaint single are filled with a hushed, unhurried atmosphere; this sounds like music made by people whose daily to-do list only consists of “walk the dog” or “water the flowers”. “Alamo Rose” is particularly nice, with dual vocals and a slight acid-fried sensation amongst some cooling acoustic picking. “River of Sem” is not quite as soft but still sounds like a happier Brighter, caught jamming on a porch. I’m glad I got to hear these songs, as it’s almost as if The Garbage & The Flowers intended for them to be left out in the sand, slowly eroded by the surf.
Kyle Hall The Dirty Thouz 12″ (Wild Oats)
After much anticipation, I’ve finally been able to hear “I’m KMFH GIRL!”, the opening cut on The Dirty Thouz and probably the best text message ever written. I wonder if he ever waits around for a “who are u?” message, just to blast them back with an abbreviated version of “I’m Kyle Motherfuckin’ Hall, girl!”. I know I would! There are five cuts on this one, released on Kyle Hall’s Wild Oats label. The previously-named tune is a fine house track with lots of jazzy keys and enthusiastic noises, followed up with a more basic rave jam (“Dunk Jiggla”) and kind of a g-funk creeper (“B Eatn Gritz”), sending visions of drop-top Caddys and Raiders beanies to my mind. “Luv 4 KMFH” is probably the perfect response text and it starts off like Salt N’ Pepa’s “Push It” before finding its way to a jumpy groove. I feel like Hall is dishing out ideas with this one, fully-baked or not, just getting a feel for where he can take things. He’s got plenty of time to become a great self-editor, though – 1991 wasn’t only the year punk broke, it was also the year Kyle Hall was born. Crazy, right?
Joy Orbison The Shrew Would Have Cushioned the Blow 12″ (Aus Music)
Just when I had decided Joy Orbison is as good as everyone says he is, I am met with the awkwardly-titled The Shrew Would Have Cushioned The Blow EP, which does nothing to advance his style or elevate my hands in the air. “The Shrew Would Have Cushioned the Blow” works the template we’ve come to expect, with a steady forward-motion, jittery beat and distorted female vocal hook, this time in a Kanye-style chipmunk falsetto. But whereas “J. Doe” and “Hyph Mngo” had the power and charisma to keep me coming back, “The Shrew” seems more like an intermission than a reason to sweat through my shirt. “So Derobe” is even more of a chill-out session, far more contemplative than I’d ever want this guy to get, though I will admit the vocal work here is on par with anything else he’s done. The record ends with a lengthy Actress remix of “The Shrew” that seems to be nothing more than an arbitrary placement of half a dozen rhythms and sounds; I had heard good things about Actress but this remix gives me no reason to dig in further. I don’t expect Joy Orbison to keep turning vinyl into solid gold every two months, but I feel like he’s just treading water on this one.
Madmen Demos 12″ (no label)
Sure, Fucked Up has a crazy, screaming bear on vocals and about seven guitarists, but for me, the heart and soul of that band has always resided in drummer Jonah Falco. Practically every one of their songs relies on his metronomic power to give them the stability and triumphant power they require; he is the one member of the band that can’t afford to get knocked over when they are playing live. I appreciated his guitar work in Career Suicide as well, as anyone who took part in creating “Jonzo’s Leaking Radiation” has earned my praise. Clearly then, I needed this white-label 12″ of unclear origin that collects the two demos of Madmen, Falco’s solo project. I never picked up the tapes, but both sides are top-shelf hardcore, melding an X-Claim! Records punch to the out-of-control velocity of Neos. It’s incredibly fast, but this isn’t thrash, this is pure 1981 rec center matinee-show hardcore at it’s best, the type of thing that compels us to watch grainy YouTube videos of YDI and Government Issue at their peak over and over again. It’s pretty amazing that Falco put this whole thing together himself, as the playing sounds like a band who practiced the same eight songs for two years before recording them, not one guy playing along to a recording of himself. Really fantastic stuff; the only unfortunate side-effect is the fact that modern science is currently unable to clone three more Falcos to make this band a live reality. Hell, let’s just clone a few million, I think every band could use one.
Mr. Raoul K Mystic Things 12″ (Baobab Secret)
Mr. Raoul K had a furious year in 2009, with at least six 12″s that I know of, and he’s starting off the new year right with “Mystic Things”. Kind of an Omar S-sounding title, but this is Mr. Raoul K as I know him best – throbbing, tense techno that swells like the deep sea, all with a distinctly sad African sound. “Mystic Things” features Lopazz on vocals, which calls to mind Intrusion’s work with Paul St. Hilare, but heavier and crafted with the ‘floor in mind. As fine as anything else I’ve heard from Mr. Raoul K. The percussion on “No Food No Groove” sounds joyous in comparison, even if the imagery of African starvation is anything but. It’s a little strange that this is on “Baobab Secret”, a version of Raoul’s label meant for sounds that “do not fit in the output schedule of Baobab Music”. I don’t think his is the type of market that favors hard-to-find, predetermined collector’s items, and from the quality of the music here, it deserves the widest availability possible.
Monolake Silence 2xLP (Monolake / Imbalance Computer Music)
Beyond a couple of random remixes, Silence is my first real Monolake exposure, aka the guy who helped design Ableton. Naturally, I wasn’t expecting 808 beats and pre-set snare sounds, but the often-beatless Silence still comes as a bit of a surprise. This guy can probably make any sound he wants with a computer, right? With every conceivable sound at his fingertips, he goes about his business like Vladislav Delay, with various sounds entering from the left and leaving through the right. I’m hearing cascading metal pings, abused thumb pianos, brief Basic Channel tick-tocks, even a German flight attendant welcoming me on board. Not a whole lot for your brain to latch onto or focus on; rather, your only choice is to close your eyes, lower your seat from its upright position and attempt to catch as many musical moments as possible, as Monolake whizzes them past your skull, a cagey veteran of both the slider and the curve.
Night Owls Night Owls 7″ (Barbarossa / Hex)
Upstate NY has a hardcore rep that’s hard to shake, but Night Owls offer an alternative, even if that means there will probably never be a guy known as Night Owls Face. “Fun & Games” has kind of a Fucked Up by way of Hot Snakes vibe, with fast down-picking on a sturdy rhythm. The other two cuts take more of a melodic approach, without forsaking the intensity, very much something I’d expect to hear on Jade Tree circa now or No Idea circa five years ago; anthemic yet moody hardcore that doesn’t insult anyone’s intelligence. I don’t really have a big need for this sort of thing in my listening regimen right now, maybe I’m one of those assholes who “grew up”, but it makes for a fine spin nonetheless. Also worth noting is that the bass player’s name is Rachel Bass, which I assume is for real, since the other band members have last names like Johnson and Davis. How appropriate is that? She needs to kick out these nobodies and find a guy named Roger Guitar to really kick this thing into overdrive.
Pangaea Pangaea 2×12″ (Hessle Audio)
It’s essentially impossible to go wrong with a double 12″ on Hessle Audio packaged in a cool techno-wheat sleeve. Along with Ramadanman, Pangaea runs the Hessle Audio label that has caused much excitement in the Yellow Green Red household over the past few years. Stepping out for his longest release yet, he starts it off with the best Pangaea track I’ve ever heard and my favorite electronic song in recent months, “Why”, based on a funky, speedy bassline and the best example of post-Burial soulfully-mashed vocals I can recall. It’s an incredibly simple song, but even more effective than “Memories” from a couple months back. Turning a diva’s vocal hook into something that sounds like it came out of Thom Yorke halfway through is no small accomplishment in my book, especially when that change only amplifies the emotion. Truly a unique piece of music that I’ve been playing for everyone. The remaining five songs on here are as forward-thinking as “Why”, but none come close to that high point. Intricate drumming, weird spoken-word, plunging bass runs and unexpected zaps are all in full effect and have only grown on me with repeated listens. Rather than fall into a comfortable rut, Pangaea seems bent on moving forward while remaining true to his body-shaking roots, which is a sure-fire way to guarantee my attention and admiration.
Rank/Xerox Rank/Xerox 7″ (Mondo Bongo)
San Francisco’s Rank/Xerox do the future-primitive punk thing so effortlessly well that they would’ve been a perfect addition to Subterranean’s roster some thirty years earlier, fitting snugly between Nervous Gender and Flipper. That’s not to say they sound like either of those bands, though – rather, Rank/Xerox have a visceral-yet-moody texture reminiscent of Feederz, some Rudimentary Peni attitude, and maybe even a little VSS-styled DIY laser light-show action. In all of those classic punk scenes, none of the original bands really sounded like each other anyway, its more of the anxious strumming and frantic percussion that would make them a perfect candidate for any S.F. Underground compilation. The three songs here sound fresh yet classic, and at a total playing time around five minutes, I’d be wearing out the grooves on my copy if it wasn’t for my successful MP3 search. Don’t you dare go looking for them, though – I can’t think of a better use for seven bucks than a quick Mondo Bongo PayPal transaction.
Dino Sabatini & Donato Dozzy / Modern Heads In Vaders EP 12″ (Prologue)
I’ve been on a tear to pick up anything bearing the Donato Dozzy name after checking out his Nuel collaborations on Aquaplano (the vinyl still eludes me, feel free to help a brother out). This new one is as great as I could’ve hoped, teaming up with Dino Sabatini for “In Vaders”, the best piece of chase-scene techno I’ve ever heard. It’s definitely an underground chase, as the industrial-tinged beat calls to mind empty subways, alleys behind clubs, dungeons, basically anywhere you don’t want five guys in black suits following you after midnight. “In Vaders” changes so subtly that your brain might just process it as a single loop repeated for nearly seven minutes, but it’s that dedication to the groove and the slight and sweet sound adjustments that have me so utterly hooked. It’s impossible to play this sort of thing for a friend and expect any sort of reaction in the first thirty seconds; Donato Dozzy needs you to join him for the long haul. “Nocturnal” follows suit with some brooding, sub-aquatic bass, and Modern Heads’ “Mooger” is a fine closer, techno that sounds like it was composed by hospital electronics, with its variety of ticks, fluctuating tones and unwavering heartbeats. An easy one to miss but essential if scary, gray-scale techno is your thing.
The Scrotum Poles Auchmithie Forever LP (Dulcitone)
There’s an undeniable charm to the DIY punk that came out of the UK in the late 70’s / early 80’s, the type of creative explosion that seemed to have touched so many confused teens in the same place and time. I’d love to go 100 for 100 on the Kugelberg DIY list as much as the next guy, and that little Beyond the Implode reissue was real cool, but I’m pretty sure I could’ve gone on without this LP collection of the earliest Scrotum Poles recordings. Collected from a few tapes, the liner notes confirm that the material here predates their classic 7″ EP, so it’s clear this isn’t going to be the most spectacularly polished retrospective. That’s fine with me, but the a-side is packed with simple acoustic guitar and vocals tracks that offer no excitement. You’re better off starting on the flip, where there’s a full band in punk-mode, young and excited, although there is so much music here with the high points few and far between. I’m glad to have heard this, but even the more involved numbers don’t really stand out as much as I hoped. Should’ve just put the $18 I spent towards an original Revelation EP – only $282 to go!
Alex O. Smith Here With Me 12″ (FXHE)
In true inexplicable Omar S fashion, he’s decided to switch credit to Alex O. Smith, a reverse abbreviation of the “Alex Omar Smith” that appears on his birth certificate. Pseudonyms aside, Here With Me could only be the work of this one man, as the sounds here are as true to the FXHE vision as anything else to bear the label’s mark. Four tracks and four different tastes – “Three Blind Rats” is all about a subtle groove and his masterful use of hi-hats, committing an unpredictable cadence that sounds more like the firing of synapses than percussion. “Stop Running Around” is a sneaky and minimal cut, more like a conversation between a bass thud and a synth stab than a piece of music. An addicting listen. The flip has the Tangerine Dream wooziness of “Sign And Drive” seamlessly flow into “Here With Me”, a traditional piece of house, with one of Omar’s finest vocal guests to date, Diviniti, crooning with the same lonely feeling I get from his instrumentals. Worth every penny.
Alex O. Smith Plesetsk Cosmodrome 12″ (FXHE)
Nothing gets me as fired up to listen to some good techno than reading Alex “Omar” Smith’s track titles. “Psychotic Photosynthesis”? “Broken Valvetrane”? Yes, please! Plesetsk Cosmodrome ranks right up there with his finest titles, although the music on this one doesn’t rank quite as high as Here With Me or Still Serious Nic. “Kosmos 1402” is a pretty chill house excursion that probably has more in common with John Carpenter than Ricardo Villalobos, as the pulsing electronics have a personal, home-made touch. “Plesetsk Cosmodrome” is kind of bland when compared to it’s title, a pretty direct run-through that is kind of hard to talk about because there’s nothing really to say. It’s good, but if this wasn’t Omar S, I wouldn’t be paying any mind. “Skynet 2 B” wraps things up in an uncharacteristically funky way, like a Detroit basement Kano just shuffling something off in his spare time. And like Here With Me, this one’s got some killer full-color space jungle center stickers that prepare me for the Drexciyan terrain. You probably don’t need this 12″ but I couldn’t pass it up.
Tensnake Coma Cat 12″ (Permanent Vacation)
When it comes to dance music, I rarely find myself digging into the disco bins, but something like Tensnake is just so universally appealing that I have no trouble stepping out of my minimal-house space pod and onto the set of Beverly Hills Cop. Last year’s “In the End (I Want You To Cry)” was such a banger that I picked up Coma Cat without deliberation, and it’s as massive and fun as I could’ve hoped. The production is huge, really putting my sub-woofer to work, with a mastering job that will make any stereo sound like it’s been recently upgraded. The “can I get / can I get get” hook rides on the bells nicely and it becomes clear that any hipster into Lindstrøm needs “Coma Cat” on his or her iPod. I appreciate the addition of two solid b-side cuts too, both funky and balaeric in that Jan Hammer way, summoning American Apparel models to your door. Make sure you’ve got some fresh hummus and a case of Skyy vodka ready.
Tortured Tongues Art of Murder 7″ (Lethal Triad)
One of punk’s most endearing qualities is its ability to sprout up anywhere, anytime, regardless of oppressive outside forces or unfavorable conditions. Because of that, you get bands like Tortured Tongues showing up in Harrisburg, PA, a state capital so void of culture or cool happenings that it makes Albany, NY look like Paris, France. One thing I enjoy about bands that form in such desolate places is that it often means they’re the product of one maniac with a vision, his best friend, and two guys from down the block more interested in auto detailing and deer hunting than rock music (enlisted in the band because they are the only two dudes in town who can play the drums and own a bass guitar, respectively). And from them, it’s possible that we get a song like “Arizona Murder”, a soiled, mid-paced punk tune that has multiple weird voices shouting on top of a guitar imitating one of those generic car alarms. It’s like a less-ghoulish FNU Ronnies, which you should know comes as high praise from Yellow Green Red. “Extension Cord” has a Human Eye vibe thanks to the sloppy-jive vocals and discernible chorus, also very nice. The band is selling this record for $3 post-paid in the US and $5 post-paid everywhere else, which means they are most certainly taking a financial hit to get this to you. It would be foolish not to take them up on it.
Uffie MCs Can Kiss 12″ (Ed Banger)
The child queen of electro-ambivalence is back with “MCs Can Kiss”, another hilariously catchy tune that lengthens her proud legacy. If you aren’t familiar, Uffie is some post-teen chick from Florida, raised on instant messenger and No Limit Records CDs, who is the perfect distillation of both what is wrong with kids today and why it’s great to be alive in 2010. Previous singles “Pop the Glock” and “First Love” are novelties that don’t wear off, and I see the same future in store for “MCs Can Kiss” – it’s a bouncy nu-disco tune with Uffie rapping over top, this time commenting on why she simply doesn’t care about being a rapper or success or anything, really. Her lyrics are fascinating, insightful, and at times, sound like they were written by an alien who studied humanity through Beastie Boys records. She brags that she’s never sent a MySpace bulletin, promises not to enter any rap battles and rhymes “GTA” with “weed all day”, and I am left to wonder why 60 Minutes is interviewing crotchety world leaders when the mind of Uffie is infinitely more fascinating. And check this out: she ends the song with a horrible saxophone solo, although the sax’s origin as authentic or a keyboard pre-set remains unclear. The 12″ comes with the obligatory radio edit and a Starkey remix, but really it’s just the original version that I am wearing a hole in. Everytime I hear a Ke$ha song on the radio I just get frustrated that such a lightweight, watered-down imitation is filling pop’s “bratty white girl” role which so clearly belongs to Uffie.
U.S. Girls Go Grey LP (Siltbreeze)
I passed on the first U.S. Girls record, but the live performance I caught was great, so I figured Go Grey would provide me with at least the $13 asking price’s worth of ambiguous, rhythmic murk. Even after a few listens, it became clear my money was wisely spent, as U.S. Girls has proven to me that she cannot rightly be considered part of the generic and overcrowded “drum machine while I moan into a mic” class. No, Ms. Meghan Remy is weirder than the rest of the pack, but in a great way – every song on here sounds incredibly confident and secure, as if the skipping rhythm box and fluttering hiss are exactly as she envisioned them, not just happy accidents. The a-side is particularly lonely, kind of calling to mind Mammal’s Lonesome Drifter double-album, if not in sound but aesthetic, filled with dying machines and her vaguely human vocal stylings. I love the switch when I flip it over and “I Don’t Have A Mind Of My Own” gets going; it’s U.S. Girls in disjointed rock-band format, with presumably a couple West Philly dirtbags backing Remy on what sounds like one of those early Glass Candy singles, if a little tougher and looser. Soon after, Jandek-style electric guitar trickles into some tricky xylophone work, which gives way to a booming drum and vocal workout. The abrupt change of ideas and attention deficit reminds me of Circuit Des Yeux, but whereas Circuit Des Yeux has never fully pulled me in to her universe, Go Grey makes for a compelling listen. It’s easy to be confused by a record – the hard part is making the listener want to come back to it, over and over again, in hopes of unraveling the mystery. That’s where U.S. Girls has succeeded.