Without a doubt, few guitarists have left a greater mark on the noisy underground than
Bill Orcutt. Casual fans might not recognize the Harry Pussy guitarist by name, but his
unhinged hardcore twang surely provided inspiration for many of the current acts handling
their guitars like weedwackers. As the life of Harry Pussy ran its course, Orcutt moved on
with his, taking a years-long break from his instrument, surely a necessity after the intensity
of his former group. Now he’s back, and he’s channelling his musical fury into a new and unique
form of the blues, hinting at the violence of Harry Pussy but clearly stepping ahead to
something less painful and more refined. Orcutt strums like a madman, his neurons firing directly
from his brain to his fingers in a spritz of melodic phrasing, truly the sort of one-of-a-kind
guitar personality who has earned a place alongside names like Richard Bishop and Derek Bailey.
He’s a busy guy, gigging around the world, and releasing records on his label, Palilalia, so it was
much appreciated that he found the time to answer a few of my questions here.
After Harry Pussy stopped playing, did you continue playing music, or did you take a break?
I’d stopped performing, though I’d occasionally play the guitar (six string) now and then.
When did you switch to the four-string?
I started playing four-string again right after putting together the Harry Pussy compilation for Load.
What was it like going through all that stuff? How long had it been since you listened to
It was kind of amazing – it had been over ten years since I had heard any of it, so I had mostly
forgotten what it really sounded like.
What’s it like performing solo, after playing in a band for so long? I’d imagine there is more
at stake, in a way, since you’re 100% in control.
Yeah, it’s true, playing solo you can’t slack off, you’ve gotta carry the whole thing. I’m really
enjoying it though – it was scary at first, but I felt a weird compulsion to do it…
What makes you want to play music on any given day? Are there records you’ll listen to
that will inspire you to pick up your guitar, or is it just a great way to blown off steam? I
guess what I’m wondering is – what’s in it for you?
It’s actually kind of hard to find time to play because of work and other stuff – I’ll pick it up
whenever I have a spare fifteen minutes. Usually just being able to play is inspiration enough,
and I can get in the mood right away.
Do you usually improvise, or do you prefer to work on actual compositions?
If I only have fifteen minutes I’ll just improvise; if I can put together a longer stretch, then I’ll
try to work on something or record.
What is your recording setup like?
I usually just record into the computer using Logic.
I’d imagine that Harry Pussy received a lot of unfavorable audience reactions, just by the
confrontational and aggressive nature of the music. I’d also assume that when you perform
solo, most of the audience is a fan of what you’re doing, or at the very least aren’t shocked or
offended by it. Does that make a difference, just knowing you are playing to crowds that are
most likely big fans of you and your music?
It can be really energizing to play for a hostile audience, and there were some Harry Pussy shows
where we fed off the vibe from the crowd, but it’s probably better to play for people who like
what you do. That’s particularly true when you’re playing solo acoustic and can’t just drown out the
Is it somewhat of a relief to know that when you’re performing for a crowd nowadays,
they are generally quite eager to hear it?
Sure, though I’m usually zoned out while I’m playing. Nice to get some applause at the end.
Are there any current guitar players you find inspiring today?
I love a ton of guitar players – most of these folks are still alive, so I guess they count as
contemporary – Richard Thompson, Moris Tepper and Gary Lucas in their Magic Band stint, Jimmy
Page, Hendrix & Nolen, Jerry Reed, Robert Quine, Tom Verlaine, Raymond Boni, Pete Cosey, Billy
Gibbons, Mary Halverson, Fred Gerlach, Duane Allman, Lindsey Buckingham and a bunch of others.
What role does blues music play in your sound? I hear echoes of blues guitar in your sound,
especially on Way Down South, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that was just some happy
Blues, Muddy Waters especially, was the first music I really got into as a teenager and what I was
listening to when I started playing the guitar, and I’d imagine there some trace of it in everything
When did you first get into more aggressive, underground music?
If you mean hardcore punk, it was the Let Them Eat Jellybeans comp in ’81.
Were there any local punk bands in your town where you were growing up, anyone that
you first looked up to? How did you realize that it was possible to just go ahead and do your
own band, regardless of talent or financial backing?
Dunno about local punk bands, but Rat Bastard was the key person for us in Miami, loads of
encouragement, advice, studio time, etc. Amazing and generous, just an incredible guy.
The Bitters Have a Nap Hotel EP 12″ (Sacred Bones)
I can understand why Fucked Up enlisted the help of Ben Cook, as he clearly shares their insane and unrelenting drive to record and release music at a pace that only the most dedicated super-fans can follow. Together here with Aerin Fogel, The Bitters are pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a band that has worked with Captured Tracks, Sacred Bones and Mexican Summer through their short existence. Fuzzy budget-pop that’s as likely to sound like X (the LA variety) as Crystal Stilts. It’s pretty good, especially when Fogel really lets her voice bounce off the rafters, but it’s still lacking the x-factor necessary to elevate them above the hundreds of other bands plowing similar paths. Nice set of songs, no doubt, there’s just nothing here that would make me want to stop in and check out whatever SXSW showcase The Bitters are playing, versus the half-dozen similar gigs up the street.
Black Time More Songs About Motorcycles and Death 12″ (Wrench)
Wrench is a perfect fit for the blown-out, Nuggets-y punk of Black Time. Seriously, what better home for these English pranksters than the label that brought us Lil’ Bunnies and Rancid Hell Spawn? Black Time have cranked out some great records in their day, but this six-song serving is perfect for their brand of punk, where leather jackets come from the thrift-store and feature only a few select pins; no patches, studs or paint. Black Time’s songs sometimes bleed together after a dozen or more tunes, but More Songs About Motorcycles and Death never reaches a point of overload, allowing me instead to savor each individual tune appropriately. And whereas Black Time have meandered through portions of other records, or tried their hand at noisy instrumentals, or even attempted to become a pop band, this selection showcases Black Time just as I like ’em – raw, unadorned, sassy and rude, landing somewhere between the Cramps of old and the Cheap Time of today. The cool cover art and loud mastering job seal the deal – why waste your time with anything else?
Blast and the Detergents / Ghost Hospital split 7″ (Scotch Tapes / No Clear)
Good split 7″s are most certainly an endangered species, but they do still exist – just check out this pair of damaged groups from Florida (of all states). This is my first experience with Blast and the Detergents, and I like what I hear – “Minimalism, D’uh” is such a poor attempt at Sonic Youth that it morphs into something else entirely, reminding me of that great Melted Sunglasses single in the way things never completely add up (and it is all the better for it). “Time Misses A Beat” works in a similar manner, lots of weird guitar work while the drummer plays along to his favorite Minutemen songs. Ghost Hospital didn’t do a whole lot for me on their first single, but these two songs sound dramatically different, and end up outshining Blast and his crew. Very gnarly and simple guitar rock that lands them in a nice position, one where they could fit into the Messthetics stable due to the weird vocal bloopage, yet could just as easily sneak onto a later volume of Killed By Death, thanks to the sturdy proto-punk riffing. I realize they’re a good thirty years late for that, but sometimes I think in terms of comps, and I get the feeling that this unassuming little single will be ripe for such revisiting in a couple generations’ time.
Broken Water Normal Never Happened / Faux King Vogue 7″ (Fan Death)
There seems to be a crop of bands out of the Olympia area doing an updated Dinosaur Jr. / Sonic Youth thing, like the Alternative Nation of the ’90s resurrected with better record (and MP3) collections and without the hope or intent of ever signing to a major. Broken Water are one of those acts, and while their previous incarnation as Sisters didn’t really move me, a smart little letterpressed single on Fan Death is hard to deny. “Normal Never Happened” starts off in full grunge-mosh mode, thanks to the Soundgarden-y riff capable of igniting a push-pit on contact, before flipping the script entirely via some polite indie riffing and soft female vocals. It’s practically two songs for the price of one. “Faux King Vogue” is full-on Sonic Youth through the verses, with a Thurston-y vocal and discordant melody that gives way to a booming chorus and eventual breakdown that Jeff Buckley would probably be writing if he hadn’t fallen out of that boat. This style of music will never be my bread and butter, I Don’t Even Own Any Pixies records, but there are plenty of people out there who jam the Singles soundtrack on the regular and would surely pick up what Broken Water puts down.
Cindytalk Up Here In the Clouds CD (Editions Mego)
I’ve talked with people named Cindy before, but they never sounded quite like this. Up Here In the Clouds is pure Editions Mego harsh-ambient drift, the type of static-laced atmosphere that’s as smooth and crunchy as granola in one’s Yoplait. There’s no short supply of this sort of music, but Cindytalk’s sense of composition is particularly keen, which helps to rise these pieces above that of your average amp abuser’s. Reminds me a bit of Ben Frost, thanks to Cindytalk’s ability in crafting a narrative using harsh tones and throbbing bass, or at least Ben Frost if he was going through a serious Runzelstirn & Gurgelstock phase. I appreciate that this static fuzz becomes musical over time, that it’s clearly the product of deliberate orchestration and not merely a lucky session with a no-input mixer. Just don’t listen to Up Here In the Clouds in your car, as it’s the musical equivalent of the “check engine” light.
Circle Pit Bruise Constellation LP (Siltbreeze)
This Australian duo’s idea of a circle pit is far from the counter-clockwise mosh maneuver I hold dear. Doesn’t take long into Bruise Constellation to get the impression that theirs is probably some sort of altar for drugged-out ceremonies in the woods – serious heroin campsite vibes here. It’s a tough vibe to pull off convincingly, but thanks to the consistently simple and great songs Circle Pit have assembled, and the costumed skeletons waiting for breakfast in bed on the cover, my download card was swiftly redeemed. Hard to avoid a Royal Trux comparison, from the slow-mo rock and strained vocals to the aesthetic they cultivate, but it’s an incredibly inviting record – you don’t have to sift through layers of feedback and tape hiss to get to the melodies, this is junkie rock that fits perfectly within a deep session of Earth’s Pentastar and Pussy Galore’s Exile on Main Street. I could play this for people who just enjoy good rock and don’t need to know what the band looks like and what label they’re on to dig it, know what I mean? If it wasn’t for Mount Carmel, this might be my favorite Siltbreeze album of the year.
Gestapo Khazi Escalators / The Atomic Kind 7″ (Eradicator)
I’ll never fully understand what possesses bands from Long Beach, CA to adopt such dark and moody textures. How can palm trees and Sex Wax get anyone down? I can kind of understand a band like Sublime coming out of that town, but Gestapo Khazi, what with their clean guitar sound, black outfits and yowling singer, seem out of place. Clearly I’ll never understand, and that’s alright, as “Escalators” is a nice addition to the town’s lineage of brooding rock n’ roll, a catchy tune that pairs aggressive vocals with a forlorn riff. “The Atomic Kind” is a little artier and the drums a-flailing, that is until it calms down into some sort of Flesh Eaters vibe, as if Gestapo Khazi are trying to get the attention of Enigma Records, or at least public broadcast on Rodney on the ROQ. Who can argue with such reasonable goals?
Grinderman 2 LP (Anti-)
No Pussy Blues”, off Grinderman’s self-titled debut, was a stomping, raucous piece of bluesy punk, disintegrating the cobwebs that wrapped my interest in Nick Cave’s adult musical career. It ended up as little more than a four-minute tease, sadly, as the majority of Grinderman fell into boring night-ballads, clunky rock and ironic machismo. As cool as they looked, what with their big eyebrows and beards and tailored suits, and as much as I appreciate Cave’s first decade as a musician, there was no denying that Grinderman’s debut was rife with dull, lifeless rock amidst that envigorating single. Here’s their next album, still looking like the coolest uncles one could ever wish for, and for not the first time in my life, my better judgment falls prey to fancy clothes and I check it out. Thankfully, 2 shows Grinderman as having grown more comfortable with hedonistic, sleazy rock, the type of music of which they are the visual embodiment. Opener “Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man” is particularly great, with cinematic tension and Cave’s assured ranting at full bore. “Evil” works a killer backing vocal into a frenzy, like the demon preacher Cave always wanted to be. Yet, in spite of this higher level of energy, I find myself losing interest when Cave starts talking to or about his “baby”, which happens with increasing frequency after the particularly lame “When My Baby Comes”, or most of his more prurient sketches on 2. There’s a lot of misogyny adorned in timeless cool here, the sort of approach that many will find irresistable, yet others will write-off Grinderman as little more than those A Night At the Roxbury guys with thirty years of punk cred. I’ve listened to 2 a good number of times and I still can’t decide which side I’m on.
Grown-Ups Not Friends 7″ (no label)
Self-released four-track EP from this Canadian punk group who do it themselves, apparently without the interest of making friends along the way. I can appreciate the initiative this trio has taken, booking their own tours and playing shows and pressing records, all with little if any monetary return. They give away MP3s of their records for free on their MySpace and even pressed a limited edition of Not Friends on red vinyl (the bulk of the press is on clear). This is a band I would love to support and praise… if their actual music had anything going on. Four songs, each one bleeding into the next with monotonously shouted vocals, a sagging tempo and essentially nothing to elevate Grown-Ups from the faceless pack of thousands of bands doing a similar thing. Clearly these people are not opposed to putting in hard work and effort with only the satisfaction of their own labor in return – I just can’t help but think the world would be better off if they put their talents to use at Habitat For Humanity or a local food co-op instead. Not everyone was put on this planet to rock.
Horse Boys III / IV cassette (Feeding Tube)
Some folks love collecting tapes, specifically those weird ones with the spray paint that gums up the plastic spools and unnecessary packaging that renders them more of a display item than something you can file away. I can’t get down with that sort of behavior (unless it fits in a bin and you can flip past it, I’m simply not interested), but if I could, something like this Horse Boys release would look nice next to a live Fat Worm of Error tape or a hand-painted Dead Machines c20. III / IV is based around primitively-recorded piano, with which sole Horse Boy Zach Phillips bangs out scales, twists different melodies and calmly improvises to his own comfort. Could be boring, but Phillips is never content to stick with any particular fugue for too long, instead buffering his piano pieces with various audio vérité – sitcom laugh-tracks, disturbing noises, second-hand conversations and field recordings of dust are all carefully distributed throughout the proceedings. No one ever really wants to hear something like Horse Boys, let’s be honest, but when you’re past the halfway point of a long van drive and find III / IV in that CVS bag of tapes laying in the front seat, it hits a spot that no Geto Boys or Dio album can.
Kid Icarus Imaginary Songs and Aluminum Hits LP (Summersteps)
I can get down with a lot of emo, especially of the collegiate, pre-Jimmy Eat World-commercial-success era, but it’s impossible to argue the genre’s merits when really all the other person has to do is bring up a band like Kid Icarus and rest their case. The music is nice enough, your standard Crank! Records indie template with occasional acoustic leads and a clean recording, but the singer does this strained, Lullaby For the Working Class-type thing where he sings unbearable sentences about relationships and Atlantic City and, among other choice lines, “so I wrote you a poem on a napkin and ran here in the rain”. Seriously, just soak up that line for a while. Band-leader and vocalist Eric Schlittler needs to get a LiveJournal and ask someone else in the band to take over vocal duties, as Kid Icarus might not be so bad if he stopped Schlitting things up with his trite lyrical cartoons. There’s probably a better chance that I could beat Kid Icarus (sans Game Genie) than that happening, though.
Moritz Von Oswald Trio Live In New York 2xLP (Honest Jon’s)
Seeing how I live within a ten-hour radius of New York City, Moritz Von Oswald Trio’s live performance at Le Poisson Rouge was a mandatory event. Amidst the loud talkers, large number of white guys over 6’4″, grumpy bartenders and my bulky winter coat, I wormed my way to a decent position and just soaked it in, marveling at Moritz Von Oswald himself (pretty sure he was carried to the stage on a stool, or else was raised up onto it through a trap-door) and the unexpected addition of Carl Craig and a sweat-dripping Francois K in the mix. It was an evening I remember fondly, but upon playback of Live in New York, I didn’t remember them sounding this good! Removing all distractions, this forty-minute set creeps up from subtle grooves to a downright funky ending, recalling moments of their wonderful Vertical Acent (particularly the breezy “Pattern #2”) and integrating some wild new stuff too, as is the benefit of improvised music. Fully engineered in its own right, one doesn’t need the memory of the live show to enjoy Live in New York for the fantastic collaboration of techno heavyweights that it is. Just wish I would’ve known to bust a shout-out at the end of their set.
Moscow Moscow Moscow Fans of Stalin Show Yer Bottom 7″ (Eradicator)
Moscow Moscow Moscow sucks sucks sucks. Four and a half songs here, mostly instrumental, played by a guitar/drums duo low on talent and lower on listener enjoyment. Seriously, who on Earth wants to hear poorly-rendered, punky “surf” instrumentals performed by a duo? Not this guy. And yeah, they have this quirky Russian motif, with song titles like “Russian to Nowhere”, “Take a Walkski” and the title track, coming across like a comedy sketch that even MadTV would’ve nixed. The man and woman that comprise Moscow Moscow Moscow probably have friends and families, and probably love and are loved by other people. This human bond I share with them is the only thing keeping me from wishing total destruction and despair upon them and their musical equipment. Sorry.
Multicult Multicult LP (no label)
Here’s a strange one – DJ sleeve with big “Multicult” sticker on the front, minimal contact info and “private press” listed on the back. I was geared up for some basement synth explorations or some witch-house or something, so you can imagine my surprise when I was greeted by some burly post-rock. Through this full-length, Multicult recall the soggier moments of Shellac’s catalog, as well as the New Brutalism records I own (which I think about far more than actually listen to). Might even be an early Nirvana vibe here too, since the vocalist(s) feature a dirty yowl that never quite distinguishes itself, for better or worse. I am all for minimal packaging, but I would’ve preferred some more info about Multicult, like a picture of them rocking out or smoking cigarettes in their practice space, or a thanks list to read and ponder, just anything else to fill my head while listening. When all I’ve got to go on is their fairly generic and moderately-pummeling rock style, it’s like eating a decent meal with nothing to drink.
NDF Since We Last Met 12″ (DFA)
Only a weeks-old corpse wouldn’t feel a slight tinge of excitement over a new Bruno Pronsato project (NDF) with a Villalobos remix, and I know my blood is still pumping. You never quite know what to expect from these guys, and the DFA affiliation is a curious addition to the mix, so my mind was prepared for nearly anything. With the sky being the limit, it’s interesting that “Since We Last Met” is an optimistic piece of cotton-candy techno, with its uplifting, vaguely-new age synths and comfy beat that would fit snugly amongst the happier moments of Luciano’s Tribute to the Sun. This emo vibe is capped off by the vocal hook, what sounds like a generic Conor Oberst spoken-word piece, pushing “Since We Last Met” a bit too far into emo territory for my electronic enjoyment. The Ricardo Villalobos remix on the flip is par for his course these days, as he elongates the original, minimizes the melody and adds various boings and rubbery snaps throughout its duration (with a downloadable version featuring an additional five minutes of sound). “Since We Last Met” and its remix are far from my top pick list, but they make for a 12″ that could further bridge the gap between your average Paw Tracks and Cadenza fans, for whatever that’s worth.
BJ Nilsen & Stilluppsteypa Space Finale 2xLP (Editions Mego)
Stilluppsteypa have been enriching my life long enough that I know how to spell their name from memory, but Space Finale is my first experience with their (his?) collaborations with Swedish “sound artist” BJ Nilsen. It’s a doozy – slow, thoughtful drone that lifts up to cruising altitude and hovers contemplatively over the masses below. The D&M mastering job was a wise move, as the bass tones that occasionally spring forth are designed with an artisanal hand and balance the featherweight tones accordingly, their significance crucial to the mix. This sort of project can so easily fail, relying on little more than a few different sine-waves and the occasional field recording, but these folks make it count, putting together an album that is not only worth engaging on a cerebral level but also highly enjoyable as background music, unconsciously consumed.
The Perennials My Side of the Mountain 7″ (Eradicator)
Quirky, poppy indie-rock isn’t something I’ll ever think to request, but I can tolerate the stuff more than your average skinhead in a Negative Approach tee. The Perennials are a perfect example of the style, doing their thing with happy and familiar chord changes, frequent backing vocals, and a singer with one of those stupid nasally voices that somehow became not only acceptable but standard practice. A great voice for entertaining toddlers at the daycare, not fronting a rock band, you know? Still, I don’t mind The Perennials, as their simple tunes are pleasant enough, like the musical equivalent of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (crusts removed). I’ll never think to play this single again, but if I was hanging out at a street fair in Vermont and wanted to hear a local band while I ate corn on the cob from a vendor, The Perennials would do the trick nicely.
Pivixki Gravissima CD (Lexicon Devil)
For a lot of these intensely technical post-prog combos, it’s simply not enough that the music is an intricate labyrinth of complicated algorithms and melodic phrasing; no, the name of the group has to reflect the sheer difficulty involved in the project by being a pain to say, spell or type – see Upsilon Acrux, Orthrelm (and Octiis), maybe even Zs, and now, Pivixki. They’re an Australian duo on piano and drums, answering the question of, “what would it be like if Conlon Nancarrow jammed with Assuck’s drummer?”. It’s frantic and orchestrated, blasting and textural, and basically exactly what you’d expect from an instrumental grindcore duo of piano and drums. Pretty much every instrument could have its own virtuoso play along with blast-beat drums (how long until some metalhead picks up an oboe?), and I’d have the same sort of impressive yet ultimately boring result as Gravissima. It’s kind of like watching new versions of the same movie, getting into this hyper-technical grindcore with unorthodox instruments in place of guitars, so those already hooked on this specific style of wankery will reap the same satisfaction from Pivixki as the rest of them. Me, I’ll politely pass.
Plutocracy Off the Pigs LP (Forestmoon)
Kalmex, Stinkweed and the rest of the Pluto dankstahz are back, and I couldn’t be more pleased. These weirdos are responsible for my earliest introductions to West Bay grindcore and are clearly as demented, cop-hating and THC-soaked as ever. Off the Pigs stays true to the style they have created, namely speed metal riffing, blast-beat drumming and a mix of gutterally low and screechingly high vocals, all buffered with various samples glorifying weed and hating the police. That isn’t to say Plutocracy are treading water, though – Off the Pigs features some of their most moshworthy material yet (“Carnals” could seriously be a Vision of Disorder or Strife song) and the riffing often favors a black metal style. The record ends most righteously on a Bastard Noise collaboration entitled “Funeral Pork Harvest”, a violent explosion of police hatred based around ham radio frequencies and an evil snoring grizzly bear. Never has the combination of weed and murder felt so triumphant.
Rene Hell Porcelain Opera LP (Type)
Seems like a lot of the folks making harsh noise in the early ’00s have since turned Komische, thanks in no small part to the successful meditations of both Emeralds and Oneohtrix Point Never. This shift from feedback to synths is essentially a full-on trend at this point, one which Rene Hell (née Jeff Witscher) could easily be placed – he spent his previous years making noise under the aliases Impregnable and Secret Abuse, among others, never quite making a name for himself in the post-Wolf Eyes landscape. I enjoyed Impregnable, but it’s as Rene Hell that Witscher really stands out – Porcelain Opera is a gorgeously creepy outing that looms large enough to elevate itself above the trend. Witscher concentrates on slow, deliberate synth arpeggios, mixing processed, accidental vocals and unexpected electronic jolts throughout. Unlike the aforementioned Emeralds, Rene Hell seems more interested in creating deliberate songs, what with multiple parts and conscious changes, and unlike Oneohtrix, Rene Hell is a strictly hi-fi, non-nostalgic affair. The important thing when creating this kind of project is to characterize a unique mood for itself, and Rene Hell does just that, not in a self-consciously Altered Zones way, but as a solitary man working late into the night in an attempt to transfer the sounds in his head to ProTools. Porcelain Opera sounds fantastic, the foggy fashion-spread cover art is fitting, and the name Rene Hell conjures a female Richard Hell, all of which equates to a highly satisfying experience.
Senking Pong CD (Raster-Noton)
Been meaning to spend more time digging into the world of Raster-Noton… there’s just something about the label’s über-uptight world of music-as-modern art that is inherently appealing. I love thinking about these serious Germans, mulling over the perfect shade of white to paint their studio walls and spending hours perfecting the pitch of a bass tone for a surround-sound listening experience. Senking fits right in to that crew with Pong, an album inspired by the early video game of the same name, ostensibly produced in what must be one of the most modern music studios this side of the Rhine. The music of Pong is as likely to float anchorlessly as it is to move forward via rhythms so post-dubstep that they circle back and sound like unnavigated trip-hop. It’s not about the songs, though, as much as it is about the specific sounds used, as every dubby boom or sizzling snap is utterly precise in its sonic flavor, with the minimal environment ensuring that every sound gets its fair shake. Pong is a pointless exercise if you plan on listening to it on earbuds on the bus; this is the sort of album that demands a large leather chair, half a dozen speakers of varying cone-shape and an amplifier that weighs more than the family pet. I shouldn’t have to tell you to power off your cell phone while listening, but some people just can’t take a break from their lives.
Shed The Traveller 2xLP (Ostgut Ton)
As a dedicated disciple of the Ostgun Ton label, I had to check out this new Shed album. Pretty sure I’ve caught one or two of his remixes previously, but this is my first long-form exposure, and it’s a disappointment. Like Marcel Dettmann, and to a degree, Planetary Assault Systems, Shed trades in simple, focused techno patterns. However, unlike those two, Shed is unable to turn his select sound palette into anything intriguing or body-moving. Over the course of fourteen tracks (all of which are fairly short, especially by techno standards), Shed plays with 4/4 thud, vaguely dubstep-ish rhythms and fluttering synths, but that’s where it ends – there is very little skill of composition here, and certainly nothing to hook in any willing listeners. Minimal techno is great in that it disposes of unnecessary decoration and scrapes down to the music’s inner core, but The Traveller sounds like a collection of bits and pieces of songs to be used elsewhere, or finished at a later date, not a complete product of reduced design. I guess not everyone’s got it, and that’s why something like Marcel Dettmann’s last album was so special.
Sistol On the Bright Side CD (Halo Cyan / Phthalo)
Let me just start by saying that Sasu Ripatti is a personal hero, undoubtedly one of the first pale guys to be inducted into the Techno Hall of Fame, should it ever exist. You may be familiar with his monikers Vladislav Delay or Luomo, but he also goes by Sistol, at least for the first time here since 1999’s Sistol. Sistol’s aesthetic seems to deviate from Vladislav Delay or Luomo in the sense that these tracks are tossed-off without the intricate design Ripatti often infuses into his work; it’s as if Ripatti decided to play with his gear before his daughter wakes up or while waiting for a stew to simmer, just jamming on some basic beats in the odd minutes before or after a more imperative task. Every track on On the Bright Side comes with that unchanging 4/4 bass kick, acting as the perfect canvas for Sistol’s wild and vivid injections of electronic color. I really get the impression he cooked up this music as a sort of cross-training exercise for his more “serious” projects, just having fun in his space-aged studio and trying out various sound effects and patches simply because he can. That sense of fun is contagious here, but there is no denying that Sistol is a less sophisticated effort than the usual Ripatti production. Recommended for die-hards like me, who enjoy anything with the Ripatti touch; the uninitiated are better off snagging a copy of Luomo’s Vocalcity and understanding how we became die-hards in the first place.
Super Wild Horses Fifteen LP (Hozac)
The debut Super Wild Horses single was a fine serving of blown-out, bashing garage rock, filled with a raw spontaneity that had me flipping it religiously. Clearly they have since matured with Fifteen, their debut long player, and as far as my enjoyment is concerned, the ‘Wild Horses suffer for it. Rather than bash through single-chord, under-a-minute tunes, Super Wild Horses take their time here, opting for a more conservative pop sensibility. The songs certainly feel longer, even if they aren’t, as the vigor they’ve shown previously is replaced with an increasing grogginess in need of a Five Hour Energy shot. It’s not bad by any stretch, it’s just frequently uninteresting, which is probably worse than “bad” in my book. Even the higher fidelity works against them, as the thin sound of a guitar/drums duo becomes readily apparent where the fuzz and room noise used to be. There are still a few particularly nice cuts, such as “Enigma (You Say Go)” and “Mess Around”, but you can get “Enigma (You Say Go)” on 7″ (also courtesy of Hozac) and save yourself a couple bucks and about twenty minutes of filler by going that route instead. I wanted to love this Super Wild Horses album, I think this band is cool, but the increased musical maturity and excessive song quantity is bringing me down.
Swans My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope To the Sky LP (Young God)
Of all the canonical indie bands exhumed in the past few years, Swans were one that made a particularly small amount of sense – Michael Gira has never stopped making music and forging ahead, so why fall back? Besides the obvious opportunities for cashing-in, it didn’t make sense, and after spinning the awkwardly-titled My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope To the Sky, it still doesn’t. Getting into Swans was like being inducted into a secret cult, the type of band so ominous and unrelenting that enjoyment and exhaustion went hand-in-hand in their experience. I dig it all, from Filth to Soundtracks for the Blind, a pretty perfect career arch if there ever was one. So what to make of this album? Taken without the weight of history, My Father is a solid chunk of industrial folk, brimming with epic intros and moody acoustic jams, all anchored by Michael Gira’s inimitable voice, as weary and weighted as ever. His perfectionist touch is all over the album, precise in Swans’ instrumentation and group thrust, right down to the chiming guitars and lockstep percussion. Looked upon as a continuation of Swans, it does make a little sense, especially with titles like “You Fucking People Make Me Sick”, “Reeling the Liars In” and, well, “Jim”. Still, not ever the most fiery moments on My Father can touch “Raping a Slave” or “Cop”, not that anyone expected otherwise. If you can get past the name and what it means to you, My Father is still a steamroller of a an apocalyptic rock album, the type of outing that renders youngsters like Cult of Youth obsolete. I just get worried when things I hold dear are messed with.
Tamaryn The Waves LP (Mexican Summer)
Tamaryn’s back with what might be considered her first proper full-length album and it’s an excellent successor to the gothy and steamy (both in the lifestyle-choice and scientific senses of the word) records she’s graced us with thus far. If you enjoyed Led Astray, Washed Ashore and her various singles, you’ll surely dig The Waves – there’s no shocking turn of events here, Tamaryn still delivers the slow-motion, temptress-in-black-lace torch songs at full capacity. Instrumentalist Rex John Shelverton keeps things simple, letting the hooks fall where they may, and applying just enough roomy reverb to his guitars and percussion. It’s the perfect canvas for Tamaryn’s potent, wounded voice, sounding like she’s stranded in a future she doesn’t fully understand. “The Waves” and previously-released “Mild Confusion” are the standouts, but cuts like “Love Fade” and “Dawning” use acoustic guitar and a faster tempo in a nice display of subtle growth. On an album like this, you really want the song titles to sound like expensive nail polish colors, for which tracks like “Sandstone” and “Coral Flower” hold up their end of the bargain nicely. Tamaryn rules, OK?
Veins Veins 7″ (Youth Attack)
It’s easy to hate on Youth Attack, what with their instantly sold-out webstore, serious-about-subversiveness aesthetic and the many annoying and inexperienced suburban college students gobbling it up and basing their personal image around it. I’d hate the label too, if the music they released wasn’t so frequently raging, as it is on this Veins 7″, a remastered version of the cassette issued earlier this year. Like labelmates Vile Gash and Cult Ritual, Veins are first and foremost a hardcore group – maybe they enjoy listening to Death In June or Abruptum or whatever, but the music of Veins is pure frantic ‘core, reminiscent of Neos or Die Kreuzen in their ability to hold things together on the brink of total collapse. Michael Berdan’s vocals aren’t the harsh screams I was expecting, as he instead opts for a snotty shout ala Charlie Nakajima of Deep Wound (and really, the music isn’t that far from garnering a Deep Wound comparison either). Really good stuff, with moments of moshability that rival Charles Bronson in their ability to sound like NYHC played on 45 instead of the designated 33. Factor in the phenomenal packaging (the black dust sleeve is attached to the cover) and the only time you’ll hear me cursing the name of Youth Attack is when I miss out on records like this.
Whatever Brains Rapper’s Delight II 7″ (Funny Not Funny / Sorry State)
Here’s the third Whatever Brains to pass across my desk, Rapper’s Delight II, taking much glee in bastardizing song titles (see the b-side’s mischievous “What Makes a Man Make What Makes a Man Start Fires?”, as well as the title cut). “Rapper’s Delight II” is a funny little dirge, complete with the ‘best ‘Brains production yet, dancing along a wiry melody before rocking it all out at the end. “Village Sewer” almost reminds me of The Monorchid, thanks to the snotty vocal and jumpy riff. “What Makes a Man Make What Makes a Man Start Fires?” is Minutemen-inspired in name alone (mercifully), instead maintaining the creepy tempo of the a-side and riding it through troubled waters. Dare I say the best Whatever Brains single yet? Heard there’s an album on the way; stop messing around with these teaser 3/4 jacket singles and make it happen, guys.
The Young Voyagers of Legend LP (Mexican Summer)
No one’s happy anymore, not even The Young – what I previously knew as a bunch of fresh-faced, upbeat, Austinite punkers have turned out a pretty grim slice of weathered rock n’ roll with Voyagers of Legend. Punk has definitely taken a back seat to other strands of American rock here, most notably the booze-weary swagger of The Replacements on “Phoebis Cluster” and “Bird in the Bush” and the ability to righteously jam out like a well-rested Spacemen 3 on “Quintana the Killer”. Might even be a little Gun Club in there too, from the way The Young flirt with darkness and snuff out candles with their bare fingers. They really pull together a hodgepodge of influences here, but it’s still music equipped for the t-shirt and blue jeans set – once you hit your mid-twenties, those Neil Young records don’t seem so out of place next to one’s Dangerhouse collection. I’ve found that my Voyagers of Legend favorites are the songs where you can actually understand the words, like the aforementioned “Bird in the Bush” and “Phoebis Cluster”, although the rougher material provides the album with a decent balance. Glad I gave Voyagers of Legend some time, as it’s not an immediate rush, but undoubtedly one of the more fulfilling rock records to come out this year, if given the proper chance.